Autobiography (1)
Home Up Thoughts at Fourscore Gulf of Time Old Fashioned Stories Self-help Prison Rhymes, etc. Baron's Yule Feast Purgatory of Suicides Paradise of Martyrs Poets of the Poor Reviews, etc. Main Index Site Search




CHILDHOOD: 1805-1811.

THE world expects, and almost demands, that some men write their autobiography.  It ridicules the vanity and impertinence of other men who put the recollections of their own lives into print.  Hundreds of people have told me that I ought to write a record of my own life.  But, very likely, thousands will wonder that I have had the assurance to write it, or could imagine that anybody really cared to have it written.  And, doubtless, to many people, my record will be worthless; yet I hope others will find something in it they may deem not altogether without value.

    Having come to the resolution to write my own memoirs, I see no necessity for confining myself to the drawing out of a lean outline.  If the account of a man's life be worth writing at all, it must be worth writing with fair completeness.  So I shall fill up the outline as fully as I judge it wise to fill it up.  I shall do so more especially when it will gratify myself. For, if there be any gratification to be derived from the reading of my book, I think I ought to share it. And I most positively declare that if I had thought a share of such gratification would be denied me, I would not have written the book at all. Thus the reader will see that I have let the truth out, at once: I have written the book chiefly to please myself. And that, I suspect, is the chief reason why anybody writes an autobiography.

    Coleridge (in his "Literaria Biographia") thinks it "probable that all thoughts are in themselves imperishable; and that if the intelligent faculty should be rendered more comprehensive it would only require a different and apportioned organization—the body celestial instead of the body terrestrial—to bring before every human soul the collective experience of its whole past existence."  One could desire to have such a power of tracing every thought to the earliest part of one's conscious existence.  Not for the purpose of inflicting the recital of all one's thoughts upon others, but for the purpose of being able to tell the truth.  What were the exact motives for the performance of certain actions in our lives, we often cannot state unerringly in our later years.  It is not simply because memory fails that we cannot give the veritable statement; but because the moral and intellectual man has changed.  We no longer think and feel as we thought and felt so many years ago; and, perhaps, we wonder that we did some things and spoke some words we did and spake at certain times.  We are inclined to set it down that our motives then were what they would he now.  We see the past, as it were, through a false glass; and cannot represent it to ourselves otherwise than as something like the present.

    I am setting out to write my memoirs with the rigid purpose of telling the truth to the best of my knowledge.  But I cannot expect to accomplish what none of us can accomplish, unless "the intelligent faculty should be rendered more comprehensive."  I shall fail in rehearsing some things correctly, no doubt; but it shall not be wilfully, or from intention.

    Most likely I shall become tedious to some readers when I am gratifying myself most fully.  But any reader who is displeased with my narrative can pass over the pages in which he feels no interest; or close the book and take to his daily broadsheet, if he prefers it.

    I cannot despise the good old-established practice of autobiographers and all other biographers: that of commencing with the venerable theme of ancestry.  What though a man cannot aver he believes himself to be descended, either in a right or a wrong line, from John of Gaunt, or William the Conqueror,—may not his parentage be named, however humble, if it be honest?

    By my father's side, I am descended from Yorkshire Quakers.  My father became fatherless when he was a boy; and his Quaker grandfather apprenticed him to a dyer in Long Acre.  His youth being thus spent in London, and without parental guardianship, he gave up the strictness of life in which his childhood had been trained, and ceased to belong to the Society of Friends.  He left England, and went to India, but soon returned, travelled about the kingdom practising his trade as a dyer, and became acquainted with my mother at Gainsborough, in the county of Lincoln.

    My mother's race bore the old Saxon name of Jobson, and were small farmers and carriers in Lincolnshire; and some of them fishermen on the sea-coast.

    I was born at Leicester, on the 20th of March, 1805; but my father was a wanderer by habit, if not by nature; and so I was removed to Exeter when I was little more than twelve months old.  I fell into the Leate, a small tributary of the Exe, over which there was a little wooden bridge that led to my father's dye-house, on the day that I was two years old—and, as my mother always said, at the very hour that I was born, two years before.  After being borne down the stream a considerable way, I was taken out, and supposed to be dead; but was restored by medical skill.  It may seem strange to some who read this—but I remember, most distinctly and clearly, being led by the hand of my father, over St. Thomas's bridge, on the afternoon of that day.  He bought me gingerbread from one of the stalls on the bridge; and some of the neighbours, who knew me, came and chucked me under the chin, and said, "How did you like it?—How did you fall in?—Where have you been to?"  The circumstances are as vivid to my mind as if they only occurred yesterday.

    A more pleasing remembrance is that of having being taken at five o'clock on Christmas-day morning to hear the great organ of St. Peter's Cathedral.  I was not then three years old.  And I remember, quite as well, how Mother Hundrell, the milkwoman, used to give me white bread thickly covered with cream; that delicious cream for which I often longed, years after, when I became a hungry, ragged boy, and was far away from bland Devonshire.

    I learned to read, they said, almost without instruction; and at three years old I used to be set on a stool, in Dame Brown's school, to teach one Master Bodley, who was seven years old, his letters.  At the same age I could repeat by heart several of the fables of Æsop—as they were called—contained in a little volume purchased by my father.  I possess the dear relic, though tattered and torn, and minus the title-page,—together with my father's old silver watch, the silver spoon he bought for me, at my birth—I don't think I was born with one in my mouth—and the darling little hammer he bought for me at Exeter, and with which I used to work, in my childish way, when tired of reading and rehearsing fables and other stories, and hearing my father rehearse his, in turn.

    All this pleasant, sunny life of early childhood was soon to pass away.  My mother became a widow when I was but four years old, and left grand old Exeter for her native Lincolnshire.  She settled down at Gainsborough, close by the Trent, which there divides Lincolnshire from the county of Nottingham.  At Gainsborough I remained till I was nearly nine-and-twenty years old, a period of nearly twenty-five years.

    My mother took up the trade of a dyer, for she had learnt the "art and mystery" thoroughly from my father; and she was at that time very strong, and in the prime of life, being in her fortieth year.  And the business of a dyer, as it was then practised, needed strength.

    My earliest recollections of Gainsborough begin with my taking the small-pox, which I had so severely that I was blind nineteen days, was worn till the bones came through my skin, at the knees, hips, and elbows, (the scars are yet renewed!) and was thrice believed, for some moments, to be dead.  Measles and scarlet fever came close upon my weak recovery from the more fell disease.  A whole year was thus filled up with dread affliction; and at five years old, when I began to go out of doors a few paces, I felt—child though I was—the humbling change that had come over me.  I was no longer saluted cheerfully and with a smile, as at Exeter; no longer flattered and called a "pretty boy."  Some frowned, with sour-natured dislike, at my marred visage; while others looked pitiful, and said "Poor thing!"

    Within doors, there was no longer a handsome room, the cheerful look of my father, and his little songs and stories.  We had now but one chamber and one lower room; and the last-named was, at once, parlour, kitchen, and dye-house: two large coppers were set in one part of it; and my mother was at work, amidst steam and sweat, all the day long for half of the week, and on the other half she was as fully employed in "framing," ironing, and finishing her work.  Yet for me she had ever words of tenderness.  My altered face had not unendeared me to her.  In the midst of her heavy toil, she could listen to my feeble repetitions of the fables, or spare a look, at my entreaty, for the figures I was drawing with chalk upon the hearthstone.

    As soon as I was strong enough, I was sent to a dame's school, near at hand, kept by aged Gertrude Aram: "Old Gatty," as she was usually called.  Her school-room—that is to say, the larger lower room of her two-storied cottage—was always full; and she was an expert and laborious teacher of the art of reading and spelling.  Her knitting, too—for she taught girls as well as boys—was the wonder of the town.  I soon became her favourite scholar, and could read the tenth chapter of Nehemiah, with all its hard names, "like the parson in the church,"—as she used to say,—and could spell wondrously.

    I had very little play out of doors, for that year of dire diseases had rendered me a very weakly and ailing child.  So my dear mother bought me penny story books, in store; and I used to complete my enjoyment of them by getting them by heart, and repeating them.  And then I fell upon the project of drawing with slate and pencil; but became still more attached to cutting out shapes in paper.  With a pair of scissors, I used often to work for hours, making figures of men, horses, cows, dogs, and birds.

    On fine Sundays, my mother began to take me into the fields, and to Lea Plantation, to gather flowers, which we kept in water, and I could worship them for several days.  And on rainy Sundays, my mother would unwrap from its careful cover a treasure which my father had bought, and which she took care to bring with her from Exeter—Baskerville's quarto Bible, valuable for its fine engravings from the old masters; and I was privileged to gaze and admire while she slowly turned over that superb store of pictures, and sometimes repeated what my father had said about them.

    After the novelty of her starting as a dyer had worn off, my mother found her enterprise answer but poorly.  The few pounds she possessed when she reached Gainsborough, had been expended in purchasing coppers, and having them set, and in other necessary outfits of her business; indeed, it had not been sufficient for these.  She toiled hard to reduce the debt she had thus contracted; for she was not a woman to sink for lack of effort.  Pasteboard boxes, made entirely by hand, were then in very general use both as small work-boxes among tradesmen's wives and daughters, and as larger conveniences for holding servant's clothes.  My mother took up this manufacture, in addition to her business as a dyer.  She went from door to door in the town to try to sell her boxes; but finding little encouragement she began to journey to the surrounding villages and farm-houses, carrying her burden—the smaller boxes within the large, often to the amount of twenty or thirty—on her head.  When the village or hamlet was near, as were Lea, Bole, and Morton, I went with her.

    I cannot forget what occurred one day when I was about six years old, and was accompanying my mother in one of these journeys.  The rent was due, and our landlord was a hard man, and my poor mother had toiled for a fortnight to make up an extra lot of boxes.  She, at length, set out for Lea, a village two miles off, to try to dispose of her manufacture.  I trudged by her side, taking hold of her apron to enable me to keep up with her, as she walked stoutly but sadly on, with the burden on her head.

    We were not half-way towards Lea, when we were met by Cammidge, a master chimney-sweeper, and his two apprentices bending under huge soot bags.  He began to try to entice my mother into an agreement for me to be his apprentice, and took out two golden guineas from his purse and offered them to her.  She looked anxiously at them, but shook her head, and looked at me with the tears in her eyes; and I clung tremblingly to her apron, and cried, "Oh, mammy, mammy! do not let the grimy man take me away!"  "No, my dear bairn, he shall not," she answered; and away we went—leaving the chimney-sweep in a rage, swearing, and shouting after my mother that she was a fool, and he was sure to have me, sooner or later, for that she could not escape bringing herself and me to the workhouse.  My mother never went thither, however; nor did she ever ask parish help to bring me up.

