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Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Fiery Fiddler - James Dowdle

As he looked at the two hundred pounds of dignity, standing six-feet high in the dock, His Honour felt uncomfortable. He was not quite sure that the Canadian Chief of Police was a match for this' Hallelujah' Colonel.

'The law makes and provides,' went the prosecution, ' that no person be allowed to obstruct the highway, and any person or persons so doing, shall, at the request of the police, thereat cease to do so or be taken into custody.'

'Obstructing the highway!' piped the police. man. 'That was what you were doing with your preaching and fiddling. When ordered to desist, you insisted on playing the constables to the police station. High sport for the crowd that was, and not decent!’

‘Men’s sins are not decent,' thundered the Colonel, 'and you came obstructing God in His work of cleansing the defiled.'

Chief Baines nudged His Honour. Ranting in Court was irregular.

'Let us pray for these two wrong-thinking officials', said the Colonel, turning to his two companions in the dock with him; and promptly sank to his knees.

Such praying Chief Baines had never heard before. It astonished him; but when he tried to get to the door the magistrate, who seemed almost petrified where he sat, blocked the way of escape. He had to sit it out till, during a pause in the prayer, he took his chance.

‘There, there,' said His Honour to the accused; 'gang awa!' Ye may march unmolested on the side-walks if ye do so in single file. And ye may sing and ye may play the drum a' ye like, only ye must just move on when the police tell ye. Gang awa'! Gang awa'! '

It was enough! Marching out of Court, the vivacious Salvationist led his comrades in singing:

Soldiers of faith, arise,
And put your armour on;
The opposing powers of darkness flee
Before the Rising Sun.

'That Colonel,' remarked the magistrate, 'is a great talker.'

'Yes,' replied Baines, 'he can out-talk the Devil. Neither you nor I stand the ghost of a show with him.'

James Dowdle could pray anywhere. As a boy in an English village, he had prayed when two ruffians had held him in front of a horse which they said would eat him! Later, as a guard on the Great Western Railway, he had prayed at the request of a fellow-worker who, seriously injured, was being taken to hospital. But these had been but reedy warblings compared with the passionate outpourings which were characteristic of him in later years.

And, also, this portly saint could play! He made his violin plead, then triumph; made it woo and wassail as his fingers danced and his bow raced across the strings.

In its early days, The Salvation Army had often to encounter physical as well as spiritual opposition. Its unconventional marching, singing and playing in the streets revolted the taste of those who preferred religion to be decorous, and raised the ire of others whose sinful ways were interfered with. Gangs of roughs, craving excitement, vented cruel passions on the Salvationists, breaking up their Open-Air Meetings, attacking them with stones and other missiles, or with their brutal fists battering those who sought only their highest good. Hundreds of Salvationists, nearly half of them women and children, were injured in a year.

Even where crowds were more friendly, hecklers disturbed the Open-Air Meetings, and drunks would create unusual situations by joining in the proceedings. Leaders had to be intrepid, ingenious, good humoured.

Dowdle - true to The Army's slogan: 'No retaliation for persecution'- in open-air tussles with the roughs would take the pushing about (and there was a lot of him to push) with a spontaneous gaiety. Always, however, he held his fiddle high above his head, concerned lest it be hurt. He loved his fiddle. With his instrument under one arm and flourishing his bow with the other, he would harangue his hearers for ten minutes, then lead off into a gay song which would set them singing merrily.

He had a way with crowds, and could always get one. Going along some main street, this rollicking opportunist might set down his violin case at a strategic point.

‘Stand back! Stand back!‘ he would roar, as if to keep off the gathering crowd from the offending case, they in turn regarding him with mingled dismay and expectation.

‘Stand back!' he would roar again. ‘It might go off!’ Then, when his congregation had assembled, he would deftly extract his instrument.

‘Why, it's old Dowdle and his fiddle,' some would laugh, for his fame was widely known; and the Meeting would begin.

