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The holy herald of Christ, and Christ himself the finisher of prophecy, made proclamation alike of the same mysterious summons, as a baptism or rite of initiation; namely, _Metanoei_. Henceforth transfigure your theory of moral truth; the old theory is laid aside as infinitely insufficient; a new and spiritual revelation is established.
_Metanoeite_--contemplate moral truth as radiating from a new centre; apprehend it under transfigured relations.
John the Baptist, like other earlier prophets, delivered a message which, probably enough, he did not himself more than dimly understand, and never in its full compa.s.s of meaning. Christ occupied another station. Not only was he the original Interpreter, but he was himself the Author--Founder, at once, and Finisher--of that great transfiguration applied to ethics, which he and the Baptist alike announced as forming the code for the new and revolutionary era now opening its endless career. The human race was summoned to bring a transfiguring sense and spirit of interpretation (_metanoia_) to a transfigured ethics--an altered organ to an altered object. This is by far the grandest miracle recorded in Scripture. No exhibition of blank power--not the arresting of the earth's motion--not the calling back of the dead unto life, can approach in grandeur to this miracle which we all daily behold; namely, the inconceivable mystery of having written and sculptured upon the tablets of man's heart a new code of moral distinctions, all modifying--many reversing--the old ones. What would have been thought of any prophet, if he should have promised to transfigure the celestial mechanics; if he had said, I will create a new pole-star, a new zodiac, and new laws of gravitation; briefly, I will make new earth and new heavens? And yet a thousand times more awful it was to undertake the writing of new laws upon the spiritual conscience of man. _Metanoeite_ (was the cry from the wilderness), wheel into a new centre your moral system; _geocentric_ has that system been up to this hour--that is, having earth and the earthly for its starting-point; henceforward make it _heliocentric_ (that is, with the sun, or the heavenly for its principle of motion).
2. A second remark of mine was, perhaps, not more important, but it was, on the whole, better calculated to startle the prevailing preconceptions; for, as to the new system of morals introduced by Christ, generally speaking, it is too dimly apprehended in its great differential features to allow of its miraculous character being adequately appreciated; one flagrant ill.u.s.tration of which is furnished by our experience in Affghanistan, where some officers, wishing to impress Akhbar Khan with the beauty of Christianity, very judiciously repeated to him the Lord's Prayer and the Sermon on the Mount, by both of which the Khan was profoundly affected, and often recurred to them; but others, under the notion of conveying to him a more _comprehensive_ view of the Scriptural ethics, repeated to him the Ten Commandments; although, with the sole exception of the two first, forbidding idolatry and Polytheism, there is no word in these which could have displeased or surprised a Pagan, and therefore nothing characteristic of Christianity. Meantime my second remark was substantially this which follows: What is a religion? To Christians it means, over and above a mode of worship, a dogmatic (that is, a doctrinal) system; a great body of doctrinal truths, moral and spiritual. But to the ancients (to the Greeks and Romans, for instance), it meant nothing of the kind. A religion was simply a _cultus_, a _thraeskeia_, a mode of ritual worship, in which there might be two differences, namely: 1. As to the particular deity who furnished the motive to the worship; 2. As to the ceremonial, or mode of conducting the worship. But in no case was there so much as a pretence of communicating any religious truths, far less any moral truths. The obstinate error rooted in modern minds is, that, doubtless, the moral instruction was bad, as being heathen; but that still it was as good as heathen opportunities allowed it to be. No mistake can be greater. Moral instruction had no existence even in the plan or intention of the religious service. The Pagan priest or flamen never dreamed of any function like that of _teaching_ as in any way connected with his office. He no more undertook to teach morals than to teach geography or cookery. He taught nothing. What he undertook was, simply to _do_: namely, to present authoritatively (that is, authorized and supported by some civil community, Corinth, or Athens, or Rome, which he represented) the homage and grat.i.tude of that community to the particular deity adored. As to morals or just opinions upon the relations to man of the several divinities, all this was resigned to the teaching of nature; and for any polemic functions the teaching was resigned to the professional philosophers--academic, peripatetic, stoic, etc. By religion it was utterly ignored.
The reader must do me the favor to fix his attention upon the real question at issue. What I say--what then I said to Lady Carbery--is this: that, by failing to notice as a _differential_ feature of Christianity this involution of a doctrinal part, we elevate Paganism to a dignity which it never dreamed of. Thus, for instance, in the Eleusinian mysteries, what was the main business transacted? I, for my part, in harmony with my universal theory on this subject,--namely, that there could be no doctrinal truth delivered in a Pagan religion,-- have always maintained that the only end and purpose of the mysteries was a more solemn and impressive worship of a particular G.o.ddess.
Warburton, on the other hand, would insist upon it that some great affirmative doctrines, interesting to man, such as the immortality of the soul, a futurity of retribution, &c., might be here commemorated.
And now, nearly a hundred years after Warburton, what is the opinion of scholars upon this point? Two of the latest and profoundest I will cite:--1. Lobeck, in his "Aglaophamus," expressly repels all such notions; 2. Otfried Mueller, in the twelfth chapter, twenty-fourth section, of his "Introduction to a System of Mythology," says: "I have here gone on the a.s.sumption which I consider unavoidable, that there was no regular instruction, no dogmatical communication, connected with the Grecian worship in general. _There could be nothing_ of the kind introduced into the public service from the way in which it was conducted, for the priest _did not address the people at all_."
These opinions, which exactly tallied with my own a.s.sertion to Lady Carbery, that all religion amongst the Pagans resolved itself into a mere system of ceremonial worship, a pompous and elaborate _cultus_, were not brought forward in Germany until about ten or twelve years ago; whereas, my doctrine was expressly insisted on in 1800; that is, forty years earlier than any of these German writers had turned their thoughts in that direction.
Had I, then, really all that originality on this subject which for many years I secretly claimed? Substantially I had, because this great distinction between the modern (or Christian) idea of "a religion" and the ancient (or Pagan) idea of "a religion," I had nowhere openly seen expressed in words. To myself exclusively I was indebted for it.
Nevertheless, it is undeniable that this conception must have been long ago germinating in the world, and perhaps bearing fruit. This is past all denial, since, about thirteen or fourteen years ago, I read in some journal (a French journal, I think) this statement: namely, that some oriental people--Turks, according to my present impression, but it might have been Arabs--make an old traditional distinction (so said the French journal) between what they call "religions of the book" and all other religions. The religions of the book, according to them, are three, all equally founded upon written and producible doc.u.ments, namely: first, the Judaic system, resting upon the Pentateuch, or more truly, I should imagine, upon the Law and the Prophets; secondly, the Christian system, resting upon the Old and New Testaments; thirdly, the Mahometan system, resting confessedly upon the Koran. The very meaning, therefore, of styling these systems, by way of honorable distinction, _religions of the book_, is, not that accidentally they had written vouchers for their creed, whereas the others had only oral vouchers, but that they severally offer to men's acceptance a large body of philosophic truth, such as requires and presupposes a book.
