The great day of the race arrived. We met with one signal piece of ill-luck. Our No. 3, Mr. Meysey-Clive, had gone on board the French flagship, and was unable to get ashore again in time, so at the very last minute a young Oxford rowing-man, the late Mr. Philip Green, volunteered to replace him, though he was not then in training. The French men-of-war produced huge thirty-oared galleys, with two men at each oar. There were also smaller twenty and twelve-oared boats, but not a single "four" but ours. The sea was heavy and lumpy, the course was five kilometres (three miles), and there was a fresh breeze blowing off the land. Our little mahogany Oxford-built boat, lying very low in the water, looked pitiably small beside the great French galleys. It wasn't even David and Goliath, it was as though "Little Tich" stood up to Georges Carpentier. We saw the race from a sailing yacht; my father absolutely beside himself with excitement.
Off they went! The French galleys lumbering along at a great pace, their crews pulling a curiously short stroke, and their coxswains yelling "En avant, mes braves!" with all the strength of their lungs. It must have been very like the boat-race Virgil describes in the fifth book of the Aeneid. There was the "huge Chimaera" the "mighty Centaur" and possibly even the "dark-blue Scylla" with their modern counterparts of Gyas, Sergestus, and Cloanthus, bawling just as lustily as doubtless those coxswains of old shouted; no one, however, struck on the rocks, as we are told the unfortunate "Centaur" did. Still the little mahogany-built Abercorn continued to forge ahead of her unwieldy French competitors. The Frenchmen splashed and spurted nobly, but the little Oxford-built boat increased her lead, her silken "Union Jack" trailing in the water. All the muscles of the French fleet came into play; the admiral's barge churned the water into creaming foam; "mes braves" were incited to superhuman exertions; in spite of it all, the Abercorn shot past the mark-boat, a winner by a length and a half.
My father was absolutely frantic with delight. We reached the shore long before our crew did, for they had to return to receive the judge's formal award. He ceremoniously decorated our boat's bows with a large laurel-wreath, and so—her stem adorned with laurels, and the large silk "Union Jack" trailing over her stern—the little mahogany Oxford-built boat paddled through the lines of her French competitors. I am sorry to have to record that the French took their defeat in a most unsportsmanlike fashion; the little Abercorn was received all down the line with storms of hoots and hisses. Possibly we, too, might feel annoyed if, say at Portsmouth, in a regatta in which all the crack oarsmen of the British Home Fleet were competing, a French four should suddenly appear from nowhere, and walk off with the big prize of the day. Still, the conditions of the Cannes regatta were clear; this was an open race, open to any nationality, and to any rowing craft of any size or build, though the result was thought a foregone certainty for the French naval crews.
Our crew were terribly exhausted when they landed. They had had a very very severe pull, in a heavy sea, and with a strong head-wind against them, and most of them were no longer young; still, after a bath and a change of clothing, and, quite possibly, a brandy-and-soda or two (nobody ever drank whisky in the "sixties"), they pulled themselves together again. It was Lord Mount Edgcumbe who first suggested that as there was an afternoon dance that day at the Cercle Nautique de la Mediterranee, they should all adjourn to the club and dance vigorously, just to show what sturdy, hard-bitten dogs they were, to whom a strenuous three-mile pull in a heavy sea was a mere trifle, even though some of them were forty years old. So off we all went to the Cercle, and I well remember seeing my brother-in-law and Sir George Higginson gyrating wildly and ceaselessly round the ball-room, tired out though they were. Between ourselves, our French friends were immensely impressed with this exhibition of British vigour, and almost forgave our boat for having won the rowing championship of the Mediterranean.
At the Villa Beaulieu where we lived, there were immense rejoicings that night. Of course all our crew dined there, and I was allowed to come down to dinner myself. Toasts were proposed; healths were drunk again and again. Speeches were made, and the terrific cheering must have seriously weakened the rafters and roof of the house. No one grudged my father his immense satisfaction, for after all he had originated the idea of winning the championship of the Mediterranean, and had had the boat built at his sole expense, and it was not his defects as an oarsman but his fifty-five years which had prevented him from stroking his own boat.
Long after I had been sent to bed, I heard the uproar from below continuing, and, in the strictest confidence, I have every reason to believe that they made a real night of it.
Two of that crew are still alive. Gallant old Sir George Higginson was born in 1826, consequently the General is now ninety-four years of age. The splendid old veteran's mental faculties are as acute as ever; he is not afflicted with deafness and he is still upright as a dart, though his eyesight has failed him. It is to Sir George and to Sir David Erskine that I am indebted for the greater portion of the details concerning this boat-race of 1866, and of its preliminaries, for many of these would not have come within the scope of my knowledge at nine years of age.
Sir David Erskine, the other member of the crew still surviving, ex-Sergeant-at-Arms, was a most familiar, respected, and greatly esteemed personality to all those who have sat in the House of Commons during the last forty years. I might perhaps have put it more strongly; for he was invariably courteous, and such a great gentleman. Sir David was born in 1838, consequently he is now eighty-two years old.
One of my brothers has still in his keeping a very large gold medal. One side of it bears the effigy of "Napoleon III., Empereur des Francais." The other side testifies that it is the "Premier Prix d'Avirons de la Mediterrannee, 1866." The ugly hybrid word "Championnat" for "Championship" had not then been acclimatised in France.
Shortly after the boat-race, being now nine years old, I went home to England to go to school.
A new departure—A Dublin hotel in the "sixties"—The Irish mail service—The wonderful old paddle mail-boats—The convivial waiters of the Munster—The Viceregal Lodge-Indians and pirates—The imagination of youth—A modest personal ambition—Death-warrants; imaginary and real—The Fenian outbreak of 1866-7—The Abergele railway accident—A Dublin Drawing-Room—Strictly private ceremonials—Some of the amenities of the Chapel Royal—An unbidden spectator of the State dinners—Irish wit—Judge Keogh—Father Healy—Happy Dublin knack of nomenclature—An unexpected honour and its cause—Incidents of the Fenian rising—Dr. Hatchell—A novel prescription—Visit of King Edward—Gorgeous ceremonial but a chilly drive—An anecdote of Queen Alexandra.
Upon returning from school for my first holidays, I learnt that my father had been appointed Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, and that we were in consequence to live now for the greater portion of the year in Dublin.
We were all a little doubtful as to how we should like this new departure. Dublin was, of course, fairly familiar to us from our stays there, when we travelled to and from the north of Ireland. Some of the minor customs of the "sixties" seem so remote now that it may be worth while recalling them. In common with most Ulster people, we always stayed at the Bilton Hotel in Dublin, a fine old Georgian house in Sackville Street. Everything at the Bilton was old, solid, heavy, and eminently respectable. All the plate was of real Georgian silver, and all the furniture in the big gloomy bedrooms was of solid, not veneered, mahogany. Quite invariably my father was received in the hall, on arrival, by the landlord, with a silver candlestick in his hand. The landlord then proceeded ceremoniously to "light us upstairs" to a sitting-room on the first floor, although the staircase was bright with gas. This was a survival from the eighteenth century, when staircases and passages in inns were but dimly lit; but it was an attention that was expected. In the same way, when dinner was ready in our sitting-room, the landlord always brought in the silver soup-tureen with his own hands, placed it ceremoniously before my father, and removed the cover with a great flourish; after which he retired, and left the rest to the waiter. This was another traditional attention.
Towards the end of dinner it became my father's turn to repay these civilities. Though he himself very rarely touched wine, he would look down the wine-list until he found a peculiarly expensive port. This he would order for what was then termed "the good of the house." When this choice product of the Bilton bins made its appearance, wreathed in cobwebs, in a wicker cradle, my father would send the waiter with a message to the landlord, "My compliments to Mr. Massingberg, and will he do me the favour of drinking a glass of wine with me." So the landlord would reappear, and, sitting down opposite my father, they would solemnly dispose of the port, and let us trust that it never gave either of them the faintest twinge of gout. These little mutual attentions were then expected on both sides. Neither my father nor mother ever used the word "hotel" in speaking of any hostelry in the United Kingdom. Like all their contemporaries, they always spoke of an "inn."
In 1860 a new contract had been signed with the Post Office by the London and North-Western Railway and the City of Dublin Steam-Packet Co., by which they jointly undertook to convey the mails between London and Dublin in eleven hours. Up to 1860, the time occupied by the journey was from fourteen to sixteen hours. Everything in this world being relative, this was rapidity itself compared to the five days my uncle, Lord John Russell, the future Prime Minister, spent on the journey in 1806. He was then a schoolboy at Westminster, his father, the sixth Duke of Bedford, being Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland. My uncle, who kept a diary from his earliest days, gives an account of this journey in it. He spent three days going by stage-coach to Holyhead, sleeping on the way at Coventry and Chester, and thirty-eight hours crossing the Channel in a sailing-packet. The wind shifting, the packet had to land her passengers at Balbriggan, twenty-one miles north of Dublin, from which my uncle took a special post-chaise to Dublin, presenting his glad parents, on his arrival, with a bill for L31 16s., a nice fare for a boy of fourteen to pay for going home for his holidays!
