PHILIP GILBERT HAMERTON
AND A MEMOIR BY HIS WIFE
"Intellectual living is not so much an accomplishment as a state or condition of the mind in which it seeks earnestly for the highest and purest truth.... If we often blunder and fail for want of perfect wisdom and clear light, have we not the inward assurance that our aspiration has not been all in vain, that it has brought us a little nearer to the Supreme Intellect whose effulgence draws us while it dazzles?"—The Intellectual Life.
About twelve years ago my husband told me that he had begun to write an Autobiography intended for publication, but not during his lifetime. He worked upon it at intervals, as his literary engagements permitted, but I found after his sudden death that he had only been able to carry it as far as his twenty-fourth year. Such a fragment seemed too brief for separate publication, and I earnestly desired to supplement it by a Memoir, and thus to give to those who knew and loved his books a more complete understanding of his character and career. But though I longed for this satisfaction and solace, the task seemed beyond my power, especially as it involved the difficulty of writing in a foreign language. Considering, however, that the Autobiography was carried, as it happened, up to the date of our marriage, and that I could therefore relate all the subsequent life from intimate knowledge, as no one else could, I was encouraged by many of Mr. Hamerton's admirers to make the attempt, and with the great and untiring help of his best friend, Mr. Seeley, I have been enabled to complete the Memoir—such as it is.
I offer my sincere thanks to Mr. Sidney Colvin and to his co-executor for having allowed the insertion of Mr. R. L. Stevenson's letters; to Mr. Barrett Browning for those of his father; to Sir George and Lady Reid, Mr. Watts, Mr. Peter Graham, and Mr. Burlingame for their own.
I also beg Mr. A. H. Palmer to accept the expression of my gratitude for his kind permission to use as a frontispiece to this book the fine photograph taken by him.
My reasons for writing an Autobiography.—That a man knows the history of his own life better than a biographer can know it.—Frankness and reserve.—The contemplation of death.
My birthplace.—My father and mother.—Circumstances of their marriage.—Their short married life.—Birth of their child.—Death of my mother.—Her character and habits.—My father as a widower.—Dulness of his life.—Its degradation.
My childhood is passed at Barnley with my aunts.—My grandfather and grandmother.—Estrangement between Gilbert Hamerton and his brother of Hellifield Peel.—Death of Gilbert Hamerton.—His taste for the French language.—His travels in Portugal, and the conduct of a steward during his absence.—His three sons.—Aristocratic tendencies of his daughters.—Beginning of my education.—Visits to my father.
A tour in Wales in 1842.—Extracts from my Journal of this tour.—My inborn love for beautiful materials.—Stay at Rhyl.—Anglesea and Caernarvon.—Reasons for specially remembering this tour.
A painful chapter to write.—My father calls me home.—What kind of a house it was.—Paternal education and discipline.—My life at that time one of dulness varied by dread.
My extreme loneliness.—Thoughts of flight.—My father's last illness and death.—Circumstances of my last interview with him.—His funeral.
Dislike to Shaw in consequence of the dreadful life I lead there with my father.—My guardian.—Her plan for my education.—Doncaster School.—Mr. Cape and his usher.—The usher's intolerance of Dissenters.—My feeling for architecture and music.—The drawing-master.—My guardian insists on my learning French.—Our French master, Sig. Testa.—A painful incident.—I begin to learn the violin.—Dancing.—My aversion to cricket.—Early readings.—Love of Scott.—My first library.—Classical studies.
Early attempts in English verse.—Advantages of life at Doncaster.—A school incident.—Fagging.—Story of a dog.—Robbery.—My school-fellow Henry Alexander.—His remarkable influence.—Other school-fellows. —Story of a boat.—A swimming adventure.—Our walks and battles.
Early interest in theology.—Reports of sermons.—Quiet influence of Mr. Cape.—Failure of Mr. Cape's health.—His death.
My education becomes less satisfactory.—My guardian's state of health.—I pursue my studies at Burnley.—Dr. Butler.—He encourages me to write English.—Extract from a prize poem.—Public discussions in Burnley School.—A debate on Queen Elizabeth.
My elder uncle.—We go to live at Hollins.—Description of the place. —My strong attachment to it.—My first experiment in art-criticism. —The stream at Hollins.—My first catamaran.—Similarity of my life at Hollins to my life in France thirty-six years later.
Interest in the Middle Ages.—Indifference to the Greeks and Romans. —Love for Sir Walter Scott's writings.—Interest in heraldry and illuminations.—Passion for hawking.—Old books in the school library at Burnley.—Mr. Edward Alexander of Halifax.—Attempts in literary composition.—Contributions to the "Historic Times."—"Rome in 1849."—"Observations on Heraldry."
Political and religious opinions of my relations.—The Rev. James Bardsley.—Protestant controversy with Rome.—German neology.—The inspiration of the Scriptures.—Inquiry into foundation for the doctrine.—I cease to be a Protestant.—An alternative presents itself.—A provisional condition of prolonged inquiry.—Our medical adviser.—His remarkable character.—His opinions.
First visit to London in 1851.—My first impression of the place.— Nostalgia of the country.—Westminster.—The Royal Academy.—Resolution never to go to London again.—Reason why this resolution was afterwards broken.
The lore of reading a hindrance to classical studies.—Dr. Butler becomes anxious about my success at Oxford.—An insuperable obstacle.—My indifference to degrees.—Irksome hypocrisy.—I am nearly sent to a tutor at Brighton.—I go to a tutor in Yorkshire.—His disagreeable disposition.—Incident about riding.—Disastrous effect of my tutor's intellectual influence upon me.—My private reading.—My tutor's ignorance of modern authors.—His ignorance of the fine arts.—His religious intolerance.—I declare my inability to sign the Thirty-nine Articles.
Choice of a profession.—Love of literature and art.—Decision to make trial of both.—An equestrian tour.—Windermere.—Derwentwater.—I take lessons from Mr. J. P. Pettitt.—Ulleswater.—My horse turf.—Greenock, a discovery.—My unsettled cousin.—Glasgow.—Loch Lomond.—Inverary.—Loch Awe.—Inishail.—Inmstrynich.—Oban.—A sailing excursion.—Mull and Ulva.—Solitary reading.
A journal.—Self-training.—Attempts in periodical literature.—The time given to versification well spent.—Practical studies in art.— Beginning of Mr. Ruskin's influence.—Difficulty in finding a master in landscape-painting.—Establishment of the militia.—I accept a commission.—Our first training.—Our colonel and our adjutant.—The Grand Llama.—Paying off the men.
A project for studying in Paris.—Reading.—A healthy life.— Quinsy.—My most intimate friend.
London again.—Accurate habits in employment of time.—Studies with Mr. Pettitt.—Some account of my new master.—His method of technical teaching.—Simplicity of his philosophy of art.—Incidents of his life.—Rapid progress under Pettitt's direction.
Acquaintance with R. W. Mackay.—His learning and accomplishments.—His principal pursuit.—His qualities as a writer.—Value of the artistic element in literature.—C. R. Leslie, R. A.—Robinson, the line-engraver.—The Constable family.—Mistaken admiration for minute detail.—Projected journey to Egypt.—Mr. Ruskin.—Bonomi.—Samuel Sharpe.—Tennyson.
A Visit to Rogers.—His Home.—Geniality in poets.—Talfourd.—Sir Walter Scott.—Leslie's picture, "The Rape of the Lock."—George Leslie.—Robert Leslie.—His nautical instincts.—Watkiss Lloyd.—Landseer.—Harding.—Richard Doyle.
Miss Marian Evans.—John Chapman, the publisher.—My friend William Shaw.—His brother Richard.—Mead, the tragedian.—Mrs. Rowan and her daughter.—A vexatious incident.—I suffer from nostalgia for the country.
Some of my relations emigrate to New Zealand.—Difficulties of a poor gentleman.—My uncle's reasons for emigration.—His departure.—Family separations.—Our love for Hollins.
Resignation of commission in the militia.—Work from nature.—Spenser, the poet.—Hurstwood.—Loch Awe revisited.—A customer.—I determine to learn French well.—A tour in Wales.—Swimming.—Coolness on account of my religious beliefs.—My guardian.—Evil effects of religions bigotry.—Refuge in work.—My drawing-master.—Our excursion in Craven.
Publication of "The Isles of Loch Awe and other Poems."—Their sale.—Advice to poetic aspirants.—Mistake in illustrating my book of verse.—Its subsequent history.—Want of art in the book.—Too much reality.—Abandonment of verse. A critic in "Fraser."—Visit to Paris in 1855.—Captain Turnbull.—Ball at the Hotel de Ville.—Louis Napoleon and Victor Emmanuel.
