Autobiographical Sketches/Chapter III


The strong and intense Evangelicalism of Miss Marryat colored the whole of my early religious thought. I was naturally enthusiastic and fanciful, and was apt to throw myself strongly into the current of the emotional life around me, and hence I easily reflected the stern and narrow creed which ruled over my daily life. It was to me a matter of the most intense regret that Christians did not go about as in the "Pilgrim's Progress", armed to do battle with Apollyon and Giant Despair, or fight through a whole long day against thronging foes, until night brought victory and release. It would have been so easy, I used to think, to do tangible battle of that sort, so much easier than to learn lessons, and keep one's temper, and mend one's stockings. Quick to learn, my lessons of Bible and Prayer Book gave me no trouble, and I repeated page after page with little labor and much credit. I remember being praised for my love of the Bible, because I had learned by heart all the epistle of St. James's, while, as a matter of fact, the desire to distinguish myself was a far more impelling motive than any love of "the holy book;" the dignified cadences pleased my ear, and were swiftly caught and reproduced, and I was proud of the easy fashion in which I mastered and recited page after page. Another source of "carnal pride"—little suspected, I fear, by my dear instructress—was found in the often-recurring prayer meetings. In these the children were called on to take a part, and we were bidden pray aloud; this proceeding was naturally a sore trial, and being endued with an inordinate amount of "false pride"—the fear of appearing ridiculous, i.e., with self conceit—it was a great trouble when the summons came: "Annie dear, will you speak to our Lord". But the plunge once made, and the trembling voice steadied, enthusiasm and facility for cadenced speech always swallowed up the nervous "fear of breaking down", and I fear me that the prevailing thought was more often that God must think I prayed very nicely, than that I was a "miserable sinner", asking "pardon for the sake of Jesus Christ". The sense of sin, the contrition for man's fallen state, which are required by Evangelicalism, can never be truly felt by any child; but whenever a sensitive, dreamy, and enthusiastic child comes under strong Evangelistic influence, it is sure to manifest "signs of saving grace". As far as I can judge now, the total effect of the Calvinistic training was to make me somewhat morbid, but this tendency was counteracted by the healthier tone of my mother's thought, and the natural gay buoyancy of my nature rose swiftly whenever the pressure of the teaching that I was "a child of sin", and could "not naturally please God", was removed.

In the spring of 1861, Miss Marryat announced her intention of going abroad, and asked my dear mother to let me accompany her. A little nephew whom she had adopted was suffering from cataract, and she desired to place him under the care of the famous Düsseldorf oculist. Amy Marryat had been recalled home soon after the death of her mother, who had died in giving birth to the child adopted by Miss Marryat, and named at her desire after her favorite brother Frederick (Captain Marryat). Her place had been taken by a girl a few months older than myself, Emma Mann, one of the daughters of a clergyman who had married a Miss Stanley, closely related, indeed if I remember rightly, a sister of the Miss Mary Stanley who did such noble work in nursing in the Crimea.

