The Story of My Life/Chapter IV
“Les longues maladies usent la douleur, et les longues espérances usent la joie.”—Mme. De Sévigné.
“One adequate support
For the calamities of mortal life
Exists, one only—an assured belief
That the procession of our fate, however
Sad or disturbed, is ordered by a Being
Of infinite benevolence and power,
Whose everlasting purposes embrace
All accidents, converting them to good.”
“Condemned to Hope’s delusive mire
As we toil on from day to day
By sudden stroke or slow decline
Our means of comfort drop away.”
“It is well we cannot see into the future. There are few boys of fourteen who would not be ashamed of themselves at forty.”
—Jerome K. Jerome
Of all the unhappy summers of my boyhood, that of 1848 was the most miserable. When I left Harrow at Easter, I was very really ill. The iron frame which had been made for my back had seriously injured the spine which it was intended to cure, and a bad fall down the school steps at Harrow had increased the malady. When Sir Benjamin Brodie saw me, he said that I must lie down for at least the greater part of many months, and that a return to Harrow was quite out of the question. This, however, was concealed from me at first, and when I knew it, I was too ill to have any regrets. We went first to Torquay, stopping on the way to visit Mrs. Alexander, a person who afterwards, for some years, bore a large share in our life. In her youth, as Miss Mary Manning, she had been a governess in the family of Sir John Malcolm, and, while living with the Malcolms at Hyde Hall near Cambridge, had been the most intimate early friend of my Uncle Julius. People generally thought that he had been engaged to her, but this, I believe, was never the case. She had married a Mr. Alexander, a physician at Edinburgh, who soon left her a widow, and since that time she had possessed no settled home. She was very tall, serene, and had a beautiful countenance, and her old-fashioned dress was always wonderfully refined and in keeping with her appearance. She seemed to have the power of imposing her own personality upon her surroundings, and subduing the life and movement around her into an intellectual as well as a physical calm. She had a melodious low voice, a delicate Scotch accent, a perfectly self-possessed manner, and a sweet and gentle dignity. In conversation she was witty and genial, but never rude. With wonderful power of narration, she had the art of throwing unspeakable interest and charm over the most commonplace things: yet she never exaggerated. All the clever men who came in contact with her were bound under her spell. Whewell, Worsley, Landor, Bunsen, Sedgwick adored her, and did not wonder at my uncle’s adoration. Saint-Amand’s description of Mme. de Maintenon might have been written for her—“Elle garda, dans sa vieillesse, cette supériorité de style et de langage, cette distinction de manières, ce tact exquis, cette finesse, cette douceur et cette fermeté de caractère, ce charme et cette élévation d’esprit qui, à toutes les époques de son existence, lui valurent tant d’éloges et lui attirèrent tant d’amitié.”
This is one view of Mrs. Alexander, and, as far as it goes, it is perfectly true. But scarcely any characters are all of one piece. She was also boundlessly subtle, and when she had an object in view she spared no means to attain it. For her own ends, with her sweetness unruffled, she would remorselessly sacrifice her best friends. The most egotistical woman in the world, she expected every one to fall under her spell, and calmly and gently but consistently hated any one who escaped. Whilst she almost imperceptibly flattered her superiors in rank and position, she ruthlessly and often heartlessly trampled upon those whom she (sometimes wrongly) considered her inferiors. She demanded sovereignty in every house she entered, and she could always find a way to punish rebellion. She made herself friends that “men might receive her into their houses,” and when she had once entered them she never relaxed her foothold.
There is a description in the Life of George Sand which might be well applied to this view of Mrs. Alexander—“Elle était une personne glacé autant que glaciale. . . . Ce n’était pas qu’elle ne fut aimable, elle était gracieuse a la surface, un grand savoir-vivre lui tenant lieu de grace véritable. Mais elle n’aimait réellement personne et ne s’intéressait à rien qu’à elle-même.”
When we first saw Mrs. Alexander, she was living in a small lodging at Heavitree near Exeter. In the following year she came to Hurstmonceaux Rectory for three days and stayed three weeks. The year after she came for three weeks and stayed five years. From the first she was supreme at the Rectory, ruling even Aunt Esther with unswerving and ever-increasing power; but on the whole her presence was an advantage. Her education and strong understanding enabled her to enter into all my uncle’s pursuits and interests as his wife could never have done, and to outsiders she was usually suave, courteous, and full of agreeable conversation.
Uncle Julius and Aunt Esther visited Rockend when we were there, and as my aunts when together generally acted as foils to each other, I should have been at liberty to enjoy the really beautiful place—its delightful gardens, storm-beaten rocks, and the tower where Aunt Lucy “made her meditations”—if I had been well enough; but I had generally to spend the greater part of the day lying upon the floor on a hard backboard and in a state of great suffering. It was often an interest at this time to listen to Uncle Julius as he read aloud in the family circle passages connected with the French Revolution, Kingsley’s “Saint’s Tragedy,” which had then recently appeared, or the papers which my uncle and his friends were then contributing to the Magazine for the People which Kingsley was getting up. No one read so well as Uncle Julius—a whole whirlwind of tragedy, an unutterable depth of anguish and pathos could be expressed in the mere tone of his voice; and it
was not merely tone; he really thus felt what he read, and so carried away his listeners, that all their actual surroundings were invisible or forgotten. Those who never heard Julius Hare read the Communion Service can have no idea of the depths of humility and passion in those sublime prayers.
In everything Uncle Julius was as unsuited to the nineteenth century as he well could be. He used to declare that he never would read a book which he knew would interest him, till the exact mood of his mind was fitted for it, till the sun happened to be shining where it ought, and till weather and time and situation all combined to suit the subject and give its full effect, and he usually had numbers of books by him waiting for this happy conjunction, but, when it arrived, he did the books full justice.
I never saw any one so violent, so unmitigated in his likes and dislikes as Uncle Julius, so furious in his approval or condemnation. “Il avait une grande hardiesse, pour ne pas dire effronterie,” as Bassompierre wrote of the Duke of Buckingham. In his despotic imperiousness he had no sympathy with the feelings and weaknesses of others, though inexpressible pity for all their greater misfortunes or sorrows.
