|MY DAYS AND DREAM|
Edward Carpenter's Autobiography
|The Edward Carpenter Archive|
by Simon Dawson
My life hitherto [7th July 1890] divides into four pretty distinct periods - first, my early life up to the age of twenty during which time I lived mainly at Brighton, embedded in a would-be fashionable world which I hated; secondly, the period from '64 to about '74 during which time I was mostly at Cambridge, in a more or less intellectual atmosphere; thirdly, from '74 to '81, when I carried on the Extension lectures and made acquaintance with the manufacturing centres and commercial society of the North of England; and fourthly, for the ten years from '8o and '81 down to the present time, when I have lived almost entirely among the working masses, and been largely engaged in manual labour.
It may seem ungrateful to say so, but my abiding recollection of early days is one of discomfort. Not but that I had on the whole good times at school, in the classes and in the games; not but that at home I was lapped in the ease and attentive service of a well-to-do household, and had a hundred advantages denied to an ordinary child of the people; but that after all at home I never felt really at home. Perhaps I was unduly sensitive; anyhow I felt myself an alien, an outcast, a failure, and an object of ridicule.
The social life which encircled us at Brighton was artificial enough; but it was the standard which we children had to live to. My parents were the best people in the world, but they could not fly out of the conditions in which they belonged. I hated the life, was miserable in it - the heartless conventionalities, silly proprieties - but I never imagined, it never occurred to me, that there was any other life. To be pursued by the dread of appearances - what people would say about one's clothes or one's speech - to be always in fear of committing unconscious trespasses of invisible rules - this seemed in my childhood the normal condition of existence; so much so that I never dreamed of escaping from it. I only prayed for a time when grace might be given me to pass by without reproach. I was never a daring or rumbustious child. Timid and sensitive, my spirit was sadly lacking in the inestimable virtue of revolt. I suffered and was stupid enough to think myself in the wrong.
There was a curate at one of the churches to which we used to go - a smooth-haired, carefully shaven, meek young man, probably of feeble mind; but all I knew was that people praised him such a good-looking, well-mannered fellow he was, and preached such nice sermons! "Happy Mr. Cass," I used to think, for even now I remember his name - "Oh, happy Mr. Cass, if only I could be like you when I grow up." I was then about fourteen, and I fancy that the mere sight of Cass in his spotless surplice must have worked upon me, for it was about that time or a little later that I began to make up my mind to take Orders. No doubt from the first there was a fatal bias towards religion. I remember distinctly - and it must have been about the same period - thinking as I lay awake in bed at night that if the house were on fire I would save my prayer-book! I saw myself in my mind's eye in heroic attitude rushing into my mother's room where the sacred volume lay, and bearing it out through flames and smoke into the street. It was not my mother or sisters that I was going to save. . . but my prayer-book! Alas! what a defect of nature, or of teaching, must have been there!
Curious, the covered underground life that some children lead! I never remember, all those years at Brighton, till I was nineteen or twenty, a single person older than myself who was my confidant. I do not remember a single occasion on which in any trouble or perplexity I was able to go to any one for help or consolation. My mother, firm, just, and courageous as she was, and setting her children an heroic example, belonged to the old school, which thought any manifestation of feeling unbecoming. We early learned to suppress and control emotion, and to fight our own battles alone: in some ways a good training, but liable in the long run to starve the emotional nature. Masters at school in those days did not "draw boys out"; education was mainly a nipping of buds; older friends outside the family, who may so often play a useful part in the development of boy or girl life, never came - that I remember - to the rescue; and so my abiding recollection of all that time is one of silent concealment and loneliness.
Nevertheless of course there were joys. Though a town-house is not a congenial nursery for a child, yet we were comparatively fortunate. There was a large space at the back, where we kept, in succession, endless pets - pigeons, seagulls with clipped wings, rabbits, tortoises, guinea-pigs, and smaller fry (I was especially fond of an aquarium); while in front was the large garden of Brunswick Square, overrun, despite the efforts of the gardener and other authorities, by all the children of the surrounding houses. A fearfully active family, boys and girls, we kept a sort of proud superiority over the other children in running races, prisoners' base, etc. while inside the house, and for wet weather, we had a sport entirely our own, and which consisted in one pursuing the others up the front stairs and down the back stairs, or vice versa, with endless shrieks and uproar - a terrible affair, which nothing but the noblest self-sacrifice could have ever nerved our parents to endure! Also there was hide-and-seek in the dark, a grisly game, dangerous both to limbs and to furniture; and occasionally a battle of the giants - as when, on one occasion, an elder sister having with the greatest care built up a beautiful dummy man round a long smooth pole, my eldest brother came on the sly and drew the back bone out! Then there was earth-shaking conflict, which I, quite a small boy, witnessed from a distance, and with quaking limbs.