For some months we had been diligently studying German, for Miss Marryat thought it wise that we should know a language fairly well before we visited the country of which it was the native tongue. We had been trained also to talk French daily during dinner, so we were not quite "helpless foreigners" when we steamed away from St. Catherine's Docks, and found ourselves on the following day in Antwerp, amid what seemed to us a very Babel of conflicting tongues. Alas for our carefully spoken French, articulated laboriously. We were lost in that swirl of disputing luggage-porters, and could not understand a word! But Miss Marryat was quite equal to the occasion, being by no means new to travelling, and her French stood the test triumphantly, and steered us safely to a hotel. On the morrow we started again through Aix-la-Chapelle to Bonn, the town which lies on the borders of the exquisite scenery of which the Siebengebirge and Rolandseck serve as the magic portal. Our experiences in Bonn were not wholly satisfactory. Dear Auntie was a maiden lady, looking on all young men as wolves to be kept far from her growing lambs. Bonn was a university town, and there was a mania just then prevailing there for all things English. Emma was a plump, rosy, fair-haired typical English maiden, full of frolic and harmless fun; I a very slight, pale, black-haired girl, alternating between wild fun and extreme pensiveness. In the boarding-house to which we went at first—the "Château du Rhin", a beautiful place overhanging the broad blue Rhine—there chanced to be staying the two sons of the late Duke of Hamilton, the Marquis of Douglas and Lord Charles, with their tutor. They had the whole drawing-room floor: we a sitting-room on the ground floor and bedrooms above. The lads discovered that Miss Marryat did not like her "children" to be on speaking terms with any of the "male sect". Here was a fine source of amusement. They would make their horses caracole on the gravel in front of our window; they would be just starting for their ride as we went for walk or drive, and would salute us with doffed hat and low bow; they would waylay us on our way downstairs with demure "Good morning"; they would go to church and post themselves so that they could survey our pew, and Lord Charles—who possessed the power of moving at will the whole skin of the scalp—would wriggle his hair up and down till we were choking with laughter, to our own imminent risk. After a month of this, Auntie was literally driven out of the pretty Château, and took refuge in a girls' school, much to our disgust, but still she was not allowed to be at rest. Mischievous students would pursue us wherever we went; sentimental Germans, with gashed cheeks, would whisper complimentary phrases as we passed; mere boyish nonsense of most harmless kind, but the rather stern English lady thought it "not proper", and after three months of Bonn we were sent home for the holidays, somewhat in disgrace. But we had some lovely excursions during those months; such clambering up mountains, such rows on the swift-flowing Rhine, such wanderings in exquisite valleys. I have a long picture-gallery to retire into when I want to think of something fair, in recalling the moon as it silvered the Rhine at the foot of Drachenfels, or the soft mist-veiled island where dwelt the lady who is consecrated for ever by Roland's love.

A couple of months later we rejoined Miss Marryat in Paris, where we spent seven happy workful months. On Wednesdays and Saturdays we were free from lessons, and many a long afternoon was passed in the galleries of the Louvre, till we became familiar with the masterpieces of art gathered there from all lands. I doubt if there was a beautiful church in Paris that we did not visit during those weekly wanderings; that of St. Germain de l'Auxerrois was my favorite—the church whose bell gave the signal for the massacre of St. Bartholomew—for it contained such marvellous stained glass, deepest purest glory of color that I had ever seen. The solemn beauty of Notre Dame, the somewhat gaudy magnificence of La Sainte Chapelle, the stateliness of La Madeleine, the impressive gloom of St. Roch, were all familiar to us. Other delights were found in mingling with the bright crowds which passed along the Champs Elysées and sauntered in the Bois de Boulogne, in strolling in the garden of the Tuileries, in climbing to the top of every monument whence view of Paris could be gained. The Empire was then in its heyday of glitter, and we much enjoyed seeing the brilliant escort of the imperial carriage, with plumes and gold and silver dancing and glistening in the sunlight, while in the carriage sat the exquisitely lovely empress with the little boy beside her, touching his cap shyly, but with something of her own grace, in answer to a greeting—the boy who was thought to be born to an imperial crown, but whose brief career was to find an ending from the spears of savages in a quarrel in which he had no concern.

In the spring of 1862 it chanced that the Bishop of Ohio visited Paris, and Mr. Forbes, then English chaplain at the Church of the Rue d'Aguesseau, arranged to have a confirmation. As said above, I was under deep "religious impressions", and, in fact, with the exception of that little aberration in Germany, I was decidedly a pious girl. I looked on theatres (never having been to one) as traps set by Satan for the destruction of foolish souls; I was quite determined never to go to a ball, and was prepared to "suffer for conscience sake"—little prig that I was—if I was desired to go to one. I was consequently quite prepared to take upon myself the vows made in my name at my baptism, and to renounce the world, the flesh, and the devil, with a heartiness and sincerity only equalled by my profound ignorance of the things I so readily resigned. That confirmation was to me a very solemn matter; the careful preparation, the prolonged prayers, the wondering awe as to the "sevenfold gifts of the Spirit", which were to be given by "the laying on of hands", all tended to excitement. I could scarcely control myself as I knelt at the altar rails, and felt as though the gentle touch of the aged Bishop, which fluttered for an instant on my bowed head, were the very touch of the wing of that "Holy Spirit, heavenly Dove", whose presence had been so earnestly invoked. Is there anything easier, I wonder, than to make a young and sensitive girl "intensely religious".

