Father and Son
Edmund Gosse

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Father and Son

A study of two temperaments

by Edmund Gosse

Der Glaube ist wie der Liebe:
Er Lasst sich nicht erzwingen.



AT the present hour, when fiction takes forms so ingenious and so
specious, it is perhaps necessary to say that the following
narrative, in all its parts, and so far as the punctilious
attention of the writer has been able to keep it so, is
scrupulously true. If it were not true, in this strict sense, to
publish it would be to trifle with all those who may be induced
to read it. It is offered to them as a document, as a record of
educational and religious conditions which, having passed away,
will never return. In this respect, as the diagnosis of a dying
Puritanism, it is hoped that the narrative will not be altogether
without significance.

It offers, too, in a subsidiary sense, a study of the development
of moral and intellectual ideas during the progress of infancy.
These have been closely and conscientiously noted, and may have
some value in consequence of the unusual conditions in which they
were produced. The author has observed that those who have
written about the facts of their own childhood have usually
delayed to note them down until age has dimmed their
recollections. Perhaps an even more common fault in such
autobiographies is that they are sentimental, and are falsified
by self-admiration and self-pity. The writer of these
recollections has thought that if the examination of his earliest
years was to be undertaken at all, it should be attempted while
his memory is still perfectly vivid and while he is still
unbiased by the forgetfulness or the sensibility of advancing

At one point only has there been any tampering with precise fact.
It is believed that, with the exception of the Son, there is but
one person mentioned in this book who is still alive.
Nevertheless, it has been thought well, in order to avoid any
appearance of offence, to alter the majority of the proper names
of the private persons spoken of.

It is not usual, perhaps, that the narrative of a spiritual
struggle should mingle merriment and humour with a discussion of
the most solemn subjects. It has, however, been inevitable that
they should be so mingled in this narrative. It is true that most
funny books try to be funny throughout, while theology is
scandalized if it awakens a single smile. But life is not
constituted thus, and this book is nothing if it is not a genuine
slice of life. There was an extraordinary mixture of comedy and
tragedy in the situation which is here described, and those who
are affected by the pathos of it will not need to have it
explained to them that the comedy was superficial and the tragedy

September 1907


THIS book is the record of a struggle between two temperaments,
two consciences and almost two epochs. It ended, as was
inevitable, in disruption. Of the two human beings here
described, one was born to fly backward, the other could not help
being carried forward. There came a time when neither spoke the
same language as the other, or encompassed the same hopes, or was
fortified by the same desires. But, at least, it is some
consolation to the survivor, that neither, to the very last hour,
ceased to respect the other, or to regard him with a sad

The affection of these two persons was assailed by forces in
comparison with which the changes that health or fortune or place
introduce are as nothing. It is a mournful satisfaction, but yet
a satisfaction, that they were both of them able to obey the law
which says that ties of close family relationship must be
honoured and sustained. Had it not been so, this story would
never have been told.

The struggle began soon, yet of course it did not begin in early
infancy. But to familiarize my readers with the conditions of the
two persons (which were unusual) and with the outlines of their
temperaments (which were, perhaps innately, antagonistic), it is
needful to open with some account of all that I can truly and
independently recollect, as well as with some statements which
are, as will be obvious, due to household tradition.

My parents were poor gentlefolks; not young; solitary, sensitive,
and although they did not know it, proud. They both belonged to
what is called the Middle Class, and there was this further
resemblance between them that they each descended from families
which had been more than well-to-do in the eighteenth century,
and had gradually sunken in fortune. In both houses there had
been a decay of energy which had led to decay in wealth. In the
case of my Father's family it had been a slow decline; in that of
my Mother's, it had been rapid. My maternal grandfather was born
wealthy, and in the opening years of the nineteenth century,
immediately after his marriage, he bought a little estate in
North Wales, on the slopes of Snowdon. Here he seems to have
lived in a pretentious way, keeping a pack of hounds and
entertaining on an extravagant scale. He had a wife who
encouraged him in this vivid life, and three children, my Mother
and her two brothers. His best trait was his devotion to the
education of his children, in which he proclaimed himself a
disciple of Rousseau. But he can hardly have followed the
teaching of 'Emile' very closely, since he employed tutors to
teach his daughter, at an extremely early age, the very subjects
which Rousseau forbade, such as history, literature and foreign

My Mother was his special favourite, and his vanity did its best
to make a bluestocking of her. She read Greek, Latin and even a
little Hebrew, and, what was more important, her mind was trained
to be self-supporting. But she was diametrically opposed in
essential matters to her easy-going, luxurious and self-indulgent
parents. Reviewing her life in her thirtieth year, she remarked
in some secret notes: 'I cannot recollect the time when I did not
love religion.' She used a still more remarkable expression: 'If
I must date my conversion from my first wish and trial to be
holy, I may go back to infancy; if I am to postpone it till after
my last wilful sin, it is scarcely yet begun.' The irregular
pleasures of her parents' life were deeply distasteful to her, as
such were to many young persons in those days of the wide revival
of Conscience, and when my grandfather, by his reckless
expenditure, which he never checked till ruin was upon him, was
obliged to sell his estate, and live in penury, my Mother was the
only member of the family who did not regret the change. For my
own part, I believe I should have liked my reprobate maternal
grandfather, but his conduct was certainly very vexatious. He
died, in his eightieth year, when I was nine months old.

It was a curious coincidence that life had brought both my
parents along similar paths to an almost identical position in
respect to religious belief. She had started from the Anglican
standpoint, he from the Wesleyan, and each, almost without
counsel from others, and after varied theological experiments,
had come to take up precisely the same attitude towards all
divisions of the Protestant Church-- that, namely, of detached and
unbiased contemplation. So far as the sects agreed with my Father
and my Mother, the sects were walking in the light; wherever they
differed from them, they had slipped more or less definitely into
a penumbra of their own making, a darkness into which neither of
my parents would follow them. Hence, by a process of selection,
my Father and my Mother alike had gradually, without violence,
found themselves shut outside all Protestant communions, and at
last they met only with a few extreme Calvinists like themselves,
on terms of what may almost be called negation-- with no priest, no
ritual, no festivals, no ornament of any kind, nothing but the
Lord's Supper and the exposition of Holy Scripture drawing these
austere spirits into any sort of cohesion. They called themselves
'the Brethren', simply; a title enlarged by the world outside
into 'Plymouth Brethren'.

It was accident and similarity which brought my parents together
at these meetings of the Brethren. Each was lonely, each was
poor, each was accustomed to a strenuous intellectual self-
support. He was nearly thirty-eight, she was past forty-two, when
they married. From a suburban lodging, he brought her home to his
mother's little house in the northeast of London without a
single day's honeymoon. My Father was a zoologist, and a writer
of books on natural history; my Mother also was a writer, author
already of two slender volumes of religious verse--the earlier of
which, I know not how, must have enjoyed some slight success,
since a second edition was printed--afterwards she devoted her
pen to popular works of edification. But how infinitely removed
in their aims, their habits, their ambitions from 'literary'
people of the present day, words are scarcely adequate to
describe. Neither knew nor cared about any manifestation of
current literature. For each there had been no poet later than
Byron, and neither had read a romance since, in childhood, they
had dipped into the Waverley Novels as they appeared in
succession. For each the various forms of imaginative and
scientific literature were merely means of improvement and
profit, which kept the student 'out of the world', gave him full
employment, and enabled him to maintain himself. But pleasure was
found nowhere but in the Word of God, and to the endless
discussion of the Scriptures each hurried when the day's work was

In this strange household the advent of a child was not welcomed,
but was borne with resignation. The event was thus recorded in my
Father's diary:

E. delivered of a son. Received green swallow from Jamaica.

This entry has caused amusement, as showing that he was as much
interested in the bird as in the boy. But this does not follow;
what the wording exemplifies is my Father's extreme punctilio.
The green swallow arrived later in the day than the son, and the
earlier visitor was therefore recorded first; my Father was
scrupulous in every species of arrangement.

Long afterwards, my Father told me that my Mother suffered much
in giving birth to me, and that, uttering no cry, I appeared to
be dead. I was laid, with scant care, on another bed in the room,
while all anxiety and attention were concentrated on my Mother.
An old woman who happened to be there, and who was unemployed,
turned her thoughts to me, and tried to awake in me a spark of
vitality. She succeeded, and she was afterwards complimented by
the doctor on her cleverness. My Father could not--when he told
me the story--recollect the name of my preserver. I have often
longed to know who she was. For all the rapture of life, for all
its turmoils, its anxious desires, its manifold pleasures, and
even for its sorrow and suffering, I bless and praise that
anonymous old lady from the bottom of my heart.

It was six weeks before my Mother was able to leave her room. The
occasion was made a solemn one, and was attended by a species of
Churching. Mr Balfour, a valued minister of the denomination,
held a private service in the parlour, and 'prayed for our child,
that he may be the Lord's'. This was the opening act of that
'dedication' which was never henceforward forgotten, and of which
the following pages will endeavour to describe the results.
Around my tender and unconscious spirit was flung the luminous
web, the light and elastic but impermeable veil, which it was
hoped would keep me 'unspotted from the world'.

Until this time my Father's mother had lived in the house and
taken the domestic charges of it on her own shoulders. She now
consented to leave us to ourselves. There is no question that her
exodus was a relief to my Mother, since my paternal grandmother
was a strong and masterful woman, buxom, choleric and practical,
for whom the interests of the mind did not exist. Her daughter-
in-law, gentle as she was, and ethereal in manner and appearance-
-strangely contrasted (no doubt), in her tinctures of gold hair
and white skin, with my grandmother's bold carnations and black
tresses--was yet possessed of a will like tempered steel. They
were better friends apart, with my grandmother lodged hard by, in
a bright room, her household gods and bits of excellent
eighteenth-century furniture around her, her miniatures and
sparkling china arranged on shelves.

Left to my Mother's sole care, I became the centre of her
solicitude. But there mingled with those happy animal instincts
which sustain the strength and patience of every human mother and
were fully present with her--there mingled with these certain
spiritual determinations which can be but rare. They are, in
their outline, I suppose, vaguely common to many religious
mothers, but there are few indeed who fill up the sketch with so
firm a detail as she did. Once again I am indebted to her secret
notes, in a little locked volume, seen until now, nearly sixty
years later, by no eye save her own. Thus she wrote when I was
two months old:

'We have given him to the Lord; and we trust that He will really
manifest him to be His own, if he grow up; and if the Lord take
him early, we will not doubt that he is taken to Himself. Only,
if it please the Lord to take him, I do trust we may be spared
seeing him suffering in lingering illness and much pain. But in
this as in all things His will is better than what we can choose.
Whether his life be prolonged or not, it has already been a
blessing to us, and to the saints, in leading us to much prayer,
and bringing us into varied need and some trial.

