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- Life of John Coleridge Patteson - 2/144 -
associations between their children, which made their intimacy almost like that of relationship. Almost all, too, lived in near neighbourhood in those parts of London that now are comparatively deserted, but which were then the especial abodes of lawyers, namely, those adjacent to Bedford Square, where the gardens were the daily resort of their children, all playing together and knowing one another with that familiarity that childhood only gives.
'Sir John Patteson's contemporaries have nearly all, one by one, passed away,' writes one of them, Sir John Taylor Coleridge. 'He has left few, if any, literary monuments to record what his intellectual powers were; and even in our common profession the ordinary course and practice are so changed, that I doubt whether many lawyers are now familiar with his masterly judgments; but I feel that I speak the truth when I describe him as a man of singularly strong common sense, of great acuteness, truthfulness, and integrity of judgment. These were great judicial qualities, and to these he added much simplicity and geniality of temper and manners; and all these were crowned by a firm, unhesitating, devout belief in the doctrines of our faith, which issued in strictness to himself and the warmest, gentlest charity to his fellow-creatures. The result was what you might expect. Altogether it would be hard to say whether you would characterise him as a man unusually popular or unusually respected.'
Such was the character of Mr. Justice Patteson, a character built upon the deep, solid groundwork of religion, such as would now be called that of a sound Churchman of the old school, thoroughly devout and scrupulous in observance, ruling his family and household on a principle felt throughout, making a conscience of all his and their ways, though promoting to the utmost all innocent enjoyment of pleasure, mirth, or gaiety. Indeed, all who can look back on him or on his home remember an unusual amount of kindly genial cheerfulness, fun, merriment, and freedom, i.e. that obedient freedom which is the most perfect kind of liberty.
Though this was in great part the effect of having such a head of the family, the details of management could not but chiefly depend upon the mother, and Lady Patteson was equally loved for her tenderness and respected for her firmness. 'She was, indeed,' writes her brother, 'a sweet and pious person, of the most affectionate, loving disposition, without a grain of selfishness, and of the stoutest adherence to principle and duty. Her tendency was to deal with her children fondly, but this never interfered with good training and discipline. What she felt right, she insisted on, at whatever pain to herself.'
She had to deal with strong characters. Coleridge, or Coley, to give him the abbreviation by which he was known not only through childhood but through life, was a fair little fellow, with bright deep-blue eyes, inheriting much of his nature from her and her family, but not by any means a model boy. He was, indeed, deeply and warmly affectionate, but troublesome through outbreaks of will and temper, showing all the ordinary instinct of trying how far the authorities for the time being will endure resistance; sufficiently indolent of mind to use his excellent abilities to save exertion of intellect; passionate to kicking and screaming pitch, and at times showing the doggedness which is such a trial of patience to the parent. To this Lady Patteson 'never yielded; the thing was to be done, the point given up, the temper subdued, the mother to be obeyed, and all this upon a principle sooner understood than parents suppose.'
There were countless instances of the little boy's sharp, stormy gusts of passion, and his mother's steady refusal to listen to his 'I will be good' until she saw that he was really sorry for the scratch or pinch which he had given, or the angry word he had spoken; and she never waited in vain, for the sorrow was very real, and generally ended in 'Do you think God can forgive me?' When Fanny's love of teasing had exasperated Coley into stabbing her arm with a pencil, their mother had resolution enough to decree that no provocation could excuse 'such unmanliness' in a boy, and inflicted a whipping which cost the girl more tears than her brother, who was full of the utmost grief a child could feel for the offence. No fault was lightly passed over; not that punishment was inflicted for every misdemeanour, but it was always noticed, and the children were shown with grave gentleness where they were wrong; or when there was a squabble among them, the mother's question, 'Who will give up?' generally produced a chorus of 'I! I! I!' Withal 'mamma' was the very life of all the fun, and play, and jokes, enjoying all with spirits and merriment like the little ones' own, and delighting in the exchange of caresses and tender epithets. Thus affection and generosity grew up almost spontaneously towards one another and all the world.
On this disposition was grafted that which was the one leading characteristic of Coley's life, namely, a reverent and religious spirit, which seems from the first to have been at work, slowly and surely subduing inherent defects, and raising him, step by step, from grace to grace.
Five years old is in many cases an age of a good deal of thought. The intelligence is free from the misapprehensions and misty perceptions of infancy; the first course of physical experiments is over, freedom of speech and motion have been attained, and yet there has not set in that burst of animal growth and spirits that often seems to swamp the deeper nature throughout boyhood. By this age Coley was able to read, and on his birthday he received from his father the Bible which was used at his consecration as Bishop twenty- seven years later.
