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Peers above the rank of Viscount, so as to enjoy a title themselves by the courtesy of England, have special privileges in both Universities as to length of residence, degrees, &c.; and their rank is ascertained by a special dress. These privileges it is not usual to forego; though sometimes that happens, as in my time, in the instance of Lord George Grenville, (now Lord Nugent ;) he neither entered at the aristocratic college, (Christ Church,) nor wore the dress of a nobleman. Generally, however, an elder son appears in his true character of nobleman; but the younger sons rarely enter the class of Gentlemen Commoners. They enter either as Commoners,' or under some of those various designations ('scholars,' demies,'' students,' 'junior fellows') which imply that they stand upon the foundation of the college to which they belong, and are aspirants for academic emoluments.
Upon the whole, I am disposed to regard this order of Gentlemen Commoners as a standing temptation held out by authority to expensive habits, and a very unbecoming proclamation of honor paid to the aristocracy of wealth. And I know that many thoughtful men regard it in the same light with myself, and regret deeply that any such distribution of ranks should be authorized, as a stain upon the simplicity and general manliness of the English academic laws. It is an open profession of homage and indulgence to wealth, as wealth to wealth disconnected from everything that might ally it to the ancestral honors and heraldries of the land. It is also an invitation, or rather a challenge, to profuse expenditure. Regularly, and by law, a Gentleman Commoner is liable to little heavier burdens than a Commoner; but to meet the expectations of those around him, and to act up to the part he has assumed, he must spend more, and he must be more careless in controlling his expenditure, than a mod
erate and prudent Commoner. In every light, therefore, I condemn the institution, and give it up to the censures of the judicious. So much in candor I concede. But, to show equal candor on the other side, it must be remembered that this institution descends to us from ancient times, when wealth was not so often divided from territorial or civic honors, conferring a real precedency.
THERE was one reason why I sought solitude at that early age, and sought it in a morbid excess, which must naturally have conferred upon my character some degree of that interest which belongs to all extremes. My eye had been couched into a secondary power of vision, by misery, by solitude, by sympathy with life in all its modes, by experience too early won, and by the sense of danger critically escaped. Suppose the case of a man suspended by some colossal arm over an unfathomed abyss- -suspended, but finally and slowly withdrawn-it is probable that he would not smile for years. That was my case: for I have not mentioned, in the Opium Confessions,' a thousandth part of the sufferings I underwent in London and in Wales; partly because the misery was too monotonous, and in that respect unfitted for description; but still more, because there is a mysterious sensibility connected with real suffering which recoils from circumstantial rehearsal or delineation, as from violation offered to something sacred, and which is, or should be dedicated to privacy. Grief does not parade its pangs, nor the anguish of despairing hunger willingly count again its groans or its humiliations. Hence it was that Ledyard, the traveller, speaking of his Russian experiences, used to say that some of his miseries were such, that he never would
reveal them. Besides all which, I really was not at liberty to speak, without many reserves, on this chapter of my life, at a period (1821) not twenty years removed from the actual occurrences, unless I desired to court the risk of crossing at every step the existing law of libel, so full of snares and mantraps, to the careless, equally with the conscientious writer. This is a consideration which some of my critics have lost sight of in a degree which surprises me. One, for example, puts it to his readers whether any house such as I describe as the abode of my money-lending friend, could exist in Oxford Street;' and, at the same time he states, as circumstances drawn from my description, but, in fact, pure coinages of his own, certain romantic impossibilities, which doubtless could as little attach to a house in Oxford Street, as they could to a house in any other quarter of London. Meantime, I had sufficiently indicated that, whatsoever street was concerned in that affair, Oxford Street was not; and it is remarkable enough, as illustrating this amiable reviewer's veracity, that no one street in London was absolutely excluded but one; and that one Oxford Street. For I happened to mention that, on such a day, (my birth-day,) I had turned aside from Oxford Street to look at the house in question. I will now add that this house was in Greek Street: so much it may be safe to say. But every candid reader will see that both prudential restraints, and also disinterested regard to the feelings of possibly amiable descendants from a vicious man, would operate with any thoughtful writer in such a case, to impose reserve upon his pen. Had my guardians, had my money-lending friend of Jewry, and others concerned in my memoirs, been so many shadows, bodiless abstractions, and without earthly connections, I might readily have given my own names to my own creations; and
have treated them as unceremoniously as I pleased; not so, under the real circumstances of the case. My chief guardian, for instance, though obstinate to a degree which risked the happiness and the life of his ward, was an upright man otherwise and his children are entitled to value his memory.
Again, my Greek Street roanations, the fœnerator Alpheus,' who delighted to reap where he had not sown, and too often (I fear) allowed himself in practices which not impossibly have long since been found to qualify him for distant climates and Botanic' regions 6 -even he, though I might truly describe him as a mere highwayman, whenever he happened to be aware that I had received a friendly loan, yet, like other highwaymen of repute, and 'gentle thieves,' was not inexorable to the petitions of his victim: he would sometimes toss back what was required for some instant necessity of the road; and at his breakfast table it was, after all, as elsewhere recorded, that I contrived to support life; barely indeed, and most slenderly, but still with the final result of escaping absolute starvation. With that recollection before me, I could not allow myself to probe his frailties too severely, had it even been certainly ́ safe to do so. But enough the reader will understand that a year spent either in the valleys of Wales, or upon the streets of London, a wanderer, too often houseless in both situations, might naturally have peopled the mind of one constitutionally disposed to solemn contemplations with memorials of human sorrow and strife too profound to pass away for years.
Thus, then, it was past experience of a very peculiar kind, the agitations of many lives crowded into the compass of a year or two, in combination with a peculiar structure of mind-offered one explanation of the very remarkable and unsocial habits which I adopted at college: