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Chapter I.2
I am the second son of an English gentleman of large fortune. Our family is, I
believe, one of the most ancient in this country. On my father's side, it dates back
beyond the Conquest; on my mother's, it is not so old, but the pedigree is nobler.
Besides my elder brother, I have one sister, younger than myself. My mother
died shortly after giving birth to her last child.
Circumstances which will appear hereafter, have forced me to abandon my
father's name. I have been obliged in honour to resign it; and in honour I abstain
from mentioning it here. Accordingly, at the head of these pages, I have only
placed my Christian name--not considering it of any importance to add the
surname which I have assumed; and which I may, perhaps, be obliged to change
for some other, at no very distant period. It will now, I hope, be understood from
the outset, why I never mention my brother and sister but by their Christian
names; why a blank occurs wherever my father's name should appear; why my
own is kept concealed in this narrative, as it is kept concealed in the world.
The story of my boyhood and youth has little to interest--nothing that is new. My
education was the education of hundreds of others in my rank of life. I was first
taught at a public school, and then went to college to complete what is termed "a
liberal education."
My life at college has not left me a single pleasant recollection. I found
sycophancy established there, as a principle of action; flaunting on the lord's gold
tassel in the street; enthroned on the lord's dais in the dining-room. The most
learned student in my college--the man whose life was most exemplary, whose
acquirements were most admirable--was shown me sitting, as a commoner, in
the lowest place. The heir to an Earldom, who had failed at the last examination,
was pointed out a few minutes afterwards, dining in solitary grandeur at a raised
table, above the reverend scholars who had turned him back as a dunce. I had
just arrived at the University, and had just been congratulated on entering "a
venerable seminary of learning and religion."
Trite and common-place though it be, I mention this circumstance attending my
introduction to college, because it formed the first cause which tended to diminish
my faith in the institution to which I was attached. I soon grew to regard my
university training as a sort of necessary evil, to be patiently submitted to. I read
for no honours, and joined no particular set of men. I studied the literature of
France, Italy, and Germany; just kept up my classical knowledge sufficiently to
take my degree; and left college with no other reputation than a reputation for
indolence and reserve.
When I returned home, it was thought necessary, as I was a younger son, and
could inherit none of the landed property of the family, except in the case of my
brother's dying without children, that I should belong to a profession. My father
had the patronage of some valuable "livings," and good interest with more than
one member of the government. The church, the army, the navy, and, in the last
instance, the bar, were offered me to choose from. I selected the last.