Life of Matt Talbot – Chapter VIII – Circle of Friends; His Charity

cover of the ebook 'Life of Matt Talbot, by Sir Joseph Aloysius Glynn'We may begin this Chapter with a description of his personal appearance. He was below the middle height, of slight but wiry build. His face was long, with slightly prominent cheek-bones, which had some colour in them; nose straight; eyes large and lustrous with drooping lids; forehead high and temples rounded; head in later life, bald except for a fringe of hair below his hat. His expression was serious and thoughtful and became very animated when he spoke on a subject which moved him to emotion, at which times he could show very great indignation. He walked along the streets rapidly with long strides and a loose swinging gait, but quite simply and naturally, with his eyes fixed on the ground, and an air of deep recollection. To those with whom he spoke he appeared a shrewd and practical man, full of commonsense. In his conversation he was plain and blunt, but the description “rough-spoken” quoted in the original life brought several protests to the writer. These letters described him as very gentle and sweet-mannered, with a very sweet smile. The fact is that the word “blunt” would have better described him. He was blunt in his speech when occasion called for bluntness and, at times, hot-tempered and a little impatient if there was what he considered unreasonable delay; but his habitual manner was one of good humour and kindliness towards all who met him.

No one knew him intimately though many knew him either at work or in the Church. His penitential mode of life forbade close intimacies and his constant state of recollection and prayer made him avoid human, companionship except when the claims of family or of charity called for it. Thus he would spend a quiet hour, now and again, in his brother-in-law’s house chatting on their personal affairs, or he would visit, the home, of a friend who had a little library in order to borrow books. Many came to him for advice and all were received with kindliness and advice was given or prayers promised according to the request of the visitor. Persons who had heard of his holiness used to write for prayers without disclosing their identity, and when the prayers were answered a letter of thanks was sent, often accompanied by a money offering which, as it could not be returned because the donor was unknown, was given in charity. One of the foremen in Messrs. Martin’s (E.C.) relates two incidents which struck him at the time as somewhat remark- able because of the nature of the replies given by Matt Talbot to E.C.’s request for prayers for persons who were ill. In 1922, E.C.’s wife was very ill and he was very worried, on her account. He spoke to Talbot and asked him to pray for her recovery. Talbot promised to do so and also got a novena of Masses offered up for her in Mount Saint Joseph’s Abbey (Trappist), Roscrea. He told E.C. not to worry as she would recover, and in fact she was quite well in three weeks. What struck E.C. was Matt Talbot’s firm statement that E.C.’s wife would recover and the contrast it made to the reply to a similar request for prayers for the recovery of E. C.’s brother-in-law, who had met with an accident on his farm, and who, after a long illness, was removed to a Dublin Hospital for an operation. This man had several children and his friends were very anxious that he should recover. When Matt Talbot was asked to pray for his recovery he promised to do so but always told E.C. that he should be reconciled to God’s Will and never held out any hopes that his prayers would be answered. Although E.C. and Talbot spoke of the patient on many occasions, the burden of Talbot’s conversation was always the same – resignation. The patient died after a few weeks.

Another foreman (G.) had a daughter who at the age of 15 years was dying of tuberculosis. As her name was Teresa, Matt constantly enquired about her because of his own devotion to Saint Teresa. He eventually called to see her, and during the visit spoke to her about the Saints. She was very anxious to find out whether she was dying and, as her father gave evasive answers to her questions, she asked. Talbot if she would recover. Talbot hated an untruth; but as he felt that he could not tell the girl that she was dying, preferring to allow her father to choose his own time for doing so, he got out of the dilemma by saying, “He had heard it laid down that the patient was the best judge of that.” In one of his books of devotion is a note of her death and age.

Another friend (J.T.) attributed his restoration do health to Matt Talbot’s prayers. J.T. was suffering from a gastric ulcer and was advised to undergo an operation, which he declined. He decided to consult Talbot and went to 18 Upper Rutland Street about 1.30 p.m. on a Sunday so as to meet Talbot coming from Mass. He told Talbot that he was very ill and asked his advice. Talbot replied, “Go to the same Doctor that I do. I never went to any except one. Go to Him.” J.T. said he would, as he knew Talbot meant God, Talbot promised, to pray for him and told him. to pray with confidence and to tell him. how he was getting on. J.T. went every Sunday to the Passionist Church at Mount Argus to be touched with a relic and whenever he met Talbot, the latter always told him to continue praying. After some time J.T. completely recovered from his illness and never had any further gastric trouble, J.T. was in the habit of consulting Talbot on many matters and had the utmost confidence in his advice and prayers.

