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CONFESSIONS OF A SELF
My father was a doctor in a country town. Strictly speaking it was not a town, and yet it was something more than a village. His practice extended over a district with a radius of five or six miles from his house; he drove a gig and dispensed his own medicines. My mother was the youngest daughter of a poor squire who owned two or three hundred acres and lived at what was called the Park, which was really nothing more than two or three fields generally laid for hay, a small enclosure being reserved for a garden. We were not admitted into county society, and my mother would not associate with farmers and tradesfolk. She was a good woman, affectionate to her children and husband, but never forgot that
-so she thought-she had married below her station. She had an uncle who had been in the Indian Army, and his portrait in
full regimentals hung in the dining-room. How her heart warmed to the person who inquired who that officer was! When she went home, it was never to her 'home,' but to the Park.'
My father's income was not more than eight or nine hundred a year, and his expenses were heavy, but nevertheless my mother determined that I should go to the university, and I was accordingly sent to a grammar school. I had not been there more than three years, and was barely fourteen years old, when my father was pitched out of his gig and killed. He had insured his life for two thousand pounds, which was as much as he could afford, and my mother had another two thousand pounds of her own. Her income therefore was less than two hundred a year. She could not teach, she would not let lodgings, nor was she wanted at the Park. She therefore took a cottage, small but genteel, at a rental of ten pounds a year, and managed as best she could. The furniture was partly sold, but the regimental portrait was saved. Unhappily, as the cottage ceilings were very low, it was not an easy task to hang it. The only place to be found for it, out of the way of the chairs,
was opposite the window, in a parlour about twelve feet square, called the drawing-room; but it was too long even there, and my great uncle's legs descended behind the sofa, and could not be seen unless it was moved. The cottage is a shocking comedown,' said my mother to the rector, 'but it is not vulgar; it is at least a place in which a lady can live.' Of course the university was now out of the question, and at fifteen I left school. I had read a little Virgil, a little Horace, and a book or two of Homer. I had also got through the first six books of Euclid after a fashion, and had advanced as far as quadratic equations in algebra, but had no mathematical talent whatever. My mother would not hear of trade as an occupation for me, and she could not afford to make me a soldier, sailor, doctor, lawyer, or parson. At last the county member, at the request of her father, obtained for me a clerkship in the Stamps and Taxes Department. These were the days before competitive examinations. She was now able to say that her son was in H.M. Civil Service. I had eighty pounds a year, and lodged at Clapton with an aunt, my father's sister.
Although I had been only half-educated,
I was fond of reading, and I had plenty of time for it. I read good books, and read them with enthusiasm. I was much taken with the Greek dramatists, especially with Euripides, but my only means of access to them was through translations. My aunt had another nephew who came to see her now and then. He had obtained an open exhibition at Oxford, and one day I found that he had a Greek Euripides in his pocket, and that he needed little help from a dictionary. He sometimes brought with him a college friend, and well do I remember a sneer from this gentleman about the poor creatures whose acquaintance with Eschylus was derived from Potter. I did not look at a translation again for some time.
The men at my office were a curious set. The father of one was a leader of the lowest blackguards in a small borough, who had much to do with determining elections there; another bore the strongest resemblance to a well-known peer; and another was the legitimate and perfectly scoundrel offspring of a newspaper editor. I formed no friendships with any of my colleagues, but one of them I greatly envied. He was deaf and dumb, the son of a poor clergy
man, and had an extraordinary passion for botany. Every holiday was devoted to rambling about the country near London. He cared little for anything but his favourite science, but that he understood, and he never grew tired of it. I took no account of his deafness and dumbness; the one thing I saw was his mastership over a single subject. Gradually my incompleteness came to weigh on me like a nightmare. I imagined that if I had learned any craft which required skill, I should have been content. I was depressed when I looked at the watchmaker examining my watch. I should have walked the streets erect if there had been one thing which I could do better than anybody I met. There was nothing I stood for nothing: no purpose was intended by God through me. I was also constitutionally inaccurate this was another of my troubles-and nothing short of the daily use of a fact made me sure of it. No matter how zealously I went over and over again a particular historical period, I always broke down the moment my supposed acquisitions were tested by questions or conversation. I have read a book with the greatest attention I could muster, and have found, when I have