« ForrigeFortsæt »
Bust retire, on account of the bad health which both Mrs Lackington and myself labour under.
In these latter years, while still in trade, I have made several professional tours into Scotland and various parts of England. One of my most amusing excursions has been to Bristol, Exbridge, Bridgewater, Taunton, Wellington, and other places, where I called on my former masters, and astonished them by pretending to seek employment as a shoemaker, while sitting in my carriage. On telling them who I was, all appeared to be very happy to see me, and they enjoyed the humour of my address. Among a great number of poor relations I distributed means of comfort.
Lackington here closes his memoirs, which bring his life down to 1793, when his business, one of the largest in London, was conducted in a shop of very large size, called the "Temple of the Muses," at the corner of Finsbury Square. The memoirs abound in severe, and we have no doubt most unjust, remarks .on the Methodists both as to life and doctrine, and these Lackington afterwards repented having written. Uniting himself again to the Wesleyan society, he endeavoured to obviate the injustice of his sarcasms by publishing a confession of his errors. Much of what he had stated he acknowledged to have taken on trust; and many things he now discovered to have been without a proper foundation. These "Confessions," which appeared in 1803, never altogether accomplished their purpose; so difficult is it to recall or make reparation for a word lightly spoken. In sincere humiliation of spirit, Lackington retired to Budleigh Sulterton, in Devonshire, where he built and endowed a chapel, and performed various other acts of munificence, and spent the conclusion of his days. He died on the 22d of November 1815, in the seventieth year of his age.
Was born in London in the year 1745, at which time his father wrought as a shoemaker, arid his mother dealt in greens and oysters. His father, who seems to have been a person of unsettled habits, though a well-meaning and upright man, knew very little of his business, to which he had not been regularly bred, and, in spite of the exertions both of himself and his wife, his affairs were not by any means prosperous. When about six years of age, the family removed from London to a place in Berkshire, where Thomas was fortunate in getting a little schooling, and also in gaining the friendship of a kind-hearted lad, his father's •pprentice. The acquisition of the art of reading opened up a world of delight to young Holcroft. "One day," says he in his memoirs, "as I was sitting at the gate with my Bible in my hand, a neighbouring farmer, coming to see my father, asked me if I could read the Bible already. I answered yes; and he desired me to let him hear me. I began at the place where the book was open, read fluently, and afterwards told him that, if he pleased, he should hear the tenth chapter of Nehemiah. At this he seemed still more amazed, and wishing to be convinced, bade me read. After listening till he found I could really pronounce the uncouth Hebrew names so much better, and more easily than he supposed to be within the power of so young a child, he patted my head, gave me a penny, and said I was an uncommon boy. It would be hard to say whether his praise or his gift was most flattering to me. Soon after, my father's apprentice, the kindhearted Dick, who came backward and forward to my father on his affairs, brought me two delightful histories [the History of Parismus and Parismenes, and the Seven Champions of Christendom], which were among those then called Chapman's Books. It was scarcely possible for anything to have been more grateful to me than this present. Parismus and Parismenes, with all the adventures detailed in the Seven Champions of Christendom, were soon as familiar to me as my catechism, or the daily prayers I repeated kneeling before my father."
The misfortunes of the family soon caused a removal from their home in Berkshire, and they now may be said to have been fairly abroad in the world. They adopted a wandering life, the mother turning pedlar, and hawking her wares through the outskirts and neighbourhood of London, while her son trotted after her; and the father, after a vain attempt to obtain some regular employment, in a short time joining the party, who now extended their peregrinations to remote parts of the country. While leading this life, they endured the greatest hardships, and upon one occasion were so severely pressed, that Thomas was sent to beg from house to house in a village where they happened to be. At length the father managed to buy two or three asses, which he loaded with hampers of apples and pears, and drove about through the country. But this apparent improvement in their circumstances afforded no alleviation to the sufferings of the unfortunate Thomas. "The bad nourishment I met with," says he, "the cold and wretched manner in which I was clothed, and the excessive weariness I endured in following these animals day after day, and being obliged to drive creatures perhaps still more weary than myself, were miseries much too great, and loaded my little heart with sorrows far too pungent ever to be forgotten. Byroads and high roads were alike to be traversed, but the former far the oftenest, for they were then almost innumerable, and the state of them in winter would scarcely at present be believed." In one instance, he mentions that he travelled on foot thirty miles in one day; and he was at this time only a child of about ten years old. During all this time he made little or no progress in reading. "I was too much pressed," he says, '• by fatigue, hunger, cold, and nakedness." Yet as he continued to repeat his prayers and catechism morning and evening, and to read the Prayer-book and Bible on Sundays, he at least did not forget .what he had formerly learned. On one occasion, too, he states that the ballad of Chevy-Chase having fallen into his hands, his father, who was very proud of what he conceived to be his son's talents, and particularly of his memory, set him to get by heart the whole song, by way of task, which he performed, in the midst of his toils, in three days. His father gave him a halfpenny for the achievement, which made him think himself at the time quite a wealthy man.