Whereas the various religions contradistinguished from these three-- namely, the whole body of Pagan idolatries--are mere forms of adoration addressed to many different divinities; and the brief reason why they are essentially opposed to religions of the book is, not that they _have_ not, but logically that they _cannot_ have, books or doc.u.ments, inasmuch as they have no truths to deliver. They do not profess to teach anything whatsoever. What they profess, as their justifying distinction, is, to adore a certain deity, or a certain collective Pantheon, according to certain old authorized forms-- authorized, that is to say, by fixed, ancient, and oftentimes local traditions.
What was the great practical inference from the new distinction which I offered? It was this: that Christianity (which included Judaism as its own germinal principle, and Islamism as its own adaptation to a barbarous and imperfect civilization) carried along with itself its own authentication; since, whilst other religions introduced men simply to ceremonies and usages, which could furnish no aliment or material for their intellect, Christianity provided an eternal _palaestra_ or place of exercise for the human understanding vitalized by human affections: for every problem whatever, interesting to the human intellect, provided only that it bears a _moral_ aspect, immediately pa.s.ses into the field of religious speculation. Religion had thus become the great organ of human culture. Lady Carbery advanced half-way to meet me in these new views, finding my credentials as a theologian in my earnestness and my sincerity. She herself was painfully and sorrowfully in earnest. She had come at this early age of seven or eight and twenty, to the most bitter sense of hollowness, and (in a philosophic sense) of _treachery_ as under-lying all things that stood round her; and she sought escape, if escape there were, through religion. Religion was to be sought in the Bible. But was the Bible intelligible at the first glance? Far from it. Search the Scriptures, was the cry in Protestant lands amongst all people, however much at war with each other. But I often told her that this was a vain pretence, without some knowledge of Greek. Or perhaps not always and absolutely a pretence; because, undoubtedly, it is true that oftentimes mere ignorant simplicity may, by bringing into direct collision pa.s.sages that are reciprocally ill.u.s.trative, restrain an error or illuminate a truth. And a reason, which I have since given in print (a reason additional to Bentley's), for neglecting the thirty thousand various readings collected by the diligence of the New Testament collators, applied also to this case, namely: That, first, the transcendent nature, and, secondly, the _recurrent_ nature, of Scriptural truths cause them to surmount verbal disturbances. A doctrine, for instance, which is sowed broadcast over the Scriptures, and recurs, on an average, three times in every chapter, cannot be affected by the casual inaccuracy of a phrase, since the phrase is continually varied. And, therefore, I would not deny the possibility of an effectual searching by very unlearned persons. Our authorized translators of the Bible in the Shakspearian age were not in any exquisite sense learned men; they were very able men, and in a better sense able than if they had been philologically profound scholars, which at that time, from the imperfect culture of philology, they could not easily have been; men they were whom religious feeling guided correctly in choosing their expressions, and with whom the state of the language in some respects cooperated, by furnishing a diction more homely, fervent, and pathetic, than would now be available. For their apostolic functions English was the language most in demand. But in polemic or controversial cases Greek is indispensable. And of this Lady Carbery was sufficiently convinced by my own demur on the word _metanoia_. If I were right, how profoundly wrong must those have been whom my new explanation superseded. She resolved, therefore, immediately on my suggesting it, that she would learn Greek; or, at least, that limited form of Greek which was required for the New Testament. In the language of Terence, dictum factum--no sooner said than done. On the very next morning we all rode in to Stamford, our nearest town for such a purpose, and astounded the bookseller's apprentice by ordering four copies of the Clarendon Press Greek Testament, three copies of Parkhurst's Greek and English Lexicon, and three copies of some grammar, but what I have now forgotten. The books were to come down by the mail-coach without delay. Consequently, we were soon at work. Lady Ma.s.sey and my sister, not being sustained by the same interest as Lady Carbery, eventually relaxed in their attention. But Lady Carbery was quite in earnest, and very soon became expert in the original language of the New Testament.
I wished much that she should have gone on to the study of Herodotus.
And I described to her the situation of the vivacious and mercurial Athenian, in the early period of Pericles, as repeating in its main features, for the great advantage of that Grecian Froissart, the situation of Adam during his earliest hours in Paradise, himself being the describer to the affable archangel. The same genial climate there was; the same luxuriation of nature in her early prime; the same ignorance of his own origin in the tenant of this lovely scenery; and the same eager desire to learn it. [Footnote: "About me round I saw Hill, dale, and shady woods, and sunny plains, And liquid lapse of murmuring streams; by these Creatures that lived and moved, and walked or flew; Birds on the branches warbling; all things smiled; With fragrance and with joy my heart o'erflowed.
Myself I then perused, and limb by limb Surveyed, and sometimes went, and sometimes ran With supple joints, as lively vigor led; _But who I was or where, or from what cause_, Knew not."--_Paradise Lost_, Book viii.
The _who_, the _where_ (in any extended sense, that is, as regarded the _external_ relations of his own country), and the _from what cause_--all these were precisely what the Grecian did _not_ know, and first learned from Herodotus.] The very truth, and mere facts of history, reaching Herodotus through such a haze of remote abstraction, and suffering a sort of refraction at each translation from atmosphere to atmosphere, whilst continually the uninteresting parts dropped away as the whole moved onwards, unavoidably a.s.sumed the attractions of romance. And thus it has happened that the air of marvellousness, which seems connected with the choice and preferences of Herodotus, is in reality the natural gift of his position. Culling from a field of many nations and many generations, reasonably he preferred such narratives as, though possible enough, wore the coloring of romance. Without any violation of the truth, the mere extent of his field as to s.p.a.ce and time gave him great advantages for the wild and the marvellous. Meantime, this purpose of ours with regard to Herodotus was defeated. Whilst we were making preparations for it, suddenly one morning from his Limerick estate of Cara.s.s returned Lord Carbery. And, by accident, his welcome was a rough one; for, happening to find Lady Carbery in the breakfast-room, and naturally throwing his arm about her neck to kiss her, "Ruffian," a monster of a Newfoundland dog, singularly beautiful in his coloring, and almost as powerful as a leopard, flew at him vindictively as at a stranger committing an a.s.sault, and his mistress had great difficulty in calling him off. Lord Carbery smiled a little at our Greek studies; and, in turn, made us smile, who knew the original object of these studies, when he suggested mildly that three or four books of the "Iliad" would have been as easily mastered, and might have more fully rewarded our trouble. I contented myself with replying (for I knew how little Lady Carbery would have liked to plead the _religious_ motive to her husband), that Parkhurst (and there was at that time no other Greek- _English_ Lexicon) would not have been available for Homer; neither, it is true, would he have been available for Herodotus. But, considering the simplicity and uniformity of style in both these authors, I had formed a plan (not very hard of execution) for interleaving Parkhurst with such additional words as might have been easily mustered from the special dictionaries (Graeco-Latin) dedicated separately to the service of the historian and of the poet. I do not believe that more than fifteen hundred _extra_ words would have been required; and these, entered at the rate of twenty per hour, would have occupied only ten days, for seven and a half hours each. However, from one cause or other, this plan was never brought to bear. The preliminary labor upon the lexicon always enforced a delay; and any delay, in such case, makes an opening for the irruption of a thousand unforeseen hindrances, that finally cause the whole plan to droop insensibly. The time came at last for leaving Laxton, and I did not see Lady Carbery again for nearly an entire year.
