- Transcriber's Note: Inconsistent hyphenation in the original document has been preserved. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected. For a complete list, please see the end of this document. -
- By Wilfred T. Grenfell A LABRADOR DOCTOR. The Autobiography of Wilfred Thomason Grenfell. Illustrated. LABRADOR DAYS. Tales of the Sea Toilers. With frontispiece. TALES OF THE LABRADOR. With frontispiece. THE ADVENTURE OF LIFE. ADRIFT ON AN ICE-PAN. Illustrated. HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY BOSTON AND NEW YORK -
A LABRADOR DOCTOR
The Autobiography of Wilfred Thomason Grenfell
A LABRADOR DOCTOR
The Autobiography of Wilfred Thomason Grenfell M.D. (Oxon.), C.M.G.
Boston and New York Houghton Mifflin Company The Riverside Press Cambridge
Copyright, 1919, by Wilfred T. Grenfell All Rights Reserved
I have long been resisting the strong pressure from friends that would force me to risk having to live alongside my own autobiography. It seems still an open question whether it is advisable, or even whether it is right—seeing that it calls for confessions. In the eyes of God the only alternative is a book of lies. Moreover, sitting down to write one's own life story has always loomed up before my imagination as an admission that one was passing the post which marks the last lap; and though it was a justly celebrated physician who told us that we might profitably crawl upon the shelf at half a century, that added no attraction for me to the effort, when I passed that goal.
Thirty-two years spent in work for deep-sea fishermen, twenty-seven of which years have been passed in Labrador and northern Newfoundland, have necessarily given me some experiences which may be helpful to others. I feel that this alone justifies the writing of this story.
To the many helpers who have cooperated with me at one time or another throughout these years, I owe a debt of gratitude which will never be forgotten, though it has been impossible to mention each one by name. Without them this work could never have been.
To my wife, who was willing to leave all the best the civilized world can offer to share my life on this lonely coast, I want to dedicate this book. Truth forces me to own that it would never have come into being without her, and her greater share in the work of its production declares her courage to face the consequences.
I. EARLY DAYS 1
II. SCHOOL LIFE 15
III. EARLY WORK IN LONDON 37
IV. AT THE LONDON HOSPITAL 64
V. NORTH SEA WORK 99
VI. THE LURE OF THE LABRADOR 119
VII. THE PEOPLE OF LABRADOR 139
VIII. LECTURING AND CRUISING 159
IX. THE SEAL FISHERY 171
X. THREE YEARS' WORK IN THE BRITISH ISLES 183
XI. FIRST WINTER AT ST. ANTHONY 197
XII. THE COOPERATIVE MOVEMENT 215
XIII. THE MILL AND THE FOX FARM 226
XIV. THE CHILDREN'S HOME 241
XV. PROBLEMS OF EDUCATION 254
XVI. "WHO HATH DESIRED THE SEA?" 270
XVII. THE REINDEER EXPERIMENT 288
XVIII. THE ICE-PAN ADVENTURE 304
XIX. THEY THAT DO BUSINESS IN GREAT WATERS 315
XX. MARRIAGE 331
XXI. NEW VENTURES 344
XXII. PROBLEMS ON LAND AND SEA 357
XXIII. A MONTH'S HOLIDAY IN ASIA MINOR 376
XXIV. THE WAR 384
XXV. FORWARD STEPS 403
XXVI. THE FUTURE OF THE MISSION 411
XXVII. MY RELIGIOUS LIFE 424
WILFRED THOMASON GRENFELL Frontispiece
VIEW FROM MOSTYN HOUSE, THE AUTHOR'S BIRTHPLACE, PARKGATE, CHESHIRE 2
OXFORD UNIVERSITY RUGBY UNION FOOTBALL TEAM 44
THE LABRADOR COAST 120
ESKIMO WOMAN AND BABY 128
ESKIMO MAN 128
ESKIMO GIRLS 132
BATTLE HARBOUR 140
A LABRADOR BURIAL 156
THE LABRADOR DOCTOR IN SUMMER 164
THE STRATHCONA 192
THREE OF THE DOCTOR'S DOGS 198
A KOMATIK JOURNEY 202
THE FIRST COOPERATIVE STORE 218
ST. ANTHONY 226
INSIDE THE ORPHANAGE 250
FISH ON THE FLAKES 272
DRYING THE SEINES 272
A PART OF THE REINDEER HERD 296
REINDEER TEAMS MEETING A DOG TEAM 296
A SPRING SCENE AT ST. ANTHONY 304
DOG RACE AT ST. ANTHONY 304
COMMODORE PEARY ON HIS WAY BACK FROM THE POLE, 1909 340
THE INSTITUTE, ST. JOHN'S 354
DOG TRAVEL 368
THE LABRADOR DOCTOR IN WINTER 406
ENTRANCE TO ST. ANTHONY HARBOUR 418
A LABRADOR DOCTOR
To be born on the 28th of February is not altogether without its compensations. It affords a subject of conversation when you are asked to put your name in birthday books. It is evident that many people suppose it to be almost an intrusion to appear on that day. However, it was perfectly satisfactory to me so long as it was not the 29th. As a boy, that was all for which I cared. Still, I used at times to be oppressed by the danger, so narrowly missed, of growing up with undue deliberation.
The event occurred in 1865 in Parkgate, near Chester, England, whither my parents had moved to enable my father to take over the school of his uncle. I was always told that what might be called boisterous weather signalled my arrival. Experience has since shown me that that need not be considered a particularly ominous portent in the winter season on the Sands of Dee.
It is fortunate that the selection of our birthplace is not left to ourselves. It would most certainly be one of those small decisions which would later add to the things over which we worry. I can see how it would have acted in my own case. For my paternal forbears are really of Cornish extraction—a corner of our little Island to which attaches all the romantic aroma of the men, who, in defence of England, "swept the Spanish Main," and so long successfully singed the Bang of Spain's beard, men whose exploits never fail to stir the best blood of Englishmen, and among whom my direct ancestors had the privilege of playing no undistinguished part. On the other hand, my visits thither have—romance aside—convinced me that the restricted foreshore and the precipitous cliffs are a handicap to the development of youth, compared with the broad expanses of tempting sands, which are after all associated with another kinsman, whose songs have helped to make them famous, Charles Kingsley.
My mother was born in India, her father being a colonel of many campaigns, and her brother an engineer officer in charge during the siege of Lucknow till relieved by Sir Henry Havelock. At the first Delhi Durbar no less than forty-eight of my cousins met, all being officers either of the Indian military or civil service.
To the modern progressive mind the wide sands are a stumbling-block. Silting up with the years, they have closed the river to navigation, and converted our once famous Roman city of Chester into a sleepy, second-rate market-town. The great flood of commerce from the New World sweeps contemptuously past our estuary, and finds its clearing-house under the eternal, assertive smoke clouds which camouflage the miles of throbbing docks and slums called Liverpool—little more than a dozen miles distant. But the heather-clad hills of Heswall, and the old red sandstone ridge, which form the ancient borough of the "Hundred of Wirral," afford an efficient shelter from the insistent taint of out-of-the-worldness.
Every inch of the Sands of Dee were dear to me. I learned to know their every bank and gutter. Away beyond them there was a mystery in the blue hills of the Welsh shore, only cut off from us children in reality by the narrow, rapid water of the channel we called the Deep. Yet they seemed so high and so far away. The people there spoke a different language from ours, and all their instincts seemed diverse. Our humble neighbours lived by the seafaring genius which we ourselves loved so much. They made their living from the fisheries of the river mouth; and scores of times we children would slip away, and spend the day and night with them in their boats.
While I was still quite a small boy, a terrible blizzard struck the estuary while the boats were out, and for twenty-four hours one of the fishing craft was missing. Only a lad of sixteen was in charge of her—a boy whom we knew, and with whom we had often sailed. All my family were away from home at the time except myself; and I can still remember the thrill I experienced when, as representative of the "Big House," I was taken to see the poor lad, who had been brought home at last, frozen to death.
