Tracks of a Rolling Stone by Henry J. Coke Scanned and proofed by David Price email@example.com Second proofing by Margaret Price
Tracks of a Rolling Stone
PREFACE TO SECOND EDITION.
THE First Edition of this book was written, from beginning to end, in the short space of five months, without the aid of diary or notes, beyond those cited as such from a former work.
The Author, having no expectation that his reminiscences would be received with the kind indulgence of which this Second Edition is the proof, with diffidence ventured to tell so many tales connected with his own unimportant life as he has done. Emboldened by the reception his 'Tracks' have met with, he now adds a few stories which he trusts may further amuse its readers.
WE know more of the early days of the Pyramids or of ancient Babylon than we do of our own. The Stone age, the dragons of the prime, are not more remote from us than is our earliest childhood. It is not so long ago for any of us; and yet, our memories of it are but veiled spectres wandering in the mazes of some foregone existence.
Are we really trailing clouds of glory from afar? Or are our 'forgettings' of the outer Eden only? Or, setting poetry aside, are they perhaps the quickening germs of all past heredity - an epitome of our race and its descent? At any rate THEN, if ever, our lives are such stuff as dreams are made of. There is no connected story of events, thoughts, acts, or feelings. We try in vain to re-collect; but the secrets of the grave are not more inviolable, - for the beginnings, like the endings, of life are lost in darkness.
It is very difficult to affix a date to any relic of that dim past. We may have a distinct remembrance of some pleasure, some pain, some fright, some accident, but the vivid does not help us to chronicle with accuracy. A year or two makes a vast difference in our ability. We can remember well enough when we donned the 'CAUDA VIRILIS,' but not when we left off petticoats.
The first remembrance to which I can correctly tack a date is the death of George IV. I was between three and four years old. My recollection of the fact is perfectly distinct - distinct by its association with other facts, then far more weighty to me than the death of a king.
I was watching with rapture, for the first time, the spinning of a peg-top by one of the grooms in the stable yard, when the coachman, who had just driven my mother home, announced the historic news. In a few minutes four or five servants - maids and men - came running to the stables to learn particulars, and the peg-top, to my sorrow, had to be abandoned for gossip and flirtation. We were a long way from street criers - indeed, quite out of town. My father's house was in Kensington, a little further west than the present museum. It was completely surrounded by fields and hedges. I mention the fact merely to show to what age definite memory can be authentically assigned. Doubtless we have much earlier remembrances, though we must reckon these by days, or by months at the outside. The relativity of the reckoning would seem to make Time indeed a 'Form of Thought.'
Two or three reminiscences of my childhood have stuck to me; some of them on account of their comicality. I was taken to a children's ball at St. James's Palace. In my mind's eye I have but one distinct vision of it. I cannot see the crowd - there was nothing to distinguish that from what I have so often seen since; nor the court dresses, nor the soldiers even, who always attract a child's attention in the streets; but I see a raised dais on which were two thrones. William IV. sat on one, Queen Adelaide on the other. I cannot say whether we were marched past in turn, or how I came there. But I remember the look of the king in his naval uniform. I remember his white kerseymere breeches, and pink silk stockings, and buckled shoes. He took me between his knees, and asked, 'Well, what are you going to be, my little man?'
'A sailor,' said I, with brazen simplicity.
'Going to avenge the death of Nelson - eh? Fond o' sugar- plums?'
'Ye-es,' said I, taking a mental inventory of stars and anchor buttons.
Upon this, he fetched from the depths of his waistcoat pocket a capacious gold box, and opened it with a tap, as though he were about to offer me a pinch of snuff. 'There's for you,' said he.
I helped myself, unawed by the situation, and with my small fist clutching the bonbons, was passed on to Queen Adelaide. She gave me a kiss, for form's sake, I thought; and I scuttled back to my mother.
But here followed the shocking part of the ENFANT TERRIBLE'S adventure. Not quite sure of Her Majesty's identity - I had never heard there was a Queen - I naively asked my mother, in a very audible stage-whisper, 'Who is the old lady with - ?' My mother dragged me off the instant she had made her curtsey. She had a quick sense of humour; and, judging from her laughter, when she told her story to another lady in the supper room, I fancied I had said or done something very funny. I was rather disconcerted at being seriously admonished, and told I must never again comment upon the breath of ladies who condescended to kiss, or to speak to, me.
While we lived at Kensington, Lord Anglesey used often to pay my mother a visit. She had told me the story of the battle of Waterloo, in which my Uncle George - 6th Lord Albemarle - had taken part; and related how Lord Anglesey had lost a leg there, and how one of his legs was made of cork. Lord Anglesey was a great dandy. The cut of the Paget hat was an heirloom for the next generation or two, and the gallant Marquis' boots and tightly-strapped trousers were patterns of polish and precision. The limp was perceptible; but of which leg, was, in spite of careful investigation, beyond my diagnosis. His presence provoked my curiosity, till one fine day it became too strong for resistance. While he was busily engaged in conversation with my mother, I, watching for the chance, sidled up to his chair, and as soon as he looked away, rammed my heel on to his toes. They were his toes. And considering the jump and the oath which instantly responded to my test, I am persuaded they were abnormally tender ones. They might have been made of corns, certainly not of cork.
Another discovery I made about this period was, for me at least, a 'record': it happened at Quidenham - my grandfather the 4th Lord Albemarle's place.
Some excursion was afoot, which needed an early breakfast. When this was half over, one married couple were missing. My grandfather called me to him (I was playing with another small boy in one of the window bays). 'Go and tell Lady Maria, with my love,' said he, 'that we shall start in half an hour. Stop, stop a minute. Be sure you knock at the door.' I obeyed orders - I knocked at the door, but failed to wait for an answer. I entered without it. And what did I behold? Lady Maria was still in bed; and by the side of Lady M. was, very naturally, Lady M.'s husband, also in bed and fast asleep. At first I could hardly believe my senses. It was within the range of my experience that boys of my age occasionally slept in the same bed. But that a grown up man should sleep in the same bed with his wife was quite beyond my notion of the fitness of things. I was so staggered, so long in taking in this astounding novelty, that I could not at first deliver my grandfathers message. The moment I had done so, I rushed back to the breakfast room, and in a loud voice proclaimed to the company what I had seen. My tale produced all the effect I had anticipated, but mainly in the shape of amusement. One wag - my uncle Henry Keppel - asked for details, gravely declaring he could hardly credit my statement. Every one, however, seemed convinced by the circumstantial nature of my evidence when I positively asserted that their heads were not even at opposite ends of the bed, but side by side upon the same pillow.
A still greater soldier than Lord Anglesey used to come to Holkham every year, a great favourite of my father's; this was Lord Lynedoch. My earliest recollections of him owe their vividness to three accidents - in the logical sense of the term: his silky milk-white locks, his Spanish servant who wore earrings - and whom, by the way, I used to confound with Courvoisier, often there at the same time with his master Lord William Russell, for the murder of whom he was hanged, as all the world knows - and his fox terrier Nettle, which, as a special favour, I was allowed to feed with Abernethy biscuits.
He was at Longford, my present home, on a visit to my father in 1835, when, one evening after dinner, the two old gentlemen - no one else being present but myself - sitting in armchairs over the fire, finishing their bottle of port, Lord Lynedoch told the wonderful story of his adventures during the siege of Mantua by the French, in 1796. For brevity's sake, it were better perhaps to give the outline in the words of Alison. 'It was high time the Imperialists should advance to the relief of this fortress, which was now reduced to the last extremity from want of provisions. At a council of war held in the end of December, it was decided that it was indispensable that instant intelligence should be sent to Alvinzi of their desperate situation. An English officer, attached to the garrison, volunteered to perform the perilous mission, which he executed with equal courage and success. He set out, disguised as a peasant, from Mantua on December 29, at nightfall in the midst of a deep fall of snow, eluded the vigilance of the French patrols, and, after surmounting a thousand hardships and dangers, arrived at the headquarters of Alvinzi, at Bassano, on January 4, the day after the conferences at Vicenza were broken up.
'Great destinies awaited this enterprising officer. He was Colonel Graham, afterwards victor at Barrosa, and the first British general who planted the English standard on the soil of France.'
This bare skeleton of the event was endued 'with sense and soul' by the narrator. The 'hardships and dangers' thrilled one's young nerves. Their two salient features were ice perils, and the no less imminent one of being captured and shot as a spy. The crossing of the rivers stands out prominently in my recollection. All the bridges were of course guarded, and he had two at least within the enemy's lines to get over - those of the Mincio and of the Adige. Probably the lagunes surrounding the invested fortress would be his worst difficulty. The Adige he described as beset with a two-fold risk - the avoidance of the bridges, which courted suspicion, and the thin ice and only partially frozen river, which had to be traversed in the dark. The vigour, the zest with which the wiry veteran 'shoulder'd his crutch and show'd how fields were won' was not a thing to be forgotten.
Lord Lynedoch lived to a great age, and it was from his house at Cardington, in Bedfordshire, that my brother Leicester married his first wife, Miss Whitbread, in 1843. That was the last time I saw him.
