it is said that one of the patrician Mostyns
, of North Wales
, possesses a written pedigree forty feet long, to prove the claim of his family to a direct descent from Adam
Though no doubt much of this extraordinary genealogy is fabulous, it allows all of us plebeians a reasonable hope to believe that we are also descended from that venerated ancestor of our common humanity.
The time has been when patrician families fondly believed their first progenitor had come direct from Heaven, and we baser creatures had to be content with an earthly sire.
I can prove as ancient a descent for myself, though the names of my intermediate progenitors between Adam
and my grandfathers, Moses
and John, have not been preserved.
My family belonged to a class always strangely indifferent to written pedigrees, which relied more on oral traditions, the preserving of which has been mostly the duties of females, on account of their superior fluency of speech, and their disposition to cling to their family hearth.
My earliest pains were caused by the endless rehearsal of family history to which my nurse was addicted; for soon after sunset each evening she would insist on taking me before some neighbour's fire, where I would meet about a dozen dames from the Castle Row
, prepared to indulge in their usual entertainment of recitations from their stock of unwritten folklore.
After a ceremonious greeting and kindly interchange of civil enquiries about each other's health and affairs, they would soon drift into more serious matter.
I have a vague idea that much of it bordered on the uncanny and awful, but I retain a strong impression that most of their conversations related to the past and present
of their respective families, courtships, marriages, and deaths being prime events.
I also remember that there were many long pauses, during which I could hear a chorus of sympathetic sighs.
The episodes which drew these from their affectionate breasts are quite forgotten, but those sighs haunt me still.
Such families as were clustered in front of the Green
of Denbigh Castle were an exceedingly primitive folk, with far less regard for ancient ancestry than the Bedouin of the Desert.
Indeed, I doubt whether any tradesman or farmer in our parts could say who was his great-great-grandfather, or whether one yeoman out of a hundred could tell who was his ancestor of two hundred years back.
As King Cazembe said to Livingstone
, the “ Seeker of Rivers,” “We let the streams run on, and do not enquire whence they rise or whither they flow.”
So these simple Welsh
people would answer if questioned about their ancestors, “We are born and die, and, beyond that, none of us care who were before us, or who shall come after us.”
My personal recollections do not extend beyond the time I lay in the cradle; so that all that precedes this period I have been obliged to take upon trust.
Mind and body have grown together, and both will decay according to the tasks or burdens imposed on them.
But strange, half-formed ideas glide vaguely into the mind, sometimes, and then I seem not far from a tangible and intelligent view into a distant age. Sometimes the turn of a phrase, a sentence in a book, the first faint out-line of a scene, a face like, yet unlike, one whom I knew, an incident, will send my mind searching swiftly down the long-reaching aisles, extending far into remote, pre-personal periods, trying to discover the connection, to forge again the long-broken link, or to re-knit the severed strand.
My father I never knew.
I was in my ‘teens’ before I learned that he had died within a few weeks after my birth.
Up to a certain date in the early Forties, all is profound darkness to me. Then, as I woke from sleep one day, a brief period of consciousness suddenly dawned upon my faculties.
There was an indefinable murmur about me, some unintelligible views floated before my senses, light flashed upon the spirit, and I entered into being.
At what age I first received these dim, but indelible, impressions, I cannot guess.
It must have been in helpless
infancy, for I seem to have passed, subsequently, through a long age of dreams, wherein countless vague experiences, emotions, and acts occurred which, though indefinable, left shadowy traces on my memory.
During such a mechanical stage of existence it was not possible for me to distinguish between dreams and realities.
I fancy I see a white ceiling, and square joists, with meat-hooks attached to them, a round, pink human face, the frill of a cap, a bit of bright ribbon; but, before I am able to grasp the meaning of what I see, I have lapsed into unconsciousness again.
After an immeasurable time, the faculties seem to be re-awakened, and I can distinguish tones, and am aware that I can see, hear, and feel, and that I am in my cradle.
It is close by a wooden staircase, and my eyes follow its length up, and then down; I catch sight of a house-fly, and then another, and their buzz and movements become absorbing.
Presently a woman advances, bends over me a moment, then lifts me up in her arms, and from a great height I survey my world.
There is a settle of dark wood, a bit of carving at the end of it; there is a black, shiny chimney; a red coal-fire, with one spluttering jet of flame, and waving soot-flakes; there is a hissing black kettle, and a thread of vapour from the nozzle; a bright copper bed-warmer suspended to the wall; a display of coloured plates, mainly blue, with Chinese
pictures on them, arranged over a polished dresser; there is an uneven flagstone floor; a window with diamond panes set in lead; a burnished white table, with two deep drawers in it; a curious old clock, with intensely red flowers above, and chains and weights below it; and, lastly, I see a door cut into two halves, the upper one being wide open, through which I gain my first view of sky and space.
This last is a sight worth seeing, and I open my eyes roundly to take stock of this pearly space and its drifting fleece as seen through the door, and my attention is divided between the sky and the tick-tack of the clock, while forced to speculate what the white day and the pearly void mean.
There follows a transition into another state of conscious being wherein I appear to have wings, and to be soaring up to the roof of a great hall, and sailing from corner to corner, like a humming bee on a tour of exploration; and, the roof presently
being removed, I launch out with wings outspread, joyous and free, until I lose myself in the unknowable, to emerge, sometime after, in my own cradle-nest at the foot of the wooden stairs.
And thus, for an unknown stretch of time, I endure my days without apparent object, but quietly observant, and an inarticulate witness of a multitude of small events; and thus I waited, and watched, and dreamed, surrendering myself to my state, undisturbed, unaffected, unresisting, borne along by Time until I could stand and take a larger and more deliberate survey of the strange things done around me. In process of time, however, my tongue learns to form words, and to enter upon its duties, and it is not long before intelligence begins to peep out and to retain durably the sense of existence.
One of the first things I remember is to have been gravely told that I had come from London
in a band-box, and to have been assured that all babies came from the same place.
It satisfied my curiosity for several years as to the cause of my coming; but, later, I was informed that my mother had hastened to her parents from London
to be delivered of me; and that, after recovery, she had gone back to the Metropolis
, leaving me in the charge of my grandfather, Moses Parry
, who lived within the precincts of Denbigh Castle.
Forty years of my life have passed, and this delving into my earliest years appears to me like an exhumation of Pompeii
, buried for centuries under the scoriae, lava, and volcanic dust of Vesuvius
To the man of the Nineteenth Century, who paces the recovered streets and byeways of Pompeii
, how strange seem the relics of the far distant life!
Just so appear to me the little fatherless babe, and the orphaned child.
Up to a certain time I could remember well every incident connected with those days; but now I look at the child with wonder, and can scarcely credit that out of that child I grew.
How quaint that bib and tucker, that short frock, the fat legs, the dimpled cheeks, the clear, bright, grey eyes, the gaping wonderment at the sight of a stranger; and I have to brush by the stupefied memories of a lifetime!
When I attempt to arrest one of the fleeting views of these early stages of my life, the foremost image which presents
itself is that of my grandfather's house, a white-washed cottage, situated at the extreme left of the Castle
, with a long garden at the back, at the far end of which was the slaughter-house where my Uncle Moses pole-axed calves, and prepared their carcasses for the market; and the next is of myself, in bib and tucker, between grandfather's knees, having my fingers guided, as I trace the alphabet letters on a slate.