The men of the opposite shores were shopkeepers and miners. Somehow we knew that they couldn't help it. The nursery rhyme about "Taffy was a Welshman; Taffy was a thief," because familiar, had not led us to hold any unduly inflated estimate of the Welsh character. One of my old nurses did much to redeem it, however. She had undertaken the burden of my brother and myself during a long vacation, and carried us off bodily to her home in Wales. Her clean little cottage stood by the side of a road leading to the village school of the State Mining District of Festiniog. We soon learned that the local boys resented the intrusion of the two English lads, and they so frequently chased us off the village green, which was the only playground offered us, that we at last decided to give battle. We had stored up a pile of slates behind our garden wall, and luring the enemy to the gates by the simple method of retiring before their advance, we saluted them with artillery fire from a comparatively safe entrenchment. To my horror, one of the first missiles struck a medium-sized boy right over the eye, and I saw the blood flow instantly. The awful comparison of David and Goliath flashed across my terror-stricken mind, and I fled incontinently to my nurse's protection. Subsequently by her adroit diplomacy, we were not only delivered from justice, but gained the freedom of the green as well.
Far away up the river came the great salt-water marshes which seemed so endless to our tiny selves. There was also the Great Cop, an embankment miles long, intended to reach "from England to Wales," but which was never finished because the quicksand swallowed up all that the workmen could pour into it. Many a time I have stood on the broken end, where the discouraged labourers had left their very shovels and picks and trucks and had apparently fled in dismay, as if convicted of the impiousness of trying to fill the Bottomless Pit. To my childish imagination the upturned wheelbarrows and wasted trucks and rails always suggested the banks of the Red Sea after the awful disaster had swept over Pharoah and his host. How the returning tide used to sweep through that to us fathomless gulch! It made the old river seem ever so much more wonderful, and ever so much more filled with adventure.
Many a time, just to dare it, I would dive into the very cauldron, and let the swirling current carry me to the grassy sward beyond—along which I would run till the narrowing channel permitted my crossing to the Great Cop again. I would be drying myself in the sunshine as I went, and all ready for my scanty garments when I reached my clothing once more.
Then came the great days when the heavy nor'westers howled over the Sands—our sea-front was exposed to all the power of the sea right away to the Point of Ayr—the days when they came in with big spring tides, when we saw the fishermen doubling their anchors, and carefully overhauling the holding gear of their boats, before the flooding tide drove them ashore, powerless to do more than watch them battling at their moorings like living things—the possessions upon which their very bread depended. And then this one would sink, and another would part her cable and come hurtling before the gale, until she crashed right into the great upright blocks of sandstone which, riveted with iron bands to their copings, were relied upon to hold the main road from destruction. Sometimes in fragments, and sometimes almost entire, the craft would be slung clean over the torturing battlements, and be left stranded high and dry on our one village street, a menace to traffic, but a huge joy to us children.
The fascination of the Sands was greatly enhanced by the numerous birds which at all times frequented them, in search of the abundant food which lay buried along the edges of the muddy gutters. There were thousands of sandpipers in enormous flocks, mixed with king plovers, dunlins, and turnstones, which followed the ebb tides, and returned again in whirling clouds before the oncoming floods. Black-and-white oyster-catchers were always to be found chattering over the great mussel patches at low water. With their reddish bills, what a trophy a bunch of them made as we bore them proudly home over our shoulders! Then there were the big long-billed curlews. What a triumph when one outwitted them! One of my clearest recollections is discovering a place to which they were flighting at night by the water's edge; how, having no dog, I swam out for bird after bird as they fell to my gun—shooting some before I had even time to put on my shirt again; and my consequent blue-black shoulder, which had to be carefully hidden next day. There were wild ducks, too, to be surprised in the pools of the big salt marshes.
From daylight to dark I would wander, quite alone, over endless miles, entirely satisfied to come back with a single bird, and not in the least disheartened if I got none. All sense of time used to be lost, and often enough the sandwich and biscuit for lunch forgotten, so that I would be forced occasionally to resort to a solitary public house near a colliery on our side of the water, for "tea-biscuits," all that they offered, except endless beer for the miners. I can even remember, when very hard driven, crossing to the Welsh side for bread and cheese.
These expeditions were made barefoot as long as the cold was not too great. A diary that I assayed to keep in my eighth year reminds me that on my birthday, five miles from home in the marshes, I fell head over heels into a deep hole, while wading out, gun in hand, after some oyster-catchers which I had shot. The snow was still deep on the countryside, and the long trot home has never been quite forgotten. My grief, however, was all for the gun. There was always the joy of venture in those dear old Sands. The channels cut in them by the flowing tides ran deep, and often intersected. Moreover, they changed with the varying storms. The rapidly rising tide, which sent a bore up the main channel as far as Chester, twelve miles above us, filled first of all these treacherous waterways, quite silently, and often unobserved. To us, taught to be as much at home in the water as on the land, they only added spice to our wanderings. They were nowhere very wide, so by keeping one's head, and being able to swim, only our clothes suffered by it, and they, being built for that purpose, did not complain.
One day, however, I remember great excitement. The tide had risen rapidly in the channel along the parade front, and the shrimp fishermen, who used push-nets in the channels at low tide, had returned without noticing that one of their number was missing. Word got about just too late, and already there was half a mile of water, beyond which, through our telescopes, we could see the poor fellow making frantic signals to the shore. There was no boat out there, and a big bank intervening, there seemed no way to get to him. Watching through our glasses, we saw him drive the long handle of his net deep into the sand, and cling to it, while the tide rose speedily around him. Meanwhile a whole bevy of his mates had rowed out to the bank, and were literally carrying over its treacherous surface one of their clumsy and heavy fishing punts. It was a veritable race for life; and never have I watched one with keener excitement. We actually saw his post give way, and wash downstream with him clinging to it, just before his friends got near. Fortunately, drifting with the spar, he again found bottom, and was eventually rescued, half full of salt water. I remember how he fell in my estimation as a seaman—though I was only a boy at the time.
There were four of us boys in all, of whom I was the second. My next brother Maurice died when he was only seven, and the fourth, Cecil, being five years younger than I, left my brother Algernon and myself as the only real companions for each other. Moreover, an untoward accident, of which I was the unwitting cause, left my younger brother unable to share our play for many years. Having no sisters, and scarcely any boy friends, in the holidays, when all the boys in the school went home, it might be supposed that my elder brother and I were much thrown together. But as a matter of fact such was not the case, for our temperaments being entirely different, and neither of us having any idea of giving way to the other, we seldom or ever found our pleasures together. And yet most of the worst scrapes into which we fell were cooperative affairs. Though I am only anxious to shoulder my share of the responsibility in the escapades, as well as in every other line of life, my brother Algernon possessed any genius to which the family could lay claim, in that as in every other line. He was my father over again, while I was a second edition of my mother. Father was waiting to get into the sixth form at Rugby when he was only thirteen years old. He was a brilliant scholar at Balliol, but had been compelled to give up study and leave the University temporarily owing to brain trouble. He never published anything, but would reel off brilliant short poems or essays for friends at a moment's notice. I used always to remark that in whatever company he was, he was always deferred to as an authority in anything approaching classics. He could read and quote Greek and Latin like English, spoke German and French fluently, while he was an excellent geologist, and Fellow of the Geographical Society. Here is quite a pretty little effusion of his written at eight years of age:
O, Glorious Sun, in thy palace of light, To behold thee methinks is a beautiful sight. O, Glorious Sun, come out of thy cloud, No longer thy brightness in darkness shroud. Let thy glorious beams like a golden Flood Pour over the hills and the valleys and wood. See! Mountains of light around him rise, While he in a golden ocean lies: O, Glorious Sun, in thy Palace of Light To behold thee methinks is a beautiful sight.
Algernon Sydney Grenfell Aged eight years
Some of my brother's poems and hymns have been published in the school magazine, or printed privately; but he, too, has only published a Spanish grammar, a Greek lexicon, and a few articles in the papers. While at Oxford he ran daily, with some friends, during one "eights week" a cynical comic paper called "The Rattle," to boost some theories he held, and which he wished to enforce, and also to "score" a few of the dons to whom he objected. This would have resulted in his being asked to retire for a season from the seat of learning at the request of his enemies, had not our beloved provost routed the special cause of the whole trouble, who was himself contributing to a London society paper, by replying that it was not to be wondered at if the scurrilous rags of London found an echo in Oxford. Moreover, a set of "The Rattle" was ordered to be bound and placed in the college archives, where it may still be seen.