In order to fulfil the terms of the 1860 contract, the mail-trains had to cover the 264 miles between London and Holyhead at an average rate of 42 miles per hour; an unprecedented speed in those days. People then thought themselves most heroic in entrusting their lives to a train that travelled with such terrific velocity as the "Wild Irishman." It was to meet this acceleration that Mr. Ramsbottom, the Locomotive Superintendent of the London and North-Western Railway, devised a scheme for laying water-troughs between the rails, by which the engine could pick up water through a scoop whilst running. I have somewhere seen this claimed as an American innovation, but the North-Western engines have been picking up water daily now ever since 1861; nearly sixty years ago.
The greatest improvement, however, was effected in the cross-Channel passage. To accomplish the sixty-five miles between Holyhead and Kingstown in the contract time of four hours, the City of Dublin Co. built four paddle-vessels, far exceeding any cross-Channel steamer then afloat in tonnage, speed and accommodation. They were over three hundred feet in length, of two thousand tons burden, and had a speed of fifteen knots. Of these the Munster, Connaught, and Ulster were built by Laird of Birkenhead, while the Leinster was built in London by Samuda. These boats were most elaborately and comfortably fitted up, and many people of my age, who were in the habit of travelling constantly to Ireland, retain a feeling of almost personal affection for those old paddle-wheel mailboats which carried them so often in safety across St. George's Channel. It is possible that this feeling may be stronger in those who, like myself, are unaffected by sea-sickness. I think that we all took a pride in the finest Channel steamers then afloat, and, as a child, I was always conscious of a little added dignity and an extra ray of reflected glory when crossing in the Leinster or the Connaught, for they had four funnels each. I think that I am correct in saying that these splendid seaboats never missed one single passage, whatever the weather, for nearly forty years, until they were superseded by the present three thousand tons, twenty-four knot twin-screw boats. The old paddle-wheelers were rejuvenated in 1883, when they were fitted with forced draught, and their paddles were submerged deeper, giving them an extra speed of two knots. Their engines being "simple," they consumed a perfectly ruinous amount of coal, sixty-four tons for the round trip; considerably more than the coal consumption of the present twenty-four knotters.
In the "sixties" a new Lord-Lieutenant crossed in a special mail-steamer, for which he had the privilege of paying.
When my father went over to be sworn-in, we arrived at Holyhead in the evening, and on going on board the special steamer Munster, we found a sumptuous supper awaiting us.
There is an incident connected with that supper of which, of course, I knew nothing at the time, but which was told me more than thirty years after by Mrs. Campbell, the comely septuagenarian head-stewardess of the Munster, who had been in the ship for forty-four years. Most habitual travelers to Ireland will cherish very kindly recollections of genial old Mrs. Campbell, with her wonderfully fresh complexion and her inexhaustible fund of stories.
It appears that the supper had been supplied by a firm of Dublin caterers, who sent four of their own waiters with it, much to the indignation of the steward's staff, who resented this as a slight on their professional abilities.
Mrs. Campbell told me the story in some such words as these:
"About ten minutes before your father, the new Lord-Lieutenant, was expected, the chiefs-steward put his head into the ladies' cabin and called out to me, 'Mrs. Campbell, ma'am! For the love of God come into the saloon this minute.' 'What is it, then, Mr. Murphy?' says I. 'Wait till ye see,' says he. So I go into the saloon where there was the table set out for supper, so grand that ye wouldn't believe it, and them four Dublin waiters was all lying dead-drunk on the saloon floor.
"'I put out the spirit decanters on the supper-table,' says Mr. Murphy, 'and see! Them Dublin waiters have every drop of it drunk on me,' he goes on, showing me the empty decanters. 'They have three bottles of champagne drunk on me besides. What will we do with them now? The new Lord Lieutenant may be arriving this minute, and we have no time to move the drunk waiters for'ard. Will we put them in the little side-cabins here?' 'Ah then!' says I, 'and have them roaring and shouting, and knocking the place down maybe in half an hour or so? I'm surprised at ye, Mr. Murphy. We'll put the drunk waiters under the saloon table, and you must get another table-cloth. We'll pull it down on both sides, the way the feet of them will not show." So I call up two stewards and the boys from the pantry, and we get the drunk waiters arranged as neat as herrings in a barrel under the saloon table. Mr. Murphy and I put on the second cloth, pulling it right down to the floor, and ye wouldn't believe the way we worked, setting out the dishes, and the flowers and the swatemates on the table. 'Now,' says I, 'for the love of God let none of them sit down at the table, or they'll feel the waiters with their feet. Lave it to me to get His Excellency out of this, and then hurry the drunk waiters away!' And I spoke a word to the boys in the pantry. 'Boys,' says I, 'as ye value your salvation, keep up a great clatteration here by dropping the spoons and forks about, the way they'll not hear it if the drunk waiters get snoring,' and then the thrain arrives, and we run up to meet His Excellency your father.
"We went down to the saloon for a moment, and every one says that they never saw the like of that for a supper, the boys in the pantry keeping up such a clatteration by tumbling the spoons and forks about, that ye'd think the bottom of the ship would drop out with the noise of it all. Then I said, 'Supper will not be ready for ten minutes, your Excellency'—though God forgive me if every bit of it was not on the table that minute. 'Would you kindly see if the sleeping accommodation is commodious enough, for we'll alter it if it isn't?' and so I get them all out of that, and I kept talking of this, and of that, the Lord only knows what, till Mr. Murphy comes up and says, 'Supper is ready, your Excellency,' giving me a look out of the tail of his eye as much as to say, 'Glory be! We have them drunk waiters safely out of that.'"
Of course I knew nothing of the convivial waiters, but I retain vivid recollections of the splendours of the supper-table, and of the "swatemates," for I managed to purloin a whole pocketful of preserved ginger and other good things from it, without being noticed.
We arrived at Kingstown in the early morning, and anchored in the harbour, but, by a polite fiction, the Munster was supposed to be absolutely invisible to ordinary eyes, for the new Lord-Lieutenant's official time of arrival from England was 11 a.m. Accordingly, every one being arrayed in their very best for the State entry into Dublin, the Munster got up steam and crept out of the harbour (still, of course, completely invisible), to cruise about a little, and to re-enter the harbour (obviously direct from England) amidst the booming of twenty-one guns from the guardship, a vast display of bunting, and a tornado of cheering.
Unfortunately, it had come on to blow; there was a very heavy sea outside, and the Munster had an unrivalled opportunity for showing off her agility, and of exhibiting her unusual capacity for pitching and rolling. My youngest brother and I have never been affected by sea-sickness; the ladies, however, had a very unpleasing half-hour, though it must be rather a novel and amusing experience to succumb to this malady when arrayed in the very latest creations of a Paris dressmaker and milliner; still I fear that neither my mother nor my sisters can have been looking quite their best when we landed amidst an incredible din of guns, whistles and cheering.
My father, as was the custom then, made his entry into Dublin on horseback. Since he had to keep his right hand free to remove his hat every minute or so, in acknowledgment of his welcome, and as his horse got alarmed by the noise, the cheering, and the waving of flags, he managed to give a very pretty exhibition of horsemanship.
By the way, Irish cheering is a thing sui generis. In place of the deep-throated, reverberating English cheer, it is a long, shrill, sustained note, usually very high-pitched.
The State entry into Dublin was naturally the first occasion on which I had ever driven through streets lined with soldiers and gay with bunting. If I remember right, I accepted most of it as a tribute to my own small person.
On arriving at the Viceregal Lodge in the Phoenix Park, my brother and I were much relieved at finding that we were not expected to live perpetually surrounded by men in full uniform and by ladies in smart dresses, as we had gathered that we were fated to do during the morning's ceremonies at Dublin Castle.
The Viceregal Lodge is a large, unpretentious, but most comfortable house, standing in really beautiful grounds. The 160 acres of its enclosure have been laid out with such skill as to appear to the eye double or treble the extent they actually are. The great attraction to my brother and me lay in a tract of some ten acres of woodland which had been allowed to run entirely wild. We soon peopled this very satisfactorily with two tribes of Red Indians, two bands of peculiarly bloodthirsty robbers, a sufficiency of bears, lions and tigers, and an appalling man-eating dragon. I fear that in view of the size of the little wood, these imported inhabitants must have had rather cramped quarters.
The enacting of the role of a Red Indian "brave" was necessarily a little fatiguing, for according to Fenimore Cooper, our guide in these matters, it was essential to keep up an uninterrupted series of guttural grunts of "Ug! Ug!" the invariable manner in which his "braves" prefaced their remarks.
