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The Autobiography of Christopher Kirkland, Vol. 1. Linton, E. Lynn (Elizabeth Lynn), 1822–1898.
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WE all suffered much from the want of intelligent supervision, but I, by the inherent defects of my character, as well as by my place as youngest, suffered most. Quick to resent and sensitive to kindness, rebellious and affectionate, wilful and soft-hearted, I was ever in tumult and turmoil, followed by disgrace, punishment and repentance. But I must say in self-exculpation, that, tiresome as I must have been, I was as much sinned against as sinning.

Easily provoked and daring in reprisals, but as the youngest the least formidable page: 49 and the most defenceless, I was too good fun to be let alone. I was like the drunken helot told off to self-degradation for the moral benefit of the young Spartans; for I was teased and bullied till I became as furious as a small wild beast, and when by my violence I had put myself in the wrong, I was held up as an example to Edwin and Ellen to avoid, and flogged as the practical corollary. I do not suppose a week passed without one of these miserable outbreaks, with the rod and that dark closet under the stairs to follow.

These repeated floggings did me no good. Physically, they certainly hardened me to pain, but morally they roused in me that false and fatal courage which breeds the dare-devils of society and makes its criminals die game. But I was subdued at once when anyone, by rare chance and gleam of common-sense, remonstrated with me lovingly or talked to me rationally. I page: 50 well remember my ambition to prove myself worthy of his trust, which was like sunlight in my tempestuous young life, when my father, instead of accusing and threatening me, relied on my promise to do what was right and to my word when I said I had not done what was wrong. Nor he, nor anyone who trusted to me, ever found me even then a defaulter. Like a faithful dog, I would have stood to have been hacked to pieces before I would have broken faith or forfeited my childish honour.

These halcyon days of moral dignity were painfully exceptional; and my father's confidence in me was that gift of God for which I longed more ardently than for anything in my life before or since—and how seldom granted! I only remember two occasions—once when I was believed about that broken drawing-room window, of which I had not been the ball-playing cause; and once when I was allowed to pick page: 51 red currants for preserves, and my father trusted to my promise not to eat nor filch. As things were, I was always being guilty of some act of mischief, some flagrant disobedience to rules, or some outburst of temper which gave those in authority reason when they thrashed me, if they were in the wrong when they misunderstood me. So much I must say for my past turbulent self:—I never remember being flogged for an act of meanness nor for a lie; and I do remember twice taking his punishment for Edwin and not betraying him. I never told tales of the others, and I was always ready to brave danger and its consequences if asked to do a service. Thus, though I was undeniably the black sheep of the flock, I was the one trusted to when a steadfast agent was wanted.

At this moment there comes before me a little scene which must have taken place when I was a very small boy.

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I was sent to steal some sacred apples for some of them—I forget who they were now. As I shook the tree by means of a light garden-rake hitched up on the branches, it fell and cut open my head, covering my neck-frill with blood. But I gathered up the apples in my pinafore, and took them to my brothers or sisters hiding behind the wall on the little bank which to this day is golden with the ‘shoes and stockings’ I remember so well; and then I marched sturdily into the house, where Mary the nurse cut my hair, strapped up the wound, and put me to bed. The next day I was taken to my father and flogged. But I would not tell for whom I had stolen the apples, nor would I plead in mitigation of my punishment that I had had none myself.

Our then ‘viceroy,’ the second brother—the eldest being away at college—was a young fellow of eighteen, with a violent temper page: 53 and a heavy hand. He was generous and affectionate at bottom, but he was irritable, jealous and tyrannical to an overwhelming degree. One day, a Punch-and-Judy show came on the lawn before the dining-room windows. We were all there, watching the raree-show. I suppose I was excited and in one of my impudent moods, for I persisted in calling my brother ‘Dicksy,’ a name he disliked and specially forbade the smaller fry to use.

‘If you say that again I will thrash you,’ he said to me angrily.

I looked up into his face. How clear the whole thing is before me! The squeaking and unintelligible Punch; the sunshine on the grass; the close throng, clustered like flies against the window; and my sense of my brother's towering bigness and formidible ferocity. But I was a daring young rascal, and always ready to brave the unknown.

