Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION II. - Harriet Martineau's Autobiography, vol. 1
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SECTION II. - Harriet Martineau, Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography, vol. 1 
Harriet Martineau’s Autobiography, ed. Maria Weston Chapman (Boston: James R. Osgood & Co., 1877). 2 vols. Vol. 1.
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I was eleven when that delectable schooling began which I always recur to with clear satisfaction and pleasure. There was much talk in 1813 among the Norwich Unitarians of the conversion of an orthodox dissenting minister, the Rev. Isaac Perry, to Unitarianism. Mr. Perry had been minister of the Cherry Lane Chapel, and kept a large and flourishing boys’ school. Of course, he lost his pulpit, and the chief part of his school. As a preacher he was wofully dull; and he was far too simple and gullible for a boys’ schoolmaster. The wonder was that his school kept up so long, considering how completely he was at the mercy of naughty boys. But he was made to be a girls’ schoolmaster. Gentlemanly, honourable, well provided for his work, and extremely fond of it, he was a true blessing to the children who were under him. — Rachel and I certainly had some preconception of our approaching change, when my father and mother were considering it; for we flew to an upper window one day to catch a sight of this Mr. Perry and our minister, Mr. Madge, before they turned the corner. That was my first sight of the black coat and grey pantaloons, and powdered hair, and pointing and see-sawing fore-finger, which I afterwards became so familiar with.
We were horribly nervous, the first day we went to school. It was a very large vaulted room, whitewashed, and with a platform for the master and his desk; and below, rows of desks and benches, of wood painted red, and carved all over with idle boys’ devices. Some good many boys remained for a time; but the girls had the front row of desks, and could see nothing of the boys but by looking behind them. The thorough way in which the boys did their lessons, however, spread its influence over us, and we worked as heartily as if we had worked together. I remember being somewhat oppressed by the length of the first morning, — from nine till twelve, — and dreading a similar strain in the afternoon, and twice every day: but in a very few days, I got into all the pleasure of it, and a new state of happiness had fairly set in. I have never since felt more deeply and thoroughly the sense of progression than I now began to do. As far as I remember, we never failed in our lessons, more or less. Our making even a mistake was very rare: and yet we got on fast. This shows how good the teaching must have been. We learned Latin from the old Eton grammar, which I therefore, and against all reason, cling to, — remembering the repetition-days (Saturdays) when we recited all that Latin, prose and verse, which occupied us four hours. Two other girls, besides Rachel and myself, formed the class; and we certainly attained a capability of enjoying some of the classics, even before the two years were over. Cicero, Virgil, and a little of Horace were our main reading then: and afterwards I took great delight in Tacitus. I believe it was a genuine understanding and pleasure, because I got into the habit of thinking in Latin, and had something of the same pleasure in sending myself to sleep with Latin as with English poetry. Moreover, we stood the test of verse-making, in which I do not remember that we ever got any disgrace, while we certainly obtained, now and then, considerable praise. When Mr. Perry was gone, and we were put under Mr. Banfather, one of the masters at the Grammar-school, for Latin, Mr. B. one day took a little book out of his pocket, and translated from it a passage which he desired us to turn into Latin verse. My version was precisely the same as the original, except one word (annosa for antiqua) and the passage was from the Eneid. Tests like these seem to show that we really were well taught, and that our attainment was sound, as far as it went. Quite as much care was bestowed on our French, the grammar of which we learned thoroughly, while the pronunciation was scarcely so barbarous as in most schools during the war, as there was a French lady engaged for the greater part of the time. Mr. Perry prided himself, I believe, on his process of composition being exceedingly methodical; and he enjoyed above every thing initiating us into the mystery. The method and mystery were more appropriate in our lessons in school than in his sermons in chapel; — at least, the sermons were fearfully dull; whereas the lessons were highly interesting and profitable. The only interest we could feel in his preaching was when he first brought the familiar fore-finger into play, and then built up his subject on the scaffolding which we knew so well. There was the Proposition, to begin with: then the Reason, and the Rule; then the Example, ancient and modern; then the Confirmation; and finally, the Conclusion. This may be a curious method, (not altogether apostolic) of preaching the gospel; but it was a capital way of introducing some order into the chaos of girls’ thoughts. One piece of our experience which I remember is highly illustrative of this. In a fit of poetic fervour one day we asked leave for once to choose our own subject for a theme, — the whole class having agreed before-hand what the subject should be. Of course, leave was granted; and we blurted out that we wanted to write “on Music.” Mr. Perry pointed out that this