The last sentence is somewhat obscure to me. How, at that tender
age, I contrived to be a blessing 'to the saints' may surprise
others and puzzles myself. But 'the saints' was the habitual term
by which were indicated the friends who met on Sunday mornings
for Holy Communion, and at many other tunes in the week for
prayer and discussion of the Scriptures, in the small hired hall
at Hackney, which my parents attended. I suppose that the solemn
dedication of me to the Lord, which was repeated in public in my
Mother's arms, being by no means a usual or familiar ceremony
even among the Brethren, created a certain curiosity and fervour
in the immediate services, or was imagined so to do by the fond,
partial heart of my Mother. She, however, who had been so much
isolated, now made the care of her child an excuse for retiring
still further into silence. With those religious persons who met
at the Room, as the modest chapel was called, she had little
spiritual, and no intellectual, sympathy. She noted:

I do not think it would increase my happiness to be in the midst
of the saints at Hackney. I have made up my mind to give myself
up to Baby for the winter, and to accept no invitations. To go
when I can to the Sunday morning meetings and to see my own

The monotony of her existence now became extreme, but she seems
to have been happy. Her days were spent in taking care of me, and
in directing one young servant. My Father was forever in his
study, writing, drawing, dissecting; sitting, no doubt, as I grew
afterwards accustomed to see him, absolutely motionless, with his
eye glued to the microscope, for twenty minutes at a time. So the
greater part of every weekday was spent, and on Sunday he
usually preached one, and sometimes two extempore sermons. His
workday labours were rewarded by the praise of the learned
world, to which he was indifferent, but by very little money,
which he needed more. For over three years after their marriage,
neither of my parents left London for a single day, not being
able to afford to travel. They received scarcely any visitors,
never ate a meal away from home, never spent an evening in social
intercourse abroad. At night they discussed theology, read aloud
to one another, or translated scientific brochures from French or
German. It sounds a terrible life of pressure and deprivation,
and that it was physically unwholesome there can be no shadow of
a doubt. But their contentment was complete and unfeigned. In the
midst of this, materially, the hardest moment of their lives,
when I was one year old, and there was a question of our leaving
London, my Mother recorded in her secret notes:

"We are happy and contented, having all things needful and
pleasant, and our present habitation is hallowed by many sweet
associations. We have our house to ourselves and enjoy each
other's society. If we move we shall do longer be alone. The
situation may be more favourable, however, for Baby, as being
more in the country. I desire to have no choice in the matter,
but as I know not what would be for our good, and God knows, so I
desire to leave it with Him, and if it is not His will we should
move, He will raise objections and difficulties, and if it is His
will He will make Henry [my Father] desirous and anxious to take
the step, and then, whatever the result, let us leave all to Him
and not regret it."

No one who is acquainted with the human heart will mistake this
attitude of resignation for weakness of purpose. It was not
poverty of will, it was abnegation, it was a voluntary act. My
Mother, underneath an exquisite amenity of manner, concealed a
rigour of spirit which took the form of a constant self-denial.
For it to dawn upon her consciousness that she wished for
something, was definitely to renounce that wish, or, more
exactly, to subject it in every thing to what she conceived to be
the will of God.

This is perhaps the right moment for me to say that at this time,
and indeed until the hour of her death, she exercised, without
suspecting it, a magnetic power over the will and nature of my
Father. Both were strong, but my Mother was unquestionably the
stronger of the two; it was her mind which gradually drew his to
take up a certain definite position, and this remained permanent
although she, the cause of it, was early removed. Hence, while it
was with my Father that the long struggle which I have to narrate
took place, behind my Father stood the ethereal memory of my
Mother's will, guiding him, pressing him, holding him to the
unswerving purpose which she had formed and defined. And when the
inevitable disruption came, what was unspeakably painful was to
realize that it was not from one, but from both parents that the
purpose of the child was separated.

My Mother was a Puritan in grain, and never a word escaped her,
not a phrase exists in her diary, to suggest that she had any
privations to put up with. She seemed strong and well, and so did
I; the one of us who broke down was my Father. With his attack of
acute nervous dyspepsia came an unexpected small accession of
money, and we were able, in my third year, to take a holiday of
nearly ten months in Devonshire. The extreme seclusion, the
unbroken strain, were never repeated, and when we returned to
London, it was to conditions of greater amenity and to a less
rigid practice of 'the world forgetting by the world forgot'.
That this relaxation was more relative than positive, and that
nothing ever really tempted either of my parents from their
cavern in an intellectual Thebaid, my recollections will amply
prove. But each of them was forced by circumstances into a more
or less public position, and neither could any longer quite
ignore the world around.

It is not my business here to re-write the biographies of my
parents. Each of them became, in a certain measure, celebrated,
and each was the subject of a good deal of contemporary
discussion. Each was prominent before the eyes of a public of his
or her own, half a century ago. It is because their minds were
vigorous and their accomplishments distinguished that the
contrast between their spiritual point of view and the aspect of
a similar class of persons today is interesting and may, I hope,
be instructive. But this is not another memoir of public
individuals, each of whom has had more than one biographer. My
serious duty, as I venture to hold it, is other;

that's the world's side,
Thus men saw them, praised them, thought they knew them!
There, in turn, I stood aside and praised them!
Out of my own self, I dare to phrase it.

But this is a different inspection, this is a study of

the other side, the novel
Silent silver lights and darks undreamed of,

the record of a state of soul once not uncommon in Protestant
Europe, of which my parents were perhaps the latest consistent
exemplars among people of light and leading.

The peculiarities of a family life, founded upon such principles,
are, in relation to a little child, obvious; but I may be
permitted to recapitulate them. Here was perfect purity, perfect
intrepidity, perfect abnegation; yet there was also narrowness,
isolation, an absence of perspective, let it be boldly admitted,
an absence of humanity. And there was a curious mixture of
humbleness and arrogance; entire resignation to the will of God
and not less entire disdain of the judgement and opinion of man.
My parents founded every action, every attitude, upon their
interpretation of the Scriptures, and upon the guidance of the
Divine Will as revealed to them by direct answer to prayer. Their
ejaculation in the face of any dilemma was, 'Let us cast it
before the Lord!'

So confident were they of the reality of their intercourse with
God, that they asked for no other guide. They recognized no
spiritual authority among men, they subjected themselves to no
priest or minister, they troubled their consciences about no
current manifestation of 'religious opinion'. They lived in an
intellectual cell, bounded at its sides by the walls of their own
house, but open above to the very heart of the uttermost heavens.

This, then, was the scene in which the soul of a little child was
planted, not as in an ordinary open flower-border or carefully
tended social parterre, but as on a ledge, split in the granite
of some mountain. The ledge was hung between night and the snows
on one hand, and the dizzy depths of the world upon the other;
was furnished with just soil enough for a gentian to struggle
skywards and open its stiff azure stars; and offered no
lodgement, no hope of salvation, to any rootlet which should
stray beyond its inexorable limits.


OUT of the darkness of my infancy there comes only one flash of
memory. I am seated alone, in my baby-chair, at a dinner-table
set for several people. Somebody brings in a leg of mutton, puts
it down close to me, and goes out. I am again alone, gazing at
two low windows, wide open upon a garden. Suddenly, noiselessly,
a large, long animal (obviously a greyhound) appears at one
window-sill, slips into the room, seizes the leg of mutton and
slips out again. When this happened I could not yet talk. The
accomplishment of speech came to me very late, doubtless because
I never heard young voices. Many years later, when I mentioned
this recollection, there was a shout of laughter and surprise:
'That, then, was what became of the mutton! It was not you, who,
as your Uncle A. pretended, ate it up, in the twinkling of an
eye, bone and all!'

I suppose that it was the startling intensity of this incident
which stamped it upon a memory from which all other impressions
of this early date have vanished.

The adventure of the leg of mutton occurred, evidently, at the
house of my Mother's brothers, for my parents, at this date,
visited no other. My uncles were not religious men, but they had
an almost filial respect for my Mother, who was several years
senior to the elder of them. When the catastrophe of my
grandfather's fortune had occurred, they had not yet left school.
My Mother, in spite of an extreme dislike of teaching, which was
native to her, immediately accepted the situation of a governess
in the family of an Irish nobleman. The mansion was only to be
approached, as Miss Edgeworth would have said, 'through eighteen
sloughs, at the imminent peril of one's life', and when one had
reached it, the mixture of opulence and squalor, of civility and
savagery, was unspeakable. But my Mother was well paid, and she
stayed in this distasteful environment, doing the work she hated
most, while with the margin of her salary she helped first one of
her brothers and then the other through his Cambridge course.
They studied hard and did well at the university. At length their
sister received, in her 'ultima Thule', news that her younger
brother had taken his degree, and then and there, with a sigh of
intense relief, she resigned her situation and came straight back
to England.

It is not to be wondered at, then, that my uncles looked up to
their sister with feelings of especial devotion. They were not
inclined, they were hardly in a position, to criticize her modes
of thought. They were easy-going, cultured and kindly gentlemen,
rather limited in their views, without a trace of their sister's
force of intellect or her strenuous temper. E. resembled her in
person, he was tall, fair, with auburn curls; he cultivated a
certain tendency to the Byronic type, fatal and melancholy. A.
was short, brown and jocose, with a pretension to common sense;
bluff and chatty. As a little child, I adored my Uncle E., who
sat silent by the fireside holding me against his knee, saying
nothing, but looking unutterably sad, and occasionally shaking
his warm-coloured tresses. With great injustice, on the other
hand, I detested my Uncle A., because he used to joke in a manner
very displeasing to me, and because he would so far forget
himself as to chase, and even, if it will be credited, to tickle
me. My uncles, who remained bachelors to the end of their lives,
earned a comfortable living; E. by teaching, A. as 'something in
the City', and they rented an old rambling house in Clapton, that
same in which I saw the greyhound. Their house had a strange,
delicious smell, so unlike anything I smelt anywhere else, that
it used to fill my eyes with tears of mysterious pleasure. I know
now that this was the odour of cigars, tobacco being a species of
incense tabooed at home on the highest religious grounds.

It has been recorded that I was slow in learning to speak. I used
to be told that having met all invitations to repeat such words
as 'Papa' and 'Mamma' with gravity and indifference, I one day
drew towards me a volume, and said 'book' with startling
distinctness. I was not at all precocious, but at a rather early
age, I think towards the beginning of my fourth year, I learned
to read. I cannot recollect a time when a printed page of English
was closed to me. But perhaps earlier still my Mother used to
repeat to me a poem which I have always taken for granted that
she had herself composed, a poem which had a romantic place in my
early mental history. It ran thus, I think:

O pretty Moon, you shine so bright!
I'll go to bid Mamma good-night,
And then I'll lie upon my bed
And watch you move above my head.

Ah! there, a cloud has hidden you!
But I can see your light shine thro';
It tries to hide you--quite in vain,
For--there you quickly come again!

It's God, I know, that makes you shine
Upon this little bed of mine;
But I shall all about you know
When I can read and older grow.

Long, long after the last line had become an anachronism, I used
to shout this poem from my bed before I went to sleep, whether
the night happened to be moonlit or no.

