Father and Son
Edmund Gosse

Part 2 out of 4

glass sides, inside which all sorts of creatures crawled and
swam; these were sources of endless pleasure to me, and at this
time began to be laid upon me the occasional task of watching and
afterwards reporting the habits of animals.

At other times, I dragged a folio volume of the Penny Cyclopaedia
up to the study with me, and sat there reading successive
articles on such subjects as Parrots, Parthians, Passion-flowers,
Passover and Pastry, without any invidious preferences, all
information being equally welcome, and equally fugitive. That
something of all this loose stream of knowledge clung to odd
cells of the back of my brain seems to be shown by the fact that
to this day, I occasionally find myself aware of some stray
useless fact about peonies or pemmican or pepper, which I can
only trace back to the Penny Cyclopaedia of my infancy.

It will be asked what the attitude of my Father's mind was to me,
and of mine to his, as regards religion, at this time, when we
were thrown together alone so much. It is difficult to reply with
exactitude. But so far as the former is concerned, I thinly that
the extreme violence of the spiritual emotions to which my Father
had been subjected, had now been followed by a certain reaction.
He had not changed his views in any respect, and he was prepared
to work out the results of them with greater zeal than ever, but
just at present his religious nature, like his physical nature,
was tired out with anxiety and sorrow. Ho accepted the
supposition that I was entirely with him in all respects, so far,
that is to say, as a being so rudimentary and feeble as a little
child could be. My Mother, in her last hours, had dwelt on our
unity in God; we were drawn together, she said, elect from the
world, in a triplicity of faith and joy. She had constantly
repeated the words: 'We shall be one family, one song. One song!
one family!' My Father, I think, accepted this as a prophecy, he
felt no doubt of our triple unity; my Mother had now merely
passed before us, through a door, into a world of light, where we
should presently join her, where all things would be radiant and
blissful, but where we three would, in some unknown way, be
particularly drawn together in a tie of inexpressible beatitude.
He fretted at the delay; he would have taken me by the hand, and
have joined her in the realms of holiness and light, at once,
without this dreary dalliance with earthly cares.

He held this confidence and vision steadily before him, but
nothing availed against the melancholy of his natural state. He
was conscious of his dull and solitary condition, and he saw,
too, that it enveloped me. I think his heart was, at this time,
drawn out towards me in an immense tenderness. Sometimes, when
the early twilight descended upon us in the study, and he could
no longer peer with advantage into the depths of his microscope,
he would beckon me to him silently, and fold me closely in his
arms. I used to turn my face up to his, patiently and
wonderingly, while the large, unwilling tears gathered in the
corners of his eyelids. My training had given me a preternatural
faculty of stillness, and we would stay so, without a word or a
movement, until the darkness filled the room. And then, with my
little hand in his, we would walk sedately downstairs to the
parlour, where we would find that the lamp was lighted, and that
our melancholy vigil was ended. I do not think that at any part
of our lives my Father and I were drawn so close to one another
as we were in that summer of 1857. Yet we seldom spoke of what
lay so warm and fragrant between us, the flower-like thought of
our Departed.

The visit to my cousins had made one considerable change in me.
Under the old solitary discipline, my intelligence had grown at
the expense of my sentiment. I was innocent, but inhuman. The
long suffering and the death of my Mother had awakened my heart,
had taught me what pain was, but had left me savage and morose. I
had still no idea of the relations of human beings to one
another; I had learned no word of that philosophy which comes to
the children of the poor in the struggle of the street and to the
children of the well-to-do in the clash of the nursery. In other
words, I had no humanity; I had been carefully shielded from the
chance of 'catching' it, as though it were the most dangerous of
microbes. But now that I had enjoyed a little of the common
experience of childhood, a great change had come upon me. Before
I went to Clifton, my mental life was all interior, a rack of
baseless dream upon dream. But, now, I was eager to look out of
the window, to go out in the streets; I was taken with a
curiosity about human life. Even from my vantage of the window-
pane, I watched boys and girls go by with an interest which began
to be almost wistful.

Still I continued to have no young companions. But on summer
evenings I used to drag my Father out, taking the initiative
myself, stamping in playful impatience at his irresolution,
fetching his hat and stick, and waiting. We used to sally forth
at last together, hand in hand, descending the Caledonian Road,
with all its shops, as far as Mother Shipton, or else winding
among the semi-genteel squares and terraces westward by
Copenhagen Street, or, best of all, mounting to the Regent's
Canal, where we paused to lean over the bridge and watch
flotillas of ducks steer under us, or little white dogs dash,
impotently furious, from stem to stern of the great, lazy barges
painted in a crude vehemence of vermilion and azure. These were
happy hours, when the spectre of Religion ceased to overshadow us
for a little while, when my Father forgot the Apocalypse and
dropped his austere phraseology, and when our bass and treble
voices used to ring out together over some foolish little jest or
some mirthful recollection of his past experiences. Little soft
oases these, in the hard desert of our sandy spiritual life at

There was an unbending, too, when we used to sing together, in my
case very tunelessly. I had inherited a plentiful lack of musical
genius from my Mother, who had neither ear nor voice, and who had
said, in the course of her last illness, 'I shall sing His
praise, at length, in strains I never could master here below'.
My Father, on the other hand, had some knowledge of the
principles of vocal music, although not, I am afraid, much taste.
He had at least great fondness for singing hymns, in the manner
then popular with the Evangelicals, very loudly, and so slowly
that I used to count how many words I could read silently,
between one syllable of the singing and another. My lack of skill
did not prevent me from being zealous at these vocal exercises,
and my Father and I used to sing lustily together. The Wesleys,
Charlotte Elliott ('Just as I am, without one plea'), and James
Montgomery ('Forever with the Lord') represented his predilection
in hymnology. I acquiesced, although that would not have been my
independent choice. These represented the devotional verse which
made its direct appeal to the evangelical mind, and served in
those 'Puseyite' days to counteract the High Church poetry
founded on The Christian Year. Of that famous volume I never met
with a copy until I was grown up, and equally unknown in our
circle were the hymns of Newman, Faber and Neale.

It was my Father's plan from the first to keep me entirely
ignorant of the poetry of the High Church, which deeply offended
his Calvinism; he thought that religious truth could be sucked
in, like mother's milk, from hymns which were godly and sound,
and yet correctly versified; and I was therefore carefully
trained in this direction from an early date. But my spirit had
rebelled against some of these hymns, especially against those
written--a mighty multitude--by Horatius Bonar; naughtily
refusing to read Bonar's 'I heard the voice of Jesus say' to my
Mother in our Pimlico lodgings. A secret hostility to this
particular form of effusion was already, at the age of seven,
beginning to define itself in my brain, side by side with an
unctuous infantile conformity.

I find a difficulty in recalling the precise nature of the
religious instruction which my Father gave me at this time. It
was incessant, and it was founded on the close inspection of the
Bible, particularly of the epistles of the New Testament. This
summer, as my eighth year advanced, we read the 'Epistle to the
Hebrews', with very great deliberation, stopping every moment,
that my Father might expound it, verse by verse. The
extraordinary beauty of the language--for instance, the matchless
cadences and images of the first chapter--made a certain
impression upon my imagination, and were (I think) my earliest
initiation into the magic of literature. I was incapable of
defining what I felt, but I certainly had a grip in the throat,
which was in its essence a purely aesthetic emotion, when my
Father read, in his pure, large, ringing voice, such passages as
'The heavens are the works of Thy hands. They shall perish, but
Thou remainest, and they all shall wax old as doth a garment, and
as a venture shah Thou fold them up, and they shall be changed;
but Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail.' But the
dialectic parts of the Epistle puzzled and confused me. Such
metaphysical ideas as 'laying again the foundation of repentance
from dead works' and 'crucifying the Son of God afresh' were not
successfully brought down to the level of my understanding.

My Father's religious teaching to me was almost exclusively
doctrinal. He did not observe the value of negative education,
that is to say, of leaving Nature alone to fill up the gaps which
it is her design to deal with at a later and riper date. He did
not, even, satisfy himself with those moral injunctions which
should form the basis of infantile discipline. He was in a
tremendous hurry to push on my spiritual growth, and he fed me
with theological meat which it was impossible for me to digest.
Some glimmer of a suspicion that he was sailing on the wrong tack
must, I should suppose, have broken in upon him when we had
reached the eighth and ninth chapters of Hebrews, where,
addressing readers who had been brought up under the Jewish
dispensation, and had the formalities of the Law of Moses in
their very blood, the apostle battles with their dangerous
conservatism. It is a very noble piece of spiritual casuistry,
but it is signally unfitted for the comprehension of a child.
Suddenly by my flushing up with anger and saying, ' Oh how I do
hate that Law,' my Father perceived, and paused in amazement to
perceive, that I took the Law to be a person of malignant temper
from whose cruel bondage, and from whose intolerable tyranny and
unfairness, some excellent person was crying out to be delivered.
I wished to hit Law with my fist, for being so mean and

Upon this, of course, it was necessary to reopen the whole line
of exposition. My Father, without realizing it, had been talking
on his own level, not on mine, and now he condescended to me. But
without very great success. The melodious language, the divine
forensic audacities, the magnificent ebb and flow of argument
which make the 'Epistle to the Hebrews' such a miracle, were far
and away beyond my reach, and they only bewildered me. Some
evangelical children of my generation, I understand, were brought
up on a work called 'Line upon Line: Here a Little, and there a
Little'. My Father's ambition would not submit to anything
suggested by such a title as that, and he committed, from his own
point of view, a fatal mistake when he sought to build spires and
battlements without having been at the pains to settle a
foundation beneath them.

We were not always reading the 'Epistle to the Hebrews', however;
not always was my flesh being made to creep by having it insisted
upon that 'almost all things are by the Law purged with blood,
and without blood is no remission of sin'. In our lighter moods,
we turned to the 'Book of Revelation', and chased the phantom of
Popery through its fuliginous pages. My Father, I think, missed
my Mother's company almost more acutely in his researches into
prophecy than in anything else. This had been their unceasing
recreation, and no third person could possibly follow the curious
path which they had hewn for themselves through this jungle of
symbols. But, more and more, my Father persuaded himself that I,
too, was initiated,, and by degrees I was made to share in all
his speculations and interpretations.

Hand in hand we investigated the number of the Beast, which
number is six hundred three score and six. Hand in hand we
inspected the nations, to see whether they had the mark of
Babylon in their foreheads. Hand in hand we watched the spirits
of devils gathering the kings of the earth into the place which
is called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. Our unity in these
excursions was so delightful, that my Father was lulled in any
suspicion he might have formed that I did not quite understand
what it was all about. Nor could he have desired a pupil more
docile or more ardent than I was in my flaming denunciations of
the Papacy.

If there was one institution more than another which, at this
early stage of my history, I loathed and feared, it was what we
invariably spoke of as 'the so-called Church of Rome'. In later
years, I have met with stout Protestants, gallant 'Down-with-the-
Pope' men from County Antrim, and ladies who see the hand of the
Jesuits in every public and private misfortune. It is the habit
of a loose and indifferent age to consider this dwindling body of
enthusiasts with suspicion, and to regard their attitude towards
Rome as illiberal. But my own feeling is that they are all too
mild, that their denunciations err on the side of the anodyne. I
have no longer the slightest wish myself to denounce the Roman
communion, but, if it is to be done, I have an idea that the
latter-day Protestants do not know how to do it. In Lord
Chesterfield's phrase, these anti-Pope men 'don't understand
their own silly business'. They make concessions and allowances,
they put on gloves to touch the accursed thing.

