« EelmineJätka »
shoals of small lampreys, which could be scooped up in basins or old saucepans, and were then fried for our dinner or supper, to our great enjoyment. I think what we caught must have been the young fish, as my recollection of them is that they were like little eels, and not more than six or eight inches long, whereas the full-grown lampreys are from a foot and a half to nearly three feet long.
The lamprey was a favourite dish with our ancestors, and is still considered a luxury in some districts, while in others it is rejected as disagreeable, and the living fish is thought to be even poisonous. This is, no doubt, partly owing to its wriggling, snake-like motions, and its curious sucking mouth, by which it sticks on the hand and frightens people so much that they throw it away instantly. But the Rev. J. G. Wood, in his very interesting “Natural History," tells us that he has caught thousands of them with his bare hands, and has often had six or seven at once sticking to his hand without causing the slightest pain or leaving the least mark. The quantity of these fish is so great in some rivers that they would supply a large amount of wholesome food were there not such a prejudice against them. Since this period of my early childhood I do not think I have ever eaten or even seen a lamprey.
At this time I must have been about four years old, as we left Usk when I was about five, or less. My brother John was four and a half years older, and I expect was the leader in most of our games and explorations. My two sisters were five and seven years older than John, so that they would have been about thirteen and fifteen, which would appear to me quite grown up; and this makes me think that my recollections must go back to the time when I was just over three, as I quite distinctly remember two, if not three, besides myself
, standing on the flat stones and catching lampreys.
There is also another incident in which I remember that my brother and at least one, if not two, of my sisters took part. Among the books read to us was “Sandford and Merton,” the only part of which that I distinctly remember is when the two boys got lost in a wood after dark, and while Merton could do nothing but cry at the idea of having to
pass the night without supper or bed, the resourceful Sandford comforted him by promising that he should have both, and set him to gather sticks for a fire, which he lit with a tinder-box and match from his pocket. Then, when a large fire had been made, he produced some potatoes which he had picked up in a field on the way, and which he then roasted beautifully in the embers, and even produced from another pocket a pinch of salt in a screw of paper, so that the two boys had a very good supper. Then, collecting fern and dead leaves for a bed, and I think making a coverlet by taking off their two jackets, which made them quite comfortable while lying as close together as possible, they enjoyed a good night's sleep till daybreak, when they easily found their
This seemed so delightful that one day John provided himself with the matchbox, salt, and potatoes, and having climbed up the steep bank behind our house, as we often did, and passed over a field or two to the woods beyond, to my great delight a fire was made, and we also feasted on potatoes with salt, as Sandford and Merton had done. Of course we did not complete the imitation of the story by sleeping in the wood, which would have been too bold and dangerous an undertaking for our sisters to join in, even if my brother and I had wished to do so.
Another vivid memory of these early years consists of occasional visits to Usk Castle. Some friends of our family lived in the house to which the ruins of the castle were attached, and we children were occasionally invited to tea, when a chief part of our entertainment was to ascend the old keep by the spiral stair, and walk round the top, which had a low parapet on the outer side, while on the inner we looked down to the bottom of the tower, which descended below the ground-level into an excavation said to have been the dungeon. The top of the walls was about three feet thick, and it was thus quite safe to walk round close to the parapet, though there was no protection on the inner edge but the few herbs and bushes that grew upon it. For many years this
small fragment of a mediæval castle served to illustrate for me the stories of knights and giants and prisoners immured in dark and dismal dungeons. In our friend's pretty grounds, where we often had tea, there was a summer-house with a table formed of a brick-built drum, with a circular slate slab on the top, and this peculiar construction seemed to us so appropriate that we named it the little castle, and it still remains a vivid memory.
Our house was less than a quarter of a mile from the old bridge of three arches over the river Usk, by which we reached the town, which was and is entirely confined to the east side of the river, while we lived on the west. The walk there was a very pleasant one, with the clear, swift-flowing river on one side and the narrow fields and wooded steep bank on the other ; while from the bridge itself there was a very beautiful view up the river-valley, of the mountains near Abergavenny, ten miles off, the conical sugar-loaf in the centre, the flat-topped mass of the Blorenge on the left, and the rocky ridge of the Skirrid to the right. These names were so constantly mentioned that they became quite familiar to me, as the beginning of the unknown land of Wales, which I also heard mentioned occasionally.
