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That episode, or impa.s.sioned parenthesis in my life, which is comprehended in "The Confessions of the Opium-Eater," had finished; suppose it over and gone, and once more, after the storms of London, suppose me resting from my dreadful remembrances, in the deep monastic tranquillity, of St. John's Priory; and just then, by accident, with no a.s.sociates except my mother and my uncle. What was the Priory like? Was it young or old, handsome or plain? What was my uncle the captain like?
Young or old, handsome or plain? Wait a little, my reader; give me time, and I will tell you all. My uncle's leave of absence from India had not expired; in fact, it had nine or ten months still to run; and this accident furnished us all with an opportunity of witnessing his preternatural activity. One morning early in April of the year 1803, a gentleman called at the Priory, and mentioned, as the news of the morning brought down by the London mail, that there had been a very hot and very sudden "press" along the Thames, and simultaneously at the outports. Indeed, before this the spiteful tone of Sebastiani's Report, together with the arrogant comment in the _Moniteur_ on the supposed inability of Great Britain to contend "single-handed" with France; and, finally, the public brutality to our amba.s.sador, had prepared us all for war. But, then, might not all this blow over? No; apart from any choice or preference of war on the part of Napoleon, his very existence depended upon war. He lived by and through the army.
Without a succession of wars and martial glories in reserve for the army, what interest had _they_ in Napoleon? This was obscurely acknowledged by everybody. More or less consciously perceived, a feeling deep and strong ran through the nation that it was vain to seek expedients or delays; a mighty strife had to be fought out, which could not be evaded. Thence it was that the volunteer system was so rapidly and earnestly developed. As a first stage in the process of national enthusiasm, this was invaluable. The first impulse drew out the material.
Next, as might have been foreseen, came an experience which taught us seasonably that these redundant materials, crude and miscellaneous, required a winnowing and sifting, which very soon we had; and the result was, an incomparable militia. Chester shone conspicuously in this n.o.ble compet.i.tion. But here, as elsewhere, at first there was no cavalry. Upon that arose a knot of gentlemen, chiefly those who hunted, and in a very few hours laid the foundation of a small cavalry force.
Three troops were raised in the _city_ of Chester, one of the three being given to my uncle. The whole were under the command of Colonel Dod, who had a landed estate in the county, and who (like my uncle) had been in India. But Colonel Dod and the captains of the two other troops gave comparatively little aid. The whole working activities of the system rested with my uncle. Then first I saw energy: then first I knew what it meant. All the officers of the three troops exchanged dinner-parties with each other; and consequently they dined at the Priory often enough to make us acquainted with their characteristic qualities. That period had not yet pa.s.sed away, though it was already pa.s.sing, when gentlemen did not willingly leave the dinner-table in a state of absolute sobriety. Colonel Dod and my uncle had learned in Bengal, under the coercion of the climate, habits of temperance. But the others (though few, perhaps, might be systematic drinkers) were careless in this respect, and drank under social excitement quite enough to lay bare the ruling tendencies of their several characters. Being English, naturally the majority were energetic, and beyond all things despised dreaming _faineans_ (such, for instance, as we find the politicians, or even the conspirators, of Italy, Spain, and Germany, whose whole power of action evaporates in talking, and histrionically gesticulating). Yet still the best of them seemed inert by comparison with my uncle, and to regard _his_ standard of action and exertion as trespa.s.sing to a needless degree upon ordinary human comfort.
Commonplace, meantime, my uncle was in the character of his intellect; there he fell a thousand leagues below my mother, to whom he looked up with affectionate astonishment. But, as a man of action, he ran so far ahead of men generally, that he ceased to impress one as commonplace.
He, if any man ever did, realized the Roman poet's description of being _natus rebus agendis_--sent into this world not for talking, but for doing; not for counsel, but for execution. On that field he was a portentous man, a monster; and, viewing him as such, I am disposed to concede a few words to what modern slang denominates his "antecedents."
Two brothers and one sister (namely, my mother) composed the household choir of children gathering round the hearth of my maternal grand- parents, whose name was Penson. My grandfather at one time held an office under the king; how named, I once heard, but have forgotten; only this I remember, that it was an office which conferred the t.i.tle of _Esquire;_ so that upon each and all of his several coffins, lead, oak, mahogany, he was ent.i.tled to proclaim himself an _Armiger;_ which, observe, is the newest, oldest, most cla.s.sic mode of saying that one is privileged to bear arms in a sense intelligible only to the Herald's College. This _Armiger_, this undeniable Squire, was doubly distinguished: first, by his iron const.i.tution and impregnable health; which were of such quality, and like the sword of Michael, the warrior-angel ("Paradise Lost," B. vi.), had "from the armory of G.o.d been given him tempered so," that no insurance office, trafficking in life-annuities, would have ventured to look him in the face. People thought him good, like a cat, for eight or nine generations; nor did any man perceive at what avenue death could find, or disease could force, a practicable breach; and yet, such anchorage have all human hopes, in the very midst of these windy antic.i.p.ations, this same granite grandpapa of mine, not yet very far ahead of sixty, being in fact three-score years and none, suddenly struck his flag, and found himself, in his privileged character of _Armiger_, needing those door (coffin-door) plates, which all reasonable people had supposed to be reserved for the manufacturing hands of some remote century. "_Armiger_, pack up your traps"-- "Collige sarcinas"--"Squire, you're wanted:" these dreadful citations were inevitable; come they must; but surely, as everybody thought, not in the eighteenth, or, perhaps, even the nineteenth century. _Diis aliter visum._ My grandfather, built for an _aeonian_ duration, did not come within hail of myself; whilst his gentle partner, my grandmother, who made no show of extra longevity, lived down into my period, and had the benefit of my acquaintance through half a dozen years. If she turned this piece of good fortune to no great practical account, that (you know) was no fault of mine. Doubtless, I was ready with my advice, freely and gratuitously, if she had condescended to ask for it. Returning to my grandfather: the other distinguishing endowment, by which he was so favorably known and remembered amongst his friends, was the magical versatility of his talents, and his power of self-accommodation to all humors, tempers, and ages.
"Omnis Aristippum decuit color, et status, et res."
