Immagini della pagina
PDF
ePub

ANOTHER PASSAGE OF AUTOBIOGRAPHY.

Is it a mark of age, Eusebius, that for us. The affected gravity, the seI am gliding into garrulity ? Never cret mimicry, the ill-suppressed laughmind if it be; age is respectable, and ter, and occasional nodding of the has its pleasures, one of which may be elder branches, I well remember; and in remembering the pains of youth. that is all of my childhood that I do My garrulity now, however, must be remember that I could laugh at: the laid at your door; for if you demand rest was lachrymose enough. We all another passage of my autobio.

come into the world crying, and for a graphy," I must needs run on egotis- very long period shed tears as fast as tically babbling, till you will perhaps eyes can make them, naturally, think me advancing to my second Laughter is an acquirement, an art childhood. But what passages of life risibility the very mark, the sign, achave I worth noting ? Yet Mr Bab. cording to some, of our rational hubage has told us that the most insig manity. Did you ever, Eusebius, nificant word we utter, through the think how this propensity to crying is motion it gives to the air, has its in- first combated-how it is even got fluence over the whole material world, over? You ought to know, for therein so that involuntarily we shape it to be you are a “ master of arts," and have what it is and what it will be. If so always an extempore laugh ready to with the external, who can deny the overthrow the natural bias. How do influences of things in the moral we ever acquire a sense of the ridicuworld? So here I am swimming grand- lous ? I have often thought, as I have ly by help of Mr Babbage's philoso seen the extraordinary grimaces that phical corks; and, like many other nurses make to infants and children, speculators, float upon the surface, that they must be the real teachers of unconscious of the depth beneath the the ridiculous. They look at children argument. It is time, if I am to give as no other human beings do, and you a new passage, to swim " sine speak as strangely, “ Nec vox hom. cortice." I will therefore tell you an inem sonat.” Perhaps I had a grave incident to which perhaps I owe all nurse, and was therefore all

my

childthe sense of the ridiculous I possess; hood in the fatuity of dulness and and which, trifling as it was in itself, matter of fact. Perhaps, like Pan's upon much less grand surmises than nurse, she was more frightened than Mr Babbage's, may have altered (if pleased to flatter, at my infantine that be possible so I will say fixed) ugliness. the destiny of more than one indivi. “ For the nurse in dismay dual. The incident, too, was ridicu. Ran frighten'd away, lous in itself, and, like an April day,

When she saw the babe bearded and bluff.” had as much wet as dry.

Even now I am not going to tell illæ lachrymæ.” It has been said to you an anecdote of laughing but of the praise of some extraordinary wits, crying, and that in so extraordinary a that they have “ set the table in a degree, that I made all about me cry; roar;" but I have flooded a whole and, speaking of crying, I may observe community in their own tears, and that I used to think it very odd, when from those tears have I drawn mirth I came to read the classics at the ven. to myself ever since. I had before erable College of St Mary's Winton, that, no perception of the ridiculous; that the masters never made any obyet that perhaps may not be quite servations upon the manifest unmantrue, and truth in minute things leads liness of the heroes, some of whom did to truth in great. I do therefore nothing but cry; and as the books confess to something like a sense were in the boys' hands morning, of the ridiculous, to my shame be noon, and night, so did these heroes it said, when my excellent and appear to be perpetually crying. “Be really learned father read to his nume a man, and don't cry," was the daily, rous children learned discourses on a often hourly lesson, even before going Sunday evening. I used to think to school, and when there the crier Banbury's caricature of such a demure was sure to be soundly thrashed. Yet family party, must have been intended what does he see when he enters, as

6 Hinc

Z

cover.

he supposes, upon the heroics of learn cry. This was what I was then taught ing, and is man enough to read the to consider “ poetical justice," a cant Æneid, but a hero who cries in almost scholastic term, the sense of which I do every page ? Virgil must have been not pretend to understand ;

for justice a “ crier general.” He cries, his is justice be it where it will, though in shepherds cry, his cattle cry, certainly a certain place that shall be nameless his horses—all his men and all his it hath sadly to contend with “priviwomen cry. It is not because he lege”-and where the “ durissima made me cry, which he did, and often, regna,” the most hard power of Rhathat I hate him; but I do, Eusebius, damanthus reigns, that punishes behate Virgil—from his melancholy fore it hears, " castigatque auditque." Eclogues to the scoundrel Æneas, and I told you that when I first went to his murder of a better man; and, Winchester College, I went as a comstrange to say, I hate him the more moner—" hinc," again, « illæ lachbecause he compels me to admire rymæ ;" for had I been one of the him, and in that I understand the ha.

