Charles Lamb.

Mrs. Leicester's school: or, The history of several young ladies, related by themselves online

. (page 1 of 8)
Online LibraryCharles LambMrs. Leicester's school: or, The history of several young ladies, related by themselves → online text (page 1 of 8)
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:f:u o >:ti s PiF. c iic

Li this nuiimcr.thc epitaph on mif vjothcr'.^
tomh heimj rm/ primer and mi/ s^pcllin^q-booh
I Jcrrncd to read .^^Fa^rf s-














B. M'Millan, Printer,
Bow.Str€£t» Covent-Gardetu



I. Elizabeth Villiers : or The Sailor )
Uncle ...>

II. Louisa Manners: The Farm House 30

III. Ann Withers : The Changeling . . , . 30

IV. Elinor Forester: The Father's | -



V. MA.RGARET ^GREEN : The Young >
Mahometan )

VI. Emily Barton : Visit to the Cousins 111

^ VII. Maria Howe: The Effect of Witch! ^^^
Stories • x

VIII. Charlotte Wilmot: The Mer-) , ,^

> 147
chant's Daughter >

^ IX. Susan Yates: First Going to Churck 15&

^. X. Arabella Hardy: The Sea Voyage 169,


" With much satisfaction dp we express our unqualified
praise of these elegant and most instructive Tales ; they are
delightfully simple, and exquisitely told. The child or pa-
rent who. reads the little history of Elizabeth Villiers, will,
in spite of any resolution to the contrary, be touched to the
heart, if not melted into tears. Morose and crabbed censors
as we are represented to be, we closed the volume, wishing
Uiere had been another, and lamenting that we had got to
the end." Critical Review for December^ 1808.




Ml/ dear young Friends,

Though released from the business of the
school^ the absence of your Governess confines
me to Amwell during the vacation. I cannot
better employ my leisure hours than in contri-
buting to the amusement ofyou, my kind Pupils^
who^ by your affectionate attentions to my in-
structionsy have rendered a life of labour pleasant
to me.

On your return to school^ I hope to have a
fair copy ready to present to each ofyou^ of
your own biographical conversations last winter.



Accept my thanks for the approbation you
were pleased to express when I offered to become
your amanuensis, I hope you will find I have
executed the office with a tolerably faithful pen,
as you know I took notes each day during those
conversations f and arranged my materials after
you were retired io rest.

I begin from the day our school commenced.
It was opened by your Governess for the first

time^ on the day ofFebructry* I pass over

your several arrivals on the morning of that day.
Your Governess received you from your friends
in her own parlour.

Every carriage that drove from the door,
I knew had left a sad heart behind. Your eyes
were red with weeping, when your Governess
introduced me to you as the teacher she had
engaged to instruct you. She next desired me
to shew you into the room which we now call
the play^room. " The Ladies^" said she, ^^ may
play, and amuse themselves^ and be as happy
as they please this evening, that they may be


well acquainted with each other before they enter
the school-room to-morrow morning,"

The traces of tears were on every cheek,
and I also was sad ; for /, like you, had parted
from my friends, and the duties of my profession
were new to me; yet, I felt that it was impro-
per to give way to my own melancholy thoughts,
I knew that it was my first duty to divert the
solitary young strangers : for I considered that
this was very unlike the entrance to an old esta-
blished school, where there is always some good-*
natured girl who vnll shew attentions to a neiv
scholar, and takes pleasure in initiating her into
the customs and amusements of the place, These^
thought I, have their ow7i amusements to in-
vent; their own customs to establish. How
unlike too is this forlorn meeting to old school-
fellows returning after the holidays, when mu-
tual greetings soon lighten the memory of part-
ing sorrow !

I invited you to draw near a bright fire which

blazed in the chimney, and looked the only cheer-

Jul thing in the room.



During our first solemn silenee, tvhichj you
may remember^ was only broken by my repeated
requests that you would make a smaller, and
still smaller circle, till I saw the fire-place fairly
inclosed round, the idea came into my mind,
which has since been a source of amusement to
you in the recollection, and to myself in parti-
cular has been of essential benefit, as it enabled
me to form a just estimate of the dispositions
of you, my young Pupils, and assisted me to
adapt my plan of future instructions to each in-
dividual temper.