was not definite enough to be called a subject. It might be on the Uses of Psalmody, or on the effect of melody in certain situations, or of martial music, or of patriotic songs, &c. &c.: but he feared there would be some vagueness if so large a subject were taken, without circumscription. However, we were bent on our own way, and he wisely let us have it. The result may easily be foreseen. We were all floating away on our own clouds, and what a space we drifted over may be imagined. We came up to Mr. P.’s desk all elate with the consciousness of our sensibility and eloquence; and we left it prodigiously crest-fallen. As one theme after another was read, no two agreeing even so far as the Proposition, our folly became more and more apparent; and the master’s few, mild, respectful words at the end were not necessary to impress the lesson we had gained. Up went the fore-finger, with “You perceive, ladies” ......... and we saw it all; and thenceforth we were thankful to be guided, or dictated to, in the choice of our topics. Composition was my favourite exercise; and I got credit by my themes, I believe. Mr. Perry told me so, in 1834, when I had just completed the publication of my Political Economy Tales, and when I had the pleasure of making my acknowledgments to him as my master in composition, and probably the cause of my mind being turned so decidedly in that direction. That was a gratifying meeting, after my old master and I had lost sight of one another for so many years. It was our last. If I remember right, we met on the eve of my sailing for America; and he was dead before my return.
Next to Composition, I think arithmetic was my favourite study. My pleasure in the working of numbers is something inexplicable to me, — as much as any pleasure of sensation. I used to spend my play hours in covering my slate with sums, washing them out, and covering the slate again. The fact is, however, that we had no lessons that were not pleasant. That was the season of my entrance upon an intellectual life. In an intellectual life I found then, as I have found since, refuge from moral suffering, and an always unexhausted spring of moral strength and enjoyment.
Even then, and in that happy school, I found the need of a refuge from trouble. Even there, under the care of our just and kind master, I found my passion for justice liable to disappointment as elsewhere. Some of our school-fellows brought a trumpery charge, out of school, against Rachel and me; and our dismay was great at finding that Mrs. Perry, and therefore, no doubt, Mr. Perry believed us capable of a dirty trick. We could not establish our innocence; and we had to bear the knowledge that we were considered guilty of the offence in the first place, and of telling a lie to conceal it in the next. How vehemently I used to determine that I would never, in all my life, believe people to be guilty of any offence, where disproof was impossible, and they asserted their innocence. — Another incident made a great impression on me. — It happened before the boys took their final departure; and it helped to make me very glad when we girls (to the number of sixteen) were left to ourselves.
Mr. Perry was one day called out, to a visitor who was sure to detain him for some time. On such occasions, the school was left in charge of the usher, whose desk was at the farther end of the great room. On this particular day, the boys would not let the girls learn their lessons. Somehow, they got the most absurd masks within the sphere of our vision; and they said things that we could not help laughing at, and made soft bow-wows, cooings, bleatings, &c., like a juvenile House of Commons, but so as not to be heard by the distant usher. While we girls laughed, we were really angry, because we wanted to learn our lessons. It was proposed by somebody, and carried unanimously, that complaint should be made to the usher. I believe I was the youngest; and I know I was asked by the rest to convey the complaint. Quite innocently I did what I was asked. The consequence, — truly appalling to me, — was that coming up the school-room again was like running the gauntlet. O! that hiss! “S-s-s — tell-tale — tell-tale!” greeted me all the way up: but there was worse at the end. The girls who had sent me said I was served quite right, and they would have nothing to do with a tell-tale. Even Rachel went against me. And was I really that horrible thing called a tell-tale? I never meant it; yet not the less was it even so! When Mr. Perry came back, the usher’s voice was heard from the lower regions — “Sir!” and then came the whole story, with the names of all the boys in the first class. Mr. Perry was generally the mildest of men; but when he went into a rage, he did the thing thoroughly. He became as white as his powdered hair, and the ominous fore-finger shook: and never more than on this occasion. J. D., as being usually “correct,” was sentenced to learn only thirty lines of Greek, after school. (He died not long after, much beloved.) W. D., his brother, less “correct” in character, had fifty. Several more had from thirty to fifty; and R. S. (now, I believe, the leading innkeeper in old Norwich) — “R. S., always foremost in mischief, must now meet the consequences. R. S. shall learn seventy lines of Greek before he goes home.” How glad should I have been to learn any thing within the compass of human knowledge to buy off those boys! They probably thought I enjoyed seeing them punished. But I was almost as horror-struck at their fate as at finding that one could be a delinquent, all in a moment, with the most harmless intentions.