And in allusion to this line from Horace it was, that amongst his literary friends he was known familiarly by the name of Aristippus. His sons, Edward and Thomas, resembled him, by all accounts, in nothing; neither physically, nor in moral versatility. These two sons of the Squire, Edward and Thomas, through some traditional prejudice in the family, had always directed their views to the military profession. In such a case, the king's army is naturally that to which a young man's expectations turn. But to wait, and after all by possibility to wait in vain, did not suit my fiery grandfather. The interest which he could put into motion was considerable; but it was more applicable to the service of the East India Company than to any branch of the home service. This interest was so exerted that in one day he obtained a lieutenantcy in the Company's service for each of his sons. About 1780 or 1781, both young men, aged severally sixteen and seventeen years, went out to join their regiments, both regiments being on the Bengal establishment. Very different were their fates; yet their qualifications ought to have been the same, or differing only as sixteen differs from seventeen; and also as sixteen overflowing with levity differs from seventeen prematurely thoughtful. Edward Penson was early noticed for his high principle, for his benignity, and for a thoughtfulness somewhat sorrowful, that seemed to have caught in childhood some fugitive glimpse of his own too brief career. At noonday, in some part of Bengal, he went out of doors bareheaded, and died in a few hours.
In 1800-1801, my mother had become dissatisfied with Bath as a residence; and, being free from all ties connecting her with any one county of England rather than another, she resolved to traverse the most attractive parts of the island, and, upon personal inspection, to select a home; not a ready-built home, but the ground on which she might herself create one; for it happened that amongst the few infirmities besetting my mother's habits and const.i.tution of mind, was the costly one of seeking her chief intellectual excitement in architectural creations. She individually might be said to have built Greenhay; since to _her_ views of domestic elegance and propriety my father had resigned _almost_ everything. This was her _coup- d'essai_; secondly, she built the complement to the Priory in Cheshire, which cost about one thousand pounds; thirdly, Westhay, in Somersetshire, about twelve miles from Bristol, which, including the land attached to the house, cost twelve thousand five hundred pounds, not including subsequent additions; but this was built at the cost of my uncle; finally, Weston Lea, close to Bath, which being designed simply for herself in old age, with a moderate establishment of four servants (and some reasonable provision of accommodations for a few visitors), cost originally, I believe, not more than one thousand pounds--excluding, however, the cost of all after alterations.
It may serve to show how inevitably an amateur architect, without professional aid and counsel, will be defrauded, that the first of these houses, which cost six thousand pounds, sold for no more than twenty-five hundred pounds, and the third for no more than five thousand pounds. The person who superintended the workmen, and had the whole practical management of one amongst these four houses, was a common builder, without capital or education, and the greatest knave that personally I have known. It may ill.u.s.trate the way in which lady architects, without professional aid, are and ever will be defrauded, that, after all was finished, and the entire wood-work was to be measured and valued, each party, of course, needing to be represented by a professional agent, naturally the knavish builder was ready at earliest dawn with _his_ agent; but, as regarded my mother's interest, the task of engaging such an agent had been confided to a neighboring clergyman,--"evangelical," of course, and a humble sycophant of Hannah More, but otherwise the most helpless of human beings, baptized or infidel. He contented himself with instructing a young gentleman, aged about fifteen, to take his pony and ride over to a distant cathedral town, which was honored by the abode of a virtuous though drunken surveyor. This respectable drunkard he was to engage, and also with obvious discretion to fee beforehand. All which was done: the drunken surveyor had a sort of fits, it was understood, that always towards sunset inclined him to a.s.sume the horizontal posture.
Fortunately, however, for that part of mankind whom circ.u.mstances had brought under the necessity of communicating with him, these fits were intermitting; so that, for instance, in the present case, upon a severe call arising for his pocketing the fee of ten guineas, he astonished his whole household by suddenly standing bolt upright as stiff as a poker; his sister remarking to the young gentleman that he (the visitor) was in luck that evening: it wasn't everybody that could get that length in dealing with Mr. X. O. However, it is distressing to relate that the fits immediately returned; and, with that degree of exasperation which made it dangerous to suggest the idea of a receipt; since that must have required the vertical att.i.tude. Whether that att.i.tude ever was recovered by the unfortunate gentleman, I do not know. Forty-and-four years have pa.s.sed since then. Almost everybody connected with the case has had time to a.s.sume permanently the horizontal posture,--namely, that knave of a builder, whose knaveries (gilded by that morning sun of June) were controlled by n.o.body; that sycophantish parson; that young gentleman of fifteen (now, alas! fifty- nine), who must long since have sown his wild oats; that unhappy pony of eighteen (now, alas! sixty-two, if living; ah! venerable pony, that must (or mustest) now require thy oats to be boiled); in short, one and all of these venerabilities--knaves, ponies, drunkards, receipts--have descended, I believe, to chaos or to Hades, with hardly one exception.
Chancery itself, though somewhat of an Indian juggler, could not play with such aerial b.a.l.l.s as these.
On what ground it was that my mother quarrelled with the advantages of Bath, so many and so conspicuous, I cannot guess. At that time, namely, the opening of the nineteenth century, the old traditionary custom of the place had established for young and old the luxury of sedan-chairs.
Nine tenths, at least, of the colds and catarrhs, those initial stages of all pulmonary complaints (the capital scourge of England), are caught in the transit between the door of a carriage and the genial atmosphere of the drawing-room. By a sedan-chair all this danger was evaded: your two chairmen marched right into the hall: the hall-door was closed; and not until then was the roof and the door of your chair opened: the translation was--from one room to another. To my mother, and many in her situation, the sedan-chair recommended itself also by advantages of another cla.s.s. Immediately on coming to Bath her carriage was "laid up in ordinary." The trifling rent of a coach-house, some slight annual repairs, and the tax, composed the whole annual cost. At that time, and throughout the war, the usual estimate for the cost of a close carriage in London was three hundred and twenty pounds; since, in order to have the certain services of two horses, it was indispensable to keep three. Add to this the coachman, the wear-and-tear of harness, and the duty; and, even in Bath, a cheaper place than London, you could not accomplish the total service under two hundred and seventy pounds.