Not thus did we approach the Scarlet Woman in the 'fifties. We
palliated nothing, we believed in no good intentions, we used (I
myself used, in my tender innocency) language of the seventeenth
century such as is now no longer introduced into any species of
controversy. As a little boy, when I thought, with intense
vagueness, of the Pope, I used to shut my eyes tight and clench
my fists. We welcomed any social disorder in any part of Italy,
as likely to be annoying to the Papacy. If there was a custom-
house officer stabbed in a fracas at Sassari, we gave loud thanks
that liberty and light were breaking in upon Sardinia. If there
was an unsuccessful attempt to murder the Grand Duke, we lifted
up our voices to celebrate the faith and sufferings of the dear
persecuted Tuscans, and the record of some apocryphal monstrosity
in Naples would only reveal to us a glorious opening for Gospel
energy. My Father celebrated the announcement in the newspapers
of a considerable emigration from the Papal Dominions by
rejoicing at 'this outcrowding of many, throughout the harlot's
domain, from her sins and her plagues'.

No, the Protestant League may consider itself to be an earnest
and active body, but I can never look upon its efforts as
anything but lukewarm, standing, as I do, with the light of other
days around me. As a child, whatever I might question, I never
doubted the turpitude of Rome. I do not think I had formed any
idea whatever of the character or pretensions or practices of the
Catholic Church, or indeed of what it consisted, or its nature;
but I regarded it with a vague terror as a wild beast, the only
good point about it being that it was very old and was soon to
die. When I turned to Jukes or Newton for further detail, I could
not understand what they said. Perhaps, on the whole, there was
no disadvantage in that.

It is possible that someone may have observed to my Father that
the conditions of our life were unfavourable to our health,
although I hardly think that he would have encouraged any such
advice. As I look back upon this far-away time, I am surprised at
the absence in it of any figures but our own. He and I together,
now in the study among the sea-anemones and starfishes; now on
the canal-bridge, looking down at the ducks; now at our hard
little meals, served up as those of a dreamy widower are likely
to be when one maid-of-all-work provides them, now under the lamp
at the maps we both loved so much, this is what I see-- no third
presence is ever with us. Whether it occurred to himself that
such a solitude a deux was excellent, in the long run, for
neither of us, or whether any chance visitor or one of the
'Saints', who used to see me at the Room every Sunday morning,
suggested that a female influence might put a little rose-colour
into my pasty cheeks, I know not. All I am sure of is that one
day, towards the close of the summer, as I was gazing into the
street, I saw a four-wheeled cab stop outside our door, and
deposit, with several packages, a strange lady, who was shown up
into my Father's study and was presently brought down and
introduced to me.

Miss Marks, as I shall take the liberty of calling this person,
was so long a part of my life that I must pause to describe her.
She was tall, rather gaunt, with high cheek-bones; her teeth were
prominent and very white; her eyes were china-blue, and were
always absolutely fixed, wide open, on the person she spoke to;
her nose was inclined to be red at the tip. She had a kind,
hearty, sharp mode of talking, but did not exercise it much,
being on the whole taciturn. She was bustling and nervous, not
particularly refined, not quite, I imagine, what is called 'a
lady'. I supposed her, if I thought of the matter at all, to be
very old, but perhaps she may have been, when we knew her first,
some forty-five summers. Miss Marks was an orphan, depending upon
her work for her living; she would not, in these days of
examinations, have comas up to the necessary educational
standards, but she had enjoyed experience in teaching, and was
prepared to be a conscientious and careful governess, up to her
lights. I was now informed by my Father that it was in this
capacity that she would in future take her place in our
household. I was not informed, what I gradually learned by
observation, that she would also act in it as housekeeper.

Miss Marks was a somewhat grotesque personage, and might easily
be painted as a kind of eccentric Dickens character, a mixture of
Mrs. Pipchin and Miss Sally Brass. I will confess that when, in
years to come, I read 'Dombey and Son', certain features of Mrs.
Pipchin did irresistibly remind me of my excellent past
governess. I can imagine Miss Marks saying, but with a facetious
intent, that children who sniffed would not go to heaven. But I
was instantly ashamed of the parallel, because my gaunt old
friend was a thoroughly good and honest woman, not intelligent
and not graceful, but desirous in every way to do her duty. Her
duty to me she certainly did, and I am afraid I hardly rewarded
her with the devotion she deserved. From the first, I was
indifferent to her wishes, and, as much as was convenient, I
ignored her existence. She held no power over my attention, and
if I accepted her guidance along the path of instruction, it was
because, odd as it may sound, I really loved knowledge. I
accepted her company without objection, and though there were
occasional outbreaks of tantrums on both sides, we got on very
well together for several years. I did not, however, at any time
surrender my inward will to the wishes of Miss Marks.

In the circle of our life the religious element took so
preponderating a place, that it is impossible to avoid
mentioning, what might otherwise seem unimportant, the
theological views of Miss Marks. How my Father had discovered
her, or from what field of educational enterprise he plucked her
in her prime, I never knew, but she used to mention that my
Father's ministrations had 'opened her eyes', from which 'scales'
had fallen. She had accepted, on their presentation to her, the
entire gamut of his principles. Miss Marks was accustomed, while
putting me to bed, to dwell darkly on the incidents of her past,
which had, I fear, been an afflicted one. I believe I do her
rather limited intelligence no injury when I say that it was
prepared to swallow, at one mouthful, whatever my Father
presented to it, so delighted was its way-worn possessor to find
herself in a comfortable, or, at least, an independent position.
She soon bowed, if there was indeed any resistance from the
first, very contentedly in the House of Rimmon, learning to
repeat, with marked fluency, the customary formulas and
shibboleths. On my own religious development she had no great
influence. Any such guttering theological rushlight as Miss Marks
might dutifully exhibit faded for me in the blaze of my Father's
glaring beacon-lamp of faith.

Hardly was Miss Marks settled in the family, than my Father left
us on an expedition about which my curiosity was exercised, but
not until later, satisfied. He had gone, as we afterwards found,
to South Devon, to a point on the coast which he had known of
old. Here he had hired a horse, and had ridden about until he saw
a spot he liked, where a villa was being built on speculation.
Nothing equals the courage of these recluse men; my Father got
off his horse, and tied it to the gate, and then he went in and
bought the house on a ninety-nine years' lease. I need hardly say
that he had made the matter a subject of the most earnest prayer,
and had entreated the Lord for guidance. When he felt attracted
to this particular villa, he did not doubt that he was directed
to it in answer to his supplication, and he wasted no time in
further balancing or inquiring. On my eighth birthday, with bag
and baggage complete, we all made the toilful journey down into
Devonshire, and I was a town-child no longer.


A NEW element now entered into my life, a fresh rival arose to
compete for me with my Father's dogmatic theology. This rival was
the Sea. When Wordsworth was a little child, the presence of the
mountains and the clouds lighted up his spirit with gleams that
were like the flashing of a shield. He has described, in the
marvellous pages of the 'Prelude', the impact of nature upon the
infant soul, but he has described it vaguely and faintly, with
some 'infirmity of love for days disowned by memory',--I think
because he was brought up in the midst of spectacular beauty, and
could name no moment, mark no 'here' or 'now', when the wonder
broke upon him. It was at the age of twice five summers, he
thought, that he began to hold unconscious intercourse with
nature, 'drinking in a pure organic pleasure' from the floating
mists and winding waters. Perhaps, in his anxiety to be truthful,
and in the absence of any record, he put the date of this
conscious rapture too late rather than too early. Certainly my
own impregnation with the obscurely-defined but keenly-felt
loveliness of the open sea dates from the first week of my ninth

The village, on the outskirts of which we had taken up our abode,
was built parallel to the cliff line above the shore, but half a
mile inland. For a long time after the date I have now reached,
no other form of natural scenery than the sea had any effect upon
me at all. The tors of the distant moor might be drawn in deep
blue against the pallor of our morning or our evening sky, but I
never looked at them. It was the Sea, always the sea, nothing but
the sea. From our house, or from the field at the back of our
house, or from any part of the village itself, there was no
appearance to suggest that there could lie anything in an
easterly direction to break the infinitude of red ploughed
fields. But on that earliest morning, how my heart remembers we
hastened,--Miss Marks, the maid, and I between them, along a
couple of high-walled lanes, when suddenly, far below us, in an
immense arc of light, there stretched the enormous plain of
waters. We had but to cross a step or two of downs, when the
hollow sides of the great limestone cove yawned at our feet,
descending, like a broken cup, down, down to the moon of snow-
white shingle and the expanse of blue-green sea.

In these twentieth-century days, a careful municipality has
studded the down with rustic seats and has shut its dangers out
with railings, has cut a winding carriage-drive round the curves
of the cove down to the shore, and has planted sausage-laurels at
intervals in clearings made for that aesthetic purpose. When last
I saw the place, thus smartened and secured, with its hair in
curl-papers and its feet in patent-leathers, I turned from it in
anger and disgust, and could almost have wept. I suppose that to
those who knew it in no other guise, it may still have beauty. No
parish councils, beneficent and shrewd, can obscure the lustre of
the waters or compress the vastness of the sky. But what man
could do to make wild beauty ineffectual, tame and empty, has
amply been performed at Oddicombe.

Very different was it fifty years ago, in its uncouth majesty. No
road, save the merest goat-path, led down its concave wilderness,
in which loose furze-bushes and untrimmed brambles wantoned into
the likeness of trees, each draped in audacious tissue of wild
clematis. Through this fantastic maze the traveller wound his
way, led by little other clue than by the instinct of descent.
For me, as a child, it meant the labour of a long, an endless
morning, to descend to the snow-white pebbles, to sport at the
edge of the cold, sharp sea, and then to climb up home again,
slipping in the sticky red mud, clutching at the smooth boughs of
the wild ash, toiling, toiling upwards into flat land out of that
hollow world of rocks.

On the first occasion I recollect, our Cockney housemaid,
enthusiastic young creature that she was, flung herself down upon
her knees, and drank of the salt waters. Miss Marks, more
instructed in phenomena, refrained, but I, although I was
perfectly aware what the taste would be, insisted on sipping a
few drops from the palm of my hand. This was a slight recurrence
of what I have called my 'natural magic' practices, which had
passed into the background of my mind, but had not quite
disappeared. I recollect that I thought I might secure some power
of walking on the sea, if I drank of it--a perfectly irrational
movement of mind, like those of savages.

My great desire was to walk out over the sea as far as I could,
and then lie flat on it, face downwards, and peer into the
depths. I was tormented with this ambition, and, like many grown-
up people, was so fully occupied by these vain and ridiculous
desires that I neglected the actual natural pleasures around me.
The idea was not quite so demented as it may seem, because we
were in the habit of singing, as well as reading, of those
enraptured beings who spend their days in 'flinging down their
golden crowns upon the jasper sea'. Why, I argued, should I not
be able to fling down my straw hat upon the tides of Oddicombe?
And, without question, a majestic scene upon the Lake of
Gennesaret had also inflamed my fancy. Of all these things, of
course, I was careful to speak to no one.

It was not with Miss Marks, however, but with my Father, that I
became accustomed to make the laborious and exquisite journeys
down to the sea and back again. His work as a naturalist
eventually took him, laden with implements, to the rock-pools on
the shore, and I was in attendance as an acolyte. But our
earliest winter in South Devon was darkened for us both by
disappointments, the cause of which lay, at the time, far out of
my reach. In the spirit of my Father were then running, with
furious velocity, two hostile streams of influence. I was
standing, just now, thinking of these things, where the Cascine
ends in the wooded point which is carved out sharply by the lion-
coloured swirl of the Arno on the one side and by the pure flow
of the Mugnone on the other. The rivers meet, and run parallel,
but there comes a moment when the one or the other must conquer,
and it is the yellow vehemence that drowns the purer tide.

So, through my Father's brain, in that year of scientific crisis,
1857, there rushed two kinds of thought, each absorbing, each
convincing, yet totally irreconcilable. There is a peculiar agony
in the paradox that truth has two forms, each of them
indisputable, yet each antagonistic to the other. It was this
discovery, that there were two theories of physical life, each of
which was true, but the truth of each incompatible with the truth
of the other, which shook the spirit of my Father with
perturbation. It was not, really, a paradox, it was a fallacy, if
he could only have known it, but he allowed the turbid volume of
superstition to drown the delicate stream of reason. He took one
step in the service of truth, and then he drew back in an agony,
and accepted the servitude of error.