Another person of whom we saw much at this time was the really saint-like Harry Grey, my mother’s first cousin, who was living at Babbicombe. He was heir to the Earldom of Stamford (to which his son afterwards succeeded), but a clergyman, and very poor.
I was so ill when we returned home, almost everything I ate producing violent sickness, that it is astonishing my health should not have been considered a primary object. A few weeks of healthy life on moors or by the seaside, with freedom from the gnawing mental misery and depression under which I suffered, would probably have restored me; a visit to German baths might have cured me, and saved years of ill-health. Had the family only had any practical common-sense! But, on religious grounds, it was thought wrong to contend against “the wonderful leadings of God’s Providence”—pain was sent to be endured, sickness as a tractor to draw its victims to heaven; and all simple and rational means of restoration to a healthy and healthful life were disregarded. Sago with brandy in it was provided instead of meat for my physical, and an inexhaustible supply of tracts, hymns, and little sermons for my mental digestion. Patient endurance of suffering, the following of the most unpleasant path which duty could be thought to point out, and that without hope of either reward or release, were the virtues which even my mother most inculcated at this time.
Then a private tutor was sought for—not by knowledge, not by inquiry at the Universities, not by careful investigation of attainments for teaching, but by an advertisement. The inquiry as to all the letters which answered it was whether they appeared to be “those of truly pious men”—i.e., whether they were written in the peculiar phraseology then supposed to denote such a character. At last one was accepted, and a tutor arrived, who was—well, I will not describe him further than as certainly the most unprepossessing of human beings: Nature had been so terribly hard upon him.
With this truly unfortunate man I was shut up every morning in the hope that he would teach me something, a task he was wholly unequal to; and then I had to walk out with him. Naturally there were scenes and recriminations on both sides, in which I was by no means blameless. But daily my health grew worse, and scarcely a morning passed without my having an agonising fit of suffocation, from contraction of the muscles of the throat, gasping for breath in misery unutterable. The aunts said it was all nervous. I have no doubt it was: I have had plenty of experience of hysteria since, and it is the most dreadful disorder that exists.
At last my sufferings were such, from the relaxing air of Hurstmonceaux, that I was taken to Eastbourne, but an attempt was still made to chain me down for six or eight hours a day in a stuffy lodging at lessons with my tutor, who had not an idea of teaching and knew nothing to teach. Poor man! he was at least quite as wretched as I was, and I know that he thirsted quite as much for the fresh air of the downs. Aunt Esther came over, and used cruelly to talk, in my presence, of the fatigue and trouble which my ill-health caused my mother, and of the burden which she had thus brought upon herself by adopting me. It is only by God’s mercy that I did not commit suicide. I was often on the point of throwing myself over the cliffs, when all would have been over in an instant, and was only restrained by my intense love for my mother, and the feeling that her apparently dormant affection would be awakened by such a catastrophe, and that she would always be miserable in such an event. Twenty-two years afterwards, when we were as closely united as it was possible for any mother and son to be, my darling mother reverted of her own accord to this terrible time: she could never die happy, she said, unless she knew that her after love had quite effaced the recollection of it.
Yet, even in these wretched months at Eastbourne there were oases of comfort—days when my “Aunt Kitty and Lou Clinton” came down,
and, with “le cœur haut placé” and sound common-sense, seemed to set everything right; and other days when I made excursions alone with my mother to Jevington in the Downs, or to Wilmington with its old ruin and yew-tree, where we used to be kindly entertained by the primitive old Rector, Mr. Cooper, and his wife.
When I went, in 1877, to visit Alfred Tennyson the poet, he asked me to give him a subject for “A Domestic Village Tragedy.” The story which I told him occurred at Hurstmonceaux this summer. Mrs. Coleman, who kept the “dame’s school” at Flowers Green, had a niece, Caroline Crowhurst, a very pretty girl, the belle of the parish, and as amiable and good as she was pretty, so that every one was friends with her. She became engaged, rather against the will of her family, to a commercial traveller from a distance. He wrote to her, and she wrote to him, maidenly letters, but full of deep affection. One day they had a little quarrel, and the man, the fiend, took the most intimate, the most caressing of these letters and nailed it up against the Brewery in the centre of Gardner Street, where all the village might read it and scoff at it. As the people knew Caroline, no one scoffed, and all pitied her. But Caroline herself came to the village shop that afternoon; she saw her letter hanging there, and it broke her heart. She said nothing about it to any one, and she did not shed a tear, but she went home and kissed her aunt and her mother more tenderly than usual; she gathered the prettiest flowers in her little garden and put them in her bosom, and then she opened the lid of the draw-well close to her home and let herself in. The lid closed upon her.
I remember the news coming to Lime one
evening that Caroline Crowhurst was missing, and the dreadful shock the next morning when we heard that the poor girl had been found in the well. My mother, who had known her from her birth, felt it very deeply, for at Hurstmonceaux we were on the most intimate terms with the poor people, and Philadelphia Isted, Mercy Butler, dear old Mrs. Piper the schoolmistress, Ansley Vine of the shop, grumbling old Mrs. Holloway (who always said she should be so glad when she was dead because then people would believe she had been ill), the crippled Louisa Wood, the saint-like bedridden Mrs. Wisham, and gentle Mrs. Medhurst, who lived amongst the primroses of “the lower road”—all these, and many more, were as familiar to me as my own nearest relations. To many of them, when well enough, I went regularly, and to Mrs. Piper, who had lived in the time of the castle, and known my father and his brothers from babyhood, almost every day. Her death was a real affliction. My mother walked behind her coffin at her funeral. In her will she left me a box which had belonged to my unhappy little ancestress, Grace Naylor.
At the end of July my real mother, “Italima,” with my sister, came to stay at the Rectory. The visit was arranged to last a month, but unhappily on the second day of her stay, Italima went out with Aunt Esther. They came home walking on different sides of the road, and as soon as she entered the house Italima sent for post-horses to her carriage and drove away. I have never heard what happened, but Italima never came to the Rectory again. Soon afterwards she fixed her residence at Rome, in the Palazzo Parisani, which then occupied two sides of the Piazza S. Claudio.
