+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error


FROM my earliest years everybody seemed
to think I stood in need of advice. The
simplest affairs were considered beyond my
comprehension without the aid of a monitor
and this from no want of natural capacity, as
far as I am able to perceive, but from a
remarkable adaptation for the reception of
wise saws which made itself perceptible
to the most superficial acquaintance. No one
was too great an ass to give me the benefit of
his counselfellows whom I despised, girls
even, of the most preternatural silliness,
all found occasions of showing their superiority,
by telling me what to do, or say, or think. I
seemed a blank piece of paper on which every
person liked to try his hand, and the result
of this perpetual indoctrination was that I
learned to have no reliance on myself. I
couldn't walk through my own garden, it was
thought, without finger-posts to guide me;
and so many posts were put up, all pointing
in different directions, that I never felt sure
of my way. Probably to counteract this want
of firmness, my friends began, when I was
about fifteen, to lead me with precepts on the
benefits of independenceof the absolute
necessity of standing up on all occasions for
my rights,—of never letting an opportunity of
gaining an advantage passand, above all,
of being manly and decided. How could I
be manly and decided when I had never been
allowed to have a will of my own? How could
I take Time by the forelockhave an eye to
the main chancestrike while the iron was
hotbe wide awaketake care of number
oneor do any of the hundred other things I
was now recommended to do when nobody
told me how to get hold of Time's forelock, or
where to hit the hot iron, or what to hit it
with? However, I tried to take the advice,
and to become selfish and exacting with all
my might. This is not so easy as it seems.
I never could hoard up my pocket-money, or
hide the box of cake and jam which was sent
to me at school. I used to lend my cricket
bat, and never get it back; boys used to
pretend they drove my ball into the river,
and then to cover it with the initials of their
names, and sometimes make me pay a penny
an hour for the use of my own property;
my arrows were always missing, and I never
grudged my playmates whatever plaything
they took. I saw they followed the advice
which had been so frequently pressed on me,
and were holding on by Time's forelock, and
hitting the hot iron as became men of sense,
and I respected them accordingly. If I interfered
at any time with their goods and
chattels, or even tried to borrow a book which
I recognised as my own, they repulsed me in
the most manly and decided manner; and I
soon foresaw that they would all get on in
the race of life and leave me miles behind.
At church I used occasionally to hear some
statements that gave me consolation, some
advice that even encouraged me to persevere
in the spiritless conduct which came to me so
naturallybut the clergyman, on week days,
was one of the most eloquent of my advisers
to stick up for what I could get, to stand
no nonsense, and, in short, to fight my way
through the school with the same bullying,
selfish, dishonest audacity with which I was
treated. I was quite willing to do this, but I
couldn't, so I had the double disadvantage of
wishing to be a tyrant and continuing a spoony.
My virtue had no value as it was involuntary,
I would have been a serpent if I could, but I
had no sting, and was only a worm. The
boy I respected most was Herbert GrubbI
respect him still; I saw he would rise to
wealth and honour, and he has done so. The
second day of our friendship he told me he
had come away without his allowance, but it
was to be sent to him by post; I lent him all
I had, and for a week I saw him, at all hours,
in the play-ground swallowing apple tarts
and drinking ginger beer, and filling his
pockets with gingerbread out of the old fruit-
woman's basket, and when I ventured to ask
him if his allowance had come, " You fool,"
he said, " I had it all the time, and if I had a
few more asses like you in the school, I would
put it into the savings' bankmind your eye,
for here comes a handful of cherry-stones."
The other boys applauded his cleverness, and,
in my secret heart, so did Iit was such
admirable sticking up for number one.

There was a little fellow in the lowest class
of the name of Knowlsworth, he was only
half a year at the school, and was the simplest
little boy I ever knew. I felt immensely
superior to him, and once took away his top,
but he looked so disconsolate that I pretended