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PART I.: 1820—1837. - Herbert Spencer, An Autobiography, vol. 1 
An Autobiography by Herbert Spencer. Illustrated in Two Volumes. Vol. I (New York: D. Appleton and Company 1904).
Part of: An Autobiography
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Early in 1819, when my father, William George Spencer, then about 29, married Harriet Holmes my mother, then about 25, he occupied No. 12 Exeter Row, Derby. At that time the house was new; forming one member of a street partially built on one side only; and its small garden was separated by a meadow from the river Derwent, on the other side of which lay the mass of the town. Now, however, swallowed up by increasing suburbs and enveloped in the smoke of factories and foundries, the house has become decayed and dingy.
Here I was born on the 27th of April, 1820. Save a reference to my protests against things in general, such as are usually made by infants on first acquaintance with them, the earliest mention of me in the family correspondence occurs on June 1, in a passage concerning my baptism. To his brother Thomas, who had recently taken orders, my father writes:—
“You say you hope the child has been baptized at Church. He has not yet been baptized at all. With regard to his being baptized at Church, I object to the system of Godfathers and Godmothers, and to the sentiments inculcated in the form, such as saying that the child is now regenerate, &c. In such objections have originated the delay. If by baptism is meant any more than a devoting of the child to God, I object to the baptism of infants, as absurd. And unless a clergyman could feel himself satisfied in refraining from the form except that part ‘I baptize thee,’ &c. I should not feel at liberty to employ one on the occasion. . . . However there is one alternative which remains with you to approve; that is for you to perform the ceremony when you visit us in September. The name we call him at present is Frederic, but we are undecided between that and Herbert.”
There are subsequent letters discussing choice of name; and on the back of one of them I find, in my father’s hand, various combinations which he tried. He was a man guided always by independent judgment rather than by custom; and one of the things he inveighed against was the repetition of family names: holding, as he did quite rightly, that a name being used for the purpose of identification, it is foolish, for the sake of a sentimental fancy, to introduce confusion by repeating the Christian names of parents or other relatives. The final choice of the name Herbert was due to an occurrence of the preceding year. While still at college my uncle had sent, in a letter to my father, a copy of some verses by a recently-deceased young poet named Herbert Knowles.* My uncle’s admiration of them was, I believe, shared by my father; and, as I learnt in after years, this led to the choice of the name Herbert for me. But my father’s preference was, I suspect, in large measure due to the consideration that being uncommon (for though now not rare it was then very rare) it would be thoroughly distinctive.
Of incidents in childhood my remembrances have assumed that secondary form which I suspect they mostly do in advanced life—I simply remember that I once remembered. There was a little sister, Louisa, a year my junior, who died at two years old; and playing with her in the garden left faint pictures which long survived.* There also survived for many years, recollections of getting lost in the town, into which I had wandered to find the house of some friends to whom I was attached: the result being that the crier was sent round to find me. My most vivid childish recollection, however, worth mentioning because of its psychological interest, is that of certain results caused in me by being left alone for the first time. Everyone was out save the nurse, who had been left in charge of me; and she presently seized the occasion to go out too, locking up the house and leaving me by myself. On one evening every week, which happened to be the evening in question, it was the custom to ring a peal on the bells of the chief church in Derby, All Saints’; and while I was suffering the agonies of this first experience of solitude, its bells were merrily going. The effect was to establish in me so strong an association, that all through the earlier part of my life, and even in adult years, I never heard these bells without a feeling of sadness coming over me.
No. 12 Exeter Row (now No. 27 Exeter Street) remained our abode until I was four years old. Before turning to the subsequent part of my childhood, passed elsewhere, some parenthetic explanations are needed.
Besides carrying on a school, which my father did for several years before his marriage and for some years after, he gave private lessons. When he was still a boy he taught the children of Sir R. Wilmot of Chaddesden near Derby; and he began later, and continued for many years, to teach more especially in two families in the town. The one was that of the leading physician, Dr. Fox, in which he commenced giving lessons at the age of 17, when but little older than his pupils. Each of these, naturally clever, had in adult life an element of distinction about him; and one of them, Charles, who became an engineer, eventually acquired fame as the designer of the Great Exhibition building of 1851, and was knighted. The other family was that of the Mozleys, two members of which were in after years well known—one of them James, canon of Worcester and author of Eight Lectures on Miracles and several other works; the other of them Thomas, named in the last chapter, author of various works; to whom should be added Miss Anne Mozley, also an author of some mark. And another pupil was Thomas Rymer Jones, long the Professor of Zoology at King’s College, London.
Engaged as my father thus was in private teaching when not in his school, and having in addition the duties of honorary secretary to the Derby Philosophical Society, he eventually overworked himself. In his later life, I have heard him express his astonishment on recollecting what he did when a young man. There was no pressing need for this undue application. Already he had accumulated a good deal; as was shown by the fact that he purchased thirteen small houses belonging to his father-in-law, and had still a considerable amount of spare capital remaining. But he was evidently overanxious to fulfil his duties to those dependent on him; and the result was a break-down in health which, besides incapacitating him for the discharge of these duties (wholly for a time and partially afterwards) made his days during a long period, comparatively painful, and produced a mental state unfavourable to domestic life. His disorder, beginning with head-aches in 1821 and getting gradually worse, with intervals of improvement during his vacations, became at length very grave: a distressing complication of physical derangements, being joined with an extreme nervous irritability. Answering an invitation from his brother Thomas in December 1823, he says:—
“I fear if I should be able to reach your parsonage, that I shall tire you with my petulance and irritability. I have at times scarcely any command over my feelings—they carry me away before I am aware.”
I doubt not that had he retained good health, my early education would have been much better than it was; for not only did his state of body and mind prevent him from paying as much attention to my intellectual culture as he doubtless wished, but irritability and depression checked that geniality of behaviour which fosters the affections and brings out in children the higher traits of nature. There are many whose lives would have been happier, had their parents been more careful about themselves and less anxious to provide for others.
So profoundly was my father’s health finally undermined that he was compelled to give up teaching. He took a house at New Radford near Nottingham, on what was then known as the Forest Side—a suburb adjacent to a tract of wild land. Here I spent the remaining part of my childhood.
I have still vivid recollections of the delight of rambling among the gorse bushes, which at that early age towered above my head. There was a certain charm of adventure in exploring the narrow turf-covered tracks running hither and thither into all their nooks, and now and then coming out in unexpected places, or being stopped by a deep sandy chasm made by carts going to the sand-pits. Then there were the blue-bells to be picked from among the prickly branches, which were here and there flecked with fragments of wool left by passing sheep. In adult life it requires an effort to recall even faintly that more imposing aspect which the world has to children, caused by the relative largeness of objects and the greater proximity of the eyes to things on the ground.
My father allowed me to pass the greater part of this period without the ordinary lesson-learning. I believe he thought that I was not constitutionally strong. My mother had been delicate as a child; and possibly joining that fact with direct indications, he concluded that I ought not to be subject to school-discipline at an early age: his own break-down in health from overwork, doubtless tending to increase his caution. I probably had then, as ever afterwards, a repugnance to rote-learning; which accounts, I believe, for much which he ascribes to other causes. Among his papers are some memoranda, made, however, late in life, written not very legibly or coherently, concerning these early days. Here are some extracts:—
“One day when a very little child, I noticed as he was sitting quietly by the fire side, a sudden titter. On saying Herbert what are you laughing at, he said ‘I was thinking how it would have been if there had been nothing besides myself.’ ”
I do not know that there was anything special in this; for intelligent children soon begin to puzzle themselves and their seniors by ontological questions. The following extract I give only because it indicates my father’s general ideas of early education.
“In teaching him his letters, which I began to do when about 4 years old by beginning with the capitals and cutting them out in paper for him, although he learned a certain number of them with ease, perceiving he did not ask to learn any more, nor even to renew his knowledge of those he had learned, I ceased to invite him.”
Of course it resulted that I was very much behind most children. An unpleasant proof still survives in my memory. A daughter of a friend of my father, considerably my junior, who had learned to read, was held up to me reproachingly as an example.
My father’s compulsory abandonment of teaching and migration to Nottingham, were simultaneous with his entrance into the lace-manufacture. The production of lace by machinery was at that time a novelty. Great profits were being made, and a mania resulted. I perceive by letters that, along with two of his brothers, he had, before leaving Derby, bought lace-machines; and as Nottingham was the seat of the new industry, this enterprise was probably influential in determining his removal to Forest Side, which was, however, recommended for its salubrity. Like many others who were tempted to invest capital in the business, my father did not duly recognize the general economic principle, that the rush of many persons into a highly-profitable occupation, invariably brings about a reaction—a depression equivalent to the previous exaltation, and a consequent loss to the sanguine. The reaction set in soon after he joined in the manufacture. The production of lace became excessive; the profits fell very greatly; and he eventually lost a considerable sum.
Having during three years’ residence at Forest Side partially recovered his health, and being obliged by this depressed condition of the lace-manufacture to change his course, my father recommenced teaching at Derby: going for a time backwards and forwards. His health did not permit him to resume his school; and he had then, and always thereafter, to content himself with giving private lessons. By and bye, his engagements growing more numerous, he gave up the house at Forest Side and returned to Derby. This occurred when I was a little over seven years old.
The house taken by my father on his return to Derby in 1827—the house in which he continued to live during the rest of his life, and which remained nominally my home until my mother’s death in 1867,—was No. 8 Wilmot Street: re-numbered 17, and finally 31. At that time its neighbourhood differed widely from that now existing. It was one of a newly-built row, forming but a fragment of one side of Wilmot Street. Opposite was a large unoccupied space over which the town was seen; and behind stretched fields, instead of the streets and detached villas which now cover the surface. Not only the immediate surroundings are transformed, but also the region further away, where my boyish excursions were made, has had its rural beauty changed into the ugliness of a manufacturing suburb. Places where I gathered flowers and gazed with interest at the catkins of the hazel, have now become places covered with ironworks, where steam hammers make their perpetual thuds, and through which railway-sidings everywhere ramify. Quiet lanes in which, during early boyhood, I went with a companion trying to catch minnows with a hand-net in a clear little stream running by the hedge, have been transformed into straight roads between land-allotments, with scattered houses built by artizans. And where I picked blackberries, factories now stand.
My life as a boy continued for some time to be comparatively unrestrained: school-drill being almost nominal, and no very effectual control being exercised over me in other respects. My father, I suspect, still thought that my health would not bear much intellectual strain; and refrained from pressing me. There was a garden of some size behind the house containing fruit trees, and permitting a certain amount of floriculture; and my father rented an additional piece of land close by as a vegetable-garden. Not unfrequently I had to join in gardening—more frequently, indeed, than I liked. Often when I ought to have been busy at some task which my father had set me, I was otherwise occupied—throwing stones at the birds that settled on the walls and hedges; observing the bees on the kidney-bean-flowers, piercing the base of each corolla to reach the honey; or, at a disused pump-trough containing stagnant water, watching the larvæ of the gnats as they came wriggling to the surface, putting out their tails to breathe, and then descending. Most children are instinctively naturalists, and were they encouraged would readily pass from careless observations to careful and deliberate ones. My father was wise in such matters; and I was not simply allowed but encouraged to enter on natural history.