This was the great moment in the history of thought when the
theory of the mutability of species was preparing to throw a
flood of light upon all departments of human speculation and
action. It was becoming necessary to stand emphatically in one
army or the other. Lyell was surrounding himself with disciples,
who were making strides in the direction of discovery. Darwin had
long been collecting facts with regard to the variation of
animals and plants. Hooker and Wallace, Asa Gray and even
Agassiz, each in his own sphere, were coming closer and closer to
a perception of that secret which was first to reveal itself
clearly to the patient and humble genius of Darwin. In the year
before, in 1856, Darwin, under pressure from Lyell, had begun
that modest statement of the new revelation, that 'abstract of an
essay', which developed so mightily into 'The Origin of Species'.
Wollaston's 'Variation of Species' had just appeared, and had
been a nine days' wonder in the wilderness.

On the other side, the reactionaries, although never dreaming of
the fate which hung over them, had not been idle. In 1857 the
astounding question had for the first time been propounded with
contumely, 'What, then, did we come from an orang-outang?' The
famous 'Vestiges of Creation' had been supplying a sugar-and-
water panacea for those who could not escape from the trend of
evidence, and who yet clung to revelation. Owen was encouraging
reaction by resisting, with all the strength of his prestige, the
theory of the mutability of species.

In this period of intellectual ferment, as when a great political
revolution is being planned, many possible adherents were
confidentially tested with hints and encouraged to reveal their
bias in a whisper. It was the notion of Lyell, himself a great
mover of men, that, before the doctrine of natural selection was
given to a world which would be sure to lift up at it a howl of
execration, a certain bodyguard of sound and experienced
naturalists, expert in the description of species, should be
privately made aware of its tenor. Among those who were thus
initiated, or approached with a view towards possible
illumination, was my Father. He was spoken to by Hooker, and
later on by Darwin, after meetings of the Royal Society in the
summer of 1857.

My Father's attitude towards the theory of natural selection was
critical in his career, and oddly enough, it exercised an immense
influence on my own experience as a child. Let it be admitted at
once, mournful as the admission is, that every instinct in his
intelligence went out at first to greet the new light. It had
hardly done so, when a recollection of the opening chapter of '
Genesis' checked it at the outset. He consulted with Carpenter, a
great investigator, but one who was fully as incapable as himself
of remodelling his ideas with regard to the old, accepted
hypotheses. They both determined, on various grounds, to have
nothing to do with the terrible theory, but to hold steadily to
the law of the fixity of species. It was exactly at this juncture
that we left London, and the slight and occasional but always
extremely salutary personal intercourse with men of scientific
leading which my Father had enjoyed at the British Museum and at
the Royal Society came to an end. His next act was to burn his
ships down to the last beam and log out of which a raft could
have been made. By a strange act of wilfulness, he closed the
doors upon himself forever.

My Father had never admired Sir Charles Lyell. I think that the
famous 'Lord Chancellor manner' of the geologist intimidated him,
and we undervalue the intelligence of those whose conversation
puts us at a disadvantage. For Darwin and Hooker, on the other
hand, he had a profound esteem, and I know not whether this had
anything to do with the fact that he chose, for his impetuous
experiment in reaction, the field of geology, rather than that of
zoology or botany. Lyell had been threatening to publish a book
on the geological history of Man, which was to be a bombshell
flung into the camp of the catastrophists. My Father, after long
reflection, prepared a theory of his own, which, as he fondly
hoped, would take the wind out of Lyell's sails, and justify
geology to godly readers of 'Genesis'. It was, very briefly, that
there had been no gradual modification of the surface of the
earth, or slow development of organic forms, but that when the
catastrophic act of creation took place, the world presented,
instantly, the structural appearance of a planet on which life
had long existed.

The theory, coarsely enough, and to my Father's great
indignation, was defined by a hasty press as being this--that God
hid the fossils in the rocks in order to tempt geologists into
infidelity. In truth, it was the logical and inevitable
conclusion of accepting, literally, the doctrine of a sudden act
of creation; it emphasized the fact that any breach in the
circular course of nature could be conceived only on the
supposition that the object created bore false witness to past
processes, which had never taken place. For instance, Adam would
certainly possess hair and teeth and bones in a condition which
it must have taken many years to accomplish, yet he was created
full-grown yesterday. He would certainly--though Sir Thomas
Browne denied it--display an 'omphalos', yet no umbilical cord
had ever attached him to a mother.

Never was a book cast upon the waters with greater anticipations
of success than was this curious, this obstinate, this fanatical
volume. My Father lived in a fever of suspense, waiting for the
tremendous issue. This 'Omphalos' of his, he thought, was to
bring all the turmoil of scientific speculation to a close, fling
geology into the arms of Scripture, and make the lion eat grass
with the lamb. It was not surprising, he admitted, that there had
been experienced an ever-increasing discord between the facts
which geology brings to light and the direct statements of the
early chapters of 'Genesis'. Nobody was to blame for that. My
Father, and my Father alone, possessed the secret of the enigma;
he alone held the key which could smoothly open the lock of
geological mystery. He offered it, with a glowing gesture, to
atheists and Christians alike. This was to be the universal
panacea; this the system of intellectual therapeutics which could
not but heal all the maladies of the age. But, alas! atheists and
Christians alike looked at it, and laughed, and threw it away.

In the course of that dismal winter, as the post began to bring
in private letters, few and chilly, and public reviews, many and
scornful, my Father looked in vain for the approval of the
churches, and in vain for the acquiescence of the scientific
societies, and in vain for the gratitude of those 'thousands of
thinking persons', which he had rashly assured himself of
receiving. As his reconciliation of Scripture statements and
geological deductions was welcomed nowhere, as Darwin continued
silent, and the youthful Huxley was scornful, and even Charles
Kingsley, from whom my Father had expected the most instant
appreciation, wrote that he could not 'give up the painful and
slow conclusion of five and twenty years' study of geology, and
believe that God has written on the rocks one enormous and
superfluous lie',--as all this happened or failed to happen, a
gloom, cold and dismal, descended upon our morning teacups. It
was what the poets mean by an 'inspissated' gloom; it thickened
day by day, as hope and self-confidence evaporated in thin clouds
of disappointment. My Father was not prepared for such a fate. He
had been the spoiled darling of the public, the constant
favourite of the press, and now, like the dark angels of old,

so huge a rout
Encumbered him with ruin.

He could not recover from amazement at having offended everybody
by an enterprise which had been undertaken in the cause of
universal reconciliation.

During that grim season, my Father was no lively companion, and
circumstance after circumstance combined to drive him further
from humanity. He missed more than ever the sympathetic ear of my
Mother; there was present to support him nothing of that artful,
female casuistry which insinuates into the wounded consciousness
of a man the conviction that, after all, he is right and all the
rest of the world is wrong. My Father used to tramp in solitude
around and around the red ploughed field which was going to be
his lawn, or sheltering himself from the thin Devonian rain, pace
up and down the still-naked verandah where blossoming creepers
were to be. And I think that there was added to his chagrin with
all his fellow mortals a first tincture of that heresy which was
to attack him later on. It was now that, I fancy, he began, in
his depression, to be angry with God. How much devotion had he
given, how many sacrifices had he made, only to be left storming
around this red morass with no one in all the world to care for
him except one pale-faced child with its cheek pressed to the

After one or two brilliant excursions to the sea, winter, in its
dampest, muddiest, most languid form, had fallen upon us and shut
us in. It was a dreary winter for the wifeless man and the
motherless boy. We had come into the house, in precipitate
abandonment to that supposed answer to prayer, a great deal too
soon. In order to rake together the lump sum for buying it, my
Father had denuded himself of almost everything, and our sticks
of chairs and tables filled but two or three rooms. Half the
little house, or 'villa' as we called it, was not papered, two-
thirds were not furnished. The workmen were still finishing the
outside when we arrived, and in that connection I recall a little
incident which exhibits my Father's morbid delicacy of
conscience. He was accustomed in his brighter moments--and this
was before the publication of his 'Omphalos'--occasionally to
sing loud Dorsetshire songs of his early days, in a strange,
broad Wessex lingo that I loved. One October afternoon he and I
were sitting on the verandah, and my Father was singing; just
around the corner, out of sight, two carpenters were putting up
the framework of a greenhouse. In a pause, one of them said to
his fellow: 'He can zing a zong, zo well's another, though he be
a minister.' My Father, who was holding my hand loosely, clutched
it, and looking up, I saw his eyes darken. He never sang a
secular song again during the whole of his life.

Later in the year, and after his literary misfortune, his
conscience became more troublesome than ever. I think he
considered the failure of his attempt at the reconciliation of
science with religion to have been intended by God as a
punishment for something he had done or left undone. In those
brooding tramps around and around the garden, his soul was on its
knees searching the corners of his conscience for some sin of
omission or commission, and one by one every pleasure, every
recreation, every trifle scraped out of the dust of past
experience, was magnified into a huge offence. He thought that
the smallest evidence of levity, the least unbending to human
instinct, might be seized by those around him as evidence of
inconsistency, and might lead the weaker brethren into offence.
The incident of the carpenters and the comic song is typical of a
condition of mind which now possessed my Father, in which act
after act became taboo, not because each was sinful in itself,
but because it might lead others into sin.

I have the conviction that Miss Marks was now mightily afraid of
my Father. Whenever she could, she withdrew to the room she
called her 'boudoir', a small, chilly apartment, sparsely
furnished, looking over what was in process of becoming the
vegetable garden. Very properly, that she might have some
sanctuary, Miss Marks forbade me to enter this virginal bower,
which, of course, became to me an object of harrowing curiosity.
Through the key-hole I could see practically nothing; one day I
contrived to slip inside, and discovered that there was nothing
to see but a plain bedstead and a toilet-table, void of all
attraction. In this 'boudoir', on winter afternoons, a fire would
be lighted, and Miss Marks would withdraw to it, not seen by us
anymore between high-tea and the apocalyptic exercise known as
'worship'-- in less strenuous households much less austerely
practised under the name of 'family prayers'. Left meanwhile to
our own devices, my Father would mainly be reading his book or
paper held close up to the candle, while his lips and heavy
eyebrows occasionally quivered and palpitated, with literary
ardour, in a manner strangely exciting to me. Miss Marks, in a
very high cap, and her large teeth shining, would occasionally
appear in the doorway, desiring, with spurious geniality, to know
how we were 'getting on'. But on these occasions neither of us
replied to Miss Marks.

Sometimes in the course of this winter, my Father and I had long
cosy talks together over the fire. Our favourite subject was
murders. I wonder whether little boys of eight, soon to go
upstairs alone at night, often discuss violent crime with a
widower-papa? The practice, I cannot help thinking, is unusual;
it was, however, consecutive with us. We tried other secular
subjects, but we were sure to come around at last to 'what do you
suppose they really did with the body?' I was told, a thrilled
listener, the adventure of Mrs Manning, who killed a gentleman on
the stairs and buried him in quick-lime in the back-kitchen, and
it was at this time that I learned the useful historical fact,
which abides with me after half a century, that Mrs. Manning was
hanged in black satin, which thereupon went wholly out of fashion
in England. I also heard about Burke and Hare, whose story nearly
froze me into stone with horror.