It must have been my Father who taught me my letters. To my
Mother, as I have said, it was distasteful to teach, though she
was so prompt and skillful to learn. My Father, on the contrary,
taught cheerfully, by fits and starts. In particular, he had a
scheme for rationalizing geography, which I think was admirable.
I was to climb upon a chair, while, standing at my side, with a
pencil and a sheet of paper, he was to draw a chart of the
markings on the carpet. Then, when I understood the system,
another chart on a smaller scale of the furniture in the room,
then of a floor of the house, then of the back-garden, then of a
section of the street. The result of this was that geography came
to me of itself, as a perfectly natural miniature arrangement of
objects, and to this day has always been the science which gives
me least difficulty. My father also taught me the simple rules of
arithmetic, a little natural history, and the elements of
drawing; and he laboured long and unsuccessfully to make me learn
by heart hymns, psalms and chapters of Scripture, in which I
always failed ignominiously and with tears. This puzzled and
vexed him, for he himself had an extremely retentive textual
memory. He could not help thinking that I was naughty, and would
not learn the chapters, until at last he gave up the effort. All
this sketch of an education began, I believe, in my fourth year,
and was not advanced or modified during the rest of my Mother's

Meanwhile, capable as I was of reading, I found my greatest
pleasure in the pages of books. The range of these was limited,
for story-books of every description were sternly excluded. No
fiction of any kind, religious or secular, was admitted into the
house. In this it was to my Mother, not to my Father, that the
prohibition was due. She had a remarkable, I confess to me still
somewhat unaccountable impression that to 'tell a story', that
is, to compose fictitious narrative of any kind, was a sin. She
carried this conviction to extreme lengths. My Father, in later
years, gave me some interesting examples of her firmness. As a
young man in America, he had been deeply impressed by
'Salathiel', a pious prose romance by that then popular writer,
the Rev. George Croly. When he first met my Mother, he
recommended it to her, but she would not consent to open it. Nor
would she read the chivalrous tales in verse of Sir Walter Scott,
obstinately alleging that they were not 'true'. She would read
none but lyrical and subjective poetry. Her secret diary reveals
the history of this singular aversion to the fictitious, although
it cannot be said to explain the cause of it. As a child,
however, she had possessed a passion for making up stories, and
so considerable a skill in it that she was constantly being
begged to indulge others with its exercise. But I will, on so
curious a point, leave her to speak for herself:

'When I was a very little child, I used to amuse myself and my
brothers with inventing stories, such as I read. Having, as I
suppose, naturally a restless mind and busy imagination, this
soon became the chief pleasure of my life. Unfortunately, my
brothers were always fond of encouraging this propensity, and I
found in Taylor, my maid, a still greater tempter. I had not
known there was any harm in it, until Miss Shore [a Calvinist
governess], finding it out, lectured me severely, and told me it
was wicked. From that time forth I considered that to invent a
story of any kind was a sin. But the desire to do so was too
deeply rooted in my affections to be resisted in my own strength
[she was at that time nine years of age], and unfortunately I knew
neither my corruption nor my weakness, nor did I know where to
gain strength. The longing to invent stories grew with violence;
everything I heard or read became food for my distemper. The
simplicity of truth was not sufficient for me; I must needs
embroider imagination upon it, and the folly, vanity and
wickedness which disgraced my heart are snore than I am able to
express. Even now [at the age of twenty-nine], tho' watched,
prayed and striven against, this is still the sin that most
easily besets me. It has hindered my prayers and prevented my
improvement, and therefore, has humbled me very much.

This is, surely, a very painful instance of the repression of an
instinct. There seems to have been, in this case, a vocation such
as is rarely heard, and still less often wilfully disregarded and
silenced. Was my Mother intended by nature to be a novelist? I
have often thought so, and her talents and vigour of purpose,
directed along the line which was ready to form 'the chief
pleasure of her life', could hardly have failed to conduct her to
great success. She was a little younger than Bulwer Lytton, a
little older than Mrs Gaskell--but these are vain and trivial

My own state, however, was, I should think, almost unique among
the children of cultivated parents. In consequence of the stern
ordinance which I have described, not a single fiction was read
or told to me during my infancy. The rapture of the child who
delays the process of going to bed by cajoling 'a story' out of
his mother or his nurse, as he sits upon her knee, well tucked
up, at the corner of the nursery fire --this was unknown to me.
Never in all my early childhood did anyone address to me the
affecting preamble, 'Once upon a time!' I was told about
missionaries, but never about pirates; I was familiar with
hummingbirds, but I had never heard of fairies-- Jack the Giant-
Killer, Rumpelstiltskin and Robin Hood were not of my
acquaintance; and though I understood about wolves, Little Red
Ridinghood was a stranger even by name. So far as my 'dedication'
was concerned, I can but think that my parents were in error thus
to exclude the imaginary from my outlook upon facts. They desired
to make me truthful; the tendency was to make me positive and
sceptical. Had they wrapped me in the soft folds of supernatural
fancy, my mind might have been longer content to follow their
traditions in an unquestioning spirit.

Having easily said what, in those early years, I did not read, I
have great difficulty in saying what I did read. But a queer
variety of natural history, some of it quite indigestible by my
undeveloped mind; many books of travels, mainly of a scientific
character, among them voyages of discovery in the South Seas, by
which my brain was dimly filled with splendour; some geography
and astronomy, both of them sincerely enjoyed; much theology,
which I desired to appreciate but could never get my teeth into
(if I may venture to say so), and over which my eye and tongue
learned to slip without penetrating, so that I would read, and
read aloud, and with great propriety of emphasis, page after page
without having formed an idea or retained an expression. There
was, for instance, a writer on prophecy called Jukes, of whose
works each of my parents was inordinately fond, and I was early
set to read Jukes aloud to them. I did it glibly, like a machine,
but the sight of Jukes' volumes became an abomination to me, and
I never formed the outline of a notion what they were about.
Later on, a publication called The Penny Cyclopaedia became my
daily, and for a long time almost my sole study; to the subject
of this remarkable work I may presently return.

It is difficult to keep anything like chronological order in
recording fragments of early recollection, and in speaking of my
reading I have been led too far ahead. My memory does not,
practically, begin till we returned from certain visits, made
with a zoological purpose, to the shores of Devon and Dorset, and
settled, early in my fifth year, in a house at Islington, in the
north of London. Our circumstances were now more easy; my Father
had regular and well-paid literary work; and the house was larger
and more comfortable than ever before, though still very simple
and restricted. My memories, some of which are exactly dated by
certain facts, now become clear and almost abundant. What I do
not remember, except from having it very often repeated to me,
is what may be considered the only 'clever' thing that I said
during an otherwise unillustrious childhood. It was not
startlingly 'clever', but it may pass. A lady--when I was just
four--rather injudiciously showed me a large print of a human
skeleton, saying, 'There! you don't know what that is, do you?'
Upon which, immediately and very archly, I replied, 'Isn't it a
man with the meat off?' This was thought wonderful, and, as it is
supposed that I had never had the phenomenon explained to me, it
certainly displays some quickness in seizing an analogy. I had
often watched my Father, while he soaked the flesh off the bones
of fishes and small mammals. If I venture to repeat this trifle,
it is only to point out that the system on which I was being
educated deprived all things, human life among the rest, of their
mystery. The 'bare-grinning skeleton of death' was to me merely a
prepared specimen of that featherless plantigrade vertebrate,
'homo sapiens'.

As I have said that this anecdote was thought worth repeating, I
ought to proceed to say that there was, so far as I can
recollect, none of that flattery of childhood which is so often
merely a backhanded way of indulging the vanity of parents. My
Mother, indeed, would hardly have been human if she had not
occasionally entertained herself with the delusion that her
solitary duckling was a cygnet. This my Father did not encourage,
remarking, with great affection, and chucking me under the chin,
that I was 'a nice little ordinary boy'. My Mother, stung by this
want of appreciation, would proceed so far as to declare that she
believed that in future times the F.R.S, would be chiefly known
as his son's father! (This is a pleasantry frequent in
professional families.)

To this my Father, whether convinced or not, would make no demur,
and the couple would begin to discuss, in my presence, the
direction which my shining talents would take. In consequence of
my dedication to 'the Lord's Service', the range of possibilities
was much restricted. My Father, who had lived long in the
Tropics, and who nursed a perpetual nostalgia for 'the little
lazy isles where the trumpet-orchids blow', leaned towards the
field of missionary labour. My Mother, who was cold about foreign
missions, preferred to believe that I should be the Charles
Wesley of my age, 'or perhaps', she had the candour to admit,
'merely the George Whitefield'. I cannot recollect the time when
I did not understand that I was going to be a minister of the

It is so generally taken for granted that a life strictly
dedicated to religion is stiff and dreary, that I may have some
difficulty in persuading my readers that, as a matter of fact, in
these early days of my childhood, before disease and death had
penetrated to our slender society, we were always cheerful and
often gay. My parents were playful with one another, and there
were certain stock family jests which seldom failed to enliven
the breakfast table. My Father and Mother lived so completely in
the atmosphere of faith, and were so utterly convinced of their
intercourse with God, that, so long as that intercourse was not
clouded by sin, to which they were delicately sensitive, they
could afford to take the passing hour very lightly. They would
even, to a certain extent, treat the surroundings of their
religion as a subject of jest, joking very mildly and gently
about such things as an attitude at prayer or the nature of a
supplication. They were absolutely indifferent to forms. They
prayed, seated in their chairs, as willingly as, reversed, upon
their knees; no ritual having any significance for them. My
Mother was sometimes extremely gay, laughing with a soft, merry
sound. What I have since been told of the guileless mirth of nuns
in a convent has reminded me of the gaiety of my parents during
my early childhood.

So long as I was a mere part of them, without individual
existence, and swept on, a satellite, in their atmosphere, I was
mirthful when they were mirthful, and grave when they were grave.
The mere fact that I had no young companions, no storybooks, no
outdoor amusements, none of the thousand and one employments
provided for other children in more conventional surroundings,
did not make me discontented or fretful, because I did not know
of the existence of such entertainments. In exchange, I became
keenly attentive to the limited circle of interests open to me.
Oddly enough, I have no recollection of any curiosity about other
children, nor of any desire to speak to them or play with them.
They did not enter into my dreams, which were occupied entirely
with grown-up people and animals. I had three dolls, to whom my
attitude was not very intelligible. Two of these were female, one
with a shapeless face of rags, the other in wax. But, in my fifth
year, when the Crimean War broke out, I was given a third doll, a
soldier, dressed very smartly in a scarlet cloth tunic. I used to
put the dolls on three chairs, and harangue them aloud, but my
sentiment to them was never confidential, until our maid-servant
one day, intruding on my audience, and misunderstanding the
occasion of it, said: 'What? a boy, and playing with a soldier
when he's got two lady-dolls to play with?' I had never thought
of my dolls as confidants before, but from that time forth I paid
a special attention to the soldier, in order to make up to him
for Lizzie's unwarrantable insult.

The declaration of war with Russia brought the first breath of
outside life into our Calvinist cloister. My parents took in a
daily newspaper, which they had never done before, and events in
picturesque places, which my Father and I looked out on the map,
were eagerly discussed. One of my vividest early memories can be
dated exactly. I was playing about the house, and suddenly burst
into the breakfast-room, where, close to the door, sat an amazing
figure, a very tall young man, as stiff as my doll, in a gorgeous
scarlet tunic. Quite far away from him, at her writing-table, my
Mother sat with her Bible open before her, and was urging the
gospel plan of salvation on his acceptance. She promptly told me
to run away and play, but I had seen a great sight. This
guardsman was in the act of leaving for the Crimea, and his
adventures,--he was converted in consequence of my Mother's
instruction,--were afterwards told by her in a tract, called 'The
Guardsman of the Alma', of which I believe that more than half a
million copies were circulated. He was killed in that battle, and
this added an extraordinary lustre to my dream of him. I see him
still in my mind's eye, large, stiff, and unspeakably brilliant,
seated, from respect, as near as possible to our parlour door.
This apparition gave reality to my subsequent conversations with
the soldier doll.