An introduction to a point we wish to carry,
we always feel to be an awkward affair, and
generally execute it in an awkward manner;
so I believe I did then : for when I imparted
this idea to you, I think I prefaced it rather
too formally for such young auditors, - for I
began with telling you, that I had read in old
authors, that it was not unfrequent in former
times, when strangers were assembled together,
as we might be, for them to amuse themselves
with telling stories, either of their own lives, or


the adventures of others. " Will you allow
me^ Ladies f'' I continued, ^^ to persuade you to
amuse yourselves in this way f You will not
then look so unsociably upon each other ; for
ive find that these strangers of whom we read,
were as tvell acquainted before the conclusion
of the first story, as if they had known each
other many years. Let me prevail upon you to
relate some little anecdotes of your own lives.
Fictitious tales we can read in hooks, and were
therefore better adapted to conversation in those
times, when books of amusement were more scarce
than they are at present/'

After many objections of not knowing what
to say, or how to begin, which I overcame by
assuring you how easy it would be, for that
every person is naturally eloquent, when they
are the hero or heroine of their own tale; — the
Who should begin was next in question,

I proposed to draw lots, which formed a
little amusement of itself Miss Manners, who
till then had been the saddest of the sad, began
io brighten, and said it was just like drawing


Idng and queen, and began to tell us where sfie
passed last twelfth- day; but as her narration
must have interfered with the more important
business of the lottery , I advised her to post-
pone iiy till it came to her turn to favour us
with the history of her life, when it ivould
appear in its proper order. Tlie first number
fell to the share of Miss Villiers, whose joy at
drawing what we called the first prize, was
tempered with shame, at appearing as the first
historian in the company. She wished she had
not been the very first; she had passed all her
life in a retired village, and had nothing to
relate of herself that could give the least enter-
tainment; she had not the least idea in the world
where to begin,

*' Begin,'' said I, " with your name, for
that at present is unknown to us. Tell us the
first thing you can remember; relate whatever
happened to make a great impression on you
when you were very young, and if you find you
can connect your story till your arrival here to-
day, — / am sure we shall listen to you with


pleasure; and if you like to break off, and only
treat ms with a part of your history , we will
excuse you, with many thanks for the amuse^
ment which you have afforded us; and the lady
who has drawn the second number will, I hope,
take her turn with the same indulgence, to re^
late either all, or any parts of the events of her
life, as best pleases her own fancy, or as she
finds she can manage it with the most ease to
herself*' — Encouraged by this offer of induU
gence, Miss Villiers began.

If in my report of her story, or in any ivhich
follow, I shall appear to make her or you speak
an older language than it seems probable that
you should use, speaking hi your own icords,
it must be remembered, that what is very proper
and becoming when spoken, requires to be ar-
ranged with some little difference before it can
be set down in writing. Little inaccuracies must
be pared away, and the whole must assume a
more formal and correct appearance. My own
way of thinking, I am sensible, will too often
intrude itself; but, I have endeavoured to pre-


serve, as exactly as 1 could, your own words,
and your own peadiarities of style and manner,
and to approve myself

Your faithful historiographer,

as well as true friend,

M. B.


JVIy father is the curate of a village church,
about five miles from Amwell. I u'as born ia
the parsonage-house, which joins the church-
yard. The first thing I can remember, was my
father teaching me the alphabet from the letters
on a tombstone that stood at the head of my
mother's grave. I used to tap at my father's
study-door : I think I now hear him say,
^^ Who is there ?■ — What do you want, little
girl ?*' ^' Go and see mamma. Go and learn
pretty letters.'* Many times in the day vvould
my father lay aside his books and his papers to


lead me to this spot, and make me point to the
letters, and then set me to spell syllables and
words : in this manner, the epitaph on my
mother^s tomb being my primmer and my spell-
ing-book, I learned to read.