Thackeray's family in Paris.—Madame Mohl.—Her husband's encouraging theory about learning languages.—Mr. Scholey.—His friend, William Wyld.—An Indian in Europe.—An Italian adventuress.—Important meeting with an American.—Its consequences.—I go to a French hotel.—People at the table d'hote.—M. Victor Ouvrard.—His claim on the Emperor.—M. Gindriez.—His family.—His eldest daughter.
Specialities in painting.—Wyld's practice.—Projected voyage on the Loire.—Birth of the Prince Imperial.—Scepticism about his inheritance of the crown.—The Imperial family.—I return home.—Value of the French language to me.
My first encampment in Lancashire.—Value of encamping as a part of educational discipline.—Happy days in camp.—The natural and the artificial in landscape.—Sir James Kay Shuttleworth's Exhibition project.—I decline to take an active part in it.—His energetic and laborious disposition.—Charlotte Bronte.—General Scarlett.
I visit the homes of my forefathers at Hamerton, Wigglesworth, and Hellifield Peel.—Attainder and execution of Sir Stephen Hamerton. —Return of Hellifield Peel to the family.—Sir Richard.—The Hamertons distinguished only for marrying heiresses.—Another visit to the Peel, when I see my father's cousin.—Nearness of Hellifield Peel and Hollins.
Expedition to the Highlands in 1857.—Kindness of the Marquis of Breadalbane and others.—Camp life, its strong and peculiar attraction.—My servant.—Young Helliwell.—Scant supplies in the camp.—Nature of the camp.—Necessity for wooden floors in a bad climate.—Double-hulled boats.—Practice of landscape- painting.—Changes of effect.—Influences that governed my way of study in those days.—Attractive character of the Scottish Highlands.—Their scenery not well adapted for beginners.—My intense love of it.
Small immediate results of the expedition to the Highlands.—Unsuitable system of work.—Loss of time.—I rent the house and island of Innistrynich.—My dread of marriage and the reasons for it.—Notwithstanding this I make an offer and am refused.—Two young ladies of my acquaintance.—Idea of a foreign marriage.—Its inconveniences.—Decision to ask for the hand of Mdlle. Gindriez.—I go to Paris and am accepted.—Elective affinities.
Reception at home after engagement.—Preparations at Innistrynich.—I arrive alone in Paris.—My marriage.—The religious ceremony.—An uncomfortable wedding.—The sea from Dieppe.—London.—The Academy Exhibition of 1858.—Impressions of a Frenchwoman.—The Turner collection.—The town.—Loch Awe.—The element wanting to happiness.
My first sight of Loch Awe.—Arrival at Innistrynich.—Our domestic life.—Difficulties about provisions.—A kitchen-garden.
Money matters.—Difficulties about servants.—Expensiveness of our mode of life.
Painting from nature.—Project of an exhibition.—Photography.—Plan of "A Painter's Camp."—Topographic art.—Charm of our life in the Highlands.
English and French manners.—My husband's relatives.—First journey to France after our marriage.—Friends in London.—Miss Susan Hamerton.
Visits from friends and relatives.—A Frenchman in the Highlands.— Project of buying the island of Innistrynich.
Financial complications.—Summer visitors.—Boats and boating.—Visit to Paris.—W. Wyld.—Project of a farm in France.—Partnership with M. Gindriez.
Effects of the Highland climate.—Farewell to Loch Awe.—Journey to the south of France.—Death of Miss Mary Hamerton.—Settlement at Sens.—Death of M. Gindriez.—Publication of "A Painter's Camp." —Removal to Pre-Charmoy.
Canoeing on the Unknown River.—Visit of relatives.—Tour in Switzerland.—Experiments in etching.—The "Saturday Review."—Journeys to London.—Plan of "Etching and Etchers."—New friends in London.—Etching exhibited at the Royal Academy.—Serious illness in London.—George Eliot.—Professor Seeley.
Studies of animals.—A strange visitor.—Illness at Amiens.—Resignation of post on the "Saturday Review."—Nervous seizure in railway train.—Mrs. Craik.—Publication of "Etching and Etchers." —Tennyson.—Growing reputation in America.
"Wenderholme."—The Mont Beuvray.—Botanical studies.—La Tuilerie.—Commencement of "The Portfolio."—The Franco-Prussian War.
Landscape-painting.—Letters of Mr. Peter Graham, R.A.—Incidents of the war-time.—"The Intellectual Life."—"The Etcher's Handbook."
Popularity of "The Intellectual Life."—Love of animals.—English visitors.—Technical notes.—Sir S. Seymour Haden.—Attempts to resume railway travelling.
"Round my House."—Journey to England after seven years' absence.—Visit to Mr. Samuel Palmer.—Articles for the "Encyclopedia Britannica." —Death of my sister.—Mr. Appleton.
"Marmorne."—Paris International Exhibition.—"Modern Frenchmen." —Candidature for the Watson Gordon Chair of Fine Arts.—The Bishop of Autun.—The "Life of Turner."
Third edition of "Etching and Etchers."—Kew.—The "Graphic Arts."—"Human Intercourse."
"Paris."—Miss Susan Hamerton's death.—Burnley revisited.—Hellifield Peel.—"Landscape" planned.—Voyage to Marseilles.
"Landscape."—The Autobiography begun.—"Imagination in Landscape Painting."—"The Saone."—"Portfolio Papers."
"Man in Art" begun.—Family events.—Mr. G. F. Watts.—Mr. Bodley.—"French and English."
Decision to live near Paris.—Practice in painting and etching.—Search for a house.—Clematis.
Removal to Paris.—Interest in the Bois de Boulogne.—M. Vierge.—"Man in Art."—Contributions to "Scribner's Magazine."—New form of "The Portfolio."—Honorary degree.—Last Journey to London.—Society of Illustrators.—Illness and death.
PHILIP GILBERT HAMERTON
My reasons for writing an autobiography.—That a man knows the history of his own life better than a biographer can know it.—Frankness and reserve.—The contemplation of death.
My principal reasons for writing an autobiography are because I am the only person in the world who knows enough about my history to give a truthful account of it, and because I dread the possibility of falling into the hands of some writer who might attempt a biography with inadequate materials. I have already been selected as a subject by two or three biographers with very friendly intentions, but their friendliness did not always ensure accuracy. When the materials are not supplied in abundance, a writer will eke them out with conjectural expressions which he only intends as an amplification, yet which may contain germs of error to be in their turn amplified by some other writer, and made more extensively erroneous.
It has frequently been said that an autobiography must of necessity be an untrue representation of its subject, as no man can judge himself correctly. If it is intended to imply that somebody else, having a much slighter acquaintance with the man whose life is to be narrated, would produce a more truthful book, one may be permitted to doubt the validity of the inference. Thousands of facts are known to a man himself with reference to his career, and a multitude of determinant motives, which are not known even to his most intimate friends, still less to the stranger who so often undertakes the biography. The reader of an autobiography has this additional advantage, that the writer must be unconsciously revealing himself all along, merely by his way of telling things.
With regard to the great question of frankness and reserve, I hold that the reader has a fair claim to hear the truth, as a biography is not avowedly a romance, but at the same time that it is right to maintain a certain reserve. My rule shall be to say nothing that can hurt the living, and the memory of the dead shall be dealt with as tenderly as may be compatible with a truthful account of the influences that have impelled me in one direction or another.
I have all the more kindly feelings towards the dead, that when these pages appear I shall be one of themselves, and therefore unable to defend my own memory as they are unable to defend theirs.
The notion of being a dead man is not entirely displeasing to me. If the dead are defenceless, they have this compensating advantage, that nobody can inflict upon them any sensible injury; and in beginning a book which is not to see the light until I am lying comfortably in my grave, with six feet of earth above me to deaden the noises of the upper world, I feel quite a new kind of security, and write with a more complete freedom from anxiety about the quality of the work than has been usual at the beginning of other manuscripts.
Nevertheless, the clear and steady contemplation of death (I have been looking the grim king in the face for the last hour) may produce a paralyzing effect upon a man by making his life's work seem very small to him. For, whatever we believe about a future state, it is evident that the catastrophe of death must throw each of us instantaneously into the past, from the point of view of the living, and they will see what we have done in a very foreshortened aspect, so that except in a few very rare cases it must look small to them, and ever smaller as time rolls on, and they will probably not think much of it, or remember us long on account of it. And in thinking of ourselves as dead we instinctively adopt the survivor's point of view. Besides which, it is reasonable to suppose that whatever fate may be in store for us, a greater or less degree of posthumous reputation in two or three nations on this planet can have little effect on our future satisfaction; for if we go to heaven, the beatitude of the life there will be so incomparably superior to the pleasures of earthly fame that we shall never think of such vanity again; and if we go to the place of eternal tortures they will leave us no time to console ourselves with pleasant memories of any kind; and if death is simply the ending of all sensation, all thought, memory, and consciousness, it will matter nothing to a handful of dust what estimate of the name it once bore may happen to be current amongst the living—
"Les grands Dieux savent seuls si l'ame est immortelle, Mais le juste travaille a leur oeuvre eternelle."
