Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet: Ch. 30

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Then I waded, making copious notes and extracts, through the whole of Hume, and Hallam's "Middle Ages," and "Constitutional History," and found them barren to my soul. When (to ask a third and last question) will some man, of the spirit of Carlyle—one who is not ashamed to acknowledge the intervention of a God, a Providence, even of a devil, in the affairs of men—arise, and write a "People's History of England"?

Then I laboured long months at learning French, for the mere purpose of reading French political economy after my liberation. But at last, in my impatience, I wrote to Sandy to send me Proudhon and Louis Blanc, on the chance of their passing the good chaplain's censorship—and behold, they passed! He had never heard their names! He was, I suspect, utterly ignorant of French, and afraid of exposing his ignorance by venturing to criticise. As it was, I was allowed peaceable possession of them till within a few months of my liberation, with such consequences as may be imagined: and then, to his unfeigned terror and horror, he discovered, in some periodical, that he had been leaving in my hands books which advocated "the destruction of property," and therefore, in his eyes, of all which is moral or sacred in earth or heaven! I gave them up without a struggle, so really painful was the good soul's concern and the reproaches which he heaped, not on me—he never reproached me in his life—but on himself, for having so neglected his duty.

Then I read hard for a few months at physical science—at Zoology and Botany, and threw it aside again in bitterness of heart. It was too bitter to be tantalized with the description of Nature's wondrous forms, and I there a prisoner between those four white walls.

Then I set to work to write an autobiography—at least to commit to paper in regular order the most striking incidents and conversations which I could recollect, and which I had noted down as they occurred in my diary. From that source I have drawn nearly the whole of my history up to this point. For the rest I must trust to memory—and, indeed, the strange deeds and sufferings, and yet stranger revelations, of the last few months, have branded themselves deep enough upon my brain. I need not hope, or fear, that aught of them should slip my memory.

* * * * *

So went the weary time. Week after week, month after month, summer after summer, I scored the days off, like a lonely school boy, on the pages of a calendar; and day by day I went to my window, and knelt there, gazing at the gable and the cedar-tree. That was my only recreation. Sometimes, at first, my eyes used to wander over the wide prospect of rich lowlands, and farms, and hamlets, and I used to amuse myself with conjectures about the people who lived in them, and walked where they liked on God's earth: but soon I hated to look at the country; its perpetual change and progress mocked the dreary sameness of my dungeon. It was bitter, maddening, to see the grey boughs grow green with leaves, and the green fade to autumnal yellow, and the grey boughs reappear again, and I still there! The dark sleeping fallows bloomed with emerald blades of corn, and then the corn grew deep and crisp, and blackened before the summer breeze, in "waves of shadow," as Mr. Tennyson says in one of his most exquisite lyrics; and then the fields grew white to harvest day by day, and I saw the rows of sheaves rise one by one, and the carts crawling homeward under their load. I could almost hear the merry voices of the children round them—children that could go into the woods, and pick wild flowers, and I still there! No—I would look at nothing but the gable and the cedar-tree, and the tall cathedral towers; there was no change in them—they did not laugh at me.

But she who lived beneath them? Months and seasons crawled along, and yet no sign or hint of her! I was forgotten, forsaken! And yet I gazed, and gazed. I could not forget her; I could not forget what she had been to me. Eden was still there, though I was shut out from it for ever: and so, like a widower over the grave of her he loves, morning and evening I watched the gable and the cedar-tree.

And my cousin? Ah, that was the thought, the only thought, which made my life intolerable! What might he not be doing in the meantime? I knew his purpose, I knew his power. True, I had never seen a hint, a glance, which could have given him hope; but he had three whole years to win her in—three whole years, and I fettered, helpless, absent! "Fool! could I have won her if I had been free? At least, I would have tried: we would have fought it fairly out, on even ground; we would have seen which was the strongest, respectability and cunning, or the simplicity of genius. But now!"—And I tore at the bars of the window, and threw myself on the floor of my cell, and longed to die.