Now, except the duty, all this expense was at once superseded by the sedan-chair--rarely costing you above ten shillings a week, that is, twenty-five guineas a year, and liberating you from all care or anxiety. The duty on four wheels, it is true, was suddenly exalted by Mr. Pitt's triple a.s.sessment from twelve guineas to thirty-six; but what a trifle by comparison with the cost of horses and coachman! And, then, no demands for money were ever met so cheerfully by my mother as those which went to support Mr. Pitt's policy against Jacobinism and Regicide. At present, after five years' sinecure existence, unless on the rare summons of a journey, this dormant carriage was suddenly undocked, and put into commission. Taking with her two servants, and one of my sisters, my mother now entered upon a _periplus_, or systematic circ.u.mnavigation of all England; and in England only-- through the admirable machinery matured for such a purpose, namely, inns, innkeepers, servants, horses, all first-rate of their cla.s.s--it was possible to pursue such a scheme in the midst of domestic comfort.
My mother's resolution was--to see all England with her own eyes, and to judge for herself upon the qualifications of each county, each town (not being a bustling seat of commerce), and each village (having any advantages of scenery), for contributing the main elements towards a home that might justify her in building a house. The qualifications insisted on were these five: good medical advice somewhere in the neighborhood; first-rate means of education; elegant (or, what most people might think, aristocratic) society; agreeable scenery: and so far the difficulty was not insuperable in the way of finding all the four advantages concentrated. But my mother insisted on a fifth, which in those days insured the instant shipwreck of the entire scheme; this was a church of England parish clergyman, who was to be strictly orthodox, faithful to the articles of our English church, yet to these articles as interpreted by Evangelical divinity. My mother's views were precisely those of her friend Mrs. Hannah More, of Wilberforce, of Henry Thornton, of Zachary Macaulay (father of the historian), and generally of those who were then known amongst sneerers as "the Clapham saints." This one requisition it was on which the scheme foundered. And the fact merits recording as an exposition of the broad religious difference between the England of that day and of this. At present, no difficulty would be found as to this fifth requisition. "Evangelical"
clergymen are now sown broad-cast; at that period, there were not, on an average, above six or eight in each of the fifty-two counties.
The conditions, as a whole, were in fact incapable of being realized; where two or three were attained, three or two failed. It was too much to exact so many advantages from any one place, unless London; or really, if any other place could be looked to with hope in such a chase, that place was Bath--the very city my mother was preparing to leave. Yet, had this been otherwise, and the prospect of success more promising, I have not a doubt that the pretty gem, which suddenly was offered at a price unintelligibly low, in the ancient city of Chester, would have availed (as instantly it _did_ avail, and, perhaps, ought to have availed) in obscuring those five conditions of which else each separately for itself had seemed a _conditio sine qua non_.
This gem was an ancient house, on a miniature scale, called the _Priory_; and, until the dissolution of religious houses in the earlier half of the sixteenth century, had formed part of the Priory attached to the ancient church (still flourishing) of St. John's.
Towards the end of the sixteenth and through the first quarter of the seventeenth century, this Priory had been in the occupation of Sir Robert Cotton, the antiquary, the friend of Ben Jonson, of c.o.ke, of Selden, etc., and advantageously known as one of those who applied his legal and historical knowledge to the bending back into const.i.tutional moulds of those despotic twists which new interests and false counsels had developed in the Tudor and Stuart dynasties. It was an exceedingly pretty place; and the kitchen, upon the ground story, which had a n.o.ble groined ceiling of stone, indicated, by its disproportionate scale, the magnitude of the establishment to which once it had ministered.
Attached to this splendid kitchen were tributary offices, etc. On the upper story were exactly five rooms: namely, a servants' dormitory, meant in Sir Robert's day for two beds [Footnote: The contrivance amongst our ancestors, even at haughty Cambridge and haughtier Oxford, was, that one bed rising six inches from the floor ran (in the day- time) under a loftier bed; it ran upon castors or little wheels. The learned word for a little wheel is _trochlea_; from which Grecian and Latin term comes the English word _truckle_-bed.] at the least; and a servants' sitting-room. These were shut off into a separate section, with a little staircase (like a ship's companion- ladder) and a little lobby of its own. But the princ.i.p.al section on this upper story had been dedicated to the use of Sir Robert, and consisted of a pretty old hall, lighted by an old monastic-painted window in the door of entrance; secondly, a rather elegant dining-room; thirdly, a bed-room. The glory of the house internally lay in the monastic kitchen; and, secondly, in what a Frenchman would have called, properly, Sir Robert's own _apartment_ [Footnote: _Apartment_.-- Our English use of the word "apartment" is absurd, since it leads to total misconceptions. We read in French memoirs innumerable of _the king's apartment_, of _the queen's apartment_, etc., and for us English the question arises, How? Had the king, had her majesty, only one room?
But, my friend, they might have a thousand rooms, and yet have only one apartment. An apartment means, in the continental use, a section or _compartment_ of an edifice.] of three rooms; but, thirdly and chiefly, in a pile of ruined archways, most picturesque so far as they went, but so small that Drury Lane could easily have found room for them on its stage. These stood in the miniature pleasure-ground, and were constantly resorted to by artists for specimens of architectural decays, or of nature working for the concealment of such decays by her ordinary processes of gorgeous floral vegetation. Ten rooms there may have been in the Priory, as offered to my mother for less than five hundred pounds. A drawing-room, bed-rooms, dressing-rooms, etc., making about ten more, were added by my mother for a sum under one thousand pounds. The same miniature scale was observed in all these additions.
And, as the Priory was not within the walls of the city, whilst the river Dee, flowing immediately below, secured it from annoyance on one side, and the church, with its adjacent church-yard, insulated it from the tumults of life on all the other sides, an atmosphere of conventual stillness and tranquillity brooded over it and all around it forever.