Perhaps the following is not out of place here, although it is connected with more serious thoughts:
Though neither my father nor my mother were more pious than their neighbours, we children were brought up religiously. From infancy we were taught to repeat night and morning the Lord's Prayer, and invoke blessings on our parents. It was instilled into us by constant repetition that God did not love naughty children - our naughtiness being for the most part the original sin of disobedience, rooted in the love of forbidden fruit in all its forms of allurement. Moses himself could not have believed more faithfully in the direct and immediate intervention of an avenging God. The pain in one's stomach incident to unripe gooseberries, no less than the consequent black dose, or the personal chastisement of a responsible and apprehensive nurse, were but the just visitations of an offended Deity.
Whether my religious proclivities were more pronounced than those of other children I cannot say, but certainly, as a child, I was in the habit of appealing to Omnipotence to gratify every ardent desire.
There were peacocks in the pleasure grounds at Holkham, and I had an aesthetic love for their gorgeous plumes. As I hunted under and amongst the shrubs, I secretly prayed that my search might be rewarded. Nor had I a doubt, when successful, that my prayer had been granted by a beneficent Providence.
Let no one smile at this infantine credulity, for is it not the basis of that religious trust which helps so many of us to support the sorrows to which our stoicism is unequal? Who that might be tempted thoughtlessly to laugh at the child does not sometimes sustain the hope of finding his 'plumes' by appeals akin to those of his childhood? Which of us could not quote a hundred instances of such a soothing delusion - if delusion it be? I speak not of saints, but of sinners: of the countless hosts who aspire to this world's happiness; of the dying who would live, of the suffering who would die, of the poor who would be rich, of the aggrieved who seek vengeance, of the ugly who would be beautiful, of the old who would appear young, of the guilty who would not be found out, and of the lover who would possess. Ah! the lover. Here possibility is a negligible element. Consequences are of no consequence. Passion must be served. When could a miracle be more pertinent?
It is just fifty years ago now; it was during the Indian Mutiny. A lady friend of mine did me the honour to make me her confidant. She paid the same compliment to many - most of her friends; and the friends (as is their wont) confided in one another. Poor thing! her case was a sad one. Whose case is not? She was, by her own account, in the forty- second year of her virginity; and it may be added, parenthetically, an honest fourteen stone in weight.
She was in love with a hero of Lucknow. It cannot be said that she knew him only by his well-earned fame. She had seen him, had even sat by him at dinner. He was young, he was handsome. It was love at sight, accentuated by much meditation - 'obsessions [peradventure] des images genetiques.' She told me (and her other confidants, of course) that she prayed day and night that this distinguished officer, this handsome officer, might return her passion. And her letters to me (and to other confidants) invariably ended with the entreaty that I (and her other, &c.) would offer up a similar prayer on her behalf. Alas! poor soul, poor body! I should say, the distinguished officer, together with the invoked Providence, remained equally insensible to her supplications. The lady rests in peace. The soldier, though a veteran, still exults in war.
But why do I cite this single instance? Are there not millions of such entreaties addressed to Heaven on this, and on every day? What difference is there, in spirit, between them and the child's prayer for his feather? Is there anything great or small in the eye of Omniscience? Or is it not our thinking only that makes it so?
SOON after I was seven years old, I went to what was then, and is still, one of the most favoured of preparatory schools - Temple Grove - at East Sheen, then kept by Dr. Pinkney. I was taken thither from Holkham by a great friend of my father's, General Sir Ronald Ferguson, whose statue now adorns one of the niches in the facade of Wellington College. The school contained about 120 boys; but I cannot name any one of the lot who afterwards achieved distinction. There were three Macaulays there, nephews of the historian - Aulay, Kenneth, and Hector. But I have lost sight of all.
Temple Grove was a typical private school of that period. The type is familiar to everyone in its photograph as Dotheboys Hall. The progress of the last century in many directions is great indeed; but in few is it greater than in the comfort and the cleanliness of our modern schools. The luxury enjoyed by the present boy is a constant source of astonishment to us grandfathers. We were half starved, we were exceedingly dirty, we were systematically bullied, and we were flogged and caned as though the master's pleasure was in inverse ratio to ours. The inscription on the threshold should have been 'Cave canem.'
We began our day as at Dotheboys Hall with two large spoonfuls of sulphur and treacle. After an hour's lessons we breakfasted on one bowl of milk - 'Skyblue' we called it - and one hunch of buttered bread, unbuttered at discretion. Our dinner began with pudding - generally rice - to save the butcher's bill. Then mutton - which was quite capable of taking care of itself. Our only other meal was a basin of 'Skyblue' and bread as before.
As to cleanliness, I never had a bath, never bathed (at the school) during the two years I was there. On Saturday nights, before bed, our feet were washed by the housemaids, in tubs round which half a dozen of us sat at a time. Woe to the last comers! for the water was never changed. How we survived the food, or rather the want of it, is a marvel. Fortunately for me, I used to discover, when I got into bed, a thickly buttered crust under my pillow. I believed, I never quite made sure, (for the act was not admissible), that my good fairy was a fiery-haired lassie (we called her 'Carrots,' though I had my doubts as to this being her Christian name) who hailed from Norfolk. I see her now: her jolly, round, shining face, her extensive mouth, her ample person. I recall, with more pleasure than I then endured, the cordial hugs she surreptitiously bestowed upon me when we met by accident in the passages. Kind, affectionate 'Carrots'! Thy heart was as bounteous as thy bosom. May the tenderness of both have met with their earthly deserts; and mayest thou have shared to the full the pleasures thou wast ever ready to impart!
There were no railways in those times. It amuses me to see people nowadays travelling by coach, for pleasure. How many lives must have been shortened by long winter journeys in those horrible coaches. The inside passengers were hardly better off than the outside. The corpulent and heavy occupied the scanty space allotted to the weak and small - crushed them, slept on them, snored over them, and monopolised the straw which was supposed to keep their feet warm.
A pachydermatous old lady would insist upon an open window. A wheezy consumptive invalid would insist on a closed one. Everybody's legs were in their own, and in every other body's, way. So that when the distance was great and time precious, people avoided coaching, and remained where they were.
For this reason, if a short holiday was given - less than a week say - Norfolk was too far off; and I was not permitted to spend it at Holkham. I generally went to Charles Fox's at Addison Road, or to Holland House. Lord Holland was a great friend of my father's; but, if Creevey is to be trusted - which, as a rule, my recollection of him would permit me to doubt, though perhaps not in this instance - Lord Holland did not go to Holkham because of my father's dislike to Lady Holland.
I speak here of my introduction to Holland House, for although Lady Holland was then in the zenith of her ascendency, (it was she who was the Cabinet Minister, not her too amiable husband,) although Holland House was then the resort of all the potentates of Whig statecraft, and Whig literature, and Whig wit, in the persons of Lord Grey, Brougham, Jeffrey, Macaulay, Sydney Smith, and others, it was not till eight or ten years later that I knew, when I met them there, who and what her Ladyship's brilliant satellites were. I shall not return to Lady Holland, so I will say a parting word of her forthwith.
The woman who corresponded with Buonaparte, and consoled the prisoner of St. Helena with black currant jam, was no ordinary personage. Most people, I fancy, were afraid of her. Her stature, her voice, her beard, were obtrusive marks of her masculine attributes. It is questionable whether her amity or her enmity was most to be dreaded. She liked those best whom she could most easily tyrannise over. Those in the other category might possibly keep aloof. For my part I feared her patronage. I remember when I was about seventeen - a self-conscious hobbledehoy - Mr. Ellice took me to one of her large receptions. She received her guests from a sort of elevated dais. When I came up - very shy - to make my salute, she asked me how old I was. 'Seventeen,' was the answer. 'That means next birthday,' she grunted. 'Come and give me a kiss, my dear.' I, a man! - a man whose voice was (sometimes) as gruff as hers! - a man who was beginning to shave for a moustache! Oh! the indignity of it!
But it was not Lady Holland, or her court, that concerned me in my school days, it was Holland Park, or the extensive grounds about Charles Fox's house (there were no other houses at Addison Road then), that I loved to roam in. It was the birds'-nesting; it was the golden carp I used to fish for on the sly with a pin; the shying at the swans, the hunt for cockchafers, the freedom of mischief generally, and the excellent food - which I was so much in need of - that made the holiday delightful.
Some years later, when dining at Holland House, I happened to sit near the hostess. It was a large dinner party. Lord Holland, in his bath-chair (he nearly always had the gout), sat at the far end of the table a long way off. But my lady kept an eye on him, for she had caught him drinking champagne. She beckoned to the groom of the chambers, who stood behind her; and in a gruff and angry voice shouted: 'Go to my Lord. Take away his wine, and tell him if he drinks any more you have my orders to wheel him into the next room.' If this was a joke it was certainly a practical one. And yet affection was behind it. There's a tender place in every heart.
Like all despots, she was subject to fits of cowardice - especially, it was said, with regard to a future state, which she professed to disbelieve in. Mr. Ellice told me that once, in some country house, while a fearful storm was raging, and the claps of thunder made the windows rattle, Lady Holland was so terrified that she changed dresses with her maid, and hid herself in the cellar. Whether the story be a calumny or not, it is at least characteristic.
After all, it was mainly due to her that Holland House became the focus of all that was brilliant in Europe. In the memoirs of her father - Sydney Smith - Mrs. Austin writes: 'The world has rarely seen, and will rarely, if ever, see again all that was to be found within the walls of Holland House. Genius and merit, in whatever rank of life, became a passport there; and all that was choicest and rarest in Europe seemed attracted to that spot as their natural soil.'