In pa.s.sing through the park-gates of Laxton, on my departure northward, powerfully, and as if "with the might of waters," my mind turned round to contemplate that strange enlargement of my experience which had happened to me within the last three months. I had seen, and become familiarly acquainted with, a young man, who had in a manner died to every object around him, had died an intellectual death, and suddenly had been called back to life and real happiness--had been, in effect, raised from the dead--by the accident of meeting a congenial female companion. But, secondly, that very lady from whose lips I first heard this remarkable case of blight and restoration, had herself pa.s.sed through an equal though not a similar blight, and was now seeking earnestly, though with what success I could never estimate, some similar restoration to some new mode of hopeful existence, through intercourse with religious philosophy. What vast revolutions (vast for the individual) within how narrow a circle! What blindness to approaching catastrophes, in the midst of what nearness to the light!
And for myself, whom accident had made the silent observer of these changes, was it not likely enough that I also was rushing forward to court and woo some frantic mode of evading an endurance that by patience might have been borne, or by thoughtfulness might have been disarmed? Misgivingly I went forwards, feeling forever that, through clouds of thick darkness, I was continually nearing a danger, or was myself perhaps wilfully provoking a trial, before which my const.i.tutional despondency would cause me to lie down without a struggle.
To teach is to learn: according to an old experience, it is the very best mode of learning--the surest, and the shortest. And hence, perhaps, it may be, that in the middle ages by the monkish word _scholaris_ was meant indifferently he that learned and he that taught. Never in any equal number of months had my understanding so much expanded as during this visit to Laxton. The incessant demand made upon me by Lady Carbery for solutions of the many difficulties besetting the study of divinity and the Greek Testament, or for such approximations to solutions as my resources would furnish, forced me into a preternatural tension of all the faculties applicable to that purpose. Lady Carbery insisted upon calling me her "Admirable Crichton;" and it was in vain that I demurred to this honorary t.i.tle upon two grounds: first, as being one towards which I had no natural apt.i.tudes or predisposing advantages; secondly (which made her stare), as carrying with it no real or enviable distinction. The splendor supposed to be connected with the attainments of Crichton I protested against, as altogether imaginary. How far that person really had the accomplishments ascribed to him, I waived as a question not worth investigating. My objection commenced at an earlier point: real or not real, the accomplishments were, as I insisted, vulgar and trivial.
Vulgar, that is, when put forward as exponents or adequate expressions of intellectual grandeur. The whole rested on a misconception; the limitary idea of knowledge was confounded with the infinite idea of power. To have a quickness in copying or mimicking other men, and in learning to do dexterously what _they_ did clumsily,--ostentatiously to keep glittering before men's eyes a thaumaturgic versatility such as that of a rope-dancer, or of an Indian juggler, in petty accomplishments,--was a mode of the very vulgarest ambition: one effort of productive power,--a little book, for instance, which should impress or should agitate several successive generations of men, even though far below the higher efforts of human creative art--as, for example, the "De Imitatione Christi," or "The Pilgrim's Progress," or"
Robinson Crusoe," or "The Vicar of Wakefield,"--was worth any conceivable amount of attainments when rated as an evidence of anything that could justly denominate a man "admirable." One felicitous ballad of forty lines might have enthroned Crichton as really admirable, whilst the pretensions actually put forward on his behalf simply install him as a cleverish or dexterous ape. However, as Lady Carbery did not forego her purpose of causing me to shine under every angle, it would have been ungrateful in me to refuse my cooperation with her plans, however little they might wear a face of promise. Accordingly I surrendered myself for two hours daily to the lessons in horsemanship of a princ.i.p.al groom who ranked as a first-rate rough-rider; and I gathered manifold experiences amongst the horses--so different from the wild, hard-mouthed horses at Westport, that were often vicious, and sometimes trained to vice. Here, though spirited, the horses were pretty generally gentle, and all had been regularly broke. My education was not entirely neglected even as regarded sportsmanship; that great branch of philosophy being confided to one of the keepers, who was very attentive to me, in deference to the interest in myself expressed by his idolized mistress, but otherwise regarded me probably as an object of mysterious curiosity rather than of sublunary hope.
Equally, in fact, as regarded my physics and my metaphysics,--in short, upon all lines of advance that interested my ambition,--I was going rapidly ahead. And, speaking seriously, in what regarded my intellectual expansion, never before or since had I been so distinctly made aware of it. No longer did it seem to move upon the hour-hand, whose advance, though certain, is yet a pure matter of inference, but upon the seconds'-hand, which _visibly_ comes on at a trotting pace. Everything prospered, except my own present happiness, and the possibility of any happiness for some years to come. About two months after leaving Laxton, my fate in the worst shape I had antic.i.p.ated was solemnly and definitively settled. My guardians agreed that the most prudent course, with a view to my pecuniary interests, was to place me at the Manchester Grammar School; not with a view to further improvement in my cla.s.sical knowledge, though the head-master was a sound scholar, but simply with a view to one of the school _exhibitions_. [Footnote: "_Exhibitions_."--This is the technical name in many cases, corresponding to the _bursae_ or _bursaries_ of the continent; from which word bursae is derived, I believe, the German term _Bursch_,--that is, a bursarius, or student, who lives at college upon the salary allowed by such a bursary.
Some years ago the editor of a Glasgow daily paper called upon Oxford and Cambridge, with a patronizing flourish, to imitate some one or more of the Scottish universities in founding such systems of aliment for poor students otherwise excluded from academic advantages.
