Dissenting shoemakers

James Lackington’s social ascent was aided by Methodism: Samuel Bradburn (1751-1816), who worked as a cobbler’s apprentice, converted to Methodism and became a celebrated, sensationally charismatic preacher. He was ordained in 1792 and made President of the Methodist Conference (1799—1800). Yet he was fond of‘company’ and ‘the ways of the world’, i.e. women, booze and gambling. From 1802 to 1803 he was suspended from ministry for drunkenness.54 He had been raised by an Anglican father, a former gardener tricked into the army by an unscrupulous recruiting officer. His devoted Welsh wife followed him to Flanders and in 1748, where Samuel was born 3 years later, 1 of 13 children.

He spent his first twelve years on the Rock of Gibraltar, where he received a fortnight’s schooling. His father withdrew him because the fees were raised from a penny a week: ‘The education of one of the greatest modern pulpit orators cost only twopence!’” Sometimes he felt keenly his want of education:

I have read and written much this month, but sadly feel the want of a friend to direct my studies. All with whom I have any intimacy, know nothing of my meaning when I speak of my ignorance. They praise my sermons, and consider me a prodigy of learning; and yet what do I know? a little Latin, a little philosophy, history, divinity, and a little of many things, all of which serves to convince me of my own ignorance!56

Where did he learn that Latin? He probably taught himself when apprenticed to the shoemaker Peter Haslam in Chester, from about the age of 13 to 21, enthused by his religious awakening.

Blanshard, Bradburn’s biographer, explains that his subject had ‘often been designated the “Demosthenes of Methodism’”; since Demosthenes had become a ‘generic term in oratorical science’, he approved of the title. But Blanshard thought that the ‘Cicero of Methodism’ might have been an improvement.57 For although Bradburn possessed the ‘majestic dignity’ of Demosthenes, he lacked the Athenian’s moroseness. Full of the ‘sarcastic pleasantry’ reported in Plutarch’s Life of Cicero (5, 38, 41), Bradburn, Blanshard reports, exercised his oratorical duty full of smiles and jest, like the Roman, but unlike Cicero, he avoided tears when orating.58

Samuel Drew (1765-1833) (Figure 20.6) was the son of a Cornish farmer in St. Austell and sometime ‘streamer for tin’.’9 He was put to work in the fields at seven. Taught to read by his self-educated mother, like his father a Wesleyan Methodist, he also proved a tireless self-educator, whose metaphysical writings later earned

Samuel Drew (1765—1833) Methodist preacher and metaphysician, reproduced by courtesy of National Galleries of Scotland. © National Galleries of Scotland

FIGURE 20.6 Samuel Drew (1765—1833) Methodist preacher and metaphysician, reproduced by courtesy of National Galleries of Scotland. © National Galleries of Scotland.

him the soubriquet ‘The English Plato’. At 10 he was apprenticed to a leatherworker; by 22 he was running his own cobbler’s shop.'1" He inspired other workmen; his sister, who was married to a shoemaker, witnessed one of her husband’s co-workers, ‘emulous of Mr Drew’s fame’, quizzing a visiting gentleman on Greek and mathematics, which he had been ‘puzzling himself about’ on his own.61 Drew had become known as a sharp-witted debater and a fount of knowledge. His master’s specialism was saddling and he also offered leather bookbinding services. The shop was frequented by the local middle classes, who had horses and furnished Drew with a supply of books. He listened to disputes between local Calvinists and Arminians, and kept his reading up-to-date;62 this cobbler’s shop was, as often, a site of knowledge exchange conducive to autodidacticism.

According to his sister, he once hunted for Plato’s Phaedo across Cornwall, but was disappointed by its contents. His search brought him to a bookseller’s in Truro, where ‘the singular incongruity between his unclassical appearance and the book for which he inquired’ attracted the attention of some military officers.

One of them, who thought him a fair subject for a joke, said, “Mr.--

[the bookseller] has not got Plato, my man; but here (presenting him with a child’s Primer) is a book he thinks likely to be more serviceable to you; and, as you do not seem to be overstocked with cash, I’ll make you a present of it”.63

In his shabby clothing, Drew appeared too low-class to have an interest in classical philosophy. Yet he was destined to write a book that was long considered definitive: An Original Essay on the Immateriality and Immortality on the Human Soul, which was widely lauded and reprinted many times on both sides of the Atlantic, already reaching five English editions by his death in 1833. He remained a modest man, however, conscious of his lack of classical languages, and afraid of debating with university-trained academics who might flummox him with the Greek, Latin or French derivation of their terms.64

A third Dissenter among the shoemaker classicists was William Carey (1761— 1834), who grew up in Paulerspury, ten miles south of Northampton. His father, originally a weaver, became a parish clerk and schoolmaster in 1767, which provided the young Carey with access to books. At the age of 12, we are told, he picked up a copy of Thomas Dyche’s Vbcabularium Latiale: or, a Latin Vocabulary (1709) and memorised it.65 This achievement did not go unnoticed by his family, but grammar school or college was too costly, and the local schools, including his father’s, could offer no classical training.

At 14 he became bound apprentice to Clarke Nichols, a shoemaker in the hamlet of Piddington, where a copy of the New Testament came into his possession. Some say he embarked upon teaching himself Greek under the guidance of a local vicar; others maintain that his instructor was a classically educated man from Kidderminster, who had fallen on hard times and become a weaver.66 Social mobility is a two-way street. After a year, Carey’s indentures were cancelled on account of the death of his master, and he moved to the workshop of a Mr Old as a journeyman shoemaker. He is said to have been so intent on learning his Latin, Greek and Hebrew that he could not produce a pair of boots that matched each other.67

In 1783 Carey was baptised by the theologian John Ryland (1753-1825), son of the renowned Dissenting educationalist John Collett Ryland. He began to preach to a Baptist congregation and was frequently visited in his shop by the shepherd turned Evangelical preacher and Biblical scholar, Reverend Thomas Scott (1747-1821). After years bent over his last and reading the scriptures in their original languages, in 1785 Carey became the pastor of a Baptist church at Moulton and a local schoolmaster. But poverty meant he could not give up awl-work: ‘Once a fortnight Carey might be seen walking eight or ten miles to Northampton, with his wallet full of shoes on his shoulder, and then returning home with a fresh supply of leather’.68 It was after moving to Calcutta as a missionary that he was able to capitalise fully on his linguistic talents, being appointed Professor of Sanskrit, Marathi and Bengali at the East India Company’s Fort William College, where he translated the New and Old Testaments into six Indian languages and compiled three dictionaries.69

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