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The Autobiography of Christopher Kirkland, Vol. 1. Linton, E. Lynn (Elizabeth Lynn), 1822–1898.
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page: 17

CHAPTER II.

EDEN, the second living to which my father had been presented, just before I was born, was by no means so rough and riotous a place as Braeghyll. It was as drunken and immoral, but it was less ferocious and uncouth. There were more resident gentry to keep civic order and restrain the lawless impulses natural to strong-bodied and uneducated men. There was too, a tolerably fair High School under the management of twelve ‘statesmen,’ which knocked the rudiments of knowledge and some small sense of discipline into the un- unkempt page: 18 kempt heads of the boys and girls who attended or played truant at their parents' pleasure and their own will. There was a great deal of honest moral courage and sturdy personal independence among the people, mainly owing to the large number of these same ‘statesmen,’ or peasant proprietors, who owned no master and were no man's hire. Some of them had title-deeds dating from the time of Edward VI. and were both nominally and substantially the ‘kings’ of their respective dales:—I say were, for now they have almost disappeared as a class; not all to the gain of the country. But, as I said, the drunkenness of the men and the lax virtue of the women kept about even step in each parish alike; and though manners were less barbarous, morals were no purer at Eden than at Braeghyll.

In those days a South-going coach ran twice a week through Eden; and the page: 19 journey to London took three days and two nights. A letter from London cost thirteen-pence halfpenny; and—as once happened to ourselves, when we were told the contents of a brother's letter as it was handed to us through the little window of the house in the square where the post office stood—if of likely interest to the public, it was quickly read by our sharp-tongued Mailsetter before delivery to those whom it concerned. As envelopes had not then been invented, and the folded sides of the sheet were always closely written over to get the whole worth of the postage, a little practice in peeping made the process of deciphering easy enough; and the main threads of all the correspondence afloat were in the hands of our Mailsetter aforesaid. The franking system mitigated the severity of these postal expenses to the rich. It was only the poor who suffered without any mitigation. They had either to pay a formidable proportion of their week's slender page: 20 earnings, or to go without hearing from the absent ones at all. For it was a legal offence, carrying large penalties, to make the carrier do duty as a postman and take, for twopence, what the Post-Office charged sixpence or eightpence to deliver at the next town, some ten or twelve miles away. People evaded the penalty by making the letter into a parcel and tying it round with string well sealed; but, if discovered, the evasion did not hold good, and the penalties were enforced as a warning to others.

All the carrying trade was done by these carriers, who were often men of shrewd wit and keen observation, and who brought a breath of larger life into the small places, as they passed through and told what they had seen and heard elsewhere. A great part of the commerce too, of the time, was in the hands of pedlers, who came at stated seasons to tempt the weak, profit by the savings of the thrifty, and supplement page: 21 the poverty of the mouldy little shops where the shopkeeper was the tyrant and the customer was his slave. I remember to this day the kind of Arabian Nights' splendour of gems and jewellery, silks and shawls and ‘farlies’ of every description, which little Pedroni, the Swiss-Italian who wore huge rings in his swarthy ears, used to bring out of his cases with a certain mysterious reverence, as if each article was worth a king's ransom. What a good fight my eldest sister made for that green shawl with the kincob pattern!—and how I inwardly resolved to save up my money when I should be a man, and become the proud possessor of that monstrous silver watch, as big as a small warming-pan!

Beside our punctual pedlers with their packs, we had also our recognised gaberlunzies—our established tramps of either sex. These also came in their appointed seasons, and were hospitably entertained page: 22 with a bed in the outhouse, a supper at the kitchen door, and sixpence or a shilling at parting in the morning. My father always added to his generosity a little homily, for the honour of the cloth and the tradition of good things. Also we had our village idiots, who could do nothing but sit in the sun and make mouths at those who passed; and our half-witted men and women, who could scramble through a rough day's work of a purely mechanical kind, were as happy as kings and queens with sixpence for their ‘darrack,’ and who married, had children, and stuck peacocks' feathers in their ragged hats and bonnets. We had our poachers and suspected smugglers—generally the handsomest, strongest and swarthiest men of the district—who were looked on with profound respect by us boys, and a deadly animosity by the gentry—which to us seemed infinitely unjust. Why idealize and honour Will Watch if Black page: 23 Jack Musgrave was a scamp? And we had our scares, when the maids were hysterical and moony—scares which now meant burglars and now ‘bogles,’ and now again Burke and Hare, a report of whose sudden appearance in the Lime-pots ran like wild-fire among us, and made the women afraid to venture over the threshold, even so far as the stick-house, after dark.

