Catherine Biddlecombe Steer's Memoir
As this delightful memoir attests, Catherine Biddlecombe Steer was a remarkable lady who coped with tremendous misfortunes with unbelievable resilience including the premature death of her husband and all but one of her children. If anyone doubts the benefits of science, they should conside how all these deaths could have been avoided today.
Evidently a gregarious and enquiring woman, she records her impression of seeing Kean, with a Berliozian intensity, and in her youth met Coleridge and other intellectuals throu her father. Her husband John Steer came from a humble background. Their father was a jobbing jeweler in Birmingham, but the fact that he and his brother rose to become respected barristers shows the degree of social mobility that was possible in early-Victorian times. There is a family myth, not confirmed in this memoir, that he assisted Blackstone with his Laws of England, the corner-stone of modern jurisprudence. The Steer family were strongly Unitarian, which in those days was not just a belief system but a strong socially-progressive network, which even attracted Dickens for a time.
Catherine evidently adopted this faith, and towards the end of this memoir speaks of her rejection of the narrowly sectarian views of Christianity that prevailed in her lifetime. The impoverishment and social isolation Catherine suffered as a result of early widowhood must have been as painful as her bereavement itself; for during their marriage Catherine had welcomed such social-progressives into her home as the industrialist-philanthropist Robert Owen (whose daughter died of scarlet fever caught from visiting Catherine) as was a remarkable Indian free-thinker and social pioneer, Rajah Rammohun Roy. For 8 years she worked as a prison visitor alongside the famous Quaker, Elizabeth Fry. The final paragraphs identify the friends for whom she wrote this memoir.
December 18th, 1849. 8, Liverpool Terrace, Liverpool Road, Islington.
My dear friend,
You ask me for a recital of my life's events; well, I consent to give as many as my memory may supply, and only fear that you may suffer from the tediousness of the storyonly be sure to say "Hold, enough!" the moment I am become wearisome.
Burton Manor, Burton, nr Bournemouth, 2010
To commence, at the commencement, you must be told that I was the only child of Charles and Catherine Biddlecombe of Burton, near Christchurch in Hampshire; my father had received a superior education, and my mother I have understood was both lovely in person, and possessed a very delightful mind, she had been educated at the old Convent for the training of Catholic families at Hammersmith. It may be interesting to mention that she was an only child. Her father had twice married, the first wife was a lineal descendant of the great Lord Strafford; his second wife was a very sensible and good woman, and was the mother of my mother; Mr. Lacy, her father, was a very strict Roman Catholic, and could not have endured the prospect of his daughter's alliance with any individual out of that Church. He cherished a warm affection for my father's father and mother, and for my own dear father expressed warm admiration for his talents, boundless generosity, and warmth of heart; frequently he was his solicited guest, and a most interesting entertaining companion he must have been. Welcomed always most cordially by Mr. Lacy, he sought his society frequently, and became a most fervent suitor for my mother's hand. She begged that he would never ask her father's consent to their marriage, well knowing his decided objection to her union with any other than a member of the Roman Catholic Communion; my father agreed to wait until her father's death, and also, that the subject of his deep affection for my mother should never pass his lips to him. Eleven years elapsed ere they were married.
After Mr. Lacy's death, they waited a proper time and then they were married according to the rites of my mother's religion by the celebrated Dr. Milnes, and in the Church of England, at Milford Church near Yelverton in Hampshire, by my father's old school-fellow and attached friend, the Revd. Richard Warnera man well known for his liberal attainments and elegant writings. My dear grandmother, the mother of my father, was then living, and it was agreed that she should reside with them after their marriage-being a widow, and my father the only child she had left her.
To Burton [see picture below] the young couple came in June, 1798, and enjoyed immense happiness for alas! a brief space. In the month of March, 1799, my mother wished to go to Lymington to be attended in her approaching confinement by her old medical man; the distance from my father's house was about twelve miles. Lodgings were taken for her and every arrangement made by a dear friend and relative, who superintended for her all these affairs, and she went to Lymington. Her naturally strong mind had yielded during her pregnancy to a strong impression made by some worthless gipsy, who seeing her one day in a lane near her house, volunteered to tell her fortune; I suppose she met with some rebuff on the part of my poor mother, as she immediately said in a very peculiar tone, and with great energy: "You will die in your approaching lying-in." My father often mentioned the strong hold this had made on her mind, and she acted upon it The old gardener was told by her to do this, that, and the other, but at the same time she told him she should never return from Lymington where she was about to go. However to the delight of my father, no woman could do better than she did during a short period of labour.
I was born a fat healthy infant: this occurred on the 12th of March, she was doing so well that the nurse who attended her told me that she was sitting up, and my father had left to go to Burton to celebrate the christening at his house with my grandmother, when she was attacked with a shivering fit, fever followed, my father was sent for, he came instantly but all consciousness was gone, and she died from milk fever on the 28th of March, in her 28th year.
This dreadful loss plunged my father into the deepest sorrow, I have heard him say that he worshipped my mother, he felt sure of her life, she was strong and most healthy, but her nervous system had received a shock in consequence of the gipsy's warning, and I had a natural or rather unnatural antipathy to milk, so refused to take what nature had provided; some mismanagement must have been the result, as fever would not have ensued had proper means been taken in such a case. Upon the death of my mother, my father lost a large income, lifehold property, Roman Catholics were not permitted to have freehold estates, so Mr. Lacy's landed property was for life, and whoever my mother married might have put his life into the deeds. My father considered her life as good as his own and neglected to take this step, About £600 per annum went immediately. In the funds settled upon her children were £30,000. My father had also good property of his own. He resolved to reside with his dear mother, to whom he was always a devoted son, and his good mother undertook the task of training me, and watched over my infant life with the tenderest care. My father felt the want of companionship, and no doubt the quietness of a simple rural village was too tame for him; overcome by his loss, he launched out into many unwise acts, cock-fighting, or rather betting at these times, horse-racing, playing in the funds and at the gaming table too; at all these sadly exciting occupations he was generally a loser, and to a considerable extent. He did not leave his home for any length of time, but could not deny himself the pleasure or relief of a visit to London, where opportunities to indulge this propensity offered.
As I grew daily more interesting, he devoted himself to me most carefully, and took great pleasure in teaching me to read and write. There was a great conflict about the age of seven between the friends of my mother, who were Roman Catholics, and my father's, who were Church of England, as to what school I ought to be placed at. Mrs. Shaw Lefevre, the mother of the present Speaker of the House of Commons, was consulted by my father on the subject; she told him that she had just fixed upon a school for three of her nieces, who were (like me) motherless, and my father having entire confidence in her judgment decided upon my going to the same school; accordingly in my eighth year
I left Burton for the Misses Wilsons, No.8, Paradise Row, Chelsea. Up to this time I had lived a life somewhat resembling that of the wild forest colts you see in that part of the world. I had been allowed perfect freedom. I rode a donkey when and where I liked, and a little pony and carriage which either could draw, used to find me going about with a lad to accompany me all the country round, from early morn till late in the evening. My father imbued me with an early taste for reading, and I at that early age was considered remarkable for the style of reading I had attained, and the tone of conversation which for so young a child were deemed curious. I delighted in taking the "Globe" newspaper every fine evening to a blacksmith's, whose shop was near to my father's house; there I read the debates to those who could not read for themselves, and at the hour of dinner, I used to frequent a farm house also near, where the labouring men and women felt a pleasure in my reading to them.
Our neighbourhood was very celebrated for a gang of gipsies, called the "Stanley Gang." I used to get out, go to their tents, and mix much with these vagrant tribes, they were invariably kind to me. I had no young friends in my father's sphere of life near me, and he and his mother, in after years, told me that it was to save me from pride and selfishness that they permitted so free an interchange of kindness with the poorer classes. Among these I had very strong early friendships which will ever be dear to me. My childhood was so gladsome, my recollections of that period produce now a sweetness in their remembrance that I would not exchange for any earthly possession! for the heart's best treasure, thank God! remains, the delights of days of innocence and frankness. I had no object in being otherwise than truthful; a fond father and doating grandmother, listened to all my wishes, nay, more, frequently anticipated them; my sports were all out of door, in the midst of the forest, or by the sea, on the sands at Mudiford, and when at home, I read with pleasure to my dear father, or mama, as I called my grandmother.
