Bradenham Hall — Let to Nelson’s sister — Mr. W. M. R. Haggard, father of H. R. H. — Chairman of Quarter Sessions — His factotum Samuel Adcock — Rows at Bradenham — Their comical side — Mrs. W. M. R. Haggard — Her beautiful character and poetic nature — Entrance examination for Army — Floored in Euclid — Hunting and shooting at Bradenham — Ipswich Grammar School — Fight with big boy — Dr. Holden, head master — Left Ipswich to cram for F.O. at Scoones’ — Life in London — Spiritualist seances — First love affair — Left Scoones’ for Natal on Sir Henry Bulwer’s staff.
Bradenham Hall, in West Norfolk, is a beautifully situated and comfortable red-brick house surrounded by woods. It was built about a hundred and fifty years ago, and my family have resided there for four generations. The only noteworthy piece of history connected with the house is that it was hired by Mr. Bolton, the husband of Nelson’s sister, who on more than one occasion asked Lady Hamilton there to stay with them. When I was a young fellow, I knew an old man in the village called Canham who at that time was page boy at the Hall. He remembered Lady Hamilton well, and when I asked him to describe her, said “She waur a rare fine opstanding [here followed an outspoken and opprobrious term], she waur!”
I may add that in my youth the glory of her ladyship’s dresses was still remembered in the village. After the battle of Trafalgar, Nelson’s personal belongings seem to have been sent from the Victory to Bradenham. At any rate old Canham told me that it was his duty to hang out certain of the Admiral’s garments to air upon the lavender bushes in the kitchen garden. A piece of furniture from his cabin now stands in the room that Lady Hamilton occupied. Honoria, Canham described as “a pale little slip of a thing.”
Notwithstanding his somewhat frequent excursions abroad and certain years that we spent at Leamington and in London when economy was the order of the day, my father passed most of his life at Bradenham, to which he was devotedly attached. He was a barrister, but I do not think that he practised to any great extent, probably because he had no need to do so. Still I have heard several amusing stories (they may be apocryphal) concerning his appearance as an advocate. One of these I remember; the others have escaped me. He was prosecuting a man for stealing twelve hogs, and in addressing the jury did his best to bring home to them the enormity of the defendant’s crime.
“Gentleman of the Jury,” he said, “think what this man has done. He stole not one hog but twelve hogs, and not only twelve hogs but twelve fat hogs, exactly the same number, Gentleman of the Jury, as I see in the box before me!”
The story adds that the defendant was acquitted! However, my father turned his legal lore to some practical use, for he became a Chairman of Quarter Sessions for Norfolk, an office which he held till his death over forty years later. He used to conduct the proceedings with great dignity, to which his appearance — for he was a very handsome man, better looking indeed than any of his sons — and his splendid voice added not a little.
Most of us have inherited the voice though not to the same degree. Indeed it has been a family characteristic for generations, and my father told me that once as a young man he was recognised as a Haggard by an old lady who had never seen him and did not know his name, merely by the likeness of his voice to that of his great-grandfather who had been her friend in youth. Never was there such a voice as my father’s; moreover he was wont to make use of it. It was a joke concerning him, which I may have originated, that if he was in the city of Norwich and anyone wished to discover his whereabouts, all they needed to do was to stand in the market-place for a while to listen. Here is a tale of that voice.
My youngest brother Arthur, now Major Haggard, had been lunching with him at the Oxford and Cambridge Club in Pall Mall, and after luncheon bade him farewell on the steps of the club and went his way, to Egypt, I believe. Presently he heard a roar of “Arthur! Arthur!” and not wishing to attract attention to himself, quickened his steps. It was the very worst thing that he could do, for the roars redoubled. Arthur began to run, people began to stare. Somebody cried “Stop thief!” Arthur, now followed by a crowd in which a policeman had joined, ran harder till he was brought to a stop by the sentry at Marlborough House. Then he surrendered and was escorted by the crowd back to the Oxford and Cambridge Club. As he approached, my father bellowed out:
“Don’t forget to give my love to your mother.”
Then amidst shouts of laughter he vanished into the club, and Arthur departed to catch the train to Bradenham, en route for Egypt.
My father was a typical squire of the old sort, a kind of Sir Roger de Coverley. He reigned at Bradenham like a king, blowing everybody up and making rows innumerable. Yet I do not think there was a more popular man in the county of Norfolk. Even the servants, whom he rated in a fashion that no servant would put up with nowadays, were fond of him. He could send back the soup with a request to the cook to drink it all herself, or some other infuriating message. He could pull at the bells until feet of connecting wire hung limply down the wall, and announce when whoever it was he wanted appeared that Thorpe Idiot Asylum was her proper home, and so forth. Nobody seemed to mind in the least. It was “only the Squire’s way,” they said.3
3 No doubt some of the characteristics of Squire De la Molle and his factotum George in Sir Rider’s Norfolk tale Colonel Quaritch, V.C., can be traced to Mr. W. M. R. Haggard and his servant Sam Adcock. — Ed.
