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Chapter 7


Life in Rock Park--Inconvenient independence of lodgings--The average
man--"How many gardeners have you got?"--Shielded by rose-leaves of
culture and refinement--The English middle class--Prejudice,
complacency, and Burke's Peerage--Never heard of Tennyson or
Browning--Satisfaction in the solid earth--A bond of fellowship--A
damp, winding, verdurous street--The parent of stucco
villas--Inactivity of individual conscience--A plateau and a
cliff-dwelling--"The Campbells are Coming!"--Sortes Virgiliance--A
division in the family--Precaution against famine--English praying and
card-playing--Exercise for mind and body--Knight-errantry--
Sentimentality and mawkishness--The policeman and the cobbler--
A profound truth--Fireworks by lamplight--Mr. Squarey and Mrs.
Roundey--Sandford and Merton--The ball of jolly.

--

That life at Rock Park had in it more unadulterated English quality
than any other with which we became conversant while in England. With
the exception of a short sojourn in Leamington, it was the only
experience vouchsafed us of renting a house. All the rest of the time
we lived in lodging or boarding houses, or in hotels. The
boarding-houses of England are like other boarding-houses; the hotels,
or inns, in the middle of the last century, were for the most part
plain and homely compared with what we have latterly been used to; but
the English lodging-house system had peculiarities. You enjoyed
independence, but you paid for it with inconveniences. The owner of
the house furnished you with nothing except the house, with its dingy
beds, chairs, tables, and carpets. Everything else necessary to
existence you got for yourself. You made your own contracts with
butcher, baker, and grocer. You did your own firing and lighting.
Your sole conversation with the owner was over the weekly bill for the
rooms. You might cater to yourself to the tune of the prince or of the
pauper, as your means or your inclination suggested, but you must do
it upon the background of the same dingy rooms. Dingy or not so dingy,
the rooms, of course, never fitted you; they were a Procrustes bed,
always incompatible, in one way or in another, with the proportions
which nature had bestowed upon you. You wondered, in your misanthropic
moments, whether there ever was or could be any one whom English
lodgings would exactly fit. Probably they were designed for the
average man, a person, as we all know, who exists only in the
imagination of statisticians. And if the environment shows the man,
one cannot help rejoicing that there is so little likelihood of one's
forming the average man's acquaintance.

There was nothing peculiar about rented houses in England beyond the
innate peculiarities attaching to them as English. If the house were
unfurnished, and you had leisure to pick and choose, you might suit
yourself tolerably well, always with the proviso that things English
could be suitable to the foreigner. And certainly, in the 1850's, the
English commanded living conditions more desirable, on the whole, than
Americans did. They understood comfort, as distinct from luxury--a
pitch of civilization to which we are even now but just attaining.
There was not then, and until the millennium there will probably never
be, anything else in the world which so ministered to physical ease
and general satisfaction as did the conditions of life among the
English upper classes. Kublai Khan, in Xanadu, never devised a
pleasure-dome so alluring to mere human nature-especially the English
variety of it--as was afforded by an English nobleman's country-seat.
Tennyson's Palace of Art is very good in poetry, but in real life the
most imaginative and energetic real-estate dealer could not have got
so good a price for it as would gladly have been paid for the dwelling
of, for example, the Duke of Westminster. "How many gardeners have you
got?" asked an American Minister of the duke of the period, after
meeting a fresh gardener, during a long afternoon stroll through the
grounds, at each new turn of the path. "Oh, I don't know--I fancy
about forty," replied the duke, somewhat taken aback by this demand
for precise information concerning the facts of his own establishment,
which, until that moment, he probably supposed had been attended to by
Providence. And really, the machinery of life in such a place is so
hidden, it is so nearly automatic, that one might easily believe it to
be operated according to some law of nature. The servants are (or
were) so well trained, they did their jobs so well, that you were
conscious only of their being done; you never saw them a-doing. The
thought happened to cross your mind, of a morning, that you would like
to take a drive at eleven o'clock; you were not aware that you had
mentioned the matter; but at eleven o'clock the carriage was, somehow,
at the door. At dinner, the dishes appeared and disappeared, the
courses succeeded one another, invisibly, or as if by mere fiat of the
will; you must be very wide-awake to catch a footman or butler
meddling with the matter. You went up to the bedroom to change your
dress; you came down with it changed; but only by an effort could you
recall the fact that a viewless but supremely efficient valet had been
concerned in the transaction. The coal fire in the grate needed
poking; you glanced away for a moment; when you looked at the fire
again it had been poked--had, to all appearance, poked itself. And so
in all relations; to desire was to get; to picture a condition was to
realize it. You were shielded on every side by rose-leaves of culture
and refinement; all you had to do was to allow your mind to lapse from
one conception to another, and then, lifting your languorous eyelids,
behold! there you were--as Mr. James would say.