His playing always brought glad ripples of laughter, and, even amid the squalor of the slum , the message of liberty and peace. Once, after a disappointing day, while waiting ten minutes for a train, he took out his fiddle and filled the waiting room with merry music that produced smiles all round. Another time, he was seen with two drunken women -one on each arm - while he played his fiddle and led a street procession to the Salvation Army Hall.

A sprightly, mischievous boy, who ' loved a scrap,' James Dowdle had grown up in a two roomed cottage in the. pretty village of Upton Lovell, Wiltshire, where he was born on December 20, 1840. His parents had practised a simple, loving piety. In the chapel they attended the preachers were fiery and forthright; too hot for James, whose wild ways were rebuked by their scorching words. Fleeing from the truth about himself, to the disappointment of his parents he had left the chapel and, in order to salve his conscience by formal attendance at a place of worship, joined the Church, where he played a bass viol.

When he was twelve an uncle had undertaken to teach him the trade of a wheelwright. But the work had not suited James - nor the religious discipline of writing and reading passages from the Bible, set him by his uncle of an evening. Three times he had run away, till finally he had been sent to a farm near his home. But farm life was too slow; he had hied off to London as soon as he could and secured a job in the goods yard of the Great Western Railway, where he had rapidly risen to the position of guard.

Formal religion on Sundays did not square with loose living during the week. Dowdle had 'cut' with the Church and given rein to his unruly passions-till his evil way of life was challenged by the preaching of ?L man named Richard Weaver. After weeks of misery, having listened to a converted actor conducting a religious service in a music hall, Dowdle decided to 'surrender to God.' At that moment he had found the peace of a forgiven past.

He had commenced fearlessly to tell his mates of his new experience, till one day an older man said to him:

'Look here, James; I'm an old Christian and I don't get the persecution you get. Keep your religion to yourself. Don't try to push it down other people's throats.'

Dowdle, prevented by his long hours of work from attending a place of worship on Sundays, had. found that in neglecting to talk about his experience of the power of Christ he lost that power. Soon he was visiting public-houses again; the old vicious habits returned.

Just at the time of this moral relapse Dowdle had been made a railway guard. In the course of his duties he had often to walk on the open track. At Slough one day, he was crossing the line to get some drink when fast-moving wagons caught him, threw him, and would have mangled him had not a workmate snatched him from death or serious injury.

Not long afterward, at Oxford, as he was talking to another guard, before Dowdle's eyes the poor fellow had been killed beneath some passing freight. At Reading he had two similar experiences., After the second, a Christian pointsman had said to him:

'Jim, it's by God's mercy you were not killed. If you had been, what would have become of you ?'

Startled by these incidents, a little while later, while listening to a band of men preaching at Paddington Green, Dowdle had knelt on the stones and prayed for God's forgiveness, arising with a wonderful feeling of gladness.

A blaspheming pointsman tested the genuineness of his change of heart when, rebuked for his filthy language, he struck the convert a violent blow. James laid down his lamp and doubled his fists as the blood rushed to his face. But quietly he picked up his lamp again and walked away, coward though he might seem.

'Didn't you kill him for it? ' asked a fellow guard who heard of the assault.

'No! I prayed God to save him,' was Dowdle's reply.

A few hours later, the pointsman was hurrying forward to beg Dowdle's pardon.

‘Certainly, I forgive you freely,' said Dowdle.

But it was only the grace of God that caused me to keep my hands off you.' The hefty man had learned that meekness which Jesus declared should inherit the earth.

The Paddington Green preachers were led by a builder named Stevens, who, soon afterward, opened a mission hall. Dowdle was anxious to attend the opening ceremony, but could not get leave from work even by paying for a substitute. ,So keen was he, however, that he sacrificed his job.

He became a baker's roundsman, but his employer, when he heard him' bawling about the streets ' about religion, insisted that he could not allow it.

'But my open-air speaking is not done in your time,' Dowdle protested. When the baker remained adamant, he again promptly forsook his job.

Dowdle then became the faithful workman of Mr. Stevens the builder, and a preaching partner of Mr. Stevens the evangelist. After working hours, wherever a job had taken them, they would tackle the low, drink-sodden, temper-ridden desperadoes of the neighbourhood, sometimes having a far from friendly reception.

