Father and Son
Edmund Gosse

Part 3 out of 4

whatever in my mind.

But a miracle had been revealed to me, the incalculable, the
amazing beauty which could exist in the sound of verses. My
prosodical instinct was awakened quite suddenly that dim evening,
as my Father and I sat alone in the breakfast-room after tea,
serenely accepting the hour, for once, with no idea of
exhortation or profit. Verse, 'a breeze mid blossoms playing', as
Coleridge says, descended from the roses as a moth might have
done, and the magic of it took hold of my heart forever. I
persuaded my Father, who was a little astonished at my
insistence, to repeat the lines over and over again. At last my
brain caught them, and as I walked in Benny's garden, or as I
hung over the tidal pools at the edge of the sea, all my inner
being used to ring out with the sound of

Formosam resonare doces Amaryllida silvan.


IN the previous chapter I have dwelt on some of the lighter
conditions of our life at this time; I must now turn to it in a
less frivolous aspect. As my tenth year advanced, the development
of my character gave my Father, I will not say anxiety, but
matter for serious reflection. My intelligence was now perceived
to be taking a sudden start; visitors drew my Father's attention
to the fact that I was 'coming out so much'. I grew rapidly in
stature, having been a little shrimp of a thing up to that time,
and I no longer appeared much younger than my years. Looking
back, I do not think that there was any sudden mental
development, but that the change was mainly a social one. I had
been reserved, timid and taciturn; I had disliked the company of
strangers. But with my tenth year, I certainly unfolded, so far
as to become sociable and talkative, and perhaps I struck those
around me as grown 'clever', because I said the things which I
had previously only thought. There was a change, no doubt, yet I
believe that it was mainly physical, rather than mental. My
excessive fragility--or apparent fragility, for I must have been
always wiry--decreased; I slept better, and therefore, grew less
nervous; I ate better, and therefore put on flesh. If I preserved
a delicate look--people still used to say in my presence, 'That
dear child is not long for this world!'- it was in consequence of
a sort of habit into which my body had grown; it was a
transparency which did not speak of what was in store for me, but
of what I had already passed through.

The increased activity of my intellectual system now showed
itself in what I behove to be a very healthy form, direct
imitation. The rage for what is called 'originality' is pushed to
such a length in these days that even children are not considered
promising, unless they attempt things preposterous and
unparalleled. From his earliest hour, the ambitious person is
told that to make a road where none has walked before, to do
easily what it is impossible for others to do at all, to create
new forms of thought and expression, are the only recipes for
genius; and in trying to escape on all sides from every
resemblance to his predecessors, he adopts at once an air of
eccentricity and pretentiousness. This continues to be the
accepted view of originality; but, in spite of this conventional
opinion, I hold that the healthy sign of an activity of mind in
early youth is not to be striving after unheard-of miracles, but
to imitate closely and carefully what is being said and done in
the vicinity. The child of a great sculptor will hang about the
studio, and will try to hammer a head out of a waste piece of
marble with a nail; it does not follow that he too will be a
sculptor. The child of a politician will sit in committee with a
row of empty chairs, and will harangue an imaginary senate from
behind the curtains. I, the son of a man who looked through a
microscope and painted what he saw there, would fair observe for
myself, and paint my observations. It did not follow, alas! that
I was built to be a miniature-painter or a savant, but the
activity of a childish intelligence was shown by my desire to
copy the results of such energy as I saw nearest at hand.

In the secular direction, this now took the form of my preparing
little monographs on seaside creatures, which were arranged,
tabulated and divided as exactly as possible on the pattern of
those which my Father was composing for his Actinologia
Britannica. I wrote these out upon sheets of paper of the same
size as his printed page, and I adorned them with water-colour
plates, meant to emulate his precise and exquisite illustrations.
One or two of these ludicrous pastiches are still preserved, and
in glancing at them now I wonder, not at any skill that they
possess, but at the perseverance and the patience, the evidence
of close and persistent labour. I was not set to these tasks by
my Father, who, in fact, did not much approve of them. He was
touched, too, with the 'originality' heresy, and exhorted me not
to copy him, but to go out into the garden or the shore and
describe something new, in a new way. That was quite impossible;
I possessed no initiative. But I can now well understand why my
Father, very indulgently and good-temperedly, deprecated these
exercises of mine. They took up, and, as he might well think,
wasted, an enormous quantity of time; and they were, moreover,
parodies, rather than imitations, of his writings, for I invented
new species, with sapphire spots and crimson tentacles and amber
bands, which were close enough to his real species to be
disconcerting. He came from conscientiously shepherding the
flocks of ocean, and I do not wonder that my ring-straked,
speckled and spotted varieties put him out of countenance. If I
had not been so innocent and solemn, he might have fancied I was
mocking him.

These extraordinary excursions into science, falsely so called,
occupied a large part of my time. There was a little spare room
at the back of our house, dedicated to lumber and to empty
portmanteaux. There was a table in it already, and I added a
stool; this cheerless apartment now became my study. I spent so
many hours here, in solitude and without making a sound, that my
Father's curiosity, if not his suspicion, was occasionally
aroused, and he would make a sudden raid on me. I was always
discovered, doubled up over the table, with my pen and ink, or
else my box of colours and tumbler of turbid water by my hand,
working away like a Chinese student shut up in his matriculating

It might have been done for a wager, if anything so simple had
ever been dreamed of in our pious household. The apparatus was
slow and laboured. In order to keep my uncouth handwriting in
bounds, I was obliged to rule not lines only, but borders to my
pages. The subject did not lend itself to any flow of language,
and I was obliged incessantly to borrow sentences, word for word,
from my Father's published books. Discouraged by everyone around
me, daunted by the laborious effort needful to carry out the
scheme, it seems odd to me now that I persisted in so strange and
wearisome an employment, but it became an absorbing passion, and
was indulged in to the neglect of other lessons and other

My Father, as the spring advanced, used to come up to the
Boxroom, as my retreat was called, and hunt me out into the
sunshine. But I soon crept back to my mania. It gave him much
trouble, and Miss Marks, who thought it sheer idleness, was
vociferous in objection. She would gladly have torn up all my
writings and paintings, and have set me to a useful task. My
Father, with his strong natural individualism, could not take
this view. He was interested in this strange freak of mine, and
he could not wholly condemn it. But he must have thought is a
little crazy, and it is evident to me now that it led to the
revolution in domestic policy by which he began to encourage any
acquaintance with other young people as much as he had previously
discouraged it. He saw that I could not be allowed to spend my
whole time in a little stuffy room making solemn and ridiculous
imitations of Papers read before the Linnaean Society. He was
grieved, moreover, at the badness of my pictures, for I had no
native skill; and he tried to teach me his own system of
miniature-painting as applied to natural history. I was forced,
in deep depression of spirits, to turn from my grotesque
monographs, and paint under my Father's eye, and, from a finished
drawing of his, a gorgeous tropic bird in flight. Aided by my
habit of imitation, I did at length produce some thing which
might have shown promise, if it had not been wrung from me, touch
by touch, pigment by pigment, under the orders of a task-master.

All this had its absurd side, but I seem to perceive that it had
also its value. It is, surely, a mistake to look too near at hand
for the benefits of education. What is actually taught in early
childhood is often that part of training which makes least
impression on the character, and is of the least permanent
importance. My labours failed to make me a zoologist, and the
multitude of my designs and my descriptions have left me
helplessly ignorant of the anatomy of a sea-anemone. Yet I cannot
look upon the mental discipline as useless. It taught me to
concentrate my attention, to define the nature of distinctions,
to see accurately, and to name what I saw. Moreover, it gave me
the habit of going on with any piece of work I had in hand, not
flagging because the interest or picturesqueness of the theme had
declined, but pushing forth towards a definite goal, well
foreseen and limited beforehand. For almost any intellectual
employment in later life, it seems to me that this discipline was
valuable. I am, however, not the less conscious how ludicrous was
the mode in which, in my tenth year, I obtained it.

My spiritual condition occupied my Father's thoughts very
insistently at this time. Closing, as he did, most of the doors
of worldly pleasure and energy upon his conscience, he had
continued to pursue his scientific investigations without any
sense of sin. Most fortunate it was, that the collecting of
marine animals in the tidal pools, and the description of them in
pages which were addressed to the wide scientific public, at no
time occurred to him as in any way inconsistent with his holy
calling. His conscience was so delicate, and often so morbid in
its delicacy, that if that had occurred to him, he would
certainly have abandoned his investigations, and have been left
without an employment. But happily he justified his investigation
by regarding it as a glorification of God's created works. In the
introduction of his Actinologia Britannica, written at the time
which I have now reached in this narrative, he sent forth his
labours with a phrase which I should think unparalleled in
connection with a learned and technical biological treatise. He
stated, concerning that book, that he published it 'as one more
tribute humbly offered to the glory of the Triune God, who is
wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working'. Scientific
investigation sincerely carried out in that spirit became a kind
of weekday interpretation of the current creed of Sundays.

The development of my faculties, of which I have spoken, extended
to the religious sphere no less than to the secular, Here, also,
as I look back, I see that I was extremely imitative. I expanded
in the warmth of my Father's fervour, and, on the whole, in a
manner that was satisfactory to him. He observed the richer hold
that I was now taking on life; he saw my faculties branching in
many directions, and he became very anxious to secure my
maintenance in grace. In earlier years, certain sides of my
character had offered a sort of passive resistance to his ideas.
I had let what I did not care to welcome pass over my mind in the
curious density that children adopt in order to avoid receiving
impressions--blankly, dumbly, achieving by stupidity what they
cannot achieve by argument. I think that I had frequently done
this; that he had been brought up against a dead wall; although
on other sides of my nature I had been responsive and docile. But
now, in my tenth year, the imitative faculty got the upper hand,
and nothing seemed so attractive as to be what I was expected to
be. If there was a doubt now, it lay in the other direction; it
seemed hardly normal that so young a child should appear so
receptive and so apt.

My Father believed himself justified, at this juncture, in making
a tremendous effort. He wished to secure me finally,
exhaustively, before the age of puberty could dawn, before my
soul was fettered with the love of carnal things. He thought that
if I could now be identified with the 'saints', and could stand
on exactly their footing, a habit of conformity would be secured.
I should meet the paganizing tendencies of advancing years with
security if I could be forearmed with all the weapons of a
sanctified life. He wished me, in short, to be received into the
community of the Brethren on the terms of an adult. There were
difficulties in the way of carrying out this scheme, and they
were urged upon him, more or less courageously, by the elders of
the church. But he overbore them. What the difficulties were, and
what were the arguments which he used to sweep those difficulties
away, I must now explain, for in this lay the centre of our
future relations as father and son.

In dealing with the peasants around him, among whom he was
engaged in an active propaganda, my Father always insisted on the
necessity of conversion. There must be a new birth and being, a
fresh creation in God. This crisis he was accustomed to regard as
manifesting itself in a sudden and definite upheaval. There might
have been prolonged practical piety, deep and true contrition for
sin, but these, although the natural and suitable prologue to
conversion, were not conversion itself. People hung on at the
confines of regeneration, often for a very long time; my Father
dealt earnestly with them, the elders ministered to them, with
explanation, exhortation and prayer. Such persons were in a
gracious state, but they were not in a state of grace. If they
should suddenly die, they would pass away in an unconverted
condition, and all that could be said in their favour was a vague
expression of hope that they would benefit from God's
uncovenanted mercies.