As to school life, I suppose it is a general experience that what one learns at school does not count for much. At the age of ten I began at the Brighton College. My eldest sister had taught me a little Latin grammar before that. My eldest brother Charlie was already at the College. He was a kind of hero there. At that time (or possibly a year or two later) he was easily first in everything. In mathematics, classics, foreign languages, in cricket, football, athletics - no matter what it was - he took all the prizes. Withal he was so friendly, so sociable, that he was a universal favorite; so generous and so humorous - so naturally full of fun and comedy - that I really think he disarmed all jealousy in others - nor felt a spark of jealousy or vanity in himself. Seldom I should think has there been such a boy; and when at the age of nineteen or twenty he took his final leave in order to join the Indian Civil Service, his memory lingered long and long behind him in the school. [Footnote 1]
My reception under those circumstances was naturally favorable. One day, shortly after my arrival, I was playing by myself in a corner of the entrance hall, when a big boy with a pleasant face came up to me and, making a suitable gesture, said, "Sweep up the Chips, sweep up the Chips." Then I knew that my nickname was Chips - a family nickname indeed, since my father and my brothers at different times bore it.
The College was a large school of 150 or 200 boys - on public school lines. I went through the classes in due order from the lowest upwards; and the personality of each master in turn impressed its unconscious weight upon me. I remember distinctly the agonized effort and the triumph of passing the "Asses' Bridge" in Euclid. The name of the master who got me over was Newton, and for some years I firmly believed that he was no other than the celebrated Sir Isaac. I joined in the games and athletics - and not without success, though I was never very partial to cricket; I climbed slowly up through the classes; I rubbed shoulders with all the queer, red-haired, pock-marked, fat, lean, mean, generous, handsome, clever, tyrannical, cross-eyed, gentle, good-natured, specimens of fellow humanity - the other boys - whose influence on one at that age is so strange and incalculable, and whose characters and deeds appear at the time so mysterious and inexplicable; though when one looks back upon them at a later date, they seem transparently clear and simple. I cannot remember anything very heroic that I did, though I can remember some mean things. I remember joining with the others in teasing the French master - that ever defenceless quarry; and I remember what was much worse, taking a kind of delight in privately tormenting an idiot boy. That was indeed a strange experience. I don't know why the boy was allowed in the school; he was certainly quite weak-minded and incapable; and besides there exhaled from him an odd and fearsome odour. That boy convulsed me with alternate rage and pity. At one moment I was seized with the greatest sympathy for his weakness, and the next I was filled with wrath at his odour and his idiocy, and found or invented excuses for slapping him! Then after that I would sometimes lie awake at night remorseful over my conduct, and planning little schemes of reparation; but in the morning the sight of him would launch me on the waves of irritation again. It was quite a little tragedy to me - and I mention it because this savage and instinctive dislike of anything malformed; which is so very marked in boys, no doubt accounts for much of their cruelty. It remains in the mind of course to a much later age, but is gradually covered over by the growth of sympathy and understanding. As a rule my better deeds were done in defence of the weak. Timid for the most part, I regained my courage on these occasions - as in delivering a small boy from a big bully; or once in sticking up for two brothers, the dirtiest and most stupid boys in the class, against the gibes of the master; or another time in helping a poor man m the street with his bundle - on which last occasion the said Sir lsaac Newton passing by, instead of scolding me as I expected, actually said, "That's right, my boy" - a remark for which I felt ever so grateful to him - for indeed I was feeling rather ashamed of myself.