My father having a very great deal of responsibility and worry during the long school terms, as he was not only head master, but owned the school as well, which he had purchased from his great-uncle, used to leave almost the day the holidays began and travel abroad with my mother. This partly accounts for the very unusual latitude allowed to us boys in coming and going from the house—no one being anxious if now and again we did not return at night. The school matron was left in charge of the vast empty barracks, and we had the run of play-field, gymnasium, and everything else we wanted. To outwit the matron was always considered fair play by us boys, and on many occasions we were more than successful.
One time, when we had been acquiring some new lines of thought from some trashy boys' books of the period, we became fired with the desire to enjoy the ruling passion of the professional burglar. Though never kept short of anything, we decided that one night we would raid the large school storeroom while the matron slept. As always, the planning was entrusted to my brother. It was, of course, a perfectly easy affair, but we played the whole game "according to Cavendish." We let ourselves out of the window at midnight, glued brown paper to the window panes, cut out the putty, forced the catch, and stole sugar, currants, biscuits, and I am ashamed to say port wine—which we mulled in a tin can over the renovated fire in the matron's own sanctum. In the morning the remainder was turned over to fishermen friends who were passing along shore on their way to catch the early tide.
I had no share in two other of my brother's famous escapades, though at the time it was a source of keen regret, for we were sent to different public schools, as being, I suppose, incompatible. But we heard with pride how he had extracted phosphorus from the chemical laboratory and while drawing luminous ghosts on the wall for the benefit of the timorous, had set fire to the large dormitory and the boys' underclothing neatly laid out on the beds, besides burning himself badly. Later he pleaded guilty to beeswaxing the seat of the boys in front of him in chapel, much to the detriment of their trousers and the destruction of the dignity of Sunday worship.
During the time that my parents were away we never found a moment in which to be lonely, but on one occasion it occurred to us that the company of some friends would add to our enjoyment. Why we waited till my father and mother departed I do not know, but I recall that immediately they had gone we spent a much-valued sixpence in telegraphing to a cousin in London to come down to us for the holidays. Our message read: "Dear Sid. Come down and stay the holidays. Father has gone to Aix." We were somewhat chagrined to receive the following day an answer, also by wire: "Not gone yet. Father." It appeared that my father and mother had stayed the night in London in the very house to which we had wired, and Sid. having to ask his father's permission in order to get his railway fare, our uncle had shown the invitation to my father. It was characteristic of my parents that Sid. came duly along, but they could not keep from sharing the joke with my uncle.
During term-time some of our grown-up relatives would occasionally visit us. But alas, it was only their idiosyncrasies which used to make any impression upon us. One, a great-uncle, and a very distinguished person, being Professor of Political Economy at Oxford, and a great friend of the famous Dr. Jowett, the chancellor, was the only man we knew who ever, at any time, stood up long to my father in argument. It was only on rare occasions that we ever witnessed such a contest, but I shall never forget one which took place in the evening in our drawing-room. My great-uncle was a small man, rather stout and pink, and almost bald-headed. He got so absorbed in his arguments, which he always delivered walking up and down, that on this occasion, coming to an old-fashioned sofa, he stepped right up onto the seat, climbed over the back, and went on all the time with his remarks, as if only punctuating them thereby.
Whether some of our pranks were suggested by those of which we heard, I do not remember. One of my father's yarns, however, always stuck in my memory. For once, being in a very good humour, he told us how when some distinguished old lady had come to call on his father—a house master with Arnold at Rugby—he had been especially warned not to interrupt this important person, who had come to see about her son's entering my grandfather's "House." It so happened that quite unconsciously the lady in question had seated herself on an old cane-bottomed armchair in which father had been playing, thus depriving him temporarily of a toy with which he desired to amuse himself. He never, even in later life, was noted for undue patience, and after endeavouring in vain to await her departure, he somehow secured a long pin. With this he crawled from behind under the seat, and by discreetly probing upwards, succeeded suddenly in dislodging his enemy.
Our devotions on Sunday were carried out in the parish church of the village of Neston, there being no place of worship of the Established Church in our little village. In term-time we were obliged to go morning and evening to the long services, which never made any concessions to youthful capacities. So in holiday-time, though it was essential that we should go in the morning to represent the house, we were permitted to stay home in the evening. But even the mornings were a time of great weariness, and oft-recurrent sermons on the terrible fate which awaited those who never went to church, and the still more untoward end which was in store for frequenters of dissenting meeting-houses, failed to awaken in us the respect due to the occasion.
On the way to church we had generally to pass by those who dared even the awful fate of the latter. It was our idea that to tantalize us they wore especially gorgeous apparel while we had to wear black Etons and a top hat—which, by the way, greatly annoyed us. One waistcoat especially excited our animosity, and from it we conceived the title "specklebelly," by which we ever afterwards designated the whole "genus nonconformist." The entrance to the chapel (ours was the Church!) was through a door in a high wall, over which we could not see; and my youthful brain used to conjure up unrighteous and strange orgies which we felt must take place in those precincts which we were never permitted to enter. Our Sunday Scripture lessons had grounded us very familiarly with the perverse habits of that section of the Chosen People who would serve Baal and Moloch, when it obviously paid so much better not to do so. But although we counted the numbers which we saw going in, and sometimes met them coming out, they seemed never to lessen perceptibly. On this account our minds, with the merciless logic of childhood, gradually discounted the threatened calamities.
This must have accounted for the lapse in our own conduct, and a sort of comfortable satisfaction that the Almighty contented Himself in merely counting noses in the pews. For even though it was my brother who got into trouble, I shall never forget the harangue on impiety that awaited us when a most unchristian sexton reported to our father that the pew in front of ours had been found chalked on the back, so as to make its occupants the object of undisguised attention from the rest of the congregation. As circumstantial evidence also against us, he offered some tell-tale squares of silver paper, on which we had been cooking chocolates on the steam pipes during the sermon.
In all my childhood I can only remember one single punishment, among not a few which I received, which I resented—and for years I never quite forgot it. Some one had robbed a very favourite apple tree in our orchard—an escapade of which I was perfectly capable, but in this instance had not had the satisfaction of sharing. Some evidence had been lodged against me, of which I was not informed, and I therefore had no opportunity to challenge it. I was asked before a whole class of my schoolmates if I had committed the act, and at once denied it. Without any hearing I was adjudged guilty, and promptly subjected to the punishment of the day—a good birching. On every occasion on which we were offered the alternative of detention, we invariably "plumped" for the rod, and got it over quickly, and, as we considered, creditably—taking it smiling as long as we could. But that one act of injustice, the disgrace which it carried of making me a liar before my friends, seared my very soul. I vowed I would get even whatever it cost, and I regret to say that I hadn't long to wait the opportunity. For I scored both the apples and the lie against the punishment before many months. Nor was I satisfied then. It rankled in my mind both by day and by night; and it taught me an invaluable lesson—never to suspect or condemn rashly. It was one of Dr. Arnold's boys at Rugby, I believe, who summed up his master's character by saying, "The head was a beast, but he was always a just beast."
At fourteen years of age my brother was sent to Repton, to the house of an uncle by marriage—an arrangement which has persuaded me never to send boys to their relatives for training. My brother's pranks were undoubtedly many, but they were all boyish and legitimate ones. After a time, however, he was removed at his own request, and sent to Clifton, where he was head of the school, and the school house also, under Dr. Percival, the late Bishop of Hereford. From there he took an open scholarship for Oxford.
It was most wisely decided to send us to separate schools, and therefore at fourteen I found myself at Marlborough—a school of nearly six hundred resident boys, on entering which I had won a scholarship.