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‘Dicksy!’ I said defiantly.

Whereupon Richard was as good as his word, and then and there beat me severely.

The brother who stood next to Richard, with one sister between, was three years his junior. He was as tall, but naturally not then so strong; as passionate in temper, but of a deeper nature and finer mental and moral quality altogether. These two were natural foes and rivals, and were always fighting—the one tyrannizing, the other rebelling. Before this day I do not remember this brother Godfrey. He is lost in the crowd of the elders, from whom we little chaps were separated as entirely as if they had been lions or we had been mice. After this day he became one of the enduring loves of my life. I distinctly remember how he turned upon Richard and fought him for his cruelty to such a little fellow as I was—not quite five years old, and still in frocks like a baby; for I can yet see the page: 55 weals on my shoulder made by Richard's vigorous fingers. After the scuffle Godfrey took me on his knee, and kissed me to comfort me. From that moment there woke up in me a kind of worship for this brother, just ten years my senior—a worship, which, old man as I am—still older as he is—I retain to this hour. We have lived apart all our lives. In over forty years I have seen him for two at a stretch. But when I realize the ideal of knightly honour and manly nobleness—of that kind of proud incorruptibility which knows no weakness for fear nor favour—I think of my brother Godfrey far beyond the seas; he who as a boy braved his elder brother for the sake of a little fellow who could not defend himself—as a man calmly faced an excited mob yelling for their blood, to place under the shadow of the British flag two trembling wretches who had only his courage between them and death.

The early life and adventures of this page: 56 brother are a romance in themselves. Had he lived in mythic times he would have been another Amadis, a second Wallace. He is like some offshoot of heroic days, rather than a man of a commercial generation; and in him the grand old Roman spirit survives and is re-embodied.

Godfrey was my lord, but Edwin was my natural chum. Some eighteen months younger, I was the stronger and bigger of the two. He had always been a delicate boy; and the nursery tradition about him was that when he was born he was the exact length of a pound of butter, was put into a quart-pot, and dressed in my eldest sister's doll's clothes:—the ordinary baby-clothes were too large, and her doll was a big one for those days. I was his slave and protector in one. He had none of the emotional intensity, none of the fierceness of temper, the foolhardy courage, the inborn defiance, neither had he the darkness of page: 57 mood nor the volcanic kind of love which characterized me. He was sweeter in temper; more sprightly as well as more peaceful in disposition; more amenable to authority; of a lighter, gentler, more manageable and more amiable nature altogether. He was the family favourite and the family plaything. Long after my sisters had left off taking me into their laps they would let Edwin sit on their knees for hours; and when my brothers would have kissed a hedgehog as soon as me, they kissed him as they kissed Julia and Rosamond and Ellen. He was never in mischief and never in the way. He cared only to play quiet games in the garden when it was fair, or to sit in the embrasure of the window when it was wet and we were forced to keep the house. In consideration of his delicacy he had been taught wool-work and netting; and his supreme pleasure was to sit on his ‘copy’ (a kind of stool), in a page: 58 ‘cupboardy house’—that is, in the midst of a ring of chairs forming a defence-work against intruders—while I told him stories ‘out of my own head’ or Ellen good-naturedly read to him.

Besides this constitutional delicacy to make those in authority tender in their dealing with him, he was the most beautiful of us all. Godfrey was incomparably the handsomest of the grown boys—did not his beauty once save his life?—but Edwin was the loveliest of the children. He was like one of Sir Joshua's cherubs. His head was covered with bright golden curls, his skin was like a pale monthly rose, and he had big soft blue eyes which no one could resist. Everyone loved and petted him, as I have said. Our father, who saw in him the reproduction of our dead mother, had even a more tender feeling for him than for any of his other favourites; my own hero, Godfrey, loved him ten thousand page: 59 times more than he loved me; and Richard, our tyrannical ‘kingling,’ who spared no one else, spared Edwin. But no one sacrificed to him as I did, and no one loved him with such fanatical devotion. It was but natural, then, that he should lord it over me with that tremendous force which weakness ever has over loving strength; and that I, the born rebel but the passionate lover, should give to that weakness the submission which no authority could wring from me. Also it came into the appointed order of things that I should bore him by my devotion, and that he should pain me by his indifference. It was a preface to the life that had to come—the first of the many times when I should make shipwreck of my peace through love.

