Alfred John Church.

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the engines, of which there were three, newly made, and much admired
for their excellence, could get no water from it, and, indeed, were
broken in the endeavour. And when the conduits were opened, and the
pipes that carried water through the streets cut, these also yielded
but little water, so that the fire raged almost without let or
hindrance. Yet such water as there was, was used to the uttermost, men
carrying the buckets up ladders, which were set against the burning
houses, and pouring them upon the flames. From this, indeed, came
other damages, for the ladders were burnt through, to the hurt of
many, by the breaking of their arms and legs, and even to the loss of
their lives. All that night and the next day until noon the fire
continued to burn fiercely; nor did it stop till it came to the first
empty space upon the bridge; there it was stayed for want of matter,
the brewers' men that were on the other side of the river also helping
by bringing abundance of water on their drays and wetting the houses
that were yet unconsumed. There were forty-three houses burned in all,
being about the third part of those that stood upon the bridge. The
road was so blocked by the ruins that, though as many as had space to
stand laboured to carry away the timber and bricks, and tiles and
rubbish, none could pass over the bridge before Wednesday, and there
were remains of the fire yet smouldering on the Tuesday following, as
I learned to my cost, having on that day burnt my finger with a live
coal of fire which I took up in my hand.

By God's mercy, the night was warm, or else the inhabitants that were
ousted so suddenly from their homes had suffered much. It was still,
also, a matter for which we are yet more bound to be thankful; for had
the wind, which was, indeed, from the south, and so blew towards the
City, been strong, London itself would have been much endangered, the
more so as the traders in Thames Street have much pitch, tar, rosin,
oil, and other inflammable goods in their houses. Indeed, were I
minded to prophesy, I should say that some day, there will arise in
this very part of London, for nowhere is the peril greater, such a
conflagration as has never been seen in the world; save only, it may
be, when Rome was set on fire by that mad C├Žsar, Nero.

As for myself, I found shelter, for the time, with my kinsman, Master
Harford, in his fine mansion, hard by the Church of Saint Peter on
Cornhill. Whether he would have kept me now that his scheme of lodging
me with Master Drake had fallen through, I cannot say; but, if he ever
entertained any such purpose, it was shortly dismissed by reason of my
behaviour. 'Twas, as I have said, a fine mansion, Master Harford being
one of the wealthiest merchants in London, and the table kept
proportionate thereto. There was no mistress of the house, Master
Harford being, as I have said, a bachelor, but a housekeeper, Joan
Fuller by name, a kind woman, and knowing in all the knowledge of the
store-room and kitchen, but otherwise of scant sense. She, having none
on whom to bestow her affections, save a cat and a dog, took a mighty
favour to me, which favour she showed in the fashion that she herself
would have most approved, if I may say so much without unkindness to
the memory of one that is now deceased; for she plied me, both in
season and out of season, with all manner of dainty meats, so that in
the space of eight days or thereabouts I fell sick. 'Twas no great
matter, only a sickness as would come to any child that had been so
dealt with, and was easily set right by the apothecary's medicines,
which, to my mind, so nauseous were they, did more than outweigh all
the pleasure of my dainty feeding; but it settled Master Harford in
his intention to lodge me elsewhere than in his own house. Master
Drake could not entertain me any more, having to be content with scant
lodging for himself and his wife and daughter. Nor was there any talk
of building up the houses again; and this, indeed, was not done for
more than thirteen years after the burning; but the sides of the
bridge where they had been were covered in with boarding. So it came
about that I was sent back to my first lodging with Master Rushworth,
in the Strand.

He was, as I have said, a merchant of timber, and had his house in the
Strand, on the north side, with a yard on the other side of the
street, in which he stored his goods and did his buying and selling.
In this I was free to play as much as suited my liking, and here also
I found great delights, of which the chief, I think, was the discovery
that the captain of one of the barges which brought him timber was a
certain William Beasley, of Oxford, who had served my father as
bailiff and fisherman, and in other employments, as many as a single
pair of his hands could discharge. With him I had much talk, and
always counted this talk very precious, it being chiefly of home
matters, so that only the actual going thither could by any means be
more to be desired.



