Billeder på siden

their class it was possible to pursue such a scheme in the midst of domestic comfort. My mother's resolution was - to see all England with her own eyes, and to judge for herself upon the qualifications of each county, each town (not being a bustling seat of commerce), and each village (having any advantages of scenery), for contributing the main elements towards a home that might justify her in building a house. The qualifications insisted on were these five: good medical advice somewhere in the neighborhood; first-rate means of education; elegant (or, what most people might think, aristocratic) society; agreeable scenery and so far the difficulty was not insuperable in the way of finding all the four advantages concentrated. But my mother insisted on a fifth, which in those days insured the instant shipwreck of the entire scheme; this was a church of England parish clergyman, who was to be strictly orthodox, faithful to the articles of our English church, yet to these articles as interpreted by Evangelical divinity. My mother's views were precisely those of her friend Mrs. Hannah More, of Wilberforce, of Henry Thornton, of Zachary Macaulay (father of the historian), and generally of those who were then known amongst sneerers as the Clapham saints." This one requisition it was on which the scheme foundered. And the fact merits recording as an exposition of the broad religious difference between the England of that day and of this. At present, no difficulty would be found as to this fifth requisition. Evangelical" clergymen are now sown broad-cast; at that period, there were not, on

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

an average, above six or eight in each of the fifty-two


The conditions, as a whole, were in fact incapable of being realized; where two or three were attained, three or two failed. It was too much to exact so many advantages from any one place, unless London; or really, if any other place could be looked to with hope in such a chase, that place was Bath—the very city my mother was preparing to leave. Yet, had this been otherwise, and the prospect of success more promising, I have not a doubt that the pretty gem, which suddenly was offered at a price unintelligibly low, in the ancient city of Chester, would have availed (as instantly it did avail, and, perhaps, ought to have availed) in obscuring those five conditions of which else each separately for itself had seemed a conditio sine quâ non. This gem was an ancient house, on a miniature scale, called the Priory; and, until the dissolution of religious houses in the earlier half of the sixteenth century, had formed part of the Priory attached to the ancient church (still flourishing) of St. John's. Towards the end of the sixteenth and through the first quarter of the seventeenth century, this Priory had been in the occupation of Sir Robert Cotton, the antiquary, the friend of Ben Jonson, of Coke, of Selden, etc., and advantageously known as one of those who applied his legal and historical knowledge to the bending back into constitutional moulds of those despotic twists which new interests and false counsels had developed in the Tudor and Stuart dynasties. It was an exceedingly pretty place; and the kitchen, upon the ground story, which had a noble groined ceiling of stone,

[blocks in formation]

indicated, by its disproportionate scale, the magnitude of the establishment to which once it had ministered. Attached to this splendid kitchen were tributary offices, etc. On the upper story were exactly five rooms: namely, a servants' dormitory, meant in Sir Robert's day for two beds* at the least; and a servants' sitting-room. These were shut off into a separate section, with a little staircase (like a ship's companion-ladder) and a little lobby of its own. But the principal section on this upper story had been dedicated to the use of Sir Robert, and consisted of a pretty old hall, lighted by an old monasticpainted window in the door of entrance; secondly, a rather elegant dining-room; thirdly, a bed-room. The glory of the house internally lay in the monastic kitchen; and, secondly, in what a Frenchman would have called, properly, Sir Robert's own apartment + of three rooms; but, thirdly and chiefly, in a pile of ruined archways, most picturesque so far as they went, but so small that Drury Lane could easily have found room for them on its stage. These

*The contrivance amongst our ancestors, even at haughty Cambridge and haughtier Oxford, was, that one bed rising six inches from the floor ran (in the day-time) under a loftier bed; it ran upon castors or little wheels. The learned word for a little wheel is trochlea; from which Grecian and Latin term comes the English word truckle-bed.

† Apartment. -Our English use of the word "apartment" is absurd, since it leads to total misconceptions. We read in French memoirs innumerable of the king's apartment, of the queen's apartment, etc., and for us English the question arises, How? had the king, had her majesty, only one room? But, my friend, they might have a thousand rooms, and yet have only one apartment. An apartment means, in the continental use, a section or compartment of an edifice.

stood in the miniature pleasure-ground, and were constantly resorted to by artists for specimens of architectural decays, or of nature working for the concealment of such decays by her ordinary processes of gorgeous floral vegetation. Ten rooms there may have been in the Priory, as offered to my mother for less than five hundred pounds. A drawing-room, bed-rooms, dressing-rooms, etc., making about ten more, were added by my mother for a sum under one thousand pounds. The same miniature scale was observed in all these additions. And, as the Priory was not within the walls of the city, whilst the river Dee, flowing immediately below, secured it from annoyance on one side, and the church, with its adjacent church-yard, insulated it from the tumults of life on all the other sides, an atmosphere of conventual stillness and tranquillity brooded over it and all around it forever.

Such was the house, such was the society, in which I now found myself; and upon the whole I might describe myself as being, according to the modern phrase, "in a false position." I had, for instance, a vast superiority, as was to have been expected, in bookish attainments, and in adroitness of logic; whilst, on the other hand, I was ridiculously short-sighted or blind in all fields of ordinary human. experience. It must not be supposed that I regarded my own particular points of superiority, or that I used them, with any vanity or view to present advantages. On the contrary, I sickened over them, and labored to defeat them. But in vain I sowed errors in my premises, or planted absurdities in my assumptions. Vainly I tried such blunders as put

ting four terms into a syllogism, which, as all the world knows, ought to run on three; a tripod it ought to be, by all rules known to man, and, behold, I forced it to become a quadruped. Upon my uncle's military haste, and tumultuous energy in pressing his opinions, all such delicate refinements were absolutely thrown away. With disgust I saw, with disgust he saw, that too apparently the advantage lay with me in the result; and, whilst I worked like a dragon to place myself in the wrong, some fiend apparently so counterworked me, that eternally I was reminded of the Manx half-pennies, which lately I had continually seen current in North Wales, bearing for their heraldic distinction three human legs in armor, but so placed in relation to each other that always one leg is vertical and mounting guard on behalf of the other two, which, therefore, are enabled to sprawl aloft in the air-in fact, to be as absurdly negligent as they choose, relying upon their vigilant brother below, and upon the written legend or motto, STABIT QUOCUNQUE JECERIS (Stand it will upright, though you should fling it in any conceivable direction). What gave another feature of distraction and incoherency to my position was, that I still occupied the position of a reputed boy, nay, a child, in the estimate of my audience, and of a child in disgrace. Time enough had not passed since my elopement from school to win for me, in minds so fresh from that remembrance, a station of purification and assoilment. Oxford might avail to assoil me, and to throw into a distant retrospect my boyish trespasses; but as yet Oxford had not arrived. I committed, besides, a great fault in taking often a

« ForrigeFortsæt »