My birthplace.—My father and mother.—Circumstances of their marriage.—Their short married life.—Birth of their child.—Death of my mother.—Her character and habits.—My father as a widower.—Dulness of his life.—Its degradation.
I was born at Laneside near Shaw, which is now a manufacturing town of some importance about two miles from Oldham in Lancashire, and about four miles from Rochdale in the same county.
Laneside is a small estate with some houses and a little cotton-mill upon it, which belonged to my maternal grandfather. The house is of stone, with a roof of stone slate such as is usual in those parts, and it faces the road, from which it is separated by a little enclosure, that may be called a garden if you will. When I was a child, there were two or three poplar trees in that enclosure before the house; but trees do not prosper there, and now there is probably not one on the whole estate. One end of the house (which is rather long for its height and depth) abuts against the hill, and close behind it is the cotton-mill which my grandfather worked, with no great profit to himself or advantage to his descendants. I have mentioned a road that passes the house; it is steep, narrow, and inconvenient. It leads up to an elevated tract of the most dreary country that can be imagined, but there are one or two fields on the Laneside estate, above the stone-quarry, from which there is a good view in the direction of Rochdale.
I never knew my grandfather Cocker, but have heard that he was a lively and vigorous man, who enjoyed life very heartily in his way. He married a Miss Crompton, who had a little property and was descended from the De Cromptons of Crompton Hall. I am not aware that she had any family pride, but, like most people in that neighborhood, she had a great appreciation of the value of money, and when she was left alone with her daughter, in consequence of Philip Cocker's premature death, she was more inclined to favor wealthy than impecunious suitors. My father had come to Shaw as a young attorney some time before he asked for Anne Cocker in marriage. He had very little to recommend him except a fine person, great physical strength, and fifteen quarterings. He had a reputation for rather dissolute habits, was a good horseman, an excellent shot, looked very well in a ball-room, and these, I believe, were all his advantages, save an unhappy faculty for shining in such masculine company as he could find in a Lancashire village in the days of George IV. Money he had none, except what he earned in his profession, at one time rather a good income.
Miss Anne Cocker was a young lady with a will of her own, associated, I have been told (the two characteristics are by no means incompatible), with a very sweet and amiable disposition. At a time when my grandmother still vigorously opposed the match with my father, there happened to be a public charity ball in Shaw, and Miss Cocker showed her intentions in a very decided manner, by declining to dance with several gentlemen until the young lawyer presented himself, when she rose immediately with a very gracious smile, which was observed by all near enough to witness it. This was rather unkind perhaps to the other aspirants, and is, in fact, scarcely defensible, but it was Miss Cocker's way of declaring her intentions publicly. When my father made his offer, he was refused by my grandmother's orders, but received encouragement from her daughter (a tone of voice, or a look, yet more a tear, would be enough for a lover's hope), and counted upon the effects of perseverance. At length, when he and Miss Cocker thought they had waited long enough, they determined to marry without Mrs. Cocker's consent, and the determination was notified to my grandmother in the following very decided terms:—
"DR. Madam,—You are no doubt well aware of the warm attachment which has long existed betwixt your dear daughter and myself. Upwards of twelve months ago our affections were immovably fixed upon each other, and I now consider it my duty to inform you that we are fully engaged, and have finally concluded to be married within a fortnight of the present time.
"I sincerely trust that all your hostile feelings towards me are entirely worn out, and that you will receive me as the affectionate husband of your beloved daughter, and I with great confidence hope we shall be a happy family and live together with peace and harmony.
"At my request your daughter will have all her property settled upon herself, so that I can have no control over it—thus leaving it impossible that I should waste it. And I trust that by an active attention to my profession I may be enabled not inconsiderably to augment it.
"Be assured, Dear Madam, that your daughter and myself feel no little solicitude for your comfort and happiness, and that we shall at all times be most happy to promote them.
"It is our mutual and most anxious wish that you should not attempt to throw any obstacle in the way of our marriage, as the only tendency it could have under present circumstances would be to lessen the happiness and comfort of our union.
"We trust therefore that your regard for your daughter's happiness will induce you at once to give your full assent to the fulfilment of our engagement, as you would thereby divest our marriage of all that could possibly lessen the happiness we anticipate from it.
"I know that your principal objection to me has been on account of my unsteadiness, and I deeply regret ever having given you cause to raise such an objection; but I trust my conduct for some time back having been of a very different character, will convince you that I have seen my error. The gayety into which I have fallen may partly be ascribed to the peculiarity of my situation; having no relations near me, no family ties, no domestic comforts, &c., I may be the more excusable for having kept the company of young men, but I can assure you I have lost all inclination for the practice of such follies as I have once fallen into, and I look to a steady, sober married life as alone calculated to afford me happiness.
"I will wait upon you on Monday with most anxious hopes for your favorable answer.
"I am, Dear Madam,
"Yours most respectfully,
"Shaw, June 1st, 1833."
The reader may be surprised by the double m in the signature. It was my father's custom to write our name so, for a reason that will be explained in another chapter. The letter itself is rather formal, according to the fashion of the time, but I think it is a good letter in its way, and believe it to have been perfectly sincere. No doubt my father fully intended to reform his way of life, but it is easier to make a good resolution than to adhere to it. I do not know enough of the degree of excess to which his love of pleasure led him, to be able to describe his life as a young man accurately, but as my mother had been well brought up and was a refined person for her rank in society, I conclude that she would not have encouraged a notorious evil-liver. Those who knew my father in his early manhood have told me that he was very popular, and yet at the same time that he bore himself with considerable dignity, one old lady going so far as to say that when he walked through the main street at Shaw, it seemed as if all the town belonged to him. It is difficult for us to understand quite accurately the social code of the Georgian era, when a man might indulge in pleasures which seem to us coarse and degrading, and yet retain all the pride and all the bearing of a gentleman.
The marriage took place according to the fixed resolution of the contracting parties, and their life together was immensely happy during the short time that it lasted. Most unfortunately it came to an end after little more than one year by my mother's lamentably premature death. I happen to possess a letter from my father's sister to her sister Anne in which she gives an account of this event, and print it because it conveys the reality more vividly than a narrative at second hand. The reader will pardon the reference to myself. It matters nothing to a dead man—as I shall be when this page is printed—whether at the age of fourteen days he was considered a fine-looking child or a weakling.
"MY DEAR ANNE,—You will not calculate upon so speedy an answer as this to your long and welcome epistle, nor will you calculate upon the melancholy intelligence I have to communicate. Poor John's wife, certainly the most amiable of all woman-kind, departed this life at twenty minutes past eleven last night. Her recovery from her confinement was very wonderful, we thought, but alas! it was a false one. The Drs. Whitaker of Shaw, Wood of Rochdale, and Bardsley of Manchester all agree in opinion that she has died of mere weakness without any absolute disease. She has been very delicate for a long time. Poor dear John—if I were quite indifferent to him I should grieve to see his agonies—he says at sixty it might have happened in the common course of things and he would have borne it better, but at twenty-nine, just when he is beginning life, his sad bereavement does indeed seem untimely. It is a sore affliction to him, sent for some good, and may he understand and apply it with wisdom! They had, to be sure, hardly been married long enough to quarrel, but I never saw a couple so intent on making each other happy; they had not a thought of each other but what tended to please. The poor little boy is a very fine one, and I hope he will be reared, though it often happens that when the mother is consumptive the baby dies. I do hope when John is able to look after his office a little that the occupation of his mind will give him calm. He walks from room to room, and if I meet him and he is able to articulate at all, he says, 'Ah! where must I be? what must I do?' He says nobody had such a wife, and I do think nobody ever had. He wanted me not to write till arrangements were made about the funeral. I thought you would be sorry to be informed late upon a subject so near John's heart, and that it was too late for Mr. Hinde [Footnote: The Rev. Thomas Hinde, Vicar of Featherstone, brother-in-law of the writer of the letter.] to come to the funeral. I have really nothing to say except that our poor sister was so tolerable on Wednesday morning that I went with the Milnes of Park House to Henton Park races, which I liked very well, but as things have turned out I heartily repent going. Ann was, we hoped, positively recovering on Monday and Tuesday, but it seems to have been a lightening before death. She was a very long time in the agonies of death, but seemed to suffer very little. Our afflicted brother joins me in best love to you and your dear children. Kind compliments to Mr. Hinde.