Such was the house, such was the society, in which I now found myself; and upon the whole I might describe myself as being, according to the modern phrase, "in a false position." I had, for instance, a vast superiority, as was to have been expected, in bookish attainments, and in adroitness of logic; whilst, on the other hand, I was ridiculously short-sighted or blind in all fields of ordinary human experience. It must not be supposed that I regarded my own particular points of superiority, or that I used them, with any vanity or view to present advantages. On the contrary, I sickened over them, and labored to defeat them. But in vain I sowed errors in my premises, or planted absurdities in my a.s.sumptions. Vainly I tried such blunders as putting four terms into a syllogism, which, as all the world knows, ought to run on three; a tripod it ought to be, by all rules known to man, and, behold, I forced it to become a quadruped. Upon my uncle's military haste, and tumultuous energy in pressing his opinions, all such delicate refinements were absolutely thrown away. With disgust _I_ saw, with disgust _he_ saw, that too apparently the advantage lay with me in the result; and, whilst I worked like a dragon to place myself in the wrong, some fiend apparently so counterworked me, that eternally I was reminded of the Manx half-pennies, which lately I had continually seen current in North Wales, bearing for their heraldic distinction three human legs in armor, but so placed in relation to each other that always one leg is vertical and mounting guard on behalf of the other two, which, therefore, are enabled to sprawl aloft in the air--in fact, to be as absurdly negligent as they choose, relying upon their vigilant brother below, and upon the written legend or motto, STABIT QUOCUNQUE JECERIS (Stand it will upright, though you should fling it in any conceivable direction). What gave another feature of distraction and incoherency to my position was, that I still occupied the position of a reputed boy, nay, a child, in the estimate of my audience, and of a child in disgrace. Time enough had not pa.s.sed since my elopement from school to win for me, in minds so fresh from that remembrance, a station of purification and a.s.soilment. Oxford might avail to a.s.soil me, and to throw into a distant retrospect my boyish trespa.s.ses; but as yet Oxford had not arrived. I committed, besides, a great fault in taking often a tone of mock seriousness, when the detection of the playful extravagance was left to the discernment or quick sympathy of the hearer; and I was blind to the fact, that neither my mother nor my uncle was distinguished by any natural liveliness of vision for the comic, or any toleration for the extravagant. My mother, for example, had an awful sense of conscientious fidelity in the payment of taxes. Many a respectable family I have known that would privately have encouraged a smuggler, and, in consequence, were beset continually by mock smugglers, offering, with airs of affected mystery, home commodities liable to no custom-house objections whatsoever, only at a hyperbolical price. I remember even the case of a duke, who bought in Piccadilly, under laughable circ.u.mstances of complex disguise, some silk handkerchiefs, falsely pretending to be foreign, and was so incensed at finding himself to have been committing no breach of law whatever, but simply to have been paying double the ordinary shop price, that he pulled up the _soi-disant_ smuggler to Bowstreet, even at the certain price of exposure to himself. The charge he alleged against the man was the untenable one of _not_ being a smuggler.
My mother, on the contrary, p.r.o.nounced all such attempts at cheating the king, or, as I less harshly termed it, cheating the tax-gatherer, as being equal in guilt to a fraud upon one's neighbor, or to direct appropriation of another man's purse. I, on my part, held, that government, having often defrauded me through its agent and creature the post-office, by monstrous over-charges on letters, had thus created in my behalf a right of retaliation. And dreadfully it annoyed my mother, that I, stating this right in a very plausible rule-of-three form--namely, As is the income of the said fraudulent government to my poor patrimonial income of one hundred and fifty pounds per annum, so is any one special fraud (as, for instance, that of yesterday morning, amounting to thirteen pence upon a single letter) to that equitable penalty which I am ent.i.tled to recover upon the goods and chattels (wherever found) of the ill-advised Britannic government. During the war with Napoleon, the income of this government ran, to all amounts, between fifty and seventy millions pounds sterling. Awful, therefore, seemed the inheritance of retaliation, inexhaustible the fund of reprisals, into which I stepped. Since, even a single case of robbery, such as I could plead by dozens, in the course of a few years, though no more than thirteen pence, yet multiplied into seventy million times two hundred and forty pence, _minus_ one hundred and fifty pounds, made a very comfortable property. The right was clear; and the sole difficulty lay in a.s.serting it; in fact, that same difficulty which beset the philosopher of old, in arguing with the Emperor Hadrian; namely, the want of thirty legions for the purpose of clearly pointing out to Caesar where it was that the truth lay; the secret truth; that rarest of all "nuggets."
This counter-challenge of government, as the first mover in a system of frauds, annoyed, but also perplexed my mother exceedingly. For an argument that shaped itself into a rule-of-three ill.u.s.tration seemed really to wear too candid an aspect for summary and absolute rejection.
Such discussions wore to me a comic shape. But altogether serious were the disputes upon INDIA--a topic on separate grounds equally interesting to us all, as the mightiest of English colonies, and the superbest monument of demoniac English energy, revealing itself in such men as Clive, Hastings, and soon after in the two Wellesleys. To my mother, as the grave of one brother, as the home of another, and as a new centre from which Christianity (she hoped) would mount like an eagle; for just about that time the Bible Society was preparing its initial movements; whilst to my uncle India appeared as the _arena_ upon which his activities were yet to find their adequate career. With respect to the Christianization of India, my uncle a.s.sumed a hope which he did not really feel; and in another point, more trying to himself personally, he had soon an opportunity for showing the sincerity of this deference to his spiritual-minded sister. For, very soon after his return to India, he received a civil appointment (_Superintendent of Military Buildings in Bengal_), highly lucrative, and the more so as it could be held conjointly with his military rank; but a good deal of its pecuniary advantages was said to lie in fees, or perquisites, privately offered, but perfectly regular and official, which my mother (misunderstanding the Indian system) chose to call "bribes." A very ugly word was _that_; but I argued that even at home, even in the courts at Westminster, in the very fountains of justice, private fees const.i.tuted one part of the salaries--a fair and official part, so long as Parliament had not made such fees illegal by commuting them for known and fixed equivalents.
It was mere ignorance of India, as I dutifully insisted against "Mamma," that could confound these regular oriental "nuzzers" with the clandestine wages of corruption. The _pot-de-vin_ of French tradition, the pair of gloves (though at one time very costly gloves) to an English judge of a.s.size on certain occasions, never was offered nor received in the light of a bribe. And (until regularly abolished by the legislature) I insisted--but vainly insisted--that these and similar _honoraria_ ought to be accepted, because else you were lowering the prescriptive rights and value of the office, which you--a mere _loc.u.m tenens_ for some coming successor--had no right to do upon a solitary scruple or crotchet, arising probably from dyspepsia.