My going to school was a terrible event! I had never slept from my father's house, and never from my grandmother's bed. The day was one, fine and beautiful in July, I remember it well; the chaise was ordered, and the man-servant was to go to London with my father and me. Oh! the leave taking with my aged dear grandmother! I feel now that I write about it, all the sensations over againthe fond look she gave, the dear "Good bye!" the fear that I should never see her again!the driving off with "old Jack," a favorite horse of my father's, the road we took, all are distinctly before me. We slept at Popham Lanea night I can never forget, full of fear and misery, for a servant who had nursed me had been in the habit of frightening me after I had gone to bed at night, and was often assisted in this diabolical act by the cook and housemaid. I was kept in constant terror by her, often did I threaten to tell my grandmother, but she said if I ventured to do so, "a black man was on the stairs with a bag ready to take me away." 'This nightly terror continued a bug-bear to me for years, and I am astonished now, when I look back upon the dreadful state of my poor little mind and frame at the time, to think how I escaped convulsions or idiocy!
The second day I reached London, and was left at No. 1, Southampton Buildings, Chancery Lane, till the next day, under the care of a servant, till my father came the next morning to drive me to Loughton, in Essex, where his friend Mr. Comrie's family were gone to their country house. The wonder, the astonishment I felt at seeing the "mighty Babel" London! was indeed intensebut not one thing could reconcile me to my separation from my dear grandmother. I was most rude and repulsive to all the ladies to whom I was introduced, and well remember making use of words that the man-servant had taught me to say, purposely as he said for the pleasure of hearing me pronounce them; many of the sentences were very vulgar, and I said these sad things the oftener, because I found that I surprised these very fine ladies. I was speedily taken to school, where my heart was nearly broken by the feeling of desolation, a hundred miles from home, and among entire strangers. I felt a solitude more dreadful than almost any other period of my life will furnish a comparison; and the Miss Wilsons afterwards told my father that they thought it would end in his being obliged to take me away. My father remained in town without seeing me for a fortnight, and when I became more reconciled, he left for Burton. Every week he wrote to me, and I to him.
Oh! the transports I felt of delight at Christmas when I went back for the holidays; my dear grandmother, in health, caught me in her arms as I leaped out of the gig, my old friends were bidden to receive me, my pet dogs by the fire, and I once more surrounded by all I loved! this is a period so exquisite to look back upon, that the warm kisses of my dear father and grandmother seem to be fresh again on my cheek. Seven years went on, in coming and going four times in each year, to and from my dear early home. My school companions gained upon me, and I had several dear friends among them, and the only child of one of my father's oldest friends went with, and returned the six following years of school-life with me. The Miss Wilsons were extremely sensible, strong minded women; we had the best masters, and above all and every advantage, there was a high moral tone in their system; not a girl there would have thought of deceiving them; our lessons as to quantity, were left to our sense of honour, and each girl took a pleasure in acquiring as much as she possibly could.
During the vacations a dear old gentleman, a Roman Catholic priest, used to give me lessons in French and Latin, and he was a constant guest at my father's table. T0 his chapel I had permission to go whenever I liked, and when at home was more frequently to be found there than at church. After leaving school I had much of this good man's society (the Revd. Mr. Cochet), he conversed upon religious subjects with me; I found that there were more than two denominations of religion, and requested to be allowed to hear and see all that I could before I adopted the opinions of any. My father readily granted me this privilege, and I made as much use as I could of it.
Now my dear Mrs. Young, I say adieu.
With kind regards to Mr. Young, love to Oscar and Isabella,
Yours ever, C. STEER.
The impression made upon my mind by society in its varied forms of which I saw much at an early age, may add some little interest in this epitome of my life, so I add it with pleasure, indeed I should have omitted something important in such an offering to my good friends if I did not give it. The hoyden girl may be easily imaginedI was certainly of that class, and little disposed to learn the conventionalities that surrounded fashionable movemcnts.
Our near neighbours at Burton were two Miss Jeffreys, each devoted peculiar attention at this time to my personal appearance; one would suggest a frock being made either "higher in the front" or "longer in the skirt," a ribbon of blue or pink or white for the sash! then, the style for holdinlg myself, advising a "quiet manner" and not to be too fond of "loud laughter." Now, my dear girl! would they say, we shall hear all you did, you know, at such and such a party or ball! be sure dear, now, don't dance too boisterously; move gently and like a dear little Miss Biddlecombe. You havn't a mama you know to tell you these things; "it is a great pity;" your papa is a very clever person but cannot tell a girl al the little things a mama could. No, no, dear, we both always say, "Well, it is a pity the dear girl has not a mama," as it is, we will do our best to teach her on these subjects "very important," "vastly important to her." I used to go forth free from all idea of personal captivation. It never entered my brain. The odd mistakes I madethe perfectly natural state of my toilette sometimes baffled deseription.
About the age of sixteen I was invited to spend a gay season with Mrs. Elwes in London, she and her husband were very old friends of my fathcr's; this event was to take place very speedily after Mr, Whitwell's arrival at my father's. I looked forward to it, as the height of human happiness, To see operas!be at balls in London!ride about in the morning in Hyde Park, Oh! this was a Paradise to my mind! Full of health and spirits I came up to Mrs. Elwes, in High Street, Marylebone, in the month of April; a very cold month it was, I well recollect; and "winter lingering chilled the lap of May." There were two lovely girls, her nieces, to be my companions, a Miss Alt and a Miss Caroline Jordan.
Mr. Elwes was quite as confirmed a miser as his old father, whose life has been written. He had married early, and a more handsome couple it was searcely possible to meet; he settled all he had in the life-time of his father on his wifeabout £600 per annum. After his father's death, half a million of money I understood was divided between this George Elwes and his brother John, the latter residcd in Portman Square; he had one only child, a son; and Gcorge, one only child, a daughter, Emily. The great wish of both parents was to marry the cousins to each other, but they were not so disposed. Emily Elwes was closely watched, but she outdid all the surveillance that surrounded her; after dinner, when Mrs. Elwes had a large party, she feigned headache, and proposed going to her room to lie down, shc went, but spccdily walked out of the house, met Mr. Duffield in Harley Strect, and was off to Gretna Green! When coffee was announced, Miss Elwes was enquired for, the ladies' maid went to her room, no Miss Elwes! nor was she to be found. This gave the alarm; and who could she have eloped with, was the exclamation. The old gentleman started with four horses to his carriage ou the north road, but when he reached Barnet, he proeeeded with a pair, feeling that he could not afford four. Mr. Duffield had bribed waggoners to upset their waggons in the road and lay all their contents across to impede the progress of those who might be in pursuit of them; they got married by the "blacksmith," and were on their return to town, when old Elwes fell in with them.
My father, who was trustee for Miss Elwes, was summoned to town on this occasion from Burton I well recollect, and I was a girl at sehool! My gay visit to Mrs. Elwes took place just after thc birth of Mrs. Duffield's first child. Mr. and Mrs. Elwes lived a wrctehed married life; he was miserly, harsh, and cold; she full of generosity, energy, and love of admiration; she would have her house full of people, dances, dinners and opera, play-going &c., &c.; and her delight was to ride a fine horse every day in Hyde Park, and we girls used to be driven at a "funeral pace" round and round, surrounded by young " idlers" of the male sex, paying us all sorts of fulsome attention, for the sake of being in the suite of Mrs. Elwes, whose parties were always given in great style, for she insisted on doing as she liked in her home management; and her spirit was so high, that the Squire (as she used to cail Mr. Elwes), who was a coward, could not oppose.
Well! I arrived fat and rosy to her abode. She had intended us three girls to make grand marriagesMe, to my carriage and horses she would tell me. I had no wish of the kind. "Oh! you little fool! you little nincompoop! mind what you are about, you will marry admirably if you choose." And I happened to obtain the attention of the very man each of the other girls aimed at. He was anxious to get my father's approbation, considering I suppose that he was quite sure of my good opinion; a grand present of pearls was sent, which I after great difficulty got Mrs. Elwes to send back. "Oh! you little fat foolish girl, what the others would either of them have given anything for, you throwaway! such a match, oh! fie!" and poor Mrs. Elwes never understood my mind on the subject of marriage, my "romance" as she would term it. After going out of one hot room or theatre to another, two or three times in a night; after late hours, and all the excitement of a month's heartless gaiety, I fell in with severe cold and "mumps." My eyes were so enclosed by the swelling of my cheeks, that they were scarcely perceptible, and I was a complete wreck to look at.
