« EelmineJätka »
All Saints' Vicarage, then used as a post-office, a large rambling old house with a large garden, in which there was among other fruit an apple tree which bore delicious ribstonpippins, of which I was allowed to eat as many as I liked of the windfalls. In this house there was a loft in the roof, which I was told was full of old furniture and other things, so I one day asked if I might go up into it. Miss Davies, who was very kind though melancholy, said I might. So I went up, and found all kinds of old broken or moth-eaten furniture, broken lamps, candlesticks, and all the refuse of a house where a family have lived for many years. But among these interesting things I hit upon two veritable treasures from my point of view. One was a very good, almost new, cricket-bat, of a size just suitable to me; and the other was still more surprising and attractive to me, being a very large, almost gigantic, box-wood pegtop, bigger than any I had seen. It seemed to me then almost incredible that such treasures could have been ranked as lumber, and purposely left in that old attic. I thought some one must surely have put them there for safety, and would soon come and claim them. I therefore waited a few days till Miss Davies seemed rather more communicative than usual, when I said to her, “I found something very nice in the lumber-room." “Oh, indeed ; and what is it?" said she, “I did not know there was anything nice there." “May I go and fetch them for you to see ? " said I; and she said I might. So I rushed off, and brought down the top and the bat, and said, “I found these up there ; do you know whose they are?” She looked at them, and said, “They must have belonged to " mentioning a name which I have forgotten. “They have been there a good many years." Then, as I looked at them longingly, she said, "You can have them if you like"-as if they were of not the least value. I felt as if I had had a fortune left me. The top was the admiration of the whole school. No one had so large a top or had even seen one so large, yet I was quite able to spin it properly, my hands being rather large for my age. This occurred in the winter, and when the cricket season came, I equally enjoyed my bat, which at once elevated me to the rank of the few bigger boys who had bats of their own.
But even these rapturous delights were not so enduring, and certainly not so educational, as those derived from making as well as possessing toys and playthings, and the year or two I spent with my brother in these pleasant occupations were certainly the most interesting and perhaps the most permanently useful of my whole early boyhood. They enabled me to appreciate the pleasure and utility of doing for one's self everything that one is able to do, and this has been a constant source of healthy and enjoyable occupation during my whole life. It led, I have no doubt, to my brother being apprenticed to a carpenter and builder, where he became a first-rate workman; and from him later on I learnt to use the simpler tools. During my whole life I have kept a few such tools by me, and have always taken a pleasure in doing the various little repairs continually needed in a house and garden. I therefore look with compassion on the present generation of children and schoolboys who, from their earliest years, are overloaded with toys, so elaborately constructed and so highly finished that the very idea of making any toys for themselves seems absurd. And these purchased toys do not give anything like the enduring pleasure derived from the process of making and improving as well as afterwards using; while it leads to the great majority of men growing up without any idea of doing the simplest mechanical work required in their own homes.
It was during our residence at this house near the Old Cross that, I think, my father enjoyed his life more than anywhere else at Hertford. Not only had he a small piece of garden and the fine grape-vine already mentioned, but there was a roomy brew-house with a large copper, which enabled him to brew a barrel of beer as well as make elder-wine and grape-wine, bottle gooseberries, and other such work as he took great pleasure in doing. When here also, I think, he hired a small garden about half a mile off, where he could grow vegetables and small fruit, and where he spent a few hours of every fine day. And these various occupations were an additional source of interest and instruction to us boys. It was here, however, that our elder sister died of consumption in the year 1832, a little before she attained her twentysecond year. This was a severe loss to my father and mother, though I was not of an age to feel it much. I think it was soon afterwards that my remaining sister went to live at Hoddesdon, four miles away, as governess to two girls in a gentleman's family there. These girls were somewhere near my age, or a little older, and occasionally in the summer my brother and I were invited to dine and spend the afternoon with them, which we greatly enjoyed, as there was a large garden, and beyond it a large grass orchard full of apple and other fruit trees. We also enjoyed the walk there, and back in the evening, through the picturesque country I have already described. My sister lived in this family for two or three years, and was on terms of affection with the two girls till they were married.
