In S. Hildegarde and S. Theresa we have had instances of two women of wonderful energy and talent, yet who achieved nothing of moment, because their powers were not directed into a channel where they might have been of use. S. Hildegarde, indeed, by her letters, threatening, warning, reproving, did a certain amount of good—not much; those misdoers who received her epistles winced and went on in their old courses. Nevertheless, she was a testimony to a worldly age of the higher life set before it in the Gospel than that world cared to follow.
S. Theresa, with a heart on fire with love to God, and inexhaustible energy, spent herself in founding little nunneries, in which the sisters were, as a reform, to wear sandals instead of shoes, and in which their natural gifts were to 352be reduced to a general level of incapacity, by giving them nothing practical to do, and by forbidding them the cultivation of their intellects.
Sister Dora, whose life I purpose sketching, strikes me as having been a double of S. Theresa, in the same persistency, determined will, fascination of manner, and cheerfulness. Neither could be happy until afforded scope for the exercise of her powers—but how different were the ends set before each!
A very charming biography of Sister Dora has been written by Miss Lonsdale, which, whilst admirably portraying her character, has given some umbrage by painting the people among whom she laboured in darker colours than they conceive is justified, and by a little heightening of the dramatic situations. She fell, moreover, into certain inaccuracies in matters of detail, and some of her statements have been contradicted by persons who were qualified to know particulars. What mistakes were made in that book have in part been corrected in later editions. But I cannot find that there was any accusation made of the authoress unduly idealising the character of 353Sister Dora. On the contrary, some think that Miss Lonsdale, in her desire not to appear a panegyrist, has given Sister Dora a tincture of unworthy qualities that were really absent from her character.
In compiling this little notice I have taken pains to obtain information from those who knew Sister Dora intimately, and have had Miss Lonsdale’s book subjected to revision by such as live in Walsall or knew Walsall when she was there; and I trust that it is free from inaccuracies and exaggerations.
In addition to Miss Lonsdale’s Memoir two others appeared, one in Miss J. Chappell’s Four Noble Women and their Work, and another by Miss Morton, which has been characterised in the Walsall Observer as a “caricature.” Neither of these afford any additional matter of value.
In addition again, but of very different 354value, is a notice by Mr. S. Welsh, Secretary to the Hospital at Walsall, in which she worked, and who was introduced to her the day after she arrived there, and was on terms of intimacy with her till her death. His notice is in the General Baptist Magazine for 1889. This is the more valuable as being the testimony of one belonging to a different religious communion, and is, therefore, sure to be impartial. Another corrective to mistakes is contained in Sister Dora: a Review, published at Walsall in 1880. I enter into all these particulars at some length because Miss Lonsdale’s book was qualified by the Rev. Mark Pattison, Sister Dora’s brother, as “a romance,” and because some people have considered it to be so, misdoubting the main facts because of the inaccuracies in detail fastened on at the time. Mr. Mark Pattison was unqualified spiritually for entering into and appreciating his sister’s character; and of her life in Walsall he personally knew absolutely nothing. A cold and soured man, wrapped up in himself, he could not appreciate the overflowing charity and devotion of his sister.
355Dorothy Wyndlow Pattison was born on the 15th January, 1832. She was the youngest daughter, and the youngest child but one, of the Rev. Mark Pattison, who was for many years Rector of Hauxwell, near Richmond, in Yorkshire. She inherited from her father, who was of a Devonshire family, that finely proportioned and graceful figure which she always maintained; and from her mother, who was the daughter of a banker in Richmond, those lovely features which drew forth the admiration of every one who had the pleasure of knowing her.
Her father was a good and sincere man of the Low Church School. He was thoroughly upright and strict. It is not a little painful to see how Mr. Mark Pattison, his son, late Rector of Lincoln College, Oxford, in his Memoirs can hardly mention his father without some acrimonious remark. But in that sour effusion there is little of generous recognition of any one. Even his sister, the subject of this memoir, comes in for ill-natured comment.
Dora and her sisters, like a thousand other country parsons’ daughters, were of the utmost 356use in their father’s Yorkshire parish. A French gentleman who had lived a while in England and in the country, said to me one day: “Your young ladies astound me. They are angels of mercy. They wear no distinguishing habit; one does not see their wings, yet they fly everywhere, and everywhere bring grace and love and peace,—in my country such a thing would be impossible.”
These Pattison girls were for ever saving their pocket-money to give it away, and they made it a rule to mend and remake their old frocks, so as not to have to buy new ones out of their allowance for clothes, so as to have more to give. Even their dinners they would reserve for poor people, and content themselves with bread and cheese.
“Giving to others, instead of spending on themselves, seems to have been the rule and delight of their lives,” says Miss Lonsdale.
A pretty story is told of her at this time. A schoolboy in the village, who was specially attached to her, fell ill of rheumatic fever. The boy’s one longing was to see “Miss Dora” again, but she was abroad on the Continent. 357As he grew worse and worse, he constantly prayed that he might live long enough to see her. On the day on which she was expected, he sat up on his pillows intently listening, and at last, long before any one else could hear a sound of wheels, he exclaimed, “There she is!” and sank back. She went to him at once, and nursed him till he died.