An incident which occurred before Mr. Perry’s departure from Norwich startled me at the time, and perhaps startles me even more now, as showing how ineffectual the conscience becomes when the moral nature of a child is too much depressed. — All was going on perfectly well at school, as far as we knew, when Mr. Perry one day called, and requested a private interview with my father or mother. My mother and he were talking so long in the drawing-room, that dinner was delayed above half-an-hour, during which time I was growing sick with apprehension. I had no doubt whatever that we had done something wrong, and that Mr. Perry had come to complain of us. This was always my way, — so accustomed was I to censure, and to stiffen myself under it, right or wrong; so that all clear sense of right and wrong was lost. I believe that, at bottom, I always concluded myself wrong. In this case it made no difference that I had no conception what it was all about. When my mother appeared, she was very grave: the mood spread, and the dinner was silent and gloomy, — father, brothers and all. My mother had in her heart a little of the old-fashioned liking for scenes: and now we had one, — memorable enough to me! “My dear,” said she to my father, when the dessert was on the table, and the servant was gone, “Mr. Perry has been here.” “So I find, my love.” “He had some very important things to say. He had something to say about — Rachel — and — Harriet.” I had been picking at the fringe of my doily; and now my heart sank, and I felt quite faint. “Ah! here it comes,” thought I, expecting to hear of some grand delinquency. My mother went on, very solemnly. “Mr. Perry says that he has never had a fault to find with Rachel and Harriet; and that if he had a school full of such girls, he should be the happiest man alive.” The revulsion was tremendous. I cried desperately, I remember, amidst the rush of congratulations. But what a moral state it was, when my conscience was of no more use to me than this! The story carries its own moral.
What Mr. Perry came to say was, however, dismal enough. He was no man of the world; and his wife was no manager; and they were in debt and difficulty. Their friends paid their debts (my father taking a generous share) and they removed to Ipswich. It was the bitterest of my young griefs, I believe, — their departure. Our two years’ schooling seemed like a lifetime to look back upon: and to this day it fills a disproportionate space in the retrospect of my existence, — so inestimable was its importance. When we had to bid our good master farewell, I was deputed to utter the thanks and good wishes of the pupils: but I could not get on for tears, and he accepted our grief as his best tribute. He went round, and shook hands with us all, with gracious and solemn words, and sent us home passionately mourning. — Though this seemed like the close of one period of my life, it was in fact the opening of its chief phase, — of that intellectual existence which my life has continued to be, more than any thing else, through its whole course.