But on some day, at some hour and minute, if life was spared to
them, the way of salvation would be revealed to these persons in
such an aspect that they would be enabled instantaneously to
accept it. They would take it consciously, as one takes a gift
from the hand that offers it. This act of taking was the process
of conversion, and the person who so accepted was a child of God
now, although a single minute ago he had been a child of wrath.
The very root of human nature had to be changed, and, in the
majority of cases, this change was sudden, patent, and palpable.

I have just said, 'in the majority of cases', because my Father
admitted the possibility of exceptions. The formula was, 'If any
man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.' As a rule,
no one could possess the Spirit of Christ, without a conscious
and full abandonment of the soul, and this, however carefully led
up to, and prepared for with tears and renunciations, was not,
could not, be made, except at a set moment of time. Faith, in an
esoteric and almost symbolic sense, was necessary, and could not
be a result of argument, but was a state of heart. In these
opinions my Father departed in no ways from the strict
evangelical doctrine of the Protestant churches, but he held it
in a mode and with a severity peculiar to himself. Now, it is
plain that this state of heart, this voluntary deed of
acceptance, presupposed a full and rational consciousness of the
relations of things. It might be clearly achieved by a person of
humble cultivation, but only by one who was fully capable of
independent thought, in other words by a more or less adult
person, The man or woman claiming the privileges of conversion
must be able to understand and to grasp what his religious
education was aiming at.

It is extraordinary what trouble it often gave my Father to know
whether he was justified in admitting to the communion people of
very limited powers of expression. A harmless, humble labouring
man would come with a request-to be allowed to 'break bread'. It
was only by the use of strong leading questions that he could be
induced to mention Christ as the ground of his trust at all. I
recollect an elderly agricultural labourer being closeted for a
long time with my Father, who came out at last, in a sort of
dazed condition, and replied to our inquiries,--with a shrug of
his shoulders as he said it,--'I was obliged to put the Name and
Blood and Work of Jesus into his very mouth. It is true that he
assented cordially at last, but I confess I was grievously
daunted by the poor intelligence!'

But there was, or there might be, another class of persona, whom
early training, separation from the world, and the care of godly
parents had so early familiarized with the acceptable calling of
Christ that their conversion had occurred, unperceived and
therefore unrecorded, at an extraordinarily earl age. It would be
in vain to look for a repetition of the phenomenon in those
cases. The heavenly fire must not be expected to descend a second
time; the lips are touched with the burning coal once, and once
only. If, accordingly, these precociously selected spirits are to
be excluded because no new birth is observed in them at a mature
age, they must continue outside in--he cold, since the phenomenon
cannot be repeated. When, therefore, there is not possible any
further doubt of their being in possession of salvation, longer
delay is useless, and worse than useless. The fact of conversion,
though not recorded nor even recollected, must be accepted on the
evidence of confession of faith, and as soon as the intelligence
is evidently developed, the person not merely may, but should be
accepted into communion, although still immature in body,
although in years still even a child. This my Father believed to
be my case, and in this rare class did he fondly persuade himself
to station me.

As I have said, the congregation,--although docile and timid, and
little able, as units, to hold their own against their minister--
behind his back were faintly hostile to this plan. None of their
own children had ever been so much as suggested for membership,
and each of themselves, in ripe years, had been subjected to
severe cross-examination. I think it was rather a bitter pill for
some of them to swallow that a pert little boy of ten should be
admitted, as a grown-up person, to all the hard-won privileges of
their order. Mary Grace Burmington came back from her visits to
the cottagers, reporting disaffection here and there, grumblings
in the rank and file. But quite as many, especially of the women,
enthusiastically supported my Father's wish, gloried aloud in the
manifestations of my early piety, and professed to see in it
something of miraculous promise. The expression 'another Infant
Samuel' was widely used. I became quite a subject of contention.
A war of the sexes threatened to break out over me; I was a
disturbing element at cottage breakfasts. I was mentioned at
public prayer-meetings, not indeed by name but, in the
extraordinary allusive way customary in our devotions, as 'one
amongst us of tender years' or as 'a sapling in the Lord's

To all this my Father put a stop in his own high-handed fashion.
After the morning meeting, one Sunday in the autumn of 1859, he
desired the attention of the Saints to a personal matter which
was, perhaps, not unfamiliar to them by rumour. That was, he
explained, the question of the admission of his, beloved little
son to the communion of saints in the breaking of bread. He
allowed--and I sat there in evidence, palely smiling at the
audience, my feet scarcely touching the ground--that I was not
what is styled adult; I was not, he frankly admitted, a grown-up
person. But I was adult in a knowledge of the Lord; I possessed
an insight into the plan of salvation which many a hoary head
might envy for its fullness, its clearness, its conformity with
Scripture doctrine. This was a palpable hit at more than one
stumbler and fumbler after the truth, and several hoary heads
were bowed.

My Father then went on to explain very fully the position which I
have already attempted to define. He admitted the absence in my
case of a sudden, apparent act of conversion resulting upon
conviction of sin. But he stated the grounds of his belief that I
had, in still earlier infancy, been converted, and he declared
that if so, I ought no longer to be excluded from the privileges
of communion. He said, moreover, that he was willing on this
occasion to waive his own privilege as a minister, and that he
would rather call on Brother Fawkes and Brother Bere, the leading
elders, to examine the candidate in his stead. This was a master-
stroke, for Brothers Fawkes and Bere had been suspected of
leading the disaffection, and this threw all the burden of
responsibility on them. The meeting broke up in great amiability,
and my Father and I went home together in the very highest of
spirits. I, indeed, in my pride, crossed the verge of
indiscretion by saying: 'When I have been admitted to fellowship,
Papa, shall I be allowed to call you "beloved Brother"?' My
Father was too well pleased with the morning's work to be
critical. He laughed, and answered: ' That, my Love, though
strictly correct, would hardly, I fear, be thought judicious!'

It was suggested that my tenth birthday, which followed this
public announcement by a few days, would be a capital occasion
for me to go through the ordeal. Accordingly, after dark (for our
new lamp was lighted for the first time in honour of the event),
I withdrew alone into our drawing-room, which had just, at
length, been furnished, and which looked, I thought, very smart.
Hither came to me, first Brother Fawkes, by himself; then Brother
Bere, by himself; and then both together, so that you may say, if
you are pedanticaly inclined, that I underwent three successive
interviews. My Father, out of sight somewhere, was, of course,
playing the part of stage manager.

I felt not at all shy, but so highly strung that my whole nature
seemed to throb with excitement. My first examiner, on the other
hand, was extremely confused. Fawkes, who was a builder in a
small business of his own, was short and fat; his complexion,
which wore a deeper and more uniform rose-colour than usual, I
observed to be starred with dew-drops of nervous emotion, which
he wiped away at intervals with a large bandana handkerchief. He
was so long in coming to the point, that I was obliged to lead
him to it myself, and I sat up on the sofa in the full lamplight,
and testified my faith in the atonement with a fluency that
surprised myself. Before I had done, Fawkes, a middle-aged man
with the reputation of being a very stiff employer of labour, was
weeping like a child.

Bere, the carpenter, a long, thin and dry man, with a curiously
immobile eye, did not fall so easily a prey to my fascinations.
He put me through my paces very sharply, for he had something of
the temper of an attorney mingled with his religiousness.
However, I was equal to him, and he, too, though he held his own
head higher, was not less impressed than Fawkes had been, by the
surroundings of the occasion. Neither of them had ever been in
our drawing-room since it was furnished, and I thought that each
of them noticed how smart the wallpaper was. Indeed, I believe I
drew their attention to it. After the two solitary examinations
were over, the elders came in again, as I have said, and they
prayed for a long time. We all three knelt at the sofa, I between
them. But by this time, to my great exaltation of spirits there
had succeeded an equally dismal depression. It was my turn now to
weep, and I dimly remember any Father coming into the room, and
my being carried up to bed, in a state of collapse and fatigue,
by the silent and kindly Miss Marks.

On the following Sunday morning, I was the principal subject
which occupied an unusually crowded meeting. My Father, looking
whiter and yet darker than usual, called upon Brother Fawkes and
Brother Bere to state to the assembled saints what their
experiences had been in connexion with their visits to 'one' who
desired to be admitted to the breaking of bread. It was
tremendously exciting to me to hear myself spoken of with this
impersonal publicity, and I had no fear of the result.

Events showed that I had no need of fear. Fawkes and Bere were
sometimes accused of a rivalry, which indeed broke out a few
years later, and gave my Father much anxiety and pain. But on
this occasion their unanimity was wonderful. Each strove to
exceed the other in the tributes which they paid to any piety. My
answers had been so full and clear, my humility (save the mark!)
had been so sweet, my acquaintance with Scripture so amazing, my
testimony to all the leading principles of salvation so distinct
and exhaustive, that they could only say that they had felt
confounded, and yet deeply cheered and led far along their own
heavenly path, by hearing such accents fall from the lips of a
babe and a suckling. I did not like being described as a
suckling, but every lot has its crumpled rose-leaf, and in all
other respects the report of the elders was a triumph. My Father
then clenched the whole matter by rising and announcing that I
had expressed an independent desire to confess the Lord by the
act of public baptism, immediately after which I should be
admitted to communion 'as an adult'. Emotion ran so high at this,
that a large portion of the congregation insisted on walking with
us back to our garden-gate, to the stupefaction of the rest of
the villagers.

My public baptism was the central event of my whole childhood.
Everything, since the earliest dawn of consciousness, seemed to
have been leading up to it. Everything, afterwards, seemed to be
leading down and away from it. The practice of immersing
communicants on the sea-beach at Oddicombe had now been
completely abandoned, but we possessed as yet no tank for a
baptismal purpose in our own Room. The Room in the adjoining
town, however, was really quite a large chapel, and it was amply
provided with the needful conveniences. It was our practice,
therefore, at this time, to claim the hospitality of our
neighbours. Baptisms were made an occasion for friendly relations
between the two congregations, and led to pleasant social
intercourse. I believe that the ministers and elders of the two
meetings arranged to combine their forces at these times, and to
baptize communicants from both congregations.

The minister of the town meeting was Mr. S., a very handsome old
gentleman, of venerable and powerful appearance. He had snowy
hair and a long white beard, but from under shaggy eyebrows there
blazed out great black eyes which warned the beholder that the
snow was an ornament and not a sign of decrepitude. The eve of my
baptism at length drew near; it was fixed for October 12, almost
exactly three weeks after my tenth birthday. I was dressed in old
clothes, and a suit of smarter things was packed up in a carpet-
bag. After nightfall, this carpet-bag, accompanied by my Father,
myself, Miss Marks and Mary Grace, was put in a four-wheeled cab,
and driven, a long way in the dark, to the chapel of our friends.
There we were received, in a blaze of lights, with a pressure of
hands, with a murmur of voices, with ejaculations and even with
tears, and were conducted, amid unspeakable emotion, to places of
honour in the front row of the congregation.

The scene was one which would have been impressive, not merely to
such hermits as we were, but even to worldly persons accustomed
to life and to its curious and variegated experiences. To me it
was dazzling beyond words, inexpressibly exciting, an initiation
to every kind of publicity and glory. There were many candidates,
but the rest of them,--mere grownup men and women,--gave thanks
aloud that it was their privilege to follow where I led. I was
the acknowledged hero of the hour. Those were days when newspaper
enterprise was scarcely in its infancy, and the event owed
nothing to journalistic effort; in spite of that, the news of
this remarkable ceremony, the immersion of a little boy of ten
years old 'as an adult', had spread far and wide through the
county in the course of three weeks. The chapel of our hosts was,
as I have said, very large; it was commonly too large for their
needs, but on this night it was crowded to the ceiling, and the
crowd had come--as every soft murmur assured me--to see me.