But I set out to tell not of noblemen's country-seats, but of Rock
Park. Rock Park was one of the typical abodes of the English
respectable middle-class, and the English middle-class, respectable,
or not altogether respectable, is the substance of England. Not until
you have felt and smelt and tasted that do you know what England
really is. Fifty years ago, the people in question were dull,
ignorant, material, selfish, prejudiced, conventional; they were
hospitable, on conventional lines; they were affable and even social,
so long as you did not awaken their prejudices; they were confidential
and communicative, if you conceded at the outset that England was the
best of all countries and the English the leading nation of the world.
They read a newspaper resembling in every particular themselves;
usually several of them united in a subscription to a single copy,
which passed solemnly from hand to hand. They were slow and
methodical, never taking short-cuts across lots; but they were
punctual; they knew their own business and business associates, their
circle of relatives, their dwelling and social place, and Burke's
Peerage; but they knew nothing else. In a group of intelligent persons
of this degree, question was raised, once upon a time, of two English
poets; but not one of the group had heard of either; the poets were
Alfred Tennyson and Robert Browning. This may seem merely absurd or
apocryphal; but consider the terrible power of concentration which it
implies! And consider the effect which the impact against such a clay
wall must make upon a man and an American like my father!

Well, the very surprise and novelty of the adventure amused and
interested him, and even won a good deal upon his sympathies. He loved
the solid earth as well as the sky above it, and he was glad of the
assurance that this people existed, though he might be devoutly
thankful that two hundred years of America had opened so impassable a
gulf between him and them. Indeed, the very fact of that impassability
may have made his intercourse with them the easier--at any rate, on
his side. On their side, they regarded him with a dim but always
self-complacent curiosity; had he not been a consul, they would
probably not have regarded him at all. Of course they--the Rock Park
sort of people--had never read his books; literary cultivation was not
to be found in England lower down than the gentleman class. My father,
therefore, was never obliged to say, "I'm glad you liked it" to them.
And that relief, of itself, must have served as a substantial bond of
fellowship.

Rock Park, as I remember it, was a damp, winding, verdurous street,
protected at each end by a small granite lodge, and studded throughout
its length with stuccoed villas. The villas were mended-on to each
other (as one of the children expressed it) two and two; they had
front yards filled with ornamental shrubbery, and gardens at the back,
an acre or two in extent; they were fenced in with iron pickets, and
there were gates to the driveways, on which the children swung. Every
normal child supposes that gates are made for no other purpose. The
trees were not large, but there were many of them, and they were thick
with leaves. There was a damp, arboreal smell everywhere, mingled with
the finer perfume of flowers and of the hawthorns and yellow
laburnums. Flowers, especially purple English violets, grew profusely
in the gardens, and gooseberry-bushes, bearing immense gooseberries
such as our climate does not nourish. There were also armies of
garden--snails, handsome gasteropods, which were of great interest to
me; for I was entering, at this period, upon a passionate pursuit of
natural history. For many years I supposed that the odor of the
violets proceeded from snails, and to this day I always associate
snails with violets, or vice versa. Una, Rose, and I were given each a
section of a garden-bed for our own; I cultivated mine so assiduously
that it became quite a deep hole; but I do not recall that anything
ever grew in it. The soil was a very rich loam, and ceaseless
diligence must have been required in me to keep it barren.

Gray skies, frequent showers, a cool or semi-chilly mildness, varied
every little while by the intrusion of a yellow fog from Liverpool,
over the river--such was the climate of Rock Park. There were
occasional passages of sunshine; but never, that I recollect, an
entire day of it. The stucco of the villas was streaked with green
dampness, and peeling off here and there. I suspect that the fashion
of castellated, stuccoed villas may have been set in the eighteenth
century by Horace Walpole when he built that marvellous edifice known
as Strawberry Hill. I first saw that achievement twenty years after
the time of which I now write, and recognized in it, as I thought, the
parent of my former Rock Park home and of innumerable of the latter's
kindred. Strawberry Hill is sprawling and vast, the progeny are
liliputian, but the family likeness is striking. The idea is to build
something which shall seem to be all that it is not. The gray-white
stucco pretends to be stone, and the lines of the stone courses are
carefully painted on the roughened surface; but nobody, since Horace's
time, could ever have been deceived by them. The castellated additions
and ornamentation are all bogus, of the cheapest and vulgarest sort.
It is singular that a people so sincere and solid as the English are
supposed to be should adopt this fashion for their dwellings. But then
they are used to follow conventions and adopt fashions set them by
those whom they esteem to be their betters, without thought, or
activity of individual conscience. It is rather matter for wonder,
remembering what rascals and humbugs many of their "betters" have
been, that middle-class England is not more of a whited sepulchre than
it is. I do not mean to cast any reflections upon the admirable and
beguiling Horace; but he was a highly civilized person, and had a
brother named Robert, and perhaps solid sincerity should not be
expected from such a combination.

