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cordingly, my sister was noticed as a prodigy; but her superiority did not, as usual, lie in vivacity and quickness; the effect showed itself in an extraordinary expansion of the understanding; her grasp of intellect was large and comprehensive, in a degree which astonished people in a child of eight years old; otherwise she had the usual slowness of a melancholic child. Her head, it was determined, should be opened: this was done by a surgeon of some celebrity, Mr. Charles White, once a pupil of John Hunter's, who made innumerable measurements of skulls, especially African, and wrote a large book to prove that the human being was connected by a regular series of links with the brute; i. e. that the transition from the African skull to that of the ape, in some species or other, was not more abrupt than from the European to the African. Mr. White, after the operation, declared often that the child's brain was 'the most beautiful' he had ever seen.] After her death, an habitual gravity (melancholy I cannot call it) and sense of some awful but indefinite presence fell over me; and this I never lost. Had I been a sickly child, it would have produced gloom. As it was, being tolerably healthy, I was generally happy; and the effect of my everlasting commerce with the subjects of death and the grave, showed itself simply in this, that I never played, and that my mind was peopled with solemn imagery. In saying that I never played, I must make two reservations: with gunpowder, as a thing that seemed to me incapable of being stripped of its serious character, I had the common boyish pleasure; and where it was unavoidable to play at something, gunpowder was always my resource, since that was interesting to all alike. I also invented a sport call Troja, as late as my 13th year. Else, and with these two exceptions, I may truly say that I never played in my life. In general, the inference from
such a fact would be, that a boy must be suffering in health who could so remarkably contradict the evident purposes of nature. But with me the case arose naturally enough out of my own solitariness, and the position I occupied in my own family. Living always in the country, I had no companion but an elder brother; and he, being five years older, at a time of life when five years was a great matter in either life, naturally enough disdained me. I again, on the same principle, neglected my next brother. Thus I was left to myself: no creature had I to converse with, (generally speaking,) unless I could, on Lord Shaftsbury's plan, and in his phrase, become a 'self-dialogist : and a self-dialogist I did become; perhaps the earliest that has existed. Subjects enough I had for solitary musing in the great thoughts which had been awakened within me, by the reiteration and measured succession of deaths in the family. The ancients believed in a fascination called nympholepsy. It was that species of demoniac enthusiasm or possession incident to one who had accidentally seen the nymphs. I, in some sense, was a nympholept I had caught too early and too profound a glimpse of certain dread realities. Solitude, which I sought by choice, might be said to seek me by necessity; for companions I had none of my own age; I was not allowed ever to go near the servants. And books, which I soon passionately loved, aided all these tendencies. They were ratified by what followed, with respect to my father's last illness and death.
It was during my infancy, that a house and suitable grounds, &c., were commenced by my father on a scale rather suited to the fortune which, by all accounts, he was rapidly approaching, than that which he actually possessed. This house, elegant but plain, and having nothing remarkable about it but the doors and windows of the superior
rooms, which were made of mahogany, sent as a present from a foreign correspondent, was brought into a habitable state about my fifth year. Thither we removed: and the earliest event, I connect with it, was standing with others on a summer evening listening for the sound of wheels. My mother had been summoned by an express to meet my father, who had broken a blood vessel. 'What did that mean?' It meant that a person was very ill and feeble. 'And would he die?' Perhaps he would; most people in cold climates did. The next incident I remember, was many months afterwards; my father had, in the interval, made extensive tours to warmer climates ; he had visited Lisbon, next the Madeiras; and finally St. Kitt's, all to no purpose. He was now returning home to die. For some weeks I remember being about him as he lay on a sofa surrounded with West India productions displayed for my amusement. I was aware by something peculiar in the look and aspect of the house, a depression visible on all faces, and a quiet tread, that some speedy catastrophe was approaching: and at length one morning I saw signs which sufficiently indicated that it was then at hand. Dead silence reigned in the house whispers only audible; and I saw all the women of the family weeping. Soon after, all of us, being then four, able to understand such a scene, were carried into the bed-room in which my father was at that moment dying. Whether he had asked for us, I know not: if so, his senses had left him before we came. He was delirious, and talked at intervalsalways on the same subject. He was ascending a mountain, and he had met with some great obstacle, which to him was insurmountable without help. This he called for from various people, naming them, and complaining of their desertion. The person who had gathered us together, raised my father's hand and laid it upon my head. We
left the room; and in less than two minutes we heard it announced that all was over.
My father's death made little or no change in the household economy, except that my mother ever afterwards kept a carriage; which my father, in effect, exacted upon his death-bed.
My father's death occurred in 1792. His funeral, at which I and my elder brother were chief mourners, was the first I had attended. Then first it was that the solemn farewell of the English burial-service, Dust to dust, ashes to ashes,' and the great eloquence of St. Paul in that matchless chapter of his epistle to the Corinthians, fell upon my ear; and, concurring with my whole previous feelings, for ever fixed that vast subject upon my mind.
I was then nearly seven years old. In the next four years, during which we continued to live at the same house, nothing remarkable occurred, except the visit of a most eccentric young woman, who, about ten years afterwards, made a great noise in the world, and drew the eyes of all England upon herself, by her unprincipled conduct in an affair affecting the life of two young Scottish gentlemen. At this time she was about twenty-two, with a Grecian contour of face, elegant in person, and highly accomplished. In particular, she astonished every person by her performances on the organ, and by her powers of disputation. But these she applied entirely to attacks upon Christianity; for she openly professed infidelity; and at my mother's table, she certainly proved more than a match for all the clergymen of the neighboring towns, some of whom (as the most intellectual persons of that neighborhood) were daily invited to meet her. It was a mere accident which had introduced her to my mother's house. Happening to hear from my sister's governess that she and her pupil were going on a visit to an old Cath
olic family in the county of Durham, (the family of Mr. Swinburne, the traveller in Spain, &c.,) she, whose Catholic education, in a French convent, had introduced her extensively to the knowledge of Catholic families in England, and who had herself an invitation to the same place, upon that wrote to offer the use of her carriage to convey all three to Mr. Swinburne's. This naturally drew forth an invitation from my mother, and she came. She must certainly, by what I saw of her ten years after, at the Oxford assizes, have been at this time a most striking creature; and her eloquence was astonishing. Even at that early age, she was already parted from her husband. On the imperial of her carriage, and elsewhere, she described herself as the Hon. Antonina Dashwood L——. But, in fact, as only the illegitimate daughter of Lord le D- she was not entitled to that designation. She had, however, received a large fortune from her father, not less than forty thousand pounds. At a very early age, she had married a young Oxonian, distinguished for nothing but a very handsome person: and from him she had speedily separated, on the agreement of dividing the fortune. My mother, agitated between the necessities of hospitality, on the one hand, and her horror, on the other hand, to meet a woman, for the first time in her life, openly professing infidelity, at length fell ill; and this hastened Mrs. L.'s departure; not, however, before I, a child of eight years old, had seen things which nobody else suspected. She admitted me to her bed-room; and more than once her footman, a man of figure,' according to the London term for such persons, upon frivolous pretexts, came to her dressing-room, which adjoined; more than once also I saw him snatch her hand, and kiss it—whilst she, on her part, blushed, and looked round in alarm. What this meant, I had not the least guess; but having always been