When a month had gone by, I walked around the mountain


It will be asked what the attitude of my Father's mind was to me, and of mine to his, as regards religion, at this time, when we were thrown together alone so much. It is difficult to reply with exactitude. But so far as the former is concerned, I thinly that the extreme violence of the spiritual emotions to which my Father had been subjected, had now been followed by a certain reaction. He had not changed his views in any respect, and he was prepared to work out the results of them with greater zeal than ever, but just at present his religious nature, like his physical nature, was tired out with anxiety and sorrow. Ho accepted the supposition that I was entirely with him in all respects, so far, that is to say, as a being so rudimentary and feeble as a little child could be. My Mother, in her last hours, had dwelt on our unity in God; we were drawn together, she said, elect from the world, in a triplicity of faith and joy. She had constantly repeated the words: 'We shall be one family, one song. One song! one family!' My Father, I think, accepted this as a prophecy, he felt no doubt of our triple unity; my Mother had now merely passed before us, through a door, into a world of light, where we should presently join her, where all things would be radiant and blissful, but where we three would, in some unknown way, be particularly drawn together in a tie of inexpressible beatitude. He fretted at the delay; he would have taken me by the hand, and have joined her in the realms of holiness and light, at once, without this dreary dalliance with earthly cares.

When a month had gone by, I walked around the mountain

He held this confidence and vision steadily before him, but nothing availed against the melancholy of his natural state. He was conscious of his dull and solitary condition, and he saw, too, that it enveloped me. I think his heart was, at this time, drawn out towards me in an immense tenderness. Sometimes, when the early twilight descended upon us in the study, and he could no longer peer with advantage into the depths of his microscope, he would beckon me to him silently, and fold me closely in his arms. I used to turn my face up to his, patiently and wonderingly, while the large, unwilling tears gathered in the corners of his eyelids. My training had given me a preternatural faculty of stillness, and we would stay so, without a word or a movement, until the darkness filled the room. And then, with my little hand in his, we would walk sedately downstairs to the parlour, where we would find that the lamp was lighted, and that our melancholy vigil was ended. I do not think that at any part of our lives my Father and I were drawn so close to one another as we were in that summer of 1857. Yet we seldom spoke of what lay so warm and fragrant between us, the flower-like thought of our Departed.

When a month had gone by, I walked around the mountain

The visit to my cousins had made one considerable change in me. Under the old solitary discipline, my intelligence had grown at the expense of my sentiment. I was innocent, but inhuman. The long suffering and the death of my Mother had awakened my heart, had taught me what pain was, but had left me savage and morose. I had still no idea of the relations of human beings to one another; I had learned no word of that philosophy which comes to the children of the poor in the struggle of the street and to the children of the well-to-do in the clash of the nursery. In other words, I had no humanity; I had been carefully shielded from the chance of 'catching' it, as though it were the most dangerous of microbes. But now that I had enjoyed a little of the common experience of childhood, a great change had come upon me. Before I went to Clifton, my mental life was all interior, a rack of baseless dream upon dream. But, now, I was eager to look out of the window, to go out in the streets; I was taken with a curiosity about human life. Even from my vantage of the window- pane, I watched boys and girls go by with an interest which began to be almost wistful.

When a month had gone by, I walked around the mountain

Still I continued to have no young companions. But on summer evenings I used to drag my Father out, taking the initiative myself, stamping in playful impatience at his irresolution, fetching his hat and stick, and waiting. We used to sally forth at last together, hand in hand, descending the Caledonian Road, with all its shops, as far as Mother Shipton, or else winding among the semi-genteel squares and terraces westward by Copenhagen Street, or, best of all, mounting to the Regent's Canal, where we paused to lean over the bridge and watch flotillas of ducks steer under us, or little white dogs dash, impotently furious, from stem to stern of the great, lazy barges painted in a crude vehemence of vermilion and azure. These were happy hours, when the spectre of Religion ceased to overshadow us for a little while, when my Father forgot the Apocalypse and dropped his austere phraseology, and when our bass and treble voices used to ring out together over some foolish little jest or some mirthful recollection of his past experiences. Little soft oases these, in the hard desert of our sandy spiritual life at home.