I returned to Burton perfectly contented, disgusted with London fashionablc lifc, and never wished to sec morc of it. The lesson did me good I think, it opened my mind to the mere outside show, and induced me to value real worth, intellect and solid happiness. The contrast of society it is well to see, but the fascination is dangerous to girls, when you are the object of attention, and where an opportunity is often afforded of marrying men of good fortune, who possess few other advantages; and a girl is dazzled by the prospect of ample means and a certain position which wealth offers. Few, perhaps, stop to consider that heart and mind are needful for a companionship for life, and I should not, I dare say, had I not amidst all my hoydenish ways, felt that the observations upon marriage made by my wise old grandmother had sunk deep into my mind. T0 her, I owe my escape from the power of "nothingless fops" to attract me. The gentleman who was solicitor to Mr. Elwes (a Mr. Comrie) was a very old friend of my father's; he lived in Southampton Buildings, Chancery Lane, I have alluded to his family before. They had a country house at Loughton, in Essex, and I went to stay with them previously to my going to school, and frightened the ladies by my violent langutage.
On every Friday and Monday (the Smithfield market days) Mr. Elwes dined at Mr. Comrie's, he delighted to frequent that market, and would lend thousands to the drovers and farmers there; he would not take a hackney coach to save him from the most pelting drenehing rain, but would borrow a great coat from Mr. Comrie, never return it; this he did over and over again, and had them made into close coats. On one occasion Mrs. Elwes remarked to Mr. Comrie, "I suppose you know what becomes of your great coats that you lend the Squire?" " No," said Mr. Comrie, "I do not." " Well," then, said Mrs. Elwes, "the next time we are all three together, I will tell you before him that your great coats are converted into close ones for himself!" and she did this. Mr. Comrie's only son and I, who were about the same age, were great favourites of Mr. Elwes; he gave us one day a half guinea each, with a caution not to spend it ! We quickly started to Groom's, the pastry cook's, in Fleet Street, devoured divers tarts, &c., to the amount, the woman said, of half a guinea; but I cannot believe our appetites, keen as they may have been, could have got through so mnch; the remainder we spent in cutlery and gamboge for painting.
Mr. Comrie was solicitor for Mrs. Clarke, the Duke of York's celebrated lady. I remember to have seen her frequently when she came on business there. And Walters, of the Opera House, Mr. Comrie also was employed by Madame Dusek, and Corrie her brother, were frequently visitors at Mr. Comrie's, and delightful music they gave us. I often went to see a good play performed. This was a treat, but all theatrical amusements, unless extremely good, I never cared for. When about seventeen I saw Kean, and he was, to my taste, perfect in Othello, Richard the Third, and Sir Edward Mortimer. Mr. Knight and Whitwell took me the first time I ever saw him~ it was Othello. My whole mind was absorbed in it, and I could not bear the suspension during the acts; no observations that these kind friends made to me gave me any inclination to reply; at last when the fifth act came, I went into strong hysterics, was carried ont of the house, (they have told me since) crying out" Des- demona is innocent!" "Iago is a villain!" A medical man (Mr. Cole) was sent for, he applied leeches to the head, "eau de luce" to the nostrils, and it was even then, a long time ere I beeame conscious. The truthfulness of the performance was so great on my mind, I could not persuade myself to think it was acting. In after years my husband took me to see "Othello" again and Kean in that part. He said that he should be delighted to see the same effect produced on me; we had a private box, and I fearing the consequence (for I dreaded a repetition of the coming to again) was obliged to go to the back of the box, and rouse to avoid itmy mind would have easily wandered into the delusion of the reality of the scene, had I not been very careful; and I am sure that my husband would have been alarmed had I yielded up my will to the immense power of Kean's glorious performance of Othello.
After all, my predilections have been for social family life, the gay world was too heartless for my taste. My greatest delight lhas ever been in the society of intellectual men and women, and the charm of my existence is in believing that I possess many dear and delightful friendships, aronnd whose firesides I hope the evening of my life may pass, as the "Hey day of youth" did, among loved ones, though many are now removed into a purer world. There remains on my own mind very pleasing reminiscences of the past; it is not "dark and dreary" to me; sunshine breaks through the cloud very often, and though my life has been a chequered path, I would not (for myself) have desired the events to have been very different: to live stilI among dear friends, possessing my health of mind and body, and desirous of being a cheerful old lady to the last; and when the period shall arrive (as come it must) when I shall say adieu to this beautiful world, may I leave it in peace and love, with all to whom I was bound either by the dearest ties of love, or the next noble sentiment of friendship, thankful for the immense happiness the "All Wise Giver" bestowed upon me. To discipline myself for the many-coloured scenes has been my great effort; now, to draw consolation from them is my wish, and find the review of joyous days animating me still. Perfect liberty was granted me to heal and to enquire, and I had the same freedom to act according to my convictions. The society at my father's was very varicd, much highly intellectual.
Among those I remember who were his intimate friends Southey was the earliest, he had a cottage ncar my father; Perry of the Morning Chronicle; Mr. Const, I also recollect; in London, Porson, Fox, and Sheridan werc also among his associates. In his house, my father was an enchanting hots [sic!], and we had always visitors staying with us. Society in the neighbourhood of Christchurch was very good, and we mixed largely in the social circle there.
Soon after I left school my first great trial occurredmy grandmother in her eighty-fourth year was suddenly attacked by inflammation of the bowels, which in a few days terminated her valuable life; she possessed her clear intellect to the last, and retained considerable beauty. She was remarkable for the hospitable kindness of her nature, her strong mind, and admirable management in all household matters, united to a suavity of manner, and a power of giving pleasure that never left her, for young and old loved her social welcome. After her death I had the sale direction of my father's house in my fifteenth year. Though I was not aware that I was a large heiress, the world around me knew it, and as money is always an object and a strong temptation I had a choice of lovers very early in life. I was pleased no doubt with attention, delighted to have plenty of requests to dance at all the parties, and no doubt charmed with all the little preferences given to me rather liberal1y. One young man who was greatly approved of by my father, proposed to me, and I being so young considered it best to treat him (being many years my senior) in the light of a brother, rather than lover, but his kind nature and affection for me produced a return, and his family wcre so attached to me that we were all as one household, though eight miles separated us. In his mother, Mrs. Oake, and his widowed sister, Mrs. Reade, I found valuable friends at this important period of my life. The family were consumptive, he fell ill, and died most unexpectedly at my father's house. The shock I shall never forget. Young, and I believe naturally affectionate, and disposed to love all that were kind to me, I found in his mother and sister most pleasing friends.
At this time a friend of my father's, Mr. Anderton, purchased Beech House, a residence on the borders of the New Forest; aud Mr. Whitwell, an architect, was engaged to put the house in order; he had bcen well introduced to my father, and proceeded to Becch House; my father found him solitary, four miles from any society, and he immediately invited him to Burton. Mr. Whitwell accepted the invitation, and he continued more than a year my father's guest going away on business and returning occasionally. He saw that my father's affairs were in an embarrassed state; he was warmly attached to him, and felt most anxious to serve him in any way, and knowing from my father, my position, seeing how I had been brought upin ease and affluence, and how very severe any reverse of fortune might be felt by me: looking wisely into the far future for me, he endeavoured by all possible means to train my mind to meet disappointments with fortitude, and to battle with difficulties. I could not understand him, seeing no farther than the present hour.
While he was staying with us, Coleridge came with Mr. and Mrs. Gillman and Mrs. Mylne to Mudiford for change of scene and air; they were soon very intimate with my father, and I became a favourite with Coleridge who was greatly interested in my position: young, and without a mother, as he used to address me in a tone of voice never to be forgotten! I recollect my naughty conduct, on the first occasion of his being invited to dinner, and a large party to meet him; after having given directions to our old servants to have every thing in good order, and having ordered a very proper dinner, I retired in the evening previously to the day on which all these worthies were to arrive, ordered the lad who always attended upon me, to have the pony ready for me at six in the morning, told him to have the gig-horse ready for himself to ride, and off I started to Ringwood, eight miles from Burton; I got there before my dear old Mrs. Oake and her danghter had assembled for breakfast, had despatched the horse and lad home, and settled myself for the day. When my father came down and Mr. Whitwell to breakfast, Joseph who had gone with me, made his appearance according to my request, and told them that I should be back the next day and wished the horses to be at Mrs. Oake's early in the morning the following day! Mr. Whitwell, I can well imagine, saw this atrocious act of self-will on my part in its true light, and, doubtless, placed it before my father's mind in strong colours.
