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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsHugh: Memoirs Of A Brother - Chapter 6. Cambridge
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Hugh: Memoirs Of A Brother - Chapter 6. Cambridge Post by :dan7530 Category :Nonfictions Author :Arthur C. Benson Date :May 2012 Read :2861

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Hugh: Memoirs Of A Brother - Chapter 6. Cambridge

CHAPTER VI. CAMBRIDGE

Hugh went then to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1890. He often talked to me in later days about his time there as an undergraduate. He found a number of his Eton contemporaries up there, and he had a very sociable time. A friend and contemporary of his at Trinity describes him as small, light, and boyish-looking. "He walked fast, and always appeared to be busy." He never cared much about athletics, but he was an excellent steerer. He steered the third Trinity boat all the time he was at Cambridge, and was a member of the Leander club. He was always perfectly cool, and not in the smallest degree nervous. He was, moreover, an excellent walker and mountain-climber. He once walked up to London from Cambridge; I have climbed mountains with him, and he was very agile, quick, surefooted, and entirely intrepid. Let me interpolate a little anecdote of an accident at Pontresina, which might have been serious. Hugh and I, with a practised Alpine climber, Dr. Leith, left Pontresina early one morning to climb a rock-peak. We were in a light carriage with a guide and porter. The young horse which drew us, as we were rattling down the high embanked road leading to Samaden, took a sharp turn to the right, where a road branched off. He was sharply checked by the guide, with the result that the carriage collided with a stone post, and we were all flung out down the embankment, a living cataract of men, ice-axes, haversacks, and wraps. The horse fortunately stopped. We picked ourselves ruefully up and resumed our places. Not until we reached our destination did we become aware that the whole incident had passed in silence. Not one word of advice or recrimination or even of surprise had passed anyone's lips!

But Hugh's climbing was put a stop to by a sharp attack of heart-failure on the Piz Palu. He was with my brother Fred, and after a long climb through heavy snow, he collapsed and was with difficulty carried down. He believed himself to be on the point of death, and records in one of his books that the prospect aroused no emotion whatever in his mind either of fear or excitement, only of deep curiosity.

While he was an undergraduate, he and I had a sudden and overwhelming interest in family history and genealogy. We went up to Yorkshire for a few days one winter, stayed at Pateley Bridge, Ripon, Bolton Abbey, Ripley, and finally York. At Pateley Bridge we found the parish registers very ancient and complete, and by the aid of them, together with the printed register of Fountains Abbey, we traced a family tree back as far as to the fourteenth century, with ever-increasing evidence of the poverty and mean condition of our ancestral stock. We visited the houses and cradles of the race, and from comfortable granges and farmsteads we declined, as the record conducted us back, to hovels and huts of quite conspicuous humility and squalor. The thermometer fell lower and lower every day, in sympathy with our researches. I remember a night when we slept in a neglected assembly-room tacked on to a country inn, on hastily improvised and scantily covered beds, when the water froze in the ewers; and an attempt to walk over the moors one afternoon from Masham into Nidderdale, when the springs by the roadside froze into lumpy congealments, like guttering candles, and we were obliged to turn back; and how we beguiled a ten-mile walk to Ripon, the last train having gone, by telling an enormous improvised story, each taking an alternate chapter, and each leaving the knots to be untied by the next narrator. Hugh was very lively and ingenious in this, and proved the most delightful of companions, though we had to admit as we returned together that we had ruined the romance of our family history beyond repair.

