Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

We are

what he (with decided bad taste) calls a modest quencher' at a 'public' (his word, not ours), tells you all about Blowing-stone Hill.

““ What is the name of your hill, landlord ?” 6“ Blawing STwon Hill, sir, to be sure."

[READER. “ Sturm ?" AUTHOR. “ Stone, stupid, the Blowing Stone."] "" And of your house ? I can't make out the sign." ..^ Blawing Stwun, sir," says the landlord, pouring out his old ale from a Toby Philpot jug, with a melodious crash, into the long-necked glass.

""What qucer names,” say we, sighing at the end of our draught, and holding out our glass to be replenished. “ Be 'ant queer at all, as I can seo, air,” says inine host, handing back onr glass,

« : “seeing as this here is the Blawing Stwun his self,” putting his hand on a square lump of stone, some three feet and a half high, perforated with two or three queer holes, like petrified antediluvian rat-holes, which lies there close under the oak, under our very nose. We are more than ever puzzled, and drink our second glass of ale, wondering what will come next. "Like to hear un, sir ?'' says mine host, setting down Toby Philpot on the tray, and resting both hands on the “Stwun.” ready for anything; and he, without waiting for a reply, applies his mouth to one of the rac-holes. Something must come of it, if he doesn't burst. Good heavens ! I hope he has no apoplectic tendencies. Yes, here it comes, sure enough, a grewsome sound between a inoan and a roar, and spreads itself away over the valley, and up the hill-side, and into the woods at the back of the house, a ghost-like, awful voice. "Um do say, sir," says mine host, rising purple-faced, while the moan is still coming out of the Stwun,“ as they used in old times to warn the country-side, by blawing the Stwun when the enemy was a comin'—and as how folks could make un heered then for seven miles round, leastways so I've hcered lawyer Smith say, and he knows a smart sight about them old times.” We can scarcely swallow lawyer Smith's seven miles, but could the blowing of the stone have been a summons, a sort of sending the fiery cross round the neighbourhood in the old times ? What old times? Who knows? We pay for our beer, and are thankful.'

You have, in the next place, the somewhat saucy childhood of Tom; life in his village ; his angling excursions with an old soldier ; his defiance of his nurse; his unrestricted romps with the juvenile tag-rag and bob-tail of the place, under the sanction of a ToryRadical father; the village veasts' and single-stick fights (which we think rather brutal business) till blood was drawn; Tom's brief career at a private school; general obstropolousness; and final removal to Rugby. The journey by coach is most vividly described. The cold ride in the dark; the halt at the Peacock at Islington, with the hot, hearty breakfast ; the parting with dear father, the gossip about Rugby matters with the guard; and the reception by other · fellows' at Rugby; are among the liveliest bits of description we ever read. Then come Tom's introduction to his little room ; his pride in it; his first games at cricket, and hare-and-hounds ; his first Saturday night at the Singing-meeting (where we regret to say beer and tobacco seem to have been in fashion); and his first Sunday. At his first game at hare-and-hounds, he is belated, on account of the length of the “run ;' and, in accordance with strict rule, coming home after the gates are closed, is carpeted before the Doctor, with his chum East, and another boy :

" That's the library door,” said East in a whisper, pushing Tom forwards. The sound of merry voices and laughter came from within, and his first hesitating

6

66

knock was unanswered. But at the second, the Doctor's voice said, “Come in,” and Tom turned the handle, and he, with the others behind him, sidled into the room.

“The Doctor looked up from his task ; he was working away with a great chisel at the bottom of a boy's sailing boat, the lines of which he was do doubt fashioning on the model of one of Nicias' galleys. Round him stood three or four children ; the candles burnt brightly on a large table at the further end, covered with books and papers, and a great fire threw a ruddy glow over the rest of the room. All looked so kindly and homely and comfortable, that the boys took heart in a moment, and Tom advanced from behind the shelter of the great sofa. The Doctor nodded to the children, who went out, casting curious and amused glances at the three young scarecrows.