I seem to hear, even yet, the encouraging words of the old man, “Thou wilt be a man yet before thy mother, my man of men.”
It was then, I believe, that I first felt what it was to be vain.
I was proud to believe that, though women might be taller, stronger, and older than I, there lay a future before me that the most powerful women could never hope to win. It was then also I gathered that a child's first duty was to make haste to be a man, in order that I might attain that highest human dignity.
My grandfather appears to me as a stout old gentleman, clad in corduroy breeches, dark stockings, and long Melton
coat, with a clean-shaven face, rather round, and lit up by humorous grey eyes.
He and I occupied the top floor, which had an independent entrance from the garden.
The lower rooms were inhabited by my uncles, Moses
By-and-bye, there came a change.
My strong, one-armed Uncle Moses married a woman named Kitty, a flaxen-haired, fair girl of a decided temper; and after that event we seldom descended to the lower apartments.
I have a vivid remembrance of Sunday evenings at a Wesleyan chapel, on account of the tortures which I endured.
The large galleried building, crowded with fervid worshippers, and the deep murmur of “Amens
,” the pious ejaculations, are well remembered, as well as the warm atmosphere and curious scent of lavender which soon caused an unconquerable drowsiness in me. Within a short time my head began to nod heavily, to the great danger of my neck, and the resolute effort I made to overcome this sleepiness, to avoid the reproaches of my grandfather, who affected to be shocked at my extraordinary behaviour, caused the conflict with nature to be so painful that it has been impossible for me to forget the chapel and its scenes.
After passing my fourth year there came an afternoon when, to my dismay and fright, a pitcher with which I was sent for water fell from my hands and was broken.
My grandfather came to the garden door on hearing the crash, and, viewing what had happened, lifted his forefinger menacingly and said, “Very well, Shonin, my lad, when I return, thou shalt have a sound whipping.
You naughty boy!”
A tragedy, however, intervened to prevent this punishment.
It appears that he was in a hurry to attend to some work in a field that day, and, while there, fell down dead.
The neighbours announced that he had died through the “visitation of God,” which was their usual way of explaining any sudden fatality of this kind.
He was aged 84.
His tomb at Whitchurch declares the event to have occurred in 1847.
Soon after, I was transferred to the care of an ancient couple who lived at the other end of the Castle
, named Richard and Jenny Price
, keepers of the Bowling Green
, into which one of the courts of the old Castle had been converted.
The rate for my maintenance was fixed at half-a-crown a week, which my two uncles agreed to pay to the Prices.
Old Richard Price
, besides being a gamekeeper, was Sexton
of Whitchurch, and Verger of St. David's. His wife Jenny
, a stout and buxom old lady, is remembered by me mostly for her associations with “peas-pudding,” for which I had a special aversion, and for her resolute insistence that, whether I liked it or not, I should eat it.
Other memories of this period are also unforgettable for the pains connected with them,--such as the soap-lather in my Saturday evening tub, and the nightly visits of Sarah Price
, the daughter of the house, to her friends at Castle Row, where she would gossip to such a late hour that I always suffered from intolerable fidgets.
Mothers of the present day will understand how hard it is for a child of four or five years old to remain awake long after sunset, and that it was cruel ignorance on the part of Sarah to keep me up until ten o'clock every night, to listen to her prosy stories of ghosts and graves.
Sarah's description of a devil, a curious creature with horns on his head, with hoofed feet and a long tail, was wont to make me shiver with fright.
She was equally graphic and minute in her descriptions of witches, ghosts, fairies, giants
and dwarfs, kidnappers and hobgoblins, bugaboos, and other terrific monsters, against whose extraordinary powers it behoved me to be always on guard.
The dark night was especially haunted by them, and the ingle-nook by a bright fire was then the safest place for children.
If the grown folk had not all shared Sarah's belief in these gruesome creatures, I might perhaps have doubted they existed; but I remember to have seen them huddle closer to the fire, look warily over their shoulders at the shadows, as though they lay in wait for a casual bit of darkness to pounce upon them and carry them off to the ghostly limbo.
Had Sarah but known how pain impresses the memory of a child, it is probable that she would have put me to bed rather than have taken me with her, as a witness of her folly and ignorant credulity.
She believed herself to be very level-headed, and, indeed, by her acquaintances she was esteemed as a sensible and clever woman; but, as she infected me with many silly fears, I am now inclined to believe that both she and her neighbours were sadly deficient in common-sense.
One effect of these interminable ghost-stories was visible one evening when I went to fetch some water from the Castle
It appeared to me that I saw on this occasion a tall, black spectre, standing astride of the Castle
I took it at first to be the shadow of a tree, but tracing it upward I saw a man's head which seemed to reach the sky. I gazed at it a short time, unable to move or cry out; then the phantom seemed to be advancing upon me, fear put wings to my feet, and I turned and ran, screaming, and never once halted until I had found a safe hiding-place under my bed. The dreadful vision of that ghost haunted me for years, and for a long time I made it a rule not to retire until I had looked under the bed, lest, when asleep, ghosts and kidnappers might come and carry me off. The belief that the darkness was infested by evil agencies and ferocious visitants hostile to little boys I owe to Sarah's silly garrulity at Castle Row.
I am under the impression that during the day, for a portion of this period, I was sent to an infant's school, where there was a terrible old lady who is associated in my mind with spectacles and a birch rod; but I have no particular incident connected with it to make it definite.
and his wife Jenny
seem to have, at last, become dismayed at my increasing appetite, and to have demanded a higher rate for my maintenance.
As both my uncles had in the mean time married, and through the influence of their wives declined to be at further charge for me, the old couple resolved to send me to the Workhouse.
Consequently Dick Price
, the son, took me by the hand one day, Saturday, February 20th, 1847, and, under the pretence that we were going to Aunt Mary at Fynnon Beuno, induced me to accompany him on a long journey.
The way seemed interminable and tedious, but he did his best to relieve my fatigue with false cajolings and treacherous endearments.
At last Dick
set me down from his shoulders before an immense stone building, and, passing through tall iron gates, he pulled at a bell, which I could hear clanging noisily in the distant interior.
A sombre-faced stranger appeared at the door, who, despite my remonstrances, seized me by the hand, and drew me within, while Dick
tried to sooth my fears with glib promises that he was only going to bring Aunt Mary to me. The door closed on him, and, with the echoing sound, I experienced for the first time the awful feeling of utter desolateness.
The great building with the iron gates and innumerable windows, into which I had been so treacherously taken, was the St. Asaph Union Workhouse
It is an institution to which the aged poor and superfluous children of that parish are taken, to relieve the respectabilities of the obnoxious sight of extreme poverty, and because civilisation knows no better method of disposing of the infirm and helpless than by imprisoning them within its walls.
Once within, the aged are subjected to stern rules and useless tasks, while the children are chastised and disciplined in a manner that is contrary to justice and charity.
To the aged it is a house of slow death, to the young it is t house of torture.
Paupers are the failures of society, and the doom of such is that they shall be taken to eke out the rest of their miserable existence within the walls of the Workhouse, to pick oakum.