There was perhaps little need for the imaginary menagerie, for the Dublin Zoological Gardens adjoined the "Lodge" grounds, and were accessible to us at any time with a private key. The Dublin Zoo had always been very successful in breeding lions, and derived a large amount of their income from the sale of the cubs. They consequently kept a number of lions, and the roaring of these lions at night was very audible at the Viceregal Lodge, only a quarter of a mile away. When I told the boys at school, with perfect truth, that in Dublin I was nightly lulled to sleep by the gentle roaring of lions round my couch, I was called a young liar.
There is a pretty lake inside the Viceregal grounds. My two elder brothers were certain that they had seen wild duck on this lake in the early morning, so getting up in the dusk of a December morning, they crept down to the lake with their guns. With the first gleam of dawn, they saw that there were plenty of wild fowl on the water, and they succeeded in shooting three or four of them. When daylight came, they retrieved them with a boat, but were dismayed at finding that these birds were neither mallards, nor porchards, nor any known form of British duck; their colouring, too, seemed strangely brilliant. Then they remembered the neighbouring Zoo, with its ornamental ponds covered with rare imported and exotic waterfowl, and they realised what they had done. It is quite possible that they had killed some unique specimens, imported at fabulous cost from Central Africa, or from the heart of the Australian continent, some priceless bird that was the apple of the eye of the Curator of the Gardens, so we buried the episode and the birds, in profound secrecy.
For my younger brother and myself, this lake had a different attraction, for, improbable as it may seem, it was the haunt of a gang of most abandoned pirates. Behind a wooded island, but quite invisible to the adult eye, the pirate craft lay, conforming in the most orthodox fashion to the descriptions in Ballantyne's books: "a schooner with a long, low black hull, and a suspicious rake to her masts. The copper on her bottom had been burnished till it looked like gold, and the black flag, with the skull and cross-bones, drooped lazily from her peak."
The presence of this band of desperadoes entailed the utmost caution and watchfulness in the neighbourhood of the lake. Unfortunately, we nearly succeeded in drowning some young friends of ours, whom we persuaded to accompany us in an attack on the pirates' stronghold. We embarked on a raft used for cutting weeds, but no sooner had we shoved off than the raft at once, most inconsiderately, sank to the bottom of the lake with us. Being Christmas time, the water was not over-warm, and we had some difficulty in extricating our young friends. Their parents made the most absurd fuss about their sons having been forced to take a cold bath in mid-December in their best clothes. Clearly we could not be held responsible for the raft failing to prove sea-worthy, though my youngest brother, even then a nice stickler for correct English, declared, that, given the circumstances, the proper epithet was "lake-worthy."
What a wonderful dream-world the child can create for himself, and having fashioned it and peopled it, he can inhabit his creation in perfect content quite regardless of his material surroundings, unless some grown-up, with his matter-of-fact bluntness, happens to break the spell.
I have endeavoured to express this peculiar faculty of the child's in rather halting blank verse. I apologise for giving it here, as I make no claim to be able to write verse. My only excuse must be that my lines attempt to convey what every man and woman must have felt, though probably the average person would express himself in far better language than I am able to command.
"Eheu fugaces Postume! Postume! Labuntur anni.
"The memories of childhood are a web Of gossamer, most infinitely frail And tender, shot with gleaming threads of gold And silver, through the iridescent weft Of subtlest tints of azure and of rose; Woven of fragile nothings, yet most dear, As binding us to that dim, far-off time, When first our lungs inhaled the fragrance sweet Of a new world, where all was bright and fair. As we approach the end of mortal things, The band of comrades ever smaller grows; For those who have not shared our trivial round, Nor helped with us to forge its many links, Can only listen with dull, wearied mind. Some few there are on whom the gods bestowed The priceless gift of sympathy, and they, Though knowing not themselves, yet understand. So guard the fragile fabric rolled away In the sweet-scented chests of memory, Careful lest one uncomprehending soul Should, thoughtless, rend the filmy texture frail Into a thousand fragments, and destroy The precious relic of the golden dawn Of life, when all the unknown future lay Bathed in unending sunlight, and the heights Of manhood, veiled in distant purple haze, Offered ten thousand chances of success. But why the future, when the present seemed A flower-decked meadow in eternal spring? When every woodland glade its secrets told To us, and us alone. The grown-up eye Saw sun-flecked oaks, and tinkling, fern-fringed stream, Nor knew that 'neath their shade most doughty Knights Daily rode forth to deeds of chivalry; And ruthless ruffians waged relentless war On those who strayed (without the Talisman Which turned their fury into impotence) Into those leafy depths nor dreamed there lurked Concealed amidst the bosky dells unseen, Grim dragons spouting instant death; nor feared The placid lake, along whose reed-fringed shore Bold Buccaneers swooped down upon their prey. Which things were hidden from maturer eyes. To those who breathed the freshness of the morn, Endless romance; to others, common things. For to the Child is given to spin a web Of golden glamour o'er the everyday.
Happy is he who can, in spite of years, Retain at times the spirit of the Child."
My own personal ambition at that period was a modest one. My mother always drove out in Dublin in a carriage-and-four, with postilions and two out-riders. We had always used black carriage-horses, and East, the well-known job-master, had provided us for Dublin with twenty-two splendid blacks, all perfect matches. Our family colour being crimson, the crimson barouche, with the six blacks and our own black and crimson liveries, made a very smart turn-out indeed. O'Connor, the wheeler-postilion, a tiny little wizened elderly man, took charge of the carriage, and directed the outriders at turnings by a code of sharp whistles. It was my consuming ambition to ride leader-postilion to my mother's carriage, and above all to wear the big silver coat-of-arms our postilions had strapped to the left sleeves of their short jackets on a broad crimson band. I went to O'Connor in the stable-yard, and consulted him as to my chance of obtaining the coveted berth. O'Connor was distinctly encouraging. He thought nine rather young for a postilion, but when I had grown a little, and had gained more experience, he saw no insuperable objections to my obtaining the post. The leader-postilion was O'Connor's nephew, a smart-looking, light-built boy of seventeen, named Byrne. Byrne was less hopeful about my chance. He assured me that such a rare combination of physical and intellectual qualities were required for a successful leader-rider, that it was but seldom that they were found, as in his case, united in the same person. That my mother had met with no accident whilst driving was solely due to his own consummate skill, and his wonderful presence of mind. Little Byrne, however, was quite affable, and allowed me to try on his livery, including the coveted big silver arm-badge and his top-boots. In my borrowed plumes I gave the stablemen to understand that I was as good as engaged already as postilion. Byrne informed me of some of the disadvantages of the position. "The heart in ye would be broke at all the claning them leathers requires." I was also told that after an extra long drive, "ye'd come home that tired that ye'd be thinking ye were losing your life, and not knowing if ye had a leg left to ye at all."
I often drove with my mother, and when we had covered more ground than usual, upon arriving home, I always ran round to the leaders to inquire anxiously if my friend little Byrne "had a leg left to him, or if he had lost his life," and was much relieved at finding him sitting on his horse in perfect health, with his normal complement of limbs encased in white leathers. I believe that I expected his legs to drop off on the road from sheer fatigue.
I knew, of course, that the Lord-Lieutenant had to confirm all death-sentences in Ireland. From much reading of Harrison Ainsworth, I insisted on calling the documents connected with this, "death-warrants." I begged and implored my father to let me see a "death-warrant." He told me that there was nothing to see, but I went on insisting, until one day he told me that I might see one of these gruesome documents. To avoid any misplaced sympathy with the condemned man, I may say that it was a peculiarly brutal murder. A man at Cork had kicked his wife to death, and had then battered her into a shapeless mass with the poker. I went into my father's study on the tip-toe of expectation. I pictured the Private Secretary coming in slowly, probably draped for the occasion in a long black cloak, and holding a white handkerchief to his eyes. In his hand he would bear an immense sheet of paper surrounded by a three-inch black border. It would be headed DEATH in large letters, with perhaps a skull-and-crossbones below it, and from it would depend three ominous black seals attached by black ribbons. The Secretary would naturally hesitate before presenting so awful a document to my father, who, in his turn, would exhibit a little natural emotion when receiving it. At that moment my mother, specially dressed in black for the occasion, would burst into the room, and falling on her knees, with streaming eyes and outstretched arms, she would plead passionately for the condemned man's life. My father, at first obdurate, would gradually be melted by my mother's entreaties. Turning aside to brush away a furtive and not unmanly tear, he would suddenly tear the death-warrant to shreds, and taking up another huge placard headed REPRIEVE, he would quickly fill it in and sign it. He would then hand it to the Private Secretary, who would instantly start post-haste for Cork. As the condemned man was being actually conducted to the scaffold, the Private Secretary would appear, brandishing the liberating document. All then would be joy, except for the executioner, who would grind his teeth at being baulked of his prey at the last minute.
That is, at all events, the way it would have happened in a book. As it was, the Private Secretary came in just as usual, carrying an ordinary official paper, precisely similar to dozens of other official papers lying about the room.
"It is the Cork murder case, sir," he said in his everyday voice. "The sentence has to be confirmed by you."