"Well, my little fellows," began the Doctor, drawing himself up, with his back to the fire, the chisel in one hand and his coat-tails in the other, and his eye twinkling as he looked them over, “what makes you so late?”

««* Please, sir, we've been out Big-side Hare-and-hounds, and lost our way." ““ Hah! you couldn't keep up, I suppose ?"

""Well, sir,” said East, stepping out, and not liking that the Doctor should think lightly of his running powers, “ we got round Barby all right, but then—".

**Why what a state you're in, my boy," interrupted the Doctor, as the pitiful condition of East's garments was fully revealed to him.

"" That's the fall I got, sir, in the road,” said East, looking down at himself ; " the Old Pig came by-"

““ The what ?" said the Doctor.
"" The Oxford coach, sir,” explained Hall.
"“Hah! yes, the Regulator," said the Doctor.
S“ And I tumbled on my face, trying to get up behind,” went on East.
““You're not hurt, I hope,” said the Doctor.
* " Oh no, sir."

** Well now, run up stairs, all three of you, and get clean things on, and then tell the housekeeper to give you some tea. You're too young to try such long runs. Let Warner know I've seen you. Good night.”

""Good night, sir.” And away scuttled the three boys in high glee.

""What a brick, not to give us even twenty lines to learn,” said the Tadpole, as they reached their bedroom, and in half-an-hour afterwards they were sitting by the fire in the housekeeper's room at a sumptuous tea, with cold meat, "twice as good a grub as we slionld have got in the hall," as the Tadpole remarked with a grin, his mouth full of buttered toast. All their grievauces were forgotten, and they were resolving to go out the first big-side next half, and thinking Hare-andhounds the most delightful of games.'

This is the pleasantest glimpse of the good Doctor we get in the book. We are sorry to inform the author that we belong to the class of 'wise-acres' whom he don't want to read this book' (we have read it half-a-dozen times), and whom he expects to “prick up their long ears and howl, or rather bray,' at the story he gives on pages 232 and 233. We do not object to the thrashing' of a 'gross bully' -nay, we would gladly assist at such an operation; but we do dispute the manliness of the sequel to the bully's behaviour. If we, being only a boy at school, thrashed another boy under superior orders, and that boy so thrashed by us were afterwards to seek us out,' and thank us, saying it was the kindest act,' &c., &c., &c., we should think him a nauseous poltroon, and pray that we might be better strangers. We have also to “howl, or rather bray,' at the cold blood of the Doctor on another occasion—we should have had nothing to complain of, if he had flogged Tom on the spot for his misdeeds in the sporting way; but there was something revolting in his spending

6

6

the evening amid the affectionate caresses of his wife and children, and sleeping peacefully upon the intention to get up and (at, say 10.35, a.m.) deliberately fog ever so saucy a little boy. Not being able to bottle our indignation, like the Doctor, we will have our " howling or braying' over at once, and say here that we find Tom occasionally guilty of gross sophistry. In particular, we refer to his defence of juvenile pugilism. For, first, his question, what other way boys can have of settling their disputes, is ridiculous; since a fight, however won, settles nothing but the comparative strength and skill of the parties, and boys, like men, might, if not blinded by devil's passions, settle their disputes by appeals to referees; and, secondly, it is barefaced word-jugglery to say that our real, highest, honestest business, rightly understood,' is fighting. There is no strict analogy —and Tom Brown must know it-between conquering a bad impulse of the heart, and the fighting' in question, which means hurting and inflaming another sentient being. In plain truth, 'fighting' is abnormal—it is abstractly bail; and we, who like a false peace as little as Tom Brown, beg to insist that this be recognised, without any such bemuddling of thought and speech as occurs in Chapter V. of his book-a chapter which, taken in connexion with some minute military allusions (e. 9., when Arnold's voice is compared to a light infantry bugle'), made us at first suspect the author was a soldier. To our thinking, the picture of the fight would have been better painted, if the painter had taken less pains.' But, truthful writing for the young is such a pressing want, that we do not like to be captious, and are willing to leave the black-eye and sponge question as a matter of taste.

