It is now many--do not ask me to say how many--years since I received from the Horse Guards the welcome intelligence that I was gazetted to an ensigncy in his Majesty's th Foot, and that my name, which had figured so long in the "Duke's" list, with the words "a very hard case" appended, should at length appear in the monthly record of promotions and appointments.
Since then my life has been passed in all the vicissitudes of war and peace. The camp and the bivouac--the reckless gaiety of the mess-table --the comfortless solitude of a French prison--the exciting turmoils of active service--the wearisome monotony of garrison duty, I have alike partaken of, and experienced.
While the great world, not very far off, busies itself with all the appliances of state and science, amusing its leisure by problems which, once on a time, would have been reserved for the studies of philosophers and sages, these poor creatures drag on an existence rather beneath than above the habits of savage life. Their dwellings, their food, their clothes, such as generations of their fathers possessed; and neither in their culture, their aspirations, nor their ways, advanced beyond what centuries back had seen them.
An eminent apothecary of my acquaintance once told me that at each increase to his family, he added ten per cent to the price of his drugs, and as his quiver was full of daughters, Blackdraught, when I knew him, was a more costly cordial than Curaçoa.
To apply this to my own case, I may mention that I had a daughter born to me about the time this story dates from, and not having at my command the same resource as my friend the chemist, I adopted the alternative of writing another story, to be published contemporaneously with that now appearing,--"The Daltons;" and not to incur the reproach so natural in criticism--of over-writing myself--I took care that the work should come out without a name.
For several months after the battle of Talavera my life presented nothing which I feel worth recording. Our good fortune seemed to have deserted us when our hopes were highest; for from the day of that splendid victory we began our retrograde movement upon Portugal. Pressed hard by overwhelming masses of the enemy, we saw the fortresses of Ciudad Rodrigo and Almeida fall successively into their hands. The Spaniards were defeated wherever they ventured upon a battle; and our own troops, thinned by sickness and desertion, presented but a shadow of that brilliant army which only a few months previous had followed the retiring French beyond the frontiers of Portugal.
OUT of a window of the Weissen Ross, at Coblentz, looking upon the rapid Rhine, over whose circling eddies a rich sunset shed a golden tint, two young Englishmen lounged and smoked their cigars; rarely speaking, and, to all seeming, wearing that air of boredom which, strangely enough, would appear peculiar to a very enjoyable time of life. They were acquaintances of only a few days. They had met on an Antwerp steamer--rejoined each other in a picture-gallery--chanced to be side by side at a table d'hôte at Brussels, and, at last, drifted into one of those intimacies which, to very young men, represents friendship. They agreed they would travel together, all the more readily that neither cared very much in what direction. "As for me," said Calvert, "it doesn't much signify where I pass the interval; but, in October, I must return to India and join my regiment."
It has been said that any man, no matter how small and insignificant the post he may have filled in life, who will faithfully record the events in which he has borne a share, even though incapable of himself deriving profit from the lessons he has learned, may still be of use to others,--sometimes a guide, sometimes a warning. I hope this is true. I like to think it so, for I like to think that even I,--A. S. P.,--if I cannot adorn a tale, may at least point a moral.
Certain families are remarkable for the way in which peculiar gifts have been transmitted for ages. Some have been great in arms, some in letters, some in statecraft, displaying in successive generations the same high qualities which had won their first renown. In an humble fashion, I may lay claim to belong to this category. My ancestors have been ...
The success of Harry Lorrequer was the reason for writing Charles O'Malley. That I myself was in no wise prepared for the favor the public bestowed on my first attempt is easily enough understood. The ease with which I strung my stories together,--and in reality the Confessions of Harry Lorrequer are little other than a note-book of absurd and laughable incidents,--led me to believe that I could draw on this vein of composition without any limit whatever. I felt, or thought I felt, an inexhaustible store of fun and buoyancy within me, and I began to have a misty, half-confused impression that Englishmen generally labored under a sad-colored temperament, took depressing views of life, and were proportionately grateful to any one who would rally them even passingly out of their despondency, and give them a laugh without much trouble for going in search of it.
The Publishers feel that some explanation is necessary concerning the tardy publication in book form of this story.Gerald Fitzgerald appeared as a serial in the Dublin University Magazine. The Magazine at the time was changing hands, Lever's old friend and publisher, James M'Glashan, having just died. Lever was always eager to avoid trouble, and ever readier to undertake new work than to concern himself about work already done; and possibly--for there is not sufficient evidence to speak with certainty--owing to some trouble with the new proprietors of the Dublin University Magazine, he decided to put aside Gerald Fitzgerald. When he was rearranging his novels for a fresh issue, shortly before his death, he omitted a few of his stories from the collection, but for no adequate reason which can be discovered.
It was my fortune to have known personally some of those who filled great parts in this glorious drama. I had listened over and over to their descriptions of scenes, to which their look, and voice, and manner imparted a thrilling intensity of interest. I had opportunities of questioning them for explanations, of asking for solutions of this and that difficulty which had puzzled me, till I grew so familiar with the great names of the time, the events, and even the localities, that when I addressed myself to my tale, it was with a mind filled by my topics to the utter exclusion of all other subjects.
In a little cleft, not deep enough to be a gorge, between two grassy hills, traversed by a clear stream, too small to be called a river, too wide to be a rivulet, stood, and, I believe, still stands, a little cottage, whose one bay-window elevates it above the condition of a laboring-man's, and shows in its spacious large-paned proportions pretensions to taste as well as station. From the window a coast-line can be seen to which nothing in the kingdom can find the equal. It takes in the bold curve of shore from the "White Rocks" to the Giant's Causeway,--a sweep of coast broken by jutting headland and promontory, with sandy bays nestling between gigantic walls of pillared rock, and showing beneath the green water the tessellated pavement of those broken shafts which our superstition calls Titanic.
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