gens togata," I might have been tred of Aristides. His versification, spared my first disgrace, the particuhis episodes, must be admired-more lar college “ exhibition" not desirable than admired; but the vile setting of --for a college gown has often cothe jewels is an eyesore-frets, vexes, vered all inexpressible things and and hence-hate. Howany portion of therefore would have both covered my the sensible or sensitive world could inexpressibles, and what they did not for a moment make a comparison be

66 What have

you
under

your tween him and Homer, is past com cloak ?" said the foolish man to the phiprehension. The life, the real stir of losopher. “ Age," says he; “ it is human action and grand thoughts, therefore I put it under my cloak." delicacy and strength of character, Let me then describe a college gown and an infinite variety of portraiture, -a Winchester college gown-for set off in language that blazes like the they are as unlike the strips of things mid-day sun, or softens into the mild that go by the name gown at Oxford, ness of evening light, all that is in as an Irishman's frieze coat is to a the Iliad and Odyssey, rendering those dandy's swallow-tail. And our colworks so perfect and apart from every lege gowns were put to as many uses other work, should surely rescue them ever was Irishman's great-coat. from comparison with Virgil's twelve It was a really ample gown, reaching dull Books_dull, barring the episodes; to the heels, open in front, with sleeves and if they only had remained, what that might be called pudding sleeves, if much higher notions we should have such things could take their names entertained of the great Roman poet's from occasional contents—but such a genius!

name would have been far too partiCriticism, Eusebius, will not bring cular for the omnium.gatherum capaon the incident, the subject of this bility and capacity of our sleeves. To present passage, or rather forthcom say they served for pockets is likewise ing passage of autobiography. In to fall short in the description—they my last, especially towards the con were, however, not unlike the gigot clusion, in truth I cut but a sorry

sleeves that in after times became the figure, and was somewhat in the pre- lady's fashion. The material of the dicament of Mr Puff's heroes, about gown was coarse and thick in subto go off kneeling-the very worst stance-though the original intention position, under the circumstances, in of the founder, William of Wykeham, which I could have presented myself, was, that they should be of the finest besides the difficulty of so going off material, whereof so particular was at all; for my mouse-coloured leather he, that he specified the cost as well breeches were not the most flexible at as the fineness of texture. But in the joints, so that I fear I rather slur. process of time money changed its red over that part of the tale, and am value--so the sum was adhered to, there presented like many another and the texture left to take its chance. tale with no very becoming tail-piece. We did not grumble at that, for it was But if then and there, namely at the warm in winter, and pretty much College of St Mary's Winton, I made thrown off in summer, when within many laugh, I was not very long af. the college precincts. The sleevesterwards fully revenged, for I made all for it is on that point I wish to be

as

particular-were fastened by a button the boy has nothing to do but say, not round the arm, before reaching the sing the line of the psalm-“ All peo, elbow. However, therefore, the con- ple that on earth do dwell.” There tents of these sleeves might have jus- was, however, one luckless boy, who tified the application of the lines had not been initiated in this mystery, descriptive of King Arthur's men, and, thinking he would not sell his “ who wore long hanging sleeves ;" chance for a song, began boldlyof whom it is likewise said, that all of " When Dolly was milking her cow." them “ were thieves,"—in fact, these But instantly perceiving it did not sleeves did not hang, excepting that take, as many hands were lifted in the occasional weight of a goose un- protest, he said, deprecatingly, thąt he suspended, and for lack of hanging, could sing a few verses of the “ Vicar may have given to them that appear. and Moses," if that would do. The ance. Now do not imagine, Eusebius, posers were posed, general gravity by this slip, that we were predatory. could not trust its own voice. In this There are many ways of coming at predicament, old Tuftw, as we used to a goose-very honourable ones too; call the warden, looked steadily and and upon that subject I will say no awfully at the culprit, and said, “ Boy, more than vouch for the strict honour repeat after me . All people that on of all parties concerned, and assert earth do dwell.'