That same victory of the Alma, which was reported in London on my
fifth birthday, is also marked very clearly in my memory by a
family circumstance. We were seated at breakfast, at our small
round table drawn close up to the window, my Father with his back
to the light. Suddenly, he gave a sort of cry, and read out the
opening sentences from The Times announcing a battle in the
valley of the Alma. No doubt the strain of national anxiety had
been very great, for both he and my Mother seemed deeply excited.
He broke off his reading when the fact of the decisive victory
was assured, and he and my Mother sank simultaneously on their
knees in front of their tea and bread-and-butter, while in a loud
voice my Father gave thanks to the God of Battles. This
patriotism was the more remarkable, in that he had schooled
himself, as he believed, to put his 'heavenly citizenship' above
all earthly duties. To those who said: 'Because you are a
Christian, surely you are not less an Englishman?' he would reply
by shaking his head, and by saying: 'I am a citizen of no earthly
State'. He did not realize that, in reality, and to use a cant
phrase not yet coined in 1854, there existed in Great Britain no
more thorough 'Jingo' than he.

Another instance of the remarkable way in which the interests of
daily life were mingled in our strange household, with the
practice of religion, made an impression upon my memory. We had
all three been much excited by a report that a certain dark
geometer-moth, generated in underground stables, had been met
with in Islington. Its name, I think is, 'Boletobia fuliginaria',
and I believe that it is excessively rare in England. We were
sitting at family prayers, on a summer morning, I think in 1855,
when through the open window a brown moth came sailing. My Mother
immediately interrupted the reading of the Bible by saying to my
Father, 'O! Henry, do you think that can be "Boletobia"?' My
Father rose up from the sacred book, examined the insect, which
had now perched, and replied: 'No! it is only the common
Vapourer, "Orgyia antiqua"!', resuming his seat, and the
exposition of the Word, without any apology or embarrassment.

In the course of this, my sixth year, there happened a series of
minute and soundless incidents which, elementary as they may seem
when told, were second in real importance to none in my mental
history. The recollection of them confirms me in the opinion that
certain leading features in each human soul are inherent to it,
and cannot be accounted for by suggestion or training. In my own
case, I was most carefully withdrawn, like Princess Blanchefleur
in her marble fortress, from every outside influence whatever,
yet to me the instinctive life came as unexpectedly as her lover
came to her in the basket of roses. What came to me was the
consciousness of self, as a force and as a companion, and it came
as the result of one or two shocks, which I will relate.

In consequence of hearing so much about an Omniscient God, a
being of supernatural wisdom and penetration who was always with
us, who made, in fact, a fourth in our company, I had come to
think of Him, not without awe, but with absolute confidence. My
Father and Mother, in their serene discipline of me, never argued
with one another, never even differed; their wills seemed
absolutely one. My Mother always deferred to my Father, and in
his absence spoke of him to me, as if he were all-wise. I
confused him in some sense with God; at all events I believed
that my Father knew everything and saw everything. One morning in
my sixth year, my Mother and I were alone in the morning-room,
when my Father came in and announced some fact to us. I was
standing on the rug, gazing at him, and when he made this
statement, I remember turning quickly, in embarrassment, and
looking into the fire. The shock to me was as that of a
thunderbolt, for what my Father had said 'was not true'. My
Mother and I, who had been present at the trifling incident, were
aware that it had not happened exactly as it had been reported to
him. My Mother gently told him so, and he accepted the
correction. Nothing could possibly have been more trifling to my
parents, but to me it meant an epoch. Here was the appalling
discovery, never suspected before, that my Father was not as God,
and did not know everything. The shock was not caused by any
suspicion that he was not telling the truth, as it appeared to
him, but by the awful proof that he was not, as I had supposed,

This experience was followed by another, which confirmed the
first, but carried me a great deal further. In our little
back-garden, my Father had built up a rockery for ferns and mosses
and from the water-supply of the house he had drawn a leaden pipe
so that it pierced upwards through the rockery and produced, when
a tap was turned, a pretty silvery parasol of water. The pipe was
exposed somewhere near the foot of the rockery. One day, two
workmen, who were doing some repairs, left their tools during the
dinner-hour in the back-garden, and as I was marching about I
suddenly thought that to see whether one of these tools could
make a hole in the pipe would be attractive. It did make such a
hole, quite easily, and then the matter escaped my mind. But a
day or two afterwards, when my Father came in to dinner, he was
very angry. He had turned the tap, and instead of the fountain
arching at the summit, there had been a rush of water through a
hole at the foot. The rockery was absolutely ruined.

Of course I realized in a moment what I had done, and I sat
frozen with alarm, waiting to be denounced. But my Mother
remarked on the visit of the plumbers two or three days before,
and my Father instantly took up the suggestion. No doubt that was
it; the mischievous fellows had thought it amusing to stab the
pipe and spoil the fountain. No suspicion fell on me; no question
was asked of me. I sat there, turned to stone within, but
outwardly sympathetic and with unchecked appetite.

We attribute, I believe, too many moral ideas to little children.
It is obvious that in this tremendous juncture I ought to have
been urged forward by good instincts, or held back by naughty
ones. But I am sure that the fear which I experienced for a short
time, and which so unexpectedly melted away, was a purely
physical one. It had nothing to do with the motions of a contrite
heart. As to the destruction of the fountain, I was sorry about
that, for my own sake, since I admired the skipping water
extremely and had had no idea that I was spoiling its display.
But the emotions which now thronged within me, and which led me,
with an almost unwise alacrity, to seek solitude in the back-
garden, were not moral at all, they were intellectual. I was not
ashamed of having successfully--and so surprisingly--deceived my
parents by my crafty silence; I looked upon that as a
providential escape, and dismissed all further thought of it. I
had other things to think of.

In the first place, the theory that my Father was omniscient or
infallible was now dead and buried. He probably knew very little;
in this case he had not known a fact of such importance that if
you did not know that, it could hardly matter what you knew. My
Father, as a deity, as a natural force of immense prestige, fell
in my eyes to a human level. In future, his statements about
things in general need not be accepted implicitly. But of all the
thoughts which rushed upon my savage and undeveloped little brain
at this crisis, the most curious was that I had found a companion
and a confidant in myself. There was a secret in this world and
it belonged to me and to a somebody who lived in the same body
with me. There were two of us, and we could talk with one
another. It is difficult to define impressions so rudimentary,
but it is certain that it was in this dual form that the sense of
my individuality now suddenly descended upon me, and it is
equally certain that it was a great solace to me to find a
sympathizer in my own breast.

About this time, my Mother, carried away by the current of her
literary and her philanthropic work, left me more and more to my
own devices. She was seized with a great enthusiasm; as one of
her admirers and disciples has written, 'she went on her way,
sowing beside all waters'. I would not for a moment let it be
supposed that I regard her as a Mrs. Jellyby, or that I think she
neglected me. But a remarkable work had opened up before her;
after her long years in a mental hermitage, she was drawn forth
into the clamorous harvest-field of souls. She developed an
unexpected gift of persuasion over strangers whom she met in the
omnibus or in the train, and with whom she courageously grappled.
This began by her noting, with deep humility and joy, that 'I
have reason to judge the sound conversion to God of three young
persons within a few weeks, by the instrumentality of my
conversations with them'. At the same time, as another of her
biographers has said, 'those testimonies to the Blood of Christ,
the fruits of her pen, began to be spread very widely, even to
the most distant parts of the globe'. My Father, too, was at this
time at the height of his activity. After breakfast, each of them
was amply occupied, perhaps until night-fall; our evenings we
still always spent together. Sometimes my Mother took me with her
on her 'unknown day's employ'; I recollect pleasant rambles
through the City by her side, and the act of looking up at her
figure soaring above me. But when all was done, I had hours and
hours of complete solitude, in my Father's study, in the back-
garden, above all in the garret.

The garret was a fairy place. It was a low lean-to, lighted from
the roof. It was wholly unfurnished, except for two objects, an
ancient hat-box and a still more ancient skin-trunk. The hat-box
puzzled me extremely, till one day, asking my Father what it was,
I got a distracted answer which led me to believe that it was
itself a sort of hat, and I made a laborious but repeated effort
to wear it. The skin-trunk was absolutely empty, but the inside
of the lid of it was lined with sheets of what I now know to have
been a sensational novel. It was, of course, a fragment, but I
read it, kneeling on the bare floor, with indescribable rapture.
It will be recollected that the idea of fiction, of a
deliberately invented story, had been kept from me with entire
success. I therefore implicitly believed the tale in the lid of
the trunk to be a true account of the sorrows of a lady of title,
who had to flee the country, and who was pursued into foreign
lands by enemies bent upon her ruin. Somebody had an interview
with a 'minion' in a 'mask'; I went downstairs and looked up
these words in Bailey's English Dictionary, but was left in
darkness as to what they had to do with the lady of title. This
ridiculous fragment filled me with delicious fears; I fancied
that my Mother, who was out so much, might be threatened by
dangers of the same sort; and the fact that the narrative came
abruptly to an end, in the middle of one of its most thrilling
sentences, wound me up almost to a disorder of wonder and

The preoccupation of my parents threw me more and more upon my
own resources. But what are the resources of a solitary child of
six? I was never inclined to make friends with servants, nor did
our successive maids proffer, so far as I recollect, any
advances. Perhaps, with my 'dedication' and my grown-up ways of
talking, I did not seem to them at all an attractive little boy.
I continued to have no companions, or even acquaintances of my
own age. I am unable to recollect exchanging two words with
another child till after my Mother's death.

The abundant energy which my Mother now threw into her public
work did not affect the quietude of our private life. We had some
visitors in the daytime, people who came to consult one parent
or the other. But they never stayed to a meal, and we never
returned their visits. I do not quite know how it was that
neither of my parents took me to any of the sights of London,
although I am sure it was a question of principle with them.
Notwithstanding all our study of natural history, I was never
introduced to live wild beasts at the Zoo, nor to dead ones at
the British Museum. I can understand better why we never visited
a picture-gallery or a concert-room. So far as I can recollect,
the only time I was ever taken to any place of entertainment was
when my Father and I paid a visit, long anticipated, to the Great
Globe in Leicester Square. This was a huge structure, the
interior of which one ascended by means of a spiral staircase. It
was a poor affair; that was concave in it which should have been
convex, and my imagination was deeply affronted. I could invent a
far better Great Globe than that in my mind's eye in the garret.