The sexes are lodged in separate wards enclosed by high walls, and every door is locked, and barred, and guarded, to
preserve that austere morality for which these institutions are famous.
That the piteous condition of these unfortunates may not arouse any sympathy in the casual visitor, the out-casts are clad in fustian suits, or striped cotton dresses, in which uniform garb they become undistinguishable, and excite no interest.
Their only fault was that they had become old, or so enfeebled by toil and sickness that they could no longer sustain themselves, and this is so heinous and grave in Christian England
that it is punished by the loss of their liberty, and they are made slaves.
At one time in English history such wretches were left to die by the wayside; at another time, they incurred the suspicion of being witches, and were either drowned or burnt; but in the reign of Queen Victoria the dull-witted nation has conceived it to be more humane to confine them in a prison, separate husband from wife, parent from child, and mete out to each inmate a daily task, and keep old and young under the strictest surveillance.
At six in the morning they are all roused from sleep; and at 8 o'clock at night they are penned up in their dormitories.
Bread, gruel, rice, and potatoes compose principally their fare, after being nicely weighed and measured.
On Saturdays each person must undergo a thorough scrubbing, and on Sundays they must submit to two sermons, which treat of things never practised, and patiently kneel during a prayer as long as a sermon, in the evening.
It is a fearful fate, that of a British outcast, because the punishment afflicts the mind and breaks the heart.
It is worse than that which overtakes the felonious convict, because it appears so unmerited, and so contrary to that which the poor have a right to expect from a Christian and civilised people.
Ages hence the nation will be wiser, and devise something more suited to the merits of the veteran toilers.
It will convert these magnificent and spacious buildings into model houses for the poor, on the flat system, which may be done at little expense.
The cruel walls which deprive the inmates of their liberty will be demolished, and the courts will be converted into grassy plats edged by flowering bushes.
The stupid restraints on the aged will be abolished, husbands and wives will be housed together, their children will be restored
to them after school hours.
The bachelors and spinsters will dwell apart, the orphans will be placed in orphanages, the idiots in asylums, and the able-bodied tramp and idler in penitentiaries, and these costly structures will lose their present opprobrious character.
But now, as in 1847, the destitute aged and the orphans, the vagabonds and the idiots, are gathered into these institutions, and located in their respective wards according to age and sex. In that of St. Asaph the four wards meet in an octagonal central house, which contains the offices of the institution, and is the residence of the governor and matron.
It took me some time to learn the unimportance of tears in a workhouse.
Hitherto tears had brought me relief in one shape or another, but from this time forth they availed nothing.
, the one-handed schoolmaster into whose stern grasp Dick Price
had resigned me, was little disposed to soften the blow dealt my sensibilities by treachery.
Though forty-five years have passed since that dreadful evening, my resentment has not a whit abated.
's guile was well meant, no doubt, but I then learned for the first time that one's professed friend can smile while preparing to deal a mortal blow, and that a man can mask evil with a show of goodness.
It would have been far better for me if Dick
, being stronger than I, had employed compulsion, instead of shattering my confidence and planting the first seeds of distrust in a child's heart.
, soured by misfortune, brutal of temper, and callous of heart, through years of control over children, was not a man to understand the cause of my inconsolable grief.
Nor did he try. Time, however, alleviated my affliction, and the lapse of uncounted days, bringing their quota of smarts and pains, tended to harden the mind for life's great task of suffering.
helot or dark slave ever underwent such discipline as the boys of St. Asaph under the heavy masterful hand of James Francis
The ready back-slap in the face, the stunning clout over the ear, the strong blow with the open palm on alternate cheeks, which knocked our senses into confusion, were so frequent that it is a marvel we ever recovered them again.
Whatever might be the nature of the offence, or merely because his irritable mood required vent, our poor
heads were cuffed, and slapped, and pounded, until we lay speechless and streaming with blood.
But though a tremendously rough and reckless striker with his fist or hand, such blows were preferable to deliberate punishment with the birch, ruler, or cane, which, with cool malice, he inflicted.
These instruments were always kept ready at hand.
It simply depended upon how far the victim was from him, or how great was his fury, as to which he would choose to castigate us with.
If we happened to be called up to him to recite our lessons, then the bony hand flew mercilessly about our faces and heads, or rammed us in the stomachs until our convulsions became alarming.
If, while at the desk, he was reading to us, he addressed a question to some boy, the slightest error in reply would either be followed by a stinging blow from the ruler, or a thwack with his blackthorn.
If a series of errors were discovered in our lessons, then a vindictive scourging of the offender followed, until he was exhausted, or our lacerated bodies could bear no more.1
My first flogging is well remembered, and illustrates the man's temper and nature thoroughly, and proves that we were more unfortunate than vicious.
It was a Sunday evening in the early part of 1849.
was reading aloud to us the 41st chapter of Genesis, preliminary to dismissing us to our dormitory.
There was much reference in the chapter to Joseph, who had been sold as a slave by his brothers, and had been promoted to high rank by Pharaoh.
In order to test our attention, he suddenly looked up and demanded of me who it was that had interpreted the dream of the King
With a proud confidence I promptly replied,--
“Joseph, you mean.”
Despite his repeated stern shouts of “Joseph,” I as often replied “Jophes,” wondering more and more at his rising
wrath, and wherein lay the difference between the two names.
He grew tired at last, and laying hold of a new birch rod he ordered me to unbreech, upon which I turned marble-white, and for a moment was as one that is palsied, for my mind was struggling between astonishment, terror, and doubt as to whether my ears had heard aright, and why I was chosen to be the victim of his anger.
This hesitation increased his wrath, and while I was still inwardly in a turmoil he advanced upon me, and rudely tore down my nether garment and administered a forceful shower of blows, with such thrilling effect that I was bruised and bloodied all over, and could not stand for a time.
During the hour that followed I remained as much perplexed at the difference between ‘Jophes’ and “Joseph” as at the peculiar character of the agonising pains I suffered.
For some weeks I was under the impression that the scourging was less due to my error than to some mysterious connection it might have with Genesis.
With such a passionate teacher it may be imagined that we children increased his displeasure times without number.
The restlessness of childhood, and nature's infirmities, contributed endless causes for correction.
The unquiet feet, the lively tongues, defects of memory, listlessness, the effects of the climate, all sufficed to provoke his irritation, and to cause us to be summarily castigated with birch or stick, or pummelled without mercy.
Day after day little wretches would be flung down on the stone floor in writhing heaps, or stood, with blinking eyes and humped backs, to receive the shock of the ebony ruler, or were sent pirouetting across the school from a ruffianly kick, while the rest suffered from a sympathetic terror during such exhibitions, for none knew what moment he might be called to endure the like.
Every hour of our lives we lived and breathed in mortal fear of the cruel hand and blighting glare of one so easily frenzied.
The second memorable whipping I received was during the autumn of 1851, the year of Rhuddlan Eisteddfod.
Cholera was reported to be in the country, and I believe we were forbidden to eat fruit of any kind.