« Now, go away broadly that none ever deserved bast- boy"_and away went the songster ing but the goose, and he generally and all his hopes. The incident I had it. I said I was only what is have to tell having nothing to do termed a commoner when the disaster with singing, I need not assure you of the mouse-coloured leathers took that my incantation was not that of place. I should now say, that before Orpheus, though the listening brute the year was out I had the happiness and gentle were dissolved in tears to be a real collegian, having obtain- around me. It was an annual custom ed, doubtless by my merit alone, that at Winchester for the boys who were desirable position in the world. There the best speakers, to deliver, some is an annual election, when those their own compositions, some the whose ability can work their way off compositions of those who had more to New College, and those drones who wit than voice, and some to speak become too big for their hive, are celebrated speeches, historical thrust out to make room for others. otherwise, in prose and verse; upon The examination is not agreeable to a which occasion not only the warden modest youth-a candidate for instant and masters attended, but the élite of birch and future literature. It takes the town and country came fullplace in a solemn chamber, in a tower, dressed to hear the orators, little and by and before the capped, and gowned, big. This took place in the large and banded wardens of the twin col. noble school-room, which was thus leges of Winton and Oxford-doctors well filled. There was a blaze, as a and posers, an odd term, as if their provincial editor might say, of wissole business was to “pose" or puzzle; dom, fashion, and beauty. I am not theirs you will perceive, therefore, going to boast of myself, my dear must be an easy task. The poor boy Eusebins, as one of the orators. In is put on in some book of Latin, to fact, I was always frightened at the make the best of it he can. After the sound of my own voice; and though account of my Latinity on entering, once I was chosen to speak, as being which I gave you in my last, you will rather a dab at putting the emphasis not think it necessary that the young in the right place, I made, as it seemaspirant should be a great commenta- ed, so sad an affair of it, that I never tor. There is on this occasion an odd was called upon again to be a public custom, originating in the purpose of performer. I perfectly recollect my the founder I suppose, that the boys arms not being properly movable in should assist in the chapel as choris- action, but equally extended on both ters. For after the Latin examina- sides, and there fixed, rather on the tion, the warden of Winchester (in curve, and the perspiration dropping my time the famous Grecian and from my fingers. I thought I was Bishop Huntingford) says to the boy, monstrously loud, but believe I only “ Sing, child, sing. This I was, as roared “ like any sucking.dove.” For most were, and are, prepared for, and the rest of the time I remained at

or

Winchester, I contented myself with repeated this dreadfully common re. instructing others to do what I could mark. The poor deaf lady turned the not do myself, and have reason to other ear. Again “ I observed that think I made several very pretty it is a very fine day, ma'am !”-and speakers. This may seem conceited now the whole table was directed to enough-the practice of the world us two. She, thinking I had something bears me out. The celebrated “ Mas- important to communicate, half-raised ter Betty” was taught by Gaigh, herself from her seat, and leaned forwho, besides his stammer, had an ex ward across the table. Again I tried traordinary nasal intonation. I once " I only observed, ma'am, that it is heard Bannister take him off in his a very fine day." Still not heard, I tuition- My pana-name i-is N-N. was distressed beyond measure—all Nor-val on the Gra-Grampian hills-- eyes were upon me. Neyer shall I My fa-a-a-ther fed his fl-f-flocks." I forget her searching eyes of eager cusaid I was not a speaker myself. You riosity to be gratified, and to be disapknow, Eusebius, my voice is even now pointed at the expense of silly me! none of the strongest, nor is it signifi- Giving up all hopes of gaining the decant-that is, it has no peculiar tone, sired information from me, she turned but falls in with and is lost in the gene to the gentleman who sat by her, and eral voice; so that, in asking a lady who had stentorian lungs, and in a or gentleman opposite to take a glass of voice rendered more harsh by disapwine with me, I am so often inaudible pointment and deafness, said, “ What that I frequently give up the attempt does that gentleman say?" rather than attract observation, from He says, ma'am,” replied he, with which my foolish innate modesty ever malicious loudness, and a grin for shrinks. That bashful modesty is he which I could have killed him, “ that reditary-Ị have it from my father, it is a very fine day!” and it has sadly been in my way; but “ Oh!" quoth my friend's sister; as to yoice, a distressing instance of and not another word did I ever atthe weakness of my voice is still fresh tempt to exchange with her, and never in my memory, and still in remem- will; and from that day I have a nerbrance makes me feel uncomfortably, yous dislike to the company of deaf though it happened many years ago. people. But the time I am now speakI had rode a distance of some miles to ing of, that is when I was at Winbreakfast with a friend with whose fa chester, and about to be the principal mily I was unacquainted, but, led by a actor in a most moving spectacle, I similarity of pursuits, I purposed to was a real sufferer from that natural visit him for a few hours. The break weakness of voice. The master I was fast passed off without my noticing then under, was afterwards head masany thing particular in any of his fa ter. I liked the man as well as a boy mily, and very soon afterwards we of my age could like a master, but he were engaged in our pursuit, which liked not me. He had an antipathy to in fact was some experiment in paint- a weak voice; it irritated him, and an ing. This engaged us so long that he irritated master is no joke to a boy. He made me stay to dine with them, not was rather singular- Į will therefore telling me he had any company, and endeavour to describe him. He was a for such full-dress display I was but pale-faced, intelligent, and well-looklittle prepared. I was, therefore, com. ing man, of rather a commanding pletely taken in, when, entering the height, and slouchy, slovenly manner, dining-room just as all were taking with a delightful enthusiasm, occatheir seats, I found a regular dinner sionally breaking through the yisible party all around me, all strangers. In languor of teaching dull boys, whenthis predicament, not to look like a ever any passage of beauty or interest dumb fool, I addressed myself to my excited him--then would he stride friend's sister, whom I had met at backwards and forwards the length breakfast in the morning, with this of his walk across the lower end of the wise remark, What a fine day we school-room, with a loose fling in his have had !" when, to my horror, with walk, breaking the back of the book, an eager and curious look, she put her grasped, not held, energetically, and, hand behind her ear, thrusting it for- with a peculiar curl of his mouth ward to hear; upon which, with my resembling a snarl, almost nasally usual weak and unfortunate voice, I mouthing out the passage. It was

