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Though my estate be fallen, yet I was well born.
SHAKSPEARE. --All's Well that Ends Well.
My name is lost. —
What shall I say you are?
As an autobiographer generally commences with his birth, parentage, and education, I will, in this outset of my history, say something of mine. Though (particularly in the early part of my
life) I was little known to fame or fortune, I derive my
lineage from remote, and even illustrious antiquity. My name is De Clifford, and I trace myself, in a direct line, from the renowned feudal barons of that name, though so high up, that (and I am not sorry for it) I have none of the blood of the murderer of
young Rutland in my veins. My immediate ancestors spring from Sir William De Clifford, son to Roger Lord Clifford, a baron of the time of King Richard the Second. I mention Sir William in particular, because from his marriage with one of the co-heiresses of the unfortunate Lord Bardolfe, of Shaksperian, as well as historic memory, he became possessed of the lordship and castle of Bardolfe, in the parish of that name, in the ročih, where I first drew breath, and where the wreck of our family, shorn of its beams, have continued sinking ever since.
Here the line of Bardolfe flourished as barons summoned to Parliament, till Thomas, fifth baron, the friend of old Northumberland, perished with him in the battle of Bramham Moor, fighthing for York against Henry IV. Moreover, though his death in the field deprived him of the honour of losing his head with the Mowbrays and Nevilles, after the battle, a noble revenge was glutted in regard to his body, by quartering what were called his rebel limbs, and exposing them on the gates of London, York, Lynn, and Shrewsbury, while his head ornamented that of London.
But, how little did this high lineage, and this honourable fate, avail his descendants ! His attainder and forfeitures reduced the family, and though the castle, and part of the estate of Bardolfe, was restored to my female ancestress on her marriage with Sir
William De Clifford, yet it was so diminished in value, and Sir William, being a younger brother, was so little distinguished by the gifts of fortune, that he could not hold up his head with the rest of the Cliffords. Even they are now all dissipated, the heirs male of the original barony being long ago extinct; and, though both titles and fortune have been carried by females into other illustrious families, the old name itself of De Clifford is nearly lost in the same obscurity in which our branch of it had so long continued. *
From this account of our fate, it will not be surprising that all intercourse between ourselves and our high relations had for a very long time been entirely dropped; we did not well know even to whom we belonged; the posterity of Sir William Da Clifford almost became Bardolfes, and, lowering by degrees to almost nothing, continued in the village where the heads of that name had originally flourished, while the castle and manor of Bardolfe had long passed by sale into other hands.
Thus, with all his ancient blood, my father was, in substance, scarcely more than a farmer—a gentleman farmer indeed, with a better title to armorial bearings than almost all his rich neighbours, who yet looked down upon him as, at the very best, that mortified, though not always humbled character, a “ decayed gentleman."
Yet, as if to mock him the more, as his very small estate, the remnant of former times, was his he was designated, in the language of the northern pro
* As I trace only from the ancient barony, to which alone I allude, no mention is made of that other barony of Clifford of Chudleigh, a creation of Charles II.
vince where it lay, by the high-sounding title of Statesman. What sort of honours belonged to that title may be imagined by the southern reader, when he learns that the possessor of a freehold of twenty, nay of ten pounds a year, enjoys that denomination among his simple neighbours.
The family had so long gone down hill, that my father had quietly descended with it into the class, and almost into the character, of he done so entirely, and not cast, as he sometimes, though seldom, did, a longing look to what his progenitors had been, he would, perhaps, have been happier. But luckily these interruptions came not often, and did not last long.
Our name, which had been for centuries on the grand jury, was not yet struck out, and my father was summoned regularly, as if still one of the squirearchy. It was then that a sort of struggle between pride and prudence commenced, in which pride, for the time, generally got the better: for he always attended, and was always mortified.
Though upon the grand jury, not being a proper subject for the commission, he was the only one of them not included in the invitations to dinner given in open court by the judge; and when the jury advanced with their presentments, with their rich and titled foreman at their head, he was seen among them, hesitating, alarmed, and bashful, and evidently sustaining a struggle of hurt feelings. He wished to shew himself to the court, and the notice of the county, but allowed every one that pleased to push before him, so that he could not be seen. Or if he ever obtained a place to be observed, it was only by entreaty, which yet it hurt
him to make. While in the discharge of duty, his brother jurymen were not uncivil, and he felt some little consequence; but the assizes over, he was instantly extinguished, and returned to peace and obscurity at home. The first of these my father found so valuable, that he frequently vowed never again to hazard it, by attending another assizes ; but the vow was always broken, and he agreed with my mother (herself of an origin somewhat better than plebeian, being the daughter of the younger son of a knight), that the pretensions of the blood of the De Cliffords and Bardolfes ought not to be sacrificed without a struggle.
There was, however, another reason that told in producing this feeling. I have said we had descended in the scale of gentility, but it was by degrees. At the Revolution, my great-grandfather was of no mean consideration among the Yorkshire Whigs, and owned the castle which gave us one of our names, though he sold it, in the end, to make good a large portion to his only sister, who married into a very noble family. This was so flattering to his pride, that he agreed to give her a fortune far beyond his means, to the still further reduction of the funds of his posterity. Nor did he reap the advantages he hoped from the connexion ; for the figure and fortune of the two families being so unequal, they first grew cool, and then were absolutely estranged from one another; so that my grandfather had no intercourse with his aunt's family, and dying when my father was an infant, and there being no maiden aunt to keep up remembrances, the very name of these high relatives seemed even then almost forgotten,