CHAPTER VI. 1844...
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1844--My First Trip to England--France--Scotland--Switzerland--Up the Rhine--Englishmen Abroad.
IN the year 1844, when I was a little over eighteen years of age, I made up my mind, with the consent of my guardians, to visit England.
One's first long sea voyage is full of excitement, but long sea voyages have been too often written about to be any longer interesting. I think the only time in my life that I was in a mood to envy smokers was at sea. They certainly have one more pleasure than falls to the lot of non-smokers.
On approaching the shores of England, it can easily be understood that I was all expectation to discover how far my relations and friends in the colony were trustworthy in their description of the beauties and attractions of the Mother country. On entering the the river Thames, we soon became lost in a fleet of vessels of every size and rig, and, proceeding a little further up the river, a new world indeed seemed to be revealing itself. On entering the London docks, one was bewildered by the multiplicity of vessels and the multitudes of men to be seen in every direction. Leaving the ship we plunged into chaos, succeeding finally in getting ourselves comfortably put up at a good old-fashioned city hotel, where we waited patiently until our friends, warned of our arrival, came to our rescue. I had not long to wait. My brother, much grown and otherwise altered since he left Australia, soon turned up. He looked me up and down with a curious expression of face, asked me who my tailor was, and promised to see to the clothing of my outer man without loss of time. Having done me this service, on the following day, he was good enough, when he saw me in well-cut clothes of the period, to say, "I think now you might, on a dark night, slip through a crowd without attracting much attention."
After spending a few weeks in London, I went into the country, quartering myself upon a Northamptonshire farmer, with the professed object of gaining some practical knowledge of English agriculture.
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One of the sights in the country new to me and interesting was a hunt. I occasionally went to see the hounds throw off. This is a sport that gives pleasure to a large section of country people. The day may come when men will have grown too wise, too serious, too sober, too much in earnest in pursuit of business to take pleasure in it, but I am inclined to think that that day is far distant.
On my leaving country quarters, I made up my mind to join my sister and her husband, who had quite recently come over from Australia, and had gone to stay some months in Paris. I entered France by way of Havre, thence to Rouen, where I staid a few days, and on to Paris where I lived two or three months. The first sight that struck me as noticeable on foreign soil was a fight, in which three men were engaged. I think I had read of a triangular duel, but I never expected to witness so close an approximation to it. There was a deal of talk and gesticulation to begin with; presently two men closed, pulling each other's hair, and kicking each other's shins, and finally a third man cut in. No great damage seemed to result to any one of the combatants; their clothes, however, suffered considerably. Brutal as we are beginning to think a stand-up fight after the manner of Englishmen, with closed fists, such an exhibition as I then witnessed seemed to me more objectionable--it was neither manly nor conclusive, but more after the fashion of infuriated women. As a set-off to this, one often saw men embracing one another publicly, kissing and submitting to be kissed first on one cheek and then on the other.
During my stay in Paris I made the acquaintance of some English families. The children chatted fluently in French, German, and English; their education in other respects was also being seen to. One precocious youth in particular arrested my attention. He was a bright, intelligent boy of about twelve years of age, and with a turn for study not often seen in one so young. On one occasion, in a wakeful mood and unable to rest quietly in his bed, he was discovered poring over a problem of Euclid, at four o'clock in the morning. All except his father noticing his passion for study, made up their minds that the boy was overworking himself, and that mischief would surely come of it. His father, however, when spoken to on the subject remarked, "Better a short life and a brilliant one than a long life and a dull one." I saw this poor over-
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worked youth after an interval of ten years, invalided from India, and utterly broken down in body and mind.
At a late meeting of the Social Science Congress, in England, special attention was called to the mischief that comes from overworking the brain of boys. The brain was rightly spoken of as an organ more delicate than the stomach; and yet the men who wisely preach temperance and abstemiousness to boys for their bodily health's sake, very unwisely urge them to the severest course of study. It is not difficult to overwork the growing brain--as easy, indeed, as it is to seriously injure the immature and undeveloped muscles of the youthful body. We are, somehow, wiser in treating horses. We handle them when young, and we feel that we have done enough in gently exercising them. We then turn them out to grass, where, leading the life that nature intended, they grow, developing into maturity and beauty.