These were crimes which appear in the chronicles. But who will
tell me what 'the Carpet-bag Mystery' was, which my Father and I
discussed evening after evening? I have never come across a
whisper of it since, and I suspect it of having been a hoax. As I
recall the details, people in a boat, passing down the Thames,
saw a carpet-bag hung high in air, on one of the projections of a
pier of Waterloo Bridge. Being with difficulty dragged down--or
perhaps up--this bag was found to be full of human remains,
dreadful butcher's business of joints and fragments. Persons were
missed, were identified, were again denied--the whole is a vapour
in my memory which shifts as I try to define it. But clear enough
is the picture I hold of myself, in a high chair, on the left-
hand side of the sitting-room fireplace, the leaping flames
reflected in the glass-case of tropical insects on the opposite
wall, and my Father, leaning anxiously forward, with uplifted
finger, emphasizing to me the pros and cons of the horrible
carpet-bag evidence.

I suppose that my interest in these discussions--and Heaven knows
I was animated enough--amused and distracted my Father, whose
idea of a suitable theme for childhood's ear now seems to me
surprising. I soon found that these subjects were not welcome to
everybody, for, starting the Carpet-bag Mystery one morning with
Miss Marks, in the hope of delaying my arithmetic lesson, she
fairly threw her apron over her ears, and told me, from that
vantage, that if I did not desist at once, she should scream.

Occasionally we took winter walks together, my Father and I, down
some lane that led to a sight of the sea, or over the rolling
downs. We tried to recapture the charm of those delightful
strolls in London, when we used to lean over the bridges and
watch the ducks. But we could not recover this pleasure. My
Father was deeply enwoven in the chain of his own thoughts, and
would stalk on, without a word, buried in angry reverie. If he
spoke to me, on these excursions, it was a pain to me to answer
him. I could talk on easy terms with him indoors, seated in my
high chair, with our heads on a level, but it was intolerably
laborious to look up into the firmament and converse with a dark
face against the sky. The actual exercise of walking, too, was
very exhausting to me; the bright red mud, to the strange colour
of which I could not for a long while get accustomed, becoming
caked about my little shoes, and wearying me extremely. I would
grow petulant and cross, contradict my Father, and oppose his
whims. These walks were distressing to us both, yet he did not
like to walk alone, and he had no other friend. However, as the
winter advanced, they had to be abandoned, and the habit of our
taking a 'constitutional' together was never resumed.

I look back upon myself at this time as upon a cantankerous, ill-
tempered and unobliging child. The only excuse I can offer is
that I really was not well. The change to Devonshire had not
suited me; my health gave the excellent Miss Marks some anxiety,
but she was not ready in resource. The dampness of the house was
terrible; indoors and out, the atmosphere seemed soaked in chilly
vapours. Under my bed-clothes at night I shook like a jelly,
unable to sleep for cold, though I was heaped with coverings,
while my skin was all puckered with gooseflesh. I could eat
nothing solid, without suffering immediately from violent
hiccough, so that much of my time was spent lying prone on my
back upon the hearthrug, awakening the echoes like a cuckoo. Miss
Marks, therefore, cut off all food but milk-sop, a loathly bowl
of which appeared at every meal. In consequence the hiccough
lessened, but my strength declined with it. I languished in a
perpetual catarrh. I was roused to a conscious-ness that I was
not considered well by the fact that my Father prayed publicly at
morning and evening 'worship' that if it was the Lord's will to
take me to himself there might be no doubt whatever about my
being a sealed child of God and an inheritor of glory. I was
partly disconcerted by, partly vain of, this open advertisement
of my ailments.

Of our dealings with the 'Saints', a fresh assortment of whom met
us on our arrival in Devonshire, I shall speak presently. My
Father's austerity of behaviour was, I think, perpetually
accentuated by his fear of doing anything to offend the
consciences of these persons, whom he supposed, no doubt, to be
more sensitive than they really were. He was fond of saying that
'a very little stain upon the conscience makes a wide breach in
our communion with God', and he counted possible errors of
conduct by hundreds and by thousands. It was in this winter that
his attention was particularly drawn to the festival of
Christmas, which, apparently, he had scarcely noticed in London.

On the subject of all feasts of the Church he held views of an
almost grotesque peculiarity. He looked upon each of them as
nugatory and worthless, but the keeping of Christmas appeared to
him by far the most hateful, and nothing less than an act of
idolatry. 'The very word is Popish', he used to exclaim,
'Christ's Mass!' pursing up his lips with the gesture of one who
tastes assafoetida by accident. Then he would adduce the
antiquity of the so-called feast, adapted from horrible heathen
rites, and itself a soiled relic of the abominable Yule-Tide. He
would denounce the horrors of Christmas until it almost made me
blush to look at a holly-berry.

On Christmas Day of this year 1857 our villa saw a very unusual
sight. My Father had given strictest charge that no difference
whatever was to be made in our meals on that day; the dinner was
to be neither more copious than usual nor less so. He was obeyed,
but the servants, secretly rebellious, made a small plum-pudding
for themselves. (I discovered afterwards, with pain, that Miss
Marks received a slice of it in her boudoir.) Early in the
afternoon, the maids,--of whom we were now advanced to keeping
two,--kindly remarked that 'the poor dear child ought to have a
bit, anyhow', and wheedled me into the kitchen, where I ate a
slice of plum-pudding. Shortly I began to feel that pain inside
which in my frail state was inevitable, and my conscience smote
me violently. At length I could bear my spiritual anguish no
longer, and bursting into the study I called out: 'Oh! Papa,
Papa, I have eaten of flesh offered to idols!' It took some time,
between my sobs, to explain what had happened. Then my Father
sternly said: ' Where is the accursed thing?' I explained that as
much as was left of it was still on the kitchen table. He took me
by the hand, and ran with me into the midst of the startled
servants, seized what remained of the pudding, and with the plate
in one hand and me still tight in the other, ran until we reached
the dust-heap, when he flung the idolatrous confectionery on to
the middle of the ashes, and then raked it deep down into the
mass. The suddenness, the violence, the velocity of this
extraordinary act made an impression on my memory which nothing
will ever efface.

The key is lost by which I might unlock the perverse malady from
which my Father's conscience seemed to suffer during the whole of
this melancholy winter. But I think that a dislocation of his
intellectual system had a great deal to do with it. Up to this
point in his career, he had, as we have seen, nourished the
delusion that science and revelation could be mutually justified,
that some sort of compromise was possible. With great and ever
greater distinctness, his investigations had shown him that in
all departments of organic nature there are visible the evidences
of slow modification of forms, of the type developed by the
pressure and practice of aeons. This conviction lead been borne
in upon him until it was positively irresistible. Where was his
place, then, as a sincere and accurate observer? Manifestly, it
was with the pioneers of the new truth, it was with Darwin,
Wallace and Hooker. But did not the second chapter of 'Genesis'
say that in six days the heavens and earth were finished, and the
host of them, and that on the seventh day God ended his work
which he had made?

Here was a dilemma! Geology certainly seemed to be true, but the
Bible, which was God's word, was true. If the Bible said that all
things in Heaven and Earth were created in six days, created in
six days they were,--in six literal days of twenty-four hours
each. The evidences of spontaneous variation of form, acting,
over an immense space of time, upon ever-modifying organic
structures, seemed overwhelming, but they must either be brought
into line with the six-day labour of creation, or they must be
rejected. I have already shown how my Father worked out the
ingenious 'Omphalos' theory in order to justify himself as a
strictly scientific observer who was also a humble slave of
revelation. But the old convention and the new rebellion would
alike have none of his compromise.

To a mind so acute and at the same time so narrow as that of my
Father--a mind which is all logical and positive without breadth,
without suppleness and without imagination--to be subjected to a
check of this kind is agony. It has not the relief of a smaller
nature, which escapes from the dilemma by some foggy formula; nor
the resolution of a larger nature to take to its wings and
surmount the obstacle. My Father, although half suffocated by the
emotion of being lifted, as it were, on the great biological
wave, never dreamed of letting go his clutch of the ancient
tradition, but hung there, strained and buffeted. It is
extraordinary that he--an 'honest hodman of science', as Huxley
once called him--should not have been content to allow others,
whose horizons were wider than his could be, to pursue those
purely intellectual surveys for which he had no species of
aptitude. As a collector of facts and marshaller of observations,
he had not a rival in that age; his very absence of imagination
aided him in this work. But he was more an attorney than
philosopher, and he lacked that sublime humility which is the
crown of genius. For, this obstinate persuasion that he alone
knew the mind of God, that he alone could interpret the designs
of the Creator, what did it result from if not from a congenital
lack of that highest modesty which replies 'I do not know' even
to the questions which Faith, with menacing forger, insists on
having most positively answered?


DURING the first year of our life in Devonshire, the ninth year
of my age, my Father's existence, and therefore mine, was almost
entirely divided between attending to the little community of
'Saints' in the village and collecting, examining and describing
marine creatures from the seashore. In the course of these twelve
months, we had scarcely any social distractions of any kind, and
I never once crossed the bounds of the parish. After the worst of
the winter was over, my Father recovered much of his spirits and
his power of work, and the earliest sunshine soothed and
refreshed us both. I was still almost always with him, but we had
now some curious companions.

The village, at the southern end of which our villa stood, was
not pretty. It had no rural picturesqueness of any kind. The only
pleasant feature of it, the handsome and ancient parish church
with its umbrageous churchyard, was then almost entirely
concealed by a congress of mean shops, which were ultimately,
before the close of my childhood, removed. The village consisted
of two parallel lines of contiguous houses, all white-washed and
most of them fronted by a trifling shop-window; for half a mile
this street ascended to the church, and then descended for
another half-mile, ending suddenly in fields, the hedges of which
displayed, at intervals, the inevitable pollard elm-tree.

The walk through the village, which we seemed make incessantly,
was very wearisome to me. I dreaded the rudeness of the children,
and there was nothing in the shops to amuse me. Walking on the
inch or two of broken pavement in front of the houses was
disagreeable and tiresome, and the odor which breathed on close
days from the open doors and windows made me feel faint. But this
walk was obligatory, since the 'Public Room', as our little
chapel was called, lay at the farther extremity of the dreary

We attended this place of worship immediately on our arrival, and
my Father, uninvited but unresisted, immediately assumed the
administration of it. It was a square, empty room, built, for I
know not what purpose, over a stable. Ammoniac odours used to
rise through the floor as we sat there at our long devotions.
Before our coming, a little flock of persons met in the Room, a
community of the indefinite sort just then becoming frequent in
the West of England, pious rustics connected with no other
recognized body of Christians, and depending directly on the
independent study of the Bible. They were largely women, but
there was more than a sprinkling of men, poor, simple and
generally sickly. In later days, under my Father's ministration,
the body increased and positively flourished. It came to include
retired professional men, an admiral, nay, even the brother of a
peer. But in those earliest years the 'brethren' and 'sisters'
were all of them ordinary peasants. They were jobbing gardeners
and journeymen carpenters, masons and tailors, washerwomen and
domestic servants. I wish that I could paint, in colours so vivid
that my readers could perceive what their little society
consisted of, this quaint collection of humble, conscientious,
ignorant and gentle persons. In chronicle or fiction I have never
been fortunate enough to meet with anything which resembled them.
The caricatures of enmity and worldly scorn are as crude, to my
memory, as the unction of religious conventionality is

The origin of the meeting had been odd. A few years before we
came, a crew of Cornish fishermen, quite unknown to the
villagers, were driven by stress of weather into the haven under
the cliff. They landed, and, instead of going to a public-house,
they looked about for a room where they could hold a prayer-
meeting. They were devout Wesleyans; they had come from the open
sea, they were far from home, and they had been starved by lack
of their customary religious privileges. As they stood about in
the street before their meeting, they challenged the respectable
girls who came out to stare at them, with the question, 'Do you
love the Lord Jesus, my maid? Receiving dubious answers, they
pressed the inhabitants to come in and pray with them, which
several did. Ann Burmington, who long afterwards told me about
it, was one of those girls, and she repeated that the fishermen
said, 'What a dreadful thing it will be, at the Last Day, when
the Lord says, "Come, ye blessed", and says it not to you, and
then, "Depart ye cursed", and you maidens have to depart.' They
were finely-built young men, with black beards and shining eyes,
and I do not question that some flash of sex unconsciously
mingled with the curious episode, although their behaviour was in
all respects discreet. It was, perhaps, not wholly a coincidence
that almost all those particular girls remained unmarried to the
end of their lives. After two or three days, the fishermen went
off to sea again. They prayed and sailed away, and the girls, who
had not even asked their names, never heard of them again. But
several of the young women were definitely converted, and they
formed the nucleus of our little gathering.