Hugh did very little work at Cambridge; he had given up classics, and was working at theology, with a view to taking Orders. He managed to secure a Third in the Tripos; he showed no intellectual promise whatever; he was a very lively and amusing companion and a keen debater; I think he wrote a little poetry; but he had no very pronounced tastes. I remember his pointing out to me the windows of an extremely unattractive set of ground-floor rooms in Whewell's Court as those which he had occupied till he migrated to the Bishop's Hostel, eventually moving to the Great Court. They look down Jesus Lane, and the long, sombre wall of Sidney Sussex Garden. A flagged passage runs down to the right of them, and the sitting-room is on the street. They were dark, stuffy, and extremely noisy. The windows were high up, and splashed with mud by the vehicles in the street, while it was necessary to keep them shut, because otherwise conversation was wholly inaudible. "What did you do there?" I said. "Heaven knows!" he answered. "As far as I can remember, I mostly sat up late at night and played cards!" He certainly spent a great deal of money. He had a good allowance, but he had so much exceeded it at the end of his first year, that a financial crisis followed, and my mother paid his debts for him. He had kept no accounts, and he had entertained profusely.

The following letter from my father to him refers to one of Hugh's attempts to economise. He caught a bad feverish cold at Cambridge as a result of sleeping in a damp room, and was carried off to be nursed by my uncle, Henry Sidgwick:

Addington Park, Croydon,

26th Jan. 1891.

Dearest Hughie,--I was rather disturbed to hear that you imagined that what I said in October about not _needlessly indulging was held by you to forbid your having a fire in your bedroom on the ground floor in the depth of such a winter as we have had!

You ought to have a fire lighted at such a season at 8 o'clock so as to warm and dry the room, and all in it, nearly every evening--and whenever the room seems damp, have a fire just lighted to go out when it will. It's not wholesome to sleep in heated rooms, but they must be dry. A _bed slept in every night keeps so, if the room is not damp; but the room must not be damp, and when it is unoccupied for two or three days it is sure to get so.

_Be sure that there is a good fire in it all day, and all your bed things, _mattress and all_, kept well before it for at _least a _whole day before you go back from Uncle Henry's_.

How was it your bed-maker had not your room well warmed and dried, mattress dry, etc., before you went up this time? She ought to have had, and should be spoken to about it--_i.e. unless you told her not to! in which case it would be very like having no breakfast!

It has been a horrid interruption in the beginning of term--and you'll have difficulty with the loss of time. Besides which I have no doubt you have been very uncomfortable.

But I don't understand why you should have "nothing to write about" because you have been in bed. Surely you must have accumulated all sorts of reflective and imaginative stories there.

It is most kind of Aunt Nora and Uncle Henry--give my love and thanks to both.

I grieve to say that many many more fish are found dead since the thaw melted the banks of swept snow off the sides of the ice. It is most piteous; the poor things seem to have come to the edge where the water is shallowest--there is a shoal where we generally feed the swans.

I am happy to say the goldfish seem all alive and merry. The continual dropping of fresh water has no doubt saved them--they were never hermetically sealed in like the other poor things.

Yesterday I was at Ringwould, near Dover. The farmers had been up all night saving their cattle in the stalls from the sudden floods.

Here we have not had any, though the earth is washed very much from the hills in streaks.

We are--at least I am--dreadfully sorry to go to London--though the house is very dull without "the boys."

All right about the books.--Ever your loving father,

Edw. Cantuar.


Hugh was much taken up with experiments in hypnotism as an undergraduate, and found that he had a real power of inducing hypnotic sleep, and even of curing small ailments. He told my mother all about his experiments, and she wrote to him at once that he must either leave this off while he was at Cambridge, or that my father must be told. Hugh at once gave up his experiments, and escaped an unpleasant contretemps, as the authorities discovered what was going on, and actually, I believe, sent some of the offenders down.

Hugh says that he drifted into the idea of taking Orders as the line of least resistance, though when he began the study of theology he said that he had found the one subject he really cared for. But he had derived a very strong half-religious, half-artistic impression from reading John Inglesant just before he came up to Cambridge. He could long after repeat many passages by heart, and he says that a half-mystical, half-emotional devotion to the Person of Our Lord, which he derived from the book, seemed to him to focus and concentrate all his vague religious emotions. He attended the services at King's Chapel regularly, but he says that he had no real religious life, and only looked forward to being a country clergyman with a beautiful garden, an exquisite choir, and a sober bachelor existence.