After his departure, and before I was sent to Bristol, our mode of life was this. We had lessons in Latin and French, and I in music, from masters; and we read aloud in family a good deal of history, biography, and critical literature. The immense quantity of needlework and music-copying that I did remains a marvel to me; and so does the extraordinary bodily indolence. The difficulty I had in getting up in the morning, the detestation of the daily walk, and of all visiting, and of every break in the monotony that I have always loved, seem scarcely credible to me now, — active as my habits have since become. My health was bad, however, and my mind ill at ease. It was a depressed and wrangling life; and I have no doubt I was as disagreeable as possible. The great calamity of my deafness was now opening upon me; and that would have been quite enough for youthful fortitude, without the constant indigestion, languor and muscular weakness which made life a burden to me. My religion was a partial comfort to me; and books and music were a great resource: but they left a large margin over for wretchedness. My beloved hour of the day was when the cloth was drawn, and I stole away from the dessert, and read Shakspere by firelight in winter in the drawing-room. My mother was kind enough to allow this breach of good family manners; and again at a subsequent time when I took to newspaper reading very heartily. I have often thanked her for this forbearance since. I was conscious of my bad manners in keeping the newspaper on my chair all dinner-time, and stealing away with it as soon as grace was said; and of sticking to my Shakspere, happen what might, till the tea was poured out: but I could not forego those indulgences, and I went on to enjoy them uneasily. Our newspaper was the Globe, in its best days, when, without ever mentioning Political Economy, it taught it, and viewed public affairs in its light. This was not quite my first attraction to political economy (which I did not know by name till five or six years later;) for I remember when at Mr. Perry’s fastening upon the part of our geography book (I forget what it was) which treated of the National Debt, and the various departments of the Funds. This was fixed in my memory by the unintelligible raillery of my brothers and other companions, who would ask me with mock deference to inform them of the state of the Debt, or would set me, as a forfeit at Christmas Games, to make every person present understand the operation of the Sinking Fund. I now recal Mr. Malthus’s amusement, twenty years later, when I told him I was sick of his name before I was fifteen. His work was talked about then, as it has been ever since, very eloquently and forcibly, by persons who never saw so much as the outside of the book. It seems to me that I heard and read an enormous deal against him and his supposed doctrines; whereas when, at a later time, I came to inquire, I could never find any body who had read his book. In a poor little struggling Unitarian periodical, the Monthly Repository, in which I made my first appearance in print, a youth, named Thomas Noon Talfourd, was about this time making his first attempts at authorship. Among his earliest papers, I believe, was one “On the System of Malthus,” which had nothing in fact to do with the real Malthus and his system, but was a sentimental vindication of long engagements. It was prodigiously admired by very young people: not by me, for it was rather too luscious for my taste, — but by some of my family, who read it, and lived on it for awhile: but it served to mislead me about Malthus, and helped to sicken me of his name, as I told him long afterwards. In spite of this, however, I was all the while becoming a political economist without knowing it, and, at the same time, a sort of walking Concordance of Milton and Shakspere.
The first distinct recognition of my being deaf, more or less, was when I was at Mr. Perry’s, — when I was about twelve years old. It was a very slight, scarcely-perceptible hardness of hearing at that time; and the recognition was merely this; — that in that great vaulted school-room before-mentioned, where there was a large space between the class and the master’s desk or the fire, I was excused from taking places in class, and desired to sit always at the top, because it was somewhat nearer the master, whom I could not always hear further off. When Mr. Perry changed his abode, and we were in a smaller school-room, I again took places with the rest. I remember no other difficulty about hearing at that time. I certainly heard perfectly well at chapel, and all public speaking (I remember Wilberforce in our vast St. Andrew’s Hall) and general conversation everywhere: but before I was sixteen, it had become very noticeable, very inconvenient, and excessively painful to myself. I did once think of writing down the whole dreary story of the loss of a main sense, like hearing; and I would not now shrink from inflicting the pain of it on others, and on myself, if any adequate benefit could be obtained by it. But, really, I do not see that there could. It is true, — the sufferers rarely receive the comfort of adequate, or even intelligent sympathy: but there is no saying that an elaborate account of the woe would create the sympathy, for practical purposes. Perhaps what I have said in the “Letter to the Deaf,” which I published in 1834, will serve as well as anything I could say here to those who are able to sympathise at all; and I will therefore offer no elaborate description of the daily and hourly trials which attend the gradual exclusion from the world of sound.
