George du Marier et al
Part 1 out of 6
by George du Maurier
With an Introduction by His Cousin Lady **** ("Madge Plunket")
Edited and Illustrated by George Du Maurier
The writer of this singular autobiography was my cousin, who died at
the ----- Criminal Lunatic Asylum, of which he had been an inmate
He had been removed thither after a sudden and violent attack of
homicidal mania (which fortunately led to no serious consequences),
from ----- Jail, where he had spent twenty-five years, having been
condemned to penal servitude for life, for the murder of ---- ----,
He had been originally sentenced to death.
It was at ---- Lunatic Asylum that he wrote these memoirs, and I received
the MS. soon after his decease, with the most touching letter, appealing
to our early friendship, and appointing me his literary executrix.
It was his wish that the story of his life should be published just as
he had written it.
I have found it unadvisable to do this. It would revive, to no useful
purpose, an old scandal, long buried and forgotten, and thereby give
pain or annoyance to people who are still alive.
Nor does his memory require rehabilitation among those who knew him, or
knew anything of him--the only people really concerned. His dreadful
deed has long been condoned by all (and they are many) who knew the
provocation he had received and the character of the man who had
On mature consideration, and with advice, I resolved (in order that his
dying wishes should not be frustrated altogether) to publish the memoir
with certain alterations and emendations.
I have nearly everywhere changed the names of people and places;
suppressed certain details, and omitted some passages of his life (most
of the story of his school-days, for instance, and that of his brief
career as a private in the Horse Guards) lest they should too easily
lead to the identification and annoyance of people still alive, for he
is strongly personal at times, and perhaps not always just; and some
other events I have carefully paraphrased (notably his trial at the Old
Bailey), and given for them as careful an equivalent as I could manage
without too great a loss of verisimilitude.
I may as well state at once that, allowing for these alterations, every
incident of his _natural_ life as described by himself is absolutely
true, to the minutest detail, as I have been able to ascertain.
For the early part of it--the life at Passy he describes with such
affection--I can vouch personally; I am the Cousin "Madge" to whom he
once or twice refers.
I well remember the genial abode where he lived with his parents (my
dear uncle and aunt); and the lovely "Madame Seraskier," and her husband
and daughter, and their house, "Parva sed Apta," and "Major Duquesnois,"
and the rest.
And although I have never seen him since he was twelve years old, when
his parents died and he went to London (as most of my life has been
spent abroad), I received occasional letters from him.
I have also been able to obtain much information about him from others,
especially from a relative of the late "Mr. and Mrs. Lintot," who knew
him well, and from several officers in his regiment who remembered him;
also from the "Vicar's daughter," whom he met at "Lady Cray's" and who
perfectly recollects the conversation she had with him at dinner, his
sudden indisposition, and his long interview with the "Duchess of
Towers," under the ash-tree next morning; she was one of the
He was the most beautiful boy I ever saw, and so charming, lively, and
amiable that everybody was fond of him. He had a horror of cruelty,
especially to animals (quite singular in a boy of his age), and was very
truthful and brave.
According to all accounts (and from a photograph in my possession), he
grew up to be as handsome as a man can well be, a personal gift which he
seems to have held of no account whatever, though he thought so much of
it in others. But he also became singularly shy and reserved in manner,
over-diffident and self-distrustful; of a melancholy disposition, loving
solitude, living much alone, and taking nobody into his confidence; and
yet inspiring both affection and respect. For he seems to have always
been thoroughly gentlemanlike in speech, bearing, manner, and aspect.
It is possible, although he does not say so, that having first enlisted,
and then entered upon a professional career under somewhat inauspicious
conditions, he felt himself to have fallen away from the social rank
(such as it was) that belonged to him by birth; and he may have found
his associates uncongenial.
His old letters to me are charmingly open and effusive.
Of the lady whom (keeping her title and altering her name) I have called
the "Duchess of Towers," I find it difficult to speak. That they only
met twice, and in the way he describes, is a fact about which there can
be no doubt.
It is also indubitable that he received in Newgate, on the morning after
his sentence to death, an envelope containing violets, and the strange
message he mentions. Both letter and violets are in my possession, and
the words are in her handwriting; about that there can be no mistake.
It is certain, moreover, that she separated from her husband almost
immediately after my cousin's trial and condemnation, and lived in
comparative retirement from the world, as it is certain that he went
suddenly mad, twenty-five years later, in ---- Jail, a few hours after
her tragic death, and before he could possibly have heard of it by the
ordinary channels; and that he was sent to ---- Asylum, where, after his
frenzy had subsided, he remained for many days in a state of suicidal
melancholia, until, to the surprise of all, he rose one morning in high
spirits, and apparently cured of all serious symptoms of insanity; so he
remained until his death. It was during the last year of his life that
he wrote his autobiography, in French and English.
There is nothing to be surprised at, taking all the circumstances into
consideration, that even so great a lady, the friend of queens and
empresses, the bearer of a high title and an illustrious name, justly
celebrated for her beauty and charm (and her endless charities), of
blameless repute, and one of the most popular women in English society,
should yet have conceived a very warm regard for my poor cousin; indeed,
it was an open secret in the family of "Lord Cray" that she had done so.
But for them she would have taken the whole world into her confidence.
After her death she left him what money had come to her from her father,
which he disposed of for charitable ends, and an immense quantity of MS.
in cipher--a cipher which is evidently identical with that he used
himself in the annotations he put under innumerable sketches he was
allowed to make during his long period of confinement, which (through
her interest, and no doubt through his own good conduct) was rendered as
bearable to him as possible. These sketches (which are very
extraordinary) and her Grace's MS. are now in my possession.
They constitute a mystery into which I have not dared to pry.
From papers belonging to both I have been able to establish beyond doubt
the fact (so strangely discovered) of their descent from a common French
ancestress, whose name I have but slightly modified and the tradition of
whom still lingers in the "Departement de la Sarthe," where she was a
famous person a century ago; and her violin, a valuable Amati, now
belongs to me.
Of the non-natural part of his story I will not say much.
It is, of course, a fact that he had been absolutely and, to all
appearance, incurably insane before he wrote his life.
There seems to have been a difference of opinion, or rather a doubt,
among the authorities of the asylum as to whether he was mad after the
acute but very violent period of his brief attack had ended.
Whichever may have been the case, I am at least convinced of this: that
he was no romancer, and thoroughly believed in the extraordinary mental
experience he has revealed.
At the risk of being thought to share his madness--if he _was_ mad--I
will conclude by saying that I, for one, believe him to have been sane,
and to have told the truth all through.
I am but a poor scribe; ill-versed in the craft of wielding words and
phrases, as the cultivated reader (if I should ever happen to have one)
will no doubt very soon find out for himself.
I have been for many years an object of pity and contempt to all who
ever gave me a thought--to all but _one_! Yet of all that ever lived on
this earth I have been, perhaps, the happiest and most privileged, as
that reader will discover if he perseveres to the end.
My outer and my inner life have been as the very poles--asunder; and if,
at the eleventh hour, I have made up my mind to give my story to the
world, it is not in order to rehabilitate myself in the eyes of my
fellow-men, deeply as I value their good opinion; for I have always
loved them and wished them well, and would fain express my goodwill and
win theirs, if that were possible.
It is because the regions where I have found my felicity are accessible
to all, and that many, better trained and better gifted, will explore
them to far better purpose than I, and to the greater glory and benefit
of mankind, when once I have given them the clew. Before I can do this,
and in order to show how I came by this clew myself, I must tell, as
well as I may, the tale of my checkered career--in telling which,
moreover, I am obeying the last behest of one whose lightest wish was
If I am more prolix than I need be, it must be set down to my want of
experience in the art of literary composition--to a natural wish I have
to show myself neither better nor worse than I believe myself to be; to
the charm, the unspeakable charm, that personal reminiscences have for
the person principally concerned, and which he cannot hope to impart,
however keenly he may feel it, without gifts and advantages that have
been denied to me.
And this leads me to apologize for the egotism of this Memoir, which is
but an introduction to another and longer one that I hope to publish
later. To write a story of paramount importance to mankind, it is true,
but all about one's outer and one's inner self, to do this without
seeming somewhat egotistical, requires something akin to genius--and I
am but a poor scribe.
* * * * *
"_Combien j'ai douce souvenance
Du joli lieu de ma naissance_!"
These quaint lines have been running in my head at intervals through
nearly all my outer life, like an oft-recurring burden in an endless
ballad--sadly monotonous, alas! the ballad, which is mine; sweetly
monotonous the burden, which is by Châteaubriand.
I sometimes think that to feel the full significance of this refrain one
must have passed one's childhood in sunny France, where it was written,
and the remainder of one's existence in mere London--or worse than mere
London--as has been the case with me. If I had spent all my life from
infancy upward in Bloomsbury, or Clerkenwell, or Whitechapel, my early
days would be shorn of much of their retrospective glamour as I look
back on them in these my after-years.
_"Combien j'ai douce souvenance!"_
It was on a beautiful June morning in a charming French garden, where
the warm, sweet atmosphere was laden with the scent of lilac and
syringa, and gay with butterflies and dragon-flies and humblebees, that
I began my conscious existence with the happiest day of all my
It is true that I had vague memories (with many a blank between) of a
dingy house in the heart of London, in a long street of desolating
straightness, that led to a dreary square and back again, and nowhere
else for me; and then of a troubled and exciting journey that seemed of
jumbled days and nights. I could recall the blue stage-coach with the
four tall, thin, brown horses, so quiet and modest and well-behaved; the
red-coated guard and his horn; the red-faced driver and his husky voice
and many capes.
Then the steamer with its glistening deck, so beautiful and white it
seemed quite a desecration to walk upon it--this spotlessness did not
last very long; and then two wooden piers with a light-house on each,
and a quay, and blue-bloused workmen and red-legged little soldiers with
mustaches, and bare-legged fisher-women, all speaking a language that I
knew as well as the other commoner language I had left behind; but which
I had always looked upon as an exclusive possession of my father's and
mother's and mine for the exchange of sweet confidence and the
bewilderment of outsiders; and here were little boys and girls in the
street, quite common children, who spoke it as well and better than I
After this came the dream of a strange, huge, top-heavy vehicle, that
seemed like three yellow carriages stuck together, and a mountain of
luggage at the top under an immense black tarpaulin, which ended in a
hood; and beneath the hood sat a blue-bloused man with a singular cap,
like a concertina, and mustaches, who cracked a loud whip over five
squealing, fussy, pugnacious white and gray horses, with bells on their
necks and bushy fox-tails on their foreheads, and their own tails
carefully tucked up behind.