Some weeks, however, after the edict had been issued, I and the most scholarly boy in
the school were sent on an errand to the Cathedral town
When returning, we caught sight of a bunch of blackberries on the other side of a hedge, and, wholly oblivious of the consequences, we climbed over a gate into the field and feasted on the delicious fruit, and, of course, stained our fingers and lips.
On reporting ourselves to Francis
, it was evident by the way he gazed at us both that he guessed what we had been doing, but he said nothing, and we retired from him with a sense of relief.
About half an hour after we all had been dismissed to our dormitory, and we were all quiet abed, the master's tramp was heard on the stairs, and when he appeared at the door he had a birch as large as a broom in his hand.
He stood long enough to remind us all that he had expressly forbidden us to eat any fruit from stall or hedge because of the sickness that was in the country; then, giving a swishing blow in the air with his birch, he advanced to my bed and with one hand plucked me out of bed, and forthwith administered a punishment so dreadful that blackberries suggested birching ever afterwards.
He next went to the bed of the scholar George
, who hitherto had escaped the experience he was now to undergo, because of his remarkable abilities.
George, being new to the exquisite pain of flagellation, writhed and struggled to such an extent that he exasperated the master, and received double punishment, and his back, breast, and legs were covered with wounds.
The hard tasks imposed upon us, such as sweeping the play-ground with brooms more suited to giants than little children, the washing of the slated floors when one was stiff from caning, the hoeing of frost-bound ground, when every stroke on it caused the nerves to quiver, the thinly-clad body all the while exposed to a searching wind; the compelling us to commit whole pages to memory during the evening; in these, and scores of other ways, our treatment was ferocious and stupid.
Under such treatment as these examples describe, who could have supposed that any of the St. Asaph
waifs would ever have developed into anything resembling respectable manhood?
Yet several of these poor lads have since risen to receive a large measure of respect from Society.
One of them has become a wealthy merchant, another is a vicar, a third is
a colonial lawyer, and a fourth is a person of distinction in a South African State.
It is true that, though unfortunate in early infancy, many of these children were of sound, vigorous stock, and descended from people who had once been eminently respectable; and the diet, though meagre, was nourishing; but the inhuman discipline, the excessive confinement to school, ought to have dwarfed their bodies, crushed their spirits, and made them hopelessly imbecile.
Up to the eleventh year of age we all appeared to be of the same mould, and of a very level mediocrity.
We were of the same cowed, submissive aspect, and were a mere flock of cropped little oddities, eating at the same table, rising from bed and retiring at the same minute, subject to the same ruthless discipline, and receiving the same lessons.
There were four classes of us, and the grade of intelligence in each class was so alike that one might predict with certainty what year the infant of the fourth class would be promoted to a place in the first.
Favoritism was impossible, for no boy possessed means, grace, or influence to mollify or placate such a monster as Francis
Clad in that uninteresting garb of squalid fustian, with hair mown close to the skull, brow-beaten and mauled indiscriminately, a god might have passed unnoticed by the average visitor.
But as each boy verged on his eleventh year his aptitudes became more marked, and he became distinguished by a certain individuality of character and spirit.
The number of boys in our school averaged thirty, but out of that number only five could be picked out as possessing qualities rivalling those of the average clever boys of the best public schools.
One named ‘Toomis’ was a born mathematician, another was famous for retentiveness of memory.
was unusually distinguished for quick comprehension, while Billy, with his big head and lofty brow, astonished Her Majesty's Inspector, who prophesied great things of him in the future, while I, though not particularly brilliant in any special thing that I can remember, held my own as head of the school.
When the Eisteddfod was held at Rhuddlan in 1851, I was the one chosen to represent the genius of the school; but,
soon after the nomination, I fell ill of measles, and Toomis succeeded to the honour.
Apropos of this: exactly forty years later I was invited to preside over one of the meetings of the Eisteddfod, held at Swansea
, but as I was preparing for this honour, a fall at Murren, Switzerland
, resulted in the fracture of my left leg, which rendered my appearance impossible.
The other boys in the school consisted of the dunces, the indolent, the malingerers, the would-be truants, the dull, the noisy, the fat-witted majority, just six times more numerous than the naturally-able boys.
This proportion of one in six is very common in the world.
In ships that I have sailed in, among the military companions with whom I have campaigned, among the blacks and the whites of my African
expeditions, in the House of Commons, and in Congress, the leaven of one in six seemed to be required to keep things rightly going.
When Bishop Vowler Short
--who had once been tutor to Cardinal Newman
— appeared on his annual visit to the school, he was heard to express high approval of the attainments of some of the boys in the first class, and, after honouring them with valuable souvenirs, graciously blessed them.
When Captain Leigh Thomas
, the Chairman
of the Board of Guardians, who was a local magnate, and of Indian distinction — being descended from that Captain George Thomas
, who, in the last century, rose from obscurity to the rank of an Indian prince in North
--visited us, he pointed out to Francis
promising traits in several of the head boys, and was not too proud to pat us on the head, and elevate us by kind encouragements with a hope that there were bright rewards in store for some of us for our manifest abilities.
Her Majesty's Inspector
of Schools on his tour of inspection professed to discover in some of our boys the signs of unusual intelligence, and, calling one up to him, felt his head and his temples, and then turned round to Francis
, and declared, in our acute hearing, that he felt assured “that boy would be a prodigy of learning if he went on.”
Our parson--Mr. Smalley
, of Cwm — unbent one day to examine us on Scripture History, and one boy so astonished him by his wonderful memory, and quick and correct answers,
that he exclaimed, “Why, Francis
, you have quite a young Erasmus here.”
The famous Hicks Owen
, of Rhyllon, examined us in geography one time, and was pleased to say, on concluding, that some of us knew far more geography than he knew himself, and that to prevent being shamed by us he would have to study his gazetteers and atlas before he ventured among us a second time.
The auditor of the Board, after testing Toomis's proficiency in mathematics, laughingly called him young Babbage
, and a lightning calculator.
Such commendation was a great encouragement and stimulus.
The rarity of it, I suppose, impressed it on our minds, and the sweetness of the praise had a more penetrating effect than blame or bruise.
The difference between our school and the public grammar school of the period lay in the fact that our instruction was principally religious and industrial, while in the other it was mainly secular and physical.
The aim of the guardians appeared to be the making of commonplace farmers, tradesmen, and mechanics, and instead of the gymnasium, our muscles were practised in spade industry, gardening, tailoring, and joiner's work.
Our outdoor games were of a gentle and innocent kind, and only pursued when the weather prohibited the use of the hoe and spade.
We instinctively chased humble-bees, daddy-long-legs, we played with cowslip-balls, wove chains of dandelion flowers, and made chaplets of buttercups.
The oldsters, through some mysterious connection with the outside boy-world, became acquainted with spring-tops, tip-cat, kite-flying, hop-scotch, and marbles, leap-frog, hen-and-chickens, and follow-my-leader.
Through some means, the art of telling the time by thistledown, and of divining by blowing the tassel, had been introduced among us. We sometimes played hide-and-seek, and excited ourselves by mild gambling with stones.
At rare intervals we blackened one another's eyes, but, from fear of consequences, our quarrels were more often settled by wrestling, when the victor might indulge his spleen by thumping the fallen without marking the face.
