“I was born at Caen, in Normandy. My mother’s name was Matilda; as for my father, I am not so certain, for the good woman on her death-bed assured me she herself could bring her guess to no greater certainty than to five of duke William’s captains. When I was no more than thirteen (being indeed a surprising stout boy of my age) I enlisted into the army of duke William, afterwards known by the name of William the Conqueror, landed with him at Pemesey or Pemsey, in Sussex, and was present at the famous battle of Hastings.
“At the first onset it was impossible to describe my consternation, which was heightened by the fall of two soldiers who stood by me; but this soon abated, and by degrees, as my blood grew warm, I thought no more of my own safety, but fell on the enemy with great fury, and did a good deal of execution; till, unhappily, I received a wound in my thigh, which rendered me unable to stand any longer, so that I now lay among the dead, and was constantly exposed to the danger of being trampled to death, as well by my fellow-soldiers as by the enemy. However, I had the fortune to escape it, and continued the remaining part of the day and the night following on the ground.
“The next morning, the duke sending out parties to bring off the wounded, I was found almost expiring with loss of blood; notwithstanding which, as immediate care was taken to dress my wounds, youth and a robust constitution stood my friends, and I recovered after a long and tedious indisposition, and was again able to use my limbs and do my duty.
“As soon as Dover was taken I was conveyed thither with all the rest of the sick and wounded. Here I recovered of my wound; but fell afterwards into a violent flux, which, when it departed, left me so weak that it was long before I could regain my strength. And what most afflicted me was, that during my whole illness, when I languished under want as well as sickness, I had daily the mortification to see and hear the riots and excess of my fellow-soldiers, who had happily escaped safe from the battle.
“I was no sooner well than I was ordered into garrison at Dover Castle. The officers here fared very indifferently, but the private men much worse. We had great scarcity of provisions, and, what was yet more intolerable, were so closely confined for want of room (four of us being obliged to lie on the same bundle of straw), that many died, and most sickened.
“Here I had remained about four months, when one night we were alarmed with the arrival of the earl of Boulogne, who had come over privily from France, and endeavored to surprise the castle. The design proved ineffectual; for the garrison making a brisk sally, most of his men were tumbled down the precipice, and he returned with a very few back to France. In this action, however, I had the misfortune to come off with a broken arm; it was so shattered, that, besides a great deal of pain and misery which I endured in my cure, I was disabled for upwards of three months.
“Soon after my recovery I had contracted an amour with a young woman whose parents lived near the garrison, and were in much better circumstances than I had reason to expect should give their consent to the match. However, as she was extremely fond of me (as I was indeed distractedly enamored of her), they were prevailed on to comply with her desires, and the day was fixed for our marriage.
“On the evening preceding, while I was exulting with the eager expectation of the happiness I was the next day to enjoy, I received orders to march early in the morning towards Windsor, where a large army was to be formed, at the head of which the king intended to march into the west. Any person who hath ever been in love may easily imagine what I felt in my mind on receiving those orders; and what still heightened my torments was, that the commanding officer would not permit any one to go out of the garrison that evening; so that I had not even an opportunity of taking leave of my beloved.
“The morning came which was to have put me in the possession of my wishes; but, alas! the scene was now changed, and all the hopes which I had raised were now so many ghosts to haunt, and furies to torment me.
“It was now the midst of winter, and very severe weather for the season; when we were obliged to make very long and fatiguing marches, in which we suffered all the inconveniences of cold and hunger. The night in which I expected to riot in the arms of my beloved mistress I was obliged to take up with a lodging on the ground, exposed to the inclemencies of a rigid frost; nor could I obtain the least comfort of sleep, which shunned me as its enemy.
“In short, the horrors of that night are not to be described, or perhaps imagined. They made such an impression on my soul, that I was forced to be dipped three times in the river Lethe to prevent my remembering it in the characters which I afterwards performed in the flesh.”
Here I interrupted Julian for the first time, and told him no such dipping had happened to me in my voyage from one world to the other: but he satisfied me by saying “that this only happened to those spirits which returned into the flesh, in order to prevent that reminiscence which Plato mentions, and which would otherwise cause great confusion in the other world.”
He then proceeded as follows: “We continued a very laborious march to Exeter, which we were ordered to besiege. The town soon surrendered, and his majesty built a castle there, which he garrisoned with his Normans, and unhappily I had the misfortune to be one of the number.
