A FAMILY PICTURE
By Edward Bulwer Lytton
If it be the good fortune of this work to possess any interest for the Novel reader, that interest, perhaps, will be but little derived from the customary elements of fiction. The plot is extremely slight, the incidents are few, and with the exception of those which involve the fate of Vivian, such as may be found in the records of ordinary life.
Regarded as a Novel, this attempt is an experiment somewhat apart from the previous works of the author. It is the first of his writings in which Humor has been employed, less for the purpose of satire than in illustration of amiable characters; it is the first, too, in which man has been viewed, less in his active relations with the world, than in his repose at his own hearth,—in a word, the greater part of the canvas has been devoted to the completion of a simple Family Picture. And thus, in any appeal to the sympathies of the human heart, the common household affections occupy the place of those livelier or larger passions which usually (and not unjustly) arrogate the foreground in Romantic composition.
In the Hero whose autobiography connects the different characters and events of the work, it has been the Author's intention to imply the influences of Home upon the conduct and career of youth; and in the ambition which estranges Pisistratus for a time from the sedentary occupations in which the man of civilized life must usually serve his apprenticeship to Fortune or to Fame, it is not designed to describe the fever of Genius conscious of superior powers and aspiring to high destinies, but the natural tendencies of a fresh and buoyant mind, rather vigorous than contemplative, and in which the desire of action is but the symptom of health.
Pisistratus in this respect (as he himself feels and implies) becomes the specimen or type of a class the numbers of which are daily increasing in the inevitable progress of modern civilization. He is one too many in the midst of the crowd; he is the representative of the exuberant energies of youth, turning, as with the instinct of nature for space and development, from the Old World to the New. That which may be called the interior meaning of the whole is sought to be completed by the inference that, whatever our wanderings, our happiness will always be found within a narrow compass, and amidst the objects more immediately within our reach, but that we are seldom sensible of this truth (hackneyed though it be in the Schools of all Philosophies) till our researches have spread over a wider area. To insure the blessing of repose, we require a brisker excitement than a few turns up and down our room. Content is like that humor in the crystal, on which Claudian has lavished the wonder of a child and the fancies of a Poet,—
"Vivis gemma tumescit aquis."
E. B. L.
"Sir—sir, it is a boy!"
"A boy," said my father, looking up from his book, and evidently much puzzled: "what is a boy?"
Now my father did not mean by that interrogatory to challenge philosophical inquiry, nor to demand of the honest but unenlightened woman who had just rushed into his study, a solution of that mystery, physiological and psychological, which has puzzled so many curious sages, and lies still involved in the question, "What is man?" For as we need not look further than Dr. Johnson's Dictionary to know that a boy is "a male child,"—i.e., the male young of man,—so he who would go to the depth of things, and know scientifically what is a boy, must be able to ascertain "what is a man." But for aught I know, my father may have been satisfied with Buffon on that score, or he may have sided with Monboddo. He may have agreed with Bishop Berkeley; he may have contented himself with Professor Combe; he may have regarded the genus spiritually, like Zeno, or materially, like Epicurus. Grant that boy is the male young of man, and he would have had plenty of definitions to choose from. He might have said, "Man is a stomach,—ergo, boy a male young stomach. Man is a brain,—boy a male young brain. Man is a bundle of habits,—boy a male young bundle of habits. Man is a machine,—boy a male young machine. Man is a tail-less monkey,—boy a male young tail-less monkey. Man is a combination of gases,—boy a male young combination of gases. Man is an appearance,—boy a male young appearance," etc., etc., and etcetera, ad infinitum! And if none of these definitions had entirely satisfied my father, I am perfectly persuaded that he would never have come to Mrs. Primmins for a new one.
But it so happened that my father was at that moment engaged in the important consideration whether the Iliad was written by one Homer, or was rather a collection of sundry ballads, done into Greek by divers hands, and finally selected, compiled, and reduced into a whole by a Committee of Taste, under that elegant old tyrant Pisistratus; and the sudden affirmation, "It is a boy," did not seem to him pertinent to the thread of the discussion. Therefore he asked, "What is a boy?" vaguely, and, as it were, taken by surprise.
"Lord, sir!" said Mrs. Primmins, "what is a boy? Why, the baby!"
"The baby!" repeated my father, rising. "What, you don't mean to say that Mrs. Caxton is—eh?"
"Yes, I do," said Mrs. Primmins, dropping a courtesy; "and as fine a little rogue as ever I set eyes upon."
"Poor dear woman," said my father, with great compassion. "So soon, too—so rapidly," he resumed, in a tone of musing surprise. "Why, it is but the other day we were married!"
"Bless my heart, sir," said Mrs. Primmins, much scandalized, "it is ten months and more."
"Ten months!" said my father with a sigh. "Ten months! and I have not finished fifty pages of my refutation of Wolfe's monstrous theory! In ten months a child! and I'll be bound complete,—hands, feet, eyes, ears, and nose!—and not like this poor Infant of Mind," and my father pathetically placed his hand on the treatise, "of which nothing is formed and shaped, not even the first joint of the little finger! Why, my wife is a precious woman! Well, keep her quiet. Heaven preserve her, and send me strength—to support this blessing!"
"But your honor will look at the baby? Come, sir!" and Mrs. Primmins laid hold of my father's sleeve coaxingly.
"Look at it,—to be sure," said my father, kindly; "look at it, certainly: it is but fair to poor Mrs. Caxton, after taking so much trouble, dear soul!"
Therewith my father, drawing his dressing-robe round him in more stately folds, followed Mrs. Primmins upstairs into a room very carefully darkened.
"How are you, my dear?" said my father, with compassionate tenderness, as he groped his way to the bed.
A faint voice muttered: "Better now, and so happy!" And at the same moment Mrs. Primmins pulled my father away, lifted a coverlid from a small cradle, and holding a candle within an inch of an undeveloped nose, cried emphatically, "There—bless it!"
"Of course, ma'am, I bless it," said my father, rather peevishly. "It is my duty to bless it—Bless It! And this, then, is the way we come into the world!—red, very red,—blushing for all the follies we are destined to commit."
My father sat down on the nurse's chair, the women grouped round him. He continued to gaze on the contents of the cradle, and at length said, musingly, "And Homer was once like this!"
At this moment—and no wonder, considering the propinquity of the candle to his visual organs—Homer's infant likeness commenced the first untutored melodies of nature.
"Homer improved greatly in singing as he grew older," observed Mr. Squills, the accoucheur, who was engaged in some mysteries in a corner of the room.
My father stopped his ears. "Little things can make a great noise," said he, philosophically; "and the smaller the thing; the greater noise it can make."
So saying, he crept on tiptoe to the bed, and clasping the pale hand held out to him, whispered some words that no doubt charmed and soothed the ear that heard them, for that pale hand was suddenly drawn from his own and thrown tenderly round his neck. The sound of a gentle kiss was heard through the stillness.
"Mr. Caxton, sir," cried Mr. Squills, in rebuke, "you agitate my patient; you must retire."
My father raised his mild face, looked round apologetically, brushed his eyes with the back of his hand, stole to the door, and vanished.
"I think," said a kind gossip seated at the other side of my mother's bed, "I think, my dear, that Mr. Caxton might have shown more joy,—more natural feeling, I may say,—at the sight of the baby: and Such a baby! But all men are just the same, my dear,—brutes,—all brutes, depend upon it!"
"Poor Austin!" sighed my mother, feebly; "how little you understand him!"
"And now I shall clear the room," said Mr. Squills. "Go to sleep, Mrs. Caxton."
"Mr. Squills," exclaimed my mother, and the bed-curtains trembled, "pray see that Mr. Caxton does not set himself on fire. And, Mr. Squills, tell him not to be vexed and miss me,—I shall be down very soon,—sha' n't I?"
"If you keep yourself easy, you will, ma'am."
"Pray, say so. And, Primmins—"
"Every one, I fear, is neglecting your master. Be sure," and my mother's lips approached close to Mrs. Primmins' ear, "be sure that you—air his nightcap yourself."
"Tender creatures those women," soliloquized Mr. Squills as, after clearing the room of all present save Mrs. Primmins and the nurse, he took his way towards my father's study. Encountering the footman in the passage, "John," said he, "take supper into your master's room, and make us some punch, will you,—stiffish!"
"Mr. Caxton, how on earth did you ever come to marry?" asked Mr. Squills, abruptly, with his feet on the hob, while stirring up his punch.
That was a home question, which many men might reasonably resent; but my father scarcely knew what resentment was.
"Squills," said he, turning round from his books, and laying one finger on the surgeon's arm confidentially,—"Squills," said he, "I myself should be glad to know how I came to be married."
Mr. Squills was a jovial, good-hearted man,—stout, fat, and with fine teeth, that made his laugh pleasant to look at as well as to hear. Mr. Squills, moreover, was a bit of a philosopher in his way,—studied human nature in curing its diseases; and was accustomed to say that Mr. Caxton was a better book in himself than all he had in his library. Mr. Squills laughed, and rubbed his hands.
My father resumed thoughtfully, and in the tone of one who moralizes:—
"There are three great events in life, sir,—birth, marriage, and death. None know how they are born, few know how they die; but I suspect that many can account for the intermediate phenomenon—I cannot."
"It was not for money, it must have been for love," observed Mr. Squills; "and your young wife is as pretty as she is good."
"Ha!" said my father, "I remember."
"Do you, sir?" exclaimed Squills, highly amused. "How was it?"
My father, as was often the case with him, protracted his reply, and then seemed rather to commune with himself than to answer Mr. Squills.
"The kindest, the best of men," he murmured,—"Abyssus Eruditionis. And to think that he bestowed on me the only fortune he had to leave, instead of to his own flesh and blood, Jack and Kitty,—all, at least, that I could grasp, deficiente manu, of his Latin, his Greek, his Orientals. What do I not owe to him?"
"To whom?" asked Squills. "Good Lord! what's the man talking about?"
"Yes, sir," said my father, rousing himself, "such was Giles Tibbets, M. A., Sol Scientiarum, tutor to the humble scholar you address, and father to poor Kitty. He left me his Elzevirs; he left me also his orphan daughter."