"A bad business, Dillon," said my father. "I have seen the Chief Justice about it twice, and I have consulted the Judge who tried the case, and the Solicitor and the Attorney-General. I am afraid that there are no mitigating circumstances whatever. I shall certainly confirm it," and he wrote across the official paper, "Let the law take its course," and appended his signature, and that was all!
Could anything be more prosaic? What a waste of an unrivalled dramatic situation.
When I returned home for the Christmas holidays in 1866, the Fenian rebellion had already broken out. The authorities had reason to believe that the Vice-regal Lodge would be attacked, and various precautions had been taken. Both guards and sentries were doubled; four light field-guns stood in the garden, and a row of gas-lamps had been installed there. Stands of arms made their appearance in the passages upstairs, which were patrolled all night by constables in rubber-soled boots, but the culminating joy to my brother and me lay in the four loopholes with which the walls of the bed-room we jointly occupied were pierced. The room projected beyond the front of the main building, and was accordingly a strategic point, but to have four real loopholes, closed with wooden shutters, in the walls of our own bedroom was to the two small urchins a source of immense pride. The boys at school were hideously jealous of our loopholes when they heard of them, though they affected to despise any one who, enjoying such undreamed-of opportunities, had, on his own confession, failed to take advantage of them, and had never even fired through the loopholes, nor attempted to kill any one through them.
The Fenians were supposed to have the secret of a mysterious combustible known as "Greek Fire" which was unquenchable by water. I think that "Greek Fire" was nothing more or less than ordinary petroleum, which was practically unknown in Europe in 1866, though from personal experience I can say that it was well known in 1868, in which year my mother, three sisters, two brothers and myself narrowly escaped being burnt to death, when the Irish mail, in which we were travelling, collided with a goods train loaded with petroleum at Abergele, North Wales, an accident which resulted in thirty-four deaths.
Terrible as were the results of the Abergele accident, they might have been more disastrous still, for both lines were torn up, and the up Irish mail from Holyhead, which would be travelling at a great pace down the steep bank from Llandulas, was due at any moment. The front guard of our train had been killed by the collision, and the rear guard was seriously hurt, so there was no one to give orders. It occurred at once to my eldest brother, the late Duke, that as the train was standing on a sharp incline, the uninjured carriages would, if uncoupled, roll down the hill of their own accord. He and some other passengers accordingly managed to undo the couplings, and the uninjured coaches, detached from the burning ones, glided down the incline into safety. From the half-stunned guard my brother learned that the nearest signal-box was at Llandulas, a mile away. He ran there at the top of his speed, and arrived in time to get the up Irish mail and all other traffic stopped. On his return my brother had a prolonged fainting fit, as the strain on his heart had been very great. It took the doctors over an hour to bring him round, and we all thought that he had died.
I was eleven years old at the time, and the shock of the collision, the sight of the burning coaches, the screams of the women, the wreckage, and my brother's narrow escape from death, affected me for some little while afterwards.
It was the custom then for the Lord-Lieutenant to live for three months of the winter at the Castle, where a ceaseless round of entertainments went on. The Castle was in the heart of Dublin, and only boasted a dull little smoke-blackened garden in the place of the charming grounds of the Lodge, still there was plenty going on there. A band played daily in the Castle Yard for an hour, there was the daily guard-mounting, and the air was thick with bugle calls and rattling kettle-drums.
At "Drawing Rooms" it was still the habit for all ladies to be kissed by the Lord-Lieutenant on being presented to him, and every lady had to be re-presented to every fresh Viceroy. This imposed an absolute orgy of compulsory osculation on the unfortunate Lord-Lieutenant, for if many of the ladies were fresh, young and pretty, the larger proportion of them were very distinctly the reverse.
There is a very fine white-and-gold throne-room in Dublin, decorated in the heavy but effective style of George IV., and it certainly compares very favourably with the one at Buckingham Palace. St. Patrick's Hall, too, with its elaborate painted ceiling, is an exceedingly handsome room, as is the Long Gallery. At my father's first Drawing-Room, when I officiated as page, the perpetual kissing tickled my fancy so, that, forgetting that to live up to my new white-satin breeches and lace ruffles I ought to wear an impassive countenance, I absolutely shook, spluttered and wriggled with laughter. The ceremony appeared to me interminable, for ten-year-old legs soon get tired, and ten-year-old eyelids grow very heavy as midnight approaches. When at length it ended, and my fellow-page was curled up fast asleep on the steps of the throne in his official finery, in glancing at my father I was amazed to find him prematurely aged. The powder from eight hundred cheeks and necks had turned his moustache and beard white; he had to retire to his room and spend a quarter of an hour washing and brushing the powder out, before he could take part in the procession through all the staterooms which in those days preceded supper. My father was still a remarkably handsome man even at fifty-six years of age, with his great height and his full curly beard, and I thought my mother, with all her jewels on, most beautiful, as I am quite sure she was, though only a year younger than my father.
The great white-and-gold throne-room brilliant with light, the glitter of the uniforms, and the sparkle of the jewels were attractive from their very novelty to a ten-year-old schoolboy, perhaps a little overwhelmed by his own gorgeous and unfamiliar trappings. We two pages had been ordered to stand quite motionless, one on either side of the throne, but as the evening wore on and we began to feel sleepy, it was difficult to carry our instructions into effect, for there were no facilities for playing even a game of "oughts and crosses" in order to keep awake. The position had its drawbacks, as we were so very conspicuous in our new uniforms. A detail which sticks in my memory is that the guests at that Drawing-Room drank over three hundred bottles of my father's sherry, in addition to other wines.
My brother and I were not allowed in the throne-room on ordinary days, but it offered such wonderful opportunities for processions and investitures, with the sword of state and the mace lying ready to one's hand in their red velvet cradles, that we soon discovered a back way into it. Should any of the staff of Lord French, the present Viceroy, care to examine the sword of state and the mace, they will find them both heavily dented. This is due to two small boys having frequently dropped them when they proved too heavy for their strength, during strictly private processions fifty-five years ago. I often wonder what a deputation from the Corporation of Belfast must have thought when they were ushered into the throne-room, and found it already in the occupation of two small brats, one of whom, with a star cut out of silver paper pinned to his packet to counterfeit an order, was lolling back on the throne in a lordly manner, while the other was feigning to read a long statement from a piece of paper. The small boys, after the manner of their kind, quickly vanished through a bolt-hole.
The Chapel Royal in Dublin Castle was built by my grandfather, the Duke of Bedford, who was Viceroy in 1806, and it bears the stamp of the unfortunate period of its birth on every detail of its "carpenter-Gothic" interior. It is, however, very ornate, with a profusion of gilding, stained glass and elaborate oak carving. My father and mother sat by themselves on two red velvet arm-chairs in a sort of pew-throne that projected into the Chapel. The Aide-de-Camp in waiting, an extremely youthful warrior as a rule, had to stand until the door of the pew was shut, when a folding wooden flap was lowered across the aperture, on which he seated himself, with his back resting against the pew door. At the conclusion of the service the Verger always opened the pew door with a sudden "click." Should the Aide-de-Camp be unprepared for this and happen to be leaning against the door, with any reasonable luck he was almost certain to tumble backwards into the aisle, "taking a regular toss," as hunting-men would say, and to our unspeakable delight we would see a pair of slim legs in overalls and a pair of spurred heels describing a graceful parabola as they followed their youthful owner into the aisle. This particular form of religious relaxation appealed to me enormously, and I looked forward to it every Sunday.
It was an episode that could only occur once with each person, for forewarned was forearmed; still, as we had twelve Aides-de-Camp, and they were constantly changing, the pew door played its practical joke quite often enough to render the Services in the Chapel Royal very attractive and engrossing, and I noticed that no Aide-de-Camp was ever warned of his possible peril. I think, too, that the Verger enjoyed his little joke.
In that same Chapel Royal I listened to the most eloquent and beautiful sermon I have ever heard in my life, preached by Dean Magee (afterwards Archbishop of York) on Christmas Day, 1866. His text was: "There were shepherds abiding in the fields." That marvellous orator must have had some peculiar gift of sympathy to captivate the attention of a child of ten so completely that he remembers portions of that sermon to this very day, fifty-four years afterwards.
To my great delight I discovered a little door near our joint bedroom which led directly into the gallery of St. Patrick's Hall. Here the big dinners of from seventy to ninety people were held, and it was my delight to creep into the gallery in my dressing-gown and slippers and watch the brilliant scene below. The stately white-and-gold hall with its fine painted ceiling, the long tables blazing with plate and lights, the display of flowers, the jewels of the ladies and the uniforms of the men, made a picture very attractive to a child. After the ladies had left, the uproar became deafening. In 1866 the old drinking habits had not yet died out, and though my father very seldom touched wine himself, he of course saw that his guests had sufficient; indeed, sufficient seems rather an elastic term, judging by what I saw and what I was told. It must have been rather like one of the scenes described by Charles Lever in his books. In 1866 political, religious, and racial animosities had not yet assumed the intensely bitter character they have since reached in Ireland, and the traditional Irish wit, at present apparently dormant, still flashed, sparkled and scintillated. From my hiding-place in the gallery I could only hear the roars of laughter the good stories provoked, I could not hear the stories themselves, possibly to my own advantage.