Her beauty was very great: large brilliant brown eyes, full red lips, a firm chin, and a finely cut profile. Her hair dark, and slightly curling, waved all over her head; and the remarkable beauty and delicacy of her colouring and complexion, added to the liveliness of her expression, made her a fascinating creature to behold. Her father always called her “Little Sunshine.”
But the most remarkable feature about her was to be found in her inner being. An indomitable will, which no earthly power could subdue, enabled her to accomplish an almost superhuman work; yet at times it was to her a faculty that brought her into difficulties. She was twenty-nine before she was able to find real scope for her energies, and then she took 358a bold step—answered an advertisement from a clergyman at Little Woolston, in Buckinghamshire, for a lady to take the village school. Her mother had died in 1861, and she considered herself free from duties that bound her to her home. Her father did not relish the step she took, but acquiesced. She went to Woolston, and remained there three years, during which time she won the hearts, not of the children only, but of their parents as well. She had to live alone in a cottage, and do everything for herself; but the people never for a moment doubted she was a real lady, and always treated her with great respect. Not thinking a little village school sufficient field for her energies, she resolved to join a nursing sisterhood at Redcar, in Yorkshire. It was a foundation made by a clergyman of private means, the Rev. J. Postlethwaite, and there were in it no vows made except one, limited in period, of obedience to the Superior. The life was not quite suited to her with her strong will, but it did her good. She learned there how to make beds and to cook. “At first she literally sat down and cried when the beds that she had just 359put in order were all pulled to pieces again by some superior authority, who did not approve of the method in which they were made.” But it was a useful lesson for her after-life in a hospital. She was there till the early part of 1865, and then was sent to Walsall to help at a small cottage hospital, which had already been established there for more than a year.
Walsall, though not in the “Black Country,” is in a busy manufacturing district, chiefly of iron. At the time when Sister Dora went there it contained a population of 35,000 inhabitants. It is now connected with Birmingham, by almost continuous houses and pits and furnaces, with Wednesbury as a link.
As fresh coal and iron pits were being opened in the district round Walsall, accidents became more frequent, and it was found impracticable 360to send those injured to Birmingham, which was seven miles distant; accordingly, in 1863, the Town Council invited the Redcar Society to start a hospital there. When the Sister who had begun the work fell ill, Sister Dora was sent in her place, and almost directly caught small-pox from the out-patients. She was very ill, and even in her delirium showed the bent of her mind by ripping her sheets into strips to serve as bandages. She was placed in one small room, with a window looking into the street, of which the blinds were drawn. The most absurd rumours got about that this was the Sisters’ oratory, where they had set up an image of the Virgin Mary; and stones and mud were thrown at the panes of glass, and the Sisters were shouted after in the streets. The committee of the hospital were interrogated, and denied that any religious services were conducted in an oratory. Indeed, no formal oratory would have been allowed; but no doubt the committee were unable to prevent the poor Sisters from saying their prayers together in a room if they agreed to do so, and in community life common prayer is a requisite.
361A boy who had received an injury was taken to the hospital. One night, when he was recovering, Sister Dora found him crying. She asked him what was the matter. At last it came out: “Sister, I shouted after you in the street, ‘Sister of Misery!’”
“I knew you when you came in,” she said; “I remembered your face.”
This is the true version of a story Miss Lonsdale gives.
Mr. Welsh says: “When the cottage hospital—which was the second of its kind in England—was opened, the system of voluntary nursing was unknown; the only voluntary nurses heard of then being those who had gone out to the Crimea with Miss Florence Nightingale; consequently the dress of the Sisters was uncommon, and the name of Sister strange. Therefore, a good deal of misunderstanding was the result; but in course of time people began to judge the institution by its results. Still, when Sister Dora came to the hospital, there lingered doubts and suspicions that the nurses were Romanists in disguise, come to entrap and ruin souls rather than cure bodies. But Sister Dora, by her 362frank, open manner, disarmed suspicion, while the sublime eloquence of noble deeds silenced slanderous tongues, put all opposition to shame, and won for the hospital the confidence of the public, and for herself the admiration and affection of the people.”
In 1866 she had a serious illness, brought on by exposure to wet and cold. She would come home from dressing wounds in the cottages, wet through and hot with hurrying along the streets, to find a crowd of out-patients awaiting her return at the hospital, and she would attend to them in total disregard of herself, and allow her wet clothes to dry on her.
This neglect occurred once too often; a chill settled on her, and for three weeks she was dangerously ill. Then it was that the people of Walsall began to realise what she was, and the door of the hospital was besieged by poor people come to inquire how their “Sister Dora” was.
At some time previous to her going to Walsall, her faith had been somewhat disturbed by one who ought not to have endeavoured 363to subvert her trust in Christianity. This gave her inexpressible uneasiness and unhappiness. There seems to have been always in her a keen sense of God’s presence, and confidence in the efficacy of prayer. She now went through this terrible inner trial. An unbelieving artisan who was once nursed by her, and had observed her critically and suspiciously, said, when he left, “She is a noble woman; but she would have been that without her Christianity.” There he was mistaken. It was precisely her fast hold, which she regained, of Christianity that made her what she was.