Evidently he was unaware that they had existed for centuries before the state of civilization in Scotland had allowed any opening for the foundation of colleges or academic life. Scottish bursaries, or exhibitions (a term which Shakspeare uses, very near the close of the first act in the "Two Gentlemen of Verona," as the technical expression in England), were few, and not generally, I believe, exceeding ten pounds a-year. The English were many, and of more ancient standing, and running from forty pounds to one hundred pounds a-year. Such was the simple difference between the two countries: otherwise they agreed altogether.] Amongst the countless establishments, scattered all over England by the n.o.ble munificence of English men and English women in past generations, for connecting the provincial towns with the two royal universities of the land, this Manchester school was one; in addition to other great local advantages (namely, _inter alia_, a fine old library and an ecclesiastical foundation, which in this present generation has furnished the materials for a bishopric of Manchester, with its deanery and chapter), this n.o.ble foundation secured a number of exhibitions at Brasenose College, Oxford, to those pupils of the school who should study at Manchester for three consecutive years. The pecuniary amount of these exhibitions has since then increased considerably through the acc.u.mulation of funds, which the commercial character of that great city had caused to be neglected.
At that time, I believe each exhibition yielded about forty guineas a- year, and was legally tenable for seven successive years. Now, to me this would have offered a most seasonable advantage, had it been resorted to some two years earlier. My small patrimonial inheritance gave to me, as it did to each of my four brothers, exactly one hundred and fifty pounds a-year: and to each of my sisters exactly one hundred pounds a-year. The Manchester exhibition of forty guineas a-year would have raised this income for seven years to a sum close upon two hundred pounds a-year. But at present I was half-way on the road to the completion of my sixteenth year. Commencing my period of pupilage from that time, I should not have finished it until I had travelled half-way through my nineteenth year. And the specific evil that already weighed upon me with a sickening oppression was the premature expansion of my mind; and, as a foremost consequence, intolerance of boyish society. I ought to have entered upon my _triennium_ of school-boy servitude at the age of thirteen. As things were,--a delay with which I had nothing to do myself,--this and the native character of my mind had thrown the whole arrangement awry. For the better half of the three years I endured it patiently. But it had at length begun to eat more corrosively into my peace of mind than ever I had antic.i.p.ated. The head-master was substantially superannuated for the duties of his place. Not that intellectually he showed any symptoms of decay: but in the spirits and physical energies requisite for his duties he did: not so much age, as disease, it was that incapacitated him. In the course of a long day, beginning at seven A. M. and stretching down to five P.
M., he succeeded in reaching the further end of his duties. But how?
Simply by consolidating pretty nearly into one continuous scene of labor the entire ten hours. The full hour of relaxation which the traditions of this ancient school and the by-laws had consecrated to breakfast was narrowed into ten, or even seven minutes. The two hours'
interval, in like manner prescribed by the old usages from twelve to two P. M., was pared down to forty minutes, or less. In this way he walked conscientiously through the services of the day, fulfilling to the letter every section the minutest of the traditional rubric. But he purchased this consummation at the price of all comfort to himself: and, having done _that_, he felt himself the more ent.i.tled to neglect the comfort of others. The case was singular: he neither showed any indulgence to himself more than to others (which, however, could do nothing towards indemnifying others for the severe confinement which his physical decay inflicted upon them--a point wholly forgotten by him); nor, secondly, in thus tenaciously holding on to his place did he (I am satisfied) govern himself by any mercenary thought or wish, but simply by an austere sense of duty. He discharged his public functions with constant fidelity, and with superfluity of learning; and felt, perhaps not unreasonably, that possibly the same learning united with the same zeal might not revolve as a matter of course in the event of his resigning the place. I hide from myself no part of the honorable motives which might (and probably _did_) exclusively govern him in adhering to the place. But not by one atom the less did the grievous results of his inability to grapple with his duties weigh upon all within his sphere, and upon myself, by cutting up the time available for exercise, most ruinously.
Precisely at the worst crisis of this intolerable darkness (for such, without exaggeration, it was in its effects upon my spirits) arose, and for five or six months steadily continued, a consolation of that nature which hardly in dreams I could have antic.i.p.ated. For even in dreams would it have seemed reasonable, or natural, that Laxton, with its entire society, should transfer itself to Manchester? Some mighty caliph, or lamp-bearing Aladdin, might have worked such marvels: but else who, or by what machinery? Nevertheless, without either caliph or Aladdin, and by the most natural of mere human agencies, this change was suddenly accomplished.
Mr. White, whom I have already had occasion to mention elsewhere, was in those days the most eminent surgeon by much in the north of England.
He had by one whole generation run before the phrenologists and craniologists,--having already measured innumerable skulls amongst the omnigenous seafaring population of Liverpool, ill.u.s.trating all the races of men,--and was in society a most urbane and pleasant companion.
On my mother's suggestion, he had been summoned to Laxton, in the hope that he might mitigate the torments of Mrs. Schreiber's malady. If I am right in supposing that to have been cancer, I presume that he could not have added much to the prescriptions of the local doctor. And yet, on the other hand, it is a fact--so slowly did new views travel in those days, when scientific journals were few, and roads were heavy-- that ten years later than this period I knew a case, namely, the case of a butcher's wife in Somersetshire who had never enjoyed the benefit of hemlock in relieving the pangs of a cancerous complaint, until an accident brought Mr. Hey, son to the celebrated Hey of Leeds, into the poor woman's neighborhood.
What might be the quality or the extent of that relief with which Mr.
White was able to crown the expectations of poor Mrs. Schreiber, I do not know; but that the relief could not have been imaginary is certain, for he was earnestly invited to repeat his visits, costly as unavoidably they were. Mrs. Schreiber did not reside at Laxton.
Tenderly as she loved Lady Carbery, it did not seem consistent with her dignity that she should take a station that might have been grossly misinterpreted; and accordingly she bought or hired a miniature kind of villa, called _Tixover_, distant about four miles from Laxton. A residence in such a house, so sad and silent at this period of affliction for its mistress, would have offered too cheerless a life to Mr. White. He took up his abode, therefore, at Laxton during his earliest visit; and this happened to coincide with that particular visit of my own during which I was initiating Lady Carbery into the mysteries of New Testament Greek. Already as an infant I had known Mr.
White; but now, when daily riding over to Tixover in company, and daily meeting at breakfast and dinner, we became intimate. Greatly I profited by this intimacy; and some part of my pleasure in the Laxton plan of migration to Manchester was drawn from the prospect of renewing it.