During my stay in beautiful France I visited the celebrated city of Versailles. Its gardens and fountains, as well as its art galleries, could hardly be surpassed. I suppose it would hardly be an exaggeration to say that in these galleries were thousands of pictures. Although we spent many hours in examining the treasures of art lining the walls, it would be untrue to say that we carried away with us anything like a full or accurate impression of their many excellencies. I could have lingered longer in this atmosphere of art with profit and pleasure. Situated in the grounds attached are the Great and Little Trianon Palaces, or apartments built and set apart for royalty. These also, although small, were very beautifully decorated and furnished, and looking quite like apartments intended to be lived in. Our guide through this labyrinth of loveliness, spoke emphatically of other things worthy of inspection, notably a library said to contain 50,000 volumes, but I found no time even to walk through this. The pictures for the chief part illustrate French history, the most interesting of them being those picturing the career of the great Napoleon. Versailles was the centre of operations of the German army in the great war ending in the defeat of the French, and the utter annihilation of their ruler Louis Napoleon. It was here also that the victorious King of Prussia was proclaimed Emperor of Germany.
Louis Phillipe in those days ruled or reigned over the French people, and few at that time anticipated that in three years or four
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(1848) the King of the French would be hurrying across the English channel under the assumed name of "Mr. Smith."
My visit to France was too soon brought to a termination.
On returning to England, I lingered awhile in London--the modern Babylon, the universal city--and very much enjoyed my life in that busy, bustling, babbling Babel. I have heard men who have lived long in the colonies actively engaged in business or in country pursuits the while, say of London, that, as a place to live in, there was no place in the civilized world to be preferred to it. And I confess that I perfectly understand the preference. It is the seat and centre of so much that is great and attractive; of such variety as well as of perfection in every form, that a man must be strangely constituted mentally and morally who cannot discover in that great world enough to occupy and interest him.
My next excursion was to the manufacturing districts of England. I visited Birmingham, Manchester, Bristol, and many other places renowned throughout the world for their many industries and manufactures. I went to these great towns unprovided with letters of introduction to the owners of the various mills and factories, but I experienced no great difficulty in gaining admission to any of them. I usually ascertained from the landlord of the hotel where I put up what was best worth seeing in the place. I then went to the factory, enquired for the master or manager, introduced myself, telling him that I was a stranger, a traveller, and a Colonial, and that I was very anxious to see all that was to be seen; that I was not desiring to inspect his works with a view of utilising my knowledge at his expense, but that I was profoundly ignorant of all manufacturing processes, and had a desire to be enlightened. I thus succeeded in unlocking the doors of the many factories that were spoken of as best worth seeing. But I may as well confess at once that machinery did not interest me very much. I admitted and admired the great results produced by machinery at work, but the machinery itself, whether simple or complex, I never could go into ecstacies over.
Manchester and Birmingham, and many other manufacturing towns, are very wonderful places in their way, but the hardship of having to pass one's life in such an atmosphere ! I am writing now of impressions made upon me thirty-nine years ago; all this may be different to-day; in the interest of humanity I hope it is. The sharp and pleasurable contrast experienced in shooting out of these smoky
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holes, these dens of darkness, into the sunshine and beauty of the uncontaminated country, is a sensation and a delight not easily described. There are many lands where the sun shines more brightly and where everything is beautiful to look upon, but after all, England is in truth the garden of the world, and a well-kept garden too. I remember that one of my daughters, in writing her first impressions of England on visiting it, said that it seemed to her that there were no waste places in it; that from one end of it to the other it had the look of being cultivated and cared for. Some one once said in my hearing that he deemed it a very great privilege to have been born in such a country, and the greatest possible good luck to be able to live in it. One may at times feel an inclination to echo this sentiment, without in the least deserving the imputation of thinking little of the colony in which one was born, or of the land in which one is destined to pass the remainder of one's life.
Whilst in London it was a great pleasure to me to occasionally visit the theatres and the Italian opera. At the former there were at that time a cluster of accomplished men and women, representative of tragedy, of comedy, and of burlesque; Kean and Macready, Charles Matthews, Farren, Buckstone, Keeley, Wigan, Webster, and many others who, in their respective lines, could hardly be surpassed. Madame Vestris, Mrs. Stirling, Mrs. Keeley, and others always equal to a finished performance of the parts assigned to them. Again, at the Italian opera were to be heard such singers as Grisi, Mario, and Lablache--a formidable trio. What made the deepest impression on me, however, at the Italian opera, was the performance of the orchestra. That, to my taste, was as near an approach to perfection in music as anything I could conceive of. I had heard, often heard, previously, what I considered to be good orchestral music, but I never knew until I heard this orchestra--this cluster of artistes--to what perfection it was possible to arrive at in orchestral arrangement. It was as the voice of one instrument, played upon and controlled by one overpowering will. I heard also at this time some of the most celebrated of soloists on the violin and pianoforte--men who were regarded by the musical world as amongst the first players of the age. Their execution on their respective instruments was very wonderful, but often only exhibiting precision and delicate articulation. I had heard playing almost equal to it even in these respects, and I still think,
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superior to it in fulness and expression. I once heard, in New South Wales, a Hungarian, one Miska Hauser, on the violin, and I was so entranced by his playing that I never afterwards could go into ecstasies over the playing of any other violinist. The quality of his tone, the delicacy of his touch, and the volume of sound drawn out of his instrument of instruments, have always inclined me to speak of his playing as satisfying and not to be surpassed.
