To one urgent appeal I sent this sonnet of refusal, which explains itself:—. In fact I always rejected the proposal warned by recent volumes of pestilential reminiscences and would none of it; not only from its apparent vainglory as [Pg 2] to the inevitable extenuation of one's own faults and failures in life, and the equally certain amplification of self-registered virtues and successes,—but even still more from the mischief it might occasion from a petty record of commonplace troubles and trials, due to the "changes and chances of this mortal life," to the casual mention or omission of friends or foes, to the influence of circumstances and surroundings, and to other revelations—whether pleasant or the reverse—of matters merely personal, and therefore more of a private than a public character.
Indeed, so disquieted was I at the possible prospect of any one getting hold of a mass of manuscript in old days diligently compiled by myself from year to year in several small diaries, that I have long ago ruthlessly made a holocaust of the heap of such written self-memories, fearing their posthumous publication; and in this connection let me now add my express protest against the printing hereafter of any of my innumerable private letters to friends, or other MSS.
Biography, where honest and true, is no doubt one of the most fascinating and instructive phases of literature; but it requires a higher Intelligence than any however intimate friend of a man to do it fairly and fully; so many matters of character and circumstance must ever be to him unknown, and therefore will be by him unrecorded. And even as to autobiography, who, short of the Omniscient Himself, can take into just account the potency of outward surroundings, and still more of inborn hereditary influences, over both mind and body?
We are each of us morally and bodily the psychical and physical composite of a thousand generations. Albeit every individual possesses as his birthright a freewill to turn either to the right or to the left, and is liable to a due responsibility for his words and actions, still the Just Judge alone can and must make allowance for the innate inclinings of heredity and the outward influences of circumstance, and He only can hold the balance between the guilt and innocence, the merit or demerit, of His creature.
So far as my own will goes, I leave my inner spiritual biography to the Recording Angel, choosing only to give some recollections and memories of my outer literary life. For spiritual self-analysis in matters of religion and affection I desire to be as silent as I can be; but in such a book as this absolute taciturnity on such subjects is practically impossible. For the matter, then, of autobiography, I decline its higher and its deeper aspects; as also I wish not to obtrude on the public eye mere domesticities and privacies of life.
But mainly lest others less acquainted with the petty incidents of my career should hereafter take up the task, I accede with all frankness and humility to what seems to me like a present call to duty, having little time to spare at seventy-six, so near the end of my tether,—and protesting, as I well may, against the charge of selfish egotism in a book necessarily spotted on every page with the insignificant letter I; and while, of course on human-nature principles, willing enough to exhibit myself at the best, promising also not to hide the second best, or worse than that, where I can perceive it.
That shrewd old philosopher, Benjamin Franklin, thus excuses his own self-imposed task of "autobiography," and I cannot do better than quote and adopt his wise and just remarks:—. And I may as well confess it, as the denial would be believed by nobody I shall, perhaps, not a little gratify my own vanity.
Most people dislike vanity in others, whatever share they may have of it themselves; but I give it fair quarter wherever I meet with it, being persuaded that it is often productive of good to the possessor, and to others who are within his sphere of action; and therefore, in many cases, it would not be altogether absurd if a man were to thank God for his vanity among the other comforts of life. My belief of this induces me to hope , though I must not presume , that the same goodness will still be exercised towards me in continuing that happiness or enabling me to bear a fatal reverse, which I may experience as others have done; the complexion of my future fortune being known to Him only in whose power it is to bless us, even in our afflictions.
I do not see that a better plan can be chosen for carrying out the title of this book than the one I have adopted, namely, tracing from the earliest years to old age the author's literary lifework, illustrated by accounts of, and specimens from, his various books and writings, especially those which are absolutely out of print, or, haply have never been published. No doubt, in such excerpts, exhibited at their best, the critical accusations of unfairness, self-seeking, and so forth, will be made, and may be met by the true consideration that something of this sort is inevitable in autobiography.
However, for the matter of vanity, all I know of myself is the fact that praise, if consciously undeserved, only depresses me instead of elating; that a noted characteristic of mine through life has been to hide away in the rear rather than rush to the front, unless, indeed, forced forward by duty, when I can be bold enough, if need be; and that one defect in me all know to be a dislike to any assumption of dignity—surely a feeling the opposite to self-conceit; whilst, if I am not true, simple, and sincere, I am worse than I hope I am, and all my friends are deceived in their kind judgment of me.
But let this book speak for itself; I trust it is honest, charitable, and rationally religious. If I have and I show it through all my writings a shrinking from priestcraft of every denomination, that feeling I take to be due to some ancient heredity ingrained, or, more truly, inburnt into my nature from sundry pre-Lutheran confessors and martyrs of old, from whom I claim to be descended, and by whose spirit I am imbued.