Better men, no doubt, than ever stood in _your_ stockings, had pocketed thankfully the gifts of ancient, time-honored custom. My uncle, however, though not with the carnal recusancy which besieged the spiritual efforts of poor Cuthbert Headrigg, that incorrigible worldling, yet still with intermitting doubts, followed my mother's earnest entreaties, and the more meritoriously (I conceive), as he yielded, in a point deeply affecting his interest, to a system of arguments very imperfectly convincing to his understanding. He held the office in question for as much (I believe) as eighteen or nineteen years; and, by knowing old bilious Indians, who laughed immoderately at my uncle and my mother, as the proper growth of a priory or some such monastic establishment, I have been a.s.sured that nothing short of two hundred thousand pounds ought, under the long tenure of office, to have been remitted to England. But, then, said one of these gentlemen, if your uncle lived (as I have heard that he did) in Calcutta and Meer-ut, at the rate of four thousand pounds a year, _that_ would account for a considerable share of a mine which else would seem to have been worked in vain. Unquestionably, my uncle's system of living was under no circ.u.mstances a self-denying one. To enjoy, and to make others enjoy--_that_ was his law of action. Indeed, a more liberal creature, or one of more princely munificence, never lived.
It might seem useless to call back any fragment of conversations relating to India which pa.s.sed more than fifty years ago, were it not for two reasons: one of which is this,--that the errors (natural at that time) which I vehemently opposed, not from any greater knowledge that I had, but from closer reflection, are even now the prevailing errors of the English people. My mother, for instance, uniformly spoke of the English as the subverters of ancient thrones. I, on the contrary, insisted that nothing political was ancient in India. Our own original opponents, the Rajahs of Oude and Bengal, had been all upstarts: in the Mysore, again, our more recent opponents, Hyder, and his son Tippoo, were new men altogether, whose grandfathers were quite unknown. Why was it that my mother, why is it that the English public at this day, connect so false an image--that of high, cloudy antiquity --with the thrones of India? It is simply from an old habit of a.s.sociating the spirit of change and rapid revolution with the activities of Europe; so that, by a natural reaction of thought, the Orient is figured as the home of motionless monotony. In things religious, in habits, in costume, it _is_ so. But so far otherwise in things political, that no instance can be alleged of any dynasty or system of government that has endured beyond a century or two in the East. Taking India in particular, the Mogul dynasty, established by Baber, the great-grandson of Timour, did not subsist in any vigor for two centuries; and yet this was by far the most durable of all established princely houses. Another argument against England urged by my mother (but equally urged by the English people at this day) was, that she had in no eminent sense been a benefactress to India; or, expressing it in words of later date, that the only memorials of our rule, supposing us suddenly ejected from India, would be vast heaps of champagne-bottles. I, on the other hand, alleged that our benefits, like all truly great and lasting benefits (religious benefits, for instance), must not be sought in external memorials of stone and masonry. Higher by far than the Mogul gifts of mile-stones, or travelling stations, or even roads and tanks, were the gifts of security, of peace, of law, and settled order. These blessings were travelling as fast as our rule advanced. I could not _then_ appeal to the cases of Thuggee extirpated, of the Pindanees (full fifteen thousand b.l.o.o.d.y murderers) forever exterminated, or of the Marhattas bridled forever--a robber nation that previously had descended at intervals with a force of sometimes one hundred and fifty thousand troopers upon the afflicted province of Bengal, and Oude its neighbor; because these were events as yet unborn. But they were the natural extensions of that beneficent system on which I rested my argument. The two terrors of India at that particular time were Holkar and Scindiah (p.r.o.nounced _Sindy_), who were soon cut short in their career by the hostilities which they provoked with us, but would else have proved, in combination, a deadlier scourge to India than either Hyder or his ferocious son. My mother, in fact, a great reader of the poet Cowper, drew from _him_ her notions of Anglo-Indian policy and its effects. Cowper, in his "Task," puts the question,--
"Is India free? and does she wear her plumed And jewelled turban with a smile of peace, Or do we grind her still?"
Pretty much the same authority it is which the British public of this day has for its craze upon the subject of English oppression amongst the Hindoos.
My uncle, meantime, who from his Indian experience should reasonably have known so much better, was disposed, from the mere pa.s.sive habits of hearing and reading unresistingly so many a.s.saults of this tone against our Indian policy, to go along with my mother. But he was too just, when forced into reflection upon the subject, not to bend at times to my way of stating the case for England. Suddenly, however, our Indian discussions were brought to a close by the following incident.
My uncle had brought with him to England some Arabian horses, and amongst them a beautiful young Persian mare, called Sumroo, the gentlest of her race. Sumroo it was that he happened to be riding, upon a frosty day. Unused to ice, she came down with him, and broke his right leg. This accident laid him up for a month, during which my mother and I read to him by turns. One book, which one day fell to my share by accident, was De Foe's "Memoirs of a Cavalier." This book attempts to give a picture of the Parliamentary war; but in some places an unfair, and everywhere a most superficial account. I said so; and my uncle, who had an old craze in behalf of the book, opposed me with asperity; and, in the course of what he said, under some movement of ill-temper, he asked me, in a way which I felt to be taunting, how I could consent to waste my time as I did. Without any answering warmth, I explained that my guardians, having quarrelled with me, would not grant for my use anything beyond my school allowance of one hundred pounds per annum. But was it not possible that even this sum might by economy be made to meet the necessities of the case? I replied that, from what I had heard, very probably it was. Would I undertake an Oxford life upon such terms? Most gladly, I said. Upon that opening he spoke to my mother; and the result was, that, within seven days from the above conversation, I found myself entering that time-honored university.
It was in winter, and in the wintry weather of the year 1803, that I first entered Oxford with a view to its vast means of education, or rather with a view to its vast advantages for study. A ludicrous story is told of a young candidate for clerical orders--that, being asked by the bishop's chaplain if he had ever "been to Oxford," as a colloquial expression for having had an academic education, he replied, "No: but he had twice been to Abingdon:" Abingdon being only seven miles distant. In the same sense I might say that once before I had been at Oxford: but _that_ was as a transient visitor with Lord W----, when we were both children. Now, on the contrary, I approached these venerable towers in the character of a student, and with the purpose of a long connection; personally interested in the const.i.tution of the university, and obscurely antic.i.p.ating that in this city, or at least during the period of my nominal attachment to this academic body, the remoter parts of my future life would unfold before me. All hearts were at this time occupied with the public interests of the country. The "sorrow of the time" was ripening to a second harvest. Napoleon had commenced his Vandal, or rather Hunnish War with Britain, in the spring of this year, about eight months before; and profound public interest it was, into which the very coldest hearts entered, that a little divided with me the else monopolizing awe attached to the solemn act of launching myself upon the world. That expression may seem too strong as applied to one who had already been for many months a houseless wanderer in Wales, and a solitary roamer in the streets of London. But in those situations, it must be remembered, I was an unknown, unacknowledged vagrant; and without money I could hardly run much risk, except of breaking my neck. The perils, the pains, the pleasures, or the obligations, of the world, scarcely exist in a proper sense for him who has no funds. Perfect weakness is often secure; it is by imperfect power, turned against its master, that men are snared and decoyed. Here in Oxford I should be called upon to commence a sort of establishment upon the splendid English scale; here I should share in many duties and responsibilities, and should become henceforth an object of notice to a large society. Now first becoming separately and individually answerable for my conduct, and no longer absorbed into the general unit of a family, I felt myself, for the first time, burthened with the anxieties of a man, and a member of the world.