"Oh! as a wife—"
"No, as a ward. So she came to live in my house. I am sure there was no harm in it. But my neighbors said there was, and the widow Weltraum told me the girl's character would suffer. What could I do?—Oh, yes, I recollect all now! I married her, that my old friend's child might have a roof to her head, and come to no harm. You see I was forced to do her that injury; for, after all, poor young creature, it was a sad lot for her. A dull bookworm like me,—cochlea vitam agens, Mr. Squills,—leading the life of a snail! But my shell was all I could offer to my poor friend's orphan."
"Mr. Caxton, I honor you," said Squills, emphatically, jumping up, and spilling half a tumblerful of scalding punch over my father's legs. "You have a heart, sir; and I understand why your wife loves you. You seem a cold man, but you have tears in your eyes at this moment."
"I dare say I have," said my father, rubbing his shins; "it was boiling!"
"And your son will be a comfort to you both," said Mr. Squills, reseating himself, and, in his friendly emotion, wholly abstracted from all consciousness of the suffering he had inflicted; "he will be a dove of peace to your ark."
"I don't doubt it," said my father, ruefully; "only those doves, when they are small, are a very noisy sort of birds—non talium avium cantos somnum reducent. However, it might have been worse. Leda had twins."
"So had Mrs. Barnabas last week," rejoined the accoucheur. "Who knows what may be in store for you yet? Here's a health to Master Caxton, and lots of brothers and sisters to him."
"Brothers and sisters! I am sure Mrs. Caxton will never think of such a thing, sir," said my father, almost indignantly; "she's much too good a wife to behave so. Once in a way it is all very well; but twice—and as it is, not a paper in its place, nor a pen mended the last three days: I, too, who can only write cuspide duriuscula,—and the baker coming twice to me for his bill, too! The Ilithyiae, are troublesome deities, Mr. Squills."
"Who are the Ilithyiae?" asked the accoucheur.
"You ought to know," answered my father, smiling,—"the female daemons who presided over the Neogilos, or New-born. They take the name from Juno. See Homer, Book XI. By the by, will my Neogilos be brought up like Hector, or Astyanax—videlicet, nourished by its mother, or by a nurse?"
"Which do you prefer, Mr. Caxton?" asked Mr. Squills, breaking the sugar in his tumbler. "In this I always deem it my duty to consult the wishes of the gentleman."
"A nurse by all means, then," said my father. "And let her carry him upo kolpo, next to her bosom. I know all that has been said about mothers nursing their own infants, Mr. Squills; but poor Kitty is so sensitive that I think a stout, healthy peasant woman will be the best for the boy's future nerves, and his mother's nerves, present and future too. Heigh-ho! I shall miss the dear woman very much. When will she be up, Mr. Squills?"
"Oh, in less than a fortnight!"
"And then the Neogilos shall go to school,—upo kolpo,—the nurse with him, and all will be right again," said my father, with a look of sly, mysterious humor which was peculiar to him.
"School! when he's just born?"
"Can't begin too soon," said my father, positively; "that's Helvetius' opinion, and it is mine too!"
That I was a very wonderful child, I take for granted; but nevertheless it was not of my own knowledge that I came into possession of the circumstances set down in my former chapters. But my father's conduct on the occasion of my birth made a notable impression upon all who witnessed it; and Mr. Squills and Mrs. Primmins have related the facts to me sufficiently often to make me as well acquainted with them as those worthy witnesses themselves. I fancy I see my father before me, in his dark-gray dressing-gown, and with his odd, half-sly, half-innocent twitch of the mouth, and peculiar puzzling look, from two quiet, abstracted, indolently handsome eyes, at the moment he agreed with Helvetius on the propriety of sending me to school as soon as I was born. Nobody knew exactly what to make of my father,—his wife excepted. The people of Abdera sent for Hippocrates to cure the supposed insanity of Democritus, "who at that time," saith Hippocrates, dryly, "was seriously engaged in philosophy." That same people of Abdera would certainly have found very alarming symptoms of madness in my poor father; for, like Democritus, "he esteemed as nothing the things, great or small, in which the rest of the world were employed." Accordingly, some set him down as a sage, some as a fool. The neighboring clergy respected him as a scholar, "breathing libraries;" the ladies despised him as an absent pedant who had no more gallantry than a stock or a stone. The poor loved him for his charities, but laughed at him as a weak sort of man, easily taken in. Yet the squires and farmers found that, in their own matters of rural business, he had always a fund of curious information to impart; and whoever, young or old, gentle or simple, learned or ignorant, asked his advice, it was given with not more humility than wisdom. In the common affairs of life he seemed incapable of acting for himself; he left all to my mother; or, if taken unawares, was pretty sure to be the dupe. But in those very affairs, if another consulted him, his eye brightened, his brow cleared, the desire of serving made him a new being,—cautious, profound, practical. Too lazy or too languid where only his own interests were at stake, touch his benevolence, and all the wheels of the clock-work felt the impetus of the master-spring. No wonder that, to others, the nut of such a character was hard to crack! But in the eyes of my poor mother, Augustine (familiarly Austin) Caxton was the best and the greatest of human beings; and she ought to have known him well, for she studied him with her whole heart, knew every trick of his face, and, nine times out of ten, divined what he was going to say before he opened his lips. Yet certainly there were deeps in his nature which the plummet of her tender woman's wit had never sounded; and certainly it sometimes happened that, even in his most domestic colloquialisms, my mother was in doubt whether he was the simple, straightforward person he was mostly taken for. There was, indeed, a kind of suppressed, subtle irony about him, too unsubstantial to be popularly called humor, but dimly implying some sort of jest, which he kept all to himself; and this was only noticeable when he said something that sounded very grave, or appeared to the grave very silly and irrational.
That I did not go to school—at least to what Mr. Squills understood by the word "school"—quite so soon as intended, I need scarcely observe. In fact, my mother managed so well—my nursery, by means of double doors, was so placed out of hearing—that my father, for the most part, was privileged, if he pleased, to forget my existence. He was once vaguely recalled to it on the occasion of my christening. Now, my father was a shy man, and he particularly hated all ceremonies and public spectacles. He became uneasily aware that a great ceremony, in which he might be called upon to play a prominent part, was at hand. Abstracted as he was, and conveniently deaf at times, he had heard such significant whispers about "taking advantage of the bishop's being in the neighborhood," and "twelve new jelly-glasses being absolutely wanted," as to assure him that some deadly festivity was in the wind. And when the question of godmother and godfather was fairly put to hire, coupled with the remark that this was a fine opportunity to return the civilities of the neighborhood, he felt that a strong effort at escape was the only thing left. Accordingly, having, seemingly without listening, heard the clay fixed and seen, as they thought, without observing, the chintz chairs in the best drawing-room uncovered (my dear mother was the tidiest woman in the world), my father suddenly discovered that there was to be a great book-sale, twenty miles off, which would last four days, and attend it he must. My mother sighed; but she never contradicted my father, even when he was wrong, as he certainly was in this case. She only dropped a timid intimation that she feared "it would look odd, and the world might misconstrue my father's absence,—had not she better put off the christening?"
"My dear," answered my father, "it will be my duty, by and by, to christen the boy,—a duty not done in a day. At present, I have no doubt that the bishop will do very well without me. Let the day stand, or if you put it off, upon my word and honor I believe that the wicked auctioneer will put off the book-sale also. Of one thing I am quite sure, that the sale and the christening will take place at the same time." There was no getting over this; but I am certain my dear mother had much less heart than before in uncovering the chintz chairs in the best drawing-room. Five years later this would not have happened. My mother would have kissed my father and said, "Stay," and he would have stayed. But she was then very young and timid; and he, wild man, not of the woods, but the cloisters, not yet civilized into the tractabilities of home. In short, the post-chaise was ordered and the carpetbag packed.
"My love," said my mother, the night before this Hegira, looking up from her work, "my love, there is one thing you have quite forgot to settle,—I beg pardon for disturbing you, but it is important!—baby's name: sha' n't we call him Augustine?"
"Augustine," said my father, dreamily,—"why that name's mine."
"And you would like your boy's to be the same?"
"No," said my father, rousing himself. "Nobody would know which was which. I should catch myself learning the Latin accidence, or playing at marbles. I should never know my own identity, and Mrs. Primmins would be giving me pap."
My mother smiled; and putting her hand, which was a very pretty one, on my father's shoulder, and looking at him tenderly, she said: "There's no fear of mistaking you for any other, even your son, dearest. Still, if you prefer another name, what shall it be?"
"Samuel," said my father. "Dr. Parr's name is Samuel."
"La, my love! Samuel is the ugliest name—"
My father did not hear the exclamation; he was again deep in his books. Presently he started up: "Barnes says Homer is Solomon. Read Omeros backward, in the Hebrew manner—"
"Yes, my love," interrupted my mother. "But baby's Christian name?"
"Solomo,—shocking!" said my mother.
"Shocking indeed," echoed my father; "an outrage to common-sense." Then, after glancing again over his books, he broke out musingly: "But, after all, it is nonsense to suppose that Homer was not settled till his time."
"Whose?" asked my mother, mechanically. My father lifted up his finger.
My mother continued, after a short pause., "Arthur is a pretty name. Then there 's William—Henry—Charles Robert. What shall it be, love?"
"Pisistratus!" said my father (who had hung fire till then), in a tone of contempt,—"Pisistratus, indeed!"
"Pisistratus! a very fine name," said my mother, joyfully,—"Pisistratus Caxton. Thank you, my love: Pisistratus it shall be."
"Do you contradict me? Do you side with Wolfe and Heyne and that pragmatical fellow Vico? Do you mean to say that the Rhapsodists—"
"No, indeed," interrupted my mother. "My dear, you frighten me."
My father sighed, and threw himself back in his chair. My mother took courage and resumed.
"Pisistratus is a long name too! Still, one could call him Sisty."
"Siste, Viator," muttered my father; "that's trite!"
"No, Sisty by itself—short. Thank you, my dear."
Four days afterwards, on his return from the book-sale, to my father's inexpressible bewilderment, he was informed that Pisistratus was "growing the very image of him."
When at length the good man was made thoroughly aware of the fact that his son and heir boasted a name so memorable in history as that borne by the enslaver of Athens and the disputed arranger of Homer,—and it was asserted to be a name that he himself had suggested,—he was as angry as so mild a man could be. "But it is infamous!" he exclaimed. "Pisistratus christened! Pisistratus, who lived six hundred years before Christ was born! Good heavens, madam! you have made me the father of an Anachronism."
My mother burst into tears. But the evil was irremediable. An anachronism I was, and an anachronism I must continue to the end of the chapter.
