Certainly the preceding year, the seventh of my life, had been weighted for us with comprehensive disaster. I have not yet mentioned that, at the beginning of my Mother’s fatal illness, misfortune came upon her brothers. I have never known the particulars of their ruin, but, I believe in consequence of A.’s unsuccessful speculations, and of the fact that E. had allowed the use of his name as a surety, both my uncles were obliged to fly from their creditors, and take refuge in Paris. This happened just when our need was the sorest, and this, together with the poignancy of knowing that their sister’s devoted labours for them had been all in vain, added to their unhappiness. It was doubtless also the reason why, having left England, they wrote to us no more, carefully concealing from us even their address, so that when my Mother died, my Father was unable to communicate with them. I fear that they fell into dire distress; before very long we learned that A. had died, but it was fifteen years more before we heard anything of E., whose life had at length been preserved by the kindness of an old servant, but whose mind was now so clouded that he could recollect little or nothing of the past; and soon he also died. Amiable, gentle, without any species of practical ability, they were quite unfitted to struggle with the world, which had touched them only to wreck them.
The flight of my uncles at this particular juncture left me without a relative on my Mother’s side at the time of her death. This isolation threw my Father into a sad perplexity. His only obvious source of income—but it happened to be a remarkably hopeful one—was an engagement to deliver a long series of lectures on marine natural history throughout the north and centre of England. These lectures were an entire novelty; nothing like them had been offered to the provincial public before; and the fact that the newly-invented marine aquarium was the fashionable toy of the moment added to their attraction. My Father was bowed down by sorrow and care, but he was not broken. His intellectual forces were at their height, and so was his popularity as an author. The lectures were to begin in march; my Mother was buried on 13 February. It seemed at first, in the inertia of bereavement, to be all beyond his powers to make the supreme effort, but the wholesome prick of need urged him on. It was a question of paying for food and clothes, of keeping a roof above our heads. The captain of a vessel in a storm must navigate his ship, although his wife lies dead in the cabin. That was my Father’s position in the spring of 1857; he had to stimulate, instruct, amuse large audiences of strangers, and seem gay, although affliction and loneliness had settled in his heart. He had to do this, or starve.