It was the same with the outdoor men, especially with one Samuel Adcock, his factotum, a stout, humorous person whose face was marked all over with small-pox pits. About once a week Samuel was had in to the vestibule and abused in a most straightforward fashion, but he never seemed to mind.
“I believe, Samuel,” roared my father at him in my hearing, “donkey as you are, you think that no one can do anything except yourself.”
“Nor they can’t, Squire,” replied Samuel calmly, which closed the conversation.
On another occasion there was a frantic row about a certain pheasant which was supposed to have come to its end unlawfully. My father had ordered this fowl to be stuffed that it might be produced in some pending legal proceedings. Samuel, who I think at that time was head-keeper and probably knew more about the pheasant’s end than my father, did not pay the slightest attention to these commands. Then came the row.
“Don’t you argue with me, sir,” said my father to Samuel, who for the last ten minutes had been sitting silent with his eyes fixed upon the ceiling. “Answer me without further prevarication. Have you obeyed my orders and had that pheasant stuffed?”
“Lor’! Squire,” replied Samuel, “you stuffed it yourself a week ago!”
On inquiry it transpired that Samuel, to prevent further complications and awkward questions, had prevailed upon the cook to roast that pheasant and send it up for my parent’s dinner. So the lawsuit was dropped.
My father was a regular in attendance at church. We always sat in the chancel on oak benches originally designed for the choir. If he happened to be in time himself and other parishioners, such as the farmers’ daughters, happened to be late, his habit was, when he saw them enter, to step into the middle of the nave, produce a very large old watch which I now possess — for on his death-bed he told Hocking to give it to me — and hold it aloft that the sinners as they walked up the church might become aware of the enormity of their offence.
He always read the Lessons and read them very well. There were certain chapters, however, those which are full of names both in the Old and New Testaments, which were apt to cause difficulty. It was not that he was unable to pronounce these names, for having been a fair scholar in his youth he did this better than most. Yet when he had finished the list it would occur to him that they might have been rendered more satisfactorily. So he would go back to the beginning and read them all through again.
At the conclusion of the service no one in the church ventured to stir until he had walked down it slowly and taken up his position on a certain spot in the porch. Here he stood and watched the congregation emerge, counting them like sheep.
Notwithstanding his hot temper, foibles and tricks of manner, there was something about him that made him extraordinarily popular, not only as I have said in his household but in the outside world. Thus I remember that once the Liberals (needless to say he was the strongest of Conservatives) offered not to contest the division if he would consent to represent it. This, however, with all the burden of his large family on his back he could not afford to do. It is a pity, for I am sure that his strong personality, backed as it was by remarkable shrewdness, would have made him a great figure in the House of Commons and one who would have been long remembered.
In many ways he was extraordinarily able, though, if one may say so of a man who was so very much a man, his mind had certain feminine characteristics that for aught I know may have come to him with his Russian blood. Thus I do not think that he reasoned very much. He jumped to conclusions as a woman does, and those conclusions, although often exaggerated, were in essence very rarely wrong. Indeed I never knew anyone who could form a more accurate judgement of a person of either sex after a few minutes of conversation, or even at sight. He seemed to have a certain power of summing up the true nature of man, woman or child, though I am sure that he did not in the least know upon what he based his estimate. It must not be supposed, however, that he was by any means shallow or superficial. In any great event his nature revealed an innate depth and dignity; all the noise that he was so fond of making ceased and he became very quiet.
Nobody could be more absolutely delightful than my father when he chose, and, per contra, I am bound to add that nobody could be more disagreeable. His rows with his children were many, and often on his part unjust. One of the causes of these outbreaks was that he seemed unable to realise that children do not always remain children.
Once when I was a young man in Africa — it was just before I was appointed Master of the High Court in the Transvaal — I was very anxious to come home after several years’ absence from England, on “urgent private affairs.” To be frank, I desired to bring a certain love affair to a head by a formal engagement, which there was no doubt I could have done at that time.
For certain reasons, however, it was impossible for me to get leave at the moment. Yet the matter was one that would admit of no delay. In this emergency I went to my chief, Sir Theophilus Shepstone, told him how things stood and obtained a promise from him that if I resigned my appointment in order to visit England, as it was necessary I should do, he would make arrangements to ensure my reappointment either to that or to some other billet on my return.
I suppose that I did not make all this quite clear in my letters home, and almost certainly I did not explain why it was necessary for me to come home. The result was that the day before I started, after I had sent my luggage forward to Cape Town, I received a most painful letter from my father. Evidently he thought or feared that I was abandoning a good career in Africa and about to come back upon his hands. Although it was far from the fact, this view may or may not have been justified. What I hold even now was not justified was the harsh way in which it was expressed. The words I have forgotten, for I destroyed the letter many years ago, immediately upon its receipt, I think, but the sting of them after so long an absence I remember well enough, though some four-and-thirty years have passed since they were written, a generation ago.