"Of course, sir, you will begin soon to educate your son yourself?" said Mr. Squills.
"Of course, sir," said my father, "you have read Martinus Scriblerus?"
"I don't understand you, Mr. Caxton."
"Then you have not read Aiartinus Scriblerus, Mr. Squills!"
"Consider that I have read it; and what then?"
"Why, then, Squills," said my father, familiarly, "you son would know that though a scholar is often a fool, he is never a fool so supreme, so superlative, as when he is defacing the first unsullied page of the human history by entering into it the commonplaces of his own pedantry. A scholar, sir,—at least one like me,—is of all persons the most unfit to teach young children. A mother, sir,—a simple, natural, loving mother,—is the infant's true guide to knowledge."
"Egad! Mr. Caxton,—in spite of Helvetius, whom you quoted the night the boy was born,—egad! I believe you are right."
"I am sure of it," said my father,—"at least as sure as a poor mortal can be of anything. I agree with Helvetius, the child should be educated from its birth; but how? There is the rub: send him to school forthwith! Certainly, he is at school already with the two great teachers,—Nature and Love. Observe, that childhood and genius have the same master-organ in common,—inquisitiveness. Let childhood have its way, and as it began where genius begins, it may find what genius finds. A certain Greek writer tells us of some man who, in order to save his bees a troublesome flight to Hymettus, cut their wings, and placed before them the finest flowers he could select. The poor bees made no honey. Now, sir, if I were to teach my boy, I should be cutting his wings and giving him the flowers he should find himself. Let us leave Nature alone for the present, and Nature's loving proxy, the watchful mother."
Therewith my father pointed to his heir sprawling on the grass and plucking daisies on the lawn, while the young mother's voice rose merrily, laughing at the child's glee.
"I shall make but a poor bill out of your nursery, I see," said Mr. Squills.
Agreeably to these doctrines, strange in so learned a father, I thrived and flourished, and learned to spell, and make pot-hooks, under the joint care of my mother and Dame Primmins. This last was one of an old race fast dying away,—the race of old, faithful servants; the race of old, tale-telling nurses. She had reared my mother before me; but her affection put out new flowers for the new generation. She was a Devonshire woman; and Devonshire women, especially those who have passed their youth near the sea-coast, are generally superstitious. She had a wonderful budget of fables. Before I was six years old, I was erudite in that primitive literature in which the legends of all nations are traced to a common fountain,—Puss in Boots, Tom Thumb, Fortunio, Fortunatus, Jack the Giant-Killer; tales, like proverbs, equally familiar, under different versions, to the infant worshippers of Budh and the hardier children of Thor. I may say, without vanity, that in an examination in those venerable classics I could have taken honors!
My dear mother had some little misgivings as to the solid benefit to be derived from such fantastic erudition, and timidly consulted my father thereon.
"My love," answered my father, in that tone of voice which always puzzled even my mother to be sure whether he was in jest or earnest, "in all these fables certain philosophers could easily discover symbolic significations of the highest morality. I have myself written a treatise to prove that Puss in Boots is an allegory upon the progress of the human understanding, having its origin in the mystical schools of the Egyptian priests, and evidently an illustration of the worship rendered at Thebes and Memphis to those feline quadrupeds of which they make both religious symbols and elaborate mummies."
"My dear Austin," said my mother, opening her blue eyes, "you don't think that Sisty will discover all those fine things in Puss in Boots!"
"My dear Kitty," answered my father, "you don't think, when you were good enough to take up with me, that you found in me all the fine things I have learned from books. You knew me only as a harmless creature who was happy enough to please your fancy. By and by you discovered that I was no worse for all the quartos that have transmigrated into ideas within me,—ideas that are mysteries even to myself. If Sisty, as you call the child (plague on that unlucky anachronism! which you do well to abbreviate into a dissyllable),—if Sisty can't discover all the wisdom of Egypt in Puss in Boots, what then? Puss in Boots is harmless, and it pleases his fancy. All that wakes curiosity is wisdom, if innocent; all that pleases the fancy now, turns hereafter to love or to knowledge. And so, my dear, go back to the nursery."
But I should wrong thee, O best of fathers! if I suffered the reader to suppose that because thou didst seem so indifferent to my birth, and so careless as to my early teaching, therefore thou wert, at heart, indifferent to thy troublesome Neogilos. As I grew older, I became more sensibly aware that a father's eye was upon me. I distinctly remember one incident, that seems to me, in looking back, a crisis in my infant life, as the first tangible link between my own heart and that calm great soul.
My father was seated on the lawn before the house, his straw hat over his eyes (it was summer), and his book on his lap. Suddenly a beautiful delf blue-and-white flower-pot, which had been set on the window-sill of an upper story, fell to the ground with a crash, and the fragments spluttered up round my father's legs. Sublime in his studies as Archimedes in the siege, he continued to read,—Impavidum ferient ruince!
"Dear, dear!" cried my mother, who was at work in the porch, "my poor flower-pot that I prized so much! Who could have done this? Primmins, Primmins!"
Mrs. Primmins popped her head out of the fatal window, nodded to the summons, and came down in a trice, pale and breathless.
"Oh!" said my mother, Mournfully, "I would rather have lost all the plants in the greenhouse in the great blight last May,—I would rather the best tea-set were broken! The poor geranium I reared myself, and the dear, dear flower-pot which Mr. Caxton bought for me my last birthday! That naughty child must have done this!"
Mrs. Primmins was dreadfully afraid of my father,—why, I know not, except that very talkative social persons are usually afraid of very silent shy ones. She cast a hasty glance at her master, who was beginning to evince signs of attention, and cried promptly, "No, ma'am, it was not the dear boy, bless his flesh, it was I!"
"You? How could you be so careless? and you knew how I prized them both. Oh, Primmins!" Primmins began to sob.
"Don't tell fibs, nursey," said a small, shrill voice; and Master Sisty, coming out of the house as bold as brass, continued rapidly—"don't scold Primmins, mamma: it was I who pushed out the flower-pot."
"Hush!" said nurse, more frightened than ever, and looking aghast towards my father, who had very deliberately taken off his hat, and was regarding the scene with serious eyes wide awake. "Hush! And if he did break it, ma'am, it was quite an accident; he was standing so, and he never meant it. Did you, Master Sisty? Speak!" this in a whisper, "or Pa will be so angry."
"Well," said my mother, "I suppose it was an accident; take care in future, my child. You are sorry, I see, to have grieved me. There's a kiss; don't fret."
"No, mamma, you must not kiss me; I don't deserve it. I pushed out the flower-pot on purpose."
"Ha! and why?" said my father, walking up.
Mrs. Primmins trembled like a leaf.
"For fun!" said I, hanging my head,—"just to see how you'd look, papa; and that's the truth of it. Now beat me, do beat me!"
My father threw his book fifty yards off, stooped down, and caught me to his breast. "Boy," he said, "you have done wrong: you shall repair it by remembering all your life that your father blessed God for giving him a son who spoke truth in spite of fear! Oh! Mrs. Primmins, the next fable of this kind you try to teach him, and we part forever!"
From that time I first date the hour when I felt that I loved my father, and knew that he loved me; from that time, too, he began to converse with me. He would no longer, if he met me in the garden, pass by with a smile and nod; he would stop, put his book in his pocket, and though his talk was often above my comprehension, still somehow I felt happier and better, and less of an infant, when I thought over it, and tried to puzzle out the meaning; for he had away of suggesting, not teaching, putting things into my head, and then leaving them to work out their own problems. I remember a special instance with respect to that same flower-pot and geranium. Mr. Squills, who was a bachelor, and well-to-do in the world, often made me little presents. Not long after the event I have narrated, he gave me one far exceeding in value those usually bestowed on children,—it was a beautiful large domino-box in cut ivory, painted and gilt. This domino-box was my delight. I was never weary of playing, at dominos with Mrs. Primmins, and I slept with the box under my pillow.
"Ah!" said my father one day, when he found me ranging the ivory parallelograms in the parlor, "ah! you like that better than all your playthings, eh?"
"Oh, yes, papa!"
"You would be very sorry if your mamma were to throw that box out of the window and break it for fun." I looked beseechingly at my father, and made no answer.
"But perhaps you would be very glad," he resumed, "if suddenly one of those good fairies you read of could change the domino-box into a beautiful geranium in a beautiful blue-and-white flower-pot, and you could have the pleasure of putting it on your mamma's window-sill."
"Indeed I would!" said I, half-crying.
"My dear boy, I believe you; but good wishes don't mend bad actions: good actions mend bad actions."
So saying, he shut the door and went out. I cannot tell you how puzzled I was to make out what my father meant by his aphorism. But I know that I played at dominos no more that day. The next morning my father found me seated by myself under a tree in the garden; he paused, and looked at me with his grave bright eyes very steadily.
"My boy," said he, "I am going to walk to ——," a town about two miles off: "will you come? And, by the by, fetch your domino-box. I should like to show it to a person there." I ran in for the box, and, not a little proud of walking with my father upon the high-road, we set out.
"Papa," said I by the way, "there are no fairies now."
"What then, my child?"
"Why, how then can my domino-box be changed into a geranium and a blue-and-white flower-pot?"
"My dear," said my father, leaning his hand on my shoulder, "everybody who is in earnest to be good, carries two fairies about with him,—one here," and he touched my heart, "and one here," and he touched my forehead.
"I don't understand, papa."
"I can wait till you do, Pisistratus. What a name!"
My father stopped at a nursery gardener's, and after looking over the flowers, paused before a large double geranium. "Ah! this is finer than that which your mamma was so fond of. What is the cost, sir?"
"Only 7s. 6d.," said the gardener.
My father buttoned up his pocket. "I can't afford it to-day," said he, gently, and we walked out.
On entering the town, we stopped again at a china warehouse. "Have you a flower-pot like that I bought some months ago? Ah! here is one, marked 3s. 6d. Yes, that is the price. Well; when your mamma's birthday comes again, we must buy her another. That is some months to wait. And we can wait, Master Sisty. For truth, that blooms all the year round, is better than a poor geranium; and a word that is never broken, is better than a piece of delf."
My head, which had drooped before, rose again; but the rush of joy at my heart almost stifled me.