We were firm believers in nocturnal visitants, and in the magic of the rhyme,
Rain, rain, go to Spain,
Sun, sun, come again.
The mimetic power was early developed in me. The school-teacher, and various country persons, the old porter even, were mimicked well enough to draw the applause of my school-mates.
We joyfully looked forward to the coming of May, which always preceded the season of sunshine and outdoor play on the lush green plats outside of the walls.
We faithfully observed St. Valentine's Day, the 29th of May, the 5th of November, and the 30th of January, for the names of Guy Fawkes
, and Charles I and II, were well known to us. Good Friday was always a gloomy day with us, and Easter
was solemn; but Christmas
became associated with pudding, toffee, and apples, and was the most welcome day in the year.
We were Church folk, and were swayed by her festivals.
Most of us could repeat the Morning Service
from memory, a few knew the Collects and Psalms by heart, for they had been given to us so frequently as tasks because of their subdivisions, and because it was deemed necessary to keep us constantly occupied; and as, morning and evening, we performed our devotions, we grew marvellously familiar with Sacred History.
Our school was a little world in miniature.
Most of those now prominent in my recollection had been foreshadowed by traits which distinguished my school-mates.
The small creatures were faithful prototypes of scores of adults I have since met in various parts of the world.
If they have not met with their deserts, good, bad, or indifferent, it must be because of their lack, or misuse, of opportunities, or accident.
There were some among them good enough for heaven, there were others who seemed wholly vile.
Even at that early age I held a belief that some of them would become heroes and saints, and would be world-famous, while there were two or three whom I regarded as too despicable for human intercourse.
Time, however, has proved me to have been wrong.
My saint occupies an average place among common men, my hero is lost in the deep silence, my criminals are probably as good yeomen as could be wished, my ideals of imbecility are
modest citizens, but from among the unobserved flock have emerged two or three to note and worth.
Meantime, remote and secluded from the world without our gates, which rode in fine chariots, or sat in glory on the roof of the “Jellamanjosy” coach, or strode free along the Queen
's highway, we vegetated within the high walls surrounding our home of lowliness.
We could take no part in public rejoicings, or grieve in its sorrows; we knew no Royal or State occasions, shared in no jubilant celebrations, and were equally ignorant of public panics and disturbances, as of the pomp and woes of war. In the Crimea there might be a million of men gathered together to play at the dangerous game of cannon-balls, and to batter one another into shapeless fragments; London
might roar day and night with its thunderous traffic; Birmingham
might be suffocating under the fumes of its furnaces; and Manchester
might vibrate under the force of its accumulated mechanisms,--to us it mattered as little as though we were in another planet.
Year after year we noted the passing of the seasons by the budding blossoms, the flight of bees, the corn which changed from green to gold, the fall and whirl of leaves, followed soon after by white snow, and blasts of nipping winds, which stiffened our muscles, and sent us shivering to the fire.
The little shops near and in St. Asaph had somehow the air of large-hearted benevolence, which I never knew to be realised.
How often I tried to peep in, that I might understand the ways of these singular people, having by right divine the privilege of dispensing to all men unlimited stores of food and clothing!
How I envied the grocer's boy, who could dig his hands at his pleasure into inexhaustible barrels of currants and boxes of raisins, and the plenteous loaves of white fragrant sugar, or the smart youth with the blue necktie, who might wear any gorgeous robe he chose, for I believed it was only his modesty which prevented him from appearing in crimson, or yellow, silk and satin!
We had reason to believe that the great world outside contained lower depths of misery than anything experienced by us; for, now and then, we caught glimpses of horrid, unkempt vagrants as they came to the porter's lodge for a lodging; and, during our visits to St. Asaph, we could not enter the town
without being impressed with the squalor of the Irish Square
, which made us glad that we were not so disreputable as the ragged urchins of that sordid locality.
Little as we were aware of it, our minds were becoming soiled by prejudices, just as our boots were stained with the greasy mud of that neighbourhood.
The repulsiveness of the Square
, and the insolence of the smutty-faced, bare-footed gamins
, made us believe that Irishmen and Roman Catholics were barbarians and idolaters, and when, losing patience with their yelping clamour, we turned to resent their attacks, and saw them skurry to their kennels, we believed ourselves justified in the opinion that the young brats knew nothing of fair fighting.
Once this opinion became fixed, no amount of argument would avail to prove its injustice.
Probably the very morning that I had had to bide the brunt of their savage rudeness, and had been disgusted with their ugliness, had seen me superintending the cleaning of our dormitory, with a zeal inspired by my firm belief that before we could be called good, we must be clean, within and without, and that our hearts, our persons, and our dwellings, should be without stain.
How I came to manifest the passion of a fanatic for order and cleanliness I know not, yet when it was my turn to clean up and make the beds, I was seized with a consuming desire to exhibit everything at its best, to arrange the beds without a single crease or pucker, to make the folds with mathematical exactness, to dust and polish cup-boards and window-sills until they were speckless, and to make the flagstones shine like mirrors.
“There,” I would say to my companions detailed for these duties, my eyes spark-ling with pride, “that is the way to wash a floor.
Let us make the beds fit for princes to sleep in” ; and hard after this triumph of order and neatness I would perhaps be despatched to the town to have every sense offended by the miracles of dirt and disorder in and around the Irish Square
No wonder that we felt unmitigated scorn for Irish habits and ways!
There were two or three boys, even among us, whom we should have exiled among the Irish had we the power.
We felt it to be degradation to be near them at school.
One was remarkable for a pasty complexion, small, piggish eyes, white eyelashes, and carroty hair.
Another had projecting gooseberry eyes, which suggested that they might fall from him
some day, as from a bush.
His stubborn soul could endure thumping without bellowing, though a tear or two would trickle.
His mouth was like that of a beast, and garnished with great, jagged teeth; and, altogether, he was so unlovely as to shock every sense in us. Between Francis
and ourselves, they had a hard time of it; and I often wonder how fate has disposed of them during this long interval.
When I reached my eleventh year, the king of the school for beauty and amiability was a boy of about my own age, named Willie Roberts
Some of us believed that he belonged to a very superior class to our own. His coal-black hair curled in profusion over a delicately moulded face of milky whiteness.
His eyes were soft and limpid, and he walked with a carriage which tempted imitation.
Beyond these indications of him I remember but little, for just then I fell ill with some childish malady which necessitated my removal to the infirmary, where I lay for weeks.
But as I was becoming convalescent I was startled by a rumour that he had suddenly died.
When I heard that his body was in the dead-house I felt stricken with a sense of irreparable loss.
As the infirmary opened upon the court-yard which contained our morgue
, some of the boys suggested that it might be possible to view him, and, prompted by a fearful curiosity to know what death was like, we availed ourselves of a favourable opportunity, and entered the house with quaking hearts.
The body lay on a black bier, and, covered with a sheet, appeared uncommonly long for a boy. One of the boldest drew the cloth aside, and at the sight of the waxen face with its awful fixity we all started back, gazing at it as if spell-bound.
There was something grand in its superb disregard of the chill and gloom of the building, and in the holy calm of the features.
It was the face of our dear Willie, with whom we had played, and yet not the same, for an inexplicable aloofness had come over it. We yearned to cry out to him to wake, but dared not, for the solemnity of his face was appalling.