They hurt me so much that immediately after reading them I withdrew my formal resignation and cancelled the passage I had taken in the post-cart to Kimberley en route for the Cape and England. As a result the course of two lives was changed. The lady married someone else, with results that were far from fortunate, and the effect upon myself was not good. I know now that all was for the best so far as I am concerned, and in these events I see the workings of the hand of Destiny. Many, I am aware, will think this a hard saying, but from Job down man has found it difficult to escape a certain faith in fatalism which even St. Paul seems to have accepted.
There’s a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will,
writes the inspired Shakespeare, and who shall deny that he writes truth? The alternative would seem to be the acceptance of a doctrine of blind chance which I confess I find hideous. Moreover, if it is to prevail, how fearful are our human responsibilities. Because my dear father, who had the interests of all his children so closely at heart, wrote a sharp and testy letter, probably under the influence of some other irritation of which I know nothing, is he to be saddled with the weight of all the consequences of that letter? Or am I to be saddled with those consequences because I was a high-spirited and sensitive young man who took the letter too seriously? If we knew the answers to these questions we should have solved the meaning of the secret of our lives. But they are hidden by the blackness that walls us in, that blackness in which the sphinx will speak at last — or stay for ever silent.
Meanwhile the moral is that people should be careful of what they put on paper. When we throw a stone into the sea, who knows where the ripple ends?
To return — these rows at Bradenham, ninety-nine out of a hundred of which meant nothing at all, had a very comical side to them. Perhaps they sprang up at table on the occasion of an argument between my father and one of his sons. Then he would rise majestically, announce in solemn tones that he refused to be insulted in his own house, and depart, banging the door loudly behind him. Across the hall he went into the drawing-room and banged that door, out of the drawing-room into the vestibule (here there are two doors, so the bang was double-barrelled), through the vestibule into the garden, if the row was of the first magnitude. If not he banged his way back into the dining-room by the serving entrance, and very probably sat down again in quite a sweet temper, the exercise having relieved his feelings. Especially was this so if the offending son had banged himself out of the house by some other route.
Only the other day I examined those Bradenham doors and their hinges. The workmanship of them is really wonderful. After half a century of banging added to their ordinary wear, they are as good as when they were made. We do not see such joinery nowadays.
Considered as a whole it would have been difficult to find a more jovial party than we were at Bradenham in the days of my youth, especially when my father was in a good mood. The noise of course was tremendous, because everybody had plenty to say and was fully determined that it should not be hidden from the world. In the midst of all this hubbub sat my dearest mother — like an angel that had lost her way and found herself in pandemonium. Not being blest with the Haggard voice, though she had a very sweet one of her own, often and often she was reduced to the necessity of signifying her wishes by signs. Indeed it became a habit of hers, if she needed the salt or anything else, to point to it, and beckon it towards her. One of her daughters-inlaw once asked my mother how on earth she made herself heard in the midst of so much noise at table.
“My dear,” she answered, “I whisper! When I whisper they all stop talking, because they wonder what is the matter. Then I get my chance.”
Here I will try to give some description of this mother with whom we were blest. Twenty-two years have passed since she left us, but I can say honestly that every one of those years has brought me to a deeper appreciation of her beautiful character. Indeed she seems to be much nearer to me now that she is dead than she was while she still lived. It is as though our intimacy and mutual understanding has grown in a way as real as it is mysterious. Someone says that the dead are never dead to us until they are forgotten, and if that be so, in my case my mother lives indeed. No night goes by that I do not think of her and pray that we may meet again to part no more. If our present positions were reversed, this would please me, could I know of it, and so I trust that this offering of a son’s unalterable gratitude and affection may please her, for after all such things are the most fragrant flowers that we can lay upon the graves of our beloved. The Protestant Faith seems vaguely to inculcate that we should not pray for the dead. If so, I differ from the Protestant Faith, who hold that we should not only pray for them but to them, that they will judge our frailties with tenderness and will not forget us who do not forget them. Even if the message is delivered only after ten thousand years, it will still be a message that most of us would be glad to hear; and if it is never delivered at all, still it will have been sent, and what can man do more?
I know that my mother believed that such efforts are not in vain, for she was filled with a very earnest faith. After her death, in the drawer of her writing-table were found four lines, feebly inscribed in pencil, which are believed to be the last words she wrote. They are before me now and I transcribe them:
Lo! in the shadowy valley here He stands:
My soul pale sliding down Earth’s icy slope
Descends to meet Him, with beseeching hands
Trembling with Fear — and yet upraised in Hope.
My mother was married when she was twenty-five years of age, and children came in what ladies nowadays would consider superabundance. The eldest, my sister Ella, was born in Rome in March 1845, while they were still upon a marriage tour, and subsequently, in quick succession, the others followed. The last of us, my brother Arthur, appeared in November 1860 — well do I remember my father in a flowered dressing-gown telling us to be quiet because we had a little brother. This allows nearly sixteen years between the eldest and the youngest, including one who came into the world still-born. Although she had ten children living, my mother never ceased to regret this boy, and I remember her crying, when she pointed out to me where he was buried in Bradenham churchyard.