There were people there who had travelled from Exeter, from
Dartmouth, from Totnes, to witness so extraordinary a ceremony.
There was one old woman of eighty-five who had come, my
neighbours whispered to me, all the way from Moreton-Hampstead,
on purpose to see me baptized. I looked at her crumpled
countenance with amazement, for there was no curiosity, no
interest visible in it. She sat there perfectly listless, looking
at nothing, but chewing between her toothless gums what appeared
to be a jujube.

In the centre of the chapel-floor a number of planks had been
taken up and revealed a pool which might have been supposed to be
a small swimming-bath. We gazed down into this dark square of
mysterious waters, from the tepid surface of which faint swirls
of vapour rose. The whole congregation vas arranged, tier above
tier, about the four straight sides of this pool; every person
was able to see what happened in it without any unseemly
struggling or standing on forms. Mr. S. now rose, an impressive
hieratic figure, commanding attention and imploring perfect
silence. He held a small book in his hand, and he vas preparing
to give out the number of a hymn, when an astounding incident
took place.

There was a great splash, and a tall young woman was perceived to
be in the baptismal pool, her arms waving above her head, and her
figure held upright in the water by the inflation of the air
underneath her crinoline which was blown out like a bladder, as
in some extravagant old fashion-plate. Whether her feet touched
the bottom of the font I cannot say, but I suppose they did so.
An indescribable turmoil of shrieks and cries followed on this
extraordinary apparition. A great many people excitedly called
upon other people to be calm, and an instance was given of the
remark of James Smith that

He who, in quest of quiet, 'Silence!' hoots
Is apt to make the hubbub he imputes.

The young woman, in a more or less fainting condition, was
presently removed from the water, and taken into the sort of tent
which was prepared for candidates. It was found that she herself
had wished to be a candidate and had earnestly desired to be
baptized, but that this had been forbidden by her parents. On the
supposition that she fell in by accident, a pious coincidence was
detected in this affair; the Lord had pre-ordained that she
should be baptized in spite of all opposition. But my Father, in
his shrewd way, doubted. He pointed out to us, next morning,
that, in the first place, she had not, in any sense, been
baptized, as her head had not been immersed; and that, in the
second place, she must have deliberately jumped in, since, had
she stumbled and fallen forward, her hands and face would have
struck the water, whereas they remained quite dry. She belonged,
however, to the neighbour congregation, and we had no
responsibility to pursue the inquiry any further.

Decorum being again secured, Mr. S., with unimpaired dignity,
proposed to the congregation a hymn, which was long enough to
occupy them during the preparations for the actual baptism. He
then retired to the vestry, and I (for I was to be the first to
testify) was led by Miss Marks and Mary Grace into the species of
tent of which I have just spoken. Its pale sides seemed to shake
with the jubilant singing of the saints outside, while part of my
clothing was removed and I was prepared for immersion. A sudden
cessation of the hymn warned us that to Minister was now ready,
and we emerged into the glare of lights and faces to find Mr. S.
already standing in the water up to his knees. Feeling as small
as one of our microscopical specimens, almost infinitesimally
tiny as I descended into his Titanic arms, I was handed down the
steps to him. He was dressed in a kind of long surplice,
underneath which--as I could not, even in that moment, help
observing--the air gathered in long bubbles which he strove to
flatten out. The end of his noble beard he had tucked away; his
shirt-sleeves were turned up at the wrist.

The entire congregation was now silent, so silent that the
uncertain splashing of my feet as I descended seemed to deafen
one. Mr. S., a little embarrassed by my short stature, succeeded
at length in securing me with one palm on my chest and the other
between my shoulders. He said, slowly, in a loud, sonorous voice
that seemed to enter my brain and empty it, 'I baptize thee, my
Brother, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy
Ghost!' Having intoned this formula, he then gently flung me
backwards until I was wholly under the water, and then--as he
brought me up again, and tenderly steadied my feet on the steps
of the font, and delivered me, dripping and spluttering, into the
anxious hands of the women, who hurried me to the tent--the whole
assembly broke forth in a thunder of song, a paean of praise to
God for this manifestation of his marvellous goodness and mercy.
So great was the enthusiasm, that it could hardly be restrained
so as to allow the other candidates, the humdrum adults who
followed in my wet and glorious footsteps, to undergo a ritual
about which, in their case, no one in the congregation pretended
to be able to take even the most languid interest.

My Father's happiness during the next few weeks it is not
pathetic to me to look back upon. His sternness melted into a
universal complaisance. He laughed and smiled, he paid to my
opinions the tribute of the gravest considerations, he indulged--
utterly unlike his wont--in shy and furtive caresses. I could
express no wish that he did not attempt to fulfill, and the only
warning which he cared to give me was one, very gently expressed,
against spiritual pride.

This was certainly required, for I was puffed out with a sense of
my own holiness. I was religiously confidential with my Father,
condescending with Miss Marks (who I think had given up trying to
make it all out), haughty with the servants, and insufferably
patronizing with those young companions of my own age with whom I
was now beginning to associate.

I would fain close this remarkable episode on a key of solemnity,
but alas! If I am to be loyal to the truth, I must record that
some of the other little boys presently complained to Mary Grace
that I put out my tongue at them in mockery, during the service
in the Room, to remind them that I now broke bread as one of the
Saints and that they did not.


THE result of my being admitted into the communion of the
'Saints' was that, as soon as the nine days' wonder of the thing
passed by, my position became, if anything, more harassing and
pressed than ever. It is true that freedom was permitted to me in
certain directions; I was allowed to act a little more on my own
responsibility, and was not so incessantly informed what 'the
Lord's will' might be in this matter and in that, because it was
now conceived that, in such dilemmas, I could command private
intelligence of my own. But there was no relaxation of our rigid
manner of life, and I think I now began, by comparing it with the
habits of others, to perceive how very strict it was.

The main difference in my lot as a communicant from that of a
mere dweller in the tents of righteousness was that I was
expected to respond with instant fervour to every appeal of
conscience. When I did not do this, my position was almost worse
than it had been before, because of the livelier nature of the
responsibility which weighed upon me. My little faults of
conduct, too, assumed shapes of terrible importance, since they
proceeded from one so signally enlightened. My Father was never
tired of reminding me that, now that I was a professing
Christian, I must remember, in everything I did, that I was an
example to others. He used to draw dreadful pictures of
supposititious little boys who were secretly watching me from
afar, and whose whole career, in time and in eternity, might be
disastrously affected if I did not keep my lamp burning.

The year which followed upon my baptism did not open very happily
at the Room. Considerable changes had now taken place in the
community. My Father's impressive services, a certain prestige in
his preaching, the mere fact that so vigorous a person was at the
head of affairs, had induced a large increase in the attendance.
By this time, if my memory does not fail me as to dates, we had
left the dismal loft over the stables, and had built ourselves a
perfectly plain, but commodious and well-arranged chapel in the
centre of the village. This greatly added to the prosperity of
the meeting. Everything had combined to make our services
popular, and had attracted to us a new element of younger people.
Numbers of youthful masons and carpenters, shop-girls and
domestic servants, found the Room a pleasant trysting--place, and
were more or less superficially induced to accept salvation as it
was offered to them in my Father's searching addresses. My Father
was very shrewd in dealing with mere curiosity or idle motive,
and sharply packed off any youths who simply came to make eyes at
the girls, or any 'maids' whose only object was to display their
new bonnet-strings. But he was powerless against a temporary
sincerity, the simulacrum of a true change of heart. I have often
heard him say,--of some young fellow who had attended our
services with fervour for a little while, and then had turned
cold and left us,--'and I thought that the Holy Ghost had wrought
in him!' Such disappointments grievously depress an evangelist.

Religious bodies are liable to strange and unaccountable
fluctuations. At the beginning of the third year since our
arrival, the congregation seemed to be in a very prosperous
state, as regards attendance, conversions and other outward signs
of activity. Yet it was quite soon after this that my Father
began to be harassed by all sorts of troubles, and the spring of
1860 was a critical moment in the history of the community.
Although he loved to take a very high tone about the Saints, and
involved them sometimes in a cloud of laudatory metaphysics, the
truth was that they were nothing more than peasants of a somewhat
primitive type, not well instructed in the rules of conduct and
liable to exactly the same weaknesses as invade the rural
character in every country and latitude. That they were exhorted
to behave as 'children of light', and that the majority of them
sincerely desired to do credit to their high calling, could not
prevent their being beset by the sins which had affected their
forebears for generations past.

The addition of so many young persons of each sex to the
communion led to an entirely new class of embarrassment. Now
there arose endless difficulties about 'engagements', about
youthful brethren who 'went out walking' with even more youthful
sisters. Glancing over my Father's notes, I observe the ceaseless
repetition of cases in which So-and-So is 'courting' Such-an-one,
followed by the melancholy record that he has 'deserted' her. In
my Father's stern language, 'desertion' would very often mean no
more than that the amatory pair had blamelessly changed their
minds; but in some cases it meant more and worse than this. It
was a very great distress to him that sometimes the young men and
women who showed the most lively interest in Scripture, and who
had apparently accepted the way of salvation with the fullest
intelligence, were precisely those who seemed to struggle with
least success against a temptation to unchastity. He put this
down to the concentrated malignity of Satan, who directed his
most poisoned darts against the fairest of the flock.

In addition to these troubles, there came recriminations, mutual
charges of drunkenness in private, all sorts of petty jealousy
and scandal. There were frequent definite acts of 'back-sliding'
on the part of members, who had in consequence to be 'put away'.
No one of these cases might be in itself extremely serious, but
when many of them came together they seemed to indicate that the
church was in an unhealthy condition. The particulars of many of
these scandals were concealed from me, but I was an adroit little
pitcher, and had cultivated the art of seeming to be interested
in something else, a book or a flower, while my elders were
talking confidentially. As a rule, while I would fain have
acquired more details, I was fairly well-informed about the
errors of the Saints, although I was often quaintly ignorant of
the real nature of those errors.

Not infrequently, persons who had fallen into sin repented of it
under my Father's penetrating ministrations. They were apt in
their penitence to use strange symbolic expressions. I remember
Mrs. Pewings, our washerwoman, who had been accused of
intemperance and had been suspended from communion, reappearing
with a face that shone with soap and sanctification, and saying
to me, 'Oh! blessed Child, you're wonderin' to zee old Pewings
here again, but He have rolled away my mountain!' For once, I was
absolutely at a loss, but she meant that the Lord had removed the
load of her sins, and restored her to a state of grace.

It was in consequence of these backslidings, which had become
alarmingly frequent, that early in 1860 my Father determined on
proclaiming a solemn fast. He delivered one Sunday what seemed to
me an awe-inspiring address, calling upon us all closely to
examine our consciences, and reminding us of the appalling fate
of the church of Laodicea. He said that it was not enough to have
made a satisfactory confession of faith, nor even to have sealed
that confession in baptism, if we did not live up to our
protestations. Salvation, he told us, must indeed precede
holiness of life, yet both are essential. It was a dark and rainy
winter morning when he made this terrible address, which
frightened the congregation extremely. When the marrow was
congealed within our bones, and when the bowed heads before him,
and the faintly audible sobs of the women in the background, told
him that his lesson had gone home, he pronounced the keeping of a
day in the following week as a fast of contrition. 'Those of you
who have to pursue your daily occupations will pursue them, but
sustained only by the bread of affliction and by the water of

His influence over these gentle peasant people was certainly
remarkable, for no effort was made to resist his exhortation. It
was his customary plan to stay a little while, after the morning
meeting was over, and in a very affable fashion to shake hands
with the Saints. But on this occasion he stalked forth without a
word, holding my hand tight until we had swept out into the

How the rest of the congregation kept this fast I do not know.
But it was a dreadful day for us. I was awakened in the pitchy
night to go off with my Father to the Room, where a scanty
gathering held a penitential prayer-meeting. We came home, as
dawn was breaking, and in process of time sat down to breakfast,
which consisted--at that dismal hour--of slices of dry bread and
a tumbler of cold water each. During the morning, I was not
allowed to paint, or write, or withdraw to my study in the box-
room. We sat, in a state of depression not to be described, in
the breakfast-room, reading books of a devotional character, with
occasional wailing of some very doleful hymn. Our midday dinner
came at last; the meal was strictly confined, as before, to dry
slices of the loaf and a tumbler of water.

