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HOME LIFE-MY FRIENDS AND ACQUAINTANCES-SIR
Soon after my return home in the spring of 1862, my oldest friend and schoolfellow, Mr. George Silk, introduced me to a small circle of his friends, who had formed a private chess club, and thereafter, while I lived in the vicinity of Kensing. ton, I was invited to attend the meetings of the club. One of these friends was a Mr. L- , a widower with two daughters, and a son who was at Cambridge University. I sometimes went there with Silk on Sunday afternoons, and after a few months was asked to call on them whenever I liked in the evening to play a game with Mr. L- On these occasions the young ladies were present, and we had tea or supper together, and soon became very friendly. The eldest Miss L-- was, I think, about seven or eight and twenty, very agreeable though quiet, pleasant looking, well educated, and fond of art and literature, and I soon began to feel an affection for her, and to hope that she would become my wife. In about a year after my first visit there, thinking I was then sufficiently known, and being too shy to make a verbal offer, I wrote to her, describing my feelings and asking if she could in any way respond to my affection. Her reply was a negative, but not a very decided one. Evidently my undemonstrative manner had given her no intimation of my intentions. She concluded her letter, which was a very kind one, by begging that I would not allow her refusal to break off my visits to her father. At first I was inclined not to go again, but on showing the letter to my sister and mother, they thought the young lady was favourably disposed, and that I had better go on as before, and make another offer later on. Another year passed, and thinking I saw signs of a change in her feelings towards me, but fearing another refusal, I wrote to her father, stating the whole circumstances, and asking him to ascertain his daughter's wishes, and, if she was now favourable, to grant me a private interview. In reply I was asked to call on Mr. L- , who inquired as to my means, etc., told me that his daughter had a small income of her own, and asked that I should settle an equal amount on her. This was satisfactorily arranged, and at a subsequent meeting we were engaged.
Everything went on smoothly for some months. We met two or three times a week, and after delays, owing to Miss L- 's ill-health and other causes, the wedding day was fixed and all details arranged. I had brought her to visit my mother and sister, and I was quite unaware of any cause of doubt or uncertainty when one day, on making my usual call, I was informed by the servant that Miss L- was not at home, that she had gone away that morning, and would write. I came home completely staggered, and the next morning had a letter from Mr. L- , saying that his daughter wished to break off the engagement and would write to me shortly. The blow was very severe, and I have never in my life experienced such intensely painful emotion.
When the letter came I was hardly more enlightened. The alleged cause was that I was silent as to myself and family, that I seemed to have something to conceal, and that I had told her nothing about a widow lady, a friend of my mother's, that I had almost been engaged to. All this was to me the wildest delusion. The lady was the widow of an Indian officer, very pleasant and good-natured, and very gossipy, but as utterly remote in my mind from all ideas of marriage as would have been an aunt or a grandmother. As to concealment, it was the furthest thing possible from my thoughts; but it never occurs to me at any time to talk about myself, even my own children say that they know nothing about my early life; but if any one asks me and wishes to
know, I am willing to tell all that I know or remember. I was dreadfully hurt. I wrote, I am afraid, too strongly, and perhaps bitterly, trying to explain my real feelings towards her, and assuring her that I had never had a moment's thought of any one but her, and hoping that this explanation would suffice. But I received no reply, and from that day I never saw, or heard of, any of the family.
While these events were in progress, my dear friend, Dr. Richard Spruce, came home from Peru in very weak health, and, after staying a short time in London, went to live at Hurstpierpoint, in Sussex, in order to be near Mr. William Mitten, then the greatest English authority on mosses, and who had undertaken to describe his great collections from South America. This was in the autumn of 1864, and in the spring of 1865 I took a small house for myself and my mother, in St. Mark's Crescent, Regent's Park, quite near the Zoological Gardens, and within a pleasant walk across the park of the society's library in Hanover Square, where I had to go very often to consult books of reference. Here I lived five years, having Dr. W. B. Carpenter for a near neighbour, and it was while living in this house that I saw most of my few scientific friends.