Yet had it not been for this devotion to Edwin, and the feeling that I was of use to him for all his coldness to me, my life would have been even more painful than it was. page: 60 I was so isolated in the family, so out of harmony with them all, and by my own faults of temperament such a little Ishmaelite and outcast, that as much despair as can exist with childhood overwhelmed and possessed me. Three years after his defence of me, when he was eighteen and I eight, Godfrey left home; and I lost the Great-Heart of my loyal love—the one I always felt was somehow my own special suzerain, if I were but a despised kind of Dugald creature to him. But even at the best, the difference between our ages prevented anything like friendship or companionship. He was my lord, but he was never my familiar.

I remember how, after he had left, and though I knew that he was out of England and countless miles away, I used to expect him to return suddenly and by miracle; and how sometimes I used to look for him about the place—in the cupboards and unused page: 61 lofts. And I remember, too, a strange horror that used to seize me, of expecting to find a pool of blood in the place where I looked for him.

Perhaps this odd kind of horror was due to a terrible scene which had had a great effect on me. Our two brothers, Richard and Godfrey, were shooting in a field not far from the vicarage, and we were watching them from the windows. Suddenly there was a tremendous report, a large volume of smoke, a cry and the hurrying of men together; and then we saw a body carried on their shoulders, and brought up to the vicarage. It was Richard, the barrel of whose gun had burst. The stock had wounded him severely in the stomach, and covered him with blood. Godfrey was safe, but singed. Perhaps it was some obscure association of ideas which added this ghastly horror of expected blood to my grief for Godfrey's mysterious flight and my insane page: 62 belief in his miraculous return—unable as I was, like all devotees, to accept the unalterable law when dealing with love.

In these outcast days I used to dream a strange dream—strange, considering my age—how that I was not one of them—not my father's child at all—but a foundling, some day to be reclaimed and taken home by his own who would love and understand him. I had a favourite hiding-place in the lime-trees at the foot of the garden, where I used to lose my time, my strength and mental health in this fantastic idea. Granting all the difficulties my family had to contend with in me, I do not think the desolation of a young child could go beyond the secret hope of one day finding himself an alien to his own—of some day being claimed by the unknown—strangers coming out of space sure to be more gentle and sympathetic than those others! But I always added, as a codicil to this testament page: 63 of despair, that if ever I did find these unknown dear ones, Godfrey should still be my king and Edwin my beloved, and that no new tie should break these two golden links of the old sad heavy chain. As another proof of my childish desolation, if also of my intemperate nature, I remember how once, in a fit of mad passion for some slight put on me by my eldest sister, whereat the others had laughed and jeered me, I first fought them all round, then rushed off to a large draw-well we had in the coach-yard—we were not then at Eden, but at my father's private house in Kent—intending to throw myself down and end for ever a life which was at the moment intolerable and emphatically not worth living. The heavy cover was over the mouth, and I could not move it. While I was trying the gardener came along; and, seeing that I had been crying, he good-naturedly took me to the apple-loft, where he filled my pockets with golden russets—which page: 64 consoled me grandly, and lifted me over that little stile of sorrow into a flowery field of content. I was then ten years old.

If Edwin had died when he was a child, the spiritualists would have had a case. He woke one night sobbing piteously, and woke me, sleeping with him, by his crying. When I asked him what was the matter, he said that he had just seen ‘poor mamma.’ He was on one side of a broad black river, and on the other, in a garden full of flowers, stood our mother draped in white with wings like an angel. She held out her arms and called: ‘Little Edwin, come to me! Little Edwin, come!‘ Then he woke, and cried because he had again lost the mother whom he, of all the children, most desired to have had and known. For not even those who remembered her regretted her loss so much as did Edwin, who was not quite two years old when she died, and who did not remember her at all. He had page: 65 no illness after this, nor did he die. Thanks to the pure blood we have all inherited, notwithstanding his early delicacy he is alive and well to this day. But had he died then, this dream would have been accounted a supernatural vision, and he would have been held to have been called to death and paradise by his mother's spirit.