In August it was decided to send me away to a private tutor’s, and my mother and Uncle Julius went with me to Lyncombe, near Bath. My tutor was the Rev. H. S. R., son of a well-known evangelical writer, but by no means of the same spiritual grace: indeed I never could discover that he had any grace whatever; neither had he any mental acquirements, or the slightest power of teaching. He was “un homme absolument nul,” and though paid a very large salary, he grossly and systematically neglected all his duties as a tutor. Uncle Julius must have been perfectly aware how inefficient the education at Lyncombe would be, but he was probably not to blame for sending me there. Because I did not “get on” (really because I was never taught), he regarded me as the slave of indolence—“putrescent indolence” he would have called it, like Mr. Carlyle. He considered me, however, to be harmless, though fit for nothing, and therefore one to be sent where I should probably get no harm, though certainly no good either. It was the system he went upon with my brothers also, and in their case he had all the responsibility, being their guardian. But, indeed, Uncle Julius’s view was always much that of Rogers—“God sends sons, but the devil sends nephews,” and he shunted them accordingly.
”Les grands esprits, d’ailleurs très estimables,
Ont très peu de talent pour fonmer leurs semblables.”
I went to Lyncombe with the utmost curiosity. The house was a large villa, oddly built upon arches in the hollow of a wooded valley about a mile from Bath, behind the well-known Beechen Cliff. At the back of it was a lawn with very steep wooded banks at the sides, and a fountain and pool, showing that the place had once been of some importance, and behind the lawn, meadows with steep banks led towards the heights of Combe Down. We all had rooms to ourselves at Lyncombe, scantily furnished, and with barely a strip of carpet, but we could decorate them with pictures, &c., if we liked. We did our lessons, when we were supposed to do them, at regular hours, in the dining-room, where we had our meals, and after work was finished in the evening, and eight-o’clock tea, we were expected to sit with Mrs. R. in the drawing-room.
But we had an immense deal of time to ourselves—the whole afternoon we were free to go where we liked; we were not expected to give any account of what we did, and might get into as much mischief as we chose. Also, we too frequently had whole holidays, which Mr. R.’s idle habits made him only too glad to bestow, but which I often did not in the least know what to do with.
Eagerly did I survey my new companions, who were much older than myself and with whom I was likely to live exclusively, with none of the chances of making other friendships which a public school affords. Three of them were quiet youths of no especial character: the fourth was Temple Harris, at once the friend, enlivener, and torment of the following year.
On the whole, at first I was not unhappy at Lyncombe. I liked the almost unlimited time for roaming over the country, and the fresh air did much to strengthen me. But gradually, when I had seen all the places within reach, this freedom palled, and I felt with disgust that, terribly ignorant as I was, I was learning nothing, and that I had no chance of learning anything except what I could teach myself whilst Temple Harris stayed at Lyncombe, we spent a great deal of time in writing stories, ballads, &c., for a MS. magazine which we used to produce once a week; and this was not wholly useless, from the facility of composition which it gave me. But after Temple Harris left, the utter waste of life at Lyncombe palled upon me terribly, and I made, in desperation, great efforts to instruct myself which, with no books and with every possible hindrance from without, was difficult enough. After a fashion, however, I succeeded in teaching myself French, stumbling through an interesting story-book with Grammar and Dictionary, till I had learnt to read with ease; of the pronunciation I naturally knew nothing. Two miserable years and a half of life were utterly wasted at Lyncombe, before Arthur Stanley came to visit me there, and rescued me by his representation of the utter neglect and stagnation in which I was living. It had been so hammered into my mind by my aunts that I was a burden to my mother, and that she was worn out with the trouble I had given her in finding my first private tutor, that I should never of myself have ventured to try to persuade her to look out for a second.
My earlier letters to my mother from Lyncombe are filled with nothing but descriptions of the scenery round Bath, of which I formed a most exaggerated estimate, as I had seen so little with which I could compare it. Once a week at least I used to go into Bath itself to dine with my father’s old friend Walter Savage Landor, who had been driven away from his Florentine home by his wife’s violent temper. Mr. Landor’s rooms (in Catherine Place, and afterwards at 2 Rivers Street) were entirely covered with pictures, the frames fitting close to one another, leaving not the smallest space of wall visible. One or two of these pictures were real works of art, but as a rule he had bought them at Bath, quite willing to imagine that the little shops of the Bath dealers could be storehouses of Titians, Giorgiones, and Vandycks. The Bath picture-dealers never had such a time; for some years almost all their wares made their way to Mr. Landor’s walls. Mr. Landor lived alone with his beautiful white Spitz dog Pomero, which he allowed to do whatever it liked, and frequently to sit in the oddest way on the bald top of his head. He would talk to Pomero by the hour together, poetry, philosophy, whatever he was thinking of all of it imbued with his own powerful personality, and would often roar with laughter till the whole house seemed to shake. I have never heard a laugh like that of Mr. Landor—“deep-mouthed Beotian Savage Landor,” as Byron called him—such a regular cannonade. He was “the sanest madman and the maddest reasonable man in the world,” as Cervantes says of Don Quixote. In the evenings he would sit for hours in impassioned contemplation: in the mornings he wrote incessantly, to fling off sheet after sheet for the Examiner, seldom looking them over afterwards. He scarcely ever read, for he only possessed one shelf of books. If any one gave him a volume, he mastered it and gave it away, and this he did because he believed that if he knew he was to keep the book and be able to refer to it, he should not be able to absorb its contents so as to retain them. When he left Florence, he had made over all he possessed to his wife, retaining only £200 a year—afterwards increased to £400—for himself and this sufficed for his simple needs. He never bought any new clothes, and a chimney-sweep would have been ashamed to wear his coat, which was always the same as long as I knew him, though it in no way detracted from his majestic and lion-like appearance. But he was very particular about his little dinners, and it was about these that his violent explosions of passion usually took place. I have seen him take a pheasant up by the legs when it was brought to table and throw it into the back of the fire over the head of the servant in attendance. This was always a failing, and, in later days, I have heard Mr. Browning describe how in his fury at being kept waiting for dinner at Siena, he shouted: “I will not eat it now, I will not eat it if it comes,” and, when it came, threw it all out of the window.
