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The school plan, as might have been expected, failed. With the best resolutions, and, as it might seem, under the happiest auspices, he entered upon the field left vacant by the approaching retirement of his old master, Mr. Dawes, with whom he resided for some time, acting as his assistant in directing the studies of some almost grown-up youths preparing for college, “who loved him," it is said, “with a beautiful devotedness."
The lady, from whom I borrow this expression, draws his picture, as it was then for the first time presented to her, in the following terms:
“A numerous party had assembled one evening at Brathay Hall. Late in the evening I saw such a figure as I had never seen before glide noiselessly into the bright drawing room, small, dressed in black, with thick, long, raven hair almost on his shoulders, in such a manner as to fill up the space between, and to give the upper part of his form a peculiar preponderance over the lower. In his manner of approaching the lady of the house, his stiff, slow, silent bow, a sort of distressed shyness in his countenance, and a deprecating politeness, like that of the olden times, as I fancied it, and in his whole demeanour there was something strange and unusual. His humorous air of simplicity, his slow measured
being mentioned to Wordsworth, he strongly disapproved of it: 'It is far better for him,' said he, (we heard the words ourselves) 'to remain where he is—where everybody knows him, and everybody loves and takes care of him.'”—Gent. Mag., June, 1851.
words, and general eccentricity of manners and appearance, was at first a signal for merriment. But that evening," my correspondent * adds,“ was the beginning of an affection which existed between us in uninterrupted continuance as that of a brother for a young sister, and was on my part fed yet more by the beauties of his moral nature, than by my high appreciation of his intellect and his genius.”
Subsequently he went into lodgings, taking pupils first on his own account, and afterwards in conjunction with a Mr. Suart, a schoolmaster, part of whose house he occupied, and who, on the strength of this assistance, took larger premises, with a view to boarders—a step which eventually proved injurious to both parties, though, with characteristic generosity, my brother took the entire blame upon himself. Previous to this connexion (and perhaps for a short time afterwards), all appeared to go well. He even looked forward to taking holy orders,—but the worm was within. In a letter addressed to myself, in the year 1823, and dated Ambleside, May 2, he thus expresses himself :
Considering, indeed, my various and repeated failures, I have many, very many, grounds for thankfulness. I am now fixed in something like a profession, with the prospect of
* Now Mrs. Charles Fox, of Trebah, near Falmouth, who, with her mother, occupied, during the autumns of several years, a cottage beautifully situated on Grasmere Lake, in which my brother was a frequent and a welcome visitor.
taking orders in two years, should I then determine on that course, as is certainly my present intention. I have found more kindness, both here and elsewhere, than I have earned. I have been delivered-providentially delivered—when I was hopeless of delivering myself, and what is almost equal to all
- I cannot find that either my cares or my follies have materially diminished my bodily or intellectual vigour. I receive kind and cheerful letters from father and mother, and dear Sara. I am in no immediate pecuniary embarrassment, and need not fear for my future independence. All these are claims upon my gratitude. They do make me thankful, and they ought to make me cheerful—if that word 'ought' and ‘cheerful' have, indeed, any connexion. Why should I trouble you with my complaints—my blighted hopes, the premature winter of the soul ?"
Of his intention to enter holy orders, he presently repented as presumptuous. In a memorandum, dating some ten years afterwards, he thus records his feelings on this point :
“Every man who enters the ministry without a call, becomes a worse man than he would have been had he remained a layman. Thank God, I have not that sin to answer for; yet how near was I once leaping over the pales ! I do sincerely believe that the All Wise has suffered me to go astray in one path, as a judgment for my presumption in purposing to obtrude myself on another, that is most holy for those who are appointed thereto—most perilous and accursed to all others."
In a second letter, written in the following July, but in a more cheerful spirit, he says :
“ All this is very foolish gossip, and very unsuitable to my present mastigophoric dignities. I am sorry that A. has not been well or not happy. I trust that even now the cloud has passed away. That he should feel at times a want of inward strength, of faith, of hope, of fortitude, I rather lament than wonder. It is the common, perhaps the universal fine paid for the possession of extraordinary illumination, of lights not derived from the communicable intellect, of assurances which are of necessity their sole evidence. The mind that depends on these visitations stands in regard to the ordinary understanding as a dial to a clock; when enlightened it is certain, .when unenlightened it is useless. There are periods of doubt, of darkness, of temptation, when the soul is proved, when nothing but the love of God and of man remains to support it. It is then that we discover our strength and our weakness, our dependency on divine aid,—the imperative nature of divine truth. It is then that, by patience, we may prove victorious, and rise more safe than from no fall. You are not ignorant how severely I myself have been tried. I have sunk under the trial, yet not so as to have lost the power to hope against hope, to believe in spite of my own unbelief. When I review my past life, the soarings and stoopings of my spirit, the sad wreck of purposes and resolves that have perished almost before they were, and consider what I still am, and what power of spiritual growth still remains in me, I often blush for what I have been, but oftener shudder at what I might have been. I am now not happy, but I am at ease, I am content and I am cheerful. I have no hopes and not many wishes, and I have a strength within me, which is the more secure because I have learned not to confide in it.”
But school-keeping proved, as he had anticipated, too much for him. He was unable to maintain the necessary discipline. One by one his scholars were taken from him. As hope declined, his habits became less regular, and, after a struggle of four or five years, the undertaking was abandoned. Writing to his mother, in 1831, he says :
“Even while I had the school, and your letters were, for the most part, full of encouragement, I had a presentiment that it would never do, and therefore your commendations seemed like reproaches put out to interest. There is none of my delinquencies for which I feel so much remorse as for my foolish compliance with the advice of some well-meaning people who knew nothing of me, in consequence of which poor Suart was induced to embark in an undertaking ruinous to himself and injurious to his creditors.* For all the duties of a preceptor, except the simple communication of knowledge, I am as physically unfitted as dear papa for those of a horse-soldier. For a teacher who has to deal with females or young men, it may be sufficient if you can engage attention; but the master of school-boys must be able to command it, and this is a faculty not to be acquired. It depends upon the voice, the eye, and the nerve. Every hour that I spent with my pupils was passed in a state more nearly related to fear than to anything else. How, then, could I endure to be among unruly boys, from seven in the morning till eight or nine at night, to be responsible for actions which I could no more control than I could move a pyramid ? Strange it may be, but I have an instinctive horror of big boys,-perhaps derived from the persecution which I suffered from them when a little one. When I am at all unwell, which, I thank Heaven, is much seldomer than I have deserved, they are
* Mr. Suart, relying on the name and talent of his new associate, took a large house, as above mentioned, and endeavoured to establish a boarding school on a considerable scale. For the failure of this scheme my brother was not exclusively, or even mainly, responsible. It was owing to other causes, with which he had no connexion, and of which it is not necessary to give an account here.