The afternoon would have been spent as the morning was, and so my
Father spent it. But Miss Marks, seeing my white cheeks and the
dark rings around my eyes, besought leave to take me out for a
walk. This was permitted, with a pledge that I should be given no
species of refreshment. Although I told Miss Marks, in the course
of the walk, that I was feeling 'so leer' (our Devonshire phrase
for hungry), she dared not break her word. Our last meal was of
the former character, and the day ended by our trapesing through
the wet to another prayer-meeting, whence I returned in a state
bordering on collapse and was put to bed without further
nourishment. There was no great hardship in all this, I daresay,
but it was certainly rigorous. My Father took pains to see that
what he had said about the bread and water of affliction was
carried out in the bosom of his own family, and by no one more
unflinchingly than by himself.

My attitude to other people's souls when I was out of my Father's
sight was now a constant anxiety to me. In our tattling world of
small things he had extraordinary opportunities of learning how I
behaved when I was away from home; I did not realize this, and I
used to think his acquaintance with my deeds and words savoured
almost of wizardry. He was accustomed to urge upon me the
necessity of 'speaking for Jesus in season and out of season',
and he so worked upon my feelings that I would start forth like
St. Teresa, wild for the Moors and martyrdom. But any actual
impact with persons marvelously cooled my zeal, and I should
hardly ever have 'spoken' at all if it had not been for that
unfortunate phrase 'out of season'. It really seemed that one
must talk of nothing else, since if an occasion was not in season
it was out of season; there was no alternative, no close time for

My Father was very generous. He used to magnify any little effort
that I made, with stammering tongue, to sanctify a visit; and
people, I now see, were accustomed to give me a friendly lead in
this direction, so that they might please him by reporting that I
had 'testified' in the Lord's service. The whole thing, however,
was artificial, and was part of my Father's restless inability to
let well alone. It was not in harshness or in ill--nature that he
worried me so much; on the contrary, it was all part of his too-
anxious love. He was in a hurry to see me become a shining light,
everything that he had himself desired to be, yet with none of
his shortcomings.

It was about this time that he harrowed my whole soul into
painful agitation by a phrase that he let fall, without, I
believe, attaching any particular importance to it at the time.
He was occupied, as he so often was, in polishing and burnishing
my faith, and he was led to speak of the day when I should ascend
the pulpit to preach my first sermon. 'Oh! if I may be there, out
of sight, and hear the gospel message proclaimed from your lips,
then I shall say, "My poor work is done. Oh! Lord Jesus, receive
my spirit".' I cannot express the dismay which this aspiration
gave me, the horror with which I anticipated such a nunc
dimittis. I felt like a small and solitary bird, caught and hung
out hopelessly and endlessly in a great glittering cage. The
clearness of the personal image affected me as all the texts and
prayers and predictions had failed to do. I saw myself imprisoned
for ever in the religious system which had caught me and would
whirl my helpless spirit as in the concentric wheels of my
nightly vision. I did not struggle against it, because I believed
that it was inevitable, and that there was no other way of making
peace with the terrible and ever-watchful 'God who is a jealous
God'. But I looked forward to my fate without zeal and without
exhilaration, and the fear of the Lord altogether swallowed up
and cancelled any notion of the love of Him.

I should do myself an injustice, however, if I described my
attitude to faith at this time as wanting in candour. I did very
earnestly desire to follow where my Father led. That passion for
imitation, which I have already discussed, was strongly developed
at this time, and it induced me to repeat the language of pious
books in godly ejaculations which greatly edified my grown-up
companions, and were, so far as I can judge, perfectly sincere. I
wished extremely to be good and holy, and I had no doubt in my
mind of the absolute infallibility of my Father as a guide in
heavenly things. But I am perfectly sure that there never was a
moment in which my heart truly responded, with native ardour, to
the words which flowed so readily, in such a stream of unction,
from my anointed lips. I cannot recall anything but an
intellectual surrender; there was never joy in the act of
resignation, never the mystic's rapture at feeling his phantom
self, his own threadbare soul, suffused, thrilled through, robed
again in glory by a fire which burns up everything personal and
individual about him.

Through thick and thin I clung to a hard nut of individuality,
deep down in my childish nature. To the pressure from without I
resigned everything else, my thoughts, my words, my
anticipations, my assurances, but there was something which I
never resigned, my innate and persistent self. Meek as I seemed,
and gently respondent, I was always conscious of that innermost
quality which I had learned to recognize in my earlier days in
Islington, that existence of two in the depths who could speak to
one another in inviolable secrecy.

This a natural man may discourse of, and that very knowingly, and
give a kind of natural credit to it, as to a history that may be
true; but firmly to believe that there is divine truth in all
these things, and to have a persuasion of it stronger than of the
very thing we see with our eyes; such an assent as this is the
peculiar work of the Spirit of God, and is certainly saving

This passage is not to be found in the writings of any
extravagant Plymouth Brother, but in one of the most solid
classics of the Church, in Archbishop Leighton's Commentary on
the First Epistle of Peter. I quote it because it defines, more
exactly than words of my own could hope to do, the difference
which already existed, and in secrecy began forthwith to be more
and more acutely accentuated between my Father and myself. He did
indeed possess this saving faith, which could move mountains of
evidence, and suffer no diminution under the action of failure or
disappointment. I, on the other hand--as I began to feel dimly
then, and see luminously now--had only acquired the habit of
giving what the Archbishop means by 'a kind of natural credit' to
the doctrine so persistently impressed upon my conscience. From
its very nature this could not but be molten in the dews and
exhaled in the sunshine of life and thought and experience.

My Father, by an indulgent act for the caprice of which I cannot
wholly account, presently let in a flood of imaginative light
which was certainly hostile to my heavenly calling. My
instinctive interest in geography has already been mentioned.
This was the one branch of knowledge in which I needed no
instruction, geographical information seeming to soak into the
cells of my brain without an effort. At the age of eleven, I knew
a great deal more of maps, and of the mutual relation of
localities all over the globe, than most grown-up people do. It
was almost a mechanical acquirement. I was now greatly taken with
the geography of the West Indies, of every part of which I had
made MS. maps. There was something powerfully attractive to my
fancy in the great chain of the Antilles, lying on the sea like
an open bracelet, with its big jewels and little jewels strung on
an invisible thread. I liked to shut my eyes and see it all, in a
mental panorama, stretched from Cape Sant' Antonio to the
Serpent's Mouth. Several of these lovely islands, these emeralds
and amethysts set on the Caribbean Sea, my Father had known well
in his youth, and I was importunate in questioning him about
them. One day, as I multiplied inquiries, he rose in his
impetuous way, and climbing to the top of a bookcase, brought
down a thick volume and presented it to me. 'You'll find all
about the Antilles there,' he said, and left me with Tom
Cringle's Log in my possession.

The embargo laid upon every species of fiction by my Mother's
powerful scruple had never been raised, although she had been
dead four years. As I have said in an earlier chapter, this was a
point on which I believe that my Father had never entirely agreed
with her. He had, however, yielded to her prejudice; and no work
of romance, no fictitious story, had ever come in my way. It is
remarkable that among our books, which amounted to many hundreds,
I had never discovered a single work of fiction until my Father
himself revealed the existence of Michael Scott's wild
masterpiece. So little did I understand what was allowable in the
way of literary invention that I began the story without a doubt
that it was true, and I think it was my Father himself who, in
answer to an inquiry, explained to me that it was 'all made up'.
He advised me to read the descriptions of the sea, and of the
mountains of Jamaica, and 'skip' the pages which gave imaginary
adventures and conversations. But I did not take his counsel;
these latter were the flower of the book to me. I had never read,
never dreamed of anything like them, and they filled my whole
horizon with glory and with joy.

I suppose that when my Father was a younger man, and less
pietistic, he had read Tom Cringle's Log with pleasure, because
it recalled familiar scenes to him. Much was explained by the
fact that the frontispiece of this edition was a delicate line-
engraving of Blewflelds, the great lonely house in a garden of
Jamaican all-spice where for eighteen months he had worked as a
naturalist. He could not look at this print without recalling
exquisite memories and airs that blew from a terrestrial
paradise. But Michael Scott's noisy amorous novel of adventure
was an extraordinary book to put in the hands of a child who had
never been allowed to glance at the mildest and most febrifugal

It was like giving a glass of brandy neat to someone who had
never been weaned from a milk diet. I have not read Tom Cringle's
Log from that day to this, and I think that I should be unwilling
now to break the charm of memory, which may be largely illusion.
But I remember a great deal of the plot and not a little of the
language, and, while I am sure it is enchantingly spirited, I am
quite as sure that the persons it describes were far from being
unspotted by the world. The scenes at night in the streets of
Spanish Town surpassed not merely my experience, but, thank
goodness, my imagination. The nautical personages used, in their
conversations, what is called 'a class of language', and there
ran, if I am not mistaken, a glow and gust of life through the
romance from beginning to end which was nothing if it was not
resolutely pagan.

There were certain scenes and images in Tom Cringle's Log which
made not merely a lasting impression upon my mind, but tinged my
outlook upon life. The long adventures, fightings and escapes,
sudden storms without, and mutinies within, drawn forth as they
were, surely with great skill, upon the fiery blue of the
boundless tropical ocean, produced on my inner mind a sort of
glimmering hope, very vaguely felt at first, slowly developing,
long stationary and faint, but always tending towards a belief
that I should escape at last from the narrowness of the life we
led at home, from this bondage to the Law and the Prophets.

I must not define too clearly, nor endeavour too formally to
insist on the blind movements of a childish mind. But of this I
am quite sure, that the reading and re-reading of Tom Cringle's
Log did more than anything else, in this critical eleventh year
of my life, to give fortitude to my individuality, which was in
great danger--as I now see--of succumbing to the pressure my
Father brought to bear upon it from all sides. My soul was shut
up, like Fatima, in a tower to which no external influences could
come, and it might really have been starved to death, or have
lost the power of recovery and rebound, if my captor, by some
freak not yet perfectly accounted for, had not gratuitously
opened a little window in it and added a powerful telescope. The
daring chapters of Michael Scott's picaresque romance of the
tropics were that telescope and that window.

In the spring of this year, I began to walk about the village and
even proceed for considerable distances into the country by
myself, and after reading Tom Cringle's Log those expeditions
were accompanied by a constant hope of meeting with some
adventures. I did not court events, however, except in fancy, for
I was very shy of real people, and would break off some gallant
dream of prowess on the high seas to bolt into a field and hide
behind the hedge, while a couple of labouring men went by.
Sometimes, however, the wave of a great purpose would bear me on,
as when once, but certainly at an earlier date than I have now
reached, hearing the dangers of a persistent drought much dwelt
upon, I carried my small red watering pot, full of water, up to
the top of the village, and then all the way down Petittor Lane,
and discharged its contents in a cornfield, hoping by this act to
improve the prospects of the harvest. A more eventful excursion
must be described, because of the moral impression it left
indelibly upon me.