Marlborough "College," as we say in England for a large University preparatory school, is situated in Wiltshire, in a perfectly beautiful country, close to the Savernake Forest—one of the finest in all England. As everything and everybody was strange to me on my arrival, had I been brought up to be less self-reliant the events of my first day or two would probably have impressed themselves more deeply on my memory than is the case. Some Good Samaritan, hearing that I was bound for a certain house, allowed me to follow him from the station to the inn—for a veritable old inn it was. It was one of those lovely old wayside hostels along the main road to the west, which, with the decline of coaching days, found its way into the market, and had fallen to the hammer for the education of youth. Exactly how the adaptation had been accomplished I never quite understood. The building formed the end of a long avenue of trees and was approached through high gates from the main road. It was flanked on the east side by other houses, which fitted in somewhat inharmoniously, but served as school-rooms, dining-hall, chapel, racquets and fives courts, studies, and other dwelling-houses. The whole was entirely enclosed so that no one could pass in or out, after the gates were shut, without ringing up the porter from his lodge, and having one's name taken as being out after hours. At least it was supposed that no one could, though we boys soon found that there were more ways than one leading to Rome.
The separate dwelling-houses were named A, B, and C. I was detailed to C House, the old inn itself. Each house was again divided into three, with its own house master, and its own special colour and badges. Our three were at the time "Sharps," "Upcutts," and "Bakers." Our particular one occupied the second floor, and was reached by great oak staircases, which, if you were smart, you could ascend at about six steps at a time. This was often a singular desideratum, because until you reached the fifth form, according to law you ascended by the less direct back stairway.
Our colours were white and maroon, and our sign a bishop's mitre—which effigy I still find scribbled all over the few book relics which I have retained, and which emblem, when borne subsequently on my velvet football cap, proved to be the nearest I ever was to approach to that dignified insignia.
My benefactor, on the night of my arrival, having done more for me than a new boy could expect of an old one, was whirled off in the stream of his returning chums long before I had found my resting-place for the night. The dormitory to which I at last found myself assigned contained no less than twenty-five beds, and seemed to me a veritable wilderness. If the coaches which used to stop here could have ascended the stairs, it might have accommodated several. What useful purpose it could have served in those far-off days I never succeeded in deciding. The room most nearly like it which I can recall is the old dining-hall of a great manor, into which the knights in armour rode on horseback to meals, that being far less trouble than removing one's armour, and quite as picturesque. More or less amicably I obtained possession of a bed in a good location, under a big window which looked out over the beautiful gardens below. I cannot remember that I experienced any of those heart-searchings or forebodings which sentiment deplores as the inevitable lot of the unprotected innocent.
One informal battle during the first week with a boy possessed of the sanctity of having come up from the lower school, and therefore being an "old boy," achieved for me more privileges than the actual decision perhaps entitled one to enjoy, namely, being left alone. I subsequently became known as the "Beast," owing to my belligerent nature and the undue copiousness of my hair.
The fact that I was placed in the upper fourth form condemned me to do my "prep" in the intolerable barrack called "Big School"—a veritable bear-garden to which about three hundred small boys were relegated to study. Order was kept by a master and a few monitors, who wandered to and fro from end to end of the building, while we were supposed to work. For my part, I never tried it, partly because the work came very easy to me, while the "repetition" was more readily learned from a loose page at odd times like dinner and chapel, and partly because, winning a scholarship during the term, I was transferred to a building reserved for twenty-eight such privileged individuals until they gained the further distinction of a place in the house class-room, by getting their transfer into the fifth form.
Besides those who lived in the big quad there were several houses outside the gates, known as "Out-Houses." The boys there fared a good deal better than we who lived in college, and I presume paid more highly for it. Our meals were served in "Big Hall," where the whole four hundred of us were fed. The meals were exceptionally poor; so much so that we boys at the beginning of term formed what we called brewing companies—which provided as far as possible breakfasts and suppers for ourselves all term. As a protection against early bankruptcy, it was our custom to deposit our money with a rotund but popular school official, known always by a corruption of his name as "the Slug." Every Saturday night he would dole out to you your deposit made on return from the holidays, divided into equal portions by the number of weeks in the term. Once one was in the fifth form, brewing became easy, for one had a right to a place on the class-room fire for one's kettle or saucepan. Till then the space over gas stoves in Big School being strictly limited, the right was only acquired "vi et armis." Moreover, most of the fourth form boys and the "Shells," a class between them and the fifth, if they had to work after evening chapel, had to sit behind desks around the house class-room facing the centre, in which as a rule the fifth form boys were lazily cooking and devouring their suppers. Certain parts of those repasts, like sausages, we would import ready cooked from the "Tuck Shop," and hence they only needed warming up. Breakfast in Big School was no comfort to one, and personally I seldom attended it. But at dinner and tea one had to appear, and remain till the doors were opened again. It was a kind of roll-call; and the penalty for being late was fifty lines to be written out. As my own habits were never as regular as they should have been, whenever I was able to keep ahead, I possessed pages of such lines, neatly written out during school hours and ready for emergencies. On other occasions I somewhat shamefacedly recall that I employed other boys, who devoted less time to athletics than was my wont, to help me out—their only remuneration being the "joy of service."
The great desire of every boy who could hope to do so was to excel in athletics. This fact has much to commend it in such an educational system, for it undoubtedly kept its devotees from innumerable worse troubles and dangers. All athletics were compulsory, unless one had obtained permanent exemption from the medical officer. If one was not chosen to play on any team during the afternoon, each boy had to go to gymnasium for drill and exercises, or to "flannel" and run round the Aylesbury Arms, an old public house three quarters of a mile distant. Any breach of this law was severely punished by the boys themselves. It involved a "fives batting," that is, a "birching" carried out with a hardwood fives bat, after chapel in the presence of the house. As a breach of patriotism, it carried great disgrace with it, and was very, very seldom necessary.
Experience would make me a firm believer in self-government—determination is the popular term now, I believe. No punishments ever touched the boys one tenth part as much as those administered by themselves. On one occasion two of the Big School monitors, who were themselves notorious far more for their constant breaches of school law than for their observance of it, decided to make capital at the expense of the sixth form. One day, just as the dinner-bell rang, they locked the sixth form door, while a conclave was being held inside. Though everyone was intended to know to whom the credit belonged, it was understood that no one would dream of giving evidence against them. But it so happened that their voices had been recognized from within by one of the sixth form boys—and "bullies" and unpopular though the culprits were, they wouldn't deny their guilt. Their condign punishment was to be "fives-batted" publicly in Big School—in which, however, they regained very considerable popularity by the way they took a "spanking" without turning a hair, though it cost no less than a dozen bats before it was over.
The publicity of Big School was the only redemption of such a bear-garden, but that was a good feature. It served to make us toe the line. After tea, it was the custom to have what we called "Upper School Boxing." A big ring was formed, boxing-gloves provided, and any differences which one might have to settle could be arranged there. There was more energy than science about the few occasions on which I appeared personally in the ring, but it was an excellent safety-valve and quite an evolutionary experience.
The exigency of having to play our games immediately after noon dinner had naturally taught the boys at the head of athletic affairs that it was not wise to eat too much. Dinner was the one solid meal which the college provided, and most of us wanted it badly enough when it came along, especially the suet puddings which went by the name of "bollies" and were particularly satisfying. But whenever any game of importance was scheduled, a remorseless card used to be passed round the table just after the meat stage, bearing the ominous legend "No bolly to-day." To make sure that there were no truants, all hands were forced to "Hooverize." Oddly enough, beer in large blue china jugs was freely served at every dinner. We called it "swipes," and boys, however small, helped themselves to as much as they liked. Moreover, as soon as the game was over, all who had their house colours might come in and get "swipes" served to them freely through the buttery window. Both practices, I believe, have long since fortunately fallen into desuetude.
To encourage the budding athlete there was an excellent custom of classifying not only the players who attained the first team; but beyond them there were "the Forty" who wore velvet caps with tassels, "the Sixty" who wore velvet caps with silver braid, "the Eighty," and even "the Hundred"—all of whom were posted from time to time, and so stimulated their members to try for the next grade.
Like every other school there were bounds beyond which one might not go, and therefore beyond which one always wanted to go. Compulsory games limited the temptation in that direction very considerably; and my own breaches were practically always to get an extra swim. We had an excellent open-air swimming pool, made out of a branch of the river Kenneth, and were allowed one bathe a day, besides the dip before morning chapel, which only the few took, and which did not count as a bathe. The punishment for breaking the rule was severe, involving a week off for a first offence. But one was not easily caught, for even a sixth-former found hundreds of naked boys very much alike in the water, and the fact of any one having transgressed the limit was very hard to detect. Nor were we bound to incriminate ourselves by replying to leading questions.