"I have called to pay your little bill," said my father, entering the shop of one of those fancy stationers common in country towns, and who sell all kinds of pretty toys and knick-knacks. "And by the way," he added, as the smiling shopman looked over his books for the entry, "I think my little boy here can show you a much handsomer specimen of French workmanship than that work-box which you enticed Mrs. Caxton into raffling for, last winter. Show your domino-box, my dear."
I produced my treasure, and the shopman was liberal in his commendations. "It is always well, my boy, to know what a thing is worth, in case one wishes to part with it. If my young gentleman gets tired of his plaything, what will you give him for it?"
"Why, sir," said the shopman, "I fear we could not afford to give more than eighteen shillings for it, unless the young gentleman took some of these pretty things in exchange."
"Eighteen shillings!" said my father; "you would give that sum! Well, my boy, whenever you do grow tired of your box, you have my leave to sell it."
My father paid his bill and went out. I lingered behind a few moments, and joined him at the end of the street.
"Papa, papa," I cried, clapping my hands, "we can buy the geranium; we can buy the flower-pot." And I pulled a handful of silver from my pockets.
"Did I not say right?" said my father, passing his handkerchief over his eyes. "You have found the two fairies!"
Oh! how proud, how overjoyed I was when, after placing vase and flower on the window-sill, I plucked my mother by the gown and made her follow me to the spot.
"It is his doing and his money!" said my father; "good actions have mended the bad."
"What!" cried my mother, when she had learned all; "and your poor domino-box that you were so fond of! We will go back to-morrow and buy it back, if it costs us double."
"Shall we buy it back, Pisistratus?" asked my father.
"Oh, no—no—no! It would spoil all," I cried, burying my face on my father's breast.
"My wife," said my father, solemnly, "this is my first lesson to our child,—the sanctity and the happiness of self-sacrifice; undo not what it should teach to his dying day."
When I was between my seventh and my eighth year, a change came over me, which may perhaps be familiar to the notice of those parents who boast the anxious blessing of an only child. The ordinary vivacity of childhood forsook me; I became quiet, sedate, and thoughtful. The absence of play-fellows of my own age, the companionship of mature minds, alternated only by complete solitude, gave something precocious, whether to my imagination or my reason. The wild fables muttered to me by the old nurse in the summer twilight or over the winter's hearth,—the effort made by my struggling intellect to comprehend the grave, sweet wisdom of my father's suggested lessons,—tended to feed a passion for revery, in which all my faculties strained and struggled, as in the dreams that come when sleep is nearest waking. I had learned to read with ease, and to write with some fluency, and I already began to imitate, to reproduce. Strange tales akin to those I had gleaned from fairy-land, rude songs modelled from such verse-books as fell into my hands, began to mar the contents of marble-covered pages designed for the less ambitious purposes of round text and multiplication. My mind was yet more disturbed by the intensity of my home affections. My love for both my parents had in it something morbid and painful. I often wept to think how little I could do for those I loved so well. My fondest fancies built up imaginary difficulties for them, which my arm was to smooth. These feelings, thus cherished, made my nerves over-susceptible and acute. Nature began to affect me powerfully; and, from that affection rose a restless curiosity to analyze the charms that so mysteriously moved me to joy or awe, to smiles or tears. I got my father to explain to me the elements of astronomy; I extracted from Squills, who was an ardent botanist, some of the mysteries in the life of flowers. But music became my darling passion. My mother (though the daughter of a great scholar,—a scholar at whose name my father raised his hat if it happened to be on his head) possessed, I must own it fairly, less book-learning than many a humble tradesman's daughter can boast in this more enlightened generation; but she had some natural gifts which had ripened, Heaven knows how! into womanly accomplishments. She drew with some elegance, and painted flowers to exquisite perfection. She played on more than one instrument with more than boarding-school skill; and though she sang in no language but her own, few could hear her sweet voice without being deeply touched. Her music, her songs, had a wondrous effect on me. Thus, altogether, a kind of dreamy yet delightful melancholy seized upon my whole being; and this was the more remarkable because contrary to my early temperament, which was bold, active, and hilarious. The change in my character began to act upon my form. From a robust and vigorous infant, I grew into a pale and slender boy. I began to ail and mope. Mr. Squills was called in.
"Tonics!" said Mr. Squills; "and don't let him sit over his book. Send him out in the air; make him play. Come here, my boy: these organs are growing too large;" and Mr. Squills, who was a phrenologist, placed his hand on my forehead. "Gad, sir, here's an ideality for you; and, bless my soul, what a constructiveness!"
My father pushed aside his papers, and walked to and fro the room with his hands behind him; but he did not say a word till Mr. Squills was gone.
"My dear," then said he to my mother, on whose breast I was leaning my aching ideality—"my dear, Pisistratus must go to school in good earnest."
"Bless me, Austin!—at his age?"
"He is nearly eight years old."
"But he is so forward."
"It is for that reason he must go to school."
"I don't quite understand you, my love. I know he is getting past me; but you who are so clever—"
My father took my mother's hand: "We can teach him nothing now, Kitty. We send him to school to be taught—"
"By some schoolmaster who knows much less than you do—"
"By little schoolboys, who will make him a boy again," said my father, almost sadly. "My dear, you remember that when our Kentish gardener planted those filbert-trees, and when they were in their third year, and you began to calculate on what they would bring in, you went out one morning, and found he had cut them down to the ground. You were vexed, and asked why. What did the gardener say? 'To prevent their bearing too soon.' There is no want of fruitfulness here: put back the hour of produce, that the plant may last."
"Let me go to school," said I, lifting my languid head and smiling on my father. I understood him at once, and it was as if the voice of my life itself answered him.
A year after the resolution thus come to, I was at home for the holidays.
"I hope," said my mother, "that they are doing Sisty justice. I do think he is not nearly so quick a child as he was before he went to school. I wish you would examine him, Austin."
"I have examined him, my dear. It is just as I expected; and I am quite satisfied."
"What! you really think he has come on?" said my mother, joyfully.
"He does not care a button for botany now," said Mr. Squills.
"And he used to be so fond of music, dear boy!" observed my mother, with a sigh. "Good gracious, what noise is that?"
"Your son's pop-gun against the window," said my father. "It is lucky it is only the window; it would have made a less deafening noise, though, if it had been Mr. Squills's head, as it was yesterday morning."
"The left ear," observed Squills; "and a very sharp blow it was too. Yet you are satisfied, Mr. Caxton?"
"Yes; I think the boy is now as great a blockhead as most boys of his age are," observed my father with great complacency.
"Dear me, Austin,—a great blockhead?"
"What else did he go to school for?" asked my father.
And observing a certain dismay in the face of his female audience, and a certain surprise in that of his male, he rose and stood on the hearth, with one hand in his waistcoat, as was his wont when about to philosophize in more detail than was usual to him.
"Mr. Squills," said he, "you have had great experience in families."
"As good a practice as any in the county," said Mr. Squills, proudly; "more than I can manage. I shall advertise for a partner."
"And," resumed my father, "you must have observed almost invariably that in every family there is what father, mother, uncle, and aunt pronounce to be one wonderful child."
"One at least," said Mr. Squills, smiling.
"It is easy," continued my father, "to say this is parental partiality; but it is not so. Examine that child as a stranger, and it will startle yourself. You stand amazed at its eager curiosity, its quick comprehension, its ready wit, its delicate perception. Often, too, you will find some faculty strikingly developed. The child will have a turn for mechanics, perhaps, and make you a model of a steamboat; or it will have an ear tuned to verse, and will write you a poem like that it has got by heart from 'The Speaker;' or it will take to botany (like Pisistratus), with the old maid its aunt; or it will play a march on its sister's pianoforte. In short, even you, Squills, will declare that it is really a wonderful child."
"Upon my word," said Mr. Squills, thoughtfully, "there's a great deal of truth in what you say. Little Tom Dobbs is a wonderful child; so is Frank Stepington—and as for Johnny Styles, I must bring him here for you to hear him prattle on Natural History, and see how well he handles his pretty little microscope."
"Heaven forbid!" said my father. "And now let me proceed. These thaumata, or wonders, last till when, Mr. Squills?—last till the boy goes to school; and then, somehow or other, the thaumata vanish into thin air, like ghosts at the cockcrow. A year after the prodigy has been at the academy, father and mother, uncle and aunt, plague you no more with his doings and sayings: the extraordinary infant has become a very ordinary little boy. Is it not so, Mr. Squills?"
"Indeed you are right, sir. How did you come to be so observant? You never seem to—"
"Hush!" interrupted my father; and then, looking fondly at my mother's anxious face, he said soothingly: "Be comforted; this is wisely ordained, and it is for the best."
"It must be the fault of the school," said my mother, shaking her head.
"It is the necessity of the school, and its virtue, my Kate. Let any one of these wonderful children—wonderful as you thought Sisty himself—stay at home, and you will see its head grow bigger and bigger, and its body thinner and thinner—eh, Mr. Squills?—till the mind take all nourishment from the frame, and the frame, in turn, stint or make sickly the mind. You see that noble oak from the window. If the Chinese had brought it up, it would have been a tree in miniature at five years old, and at a hundred, you would have set it in a flowerpot on your table, no bigger than it was at five,—a curiosity for its maturity at one age; a show for its diminutiveness at the other. No! the ordeal for talent is school; restore the stunted mannikin to the growing child, and then let the child, if it can, healthily, hardily, naturally, work its slow way up into greatness. If greatness be denied it, it will at least be a man; and that is better than to be a little Johnny Styles all its life,—an oak in a pill-box."
At that moment I rushed into the room, glowing and panting, health on my cheek, vigor in my limbs, all childhood at my heart. "Oh, mamma, I have got up the kite—so high Come and see. Do come, papa!"
"Certainly," said my father; "only don't cry so loud,—kites make no noise in rising; yet, you see how they soar above the world. Come, Kate. Where is my hat? Ah!—thank you, my boy."
"Kitty," said my father, looking at the kite, which, attached by its string to the peg I had stuck into the ground, rested calm in the sky, "never fear but what our kite shall fly as high; only, the human soul has stronger instincts to mount upward than a few sheets of paper on a framework of lath. But observe that to prevent its being lost in the freedom of space,—we must attach it lightly to earth; and observe again, my dear, that the higher it soars, the more string we must give it."
When I had reached the age of twelve, I had got to the head of the preparatory school to which I had been sent. And having thus exhausted all the oxygen of learning in that little receiver, my parents looked out for a wider range for my inspirations. During the last two years in which I had been at school, my love for study had returned; but it was a vigorous, wakeful, undreamy love, stimulated by competition, and animated by the practical desire to excel.