Such a migration was suggested by Mr. White himself; and fortunately he _could_ suggest it without even the appearance of any mercenary views. His interest lay the other way. The large special retainer, which it was felt but reasonable to pay him under circ.u.mstances so peculiar, naturally disturbed Mr. White; whilst the benefits of visits so discontinuous became more and more doubtful. He proposed it, therefore, as a measure of prudence, that Mrs. Schreiber should take up her abode in Manchester. This counsel was adopted; and the entire Laxton party in one week struck their Northamptonshire tents, dived, as it were, into momentary darkness, by a loitering journey of stages, short and few, out of consideration for the invalid, and rose again in the gloomy streets of Manchester.
Gloomy they were at that time--mud below, smoke above--for no torch of improvement had yet explored the ancient habitations of this Lancashire capital. Elsewhere I have expressed the inexhaustible admiration which I cherish for the _moral_ qualities, the unrivalled energy and perseverance, of that native Lancashire population, as yet not much alloyed with Celtic adulteration. My feelings towards them are the same as were eloquently and impressively avowed by the late eminent Dr.
Cooke Taylor, after an _official_ inquiry into their situation.
But in those days the Manchester people realized the aspiration of the n.o.ble Scythian; not the place it was that glorified _them_, but they that glorified the place. No great city (which technically it then was not, but simply a town or large village) could present so repulsive an exterior as the Manchester of that day. Lodgings of _any_ sort could with difficulty be obtained, and at last only by breaking up the party. The poor suffering lady, with her two friends, Lady Carbery and my mother, hired one house, Lord and Lady Ma.s.sey another, and two others were occupied by attendants--all the servants, except one lady's-maid, being every night separated by a quarter of a mile from their mistresses. To me, however, all these discomforts were scarcely apparent in the prodigious revolution for the better which was now impressed upon the tenor of my daily life. I lived in the house of the head-master; but every night I had leave to adjourn for four or five hours to the drawing-room of Lady Carbery. Her anxiety about Mrs.
Schreiber would not allow of her going abroad into society, unless upon the rarest occasions. And I, on my part, was too happy in her conversation--so bold, so novel, and so earnest--voluntarily to have missed any one hour of it.
Here, by the way, let me mention that on this occasion arose a case of pretended "_tuft-hunting_," which I, who stood by a silent observer, could not but feel to involve a malicious calumny. Naturally it happened that coroneted carriages, superb horses, and numerous servants, in a town so unostentatious and homely as the Manchester of that day, drew the public gaze, and effectually advertised the visit of the Laxton ladies. Respect for the motive which had prompted this visit cooperated with admiration for the distinguished personal qualities of Lady Carbery, to draw upon her from several leading families in the town such little services and attentions as pa.s.s naturally, under a spontaneous law of courtesy, between those who are at home and those who suffer under the disadvantages of _strangership_. The Manchester people, who made friendly advances to Lady Carbery, did so, I am persuaded, with no ulterior objects whatsoever of pressing into the circle of an aristocratic person; neither did Lady Carbery herself interpret their attentions in any such ungenerous spirit, but accepted them cordially, as those expressions of disinterested goodness which I am persuaded that in reality they were. Amongst the families that were thus attentive to her, in throwing open for her use various local advantages of baths, libraries, picture-galleries, etc., were the wife and daughters of Mr. White himself. Now, one of these daughters was herself the wife of a baronet, Sir Richard Clayton, who had honorably distinguished himself in literature by translating and _improving_ the work of Tenhove the Dutchman (or Belgian?) upon the house of the _De' Medici_--a work which Mr. Roscoe considered "the most engaging work that has, perhaps, ever appeared on a subject of literary history." Introduced as Lady Clayton had been amongst the elite of our aristocracy, it could not be supposed that she would be at all solicitous about an introduction to the wife of an Irish n.o.bleman, simply _as_ such, and apart from her personal endowments. Those endowments, it is true,--namely, the beauty and the talents of Lady Carbery, made known in Manchester through Mr. White's report of them, and combined with the knowledge of her generous devotion to her dying friend, secluding her steadily from all society through a period of very many months,--did, and reasonably might, interest many Manchester people on her behalf. In all this there was nothing to be ashamed of; and, judging from what personally I witnessed, this seems to have been the true nature and extent of the "tuft-hunting;" and I have noticed it at all simply because there is a habit almost national growing up amongst us of imputing to each other some mode of unmanly prostration before the aristocracy, but with as little foundation for the charge generally, I believe, as I am satisfied there was in this particular instance.
Mr. White possessed a museum--formed chiefly by himself, and originally, perhaps, directed simply to professional objects, such as would have little chance for engaging the attention of females. But surgeons and speculative physicians, beyond all other cla.s.ses of intellectual men, cultivate the most enlarged and liberal curiosity; so that Mr. White's museum furnished attractions to an unusually large variety of tastes. I had myself already seen it; and it struck me that Mr. White would be gratified if Lady Carbery would herself ask to see it; which accordingly she did; and thus at once removed the painful feeling that he might be extorting from her an expression of interest in his collection which she did not really feel.
Amongst the objects which gave a scientific interest to the collection, naturally I have forgotten one and all--first, midst, and last; for this is one of the cases in which we all felicitate ourselves upon the art and gift of forgetting; that art which the great Athenian [Footnote: "The great Athenian"--Themistocles.] noticed as amongst the _desiderata_ of human life--that gift which, if in some rare cases it belongs only to the regal prerogatives of the grave, fortunately in many thousands of other cases is accorded by the treachery of a human brain. Heavens! what a curse it were, if every chaos, which is stamped upon the mind by fairs such as that London fair of St. Bartholomew in years long past, or by the records of battles and skirmishes through the monotonous pages of history, or by the catalogues of libraries stretching over a dozen measured miles, could not be erased, but arrayed itself in endless files incapable of obliteration, as often as the eyes of our human memory happened to throw back their gaze in that direction! Heaven be praised, I have forgotten everything; all the earthly trophies of skill or curious research; even the aerolithes, that might possibly _not_ be earthly, but presents from some superior planet. Nothing survives, except the _humanities_ of the collection; and amongst these, two only I will molest the reader by noticing.