My Father preached, standing at a desk; or celebrated the
communion in front of a deal table, with a white napkin spread
over it. Sometimes the audience was so small, generally so
unexhilarating, that he was discouraged, but he never flagged in
energy and zeal. Only those who had given evidence of intelligent
acceptance of the theory of simple faith in their atonement
through the Blood of Jesus were admitted to the communion, or, as
it was called, 'the Breaking of Bread'. It was made a very strong
point that no one should 'break bread', unless for good reason
shown-- until he or she had been baptized, that is to say,
totally immersed, in solemn conclave, by the ministering brother.
This rite used, in our earliest days, to be performed, with
picturesque simplicity, in the sea on the Oddicombe beach, but to
this there were, even in those quiet years, extreme objections. A
jeering crowd could scarcely be avoided, and women, in
particular, shrank from the ordeal. This used to be a practical
difficulty, and my Father, when communicants confessed that they
had not yet been baptized, would shake his head and say gravely,
'Ah! ah! you shun the Cross of Christ!' But that baptism in the
sea on the open beach was a 'cross', he would not deny, and when
we built our own little chapel, a sort of font, planked over, was
arranged in the room itself.

Among these quiet, taciturn people, there were several whom I
recall with affection. In this remote corner of Devonshire, on
the road nowhither, they had preserved much of the air of that
eighteenth century which the elders among them perfectly
remembered. There was one old man, born before the French
Revolution, whose figure often recurs to me. This was James
Petherbridge, the Nestor of our meeting, extremely tall and
attenuated; he came on Sundays in a full, white smockfrock,
smartly embroidered down the front, and when he settled himself
to listen, he would raise this smock like a skirt, and reveal a
pair of immensely long thin legs, cased in tight leggings, and
ending in shoes with buckles. As the sacred message fell from my
Father's lips the lantern jaws of Mr. Petherbridge slowly fell
apart, while his knees sloped to so immense a distance from one
another that it seemed as though they never could meet again. He
had been pious all his life, and he would tell us, in some modest
pride, that when he was a lad, the farmer's wife who was his
mistress used to say, 'I think our Jem is going to be a Methody,
he do so hanker after godly discoursings.' Mr. Petherbridge was
accustomed to pray orally at our prayer-meetings, in a funny old
voice like wind in a hollow tree, and he seldom failed to express
a hope that 'the Lord would support Miss Lafroy'-- who was the
village schoolmistress, and one of our congregation,-- 'in her
labour of teaching the young idea how to shoot'. I, not
understanding this literary allusion, long believed the school to
be addicted to some species of pistol-practice.

The key of the Room was kept by Richard Moxhay, the mason, who
was of a generation younger than Mr. Petherbridge, but yet
'getting on in years'. Moxhay, I cannot tell why, was always
dressed in white corduroy, on which any stain of Devonshire
scarlet mud was painfully conspicuous; when he was smartened up,
his appearance suggested that somebody had given him a coating of
that rich Western whitewash which looks like Devonshire cream.
His locks were long and sparse, and as deadly black as his
clothes were white. He was a modest, gentle man, with a wife even
more meek and gracious than himself. They never, to my
recollection, spoke unless they were spoken to, and their
melancholy impassiveness used to vex my Father, who once,
referring to the Moxhays, described them, sententiously but
justly, as being 'laborious, but it would be an exaggeration to
say happy, Christians'. Indeed, my memory pictures almost all the
'saints' of that early time as sad and humble souls, lacking
vitality, yet not complaining of anything definite. A quite
surprising number of them, it is true, male and female, suffered
from different forms of consumption, so that the Room rang in
winter evenings with a discord of hacking coughs. But it seems to
me that, when I was quite young, half the inhabitants of our
rural district were affected with phthisis. No doubt, our
peculiar religious community was more likely to attract the
feeble members of a population, than to tempt the flush and the

Miss Marks, patient pilgrim that she was, accepted this quaint
society without a murmur, although I do not think it was much to
her taste. But in a very short time it was sweetened to her by
the formation of a devoted and romantic friendship for one of the
'sisters', who was, indeed, if my childish recollection does not
fail me, a very charming person. The consequence of this
enthusiastic alliance was that I was carried into the bosom of
the family to which Miss Marks' new friend belonged, and of these
excellent people I must give what picture I can.

Almost opposite the Room, therefore at the far end of the
village, across one of the rare small gardens (in which this
first winter I discovered with rapture the magenta stars of a new
flower, hepatica)--a shop-window displayed a thin row of plates
and dishes, cups and saucers; above it was painted the name of
Burmington. This china-shop was the property of three orphan
sisters, Ann, Mary Grace, and Bess, the latter lately married to
a carpenter, who was 'elder' at our meeting; the other two,
resolute old maids. Ann, whom I have already mentioned, had been
one of the girls converted by the Cornish fishermen. She was
about ten years older than Bess, and Mary Grace came halfway
between them. Ann was a very worthy woman, but masterful and
passionate, suffering from an ungovernable temper, which at
calmer moments she used to refer to, not without complacency, as
'the sin which doth most easily beset me'. Bess was
insignificant, and vulgarized by domestic cares. But Mary Grace
was a delightful creature.The Burmingtons lived in what was
almost the only old house surviving in the village. It was an
extraordinary construction of two storeys, with vast rooms, and
winding passages, and surprising changes of level. The sisters
were poor, but very industrious, and never in anything like want;
they sold, as I have said, crockery, and they took in washing,
and did a little fine needlework, and sold the produce of a
great, vague garden at the back. In process of time, the elder
sisters took a young woman, whose name was Drusilla Elliott, to
live with them as servant and companion; she was a converted
person, worshipping with a kindred sect, the Bible Christians. I
remember being much interested in hearing how Bess, before her
marriage, became converted. Mary Grace, on account of her infirm
health, slept alone in one room; in another, of vast size, stood
a family fourposter, where Ann slept with Drusilla Elliott, and
another bed in the same room took Bess. The sisters and their
friend had been constantly praying that Bess might 'find peace',
for she was still a stranger to salvation. One night, she
suddenly called out, rather crossly, 'What are you two whispering
about? Do go to sleep,' to which Ann replied: 'We are praying for
you." How do you know,' answered Bess, 'that I don't believe? And
then she told them that, that very night, when she was sitting in
the shop, she had closed with God's offer of redemption. Late in
the night as it was, Ann and Drusilla could do no less than go in
and waken Mary Grace, whom, however, they found awake, praying,
she too, for the conversion of Bess. They told her the good news,
and all four, kneeling in the darkness, gave thanks aloud to God
for his infinite mercy.

It was Mary Grace Burmington who now became the romantic friend
of Miss Marks, and a sort of second benevolence to me. She must
have been under thirty years of age; she wax very small, and she
was distressingly deformed in the spine, but she had an animated,
almost a sparkling countenance. When we first arrived in the
village, Mary Grace was only just recovering from a gastric fever
which had taken her close to the grave. I remember hearing that
the vicar, a stout and pompous man at whom we always glared
defiance, went, in Mary Grace's supposed extremity, to the
Burmingtons' shop-door, and shouted: 'Peace be to this house,'
intending to offer his ministrations, but that Ann, who was in
one of her tantrums, positively hounded him from the doorstep and
down the garden, in her passionate nonconformity. Mary Grace,
however, recovered, and soon became, not merely Miss Marks'
inseparable friend, but my Father's spiritual factotum. He found
it irksome to visit the 'saints' from house to house, and Mary
Grace Burmington gladly assumed this labour. She proved a most
efficient coadjutor; searched out, cherished and confirmed any of
those, especially the young, who were attracted by my Father's
preaching, and for several years was a great joy and comfort to
us all. Even when her illness so increased that she could no
longer rise from her bed, she was a centre of usefulness and
cheerfulness from that retreat, where she 'received', in a kind
of rustic state, under a patchwork coverlid that was like a
basket of flowers.

My Father, ever reflecting on what could be done to confirm my
spiritual vocation, to pin me down, as it were, beyond any
possibility of escape, bethought him that it would accustom me to
what he called 'pastoral work in the Lord's service', if I
accompanied Mary Grace on her visits from house to house. If it
is remembered that I was only eight and a half when this scheme
was carried into practice, it will surprise no one to hear that
it was not crowned with success. I disliked extremely this
visitation of the poor. I felt shy, I had nothing to say, with
difficulty could I understand their soft Devonian patois, and
most of all--a signal perhaps of my neurotic condition--I dreaded
and loathed the smells of their cottages. One had to run over the
whole gamut of odours, some so faint that they embraced the
nostril with a fairy kiss, others bluntly gross, of the 'knock-
you-down' order; some sweet, with a dreadful sourness; some
bitter, with a smack of rancid hair-oil. There were fine manly
smells of the pigsty and the open drain, and these prided
themselves on being all they seemed to be; but there were also
feminine odours, masquerading as you knew not what, in which
penny whiffs, vials of balm and opoponax, seemed to have become
tainted, vaguely, with the residue of the slop-pail. It was not,
I think, that the villagers were particularly dirty, but those
were days before the invention of sanitary science, and my poor
young nose was morbidly, nay ridiculously sensitive. I often came
home from 'visiting the saints' absolutely incapable of eating
the milk-sop, with brown sugar strewn over it, which was my
evening meal.

There was one exception to my unwillingness to join in the
pastoral labours of Mary Grace. When she announced, on a fine
afternoon, that we were going to Pavor and Barton, I was always
agog to start. These were two hamlets in our parish, and, I
should suppose, the original home of its population. Pavor was,
even then, decayed almost to extinction, but Barton preserved its
desultory street of ancient, detached cottages. Each, however
poor, had a wild garden around it, and, where the inhabitants
possessed some pride in their surroundings, the roses and the
jasmines and that distinguished creeper,--which one sees nowhere
at its best but in Devonshire cottage-gardens,--the stately
cotoneaster, made the whole place a bower. Barton was in vivid
contrast to our own harsh, open, squalid village, with its mean
modern houses, its absence of all vegetation. The ancient
thatched cottages of Barton were shut in by moist hills, and
canopied by ancient trees; they were approached along a deep lane
which was all a wonder and a revelation to me that spring, since,
in the very words of Shelley:

There in the warm hedge grew lush eglantine,
Green cow-bind and the moonlight-coloured may,
And cherry blossoms, and white cups, whose wine
Was the bright dew yet drained not by the day;
And wild roses, and ivy serpentine
With its dark buds and leaves, wandering astray.

Around and beyond Barton there lay fairyland. All was mysterious,
unexplored, rich with infinite possibilities. I should one day
enter it, the sword of make-believe in my hand, the cap of
courage on my head, 'when you are a big boy', said the oracle of
Mary Grace. For the present, we had to content ourselves with
being an unadventurous couple--a little woman, bent half-double,
and a preternaturally sedate small boy-- as we walked very
slowly, side by side, conversing on terms of high familiarity, in
which Biblical and colloquial phrases were quaintly jumbled,
through the sticky red mud of the Pavor lanes with Barton as a
bourne before us.