My father no longer sought to curb my intellectual aspirings. He had too great a reverence for scholarship not to wish me to become a scholar if possible; though he more than once said to me somewhat sadly, "Master books, but do not let them master you. Read to live, not live to read. One slave of the lamp is enough for a household; my servitude must not be a hereditary bondage."
My father looked round for a suitable academy; and the fame of Dr. Herman's "Philhellenic Institute" came to his ears.
Now, this Dr. Herman was the son of a German music-master who had settled in England. He had completed his own education at the University of Bonn; but finding learning too common a drug in that market to bring the high price at which he valued his own, and having some theories as to political freedom which attached him to England, he resolved upon setting up a school, which he designed as an "Era in the History of the Human Mind." Dr. Herman was one of the earliest of those new-fashioned authorities in education who have, more lately, spread pretty numerously amongst us, and would have given, perhaps, a dangerous shake to the foundations of our great classical seminaries, if those last had not very wisely, though very cautiously, borrowed some of the more sensible principles which lay mixed and adulterated amongst the crotchets and chimeras of their innovating rivals and assailants.
Dr. Herman had written a great many learned works against every pre-existing method of instruction; that which had made the greatest noise was upon the infamous fiction of Spelling-Books: "A more lying, roundabout, puzzle-headed delusion than that by which we Confuse the clear instincts of truth in our accursed systems of spelling, was never concocted by the father of falsehood." Such was the exordium of this famous treatise. For instance, take the monosyllable Cat. What a brazen forehead you must have when you say to an infant, c, a, t,—spell Cat: that is, three sounds, forming a totally opposite compound,—opposite in every detail, opposite in the whole,—compose a poor little monosyllable which, if you would but say the simple truth, the child will learn to spell merely by looking at it! How can three sounds, which run thus to the ear, see-eh-tee, compose the sound cat? Don't they rather compose the sound see-eh-te, or ceaty? How can a system of education flourish that begins by so monstrous a falsehood, which the sense of hearing suffices to contradict? No wonder that the horn-book is the despair of mothers! From this instance the reader will perceive that Dr. Herman, in his theory of education, began at the beginning,—he took the bull fairly by the horns. As for the rest, upon a broad principle of eclecticism, he had combined together every new patent invention for youthful idea-shooting. He had taken his trigger from Hofwyl; he had bought his wadding from Hamilton; he had got his copper-caps from Bell and Lancaster. The youthful idea,—he had rammed it tight! he had rammed it loose! he had rammed it with pictorial illustrations! he had rammed it with the monitorial system! he had rammed it in every conceivable way, and with every imaginable ramrod! but I have mournful doubts whether he shot the youthful idea an inch farther than it did under the old mechanism of flint and steel! Nevertheless, as Dr. Herman really did teach a great many things too much neglected at schools; as, besides Latin and Greek, he taught a vast variety in that vague infinite nowadays called "useful knowledge;" as he engaged lecturers on chemistry, engineering, and natural history; as arithmetic and the elements of physical science were enforced with zeal and care; as all sorts of gymnastics were intermingled with the sports of the playground,—so the youthful idea, if it did not go farther, spread its shots in a wider direction, and a boy could not stay there five years without learning something: which is more than can be said of all schools! He learned at least to use his eyes and his ears and his limbs; order, cleanliness, exercise, grew into habits; and the school pleased the ladies and satisfied the gentlemen,—in a word, it thrived; and Dr. Herman, at the time I speak of, numbered more than one hundred pupils. Now, when the worthy man first commenced the task of tuition, he had proclaimed the humanest abhorrence to the barbarous system of corporal punishment. But alas! as his school increased in numbers, he had proportionately recanted these honorable and anti-birchen ideas. He had—reluctantly, perhaps, honestly, no doubt; but with full determination—come to the conclusion that there are secret springs which can only be detected by the twigs of the divining-rod; and having discovered with what comparative ease the whole mechanism of his little government could be carried on by the admission of the birch-regulator, so, as he grew richer and lazier and fatter, the Philhellenic Institute spun along as glibly as a top kept in vivacious movement by the perpetual application of the lash.
I believe that the school did not suffer in reputation from this sad apostasy on the part of the head-master; on the contrary, it seemed more natural and English,—less outlandish and heretical. And it was at the zenith of its renown when, one bright morning, with all my clothes nicely mended, and a large plum-cake in my box, I was deposited at its hospitable gates.
Amongst Dr. Herman's various whimsicalities there was one to which he had adhered with more fidelity than to the anti-corporal punishment articles of his creed; and, in fact, it was upon this that he had caused those imposing words, "Philhellenic Institute," to blaze in gilt capitals in front of his academy. He belonged to that illustrious class of scholars who are now waging war on our popular mythologies, and upsetting all the associations which the Etonians and Harrovians connect with the household names of ancient history. In a word, he sought to restore to scholastic purity the mutilated orthography of Greek appellatives. He was extremely indignant that little boys should be brought up to confound Zeus with Jupiter, Ares with Mars, Artemis with Diana,—the Greek deities with the Roman; and so rigidly did he inculcate the doctrine that these two sets of personages were to be kept constantly contradistinguished from each other, that his cross-examinations kept us in eternal confusion.
"Vat," he would exclaim to some new boy fresh from some grammar-school on the Etonian system—"Vat do you mean by dranslating Zeus Jupiter? Is dat amatory, irascible, cloud-compelling god of Olympus, vid his eagle and his aegis, in the smallest degree resembling de grave, formal, moral Jupiter Optimus Maximus of the Roman Capitol?—a god, Master Simpkins, who would have been perfectly shocked at the idea of running after innocent Fraulein dressed up as a swan or a bull! I put dat question to you vonce for all, Master Simpkins." Master Simpkins took care to agree with the Doctor. "And how could you," resumed Dr. Herman majestically, turning to some other criminal alumnus,—"how could you presume to dranslate de Ares of Homer, sir, by the audacious vulgarism Mars?—Ares, Master Jones, who roared as loud as ten thousand men when he was hurt; or as you vill roar if I catch you calling him Mars again?—Ares, who covered seven plectra of ground? Confound Ares, the manslayer, with the Mars or Mavors whom de Romans stole from de Sabines!—Mars, de solemn and calm protector of Rome! Master Jones, Master Jones, you ought to be ashamed of yourself!" And then waxing enthusiastic, and warming more and more into German gutturals and pronunciation, the good Doctor would lift up his hands, with two great rings on his thumbs, and exclaim: "Und Du! and dou, Aphrodite,—dou, whose bert de seasons vel-coined! dou, who didst put Atonis into a coffer, and den tid durn him into an anemone! dou to be called Venus by dat snivel-nosed little Master Budderfield!—Venus, who presided over Baumgartens and funerals and nasty tinking sewers!—Venus Cloacina, O mein Gott! Come here, Master Budderfield: I must flog you for dat; I must indeed, liddle boy!" As our Philhellenic preceptor carried his archaeological purism into all Greek proper names, it was not likely that my unhappy baptismal would escape. The first time I signed my exercise I wrote "Pisistratus Caxton" in my best round-hand. "And dey call your baba a scholar!" said the Doctor, contemptuously. "Your name, sir, is Greek; and, as Greek, you vill be dood enough to write it, vith vat you call an e and an o,—P,e,i,s,i,s,t,r,a,t,o,s. Vat can you expect for to come to, Master Caxton, if you don't pay de care dat is proper to your own dood name,—de e, and de o? Ach? let me see no more of your vile corruptions! Mein Gott! Pi! ven de name is Pei!"
The next time I wrote home to my father, modestly implying that I was short of cash, that a trap-bat would be acceptable, and that the favorite goddess amongst the boys (whether Greek or Roman was very immaterial) was Diva Moneta, I felt a glow of classical pride in signing myself "your affectionate Peisistratos." The next post brought a sad damper to my scholastic exultation. The letter ran thus:—
My Dear Son,—I prefer my old acquaintances Thucydides and Pisistratus to Thoukudides and Peisistratos. Horace is familiar to me, but Horatius is only known to me as Cocles. Pisistratus can play at trap-ball; but I find no authority in pure Greek to allow me to suppose that that game was known to Peisistratos. I should be too happy to send you a drachma or so, but I have no coins in my possession current at Athens at the time when Pisistratus was spelt Peisistratos.—Your affectionate father, A. CAXTON.
Verily, here indeed was the first practical embarrassment produced by that melancholy anachronism which my father had so prophetically deplored. However, nothing like experience to prove the value of compromise in this world. Peisistratos continued to write exercises, and a second letter from Pisistratus was followed by the trap-bat.
I was somewhere about sixteen when, on going home for the holidays, I found my mother's brother settled among the household Lares. Uncle Jack, as he was familiarly called, was a light-hearted, plausible, enthusiastic, talkative fellow, who had spent three small fortunes in trying to make a large one.
Uncle Jack was a great speculator; but in all his speculations he never affected to think of himself,—it was always the good of his fellow-creatures that he had at heart, and in this ungrateful world fellow-creatures are not to be relied upon! On coming of age, he inherited L6,000, from his maternal grandfather. It seemed to him then that his fellow-creatures were sadly imposed upon by their tailors. Those ninth parts of humanity notoriously eked out their fractional existence by asking nine times too much for the clothing which civilization, and perhaps a change of climate, render more necessary to us than to our predecessors, the Picts. Out of pure philanthropy, Uncle Jack started a "Grand National Benevolent Clothing Company," which undertook to supply the public with inexpressibles of the best Saxon cloth at 7s. 6d. a pair; coats, superfine, L1 18s.; and waistcoats at so much per dozen,—they were all to be worked off by steam. Thus the rascally tailors were to be put down, humanity clad, and the philanthropists rewarded (but that was a secondary consideration) with a clear return of thirty per cent. In spite of the evident charitableness of this Christian design, and the irrefragable calculations upon which it was based, this company died a victim to the ignorance and unthankfulness of our fellow-creatures; and all that remained of Jack's L6,000, was a fifty-fourth share in a small steam-engine, a large assortment of ready-made pantaloons, and the liabilities of the directors.