From the _coupé_ where I sat with my father and mother I could watch
them well as they led us through dusty roads with endless apple-trees or
poplars on either side. Little barefooted urchins (whose papas and
mammas wore wooden shoes and funny white nightcaps) ran after us for
French half-pennies, which were larger than English ones, and pleasanter
to have and to hold! Up hill and down we went; over sounding wooden
bridges, through roughly paved streets in pretty towns to large
court-yards, where five other quarrelsome steeds, gray and white, were
waiting to take the place of the old ones--worn out, but
And through the night I could hear the gay music of the bells and hoofs,
the rumbling of the wheels the cracking of the eternal whip, as I
fidgeted from one familiar lap to the other in search of sleep; and
waking out of a doze I could see the glare of the red lamps on the five
straining white and gray backs that dragged us so gallantly through the
dark summer night.
[Illustration: "A STRANGE, HUGE, TOP-HEAVY VEHICLE."]
Then it all became rather tiresome and intermittent and confused, till
we reached at dusk next day a quay by a broad river; and as we drove
along it, under thick trees, we met other red and blue and green lamped
five-horsed diligences starting on their long journey just as ours was
coming to an end.
Then I knew (because I was a well-educated little boy, and heard my
father exclaim, "Here's Paris at last!") that we had entered the capital
of France--a fact that impressed me very much--so much, it seems, that I
went to sleep for thirty-six hours at a stretch, and woke up to find
myself in the garden I have mentioned, and to retain possession of that
self without break or solution of continuity (except when I went to
sleep again) until now.
* * * * *
The happiest day in all my outer life!
For in an old shed full of tools and lumber at the end of the garden,
and half-way between an empty fowl-house and a disused stable (each an
Eden in itself) I found a small toy-wheelbarrow--quite the most
extraordinary, the most unheard of and undreamed of, humorously,
daintily, exquisitely fascinating object I had ever come across in all
my brief existence.
I spent hours--enchanted hours--in wheeling brick-bats from the stable
to the fowl-house, and more enchanted hours in wheeling them all back
again, while genial French workmen, who were busy in and out of the
house where we were to live, stopped every now and then to ask
good-natured questions of the "p'tit Anglais," and commend his knowledge
of their tongue, and his remarkable skill in the management of a
wheelbarrow. Well I remember wondering, with newly-aroused
self-consciousness, at the intensity, the poignancy, the extremity of my
bliss, and looking forward with happy confidence to an endless
succession of such hours in the future.
But next morning, though the weather was as fine, and the wheelbarrow
and the brick-bats and the genial workmen were there, and all the scents
and sights and sounds were the same, the first fine careless rapture was
not to be caught again, and the glory and the freshness had departed.
Thus did I, on the very dawning of life, reach at a single tide the
high-water-mark of my earthly bliss--never to be reached again by me on
this side of the ivory gate--and discover that to make the perfection of
human happiness endure there must be something more than a sweet French
garden, a small French wheelbarrow, and a nice little English boy who
spoke French and had the love of approbation--a fourth dimension
I found it in due time.
But if there were no more enchanted hours like the first, there were to
be seven happy years that have the quality of enchantment as I look
back on them.
* * * * *
Oh, the beautiful garden! Roses, nasturtiums and convolvulus,
wallflowers, sweet-pease and carnations, marigolds and sunflowers,
dahlias and pansies and hollyhocks and poppies, and Heaven knows what
besides! In my fond recollection they all bloom at once, irrespective of
time and season.
To see and smell and pick all these for the first time at the
susceptible age of five! To inherit such a kingdom after five years of
Gower Street and Bedford Square! For all things are relative, and
everything depends upon the point of view. To the owner of Chatsworth
(and to his gardeners) my beautiful French Garden would have seemed a
[Illustration: LE P'TIT ANGLAIS.]
And what a world of insects--Chatsworth could not beat _these_ (indeed,
is no doubt sadly lacking in them)--beautiful, interesting, comic,
grotesque, and terrible; from the proud humble-bee to the earwig and his
cousin, the devil's coach-horse; and all those rampant, many footed
things that pullulate in damp and darkness under big flat stones. To
think that I have been friends with all these--roses and centipedes and
all--and then to think that most of my outer life has been spent between
bare whitewashed walls, with never even a flea or a spider to be friends
Our house (where, by-the-way, I had been born five years before), an old
yellow house with green shutters and Mansard-roofs of slate, stood
between this garden and the street--a long winding street, roughly
flagged, with oil-lamps suspended across at long intervals; these lamps
were let down with pulleys at dusk, replenished and lit, and then hauled
up again to make darkness visible for a few hours on nights when the
moon was away.
Opposite to us was a boys' school--"Maison d'Éducation, Dirigée par M.
Jules Saindou, Bachelier et Maître ès Lettres et ès Sciences," and
author of a treatise on geology, with such hauntingly terrific pictures
of antediluvian reptiles battling in the primeval slime that I have
never been able to forget them. My father, who was fond of science, made
me a present of it on my sixth birthday. It cost me many a nightmare.
From our windows we could see and hear the boys at play--at a proper
distance French boys sound just like English ones, though they do not
look so, on account of their blue blouses and dusky, cropped heads--and
we could see the gymnastic fixtures in the play-ground, M. Saindou's
pride. "Le portique! la poutre! le cheval! et les barres parallèles!"
Thus they were described in M. Saindou's prospectus.
On either side of the street (which was called "the Street of the
Pump"), as far as eye could reach looking west, were dwelling-houses
just like our own, only agreeably different; and garden walls overtopped
with the foliage of horse-chestnut, sycamore, acacia, and lime; and here
and there huge portals and iron gates defended by posts of stone gave
ingress to mysterious abodes of brick and plaster and granite,
many-shuttered, and embosomed in sun-shot greenery.
Looking east one could see in the near distance unsophisticated shops
with old-fashioned windows of many panes--Liard, the grocer; Corbin, the
poulterer; the butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker.
And this delightful street, as it went on its winding way, led not to
Bedford Square or the new University College Hospital, but to Paris
through the Arc de Triomphe at one end, and to the river Seine at the
other; or else, turning to the right, to St. Cloud through the Bois de
Boulogne of Louis Philippe Premier, Roi des Français--as different from
the Paris and the Bois de Boulogne of to-day as a diligence from an
On one side of the beautiful garden was another beautiful garden,
separated from ours by a high wall covered with peach and pear and plum
and apricot trees; on the other, accessible to us through a small door
in another lower wall clothed with jasmine, clematis, convolvulus, and
nasturtium, was a long, straight avenue of almond-trees, acacia,
laburnum, lilac, and may, so closely planted that the ivy-grown walls
on either side could scarcely be seen. What lovely patches they made on
the ground when the sun shone! One end of this abutted on "the Street of
the Pump," from which it was fenced by tall, elaborately-carved iron
gates between stone portals, and at the side was a "porte bâtarde,"
guarded by le Père et la Mère François, the old concierge and his old
wife. Peace to their ashes, and Heaven rest their kindly, genial souls!
The other end of the avenue, where there was also an iron gate, admitted
to a large private park that seemed to belong to nobody, and of which we
were free--a very wilderness of delight, a heaven, a terror of tangled
thickets and not too dangerous chalk cliffs, disused old quarries and
dark caverns, prairies of lush grass, sedgy pools, turnip fields,
forests of pine, groves and avenues of horse-chestnut, dank valleys of
walnut-trees and hawthorn, which summer made dark at noon; bare,
wind-swept mountainous regions whence one could reconnoitre afar; all
sorts of wild and fearsome places for savages and wild beasts to hide
and small boys to roam quite safely in quest of perilous adventure.
All this vast enclosure (full of strange singing, humming, whistling,
buzzing, twittering, cooing, booming, croaking, flying, creeping,
crawling, jumping, climbing, burrowing, splashing, diving things) had
been neglected for ages--an Eden where one might gather and eat of the
fruit of the tree of knowledge without fear, and learn lovingly the ways
of life without losing one's innocence; a forest that had remade for
itself a new virginity, and become primeval once more; where beautiful
Nature had reasserted her own sweet will, and massed and tangled
everything together as though a Beauty had been sleeping there
undisturbed for close on a hundred years, and was only waiting for the
charming Prince--or, as it turned out a few years later, alas! the
speculative builder and the railway engineer--those princes of our day.
My fond remembrance would tell me that this region was almost boundless,
well as I remember its boundaries. My knowledge of physical geography,
as applied to this particular suburb of Paris, bids me assign more
modest limits to this earthly paradise, which again was separated by an
easily surmounted fence from Louis Philippe's Bois de Boulogne; and to
this I cannot find it in my heart to assign any limits whatever, except
the pretty old town from which it takes its name, and whose principal
street leads to that magical combination of river, bridge, palace,
gardens, mountain, and forest, St. Cloud.
What more could be wanted for a small boy fresh (if such be freshness)
from the very heart of Bloomsbury?
That not a single drop should be lacking to the full cup of that small
boy's felicity, there was a pond on the way from Passy to St. Cloud--a
memorable pond, called "La Mare d'Auteuil," the sole aquatic treasure
that Louis Philippe's Bois de Boulogne could boast. For in those
ingenuous days there existed no artificial lake fed by an artificial
stream, no pré-Catelan, no Jardin d'Acclimatation. The wood was just a
wood, and nothing more--a dense, wild wood, that covered many hundreds
of acres, and sheltered many thousands of wild live things. Though
mysteriously deep in the middle, this famous pond (which may have been
centuries old, and still exists) was not large; you might almost fling a
stone across it anywhere.
Bounded on three sides by the forest (now shorn away), it was just
hidden from the dusty road by a fringe of trees; and one could have it
all to one's self, except on Sunday and Thursday afternoons, when a few
love-sick Parisians remembered its existence, and in its loveliness
forgot their own.
To be there at all was to be happy; for not only was it quite the most
secluded, picturesque, and beautiful pond in all the habitable
globe--that pond of ponds, the _only_ pond--but it teemed with a far
greater number and variety of wonderful insects and reptiles than any
other pond in the world. Such, at least, I believed must be the case,
for they were endless.
To watch these creatures, to learn their ways, to catch them (which we
sometimes did), to take them home and be kind to them, and try to tame
them, and teach them our ways (with never varying non-success, it is
true, but in, oh, such jolly company!) became a hobby that lasted me, on
and off, for seven years.
La Mare d'Auteuil! The very name has a magic, from all the associations
that gathered round it during that time, to cling forever.
How I loved it! At night, snoozing in my warm bed, I would awesomely
think of it, and how solemn it looked when I had reluctantly left it at
dusk, an hour or two before; then I would picture it to myself, later,
lying deep and cold and still under the stars, in the dark thicket, with
all that weird, uncanny lite seething beneath its stagnant surface.