One of the two was a _mummy;_ the other was a _skeleton_. I, that had previously seen the museum, warned Lady Carbery of both; but much it mortified us that only the skeleton was shown. Perhaps the mummy was too closely connected with the personal history of Mr. White for exhibition to strangers; it was that of a lady who had been attended medically for some years by Mr. White, and had owed much alleviation of her sufferings to his inventive skill. She had, therefore, felt herself called upon to memorialize her grat.i.tude by a very large bequest--not less (I have heard) than twenty-five thousand pounds; but with this condition annexed to the gift--that she should be embalmed as perfectly as the resources in that art of London and Paris could accomplish, and that once a year Mr. White, accompanied by two witnesses of credit, should withdraw the veil from her face. The lady was placed in a common English clock-case, having the usual gla.s.s face; but a veil of white velvet obscured from all profane eyes the silent features behind. The clock I had myself seen, when a child, and had gazed upon it with inexpressible awe. But, naturally, on my report of the case, the whole of our party were devoured by a curiosity to see the departed fair one. Had Mr. White, indeed, furnished us with the key of the museum, leaving us to our own discretion, but restricting us only (like a cruel Bluebeard) from looking into any ante-room, great is my fear that the perfidious question would have arisen amongst us--what o'clock it was? and all possible ante-rooms would have given way to the just fury of our pa.s.sions. I submitted to Lady Carbery, as a liberty which might be excused by the torrid extremity of our thirst after knowledge, that she (as our leader) should throw out some angling question moving in the line of our desires; upon which hint Mr. White, if he had any touch of indulgence to human infirmity--unless Mount Caucasus were his mother, and a she-wolf his nurse--would surely relent, and act as his conscience must suggest. But Lady Carbery reminded me of the three Calendars in the "Arabian Nights," and argued that, as the ladies of Bagdad were justified in calling upon a body of porters to kick those gentlemen into the street, being people who had abused the indulgences of hospitality, much more might Mr. White do so with us; for the Calendars were the children of kings (Shahzades), which we were not; and had found their curiosity far more furiously irritated; in fact, Zobeide had no right to trifle with any man's curiosity in that ferocious extent; and a counter right arose, as any chancery of human nature would have ruled, to demand a solution of what had been so maliciously arranged towards an anguish of insupportable temptation. Thus, however, it happened that the mummy, who left such valuable legacies, and founded such bilious fevers of curiosity, was not seen by us; nor even the miserable clock-case.
The mummy, therefore, was not seen; but the skeleton was. Who was he?
It is not every day that one makes the acquaintance of a skeleton; and with regard to such a thing--thing, shall one say, or person?--there is a favorable presumption from beforehand; which is this: As he is of no use, neither profitable nor ornamental to any person whatever, absolutely _de trop_ in good society, what but distinguished merit of some kind or other could induce any man to interfere with that gravitating tendency that by an eternal _nisus_ is pulling him below ground? Lodgings are dear in England. True it is that, according to the vile usage on the continent, one room serves a skeleton for bed- room and sitting-room; neither is his expense heavy, as regards wax- lights, fire, or "bif-steck." But still, even a skeleton is chargeable; and, if any dispute should arise about his maintenance, the parish will do nothing. Mr. White's skeleton, therefore, being costly, was presumably meritorious, before we had seen him or heard a word in his behalf. It was, in fact, the skeleton of an eminent robber, or perhaps of a murderer. But I, for my part, reserved a faint right of suspense.
And as to the profession of robber in those days exercised on the roads of England, it was a liberal profession, which required more accomplishments than either the bar or the pulpit: from the beginning it presumed a most bountiful endowment of heroic qualifications-- strength, health, agility, and exquisite horsemanship, intrepidity of the first order, presence of mind, courtesy, and a general ambidexterity of powers for facing all accidents, and for turning to a good account all unlooked-for contingencies. The finest men in England, physically speaking, throughout the eighteenth century, the very n.o.blest specimens of man considered as an animal, were beyond a doubt the mounted robbers who cultivated their profession on the great leading roads, namely, on the road from London to York (technically known as "the great north road"); on the road west to Bath, and thence to Exeter and Plymouth; north-westwards from London to Oxford, and thence to Chester; eastwards to Tunbridge; southwards by east to Dover; then inclining westwards to Portsmouth; more so still, through Salisbury to Dorsetshire and Wilts. These great roads were farmed out as so many Roman provinces amongst pro-consuls. Yes, but with a difference, you will say, in respect of moral principles. Certainly with a difference; for the English highwayman had a sort of conscience for gala-days, which could not often be said of the Roman governor or procurator. At this moment we see that the opening for the forger of bank-notes is brilliant; but practically it languishes, as being too brilliant; it demands an array of talent for engraving, etc., which, wherever it exists, is sufficient to carry a man forward upon principles reputed honorable. Why, then, should _he_ court danger and disreputability? But in that century the special talents which led to distinction upon the high road had oftentimes no career open to them elsewhere. The mounted robber on the highways of England, in an age when all gentlemen travelled with fire-arms, lived in an element of danger and adventurous gallantry; which, even from those who could least allow him any portion of their esteem, extorted sometimes a good deal of their unwilling admiration. By the necessities of the case, he brought into his perilous profession some brilliant qualities-- intrepidity, address, prompt.i.tude of decision; and, if to these he added courtesy, and a spirit (native or adopted) of forbearing generosity, he seemed almost a man that merited public encouragement; since very plausibly it might be argued that his profession was sure to exist; that, if he were removed, a successor would inevitably arise, and that successor might or might _not_ carry the same liberal and humanizing temper into his practice. The man whose skeleton was now before us had ranked amongst the most chivalrous of his order, and was regarded by some people as vindicating the national honor in a point where not very long before it had suffered a transient eclipse. In the preceding generation, it had been felt as throwing a shade of disgrace over the public honor, that the championship of England upon the high road fell for a time into French hands; upon French prowess rested the burden of English honor, or, in Gallic phrase, of English _glory_.
Claude Duval, a French man of undeniable courage, handsome, and noted for his chivalrous devotion to women, had been honored, on his condemnation to the gallows, by the tears of many ladies who attended his trial, and by their sympathizing visits during his imprisonment.
But the robber represented by the skeleton in Mr. White's museum (whom let us call X, since his true name has perished) added to the same heroic qualities a person far more superb. Still it was a dreadful drawback from his pretensions, if he had really practised as a murderer. Upon what ground did that suspicion arise? In candor (for candor is due even to a skeleton) it ought to be mentioned that the charge, if it amounted to so much, arose with a lady from some part of Cheshire--the district of Knutsford, I believe;--but, wherever it was, in the same district, during the latter part of his career, had resided our X. At first he was not suspected even as a robber--as yet not so much as suspected of being suspicious; in a simple rustic neighborhood, amongst good-natured peasants, for a long time he was regarded with simple curiosity, rather than suspicion; and even the curiosity pointed to his horse more than to himself. The robber had made himself popular amongst the kind-hearted rustics by his general courtesy. Courtesy and the spirit of neighborliness go a great way amongst country people; and the worst construction of the case was, that he might be an embarra.s.sed gentleman from Manchester or Liverpool, hiding himself from his creditors, who are notoriously a very immoral cla.s.s of people. At length, however, a violent suspicion broke loose against him; for it was ascertained that on certain nights, when, perhaps, he had _extra_ motives for concealing the fact of having been abroad, he drew woollen stockings over his horse's feet, with the purpose of deadening the sound in riding up a brick-paved entry, common to his own stable and that of a respectable neighbor. Thus far there was a reasonable foundation laid for suspicion; but suspicion of what?