I was well content both with my lodging at Master Rushworth's, though
I thought, doubtless for want of grace, he was too puritanically
inclined, and with the school. Our good parson had grounded me so well
in the rudiments of Latin that I took at the first a place beyond my
years; and I used such diligence and ability, if I may say so much of
myself, that I lost not this advantage afterwards. Twice in the year
there was held an examination of the scholars, or, as they call it,
probation; and they that acquit themselves well therein are nominated
to a higher place. This promotion I never failed to gain, save the
first time only, when I had been but three months in the school, and
this in a form which had none other so young as I. I do believe,
indeed, that even then I had earned promotion; but the usher kept me
back of set purpose, thinking this to be the best for me, for which
kindness, though it angered me at the time, I have since been most
grateful. In the end it served me well, for, not to be tedious by
dwelling over long on such matters, I had obtained at the first
probation of 1636, of which year I shall shortly have more to say, a
most excellent place in the school, being promoted into the fourth
form, in which there was not, I remember, one scholar but had, at the
least, six months more of age than myself.

But now there came a most grievous interruption, not to me only, which
had been but a small matter, but to the prosperity of the whole
nation. In the third year of my schooling (that is to say 1635) the
plague broke out with no small violence in the City. And though it
abated somewhat in the winter, as it commonly does, the cold seeming
to discourage it, so that 'twas hoped it would depart altogether, yet
in the year following, so soon as the spring-time began, it grew to
such a height as had never before been known, so far as the memory of
living man could reach. But there had been worse before, the Black
Death, to wit, which left, 'twas said, scarce a tenth part of the
people alive, and the Sweating sickness in the days of King Henry
VIII. From this visitation the school suffered greatly. I do not say
that many scholars actually perished of the sickness, for of these
there were not, I take it, more than three or four at the most. But
our numbers were sadly minished; for none came from the country,
parents fearing to send their children into the midst of so deadly an
infection, and of the London scholars also many were kept at home,
lest, mixing with their fellows, they should either take the disease
or convey it upon their clothes. It was a dismal sight to see the
classes grow smaller, I may say, day after day. And when any boy was
seen to be absent, there were rumours that he was dead of the plague;
and though these, as I have said, were, for the most part, not true,
yet we that remained were not the less troubled. At the last, when our
numbers had dwindled down to a third or thereabouts of the full, came
down an order from the Court that the school be shut. And this was
done on the seventeenth of May, 1636.

I remember that we heard this news with a great shout of joy; for boys
would rejoice in holiday though it should be brought about by the
ending of the world; and now there was prospect of such a holiday as
never had been known; and indeed the scholars were not again assembled
together for the space of a year and five months, though Mr. Edwards,
the chief master, taught some boys during that whole time, lest the
school altogether ceasing to be, its property should be diverted
elsewhere. But I was too young to be one of these.

As for myself, there was no small questioning what had better be done
with me. My father indeed, as soon as there was talk of the school
being shut up, had sent word that I should come home to him. But this
was not easy to be done. For there was great fear throughout the
country lest travellers from London should bring the infection of the
disease with them, so that the roads were diligently watched, and all
that were suspected of hailing thence were forthwith sent back,
sometimes not without much maltreatment. This being so the river was
the only highway that was left open. On this travellers were not
hindered, provided only that they did not go forth from their boat
into the villages round about. And by this highway I did in the end
return home.