Our church was a fine old Norman structure, choked with barbarisms. The frescoes had been whitewashed over by successive generations of churchwardens; so had the magnificent freestone pillars. The stained-glass windows had been taken away and plain squares, among which were interspersed a few bulls' eyes, had been put in their stead; the pews were the familiar old cattle-pens of every size and shape, wherein the congregation sat in all directions and went to sleep in the corners comfortably. The choir was composed of a few page: 24 young men and women who practised among themselves as they liked and when they liked, and sometimes essayed elaborate anthems which resulted in vocal caricatures. The orchestra was a flageolet, on which the clerk, as the official leader and bandmaster, gave the key-note; and at the feet of the choir, in the dark at the west end, the High School boys and girls sat on benches which every now and then they tipped up or overturned, played marbles, had free fights, laughed aloud, and were dragged out by the hair, kicking and yelling, when their conduct was too obstreperous for even the lax reverence of the rest to bear. With all this we had a peal of bells which was the pride of the parish and acknowledged to be the best in the county; and our bell-ringers were renowned as past masters of their craft.

In my early youth, two families only among us kept a carriage or a footman; page: 25 and no one thought of hiring a car, as our tubs on wheels were called, for anything short of a day's excursion to the neighbouring lakes and waterfalls. When evening parties were on hand—we never or rarely gave dinners at Eden—the ladies tucked up their skirts and the men turned up their trousers, and walked gaily through the snow in winter and the dust in summer, lighted by lanthorns when there was no moon, and wearing wooden-soled clogs shod with iron when the roads were ‘clarty.’ Picnics on the lake, where each family contributed its quota, were the grand summer amusements of Eden; and walking expeditions up the more practicable mountains, all returning to the proposer's house for tea and supper and a dance or a round game in the evening, took the place of modern tennis-parties. Without question, things were merrier for us than our children have known how to make them for themselves. page: 26 There was less luxury and more simplicity; people were easily amused because not worn out by premature experience; and there was a greater sense of homeliness and friendliness than can be found anywhere now.

Perhaps some among us went a little too far in the way of simplicity and homeliness, as when the Roberts' girls—the daughters of the great literary light who shone at Eden—took down the soiled house-linen to mend in the drawing-room at Rydal Mount, where they were on a visit, to give Mrs. Hemans, who was also there on a visit, a practical lesson on the value of good house-wifery and no nonsense. Mrs. Hemans was somewhat superfine and lackadaisical; and these girls, the youngest of whom was famous for a certain quiet hardness which amounted to calm brutality, thought that to darn dirty linen before her eyes would be a useful counterpoise to her Rosa Matilda proclivities. The result was that the poetess page: 27 fled from the room in dismay, and ever after cherished the most profound horror for the uncompromising Marthas who had so wounded her delicacy.

My father and that great literary light did not get on quite well together. I have never understood why. There had been no quarrel that I know of; the respective children were playfellows; and Dr. Roberts was as orthodox as my father himself, and notoriously a dutiful son of the Church. But they were not the friends one might have expected two cultured men would have been; and though Dr. Roberts came regularly to church, as any other decent body might, when the prayers were over he ostentatiously folded his arms, shut his eyes, and sat during the sermon in a state of frigid indifferentism, like one no more interested in the proceedings. He had done his duty to God and the Establishment by saying his prayers and following the ser- service page: 28 vice; to the sermon, which was purely personal, he openly refused to give his attention.

At the other side of the vale, and not in our parish, was a very notable family—incomparably the most liberal and enlightened of all we had. Thoughtful and large-minded, they were remarkable, among other things, for the quiet dignity of their lives; their inflexible sense of public duty; their orderly management as proprietors and masters; their close friendships with the best thinkers and foremost men of the time; and the determination with which they discountenanced all local gossip and petty scandal. The father, and his son after him, were men who make the unwritten but vital history of England, and furnish the solid material of English greatness. The other son, however, belongs to the written history of our time, and has left a name and done such work in literature as will never die out.