At the same time nothing could be more nobly courteous than his manner to his guests, and this was as marked towards an ignorant schoolboy as towards his most distinguished visitor; and his conversation, whilst calculated to put all his visitors at their ease and draw out their best points, was always wise, chivalrous, pure, and witty.
At one time Mr. Landor’s son Walter came to stay with him, but he was an ignorant rough youth, and never got on well with his father. I believe Mr. Landor preferred me at this time to any of his own children, and liked better to have me with him; yet he must often have been grievously disappointed that I could so little reciprocate about the Latin verses of which he so constantly talked to me, and that indeed I could seldom understand them, though he was so generous and high-bred that he never would allow me to feel mortified. Mrs. Lynn Linton, then Miss Lynn, was, by her almost filial attentions a great comfort to Landor during the earlier years of his exile at Bath. Another person, whom he liked, was a pretty young Bath lady, Miss Fray, who often came to dine with him when I was there. After dinner Mr. Landor generally had a nap, and would say, “Now, Augustus, I’m going to sleep, so make love to Miss Fray”—which was rather awkward.
These were the best friends of Landor’s solitude; most of his other visitors were sycophants and flatterers, and though he despised the persons, he did not always dislike the flattery. Swift says truly—
“’Tis an old maxim in the schools,
That flattery’s the food of fools;
Yet now and then your men of wit
Will condescend to take a hit.”
Another resident of whom I saw much at Bath was my mother’s cousin, Miss Harriet Dumbleton (her mother was a Leycester)—an old maiden lady, who lived in the most primitive manner, really scarcely allowing herself enough to eat, because, like St. Elizabeth, though she had a very good fortune, she had given everything she had to the poor. She would even sell her furniture, books, and pictures, to give away the money they realised. But she was a most agreeable, witty, lively person, and it was always a great pleasure to go to her.
To my Mother.
“Lyncombe, Sept. 12.—I have been here four days, but only to-day did Mr. R. begin to attempt any lessons with me. He was very impatient, and I got so puzzled and confused, I could scarcely do anything at all; all my sums and everything else were wrong. Warriner and Hebden were very kind, and did all they could to help me. I like Warriner very much. To-day I have done much better, and I really do try to do well, dearest Mamma.”
“Sept. 14.—Yesterday morning, as there was again no work whatever to be done, I went off by myself to Charterhouse Hinton to see the Abbey. I was told it was not shown, but insisted upon going up to the house; where I rang the bell, and was allowed to look at the ruin in the garden. There I found an old gentleman, to whom I told who I was, where I was, and all about myself and he told me in return that he had been at school with Uncle Jule and knew the Bath aunts, and not only showed me the best place to sketch the Abbey from, but gave me a lesson in perspective. Then he took me into the house and told me all the stories of the pictures there.
“Mr. Landor has been here, and, thinking to do me honour, called upon the R.’s. Whilst Pomero danced about, he told numbers of stories, beginning at once about the Dukes of Brandenburg and Orleans, and in defence of the Danes. ‘Hare may say what he likes, but that King of Prussia is a regular old scoundrel.’
“Whenever we are supposed to do any work, Mr. R. sits at the small table in the dining-room while we are at the large one; but no one takes any notice of him, and all talk slang and laugh as if he was out of the room; and if Harris gets bored with his supposed work, he rings for a plate and glass of water and paints.”
“Sept. 22.—You need not grudge my long walks and being away from the others, for I should not be with them if at home, as Hebden goes to play on the Abbey organ, and the rest have their own occupations. To-day I went over hill and dale to Wellow, where there is a noble old church, and a Holy Well of St. Julian, at which a white lady used to appear on St. Julian’s Eve, whenever any misfortune was about to happen to the family of Hungerford, the former possessors of the soil. As I was drawing the village, a farmer came riding by, and, after looking at my sketch, went back with me to show me his house, once a manor of the Hungerfords, with a splendid old carved chimney-piece.
“These are very long dreary half-years. At Harrow I used to rejoice that I should never more have to endure those horrible long private-school half-years, yet here they are again. Oh! what would I not give to be back with you, and able to take care of you when you are poorly!”
“Oct. 9.—Yesterday, as there were no lessons whatever again, I made a great expedition to Farley Castle, but was very miserable all the way in thinking that I had not been better to you all the summer, dearest, dearest Mamma. I used to think, when I knew that I should be at home such a long time, what a comfort I should be to you, and that you would see how good I was grown; but instead of that, how bad I was all the time! Oh! if I had only a little of it over again! Welt it is a long walk, but at last I arrived at Farley, a pretty ruin on a height, with four towers at the angles and a chapel in the centre. I persuaded the woman to lock me in here, and was in ecstasies. The walls are covered with armour of the Hungerfords for centuries, and in a corner are Cromwell’s boots and saddle. At the other end is the ancient high altar with a Bible of ages mouldering away beneath a carved crucifix and stained window, and the surrounding walls are emblazoned with Hungerford arms. Old banners wave from the ceiling, old furniture lines the aisle, and in St. Anne’s Chantry are two splendid altar-tombs, of Lady Joanna Hungerford and her husband, and Sir Edward and his wife.
“How am I to get any money to pay for having my hair cut, and for some gloves, for mine are quite worn out?”
“Oct. 20.—No work at all, so I have had a grand expedition to the beautiful old deserted house of the Longs at South Wraxhall, and have been writing ballads and stories about it ever since.”
“Oct. 26.—No lessons. Mr. R. will not have them. So we have all been together to Farley, and went into the vault where the Hungerfords lie in leaden coffins, melted to fit their bodies and faces, their real features in deep relief. They look most extraordinary, especially two babies, whom, at first sight, you would take for a pair of shoes. . . . When I am alone with Harris, I like him very much. He writes poetry and draws beautifully, and can read French and Italian for his own amusement. I wish I could. Oh, I am so tired of having nothing to do!”
