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An Autobiography

the well, to which twice a day the maids went to draw water for the house until I was nine
years old, when we had pipes and taps laid on. The cross was the place for any public
speaking, and I recalled, when I was recovering from the measles, the maid in whose
charge I was, wrapped me in a shawl and took me with her to hear a gentleman from
Edinburgh speak in favour of reform to a crowd gathered round. He said that the Tories
had found a new name--they called themselves Conservatives because it sounded better.
For his part he thought conserves were pickles, and he hoped all the Tories would soon
find themselves in a pretty pickle. There were such shouts of laughter that I saw this was
a great joke.
We had gasworks in Melrose when I was 10 or 11, and a great joy to us children the
wonderful light was. I recollect the first lucifer matches, and the wonder of them. My
brother John had got 6d. from a visiting, uncle as a reward for buying him snuff to fill his
cousin's silver snuffbox, and he spent the money in buying a box of lucifers, with the
piece of sandpaper doubled, through which each match was to be smartly drawn, and he
took all of us and some of his friends to the orchard, we called the wilderness, at the back
of my grandfather Spence's house. and lighted each of the 50 matches, and we considered
it a great exhibition. 'MY grandfather (old Dr. Spence) died before the era of lucifer
matches. He used to get up early and strike a fire with flint and steel to boil the kettle and
make a cup of tea to give to his wife in bed. He did it for his first wife (Janet Park), who
was delicate, and he did the same for his second wife until her last fatal illness. It was a
wonderful thing for a man to do in those days. He would not call the maid; he said young
things wanted plenty of sleep. He had been a navy doctor, and was very intelligent. He
trusted much to Nature and not too much to drugs. On the Sunday of the great annular
eclipse of the sun in 1835, which was my brother John's eleventh birthday, he had a large
double tooth extracted--not by a dentist, and gas was then unknown or any other
anaesthetic, so he did not enjoy the eclipse as other people did. It took place in the
afternoon, and there was no afternoon church.
In summer we had two services--one in the forenoon and one in the afternoon. In winter
we had two services at one sitting, which was a thing astonishing to English visitors. The
first was generally called a lecture--a reading with comments, of a passage of Scriture--a
dozen verses or more--and the second a regularly built sermon, with three or four heads,
and some particulars, and a practical summing up.
Prices and cost of living had fallen since my mother had married in 1815, three months
after the battle of Waterloo. At that time tea cost 8/0 a lb., loaf sugar, 1/4, and brown
sugar 11 1/2d. Bread and meat were then still at war prices, and calico was no cheaper
than linen. and that was dear. She paid 3/6 a yard for fine calico to make petticoats. Other
garments were of what was called home made linen. White cotton stockings at 4/9, and
thinner at 3/9 each; silk stockings at 11/6. I know she paid 36/ for a yard of Brussels net
to make caps of. It was a new thing to have net made in the loom. When a woman
married she must wear caps at least in the morning. In 1838 my mother bought a chest of
tea (84 lb.) for 20 pounds, a trifle under 5/0 a lb.; the retail price was 6/0--it was a great
saving; and up to the time of our departure brown sugar cost 7 1/2d., and loaf sugar 10d.
It is no wonder that these things were accounted luxuries. When a decent Scotch couple
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