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school; they consisted merely of the contents of the “Child's Spelling Book :" but from my mother, who had stored up the literature of a country town, which, about half a century ago, amounted to little more than what was disseminated by itinerant ballad. singers, or rather, readers, I had acquired much curious knowledge of Catskin, and the Golden Bull, and the Bloody Gardener, and any other histories equally instructive and amusing.
My father returned from sea in 1764. He had been at the siege of the Havannah ; and though he received more than a hundred pounds for prize money, and his wages were considerable ; yet, as he had not acquired any strict habits of economy, he brought home but a trifling sum. The little property yet left was therefore turned into money; a trifle more was got by agreeing to renounce all future pretentions to an estate at Totness ;* and with this my father set up a second time as a glazier and house-painter. I was now about eight years old, and was put to the free-school (kept by Hugh Smerdon,) to learn to read and write, and cypher. Here I continued about three years, making a most wretched progress, when my father fell sick and died. He had not acquired wisdom from his misfortunes, but continued wasting his time in unprofitable pursuits, to the great detriment of his business. He loved drink for the sake of society, and to this love he fell a martyr; dying of a decayed and ruined constitution before he was forty. The town's people thought him a shrewd and sensible man, and regretted his death. As for me, I never greatly loved him; I had not grown up with him ; and he was too prone to repulse my little advances to familiarity, with coldness, or anger. He had certainly some reason to be displeased with me, for I learned little at school, and nothing at home, though he would now and then attempt to give me some
This was a lot of small houses, which had been thoughtlessly suffered to fall into decay, and of which the rents had been so long unclaimed, that they could not now be recovered, unless by an expensive litigation.
insight into the business. As impressions of any kind are not very strong at the age of eleven or twelve, I did not long feel his loss; nor was it a subject of much sorrow to me, that my mother was doubtful of her ability to continue me at school, though I had by this time acquired a love for reading.
I never knew in what circumstances my mother was left: most probably they were inadequate to her support, without some kind of exertion, especially as she was now burthened with a second child about six or eight months old. Unfortunately she determined to prosecute my father's business ; for which purpose she engaged a couple of journeymen, who, finding her ignorant of every part of it, wasted her property, and embezzled her money. What the consequence of this double fraud would have been, there was no opportunity of knowing, as, in somewhat less than a twelvemonth, my poor mother followed my father to the grave. She was an excellent woman,
my father's infirmities with patience and good humour, loved her children dearly, and died at last, exhausted with anxiety and grief more on their account than on her own.
I was not quite thirteen when this happened; my little brother was hardly two; and we had not a relation nor a friend in the world. Every thing that was left was seized by a person of the name of C—, for money advanced to my mother. It may be supposed that I could not dispute the justice of his claims,;, and as no one else interfered, he was suffered to do as he liked. My little brother was sent to the alms-house, whither his nurse followed him out of
affection; and I was taken to the house of the person I have just mentioned, who was also my godfather. Respect for the opinion of the town, (which, whether correct or not, was, that he had repaid himself by the sale of my mother's effects,) induced him to send me again to school, where I was more diligent than before, and more successful. I grew fond of arithmetic, and my master began to distinguish me; but these golden days were over in less than three months. Ce sickened at the expense ; and, as the people were now indifferent to my fate, he looked round for an opportunity of ridding himself of a useless charge. He had previously attempted to engage me in the drudgery of husbandry. I drove the plough for one day to gratisy him, but I left it with a firm resolution to do so no more, and in despite of his threats and promises, adhered to my determination. In this, I was guided no less by necessity than will. During my father's life, in attempting to clamber up a table, I had fallen backward, and drawn it after me: its edge fell upon my breast, and I never recovered the effects of the blow; of which I was made extremely sensible on any extraordinary exertion. Ploughing, therefore, was out of the question, and, as I have already said, I utterly refused to follow it.