Our villa, within, was close and comfortable enough, for its era and
degree; but the furniture was ponderous and ugly to the point of
nightmare. The chairs, tables, and sofas wore the semblance of solid
mahogany, twisted and tortured in a futile struggle to achieve
elegance; the carvings, or mouldings, were screwed or glued on, and
the lines of structure, intended to charm the eye, accomplished only
the discomfort of the body. The dining-table was like a plateau; the
sideboard resembled a cliff-dwelling. The carpets were of the Brussels
ilk: acanthus-leaves and roses and dahlias wreathed in inextricable
convolutions, glowing with the brightest and most uncompromising hues.
The lace curtains were imitation lace; the damask curtains were
imitation damask. The bedsteads. ... But this is not a History of
England. After all, we were snug and comfortable. On the walls were
portraits of the family whose house this was; by name, Campbell; the
house-painter, or wood-grainer, one would suppose, had a leaning
towards this branch of art. I never saw the originals of these
portraits, but, upon the assumption that they had been faithfully
interpreted by the artist, I used to think, in my childish folly, that
the refrain of the old song, "The Campbells are Coming," was meant as
a phrase or threat to frighten people. Who would not have run upon
such an announcement? As I have already made one confession in these
pages not reflecting credit upon myself, I may as well make another
now. Just thirty years after the events I am describing, somebody
wrote to me from Rock Park, stating that the local inhabitants were
desirous of putting up on the house which Hawthorne had occupied there
a marble or bronze slab, recording the fact for the benefit of
pilgrims. The committee, however, did not know which of three or four
houses was the right one, and the writer enclosed photographs of them
all, and requested me to put a cross over our former habitation. Now,
all the houses in Rock Park had been turned out of the same mould, and
I knew no more than my interrogator which was which. But I reflected
that the committee had been put to trouble and expense for
photographs, postage-stamps, and what not, and that all that was
really wanted was something to be sentimental over. So, rather than
disappoint them, I resorted to a kind of sortes Virgillana; I shut my
eyes, turned round thrice, and made a mark at hazard on the line of
photographs. The chances against my having hit it right were only
four to one; the committee were satisfied, the pilgrims have been made
happy, and it is difficult to see where harm has been done.
Nevertheless, the matter has weighed somewhat on my conscience ever
since, and I am glad to have thus lightened myself of it. What would
one better do in such circumstances? Is history written in this way?

The custom of our family in America had been to take all our meals
together; but in England the elders take lunch at noon, tea at four or
five, and dinner at seven or eight, while the children dine at noon
and sup at six. This arrangement was adopted in Rock Park. My father
used to leave home for the consulate at nine, and return--unless kept
away by an official or social engagement--at five or six. There was
appointed for us children a nurse or governess, to oversee and
administer our supplies; our father and mother dining, with such
guests as might happen to be present, late in the evening. We were
sometimes allowed to come in at dessert, to eat a few nuts and raisins
and exhibit our infantile good manners. This domestic separation was a
matter of much speculation arid curiosity to our immature minds; we
used to haunt the hall through which the servants carried the dishes,
smoking and fragrant, from the kitchen to the dining-room, and once in
a while the too-indulgent creatures would allow us to steal something.
How ravishingly delicious things thus acquired taste! And we,
fancying, of course, that they must be not less delicious for the
folks at table, used to marvel how they could ever bear to leave off
eating. The dinners were certainly rather elaborate compared with the
archaic repasts of Salem or of Concord; but they were as far inferior
in grandeur and interminableness to the astonishing banquets at which,
in some great houses, our father and mother were present. Consider,
for example, this dinner, in no way remarkable among such functions,
at the Hollands's, about this time. There were twelve persons at
table. The service was of solid silver; two enormous covers were on
the table before the soup was served; being removed, they revealed
turbot and fried fish. Then followed boiled turkey and roast goose,
and between them innumerable smaller dishes, including chicken-pies,
ragouts, cutlets, fricasees, tongue, and ham, all being placed in
their silver receptacles on the table; on the sideboard was a vast
round of boiled beef, as a precaution against famine. With the sweets
were served grouse and pheasants; there were five kinds of wine, not
including the champagne, which was consumed as a collateral all the
way along. The pudding which followed these trifles was an heroic
compound, which Gargantua might have flinched from; then came the nuts
and raisins, then the coffee, then the whiskey and brandy. There were
people in England, half a century ago, who ate this sort of dinners
six or seven times a week, and thought nothing of it. They actually
ate and drank them--did not merely glance at them and shake their
heads. The ancient Scandinavians, Gauls, Saxons, and Normans, of whom
they were descendants, could not have done more. One cannot help
respecting such prodigious trencher-men and women, or wonder that the
poverty-stricken class were ill-fed. Dinner in England had become a
very different thing when I lived there twenty years later, and though
port and Madeira were generally on the table, the only man whom I saw
habitually drink them was Robert Browning! Possibly this is the reason
the British got such a thrashing in South Africa the other day.

