Father and Son
Edmund Gosse

Part 4 out of 4

'Thank you, dear, that will do nicely!' interrupted the lady with
the curls. 'But that's only the beginning of it,' I cried. 'Yes.
dear, but that will quite do! We won't ask you to repeat any more
of it,' and I withdrew to the borders of the company in
bewilderment. Nor did the Browns or their visitors ever learn
what it was the debauchee might have said or done in more
favourable circumstances.

The growing eagerness which I displayed for the society of
selected schoolfellows and for such gentle dissipations as were
within my reach exercised my Father greatly. His fancy rushed
forward with the pace of a steam-engine, and saw me the life and
soul of a gambling club, or flaunting it at the Mabille. He had
no confidence in the action of moderating powers, and he was fond
of repeating that the downward path is easy. If one fretted to be
bathing with one's companions on the shingle, and preferred this
exercise to the study of God's Word, it was a symbol of a
terrible decline, the angle of which would grow steeper and
steeper, until one plunged into perdition. He was, himself, timid
and reclusive, and he shrank from all avoidable companionship
with others, except on the footing of a master and teacher. My
stepmother and I, who neither taught nor ruled, yearned for a
looser chain and lighter relationships. With regard to myself, my
Father about this time hit on a plan from which he hoped much,
but from which little resulted. He looked to George to supply
what my temperament seemed to require of congenial juvenile

If I have not mentioned 'George' until now, it is not that he was
a new acquaintance. When we first came down into the country, our
sympathy had been called forth by an accident to a little boy,
who was knocked over by a horse, and whose thigh was broken.
Somebody (I suppose Mary Grace, since my Father could rarely
bring himself to pay these public visits) went to see the child
in the infirmary, and accidentally discovered that he was exactly
the same age that I was. This, and the fact that he was a
meditative and sober little boy, attracted us all still further
to George, who became converted under one of my Father's sermons.
He attended my public baptism, and was so much moved by this
ceremony that he passionately desired to be baptized also, and
was in fact so immersed, a few months later, slightly to my
chagrin, since I thereupon ceased to be the only infant prodigy
in communion. When we were both in our thirteenth year, George
became an outdoor servant to us, and did odd jobs under the
gardener. My Father, finding him, as he said, 'docile, obedient
and engaging', petted George a good deal, and taught him a little
botany. He called George, by a curious contortion of thought, my
'spiritual foster-brother', and anticipated for him, I think, a
career, like mine, in the Ministry.

Our garden suffered from an incursion of slugs, which laid the
verbenas in the dust, and shore off the carnations as if with
pairs of scissors. To cope with this plague we invested in a
drake and a duck, who were christened Philemon and Baucis. Every
night large cabbage-leaves, containing the lees of beer, were
spread about the flower-beds as traps, and at dawn these had
become green parlours crammed with intoxicated slugs. One of
George's earliest morning duties was to free Philemon and Baucis
from their coop, and, armed with a small wand, to guide their
footsteps to the feast in one cabbage--leaf after another. My
Father used to watch this performance from an upper window, and,
in moments of high facetiousness, he was wont to parody the poet

How jocund doth George drive his team afield!

This is all, or almost all, that I remember about George's
occupations, but he was singularly blameless.

My Father's plan now was that I should form a close intimacy with
George, as a boy of my own age, of my own faith, of my own
future. My stepmother, still in bondage to the social
conventions, was passionately troubled at this, and urged the
barrier of class-differences. My Father replied that such an
intimacy would keep me 'lowly', and that from so good a boy as
George I could learn nothing undesirable. 'He will encourage him
not to wipe his boots when he comes into the house,' saidmy
stepmother, and my Father sighed to think how narrow is the
horizon of Woman's view of heavenly things.

In this caprice, if I may call it so, I think that my Father had
before him the fine republican example of 'Sandford and Merton',
some parts of which book he admired extremely. Accordingly George
and I were sent out to take walks together, and as we started, my
Father, with an air of great benevolence, would suggest some
passage of Scripture, or 'some aspect of God's bountiful scheme
in creation, on which you may profitably meditate together.'
George and I never pursued the discussion of the text with which
my Father started us for more than a minute or two; then we fell
into silence, or investigated current scenes and rustic topics.

As is natural among the children of the poor, George was
precocious where I was infantile, and undeveloped where I was
elaborate. Our minds could hardly find a point at which to touch.
He gave me, however, under cross-examination, interesting hints
about rural matters, and I liked him, although I felt his company
to be insipid. Sometimes he carried my books by my side to the
larger and more distant school which I now attended, but I was
always in a fever of dread lest my school--fellows should see
him, and should accuse me of having to be 'brought' to school. To
explain to them that the companionship of this wholesome and
rather blunt young peasant was part of my spiritual discipline
would have been all beyond my powers.

It was soon after this that my stepmother made her one vain
effort to break though the stillness of our lives. My Father's
energy seemed to decline, to become more fitful, to take
unseasonable directions. My mother instinctively felt that his
peculiarities were growing upon him; he would scarcely stir from
his microscope, except to go to the chapel, and he was visible to
fewer and fewer visitors. She had taken a pleasure in his
literary eminence, and she was aware that this, too, would slip
from him; that, so persistently kept out of sight, he must soon
be out of mind. I know not how she gathered courage for her
tremendous effort, but she took me, I recollect, into her
counsels. We were to unite to oblige my Father to start to his
feet and face the world. Alas! we might as well have attempted to
rouse the summit of Yes Tor into volcanic action. To my mother's
arguments, my Father--with that baffling smile of his--replied:
'I esteem the reproach of Christ greater riches than the
treasures of Egypt!' and that this answer was indirect made it
none the less conclusive. My mother wished him to give lectures,
to go to London, to read papers before the Royal Society, to
enter into controversy with foreign savants, to conduct classes
of outdoor zoology at fashionable watering-places. I held my
breath with admiration as she poured forth her scheme, so daring,
so brilliant, so sure to cover our great man with glory. He
listened to her with an ambiguous smile, and shook his head at
us, and resumed the reading of his Bible.

At the date of which I write these pages, the arts of
illustration are so universally diffused that it is difficult to
realize the darkness in which a remote English village was
plunged half a century ago. No opportunity was offered to us
dwellers in remote places of realizing the outward appearances of
unfamiliar persons, scenes or things. Although ours was perhaps
the most cultivated household in the parish, I had never seen so
much as a representation of a work of sculpture until I was
thirteen. My mother then received from her earlier home certain
volumes, among which was a gaudy gift-book of some kind,
containing a few steel engravings of statues.

These attracted me violently, and here for the first time I gazed
on Apollo with his proud gesture, Venus in her undulations, the
kirtled shape of Diana, and Jupiter voluminously bearded. Very
little information, and that tome not intelligible, was given in
the text, but these were said to be figures of the old Greek
gods. I asked my Father to tell me about these 'old Greek gods'.
His answer was direct and disconcerting. He said--how I recollect
the place and time, early in the morning, as I stood beside the
window in our garish breakfast-room--he said that the so-called
gods of the Greeks were the shadows cast by the vices of the
heathen, and reflected their infamous lives; 'it was for such
things as these that God poured down brimstone and fire on the
Cities of the Plain, and there is nothing in the legends of these
gods, or rather devils, that it is not better for a Christian not
to know.' His face blazed white with Puritan fury as he said
this--I see him now in my mind's eye, in his violent emotion. You
might have thought that he had himself escaped with horror from
some Hellenic hippodrome.

My Father's prestige was by this time considerably lessened in my
mind, and though I loved and admired him, I had now long ceased
to hold him infallible. I did not accept his condemnation of the
Greeks, although I bowed to it. In private I returned to examine
my steel engravings of the statues, and I reflected that they
were too beautiful to be so wicked as my Father thought they
were. The dangerous and pagan notion that beauty palliates evil
budded in my mind, without any external suggestion, and by this
reflection alone I was still further sundered from the faith in
which I had been trained. I gathered very diligently all I could
pick up about the Greek gods and their statues; it was not much,
it was indeed ludicrously little and false, but it was a germ.
And at this aesthetic juncture I was drawn into what was really
rather an extraordinary circle of incidents.

Among the 'Saints' in our village there lived a shoemaker and his
wife, who had one daughter, Susan Flood. She was a flighty,
excited young creature, and lately, during the passage of some
itinerary revivalists, she had been 'converted' in the noisiest
way, with sobs, gasps and gurglings. When this crisis passed, she
came with her parents to our meetings, and was received quietly
enough to the breaking of bread. But about the time I speak of,
Susan Flood went up to London to pay a visit to an unconverted
uncle and aunt. It was first whispered amongst us, and then
openly stated, that these relatives had taken her to the Crystal
Palace, where, in passing through the Sculpture Gallery, Susan's
sense of decency had been so grievously affronted, that she had
smashed the naked figures with the handle of her parasol, before
her horrified companions could stop her. She had, in fact, run
amok among the statuary, and had, to the intense chagrin of her
uncle and aunt, very worthy persons, been arrested and brought
before a magistrate, who dismissed her with a warning to her
relations that she had better be sent home to Devonshire and
'looked after'. Susan Flood's return to us, however, was a
triumph; she had no sense of having acted injudiciously or
unbecomingly; she was ready to recount to every one, in vague and
veiled language, how she had been able to testify for the Lord
'in the very temple of Belial', for so she poetically described
the Crystal Palace. She was, of course, in a state of unbridled
hysteria, but such physical explanations were not encouraged
amongst us, and the case of Susan Flood awakened a great deal of

There was held a meeting of the elders in our drawing-room to
discuss it, and I contrived to be present, though out of
observation. My Father, while he recognized the purity of Susan
Flood's zeal, questioned its wisdom. He noted that the statuary
was not her property, but that of the Crystal Palace. Of the
other communicants, none, I think, had the very slightest notion
what the objects were that Susan had smashed, or tried to smash,
and frankly maintained that they thought her conduct magnificent.
As for me, I had gathered by persistent inquiry enough
information to know that what her sacrilegious parasol had
attacked were bodies of my mysterious friends, the Greek gods,
and if all the rest of the village applauded iconoclastic Susan,
I at least would be ardent on the other side.

But I was conscious that there was nobody in the world to whom I
could go for sympathy. If I had ever read 'Hellas' I should have

Apollo, Pan and Love,
And even Olympian Jove,
Grew weak, when killing Susan glared on them.

On the day in question, I was unable to endure the drawing-room
meeting to its close, but, clutching my volume of the Funereal
Poets, I made a dash for the garden. In the midst of a mass of
laurels, a clearing had been hollowed out, where ferns were grown
and a garden-seat was placed. There was no regular path to this
asylum; one dived under the snake--like boughs of the laurel and
came up again in absolute seclusion.

