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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Reminiscences of Childhood
By Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832)
 
DURING my visits to Barking, I used to be my grandmother’s bedfellow. The dinner hour being as early as two o’clock, she had a regular supper, which was served up in her own sleeping-room; and immediately after finishing it, she went to bed. Of her supper I was not permitted to partake, nor was the privation a matter of much regret. I had what I preferred—a portion of gooseberry pie; hers was a scrag of mutton, boiled with parsley and butter. I do not remember any variety.  1
  My amusements consisted in building houses with old cards, and sometimes playing at ‘Beat the knave out of doors’ with my grandmother. My time of going to bed was perhaps an hour before hers; but by way of preparation, I never failed to receive her blessing. Previous to the ceremony, I underwent a catechetical examination, of which one of the questions was, “Who were the children that were saved in the fiery furnace?” Answer, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.” But as the examination frequently got no farther, the word Abednego got associated in my mind with very agreeable ideas, and it ran through my ears like “Shadrach, Meshach, and To-bed-we-go,” in a sort of pleasant confusion, which is not yet removed. As I grew in years, I became a fit receptacle for some of my grandmother’s communications, among which the state of her family and the days of her youth were most prominent.  2
  There hung on the wall, perpetually in view, a sampler, the produce of the industry and ingenuity of her mother or her grandmother, of which the subject-matter was the most important of all theologico-human incidents, the fall of man in Paradise. There was Adam—there was Eve—and there was the serpent. In these there was much to interest and amuse me. One thing alone puzzled me; it was the forbidden fruit. The size was enormous. It was larger than that species of the genus Orangeum which goes by the name of “the forbidden fruit” in some of our West India settlements. Its size was not less than that of the outer shell of a cocoanut. All the rest of the objects were as usual in plano; this was in alto, indeed in altissimo rilievo. What to make of it, at a time when my mind was unable to distinguish fictions from realities, I knew not. The recollection is strong in me of the mystery it seemed to be. My grandmother promised me the sampler after her death as a legacy, and the promise was no small gratification; but the promise, with many other promises of jewels and gold coins, was productive of nothing but disappointment. Her death took place when I was at Oxford. My father went down; and without consulting me, or giving the slightest intimation of his intention, let the house, and sold to the tenant almost everything that was in it. It was doing as he was wont to do, notwithstanding his undoubted affection for me. In the same way he sold the estate he had given to me as a provision on the occasion of his second marriage. In the mass went some music-books which I had borrowed of Mrs. Browne. Not long after, she desired them to be returned. I stood before her like a defenseless culprit, conscious of my inability to make restitution; and at the same time, such was my state of mental weakness that I knew not what to say for apology or defense.  3
  My grandmother’s mother was a matron, I was told, of high respectability and corresponding piety; well-informed and strong-minded. She was distinguished, however; for while other matrons of her age and quality had seen many a ghost, she had seen but one. She was in this particular on a level with the learned lecturer, afterwards judge, the commentator Blackstone. But she was heretical, and her belief bordered on Unitarianism. And by the way, this subject of ghosts has been among the torments of my life. Even now, when sixty or seventy years have passed over my head since my boyhood received the impression which my grandmother gave it, though my judgment is wholly free, my imagination is not wholly so. My infirmity was not unknown to the servants. It was a permanent source of amusement to ply me with horrible phantoms in all imaginable shapes. Under the pagan dispensation, every object a man could set his eyes on had been the seat of some pleasant adventure. At Barking, in the almost solitude of which so large a portion of my life was passed, every spot that could be made by any means to answer the purpose was the abode of some spectre or group of spectres. So dexterous was the invention of those who worked upon my apprehensions, that they managed to transform a real into a fictitious being. His name was Palethorp; and Palethorp, in my vocabulary, was synonymous with hobgoblin. The origin of these horrors was this:—  4
  My father’s house was a short half-mile distant from the principal part of the town, from that part where was situated the mansion of the lord of the manor, Sir Crisp Gascoigne. One morning the coachman and the footman took a conjunct walk to a public-house kept by a man of the name Palethorp; they took me with them: it was before I was breeched. They called for a pot of beer; took each of them a sip, and handed the pot to me. On their requisition, I took another; and when about to depart, the amount was called for. The two servants paid their quota, and I was called on for mine. Nemo dat quod non habet—this maxim, to my no small vexation, I was compelled to exemplify. Mr. Palethorp, the landlord, had a visage harsh and ill-favored, and he insisted on my discharging my debt. At this very early age, without having put in for my share of the gifts of fortune, I found myself in the state of an insolvent debtor. The demand harassed me so mercilessly that I could hold out no longer: the door being open, I took to my heels; and as the way was too plain to be missed, I ran home as fast as they could carry me. The scene of the terrors of Mr. Palethorp’s name and visitation, in pursuit of me, was the country-house at Barking; but neither was the town-house free from them; for in those terrors, the servants possessed an instrument by which it was in their power at any time to get rid of my presence. Level with the kitchen—level with the landing-place in which the staircase took its commencement—were the usual offices. When my company became troublesome, a sure and continually repeated means of exonerating themselves from it was for the footman to repair to the adjoining subterraneous apartments, invest his shoulders with some strong covering, and concealing his countenance, stalk in with a hollow, menacing, and inarticulate tone. Lest that should not be sufficient, the servants had, stuck by the fireplace, the portraiture of a hobgoblin, to which they had given the name of Palethorp. For some years I was in the condition of poor Dr. Priestley, on whose bodily frame another name, too awful to be mentioned, used to produce a sensation more than mental.  5
 
 
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