My dear Grandmother, Mrs. Leycester, had been failing all the autumn, and my mother was much with her at her house in New Street. Towards the end of October she seemed better, and my mother returned to Lime, but on the 3rd of November she was suddenly recalled. As so often happens in serious cases, for the only time in her life she missed the train, and when she arrived, after many hours’ delay, she found that dear Grannie had died an hour before, wishing and longing for her to the last. To my intense thankfulness, I was allowed to go to my mother in New Street, once more to behold the beloved aged features in the deep repose of death, and to see the familiar inanimate objects connected with my childhood, and the dear old servants. Grannie was buried in the vaults of St. Martin’s Church, Trafalgar Square, her coffin being laid upon that of Uncle Hugh (Judge Leycester). The vaults were a very awful place—coffins piled upon one another up to the ceiling, and often in a very bad state of preservation,—and the funeral was a very ghastly one, all the ladies being enveloped in huge black hooded mantles, which covered them from head to foot like pillars of crape. Grannie is one of the few persons whose memory is always evergreen to me, and for whom I have a most lasting affection. Everything connected with her has an interest. Many pieces of furniture and other memorials of my grandmother’s house in New Street and, before that, of Stoke Rectory, have been cherished by us at Hurstmonceaux and Holmhurst, and others it has always been a pleasure to see again when I have visited my Penrhyn cousins at Sheen—objects of still life which long survive those to whom they were once important.
In the winter of 1848-49 I saw at St. Leonards the venerable Queen Marie Amélie, and am always glad to have seen that noble and long-suffering lady, the niece of Marie Antoinette.
During the autumn at Lyncombe I was almost constantly ill, and very often ill in the winter at home, which the Marcus Hares all spent at Lime. It was a miserable trial to me that, in her anxiety lest I should miss an hour of a school where I was taught nothing, my mother sent me back a week too early—and I was for that time alone in the prison of my abomination, in unutterable dreariness, with nothing in the world to do. This term, a most disagreeable vulgar boy called W—— was added to the establishment at Lyncombe, who was my detested companion for the next two years; and from this time in every way life at Lyncombe became indescribably wretched—chiefly from the utter waste of time—and, as I constantly wrote to my mother, I was always wishing that I were dead. My only consolation, and that a most dismal and solitary one, was in the long excursions which I made; but I look back upon these as times of acute suffering from poverty and hunger, as I never had any allowance, and was always sent back to my tutor’s with only five shillings in my pocket. Thus, though I walked sometimes twenty-four miles in a day, and was out for eight or ten hours, I never had a penny with which to buy even a bit of bread, and many a time sank down by the wayside from the faintness of sheer starvation, often most gratefully accepting some of the food from the common working people I met. If I went out with my companions, the utmost mortification was added to the actual suffering of hunger, because, when they went into the village inns to have a good well-earned luncheon, I was always left starving outside, as I never had the means of paying for any food. I believe my companions were very sorry for me, but they never allowed their pity to be any expense to them, and then “E megho essere odiato che compatito” is an Italian proverb which means a great deal, especially to a boy. After a time, too, the food at Lyncombe itself became extremely stinted and of the very worst quality—a suet dumpling filled with coarse odds and ends of meat being our dinner on at least five days out of the seven, which of course was very bad for an extremely delicate rapidly-growing youth—and, if I was ill from want of food, which was frequently the case, I was given nothing but rice.
What indescribably miserable years those were! I still feel, in passing Bath by railway, sick at heart from the recollection, and I long in this volume to hurry over a portion of life so filled with wretched recollections, and which had scarcely a redeeming feature, except Mr. Landor’s constant kindness and friendship. It was also a terrible disappointment that my mother never would consent to my going for a few days to see “Italima” and my brothers, who were then living at Torquay, and who vainly begged for it. My endless letters to my mother (for I wrote several sheets daily) are so crushed and disconsolate that I find little to select.
To my Mother.
“Easter Sunday, 1849.—Yesterday Mr. Landor asked me to dine with him. First we went out to order the dinner, accompanied by Pomero in high spirits. As we went through the streets, he held forth upon their beauties, especially those of the Circus, to which he declares that nothing in Rome or in the world was ever equal. We stopped first at the fishmonger’s, where, after much bargaining, some turbot was procured; then, at the vegetable shop, we bought broccoli, potatoes, and oranges; then some veal to roast; and finally a currant-tart and biscuits. Mr. Landor generally orders his own little dinners, but almost all this was for me, as he will dine himself on a little fish. He has actually got a new hat, he says because all the ladies declared they would never walk with him again unless he had one, and he has a hideous pair of new brown trousers. Pomero was put out of the room for jumping on them, but when he was heard crying outside the door, Mr. Landor declared he could not let his dear child be unhappy, and was obliged to let it in; upon which the creature was so delighted, that it instantly jumped on the top of its master’s head, where it sate demurely, looking out of the window.
“Harris has just written an account of my home life which he says he believes to be exact, i.e., that I live with two maiden aunts, ‘Gidman and Lear’—that they have a dog called ‘Paul against the Gentiles,’ who runs after them, carrying muffins and apples to the poor and destitute inhabitants of the parish of Chalk-cum-Chilblains—that his kennel is inscribed with texts of Scripture, and when a heretic is near he can smell him five miles off—that his food consists of tracts, and that he drinks a dilution of hymn-books and camphor-ice.”
In my summer holidays of 1849 my mother took me for the second time to Alton. It was very hot weather, and we lived entirely amongst the affectionate primitive cottagers, going after-wards to stay with Lady Gore at Wilcot House—an old haunted house, with a tower where a tailor (I forget how he got there) committed suicide. With Mrs. Pile we drove through the open Wiltshire country to her farmhouse home of Tufton, where we spent several days very pleasantly, in a quiet place on the glistening little river Teste, close to Hurstborne Park. On the day of our leaving Tufton we visited Winchester, and as we were going thence to Portsmouth by rail, we had an adventure which might have ended seriously.