I have described the sequestered and beautiful hamlet of Barton,
to which I was so often taken visiting by Mary Grace Burmington.
At Barton there lived a couple who were objects of peculiar
interest to me, because of the rather odd fact that having come,
out of pure curiosity, to see me baptized, they had been then and
there deeply convinced of their spiritual danger. These were John
Brooks, an Irish quarryman, and his wife, Ann Brooks. These
people had not merely been hitherto unconverted, but they had
openly treated the Brethren with anger and contempt. They came,
indeed, to my baptism to mock, but they went away impressed.

Next morning, when Mrs. Brooks was at the wash tub, as she told
us, Hell opened at her feet, and the Devil came out holding a
long scroll on which the list of her sins was written. She was so
much excited, that the motion brought about a miscarriage and she
was seriously ill. Meanwhile, her husband, who had been equally
moved at the baptism, was also converted, and as soon as she was
well enough, they were baptized together, and then 'broke bread'
with us. The case of the Brookses was much talked about, and was
attributed, in a distant sense, to me; that is to say, if I had
not been an object of public curiosity, the Brookses might have
remained in the bond of iniquity. I, therefore, took a very
particular interest in them, and as I presently heard that they
were extremely poor, I was filled with a fervent longing to
minister to their necessities.

Somebody had lately given me a present of money, and I begged
little sums here and there until I reached the very considerable
figure of seven shillings and sixpence. With these coins safe in
a little linen bag, I started one Sunday afternoon, without
saying anything to anyone, and I arrived at the Brookses' cottage
in Barton. John Brooks was a heavy dirty man, with a pock-marked
face and two left legs; his broad and red face carried small
side--whiskers in the manner of that day, but was otherwise
shaved. When I reached the cottage, husband and wife were at
home, doing nothing at all in the approved Sunday style. I was
received by them with some surprise, but I quickly explained my
mission, and produced my linen bag. To my disgust, all John
Brooks said was, 'I know'd the Lord would provide,' and after
emptying my little bag into the palm of an enormous hand, he
swept the contents into his trousers pocket, and slapped his leg.
He said not one single word of thanks or appreciation, and I was
absolutely cut to the heart.

I think that in the course of a long life I have never
experienced a bitterer disappointment. The woman, who was
quicker, and more sensitive, doubtless saw my embarrassment, but
the form of comfort which she chose was even more wounding to my
pride. 'Never mind, little master,' she said, you shall come and
see me feed the pigs.' But there is a limit to endurance, and
with a sense of having been cruelly torn by the tooth of
ingratitude, I fled from the threshold of the Brookses, never to

At tea that afternoon, I was very much downcast, and under cross-
examination from Miss Marks, all my little story came out. My
Father, who had been floating away in a meditation, as he very
often did, caught a word that interested him and descended to
consciousness. I had to tell my tale over again, this time very
sadly, and with a fear that I should be reprimanded. But on the
contrary, both my Father and Miss Marks were attentive and most
sympathetic, and I was much comforted. 'We must remember they are
the Lord's children,' said my Father. 'Even the Lord can't make a
silk purse out of a sow's ear,' said Miss Marks, who was
considerably ruffled. 'Alas! alas!' replied my Father, waving his
hand with a deprecating gesture. 'The dear child!' said Miss
Marks, bristling with indignation, and patting my hand across the
tea-table. The Lord will reward your zealous loving care of his
poor, even if they have neither the grace nor the knowledge to
thank you,' said my Father, and rested his brown eyes meltingly
upon me. 'Brutes!' said Miss Marks, thinking of John and Ann
Brooks. 'Oh no! no!' replied my Father, 'but hewers of wood and
drawers of water! We must bear with the limited intelligence.'
All this was an emollient to my wounds, and I became consoled.
But the springs of benevolence were dried up within me, and to
this day I have never entirely recovered from the shock of John
Brooks's coarse leer and his 'I know'd the Lord would provide.'
The infant plant of philanthropy was burned in my bosom as if by

In the course of the summer, a young schoolmaster called on my
Father to announce to him that he had just opened a day-school
for the sons of gentlemen in our vicinity, and he begged for the
favour of a visit. My Father returned his call; he lived in one
of the small white villas, buried in laurels, which gave a
discreet animation to our neighbourhood. Mr. M. was frank and
modest, deferential to my Father's opinions and yet capable of
defending his own. His school and he produced an excellent
impression, and in August I began to be one of his pupils. The
school was very informal; it was held in the two principal
dwelling-rooms on the ground-floor of the villa, and I do not
remember that Mr. M. had any help from an usher.

There were perhaps twenty boys in the school at most, and often
fewer. I made the excursion between home and school four times a
day; if I walked fast, the transit might take five minutes, and,
as there were several objects of interest in the way, it might be
spread over an hour. In fine weather the going to and from school
was very delightful, and small as the scope of it was, it could
be varied almost indefinitely. I would sometimes meet with a
schoolfellow proceeding in the same direction, and my Father,
observing us over the wall one morning, was amused to notice that
I always progressed by dancing along the curbstone sideways, my
face turned inwards and my arms beating against my legs,
conversing loudly all the time. This was a case of pure heredity,
for so he used to go to his school, forty years before, along the
streets of Poole.

One day when fortunately I was alone, I was accosted by an old
gentleman, dressed as a dissenting minister. He was pleased with
my replies, and he presently made it a habit to be taking his
constitutional when I was likely to be on the high road. We
became great friends, and he took me at last to his house, a very
modest place, where to my great amazement, there hung in the
dining-room, two large portraits, one of a man, the other of a
woman, in extravagant fancy-dress. My old friend told me that the
former was a picture of himself as he had appeared, 'long ago, in
my unconverted days, on the stage'.

I was so ignorant as not to have the slightest conception of what
was meant by the stage, and he explained to me that he' had been
an actor and a poet, before the Lord had opened his eyes to
better things. I knew nothing about actors, but poets were
already the objects of my veneration. My friend was the first
poet I had ever seen. He was no less a person than James Sheridan
Knowles, the famous author of Virginius and The Hunchback, who
had become a Baptist minister in his old age. When, at home, I
mentioned this acquaintance, it awakened no interest. I believe
that my Father had never heard, or never noticed, the name of one
who had been by far the most eminent English playwright of that

It was from Sheridan Knowles' lips that I first heard fall the
name of Shakespeare. He was surprised, I fancy, to find me so
curiously advanced in some branches of knowledge, and so utterly
ignorant of others. He could hardly credit that the names of
Hamlet and Falstaff and Prospero meant nothing to a little boy
who knew so much theology and geography as I did. Mr. Knowles
suggested that I should ask my schoolmaster to read some of the
plays of Shakespeare with the boys, and he proposed The Merchant
of Venice as particularly well--suited for this purpose. I
repeated what my aged friend (Mr Sheridan Knowles must have been
nearly eighty at that time) had said, and Mr. M. accepted the
idea with promptitude. (All my memories of this my earliest
schoolmaster present him to me as intelligent, amiable and quick,
although I think not very soundly prepared for his profession.)

Accordingly, it was announced that the reading of Shakespeare
would be one of our lessons, and on the following afternoon we
began The Merchant of Venice. There was one large volume, and it
was handed about the class; I was permitted to read the part of
Bassanio, and I set forth, with ecstatic pipe, how

In Belmont is a lady richly left,
And she is fair, and fairer than that word!

Mr. M. must have had some fondness for the stage himself; his
pleasure in the Shakespeare scenes was obvious, and nothing else
that he taught me made so much impression on me as what he said
about a proper emphasis in reading aloud. I was in the seventh
heaven of delight, but alas! we had only reached the second act
of the play, when the readings mysteriously stopped. I never knew
the cause, but I suspect that it was at my Father's desire. He
prided himself on never having read a page of Shakespeare, and on
never having entered a theatre but once. I think I must have
spoken at home about the readings, and that he must have given
the schoolmaster a hint to return to the ordinary school

The fact that I was 'a believer', as it was our custom to call
one who had been admitted to the arcana of our religion, and that
therefore, in all commerce with 'unbelievers', it was my duty to
be 'testifying for my Lord, in season and out of season'--this
prevented my forming any intimate friendships at my first school.
I shrank from the toilsome and embarrassing act of button-holing
a schoolfellow as he rushed out of class, and of pressing upon
him the probably unintelligible question 'Have you found Jesus?'
It was simpler to avoid him, to slip like a lizard though the
laurels and emerge into solitude.

The boys had a way of plunging out into the road in front of the
school-villa when afternoon school was over; it was a pleasant
rural road lined with high hedges and shadowed by elm--trees.
Here, especially towards the summer twilight, they used to linger
and play vague games, swooping and whirling in the declining
sunshine, and I was glad to join these bat-like sports. But my
company, though not avoided, was not greatly sought for. I think
that something of my curious history was known, and that I was,
not unkindly but instinctively, avoided, as an animal of a
different species, not allied to the herd. The conventionality of
little boys is constant; the colour of their traditions is
uniform. At the same time, although I made no friends, I found no
enemies. In class, except in my extraordinary aptitude for
geography, which was looked upon as incomprehensible and almost
uncanny, I was rather behind than in front of the others. I,
therefore, awakened no jealousies, and, intent on my own dreams,
I think my little shadowy presence escaped the notice of most of
my schoolfellows.

By the side of the road I have mentioned, between the school and
my home, there was a large horse-pond. The hedge folded around
three sides of it, while ancient pollard elms bent over it, and
chequered with their foliage in it the reflection of the sky. The
roadside edge of this pond was my favourite station; it consisted
of a hard clay which could be moulded into fairly tenacious
forms. Here I created a maritime empire--islands, a seaboard with
harbours, light-houses, fortifications. My geographical
imitativeness had its full swing. Sometimes, while I was
creating, a cart would be driven roughly into the pond, and a
horse would drink deep of my ocean, his hooves trampling my
archipelagoes and shattering my ports with what was worse than a
typhoon. But I immediately set to work, as soon as the cart was
gone and the mud had settled, to tidy up my coastline again and
to scoop out anew my harbours.

My pleasure in this sport was endless, and what I was able to
see, in my mind's eye, was not the edge of a morass of mud, but a
splendid line of coast, and gulfs of the type of Tor Bay. I do
not recollect a sharper double humiliation than when old Sam
Lamble, the blacksmith, who was one of the 'saints', being asked
by my Father whether he had met me, replied 'Yes, I zeed 'un up-
long, making mud pies in the ro-ad!' What a position for one who
had been received into communion 'as an adult'! What a blot on
the scutcheon of a would-be Columbus! 'Mud-pies', indeed!

Yet I had an appreciator. One afternoon, as I was busy on my
geographical operations, a good-looking middle-aged lady, with a
soft pink cheek and a sparkling hazel eye, paused and asked me if
my name was not what it was. I had seen her before; a stranger to
our parts, with a voice without a trace in it of the Devonshire
drawl. I knew, dimly, that she came sometimes to the meeting,
that she was lodging at Upton with some friends of ours who
accepted paying guests in an old house that was simply a basket
of roses. She was Miss Brightwen, and I now conversed with her
for the first time.