I think that was about the only occasion on which a master exercised any directly helpful influence. Schools were odd places in those days. The idea of really reaching the boy and drawing out his interest seems never to have occurred to the masters. When I arrived in the Sixth Form, the Headmaster was a certain Dr. Griffith - a burly, headstrong, muddle-headed, perhaps rather good-natured man. As often as not he would arrive in the class-room late, with his hair a-tumble, and looking as if he had not slept all night, would complain that some naughty boy in the Fourth Form was preoccupying his mind, and would leave us again alone with our books. Then presently his study door would open, and he would push the said boy into the room, saying, "I wish one of you gentlemen would cane this boy," and throwing a cane in over the boy's head would close the door again. Once, drawing a handful of silver and gold out of his pocket, he asked me to cane a boy for him - and afterwards I felt sorry I had not accepted the bargain. I think he must have been a little touched in the head. It is certainly aggravating to think that we used to read Homer and Virgil and the Greek plays, and never that I remember was any attempt made to make us understand the subject or the plot or the literary interest of these works - nothing but grammar and syntax. As to mathematics the neglect was worse - and I left school at eighteen or nineteen having done nothing beyond Euclid and Algebra.
My record in the classes was on the whole, I suppose, good - though nothing remarkable. I gained the usual number of prizes, and kept about an equal interest in classics and mathematics. With regard to the former, my father - who had progressive ideas on such subjects - gave me a word for word crib to Horace, saying that the best way to learn a language was to use such a crib. Naturally after that I rejoiced in it freely in my preparation-work at home of an evening. But one day I could not resist taking it to school and showing it to some of my class-mates. Of course we were pounced upon, and the crib confiscated. The form-master at that time was E. C. Hawkins - a really fine type of man, father of Anthony Hope Hawkins the novelist. But when he asked me where I got the crib from, and I replied quite truthfully and simply "My father gave it me," he was struck dumb! He certainly thought I was lying, but could make no reply. And for a long time after that would hardly speak to me.
Cricket I never took to much. Being a bad player I voted it 'slow.' Probably it gave too much rope to my dreamy tendencies, and I got into trouble missing unexpected catches. But hockey and football I was fond of, and fives, as being more lively.
When I was about thirteen an event important to us children happened, which I must not pass by. My parents determined to spend a year in France, and they actually transported the whole household, nine children (i.e. all except my brother Charlie) and two servants, to Versailles. I remember only too well that awful night journey by Newhaven and Dieppe, the raging sea, the arrival drenched, the dim lights of the Customhouse, the cries of lost children, the journey by train to Paris and onwards. How my mother survived it I do not know. We settled in a house in the Avenue de Sceaux, amid barracks, and continual fanfaronades and trampings of military, near the great Palace with its endless galleries, and the Park with its fountains and music. All very exciting and delightful. And we found some good and friendly French neighbours. At first they did not the least understand our household. It never occurred to them for a moment that it was all one family, and for some time it was supposed that my father and mother kept a school! but when the truth at last dawned upon them, their delight and amazement knew no bounds, and we became the centre of the greatest interest. I and my younger brother, Alfred, went as day-boys to school at the Lycee Hoche (then Imperiale) - a great place of five hundred boys - where we learned French by sheer necessity. I do not think we learned much else. In the matter of lessons the instruction was much on a par with that at the Brighton school, and the playground life and social organization of the boys were far less pregnant of good influences.
I don't know how the Lycees are now, but at that time the school methods were only poor. The boys sat an outrageously long time at their desks - ten hours a day or more - either construing or preparing lessons; but got through very little work, spending most of their time in furtive games or conversations with each other. Everything was done in set and military style - marchings along corridors from classroom to class-room, or from class-room to refectory, or from refectory to playground. In the latter a master (always called 'pion') was present to see that there was no bullying, or to disperse knots of boys (who might of course be talking sedition) or to prevent individuals approaching the playground wall within a set distance (lest they should escape). The games were limited and regulated. Everything was regulated. It was said that the Minister of Education at Paris could at any hour of the day place his finger on the line of Virgil that was being translated, or the proposition of Geometry that was being proved at that moment in all the Lycees alike over the face of the land. One very curious custom prevailed, which has probably now gone out of date, but which had a strong suggestion about it of the Church system of Indulgences. At the end of the week the marks gained by each boy during the week were added up and announced by the master. Then those boys who were credited with more than a certain number of marks were told they might write out for themselves a certificate of satisfaction, good for exemption from one, two, or even three hours' punishment, according to circumstances! Great excitement prevailed. You cut yourself a neat square of paper, adorned it with lines and flourishes, and inscribed on it "Temoignage de Satisfaction - Eleve Carpenter - bonne une heure" - and left a space at foot for the signature of the master. When signed you treasured this up in your desk - and at some later date when the hour of punishment came, produced it, and unless your crime was very heinous were duly let off! It was a curious arrangement, but one which had perhaps the advantage of discouraging a boy from being too good - since obviously it would be a mistake to collect a greater number of such tickets than you were likely to make use of.