My eldest brother William was about eighteen when I was four, and was articled to Messrs. Sayce, a firm of land surveyors and estate agents at Kington, in Herefordshire. I have an indistinct recollection of his visiting us occasionally, and of his being looked up to as very clever, and as actually bringing out a little monthly magazine of literature, science, and local events, of which he brought copies to show us. I particularly remember one day his pointing out to the family that the reflection of some hills in the river opposite us was sometimes visible and sometimes not, though on both occasions in equally calm and clear weather. He explained the cause of this in the magazine, illustrated by diagrams, as being due to changes of a few inches in the height of the water, but this, of course, I did not understand at the time.
I may here mention a psychological peculiarity, no doubt common to a considerable proportion of children of the same age, that, during the whole period of my residence at Usk, I have no clear recollection, and can form no distinct mental image, of either my father or mother, brothers or sisters. I simply recollect that they existed, but my recollection is only a blurred image, and does not extend to any peculiarities of feature, form, or even of dress or habits. It is only at a considerably later period that I begin to recollect them as distinct and well-marked individuals whose form and features could not be mistaken—as, in fact, being my father and mother, my brothers and sisters; and the house and surroundings in which I can thus first recollect, and in some degree visualize them, enable me to say that I must have been then at least eight years old.
What makes this deficiency the more curious is that, during the very same period at which I cannot recall the personal appearance of the individuals with whom my life was most closely associated, I can recall all the main features
I and many of the details of my outdoor, and, to a less degree, of my indoor, surroundings. The form and colour of the house, the road, the river close below it, the bridge with the cottage near its foot, the narrow fields between us and the bridge, the steep wooded bank at the back, the stone quarry and the very shape and position of the flat slabs on which we stood fishing, the cottages a little further on the road, the little church of Llanbadock and the stone stile into the churchyard, the fishermen and their coracles, the ruined castle, its winding stair and the delightful walk round its topall come before me as I recall these earlier days with a distinctness strangely contrasted with the vague shadowy figures of the human beings who were my constant associates in all these scenes.
In the house I recollect the arrangement of the rooms, the French window to the garden, and the bluepapered room in which I slept, but of the people always with me in those rooms, and even of the daily routine of our life, I remember nothing at all.
I cannot find any clear explanation of these facts in modern psychology, whereas they all become intelligible from the phrenological point of view. The shape of my head shows that I have form and individuality but moderately developed, while locality, ideality, colour, and comparison are decidedly stronger. Deficiency in the first two caused me to take little notice of the characteristic form and features of the separate individualities which were most familiar to me, and from that very cause attracted less close attention ; while the greater activity of the latter group gave interest and attractiveness to the ever-changing combinations in outdoor scenery, while the varied opportunities for the exercise of the physical activities, and the delight in the endless variety of nature which are so strong in early childhood, impressed these outdoor scenes and interests upon my memory. And throughout life the same limitations of observation and memory have been manifest. In a new locality it takes me a considerable time before I learn to recognize my various new acquaintances individually; and looking back on the varied scenes amid which I have lived at home and abroad, while numerous objects, localities, and events are recalled with some distinctness, the people I met, or, with few exceptions, those with whom I became fairly well acquainted, seem but blurred and indistinct images.
In the year 1883, when for the first time since my childhood I revisited, with my wife and two children, the scenes of my infancy, I obtained a striking proof of the accuracy of my memory of those scenes and objects. Although the town of Usk had grown considerably on the north side towards the railway, yet, to my surprise and delight, I found that no change whatever had occurred on our side of the river, where, between the bridge and Llanbadock, not a new house had been built, and our cottage and garden, the path up to the front door, and the steep woody bank behind it, remained exactly as pictured in my memory. Even the quarry appeared to have been very little enlarged, and the great flat stones were still in the river exactly as when I had stood upon them with my brother and sisters sixty years before. change I noted here was that the well-remembered stone stile into the village churchyard had been replaced by a