On the eleventh of June, for I remember that it was election day at
the school, though the customary festivities were intermitted by
reason of the plague, comes Richard Beasley with his barge, having
with him a load of timber, and what I counted of more worth by far,
the commandment from my father that I should return with him. And this
I did about a sennight after, when he had finished the unloading of
his cargo. We were six days on our journey, and I think that I never
had so delightful a time. First it was no small joy to be quit for a
time of London, which was indeed in those days a most dreadful place.
None were seen in the streets save such as had urgent business; and
these walked at such speed as if death were after them, (as indeed in
a sense it was,) holding a handkerchief or pomander with some scent,
recommended by the faculty, to their noses, as a safeguard against
infection. As for the gallants in their brave attire and the fair
matrons and damsels that had been wont to throng the public ways, they
were invisible, and the church bells never gave forth a merry peal,
but were tolling continually, till indeed this was forbidden as
augmenting the terror of the citizens. And there passed continually
along the streets the funerals of the wealthier sort of people and
their families. But as for the poorer, the dead-cart carried them to
their burying places, and this I, lying awake at night, have often
heard rumbling awfully along, and also the cry of the men asking,
whenever they saw a house shut up, whether there was anything for
them. And I must confess, though it be to my discredit, that Master
Rushworth and his wife wearied me with over long exercises of prayer
such as they thought fitted for the occasion, not remembering my
tender years. It may easily be concluded therefore that I was
sufficiently glad to depart from London. And for the journey itself,
it was, as I have said, delightful beyond all compare. We set out on
the nineteenth of June, being, as I remember, a Saturday, for Robert,
though he had all things ready, would not begin his journey on a
Friday, a scrupulousness at which I was not a little offended, being
above all things desirous to depart. That night we lay at Richmond,
and the day following also, being a Sunday, on which day William
Beasley was steadfast not to travel. He would say that, if a man cared
not for his own soul, knowing it not to be worth a groat, he should
have regard to his beast, which must be priced at twenty shillings at
the least.

We travelled without any mischance save that at Bray, where the river
is more than ordinary shallow, William Beasley's son having had the
rudder in charge, ran the barge on a shoal, and would have had a great
whipping from his father but that I took the blame on myself; which
was indeed but fair, for I was distracting the lad with my talk when
he needed all his wits for his work. At some of the ferries we had to
serve ourselves, for the ferrymen would not venture themselves near to
those that might be bringing, as they thought, the infection of the
disease from London. And when we would buy anything from the town and
villages, as eggs and milk, or the like, we left the money at an
appointed place (the custom having grown up in former visitations),
dropping it into a bowl of water; and the country folk afterwards
brought their goods. And then, with a "God save you!" given and
returned, we went on our way. 'Twas a doleful thing to be so shunned,
as if we had been lepers; yet I could not blame the people, knowing
that the plague had been carried down from London to the utter
destruction of many villages. For a village, if it once take the
infection, will often, for lack of ministration to the sick, suffer
worse than the town. But once only did the riverside people show us
any hostility; and this was at Wallingford, where they stoned us from
the bridge, but without doing any considerable hurt.

But notwithstanding these incommodities, 'twas a most delightsome time
such as I have ever remembered with pleasure, and shall remember so
long as life be left to me. I have seen evil days since then - Thames
running red with civil blood, if I may so speak, and all this fair
land of England disturbed with the strife of brothers fighting against
brothers. But these days had not then come; and if there were signs
and tokens of the storms that were gathering, and such doubtless there
were for them that had discerning eyes. I was too young to take note
of them. And I was newly come from a city where there was but little
talk of aught but pestilence and death, and doleful sights and sounds
about me on every side, so that the country scenes, full of gladness
and life, into which I had, as it were, escaped, were the more
exceedingly delightful. Nor is there, methinks, a fairer thing in
England, when one is once past the environs of the city, than Thames,
nor any season in which Thames is more to be admired than that early
summer in which we were then journeying. For the trees are in their
fullest leaf and not yet withered at all by the heat, and the river
banks are bright with flowers, as the forget-me-nots and the flags,
both yellow and purple, and the water-plants, of more kinds than I can
name, gay with blossom; also one may see the water-hens and the
grebes, leading about their newly hatched broods, and the swans,
carrying on their backs their cygnets, whose brown plumes show forth
tenderly from out the silvery white, and the halcyons with their
comely colours of green and red, carrying food to their young. All
these and many more things that I have not the wit duly to describe
did I see and note, young though I was, during our voyage.

