Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

When we came to the house, which was in Soho-square, wo discovered that it was indeed the man, the identical Matravis, who had done all that mischief in times past—but not in a condition to excite any other sensation than pity in a heart more hard than Allan's.

Intense pain had brought on a delirium-we perceived this on first entering the room--for the wretched man was raving to himself-talking idly in mad unconnected sentences, that yet seemed, at times, to have reference to past facts.

One while he told us his dream. "He had lost his way on a great heath, to which there seemed no end-it was cold, cold, cold-and dark, very dark--an old woman in leadingstrings, blind, was groping about for a guide ;" and then he frightened me, for he seemed disposed to be jocular, and sang a song about " an old woman clothed in gray,” and said “he did not believe in a devil.”

Presently he bid us "not tell Allan Clare.” Allan was hanging over him at that very moment, sobbing. I could not resist the impulse, but cried out, “ This is Allan Clare-Allan Clare is come to see you, my dear sir.” The wretched man did not hear me, I believe, for he turned his head away, and began talking of charnel-houses and dead inen, “ whether they knew anything that passed in their coffina."

Matravis died that night.

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

To comfort the desponding parent with the thought that, without diminishing the stock which is imperiously demanded to furnish the more pressing and homely wants of our nature, he has disposed of one or more perhaps out of a numerous offspring, under the shelter of a care scarce less tender than the paternal, where not only their bodily cravings shall be supplied, but that mental pabulum is also dispensed, which He hath declared to be no less necessary to our sustenance who said, that “not by bread alone man can live ;" for this Christ's Hospital unfolds her bounty. Here neither, on the one hand, are the youth lifted up above their family, which we must suppose liberal, though reduced ; nor, on the other hand, are they liable to be depressed below its level by the mean habits and sentiments which a common charity-school generates. It is, in a word, an institution to keep those who have yet held up their heads in the world from sinking; to keep alive the spirit of a decent household, when poverty was in danger of crushing it; to assist those who are the most willing, but not always the most able, to assist themselves; to separate a child from his family for a season, in order to render him back hereafter with feelings and habits more congenial to it than he could have attained by remaining at home in the bosom of it. It is a preserving and renovating principle, an antidote for the res angusta domi, when it presses, as it always does, most heavily upon the most ingenuous natures.

This is Christ's Hospital; and whether its character would be improved by confining its advantages to the very lowest of the people, let those judge who have witnessed the looks, the gestures, the behaviour, the manner of their play with one another, their deportment towards strangers, the whole aspect and physiognomy of that vast assemblage of boys on the Lon29

P

don foundation, who freshen and make alive again with their sports the else mouldering cloisters of the old Gray Friars— which strangers who have never witnessed, if they pass through Newgate-street, or by Smithfield, would do well to go a little out of their way to see.

For the Christ's Hospital boy feels that he is no charity-boy; he feels it in the antiquity and regality of the foundation to which he belongs; in the usage which he meets with at school, and the treatment he is accustomed to out of its bounds; in the respect, and even kindness, which his well-known garb never fails to procure him in the streets of the metropolis ; he feels it in his education, in that measure of classical attain

rents, which every individual at that school, though not des- Ded to a learned profession, has it in his power to procure; atainments, which it would be worse than folly to put it in the roach of the labouring classes to acquire : he feels it in the numberless comforts, and even magnificences, which surrounded him; in his old and awful cloisters, with their traditions in his spacious schoolrooms, and in the well-ordered, airy, and lofty rooms where he sleeps ; in his stately dining-hall, hung round with pictures, by Verrio, Lely, and others, one of them surpassing in size and grandeur almost any other in the kingdom ;* above all, in the very extent and magnitude of the body to which he belongs, and the consequent spirit, the intelligence, and public conscience, which is the result of so many various yet wonderful combining members. Compared with this last-named advantage, what is the stock of information, (I do not here speak of book-learning, but of that knowledge which boy receives from boy,) the mass of collected opinions, the intelligence in common, among the few and nar row members of an ordinary boarding-school.