Being so restricted, then, and yet so active, my mind took refuge
in an infantile species of natural magic. This contended with the
definite ideas of religion which my parents were continuing, with
too mechanical a persistency, to force into my nature, and it ran
parallel with them. I formed strange superstitions, which I can
only render intelligible by naming some concrete examples. I
persuaded myself that, if I could only discover the proper words
to say or the proper passes to make, I could induce the gorgeous
birds and butterflies in my Father's illustrated manuals to come
to life, and fly out of the book, leaving holes behind them. I
believed that, when, at the Chapel, we sang, drearily and slowly,
loud hymns of experience and humiliation, I could boom forth with
a sound equal to that of dozens of singers, if I could only hit
upon the formula. During morning and evening prayers, which were
extremely lengthy and fatiguing, I fancied that one of my two
selves could flit up, and sit clinging to the cornice, and look
down on my other self and the rest of us, if I could only find
the key. I laboured for hours in search of these formulas,
thinking to compass my ends by means absolutely irrational. For
example, I was convinced that if I could only count consecutive
numbers long enough, without losing one, I should suddenly, on
reaching some far-distant figure, find myself in possession of
the great secret. I feel quite sure that nothing external
suggested these ideas of magic, and I think it probable that they
approached the ideas of savages at a very early stage of

All this ferment of mind was entirely unobserved by my parents.
But when I formed the belief that it was necessary, for the
success of my practical magic, that I should hurt myself, and
when, as a matter of fact, I began, in extreme secrecy, to run
pins into my flesh and bang my joints with books, no one will be
surprised to hear that my Mother's attention was drawn to the
fact that I was looking 'delicate'. The notice nowadays
universally given to the hygienic rules of life was rare fifty
years ago and among deeply religious people, in particular,
fatalistic views of disease prevailed. If anyone was ill, it
showed that 'the Lord's hand was extended in chastisement', and
much prayer was poured forth in order that it might be explained
to the sufferer, or to his relations, in what he or they had
sinned. People would, for instance, go on living over a cess-
pool, working themselves up into an agony to discover how they
had incurred the displeasure of the Lord, but never moving away.
As I became very pale and nervous, and slept badly at nights,
with visions and loud screams in my sleep, I was taken to a
physician, who stripped me and tapped me all over (this gave me
some valuable hints for my magical practices), but could find
nothing the matter. He recommended,--whatever physicians in such
cases always recommend,--but nothing was done. If I was feeble it
was the Lord's will, and we must acquiesce.

It culminated in a sort of fit of hysterics, when I lost all
self-control, and sobbed with tears, and banged my head on the
table. While this was proceeding, I was conscious of that dual
individuality of which I have already spoken, since while one
part of me gave way, and could not resist, the other part in some
extraordinary sense seemed standing aloof, much impressed. I was
alone with my Father when this crisis suddenly occurred, and I
was interested to see that he was greatly alarmed. It was a very
long time since we had spent a day out of London, and I said, on
being coaxed back to calmness, that I wanted 'to go into the
country'. Like the dying Falstaff, I babbled of green fields. My
Father, after a little reflection, proposed to take me to
Primrose Hill. I had never heard of the place, and names have
always appealed directly to my imagination. I was in the highest
degree delighted, and could hardly restrain my impatience. As
soon as possible we set forth westward, my hand in my Father's,
with the liveliest anticipations. I expected to see a mountain
absolutely carpeted with primroses, a terrestrial galaxy like
that which covered the hill that led up to Montgomery Castle in
Donne's poem. But at length, as we walked from the Chalk Farm
direction, a miserable acclivity stole into view--surrounded,
even in those days, on most sides by houses, with its grass worn
to the buff by millions of boots, and resembling what I meant by
'the country' about as much as Poplar resembles Paradise. We sat
down on a bench at its inglorious summit, whereupon I burst into
tears, and in a heart-rending whisper sobbed, 'Oh! Papa, let us
go home!'

This was the lachrymose epoch in a career not otherwise given to
weeping, for I must tell one more tale of tears. About this
time,--the autumn of 1855,--my parents were disturbed more than
once in the twilight, after I had been put to bed, by shrieks
from my crib. They would rush up to my side, and find me in great
distress, but would be unable to discover the cause of it. The
fact was that I was half beside myself with ghostly fears,
increased and pointed by the fact that there had been some daring
burglaries on our street. Our servant-maid, who slept at the top
of the house, had seen, or thought she saw, upon a moonlight
night the figure of a crouching man, silhouetted against the sky,
slip down from the roof and leap into her room. She screamed, and
he fled away. Moreover, as if this were not enough for my tender
nerves, there had been committed a horrid murder at a baker's
shop just around the corner in the Caledonian Road, to which
murder actuality was given to us by the fact that my Mother had
been 'just thinking' of getting her bread from this shop.
Children, I think, were not spared the details of these affairs
fifty years ago; at least, I was not, and my nerves were a packet
of spilikins.

But what made me scream at nights was that when my Mother had
tucked me up in bed, and had heard me say my prayer, and had
prayed aloud on her knees at my side, and had stolen downstairs--
noises immediately began in the room. There was a rustling of
clothes, and a slapping of hands, and a gurgling, and a sniffing,
and a trotting. These horrible muffled sounds would go on, and
die away, and be resumed; I would pray very fervently to God to
save me from my enemies; and sometimes I would go to sleep. But
on other occasions, my faith and fortitude alike gave way, and I
screamed 'Mama! Mama!' Then would my parents come bounding up the
stairs, and comfort me, and kiss me, and assure me it was nothing.
And nothing it was while they were there, but no sooner had they
gone than the ghostly riot recommenced. It was at last discovered
by my Mother that the whole mischief was due to a card of framed
texts, fastened by one nail to the wall; this did nothing when
the bedroom door was shut, but when it was left open (in order that
my parents might hear me call), the card began to gallop in the
draught, and made the most intolerable noises.

Several things tended at this time to alienate my conscience from
the line which my Father had so rigidly traced for it. The
question of the efficacy of prayer, which has puzzled wiser heads
than mine was, began to trouble me. It was insisted on in our
household that if anything was desired, you should not, as my
Mother said, 'lose any time in seeking for it, but ask God to
guide you to it'. In many junctures of life this is precisely
what, in sober fact, they did. I will not dwell here on their
theories, which my Mother put forth, with unflinching directness,
in her published writings. But I found that a difference was made
between my privileges in this matter and theirs, and this led to
many discussions. My patents said: 'Whatever you need, tell Him
and He will grant it, if it is His will.' Very well; I had need
of a large painted humming-top which I had seen in a shop-window
in the Caledonian Road. Accordingly, I introduced a supplication
for this object into my evening prayer, carefully adding the
words: 'If it is Thy will.' This, I recollect, placed my Mother
in a dilemma, and she consulted my Father. Taken, I suppose, at a
disadvantage, my Father told me I must not pray for 'things like
that'. To which I answered by another query, 'Why?' And I added
that he said we ought to pray for things we needed, and that I
needed the humming-top a great deal more than I did the conversion
of the heathen or the restitution of Jerusalem to the Jews, two
objects of my nightly supplication which left me very cold.

I have reason to believe, looking back upon this scene conducted
by candlelight in the front parlour, that my Mother was much
baffled by the logic of my argument. She had gone so far as to
say publicly that no 'things or circumstances are too
insignificant to bring before the God of the whole earth'. I
persisted that this covered the case of the humming-top, which
was extremely significant to me. I noticed that she held aloof
from the discussion, which was carried on with some show of
annoyance by my Father. He had never gone quite so far as she did
in regard to this question of praying for material things. I am
not sure that she was convinced that I ought to have been
checked; but he could not help seeing that it reduced their
favourite theory to an absurdity for a small child to exercise
the privilege. He ceased to argue, and told me peremptorily that
it was not right for me to pray for things like humming-tops, and
that I must do it no more. His authority, of course, was Paramount,
and I yielded; but my faith in the efficacy of prayer was a good
deal shaken. The fatal suspicion had crossed my mind that the reason
why I was not to pray for the top was because it was too expensive
for my parents to buy, that being the usual excuse for not getting
things I wished for.

It was about the date of my sixth birthday that I did something
very naughty, some act of direct disobedience, for which my
Father, after a solemn sermon, chastised me, sacrificially, by
giving me several cuts with a cane. This action was justified, as
everything he did was justified, by reference to Scripture 'Spare
the rod and spoil the child'. I suppose that there are some
children, of a sullen and lymphatic temperament, who are
smartened up and made more wide-awake by a whipping. It is
largely a matter of convention, the exercise being endured (I am
told) with pride by the infants of our aristocracy, but not
tolerated by the lower classes. I am afraid that I proved my
inherent vulgarity by being made, not contrite or humble, but
furiously angry by this caning. I cannot account for the flame of
rage which it awakened in my bosom. My dear, excellent Father had
beaten me, not very severely, without ill-temper, and with the
most genuine desire to improve me. But he was not well-advised
especially so far as the 'dedication to the Lord's service' was
concerned. This same 'dedication' had ministered to my vanity,
and there are some natures which are not improved by being
humiliated. I have to confess with shame that I went about the
house for some days with a murderous hatred of my Father locked
within my bosom. He did not suspect that the chastisement had not
been wholly efficacious, and he bore me no malice; so that after
a while, I forgot and thus forgave him. But I do not regard
physical punishment as a wise element in the education of proud
and sensitive children.

My theological misdeeds culminated, however, in an act so puerile
and preposterous that I should not venture to record it if it did
not throw some glimmering of light on the subject which I have
proposed to myself in writing these pages. My mind continued to
dwell on the mysterious question of prayer. It puzzled me greatly
to know why, if we were God's children, and if he was watching
over us by night and day, we might not supplicate for toys and
sweets and smart clothes as well as for the conversion of the
heathen. Just at this juncture, we had a special service at the
Room, at which our attention was particularly called to what we
always spoke of as 'the field of missionary labour'. The East was
represented among 'the saints' by an excellent Irish peer, who
had, in his early youth, converted and married a lady of colour;
this Asiatic shared in our Sunday morning meetings, and was an
object of helpless terror to me; I shrank from her amiable
caresses, and vaguely identified her with a personage much spoken
of in our family circle, the 'Personal Devil'.

All these matters drew my thoughts to the subject of idolatry,
which was severely censured at the missionary meeting. I cross-
examined my Father very closely as to the nature of this sin, and
pinned him down to the categorical statement that idolatry
consisted in praying to anyone or anything but God himself. Wood
and stone, in the words of the hymn, were peculiarly liable to be
bowed down to by the heathen in their blindness. I pressed my
Father further on this subject, and he assured me that God would
be very angry, and would signify His anger, if anyone, in a
Christian country, bowed down to wood and stone. I cannot recall
why I was so pertinacious on this subject, but I remember that my
Father became a little restive under my cross-examination. I
determined, however, to test the matter for myself, and one
morning, when both my parents were safely out of the house, I
prepared for the great act of heresy. I was in the morning-room
on the ground-floor, where, with much labour, I hoisted a small
chair on to the table close to the window. My heart was now
beating as if it would leap out of my side, but I pursued my
experiment. I knelt down on the carpet in front of the table and
looking up I said my daily prayer in a loud voice, only
substituting the address 'Oh Chair!' for the habitual one.

Having carried this act of idolatry safely through, I waited to
see what would happen. It was a fine day, and I gazed up at the
slip of white sky above the houses opposite, and expected
something to appear in it. God would certainly exhibit his anger
in some terrible form, and would chastise my impious and willful
action. I was very much alarmed, but still more excited; I
breathed the high, sharp air of defiance. But nothing happened;
there was not a cloud in the sky, not an unusual sound in the
street. Presently, I was quite sure that nothing would happen. I
had committed idolatry, flagrantly and deliberately, and God did
not care.