Into this haunt I now fled to meditate about the savage godliness
of that vandal, Susan Flood. So extremely ignorant was I that I
supposed her to have destroyed the originals of the statues,
marble and unique. I knew nothing about plaster casts, and I
thought the damage (it is possible that there had really been no
damage whatever) was of an irreparable character. I sank into the
seat, with the great wall of laurels whispering around me, and I
burst into tears. There was something, surely, quaint and
pathetic in the figure of a little Plymouth Brother sitting in
that advanced year of grace, weeping bitterly for indignities
done to Hermes and to Aphrodite. Then I opened my book for
consolation, and I read a great block of pompous verse out of
'The Deity', in the midst of which exercise, yielding to the
softness of the hot and aromatic air, I fell fast asleep.

Among those who applauded the zeal of Susan Flood's parasol, the
Pagets were prominent. These were a retired Baptist minister and
his wife, from Exmouth, who had lately settled amongst us, and
joined in the breaking of bread. Mr. Paget was a fat old man,
whose round pale face was clean-shaven, and who carried a full
crop of loose white hair above it; his large lips were always
moving, whether he spoke or not. He resembled, as I now perceive,
the portraits of S. T. Coleridge in age, but with all the
intellect left out of them. He lived in a sort of trance of
solemn religious despondency. He had thrown up his cure of souls,
because he became convinced that be had committed the Sin against
the Holy Ghost. His wife was younger than he, very small, very
tight, very active, with black eyes like pin-pricks at the base
of an extremely high and narrow forehead, bordered with glossy
ringlets. He was very cross to her, and it was murmured that
'dear Mrs. Paget had often had to pass through the waters of
affliction'. They were very poor, but rigidly genteel, and she
was careful, so far as she could, to conceal from the world the
caprices of her poor lunatic husband.

In our circle, it was never for a moment admitted that Mr. Paget
was a lunatic. It was said that he had gravely sinned, and was
under the Lord's displeasure; prayers were abundantly offered up
that he might be led back into the pathway of light, and that the
Smiling Face might be drawn forth for him from behind the
Frowning Providence. When the man had an epileptic seizure in the
High Street, he was not taken to a hospital, but we repeated to
one another, with shaken heads, that Satan, that crooked Serpent,
had been unloosed for a season. Mr. Paget was fond of talking, in
private and in public, of his dreadful spiritual condition and he
would drop his voice while he spoke of having committed the
Unpardonable Sin, with a sort of shuddering exultation, such as
people sometimes feel in the possession of a very unusual

It might be thought that the position held in any community by
persons so afflicted and eccentric as the Pagets would be very
precarious. But it was not so with us; on the contrary, they took
a prominent place at once. Mr. Paget, in spite of his spiritual
bankruptcy, was only too anxious to help my Father in his
ministrations, and used to beg to be allowed to pray and exhort.
In the latter case he took the tone of a wounded veteran, who,
though fallen on the bloody field himself, could still encourage
younger warriors to march forward to victory. Everybody longed to
know what the exact nature had been of that sin against the Holy
Ghost which had deprived Mr. Paget of every glimmer of hope for
time or for eternity. It was whispered that even my Father
himself was not precisely acquainted with the character of it.

This mysterious disability clothed Mr Paget for us with a kind of
romance. We watched him as the women watched Dante in Verona,

Behold him how Hell's reek
Has crisped his hair and singed his cheek!

His person lacked, it is true, something of the dignity of
Dante's, for it was his caprice to walk up and down the High
Street at noonday with one of those cascades of coloured paper
which were known as 'ornaments for your fireplace' slung over the
back and another over the front of his body. These he
manufactured for sale, and he adopted the quaint practice of
wearing the exuberant objects as a means for their advertisement.

Mrs. Paget had been accustomed to rule in the little ministry
from which Mr. Paget's celebrated Sin had banished them, and she
was inclined to clutch at the sceptre now. She was the only
person I ever met with who was not afraid of the displeasure of
my Father. She would fix her viper-coloured eyes on his, and say
with a kind of gimlet firmness, 'I hardly think that is the true
interpretation, Brother G.', or, 'But let us turn to Colossians,
and see what the Holy Ghost says there upon this matter.' She
fascinated my Father, who was not accustomed to this kind of
interruption, and as she was not to be softened by any flattery
(such as:--'Marvellous indeed, Sister, is your acquaintance with
the means of grace!') she became almost a terror to him.

She abused her powers by taking great liberties, which culminated
in her drawing his attention to the fact that my poor stepmother
displayed 'an overweening love of dress'. The accusation was
perfectly false; my stepmother was, if rather richly, always,
plainly dressed, in the sober Quaker mode; almost her only
ornament was a large carnelian brooch, set in flowered flat gold.
To this the envenomed Paget drew my Father's attention as 'likely
to lead "the little ones of the flock" into temptation'. My poor
Father felt it his duty, thus directly admonished, to speak to my
mother. 'Do you not think, my Love, that you should, as one who
sets an example to others, discard the wearing of that gaudy
brooch?" One must fasten one s collar with something, I suppose?'
'Well, but how does Sister Paget fasten her collar?' 'Sister
Paget,' replied my Mother, stung at last into rejoinder, 'fastens
her collar with a pin,--and that is a thing which I would rather
die than do!'

Nor did I escape the attentions of this zealous reformer. Mrs.
Paget was good enough to take a great interest in me, and she was
not satisfied with the way in which I was being brought up. Her
presence seemed to pervade the village, and I could neither come
in nor go out without seeing her hard bonnet and her pursed-up
lips. She would hasten to report to my Father that she saw me
laughing and talking 'with a lot of unconverted boys', these
being the companions with whom I had full permission to bathe and
boat. She urged my Father to complete my holy vocation by some
definite step, by which he would dedicate me completely to the
Lord's service. Further schooling she thought needless, and
merely likely to foster intellectual pride. Mr. Paget, she
remarked, had troubled very little in his youth about worldly
knowledge, and yet how blessed he had been in the conversion of
souls until he had incurred the displeasure of the Holy Ghost!

I do not know exactly what she wanted my Father to do with me;
perhaps she did not know herself; she was meddlesome, ignorant
and fanatical, and she liked to fancy that she was exercising
influence. But the wonderful, the inexplicable thing is that my
Father,--who, with all his limitations, was so distinguished and
high-minded,--should listen to her for a moment, and still more
wonderful is it that he really allowed her, grim vixen that she
was, to disturb his plans and retard his purposes. I think the
explanation lay in the perfectly logical position she took up. My
Father found himself brought face to face at last, not with a
disciple, but with a trained expert in his own peculiar scheme of
religion. At every point she was armed with arguments the source
of which he knew and the validity of which he recognized. He
trembled before Mrs. Paget as a man in a dream may tremble before
a parody of his own central self, and he could not blame her
without laying himself open somewhere to censure.

But my stepmother's instincts were more primitive and her actions
less wire-drawn than my Father's. She disliked Mrs. Paget as much
as one earnest believer can bring herself to dislike a sister in
the Lord. My stepmother had quietly devoted herself to what she
thought the best way of bringing me up, and she did not propose
now to be thwarted by the wife of a lunatic Baptist. At this time
I was a mixture of childishness and priggishness, of curious
knowledge and dense ignorance. Certain portions of my intellect
were growing with unwholesome activity, while others were
stunted, or had never stirred at all. I was like a plant on which
a pot has been placed, with the effect that the centre is crushed
and arrested, while shoots are straggling up to the light on all
sides. My Father himself was aware of this, and in a spasmodic
way he wished to regulate my thoughts. But all he did was to try
to straighten the shoots, without removing the pot which kept
them resolutely down.

It was my stepmother who decided that I was now old enough to go
to boarding-school, and my Father, having discovered that an
elderly couple of Plymouth Brethren kept an 'academy for young
gentlemen' in a neighbouring seaport town,--in the prospectus of
which the knowledge and love of the Lord were mentioned as
occupying the attention of the head--master and his assistants
far more closely than any mere considerations of worldly
tuition,--was persuaded to entrust me to its care. He stipulated,
however, that I should always come home from Saturday night to
Monday morning, not, as he said, that I might receive any carnal
indulgence, but that there might be no cessation of my communion
as a believer with the Saints in our village on Sundays. To this
school, therefore, I presently departed, gawky and homesick, and
the rift between my soul and that of my Father widened a little


LITTLE boys from quiet, pious households, commonly found, in
those days, a chasm yawning at the feet of their inexperience
when they arrived at Boarding-school. But the fact that I still
slept at home on Saturday and Sunday nights preserved me, I
fancy, from many surprises. There was a crisis, but it was broad
and slow for me. On the other hand, for my Father I am inclined
to think that it was definite and sharp. Permission for me to
desert the parental hearth, even for five days in certain weeks,
was tantamount, in his mind, to admitting that the great scheme,
so long caressed, so passionately fostered, must in its primitive
bigness be now dropped.

The Great Scheme (I cannot resist giving it the mortuary of
capital letters) had been, as my readers know, that I should be
exclusively and consecutively dedicated through the whole of my
life, 'to the manifest and uninterrupted and uncompromised
service of the Lord'. That had been the aspiration of my Mother,
and at her death she had bequeathed that desire to my Father,
like a dream of the Promised Land. In their ecstasy, my parents
had taken me, as Elkanah and Hannah had long ago taken Samuel,
from their mountain-home of Ramathaim-Zophim down to sacrifice to
the Lord of Hosts in Shiloh. They had girt me about with a linen
ephod, and had hoped to leave me there; 'as long as he liveth,'
they had said, 'he shall be lent unto the Lord.'

Doubtless in the course of these fourteen years it had
occasionally flashed upon my Father, as he overheard some speech
of mine, or detected some idiosyncrasy, that I was not one of
those whose temperament points them out as ultimately fitted for
an austere life of religion. What he hoped, however, was that
when the little roughnesses of childhood were rubbed away, there
would pass a deep mellowness over my soul. He had a touching way
of condoning my faults of conduct, directly after reproving them,
and he would softly deprecate my frailty, saying, in a tone of
harrowing tenderness, 'Are you not the child of many prayers?' He
continued to think that prayer, such passionate importunate
prayer as his, must prevail. Faith could move mountains; should
it not be able to mould the little ductile heart of a child,
since he was sure that his own faith was unfaltering? He had
yearned and waited for a son who should be totally without human
audacities, who should be humble, pure, not troubled by worldly
agitations, a son whose life should be cleansed and straightened
from above, in custodiendo sermones Dei; in whom everything
should be sacrificed except the one thing needful to salvation.

How such a marvel of lowly piety was to earn a living had never,
I think, occurred to him. My Father was singularly indifferent
about money. Perhaps his notion was that, totally devoid of
ambitions as I was to be, I should quietly become adult, and
continue his ministrations among the poor of the Christian flock.
He had some dim dream, I think, of there being just enough for us
all without my having to take up any business or trade. I believe
it was immediately after my first term at boarding-school, that I
was a silent but indignant witness of a conversation between my
Father and Mr. Thomas Brightwen, my stepmother's brother, who was
a banker in one of the Eastern Counties.