    When my mother went on more distant journeys, I was left, for the day, in the care of such of the neighbours as would consent to have me.  Two of these I well remember.  One was old Will Rogers, who kept a lodging-house where small pedlars and beggars slept; and the other was Thomas Chatterton, a pensioned soldier, who had lost his eyesight in Egypt.  Many fragments of the fairy, and witch, and ghost-stories, told by the beggars and wandering pedlars, remain in my memory; but I have a far more vivid recollection of the blind soldier's relations of the way in which he stepped out of the boat up to the waist in water, in the Bay of Aboukir, and how they charged the French with the bayonet, and under cover of the cannon from the ships drove the enemy back from the shore, and effected a triumphant landing.

    When I was in my seventh year—that is to say, in the autumn of 1811—my mother had the courage to leave her small house in "Penny's Yard," as it was called, and remove into the long street of the town which runs parallel with the river Trent, and is called "Bridge Street."



AS our new house fronted the street, the boxes my mother made were exposed for sale in the little bow-window, and she had greater publicity for her dyeing business.  The coppers were now set in a back room, and thus the front room was kept neat and clean.  Our new habitation was one of the four, the back doors of which opened into a close square of small dwellings called "Sailors' Alley."  In this square resided the mother of Thomas Miller.  He was about two years younger than myself, but was stronger and healthier, and now became my playmate.  We lived in the house in front of Sailors' Alley till January 1816; and Miller and I were more or less together daily, till that time.

    On account of my feeble state of health, my mother ceased sending me to aged Gatty's school; and when I began to grow stronger, I felt unwilling to return to a dame's school.  Besides, there was a report that a large new Free School was about to be built; and as Miller's mother purposed sending him thither, my mother also had me placed on the list of applicants to be scholars.  The school was not opened till August, 1813; but in the meantime I was sent to the Methodist Sunday school.  My mother had frequently taken me with her to the Methodist chapel, from the time that I was able to walk about, after that year of diseases; but now I was taken with the other Sunday scholars, regularly, to the chapel, on Sunday mornings.  I can recall the face and figure and manner of the preachers I heard in those very early years: quaint-looking Joseph Pretty; and gentlemanly John Doncaster; and young, dry, solemn-looking and solemn preaching Isaac Keeling—(he was equally dry when he was old, but 'he had a rare canister of brains,' as an old, intelligent Methodist used to say of him); and young, fervid, and seemingly-inspired John Hannah; and hearty, plain, original, and often-eccentric John Farrar.

    When the new Free School opened, I had to leave the Methodist Sunday School, for my mother had succeeded in getting me made a "Bluecoat" scholar; and boys on that foundation were compelled to attend the parish church twice on Sundays.  Miller, I may observe, was not a Bluecoat, but a "White Hart" boy.  These were the names of two charities left by deceased Gainsborough gentry, for the education of poor children.  Bluecoat boys were allowed a coat and cap, blue with yellow trimmings, yearly.  White Hart boys had simply their education.

    The system of Bell and Lancaster, or the 'monitorial,' was pursued in the new school; and the course of instruction was limited to reading the Scriptures, writing, and the first four rules of arithmetic, simple and compound.  Our frequent practice in spelling, and the working, over and over, of the four introductory rules of arithmetic, formed at least, a good preparation for larger acquirements.  I liked the school, and, above all, I liked the grand organ at the church, the stately church itself, and the stately service.

    The day after Christmas Day was a high day with us as Bluecoat boys.  We then received our yearly new coat and cap, at the house of Dr. Parnell.  "Gervase Parnell, Esquire," was his full name and title; and a finer specimen of the old-fashioned gentleman, with powdered head and tail, and his gold-headed cane, you would nowhere see.  When we had received our new dresses at his house, he presented us with twopence each; and then away we went in procession to collect our "Christmas-boxes."  We used to begin with Mr. Sandars, the corn-merchant, whose house was nearest the bridge; and then went through the town to Morton, calling at the houses of the merchants and gentry, whose names of Furley, and Etherington, and Torr, and Morehouse, and Barnard, and Garfitt, and Flowers, and Coats, and Metcalfe, and Smith, and Dealtry, and Brightmore, are far more familiar to me, now sixty years have passed away, since I first knew them, than any names that I learned but yesterday.  Our last call in the town was upon the Rev. Mr. Fothergill, the vicar; and then away we went to Morton, and from Morton we sped away to Thonock Hall, the seat of old Miss Hickman, the lady of the manor, and heiress of Sir Neville George Hickman, Bart.

    Money was always given to us, and, at some houses, bread and cheese and beer.  I cannot say we always shared alike in what was thus kindly given; for I remember how, one severe snowy season, the big lads who carried the money-box persuaded some of us, who were weak and shivering with cold, to go home with a very few halfpence each, while they went on, and roguishly kept the larger share of the money for themselves.  Fear of punishment, however, usually kept the big lads tolerably honest.

    Twice in the year, Easter and Michaelmas, we were examined in our catechism by the vicar, preparatory to repeating it in the church, in presence of the congregation.  We had given us a shilling, each, on these occasions, and always received smiles and kind words from the vicar.  I well remember that we all esteemed Doctor Parnell and Parson Fothergill, with their grand powdered heads, and stately bearing, to be the two most veritable and genuine gentlemen in Gainsborough, albeit some wicked people said of the reverend vicar, that he was the best judge of the quality of a bottle of port, the best hand at loo or whist, and the best patron of the play and the ball-room, in the whole town.  His curate, Mr. Pridham, was a stern Evangelical, and preached openly against the vicar's tastes, without naming him; but the vicar let the curate preach on, year after year, without remonstrance, and without forsaking his own favourite habits.

    One little step of preferment that I obtained during the last year I was a Bluecoat boy, was a source of both pride and pleasure.  I was chosen, with half a dozen other boys, to join the choir in the church; and my place was now no longer on the low benches in the middle aisle, but in the church gallery, close to the organ.  I could thus see the large church organ played, as well as hear it ; and how I wondered at the changing face of the organist, young Mr. Hand—a great musical enthusiast—as he touched the keys!  The other boys laughed at him—but I could not.

    My preferment to the singing-loft had a more important result.  It brought to our house the father of the organist, old Mr. Hand, a gentlemanly person, though he had a wooden leg.  He was a great player on the dulcimer.  The instrument was soon brought to our house; and I became so enamoured of it, that my mother eventually purchased it for thirty shillings.  A few lessons, by the ear, I had from the old gentleman; and soon was able to play, by the ear, any tune I knew, or heard sung or played in the street.  How often I have wished that the dulcimer had been a violin, or a pianoforte, and that I had been taught music by the notes,—had been taught to read music at that age.  Such wishes are vain; but I have them, and of various forms.—"Oh that I had been trained to music—or painting—or law—or medicine—or any profession in which mind is needed; or that I had been regularly educated, so that I might have reached a University!"—I say, I often catch myself at these wishes still—even at sixty-six; but they are not so fervent as they were some years ago—for I remember that life here will soon end with me.

    I have many pleasant remembrances of the time that we lived in the house in front of Sailor's Alley.  Miller—my close companion—began, like myself, to cut shapes in paper, and to draw and colour.  Our greatest incitement to drawing was the exhibition of pictures on the outside of the wild-beast shows at the Mart—a festival which occurs at Gainsborough twice in the year, Easter and Michaelmas.  To run and look at these pictures, and come home, and imitate the figures of elephants, lions, tigers, leopards, zebras, and gorgeously-coloured tropical birds, formed a busy occupation for Miller and myself, during each Mart week; and to copy and improve upon our pictures was an enthusiastic employment for many weeks after.

    These years—from 1811 to 1814—were among the hottest of the war period.  And while our little town was kept in perpetual ferment by the news of battles, and the street would be lined with people to see old Matthew Goy, the postman, ride in with his hat covered with ribbons, and blowing his horn mightily, as he bore the news of some fresh victory,—Ciudad Rodrigo, or Badajoz, or Salamanca, or Vittoria, or St. Sebastian, or Toulouse,—Miller and I were pencilling soldiers and horses, or, imaginarily, Wellington and 'Boney'—for we never heard the word "Napoleon," at that time of day.

    For our animal-drawing, we had another stimulus, in aged Abraham Haxby, who lodged with Miller's mother, and who had, in his youth, been a soldier in the war against the Dutch, in India.  He used to tell us most delectable tales about elephants and tigers; nor were his descriptions of guavas, bananas, figs, jacks, and cashew-apples—your hat full for the value of a farthing!—less delicious.  Miller and I often vowed we would go to that grand fruit country when we grew to be men!

    Another companion was Job Holland.  Job was a very simple, honest, good-natured lad, older than myself, and had no taste congenial with mine, save that of bird-nesting.  Indeed, it was Job who taught me to love that delightful recreation; delightful, not so much for itself, as for the adventures and wanderings connected with it.  With Job, and soon with others, I rambled over every field and lane, hill and wood, within three miles of Gainsborough.  Saturday afternoons, and the long evenings in the season, were usually devoted to these rambles, except when my mother restrained me.

    From George Wimble, whose father was a fisherman and herb-gatherer, I learned the names of agrimony, and wood-betony, and wood-sage, and mountain-flax, and centaury, and other herbs which were to be found in the neighbourhood, and were used as medicines, by the poor.  But I often longed to know the names of flowers, which none could tell; for I gathered, fondly, every wild-flower in its season—a delicious pleasure, which, thank God! is fresh with me still, now age is reached, and I am familiar with the forms and know the names of every English flower.

    In the autumn season, two or three weeks of gleaning holidays were usually granted to the Free School children.  These weeks I usually spent at Market Rasen, a small town in Lindsey, twenty-one miles from Gainsborough, with my uncle, Luke Jobson, my mother's brother.  He rented some twenty-four acres of land, under Squire Tennyson of Tealby; and also followed the occupation of a weekly carrier, as did his father, Luke Jobson, before him—his father, Luke Jobson, whose father Henry Jobson, was an innkeeper at Northampton.  I can go no higher with my genealogy on the maternal side.

    How vividly the picture of my uncle Luke's large thatched cottage, at Market Rasen, remains in my memory!  The outer room had a wide open chimney.  My uncle's arm-chair was under it, and you could see the swallows' nests in the chimney, as you sat in the chair.  On the chimney-front hung a curious old picture, painted on oak—displaying a cat playing bagpipes to dancing mice, in one corner, and a gamester, shaped like an ape, playing at cards with clowns, in another.  Above was the legend:—

"Gamesters and puss alike doe watch,
 And plaie with those they aime toe catch."