Did we learn much at Temple Grove? Let others answer for themselves. Acquaintance with the classics was the staple of a liberal education in those times. Temple Grove was the ATRIUM to Eton, and gerund-grinding was its RAISON D'ETRE. Before I was nine years old I daresay I could repeat - parrot, that is - several hundreds of lines of the AEneid. This, and some elementary arithmetic, geography, and drawing, which last I took to kindly, were dearly paid for by many tears, and by temporarily impaired health. It was due to my pallid cheeks that I was removed. It was due to the following six months - summer months - of a happy life that my health was completely restored.
MR. EDWARD ELLICE, who constantly figures in the memoirs of the last century as 'Bear Ellice' (an outrageous misnomer, by the way), and who later on married my mother, was the chief controller of my youthful destiny. His first wife was a sister of the Lord Grey of Reform Bill fame, in whose Government he filled the office of War Minister. In many respects Mr. Ellice was a notable man. He possessed shrewd intelligence, much force of character, and an autocratic spirit - to which he owed his sobriquet. His kindness of heart, his powers of conversation, with striking personality and ample wealth, combined to make him popular. His house in Arlington Street, and his shooting lodge at Glen Quoich, were famous for the number of eminent men who were his frequent guests.
Mr. Ellice's position as a minister, and his habitual residence in Paris, had brought him in touch with the leading statesmen of France. He was intimately acquainted with Louis Philippe, with Talleyrand, with Guizot, with Thiers, and most of the French men and French women whose names were bruited in the early part of the nineteenth century.
When I was taken from Temple Grove, I was placed, by the advice and arrangement of Mr. Ellice, under the charge of a French family, which had fallen into decay - through the change of dynasty. The Marquis de Coubrier had been Master of the Horse to Charles X. His widow - an old lady between seventy and eighty - with three maiden daughters, all advanced in years, lived upon the remnant of their estates in a small village called Larue, close to Bourg-la-Reine, which, it may be remembered, was occupied by the Prussians during the siege of Paris. There was a chateau, the former seat of the family; and, adjoining it, in the same grounds, a pretty and commodious cottage. The first was let as a country house to some wealthy Parisians; the cottage was occupied by the Marquise and her three daughters.
The personal appearances of each of these four elderly ladies, their distinct idiosyncrasies, and their former high position as members of a now moribund nobility, left a lasting impression on my memory. One might expect, perhaps, from such a prelude, to find in the old Marquise traces of stately demeanour, or a regretted superiority. Nothing of the kind. She herself was a short, square-built woman, with large head and strong features, framed in a mob cap, with a broad frill which flopped over her tortoise-shell spectacles. She wore a black bombazine gown, and list slippers. When in the garden, where she was always busy in the summer-time, she put on wooden sabots over her slippers.
Despite this homely exterior, she herself was a 'lady' in every sense of the word. Her manner was dignified and courteous to everyone. To her daughters and to myself she was gentle and affectionate. Her voice was sympathetic, almost musical. I never saw her temper ruffled. I never heard her allude to her antecedents.
The daughters were as unlike their mother as they were to one another. Adele, the eldest, was very stout, with a profusion of grey ringlets. She spoke English fluently. I gathered, from her mysterious nods and tosses of the head, (to be sure, her head wagged a little of its own accord, the ringlets too, like lambs' tails,) that she had had an AFFAIRE DE COEUR with an Englishman, and that the perfidious islander had removed from the Continent with her misplaced affections. She was a trifle bitter, I thought - for I applied her insinuations to myself - against Englishmen generally. But, though cynical in theory, she was perfectly amiable in practice. She superintended the menage and spent the rest of her life in making paper flowers. I should hardly have known they were flowers, never having seen their prototypes in nature. She assured me, however, that they were beautiful copies - undoubtedly she believed them to be so.
Henriette, the youngest, had been the beauty of the family. This I had to take her own word for, since here again there was much room for imagination and faith. She was a confirmed invalid, and, poor thing! showed every symptom of it. She rarely left her room except for meals; and although it was summer when I was there, she never moved without her chauffrette. She seemed to live for the sake of patent medicines and her chauffrette; she was always swallowing the one, and feeding the other.
The middle daughter was Aglae. Mademoiselle Aglae took charge - I may say, possession - of me. She was tall, gaunt, and bony, with a sharp aquiline nose, pomegranate cheek- bones, and large saffron teeth ever much in evidence. Her speciality, as I soon discovered, was sentiment. Like her sisters, she had had her 'affaires' in the plural. A Greek prince, so far as I could make out, was the last of her adorers. But I sometimes got into scrapes by mixing up the Greek prince with a Polish count, and then confounding either one or both with a Hungarian pianoforte player.
Without formulating my deductions, I came instinctively to the conclusion that 'En fait d'amour,' as Figaro puts it, 'trop n'est pas meme assez.' From Miss Aglae's point of view a lover was a lover. As to the superiority of one over another, this was - nay, is - purely subjective. 'We receive but what we give.' And, from what Mademoiselle then told me, I cannot but infer that she had given without stint.
Be that as it may, nothing could be more kind than her care of me. She tucked me up at night, and used to send for me in the morning before she rose, to partake of her CAFE-AU-LAIT. In return for her indulgences, I would 'make eyes' such as I had seen Auguste, the young man-servant, cast at Rose the cook. I would present her with little scraps which I copied in roundhand from a volume of French poems. Once I drew, and coloured with red ink, two hearts pierced with an arrow, a copious pool of red ink beneath, emblematic of both the quality and quantity of my passion. This work of art produced so deep a sigh that I abstained thenceforth from repeating such sanguinary endearments.
Not the least interesting part of the family was the servants. I say 'family,' for a French family, unlike an English one, includes its domestics; wherein our neighbours have the advantage over us. In the British establishment the household is but too often thought of and treated as furniture. I was as fond of Rose the cook and maid-of-all- work as I was of anyone in the house. She showed me how to peel potatoes, break eggs, and make POT-AU-FEU. She made me little delicacies in pastry - swans with split almonds for wings, comic little pigs with cloves in their eyes - for all of which my affection and my liver duly acknowledged receipt in full. She taught me more provincial pronunciation and bad grammar than ever I could unlearn. She was very intelligent, and radiant with good humour. One peculiarity especially took my fancy - the yellow bandana in which she enveloped her head. I was always wondering whether she was born without hair - there was none to be seen. This puzzled me so that one day I consulted Auguste, who was my chief companion. He was quite indignant, and declared with warmth that Mam'selle Rose had the most beautiful hair he had ever beheld. He flushed even with enthusiasm. If it hadn't been for his manner, I should have asked him how he knew. But somehow I felt the subject was a delicate one.
How incessantly they worked, Auguste and Rose, and how cheerfully they worked! One could hear her singing, and him whistling, at it all day. Yet they seemed to have abundant leisure to exchange a deal of pleasantry and harmless banter. Auguste was a Swiss, and a bigoted Protestant, and never lost an opportunity of holding forth on the superiority of the reformed religion. If he thought the family were out of hearing, he would grow very animated and declamatory. But Rose, who also had hopes, though perhaps faint, for my salvation, would suddenly rush into the room with the carpet broom, and drive him out, with threats of Miss Aglae, and the broomstick.
The gardener, Monsieur Benoit, was also a great favourite of mine, and I of his, for I was never tired of listening to his wonderful adventures. He had, so he informed me, been a soldier in the GRANDE ARMEE. He enthralled me with hair- raising accounts of his exploits: how, when leading a storming party - he was always the leader - one dark and terrible night, the vivid and incessant lightning betrayed them by the flashing of their bayonets; and how in a few minutes they were mowed down by MITRAILLE. He had led forlorn hopes, and performed deeds of astounding prowess. How many Life-guardsmen he had annihilated: 'Ah! ben oui!' he was afraid to say. He had been personally noticed by 'Le p'tit caporal.' There were many, whose deeds were not to compare with his, who had been made princes and mareschals. PARBLEU! but his luck was bad. 'Pas d'chance! pas d'chance! Mo'sieu Henri.' As Monsieur Benoit recorded his feats, and witnessed my unbounded admiration, his voice would grow more and more sepulchral, till it dropped to a hoarse and scarcely audible whisper.
I was a little bewildered one day when, having breathlessly repeated some of his heroic deeds to the Marquise, she with a quiet smile assured me that 'ce petit bon-homme,' as she called him, had for a short time been a drummer in the National Guard, but had never been a soldier. This was a blow to me; moreover, I was troubled by the composure of the Marquise. Monsieur Benoit had actually been telling me what was not true. Was it, then, possible that grown-up people acquired the privilege of fibbing with impunity? I wondered whether this right would eventually become mine!
At Bourg-la-Reine there is, or was, a large school. Three days in the week I had to join one of the classes there; on the other three one of the ushers came up to Larue for a couple of hours of private tuition. At the school itself I did not learn very much, except that boys everywhere are pretty similar, especially in the badness of their manners. I also learnt that shrugging the shoulders while exhibiting the palms of the hands, and smiting oneself vehemently on the chest, are indispensable elements of the French idiom. The indiscriminate use of the word 'parfaitement' I also noticed to be essential when at a loss for either language or ideas, and have made valuable use of it ever since.