This question, 'What is he to be?' in a worldly sense, was being
discussed, and Tam sure that it was for the first time, at all
events in my presence. Mr. Brightwen, I fancy, had been worked
upon by my stepmother, whose affection for me was always on the
increase, to suggest, or faintly to stir the air in the
neighbourhood of suggesting, a query about my future. He was
childless and so was she, and I think a kind impulse led them to
'feel the way', as it is called. I believe he said that the
banking business, wisely and honourably conducted, sometimes led,
as we know that it is apt to lead, to affluence. To my horror, my
Father, with rising emphasis, replied that 'if there were offered
to his beloved child what is called "an opening" that would lead
to an income of 10,000 a year, and that would divert his
thoughts and interest from the Lord's work he would reject it on
his child's behalf.' Mr. Brightwen, a precise and polished
gentleman who evidently never made an exaggerated statement in
his life, was, I think, faintly scandalized; he soon left us, and
I do not recollect his paying us a second visit.

For my silent part, I felt very much like Gehazi, and I would
fain have followed after the banker if I had dared to do so, into
the night. I would have excused to him the ardour of my Elisha,
and I would have reminded him of the sons of the prophets--'Give
me, I pray thee,' I would have said, 'a talent of silver and two
changes of garments.' It seemed to me very hard that my Father
should dispose of my possibilities of wealth in so summary a
fashion, but the fact that I did resent it, and regretted what I
supposed to be my 'chance', shows how far apart we had already
swung. My Father, I am convinced, thought that he gave words to
my inward instincts when he repudiated the very mild and
inconclusive benevolence of his brother-in-law. But he certainly
did not do so. I was conscious of a sharp and instinctive
disappointment at having had, as I fancied, wealth so near my
grasp, and at seeing it all cast violently into the sea of my
Father's scruples.

Not one of my village friends attended the boarding-school to
which I was now attached, and I arrived there without an
acquaintance. I should soon, however, have found a corner of my
own if my Father had not unluckily stipulated that I was not to
sleep in the dormitory with the boys of my own age, but in the
room occupied by the two elder sons of a prominent Plymouth
Brother whom he knew. From asocial point of view this was an
unfortunate arrangement, since these youths were some years older
and many years riper than I; the eldest, in fact, was soon to
leave; they had enjoyed their independence, and they now greatly
resented being saddled with the presence of an unknown urchin.
The supposition had been that they would protect and foster my
religious practices; would encourage me, indeed, as my Father put
it, to approach the Throne of Grace with them at morning and
evening prayer. They made no pretence, however, to be considered
godly; they looked upon me as an intruder; and after a while the
younger, and ruder, of them openly let me know that they believed
I had been put into their room to 'spy upon' them; it had been a
plot, they knew, between their father and mine: and he darkly
warned me that I should suffer if 'anything got out'. I had,
however, no wish to trouble them, nor any faint interest in their
affairs. I soon discovered that they were absorbed in a silly
kind of amorous correspondence with the girls of a neighbouring
academy, but 'what were all such toys to me?'

These young fellows, who ought long before to have left the
school, did nothing overtly unkind to me, but they condemned me
to silence. They ceased to address me except with an occasional
command. By reason of my youth, I was in bed and asleep before my
companions arrived upstairs, and in the morning I was always
routed up and packed about my business while they still were
drowsing. But the fact that I had been cut off from my coevals by
night, cut me off from them also by day--so that I was nothing to
them, neither a boarder nor a day-scholar, neither flesh, fish
nor fowl. The loneliness of my life was extreme, and that I
always went home on Saturday afternoon and returned on Monday
morning still further checked my companionships at school. For a
long time, round the outskirts of that busy throng of opening
lives, I 'wandered lonely as a cloud', and sometimes I was more
unhappy than I had ever been before. No one, however, bullied me,
and though I was dimly and indefinably witness to acts of
uncleanness and cruelty, I was the victim of no such acts and the
recipient of no dangerous confidences. I suppose that my queer
reputation for sanctity, half dreadful, half ridiculous,
surrounded me with a non-conducting atmosphere.

We are the victims of hallowed proverbs, and one of the most
classic of these tells us that 'the child is father of the man'.
But in my case I cannot think that this was true. In mature years
I have always been gregarious, a lover of my kind, dependent upon
the company of friends for the very pulse of moral life. To be
marooned, to be shut up in a solitary cell, to inhabit a
lighthouse, or to camp alone in a forest, these have always
seemed to me afflictions too heavy to be borne, even in
imagination. A state in which conversation exists not, is for me
an air too empty of oxygen for my lungs to breathe it.

Yet when I look back upon my days at boarding-school, I see
myself unattracted by any of the human beings around me. My
grown-up years are made luminous to me in memory by the ardent
faces of my friends, but I can scarce recall so much as the names
of more than two or three of my schoolfellows. There is not one
of them whose mind or whose character made any lasting impression
upon me. In later life, I have been impatient of solitude, and
afraid of it; at school, I asked for no more than to slip out of
the hurly-burly and be alone with my reflections and my fancies.
That magnetism of humanity which has been the agony of mature
years, of this I had not a trace when I was a boy. Of those
fragile loves to which most men look back with tenderness and
passion, emotions to be explained only as Montaigne explained
them, parceque c'etait lui, parceque c'etait moi, I knew nothing.
I, to whom friendship has since been like sunlight and like
sleep, left school unbrightened and unrefreshed by commerce with
a single friend.

If I had been clever, I should doubtless have attracted the
jealousy of my fellows, but I was spared this by the mediocrity
of my success in the classes. One little fact I may mention,
because it exemplifies the advance in observation which has been
made in forty years. I was extremely nearsighted, and in
consequence was placed at a gross disadvantage, by being unable
to see the slate or the black-board on which our tasks were
explained. It seems almost incredible, when one reflects upon it,
but during the whole of my school life, this fact was never
commented upon or taken into account by a single person, until
the Polish lady who taught us the elements of German and French
drew someone's attention to it in my sixteenth year. I was not
quick, but I passed for being denser than I was because of the
myopic haze that enveloped me. But this is not an autobiography,
and with the cold and shrouded details of my uninteresting school
life I will not fatigue the reader.

I was not content, however, to be the cipher that I found myself,
and when I had been at school for about a year, I 'broke out',
greatly, I think, to my own surprise, in a popular act. We had a
young usher whom we disliked. I suppose, poor half-starved
phthisic lad, that he was the most miserable of us all. He was, I
think, unfitted for the task which had been forced upon him; he
was fretful, unsympathetic, agitated. The school-house, an old
rambling place, possessed a long cellar--like room that opened
from our general corridor and was lighted by deep windows,
carefully barred, which looked into an inner garden. This vault
was devoted to us and to our play-boxes: by a tacit law, no
master entered it. One evening, just at dusk, a great number of
us were here when the bell for night-school rang, and many of us
dawdled at the summons. Mr B., tactless in his anger, bustled in
among us, scolding in a shrill voice, and proceeded to drive us
forth. I was the latest to emerge, and as he turned away to see
if any other truant might not be hiding, I determined upon
action. With a quick movement, I drew the door behind me and
bolted it, just in time to hear the imprisoned usher scream with
vexation. We boys all trooped upstairs and it is characteristic
of my isolation that I had not one 'chum' to whom I could confide
my feat.

That Mr. B. had been shut in became, however, almost instantly
known, and the night-class, usually so unruly, was awed by the
event into exemplary decorum. There, with no master near us, in a
silence rarely broken by a giggle or a catcall, we sat diligently
working, or pretending to work. Through my brain, as I hung over
my book a thousand new thoughts began to surge. I was the
liberator, the tyrannicide; I had freed all my fellows from the
odious oppressor. Surely, when they learned that it was I, they
would cluster round me; surely, now, I should be somebody in the
school-life, no longer a mere trotting shadow or invisible
presence. The interval seemed long; at length Mr B. was released
by a servant, and he came up into the school-room to find us in
that ominous condition of suspense.

At first he said nothing. He sank upon a chair in a half-fainting
attitude, while he pressed his hand to his side; his distress and
silence redoubled the boys' surprise, and filled me with
something like remorse. For the first time, I reflected that he
was human, that perhaps he suffered. He rose presently and took a
slate, upon which he wrote two questions: 'Did you do it?' 'Do
you know who did?' and these he propounded to each boy in
rotation. The prompt, redoubled 'No' in every case seemed to pile
up his despair.

One of the last to whom he held, in silence, the trembling slate
was the perpetrator. As I saw the moment approach, an unspeakable
timidity swept over me. I reflected that no one had seen me, that
no one could accuse me. Nothing could be easier or safer than to
deny, nothing more perplexing to the enemy, nothing less perilous
for the culprit. A flood of plausible reasons invaded my brain; I
seemed to see this to be a case in which to tell the truth would
be not merely foolish, it would be wrong. Yet when the usher
stood before me, holding the slate out in his white and shaking
hand, I seized the pencil, and, ignoring the first question, I
wrote 'Yes' firmly against the second. I suppose that the
ambiguity of this action puzzled Mr B. He pressed me to answer:
'Did you do it?' but to that I was obstinately dumb; and away I
was hurried to an empty bed-room, where for the whole of that
night and the next day I was held a prisoner, visited at
intervals by the headmaster and other inquisitorial persons,
until I was gradually persuaded to make a full confession and

This absurd little incident had one effect, it revealed me to my
schoolfellows as an existence. From that time forth I lay no
longer under the stigma of invisibility; I had produced my
material shape and had thrown my shadow for a moment into a
legend. But, in other respects, things went on much as before.

Curiously uninfluenced by my surroundings, I in my turn failed to
exercise influence, and my practical isolation was no less than
it had been before. It was thus that it came about that my social
memories of my boarding-school life are monotonous and vague. It
was a period during which, as it appears to me now on looking
back, the stream of my spiritual nature spread out into a shallow
pool which was almost stagnant. I was labouring to gain those
elements of conventional knowledge, which had, in many cases, up
to that time been singularly lacking. But my brain was starved,
and my intellectual perceptions were veiled. Elder persons who in
later years would speak to me frankly of my school-days assured
me that, while I had often struck them as a smart and quaint and
even interesting child, all promise seemed to fade out of me as a
schoolboy, and that those who were most inclined to be indulgent
gave up the hope that I should prove a man in a way remarkable.
This was particularly the case with the most indulgent of my
protectors, my refined and gentle stepmother.