"Late for Gates" was a more serious crime, involving detention from beloved games—and many were the expedients to which we resorted to avoid such an untoward contingency. I remember well waiting for an hour outside the porter's view, hoping for some delivery wagon to give me a chance to get inside. For it was far too light to venture to climb the lofty railings before "prep" time. Good fortune ordained, however, that a four-wheel cab should come along in time, containing the parents of a "hopeful" in the sick-room. It seemed a desperate venture, for to "run" the gate was a worse offence than being late and owning up. But we succeeded by standing on the off step, unquestioned by the person inside, who guessed at once what the trouble was, and who proved to be sport enough to engage the porter while we got clear. Later on a scapegrace who had more reason to require some by-way than myself, revealed to me a way which involved a long detour and a climb over the laundry roof. Of this, on another occasion, I was sincerely glad to avail myself. One of the older boys, I remember, made a much bolder venture. He waited till dusk, and then boldly walked in through the masters' garden. As luck would have it, he met our form master, whom we will call Jones, walking the other way. It so happened he possessed a voice which he knew was much like that of another master, so simply sprinting a little he called out, "Night, night, Jones," and got by without discovery.
Our chapel in those days was not a thing of beauty; but since then it has been rebuilt (out of our stomachs, the boys used to say) and is a model work of art. Attendance at chapel was compulsory, and no "cuts" were allowed. Moreover, once late, you were given lines, besides losing your chapel half-holiday. So the extraordinary zeal exhibited to be marked off as present should not be attributed to religious fervour. The chapel was entered from quad by two iron gates, with the same lofty railings which guarded the entrance on each side. The bell tolled for five minutes, then was silent one minute, and then a single toll was given, called "stroke." At that instant the two masters who stood by the pillars guarding each gate, jumped across, closing the gates if they could, and every one outside was late. Those inside the open walk—the length of the chapel that led to the doors at the far end—then continued to march in.
During prayers each form master sat opposite his form, all of which faced the central aisle, and marked off those present. Almost every morning half-dressed boys, with shirts open and collars unbuttoned, boots unlaced, and jumping into coats and waistcoats as they dashed along, could be seen rushing towards the gate during the ominous minute of silence. There was always time to get straight before the mass of boys inside had emptied into chapel; and I never remember a gate master stopping a boy before "stroke" for insufficiency of coverings. Many were the subterfuges employed to get excused, and naturally some form masters were themselves less regular than others, though you never could absolutely count on any particular one being absent. Twice in my time gates were rushed—that is, when "stroke" went such crowds of flying boys were just at the gate that the masters were unable to stop the onslaught, and were themselves brushed aside or knocked down under the seething mass of panic-stricken would-be worshippers. On one of these occasions we were forgiven—"stroke" was ten seconds early; on the other a half-holiday was stopped, as one of the masters had been injured. To trip one's self up, and get a bloody nose, and possibly a face scratched on the gravel, and then a "sick cut" from the kindly old school doctor, was one of the more common ways boys discovered of saving their chapel half—when it was a very close call.
The school surgery was presided over in my day by a much-beloved old physician of the old school, named Fergus, which the boys had so long ago corrupted into "Fungi" that many a lad was caught mistakenly addressing the old gentleman as Dr. Fungi—an error I always fancied to be rather appreciated.
By going to surgery you could very frequently escape evening chapel—a very desirable event if you had a "big brew" coming off in class-room, for you could get things cooked and have plenty of room on the fire before the others were out. But one always had to pay for the advantage, the old doctor being very much addicted to potions. I never shall forget the horrible tap in the corner, out of which "cough mixture" flowed as "a healing for the nations," but which, nasty as it was, was the cheapest price at which one could purchase the cut. Some boys, anxious to cut lessons, found that by putting a little soap in one's eye, that organ would become red and watery. This they practised so successfully that sometimes for weeks they would be forbidden to do lessons on account of "eye-strain." They had to use lotions, eye-shades, and every spectacle possible was tried, but all to no avail. Sometimes they used so much soap that I was sure the doctor would suspect the bubbles.
I had two periods in sick-room with a worrying cough, where the time was always made so pleasant that one was not tempted to hasten recovery. Diagnosis, moreover, was not so accurate in those days as it might have been, and the dear old doctor took no risks. So at the age of sixteen I was sent off for a winter to the South of France, with the diagnosis of congestion of the lungs.
One of my aunts, a Miss Hutchinson, living at Hyeres in the South of France, was delighted to receive me. With a widowed friend and two charming and athletic daughters, she had a very pretty villa on the hills overlooking the sea. My orders—to live out of doors—were very literally obeyed. In light flannel costumes we roamed the hills after moths and butterflies, early and late. We kept the frogs in miniature ponds in boxes covered with netting, providing them with bamboo ladders to climb, and so tell us when it was going to be wet weather. We had also enclosures in which we kept banks of trap-door spiders, which used to afford us intense interest with their clever artifices. To these we added the breeding of the more beautiful butterflies and moths, and so, without knowing that we were learning, we were taught many and valuable truths of life. There were horses to ride also, and a beautiful "plage" to bathe upon. It was always sunny and warm, and I invariably look back on that winter as spent in paradise. I was permitted to go over with a young friend to the Carnival at Nice, where, disguised as a clown, and then as a priest, with the abandon of boys, we enjoyed every moment of the time—the world was so big and wonderful. The French that I had very quickly learned, as we always spoke it at our villa, stood me on this occasion in good stead. But better still, I happened, when climbing into one of the flower-bedecked carriages parading in the "bataille de fleurs"—which, being in costume, was quite the right thing to do—to find that the owner was an old friend of my family, one Sir William Hut. He at once carried me to his home for the rest of the Carnival, and, of course, made it doubly enjoyable.
A beautiful expedition, made later in that region which lives in my memory, was to the gardens at La Mortola, over the Italian line, made famous by the frequent visits of Queen Victoria to them. They were owned by Sir Thomas Hanbury, whose wife was my aunt's great friend.
The quaintness of the memories which persist longest in one's mind often amuse me. We used, as good Episcopalians, to go every Sunday to the little English Church on the rue des Palmiers. Alas, I can remember only one thing about those services. The clergyman had a peculiar impediment in his speech which made him say his h's and s's, both as sh. Thus he always said shuman for human, and invariably prayed that God might be pleased to "shave the Queen." He nearly got me into trouble once or twice through it.
About the middle of the winter I realized that I had made a mistake. In writing home I had so enthusiastically assured my father that the place was suiting my health, that he wrote back that he thought in that case I might stand a little tutoring, and forthwith I was despatched every morning to a Mr. B., an Englishman, whose house, called the "Hermitage," was in a thick wood. I soon discovered that Mr. B. was obliged to live abroad for his health, and that the coaching of small boys was only a means to that end. He was a good instructor in mathematics, a study which I always loved, but he insisted on my taking Latin and French literature, for neither of which I had the slightest taste. I consequently made no effort whatever to improve my mind, a fact which did not in the least disturb his equanimity. The great interest of those journeys to the Hermitage were the fables of La Fontaine—which I learned as repetition and enjoyed—and the enormous number of lizards on the walls, which could disappear with lightning rapidity when seen, though they would stay almost motionless, waiting for a fly to come near, which they then swallowed alive. They were so like the stones one could almost rub one's nose against them without seeing them. Each time I started, I used to cut a little switch for myself and try to switch them off their ledges before they vanished. The attraction to the act lay in that it was almost impossible to accomplish. But if you did they scored a bull's-eye by incontinently discarding their tails, which made them much harder to catch next time, and seemed in no way to incommode them, though it served to excuse my conscience of cruelty. At the same time I have no wish to pose as a protector of flies.
Returning to Marlborough School the following summer, I found that my father, who knew perfectly the thorough groundwork I had received in Greek and Latin, had insisted on my being given a remove into the lower fifth form "in absentia." Both he and I were aware that I could do the work easily; but the form master resented it, and had already protested in vain. I believe he was a very good man in his way, and much liked by those whom he liked. But alas, I was not one of them; and never once, during the whole time I was in his form, did I get one single word of encouragement out of him. My mathematical master, and "stinks," or chemical master, I was very fond of, and in both those departments I made good progress.
