« VorigeDoorgaan »
circle, and I was sometimes invited to repeat them even out of it. I never committed a line to paper, for two reasons; first, because I had no paper; and secondly-perhaps I might be excused from going farther-but in truth I was afraid, as my master had already threatened me, for inadvertently hitching the name of one of his customers into a rhyme.
The repetitions of which I speak were always attended with applause, and sometimes with favours more substantial: little collections were now and then made, and I have received sixpence in an evening. To one who had long lived in the absolute want of money, such a resource seemed a Peruvian mine: I furnished myself by degrees with paper, &c., and, what was of more importance, with books of geometry, and of the higher branches of algebra, which I cautiously concealed. Poetry, even at this time, was no amusement of mine: it was subservient to other purposes; and I only had recourse to it when I wanted money for my mathematical pursuits.
But the clouds were gathering fast: my master's anger was raised to a terrible pitch by my indifference to his concerns, and still more by the reports which were daily brought to him of my presumptuous attempts at versification. I was required to give up my papers, and when I refused, my garret was searched, and my little hoard of books discovered and removed, and all future repetitions prohibited in the strictest manner.
This was a very severe stroke, and I felt it most sensibly: it was followed by another, severer still-a stroke which crushed the hopes I had so long and so fondly cherished, and resigned me at once to despair. Mr. Hugh Smerdon, on succeeding whom I had calculated, died, and was succeeded by a person not much older than myself, and certainly not so well qualified for the situation.
I look back on that part of my life which immediately followed this event with little satisfaction; it was a period of gloom and savage unsociability: by degrees I sunk into a kind of corporeal torpor; or, if roused into activity by the spirit of youth, wasted the exertion in splenetic and vexatious tricks, which alienated the few acquaintances which compassion had yet left me. So I crept on in silent discontent, unfriended and unpitied, indignant at the present, careless of the future, an object at once of apprehension and dislike.
From this state of abjectness I was raised by a young woman of my
own class. She was a neighbour; and whenever I took my solitary walk, with my Wolfius' in my pocket, she usually came to the door, and by a smile, or a short question put in the friendliest manner, endeavoured to solicit my attention. My heart had been long shut to kindness, but the sentiment was not dead in me: it revived at the first encouraging word; and the gratitude I felt for it was the first pleasing sensation which I had ventured to entertain for many dreary
Together with gratitude, hope, and other passions still more enlivening, took place of that uncomfortable gloominess which so lately possessed me: I returned to my companions, and by every winning art in my power strove to make them forget my former repulsive ways. In this I was not unsuccessful; I recovered their good-will, and by degrees grew to be somewhat of a favourite.
My master still murmured, for the business of the shop went on no better than before: I comforted myself, however, with the reflection that my apprenticeship was drawing to a conclusion, when I determined to renounce the employment for ever, and to open a private school.
In this humble and obscure state, poor beyond the common lot, yet flattering my ambition with day-dreams which perhaps would never have been realized, I was found in the 20th year of my age by Mr. William Cookesley, a name never to be pronounced by me without veneration. The lamentable doggerel which I have already mentioned, and which had passed from mouth to mouth among people of my own degree, had by some accident or other reached his ear, and given him a curiosity to inquire after the author.
It was my good fortune to interest his benevolence. My little history was not untinctured with melancholy, and I laid it fairly before him his first care was to console; his second, which he cherished to the last moment of his existence, was to relieve and support me.
Mr. Cookesley was not rich: his eminence in his profession, which was that of a surgeon, procured him, indeed, much employment; but in a country town men of science are not the most liberally rewarded: he had, besides, a very numerous family, which left him little for the purposes of general benevolence: that little, however, was cheerfully bestowed, and his activity and zeal were always at hand to support the deficiencies of his fortune.
On examining into the nature of my literary attainments, he found them absolutely nothing: he heard, however, with equal surprise and pleasure, that, amidst the grossest ignorance of books, I had made a very considerable progress in the mathematics. He engaged me to enter into the details of this affair; and, when he learned that I had made it in circumstances of peculiar discouragement, he became more warmly interested in my favour, as he now saw a possibility of serving me.
The plan that occurred to him was naturally that which had so often suggested itself to me. There were indeed several obstacles to be overcome: I had eighteen months yet to serve; my handwriting was bad, and my language very incorrect; but nothing could slacken the zeal of this excellent man; he procured a few of my poor attempts at rhyme, dispersed them amongst his friends and acquaintance, and, when my name was become somewhat familiar to them, set on foot a subscription for my relief. I still preserve the original paper; its title was not very magnificent, though it exceeded the most sanguine wishes of my heart: it ran thus, "A subscription for purchasing the remainder of the time of William Gifford, and for enabling him to improve himself in writing and English grammar." Few contributed more than five shillings, and none went beyond ten-and-sixpence : enough, however, was collected to free me from my apprenticeship, and to maintain me for a few months, during which I assiduously attended the Rev. Thomas Smerdon.