Having time at my disposal, I was not long in making up my mind to visit Scotland. I can only be said to have run through it, but in the course of my travels I visited Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness, and many other of the more important towns north, south, east, and west, going as far north as Peterhead, one of the first fishing stations on the east coast of Scotland. Such a swarm of herring-boats, laden to the gunwale with these highly-prized fish, was a sight worth going a long way to see. The proper season for taking them lasts but a short time--I think I was told only a few weeks. The curing of them is then undertaken, and affords profitable employment to a large number of people. The herrings taken on the east coast of Scotland, although superior in size are said to be not equal in quality to those met with on the west coast. I was induced to visit this part of Scotland by one whom I had previously known in Australia. I here for the first time saw my friend surrounded by his wife and family. These young people were intelligent, and in most respects, well informed, but they were unaccountably ignorant of many matters relating to colonial life. On such matters I had to stand something like a cross-examination. I remarked to one of these intelligent and interesting young women that there were some things that Scotland could rightly boast of--viz., herring and hodge-podge, Scott and Macaulay; but she was somewhat shocked at my daring thus to mix up things sacred and savoury.
In returning to England, I passed through Inverness, thence through the Caledonian Canal down the west coast, visiting Oban, Staffa, and Iona, and finally Ben Lomond, dropping on to a remarkably fine day for its ascent.
I have already said that my stay in Scotland was short, but it was quite long enough to enable me to understand and appreciate the enthusiasm that its sons and daughters exhibit in speaking of their country. I think it quite all that its many admirers are ready
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to say of it. Its scenery is remarkable for variety and beauty, and once looked upon is not easily forgotten. Its people, as all who have ever visited the country know full well, are friendly and hospitable. It is impossible to travel through it without being struck with the high standard of education of its labouring class.
I have known many Scotchmen in my time, and have had, I am proud to acknowledge, many friends among them. I have even had the honour of being more than once mistaken for a Scotchman; and had it been my fate to have been born in Scotland, I would have been very proud of my country, its history, its institutions, and my countrymen, and always to be depended upon to proclaim aloud the glories of my native land. Scotchmen are sometimes twitted with their clannishness; but within due limits, clanship is a virtue. And as a matter of fact, you don't find that spirit animating them over much in their every-day life as colonists. A man who is true to his own flesh and blood naturally thinks well of his clan, and a man who is loyal to his clan is not far off being loyal to his country. Born and educated in a colony made up of Englishmen, Irishmen, and Scotchmen, I, for very many years of my early life, learned lightly to regard the differences that these nationalities indicate in the Old World. And I have no desire to unlearn that early lesson taught me by my surroundings. If, living in a colony and in an atmosphere of freedom, we succeed in solving the problem of how to live and how to let live, we shall certainly be blessed beyond what our fathers and forefathers have been, and have good reason indeed to speak proudly of our lot.
It was in the year 1845 that I first visited Scotland. I again visited it in 1856, accompanied by my wife and our two small boys. Our stay in the land o' cakes was not a long one, but it was full of interest to my wife as well as to myself. She, descended from Highland parents, had as a child lived a short while only in the land of her fathers, and was well pleased to re-visit it. Her friends received us hospitably, causing us to regret that we were unable to linger longer amongst them.
Once when engaged in canvassing a body of "intelligent electors" (most of whom were Scotch), being a candidate for Parliamentary honours, it served me well to tell the tale of my wanderings through Scotland; and better, when I sat down to a piano and strummed out "Auld lang syne;" but best of all, when I announced
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that I had married a Scotch wife. It cost these confiding electors little to believe all things possible of one who had been thought worthy of so distinguished an honour. Scotchmen transplanted into the colonies neither themselves forget nor suffer their children to forget the land from which they have sprung. A story is told of a little girl in a coast steamer who, when there seemed some danger of the vessel foundering, said to her mother, " Well, mother dear, if we do go to the bottom it is a comfort to know that it will be in a bit of Scotland." The name of the vessel was The Thistle.