The task of keeping order in a chemistry class of boys is never easy. The necessary experiments divert the master's eye from the class, and always give opportunity for fooling. Added to this was the fact that our "stinks" master, like many scientific teachers, was far too good-natured, and half-enjoyed himself the diversion which his experiments gave. When obliged to punish a boy caught "flagrante delicto," he invariably looked out for some way to make it up to him later. It was the odd way he did it which endeared him to us, as if apologizing for the kindness. Thus, on one occasion, suddenly in most righteous anger, just as if a parenthesis to the remark he was making, he interposed, "Come and be caned, boy. My study, twelve o'clock." When the boy was leaving, very unrepentant after keeping the appointment, in the same parenthetical way the master remarked, "Go away, boy. Cake and wine, my room, five o'clock"—which proved eventually the most effective part of the correction.
To children there always appears a gap between them and "grown-ups" as impassable as that which Abraham is made to describe as so great that they who would pass to and fro cannot. As we grow older, we cease to see it, but it exists all the same. As I write, five children are romping through this old wood on broom-handle horses. One has just fallen. A girl of twelve at once retorts, "Do get up, Willy, your horse is always throwing you off." The joys of life lie in us, not in things; and in childhood imagination is so big, its joys so entirely uncloyed. Sometimes grown-ups are apt to grudge the time and trouble put into apparently transient pleasures. A trivial strawberry feast, given to children on our dear old lawn under the jasmine and rose-bushes, something after the order of a New England clam-bake, still looms as a happy memory of my parents' love for children, punctuated by the fact that though by continuing a game in spite of warning I broke a window early in the afternoon, and was banished to the nursery "as advised," my father forgave me an hour later, and himself fetched me down again to the party.
To teach us independence, my father put us on an allowance at a very early age, with a small bank account, to which every birthday he added five pounds on our behalf. We had no pony at that time, indeed had not yet learned to ride, so our deposits always went by the name of "pony money." This was an excellent plan, for we didn't yet value money for itself, and were better able to appreciate the joy of giving because it seemed to postpone the advent of our pony. However, when we were thought to have learned to value so sentient a companion and to be likely to treat him properly, a Good Samaritan was permitted to present us with one of our most cherished friends. To us, she was an unparalleled beauty. How many times we fell over her head, and over her tail, no one can record. She always waited for you to remount, so it didn't much matter; and we were taught that great lesson in life, not to be afraid of falling, but to learn how to take a fall. My own bent, however, was never for the things of the land, and though gallops on the Dee Sands, and races with our cousins, who owned a broncho and generally beat us, had their fascination, boats were the things which appealed most to me.
Having funds at our disposal, we were allowed to purchase material, and under the supervision of a local carpenter, to build a boat ourselves. To this purpose our old back nursery was forthwith allocated. The craft which we desired was a canoe that would enable us to paddle or drift along the deep channels of the river, and allow us to steal upon the flocks of birds feeding at the edges. Often in memory I enjoy those days again—the planning, the modelling, the fitting, the setting-up, and at last, the visit of inspection of our parents. Alas, stiff-necked in our generation, we had insisted on straight lines and a square stern. Never shall I forget the indignation aroused in me by a cousin's remark, "It looks awful like a coffin." The resemblance had not previously struck either of us, and father had felt that the joke was too dangerous a one to make, and had said nothing. But the pathos of it was that we now saw it all too clearly. My brother explained that the barque was intended to be not "seen." Ugliness was almost desirable. It might help us if we called it the "Reptile," and painted it red—all of which suggestions were followed. But still I remember feeling a little crestfallen, when after launching it through the window, it lay offensively resplendent against the vivid green of the grass. It served, however, for a time, ending its days honourably by capsizing a friend and me, guns and all, into the half-frozen water of the lower estuary while we were stalking some curlew. I had to run home dripping. My friend's gun, moreover, having been surreptitiously borrowed from my cousin's father, was recovered the following day, to our unutterable relief. Out of the balance of the money spent on the boat, we purchased a pin-fire, breech-loading gun, the pride of my life for many days. I was being kept back from school at the time on account of a cold, but I was not surprised to find myself next day sitting in a train, bound for Marlborough, and "referred once more to my studies."
A little later my father, not being satisfied, took me away to read with a tutor for the London matriculation, in which without any trouble, I received a first class.
A large boarding-school in England is like a miniature world. One makes many acquaintances, who change as one gets pushed into new classes, so at that stage one makes few lasting friends. Those who remain till they attain the sixth form, and make the school teams, probably form more permanent friendships. I at least think of that period as one when one's bristles were generally up, and though many happy memories linger, and I have found that to be an old Marlburian is a bond of friendship all the world over, it is the little oddities which one remembers best.
A new scholarship boy had one day been assigned to the closed corporation of our particular class-room. To me he had many attractions, for he was a genius both in mathematics and chemistry. We used to love talking over the problems that were set us as voluntary tasks for our spare time; and our united excursions in those directions were so successful that we earned our class more than one "hour off," as rewards for the required number of stars given for good pieces of work. My friend had, however, no use whatever for athletics. He had never been from home before, had no brothers, and five sisters, was the pet of his parents, and naturally somewhat of a square plug in a round hole in our school life. He hated all conventions, and was always in trouble with the boys, for he entirely neglected his personal appearance, while his fingers were always discoloured with chemicals, and he would not even feign an interest in the things for which they cared. I can remember him sitting on the foot of my bed, talking me to sleep more than once with some new plan he had devised for a self-steering torpedo or an absolutely reliable flying machine. He had received the sobriquet of "Mad G.," and there was some justice in it from the opposition point of view. I had not realized, however, that he was being bullied—on such a subject he would never say a syllable—till one day as he left class-room I saw a large lump of coal hit him square on the head, and a rush of blood follow it that made me hustle him off to surgery. Scalp wounds are not so dangerous as they are bloody to heads as thick as ours. His explanation that he had fallen down was too obvious a distortion of truth to deceive even our kindly old doctor. But he asked no further question, seeing that it was a point of honour. The matter, however, forced an estrangement between myself and some of my fellows that I realized afterwards was excellent for me. Forthwith we moved my friend's desk into my corner of the room which was always safe when I was around, though later some practices of the others to which I took exception led to a combination which I thought of then as that made by the Jews to catch Paul, and which I foiled in a similar way, watchfully eluding them when they were in numbers together, but always ready to meet one or two at a time. The fact that I had just taken up "racquets" impressed it on my memory, for considering the class-room temporarily unsafe for "prep" work, I used that building as a convenient refuge for necessary study. It would have been far better to have fought it out and taken, if unavoidable, whatever came to me—had it been anywhere else I should probably have done so. But the class-room was a close corporation for Foundation scholars, and not one of my chums had access to it to see fair play.
My friendship for "Mad G." was largely tempered by my own love for anything athletic, and eccentricities paid a very heavy price among all boys. Thus, though I was glad to lend my protection to my friend, we never went about together—as such boys as he always lived the life of hermits in the midst of the crowd. I well remember one other boy, made eccentric by his peculiar face and an unfortunate impediment of speech. No such boy should have been sent to an English public school as it was in my day. His stutter was no ordinary one, for it consisted, not in repeating the first letter or syllable, but in blowing out both cheeks like a balloon, and making noises which resembled a back-firing motor engine. It was the custom of our form master to make us say our repetition by each boy taking one line, the last round being always "expressed"—that is, unless you started instantly the boy above you finished, the next boy began, and took your place. I can still see and hear the unfortunate J. getting up steam for his line four or five boys ahead of time, so that he might explode at the right moment, which desirable end, however, he but very rarely accomplished, and never catching up, he used, like the man in the parable, always to "begin with shame to take the lowest place." Sometimes the master in a merciful mood allowed us to write the line; but that was risky, for it was considered no disgrace to circumvent him, and under those circumstances it was very easy for the next boy to write his own and then yours, and pass it along if he saw you were in trouble.