J.G., who used to meet Talbot at early Mass and whose account of the chains. has been already told, used occasionally to miss the 6.15 a.m. Mass if the weather was very bad and would, in such cases, go to a later Mass. Talbot did not approve of this at all and replied to J.G.’s excuses, “It is constancy God wants.” During the strike of 1913, J.G., with very considerable difficulty, persuaded Talbot to accept loans of money, amounting in all to about £5. These sums were repaid at the rate of five shillings a week when work was resumed. Some years afterwards J.G. lost his regular work because of the decline in his trade owing to the Great War, and Talbot gladly lent him money which was repaid when J.G. got temporary employment.

As Talbot lent quite a considerable amount of money at various times to fellow-workers who had families, it is interesting to learn his reason for lending rather than giving money in such cases. One very old friend, the M.D. already spoken of, who had been at school with Talbot and who worked in Martin’s from 1870 to 1920, constantly got the loan of money for clothes for his children. He knew that Matt Talbot never refused a loan where there was genuine need and where the money was not wanted for drink, but Matt told his old friend that it was better to make the men pay it back by installments and thus prevent them spending the amount in the public-house. Those who tried to tell a piteous tale on a Monday morning, after having spent their wages in drink during the weekend, got a very vigorous refusal of their requests.

Although he was shy of women’s society, he had several women acquaintances whom he had met at the Church or in connection: with the various sodalities of which he was a member. One of these had a brother home from the United States on a visit, and when he returned to America, she told Talbot that she was very lonely. His answer was, “Lonely! How could you be lonely? That’s nonsense, and Our Lord in His Tabernacle.” The reproof brought her more consolation than any form of sympathy could have done.

Some of Matt Talbot’s women friends observed that he was always poorly dressed, and went to Father James Walsh, S.J., about it. They offered to buy clothes for Talbot and asked Father Walsh to undertake the delicate task of speaking to Matt about the matter. Father Walsh sent for Matt after the meeting of the Sodality in Saint Francis Xavier’s and the following conversation took place:

“Talbot, you have very bad clothes.”

“Yes, Father,” Matt replied, “I promised God I would
never wear good ones.”

“Go down to ——,” said Father Walsh, giving the name of a merchant, “and get a suit.”

“I’ll do no such thing,” was the reply. “I promised God I would never wear good clothes.”

“Well,” said Father Walsh, “God has sent them to you. Get them.”

“If God sent them I’ll take them,” replied Matt, and without further ado he got the clothes.

Another person who gave him a good suit was not so lucky, as Matt gave it away. He usually got his clothes from a gentleman who was a very great personal friend, and who gave him his own old clothes. In fact Matt had only one suit for Sunday or weekday, or, as he said, he had no “Sunday clothes.”

The lady who told the story of her conversation with Matt Talbot in his room on a Saturday evening relates that when Talbot was in bad health and very poor she got five shillings for charity from a man who asked for prayers for a special intention in return. This lady asked Talbot to take the money, as he wanted it. He took it, thanked the lady and promised to pray for. the intention, which was granted in a most unequivocal manner. Amongst his friends was one who, though a lifelong total abstainer, had for 30 years been absent from the Sacraments. During a conversation with Matt Talbot on the question of temperance, the latter suddenly asked him about, his soul. Matt spoke seriously of the danger his friend ran of dying without the Sacraments and, eventually, made an appointment with him for the ‘following Saturday afternoon, when Matt brought him to Holy Gross College, Clonliffe, and after he had made his Confession introduced, him to the Sodality of the Immaculate Conception, of which he subsequently became a very prominent member. He was, several years later, killed by a fall into the hold of a ship on which he was working. He often spoke to Matt Talbot with gratitude for having, brought him back to the Sacraments.

These little stories could be multiplied indefinitely but the few given will show that in all his dealings with his fellowmen, Matt Talbot was actuated by Christian Charity. His actual money gifts to various charities and to the poor sound incredible; yet the writer has taken every possible pains to verify the statements made. When Talbot earned less than a pound (20 shillings) a week he lived on six shillings, including his rent. He was scrupulous in fulfilling his duty and for that reason he always allowed whichever of his sisters looked after his mother and himself a few shillings a week for their trouble; but everything else was given away. He had a habit in his later years of placing on the chair under one of his books, the housekeeping money for the week. On Friday he told his sister to take it. At times he gave her his wages to keep for him, especially if he was gathering up a sum for a special purpose. When it had reached the requisite amount he got it from her and disposed of it. We have seen that he gave a sum of five pounds to Father M. in the confessional. This was no isolated donation, as Brother F. relates that he often saw Matt Talbot hand sums of money in the corridor of the church to Father M. merely stating that they were for charity. One woman who was collecting for the Shrine of the Little Flower, in the Carmelite Church, Clarendon Street, told him about it and got a pound. She asked him to give it himself but he excused himself on the ground that he did not understand these things and asked her to hand in the contribution. Several collectors from religious houses knew him well and got regular subscriptions from him.