Also as we went along William Beasley would cast a bait - a moth, may
be, or a slug, or sometimes, to my no small wonder, a morsel of
cheese - under the boughs that hung over the water, and draw out thence
mighty big chevenders, or, as some call them, chubs. This he did with
a most dexterous hand; ay, and having caught them, he would cook them
no less skilfully, so that this fish, which I have since found to be
tasteless, made as dainty meat as could be desired; or was it that the
flavour was not in the dish but in its surroundings? And when we had
accomplished our journey for the day, he would prepare an angle for
me, and teach me to catch roaches and perches. And once, I remember,
when I was pulling to me a roach that was on the hook, a pike of some
six or seven pounds laid hold upon him, and would not let go, so bold
and ravenous was he. And William Beasley, in the deftest manner that
ever I beheld (and I have seen the same thing oft attempted since, but
never accomplished), put a hand-net under the beast, and brought him
in. And he would have it, being one of the kindest hearts that ever
lived, that I had caught the pike. And we had a great feast off him;
'twas excellent meat, white and firm, though somewhat weedy, said
William; but I noted nothing amiss. Near to Oxford my father met me,
and carried me home, where I lived with much content until the time
when, as I have said, the Merchant Taylors' School was opened again, a
space of fifteen months and more. 'Twas not lost time so far as
learning was concerned, for our good parson took me in hand again and
taught me. And, indeed, he had been teaching my sister Dorothy, so
that she was a match, ay, and more than a match, for me, being both
older and of a nimbler wit. But being the tenderest soul alive, and
fearing that I should be grieved if she outstripped me too far, she
would hold back; and I, thinking that I could vanquish her, and being
sometimes by her suffered so to do, did my utmost. Verily I believe
that I had not learned more at the school itself, though my preceptors
there were diligent both with the voice and the rod, in which latter
instrument of learning they had such faith as Solomon himself, who,
methinks, has much affliction of youth to answer for, could not have
excelled. Nor did I gain in learning only, but also in strength of
body and health, in which, haply, I had fared ill had I been cooped
within the City walls.

In the year 1643 - for that I be not tedious to them that shall read
this history I shall say no more of my schooldays - I, being then
eighteen years of age and not unfit, if I may say so much of myself,
to compare with the best scholars of the said school, did hope for my
election to a vacancy in the College of St. John the Baptist at
Oxford. But of this hope I was disappointed, not altogether, methinks,
of my own fault. It came about in this manner. About the beginning of
May comes a letter from the President and Fellows of the College,
wherein they write that they dare not, by reason of the troubles of
the times, venture so far as to come to London that they might take
part, as their custom was, in the election of scholars to their
College. So it turned out, to cut the matter short, that the Company
held the said election privately by themselves. Now my uncle, Master
Harland aforesaid, died about this time; and as during his life he had
been somewhat masterful, ruling most things according to his pleasure,
so now, being dead, there was, so to speak, a turn of the tide against
him and his, by which turn I suffered. They also to whom I looked for
help, to wit the President and Fellows of St. John's College, were
absent for the cause that I have already set forth. And so it happened
that when it came to the election I had but two voices. And this I say
not by way of complaint against them that ordered the election, nor of
murmuring against God, but because I desire to set forth what befell
me, and, as far as I can, the causes of the same. As for murmuring,
indeed, I doubt much whether I lost any great profit in this matter,
though I will confess that it was at the time no small disappointment
and bitterness. For the same cause that hindered the Fellows of the
College from coming to London, hindered also the scholars that were
then elected from going to Oxford; so that it was a long time before
they were admitted to their preferment. And, in truth, when they were
admitted, it was but an unprofitable matter, for the College was
almost at the point of dissolution for lack of means, many of its
tenants not being able to pay their rents, and some that had the
ability making pretence of the troubles of the times to cover their
dishonesty. And thus my schooldays came to an end.