"Your affectionate Sister,
The letter is without date, but it bears the Manchester postmark of September 27, 1834, and the day of my birth was the tenth of the same month. The reader may have observed a discrepancy with reference to my mother's health. First it is said that the doctors all agreed in the opinion that she died of mere weakness, without any absolute disease, but afterwards consumption is alluded to. I am not sure, even yet, whether my mother was really consumptive or only suffered from debility. Down to the time when I write this (fifty-one years after my mother's death) there have never been any symptoms of consumption in me.
No portrait of my mother was ever taken, so that I have never been able to picture her to myself otherwise than vaguely, but I remember that on one occasion in my youth when I played the part of a young lady in a charade, several persons present who had known her, said that the likeness was so striking that it almost seemed as if she had appeared to them in a vision, and they told me that if I wanted to know what my mother was like, I had only to consult a looking-glass. She had blue eyes, a very fair complexion, and hair of a rich, strongly-colored auburn, a color more appreciated by painters than by other people. In the year 1876 I was examining a large boxful of business papers that had belonged to my father, and burning most of them in a garden in Yorkshire, when a little packet fell out of a legal document that I was just going to throw upon the fire. It was a lock of hair carefully folded in a piece of the bluish paper my father used for his law correspondence, and fastened with an old wire-headed pin. I at once took it to a lady who had known my mother, and she said without a moment's hesitation that the hair was certainly hers, so that I now possess this relic, and it is all I have of my poor mother whose face I never saw, and whose voice I never heard. Few people who have lived in the world have left such slight traces. There are no letters of hers except one or two formal compositions written at school under the eye of the mistress, which of course express nothing of her own mind or feelings. Those who knew her have told me that she was a very lively and amiable person, physically active, and a good horsewoman. She and my father were fond of riding out together, and indeed were separated as little as might be during their brief happiness. She even, on one occasion, went out shooting with him and killed something, after which she melted into tears of pity over her victim. [Footnote: A lady related to my mother shot well, and killed various kinds of game, of which I remember seeing stuffed specimens as trophies of her skill.]
The reader will pardon me for dwelling thus on these few details of a life so sadly and prematurely ended. The knowledge that my mother had died early cast a certain melancholy over my childhood; I found that people looked at me with some tenderness and pity for her sake, so I felt vaguely that there had been a great loss, though unable to estimate the extent of it. Later, when I understood better what pains and perils Nature inflicts on women in order that children may come into the world, it seemed that the days I lived had been bought for me by the sacrifice of days that my mother ought to have lived. She was but twenty-four when she passed away, so that now I have lived more than twice her span.
The effect of the loss upon my father was utterly disastrous. His new and good projects were all shattered, and a cloud fell over his existence that was never lifted. He did not marry again, and he lost his interest in his profession. My mother left him all her property absolutely, so he felt no spur of necessity and became indolent or indifferent; yet those who were capable of judging had a good opinion of his abilities as a lawyer. Just before his wife's death, my father had rather distinguished himself in an important case, and received a testimonial from his client with the following inscription:—
Presented to Mr. Hammerton, Solr, by his obliged client Mr. Waring, as a token of Esteem for his active services in the cause tried against Stopherd at Lancaster, in the arrangement of the argument arising thereon at Westminster, and his successful defence to the Equity Suit instituted by the Deft. 1834.
My father's practice at that time was beginning to be lucrative, and would no doubt have become much more so in a few years; but the blow to his happiness that occurred in the September of 1834 produced such discouragement that he sought relief from his depression in the society of lively companions. Most unfortunately for him, there was no lively masculine society in the place where he lived that was not at the same time a constant incitement to drinking. There were a few places in the Lancashire of those days where convivial habits were carried to such a degree that they destroyed what ought to have been the flower of the male population. The strong and hearty men who believed that they could be imprudent with impunity, the lively, intelligent, and sociable men who wanted the wittiest and brightest talk that was to be had in the neighborhood, the bachelor whose hearth was lonely, and the widower whose house had been made desolate, all these were tempted to join meetings of merry companions who set no limits to the strength or the quantity of their potations. My poor father was a man of great physical endowments, and he came at last to have a mistaken pride in being able to drink deeply without betraying any evil effects; but a few years of such an existence undermined one of the finest constitutions ever given to mortal man. A quarryman once told me that my father had appeared at the quarry at six o'clock in the morning looking quite fresh and hearty, when, taking up the heaviest sledge-hammer he could find, he gayly challenged the men to try who could throw it farthest. None of them came near him, on which he turned and said with a laugh of satisfaction, —"Not bad that, for a man who drank thirty glasses of brandy the day before!" Whether he had ever approached such a formidable number I will not venture to say, but the incident exactly paints my father in his northern pride of strength, the fatal pride that believes itself able to resist poison because it has the muscles of an athlete.
It was always said by those who knew the family that my father was the cleverest member of it, but his ability must have expended itself in witty conversation and in his professional work, as I do not remember the smallest evidence of what are called intellectual tastes. My mother had a few books that had belonged to her family, and to these my father added scarcely anything. I can remember his books quite clearly, even at this distance of time. One was a biography of William IV., another a set of sketches of Reform Ministers, a third was Baines's "History of Lancashire," a fourth a Geographical Dictionary. These were, I believe, almost all the books (not concerned with the legal profession) that my father ever purchased. His bookcase did not contain a single volume by the most popular English poets of his own time, nor even so much as a novel by Sir Walter Scott. I have no recollection of ever having seen him read a book, but he took in the "Times" newspaper, and I clearly remember that he read the leading articles, which it was the fashion at that time to look upon as models of style. This absence of interest in literature was accompanied by that complete and absolute indifference to the fine arts which was so common in the middle classes and the country aristocracy of those days. I mention these deficiencies to explain the extreme dulness of my poor father's existence during his widowhood, a dulness that a lover of books must have a difficulty in imagining. A man living alone with servants (for his son's childhood was spent elsewhere), who took hardly any interest in a profession that had become little more than nominal for him, who had not even the stimulus of a desire to accumulate wealth (almost the only recognized object in the place where he lived), a man who had no intellectual pursuits whatever, and whose youth was too far behind him for any joyous physical activity, was condemned to seek such amusements as the customs of the place afforded, and these all led to drinking. He and his friends drank when they were together to make society merrier, and when they happened to be alone they drank to make solitude endurable. Had they drunk light wines like French peasants, or beer like Germans, they might have lasted longer, but their favorite drink was brandy in hot strong grogs, accompanied by unlimited tobacco. They dined in the middle of the day, and had the spirit decanters and the tobacco-box on the table instead of dessert, frequently drinking through the whole afternoon and a long evening afterwards. In the morning they slaked alcoholic thirst with copious draughts of ale. My father went on steadily with this kind of existence without anything whatever to rescue him from its gradual and fatal degradation. He separated himself entirely from the class he belonged to by birth, lived with men of little culture, though they may have had natural wit, and sacrificed his whole future to mere village conviviality. Thousands of others have followed the same road, but few have sacrificed so much. My father had a constitution such as is not given to one man in ten thousand, and his mind was strong and clear, though he had not literary tastes. He was completely independent, free to travel or to make a fortune in his profession if he preferred a sedentary existence, but the binding force of habit overcame his weakened will, and he fell into a kind of life that placed intellectual and moral recovery alike beyond his reach.
My childhood is passed at Burnley with my aunts.—My grandfather and grandmother.—Estrangement between Gilbert Hamerton and his brother of Hellifield Peel.—Death of Gilbert Hamerton.—His taste for the French language.—His travels in Portugal, and the conduct of a steward during his absence.—His three sons.—Aristocratic tendencies of his daughters.—Beginning of my education.—Visits to my father.
I was not brought up during childhood under my father's roof, but was sent to live with his two unmarried sisters. These ladies were then living in Burnley with their mother.
Burnley is now a large manufacturing town of seventy thousand inhabitants, but in those days it was just rising in importance, and a few years earlier it had been a small country town in an uncommonly aristocratic neighborhood. The gate of Towneley Park opens now almost upon the town itself, and in former times there were many other seats of the greater or lesser squires within a radius of a very few miles. It is a common mistake in the south of England to suppose that Lancashire is a purely commercial county. There are, or were in my youth, some very aristocratic neighborhoods in Lancashire, and that immediately about Burnley was one of them. The creation of new wealth, and the extinction or departure of a few families, may have altered its character since then, but in the days of my grandfather nobody thought of disputing the supremacy of the old houses. There was something almost sublime in the misty antiquity of the Towneley family, one of the oldest in all England, and still one of the wealthiest, keeping house in its venerable castellated mansion in a great park with magnificent avenues. Other houses of less wealth and more modern date had their pedigrees in the history of Lancashire.