Presently the sheet was drawn further away, and we then saw what one of us had insinuated might be seen.
The body was livid, and showed scores of dark weals.
One glance was enough, and, hastily covering it, we withdrew, with minds confirmed in the opinion that signs of violence would appear
after death as testimonies against him who was guilty of it. After what we had seen, it would have been difficult for any-one to have removed from our minds the impression that Francis
was accountable for Willie's death.
For weeks after this my first thought in the morning was of Willie's dead face, and, in consequence, I could not help looking into every face with something of pity that mankind should be born for death and burial in the cold remorseless earth.
When I re-entered the school I found myself curiously regarding Francis
, and wondering that he was so insensible to the miserable fate in store for him, and that he could be so pitiless in his cruelty to his fellow-sufferers.
What would he say, I thought, when the Judge
, who would come to judge the quick and the dead, would ask him, “What hast thou done to thy brother Willie?”
Some time after Willie's death, George, the scholar, and I became as chummy as twin brothers.
He was not so amiable as Willie, but we believed him to be severely good, and far more learned, by which he obtained our respect.
He was not a zealous friend, and after some intimacy with him I was often chilled with what appeared to be selfishness in him. It may have been that I was too exacting, but I certainly thought that it was not in his nature to be scrupulous in the keeping of the pact of chumship.
If a cake or an apple was to be divided into two, an uneasy feeling came over me that he took pains to pick out the larger half, and in any dispute with other boys George was not so resolutely insistent on my behalf as the vow of brotherhood demanded.
After a few weeks of effort to make inward apologies for his laxity and backward-ness, it was forced upon me that he was by nature indifferent to his obligations, and it was agreed that each should be a friend unto himself for the future.
There was no quarrel, however, but we parted with mutual respect.
About this period I came across a pious romance — the title of which is forgotten — relating to three young brothers or friends,--one of whom I remember was named Enoch,--who for their perfect piety were attended by a Guardian Angel.
They had set out on travels through a land which must have been subtropical, from its luxurious vegetation and its beflowered scenes; but whatever might be the perils
they encountered, or the temptations that beset them, the unseen guardian was always near them, and made them strong, confident, and victorious.
The stories of Joseph, David, and Daniel
, and the three brave youths at Babylon
had powerfully affected me, but, unfortunately, their associations with tasks and rods had marred their attractions.
My delight in saintly Enoch and his friends was unalloyed by any such bitter memories.
The story was also written in an easy every-day language, and the scenes were laid in a country wherein God's presence was still felt.
God had departed from Canaan
, and He had cast off Israel
, and now His protection was vouchsafed to all the children of men without distinction, and only piety and prayer were needed to secure His aid in times of distress.
Above the fireplaces in the schoolroom, the two dormitories, and dining-hall, were tacked painted iron sheets which were inscribed with appropriate Scriptural texts.
We had Bible lessons morning and evening, collects and gospels to commit to memory.
Our shelves held a fair collection of religious literature,--memoirs of Wesley, Fletcher
, lives of Bunyan
, and others of less note, sermons, and commentaries.
Twice on Sunday we had full services, and after supper the porter of the establishment, who was a Methodist of super-fervid zeal, would treat us to a lengthy and noisy prayer, which, as I think of it now, was rather a tedious string of adjurations to, and incriminations of the Almighty, than a supplication for grace to the Creator.
But all these religious exercises and literature had not such direct immediate effect as this romantic novelette.
I now conceived God to be a very real personage, as active to-day as in Biblical periods in His supervision of mundane concerns.
I fancied God's Presence visible in many small events, but, to obtain the Divine interposition in one's favour, it was necessary to earnestly solicit it, and to be worthy of it by perfect sinlessness.
Here was a great difficulty.
It was not possible to be wholly free from sin in our circumstances.
I observed that our seniors, though they punctiliously went through the forms of prayer, were none of them blameless.
They were cruelly unkind, they were unjust in their punishments, they were censorious without cause, and most ungentle.
They asked for
God's forgiveness for their trespasses, but were relentless in their condemnation of the smallest fault we committed.
When I came to think of that beast Will Thomas
, and that imp Davies
, and that tale-bearer and mischief-maker Williams
, my gorge rose against them, and I felt that the circumstances of Enoch's life were not like mine.
However, I made a grand effort to free myself from my vanity and pride.
I compelled myself for a season to make the sacrifices demanded of me. I championed ugly Will against his oppressors, and suppressed my scorn of Davies
I strove to like Williams
, though I feared he was incorrigible.
I sought to surprise each of them with good offices, and in the process endured much contumely, because human beings are so prone to misconstrue one's actions.
I rose at midnight to wrestle in secret with my wicked self, and, while my school-fellows sweetly reposed, I was on my knees, laying my heart bare before Him who knows all things, vowing that the next day should be a witness of my sincerity, and that I would have no fear of derision for attempts at well-doing.
I would promise to abstain from wishing for more food, and, to show how I despised the stomach and its pains, I would divide one meal out of the three among my neighbours; half my suet pudding should be given to Ffoulkes, who was afflicted with greed, and, if ever I possessed anything that excited the envy of another, I would at once surrender it. Greater proof than these of my resolve to be perfect I thought I could not show, and when I had done my part, I hoped to see the sign of God's favour in milder treatment by Francis
I cannot recollect that the season which I devoted to the subjection of self witnessed the lenity which I anticipated, or that it had any effect beyond a feeling of physical weakness; but, indirectly, I am not sure that it was wholly without gain.
Without the faith which supported me, I might never have thought of experimenting on Will and practising it on myself, my dislikes, and passions, and placing them at the service of those I had despised; and I am inclined to think that the feeling of friendlessness was soothed.
It was a comfort to know that though without a parent, relation, or friend on earth to turn to, I had a Father in Heaven before Whom I was the equal of the mightiest.
I believed in the immediate presence of Angels who were deputed to attend us for our protection, that the emissaries of the Evil One ranged about during the darkness of the night, seeking to wreak their spite against those averse to them, and I believed that the frightful dreams from which we sometimes suffered were due to their machinations.
Sometimes I woke up in the middle of the night, after a tremendous struggle with a nightmare, and, gaspingly looking out, fancied I saw the evil spirits crowding the darkness and sailing about like huge fantastic microbes, or standing, shadowy-grey, at the foot of the bed. I would rub my eyes hard for a clearer vision, and I would observe them retreat against the cold bare walls.
Within, all was terror and confusion, entreaties to Heaven for protection, admonition respecting some neglect of prayer, or coldness in devotion; and I would rise from bed on being thus informed of the remedy, and indulge in the sacred theft of prayer with the humbleness due from a little child praying to the Universal Father
If, by accident, I was discovered, the day following was certain to be one of torture, an opprobrious nickname, or bitter gibe, taunts, immodest expressions or gestures; every kind of conspiracy would be made to excite the demon that lurks within every human breast, so that by night, what with hate of my fellows, burning anger at their atrocious conduct, remorse for having succumbed to rage at their wicked practices, I had collapsed from my virtuous state, to be again brought to my sense of inborn sinfulness by some nightly visitation, or a curious gush of tearful repentance, and an agony of longing for the love of some human being.