The majority of my activities, however, were those of the ordinary school-boy, who, on Saturday afternoons and the like occasions of leisure, is commonly given to country rambles and the search for hedge-side treasures. During my early years the neighbouring regions of Osmaston and Normanton, were explored by me in all their details: every hedge becoming known in the course of expeditions, now in the spring seeking birds’ nests, now gathering violets or dog-roses, and later in the year collecting sometimes mushrooms, sometimes blackberries, sometimes hips and haws, crab-apples and other wild products. Beyond the pleasurable exercise and the gratification to my love of adventure, there was gained during these excursions much miscellaneous knowledge of things, and the perceptions were beneficially disciplined. Of all the occupations, however, to which holidays were devoted, I delighted most in fishing. There was the river Derwent, at that time not the black, dirty stream it is now, but tolerably clear and containing a fair supply of various fish; and there were the canals, which on the whole served better for boys’ fishing. Many happy half-days, and, during the midsummer holidays, many whole days, were spent on their banks. Along with such exercise of skill as fishing itself implies, there came the exercise of skill in making fishing tackle; for I was not so amply furnished with pocket-money that I could buy all the appliances I required. I was, I suspect, led by my father in that case as in other cases, to use my own powers of manipulation for satisfying my needs. I made my own floats, and also “hair-tackles,” as they were locally called—each some six feet of the line next the hook, made of single horse-hair instead of silk-worm gut. I remember I was cautious and systematic enough to use a test weight before trusting any one of them.
A friendship formed by my father conduced greatly to gratification of this love of fishing, as well as to other gratifications. In the retired village of Ingleby, about seven miles from Derby, had lived, in a preceding generation, a wealthy farmer named Ordish, whose sons had, during their early days, notwithstanding the great difficulties which at that time stood in the way, acquired a little scientific knowledge—a family of youths who, after their day’s work on the farm, would walk over to Derby to a lecture (then a rare thing) and walk back again. The eldest of these sons, Edward, was at the time I refer to, the tenant of the paternal farm. He was full of ingenuities: having introduced modified forms of farming tools, all scientific in their conception; and among other original devices had a string from his bedside to the house-clock, by pulling which he made the clock repeat the last hour struck. The incident which made him known to my father, was that he had in some way preserved the amnion of a calf in a state of tolerable completeness, and after having, I suppose, united the edges of the ruptured part, had inflated it with hydrogen: the result being that it was capable of carrying up a penknife. He brought over this novel balloon to exhibit to the members of the Derby Philosophical Society. When my father was taken ill, Mr. Ordish invited him to stay at Ingleby; and this led to frequent intercourse. Immense pleaures were brought to me by parts of my midsummer and Christmas holidays spent there. To a town-bred boy a farm-house and its surroundings afford intense enjoyment by presenting many novelties of kinds appealing to his various tastes:—animals, gardens, orchards, implements, hay-making. Much gratification, too, was yielded to my love for natural beauty. Some wooded precipitous ground a quarter of a mile away, called Gill’s Hill, and a romantic place further off called Anchor-church, reputed to be an ancient hermitage cut out of the rock, impressed me much. And then there were the quiet picturesque groves of Knowle Hills, which are ever brought back to me by the note of a certain bird which I heard there for the first time. But above all there was the adjacent river. Ingleby is on the banks of the Trent; and between the water and Mr. Ordish’s orchard was scarcely a stone’s throw. There during my visits, was afforded the delight of unlimited fishing. This I pursued with ardour during the long summer days. In a letter my mother referring to the enthusiasm I displayed says:—“I understand he was up by four o’clock in the morning;” and I did not cease in the evening till I could no longer see.
When I was something like nine or ten years old, the love of this sport led very nearly to loss of life. I fell into deep water in the Derwent and was close upon drowning. It is a curious fact that whereas dreams are, while in progress, regarded as real, the reality was in this case taken for a dream. During the first part of my immersion I thought to myself—“Oh, it is all a dream!”; and only after coming to the surface once or twice discovered that I was actually in the water. A youth of some sixteen or seventeen plunged in and rescued me. His name was George Holme. He was at that time a mill-manager. As may be inferred from the fact that he was the one out of a considerable number of spectators who risked himself to save me, he was of superior nature morally; and he turned out in after life to be also a man of much faculty. Gradually rising he became a wealthy manufacturer; and was led, by the development of his business, to establish trade-connexions in various parts of the world—one being pushed even into Central Asia. When sixty he became mayor of Derby and magistrate. He had in a high degree that which another friend of mine describes as the business instinct,—an instinct which experience tells him is quite special, and may or may not accompany other superiorities.
Of out-door activities there was one, indirectly referred to already, which partook of an intellectual character—I mean the pursuit of entomology. Incidentally, and without any form of teaching, my father led me into this. A considerable number of the more conspicuous lepidoptera common around Derby, I reared from their caterpillar stages to their final transformations. Hence arose a great and continual gratification. Saturday afternoons and other times were spent in exploring banks, hedges, and trees, in search of larvæ; and I made in course of time a considerable collection of moths, butterflies, dragon-flies, beetles. So enthusiastic was I that at one time I sallied out at six o’clock in the morning in pursuit of these natural history treasures. My father encouraged me to make drawings of the insects I caught or reared: there being, under these circumstances, an extra incentive arising from the fact that the objects represented were of my own acquisition. In some cases I added descriptions of them. There still exists among the early products preserved by my father, a curious example. Having made a drawing on a small piece of paper, leaving no space for writing, I have, I see, stitched to it another piece with an account of what seemed to me a remarkable anomaly—namely that a moth coming out of a chrysalis I had kept, had no wings: the fact being, I suppose, that it was a female naturally wingless or with rudimentary wings. Butterflies are very good objects for first drawing lessons; since they present little more than colours on a flat surface, and thus differ comparatively little from copies. Moreover the process of making outlines is brief in comparison with the process of colouring, which is the part most delightful to children.
Initiated thus naturally, I practised drawing all through boyhood to a greater or less extent: working energetically for a time; then tiring and abandoning it; then after an interval discovering on resuming it how much better I drew than before: one of those effects of the normal spontaneous development of the nervous system in progressing towards its adult structure, which is too much ignored in interpreting psychological phenomena. I may add that my father disapproved wholly of drawing from copies; and such things as were not drawn by me from fancy were drawn from nature. After a time, when my skill had sufficiently increased, I commenced making sketches out of doors. There was in the house a sketching-apparatus in the shape of a walking-stick camp-stool, on which a board could be mounted; and this I was allowed to use. I remember how proudly I sallied out with it to make my first sketch. At the same time, half as amusement half as culture, I was induced to make models. One I remember was of a castellated ruin formed of bits of cork glued together and sanded over; and another was a small chair. These occupations, however, were not pursued with much perseverance.
Turning to more purely intellectual amusements, I may here name the fact that I was in boyhood extremely prone to castle-building—a habit which continued throughout youth and into mature life: finally passing, I suppose, into the dwelling on schemes more or less practicable. In early days the habit was such that on going to bed, it was a source of satisfaction to me to think I should be able to lie for a length of time and dwell on the fancies which at the time occupied me; and frequently next morning, on awaking, I was vexed with myself because I had gone to sleep before I had revelled in my imaginations as much as I had intended. Often these dreams, becoming literally day-dreams, quite filled my consciousness when walking. Even in the streets my state of abstraction was such that I occasionally talked aloud as I went along: a fact of which I was from time to time made aware by people who turned to look at me. But the strangest instance exhibiting such absorption was this. I had been sent into the town on some commission; got as usual into a train of imaginary adventures; walked through the main streets and suburbs into the country on the other side of the town; eventually came to myself and remembered what I had been sent out for; turned round and walked back through the town; and arrived at the door of our house before again coming to myself and again recalling my errand. I believe it is a general belief that castle-building is detrimental; but I am by no means sure that this is so. In moderation I regard it as beneficial. It is a play of the constructive imagination, and without constructive imagination there can be no high achievement. I believe that the love I then had for it arose from the spontaneous activity of powers which in future life became instrumental to higher things. And here let me remark in passing on an accompanying trait. The tendency to absorption above illustrated, was, I suspect, a part cause of a peculiarity with which my father often reproached me in the words—“As usual, Herbert, thinking only of one thing at a time.” This liability to become so engrossed in one subject, or aspect of a subject, as to quite forget others, led in after-life to sundry disasters.
Along with this passion for castle-building may naturally be named the reading of fiction. As already said, I was not early forced to learn lessons; and the result of this absence of pressure was that I did not read tolerably until I was over seven years old. The first book which prompted me to read of my own accord was Sandford and Merton. Once having got over the difficulties I believe I went on with considerable zest, and needed no further stimulus. There were restrictions in certain directions; for my father did not approve of fiction. His ascetic bringing up had, I think, warped his judgment in this respect; and I knew nothing in early days of those stories with which children commonly become familiar. Besides looking coldly on works of imagination in general (not however on poetry) he was critical regarding the moral implications of children’s stories: disapproving of the tacit teaching contained in many of them. I was allowed few nursery books, and those only when he had been through them and effectually erased those parts the tendency of which he did not approve. Later, when the taste for novels arose, I had to gratify it by stealth. My mother was even more averse than he was to literature of this kind; and though novel-reading was not positively forbidden, there were impediments in the way of it. But having once experienced its pleasures, my appetite for it became great; and there was a time when such occasional pence as I could spare went to a circulating library stocked with old romances, such as The Castle of Otranto, the stories of Mrs. Radcliffe, and the like. These were read in secret, sometimes with a companion. Presently I began to read in bed; and in summer often went on till the birds were singing in the morning. After a time this transgression was discovered, and my mother adopted the precaution of coming to my room to see whether the candle was out. But I was not thus to be balked of my midnight gratification, and soon out-manœuvred her. Close to my bed-side was a fixed corner cupboard; and habitually, when I heard her step on the stairs, I leaped out of bed, put the candle still burning into this cupboard, got into bed again and pretended to be asleep, until she, thinking all was as it should be, retired. Whereupon I brought out the candle and resumed my reading. There still, I suppose, exist, or at least there did exist up to 1867, a number of black marks made on the under side of one of the shelves of this cupboard by candle flames during these intervals. This must have been when I was about eleven or twelve.
From this account of my surroundings and amusements in boyhood, and this delineation of certain implied traits, I may pass to what has to be said more specifically concerning my nature at that time—physical, moral, and intellectual.
As I had not been injudiciously pressed or considerably taxed during childhood and afterwards, my health was, or had become, quite satisfactory. I can recall nothing more than a few days’ illness from one of the disorders of childhood; and on the whole my vigour, though not great, was considerable. There seemed to be then, and continued thereafter, a constitution distinguished rather by good balance than by great vital activity. No spontaneous overflow of energy was exhibited—no high pressure of steam; and hence a certain reluctance to exertion in the absence of a strong motive. Nevertheless there was a large margin of latent power—a good deal of “bottom” as the sporting people call it. In feats of strength I do not remember any superiority except in running. I was more fleet than any of my school-fellows. This may have been associated with an unusual length of limb, by which in boyhood I was characterized. It seems not improbable that this physical trait had something to do with the performance of a great feat in walking during later boybood, which will be narrated presently.