My grandfather, Gilbert Hamerton, possessed an old gabled mansion with a small but picturesque estate, divided from Towneley Park by a public road, and he had other property in the town and elsewhere enough to make him independent, but not enough to make him one of the great squires. However, as he was the second son of an ancient Yorkshire family, and as pedigrees and quarterings counted for something in those comparatively romantic times, the somewhat exclusive aristocracy about Burnley had received him with much cordiality from the first, and he continued all his life to belong to it. His comparative poverty was excused by a well-known history of confiscation in his family, and perhaps made him rather more interesting, especially as it did not go far enough to become—what poverty becomes so easily—ridiculous. He lived in a large old house, and plentifully enough, but without state and style. His marriage had been extremely imprudent from the worldly point of view. An aunt of my grandfather's, on his mother's side, had invited him to stay with her, and had not foreseen the attractions of a farmer's daughter who was living in the house as a companion. My good, unworldly grandfather fell in love with this girl, and married her. He never had any serious reason to regret this very imprudent step, for Jane Smith became an excellent wife and mother, and she did not even injure his position in society, where she knew how to make herself respected, and was much beloved by her most intimate friends. I remember her, though I never knew my grandfather. My recollection of her is a sort of picture of an old lady always dressed in black, and seated near a window, or walking slowly with a stick. The dawn of reason and feeling is associated in my memory with an intense affection for this old lady and with the kind things she said to me, not yet forgotten. I remember, too, the awful stillness of her dead body (hers was the first dead human body I looked upon), and the strange emptiness of the house when it had been taken away.
Though my grandmother was only a farmer's daughter, her parents were well-to-do in their own line of life, and at various times helped my grandfather with sums of money; but the fact remained that he had married quite out of his class, and it has always seemed to me probable that the marriage may have had some connection with the complete and permanent estrangement that existed between Gilbert Hamerton and his brother, the squire of Hellifield Peel. As soon as I was old enough to understand a little about relationships, I reflected that the houses of my own uncles were open to me, that my cousins were all like brothers and sisters to me, and yet that my father and my aunts had never been to their uncle's house at Hellifield, and that our relations there never came to see us at Burnley. The explanation of this estrangement given by my grandfather, was that there had been a disagreement about land; but perhaps he may have felt some delicacy about telling his children that his unambitious marriage had contributed to render the separation permanent. However this may have been, my grandmother never once saw the inside of her brother-in-law's house, and when she died there was, I believe, not even the formal expression of condolence that is usual among acquaintances. Gilbert Hamerton had lived at Hollins, a house and estate inherited from his mother; and James Hamerton, the elder brother, lived in a castellated peel or border tower at Hellifield, which had been built by Lawrence Hamerton in 1440. The two places are not much more than twenty miles apart; but the brothers never met after their quarrel, and my grandfather's sons and daughters never saw their uncle's house. One result of the estrangement was that we hardly seemed to belong to our own family; and I remember a lady, who had some very vague and shadowy claims to a distant connection with the family at Hellifield, asking one of my aunts in a rather patronizing manner if she also did not "claim to be connected" with the Hamertons of Hellifield Peel. Even to this day it is difficult for me to realize the simple fact that she was niece to an uncle whom she had never seen, and first cousin to his successor.
My grandfather had lived in apparently excellent health till the age of seventy-seven, when one afternoon as he was seated in his dining-room at Hollins, nobody being present except his eldest daughter Mary, he asked her to open the window, and then added, "Say a prayer." She immediately began to repeat a short prayer, and before she had reached the end of it he was dead. There is a strange incident connected with his death, which may be worth something to those who take an interest in what is now called "Psychical Research." At the same hour his married daughter was sitting in a room forty miles away with her little boy, a child just old enough to talk, and the child stared with intense interest at an empty chair. His mother asked what attracted his attention, and the child said, "Don't you see, mamma, the old gentleman who is sitting in that chair?" I am careful not to add details, as my own imagination might unconsciously amplify them, but my impression is that the child was asked to describe the vision more minutely, and that his description exactly accorded with his grandfather's usual appearance.
The old gentleman preserved the costume and manners of the eighteenth century, wearing his pig-tail, breeches, and shoe-buckles. He took life too easily for any intellectual achievements, but he had a great liking for the French language, and wrote a very original French grammar, which he had curiously printed in synoptic sheets, at his private expense, though it was never completed or published. I have sometimes thought it possible that my own aptitude and affinity for that language may have been inherited from him, and that his labors may in a manner have overcome many difficulties for me by the wonderful process of transmission. He never lived in France, and I believe he never visited the country, his French conversations being chiefly held with a good-natured Roman Catholic chaplain at Towneley Hall. My grandfather's most extensive travels were in Portugal, lasting six months, and with regard to that journey I remember two painful incidents. His travelling companion, a younger brother, died abroad, in consequence of having slept in a damp bed. The other incident is vexatious rather than tragical, and yet Wordsworth would have seen tragedy in it also. During his absence from home, my grandfather had confided the care of his estate to an agent, who cut down the old avenue of oaks that led to the house, on the pretext that some of the trees were showing signs of decay, and that he had an acceptable offer for the whole. The road retained the name of "The Avenue" for many years, but the trees were never replaced.
Perhaps the reader will think this incident hardly worth mentioning, but to a lover of trees, avenues, and old houses, such as I confess myself to be, it seems the very perfection of a vexatious incident. I cannot imagine anything whatever, not entailing any serious consequences, that would have tried my own temper more.
On my grandfather's death, the whole of his property went to his eldest son. He had brought up all his three sons to be solicitors, not because he had any peculiar enthusiasm for the legal profession, but simply as the readiest means of earning a living. The sons themselves had no natural affinity for the law; my eldest uncle heartily disliked it, the other regarded it with cool indifference, and my father expressed his desire that I should never be a lawyer, on the ground that a man had enough to plague him in his own concerns without troubling his mind about those of other people. One curious distinction may be noted here, as the result probably of that intermingling with the every-day world, which happens naturally in the career of provincial attorneys. Whilst my aunts remained all their lives aristocratic in their feelings, and rather liked to enjoy the hospitality of the great houses in the neighborhood, my uncles, and my father also, abandoned all aristocratic memories and aspirations, and entered frankly into the middle class. Each of them did what was natural under the circumstances. Women are generally more aristocratic than men, and cling more decidedly to their class, and I think my aunts showed better taste in liking refined society than my father did in lowering himself to associate with men of an inferior stamp in rank, in manners, and in habits. I distinctly remember how one of my aunts told me that somebody had made a remark on her liking for great people, and the only comment she made was, that she preferred gentlefolks because their manners were more agreeable. She was not a worshipper of rank, but she liked the quiet, pleasant manners of the aristocracy, which indeed were simply her own manners.
My childhood could not have been better cared for, even by my own mother, than by these two excellent ladies. They gave me a beginning of education, and they have told me since that I learned to read English with the greatest facility, so that when I was sent to the Grammar School at Burnley, at the early age of five and a half, the master considered me so well forward that I was set at once to Latin. In those days it was a part of the wisdom of our educators to make us learn Latin out of a grammar written in that language, and I retain some recollection of the perfectly useless mental fatigue and puzzlement that I was made to undergo in learning abstract statements about grammatical science that were written in a tongue which I could not possibly understand. The idea of taking a child five and a half years old, and making it learn a dead language by abstract rules, is of itself a great error. The proper way to teach a child Latin is simply to give it a vocabulary, including only the things that it can see or imagine, and a few verbs to make little phrases. I had learned to read English so easily that good hopes were entertained for the rest of my education, but my progress in Latin was very slow, and the only result of my early training was to give me a horror of everything printed in Latin, that I did not overcome for many years.
There was another child-pupil rather older than I, and the head-master of those days (Dr. Butler's predecessor), who had a rude disposition, sometimes amused himself by putting me on one of his knees, and the other little boy on the other knee, after which, by an adroit simultaneous movement of the two legs, he suddenly brought our heads into collision. I quite remember the sensation of being stunned on these occasions, but am not aware that my Latin was any the better for it.
My recollection of those early years is extremely vague, and there is little in them that could interest the reader. I was taken once or twice a year to my father, and always disliked and dreaded those visits, as I feared him greatly, and with good reason. On one of these visits, when quite a child, I persuaded my father's groom to let me mount his saddle-horse, which I remember as a gray animal of what seemed a prodigious altitude. The man put me on the horse's back, and being entirely destitute of common-sense or prudence, actually gave me a whip and left the bridle to me. I applied the whip vigorously, and was very soon thrown off and carried back to the house covered with blood, happily without more serious consequences. Another little incident has more of the comic element. My father employed a tailor for himself, and told the man to make me a suit without entering into any particulars. The tailor being thus left to his own wisdom, made a costume that was the exact copy of a full-grown squire's dress on a small scale. It was composed of a green cut-away coat, a yellow waistcoat, and green trousers, the whole adorned with gilt buttons. The tailor dressed me, and then, proud of his work, presented me to my father and the ladies. If the tailor was proud, my pride and satisfaction were at least equal to his, and we neither of us could in the least understand the roars of laughter that my appearance provoked, whilst our feelings were deeply wounded by my father's tyrannical decree that I was never to wear those beautiful clothes at all. Even to this day I am capable of regretting that suit, and certainly I often see children now whose costumes are at least equally absurd.