“Here we were confined closer than I had been at Dover; for, as the citizens were extremely disaffected, we were never suffered to go without the walls of the castle; nor indeed could we, unless in large bodies, without the utmost danger. We were likewise kept to continual duty, nor could any solicitations prevail with the commanding officer to give me a month’s absence to visit my love, from whom I had no opportunity of hearing in all my long absence.
“However, in the spring, the people being more quiet, and another officer of a gentler temper succeeding to the principal command, I obtained leave to go to Dover; but alas! what comfort did my long journey bring me? I found the parents of my darling in the utmost misery at her loss; for she had died, about a week before my arrival, of a consumption, which they imputed to her pining at my sudden departure.
“I now fell into the most violent and almost raving fit of despair. I cursed myself, the king, and the whole world, which no longer seemed to have any delight for me. I threw myself on the grave of my deceased love, and lay there without any kind of sustenance for two whole days. At last hunger, together with the persuasions of some people who took pity on me, prevailed with me to quit that situation, and refresh myself with food. They then persuaded me to return to my post, and abandon a place where almost every object I saw recalled ideas to my mind which, as they said, I should endeavor with my utmost force to expel from it. This advice at length succeeded; the rather, as the father and mother of my beloved refused to see me, looking on me as the innocent but certain cause of the death of their only child.
“The loss of one we tenderly love, as it is one of the most bitter and biting evils which attend human life, so it wants the lenitive which palliates and softens every other calamity; I mean that great reliever, hope. No man can be so totally undone, but that he may still cherish expectation: but this deprives us of all such comfort, nor can anything but time alone lessen it. This, however, in most minds, is sure to work a slow but effectual remedy; so did it in mine: for within a twelve-month I was entirely reconciled to my fortune, and soon after absolutely forgot the object of a passion from which I had promised myself such extreme happiness, and in the disappointment of which I had experienced such inconceivable misery.
“At the expiration of the month I returned to my garrison at Exeter; where I was no sooner arrived than I was ordered to march into the north, to oppose a force there levied by the earls of Chester and Northumberland. We came to York, where his majesty pardoned the heads of the rebels, and very severely punished some who were less guilty. It was particularly my lot to be ordered to seize a poor man who had never been out of his house, and convey him to prison. I detested this barbarity, yet was obliged to execute it; nay, though no reward would have bribed me in a private capacity to have acted such a part, yet so much sanctity is there in the commands of a monarch or general to a soldier, that I performed it without reluctance, nor had the tears of his wife and family any prevalence with me.
“But this, which was a very small piece of mischief in comparison with many of my barbarities afterwards, was however, the only one which ever gave me any uneasiness; for when the king led us afterwards into Northumberland to revenge those people’s having joined with Osborne the Dane in his invasion, and orders were given us to commit what ravages we could, I was forward in fulfilling them, and, among some lesser cruelties (I remember it yet with sorrow), I ravished a woman, murdered a little infant playing in her lap, and then burned her house. In short, for I have no pleasure in this part of my relation, I had my share in all the cruelties exercised on those poor wretches; which were so grievous, that for sixty miles together, between York and Durham, not a single house, church, or any other public or private edifice, was left standing.
“We had pretty well devoured the country, when we were ordered to march to the Isle of Ely, to oppose Hereward, a bold and stout soldier, who had under him a very large body of rebels, who had the impudence to rise against their king and conqueror (I talk now in the same style I did then) in defense of their liberties, as they called them. These were soon subdued; but as I happened (more to my glory than my comfort) to be posted in that part through which Hereward cut his way, I received a dreadful cut on the forehead, a second on the shoulder, and was run through the body with a pike.
“I languished a long time with these wounds, which made me incapable of attending the king into Scotland. However, I was able to go over with him afterwards into Normandy, in his expedition against Philip, who had taken the opportunity of the troubles in England to invade that province. Those few Normans who bad survived their wounds, and had remained in the Isle of Ely, were all of our nation who went, the rest of his army being all composed of English. In a skirmish near the town of Mans my leg was broke and so shattered that it was forced to be cut off.
“I was now disabled from serving longer in the army; and accordingly, being discharged from the service, I retired to the place of my nativity, where, in extreme poverty, and frequent bad health from the many wounds I had received, I dragged on a miserable life to the age of sixty-three; my only pleasure being to recount the feats of my youth, in which narratives I generally exceeded the truth.
“It would be tedious and unpleasant to recount to you the several miseries I suffered after my return to Caen; let it suffice, they were so terrible that they induced Minos to compassionate me, and, notwithstanding the barbarities I had been guilty of in Northumberland, to suffer me to go once more back to earth.”
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:54