Now! Then! A Yorkshire Almanac for 2024

11 July 1858: In Whitby, Walter White buys a religious ballad printed at Otley and called ‘The railway to heaven’

Walter White. 1861. A Month in Yorkshire, 4th Ed. London: Chapman and Hall. The best of White’s travel writing, in which, as usual, he encounters and investigates the Plain People. This is the golden age of walking, when there were good roads pretty much everywhere, and they hadn’t yet been made inaccessible to pedestrians by cars. His July is told in 31 chapters, which seem to refer to the days of the month. Get it:

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Excerpt

I lingered, contemplating the view, till it was time to look for an inn; I chose the Talbot, and had no reason to repent my choice. On the way thither, I bought two religious ballads at a little shop, the mistress of which told me she sold “hundreds of ’em,” and that they were printed at Otley. As specimens of a class of compositions which are relished and sung as hymns by a numerous section of the community, they are eminently suggestive. Do they supply a real want? Are they harmless? Are they edifying? Can they who find satisfaction therein be led up to something better? To close this chapter, here follows a quotation from The Railway to Heaven:

O! what a deal we hear and read
About Railways and railway speed,
Of lines which are, or may be made;
And selling shares is quite a trade.

Allow me, as an old Divine,
To point you to another line,
Which does from earth to heaven extend,
Where real pleasures never end.

Of truth divine the rails are made,
And on the Rock of Ages laid;
The rails are fix’d in chairs of love,
Firm as the throne of God above.

One grand first-class is used for all,
For Jew and Gentile, great and small,
There’s room for all the world inside,
And kings with beggars here do ride.

About a hundred years or so
Wesley and others said they’d go:
A carriage mercy did provide,
That Wesley and his friends might ride.

’Tis nine-and-thirty years, they say,
Whoever lives to see next May,
Another coach was added then
Unto this all important train.

Jesus is the first engineer,
He does the gospel engine steer;
We’ve guards who ride, while others stand
Close by the way with flag in hand.

CHORUS.
“My son,” says God, “give me thy heart;
Make haste, or else the train will start.”


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To facilitate reading, the spelling and punctuation of elderly excerpts have generally been modernised, and distracting excision scars concealed.

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Original

I lingered, contemplating the view, till it was time to look for an inn; I chose the Talbot, and had no reason to repent my choice. On the way thither, I bought two religious ballads at a little shop, the mistress of which told me she sold “hundreds of ’em,” and that they were printed at Otley. As specimens of a class of compositions which are relished and sung as hymns by a numerous section of the community, they are eminently suggestive. Do they supply a real want? Are they harmless? Are they edifying? Can they who find satisfaction therein be led up to something better? To close this chapter, here follows a quotation from The Railway to Heaven:

O! what a deal we hear and read
About Railways and railway speed,
Of lines which are, or may be made;
And selling shares is quite a trade.

Allow me, as an old Divine,
To point you to another line,
Which does from earth to heaven extend,
Where real pleasures never end.

Of truth divine the rails are made,
And on the Rock of Ages laid;
The rails are fix’d in chairs of love,
Firm as the throne of God above.

One grand first-class is used for all,
For Jew and Gentile, great and small,
There’s room for all the world inside,
And kings with beggars here do ride.

About a hundred years or so
Wesley and others said they’d go:
A carriage mercy did provide,
That Wesley and his friends might ride.

’Tis nine-and-thirty years, they say,
Whoever lives to see next May,
Another coach was added then
Unto this all important train.

Jesus is the first engineer,
He does the gospel engine steer;
We’ve guards who ride, while others stand
Close by the way with flag in hand.

CHORUS.
“My son,” says God, “give me thy heart;
Make haste, or else the train will start.”

365 words.

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