I have been turning out more old letters, and among other papers with other memories and connected with other times I found this fragment of what was evidently intended to be an autobiography of a long life. As a sketch of a little boy's life nearly seventy years ago, with its allusions to foreign lands and customs now nearly extinct, I think it is not entirely devoid of interest. I omit an account given of the writer's family, the story of his father and mother, and his own birth in Switzerland:
'My early youth was passed in many different places, but I have not much recollection of them. One season we had a house in Hereford Street, Park Lane - a site now occupied by Hereford Gardens. I remember cows being milked for purchasers in Hyde Park, and Blacks playing the cymbals in the bands of the Guards.
'When very young we went to Scotland, where my father, who was very devoted to every sort of sport, enjoyed his life immensely. Those days were before the railway period, and an Englishman in Scotland was a comparatively rare person.
'Whilst I was in Edinburgh I went with my brother Augustus to a large day-school called the Circus Place School. It was attended by boys and girls of every class that could afford to pay the fees, and the little Scotch roughs used rather to bully us two English lads. My dear mother, in her anxiety that we should not catch cold by walking to school in the snow and sitting with wet feet, used to send us there on bad days - of which there were a good many in that abominable climate - in a Sedan chair, the customary conveyance at that time in Edinburgh. I shall never forget the jeers with which we were greeted when, on arriving at the school, the chair was opened by lifting up the top to release the door, and we were shot out spick and span among the crowd of little hardy brats who had trudged with their satchels on their backs through the snow-slush which our mother so dreaded for us!
'At this time I remember "Pickwick" coming out in monthly numbers and my father's anxiety for their appearance as the month's end approached.
'Another subject of recollection is the efforts that were made to get franks for letters from Members of Parliament. The penny postage had not then been invented, and my impression is that a letter to London from Scotland was charged a shilling. I do not know how many franks a day a Member had, but I think there was a limit. If he did not require his full allowance for his own correspondence he used to oblige his friends by signing his name on an envelope, as a Secretary of State does now, and handing it to his applicant. It did not seem to occur to anyone that the privilege was given to facilitate a Member's official correspondence, and that handing it on to others was an abuse of it.
'Whilst in Paris Augustus and I attended a little day-school of French boys. It was in a small street somewhere near the Eue St. Honoré. The great pumpkins then so much used in the poorer parts of Paris, exhibited outside the little shops partly cut and showing their yellow flesh, are among the recollections of those daily walks to and from school.
'We used to have our midday meal at the school, and I have grim memories of the Friday maigre dinner, with a sour bonne femme soup which did not please our British beef- and mutton-trained appetites. But what do I not owe to the admirable woman who assisted her husband in his educational duties, and who stood over Augustus and myself while with rigorous efforts she endeavoured to convert our pronunciation of the French word for bread from "pang" to "pain"! How persistent she was, that dear conscientious Frenchwoman! How often, with repeated and exaggerated aspiration of the final "n," did she drive into our unaccustomed ears the proper sound of that much (by Britons) murdered monosyllable! And she succeeded at last, and broke the neck of our initial difficulties in French pronunciation. I think I was nine years old at this time; but the gloomy little garden, with a horizontal gymnastic pole, and the parallel bars under the one Lime-tree, the whole screened off from the next-door estate by an ivy-covered trellis, are present to my sight.
'I have no recollection whatever of the journey from Paris to Tours. We children, with the tutor and servants, must have made it by diligence, and perhaps my remembrance of it has been obscured by the more vivid impressions of the joys or the sufferings - the difference depending upon which direction I was going in - of the same journey several times performed on my way to and from a school at Paris which I will refer to later on.
'The house my father had taken at Tours was called the "Grands Capucins" - I believe, from being a house of retreat or "pleasaunce" house belonging to a Capucin monastery. And surely no monks, skilful as they were in the selection of localities, ever chose a more charming spot for a small villa-like residence where they could retire from the austerities and the duties of the convent.
'situated on the heights which rise on the right bank of the Loire at this point in its course, and immediately over the little faubourg of Tours, St. Symphorien, it commanded an extensive and beautiful view of the river, the town of Tours, and the rich plains to the south watered by the rivers Cher and Indre. The grounds, I fancy, were in extent about five acres, but there were vineyards and other appurtenances belonging to the estate, though not comprised in the lease, which made an almost boundless playground for children, and were so varied by terraces, caves in the side of the hill, and other strange incidents of site, that a great excitement was lent to the games of mimic wars and surprises at which we were constantly playing. There was a large tank under one side of the old house - you descended to it by steps from the garden - and armed with candles, for it was pitch-dark, and provided with planks, we used to embark on its water and navigate the mysterious cavern - an amusement that led to wet feet and friction with Mrs. Hunt, the old nurse, in consequence.