    In the inner room, or parlour, was a heavy antique clock; and on the walls hung the "Twelve Golden Rules of Good King Charles," and "Death and the Lady," a long, serious dialogue in verse.

    In my uncle's fields, and on the adjoining moors, I saw wild birds, and wild four-footed creatures in abundance; weasels, ferrets, fomarts, moles, hedgehogs, were often taken, and owls and hawks shot.  The kestrel often hovered overhead; and now and then the glede, or kite, would soar aloft.  The country was wilder at that time of day; and, of course, fuller of interest to me, in the centre of Lindsey, than it was at the Trent border.

    The ride in the carrier's cart, too, between Rasen and Gainsborough, had its delights.  One time, we set off from Rasen late at night, and drew up in an open field, sometime before the morning broke, to let the horses graze a little.  I have a most lively recollection of awaking in the cart, and looking out in amazement at what seemed to be hundreds of small, dull, strange-looking lights, scattered over the wide field.  My uncle told me they were glowworms; and he had never seen so many together before.  Nor have I ever had such a vision of wonder as that, since boyhood.

    Each Friday in the week—the day that my uncle came to Gainsborough as weekly carrier—I was closely attendant upon him, when school hours were over, having to read the directions on his letters and parcels—for he was never put to school; and to his dying day "Knew never a letter i' the book, save round O," as he used to say.  He made much of me (I again use the old Lincolnshire language, for I love it!); always gave me a few coppers for my writing paper, lead pencils, and water-colours; and, indeed, showed every disposition to indulge me.  I thus became greatly attached to him; and to the present moment regard his memory—plain, unlettered man, though he was— with fondest affection.  I think I ought not to dismiss his humble name without saying that in his manhood he was strong and handsome, and was a pattern of industry.  He had contrived to hoard up three hundred spade-ace guineas in a stocking-foot; but from illness in the close of life did not advance in wealth, yet he left a small property to be divided by his heirs.

    My mention of the strange vision of the field of glowworms reminds me of another natural phenomenon I witnessed when a boy.  I saw a shower of live frogs.  I record this, because I have read, not only in that beautiful old book of Ray's, "The Wisdom of God in the Creation," but in later books affecting great fidelity to facts in science, that such a sight is impossible.  I am as sure of what I relate as I am of my own existence.  The minute frogs, jumping alive, fell on the pavement at our feet, and came tumbling down the spouts from the tiles of the houses into the water-tubs.



THE happiest hours of all I had in early years were spent alone, and with books.  When childhood was past, and I ceased to feel so much absorbed in the Fables, and little story books, the immortal "Pilgrim's Progress" was my book of books.  What hours of wonder and rapture I passed with Bunyan when a boy!  He was always new; and though a "numberman," or travelling-bookseller, kindly left me his curiosities, now and then, because my eagerness interested him, I returned with increased relish to Christian and Faithful, Great Heart and Giant Despair, after reading odd numbers of Baines's "History of the War," and "Pamela," and "The Earl of Moreland;" and the stories of Turpin and Nevison, the famous highwaymen, and Bampfylde Moore-Carew, the King of the Gipsies.

    The first rhymes that I can remember to have read with a sense of delight were those of the old ballad of Chevy Chase.  I used to repeat them, when alone, until they used to make me feel as warlike as did the sight of Matthew Goy when he rode into the town with the news of a victory; or the array of the Gainsborough Loyal Volunteers, when they marched through the town, on exercise-days, to the sound of fife and drum.

    Talking again of the War, reminds one, naturally, that it was followed by the Peace.  The Peace of 1814—"the General Peace," as it was emphatically, called, was celebrated in ambitious style at Gainsborough.  There was a general holiday; and there was a grand emblematical procession.  A car, drawn by six horses, held figures representing Wellington, Blucher, Platoff, the Czar Alexander, and other high personages, together with the fallen emperor labelled "Going to Elba."  There were bands of music in the streets, a thanksgiving sermon and anthems at church, and feasting parties at the inns, during the day; with a general illumination, bonfires, crackers, and squibs, at night.

    The next day, Miller and I laid our young heads together, and enlisted Bob Mason, and Tom Aram, and George Laister, and Joe Cawthrey, and Joe Carver, and Bill Tyson, and Jack Barton, and George Wimble, and other lads we knew, to accompany us on an adventurous expedition to Lea.  Papers were coloured and inscribed, and ribbons procured, and flags formed; and away we went to Lea, to try our fortunes.  I was" Wellington," and was so labelled on the front of my blue cap; and Miller was "Emperor of Russia;" and Mason was "Blucher; " and Jack Bafton was "Prince Platoff;" and Joe Cawthrey was "General Salt" (Soult was always so named, in our hearing); and Tom Aram (dear old Gatty's grandson) was "Buonaparte" (for, as I said before, we knew nothing of the name "Napoleon"); and the other lads were named after other military or regal celebrities.

    We went to Squire Western's, and Farmer Swift's, and Farmer Ashford's, and Mr. Longden's, and Sir Charles Anderson's; stood and sung "Awake, my soul, and with the sun," and "Glory to Thee, my God, this night," and other hymns we had learned at school, or in the church; gave three cheers, after shouting "Peace and Plenty! God save the King!" as we had heard them shout on the procession-day; and then one of us held his cap for coppers, with a low bow.  We were well received.  The beloved and venerated Sir Charles himself stood and smiled to hear us; and called us "very good boys," as he gave us a real silver half-crown!  Many a time, in after-life, has some old playmate pleasurably reminded me of our boyish expedition to Lea, to celebrate the General Peace.

    Bob Mason was a lad to whom Tom Miller and I were much attached; and yet he was utterly unlike either of us.  Tom and I were all for learning, and excitement, and for doing something to win fame; but Bob, from a child, was for trying to get money.  I well remember the talk he raised in the town, and the wonder in our boyish circle, by one feat.  Bob crept about the wharves by the Trent, picking up rags, bones, and bits of old iron to sell, until he became possessed of fourpence.  He then begged his passage to Hull, a distance of fifty miles, in the sailing packet of that day; bought a bag of cockles with the fourpence, begged his passage (and the carriage of the cockles) back to Gainsborough;  borrowed a wheelbarrow and a quartern "skep," or measure, hawked his cockles about the town for sale, and realized half-a- crown!  Bob could not be nine years old at that time, for he was younger than Miller or myself.

    Dear Bob!  I remember well how our friendship suffered a lapse by an unlucky incident.  During a heavy snow season, I had made a large snow man, in Sailor's Alley, and he mischievously attempted to demolish it; when I suddenly struck him with a shovel I had in my hand, and with which I had been eagerly labouring.  He received the blow on his forehead, which immediately streamed with blood; and I threw down the shovel, and grew sick with alarm, while neighbours ran out and clamorously threatened me with imprisonment and the gallows, and I know not what.  Poor Bob's head was bound up for a week; and I remained in great trouble, and wept daily in repentance and fear till he grew well.

    I had deeper troubles than this, let me say, during these years of boyhood, notwithstanding their many pleasant recollections.  My dear mother had all along hard work to get a decent living, and pay her way.  Rent, and taxes, bad harvests and dear bread, rendered it difficult for her to make a livelihood.  At one time wheaten flour rose to six shillings per stone, and we tried to live on barley cakes, which brought on a burning, gnawing pain at the stomach.  For two seasons the corn was spoiled in the fields, with wet; and, when the winter came, we could scoop out the middle of the soft, distasteful loaf; and to eat it brought on sickness.  Meat was so dear that my mother could not buy it; and often our dinner consisted of potatoes only.  We were glad, indeed, when, in the dreadful winter of 1813-14, Mr. Maw, Mr. Bowen, Mr. Palian, and a few other benevolent Quakers, started a subscription, which was joined by the gentry and wealthier tradesmen; and soup, biscuits, potatoes, and red-herrings, were served out, gratuitously, twice or thrice a week to the poor.

    There was a tax-gatherer, too, at that time, who had a bad reputation for oppressing the poor, by going beyond the rigour of the law; and for lawless connection with women whom, it was said, he favoured, in advising the Parish Vestry to make them improper sharers in various old charities.  This oppression was often spoken of very bitterly by my mother and Miller's mother, as we heard them whispering of his temptations, while they sat with their pipes at the fire.  Miller's mother had seen better circumstances; but she was now a widow, and had to sew sacks for Brumby's factory.  She worked early and late for bread for herself and her two boys; but would run in now and then, at the back door, and join my mother for a few whiffs at the pipe.  And then away they would go again to work, after cheering each other to go stoutly through the battle of life.

    They bent their wits, on one occasion, to disappoint the tax-gatherer.  He was to "distrain" on a certain day; but beds, chairs, and tables, were moved secretly in the night to blind Thomas Chatterton's; and when the tax-gatherer came next day to execute his threat, there was nothing left worth his taking.  The poor were often driven to such desperate schemes to save all they had from ruin, in those days; and the curse upon taxes and the tax-gatherer was in the mouths of hundreds—for those years of war were terrific years of suffering for the poor, notwithstanding their shouts and rejoicings when Matthew Goy rode in, with ribbons flying, bringing the news of another "glorious victory!"

    Sometimes Miller's mother and mine were excused paying some of the taxes by appealing to the magistrates, a few of whom respected them for their industry, and commiserated their hardships.  But the petition did not always avail.  Sir Charles Anderson of Lea, William Hutton, Esq., of Gate Burton, and Gervase Woodhouse, Esq., of Owston, were protectors of the poor; but the other magistrates were inexorable in enforcing the law, and the letter of it.  One can scarcely wonder at this, considering how heavy the pressure of taxes must have been in those expensive years; and how loudly some would have complained if all were not constrained to join in bearing the burden of war.

    My poor mother waged war stoutly with difficulties during these years.  She not only made rounds with her boxes to the surrounding villages, but walked weekly with them to the market at Epworth, in the Isle of Axholme, where she also took in goods to dye.  I began now to go longer journeys with her; and twice or thrice, during fine weather, she took me all the way to Epworth—a distance of twelve miles; and a journey of wonders it seemed to me, for we had to cross the river Trent in the ferry-boat, at Stockwith, and to walk some miles along the bank of the river; and we saw sea-gulls, and a heron—a something to talk of!

    I cannot dismiss this part of my boyish history without recording a few other reminiscences of that glorious Trent.  I and my young companions used sometimes to bathe, not in the wide stream, but in a little arm of it, at Ash Croft, a part of the marsh called Humble Carr, in which lies "Can'dish Bog," the spot where Cromwell pistolled young Colonel Cavendish, and beat his troop.  The young royalist hero has a monument, with a stone lion at his feet, in the neighbouring little church at Lea.  I was ever a timid bather, and never learned to swim; but I remember how cheerily and boldly many of the boys took to the water, and how the greater number of these became sailors.