Happily she had one now of great assistance to her as a guide—a very remarkable man, the Rev. Richard Twigg, of St. James’s, Wednesbury. Every Sunday morning, when able, she walked over to St. James’s to Early Communion. She found in Mr. Twigg a man of deep spiritual insight, and with a heart overflowing with the love of God, and consumed with a desire to win souls to Christ. He was a man with the spirit, and some of the power, of an Apostle—a man who left his 364stamp on Wednesbury, that will not soon be obliterated.
The struggle through which she had passed, the sense of need in her own soul for all that the Christian Church supplies in teaching and in Sacraments had a great strengthening and confirming effect that never left her; and the love of Jesus Christ became an absorbing personal devotion that nothing could shake. It was this—the love of God—that made her what she was, and endure what she did.
Some time after this she became deeply attached to a gentleman who was connected with the hospital, and he was devotedly fond of her, and proposed to her. But he was an unbeliever. Again she had to pass through an agonising struggle. She felt, as Mr. Twigg pointed out, that to unite her destinies with him was to jeopardise her recovered faith, and she was convinced that to be true to her profession, above all true to her Master, she must refuse the offer. She did so, and probably felt in the end that peace of mind which must ensue whenever a great sacrifice has been made for duty.
365Miss Lonsdale represented Sister Dora as somewhat domineering over the managing committee of the hospital. But this is incorrect. A Nonconformist minister says: “The noble object (i.e. the hospital) had moved men of every shade of politics, and every form of religious belief, to the work, and there have been passages in its history not pleasant to remember, but not one of these in the remotest degree involved Sister Dora. On the contrary, her presence and counsel always brought light and peace, and lifted every question into a higher sphere. ‘Ask Sister Dora,’ it used to be said. ‘Had we not better send for Sister Dora?’ some member would exclaim out of the fog of contention. Thereupon she would appear; and many well remember how calmly self-possessed, and clear-sighted, she would stand—never sit down. Indeed, there were those who worked with her fifteen years who never saw her seated; she would stand, usually with her hand on the back of the chair which had been placed for her, every eye directed to her; nor was it ever many moments before she had grasped the whole question, and given 366her opinion just as clearly and simply and straight to the purpose as any opinion given to the sufferers in the wards. Nor was she ever wrong; nor did she ever fail of her purpose with the committee. No committee-men ever questioned or differed from Sister Dora, yet in her was the charm of unconsciousness of power or superiority, and the impression left was, of there being no feeling of pleasure in her, other than the triumph of the right.”
In 1867 the cottage hospital had to be abandoned, as erysipelas broke out and would not be expelled. The wards were evidently impregnated with malignant germs, to such an extent that the committee resolved to build a new hospital in a better situation.
“Sister Dora’s work became more engrossing when this larger field was opened for it; the men’s beds were constantly full, and even the women’s ward was hardly ever entirely empty.”
Just at this period an epidemic of small-pox broke out in Walsall, and all the energies of Sister Dora were called into play. She visited the cottages where the patients lay, and nursed 367them or saw to their being supplied with what they needed; whilst at the same time carrying on her usual work at the hospital.
“One night she was sent for by a poor man who was dying of what she called ‘black-pox,’ a violent form of small-pox. She went at once, and found him in the last extremity. All his relations had fled, and a neighbour alone was with him. When Sister Dora found that only one small piece of candle was left in the house, she gave the woman some money, begging her to go and buy some means of light whilst she stayed with the man. She sat on by his bed, but the woman, who had probably spent the money at the public-house, never returned; and after some little while the dying man raised himself up in bed with a last effort, saying, ‘Sister, kiss me before I die.’ She took him, all covered as he was with the loathsome disease, into her arms and kissed him, the candle going out almost as she did so, leaving them in total darkness. He implored her not to leave him while he lived, although he might have known she would never do that.” So she sat through 368the night, till the early dawn breaking in revealed that the man was dead.
When the bell at the head of her bed rang at night she rose at once, saying to herself, “The Master is come, and calleth for thee!” Indeed, she loved to think that she was ministering to her Blessed Lord in the person of His poor and sick. Miss Lonsdale prints a letter from a former patient in the hospital, from which only a short extract can be made: “I had not been there above a week when Sister Dora found me a little bell, as there was not one to my bed, and she said, ‘Enoch, you must ring this bell when you want Sister.’ This little bell did not have much rest, for whenever I heard her step or the tinkle of her keys in the hall I used to ring my bell, and she would call out, ‘I’m coming, Enoch,’ which she did, and would say, ‘What do you want?’ I often used to say, ‘I don’t know, Sister,’ not really knowing what I did want. She’d say, ‘Do you want your pillows shaking up, or do you want moving a little?’ which she’d do, whatever it was, and say, ‘Do you feel quite cosy now?’ ‘Yes, Sister.’ Then she 369would start to go into the other ward, but very often before she could get through the door I’d call her back and say my pillow wasn’t quite right, or that my leg wanted moving a little. She would come and do it, whatever it was, and say, ‘Will that do?’ ‘Yes, Sister.’ Then she’d go about her work, but at the very next sound of her step my bell would ring, and as often as my bell rang Sister would come; and some of the other patients would often remark that I should wear that little bell out or Sister, and she’d say, ‘Never mind, for I like to hear it, and it’s never too often.’ And it rang so often that I’ve heard Sister say that she often dreamt she heard my little bell and started up in a hurry to find it was a dream.”