Judge Keogh had a great reputation as a wit. The then Chief Justice was a remarkable-looking man on account of his great snow-white whiskers and his jet-black head of hair. My mother, commenting on this, said to Judge Keogh, "Surely Chief Justice Monaghan must dye his hair." "To my certain knowledge he does not," answered Keogh. "How, then, do you account for the difference in colour between his whiskers and his hair?" asked my mother. "To the fact that, throughout his life, he has used his jaw a great deal more than he ever has his brain," retorted Keogh.
Father Healy, most genial and delightful of men, belongs, of course, to a much later period. I was at the Castle in Lord Zetland's time, when Father Healy had just returned from a fortnight's visit to Monte Carlo, where he had been the guest (of all people in the world!) of Lord Randolph Churchill. "May I ask how you explained your absence to your flock, Father Healy?" asked Lady Zetland. "I merely told them that I had been for a fortnight's retreat to Carlow; I thought it superfluous prefixing the Monte," answered the priest. Again at a wedding, the late Lord Morris, the possessor of the hugest brogue ever heard, observed as the young couple drove off, "I wish that I had an old shoe to throw after them for luck." "Throw your brogue after them, my dear fellow; it will do just as well," flashed out Father Healy. It was Father Healy, too, who, in posting a newly arrived lady as to Dublin notabilities, said, "You will find that there are only two people who count in Dublin, the Lady-Lieutenant and Lady Iveagh, her Ex. and her double X," for the marks on the barrels of the delicious beverage brewed by the Guinness family must be familiar to most people.
I myself heard Father Healy, in criticising a political appointment which lay between a Welsh and a Scotch M.P., say, "Well, if we get the Welshman he'll pray on his knees all Sunday, and then prey on his neighbours the other six days of the week; whilst if we get the Scotchman hell keep the Sabbath and any other little trifles he can lay his hand on." Healy, who was parish priest of Little Bray, used to entertain sick priests from the interior of Ireland who were ordered sea-bathing. One day he saw one of his guests, a young priest, rush into the sea, glass in hand, and begin drinking the sea water. "You mustn't do that, my dear fellow," cried Father Healy, aghast. "I didn't know that there was any harm in it, Father Healy," said the young priest. "Whist! we'll not say one word about it, and maybe then they'll never miss the little drop you have taken."
Some of these stories may be old, in which case I can only apologise for giving them here.
Dublin people have always had the gift of coining extremely felicitous nicknames. I refrain from quoting those bestowed on two recent Viceroys, for they are mordant and uncomplimentary, though possibly not wholly undeserved. My father was at once christened "Old Splendid," an appellation less scarifying than some of those conferred on his successors. My father had some old friends living in the west of Ireland, a Colonel Tenison, and his wife, Lady Louisa Tenison. Colonel Tenison had one of the most gigantic noses I have ever seen, a vast, hooked eagle's beak. He was so blind that he had to feel his way about. Lady Louisa Tenison allowed herself an unusual freedom of speech, and her comments on persons and things were unconventionally outspoken. They came to stay with us at the Castle in 1867, and before they had been there twenty-four hours they were christened "Blind Hookey" and "Unlimited Loo."
In February 1867 my sister, brother and I contracted measles, and were sent out to the "Lodge" to avoid spreading infection.
We were already convalescent, when one evening a mysterious stranger arrived from the Castle, and had an interview with the governess. As a result of that interview, the kindly old lady began clucking like a scared hen, fussed quite prodigiously, and told us to collect our things at once, as we were to start for the Castle in a quarter of an hour. After a frantically hurried packing, we were bustled into the carriage, the mysterious stranger taking his seat on the box. To our surprise we saw some thirty mounted Hussars at the door. As we moved off, to our unspeakable delight, the Hussars drew their swords and closed in on the carriage, one riding at either window. And so we drove through Dublin. We had never had an escort before, and felt immensely elated and dignified. At the Castle there seemed to be some confusion. I heard doors banging and people moving about all through the night.
Long afterwards I learnt that the great Fenian rising was fixed for that night. The authorities had heard that part of the Fenian plan was to capture the Viceregal Lodge, and to hold the Lord-Lieutenant's children as hostages, which explains the arrival at the Lodge of Chief Inspector Dunn, the frantic haste, and the escort of Hussars with drawn swords.
That night an engagement, or it might more justly be termed a skirmish, did take place between the Fenians and the troops at Tallagh, some twenty miles from Dublin. My brothers and most of my father's staff had been present, which explained the mysterious noises during the night. As a result of this fight, some three hundred prisoners were taken, and Lord Strathnairn, then Commander-in-Chief in Ireland, was very hard put to it to find sufficient men (who, of course, would have to be detached from his force) to escort the prisoners into Dublin. Lord Strathnairn suddenly got an inspiration. He had every single button, brace buttons and all, cut off the prisoners' trousers. Then the men had perforce, for decency's sake, to hold their trousers together with their hands, and I defy any one similarly situated to run more than a yard or two. The prisoners were all paraded in the Castle yard next day, and I walked out amongst them. As they had been up all night in very heavy rain, they all looked very forlorn and miserable. The Castle gates were shut that day, for the first time in the memory of the oldest inhabitant, and they remained shut for four days. I cannot remember the date when the prisoners were paraded, but I am absolutely certain as to one point: it was Shrove Tuesday, 1867, the day on which so many marriages are celebrated amongst country-folk in Ireland. Dublin was seething with unrest, so on that very afternoon my father and mother drove very slowly, quite alone, without an Aide-de-Camp or escort, in a carriage-and-four with outriders, through all the poorest quarters in Dublin. They were well received, and there was no hostile demonstration whatever. The idea of the slow drive through the slums was my mother's. She wished to show that though the Castle gates were closed, she and my father were not afraid. I saw her on her return, when she was looking very pale and drawn, but I was too young to realise what the strain must have been. My mother's courage was loudly praised, but I think that my friends O'Connor and little Byrne, the postilions, also deserve quite a good mark, for they ran the same amount of risk, and they were no entirely free agents in the matter, as my father and mother were.
Dr. Hatchell, who attended us all, had been physician to countless Viceroys and their families, and was a very well-known figure in Dublin. He was a jolly little red-faced man with a terrific brogue. There was a great epidemic of lawlessness in Dublin at that time. Many people were waylaid and stripped of their valuables in dark suburban streets. Dr. Hatchell was returning from a round of professional visits in the suburbs one evening, when his carriage was stopped by two men, who seized the horses' heads. One of the men came round to the carriage door.
"We know you, Dr. Hatchell, so you had better hand over your watch and money quietly." "You know me," answered the merry little doctor, with his tremendous brogue, "so no doubt you would like me to prescribe for you. I'll do it with all the pleasure in life. Saltpetre is a grand drug, and I often order it for my patients. Sulphur is the finest thing in the world for the blood, and charcoal is an elegant disinfectant. By a great piece of luck, I have all these drugs with me in the carriage, but"—and he suddenly covered the man with his revolver—"they are all mixed up together, and there is the least taste in life of lead in front of them, and by God! you'll get it through you if you don't clear out of that." The men decamped immediately. I have heard Dr. Hatchell tell that story at least twenty times. Dr. Hatchell, who was invited to every single entertainment, both at the Lodge and at the Castle, was a widower. A peculiarly stupid young Aide-de-Camp once asked him why he had not brought Mrs. Hatchell with him. "Sorr," answered the doctor in his most impressive tones, "Mrs. Hatchell is an angel in heaven." A fortnight later the same foolish youth asked again why Dr. Hatchell had come alone. "Mrs. Hatchell, sorr, is still an angel in heaven," answered the indignant doctor.
It was said that no mortal eye had ever seen Dr. Hatchell in the daytime out of his professional frock-coat and high hat. I know that when he stayed with us in Scotland some years later, he went out salmon-fishing in a frock-coat and high hat (with a stethescope clipped into the crown of it), an unusual garb for an angler.
In the spring of 1868, King Edward and Queen Alexandra (then, of course, Prince and Princess of Wales) paid us a long visit at the Castle. My father had heard a rumour that recently the Prince of Wales had introduced the custom of smoking in the dining-room after dinner. He was in a difficult position; nothing would induce him to tolerate such a practice, but how was he to avoid discourtesy to his Royal guest? My mother rose to the occasion. A little waiting-room near the dining-room was furnished and fitted up in the most attractive manner, and before the Prince had been an hour in the Castle, my mother showed him the charming little room, and told H. R. H. that it had been specially fitted up for him to enjoy his after-dinner cigar in. That saved the situation. Young men of to-day will be surprised to learn that in my time no one dreamed of smoking before they went to a ball, as to smell of smoke was considered an affront to one's partners. I myself, though a heavy smoker from an early age, never touched tobacco in any form before going to a dance, out of respect for my partners. Incredible as it may sound, in those days all gentlemen had a very high respect for ladies and young ladies, and observed a certain amount of deference in their intercourse with them. Never, to the best of my recollection, did either we or our partners address each other as "old thing," or "old bean." This, of course, now is hopelessly Victorian, and as defunct as the dodo. Present-day hostesses tell me that all young men, and most girls, are kind enough to flick cigarette-ash all over their drawing-rooms, and considerately throw lighted cigarette-ends on to fine old Persian carpets, and burn holes in pieces of valuable old French furniture. Of course it would be too much trouble to fetch an ash-tray, or to rise to throw lighted cigarette-ends into the grate. The young generation have never been brought up to take trouble, nor to consider other people; we might perhaps put it that they never think of any one in the world but their own sweet selves. I am inclined to think that there are distinct advantages in being a confirmed, unrepentant Victorian.