Then gradually the water would sink, and the reeds, left naked, begin to
move and rustle ominously, and from among their roots in the uncovered
slush everything alive would make for the middle--hopping, gliding,
Down shrank the water; and soon in the slimy bottom, yards below, huge
fat salamanders, long-lost and forgotten tadpoles as large as rats,
gigantic toads, enormous flat beetles, all kinds of hairy, scaly, spiny,
blear-eyed, bulbous, shapeless monsters without name, mud-colored
offspring of the mire that had been sleeping there for hundreds of
years, woke up, and crawled in and out, and wallowed and interwriggled,
and devoured each other, like the great saurians and batrachians in my
_Manuel de Géologie Élémentaire_. Édition illustrée à l'usage des
enfants. Par Jules Saindou, Bachelier et Maître ès Lettres et
Then would I wake up with a start, in a cold perspiration, an icy chill
shooting through me that roughed my skin and stirred the roots of my
hair, and ardently wish for to-morrow morning.
In after-years, and far away among the cold fogs of Clerkenwell, when
the frequent longing would come over me to revisit "the pretty place of
my birth," it was for the Mare d'Auteuil I longed the most; _that_ was
the loadstar, the very pole of my home-sick desires; always thither the
wings of my hopeless fancy bore me first of all; it was, oh! to tread
that sunlit grassy brink once more, and to watch the merry tadpoles
swarm, and the green frog takes its header like a little man, and the
water-rat swim to his hole among the roots of the willow, and the
horse-leech thread his undulating way between the water-lily stems; and
to dream fondly of the delightful, irrevocable past, on the very spot of
all where I and mine were always happiest!
"...Qu'ils étaient beaux, les jours De France!"
In the avenue I have mentioned (_the_ avenue, as it is still to me, and
as I will always call it) there was on the right hand, half the way up,
a _maison de santé_, or boarding-house, kept by one Madame Pelé; and
there among others came to board and lodge, a short while after our
advent, four or five gentlemen who had tried to invade France, with a
certain grim Pretender at their head, and a tame eagle as a symbol of
empire to rally round.
The expedition had failed; the Pretender had been consigned to a
fortress; the eagle had found a home in the public slaughter-house of
Boulogne-sur-Mer, which it adorned for many years, and where it fed as
it had never probably fed before; and these, the faithful followers, le
Colonel Voisil, le Major Duquesnois, le Capitaine Audenis, le Docteur
Lombal (and one or two others whose names I have forgotten), were
prisoners on parole at Madame Pelé's, and did not seem to find their
durance very vile.
[Illustration: (no caption)]
I grew to know and love them all, especially the Major Duquesnois, an
almost literal translation into French of Colonel Newcome. He took to
me at once, in spite of my Englishness, and drilled me, and taught me
the exercise as it was performed in the Vieille Garden and told me a new
fairy-tale, I verily believe, every afternoon for seven years.
Scheherezade could do no more for a Sultan, and to save her own neck
from the bowstring!
Cher et bien amé "Vieux de la Vieille!" with his big iron-gray mustache,
his black satin stock, his spotless linen, his long green frock-coat so
baggy about the skirts, and the smart red ribbon in his button-hole! He
little foresaw with what warm and affectionate regard his memory would
be kept forever sweet and green in the heart of his hereditary foe and
small English tyrant and companion!
* * * * *
Opposite Madame Pelé's, and the only other dwelling besides hers and
ours in the avenue, was a charming little white villa with a Grecian
portico, on which were inscribed in letters of gold the words "Parva sed
Apta"; but it was not tenanted till two or three years after
In the genial French fashion of those times we soon got on terms of
intimacy with these and other neighbors, and saw much of each other at
all times of the day.
My tall and beautiful young mother (la belle Madame Pasquier, as she was
gallantly called) was an Englishwoman who had been born and partly
brought up in Paris.
My gay and jovial father (le beau Pasquier, for he was also tall and
comely to the eye) was a Frenchman, although an English subject, who had
been born and partly brought up in London; for he was the child of
emigres from France during the Reign of Terror.
"When in death I shall calm recline,
Oh take my heart to my mistress dear!
Tell her it lived upon smiles and wine
Of the brightest hue while it lingered here!"
He was gifted with a magnificent, a phenomenal voice--a barytone and
tenor rolled into one; a marvel of richness, sweetness, flexibility, and
power--and had intended to sing at the opera; indeed, he had studied for
three years at the Paris Conservatoire to that end; and there he had
carried all before him, and given rise to the highest hopes. But his
family, who were Catholics of the blackest and Legitimists of the
whitest dye--and as poor as church rats had objected to such a godless
and derogatory career; so the world lost a great singer, and the great
singer a mine of wealth and fame.
However, he had just enough to live upon, and had married a wife (a
heretic!) who had just about as much, or as little; and he spent his
time, and both his money and hers, in scientific inventions--to little
purpose, for well as he had learned how to sing, he had not been to any
conservatoire where they teach one how to invent.
So that, as he waited "for his ship to come home," he sang only to amuse
his wife, as they say the nightingale does; and to ease himself of
superfluous energy, and to charm the servants, and le Père et la Mère
François, and the five followers of Napoleon, and all and everybody who
cared to listen, and last and least (and most!), myself.
For this great neglected gift of his, on which he set so little store,
was already to me the most beautiful and mysterious thing in the world;
and next to this, my mother's sweet playing on the harp and piano, for
she was an admirable musician.
It was her custom to play at night, leaving the door of my bedroom ajar,
and also the drawing-room door, so that I could hear her till I fell
Sometimes, when my father was at home, the spirit would move him to hum
or sing the airs she played, as he paced up and down the room on the
track of a new invention.
And though he sang and hummed "pian-piano," the sweet, searching, manly
tones seemed to fill all space.
The hushed house became a sounding-board, the harp a mere subservient
tinkle, and my small, excitable frame would thrill and vibrate under the
waves of my unconscious father's voice; and oh, the charming airs
His stock was inexhaustible, and so was hers; and thus an endless
succession of lovely melodies went ringing through that happy period.
And just as when a man is drowning, or falling from a height, his whole
past life is said to be mapped out before his mental vision as in a
single flash, so seven years of sweet, priceless home love--seven times
four changing seasons of simple, genial, prae-imperial Frenchness; an
ideal house, with all its pretty furniture, and shape, and color; a
garden full of trees and flowers; a large park, and all the wild live
things therein; a town and its inhabitants; a mile or two of historic
river; a wood big enough to reach from the Arc de Triomphe to St. Cloud
(and in it the pond of ponds); and every wind and weather that the
changing seasons can bring--all lie embedded and embalmed for me in
every single bar of at least a hundred different tunes, to be evoked at
will for the small trouble and cost of just whistling or humming the
same, or even playing it with one finger on the piano--when I had a
piano within reach.
Enough to last me for a lifetime--with proper economy, of course--it
will not do to exhaust, by too frequent experiment, the strange capacity
of a melodic bar for preserving the essence of by-gone things, and days
that are no more.
Oh, Nightingale! whether thou singest thyself or, better still, if thy
voice by not in thy throat, but in thy fiery heart and subtle brain, and
thou makest songs for the singing of many others, blessed be thy name!
The very sound of it is sweet in every clime and tongue: Nightingale,
Rossignol, Usignuolo, Bulbul! Even Nachtigall does not sound amiss in
the mouth of a fair English girl who has had a Hanoverian for a
governess! and, indeed, it is in the Nachtigall's country that the best
music is made!
[Illustration: "OH, NIGHTINGALE!"]
And oh, Nightingale! never, never grudge thy song to those who love
it--nor waste it upon those who do not....
Thus serenaded, I would close my eyes, and lapped in darkness and
warmth and heavenly sound, be lulled asleep--perchance to dream!
For my early childhood was often haunted by a dream, which at first I
took for a reality--a transcendant dream of some interest and importance
to mankind, as the patient reader will admit in time. But many years of
my life passed away before I was able to explain and account for it.
I had but to turn my face to the wall, and soon I found myself in
company with a lady who had white hair and a young face--a very
beautiful young face.
Sometimes I walked with her, hand in hand--I being quite a small
child--and together we fed innumerable pigeons who lived in a tower by a
winding stream that ended in a water-mill. It was too lovely, and I
Sometimes we went into a dark place, where there was a fiery furnace
with many holes, and many people working and moving about--among them a
man with white hair and a young face, like the lady, and beautiful red
heels to his shoes. And under his guidance I would contrive to make in
the furnace a charming little cocked hat of colored glass--a treasure!
And the sheer joy thereof would wake me.
Sometimes the white-haired lady and I would sit together at a square
box from which she made lovely music, and she would sing my favorite
song--a song that I adored. But I always woke before this song came to
an end, on account of the too insupportably intense bliss I felt on
hearing it; and all I could remember when awake were the words
"triste--comment--sale." The air, which I knew so well in my dream, I
could not recall.
It seemed as though some innermost core of my being, some childish holy
of holies, secreted a source of supersubtle reminiscence, which, under
some stimulus that now and again became active during sleep, exhaled
itself in this singular dream--shadowy and slight, but invariably
accompanied by a sense of felicity so measureless and so penetrating
that I would always wake in a mystic flutter of ecstasy, the bare
remembrance of which was enough to bless and make happy many a
* * * * *
Besides this happy family of three, close by (in the Street of the
Tower) lived my grandmother Mrs. Biddulph, and my Aunt Plunket, a widow,
with her two sons, Alfred and Charlie, and her daughter Madge. They also
were fair to look at--extremely so--of the gold-haired, white-skinned,
well-grown Anglo-Saxon type, with frank, open, jolly manners, and no
beastly British pride.
So that physically, at least, we reflected much credit on the English
name, which was not in good odor just then at Passy-lès-Paris, where
Waterloo was unforgotten. In time, however, our nationality was condoned
on account of our good looks--"non Angli sed angeli!" as M. Saindou was
gallantly pleased to exclaim when he called (with a prospectus of his
school) and found us all gathered together under the big apple-tree
on our lawn.
But English beauty in Passy was soon to receive a memorable addition to
its ranks in the person of a certain Madame Seraskier, who came with an
invalid little daughter to live in the house so modestly described in
gold as "Parva sed Apta."
She was the English, or rather the Irish, wife of a Hungarian patriot
and man of science, Dr. Seraskier (son of the famous violinist); an
extremely tall, thin man, almost gigantic, with a grave, benevolent
face, and a head like a prophet's; who was, like my father, very much
away from his family--conspiring perhaps--or perhaps only inventing
(like my father), and looking out "for his ship to come home!"
[Illustration: "SHE TOPPED MY TALL MOTHER."]
This fair lady's advent was a sensation--to me a sensation that never
palled or wore itself away; it was no longer now "la belle Madame
Pasquier," but "la divine Madame Seraskier"--beauty-blind as the French
are apt to be.