    The shipping-trade of Gainsborough was great at that time.  There was not a busier scene on a small scale in England, than the loading and unloading of vessels on the Trent in those years.  Numerous large brigs, and many sloops and keels, with a great number of "ketches," or flat-bottomed boats from Staffordshire, crowded the river.  Sailors enlivened the streets of the little town by their merriment; and the whole living appearance of the town presented a very pleasing contrast to the dulness and desertion of trade which have characterised it since railways destroyed the trade on the river.

    The "Heygre" was our great excitement on the Trent.  It used to be a very stirring sight when the tide was at the full.  The huge rolling waves then dashed the shipping from their moorings, if they were not well moored and managed; and boats were often crushed to pieces.  The capture of porpoises on the river sometimes raised a crowd on the banks and at the wharves, to see the sailors signalise their courage and activity.  But the most striking incident, in my recollection, connected with the Trent, was the breaking-up of the ice, after the thirteen weeks' frost, in 1814, during which waggons loaded with coal had been drawn over the ice, and a bullock roasted on it.  The breaking-up came in a moment, and shook the town.  For a whole day and night, the broken pieces of thick ice rushed through the arches of the bridge, putting people in fear that the whole structure would give way; and, with the roar of thunder, the ice tore away past the town, driving many a stout vessel from its moorings and dashing many a small boat to pieces!  And then came the great flood which extended for miles over the marshes, and covered that part of the street in which we lived for two or three weeks—during which time Miller and I had a constrained holiday, and drew on paper the men and boats, as we looked out of our chamber window, for the lower floors were all flooded.

    The last incidents which have left their pictures in my memory, connected with our house in front of Sailors' Alley, are the return of sailors from service in the navy to their wives and families, and their stories of the press-gang, and life on board "men of war," as the huge ships were called; the coming home of soldiers, also, from the war; and, in the beginning of 1815, the curious exhibition of Martin Jackson, a half-lunatic, who went through the streets with a helmet on his head, and a piebald dress, on which were fastened papers, inscribed, "No Corn Bill!"  While remembering his odd, threatening gestures and his broken talk about "Parliament House" and "Lunnon," it was some years before I gathered the fact that Martin Jackson was making a demonstration against the infliction of the Bread Tax.  Plain Gainsborough folk understood little about politics at that time; but I remember that some shook their heads shrewdly, and said "Martin is right, in spite of all his craziness! "

    In the same eventful year, there arose the cry of "The Devil is broke loose!"  Napoleon left Elba—re-won the French throne—lost all at Waterloo—and was finally exiled to St. Helena.  An important change came over our humble fortunes.  Our house had become the property of a new landlord.  He determined to pull it down and build a better; and so my mother had to prepare to quit.



TO avoid the payment of a high rent and of heavy taxes, my mother again withdrew from the public street, and retired into the obscurity of Old George Yard.  She found a large empty stable, in which there was a good well; and as plenty of water was such a desideratum in her dyeing business, she bargained with the landlord of the stable to have it transformed half into a dye-house, and half into a rude dwelling-house.  The bricklayers and joiners went to work; and the place was ready for our tenancy by the middle of January, 1816.

    We were now within a few yards of a popular day-school for boys, kept by John Briggs, and which was chiefly patronised by tradesmen and better-paid workmen.  I had grown weary of the monotonous teaching at the Free School; so my mother readily consented to my leaving it and entering the neighbouring day-school.  Here there was no longer the bare routine of the four fundamental rules of arithmetic.  There were big lads who had advanced to "Mensuration," in Bonnycastle's book.  The new master tried my powers as a cipherer, and decided that I should begin with "Reduction," in Walkinghame's "Tutor's Assistant."

    I remained with dear Daddy Briggs from May 1816 to May 1820.  He took no school-fees of my mother, but employed me as an assistant, for about an hour each day, in teaching the younger children.  He treated me less as a pupil than as a companion; and I became much attached to him.  Yet he was never, really, a teacher to me.  I made my way, easily, without help, through Walkinghame, part of Bonnycastle, and got a little way into Algebra before I left school.  But the chief advantage I derived from Daddy Briggs's school was in being introduced to the companionship of lads of better culture than I had known before, and in obtaining the loan of their books to read—their Enfield's Speaker, and Mayor's British Plutarch, and the abridgment of Goldsmith's Histories of England, Greece, and Rome.  And then, in addition to their school books, one boy had a "Robinson Crusoe," and another possessed "Philip Quarll," and another had "Salmon's Geography," containing the Lord's Prayer in thirty languages.  Here was a world of new reading and new information!

    The number-man began also to intimate that the bookselling firm he represented were printing an improved order of books.  So I soon had the reading of Barclay's quarto Dictionary—or such parts of it as were readable; of Kelly's quarto Geography; and my mother took in, in numbers, "Dialogues between a Pilgrim, Adam, Noah, and Cleophas."

    Soon I found, too, in going to buy my pencils and water-colours at Mrs. Trevor's, that she kept a circulating library; and from her shelves I drew the enchanting "Arabian Nights," and odd plays of Shakspeare, Dryden, and Otway, and Cook's Voyages, and the Old English Baron; and the Castle of Otranto, and Guiscard; and the Bravo of Venice; and Hardenbras and Haverill; and Valentine's Eve; and the Castles of Athlin and Dunbayne; and the Scottish Chiefs—and a heap of other romances and novels that would require pages even to name.

    The visit to Gainsborough of Moses Holden, of Preston, to deliver lectures on astronomy, was a memorable event to me.  I cannot remember who gave me the sixpence which enabled me to hear the first lecture; but I recollect that I drew out the figures of the zodiacal constellations, and of the solar system, and coloured them by memory, from the exhibition of Mr. Holden's orrery,—went round the neighbourhood, and showed them, and obtained pennies plenty to enable me to hear the remaining lectures.  This was in my twelfth year.

    I had no means for getting much enlargement of the elementary knowledge of astronomy thus obtained; and I was easily misled, by a notable old man of the name of Charles White, but who was more commonly known among the poor as the "Wise Man of Retford," to turn aside into the devious paths of astrology.  He lent me a book or two, and talked so mysteriously of the "higher knowledge" he possessed above that contained in the books, that I became eager to learn it.  Fortunately, he passed away; and I was weaned from the foolish passion for a time.

    Save that childish enthusiasm I had felt while reciting "Chevy Chase," I do not remember that poetry really touched any chord in my nature, until, in my thirteenth year, by some accident there fell into my hands one of the cantos of "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" and the drama of "Manfred."  I had them in my hands for only a few hours, and I knew nothing of their noble author's life or reputation; but they seemed to create almost a new sense within me. I wanted more poetry to read from that time; but could get hold of none that thrilled through my nature like Byron's.  I had read the "Paradise Lost;" but it was above my culture and learning, and it did not make me feel, though I read it with interest, as a mere story.

    What strange mixtures there are in the experience of some of us!  During these years I was still practising drawing, and playing my dulcimer, and gathering flowers, and trying to find out their names by Culpepper's Herbal, and reading anything and everything I could lay hold of; and in addition to all these, I was becoming thoroughly impregnated with the spirit of Radicalism.  There was a shop of brush-makers very near to us, and they were most determined politicians.  They read "The News"—the most radical paper of that day; and they were partisans of Cobbett and Wooler and Hunt; and they used to lend me Hone's Caricatures; and "The News," weekly, and talk to me of the "villanous rascals," Lord Castlereagh, and Lord Sidmouth, and Lord Eldon, and the Prince Regent, until I hated the Liverpool Ministry, and its master, bitterly, and believed that the sufferings of the poor were chiefly attributable to them.

    Another change was at hand, and it was a signal one.  It cannot be supposed that, with a nature so emotional as mine, I had listened to the earnest prayers of my teachers in the Methodist Sunday School, and joined in the singing so delightedly, both in church and chapel, and heard sermons, without having religious impressions.  From a child I felt these.  Often, during our reading of the gospels, verse by verse, as we stood in class, at the Free School, the Saviour seemed almost visible to me as I read of His deeds of mercy and love.  The singing of our morning and evening hymns, and repetition, on our knees, of the Lord's prayer, had always a solemnizing effect upon me.  And, doubtless, seeds of spiritual good were sown thus early in my mind, never to be really destroyed.

    But it was not until my fourteenth year that I was strongly impressed with the necessity of repentance and forgiveness of sin.  One Sunday morning, I ran out, with a crowd of the neighbours, to hear two men who were singing aloud as they walked along the street, in their way to the market-place,—"Turn to the Lord and seek salvation!" They were called "Ranters," by the crowd; but I soon learned that they termed themselves "Primitive Methodists."  These men remained in the town for some weeks, and preached in the open air, and held meetings in houses; and the crowd, young and old, were greatly affected.  Soon a society was formed, and they began regularly to preach in the very small chapel which John Wesley himself caused to be built, in a small square, in Little Church Lane; but which had been occupied as a warehouse for some time.

    I became a member of the society, in company with at least a dozen other lads, some of whom were older and some younger than myself.  I cannot describe my anguish and sorrow for sin.  And, apparently, it was an equally serious case with each of the lads.  My grief continued for many weeks, until I could find no delight in my books, or drawing, or dulcimer, and could read nothing but the Bible, and was getting into secret places twenty times in a day, to pray for the pardon of my sins.

    Many loudly earnest preachers came and preached in the little chapel; and prayer-meetings were prolonged till midnight, often.  And many upgrown sinners professed to find the pardon of their sins.  The change of heart and life was real in some.  I remember well an elderly man, an inveterate cockfighter, being humbled, and becoming a true penitent.  This man lived, for many years afterwards, a consistent Christian life.  Nor was his case a solitary one.  On the other hand, there were some fearful backslidings.

    Some of the boys, at length, professed to find the pardon of sin.  For a day or two, I believed I had received it; but as I felt conscious that I sinned, I supposed I must "act faith," as they said, to find it again.  And this "acting of faith" became, in the course of some weeks, so irksome to my mind, that my mere common sense revolted at the practice.  We were told to "believe"; but I understood the teaching to mean that we were to believe ourselves into the persuasion that we were forgiven; and I could not avoid the conviction that this was not receiving pardon by the witness of the Holy Spirit—but pardoning ourselves.