A tour in Wales in 1842.—Extracts from my journal of this tour.—My inborn love for beautiful materials.—Stay at Rhyl.—Anglesea and Caernarvon.—Reasons for specially remembering this tour.
The pleasantest recollections I have of my father are connected with a tour in Wales that he undertook with me and his eldest sister in the summer of 1842. My aunt made me keep a journal of that tour, which I still possess, and by its help those days come hack to me with a vividness that is very astonishing to myself. Being accustomed to live with grown-up people, and having no companions of my own age in the same house (though I had cousins at Hollins and friends at school), I had acquired a way of talking about things as older people talk, so that the journal in question contains many observations that do not seem natural for a child. The fact, no doubt, is that I listened to my father and aunt, and then put down many of their remarks in my little history of our tour; but I was very observant on my own account, and received very strong impressions, especially from buildings, such as old castles and cathedrals, and great houses, and I had a topographic habit of mind even in childhood, which made every fresh locality interesting to me and engraved it on my memory. Perhaps the reader may like to see a page of the diary. It seems rather formal and elderly to be written by a child eight years old, but it must be remembered that it was an exercise written by my father's desire and to please him. Letters to my cousins at the same date would have been more juvenile. Nevertheless, it was perfectly natural for me then to use words employed by older people, and the reader will remember that I had been learning Latin for more than two years.
"On the road from Rhydland to Abergele we saw Hemmel Park, the seat of Lord Dinorbin, lately burnt down. Near Rhydland is Penwarn, the seat of Lord Mostyn; the house is small and unpretending, the grounds are beautiful. There is a very handsome dog-kennel, in which are kept forty-four couple of fine fox-hounds ready for work, besides old ones in one kennel, and young ones in another: the dogs all in such good order and kennels so perfectly clean. In one field were sixteen hunters without shoes. Lord Mostyn does not live much at Penwarn, generally in London. He is an old man, and at present an invalid. We had several pleasant days' fishing in the Clwyd and Elway; a Mr. Graham at Rhyl has permission to fish in Lord Mostyn's preserve, and he may take a friend, which character Papa and I personated for the time.
"About eight miles from Rhyl is Trelacre, the seat of Sir Pyers Mostyn, a very excellent modern building; the grounds are laid out with most luxuriant taste, nothing is wanting to give effect to it as a whole. In the woods opposite the house is a rich but rather formal distribution of flower-beds; everything appeared to be in blossom. On an elevation is placed the most ingeniously contrived Grotto; at every turn there is a device of another character to the last, here a lion couchant, there the head of Momus, a wild boar's head, a heron, a skeleton, &c., &c. In one place were two old friars seated, each leaning on his stick, apparently in earnest conversation; all these are roughly, but with great accuracy, formed upon the numerous pillars which support a room or two above. The last object you arrive at is a hermit as large as life seated in his cell, with one book beside him and another on his knee, upon which his left hand is placed; his right is laid across his breast. The pillars are so contrived that the little cavern is light in every part; at the entrance is an immense sea-dragon with large glaring eyes and a long red tongue hanging half-way out. The monster had an effect somewhat startling. Next above the grotto is a small room hewn out of the rock, with sofas and pillows on each side the fireplace hewn out of the same rock. In the centre is a stone table, upon which were some beautiful antique bowls, cups, &c. The door to this apartment is a great curiosity, being made to appear as if of rock; we did not think at first that it was a real door. Over this room is another, the residence of a lame woman, who showed us upon the leads above her dwelling a very extensive prospect; amongst the objects was the mouth of the river Dee. She afterwards [took us] to a moss house, and several other nice points in the garden. The walks are covered with the material left in washing the lead ore, through which no weed can even peep. It is many-colored, and the glittering of here and there a bit of ore, lead, or silver, has a very pretty effect indeed."
The reader will have had enough of the journal by this time. Its only merit is the accurate noting down of details that I had seen; but many of the details are such as children of that age do not commonly pay attention to, as, for instance, in this bit about an old church:—
"The church at Dyserth has an east window which is considered the greatest antiquity in Wales; many figures of the saints are represented in colored glass, the lead betwixt the panes is the breadth of two fingers. The yard has several old trees—two very fine yews, and certainly the largest birch for miles round."
I notice a great interest in all beautiful materials throughout the pages of this journal; the kind of wood used for the suites of furniture is invariably mentioned, as, for example, the chairs of solid ebony in the dining-room at Penrhyn Castle, the old oak in the dining-room at Trelacre, and the light oak in the drawing-room, the carved oak ceilings and pillars at Penrhyn, and the use of stone from St. Helen's there, as well as the bedstead that is made of slate, and the enormous table of the same material in the servants' hall. The interest in materials is a special instinct, a kind of sympathy with Nature showing itself by appreciation of the different qualities of her products. This instinct has always been very strong in me, and I have often noticed it in others, especially in artists. Some poets are very fond of describing beautiful materials; but the instinct is not confined to poetical or artistic natures, being often found amongst workmen in the handicrafts, and it may be associated with a sense of the usefulness of materials, as well as with admiration of their beauty. With me the interest in them is both artistic and utilitarian; all metals, woods, marble, etc., are delightful to me in some way.
In 1842 Rhyl was a little quiet place known to the Liverpool people as a good bathing-place, but not spoiled by formal rows of houses and big hotels. There was at that time in Rhyl a gentleman who possessed a sort of genteel cottage in a relatively large garden, and though the house was small, it might have done for a widower like my father, and it was for sale. I remember urging my father to buy it, as Rhyl pleased me on account of the possibilities of boating and riding on the sands, besides which we had enjoyed some excellent fishing, which delighted me as a child, though I gave up the amusement afterwards. I mention the house here for a particular reason. It has remained very distinctly in my memory ever since, as my father's last chance of escape from his habits and associates. Whilst we were in Wales together he conducted himself as a man ought to do who is travelling with a lady and a child. He was not harsh with me, and notwithstanding my habitual fear of him, some of my Welsh days with him are pleasant to live over again in memory. Now, if he had bought that house, the sort of life we were then leading might have become habitual, and he might possibly have been saved from the sad fate that awaited him. However, though tempted for a moment, he refused because it did not seem a good investment, being a flimsy little building, not very well contrived.
Though my father would not buy the house to please me, he bought me a little bay mare at Rhyl that was a pretty and swift creature, and we took her on the steamer to Menai, where, for want of a convenient arrangement for landing horses, she was pitched into the sea and made to swim ashore. She had been in a hot place on the steamer, near the engines, and the sudden change to the cold sea-water was probably (so we thought afterwards) the reason why she became broken-winded, which was a great grief to me. I hardly know why I record these trifles, but they have an importance in the feelings of a boy, and I am weak enough to have very tender feelings about animals down to the present day.
We visited Anglesea and Caernarvon, and other places too well known for the reader to tolerate a description of them here. In those days the tubular bridge had not yet been thought of; but the beautiful suspension bridge at Menai was already in existence, and was the most remarkable bridge then existing in the world. I was more struck by the beauty of the structure than by its costliness or size; the journal says, "It is indeed wonderfully beautiful." On one of our excursions we saw what in rainy weather is a good waterfall, and I find a reference to this that I quote for the curious bit of Welsh-English that is included in it,—"We came to a little village, which has in a wet season a very fine waterfall; the driver said it would not be seen to advantage because there was 'few water.' There certainly was 'few water,' but the fine high rocks gave a powerful idea of what it would have been had the rushing of waters taken the place of the death-like stillness which then prevailed."
The reader will perhaps pardon me for having dwelt longer on this Welsh tour than the interest of it may seem to warrant; but I look back to it with lingering regret as the last agreeable association connected with the memory of my father. It was a most happy little tour. I had an intensely strong affection for my father's eldest sister Mary, who accompanied us, and whose dear handwriting I recognize in a few corrections in the journal. Besides, that year 1842 is absolutely the last year of my life in which I could live in happy ignorance of evil and retain all the buoyancy of early boyhood. A terrible experience was in reserve for me that soon aged me rapidly, and made a really merry boyish life impossible for me after having passed through it.
A painful chapter to write.—My father calls me home.—What kind of a house it was.—Paternal education and discipline.—My life at that time one of dulness varied by dread.