In the year 1834, I think, my sister went to a French school in Lille in order to perfect herself in conversation, in view of becoming a governess or keeping a school. But the following year the misfortune occurred that still further reduced the family income. Mr. Wilson, who had married my mother's only sister, was one of the executors of her father's will, and as he was a lawyer (the other executor being a clergyman), and his own wife and her sister were the only legatees, he naturally had the sole management of the property. Owing to a series of events which we were only very imperfectly acquainted with, he became bankrupt in this year, and his own wife and large family were at once reduced from a condition of comfort and even affluence to poverty, almost as great as our own.
But we children also suffered, for legacies of £100 each to my father's family, to be paid to us as we came of age, together with a considerable sum that had reverted to my mother on the death of her stepmother in 1828, had remained in Mr. Wilson's hands as trustee, and was all involved in the bankruptcy. He did all he possibly
could for us, and ultimately, I believe, repaid a considerable part of the money, but while the legal proceedings were in progress, and they lasted full three years, it was necessary for us to reduce expenses as much as possible. We had to leave our comfortable house and garden, and for a time had the use of half the rambling old house near All Saints' Church already mentioned.
Before this, I think, my brother John had gone to London to be apprenticed, and the family at home consisted only of myself and my younger brother Herbert till my sister returned from France. It must have been about this time that I was sent for a few months as a boarder at the Grammar School, as already stated; but this whole period of my life is very indistinct. I am sure, however, that we moved to the next house in St. Andrew's Street early in 1836, because on May 15 of that year an annular eclipse of the sun occurred, visible in England, and I well remember the whole family coming out with smoked glasses into the narrow yard at the side of the house in order to see it. I was rather disappointed, as it only produced a peculiar gloom such as often occurs before a thunderstorm. While we were here a brewery was being built at the bottom of the yard, and while inspecting it and inquiring what the various tanks, boilers, etc., were for, I learnt that the word "water" was tabooed in a brewery ; that it must always be spoken of as “liquor,” and any workman or outsider mentioning "water" is immediately fined or called upon to stand a gallon of beer, or more if he can afford it.
At midsummer, I think, we again moved to a part of a house next to St. Andrew's Church, where we again had the Silk family for neighbours in the larger half of the house. They also had most of the garden, on the lawn of which was a fine old mulberry tree, which in the late summer was so laden with fruit that the ground was covered beneath it, and I and my friend George used to climb up into the tree, where we could gather the largest and ripest fruit and feast luxuriously.
This was the last house we occupied in Hertford, the family moving to Hoddesdon some time in 1837, to a pretty but very small red-brick house called Rawdon Cottage, while I went to London and stayed at Mr. Webster's with my brother John, preparatory to going with my eldest brother William to learn land-surveying.
During the time I lived at Hertford I was subject to influences which did more for my real education than the mere verbal training I received at school. My father belonged to a book club, through which we had a constant stream of interesting books, many of which he used to read aloud in the evening. Among these I remember Mungo Park's travels and those of Denham and Clapperton in West Africa. We also had Hood's Comic Annual for successive years, and I well remember my delight with “ The Pugsley Papers" and “A Tale of the Great Plague," while as we lived first at a No. 1, I associated Hood's "Number One" with our house, and learnt the verses by heart when I was about seven years old. Ever since those early experiences I have been an admirer of Hood in all his various moods, from his inimitable mixture of pun and pathos in his “Sea Spell,” to the exquisite poetry of “The Haunted House," "The Elm Tree," and “The Bridge of Sighs.”
We also had some good old standard works in the house, “Fairy Tales," "Gulliver's Travels," "Robinson Crusoe," and the “Pilgrim's Progress," all of which I read over again and again with constant pleasure. We also had “The Lady of the Lake," "The Vicar of Wakefield,” and some others; and among the books from the club I well remember my father reading to us Defoe's wonderful “History of the Great Plague." We also had a few highly educational toys, among which were large dissected maps of England and of Europe, which we only had out as a special treat now and then, and which besides having the constant charm of a puzzle, gave us a better knowledge of topographical geography than all our school teaching, and also gave me that love of good maps which has continued with me throughout life. Another valuable toy was a model of a bridge in wood, the separate stones constituting the arch of which could be built up on a