    So I began to grow weary of creeping into corners twenty times in a day to repent for sin—for I thought I was always sinning—and of believing myself again forgiven.  I shrunk from the practice, at last, in sheer disgust; but neither did that bring ease of mind.  I began, gradually, to get back to my music and my reading; but some of the members of the Society—poor men who knew little of books, but who found happiness in prayer, and in hearing others read and preach about the goodness of God—demurred to my reading any book but the Bible, unless it was a "truly religious book."  My mind rebelled completely now; and I ceased to frequent the little chapel, and began to go to the Methodist (Wesleyan) chapel instead, where I listened to the argumentative preaching of Thomas Ingham, and the warm, genial discourses of William Stokes.

    In March, 1820, I was fifteen years old, and had not left Briggs's school.  My mother had tried, at my entreaty, to get me apprenticed to a painter, and had endeavoured to get me entered as a clerk at one or other of the merchants' establishments; but in every case a premium was demanded, and my poor mother had none to give.  I became really uneasy, at last.  The neighbours "told their minds" to my mother, saying she would make me a good-for-nothing, idle creature; and why did she not apprentice me to some humble trade?  And then they looked bitter things at myself.

    I had one dear companion in the school, Henry Cook, who was a born sailor—if there ever were one; and Henry began to say to me, "Go to sea!  I shall.  You say you mean to see all the foreign countries in the world.  That's the easiest way to see 'em all.  Be a sailor; and then you can sail round the world, like Captain Cook."  I asked my mother if I might be a sailor; but she told me I must not think of it.  The neighbours, however, caught hold of what I had said; and they harassed my mother with the proposal till she said I might go.

    Henry Cook's father had a friend who wanted a cabin-boy; and so I left my broken-hearted mother, and went down in the packet to Hull, to go on board the brig which lay in the harbour.  I was on board nine days, while they were loading with corn and other merchandise.  The coarse language, the cursing and swearing, and brutality, I witnessed day after day, not only on board the brig, but on the other vessels that were crowded around us, rendered me so wretched that I told the master of the vessel I wished to go home. He told me, in profane terms, that I might go, for I should never be fit to be a sailor.

    So I found my way home again, to the weeping delight of my dear mother.  But the old difficulty stared us in the face the very next day.  Indeed, my own position was more uneasy than ever.  The neighbours began to mock at me, and scout me for a coward.  Many of them had relatives at sea; and was I made of something more than flesh and blood that I could not go to sea?

    One day in June, I met Tom Aram in the street.  He had become a shoemaker's apprentice, he said; and he liked his place much, and they wanted another lad—Would I come?  Tom was an old crony, for he was dear old Gatty's grandson, as I said before; and we had known each other from the time that we were four years old.  I told him I would ask my mother.

    She seemed hurt by the proposal.  She had witnessed all my tendencies from my infancy, and had fostered and cherished all the buddings of intelligence, and formed a very different ideal for her child's future than that of his becoming a lowly labourer with the awl.  But I entreated her to yield to me, and told her I could not endure the daily torment of being pointed at as an idle good-for-nothing.  At last she yielded—saying, "The Lord's will be done!  I don't think He intends thee to spend thy life at shoemaking.  I have kept thee at school, and worked hard to get thee bread, and to let thee have thy own wish in learning, and never imagined that thou wast to be a shoemaker.  But, the Lord's will be done!  He'll bring it all right in time."

    So on the 10th of June, 1820, I sat down, in Clark's garret, to begin to learn the art, craft, and mystery of shoemaking.



JOSEPH CLARK, with whom Aram and I sat in the garret, to be taught shoemaking, was a lively young fellow of four-and-twenty, who had been in London for improvement, and had returned to his native town to conduct business for his widowed mother.  His residence in London had given him some degree of polish, and also given him a passion for the theatre.  I was a favourite with him, at once; and the favouritism was so injudicious that Aram was disgusted, and ran away to sea.  I remained little more than a year with Clark; for he was capricious in temper, and would almost smother me with kindness for some weeks, and the following month treat me haughtily.

    He was useful to me, however, in other directions than in teaching me the use of the awl.  He had read some of the poetry of Byron, spoke of it passionately, and lent me the poems of Burns.  The pathos of Burns took possession of my whole nature almost as completely as the fire and force of Byron.  I soon learned to sing "Ye banks and braes o' bonny Doon," and "Auld lang syne," and "Robin Adair;" and formed tunes of my own for some of the songs—such as "Their groves o' green myrtle" and "Awa wi' your witchcraft o' beauty's alarms."

    Clark also rehearsed to me what he had seen and heard of London actors, and repeated the criticisms of the Londoners on the personations of Shakspere's characters by Kemble and Young and Mrs. Siddons, and later performers.  All this directed me to a more intelligent reading of Shakspeare, for myself; though I did not yet feel the due impression of his greatness.  My first poem—for it was sure to come, sooner or later—seemed almost to make itself, one evening, as I walked in the valley below Pingle Hill.  I give it here, be it remembered, as the first literary feat of a self-educated boy of fifteen.  I say self-educated, so far as I was educated.  Mine has been almost entirely self-education, all the way through life.


See, with splendour, Phoebus rise,
And with beauty tinge the skies.
See, the clouds of darkness fly
Far beyond the western sky;
While the lark upsoaring sings,
And the air with music rings;
While the blackbird, linnet, thrush,
Perched on yonder thorny bush,
All unite in tuneful choir,
And raise the happy music higher.
While the murmuring busy bee,
Pattern of wakeful industry,
Flies from flower to flower to drain
The choicest juice from sweetest vein;
While the lowly cottage youth,
His mind well-stored with sacred truth,
Rises, devout, his thanks to pay,
And hails the welcome dawn of day.
Oh that 'twere mine the happy lot,
To dwell within the peaceful cot—
There rise, each morn, my thanks to pay,
And hail the welcome dawn of day!

    From that time forth I often struck off little pieces of rhyme, and made attempts at blank verse; but all such doings were really worthless, and I kept no record of them.

    I found that I must not expect any regular apprenticeship as a shoemaker; for Clark often quarrelled with his mother, and threatened to leave her, and go back to London.  In one of his haughty fits, I took offence and left him.  From about the age of sixteen and a half to seventeen, I sat and worked with another small master; and then, for another year, sat in a shop with others, and worked for the Widow Hoyle.  My work, of course, was very imperfect; and so, when it was rumoured that "Don Cundell" had come to the town, and took young men under his instruction, I told my mother that I must become one of his pupils.  "Don," in my time, was the title always given to a first-rate hand; and usually to one who was known to all the members of the trade who had "tramped," or travelled for improvement.

    Under Don Cundell I learned to make a really good woman's shoe; but could not get any work from the best shops, because I had not served an apprenticeship to the trade.  When Cundell left the town, I retired to a corner of my mother's humble house; and, as long as I continued at shoemaking, I worked for the Widow Hoyle, who sold her goods in the market, cheap, and therefore could only pay low wages.  To the end of my short shoemaker's life, I could never earn more than about ten shillings weekly.  But what glorious years were those years of self-denial and earnest mental toil, from the age of nearly nineteen to nearly three-and-twenty, that I sat and worked in that corner of my poor mother's lowly home!  How I wish I could begin life anew, just at the end of them, and spend the after years more wisely!

    But I am outrunning the dates of my story, and must go back.  Soon after the age of fifteen, I formed the valuable friendship of Christopher Macdonald.  He was several years older than myself, and was married.  He was a Methodist; but he was a reader and a thinker, and, while he commended me for asserting my mental freedom, he directed my mind into more solid reading.  He lent me Robertson's Histories of Scotland, America, and Charles the Fifth, and Neale's "History of the Puritans," and urged me to get a better acquaintance with theology; while he did not discourage my enthusiasm for the great poet of his fatherland, or for the Waverley Novels, with which I began now to get acquainted.  Under his kindly influence, I continued to be an attendant on the Methodist ministry, and thus enjoyed the intelligent and deeply spiritual preaching of Laurence Kershaw.  But my friend left Gainsborough; and I thus lost the benefit of his restraining, wise, and affectionate counsel.

    Our little town was thrown into a most novel state of intellectual excitement, when I was in my seventeenth year, by a poetical war, about the propriety of singing a hymn to Arne's grand melody of "Rule Britannia."  The most classical combatant was a Unitarian and a schoolmaster; but the rhymester, who was the popular favourite, was Joseph Foulkes Winks, a draper's assistant, and son of a respectable tradesman of the town.  When the rhyming rage cooled, Winks did not cool.  He called together a number of friends and acquaintances, proposed that we should take the "Eclectic Review" and circulate it among ourselves; that we should form a "Mutual Improvement Society " for reading and discussion; and, above all, that we should be determined to establish an Adult School, on Sundays, for teaching the poor and utterly uneducated to read.  Macdonald and I joined him in these enterprises; and so did Enoch Wood, a youth of about my own age, with whom I had often walked, arm in arm, to church, when we were Bluecoat boys.  In my later life, I have seen Enoch's name, for many years, in the Methodist Minutes, as Dr. Enoch Wood, Superintendent of Canadian Missions.

    The zeal and energy of Winks, in the conduct of that adult school, were very noble; and the school was instrumental in effecting a great deal of good.  But when Winks left the town, the elder men who formed the committee decided to close the school, under the profession that they could not raise funds for the necessary expenses.

    Our Mutual Improvement Society was also too short-lived; but its weekly meetings were valuable to me.  It was, in reality, a little debating club, where the members were allowed to write and read their speeches on the question agreed upon the preceding week, or to speak off-hand.  I never attempted to speak without preparation; but invariably read my essays.  This weekly essay-writing was an employment which absorbed a good deal of my thought, and was a good induction into the writing of prose, and into a mode of expressing one's thoughts.

    The adult school and the little debating society led to another friendship, which was the dearest of all my early friendships, but was severed, after a few years, by death.  Henry Whillock was a grocer's apprentice in the town, and was remarkable for his refined and gentlemanly manners.  He had been brought up as a dissenter; and was of serious and pious habits when we first became acquainted, as teachers in the adult school.  But I soon found, to my delight, that he was a lover of poetry, and possessed "The Corsair," "Lara," and "The Bride of Abydos," and the very canto of "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage" I had formerly read; with "The West Indies," "Greenland," and other poems of James Montgomery.

    Our friendship had become so strong, when the adult school was closed, and the Mutual Improvement Society had expired, and my good friend Macdonald had left the town, that we began to consider it a settled point that we should spend part of every Sunday together.  If it were fine, we walked in the woods, or by the Trent; and if it were too cold to walk, we met in a small room belonging to one of the neighbours.  Strangely enough, we both had dabbled in astrology in our boyhood, and we spoke of it, now, till we grew enamoured with the desire to prove the truth of it—which we thought was possible.  Whillock's parents allowed him plenty of pocket-money; and he immediately expended, I think, two pounds, in the purchase of Sibley's famous quarto book, with plates, on Astrology and Divination.

