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park at that time being quite open, and we hardly ever met any one.
After we got out of the town there was a wide grassy lane that led to it, which itself was a delightful walk and was a good collecting ground for both plants and insects. For variety we had the meadows along the course of the little river Soar, which were very pleasant in spring and summer. Twice during the summer the whole of the boarders were taken for a long day's excursion. The first time we went to Kenilworth Castle, about thirty miles distant, driving in coaches by pleasant country roads, and passing through Coventry. Towards the autumn we had a much longer excursion, partly by coach and partly by canal boat, to a very picturesque country with wooded hills and limestone cliffs, rural villages, and an isolated hill, from the top of which we had a very fine and extensive view. I think it must have been in Derbyshire, near Wirksworth, as there is a long canal tunnel on the way there. One of the rough out-of-door sketches made on this occasion is reproduced here on a reduced scale, as well as a more finished drawing of some village, perhaps near Leicester, as they may possibly enable some reader to recognize the localities, and also serve to show the limits of my power as an artist.
At midsummer there was the usual prize-giving, accompanied by recitation; and to introduce a little variety I wrote a prologue, in somewhat boyish style, to be spoken by a chubby boy about twelve years old; and it took me a good deal of trouble to drill him into appropriate emphasis and action. It went off very well, and as it was to some extent a programme as well as a prologue, I give here as much of it as I can recollect.
We bid you welcome ! and hope each may find
With a few concluding lines which I cannot remember.
Just before the Christmas holidays (or perhaps on the fifth of November) I wrote a slight serio-comic play, the subject being “Guy Faux.” While following history pretty closely as to the chief characters and events, I purposely introduced a number of anachronisms, as umbrellas, macintoshes, lucifer matches, half-farthings then just issued. I also made use of some modern slang, and concluded with a somewhat mockheroic speech by the judge when sentencing the criminal. The boys acted their parts very well, and the performance was quite a success.
Early in the following year (February, 1846) I received the totally unexpected news of the death of my brother William at Neath. He had been in London to give evidence before a committee on the South Wales Railway Bill, and returning at night caught a severe cold by being chilled in a wretched third-class carriage, succeeded by a damp bed at Bristol. This brought on congestion of the lungs, to which he speedily succumbed. I and my brother John went down to Neath to the funeral, and as William had died without a will,
we had to take out letters of administration. Finding from my brother's papers that he had obtained a small local business, and that there was railway work in prospect, I determined to take his place, and at once asked permission of Mr. Hill to be allowed to leave at Easter.
My year spent at Leicester had been in many ways useful to me, and had also a determining influence on my whole future life. It satisfied me that I had no vocation for teaching, for though I performed my duties I believe quite to Mr. Hill's satisfaction, I felt myself out of place, partly because I knew no subject—with the one exception of surveying-sufficiently well to be able to teach it properly, but mainly because a completely subordinate position was distasteful to me, although I could not have had a more considerate employer than Mr. Hill. The time and opportunity I had for reading was a great advantage to me, and gave me an enduring love of good literature. I also had the opportunity of hearing almost every Sunday one of the most impressive and eloquent preachers I have ever met with—Dr. John Brown, I think, was his name. He was one of the few Church of England clergymen who preached extempore, and he did it admirably so that it was a continual pleasure to listen to him. But I was too firmly convinced of the incredibility of large portions of the Bible, and of the absence of sense or reason in many of the doctrines of orthodox religion to be influenced by any such preaching, however eloquent. My return to some form of religious belief was to come much later, and from a quite different source.
But, as already stated, the events which formed a turningpoint in my life were, first, my acquaintance with Bates, and through him deriving a taste for the wonders of insect-life, opening to me a new aspect of nature, and later on finding in him a companion without whom I might never have ventured on my journey to the Amazon. The other and equally important circumstance was my reading Malthus, without which work I should probably not have hit upon the theory of natural selection and obtained full credit for its independent discovery. My year spent at Leicester must, therefore, be considered as perhaps the most important in my early life.