The train was already in motion, and my mother and I were alone in the carriage, when three men came running along the platform and attempted to enter it. Only one succeeded, for before the others could follow him, the train had left the platform. In a minute we saw that the man who was alone in the carriage with us was a maniac, and that those left behind were his keepers. He uttered a shrill hoot and glared at us. Fortunately, as the door banged to, the tassel of the window was thrown up, and this attracted him, and he yelled with laughter. We sat motionless at the other side of the carriage opposite each other. He seized the tassel and kept throwing it up and down, hooting and roaring with laughter. Once or twice we fancied he was about to pounce upon us, but then the tassel attracted him again. After about eight minutes the train stopped. His keepers had succeeded in getting upon the guard’s box as the train left the station, and hearing his shouts, stopped the train, and he was removed by force.
We went to stay at Haslar with Sir Edward Parry, the Arctic voyager, whose first wife had been my mother’s early friend Bella Stanley. He was now married again, and had three more children, and his wife had two daughters by her first husband, Mr. Hoare. The three families lived together, and in the most wonderful harmony. The eldest son, Edward, afterwards Bishop of Dover, was several years older than I, yet not too old for companionship. But I never could feel the slightest interest in the dockyards or the ships at Spithead. My only pleasure was a happy tourette round the Isle of Wight—the mother, Lea, and I, in a little carriage. During the latter part of our stay at Haslar, cholera broke out in the hospital, and our departure was like a flight.
While I was at Lyncombe in the autumn, my step-grandmother Mrs. Hare Naylor died, very soon after the marriage of her daughter Georgiana to Mr. Frederick D. Maurice, whose first wife had been her intimate friend. She was married during what was supposed to be her last illness, but was so pleased with her nuptials that she recovered after the ceremony and lived for nearly half a century afterwards.
My dear old uncle Edward Stanley had always said, while making his summer tour in Scotland, that he should return to Norwich when the first case of cholera appeared. He died at Brahan Castle, and his body was brought back to Norwich just as the cholera appeared there. Tens of thousands of people went to his funeral—for, in the wild Chartist times of his episcopate, he had been a true “chevalier sans peur et sans reproche,” and had become beloved by people of every phase of creed and character. My mother met Aunt Kitty in London as she came from Scotland, and went with her to Norwich. It was perfect anguish to me not to see once more the place which I had most delighted in, but that was not permitted. Only two days after leaving her home in the old palace, my aunt heard of the death of her youngest son, Captain Charles Edward Stanley, at Hobart Town in Van Diemen’s Land. He left a young widow, who, in her desolation, derived her chief comfort from the thought of joining her husband’s eldest brother, Captain Owen Stanley, at Sydney, and returning to England in his ship, the Rattlesnake. When she reached the ship, she learned that he had been found dead in his cabin only a few days after receiving the tidings of his father’s death. The news of this third loss reached Lime just after Aunt Kitty and Kate Stanley had left it to take possession of their new London home—6 Grosvenor Crescent. I remember my mother’s piercing shriek when she opened the letter: it was the only time I ever heard her scream. It was only a few months after this that Kate was married to Dr. Vaughan, her brother’s friend and my late head-master.
In 1850 I detested my life at Lyncombe more than ever. Mr. R. was increasingly neglectful in teaching, and the food and everything else was increasingly bad. Temple Harris and my other elder companions went away, and their places were taken by a boy “with flaxen hair and spectacles, like a young curate,” but inoffensive, and “an atrociously vulgar little snob;” while the ill-tempered rat-hunter, who had been at Lyncombe with the old set, was the only one of them that remained. I was now, however, more anxious than ever to learn something, and I made much progress by myself. Most of the external consolations of this year came from the residence in Bath of my maternal cousin Mrs. Russell Barrington, a rather gay young widow, and an eccentric person, but very kind to me at this time, incessant in her invitations, and really very useful in her constant lectures upon “good manners.” She might truly have written to my mother in the words of Mme. de Sévigné—“Je me mêle d’apprendre à votre fils les manèges des conversations ordinaires, qu’il est important de savoir; il y a des choses qu’il ne faut pas ignorer. Il seroit ridicule de paraitre étonné de certaines nouvelles de quoi on raisonne; je suis assez instruite de ces bagatelles.”
Up to this time, as ever afterwards, no preparation for social life had ever been thought of as far as I was concerned. I was never encouraged to talk at home; indeed, if I ever spoke, I was instantly suppressed. I knew nothing of any game; I was never taught to ride or swim, and dancing was absolutely prohibited as an invention of the evil one. Other boys must have thought me a terrible ass, but it was really not quite my own fault. Oh! how heartily I agree with Archbishop Whately, who said that “the God of the Calvinists is the devil with ‘God’ written on his forehead.”
There was another of my real relations with whom I made acquaintance this yea?, and with whom I was afterwards very intimate—namely, Henry Liddell, Rector of Easington, and one of the trustees of Bamborough Castle, who was the brother of my great-uncle Lord Ravensworth, and had married Charlotte Lyon of Hetton, daughter of the youngest brother of my great-grandmother Lady Anne Simpson. Mr. Liddell was one of the kindest of men, with all the genial courtesy of a race of country gentlemen now almost extinct, and his wife was a beautiful old lady, with much that was interesting to tell of past times and people. Their eldest son, who was afterwards Dean of Christ Church at Oxford, was at this time head-master of Westminster, and was a clever and cultivated person, though inferior to his parents in natural charm of character. In the summer my maternal grandfather, Sir John Paul, came to stay at a hotel at Bath and I saw him frequently, but never found anything in common with him, though he was an exceedingly clever artist. In my daily letters to my mother, I see that I described his first reception of me with “How do you do, sir”—just like any distant acquaintance. He was at this time married to his third wife, who was a daughter of Bishop Halifax, and presented a very youthful appearance. Her step-children, who never liked her, declared that on the day after her marriage one of her eyebrows fell off into her soup. But to me she was always very kind, and I was fond of her, in spite of her many ancient frivolities. With Lady Paul lived her sister Caroline Halifax, a very pretty pleasant old lady, who adored her, and thought “my sister Bessy” the most beautiful, illustrious, and cultivated woman in the world.