    And for many weeks, as regularly as the Sunday afternoon returned, we were seated in that little room, drawing of horoscopes, with the assistance of almanacs (White's "Ephemeris") and the "Table of Houses," and reading out of the pretentious volumes of Dr. Sibley, the opinions of the great sages of the science, the old alchemists, and Gadbury, and Lilly, and Booker, and the diviners of a later period.  Our minglement of poetry with this strange study was but natural.  The more important result was, that it led to conversations about religion and history; and brought us, at length, to the threshold of confession that we had been fools to spend our time and intelligence over Sibley's big books.  So Whillock disposed of them, and purchased forty volumes of the English Essayists, and Langhorne's Plutarch; and we began to devote our Sunday afternoons to conversations on more rational themes, until at last, I fear, we began to be too rational.   Elihu Palmer's "Principles of Nature," and a translation of Volney's "Ruins of Empires," and also a so-called translation of Voltaire's "Philosophical Dictionary," were offered to Whillock by a travelling bookseller, very pressingly, and at low prices, one day, and he bought them.

    Our curiosity was soon whetted; and we eagerly ran through the books.  I do not think that Palmer's book took any hold of us.  Its style of composition seemed stilted; and we thought, I remember, that he assumed certain heterodox conclusions, without proof.  Neither did the other books make us unbelievers, in the usual sense of the word; but we began to conclude that there must be some fable, at least, in the Old Testament; that the exterminating wars of the Israelites could not have been commanded by Jehovah, nor all the deeds of the "Judges," and so on.  We had grown very loose in our attendance on public worship; and now we gave it up altogether, and spent the greater part of each Sunday in earnest conversation.

    I do not mean to indicate that our conversation now was wholly on subjects such as I have just mentioned.  Far from it.  We still exchanged thoughts on the history and poetry that we read, and showed to each other our attempts in rhyme and blank verse, and encouraged each other in the ambition and belief that we should run a successful career of authorship, as poets and prose-writers, in the years to come!

    Henry Whillock's apprenticeship ended, he left Gainsborough, went to Nottingham, and put the little fortune he inherited into the bobbin-net trade—the new machinery for which manufacture had just then come into use, and was considered a sure way of making a large fortune—but soon lost his money.  His correspondence with me suddenly ceased; and at the end of a few more months, I learned that he had died in London.

    My friendship with Whillock had been the means of procuring me an introduction to one whose counsel was of far higher value to me, and whose intelligence was far superior to that of any acquaintanceship I had yet formed in the world.  John Hough was a draper, had been married and fixed in business for a year or so when I first knew him, and was eight years older than myself.  His father, Vincent Hough, was an old established tradesman in Gainsborough, and was one of the deacons of the Independent church.  My new friend, therefore, had been brought up as a dissenter; and he had very decided views and opinions on nonconformity and dissent, while he was a strong partisan of Jonathan Edwards in doctrine.  He was, however, a broad general reader, had an excellent library, and made me welcome to the loan of every book in it that I desired to read.

    I had come to the knowledge that there was another great supply of old English literature which I could make use of. "Nathaniel Robinson, mercer," many years before, had left his library for the use of the inhabitants of the town; but it had been thrust aside into a corner, and almost forgotten.  I was in ecstasies to find the dusty, cobwebbed shelves loaded with Hooker, and Bacon, and Cudworth, and Stillingfleet, and Locke, and Jeremy Taylor, and Tillotson, and Bates, and Bishop Hall, and Samuel Clarke, and Warburton, and Bull, and Waterland, and Bentley, and Boyle, and Ray, and Derham, and a score of other philosophers and divines,—mingled with Stanley's "History of Philosophers," and its large full-length portraits—Ogilvy's "Embassies to Japan and China," with their large curious engravings—Speed's and Rapin's folio histories of England—Collier's "Church History"—Fuller's "Holy War"—Foxe's "Book of Martyrs," the first edition, in black letter, and with its odd, rude plates—and countless other curiosities and valuables.

    I must mention another little piece of good fortune that now befell me—although I was indebted for it partly to real kindness, and partly to a little roguery.  The dear old lady, Mrs. Trevor, of whom I had purchased my lead pencils and water colours when a child, and from whose tattered and worn Circulating Library I had borrowed so many volumes of tales, novels, and romances, always regarded me as a kind of pet; and I was still her customer for papers and pens, and so on.  I noted that a few of the gentry had commenced a "Book Society" at her shop.  The subscription of two guineas per annum was above my power to pay; but, as I took the liberty, one day, to handle some of the new volumes and periodicals, she closed the shop door, and, coming close to me, whispered that she thought she could accommodate me with the loan of the books.  Suppose I gave her ten shillings for the books of each season, and took care to fetch them in the evening, about the time that shops closed, when it would be certain that none of the genteel subscribers would be in the way?

    So the forbidden fruit was secured once more; and I went home all in a glow with delight—for I was taking two numbers of the "London Magazine" with me, and the first volume of Scott's "Kenilworth"!



HOW rich I was, with ten shillings per week, to buy food and clothes—now all this intellectual food was glutting me on every side!  And how resolute I was on becoming solitary, and also on becoming a scholar!  What though I could not get to Cambridge, like Kirke White, could I not study as hard as he studied, and learn as fast?  Friends and acquaintances had left the little old town, one after another; but I would not leave it.  I would learn enough in that corner to enable myself to enter on mature life with success; and I would have no friend in addition to my new friend John Hough, with whom I had promised to spend a couple of hours or more, every Saturday night, in intellectual converse.

    Yet I would have strengthened my friendship with Thomas Miller, if he would have become a student.  We had only seen each other occasionally (although we had ever retained the fond friendship of childhood), for several years.  Miller's mother had been compelled to apprentice her boy to a trade; and the person to whom Tom was apprenticed was so vain and ignorant, and tyrannised to such a degree over the strong-willed boy, that Tom one day put him in fear of his life, by throwing an iron instrument at him.  So the boy was given up to his mother, who had recently re-married; and her husband taught Tom the trade of a basket-maker.  Of course, the lad soon had his own way; and, when working hours were over, passed his time as he pleased.  He was strong, handsome, and proud; and was soon a favourite with all the maidens of his own rank in the town.  He joined wild company that took to what some people consider to be only the playful tricks of youth; but would sober down a little, now and then, and call upon me, and talk about poetry.  Sometimes, he would accompany me in a walk; but, while I wanted to pursue my study, as we walked, he would be venting sallies of fun, or quoting Falstaff, or Bottom the Weaver.

    I saw there was unmistakable genius in Miller; and I found he listened to my rehearsals of Coleridge's "Christabel" and Burns' "Tam o' Shanter" with rapt pleasure; but I could not persuade him to take to real study.  He left Gainsborough; and when, a few years afterwards, he sent me his first printed poem, from Nottingham, where he had settled down and married, I felt surprised that he had entered the field of authorship first; and little imagined that I should be such a laggard in entering it myself.

    One of the greatest incentives I had to solid study was the reading, in Drew's "Imperial Magazine," an account of the life of Dr. Samuel Lee, Professor of Hebrew in the University of Cambridge, and a scholar, it was said, in more than a dozen languages.  He had been apprenticed to a carpenter at eleven years old, had bought Ruddiman's Latin Rudiments on an old book-stall for a trifle, and learnt the whole book by heart; and had stepped on, from Corderius's Colloquies to Cæsar, and from Cæsar to Virgil, and so on; and had learnt to read Greek, Hebrew, and Syriac, all from self-tuition, by the time he was five or six and twenty.  Yet he was ignorant of English Grammar and Arithmetic!

    I said in my heart, if one man can teach himself a language, another can.  But there seemed such a wealth of means of learning now around me, that I felt as if I must attempt to accomplish a broader triumph of self-education than Lee accomplished.  I must try if I could not combine the study of languages with that of mathematics; complete a full course of reading in ancient and modern history, and get an accurate and ample acquaintance with the literature of the day, by means of that little convenient opening I mentioned at the close of the last chapter.

    I must add, that there was some sadness mingled with these bouyant resolves.  The thought of dear Henry Whillock's death would bring serious fears about his spiritual state and my own fitness for death.  My new friend Hough carefully reminded me of the true wisdom there was in being prepared to die; and when I told him, without any concealment, of the doubts we had gathered from reading those sceptical books, he solemnly advised me to enter on a course of reading of the Evidences of Christianity.  I promised to do so; and I gradually drew up my plans for study and the employment of time into a written form.  To this I added written resolves of a very necessary kind: that I would speak grammatically, and pronounce with propriety; and I would do these always.

    Some who read this page may scarcely be able to understand the nature of the task I was imposing on myself. Often, for hours, no one would enter the little room where I sat at work in my corner, and my poor mother, at her labour, a little nearer the door.  But sometimes troublesome gossips would enter—neighbours to talk about the other neighbours, old friends and acquaintances of my mother's, some of them from the town, and some from the villages, and old playmates and schoolfellows of my own.

    Now, to hear a youth in mean clothing, sitting at the shoemaker's stall, pursuing one of the lowliest callings, speak in what seemed to some of them almost a foreign dialect, raised positive anger and scorn in some, and amazement in others.  Who was I, that I should sit on the cobbler's stall, and "talk fine"!  They could not understand it.  With Whillock and my intellectual friends I had conversed in the best and most refined English I could command; but I had used our plain old Lincolnshire dialect in talking to the neighbours.  This was all to be laid aside now, and it took some courage to do it.  Yet I persevered until the Doric was conquered; and at one time of my life spoke better Attic than, belike, I speak now, in these my days of the yellow leaf—for an old man seems to relapse naturally into the use of his mother tongue.

    My written resolves also comprised serious vows that I would lead a strictly moral life; would retire to pray at least once in the day-time, as, well as "say my prayers" at morn and eve; and would inquire diligently into the truth of both natural and revealed religion.

    I thought it possible that by the time I reached the age of twenty-four I might be able to master the elements of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and French; might get well through Euclid, and through a course of Algebra; might commit the entire "Paradise Lost," and seven of the best plays of Shakspeare, to memory; and might read a large and solid course of history, and of religious evidences; and be well acquainted also with the current literature of the day.