During the stay of the Prince and Princess there was one unending round of festivities. The Princess was then at the height of her great beauty, and seeing H. R. H. every day, my youthful adoration of her increased tenfold. The culminating incident of the visit was to be the installation of the Prince of Wales as a Knight of St. Patrick in St. Patrick's Cathedral, with immense pomp and ceremonial. The Cathedral had undergone a complete transformation for the ceremony, and all its ordinary fittings had disappeared. The number of pages had now increased to five, and we were constantly being drilled in the Cathedral. We had all five of us to walk backwards down some steps, keeping in line and keeping step. For five small boys to do this neatly, without awkwardness, requires a great deal of practice. The procession to the Cathedral was made in full state, the streets being lined with troops, and the carriages, with their escorts of cavalry, going at a foot's pace through the principal thoroughfares of Dublin. I remember it chiefly on account of the bitter northeast wind blowing. The five pages drove together in an open carriage, and received quite an ovation from the crowd, but no one had thought of providing them with overcoats. Silk stockings, satin knee-breeches and lace ruffles are very inadequate protection against an Arctic blast, and we arrived at the Cathedral stiff and torpid with cold. From the colour of our faces, we might have been five little "Blue Noses" from Nova Scotia. The ceremony was very gorgeous and imposing, and I trust that the pages were not unduly clumsy. Every one was amazed at the beauty of the music, sung from the triforium by the combined choirs of St. Patrick's and Christ Church Cathedrals, and of the Chapel Royal, with that wonderful musician, Sir Robert Stewart, at the organ. I remember well Sir Robert Stewart's novel setting of "God save the Queen." The men sang it first in unison to the music of the massed military bands outside the Cathedral, the boys singing a "Faux Bourdon" above it. Then the organ took it up, the full choir joining in with quite original harmonies.
In honour of the Prince's visit, nearly all the Fenian prisoners who were still detained in jail were released.
Many years after, in 1885, King Edward and Queen Alexandra paid us a visit at Barons' Court. During that visit a little episode occurred which is worth recording. On the Sunday, the Princess of Wales, as she still was, inspected the Sunday School children before Morning Service. At luncheon the Rector of the parish told us that one of the Sunday scholars, a little girl, had been taken ill with congestion of the lungs a few days earlier. The child's disappointment at having missed seeing the Princess was terrible. Desperately ill as she was, she kept on harping on her lost opportunity. After luncheon the Princess drew my sister-in-law, the present Dowager Duchess of Abercorn, on one side, and inquired where the sick child lived. Upon being told that it was about four miles off, the Princess asked whether it would not be possible to get a pony-cart from the stables and drive there, as she would like to see the little girl. I myself brought a pony-cart around to the door, and the Princess and my sister-in-law having got in, we three started off alone, the Princess driving. When we reached the cottage where the child lived, H. R. H. went straight up to the little girl's room, and stayed talking to her for an hour, to the child's immense joy. Two days later the little girl died, but she had been made very happy meanwhile.
A little thing perhaps; but there are not many people in Queen Alexandra's position who would have taken an eight-mile drive in an open cart on a stormy and rainy April afternoon in order to avoid disappointing a dying child, of whose very existence she had been unaware that morning.
It is the kind heart which inspires acts like these which has drawn the British people so irresistibly to Queen Alexandra.
Chittenden's—A wonderful teacher—My personal experiences as a schoolmaster—My "boys in blue"—My unfortunate garments—A "brave Belge"—The model boy, and his name—A Spartan regime—"The Three Sundays"—Novel religious observances—Harrow—"John Smith of Harrow"—"Tommy" Steele—"Tosher"—An ingenious punishment—John Farmer—His methods—The birth of a famous song—Harrow school songs—"Ducker"—The "Curse of Versatility"—Advancing old age—The race between three brothers—A family failing—My father's race at sixty-four—My own—A most acrimonious dispute at Rome—Harrow after fifty years.
I was sent to school as soon as I was nine, to Mr. Chittenden's, at Hoddesdon, in Hertfordshire. This remarkable man had a very rare gift: he was a born teacher, or, perhaps, more accurately, a born mind-trainer. Of the very small stock of knowledge which I have been able to accumulate during my life, I certainly owe at least one-half to Mr. Chittenden. There is a certain profusely advertised system for acquiring concentration, and for cultivating an artificial memory, the name of which will be familiar to every one. Instead of the title it actually bears, that system should be known as "Chittendism," for it is precisely the method adopted by him with his pupils fifty-four years ago. Mr. Chittenden, probably recognising that peculiar quality of mental laziness which is such a marked characteristic of the average English man or woman, set himself to combat and conquer it the moment he got a pupil into his hands. Think of the extraordinary number of persons you know who never do more than half-listen, half-understand, half-attend, and who only read with their eyes, not with their brains. The other half of their brain is off wool-gathering somewhere, so naturally they forget everything they read, and the little they do remember with half their brain is usually incorrect. It seems to me that this sort of mental limitation is far more marked in the young generation, probably because foolish parents seem to think it rather an amusing trait in their offspring. Now, the boy at Chittenden's who allowed his mind to wander, and did not concentrate, promptly made the acquaintance of the "spatter," a broad leathern strap; and the spatter hurt exceedingly, as I can testify from many personal experiences of it. On the whole, then, even the most careless boy found it to his advantage to concentrate. This clever teacher knew how quickly young brains tire, so he never devoted more than a quarter of an hour to each subject, but during that quarter of an hour he demanded, and got, the full attention of his pupils. The result was that everything absorbed remained permanently. If I enlarge at some length on Mr. Chittenden's methods, it is because the subject of education is of such vital importance, and the mere fact that the much-advertised system to which I have alluded has attained such success, would seem to indicate that many people are aware that they share that curious disability in the intellectual equipment of the average Englishman to which I have referred; for unless they had habitually only half-listened, half-read, half-understood, there could be no need for their undergoing a course of instruction late in life. Surely it is more sensible to check this peculiarly English tendency to mental laziness quite early in life, as Mr. Chittenden did with his boys. To my mind another striking characteristic of the average English man and woman is their want of observation. They don't notice: it is far too much trouble; besides, they are probably thinking of something else. All Chittenden's boys were taught to observe; otherwise they got into trouble. He insisted, too, on his pupils expressing themselves in correct English, with the result that Chittenden's boys were more intellectually advanced at twelve than the average Public School boy is at sixteen or seventeen. It is unusual to place such books as Paley's Christian Evidences, or Archbishop Whately's Historic Doubts as to Napoleon Bonaparte, in the hands of little boys of twelve, with any expectation of a satisfactory result; yet we read them on Sundays, understood the point of them, and could explain the why and wherefore of them. Chittenden's one fault was his tendency to "force" a receptive boy, and to develop his intellect too quickly. As in the Pelm—(I had very nearly written it) system, he made great use of memoria technica, and always taught us to link one idea with another. At the age of ten I got puzzled over Marlborough's campaigns. "'Brom,' my boy, remember 'Brom,'" said Mr. Chittenden. "That will give you Marlborough's victories in their proper sequence—Blenheim, Ramillies, Oudenarde, Malplaquet, 'Brom'"; and "Brom" I have remembered from that day to this.
Though it is now many years since Mr. Chittenden passed away, I must pay this belated tribute to the memory of a very skilful teacher, and an exceedingly kind friend, to whom I owe an immense debt of gratitude.
My own experiences as a pedagogue are limited. During the War, I was asked to give some lessons in elementary history and rudimentary French to convalescent soldiers in a big hospital. No one ever had a more cheery and good-tempered lot of pupils than I had in my blue-clad, red-tied disciples. For remembering the order of the Kings of England, we used Mr. Chittenden's jingle, beginning:
"Billy, Billy, Harry, Ste, Harry, Dick, Jack, Harry Three."