Not but that I profess [Pg 6] myself broad, and wide, and liberal enough for all manner of allowances to others, and so far as any narrow prejudices may be imagined of my idiosyncrasy, I must allow myself to be changeable and uncertain—though hitherto having steered through life a fairly straight course—and that sometimes I can even doubt as to my politics, whether they should be defined Whig or Tory; as to my religion, whether it is most truly chargeable by the epithet high or low; as to my likings, whether I best prefer solitude or society; as to literature, whether gaieties or gravities please me most.
In fact, I recognise good in everything, though sometimes hidden by evil, right by intention, at least in sundry doctrines and opinions otherwise to my judgment wrong, and I am willing to believe the kindliest of my opponents who appear to be honest and earnest. This is a very fair creed for a citizen of the world, whose motto is Terence's famous avowal, "Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.
In a short and simple way, then, and without any desire ostentatiously to "chronicle small beer," as Iago sneers it, I suppose it proper to state very briefly when and where I was born, with a word as to my parentage. July 17, , was my birthday, and No.
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My father, Martin Tupper, a name ever honoured by me, was an eminent medical man, who twice refused a baronetcy first from Lord Liverpool, and secondly, as offered by the Duke of Wellington ; my mother, Ellin Devis Marris, being daughter of Robert Marris, a good landscape artist, of an old Lincolnshire family, and made the heiress, as adopted child, of her aunt, Mrs. Ellin Devis, of Devonshire Place and Albury. Of my mother's family in old time Maris, as "of the sea," with mermaids for heraldry , I have the commis [Pg 8] sions of one who was an Ironside cavalry officer, signed by Cromwell and Fairfax; and several of her relatives besides her father were distinguished artists.
In particular, her uncle my wife's father , Arthur William Devis, the well-known historical painter, and her great-uncle, Anthony Devis, who filled Albury House with his landscapes. Some of our old German stock crossed the Atlantic in Puritan times, and many of the name have attained wealth and position both in Canada and the United States; notably Sir Charles Tupper northwards, and sundry rich merchants in New York, Virginia, and the Carolines southwardly.
Of my infancy let me record that I "enjoyed" very delicate health, chiefly due, as I now judge, to the constant cuppings and bleedings whereby "the faculty" of those days combated teething fits, and perhaps with Malthusian proclivities killed off young children. I remember, too, that the broad meadows, since developed into Regent's Park and Primrose Hill, then "truly rural," and even up to Chalk Farm, then notorious for duels, were my nursery ramblings in search of cowslips and new milk.
Also, that once at least in those infantile days, my father took me to see Winsor's Patent Gaslights at Carlton House, and how he prognosticated the domestic failure of so perilous an explosive, more than one blowing-up having carelessly occurred.
Another infantile recollection is memorable, as thus. My father's annual holiday happened one year to be at Bognor, where a patron patient of his, Lord Arran, rented a pleasant villa, and he had for a visitor at the time no less a personage than George the Third: it must have [Pg 9] been during some lucid interval, perhaps after the Great Thanksgiving at St. My father took his little boy with him to call upon the Earl, not thinking to see the King; but when we came in there was his kind-hearted Majesty, who patted my curls and gave me his blessing! How far the mysterious efficacy of the royal touch affected my after career believers in the divine rights and spiritual powers of a king may speculate as they please.
At all events I got a good man's blessing. I remember also in my nursery days to have heard this curious story of a dream. My father, when a young man, was a student at Guy's Hospital, from which school of medicine he went to Yarmouth to attend the wounded after the battle of Copenhagen. He was on one occasion leaving Guernsey for Southampton in the clumsy seagoing smack of those days, when, on the night before embarking, he dreamt that on his way to the harbour he crossed the churchyard and fell into an open grave.
Telling this to his parents at "The Pollet," they would not let him go, with a sort of superstitious wisdom; for, strangely enough, the smack was seized on its voyage by a privateer, and all the crew and passengers were consigned—for twelve years—to a French prison! I have heard my father tell this tale, and noted early how true was Dr.
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Watts' awkward line, "On little things what great depend. For instance, my "Dream of Ambition" in Proverbial Philosophy was a real one. And this reminds me now of another like sort of spiritual monition alluded to in my Proverbial Essay on "Truth in Things False," which has several times occurred to myself, as this, for example: Years ago, in Devonshire, for the [Pg 10] first time, I was on the top of a coach passing through a town—I think it was Crediton—and I had the strange feeling that I had seen all this before: now, we changed horses just on this side of a cross street, and I resolved within myself to test the truth of the place being new to me or not, by prophesying what I should see right and left as we passed; to my consternation it was all as I had foreseen,—a market-place with the usual incidents.
