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CHAPTER ThreeLong Crendon, Bucks
WE GO BACK NOW TO LONG CRENDON, THAT CHARMING little English village situated in the Chiltern Hills in Buckinghamshire. Beautiful meadows surround it, and the song of the skylark mellows the glow of the morn. Wild blackberry bushes grow on each side of those country lanes which, like a meandering stream, wind in and out through that beautiful scene. The old church stands alone. The graveyard, with its silent sentinels of the dead, surround it. Perhaps this is a proper setting-who knows?
There is physical beauty in that spot. Every autumn, these villagers "glean" after the harvest; for they are poor. 'Tis the simple life they live. Money, fame, popularity - they care nothing for these. All they ask is to be let alone to live their own lives in their own way. Hard by is Cop Close, a garden of buttercups and daisies through which my young feet loved to paddle in the years of early childhood. Much water has gone over the dam since those days of wonder and happiness. Much more will go over the same dam. I wonder, as I write this story, if it might not have been better, if Frank B. Robinson had lived and died, never straying farther than the confines of that little village of Long Crendon. The churches think it would.
On Saturday afternoons, I would take a little basket and, whiling away a few hours, would pick the wild blackberries which grew in such profusion along those wondrous lanes. An old mill there-but its wheels do not turn any more. The joints are decayed and creaky. Years ago it ground out its last bushel of wheat. I visited this old mill a few years ago. I stood on the little platform and watched the water idle through the silent wheel, and while I was watching, the bell from the old church belfry tolled the hour of day. It awakened me from my reverie - a sacred reverie - and reminded me that, soon, I must leave that spot of peace and take the stage to Thame, thence the train back to the city of London - from thence, into a busy world, where countless thousands would seek from me the solution to the things of life and God. Can I give them that solution? Yes; for the infinite Intelligence, capable of creating a scene of such marvelous beauty, must live in that scene somewhere.
"The Manse" was on Frog Lane, a little unpaved street at one end of the village. Across the narrow street was the "Community Hall" where father would "champion the rights of the people" by taking an active part in politics. I remember once they put him in jail for refusing to pay taxes to support Catholic schools, and they can put me there any time for the same reason. The Salvation Army barracks were on the corner adjoining "The Manse," and every Saturday and Sunday night we were treated to the services of that organization free of charge.
A wall, six feet high, surrounded the old home. In my boyhood, the geraniums grew on the top of this wall. Squire Blake, a wealthy and pompous English Squire, lived next door. One day I had the temerity to climb up the wall and look over the top. The fat squire was sitting on a chair on the porch. Rousing himself in anger, he said to me, "You get down off that wall and don't ever let me catch you climbing up it again or I'll tell your father.'' I climbed down and never did climb up the wall again. That threat was enough.
Our yard was quite small, and it was overgrown with grass tall enough that when I sat down in it, I would be completely hidden from view. I had a favorite spot in the corner of that yard, and it was to this spot I used to go. There, by the hour, I would ponder over this world and the Power behind this world. Let it be understood here that, at that early age, my thoughts were almost always of God. On one memorable afternoon, I was lying down on my back in this favorite corner of the yard, looking up into the sky. That afternoon, there came to me a very strong conviction that what I saw above that beautiful sky - was not all there is to this world. I shall not say that this was either a spiritual visitation or a vision. Whatever it was, it undoubtedly had its origin in the great Realm of the Spirit which is God. I can faithfully describe the movement, and I know, as I knew many times since, that God had spoken to me. God had made plain to me in a very marked spiritual manner that what I saw there, all around me - that beauteous scene - this world around me - these things were not the real world. It was a rapturous experience. It was like a message from the beyond. It was realistic. There was nothing unusual about that visitation or whatever you choose to call it. It was an experience which made very plain to me that there is much more to this life than appears on the surface.