[ocr errors][ocr errors]

generally believed that he was a man who did not participate. Now, to me of considerable genius, kept under by it was a constant vexation, that with habitual indolence; not that he was an every wish to keep a good position in inattentive, or, commonly speaking, my class, I never could for any length indolent master-he took great pains of time succeed, not from lack of inwith the boys, and made many ripe dustry or scholarship, such as was scholars. At the time I speak of him then necessary, but from the unforhe was second master. As head mas tunate circumstance of having a weak ter, where his taste and genius came voice. It was an inconceivable injury into fairer play, he shone, and won to me; for, when “put on," and himself a high name, and the love and reading at my best, and, as I thought, respect of many, that now through loud, the master almost always used him shine as " lights” in literature to cry out, “ Speak louder." I and in life. I have seen him in his thought I did som

-the command was loose fling of a walk sail up the school. repeated. I did my best—then, rather room to take his seat, having on two irritated, he used to say, “ Lose three bands, one at the back of his neck, places.” On I went, as I thought very the other in front, probably the former loud; so thought not he— Lose three yesterday's, which had worked its way more places,"—then “ Lose nine,"— round and been forgotten. When not then, with considerable irritation and walking, and pleased, he used to rub a spiteful look, “ Go to the bottom ;" his leg, across one keee, and snort out and thus, for no fault of scholarship or Virgil or Horace, the snort termina- industry, I lost the fruits of both. ting in a sort of purr, while he waved This certainly made me in time very his head to and fro with delight. Ha- indifferent to the matter—whether I ving described the man, let me now learned industriously or was idle, it show how I suffered from his antipathy was pretty much the same thing. to a weak voice. You must know, Now, then, to return to my subject. Eusebius, that it was of the utmost You see I was not likely to be very importance to boys to keep their conspicuous as an orator, upon the places, as their position was numbered occasions of public speaking ; at one every day. For instance, suppose the of which happened the incident which class to consist of twenty-five, the it was my purpose to tell you when I head of the class numbered twenty- put pen to paper ; but as in my last, five, the second boy twenty-four, and so in this, there is much wandering. so down; and at the end of the half- We shall come to it at last, and then year the numbers were added up, you will wonder I did not tell it at and those which had most were ad- first, forgetting that you have had vanced to another class. Now, sup- all the advantage of the interest of pose No. 25, or the head boy, to be the curiosity by the delay, and per

put on,” as it was termed ; if he haps you will assert that there is less made a mistake, the next boy to him interest in the incident itself. A was called on to rectify it ; if he could, traveller has often more interesting he took the other's place--if he could amusement in the course of his journot, it went down till some fortunate ney than in the object of it; and you boy could make the correction : he now, Eusebius, are an inside passenger then became the head boy of the class. in the coach Boyhood, driven by MeSo, if a boy in the middle of the class, mory, and at the mercy of old Garor lower down, committed an error, rulity; you would infallibly therefore the question went down till answered; go to sleep, and it is as much as I can those who answered it took the places do as it is to keep you awake, if I did of those who did not--if none an not just gently keep alive expectation. swered to the bottom of the class, the When I ascended to scholastic rank, question then went to the top of the though no speaker in public myself, class, and so on; and who answered it I had the vanity to think I could teach then became head of the class, and had, others, and took great pains to set up if he kept his place for the day, the a number of little orators, and fre« highest mark. Thus, in the stu- quently have laughed heartily at the dious and clever boys, there was awkward squad of eloquence. It is very considerable emulation, though in truth whimsical enough to see a it need not be observed, there were little urchin, taken from his peg-top, always a sufficient number of drones give himself all the airs of Alexander.

« IndietroContinua »