There was, and I think with some reason, a pride among the boys on their appearance on certain occasions. It went by the name of "good form." Thus on Sundays at morning chapel, we always wore a button-hole flower if we could. My dear mother used to post me along a little box of flowers every week—nor was it by any means wasted energy, for not only did the love for flowers become a hobby and a custom with many of us through life, and a help to steer clear of sloppiness in appearance, but it was a habit quite likely to spread to the soul. But beyond that, the picture of my dear mother, with the thousand worries of a large school of small boys on her hands, finding time to gather, pack, address, and post each week with her own hands so fleeting and inessential a token of her love, has a thousand times arisen to my memory, and led me to consider some apparently quite unnecessary little labour of love as being well worth the time and trouble. It is these deeds of love—not words, however touching—that never fade from the soul, and to the last make their appeal to the wandering boy to "arise" and do things.
Like everything else this fastidiousness can be overdone, and I remember once a boy's legal guardian showing me a bill for a hundred pounds sterling that his ward had incurred in a single term for cut flowers. Yet "form" is a part of the life of all English schools, and the boys think much more of it than sin. At Harrow you may not walk in the middle of the road as a freshman; and in American schools and universities, such regulations as the "Fence" laws at Yale show that they have emulated and even surpassed us in these. It was, however, a very potent influence, and we were always ridiculously sensitive about breaches of it. Thus, on a certain prize day my friend "Mad G.," having singularly distinguished himself in his studies, his parents came all the way from their home, at great expense to themselves, to see their beloved and only son honoured. I presume that, though wild horses would not drag anything out of the boy at school, he had communicated to them the details of some little service rendered. For to my horror I was stopped by his mother, whom I subsequently learned to love and honour above most people, and actually kissed while walking in the open quad—strutting like a peacock, I suppose, for I remember feeling as if the bottom had suddenly fallen out of the earth. The sequel, however, was an invitation to visit their home in North Wales for the Christmas holidays, where there was rough shooting,—the only kind I really cared for,—boating, rock-climbing, bathing, and the companionship of as lively a family as it was possible to meet anywhere. Many a holiday afterwards we shared together, and the kindness showered upon me I shall never be able to forget, or, alas, return; for my dear friend "Mad G." has long ago gone to his rest, and so have both his parents, whom I loved almost as my own.
Another thing for which I have much to thank my parents is the interest which they encouraged me to take in the collecting and study of natural objects. We were taught that the only excuse that made the taking of animal life honourable was for some useful purpose, like food or study or self-preservation. Several cases of birds stuffed and set up when we were fourteen and sixteen years of age still adorn the old house. Every bit had to be done by ourselves, my brother making the cases, and I the rock work and taxidermy. The hammering-up of sandstone and granite; to cover the glue-soaked brown paper that we moulded into rocks, satisfied my keenest instinct for making messes, and only the patience of the old-time domestics would have "stood for it." My brother specialized in birds' eggs, and I in butterflies and moths. Later we added seaweeds, shells, and flowers. Some of our collections have been dissipated; and though we have not a really scientific acquaintance with either of these kingdoms, we acquired a "hail-fellow-well-met" familiarity with all of them, which has enlivened many a day in many parts of the world as we have journeyed through life. Moreover, though purchased pictures have other values, the old cases set on the walls of one's den bring back memories that are the joy and solace of many idle moments later in life—each rarer egg, each extra butterfly picturing some day or place of keen triumph, otherwise long since forgotten. Here, for instance, is a convolvulus hawk father found killed on a mountain in Switzerland; there an Apollo I caught in the Pyrenees; here a "red burnet" with "five eyes" captured as we raced through the bracken on Clifton Downs; and there are "purple emperors" wired down to "meat" baits on the Surrey Downs.
Many a night at school have I stolen into the great forest, my butterfly net under my coat, to try and add a new specimen to my hoard. We were always supplied with good "key-books," so that we should be able to identify our specimens, and also to search for others more intelligently. One value of my own specialty was that for the moths it demanded going out in the night, and the thrills of out of doors in the beautiful summer evenings, when others were "fugging" in the house or had gone to bed, used actually to make me dance around on the grass. The dark lantern, the sugaring of the tree stems with intoxicating potions, and the subsequent excitement of searching for specimens, fascinated me utterly. Our breeding from the egg, through the caterpillar stage, taught us many things without our knowing that we were learning.
One of our holidays was memorable, because as soon as our parents left we invited my friend and two sisters as well to come and stay with us. They came, fully expecting that mother had asked them, but were good enough sports to stay when they found it was only us two boys. They greatly added to the enjoyment of the days, and if they had not been such inveterate home letter-writers—a habit of which we were very contemptuous—it would have saved us boys much good-humoured teasing afterwards, for the matron would have been mum and no one the wiser.
EARLY WORK IN LONDON
In 1883 my father became anxious to give up teaching boys and to confine himself more exclusively to the work of a clergyman. With this in view he contemplated moving to London where he had been offered the chaplaincy of the huge London Hospital. I remember his talking it over with me, and then asking if I had any idea what I wanted to do in life. It came to me as a new conundrum. It had never occurred to me to look forward to a profession; except that I knew that the heads of tigers, deer, and all sorts of trophies of the chase which adorned our house came from soldier uncles and others who hunted them in India, and I had always thought that their occupation would suit my taste admirably. It never dawned on me that I would have to earn my bread and butter—that had always come along. Moreover, I had never seen real poverty in others, for all the fisher-folk in our village seemed to have enough. I hated dress and frills, and envied no one. At school, and on the Riviera, and even in Wales, I had never noticed any want. It is true that a number of dear old ladies from the village came in the winter months to our house once or twice a week to get soup. They used to sit in the back hall, each with a round tin can with a bucket handle. These were filled with hot broth, and the old ladies were given a repast as well before leaving. As a matter of fact I very seldom actually saw them, for that part of the house was cut off entirely by large double green-baize covered doors. But I often knew that they must have been there, because our Skye terrier, though fed to overflowing, usually attended these seances, and I presume, while the old ladies were occupied with lunch, sampled the cans of soup that stood in rows along the floor. He used to come along with dripping whiskers which betrayed his excursion, and the look of a connoisseur in his large round eyes—as if he were certifying that justice had been done once more in the kitchen.
While I was in France the mother of my best chum in school had been passing through Marseilles on her way home from India, and had most kindly taken me on a jolly trip to Arles, Avignon, and other historical places. She was the wife of a famous missionary in India. She spoke eight languages fluently, including Arabic, and was a perfect "vade mecum" of interesting information which she well knew how to impart. She had known my mother's family all her life, they being Anglo-Indians in the army service.
About the time of my father's question, my friend's mother was staying in Chester with her brother-in-law, the Lord Lieutenant of Denbighshire. It was decided that as she was a citizeness of the world, no one could suggest better for what profession my peculiar talents fitted me. The interview I have long ago forgotten, but I recall coming home with a confused idea that tiger hunting would not support me, and that she thought I ought to become a clergyman, though it had no attraction for me, and I decided against it.
None of our family on either side, so far as I can find out, had ever practised medicine. My own experience of doctors had been rather a chequered one, but at my father's suggestion I gladly went up and discussed the matter with our country family doctor. He was a fine man, and we boys were very fond of him and his family, his daughter being our best girl friend near by. He had an enormous practice, in which he was eminently successful. The number of horses he kept, and the miles he covered with them, were phenomenal in my mind. He had always a kind word for every one, and never gave us boys away, though he must have known many of our pranks played in our parents' absence. The only remaining memory of that visit was that the old doctor brought down from one of his shelves a large jar, out of which he produced a pickled human brain. I was thrilled with entirely new emotions. I had never thought of man's body as a machine. That this weird, white, puckered-up mass could be the producer or transmitter of all that made man, that it controlled our physical strength and growth, and our responses to life, that it made one into "Mad G." and another into me—why, it was absolutely marvellous. It attracted me as did the gramophone, the camera, the automobile.
My father saw at once on my return that I had found my real interest, and put before me two alternative plans, one to go to Oxford, where my brother had just entered, or to join him in London and take up work in the London Hospital and University, preparatory to going in for medicine. I chose the latter at once—a decision I have never regretted. I ought to say that business as a career was not suggested. In England, especially in those days, these things were more or less hereditary. My forbears were all fighters or educators, except for an occasional statesman or banker. Probably there is some advantage in this plan.