As this record can, however, have no value that is not based on
its rigorous adhesion to the truth, I am bound to say that the
dreariness and sterility of my school-life were more apparent
than real. I was pursuing certain lines of moral and mental
development all the time, and since my schoolmasters and my
school fellows combined in thinking me so dull, I will display a
tardy touch of 'proper spirit' and ask whether it may not partly
have been because they were themselves so commonplace. I think
that if some drops of sympathy, that magic dew of Paradise, had
fallen upon my desert, it might have blossomed like the rose, or,
at all events, like that chimerical flower, the Rose of Jericho.
As it was, the conventionality around me, the intellectual
drought, gave me no opportunity of outward growth. They did not
destroy, but they cooped up, and rendered slow and inefficient,
that internal life which continued, as I have said, to live on
unseen. This took the form of dreams and speculations, in the
course of which I went through many tortuous processes of the
mind, the actual aims of which were futile, although the
movements themselves were useful. If I may more minutely define
my meaning, I would say that in my schooldays, without possessing
thoughts, I yet prepared my mind for thinking, and learned how to

The great subject of my curiosity at this time was words, as
instruments of expression. I was incessant in adding to my
vocabulary, and in finding accurate and individual terms for
things. Here, too, the exercise preceded the employment, since I
was busy providing myself with words before I had any ideas to
express with them. When I read Shakespeare and came upon the
passage in which Prospero tells Caliban that he had no thoughts
until his master taught him words, I remember starting with
amazement at the poet's intuition, for such a Caliban had I been:

I pitied thee,
Took pains to make thee speak, taught thee each hour
One thing or other, when thou didst not, savage,
Know thine own meaning, but wouldst gabble, like
A thing most brutish; I endow'd thy purposes
With words that made them know.

For my Prosperos I sought vaguely in such books as I had access
to, and I was conscious that as the inevitable word seized hold
of me, with it out of the darkness into strong light came the
image and the idea.

My Father possessed a copy of Bailey's Etymological Dictionary, a
book published early in the eighteenth century. Over this I would
pore for hours, playing with the words in a fashion which I can
no longer reconstruct, and delighting in the savour of the rich,
old-fashioned country phrases. My Father finding me thus
employed, fell to wondering at the nature of my pursuit, and I
could offer him, indeed, no very intelligible explanation of it.
He urged me to give up such idleness, and to make practical use
of language. For this purpose he conceived an exercise which he
obliged me to adopt, although it was hateful to me. He sent me
forth, it might be, up the lane to Warbury Hill and round home by
the copses; or else down one chine to the sea and along the
shingle to the next cutting in the cliff, and so back by way of
the village; and he desired me to put down, in language as full
as I could, all that I had seen in each excursion. As I have
said, this practice was detestable and irksome to me, but, as I
look back, I am inclined to believe it to have been the most
salutary, the most practical piece of training which my Father
ever gave me. It forced me to observe sharply and clearly, to
form visual impressions, to retain them in the brain, and to
clothe them in punctilious and accurate language.

It was in my fifteenth year that I became again, this time
intelligently, acquainted with Shakespeare. I got hold of a
single play, The Tempest, in a school edition, prepared, I
suppose, for one of the university examinations which were then
being instituted in the provinces. This I read through and
through, not disdaining the help of the notes, and revelling in
the glossary. I studied The Tempest as I had hitherto studied no
classic work, and it filled my whole being with music and
romance. This book was my own hoarded possession; the rest of
Shakespeare's works were beyond my hopes. But gradually I
contrived to borrow a volume here and a volume there. I completed
The Merchant of Venice, read Cymbeline, Julius Caesar and Much
Ado; most of the others, I think, remained closed to me for a
long time. But these were enough to steep my horizon with all the
colours of sunrise. It was due, no doubt, to my bringing up, that
the plays never appealed to me as bounded by the exigencies of a
stage or played by actors. The images they raised in my mind were
of real people moving in the open air, and uttering, in the
natural play of life, sentiments that were clothed in the most
lovely, and yet, as it seemed to me, the most obvious and the
most inevitable language.

It was while I was thus under the full spell of the Shakespearean
necromancy that a significant event occurred. My Father took me
up to London for the first time since my infancy. Our visit was
one of a few days only, and its purpose was that we might take
part in some enormous Evangelical conference. We stayed in a dark
hotel off the Strand, where I found the noise by day and night
very afflicting. When we were not at the conference, I spent long
hours, among crumbs and bluebottle flies, in the coffee-room of
this hotel, my Father being busy at the British Museum and the
Royal Society. The conference was held in an immense hall,
somewhere in the north of London. I remember my short-sighted
sense of the terrible vastness of the crowd, with rings on rings
of dim white faces fading in the fog. My Father, as a privileged
visitor, was obliged with seats on the platform, and we were in
the heart of the first really large assemblage of persons that I
had ever seen.

The interminable ritual of prayers, hymns and addresses left no
impression on my memory, but my attention was suddenly stung into
life by a remark. An elderly man, fat and greasy, with a voice
like a bassoon, and an imperturbable assurance, was denouncing
the spread of infidelity, and the lukewarmness of professing
Christians, who refrained from battling with the wickedness at
their doors. They were like the Laodiceans, whom the angel of the
Apocalypse spewed out of his mouth. For instance, who, the orator
asked, is now rising to check the outburst of idolatry in our
midst? 'At this very moment,' he went on, 'there is proceeding,
unreproved, a blasphemous celebration of the birth of
Shakespeare, a lost soul now suffering for his sins in hell!' My
sensation was that of one who has suddenly been struck on the
head; stars and sparks beat around me. If some person I loved had
been grossly insulted in my presence, I could not have felt more
powerless in anguish. No one in that vast audience raised a word
of protest, and my spirits fell to their nadir. This, be it
remarked, was the earliest intimation that had reached me of the
tercentenary of the Birth at Stratford, and I had not the least
idea what could have provoked the outburst of outraged godliness.

But Shakespeare was certainly in the air. When we returned to the
hotel that noon, my Father of his own accord reverted to the
subject. I held my breath, prepared to endure fresh torment. What
he said, however, surprised and relieved me. 'Brother So and So,'
he remarked, 'was not, in my judgement, justified in saying what
he did. The uncovenanted mercies of God are not revealed to us.
Before so rashly speaking of Shakespeare as "a lost soul in
hell", he should have remembered how little we know of the poet's
history. The light of salvation was widely disseminated in the
land during the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and we cannot know that
Shakespeare did not accept the atonement of Christ in simple
faith before he came to die.' The concession will today seem
meagre to gay and worldly spirits, but words cannot express how
comfortable it was to me. I gazed at my Father with loving eyes
across the cheese and celery, and if the waiter had not been
present I believe I might have hugged him in my arms.

This anecdote may serve to illustrate the attitude of my
conscience, at this time, with regard to theology. I was not
consciously in any revolt against the strict faith in which I had
been brought up, but I could not fail to be aware of the fact
that literature tempted me to stray up innumerable paths which
meandered in directions at right angles to that direct strait way
which leadeth to salvation. I fancied, if I may pursue the image,
that I was still safe up these pleasant lanes if I did not stray
far enough to lose sight of the main road. If, for instance, it
had been quite certain that Shakespeare had been irrecoverably
damnable and damned, it would scarcely have been possible for me
to have justified myself in going on reading Cymbeline. One who
broke bread with the Saints every Sunday morning, who 'took a
class' at Sunday school, who made, as my Father loved to remind
me, a public weekly confession of his willingness to bear the
Cross of Christ, such an one could hardly, however bewildering
and torturing the thought, continue to admire a lost soul. But
that happy possibility of an ultimate repentance, how it eased
me! I could always console myself with the belief that when
Shakespeare wrote any passage of intoxicating beauty, it was just
then that he was beginning to breathe the rapture that faith in
Christ brings to the anointed soul. And it was with a like
casuistry that I condoned my other intellectual and personal

My Father continued to be under the impression that my boarding-
school, which he never again visited after originally leaving me
there, was conducted upon the same principles as his own
household. I was frequently tempted to enlighten him, but I never
found the courage to do so. As a matter of fact the piety of the
establishment, which collected to it the sons of a large number
of evangelically minded parents throughout that part of the
country, resided mainly in the prospectus. It proceeded no
further than the practice of reading the Bible aloud, each boy in
successive order one verse, in the early morning before
breakfast. There was no selection and no exposition; where the
last boy sat, there the day's reading ended, even if it were in
the middle of a sentence, and there it began next morning.

Such reading of 'the chapter' was followed by a long dry prayer.
I do not know that this morning service would appear more
perfunctory than usual to other boys, but it astounded and
disgusted me, accustomed as I was to the ministrations at home,
where my Father read 'the word of God' in a loud passionate
voice, with dramatic emphasis, pausing for commentary and
paraphrase, and treating every phrase as if it were part of a
personal message or of thrilling family history. At school,
'morning prayer' was a dreary, unintelligible exercise, and with
this piece of mumbo-jumbo, religion for the day began and ended.
The discretion of little boys is extraordinary. I am quite
certain no one of us ever revealed this fact to our godly parents
at home.

If any one was to do this, it was of course I who should first of
all have 'testified'. But I had grown cautious about making
confidences. One never knew how awkwardly they might develop or
to what disturbing excesses of zeal they might precipitously
lead. I was on my guard against my Father, who was, all the time,
only too openly yearning that I should approach him for help, for
comfort, for ghostly counsel. Still 'delicate', though steadily
gaining in solidity of constitution, I was liable to severe
chills and to fugitive neuralgic pangs. My Father was, almost
maddeningly, desirous that these afflictions should be sanctified
to me, and it was in my bed, often when I was much bowed in
spirit by indisposition, that he used to triumph over me most
pitilessly. He retained the singular superstition, amazing in a
man of scientific knowledge and long human experience, that all
pains and ailments were directly sent by the Lord in chastisement
for some definite fault, and not in relation to any physical
cause. The result was sometimes quite startling, and in
particular I recollect that my stepmother and I exchanged
impressions of astonishment at my Father's action when Mrs.
Goodyer, who was one of the 'Saints' and the wife of a young
journeyman cobbler, broke her leg. My Father, puzzled for an
instant as to the meaning of this accident, since Mrs. Goodyer
was the gentlest and most inoffensive of our church members,
decided that it must be because she had made an idol of her
husband, and he reduced the poor thing to tears by standing at
her bed-side and imploring the Holy Spirit to bring this sin home
to her conscience.

When, therefore, I was ill at home with one of my trifling
disorders, the problem of my spiritual state always pressed
violently upon my Father, and this caused me no little mental
uneasiness. He would appear at my bedside, with solemn
solicitude, and sinking on his knees would earnestly pray aloud
that the purpose of the Lord in sending me this affliction might
graciously be made plain to me; and then, rising, and standing by
my pillow, he would put me through a searching spiritual inquiry
as to the fault which was thus divinely indicated to me as
observed and reprobated on high.

It was not on points of moral behaviour that he thus cross-
examined me; I think he disdained such ignoble game as that. But
uncertainties of doctrine, relinquishment of faith in the purity
of this dogma or of that, lukewarm zeal in 'taking up the cross
of Christ', growth of intellectual pride,--such were the
insidious offences in consequence of which, as he supposed, the
cold in the head or the toothache had been sent as heavenly
messengers to recall my straggling conscience to its plain path
of duty.