Sister Dora said once to a friend, who was engaging a servant for the hospital, “Tell her this is not an ordinary house, or even a hospital. I want her to understand that all who serve here, in whatever capacity, ought to have one rule, love for God, and then, I need not say, love for their work.”
She spoke often, and with intense earnestness, 370on the duty, the necessity, of prayer. It was literally true that she never touched a wound without raising her heart to God and entreating Him to bless the means employed. As years glided away, she became able almost to fulfil the Apostle’s command: “Pray without ceasing.” And her prayers were animated by the most intense faith—an absolutely unshaken conviction of their efficacy. It may truly be said that those who pray become increasingly more sure of the value of prayer. They find that, whatever men may say about the reign of law and the order of Nature, earnest prayer does bring an answer, often in a marvellous manner. The praying man or woman is never shaken in his or her trust in the efficacy of prayer. “She firmly held to the supernatural power, put into the hands of men by means of the weapon of prayer; and the practical faithlessness in this respect of the world at large was an ever-increasing source of surprise and distress to her.”
Since her death, in commemoration of her labours at Walsall, a very beautiful statue has 371been there erected to her, and on the pedestal are bas-reliefs representing incidents in her life there. One of these illustrates a terrible explosion that took place in the Birchett’s Iron Works, on Friday, October 15th, 1875, whereby eleven men were so severely burnt that only two survived. All the others died after their admission into the hospital. It came about thus. The men were at work when water escaped from the “twyer” and fell upon the molten iron in the furnace and was at once resolved into steam that blew out the front of the furnace, and also the molten iron, which fell upon the men. Some suffered frightful agonies, but the shock to the nervous system of others had stupefied them. The sight and the smell were terrible. Ladies who volunteered their help could not endure it, and were forced to withdraw, some not getting beyond the door of the ward. But Sister Dora was with the patients incessantly till they died, giving them water, bandaging their wounds, or cutting away the sodden clothes that adhered to the burnt flesh. Some lingered on for ten days, but in all this time she never deserted the 372fetid atmosphere of the ward, never went to bed.
She had so much to do with burns that she became specially skilful in treating them. Children terribly burnt or scalded were constantly brought to the hospital; often men came scalded from a boiler, or by molten metal. She dressed their wounds herself, but, if possible, always sent the patients to be tended at home, where she would visit them and regularly dress their wounds, rather than have the wards tainted by the effluvium from the burns. Her treatment of burnt children merits quotation.
“If a large surface of the body was burnt, or if the child seemed beside itself with terror, she did not touch the wounds themselves, but only carefully excluded the air from them by means of cotton wool and blankets wrapped round the body. She put hot bottles and flannel to the feet, and, if necessary, ice to the head. Then she gave her attention to soothing and consoling the shocked nerves—a state which she considered to be often a more immediate source of danger to the life 373of the child than the actual injuries. She fed it with milk and brandy, unless it violently refused food, when she would let it alone until it came round, saying that force, or anything which involved even a slight further shock to the system, was worse than useless. Sometimes, of course, the fatal sleep of exhaustion, from which there was no awakening, would follow; but more often than not food was successfully administered, and after a few hours, Sister Dora, having gained the child’s confidence, could dress the wounds without fear of exciting the frantic terror which would have been the result of touching them at first.”
Children Sister Dora dearly loved; her heart went out to them with infinite tenderness, and she was even known to sleep with a burnt baby on each arm. What that means only those know who have had experience of the sickening smell arising from burns.
Once a little girl of nine was brought into the hospital so badly burnt that it was obvious she had not many hours to live. Sister Dora sat by her bed talking to her of Jesus Christ and His love for little children, and of the 374blessed home into which He would receive them. The child died peacefully, and her last words were: “Sister, when you come to heaven, I’ll meet you at the gates with a bunch of flowers.”
One of the most heroic of her many heroic acts was taking charge of the small-pox hospital when a second epidemic broke out.
Mr. S. Welsh says:—“In the spring of 1875 there was a second visitation of the disease, and fears were entertained that the results would be as bad as during the former visitation. One morning Sister Dora came to me and said, ‘Do you know, I have an idea that if some one could be got to go to the epidemic hospital in whom the people have confidence, they would send their friends to be nursed, the patients would be isolated, and the disease stamped out?’” This was because a prejudice was entertained against the new small-pox hospital, and those who had sick concealed the fact rather than send them to it. “I said,” continues Mr. Welsh, “‘I have long been of the opinion you have just expressed; but where are we to get a lady, in whom the people 375would have confidence, to undertake the duty?’ Her prompt reply was, ‘I will go.’ I confess the sudden announcement of her determination rather took me by surprise, for I had no expectation of it, and not the most remote idea that she intended to go. ‘But,’ I said, ‘who will take charge of the hospital if you go there?’ ‘Oh,’ she replied, ‘I can get plenty of ladies to come there, but none will go to the epidemic. And,’ she added, by way of reconciling me to her view, ‘it will only be for a short time.’ ‘But what if you were to take the disease and die?’ I inquired. ‘Then,’ she added, in her cheery way, ‘I shall have died in the path of duty, and, you know, I could not die better.’ I knew it was no use pointing out at length the risk she ran, for where it was a case of saving others, self with her was no consideration. I tried to dissuade her on other grounds…. A few days later, I was in company with the doctor of our hospital, who was also medical officer of health, and who, as such, had charge of the epidemic hospital, near to which we were at the time. He said, ‘Do you know where Sister Dora is?’ ‘At the hospital, I 376suppose,’ was my reply. ‘No,’ he rejoined, ‘she is over there!’—pointing to the epidemic hospital…. The people, as soon as they knew Sister Dora was in charge, had no misgiving about sending their relatives to be nursed, and the result was as she had predicted; the cases were brought in as soon as it was discovered that patients had the disease, and the epidemic was speedily stamped out.”