She topped my tall mother by more than half a head; as was remarked by
Madame Pelé, whose similes were all of the kitchen and dining-room,
"elle lui mangerait des petits pâtés sur la tête!" And height, that
lends dignity to ugliness, magnifies beauty on a scale of geometrical
progression--2, 4, 8, 16, 32--for every consecutive inch, between five
feet five, let us say, and five feet ten or eleven (or thereabouts),
which I take to have been Madame Seraskier's measurement.
She had black hair and blue eyes--of the kind that turns violet in a
novel--and a beautiful white skin, lovely hands and feet, a perfect
figure, and features chiselled and finished and polished and turned out
with such singular felicitousness that one gazed and gazed till the
heart was full of a strange jealous resentment at any one else having
the right to gaze on something so rare, so divinely, so sacredly
fair--any one in the world but one's self!
But a woman can be all this without being Madame Seraskier--she was much
For the warmth and genial kindness of her nature shone through her eyes
and rang in her voice. All was of a piece with her--her simplicity, her
grace, her naturalness and absence of vanity; her courtesy, her
sympathy, her mirthfulness.
I do not know which was the most irresistible: she had a slight Irish
accent when she spoke English, a less slight English accent when she
I made it my business to acquire both.
Indeed, she was in heart and mind and body what we should _all_ be but
for the lack of a little public spirit and self-denial (under proper
guidance) during the last few hundred years on the part of a few
thousand millions of our improvident fellow-creatures.
There should be no available ugly frames for beautiful souls to be
hurried into by carelessness or mistake, and no ugly souls should be
suffered to creep, like hermit-crabs, into beautiful shells never
intended for them. The outward and visible form should mark the inward
and spiritual grace; that it seldom does so is a fact there is no
gainsaying. Alas! such beauty is such an exception that its possessor,
like a prince of the blood royal, is pampered and spoiled from the very
cradle, and every good and generous and unselfish impulse is corroded by
adulation--that spontaneous tribute so lightly won, so quickly paid, and
accepted so royally as a due.
So that only when by Heaven's grace the very beautiful are also very
good, is it time for us to go down on our knees, and say our prayers in
thankfulness and adoration; for the divine has been permitted to make
itself manifest for a while in the perishable likeness of our
A beautiful face! a beautiful tune! Earth holds nothing to beat these,
and of such, for want of better materials, we have built for ourselves
the kingdom of Heaven.
_"Plus oblige, et peut davantage
Un beau visage
Qu'un homme armé--
Et rien n'est meilleur que d'entendre
Air doux et tendre
My mother soon became the passionately devoted friend of the divine
Madame Seraskier; and I, what would I not have done--what danger would I
not have faced--what death would I not have died for her!
I did not die; I lived her protestant to be, for nearly fifty years. For
nearly fifty years to recollect the rapture and the pain it was to look
at her; that inexplicable longing ache, that dumb, delicious, complex,
innocent distress, for which none but the greatest poets have ever found
expression; and which, perhaps, they have not felt half so acutely,
these glib and gifted ones, as _I_ did, at the susceptible age of seven,
eight, nine, ten, eleven, and twelve.
She had other slaves of my sex. The five Napoleonic heroes did homage
each after his fashion: the good Major with a kind of sweet fatherly
tenderness touching to behold; the others with perhaps less unselfish
adoration; notably the brave Capitaine Audenis, of the fair waxed
mustache and beautiful brown tail coat, so tightly buttoned with gilt
buttons across his enormous chest, and imperceptible little feet so
tightly imprisoned in shiny tipped female cloth boots, with buttons of
mother-of-pearl; whose hobby was, I believe, to try and compensate
himself for the misfortunes of war by more successful attempts in
another direction. Anyhow he betrayed a warmth that made my small bosom
a Gehenna, until she laughed and snubbed him into due propriety and
It soon became evident that she favored two, at least, out of all this
little masculine world--the Major myself; and a strange trio we made.
Her poor little daughter, the object of her passionate solicitude, a
very clever and precocious child, was the reverse of beautiful, although
she would have had fine eyes but for her red lashless lids. She wore her
thick hair cropped short, like a boy, and was pasty and sallow in
complexion, hollow-cheeked, thick-featured, and overgrown, with long
thin hands and feet, and arms and legs of quite pathetic length and
tenuity; a silent and melancholy little girl, who sucked her thumb
perpetually, and kept her own counsel. She would have to lie in bed for
days together, and when she got well enough to sit up, I (to please her
mother) would read to her _Le Robinson Suisse_, _Sandford and Merton_,
_Evenings at Home_, _Les Contes de Madame Perrault_, the shipwreck from
"Don Juan," of which we never tired, and the "Giaour," the "Corsair,"
and "Mazeppa"; and last, but not least, _Peter Parleys Natural History_,
which we got to know by heart.
And out of this latter volume I would often declaim for her benefit what
has always been to me the most beautiful poem in the world, possibly
because it was the first I read for myself, or else because it is so
intimately associated with those happy days. Under an engraving of a
wild duck (after Bewick, I believe) were quoted W.C. Bryant's lines "To
a Water-fowl." They charmed me then and charm me now as nothing else has
quite charmed me; I become a child again as I think of them, with a
child's virgin subtlety of perception and magical susceptibility to
vague suggestions of the Infinite.
Poor little Mimsey Seraskier would listen with distended eyes and quick
comprehension. She had a strange fancy that a pair of invisible beings,
"La fée Tarapatapoum," and "Le Prince Charmant" (two favorite characters
of M. le Major's) were always in attendance upon us--upon her and
me--and were equally fond of us both; that is, "La fée Tarapatapoum" of
me, and "Le Prince Charmant" of her--and watched over us and would
protect us through life.
"O! ils sont joliment bien ensemble, tous les deux--ils sont
inséparables!" she would often exclaim, _apropos_ of these visionary
beings; and _apropos_ of the water-fowl she would say--
"Il aime beaucoup cet oiseau-là, le Prince Charmant! dis encore, quand
il vole si haut, et qu'il fait froid, et qu'il est fatigué, et que la
nuit vient, mais qu'il ne veut pas descendre!"
And I would re-spout--
_"'All day thy wings have fanned,
At that far height, the cold, thin atmosphere,
Yet stoop not, weary, to the welcome land,
Though the dark night be near!'"_
And poor, morbid, precocious, overwrought Mimsey's eyes would fill, and
she would meditatively suck her thumb and think unutterable things.
And then I would copy Bewick's wood-cuts for her, as she sat on the arm
of my chair and patiently watched; and she would say: "La fée
Tarapatapoum trouve que tu dessines dans la perfection!" and treasure up
these little masterpieces--"pour l'album de la fée Tarapatapoum!"
There was one drawing she prized above all others--a steel engraving
in a volume of Byron, which represented two beautiful beings of either
sex, walking hand in hand through a dark cavern. The man was in sailor's
garb; the lady, who went barefoot and lightly clad, held a torch; and
underneath was written--
_"And Neuha led her Torquil by the hand,
And waved along the vaults her flaming brand."_
I spent hours in copying it for her, and she preferred the copy to the
original, and would have it that the two figures were excellent
portraits of her Prince and Fairy.
Sometimes during these readings and sketchings under the apple-tree on
the lawn, the sleeping Médor (a huge nondescript sort of dog, built up
of every breed in France, with the virtues of all and the vices of none)
would wag his three inches of tail, and utter soft whimperings of
welcome in his dream; and she would say--
"C'est le Prince Charmant qui lui dit; 'Médor donne la patte!'"
Or our old tomcat would rise from his slumbers with his tail up, and rub
an imaginary skirt; and it was--
"Regarde Mistigris! La fée Tarapatapoum est en train de lui frotter les
We mostly spoke French, in spite of strict injunctions to the contrary
from our fathers and mothers, who were much concerned lest we should
forget our English altogether.
In time we made a kind of ingenious compromise; for Mimsey, who was
full of resource, invented a new language, or rather two, which we
called Frankingle and Inglefrank, respectively. They consisted in
anglicizing French nouns and verbs and then conjugating and pronouncing
them Englishly, or _vice versâ_.
For instance, it was very cold, and the school-room window was open, so
she would say in Frankingle--
"Dispeach yourself to ferm the feneeter, Gogo. It geals to pier-fend! we
shall be inrhumed!" or else, if I failed to immediately
understand--"Gogo, il frise a splitter les stonnes--maque aste et chute
le vindeau; mais chute--le donc vite! Je snize déjà!" which was
With this contrivance we managed to puzzle and mystify the uninitiated,
English and French alike. The intelligent reader, who sees it all in
print, will not be so easily taken in.
When Mimsey was well enough, she would come with my cousins and me into
the park, where we always had a good time--lying in ambush for red
Indians, rescuing Madge Plunket from a caitiff knight, or else hunting
snakes and field-mice and lizards, and digging for lizard's eggs, which
we would hatch at home--that happy refuge for all manner of beasts, as
well as little boys and girls. For there were squirrels, hedgehogs, and
guinea-pigs; an owl, a raven, a monkey, and white mice; little birds
that had strayed from the maternal nest before they could fly (they
always died!), the dog Médor, and any other dog who chose; not to
mention a gigantic rocking-horse made out of a real stuffed pony--the
smallest pony that had ever been!
Often our united high spirits were too boisterous for Mimsey. Dreadful
headaches would come on, and she would sit in a corner, nursing a
hedgehog with one arm and holding her thumb in her mouth with the other.
Only when we were alone together was she happy, and then, _moult
On summer evenings whole parties of us, grown-up and small, would walk
through the park and the Bois de Boulogne to the "Mare d'Auteuil"; as we
got near enough for Médor to scent the water, he would bark and grin and
gyrate, and go mad with excitement, for he had the gift of diving after
stones, and liked to show it off.
There we would catch huge olive-colored water-beetles, yellow
underneath; red-bellied newts; green frogs, with beautiful spots and a
splendid parabolic leap; gold and silver fish, pied with purply brown. I
mention them in the order of their attractiveness. The fish were too
tame and easily caught, and their beauty of too civilized an order; the
rare, flat, vicious dytiscus "took the cake."
Sometimes, even, we would walk through Boulogne to St. Cloud, to see the
new railway and the trains--an inexhaustible subject of wonder and
delight--and eat ices at the "Tête Noire" (a hotel which had been the
scene of a terrible murder, that led to a cause célèbre); and we would
come back through the scented night, while the glowworms were shining in
the grass, and the distant frogs were croaking in the Mare d'Auteuil.
Now and then a startled roebuck would gallop in short bounds across
the path, from thicket to thicket, and Médor would go mad again and wake
the echoes of the new Paris fortification, which were still in the
course of construction.
He had not the gift of catching roebucks!
If my father were of the party, he would yodel Tyrolese melodies, and
sing lovely songs of Boieldieu, Hérold, and Grétry; or "Drink to me only
with thine eyes," or else the "Bay of Dublin" for Madame Seraskier, who
had the nostalgia of her beloved country whenever her beloved
husband was away.