Monsieur Vincent, my tutor, was a most good-natured and patient teacher. I incline, however, to think that I taught him more English than he taught me French. He certainly worked hard at his lessons. He read English aloud to me, and made me correct his pronunciation. The mental agony this caused me makes me hot to think of still. I had never heard his kind of Franco-English before. To my ignorance it was the most comic language in the world. There were some words which, in spite of my endeavours, he persisted in pronouncing in his own way. I have since got quite used to the most of them, and their only effect is to remind me of my own rash ventures in a foreign tongue. There are one or two words which recall the pain it gave me to control my emotions. He would produce his penknife, for instance; and, contemplating it with a despondent air, would declare it to be the most difficult word in the English language to pronounce. 'Ow you say 'im?' 'Penknife,' I explained. He would bid me write it down; then having spelt it, he would, with much effort, and a sound like sneezing - oh! the pain I endured! - slowly repeat 'Penkneef.' I gave it up at last; and he was gratified with his success. As my explosion generally occurred about five minutes afterwards, Monsieur Vincent failed to connect cause and effect. When we parted he gave me a neatly bound copy of La Bruyere as a prize - for his own proficiency, I presume. Many a pleasant half-hour have I since spent with the witty classic.
Except the controversial harangues of the zealot Auguste, my religious teaching was neglected on week days. On Sundays, if fine, I was taken to a Protestant church in Paris; not infrequently to the Embassy. I did not enjoy this at all. I could have done very well without it. I liked the drive, which took about an hour each way. Occasionally Aglae and I went in the Bourg-la-Reine coucou. But Mr. Ellice had arranged that a carriage should be hired for me. Probably he was not unmindful of the convenience of the old ladies. They were not. The carriage was always filled. Even Mademoiselle Henriette managed to go sometimes - aided by a little patent medicine, and when it was too hot for the chauffrette. If she was unable, a friend in the neighbourhood was offered a seat; and I had to sit bodkin, or on Mademoiselle Aglae's lap. I hated the 'friend'; for, secretly, I felt the carriage was mine, though of course I never had the bad taste to say so.
They went to Mass, and I was allowed to go with them, in addition to my church, as a special favour. I liked the music, the display of candles, the smell of the incense, and the dresses of the priests; and wondered whether when undressed - unrobed, that is - they were funny old gentlemen like Monsieur le Cure at Larue, and took such a prodigious quantity of snuff up their noses and under their finger- nails. The ladies did a good deal of shopping, and we finished off at the Flower Market by the Madeleine, where I, through the agency of Mademoiselle Aglae, bought plants for 'Maman.' This gave 'Maman' UN PLAISIR INOUI, and me too; for the dear old lady always presented me with a stick of barley- sugar in return. As I never possessed a sou (Miss Aglae kept account of all my expenses and disbursements) I was strongly in favour of buying plants for 'Maman.'
I loved the garden. It was such a beautiful garden; so beautifully kept by Monsieur Benoit, and withered old Mere Michele, who did the weeding and helped Rose once a week in the laundry. There were such pretty trellises, covered with roses and clematis; such masses of bright flowers and sweet mignonette; such tidy gravel walks and clipped box edges; such floods of sunshine; so many butterflies and lizards basking in it; the birds singing with excess of joy. I used to fancy they sang in gratitude to the dear old Marquise, who never forgot them in the winter snows.
What a quaint but charming picture she was amidst this quietude, - she who had lived through the Reign of Terror: her mob cap, garden apron, and big gloves; a trowel in one hand, a watering-pot in the other; potting and unpotting; so busy, seemingly so happy. She loved to have me with her, and let me do the watering. What a pleasure that was! The scores of little jets from the perforated rose, the gushing sound, the freshness and the sparkle, the gratitude of the plants, to say nothing of one's own wet legs. 'Maman' did not approve of my watering my own legs. But if the watering- pot was too big for me how could I help it? By and by a small one painted red within and green outside was discovered in Bourg-la-Reine, and I was happy ever afterwards.
Much of my time was spent with the children and nurses of the family which occupied the chateau. The costume of the head nurse with her high Normandy cap (would that I had a female pen for details) invariably suggested to me that she would make any English showman's fortune, if he could only exhibit her stuffed. At the cottage they called her 'La Grosse Normande.' Not knowing her by any other name, I always so addressed her. She was not very quick-witted, but I think she a little resented my familiarity, and retaliated by comparisons between her compatriots and mine, always in a tone derogatory to the latter. She informed me as a matter of history, patent to all nurses, that the English race were notoriously bow-legged; and that this was due to the vicious practice of allowing children to use their legs before the gristle had become bone. Being of an inquiring turn of mind, I listened with awe to this physiological revelation, and with chastened and depressed spirits made a mental note of our national calamity. Privately I fancied that the mottled and spasmodic legs of Achille - whom she carried in her arms - or at least so much of the infant Pelides' legs as were not enveloped in a napkin, gave every promise of refuting her generalisation.
One of my amusements was to set brick traps for small birds. At Holkham in the winter time, by baiting with a few grains of corn, I and my brothers used, in this way, to capture robins, hedge-sparrows, and tits. Not far from the chateau was a large osier bed, resorted to by flocks of the common sparrow. Here I set my traps. But it being summer time, and (as I complained when twitted with want of success) French birds being too stupid to know what the traps were for, I never caught a feather. Now this osier bed was a favourite game covert for the sportsmen of the chateau; and what was my delight and astonishment when one morning I found a dead hare with its head under the fallen brick of my trap. How triumphantly I dragged it home, and showed it to Rose and Auguste, - who more than the rest had 'mocked themselves' of my traps, and then carried it in my arms, all bloody as it was (I could not make out how both its hind legs were broken) into the salon to show it to the old Marquise. Mademoiselle Henriette, who was there, gave a little scream (for effect) at sight of the blood. Everybody was pleased. But when I overheard Rose's SOTTO VOCE to the Marquise: 'Comme ils sont gentils!' I indignantly retorted that 'it wasn't kind of the hare at all: it was entirely due to my skill in setting the traps. They would catch anything that put its head into them. Just you try.'
How severe are the shocks of early disillusionment! It was not until long after the hare was skinned, roasted, served as CIVET and as PUREE that I discovered the truth. I was not at all grateful to the gentlemen of the chateau whose dupe I had been; was even wrath with my dear old 'Maman' for treating them with extra courtesy for their kindness to her PETIT CHERI.
That was a happy summer. After it was ended, and it was time for me to return to England and begin my education for the Navy I never again set eyes on Larue, or that charming nest of old ladies who had done their utmost to spoil me. Many and many a time have I been to Paris, but nothing could tempt me to visit Larue. So it is with me. Often have I questioned the truth of the NESSUN MAGGIOR DOLORE than the memory of happy times in the midst of sorry ones. The thought of happiness, it would seem, should surely make us happier, and yet - not of happiness for ever lost. And are not the deepening shades of our declining sun deepened by youth's contrast? Whatever our sweetest songs may tell us of, we are the sadder for our sweetest memories. The grass can never be as green again to eyes grown watery. The lambs that skipped when we did were long since served as mutton. And if
Die Fusse tragen mich so muthig nicht empor Die hohen Stufen die ich kindisch ubersprang,
why, I will take the fact for granted. My youth is fled, my friends are dead. The daisies and the snows whiten by turns the grave of him or her - the dearest I have loved. Shall I make a pilgrimage to that sepulchre? Drop futile tears upon it? Will they warm what is no more? I for one have not the heart for that. Happily life has something else for us to do. Happily 'tis best to do it.
THE passage from the romantic to the realistic, from the chimerical to the actual, from the child's poetic interpretation of life to life's practical version of itself, is too gradual to be noticed while the process is going on. It is only in the retrospect we see the change. There is still, for yet another stage, the same and even greater receptivity, - delight in new experiences, in gratified curiosity, in sensuous enjoyment, in the exercise of growing faculties. But the belief in the impossible and the bliss of ignorance are seen, when looking back, to have assumed almost abruptly a cruder state of maturer dulness. Between the public schoolboy and the child there is an essential difference; and this in a boy's case is largely due, I fancy, to the diminished influence of woman, and the increased influence of men.
With me, certainly, the rough usage I was ere long to undergo materially modified my view of things in general. In 1838, when I was eleven years old, my uncle, Henry Keppel, the future Admiral of the Fleet, but then a dashing young commander, took me (as he mentions in his Autobiography) to the Naval Academy at Gosport. The very afternoon of my admittance - as an illustration of the above remarks - I had three fights with three different boys. After that the 'new boy' was left to his own devices, - QUA 'new boy,' that is; as an ordinary small boy, I had my share. I have spoken of the starvation at Dr. Pinkney's; here it was the terrible bullying that left its impress on me - literally its mark, for I still bear the scar upon my hand.
Most boys, I presume, know the toy called a whirligig, made by stringing a button on a loop of thread, the twisting and untwisting of which by approaching and separating the hands causes the button to revolve. Upon this design, and by substituting a jagged disk of slate for the button, the senior 'Bull-dogs' (we were all called 'Burney's bull-dogs') constructed a very simple instrument of torture. One big boy spun the whirligig, while another held the small boy's palm till the sharp slate-edge gashed it. The wound was severe. For many years a long white cicatrice recorded the fact in my right hand. The ordeal was, I fancy, unique - a prerogative of the naval 'bull-dogs.' The other torture was, in those days, not unknown to public schools. It was to hold a boy's back and breech as near to a hot fire as his clothes would bear without burning. I have an indistinct recollection of a boy at one of our largest public schools being thus exposed, and left tied to chairs while his companions were at church. When church was over the boy was found - roasted.