Her interest in my harbours and islands was marked; she did not
smile; she asked questions about my peninsulas which were
intelligent and pertinent. I was even persuaded at last to leave
my creations and to walk with her towards the village. I was
pleased with her voice, her refinements, her dress, which was
more delicate, and her manners, which were more easy, than what I
was accustomed to, We had some very pleasant conversation, and
when we parted I had the satisfaction of feeling that our
intercourse had been both agreeable to me and instructive to her.
I told her that I should be glad to tell her more on a future
occasion; she thanked me very gravely, and then she laughed a
little. I confess I did not see that there was anything to laugh
at. We parted on warm terms of mutual esteem, but I little
thought that this sympathetic Quakerish lady was to become my


I SLEPT in a little bed in a corner of the room, and my Father in
the ancestral four-poster nearer to the door. Very early one
Father called me over to him. I climbed up, and was snugly
wrapped in the coverlid; and then we held a momentous
conversation. It began abruptly by his asking me whether I should
like to have a new mamma. I was never a sentimentalist, and I
therefore answered, cannily, that that would depend on who she
was. He parried this, and announced that, anyway, a new mamma was
coming; I was sure to like her. Still in a noncommittal mood, I
asked: 'Will she go with me to the back of the lime--kiln?' This
question caused my Father a great bewilderment. I had to explain
that the ambition of my life was to go up behind the lime-kiln on
the top of the hill that hung over Barton, a spot which was
forbidden ground, being locally held one of extreme danger. 'Oh!
I daresay she will,' my Father then said, 'but you must guess who
she is.' I guessed one or two of the less comely of the female
'saints', and, this embarrassing my Father,--since the second I
mentioned was a married woman who kept a sweet-shop in the
village,--he cut my inquiries short by saying, 'It is Miss

So far so good, and I was well pleased. But unfortunately I
remembered that it was my duty to testify 'in season and out of
season'. I therefore asked, with much earnestness, 'But, Papa, is
she one of the Lord's children?' He replied, with gravity, that
she was. 'Has she taken up her cross in baptism?' I went on, for
this was my own strong point as a believer. My Father looked a
little shame--faced, and replied: 'Well, she has not as yet seen
the necessity of that, but we must pray that the Lord may make
her way clear before her. You see, she has been brought up,
hitherto, in the so-called Church of England.' Our positions were
now curiously changed. It seemed as if it were I who was the
jealous monitor, and my Father the deprecating penitent. I sat up
in the coverlid, and I shook a finger at him. 'Papa,' I said,
'don't tell me that she's a pedobaptist?' I had lately acquired
that valuable word, and I seized this remarkable opportunity of
using it. It affected my Father painfully, but he repeated his
assurance that if we united our prayers, and set the Scripture
plan plainly before Miss Brightwen, there could be no doubt that
she would see her way to accepting the doctrine of adult baptism.
And he said we must judge not, lest we ourselves bejudged. I had
just enough tact to let that pass, but I was quite aware that our
whole system was one of judging, and that we had no intention
whatever of being judged ourselves. Yet even at the age of eleven
one sees that on certain occasions to press home the truth is not

Just before Christmas, on a piercing night of frost, my Father
brought to us his bride. The smartening up of the house, the new
furniture, the removal of my own possessions to a private
bedroom, the wedding-gifts of the 'saints', all these things
paled in interest before the fact that Miss Marks had made a
scene', in the course of the afternoon. I was dancing about the
drawing-room, and was saying: 'Oh! I am so glad my new Mamma is
coming,' when Miss Marks called out, in an unnatural voice, 'Oh!
you cruel child.' I stopped in amazement and stared at her,
whereupon she threw prudence to the winds, and moaned: 'I once
thought I should be your dear mamma.' I was simply stupefied, and
I expressed my horror in terms that were clear and strong.
Thereupon Miss Marks had a wild fit of hysterics, while I looked
on, wholly unsympathetic and still deeply affronted. She was
right; I was cruel, alas! but then, what a silly woman she had
been! The consequence was that she withdrew in a moist and
quivering condition to her boudoir, where she had locked herself
in when I, all smiles and caresses, was welcoming the bride and
bridegroom on the doorstep as politely as if I had been a valued
old family retainer.

My stepmother immediately became a great ally of mine. She was
never a tower of strength to me, but at least she was always a
lodge in my garden of cucumbers. She was a very well-meaning
pious lady, but she was not a fanatic, and her mind did not
naturally revel in spiritual aspirations. Almost her only social
fault was that she was sometimes a little fretful; this was the
way in which her bruised individuality asserted itself. But she
was affectionate, serene, and above all refined. Her refinement
was extraordinarily pleasant to my nerves, on which much else in
our surroundings jarred.

How life may have jarred, poor insulated lady, on her during her
first experience of our life at the Room, I know not, but I think
she was a philosopher. She had, with surprising rashness, and in
opposition to the wishes of every member of her own family, taken
her cake, and now she recognized that she must eat it, to the
last crumb. Over her wishes and prejudices my Father exercised a
constant, cheerful and quiet pressure. He was never unkind or
abrupt, but he went on adding avoirdupois until her will gave way
under the sheer weight. Even to public immersion, which, as was
natural in a shy and sensitive lady of advancing years, she
regarded with a horror which was long insurmountable,--even to
baptism she yielded, and my Father had the joy to announce to the
Saints one Sunday morning at the breaking of bread that 'my
beloved wife has been able at length to see the Lord's Will in
the matter of baptism, and will testify to the faith which is in
her on Thursday evening next.' No wonder my stepmother was
sometimes fretful.

On the physical side, I owe her an endless debt of gratitude. Her
relations, who objected strongly to her marriage, had told her,
among other pleasant prophecies, that 'the first thing you will
have to do will be to bury that poor child'. Under the old-world
sway of Miss Marks, I had slept beneath a load of blankets, had
never gone out save weighted with great coat and comforter, and
had been protected from fresh air as if from a pestilence. With
real courage my stepmother reversed all this. My bedroom window
stood wide open all night long, wraps were done away with, or
exchanged for flannel garments next the skin, and I was urged to
be out and about as much as possible.

All the quidnuncs among the 'saints' shook their heads; Mary
Grace Burmington, a little embittered by the downfall of her
Marks, made a solemn remonstrance to my Father, who, however,
allowed my stepmother to carry out her excellent plan. My health
responded rapidly to this change of regime, but increase of
health did not bring increase of spirituality. My Father, fully
occupied with moulding the will and inflaming the piety of my
stepmother, left me now, to a degree not precedented,
inundisturbed possession of my own devices. I did not lose my
faith, but many other things took a prominent place in my mind.

It will, I suppose, be admitted that there is no greater proof of
complete religious sincerity than fervour in private prayer. If
an individual, alone by the side of his bed, prolongs his
intercessions, lingers wrestling with his divine Companion, and
will not leave off until he has what he believes to be evidence
of a reply to his entreaties--then, no matter what the character
of his public protestations, or what the frailty of his actions,
it is absolutely certain that he believes in what he professes.

My Father prayed in private in what I may almost call a spirit of
violence. He entreated for spiritual guidance with nothing less
than importunity. It might be said that he stormed the citadels
of God's grace, refusing to be baffled, urging his intercessions
without mercy upon a Deity who sometimes struck me as inattentive
to his prayers or wearied by them. My Father's acts of
supplication, as I used to witness them at night, when I was
supposed to be asleep, were accompanied by stretchings out of the
hands, by crackings of the joints of the fingers, by deep
breathings, by murmurous sounds which seemed just breaking out of
silence, like Virgil's bees out of the hive, 'magnis clamoribus'.
My Father fortified his religious life by prayer as an athlete
does his physical life by lung-gymnastics and vigorous rubbings.

It was a trouble to my conscience that I could not emulate this
fervour. The poverty of my prayers had now long been a source of
distress to me, but I could not discover how to enrich them. My
Father used to warn us very solemnly against 'lip-service', by
which he meant singing hymns of experience and joining in
ministrations in which our hearts took no vital or personal part.
This was an outward act, the tendency of which I could well
appreciate, but there was a 'lip--service' even more deadly than
that, against which it never occurred to him to warn me. It
assailed me when I had come alone by my bedside, and had blown
out the candle, and had sunken on my knees in my night-gown. Then
it was that my deadness made itself felt, in the mechanical
address I put up, the emptiness of my language, the absence of
all real unction.

I never could contrive to ask God for spiritual gifts in the same
voice and spirit in which I could ask a human being for objects
which I knew he could give me and which I earnestly desired to
possess. That sense of the reality of intercession was for ever
denied me, and it was, I now see, the stigma of my want of faith.
But at the time, of course, I suspected nothing of the kind, and
I tried to keep up my zeal by a desperate mental flogging, as if
my soul had been a peg-top.

In nothing did I gain from the advent of my stepmother more than
in the encouragement she gave to my friendships with a group of
boys of my own age, of whom I had now lately formed the
acquaintance. These friendships she not merely tolerated, but
fostered; it was even due to her kind arrangements that they took
a certain set form, that our excursions started from this house
or from that on regular days. I hardly know by what stages I
ceased to be a lonely little creature of mock-monographs and mud-
pies, and became a member of a sort of club of eight or ten
active boys. The long summer holidays of 1861 were set in an
enchanting brightness.

Looking back, I cannot see a cloud on the terrestrial horizon--I
see nothing but a blaze of sunshine; descents of slippery grass
to moons of snow-white shingle, cold to the bare flesh; red
promontories running out into a sea that was like sapphire; and
our happy clan climbing, bathing, boating, lounging, chattering,
all the hot day through. Once more I have to record the fact,
which I think is not without interest, that precisely as my life
ceases to be solitary, it ceases to be distinct. I have no
difficulty in recalling, with the minuteness of a photograph,
scenes in which my Father and I were the sole actors within the
four walls of a room, but of the glorious life among wild boys on
the margin of the sea I have nothing but vague and broken
impressions, delicious and illusive.

It was a remarkable proof of my Father's temporary lapse into
indulgence that he made no effort to thwart my intimacy with
these my new companions. He was in an unusually humane mood
himself. His marriage was one proof of it; another was the
composition at this time of the most picturesque, easy and
graceful of all his writings, The Romance of Natural History,
even now a sort of classic. Everything combined to make him
believe that the blessing of the Lord was upon him, and to clothe
the darkness of the world with at least a mist of rose-colour. I
do not recollect that ever at this time he bethought him, when I
started in the morning for a long day with my friends on the edge
of the sea, to remind me that I must speak to them, in season and
out of season, of the Blood of Jesus. And I, young coward that I
was, let sleeping dogmas lie.

My companions were not all of them the sons of saints in our
communion; their parents belonged to that professional class
which we were only now beginning to attract to our services. They
were brought up in religious, but not in fanatical, families, and
I was the only 'converted' one among them. Mrs. Paget, of whom I
shall have presently to speak,characteristically said that it
grieved her to see 'one lamb among so many kids'. But 'kid' is a
word of varied significance and the symbol did not seem to us
effectively applied. As a matter of fact, we made what I still
feel was an excellent tacit compromise. My young companions never
jeered at me for being 'in communion with the saints', and I, on
my part, never urged the Atonement upon them. I began, in fact,
more and more to keep my own religion for use on Sundays.

It will, I hope, have been observed that among the very curious
grown-up people into whose company I was thrown, although many
were frail and some were foolish, none, so far as I can discern,
were hypocritical. I am not one of those who believe that
hypocrisy is a vice that grows on every bush. Of course, in
religious more than in any other matters, there is a perpetual
contradiction between our thoughts and our deeds which is
inevitable to our social order, and is bound to lead to cette
tromperie mutuelle of which Pascal speaks. But I have often
wondered, while admiring the splendid portrait of Tartuffe,
whether such a monster ever, or at least often, has walked the
stage of life; whether Moliere observed, or only invented him.