'l'he party all came, and were entertained by the two gentlemen; the ladies exclaimed, as well they might, on Miss Biddlecombe's very extraordinary conduct! However, many I heard made allowance for a self-willed only child. The day following the horse came, and I returned home after several strong lectures from my friends at Ringwood. Just as I reached home, my dear father came out with open arms to receive me; close behind him appeared Mr. Whitwell. My father in the kindest manner said, "My dear child, never do this again"not all angry word, or even look did he give me; I felt stricken to the very heart. Had he uttered any unkind sentence, I should have never felt the remonstrance as I did the bland and lovely way in which he welcomed the "Prodigal's" return. Mr. Whitwell immediately said, "Well, Mrs. Kate, I am quite sorry to think what you have done, but they are all invited again to dine next week; and you will have to take Coleridge to Beech House, and introduce him to Mr. and Mrs. Anderton, and show him their fine collection of pictures." I said," Oh! Mr. Whitwell, this is all your doing! My father would never have thought of such an act!" He gave me a capital exordium upon my conduct, told me that I possessed the unbounded love of a very delightful manmy father, and my duty was not to trifle with the power I possessed over him. He reeommended my attention to practice, as well as theory in religion, and told me to read St. James more and St. Paul less; to which I very naughtily replied, "If it were anyone, but you Mr. Whitwell, who gave me this advice, I should takc it, but as it comes from you, I shall not." He very kindly took great pains to show me how very wrong I had been, and placed before my youthful mind such appeals towards snch a father, that I made an internal resolution never to offend or hurt his feelings again; for few girls indeed ever possessed such a parent. I was completely subdued, though too proud to acknowledge it.
Days went on, at last the one came on which Mr. Coleridge and the party were to arrive again, and as soon as I saw the fine head of dear Coleridge and his noble countenance, I was indeed grieved to think that I had gone away purposely, because I did not wish to know him. It was a wet day, and I was placed in a post-chaise to journey four miles with this fine-minded man. The moment we were shut in, he commenced by saying, "So you ran away the other day, my dear child, from an old man! one, who may know a little more than you do; but the greatest man who ever lived confessed that in knowing what he did, he knew nothing. Well, my dear child, what should we all do then. No, no, never do such a thing again. Your father has told me all about it; such superior minds to improve from; and don't be satisfied by being the best informed in society." Then, he gave me advice as to marriage, related his own mistake in that "immense step in life." We saw the Andertons, he admired their splendid pictures, and we rcturned to BurtonI charmed aud ashamed: charmed to have found Coleridge so entirely kind, as well as clever; and determined to aim high in respect of moral and intellectual character ever after! The ladies all were quite pleased with their evening, and I, for many weeks was the frequent guest at the Cottage, at Mudiford, where the Gillmans and Coleridge resided.
We had a very nice young lady soon after this to stay with me, she was invited to remain as long as her mother could spare her; she was older by many years than I was. In her, I had a very agreeable companion; she married an old schoolfellow of my father's, who had returned from India.
But before this event took place, a Christmas Day was anticipated by us all with great delight; old friends were to meet, and we were to make the "Welkin ring," when some letters came that produced a dreadful change of countenance in my dear father's face, and he summoned Mr. Whitwell from the room; after some time he came back, and I remarked how very much my father's countenance had changed; Mr. Whitwell, then, by degrees acquainted me with the contents of the letters, and laid open the real state of my father's affairs. He bad given acceptances to a very large amount, and also his name to bills to be filled in as the parties for whose accommodation his name was given might require. These friends, in whom he had such implicit confidence, left the country, and my father was responsible. After due deliberation and taking time to reflect upon the future for me, which was his greatest anxiety, poor fellow; it was decided that he should go to town, and see whether terms might not be made with the people who held the bills.
This was soon after the Peace; and it was a very carefully considered matter how best to act boats were out at all the Cinque Ports for my father's arrest; our little village, Burton, in a state of consternation that my powers of description would fail to convey any idea of! Old friends came to urge me to live with them until these distressing circumstances could be assuaged. Mrs. Anderdon, a lady of good fortune, and her husband, requested Mr. Whitwell to inform me that I should have every comfort, in retirement (if I preferred it), under their roof; and she said that in a day, naming it, she should drive by in her carriage, and order her coachman to pass two or three times our house, in order that Mr. Whitwell might go out with the reply to her kind wishes, in the affirmative from me, and then she would take the charge of the poor girl of sixteen. I declined this offer, but can never forget the kindness of it.
Matters went on badly. The lawyers were most active; my father, after travelling about in England, left for Calais. I had to travel in the interval with an old female servant; and previously to my father leaving England, it was advisable that I should assume a feigned name, in order to conceal my father's movements, that no trace might be given of his whereabouts. I left my dear Burton therefore with tbe old servant, and slept that night at Southampton. The next day I reached London, where apartments had been taken for me by the Miss Whitwells, who were sisters of Mr. W. They were situated in Judd Street, Brunswick Square.
The very next day, while I was gone out, I was robbed of everything I had brought with me; fortunately, my money was an Exchequer Bill, of no use till it had been endorsed. On my return from taking my old servant to see her brother, I found all tbe trunks and drawers empty. I took courage, rang the bell, and told the servant to tell Mrs. Henry, the woman of the house, to come to me. When she came, I told her that I had been robbed since I came into her house, and showed her the empty trunks, &c. Sbe wished to send the servants out, and then search their boxes. No, I said, Mrs. Henry; we must have equal justice; a search warrant must be had, and with that I walked out of her house to the Miss Whitwells. We returned togetber. Lo! Everything, except a pearl ear-ring and a night-cap were re-placed.
My kind friend, Mr. Cole, a medical man, sent officers from Bow Street the next morning, who quickly discovered how the locks had been opened, and advised me to quit the lodgings speedily. My father knew Mr. Cole well. He was a great friend of the Whitwells and of Mr. Knight, who also knew my father. Mr. Knight then resided at Windsor. He came up to town, called on Cole, found him lamenting over a young girl's loss, as it appeared at that time to be, by robbing. He immediately inquired who this young lady might be. Cole told him all the difficulties by which my father was surrounded, my being his
daughter, and all the facts relative to my being in town; that it was considered best for me to remain until the dividends in April became due at the bank. Mr. Knight immediately exclaimed, "Where is this poor girl? I must take her to Windsor to my wife, this very afternoon, and there she must stay, nntil she can go to her father." Mr. Cole said, "You have never seen her, she is a high spirited girl, and I don't think that she will consent to go down to Windsor." Mr. Whitwell happened to go in to see Cole at this moment, and he being a strong friend of both, and a bosom friend of my father, he was referred to by Mr. Knight on the subject; and it ended by his accompanying Mr. Knight to Judd Street; there, they insisted on the great impropriety of a young creature like me, again trying any other lodgings; and Mr. Knight INSISTED upon the old servant and me going down to Windsor that evening. We did so, and I remember the warm reception I had from Mrs. Knight, old Mr. Knight, aud Mrs. Vinicombe, Mrs. Knight's dear old mothelr. Thcre I remained, tendcd by such spirits as do honour to humanity. The day on which the dividends became due I went up to town with Mr. Whitwell. We found a distraint placed on them. What was to be done for money. I went to two of my father's old friendsMr. Perry, the editor of the Morning Chronicle, and Mr. Canst (afterwards for many years chairman of the Middlesex Sessions); each of them told me to write my fathcr, and tell him that they would supply money until the dividends could be released. As soon as I had this promise, I left London with the old servant and Mr. Whitwell, who said he would take care of me, until he placed me in my father's arms again.
We proceeded to Dover. It blew a heavy gale. Only one boat would venture out of the harbour; her name was the "Dover," and Captain Dover, her commander. I resolved at once to go if any vessel would leave, and accordingly we started. A very tremendous passage we had, but reached Liullicages Hotel, Dupein; where I cannot describe the meeting that took place bctween my dear father and myself. He was a man of ardent temperament, and had suffered martyrdom in spirit since our separation of four months. Mr. Whitwell remained a few days, and then left, after assuring me of the strong affection he felt for me, and how improved my mind was growing under the difficulties I had undergone, and doubtless, should have to go through; that he had lovcd me when I was surrounded by all my heart could desire, when he could not meet my ideas, as he thought, for a suitable marriage; and, now, he felt more equal by endeavouring to obtain means by his profession that might enable him to marry. I wished not to think of any man as a husband; my father, and my father only, appeared to be the being in which all I had of affection to give was bestowed. Mr. Whitwell asked me then to make him one promise, viz. : that I would not accept any offer without consulting him; that he would journey any distance to see me on such a subject, and hoped in addition, that I would grant him this favour, that of "giving me away," provided my father's feelings, which he contemplated would not allow him to do, whenever I should be married. I promised him I would endeavour to comply with his wishes, and assured him that I most thoroughly appreciated his immense kindness. He left for England. And we were in Calais, St. Omer, and Capelle for the following eighteen months. The dividends were released upon the advance of a large sum of money to the holder of the bills, or some of them. In Calais it was reported that I was a rich heiress. Then came French and English to offer themselves as husbandsIrish officers, and all sorts of speculators. But I happily escaped such a crowd of mere fortune-hunters, and returned to England.