My mother never was a beauty in the ordinary sense of the word, but in youth, to judge by the pictures which I have seen of her (photographs were not then known), she must have been very refined and charming in appearance, and indeed remained so all her life. Her abilities were great; taking her all in all she was perhaps the ablest woman whom I have known, though she had no iron background to her character; for that she was too gentle. Her bent no doubt was literary, and had circumstances permitted I am sure she would have made a name in that branch of art to which in the intervals of her crowded life she gravitated by nature. Also she was a good musician, and drew well. Of her mental abilities I have however spoken in a brief memoir which I published as a preface to a new edition of my mother’s poem, “Life and its Author.”
I think that the greatest of her gifts, however, was that of conversation. No more charming companion could be imagined. Also she had the art of drawing the best out of anyone with whom she might be talking, as the sympathetic sometimes can do. In a minute or two she would find which was his or her strongest point and to this turn the conversation. Notwithstanding the tumultuous nature of her life, her illnesses and other distractions, she contrived to read a great deal, and to keep herself au courant with all thought movements and the political affairs of the day. Further she did her very best to teach her numerous children the truths of religion, and to lead them into the ways of righteousness and peace. I fear, however, that at times we got beyond her. It is not easy for any woman to follow and direct all the physical and mental developments of a huge and vigorous family who are continually coming and going, first from schools and elsewhere, and later from every quarter of the world.
She never complained, but I cannot think that the life she was called upon to lead was very congenial to her. When young in India, where at that time English ladies were rare, as was natural in the case of one of her charm who was known also to be a considerable heiress, she was much sought after and feted. Then she returned to England and married, and for her the responsibilities of life began with a vengeance, to cease no more until she died. These indeed were complicated by the fact that a time came when she had to think a good deal about ways and means, especially after my father, who had the passion of his generation for land, insisted upon investing most of her fortune in that security just at the commencement of its great fall in value. Her various duties, including that of housekeeping, of which she was a perfect mistress, left her scarcely an hour to follow her own literary and artistic tastes. All she could do was to give a little attention to gardening, to which she was devoted.
On the whole life at Bradenham must have been very dull for her, especially after the London house was sold and she was settled there more or less permanently. She used to describe to me the wearisome and interminable local dinner-parties to which she was obliged to go in her early married life. The men she met at them talked, she said, chiefly about “roots,” and for a long while she could not imagine what these roots might be and why they were so interested in them, until at length she discovered that they referred to mangold-wurzel and to turnips, both as crops and as a shelter for the birds which they loved to shoot. One good fortune she had, however: all her children survived her, all were deeply attached to her, and, what is strange in so large a family, none of them went to the bad.
Such was the circle in which I grew up. I think that on the whole I was rather a quiet youth, at any rate by comparison. Certainly I was very imaginative, although I kept my thoughts to myself, which I dare say had a good deal to do with my reputation for stupidity. I believe I was considered the dull boy of the family. Without doubt I was slow at my lessons, chiefly because I was always thinking of something else. Also to this day there are subjects at which I am extremely stupid. Thus, although I rarely forget the substance of anything worth remembering, never could or can I learn anything by heart, and for this reason I have been obliged to abandon the active pursuit of Masonry. Moreover all mathematics are absolutely abhorrent to me, while as for Euclid it bored me so intensely that I do not think I ever mastered the meaning of the stuff.
I think it is fortunate for me that I have never been called upon to face the competitive examinations which are now so fashionable, and, I will add, in my opinion in many ways so mischievous, for I greatly doubt whether I should have succeeded in them. The only one for which I ever entered was that for the Army, which about 1872 was more severe than is now the case. Then I went up almost without preparation, not because I wished to become a soldier but in order to keep a friend company, and was duly floored by my old enemy, Euclid, for which I am very thankful. Had I passed I might have gone on with the thing and by now been a retired colonel with nothing to do, like so many whom I know.
Of those early years at Bradenham few events stand out clearly in my mind. One terrific night, however, when I was about nine years old, I have never forgotten. I lay abed in the room called the Sandwich, and for some reason or other could not sleep. Then it was that suddenly my young intelligence for the first time grasped the meaning of death. It came home to me that I too must die; that my body must be buried in the ground and my spirit be hurried off to a terrible, unfamiliar land which to most people was known as Hell. In those days it was common for clergymen to talk a great deal about Hell, especially to the young. It was an awful hour. I shivered, I prayed, I wept. I thought I saw Death waiting for me by the library door. At last I went to sleep to dream that I was already in this hell and that the peculiar form of punishment allotted to me was to be continually eaten alive by rats!
Thus it was that I awoke out of childhood and came face to face with the facts of destiny.
My other recollections are mostly of a sporting character. Like the majority of country-bred boys I adored a gun. That given to me was a single-barrelled muzzle-loader. With this weapon I went within an ace of putting an end to my mortal career, contriving in some mysterious way to let it off so that the charge just grazed my face. Also I almost shot my brother Andrew through a fence which it was our habit to hunt for rabbits, one of us on either side, with Jack, a dear terrier dog, working the ditch in the middle.