What made me very uncomfortable on these occasions was my
consciousness that confinement to bed was hardly an affliction at
all. It kept me from the boredom of school, in a fire-lit bedroom
at home, with my pretty, smiling stepmother lavishing luxurious
attendance upon me, and it gave me long, unbroken days for
reading. I was awkwardly aware that I simply had not the
effrontery to 'approach the Throne of Grace' with a request to
know for what sin I was condemned to such a very pleasant
disposition of my hours.

The current of my life ran, during my schooldays, most merrily
and fully in the holidays, when I resumed my outdoor exercises
with those friends in the village of whom I have spoken earlier.
I think they were more refined and better bred than any of my
schoolfellows, at all events it was among these homely companions
alone that I continued to form congenial and sympathetic
relations. In one of these boys,--one of whom I have heard or
seen nothing now for nearly a generation,--I found tastes
singularly parallel to my own, and we scoured the horizon in
search of books in prose and verse, but particularly in verse.

As I grew stronger in muscle, I was capable of adding
considerably to my income by an exercise of my legs. I was
allowed money for the railway ticket between the town where the
school lay and the station nearest to my home. But, if I chose to
walk six or seven miles along the coast, thus more than halving
the distance by rail from school house to home, I might spend as
pocket money the railway fare I thus saved. Such considerable
sums I fostered in order to buy with them editions of the poets.
These were not in those days, as they are now, at the beck and
call of every purse, and the attainment of each little
masterpiece was a separate triumph. In particular I shall never
forget the excitement of reaching at length the exorbitant price
the bookseller asked for the only, although imperfect, edition of
the poems of S. T. Coleridge. At last I could meet his demand,
and my friend and I went down to consummate the solemn purchase.
Coming away with our treasure, we read aloud from the orange
coloured volume, in turns, as we strolled along, until at last we
sat down on the bulging root of an elm tree in a secluded lane.
Here we stayed, in a sort of poetical nirvana, reading, reading,
forgetting the passage of time, until the hour of our neglected
mid-day meal was a long while past, and we had to hurry home to
bread and cheese and a scolding.

There was occasionally some trouble about my reading, but now not
much nor often. I was rather adroit, and careful not to bring
prominently into sight anything of a literary kind which could
become a stone of stumbling. But, when I was nearly sixteen, I
made a purchase which brought me into sad trouble, and was the
cause of a permanent wound to my self-respect. I had long coveted
in the bookshop window a volume in which the poetical works of
Ben Jonson and Christopher Marlowe were said to be combined. This
I bought at length, and I carried it with me to devour as I trod
the desolate road that brought me along the edge of the cliff on
Saturday afternoons. Of Ben Jonson I could make nothing, but when
I turned to 'Hero and Leander', I was lifted to a heaven of
passion and music. It was a marvellous revelation of romantic
beauty to me, and as I paced along that lonely and exquisite
highway, with its immense command of the sea, and its peeps every
now and then, through slanting thickets, far down to the snow-
white shingle, I lifted up my voice, singing the verses, as I
strolled along:

Buskins of shells, all silver'd, used she, And
branch'd with blushing coral to the knee,
Where sparrows perched, of hollow pearl and gold,
Such as the world would wonder to behold,--

so it went on, and I thought I had never read anything so

Amorous Leander, beautiful and young,
Whose tragedy divine Musaeus sung,--

it all seemed to my fancy intoxicating beyond anything I had ever
even dreamed of, since I had not yet become acquainted with any
of the modern romanticists.

When I reached home, tired out with enthusiasm and exercise, I
must needs, so soon as I had eaten, search out my stepmother that
she might be a partner in my joys. It is remarkable to me now,
and a disconcerting proof of my still almost infantile innocence,
that, having induced her to settle to her knitting, I began,
without hesitation, to read Marlowe's voluptuous poem aloud to
that blameless Christian gentlewoman. We got on very well in the
opening, but at the episode of Cupid's pining, my stepmother's
needles began nervously to clash, and when we launched on the
description of Leander's person, she interrupted me by saying,
rather sharply, 'Give me that book, please, I should like to read
the rest to myself.' I resigned the reading in amazement, and was
stupefied to see her take the volume, shut it with a snap and
hide it under her needlework. Nor could I extract from her
another word on the subject.

The matter passed from my mind, and I was therefore extremely
alarmed when, soon after my going to bed that night, my Father
came into my room with a pale face and burning eyes, the prey of
violent perturbation. He set down the candle and stood by the
bed, and it was some time before he could resolve on a form of
speech. Then he denounced me, in unmeasured terms, for bringing
into the house, for possessing at all or reading, so abominable a
book. He explained that my stepmother had shown it to him, and
that he had looked through it, and had burned it.

The sentence in his tirade which principally affected me was
this. He said, 'You will soon be leaving us, and going up to
lodgings in London, and if your landlady should come into your
room, and find such a book lying about, she would immediately set
you down as a profligate.' I did not understand this at all, and
it seems to me now that the fact that I had so very simply and
childishly volunteered to read the verses to my stepmother should
have proved to my Father that I connected it with no ideas of an
immoral nature.

I was greatly wounded and offended, but my indignation was
smothered up in the alarm and excitement which followed the news
that I was to go up to live in lodgings, and, as it was evident,
alone, in London. Of this no hint or whisper had previously
reached me. On reflection, I can but admit that my Father, who
was little accustomed to seventeenth-century literature, must
have come across some startling exposures in Ben Jonson, and
probably never reached 'Hero and Leander' at all. The artistic
effect of such poetry on an innocently pagan mind did not come
within the circle of his experience. He judged the outspoken
Elizabethan poets, no doubt, very much in the spirit of the
problematical landlady.

Of the world outside, of the dim wild whirlpool of London, I was
much afraid, but I was now ready to be willing to leave the
narrow Devonshire circle, to see the last of the red mud, of the
dreary village street, of the plethoric elders, to hear the last
of the drawling voices of the 'Saints'. Yet I had a great
difficulty in persuading myself that I could ever be happy away
from home, and again I compared my lot with that of one of the
speckled soldier-crabs that roamed about in my Father's aquarium,
dragging after them great whorl-shells. They, if by chance they
were turned out of their whelk-habitations, trailed about a pale
soft body in search of another house, visibly broken-hearted and
the victims of every ignominious accident.

My spirits were divided pathetically between the wish to stay on,
a guarded child, and to proceed into the world, a budding man,
and, in my utter ignorance, I sought in vain to conjure up what
my immediate future would be. My Father threw no light upon the
subject, for he had not formed any definite idea of what I could
possibly do to earn an honest living. As a matter of fact I was
to stay another year at school and home.

This last year of my boyish life passed rapidly and pleasantly.
My sluggish brain waked up at last and I was able to study with
application. In the public examinations I did pretty well, and
may even have been thought something of a credit to the school.
Yet I formed no close associations, and I even contrived to
avoid, as I had afterwards occasion to regret, such lessons as
were distasteful to me, and therefore particularly valuable. But
I read with unchecked voracity, and in several curious
directions. Shakespeare now passed into my possession entire, in
the shape of a reprint more hideous and more offensive to the
eyesight than would in these days appear conceivable. I made
acquaintance with Keats, who entirely captivated me; with
Shelley, whose 'Queen Mab' at first repelled me from the
threshold of his edifice; and with Wordsworth, for the exercise
of whose magic I was still far too young. My Father presented me
with the entire bulk of Southey's stony verse, which I found it
impossible to penetrate, but my stepmother lent me The Golden
Treasury, in which almost everything seemed exquisite.

Upon this extension of my intellectual powers, however, there did
not follow any spirit of doubt or hostility to the faith. On the
contrary, at first there came a considerable quickening of
fervour. My prayers became less frigid and mechanical; I no
longer avoided as far as possible the contemplation of religious
ideas; I began to search the Scriptures for myself with interest
and sympathy, if scarcely with ardour. I began to perceive,
without animosity, the strange narrowness of my Father's system,
which seemed to take into consideration only a selected circle of
persons, a group of disciples peculiarly illuminated, and to have
no message whatever for the wider Christian community.

On this subject I had some instructive conversations with my
Father, whom I found not reluctant to have his convictions pushed
to their logical extremity. He did not wish to judge, he
protested; but he could not admit that a single Unitarian (or
'Socinian', as he preferred to say) could possibly be redeemed;
and he had no hope of eternal salvation for the inhabitants of
Catholic countries. I recollect his speaking of Austria. He
questioned whether a single Austrian subject, except, as he said,
here and there a pious and extremely ignorant individual, who had
not comprehended the errors of the Papacy, but had humbly studied
his Bible, could hope to find eternal life. He thought that the
ordinary Chinaman or savage native of Fiji had a better chance of
salvation than any cardinal in the Vatican. And even in the
priesthood of the Church of England he believed that while many
were called, few indeed would be found to have been chosen.

I could not sympathize, even in my then state of ignorance, with
so rigid a conception of the Divine mercy. Little inclined as I
was to be sceptical, I still thought it impossible, that a secret
of such stupendous importance should have been entrusted to a
little group of Plymouth Brethren, and have been hidden from
millions of disinterested and pious theologians. That the leaders
of European Christianity were sincere, my Father did not attempt
to question. But they were all of them wrong, incorrect; and no
matter how holy their lives, how self--sacrificing their actions,
they would have to suffer for their inexactitude through aeons of
undefined torment. He would speak with a solemn complacency of
the aged nun, who, after a long life of renunciation and
devotion, died at last, 'only to discover her mistake'.

He who was so tender-hearted that he could not bear to witness
the pain or distress of any person, however disagreeable or
undeserving, was quite acquiescent in believing that God would
punish human beings, in millions, for ever, for a purely
intellectual error of comprehension. My Father's inconsistencies
of perception seem to me to have been the result of a curious
irregularity of equipment. Taking for granted, as he did, the
absolute integrity of the Scriptures, and applying to them his
trained scientific spirit, he contrived to stifle, with a
deplorable success, alike the function of the imagination, the
sense of moral justice, and his own deep and instinctive
tenderness of heart.

There presently came over me a strong desire to know what
doctrine indeed it was that the other Churches taught. I
expressed a wish to be made aware of the practices of Rome, or at
least of Canterbury, and I longed to attend the Anglican and the
Roman services. But to do so was impossible. My Father did not,
indeed, forbid me to enter the fine parish church of our village,
or the stately Puginesque cathedral which Rome had just erected
at its side, but I knew that I could not be seen at either
service without his immediately knowing it, or without his being
deeply wounded. Although I was sixteen years of age, and although
I was treated with indulgence and affection, I was still but a
bird fluttering in the net-work of my Father's will, and
incapable of the smallest independent action. I resigned all
thought of attending any other services than those at our 'Room',
but I did no longer regard this exclusion as a final one. I
bowed, but it was in the house of Rimmon, from which I now knew
that I must inevitably escape. All the liberation, however, which
I desired or dreamed of was only just so much as would bring me
into communion with the outer world of Christianity without
divesting me of the pure and simple principles of faith.

