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This article is taken from PN Review 24, Volume 8 Number 4, March - April 1982.

On the Nonconformist Conscience Clyde Binfield

To the observer from the comfortable side of that frontier between Conformity and Nonconformity which Augustine Birrell misleadingly described as an Offa's Dyke, Victorian Nonconformists appear to be a mixture, largely northern, of mills, mill-owners and mill-managers, with some mill-hands, motivated by a Calvinism (which made them Baptists or Congregationalists) or an Arminianism (which made them Methodists) which they veiled in choruses. A few, who were Quakers or Unitarians, are acceptable for social, intellectual or philanthropic reasons, their religious particularities being easily discounted.

Their world is different rather than alien, that is to say it exerts a fascination in which familiarity may inspire affection but is not to end in commitment. Two examples and a story may suffice, the examples from Lancashire and cotton in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, and from Yorkshire and wool in the first decade of the twentieth, both of them smalltown with moors and countryside close to hand, and the story from a shop counter somewhere in England at some time between the wars.

Elizabeth Topp's family helped found the Congregational cause at Farnworth, near Bolton, in 1809. She was six at the time, but from those early years the memory survived of how


One day whilst Elizabeth was rocking in her little chair with her youngest sister upon her knee, and singing-

'There is a dreadful hell,
And everlasting pains,
Where sinners must with devils dwell,
In darkness, ...


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