My brother and I, as day-boys, escaped a good deal of the general school routine and regulation, and on the whole had not a bad time. The boys received us decently, and as we could play leap-frog or prisoners' base (Les Barres) as well as any of them, paid us due respect; and one of the masters, Liandais by name, was quite kind and thoughtful towards me. Out of hours we careered through the woods of Satory, watched military evolutions on the plain above, or at dusk chased and caught the great stag-beetles - a thrilling joy. We wandered through the huge statue-adorned Park and the shady Bosquets of diamond-necklace celebrity, and learned swimming - as did also my sisters - in the fine open-air swimming bath, which used to be the bath of the pages of Louis XIV's Court. After a year thus spent, the family returned to England, and we boys to the Brighton College.
As I say, it is probably a common experience that mere school teaching does not leave a very deep impression. Probably a good deal really is learned - but these are the more indirect things which slip into the background or foundation of the mind and character and so pass comparatively unobserved. Only three or four subjects of interest stand out in my memory as belonging to my school-days, and these all lay outside school proper. The earliest of these was music. At the age of ten I desired mightily to learn the piano; but music was not considered appropriate for a boy - besides there were six sisters who had to be taught, poor things, whether they liked it or not - and so my appearance on the music stool was treated rather as an intrusion, and I was generally hustled off again forthwith. However I got my way by playing late of an evening, when they were all upstairs in the drawing-room; I never had any regular teaching, but my mother took pity on me and taught me my notes; and from that time I stumbled through the "Marche des Croates" and the "Nun's Prayer" till at last I emerged on the far borderland of Beethoven's Sonatas. This hour of piano practice to myself was for a long time one of the chief events of my day. Indeed, it is curious, but I took to composing, or attempting to compose, music before ever I thought of composing or attempting to compose poetry. Of course with a juvenile mind, and no musical training, nor even a particularly keen ear, my compositions were of no value, and I hardly ever troubled to write them out; still the habit of making up pianoforte pieces, and the love of doing so, continued all my life, and forced its way out from time to time. It is only in quite late years that, with more technical knowledge, I have written some of these down - perhaps twelve or twenty in all - and even occasionally thought of printing them.
Website Editor's Note - For more details of these musical compositions, including downloadable MP3 files of some of the piano pieces, see the separate web page Carpenter's Music.
I was also fortunate enough, when I was about fifteen, to come in for the reversion of a cupboard full of chemical apparatus, which had belonged to my eldest brother, and here in a little room with retorts and test-tubes I spent many a half-holiday, carrying out important experiments and prosecuting valuable inventions, which ended almost invariably in bad smells and worse headaches. Perpetual motion, as usual in such cases, was one of my chief objects; and I could not for the life of me tell why a solid cylinder of wood, placed with its axis horizontal in the side of a box containing water, and so carefully fitted that it would turn on its axis without allowing the water to run out, would not revolve perpetually - seeing indeed that the one half of it which was in the water, being lighter than water, would continually tend to rise, and the other half of it which was in the air would continually tend to fall. I invented an arrangement for the pianoforte after the Morse telegraphic system, by which extemporaneous effusions could be written down in the act of playing - an invention which luckily has not been generally adopted; and was engaged on various other little patents at different times. Sometimes I gave a lecture - though it must be confessed that it was with difficulty that any of the household could be induced to attend! The lecture was small, but the danger from explosions le horrible smells was great. My remarks were not very lucid or explanatory, but consisted mainly of expressions like "Now I will show you something else " or "You needn't be frightened, there is no danger." These investigations were however very absorbing and excited far more interest in my mind than anything I learned at school; and I remember that they led me to think quite seriously about being a doctor (I suppose from some vague notion about the connection between chemicals and medicine) - a profession which my father was inclined to recommend to me, and which I have sometimes regretted that I did not adopt.