The religious convictions of my childhood were too intense and real to omit recalling them.
Often it appeared as though it were wholly useless to struggle against evil, yet there was an infinitesimal improvement in each stage.
The character was becoming more and more developed.
The temper was becoming firmer.
Experience was teaching me something of that great lesson of life which enables one to view more calmly lapses of condition.
Thus there are two things for which I feel grateful to this strange institution of St. Asaph.
My fellow-man had denied
to me the charm of affection, and the bliss of a home, but through his charity I had learned to know God by faith, as the Father
of the fatherless, and I had been taught to read.
It is impossible that in a Christian land like Wales
I could have avoided contracting some knowledge of the Creator, but the knowledge which is gained by hearing is very different from that which comes from feeling.
Nor is it likely that I would have remained altogether ignorant of letters.
Being as I was, however, the circumstances of my environment necessarily focussed my attention on religion, and my utterly friendless state drove me to seek the comfort guaranteed by it.
It would be impossible to reveal myself, according to the general promise involved in the title of this book, if I were to be silent regarding my religious convictions.
Were I to remain silent, the true key to the actions of my life would be missing.
Or, rather, let me try to put the matter more clearly: the secret influence which inspired what good I may have done in life, for the same reason prevented me from doing evil, curbed passion, guided me when the fires of youth, licentious company, irreverent mates, and a multitude of strange circumstances must have driven me into a confirmed state of wickedness.
I was therefore grateful, after all, for the implanting of religious principles in me by the Biblical education given me in the Union
The fear of doing wrong intentionally, the feeling of reverence, the impulse of charity, the possession of a conscience, are all due to this.
Without this teaching I should have been little superior to the African savage.
It has been the driving power for good, the arrestor of evil.
It has given me an acute and perceptive monitor, able by its own delicacy to perceive evil no matter how deceptive its guise.
It has formed a magnet by which to steer more straightly than I could otherwise have done.
My belief that there was a God, overseeing every action, observing and remembering, has come often between me and evil.
Often when sorely tempted, came the sudden strength to say, “No, I will
not, it will be wicked; not criminal, but sinful; God sees me.”
It is precisely for this strength that I am grateful.
Reason would not have been sufficient to restrain me from yielding to temptation.
It required a conscience, and a religious conviction created it. That same inward monitor
has restrained me from uttering idle words, from deceiving my fellow-creatures with false promises, and from hastily condemning them without sufficient evidence, from listening to slanders, and from joining with them, from yielding to vindictiveness; it has softened a nature that without its silent and gentle admonitions would, I am sure, be much worse than it is. I do not claim that it has always been successful,--far from it,--but I am grateful for what it has done; and this feeling, so long as I possess it, will induce me to hope that it will ever remain with me, a restraining power, a monitor to do my duty to my Creator, and to my fellow-men.
Whether these religious convictions would have continued with me had I lived the life of the city is another question.
I think not. At least, not in sufficient force.
A journalist's life in New York does not give time for reflection or introspection.
Religion grew deep roots in me in the solitude of Africa
, so that it became my mentor in civilization, my director, my spiritual guide.
With religious conviction we can make real and substantial progress; it gives body, pith, and marrow; without it, so-called progress is empty and impermanent,--for without the thought of God we are tossed about on a sea of uncertainty; for what is our earth compared with the vast universe of worlds in unmeasurable space?
But above all the vastness of infinity, of which the thoughts of the wisest men can extend to but an infinitesimal fraction, is the Divine and Almighty Intellect which ordered all this; and to Him I turn,--the Source of the highest energy, the Generator of the principle of duty.
In the adults' ward at St. Asaph was a harmless imbecile, named John Holywell
, who had been a resident of the house for about a score of years.
He was now over fifty, and was likely to remain until his body was conveyed to a pauper's grave.
As his fate, so mine promised, except that I could pray and read.
Tyranny of the grossest kind lashed and scowled at us every waking hour, but even Will Thomas
possessed something that I had not. He had relations who occasionally visited him with gifts; but I was alone, none ever came to see me.
I must have been twelve ere I knew that a mother was
indispensable to every child.
To most boys of twelve such a simple fact must have been obvious, but as my grandsire and nurse had sufficed for my earliest wants, the necessity for a mother had not been manifest to me. Now that I was told my mother had entered the house with two children, my first feeling was one of exultation that I also had a mother, and a half-brother and a half-sister, and the next was one of curiosity to know what they were like, and whether their appearance portended a change in my condition.
came up to me during the dinner-hour, when all the inmates were assembled, and, pointing out a tall woman with an oval face, and a great coil of dark hair behind her head, asked me if I recognised her.
“No, Sir,” I replied.
“What, do you not know your own mother?”
I started, with a burning face, and directed a shy glance at her, and perceived she was regarding me with a look of cool, critical scrutiny.
I had expected to feel a gush of tenderness towards her, but her expression was so chilling that the valves of my heart closed as with a snap.
“Honour thy father and mother,” had been repeated by me a thousand times, but this loveless parent required no honour from me. After a few weeks' residence my mother departed, taking her little boy with her, but the girl was left in the institution; and, such is the system prevailing, though we met in the same hall for months, she remained as a stranger to me.
Among the notable incidents of this age was the suicide of the Governor
, who through some mental strain ended his life with a razor.
Then there was a burglary, or an attempt at one, in our schoolroom.
We found one morning that one of the windows had been forced open, the poker lay on the table, and there were traces of the bookshelves and desks having been ransacked.
After that, handsome Harry Ogden
, who had been sent to Kinmel on an errand, returned highly intoxicated, which made us boys marvel at his audacity.
Then Barney Williams
, one of the cleverest boys in the school, was detected stealing stamps from the master's letters, which offence was brought to the notice of the Guardians, and was punished by a public birching, as much, we believed, to the satisfaction of Francis
as to the anguish of poor Barney
having presented to us some skeleton drawings and views of cathedrals, I took to copying them, and in a few months had acquired such excellence that my reputation spread wide in our circle.
affected to believe that I was destined for a “limner.”
rewarded me with a Bible bearing his autograph.
, of Cwm, presented me with a drawing-book and pencils, and I was introduced to a number of notabilities around as the “artist” of the school.
Other small accomplishments tended to bring me into prominence.
My recitations were much admired.
On our annual holidays I was selected to lead the choir of gleesingers, and, after the Government Inspector
's examinations, I was pronounced to be the most advanced pupil.
I have no idea of my personal appearance at this time, but I remember to have heard some comments from bystanders as we bathed at Rhyl which made me blush violently, also Captain Thomas
saying that it would be of vast benefit to me if I were put under a garden-roller.
An old blacksmith of Denbigh
, as I passed him one day, asked me if I was not the grandson of Moses Parry
, and on my admitting it, pretended that I could not belong to the big-boned Parry
breed; while one that stood by him terrified me by saying that I would be in prime order for eating, after a month's stuffing on raisins and sweeties.
From an early age I contracted an intense dislike to these wretched personalities.
In process of time my classmates, who had grown with me, and been promoted simultaneously with myself, and now filled the first form, began to be taken away by their relatives, or entered service.
became a page of Captain Thomas
When we saw him arrayed in his beautiful livery, George, the scholar, and I thought fortune most unkind and indiscriminating; but, looking backward, both of us must confess that, like fools, we knew not what was good for us. Fortune had reserved us for other work, but before we should be called we were fated to be tried a little more.