He had an earnest wish to be a clergyman, because he thought saying the Absolution to people must make them so happy, 'a belief he must have gleaned from his Prayer-book for himself, since the doctrine was not in those days made prominent.' The purpose was fostered by his mother. 'She delighted in it, and encouraged it in him. No thought of a family being to be made, and of Coley being the eldest son, ever interfered for a moment. That he should be a good servant at God's altar was to her above all price.'
Of course, however, this was without pressing the thought on him. He grew on, with the purpose accepted but not discussed, except from time to time a half-playful, half-grave reference to himself as a future clergyman.
Reverence was strongly implanted in him. His old nurse (still his sister's valued servant) remembers the little seven years old boy, after saying his own prayers at her knee, standing opposite to his little brother, admonishing him to attention with 'Think, Jemmy; think.' In fact, devoutness seems to have been natural to him. It appears to have been the first strongly traceable feature in him, and to have gradually subdued his faults one by one.
Who can tell how far this was fostered by those old-fashioned habits of strictness which it is the present habit to view as repellent? Every morning, immediately after breakfast, Lady Patteson read the Psalms and Lessons for the day with the four children, and after these a portion of some book of religious instruction, such as 'Horne on the Psalms' or 'Daubeny on the Catechism.' The ensuing studies were in charge of Miss Neill, the governess, and the life-long friend of her pupils; but the mother made the religious instruction her individual care, and thus upheld its pre-eminence. Sunday was likewise kept distinct in reading, teaching, employment, and whole tone of conversation, and the effect was assuredly not that weariness which such observance is often supposed to produce, but rather lasting benefit and happy associations. Coley really enjoyed Bible- reading, and entered into explanations, and even then often picked up a passage in the sermons he heard at St. Giles's-in-the-Fields from the Rev. J. Endell Tyler, and would give his home-oracles no peace till they had made it as clear to his comprehension as was possible.
The love of his home may be gathered from the fact that his letters have been preserved in an unbroken series, beginning from a country visit in 1834, after a slight attack of scarlet fever, written in the round-hand of a boy of seven years old, and finished off with the big Roman capitals FINIS, AMEN, and ending with the uncompleted sheets, bearing as their last date September 19, 1871.
The boy's first school was at Ottery St. Mary, in Devonshire, of which his great-grandfather and great-uncle had both been head- masters.
There was much to make Ottery homelike to Coley, for his grandparents lived at Heath's Court, close to the church, and in the manor-house near at hand their third son, Francis George Coleridge, a solicitor, whose three boys were near contemporaries of Coley, and two of them already in the school.
From first to last his letters to his parents show no symptom of carelessness; they are full of ease and confidence, outpourings of whatever interested him, whether small or great, but always respectful as well as affectionate, and written with care and pains, being evidently his very best; nor does the good old formula, 'Your affectionate and dutiful son,' ever fail or ever produce stiffness.
The shrinking from rough companions, and the desire to be with the homelike relatives around, proved a temptation, and the little boy was guilty of making false excuses to obtain leave of absence. We cannot refrain from giving his letter of penitence, chiefly for the sake of the good sense and kindness of his uncle's treatment:--
'April 26, 1836.
'My dear Papa,--I am very sorry for having told so many falsehoods, which Uncle Frank has told mamma of. I am very sorry for having done so many bad things, I mean falsehoods, and I heartily beg your pardon; and Uncle Frank says that he thinks, if I stay, in a month's time Mr. Cornish will begin to trust me again. Uncle Frank to-day had me into his house and told me to reflect upon what I had done. He also lectured me in the Bible, and asked me different questions about it. He told me that if I ever told another falsehood he should that instant march into the school and ask Mr. Cornish to strip and birch me; and if I followed the same course I did now and did not amend it, if the birching did not do, he should not let me go home for the holidays; but I will not catch the birching...
'So believe me your dear Son,
'J. C. PATTESON.'
On the flap of the letter 'Uncle Frank' writes to the mother:--
'My dear Fanny,--I had Coley in my room to-day, and talked to him seriously about his misdeeds, and I hope good has been done. But I could scarcely keep my countenance grave when he began to reduce by calculation the exact number of fibs he had told. He did not think it was more than two or three at the utmost: and when I brought him to book, I had much to do to prevent the feeling that the sin consisted in telling many lies. However the dear boy's confession
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