Respecting those emotional characteristics directly associated with the physical, I may note that on the whole I was decidedly peaceful. This may have been in part due to the trait which I inherited from my father—a great intolerance of painful feelings, either physical or moral. Natures differ much in respect to endurance, as we see on comparing savage and civilized. The callousness shown by some of the uncivilized astonishes travellers who witness it; and obviously the degree of sensitiveness makes a difference in the degree of readiness with which pain is borne or with which pain is risked. It may have been that as a boy my peaceableness was in part due to a reluctance to enter into combats which entailed evil of this kind. This was not a uniform trait, however. When sufficienly aroused by anger, no considerations of pain or danger or anything else restrained me.
Perhaps the most marked moral trait, and that which ran through a variety of manifestations in boyhood and afterwards, was the disregard of authority. Of course one consequence was chronic disobedience. This was a cause of grief to my mother and of reprobation by my father; and as, ordinarily, it did not bring on me such consequences as follow in most cases, it continued notwithstanding perpetual scoldings. The mental nature thus displayed was, I see, commented upon by my father. He says of me in the memoranda which he made late in life:—“As a boy his aversion to any conduct that to him seemed to partake of tyranny was excessive.” A concomitant of this trait was, that while greatly averse to anything like subordination to bigger boys, I was averse to exercising power over smaller boys: my tendency to assert my own freedom going along with sympathy for a like freedom in others. And the result was that while I avoided all companionship which subjected me to bullying, I was a favourite with those who either could not, or did not, bully. Though occasionally, but not frequently, made angry in the course of boyish sports, my anger was never persistent. This trait was once oddly exemplified. Having been enraged by a companion considerably my inferior in strength, who called names after me, I threatened him with vengeance when I should succeed in catching him. After an interval the time came when he was in my power. I then found myself not angry enough to wreak the threatened vengeance; and I actually felt vexed because I had lost the desire to thrash him.
It must not be inferred from statements made above about my fondness for fishing, that I tended towards cruelty. As compared with most boys I was kind to animals—never teased domestic creatures and could not bear to see them teased. And although I was given to this boyish practice of throwing stones at birds under the promptings of that love of sport in which triumph of skill constitutes the chief pleasure, yet in all cases where there was a manifest infliction of pain without the element of skill, I not only refrained, but protested against the doings of my companions: always opposing the gratuitous injury of creatures around, as in the torturing of insects for purposes of amusement. Once a companion took me to see an ox killed; but when, having watched the preparations, I perceived the catastrophe approaching, I fled. Though I had not much compunction in killing a fish I had caught, witnessing the death of a large animal was too much for me. It is curious to what an extent the presence of that emotional gratification accompanying successful achievement, shuts out the sympathies for creatures which may be hurt or slain in the process. Very often one is shown that those who are in all other relations kind-hearted, nevertheless sacrifice animals in the course of their amusements with little compunction. In my own case sympathy did, in later years, put a check on my love for fishing; and caused desistance for a long period.
Concerning intellectual traits as displayed at this age, I may remark that then, as always, my memory was rather below par than above, in respect both of quickness and permanence. I have frequently heard goodness of memory ascribed to me; but my memory could never have been good, save in respect to certain classes of things. Of all the novels I read in boyhood and youth, the greater part have been absolutely forgotten; and of the rest there are but the faintest traces. It has often excited my wonder to hear others recall the incidents and personages of stories they read in early life; and I have been astonished at the readiness with which they could quote passages from this or that book or poem. A related fact is that throughout boyhood, as in after life, I could not bear prolonged reading. Probably there then existed as there existed later, an early-reached limit to the receptivity. It was as though my intellctual digestive system was comparatively small, and would not take in heavy meals. Possibly also the tendency then, as afterwards, towards independent thought, was relatively so dominant that I soon became impatient of the process of taking in the ideas set before me. Novels and books of travel being excepted, I never read continuously for more than an hour or two. While, however, averse to lesson-learning and the acquisition of knowledge after the ordinary routine methods, I was not slow in miscellaneous acquisition. General information was picked up by me with considerable facility.
Passing now from this brief outline of my character, physical, moral, and intellectual, as exhibited between the ages of seven and thirteen, let me say something about the kind of treatment to which I was subjected.
That disobedience which I have described as being frequent, naturally led to a state of chronic antagonism. My misdemeanours did not bring direct punishments, but commonly brought only reproofs. Hence I was, I suppose, often encouraged to transgress by the expectation of either escaping altogether, or suffering no greater evil than hard words. My father, unfortunately, while disapproving of corporal punishment, did not adequately use a higher kind of discipline. But for his feeble health and lack of energy after he had fulfilled his daily engagements, the state of things might have been very different. As it happened, I was neither forced into conformity nor led into it by moral means. Continual reprobation for disobedience established a certain kind of alienation; or at least absence of attachment. Not that there was originally a lack of filial feeling; for I see by a letter of my mother that in early childhood I had a great fondness for my father. But I suspect the irritability and impatience caused by the ill-health which over-application had brought on him, tended to prevent the strengthening of those influences which should have served in place of coercive treatment, and would, I doubt not, have done so. I may add here, as being significant of my father’s nature, that frequently in his expostulations he set before me the ambition to become “a useful member of society.” This ambition was not much like the ambitions ordinarily set before boys. The desire to be beneficial to others was predominant with my father; and he wished to make me also recognize such a desire as a ruling one. However, as might have been expected, admonitions setting forth achievement of public welfare as a chief aim in life, fell upon inattentive ears: my age being such that I could not then appreciate the nobility of it.
I have named the fact that my father’s family, as well as my mother’s, were Wesleyans; and during my childhood both parents belonged to the body. It would appear, however, from the remarks made by Mr. Mozley in his Reminiscences, that even in those days my father betrayed an incipient alienation from it. The Wesleyan church discipline was repugnant to a nature such as his; and in the course of my boyhood his repugnance became manifest. I believe that the immediate cause of his final secession, was his frequent contact with the methodist ministers on the occasions of the meetings of the methodist book-committee,—a committee which managed the methodist library. Occasionally he tried to get ordered into their library, books which he regarded as really instructive—books of science and others of secular kinds. The aim of the ministers was to increase the number of books of the religious class; and especially those concerning their own sect—lives of preachers and the like. Further, he found that in their priestly capacity they exercised a kind of direction over other members of the committee who belonged to their congregations. This he resented more and more. Meanwhile, partly perhaps as an effect of his resentment, he had been inquiring into the system of the Society of Friends: the absence of any priesthood among them being, I suspect, the prompting motive. The result was that he fell into the habit of going every Sunday morning to the Quakers’ meeting house. Not that he ever adopted any of their peculiarities, nor, so far as I know, any of their special views; but the system was congruous to his nature in respect of its complete individualism and absence of ecclesiastical government. He went there simply for an hour’s quiet reflexion. This change had a curious result. Not wishing to assume that absolute power over me which should ignore my mother’s claim, there resulted a compromise; so that from about ten years of age to thirteen I habitually on Sunday morning went with him to the Friends’ Meeting House and in the evening with my mother to the Methodist Chapel. I do not know that any marked effect on me followed; further, perhaps, than that the alternation tended to enlarge my views by presenting me with differences of opinion and usage.
It remains to give an account of the intellectual culture I received during boyhood. My father being unable personally to conduct my education, I was sent to a day-school—the first selected being that of Mr. Mather. He was a very ordinary mechanical kind of teacher, who had no power of interesting his pupils in what they were taught. In repeating lessons I was habitually inefficient. Without saying that I never said a lesson correctly, I may say with certainty that if ever I did, it was very rarely. In ordinary cases punishment would have followed the degree of carelessness displayed by me; but I think punishment must have been interdicted by my father; both because he disapproved of it in itself and also because he did not wish that I should be overtaxed. Among his memoranda occurs the remark:—“He was exceedingly unwilling to learn the Latin grammar, and with some trouble we found the objection to consist in its want of system.” This may have been in some measure true; but I think the fact was due in larger measure to my general aversion to rote-learning, and also in some degree to my vague dislike of the dogmatic form. The mere authoritative statement that so-and-so is so-and-so, made without evidence or intelligible reason, seems to have been from the outset constitutionally repugnant to me.
When ten, that is in 1830, I ceased to go to the school above named, because teaching was resumed by my uncle William.* He had inherited my grandfather’s school; and carried it on for some years until his health broke down. After his recovery it was revived; and I was one of a select number of pupils. His teaching, partly in consequence of his own superiority and partly I think in consequence of my father’s suggestions, was relatively good, and led to some progress. Among other unusual exercises for boys in a school, drawing from objects was one: the chairs and tables around, and other such things being utilized. We were also led by direct methods to conceptions of the mechanical powers. From time to time we tried experiments with pulleys and levers, and so gained by practice an acquaintance with their properties. At the same time general notions were given of the causes of these properties. I still recall one of the propositions frequently repeated by my uncle William on these occasions—“What is gained in power is lost in time.” In all matters appealing to reason I was tolerably quick; and as I learnt in later days from one of my school-companions, though I had not been aware of the fact, was regarded as the leader of the school in such matters.
There was, I think, in this education comparatively little lesson-learning; and, as a consequence, I was not in continual disgrace. A certain amount of the Greek Testament was gone through by us after the natural manner: there being no preliminary discipline in grammar. One of the methods of teaching adopted by my uncle, I suspect at my father’s suggestion, was that of requiring us to make maps from memory—at that time, I fancy, a very exceptional method; and in this I acquired unusual skill. I had in early days a somewhat remarkable perception of locality and the relations of position generally, which in later life disappeared. It was then so great that I look with astonishment at some of these maps thus drawn.
My miscellaneous intellectual training apart from school discipline was favourable. I was a frequent listener to discussions. My uncles or others who came to our house always got into conversations with my father of more or less instructive kinds; now on politics, now on religion, now on scientific matters, now on questions of right and wrong. Good opportunities occurred of obtaining familiarity with certain orders of scientific truths. My father had an electrical machine and an air-pump; and from time to time classes of his pupils came to see pneumatic and electric phenomena. I had frequently to make preparations for the experiments and aid in performance of them. The result was that being on many occasions witness to the facts, and hearing the explanations given, I early gained some knowledge of physics. Incidentally, too, I was led into chemistry. One of my duties in preparing for these lectures, was that of making hydrogen to fill an electrical pistol. The required process had its sequence; for from the solution of sulphate of iron formed in the act of obtaining hydrogen from iron filings, I was in the habit of producing afterwards the crystals of that salt. These by their beauty were attractive; and I sometimes repeated the experiment from mere love of seeing the result. This led the way to crystallizations of other salts, and eventually to other chemical experiments. Much damage was done by letting fall drops of acid upon my clothes; and occasionally the furniture was somewhat the worse in consequence of my awkwardness. But, as my father well knew, these were small evils compared with the value of the knowledge gathered and the facility of manipulation acquired; and he would not have my doings interdicted. Little by little I became much interested in chemistry at large, and read with interest a small book by an itinerant lecturer named Murray, who at that time occasionally came to Derby—a very incompetent man, but one who served to make familiar the simpler truths.*
Naturally along with this kind of general discipline, and along with the tendency to independent thinking, there came considerable aptitude for interpreting things. This I am led to remark because on one occasion my father put to me some question concerning the cause of an occurrence named; and when, after a pause, I gave him my explanation, his reply was—“Yes, people who knew nothing about it would think that clever; but it is not true.” The power thus exemplified of forming a probable hypothesis from the ensemble of the evidence, is of course a power which, with inadequate evidence, leads to erroneous conclusions; but it is the same power which, with adequate evidence, leads to correct conclusions.