Uncle Jack disappeared, and went on his travels. The same spirit of philanthropy which characterized the speculations of his purse attended the risks of his person. Uncle Jack had a natural leaning towards all distressed communities: if any tribe, race, or nation was down in the world, Uncle Jack threw himself plump into the scale to redress the balance. Poles, Greeks (the last were then fighting the Turks), Mexicans, Spaniards,—Uncle Jack thrust his nose into all their squabbles! Heaven forbid I should mock thee, poor Uncle Jack! for those generous predilections towards the unfortunate; only, whenever a nation is in a misfortune, there is always a job going on! The Polish cause, the Greek cause, the Alexican cause, and the Spanish cause are necessarily mixed up with loans and subscriptions. These Continental patriots, when they take up the sword with one hand, generally contrive to thrust their other hand deep into their neighbor's breeches' pockets. Uncle Jack went to Greece, thence he went to Spain, thence to Mexico. No doubt he was of great service to those afflicted populations, for he came back with unanswerable proof of their gratitude in the shape of L3,000. Shortly after this appeared a prospectus of the "New, Grand, National, Benevolent Insurance Company, for the Industrial Classes." This invaluable document, after setting forth the immense benefits to society arising from habits of providence and the introduction of insurance companies,—proving the infamous rate of premiums exacted by the existent offices, and their inapplicability to the wants of the honest artisan, and declaring that nothing but the purest intentions of benefiting their fellow-creatures, and raising the moral tone of society, had led the directors to institute a new society, founded on the noblest principles and the most moderate calculations,—proceeded to demonstrate that twenty-four and a half per cent was the smallest possible return the shareholders could anticipate. The company began under the fairest auspices; an archbishop was caught as president, on the condition always that he should give nothing but his name to the society. Uncle Jack—more euphoniously designated as "the celebrated philanthropist, John Jones Tibbets, Esquire"—was honorary secretary, and the capital stated at two millions. But such was the obtuseness of the industrial classes, so little did they perceive the benefits of subscribing one-and-ninepence a-week from the age of twenty-one to fifty, in order to secure at the latter age the annuity of L18, that the company dissolved into thin air, and with it dissolved also Uncle Jack's L3,000. Nothing more was then seen or heard of him for three years. So obscure was his existence that on the death of an aunt, who left him a small farm in Cornwall, it was necessary to advertise that "If John Jones Tibbets, Esq., would apply to Messrs. Blunt & Tin, Lothbury, between the hours of ten and four, he would hear of something to his advantage." But even as a conjurer declares that he will call the ace of spades, and the ace of spades, that you thought you had safely under your foot, turns up on the table,—so with this advertisement suddenly turned up Uncle Jack. With inconceivable satisfaction did the new landowner settle himself in his comfortable homestead. The farm, which was about two hundred acres, was in the best possible condition, and saving one or two chemical preparations, which cost Uncle Jack, upon the most scientific principles, thirty acres of buckwheat, the ears of which came up, poor things, all spotted and speckled as if they had been inoculated with the small-pox, Uncle Jack for the first two years was a thriving man. Unluckily, however, one day Uncle Jack discovered a coal-mine in a beautiful field of Swedish turnips; in another week the house was full of engineers and naturalists, and in another month appeared; in my uncle's best style, much improved by practice, a prospectus of the "Grand National Anti-Monopoly Coal Company, instituted on behalf of the poor householders of London, and against the Monster Monopoly of the London Coal Wharves.
"A vein of the finest coal has been discovered on the estates of the celebrated philanthropist, John Jones Tibbets, Esq. This new mine, the Molly Wheel, having been satisfactorily tested by that eminent engineer, Giles Compass, Esq., promises an inexhaustible field to the energies of the benevolent and the wealth of the capitalist. It is calculated that the best coals may be delivered, screened, at the mouth of the Thames for 18s. per load, yielding a profit of not less than forty-eight per cent to the shareholders. Shares L50, to be paid in five instalments. Capital to be subscribed, one million. For shares, early application must be made to Messrs. Blunt & Tin, solicitors, Lothbury."
Here, then, was something tangible for fellow-creatures to go on: there was land, there was a mine, there was coal, and there actually came shareholders and capital. Uncle Jack was so persuaded that his fortune was now to be made, and had, moreover, so great a desire to share the glory of ruining the monster monopoly of the London wharves, that he refused a very large offer to dispose of the property altogether, remained chief shareholder, and removed to London, where he set up his carriage and gave dinners to his fellow-directors. For no less than three years did this company flourish, having submitted the entire direction and working of the mines to that eminent engineer, Giles Compass. Twenty per cent was paid regularly by that gentleman to the shareholders, and the shares were at more than cent per cent, when one bright morning Giles Compass, Esq., unexpectedly removed himself to that wider field for genius like his, the United States; and it was discovered that the mine had for more than a year run itself into a great pit of water, and that Mr. Compass had been paying the shareholders out of their own capital. My uncle had the satisfaction this time of being ruined in very good company; three doctors of divinity, two county members, a Scotch lord, and an East India director were all in the same boat,—that boat which went down with the coal-mine into the great water-pit!
It was just after this event that Uncle Jack, sanguine and light-hearted as ever, suddenly recollected his sister, Mrs. Caxton, and not knowing where else to dine, thought he would repose his limbs under my father's trabes citrea, which the ingenious W. S. Landor opines should be translated "mahogany." You never saw a more charming man than Uncle Jack.
All plump people are more popular than thin people. There is something jovial and pleasant in the sight of a round face! What conspiracy could succeed when its head was a lean and hungry-looking fellow, like Cassius? If the Roman patriots had had Uncle Jack amongst them, perhaps they would never have furnished a tragedy to Shakspeare. Uncle Jack was as plump as a partridge,—not unwieldy, not corpulent, not obese, not vastus, which Cicero objects to in an orator, but every crevice comfortably filled up. Like the ocean, "time wrote no wrinkles on his glassy [or brassy] brow." His natural lines were all upward curves, his smile most ingratiating, his eye so frank, even his trick of rubbing his clean, well-feel, English-looking hands, had something about it coaxing and debonnaire, something that actually decoyed you into trusting your money into hands so prepossessing. Indeed, to him might be fully applied the expression—Sedem animce in extremis digitis habet,—"He had his soul's seat in his finger-ends." The critics observe that few men have ever united in equal perfection the imaginative with the scientific faculties. "Happy he," exclaims Schiller, "who combines the enthusiast's warmth with the worldly man's light:" light and warmth, Uncle Jack had them both. He was a perfect symphony of bewitching enthusiasm and convincing calculation. Dicaeopolis in the "Aeharnenses," in presenting a gentleman called Nicharchus to the audience, observes: "He is small, I confess, but, there is nothing lost in him: all is knave that is not fool." Parodying the equivocal compliment, I may say that though Uncle Jack was no giant, there was nothing lost in him. Whatever was not philanthropy was arithmetic, and whatever was not arithmetic was philanthropy. He would have been equally dear to Howard and to Cocker. Uncle Jack was comely too,—clear-skinned and florid, had a little mouth, with good teeth, wore no whiskers, shaved his beard as close as if it were one of his grand national companies; his hair, once somewhat sandy, was now rather grayish, which increased the respectability of his appearance; and he wore it flat at the sides and raised in a peak at the top; his organs of constructiveness and ideality were pronounced by Mr. Squills to be prodigious, and those freely developed bumps gave great breadth to his forehead. Well-shaped, too, was Uncle Jack, about five feet eight,—the proper height for an active man of business. He wore a black coat; but to make the nap look the fresher, he had given it the relief of gilt buttons, on—which were wrought a small crown and anchor; at a distance this button looked like the king's button, and gave him the air of one who has a place about Court. He always wore a white neckcloth without starch, a frill, and a diamond pin, which last furnished him with observations upon certain mines of Mexico, which he had a great, but hitherto unsatisfied, desire of seeing worked by a grand National United Britons Company. His waistcoat of a morning was pale buff—of an evening, embroidered velvet; wherewith were connected sundry schemes of an "association for the improvement of native manufactures." His trousers, matutinally, were of the color vulgarly called "blotting-paper;" and he never wore boots,—which, he said, unfitted a man for exercise,—but short drab gaiters and square-toed shoes. His watch-chain was garnished with a vast number of seals; each seal, indeed, represented the device of some defunct company, and they might be said to resemble the scalps of the slain worn by the aboriginal Iroquois,—concerning whom, indeed, he had once entertained philanthropic designs, compounded of conversion to Christianity on the principles of the English Episcopal Church, and of an advantageous exchange of beaver-skins for Bibles, brandy, and gunpowder.
That Uncle Jack should win my heart was no wonder; my mother's he had always won, from her earliest recollection of his having persuaded her to let her great doll (a present from her godmother) be put up to a raffle for the benefit of the chimney-sweepers. "So like him,—so good!" she would often say pensively. "They paid sixpence apiece for the raffle,—twenty tickets,—and the doll cost L2. Nobody was taken in, and the doll, poor thing (it had such blue eyes!) went for a quarter of its value. But Jack said nobody could guess what good the ten shillings did to the chimney-sweepers." Naturally enough, I say, my mother liked Uncle Jack; but my father liked him quite as well,—and that was a strong proof of my uncle's powers of captivation. However, it is noticeable that when some retired scholar is once interested in an active man of the world, he is more inclined to admire him than others are. Sympathy with such a companion gratifies at once his curiosity and his indolence; he can travel with him, scheme with him, fight with him, go with him through all the adventures of which his own books speak so eloquently, and all the time never stir from his easy-chair. My father said "that it was like listening to Ulysses to hear Uncle Jack!" Uncle Jack, too, had been in Greece and Asia Minor, gone over the site of the siege of Troy, eaten figs at Marathon, shot hares in the Peloponnesus, and drunk three pints of brown stout at the top of the Great Pyramid.
Therefore, Uncle Jack was like a book of reference to my father. Verily at times he looked on him as a book, and took him down after dinner as he would a volume of Dodwell or Pausanias. In fact, I believe that scholars who never move from their cells are not the less an eminently curious, bustling, active race, rightly understood. Even as old Burton saith of himself—"Though I live a collegiate student, and lead a monastic life, sequestered from those tumults and troubles of the world, I hear and see what is done abroad, how others run, ride, turmoil, and macerate themselves in town and country,"—which citation sufficeth to show that scholars are naturally the most active men of the world; only that while their heads plot with Augustus, fight with Julius, sail with Columbus, and change the face of the globe with Alexander, Attila, or Mahomet, there is a certain mysterious attraction, which our improved knowledge of mesmerism will doubtless soon explain to the satisfaction of science, between that extremer and antipodal part of the human frame, called in the vulgate "the seat of honor," and the stuffed leather of an armed chair. Learning somehow or other sinks down to that part into which it was first driven, and produces therein a leaden heaviness and weight, which counteract those lively emotions of the brain that might otherwise render students too mercurial and agile for the safety of established order. I leave this conjecture to the consideration of experimentalists in the physics.
