« ПредишнаНапред »
A week, however, generally restored my father to himself, and, forgetting the gentleman in the farmer, he returned, as I have observed, to obscurity, and his usual occupations.
Luckily these gave him little time to reflect upon any thing but how to turn them best to account, in support of a numerous family, which, statesman as he was, forced him to eke out his income by renting a considerable farm under Sir Harry Goff, the squire of the neighbouring parish.
This gentleman's family was the highest in degree with which we had any intercourse, though that of Hastings, to whose ancestors the old castle and manor of Bardolfe had passed, by the sale I have mentioned, above a century before, were of higher descent, and of infinitely higher fashion and condition. They, however, resided in a distant part of the country, and, for some years at least, I knew nothing of them but their name. The castle, indeed, had, all but one tower, long been in ruins, like its former owners; and though very picturesque and romantic, frowning from the top of a steep bank which rose abruptly from the river (also bearing our name), it afforded no temptation, because without accommodation, for any of the present owners to visit it.
What was left of it besides this tower were mere perforated walls, held together only by the tough embraces of the ivy and caucus ; yet, there was a
66 sullen dignity” about this old place, which, with other reasons, made it my absolute delight. But I am yet scarcely born, so must not anticipate.
I had several brothers (for my mother was more prolific than rich); and a child once a year, for five years
together, did not add to the means of the Statesman. My brothers, however, had huge limbs and healthy stomachs—which latter by no means regarded the coarse porridge and milk of the north as an evil. In short, they all grew and waxed strong, and gave our parents little uneasiness on the score of health.
They were all rather favourites with the Goff family, and the good-natured Sir Harry (who derived his fortune and descent only from a rich clothier), in his secret mind, could not help showing us much consideration on account of our blood.
The truth is, that Sir Harry and his wife and family, though very independent as to money, were not at all so as to their position in life. With many sterling qualities, they spoiled all, by quitting what they were (plain country folks), to be what they were not, denizens of fashion.
In this they lavished more money than taste. Sir Harry's common sense was rendered inefficient by a factitious fondness for the arts, and what he called literature, of neither of which he knew much; and his wife and daughters thought fashion consisted in being always over-dressed, and talking what they called French.
All this dazzled their country neighbours, whatever it might do the people they copied ; and as in other respects they had a sort of general familiarity of manner, they were not without consideration in the country, and were even popular.
For my own part, I at first thought them demigods, preferring their manners and appearance at least to all others about me; and I especially had a high opinion of their learning, on the strength of a considerable library which Sir Harry had collected, though no
scholar, and from the young ladies often talking a language I did not understand. For I was always, I know not why, unlike other boys, and very unlike indeed to my elder brothers; being fond of poring over whatever books I could get, while they sported with Sir Harry, or assisted our father in the superintendence of the farm. But as for me, from a child, I had a sort of world of my own, which I peopled with images of my own fancy; sometimes grand, sometimes grotesque, sometimes more common-place: making them, however, always to tell stories to myself, which quite satisfied me for the want of other companions; so that though I was often solitary, I was never alone.
In short, I became a kind of character, for such an urchin, and as I grew up, one of the Miss Goffs, who read poetry, said I was, like poor Edwin,
“ No vulgar boy ;
Save one short pipe of rudest minstrelsy." I could myself carry on her comparison with Edwin, which made me not a little proud, for I was, certainly,
“Silent when glad; affectionate though shy ;
And now my look was most demurely sad ;
The neighbours stared and sigh’d, yet blessed the lad;
One thing indeed inclined my good parents to indulge this quieter disposition of mine. I was the only one of the family who had not strong health. I was even weak in body and limbs, and in these respects
* The Minstrel.
inferior to my sturdy brothers; so I was allowed to lounge with a book under a tree, or in a garden of most antique taste, occupied by a hind who had charge of the old walls of the castle.
The garden itself was more interesting for its said antiquity and wildness than either its beauty or cultivation, for it resembled that described by Virgil, as also belonging to an old hind or gardener :
“ Hic rarum tamen in dumis olus, albaque circum
The mouldering battlements that surrounded this, to me, interesting spot, were shrouded with elder flowers, and wild honey-suckle, but particularly wallflowers, fed most luxuriantly by the old mould and mortar that filled up the interstices of these “ time disparting towers.”
To lie under their rough canopy in the morning sun, and pore over such books as · I could read, gave me such intense pleasure, that I have never seen these plants since without thinking of that innocent and happy time; so that in after years, when the world had a far different hold of me, I thought Scott must have, in some delightful dream, seen me, when he wrote those descriptive lines :
" And well the lonely infant knew
Recesses where the wall-flower grew,
* Some scattering pot-herbs here and there he found;
I deem'd such nooks the sweetest shade
The mightiest work of human power.” This disposition of mine to reading began to show itself at a very early age. At five I was tolerably acquainted with Bible history; before nine, with the History of England; and before twelve, had begun to relish poetry; — not in the namby-pamby modern rhymes, such as are castigated by the Mæviad and Baviad, but in the vigorous conceptions and language of real masters :
“ Blind Thamyris, and blind Mæonides,
And Tireseas, and Phineus, prophets old.” By these I mean our own great masters of song, Spencer, Shakspeare, and Milton. These got such possession of me, even as a child, that I never could afterwards relish the more modern, or as I thought them, flatter compositions then in vogue. Hayley, I could not bear, and even Cowper, I am afraid I thought prosaic. I should, however, observe, that I speak of a time when those bursts of the wild afflatus which have warmed our still more modern bards were neither known nor thought of.
It may be asked where I could get the provision for this taste of mine. Our old Grange, to be sure, had a small closet, in which I used to pass an hour sometimes by myself, on account of a few books it contained; but they were only the great Sherborne Bible, a still greater Herbal (much consulted by my mother); and Fox's Martyrs, an account of the rebellion of Forty-five, and Glanville upon witches-much consulted by myself.