In the original life a statement was made that Matt Talbot had contributed £30 a year towards the Maynooth Mission to China. It was also stated that it was not possible to verify this statement in full because the Card Index of the Mission only started in September, 1921. The foundations for the original statement were two-fold: Firstly, Mrs. Fylan, Talbot’s sister, was told by him that “he had finished three priests and was at the fourth.” Secondly: he told his foreman (G.) that he had given £30 a year towards the Chinese Mission. The foreman remembered the conversation well because it was caused by Matt Talbot stating that the foreman, who had a good salary, should give more to the Mission than he had done, when he, Talbot, a poor labouring man, gave £30 a year. Inquiry from the authorities of the Maynooth Mission to China brought the following letter:

“I have gone thoroughly into the question of the amount of money he sent here, but I am afraid you will not find the results quite satisfactory from the point of view you have mentioned namely, of verifying the statement about his having educated three students. We have gone through all the letters in the Dublin file and have picked out those written here by Mr. K. This man it was who sent on all Talbot’s donations with the exception of £1 10s. 0d. sent by Talbot himself in December, 1924 – £1 being his own gift and 10s. from his sister. This is the only letter we ever received from him:

“‘Matt Talbot has done no work for the past 18 months. I don’t think I will work any more. Here is one pound from me and ten shillings from my sister.’

“The total sum we received from Talbot through K. is £40, to which you should add the £1 10s. 0d. mentioned above, or £1 leaving out his sister’s share. I have no hesitation in saying that these figures are as accurate as we can possibly arrive at. He began to contribute towards this Mission in December, 1920, and I have no doubt we have here the first letters in which K. mentions Talbot. The tone of them implies this for he introduces him to us ‘an extremely pious holy man who, when not engaged in work, spends his time in prayer.’ The next letter, February, 1921, speaks of Talbot in the same manner, buf afterwards K. takes it for granted that we know all about our benefactor.”

With this letter was enclosed a sheet of paper giving the various sums which were identified by them as coming from Talbot: December, 1920, £2. During the year 1921, £23 in 8 different sums. During 1922, £11 in 7 different sums. In 1923 to the date of his illness in June, £4 in four sums and then December, 1924, 1 and 10/- sent directly by himself. In January, 1923, a sum of £5 was sent on Matt Talbot’s behalf by his brother-in-law, W. Fylan, but as the letter did not state that it was sent on behalf of Matt Talbot, £5 was credited to W. Fylan. Mrs. Fylan, Matt Talbot’s sister, still maintains that Matt had told her he had finished three priests and was at the fourth, but as we cannot get any further evidence we must assume either that Talbot had been mistaken in the sums he sent or had sent money anonymously. The pound sent in December, 1924, was almost the last of his little savings as he always kept a little money with Mrs. Fylan for any sudden emergency. A few of his friends insisted on his accepting gifts of money from them during his long illness and the £i:10s. was taken from these sums. Mrs. Fylan says that he paid the 10s. for her as compensation for her attention to him. His reason for sending it to the Maynooth Mission was because he had got a letter from the Bursar stating that they had missed his generous gifts for some time. Hence his letter in reply informing them of his illness and unemployment.

One of the foremen (E.C.) relates an incident which occurred in 1921 or 1922. A South of Ireland priest came to the Castle Forbes’ Yard and asked permission to make a collection amongst the men. E.C. told him to put up a notice stating the day he would collect, namely, pay-day, so that the men might be prepared for his visit. The men were always generous in such cases and gave a shilling each, or more, quite willingly. When the priest had finished the collection, E.C. told him that there was another man at the end of the yard and directed him to go there and ask for Matt Talbot. The priest did so and on his return remarked to E.C. that he had never met so generous a man and that he had scrupled taking what Talbot gave him. E.C. asked how much that was and the priest replied, “All he had about him.” As Talbot had just drawn his week’s wages, which in those years were £3: 1: 6 a week, it would appear that the greater portion of this sum was given for the Church for which the collection, was. being made. The same priest called again in 1923 and asked about Talbot, who was then ill in the Mater Misericordiae Hospital. Having got his address the priest promised to call on him.

The only change which the increase of wages made in Matt Talbot’s circumstances was to increase his gifts to charity. Ten shillings a week, during the Great War and afterwards, supplied all his wants for food, rent, and subscriptions to his trade union, including the premium for his burial expenses. It was no wonder that one of his old fellow-workers, said, “The men loved him”; adding, “Matt had no use for money.”