My trip to Scotland ended, I made my way across the Channel, bound for Switzerland, by way of the Rhine. On this trip I also set out unaccompanied by either friend or acquaintance, and I still think that in so doing I acted wisely. It is by no means difficult to pick up with a travelling companion, and it is the easiest thing in the world when you tire of him, or he tires of you, to go different ways, looking upon each other no more. All this is so well understood by men running about the continent of Europe, and so often happens, that no one feels the slightest akwardness in telling his companion of a day or a week that he intends altering his course. It has often struck me that Englishmen appear to great advantage when travelling on the Continent. They are at such times more accessible to their countrymen; they address one another without waiting for an introduction; often travel together without knowing each other's names; and until they re-cross the Channel, are mutually agreeable and rational. But once again on English soil, they become petrified into propriety, look with a stony gaze upon their chance continental companion, and never betray themselves by the slightest indication of a recognition. I suppose, as everything that is, is right, this is as it should be; it certainly is very convenient, and is recognised as "good form " by society; and woe to the colonial who transgresses the law or dares to question its propriety. Illustrative of this insular peculiarity, or English prejudice against speaking to a man until you know who and what he is, I remember being told by an old naval officer who had lived out of England and in a colony for quite thirty years, and then had re-visited the land of his fathers, that he had on occasions been very much put out by what he spoke of as this stand-offishness of his countrymen. He told not a bad story of a man who, after carrying on a conversation with him for an hour or more on board a Thames steamer, at last turned to him and said, "Excuse
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me, sir, but am I mistaken in supposing that you have visited the colonies? I would not ask, only it is so unusual to meet with an Englishman willing to enter into conversation with a stranger, that I felt almost certain that you must have passed some time in a colony to have apparently outgrown the disinclination that most Englishmen show to converse with a man not formally introduced to him." The same old gentleman had another story to tell. Finding himself shut up in a railway carriage with only one fellow-passenger, he at once addressed him, and in the following terms: " I should like, sir, an understanding with you before we start. Is it your wish to enter into conversation with me, a stranger, or is it not? I am, like yourself, an Englishman, but I have lived out of the old country for thirty years, and am not quite at home in matters of etiquette. If you prefer to stand upon ceremony and to keep your mouth shut, say the word. If, on the other hand, you prefer to enter into conversation, say so. I am ready for either alternative, and quite willing to do as you wish." The man thus addressed laughed heartily, and very willingly humoured his fellow-traveller by carrying on a conversation with him to the end of their journey.
In Switzerland I was once mistaken for an American through my colonial habit of asking questions and drifting into conversation with a man before we had been many minutes together. We were staying at the time at one of the grand hotels to be encountered all over the continent. The accommodation at these hotels seemed to me to be first-class, leaving nothing to be desired. One not satisfied with it would be somewhat difficult to please, and would do wisely to stay at home. Such a man, however, I one day encountered, who seemed not quite so ready to admit that the accommodation was all that it might have been. He said, " Well, I am not going to say that what is to be had abroad is not good, as far as it goes, but after all, what does it amount to? It is just the case of Australia over again, described by a friend of mine as a great place, undoubtedly, where you can get everything for nothing, but nothing for anything." As a fitting addition to what I have written down as to the stand-offishness of Englishmen abroad, I ought not to omit mentioning that a man whose name even I did not know, and who certainly did not know mine, very readily offered me his purse to enable me to extend my journey. I had given him the information that I had nearly got to the end of the sum that, before leaving England, I had
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made up my mind to spend. I at the time refused his purse, but a fortnight afterwards, I met the same man again, and accepted of him a small loan. In travelling abroad, money slips through one's fingers with marvellous facility and rapidity. There is always so much to see, which seeing costs money: and so many rare and pretty things that seem suitable as souvenirs of the land through which one is pleasuring to buy, that it is hard to calculate in anticipation as to the exact sum needed. Finally, when I stepped on board the steamer at Ostend I had to confess to the skipper that I had not money enough left to pay. my passage, but that I meant to go with him notwithstanding. He laughed, and told me that he was quite accustomed to the trifle of a man having spent all his money in travelling, and seemed quite content to wait until we reached England for my passage-money.
I remember, in those days, seeing in Punch a cartoon setting forth the utter wretchedness and despair of an Oxford undergraduate who had just witnessed the drowning of a University man, a stranger to him. He was standing on the bank of the river, wringing his hands and exclaiming, "Oh, if I had only been introduced to him I might have saved his life."
My continental trip at an end, I began to think seriously of my return to the colony, but I had not yet done all in the way of travelling that I had proposed to myself. I had not yet visited Ireland.