I have said but little hitherto of our civil troubles; and, indeed,
they touched us but lightly within the walls of our school. I had
almost said that they did but give a new name to our sports; for
whereas our factions - such as a school commonly has - had before called
themselves by the names of Greeks and Trojans, or Romans and
Carthaginians, according as Homer or Livy were most in our hands, so
now we were King's men and Parliament's men, or Rebels, as we that
were of the loyal faction would often style these latter. But it must
be confessed that there was something beyond the ordinary of veritable
anger in these combats; so that once or twice the partisans appeared
in their places in school with broken heads or other damage, and would
doubtless have so done more often but for fear of our master, Mr.
Edwards, who did mete out a most severe and impartial justice to all
that presumed to disturb the peace of his realm. The City folk were
for the most part friends to the Parliament, and their faction had the
majority of the scholars. Yet the King, too, had those that stood
stoutly by him; of whom I, being tall and strong and expert in all
bodily exercises, was chosen to be the leader. I do remember what a
fierce battle we had on the fifth day of January, in the year 1642,
which was the day following that on which the King would have seized
the five members. So hot were we about it that we noted not our master
coming upon us and finding us _in flagrante delicto_. A battle of the
bees, says Virgil, is stayed by the throwing of a little dust, and we
were pacified by the first sound of his voice; and, indeed, though I
have had experience of sundry sights and sounds of terror, I know
nothing so terrible as the voice of a schoolmaster, so he be one that
hath what all have not, the true secret of rule. He had noted down the
names of all the chief combatants before we were aware of him; nor did
one of them escape due punishment. As for myself, being, as I suppose,
of such an age, and may be strength that I could scarce be flogged, he
set me to English the first book of the _Pharsalia_ of Lucan, which
treats, as all know, of the civil wars of Rome. 'Tis choice verse,
doubtless, but passing difficult - or so at least I found it - and gave
me but scant leisure between Epiphany-tide ('twas on the fifth day of
January that the tumult was) and the beginning of Lent, a space of
near upon two months. So much, then, for our mimicries of war. But
now, coming home - which I did not long after my hopes at the school
had been, as I have said, disappointed - I found the reality. And,
indeed, on my journey, which was not accomplished without peril, I had
seen something of it. For coming by way of Thame - which I was advised
was to be preferred because some troopers of the Prince Rupert lay at
Fawley near to Henley-upon-Thames and harried all travellers with
small respect of parties - and staying to bait my horse at the inn, I
heard that a notable man was lying dead in one of the chambers. ('Twas
Midsummer Day, I remember.) This was Master John Hampden, who had been
shot in the shoulder upon Chalgrove Field six days before, and being
carried to Thame died there on the very day on which I chanced to pass
through. His name had been much in men's mouths, and was not a little
regarded even by them who judged him to have erred (of which number
was I); and it troubled me not a little to hear that he had been
slain, though he was an enemy to the King. I had heard before of such
things, and, indeed, at Edgehill, where the King's men and the army of
the Parliament under my Lord Essex had fought with doubtful success,
thousands had been slain and wounded; but now I saw death close at
hand for the first time; and it moved me mightily.

I found my father greatly discomposed, though at first he sought to
hide his trouble by jest and banter. The first evening after my
coming, as we sat by the fire, for he was one that even at midsummer
would have a fire be it ever so small, he smoking his pipe, which was
a custom he had learned of the Germans, he began thus with me:

"I am for the King, as you well know, son Philip; but 'twould be well
if you could be persuaded in your conscience that the Parliament has
the right."

I could say nothing, being struck dumb, so to speak, with
astonishment. Then he went on:

"'Tis the fashion hereabouts to order things in this way, and has been
since these present troubles began, as doubtless you would have known
but for being away in London. See now there is Master Holmes at
Upcott, t'other side of the river; he is for the Parliament, and
Geoffrey his son is for the King; and Sir William Tresham, of Parton,
is a staunch Cavalier, but William Tresham the younger e'en as staunch

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Online LibraryAlfred John ChurchWith the King at Oxford → online text (page 2 of 14)