By the advice of a chum I submitted to the scorching without a howl, and thus obtained immunity, and admission to the roasting guild for the future. What, however, served me best, in all matters of this kind, was that as soon as I was twelve years old my name was entered on the books of the 'Britannia,' then flag-ship in Portsmouth Harbour, and though I remained at the Academy, I always wore the uniform of a volunteer of the first class, now called a naval cadet. The uniform was respected, and the wearer shared the benefit.
During the winter of 1839-40 I joined H.M.S. 'Blonde,' a 46- gun frigate commanded by Captain Bouchier, afterwards Sir Thomas, whose portrait is now in the National Portrait Gallery. He had seen much service, and had been flag-captain to Nelson's Hardy. In the middle of that winter we sailed for China, where troubles had arisen anent the opium trade.
What would the cadet of the present day think of the treatment we small boys had to put up with sixty or seventy years ago? Promotion depended almost entirely on interest. The service was entered at twelve or thirteen. After two years at sea, if the boy passed his examination, he mounted the white patch, and became a midshipman. At the end of four years more he had to pass a double examination, - one for seamanship before a board of captains, and another for navigation at the Naval College. He then became a master's mate, and had to serve for three years as such before he was eligible for promotion to a lieutenancy. Unless an officer had family interest he often stuck there, and as often had to serve under one more favoured, who was not born when he himself was getting stale.
Naturally enough these old hands were jealous of the fortunate youngsters, and, unless exceptionally amiable, would show them little mercy.
We left Portsmouth in December 1839. It was bitter winter. The day we sailed, such was the severity of the gale and snowstorm, that we had to put back and anchor at St. Helens in the Isle of Wight. The next night we were at sea. It happened to be my middle watch. I had to turn out of my hammock at twelve to walk the deck till four in the morning. Walk! I could not stand. Blinded with snow, drenched by the seas, frozen with cold, home sick and sea sick beyond description, my opinion of the Royal Navy - as a profession - was, in the course of these four hours, seriously subverted. Long before the watch ended. I was reeling about more asleep than awake; every now and then brought to my senses by breaking my shins against the carronade slides; or, if I sat down upon one of them to rest, by a playful whack with a rope's end from one of the crusty old mates aforesaid, who perhaps anticipated in my poor little personality the arrogance of a possible commanding officer. Oh! those cruel night watches! But the hard training must have been a useful tonic too. One got accustomed to it by degrees; and hence, indifferent to exposure, to bad food, to kicks and cuffs, to calls of duty, to subordination, and to all that constitutes discipline.
Luckily for me, the midshipman of my watch, Jack Johnson, was a trump, and a smart officer to boot. He was six years older than I, and, though thoroughly good-natured, was formidable enough from his strength and determination to have his will respected. He became my patron and protector. Rightly, or wrongly I am afraid, he always took my part, made excuses for me to the officer of our watch if I were caught napping under the half-deck, or otherwise neglecting my duty. Sometimes he would even take the blame for this upon himself, and give me a 'wigging' in private, which was my severest punishment. He taught me the ropes, and explained the elements of seamanship. If it was very cold at night he would make me wear his own comforter, and, in short, took care of me in every possible way. Poor Jack! I never had a better friend; and I loved him then, God knows. He was one of those whose advancement depended on himself. I doubt whether he would ever have been promoted but for an accident which I shall speak of presently.
When we got into warm latitudes we were taught not only to knot and splice, but to take in and set the mizzen royal. There were four of us boys, and in all weathers at last we were practised aloft until we were as active and as smart as any of the ship's lads, even in dirty weather or in sudden squalls.
We had a capital naval instructor for lessons in navigation, and the quartermaster of the watch taught us how to handle the wheel and con.
These quartermasters - there was one to each of the three watches - were picked men who had been captains of tops or boatswains' mates. They were much older than any of the crew. Our three in the 'Blonde' had all seen service in the French and Spanish wars. One, a tall, handsome old fellow, had been a smuggler; and many a fight with, or narrow escape from, the coast-guard he had to tell of. The other two had been badly wounded. Old Jimmy Bartlett of my watch had a hole in his chest half an inch deep from a boarding pike. He had also lost a finger, and a bullet had passed through his cheek. One of his fights was in the 'Amethyst' frigate when, under Sir Michael Seymour, she captured the 'Niemen' in 1809. Often in the calm tropical nights, when the helm could take care of itself almost, he would spin me a yarn about hot actions, cutting-outs, press-gangings, and perils which he had gone through, or - what was all one to me - had invented.
From England to China round the Cape was a long voyage before there was a steamer in the Navy. It is impossible to describe the charm of one's first acquaintance with tropical vegetation after the tedious monotony unbroken by any event but an occasional flogging or a man overboard. The islands seemed afloat in an atmosphere of blue; their jungles rooting in the water's edge. The strange birds in the daytime, the flocks of parrots, the din of every kind of life, the flying foxes at night, the fragrant and spicy odours, captivate the senses. How delicious, too, the fresh fruits brought off by the Malays in their scooped-out logs, one's first taste of bananas, juicy shaddocks, mangoes, and custard apples - after months of salt junk, disgusting salt pork, and biscuit all dust and weevils. The water is so crystal-clear it seems as though one could lay one's hands on strange coloured fish and coral beds at any depth. This, indeed, was 'kissing the lips of unexpected change.' It was a first kiss moreover. The tropics now have ceased to remind me even of this spell of novelty and wonder.
THE first time I 'smelt powder' was at Amoy. The 'Blonde' carried out Lord Palmerston's letter to the Chinese Government. Never was there a more iniquitous war than England then provoked with China to force upon her the opium trade with India in spite of the harm which the Chinese authorities believed that opium did to their people.
Even Macaulay advocated this shameful imposition. China had to submit, and pay into the bargain four and a half millions sterling to prove themselves in the wrong. Part of this went as prize money. My share of it - the DOUCEUR for a middy's participation in the crime - was exactly 100L.
To return to Amoy. When off the mouth of the Canton river we had taken on board an interpreter named Thom. What our instructions were I know not; I can only tell what happened. Our entry into Amoy harbour caused an immediate commotion on land. As soon as we dropped anchor, about half a mile from the shore, a number of troops, with eight or ten field- pieces, took up their position on the beach, evidently resolved to prevent our landing. We hoisted a flag of truce, at the same time cleared the decks for action, and dropped a kedge astern so as to moor the ship broadside to the forts and invested shore. The officer of my watch, the late Sir Frederick Nicholson, together with the interpreter, were ordered to land and communicate with the chief mandarin. To carry out this as inoffensively as possible, Nicholson took the jolly-boat, manned by four lads only. As it was my watch, I had charge of the boat. A napkin or towel served for a flag of truce. But long before we reached the shore, several mandarins came down to the water's edge waving their swords and shouting angrily to warn us off. Mr. Thom, who understood what they said, was frightened out of his wits, assuring us we should all be sawed in half if we attempted to land. Sir Frederick was not the man to disobey orders even on such a penalty; he, however, took the precaution - a very wise one as it happened - to reverse the boat, and back her in stern foremost.
No sooner did the keel grate on the shingle than a score of soldiers rushed down to seize us. Before they could do so we had shoved off. The shore was very steep. In a moment we were in deep water, and our lads pulling for dear life. Then came a storm of bullets from matchlocks and jingals and the bigger guns, fortunately just too high to hit us. One bullet only struck the back-board, but did no harm. What, however, seemed a greater danger was the fire from the ship. Ere we were halfway back broadside after broadside was fired over our heads into the poor devils massed along the beach. This was kept up until not a living Chinaman was to be seen.
I may mention here a curious instance of cowardice. One of our men, a ship's painter, soon after the firing began and was returned by the fort's guns, which in truth were quite harmless, jumped overboard and drowned himself. I have seen men's courage tried under fire, and in many other ways since; yet I have never known but one case similar to this, when a friend of my own, a rich and prosperous man, shot himself to avoid death! So that there are men like 'Monsieur Grenouille, qui se cachait dans l'eau pour eviter la pluie.' Often have I seen timid and nervous men, who were thought to be cowards, get so excited in action that their timidity has turned to rashness. In truth 'on est souvent ferme par faiblesse, et audacieux par timidite.'
Partly for this reason, and partly because I look upon it as a remnant of our predatory antecedents and of animal pugnacity, I have no extravagant admiration for mere combativeness or physical courage. Honoured and rewarded as one of the noblest of manly attributes, it is one of the commonest of qualities, - one which there is not a mammal, a bird, a fish, or an insect even, that does not share with us. Such is the esteem in which it is held, such the ignominy which punishes the want of it, that the most cautious and the most timid by nature will rather face the uncertain risks of a fight than the certain infamy of imputed cowardice.
Is it likely that courage should be rare under such circumstances, especially amongst professional fighters, who in England at least have chosen their trade? That there are poltroons, and plenty of them, amongst our soldiers and sailors, I do not dispute. But with the fear of shame on one hand, the hope of reward on the other, the merest dastard will fight like a wild beast, when his blood is up. The extraordinary merit of his conduct is not so obvious to the peaceful thinker. I speak not of such heroism as that of the Japanese, - their deeds will henceforth be bracketed with those of Leonidas and his three hundred, who died for a like cause. With the Japanese, as it was with the Spartans, every man is a patriot; nor is the proportionate force of their barbaric invaders altogether dissimilar.
