The room was perfectly bare, save an old chest, a broken chair, and a stool; an iron pot for potatoes, and a basin, and a plate. It was perfectly clean, nevertheless, and recently white-washed, which gave it a more comfortable appearance than most of the abodes in that place. My attention, however, was soon so completely engrossed by O'Neil's discourse, that I had little leisure for other remarks. He was aged; but when raised in his bed, I thought I never had beheld a more imposing countenance and manner: there was much of genuine dignity, and consciousness of former respectability in station, and superior mental endowment; much information; a flow of well-chosen language, and sometimes a touching allusion to his destitute state, as having proceeded from the death of an only and affectionate son, who had contributed largely to his support. But the one object on which O'Neil shone out with striking lustre was the finished work of tne Lord Jesus Christ. It was not the studied language of a man who can speak well on a subject where he has thought much—it was the overflow of a full heart, which had felt much. His utter abhorrence of himself, as a lost sinner, his unqualified and shuddering renunciation of all the merit-monger-ing work of popery; his fervent, passionate appeals, with uplifted eyes and streaming tears, for more of the Holy Spirit's teaching; and his torrents of adoring thanksgiving for the redeeming love which had paid so costly a price for the ransom of his soul, when no help was to be found save in that atonement—all spoke the humbled, convinced, seeking, rejoicing believer in Christ Jesus. He was energetic, to a degree that would have been deemed too vehement in an Englishman ; but O'Neil was thoroughly Irish, as I soon found, when, on my subsequent visits, I took an Irish reader to him. He was indeed quite a scholar in that tongue; and it was most affecting to behold his crippled, distorted, fingers contriving to retain within their grasp the blessed Book, and to turn over its pages.
I soon found that O'NeiPs wife had a sad propensity for strong drink; and that the donations bestowed, in money or linen, on this interesting character, too generally found their way to the tap-room below. The noble lady, whose mansion I had just left, had placed in my hanas a sum of money, for the use of her poor countrymen in St. Giles's ; and I resolved that out of this I would regularly supply O'Neil with nutriment proper for his weak state. I thank God, I was able, from one source or another, to continue it up to the time of his death, more than two years after. My dislike of his poor crooked fingers soon vanished ; and many, oh many a day have I run up the long passage, and mounted the stairs, and placed myself on the old box, with one of those formidable hands clasping mine, while I read or talked to the dear old saint about his glorious Redeemer. The daily pittance of soup, or milk, with bread, soon nourished him into better health; and the little service of being the medium through which the bounty of others reached him, won for me such a warm niche in his Irish heart, that it almost amounted to idolatry.
To such a place I could not, of course, go alone; but the privilege of visiting O'Neil was sought for by so many, that I never lacked a companion. The dear Pastor of the Irish Church in that place delighted in him ; and unbounded was O'Neil's affection for Mr. B. But though he was exposed to so much notice as might try the Christian humility of any man, O'Neil lay quiet at the foot of the cross, glorying in that alone. He had some habits that gave offence to persons of various characters ; but I liked them all. One was what is irreverently called craw-thumping. Every one knows that the poor Romanist, at confession, is instructed to strike hard upon his breast with the right fist, as a sign of contrition ; and this practice O'Neil never laid aside. His self-condemnation, and his prayers for divine teaching, were accompanied with so many blows from his poor hand, that I have seen some of the Irish readers in no small commotion about it—disposed to question the reality of his conversion, while so shockingly popish a habit was retained. To me it bespoke the sincerity of the man, far more clearly than its abandonment could have done. Another foible was his extreme politeness: when friends entered, he would, raising himself in the bed, call to his wife to place the box here, and the chair there, and the stool beside it, and, waving his hand with the most ceremonious and courteous gesture, he would direct the process of seating the company; then, from beneath his pillow, draw forth an antique horn snuff-box, and pass it round with an air wholly inimitable. More than one good person has said to me, in this stage of the business, 'The man is all artificial: what has a beggar to do with such absurd forms V To which I have replied, 'O'Neil is not going to beg of you ; so be quiet, and take a lesson in good manners.' I never knew any one leave him under other impression than that he was simple sincerity personified.
It pleased God to let me labour among those dear outcasts for months together; but after a time my residence was changed, and I made few visits there. Still, so far as my charity purse served, through the help of richer friends, my pensioners were regularly attended to; and D., beloved D., was the overseer of the work. The cholera came, and swept away many an Irish beggar out of wretched St. Giles's, and the malignant fever carried away many more. D. fell beneath the latter. I followed his remains to the grave ; and seeing some of my poor people bending over it in an agony of unrestrained sorrow, my heart was stirred up to visit them during the few hours of my stay in town. I took a clerical friend with me, and plunged at once into the doubly desolate scenes that I had too long been estranged from.
With some difficulty, in a most wretched garret, immeasurably inferior to his former lodging, I found O'Neil. He lay almost on the bare ground, without a vestige of any earthly comfort. Even the cleanliness that had always marked his appearance, was gone. He could not lift his head from the pillow of rags; but when I spoke, he clasped my hand within his trembling, crooked fingers, and sobbed his blessings for the daily pittance of milk and bread. He then told us that, during the illness of D. he had been attacked by cholera, had been in the hospital, as a most desperate case, had been brought through it, and returned to his garret to linger out as before. It did indeed appear most wonderful that such an object could have survived the attack; and unbelief almost repined at it. I mean my unbelief: for O'Neil, though with scarcely power to strike his withered hand upon his breast, was as low in self-abasement, as energetic in the faith that is in Christ Jesus, as ever: and no less willing to stay than prepared to go.