At once, I made up my mind that I would know the truths of God if that was the last thing I ever did. Going into the house and snuggling close to my mother who always understood me, I said, "Mammy - there's another world beside this one. God lives in that world - and you. I can find that world, and I'm going to find it." Mother, as before stated, was as Godly a woman as I have ever known. Too bad she passed away at so tender an age. I needed that mother, and the world needs all the mothers like her it can get. Putting her hand affectionately on my shoulder and kissing me, she said, "Frankie, dear - God is everywhere - not in the sky. He's in you, in me, and in the butterflies which flit from flower to flower. You live in God."
That was a rather startling statement for me to hear coming from the lips of that sainted soul. It was utterly foreign to what I knew, even at that tender age, as religion. It did not jibe with the theology taught by my father and other Baptist preachers. I did not quite understand it; but it started a new train of thought in my young mind. "Mammy, can I find God?" I asked her. "Darling, anyone who doesn't look too far away can find God," she replied. Then lifting me on her knee, she said, "Frankie, there will come a day when you will disclose to the world the truths of God. I cannot say more to you now, but you must keep very quiet about what I am saying to you now. Never do anything wrong. Don't do too much praying, and someday, at the proper time, God will speak to the world through you." My young heart was in raptures at that statement. "Mammy," I said, "When will these things be? Will it be here in Long Crendon?" "No, child, it will be a long way from here. The new revelation of God which you will bring to the world will be so stupendous that it will be known all over the world. You will bring it from the land of your birth - America," she replied.
I asked mother how she knew those things. She told me that God was very precious to her. She told me that if she died that day, she considered she had done her duty to God and the world when I was born. I have often wondered just how much that sainted mother knew which she did not tell me. It must have been plenty, for here was a case of a mother, fifty years in advance, prophesying what is happening today.
There lived in Long Crendon a beautiful lady whose name was Carrie Shrimpton. Mother and Carrie Shrimpton spent hours together talking about the things of God. I never heard mother ever mention the name of Jesus Christ. It was with her all God. One day when father was on a rampage, I remember his saying to mother, "Yes, go over to Carrie Shrimpton's and talk about a lot of damfool religious ideas you have. It's a good place for you. Why don't you take him (alluding to me) with you?" Mother did; and there, in that little Shrimpton cottage, one of the most wonderful afternoons I have ever spent will long be remembered by me.
I have already told you that, at this time, father was having an affair with a woman of wealth in that village. I knew it, and so did everyone else. I believe it was this affair which led to father's "withdrawal" from the Baptist ministry. The "withdrawal" did not last too long though, as he was soon back in the ministry again.
These moments spent with mother were precious. Seeds were sown in those tender years which are today blossoming out and bearing full fruit all over the world. The American Renaissance, in which men and women shall actually and literally find and know the Power of the Great Spirit - God, is very close at hand. Regardless of how big this Spiritual Awakening becomes, the seeds of it were planted in that little thatched "Manse" and in Carrie Shrimpton's cottage. I saw the cottage when I was over there. I took a picture of it, but it is not of sufficient clarity to make a cut, or I would show it to you in this book. The well in the yard you will see.
When I recall how mother began to fade shortly after those sweet periods, and when I remember that in two years she was laid away to her eternal physical rest, the remarkableness of the whole scene becomes quite vivid. Shortly after those days, father announced that he had received a "call" to the north of England. He was going to Halifax. I well remember the day we moved. There were no automobiles in those days. When the time for moving came, an old lady named Welsh was engaged to move our household belongings from Long Crendon to Thame, a few miles away. The railroad ran through Thame and not through this village of Long Crendon.
Mrs. Welsh drove up in front of the house with a donkey hitched to a two-wheeled wagon. Wrapping the lines around the whip, she went into the house to see the furniture which had to be moved. I was playing out in front, and this donkey had quite a fascination for me. Kindred souls perhaps. Without giving it a second thought, I climbed into the dray, or whatever you would call that two-wheeled contraption, and unwrapping the lines from the whip, I said, "Giddap donkey." The donkey did.