She had, however, a hard time of it there, as she lacked assistants. Two women were sent from the workhouse, but they proved of little use. The porter, an old soldier, was attentive and kind in his way, but he always went out “on a spree” on Saturday nights, and did not return till late on Sunday evening. When the workhouse women failed her, she was sometimes alone with her patients, and these occasionally in the delirium of small-pox.
It was not till the middle of August, 1875, that the last small-pox patient departed from the hospital, and she was able to return to her original work.
One of the bas-reliefs on her monument represents Sister Dora consoling the afflicted 377and the scene depicted refers to a dreadful colliery accident that occurred on March 14th, 1872, at Pelsall, a village rather over three miles from Walsall, by which twenty-two men were entombed, and all perished. For several days hopes were entertained that some of the men would be got out alive; and blankets in which to wrap them, and restoratives, were provided, and Sister Dora was sent for to attend the men when brought to “bank.” The following extract, from an article by a special correspondent in a newspaper, dated December 10th, 1872, will give some idea of Sister Dora’s connection with the event:—
“Out of doors the scene is weird and awful, and impresses the mind with a peculiar gloom; for the intensity of the darkness is heightened by the shades created by the artificial lights. Every object, the most minute, stands out in bold relief against the inky darkness which surrounds the landscape. On the crest of the mound or pit-bank, the policemen, like sentinels, are walking their rounds. The wind is howling and whistling through the trees which form a background to the pit-bank, and 378the rain is coming hissing down in sheets. In a hovel close to the pit-shaft sit the bereaved and disconsolate mourners, hoping against hope, and watching for those who will never return. There, too, are the swarthy sons of toil who have just returned from their fruitless search in the mine for the dear missing ones, and are resting while their saturated clothes are drying. But another form glides softly from that hovel; and amid the pelting rain, and over the rough pit-bank, and through miry clay—now ankle deep—takes her course to the dwellings of the mourners, for some, spent with watching, have been induced to return to their homes. As she plods her way amid pieces of timber, upturned waggons, and fragments of broken machinery, which are scattered about in great confusion, a ‘wee, wee bairn’ creeps gently to her side, and grasping her hand, and looking wistfully into her face, which is radiant with kindness and affection, says, ‘Oh, Sister, do see to my father when they bring him up the pit.’ Poor child! Never again would he know a father’s love, or share a father’s care. She smiled, and that smile seemed to lighten the 379child’s load of grief, and her promise to see to his father appeared to impart consolation to his heavy, despairing heart.
“On she glides, with a kind word or a sympathetic expression to all. One woman, after listening to her comforting words, burst into tears—the fountains of sorrow so long pent up seemed to have found vent. ‘Let her weep,’ said a relative of the unfortunate woman; ‘it is the first tear she has shed since the accident has occurred, and it will do her good to cry.’ But who is the good Samaritan? She is the sister who for seven years has had the management of the nursing department in the cottage hospital at Walsall.”
This is written in too much of the “special correspondent” style to be pleasant; nevertheless it describes what actually took place.
Mr. Samuel Welsh says: “I remember one evening I was in the hospital when a poor man who had been dreadfully crushed in a pit was brought in. One of his legs was so fearfully injured that it was thought it would be necessary to amputate it. After examining the patient, the doctor came to me in the committee-room—one 380door of which opened into the passage leading to the wards, and another into the hall in the domestic portion of the building. After telling me about the patient who had just been brought in, he said, ‘Do you know Sister Dora is very ill? So ill,’ he continued, ‘that I question if she will pull through this time.’ I naturally inquired what she was suffering from, and in reply the doctor said, ‘She will not take care of herself, and is suffering from blood-poison.’ He left me, and I was just trying to solve the problem—— ‘What shall be done? or how shall her place be supplied if she be taken from us by death?’ when I saw a spectral-like figure gliding gently and almost noiselessly through the room from the domestic entrance to the door leading to the wards. The figure was rather indistinct, for it was nearly dark; and as I gazed at the receding form, I said, ‘Sister, is it you?’ ‘Whist!’ she said, and glided through the doorway into the wards. In a short time she returned, and I said to her, ‘Sister, the doctor has just been telling me how ill you are—how is it you are here?’ ‘Ah!’ replied she, ‘it is true I am 381very ill; but I heard the surgeons talking about amputating that poor fellow’s limb, and I wanted to see whether or no there was a possibility of saving it, and I believe there is; and, knowing that, I shall rest better.’ So saying, she glided as noiselessly out of the room as when she entered.