I was still more delighted than my father with Uncle Jack. He was full of amusing tricks, could conjure wonderfully, make a bunch of keys dance a hornpipe, and if ever you gave him half-a-crown, he was sure to turn it into a halfpenny.
He was only unsuccessful in turning my halfpennies into half-crowns.
We took long walks together, and in the midst of his most diverting conversation my uncle was always an observer. He would stop to examine the nature of the soil, fill my pockets (not his own) with great lumps of clay, stones, and rubbish, to analyze when he got home, by the help of some chemical apparatus he had borrowed from Mr. Squills. He would stand an hour at a cottage door, admiring the little girls who were straw-platting, and then walk into the nearest farmhouses, to suggest the feasibility of "a national straw-plat association." All this fertility of intellect was, alas! wasted in that ingrata terra into which Uncle Jack had fallen. No squire could be persuaded into the belief that his mother-stone was pregnant with minerals; no farmer talked into weaving straw-plat into a proprietary association. So, even as an ogre, having devastated the surrounding country, begins to cast a hungry eye on his own little ones, Uncle Jack's mouth, long defrauded of juicier and more legitimate morsels, began to water for a bite of my innocent father.
At this time we were living in what may be called a very respectable style for people who made no pretence to ostentation. On the skirts of a large village stood a square red-brick house, about the date of Queen Anne. Upon the top of the house was a balustrade,—why, Heaven knows, for nobody, except our great tom-cat, Ralph, ever walked upon the leads; but so it was, and so it often is in houses from the time of Elizabeth, yea, even to that of Victoria. This balustrade was divided by low piers, on each of which was placed a round ball. The centre of the house was distinguishable by an architrave in the shape of a triangle, under which was a niche,—probably meant for a figure; but the figure was not forthcoming. Below this was the window (encased with carved pilasters) of my dear mother's little sitting-room; and lower still, raised on a flight of six steps, was a very handsome-looking door, with a projecting porch. All the windows, with smallish panes and largish frames, were relieved with stone copings; so that the house had an air of solidity and well-to-do-ness about it,—nothing tricky on the one hand, nothing decayed on the other. The house stood a little back from the garden gates, which were large, and set between two piers surmounted with vases. Many might object that in wet weather you had to walk some way to your carriage; but we obviated that objection by not keeping a carriage. To the right of the house the enclosure contained a little lawn, a laurel hermitage, a square pond, a modest greenhouse, and half-a-dozen plots of mignonette, heliotrope, roses, pinks, sweet-William, etc. To the left spread the kitchen-garden, lying screened by espaliers yielding the finest apples in the neighborhood, and divided by three winding gravel-walks, of which the extremest was backed by a wall, whereon, as it lay full south, peaches, pears, and nectarines sunned themselves early into well-remembered flavor. This walk was appropriated to my father. Book in hand, he would, on fine days, pace to and fro, often stopping, dear man, to jot down a pencil-note, gesticulate, or soliloquize. And there, when not in his study, my mother would be sure to find him. In these deambulations, as he called them, he had generally a companion so extraordinary that I expect to be met with a hillalu of incredulous contempt when I specify it. Nevertheless I vow and protest that it is strictly true, and no invention of an exaggerating romancer. It happened one day that my mother had coaxed Mr. Caxton to walk with her to market. By the way they passed a sward of green, on which sundry little boys were engaged upon the lapidation of a lame duck. It seemed that the duck was to have been taken to market, when it was discovered not only to be lame, but dyspeptic,—perhaps some weed had disagreed with its ganglionic apparatus, poor thing. However that be, the good-wife had declared that the duck was good for nothing; and upon the petition of her children, it had been consigned to them for a little innocent amusement, and to keep them out of harm's way. My mother declared that she never before saw her lord and master roused to such animation. He dispersed the urchins, released the duck, carried it home, kept it in a basket by the fire, fed it and physicked it till it recovered; and then it was consigned to the square pond. But lo! the duck knew its benefactor; and whenever my father appeared outside his door, it would catch sight of him, flap from the pond, gain the lawn, and hobble after him (for it never quite recovered the use of its left leg) till it reached the walk by the peaches; and there sometimes it would sit, gravely watching its master's deambulations, sometimes stroll by his side, and, at all events, never leave him till, at his return home, he fed it with his own hands; and, quacking her peaceful adieus, the nymph then retired to her natural element.
With the exception of my mother's favorite morning-room, the principal sitting-rooms—that is, the study, the diningroom, and what was emphatically called "the best drawing-room," which was only occupied on great occasions—looked south. Tall beeches, firs, poplars, and a few oaks backed the house, and indeed surrounded it on all sides but the south; so that it was well sheltered from the winter cold and the summer heat. Our principal domestic, in dignity and station, was Mrs. Primmins, who was waiting gentlewoman, housekeeper, and tyrannical dictatrix of the whole establishment. Two other maids, a gardener, and a footman, composed the rest of the serving household. Save a few pasture-fields, which he let, my father was not troubled with land. His income was derived from the interest of about L15,000, partly in the Three per Cents, partly on mortgage; and what with my mother and Mrs. Primmins, this income always yielded enough to satisfy my father's single hobby for books, pay for my education, and entertain our neighbors, rarely indeed at dinner, but very often at tea. My dear mother boasted that our society was very select. It consisted chiefly of the clergyman and his family; two old maids who gave themselves great airs; a gentleman who had been in the East India service, and who lived in a large white house at the top of the hill; some half-a-dozen squires and their wives and children; Mr. Squills, still a bachelor; and once a year cards were exchanged—and dinners too—with certain aristocrats who inspired my mother with a great deal of unnecessary awe, since she declared they were the most good-natured, easy people in the world, and always stuck their cards in the most conspicuous part of the looking-glass frame over the chimney-piece of the best drawing-room. Thus you perceive that our natural position was one highly creditable to us, proving the soundness of our finances and the gentility of our pedigree,—of which last more hereafter. At present I content myself with saying on that head that even the proudest of the neighboring squirearchs always spoke of us as a very ancient family. But all my father ever said, to evince pride of ancestry, was in honor of William Caxton, citizen and printer in the reign of Edward IV.,—Clarum et venerabile nomen! an ancestor a man of letters might be justly vain of.
"Heus," said my father, stopping short, and lifting his eyes from the Colloquies of Erasmus, "salve multum, jucundissime."
Uncle Jack was not much of a scholar, but he knew enough Latin to answer, "Salve tantundem, mi frater."
My father smiled approvingly. "I see you comprehend true urbanity, or politeness, as we phrase it. There is an elegance in addressing the husband of your sister as brother. Erasmus commends it in his opening chapter, under the head of Salutandi formuloe. And indeed," added my father, thoughtfully, "there is no great difference between politeness and affection. My author here observes that it is polite to express salutation in certain minor distresses of nature. One should salute a gentleman in yawning, salute him in hiccuping, salute him in sneezing, salute him in coughing,—and that evidently because of your interest in his health; for he may dislocate his jaw in yawning, and the hiccup is often a symptom of grave disorder, and sneezing is perilous to the small blood-vessels of the head, and coughing is either a tracheal, bronchial, pulmonary, or ganglionic affection."
"Very true. The Turks always salute in sneezing, and they are a remarkably polite people," said Uncle Jack. "But, my dear brother, I was just looking with admiration at these apple-trees of yours. I never saw finer. I am a great judge of apples. I find, in talking with my sister, that you make very little profit by them. That's a pity. One might establish a cider orchard in this county. You can take your own fields in hand; you can hire more, so as to make the whole, say a hundred acres. You can plant a very extensive apple-orchard on a grand scale. I have just run through the calculations; they are quite startling. Take 40 trees per acre—that's the proper average—at 1s. 6d. per tree; 4,000 trees for 100 acres, L300; labor of digging, trenching, say L10 an acre,—total for 100 acres, L1,000. Pave the bottoms of the holes to prevent the tap-root striking down into the bad soil,—oh! I am very close and careful you see, in all minutiae; always was,—pave 'em with rubbish and stones, 6d. a hole; that for 4,000 trees the 100 acres is L100. Add the rent of the land, at 30s. an acre,—L150. And how stands the total?" Here Uncle Jack proceeded rapidly ticking off the items with his fingers:—
"Trees........... 300 Labor........... 1,000 Paving holes.... 100 Rent............ 150 _ Total....... L1,550
"That's your expense. Mark! Now to the profit. Orchards in Kent realize L100 an acre, some even L150; but let's be moderate, say only L50 an acre, and your gross profit per year, from a capital of L1,550, will be L5,000,—L5,000 a-year. Think of that, brother Caxton! Deduct 10 per cent, or L500 a-year, for gardeners' wages, manure, etc., and the net product is L4,500. Your fortune's made, man,—it is made; I wish you joy!" And Uncle Jack rubbed his hands.
"Bless me, father," said eagerly the young Pisistratus, who had swallowed with ravished ears every syllable and figure of this inviting calculation, "why, we should be as rich as Squire Rollick; and then, you know, sir, you could keep a pack of fox-hounds."
"And buy a large library," added Uncle Jack, with more subtle knowledge of human nature as to its appropriate temptations. "There's my friend the archbishop's collection to be sold."
Slowly recovering his breath, my father gently turned his eyes from one to the other; and then, laying his left hand on my head, while with the right he held up Erasmus rebukingly to Uncle Jack, said,—
"See how easily you can sow covetousness and avidity in the youthful mind. Ah, brother!"
"You are too severe, sir. See how the dear boy hangs his head! Fie! natural enthusiasm of his years,—'gay hope by fancy fed,' as the poet says. Why, for that fine boy's sake you ought not to lose so certain an occasion of wealth, I may say, untold. For observe, you will form a nursery of crabs; each year you go on grafting and enlarging your plantation, renting,—nay, why not buying, more land? Gad, sir! in twenty years you might cover half the county; but say you stop short at 2,000 acres, why the net profit is L90,000 a-year. A duke's income,—a duke's; and going a-begging, as I may say."