As I could write and cypher, (as the phrase is,) C-next thought of sending me to Newfoundland, to assist in a storehouse. For this purpose he negotiated with a Mr. Holdsworthy of Dartmouth, who agreed to fit me out. I left Ashburton with little expectation of seeing it again, and indeed with little care, and rode with my godfather to the dwelling of Mr. Holdsworthy. On seeing me, this great man observed with a look of pity and contempt, that I was " too small," and sent me away sufficiently mortified. I expected to be very ill received by my godfather, but he said nothing. He did not however choose to take me back himself, but sent me in the passage-boat to Totness, from whence I was to walk home. On the
passage, the boat was driven by a midnight storm on the rocks, and I escaped with life almost by miracle.
My godfather had now humbler views for me, and I had little heart to resist any thing. He proposed to send me on board one of the Torbay fishing boats; I ventured, however, to remonstrate against this, and the matter was compromised by my consenting to go on board a coaster. A coaster was speedily found for me at Brixham, and thither I went when little more than thirteen.
My master, whose name was Full, though a gross and ignorant, was not an ill natured, man; at least, not to me: and my mistress used me with unvarying kindness ; moved perhaps by my weakness and tender years. In return, I did what I could to requite her, and my good will was not overlooked.
Our vessel was not very large, nor our crew very numerous. On ordinary occasions, such as short trips to Dartmouth, Plymouth, &c. it consisted only of my master, an apprentice nearly out of his time, and myself: when we had to go farther, to Portsmouth for example, an additional hand was hired for the voyage.
In this vessel (the Two Brothers) I continued nearly a twelvemonth ; and here I got acquainted with nautical terms, and contracted a love for the sea, which a lapse of thirty years has but little diminished.
It will be easily conceived that my life was a life of hardship. I was not only a “ship-boy on the high and giddy mast,” but also in the cabin, where every menial office fell to my lot: yet if I was restless and discontented, I can safely say, it was not so much on account of this, as of my being precluded from all possibility of reading; as my master did not possess, nor do I recollect seeing during the whole time of my abode with him, a single book of any description, except the Coasting Pilot.
As my lot seemed to be cast, however, I was not negligent in seeking such information as promised to be useful; and I therefore frequented, at my leisure hours, such vessels as dropt into Torbay. On attempting to get on board one of these, which I did at midnight, I missed my footing, and fell into the sea. The floating away of the boat alarmed the man on deck, who came to the ship's side just in time to see me sink. He immediately threw out several ropes, one of which providentially (for I was unconscious of it) intangled itself about me, and I was drawn up to the surface, till a boat could be got round. The usual methods were taken to recover me, and I awoke in bed the next morning, remembering nothing but the horror I felt, when I first found myself unable to cry out for assistance.
This was not my only escape, but I forbear to speak of them. An escape
of another kind was now preparing for me, which deserves all my notice, as it was decisive of my future fate.
On Christmas day (1770) I was surprised by a message from my godfather, saying that he had sent a man and horse to bring me to Ashburton ; and desiring me to set out without delay. My master, as well as myself, supposed it was to spend the holydays there; and he therefore, made no objection to my going. We were, howeyer, both mistaken.
Since I had lived at Brixham, I had broken off all connection with Ashburton. I had no relation there but my poor brother, * who was yet too young for any kind of correspondence ; and the conduct of my godfather towards me, did not intitle him to any portion of my gratitude, or kind remembrance. I lived therefore in a sort of sullen independance on all I had formerly known, and thought without regret of being abandoned by every one to my fate. But I had not been overlooked. The women of Brixham, who travelled to Ashburton twice a week with fish, and who had
Of my brother here introduced for the last time, I must yet say a few words. He was literally
The child of misery baptised in tears ;
and the short passage of his life did not belie the melancholy presage of his infancy. When he was seven years old, the parish bound him out to a husbandman of the name of Leman, with whom he endured incredible hardships, which I had it not in my power to alleviate. At nine years of age he broke his thigh, and I took that opportunity to teach him to read and write. When my own situation was improved, I persuaded him to try the sea; he did so, and was taken on board the Egmont, on condition that his master should receive his wages. The time was now fast approaching when I could serve him, but he was doomed to know no favourable change of fortune : he fell sick, and died at Cork.