This was the first time I had had any experience with either donkeys or two-wheeled contraptions, and you can imagine my dismay when the donkey started and I found out that I couldn't stop the thing. Putting the lines in my left hand, I began to pommel that donkey with the whip in order to make it stop going. That, of course, made it run all the faster, and to make a long story short, the donkey, the two-wheeled contraption, and I came to a halt in the middle of a large pond at the other end of the village. The water was up to the animal's belly, and he absolutely refused to move in any direction. They found the whole trio about half an hour later, and I was sitting in the bottom of the wagon crying my eyes out. When Mrs. Welsh arrived, she called to the donkey, and the stubborn thing turned around and went right to her. Of course, a lacing followed when I got home, and that took all the pleasure out of that trip to Halifax in the north of England. I remember mother was arguing with father all the way to Halifax. They had a regular "knock-down, drag-out." All this was because of the lacing which was administered to me.
Now, let me give you a couple of incidents which will tend to give you a little insight into my nature at that time. One Sunday afternoon, Dad took me walking. He took a shotgun with him. We walked towards Thame. Suddenly some pheasants flew overhead, and Dad took a shot at them. He missed, and I was glad he did. "Dad, you wouldn't shoot one of those beautiful birds - you wouldn't kill things, would you?" I asked. I was told not to be foolish. The very thought of killing anything horrified me; and to see the Reverend J. H. Robinson with a gun, looking for birds to kill, shocked me. It made me doubt the sincerity of whatever he said in the little chapel which I was religiously made to attend. I would far rather have spent an hour with Carrie Shrimpton and mother - but chapel it had to be.
The little Long Crendon Chapel was holding a Whitsuntide festival in Cop Close. Hot Cross buns and coffee was served. We kids were allowed to wander over the Close after the eating was over. I wanted to be alone that day. Every waking thought was of God, and not being able to be in the corner of our back yard, I sought out another lonely spot in which I could ponder over the things my mother had told me. Suddenly I came across half a dozen boys in a group. They had caught a frog, and having tied a string to one of its hind legs, they fastened the string to a branch of a tree, leaving the poor frog hanging at the end of two feet of the string. One would follow the other, and each had a stick in his hand. As they passed this poor frog, each would hit it as hard as he could. The sight sickened me. Approaching the crowd of boys, all older than I was, I said, "Boys, you'll have to stop that." I looked them right in the eye. Normally that bunch of fellows would have consigned my interfering self into the warmer regions, but they did not. They hung their heads and disappeared. I took the frog down, put it in my pocket, and when I arrived home, made a nest for it in "my corner." The next morning the frog was gone. Evidently it was not hurt too much. There has always been a mellowness to my nature, so I cannot stand the sight of pain or cruelty. I cannot see suffering. As Mrs. Robinson said in her introductory remarks, I would literally give the shirt off my back to anyone who needed it more than I did.
I have been imposed on many times. I am still imposed on, but I cannot stand to see or hear of suffering. You can imagine how I feel when I read of the ruthless slaughter of human life in Europe, China, and other parts of the world today. What is wrong with the world? How can men and nations be so cruel? With all the beauty God has provided, why must men fight each other? Shall I tell you? They do not know God. In spite of what has been told this world by religious organizations, the world and men folks do not know God. Soon they will.
The night we moved from Long Crendon into Thame, a circus was in that town. That was something. We had never seen a circus, and Dad would not let us see that one. We stayed that night at the home of one Mr. Jones, a stationer, and our bedroom was directly opposite the circus. Naturally, as all kids that age would do, I opened the window and was taking in the sights. The Merry-go-round, the swings, the coal-oil lights - these were all new to me. Leaning a bit too far out of the window, I fell out and landed on the awning below which, fortunately, had not been wound up when Jones closed his shop that night. Well, I was in a predicament that time. I knew that I would be whaled within an inch of my life if father found it out, and yet I did not know what to do about it.