Because a man attends to the darning of his horse's stockings, why must he be meditating murder? The fact is--and known from the very first to a select party of amateurs--that X, our superb-looking skeleton, did, about three o'clock on a rainy Wednesday morning, in the dead of winter, ride silently out of Knutsford; and about forty-eight hours afterwards, on a rainy Friday, silently and softly did that same superb blood-horse, carrying that same blood-man, namely, our friend the superb skeleton, pace up the quiet brick entry, in a neat pair of socks, on his return.
During that interval of forty-eight hours, an atrocious murder was committed in the ancient city of Bristol. By whom? That question is to this day unanswered. The scene of it was a house on the west side of the College Green, which is in fact that same quadrangle planted with trees, and having on its southern side the Bristol Cathedral, up and down which, early in the reign of George III., Chatterton walked in jubilant spirits with fair young women of Bristol; up and down which, some thirty years later, Robert Southey and S. T. C. walked with young Bristol belles from a later generation. The subjects of the murder were an elderly lady bearing some such name as Rusborough, and her female servant. Mystery there was none as to the motive of the murder-- manifestly it was a h.o.a.rd of money that had attracted the a.s.sa.s.sin; but there was great perplexity as to the agent or agents concerned in the atrocious act, and as to the mode by which an entrance, under the known precautions of the lady, could have been effected. Because a thorough- bred horse could easily have accomplished the distance to and fro (say three hundred miles) within the forty-eight hours, and because the two extreme dates of this forty-eight hours' absence tallied with the requisitions of the Bristol tragedy, it did not follow that X must have had a hand in it. And yet, had these coincidences _then_ been observed, they would certainly--now that strong suspicions had been directed to the man from the extraordinary character of his nocturnal precautions--not have pa.s.sed without investigation. But the remoteness of Bristol, and the rarity of newspapers in those days, caused these indications to pa.s.s unnoticed. Bristol knew of no such Knutsford highwayman--Knutsford knew of no such Bristol murder. It is singular enough that these earlier grounds of suspicion against X were not viewed as such by anybody, until they came to be combined with another and final ground. Then the presumptions seemed conclusive. But, by that time, X himself had been executed for a robbery; had been manufactured into a skeleton by the famous surgeon, Cruickshank, a.s.sisted by Mr.
White and other pupils. All interest in the case had subsided in Knutsford, that could now have cleared up the case satisfactorily; and thus it happened that to this day the riddle, which was read pretty decisively in a northern county, still remains a riddle in the south.
When I saw the College Green house in 1809-10, it was apparently empty, and, as I was told, had always been empty since the murder: forty years had not cicatrized the b.l.o.o.d.y remembrance; and, to this day, perhaps, it remains amongst the gloomy traditions of Bristol.
But whether the Bristol house has or has not shaken off that odor of blood which offended the nostrils of tenants, it is, I believe, certain that the city annals have not shaken off the mystery: which yet to certain people in Knutsford, as I have said, and to us the spectators of the skeleton, immediately upon hearing one d.a.m.ning fact from the lips of Mr. White, seemed to melt away and evaporate as convincingly as if we had heard the explanation issuing in the terms of a confession from the mouth of the skeleton itself. What, then, _was_ the fact?
With pain, and reluctantly, we felt its force, as we looked at the royal skeleton, and reflected on the many evidences which he had given of courage, and perhaps of other n.o.ble qualities. The ugly fact was this: In a few weeks after the College Green tragedy, Knutsford, and the whole neighborhood as far as Warrington (the half-way town between Liverpool and Manchester), were deluged with gold and silver coins, moidores, and dollars, from the Spanish mint of Mexico, etc. These, during the frequent scarcities of English silver currency, were notoriously current in England. Now, it is an unhappy fact, and subsequently became known to the Bristol and London police, that a considerable part of poor Mrs. Rusborough's treasure lay in such coins, gold and silver, from the Spanish colonial mints.
Lady Carbery at this period made an effort to teach me Hebrew, by way of repaying in _kind_ my pains in teaching Greek to _her_. Where, and upon what motive, she had herself begun to learn Hebrew, I forget: but in Manchester she had resumed this study with energy on a casual impulse derived from a certain Dr. Bailey, a clergyman of this city, who had published a Hebrew Grammar. The doctor was the most unworldly and guileless of men. Amongst his orthodox brethren he was reputed a "Methodist;" and not without reason; for some of his Low- Church views he pushed into practical extravagances that looked like fanaticism, or even like insanity. Lady Carbery wished naturally to testify her grat.i.tude for his services by various splendid presents: but nothing would the good doctor accept, unless it a.s.sumed a shape that might be available for the service of the paupers amongst his congregation. The Hebrew studies, however, notwithstanding the personal a.s.sistance which we drew from the kindness of Dr. Bailey, languished.
For this there were several reasons; but it was enough that the systematic vagueness in the p.r.o.nunciation of this, as of the other Oriental languages, disgusted both of us. A word which could not be p.r.o.nounced with any certainty, was not in a true sense possessed. Let it be understood, however, that it was not the correct and original p.r.o.nunciation that we cared for--_that_ has perished probably beyond recall, even in the case of Greek, in spite of the Asiatic and the Insular Greeks--what we demanded in vain was any p.r.o.nunciation whatever that should be articulate, apprehensible, and intercommunicable, such as might differentiate the words: whereas a system of mere vowels too inadequately strengthened by consonants, seemed to leave all words pretty nearly alike. One day, in a pause of languor amongst these arid Hebrew studies, I read to her, with a beating heart, "The Ancient Mariner." It had been first published in 1798; and, about this time (1801), was re-published in the first _two_-volume edition of "The Lyrical Ballads." Well I knew Lady Carbery's const.i.tutional inapt.i.tude for poetry; and not for the world would I have sought sympathy from her or from anybody else upon that part of the L. B. which belonged to Wordsworth. But I fancied that the wildness of this tale, and the triple majesties of Solitude, of Mist, and of the Ancient Unknown Sea, might have won her into relenting; and, in fact, she listened with gravity and deep attention. But, on reviewing afterwards in conversation such pa.s.sages as she happened to remember, she laughed at the finest parts, and shocked me by calling the mariner himself "an old quiz;" protesting that the latter part of his homily to the wedding guest clearly pointed him out as the very man meant by Providence for a stipendiary curate to the good Dr. Bailey in his over-crowded church. [Footnote: St. James', according to my present recollection.] With an albatross perched on his shoulder, and who might be introduced to the congregation as the immediate organ of his conversion, and supported by the droning of a ba.s.soon, she represented the mariner lecturing to advantage in English; the doctor overhead in the pulpit enforcing it in Hebrew. Angry I was, though forced to laugh. But of what use is anger or argument in a duel with female criticism? Our ponderous masculine wits are no match for the mercurial fancy of women. Once, however, I had a triumph: to my great surprise, one day, she suddenly repeated by heart, to Dr. Bailey, the beautiful pa.s.sage--
"It ceased, yet still the sails made on," &c.