After a few days in London, I went to visit my dear old friends at Burton, and I was absent among them seven months. My father had to bear a feigned name again, and it was requisite, until I came of age, to keep his residence secret; he, therefore, under the advice of Mr. Whitwell, took lodgings in the Vicarage House at Harborne, near Birmingham, and joyfully went there with the old servant. It is indeed a very lovely village, and there we lived many months. While at Harborne, I became aequainted with the Hill family.
I went to see the first stone of Carr's Lane Chapel laid, of which Mr. Whitwell was the architect; and it was agreed that I should be present at its opening the following year. Mr. Crump's family, in Cherry Street, I used to spend a day with often; and at Harborne, the Simcoxes and Mrs. Careless, with one or two others, were extremely polite to us. From Harborne we went to Dalton, near Birmingham; from thence I went to visit a sister of Mrs. Whitwell's at Leamington; thence to Olney, where my father had taken lodgings, and Sarah Whitwell came to stay some weeks with me.
There we made several agreeable acquaintances, explored the scenery of the Task; and I saw the poor woman contrasted by Cowper, in the Task, with Voltaire; she died while we were there; I attended her funeral, and her epitaph was written by Mr, Simmons, the Baptist minister of that town, who performed the funeral service, in his chapel-yard, and preached a sermon from the words we had selected"The wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err therein." Here our good and always-ready friend, Mr. Whitwell, came.
Often had I heard the name of John Steer spoken of by my father, Mr. Bright, Mr. Matthcw Hill, and Mr. Cole, but never had seen him.
I went to Northampton out of health, to be attended by Dr. Carr; was ordered into Leicestershire; went to Shipton Cross, Wigton, and to Burbage, near Hinckley; then to Birmingham; and soon after this Carr's Lane was to be opened. I spent the day with the Crnmps, in Cherry Street, and so did the Hills, and others. The day was very delightful, in August, and it was agreed that several of the party should, on the following day, go a picnic to the Leasowes (Shenstone's walk and grounds); we went. Matthew Hill was then wooing Miss Bucknell, of Kidderminster; Rowland and his sister (now Mrs. Francis Clarke), and the Crumps, joined us.
In the evening we were to adjourn to Hazelwood; we got there when late, and quite dark. John Steer was talking with old Mr. Hill, when we entered the dining-room. I was in a merry mood, and talked very much to Mr. Hill. Lights had not been brought. Mr. Matthew Hill was taken out of the room by Mr. John Steer, who told him that he had made up his mind to marry that girl, if she were to be had, and asked whether he knew I was engaged? Hill said, "I cannot tell you; but Whitwell may be able; you must know that she is not Miss Brookes, but the daughter of your friend and mine, Mr. Biddlecombe." And then he explained all the difficulties of my father's position. Whitwell told Mr. Steer that he believed I was quite disengaged, but that he had proposed some time since to me, and must own his strong affection for me. John Steer said that he would not enter the field if he found it pre-occupied; but otherwise he certainly should try to have her as his wife. They returned into the room; we spent the evening together; and afterwards John Steer and J. Whitwell walked on the road to Harborne with me.
A few Sundays afterwards we met John Steer again, on our way to a Mr. and Mrs. Holland's, at whose house Mary Crump, Mr. Whitwell, and I were going to dine. He did not know the house, or rather its immediate situation, when I happened to look back, and exclaimed, "Why, there is Mr. Steer, Whitwell!" He said, "No, no; Steer is in London, busily reporting for the Morning Herald; he can't be here!" I looked again. Mr. Whitwell stopped, and said, "You are right; it is John Steer." This occasioned a parley, and it turned out that we were all going to the same friend's to dinner.
This proved an eventful day for me! I spent it most delightfully, for I was conscious that I was in the society of a high-minded, sound-judging man, who at once appeared to take a deep interest in me. We parted that evening, and did not meet again until the Christmas following, in London, where my father had gone, and was attacked by a severe fit of the gout. We had wandered to Olney, Northampton and into Leicestershire. during the time from August till that period. I was charmed with many kindnesses from old friends, and after enjoying dclightful society at Northampton, particularly that of Mr. and Mrs. Horsey, and tbeir daughters, Mr. J., Miss Cornfield, and Mr., Mrs., and Miss Buxton, I left it for London, to attend my fatber, who was now seriously ill. Here I met Jobn Steer again, wbo bad been constantly the close attendant upon my father from the moment of his illness, proving painfully severe; for two dreadful diseases at times attacked himgravel and gout.
After I arrived, which was on Christmas Day, 1822 (a day I shall always dwell upon with loving recollection), my dear father gradually got better; though confined to his bed he was cheerful, and by degrees gout subsided, and he was able to walk about. We took lodgings in Euston Crescent, Euston Square, and had the frequent society of Charles Knight, Whitwell, Matthew Hill, Cole, the Misses Whitwell, and John Steer.
Mr. Whitwell now told me that Steer had a decided intention of making proposals of marriage to me, and confessed that he had been in his confidence on this subject ever since the interview which took place at Hazelwood the past summer. I felt strongly attracted by the sense of the character of John Steer, and this was certainly the absorbing passion. My mind was peculiarly constituted. I think, naturally, I was disposed to love all that were kind and good to me; but I had an early wish to marry a man of strong mind and excellence, united to intellectual power. Having the frequent visits of John Steer; hearing how much his character was esteemed; knowing that as a brother he was remarkable for his devotion to his sisters and brothers; I did think myself singularly fortunate to gain his affection.
Days and weeks passed on, he seeing me as often as his duties, which were in connection with the daily newspapers, would permit. The more we saw of each other the more we were convinced of our affection, which scarcely required from him an explicit declaration; for his meaning was quite intelligible to all my friends. After passing the months from December until May in London, I was invited to go to Windsor to stay with the dear Knights, and Mr. Steer was to take me down, with the old servant. On the 2nd of May, 1823, I went to these kind friends. On the following morning before breakfast, John Steer told me how affectionately he loved me. I avowed my affection for him, aud honestly expressed my wish to make him a good wife. But my father had not been consulted; though we felt assured that he must have seen the attentions paid me, and, from his high opinion of Mr. Steer, have had no objection. At first we had, however, to contend with his decided objections on account of Mr. Steer not then being called to the bar, which was the profession he was disposed to enter.
He had in boyhood been apprenticcd to a working-jeweller, in Birmingham, named Hitson. His father had been in that business; and Sam Steer and my husband, and another brother, Luke, were destined by their father for the same. Sam worked very hard to educate himself, and was able to take the situation of usher in Mr. Beorley's school at Stourbridge; John Steer was a pupil in the New Meeting school in Birmingham, worked most indefatigably, and resolved, with his brother Sam, to go to London, get employment as reporter to some newspaper, and work their way to the bar.
Sam left Birmingham first, and soon determined to go to the West Indies, and practise in Demarara, where an old friend had gone for the same purpose, a most extraordinary elever fellow, Abraham Hewlings. John Steer about this time had been engaged some months on the Morning Herald, of whieh Sam was sub-editor. He was called to the bar and left for Demarara. The parting, my poor husband often described to me, which took place between them in the Downs, when he retnrned to Deal with the pilot. Alas! It was the last moment they were ever to meet in this world. After four or five years' successful practice at the bar in Demarara, he was attacked with yellow fever, and speedily died. I only saw this fine hearted fellow, Sam Steer, once. All who knew him, loved him. He combined fine talent with wondrous kindness of heart. John Steer continued steadily in the path he had selected, contending with many difficulties; both his parents had died, and left little of this world's goods behind them.