Looking over the edge of the awning, I decided that it would not be too big a drop to the sidewalk, so I dropped. Then the big problem came. I was standing on the sidewalk in my nightshirt. The problem was - "How can I get back into the bedroom without Dad seeing me?" Well, I did it. Sneaking in the back door, I stole upstairs and to this day, my father does not know about my falling out of that window in the little shop in Thame. He will probably read this strange autobiography. If he does, he will wonder what sort of memory I have to remember these little incidents after fifty years, but I remember most of them - and many other things, too - such as the large estate I should have had but did not get. However, I know where it went.
It is not my desire to embarrass father, but the "Psychiana" Movement is of world-wide importance now. The true story of its founder must be told. I cannot longer refuse to write it. It will hurt Dad - or will it? In any event, the feelings of one man are of little import when the future of religion in the world is at stake. I love him still - I always shall. I do not care whether or not that love is reciprocated. I know it is not. True love, no matter to whom it is directed, will register in one way or another. Let us hope that the last few years of that misguided father's life are free of pain. Let us hope that, ere it is too late, he finds and knows the unspeakable joys which come from being "at one with "God," here and now and not after death or beyond the in tomb. God lives now. All the Power of that Great Spirit may be known now. If that is not possible - there is no God - we are all creatures of chance. That, no thinking man or woman will admit.
There was never a night or a day when I did not talk with God. Not with Jesus Christ but with God. I never got down on my knees. I instinctively knew that some great work for God would be done by me - but then - I was only a child. I had to learn a lot of things before I could be qualified to do anything of importance for either God or man. I believe I can best express my feelings by saying that through these years, there was an insatiable desire to - actually know who and what God was. Where I made the mistake was in not keeping quiet and letting God reveal Himself to me, which God undoubtedly would have done, - had I learned the lesson I now know. I thought there was something I had to do. What I know now is that everything I did to try to bring the present consciousness of God to me was all wrong. All God wanted me to do was to keep quiet - to be still. Then, at the proper moment, I would be given both the Power and the opportunity to carry out the purposes of God. The greatest and most profound eight words in my life are - Be still, and know that I am God. And that does not mean Jesus Christ. A true religious experience is something like a kinder-garten. You start with simple things. Then as you master them, you progress into things of more import. The trouble with anyone's getting any sort of religious experience today is that so many crazy theories of God have been advanced that I very much question whether there are six people on the face of the earth who truly know who and what God is. There are millions of church members, but that's something else, as we shall see later.
I have seen lots of "religion" in my day. I have seen religion in action. I saw it nearly beat its own sons to death. I saw it guzzling beer by the gallon. I saw it having illicit intercourse with members of its own church. I saw it lie under oath. I saw it steal. I saw it as it exists today. I do not want that sort of religion, for religion, or what masquerades as religion, has not changed for the better since my boyhood days. It has gone so far that the whole world knows it for what it is - a ghastly sham perpetrated on the world by the church in the name of God.
I do not care what religion did to me, and it marred me. I do not care how I have suffered through religion - and I have suffered. I am only glad to realize and know that at last - the actual truths of the Great Spirit-God are beginning to dawn on this earth. What a day! What a responsibility! What a coveted privilege is mine! Many trying times lie ahead. Many hard battles remain to be fought. These battles, however, will be won - for I learned well the lesson - Be still, and know that I am God. The call is clear. The objective is God. The Power comes from God. How, then, can I fail?
We arrived at Halifax the next evening, and were entertained by a Mr. Ezra Knapton. He fed us potted meat for supper, and I wish I could get some of that potted meat today. After supper, or "tea" as they call it in England, we slept in Mr. Knapton's home, moving into No. 7 Lilac Street the next day. I was sent to the Lee Mount Board School, being the only one of the boys old enough to go to school. At the trial, Mr. Casterlin tried to make me out a liar when I stated that I first went to school in Long Crendon at the age of three. He failed, as a Moscow lady of English girlhood corroborated my statement that children did go to school in England at three.