One morning Dowdle was roused at four o'clock to face the key man of a gang of roughs who often attacked Stevens' meetings. The man was carrying a rope, determined to make an end of the awful life he had been living, either by suicide or by Salvation. Dowdle was soon up and pointing the man to the Saviour.. Working among such as these, he was being prepared for a wider ministry.

The 'Eastern Star' was a notorious public house in Whitechapel. One day Mr. Stevens was asked to call there and discuss certain alterations with a Rev. William Booth. The place was to become the Headquarters of 'The Christian Mission,' of which Booth was the General Superintendent.

Dowdle, who accompanied his employer, was greatly interested in the tall evangelist with his piercing eyes, his hooked nose and black beard. What he heard of his work in the East End thrilled him, for Mr. Booth's Meetings were evidently crowded with the most vicious and degraded men and women, many of whom were being converted and joining in the crusade of the unusual minister.

Dowdle was invited to special Meetings at a theatre on the following Sunday. In an Open Air Meeting preceding a march, he heard William Booth preach and himself was asked to speak. Before long he was one of this remarkable man's most enthusiastic followers. They became warmly attached to each other.

William Booth conducted the marriage of Mr. Dowdle and Miss Stevens, daughter of the bridegroom's former employer. The couple took charge of a shop in Shoreditch where they served cheap dinners to the poor on weekdays and, in a former music-hall behind the shop, led evangelistic Meetings on Sundays.

That shop warmed bodies and souls. Behind the counter Dowdle kept a Bible to feed those in need spiritually; his success was seen in scores of people who gave up their evil and selfish life and began to serve God. True, the combination of puddings and prayers shocked some folk who, reflecting the spirit of the age, did not include a social conscience in their religious convictions. Hard to reconcile Dowdle with the starched shirt and immaculate black suit and tie of the respectable preachers of the period!

A visitor to the soup shop would see him - expansive, his face beaming through a cloud of steam rising from cauldrons of soup, potatoes and meat; a large white apron covering his huge figure, and his sleeves rolled to the elbows as he flourished fork and ladle. And many a man whose family was starving was helped.

Before long, the Dowdles were needed in the provinces, first at Chatham, where Mrs. Booth, the gifted wife of the mission leader, had been preaching With great effect. Later still, they took charge of Mission Stations at Stockton, Leeds and Plymouth. In these centres and many neighbouring places, Dowdle made a deep. impression. Always his methods were spectacular, though never bizarre. Novelty served to capture the people's interest, but he was seeking their Salvation, not personal notoriety. All the same, he was often quixotic.

'What are you propping that place up for, man' he shouted one day to a man leaning against a public-house. ' Come away and let the Devil prop up his own house.'

Early in his Christian life his future wife had asked Dowdle to sign the abstinence pledge. He had countered by remarking that the small amount of liquor he took wouldn't make any difference to him.

'Then,' wise Miss Stevens had said, 'it won't be difficult for you to give it up.' That had settled matters. In any case he saw only too much of the evil consequences of drink, and it was but natural that he should say strong things against the cause of such misery. He saw that he must give up the temperate use of what, taken in excess, was ruining so many around him.

In Dowdle's denunciation of the evil there was nothing mealy mouthed; nor was his temperance teaching fired, artillery-like, from a distance. Dowdle was never afraid of hand to hand encounter. At times his mode of expression was extreme, but then he had seen the extreme and often terrible results of drunkenness.

'Hallo!' he exclaimed to a barman of a public house he passed one day. ' What are you doing ?

‘Cleaning the windows,' came the reply.

'You can't do it,' said Dowdle.

'Can't do it! What do you mean ' The barman was secretly irritated.

'Mean?' said Dowdle. 'I mean that those windows are stained with the blood of souls, and nobody can get that stain off.'

Yet few ever took offence at what he said, for with his strong convictions went a manner so brisk and a spirit so amiable that he was dubbed a good sort.'

