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light centre, showing beautifully the principle of the arch, and how, when the keystone was inserted the centre supports could be removed and a considerable weight supported upon it. This also was a constant source of pleasure and instruction
to us, and one that seems to be not now included among instructive toys.
I think it was soon after we went to the Old Cross house that my father became librarian to a fairly good proprietary town library, to which he went for three or four hours every afternoon to give out and receive books and keep everything in order. After my brother John left home and I lost my chief playmate and instructor, this library was a great resource for me, as it contained a large collection of all the standard novels of the day. Every wet Saturday afternoon I spent there; and on Tuesdays and Thursdays, which were our four-o'clock days, I usually spent an hour there instead of stopping to play or going straight home. Sometimes I helped my father a little in arranging or getting down books, but I had most of the time for reading, squatting down on the floor in a corner, where I was quite out of the way. It was here that I read all Fenimore Cooper's novels, a great many of James's, and Harrison Ainsworth’s “Rookwood,” that fine highwayman's story containing a vivid account of Dick Turpin's Ride to York. It was here, too, I read the earlier stories of Marryat and Bulwer, Godwin's “Caleb Williams,” Warren's “Diary of a Physician,” and such older works as “Don Quixote,” Smollett's “Roderick Random,” “Peregrine Pickle,” and “Humphry Clinker,” Fielding's “Tom Jones,” and Miss Burney’s “Evelina.” I also read, partially or completely, Milton's “Paradise Lost,” Pope's “Iliad,” Spenser's “Faërie Queene,” and Dante's “Inferno,” a good deal of Byron and Scott, some of the Spectator and Rambler, Southey's “Curse of Kehama,” and, in fact, almost any book that I heard spoken of as celebrated or interesting. At this time “Pickwick” was coming out in monthly parts, and I had the opportunity of reading bits of it, but I do not think I read it through till a considerably later period. I heard it a good deal talked about, and it occasioned quite an excitement among the masters in the Grammar School. Walton's “Angler” was a favourite of my father's, and I well remember a wood-cut illustration of Dove Dale with greatly exaggerated rocks and pinnacles, which made me long to see such a strange and picturesque spot—a longing which I only gratified about a dozen years ago, finding it more exquisitely beautiful than I had imagined it to be, even if not quite so fantastic.
I may now say a few words about our home-life as regards meals and other small matters, because I think its simplicity was perhaps better for children than what is common now. Till we reached the age of ten or twelve we never had tea or coffee, our breakfast consisting of bread-and-milk and our tea of milk-and-water with bread-and-butter. Toast, cake, muffins, and such luxuries were only indulged in on festive occasions. At our one-o'clock dinner we began with pudding and finished with meat and vegetables. During this period we made our own bread, and good wholesome bread it was, made with brewer's yeast (which I often went for to the brewery), and sent to the nearest baker to be baked, as were most of our baked pies and puddings. Kitcheners were almost unknown then, and meat was roasted before the open fire with a clock-work jack, dripping-pan, and large tinned screen to reflect the heat and to warm plates and dishes.
A few words about the cost of living will not be out of place here, and will serve to correct some erroneous ideas on the subject. Tea was about double the price it is now, but coffee and cocoa were about the same as at present; and these latter were commonly used for breakfast, while tea was only taken at tea, and then only by the older members of the family. Sugar was also more than twice as dear, but milk, eggs, and butter were all cheaper. Although this was in the corn-law days I doubt if our bread was any dearer than it is now, and it was certainly much better. It was ground in the mills of the town from wheat grown in the country round, and the large size of the penny rolls, which I have already mentioned, shows that there cannot have been much difference of price to the retail buyer, who was then usually one or two steps nearer to the actual corn-grower than he is now. Meat also was cheaper than now. The price of the best beef was sixPence to sevenpence a pound; while mutton was sevenPence to eightpence for the best joints, but for ordinary parts. much less. In the country gleaning was a universal practice, and numbers of cottagers thus got a portion of their bread; while a much larger proportion than now lived in the country and had large gardens or a few acres of land. My mother often took me with her when visiting such poor cottagers as were known to her, and my impression is that there was very little difference in the kind and degree of the rural poverty of that day and this; and a few years later, as I shall show, the same may be said of the skilled mechanic. As a prime factor in this question, it must always be remembered that rent, both in villages and towns, was in most cases less than half what it is at present, and this more than compensated for the few cheaper articles of food and clothing to-day. My father and mother were old-fashioned religious people belonging to the Church of England, and, as a rule, we all went to church twice on Sundays, usually in the morning and evening. We also had to learn a collect every Sunday morning, and were periodically examined in our catechism. On very wet evenings my father read us a chapter from the Bible and a sermon instead of the usual service. Among our friends, however, were some Dissenters, and a good many Quakers, who were very numerous in Hertford; and on rare occasions we were taken to one of their chapels instead of to church, and the variety alone made this quite a treat. We were generally advised when some “friend” was expected to speak, and it was on such occasions that we visited the Friends' Meeting House, though I remember one occasion when, during the whole time of the meeting, there was complete silence. And when any brother or sister was “moved to speak," it was usually very dull and wearisome; and after having attended two or three times, and witnessed the novelty of the men and women sitting on opposite sides of the room, and there being no pulpit and no clergyman and no singing, we did not care to go again. But the Dissenters' chapel was always a welcome change, and we went there not unfrequently to the evening service. The extempore prayers, the frequent singing, and the usually more vigorous and exciting style of preaching was to me far preferable to the monotony of the Church service; and it was there only that, at one period of my life, I felt something of religious servour, derived chiefly from the more picturesque and impassioned of the hymns. As, however, there was no sufficient basis of intelligible fact or connected reasoning to satisfy my intellect, this feeling soon left me, and has never returned. Among our Quaker friends were two or three to whose houses we were occasionally invited, and I remember being greatly impressed by the excessive cleanliness and neatness of everything about their houses and gardens, corresponding to the delicate colouring and simple style of their clothing. At that time every Quaker lady wore the plainest of dresses, but of the softest shades of brown or lilac, while the men all wore the plain cutaway coat with upright collar, also of some shade of brown, which, with the low broad-brimmed beaver hat of the best quality, gave them a very distinctive and old-world appearance. They also invariably used “thee” and “thou" instead of “you” in ordinary conversation, which added to the conviction that they were a people apart, who had many habits and qualities that might well be imitated by their neighbours of other religious denominations.
HAVING finally left school at Christmas, 1836, I think it was early in 1837 that I was sent to London to live at Mr. Webster's in Robert Street, Hampstead Road, where my brother John was apprenticed. My father and mother were then about to move to the small cottage at Hoddesdon, and it was convenient for me to be out of the way till my brother William could arrange to have me with him to learn land-surveying. As I shared my brother's bedroom and bed, I was no trouble, and I suppose I was boarded at a very low rate. As the few months I spent here at the most impressionable age had some influence in moulding my character, and also furnished me with information which I could have obtained in no other way, I devote the present chapter to giving a short account of it. Mr. Webster was a small master builder, who had a work shop in a yard about five minutes' walk from the house, where he constantly employed eight or ten men preparing all the joinery work for the houses he built. At that time there were no great steam-factories for making doors and windows, working mouldings, etc., everything being done by hand, except in the case of the large builders and contractors, who had planing and sawing-mills of their own. Here in the yard was a sawpit in which two men, the top- and bottom-sawyers, were always at work cutting up imported balks of timber into the sizes required, while another oldish man was at work day after day planing up floor-boards. In the shop itself windows