I was one day sitting on a step placed across
the church-yard stile, when a gentleman pass-
'^^S ^y> heard me distinctly repeat the letters
which formed my mother's name, and then say,
Elizabeth Villiers, with a firm tone, as if I had
performed some great matter. This gentleman
was my uncle James, my mother's brother : he
was a lieutenant in the navy, and had left
England a few weeks after the marriage of my
father and mother, and now, returned home
from a long sea-voyage, he was coming to visit
my mother; no tidings of her decease having
reached him, though she had been dead more
than a twelvemonth.

When my uncle saw me sitting on the stile,
and heard me pronounce my mother's name, he
looked earnestly in my face, and began to fancy
a resemblance to his sister, and to think I might


be her child. I was too intent on my employ-
ment to observe him, and went spelling on.
" Who has taught you to spell so prettily, my
little maid ?'* said my uncle. " Mamma/^
I replied ; for I had an idea that the words on
the tombstone were somehow a part of mamma,
and that she had taught me. " And who is^
mamma?" asked my uncle. "Elizabeth Vil-
liers," I replied ; and then my uncle called me
his dear little niece, and said he would go with
me to mamma : he took hold of my hand, in-
tending to lead me home, delighted thai he
had found out who I was, because he imagined
it would be such a pleasant surprise to his sister
to see her little daughter bringing home her
long-lost sailor uncle.

I agreed to take him to mamma, but we had
a dispute about the way thither. My uncle
was for going along the road which led directly
upto our house : I pointed to the church-yard,
and said, ihat was the way to mamma. Though
impatient of any delay, he was not willing to
contest the point with his new relation } there-


fore, he lifted me over the stile, and was then
going to take me along the path to a gate he
knew was at the end of our garden ; but no,
I would not go that way neither : letting go his
hand, 1 said, ^^ You do not know the way, —
I will shew you :*' and making what haste 1
could among the long grass and thistles, and
jumping over the low graves, he said, as he
followed, what he called my wayward steps^
" What a positive soul this little niece of mine
is ! I knew the way to your mother's house
before you were born, child." At last I stop-
ped at my mother's grave, and pointing to the
tombstone, said, " Here is mamma !" in a voice
of exultation, as if I had now convinced him
that I knew the way best : I looked up in his
face to see him acknowledge his mistake 5 but
Oh ! what a face of sorrow did I see ! I was so
frightened, that I have but an imperfect recol-
lection of what followed, I remember I pulled
his coat, and cried, " Sir, sir!'' and tried to move
him, I knew not what to do 3 my mind was
in a strange confusion ; I thought I had done


something wrong, in bringing the gentleman to
mamma to make him cry so sadly; but what
it was I could not tell. This grave had always
been a scene of delight to me. In the house
my father would often be weary of my prattle,
and send me from him ; but here he was all my
own. I might say any thing, and be as frolic-
some as I pleased here ; all was cheerfulness and
good humour in our visits to mamma, as we
called it. My father would tell me how quietly
mamma slept there, and that he and his little
Betsy would one day sleep beside mamma in
that grave; and when I went to bed, as I laid
my little head on the pillow, I used to wish I
was sleeping in the grave with my papa and
mamma ; and in my childish dreams I used to
fancy myself there ; and it was a place within
the ground, all smooth, and soft, and green. 1
never made out any figure of mamma, but still
it was the tombstone, and papa, and the smooth
green grass, and my head resting upon the
elbow of my father.


How long my uncle remained in this agony
of grief I know not ; to me it seemed a very
long time : at last he took me in his arms, and
held me so tight, that I began to cry, and ran
home to my father, and told him that a gentle-
man was crying about mamma's pretty letters.

No doubt it was a very affecting meeting
between my father and my uncle. 1 remember
that it was the very first day I ever saw my
father weep : that I was in sad trouble, and
went into the kitchen and told Susan, our ser-
vant, that papa was crying ; and she wanted to
keep me with her, that I might not disturb
the conversation : but I would go back to the
parlour to poor papa, and I went in softly, and
crept between my father's knees. My uncle
offered to take me in his arms, but I turned
sullenly from him, and clung closer to my
father, having conceived a dislike to my uncle,
because he had made my father cry.