“On her recovery—which was retarded by her neglecting herself to attend to others—she called me to the hall-door of the hospital, and asked me if I thought it was going to rain. I told her I did not think it would rain for some hours. She then told me to go and order a cab to be ready at the hospital in half an hour. I tried to persuade her not to venture out so soon; but it was no use—she went; and many a time I wondered where she went to.
“About six months afterwards I happened to be at a railway station, and saw a pointsman who had been in our hospital with an injured foot, but who, as his friends wished to have him at home, had left before his foot was cured. I inquired how his foot was. He replied that had it not been for Sister Dora he would have lost his foot, if not his life. I said, ‘How did 382she save your foot when you were not in the hospital, and she was ill at the time you left the hospital?’ ‘Well,’ he replied, ‘you know my foot was far from well when I left the hospital; there was no one at our house who could see to it properly, and it took bad ways, and one evening I was in awful pain. Oh, how I did wish for Sister Dora to come and dress it! I felt sure she could give me relief, but I had been told she was very ill, so I had no hope that my earnest desire would be realised; but while I was thinking and wishing, the bedroom door was gently opened, and a figure just like Sister Dora glided so softly into the room that I could not hear her, but oh! she was so pale that I began to think it must be her spirit; but when she folded the bedclothes from off my foot, I knew it was she. She dressed my foot, and from that hour it began to improve.’
“A few days after this interview with the pointsman I was talking to Sister Dora and said, ‘By the bye, Sister, I have found out where you went with the cab that day.’ She replied with a merry twinkle in her 383eye, ‘What a long time you have been finding it out!’”
Her old patients ever remembered her with gratitude. A man called Chell, an engine-stoker, was twice in the hospital under her care, first with a dislocated ankle, severely cut; the second time, with a leg crushed to pieces in a railway accident. It was amputated. According to his own account he remembered nothing of the operation, except that Sister Dora was there, and that, “When I come to after the chloroform, she was on her knees by my side with her arm supporting my head, and she was repeating:—
“‘They climbed the steep ascent of heaven,
Through peril, toil, and pain:
O God, to us may grace be given
To follow in their train.’
And all through the pain and trouble that I had afterwards, I never forgot Sister’s voice saying those words.” When she was in the small-pox hospital, avoided by most, this man never failed to stump away to it to see her and inquire how she was getting on.
There were, as she herself recognised, faults 384in the character of Sister Dora; and yet, without these faults, problematical as it may seem, it is doubtful whether she could have achieved all she did.
One who knew her long and intimately writes to me: “A majestic character, brimming over with sympathy, but, for lack of self-discipline, this sympathy was impulsive and gushing. Her character would have been best formed in marrying a man—either statesman, philanthropist or author—whose character would have dominated hers, and she would have shone subdued. Her glorious nature, physical and mental, was marred by undisciplined impulse. Her nature found its congenial outlet in devoted works of mercy and love to her fellow-creatures. How far she would have done the same under authority, I fear is a little doubtful.”
I doubt it wholly. “The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit” (John iii 8). The truth and depth of these words are not sufficiently 385appreciated. They teach that in those governed by the Spirit of God there is an apparent capriciousness and impulsiveness which does not commend itself to worldly wisdom or vulgar common-sense. Unquestionably, in community life, this masterfulness in the character of Sister Dora might have been subdued, but—would she have then done the same magnificent work? It seems to me—but I may be mistaken—that we should suffer these strong characters to take their course, and not endeavour to crush them into an ordinary mould. It is precisely those who soar above the routine-bound souls that, among men, make history—as Cæsar, Napoleon, Bismarck—and let me add Lord Kitchener. And in the Church it is the same.
Miss Twigg, who knew her well, writes me: “She was a lovable woman, so bright and winsome. She used to come into our rather dull and sad home (our mother died when we were quite children) after evening service. She would nurse one of us, big as we were then, and the others would gather round her, while she would tell us stories of 386her hospital life…. She was a real woman, though with a woman’s failings.”
There is one point in Sister Dora’s life to which sufficient attention has not been paid by her biographers. It is one which the busy workers of the present day think of too little—namely, the writing of bright, helpful letters to any friend who is sick, or in trouble. Somehow or other she always found time for that, wrote one who knew her well, and who contributes the following, written to a young girl who was at the time in a spinal hospital, and who was almost a stranger to her:—
“My dear Miss J.,—I was so glad to hear from you, though I fear it must be a trouble for you to write. I do hope that you will really have benefited by the treatment and rest. I am so glad that the doctor is good to his ‘children.’ Such little attentions when you are sick help to alleviate wonderfully. I wish I could come and take a peep at you. Did Mrs. N. tell you that she had sent us £5 387for our seaside expedition? Was it not good of her? Oh! we shall have such a jolly time. To see all those poor creatures drink in the sea-breezes! We have had a very busy week of accidents and operations. It has been a regular storm. My dear, it is in such times as you are now having that the voice of Jesus Christ can be best heard, ‘Come into a desert place awhile.’ Know you surely that it is God’s visitation. Take home that thought, realise it:—God visiting you. Elizabeth was astonished that the Mother of her Lord should visit her. We can have our Emmanuel. I can look back on my sicknesses as the best times of my life. Don’t fret about the future. He carrieth our sicknesses and healeth our infirmities. You know infirmity means weakness after sickness. Think of the cheering lines of our hymn: ‘His touch has still its ancient power.’ When I arose up from my sick-bed they told me I should never be able to enter a hospital or do work again. I was fretting over this when a good friend came to me, and told me only to take a day’s burden 388and not look forward, and it was such a help. I got up every day feeling sure I should have strength and grace for the day’s trial. May it be said of you, dear, ‘They took knowledge of her that she had been with Jesus.’ May He reveal Himself in all His beauty is the prayer of
“Your sincere friend,
It does not truly represent Sister Dora to dwell on her outer life, and not look as well into that which is within, as it was the very mainspring of all her actions, as it, in fact, made her what she was.