To adopt a scheme of religious pretension, with no belief
whatever in its being true, merely for sensuous advantage, openly
acknowledging to one's inner self the brazen system of deceit,--
such a course may, and doubtless has been, trodden, yet surely
much less frequently than cynics love to suggest. But at the
juncture which I have now reached in my narrative, I had the
advantage of knowing a person who was branded before the whole
world, and punished by the law of his country, as a felonious
hypocrite. My Father himself could only sigh and admit the
charge. And yet--I doubt.

About half-way between our village and the town there lay a
comfortable villa inhabited by a retired solicitor, or perhaps
attorney, whom I shall name Mr. Dormant. We often called at his
half-way house, and, although he was a member of the town-
meeting, he not unfrequently came up to us for 'the breaking of
bread'. Mr. Dormant was a solid, pink man, of a cosy habit. He
had beautiful white hair, a very soft voice, and a welcoming,
wheedling manner; he was extremely fluent and zealous in using
the pious phraseology of the sect. My Father had never been very
much attracted to him, but the man professed, and I think felt,
an overwhelming admiration for my Father. Mr. Dormant was not
very well off, and in the previous year he had persuaded an aged
gentleman of wealth to come and board with him. When, in the
course of the winter, this gentleman died, much surprise was felt
at the report that he had left almost his entire fortune, which
was not inconsiderable, to Mr. Dormant.

Much surprise--for the old gentleman had a son to whom he had
always been warmly attached, who was far away, I think in South
America, practising a perfectly respectable profession of which
his father entirely approved. My own Father always preserved a
delicacy and a sense of honour about money which could not have
been more sensitive if he had been an ungodly man, and I am very
much pleased to remember that when the legacy was first spoken
of, he regretted that Mr. Dormant should have allowed the old
gentleman to make this will. If he knew the intention, my Father
said, it would have shown a more proper sense of his
responsibility if he had dissuaded the testator from so
unbecoming a disposition. That was long before any legal question
arose; and now Mr. Dormant came into his fortune, and began to
make handsome gifts to missionary societies, and to his own
meeting in the town. If I do not mistake, he gave, unsolicited, a
sum to our building fund, which my Father afterwards returned.
But in process of time we heard that the son had come back from
the Antipodes, and was making investigations. Before we knew
where we were, the news burst upon us, like a bomb-shell, that
Mr. Dormant had been arrested on a criminal charge and was now in
jail at Exeter.

Sympathy was at first much extended amongst us to the prisoner.
But it was lessened when we understood that the old gentleman had
been 'converted' while under Dormant's roof, and had given the
fact that his son was 'an unbeliever' as a reason for
disinheriting him. All doubt was set aside when it was divulged,
under pressure, by the nurse who attended on the old gentleman,
herself one of the 'saints', that Dormant had traced the
signature to the will by drawing the fingers of the testator over
the document when he was already and finally comatose.

My Father, setting aside by a strong effort of will the
repugnance which he felt, visited the prisoner in gaol before
this final evidence had been extracted. When he returned he said
that Dormant appeared to be enjoying a perfect confidence of
heart, and had expressed a sense of his joy and peace in the
Lord; my Father regretted that he had not been able to persuade
him to admit any error, even of judgement. But the prisoner's
attitude in the dock, when the facts were proved, and not by him
denied, was still more extraordinary. He could be induced to
exhibit no species of remorse, and, to the obvious anger of the
judge himself, stated that he had only done his duty as a
Christian, in preventing this wealth from coming into the hands
of an ungodly man, who would have spent it in the service of the
flesh and of the devil. Sternly reprimanded by the judge, he made
the final statement that at that very moment he was conscious of
his Lord's presence, in the dock at his side, whispering to him
'Well done, thou good and faithful servant!' In this frame of
conscience, and with a glowing countenance, he was hurried away
to penal servitude.

This was a very painful incident, and it is easy to see how
compromising, how cruel, it was in its effect upon our communion;
what occasion it gave to our enemies to blaspheme. No one, in
either meeting, could or would raise a voice to defend Mr.
Dormant. We had to bow our heads when we met our enemies in the
gate. The blow fell more heavily on the meeting of which he had
been a prominent and communicating member, but it fell on us too,
and my Father felt it severely. For many years he would never
mention the man's name, and he refused all discussion of the

Yet I was never sure, and I am not sure now, that the wretched
being was a hypocrite. There are as many vulgar fanatics as there
are distinguished ones, and I am not convinced that Dormant,
coarse and narrow as he was, may not have sincerely believed that
it was better for the money to be used in religious propaganda
than in the pleasures of the world, of which he doubtless formed
a very vague idea. On this affair I meditated much, and it
awakened in my mind, for the first time, a doubt whether our
exclusive system of ethics was an entirely salutary one, if it
could lead the conscience of a believer to tolerate such acts as
these, acts which my Father himself had denounced as
dishonourable and disgraceful.

My stepmother brought with her a little library of such books as
we had not previously seen, but which yet were known to all the
world except us. Prominent among these was a set of the poems of
Walter Scott, and in his unwonted geniality and provisional
spirit of compromise, my Father must do no less than read these
works aloud to my stepmother in the quiet spring evenings. This
was a sort of aftermath of courtship, a tribute of song to his
bride, very sentimental and pretty. She would sit, sedately, at
her workbox, while he, facing her, poured forth the verses at her
like a blackbird. I was not considered in this arrangement, which
was wholly matrimonial, but I was present, and the exercise made
more impression upon me than it did upon either of the principal
agents.My Father read the verse admirably, with a full,--some
people (but not I) might say with a too full--perception of the
metre as well as of the rhythm, rolling out the rhymes, and
glorying in the proper names. He began, and it was a happy
choice, with 'The Lady of the Lake'. It gave me singular pleasure
to hear his large voice do justice to 'Duncrannon' and 'Cambus-
Kenneth', and wake the echoes with 'Rhoderigh Vich Alphine dhu,
ho! ieroe!' I almost gasped with excitement, while a shudder
floated down my backbone, when we came to:

A sharp and shrieking echo gave,
Coir-Uriskin, thy goblin cave!
And the grey pass where birches wave,
On Beala-nam-bo,

a passage which seemed to me to achieve the ideal of sublime
romance. My thoughts were occupied all day long with the
adventures of Fitzjames and the denizens of Ellen's Isle. It
became an obsession, and when I was asked whether I remembered
the name of the cottage where the minister of the Bible
Christians lodged, I answered, dreamily, 'Yes,--Beala--nambo.'

Seeing me so much fascinated, thrown indeed into a temporary
frenzy, by the epic poetry of Sir Walter Scott, my stepmother
asked my Father whether I might not start reading the Waverley
Novels. But he refused to permit this, on the ground that those
tales gave false and disturbing pictures of life, and would lead
away my attention from heavenly things. I do not fully apprehend
what distinction he drew between the poems, which he permitted,
and the novels, which he refused. But I suppose he regarded a
work in verse as more artificial, and therefore less likely to
make a realistic impression, than one in prose. There is
something quaint in the conscientious scruple which allows The
Lord of the Isles and excludes Rob Roy.

But stranger still, and amounting almost to a whim, was his
sudden decision that, although I might not touch the novels of
Scott, I was free to read those of Dickens. I recollect that my
stepmother showed some surprise at this, and that my Father
explained to her that Dickens 'exposes the passion of love in a
ridiculous light.' She did not seem to follow this
recommendation, which indeed tends to the ultra-subtle, but she
procured for me a copy of Pickwick, by which I was instantly and
gloriously enslaved. My shouts of laughing at the richer passages
were almost scandalous, and led to my being reproved for
disturbing my Father while engaged, in an upper room, in the
study of God's Word. I must have expended months on the perusal
of Pickwick, for I used to rush through a chapter, and then read
it over again very slowly, word for word, and then shut my eyes
to realize the figures and the action.

I suppose no child will ever again enjoy that rapture of
unresisting humorous appreciation of 'Pickwick'. I felt myself to
be in the company of a gentleman so extremely funny that I began
to laugh before he began to speak; no sooner did he remark 'the
sky was dark and gloomy, the air was damp and raw,' than I was in
fits of hilarity. My retirement in our sequestered corner of life
made me, perhaps, even in this matter, somewhat old-fashioned,
and possibly I was the latest of the generation who accepted Mr.
Pickwick with an unquestioning and hysterical abandonment.
Certainly few young people now seem sensitive, as I was, and as
thousands before me had been, to the quality of his fascination.

It was curious that living in a household where a certain
delicate art of painting was diligently cultivated, I had yet
never seen a real picture, and was scarcely familiar with the
design of one in engraving. My stepmother, however, brought a
flavour of the fine arts with her; a kind of aesthetic odour,
like that of lavender, clung to her as she moved. She had known
authentic artists in her youth; she had watched Old Crome
painting, and had taken a course of drawing-lessons from no less
a person than Cotman. She painted small watercolour landscapes
herself, with a delicate economy of means and a graceful Norwich
convention; her sketch-books were filled with abbeys gently
washed in, river-banks in sepia by which the elect might be dimly
reminded of Liber Studiorum, and woodland scenes over which the
ghost of Creswick had faintly breathed. It was not exciting art,
but it was, so far as it went, in its lady-like reserve, the real
thing. Our sea--anemones, our tropic birds, our bits of spongy
rock filled and sprayed with corallines, had been very
conscientious and skilful, but, essentially, so far as art was
concerned, the wrong thing.

Thus I began to acquire, without understanding the value of it,
some conception of the elegant phases of early English
watercolour painting, and there was one singular piece of a
marble well brimming with water, and a greyish-blue sky over it,
and dark-green poplars, shaped like wet brooms, menacing the
middle distance, which Cotman himself had painted; and this
seemed beautiful and curious to me in its dim, flat frame, when
it was hoisted to a place on our drawing-room wall.

But still I had never seen a subject-picture, although my
stepmother used to talk of the joys of the Royal Academy, and it
was therefore with a considerable sense of excitement that I
went, with my Father, to examine Mr. Holman Hunt's Finding of
Christ in the Temple' which at this time was announced to be on
public show at our neighbouring town. We paid our shillings and
ascended with others to an upper room, bare of every disturbing
object, in which a strong top-light raked the large and
uncompromising picture. We looked at it for some time in silence,
and then my Father pointed out to me various details, such as the
phylacteries and the mitres, and the robes which distinguished
the high priest.

Some of the other visitors, as I recollect, expressed
astonishment and dislike of what they called the 'Preraphaelite'
treatment, but we were not affected by that. Indeed, if anything,
the exact, minute and hard execution of Mr. Hunt was in sympathy
with the methods we ourselves were in the habit of using when we
painted butterflies and seaweeds, placing perfectly pure pigments
side by side, without any nonsense about chiaroscuro. This large,
bright, comprehensive picture made a very deep impression upon
me, not exactly as a work of art, but as a brilliant natural
specimen. I was pleased to have seen it, as I was pleased to have
seen the comet, and the whale which was brought to our front door
on a truck. It was a prominent addition to my experience.