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This family belonged, unfortunately for me, to the elder section of my generation; so that I was not able to profit by them in the forming period of my life, as I might have done had I been fifteen years or so older. It was only when I was a grown man that I came to know and recognise the moral greatness which was their inheritance. And then I was made. But to this day I have a curious feeling of loyalty and clanship towards the survivors of the house—especially towards one, the last of the elder generation, whose wonderful charm can be as little described as the perfume of a flower or the melody of a song. Indeed, she is very like a human flower or incorporate melody—and of all emblems the Daisy and the Pearl suit her best.

Then there was a county magnate, whose house by the Bay where the water-lilies grew, was a kind of sentimental Paradise to my elder brothers. Three beautiful girls page: 30 made the charm of those woods and gardens; and three of my elder brothers fell in love, as was but natural; and the tears shed in vain by these poor young erotic Tantaluses were matters of family history for many years after. Besides these, were retired officers of both services, who had come to Eden because the country was lovely and living was cheap—with here a gentleman living on his estate, and there an outsider who only rented and did not possess, and who never took quite the same place as the autochthones by inheritance, or even the naturalized by purchase. We were also in those days tremendously exclusive; and when the rich Leeds manufacturer bought the estates of our historical attainted Lord, he was considered decidedly below the salt, and there were anxious consultations among the impecunious well-born as to the propriety of visiting him and his. I have lived to see all this nonsense knocked out of page: 31 the place; which maybe has been converted to the compensating worship of wealth somewhat over zealously.

Beyond these again, were the local oddities—the old maids with sharp tongues renowned for queer sayings; the well-endowed widows with large hearts—‘mothers in Israel,’ as they were called when the days of cant came upon us; the Will Wimbles who played the flute were ‘characters’ and flighty, not to say more; the hunting parsons who rode to hounds whenever they could, and when they could not, did the best they could for themselves by riding into Eden, jack-booted and spurred, to meet the coach and talk horseflesh with Tom and Arnold; the scientific recluses who got a name of terror because of their anatomical studies, whereby they were supposed to be too friendly with the Evil One; the retired sea-captains, choleric and litigious; the Scotch doctors, page: 32 drunken and clever, who performed wonderful operations when half-seas over; the men-servants and maid-servants who were part of the family and called by the master's name, as Birkett Tim and Crosthwaite Molly; the maiden shopkeepers, who were the humbler members of the society, greatly respected and esteemed, with whom the aristoi would sometimes take a cup of tea and not hold themselves as condescending unduly:—these were as individualized, and some were as queer, as anything to be found in Sterne or Smollett. But the queerest of all were the incumbents of the small chapelries-of-ease made off the mother-parish—all of whom were St. Bees men, while many were as drunken as our old priest at Moss Moor, and none were men of education and refinement. I remember how, at a visitation dinner at the vicarage, one of these outlying pastors stood up in his place, and, asking the Bishop familiarly if page: 33 he would be served, carved the cabbages before him with his own knife and fork. He had already eaten generously with his knife. They all did in those days.

Our own way of living was simple in the extreme. Our servants wore short woollen petticoats; cotton bedgowns and blue-checked aprons; huge caps with flapping borders and flying strings; and thick-soled shoes, with which they wore out the carpets and made a hideous clatter on the bare boards. We had a gardener who had been a soldier, and who, in memory of his past glory, always wore a scarlet waistcoat on Sundays; and we had a hay-field, a farmyard, and two cows—‘Cushie’ and ‘Hornie’—which in the summer evenings we used to go with the cook to bring home from the field to the milking-byre. I think I could replace every dock and ragwort and plot of nettles and mayweed in that ragged bit of pasture-land, sloping down to the little page: 34 brook where the minnows were. Our food was oatmeal-porridge, night and morning. For dinner we were allowed meat only twice a week. On the ‘banyan days’ we had large tureens full of milky messes of exquisite savour, or enormous paste puddings—‘roly-polys’—of fruit, jam, or undecorated suet. It was simple fare, but it made a stalwart, vigorous set of boys and girls; and out of the whole dozen, only two were relatively undersized and only one was delicate. The rest averaged six feet for the men and the full medium height for the women.

My mother, who was of higher social standing than my father—for he was a simple vicar and she was then the Dean's daughter—had married him against the consent of her own people. She died when my eldest brother was fifteen years old and when I, the youngest of the brood, was five months. Ten rapidly recurring steps page: 35 between these two limits filled the quiver to overflowing.