Oxford, ancient mother! h.o.a.ry with ancestral honors, time-honored, and, haply, it may be, time-shattered power--I owe thee nothing! Of thy vast riches I took not a shilling, though living amongst mult.i.tudes who owed to thee their daily bread. Not the less I owe thee justice; for that is a universal debt. And at this moment, when I see thee called to thy audit by unjust and malicious accusers--men with the hearts of inquisitors and the purposes of robbers--I feel towards thee something of filial reverence and duty. However, I mean not to speak as an advocate, but as a conscientious witness in the simplicity of truth; feeling neither hope nor fear of a personal nature, without fee, and without favor.
I have been a.s.sured from many quarters that the great body of the public are quite in the dark about the whole manner of living in our English universities; and that a considerable portion of that public, misled by the totally different const.i.tution of universities in Scotland, Ireland, and generally on the continent, as well as by the different arrangements of collegiate life in those inst.i.tutions, are in a state worse than ignorant (that is, more unfavorable to the truth)-- starting, in fact, from prejudices, and absolute errors of fact, which operate most uncharitably upon their construction of those insulated statements, which are continually put forward by designing men. Hence, I can well believe that it will be an acceptable service, at this particular moment, when the very const.i.tution of the two English universities is under the unfriendly revision of Parliament, when some roving commission may be annually looked for, under a contingency which I will not utter in words (for I reverence the doctrine of _euphaemismos_), far worse than Cromwellian, that is, merely personal, and to winnow the existing corporation from disaffection to the state--a Henry the Eighth commission of sequestration, and levelled at the very integrity of the inst.i.tution--under such prospects, I can well believe that a true account of Oxford _as it is_ (which will be valid also for Cambridge) must be welcome both to friend and foe.
And instead of giving this account didactically, or according to a logical cla.s.sification of the various items in the survey, I will give it historically, or according to the order in which the most important facts of the case opened themselves before myself, under the accidents of my own personal inquiry. No situation could be better adapted than my own for eliciting information; for, whereas most young men come to the university under circ.u.mstances of absolute determination as to the choice of their particular college, and have, therefore, no cause for search or inquiry, I, on the contrary, came thither in solitary self- dependence, and in the loosest state of indetermination.
Though neither giving nor accepting invitations for the first two years of my residence, never but once had I reason to complain of a sneer, or indeed any allusion whatever to habits which might be understood to express poverty. Perhaps even then I had no reason to complain, for my own conduct in that instance was unwise; and the allusion, though a personality, and so far ill-bred, might be meant in real kindness. The case was this: I neglected my dress in one point habitually; that is, I wore clothes until they were threadbare--partly in the belief that my gown would conceal their main defects, but much more from carelessness and indisposition to spend upon a tailor what I had destined for a bookseller. At length, an official person, of some weight in the college, sent me a message on the subject through a friend. It was couched in these terms: That, let a man possess what talents or accomplishments he might, it was not possible for him to maintain his proper station, in the public respect, amongst so many servants and people, servile to external impressions, without some regard to the elegance of his dress.
A reproof so courteously prefaced I could not take offence at; and at that time I resolved to spend some cost upon decorating my person. But always it happened that some book, or set of books,--that pa.s.sion being absolutely endless, and inexorable as the grave,--stepped between me and my intentions; until one day, upon arranging my toilet hastily before dinner, I suddenly made the discovery that I had no waistcoat (or _vest_, as it is now called, through conceit or provincialism), which was not torn or otherwise dilapidated; whereupon, b.u.t.toning up my coat to the throat, and drawing my gown as close about me as possible, I went into the public "hall" (so is called in Oxford the public eating-room) with no misgiving. However, I was detected; for a grave man, with a superlatively grave countenance, who happened on that day to sit next me, but whom I did not personally know, addressing his friend sitting opposite, begged to know if he had seen the last Gazette, because he understood that it contained an order in council laying an interdict upon the future use of waistcoats. His friend replied, with the same perfect gravity, that it was a great satisfaction to his mind that his majesty's government should have issued so sensible an order; which he trusted would be soon followed up by an interdict on breeches, they being still more disagreeable to pay for. This said, without the movement on either side of a single muscle, the two gentlemen pa.s.sed to other subjects; and I inferred, upon the whole, that, having detected my manoeuvre, they wished to put me on my guard in the only way open to them. At any rate, this was the sole personality, or equivocal allusion of any sort, which ever met my ear during the years that I a.s.serted my right to be as poor as I chose.
And, certainly, my censors were right, whatever were the temper in which they spoke, kind or unkind; for a little extra care in the use of clothes will always, under almost any extremity of poverty, pay for so much extra cost as is essential to neatness and decorum, if not even to elegance. They were right, and I was wrong, in a point which cannot be neglected with impunity.
But, to enter upon my own history, and my sketch of Oxford life.--Late on a winter's night, in the latter half of December, 1803, when a snow- storm, and a heavy one, was already gathering in the air, a lazy Birmingham coach, moving at four and a half miles an hour, brought me through the long northern suburb of Oxford, to a shabby coach-inn, situated in the Corn Market. Business was out of the question at that hour. But the next day I a.s.sembled all the acquaintances I had in the university, or had to my own knowledge; and to them, in council a.s.sembled, propounded my first question: What college would they, in their superior state of information, recommend to my choice? This question leads to the first great characteristic of Oxford, as distinguished from most other universities. Before me at this moment lie several newspapers, reporting, at length, the installation in office (as Chancellor) of the Duke of Wellington. The original Oxford report, having occasion to mention the particular college from which the official procession moved, had said, no doubt, that the gates of University, the halls of University, &c., were at such a point of time thrown open. But most of the provincial editors, not at all comprehending that the reference was to an individual college, known by the name of University College, one of twenty-five such establishments in Oxford, had regularly corrected it into "gates of the University,"
&c. Here is the first misconception of all strangers. And this feature of Oxford it is which has drawn such exclamations of astonishment from foreigners. Lipsius, for example, protested with fervor, on first seeing this vast establishment of Oxford, that one college of this university was greater in its power and splendor, that it glorified and ill.u.s.trated the honors of literature more conspicuously by the pomps with which it invested the ministers and machinery of education, than any entire university of the continent.