Or else we would break out into a jolly chorus and march to the tune--
_"Marie, trempe ton pain,
Marie, trempe ton pain,
Marie, trempe ton pain dans la soupe;
Marie, trempe ton pain,
Marie, trempe ton pain,
Marie, trempe ton pain dans le vin!"_
_"La--soupe aux choux--se fait dans la marmite;
Dans--la marmite--se fait la soupe aux choux."_
which would give us all the nostalgia of supper.
Or else, again, if it were too hot to sing, or we were too tired, M. le
Major, forsaking the realms of fairy-land, and uncovering his high bald
head as he walked, would gravely and reverently tell us of his great
master, of Brienne, of Marengo, and Austerlitz; of the farewells at
Fontainebleau, and the Hundred Days--never of St. Helena; he would not
trust himself to speak to us of that! And gradually working his way to
Waterloo, he would put his hat on, and demonstrate to us, by A+B, how,
virtually, the English had lost the day, and why and wherefore. And on
all the little party a solemn, awe-struck stillness would fall as we
listened, and on some of us the sweet nostalgia of bed!
Oh, the good old time!
The night was consecrated for me by the gleam and scent and rustle of
Madame Seraskier's gown, as I walked by her side in the deepening dusk--a
gleam of yellow, or pale blue, or white--a scent of sandalwood--a rustle
that told of a light, vigorous tread on firm, narrow, high-arched feet,
that were not easily tired; of an anxious, motherly wish to get back to
Mimsey, who was not strong enough for these longer expeditions.
On the shorter ones I used sometimes to carry Mimsey on my back most of
the way home (to please her mother)--a frail burden, with her poor,
long, thin arms round my neck, and her pale, cold cheek against my
ear--she weighed nothing! And when I was tired M. le Major would relieve
me, but not for long. She always wanted to be carried by Gogo (for so I
was called, for no reason whatever, unless it was that my name
She would start at the pale birches that shone out against the gloom,
and shiver if a bough scraped her, and tell me all about the
Erl-king--"mais comme ils sont là tous les deux" (meaning the Prince and
the Fairy) "il n'y a absolument rien à craindre."
And Mimsey was _si bonne camarade_, in spite of her solemnity and poor
health and many pains, so grateful for small kindnesses, so appreciative
of small talents, so indulgent to small vanities (of which she seemed to
have no more share than her mother), and so deeply humorous in spite of
her eternal gravity--for she was a real tomboy at heart--that I soon
carried her, not only to please her mother, but to please herself, and
would have done anything for her.
As for M. le Major, he gradually discovered that Mimsey was half a
martyr and half a saint, and possessed all the virtues under the sun.
"Ah, vous ne la comprenez pas, cette enfant; vous verrez un jour quand
ça ira mieux! vous verrez! elle est comme sa mère ... elle a toutes les
intelligences de la tête et du coeur!" and he would wish it had pleased
Heaven that he should be her grandfather--on the maternal side.
_L'art d'être grandpère!_ This weather-beaten, war-battered old soldier
had learned it, without ever having had either a son or a daughter of
his own. He was a _born_ grandfather!
Moreover, Mimsey and I had many tastes and passions in common--music,
for instance, as well as Bewick's wood-cuts and Byron's poetry, and
roast chestnuts and domestic pets; and above all, the Mare d'Auteuil,
which she preferred in the autumn, when the brown and yellow leaves were
eddying and scampering and chasing each other round its margin, or
drifting on its troubled surface, and the cold wet wind piped through
the dishevelled boughs of the forest, under the leaden sky.
She said it was good to be there then, and think of home and the
fireside; and better still, when home was reached at last, to think of
the desolate pond we had left; and good, indeed, it was to trudge home
by wood and park and avenue at dusk, when the bats were about, with
Alfred and Charlie and Mimsey and Madge and Médor; swishing our way
through the lush, dead leaves, scattering the beautiful, ripe
horse-chestnut out of its split creamy case, or picking up acorns and
beechnuts here and there as we went.
And, once home, it was good, very good, to think how dark and lonesome
and shivery it must be out there by the _mare_, as we squatted and
chatted and roasted chestnuts by the wood fire in the school-room before
the candles were lit--_entre chien et loup_, as was called the French
gloaming--while Thérèse was laying the tea-things, and telling us the
news, and cutting bread and butter; and my mother played the harp in the
drawing-room above; till the last red streak died out of the wet west
behind the swaying tree-tops, and the curtains were drawn, and there was
light, and the appetites were let loose.
I love to sit here, in my solitude and captivity, and recall every
incident of that sweet epoch--to ache with the pangs of happy
remembrance; than which, for the likes of me, great poets tell us there
is no greater grief. This sorrow's crown of sorrow is my joy and my
consolation, and ever has been; and I would not exchange it for youth,
health, wealth, honor, and freedom; only for thrice happy childhood
itself once more, over and over again, would I give up its thrice happy
That it should not be all beer and skittles with us, and therefore apt
to pall, my cousins and I had to work pretty hard. In the first place,
my dear mother did all she could to make me an infant prodigy of
learning. She tried to teach me Italian, which she spoke as fluently as
English or French (for she had lived much in Italy), and I had to
translate the "Gierusalemme Liberata" into both those latter
languages--a task which has remained unfinished--and to render the
"Allegro" and the "Penseroso" into Miltonian French prose, and "Le Cid"
into Corneillian English. Then there were Pinnock's histories of Greece
and Rome to master, and, of course, the Bible; and, every Sunday, the
Collect, the Gospel, and the Epistle to get by heart. No, it was not all
beer and skittles.
It was her pleasure to teach, but, alas! not mine to learn; and we cost
each other many a sigh, but loved each other all the more, perhaps.
Then we went in the mornings, my cousins and I, to M. Saindou's,
opposite, that we might learn French grammar and French-Latin and
French-Greek. But on three afternoons out of the weekly six Mr. Slade, a
Cambridge sizar stranded in Paris, came to anglicize (and neutralize)
the Latin and Greek we had learned in the morning, and to show us what
sorry stuff the French had made of them and of their quantities.
Perhaps the Greek and Latin quantities are a luxury of English growth--a
mere social test--a little pitfall of our own invention, like the letter
_h_, for the tripping up of unwary pretenders; or else, French
education being so deplorably cheap in those days, the school-masters
there could not afford to take such fanciful superfluities into
consideration; it was not to be done at the price.
In France, be it remembered, the King and his greengrocer sent their
sons to the same school (which did not happen to be M. Saindou's, by the
way, where it was nearly all greengrocer and no King); and the fee for
bed, board, and tuition, in all public schools alike, was something like
thirty pounds a year.
The Latin, in consequence, was without the distinction that comes of
exclusiveness, and quite lacked that aristocratic flavor, so grateful
and comforting to scholar and ignoramus alike, which the costly British
public-school system (and the British accent) alone can impart to a dead
language. When French is dead we shall lend it a grace it never had
before; some of us even manage to do so already.
That is (no doubt) why the best French writers so seldom point their
morals and adorn their tales, as ours do, with the usual pretty,
familiar, and appropriate lines out of Horace or Virgil; and why Latin
is so little quoted in French talk, except here and there by a weary
shop-walker, who sighs--
"Varium et mutabile semper femina!" as he rolls up the unsold silk; or
exclaims, "O rus! quando te aspiciam!" as he takes his railway ticket
for Asnières on the first fine Sunday morning in spring.
But this is a digression, and we have wandered far away from Mr. Slade.
Good old Slade!
We used to sit on the tone posts outside the avenue gate and watch for
his appearance at a certain distant corner of the winding street.
With his green tail coat, his stiff shirt collar, his flat thumbs stuck
in the armholes of his nankeen waistcoat, his long flat feet turned
inward, his reddish mutton-chop whiskers his hat on the back of his
head, and his clean, fresh, blooming, virtuous, English face--the sight of
him was not sympathetic when he appeared at last.
[Illustration: "GOOD OLD SLADE"]
Occasionally, in the course of his tuition, illness or domestic affairs
would, to his great regret, detain him from our midst, and the beatitude
we would experience when the conviction gradually dawned upon us that
we were watching for him in vain was too deep for either words or deeds
or outward demonstration of any sort. It was enough to sit on our stone
posts and let it steal over us by degrees.
These beatitudes were few and far between. It would be infelicitous,
perhaps, to compare the occasional absences of a highly respectable
English tutor to an angel's visits, but so we felt them.
And then he would make up for it next afternoon, that conscientious
Englishman; which was fair enough to our parents, but not to us. And
then what extra severity, as interest for the beggarly loan of half an
afternoon! What rappings on ink-stained knuckles with a beastly, hard,
round, polished, heavy-wooded, business-like English ruler!
It was our way in those days to think that everything English was
beastly--an expression our parents thought we were much too fond
But perhaps we were not without some excuse for this unpardonable
sentiment. For there was _another_ English family in Passy--the
Prendergasts, an older family than ours--that is, the parents (and
uncles and aunts) were middle-aged, the grandmother dead, and the
children grown up. We had not the honor of their acquaintance. But
whether that was their misfortune and our fault (or _vice versâ_) I
cannot tell. Let us hope the former.
They were of an opposite type to ours, and, though I say it, their type
was a singularly unattractive one; perhaps it may have been the original
of those caricatures of our compatriots by which French comic artists
have sought to avenge Waterloo. It was stiff, haughty, contemptuous. It
had prominent front teeth, a high nose, a long upper lip, a receding
jaw; it had dull, cold, stupid, selfish green eyes, like a pike's, that
swerved neither to right nor left, but looked steadily over peoples'
heads as it stalked along in its pride of impeccable British
At the sudden sight of it (especially on Sundays) all the cardinal
virtues became hateful on the spot and respectability a thing to run
away from. Even that smooth, close-shaven cleanliness was so
Puritanically aggressive as to make one abhor the very idea of soap.
Its accent, when it spoke French (in shops), instead of being musical
and sweet and sympathetic, like Madame Seraskier's, was barbarous and
grotesque, with dreadful "ongs," and "angs," and "ows," and "ays"; and
its manner overbearing, suspicious, and disdainful; and then we could
hear its loud, insolent English asides; and though it was tall and
straight and not outwardly deformed, it looked such a kill-joy skeleton
at a feast, such a portentous carnival mask of solemn emptiness, such a
dreary, doleful, unfunny figure of fun, that one felt Waterloo might
some day be forgiven, even in Passy; but the Prendergasts, _never_!
I have lived so long away from the world that, for all I know, this
ancient British type, this "grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous
bird of yore," may have become extinct, like another, but less
unprepossessing bird--the dodo; whereby our state is the more gracious.
But in those days, and generalizing somewhat hastily as young people
are apt to do, we grew to think that England must be full of
Prendergasts, and did not want to go there.