Along with the advantages of miscellaneous intellectual discipline, there were advantages derived from a miscellaneous supply of literature. My father was honorary secretary to the Derby Philosophical Society,—a society which had been founded by Dr. Darwin a generation before, and was in my father’s time fostered by William Strutt, the father of the late Lord Belper. It consisted of the most cultured men of the town, chiefly medical; and besides a library which it accumulated, mainly of scientific books, it took in a number of scientific periodicals. These were circulated among the score or so of members constituting the society. Beyond occasional works of popular kinds, such as books of travel, there came works of graver kinds; and there came habitually the Lancet, the British and Foreign Medical Review, and the Medico-Chirurgical Review: at that time two separate quarterly medical journals, both now dead. Being a member of the committee of the Methodist library; my father also received the several periodicals taken in by it—the Athenæum, the Mechanics’ Magazine, Chambers’s Journal, and some others. These various periodicals were lying about the house from week to week, and were more or less utilized by me. The greater part of their contents I skipped, but read here and there on all kinds of topics,—mechanical, physical, medical, anatomical, and so forth. I had the use of the Philosophical Society’s Library and the Methodist Library. Moreover there was founded in those days a literary institution after the type of that which Dr. Birkbeck had established—an institution which, besides furnishing lectures, formed a library. My father allowed me to subscribe; and I had from it many books which I could not get elsewhere. Sundry of them were historical. How it happened that I had then an appetite for history I do not know. The epical interest is dominant in early stages, alike of the individual and of the race; and I had then more liking for personal narratives and accounts of striking events, for details of battles and sieges, than afterwards remained with me. I read the whole of Rollin’s Ancient History; and at the same time, or if not I cannot recollect when, I read Gibbon. None but the vaguest ideas of the contents of these books survive.
Here let me sum up the results of my education thus far—that is, to the age of thirteen.
I knew nothing worth mentioning of Latin or Greek: my acquaintance with Latin being limited to ability to repeat very imperfectly the declensions and a part only of the conjugations (for I never got all through them); and my acquaintance with Greek being such only as was acquired in the course of word for word translation, under my uncle William’s guidance, of the first few chapters of the Greek Testament. Moreover I was wholly uninstructed in English—using the name in its technical sense: not a word of English grammar had been learned by me, not a lesson in composition. I had merely the ordinary knowledge of arithmetic; and, beyond that, no knowledge of mathematics. Of English history nothing; of ancient history a little; of ancient literature in translation nothing; of biography nothing. Concerning things around, however, and their properties, I knew a good deal more than is known by most boys. My conceptions of physical principles and processes had considerable clearness; and I had a fair acquaintance with sundry special phenomena in physics and chemistry. I had also acquired, both by personal observation and by reading, some knowledge of animal life, and especially of insect life; but no knowledge of botany, either popular or systematic. By miscellaneous reading a little mechanical, medical, anatomical, and physiological information had been gained; as also a good deal of information about the various parts of the world and their inhabitants. Such were the acquisitions which formed a set-off against the ignorance of those things commonly learned by boys.
Something remains to be named, however. I refer to the benefit derived from an unusual mental discipline. My father’s method, as already intimated, was that of self-help carried out in all directions. Beyond such self-help as I have already exemplified, there was always a prompting to intellectual self-help. A constant question with him was,—“I wonder what is the cause of so-and-so;” or again, putting it directly to me,—“Can you tell the cause of this?” Always the tendency in himself, and the tendency strengthened in me, was to regard everything as naturally caused; and I doubt not that while the notion of causation was thus rendered much more definite in me than in most of my age, there was established a habit of seeking for causes, as well as a tacit belief in the universality of causation. Along with this there went absence of all suggestion of the miraculous. I do not remember my father ever referring to anything as explicable by supernatural agency. I presume from other evidence that he must at that time have still accepted the current belief in miracles; but I never perceived any trace of it in his conversation. Certainly, his remarks about the surrounding world gave no sign of any other thought than that of uniform natural law.
Let me add that there was on his part no appeal to authority as a reason for accepting a belief. That same independence of judgment which he had himself, he tended, alike intentionally and unintentionally, to foster in others; and in me he did it very effectually, whether with purpose or not. Doubtless it existed innately; but his discipline strengthened it.
A JOURNEY AND A FLIGHT.
Towards the end of June 1833, shortly after I was 13, my father and mother and I started from Derby to pay a visit to my uncle Thomas, at Hinton Charterhouse near Bath. I have no recollection of the first half-day’s journey to Birmingham, save a shadowy notion of passing through Lichfield; but the next day’s journey left vivid impressions. There is no day in my life concerning which I remember so much.
First among my recollections comes that of the suburban villas as we left Birmingham, and the delusive belief raised in me that life passed in them must be very delightful. I recollect next our ascent of the Lickey hill, and getting off the coach to walk. Then came the picturesque old town of Bromsgrove, full of half-wooden houses, where it was market-day; and shortly afterwards Droitwich, a somewhat similar town, distinguished, however, by its steaming salt works. Meanwhile the Malvern Hills had come into view, and were intensely interesting to me as being the first objects in the nature of mountains I had ever seen; for though born in Derbyshire I had never been in its picturesque parts. Presently we arrived at Worcester, clean and cheerful, where for the first time I tasted cyder: Derbyshire not being a cyder-producing county. By and bye Tewkesbury was reached, with its one long street into which I remember the coach turning as we passed over the Avon bridge; and then afterwards Cheltenham, so bright and elegant compared with such towns as I had seen. The coach-dinner was there, and we had time to look round. Now came the ascent of the Costwolds; and I recall my father’s comments on the local pronunciation, as the horses walked up the Leckhampton Hill. Presently passing through Painswick we reached the vale of Stroud, charmingly picturesque, and enchanting me by its entire novelty of character. After that, re-ascending the high table-lands, we came to Petty-france, followed by the long bare road to Cold Ashton; whence we descended into Bath, reaching it about 8 in the evening. In these days when I hate travelling, and always choose the train which carries me with greatest speed and fewest stoppages, it is strange to look back on that evening and remember that when we got down from the coach I was so sorry the journey had come to an end. Twelve hours perpetual seeing had not satiated me. I was ready for any amount more; and, indeed, I had a little more, for as we drove to Hinton in the twilight, I was constantly leaning over the carriage side and peering down through the deepening shadows into the valleys about Coomb Down.
My first day at Hinton was one of great delight, derived from all the novelties around me—especially the new insect life. A ramble in the neighbouring fields on the bright summer morning, has left an indelible impression caused by the numbers of unfamiliar flowers, butterflies, and moths. Blue butterflies, of which at home in all my rambles I had seen but one, were abundant; and there were numbers of Burnet moths, which were previously unknown to me. Subsequent days with wider excursions brought like pleasures. Not long after our arrival, I discovered a nest of caterpillars of the peacock-butterfly. I had never seen any before, though I knew them perfectly from drawings; and I carried them back in great glee. I was allowed by my uncle, at my father’s instigation, to make preparations for rearing them; and I had already had so much experience that this was an easy and successful process.
A few days brought a revelation which disagreeably astonished me. I had supposed I was about to spend a month’s midsummer holidays; but I was taken by my uncle one morning and set down to the first proposition in Euclid. Having no love of school or of books, this caused in me great disgust. However there was no remedy, and I took to the work tolerably well: my faculty lying more in that direction than in the directions of most subjects I had dealt with previously. This was significantly shown before the end of a fortnight; when I had reached, perhaps, the middle of the first book. Having repeated a demonstration after the prescribed manner up to a certain point, I diverged from it; and when my uncle interrupted me, telling me I was wrong, I asked him to wait a moment, and then finished the demonstration in my own way: the substituted reasoning being recognized by him as valid. Nothing further was at that time required of me; unless, indeed, I name reading. My uncle condemned my reading as bad in manner (and he was quite right, for I had then, as ever after, a tendency to hurry, leading to indistinctness of articulation), but he remarked upon my extensive acquaintance with words. This was somewhat strange, considering that I had had no reading lessons. Learning to read, as I have before pointed out, very late, I afterwards gained my knowledge of words by reading all kinds of books, and hearing the conversations around me.
After some four weeks, during which my daily lessons were occasionally interrupted by excursions made on behalf of my father and mother as visitors, there came the time for return. Then occurred a revelation still more startling than the first. I found that I was to remain at Hinton. It seems that the arrangement had been made some two months before. In the family correspondence there is a letter from my uncle to my father, which consults him respecting the desirableness of having at Hinton, his little nephew Henry. The proposal was prompted by sympathy with his brother Henry, the boy’s father; who through losses, chiefly in lace-manufacture, had fallen into straightened circumstances. This letter brought from my father, or rather from my mother with his approval, a letter containing a counter-proposal; namely that he, my father, should take charge of Henry and educate him, while I should be taken charge of and educated by my uncle Thomas. This, as shown by a letter of May 13, brought from Hinton a cordial assent, as being an arrangement which my aunt and uncle much preferred.
On finding that I was not to return home, my dismay was great; but there was nothing for it but to submit. Something like ten days passed in the ordinary routine; but in the course of that time there were certain incidents which, apparently trivial, had significant results. Frequent disagreements with my fellow-pupil S——— had occurred. I was at that time, as at all times, argumentative; and whatever we were doing together was apt to lead to points of difference, and occasionally to high words. To remedy the evil my uncle decided that we should study at separate hours: S——— in the morning and I in the afternoon, so that we might be kept apart. This arrangement, put in force about the last day of July, brought my discontent to a climax. I had never before been under anything like so strong a control, and I had also a yearning for home: a home-sick song popular at that time,—“Those Evening Bells,”—being a continual solace to me. I was quite prepared to break out into a rebellious act, and needed only this change which deprived me of companionship to fix my determination. As we were lighting our candles on going up to bed that night, I said to S———, referring to the arrangement of the day,—“It won’t happen again.”
The next morning revealed my meaning. Rising soon after six I started off; having resolved to return home. Reaching Bath in little more than an hour, and buying a penny roll just before leaving the city on the other side, I took the Cheltenham road; and, as I ascended the long hill and for some time afterwards, kept glancing over my shoulder to see if I was pursued. Presently, getting on to the high broad back of the Cotswold Hills and increasing my distance from Hinton, I ceased to fear that I should see the pony-carriage coming when I turned my head. But now as I walked on under the hot sun, I began fully to perceive my forlorn state; far away from anyone I knew, without possibility of going back, with scarcely any money, and with an immense journey before me. No wonder I burst into tears from time to time as I trudged on. However my speed, judging by the result, was not much diminished by the occasional fits of grief. Pursuing the monotonous road, varied only by here and there a cottage or a toll-gate, I came in the afternoon to the end of the high lands and descended into the Stroud valley; walking through its picturesque scenes in a widely different mood from that in which I had seen them a few weeks before. Reaching Stroud between 5 and 6, I remember asking a man on the other side of the town, which was my way to Cheltenham. He pointed out the way and said—“But you are not going there to-night, are you?” He would have been greatly astonished to hear that I had already walked from five miles on the other side of Bath. To Cheltenham I did go, however: reaching it, I suppose, between 9 and 10 in the evening, and finding a small suburban tavern where I got a bed for sixpence. I had only two shillings pocket money, which I saw I should have to make last me during the journey. On that day and on succeeding days I repeated my occasional purchase of a penny roll: twice or thrice during the journey stopping to get a glass of beer. Bread and water, with perhaps three glasses of beer, were the only things I tasted between Hinton and Derby.