The same writer to the Guardian gives some sentences from other letters:—
“Take your cross day by day, dearie, and with Jesus Christ bearing the other end it will not be too heavy.” “If we would find Jesus, it must be on the mountain, not in the plains or smooth places. ‘He went up into a mountain and taught them, saying,’ etc. It is only on a mountain-side that we shall see the Cross. It was only after Zacchæus 389had climbed the tree he could see Jesus. I have been thinking much of this lately. It is not in the smooth places we shall see Jesus, it is in the rough, in the storm, or by the sick-couch.” “A Christian is one whose object is Christ.” “I am rejoiced that you are enjoying Faber’s hymns; they always warm me up. Oh! my dear, is it not sad that we prefer to live in the shade when we might have the glorious sunshine?”
It was during the winter of 1876-7 that Sister Dora felt the first approach of the terrible disease that was to cause her death, and then it was rather by diminution of strength than by actual pain. She consulted a doctor in Birmingham, in whom she placed confidence, and he told her the plain truth, that her days in this world were numbered. She exacted from him a pledge of secrecy, and then went on with her work as hitherto.
“She was suddenly brought,” says Miss Lonsdale, “as it were, face to face with death—distant, perhaps, but inevitable: she, who was full of such exuberant life and spirits, that the very word ‘death’ seemed a contradiction 390when applied to her. Even her doctor, as he looked at her blooming appearance, and measured with his eye her finely made form, was almost inclined to believe the evidence of his outward senses against his sober judgment…. She could not endure pity. She, to whom everybody had learnt instinctively to turn for help and consolation, on whom others leant for support, must she now come down to ask of them sympathy and comfort? The pride of life was still surging up in her, that pride which had made her glory in her physical strength for its own sake, as well as for its manifold uses in the service of her Master. True, she had been long living two lives inseparably blended: the outward life, one of hard, unceasing toil; the inner, a constant communion with the unseen world, the existence of which she realised to an extent which not even those who saw the most of her could appreciate. To all the poor ignorant beings whose souls she tried to reach by means of their maimed bodies, she was, indeed, the personification of all that they could conceive as lovable, holy and merciful in the Saviour. 391At the same time she judged her own self with strict impartiality. She knew her own faults, her unbending will—her pride and glory in her work seemed to her even a fault; and, in place of looking on herself as perfect, she was bowed down with a sense of her own shortcomings. At the same time—with death before her, she hungered for more work for her Master. His words were continually on her lips: ‘I must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is day; the night cometh when no man can work.’”
At last, in the month of August, 1878, typhoid fever having broken out in the temporary hospital, it was found necessary to close it, and hasten on the work of the construction of another. This gave her an opportunity for a holiday and a complete change. She went to the Isle of Man, to London, and to Paris.
But the disorder was making rapid strides, and was causing her intense suffering, and she craved to be back at Walsall. She got as far as Birmingham, and was then in such a critical state, that it was feared she would die. 392But her earnest entreaty was to be taken to Walsall: “Let me die,” she pleaded, “among my own people.”
Mr. Welsh says:—“On calling at the Queen’s Hotel, Birmingham [where she was lying ill], I was told the doctor of the hospital (Dr. Maclachlan) was with her, and thinking they were probably arranging matters connected with the hospital, I did not go to her room, but proceeded to the train. I had scarcely got seated when the doctor called me out, and we entered a compartment where we were alone. He asked me when it was intended to open the hospital. I replied, ‘On the 4th November.’ ‘Then,’ he said, ‘that will just be about the time Sister Dora will die.’
“The announcement was to me a shock of no ordinary kind, for I had not heard of her being ill, and no one could have imagined, from the cheerful tone of a letter I had received from her a week or so before, that there was anything the matter with her. Not being able to fully realise the true state of affairs, I asked him if he were jesting. He replied he was not, and that he thought it best to let me 393know at once, so that arrangements might be made for getting some one to take her place when the hospital was opened. I said, ‘I suppose she is going to Yorkshire?’ ‘No,’ he replied, ‘and that is another thing I wish to speak to you about. She wishes to die in Walsall, and she must be removed immediately.’
“On Sunday [the day following] I saw the chairman and vice-chairman of the hospital. On Sunday evening I returned with Dr. Maclachlan to the Queen’s Hotel, where he found his patient very weak. On Monday morning, a house was taken, and the furniture she had in her rooms at the hospital removed to it. Her old servant, who had gone to The Potteries, was telegraphed for, and arrived in a few hours, and by midday the house was ready for her reception. My daughter, knowing Sister Dora’s fondness for flowers, had procured and placed on the table in the parlour a very choice bouquet; and when all was ready, Dr. Maclachlan drove over to Birmingham, and brought her to Walsall in his private carriage.