By repeating it all together, over and over again, the very jangle of it made it stick in my pupils' memory. Dates proved a great difficulty, yet a few dates, such as that of the Norman Conquest and of the Battle of Waterloo, were essential. "Clarke, can you remember the date of the Norman Conquest?" "Very sorry, sir; clean gone out of my 'ead." "Now, Daniels, how about the date of Waterloo?" "You've got me this time, sir." Then I had an inspiration. Feigning to take up a telephone-receiver, and to speak down it, I begged for "Willconk, One, O, double-six, please." Twenty blithesome wounded Tommies at once went through an elaborate pantomime of unhooking receivers, and asked anxiously for "Willconk—One, O, double-six, miss, please. No, miss, I didn't say, 'City, six, eight, five, four'; I said 'Willconk, One, O, double-six.' Thank you, miss; now I can let mother know I'm coming to tea." This, accompanied by much playful badinage with the imaginary operator, proved immensely popular, but "Willconk, One, O, double-six" stuck in the brains of my blue-clothed flock. In the same way the Battle of Waterloo became "Batterloo—One, eight, one, five, please, miss," so both those dates remained in their heads.
We experienced some little trouble in mastering the French numerals, until I tried a new scheme, and called out, "From the right, number, in French!" Then my merry convalescents began shouting gleefully, "Oon," "Doo," "Troy," "Catta," "Sink," etc.; but the French numerals stuck in their heads. Never did any one, I imagine, have such a set of jolly, cheery boys in blue as pupils, and the strong remnant of the child left in many of them made them the more attractive.
When I first went to school, the selection and purchase of my outfit was, for some inscrutable reason, left to my sisters' governess, an elderly lady to whom I was quite devoted. This excellent person, though, knew very little about boys, and nothing whatever as to their requirements. Her mind harked back to the "thirties" and "forties," and she endeavoured to reconstitute the dress of little boys at that period. She ordered for me a velvet tunic for Sunday wear, of the sort seen in old prints, and a velvet cap with a peak and tassel, such as young England wore in William IV.'s days. She had large, floppy, limp collars specially made for me, of the pattern worn by boys in her youth; every single article of my unfortunate equipment had been obsolete for at least thirty years. In my ignorance, and luckily not knowing what was in store for me, I felt immensely proud of my new kit.
On the first Sunday after my arrival at school, I arrayed myself with great satisfaction in a big, floppy collar, and my new velvet tunic, amidst the loud jeers of all the other boys in the dormitory. I was, however, hardly prepared for the yells and howls of derision with which my appearance in the school-room was greeted; my unfortunate garments were held to be so unspeakably grotesque that boys laughed till the tears ran down their cheeks. As church-time approached the boys produced their high hats, which I found were worn even by little fellows of eight; I had nothing but my terrible tasselled velvet cap, the sight of which provoked even louder jeers than the tunic had done. We marched to church two and two, in old-fashioned style in a "crocodile," but not a boy in the school would walk beside me in my absurd garments, so a very forlorn little fellow trotted to church alone behind the usher, acutely conscious of the very grotesque figure he was presenting. I must have been dressed very much as Henry Fairchild was when he went to visit his little friend Master Noble. On returning from church, I threw my velvet cap into the water-butt, where, for all I know, it probably is still, and nothing would induce me to put on the velvet tunic or the floppy collars a second time. I bombarded my family with letters until I found myself equipped with a high hat and Eton jackets and collars such as the other boys wore.
We were taught French at Chittenden's by a very pleasant old Belgian, M. Vansittart. I could talk French then as easily as English, and after exchanging a few sentences with M. Vansittart, he cried, "Tiens! mais c'est un petit Francais;" but the other boys laughed so unmercifully at what they termed my affected accent, that in self-defence I adopted an ultra-British pronunciation, made intentional mistakes, and, in order to conform to type, punctiliously addressed our venerable instructor as "Moosoo," just as the other boys did. M. Vansittart must have been a very old man, for he had fought as a private in the Belgian army at the Battle of Waterloo. He had once been imprudent enough to admit that he and some Belgian friends of his had...how shall we put it?...absented themselves from the battlefield without the permission of their superiors, and had hurriedly returned to Brussels, being doubtless fatigued by their exertions. His little tormentors never let him forget this. When we thought that we had done enough French for the day, a shrill young voice would pipe out, "Now, Moosoo, please tell us how you and all the Belgians ran away from the Battle of Waterloo." It never failed to achieve the desired end. "Ah! tas de petits sacripants! 'Ow dare you say dat?" thundered the poor old gentleman, and he would go on to explain that his and his friends' retirement was only actuated by the desire to be the first bearers to Brussels of the news of Wellington's great victory, and to assuage their families' very natural anxiety as to their safety. He added, truthfully enough, "Nos jambes courraient malgres nous." Poor M. Vansittart! He was a gentle and a kindly old man, with traces of the eighteenth-century courtliness of manner, and smothered in snuff.
Mr. Chittenden was never tired of dinning into us the astonishing merits of a pupil who had been at the school eleven or twelve years before us. This model boy apparently had the most extraordinary mental gifts, and had never broken any of the rules. Mr. Chittenden predicted a brilliant future for him, and would not be surprised should he eventually become Prime Minister. The paragon had had a distinguished career at Eton, and was at present at Cambridge, where he was certain to do equally well. From having this Admirable Crichton perpetually held up to us as an example, we grew rather tired of his name, much as the Athenians wearied at constantly hearing Aristides described as "the just." At length we heard that the pattern-boy would spend two days at Hoddesdon on his way back to Cambridge. We were all very anxious to see him. As Mr. Chittenden confidently predicted that he would one day become Prime Minister, I formed a mental picture of him as being like my uncle, Lord John Russell, the only Prime Minister I knew. He would be very short, and would have his neck swathed in a high black-satin stock. When the Cambridge undergraduate appeared, he was, on the contrary, very tall and thin, with a slight stoop, and so far from wearing a high stock, he had an exceedingly long neck emerging from a very low collar. His name was Arthur James Balfour.
I think Mr. Balfour and the late Mr. George Wyndham were the only pupils of Chittenden's who made names for themselves. The rest of us were content to plod along in the rut, though we had been taught to concentrate, to remember, and to observe.
Compared with the manner in which little boys are now pampered at preparatory schools, our method of life appears very Spartan. We never had fires or any heating whatever in our dormitories, and the windows were always open. We were never given warm water to wash in, and in frosty weather our jugs were frequently frozen over. Truth compels me to admit that this freak of Nature's was rather welcomed, for little boys are not as a rule over-enamoured of soap and water, and it was an excellent excuse for avoiding any ablutions whatever. We rose at six, winter and summer, and were in school by half-past six. The windows of the school-room were kept open, whilst the only heating came from a microscopic stove jealously guarded by a huge iron stockade to prevent the boys from approaching it. For breakfast we were never given anything but porridge and bread and butter. We had an excellent dinner at one o'clock, but nothing for tea but bread and butter again, never cake or jam. It will horrify modern mothers to learn that all the boys, even little fellows of eight, were given two glasses of beer at dinner. And yet none of us were ever ill. I was nearly five years at Chittenden's, and I do not remember one single case of illness. We were all of us in perfect health, nor were we ever afflicted with those epidemics which seem to play such havoc with modern schools, from all of which I can only conclude that a regime of beer and cold rooms is exceedingly good for little boys.
The Grange, Mr. Chittenden's house, was one of the most perfect examples of a real Queen Anne house that I ever saw. Every room in the house was wood-panelled, and there was some fine carving on the staircase. The house, with a splendid avenue of limes leading up to it, stood in a large old-world garden, where vast cedar trees spread themselves duskily over shaven lawns round a splashing fountain, and where scarlet geraniums blazed. Such a beautiful old place was quite wasted as a school.
We were very well treated by both Mr. and Mrs. Chittenden, and we were all very happy at the Grange. During my first year there one of my elder brothers died. A child of ten, should death never have touched his family, looks upon it as something infinitely remote, affecting other people but not himself. Then when the first gap in the home occurs, all the child's little world tumbles to pieces, and he wonders how the birds have the heart to go on singing as usual, and how the sun can keep on shining. A child's grief is very poignant and real. I can never forget Mr. and Mrs. Chittenden's extreme kindness to a very sorrowful little boy at that time.
There was one curious custom at Chittenden's, and I do not know whether it obtained in other schools in those days. Some time in the summer term the head-boy would announce that "The Three Sundays" had arrived, and must be duly observed according to ancient custom. We all obeyed him implicity. The first Sunday was "Cock-hat Sunday," the second "Rag Sunday," and the third (if I may be pardoned) "Spit-in-the-pew Sunday." On the first Sunday we all marched to church with our high hats at an extreme angle over our left ears; on the second Sunday every boy had his handkerchief trailing out of his pocket; on the third, I am sorry to say, thirty-one little boys expectorated surreptitiously but simultaneously in the pews, as the first words of the Litany were repeated. I think that we were all convinced that these were regularly appointed festivals of the Church of England. I know that I was, and I spent hours hunting fruitlessly through my Prayer Book to find some allusion to them. I found Sundays after Epiphany, Sundays in Lent, and Sundays after Trinity, but not one word could I discover, to my amazement, either about "Cock-hat Sunday" or "Spit-in-the-pew Sunday." What can have been the origin of this singular custom I cannot say. When I, in my turn, became head-boy, I fixed "The Three Sundays" early in May. It so happened that year that the Thursday after "Cock-hat Sunday" was Ascension Day, when we also went to church, but, it being a week-day, we wore our school caps in the place of high hats. Ascension Day thus falling, if I may so express myself, within the Octave of "Cock-hat Sunday," I decreed that the customary ritual must be observed with the school caps, and my little flock obeyed me implicitly. So eager were some of the boys to do honour to this religious festival, that their caps were worn at such an impossible angle that they kept tumbling off all the way to church. It is the only time in my life that I have ever wielded even a semblance of ecclesiastical authority, and I cannot help thinking that the Archbishop of Canterbury would have envied the unquestioning obedience with which all my directions were received, for I gather that his own experience has not invariably been equally fortunate.