Now, if reasonably asked how to account for this and most of us have felt the like , I reply that possibly in an elevated state of health and spirits the soul may outrun the body, and literally foresee coming events both real and ideal. On Mr. Galton's topic of hereditary talent I have little to report as to myself. Neither father nor mother had any leanings either towards verse or prose; but my mother was an excellent pianiste and a fair landscape painter both in oils and water-colour; also she drew and printed on stone, and otherwise showed that she came of an artistic family.
As to my father's surroundings, his brother Peter, a consul-general in Spain, wrote a tragedy called Pelayo; and I possess half-a-dozen French songs, labelled by my father "in my late dear father's handwriting," but whether or not original, I cannot tell. As a Guernseyman, he might well be as much French as English.
They seem to me clever and worthy of Beranger, though long before him: possibly they are my grandsire's. A very fair judge of French poetry, and himself a good Norman poet, Mr.
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John Sullivan of Jersey writes and tells me that the songs are excellent, [Pg 11] and that he remembers them to have been popularly sung when he was a boy. About the matter of hereditary bias itself, we know that as with animals so with men, "fortes creantur fortibus, et bonis;" this so far as bodies are concerned; but surely spirits are more individual, as innumerable instances prove, where children do not take after their parents. If, however, I may mention my own small experience of this matter, literary talent, or at all events authorship, is hereditary, especially in these days of that general epidemic, the "cacoethes scribendi.
I wrote this paper following originally for an American publication; and as I cannot improve upon it, and it has never been printed in England, I produce it here in its integrity. A true and genuine record of what English schools of the highest class were more than sixty-five years ago cannot fail to have much to interest the present generation on both sides of the Atlantic; if only because we may now indulge in the self-complacency of being everyway wiser, better, and happier than our recent forebears.
And in setting myself to write these early revelations, I wish at once to state that, although at times necessarily naming names for the too frequent use of dashes and asterisks must otherwise destroy the verisimilitude of plain truth-telling , I desire to say nothing against or for either the dead or the living beyond their just deserts, and I protest against any charge of unreasonable want of charity as to my whilom "schools and schoolmasters.
I was sent to school much too soon, at the early age of seven, having previously had for my home tutor a well-remembered day-teacher in "little Latin and less Greek" of the name of Swallow, whom I thought a wit and a poet in those days because one morning he produced as an epitaph on himself the following effusion:. The first school chosen for me though expensive, there could not have been a worse one was a large mixed establishment for boys of all ages, from infancy to early manhood, belonging to one Rev.
Morris of Egglesfield House, Brentford Butts, which I now judge to have been conducted solely with a view to the proprietor's pocket, without reference to the morals, happiness, or education of the pupils committed to his care. All I care to remember of this false priest and there were many such of old, whatever may be the case now are his cruel punishments, which passed for discipline, [Pg 13] his careful cringing to parents, and his careless indifference towards their children, and in brief his total unfitness for the twin duties of pastor and teacher.
A large private school of mixed ages and classes is perilously liable to infection from licentious youths left to themselves and their evil propensities, and I can feelingly recollect how miserable for nearly a year was that poor little helpless innocent of seven under the unrestricted tyranny of one Cooke in after years a life convict for crime who did all he could to pollute the infant mind of the little fag delivered over to his cruelty.
Cowper's Tirocinium well expresses the situation:—. My next school was more of a success; for Eagle House, Brookgreen, where I was from eight to eleven, had for its owner and headmaster a most worthy and excellent layman, Joseph Railton. Railton was gentle, though gigantic, fairly learned, just and kindly. His school produced, amongst others eminent, the famous naval author Kingston, well known from cabin-boy to admiral; there was also Lord Paulet, some others of noble birth, and the two Middletons, nick-named Yankees, whom years after I visited at their ruined mansion in South Carolina after the Confederate War.
Through the personal good influence of honest "Old Joe," and his middle-aged housekeeper, Mrs. Jones, our whole well-ordered company of perhaps a hundred boys lived and learned, worked and played purely, and [Pg 14] happily together: so great a social benefactor may a good school chieftain be. I have little to regret in my Brook Green recollections; the annual fair was memorable with Richardson's show and Gingel's conjuring, and the walks for mild cricketing at Shepherd's Bush, and the occasional Sundays at home; and how pleasant to a schoolboy was the generous visitor who tipped him, a good action never forgotten; and the garden with its flowering tulip-tree, and the syringas and rose-trees jewelled with the much-prized emerald May-bugs; for the whole garden was liberally thrown open to us beyond the gravelled playground; all being now given over to monks and nuns.