The slender expansions of my interest which were now budding
hither and thither do not seem to have alarmed my Father at all.
His views were short; if I appeared to be contented and obedient,
if I responded pleasantly when he appealed to me, he was not
concerned to discover the source of my cheerfulness. He put it
down to my happy sense of joy in Christ, a reflection of the
sunshine of grace beaming upon me through no intervening clouds
of sin or doubt. The 'saints' were, as a rule, very easy to
comprehend; their emotions lay upon the surface. If they were
gay, it was because they had no burden on their consciences,
while, if they were depressed, the symptom might be depended upon
as showing that their consciences were troubling them, and if
they were indifferent and cold, it was certain that they were
losing their faith and becoming hostile to godliness. It was
almost a mechanical matter with these simple souls. But, although
I was so much younger, I was more complex and more crafty than
the peasant 'saints'. My Father, not a very subtle psychologist,
applied to me the same formulas which served him well at the
chapel, but in my case the results were less uniformly

The excitement of school-life and the enlargement of my circle of
interests, combined to make Sunday, by contrast, a very tedious
occasion. The absence of every species of recreation on the
Lord's Day grew to be a burden which might scarcely be borne. I
have said that my freedom during the week had now become
considerable; if I was at home punctually at meal times, the rest
of my leisure was not challenged. But this liberty, which in the
summer holidays came to surpass that of 'fishes that tipple in
the deep', was put into more and more painful contrast with the
unbroken servitude of Sunday.

My Father objected very strongly to the expression Sabbath-day,
as it is commonly used by Presbyterians and others. He said,
quite justly, that it was an inaccurate modern innovation, that
Sabbath was Saturday, the Seventh day of the week, not the first,
a Jewish festival and not a Christian commemoration. Yet his
exaggerated view with regard to the observance of the First Day,
namely, that it must be exclusively occupied with public and
private exercises of divine worship, was based much more upon a
Jewish than upon a Christian law. In fact, I do not remember that
my Father ever produced a definite argument from the New
Testament in support of his excessive passivity on the Lord's
Day. He followed the early Puritan practice, except that he did
not extend his observance, as I believe the old Puritans did,
from sunset on Saturday to sunset on Sunday.

The observance of the Lord's Day has already become universally
so lax that I think there may be some value in preserving an
accurate record of how our Sundays were spent five and forty
years ago. We came down to breakfast at the usual time. My Father
prayed briefly before we began the meal; after it, the bell was
rung, and, before the breakfast was cleared away, we had a
lengthy service of exposition and prayer with the servants. If
the weather was fine, we then walked about the garden, doing
nothing, for about half an hour. We then sat, each in a separate
room, with our Bibles open and some commentary on the text beside
us, and prepared our minds for the morning service. A little
before 11 a.m. we sallied forth, carrying our Bibles and hymn-
books, and went through the morning-service of two hours at the
Room; this was the central event of Sunday.

We then came back to dinner,--curiously enough to a hot dinner,
always, with a joint, vegetables and puddings, so that the cook
at least must have been busily at work,--and after it my Father
and my stepmother took a nap, each in a different room, while I
slipped out into the garden for a little while, but never
venturing farther afield. In the middle of the afternoon, my
stepmother and I proceeded up the village to Sunday School, where
I was early promoted to the tuition of a few very little boys. We
returned in time for tea, immediately after which we all marched
forth, again armed as in the morning, with Bibles and hymn-books,
and we went though the evening-service, at which my Father
preached. The hour was now already past my weekday bedtime, but
we had another service to attend, the Believers' Prayer Meeting,
which commonly occupied forty minutes more. Then we used to creep
home, I often so tired that the weariness was like physical pain,
and I was permitted, without further 'worship', to slip upstairs
to bed.

What made these Sundays, the observance of which was absolutely
uniform, so peculiarly trying was that I was not permitted the
indulgence of any secular respite. I might not open a scientific
book, nor make a drawing, nor examine a specimen. I was not
allowed to go into the road, except to proceed with my parents to
the Room, nor to discuss worldly subjects at meals, nor to enter
the little chamber where I kept my treasures. I was hotly and
tightly dressed in black, all day long, as though ready at any
moment to attend a funeral with decorum. Sometimes, towards
evening, I used to feel the monotony and weariness of my position
to be almost unendurable, but at this time I was meek, and I
bowed to what I supposed to be the order of the universe.


As my mental horizon widened, my Father followed the direction of
my spiritual eyes with some bewilderment, and knew not at what I
gazed. Nor could I have put into words, nor can I even now
define, the visions which held my vague and timid attention. As a
child develops, those who regard it with tenderness or impatience
are seldom even approximately correct in their analysis of its
intellectual movements, largely because, if there is anything to
record, it defies adult definition. One curious freak of
mentality I must now mention, because it took a considerable part
in the enfranchisement of my mind, or rather in the formation of
my thinking habits. But neither my Father nor my stepmother knew
what to make of it, and to tell the truth I hardly know what to
make of it myself.

Among the books which my new mother had brought with her were
certain editions of the poets, an odd assortment. Campbell was
there, and Burns, and Keats, and the 'Tales' of Byron. Each of
these might have been expected to appeal to me; but my emotion
was too young, and I did not listen to them yet. Their imperative
voices called me later. By the side of these romantic classics
stood a small, thick volume, bound in black morocco, and
comprising four reprinted works of the eighteenth century,
gloomy, funereal poems of an order as wholly out of date as are
the crossbones and ruffled cherubim on the gravestones in a
country churchyard. The four--and in this order, as I never shall
forget--were 'The Last Day' of Dr Young, Blair's 'Grave', 'Death'
by Bishop Beilby Porteus, and 'The Deity' of Samuel Boyse. These
lugubrious effusions, all in blank verse or in the heroic
couplet, represented, in its most redundant form, the artistic
theology of the middle of the eighteenth century. They were
steeped in such vengeful and hortatory sentiments as passed for
elegant piety in the reign of George II.

How I came to open this solemn volume is explained by the
oppressive exclusiveness of our Sundays. On the afternoon of the
Lord's Day, as I have already explained, I might neither walk,
nor talk, nor explore our scientific library, nor indulge in
furious feats of water-colour painting. The Plymouth-Brother
theology which alone was open to me produced, at length, and
particularly on hot afternoons, a faint physical nausea, a kind
of secret headache. But, hitting one day upon the doleful book of
verses, and observing its religious character, I asked 'May I
read that?' and after a brief, astonished glance at the contents,
received '0h certainly--if you can!'

The lawn sloped directly from a verandah at our drawing-room
window, and it contained two immense elm trees, which had
originally formed part of the hedge of a meadow. In our trim and
polished garden they then remained--they were soon afterwards cut
down--rude and obtuse, with something primeval about them,
something autochthonous; they were like two peasant ancestors
surviving in a family that had advanced to gentility. They rose
each out of a steep turfed hillock, and the root of one of them
was long my favourite summer reading-desk; for I could lie
stretched on the lawn, with my head and shoulders supported by
the elm-tree hillock, and the book in a fissure of the rough
turf. Thither then I escaped with my graveyard poets, and who
shall explain the rapture withwhich I followed their austere

Whether I really read consecutively in my black-bound volume I
can no longer be sure, but it became a companion whose society I
valued, and at worst it was a thousand times more congenial to me
than Jukes' On the Pentateuch or than a perfectly excruciating
work ambiguously styled The Javelin of Phineas, which lay
smouldering in a dull red cover on the drawing-room table. I
dipped my bucket here and there into my poets, and I brought up
strange things. I brought up out of the depths of' The Last Day'
the following ejaculation of a soul roused by the trump of

Father of mercies! Why from silent earth
Didst thou awake, and curse me into birth?
Tear me from quiet, ravish me from night,
And make a thankless present of thy light?
Push into being a reverse of thee,
And animate a clod with misery?

I read these lines with a shiver of excitement, and in a sense I
suppose little intended by the sanctimonious rector of Welwyn. I
also read in the same piece the surprising description of how

Now charnels rattle, scattered limbs, and all
The various bones, obsequious to the call,
Self-mov'd, advance--the neck perhaps to meet
The distant head, the distant legs the feet,

but rejected it as not wholly supported by the testimony of
Scripture. I think that the rhetoric and vigorous advance of
Young's verse were pleasant to me. Beilby Porteus I discarded
from the first as impenetrable. In 'The Deity',--I knew nothing
then of the life of its extravagant and preposterous author,--I
took a kind of persistent, penitential pleasure, but it was
Blair's 'Grave' that really delighted me, and I frightened myself
with its melodious doleful images in earnest.

About this time there was a great flow of tea--table hospitality
in the village, and my friends and their friends used to be asked
out, by respective parents and by more than one amiable spinster,
to faint little entertainments where those sang who were
ambitious to sing, and where all played post and forfeits after a
rich tea. My Father was constantly exercised in mind as to
whether I should or should not accept these glittering
invitations. There hovered before him a painful sense of danger
in resigning the soul to pleasures which savoured of 'the world'.
These, though apparently innocent in themselves, might give an
appetite for yet more subversive dissipations. I remember, on one
occasion,--when the Browns, a family of Baptists who kept a large
haberdashery shop in the neighbouring town, asked for the
pleasure of my company 'to tea and games', and carried
complacency so far as to offer to send that local vehicle, 'the
midge', to fetch me and bring me back,--my Father's conscience
was so painfully perplexed, that he desired me to come up with
him to the now-deserted 'boudoir' of the departed Marks, that we
might 'lay the matter before the Lord'. We did so, kneeling side
by side, with our backs to the window and our foreheads pressed
upon the horsehair cover of the small, coffin-like sofa. My
Father prayed aloud, with great fervour, that it might be
revealed to me, by the voice of God, whether it was or was not
the Lord's will that I should attend the Browns' party. My
Father's attitude seemed to me to be hardly fair, since he did
not scruple to remind the Deity of various objections to a life
of pleasure and of the snakes that lie hidden in the grass of
evening parties. It would have been more scrupulous, I thought,
to give no sort of hint of the kind of answer he desired and

It will be justly said that my life was made up of very trifling
things, since I have to confess that this incident of the Browns'
invitation was one of its landmarks. As I knelt, feeling very
small, by the immense bulk of my Father, there gushed though my
veins like a wine the determination to rebel. Never before, in
all these years of my vocation, had I felt my resistance take
precisely this definite form. We rose presently from the sofa, my
forehead and the backs of my hands still chafed by the texture of
the horsehair, and we faced one another in the dreary light. My
Father, perfectly confident in the success of what had really
been a sort of incantation, asked me in a loud wheedling voice,
'Well, and what is the answer which our Lord vouchsafes?' I said
nothing, and so my Father, more sharply, continued, 'We have
asked Him to direct you to a true knowledge of His will. We have
desired Him to let you know whether it is, or is not, in
accordance with His wishes that you should accept this invitation
from the Browns.' He positively beamed down at me; he had no
doubt of the reply. He was already, I believe, planning some
little treat to make up to me for the material deprivation. But
my answer came, in the high-piping accents of despair: 'The Lord
says I may go to the Browns.' My Father gazed at me in speechless
horror. He was caught in his own trap, and though he was certain
that the Lord had said nothing of the kind, there was no road
open for him but just sheer retreat. Yet surely it was an error
in tactics to slam the door.

It was at this party at the Browns--to which I duly went,
although in sore disgrace--that my charnel poets played me a mean
trick. It was proposed that 'our young friends' should give their
elders the treat of repeating any pretty pieces that they knew by
heart. Accordingly a little girl recited 'Casabianca', and
another little girl 'We are Seven', and various children were
induced to repeat hymns, 'some rather long', as Calverley says,
but all very mild and innocuously evangelical. I was then asked
by Mrs Brown's maiden sister, a gushing lady in corkscrew curls,
who led the revels, whether I also would not indulge them 'by
repeating some sweet stanzas'. No one more ready than I. Without
a moment's hesitation, I stood forth, and in a loud voice I began
one of my favourite passages from Blair's 'Grave':

If death were nothing, and nought after death--
If when men died at once they ceased to be,--
Returning to the barren Womb of Nothing
Whence first they sprung, then might the debauchee...


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