After dinner at Rock Park--or, if it were to be a late affair,
before--we would have family prayers, in which the servants joined.
This was in deference to English custom; not that we were irreligious,
but we had not before been accustomed to express our religious
feelings in just that manner. All being grouped in a semicircle, my
father would open the Bible and read a chapter; then he would take a
prayer-book containing thirty or forty well-considered addresses to
the Almighty, and everybody would kneel down and cover their eyes with
their hands. The "Amen" having been reached, and echoed by every one,
all would rise to their former positions, and the servants would file
out of the room. It must have been somewhat of an effort for my father
to go through this ceremony; but I think he did it, not only for the
reason above mentioned, but also because he thought it right that his
children should have the opportunity of gaining whatever religious
sentiment such proceedings might inculcate. But I do not think that he
had much faith in the practice as an English institution. Indeed, he
has somewhere written that the English "bring themselves no nearer to
God when they pray than when they play cards."

I understood long afterwards, as I did not at the time, how closely my
father and mother studied in all things the welfare and cultivation of
their children. They were not formal or oppressive about it; all went
pleasantly and with seeming spontaneity, as if in accordance with our
own desire; but we were wisely and needfully guided. We were never
sent to school during our seven years in Europe; but either we were
taught our lessons by our parents at home or by governesses. In
addition to the constant walks which I took with my father, he
encouraged me to join a cricket club in the Park, and sent me to
Huguenin's gymnasium in Liverpool, to the Cornwallis swimming-baths,
and to a dancing-academy kept by a highly ornamental Frenchman, and he
bought me an enormous steel hoop, and set me racing after it at
headlong speed. Nor did he neglect to stimulate us in the imaginative
and aesthetic side. From the date of our settlement in England to the
end of his life, he read aloud to us in the evenings many of the
classics of literature. Spenser's The Faerie Queene, the Don Quixote
of Cervantes, the poems and novels of Scott, Grimm's and Andersen's
Fairy Tales, much of Defoe and Swift, Goldsmith's Vicar of Wake field,
Coleridge's Ancient Mariner (he himself was very fond of that poem),
and many other things, and I cannot overestimate the good they did me.
His talks to me during our walks gave me, under the guise of
pleasantry, not so much specific information concerning things (though
that was not wanting), but--character; that is, the questions he put
to me, the remarks and comments he made, the stories he told, were all
calculated to give me a high idea of human duties and aspirations; to
encourage generosity, charity, courage, patriotism, and independence.
From the reading of The Faerie Queene and of Don Quixote I conceived a
vehement infatuation for mediaeval chivalry and knight-errantry; I
adopted the motto of the order, "Be faithful, brave, and true in deed
and word"; and I indulged in waking dreams of heroic adventures in
quest of fair renown, and to succor the oppressed. All this he
encouraged and abetted, though always, too, with a sort of twinkle of
the eye, lest I should take myself too seriously and wax priggish. He
permitted me to have a breastplate and a helmet with a golden dragon
crest (made by our nurse out of pasteboard covered with tinsel-paper),
and he bought me a real steel sword with a brass hilt wrought in
open-work; I used to spend hours polishing it, and picturing to myself
the giants and ogres I would slay with it. Finally--with that
humorous arching of the eyebrow of his--he bade me kneel down, and
with my sword smote me on the shoulder, and dubbed me knight, saying,
"Rise up, Sir Julian!" It was worth many set moral homilies to me. He
knew the advantage of leading a boy to regard the practice of boyish
and manly virtues not as a burden but as a privilege and boon, and of
making the boy's own conscience his judge. His handling of the matter
was, of course, modified so as to reach the inner springs of my
particular nature and temperament, which he thoroughly understood.
Withal, he never failed to hold up to ridicule anything showing a
tendency to the sentimental; he would test me on this point in various
ways, and always betrayed pleasure when he found me quick to detect
the sentimental or mawkish taint in literature or life. I breathed a
manly, robust, and bracing atmosphere in his company, and when I
reflect upon what were my proclivities to folly during this
impressionable period, I thank my stars for such a father.