There was an unbending, too, when we used to sing together, in my case very tunelessly. I had inherited a plentiful lack of musical genius from my Mother, who had neither ear nor voice, and who had said, in the course of her last illness, 'I shall sing His praise, at length, in strains I never could master here below'. My Father, on the other hand, had some knowledge of the principles of vocal music, although not, I am afraid, much taste. He had at least great fondness for singing hymns, in the manner then popular with the Evangelicals, very loudly, and so slowly that I used to count how many words I could read silently, between one syllable of the singing and another. My lack of skill did not prevent me from being zealous at these vocal exercises, and my Father and I used to sing lustily together. The Wesleys, Charlotte Elliott ('Just as I am, without one plea'), and James Montgomery ('Forever with the Lord') represented his predilection in hymnology. I acquiesced, although that would not have been my independent choice. These represented the devotional verse which made its direct appeal to the evangelical mind, and served in those 'Puseyite' days to counteract the High Church poetry founded on The Christian Year. Of that famous volume I never met with a copy until I was grown up, and equally unknown in our circle were the hymns of Newman, Faber and Neale.

It was my Father's plan from the first to keep me entirely ignorant of the poetry of the High Church, which deeply offended his Calvinism; he thought that religious truth could be sucked in, like mother's milk, from hymns which were godly and sound, and yet correctly versified; and I was therefore carefully trained in this direction from an early date. But my spirit had rebelled against some of these hymns, especially against those written--a mighty multitude--by Horatius Bonar; naughtily refusing to read Bonar's 'I heard the voice of Jesus say' to my Mother in our Pimlico lodgings. A secret hostility to this particular form of effusion was already, at the age of seven, beginning to define itself in my brain, side by side with an unctuous infantile conformity.

I find a difficulty in recalling the precise nature of the religious instruction which my Father gave me at this time. It was incessant, and it was founded on the close inspection of the Bible, particularly of the epistles of the New Testament. This summer, as my eighth year advanced, we read the 'Epistle to the Hebrews', with very great deliberation, stopping every moment, that my Father might expound it, verse by verse. The extraordinary beauty of the language--for instance, the matchless cadences and images of the first chapter--made a certain impression upon my imagination, and were (I think) my earliest initiation into the magic of literature. I was incapable of defining what I felt, but I certainly had a grip in the throat, which was in its essence a purely aesthetic emotion, when my Father read, in his pure, large, ringing voice, such passages as 'The heavens are the works of Thy hands. They shall perish, but Thou remainest, and they all shall wax old as doth a garment, and as a venture shah Thou fold them up, and they shall be changed; but Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail.' But the dialectic parts of the Epistle puzzled and confused me. Such metaphysical ideas as 'laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works' and 'crucifying the Son of God afresh' were not successfully brought down to the level of my understanding.

My Father's religious teaching to me was almost exclusively doctrinal. He did not observe the value of negative education, that is to say, of leaving Nature alone to fill up the gaps which it is her design to deal with at a later and riper date. He did not, even, satisfy himself with those moral injunctions which should form the basis of infantile discipline. He was in a tremendous hurry to push on my spiritual growth, and he fed me with theological meat which it was impossible for me to digest. Some glimmer of a suspicion that he was sailing on the wrong tack must, I should suppose, have broken in upon him when we had reached the eighth and ninth chapters of Hebrews, where, addressing readers who had been brought up under the Jewish dispensation, and had the formalities of the Law of Moses in their very blood, the apostle battles with their dangerous conservatism. It is a very noble piece of spiritual casuistry, but it is signally unfitted for the comprehension of a child. Suddenly by my flushing up with anger and saying, ' Oh how I do hate that Law,' my Father perceived, and paused in amazement to perceive, that I took the Law to be a person of malignant temper from whose cruel bondage, and from whose intolerable tyranny and unfairness, some excellent person was crying out to be delivered. I wished to hit Law with my fist, for being so mean and unreasonable.

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