At thirteen I said good-bye to the pleasant Grange, and went, as my elder brothers, my father, and my grandfather had done before me, to Harrow.
In the Harrow of the "seventies" there was one unique personality, that of the Rev. John Smith, best-loved of men. This saintly man was certainly very eccentric. We never knew then that his whole life had been one long fight against the hereditary insanity which finally conquered him. In appearance he was very tall and gaunt, with snow-white whiskers and hair, and the kindest eyes I have ever seen in a human face; he was meticulously clean and neat in his dress. "John," as he was invariably called, on one occasion met a poorly clad beggar shivering in the street on a cold day, and at once stripped off his own overcoat and insisted on the beggar taking it. John never bought another overcoat, but wrapped himself in a plaid in winter-time. He addressed all boys indiscriminately as "laddie," though he usually alluded to the younger ones as "smallest of created things," "infinitesimal scrap of humanity," or "most diminutive of men"; but, wildly eccentric as he was, no one ever thought of laughing at him. It was just "old John," and that explained everything.
I was never "up" to John, for he taught a low Form, and I had come from Chittenden's, and all Chittenden's boys took high places; but he took "pupil-room" in my house, and helped my tutor generally, so I saw John daily, and, like every one else, I grew very much attached to this simple, saint-like old clergyman.
He went round every room in the house on Sunday evenings, always first scrupulously knocking at the door. An untidy room gave him positive pain, and the most slovenly boys would endeavour to get their filthy rooms into some sort of order, "just to please old John." John was passionately fond of flowers, and one would meet the most unlikely boys with bunches of roses in their hands. If one inquired what they were for, they would say half-sheepishly, "Oh, just a few roses I've bought. I thought they would please old John; you know how keen the old chap is on flowers." Now English schoolboys are not as a rule in the habit of presenting flowers to their masters. For all his apparent simplicity, John was not easy to "score off." I have known Fifth-form boys bring a particularly difficult passage of Herodotus to John in "pupil-room," knowing that he was not a great Greek scholar. John, after glancing at the passage, would say, "Laddie, you splendid fellows in the Upper Fifth know so much; I am but a humble and very ignorant old man. This passage is beyond my attainments. Go to your tutor, my child. He will doubtless make it all clear to you; and pray accept my apologies for being unable to help you," and the Fifth-form boy would go away feeling thoroughly ashamed of himself. After his death, it was discovered from his diary that John had been in the habit of praying for twenty boys by name, every night of his life. He went right down the school list, and then he began again. Any lack of personal cleanliness drove him frantic. I myself have heard him order a boy with dirty nails and hands out of the room, crying, "Out of my sight, unclean wretch! Go and cleanse the hands God gave you, before I allow you to associate with clean gentlemen, and write out for me two hundred times, 'Cleanliness is next to godliness.'"
John took the First Fourth, and his little boys could always be detected by their neatness and extreme cleanliness. Neither of these can be called a characteristic of little boys in general, but the little fellows made an effort to overcome their natural tendencies "to please old John." When his hereditary enemy triumphed, and his reason left him, hundreds of his old pupils wished to subscribe, and to surround John for the remainder of his life with all the comforts that could be given him in his afflicted condition. It was very characteristic of John to refuse this offer, and to go of his own accord into a pauper asylum, where he combined the duties of chaplain and butler until his death. John was buried at Harrow, and by his own wish no bell was tolled, and his coffin was covered with scarlet geraniums, as a sign of rejoicing. I know how I should describe John, were I preaching a sermon.
Another mildly eccentric Harrow master was the Rev. T. Steele, invariably known as "Tommy." His peculiarities were limited to his use of the pronoun "we" instead of "I," as though he had been a crowned head, and to his habit of perpetually carrying, winter and summer, rain or sunshine, a gigantic bright blue umbrella. He had these umbrellas specially made for him; they were enormous, the sort of umbrellas Mrs. Gamp must have brought with her when her professional services were requisitioned, and they were of the most blatant blue I have ever beheld. Old Mr. Steele, with his jovial rubicund face, his flowing white beard, and his bright blue umbrella, was a species of walking tricolour flag.
Schoolboys worship a successful athlete. There was a very pleasant mathematical master named Tosswill, always known as "Tosher," who at that time held the record for a broad jump, he having cleared, when jumping for Oxford, twenty-two and a half feet. That record has long since been beaten. Should one be walking with another boy when passing "Tosher," he was almost certain to say, "You know that Tosher holds the record for broad jumps. Twenty-two and a half feet; he must be an awfully decent chap!" Tosswill had the knack of devising ingenious punishments. I was "up" to him for mathematics, and, with my hopelessly non-mathematical mind, I must have been a great trial to him. At that time I was playing the euphonium in the school brass band, an instrument which afforded great joy to its exponents, for in most military marches the solo in the "trio" falls to the euphonium, though I fancy that I evoked the most horrible sounds from my big brass instrument. To play a brass instrument with any degree of precision, it is first necessary to acquire a "lip"—that is to say, the centre of the lip covered by the mouthpiece must harden and thicken before "open notes" can be sounded accurately. To "get a lip" quickly, I always carried my mouthpiece in my pocket, and blew noiselessly into it perpetually, even in school. Tosher had noticed this. One day my algebra paper was even worse than usual. With the best intentions in the world to master this intricate branch of knowledge, algebra conveyed nothing whatever to my brain. To state that A + b = xy, seemed to me the assertion of a palpable and self-evident falsehood. After looking through my paper, Tosher called me up. "Your algebra is quite hopeless, Hamilton. You will write me out a Georgic. No; on second thoughts, as you seem to like your brass instrument, you shall bring it up to my house every morning for ten days, and as the clock strikes seven, you shall play me "Home, Sweet Home" under my window." Accordingly every morning for ten days I trudged through the High Street of Harrow with my big brass instrument under my arm, and as seven rang out from the school clock, I commenced my extremely lugubrious rendering of "Home, Sweet Home," on the euphonium, to a scoffing and entirely unsympathetic audience of errand-boys and early loafers, until Tosher's soap-lathered face nodded dismissal from the window.
The school songs play a great part in Harrow life. Generation after generation of boys have sung these songs, and they form a most potent bond of union between Harrovians of all ages, for their words and music are as familiar to the old Harrovian of sixty as to the present Harrovian of sixteen.
Most of these songs are due to the genius of two men, Edward Bowen and John Farmer. Like Gilbert and Sullivan, neither of these would, I think, have risen to his full height without the aid of the other. Farmer had an inexhaustible flow of facile melody at his command, always tuneful, sometimes almost inspired. In addition to the published songs, he was continually throwing off musical settings to topical verse, written for some special occasion. These were invariably bright and catchy, and I am sorry that Farmer considered them of too ephemeral a nature to be worth preserving. "Racquets," in particular, had a delightfully ear-tickling refrain. Bowen's words are a little unequal at times, but at his best he is very hard to beat.
I had organ lessons from Farmer, and as I liked him extremely, I was continually at his house. I enjoyed seeing him covering sheets of music paper with rapid notation, and then humming the newly born product of his musical imagination. As I had a fairly good treble voice, and could read a part easily, Farmer often selected me to try one of his new compositions at "house-singing," where the boys formed an exceedingly critical audience. Either the new song was approved of, or it was received in chilling silence. Farmer in moments of excitement perspired more than any human being I have ever seen. Going to his house one afternoon, I found him bathed in perspiration, writing away for dear life. He motioned me to remain silent, and went on writing. Presently he jumped up, and exclaimed triumphantly, "I have got it! I have got it at last!" He then showed me the words he was setting to music. They began:
"Forty years on, when afar and asunder, Parted are those who are singing to-day."
"I wrote another tune to it first," explained Farmer, "a bright tune, a regular bell-tinkle" (his invariable expression for a catchy tune), "but Bowen's words are too fine for that. They want something hymn-like, something grand, and now I've found it. Listen!" and Farmer played me that majestic, stately melody which has since been heard in every country and in every corner of the globe, wherever two old Harrovians have come together. Some people may recall how, during the Boer War, "Forty years on" was sung by two mortally wounded Harrovians on the top of Spion Kop just before they died.