The writing of this chapter is so painful to me that the necessity for it has made me put off the composition of this autobiography year after year. Then why not omit the chapter altogether? The omission is impossible, because the events of the year 1843-1844 were quite the most important of my early boyhood, and have had a most powerful and in some respects a disastrous influence over my whole life.
Notwithstanding my father's kindness to me during our Welsh tour, my feelings towards him were not, and could not be, those of trust and confidence. He was extremely severe at times, often much more so than the occasion warranted, this being partly natural in a strong authoritative man, and partly the result of irritability brought on by his habit of drinking. When inflamed with brandy he became positively dangerous, and I had a well-founded dread of his presence. At all times he was very uncertain—he might greet me with a kind word or he might be harsh or silent, just as it happened. During my visits to him at Shaw, one of my two aunts invariably accompanied me and stayed as long as I stayed, which was a great protection for me. The idea of being left alone with my father, even for a day, was enough to fill me with apprehension; however, it did not seem likely that I should have to live with him, as I should probably be sent to some distant school, and only come home for the holidays.
This was the view of my future that was taken by my aunts and myself, when one day in the year 1843, I believe in the month of June, there came a letter from my father peremptorily declaring, in terms which admitted of no discussion, that although a child might live with ladies it was not good for a boy, and that he had determined to have me for the future under his own roof. The news came upon me like a thunderclap in a clear sky. I had grateful and affectionate feelings towards both my aunts, but to the elder my feelings were those of a son, and a very loving son, towards his mother. She had, in fact, taken the place of my mother so completely that I remained unconscious of my loss. I reserve for a pleasanter chapter than this the delightful duty of painting her portrait; at present it is enough to say that a separation from her in childhood was the most bitter grief that could be experienced by me, and my father's ukase made this separation seem destined to be eternal, except perhaps a short visit in the holidays. In a word, my filial life with her seemed at an end.
I was taken to my father's and left alone with him. Some years before, he had bought a house in Shaw called Ivy Cottage,—a house with a front of painted stucco, looking on a garden,—and though the gable end of the house looked on a street, the other end had a view over some fields, not then built over. My father rented one or two of these fields for his horses and cows, and some farm buildings just big enough for his small establishment. He did not keep a carriage, and had even given up his dogcart, but he always had a saddle-horse for himself and a pony for me; at one time I had two ponies. His horses were his only luxury, but he was as exacting about them as if he had been a rich nobleman. He would not tolerate careless grooming for an instant; bits and stirrups were always kept in a state of exemplary brightness, and when he rode through Shaw he was quite fit to be seen in Hyde Park. At that time he had a jet-black mare of a vicious temper, which only gratified his pride as a horseman, and it so happened (I am not inventing this for a contrast) that my pony was of the purest white with full mane and tail of the same, and shaped exactly like the sturdy war-horses in old pictures. As he was still a fine-looking, handsome man and I was a healthy boy, no doubt we looked well enough, and it is probable that many a poor factory lad envied me my good luck in being able to ride about in that way, instead of working in a mill; but I rode in constant dread of my father's heavy hunting-whip. It had a steel hammer at the end of the long handle, and if at any time its owner fancied that I was turning my toes out, he did not say anything, but with a dexterity acquired by practice he delivered a sharp blow with that hammer on my foot which made me writhe with pain. Nothing vexed him more than any appearance of gentleness or tenderness. I loved my pony, Lily, and did not like to beat her when she was doing her best, and she had hard work to keep up with my father's ill-tempered mare, so he would say, "D—n it, can't you whip her? Can't you whip better than that? The strokes of that whip of yours are so feeble that they wouldn't kill a fly!" Nobody could say that of his hitting. I had a little young dog that was very dear to me, and when it pleased my father one day to walk into the kitchen, it unluckily so happened that the dog was, or seemed to be, in his way, so he gave it a kick that sent it into the middle of the room, and there it lay quivering. He took no notice of it, said what he had to say, in his usual peremptory tone, and then left the room. I knelt down by the poor little dog, which was in its death-agony, and shortly breathed its last.
During our rides my dreaded companion would stop at many inns and private houses, where he slaked his perpetual thirst in stirrup-cups, or sometimes he would go in and sit for a long time whilst the horses were cared for by some groom. The effects of these refreshments could not fail to be evident as we returned home; and it was more by good luck than anything else, except his habitually excellent horsemanship, that he was able to ride at all in that condition. I clearly remember one particular occasion when he seemed to be keeping his seat with more than usual uncertainty, and at last fairly rolled out of it. We were riding along a paved street, so that the fall would have been very serious; but two or three men who were watching him foresaw the accident just in time, and rushed forward to catch him as he fell. On another occasion when I was not present (indeed this happened before my settled residence with my father) he fell in a most dangerous way, with his foot caught in the stirrup, and was dragged violently down a steep hill till the horse was brought to a stand. Fortunately my father wore a top-coat at the time, which was soon torn off his back by the friction, and so were his other clothes, and the back itself was almost flayed; but the doctor said that if he had been lightly dressed the accident would have been far more serious.
My father would sometimes send me on errands to a considerable distance with the pony, and as he hated all dawdling and loitering in others, though he had become a perfectly undisciplined man himself, he would limit me strictly to the time necessary for my journey, a time that I never ventured to exceed. In some respects the education that he was giving me, though of Spartan severity, was not ill calculated for the formation of a manly character. He quite understood the importance of applying the mind completely to the thing which occupied it for the moment. If he saw me taking several books together that had no connection with each other, he would say, "Take one of those books and read it steadily, don't potter and play with half-a-dozen."
Desultory effort irritated him, and he was quick to detect busy idleness under its various disguises. He swore very freely himself, and as I heard so many oaths I was beginning to acquire the same accomplishment, when he overheard me accidentally and gave me such a stern lecture on the subject that I knew ever after I was not to follow the paternal example. What his soul hated most, however, was a lie or the shadow of a lie. He could not tolerate the little fibs that are common with women and children, and are often their only protection against despotism. "Tell the truth and shame the devil" was one of his favorite precepts, though why the devil should feel ashamed because I spoke the truth was never perfectly clear to my childish intellect. However, the precept sank deep into my nature, and got mixed up with a feeling of self-respect, so that it became really difficult for me to tell fibs. I remember on one occasion being a martyr for truth in peculiarly trying circumstances. It was before I lived permanently under the paternal roof, and on one of those visits we paid to my father. An aunt was with me (not the one who accompanied us to Wales), and she was often rather hard and severe. My father had made a law that I was to practise with dumb-bells a quarter of an hour every morning, and this exercise was taken in the garden, but before beginning I always looked at the clock which was in the sitting-room. On coming back into the house one morning, I met my father, who said, "Have you done your fifteen minutes?" "Yes, papa." "That is not true," said my aunt from the next room, "he has only practised for ten minutes; look at the clock!" My terrible master looked at the clock; the finger stood at ten minutes after eleven, and this was taken as conclusive evidence against me. I simply answered (what was true) that I had begun five minutes before the hour. This "additional lie" put my father into a fury, and he ordered me to do punishment drill with those dumb-bells for two hours without stopping. Of those hundred and twenty minutes he did not remit one. Long before their expiration I was ready to drop, but he came frequently to show that he had his eye upon me, and the horrible machine-like motion must continue. On other occasions I got punished for lying, when my only fault was the common childish inability to explain. "Why did you tear that piece of paper?" "Please, papa, I did not tear it; I pulled it, and it tore." Here is a child attempting to explain that he had not torn a piece of paper voluntarily, that he had stretched it only, and had himself been surprised by the tearing. In my father's code that was a "confounded lie," and I was to be severely punished for it.
His system of education included riding as an essential part, and that he taught me well, so far as a child of that age could learn it. But though there were harriers within a few miles he could not take me to hunt, as children are sometimes taken in easier countries, the fields in Lancashire being so frequently divided by stone walls. The nature of our neighborhood equally prevented him from teaching me to swim, which he would otherwise have done, as there were no streams deep enough, or left in their natural purity. To accustom me to water, however, he made me take cold shower-baths, certainly the best substitute for a plunge that can be had in an ordinary room. In mental education he attached great importance to common things, to arithmetic, for example, and to good reading aloud, and intelligible writing. His own education had been very limited; he knew no modern language but his own, and I believe he knew no Greek whatever, and only just enough Latin for a solicitor, which in those days was not very much; but if he was a Philistine in neglecting his own culture, he had not the real Philistine's contempt for culture in others and desired to have me well taught; yet there was nobody near at hand to continue my higher education properly, and I was likely, had we lived long together at Shaw, to become like the regular middle-class Englishmen of those days, who from sheer want of preliminary training were impervious to the best influences of literature and art. I might have written a clear business letter, and calculated interest accurately.