What is a university almost everywhere else? It announces little more, as respects the academic buildings, than that here is to be found the place of rendezvous--the exchange, as it were, or, under a different figure, the _palaestra_ of the various parties connected with the prosecution of liberal studies. This is their "House of Call," their general place of muster and parade. Here it is that the professors and the students converge, with the certainty of meeting each other. Here, in short, are the lecture-rooms in all the faculties. Well: thus far we see an arrangement of convenience--that is, of convenience for one of the parties, namely, the professors. To them it spares the disagreeable circ.u.mstances connected with a private reception of their students at their own rooms. But to the students it is a pure matter of indifference. In all this there is certainly no service done to the cause of good learning, which merits a state sanction, or the aid of national funds. Next, however, comes an academic library, sometimes a good one; and here commences a real use in giving a national station to such inst.i.tutions, because their durable and monumental existence, liable to no flux or decay from individual caprice, or accidents of life, and their authentic station, as expressions of the national grandeur, point them out to the bequests of patriotic citizens. They fall also under the benefit of another principle--the conservative feeling of amateurship. Several great collections have been bequeathed to the British Museum, for instance--not chiefly _as_ a national inst.i.tution, and under feelings of nationality, but because, being such, it was also permanent; and thus the painful labors of collecting were guaranteed from perishing. Independently of all this, I, for my part, willingly behold the surplus of national funds dedicated to the consecration, as it were, of learning, by raising temples to its honor, even where they answer no purpose of direct use. Next, after the service of religion, I would have the service of learning externally embellished, recommended to the affections of men, and hallowed by the votive sculptures, as I may say, of that affection, gathering in amount from age to age. _Magnificabo apostolatum meum_ is a language almost as becoming to the missionaries and ministers of knowledge, as to the amba.s.sadors of religion. It is fit that by pompous architectural monuments, that a voice may forever be sounding audibly in human ears of homage to these powers, and that even alien feelings may be compelled into secret submission to their influence. Therefore, amongst the number of those who value such things, upon the scale of direct proximate utility, rank not me: that _arithmetica officina_ is in my years abominable. But still I affirm that, in our a.n.a.lysis of an ordinary university, or "college" as it is provincially called, we have not yet arrived at any element of service rendered to knowledge or education, large enough to call for very extensive national aid. Honor has thus far been rendered to the good cause by a public attestation, and that is well: but no direct promotion has been given to that cause, no impulse communicated to its progress, such that it can be held out as a result commensurate to the name and pretensions of a university.
As yet there is nothing accomplished which is beyond the strength of any little commercial town. And as to the library in particular, besides that in all essential departments it might be bought, to order, by one day's common subscription of Liverpool or Glasgow merchants, students very rarely indeed have admission to its free use.
What other functions remain to a university? For those which I have mentioned of furnishing a point of rendezvous to the great body of professors and students, and a point of concentration to the different establishments of implements and machinery for elaborate researches [as, for instance, of books and MSS., in the first place; secondly, of maps, charts, and globes; and, thirdly, perhaps of the costly apparatus required for such studies as Sideral astronomy, galvanic chemistry or physiology, &c.]; all these are uses which cannot be regarded in a higher light than as conveniences merely incidental and collateral to the main views of the founders. There are, then, two much loftier and more commanding ends met by the idea and const.i.tution of such inst.i.tutions, and which first rise to a rank of dignity sufficient to occupy the views of a legislator, or to warrant a national interest.
These ends are involved: 1st, in the practice of conferring _degrees_, that is, formal attestations and guarantees of competence to give advice, instruction, or aid, in the three great branches of liberal knowledge applicable to human life; 2d, in that appropriation of fixed funds to fixed professorships, by means of which the uninterrupted succession of public and authorized teachers is sustained in all the higher branches of knowledge, from generation to generation, and from century to century. By the latter result it is secured that the great well-heads of liberal knowledge and of severe science shall never grow dry. By the former it is secured that this unfailing fountain shall be continually applied to the production and to the _tasting_ of fresh labors in endless succession for the public service, and thus, in effect, that the great national fountain shall not be a stagnant reservoir, but, by an endless _derivation_ (to speak in a Roman metaphor!), applied to a system of national irrigation. These are the two great functions and qualifications of a collegiate incorporation: one providing to each separate generation its own separate rights of heirship to all the knowledge acc.u.mulated by its predecessors, and converting a mere casual life-annuity into an estate of inheritance--a mere fleeting _agonisma_ into a _ktaema es aei_; the other securing for this eternal dowry as wide a distribution as possible: the one function regarding the dimension of _length_ in the endless series of ages through which it propagates its gifts; the other regarding the dimension of _breadth_ in the large application throughout any one generation of these gifts to the public service.
Here are grand functions, high purposes; but neither one nor the other demands any edifices of stone and marble; neither one nor the other presupposes any edifice at all built with human hands. A collegiate incorporation, the church militant of knowledge, in its everlasting struggle with darkness and error, is, in this respect, like the church of Christ--that is, it is always and essentially invisible to the fleshly eye. The pillars of this church are human champions; its weapons are great truths so shaped as to meet the shifting forms of error; its armories are piled and marshalled in human memories; its cohesion lies in human zeal, in discipline, in childlike docility; and all its triumphs, its pomps, and glories, must forever depend upon talent, upon the energies of the will, and upon the harmonious cooperation of its several divisions. Thus far, I say, there is no call made out for _any_ intervention of the architect.
Let me apply all this to Oxford. Among the four functions commonly recognized by the founders of universities, which are--1st, to find a set of halls or places of meeting; 2d, to find the implements and accessaries of study; 3d, to secure the succession of teachers and learners; 4th, to secure the profitable application of their attainments to the public service. Of these four, the two highest need no buildings; and the other two, which are mere collateral functions of convenience, need only a small one. Wherefore, then, and to what end, are the vast systems of building, the palaces and towers of Oxford?
