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An Autobiography

These lectures have been delivered many times in Australia; and, as the result of the
Browning lecture given in the Unitarian Schoolroom in Wakefield street, Adelaide, I
received from the pen of Mr. J. B. Mather a clever epigram. The room was large and
sparsely filled, and to the modest back seat taken by my friend my voice scarcely
penetrated. So he amused himself and me by writing:
I have no doubt that words of sense
Are falling from the lips of Spence.
Alas! that Echo should be drowning
Both words of Spence and sense of Browning.
I found the Brownings far better appreciated in America than in England, especially by
American women. In spite of the fact that The San Francisco Chronicle had interviewed
me favourably on my arrival, and that I knew personally some of the leading people on
The Examiner, neither paper would report my lectures on effective voting. The Star,
however, quite made up for the deficiencies of the other papers, and did all it could to
help me and the cause. While in San Francisco I wrote an essay on "Electoral Reform"
for a Toronto competition, in which the first prize was $500. Mr. Cridge was also a
competitor; but, although many essays were sent in, for some reason the prize was never
awarded, and we had our trouble for nothing. On my way to Chicago I stayed at a mining
town to lecture on effective voting. I found the hostess of the tiny hotel a brilliant pianist
and a perfect linguist, and she quoted poetry--her own and other people's--by the yard. A
lady I journeyed with told me that she had been travelling for seven years with her
husband and "Chambers's Encyclopedia." I thought they used the encyclopaedia as a
guide book until, in a sort of postscript to our conversation, I discovered the husband to
be a book agent, better known in America as a "book fiend."
Nobody had ever seen anything like the World's Fair. My friend Dr. Bayard Holmes of
Chigago, whose acquaintance I made through missing a suburban train, expressed a
common feeling when he said he could weep at the thought that it was all to be
destroyed--that the creation evolved from the best brains of America should be dissolved.
Much of our human toil is lost and wasted, and much of our work is more ephemeral than
we think; but this was a conscious creation of hundreds of beautiful buildings for a six
months' existence. Nowhere else except in America could the thing have been done, and
nowhere else in America but in Chicago. At the Congress of Charity and correction I
found every one interested in Australia's work for destitute children. It was difficult for
Miss Windeyer, of Sydney, and myself--the only Australians present--to put ourselves in
the place of many who believed in institutions where children of low physique, low
morals, and low intelligence are massed together, fed, washed, drilled, taught by rule,
never individualized, and never mothered. I spoke from pulpits in Chicago and
Indianopolis on the subject, and was urged to plead with the Governor of the latter State
to use his influence to have at least tiny mites of six years of age removed from the
reformatory, which was under the very walls of the gaol. But he was obdurate to my
pleadings and arguments, as he had been to those of the State workers. He maintained
that these tiny waifs of six were incorrigible, and were better in institutions than in
homes. The most interesting woman I met at the conference was the Rev. Mrs. Anna
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