the happiest time I'd had in Welch, but she never invited


It seems almost cruel to the memory of their opinions that the only words which rise to my mind, the only ones which seem in the least degree adequate to describe the attitude of my parents, had fallen from the pen of one whom, in their want of imaginative sympathy, they had regarded as anathema. But John Henry Newman might have come from the contemplation of my Mother's death-bed when he wrote: 'All the trouble which the world inflicts upon us, and which flesh cannot but feel,--sorrow, pain, care, bereavement,--these avail not to disturb the tranquillity and the intensity with which faith gazes at the Divine Majesty.' It was 'tranquillity', it was not the rapture of the mystic. Almost in the last hour of her life, urged to confess her 'joy' in the Lord, my Mother, rigidly honest, meticulous in self-analysis, as ever, replied: 'I have peace, but not joy. It would not do to go into eternity with a lie in my mouth.'

the happiest time I'd had in Welch, but she never invited

When the very end approached, and her mind was growing clouded, she gathered her strength together to say to my Father, 'I shall walk with Him in white. Won't you take your lamb and walk with me?' Confused with sorrow and alarm, my Father failed to understand her meaning. She became agitated, and she repeated two or three times: 'Take our lamb, and walk with me!' Then my Father comprehended, and pressed me forward; her hand fell softly upon mine and she seemed content. Thus was my dedication, that had begun in my cradle, sealed with the most solemn, the most poignant and irresistible insistence, at the death-bed of the holiest and purest of women. But what a weight, intolerable as the burden of Atlas, to lay on the shoulders of a little fragile child!

the happiest time I'd had in Welch, but she never invited

CERTAINLY the preceding year, the seventh of my life, had been weighted for us with comprehensive disaster. I have not yet mentioned that, at the beginning of my Mother's fatal illness, misfortune came upon her brothers. I have never known the particulars of their ruin, but, I believe in consequence of A.'s unsuccessful speculations, and of the fact that E. had allowed the use of his name as a surety, both my uncles were obliged to fly from their creditors, and take refuge in Paris. This happened just when our need was the sorest, and this, together with the poignancy of knowing that their sister's devoted labours for them had been all in vain, added to their unhappiness. It was doubtless also the reason why, having left England, they wrote to us no more, carefully concealing from us even their address, so that when my Mother died, my Father was unable to communicate with them. I fear that they fell into dire distress; before very long we learned that A. had died, but it was fifteen years more before we heard anything of E., whose life had at length been preserved by the kindness of an old servant, but whose mind was now so clouded that he could recollect little or nothing of the past; and soon he also died. Amiable, gentle, without any species of practical ability, they were quite unfitted to struggle with the world, which had touched them only to wreck them.

the happiest time I'd had in Welch, but she never invited

The flight of my uncles at this particular juncture left me without a relative on my Mother's side at the time of her death. This isolation threw my Father into a sad perplexity. His only obvious source of income--but it happened to be a remarkably hopeful one--was an engagement to deliver a long series of lectures on marine natural history throughout the north and centre of England. These lectures were an entire novelty; nothing like them had been offered to the provincial public before; and the fact that the newly-invented marine aquarium was the fashionable toy of the moment added to their attraction. My Father was bowed down by sorrow and care, but he was not broken. His intellectual forces were at their height, and so was his popularity as an author. The lectures were to begin in march; my Mother was buried on 13 February. It seemed at first, in the inertia of bereavement, to be all beyond his powers to make the supreme effort, but the wholesome prick of need urged him on. It was a question of paying for food and clothes, of keeping a roof above our heads. The captain of a vessel in a storm must navigate his ship, although his wife lies dead in the cabin. That was my Father's position in the spring of 1857; he had to stimulate, instruct, amuse large audiences of strangers, and seem gay, although affliction and loneliness had settled in his heart. He had to do this, or starve.

But the difficulty still remained. During these months what was to become of me? My Father could not take me with him from hotel to hotel and from lecture-hall to lecture-hall. Nor could he leave me, as people leave the domestic cat, in an empty house for the neighbours to feed at intervals. The dilemma threatened to be insurmountable, when suddenly there descended upon us a kind, but little-known, paternal cousin from the west of England, who had heard of our calamities. This lady had a large family of her own at Bristol; she offered to find room in it for me so long as ever my Father should be away in the north; and when my Father, bewildered by so much goodness, hesitated, she came up to London and carried me forcibly away in a whirlwind of good-nature. Her benevolence was quite spontaneous; and I am not sure that she had not added to it already by helping to nurse our beloved sufferer through part of her illness. Of that I am not positive, but I recollect very clearly her snatching me from our cold and desolate hearthstone, and carrying me off to her cheerful house at Clifton.

Here, for the first time, when half through my eighth year, I was thrown into the society of young people. My cousins were none of them, I believe, any longer children, but they were youths and maidens busily engaged in various personal interests, all collected in a hive of wholesome family energy. Everybody was very kind to me, and I sank back, after the strain of so many months, into mere childhood again. This long visit to my cousins at Clifton must have been very delightful; I am dimly aware that it was-- yet I remember but few of its incidents. My memory, so clear and vivid about earlier solitary times, now in all this society becomes blurred and vague. I recollect certain pleasures; being taken, for instance, to a menagerie, and having a practical joke, in the worst taste, played upon me by the pelican. One of my cousins, who was a medical student, showed me a pistol, and helped me to fire it; he smoked a pipe, and I was oddly conscious that both the firearm and the tobacco were definitely hostile to my 'dedication'. My girl-cousins took turns in putting me to bed, and on cold nights, or when they were in a hurry, allowed me to say my prayer under the bed-clothes instead of kneeling at a chair. The result of this was further spiritual laxity, because I could not help going to sleep before the prayer was ended.

The visit to Clifton was, in fact, a blessed interval in my strenuous childhood. It probably prevented my nerves from breaking down under the pressure of the previous months. The Clifton family was God-fearing, in a quiet, sensible way, but there was a total absence of all the intensity and compulsion of our religious life at Islington. I was not encouraged--I even remember that I was gently snubbed--when I rattled forth, parrot- fashion, the conventional phraseology of 'the saints'. For a short, enchanting period of respite, I lived the life of an ordinary little boy, relapsing, to a degree which would have filled my Father with despair, into childish thoughts and childish language. The result was that of this little happy breathing-space I have nothing to report. Vague, half-blind remembrances of walks, with my tall cousins waving like trees above me, pleasant noisy evenings in a great room on the ground- floor, faint silver-points of excursions into the country, all this is the very pale and shadowy testimony to a brief interval of healthy, happy child-life, when my hard-driven soul was allowed to have, for a little while, no history.

The life of a child is so brief, its impressions are so illusory and fugitive, that it is as difficult to record its history as it would be to design a morning cloud sailing before the wind. It is short, as we count shortness in after years, when the drag of lead pulls down to earth the foot that used to flutter with a winged impetuosity, and to float with the pulse of Hermes. But in memory, my childhood was long, long with interminable hours, hours with the pale cheek pressed against the windowpane, hours of mechanical and repeated lonely 'games', which had lost their savour, and were kept going by sheer inertness. Not unhappy, not fretful, but long,--long, long. It seems to me, as I look back to the life in the motherless Islington house, as I resumed it in that slow eighth year of my life, that time had ceased to move. There was a whole age between one tick of the eight-day clock in the hall, and the next tick. When the milkman went his rounds in our grey street, with his eldritch scream over the top of each set of area railings, it seemed as though he would never disappear again. There was no past and no future for me, and the present felt as though it were sealed up in a Leyden jar. Even my dreams were interminable, and hung stationary from the nightly sky.

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