Towards the later part of my time at Brighton the natural empanchement of youth led me often to seek consolation and an escape from the wounds of daily life in intercourse with Nature. The Brighton social life - with its greetings where no kindness is - was to me chilly in the extreme, and I often used in later years to feel that I "caught cold " (morally speaking) whenever I returned to it. The scenery and surroundings of Brighton are also bare and chilly enough; and trees, whose friendly covert I have always loved, do not exist there; but the place has two Nature-elements in it - and these two singularly wild and untampered - the Sea and the Downs. We lived within two hundred yards of the sea, and its voice was in our ears night and day. On terrific stormy nights it was a "grisly joy" to go down to the water's edge at 10 or 11 p.m. - pitchy darkness - feeling one's way with feet or hands, over the stony beach, hardly able to stand for the wind - and to watch the white breakers suddenly leap out of the gulf close upon one - the "scream of the madden'd beach dragged down by the wave," the booming of the wind, like distant guns, and the occasional light of some vessel laboring for its life in the surge. But the Downs were my favorite refuge. On sunny days I would' wander on over them for miles, not knowing very clearly where I was going - in a strange broody moony state - glad to find some hollow (like that described in Jefferies' Story of my Heart) where one could lie secluded for any length of time and see only the clouds and the grasses and an occasional butterfly, or hear the distant. bark of a dog or the far rumble of a railway train. The Downs twined themselves with all my thought and speculations of that time. Their chaste subdued gracious outlines and quiet colour have a peculiar charm. Their strongest line is generally some white edge of cliffs or curve of the shore itself, their deepest tint the blue of the sea or occasionally a field of red clover or one overgrown with charlock. For the rest they wear the faint blue-green colour of thin turf through. which the chalk almost shows. Over the velvety sward and among the fine herbage cropped by plentiful sheep run innumerable tiny flowers dwarfed by salt wind and scanty soil - thistles, whose shins rest on the ground out of which they grow; patches of sweet thyme which the wild bees love, of pink centaury and thrift and madder and dwarf-broom, and that sweet yellow lotus or bird's-foot trefoil, which runs all over the world, in Siberia and Alps and Himalayas the same, one of the commonest and friendliest of all the flowers that grow. Overhead the lark sings, the clouds drift through the untampered blue, the bee and the butterfly sweep past on the breeze. Three or four miles from Brighton, and one is in a world remote from man. Except an occasional shepherd there is hardly a human to be seen. Here and there in a hollow nestles the tiniest hamlet - an old farmhouse, one or two cottages, a dwarf church faced with rough work of flints, a few trees and a well. Taking its character from the sky - as all chalk and limestone countries largely do - this land has an ethereal beauty in summer weather; but on wintry and gray days it is monotonous and sad. The shepherd then huddles himself in his cloak in the lee of the gorse-bush, the cloudy rack drives over the backs of his sheep, line behind line the Downs stretch, colorless, unbroken by any hint of tree or habitation ; the wind whistles among the thin grass stems with a peculiar shrill and mournful pipe, and in its pauses the sullen and distant roar of the sea is heard.
How can I describe, how shall I not recall, the thoughts which came to me as I wandered, towards the close of my school time, over these same hills - the brooding ill-defined, half-shapen thoughts? The Downs were my escape; even in their most chill and lonely moods they were my escape from a worse coldness and loneliness, which, except for a few boy-friends at school, I somehow experienced during all that time. Nature was more to me, I believe, than any human attachment, and the Downs were my Nature. It was among them at a later time that I first began to write a few verses. But at the time I mention, and till quite the end of my school days, I never wrote anything at all. If the thought of writing had occurred to me I should have deemed it, in my then state of mind, monstrous presumption - but I doubt whether the thought ever did occur to me. I did not even read poetry. Mozart and Beethoven were familiar to me, but I must have been eighteen years old before I was roused to any interest in Tennyson (the poet of the day) by a lecture at school on "In Memoriam." After that I read "In Memoriam" and loved it well. This was followed (at Cambridge) by Wordsworth; and then by Shelley, who excited in me the same passionate attachment that he has excited in so many others. After that Whitman dominated me. I do not think any others of the poets - unless Plato should bear that name - have deeply influenced me.