    I failed considerably, but I sped on joyfully while health and strength lasted.  I was between nineteen and twenty when I began to commit Ruddiman's Rudiments to memory—thinking it was better of begin to learn Latin with the book that Lee used—though I found afterwards I might have done better.  I committed almost the entire volume to memory—notes and all.  Afterwards, I found Israel Lyon's small Hebrew Grammar, on a stall, bought it for a shilling, and practised Hebrew writing as the surest means of beginning to learn, every Sunday evening.  I got hold of a Greek Grammar about a year after; but did not master it earnestly, because I thought it better to keep close to the Latin for some time.  I also picked up a small French Grammar; but that seemed so easy, that I thought I could master it without care or trouble.

    On Sunday mornings, whether I walked, or had to stay indoors on account of the weather, my first task was to commit a portion of the "Paradise Lost " to memory.  I usually spent the remainder of Sunday, save the evening, whether I walked or remained at home, in reading something that bore on the Evidences.  Thus I not only read through the well-known "Natural Theology" and "Horæ Paulinæ," and "Evidences" of Paley, and the equally popular "Apologies for the Bible and Christianity" of Bishop Watson, Soame Jenyns' "Internal Evidences," Lord Lyttelton's "Conversion of St. Paul," and Sherlock's "Trial of the Witnesses,"—but I diligently read books that required deeper thinking, and some that were filled with profound learning—such as Butler's "Analogy," Bentley's "Folly of Atheism," Dr. Samuel Clarke's "Demonstrations of the Being and Attributes of God," Stillingfleet's "Origines Sacræ," and Warburton's "Divine Legation of Moses."

    Historical reading, or the grammar of some language, or translation, was my first employment on week-day mornings, whether I rose at three or four, until seven o'clock, when I sat down to the stall.  A book or a periodical in my hand while I breakfasted, gave me another half-hour's reading.  I had another half-hour, and sometimes an hour's reading, or study of language, at from one to two o'clock, the time of dinner—usually eating my food with a spoon, after I had cut it in pieces, and having my eyes on a book all the time.

    I sat at work till eight, and sometimes nine, at night; and, then, either read, or walked about our little room and committed "Hamlet" to memory, or the rhymes of some modern poet, until compelled to go to bed from sheer exhaustion—for it must be remembered that I was repeating something, audibly, as I sat at work, the greater part of the day—either declensions and conjugations, or rules of syntax, or propositions of Euclid, or the "Paradise Lost," or "Hamlet," or poetry of some modern or living author.

    In the spring of 1826, after getting through Valpy's Delectus, and a part of Stewart's "Cornelius Nepos," and also a part of Justin, but somewhat clumsily, with the help of Ainsworth's Dictionary, I commenced Cæsar, and sped on well, so that by the time I had reached the third book, "De Bello Gallico," I found myself able to read page after page, with scarcely more than a glance, now and then, at the dictionary.  I remember well my first triumphant feeling of this kind.  I sat on Pingle Hill; it was about five in the morning, the sun shone brightly; and as I lifted my eyes from the classic page of the great conqueror of the Gauls and Helvetians, and they fell on the mouldering pile called the "Old Hall"—part of which had been a stronghold of John of Gaunt, and of one of the barons in the reign of Stephen—I said to myself, "I have made a greater conquest, without the aid of a living teacher, than the proudest warrior ever made—for I have conquered and entered into the possession of a new mind."  And that seems to me the truest expression, when you find you can read a language you could not read before.

    When I had finished Cæsar's Commentaries on the Gallic War, I took up the Eneid, and soon grew in love with Virgil: a love which has lasted—for, notwithstanding the protest some people make against the "tameness" of Virgil, as compared with Homer, the graceful Mantuan always affords me high intellectual pleasure.

    I was seldom later in bed than three or four in the morning; and when, in the coldness of winter, we could not afford to have a fire till my mother rose, I used to put a lamp on a stool, which I placed on a little round table, and, standing before it, wrapped up in my mother's old red cloak, I read on till seven, or studied a grammar, or my Euclid, and frequently kept my feet moving to secure warmth, or prevent myself from falling asleep.

    In the finer seasons of the year I was invariably on the hills, or in the lanes or woods, or by the Trent, by sunrise, or before; and thus often strolled several miles with my book in my hand, before I sat down in the corner to work, at seven o'clock.  These long walks in the mornings greatly deepened my love of Nature.  I grew increasingly and fondly familiar with the trees, the flowers, the birds, and even with the wild four-footed creatures, and, above all, with the silver windings of the Trent; and often stood to gaze down the vista of a wood, or upon some feature of beauty in a landscape, with a thrill of joyous feeling that I could not have defined to myself, or others.  Nothing gave me deeper enjoyment than the grand colouring of the woods in autumn; and when I first saw one of the pictures of Gainsborough, I thought he must have felt, in the woods of Suffolk, similar rapture to that which I had felt in the woods of old Lincolnshire.

    My drawing had been given up, and was never resumed; but I occasionally returned to the dear old dulcimer, especially if I felt jaded by overwork, or my dear mother desired the music.  Be it remembered, she was now drawing near to sixty, and had declined considerably in strength and energy, so that there was the greater need that I did not neglect to ply the awl.  It was little help, indeed, I could render her; but it would have been cruel to have leaned carelessly on her increasing weakness.

    My friend Hough's conversation, on the Saturday nights, was both a relief and an inspiration to me.  He was not only well read in standard old English literature, more especially divinity, but he was passionately attached to metaphysics,—had read Locke, and Berkeley, and Hobbes, and Dugald Stewart; and during the first year of our acquaintance took to the enthusiastic perusal of Cudworth.  The grand expanse of his forehead showed the strength of his reasoning faculties as well as of his ideality; and he kindled into warmth as we entered into debate.  With him I discussed questions relating to mind, to religion, to history, and general literature; and these weekly conversations, as I returned to my reading and studies, gave a new impulse to thought and inquiry.  He also used to say, "You do me good.  You freshen my mind, weekly."

    My historical reading was a great delight.  I read, thoroughly, Gibbon's "Decline and Fall," and followed it up by reading the Preliminary Discourse to Sale's translation of the Koran, and a translation of Mosheim's Church History.  I made written notes, often, as I went along.  I analysed Dr. Clarke's "Demonstrations of the Being and Attributes," and it was done so completely that I seemed to know the book by heart.  My friend Hough approved it greatly, and showed it to others, till—at last—it was begged, and given away to one who was preparing for the Christian ministry.

    In the hurry and whirl of my changeful life, I have lost the journal that I kept so strictly in those years, and all written records of my reading; but I can recall the feeling of pleasure, or profound interest, I experienced in reading many a volume; and the feeling is often associated with some feature of a landscape, or turn of the woods, or appearance of the hills or lanes where I walked.  Thus the dear old remembrances often flash upon me, after all these years; and I seem to see the page, and the rural spot where I read it, as clearly as if it had happened only an hour ago.  How strange it seems—seeing that I, often, cannot call to mind whether I wrote to such a person last week; and, most commonly, forget the names and features of persons with whom I have but lately become acquainted,—nay, often forget, utterly, some things I saw, or some actions I performed, not a month ago!

    Blair's "Lectures on Rhetoric and the Belles Lettres " was another book that I analysed very closely and laboriously, being determined on acquiring a thorough judgment of style and literary excellence.  All this practice seemed to destroy the desire of composing poetry of my own.  Milton's verse seemed to overawe me, as I committed it to memory, and repeated it daily; and the perfection of his music, as well as the gigantic stature of his intellect, were fully perceived by my mind.  The wondrous knowledge of the heart unfolded by Shakspeare, made me shrink into insignificance; while the sweetness, the marvellous power of expression and grandeur of his poetry seemed to transport me, at times, out of the vulgar world of circumstances in which I lived bodily.  Besides the two great poets, I made myself familiar with others; and committed to memory thousands of lines by Burns, and Coleridge, and Wordsworth, and Scott, and Byron, and Moore, and Campbell, and Southey, and Keats.  And the repetition, daily, of poetry displaying all the harmonies of rhythm—all the opulence of the stores of expressing thought—repressed all desire of composing poetry myself.  I said to myself, daily "I am educating my ear and my mind, and I shall be ripe for my true work in time."

    The culture I attempted for myself was broad enough, at any rate—for I often diverged into miscellaneous reading, and can remember the pleasure with which I went through the elder Disraeli's "Curiosities of Literature," "Calamities of Authors," and  Quarrels of Authors," Warton's "History of Early English Poetry," Johnson's "Lives of the Poets," "Rasselas," etc., Boswell's "Life of Johnson," Landor's "Imaginary Conversations," Southey's "Book of the Church," Lingard's "Anglo-Saxon Antiquities," Colton's "Lacon," Douglas of Cavers on the "Advancement of Society," Bullock's "Mexico," Richardson's "Travels in Egypt and the Holy Land," Head's "Rough Notes of a journey to the Andes," and many other volumes of travels.

    The novels of Scott I took care to have from the shelves of the dear old lady's shop, as early after their first appearance as I could come by them,—while I also indulged myself occasionally by reading the new pages of Washington Irving, or such novels as Mrs. Shelley's thrilling creation of "Frankenstein," and Lockhart's sterling stories of "Valerius" and "Reginald Dalton."

    The later poetry of Byron, contained in "The Liberal," and that published separately, with the new volumes of Campbell, Moore, Milman, and others, I had also, by favour, from those kindly shelves in the little shop I had frequented from a child,—together with each number of the Quarterly and Edinburgh Reviews, and of the European, New Monthly, and Blackwood's Magazines, as duly as they came out.  Thus I read the celebrated "Noctes Ambrosianæ" when they were new.

    But my great favourite was the London Magazine.  Nor have I ever seen a magazine that equalled it, since—at least, to my thinking.  A periodical which first set before English readers the Essays of Elia, the Picture Galleries of Hazlitt, De Quincey's "Confessions of an Opium-eater," verses by Keats and sonnets by poor Clare, and tales by Allan Cunningham, and in the later numbers of which Carlyle's "Life of Schiller" first appeared—certainly spread no Barmecide array of dishes before the literary appetite of its readers.  The "Monthlies"—there were no "Weeklies" then—have doubled, trebled, nay, quadrupled, in number, since I was a young fellow.  One would rather that they were fewer in number; and that the real Men of Genius existing would club their wits to bring out, monthly, a new "London Magazine," as rich as the old one.



I HAVE taken care not to bedim the brightness of the picture contained in the last chapter.  And it would have been untruthful if I had; for its brightness was never dimmed to me.  But no one of any experience in life can have read the chapter without suspecting that the strain upon the powers of mind and body described in it could not always be kept up, and that, under such circumstances, there must have been failure, sometimes.