Some suggestions and conclusions, however, it is right to offer. — I have never seen a deaf child’s education well managed at home, or at an ordinary school. It does not seem to be ever considered by parents and teachers how much more is learned by oral intercourse than in any other way; and, for want of this consideration, they find too late, and to their consternation, that the deaf pupil turns out deficient in sense, in manners, and in the knowledge of things so ordinary that they seem to be matters of instinct rather than of information. Too often, also, the deaf are sly and tricky, selfish and egotistical; and the dislike which attends them is the sin of the parent’s ignorance visited upon the children. These worst cases are of those who are deaf from the outset, or from a very early age; and in as far as I was exempt from them, it was chiefly because my education was considerably advanced before my hearing began to go. In such a case as mine, the usual evil (far less serious) is that the sufferer is inquisitive, — will know every thing that is said, and becomes a bore to all the world. From this I was saved (or it helped to save me) by a kind word from my eldest brother. (From how much would a few more such words have saved me?) He had dined in company with an elderly single lady, — a sort of provincial blue-stocking in her time, — who was growing deaf, rapidly, and so sorely against her will that she tried to ignore the fact to the last possible moment. At that dinner-party, this lady sat next her old acquaintance, William Taylor of Norwich, who never knew very well how to deal with ladies (except, to his honour be it spoken, his blind mother;) and Miss N—teased him to tell her all that every body said till he grew quite testy and rude. My brother told me, with tenderness in his voice, that he thought of me while blushing, as every body present did, for Miss N—; and that he hoped that if ever I should grow as deaf as she, I should never be seen making myself so irksome and absurd. This helped me to a resolution which I made and never broke, — never to ask what was said. Amidst remonstrance, kind and testy, and every sort of provocation, I have adhered to this resolution, — confident in its soundness. I think now, as I have thought always, that it is impossible for the deaf to divine what is worth asking for and what is not; and that one’s friends may always be trusted, if left unmolested, to tell one whatever is essential, or really worth hearing.
One important truth about the case of persons deficient in a sense I have never seen noticed; and I much doubt whether it ever occurs to any but the sufferers under that deficiency. We sufferers meet with abundance of compassion for our privations: but the privation is, (judging by my own experience) a very inferior evil to the fatigue imposed by the obstruction. In my case, to be sure, the deficiency of three senses out of five renders the instance a very strong one: but the merely blind or deaf must feel something of the laboriousness of life which I have found it most difficult to deal with. People in general have only to sit still in the midst of Nature, to be amused and diverted (in the strict sense of the word, — distracted, in the French sense) so as to find “change of work as good as rest:” but I have had, for the main part of my life, to go in search of impressions and influences, as the alternative from abstract or unrelieved thought, in an intellectual view, and from brooding, in a moral view. The fatigue belonging to either alternative may easily be conceived, when once suggested: and considerate persons will at once see what large allowance must in fairness be made for faults of temper, irritability or weakness of nerves, narrowness of mind, and imperfection of sympathy, in sufferers so worn with toil of body and mind as I, for one, have been. I have sustained, from this cause, fatigue which might spread over double my length of life; and in this I have met with no sympathy till I asked for it by an explanation of the case. From this labour there is, it must be remembered, no holiday, except in sleep. Life is a long, hard, unrelieved working-day to us, who hear, or see, only by express effort, or have to make other senses serve the turn of that which is lost. When three out of five are deficient, the difficulty of cheerful living is great, and the terms of life are truly hard. — If I have made myself understood about this, I hope the explanation may secure sympathy for many who cannot be relieved from their burden, but may be cheered under it.
Another suggestion that I would make is that those who hear should not insist on managing the case of the deaf for them. As much sympathy as you please; but no overbearing interference in a case which you cannot possibly judge of. The fact is, — the family of a person who has a growing infirmity are reluctant to face the truth; and they are apt to inflict frightful pain on the sufferer to relieve their own weakness and uneasiness. I believe my family would have made almost any sacrifice to save me from my misfortune; but not the less did they aggravate it terribly by their way of treating it. First, and for long, they insisted that it was all my own fault, — that I was so absent, — that I never cared to attend to any thing that was said, — that I ought to listen this way, or that, or the other; and even (while my heart was breaking) they told me that “none are so deaf as those that won’t hear.” When it became too bad for this, they blamed me for not doing what I was sorely tempted to do, — inquiring of them about every thing that was said, and not managing in their way, which would have made all right. This was hard discipline; but it was most useful to me in the end. It showed me that I must take my case into my own hands; and with me, dependent as I was upon the opinion of others, this was redemption from probable destruction. Instead of drifting helplessly as hitherto, I gathered myself up for a gallant breasting of my destiny; and in time I reached the rocks where I could take a firm stand. I felt that here was an enterprise; and the spirit of enterprise was roused in me; animating me to sure success, with many sinkings and much lapse by the way. While about it, I took my temper in hand, — in this way. I was young enough for vows, — was, indeed, at the very age of vows; — and I made a vow of patience about this infirmity; — that I would smile in every moment of anguish from it; and that I would never lose temper at any consequences from it, — from losing public worship (then the greatest conceivable privation) to the spoiling of my cap-borders by the use of the trumpet I foresaw I must arrive at. With such a temper as mine was then, an infliction so worrying, so unintermitting, so mortifying, so isolating as loss of hearing must “kill or cure.” In time, it acted with me as a cure, (in comparison with what my temper was in my youth:) but it took a long long time to effect the cure; and it was so far from being evident, or even at all perceptible when I was fifteen, that my parents were determined by medical advice to send me from home for a considerable time, in hope of improving my health, nerves and temper by a complete and prolonged change of scene and objects.