If all the failures in presentiments and warning dreams were recorded, I fancy they would considerably outweigh the co-incidences.

I had not Edwin's pathetic yearning for our mother. I found her substitute in Nurse Mary, whom I loved with overwhelming force, and got into trouble as the result. As, once when she had been away for a week's holiday and had returned at night, I was wakened up out of my sleep and taken to her bed. I was so glad to see her that I cried; and finally cried myself into what was, I suppose, a fit of hysterics;— page: 66 when they whipped me as a useful nervous counteraction.

This nurse was an undisciplined kind of woman, who now hugged us till she nearly squeezed us to death, and now beat us black and blue. But I suppose my own volcanic nature understood her violent one, for I could not live out of her sight, and she was good enough to me. I am afraid she drank, poor Mary! Things dark then are clear now; and those mysterious and sudden illnesses which she used to have pretty often were, I fancy, due to brandy rather than to disease. She left us when I was nine years old.

I was about eleven years of age when the first distinct stirrings of my mental life began to make themselves felt. Godfrey's adventures—for he had returned after two years' imprisonment in Russia—had something to do with the new light that began to dawn in my young brain. I had page: 67 always had a passion for books and pictures, and I knew almost by heart those few that we possessed. In contrast to the wealth of modern days, it will not be uninteresting to give the full catalogue of our special library. Mrs. Sherwood's ‘Little Henry and his Bearer’; ‘William and the Woodman’; ‘Sandford and Merton’; ‘Paul and Virginia’; ‘Evenings at Home’; ‘The Arabian Nights' Tales’; ‘Tales of the Castle’; ‘Tales of the Genii’; ‘Robinson Crusoe’; ‘Pilgrim's Progress’—where the occasion was generally improved for my benefit, as I was identified with Passion, while Edwin was Patience; Miss Edgeworth's ‘Moral Tales’; and ‘Elizabeth, or the Exiles of Siberia,’ formed our whole stock of profane literature. For Sunday-reading we had ‘Mrs. Barbauld's Hymns’; the ‘Dairyman's Daughter’; ‘Fox's Book of Martyrs’; ‘The History of all Religions’; ‘The Life of Christ’— page: 68 of which I remember only the pathetic pictures of the Agony in the Garden and the Crucifixion, where two little angels held up cups to catch the blood; and sometimes we were allowed to look at the coloured plates of the ‘safe’ volumes of the ‘Encyclopædia Londinensis’—the battle-horse of the study library. When we grew older we had to read one of Sherlock's sermons—Sherlock was my father's favourite divine; or he read to us in the evening, before prayers, a chapter out of Doddridge's ‘Family Expositor,’ when all of us youngsters invariably fell asleep and were scolded for our irreligious drowsiness.

But, as I say, when I was about eleven years of age, almost suddenly I seemed to leap out of this narrow circle and to demand a larger mental area altogether. There woke up in me the most burning desire to Know. With all the page: 69 intense physical enjoyment of life given me by my keen senses and strong animal nature—with all the delight I felt in putting out my strength and learning how to increase and sharpen my growing bodily powers—I had a dim consciousness that life meant more than mere pleasure; and that it was as important to know history and geography, and what the problems of Euclid proved, and what those unintelligible books in strange tongues said to those who could read them, as it was to know how to swarm up a smooth-boled tree, jump standing and leap running, and clamber like a goat over the crags and rocky places. All these things were necessary and delightful; but higher and beyond them all stood Knowledge.

By this time our family at home had decreased by death, marriage and absence, to five—less than half the original number; and things educational were worse for us, page: 70 the youngest two boys, than they had been for the elders. Edwin's health was too frail for school-life; and as he could not go, neither could I. I was wanted at home to be his companion. It was in vain that I begged my father to send me to school. He would not; and I vexed him by my entreaties. Nor would he give us masters nor a tutor at home. He promised, but he never fulfilled his promise. All the instruction I ever received was of the pot-hook-and-hanger degree—the mere elements; the rest I did for myself. And so years passed on, and still Edwin and I were kept at home to do what we liked, provided we did not get into mischief and did not bother.