I could not sleep a wink at Cheltenham. The physical excitement produced by walking 48 miles, kept me tossing about till it was time to rise. Next morning, however, I early started off again, undismayed by my bad night. I got a ride out of Cheltenham for some two miles in a cart; and then resumed my weary walk, seeing from time to time the Malvern Hills, which, when I first caught sight of them the previous evening, had given me a thrill of pleasure as being old friends. Mile after mile was traversed during the sultry August day, along roads thickly covered with dust—through Tewkesbury and Worcester, on to Droitwich and on to Bromsgrove, which I reached and passed in the evening. I intended to walk that night to Birmingham, but an occurrence deterred me. While resting some miles beyond Bromsgrove, I was accosted by one of those wandering Italian image-sellers, common in my boyhood—men who went about carrying on their heads boards covered with plaster casts, and calling out “Finees!” This man sat down by me; and when I walked on he joined me. After a time he pulled out a large pocket-knife with a blade of some eight inches long or so, and spoke of it admiringly. This, as may be imagined, made me shudder. I do not suppose he meant anything; but still his act suggested the thought that he might murder me. Presently we arrived at the little inn on the Lickey called the Rose and Crown, and I asked for a bed. Luckily they let me have one, and to my great delight they would not let the Italian have one. He had to go on.
That night, like the preceding one, was sleepless. The exertion of walking about the same distance as before (for I believe from Cheltenham to the Rose and Crown is 49 miles, and deducting the 2 in the cart leaves 47) had maintained that feverish state of body which always keeps me awake Next morning after a few miles’ walking, I came up with one of those heavy wagons, common in the days before railways, carrying goods between chief towns—wagons now no longer seen—great lumbering vehicles with large hoods to them. I made friends with the wagoner; and he let me ride on the soft straw as far as Birmingham, where he stopped. Thence I walked on to Lichfield. At Lichfield I happened to be passing the chief hotel just as the Derby coach drew up; and, getting hold of the coachman, told him my story. No doubt he saw in my worn face and parched lips how much I had been suffering. He took pity on me, and, the coach having plenty of room, let me ride for nothing. I asked to ride as far as Burton. When we reached Burton I offered him the few coppers I had left to let me go on. He, good fellow, refused to have them, but allowed me to keep my seat; and so I reached Derby about 3 o’clock in the afternoon of Saturday, having left Hinton on Thursday morning. That day I had walked not more than 20 miles, if so much.
Here, before passing to subsequent incidents, I may remark on the physical effects of this escapade. It can, I think, scarcely be doubted that my system received a detrimental shock. That a boy of 13 should, without any food but bread and water and two or three glasses of beer, and without sleep for two nights, walk 48 miles one day, 47 the next, and some 20 the third, is surprising enough. It is strange that the exertion was borne at all; and it is highly improbable that it was borne without injury. At an age so far short of maturity, a tax so great necessarily tells upon the subsequent development. The cost has to be met somehow; and is met, no doubt, by a falling short of ultimate perfection of structure. However, there was no manifest sign of mischief, either then or during subsequent years.
As may be imagined, great consternation was caused at home when I made my appearance. No expectation of seeing me had arisen, for no letter had arrived. At that time it took two or three days for a letter to go from Hinton to Derby; and some hours had elapsed before information was given at the parsonage which made it clear what had become of me. The following is from my aunt’s letter, written not to my father but to my uncle William, announcing my flight:—
“Herbert early this morning left us, and without in the slightest degree considering our feelings; as not any one in the house was aware until several hours afterwards of his having left Hinton. We however heard from a person who met him before 7 o’clock that he was walking exceedingly fast, and making the best of his way to Bath; from whence we have not the least doubt he intended to proceed to Derby. But as he may not arrive at home for some days yet, we are anxious his parents may not hear of this, that they may be spared the very great anxiety which would be caused by the thought of so young a creature travelling so long a distance, friendless and pennyless! Had there been any cause for this strange conduct we should not have been so much surprised; but nothing in the world has occurred to give him any reason for such a step. He has been treated with the greatest kindness, and has not been in any instance punished; indeed he has been much more indulged than before his Father left us.
“It is my decided opinion that unless his Parents punish him severely, and return him again to us immediately, it will not only be insulting to us, but ruinous to the boy himself!”
Later in order of date, though written on the day of my arrival in Derby, is a letter from my mother to my uncle and aunt, from which the following is an extract:—
“I think no one could picture the astonishment and grief I felt when he walked into the room. His Father was at Coxbench and did not arrive till ten the same evening, and was as you will suppose quite overcome, and was a length of time before he recovered from the tremour it put him into. Poor Herbert is exceedingly distressed. He weeps very much but says he could not help it, the confinement to his own room for so many hours was more than he could bear. He wishes his uncle to be told how sorry he is to offend him so, but appears to consider that there is no hope of forgiveness whilst he lives. It seems that he wept most of his way home, and from what I can gather his tears appear to have been mixed up with those of penitence. I should think it very likely he will have an illness from walking such a distance with only the support of bread and water. I had given him on the morning I left Hinton two shillings for the purpose of purchasing needles for his insects and any other little matter he might require. With this sum he reached home.”
Then after an interval during which come letters from my aunt and uncle with further comments on my conduct, there occurs a long letter from my father dated August 15; in which, after speaking of my state as such that “a little more excitement would have brought on a brain fever,” and after narrating a conversation he had with me, he continues:—
“I fear being tiresome, but I have said thus far, that you may form some idea of the child’s feelings. That this desperate step was taken in part from an overweening desire to see home and to enjoy the habits of home and the affections of his parents, I can have no doubt, notwithstanding his silence on the subject whilst with you, might lead to the thought that he had not much regard for either. Believing this as I do, and believing too that his bodily frame was quite in a state of inflammatory action, I confess I durst not think of sending him back immediately; notwithstanding I had shortly after the opinion of our dear Anna that a contrary conduct would be attended with the worst of consequences.
“I might mention in corroberation a journey he once took to Ingleby, a distance of 7 miles, to see me, without his mother’s knowledge and when he was only 9 years old, and in the performance of which he ran the greater part of the way. But these feelings are not peculiar to him. You yourself no doubt recollect longing after home so intensely whilst at Nottingham, that although my father to comfort you did what I never knew him to do before or since, go over on purpose to see you, yet so ungovernable were your longings after home, that in defiance of all entreaties you ran after the coach that was taking your father from you, and compelled them by your importunities to take you too. This occurrence has also forcibly brought to my mind the intense feeling you showed when at Quorn on the same subject, and how repeatedly I used to go over to try to comfort you, and to act the part of a father to you. Let us not forget these feelings of our youth, my dear brother. They are dear to my memory, and I invite you to cherish them.”
After being more than a fortnight at home, my father thought me sufficiently recovered to return. I was received at Hinton very amicably. No mention was made of the misdemeanour, and things went on as if nothing had happened: my uncle’s plan, however, of separating S——— and myself not being repeated.
YOUTH AT HINTON.
Though Hinton Charterhouse figured in the last chapter, no description was given of its character, surroundings, and society. As a considerable portion of my youth was passed there, something under these heads seems called for.
On the road from Bath to Frome, which is eight miles further, Hinton stands on the top of one of the higher tracts in those regions. Though not itself a picturesque place, it has picturesque places all around. The country is hilly; and distant downs of oolite close in the adjacent valleys. Near at hand, is a beautiful village called Freshford, on the banks of the Avon, which runs through it to Bath and finally to Bristol. This was at that time, and perhaps is now, a place of residence for retired naval and military officers, and kindred people. Among others, the Colonel Napier who wrote the History of the Peninsular War, lived there.
In the village of Hinton Charterhouse itself, the chief place was Hinton House, where resided Mrs. Day, of whom we saw nothing. At one time my uncle visited there, but some coolness had arisen. There was also Hinton Abbey—a gothic building of some age with detached ruins dating from monkish times. It had long been the seat of a family named Humphreys, into which a Captain Simmons married; and his daughter had been married to my aunt’s brother, Mr. Harold Brooke. Hinton Parsonage was situated about a third of a mile from the village on the way towards Bath. It had been built by my uncle with funds which, though added to by himself, were chiefly raised. Ecclesiastically, Hinton had long been an appendage to the neighbouring parish of Norton. Centuries had passed since there had been a resident clergyman. Indeed my uncle was the first since catholic days; and by a strange coincidence, his catholic predecessor bore the same name—Thomas Spencer.
At the time I went to Hinton, my uncle was about 36, and my aunt, I think, about 26. He was a man of energetic, strongly-marked character; and, himself exemplifying the results of successful effort, had a somewhat too unqualified belief that in all cases those who did not succeed had themselves to blame. Thoroughly sincere in his beliefs, he was at the same time much more liberal than most in the construction he put upon the beliefs of others. The honours he took at Cambridge show him to have been intellectually above the average; and he was not without originality of thought. Indeed he exhibited a good deal of this, considering the narrowing discipline he had passed through. Of my aunt, née Anna Maria Brooke, I may say that she was a woman of ordinary intelligence and superior moral nature; having much philanthropic feeling, joined with much self-control. She belonged, as did my uncle, to the evangelical school: he, when at Cambridge, having been one of the adherents of Mr. Simeon. She was of Irish-Scotch extraction. Her grandfather had been at one time governor of St. Helena; and her father, a military officer in India, had died many years before her marriage.
Not much social intercourse was kept up by my uncle and his wife. He was not a man who made himself attractive in society. Always absorbed in some one topic which at the time interested him (usually connected with public welfare) he was too apt to turn the conversation in his own direction; and this trait, joined with absence of taste for the trivial talk of county dinner-parties, put him out of sympathy with most of his neighbours: differences of opinion concerning political and ecclesiastical questions probably aiding. Hence, excepting rare exchanges of calls and dinners with some two or three friends at Freshford, and with connexions at Hinton Abbey, there were no visits save those to my aunt’s Anglo-Indian relations in Bath, which were frequent.
My uncle had long been in the habit of taking resident pupils, generally to prepare them for college. The one to whom I have already referred as being there at the time I went to Hinton, was a young Irishman, S———. Unfortunately S——— was not a desirable companion. Though five years my senior, his knowledge and ability were not such as made me feel my inferiority; and hence my natural independence was fostered rather than repressed. Moreover, his disposition was none of the best, and our relations continually tended towards antagonism; so that on the whole, an undesirable effect was produced by the association.
For some time my life now passed in an uneventful way. The daily routine was not a trying one. In the morning Euclid and Latin, in the afternoon commonly gardening, or sometimes, a walk; and in the evening, after a little more study, usually of Algebra I think, came reading, with occasionally chess. I became at that time very fond of chess, and acquired some skill. My aversion to linguistic studies, early shown, still continued. Under date September 29, 1833, my father writes to me—
“Certainly you have a taste for composition, and it would indeed be strange if it should so happen that you should have a distaste for words of which such composition is formed.”
And, writing to my uncle on October 28, he says—
“What do you conceive he is the most adapted to? Does he still retain the aversion to Latin that he had? And if he does, how do you account for it? And will it be well to yield to it?”