Is then the Victoria Cross an error? To say so would be an outrage in this age of militarism. And what would all the Queens of Beauty think, from Sir Wilfred Ivanhoe's days to ours, if mighty warriors ceased to poke each other in the ribs, and send one another's souls untimely to the 'viewless shades,' for the sake of their 'doux yeux?' Ah! who knows how many a mutilation, how many a life, has been the price of that requital? Ye gentle creatures who swoon at the sight of blood, is it not the hero who lets most of it that finds most favour in your eyes? Possibly it may be to the heroes of moral courage that some distant age will award its choicest decorations. As it is, the courage that seeks the rewards of Fame seems to me about on a par with the virtue that invests in Heaven.
Though an anachronism as regards this stage of my career, I cannot resist a little episode which pleasantly illustrates moral courage, or chivalry at least, combined with physical bravery.
In December, 1899, I was a passenger on board a Norddeutscher Lloyd on my way to Ceylon. The steamer was crowded with Germans; there were comparatively few English. Things had been going very badly with us in the Transvaal, and the telegrams both at Port Said and at Suez supplemented the previous ill-news. At the latter place we heard of the catastrophe at Magersfontein, of poor Wauchope's death, and of the disaster to the Highland Light Infantry. The moment it became known the Germans threw their caps into the air, and yelled as if it were they who had defeated us.
Amongst the steerage passengers was a Major - in the English army - returning from leave to rejoin his regiment at Colombo. If one might judge by his choice of a second-class fare, and by his much worn apparel, he was what one would call a professional soldier. He was a tall, powerfully- built, handsome man, with a weather-beaten determined face, and keen eye. I was so taken with his looks that I often went to the fore part of the ship on the chance of getting a word with him. But he was either shy or proud, certainly reserved; and always addressed me as 'Sir,' which was not encouraging.
That same evening, after dinner in the steerage cabin, a German got up and, beginning with some offensive allusions to the British army, proposed the health of General Cronje and the heroic Boers. This was received with deafening 'Hochs.' To cap the enthusiasm up jumped another German, and proposed 'ungluck - bad luck to all Englanders and to their Queen.' This also was cordially toasted. When the ceremony was ended and silence restored, my reserved friend calmly rose, tapped the table with the handle of his knife (another steerage passenger - an Australian - told me what happened), took his watch from his pocket, and slowly said: 'It is just six minutes to eight. If the person who proposed the last toast has not made a satisfactory apology to me before the hand of my watch points to the hour, I will thrash him till he does. I am an officer in the English army, and always keep my word.' A small band of Australians was in the cabin. One and all of them applauded this laconic speech. It was probably due in part to these that the offender did not wait till the six minutes had expired.
Next day I congratulated my reserved friend. He was reticent as usual. All I could get out of him was, 'I never allow a lady to be insulted in my presence, sir.' It was his Queen, not his cloth, that had roused the virility in this quiet man.
Let us turn to another aspect of the deeds of war. About daylight on the morning following our bombardment, it being my morning watch, I was ordered to take the surgeon and assistant surgeon ashore. There were many corpses, but no living or wounded to be seen. One object only dwells visually in my memory.
At least a quarter of a mile from the dead soldiers, a stray shell had killed a grey-bearded old man and a young woman. They were side by side. The woman was still in her teens and pretty. She lay upon her back. Blood was oozing from her side. A swarm of flies were buzzing in and out of her open mouth. Her little deformed feet, cased in the high-heeled and embroidered tiny shoes, extended far beyond her petticoats. It was these feet that interested the men of science. They are now, I believe, in a jar of spirits at Haslar hospital. At least, my friend the assistant surgeon told me, as we returned to the ship, that that was their ultimate destination. The mutilated body, as I turned from it with sickening horror, left a picture on my youthful mind not easily to be effaced.
After this we joined the rest of the squadron: the 'Melville' (a three-decker, Sir W. Parker's flagship), the 'Blenheim,' the 'Druid,' the 'Calliope,' and several 18-gun brigs. We took Hong Kong, Chusan, Ningpo, Canton, and returned to take Amoy. One or two incidents only in the several engagements seem worth recording.
We have all of us supped full with horrors this last year or so, and I have no thought of adding to the surfeit. But sometimes common accidents appear exceptional, if they befall ourselves, or those with whom we are intimate. If the sufferer has any special identity, we speculate on his peculiar way of bearing his misfortune; and are thus led on to place ourselves in his position, and imagine ourselves the sufferers.
Major Daniel, the senior marine officer of the 'Blonde,' was a reserved and taciturn man. He was quiet and gentlemanlike, always very neat in his dress; rather severe, still kind to his men. His aloofness was in no wise due to lack of ideas, nor, I should say, to pride - unless, perhaps, it were the pride which some men feel in suppressing all emotion by habitual restraint of manner. Whether his SANGFROID was constitutional, or that nobler kind of courage which feels and masters timidity and the sense of danger, none could tell. Certain it is he was as calm and self-possessed in action as in repose. He was so courteous one fancied he would almost have apologised to his foe before he remorselessly ran him through.
On our second visit to Amoy, a year or more after the first, we met with a warmer reception. The place was much more strongly fortified, and the ship was several-times hulled. We were at very close quarters, as it is necessary to pass under high ground as the harbour is entered. Those who had the option, excepting our gallant old captain, naturally kept under shelter of the bulwarks and hammock nettings. Not so Major Daniel. He stood in the open gangway watching the effect of the shells, as though he were looking at a game of billiards. While thus occupied a round shot struck him full in the face, and simply left him headless.
Another accident, partly due to an ignorance of dynamics, happened at the taking of Canton. The whole of the naval brigade was commanded by Sir Thomas Bouchier. Our men were lying under the ridge of a hill protected from the guns on the city walls. Fully exposed to the fire, which was pretty hot, 'old Tommy' as we called him, paced to and fro with contemptuous indifference, stopping occasionally to spy the enemy with his long ship's telescope. A number of bluejackets, in reserve, were stationed about half a mile further off at the bottom of the protecting hill. They were completely screened from the fire by some buildings of the suburbs abutting upon the slope. Those in front were watching the cannon-balls which had struck the crest and were rolling as it were by mere force of gravitation down the hillside. Some jokes were made about football, when suddenly a smart and popular young officer - Fox, first lieutenant of one of the brigs - jumped out at one of these spent balls, which looked as though it might have been picked up by the hands, and gave it a kick. It took his foot off just above the ankle. There was no surgeon at hand, and he was bleeding to death before one could be found. Sir Thomas had come down the hill, and seeing the wounded officer on the ground with a group around him, said in passing, 'Well, Fox, this is a bad job, but it will make up the pair of epaulets, which is something.'
'Yes sir,' said the dying man feebly, 'but without a pair of legs.' Half an hour later he was dead.
I have spoken lightly of courage, as if, by implication, I myself possessed it. Let me make a confession. From my soul I pity the man who is or has been such a miserable coward as I was in my infancy, and up to this youthful period of my life. No fear of bullets or bayonets could ever equal mine. It was the fear of ghosts. As a child, I think that at times when shut up for punishment, in a dark cellar for instance, I must have nearly gone out of my mind with this appalling terror.
Once when we were lying just below Whampo, the captain took nearly every officer and nearly the whole ship's crew on a punitive expedition up the Canton river. They were away about a week. I was left behind, dangerously ill with fever and ague. In his absence, Sir Thomas had had me put into his cabin, where I lay quite alone day and night, seeing hardly anyone save the surgeon and the captain's steward, who was himself a shadow, pretty nigh. Never shall I forget my mental sufferings at night. In vain may one attempt to describe what one then goes through; only the victims know what that is. My ghost - the ghost of the Whampo Reach - the ghost of those sultry and miasmal nights, had no shape, no vaporous form; it was nothing but a presence, a vague amorphous dread. It may have floated with the swollen and putrid corpses which hourly came bobbing down the stream, but it never appeared; for there was nothing to appear. Still it might appear. I expected every instant through the night to see it in some inconceivable form. I expected it to touch me. It neither stalked upon the deck, nor hovered in the dark, nor moved, nor rested anywhere. And yet it was there about me, - where, I knew not. On every side I was threatened. I feared it most behind the head of my cot, because I could not see it if it were so.
This, it will be said, is the description of a nightmare. Exactly so. My agony of fright was a nightmare; but a nightmare when every sense was strained with wakefulness, when all the powers of imagination were concentrated to paralyse my shattered reason.
The experience here spoken of is so common in some form or other that we may well pause to consider it. What is the meaning of this fear of ghosts? - how do we come by it? It may be thought that its cradle is our own, that we are purposely frightened in early childhood to keep us calm and quiet. But I do not believe that nurses' stories would excite dread of the unknown if the unknown were not already known. The susceptibility to this particular terror is there before the terror is created. A little reflection will convince us that we must look far deeper for the solution of a mystery inseparable from another, which is of the last importance to all of us.