Time teaches us that oft One Higher,
Unasked, a happier lot bestows
Than if each blighted dream's desire
Had blossomed as the rose.
was the next to leave.
Toomis, the calculator, found
employment with the Whiteley of the neighbourhood; and, finally, George, the scholar, was claimed by an uncle to be prepared for the ministry.
When, in 1856, the time came for Francis
's annual visit to his friends at Mold
, he appointed me his deputy over the school.
On the very first day of his absence, a boy named David, my especial bete noire
on the play-ground, and whose malice was a source of trouble to me, thought fit to question my fitness for the post, and persisted in noisy demonstrations against my authority.
For a while the serious nature of a conflict with one who had often proved himself my superior in strength restrained me from noticing his breach of order.
The sharp-witted boys of the first class observed this reluctance, and rightly accounted for it. They also soon became insolently boisterous, and I had to cry “Silence!”
as imperiously as possible.
There was an instant's hush from habit at the word, but, overcoming their first fear, and prompted by mischievous David, the buzz was resumed, and soon became intolerable.
I strode up in front of David, and ordered him to take his stand at the Dunce
's comer, which he scornfully declined at once.
He dared me to compel him, and added biting words about my puny strength and impudence.
Instinctively, the school felt that an exciting struggle was impending, and suspended their restlessness.
I was forced to accept David's challenge, but when his sinewy arms embraced me I would gladly have compromised with him had my pride permitted, for the unbending rigidity of his stiff back was terrifying to think of. We contended breathlessly for some time, but, finally, I succeeded in kicking his stubborn pins from under him, and he fell heavily undermost.
In a few seconds I rode in triumph over his prostrate form, and demanded his submission, which he sullenly refused.
Dicky, more friendly than the others, came forward at the call with a woollen muffler, and with his assistance I made David captive, and after binding the tense arms conducted him to the opprobrious comer, where he was left to meditate, with two others similarly guilty.
From the hour when the heroic whelp, David, was subdued, my authority was undisputed.
Often since have I learned how necessary is the application of force for the establishment
There comes a time when pleading is of no avail.
Not many weeks after Francis
had returned from Mold, an event occurred which had a lasting influence on my life.
But for the stupid and brutal scene which brought it about, I might eventually have been apprenticed to some trade or another, and would have mildewed in Wales
, because, with some knowledge of my disposition, I require great cause to break away from associations.
Unknown to myself, and unperceived by anyone else, I had arrived at the parting of the ways.
Unconsciously I had contracted ideas about dignity, and the promise of manhood was manifest in the first buds of pride, courage, and resolution; but our school-master, exposed to moods of savage temper, and arbitrary from habit, had failed to notice the change.
In May, 1856, a new deal table had been ordered for the school, and some heedless urchin had dented its surface by standing on it, which so provoked Francis
that he fell into a furious rage, and uttered terrific threats with the air of one resolved on massacre.
He seized a birch which, as yet, had not been bloodied, and, striding furiously up to the first class, he demanded to know the culprit.
It was a question that most of us would have preferred to answer straight off; but we were all absolutely ignorant that any damage had been made, and probably the author of it was equally unaware of it. No one could remember to have seen anyone standing on the table, and in what other manner mere dents had been impressed in the soft deal wood was inexplicable.
We all answered accordingly.
“Very well, then,” said he, “the entire class will be flogged, and, if confession is not made, I will proceed with the second, and afterwards with the third.
He commenced at the foot of the class, and there was the usual yelling, and writhing, and shedding of showers of tears.
One or two of David's oaken fibre submitted to the lacerating strokes with a silent squirm or two, and now it was fast approaching my turn; but instead of the old timidity and other symptoms of terror, I felt myself hardening for resistance.
He stood before me vindictively glaring, his spectacles intensifying the gleam of his eyes.
“How is this?”
he cried savagely.
“Not ready yet?
Strip, sir, this minute; I mean to stop this abominable and bare-faced lying.”
“I did not lie, sir. I know nothing of it.”
“Silence, sir. Down with your clothes.”
“Never again,” I shouted, marvelling at my own audacity.
The words had scarcely escaped me ere I found myself swung upward into the air by the collar of my jacket, and flung into a nerveless heap on the bench.
Then the passionate brute pummelled me in the stomach until I fell backward, gasping for breath.
Again I was lifted, and dashed on the bench with a shock that almost broke my spine.
What little sense was left in me after these repeated shocks made me aware that I was smitten on the cheeks, right and left, and that soon nothing would be left of me but a mass of shattered nerves and bruised muscles.
Recovering my breath, finally, from the pounding in the stomach, I aimed a vigorous kick at the cruel Master as he stooped to me, and, by chance, the booted foot smashed his glasses, and almost blinded him with their splinters.
Starting backward with the excruciating pain, he contrived to stumble over a bench, and the back of his head struck the stone floor; but, as he was in the act of falling, I had bounded to my feet, and possessed myself of his blackthorn.
Armed with this, I rushed at the prostrate form, and struck him at random over his body, until I was called to a sense of what I was doing by the stirless way he received the thrashing.
I was exceedingly puzzled what to do now. My rage had vanished, and, instead of triumph, there came a feeling that, perhaps, I ought to have endured, instead of resisting.
Some one suggested that he had better be carried to his study, and we accordingly dragged him along the floor to the Master
's private room, and I remember well how some of the infants in the fourth room commenced to howl with unreasoning terror.
After the door had been closed on him, a dead silence, comparatively, followed.
My wits were engaged in unravelling a way out of the curious dilemma in which I found myself.
The overthrow of the Master
before the school appeared to indicate a new state of things.
Having successfully resisted once,
it involved a continued resistance, for one would die before submitting again.
My friend Mose
asked me in a whisper if I knew what was to happen.
Was the Master
The hideous suggestion changed the whole aspect of my thoughts.
My heart began to beat, as my imagination conjured up unknown consequences of the outrage to authority; and I was in a mood to listen to the promptings of Mose
that we should abscond.
I assented to his proposal, but, first, I sent a boy to find out the condition of the Master
, and was relieved to find that he was bathing his face.
and I instantly left the school, for the ostensible purpose of washing the blood from my face; but, as a fact, we climbed over the garden-wall and dropped into Conway's field, and thence hastened through the high corn in the Bodfari direction, as though pursued by bloodhounds.
This, then, was the result of the folly and tyranny of Francis
Boys are curious creatures, innocent as angels, proud as princes, spirited as heroes, vain as peacocks, stubborn as donkeys, silly as colts, and emotional as girls.
The budding reason is so young and tender that it is unable to govern such composite creatures.
Much may be done with kindness, as much may be done with benevolent justice, but undeserved cruelty is almost sure to ruin them.
We ran away with a boundless belief that beyond the walls lay the peopled South
that was next to Heaven for happiness.
The singing birds, the rolling coaches, the tides of joyous intercourse, the family groups, the happy hearths, the smiling welcome of our kind, all lay beyond the gates, and these we fled to meet, with the innocence of kids.