Before entering upon that new chapter of my life, however, I must say another word about this matter of treatment of personal infirmity. We had a distant relation, in her young womanhood when I was a child, who, living in the country, came into Norwich sometimes on market days, and occasionally called at our house. She had become deaf in infancy, — very very deaf; and her misfortune had been mismanaged. Truth to speak, she was far from agreeable: but it was less for that than on account of the trouble of her deafness that she was spoken of as I used to hear, long before I ever dreamed of being deaf myself. When it was announced by any child at the window that —— was passing, there was an exclamation of annoyance; and if she came up the steps, it grew into lamentation. “What shall we do?” “We shall be as hoarse as ravens all day.” “We shall be completely worn out,” and so forth. Sometimes she was wished well at Jericho. When I was growing deaf, all this came back upon me; and one of my self-questionings was — “Shall I put people to flight as — — does? Shall I be dreaded and disliked in that way all my life?” The lot did indeed seem at times too hard to be borne. Yet here am I now, on the borders of the grave, at the end of a busy life, confident that this same deafness is about the best thing that ever happened to me; — the best, in a selfish view, as the grandest impulse to self-mastery; and the best in a higher view, as my most peculiar opportunity of helping others, who suffer the same misfortune without equal stimulus to surmount the false shame, and other unspeakable miseries which attend it.
By this time, the battle of Waterloo had been fought. I suppose most children were politicians during the war. I was a great one. I remember Mr. Perry’s extreme amusement at my breaking through my shyness, one day, and stopping him as he was leaving the school-room, to ask, with much agitation, whether he believed in the claims of one of the many Louis XVII.’s who have turned up in my time. It must be considered that my mother remembered the first French Revolution. Her sympathies were with the royal family; and the poor little Dauphin was an object of romantic interest to all English children who knew anything of the story at all. The pretence that he was found set thousands of imaginations on fire, whenever it was raised; and among many other wonderful effects, it emboldened me to speak to Mr. Perry about other things than lessons. Since the present war (of 1854) broke out, it has amused me to find myself so like my old self of forty years before, in regard to telling the servants the news. In the old days, I used to fly into the kitchen, and tell my father’s servants how sure “Boney” was to be caught, — how impossible it was that he should escape, — how his army was being driven back through the Pyrenees, — or how he had driven back the allies here or there. Then, I wanted sympathy, and liked the importance and the sensation of carrying news. Now, the way has been to summon my own servants after the evening post, and bid them get the map, or come with me to the globe, and explain to them the state of the war, and give them the latest news, — probably with some of the old associations lingering in my mind; but certainly with the dominant desire to give these intelligent girls an interest in the interests of freedom, and a clear knowledge of the position and duties of England in regard to the war. I remember my father’s bringing in the news of some of the Peninsular victories, and what his face was like when he told my mother of the increase of the Income-tax to ten per cent, and again, of the removal of the Income-tax. I remember the proclamation of peace in 1814, and our all going to see the illuminations; those abominable transparencies, among the rest, which represented Bonaparte (always in green coat, white breeches and boots) as carried to hell by devils, pitch-forked in the fiery lake by the same attendants, or haunted by the Duc d’Enghien. I well remember the awful moment when Mr. Drummond (of the chemical lectures) looked in at the back door (on his way from the counting-house) and telling my mother that “Boney” had escaped from Elba, and was actually in France. This impressed me more than the subsequent hot Midsummer morning when somebody (I forget whether father or brother) burst in with the news of the Waterloo slaughter. It was the slaughter that was uppermost with us, I believe, though we never had a relative, nor, as far as I know, even an acquaintance, in either army or navy.