"But stop," said I, modestly; "the trees don't grow in a year. I know when our last apple-tree was planted—it is five years ago—it was then three years old, and it only bore one half-bushel last autumn."
"What an intelligent lad it is! Good head there. Oh, he'll do credit to his great fortune, brother," said Uncle Jack, approvingly. "True, my boy. But in the mean while we could fill the ground, as they do in Kent, with gooseberries and currants, or onions and cabbages. Nevertheless, considering we are not great capitalists, I am afraid we must give up a share of our profits to diminish our outlay. So harkye, Pisistratus—look at him, brother, simple as he stands there, I think he is born with a silver spoon in his mouth—harkye, now to the mysteries of speculation. Your father shall quietly buy the land, and then, presto! we will issue a prospectus and start a company. Associations can wait five years for a return. Every year, meanwhile, increases the value of the shares. Your father takes, we say, fifty shares at L50 each, paying only an instalment of L2 a share. He sells 35 shares at cent per cent. He keeps the remaining 15, and his fortune's made all the same; only it is not quite so large as if he had kept the whole concern in his own hands. What say you now, brother Caxton? Visne edere pomum? as we used to say at school."
"I don't want a shilling more than I have got," said my father, resolutely. "My wife would not love me better; my food would not nourish me more; my boy would not, in all probability, be half so hardy, or a tenth part so industrious; and—"
"But," interrupted Uncle Jack, pertinaciously, and reserving his grand argument for the last, "the good you would confer on the community; the progress given to the natural productions of your country; the wholesome beverage of cider brought within cheap reach of the laboring classes. If it was only for your sake, should I have urged this question? Should I now? Is it in my character? But for the sake of the public! mankind! of our fellow-creatures! Why, sir, England could not get on if gentlemen like you had not a little philanthropy and speculation."
"Papoe!" exclaimed my father; "to think that England can't get on without turning Austin Caxton into an apple-merchant! My dear Jack, listen. You remind me of a colloquy in this book,—wait a bit, here it is, 'Pamphagus and Cocles.' Cocles recognizes his friend, who had been absent for many years, by his eminent and remarkable nose. Pamphagus says, rather irritably, that he is not ashamed of his nose. 'Ashamed of it! no, indeed,' says Cocles; 'I never saw a nose that could be put to so many uses!' 'Ha!' says Pamphagus (whose curiosity is aroused), 'uses! what uses?' Whereon (lepidissime frater!) Cocles, with eloquence as rapid as yours, runs on with a countless list of the uses to which so vast a development of the organ can be applied. 'If the cellar was deep, it could sniff up the wine like an elephant's trunk; if the bellows were missing, it could blow the fire; if the lamp was too glaring, it could suffice for a shade; it would serve as a speaking-trumpet to a herald; it could sound a signal of battle in the field; it would do for a wedge in wood-cutting, a spade for digging, a scythe for mowing, an anchor in sailing,'—till Painphagus cries out, 'Lucky dog that I am! and I never knew before what a useful piece of furniture I carried about with me.'" My father paused and strove to whistle; but that effort of harmony failed him, and he added, smiling, "So much for my apple-trees, brother John. Leave them to their natural destination of filling tarts and dumplings."
Uncle Jack looked a little discomposed for a moment; but he then laughed with his usual heartiness, and saw that he had not yet got to my father's blind side. I confess that my revered parent rose in my estimation after that conference; and I began to see that a man may not be quite without common sense, though he is a scholar. Indeed, whether it was that Uncle Jack's visit acted as a gentle stimulant to his relaxed faculties, or that I, now grown older and wiser, began to see his character more clearly, I date from those summer holidays the commencement of that familiar and endearing intimacy which ever after existed between my father and myself. Often I deserted the more extensive rambles of Uncle Jack, or the greater allurements of a cricket-match in the village, or a day's fishing in Squire Rollick's preserves, for a quiet stroll with my father by the old peach wall,—sometimes silent, indeed, and already musing over the future, while he was busy with the past, but amply rewarded when, suspending his lecture, he would pour forth hoards of varied learning, rendered amusing by his quaint comments, and that Socratic satire which only fell short of wit because it never passed into malice. At some moments, indeed, the vein ran into eloquence; and with some fine heroic sentiment in his old books, his stooping form rose erect, his eye flashed, and you saw that he had not been originally formed and wholly meant for the obscure seclusion in which his harmless days now wore contentedly away.
"Egad, sir, the county is going to the dogs! Our sentiments are not represented in parliament or out of it. The 'County Mercury' has ratted, and be hanged to it! and now we have not one newspaper in the whole shire to express the sentiments of the respectable part of the community!"
This speech was made on the occasion of one of the rare dinners given by Mr. and Mrs. Caxton to the grandees of the neighborhood, and uttered by no less a person than Squire Rollick, of Rollick Hall, chairman of the quarter-sessions.
I confess that I (for I was permitted on that first occasion not only to dine with the guests, but to outstay the ladies, in virtue of my growing years and my promise to abstain from the decanters),—I confess, I say, that I, poor innocent, was puzzled to conjecture what sudden interest in the county newspaper could cause Uncle Jack to prick up his ears like a warhorse at the sound of the drum and rush so incontinently across the interval between Squire Rollick and himself. But the mind of that deep and truly knowing man was not to be plumbed by a chit of my age. You could not fish for the shy salmon in that pool with a crooked pin and a bobbin, as you would for minnows; or, to indulge in a more worthy illustration, you could not say of him, as Saint Gregory saith of the streams of Jordan, "A lamb could wade easily through that ford."
"Not a county newspaper to advocate the rights of—" here my uncle stopped, as if at a loss, and whispered in my ear; "What are his politics?" "Don't know," answered I. Uncle Jack intuitively took down from his memory the phrase most readily at hand, and added, with a nasal intonation, "the rights of our distressed fellow-creatures!"
My father scratched his eyebrow with his fore-finger, as he was apt to do when doubtful; the rest of the company—a silent set-looked up.
"Fellow-creatures!" said Mr. Rollick,—"fellow-fiddlesticks!"
Uncle Jack was clearly in the wrong box. He drew out of it cautiously,—"I mean," said he, "our respectable fellow-creatures;" and then suddenly it occurred to him that a "County Mercury" would naturally represent the agricultural interest, and that if Mr. Rollick said that the "'County Mercury' ought to be hanged," he was one of those politicians who had already begun to call the agricultural interest "a Vampire." Flushed with that fancied discovery, Uncle Jack rushed on, intending to bear along with the stream, thus fortunately directed, all the "rubbish" (1) subsequently shot into Covent Garden and Hall of Commerce.
"Yes, respectable fellow-creatures, men of capital and enterprise! For what are these country squires compared to our wealthy merchants? What is this agricultural interest that professes to be the prop of the land?"
"Professes!" cried Squire Rollick,—"it is the prop of the land; and as for those manufacturing fellows who have bought up the 'Mercury'—"
"Bought up the 'Mercury,' have they, the villains?" cried Uncle Jack, interrupting the Squire, and now bursting into full scent. "Depend upon it, sir, it is a part of a diabolical system of buying up,—which must be exposed manfully. Yes, as I was saying, what is that agricultural interest which they desire to ruin; which they declare to be so bloated; which they call 'a Vampire!'—they the true blood-suckers, the venomous millocrats? Fellow-creatures, Sir! I may well call distressed fellow-creatures the members of that much-suffering class of which you yourself are an ornament. What can be more deserving of our best efforts for relief than a country gentleman like yourself, we'll say,—of a nominal L5,000 a-year,—compelled to keep up an establishment, pay for his fox-hounds, support the whole population by contributions to the poor-rates, support the whole church by tithes; all justice, jails, and prosecutions of the county-rates; all thoroughfares by the highway-rates; ground down by mortgages, Jews, or jointures; having to provide for younger children; enormous expenses for cutting his woods, manuring his model farm, and fattening huge oxen till every pound of flesh costs him five pounds sterling in oil-cake; and then the lawsuits necessary to protect his rights,—plundered on all hands by poachers, sheep-stealers, dog-stealers, churchwardens, overseers, gardeners, gamekeepers, and that necessary rascal, his steward. If ever there was a distressed fellow-creature in the world, it is a country gentleman with a great estate."
My father evidently thought this an exquisite piece of banter, for by the corner of his mouth I saw that he chuckled inly.
Squire Rollick, who had interrupted the speech by sundry approving exclamations, particularly at the mention of poor-rates, tithes, county-rates, mortgages, and poachers, here pushed the bottle to Uncle Jack, and said, civilly: "There's a great deal of truth in what you say, Mr. Tibbets. The agricultural interest is going to ruin; and when it does, I would not give that for Old England!" and Mr. Rollick snapped his finger and thumb. "But what is to be done,—done for the county? There's the rub."
"I was just coming to that," quoth Uncle Jack. "You say that you have not a county paper that upholds your cause and denounces your enemies."
"Not since the Whigs bought the '—shire Mercury.'"
"Why, good heavens! Mr. Rollick, how can you suppose that you will have justice done you if at this time of day you neglect the Press? The Press, sir—there it is—air we breathe! What you want is a great national—no, not a national—A Provincial proprietary weekly journal, supported liberally and steadily by that mighty party whose very existence is at stake. Without such a paper you are gone, you are dead,—extinct, defunct, buried alive; with such a paper,—well conducted, well edited by a man of the world, of education, of practical experience in agriculture and human nature, mines, corn, manure, insurances, Acts of Parliament, cattle-shows, the state of parties, and the best interests of society,—with such a man and such a paper, you will carry all before you. But it must be done by subscription, by association, by co-operation,—by a Grand Provincial Benevolent Agricultural Anti-innovating Society."
"Egad, sir, you are right!" said Mr. Rollick, slapping his thigh; "and I'll ride over to our Lord-Lieutenant to-morrow. His eldest son ought to carry the county."
"And he will, if you encourage the Press and set up a journal," said Uncle Jack, rubbing his hands, and then gently stretching them out and drawing them gradually together, as if he were already enclosing in that airy circle the unsuspecting guineas of the unborn association.
All happiness dwells more in the hope than the possession; and at that moment I dare be sworn that Uncle Jack felt a livelier rapture circum proecordia, warming his entrails, and diffusing throughout his whole frame of five feet eight the prophetic glow of the Magna Diva Moneta, than if he had enjoyed for ten years the actual possession of King Croesus's privy purse.