'Oh, hinney,' the Geordies of Tyneside would remark, ' there's neebody like Doodle.' Around Middlesbrough, the Salvationists were called 'Sally Doodles'; he was so widely known.

By this time Dowdle had been entrusted with the oversight of a large area, with a number of Salvation Army Corps - for in 1878 The Christian Mission had become The Salvation Army - under his command. His boisterous personality still pushed its way into the affairs of men wherever he went. With his office-boy, he was walking along a street one day when they came upon a wagoner smoking.

‘Look here, Willie,' said Dowdle, ' here's a man this beautiful day smoking. He's got Hell inside, and he must have a bit of fire outside, too.'

The man, aroused, said that he was just having a quiet smoke to cool himself. Major Dowdle, as he now was, let him have it hot about his spiritual welfare, but all in so friendly a manner that the man was not offended. Always he was anxious to help the people whose habits he might condemn. Even those out to disturb him were prevented by his good-natured courage. He and his Converts were kneeling in the street on one occasion, praying, when half-drunken men threw water over them and then, breaking into the ring of Salvationists, rolled over Dowdle. He, however, continued praying. In the Hall later, one of the roughs, with tears in his eyes, asked to address the Meeting. Confessing that he had been in the wrong, he asked all to pray for him, which, of course, Dowdle was glad to do.

At Sunderland, a man dressed like a clown rode a pony into the middle of an Open-Air Meeting. The imperturbable Dowdle quietly took hold of the pony's head and continued the Meeting. Afterward, the mounted man was led at the head of the march, right through the doors and up to the front of the Victoria Hall. The ' clown' at first brazenly faced it out, but this was no ordinary Meeting. The diversion of a comic on a pony wag soon forgotten by the great audience. The fancy dressed man, spiritually unseated, slid off his pony to the Penitent Form. He could not fool Christ. The foolishness of God is wiser than men.'

The same discovery was made by a landlord who, from the door of his public-house, offered Dowdle a large pot of beer. As if intending to enjoy it, the Major accepted it, and walked into the house. There he set the beer on the counter and talked to the landlord and the men about their souls.

'Now, men, we'll pray,' said he, and, kneeling on the sawdust-covered floor, he talked to God for them all. Finished, he stalked out of the public house and emptied the beer into the gutter.

Dowdle's friendliness together with his passionate exhortations did much to build up the ' Division' he commanded-all Salvation Army work north of Scarborough and Lancaster. By the time he left this work two and a half years later, the number of Corps had been more than trebled. He was constantly visiting his Officers, conducting Meetings for them, championing their cause, encouraging, reproving, suggesting anything and everything to help them. Sometimes Mrs. Dowdle accompanied him, at other times they traveled to separate fields of labour.

A Leeds clergyman, who disagreed with many Salvation Army methods, yet had to say that he had never known a man who did not show self in connection with his work except Dowdle.

Extremely powerful, too, were his Meetings. Besides his colloquial preaching, Dowdle's vocal ducts with his wife always made a great appeal. The two looked a strange contrast - he, huge and dominating; she, rather frail and winsome-but their spirit and manner gave a picture of happy confidence in each other and in God.

Mrs. Dowdle often followed up their duets with simple, homely words which the crowd, hushed by the singing, was ready to receive. Quietly the seekers would come forward. Love unadulterated, all - inclusive was the secret of these two who, lacking many earthly gifts, held the heavenly key that unlocked the hearts of others. Hence they were chosen of God for their task.

This is His will, He takes and He refuses,
Finds Him ambassadors whom men deny;
Wise ones nor mighty for His saints He chooses
No such as John, or Gideon, or I.

At Leeds, where a circus had been hired for the Meetings, a low barrier prevented people from coming into the ring-where a platform and Penitent Form had been erected-to declare their decision to follow Christ. But no obstacle stayed the power of those gatherings. Dowdle asked those who wished to seek God to put up their hands, and then provided chairs so that they could climb over the balustrade. Hundreds made the climb. 
‘Are you going to Pullan's?' was on everybody's lips during his stay in Bradford. Pullan's was a large theatre he was using on Sundays for his Meetings, and the roads leading to it were thronged as people streamed to hear him. Hundreds experienced a change of heart in Pullan's Theatre.