Now I first learned that my mother's death
was a heavy affliction ; for I heard my father


tell a melancholy story of her long illness, her
death, and what he had suffered from her loss.
My uncle said, what a sad thing it was for my
father to be left with such a young child ; but
my father replied, his little Betsy was all his
comfort, and that, but for me, he should have
died with grief. How 1 could be any comfort
to my father, struck me with wonder. I knew I
was pleased when he played and talked with
me ; but I thought that was all goodness and
favour done to me, and^i had no notion how I
could make any part of his happiness. The
sorrow I now heard he had suffered, was as new
and strange to me. I had no idea that he had
ever been unhappy 5 his voice was always kind
and cheerful ; I had never before seen him weep,
or shew any such signs of grief as those in which
I used to express my little troubles. My thoughts
on these subjects were confused and childish;
but from that time I never ceased pondering on
the sad story of my dead mamma.

The next day I went by mere habit to the
study door, to call papa to the beloved grave;


my mind misgave me, and I could not tap at
the door. I went backwards and forwards
between the kitchen and the study, and what
to do with myself I did not know. My uncle
met me in the passage, and said, " Betsy,
will you come and walk with me in the garden ?"
This I refused, for this was not what I wanted,
but the old amusement of sitting on the grave,
and talking to papa. My uncle tried to per-
suade me, but still I said, " No, no,'' and
ran crying into the kitchen. As he followed
me in there, Susan said, " This child is so
fretful to-day, I do not know what to do with
her/' " Aye," said my uncle, " I suppose
my poor brother spoils her, having but one.'^
This reflection on my papa made me quite in
a little passion of anger, for I had not forgot
that with this new uncle, sorrow had first come
into our dwelling: I screamed loudly, till my
father came out to know what it was all about.
He sent my uncle into the parlour, and said,
he would manage the little wrangler by him-
self. When my uncle was gone I ceased cry-


ing ; my father forgot to lecture me for my ill
humour, or to enquire into the cause, and we
were soon seated by the side of the tombstone.
No lesson went on that day; no talking of pretty
mamma sleeping in the green grave; no jump-
ing from the tombstone to the ground ; no merry
jokes or pleasant stories. 1 sat upon my father's
knee, looking up in his face, and thinking,
" How sorry papa looks,'' till, having been
fatigued with crying, and now oppressed with
thought, I fell fast asleep.

My uncle soon learned from Susan, that this
place was our constant haunt; she told him she
did verily believe her master would never get
the better of the death of hef mistress, while
he continued to teach the child to read at the
tombstone; for, though it might soothe his
grief, it kept it for ever fresh in his memory.
The sight of his sister's grave had been such a
shock to my uncle, that he readily entered into
Susan's apprehensions; and concluding, that if
I were set to study by some other means, there
would no longer be a pretence for these visits


to the grave, away my kind uncle hastened
to the nearest market-town to buy me some

I heard the conference between my uncle and
Susan, and 1 did not approve of his interfering
in our pleasure. I saw him take his hat and
walk out, and I secretly hoped he was gone he*
yond seas again^ from whence Susan had told me
he had come. Where beyond seas was I could
not tell I but I concluded it was somewhere a
great way off. I took my seat on the church-
yard stile, and kept looking down the road,
and saying, " I hope I shall not see my uncle
again, I hope my uncle will not come from
beyond seas any more :" but I said this very
softly, and had a kind of notion that I was in
a perverse ill-humoured fit. Here I sat till
my uncle returned from the market-town with
his new purchases. I saw him come walking
very fast with a parcel under his arm. I was
very sorry to see him, and I frowned, and tried
to look very cross. He untied his parcel, and
said, '^ Betsy, I have brought you a pretty


book." I turned my head away, and said,
"I don't want a book)*' but I could not help
peeping again to look at it. In the hurry of
opening the parcel, he had scattered all the
books upon the ground, and there I saw fine
gilt-covers and gay pictures all fluttering about.
What a fine sight ! — All my resentment vanished,
and I held up my face to kiss him, that being
my way of thanking my father for any extraor-
dinary favour.