asking what he thought of _that?_ As it happened, the simple, childlike doctor had more sensibility than herself; for, though he had never in his whole homely life read more of poetry than he had drunk of Tokay or Constantia,--in fact, had scarcely heard tell of any poetry but Watts' Hymns,--he seemed petrified: and at last, with a deep sigh, as if recovering from the spasms of a new birth, said, "I never heard anything so beautiful in my whole life."
During the long stay of the Laxton party in Manchester, occurred a Christmas; and at Christmas--that is, at the approach of this great Christian festival, so properly subst.i.tuted in England for the Pagan festival of January and the New Year--there was, according to ancient usage, on the breaking up for the holidays, at the Grammar School, a solemn celebration of the season by public speeches. Among the six speakers, I, of course (as one of the three boys who composed the head cla.s.s), held a distinguished place; and it followed, also, as a matter of course, that all my friends congregated on this occasion to do me honor. What I had to recite was a copy of Latin verses (Alcaics) on the recent conquest of Malta. _Melite Britannis Subacta_--this was the t.i.tle of my worshipful nonsense. The whole strength of the Laxton party had mustered on this occasion. Lady Carbery made a point of bringing in her party every creature whom she could influence. And, probably, there were in that crowded audience many old Manchester friends of my father, loving his memory, and thinking to honor it by kindness to his son.
Furious, at any rate, was the applause which greeted me: furious was my own disgust. Frantic were the clamors as I concluded my nonsense.
Frantic was my inner sense of shame at the childish exhibition to which, unavoidably, I was making myself a party. Lady Carbery had, at first, directed towards me occasional glances, expressing a comic sympathy with the thoughts which she supposed to be occupying my mind.
But these glances ceased; and I was recalled by the gloomy sadness in her altered countenance to some sense of my own extravagant and disproportionate frenzy on this occasion: from the indulgent kindness with which she honored me, her countenance on this occasion became a mirror to my own. At night she a.s.sured me, when talking over the case, that she had never witnessed an expression of such settled misery, and also (so she fancied) of misanthropy, as that which darkened my countenance in those moments of apparent public triumph, no matter how trivial the occasion, and amidst an uproar of friendly felicitation. I look back to that state of mind as almost a criminal reproach to myself, if it were not for the facts of the case. But, in excuse for myself, this fact, above all others, ought to be mentioned--that, over and above the killing oppression to my too sensitive system of the monotonous school tasks, and the ruinous want of exercise, I had fallen under medical advice the most misleading that it is possible to imagine. The physician and the surgeon of my family were men too eminent, it seemed to me, and, consequently, with time too notoriously bearing a high pecuniary value, for any school-boy to detain them with complaints. Under these circ.u.mstances, I threw myself for aid, in a case so simple that any clever boy in a druggist's shop would have known how to treat it, upon the advice of an old, old apothecary, who had full authority from my guardians to run up a most furious account against me for medicine. This being the regular mode of payment, inevitably, and unconsciously, he was biased to a mode of treatment; namely, by drastic medicines varied without end, which fearfully exasperated the complaint. This complaint, as I now know, was the simplest possible derangement of the liver, a torpor in its action that might have been put to rights in three days. In fact, one week's pedestrian travelling amongst the Caernarvonshire mountains effected a revolution in my health such as left me nothing to complain of.
An odd thing happened by the merest accident. I, when my Alcaics had run down their foolish larum, instead of resuming my official place as one of the trinity who composed the head cla.s.s, took a seat by the side of Lady Carbery. On the other side of her was seated a stranger: and this stranger, whom mere chance had thrown next to her, was Lord Belgrave, her old and at one time (as some people fancied) favored suitor. In this there was nothing at all extraordinary. Lord Grey de Wilton, an old _alumnus_ of this Manchester Grammar School, and an _alumnus_ during the early reign of this same _Archididascalus_, made a point of showing honor to his ancient tutor, especially now when reputed to be decaying; and with the same view he brought Lord Belgrave, who had become his son-in-law after his rejection by Lady Carbery. The whole was a very natural accident. But Lady Carbery was not sufficiently bronzed by worldly habits to treat this accident with _nonchalance_. She did not _to the public eye_ betray any embarra.s.sment; but afterwards she told me that no incident could have been more distressing to her.
Some months after this, the Laxton party quitted Manchester, having no further motive for staying. Mrs. Schreiber was now confessedly dying: medical skill could do no more for her; and this being so, there was no reason why she should continue to exchange her own quiet little Rutlandshire cottage for the discomforts of smoky lodgings. Lady Carbery retired like some golden pageant amongst the clouds; thick darkness succeeded; the ancient torpor reestablished itself; and my health grew distressingly worse. Then it was, after dreadful self- conflicts, that I took the unhappy resolution of which the results are recorded in the "Opium Confessions." At this point, the reader must understand, comes in that chapter of my life; and for all which concerns that delirious period I refer him to those "Confessions." Some anxiety I had, on leaving Manchester, lest my mother should suffer too much from this rash step; and on that impulse I altered the direction of my wanderings; not going (as I had originally planned) to the English Lakes, but making first of all for St. John's Priory, Chester, at that time my mother's residence. There I found my maternal uncle, Captain Penson, of the Bengal establishment, just recently come home on a two years' leave of absence; and there I had an interview with my mother. By a temporary arrangement I received a weekly allowance, which would have enabled me to live in _any_ district of Wales, either North or South; for Wales, both North and South, is (or at any rate _was_) a land of exemplary cheapness. For instance, at Talyllyn, in Merionethshire, or anywhere off the line of tourists, I and a lieutenant in our English navy paid sixpence uniformly for a handsome dinner; sixpence, I mean, apiece. But two months later came a golden blockhead, who instructed the people that it was "sinful" to charge less than three shillings. In Wales, meantime, I suffered grievously from want of books; and fancying, in my profound ignorance of the world,