The result of this ridiculous act was not to make me question the
existence and power of God; those were forces which I did not
dream of ignoring. But what it did was to lessen still further my
confidence in my Father's knowledge of the Divine mind. My Father
had said, positively, that if I worshipped a thing made of wood,
God would manifest his anger. I had then worshipped a chair, made
(or partly made) of wood, and God had made no sign whatever. My
Father, therefore, was not really acquainted with the Divine
practice in cases of idolatry. And with that, dismissing the
subject, I dived again into the unplumbed depths of the Penny


THAT I might die in my early childhood was a thought which
frequently recurred to the mind of my Mother. She endeavoured,
with a Roman fortitude, to face it without apprehension. Soon
after I had completed my fifth year, she had written as follows
in her secret journal:

'Should we be called on to weep over the early grave of the dear
one whom now we are endeavouring to train for heaven, may we be
able to remember that we never ceased to pray for and watch over
him. It is easy, comparatively, to watch over an infant. Yet
shall I be sufficient for these things? I am not. But God is
sufficient. In his strength I have begun the warfare, in his
strength I will persevere, and I will faint not until either I
myself or my little one is beyond the reach of earthly

That either she or I would be called away from earth, and that
our physical separation was at hand, seems to have been always
vaguely present in my Mother's dreams, as an obstinate conviction
to be carefully recognized and jealously guarded against.

It was not, however, until the course of my seventh year that the
tragedy occurred, which altered the whole course of our family
existence. My Mother had hitherto seemed strong and in good
health; she had even made the remark to my Father, that 'sorrow
and pain, the badges of Christian discipleship', appeared to be
withheld from her. On her birthday, which was to be her last, she
had written these ejaculations in her locked diary:

Lord, forgive the sins of the past, and help me to be faithful in
future! May this be a year of much blessing, a year of jubilee!
May I be kept lowly, trusting, loving! May I have more blessing
than in all former years combined! May I be happier as a wife,
mother, sister, writer, mistress, friend!

But a symptom began to alarm her, and in the beginning of May,
having consulted a local physician without being satisfied, she
went to see a specialist in a northern suburb in whose judgement
she had great confidence. This occasion I recollect with extreme
vividness. I had been put to bed by my Father, in itself a
noteworthy event. My crib stood near a window overlooking the
street; my parents' ancient four-poster, a relic of the
eighteenth century, hid me from the door, but I could see the
rest of the room. After falling asleep on this particular
evening, I awoke silently, surprised to see two lighted candles
on the table, and my Father seated writing by them. I also saw a
little meal arranged.

While I was wondering at all this, the door opened, and my Mother
entered the room; she emerged from behind the bed-curtains, with
her bonnet on, having returned from her expedition. My Father
rose hurriedly, pushing back his chair. There was a pause, while
my Mother seemed to be steadying her voice, and then she replied,
loudly and distinctly, 'He says it is--' and she mentioned one of
the most cruel maladies by which our poor mortal nature can be
tormented. Then I saw them hold one another in a silent long
embrace, and presently sink together out of sight on their knees,
at the farther side of the bed, whereupon my Father lifted up his
voice in prayer. Neither of them had noticed me, and now I lay
back on my pillow and fell asleep.

Next morning, when we three sat at breakfast, my mind reverted to
the scene of the previous night. With my eyes on my plate, as I
was cutting up my food, I asked, casually, 'What is--?'
mentioning the disease whose unfamiliar name I had heard from my
bed. Receiving no reply, I looked up to discover why my question
was not answered, and I saw my parents gazing at each other with
lamentable eyes. In some way, I know not how, I was conscious of
the presence of an incommunicable mystery, and I kept silence,
though tortured with curiosity, nor did I ever repeat my inquiry.

About a fortnight later, my Mother began to go three times a week
all the long way from Islington to Pimlico, in order to visit a
certain practitioner, who undertook to apply a special treatment
to her case. This involved great fatigue and distress to her, but
so far as I was personally concerned it did me a great deal of
good. I invariably accompanied her, and when she was very tired
and weak, I enjoyed the pride of believing that I protected her.
The movement, the exercise, the occupation, lifted my morbid
fears and superstitions like a cloud. The medical treatment to
which my poor Mother was subjected was very painful, and she had
a peculiar sensitiveness to pain. She carried on her evangelical
work as long as she possibly could, continuing to converse with
her fellow passengers on spiritual matters. It was wonderful that
a woman, so reserved and proud as she by nature was, could
conquer so completely her natural timidity. In those last months,
she scarcely ever got into a railway carriage or into an omnibus,
without presently offering tracts to the persons sitting within
reach of her, or endeavouring to begin a conversation with some
one of the sufficiency of the Blood of Jesus to cleanse the human
heart from sin. Her manners were so gentle and persuasive, she
looked so innocent, her small, sparkling features were lighted up
with so much benevolence, that I do not think she ever met with
discourtesy or roughness. Imitative imp that I was, I sometimes
took part in these strange conversations, and was mightily puffed
up by compliments paid, in whispers, to my infant piety. But my
Mother very properly discouraged this, as tending in me to
spiritual pride.

If my parents, in their desire to separate themselves from the
world, had regretted that through their happiness they seemed to
have forfeited the Christian privilege of affliction, they could
not continue to complain of any absence of temporal adversity.
Everything seemed to combine, in the course of this fatal year
1856, to harass and alarm them. Just at the moment when illness
created a special drain upon their resources, their slender
income, instead of being increased, was seriously diminished.
There is little sympathy felt in this world of rhetoric for the
silent sufferings of the genteel poor, yet there is no class that
deserves a more charitable commiseration.

At the best of times, the money which my parents had to spend was
an exiguous and an inelastic sum. Strictly economical, proud--in
an old-fashioned mode now quite out of fashion--to conceal the
fact of their poverty, painfully scrupulous to avoid giving
inconvenience to shop-people, tradesmen or servants, their whole
financial career had to be carried on with the adroitness of a
campaign through a hostile country. But now, at the moment when
fresh pressing claims were made on their resources, my Mother's
small capital suddenly disappeared. It had been placed, on bad
advice (they were as children in such matters), in a Cornish
mine, the grotesque name of which, Wheal Maria, became familiar
to my ears. One day the river Tamar, in a playful mood, broke
into Wheal Maria, and not a penny more was ever lifted from that
unfortunate enterprise. About the same time, a small annuity
which my Mother had inherited also ceased to be paid.

On my Father's books and lectures, therefore, the whole weight
now rested, and that at a moment when he was depressed and
unnerved by anxiety. It was contrary to his principles to borrow
money, so that it became necessary to pay doctor's and chemist's
bills punctually, and yet to carry on the little household with
the very small margin. Each artifice of economy was now exercised
to enable this to be done without falling into debt, and every
branch of expenditure was cut down, clothes, books, the little
garden which was my Father's pride, all felt the pressure of new
poverty. Even our food, which had always been simple, now became
Spartan indeed, and I am sure that my Mother often pretended to
have no appetite that there might remain enough to satisfy my
hunger. Fortunately my Father was able to take us away in the
autumn for six weeks by the sea in Wales, the expenses of this
tour being paid for by a professional engagement, so that my
seventh birthday was spent in an ecstasy of happiness, on golden
sands, under a brilliant sky, and in sight of the glorious azure
ocean beating in from an infinitude of melting horizons. Here,
too, my Mother, perched in a nook of the high rocks, surveyed the
west, and forgot for a little while her weakness and the gnawing,
grinding pain.

But in October, our sorrows seemed to close in upon us. We went
back to London, and for the first time in their married life, my
parents were divided. My Mother was now so seriously weaker that
the omnibus journeys to Pimlico became impossible. My Father
could not leave his work and so my Mother and I had to take a
gloomy lodging close to the doctor's house. The experiences upon
which I presently entered were of a nature in which childhood
rarely takes a part. I was now my Mother's sole and ceaseless
companion; the silent witness of her suffering, of her patience,
of her vain and delusive attempts to obtain alleviation of her
anguish. For nearly three months I breathed the atmosphere of
pain, saw no other light, heard no other sounds, thought no other
thoughts than those which accompany physical suffering and
weariness. To my memory these weeks seem years; I have no measure
of their monotony. The lodgings were bare and yet tawdry; out of
dingy windows we looked from a second storey upon a dull small
street, drowned in autumnal fog. My Father came to see us when he
could, but otherwise, save when we made our morning expedition to
the doctor, or when a slatternly girl waited upon us with our
distasteful meals, we were alone, without any other occupation
than to look forward to that occasional abatement of suffering
which was what we hoped for most.

It is difficult for me to recollect how these interminable hours
were spent. But I read aloud in a great part of them. I have now
in my mind's cabinet a picture of my chair turned towards the
window, partly that I might see the book more distinctly, partly
not to see quite so distinctly that dear patient figure rocking
on her sofa, or leaning, like a funeral statue, like a muse upon
a monument, with her head on her arms against the mantelpiece. I
read the Bible every day, and at much length; also,--with I
cannot but think some praiseworthy patience,--a book of
incommunicable dreariness, called Newton's Thoughts on the
Apocalypse. Newton bore a great resemblance to my old aversion,
Jukes, and I made a sort of playful compact with my Mother that
if I read aloud a certain number of pages out of Thoughts on the
Apocalypse, as a reward I should be allowed to recite 'my own
favourite hymns'. Among these there was one which united her
suffrages with mine. Both of us extremely admired the piece by
Toplady which begins:

What though my frail eyelids refuse
Continual watchings to keep,
And, punctual as midnight renews,
Demand the refreshment of sleep.

To this day, I cannot repeat this hymn without a sense of
poignant emotion, nor can I pretend to decide how much of this is
due to its merit and how much to the peculiar nature of the
memories it recalls. But it might be as rude as I genuinely think
it to be skilful, and I should continue to regard it as a sacred
poem. Among all my childish memories none is clearer than my
looking up,--after reading, in my high treble,

Kind Author and Ground of my hope,
Thee, Thee for my God I avow;
My glad Ebenezer set up,
And own Thou hast help'd me till now;
I muse on the years that are past,
Wherein my defence Thou hast prov'd,
Nor wilt Thou relinquish at last
A sinner so signally lov'd,--

and hearing my Mother, her eyes brimming with tears and her
alabastrine fingers tightly locked together, murmur in
unconscious repetition:

Nor wilt Thou relinquish at last
A sinner so signally lov'd.

In our lodgings at Pimlico I came across a piece of verse which
exercised a lasting influence on my taste. It was called 'The
Cameronian's Dream', and it had been written by a certain James
Hyslop, a schoolmaster on a man-of-war. I do not know how it came
into my possession, but I remember it was adorned by an extremely
dim and ill-executed wood-cut of a lake surrounded by mountains,
with tombstones in the foreground. This lugubrious frontispiece
positively fascinated me, and lent a further gloomy charm to the
ballad itself. It was in this copy of mediocre verses that the
sense of romance first appealed to me, the kind of nature-romance
which is connected with hills, and lakes, and the picturesque
costumes of old times. The following stanza, for instance,
brought a revelation to me:

'Twas a dream of those ages of darkness and blood,
When the minister's home was the mountain and wood;
When in Wellwood's dark valley the standard of Zion,
All bloody and torn, 'mong the heather was lying.

