Page images
PDF
EPUB

Whether or not this particular form of experience in my boyhood produced any permanent effect on my character I cannot say, but the mere continuance of a painful dream for so many years is in itself an evil, and must almost certainly have had an injurious effect upon the bodily health. Even in my homelife I was subject to impressions of the same general nature, though far less severe. Many slight faults of conduct which had been long overlooked were often suddenly noticed, and I was ordered at once to change them. One such that I remember was that I had been accustomed to use my spoon at table with my left hand, when I was one day told to use my right. No doubt I could have done this without much trouble, but I seemed to feel that to make such a change would be singular, would draw the attention of my brothers and sisters to me, and would be a kind of confession of ignorance or clumsiness which I could not make. I felt too much ashamed to do it. I put down my spoon and waited, and when I thought no one was looking, took it up again in the way forbidden. This was said to be obstinacy, but to me it seemed something else which I could hardly describe. However, the result was that I was sent away from table up to my bedroom, and was ordered to have my meals there till I would “do as I was bid.” I forget exactly how it ended, but I think I remained under this punishment several days, and that it was only under the kind persuasions and advice of my mother and sisters that I was at length allowed to come down ; and this was the most terrible ordeal of all, and when I actually took the spoon in my right hand, I felt more hurt and ashamed than when I was sent away from table. This is only an example of numbers of little things of a similar character, which were treated in the same rough and dogmatic manner, which was then almost universal, and was thought to be the only way of training children. How, exactly, to treat each case must depend upon circumstances, but I think that a little mild ridicule would have a better effect than compulsion. I might have been told that, although we did not much care about it, other people would think it very strange, and that we should then be ashamed because people would say that we did not know

good manners. Or I might have been asked to practise it by myself, and try the experiment, using sometimes one hand and sometimes the other, till at last, when the holidays or my next birthday came, or I first had new clothes on, I was to complete the victory over myself by discarding the left-hand spoon altogether. One other case of this kind hurt me dreadfully at the time, because it exposed me to what I thought was the ridicule or contempt of the whole school. Like most other boys I was reckless about my clothes, leaning my elbows on the desk till a hole was worn in my jacket, and, worse still, when cleaning my slate using my cuff to rub it dry. Slate sponges attached by a string were unknown to our school in those days. As new clothes were too costly to be had very often, my mother determined to save a jacket just taken for school wear by making covers for the sleeves, which I was to wear in school. These were made of black calico, reaching from the cuff to the elbow, and though I protested that I could not wear them, that I should be looked upon as a guy, and other equally valid reasons, they were one day put in my pocket, and I was told to put them on just before I entered the school. Of course I could not do it; so I brought them back and told my mother. Then, after another day or two of trial, one morning the dreaded thunderbolt fell upon me. On entering school I was called up to the master's desk, he produced the dreaded calico sleeves, and told me that my mother wished me to wear them to save my jacket, and told me to put them on. Of course I had to do so. They fitted very well, and felt quite comfortable, and I dare say did not look so very strange. I have no doubt also that most of the boys had a fellow-feeling for me, and thought it a shame to thus make me an exception to all the school. But to me it seemed a cruel disgrace, and I was miserable so long as I wore them. How long that was I cannot remember, but I do not think it was very long, perhaps a month or two, or till the beginning of the next holidays. But while it lasted it was, perhaps, the severest punishment I ever endured. In an article on the civilizations of China and Japan in The Independent Review (April, 1904), it is pointed out that the universal practice of “saving the face” of any kind of opponent rests upon the fundamental idea of the right of every individual to be treated with personal respect. With them this principle is taught from childhood, and pervades every class of society, while with us it is only recognized by the higher classes, and by them is rarely extended to inferiors or to children. The feeling that demands this recognition is certainly strong in many children, and those who have suffered under the failure of their elders to respect it, can well appreciate the agony of shame endured by the more civilized Eastern peoples, whose feelings are so often outraged by the total absence of all respect shown them by their European masters or conquerors. In thus recognizing the sanctity of this deepest of human feelings these people manifest a truer phase of civilization than we have attained to. Even savages often surpass us in this respect. They will often refuse to enter an empty house during the absence of the owner, even though something belonging to themselves may have been left in it; and when asked to call one of their sleeping companions to start on a journey, they will be careful not to touch him, and will positively refuse to shake him rudely, as an Englishman would have no scruple in doing.

CHAPTER V

HERTFORD : MY HOME-LIFE

As the period from the age of six to fourteen which I spent at Hertford was that of my whole home-life till I had a home of my own twenty-eight years later, and because it was in many ways more educational than the time I spent at school, I think it well to devote a separate chapter to a short account of it. During the year or two spent at the first house we occupied in St. Andrew's Street very little occurred to impress itself upon my memory, partly, I think, because I was too young and had several playfellows of my own age, and partly, perhaps, because the very small house and yard at the back offered few facilities for home amusements. There was also at that time too much inequality between myself and my brother John for us to become such constant companions as we were a little later. When we moved to the house beyond the Old Cross, nearly opposite to the lane leading to Hartham, the conditions were altogether more favourable. The house itself was a more commodious one, and besides a yard at one side, it had a small garden at the back with a flower border at each side, where I first became acquainted with some of our common garden flowers. The gable end of the house in the yard, facing nearly south, had few windows, and was covered over with an old vine which not only produced abundance of grapes, but enabled my father to make some gallons of wine from the thinnings. But the most interesting feature of the premises to us two boys was a small stable with a lost over

[ocr errors]

it, which, not being used except to store garden-tools and odd
lumber, we had practically to ourselves. The loft especially
was most delightful to us. It was reached by steps formed
by nailing battens across the upright framing of the stable,
with a square opening in the floor above. It thus required a
little practice to climb up and down easily and to get a
safe landing at top, and doing this became so easy to us that
we ran up and down it as easily as sailors run up the
shrouds of a vessel. Then the loft itself, under the sloping
roof, gloomy and nearly dark in the remote corners, was
almost like a robbers' cave, while a door opening to the out-
side by which hay could be pitched up out of a cart, afforded
us plenty of light when we required it, together with the
novel sensation and spice of danger afforded by an opening
down to the floor, yet eight or nine feet above the ground.
This place was our greatest delight, and almost all the
hours of daylight we could spare from school and meals were
spent in it. Here we accumulated all kinds of odds and ends
that might be useful for our various games or occupations,
and here we were able to hide many forbidden treasures such
as gunpowder, with which we used to make wild-fires as well
as more elaborate fireworks. John was of a more mechanical
turn than myself, and he used to excel in making all the
little toys and playthings in which boys then used to delight.
I, of course, looked on admiringly, and helped him in any
way I could. I also tried to imitate him, but only succeeded
in some of the simpler operations. Our most valuable guide
was the “Boy's Own Book,” which told us how to make num-
bers of things boys never think of making now, partly because
everything is made for them, and also because children get
so many presents of elaborate or highly ornamented toys
when very young, that by the time they are old enough to
make anything for themselves they are quite blasé, and can
only be satisfied by still more elaborate and expensive
playthings. I think it may be interesting to give a short
enumeration of the things which at this time John and I
used to make for ourselves.
I may mention first that, owing to the very straightened

[ocr errors][ocr errors]
« EelmineJätka »