The career of Tom at school is most pleasantly followed up. The fagging, the bullying, the boy Martin who turned his study into a menagerie and laboratory, and blew up himself, his magpie, and the Doctor, the bird's-nesting, the cricket-matches, and the ins and outs of boy-friendships, you have them all made tangible and alive for you, with the most unreserved and genial art. In company with his chum East, however, Tom becomes a plague to the Doctor, and the ringleader of much small mischief, inasmuch that it is a question what on earth can be done with the boy ? Then comes to Rugby one George Arthur, the son of a deceased clergyman, and him the watchful Doctor bestoweth upon Thomas, vice East the cantankerous, to have and to hold as a protected) chum from that day forward. Young Arthur, delicate, slender, fresh from the loss of a father, pious, affectionate, and thoughtful; what would become of him at Rugby, without a "guide, philosopher, and friend?' Ile would either be killed or spoiled for life by the crude blackguardism of the juvenile public.' So he is given to Tom, and God gives Tom to him. It is the old, beautiful story, so dear to true hearts, of mutual looking up and lifting up.' Arthur gains in physical strength, and in manly freedom of character; and Tom learns that he and his like have by no means all the courage :

• Within a few minutes therefore of their entry, all the other boys who slept in

6

[ocr errors]

6

number 4 had come up. The little fellows went quietly to their own beds, and began undressing and talking to one another in whispers ; while the elder, amongst whom was Tom, sat chatting about on one another's beds, with their jackets and waistcoats off. Poor little Arthur was overwhelmed with the novelty of his position. The idea of sleeping in the room with strange boys had clearly never crossed his mind before, and was as painful as it was strange to him. He could hardly bear to take his jacket off; however, presently, with an effort, off it came, and then he paused and looked at Tom, who was sitting at the bottom of his bed talking and laughing.

""Please, Brown,” he whispered, “may I wash my face and hands ?”

“Of course, if you like," said Tom, staring; "that's your wash-bandstand under the window, second from your bed. You'll have to go down for more water in the morning, if you use it all.” And on he went with his talk, while Arthur stole timidly from between the beds out to his wash-hand stand, and began his ablutions, thereby drawing for a moment on himself the attention of the room.

On went the talk and laughter. Arthur finished his washing and undressing, and put on his night-gown. He then looked round more nervously than ever. Two or three of the little boys were already in bed, sitting up with their chins on their knees. The light burned clear, the noise went on. It was a trying moment for the poor little lonely boy ; however, this time he didn't ask Tom what he might not do, but dropped on his knees by his bedside, as he had done every day from his childhood, to open his heart to Him, who heareth the cry and beareth the sorrows of the tender child, and the strong man in agony.

* Tom was sitting at the bottom of his bed unlacing his boots, so that his back was towards Arthur, and he didn't see what had happened, and looked up in wonder at the sudden silence. Then two or three boys laughed and sneered, and a big, brutal fellow, who was standing in the middle of the room, picked up a slipper, and shied it at the kneeling boy, calling him a snivelling young shaver. Then Tom saw the whole, and the next moment the boot he had just pulled off flew straight at the head of the bully, who had just time to throw up his arm and catch it on his elbow.

““Confound you, Brown, what's that for ? ” roare he, stamping with pain.

«“Never mind what I mean," said Tom, stepping on to the floor, every drop of blood in his body tingling ; " if any fellow wants the other boot, he knows how to get it.”

What would have been the result is doubtful; for at this moment the sixth form boy came in, and not another word could be said. Tom and the rest rushed into bed and finished their unrobing there, and the old verger, as punctual as the clock, had put out the candle in another minute, and toddled on to the next room, shutting their door with his usual “ Good night, genl'm'n.''