THE belief in phantoms, ghosts, or spirits, has frequently been discussed in connection with speculations on the origin of religion. According to Mr. Spencer ('Principles of Sociology') 'the first traceable conception of a supernatural being is the conception of a ghost.' Even Fetichism is 'an extension of the ghost theory.' The soul of the Fetich 'in common with supernatural agents at large, is originally the double of a dead man.' How do we get this notion - 'the double of a dead man?' Through dreams. In the Old Testament we are told: 'God came to' Abimelech, Laban, Solomon, and others 'in a dream'; also that 'the angel of the Lord' appeared to Joseph 'in a dream.' That is to say, these men dreamed that God came to them. So the savage, who dreams of his dead acquaintance, believes he has been visited by the dead man's spirit. This belief in ghosts is confirmed, Mr. Spencer argues, by other phenomena. The savage who faints from the effect of a wound sustained in fight looks just like the dead man beside him. The spirit of the wounded man returns after a long or short period of absence: why should the spirit of the other not do likewise? If reanimation follows comatose states, why should it not follow death? Insensibility is but an affair of time. All the modes of preserving the dead, in the remotest ages, evince the belief in casual separation of body and soul, and of their possible reunion.
Take another theory. Comte tells us there is a primary tendency in man 'to transfer the sense of his own nature, in the radical explanation of all phenomena whatever.' Writing in the same key, Schopenhauer calls man 'a metaphysical animal.' He is speaking of the need man feels of a theory, in regard to the riddle of existence, which forces itself upon his notice; 'a need arising from the consciousness that behind the physical in the world, there is a metaphysical something permanent as the foundation of constant change.' Though not here alluding to the ghost theory, this bears indirectly on the conception, as I shall proceed to show.
We need not entangle ourselves in the vexed question of innate ideas, nor inquire whether the principle of casuality is, as Kant supposed, like space and time, a form of intuition given A PRIORI. That every change has a cause must necessarily (without being thus formulated) be one of the initial beliefs of conscious beings far lower in the scale than man, whether derived solely from experience or otherwise. The reed that shakes is obviously shaken by the wind. But the riddle of the wind also forces itself into notice; and man explains this by transferring to the wind 'the sense of his own nature.' Thunderstorms, volcanic disturbances, ocean waves, running streams, the motions of the heavenly bodies, had to be accounted for as involving change. And the natural - the primitive - explanation was by reference to life, analogous, if not similar, to our own. Here then, it seems to me, we have the true origin of the belief in ghosts.
Take an illustration which supports this view. While sitting in my garden the other day a puff of wind blew a lady's parasol across the lawn. It rolled away close to a dog lying quietly in the sun. The dog looked at it for a moment, but seeing nothing to account for its movements, barked nervously, put its tail between its legs, and ran away, turning occasionally to watch and again bark, with every sign of fear.
This was animism. The dog must have accounted for the eccentric behaviour of the parasol by endowing it with an uncanny spirit. The horse that shies at inanimate objects by the roadside, and will sometimes dash itself against a tree or a wall, is actuated by a similar superstition. Is there any essential difference between this belief of the dog or horse and the belief of primitive man? I maintain that an intuitive animistic tendency (which Mr. Spencer repudiates), and not dreams, lies at the root of all spiritualism. Would Mr. Spencer have had us believe that the dog's fear of the rolling parasol was a logical deduction from its canine dreams? This would scarcely elucidate the problem. The dog and the horse share apparently Schopenhauer's metaphysical propensity with man.
The familiar aphorism of Statius: PRIMUS IN ORBE DEOS FECIT TIMOR, points to the relation of animism first to the belief in ghosts, thence to Polytheism, and ultimately to Monotheism. I must apologise to those of the transcendental school who, like Max Muller for instance (Introduction to the 'Science of Religion'), hold that we have 'a primitive intuition of God'; which, after all, the professor derives, like many others, from the 'yearning for something that neither sense nor reason can supply'; and from the assumption that 'there was in the heart of man from the very first a feeling of incompleteness, of weakness, of dependency, &c.' All this, I take it, is due to the aspirations of a much later creature than the 'Pithecanthropus erectus,' to whom we here refer.
Probably spirits and ghosts were originally of an evil kind. Sir John Lubbock ('The Origin of Civilisation') says: 'The baying of the dog to the moon is as much an act of worship as some ceremonies which have been so described by travellers.' I think he would admit that fear is the origin of the worship. In his essay on 'Superstition,' Hume writes: 'Weakness, fear, melancholy, together with ignorance, are the true sources of superstition.' Also 'in such a state of mind, infinite unknown evils are dreaded from unknown agents.'
Man's impotence to resist the forces of nature, and their terrible ability to injure him, would inspire a sense of terror; which in turn would give rise to the twofold notion of omnipotence and malignity. The savage of the present day lives in perpetual fear of evil spirits; and the superstitious dread, which I and most others have suffered, is inherited from our savage ancestry. How much further back we must seek it may be left to the sage philosophers of the future.
THE next winter we lay for a couple of months off Chinhai, which we had stormed, blockading the mouth of the Ningpo river. Here, I regret to think, I committed an act which has often haunted my conscience as a crime; although I had frequently promised the captain of a gun a glass of grog to let me have a shot, and was mightily pleased if death and destruction rewarded my aim.
Off Chinhai, lorchers and fast sailing junks laden with merchandise would try to run the blockade before daylight. And it sometimes happened that we youngsters had a long chase in a cutter to overhaul them. This meant getting back to a nine or ten o'clock breakfast at the end of the morning's watch; equivalent to five or six hours' duty on an empty stomach.
One cold morning I had a hard job to stop a small junk. The men were sweating at their oars like galley slaves, and muttering curses at the apparent futility of their labour. I had fired a couple of shots from a 'brown Bess' - the musket of the day - through the fugitive's sails; and fearing punishment if I let her escape, I next aimed at the boat herself. Down came the mainsail in a crack. When I boarded our capture, I found I had put a bullet through the thigh of the man at the tiller. Boys are not much troubled with scruples about bloodguiltiness, and not unfrequently are very cruel, for cruelty as a rule (with exceptions) mostly proceeds from thoughtlessness. But when I realised what I had done, and heard the wretched man groan, I was seized with remorse for what, at a more hardened stage, I should have excused on the score of duty.
It was during this blockade that the accident, which I have already alluded to, befell my dear protector, Jack Johnson.
One night, during his and my middle watch, the forecastle sentries hailed a large sampan, like a Thames barge, drifting down stream and threatening to foul us. Sir Frederick Nicholson, the officer of the watch, ordered Johnson to take the cutter and tow her clear.
I begged leave to go with him. Sir Frederick refused, for he at once suspected mischief. The sampan was reached and diverted just before she swung athwart our bows. But scarcely was this achieved, when an explosion took place. My friend was knocked over, and one or two of the men fell back into the cutter. This is what had happened: Johnson finding no one in the sampan, cautiously raised one of the deck hatches with a boat-hook before he left the cutter. The mine (for such it proved) was so arranged that examination of this kind drew a lighted match on to the magazine, which instantly exploded.
Poor Jack! what was my horror when we got him on board! Every trace of his handsome features was gone. He was alive, and that seemed to be all. In a few minutes his head and face swelled so that all was a round black charred ball. One could hardly see where the eyes were, buried beneath the powder-ingrained and incrusted flesh.
For weeks, at night, I used to sit on a chest near his hammock, listening for his slightest movement, too happy if he called me for something I could get him. In time he recovered, and was invalided home, and I lost my dear companion and protector. A couple of years afterwards I had the happiness to dine with him on board another ship in Portsmouth, no longer in the midshipman's berth, but in the wardroom.
Twice during this war, the 'Blonde' was caught in a typhoon. The first time was in waters now famous, but then unknown, the Gulf of Liau-tung, in full sight of China's great wall. We were twenty-four hours battened down, and under storm staysails. The 'Blenheim,' with Captain Elliott our plenipotentiary on board, was with us, and the one circumstance left in my memory is the sight of a line-of- battle ship rolling and pitching so that one caught sight of the whole of her keel from stem to stern as if she had been a fishing smack. We had been wintering in the Yellow Sea, and at the time I speak of were on a foraging expedition round the Liau-tung peninsula. Those who have followed the events of the Japanese war will have noticed on the map, not far north of Ta-lien-wan in the Korean Bay, three groups of islands. So little was the geography of these parts then known, that they had no place on our charts. On this very occasion, one group was named after Captain Elliott, one was called the Bouchier Islands, and the other the Blonde Islands. The first surveying of the two latter groups, and the placing of them upon the map, was done by our naval instructor, and he always took me with him as his assistant.
Our second typhoon was while we were at anchor in Hong Kong harbour. Those who have knowledge only of the gales, however violent, of our latitudes, have no conception of what wind- force can mount to. To be the toy of it is enough to fill the stoutest heart with awe. The harbour was full of transports, merchant ships, opium clippers, besides four or five men-of-war, and a steamer belonging to the East India Company - the first steamship I had ever seen.
The coming of a typhoon is well known to the natives at least twenty-four hours beforehand, and every preparation is made for it. Boats are dragged far up the beach; buildings even are fortified for resistance. Every ship had laid out its anchors, lowered its yards, and housed its topmasts. We had both bowers down, with cables paid out to extreme length. The danger was either in drifting on shore or, what was more imminent, collision. When once the tornado struck us there was nothing more to be done; no men could have worked on deck. The seas broke by tons over all; boats beached as described were lifted from the ground, and hurled, in some instances, over the houses. The air was darkened by the spray.