One man, named Saunders, soon afterward migrated to Australia. Attending a mission meeting in Adelaide, he met another Christian Mission Convert, Gore by name. Together they began to hold Meetings in the land of their adoption, and so successful was their work that soon they petitioned William Booth to send Officers to take charge, ' as quick as fire and steam could bring them.' From that beginning the work has increased until to-day there are in the Commonwealth over 2,000 Officers, working at some 1,400 evangelistic and social centres. Such is God's multiplication table.

One drizzling night, wearing oilskins, Dowdle strode through Westgate in Bradford, handing out handbills with announcements of his Meetings. Leaning against a lamp-post he saw a disconsolate lad of seventeen. As he gave him a bill, he paused to say 'God bless you!' and to tell him that on the following night, in Pullan's Theatre, devils would be cast out of men by the power of God's Spirit. It was Dowdle's way of saying that many were to find that their evil passions, now in control, would come under the rule of God, and they could thus find peace of heart.

The youth was John Lawley, an engine-cleaner in a local mill. That night, through a misunderstanding, he had parted company with his best friend. In his loneliness he was glad to read, by the light of the lamp, the handbill confirming Dowdle's invitation to the Meeting. He accepted it and, as a result, later made a public confession that he would follow Christ.
Far greater than a man's single endeavour in the service of God is the multiplied witness of his Converts. John Lawley became an outstanding Salvation Army Officer who commanded important centres of work and, later, traveled far and wide with William Booth. Vast congregations in many parts of the world were deeply moved by his singing of Gospel songs, many of which he himself composed. Following the General's addresses, he conducted the Prayer Meetings, in which multitudes were persuaded to accept Christ's forgive new of sins.

Before Lawley set out as a world-traveler, however, Dowdle himself was to journey to other countries. For ten years he campaigned in New Zealand, the United States of America, Canada, Australia, Norway, Denmark, Germany and elsewhere, in his robust manner appealing to all sorts and conditions of men to seek the Saviour.

From country after country, as well as from many parts of the homeland, news was flashed to Headquarters in London of hundreds of ' prisoners taken '-the expressive term of those days for Converts won from the bondage of sin and captured for Christ.

With his usual tireless labour, Dowdle crowded his days. In one year, in Australia - the long distances less easy to cover in the eighties and nineties than nowadays - Dowdle traveled 23,500 miles, visited 160 centres and conducted 1,200 Meetings, in which more than 6,500 persons decided to serve God.

The popularity he enjoyed wherever he went did not spoil his zeal. His Meetings remained typical of him-his rough candour, merry asides, soulful singing and intense earnestness in endeavouring to ' seek and save that which was lost.' He spent himself for souls.

In 1896, Dowdle returned to London broken in health. Coming out of a specialist's consulting room in Melbourne, he had confided to Mrs. Dowdle, with a calm voice that proved his absolute trust in the God he served:

'They say it's heart disease. God's will be done.'

On arrival in London he was taken to a little house in Clapton where he spent the remaining years of his life. The cabby who drove him helped him into the house. Once in the passage Dowdle helped the cabby to find Christ. Physical weakness did not diminish his desire to win men for his Master.

For his few remaining years his work was limited, yet he wielded a quiet and powerful influence among his colleagues on Headquarters. In his magnanimous spirit there was no heart disease.

Dowdle's old leader and friend, General William Booth, conducted the funeral of his faithful Commissioner. On the coffin, draped with the Salvation Army Flag, lay Dowdle's cap and fiddle. Great and respectful crowds gathered for what a working man described as a funeral ' worthy of a duke'.

On the following Sunday nearly 200 persons sought Christ in the Memorial Meeting in the famous Clapton Congress Hall. Amongst them were several women of the streets who were taken from the Hall direct to The Salvation Army's Receiving Home. The Meeting was worthy of a soul-winner.
William Burrows

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