When we came home, my Father would sometimes ask me for
particulars. Where had we been, whom had we found at home, what
testimony had those visited been able to give of the Lord's
goodness to them, what had Mary Grace replied in the way of
exhortation, reproof or condolence? These questions I hated at
the time, but they were very useful to me, since they gave me the
habit of concentrating my attention on what was going on in the
course of our visits, in case I might be called upon to give a
report. My Father was very kind in the matter; he cultivated my
powers of expression, he did not snub me when I failed to be
intelligent. But I overheard Miss Marks and Mary Grace discussing
the whole question under the guise of referring to 'you know
whom, not a hundred miles hence', fancying that I could not
recognize their little ostrich because its head was in a bag of
metaphor. I understood perfectly, and gathered that they both of
them thought this business of my going into undrained cottages
injudicious. Accordingly, I was by degrees taken 'visiting' only
when Mary Grace was going into the country-hamlets, and then I
was usually left outside, to skip among the flowers and stalk the

I must not, however, underestimate the very prominent part taken
all through this spring and summer of 1858 by the collection of
specimens on the seashore. My Father had returned, the chagrin of
his failure in theorizing now being mitigated, to what was his
real work in life, the practical study of animal forms in detail.
He was not a biologist, in the true sense of the term. That
luminous indication which Flaubert gives of what the action of
the scientific mind should be, 'affranchissant esprit et pesant
les mondes, sans haine, sans peur, sans pitie, sans amour et sans
Dieu', was opposed in every segment to the attitude of my Father,
who, nevertheless, was a man of very high scientific attainment.

But, again I repeat, he was not a philosopher; he was incapable,
by temperament and education, of forming broad generalizations
and of escaping in a vast survey from the troublesome pettiness
of detail. He saw everything through a lens, nothing in the
immensity of nature. Certain senses were absent in him; I think
that, with all his justice, he had no conception of the
importance of liberty; with all his intelligence, the boundaries
of the atmosphere in which his mind could think at all were
always close about him; with all his faith in the Word of God, he
had no confidence in the Divine Benevolence; and with all his
passionate piety, he habitually mistook fear for love.

It was down on the shore, tramping along the pebbled terraces of
the beach, clambering over the great blocks of fallen
conglomerate which broke the white curve with rufous promontories
that jutted into the sea, or, finally, bending over those shallow
tidal pools in the limestone rocks which were our proper hunting-
ground,--it was in such circumstances as these that my Father
became most easy, most happy, most human. That hard look across
his brows, which it wearied me to see, the look that came from
sleepless anxiety of conscience, faded away, and left the dark
countenance still always stern indeed, but serene and
unupbraiding. Those pools were our mirrors, in which, reflected
in the dark hyaline and framed by the sleek and shining fronds of
oar-weed there used to appear the shapes of a middle-aged man and
a funny little boy, equally eager, and, I almost find the
presumption to say, equally well prepared fog business.

If anyone goes down to those shores now, if man or boy seeks to
follow in our traces, let him realize at once, before he takes
the trouble to roll up his sleeves, that his zeal will end in
labour lost. There is nothing, now, where in our days there was
so much. Then the rocks between tide and tide were submarine
gardens of a beauty that seemed often to be fabulous, and was
positively delusive, since, if we delicately lifted the
weedcurtains of a windless pool, though we might for a moment see
its sides and floor paven with living blossoms, ivory-white,
rosy-red, grange and amethyst, yet all that panoply would melt
away, furled into the hollow rock, if we so much as dropped a
pebble in to disturb the magic dream.

Half a century ago, in many parts of the coast of Devonshire and
Cornwall, where the limestone at the water's edge is wrought into
crevices and hollows, the tideline was, like Keats' Grecian vase,
'a still unravished bride of quietness'. These cups and basins
were always full, whether the tide was high or low, and the only
way in which they were affected was that twice in the twenty-four
hours they were replenished by cold streams from the great sea,
and then twice were left brimming to be vivified by the temperate
movement of the upper air. They were living flower-beds, so
exquisite in their perfection, that my Father, in spite of his
scientific requirements, used not seldom to pause before he began
to rifle them, ejaculating that it was indeed a pity to disturb
such congregated beauty. The antiquity of these rock-pools, and
the infinite succession of the soft and radiant forms, sea-
anemones, seaweeds, shells, fishes, which had inhabited them,
undisturbed since the creation of the world, used to occupy my
Father's fancy. We burst in, he used to say, where no one had
ever thought of intruding before; and if the Garden of Eden had
been situate in Devonshire, Adam and Eve, stepping lightly down
to bathe in the rainbow-coloured spray, would have seen the
identical sights that we now saw,--the great prawns gliding like
transparent launches, anthea waving in the twilight its thick
white waxen tentacles, and the fronds of the duke faintly
streaming on the water like huge red banners in some reverted

All this is long over and done with. The ring of living beauty
drawn about our shores was a very thin and fragile one. It had
existed all those centuries solely in consequence of the
indifference, the blissful ignorance of man. These rockbasins,
fringed by corallines, filled with still water almost as pellucid
as the upper air itself, thronged with beautiful sensitive forms
of life, they exist no longer, they are all profaned, and
emptied, and vulgarized. An army of 'collectors' has passed over
them, and ravaged every corner of them. The fairy paradise has
been violated, the exquisite product of centuries of natural
selection has been crushed under the rough paw of well-meaning,
idle-minded curiosity. That my Father, himself so reverent, so
conservative, had by the popularity of his books acquired the
direct responsibility for a calamity that he had never
anticipated became clear enough to himself before many years had
passed, and cost him great chagrin. No one will see again on the
shore of England what I saw in my early childhood, the submarine
vision of dark rocks, speckled and starred with an infinite
variety of colour, and streamed over by silken flags of royal
crimson and purple.

In reviving these impressions, I am unable to give any exact
chronological sequence to them. These particular adventures began
early in 1858, they reached their greatest intensity in the
summer of 1859, and they did not altogether cease, so far as my
Father was concerned, until nearly twenty years later. But it was
while he was composing what, as I am told by scientific men of
today, continues to be his most valuable contribution to
knowledge, his History of the British Sea-Anemones and Corals,
that we worked together on the shore for a definite purpose, and
the last instalment of that still-classic volume was ready for
press by the close of 1859.

The way in which my Father worked, in his most desperate
escapades, was to wade breast-high into one of the huge pools,
and examine the worm-eaten surface of the rock above and below
the brim. In such remote places-- spots where I could never
venture being left, a slightly timorous Andromeda, chained to a
safer level of the cliff-- in these extreme basins, there used
often to lurk a marvellous profusion of animal and vegetable
forms. My Father would search for the roughest and most corroded
points of rock, those offering the best refuge for a variety of
creatures, and would then chisel off fragments as low down in the
water as he could. These pieces of rock were instantly plunged in
the saltwater of jars which we had brought with us for the
purpose. When as much had been collected as we could carry away--
my Father always dragged about an immense square basket, the
creak of whose handles I can still fancy that I hear--we turned
to trudge up the long climb home. Then all our prizes were spread
out, face upward, in shallow pans of clean sea-water.

In a few hours, when all dirt had subsided, and what living
creatures we had brought seemed to have recovered their
composure, my work began. My eyes were extremely keen and
powerful, though they were vexatiously near-sighted. Of no use in
examining objects at any distance, in investigating a minute
surface, my vision was trained to be invaluable. The shallow pan,
with our spoils, would rest on a table near the window, and I,
kneeling on a chair opposite the light, would lean over the
surface until everything was within an inch or two of my eyes.
Often I bent, in my zeal, so far forward that the water touched
the tip of my nose and gave me a little icy shock. In this
attitude, an idle spectator might have formed the impression that
I was trying to wash my head and could not quite summon up
resolution enough to plunge. In this odd pose I would remain for
a long time, holding my breath and examining with extreme care
every atom of rock, every swirl of detritus. This was a task
which my Father could only perform by the help of a lens, with
which, of course, he took care to supplement my examination. But
that my survey was of use, he has himself most handsomely
testified in his Actinologia Britannica, where he expresses his
debt to the 'keen and well-practised eye of my little son'. Nor,
if boasting is not to be excluded, is it every eminent biologist,
every proud and masterful F.R.S., who can lay his hand on his
heart and swear that, before reaching the age of ten years, he
had added, not merely a new species, but a new genus to the
British fauna. That however, the author of these pages can do,
who, on 29 June 1859, discovered a tiny atom,--and ran in the
greatest agitation to announce the discovery of that object 'as a
form with which he was unacquainted',--which figures since then
on all lists of sea-anemones as phellia murocincta, or the walled
corklet. Alas! that so fair a swallow should have made no
biological summer in after-life.

These delicious agitations by the edge of the salt-sea wave must
have greatly improved my health, which however was still looked
upon as fragile. I was loaded with coats and comforters, and
strolled out between Miss Marks and Mary Grace Burmington, a
muffled ball of flannel. This alone was enough to give me a look
of delicacy which the 'saints', in their blunt way, made no
scruple of commenting upon to my face. I was greatly impressed by
a conversation held over my bed one evening by the servants. Our
cook, Susan, a person of enormous size, and Kate, the tattling,
tiresome parlour-maid who waited upon us, on the summer evening I
speak of were standing--I cannot tell why--on each side of my
bed. I shut my eyes, and lay quite still, in order to escape
conversing with them, and they spoke to one another. 'Ah, poor
lamb,' Kate said trivially, 'he's not long for this world; going
home to Jesus, he is,--in a jiffy, I should say by the look of
'un.' But Susan answered: 'Not so. I dreamed about 'un, and I
know for sure that he is to be spared for missionary service.'
'Missionary service?' repeated Kate, impressed. 'Yes,' Susan went
on, with solemn emphasis, 'he'll bleed for his Lord in heathen
parts, that's what the future have in store for 'im.' When they
were gone, I beat upon the coverlid with my fists, and I
determined that whatever happened, I would not, not, not, go out
to preach the Gospel among horrid, tropical niggers.


IN the history of an infancy so cloistered and uniform as mine,
such a real adventure as my being publicly and successfully
kidnapped cannot be overlooked. There were several 'innocents' in
our village-- harmless eccentrics who had more or less
unquestionably crossed the barrier which divides the sane from
the insane. They were not discouraged by public opinion; indeed,
several of them were favoured beings, suspected by my Father of
exaggerating their mental density in order to escape having to
work, like dogs, who, as we all know, could speak as well as we
do, were they not afraid of being made to fetch and carry. Miss
Mary Flaw was not one of these imbeciles. She was what the French
call a detraquee; she had enjoyed good intelligence and an active
mind, but her wits had left the rails and were careening about
the country. Miss Flaw was the daughter of a retired Baptist
minister, and she lived, with I remember not what relations, in a
little solitary house high up at Barton Cross, whither Mary Grace
and I would sometimes struggle when our pastoral duties were
over. In later years, when I met with those celebrated verses in
which the philosopher expresses the hope

In the downhill of life, when I find I'm declining,
May my lot no less fortunate be
Than a snug elbow-chair can afford for reclining,
And a cot that o'erlooks the wide sea

my thoughts returned instinctively, and they still return, to the
high abode of Miss Flaw. There was a porch at her door, both for
shelter and shade, and it was covered with jasmine; but the charm
of the place was a summer-house close by, containing a table,
encrusted with cowry-shells, and seats from which one saw the
distant waters of the bay. At the entrance to this grotto there
was always set a 'snug elbow-chair', destined, I suppose, for the
Rev. Mr. Flaw, or else left there in pious memory of him, since I
cannot recollect whether he was alive or dead.

I delighted in these visits to Mary Flaw. She always received us
with effusion, tripping forward to meet us, and leading us, each
by a hand held high, with a dancing movement which I thought
infinitely graceful, to the cowry-shell bower, where she would
regale us with Devonshire cream and with small hard biscuits that
were like pebbles. The conversation of Mary Flaw was a great
treat to me. I enjoyed its irregularities, its waywardness; it
was like a tune that wandered into several keys. As Mary Grace
Burmington put it, one never knew what dear Mary Flaw would say
next, and that she did not herself know added to the charm. She
had become crazed, poor thing, in consequence of a disappointment
in love, but of course I did not know that, nor that she was
crazed at all. I thought her brilliant and original, and I liked
her very much. In the light of coming events, it would be
affectation were I to pretend that she did not feel a similar
partiality for me.

