Declines To Discuss His Return To Wales.
Cause Of The Family Estrangement.
Why He Stays At Leicester: His Freedom Of Choice.
The “veil of mystery” which of late had descended on the
home of the Penn-Lewises in Leicester, behind which Mr. Evan Roberts
chose to stay, steadfastly refusing to see either relative or friend
from Wales, has at last been lifted. On Saturday Awstin, who journeyed
to Leicester at the request of the Western Mail, was enabled to see
and converse with the revivalist.
He was also privileged with the fullest explanations from fellow-residents
of Mr. Roberts’s habits and attitude of mind, and was able to
see for himself the environments and relations of the inmates of Cartref.
Readers will obtain from Awstin’s admirable and graphic narrative
a pen-picture of Mr. Roberts and his surroundings which will be of the
greatest interest and value at the present moment.
Awstin met the revivalist at the tea table. Except that he is thinner
and paler — the result of his ill-health; his heart is affected
— he was the same Evan Roberts as during the great revival. He
took a leading part in the conversation, and this chiefly bore on his
message published in the Western Mail on Saturday, in which he declared
his belief in the imminence of the second coming of Christ to “translate”
his saints to Heaven. With emphasis he made it clear that his meaning
of “imminence” is that this coming would be “within
the life of a man.”
The meeting ended with the close of the tea. Pausing at the door, he
declined—in reply to a question—to discuss the question
of coming to Wales.
In conversation with Mrs. Penn-Lewis, it was revealed that at the bottom
of the estrangement which keeps Evan from coming home is the fact that
his relatives, believing in the sincerity of the man, disbelieve in
his present views on religion. Mr. Dan Roberts now accepts this as the
Awstin’s conclusion is that the revivalist is neither a “man
of unbalanced mind nor a prisoner.”
The “Veil Of Mystery” Lifted
An Interview With Evan Roberts.
Having spent a considerable portion of two days in “the house
of mystery,” and spent some time in the company of the “hermit,”
Evan Roberts, at Leicester, I propose giving in detail the account of
what took place during my visit and as good a pen picture as I can of
the man and his surroundings, and to leave the readers of the Western
Mail to draw their own conclusions.
Let me at the outset explain, however, that I did not go there to try
to induce Evan Roberts to come away, but simply to see and hear whatever
I could, and, if possible, to lift the veil of mystery which undoubtedly—from
a Welsh national as well as a Welsh religious point of view— has
enshrouded the position and attitude of the man who formed such a prominent
figure in the great revival of eight years ago.
On several occasions, during the past two years especially, I have been
urged to go to Leicester, and the most persistent in his suggestions
as to such a visit has been the Editor of the Western mail — whose
commission to me in those days gone by was to go and see and bear witness,
accepting the Scriptural description of absolute freedom of choice —
“the wind bloweth where it listeth.”
Knowing Evan Roberts personally very intimately, I considered, rightly
or wrongly, that a visit would be of very little, if any, use, but,
singularly enough, on the present occasion felt that success might attend
such an effort and, notwithstanding the replies brought to me twice
on Friday, I persisted in my effort to see him, and succeeded, partly
on account of my association with the recording of the main incidents
of the Welsh revival, and partly because Evan Roberts considers that
he has a special message to send out, and that I had come, as he declared,
“at the precise moment” for that purpose.
A Pen Picture.
Evan Roberts The Man And His Surroundings.
Pale, thinner than he was when I last saw him, but alert, pleasant,
and cordial, the Evan Roberts I met at Cartref, Toller-road, Leicester,
was to me the same man as I had known in the old days.
Attired in a brown suit of clothes, neatly cut, and without the spectacles
which it is said he habitually wears for reading, he looks just what
he is — a serious-minded, hard thinker; but his hands and fingers,
almost transparent in their whiteness, bear no indication of labour,
even in writing. He is now, I can quite understand, in too weak a physical
condition to indulge in long bicycle rides, or such walks as he could
undertake when eight years ago he kindly “slowed down” in
walking to suit my less vigorous constitution, and so kept the Great
Western Railway train waiting for us both at Tondu.
A Free Agent.