At the expiration of this period, it was found that my progress (for I will speak the truth in modesty) had been more considerable than my patrons expected: I had also written in the interim several little pieces of poetry, less rugged, I suppose, than my former ones, and certainly with fewer anomalies of language. My preceptor, too, spoke favourably of me; and my benefactor, who was now become my father and my friend, had little difficulty in persuading my patrons to renew their donations, and to continue me at school for another year. liberality was not lost upon me; I grew anxious to make the best return in my power, and I redoubled my diligence. Now that I am sunk into indolence, I look back with some degree of scepticism to the exertions of that period.
In two years and two months from the day of my emancipation, I was pronounced by Mr. Smerdon fit for the University. The plan of
opening a writing-school had been abandoned almost from the first; and Mr. Cookesley looked round for some one who had interest enough to procure me some little office at Oxford. This person, who was soon found, was Thomas Taylor, Esq., of Denbury, a gentleman to whom I had already been indebted for much liberal and friendly support. He procured me the place of Bib. Lect. at Exeter College; and this, with such occasional assistance from the country as Mr. Cookesley undertook to provide, was thought sufficient to enable me to live, at least till I had taken a degree.
60. THE STORY OF RICHARD PLANTAGENET. [There is an old tradition that Richard III. had a natural son, whom he caused to be carefully educated, and to whom he discovered himself on the night before the battle which lost him his life and his crown. The story was first made known in a letter, printed in 'Peck's Desiderata Curiosa,' from Dr. Thomas Brett to Dr. William Warren, which letter was written in 1733.]
* * * * Now for the story of Richard Plantagenet. In the year 1720 (I have forgot the particular day, only remember it was about Michaelmas) I waited on the late Lord Heneage, Earl of Winchelsea, at Eastwell-house, and found him sitting with the register of the parish of Eastwell lying open before him. He told me, that he had been looking there to see who of his own family were mentioned in it. But, says he, I have a curiosity here to show you, and then showed me, and I immediately transcribed it into my almanack, " Richard Plantagenet was buried the 22nd day of December, anno ut supra, Ex Registro de Eastwell, sub anno, 1550." This is all the register mentions of him; so that we cannot say, whether he was buried in the church or churchyard; nor is there now any other memorial of him except the tradition in the family, and some little marks where his house stood. The story my lord told me was this:
When Sir Thomas Moyle built that house (Eastwell Place), he observed his chief bricklayer, whenever he left off work, retired with a book. Sir Thomas had curiosity to know what book the man read, but was some time before he could discover it, he still putting the book up if any one came towards him. However, at last Sir Thomas
surprised him, and snatched the book from him, and, looking into it, found it to be Latin. Hereupon he examined him, and, finding he pretty well understood that language, inquired how he came by his learning: hereupon, the man told him, as he had been a good master to him, he would venture to trust him with a secret he had never before revealed to any one. He then informed him, that he was boarded with a Latin school-master, without knowing who his parents were, till he was fifteen or sixteen years old; only a gentleman (who took occasion to acquaint him he was no relation of his) came once a quarter, and paid for his board, and took care to see that he wanted nothing. And one day this gentleman took him, and carried him to a fine great house, where he passed through several stately rooms, in one of which he left him, bidding him stay there.
Then a man, finely dressed, with a star and garter, came to him, asked him some questions, talked kindly to him, and gave him some money. Then the fore-mentioned gentleman returned, and conducted him back to his school.
Some time after, the same gentleman came to him again, with a horse and proper accoutrements, and told him he must take a journey with him into the country. They went into Leicestershire, and came to Bosworth field; and he was carried to King Richard III.'s tent. The king embraced him, and told him he was his son. "But, child," says he, "to-morrow I must fight for my crown. And, assure yourself, if I lose that I will lose my life too: but I hope to preserve both. Do you stand in such a place (directing him to a particular place), where you may see the battle, out of danger. And when I have gained the victory come to me; I will then own you to be mine, and take care of you. But, if I should be so unfortunate as to lose the battle, then shift as well as you can, and take care to let nobody know that I am your father; for no mercy will be showed to any one so nearly related to me." Then the king gave him a purse of gold, and dismissed him.
He followed the king's directions; and, when he saw the battle was lost, and the king killed, he hasted to London, sold his horse and fine clothes, and, the better to conceal himself from all suspicion of being son to a king, and that he might have means to live by his honest labour, he put himself apprentice to a bricklayer. But, having a competent skill in the Latin tongue, he was unwilling to lose it;