To this universal English beastliness of things we made a few
exceptions, it is true, but the list was not long: tea, mustard,
pickles, gingerbread-nuts, and, of all things in the world, the English
loaf of household bread that came to us once a week as a great treat and
recompense for our virtues, and harmonized so well with Passy butter. It
was too delicious! But there was always a difficulty, a dilemma--whether
to eat it with butter alone, or with "cassonade" (French brown
Mimsey knew her own mind, and loved it with French brown sugar, and if
she were not there I would save for her half of my slices, and carefully
cassonade them for her myself.
On the other hand, we thought everything French the reverse of
beastly--except all the French boys we knew, and at M. Saindou's there
were about two hundred; then there were all the boys in Passy (whose
name was legion, and who _did not_ go to M. Saindou's), and we knew all
the boys in Passy. So that we were not utterly bereft of material for
good, stodgy, crusty, patriotic English prejudice.
Nor did the French boys fail to think us beastly in return, and
sometimes to express the thought; especially the little vulgar boys,
whose playground was the street--the _voyous de Passy_. They hated our
white silk chimney-pot hats and large collars and Eton jackets, and
called us "sacred godems," as their ancestors used to call ours in the
days of Joan of Arc. Sometimes they would throw stones, and then there
were collisions, and bleedings of impertinent little French noses, and
runnings away of cowardly little French legs, and dreadful wails of "O
là, là! O, là, là--maman!" when they were overtaken by English ones.
Not but what _our_ noses were made to bleed now and then,
unvictoriously, by a certain blacksmith--always the same young
It is always a young blacksmith who does these things--or a young
Of course, for the honor of Great Britain, one of us finally licked him
to such a tune that he has never been able to hold up his head since. It
was about a cat. It came off at dusk, one Christmas Eve, on the "Isle of
Swans," between Passy and Grenelle (too late to save the cat).
I was the hero of this battle. "It's now or never," I thought, and saw
scarlet, and went for my foe like a maniac. The ring was kept by Alfred
and Charlie helped, oddly enough, by a couple of male Prendergasts, who
so far forgot themselves as to take an interest in the proceedings.
Madge and Mimsey looked on, terrified and charmed.
It did not last long, and was worthy of being described by Homer, or
even in _Bell's Life_. That is one of the reasons why I will not
describe it. The two Prendergasts seemed to enjoy it very much while it
lasted, and when it was over they remembered themselves again, and said
nothing, and stalked away.
As we grew older and wiser we had permission to extend our explorations
to Meudon, Versailles, St. Germain, and other delightful places; to ride
thither on hired horses, after having duly learned to ride at the famous
"School of Equitation," in the Rue Duphot.
[Illustration: "OMINOUS BIRDS OF YORE."]
Also, we swam in those delightful summer baths in the Seine, that are so
majestically called "Schools of Natation," and became past masters in
"la coupe" (a stroke no other Englishman but ourselves has ever been
quite able to manage), and in all the different delicate "nuances" of
header-taking--"la coulante," "la hussarde," "la tête-bêche," "la tout
ce que vous voudrez."
Also, we made ourselves at home in Paris, especially old Paris.
For instance, there was the island of St. Louis, with its stately old
mansions _entre cour et jardin,_ behind grim stone portals and high
walls where great magistrates and lawyers dwelt in dignified
seclusion--the nobles of the rove: but where once had dwelt, in days
gone by, the greater nobles of the sword-crusaders, perhaps, and knights
templars, like Brian de Bois Guilbert.
And that other more famous island, la Cité, where Paris itself was born,
where Notre Dame reared its twin towers above the melancholy, gray,
leprous walls and dirty brown roofs of the Hôtel-Dieu.
Pathetic little tumble down old houses, all out of drawing and
perspective, nestled like old spiders' webs between the buttresses of
the great cathedral and on two sides of the little square in front (the
Place du Parvis Notre Dame) stood ancient stone dwellings, with high
slate roofs and elaborately wrought iron balconies. They seemed to have
such romantic histories that I never tired of gazing at them, and
wondering what the histories could be; and now I think of it, one of
these very dwellings must have been the Hôtel de Gondelaurier, where,
according to the most veracious historian that ever was, poor Esmeralda
once danced and played the tambourine to divert the fair damsel
Fleur-de-Lys de Gondelaurier and her noble friends, all of whom she so
transcended in beauty, purity, goodness, and breeding (although she was
but an untaught, wandering gypsy girl, out of the gutter); and there,
before them all and the gay archer, she was betrayed to her final
undoing by her goat, whom she had so imprudently taught how to spell
the beloved name of "Phébus."
Close by was the Morgue, that grewsome building which the great etcher
Méryon has managed to invest with some weird fascination akin to that it
had for me in those days--and has now, as I see it with the charmed
eyes of Memory.
La Morgue! what a fatal twang there is about the very name!
[Illustration: SETTLING AN OLD SCORE.]
After gazing one's fill at the horrors within (as became a
healthy-minded English boy) it was but a step to the equestrian statue
of Henri Quatre, on the Pont-Neuf (the oldest bridge in Paris, by the
way); there, astride his long-tailed charger, he smiled, _le roy vert et
galant,_ just midway between either bank of the historic river, just
where it was most historic; and turned his back on the Paris of the
Bourgeois King with the pear-shaped face and the mutton-chop whiskers.
And there one stood, spellbound in indecision, like the ass of Buridan
between two sacks of oats; for on either side, north or south of the
Pont-Neuf, were to be found enchanting slums, all more attractive the
ones than the others, winding up and down hill and roundabout and in and
out, like haunting illustrations by Gustave Doré to _Drolatick Tales_ by
Balzac (not seen or read by me till many years later, I beg to say).
Dark, narrow, silent, deserted streets that would turn up afterwards in
many a nightmare--with the gutter in the middle and towerlets and stone
posts all along the sides; and high fantastic walls (where it was
_défendre d'afficher_), with bits of old battlement at the top, and
overhanging boughs of sycamore and lime, and behind them gray old
gardens that dated from the days of Louis le Hutin and beyond! And
suggestive names printed in old rusty iron letters at the street
corners--"Rue Videgousset," "Rue Coupe-gorge," "Rue de la Vieille
Truanderie," "Impasse de la Tour de Nesle," etc., that appealed to the
imagination like a chapter from Hugo or Dumas.
And the way to these was by long, tortuous, busy thoroughfares, most
irregularly flagged, and all alive with strange, delightful people in
blue blouses, brown woollen tricots, wooden shoes, red and white cotton
nightcaps, rags and patches; most graceful girls, with pretty,
self-respecting feet, and flashing eyes, and no head-dress but their own
hair; gay, fat hags, all smile; thin hags, with faces of appalling
wickedness or misery; precociously witty little gutter-imps of either
sex; and such cripples! jovial hunchbacks, lusty blind beggars, merry
creeping paralytics, scrofulous wretches who joked and punned about
their sores; light-hearted, genial, mendicant monsters without arms or
legs, who went ramping through the mud on their bellies from one
underground wine-shop to another; and blue-chinned priests and
barefooted brown monks and demure Sisters of Charity, and here and there
a jolly chiffonnier with his hook, and his knap-basket behind; or a
cuirassier, or a gigantic carbineer, or gay little "Hunter of Africa,"
or a couple of bold gendarmes riding abreast, with their towering black
_bonnets à poil;_ or a pair of pathetic little red-legged soldiers,
conscripts just fresh from the country, with innocent light eyes and
straw-coloured hair and freckled brown faces, walking hand in hand, and
staring at all the pork-butchers' shops--and sometimes at the
Then a proletarian wedding procession--headed by the bride and
bridegroom, an ungainly pair in their Sunday best--all singing noisily
together. Then a pauper funeral, or a covered stretcher, followed by
sympathetic eyes on its way to the Hôtel-Dieu; or the last sacrament,
with bell and candle, bound for the bedside of some humble agonizer _in
extremis_--and we all uncovered as it went by.
And then, for a running accompaniment of sound the clanging chimes, the
itinerant street cries, the tinkle of the _marchand de coco,_ the drum,
the _cor de chasse,_ the organ of Barbary, the ubiquitous pet parrot,
the knife-grinder, the bawling fried-potato monger, and, most amusing of
all, the poodle-clipper and his son, strophe and antistrophe, for every
minute the little boy would yell out in his shrill treble that "his
father clipped poodles for thirty sous, and was competent also to
undertake the management of refractory tomcats," upon which the father
would growl in his solemn bass, "My son speaks the truth"--_L'enfant
And rising above the general cacophony the din of the eternally cracking
whip, of the heavy carwheel jolting over the uneven stones, the stamp
and neigh of the spirited little French cart-horse and the music of his
many bells, and the cursing and swearing and _hue! dià!_ of his driver!
It was all entrancing.
Thence home--to quite, innocent, suburban Passy--by the quays, walking
on the top of the stone parapet all the way, so as to miss nothing (till
a gendarme was in sight), or else by the Boulevards, the Rue de Rivoli,
the Champs Élysées, the Avenue de St. Cloud, and the Chaussée de la
Muette. What a beautiful walk! Is there another like it anywhere as it
was then, in the sweet early forties of this worn-out old century, and
before this poor scribe had reached his teens?
Ah! it is something to have known that Paris, which lay at one's feet as
one gazed from the heights of Passy, with all its pinnacles and spires
and gorgeously-gilded domes, its Arch of Triumph, its Elysian Fields,
its Field of Mars, its Towers of our Lady, its far-off Column of July,
its Invalids, and Vale of Grace, and Magdalen, and Place of the Concord,
where the obelisk reared its exotic peak by the beautiful unforgettable
There flowed the many-bridged winding river, always the same way, unlike
our tidal Thames, and always full; just beyond it was spread that
stately, exclusive suburb, the despair of the newly rich and recently
ennobled, where almost every other house bore a name which read like a
page of French history; and farther still the merry, wicked Latin
quarter and the grave Sorbonne, the Pantheon, the Garden of Plants; on
the hither side, in the middle distance, the Louvre, where the kings of
France had dwelt for centuries; the Tuileries, where "the King of the
French" dwelt then, and just for a little while yet.
Well I knew and loved it all; and most of all I loved it when the sun
was setting at my back, and innumerable distant windows reflected the
blood-red western flame. It seemed as though half Paris were on fire,
with the cold blue east for a background.
Yes, it is something to have roamed over it as a small boy--a small
English boy (that is, a small boy unattended by his mother or his
nurse), curious, inquisitive, and indefatigable; full of imagination;
all his senses keen with the keenness that belongs to the morning of
life: the sight of a hawk, the hearing of a bat, almost the scent of
Indeed, it required a nose both subtle and unprejudiced to understand
and appreciate and thoroughly enjoy that Paris--not the Paris of M. le
Baron Haussmann, lighted by gas and electricity, and flushed and drained
by modern science; but the "good old Paris" of Balzac and Eugène Sue and
_Les Mystères_--the Paris of dim oil-lanterns suspended from iron
gibbets (where once aristocrats had been hung); of water-carriers who
sold water from their hand-carts, and delivered it at your door (_au
cinquème_) for a penny a pail--to drink of, and wash in, and cook
with, and all.