For open-air enjoyment he is frequently taken out for drives, either
in an open carriage or a motor-car, by Mrs. Penn-Lewis, and, wonderful
to relate for a recluse, carries the latch-key of the front door in
his pocket, and until recently — during the twenty-six days of
his latest illness — was in the habit of going out about Leicester
and having brief chats with people on the road — as I know from
what was related to me outside. That, of course, is no proof that he
is not a recluse — it only goes to show that he is a free agent,
deciding his own movements.
In the house I was told that he spends much of his time in prayer,
and that statement he confirmed during my interview with him.
He says he has had a burden upon him in regard to the imminent second
Advent — not the Day of Judgment, be it understood, but the second
coming of Christ, and the “translation” of His saints. The
“burden” has been removed, and in describing the interview
fuller references to his experiences will be made.
Mental Powers Unobscured.
Meanwhile, following up points which I had raised with members of the
household and others who had met him before I did, I watched for evidences
of a disordered mind — of, as had been bluntly, perhaps somewhat
brutally, suggested, insanity. Well, I am not an expert or a medical
man, but, candidly, my opinion is that no man with the clear thinking
powers and the absolute, clearness of expression and ability to show
how he arrives, line upon line, at the conclusions that he now possesses
can be insane.
Peculiar in his manner and subject to what one may well call “moods,”
he is, and so he was during the Welsh Revival. He refuses to receive
or readily meets, as the case may be, whom and when he likes, and the
orders thus issued from his sanctum are law to all in the house. He
certainly was not dominated by anyone during my visit, but seemed to
dominate, and as he is regarded in that home as “the most Godly,
Christian man they have ever known,” it is stated that everyone
literally and promptly and unquestioningly obeys him.
Glimpses At Cartref.
Now, as to the surroundings, let me try my descriptive powers. Cartref
is a fairly large house, situate in a pleasant residential quarter of
Leicester, and the regulations as to the admission of visitors are practically
the same as anywhere else, except that owing to the frequency of calls
on the part of all sorts of people from all parts of the world to see
Evan Roberts extra care, perhaps, is taken to ascertain the business
of callers, and that, owing to his own instructions, many have to go
away without seeing him or having a word with him
On my first visit on Friday I had to be somewhat importunate, because
I was told that Mr. Evan Roberts received no callers, but once my card
had been taken in to Mrs. Penn-Lewis I was promptly admitted, and the
long chat I had with the secretary (Mr. Usher) and the Indian missionary
from Carnarvon, Mr.Watkin Roberts, led to my subsequent interview with
When I paid the second visit I was instantly admitted, as if expected,
for the maid at the door simply said, “Mr. Davies, I believe;
please come in.” and it was the promise then made to get a written
message from me handed to Evan Roberts in the morning that led to Saturday’s
Greenhouse As Bible Classroom.
When I arrived on Saturday, about noon, the same thing occurred at
the door and almost immediately after being taken into the “morning-room,”
beautifully furnished — one might almost say luxuriously-appointed
— apartment overlooking the garden, I was given cordial welcome
by Mrs. Penn-Lewis, who told me she knew of the promise made, and that
she hoped and prayed Evan would meet me. She invited me to stay to dinner,
and added that she had told “Evan” of my presence in the
house, intimated that she had added casually that she was going to invite
me to dine with them, and asked him whether he would care to join us,
but that his reply was, “No; I don’t think so.” However,
she said my note, written on the pages of my note-book and then handed
to her, would be placed his hand.
He was then in his “sanctum,” just above, and when a little
later on I was taken out into the garden and the “greenhouse”
I was shown how, at the suggestion of Evan Roberts, the greenhouse had
been transformed into a classroom — the plants removed and the
floor laid with wood blocks, and chairs and tables provided —
where “Christian workers” come for Bible lessons daily,
and where, after my interview with him that same day, Evan Roberts went
for a long “talk” with those who had gathered together there.
The Publishing Office.