By and bye Tom receives “lesson 2. Arthur not only says his prayers, he reads bis Bible of his own accord! Then a fever comes to the school, and Arthur is struck down by it, to the grief of them all, and not least of the Doctor. But he recovers, and his mother comes to fetch him away for a holiday. Before he goes, he uses, with characteristic gentleness, but with the firmness of a boy who keeps a conscience, the influence he has acquired over Brown to induce him to give up cribs’ in preparing his lessons. When Brown attempts to indoctrinate East with this new bit of school morality, there ensues some more (of what we call) sophistication-rather too wiry in its character, we fancy, to have been really spun by schoolboys' brainsand this sort of thing is the only kind of untruthfulness in the book ; it is the retrospective theorizing of a mature mind about a remembered situation in the boy's experience, and was, perhaps, unavoidable, or, at least, quite to be expected. Eventually a good deal of solemn, conscientious feeling is diffused throughout the school, in consequence

[ocr errors]

a

6

[ocr errors]

6

[ocr errors]

of the indirect influence of Arthur. You have Tom's and Arthur's last match, and their leaving school, and, in 1842, Tom, 'in the wildest parts of Skye,' sees Arnold's death in a newspaper, and makes a pilgrimage to Rugby, with which the book closes. And a most admirable book it is. Our readers will gather from what we have already said what deductions we ourselves should make from the words in which The Times summed up its notice of Tom Brown, when it said :

“It is difficult to estimate the amount of good which may be done by "Tom Brown's School-days.” It gives in the main a most faithful and interesting picture of our public schools.

But it is more than this; it is an attempt-a very noble and successful attempt—to Christianize the society of our youth through the only practicable channel-a hearty and brotherly sympathy with their feelings : a book, in short, which an English father might well wish to see in the hands of his son.

There is something characteristic of the leading journal,' in the cool assertion that Tom Brown is a successful attempt' to 'Christianize' schoolboy society in England—the success' we must leave to time and the Lord of time—for the rest, we cordially join in the chorus of appreciation which has helped to carry "Tom Brown' into his fourth edition, and very heartily thank him for his memorials of his juvenile works and ways; hoping he will excuse our "howling, or rather braying,' which we cannot help. We quite agree that this explaining is a bother,' but also that we can't do without it.' We, too, are a Brown, and our 'lightest opinions are beliefs.

But we have not completed our representative extracts, though our account of the volume is ended. A successful stand against bullying gives rise to the following reflections, among the noblest and most outspoken we ever read. The italics are ours:

"So it is, and must be always, my dear boys. If the Angel Gabriel were to como down from heaven, and head a successful rise against the most abominable and unrighteous vested interest which this poor old world groans under, he would most certainly lose his character for many years, probably for centuries, not only with upholders of said vested interest, but with the respectable mass of the people whom he had delivered. They wouldn't ask him to dinner, or let their names appear with his in the papers; they would be very careful how they spoke of him in the Puluver, or at their clubs. What can we expect then, when we have only poor gallant blundering men like Kossuthi, Garibaldi, Mazzini, and rightcous causes which do not triumph in their hands; men who have holes enough in their armour, God knows, easy to be hit by respectabilities sitting in their lounging chairs, and having large balances at their bunkers? But you are brave gallant boye, who hate casy chairs, and have no balances or bankers. You only want to have your heads set straight to take the right side ; so bear in inind that majorities, especially respectable ones, are nine times out of ten in the wrong; and that if you see man or boy striving earnestly on the weak side, however wrong-headed or blunderiny he may be, you are not to go and join the cry against him. It you can't join him, and help him, and make him wiser, at any rate remember that he has found something in the world which lie will fight and suffer for, which is just what you have got to do for yourselves, and so think and speak of him tenderly.'

We fear but few of the Brown family live up to this mark; if they did, the rest of the poor strugglers, who do, would have easier work of it. Despicable and cruel is the cowardly policy of acquiescent

« ZurückWeiter »