It was in April 1850 that a happy missing of his train at Bath produced a visit at Lyncombe from Arthur Stanley, who was horrified at my ignorance, and at the absence, which he discovered, of all pains in teaching me. His representations to my mother at last induced her to promise to remove me, for which I shall be eternally grateful to him in recollection. Nevertheless I was unaccountably left at Lyncombe till Christmas, nine wretched and utterly useless months; for when he knew I was going to leave, after my return in the summer, Mr. R. dropped even the pretence of attempting to teach me, so that I often remained in total neglect, without any work whatever, for several weeks. In their anger at the distant prospect of my escaping them, the R.’s now never spoke to me, and my life was passed in total and miserable silence, even at meal-times. If it had not been for the neighbourhood of Bath, I should often have been many weeks together without speaking a single word. My mother in vain remonstrated over my sickeningly doleful letters, and told me to “catch all the sunbeams within reach;” I could only reply there were no sunbeams to catch—that “you would think at meals that you were in the Inquisition from the cold, morose, joyless, motionless faces around the table.” Then Aunt Esther would make my mother urge me to accept all these small trials, these “guidings,” in a more Christian spirit, which made me furious: I could not express religious sentiments when such sentiments were quite unborn. Besides, I might have answered that “when St. Paul said we were to put off the old man, he did not mean we were to put on the old woman.” I also wrote to my mother—
“We are in the last extremities as regards food. I will give you a perfectly correct account of the last few days. Saturday, dinner, boiled beef. Sunday, breakfast, ditto cold with bread and butter. Luncheon, a very small portion of ditto with dry bread and part of the rind of a decayed cheese. Dinner, a little of ditto with a doughy plum-tart. Monday, breakfast, ditto with two very small square pieces of bread. Luncheon, ditto with bread and . . . butter! Dinner, ditto and a rice-pudding. Tuesday, breakfast, ditto; luncheon, a very small fragment of ditto and one potato apiece doled round. Dinner, ditto. Wednesday, breakfast, scraps of ditto; luncheon, fat and parings of ditto. We all have to sit and do our work now by the light of a single bed-candle. Oh! I am more thankful every day that you will at last let me leave this place. Any change must be for the better, and I should not mind if it was to the centre of the desert, if I could only feel I should learn something, for I am learning nothing here, and never have learnt anything. . . . Would you very much mind giving me an umbrella, for I have got wet through almost every day: on Sundays it is especially inconvenient. Mr. R. asked me the other day how I liked the thoughts of going away!—but I was very good, and only said ‘I should not mind it very much!’”
My only reprieve from the misery of Lyncombe in 1850 was in a three days’ visit to my half-uncle Gustavus Hare at Exmouth. I describe to my mother the extraordinary sermon which I heard there from the Dean of Exeter, on the theory that the object of St. Paul’s visit to Jerusalem, as described in the Acts of the Apostles, was to attend the deathbed of the “most blessed Virgin.” I was greatly delighted with sketching the then ruined sanctuary of St. John in the Wilderness—an old grey tower covered with moss and lichen and a huge yew-tree, in a solitary opening amid woods. Another day we saw Bradley Manor, near Newton, “with its chapel used as a hen-roost and a peacock perched upon the altar,” and the second Mrs. Hare Naylor’s grave at Highweek, “over-looking the beautiful wooded hills and the still blue waters of Teignmouth harbour.”
Whilst at my tutor’s, I had saved up every penny I could—actually by pennies—to go to Berkeley Castle, and at last, by going without food the whole day (as I had no money for that), I accomplished the excursion. To me, it was well worth all the suffering it cost, and I wrote seven sheets to my mother about the great hall with its stained windows, the terraces with peacocks sunning themselves on the carved balustrades, the dark picture-hung staircase, the tapestried bedrooms, and above all, the unspeakably ghastly chamber of Edward the Second’s murder, approached through the leads of the roof by a wooden bridge between the towers—“dim and dark, with a floor of unplaned oak, and the light falling from two stained windows upon a white head of Edward in a niche, and an old bed with a sword lying upon it in the position in which it was found after the murder.” Then in the park were “the descendants of the stags which were harnessed to the king’s bier, and which, for want of horses, drew him to his grave at Gloucester.”
In the dreary solitude of my life at Lyncombe (as how often since!) drawing was a great resource, and much practice gave. me facility in sketching. At this time I was very conceited about it, thought my drawings beautiful, and; as an inevitable consequence, fell violently into “the black stage,” in which they were—abominable! In the holidays, however, my pride was well taken down by my mother, who herself drew with great taste and delicacy. She would look at my drawing carefully, and then say, “And what does this line mean?”—“Oh, I thought . . . it looked well.”—“Then, if you do not know exactly what it means, take it out at once.” This was the best of all possible lessons.
The chief variety of our summer was spending two days in the little inn at Penshurst—seeing and drawing the fine old house there and Hever Castle, and a day at Winchelsea, where we slept at the primitive little public-house, and sketched from breakfast to sunset.
In the autumn, at Mr. Landor’s house, I first met Miss Carolina Courtenay Boyle, Queen Adelaide’s ex-maid of honour, with whom, partly through my love of drawing, I made a great friendship. Accustomed as I was to the inferior twaddle which formed the conversation of the Maurice sisters, or the harsh judgments of those who considered everything pleasant to be sinful, Miss Boyle was a revelation to me. I was as one mesmerised by her. Hitherto my acquaintance with women had been chiefly with the kind who thought ample compensation for having treated me with inordinate unkindness and selfishness
to be contained in the information that they would not fail to remember me in their prayers. It was a new experience, not only that a beautiful and clever lady should try to make herself agreeable, but that she should think it worth while to make herself agreeable to me. No wonder I adored her. She was then living with her mother Lady Boyle in the same house of Millard’s Hill, near Frome, in which my great-aunts Caroline and Marianne Hare had lived before; and, to my great surprise and delight, I was allowed to go by the coach to spend two days with her there. It was on this occasion that I first wore a morning-coat instead of a jacket, and very proud I was of it. Apropos of dress, at this time and for many years afterwards, all young gentlemen wore straps to their trousers, not only when riding, but always: it was considered the ne plus ultra of snobbism to appear without them. The said trousers also always had stripes at the sides, which, beginning like those of soldiers, grew broader and broader, till they recalled the parti-coloured hose of Pinturicchio: then they disappeared altogether.