The Christ's Hospital or blue-coat boy has a distinctive character of his own, as far removed from the abject qualities of a common charity-boy as it is from the disgusting forwardness of a lad brought up at some other of the public schools. There is pride in it, accumulated from the circumstances which I have described as differencing him from the former ; and there is a restraining modesty, from a sense of obligation and dependance, which must ever keep his deportment from assimilating tc that of the latter. His very garb, as it is ancique and venerable, feeds his self-respect; as it is a badge of dependance, it restrains the natural petulance of that age from breaking out into overt acts of insolence. This produc es silence and a reserve before strangers, yet not that cowardly shyness which boys mewed up at home will feel, he will speak up when spoken to, but the stranger must begin the co .versation with him. Within his bounds he is all fire and play ; but in the streets he steals along with all the self-concentration of a young monk. He is never known to mix with other boys, they are a sort of laity to him. All this proceeds, I have no doubt, from the continual consciousness which he carries about him of the difference of his dress from that of the rest of the world ; with a modest jealousy over himself, lest, by overhastily mixing with common and secular playfellows, he should commit the dignity of his cloth. Nor let any one laugh at this; for considering the propensity of the multitude, and especially of the small multitude, to ridicule anything unusual in dress-above all, where such peculiarity may be construed by malice into a mark of disparagement-this reserve will appear to be nothing more than a wise instinct in the bluecoat boy. That it is neither pride nor rusticity, at least that it has none of the offensive qualities of either, a stranger may soon satisfy himself by putting a question to any of these boys : he may be sure of an answer couched in terms of plain civility, neither loquacious nor embarrassed. Let him put the same question to a parish-boy, or to one of the trencher-caps in the cloisters, and the impudent reply of the one shall not fail to exasperate any inore than the certain servility, and mercenary eye to reward, which he will meet with in the other, can fail to depress and sadden him.

* By Verrio, representing James the Second on his throne, surrounded by his courtiers, (all curious portraits,) receiving the mathematical pupils at theo anual presentation, a custom still kept up on Newyear's day at court.

The Christ's Hospital boy is a religious character. His school is eminently a religious foundation ; it has its peculiar prayers, its services at set times, its graces, hymns, and anthems, following each other in an almost monastic closeness of succession. This religious character in him is not always untinged with superstition. That is not wonderful, when we consider the thousand tales and traditions which must circulate, with undisturbed credulity, anong so many boys, that have so few checks to their belief from any intercourse with the world at large ; upon whom their equals in age must work so much, their elders so little. With this leaning towards an over-belief in matters of religion, which will soon correct itself when he comes out into society, may be classed a turn for romance above most other boys. This is to be traced in the same manner to their excess of society with each other, and defect of mingling with the world. Hence the peculiar avidity with which such books as the Arabian Nights Entertainments, and others of a still wilder cast, are, or at least were in my time, sought for by the boys. I remember when some

What gave

half dozen of them set off from school, without map, card, o. compass, on a serious expedition to find out Philip Quarll's Island.

The Christ's Hospital boy's sense of right and wrong 18 peculiarly tender and apprehensive. It is even apt to run out into ceremonial observances, and to impose a yoke upon itself beyond the strict obligations of the moral law. Those who were contemporaries with me at that school thirty years ago, will remember with what more than Judaic rigour the eating of the fat of certain boiled meats* was interdicted. A boy would have blushed as at the exposure of some heinous immorality, to have been detected eating that forbidden portion of his allowance of animal food, the whole of which, while he was in health, was little more than sufficient to allay his hunger. The same, or even greater, refinement was shown in the rejection of certain kinds of sweet-cake. rise to these supererogatory penances, these self-denying ordinances, I could never learn ;t they certainly argue no defect of the conscientious principle. A little excess in that article is not undesirable in yonth, to make allowance for the inevitable waste which comes in maturer years.

But in the less ambiguous line of duty, in those directions of the moral feelings which cannot be mistaken or depreciated, I will relate what took place in the year 1785, when Mr. Perry, the steward, died. I must be pardoned for taking my instances from my own times. Indeed, the vividness of my recollections, while I am upon this subject, almost bring back those times ; they are present to me still. But I believe that in the years which have elapsed since the period which I speak of, the character of the Christ's Hospital boy is very

little changed. Their situation, in point of many comforts, is improved; but that which I ventured before to term the public conscience of the school, the pervading moral sense, of which every mind partakes, and to which so many individual minds contribute, remains, I believe, pretty much the same as when I left it. I have seen within this twelvemonth almost the change which has been produced upon a boy of eight or nine years

of age, upon being admitted into that school; how, from a pert young coxcomb, who thought that all knowledge was comprehended within his shallow brains, because a sinattering of

* Under the denomination of gags.

+ I am told that the late steward, (Mr. Hathaway,] who evinced on many occasions a most praiseworthy anxiety to promote the comfort of the boys, had occasion for all his address and perseverance to eradicate the first of these unfortunate prejudices, in which he at length happily succeeded, and thereby restored to one half of the animal nutrition of the school those honours which painful superstition and blind zeal had so long conspired to withhold from it.

« НазадПродовжити »