I was more impressed still with the disappointment about the effects of the peace, at the end of the first year of it. The country was overrun with disbanded soldiers, and robbery and murder were frightfully frequent and desperate. The Workhouse Boards were under a pressure of pauperism which they could not have managed if the Guardians had been better informed than they were in those days; and one of my political panics (of which I underwent a constant succession) was that the country would become bankrupt through its poor-law. Another panic was about revolution, — our idea of revolution being, of course, of guillotines in the streets, and all that sort of thing. Those were Cobbett’s grand days, and the days of Castlereagh and Sid-mouth spy-systems and conspiracies. Our pastor was a great radical; and he used to show us the caricatures of the day (Hone’s, I think) in which Castlereagh was always flogging Irishmen, and Canning spouting froth, and the Regent insulting his wife, and the hungry, haggard multitude praying for vengeance on the Court and the Ministers; and every Sunday night, after supper, when he and two or three other bachelor friends were with us, the talk was of the absolute certainty of a dire revolution. When, on my return from Bristol in 1819, I ventured to say what my conscience bade me say, and what I had been led to see by a dear aunt, that it was wrong to catch up and believe and spread reports injurious to the royal family, who could not reply to slander like other people, I was met by a shout of derision first, and then by a serious reprimand for my immorality in making more allowance for royal sinners than for others. Between my dread of this worldliness, and my sense that they had a worse chance than other people, and my further feeling that respect should be shown them on account of their function first, and their defenceless position afterwards, I was in what the Americans would call “a fix.” The conscientious uncertainty I was in was a real difficulty and trouble to me; and this probably helped to fix my attention upon the principles of politics and the characteristics of parties, with an earnestness not very common at that age. Still, — how astonished should I have been if any one had then foretold to me that, of all the people in England, I should be the one to write the “History of the Peace!”
One important consequence of the peace was the interest with which foreigners were suddenly invested, in the homes of the middle classes, where the rising generation had seen no foreigners except old emigrés, — powdered old Frenchmen, and ladies with outlandish bonnets and high-heeled shoes. About this time there came to Norwich a foreigner who excited an unaccountable interest in our house, — considering what exceedingly proper people we were, and how sharp a look-out we kept on the morals of our neighbors. It was poor Polidori, well known afterwards as Lord Byron’s physician, as the author of “the Vampire,” and as having committed suicide under gambling difficulties. When we knew him, he was a handsome, harum-scarum young man, — taken up by William Taylor as William Taylor did take up harum-scarum young men, — and so introduced into the best society the place afforded, while his being a Catholic, or passing for such, insured him a welcome in some of the most aristocratic of the county houses. He was a foolish rattle, — with no sense, scarcely any knowledge, and no principle; but we took for granted in him much that he had not, and admired whatever he had. For his part, he was an avowed admirer of our eldest sister (who however escaped fancy-free;) and he was forever at our house. We younger ones romanced amazingly about him, — drew his remarkable profile on the backs of all our letters, dreamed of him, listened to all his marvellous stories, and, when he got a concussion of the brain by driving his gig against a tree in Lord Stafford’s park, were inconsolable. If he had (happily) died then, he would have remained a hero in our imaginations. The few following years (which were very possibly all the wilder for that concussion of the brain) disabused every body of all expectation of good from him; but yet when he died, frantic under gaming debts, the shock was great, and the impression, on my mind at least, deep and lasting. My eldest sister, then in a happy home of her own, was shocked and concerned; but we younger ones felt it far more. I was then in the height of my religious fanaticism; and I remember putting away all doubts about the theological propriety of what I was doing, for the sake of the relief of praying for his soul. Many times a day, and with my whole heart, did I pray for his soul.