My father feared lest my marrying a young man without fortune-going into such a hazardons profession, that of a barrister-without connection and all the up-hill work of so laborious a profession, was more than I could grapple with: that it demanded a power of mental endurance, great self-denial, and a degree of home management which he very carefully represented to me in vivid colouring. While he admitted his high esteem of John Steer, yet there was no gainsaying the trnth of the pictnre. "My dear child," said my father to me, " Are you fitted for this? True, you have gone through many severe trials with me; they have, doubtless, fitted yon to bear more than the lap of ease would have enabled you to go throughbut married life brings a variety of cares of a different character quite." Then, after talking with us both, consulting Whitwell, at times being easy about it, then again fluctuating, fearing the result for my happiness, on account of those unavoidable difficulties my father felt must severely attend our position.
After all these contests, poor fellow, we went on being engaged to each other until the eleventh of March, 1824the day after I was twenty-three years of age. I told Steer that I would not marry until I had done all in my power to make my father's circumstances comfortable; and after I had settled a yearly income out of the power of anyone to touch, sufficient for his wants, I resolved to share the "weal or woe" of life with John Steer.
My father, it was expected by Whitwell, would never be able to give me away, and the night preceding our marriage he told me that he should only make a scene in the church, and he wished Whitwell to perform this duty for him (I had promised Whitwell, in case of my marrying, that he should take this office if my father could not), and Whitwell had promised to give the wedding breakfast, provided, to use his own words, "I married a man whom he considered worthy of me." He did think Steer quite the person for me, and gave me away to him at St. George's, Hanover Square. He gave also a splendid breakfast. Mr. and Mrs. Knight, Mr. and Mrs. Matthew Hill, my father, and Mr. Cole, and Miss Whitwell, who was my bridesmaid, were present.
Afterwards, we left Grosvenor Place for Charles Knight's house at Windsor, and in the evening we went to a lovely cottage on the banks of the Thames, where we had taken lodgings. Mr. Hill, Mr. Whitwell, and my father accompanied us to London; and Mr. Knight gave a very fine dinner on the occasion. Here we spent a week, and then came to our home, which was at 31, Orchard Street, Portman Square. Mrs. Knight's mother, dear Mrs. Vinicombe, had this house; the drawing-room floor she did not use, and we had it, with an attic and kitchen for our servant, until we could get a house in the "law market," which was Chancery Lanethat locality would enable us to have our residence and chambers under the same roof.
My husband was then, and had been, a pupil of the celebrated pleader and counsel, Chitty, and soon became so valuable to him as to take very important duties in assisting him in his various legal works which Chitty was then bringing out. He reported also for the papers, and wrote the theatrical critiques for the Guardian newspaper. We gradually found our income increasing, but for the first three years were obliged to be very economical. Our married life was perfectly happy. I looked up with veneration to my husband's superior judgment. He thought I had a strong mind, with an affectionate heart, and to use again his own words he used to say, "I am proud of you, Kate."
Our first child, Charles, was born just twelve months and a day after our marriage in Orchard Street. We had contemplated a removal to Chancery Lane as quickly as we could obtain a house there. Old Mr. Chingler then lived at No. 15, where he had resided thirty years. He recommended Mr. Steer to the "Master of the Rolls" as a tenant, and wished that he might make "as large a fortune as he had done in it."
In the May following my confinement in March, we went there. By degrees we furnished it, very inexpensively and simply. I acted as clerk until we could afford a better, and was nurse to my child. It was not possible to have been employed more to my satisfaction, watching my child, providing for my husband's return from Westminster Hall, and then writing to his dictation in the evening. Time went on in these delightful duties. He became more occupied with Chitty's works, and frequently laboured till two and three in the morning with him, writing opinions and in arranging materials for books.
Thirteen months after Charlie's birth, I was again confined with a lovely girl [Mary Anne]. This event took place while my husband was absent at the Norwich Sessions. Many were the droll expedients I was obliged to have recourse to; to entertain friends pleasantly, with small means, and in a position which required a careful attention to appearance, and a hearty welcome to important clients. Many a dinner, designed to be of cold meat, was metamorphosed into hash; a fowl added, or soup and steak, and I look back now often with pleasure to see how I contrived the rapid change of provender. It really was a pleasure though at the time, for I never felt these things to be difficult. the cheerful home was an ample compensation for the requisite additions to our humble ménage.
Life passed most happilymy dear father often came to stay with us, and he was quite delighted to witness our fire-side comfort. His excellent advice to me was invaluable; "Always make the best of things, my dear; make the people welcome who come; don't give kickshaws, but simple roast and boiled; a dish of fish and a hearty welcome; be always neatly dressed, aim not to be expensively adorned, and rely upon it a hearty welcome with pleasant conversation for your guests will make up for the deficiencies of the table, only be sure always to have enough, and let it be plain and good."
Death of her Father and Children
The dear social voice of my father used to gladden us both. He lived five years only after my marriage, but he used to say, "I have lived to see thee happy." He died at York. To me this melancholy event was unexpected; he had been ill for some weeks, had had a severe attack of inflammation of the chest, then gout.
I had offered to go to him, but he would not listen to this, thinking that my duties were at home with my husband and two children. Dr. Belcombe, an eminent physician there, attended him, and had he known my husband or me would have written to us to apprize us of his fear as to my father's illness. Dropsy of the chest very suddenly ended his life just as I was expecting him to pay me a visit, having only a few days before received a cheerful letter from him, stating his intention of coming up to us. The letter, addressed to Mr. Steer, I opened the intelligence it conveyed quite unnerved me. My husband was at Westminster Hall, I sent to him, he came, and I cannot describe our mutual feelings at the shock. To me, he had under all circumstances been a devoted father, always promoting my moral and intellectual advancement, and "Speak of me as I was," he used to say, "after I am gone."
He had weak points, I would say to others, avoid them. But he had innumerable virtues of heart and head, and I would indeed say imitate them. To him I owe a debt of gratitude I never felt I could discharge. Thank GOD, I truly loved him, and have the satisfaction of knowing that he was convinced of my filial devotion. His name is sacred in my recollection. His remarks are my daily meditation, and in joy or sorrow I find something to enhance the one and soften the otber by the recollections of many and repeated remarks of good advice in my early years from his warm and affectionate lips.
As soon as possible after his death Mr. Steer deemed it best to take me for change of air and scene. I had suffered from what I considered severe toothache, but our medical man Mr. Cole assured us that it was tic douloureux. My husband was going to Maidstone on the Home Circuit, and it was settled that the two children, nursemaid, and I, should go with him. I consented with great pleasure, but this direful pain regularly came on, and after my return borne I requested my dentist, Mr. Nicholls, to draw a tooth, he reluctantly consented. After this I felt persuaded that I had had the wrong tooth extracted, and implored him to draw its neighbour. This after much entreaty he did. He then assured me I should find no relief from this, that tooth being equally sound with the other, and it ended in my going to Abernethy, who, in a curious interview beginning by "damning" it and scolding, ended by calling me "dear angel love," and prescribing for me as a tic-douloureux patient. From the shock occasioned to my nervous system occasioned by the death of my dear father, I date my liability to attacks from this disease. After a long time I became better.
A very interesting and varied life continued to be our lot in Chancery Lane. Great anxiety attended the infancy of my eldest child (Charles). Much dread of hydrocephalus, from the extreme size of his head, aud he required my sole care for the first seven years of his life. He was subject to severe attacks of fever during tcething, and violent headaches afterwards.
I had another dear child, a little boy, named Harry; he was most lovely to the eye; a firm looking child, and a sweet tempered little fellow-though an intense sufferer from intro-susception of the bowels and a combination of complaints; he seldom cried; his moans were piteous: but no passion or testiness of temper was manifested by this patient littlc fellow. After five months' close nursing, he died in a convulsion in my arms.
This occurred while my husband was at Westminster Hall. Oh! the loss! At this moment every circumstance is distinctly before my mind; too painfully, alas, to dwell upon. My husband, like myself, felt a terrible desolation in the loss of this dear child of twenty months old. He was so sweetly interesting, and his illness had been borne so patiently, that he was looked upon by us as a little hero. We endeavoured to rally, and look to our other two dear children, both good and promising, Charles and Mary Anne, though the latter we always called "Poppet"a nickname that had been given to me when I was a child. The death of this dear boy took place on the thirty-first of January.
In the March following, my dear little girl sickened with measles, and Charles also. He required this stimulative process to give his constitution an impetus in the right direction. The dear little girl it was too much for. She was redolent with health and it knocked her completely down. Dr. Elliotson and Mr. Cole attended her, but nothing that could be devised would allay the irritation of her system or reduce her pulse. After nine weeks, hoping and fearing, we lost her in July following the death of little Harry in January. As I listened to her gently dying sobs, I thoughtCan I survive this loss? Can I retain my senses? Can my husband, who so doated on his children, also? And after the last breathing I was indeed terrified, lest our minds might give way; but He who gave these dear treasures to us, mercifully enabled us to resign them. I tried to keep up, for the sake of my husband and my only child, Charles, then left.