“The disease was now making steady 394progress, and it was evident that every day she was becoming weaker; but she never lost her cheerfulness, and any one to have seen her might have thought she was only suffering from some slight ailment, instead of an incurable and painful disease.”
“A few hours before her death,” writes Mr. S. Welsh, “she called me to her bedside and said, ‘I want you to promise that you will not, when I am gone, write anything about me; quietly I came among you, and quietly I wish to go away.’” And this desire of hers would have been faithfully complied with had not misrepresentations fired the gentleman to whom the request was made to take up his pen, not in defence of her, but in the correction of statements that affected certain persons who were alive. I must refer the reader for the detailed account of her last hours to Miss Lonsdale’s book. One remarkable fact must not be omitted.
Among the members of the Basilian Order in the Eastern Church, it is the rule, as soon as one of the brothers or sisters is dying, that all should leave the room. The last office 395performed is to screw an ikon or representation of the Saviour to the foot of the bed, that the dying may in the supreme moment not think of any earthly tie, any earthly comfort, but look only to the Rock of his Salvation. Of this, Sister Dora knew nothing. In her last sickness she had a large crucifix hung where she could constantly gaze at it, and when she found her end approaching, she insisted on every one leaving the room,—it was her wish to die alone. And as she persisted, so was it, only one nurse standing by the door held ajar, and watching till she knew by the change of attitude, and a certain fixed look in the countenance, that Sister Dora had entered into her rest.
Mr. Welsh says: “It was Christmas Eve when she passed away, and a dense fog, like a funeral pall, hung over the town and obscured every object a few feet from the ground. Under this strange canopy the market was 396being held, and people were busy buying and selling, and making preparations for the great Christmas Festival on the following day; but when the deep boom of the passing bell announced the melancholy intelligence that Sister Dora had entered into her rest, a thrill of horror ran through the people, who, with blanched cheeks and bated breath, whispered, ‘Can it be true?’ Although for eleven weeks the process of dissolution had been going on before their eyes, they could not realise the fact that she whom they loved and revered was no more.”
The funeral took place on Saturday, the 28th of December. “The day was dark and dismal, the streets, covered with slush and sludge caused by the melted snow, were thronged with spectators…. There was general mourning in the town; and although it was market day nearly every shop was closed during the time of the funeral, and all the blinds along the route of the procession were drawn…. On reaching the cemetery it was found that four other funerals had arrived from the workhouse; and as these coffins had been taken into the chapel 397there was no room for Sister Dora’s, which had consequently to be placed in the porch. This was as Sister Dora would have wished had she had the ordering of the arrangements; for she always gave preference to the poor, to whom she was attached in life, and from whom she would not have desired to be separated in death.”
True to her thought of others, in the midst of her last sufferings she had made arrangements for a Christmas dinner to be given to a number of her old patients, in accordance with a custom of hers in previous years; but on this occasion the festive proceedings were shorn of their gladness. All thought of her who in her pain and on her deathbed had thought of them. Every one tried, but ineffectually, to cheer and comfort the other, but the task was hopeless. One young lady, after the meal, and while the Christmas tree was being lighted, commenced singing that pretty little piece, “Far Away,”—but when she came to the words,
“Some are gone from us for ever,
Longer here they could not stay,”
398she burst into tears; and the women present sobbed, and tears were seen stealing down the cheeks of bearded men.
The Walsall writer of A Review concludes his paper thus:—
“She is no idol to us, but we worship her memory as the most saintly thing that was ever given to us. Her name is immortalized, both by her own surpassing goodness, and by the love of a whole people for her—a love that will survive through generations, and give a magic and a music to those simple words, ‘Sister Dora,’ long after we shall have passed away. There was little we could ever do—there was nothing she would let us do—to relieve the self-imposed rigours of her life; but we love her in all sincerity, and now in our helplessness we find a serene joy in the knowledge that to her, as surely as to any human soul, will be spoken the Divine words: ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.’”
In Sister Dora, surely we have the highest type of the Christian life, the inner and hidden 399life of the soul, the life that is hid with Christ in God, combined with that outer life devoted to the doing of good to suffering and needy humanity. In the cloistered nun we see only the first, and that tends to become self-centred and morbid; it is redeemed from this vice by an active life of self-sacrifice.
I cannot do better than, in conclusion, quote from the last letter ever penned by Sister Dora:—
“It is 2.30 a.m., and I cannot sleep, so I am going to write to you. I was anything but ‘forbearing,’ dear; I was overbearing, and I am truly sorry for it now. I look back on my life, and see ‘nothing but leaves.’ Oh, my darling, let me speak to you from my deathbed, and say, Watch in all you do that you have a single aim—God’s honour and glory. ‘I came not to work My own work, but the works of Him that sent Me.’ Look upon working as a privilege. Do not look upon nursing in the way they do so much now-a-days, as an art or science, but as work done for Christ. As you touch each patient, think it is Christ Himself, and then virtue will come out 400of the touch to yourself. I have felt that myself, when I have had a particularly loathsome patient. Be full of the Glad Tidings, and you will tell others. You cannot give what you have not got.”