As to friends - that absorbing subject - I can trace the desire for a passionate attachment in my earliest boyhood. But the desire had no expression, no chance of expression. Such things as affection were never spoken about either at home or at school, and I naturally concluded that there was no room for them in the scheme of creation! The glutinous boy-friendships that one formed in class-room or play-ground were of the usual type: they staved off a greater hunger, but they did not satisfy. On the other hand I worshipped the very ground on which some, generally elder, boys stood; they were heroes for whom I would have done anything. I dreamed about them at night, absorbed them with my eyes in the day, watched them at cricket, loved to press against them unnoticed in a football melly, or even to get accidentally hurt by one of them at hockey, was glad if they just spoke to me or smiled; but never got a word farther with it all. What could I say? Even to one of the masters, I remember, who was a little kind to me, I felt this unworded devotion; but he never helped me over the stile, and so I remained on the farther side.
I often think what a fund of romance, and of intense feeling, there is in this direction latent in so many boys and capable even of heroic expression - and how much will have to be done some day in the matter of directing and giving a constructive outlet to it. Already however there is a great difference in the tone of the public schools themselves on this subject, from what there was twenty-five or thirty years ago. The trouble in schools from bad sexual habits and frivolities arises greatly - though of course not altogether - from the suppression and misdirection of the natural emotions of boy-attachment. I, as a day boy, and one who happened to be rather pure-minded than otherwise, grew up quite free from these evils: though possibly it would have been a good thing if I had had a little more experience of them than I had. As it was, no elder person ever spoke to me about sexual matters - no mother, father, brother, monitor or master ever said a word. I picked up the usual information from the talk of my companions, and made up my own mind unbiased by any person or book. I suppose it was in consequence of this that I never saw anything repellent or shameful in sexual acts themselves. From the earliest time when I thought about these things they seemed to me natural - like digestion or any other function - and I remember wondering why people made such a fuss about the mention of them - why they told lies rather than speak the truth, why they were shocked, or why they giggled and stuffed handkerchiefs in their mouths. It was not till (at the age of twenty-five) I read Whitman - and then with a great leap of joy - that I met with the treatment of sex which accorded with my own sentiments.
Nevertheless though these desires were never to me unclean, yet during all that time of later boyhood and early university life they were strangely discounted by that other desire of the heart. I could not think much of sex while the hunger of the heart was unsatisfied - and that for the time being occupied all the foreground of my life. Indeed at times it threatened to paralyse my mental and physical faculties. It was like an open wound continually bleeding. I felt starved and unfed, and unable to rest in the chilling contacts of ordinary life. As to the usual attractions set before the eyes of middle-class youth, the hopeless, helpless young ladyisms, or the bolder beauties of the gutter, they were both a detestable boredom to me.
For indeed the life, and with it the character, of the ordinary “young lady” of that period, and of the sixties generally, was tragic in its emptiness. The little household duties for women, encouraged in an earlier and simpler age, had now gone out of date, while the modern idea of work in the great world was not so much as thought of. In a place like Brighton there were hundreds, perhaps, of house-holds, in which girls were growing up with but one idea in life, that of taking their “proper place in society.” A few meagre accomplishments - plentiful balls and dinner-parties, theatres and concerts - and to loaf up and down the parade, criticizing each other, were the means to bring about this desirable result! There was absolutely nothing else to do or live for. It is curious - but it shows the state of public opinion of that time - to think that my father, who was certainly quite advanced in his ideas, never for a moment contemplated that any of his daughters should learn professional work with a view to their living - and that in consequence he more than once drove himself quite ill with worry. Occasionally it happened that, after a restless night of anxiety over some failure among his investments, and of dread lest he should not be able at his death to leave the girls a competent income, he would come down to breakfast looking a picture of misery. After a time he would break out. “Ruin impended over the family,” securities were falling, dividends disappearing; there was only one conclusion - “the girls would have to go out as governesses.” Then silence and gloom would descend on the household. It was true; that was the only resource. There was only one profession possible for a middle-class woman - to be a governess - and to adopt that was to become a pariah. But in a little time affairs would brighten up again. Stocks went up, the domestic panic subsided; and dinner-parties and balls were resumed as usual.