    And so it was.  I not unfrequently swooned away, and fell along the floor, when I tried to take my cup of oatmeal gruel, at the end of my day's labour.  Next morning, of course, I was not able to rise at an early hour; and then, very likely, the next day's study had to be stinted.  I needed better food than we could afford to buy; and often had to contend with the sense of faintness, while I still plodded on, with my double task of mind and body.

    But it was not till the summer of 1827, when I was about three months over two-and-twenty, that I felt my bodily strength, and, with it, my power of mind, were really giving way.  I had, now, "Hamlet" entirely and perfectly by heart, and thought of beginning to commit "Lear" to memory, but dare not; and I felt also compelled to halt at the end of the fourth book of "Paradise Lost."  More reluctantly, I had to give up my Hebrew writing, and the book of Hebrew sentences.  I must take them up again when I felt stronger.  And the Algebra: that must also be laid by, for the present.  If I relieved myself of some of my labour, it would enable me soon to rally.  So I calculated.  And so Daddy Briggs said it would be—for he would often call, and talk with his old pupil, and wonder at what I was doing, and talk admiringly and fondly about it.

    The autumn came, and I grew weaker.  And then, with a sense of mortification I cannot express, I had to lay aside the odd volume of Tacitus, and the neat old copy of Lactantius, "De mortibus Persecutorum," that I had bought from off a stall; and dare not attempt to go on translating them.  Greek Grammar and Extracts, and, at last, Greek Testament itself, had all to be given up.  I could only read a little light reading—for anything that required thinking brought on pain and nervous torment; and I grew very sad, and often wept, when alone.

    All very early rising was now discontinued; for I had to endeavour to preserve strength enough to pursue my bodily labour, or we must come to want.  My poor mother's business had grown less and less, as she lost strength and enterprise; and she was often now unable to work at all.  Thus, there was every reason why I should fill up the hours with the labour that brought us daily bread; and so, even the rehearsal of grammar and verses had to be discontinued—or be indulged in but seldom.

    But I had already ventured too far.  The complete failure came.  In November of the same year, I had to be carried to bed, having fainted in my chair; and I had to remain in bed several days.  For nine successive weeks, I was out of bed only for a short time each day, and my sense of weakness was excessive.

    I had the kindly aid of a noble medical man, Dr. Peacock, who is dead, but has left a name memorable for philanthropy in that little town; and food and other helps were rendered me by many—I may say, by all who knew me intimately.  If it had not been so, my poor mother must have sunk with the burthen she was not able, now, to bear.

    One incident in that illness comes strongly across my mind as I write.  I had been brought downstairs, in a somewhat cheerful state of mind, believing that I had got a turn, as we say, and that I should soon be well—when I suddenly fell back, and my appearance alarmed my mother.  Her cries brought in two or three of the neighbours, who were passing.  One of them took me by the wrist, held it awhile, and told my mother that the pulse had stopped, and I was dead.  My eyes were closed, and I could not open them, and I could not speak.  The sensation I felt was as if a huge stone lay on my chest.  It seems the blood had not ceased circulating at the heart—for it gradually resumed its course through the body; and I opened my eyes, and told the neighbour who had said I was dead that I had heard every word he had spoken!  In little more than a year after that time, I saw that neighbour laid in the grave.  Such are the unexpected incidents of this our mortal life!

    My great burthen of heart and spirit has yet to be approached.  I have purposely kept it out of my story for some time, not feeling it congruous to mingle secular and spiritual cares, or the relation of them, familiarly.  I was often gently exhorted to seek for the settlement of every doubt by my friend Hough.  But doubts arose, as I proceeded with my inquiry into the "Evidences," that I had never felt before.  Still I kept up the practice of retiring every day, at noon, for prayer; and it was then, more especially, that I prayed for light.  I had analysed Paley's "Evidences," and could repeat to myself the substance of the book.  And I had often done this when most troubled with doubt; and it served to enable me to rest on Christ's existence and mission, as facts.

    About two months before I was compelled to take to bed, my friend Hough put into my hand the Life of Henry Martyn, the missionary.  Its effect, as might be expected, was very powerful upon my mind.  The picture of one so perfect as a scholar and a man of refinement, and so fully convinced of the truth of religion—the brilliant short life of intense and devoted missionary labour, crowned with a death that was, almost literally, a martyrdom—took very strong hold of me.  I said within myself, "I ought to be ashamed to have a doubt, while Henry Martyn believed; " and resolved I would never dwell on a doubt in future, but pray instead.

    In this state of mind, my sickness found me.  But now came the sickness of the heart.  The good doctor shook his head, as he felt my pulse again and again, and revisited me; and every thought was concentred in the one thought—I might have to meet death very soon!  Pray I did, with all my feeble strength, for the conviction of sin was a heavy burthen.  Sin of the heart and mind, that is not outward, was my sin; but it was not the less sin for that.  Religious people were soon round me.  Methodists had a suspicion that I was sceptical, because I had ceased to attend public worship.  They did not understand that the chief reason was, that I might gain one whole day for study, weekly.  Methodists prayed with me very earnestly, and besought me to give my soul no rest till I had found the pardon of sin; and I assured them that was what I longed to find.

    The young curate of the parish church, the pious and laborious Charles Hensley, came also to visit me.  He soon discovered that he had found a penitent of a peculiar order; and at once confessed his interest in my studies, and offered to assist me with the loan of Latin and Greek books, should I recover.  Mr. Hensley also very seriously urged me to be truly penitent; but was not of opinion that I ought to seek for what Methodists called a "sense of pardon."  My friend Hough was on the curate's side; and, amidst these conflicting urgencies, I knew not what to do.

    A good constitution and the skill of my kind physician, under the blessing of the Almighty, enabled me at length to leave the sick bed.  But I was very weak for some time; and when I attempted a little manual labour, it brought on a peculiar nervous tremor that almost frightened me, and which compelled me to desist, time after time.  My friend Hough, and my acquaintance—who afterwards became a dear friend—Charles Kelvey, took counsel together, and proposed to me that I should try the profession of a schoolmaster.  I agreed, for I felt I could not work again on the stall; and they sought out a large club-room which was already furnished with forms and boards, that would serve for desks, and made themselves responsible for the rent for the first half year.  I issued handbills; and on the tenth of March, 1828, just ten days before I became three-and-twenty, I opened school.

    My school was eagerly patronised by the poor; and I had a few of the children of the middle-class.  People in the little town had been talking for years about the remarkable youth that was never seen in the streets, and was known to wander miles in the fields and woods, reading.  He was believed by some to be a prodigy of learning; and they would send their children to be taught by him.  In the course of twelve months I had a hundred scholars on my list, had an average attendance of eighty, and had to think of engaging an assistant.

    If it could ever have entered into my nature to set about making money, now was my first "good chance."  But it could not, and never will.  I have had several "good chances," since that passed away; and I could never make use of them, or suffer such a purpose to enter my mind.  We cannot all "make money," although it is necessary that somebody should.  I have said, and said it solemnly, that I cannot "make money," and I do not believe that anything which could possibly happen to me in the world could turn my nature into the path of money-getting.  But there is something besides that I cannot do.  I cannot avoid throwing my whole nature into an undertaking, when I once enter upon it, either from a sense of duty or for self-gratification.

    My school was a perfect passion with me for a time.  I was in the school-room often at five in the morning until nine at night, taking my meals in a hasty, imperfect way, while the boys were gone home to take theirs.  I had quill pens to make in great number, the first work in the morning; and for a time I had early classes each morning.  Then again, in the evenings, although other day-schools broke up at five, I drew the elder scholars around the globe, and described the countries upon it, until a late hour, or talked to them on some part of history, or described the structures of animals, or, to keep up their attention, even related a story from the "Arabian Nights."

    I spent at least fifty pounds on the walls of the large club-room, by covering them with pictures of every imaginable kind, and filling the corners with large plaster figures and busts.  The sill within every window of the school-room was fitted up with small divisions, so that the boys might have a miniature museum of pebbles, coins, etc.  I was intent on making their school-room their delight.  The pictures fastened themselves on the eyes and brain of one poor boy, John Spicer, the child of a lowly shoemaker.  That child did some wondrous things, as beginnings, in art.  He was a born genius, and would have gained distinction had he lived.

    Four children of an officer of excise were entrusted to my care by their father; and the two elder boys were an important trust.  They were highly intelligent, were ripe in arithmetic, and in the school where they had been learning Latin had been put into Horace.  But I found the advancement was false.  They really did not know what they were about.  I did not understand the custom of helping lads out with one half of their translation, and yet never showing them how to translate.  I had learned no old teachers' tricks.

    So I placed Cæsar's Commentaries before them, and taught them how to select the nominative in each sentence, then the verb, and then the noun governed by the verb, and so on, until they became happy labourers at the book, because they understood it, and felt they were achieving something worth talking about.  They also commenced the study of Euclid, daily; and so I had a stimulus, for keeping up my knowledge of Geometry and Latin, in these two pupils.

    There was no desire on the part of the parents of any other pupils in my school, that they should learn Latin.  But I wished to teach it to all.  Soon, I had copies of declensions and conjugations written out on sheets of paper, with lists of the prepositions, and so on; and gave them to a good number of the boys to commit to memory.  And to the very last day of my life that I sustained the office of daily schoolmaster, I had the declensions, or conjugations, repeated by the boys, as they stood in class, every morning.  The Latin Accidence, I may say, is so firmly fixed in my memory, from hearing these daily repetitions, for about nine years of my life, that I think I could as soon forget my own name as forget any part of it.

    A few of the boys to whom I thus taught Latin gratuitously made such promising progress as to enable me to form them into a separate class for the translation of Cornelius Nepos.  But the great body of them were never able to construe a Latin sentence.  They had no taste for it themselves; and they had no stimulus at home.  The stupid listlessness of the parents of my pupils was, indeed, my hindrance from the first; and, in time, it produced disgust.

    "I want our Jack to larn to write a good hand.  What's the use of his larning Latin?  It will nivver be no use to him."

    Such were the kind of thanks I had from the poor, when I tried to benefit their children, without any cost to themselves!  After the few boys had passed away who had been my first scholars, and I had to begin anew with dull intellects, amid harsh discouragements from their parents, I lost the passion for my profession as a schoolmaster; and I began to feel it, what I fear thousands beside myself have felt it to be--unwelcome drudgery.

    But I must go back to the great concern of all—that of religion.

[Next page]


[Home] [Up] [Thoughts at Fourscore] [Gulf of Time] [Old Fashioned Stories] [Self-help] [Prison Rhymes, etc.] [Baron's Yule Feast] [Purgatory of Suicides] [Paradise of Martyrs] [Poets of the Poor] [Reviews, etc.] [Main Index] [Site Search]

Correspondence should be sent to