There was abundant quiet and seclusion in Rock Park, and had my father
been able to do any writing, he could hardly have found a retreat more
suitable. The tradesmen called early at the houses in the Park, their
wagon-wheels making no sound upon the unpaved street, and the two
policemen, who lived in the stone lodges, kept the place free from
beggars and peddlers. These policemen, pacing slowly along in their
uniforms, rigid and dignified, had quite an imposing aspect, and it
was some time before we children discovered that they were only men,
after all. Each had a wife and children, who filled to overflowing the
tiny habitations; when their blue coats and steel-framed hats were
off, they were quite humble persons; one of them eked out his official
salary by mending shoes. After following with awe the progress along
the sidewalk of the officer of public order, stalking with solemn and
measured gait, and touching his hat, with a hand encased in a
snow-white cotton glove, to such of the denizens of the Park as he
might encounter, it was quite like a fairy-tale transformation to see
him squatting in soiled shirt-sleeves on his cobbler's bench, drawing
waxed thread through holes in a boot-sole. I once saw one of them, of
a Sunday afternoon, standing at ease in the doorway of his lodge, clad
in an old sack-coat which I recognized as having been my father's. I
am constitutionally reverent of law and order; but the revelation of
the domestic lives of these policemen gave me an insight, which I have
never since lost, into the profound truth that the man and the officer
are twain.

There were perhaps twenty families living in the Park, of whom we
became acquainted with two only; the people who lived next door to us
(whose name I have forgotten), and Mr. and Mrs. Squarey, who dwelt
higher up the street. The people next door had two boys of about my
own age, with whom I played cricket, and it was from the back windows
of their house that I saw for the first time an exhibition of
fireworks in their garden; I remember that when, just before the show
began, they put out the lamp in the room, I asked to have it
relighted, in order that I might see the as yet unexperienced wonder.
There are folks who go hunting for the sun with a lantern.

Mr. Squarey was tall and stiff of figure, with a singularly square
countenance, with a short whisker on each side of it; but spiritually
he was most affable and obliging; so was his wife; but as she was
short and globular, my father was wont to refer to her, in the privacy
of domestic intercourse, as Mrs. Roundey. They were profuse in
invitations to go with us to places--to Chester, to the Welsh
show-places, and so forth; and although I think my father and mother
would rather have gone alone, they felt constrained to accept these
suggestions. It was in their company, at all events, that I first saw
Chester "Rows"; and also, from some coign of vantage on those
delightful old walls, an English horse-race, with jockeys in silk caps
and jackets tinted like the rainbow. Mr. Squarey's demeanor towards my
sisters and myself was like that of the benevolent tutor in Sandford
and Merton, with which excellent work we were very conversant at that
time; as, likewise, with Edgeworth's Parents' Assistant, and with
still another engaging volume called, I think, the Budget of
something; at any rate, it had two or three little boys and girls in
it, who were anxious to acquire useful and curious information on many
subjects, which was afforded them in generous measure by their highly
cultivated elders. Such flower-garlanded instruction was the best
specifically juvenile literature which those primitive ages afforded.
"Pray, mamma, why does the sun rise in the east instead of in the
west?" "Pray, papa, why was King Alfred called 'The Good'?" Mrs.
Markham's History of England was constructed upon the same artless
principle. What a distance we have travelled since then!

But it was a good and happy life in Rock Park, and I think our father
and mother enjoyed it almost as much as we children did. They were
meeting people many of whom were delightful--I shall try to paint the
portraits of some of them in the next chapter--and they were seeing
towns and castles and places of historic and picturesque interest; and
my father was earning more money than ever before, though less than a
quarter as much as he would have earned had not Congress, soon after
his accession to office, cut down the emoluments. This was England;
the Old Home, and the Old World, for the understanding of which they
had prepared themselves all their lives previous. My father once said,
"If England were all the world, it would still have been worth while
for the Creator to have made it." The children were radiantly content
with their lot; and it is on record that the little boy once remarked,
"I don't remember when I carne down from heaven; but I'm glad I
happened to tumble into so good a family." The same individual,
rolling on the floor in excess of mirth over some childish comicality,
panted out, "Oh, mamma, my ball of jolly is so big I can't breathe!"
The ball of jolly became a household word for years thereafter. It
was well nourished in those days.

Julian Hawthorne

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