My mother came over for the confirmation and for the "first communion" on Easter Sunday, and we had a delightful fortnight together, returning home after we had wandered hand-in-hand over all my favorite haunts. The summer of 1862 was spent with Miss Marryat at Sidmouth, and, wise woman that she was, she now carefully directed our studies with a view to our coming enfranchisement from the "school-room." More and more were we trained to work alone; our leading-strings were slackened, so that we never felt them save when we blundered; and I remember that when I once complained, in loving fashion, that she was "teaching me so little", she told me that I was getting old enough to be trusted to work by myself, and that I must not expect to "have Auntie for a crutch all through life". And I venture to say that this gentle withdrawal of constant supervision and teaching was one of the wisest and kindest things that this noble-hearted woman ever did for us. It is the usual custom to keep girls in the school-room until they "come out"; then, suddenly, they are left to their own devices, and, bewildered by their unaccustomed freedom, they waste time that might be priceless for their intellectual growth. Lately, the opening of universities to women has removed this danger for the more ambitious; but at the time of which I am writing no one dreamed of the changes soon to be made in the direction of the "higher education of women".

During the winter of 1862-1863 Miss Marryat was in London, and for a few months I remained there with her, attending the admirable French classes of M. Roche. In the spring I returned home to Harrow, going up each week to the classes; and when these were over, Auntie told me that she thought all she could usefully do was done, and that it was time that I should try my wings alone. So well, however, had she succeeded in her aims, that my emancipation from the school-room was but the starting-point of more eager study, though now the study turned into the lines of thought towards which my personal tendencies most attracted me. German I continued to read with a master, and music, under the marvellously able teaching of Mr. John Farmer, musical director of Harrow School, took up much of my time. My dear mother had a passion for music, and Beethoven and Bach were her favorite composers. There was scarcely a sonata of Beethoven's that I did not learn, scarcely a fugue of Bach's that I did not master. Mendelssohn's "Lieder" gave a lighter recreation, and many a happy evening did we spend, my mother and I, over the stately strains of the blind Titan, and the sweet melodies of the German wordless orator. Musical "At Homes", too, were favorite amusements at Harrow, and at these my facile fingers made me a welcome guest.

A very pleasant place was Harrow to a light-hearted serious-brained girl. The picked men of the Schools of Oxford and Cambridge came there as junior masters, so that one's partners at ball and croquet and archery could talk as well as flirt. Never girl had, I venture to say, a brighter girlhood than mine. Every morning and much of the afternoon spent in eager earnest study: evenings in merry party or quiet home-life, one as delightful as the other. Archery and croquet had in me a most devoted disciple, and the "pomps and vanities" of the ballroom found the happiest of votaries. My darling mother certainly "spoiled" me, so far as were concerned all the small roughnesses of life. She never allowed a trouble of any kind to touch me, and cared only that all worries should fall on her, all joys on me. I know now what I never dreamed then, that her life was one of serious anxiety. The heavy burden of my brother's school and college-life pressed on her constantly, and her need of money was often serious. A lawyer whom she trusted absolutely cheated her systematically, using for his own purposes the remittances she made for payment of liabilities, thus keeping upon her a constant drain. Yet for me all that was wanted was ever there. Was it a ball to which we were going? I need never think of what I would wear till the time for dressing arrived, and there laid out ready for me was all I wanted, every detail complete from top to toe. No hand but hers must dress my hair, which, loosed, fell in dense curly masses nearly to my knees; no hand but hers must fasten dress and deck with flowers, and if I sometimes would coaxingly ask if I might not help by sewing in laces, or by doing some trifle in aid, she would kiss me and bid me run to my books or my play, telling me that her only pleasure in life was caring for her "treasure". Alas! how lightly we take the self-denying labor that makes life so easy, ere yet we have known what life means when the protecting mother-wing is withdrawn. So guarded and shielded had been my childhood and youth from every touch of pain and anxiety that love could bear for me, that I never dreamed that life might be a heavy burden, save as I saw it in the poor I was sent to help; all the joy of those happy years I took, not ungratefully I hope, but certainly with as glad unconsciousness of anything rare in it as I took the sunlight. Passionate love, indeed, I gave to my darling, but I never knew all I owed her till I passed out of her tender guardianship, till I left my mother's home. Is such training wise? I am not sure. It makes the ordinary roughnesses of life come with so stunning a shock, when one goes out into the world, that one is apt to question whether some earlier initiation into life's sterner mysteries would not be wiser for the young. Yet it is a fair thing to have that joyous youth to look back upon, and at least it is a treasury of memory that no thief can steal in the struggles of later life.