Of so much emancipation, indeed, I now became ardently desirous,
and in the contemplation of it I rose to a more considerable
degree of religious fervour than I had ever reached before or was
ever to experience later. Our thoughts were at this time
abundantly exercised with the expectation of the immediate coming
of the Lord, who, as my Father and those who thought with him
believed, would suddenly appear, without the least warning, and
would catch up to be with Him in everlasting glory all whom
acceptance of the Atonement had sealed for immortality. These
were, on the whole, not numerous, and our belief was that the
world, after a few days' amazement at the total disappearance of
these persons, would revert to its customary habits of life,
merely sinking more rapidly into a moral corruption due to the
removal of these souls of salt. This event an examination of
prophecy had led my Father to regard as absolutely imminent, and
sometimes, when we parted for the night, he would say with a
sparkling rapture in his eyes, 'Who knows? We may meet next in
the air, with all the cohorts of God's saints!'

This conviction I shared, without a doubt; and, indeed,--in
perfect innocency, I hope, but perhaps with a touch of slyness
too,--I proposed at the end of the summer holidays that I should
stay at home. 'What is the use of my going to school? Let me be
with you when we rise to meet the Lord in the air!' To this my
Father sharply and firmly replied that it was our duty to carry
on our usual avocations to the last, for we knew not the moment
of His coming, and we should be together in an instant on that
day, how far soever we might be parted upon earth. I was ashamed,
but his argument was logical, and, as it proved, judicious. My
Father lived for nearly a quarter of a century more, never losing
the hope of 'not tasting death', and as the last moments of
mortality approached, he was bitterly disappointed at what he
held to be a scanty reward of his long faith and patience. But if
my own life's work had been, as I proposed, shelved in
expectation of the Lord's imminent advent, I should have cumbered
the ground until this day.

To school, therefore, I returned with a brain full of strange
discords, in a huddled mixture of' Endymion' and the Book of
Revelation, John Wesley's hymns and 'Midsummer Night's Dream'.
Few boys of my age, I suppose, carried about with them such a
confused throng of immature impressions and contradictory hopes.
I was at one moment devoutly pious, at the next haunted by
visions of material beauty and longing for sensuous impressions.
In my hot and silly brain, Jesus and Pan held sway together, as
in a wayside chapel discordantly and impishly consecrated to
Pagan and to Christian rites. But for the present, as in the
great chorus which so marvellously portrays our double nature,
'the folding-star of Bethlehem' was still dominant. I became more
and more pietistic. Beginning now to versify, I wrote a tragedy
in pale imitation of Shakespeare, but on a Biblical and
evangelistic subject; and odes that were parodies of those in
'Prometheus Unbound', but dealt with the approaching advent of
our Lord and the rapture of His saints. My unwholesome
excitement, bubbling up in this violent way, reached at last a
climax and foamed over.

It was a summer afternoon, and, being now left very free in my
movements, I had escaped from going out with the rest of my
school-fellows in their formal walk in charge of an usher. I had
been reading a good deal of poetry, but my heart had translated
Apollo and Bacchus into terms of exalted Christian faith. I was
alone, and I lay on a sofa, drawn across a large open window at
the top of the school-house, in a room which was used as a study
by the boys who were 'going up for examination'. I gazed down on
a labyrinth of garden sloping to the sea, which twinkled faintly
beyond the towers of the town. Each of these gardens held a villa
in it, but all the near landscape below me was drowned in
foliage. A wonderful warm light of approaching sunset modelled
the shadows and set the broad summits of the trees in a rich
glow. There was an absolute silence below and around me; a magic
of suspense seemed to keep every topmost twig from waving.

Over my soul there swept an immense wave of emotion. Now, surely,
now the great final change must be approaching. I gazed up into
the tenderly-coloured sky, and I broke irresistibly into speech.
'Come now, Lord Jesus,' I cried, 'come now and take me to be for
ever with Thee in Thy Paradise. I am ready to come. My heart is
purged from sin, there is nothing that keeps me rooted to this
wicked world. Oh, come now, now, and take me before I have known
the temptations of life, before I have to go to London and all
the dreadful things that happen there!' And I raised myself on
the sofa, and leaned upon the window-sill, and waited for the
glorious apparition.

This was the highest moment of my religious life, the apex of my
striving after holiness. I waited awhile, watching; and then I
felt a faint shame at the theatrical attitude I had adopted,
although I was alone. Still I gazed and still I hoped. Then a
little breeze sprang up and the branches danced. Sounds began to
rise from the road beneath me. Presently the colour deepened, the
evening came on. From far below there rose to me the chatter of
the boys returning home. The tea--bell rang,--last word of prose
to shatter my mystical poetry. 'The Lord has not come, the Lord
will never come,' I muttered, and in my heart the artificial
edifice of extravagant faith began to totter and crumble. From
that moment forth my Father and I, though the fact was long
successfully concealed from him and even from myself, walked in
opposite hemispheres of the soul, with 'the thick o' the world
between us'.


THIS narrative, however, must not be allowed to close with the
Son in the foreground of the piece. If it has a value, that value
consists in what light it may contrive to throw upon the unique
and noble figure of the Father. With the advance of years, the
characteristics of this figure became more severely outlined,
more rigorously confined within settled limits. In relation to
the Son--who presently departed, at a very immature age, for the
new life in London--the attitude of the Father continued to be
one of extreme solicitude, deepening by degrees into
disappointment and disenchantment. He abated no jot or tittle of
his demands upon human frailty. He kept the spiritual cord drawn
tight; the Biblical bearing--rein was incessantly busy, jerking
into position the head of the dejected neophyte. That young soul,
removed from the Father's personal inspection, began to blossom
forth crudely and irregularly enough, into new provinces of
thought, through fresh layers of experience. To the painful
mentor at home in the West, the centre of anxiety was still the
meek and docile heart, dedicated to the Lord's service, which
must, at all hazards and with all defiance of the rules of life,
be kept unspotted from the world.

The torment of a postal inquisition began directly I was settled
in my London lodgings. To my Father--with his ample leisure, his
palpitating apprehension, his ready pen--the flow of
correspondence offered no trouble at all; it was a grave but
gratifying occupation. To me the almost daily letter of
exhortation, with its string of questions about conduct, its
series of warnings, grew to be a burden which could hardly be
borne, particularly because it involved a reply as punctual and
if possible as full as itself. At the age of seventeen, the
metaphysics of the soul are shadowy, and it is a dreadful thing
to be forced to define the exact outline of what is so undulating
and so shapeless. To my Father there seemed no reason why I
should hesitate to give answers of full metallic ring to his hard
and oft-repeated questions; but to me this correspondence was
torture. When I feebly expostulated, when I begged to be left a
little to myself, these appeals of mine automatically stimulated,
and indeed blew up into fierce flames, the ardour of my Father's

The letter, the only too-confidently expected letter, would lie
on the table as I descended to breakfast. It would commonly be,
of course, my only letter, unless tempered by a cosy and chatty
note from my dear and comfortable stepmother, dealing with such
perfectly tranquillizing subjects as the harvest of roses in the
garden or the state of health of various neighbours. But the
other, the solitary letter, in its threatening whiteness, with
its exquisitely penned address--there it would lie awaiting me,
destroying the taste of the bacon, reducing the flavour of the
tea to insipidity. I might fatuously dally with it, I might
pretend not to observe it, but there it lay. Before the morning's
exercise began, I knew that it had to be read, and what was
worse, that it had to be answered. Useless the effort to conceal
from myself what it contained. Like all its precursors, like all
its followers, it would insist, with every variety of appeal, on
a reiterated declaration that I still fully intended, as in the
days of my earliest childhood, 'to be on the Lord's side' in

In my replies, I would sometimes answer precisely as I was
desired to answer; sometimes I would evade the queries, and write
about other things; sometimes I would turn upon the tormentor,
and urge that my tender youth might be let alone. It little
mattered what form of weakness I put forth by way of baffling my
Father's direct, firm, unflinching strength. To an appeal against
the bondage of a correspondence of such unbroken solemnity I
would receive--with what a paralysing promptitude!--such a reply
as this:--

Let me say that the 'solemnity' you complain of has only been the
expression of tender anxiousness of a father's heart, that his
only child, just turned out upon the world, and very far out of
his sight and hearing, should be walking in God's way. Recollect
that it is not now as it was when you were at school, when we had
personal communication with you at intervals of five days-- we
now know absolutely nothing of you, save from your letters, and
if they do not indicate your spiritual prosperity, the deepest
solicitudes of our hearts have nothing to feed on. But I will try
henceforth to trust you, and lay aside my fears; for you are
worthy of my confidence; and your own God and your father's God
will hold you with His right hand.

Over such letters as these I am not ashamed to say that I
sometimes wept; the old paper I have just been copying shows
traces of tears shed upon it more than forty years ago, tears
commingled of despair at my own feebleness, distraction, at my
want of will, pity for my Father's manifest and pathetic
distress. He would 'try henceforth to trust' me, he said. Alas!
the effort would be in vain; after a day or two, after a hollow
attempt to write of other things, the importunate subject would
recur; there would intrude again the inevitable questions about
the Atonement and the Means of Grace, the old anxious fears lest
I was 'yielding' my intimacy to agreeable companions who were not
'one with me in Christ', fresh passionate entreaties to be
assured, in every letter, that I was walking in the clear light
of God's presence.

It seems to me now profoundly strange, although I knew too little
of the world to remark it at the time, that these incessant
exhortations dealt, not with conduct, but with faith. Earlier in
this narrative I have noted how disdainfully, with what an
austere pride, my Father refused to entertain the subject of
personal shortcomings in my behaviour. There were enough of them
to blame, Heaven knows, but he was too lofty-minded a gentleman
to dwell upon them, and, though by nature deeply suspicious of
the possibility of frequent moral lapses, even in the very elect,
he refused to stoop to anything like espionage.

I owe him a deep debt of gratitude for his beautiful faith in me
in this respect, and now that I was alone in London, at this
tender time of life, 'exposed', as they say, to all sorts of
dangers, as defenceless as a fledgling that has been turned out
of its nest, yet my Father did not, in his uplifted Quixotism,
allow himself to fancy me guilty of any moral misbehaviour, but
concentrated his fears entirely upon my faith.

'Let me know more of your inner light. Does the candle of the
Lord shine on your soul?' This would be the ceaseless inquiry.
Or, again, 'Do you get any spiritual companionship with young
men? You passed over last Sunday without even a word, yet this
day is the most interesting to me in your whole week. Do you find
the ministry of the Word pleasant, and, above all, profitable?
Does it bring your soul into exercise before God? The Coming of
Christ draweth nigh. Watch, therefore and pray always, that you
may be counted worthy to stand before the Son of Man.'