Part of that liking with me went into learning for myself what there was no one to teach me. I took up languages; beginning with French. Year after year I attacked one after the other, till I had got page: 71 hold of a good many. But, as I learnt only to read and was not phenomenally laborious, I scamped the grammar and devoted myself to translation—that is, I neglected rules and learnt only words. This is the reason why, when I could read with ease and translate aloud rapidly while I read, French, Italian, German, Spanish, with a little Latin and less Greek, I could neither parse any of these languages correctly nor speak one fluently. I learnt without method, and I have never been able to disentangle my mind from the false order of the start.

This want of early training explains all my persistent intellectual deficiencies—my want of dialectical skill, my want of scientific accuracy, and how it is that I know nothing analytically, from the foundations upward, but only synthetically, concretely, as it stands. This must needs be, seeing that I have never built up any study brick by brick, nor chamber by chamber, but page: 72 have only entered on the results of other men's work—inhabiting where they have created. Essentially self-educated as I am, that self-education began at an age when the elemental drudgery, which always seems useless to ignorance, is naturally shirked for the more interesting results. Learning, with me, was only a means to an end. For instance, I learnt French out of curiosity to read an old illustrated ‘Telemachus’ that we had, and thus to understand what the pictures meant; Italian to know about Petrarch and Dante, whose conventional portraits in our encyclopædia had fascinated me; German, for ‘Faust‘; Latin, to understand those brown-leather folios in the study library; Spanish for ‘Don Quixote’; and Greek in the vain hope of following Homer in the original—the awakening touch here having been given by Godfrey telling me about the ‘far-darting Apollo’ and the ‘silver-ankled Thetis.’ page: 73 And being by the nature of my intellect quick to understand, and by temperament impatient to possess—‘a temperament founded on ultimates,’ as my friend Garth Wilkinson said of me in later times—I had not mastered the rudiments when I plunged into the middle term, and bounded on to the end. Thus, never subjected to that severe mental discipline which is but another form of moral control, I grew up in absolute mental unrestraint; and I have never been able to put myself into harness since.

This independence of thought is not presumption nor vanity, nor any of the hard things believers in authority say of the self-reliant. It is the result of antecedent conditions, for which a man is no more responsible than he is for the size of his skeleton. And he can change the one as little as the other. Those who are to be disciplined must be taught their drill and page: 74 made to obey; and no one can be at once self-reliant and submissive.

This then, was how things stood in my early boyhood, after the stage of childhood proper was passed—say from between eleven to seventeen. In my mental life, undirected and unhelped, save by opposition—which has always been a powerful stimulus to me—I strove to learn, to know, to possess. So far I was justified by my conscience and at peace with myself; and if I lost my time, took things by the wrong end, and amassed a world of rubbish which did me no good then nor since, I did not know my mistakes, and my ignorance was my bliss.

In my family I was still under the old cloud. I was snubbed by my father, whom I constantly worried and often angered; roughly handled by my brothers, whose authority I defied when they came home for their vacations from college; sent to Coventry by my sisters whom I page: 75 revolted by my violence and affronted by my impertinence; made his slave by Edwin, who did not really love me in those days; but with all this I knew that I tried to do right, however poorly I succeeded, and that I would have died rather than I would have done what seemed to me mean or false, or cowardly or selfish. And ever and ever I longed with a hungry passion that ran into pain, for the love which my own turbulence of nature made it impossible for others to give me.

If our dear mother had lived, things would have been different. She would have understood each and would have done justly by all. Under her wise management there would have been none of that neglect in direction and harshness of punishment when things went wrong which had been the rule of our upbringing. And her gentle influence would have tamed the tempers and regulated the actions of all alike. All our page: 76 troubles were due to her death; and my poor father was as much to be pitied as were we.

I have dwelt so long on the early life of my childhood because it gives the clue to all the rest. The boy is father to the man, and the first chord contains the key-note of the whole succeeding harmony.