It was on an evening walk at Addington with my mother that he told her of his intention to take Orders. They had gone together to evensong at a neighbouring church, Shirley, and as they came back in the dusk through the silent woods of the park, he said he believed he had received the call, and had answered, "Here am I, send me!" My mother had the words engraved on the inside of a ring, which Hugh wore for many years.

By far the closest and dearest of all the ties which bound Hugh to another was his love for my mother. Though she still lives to bless us, I may say this, that never did a mother give to her children a larger and a wiser love than she gave to us; she was our playmate and companion, but we always gave her a perfectly trustful and unquestioning obedience. Yet it was always a reasonable and critical obedience. She never exacted silent submission, but gave us her reasons readily. She never curtailed our independence, or oppressed us with a sense of over-anxiety. She never demanded confidence, but welcomed it with perfect, understanding.

The result of this with Hugh was that he came to consult her about everything, about his plans, his schemes, his books, his beliefs. He read all his writings aloud to her, and deferred much to her frankly critical mind and her deeply human insight. At the time when he was tending towards Rome, she accompanied him every step of the way, though never disguising from him her own differences of opinion and belief. It was due to her that he suspended his decision, read books, consulted friends, gave the old tradition full weight; he never had the misery of feeling that she was overcome by a helpless distress, because she never attempted to influence any one of us away from any course we thought it right to pursue. She did not conceal her opinion, but wished Hugh to make up his own mind, believing that everyone must do that, and that the only chance of happiness lies there.

There was no one in the world whom he so regarded and admired and loved; but yet it was not merely a tender and deferential sentiment. He laid his mind open before her, and it was safe to do that, because my mother never had any wish to prevail by sentiment or by claiming loyalty. He knew that she would be perfectly candid too, with love waiting behind all conflict of opinion. And thus their relation was the most perfect that could be imagined, because he knew that he could speak and act with entire freedom, while he recognised the breadth and strength of her mind, and the insight of her love. No one can really understand Hugh's life without a knowledge of what my mother was to him--an equal friend, a trusted adviser, a candid critic, and a tender mother as well. And even when he went his own way, as he did about health and work, though she foresaw only too clearly what the end might be, and indeed what it actually was, she always recognised that he had a right to live as he chose and to work as he desired. She was not in the least blind to his lesser faults of temperament, nor did she ever construct an artificial image of him. My family has, I have no doubt, an unusual freedom of mutual criticism. I do not think we have ever felt it to be disloyal to see each other in a clear light. But I am inclined to believe that the affection which subsists without the necessity of cherishing illusions, has a solidity about it which more purely sentimental loyalties do not always possess. And I have known few relations so perfect as those between Hugh and my mother, because they were absolutely tender and chivalrous, and at the same time wholly candid, natural, and open-eyed.

It was at this time that my eldest sister died quite suddenly of diphtheria. I have told something of her life elsewhere. She had considerable artistic gifts, in music, painting, and writing. She had written a novel, and left unpublished a beautiful little book of her own experiences among the poor, called _Streets and Lanes of the City_. It was privately printed, and is full of charming humour and delicate observation, together with a real insight into vital needs. I always believe that my sister would have done a great work if she had lived. She had strong practical powers and a very large heart. She had been drawn more and more into social work at Lambeth, and I think would have eventually given herself up to such work. She had a wonderful power of establishing a special personal relation with those whom she loved, and I remember realising after her death that each of her family felt that they were in a peculiar and individual relation to her of intimacy and confidence. She had sent Hugh from her deathbed a special message of love and hope; and this had affected him very much.

We were not allowed to go back at once to our work, Fred, Hugh, and myself, because of the possibility of infection; and we went off to Seaford together for a few days, where we read, walked, wrote letters, and talked. It was a strange time; but Hugh, I recollect, got suddenly weary of it, and with the same decision which always characterised him, said that he must go to London in order to be near St. Paul's. He went off at once and stayed with Arthur Mason. I was struck with this at the time; he did not think it necessary to offer any explanations or reasons. He simply said he could not stand it, quite frankly and ingenuously, and promptly disappeared.

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