But terrible as was the raging of wind and water, far more awful was the vain struggle for life of the human beings who succumbed to it. In a short time almost all the ships except the men-of-war, which were better provided with anchors, began to drift from their moorings. Then wreck followed wreck. I do not think the 'Blonde' moved; but from first to last we were threatened with the additional weight and strain of a drifting vessel. Had we been so hampered our anchorage must have given way. As a single example of the force of a typhoon, the 'Phlegethon' with three anchors down, and engines working at full speed, was blown past us out of the harbour.
One tragic incident I witnessed, which happened within a few fathoms of the 'Blonde.' An opium clipper had drifted athwart the bow of a large merchantman, which in turn was almost foul of us. In less than five minutes the clipper sank. One man alone reappeared on the surface. He was so close, that from where I was holding on and crouching under the lee of the mainmast I could see the expression of his face. He was a splendidly built man, and his strength and activity must have been prodigious. He clung to the cable of the merchantman, which he had managed to clasp. As the vessel reared between the seas he gained a few feet before he was again submerged. At last he reached the hawse-hole. Had he hoped, in spite of his knowledge, to find it large enough to admit his body? He must have known the truth; and yet he struggled on. Did he hope that, when thus within arms' length of men in safety, some pitying hand would be stretched out to rescue him, - a rope's end perhaps flung out to haul him inboard? Vain desperate hope! He looked upwards: an imploring look. Would Heaven be more compassionate than man? A mountain of sea towered above his head; and when again the bow was visible, the man was gone for ever.
Before taking leave of my seafaring days, I must say one word about corporal punishment. Sir Thomas Bouchier was a good sailor, a gallant officer, and a kind-hearted man; but he was one of the old school. Discipline was his watchword, and he endeavoured to maintain it by severity. I dare say that, on an average, there was a man flogged as often as once a month during the first two years the 'Blonde' was in commission. A flogging on board a man-of-war with a 'cat,' the nine tails of which were knotted, and the lashes of which were slowly delivered, up to the four dozen, at the full swing of the arm, and at the extremity of lash and handle, was very severe punishment. Each knot brought blood, and the shock of the blow knocked the breath out of a man with an involuntary 'Ugh!' however stoically he bore the pain.
I have seen many a bad man flogged for unpardonable conduct, and many a good man for a glass of grog too much. My firm conviction is that the bad man was very little the better; the good man very much the worse. The good man felt the disgrace, and was branded for life. His self-esteem was permanently maimed, and he rarely held up his head or did his best again. Besides which, - and this is true of all punishment - any sense of injustice destroys respect for the punisher. Still I am no sentimentalist; I have a contempt for, and even a dread of, sentimentalism. For boy housebreakers, and for ruffians who commit criminal assaults, the rod or the lash is the only treatment.
A comic piece of insubordination on my part recurs to me in connection with flogging. About the year 1840 or 1841, a midshipman on the Pacific station was flogged. I think the ship was the 'Peak.' The event created some sensation, and was brought before Parliament. Two frigates were sent out to furnish a quorum of post-captains to try the responsible commander. The verdict of the court-martial was a severe reprimand. This was, of course, nuts to every midshipman in the service.
Shortly after it became known I got into a scrape for laughing at, and disobeying the orders of, our first- lieutenant, - the head of the executive on board a frigate. As a matter of fact, the orders were ridiculous, for the said officer was tipsy. Nevertheless, I was reported, and had up before the captain. 'Old Tommy' was, or affected to be, very angry. I am afraid I was very 'cheeky.' Whereupon Sir Thomas did lose his temper, and threatened to send for the boatswain to tie me up and give me a dozen, - not on the back, but where the back leaves off. Undismayed by the threat, and mindful of the episode of the 'Peak' (?) I looked the old gentleman in the face, and shrilly piped out, 'It's as much as your commission is worth, sir.' In spite of his previous wrath, he was so taken aback by my impudence that he burst out laughing, and, to hide it, kicked me out of the cabin.
After another severe attack of fever, and during a long convalescence, I was laid up at Macao, where I enjoyed the hospitality of Messrs. Dent and of Messrs. Jardine and Matheson. Thence I was invalided home, and took my passage to Bombay in one of the big East India tea-ships. As I was being carried up the side in the arms of one of the boatmen, I overheard another exclaim: 'Poor little beggar. He'll never see land again!'
The only other passenger was Colonel Frederick Cotton, of the Madras Engineers, one of a distinguished family. He, too, had been through the China campaign, and had also broken down. We touched at Manila, Batavia, Singapore, and several other ports in the Malay Archipelago, to take in cargo. While that was going on, Cotton, the captain, and I made excursions inland. Altogether I had a most pleasant time of it till we reached Bombay.
My health was now re-established; and after a couple of weeks at Bombay, where I lived in a merchant's house, Cotton took me to Poonah and Ahmadnagar; in both of which places I stayed with his friends, and messed with the regiments. Here a copy of the 'Times' was put into my hands; and I saw a notice of the death of my father.
After a fortnight's quarantine at La Valetta, where two young Englishmen - one an Oxford man - shared the same rooms in the fort with me, we three returned to England; and (I suppose few living people can say the same) travelled from Naples to Calais before there was a single railway on the Continent.
At the end of two months' leave in England I was appointed to the 'Caledonia,' flagship at Plymouth. Sir Thomas Bouchier had written to the Admiral, Sir Edward Codrington, of Navarino fame (whose daughter Sir Thomas afterwards married), giving me 'a character.' Sir Edward sent for me, and was most kind. He told me I was to go to the Pacific in the first ship that left for South America, which would probably be in a week or two; and he gave me a letter to his friend, Admiral Thomas, who commanded on that station.
About this time, and for a year or two later, the relations between England and America were severely strained by what was called 'the Oregon question.' The dispute was concerning the right of ownership of the mouth of the Columbia river, and of Vancouver's Island. The President as well as the American people took the matter up very warmly; and much discretion was needed to avert the outbreak of hostilities.
In Sir Edward's letter, which he read out and gave to me open, he requested Admiral Thomas to put me into any ship 'that was likely to see service'; and quoted a word or two from my dear old captain Sir Thomas, which would probably have given me a lift.
The prospect before me was brilliant. What could be more delectable than the chance of a war? My fancy pictured all sorts of opportunities, turned to the best account, - my seniors disposed of, and myself, with a pair of epaulets, commanding the smartest brig in the service.
Alack-a-day! what a climb down from such high flights my life has been. The ship in which I was to have sailed to the west was suddenly countermanded to the east. She was to leave for China the following week, and I was already appointed to her, not even as a 'super.'
My courage and my ambition were wrecked at a blow. The notion of returning for another three years to China, where all was now peaceful and stale to me, the excitement of the war at an end, every port reminding me of my old comrades, visions of renewed fevers and horrible food, - were more than I could stand.
I instantly made up my mind to leave the Navy. It was a wilful, and perhaps a too hasty, impulse. But I am impulsive by nature; and now that my father was dead, I fancied myself to a certain extent my own master. I knew moreover, by my father's will, that I should not be dependent upon a profession. Knowledge of such a fact has been the ruin of many a better man than I. I have no virtuous superstitions in favour of poverty - quite the reverse - but I am convinced that the rich man, who has never had to earn his position or his living, is more to be pitied and less respected than the poor man whose comforts certainly, if not his bread, have depended on his own exertions.
My mother had a strong will of her own, and I could not guess what line she might take. I also apprehended the opposition of my guardians. On the whole, I opined a woman's heart would be the most suitable for an appeal AD MISERICORDIAM. So I pulled out the agony stop, and worked the pedals of despair with all the anguish at my command.
'It was easy enough for her to REVEL IN LUXURY and consign me to a life worse than a CONVICT'S. But how would SHE like to live on SALT JUNK, to keep NIGHT WATCHES, to have to cut up her blankets for PONCHOS (I knew she had never heard the word, and that it would tell accordingly), to save her from being FROZEN TO DEATH? How would SHE like to be mast-headed when a ship was rolling gunwale under? As to the wishes of my guardians, were THEIR FEELINGS to be considered before mine? I should like to see Lord Rosebery or Lord Spencer in my place! They'd very soon wish they had a mother who &c. &c.'
When my letter was finished I got leave to go ashore to post it. Feeling utterly miserable, I had my hair cut; and, rendered perfectly reckless by my appearance, I consented to have what was left of it tightly curled with a pair of tongs. I cannot say that I shared in any sensible degree the pleasure which this operation seemed to give to the artist. But when I got back to the ship the sight of my adornment kept my messmates in an uproar for the rest of the afternoon.
Whether the touching appeal to my mother produced tears, or of what kind, matters little; it effectually determined my career. Before my new ship sailed for China, I was home again, and in full possession of my coveted freedom as a civilian.
IT was settled that after a course of three years at a private tutor's I was to go to Cambridge. The life I had led for the past three years was not the best training for the fellow-pupil of lads of fifteen or sixteen who had just left school. They were much more ready to follow my lead than I theirs, especially as mine was always in the pursuit of pleasure.
I was first sent to Mr. B.'s, about a couple of miles from Alnwick. Before my time, Alnwick itself was considered out of bounds. But as nearly half the sin in this world consists in being found out, my companions and I managed never to commit any in this direction.
We generally returned from the town with a bottle of some noxious compound called 'port' in our pockets, which was served out in our 'study' at night, while I read aloud the instructive adventures of Mr. Thomas Jones. We were, of course, supposed to employ these late hours in preparing our work for the morrow. One boy only protested that, under the combined seductions of the port and Miss Molly Seagrim, he could never make his verses scan.