On the top floor of the house itself are the offices and work-rooms
in which the compilation and publishing of the “Overcomer”
and the books issued by Mrs. Penn-Lewis are carried on. There a staff,
consisting of Mr. Usher, the secretary, Mr. Perryman who acts as amanuensis,
and a young lady typist and two others — five in all — are
generally at work except when either Mr. Usher or Mr. Perryman are employed
in the “sanctum” taking down what Mr. Evan Roberts dictates.
Mr. Usher is not a shorthand writer, and since last March Mr. Perryman,
who was a journalist in charge of a London district paper, has been
engaged, and I was informed that he has hundreds of pages of shorthand
notes in his book, of Evan Roberts’s dictation, which it will
take him many weeks, when he has time, to transcribe.
Such is a general idea of the establishment, said, on the one hand,
by Mrs. Penn-Lewis and her friends, to be the surroundings, comforts
and facilities which enable Mr. Evan Roberts to communicate his thoughts
to the wide world, and, on the other hand, by Mr. Dan Roberts, the Rev.
T. C. Thomas, and others, said to be an environment which is unhealthy,
bodily and spiritually, and from which he ought to be removed.
The Mayor’s Action.
Single Object Of His Intervention.
The attitude of Mr. Penn-Lewis was made clear in the interview I had
with him — a, breezy, frank statement of his own opinions, as
a genial host, who simply looks upon the matter from the point of view
of a man who has a guest in the house, and who will neither turn him
out nor prevent him from going if he wants to go.
Incidentally, perhaps I ought to mention that he told me that the mayor
had spoken to him on Friday morning about the deputation that had waited
upon him with reference to the matter. The Mayor of Leicester has, therefore,
carried out what he undertook to do, but, after mutual explanations,
the mayor, who, of course, could do nothing more, said that all he was
concerned about was to express a sincere wish that nothing in the way
of sensational communications to the press would tend to draw undue
attention to the town of Leicester — and there the matter ended.
Mr. Penn Lewis, himself, who is recovering from the effects of a painful
surgical operation, told me on Friday that he was off for a weekend
at the seaside, by medical orders and did not want anything unpleasant
to happen in his absence — referring, of course, to the attempt
being made by Mr. Dan Roberts and some friends in Leicester to get Evan
away: but I do not think that there is the slightest probability of
anything being attempted which would be unseemly and against the will
and full consent, if he grants it, of the “recluse” himself.
The message which I sent to Mr. Evan Roberts was as follows: —
Dear Evan, — As I have been unable to see you I am writing this
note to appeal to you, if only for the sake of bygone days, to see me
for a few moments.
You know me well enough to satisfy yourself that I am not one to seek
to force a formal interview, and I know you well enough to be equally
satisfied that such an attempt would be futile.
But, after our association in the days of the Welsh revival, and after
all that both you and I have gone through since then, I shall be keenly
disappointed if I am to return without a personal word from you, either
oral or written.
Will you kindly meet my wish — In any way and under any conditions
you may wish?
Yours, as before, AWSTIN.
An Anxious Moment.
After a lengthy interview which I had with Mrs. Penn-Lewis, prior to
and during and after dinner, which will be dealt with later on, I had
the response to my request granted of meeting Evan Roberts face to face.
My note had been taken up to his room by Mr. Usher, at the direction
of Mrs. Penn-Lewis and for some time there was no reply, Mr. Usher remaining
in the room with Mr. Evan Roberts. In the dining-room with me were the
hostess, Miss Butterwick, her companion, and the Rev. Watkin Roberts,
the Welsh missionary already alluded to.
Mrs. Penn-Lewis during the conversation remarked that she thought the
delay in bringing me a reply from Mr. Evan Roberts’s room was
a good sign, because he was evidently considering the request, and when,
subsequently, Mr. Usher came in with a note in his hand, and crossing
the room to Mrs. Penn-Lewis, a shade of seeming anxiety passed over
her countenance and, I am certain, over mine.
She opened the envelope, read the private note addressed to herself,
clapped her hands, and said, “ Hurrah! Hallelujah!” and
handed me this note, in Evan Roberts’s own handwriting: —
Dear Mrs. Penn-Lewis,— Could you have tea laid immediately? Then
I will come to sit with you and the others, and thus Mr. Davies wish
of seeing me will be fulfilled.