There were whole streets--and these by no means the least fascinating
and romantic--where the unwritten domestic records of every house were
afloat in the air outside it--records not all savory or sweet, but
always full of interest and charm!
One knew at a sniff as one passed the _porte cochère_ what kind of
people lived behind and above; what they ate and what they drank, and
what their trade was; whether they did their washing at home, and burned
tallow or wax, and mixed chicory with their coffee, and were over-fond
of Gruyère cheese--the biggest, cheapest, plainest, and most formidable
cheese in the world; whether they fried with oil or butter, and liked
their omelets overdone and garlic in their salad, and sipped
black-currant brandy or anisette as a liqueur; and were overrun with
mice, and used cats or mouse-traps to get rid of them, or neither; and
bought violets, or pinks, or gillyflowers in season, and kept them too
long; and fasted on Friday with red or white beans, or lentils, or had a
dispensation from the Pope--or, haply, even dispensed with the Pope's
For of such a telltale kind were the overtones in that complex, odorous
I will not define its fundamental note--ever there, ever the same; big
with a warning of quick-coming woe to many households; whose unheeded
waves, slow but sure, and ominous as those that rolled on great
occasions from le Bourdon de Notre Dame (the Big Ben of Paris), drove
all over the gay city and beyond, night and day--penetrating every
corner, overflowing the most secret recesses, drowning the very incense
by the altar-steps.
"_Le pauvre en sa cabane où le chaume le couvre
Est sujet à ses lois;
Et la garde qui veille aux barrières du Louvre
N'en défend point nos rois_."
And here, as I write, the faint, scarcely perceptible, ghost-like
suspicion of a scent--a mere nostalgic fancy, compound, generic,
synthetic and all-embracing--an abstract olfactory symbol of the "Tout
Paris" of fifty years ago, comes back to me out of the past; and fain
would I inhale it in all its pristine fulness and vigour. For scents,
like musical sounds, are rare sublimaters of the essence of memory (this
is a prodigious fine phrase--I hope it means something), and scents
need not be seductive in themselves to recall the seductions of scenes
and days gone by.
Alas! scents cannot be revived at will, like an
"_Air doux et tendre
Oh, that I could hum or whistle an old French smell! I could evoke all
Paris, sweet, prae-imperial Paris, in a single whiff!
* * * * *
In such fashion did we three small boys, like the three musketeers (the
fame of whose exploits was then filling all France), gather and pile up
sweet memories, to chew the cud thereof in after years, when far away
Of all that _bande joyeuse_--old and young and middle-aged, from M. le
Major to Mimsey Seraskier--all are now dead but me--all except dear
Madge, who was so pretty and light-hearted; and I have never seen
* * * * *
Thus have I tried, with as much haste as I could command (being one of
the plodding sort) to sketch that happy time, which came to an end
suddenly and most tragically when I was twelve years old.
My dear and jovial happy-go-lucky father was killed in a minute by the
explosion of a safety lamp of his own invention, which was to have
superseded Sir Humphry Davy's, and made our fortune! What a brutal
irony of fate.
So sanguine was he of success, so confident that his ship had come home
at last, that he had been in treaty for a nice little old manor in Anjou
(with a nice little old castle to match), called la Marière, which had
belonged to his ancestors, and from which we took our name (for we were
Pasquier de la Marière, of quite a good old family); and there we were
to live on our own land, as _gentilshommes campagnards_, and be French
for evermore, under a paternal, pear-faced bourgeois king as a temporary
_pis-aller_ until Henri Cinq, Comte de Chambord, should come to his own
again, and make us counts and barons and peers of France--Heaven
knows what for!
My mother, who was beside herself with grief, went over to London, where
this miserable accident had occurred, and had barely arrived there when
she was delivered of a still-born child, and died almost immediately;
and I became an orphan in less than a week, and a penniless one. For it
turned out that my father had by this time spent every penny of his own
and my mother's capital, and had, moreover, died deeply in debt. I was
too young and too grief-stricken to feel anything but the terrible
bereavement, but it soon became patent to me that an immense alteration
was to be made in my mode of life.
A relative of my mother's, Colonel Ibbetson (who was well off) came to
Passy to do his best for me, and pay what debts had been incurred in the
neighborhood, and settle my miserable affairs.
After a while it was decided by him and the rest of the family that I
should go back with him to London, there to be disposed of for the
best, according to his lights.
And on a beautiful June Morning, redolent of lilac and syringa, gay with
dragon-flies and butterflies and bumblebees, my happy childhood ended as
it had begun. My farewells were heartrending (to me), but showed that I
could inspire affection as well as feel it, and that was some
compensation for my woe.
"Adieu, cher Monsieur Gogo. Bonne chance, et le Bon Dieu vous bénisse,"
said le Père et la Mère François. Tears trickled down the Major's hooked
nose on to his mustache, now nearly white.
Madame Seraskier strained me to her kind heart, and blessed and kissed
me again and again, and rained her warm tears on my face; and hers was
the last figure I saw as our fly turned into the Rue de la Tour on our
way to London, Colonel Ibbetson exclaiming--
"Gad! who's the lovely young giantess that seems so fond of you, you
little rascal, hey? By George! you young Don Giovanni, I'd have given
something to be in your place! And who's that nice old man with the long
green coat and the red ribbon? A _vieille moustache_, I suppose: almost
like a gentleman. Precious few Frenchmen can do that!"
Such was Colonel Ibbetson.
And then and there, even as he spoke, a little drop of sullen, chill
dislike to my guardian and benefactor, distilled from his voice, his
aspect, the expression of his face, and his way of saying things,
suddenly trickled into my consciousness--never to be whiped away!
As for so poor Mimsey, her grief was so overwhelming that she could not
come out and wish me goodbye like the others; and it led, as I
afterwards heard, to a long illness, the worst she ever had; and when
she recovered it was to find that her beautiful mother was no more.
Madame Seraskier died of the cholera, and so did le Père et la Mère
François, and Madame Pelé, and one of the Napoleonic prisoners (not M.
le Major), and several other people we had known, including a servant of
our own, Thérèse, the devoted Thérèse, to whom we were all devoted in
return. That malodorous tocsin, which I have compared to the big bell of
Notre Dame, had warned, and warned, and warned in vain.
The _maison de santé_ was broken up. M. le Major and his friends went
and roosted on parole elsewhere, until a good time arrived for them,
when their lost leader came back and remained--first as President of the
French Republic, then as Emperor of the French themselves. No more
parole was needed after that.
My grandmother and Aunt Plunket and her children fled in terror to
Tours, and Mimsey went to Russia with her father.
Thus miserably ended that too happy septennate, and so no more at
"_Le joli lieu de ma naissance_!"
The next decade of my outer life is so uninteresting, even to myself,
that I will hurry through it as fast as I can. It will prove dull
reading, I fear.
My Uncle Ibbetson (as I now called him) took to me and arranged to
educate and start me in life, and make "a gentleman" of me--an "English
gentleman." But I had to change my name and adopt his; for some reason I
did not know, he seemed to hate my father's very name. Perhaps it was
because he had injured my father through life in many ways, and my
father had always forgiven him; a very good reason! Perhaps it was
because he had proposed to my mother three times when she was a girl,
and had been thrice refused! (After the third time, he went to India for
seven years, and just before his departure my father and mother were
married, and a year after that I was born.)
So Pierre Pasquier de la Marière, _alias_ Monsieur Gogo, became Master
Peter Ibbetson, and went to Bluefriars, the gray-coat school, where he
spent six years--an important slice out of a man's life, especially
at that age.
I hated the garb, I hated the surroundings--the big hospital at the
back, and that reek of cruelty, drunkenness, and filth, the
cattle-market--where every other building was either a slaughter-house,
a gin-palace, or a pawnbroker's shop, more than all I hated the gloomy
jail opposite, where they sometimes hanged a man in public on a Monday
morning. This dismal prison haunted my dreams when I wanted to dream of
Passy, of my dear dead father and mother and Madame Seraskier.
For the first term or two they were ever in my thoughts, and I was
always trying to draw their profiles on desks and slates and copybooks,
till at last all resemblance seemed to fade out of them; and then I drew
M. le Major till his side face became quite demoralized and impossible,
and ceased to be like anything in life. Then I fell back on others: le
Père François, with his eternal _bonnet de colon_ and sabots stuffed
with straw; the dog Médor, the rocking-horse, and all the rest of the
menagerie; the diligence that brought me away from Paris; the heavily
jack-booted couriers in shiny hats and pigtails, and white breeches, and
short-tailed blue coats covered with silver buttons, who used to ride
through Passy, on their way to and fro between the Tuileries and St.
Cloud, on little, neighing, gray stallions with bells round their necks
and tucked-up tails, and beautiful heads like the horses' heads in the
In my sketches they always looked and walked and trotted the same way:
to the left, or westward as it would be on the map. M. le Major, Madame
Seraskier, Médor, the diligences and couriers, were all bound westward
by common consent--all going to London, I suppose, to look after me, who
was so dotingly fond of them.
Some of the boys used to admire these sketches and preserve them--some
of the bigger boys would value my idealized (!) profiles of Madame
Seraskier, with eyelashes quite an inch in length, and an eye three
times the size of her mouth; and thus I made myself an artistic
reputation for a while. But it did not last long, for my vein was
limited; and soon another boy came to the school, who surpassed me in
variety and interest of subject, and could draw profiles looking either
way with equal ease; he is now a famous Academician, and seems to have
preserved much of his old facility.[A]
[Footnote A: _Note_.--I have here omitted several pages, containing a
description in detail of my cousin's life "at Bluefriars"; and also the
portraits (not always flattering) which he has written of masters and
boys, many of whom are still alive, and some of whom have risen to
distinction; but these sketches would be without special interest unless
the names were given as well, and that would be unadvisable for many
reasons. Moreover, there is not much in what I have left out that has
any bearing on his subsequent life, or the development of his character.
* * * * *
Thus, on the whole, my school career was neither happy nor unhappy, nor
did I distinguish myself in any way, nor (though I think I was rather
liked than otherwise) make any great or lasting friendships; on the
other hand. I did not in any way disgrace myself, nor make a single
enemy that I knew of. Except that I grew our of the common tall and
very strong, a more commonplace boy than I must have seemed (after my
artistic vein gad run itself dry) never went to a public school. So much
for my outer life at Bluefriars.
