9. Hugh Bourne Cares for the Children

Transcription of article in the series “one Hundred Years Ago” by H. Bickerstaffe Kendall

OF the poor salvage from the past relating to September, 1816, there are a few entries from the hand of Hugh Bourne, dated as usual, and brief, but satisfying in their circumstantiality and precision. For the first part of the month he has set up his staff at Bemersley, his home, as far as such a pilgrim can be said to have had a home. On the evening of each day he visits some neighbouring society, such as Talk-o-th’-Hill, where he preaches from “Moses’ Bush.” The autumnal Quarterly Meeting is looming in the near distance, so he meets the classes, for the purpose, as we understand, of “renewing the tickets.” Then we see him at Kiderew, which, as we do not happen to know such a place, he obligingly informs us is more properly named “Kidsgrove.” Here he finds something for “human tears”; for he makes room for the entry: “Several have lately been hurt in the coal works—limbs have frequently been broken, though no lives lost.” Another evening he is at Tunstall, where he speaks again from the “Bush,” renews a part of the tickets, and then comes “home.”

But the most significant items are those which tell us what was busily occupying him during the day. It was not manual labour, though he could turn his hand to that; not work in barn or field, though labour of that kind was in nowise strange to him. We see the future Editor within doors, quill pen in hand, and with the inkstand in front of him, diligently engaged in writing a Commentary on the Bible “adapted to the capacities of children.” As he writes and sometimes leans back in his chair to think of his work and of those for whom it is designed, likely enough his thoughts and feelings were the same as found metrical expression in a verse of a hymn he wrote in 1816 about this very time— the whole of which hymn (with others of approximate date) is given in Walford’s “Life of Hugh Bourne”:—

“And are these circling children here
The objects of their Maker’s care?
And are they bought with blood?
And does a charge lie in my hand,
Of greater price than house or land,
Or all created good?”

It is not as poetry we give this verse. We disinter it as a hit of contemporary evidence, showing what was uppermost in Hugh Bourne’s mind and heart when he began to write this “Commentary on the Bible for Children.” His love for children, which was so marked a feature of his character, showed itself in a very practical way; he took trouble in showing it. He grudged no toil, mental or physical, that bore on the higher interests of the children now and in the years to come. He would canvass a village to find scholars for an intended school, and the staffing of it with suitable officers and teachers was with him a matter of grave and prayerful concern. When it came to the supplying of school-requisites —no trifling matter in those days—his purse was freely opened, and his sagacity and ingenuity in practical affairs were used in adapting to its purpose what was available at the least possible cost and with no loss of efficiency. He was not lavish of his Lord’s money. He made a little go a long way. Above all, he lovingly studied the child-mind. He had a natural aptitude for talking to children so as to interest them, and make the truth so plain that they could not fail to understand and remember. In short, he was a pioneer in knowing “how to reach the children.”

References

Primitive Methodist Magazine 1916/646

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