LIFE OF THOMAS COOPER.
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
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
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
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
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
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."
BOYHOOD: THOMAS MILLER: 1811— 1814.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
BOYHOOD: GAINSBOROUGH MEMORIES:
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
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
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
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
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.
BOYHOOD: SCHOOL-DAYS ENDED:
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
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
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
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.
SHOEMAKER LIFE: EARLY FRIENDSHIPS:
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.
A MORNING IN SPRING.
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
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
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
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
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
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"!
STUDENT-LIFE: ITS ENJOYMENTS:
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
ILLNESS: SCHOOLMASTER-LIFE: IN EARNEST:
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
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
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
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
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.