[Illustration: A DREAM OF CHIVALRY]
But I had an inner world of my own, whose capital was Passy, whose fauna
and flora were not to be surpassed by anything in Regent's Park or the
It was good to think of it by day, to dream of it by night, _although I
had not yet learned how to dream!_
There were soon other and less exclusive regions, however, which I
shared with other boys of that bygone day. Regions of freedom and
delight, where I heard the ominous crack of Deerslayer's rifle, and was
friends with Chingachgook and his noble son--the last, alas! of the
Mohicans: where Robin Hood and Friar Tuck made merry, and exchanged
buffets with Lion-hearted Richard under the green-wood tree: where
Quentin Durward, happy squire of dames, rode midnightly by their side
through the gibbet-and-gipsy-haunted forests of Touraine.... Ah! I had
my dream of chivalry!
Happy times and climes! One must be a gray-coated school-boy, in the
heart of foggy London, to know that nostalgia.
Not, indeed, but what London has its merits. Sam Weller lived there, and
Charley Bates, and the irresistible Artful Dodger--and Dick Swiveller,
and his adorable Marchioness, who divided my allegiance with Rebecca of
York and sweet Diana Vernon.
It was good to be an English boy in those days, and care for such
friends as these! But it was good to be a French boy also; to have known
Paris, to possess the true French feel of things--and the language.
Indeed, bilingual boys--boys double-tongued from their very birth
(especially in French and English)--enjoy certain rare privileges. It is
not a bad thing for a school-boy (since a school-boy he must be) to hail
from two mother-countries if he can, and revel now and then in the
sweets of homesickness for that of his two mother-countries in which he
does not happen to be; and read _Les Trois Mousquetaires_ in the
cloisters of Bluefriars, or _Ivanhoe_ in the dull, dusty prison-yard
that serves for a playground in so many a French _lycée_!
Without listening, he hears all round him the stodgy language of every
day, and the blatant shouts of his school-fellows, in the voices he
knows so painfully well--those shrill trebles, those cracked barytones
and frog-like early basses! There they go, bleating and croaking and
yelling; Dick, Tom, and Harry, or Jules, Hector, and Alphonse! How
vaguely tiresome and trivial and commonplace they are--those too
familiar sounds; yet what an additional charm they lend to that so
utterly different but equally familiar word-stream that comes silently
flowing into his consciousness through his rapt eyes! The luxurious
sense of mental exclusiveness and self-sequestration is made doubly
complete by the contrast!
And for this strange enchantment to be well and thoroughly felt, both
his languages must be native; not acquired, however perfectly. Every
single word must have its roots deep down in a personal past so remote
for him as to be almost unremembered; the very sound and printed aspect
of each must be rich in childish memories of home; in all the countless,
nameless, priceless associations that make it sweet and fresh and
strong, and racy of the soil.
Oh! Porthos, Athos, and D'Artagnan--how I loved you, and your immortal
squires, Planchet, Grimaud, Mousqueton! How well and wittily you spoke
the language I adored--better even than good Monsieur Lallemand, the
French master at Bluefriars, who could wield the most irregular
subjunctives as if they had been mere feathers--trifles light as air.
Then came the Count of Monte-Cristo, who taught me (only too well) his
terrible lesson of hatred and revenge; and _Les Mystères de Paris, Le
Juif Errant_, and others.
But no words that I can think of in either mother-tongue can express
what I felt when first, through these tear-dimmed eyes of mine, and deep
into my harrowed soul, came silently flowing the never-to-be-forgotten
history of poor Esmeralda,[A] my first love! whose cruel fate filled
with pity, sorrow, and indignation the last term of my life at school.
It was the most important, the most solemn, the most epoch-making event
of my school life. I read it, reread it, and read it again. I have not
been able to read it since; it is rather long! but how well I remember
it, and how short it seemed then! and oh! how short those
[Footnote A: Notre Dame de Paris, par Victor Hugo.]
That mystic word [Greek: Anagkae]! I wrote it on the flyleaf of all my
books. I carved it on my desk. I intoned it in the echoing cloisters! I
vowed I would make a pilgrimage to Notre Dame some day, that I might
hunt for it in every hole and corner there, and read it with my own
eyes, and feel it with my own forefinger.
And then that terrible prophetic song the old hag sings in the dark
slum--how it haunted me, too! I could not shake it out of my troubled
consciousness for months:
_Grouille, grève, grève, grouille,
File, File, ma quenouille:_
_File sa corde au bourreau
Qui siffle dans le préau.
Yes; it was worth while having been a little French boy just for a few
I especially found it so during the holidays, which I regularly spent at
Bluefriars; for there was a French circulating library in Holborn, close
by--a paradise. It was kept by a delightful old French lady who had seen
better days, and was very kind to me, and did not lend me all the books
I asked for!
Thus irresistibly beguiled by these light wizards of our degenerate age,
I dreamed away most of my school life, utterly deaf to the voices of the
older enchanters--Homer, Horace, Virgil--whom I was sent to school on
purpose to make friends with; a deafness I lived to deplore, like other
dunces, when it was too late.
* * * * *
And I was not only given to dream by day--I dreamed by night; my sleep
was full of dreams--terrible nightmares, exquisite visions, strange
scenes full of inexplicable reminiscence; all vague and incoherent, like
all men's dreams that have hitherto been; _for I had not yet learned how
A vast world, a dread and beautiful chaos, an ever-changing kaleidoscope
of life, too shadowy and dim to leave any lasting impression on the
busy, waking mind; with here and there more vivid images of terror or
delight, that one remembered for a few hours with a strange wonder and
questioning, as Coleridge remembered his Abyssinian maid who played
upon the dulcimer (a charming and most original combination).
The whole cosmos is in a man's brains--as much of it, at least, as a
man's brains will hold; perhaps it is nowhere else. And when sleep
relaxes the will, and there are no earthly surroundings to distract
attention--no duty, pain, or pleasure to compel it--riderless Fancy
takes the bit in its teeth, and the whole cosmos goes mad and has its
wild will of us.
[Illustration: "NOTRE DAME DE PARIS."]
Ineffable false joys, unspeakable false terror and distress, strange
phantoms only seen as in a glass darkly, chase each other without rhyme
or reason, and play hide-and-seek across the twilit field and through
the dark recesses of our clouded and imperfect consciousness.
And the false terrors and distress, however unspeakable, are no worse
than such real terrors and distress as are only too often the waking lot
of man, or even so bad; but the ineffable false joys transcend all
possible human felicity while they last, and a little while it is! We
wake, and wonder, and recall the slight foundation on which such
ultra-human bliss has seemed to rest. What matters the foundation if but
the bliss be there, and the brain has nerves to feel it?
Poor human nature, so richly endowed with nerves of anguish, so
splendidly organized for pain and sorrow, is but slenderly equipped
What hells have we not invented for the afterlife! Indeed, what hells we
have often made of this, both for ourselves and others, and at really
such a very small cost of ingenuity, after all!
Perhaps the biggest and most benighted fools have been the best
Whereas the best of our heavens is but a poor perfunctory conception,
for all that the highest and cleverest among us have done their very
utmost to decorate and embellish it, and make life there seem worth
living. So impossible it is to imagine or invent beyond the sphere of
Now, these dreams of mine (common to many) of the false but ineffable
joys, are they not a proof that there exist in the human brain hidden
capacities, dormant potentialities of bliss, unsuspected hitherto, to
be developed some day, perhaps, and placed within the reach of all,
wakers and sleepers alike?
A sense of ineffable joy, attainable at will, and equal in intensity and
duration to (let us say) an attack of sciatica, would go far to equalize
the sorrowful, one-sided conditions under which we live.
* * * * *
But there is one thing which, as a school-boy, I never dreamed--namely,
that I, and one other holding a torch, should one day, by common
consent, find our happiness in exploring these mysterious caverns of the
brain; and should lay the foundations of order where only misrule had
been before: and out of all those unreal, waste, and transitory realms
of illusion, evolve a real, stable, and habitable world, which all who
run may reach.
* * * * *
At last I left school for good, and paid a visit to my Uncle Ibbetson in
Hopshire, where he was building himself a lordly new pleasure-house on
his own land, as the old one he had inherited a year or two ago was no
longer good enough for him.
It was an uninteresting coast on the German Ocean, without a rock, or a
cliff, or a pier, or a tree; even without cold gray stones for the sea
to break on--nothing but sand!--a bourgeois kind of sea, charmless in
its best moods, and not very terrible in its wrath, except to a few
stray fishermen whom it employed, and did not seem to reward very
Inland it was much the same. One always thought of the country as gray,
until one looked and found that it was green; and then, if one were old
and wise, one thought no more about it, and turned one's gaze inward.
Moreover, it seemed to rain incessantly.
But it was the country and the sea, after Bluefriars and the
cloisters--after Newgate, St. Bartholomew, and Smithfield.
And one could fish and bathe in the sea after all, and ride in the
country, and even follow the hounds, a little later; which would have
been a joy beyond compare if one had not been blessed with an uncle who
thought one rode like a French tailor, and told one so, and mimicked
one, in the presence of charming young ladies who rode in perfection.
In fact, it was heaven itself by comparison, and would have remained so
longer but for Colonel Ibbetson's efforts to make a gentleman of me--an
What is a gentleman? It is a grand old name; but what does it mean?
At one time, to say of a man that he is a gentleman, is to confer on him
the highest title of distinction we can think of; even if we are
speaking of a prince.
At another, to say of a man that he is _not_ a gentleman is almost to
stigmatize him as a social outcast, unfit for the company of his
kind--even if it is only one haberdasher speaking of another.
_Who_ is a gentleman, and yet who _is not_?
The Prince of Darkness was one, and so was Mr. John Halifax, if we are
to believe those who knew them best; and so was one "Pelham," according
to the late Sir Edward Bulwer, Earl of Lytton, etc.; and it certainly
seemed as if _he_ ought to know.
And I was to be another, according to Roger Ibbetson, Esquire, of
Ibbetson Hall, late Colonel of the--, and it certainly seemed as if
he ought to know too! The word was as constantly on his lips (when
talking to _me_) as though, instead of having borne her Majesty's
commission, he were a hairdresser's assistant who had just come into an
This course of tuition began pleasantly enough, before I left London, by
his sending me to his tailors, who made me several beautiful suits;
especially an evening suit, which has lasted me for life, alas; and
these, after the uniform of the gray-coat school, were like an
initiation to the splendors of freedom and manhood.
Colonel Ibbetson--or Uncle Ibbetson, as I used to call him--was my
mother's first cousin; my grandmother, Mrs. Biddulph, was the sister of
his father, the late Archdeacon Ibbetson, a very pious, learned, and
exemplary divine, of good family.
But his mother (the Archdeacon's second wife) had been the only child
and heiress of an immensely rich pawnbroker, by name Mendoza; a
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