Page images

wooden one. We also visited the ruined castle, ascended the winding stair, and walked round the top wall, and everything seemed to me exactly as I knew it of old, and neither smaller nor larger than my memory had so long pictured it. The view of the Abergavenny mountains pleased and interested me as in childhood, and the clear-flowing Usk seemed just as broad and as pleasant to the eye as my memory had always pictured it.

There is one other fact connected with my mental nature which may be worth noticing here. This is an often-repeated dream, which occurred at this period of my life, and, so far as I can recall, then only. I seemed first to hear a distant beating or flapping sound, as of some creature with huge wings; the sound came nearer and nearer, till at last a deep thud was heard and the flapping ceased. I then seemed to feel that the creature was clinging with its wings outspread against the wall of the house just outside my window, and I waited in a kind of fearful expectation that it would come inside. usually awoke then, and all being still, went to sleep again.


I think I can trace the origin of this dream. At a very early period of these recollections I was shown on the outside of a house, at or near Usk, a hatchment or funeral escutcheon -the coat-of-arms on a black lozenge-shaped ground often put up on the house of a deceased person of rank or of ancient lineage. At the time I only saw an unmeaning jumble of strange dragon-like forms surrounded with black, and I was told that it was there because somebody was dead; and when this curious dream came I at once associated it with the hatchment, and directly I heard the distant flapping of wings, I used to say to myself (in my dream), "The hatchment is coming; I hope it will not get in." So far as I can remember, this was the only dream-at all events, the only vivid and impressive one-I had while living at Usk, and it came so often, and so exactly in the same form, as to become quite familiar to me. It was, in fact, the form my childish nightmare took at that period, and though I was always afraid of it, it was not nearly so distressing as many of the nightmares I have had since.

I may here add another illustration of how vividly these scenes of my childhood remain in my memory. My father was very fond of Cowper's poems, and often used to read them aloud to us children. Two of these especially impressed themselves on my memory. That about the three kittens and the viper, ending with the lines

"With outstretched hoe I slew him at the door,

And taught him never to come there no more!"

was perhaps the favourite, and whenever I heard it or read it in after years, the picture always in my mind was of the doorstep of the Usk cottage with the kittens and the viper in the attitudes so picturesquely described. The other one was the fable of the sheep, who, on hearing some unaccustomed noise, rushed away to the edge of a pit, and debated whether it would be wise to jump into it to escape the unknown danger, but were persuaded by a wise old bell-wether that this would be foolish, he being represented as saying

"What! jump into the pit your lives to save,
To save your lives leap into the grave!"

And as almost the only sheep I had seen close at hand were in the little narrow field between our house and the bridge, I always associated the scene with that field, although there was no pit of any kind in it. So, in after years, when I became fascinated by the poems of Hood, the beautiful and pathetic verses beginning—

"I remember, I remember,

The house where I was born,
The little window where the sun
Came peeping in each morn;
He never came a wink too soon,
Nor brought too long a day,

But now I often wish the night
Had borne my breath away,"

always brought to my mind the memory of the little bluepapered room at Usk, which faced somewhat east of south, and into which, therefore, the sun did "come peeping in each morn"—at least, during a large portion of the year.

So far as I can remember or have heard, I had no illness of any kind at Usk, which was no doubt due to the free outdoor life we lived there, spending a great part of the day in the large garden or by the riverside, or in the fields and woods around us. As will be seen later on, this immunity ceased as soon as we went to live in a town. I remember only one childish accident. The cook was taking away a frying-pan with a good deal of boiling fat in it, which for some reason I wanted to see, and, stretching out my arm over it, I suppose to show that I wanted it lowered down, my fore arm went into the fat and was badly scalded. I mention this only for the purpose of calling attention to the fact that, although I vividly remember the incident, I cannot recall that I suffered the least pain, though I was told afterwards that it was really a severe burn. This, and other facts of a similar kind, make me think that young children suffer far less pain than adults from the same injuries. And this is quite in accordance with the purpose for which pain exists, which is to guard the body against injuries dangerous to life, and giving us the impulse to escape rapidly from any danger. But as infants cannot escape from fatal dangers, and do not even know what things are dangerous and what not, only very slight sensations of pain are at first required, and such only are therefore developed, and these increase in intensity just in proportion as command over the muscles giving the power of rapid automatic movements become possible. The sensation of pain does not, probably, reach its maximum till the whole organism is fully developed in the adult individual. This is rather a comforting conclusion in view of the sufferings of so many infants needlessly massacred through the terrible defects of our vicious social system.

I may add here a note as to my personal appearance at this age. I was exceedingly fair, and my long hair was of a very light flaxen tint, so that I was generally spoken of among the Welsh-speaking country people as the "little Saxon."



My recollections of our leaving Usk and of the journey to London are very faint, only one incident of it being clearly visualized the crossing the Severn at the Old Passage in an open ferry-boat. This is so very clear to me, possibly because it was the first time I had ever been in a boat. I remember sitting with my mother and sisters on a seat at one side of the boat, which seemed to me about as wide as a small room, of its leaning over so that we were close to the water, and especially of the great boom of the mainsail, when our course was changed, requiring us all to stoop our heads for it to swing over us. It was a little awful to me, and I think we were all glad when it was over and we were safe on land again. We must have travelled all day by coach from Usk to the Severn, then on to Bristol, then from Bristol to London. I think we must have started very early in the morning and have reached London late in the evening, as I do not remember staying a night on the way, and the stage then travelled at an average speed of ten miles an hour over good roads and in the summer time. The monotony of the journey probably tired me so that it left no impression; but besides the ferry-boat the only other incident I can clearly recall is our sleeping at an old inn in London, and our breakfast there the next morning. I rather think the inn was the Green Man, or some such name, in Holborn, and the one thing that lives in my memory is that in the morning my mother ordered coffee for breakfast, and said to the waiter, "Mind and make it good." The result of which injunction was that it was nearly

black, and so strong that none of the party could drink it, till boiling water was brought for us to dilute it with. I, of course, had only milk and water, with perhaps a few drops of coffee as a special luxury.

Of the next few months of my life I have also but slight recollections, confined to a few isolated facts or incidents. On leaving the inn we went to my aunt's at Dulwich. Mrs. Wilson was my mother's only sister, who had married a solicitor, who, besides having a good practice, was agent for Lord Portman's London property. I remember being much impressed with the large house, and especially with the beautiful grounds, with lawns, trees, and shrubs such as I had never seen before. There were here also a family of cousins, some about my own age, and the few days we stayed were very bright and enjoyable.

I rather think that my father, and perhaps my brother also, had left Usk a few days before us to make arrangements for the family at Hertford, and I think that I was taken to a children's school at Ongar, in Essex, kept by two ladies—the Misses Marsh. I think it was at this place, because my father had an old friend there, a Mr. Dyer, a clergyman. There were a number of little boys and girls here about my own age or younger, and what I chiefly remember is playing with them in the playground, garden, and house. The playground was a gravel yard on one side of the house, and there we occasionally found what I here first heard called "thunderbolts"-worn specimens of belemnites-fossils of the chalk formation. We all believed that they fell down during thunderstorms. One rather exciting incident alone stands out clear in my memories of this place. There was a garden sloping down to a small pond in the centre, with rather steep banks and surrounded by shrubs and flower-beds. This was cut off from the house and yard by a low iron fence with a gate which was usually kept locked, and we were not allowed to play in it. But one day the gardener had left it open, and we all went in, and began pulling and pushing an oldfashioned stone roller. After a little while, as we were pushing it along a path which went down to the pond, it suddenly

« EelmineJätka »