My grandfather, at first violently angry, at last—when he had been made a Bishop—proved his forgiveness of his daughter's disobedience and my father's presumption by giving him, in succession, the best two livings in his gift; as well as certain sinecures which the lax ecclesiastical conscience of those days made it possible for an otherwise honest man to hold. But this liberality, added to the original sin of the marriage, only served to alienate the rest of the family more completely from us. For, as all my uncles were in orders, and all my aunts had married clergymen, and plurality was then in force, and nepotism the first duty of a patron-parent, it was but natural that they should resent this apportionment of the big plums to the least desirable of the sons-in-law, rather than to the more commendable who had the page: 36 better claim, or to the sons who had the most right.

This professional jealousy, backed by social disdain—for the family, as a family, was one of the proudest, most exclusive, and most worldly in England—and my father's total want of kindred on his own side, explain the isolation in which we lived, and why, after my grandfather's death, we knew none of that kindly superintendence which the children of a dead sister so often receive from those still living. While my grandfather lived we were taken care of at the Castle; but after his death we were abandoned; and my father was left to bring us up as he would, unhelped and unchecked by the influence of his wife's kinsfolk. He chose the rough and ready way of corporal punishment for all offences. He believed in Solomon and the rod, and put religious conviction as well as muscular energy into his stripes. It was a brutal page: 37 system. But the times were brutal all through; and my father was neither worse nor more enlightened than his generation. He sincerely believed that he was doing his imperative duty when he thrashed us in accordance with the inspired command; and that were the rod spared the child would be indeed spoilt. And when a passionate temper takes with it divine sanction, the punishment it inflicts is softened by no misgiving as to its wisdom or its humanity.

My stately grandfather himself set an example of almost incredible severity in his family. His sons never called him anything but ‘Sir’ or ‘My Lord;’ and he was never known to kiss one of his daughters, save by rare grace, or on supreme occasions of marriage or departure, coldly on the forehead. Sometimes however, he allowed them to kiss his hand. He gave his wife half-a-crown at a time for pocket-money; page: 38 and—like Mrs. Primrose, with the guinea she ‘generously’ let each of her daughters have ‘to keep in their pockets’—she was exhorted not to break into it nor spend it. It always went in ‘goodies’ for the grandchildren. When the sons were beneficed clergymen and married men with children, they dared not have asked for a glass of wine at their father's table; and he would have been a bold man who should have addressed my Lord without first being spoken to.

A dark and terrible family tradition was whispered from each to each, under the bond of absolute secrecy, how that once, when one of my aunts had reached the ripe age of eighteen, my Lord Bishop had whipped her bodily with his own august prelatic hands. He was a tall and dignified-looking man; famed for botany and scholarship, and held to be the handsomest Bishop on the bench; but he was a queer successor page: 39 of the Fishermen; and I doubt if the Master would have recognised him as a wholly satisfactory representative. Yet it was told of him that once, in a rare fit of humility confessing some trivial weakness of character, he said to my father with admirable condescension to the frailty of a common humanity: ‘After all, Mr. Kirkland, a Bishop is only a man!’

Naturally indolent and self-indulgent in his habits, but a man of the strictest temperance—never once in his whole life, in that drinking age, having exceeded the bounds of absolute sobriety; fond of shining in society, where he knew how to make his mark, but almost impossible to drag out of his study for any form of social intercourse; flattered by the notice of the great when it came to him, but neglecting all his opportunities and too proud to accept patronage even when offered; a Tory in politics and a Democrat in action; defying his diocesan page: 40 and believing in his divine ordination; contemptuous of the people as a political factor, but kind and familiar in personal intercourse with the poor; clever, well read and somewhat vain of his knowledge, but void of ambition and indifferent to the name in literature which he might undoubtedly have won with a little industry; not liberal as a home-provider, but largely and unostentatiously generous in the parish; fond like a woman of his children when infants, but unable to reconcile himself to the needs of their adolescence and refusing to recognise the rights of their maturity; thinking it derogatory to his parental dignity to discuss any matter whatsoever rationally with his sons, and believing in the awful power of a father's curse, yet caressing in manner and playful in speech even when he was an old man and we were no longer young; with a heart of gold and a temper of fire—my father was a man of strangely page: 41 complex character, not to be dismissed in a couple of phrases.