I did terrible deeds with that gun. Once even, unable to find any other game, I shot a missel-thrush on its nest, a crime that has haunted me ever since. Also I poached a cock-pheasant, shooting it on the wing through a thick oak tree so that it fell into a pool, whence it was retrieved with difficulty. Also I killed a farmer’s best-laying duck. It was in the moat of the Castle Plantation, where I concluded no respectable tame duck would be, and there it died, with results almost as painful to me as to the duck, which was demonstrated to have about a dozen eggs inside it.
Generally there was a horse or two at Bradenham on which we boys could hunt. One was a mare called Rebecca, a very smart animal that belonged more or less to my brother Bazett, which I overrode or lamed following the hounds, a crime whereof I heard plenty afterwards. The mount that most often fell to my lot, however, was a flea-bitten old grey called Body–Snatcher, because of a string-halt so pronounced that, when he came out of the stable he almost hit his hoof against his stomach. As a matter of fact I discovered afterwards from some dealer that Body–Snatcher had in his youth been a two-hundred-guinea horse. Meeting with some accident, he was sold and put into a trap, which he upset, killing one of the occupants, and finally was purchased by my father for 15 pounds. But when he warmed to his work and the hounds were in full cry, with a light weight like myself upon his back, there was scarcely a horse in the county that could touch him over a stiff fence. What his end was I cannot remember. Sometimes also my father rode, though not in later years. I recall riding with him down some lane out Swaffham way. Suddenly he turned to me and said, “When I am dead, boy, you will remember these rides with me.” And so I have.
After my time at Mr. Graham’s, of whom I have spoken, came to an end, how or when I do not know, the question arose as to where I should be sent to school. All my five elder brothers, except Jack the sailor, had the advantage of a public school education. William and Bazett went to Winchester, and afterwards to Oxford and Cambridge respectively; Alfred to Haileybury, Andrew to Westminster, and subsequently my younger brother Arthur to Shrewsbury and Cambridge. When it came to my turn, however, funds were running short, which is scarcely to be wondered at, as my father has told me that about this time the family bills for education came to 1200 pounds a year. Also, as I was supposed to be not very bright, I dare say it was thought that to send me to a public school would be to waste money. So it was decreed that I should go to the Grammar School at Ipswich, which had the advantages of being cheap and near at hand.
Never shall I forget my arrival at that educational establishment, to which my father conducted me. We travelled via Norwich, where he bought me a hat. For some reason best known to himself, the head-gear which he selected was such as is generally worn by a curate, being of the ordinary clerical black felt and shape. In this weird head-dress I was duly delivered at Ipswich Grammar School. As soon as my father had tumultuously departed to catch his train, I was sent into the playground, where I stood a forlorn and lanky figure. Presently a boy came up and hit me in the face, saying:
“Phillips” (I think that was his name) “sends this to the new fellow in a parson’s hat.”
This was too much for me, for underneath my placid exterior I had a certain amount of spirit.
“Show me Phillips,” I said, and a very big boy was pointed out to me.
I went up to him, made some appropriate repartee to his sarcasm about my hat, and hit him in the face. Then followed a fight, of which, as he was so much larger and stronger, of course I got the worst. However, I gained the respect of my schoolfellows, and thenceforth my clergyman’s hat was tolerated until I managed to procure another.
I spent two or three years at Ipswich. At that time it was a rough place, and there was much bullying of which the masters were not aware. The best thing about the school was its head master, Dr. Holden, with whom I became very friendly in after life when, as it chanced, we lived almost next door to each other in Redcliffe Square.
He was a charming and a kindly gentleman, also one of the best scholars of his age. But I do not think that the management of a school like Ipswich was quite the task to which he was suited, and I am sure that much went on there whereof he knew nothing.
The second master was a certain Dr. or Mr. Saunderson, an enormous man physically, who was also a most excellent scholar. He was a gentleman too, as the following story shows.
Once by some accident I wrote a really fine set of Latin verses. He had me up and asked me where I had cribbed them. I told him that I had not cribbed them at all. He answered that I was a liar, for he was sure that there was no one in the school who could write such verses. My recollection was that I proved to him that this was not the case and that there the matter ended. It appears, however, as I learned a few years ago on the occasion of my returning to Ipswich School to take a leading part in the Speech-day functions, that the real finale was more dramatic. A gentleman who had been my classmate in those far-off days informed me that when Mr. Saunderson discovered that he had accused me falsely, he summoned the whole school and offered me a public apology. From inquiries that I made there seems to be no doubt that this really happened.
I did not distinguish myself in any way at Ipswich — I imagine for the old reason that I was generally engaged in thinking of other things than the lesson in hand. Moreover in those times boys did not receive the individual attention that is given to them now, even in the Board schools. The result was that the bent of such abilities as I may possess was never discovered. On one occasion, however, I did triumph.
Mr. Saunderson offered a special prize to the boy who could write the best descriptive essay on any subject that he might select. I chose that of an operation in a hospital. I had never been in a hospital or seen an operation, so any information I had upon the matter must have come from reading. Still I beat all the other essayists hollow and won the prize. This, as it chanced, I never received, for when I returned to school after the holidays, Mr. Saunderson had forgotten all about the matter, and I did not like to remind him of it.