If I quote such passages as this from my Father's letters to me,
it is not that I seek entertainment in a contrast between his
earnestness and the casuistical inattention and provoked
distractedness of a young man to whom the real world now offered
its irritating and stimulating scenes of animal and intellectual
life, but to call out sympathy, and perhaps wonder, at the
spectacle of so blind a Roman firmness as my Father's spiritual
attitude displayed.

His aspirations were individual and metaphysical. At the present
hour, so complete is the revolution which has overturned the
puritanism of which he was perhaps the latest surviving type,
that all classes of religious persons combine in placing
philanthropic activity, the objective attitude, in the
foreground. It is extraordinary how far-reaching the change has
been, so that nowadays a religion which does not combine with its
subjective faith a strenuous labour for the good of others is
hardly held to possess any religious principle worth proclaiming.

This propaganda of beneficence, this constant attention to the
moral and physical improvement of persons who have been
neglected, is quite recent as a leading feature of religion,
though indeed it seems to have formed some part of the Saviour's
original design. It was unknown to the great preachers of the
seventeenth century, whether Catholic or Protestant, and it
offered but a shadowy attraction to my Father, who was the last
of their disciples. When Bossuet desired his hearers to listen to
the cri de misere l'entour de nous, qui devrait nous fondre le
coeur, he started a new thing in the world of theology. We may
search the famous 'Rule and Exercises of Holy Living' from cover
to cover, and not learn that Jeremy Taylor would have thought
that any activity of the district-visitor or the Salvation lassie
came within the category of saintliness.

My Father, then, like an old divine, concentrated on thoughts
upon the intellectual part of faith. In his obsession about me,
he believed that if my brain could be kept unaffected by any of
the seductive errors of the age, and my heart centred in the
adoring love of God, all would be well with me in perpetuity. He
was still convinced that by intensely directing my thoughts, he
could compel them to flow in a certain channel, since he had not
begun to learn the lesson, so mournful for saintly men of his
complexion, that 'virtue would not be virtue, could it be given
by one fellow creature to another'. He had recognized, with
reluctance, that holiness was not hereditary, but he continued to
hope that it might be compulsive. I was still 'the child of many
prayers', and it was not to be conceded that these prayers could
remain unanswered.

The great panacea was now, as always, the study of the Bible, and
this my Father never ceased to urge upon me. He presented to me a
copy of Dean Alford's edition of the Greek New Testament, in four
great volumes, and these he had had so magnificently bound in
full morocco that the work shone on my poor shelf of sixpenny
poets like a duchess among dairy maids. He extracted from me a
written promise that I would translate and meditate upon a
portion of the Greek text every morning before I started for
business. This promise I presently failed to keep, my good
intentions being undermined by an invincible ennui; I concealed
the dereliction from him, and the sense that I was deceiving my
Father ate into my conscience like a canker. But the dilemma was
now before me that I must either deceive my Father in such things
or paralyse my own character.

My growing distaste for the Holy Scriptures began to occupy my
thoughts, and to surprise as much as it scandalized me. My desire
was to continue to delight in those sacred pages, for which I
still had an instinctive veneration. Yet I could not but observe
the difference between the zeal with which I snatched at a volume
of Carlyle or Ruskin--since these magicians were now first
revealing themselves to me--and the increasing languor with which
I took up Alford for my daily 'passage'. Of course, although I
did not know it, and believed my reluctance to be sinful, the
real reason why I now found the Bible so difficult to read was my
familiarity with its contents. These had the colourless triteness
of a story retold a hundred times. I longed for something new,
something that would gratify curiosity and excite surprise.
Whether the facts and doctrines contained in the Bible were true
or false was not the question that appealed to me; it was rather
that they had been presented to me so often and had sunken into
me so far that, as someone has said, they 'lay bedridden in the
dormitory of the soul', and made no impression of any kind upon

It often amazed me, and I am still unable to understand the fact,
that my Father, through his long life--or until nearly the close
of it--continued to take an eager pleasure in the text of the
Bible. As I think I have already said, before he reached middle
life, he had committed practically the whole of it to memory, and
if started anywhere, even in a Minor Prophet, he could go on
without a break as long as ever he was inclined for that
exercise. He, therefore, at no time can have been assailed by the
satiety of which I have spoken, and that it came so soon to me I
must take simply as an indication of difference of temperament.
It was not possible, even through the dark glass of
correspondence, to deceive his eagle eye in this matter, and his
suspicions accordingly took another turn. He conceived me to have
become, or to be becoming, a victim of 'the infidelity of the
In this new difficulty, he appealed to forms of modern literature
by the side of which the least attractive pages of Leviticus or
Deuteronomy struck me as even thrilling. In particular, he urged
upon me a work, then just published, called The Continuity of
Scripture by William Page Wood, afterwards Lord Chancellor
Hatherley. I do not know why he supposed that the lucubrations of
an exemplary lawyer, delivered in a style that was like the
trickling of sawdust, would succeed in rousing emotions which the
glorious rhetoric of the Orient had failed to awaken; but Page
Wood had been a Sunday School teacher for thirty years, and my
Father was always unduly impressed by the acumen of pious

As time went on, and I grew older and more independent in mind,
my Father's anxiety about what he called 'the pitfalls and snares
which surround on every hand the thoughtless giddy youth of
London' became extremely painful to himself. By harping in
private upon these 'pitfalls'--which brought to my imagination a
funny rough woodcut in an old edition of Bunyan, where a devil
was seen capering over a sort of box let neatly into the ground--
he worked himself up into a frame of mind which was not a little
irritating to his hapless correspondent, who was now 'snared'
indeed, limed by the pen like a bird by the feet, and could not
by any means escape. To a peck or a flutter from the bird the
implacable fowler would reply:

You charge me with being suspicious, and I fear I cannot deny the
charge. But I can appeal to your own sensitive and thoughtful
mind for a considerable allowance. My deep and tender love for
you; your youth and inexperience; the examples of other young
men; your distance from parental counsel; our absolute and
painful ignorance of all the details of your daily life, except
what you yourself tell us:--try to throw yourself into the
standing of a parent, and say if my suspiciousness is
unreasonable. I rejoicingly acknowledge that from all I see you
are pursuing a virtuous, steady, worthy course. One good thing my
suspiciousness does:--ever and anon it brings out from you
assurances, which greatly refresh and comfort me. And again, it
carries me ever to God's Throne of Grace on your behalf Holy Job
suspected that his sons might have sinned, and cursed God in
their heart. Was not his suspicion much like mine, grounded on
the same reasons and productive of the same results? For it drove
him to God in intercession. I have adduced the example of this
Patriarch before, and he will endure being looked at again.

In fact, Holy Job continued to be frequently looked at, and for
this Patriarch I came to experience a hatred which was as
venomous as it was undeserved. But what youth of eighteen would
willingly be compared with the sons of Job And indeed, for my
part, I felt much more like that justly exasperated character,
Elihu the Buzite, of the kindred of Ram.

As time went on, the peculiar strain of inquisition was relaxed,
and I endured fewer and fewer of the torments of religious
correspondence. Nothing abides in one tense projection, and my
Father, resolute as he was, had other preoccupations. His
orchids, his microscope, his physiological researches, his
interpretations of prophecy, filled up the hours of his active
and strenuous life, and, out of his sight, I became not indeed
out of his mind, but no longer ceaselessly in the painful
foreground of it. Yet, although the reiteration of his anxiety
might weary him a little as it had wearied me well nigh to groans
of despair, there was not the slightest change in his real
attitude towards the subject or towards me.

I have already had occasion to say that he had nothing of the
mystic or the visionary about him. At certain times and on
certain points, he greatly desired that signs and wonders, such
as had astonished and encouraged the infancy of the Christian
Church, might again be vouchsafed to it, but he did not pretend
to see such miracles himself, nor give the slightest credence to
others who asserted that they did. He often congratulated himself
on the fact that although his mind dwelt so constantly on
spiritual matters it was never betrayed into any suspension of
the rational functions.

Cross-examination by letter slackened, but on occasion of my
brief and usually summer visits to Devonshire I suffered acutely
from my Father's dialectical appetites. He was surrounded by
peasants, on whom the teeth of his arguments could find no
purchase. To him, in that intellectual Abdera, even an unwilling
youth from London offered opportunities of pleasant contest. He
would declare himself ready, nay eager, for argument. With his
mental sleeves turned up, he would adopt a fighting attitude, and
challenge me to a round on any portion of the Scheme of Grace.
His alacrity was dreadful to me, his well-aimed blows fell on
what was rather a bladder or a pillow than a vivid antagonist.

He was, indeed, most unfairly handicapped,--I was naked, he in a
suit of chain armour,--for he had adopted a method which I
thought, and must still think, exceedingly unfair. He assumed
that he had private knowledge of the Divine Will, and he would
meet my temporizing arguments by asseverations,--'So sure as my
God liveth!' or by appeals to a higher authority,--'But what does
my Lord tell me in Paul's Letter to the Philippians?' It was the
prerogative of his faith to know, and of his character to
overpower objection; between these two millstones I was rapidly
ground to powder.

These 'discussions', as they were rather ironically called,
invariably ended for me in disaster. I was driven out of my
papier-mache fastnesses, my canvas walls rocked at the first peal
from my Father's clarion, and the foe pursued me across the
plains of Jericho until I lay down ignominiously and covered my
face. I seemed to be pushed with horns of iron, such as those
which Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah prepared for the
encouragement of Ahab.

When I acknowledged defeat and cried for quarter, my Father would
become radiant, and I still seem to hear the sound of his full
voice, so thrilling, so warm, so painful to my over-strained
nerves, bursting forth in a sort of benediction at the end of
each of these one-sided contentions, with 'I bow my knees unto
the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that He would grant you,
according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with
might by His Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in
your heart by faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love,
may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth,
and length, and depth, and height, and to know the love of Christ
which passeth knowledge, that you might be filled with the
fullness of God.'

Thus solemn and thus ceremonious was my Father apt to become,
without a moment's warning, on plain and domestic occasions;
abruptly brimming over with emotion like a basin which an unseen
flow of water has filled and over-filled.

I earnestly desire that no trace of that absurd self-pity which
is apt to taint recollections of this nature should give falsity
to mine. My Father, let me say once more, had other interests
than those of his religion. In particular, at this time, he took
to painting in water-colours in the open air, and he resumed the
assiduous study of botany. He was no fanatical monomaniac.
Nevertheless, there was, in everything he did and said, the
central purpose present. He acknowledged it plainly; 'with me,'
he confessed, 'every question assumes a Divine standpoint and is
not adequately answered if the judgement-seat of Christ is not
kept in sight.'

This was maintained whether the subject under discussion was
poetry, or society, or the Prussian war with Austria, or the
stamen of a wild flower. Once, at least, he was himself conscious
of the fatiguing effect on my temper of this insistency, for,
raising his great brown eyes with a flash of laughter in them, he
closed the Bible suddenly after a very lengthy disquisition, and
quoted his Virgil to startling effect:--

Claudite jam rivos, pueri: Sat prata biberunt.

