Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 56.djvu/98
few friends. He rose to the first class in time, and was a monitor, but showed no promise as a scholar; and in the latter part of his time he became famous as a writer of humorous verses. Latterly he lived at a boarding-house in Charterhouse Square, and as a 'day boy' saw less of his schoolfellows. In February 1828 he wrote to his mother, saying that he had become 'terribly industrious,' but 'could not get Russell to think so.' There were then 370 boys in the school, and he wishes that there were only 369. Russell, as his letters show, had reproached him pretty much as the master of 'Greyfriars' reproaches young Pendennis, and a year after leaving the school he says that as a child he had been 'licked into indolence,' and when older 'abused into sulkiness' and 'bullied into despair.' He left school in May 1828 (for many details of his school life, illustrated by childish drawings and poetry, see Cornhill Mag. for January 1865, and Greyfriars for April 1892). Thackeray now went to live with the Smyths, who had left Addiscombe, and about 1825 taken a house called Larkbeare, a mile and a half from Ottery St. Mary. The scenery is described in 'Pendennis,' where Clavering St. Mary, Chatteris, and Baymouth stand for Ottery St. Mary, Exeter, and Sidmouth. Dr. Cornish, then vicar of Ottery St. Mary, lent Thackeray books, among others Gary's version of the 'Birds' of Aristophanes, which the lad illustrated with three humorous watercolour drawings. Cornish reports that Thackeray, like Pendennis, contributed to the poet's corner of the county paper, and gives a parody of Moore's 'Minstrel Boy' (cited in Thackeray Memorials) ridiculing an intended speech of Richard Lalor Sheil [q. v.], which was probably the author's first appearance in print. Thackeray read, it seems, for a time with his stepfather, who was proud of the lad's cleverness, but probably an incompetent 'coach.' Thackeray was entered at Trinity College, Cambridge. His college tutor was William Whewell [q. v.] He began residence in February 1829. He was thus a 'by-term man,' which, as the great majority of his year had a term's start of him, was perhaps some disadvantage. This, however, was really of little importance, especially as he had the option of 'degrading' that is, joining the junior year. Thackeray had no taste for mathematics; nor had he taken to the classical training of his school in such a way as to qualify himself for success in examinations. In the May examination (1829) he was in the fourth class, where 'clever non-reading men were put as in a limbo.' He had expected to be in the fifth. He read some classical authors and elementary mathematics, but his main interests were of a different kind. He saw something of his Cambridge cousins, two of whom were fellows of King's College; and formed lasting friendships with some of his most promising contemporaries. He was very sociable; he formed an 'Essay' club in his second term, and afterwards a small club of which John Allen (afterwards archdeacon), Robert Hindes Groome [q. v.], and William Hepworth Thompson [q. v.] (afterwards master of Trinity) were members. Other lifelong friendships were with William Henry Brookfield [q.v.], Edward FitzGerald, John Mitchell Kemble, A. W. Kinglake, Monckton\Milnes, Spedding, Tennyson, and Venables. He was fond of literary talk, expatiated upon the merits of Fielding, read Shelley, and could sing a good song. He also contributed to the 'Snob: a literary and scientific journal not conducted by members of the University,' which lasted through the May term of 1829. 'Snob' appears to have been then used for townsmen as opposed to gownsmen. In this appeared 'Timbuctoo,' a mock poem upon the subject of that year, for which Tennyson won the prize; 'Genevieve' (which he mentions in a letter), and other trifles. Thackeray was bound to attend the lectures of Pryme, his cousin's husband, upon political economy. He adorned the syllabus with pen-and-ink drawings, but his opinion of the lectures is not recorded. He spoke at the Union with little success, and was much interested by Shelley, who seems to have been then a frequent topic of discussion. Thackeray was attracted by the poetry but repelled by the principles. He was at this time an ardent opponent of catholic emancipation.
He found Cambridge more agreeable but not more profitable than the Charterhouse. He had learnt 'expensive habits,' and in his second year appears to have fallen into some of the errors of Pendennis. He spent part of the long vacation of 1829 in Paris studying French and German, and left at the end of the Easter term 1830. His rooms were on the ground floor of the staircase between the chapel and the gateway of the great court, where, as he remarks to his mother, it will be said hereafter that Newton and Thackeray both lived. He left, as he said at the time, because he felt that he was wasting time upon studies which, without more success than was possible to him, would be of no use in later life. He inherited a fortune which has been variously stated at 20,000l., or 500l. a year, from his father. His relations wished him to go to the bar; but he disliked the pro-