I took my part in the school games and was elected captain of the second football team, but did not stay long enough at Ipswich to get into the first. Not much more returns to me about this period of my life that is worthy of record. Although I believe that I was popular among my schoolmates, who showed their affection by naming me “Nosey” in allusion to the prominence of that organ on my undeveloped face, I did not care for school, and found it monotonous, with the result that my memories concerning it are somewhat of a blur.
I know of no more melancholy experience than to return to such a place after the lapse of forty years or more, and look on the old familiar things and find moving among them scarcely a living creature whom we knew. I remember telling my audience on the occasion to which I have alluded above, that to me the room seemed to be full of ghosts. Some of the boys laughed, for they thought that I was joking, but a day may come, say towards the year 1950, when they too will return and stand as I did surveying an utterly alien crowd, and then, perhaps, they will remember my words and understand their meaning. Some tradition of me remained in the place, for one of the elder boys took me to the room that was my study and showed me the first two initials of my name, “H. R.,” cut upon the mantelpiece. Although I was in a great hurry to catch the train, I made shift to add the remaining “H.”
There was a good deal of fighting at Ipswich, in which I took my share. I remember being well licked by a boy who was aggrieved because I had ducked him while we were swimming together in the river. When his challenge to battle was accepted, and we came to fight it out, I discovered that he was left-handed, which puzzled me altogether. However, I fought on till my eyes were bunged up and we were separated. One of the biggest boys of the school, a fine young man, was a great bully and, unknown to the masters, used to cruelly maltreat those who were smaller and weaker than himself. This lad became a clergyman, and, as it happened, in after years I struck his spoor in a very remote part of the world. He had been chaplain there, and left no good name behind him. More years went by and I received a letter from him, the gist of which was to ask me what land and climate I could recommend to him to ensure a quick road to the devil. I think I replied that West Africa seemed to fulfil all requirements, but whether he ever reached either the first or the second destination I do not know. Poor fellow! I am sorry for him. He was clever and handsome, and might have found a better fate. I have heard, however, that he made a disastrous marriage, which often takes men more quickly to a bad end than does or did even the hinterland of West Africa.
While I was still at Ipswich I spent a summer holiday in Switzerland when I was about sixteen, lodging with a foreign family in order to improve my French. With the able assistance of the young ladies of the house I acquired a good colloquial knowledge of that language in quite a short time. I never saw any of them again. When my visit was over I joined the rest of my family at Fluellen on the Lake of Lucerne. Thence my brother Andrew and I walked to the top of the St. Gothard Pass, there to bid farewell to our brother Alfred, who was crossing the Alps in a diligence on his way to India at the commencement of his career. We slept the night at some wayside inn. On the following morning the pretty Swiss chambermaid, with whom we had made friends, took us to a mortuary near by and, among a number of other such gruesome relics, showed us the skull of her own father, which she polished up affectionately with her apron.
At the top of the pass we met my brother and my father, who had accompanied him so far. The diligence drove off, we shouting our farewells, my father waving a tall white hat out of which, to the amazement of the travellers, fell two towels and an assortment of cabbage leaves and other greenery. It was like a conjuring trick. I should explain that the day was hot, and my parent feared sunstroke.
I think that I remained at Ipswich for only one term after this trip abroad. Then, in the following holidays, with characteristic suddenness my father made up his mind that I was to leave, so Ipswich knew me no more. It was at this period that my father determined that I should go up for the Foreign Office, and, with a view to preparing for the examination, I was sent to a private tutor in London, a French professor who had married one of my sister’s school-mistresses. He was a charming man, and she was a charming woman, but, having married late in life, they did not in the least assimilate. For one thing, his religious views were what are called broad, whereas she belonged to the Society of Plymouth Brethren, whose views are narrow. She told him that he would go to hell. He intimated in reply that, if she were not there, that fate would have its consolations. In short, the rows were awful. I never knew a more ill-assorted pair. I think that I stopped with these good people for about a year, imbibing some knowledge of French literature, and incidentally of the tenets of the Plymouth Brethren. Then my father announced that I was to go to Scoones, the great crammer, and there make ready to face the Foreign Office examination.
To this end, when I was just eighteen, I was put in lodgings alone in London, entirely uncontrolled in any way. The first set of these lodgings was somewhere near Westbourne Grove and kept by a young widow. As they did not turn out respectable I was moved to others in Davis Street, an excellent situation for a young gentleman about town. Be it remembered that this happened at a time of life when youths nowadays are either still at school or just gone up to College, where they have the advantage of effective guidance and control for some years. At this age I was thrown upon the world, as I remember when I was a little lad my elder brothers threw me into the Rhine to teach me to swim. After nearly drowning I learned to swim, and in a sense the same may be said of my London life.
There is a kind Providence that helps some people through many dangers, although unfortunately it seems to abandon others to their fate. In my case it helped me through.