The school had been leased for a period of seven years to a very delightful successor, it being rightly supposed that after that time my brother would wish to assume the responsibility.
Some of the subjects for the London matriculation were quite new to me, especially "English." But with the fresh incentive and new vision of responsibility I set to work with a will, and soon had mastered the ten required subjects sufficiently to pass the examination with credit. But I must say here that Professor Huxley's criticisms of English public school teaching of that period were none too stringent. I wish with all my heart that others had spoken out as bravely, for in those days that wonderful man was held up to our scorn as an atheist and iconoclast. He was, however, perfectly right. We spent years of life and heaps of money on our education, and came out knowing nothing to fit us for life, except that which we picked up incidentally.
I now followed my father to London, and found every subject except my chemistry entirely new. I was not familiar with one word of botany, zoology, physics, physiology, or comparative anatomy. About the universe which I inhabited I knew as little as I did about cuneiform writings. Except for my mathematics and a mere modicum of chemistry I had nothing on which to base my new work; and students coming from Government free schools, or almost anywhere, had a great advantage over men of my previous education; I did not even know how to study wisely. Again, as Huxley showed, medical education in London was so divided, there being no teaching university, that the curriculum was ridiculously inadequate. There were still being foisted upon the world far too many medical men of the type of Bob Sawyer.
There were fourteen hospitals in London to which medical schools were attached. Our hospital was the largest in the British Isles, and in the midst of the poorest population in England, being located in the famous Whitechapel Road, and surrounded by all the purlieus of the East End of the great city. Patients came from Tilbury Docks to Billingsgate Market, and all the river haunts between; from Shadwell, Deptford, Wapping, Poplar, from Petticoat Lane and Radcliffe Highway, made famous by crime and by Charles Dickens. They came from Bethnal Green, where once queens had their courts, now the squalid and crowded home of poverty; from Stratford and Bow, and a hundred other slums.
The hospital had some nine hundred beds, which were always so full that the last surgeon admitting to his wards constantly found himself with extra beds poked in between the regulation number through sheer necessity. It afforded an unrivalled field for clinical experience and practical teaching. In my day, however, owing to its position in London, and the fact that its school was only just emerging from primeval chaos, it attracted very few indeed of the medical students from Oxford and Cambridge, who are obliged to come to London for their last two or three years' hospital work—the scope in those small university towns being decidedly limited.
Looking back I am grateful to my alma mater, and have that real affection for her that every loyal son should have. But even that does not conceal from me how poor a teaching establishment it was. Those who had natural genius, and the advantages of previous scientific training, who were sons of medical men, or had served apprenticeships to them, need not have suffered so much through its utter inefficiency. But men in my position suffered quite unconsciously a terrible handicap, and it was only the influences for which I had nothing whatever to thank the hospital that saved me from the catastrophes which overtook so many who started with me.
To begin with, there was no supervision of our lives whatever. We were flung into a coarse and evil environment, among men who too often took pride in their shame, just to sink or swim. Not one soul cared which you did. I can still remember numerous cases where it simply meant that men paid quite large sums for the privilege of sending the sons they loved direct to the devil. I recall one lad whom I had known at school. His father lavished money upon him, and sincerely believed that his son was doing him credit and would soon return to share his large practice, and bring to it all the many new advances he had learned. The reports of examinations successfully passed he fully accepted; and the non-return of his son at vacation times he put down to professional zeal. It was not till the time came for the boy to get his degree and return that the father discovered that he had lived exactly the life of the prodigal in the parable, and had neither attended college nor attempted a single examination of any kind whatever. It broke the father's heart and he died.
Examinations for degrees were held by the London University, or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, never by the hospital schools. These were practically race committees; they did no teaching, but when you had done certain things, they allowed you to come up and be examined, and if you got through a written and "viva voce" examination you were inflicted on an unsuspecting public "qualified to kill"—often only too literally so.
It is obvious on the face of it that this could be no proper criterion for so important a decision as to qualifications; special crammers studied the examiners, their questions, and their teachings, and luck had a great deal to do with success. While some men never did themselves justice in examinations, others were exactly the reverse. Thus I can remember one resident accoucheur being "ploughed," as we called it, in his special subject, obstetrics—and men to whom you wouldn't trust your cat getting through with flying colours.
Of the things to be done: First you had to be signed up for attending courses of lectures on certain subjects. This was simply a matter of tipping the beadle, who marked you off. I personally attended only two botany lectures during the whole course. At the first some practical joker had spilled a solution of carbon bisulphide all over the professor's platform, and the smell was so intolerable that the lecture was prorogued. At the second, some wag let loose a couple of pigeons, whereupon every one started either to capture them or stir them up with pea-shooters. The professor said, "Gentlemen, if you do not wish to learn, you are at liberty to leave." The entire class walked out. The insignificant sum of two and sixpence secured me my sign-up for the remainder of the course.
Materia medica was almost identical; and while we had better fortune with physiology, no experience and no apparatus for verifying its teachings were ever shown us.
Our chemistry professor was a very clever man, but extremely eccentric, and his class was pandemonium. I have seen him so frequently pelted with peas, when his head was turned, as to force him to leave the amphitheatre in despair. I well remember also an unpopular student being pushed down from the top row almost on to the experiment table.
There was practically no histology taught, and little or no pathology. Almost every bit of the microscope which I did was learned on my own instrument at home. Anatomy, however, we were well taught in the dissecting-room, where we could easily obtain all the work we needed. But not till Sir Frederick Treves became our lecturer in anatomy and surgery was it worth while doing more than pay the necessary sum to get signed up.
In the second place we had to attend in the dispensary, actually to handle drugs and learn about them—an admirable rule. Personally I went once, fooled around making egg-nogg, and arranged with a considerate druggist to do the rest that was necessary. Yet I satisfied the examiners at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, those of the London University at the examinations for Bachelor of Medicine—the only ones which they gave which carried questions in any of these subjects.
In the athletic life of the University, however, I took great interest, and was secretary in succession of the cricket, football, and rowing clubs. I helped remove the latter from the old river Lea to the Thames, to raise the inter-hospital rowing championship and start the united hospitals' rowing club. I found time to row in the inter-hospital race for two years and to play on the football team in the two years of which we won the inter-hospital football cup. A few times I played with the united hospitals' team; but I found that their ways were not mine, as I had been taught to despise alcohol as a beverage and to respect all kinds of womanhood. For three years I played regularly for Richmond—the best of the London clubs at the time—and subsequently for Oxford, being put on the team the only term I was in residence. I also threw the hammer for the hospital in the united hospitals' sports, winning second place for two years. Indeed, athletics in some form occupied every moment of my spare time.
It was in my second year, 1885, that returning from an out-patient case one night, I turned into a large tent erected in a purlieu of Shadwell, the district to which I happened to have been called. It proved to be an evangelistic meeting of the then famous Moody and Sankey. It was so new to me that when a tedious prayer-bore began with a long oration, I started to leave. Suddenly the leader, whom I learned afterwards was D.L. Moody, called out to the audience, "Let us sing a hymn while our brother finishes his prayer." His practicality interested me, and I stayed the service out. When eventually I left, it was with a determination either to make religion a real effort to do as I thought Christ would do in my place as a doctor, or frankly abandon it. That could only have one issue while I still lived with a mother like mine. For she had always been my ideal of unselfish love. So I decided to make the attempt, and later went down to hear the brothers J.E. and C.T. Studd speak at some subsidiary meeting of the Moody campaign. They were natural athletes, and I felt that I could listen to them. I could not have listened to a sensuous-looking man, a man who was not a master of his own body, any more than I could to a precentor, who coming to sing the prayers at college chapel dedication, I saw get drunk on sherry which he abstracted from the banquet table just before the service. Never shall I forget, at the meeting of the Studd brothers, the audience being asked to stand up if they intended to try and follow Christ. It appeared a very sensible question to me, but I was amazed how hard I found it to stand up. At last one boy, out of a hundred or more in sailor rig, from an industrial or reformatory ship on the Thames, suddenly rose. It seemed to me such a wonderfully courageous act—for I knew perfectly what it would mean to him—that I immediately found myself on my feet, and went out feeling that I had crossed the Rubicon, and must do something to prove it.