As time went by, and I gradually got to know what life really meant, and to realize the situation, it used to make me intensely miserable to return home and see what was going on there. My parents of course were fully occupied, but for the rest there were six or seven servants in the house, and my six sisters had absolutely nothing to do except dabble in paints and music as aforesaid, and wander aimlessly from room to room to see if by any chance “anything was going on.” Dusting, cooking, sewing, darning - all light household duties were already forestalled; there was no private garden, and if there had been it would have been “unladylike” to do anything in it; every girl could not find an absorbing interest in sol-fa or water-colours; athletics were not invented; every aspiration and outlet, except in the direction of dress and dancing, was blocked; and marriage, with the growing scarcity of men, was becoming every day less likely, or easy to compass. More than once girls of whom I least expected it told me that their lives were miserable “with nothing on earth to do.” Multiply this picture by thousands and hundreds of thousands all over the country, and it is easy to see how, when the causes of the misery were understood, it led to the powerful growth of the modern “Women’s Movement.”
During my school-days, however, this tragedy had, so far as our household was concerned, hardly developed itself, or at any rate become at all serious; and a charming recollection of that period is that of my companionship with two of my elder sisters. With one of these - my sister Ellen, afterwards Mrs. Hyett - I used to go long country walks. She had an eye for landscape and animal painting, and sometimes brought her sketch-book with her. Occasionally on hired hacks we rode together over the Downs. Her mind had an adventurous outdoor quality about it; and our conversation turned mainly on what we saw on our explorations, and on speculations about foreign lands. The other sister (Lizzie, afterwards Lady Daubeney) was never much of a walker; but she stayed at home and played Beethoven’s Sonatas, and these were a continual delight to me. I stood quietly by and turned over the pages by the hour. The “Sonata Appassionata” was a dream of wonder. This sister had a highly poetic, sensitive temperament. When the younger ones of the family were children she told us absorbing fairy-tales. At the time I speak of she was the one in the household who gave to the atmosphere a touch of sympathy, tenderness and romance; which was of priceless value. As my mind expanded we even talked a little poetic philosophy together, and discussed Tennyson and Shakespeare.
My younger brother, Alfred, who was my school-fellow at the Lycee. at Versailles, went to the Brighton College with me (I joining for the second time) when the family returned to Brighton in 1858. But at an early age (fourteen) he joined the Navy, and after a preliminary year on board the Britannia training-ship, went away to sea. Consequently he was not so much at home during those early years. The sea-life suited him, I think. With a rather dare-devil temperament as a boy he was always getting into scrapes at school [Once, I remember, he had the brilliant idea of lighting a fire in his locker in the schoolroom, and then sitting, all innocence, on the seat - until the crackling of sticks and the curling smoke drew all eyes that way, and he was discovered like the phoenix in apparent peril of being consumed!] In the Navy, at an early period; he distinguished himself by saving life under risky circumstances. In one case a man had fallen overboard at night in the Tagus from another ship, and in the darkness was being swept by the current seawards past the Warrior, on which ship my brother was - when the latter, who was on deck at the time, jumped in to the rescue, at the same time calling to some of the bluejackets to man a boat arid follow. Of course he and the drowning man were immediately lost to sight in the gloom, and when the boat did get under weigh it was only by his distant shouts that its crew could be guided. The two men had drifted half a mile or more before they were picked up; but it was not too late, and their rescue was safely effected. In another case off the Falkland Isles he swam to the rescue of an ordinary seaman under even more perilous conditions, and for this act gained the Albert medal - which may be called the V.C. of life-saving medals.
At a later period [1875-76] my brother Alfred was lieutenant on board H.M.S. Challenger, and it was under his management that the deepest sounding effected up to that period was taken. He obtained 4,475 fathoms, or nearly 27,000 feet in the vicinity of the Ladrone Islands. After the Challenger he had several commands in China and elsewhere, including charge of the Marine Survey of India; and as commander of the Investigator he spent several years surveying and making charts of the coasts of India and the Andaman Islands. In 1885 in connection with the Burmese expedition against King Thebaw, the important duty was assigned to him of leading the War Flotilla up the river Irrawaddy. As an officer he was well liked, being considerate of the men under him, but firm in their management, and in moments of danger plucky and reliable. [Footnote 2]
Such, roughly summed together, are the main outlines of my early days - full after all of tenderest recollections. A large family is a roughish training school, but it is a valuable one. Over-sensitive and of a clinging disposition by nature, I early learned the profound lessons of suffering and of self-dependence. My spirit concentrated itself, and partially overcame its inherent vagueness and weakness in years of silence. The tension of those early days, the unexpressed hatred which I felt, though I did not understand it, for the social conditions in which I was born, was destined, when its meaning gradually realized itself in my consciousness to become one of the great directing forces of my after life.