Then I recollect how a rarely-dark annular eclipse of the sun convulsed the whole school, bringing smoked glass to a high premium; and there was a notable boy's library of amusing travels and stories, all eagerly devoured; and old Phulax the house-dog, and good Mr. Whitmore an usher, who gave a certain small boy a diamond prayer-book, greatly prized then, though long since lost, and suitably inscribed for him " Parvum parva decent ;" and the speech days, wherein the same small boy always signalised himself, to the general astonishment, for he was usually a stammerer, owing much to the early worries of Brentford; all these are agreeable reminiscences.
My next school at eleven was Charterhouse, or as my schoolfellow Thackeray was wont to style it, Slaughterhouse, no doubt from the cruel tyranny of another educational D. For this man and the school he so despotically drilled into passive servility and pedantic scholarship, I have less than no reverence, for he worked so upon an over-sensitive [Pg 15] nature to force a boy beyond his powers, as to fix for many years the infirmity of stammering, which was my affliction until past middle life.
As for tuition, it must all have grown of itself by dint of private hard grinding with dictionaries and grammars, for the exercises, themes, and other lessons were notoriously difficult, and those before me would be inextricable puzzles now; however, we had to do them, and we did them, unhelped by any teacher but our own industry. As for the masters in school, two more ignorant old parsons than Chapman and "Bob Watki" could not readily be found; and though the four others, Lloyd, Dickens, Irvine, and Penny were somewhat more intelligent, still all six in the lower school were occasionally summoned to a "concio," if the interpretation of any ordinary passage in Homer or Virgil or Horace was haply in dispute between a monitor and his class.
In the upper school the single really excellent teacher and good clergyman, Edward Churton, had but one fault, a meek subserviency to the tyrannic Russell, who domineered over all to our universal terror; and I remember kindly Mr.
Churton once affected to tears at the cruelty of his chief. What should we think nowadays of an irate schoolmaster smashing a child's head between two books in his shoulder-of-mutton hands till the nose bled, as I once saw? Or, in these milder times when your burglar or garotter is visited with a brief whipping, what shall we judge of the wisdom or equity of some slight fault of idleness or ignorance being visited with the Reverend Doctor's terrible sentence, "Allen, three rods, eighteen, and most severely"?
Let me comment on this line, one of a sharp satire by a boy named Barnes, long since an Indian Judge [Pg 16] and I suppose translated Elsewhere. Allen was head-gown-boy, and so chief executioner, the three rods being some five-feet bunches of birch armed with buds as sharp as thorns, renewed after six strokes for fresh excoriation!
Who could tolerate such things now? I do not mean Allen, who became Head of Dulwich College, and with whom I have since dined, annually as donor of a picture there, but Russell, concerning whom I vowed that if ever he was made a Bishop happily he wasn't I would desert the Church of England; as yet I have not, albeit it has lately become so papalised as to be little worth an honest Protestant's adherence. As to the exclusively classic education in my young days, to the resolute neglect of all other languages and sciences, I for myself have from youth upwards always protested against it as mainly waste of time and of very little service in the battle of life.
For proof of this, before I was eighteen, I wrote that essay on Education to be seen in my first series of Proverbial Philosophy, which long years after the celebrated Dr. Binney of the Weigh-house in Thames Street issued with my leave as a tractate useful to the present generation. And while there was so much fuss made as to the criminality of a false quantity in Greek, or a deficient acquaintance with those awkward verbs in "Mi," or above all a false concord every one of which derelictions in duty involved [Pg 17] severe punishment , let us remember that all this time Holywell Street was suffered to infect Charterhouse with its poison I speak of long ago, before Lord Campbell's wholesome Act , and that our clerical tutors and governors professionally recognised no sort of sins or shortcomings but those committed in class!
They practically ignored everything out of school, much as a captain knows nothing of his company off duty. It was the idle system of boys set to govern boys, that the masters might have no damage. I think the system was called Lancastrian. One very noticeable trait in the parson-schoolmasters of those old days and perhaps it still survives was the subserviency to rank and wealth towards any pupils likely to give them livings, whereof more anon; at present, an appropriate instance occurs to me. I was in my thirteenth year monitor of the playground, when one Dillon, a scion of a titled family, hunted and killed a stray dog there, and much to their credit for humanity a number of other boys hunted and pelted him into a dry ditch or vallum, dug for the leaping-pole under a Captain Clias who taught us athletics.