Sometime elapsed, when Charles was taken ill with scarlet fever, the very morning on which my husband was to leave for the circuit. He had it most severely, and I caught it in nursing him; both of us lay in the same room, in a very critical state for days. I, for weeks, for I was in the family-way, and a premature confinement followed the scarlet fever. Both of us got well, but we were sadly reduced in strength for a long time, and Charles lost the hearing of one ear.
A dear young friend, Mary Owen, a daughter of Robert Owen, of Lanark, with her sister Jane, who were attached to us from frequent social feelings in common, insisted on being allowed to see me, although the honse was considered dangerous, the infection of scarlet fever being so great. She came with her sister, but in a day or two after, she was taken ill with severe headache, and in a few days died. I always considered that her death was occasioned by her coming to see me in the infectious state of our atmosphere, notwithstanding every precaution that was used.
Robert Owen was our frequent guest for several years; his sons, Robert and Dale, also; and it was a great trial to us to part with this interesting family when they left for New Harmony, in America. Jane is a remarkably clever woman, and one of the best letter writers I know. The Rajah Rammohun Roy also took pleasure in his visits to us, and delighted us by his benevolent and talented mind.
About the time my son Charles was eight years of age, General and Mrs. Mackay, with whom we had been very intimate, expressed their wish to us to adopt Charles, and bring him up as their son. T'his offer we resolved to refuse. They were exceedingly kind to this child, and he used to spend weeks at a time at their house at Sidcup, in Kent; but we determined to train him according to our own views and never to accede to the Mackays' request. About six years previously to Mr. Steer's death, Mr. Chitty was attacked by paralysis, which disabled him from going into the courts in London, or from travelling the circuit, which was the same my husband had selected. He opened the way for a very large addition to Mr. Steer's practice, and did not fail to recommend him on every occasion; so our income suddenly increased, and the heavy night hours were considerably abbreviated. A good clerk was procured, and I only acted as amanuensis as a treat, which it really was to me.
After my health had recovered from the scarlet fever, I took a journey to Birmingham, to visit the Whitfield family, while my husband went the circuit; Charles accompanied me. It was the dreadful year of cholera, 1832, when Bilston and Tipton suffered severely from its influence. Mr. Steer came to me at Edgbaston, where I was on a visit to William Whitfield and his wife, two of the oldest friends we had (both these kind persons are now dead). Another dear friend, Mr. Luckcock, was then residing in Lime Grove, Edgbaston, close to George Street, where the Whitfields lived; and he and his family were old friends of Mr. Steer's; indeed, when he was in the "Brotherly Society" connected with the New Meeting Schools, Mr. Luckcock and my husband wrote a volume of "Moral Essays" for the use of young minds, which were very valuable. He felt a deep interest and pride in the success of my husband and poor Sam Stecr.
The enterprising spirit of both these young men occasioned a great sensation in Birmingham; and I consider such perseverance through immense difficulties, as both these young men had to encounter, deserving the admiration of all who knew of theie conduct, and well worthy the imitation of othcrs. I possess a seal, made by my husband when he was apprenticed to Mr. Hitson, and deem it the best ornament I could own. More proud did I feel in becoming the wife of a man, who, from humble life, by honest industry, good abilitics, and strict integrity worked his way to the bar of this country, than had I been the wife of the wealthiest commoner, or highly descended son of a coronet. The character of my husband as a son, husband, father, and friend, deserve the warmest and most heartfelt encomiums my feelings can express. As a husband, he always gave me advice with tenderness; always supported my opinions in domestic matters; and considered that he had met with a "mate" as suited to his taste, as I knew I had to my own.
About three years previously to his death, I was the mother of another dear child, who we resolved to christen at the request of Charles, then our only living child, William Shakspere. He had been reading "The Tempest," and urged his wish that his little brother might be named after its great author. We complied with it, and always ealled him Willie. He was a fine healthy infant; and my husband and I frequently used to say that we thought he gave considerable promise as a boy of intellect. It was our custom to devote as much as possible of our time to our children. I was always with them, except when at the dinner hour and on very few other occasions: and this dear child liked either me or his father to sing him to sleep at night. I used to sing a sort of lullaby to him from his earliest infancy; this soothed him in his cot to sleep; and when he could understand little stories, I made up some sort of song. So I interested his mind; and he would say, "Over again," when he hegan to talk. It was a regular plan for either Mr. Steer or myself to go up and do this singing every evening. Often would the house-maid come with a message to say, "Willie wishes his papa to come;" and he would leave the most agreeable society to comply with his dear child's request.
In the two children, Charles, who was ten years older than Willie, our fondest hopes were placed. We had bitterly deplored our two heavy family losses; but we both felt that the two left us would be sufficient to make us cling warmly to life. Charles went to a school kept by Mrs. Dobson and Miss Baker, in Judd Place, New Road, with one of Mr. Matthew Hill's sons, Cartwright. He remained there from seven till ten, when we sent him to the London University School. In his thirteenth year the dreadful calamity occurred which deprived him of a father, and me of so good a husband.
On the 14th of January, 1838, Mr. Steer was seized with a violent shivering fit. The day previously had been very wet, he had heavy and important briefs at Westminster Hall. He left home intending to take the first hackney coach or cab that could be got, but so pouring with min was it, that not a vehicle was disengaged. He was wet in the feet, sat in damp clothes all day, and when he came home to dinner he told me that there was no way of preventing it. He took dinner, appeared well and cheerful, had an important arbitration case in the evening, which occupied him till after twelve o'clock. Influenza at that time was very prevalent and very fatal. He found that I had a cough, and requested me to go to bed early, but I did not do this. I went up, just before he was ready to go to bed, and we laughed and talked over the affairs of the day. In the morning as he was about to put on his boots to go to Westminster, a cold shivering fit came on. I sent for our friend and medical man directly. Charlie, indeed, ran off eagerly for him. I had a fire in my bedroom, put him to bed immediately, and gave warm diluents. Cole quickly came, ordered him to continue in bed, and pursue a course of treatment which he laid down, but saw no reason for any apprehension that he would not do well.
I must not omit to mention that Charles had a very remarkable impression on his mind; he told me that he "felt sure that his papa would never come out of his room alive again," and deeply the poor child felt this conviction. On Sunday, the 16th, at night, Mr. Steer complained of pains in the side, under the shoulder, about the chest; in short, it was shifting all over him. I sent for Cole directly; he was indeed alarmed when he came to see my poor husband gasping for breath, and his complexion quite purple. Cole instantly tried to bleed in the arm, but it was a long time before blood would flow. He sent for a cupper; he came and took blood from the side. These remedies relieved him, but before six in the morning he was as bad as ever. I started off into Holborn, took a hackney coach, went to Cole, ran up into his room, begged him to come with me directly as my husband was as ill as he had seen him at night. He quickly dressed, and came to us in the coach. We then decided on sending for Dr. Bright, and despatched a messenger to him. When we got back to Chancery Lane, Cole felt he must bleed again. My husband then rallied, and after Cole had left, he requested me to hear all that he had to say, believing his recovery very improbable, though not impossible. I did hear all his wishes; they were most fully expressed. Dr. Bright came, and felt most anxious about him, quite approved of all that had been done, ordered bleeding again, a blister, and linseed-meal poultices. He was better during Monday night, and continued to improve on Tuesday, although Dr. Bright, who came twice a day, told me that his life was in great peril, yet he hoped to find him better on Wednesday morning, when he would be with us at nine o'clock. Poor fellow! he did lose many of the painful symptoms, but his nervous system sunk under the remedies they were compelled to use, or he must have been suffocated. It was an awful choice. But no time was lost, the case did not admit of it; and from the Sunday night at eleven until eight or soon after on Wednesday the 18th, when he died, it was like a fearful drcam to my mind.
The two dear children whom my husband had said would have every claim to my attention, I saw indeed fatherless. His dying words almost were, "Charles will in future years be a comfort to you; and Willie, too, I have no doubt. They are both good children. And you will have many kind and good friends. For you, I have great anxiety; for myself, not the shadow of a fear." His strong mind never wavered, or for an instant deserted him; and Dr. Bright observed to me, that had he medical knowledge, he could have well prescribed even in his own case. The close attention of Dr. Bright and Cole deserved always my highest praise. Poor Cole was quite knocked down by Mr. Steer's death; it was so unexpected by him.