I persuaded my Mother to explain to me what it was all about, and
she told me of the affliction of the Scottish saints, their
flight to the waters and the wilderness, their cruel murder while
they were singing 'their last song to the God of Salvation'. I
was greatly fired, and the following stanza, in particular,
reached my ideal of the Sublime:

The muskets were flashing, the blue swords were gleaming,
The helmets were cleft, and the red blood was streaming,
The heavens grew dark, and the thunder was rolling,
When in Wellwood's dark muirlands the mighty were falling.

Twenty years later I met with the only other person whom I have
ever encountered who had even heard of 'The Cameronian's Dream'.
This was Robert Louis Stevenson, who had been greatly struck by
it when he was about my age. Probably the same ephemeral edition
of it reached, at the same time, each of our pious households.

As my Mother's illness progressed, she could neither sleep, save
by the use of opiates, nor rest, except in a sloping posture,
propped up by many pillows. It was my great joy, and a pleasant
diversion, to be allowed to shift, beat up, and rearrange these
pillows, a task which I learned to accomplish not too awkwardly.
Her sufferings, I believe, were principally caused by the
violence of the medicaments to which her doctor, who was trying a
new and fantastic 'cure', thought it proper to subject her. Let
those who take a pessimistic view of our social progress ask
themselves whether such tortures could today be inflicted on a
delicate patient, or whether that patient would be allowed to
exist, in the greatest misery in a lodging with no professional
nurse to wait upon her, and with no companion but a little
helpless boy of seven years of age. Time passes smoothly and
swiftly, and we do not perceive the mitigations which he brings
in his hands. Everywhere, in the whole system of human life,
improvements, alleviations, ingenious appliances and humane
inventions are being introduced to lessen the great burden of

If we were suddenly transplanted into the world of only fifty
years ago, we should be startled and even horror-stricken by the
wretchedness to which the step backwards would reintroduce us. It
was in the very year of which I am speaking, a year of which my
personal memories are still vivid, that Sir James Simpson
received the Monthyon prize as a recognition of his discovery of
the use of anaesthetics. Can our thoughts embrace the mitigation
of human torment which the application of chloroform alone has
caused? My early experiences, I confess, made me singularly
conscious, at an age when one should know nothing about these
things, of that torrent of sorrow and anguish and terror which
flows under all footsteps of man. Within my childish conscience,
already, some dim inquiry was awake as to the meaning of this
mystery of pain--

The floods of the tears meet and gather;
The sound of them all grows like thunder;
Oh into what bosom, I wonder,
Is poured the whole sorrow of years?
For Eternity only seems keeping
Account of the great human weeping;
May God then, the Maker and Father,
May He find a place for the tears!

In my Mother's case, the savage treatment did no good; it had to
be abandoned, and a day or two before Christmas, while the fruits
were piled in the shop-fronts and the butchers were shouting
outside their forests of carcases, my Father brought us back in a
cab through the streets to Islington, a feeble and languishing
company. Our invalid bore the journey fairly well, enjoying the
air, and pointing out to me the glittering evidences of the
season, but we paid heavily for her little entertainment, since,
at her earnest wish the window of the cab having been kept open,
she caught a cold, which became, indeed, the technical cause of a
death that no applications could now have long delayed.

Yet she lingered with us six weeks more, and during this time I
again relapsed, very naturally, into solitude. She now had the
care of a practised woman, one of the 'saints' from the Chapel,
and I was only permitted to pay brief visits to her bedside. That
I might not be kept indoors all day and everyday, a man, also
connected with the meeting-house, was paid a trifle to take me
out for a walk each morning. This person, who was by turns
familiar and truculent, was the object of my intense dislike. Our
relations became, in the truest sense, 'forced'; I was obliged to
walk by his side, but I held that I had no further responsibility
to be agreeable, and after a while I ceased to speak to him, or
to answer his remarks. On one occasion, poor dreary man, he met a
friend and stopped to chat with him. I considered this act to
have dissolved the bond; I skipped lightly from his side,
examined several shop-windows which I had been forbidden to look
into, made several darts down courts and up passages, and
finally, after a delightful morning, returned home, having known
my directions perfectly. My official conductor, in a shocking
condition of fear, was crouching by the area-rails looking up and
down the street. He darted upon me, in a great rage, to know
'what I meant by it?' I drew myself up as tall as I could, hissed
'Blind leader of the blind!' at him, and, with this inappropriate
but very effective Parthian shot, slipped into the house.

When it was quite certain that no alleviations and no medical
care could prevent, or even any longer postpone the departure of
my Mother, I believe that my future conduct became the object of
her greatest and her most painful solicitude. She said to my
Father that the worst trial of her faith came from the feeling
that she was called upon to leave that child whom she had so
carefully trained from his earliest infancy for the peculiar
service of the Lord, without any knowledge of what his further
course would be. In many conversations, she most tenderly and
closely urged my Father, who, however, needed no urging, to watch
with unceasing care over my spiritual welfare. As she grew nearer
her end, it was observed that she became calmer, and less
troubled by fears about me. The intensity of her prayers and
hopes seemed to have a prevailing force; it would have been a sin
to doubt that such supplications, such confidence and devotion,
such an emphasis of will, should not be rewarded by an answer
from above in the affirmative. She was able, she said, to leave
me 'in the hands of her loving Lord', or, on another occasion,
'to the care of her covenant God'.

Although her faith was so strong and simple, my Mother possessed
no quality of the mystic. She never pretended to any visionary
gifts, believed not at all in dreams or portents, and encouraged
nothing in herself or others which was superstitious or
fantastic. In order to realize her condition of mind, it is
necessary, I think, to accept the view that she had formed a
definite conception of the absolute, unmodified and historical
veracity, in its direct and obvious sense, of every statement
contained within the covers of the Bible. For her, and for my
Father, nothing was symbolic, nothing allegorical or allusive in
any part of Scripture, except what was, in so many words,
proffered as a parable or a picture. Pushing this to its extreme
limit, and allowing nothing for the changes of scene or time or
race, my parents read injunctions to the Corinthian converts
without any suspicion that what was apposite in dealing with
half-breed Achaian colonists of the first century might not
exactly apply to respectable English men and women of the
nineteenth. They took it, text by text, as if no sort of
difference existed between the surroundings of Trimalchion's
feast and those of a City dinner. Both my parents, I think, were
devoid of sympathetic imagination; in my Father, I am sure, it
was singularly absent. Hence, although their faith was so
strenuous that many persons might have called it fanatical, there
was no mysticism about them. They went rather to the opposite
extreme, to the cultivation of a rigid and iconoclastic

This was curiously exemplified in the very lively interest which
they both took in what is called 'the interpretation of
prophecy', and particularly in unwrapping the dark sayings bound
up in the Book of Revelation. In their impartial survey of the
Bible, they came to this collection of solemn and splendid
visions, sinister and obscure, and they had no intention of
allowing these to be merely stimulating to the fancy, or vaguely
doctrinal in symbol. When they read of seals broken and of vials
poured forth, of the star which was called Wormwood that fell
from Heaven, and of men whose hair was as the hair of women and
their teeth as the teeth of lions, they did not admit for a
moment that these vivid mental pictures were of a poetic
character, but they regarded them as positive statements, in
guarded language, describing events which were to happen, and
could be recognized when they did happen. It was the explanation,
the perfectly prosaic and positive explanation, of all these
wonders which drew them to study the Habershons and the Newtons
whose books they so much enjoyed. They were helped by these
guides to recognize in wild Oriental visions direct statements
regarding Napoleon III and Pope Pius IX and the King of Piedmont,
historic figures which they conceived as foreshadowed, in
language which admitted of plain interpretation, under the names
of denizens of Babylon and companions of the Wild Beast.

My Father was in the habit of saying, in later years, that no
small element in his wedded happiness had been the fact that my
Mother and he were of one mind in the interpretation of Sacred
Prophecy. Looking back, it appears to me that this unusual mental
exercise was almost their only relaxation, and that in their
economy it took the place which is taken, in profaner families,
by cards or the piano. It was a distraction; it took them
completely out of themselves. During those melancholy weeks at
Pimlico, I read aloud another work of the same nature as those of
Habershon and Jukes, the Horae Apocalyptícae of a Mr Elliott.
This was written, I think, in a less disagreeable style, and
certainly it was less opaquely obscure to me. My recollection
distinctly is that when my Mother could endure nothing else, the
arguments of this book took her thoughts away from her pain and
lifted her spirits. Elliott saw 'the queenly arrogance of Popery'
everywhere, and believed that the very last days of Babylon the
Great were came. Lest I say what may be thought extravagant, let
me quote what my Father wrote in his diary at the time of my
Mother's death. He said that the thought that Rome was doomed (as
seemed not impossible in 1857) so affected my Mother that it
'irradiated' her dying hours with an assurance that was like 'the
light of the Morning Star, the harbinger of the rising sun'.

After our return to Islington, there was a complete change in my
relation to my Mother. At Pimlico, I had been all-important, her
only companion, her friend, her confidant. But now that she was
at home again, people and things combined to separate me from
her. Now, and for the first time in my life, I no longer slept in
her room, no longer sank to sleep under her kiss, no longer saw
her mild eyes smile on me with the earliest sunshine. Twice a
day, after breakfast and before I went to rest, I was brought to
her bedside; but we were never alone; other people, sometimes
strange people, were there. We had no cosy talk; often she was
too weak to do more than pat my hand; her loud and almost
constant cough terrified and harassed me. I felt, as I stood,
awkwardly and shyly, by her high bed, that I had shrunken into a
very small and insignificant figure, that she was floating out of
my reach, that all things, but I knew not what nor how, were
corning to an end. She herself was not herself; her head, that
used to be held so erect, now rolled or sank upon the pillow; the
sparkle was all extinguished from those bright, dear eyes. I
could not understand it; I meditated long, long upon it all in my
infantile darkness, in the garret, or in the little slip of a
cold room where my bed was now placed; and a great, blind anger
against I knew not what awakened in my soul.

The two retreats which I have mentioned were now all that were
left to me. In the back-parlour someone from outside gave me
occasional lessons of a desultory character. The breakfast-room
was often haunted by visitors, unknown to me by face or name,--
ladies, who used to pity me and even to pet me, until I became
nimble in escaping from their caresses. Everything seemed to be
unfixed, uncertain; it was like being on the platform of a
railway-station waiting for a train. In all this time, the
agitated, nervous presence of my Father, whose pale face was
permanently drawn with anxiety, added to my perturbation, and I
became miserable, stupid-- as if I had lost my way in a cold fog.

Had I been older and more intelligent, of course, it might have
been of him and not of myself that I should have been thinking.
As I now look back upon that tragic time, it is for him that my
heart bleeds,--for them both, so singularly fitted as they were
to support and cheer one another in an existence which their own
innate and cultivated characteristics had made little hospitable
to other sources of comfort. This is not to be dwelt on here. But
what must be recorded was the extraordinary tranquillity, the
serene and sensible resignation, with which at length my parents
faced the awful hour. Language cannot utter what they suffered,
but there was no rebellion, no repining; in their case even an
atheist might admit that the overpowering miracle of grace was
mightily efficient.