Miss Flaw was, from the first, devoted to my Father's
ministrations, and it was part of our odd village indulgence that
no one ever dreamed of preventing her from coming to the Room. On
Sunday evenings the bulk of the audience was arranged on forms,
with backs to them, set in the middle of the floor, with a
passage round them, while other forms were placed against the
walls. My Father preached from a lectern, facing the audience. If
darkness came on in the course of the service, Richard Moxhay,
glimmering in his cream-white corduroys, used to go slowly
around, lighting groups of tallow candles by the help of a box of
lucifers. Mary Flaw always assumed the place of honour, on the
left extremity of the front bench, immediately opposite my
Father. Miss Marks and Mary Grace, with me ensconced and almost
buried between them, occupied the right of the same bench. While
the lighting proceeded, Miss Flaw used to direct it from her
seat, silently, by pointing out to Moxhay, who took no notice,
what groups of candles he should light next. She did this just as
the clown in the circus directs the grooms how to move the
furniture, and Moxhay paid no more attention to her than the
grooms do to the clown. Miss Flaw had another peculiarity: she
silently went through a service exactly similar to ours, but much
briefer. The course of our evening service was this: My Father
prayed, and we all knelt down; then he gave out a hymn and most
of us stood up to sing; then he preached for about an hour, while
we sat and listened; then a hymn again; then prayer and the

Mary Flaw went through this ritual, but on a smaller scale. We
all knelt down together, but when we rose from our knees, Miss
Flaw was already standing up, and was pretending, without a
sound, to sing a hymn; in the midst of our hymn, she sat down,
opened her Bible, found a text, and then leaned back, her eyes
fixed in space, listening to an imaginary sermon which our own
real one soon caught up, and coincided with for about three-
quarters of an hour. Then, while our sermon went peacefully on,
Miss Flaw would rise, and sing in silence (if I am permitted to
use such an expression) her own visionary hymn; then she would
kneel down and pray, then rise, collect her belongings, and
sweep, in fairy majesty, out of the chapel, my Father still
rounding his periods from the pulpit. Nobody ever thought of
preventing these movements, or of checking the poor creature in
her innocent flightiness, until the evening of the great event.

It was all my own fault. Mary Flaw had finished her imaginary
service earlier than usual. She had stood up alone with her hymn-
book before her; she had flung herself on her knees alone, in the
attitude of devotion; she had risen; she had seated herself for a
moment to put on her gloves, and to collect her Bible, her hymn-
book and her pocket-handkerchief in her reticule. She was ready
to start, and she looked around her with a pleasant air; my
Father, all undisturbed, booming away meanwhile over our heads. I
know not why the manoeuvres of Miss Flaw especially attracted me
that evening, but I leaned out across Miss Marks and I caught
Miss Flaw's eye. She nodded, I nodded; and the amazing deed was
done, I hardly know how. Miss Flaw, with incredible swiftness,
flew along the line, plucked me by the coat-collar from between
my paralysed protectresses, darted with me down the chapel and
out into the dark, before anyone had time to say 'Jack Robinson'.

My Father gazed from the pulpit and the stream of exhortation
withered on his lips. No one in the body of the audience stirred;
no one but himself had clearly seen what had happened. Vague rows
of 'saints' with gaping countenances stared up at him, while he
shouted, 'Will nobody stop them? as we whisked out through the
doorway. Forth into the moist night we went, and up the lampless
village, where, a few minutes later, the swiftest of the
congregation, with my Father at their head, found us sitting on
the doorstep of the butcher's shop. My captor was now quite
quiet, and made no objection to my quitting her,--'without a
single kiss or a goodbye', as the poet says.

Although I had scarcely felt frightened at the time, doubtless my
nerves were shaken by this escapade, and it may have had
something to do with the recurrence of the distressing visions
from which I had suffered as a very little child. These came
back, with a force and expansion due to my increased maturity. I
had hardly laid my head down on the pillow, than, as it seemed to
me, I was taking part in a mad gallop through space. Some force,
which had tight hold of me, so that I felt myself an atom in its
grasp, was hurrying me on over an endless slender bridge, under
which on either side a loud torrent rushed at a vertiginous depth
below. At first our helpless flight,--for I was bound hand and
foot like Mazeppa,--proceeded in a straight line, but presently
it began to curve, and we raced and roared along, in what
gradually became a monstrous vortex, reverberant with noises,
loud with light, while, as we proceeded, enormous concentric
circles engulfed us, and wheeled above and about us. It seemed as
if we,--I, that is, and the undefined force which carried me,--
were pushing feverishly on towards a goal which our whole
concentrated energies were bent on reaching, but which a frenzied
despair in my heart told me we never could reach, yet the
attainment of which alone could save us from destruction. Far
away, in the pulsation of the great luminous whorls, I could just
see that goal, a ruby-coloured point waxing and waning, and it
bore, or to be exact it consisted of the letters of the word

This agitating vision recurred night after night, and filled me
with inexpressible distress. The details of it altered very
little, and I knew what I had to expect when I crept into bed. I
knew that for a few minutes I should be battling with the chill
of the linen sheets, and trying to keep awake, but that then,
without a pause, I should slip into that terrible realm of storm
and stress in which I was bound hand and foot, and sent galloping
through infinity. Often have I wakened, with unutterable joy, to
find my Father and Miss Marks, whom my screams had disturbed,
standing one on each side of my bed. They could release me from
my nightmare, which seldom assailed me twice a night-- but how to
preserve me from its original attack passed their understanding.
My Father, in his tenderness, thought to exorcize the demon by
prayer. He would appear in the bedroom, just as I was first
slipping into bed, and he would kneel at my side. The light from
a candle on the mantel-shelf streamed down upon his dark head of
hair while his face was buried in the coverlid, from which a loud
voice came up, a little muffled, begging that I might be
preserved against all the evil spirits that walk in darkness and
that the deep might not swallow me up.

This little ceremony gave a distraction to my thoughts, and may
have been useful in that way. But it led to an unfortunate
circumstance. My Father began to enjoy these orisons at my
bedside, and to prolong them. Perhaps they lasted a little too
long, but I contrived to keep awake through them, sometimes by a
great effort. On one unhappy night, however, I gave even worse
offense than slumber would have given. My Father was praying
aloud, in the attitude I have described, and I was half sitting,
half lying in bed, with the clothes sloping from my chin.
Suddenly a rather large insect-- dark and flat, with more legs
than a self-respecting insect ought to need-- appeared at the
bottom of the counterpane, and slowly advanced. I think it was
nothing worse than a beetle. It walked successfully past my
Father's sleek black ball of a head, and climbed straight up at
me, nearer, nearer, until it seemed all a twinkle of horns and
joints. I bore it in silent fascination until it almost tickled
my chin, and then I screamed 'Papa! Papa!' My Father rose in
great dudgeon, removed the insect (what were insects to him!) and
then gave me a tremendous lecture.

The sense of desperation which this incident produced I shall not
easily forget. Life seemed really to be very harassing when to
visions within and beetles without there was joined the
consciousness of having grievously offended God by an act of
disrespect. It is difficult for me to justify to myself the
violent jobation which my Father gave me in consequence of my
scream, except by attributing to him something of the human
weakness of vanity. I cannot help thinking that he liked to hear
himself speak to God in the presence of an admiring listener. He
prayed with fervour and animation, in pure Johnsonian English,
and I hope I am not undutiful if I add my impression that he was
not displeased with the sound of his own devotions. My cry for
help had needlessly, as he thought, broken in upon this holy and
seemly performance. 'You, the child of a naturalist,' he remarked
in awesome tones, 'you to pretend to feel terror at the advance
of an insect?' It could but be a pretext, he declared, for
avoiding the testimony of faith in prayer. 'If your heart were
fixed, if it panted after the Lord, it would take more than the
movements of a beetle to make you disturb oral supplication at
His footstool. Beware! for God is a jealous God and He consumes
them in wrath who make a noise like a dog.'

My Father took at all times a singular pleasure in repeating that
'our God is a jealous God'. He liked the word, which I suppose he
used in an antiquated sense. He was accustomed to tell the
'saints' at the Room,--in a very genial manner, and smiling at
them as he said it,--'I am jealous over you, my beloved brothers
and sisters, with a godly jealousy.' I know that this was
interpreted by some of the saints,--for I heard Mary Grace say so
to Miss Marks--as meaning that my Father was resentful because
some of them attended the service at the Wesleyan chapel on
Thursday evenings. But my Father was utterly incapable of such
littleness as this, and when he talked of 'jealousy' he meant a
lofty solicitude, a careful watchfulness. He meant that their
spiritual honour was a matter of anxiety to him. No doubt when he
used to tell me to remember that our God is a jealous God, he
meant that my sins and shortcomings were not matters of
indifference to the Divine Being. But I think, looking back, that
it was very extraordinary for a man, so instructed and so
intelligent as he, to dwell so much on the possible anger of the
Lord, rather than on his pity and love. The theory of extreme
Puritanism can surely offer no quainter example of its fallacy
than this idea that the omnipotent Jehovah--could be seriously
offended, and could stoop to revenge, because a little, nervous
child of nine had disturbed a prayer by being frightened at a

The fact that the word 'Carmine' appeared as the goal of my
visionary pursuits is not so inexplicable as it may seem. My
Father was at this time producing numerous water-colour drawings
of minute and even of microscopic forms of life. These he
executed in the manner of miniature, with an amazing fidelity of
form and with a brilliancy of colour which remains unfaded after
fifty years. By far the most costly of his pigments was the
intense crimson which is manufactured out of the very spirit and,
essence of cochineal. I had lately become a fervent imitator of
his works of art, and I was allowed to use all of his colours,
except one; I was strictly forbidden to let a hair of my paint-
brush touch the little broken mass of carmine which was all that
he possessed. We believed, but I do not know whether this could
be the fact, that carmine of this superlative quality was sold at
a guinea a cake. 'Carmine', therefore, became my shibboleth of
self-indulgence; it was a symbol of all that taste and art and
wealth could combine to produce. I imagined, for instance, that
at Belshazzar's feast, the loftiest epergne of gold, surrounded
by flowers and jewels, carried the monarch's proudest possession,
a cake of carmine. I knew of no object in the world of luxury
more desirable than this, and its obsession in my waking hours is
quite enough, I think, to account for 'carmine' having been the
torment of my dreams.

The little incident of the beetle displays my Father's mood at
this period in its worst light. His severity was not very
creditable, perhaps, to his good sense, but without a word of
explanation it may seem even more unreasonable than it was. My
Father might have been less stern to my lapses from high conduct,
and my own mind at the same time less armoured against his
arrows, if our relations had been those which exist in an
ordinary religious family. He would have been more indulgent, and
my own affections might nevertheless have been more easily
alienated, if I had been treated by him as a commonplace child,
standing as yet outside the pale of conscious Christianity. But
he had formed the idea, and cultivated it assiduously, that I was
an ame d'elite, a being to whom the mysteries of salvation had
been divinely revealed and by whom they had been accepted. I was,
to his partial fancy, one in whom the Holy Ghost had already
performed a real and permanent work. Hence, I was inside the
pale; I had attained that inner position which divided, as we
used to say, the Sheep from the Goats. Another little boy might
be very well-behaved, but if he had not consciously 'laid hold on
Christ', his good deeds, so far, were absolutely useless. Whereas
I might be a very naughty boy, and require much chastisement from
God and man, but nothing--so my Father thought--could invalidate
my election, and sooner or later, perhaps even after many
stripes, I must inevitably be brought back to a state of grace.