Very different was my attitude towards mathematics. At about the same date there is mention of demonstrations made by myself of propositions in the fourth book of Euclid: not, however, approved by my uncle. Of the tendency to independent thinking thus illustrated, a very significant illustration was supplied by a discussion concerning a question in mechanics. In October, one of my letters home refers to the reading aloud of Dr. Arnott’s work on Physics (edition of 1833). Among other subjects the book deals with, is that of inertia; and a statement respecting it drew forth a demurrer from me. The following must, I think, be the passage containing the doctrine to which I could not assent.
“It is the resistance overcome . . . which is called the inertia of the mass, or the vis intertiæ, and sometimes to help the conception of the student, the stubbornness, sluggishness, or inactivity; but no one of these words can originally suggest to the mind all that is intended to be conveyed.”—Pp. 51-2.
In opposition to this I contended that there could not be a vis inertiæ—that inertia was not a positive force. It seemed to me clear that a body could have nothing more than simple passiveness; and that there could not be in it any principle of active resistance, as implied by Arnott’s words. My uncle took the view which Arnott appeared to take, in adopting the word stubbornness as explanatory; and my constitutional disregard for authority was shown by dissenting from the opinions of both. I can still remember that to illustrate my position, I said that if a man-of-war could be suspended from the heavens, a push against the side of it would move it—of course very little. Naturally my uncle was irritated by my obstinate defence of my belief; in presence, too, of my fellow pupil and my aunt. Certainly it was strange for a boy of thirteen to display such self-confidence. And it was not only morally significant as showing how deep-seated was the tendency to criticize opinions, and to reject those which did not commend themselves; but it was significant intellectually as showing a quick insight into physical truths. For I was right in my position, notwithstanding the authorities against me.
The trait of character thus displayed was, I see, shortly afterwards displayed in another, and less offensive, way. In a letter to my father dated January 28, 1834, there occurs the passage:—
“I forgot to tell you in my last letter that I had made some problems in Algebra with which my uncle was much pleased, and as I want something to fill up I will tell you them all.” [Here follow seven algebraic problems, sundry of which might serve for a beginner.] “My uncle was most pleased with the 5th of these, which the [he] thought was very original.”
Correspondence shows that in March, I was learning French grammar, Greek, and Trigonometry. In both the French and the Greek my progress was extremely small; and what little there was was under pressure. With Trigonometry I speak as being delighted: sending my father some solutions of trigonometrical questions. It was at this time, too, that I sent home a sketch of the parsonage, which, inartistic enough, was a tolerably good representation of the house and its surroundings.
A little before this time, the New Poor Law came into operation. Previously, my uncle had always been a pauper’s friend: habitually siding with the pauper against the overseer. But the debates during the passage of the bill through Parliament, had opened his eyes; and as soon as it passed he began to apply its provisions to Hinton, before yet the Bath Union was formed (obtaining, I believe, authority from the Poor Law Commissioners with whom he was in communication). His actions in the parish formed daily topics of conversation; so that I was perpetually hearing social questions raised and commented upon.
Euclid was gone through again at this time; and mention is made of the fact that I was able to repeat some of the propositions without the figures: not, as might be supposed, by rote-learning, but by the process of mentally picturing the figures and their letters, and carrying on the demonstrations from the mental pictures.
The following extracts from letters indicate the results of the year’s training, moral and intellectual. Writing to my grandmother on June 9, my uncle says of me:—
“He has not yet attained the power of studying of his own accord, and if he were at home, it is my opinion he would not learn as much in a year as he ought to do in a month.”
And on June 20, he writes to my father:—
“At different times during the last few months I should have been rather inconsistent with myself in my opinions of Herbert, had I given them to you. Sometimes I have seen much that was hopeful and at other times much that was discouraging. Of his talents there can be no doubt they are of a very superior order, and when he is under the restraining effect of an observing tutor and all trivial pursuits are banished from his thoughts, then a calm and grave diligence in study and cheerful quickness of intellect distinguish all he does, and one cannot help treating him with an increase of confidence in manner and that kind of commendation at least which evident satisfaction with his conduct shews. But the mischief is that too soon the injurious effects of this are seen by diminished diligence and modesty. The grand deficiency in Herbert’s natural character is in the principle of Fear. And it is only so far as his residence with me has supplied that principle in a degree unusual to him, that after a few struggles he entirely surrendered himself to obey me with a promptness & alacrity that would have given you pleasure to witness; & the more obedient I have observed him the more I have refrained from exercising authority. By Fear, I mean both that ‘Fear of the Lord’ which ‘is the beginning of wisdom,’ and that fear of Parents, Tutors, &c.”
That the opinions expressed in these extracts were in large measure true, I have no doubt. I was at that time, as always before and ever after, very idle unless under the stimulus of some powerful motive: usually the desire to compass some large end.
Towards the close of June, in company with my uncle, I went to London. Reaching Watford the day after, I there joined my father and mother who were visiting Mr. Charles Fox (afterwards Sir Charles Fox) who had in boyhood been a pupil of my father, and was engaged as sub-engineer under Mr. Robert Stephenson on the London and Birmingham Railway (the initial part of the London and North Western), then in course of construction. A pleasant fortnight was passed there: one of the pleasures being the novel one of feeling myself an object of parental approval. There was some fishing, too; for I had taken my rod on the strength of the conclusion that the name of the place, Watford, implied a river. Some interesting days were passed in going with Mr. Fox over the line, and among other places into the Watford tunnel, at that time being pierced. Moreover, I made, rather I fancy as a task than from liking, a sketch of Mr. Fox’s house in oils: miserable enough artistically but tolerable as a portrait. This, I remember, my father preserved, stuck up in his bedroom for many years; though certainly not because of any decorative value it had.
Another fortnight was spent with friends in London. Along with the ordinary sights seen was one at that time not ordinary—the Zoological Gardens; then a private collection visited only by fellows of the Zoological Society or by those they introduced. One of the fellows, Mr. T. Rymer Jones, afterwards professor at King’s College, another of my father’s old pupils, took, us. Beyond the general impression of the place, then relatively small, I recall only, by an unaccountable freak of memory, a discussion about going to theatres, between Mr. Jones and my father—my father reprobating the practice. He had not at that time outgrown the puritanical bias of the family, as, later in life, he did.
At the close of the holidays I accompanied my parents home to Derby, and there soon verified my uncle’s prophecy; as witness the following extract from a letter of his dated August 14, apparently in response to some letter from my father:—
“I am led more particularly to this by the fact that he has learnt only 24 propositions of 6th book in a fortnight, when he knows well he could easily learn the whole book in a week.”
Correspondence shows, however, that as some addition to this small amount of work, I had commenced perspective under my father’s instruction. In this case, as in others, he adopted the self-help method of teaching. Having explained what perspective is, using a plate of glass with an object behind it, and showing me the relations of the different elements—point of sight, centre of the picture, horizon, and so forth—he set me to solve each of the successive problems myself. I am not sure when this series of lessons came to an end—whether that year or the next; but I remember that I went through the whole of perspective in this manner.
When I got back to Hinton in October, I found there an additional pupil, Robert P———, a youth of 18 or 19, who had been at Harrow, and came to my uncle for a year before going to India. He had not much more capacity than S———; but was good-humoured. A sentence concerning him in a letter from my uncle to my father, may fitly be quoted because of the implications it contains:—
“Anna’s cousin Robert P———, is a very agreeable, polite and intelligent young man, so much more gentlemanly than S———, and showing off S——— to such disadvantage, that Anna and I both begin to think the fault was more with S——— than with Herbert whenever they disagreed.”
There was now made a discovery which brought me into disgrace, and which, had it been made earlier, would have in great measure negatived the favourable estimate made of me when I went home. An old musket was kept in the house, for safety’s sake; and during the previous spring I had fallen into the habit of going with this after small birds about the place, while my uncle and aunt and S——— were at Bath. This went on for months and nothing transpired. In the autumn after my return, S———, who had brought a fowling-piece from home, lent it to me, and I used this instead of the musket. Not only did I thus waste my own time, but I sometimes led into idleness a young fellow employed as groom and gardener, by taking him with me. Of course when these facts came out, there resulted an explosion; and I was under a cloud for some time.
Letters show that in December I was put under more pressure than previously in respect of the studies I was averse to. Arrangements were made by my father under which I had, before given dates, to send him certain amounts of translations. I continued to be very stupid. On December 8, my uncle writes:—
“Herbert sets himself to work in any difficulty in a very bungling manner; displaying great ignorance of the nature of his own language, as well as the Latin. He never knew much of English Grammar. . . . I find it much more laborious on this account, and also from his very great forgetfulness of his Latin Grammar, even in parts that he has repeated to me.”
A letter from him of a previous week contains a passage which I had not expected to find. He says:—
“I think he has got a much better notion of construing Greek. He can only prepare for me a few verses of St. John; but what he does prepare he has very accurately, which is a very important matter.”
I am surprised that it was ever possible to say as much even as this, seeing how unteachable I continued always to be. As to my ignorance of English grammar, my uncle’s statement might have been properly much stronger. He should have said I knew nothing of English grammar. It was one of the things I was excused from when at school, in consequence of my father’s desire that I should not be pressed. My knowledge of it was limited to such few words and phrases as occasionally caught my ears from school-fellows who were saying their lessons; and as the subject was repugnant to me, these made on my mind mere mechanical impressions, the meanings of which I never thought about. The acquaintance I gained under pressure with the Latin, Greek, and French grammars was but small. I never got to the end of the conjugations in any one of them; and as to syntax, not a single rule of any kind was taught me. I believe one cause for my dislike to language learning was that I had an aversion to everything purely dogmatic. It seemed as though in all matters statements must be put before me under forms comprehensible by reason; or, at any rate, not under the form of mere assertion. Present anything as a rule—No; present it as a principle—Yes. These words will briefly express my indifference and interest in the two cases. The antithesis is exemplified by a fact which I have observed of myself when having to perform calculations. As a boy I was taught the rule of three; but it soon faded from my memory. As a boy, not long after, I was taught the laws of proportion. These I have remembered; and now, whenever an arithmetical operation involving the rule of three has to be performed, I never think of the rule as learnt, but I deduce my rule afresh from the truth that in any proportion the product of the extremes is equal to the product of the means.
Shortly after the dates of the above letters, my uncle visited Derby; and a letter to me from my father then written, contains passages worth quoting:—
“The accounts received (since my dear brother’s arrival) of your obedience and desire to oblige, have been highly cheering to our minds; drooping as they occasionally are under your absence, and under the thought of your future prospects in life.” . . . “Both your uncle and aunt have noticed, that at certain times, your voice assumes a very unharmonious tone. I have repeatedly observed the same thing myself.” . . . “Depend upon it my dear fellow that the maker of us all has so ordained the universe, that a kind state of feeling will be accompanied by a kind tone of voice. And a kind tone of voice is almost synonymous with a musical voice. Look around you through nature, and I shall be much surprised if you don’t find the rule general if not universal.”
After his return to Hinton my uncle says concerning me, in a letter of Jan. 23:—
“I have made particular enquiries as to his conduct during my absence. I find Anna allowed him the 1st week almost for himself, and particularly observed whether, of his own accord, he would take up his painting or any other subject of self-improvement, but was disappointed to find he in no instance did so. Amusement, and reading Chambers’s Journal, were the only occupations.” . . . “With this exception of a main spring in this machine, all other things go on well. He uses in my absence a little dictatorial manner of speaking to R. P——— I understand; but as far as I see, he has much less of that fault than he formerly had.” . . . “Anything more attentive than his manner to me cannot be imagined; but still this stimulus he cannot always have, and if we can but see some inward principle of action it would be very cheering.”