With a nature tossed and traversed by passion, and a conscience that tortured him when his besetting sin had conquered his better resolve once more, as so often before, he was in some things like David;—for whose character he had the most intimate kind of personal sympathy. ‘For I acknowledge my faults, and my sin is ever before me,’ was the broken chord of his lament. But to us children, the echo of his loud midnight prayers, waking us from our sleep and breaking the solemn stillness of the night—the sound of his passionate weeping mingled in sobbing unison with the moaning of the wind in the trees, or striking up in sharp accord with the stinging of the hail against the windows—gave only an awful kind of mystery to his character, making the deeper shadows we knew too well all the page: 42 more terrible by these lurid lights of tragic piety.

My poor dear father! The loss of my beautiful mother, and, a year after her death, that of the eldest girl, who seems to have been one of those sweet mother-sisters sometimes found as the eldest of the family, had tried him almost beyond his strength. His life henceforth was a mingled web of passion and tears—now irritated and now despairing—with ever that pathetic prostration at the foot of the Cross, where he sought to lay down his burden of sorrow and to take up instead resignation to the will of God—where he sought the peace he never found! He had lost the best out of his life, and he could not fill up the gap with what remained.

There was one thing I have never understood:—why my father, so well read and even learned in his own person, did not care to give his children the education proper to page: 43 their birth and his own standing. The elders among us came off best, for the mother had had her hand on them, and the Bishop too, had had his say; but the younger ones were lamentably neglected. I do not know why. We were not poor. Certainly, we were a large tribe to provide for and my father often made a ‘poor mouth;’ but his income was good, the cost of living was relatively small, and things might have been better than they were. At the worst, my father might have taught us himself. He was a good classic and a sound historian; and though his mathematics did not go very deep, they were better than our ignorance. But he was both too impatient and too indolent to be able to teach, and I doubt if the experiment would have answered had he tried it.

So time went on, and he allowed neither a responsible tutor for us boys nor a capable governess for the girls, nor would he send page: 44 us to school. He engaged, as a very perfunctory kind of crammer for two of my brothers, the son of a small hamlet hand-weaver, a young St. Bees man whose parents denied themselves almost necessaries that they might give their son a good education and see him in the ministry. This young man, who was both plain in person and ungainly in manners, fell in love with my eldest sister, and inspired her thereby with a physical horror that became almost a constitutional antipathy, such as certain people have for cats. When she was quite an old woman she used to say she should feel if Mr. Donald came into a room at her back, where she could not see him. She would feel him in a shudder down her spine and goose-flesh over her skin.

When my father had engaged this young man, he thought he had done all for his boys that was demanded of him by duty or need. If ever the subject was broached page: 45 to him, he used to lose his temper, and always ended by saying that self-educated people got on the best. He forgot the pithy saying that a self-taught man has had a dunce for his master.

One of our family traditions, rounded off of course by repetition and the natural desire to make a good story, tells how that, after our mother's death, my grandfather sent for my father and urged him to do such and such things, whereby he might increase his income and provide for the fitting conduct of his family. To each proposal my father found insuperable objections. At last the Bishop, losing patience, said angrily:

‘In the name of heaven, Mr. Kirkland, what do you mean to do for your children?’

‘Sit in the study, my Lord, smoke my pipe, and commit them to the care of Providence,’ was my father's calm reply.

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And he acted on his decision. He did emphatically commit us to the care of Providence; and he was satisfied with his trustee.

Practically, this meant the control of the younger by the elder. The eldest brother was the master of the boys, the eldest sister the mistress of the girls; with intermediate gradations of relative supremacy according to seniority. Hence there reigned among us the most disastrous system of tyranny, exercised by these unfledged viceroys of Providence over their subordinates—a tyranny for which there was no redress, however great the wrong. It was of no use to appeal to my father. Had he sided with the complainant, things would have been worse in the end, and there would then have been revenge and retaliation to add to the original count. It was better to take things as they came, or to fight it out for one's self. And there was always some one still younger page: 47 to whom it could be passed on; which was so far a comfort! Our house, in those days, was like nothing so much as a farm-yard full of cockerels and pullets for ever spurring and pecking at one another. It was the trial of strength that always goes on among growing creatures—especially among young males; but it was bad to bear while it lasted. Add to this a still more disastrous system of favouritism, and the knowledge that no justice was to be expected, from my father downwards, if such a one were the plaintiff and such another the defendant—and the breaking up among ourselves into pairs of sworn friends and devoted allies—and this slight sketch of the moral rule that obtained during the early days of my childhood is complete.

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