The only thing that happened in Halifax was the sad death of my mother. She continued to pine and waste away. She could not stand to see what she was forced to see. She could not bear to see the repeated thrashings and other brutal sufferings I was made to go through. Her sweet life began to ebb away. Bronchial pneumonia they called it. I know the true name. I have already told you of the remarkable funeral. I now know that her "death" was only physical. (Read Blood on the Tail of a Pig.)
Between then and the time father married again and moved us to Huddersfield, there started an affair with an other member of Dad's church. This time it was a Miss Martha Hurley. I know, because one day on my way home from school, I dropped in on Miss Hurley without knocking. So I know, and both father and Miss Hurley know that I know. This did not do me any good - if anything, it made the punishment more frequent.
Opposite our house at No. 7 Lilac Street, was the parsonage of the Church of England which stood one block away. A Reverend Parkinson was the rector or whatever it is an Episcopal pastor is called. In Moscow, they call the Episcopal minister "father" so he must be a priest. In the corner of the churchyard, I made another little place out of grass, and there was established another rendezvous with God. To this little spot, I would go at every opportunity, and there, with "an unknown God" to guide me, I would pour out my longings and desires. I would talk with God just as I talk with others - only - with a good deal more earnestness.
Often, the organ repairer would come to this Church of England, and when he did, father would make me stay out of school and blow the organ for the man while he repaired it. I was paid two shillings which father religiously kept.
Not one penny did he give me to spend for candy. Other boys had money - but not I. The times when I was allowed to go and play in the street in front of the house were few and far between. Many times, in the middle of the night, have I awakened and quietly crept out of the house to "talk with God" in the little churchyard across the street.
I recall one Saturday when father had sent me "down town" to have his Sunday sermon subjects inserted in the daily newspaper. He had enclosed the cost in coin, and in some manner the coin had been lost out of the envelope. When I arrived at the newspaper office and handed in the notice, the man in charge said, "Where is the money?" I replied that it was in the envelope with the notice. ''No, it isn't - and you get no free announcements in this paper. You'd better go home and get the money." I was too afraid to go home, so I wandered through a park that night and all the next day. That evening, a police alarm was sent out for me. When the "bobbies"' found me, I was standing against a tree stump using it for a make-believe pulpit, and I was preaching to the trees and shrubs.
The police officers told me later that that was the only real sermon they had ever listened to - "and it was a bloody good one," one of these officers said. Arriving home in custody of the officers, I knew another whaling was in order. It was duly, although not thankfully, received. I noticed that as soon as father secured himself another "interest" in Huddersfield, he paid less attention to me. I liked that, for he had paid altogether too much attention to me so far. One day after a brutal attack, I came down with double pneumonia. My life was despaired of, but it was mother who looked after me and nursed me back to health again.
Someone had given me a metal "nigger" which held its hand out and, when a coin was deposited in the hand, a lever was pressed in the back of the "nigger" and he swallowed the coin. While convalescing, I worked that "nigger" overtime. I had the bank full, for it really was a child's savings bank. As soon as father found out what I had been doing, he took the "nigger" away from me, broke it open, put the money in his pocket, and I have never seen that "nigger" since.
I had some good times in Halifax, though, and made many friends. I shall never forget the wagonettes we used to hire, which, filled with Sunday school people, would drive out onto the moors. There, in the mellow glow of evening, we would sing the old songs. One I remember particularly:
Summer suns are glowing, over land and sea,
Happy light is flowing, bountiful and free;
Everything rejoices, in the mellow ray,
And earth's thousand voices, sing a song of praise.
Oh, Almighty Giver, bountiful and free,
May we seek thy favor, ever being free.
That is what I wanted - to be free to know God. During these picnics onto the beautiful moors of Yorkshire, I would be missed from the crowd. Someone would say, "Where's Frank Robinson?" A search would be started, and they would find me off in some corner of a field, communing with God. There never was the slightest shadow of doubt but that what mother had told me would come to pass. Had I known how hard the path was to be, I might have shrunk from it, but I did not know-Thank God for that!