The house of Millard’s Hill, when the Boyles inhabited it, was quite enchanting, so filled with pictures, carvings, and china; and Miss Boyle herself was a more beautiful picture than any of those upon her walls—still wonderfully striking in appearance, with delicately chiselled features and an unrivalled complexion, while her golden-grey hair, brushed back and cut short like a boy’s (owing to a coup de soleil long before), added a marvellous picturesqueness. A greater contrast to the pinched and precise evangelical women whom alone I was usually permitted to visit could at this time scarcely be imagined. Wonderful were the stories which she had to tell me, and delighted to tell me, of her past life and sufferings, “through which only God and religion” had helped her, with the moral attached that since the few whom she had idolised were taken away, she must now live for all. She talked much also of her great anxiety about dear old Landor, “that God would change and rebuild his soul.” Lady Boyle, a sweet and beautiful old lady, was now quite paralysed, and her daughter would sit for hours at her feet, soothing her and holding her hands. I remember as especially touching, that when Miss Boyle sang hymns to her mother, she would purposely make a mistake, in order that her sick mother might have “the pleasure of correcting her.”
When we went out, Miss Boyle’s dress—a large Marie Antoinette hat and feathers and a scarlet cloak—at that time considered most extraordinary—excited great sensation. With her I went to Longleat; to Vallis, of which I have often been reminded in seeing Poussin’s pictures; and to Marston, where old Lord Cork was still living, with his daughter-in-law Lady Dungarvan and her children. An immense number of the Boyles—“the illustrious family” by whom, our Dr. Johnson said, “almost every art had been encouraged or improved”—were at this time residing at or around Marston, and none of them on terms with one another, though they were all, individually, very kind to me. I now first made acquaintance with Miss Boyle’s younger sister Mary, whom I knew better many years after, when I learned td value her wonderful sympathy with all the pathos of life, as much as to admire her quick wit and inimitable acting. Landor used to say of her, “Mary Boyle is more than clever, she is profound;” but it is her quickness that remains by one. Of her lively answers it is difficult to give specimens, but I remember how one day when she neglected something, Lady Marion Alford said to her, “What a baby you are, Mary,” and she answered, “Well, I can’t help it; I was born so.”
Another day Sir Frederic Leighton had promised to go to her, and, after keeping her waiting a long time, had disappointed her. She met him at the Academy party that evening, and he made a feint of kneeling down to beg her pardon—“Oh, pray rise up,” she exclaimed; “people might think I was forgiving you.”
But to return to Millard’s Hill. In the evenings Miss Boyle took a guitar and played and sang strange wild Spanish songs, which seemed perfectly in accordance with her floating hair and inspired mien. King William IV. desired her to play to him, which she dreaded so much, that when she was sent to fetch her guitar, she cut every string and then frizzled them up, and came back into the royal presence saying that her guitar was quite broken and she could not play. To her terror, the King sent for the guitar to see if it was true, but he was deceived. Queen Adelaide’s death had made a great change in Miss Boyle’s life, but she received the greatest kindness from the Queen’s sister, Duchess Ida of Saxe-Weimar. When I was with her, she was looking forward to a homeless life after her mother’s death, which could not be far distant, but was trusting in the family motto—“God’s providence is my inheritance.”
Soon after my return from Millard’s Hill, I went to my grandfather Sir John Paul at the Hill House near Stroud—a much-dreaded visit, as I had never before seen most of the near relations amongst whom I so suddenly found myself.
From the Hill House I wrote to my mother—
“Dec. 19, 1850.—Lyncombe is done with! my own Mother, and oh! I cannot say how delightful it was, in parting with so many persons terribly familiar through two years and a half of misery, to know that I should never see them again.
“At Stroud Lady Paul’s pony-carriage was waiting, and we drove swiftly through some deep valleys, the old coachman, twenty-five years in the family, telling me how he had seen and nursed me when a baby, and how glad he was that I was come to see my grandfather We turned up by a house which he said was my ‘Aunt Jane’s,’ through a steep lane overhung by magnificent beech-trees, and then round a drive to this hill-set mansion, which has a fine view over wood and valley on one side, and on the other a garden with conservatories and fountains.
“As the bell rang, a good-natured, foreign-looking man came out to welcome me, and told me he was my Uncle Wentworth, introduced me to his boy Johnnie, and took me into a large cheerful room (like the chintz room at Eridge), where the bright-eyed old Sir John was sitting with Lady Paul and my aunt Minnie Bankhead. Lady Paul kissed me, and it was not half so formidable as I expected. . . . Aunt Minnie is very handsome, and amuses everybody with her stories. She has just brought back His Excellency her husband from Mexico, where she has had the most wonderful adventures.”
- Hon. R. J. Harris Temple, eldest son of the second marriage of the second Lord Harris with Miss Isabella Helena Temple of Waterstown.
- “No man who has once heartily and wholly laughed can be altogether irreclaimably bad.”—Carlyle, “Sartor Resartus.”
- There is really no end to the absurd calumnies which I have heard circulated during my life about dear old Mr. Landor, the kindest, most refined, most courteous, and most genial, though most irascible of men. But nothing that ever was said about him was so utterly absurd as Mr. Adolphus Trollope’s statement that he neglected the use of the letter h in conversation. I lived with him in close intimacy for years, and I never once traced the slightest indication of ever dropping the aspirate; indeed, no one was more particular in inculcating its proper use.
- The vaults of St. Martin’s Church have been emptied since.
- Hugh Stuart Brown.
- Eldest daughter of Vice-Admiral Sir Courtenay Boyle, brother of the 8th Earl of Cork. The brothers had married sisters, daughters of W. Poyntz of Midgeham—our distant cousins.
- Née Caroline Amelia Poyntz.
- Miss Mary Boyle died in 1890.
- Mrs. FitzGerald’s.
- My Uncle Wentworth married the Countess Marie Benningsen, whose father was one of those who murdered the Emperor Paul of Russia. They had four children.