During the summer and autumn I often went to Hurstpierpoint to enjoy the society of my friend, and thus became intimate with Mr. Mitten and his family. Mr. Mitten was an enthusiastic botanist and gardener, and knew every wild plant in the very rich district which surrounds the village, and all his family were lovers of wild flowers. I remember my delight, on the occasion of my first or second visit there, at seeing a vase full of the delicate and fantastic flowers of the large butterfly-orchis and the curious fly-orchis, neither of which I had ever seen before, and which I was surprised to hear were abundant in the woods at the foot of the downs. It was an immense delight to me to be taken to these woods, and to some fields on the downs where the bee-orchis and half a dozen other species grew abundantly, with giant cowslips nearly two feet high, the dyers' broom, and many other interesting plants. The richness of this district may be judged by the fact that within a walk more than twenty species of orchises have been found. This similarity of taste led to a close intimacy, and in the spring of the following year I was married to Mr. Mitten's eldest daughter, then about eighteen years old.
After a week at Windsor we came to live in London, and in early autumn went for a month to North Wales, staying at Llanberris and Dolgelly. I took with me Sir Andrew Ramsay's little book on “The Old Glaciers of Switzerland and North Wales,” and thoroughly enjoyed the fine examples of ice-groovings and striations, smoothed rock-surfaces, roches moutonnées, moraines, perched blocks, and rock-basins, with which the valleys around Snowdon abound. Every day revealed some fresh object of interest as we climbed among the higher cwms of Snowdon ; and from what I saw during that first visit the Ice Age became almost as much a reality to me as any fact of direct observation. Every future tour to Scotland, to the lake district, or to Switzerland became doubled in interest. I read a gnod deal of the literature of the subject, and have, I believe, in my later writings been able to set forth the evidence in favour of the glacial origin of lake-basins more forcibly than it has ever been done before. As a result of my observations I wrote my first article on the subject, “Ice-marks in North Wales," which appeared in the Quarterly Journal of Science of January, 1867. In this paper I gave a sketch of the more important phenomena, which were then by no means so well known as they are now; and I also gave reasons for doubting the conclusions of Mr. Macintosh in the Journal of the Geological Society, that most of the valleys and rocky cwms of North Wales had been formed by the action of the sea. I also gave, I think for the first time, a detailed explanation of how glaciers can have formed lake-basins, by grinding due to unequal pressure, not by "scooping out," as usually supposed.
In 1867 I spent the month of June in Switzerland with my wife, staying at Champery, opposite the beautiful Dent du Midi, where at first we were the only visitors in a huge new hotel, but for the second week had the company of an English clergyman, his wife, and son. We greatly enjoyed the beautiful subalpine flowers then in perfection, and one day I went with the clergyman and his son, a boy of about thirteen, to see how far we could get on the way to the great mountain's summit. On the alp above the pine forest we had our lunch at a cow-herd's hut, with a large jug of cream, and then got the man to act as guide. He took us over a ravine filled with snow, and then up a zigzag path among the rocks along a mauvais pas, where an iron bar was fixed on the face of a precipice, and then up to an ice-smoothed plateau of limestone rock, still partly snow-clad, all the crevices of which were full of alpine flowers. I was just beginning to gather specimens of these and thought to enjoy an hour's botanizing when our guide warned us that a snowstorm was coming, and we must return directly, and the black clouds and a few snowflakes made us only too willing to follow him. We got back safely, but I have always regretted that hasty peep of the alpine rock-flora at a time of year when I never afterwards had an opportunity of seeing it.
We then went by Martigny over the St. Bernard, reaching the hospice after dark through deep snow, and next day walked down to Aosta, a place which had been recommended to me by Mr. William Mathews, a well-known Alpine climber. It was a very hot place, and its chief interest to us was an excursion on mules to the Becca de Nona, which took us a long day, going up by the easiest and descending the most precipitous road--the latter a mere staircase of rock. The last thousand feet I walked up alone, and was highly delighted with the summit and the wonderful scene of fractured rocks, ridges, and peaks all around, but more especially with the summit itself, hardly so large as that of Snowdon and exhibiting far grander precipices and rock-masses, all in a state of visible degradation, and showing how powerfully the atmospheric forces of denudation are in constant action at this altitude- 10,380 feet. Hardly less