These are either altogether superfluous, mere badges of ostentation and luxurious wealth, or they point to some fifth function not so much as contemplated by other universities, and, at present, absolutely and chimerically beyond their means of attainment. Formerly we used to hear attacks upon the Oxford discipline as fitted to the true _intellectual_ purposes of a modern education. Those attacks, weak and most uninstructed in facts, false as to all that they challenged, and puerile as to what implicitly they propounded for homage, are silent. But, of late, the battery has been pointed against the Oxford discipline in its _moral_ aspects, as fitted for the government and restraint of young men, or even as at all contemplating any such control. The Beverleys would have us suppose, not only that the great body of the students are a licentious crew, acknowledging no discipline or restraints, but that the grave elders of the university, and those who wield the nominal authority of the place, pa.s.sively resign the very shows of power, and connive at general excesses, even when they do not absolutely authorize them in their personal examples. Now, when such representations are made, to what standard of a just discipline is it that these writers would be understood as appealing? Is it to some ideal, or to some existing and known reality? Would they have England suppose that they are here comparing the actual Oxford with some possible hypothetic or imaginable Oxford,--with some ideal case, that is to say, about which great discussions would arise as to its feasibility,--or that they are comparing it with some known standard of discipline actually realized and sustained for generations, in Leipsic, suppose, or Edinburgh, or Leyden, or Salamanca? This is the question of questions, to which we may demand an answer; and, according to that answer, observe the dilemma into which these furciferous knaves must drop. If they are comparing Oxford simply with some ideal and better Oxford, in some ideal and better world, in that case all they have said--waiving its falsehoods of fact--is no more than a flourish of rhetoric, and the whole discussion may be referred to the shadowy combats of scholastic declamation-mongers--those mock gladiators, and _umbratiles doctores_. But if, on the other hand, they pretend to take their station upon the known basis of some existing inst.i.tution,-- if they will pretend that, in this impeachment of Oxford, they are proceeding upon a silent comparison with Edinburgh, Glasgow, Jena, Leipsic, Padua, &c.,--then are they self-exposed, as men not only without truth, but without shame. For now comes in, as a sudden revelation, and as a sort of _deus ex machina_, for the vindication of the truth, the simple answer to that question proposed above, Wherefore, and to what end, are the vast edifices of Oxford? A university, as universities are in general, needs not, I have shown, to be a visible body--a building raised with hands. Wherefore, then, is the _visible_ Oxford? To what _fifth_ end, refining upon the ordinary ends of such inst.i.tutions, is the far-stretching system of Oxford _hospitia_, or monastic hotels, directed by their founders, or applied by their present possessors? Hearken, reader, to the answer:
These vast piles are applied to an end, absolutely indispensable to any even tolerable system of discipline, and yet absolutely unattainable upon any commensurate scale in any other university of Europe. They are applied to the personal settlement and domestication of the students within the gates and walls of that college to whose discipline they are amenable. Everywhere else the young men live _where_ they please and _as_ they please; necessarily distributed amongst the towns- people; in any case, therefore, liable to no control or supervision whatever; and in those cases where the university forms but a small part of a vast capital city, as it does in Paris, Edinburgh, Madrid, Vienna, Berlin, and Petersburg, liable to every mode of positive temptation and distraction, which besiege human life in high-viced and luxurious communities. Here, therefore, it is a mockery to talk of discipline; of a nonent.i.ty there can be no qualities; and we need not ask for the description of the discipline in situations where discipline there can be none. One slight anomaly I have heard of as varying _pro tanto_ the uniform features of this picture. In Glasgow I have heard of an arrangement by which young academicians are placed in the family of a professor. Here, as members of a private household, and that household under the presiding eye of a conscientious, paternal, and judicious scholar, doubtless they would enjoy as absolute a shelter from peril and worldly contagion as parents could wish; but not _more_ absolute, I affirm, than belongs, unavoidably, to the monastic seclusion of an Oxford college--the gates of which open to no egress after nine o'clock at night, nor after eleven to any ingress which is not regularly reported to a proper officer of the establishment. The two forms of restraint are, as respects the effectual amount of control, equal; and were they equally diffused, Glasgow and Oxford would, in this point, stand upon the same level of discipline. But it happens that the Glasgow case was a personal accident; personal, both as regarded him who volunteered the exercise of this control, and those who volunteered to appropriate its benefits; whereas the Oxford case belongs to the very system, is coextensive with the body of undergraduates, and, from the very arrangement of Oxford life, is liable to no decay or intermission.
Here, then, the reader apprehends the first great characteristic distinction of Oxford--that distinction which extorted the rapturous admiration of Lipsius as an exponent of enormous wealth, but which I now mention as applying, with ruinous effect, to the late calumnies upon Oxford, as an inseparable exponent of her meritorious discipline.
She, most truly and severely an "Alma Mater" gathers all the juvenile part of her flock within her own fold, and beneath her own vigilant supervision. In Cambridge there is, so far, a laxer administration of this rule, that, when any college overflows, undergraduates are allowed to lodge at large in the town. But in Oxford this increase of peril and discretionary power is thrown by preference upon the senior graduates, who are seldom below the age of twenty-two or twenty-three; and the college accommodations are reserved, in almost their whole extent, for the most youthful part of the society. This extent is prodigious. Even in my time, upwards of two thousand persons were lodged within the colleges; none having fewer than two rooms, very many having three, and men of rank, or luxurious habits, having often large suites of rooms.
But that was a time of war, which Oxford experience has shown to have operated most disproportionably as a drain upon the numbers disposable for liberal studies; and the total capacity of the university was far from being exhausted. There are now, I believe, between five and six thousand names upon the Oxford books; and more than four thousand, I understand, of constant residents. So that Oxford is well able to lodge, and on a very sumptuous scale, a small army of men; which expression of her great splendor I now mention (as I repeat) purely as applying to the question of her machinery for enforcing discipline.
This part of her machinery, it will be seen, is unique, and absolutely peculiar to herself. Other universities, boasting no such enormous wealth, cannot be expected to act upon her system of seclusion.
Certainly, I make it no reproach to other universities, that, not possessing the means of sequestering their young men from worldly communion, they must abide by the evils of a laxer discipline. It is their misfortune, and not their criminal neglect, which consents to so dismal a relaxation of academic habits. But let them not urge this misfortune in excuse at one time, and at another virtually disavow it.