It seems almost cruel to the memory of their opinions that the
only words which rise to my mind, the only ones which seem in the
least degree adequate to describe the attitude of my parents, had
fallen from the pen of one whom, in their want of imaginative
sympathy, they had regarded as anathema. But John Henry Newman
might have come from the contemplation of my Mother's death-bed
when he wrote: 'All the trouble which the world inflicts upon us,
and which flesh cannot but feel,--sorrow, pain, care,
bereavement,--these avail not to disturb the tranquillity and the
intensity with which faith gazes at the Divine Majesty.' It was
'tranquillity', it was not the rapture of the mystic. Almost in
the last hour of her life, urged to confess her 'joy' in the
Lord, my Mother, rigidly honest, meticulous in self-analysis, as
ever, replied: 'I have peace, but not joy. It would not do to go
into eternity with a lie in my mouth.'

When the very end approached, and her mind was growing clouded,
she gathered her strength together to say to my Father, 'I shall
walk with Him in white. Won't you take your lamb and walk with
me?' Confused with sorrow and alarm, my Father failed to
understand her meaning. She became agitated, and she repeated two
or three times: 'Take our lamb, and walk with me!' Then my Father
comprehended, and pressed me forward; her hand fell softly upon
mine and she seemed content. Thus was my dedication, that had
begun in my cradle, sealed with the most solemn, the most
poignant and irresistible insistence, at the death-bed of the
holiest and purest of women. But what a weight, intolerable as
the burden of Atlas, to lay on the shoulders of a little fragile


CERTAINLY the preceding year, the seventh of my life, had been
weighted for us with comprehensive disaster. I have not yet
mentioned that, at the beginning of my Mother's fatal illness,
misfortune came upon her brothers. I have never known the
particulars of their ruin, but, I believe in consequence of A.'s
unsuccessful speculations, and of the fact that E. had allowed
the use of his name as a surety, both my uncles were obliged to
fly from their creditors, and take refuge in Paris. This happened
just when our need was the sorest, and this, together with the
poignancy of knowing that their sister's devoted labours for them
had been all in vain, added to their unhappiness. It was
doubtless also the reason why, having left England, they wrote to
us no more, carefully concealing from us even their address, so
that when my Mother died, my Father was unable to communicate
with them. I fear that they fell into dire distress; before very
long we learned that A. had died, but it was fifteen years more
before we heard anything of E., whose life had at length been
preserved by the kindness of an old servant, but whose mind was
now so clouded that he could recollect little or nothing of the
past; and soon he also died. Amiable, gentle, without any species
of practical ability, they were quite unfitted to struggle with
the world, which had touched them only to wreck them.

The flight of my uncles at this particular juncture left me
without a relative on my Mother's side at the time of her death.
This isolation threw my Father into a sad perplexity. His only
obvious source of income--but it happened to be a remarkably
hopeful one--was an engagement to deliver a long series of
lectures on marine natural history throughout the north and
centre of England. These lectures were an entire novelty; nothing
like them had been offered to the provincial public before; and
the fact that the newly-invented marine aquarium was the
fashionable toy of the moment added to their attraction. My
Father was bowed down by sorrow and care, but he was not broken.
His intellectual forces were at their height, and so was his
popularity as an author. The lectures were to begin in march; my
Mother was buried on 13 February. It seemed at first, in the
inertia of bereavement, to be all beyond his powers to make the
supreme effort, but the wholesome prick of need urged him on. It
was a question of paying for food and clothes, of keeping a roof
above our heads. The captain of a vessel in a storm must navigate
his ship, although his wife lies dead in the cabin. That was my
Father's position in the spring of 1857; he had to stimulate,
instruct, amuse large audiences of strangers, and seem gay,
although affliction and loneliness had settled in his heart. He
had to do this, or starve.

But the difficulty still remained. During these months what was
to become of me? My Father could not take me with him from hotel
to hotel and from lecture-hall to lecture-hall. Nor could he
leave me, as people leave the domestic cat, in an empty house for
the neighbours to feed at intervals. The dilemma threatened to be
insurmountable, when suddenly there descended upon us a kind, but
little-known, paternal cousin from the west of England, who had
heard of our calamities. This lady had a large family of her own
at Bristol; she offered to find room in it for me so long as ever
my Father should be away in the north; and when my Father,
bewildered by so much goodness, hesitated, she came up to London
and carried me forcibly away in a whirlwind of good-nature. Her
benevolence was quite spontaneous; and I am not sure that she had
not added to it already by helping to nurse our beloved sufferer
through part of her illness. Of that I am not positive, but I
recollect very clearly her snatching me from our cold and
desolate hearthstone, and carrying me off to her cheerful house
at Clifton.

Here, for the first time, when half through my eighth year, I was
thrown into the society of young people. My cousins were none of
them, I believe, any longer children, but they were youths and
maidens busily engaged in various personal interests, all
collected in a hive of wholesome family energy. Everybody was
very kind to me, and I sank back, after the strain of so many
months, into mere childhood again. This long visit to my cousins
at Clifton must have been very delightful; I am dimly aware that
it was-- yet I remember but few of its incidents. My memory, so
clear and vivid about earlier solitary times, now in all this
society becomes blurred and vague. I recollect certain pleasures;
being taken, for instance, to a menagerie, and having a practical
joke, in the worst taste, played upon me by the pelican. One of
my cousins, who was a medical student, showed me a pistol, and
helped me to fire it; he smoked a pipe, and I was oddly conscious
that both the firearm and the tobacco were definitely hostile to
my 'dedication'. My girl-cousins took turns in putting me to bed,
and on cold nights, or when they were in a hurry, allowed me to
say my prayer under the bed-clothes instead of kneeling at a
chair. The result of this was further spiritual laxity, because I
could not help going to sleep before the prayer was ended.

The visit to Clifton was, in fact, a blessed interval in my
strenuous childhood. It probably prevented my nerves from
breaking down under the pressure of the previous months. The
Clifton family was God-fearing, in a quiet, sensible way, but
there was a total absence of all the intensity and compulsion of
our religious life at Islington. I was not encouraged--I even
remember that I was gently snubbed--when I rattled forth, parrot-
fashion, the conventional phraseology of 'the saints'. For a
short, enchanting period of respite, I lived the life of an
ordinary little boy, relapsing, to a degree which would have
filled my Father with despair, into childish thoughts and
childish language. The result was that of this little happy
breathing-space I have nothing to report. Vague, half-blind
remembrances of walks, with my tall cousins waving like trees
above me, pleasant noisy evenings in a great room on the ground-
floor, faint silver-points of excursions into the country, all
this is the very pale and shadowy testimony to a brief interval
of healthy, happy child-life, when my hard-driven soul was
allowed to have, for a little while, no history.

The life of a child is so brief, its impressions are so illusory
and fugitive, that it is as difficult to record its history as it
would be to design a morning cloud sailing before the wind. It is
short, as we count shortness in after years, when the drag of
lead pulls down to earth the foot that used to flutter with a
winged impetuosity, and to float with the pulse of Hermes. But in
memory, my childhood was long, long with interminable hours,
hours with the pale cheek pressed against the windowpane, hours
of mechanical and repeated lonely 'games', which had lost their
savour, and were kept going by sheer inertness. Not unhappy, not
fretful, but long,--long, long. It seems to me, as I look back to
the life in the motherless Islington house, as I resumed it in
that slow eighth year of my life, that time had ceased to move.
There was a whole age between one tick of the eight-day clock in
the hall, and the next tick. When the milkman went his rounds in
our grey street, with his eldritch scream over the top of each
set of area railings, it seemed as though he would never
disappear again. There was no past and no future for me, and the
present felt as though it were sealed up in a Leyden jar. Even my
dreams were interminable, and hung stationary from the nightly

At this time, the street was my theatre, and I spent long
periods, as I have said, leaning against the window. I feel now
that coldness of the pane, and the feverish heat that was
produced, by contrast, in the orbit round the eye. Now and then
amusing things happened. The onion-man was a joy long waited for.
This worthy was a tall and bony Jersey Protestant with a raucous
voice, who strode up our street several times a week, carrying a
yoke across his shoulders, from the ends of which hung ropes of
onions. He used to shout, at abrupt intervals, in a tone which
might wake the dead:

Here's your rope . . . .
To hang the Pope . . . .
And a penn'orth of cheese to choke him.

The cheese appeared to be legendary; he sold only onions. My
Father did not eat onions, but he encouraged this terrible
fellow, with his wild eyes and long strips of hair, because of
his godly attitude towards the 'Papacy', and I used to watch him
dart out of the front door, present his penny, and retire,
graciously waving back the proffered onion. On the other hand, my
Father did not approve of a fat sailor, who was a constant
passer-by. This man, who was probably crazed, used to wall very
slowly up the centre of our street, vociferating with the voice
of a bull,

Wa-a-atch and pray-hay!
Night and day-hay!

This melancholy admonition was the entire business of his life.
He did nothing at all but walk up and down the streets of
Islington exhorting the inhabitants to watch and pray. I do not
recollect that this sailor-man stopped to collect pennies, and my
impression is that he was, after his fashion, a volunteer

The tragedy of Mr. Punch was another, and a still greater
delight. I was never allowed to go out into the street to mingle
with the little crowd which gathered under the stage, and as I
was extremely near-sighted, the impression I received was vague.
But when, by happy chance, the show stopped opposite our door, I
saw enough of that ancient drama to be thrilled with terror and
delight. I was much affected by the internal troubles of the
Punch family; I thought that with a little more tact on the part
of Mrs. Punch and some restraint held over a temper, naturally
violent, by Mr. Punch, a great deal of this sad misunderstanding
might have been prevented.

The momentous close, when a figure of shapeless horror appears on
the stage, and quells the hitherto undaunted Mr. Punch, was to me
the bouquet of the entire performance. When Mr Punch, losing his
nerve, points to this shape and says in an awestruck, squeaking
whisper, ' Who's that? Is it the butcher? and the stern answer
comes, 'No, Mr. Punch!' And then, 'Is it the baker?" No, Mr.
Punch! "Who is it then?' (this in a squeak trembling with emotion
and terror); and then the full, loud reply, booming like a
judgement-bell, 'It is the Devil come to take you down to Hell,'
and the form of Punch, with kicking legs, sunken in epilepsy on
the floor, --all this was solemn and exquisite to me beyond
words. I was not amused-- I was deeply moved and exhilarated,
'purged', as the old phrase hath it, 'with pity and terror'.

Another joy, in a lighter key, was watching a fantastic old man
who came slowly up the street, hung about with drums and flutes
and kites and coloured balls, and bearing over his shoulders a
great sack. Children and servant-girls used to bolt up out of
areas, and chaffer with this gaudy person, who would presently
trudge on, always repeating the same set of words--

Here's your toys
For girls and boys,
For bits of brass
And broken glass,
(these four lines being spoken in a breathless hurry)
A penny or a vial-bottell . . . .
(this being drawled out in an endless wail).

I was not permitted to go forth and trade with this old person,
but sometimes our servant-maid did, thereby making me feel that
if I did not hold the rose of merchandise, I was very near it. My
experiences with my cousins at Clifton had given me the habit of
looking out into the world-- even though it was only into the
pale world of our quiet street.

My Father and I were now great friends. I do not doubt that he
felt his responsibility to fill as far as might be the gap which
the death of my Mother had made in my existence. I spent a large
portion of my time in his study while he was writing or drawing,
and though very little conversation passed between us, I think
that each enjoyed the companionship of the other. Them were two,
and sometimes three aquaria in the room, tanks of sea-water, with


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