The paradox between this unquestionable sanctification by faith
and my equally unquestionable naughtiness, occupied my Father
greatly at this time. He made it a frequent subject of
intercession at family prayers, not caring to hide from the
servants misdemeanours of mine, which he spread out with a
melancholy unction before the Lord. He cultivated the belief that
all my little ailments, all my aches and pains, were sent to
correct my faults. He carried this persuasion very far, even
putting this exhortation before, instead of after, an instant
relief of my sufferings. If I burned my finger with a sulphur
match, or pinched the end of my nose in the door (to mention but
two sorrows that recur to my memory), my Father would solemnly
ejaculate: ' Oh may these afflictions be much sanctified to him!'
before offering any remedy for my pain. So that I almost longed,
under the pressure of these pangs, to be a godless child, who had
never known the privileges of saving grace, since I argued that
such a child would be subjected to none of the sufferings which
seemed to assail my path.

What the ideas or conduct of 'another child' might be I had,
however, at this time no idea, for, strange as it may sound, I
had not, until my tenth year was far advanced, made acquaintance
with any such creature. The 'saints' had children, but I was not
called upon to cultivate their company, and I had not the
slightest wish to do so. But early in 1859 I was allowed, at
last, to associate with a child of my own age. I do not recall
that this permission gave me any rapture; I accepted it
philosophically but without that delighted eagerness which I
might have been expected to show. My earliest companion, then,
was a little boy of almost exactly my own age. His name was
Benny, which no doubt was short for Benjamin. His surname was
Jeffries; his mother--I think he had no father--was a solemn and
shadowy lady of means who lived in a villa, which was older and
much larger than ours, on the opposite side of the road. Going to
'play with Benny' involved a small public excursion, and this I
was now allowed to make by myself--an immense source of self-

Everything in my little memories seems to run askew; obviously I
ought to have been extremely stirred and broadened by this
earliest association with a boy of my own age! Yet I cannot truly
say that it was so. Benny's mother possessed what seemed to me a
vast domain, with lawns winding among broad shrubberies, and a
kitchen-garden, with aged fruit-trees in it. The ripeness of this
place, mossed and leafy, was gratifying to my senses, on which
the rawness of our own bald garden jarred. There was an old brick
wall between the two divisions, upon which it was possible for us
to climb up, and from this we gained Pisgah-views which were a
prodigious pleasure. But I had not the faintest idea how to
'play'; I had never learned, had never heard of any 'games'. I
think Benny must have lacked initiative almost as much as I did.
We walked about, and shook the bushes, and climbed along the
wall; I think that was almost all we ever did do. And, sadly
enough, I cannot recover a phrase from Benny's lips, nor an
action, nor a gesture, although I remember quite clearly how some
grown-up people of that time looked, and the very words they

For example, I recollect Miss Wilkes very distinctly, since I
studied her with great deliberation, and with a suspicious
watchfulness that was above my years. In Miss Wilkes a type that
had hitherto been absolutely unfamiliar to us obtruded upon our
experience. In our Eveless Eden, Woman, if not exactly hirsuta et
horrida, had always been 'of a certain age'. But Miss Wilkes was
a comparatively young thing, and she advanced not by any means
unconscious of her charms. All was feminine, all was impulsive,
about Miss Wilkes; every gesture seemed eloquent with girlish
innocence and the playful dawn of life. In actual years I fancy
she was not so extremely youthful, since she was the responsible
and trusted headmistress of a large boarding-school for girls,
but in her heart the joy of life ran high. Miss Wilkes had a
small, round face, with melting eyes, and when she lifted her
head, her ringlets seemed to vibrate and shiver like the bells of
a pagoda. She had a charming way of clasping her hands, and
holding them against her bodice, while she said, 'Oh, but--really
now?' in a manner inexpressibly engaging. She was very earnest,
and she had a pleading way of calling out: 'O, but aren't you
teasing me?' which would have brought a tiger fawning to her

After we had spent a full year without any social distractions,
it seems that our circle of acquaintances had now begun to
extend, in spite of my Father's unwillingness to visit his
neighbours. He was a fortress that required to be stormed, but
there was considerable local curiosity about him, so that by-and-
by escalading parties were formed, some of which were partly
successful. In the first place, Charles Kingsley had never
hesitated to come, from the beginning, ever since our arrival. He
had reason to visit our neighbouring town rather frequently, and
on such occasions he always marched up and attacked us. It was
extraordinary how persistent he was, for my Father must have been
a very trying friend. I vividly recollect that a sort of cross-
examination of would-be communicants was going on in our half-
furnished drawing-room one weekday morning, when Mr. Kingsley was
announced; my Father, in stentorian tones, replied: 'Tell Mr.
Kingsley that I am engaged in examining Scripture with certain of
the Lord's children.' And I, a little later, kneeling at the
window, while the candidates were being dismissed with prayer,
watched the author of Hypatia nervously careening about the
garden, very restless and impatient, yet preferring this ignominy
to the chance of losing my Father's company altogether. Kingsley,
a daring spirit, used sometimes to drag us out trawling with him
in Torbay, and although his hawk's beak and rattling voice
frightened me a little, his was always a jolly presence that
brought some refreshment to our seriousness.

But the other visitors who came in Kingsley's wake and without
his excuse-- how they disturbed us! We used to be seated, my
Father at his microscope, I with my map or book, in the down-
stairs room we called the study. There would be a hush around us
in which you could hear a sea-anemone sigh. Then, abruptly, would
come a ring at the front door; my Father would bend at me a
corrugated brow, and murmur, under his breath, 'What's that? and
then, at the sound oŁ footsteps, would bolt into the verandah,
and around the garden into the potting-shed. If it was no visitor
more serious than the postman or the tax-gatherer, I used to go
forth and coax the timid wanderer home. If it was a caller, above
all a female caller, it was my privilege to prevaricate,
remarking innocently that 'Papa is out!'

Into a paradise so carefully guarded, I know not how that serpent
Miss Wilkes could penetrate, but there she was. She 'broke bread'
with the Brethren at the adjacent town, from which she carried on
strategical movements, which were, up to a certain point, highly
successful. She professed herself deeply interested in
microscopy, and desired that some of her young ladies should
study it also. She came attended by an unimportant man, and by
pupils to whom I had sometimes, very unwillingly, to show our
'natural objects'. They would invade us, and all our quietness
with chattering noise; I could bear none of them, and I was
singularly drawn to Miss Marks by finding that she disliked them

By whatever arts she worked, Miss Wilkes certainly achieved a
certain ascendancy. When the knocks came at the front door, I was
now instructed to see whether the visitor were not she, before my
Father bolted to the potting-shed. She was an untiring listener,
and my Father had a genius for instruction. Miss Wilkes was never
weary of expressing what a revelation of the wonderful works of
God in creation her acquaintance with us had been. She would gaze
through the microscope at awful forms, and would persevere until
the silver rim which marked the confines of the drop of water
under inspection would ripple inwards with a flash of light and
vanish, because the drop itself had evaporated. 'Well, I can only
say, how marvellous are Thy doings!' was a frequent ejaculation
of Miss Wilkes, and one that was very well received. She learned
the Latin names of many of the species, and it seems quite
pathetic to me, looking back, to realize how much trouble the
poor woman took. She 'hung', as the expression is, upon my
Father's every word, and one instance of this led to a certain

My Father, who had an extraordinary way of saying anything what
Came into his mind, stated one day,--the fashions, I must suppose,
being under discussion,--that he thought white the only becoming
colour for a lady's stockings. The stockings of Miss Wilkes had
up to that hour been of a deep violet, but she wore white ones in
future whenever she came to our house. This delicacy would have
been beyond my unaided infant observation, but I heard Miss Marks
mention the matter, in terms which they supposed to be secret, to
her confidante, and I verified it at the ankles of the lady. Miss
Marks continued by saying, in confidence, and 'quite as between
you and me, dear Mary Grace', that Miss Wilkes was a 'minx'. I
had the greatest curiosity about words, and as this was a new
one, I looked it up in our large English Dictionary. But there
the definition of the term was this:--'Minx: the female of
minnock; a pert wanton.' I was as much in the dark as ever.

Whether she was the female of a minnock (whatever that may be) or
whether she was only a very well-meaning schoolmistress desirous
of enlivening a monotonous existence, Miss Wilkes certainly took
us out of ourselves a good deal. Did my Father know what danger
he ran? It was the opinion of Miss Marks and of Mary Grace that
he did not, and in the back-kitchen, a room which served those
ladies as a private oratory in the summer-time, much prayer was
offered up that his eyes might be opened ere it was too late. But
I am inclined to think that they were open all the time, that, at
all events, they were what the French call entr'ouvert, that
enough light for practical purposes came sifted in through his
eyelashes. At a later time, being reminded of Miss Wilkes, he
said with a certain complaisance, 'Ah, yes! she proffered much
entertainment during my widowed years!' He used to go down to her
boarding-school, the garden of which had been the scene of a
murder, and was romantically situated on the edge of a quarried
cliff; he always took me with him, and kept me at his side all
through these visits, notwithstanding Miss Wilkes' solicitude that
the fatigue and excitement would be too much for the dear child's
strength, unless I rested a little on the parlour sofa.

About this time, the question of my education came up for
discussion in the household, as indeed it well might. Miss Marks
had long proved practically inadequate in this respect, her
slender acquirements evaporating, I suppose, like the drops of
water under the microscope, while the field of her general duties
became wider. The subjects in which I took pleasure, and upon
which I possessed books, I sedulously taught myself; the other
subjects, which formed the vast majority, I did not learn at all.
Like Aurora Leigh,

I brushed with extreme flounce
The circle of the universe,

especially zoology, botany and astronomy, but with the explicit
exception of geology, which my Father regarded as tending
directly to the encouragement of infidelity. I copied a great
quantity of maps, and read all the books of travels that I could
find. But I acquired no mathematics, no languages, no history, so
that I was in danger of gross illiteracy in these important

My Father grudged the time, but he felt it a duty to do something
to fill up these deficiencies, and we now started Latin, in a
little eighteenth-century reading-book, out of which my
Grandfather had been taught. It consisted of strings of words,
and of grim arrangements of conjunction and declension, presented
in a manner appallingly unattractive. I used to be set down in
the study, under my Father's eye, to learn a solid page of this
compilation, while he wrote or painted. The window would be open
in summer, and my seat was close to it. Outside, a bee was
shaking the clematis-blossom, or a red-admiral butterfly was
opening and shutting his wings on the hot concrete of the
verandah, or a blackbird was racing across the lawn. It was
almost more than human nature could bear to have to sit holding
up to my face the dreary little Latin book, with its sheepskin
cover that smelt of mildewed paste.

But out of this strength there came an unexpected sudden
sweetness. The exercise of hearing me repeat my strings of nouns
and verbs had revived in my Father his memories of the classics.
In the old solitary years, a long time ago, by the shores of
Canadian rapids, on the edge of West Indian swamps, his Virgil had
been an inestimable solace to him. To extremely devout persons,
there is something objectionable in most of the great writers of
antiquity. Horace, Lucretius, Terence, Catullus, Juvenal,--in
each there is one quality or another definitely repulsive to a
reader who is determined to know nothing but Christ and him
crucified. From time immemorial, however, it has been recognized
in the Christian church that this objection does not apply to
Virgil. He is the most evangelical of the classics; he is the one
who can be enjoyed with least to explain away and least to
excuse. One evening my Father took down his Virgil from an upper
shelf, and his thoughts wandered away from surrounding things; he
travelled in the past again. The book was a Delphin edition of
1798, which had followed him in all his wanderings; there was a
great scratch on the sheep-skin cover that a thorn had made in a
forest of Alabama. And then, in the twilight, as he shut the
volume at last, oblivious of my presence, he began to murmur and
to chant the adorable verses by memory.

Tityre, tu patulae recubans sub tegmine fagi,

he warbled; and I stopped my play, and listened as if to a
nightingale, until he reached

tu, Tityre, lentus in umbra
Formosam resonare doces Amaryllida silvan.

'Oh Papa, what is that?' I could not prevent myself from asking.
He translated the verses, he explained their meaning, but his
exposition gave me little interest. What to me was beautiful
Amaryllis? She and her love-sick Tityrus awakened no image


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