During the spring of 1835 things appear to have gone on smoothly: comments being made upon my diligence. Before the end of May I had been through the eleventh book of Euclid and also through “Lectures on Mechanics”—either Wood’s Mechanics, a text-book in my uncle’s college days, which I certainly went through at some time, or else the Cambridge Lectures which he had written down, and which we studied from his MS. Referring to these studies, and giving me a problem to solve, my father says in a letter of August 4:—
“Now if you can’t answer this and the other questions which I have sent, I shall think that you have not digested well what you have already eaten. And I suppose you will agree with me that without food is well digested, it affords little or no strength, however nice it may have been in the eating. Remember, also, that unless a person takes a deal of exercise they may soon eat more than does them good, although they may have excellent stomachs. In your next apply these illustrations to intellectual pursuits.”
I presume that this admonition was not in my case much needed; since if I had not assimilated the mechanical principles already taught to me, my uncle would not have advanced me to a higher stage, as he had done some days before the above passage was written. In a letter to my father dated July 28, I apologized for breaking off because “I have to learn a quantity of Newton to keep up with the others this morning;” and there occurs the sentence—“But I am very proud of having got into Newton.” Reference to the MS. book, which I still possess, shows that I did not go very far; but this it appears was due to the fact that I shortly left Hinton for a time.
About this period we read aloud Miss Martineau’s Tales of Political Economy. Years before, when at home, I had read sundry of them; and comments to my advantage had been made in consequence. I believe that these were but little deserved, and that I read for the stories and skipped the political economy. However, from remarks in my letters written in the spring of 1835, it appears that I had gathered something of a solid kind.
In August, 1835, I went home. As before, so again, it resulted that when not subject to my uncle’s discipline, I studied but little. There was, however, an additional pursuit, namely Chemistry; my experiments in which are named in letters to Hinton. There is also mention of discussions on physical and moral questions with my father: some of them being raised afresh when writing to my uncle, with a request for his opinion.
I was received back at Hinton very cordially in November. There I found a new comer replacing S———, who had gone home. He also was from Ireland—an Irishman I was going to say; but literally an Irish youth, younger than myself, named F———. He did not raise my conception of the average intelligence; for he had still less faculty than preceding pupils. However, though stupid, he was good-tempered; and that made the exchange advantageous.
A letter written home in December contains a sketch-plan of the house and grounds, not made from measure, but from general inspection and knowledge of the place. It was thought that I could not have done such a thing without a copy; but this was untrue. My perception of locality was at that time somewhat unusual—much greater than in later life. It was one of those powers which sometimes develop early and afterwards sink into the background; as in the cases of boys showing special powers of calculation.
At the close of the year I made my first appearance in print. A small periodical called The Bath Magazine had been announced to make its first appearance on January 1, 1836; and my uncle had been invited to contribute. I heard much about the proposed periodical while preliminaries were being arranged, and my ambition to write for it was aroused. This I did secretly. My contribution was a letter describing the formation of certain curiously-shaped floating crystals which I had observed during the preceding autumn when crystallizing common salt. The letter appeared in due course to my great delight, and to the surprise of my relations. Once having commenced, of course the ambition was to continue; and a topic then dominant in the conversation at Hinton furnished the subject of a second letter—a reply to a communication antagonistic to the New Poor Law, which had been published in the first number of the magazine. I name the circumstance as showing that, even at that time, there was interest in topics of widely diverse kinds.
My letters to my father continued to contain more or less that was original—sometimes problems which I set him in Geometry or Algebra, and at other times ideas in Mechanics. A passage in one of them dated January 31, 1836, runs as follows:—
“I have just invented an improvement on the air pump, that is, on the manner of working it. If you remember I mentioned to you while I was at home, that I thought it would be a great improvement if we could turn the handle the whole instead of half-way round; because on the present plan you not only stand in a disadvantageous position, but every time you stop the handle, you lose the momentum acquired in going half way round, whereas by my plan in which there are only three more wheels, you may go right round.”
Whether I deluded myself or not in supposing my plan practicable, the incident is significant: partly as again showing that which has already been shown in so many ways—the self-reliance which, among other results, prompts original thought—and partly as implying some mechanical ingenuity. Another illustration of this self-reliance is furnished by correspondence at that time. Mention is made of proofs of my uncle’s pamphlets read by me for the correction of typographical errors and punctuation; and the mention is accompanied by some criticism on his style (!) A propos of these pamphlets, some of which were on the Poor Laws and some on other topics, I may add that my uncle had been recently appointed the first Chairman of the Board of Guardians of the Bath Union. He also took part in the temperance agitation, as well as in other philanthropic activities; and the correspondence proves that I had a considerable interest in all that went on. The daily discussions constituted a useful discipline, having results in after life.
One of my fellow-pupils, P———, obtained his expected Indian appointment about the close of 1835, and thereafter disappeared from our circle. Our relation had been amicable; and at parting he presented me with all his fishing gear. In a letter to my father dated January 7, 1836, the following remarks are made by my aunt in reference to this change:—
“He has I think felt Robt. P———’s loss a good deal. Not that I mean to say he cared much for him as a favourite friend—but merely as a companion, Herbert still continuing so dependent on others for amusement and happiness. I know this is natural to all young people; but I do not think for that reason they are improved by having companions constantly with them—I mean boys of their own age. He still continues very reserved; but I certainly see a great improvement in many things.”
Correspondence soon after this refers to some facts which perhaps have a general physiological meaning, and are therefore here worth noting, though otherwise of no interest. I was, it seems, growing rapidly—three inches per year: having previously been rather slow of growth. In a letter to my father which quotes remarks made about my increasing stature, there is a statement respecting my mental condition, which neither I nor those around seem to have suspected had any relation to the rapid growth, though it probably had. Here is a quotation:—
“I do not find my mind in as bright a state as I could wish. Just now I feel as though I had lost nearly all my energy. I think it is partly owing to want of competition, for now P——— is gone I have less stimulus to exertion; but I do not think it can be all owing to that and I am at a loss to account for it.”
My uncle, too, at the same period comments on my dulness and failure of memory. Certainly this last trait must have been very marked. Not only have I absolutely forgotten some books I read at that time, but until perusal of my letters proved that I had read them, I did not know that I had ever seen them. Was not growth the cause? If excess of muscular effort, as in a pedestrian tour, is apt to leave behind inertness of brain, which for a time makes mental work difficult, it is reasonable to suppose that an unusual draft upon the resources of the system for building up the body, may, in like manner, leave the brain inadequately supplied, and cause feebleness in its action.
It is worth inquiring whether in such cases there is not produced a simultaneous moral effect. If there is such an effect, an explanation is yielded of the fact which the correspondence of the time proves, that there occurred a deterioration in my relations to my uncle and aunt. I got out of favour with them, and I was dissatisfied with my uncle’s treatment of me. Is there not reason to think that rapid growth may temporarily affect the emotional nature disadvantageously, in common with the intellectual nature? As in children failure of cerebral nutrition, when caused by inactivity of the alimentary canal, is commonly accompanied by ill-temper; so, it seems not improbable that when the failure of cerebral nutrition is caused by the demands made for increase of the bodily structure, a kindred result may be entailed. Conditions which bring about a defective supply of blood to the brain, tend to throw the higher powers out of action while they leave the lower in action: the later and less evolved faculties feeling the effects of an ebb-tide of blood, more than the earlier and fully evolved ones. Such a relation, if proved to exist, should be taken into account in the treatment of young people.
Nothing worthy of record occurred during the spring of 1836. The treacherousness of memory complained of, while it decreased my already-small aptitude for linguistic studies, told less in other directions. That which remained with me best was the mathematical knowledge I had acquired; for though the details of this slipped, I readily renewed them. Thus in May 1836 I describe myself in a letter as going through six books of Euclid in a week and a half.
This appears to have been my last piece of student-work. In June I went home finally; and my life at Hinton closed after having lasted three years—or rather, deducting the intervals spent at home, nearly two years and a half.
A brief review of its results may be worth making. Certainly it had been physically advantageous. I returned to Derby strong, in good health, and of good stature: my ultimate height (not then reached, however), being five feet ten inches. I had doubtless benefited both by the rural life and by the climate, which is bracing.
Intellectually I had profited much. A fair amount of mathematics had been acquired; and the accompanying discipline had strengthened my reasoning powers. In the acquisition of languages but trifling success had been achieved: in French nothing beyond the early part of the grammar and a few pages of a phrase book; in Greek a little grammar I suppose, and such knowledge as resulted from rendering into English a few chapters of the New Testament; and in Latin some small ability to translate the easy books given to beginners—always, however, with more or less of blundering. Education at Hinton was not wide in its range. No history was read; there was no culture in general literature; nor had the concrete sciences any place in our course. Poetry and fiction were left out entirely. All shortcomings recognized, however, I derived great benefit from being made to apply far more than I should have done otherwise. Probably, but for my life at Hinton I should have gone on idly, learning next to nothing.
Morally, too, the régime I had lived under was salutary. Unfortunately during the years of my life at home, there was not that strong government required to keep me in order, while there was a continual attempt at government: the results being frequent disobediences and reprimands. Out of the objectionable mood of mind consequent on this, my uncle’s firmer rule got me. It was better to be under a control which I no doubt resented, but to which I had to conform, than to be under a control which prompted resistance because resistance was frequently successful. The best results would have been achieved by one who had my father’s higher ideal along with my uncle’s stronger will. Had there been an adequate appeal to the higher nature, something much superior would, I think, have resulted; for I remember cases which prove that I might have been self-coerced through the sympathies and affections had these been kept awake. One of the defects in my uncle’s training was due to the asceticism in which he had been brought up. This prevented him from adequately recognizing the need for positive amusement. There was in the daily life laid out for us little provision for other relaxation than that which came from leaving off intellectual work and turning to some occupation out of doors, such as gardening.
But criticism is somewhat out of place. I was treated with much more consideration and generosity than might have been expected. There was shown great patience in prosecuting what seemed by no means a hopeful undertaking. Had I been in my uncle’s place I think I should have soon relinquished it. Of my aunt, also, I may say that there was displayed by her much kindly feeling and a strong sense of duty. Indeed they might be instanced in proof that religious convictions reinforce naturally right tendencies, and cause perseverance in good works notwithstanding discouragements. Reading the correspondence has impressed me strongly with the fact that I owe very much to them. They had to deal with intractable material—an individuality too stiff to be easily moulded.
On reading over the foregoing account, based partly on my own recollections and partly on family correspondence, it occurs to me that the impressions it leaves may need discounting: more especially the impressions likely to be produced by the letters of my father and my uncle. Some of the unquoted passages written by them, showed that in forming their estimates of me they used, as measures, the remembrances of their own boyhood, and also show that they were eminently “good” boys. Thus gauged, not by the average boy-nature but by an exceptional boy-nature, I was more unfavourably judged than I should otherwise have been. I am led to make this remark by recalling the descriptions of doings at boys’ schools (and especially public schools) which I have occasionally read; ending with the recent incident at King’s College School, (April, 1885) where a boy’s death resulted from ill-usage by his school-fellows. Certainly the brutalities commonly committed I could never have committed. Transgressions due to insubordination, such as going out of bounds and the like, would probably have been more numerous than usual; but transgressions of a graver kind would, I believe, have been less numerous. The extrinsically-wrong actions would have been many, but the intrinsically-wrong actions would have been few.