Entry Of Evan Roberts.
His Prophecy Of The “Second Coming.”
Of course, this was agreed to, and when the table had been laid in
the dining-room the gong sounded, and in walked Mr. Usher, Mr. Perryman,
and — Mr. Evan Roberts.
We were standing in various parts of the room when Mr. Evan Roberts
walked in. He bowed courteously, as usual, when entering the room, and
smilingly came directly towards me, and, shaking me warmly by the hand,
said he was very pleased to meet me again.
“I am glad you have come,” he added,
“I have longed to see you, and have much to say to you. There
was one phrase in your note that I did not care for — the words
‘keenly disappointed.’ Others have come, even from distant
countries, and been disappointed. It was not because you said that you
would be keenly disappointed that I came, but because I wanted to see
My reply was: “I have been over and over again urged to come,
and hitherto refused, rightly or wrongly, because I did not want to
“You have come at the precise moment,” he said, and we
proceeded to the table for tea — quite a large company; and over
the tea we talked—Evan Roberts doing most of the talking, but
everyone present joining in at various times.
Meaning Of “Imminence.”
I have been told,” he said, “that you yesterday sent on
my message to the Churches, and I am very glad you have done so.”
The conversation turned upon the “ message” for a while,
and Evan Roberts explained, clearly and lucidly, how he had come to
the conviction that the “translation” was imminent, and,
consequently, that the Churches and individuals should be prepared.
He had, he said, come to that conviction in the same manner as he had
been prepared for the Welsh revival.
Then he dwelt at some length upon the prayers he had been offering,
night and day, but that “the imminence” of the ‘translation
had become so manifest to him that the burden had been lifted off his
spirit and he felt he had a message to give to the churches of the world
in the words he had given to me the previous afternoon.
“What do you mean by imminence?” I queried, and his reply
was, “In the near future.”
“Could you fix what I may, for want of a better phrase, call
“No,” was the reply, “but soon.”
One of the others — Mr. Perryman, I think, suggested that perhaps
it might mean years—five or ten.
“A thousand years, perhaps?” I asked, and Mr. Evan Roberts
“That would not be imminent” said another of the party,
and on my remarking that it depended upon whether they took it from
a prophetic point of view or a period in the life of a man, Evan Roberts
promptly replied, “I mean within the life of a man.”
A Subject He Would Not Touch.
Several references were made to the converts of the Welsh revival,
and Mr. Evan Roberts seemed particularly interested in those, and going
over the story of his experiences at New Quay, Loughor, and other places
his face lighted up as he followed the theme but he invariably led back
to the “message” and his explanations of his experiences
and his remarks, interspersed, as they were, with Scriptural quotations
and including an interesting exposition of his own views upon Revelations
xii., were taken down in shorthand by the amanuensis, Mr. Perryman.
AS I have already stated, his intellect seemed as clear as ever —
his reasoning power stronger than during the revival, his English diction
more fluent and apart from his slighter physique, he appeared to be
precisely the same man as the revivalist of old.
But when we came to the end of the tea, and Mrs. Penn-Lewis had temporarily
left the room he rose, and pleasantly smiling, and shaking my hand and
repeating his expression of pleasure at seeing me, he went to the door.
Then, turning round, he said:— “I will retire now—unless
there is something more you wish to ask me.”
I replied, “I am going to keep the promise I made in the note
sent you, not to press for a formal interview, and have nothing to ask,
unless you would like to say something with regard to Coming to Wales,”
and, with a smile and a bow, he said, “Well, we will leave it
at that then; we will not discuss that,” and he left the room.
[The remainder of these articles are available
on the CD-ROM which can be purchased shortly]
Her Reply To Innuendo Of Personal Profit.
Speaking To The World.
Offered Him Whole Profits.
Sensitive About Money.
Guiding Hand In The “Overcomer.”
Welcome To Welsh People.
Duty To Parents.
Mr. Penn-Lewis’ Retort To Fault-Finders.
Family Sceptical Of Evan’s Beliefs.
My Own Conclusions.
Not Mentally Unbalanced Or A Prisoner.