During those happy years my brain was given plenty of exercise. I used to keep a list of the books I read, so that I might not neglect my work; and finding a "Library of the Fathers" on the shelves, I selected that for one piéce de résistance. Soon those strange mystic writers won over me a great fascination, and I threw myself ardently into a study of the question: "Where is now the Catholic Church?". I read Pusey, and Liddon, and Keble, with many another of that school, and many of the seventeenth century English divines. I began to fast—to the intense disapproval of my mother, who cared for my health far more than for all the Fathers the Church could boast of—to use the sign of the cross, to go to weekly communion. Indeed, the contrast I found between my early Evangelical training and the doctrines of the Primitive Christian Church would have driven me over to Rome, had it not been for the proofs afforded by Pusey and his co-workers, that the English Church might be Catholic although non-Roman. But for them I should most certainly have joined the Papal Communion; for if the Church of the early centuries be compared with Rome and with Geneva, there is no doubt that Rome shows marks of primitive Christianity of which Geneva is entirely devoid. I became content when I found that the practices and doctrines of the Anglican Church could be knitted on to those of the martyrs and confessors of the early Church, for it had not yet struck me that the early Church might itself be challenged. To me, at that time, the authority of Jesus was supreme and unassailable; his apostles were his infallible messengers; Clement of Rome, Polycarp, and Barnabas, these were the very pupils of the apostles themselves. I never dreamed of forgeries, of pious frauds, of writings falsely ascribed to venerated names. Nor do I now regret that so it was; for, without belief, the study of the early Fathers would be an intolerable weariness; and that old reading of mine has served me well in many of my later controversies with Christians, who knew the literature of their Church less well than I.

To this ecclesiastical reading was added some study of stray scientific works, but the number of these that came in my way was very limited. The atmosphere surrounding me was literary rather than scientific. I remember reading a translation of Plato that gave me great delight, and being rather annoyed by the insatiable questionings of Socrates. Lord Derby's translation of the Iliad also charmed me with its stateliness and melody, and Dante was another favorite study. Wordsworth and Cowper I much disliked, and into the same category went all the 17th and 18th century "poets," though I read them conscientiously through. Southey fascinated me with his wealth of Oriental fancies, while Spencer was a favorite book, put beside Milton and Dante. My novel reading was extremely limited; indeed the "three volume novel" was a forbidden fruit. My mother regarded these ordinary love-stories as unhealthy reading for a young girl, and gave me Scott and Kingsley, but not Miss Braddon or Mrs. Henry Wood. Nor would she take me to the theatre, though we went to really good concerts. She had a horror of sentimentality in girls, and loved to see them bright and gay, and above all things absolutely ignorant of all evil things and of premature love-dreams. Happy, healthy and workful were those too brief years.