I do not insist much on this qualification, but it occurs to me to name it as perhaps one that should be made.
A FALSE START.
Letters dating fifty odd years back, enabled me to give to the last chapter a much more graphic character than memory alone would have enabled me to give it. In describing the year and a half which now follows, correspondence gives me but little aid. As I was at home throughout this interval, the occasions for reference to me in the communications between Hinton and Derby were comparatively few. Such incidents only as I can recollect must fill in the space.
Not long after my return my father, possibly because he wanted the information, but more probably because he wished to test my ability to apply the knowledge I had gained, sent me over to Kirk-Ireton to make a survey of the small property there belonging to him—two fields and three cottages with their gardens: a property which had been in the family for several generations. About the methods used in surveying I knew nothing. The subject had not been touched at Hinton. But my father was right in what I presume was his expectation, that my geometrical knowledge would adequately serve me in executing so simple a task. I brought him back the survey next day.
What gave me an interest in architecture at that time I cannot remember; but something prompted me to make designs for a country house. They were very absurd in relation to their end; for the arrangements were I remember, simply those of a town house transferred into the country. But the drawings, still existing somewhere among my papers, show a certain amount of aptitude as a draughtsman—if the word is applicable to a youth of sixteen.
It was either during the autumn of 1836, or during that of 1837, that I hit upon a remarkable property of the circle, not, so far as I have been able to learn, previously discovered: one which falls within the division of mathematics originally called Descriptive Geometry, but now known as the Geometry of Position. I did not then attempt a proof. This was not supplied until some two years later. The theorem and its demonstration were eventually published. (See Appendix B.)
One further recollection I may set down as at once amusing and characteristic. The possibility of a day’s fishing in the Trent had suddenly presented itself. Eagerly occupying myself during the previous evening in getting ready my appliances, I retired to bed somewhat early with the intention of starting at daybreak. Even in those days much excitement kept me awake; and the forthcoming gratification so filled my thoughts that for hours I vainly turned from side to side. All the while the room was partially illuminated by the light of a full moon, which penetrated the wide curtains. Somewhere about three o’clock the thought occurred to me—Why lie here tossing about? Why not start at once? The thought was forthwith acted upon. I got up, dressed, sallied out, walked by moonlight to Swarkstone, five miles off, and began fishing by moonlight.
My father had formed a high estimate of the dignity of his profession. He held, and rightly held, that there are few functions higher than that of the educator.
As ordinarily conceived and as ordinarily discharged, the function does not draw to itself much respect. Partly, under-valuation of the teacher is a concomitant of that under-valuation of knowledge, which has characterized past times; and dates back to feudal days, when reading and writing were not among knightly accomplishments, and when learning was considered as properly left to the children of mean people. Partly, however, it is consequent upon the low quality of the teacher, as he has been exemplified in ordinary experience. Not uncommonly the occupation of training the young has, among men, been undertaken by those who have failed in other occupations; and, among women, by those who have been left destitute or in difficulties—people with no pretension either to natural fitness or to special preparation. The usual belief has been that anyone might hear lessons said, or teach writing, or point out errors in sums. Even the abilities displayed by those who have filled the higher posts—masters in public schools and the like—have not been such as to inspire their pupils or others with much reverence. Men who have gone on generation after generation pursuing a mere mechanical routine—men who have never brought any analytical faculty to bear on the minds of their pupils—men who have never thought of trying to ascertain the normal course of intellectual development, with the view of adapting their methods to the successive stages reached—men who have, from the earliest days down to the present time, taught abstractions before their pupils have acquired any of the concrete facts from which they are abstractions; such men, I say, have naturally failed to impress their fellow-citizens. One who, not being a slave of tradition, contemplates schools as they have been, and as many of them still are, instead of being struck by the stupidity of the pupils, may more reasonably be struck by the stupidity of the masters.
It was because his ideal of education was so much higher than that commonly entertained, that my father differed from most persons so widely in the rank he assigned to the teacher’s office. If he did not make mental development a subject of deliberate study, yet he had reached some general ideas concerning it, and saw the need for adjusting the course of instruction to the successive stages through which the mind passes. Instead of persisting in methods devised in rude times and unthinkingly persevered in down to our own, he constantly sought for better methods. Always he aimed to insure an intelligent understanding of that which was taught: never being content with mere passive acceptance of it. And perceiving how involved a process is the unfolding of intellect, how important it is that the process should be aided and not thwarted, and what need there is for invention and judgment in the choice of means, he saw that, carried on as it should be, the educator’s function is one which calls for intellectual powers of the highest order, and perpetually taxes these to the full. Not in intellect only, but in feeling, did his conception of the true educator demand superiority. He habitually sought, and sought successfully, to obtain the confidence of his pupils by showing sympathy with them in their difficulties and in their successes; and thus secured a state of mind favourable to intellectual achievement, as well as to emotional improvement. He might, in short, be placed in contrast with that schoolmaster of Carlyle, described in his Reminiscences; and of whose harsh treatment of the stupid, Carlyle speaks admiringly after his manner.
Thus estimating so highly his profession as one inferior to few in order of natural rank, my father evidently desired that I should adopt it. He never, however, definitely expressed his desire: perceiving, I fancy, that there was on my part a reluctance.
Had it not been at variance with his nature to lay a plot, I might have supposed that my father had plotted to lead me into the career of the teacher. One day towards the end of July 1837, he told me that Mr. Mather, the schoolmaster with whom I had been during the earlier part of my boyhood, had lost his assistant, and had failed to find another. His vacation was coming to a close: leaving him, as he said, in some difficulty. The question put to me was, whether I would play the part of assistant until he obtained one. I had been at home for a year doing nothing; and though to assent went against my inclination, I felt I could not do otherwise than assent.
Whether advised to do so by my father, or whether of his own motion, I do not know, but Mr. Mather assigned to me the least mechanical part of the teaching; and in this I succeeded fairly well—perhaps, indeed, better than most would have done. A certain facility of exposition being natural to me, I had also, by implication, some interest in explaining things to those who did not understand them. Hence in respect of the subjects I dealt with, my lessons were at once effective and pleasure-giving. Especially with geometry I succeeded so well that the weekly lesson was eagerly looked forward to; and in our miscellaneous readings, I managed by comments and pieces of information beyond those contained in the books read, to create willing attention and resulting good recollection. In short, led mainly I doubt not by the example of my father, and partly by personal experience, I fell into natural methods rather than mechanical methods.
Very possibly, bearing in mind the account I have given of myself in the last chapter, the reader will infer that my relations with those under my control were inharmonious. If he does so, he will be wrong, however. It has been often remarked that the slave and the tyrant are in nature the same; and that it is merely a question of circumstances which part is played. The converse proposition, if not true in full measure, is partly true. He who by nature is prone to resist coercion, is, if duly endowed with sympathy, averse to exercising coercion. I say if duly endowed with sympathy; because, if devoid of it, he may be prone to assert his own claims to freedom of action, while regardless of the claims of others. But supposing he has adequate fellow feeling, his mental representations will, in a measure, deter him from habitually using that power over others which he dislikes to have used over himself. Such at least is a connexion of traits which I have elsewhere sought to show holds in men’s social relations, and which held in my relations with my pupils. My experience extended over three months; and during many Saturday-afternoon rambles in the country, when I was in sole charge, there was, I believe, no instance in which any difficulty occurred—no exercise of authority on the one side and resistance on the other. Partly in consequence of the friendly feelings that had been produced by my way of conducting studies, and partly because I did not vex by needless interdicts, complete harmony continued throughout the entire period.
Should I have succeeded had teaching become my profession? The answer is ambiguous—Yes and No. In some respects I should probably have proved well adapted to the function; but in other respects not at all adapted.
In a preceding chapter I have remarked that the habit of castle-building, which was so strong in me as a boy, and, continuing throughout youth, did not wholly cease in adult life, passed gradually into the contemplation of schemes more or less practicable. One of these, often dwelt upon not very many years ago, was that of founding an educational institute, including lower and higher schools, in which I should be able to carry out my own plans, alike for intellectual culture, moral discipline, and physical training. The detailed arrangements to be made in these respective departments, often occupied my thoughts during leisure hours; and I think it not improbable that, had I been put in possession of the needful means, and furnished with a sufficient staff of adequately intelligent assistants, I might have done something towards exemplifying a better system of education. Freed from the executive part of the work, and responsible only for devising methods, superintending the execution of them, and maintaining order, the function would have been one not unsuitable to my nature; and might have been well discharged. At the time, however, when these day-dreams occasionally occupied me, I was already committed to an undertaking more than sufficient for my energies.
But while under such ideal conditions I might have achieved a success, under ordinary conditions I should, I believe, have failed. In the first place, I dislike mechanical routine; and though rational plans of education would make lessons much less mechanical than they are at present, a considerable part must always remain mechanical. In the second place, I have a great intolerance of monotony; and many, if not most, of a teacher’s duties are necessarily monotonous. In the third place, my desire to carry out my own ideas, alike in respect to what constitutes a good education, in respect to the methods used, and in respect to the order followed, would probably have caused frequent differences with parents. As I should have been very reluctant to surrender my plans, while most parents would probably have insisted upon the adoption of something like the ordinary curriculum, serious breaches would have frequently occurred.
So that, for these several reasons, it seems to me likely that, had I been led into the career of a teacher, I should after a time have thrown it up in disgust.
The experiment was not to be tried, however. There now occurred an incident which determined my course of life for a period of years.
My uncle William had gone to London early in November, 1837, and before the end of the first week, I received a letter from him telling me to come up immediately. The reason assigned was that he had obtained for me a post under Mr. Charles Fox, mentioned in a foregoing chapter as being, in 1834, under Mr. Robert Stephenson on the London and Birmingham Railway during its construction, and who had now become permanent resident engineer of the London division. He had, I believe, during our visit to him at Watford three years previously, formed a favourable estimate of me, in so far as my fitness for engineering was concerned; but friendship for my father was, I suspect, the chief motive for offering me the appointment.
Of course the offer was at once accepted. Already, as I see by letters, the profession of a civil engineer had been one named as appropriate for me; and this opening at once led to the adoption of it.
[*]I never saw them anywhere in print, until I met with them in an anthology made by Emerson some few years before his death.
[*]There followed five other children, none of whom lived more than a week or ten days. It was one of my misfortunes to have no brothers, and a still greater misfortune to have no sisters.
[*]If he remembers that my father’s name was William George Spencer, the reader will be puzzled by the fact that I had an uncle named William Spencer. What fancy had led to the repetition of the name William, I do not know. My father was invariably called George.
[*]I say he was incompetent; being led to say so partly by an anecdote my father told respecting him. On one occasion, when lecturing before the Philosophical Society of Derby, he exhibited the properties of the then-recently-discovered chloride of nitrogen, or, as it was called, the “detonating oil of M. Dulong.” After expatiating upon its terrific force, he was about to explode a drop placed in a saucer upon a chair, when some member of the society interposed with the suggestion that if its force was so great it might probably damage the chair. To which Mr. Murray rejoined that there was no such danger, since it was a remarkable peculiarity of the compound that it expended all its force upwards. Whereupon he proceeded with the experiment and the explosion blew the chair-bottom out.