Among the risks I ran were those attendant upon spiritualism. Somehow or other, I have not the faintest recollection how, I became a frequent visitor at the house of old Lady Paulet, No. 20 Hanover Square. She was a great spiritualist, and I used to attend her seances. Undoubtedly very strange things happened at these seances which I will not stop to describe. Among the other habitues of the “circle” was Lady Caithness, who wore a necklace of enormous diamonds. When the lights were turned down these diamonds were the last objects visible. They gleamed alone, and seemed to be hung on air. On these occasions a lady called Mrs. Guppy was the great medium. On Mrs. Guppy I and a confederate used to play jokes. For instance, one of the manifestations was that the table suddenly became covered with great quantities of roses covered with dew. Off these roses my friend and I, having unlinked our hands, broke a number of fat, hard buds and, knowing where she was sitting, discharged them through the darkness with all our strength straight at the head of Mrs. Guppy. Little wonder that presently we heard that poor lady exclaim:
“Oh! the spirits are hurting me so.”
I think it was Lady Caithness who made a somewhat similar remark when, in the course of my investigation of certain phenomena that were happening underneath the table in connection with some musical glasses that seemed to be emitting their plaintive strains from between my feet, I landed her a most severe kick upon the shins.
It was all very amusing, and would have done no harm had the business stopped there. But it did not. Before I leave 20 Hanover Square, however, I may mention that more than a quarter of a century afterwards I revisited it under strangely different circumstances. The house is now the home of various societies, and in the offices of one of these societies I was called upon to preside as Chairman of the Committee of the Society of Authors upon the occasion of a General Meeting. Of course everything was changed, but it seemed to me that I recognised the marble mantelpieces.
My acquaintance with Lady Paulet gave me the entree to the spiritualistic society of the day. Perhaps some of them had hopes that I might develop into a first-class medium. Among the seances that I attended were some at a private house in Green Street. Here I witnessed remarkable things. The medium was a young lady, not merely in the conventional sense of the term, who evidently believed in her mission and was not paid. She sank into a trance secured by many tests, and “strange things happened” or seemed to happen. Thus, to leave out the minor manifestations, two young women of great beauty — or perhaps I should say young spirits — one dark and the other fair, appeared in the lighted room. I conversed with and touched them both, and noted that their flesh seemed to be firm but cold. I remember that, being a forward youth of inquiring mind, I even asked the prettier of the two to allow me to give her a kiss. She smiled but did not seem to be at all annoyed, but I never got the kiss. I think she remarked that it was not permissible.
She was draped in a kind of white garment which covered her head, and I asked her to allow me to see her hair. She pushed up the white drapery from her forehead, remarking sweetly that if I would look I should see that she had no hair, and in fact she appeared to be quite bald. A minute or two later, however, she had long and beautiful hair which flowed all about her.
Afterwards either she or the other apparition remarked that she was tired. Thereon her body seemed to shrink, with the result that, as her head remained where it was, the neck elongated enormously, after the fashion of Alice in Wonderland. Then she fell backwards and vanished altogether.
To this day I wonder whether the whole thing was illusion, or, if not, what it can have been. Of one thing I am certain — that spirits, as we understand the term, had nothing to do with the matter. On the other hand I do not believe that it was a case of trickery; rather I am inclined to think that certain forces with which we are at present unacquainted were set loose that produced phenomena which, perhaps, had their real origin in our own minds, but nevertheless were true phenomena.
Sometimes these phenomena were purely physical. Thus I and some other of the Scoones students’ arranged a seance at the house of the uncle of one of them in St. James’s Place, where no such thing had ever been held before. The medium, a feeble little man, whose name, I think, was Edwards, arrived and at the door was pounced upon by two of the strongest young men present, who never let go of him until the end of the proceedings. These were various and tumultuous. We sat in the darkened dining-room round the massive table, which presently began to skip like a lamp. Lights floated about the room, and with them a file of Morning Posts which normally reposed in a corner. Cold little hands picked at the studs in our shirts, and the feather fans off the mantelpiece floated to and fro, performing their natural office upon our heated brows. Our host, Mr. Norris, whispered to me that he was receiving these attentions.
“Catch hold of the thing,” I said, letting go of his hand.
He did so and thrust his fingers through the leather loop of the fan. Then followed a great struggle, for somebody or something located near the ceiling strove to tear it away from him.
“Stick to it,” I said, and there followed a crack.
“Confound them! they have broken my fan,” said Mr. Norris, and passed me the round and carved ivory handle, which I felt so distinctly that I could have sworn that it was separated from the feather top. I gave it back to him and he threw it down upon the table, remarking that as the “spirits” had broken it they might as well mend it again. When the light was turned on later there before him lay the fan — but unbroken and even unruffled.
This was curious but by no means the cream of the proceedings. We became aware that heavy articles were on the move, and the light showed us that we were not mistaken. There in the centre of the dining-table, piled one upon the other, like Ossa upon Pelion, were the two massive dining-room arm-chairs, and on the top of these, reaching nearly to the ceiling, appeared Mr. Norris’s priceless china candelabra.