The insistency of his religious conversation was, probably, the
less incomprehensible to me on account of the evangelical
training to which I had been so systematically subjected. It was,
however, none the less intolerably irksome, and would have been
exasperating, I believe, even to a nature in which a powerful and
genuine piety was inherent. To my own, in which a feeble and
imitative faith was expiring, it was deeply vexatious. It led,
alas! to a great deal of bowing in the house of Rimmon, to much
hypocritical ingenuity in drawing my Father's attention away, if
possible, as the terrible subject was seen to be looming and
approaching. In this my stepmother would aid and abet, sometimes
producing incongruous themes, likely to attract my Father aside,
with a skill worthy of a parlour conjurer, and much to my
admiration. If, however, she was not unwilling to come, in this
way, to the support of my feebleness, there was no open collusion
between us. She always described my Father, when she was alone
with me, admiringly, as one 'whose trumpet gave no uncertain
sound'. There was not a tinge of infidelity upon her candid mind,
but she was human, and I think that now and then she was
extremely bored.

My Father was entirely devoid of the prudence which turns away
its eyes and passes as rapidly as possible in the opposite
direction. The peculiar kind of drama in which every sort of
social discomfort is welcomed rather than that the characters
should be happy when guilty of 'acting a lie', was not invented
in those days, and there can hardly be imagined a figure more
remote from my Father than Ibsen. Yet when I came, at a far later
date, to read The Wild Duck, memories of the embarrassing
household of my infancy helped me to realize Gregers Werle, with
his determination to pull the veil of illusion away from every
compromise that makes life bearable.

I was docile, I was plausible, I was anything but combative; if
my Father could have persuaded himself to let me alone, if he
could merely have been willing to leave my subterfuges and my
explanations unanalysed, all would have been well. But he refused
to see any difference in temperament between a lad of twenty and
a sage of sixty. He had no vital sympathy for youth, which in
itself had no charm for him. He had no compassion for the
weaknesses of immaturity, and his one and only anxiety was to be
at the end of his spiritual journey, safe with me in the house
where there are many mansions. The incidents of human life upon
the road to glory were less than nothing to him.

My Father was very fond of defining what was his own attitude at
this time, and he was never tired of urging the same ambition
upon me. He regarded himself as the faithful steward of a Master
who might return at any moment, and who would require to find
everything ready for his convenience. That master was God, with
whom my Father seriously believed himself to be in relations much
more confidential than those vouchsafed to ordinary pious
persons. He awaited, with anxious hope, 'the coming of the Lord',
an event which he still frequently believed to be imminent. He
would calculate, by reference to prophecies in the Old and New
Testament, the exact date of this event; the date would pass,
without the expected Advent, and he would be more than
disappointed,--he would be incensed. Then he would understand
that he must have made some slight error in calculation, and the
pleasures of anticipation would recommence.

Me in all this he used as a kind of inferior coadjutor, much as a
responsible and upper servant might use a footboy. I, also, must
be watching; it was not important that I should be seriously
engaged in any affairs of my own. I must be ready for the
Master's coming; and my Father's incessant cross-examination was
made in the spirit of a responsible servant who fidgets lest some
humble but essential piece of household work has been neglected.

My holidays, however, and all my personal relations with my
Father were poisoned by this insistency. I was never at my ease
in his company; I never knew when I might not be subjected to a
series of searching questions which I should not be allowed to
evade. Meanwhile, on every other stage of experience I was
gaining the reliance upon self and the respect for the opinion of
others which come naturally to a young man of sober habits who
earns his own living and lives his own life. For this kind of
independence my Father had no respect or consideration, when
questions of religion were introduced, although he handsomely
conceded it on other points. And now first there occurred to me
the reflection, which in years to come I was to repeat over and
over, with an ever sadder emphasis,--what a charming companion,
what a delightful parent, what a courteous and engaging friend my
Father would have been, and would pre-eminently have been to me,
if it had not been for this stringent piety which ruined it all.

Let me speak plainly. After my long experience, after my patience
and forbearance, I have surely the right to protest against the
untruth (would that I could apply to it any other word!) that
evangelical religion, or any religion in a violent form, is a
wholesome or valuable or desirable adjunct to human life. It
divides heart from heart. It sets up a vain, chimerical ideal, in
the barren pursuit of which all the tender, indulgent affections,
all the genial play of life, all the exquisite pleasures and soft
resignations of the body, all that enlarges and calms the soul
are exchanged for what is harsh and void and negative. It
encourages a stern and ignorant spirit of condemnation; it throws
altogether out of gear the healthy movement of the conscience; it
invents virtues which are sterile and cruel; it invents sins
which are no sins at all, but which darken the heaven of innocent
joy with futile clouds of remorse. There is something horrible,
if we will bring ourselves to face it, in the fanaticism that can
do nothing with this pathetic and fugitive existence of ours but
treat it as if it were the uncomfortable ante-chamber to a palace
which no one has explored and of the plan of which we know
absolutely nothing. My Father, it is true, believed that he was
intimately acquainted with the form and furniture of this
habitation, and he wished me to think of nothing else but of the
advantages of an eternal residence in it.

Then came a moment when my self-sufficiency revolted against the
police-inspection to which my 'views' were incessantly subjected.
There was a morning, in the hot-house at home, among the gorgeous
waxen orchids which reminded my Father of the tropics in his
youth, when my forbearance or my timidity gave way. The enervated
air, soaked with the intoxicating perfumes of all those
voluptuous flowers, may have been partly responsible for my
outburst. My Father had once more put to me the customary
interrogatory. Was I 'walking closely with God'? Was my sense of
the efficacy of the Atonement clear and sound? Had the Holy
Scriptures still their full authority with me? My replies on this
occasion were violent and hysterical. I have no clear
recollection what it was that I said,--I desire not to recall the
whimpering sentences in which I begged to be let alone, in which
I demanded the right to think for myself, in which I repudiated
the idea that my Father was responsible to God for my secret
thoughts and my most intimate convictions.

He made no answer; I broke from the odorous furnace of the
conservatory, and buried my face in the cold grass upon the lawn.
My visit to Devonshire, already near its close, was hurried to an
end. I had scarcely arrived in London before the following
letter, furiously despatched in the track of the fugitive, buried
itself like an arrow in my heart:

When your sainted Mother died, she not only tenderly committed
you to God, but left you also as a solemn charge to me, to bring
you up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. That
responsibility I have sought constantly to keep before me: I can
truly aver that it has been ever before me--in my choice of a
housekeeper, in my choice of a school, in my ordering of your
holidays, in my choice of a second wife, in my choice of an
occupation for you, in my choice of a residence for you; and in
multitudes of lesser things--I have sought to act for you, not in
the light of this present world, but with a view to Eternity.

Before your childhood was past, there seemed God's manifest
blessing on our care; for you seemed truly converted to Him; you
confessed, in solemn baptism, that you had died and had been
raised with Christ; and you were received with joy into the bosom
of the Church of God, as one alive from the dead.

All this filled my heart with thankfulness and joy, whenever I
thought of you:--how could it do otherwise? And when I left you
in London, on that dreary winter evening, my heart, full of
sorrowing love, found its refuge and its resource in this
thought,--that you 'were one of the lambs of Christ's flock;
sealed with the Holy Spirit as His; renewed in heart to holiness,
in the image of God.

For a while, all appeared to go on fairly well: we yearned,
indeed, to discover more of heart in your allusions to religious
matters, but your expressions towards us were filial and
affectionate; your conduct, so far as we could see, was moral and
becoming; you mingled with the people of God, spoke of occasional
delight and profit in His ordinances; and employed your talents
in service to Him.

But of late, and specially during the past year, there has become
manifest a rapid progress towards evil. (I must beg you here to
pause, and again to look to God for grace to weigh what I am
about to say; or else wrath will rise.)

When you came to us in the summer, the heavy blow fell full upon
me; and I discovered how very far you had departed from God. It
was not that you had yielded to the strong tide of youthful
blood, and had fallen a victim to fleshly lusts; in that case,
however sad, your enlightened conscience would have spoken
loudly, and you would have found your way back to the blood which
cleanseth us from all sin, to humble confession and self-
abasement, to forgiveness and to recommunion with God. It was not
this; it was worse. It was that horrid, insidious infidelity,
which had already worked in your mind and heart with terrible
energy. Far worse, I say, because this was sapping the very
foundations of faith, on which all true godliness, all real
religion, must rest.

Nothing seemed left to which I could appeal. We had, I found, no
common ground. The Holy Scriptures had no longer any authority:
you had taught yourself to evade their inspiration. Any
particular Oracle of God which pressed you, you could easily
explain away; even the very character of God you weighed in your
balance of fallen reason, and fashioned it accordingly. You were
thus sailing down the rapid tide of time towards Eternity,
without a single authoritative guide (having cast your chart
overboard), except what you might fashion and forge on your own
anvil,--except what you might guess, in fact.

Do not think I am speaking in passion, and using unwarrantable
strength of words. If the written Word is not absolutely
authoritative, what do we know of God? What more than we can
infer, that is, guess,--as the thoughtful heathens guessed,--
Plato, Socrates, Cicero,

--from dim and mute surrounding phenomena? What do we know of
Eternity? Of our relations to God? Especially of the relations of
a sinner to God? What of reconciliation? What of the capital
question--How can a God of perfect spotless rectitude deal with
me, a corrupt sinner, who have trampled on those of His laws
which were even written on my conscience?...

This dreadful conduct of yours I had intended, after much prayer,
to pass by in entire silence; but your apparently sincere
inquiries after the cause of my sorrow have led me to go to the
root of the matter, and I could not stop short of the development
contained in this letter. It is with pain, not in anger, that I
send it; hoping that you may be induced to review the whole
course, of which this is only a stage, before God. If this grace
were granted to you, oh! how joyfully should I bury all the past,
and again have sweet and tender fellowship with my beloved Son,
as of old.

The reader who has done me the favour to follow this record of
the clash of two temperaments will not fail to perceive the
crowning importance of the letter from which I have just made a
long quotation. It sums up, with the closest logic, the whole
history of the situation, and I may leave it to form the epigraph
of this little book.

All that I need further say is to point out that when such
defiance is offered to the intelligence of a thoughtful and
honest young man with the normal impulses of his twenty-one
years, there are but two alternatives. Either he must cease to
think for himself; or his individualism must be instantly
confirmed, and the necessity of religious independence must be

No compromise, it is seen, was offered; no proposal of a truce
would have been acceptable. It was a case of 'Everything or
Nothing'; and thus desperately challenged, the young man's
conscience threw off once for all the yoke of his 'dedication',
and, as respectfully as he could, without parade or remonstrance,
he took a human being's privilege to fashion his inner life for


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