To accustom me to money matters, child as I was, my father placed gold and silver in my keeping, and whatever I spent was to be accounted for. In this way money was not to be an imaginary thing for me, but a real thing, and I was not to lose the control of myself because I had my pocket full of sovereigns. This was a very original scheme in its application to so young a child, but it perfectly succeeded, and I never either lost or misapplied one halfpenny of the sums my father entrusted to my keeping. He was evidently pleased with his success in this.
There was a village school near his house kept by a respectable man for children of both sexes, and there I was sent to practise calligraphy and arithmetic. During school-hours there was at least complete relief from the paternal supervision, and besides this I managed to fall in love with a girl about a year older than myself, who was a very nice girl indeed, though she squinted to an unfortunate degree. That is the great advantage of having the young of both sexes in the same schoolroom,—the manners of the brutal sex may be made tender by the presence of the refined one. Boys and girls both went to the Grammar School at Burnley, in the now forgotten days when Mr. Raws was head-master there; but that was long before my time.
My existence at Ivy Cottage was one of extreme dulness varied by dread. Every meal was a tete-a-tete with my father, unrelieved by the presence of any lady or young person, and he became more and more gloomy as his nervous system gradually gave way, so that after having been simply stern and unbending, he was now like a black cloud always hanging over me and ready, as it seemed, to be my destruction in some way or other not yet clearly defined. It was an immense relief to me when a guest came to dinner, and I remember being once very much interested in a gentleman who sat opposite me at table, for the simple reason that I believed him to be the Duke of Wellington. There was rather more fuss than usual in the way of preparation, and my father treated his guest with marked deference, besides which the stranger had the Wellingtonian nose, so my youthful mind was soon made up on the subject, and I listened eagerly in the hope that the hero of Waterloo would fight some of his battles over again. He remained, however, silent on that subject, and I afterwards had the disappointment of learning that our guest was not the Duke, but only the holder of a high office in the county.
My extreme loneliness.—Thoughts of flight.—My father's last illness and death.—Circumstances of my last interview with him.—His funeral.
It was one of the effects of the constant anxiety and excitement, and the dreadful wretchedness of that time, that my brain received the images of all surrounding creatures and things with an unnatural clearness and intensity, and that they were impressed upon it for life. Even now everything about Ivy Cottage is as clear as if the forty years were only as many days, and the writing of these chapters brings everything before me most vividly, not only the faces of the people and the habits and motions of the animals, but even the furniture, of which I remember every detail, down to the coloring of the services in the bedrooms, and the paint on my father's rocking-chair. An anecdote has been told in these pages about exercise with dumb-bells and an appeal to the clock. In writing that, I saw the real clock with the moon on its face (for it showed the phases of the moon), and my aunt standing near the window with her work in her hand and glancing up from the work to the clock, just as she did in reality.
Amongst other particular occasions I remember one night when the moon shone very brightly in the garden, and I was sitting near my bedroom window looking over it, meditating flight. My father's cruelty had then reached its highest point. I was always spoken to harshly when he condescended to take any notice of me at all, and was very frequently beaten. Our meals together had become perfectly intolerable. He would sit and trifle with his cutlet, and cover it with pepper, for his appetite was completely gone, and there was no conversation except perhaps an occasional expression of displeasure. The continual tension caused by anxiety made my sleep broken and uncertain, and that night I sat up alone in the bedroom longer than usual and looking down upon the moonlit garden. There was an octagonal summer-house of trellis-work on the formal oblong lawn, and on the top of it was a large hollow ball of sheet-copper painted green that had cost my grandmother three pounds. It is oddly associated with my anxieties on that night, because I looked first at it and then at the moon alternately whilst thinking. The situation had become absolutely intolerable, the servants were my only protectors, and though devoted they never dared to interfere when their master was actually beating me. I therefore seriously weighed, in my own childish manner, the possibilities of a secret flight. The moonlight was tempting—it would be easy to go alone to the stable and saddle the pony. On a fine night I could be many miles away before morning. There was no difficulty whatever about money; I had plenty of sovereigns in a drawer to be accounted for afterwards to my father, and meanwhile could employ them in escaping from him. Still, I knew that such an employment of his money would be looked upon by him as a breach of trust, and would, in fact, be a breach of trust. This consideration was not easily set aside, though I now see that it was needlessly scrupulous, and have no doubt whatever that if a child is left by the ignorance or the carelessness of superior authority in the hands of a madman, it has a clear right to provide for its own safety by any means in its power.
But where was I to go? My uncles were two very cool lawyers, always on the side of authority, and they would not be likely to believe my story entirely. A vague but sure instinct warned me that they would set me down for a rebellious boy who wanted to escape from justly severe paternal authority, and that they would at once send me back to Ivy Cottage. One of my two maiden aunts would be very likely to take the same view, but if the other received me with kindness, she could not have strength to resist my father, who would send or go to her at once and claim me. After thinking over all these things, I came to the conclusion that real safety was only to be found amongst strangers, and it seemed so hazardous to ask protection from unknown people that I decided to remain; but a very little would have settled it the other way. If those sovereigns had been really my own, I should probably have crept out of the house, saddled the pony, and ridden many miles; but so young a boy travelling alone would have been sure to attract attention, and the attempt to win deliverance would have been a failure. In after years, one of my elder relatives said that the attempt would almost certainly have caused my father to disinherit me by a new will, as my mother's property had been left to him absolutely. This danger was quite of a serious kind (more serious than the reader will think probable from what I choose to say in this place), as my father had another heir in view whom I never saw, but who was held in terrorem over me.
I awoke one bleak winter's morning about five o'clock, and heard the strangest cries proceeding from his room. His manservant had been awakened before me and had gone to the room already, where he was engaged in a sort of wrestling match with my father, who, in the belief that the house was full of enemies, was endeavoring to throw himself out of the window. Other men had been called for, who speedily arrived, and they overpowered him, though even the remnant of his mighty strength was such that it took six men to hold him on his bed. The attack lasted a whole week, and the house would have been a perfect hell, had not a certain event turned it for me into a Paradise.
I had not been able somehow to get to sleep late at night for a short time, when a light in the room awoke me. The horrible life I had been leading for many a day and night had produced a great impressionability, and I was particularly afraid of my father in the night-time, so I started up in bed with the idea that he was come to beat me, when lo! instead of his terrible face, I saw what for me was the sweetest and dearest face in the whole world! It was his sister Mary, she who had taken my mother's place, and whom I loved with a mingled sentiment of filial tenderness and gratitude that remained undiminished in force, though it may have altered in character, during all the after years. For the suddenness of revulsion from horror to happiness, there has never been a minute in my existence comparable to the minute when I realized the idea that she had come. At first it seemed only a deceptive dream. Such happiness was incredible, and I did not even know she had been sent for; but the sweet reality entered into my heart like sunshine, and throwing my arms about her neck I burst into a passion of tears. She, in her quiet way, for she hardly ever yielded to a strong emotion, though her feelings were deep and tender, looked at me sadly and kindly and told me to sleep in peace, as she was going to remain in the house some time. Then she left the room, and I lay in the darkness, but with a new light brighter than sunshine in the hope that the miserable life with my father had at length come to an end. It had only been six months in all, but it had seemed longer than any half-dozen years gone through before or after.
If this book were a novel, a very effective chapter might be written to describe my father's sufferings during his week of delirium, and all the dreadful fancies by which his disordered brain was oppressed and tortured; but I prefer to skip that week altogether, and come to a morning when his recovery was thought to be assured. He was no longer delirious, but apparently quite calm, though his manner was hard and imperious. He ordered me to be sent up to him, and I went almost trembling with the old dread of him, and with a wretched feeling that after my single week of respite the tyranny was to begin again. Such may have been the feelings of an escaped slave when he has been caught and brought back in irons, and stands once more in his master's presence. I tried to congratulate my master on his recovery in a clumsy childish way, but he peremptorily ordered me to fetch the "Times" and read to him. I began, as usual, one of the leading articles on the politics of the day, and before I had read many sentences my hearer declared that I was reading badly and made the article nonsense. Why had I put in such and such words of my own? he asked. His own precept that I was always to tell the truth under any circumstances had habituated me to be truthful even to him, so I answered boldly that I had not inserted the words attributed to me. Then I read a little farther, and he accused me of inserting something else that was not and could not be in the text; I said it was he who was mistaken, and he flew into an uncontrollable fury, one of those rages in which it had been his custom to punish me without mercy. What he might have done to me I cannot tell; he raised himself in bed and glared at me with an expression never to be forgotten. My aunt, however, had been listening at the door, thinking it probable that I should be in danger, and she now opened it and told me to come away. I have a confused recollection of reaching the door under a parting volley of imprecations.