My uncle had brought himself into rather a
troublesome office j he had heard me spell so
well, that he thought there was nothing to do
but to put books into my hand, and I should
read; yet, notwithstanding I spelt tolerably
well, the letters in my new library were so
much smaller than I had been accustomed to,
they were like Greek characters to me; I could
make nothing at all of them. The honest sailor
was not to be discouraged by this difficulty;
though unused to play the schoolmaster, he
taught me to read the small print, with un-
wearied diligence and patience ; and whenever



he saw my father and me look as if he wanted
to resume our visits to the grave, he would
propose some pleasant ramble ; and if my father
said it was too far for the child to walk, he
would set me on his shoulder, and say, ^^ Then
Betsey shall ride;'* and in this manner has he
carried me many, many miles.

In these pleasant excursions my uncle sel-
dom forgot to make Susan furnish him with a
luncheon, which, though it generally happened
every day, made a constant surprise to my papa
and me, when, seated under some shady tree,
he pulled it out of his pocket, and began to
distribute his little store ; and then I used to
peep into the other pocket, to see if there were
not some currant wine there, and the little bottle
of water for me ; if, perchance, the water was
forgot, then it made another joke,— that poor
Betsy must be forced to drink a little drop of
wine. These are childish things to tell of;
and, instead of my own silly history, I wish
I could remember the entertaining stories my
uncle used to relate of his voyages and travels,


while we sat under the shady trees, eating our
noon-tide meal.

The long visit my uncle made us was such
an important event in my life, that I fear I
shall tire your patience with talking of him;
but when he is gone, the remainder of my story
will be but short.

The summer months passed away, but not
swiftly ; — the pleasant walks, and the charming
stories of my uncle's adventures, made them
seem like years to me ; I remember the approach
of winter by the warm great coat he bought for
me, and how proud I was when I first put it
on ; and that he called me Little Red Riding
Hood, and bade me beware of wolves; and that
I laughed, and said there were no such things
now : then he told me how many wolves, aud
bears, and tigers, and lions he had met with
in uninhabited lands, that were like Robinson
Crusoe's island. O these were happy days !

In the winter our walks were shorter and less
frequent. My books were now my chief amuse-
ment, though my studies were often interrupted


by a game of romps with my uncle, which too
often ended in a quarrel, because he played so
roughly; yet long before this I dearly loved
my uncle, and the improvement I made while
he was with us was very great indeed. I could
now read very well, and the continual habit of
listening to the conversation of my father and
my uncle, made me a little woman in under-
standing; so that my father said to him, ^^ James,
you have made my child quite a companionable
little being."

My father often left me alone with my uncle ;
sometimes to write his sermons; sometimes to
visit the sick, or give counsel to his poor neigh-
bours: then my uncle used to hold long con-
versations with me, telling me how I should
strive to make my father happy, and endeavour
to improve myself when he was gone; — now
1 began justly to understand why he had taken
such pains to keep my father from visiting my
mother*s grave, that grave which I often stole
privately to look at; but now never without
awe and reverence, for my uncle used to tell me


what an excellent lady my mother was, and
I now thought of her as having been a real
mamma, which before seemed an ideal some-
thing, no way connected with life. And he told
me that the ladies from the Manor-house, who
sate in the best pew in the church, were not so
graceful, and the best women in the village were
not so good, as was my sweet mamma; and that
if she had lived, I should not have been forced to
pick up a little knowledge from him, a rough
sailor, or to learn to knit and sew of Susan,
but that she would have taught me all lady-like
fine works, and delicate behaviour, and perfect
manners, and would have selected for me pro-
per books, such as were most fit to instruct my
mind, and of which he nothing knew. If ever
in my life I shall have any proper sense of what
is excellent or becoming in the womanly cha-
racter, I owe it to these lessons of my rough
unpolished uncle ; for, in telling nie what my
mother would have made me, he taught me
what to wish to be ; and when, soon after my
uncle left us, I was introduced to the ladies at


the Manor-house, instead of hanging down my
head with shame, as I should have done before
my uncle came^ like a little village rustic,
I tried to speak distinctly, with ease, and a
modest gentleness, as my uncle had said my
mother used to do: instead of hanging down
my head abashed, I looked upon them, and
thought what a pretty sight a fine lady was,
and how well my mother must have appeared,
since she was so much more graceful than

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Online LibraryCharles LambMrs. Leicester's school: or, The history of several young ladies, related by themselves → online text (page 1 of 8)