Page images

fortunate readiness the man answered, "As much, sir," as there is between a pair of bagpipes and a Recorder.



HE date is September, 1805, and the room before us

[ocr errors]

The hot sun is beating down on cliff and terrace, beach and pier, on the downs behind the town and the sparkling sea in front. The brightness of the blue sky is softened by white vapor that here and there resembles a vast curtain of filmy gauze, but nowhere has gathered into visible masses of hanging cloud. In the distance the sea is murmuring audibly, and through the screened windows, together with the drowsy hum of the languid waves, comes a light breeze that is invigorating, notwithstanding its sensible warmth.

Besides ourselves there are but two people in the room: a gentlewoman who has said farewell to youth, but not to feminine grade and delicacy; and an old man, who is lying on a sofa near one of the open windows, whilst his daughter plays passages of Handel's music on the pianoforte.

The old man wears the dress of an obsolete school of English gentlemen; a large brown wig with three rows of curls, the lowest row resting on the curve of his shoulders; a loose grey coat, notable for the size of its cuffs and the bigness of its heavy buttons; ruffles at his wrists, and frills of fine lace below his roomy cravat. These are the most conspicuous articles of his costume, but not the most striking points of his aspect. Over his huge, pallid, cadaverous, furrowed face there is an air

singularly expressive of exhaustion and power, of debility and latent strength-an air that says to sensitive beholders, "This prostrate veteran was once a giant amongst giants; his fires are dying out; but the old magnificent courage and ability will never altogether leave him until the beatings of his heart shall have quite ceased: touch him with foolishness or disrespect, and his rage will be terrible." Standing here we can see his prodigious bushy eyebrows, that are as white as driven snow, and under them we can see the large black eyes, beneath the angry fierceness of which hundreds of proud British peers, assembled in their council-chamber, have trembled like so many whipped schoolboys. There is no lustre in them now, and their habitual expression is one of weariness and profound indifference to the world—a look that is deeply pathetic and depressing, until some transient cause of irritation or the words of a sprightly talker rouse him into animation. But the most noticeable quality of his face is its look of extreme age. Only yesterday a keen observer said of him, "Lord Thurlow is, I believe, only seventy-four; and from his appearance I should think him a hundred years old."

So quiet is the reclining form, that the pianist thinks her father must be sleeping. Turning on the music-stool to get a view of his countenance, and to satisfy herself as to his state, she makes a false note, when, quick as the blunder, the brown wig turns upon the pillow—the furrowed face is presented to her observation, and an electric brightness fills the big black eyes, as the veteran, with deep rolling tones, reproves her carelessness:— "What are you doing?—what are you doing? I had almost forgotten the world. Play that piece again."

Twelve months more-and the lady will be playing Handel's music on that same instrument; but the old man will not be a listener.

From Brighton, in 1805, let readers transport themselves to Canterbury in 1776, and let them enter a barber's shop, hard by Canterbury Cathedral. It is a primitive shop, with the red and white pole over the door, and a modest display of wigs and puff-boxes in the window. A small shop, but, notwithstanding its smallness, the best shop of its kind in Canterbury; and its lean, stiff, exceedingly respectable master is a man of good repute in the cathedral town. His hands have, ere now, powdered the Archbishop's wig, and he is specially retained by the chief clergy of the city and neighborhood to keep their false hair in order, and trim the natural tresses of their children. Not only have the dignitaries of the cathedral taken the worthy barber under their special protection, but they have extended to his little boy Charles, a demure, prim lad, who is at this present time a pupil in the King's School, to which academy clerical interest gained him admission. The lad is in his fourteenth year; and Dr. Osmund Beauvoir, the master of the school, gives him so good a character for industry and dutiful demeanor, that some of the cathedral ecclesiastics have resolved to make the little fellow's fortune-by placing him in the office of a Chorister. There is a vacant place in the cathedral choir; and the boy who is lucky enough to receive the appointment will be provided for munificently. He will forthwith have a maintenance, and in course of time his salary will be £70 per annum.

During the last fortnight the barber has been in great and constant excitement-hoping that his little boy will obtain this valuable piece of preferment; persuading himself that the lad's thickness of voice, concerning which the choir-master speaks with aggravating persistence, is a matter of no real importance; fearing that the friends of another contemporary boy, who is said by the choirmaster to have an exceedingly mellifluous voice, may de

feat his paternal aspirations. The momentous question agitates many humble homes in Canterbury; and whilst Mr. Abbott, the barber, is encouraged to hope the best for his son, the relatives and supporters of the contemporary boy are urging him not to despair. Party spirit prevails on either side-Mr. Abbott's family associates maintaining that the contemporary boy's higher notes resemble those of a penny whistle; whilst the contemporary boy's father, with much satire and some justice, murmurs that "old Abbott, who is the gossipmonger of the parsons, wants to push his son into a place for which

there is a better candidate."

To-day is the eventful day when the election will be made. Even now, whilst Abbott, the barber, is trimming a wig at his shop window, and listening to the hopeful talk of an intimate neighbor, his son Charley is chanting the Old Hundredth before the whole chapter. When Charley has been put through his vocal paces, the contemporary boy is requested to sing. Whereupon that clear-throated competitor, sustained by justifiable selfconfidence and a new-laid egg which he had sucked scarcely a minute before he made his bow to their reverences, sings out with such richness and compass that all the auditors recognize his great superiority.

Ere ten more minutes have passed Charley Abbot knows that he has lost the election; and he hastens from the cathedral with quick steps. Running into the shop he gives his father a look that tells the whole story offailure, and then the little fellow, unable to command his grief, sits down upon the floor and sobs convulsively.

Failure is often the first step to eminence.

Had the boy gained the chorister's place, he would have a cathedral servant all his days.

Having failed to get it, he returned to the King's School, went a poor scholar to Oxford, and fought his

way to honor. He became Chief Justice of the King's Bench, and a peer of the realm. Towards the close of his honorable career Lord Tenterden attended service in the Cathedral of Canterbury, accompanied by Mr. Justice Richardson. When the ceremonial was at an end the Chief Justice said to his friend-"Do you see that old man there amongst the choristers? In him, brother Richardson, behold the only being I ever envied : when at school in this town we were candidates together for a chorister's place; he obtained it; and if I had gained my wish he might have been accompanying you as Chief Justice, and pointing me out as his old school-fellow, the singing man."

« PreviousContinue »