From the mean and distressing circumstances in which he was plunged, he at length made a slight advance upwards. When twelve years of age, he was taken to the Nottingham races, and here he was so much struck by the contrast between his own mean and ragged condition, and that of the clean, well-fed, and well-clothed stable-boys, that he determined to try if he could not find a master to engage him in that capacity in Newmarket. After much perseverance, and being turned off upon a short trial, first by one master, and then by another, from the little knowledge he was found to have of riding, he was at last taken into the service of a person who was considerate enough not to expect him to be a finished groom almost before he could have ever mounted a horse. He very soon began to distinguish himself by his expertness in his new occupation; and the language in which he speaks of his change of circumstances forcibly paints his sense of the miseries from which he had been extricated. Alluding to the hearty meal which he and his companions were wont to make every morning at nine o'clock, alter four hours' exercise of their horses, he says, "Nothing, perhaps, can exceed the enjoyment of a stable-boy's breakfast: what, then, may not be said of mine, who had so long been used to suffer hunger, and so seldom found the means of satisfying it! For my own part," he adds, "so total and striking was the change which had taken place in my situation, that I could not but feel it very sensibly. I was more conscious of it than most boys would have been, and therefore not a little satisfied. The former part of my life had most of it been spent in turmoil, and often in singular wretchedness. I had been exposed to every want, every weariness, and every occasion of despondency, except that such poor sufferers become reconciled to, and almost insensible of, suffering; and boyhood and beggary are fortunately not prone to despond. Happy had been the meal where I had enough; rich to me was the rag that kept me warm; and heavenly the pillow, no matter what, or how hard, on which I could lay my head to sleep. Now I was warmly clothed, nay, gorgeously; for I was proud of my new livery, and never suspected that there was disgrace in it. I fed voluptuously, not a prince on earth perhaps with half the appetite and never-failing relish; and instead of being obliged to drag through the dirt after the most sluggish, obstinate, and despised among our animals, I was mounted on the noblest that the earth contains, had him under my care, and was borne by him over hill and dale, far outstripping the wings of the wind. Was not this a change such as might excite reflection even in the mind of a
Passing over the account which he gives of his life as a stableboy, interesting as are many of the particulars, we proceed to notice his love of reading, which followed him throughout all his early career. This taste brought him in contact with persons of a superior order of mind, however humble were their circumstances; and by one of these he was occasionally lent an old but entertaining volume. Among other works which this individual put into his hands were Gulliver's Travels and the Spectator, with which, the former especially, he was much delighted. He mentions also the Whole Duty of Man, the Pilgrim's Progress, and other religious books as at this time among his chief favourites. As he was one day passing the church, he heard some voices singing, and was immediately seized with a strong desire to learn the art. Having approached the church door, he found the persons within engaged in singing in four parts, under the direction of a Mr Langham. They asked him to join them, and his voice and ear being pronounced good, it was agreed that he should be taken into the class; the master offering to give up the entrance money of five shillings, in consideration of his being but a boy, whose wages could not be great, and the others agreeing to let him sing out of their books. "From the little," he proceeds, " I that day learned, and from another lesson or two, I obtained a tolerable conception of striking intervals upwards or downwards, such as the third, the fourth, and the remainder of the octave, the chief feature in which I soon understood; but of course I found most difficulty in the third, sixth, and seventh. Previously, however, to any great progress, I was obliged to purchase Arnold's Psalmody; and, studious over this divine treasure, I passed many a forenoon extended in the hay-loft."
It will afford an idea of the zeal with which young Holcroft improved himself, when we mention that, out of a wage of four pounds a-year, he paid five shillings a-quarter to his singing master; and upon Mr Langham offering to give him lessons in arithmetic also for as much more, he agreed to the proposal, and attended him daily for three months. In that time he got so far as Practice and the Rule of Three. "Except what I have already related," says he, "these three months, as far as others were concerned, may be truly called my course of education. At the age of two or three-and-thirty, indeed, when I was endeavouring to acquire the French language, I paid a Monsieur Raymond twenty shillings for a few lessons; but the good he did me was so little, that it was money thrown away. At Newmarket, I was so intent on studying arithmetic, that, for want of better apparatus, I have often got an old nail and cast up sums on the paling of the stable-yard." Who will not allow that l: where there is a will there will always be a way?" Those who complain of wanting the apparatus of learning, should remember Holcroft's old nail and paling.
Our hero remained at Newmarket for about two years and a half, when he determined to go to London once more to join his father, who now kept a cobbler's stall in South Audley Street. "My mind," he says, "having its own somewhat peculiar bias, circumstances had rather concurred to disgust me than to invite ffly stay. I despised my companions for the grossness of their ideas, and the total absence of every pursuit in which the mind appeared to have any share. It was even with sneers of contempt that they saw me intent on acquiring some small portion of knowledge; so that I was far from having any prompter, either as a friend or a rival." He was at this time nearly sixteen. For some years he continued to make shoes with his father, and at last became an able workman. But he grew every day fonder of reading; and whenever he had a shilling to spare, spent it, we are told, in purchasing books.- In 1765, having married, he attempted to open a school for teaching children to read, at Liverpool; hut was obliged to abandon the project in about a year, when he returned to town, and resumed his trade of a shoemaker. Besides his dislike to this occupation, however, on other accounts, it brought back an asthmatic complaint he had had when a boy; and every consideration made him resolve to endeavour to escape from it. Even at this time he had become a writer for the newspapers, the editor of the "Whitehall Evening Post giving him five shillings a column for some essays which he sent to that journal. He again attempted to open a school in the neighbourhood of London; but after living for three months Mi potatoes and buttermilk, and obtaining only one scholar, he once more returned to town. Having acquired some notions of elocution at a debating-club which he had been in the habit of attending, he next thought of going on the stage, and obtained an engagement from the manager of the Dublin theatre, at a foor salary, which was very ill paid. He was so ill-treated, indeed, in this situation, that he was obliged to leave it in about half a year. He then joined a strolling company in the north of England, and wandered about as an itinerant actor for seven years, during which time he suffered a great deal of misery, and "as often reduced almost to starving. In the midst of all his sufferings, however, he retained his love of books, and had made himself extensively conversant with English literature.
We must now follow the struggling young man to London. He arrived in the metropolis in 1777, and, as a first resource, gained some employment at Drury Lane theatre. Engaged with theatricals, he bethought himself of writing a farce, which he called " The Crisis;" and this proving fortunate, turned out