Early days—The passage of many terrors—Crocodiles, grizzlies and hunchbacks—An adventurous journey and its reward—The famous spring in South Audley Street—Climbing chimney-sweeps—The story of Mrs. Montagu’s son—The sweeps’ carnival—Disraeli—Lord John Russell—A child’s ideas about the Whigs—The Earl of Aberdeen— “Old Brown Bread”—Sir Edwin Landseer, a great family friend—A live lion at a tea-party—Landseer as an artist—Some of his vagaries—His frescoes at Ardverikie—His latter days—A devoted friend—His last Academy picture.
I was born the thirteenth child of a family of fourteen, on the thirteenth day of the month, and I have for many years resided at No. 13 in a certain street in Westminster. In spite of the popular prejudice attached to this numeral, I am not conscious of having derived any particular ill-fortune from my accidental association with it.
Owing to my sequence in the family procession, I found myself on my entry into the world already equipped with seven sisters and four surviving brothers. I was also in the unusual position of being born an uncle, finding myself furnished with four ready-made nephews—the present Lord Durham, his two brothers, Mr. Frederick Lambton and Admiral-of-the-Fleet Sir Hedworth Meux, and the late Lord Lichfield.
Looking down the long vista of sixty years with eyes that have already lost their keen vision, the most vivid impression that remains of my early childhood is the nightly ordeal of the journey down “The Passage of Many Terrors” in our Irish home. It had been decreed that, as I had reached the mature age of six, I was quite old enough to come downstairs in the evening by myself without the escort of a maid, but no one seemed to realise what this entailed on the small boy immediately concerned. The house had evidently been built by some malevolent architect with the sole object of terrifying little boys. Never, surely, had such a prodigious length of twisting, winding passages and such a superfluity of staircases been crammed into one building, and as in the early “sixties” electric light had not been thought of, and there was no gas in the house, these endless passages were only sparingly lit with dim colza-oil lamps. From his nursery the little boy had to make his way alone through a passage and up some steps. These were brightly lit, and concealed no terrors. The staircase that had to be negotiated was also reassuringly bright, but at its base came the “Terrible Passage.” It was interminably long, and only lit by an oil lamp at its far end. Almost at once a long corridor running at right angles to the main one, and plunged in total darkness, had to be crossed. This was an awful place, for under a marble slab in its dim recesses a stuffed crocodile reposed. Of course in the daytime the crocodile pretended to be very dead, but every one knew that as soon as it grew