How were those massive chairs, which it would have taken two skilled and careful men to lift to that height, passed over our heads without our knowing it and set one upon another? Even if the medium, who as I have said was held by the two strongest of the sitters, friends of my own who were above suspicion, were free, he could never have lifted those chairs. Even if he had had a confederate they could never have lifted them, and certainly could not have arranged the china upon the top of the pile.
I gave it up then and, after assuring the reader that these things happened exactly as stated, I give it up now. All I can do is to fall back upon my hypothesis that some existent but unknown force was let loose which produced these phenomena.
Whatever may be the true explanation, on one point I am quite sure, namely that the whole business is mischievous and to be discouraged. Bearing in mind its effect upon my own nerves, never would I allow any young person over whom I had control to attend a seance. I am well aware that there are many different grades of spiritualism. The name covers such occurrences as I have described and the researches of wise scientists like Sir Oliver Lodge. Lastly, there is an even higher variant of preternatural experience to which it may be applied — I mean that of the communion of the individual soul still resident on earth with other souls that have passed from us; this, too, without the intervention of any medium, but as it were face to face in those surrounding solitudes that, unless we dream — as is possible, for the nerves and the imagination play strange tricks — from time to time they find the strength to travel.
In short, spiritualism should be left to the expert and earnest investigator, or become the secret comfort of such few hearts as can rise now and again beyond the world, making as it were their trial flights towards that place where, as we hope, their rest remaineth. To most people that door should remain sealed, for beyond it they will find only what is harmful and unwholesome.
Since those days nearly forty years ago I have never attended a seance, nor do I mean ever to do so more.
During this time that I was at Scoones’ a great event happened. I fell truly and earnestly in love. If all goes well, this, I suppose, is one of the best things that can happen to a young fellow. It steadies him and gives him an object in life: someone for whom to work. If all goes ill, it is one of the worst, for then the reverse is apt to come about. It unsteadies him, makes him reckless, and perhaps throws him in the way of undesirable adventures. In my case, in the end all went wrong, or seemed to do so at the time.
I was taken by a friend to a ball at Richmond; who gave it I have long forgotten. There I saw a very beautiful young lady a few years older than myself to whom I was instantly and overwhelmingly attracted. I say beautiful advisedly, for to my mind she was one of the three really lovely women whom I have seen in my life. The second was the late Duchess of Leinster, and the third was a village girl at Bradenham who was reported to be the daughter of a gentleman. She, poor thing, died quite young.
At length the ball came to an end and I escorted this lady back to her carriage — she was driving back to London alone — with the intelligent object of ascertaining where she lived. In this, by the way, I failed; either I did not catch the address or it was too vague and general. Ultimately, however, I overcame that difficulty by a well-directed inquiry at a butcher’s shop in what I knew to be the neighbourhood. It occurred to me that even goddesses must eat.
The reason that I mention this matter is that quite a curious coincidence is connected with it. The house where the ball took place had a garden in front, down which garden ran a carpeted path. At the end of the path a great arch had been erected for the occasion, and through this arch I followed the young lady. Some thirty-five years later I was present at her death-bed — for happily I was able to be of service to her in her later life — and subsequently, with my wife, who had become her friend many years before, was one of the few mourners at her funeral. At the church where this took place it is the custom to carry out coffins through the big western door. As I followed hers the general aspect of the arch of this door reminded me of something, at the moment I could not remember what. Then it came back to me. It was exactly like that other arch through which I had followed her to her carriage on the night when first we met. Also, strangely different as were the surroundings, there were accessories, floral and other, that were similar in their general effect.
I think I was about a year and a half at Scoones’, making many friends, collecting many experiences and some knowledge of the world. How much book knowledge I collected I do not know, nor whether I should have passed for the Foreign Office if I had gone up. But it was not fated that I should do so. In the summer vacation of 1875 I went to join my family, whom, in the course of one of his continual expeditions, my father had settled for a while at Tours. I travelled via Paris, which I found looking almost itself again. On the last occasion that I had visited it the Column Vendome was lying shattered on the ground, the public statues were splashed over with the lead of bullets, and great burnt-out buildings stared at me emptily. I remembered a young Frenchman whom I knew taking me to a spot backed by a high wall where shortly before he had seen, I think he said, 300 Communists executed at once. He told me that the soldiers fired into the moving heap until at length it grew still. On the wall were the marks of their bullets.
At Tours I did not live with my family, but with an old French professor and his wife — I think their name was Demeste — in order that I might pursue my studies of the language.
Whilst I was at Tours, making expeditions with the others to see old castles and so forth, my father saw in the Times, or heard otherwise, that Sir Henry Bulwer had been appointed to the Lieutenant–Governorship of Natal. Now my father was a man of ideas who never lost a chance of finding an opening for one of his sons, and the Bulwers of Heydon in Norfolk were, as it happened, old friends of our family. So he wrote off at once and asked Sir Henry if he would take me with him to Africa on his staff. Sir Henry assented, which was extremely kind of him, as I do not remember that he had ever set eyes on me.
Accordingly in a week or two Scoones’ and the Foreign Office had faded into the past, and I reported myself to my future chief in London, where he set me to work at once ordering wine and other stores to be consumed at Government House in Natal.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 22:45