As soon as possible after the funeral I resolved to dispose of the remainder of the lease of the house in Chancery Lane, and dispose also of all the furniture, with the exception of a few favourite relics of domestic life. My friend Mr. Brandrett, who was a friend from my girlhood, and also a warm friend of my husband's, offered his valuable services in settling all these business matters for me; and I determined never to leave the house until I left it for ever. In the month of May it was taken off my hands; and after placing Charles under the care of a dear old friend, Mrs. Knapton, in order that he might attend the University College School regularly, she living in Euston Place, near to it, I went with Willie to the dear old friend of my youth, Mrs. Shaw, at Bilrickay: there he soon had whooping cough, and I remained until change of air was deemed best for him, then proceeded to Broadstairs, where Charles joined us, as soon as his vacation commenced. Before going thcre I arranged with Mrs. Tabrum, of Ingatestone. in Essex, to takc the dear little fellow at Michaelmas, as a pupil in her school, to prepare him for Christ's Hospital. Sir John Price made me an offer of a presentation when he should be old enough; and dear Mrs. Fry offered it also.
Kind friends were indeed forthcoming, to meet all my wants, in a way truly astonishing. After placing this dear child, only four years and two months old, with Mrs. Tabrum, I took lodgings with an old lady, Mrs Cadbury, who had known me for many years in Somer Place, New Road, No. 21. There, Charles and I lived three years and a half, having dear Willie home at his vacations, though a portion of his summer holidays and always his Easter vacation was spent with my kind and generous friends, Mr. and Mrs. Shaw.
When Charles was fifteen, Mr. Knight offered to take him into his office. Basil Montague came to see me soon after Mr. Steer's death, and he felt sure of a Tancred Studentship for him, when he should be about sixtcen. Every effort was made to accomplish this, and we had the promise of three ont of five governors for the election. I had my fears on the subject, and told Mr. Montague of them. I thought Mr. Tancred, in all probability, would design his bequest for children of those who were members of the Chureh of England. Mr. Montague did not think so.
I went, however, to see the will, and found that it was required to declare that the petitioner was a member of the Church of England. I then immediately told Mr. Montague that I should be guilty of gross fraud to endeavour to obtain the studentship; it was £100 per annum, for six years, and was designed to bring the sons forward, either as barristers, medical men, or in the Church, according as their wish might be. This was abandoned; and on my telling Charles how hurt I was to find my fears confirmed, and that he must turn his mind from the bar, which he had hoped to go to, to something else; and telling him of the kind offer Mr. Knight had made me for him, he exclaimed, "You are right, mama; don't let me get fraudulently into anything. Let me go to Mr. Knight's;" and, jumping forward very eagerly, he said, "I would rather sweep the crossing, honestly, than have anything got for me dishonestly. Let me go to Mr. Knight, and I will make my way." Aceordingly, he went, just after he had completed his fifteenth year, to Mr. Knight.
Willie made astonishing progress at Mrs. Tabrum's, and was always remarkable for his good conduct and steady application. He was a child of great quickness and very close observation. He went to Christ's Hospital in his eighth year, and worked his way to be first boy at Hertford in ten months, on to the school in London.
I must now bring forward my valued friend, Whitwell, again. He was in England at the time of Mr. Steer's death, saw him during his illness, and soon after his death came to offer his assistance in settling matters. At first, I thought, my ineome, though sufficient for me, was inadequate to the education and support of two children; and I thought of taking a situation; but all my friends were unanimous in requesting me to desist from such a step. I borrowed one hundrcd pounds from Mr. Brandrett. He thought that I should require five hundred before I could put Charles in a position to earn anything; but he told me, one day, "You are an extraordinary woman, you have lighted on your legs like a cat." The Blue School for Willie; Mr. Knight's for Charles; were instances of good fortune he could not have anticipated for me.
About two years after my husband's death, Whitwell again made me an offer of marriage. He said to me, "I loved you when you were a girl; I respected you as a wife; and I now say, I love you as a widow." I expressed my cordial friendship for him, but my duty towards my children prevented my thinking it right to marry. Soon after this a very esteemed friend of Mr. Steer, and one highly valued by me, Mr. Fry, paid me great attention. This, Whitwcll pereeived, and told me that he and Mr. Fry were candidates for meWhitwell was a bachelor, the latter a widower with eight children. The society of both these strong-minded men gave great character to the conversation, and I believe I am largely indebted to each for the effect of much on the mind of Charles.
Poor Whitwell was attacked by apoplexy on a morning after he had taken Charles and myself to Richmond, which proved fatal. Mr. Fry continued my steady friend. It was impossible not to admire his wonderful powers of conversation, and his unwavering principles. He combined the simplicity of a child with the highest order of intellect, and I confess that I had for him the most sincere affection; nothing but the risk he saw, as well as myself, of hazarding the happiness of his eight children and my two, prevented our marriage. Prudence stepped in, but I candidly acknowledge, and am proud to think, that I did appreciate such a man.
For a time the family and I did not visit. In this period, after Willie had gone into other classes at each move, and had obtained a high character for so young a boy at Christ's Hospital, he was taken ill. I feared from the first the result. I had him to my lodgings in Cumming Street, and after five months severe suffering from disease of the heart, he died. His remarks were very wonderful to me; he saw his danger, bore up like a Christian, as he was, and his observations sunk very deeply into my mind. His death occurring after such heavy losses, did, indeed, very nearly kill me.
I felt it a duty to rouse when Charles came home at night, not to oppress his young mind. I used to go to bed, and almost burst my heart with grief at my loss. My whole time had been occupied in going to the school, and watching his progress. Charles was engaged from nine in the morning, till nine at night at Mr. Knight's, each in their proper duties. The blow of Willie's death was, I may say, terrible to me. My kind friend, Mrs. Lincoln, was with me; her husband, for six years and a half, had Charles at the same desk with him at Mr. Knight's; and I owe a large debt of gratitude to him for a thousand judicious acts of kindness to Charles.
My spirits sank, my health broke down, and I was under medical care for many months. Change of residence was deemed necessary for mechange of air and scene. Dear Mrs. Knight had me to Walpole Lodge, St. John's Wood, and carefully nursed methen Mrs. Nettlefold at Highgate; from thence I went to Mrs. Shaw at Bilrickayshe drove me out every day, and I believe this did me great good. Mrs. Knapton, who had had me likewise at her house in Islington, besought me to take lodgings near her. She took them, and I went to them, believing that I should not ever recover; the changes had all produced a good effect, and the air of Hemingford Cottages restored me.
But though my bodily strength was so much, my mind rested upon the sad loss of my dear Willie, and my spirits sank to the lowest ebb; I endeavoured to apply solid religious reasoning to assist me in the recovery of my broken-hearted state, but all appeared to be useless.
I attribute this desolation of heart and soul to the death of this interesting boy, after the loss of my husband and other two dear children. I had no companion at all level with me in years, to whom I could pour out all my feelings, and obtain that great boon to humanitysympathy. Reduced in bodily health, and mental vigour also, I was open to all kind and affectionate solicitude; and I have to deplore all introduction which, coming from an old and much-valued friend, gave me confidence in character, and having a willing listener to my oft-repeated mention of my heavy loss, won an immense interest, affection, and regard from me.
This part of my life is too well known to you, my dear friends, for me to have occasion to dwell on it, as you have each suffered as severely from my introduction as I have in the sentiment and disappointment. I do not choose to say one word more than I can avoid upon this very painful topic. I consider that I was greedy for sympathy, and my heart yearning so intensely for it, and believing I had an honest, religious, right-feeling mind to act with, I poured out my sorrows, and felt it a great relief. Kindness, or apparent kindness, won my affection, and all I expressed I have the comfort to know was honest.
Marriage of Charles Steer
The next great event was the marriage of my only son left me. This event took place in May, 1848, and I had long trained myself to think of his separation from my home. I do not pretend to say that this was an easy task. It was not. From his earliest life I had wished that he might marry early, and avoid all those heartless actions that disgrace the man. "A few virtuous difficulties," I always told him, "in honourable marriage, are better than anyone act of dissipation. Sin is the same whether in man or woman, in the eye of our Creator. It is only the perverted views of society that render it otherwise in theirs."
As soon as he had a fair prospect in life (and I think a very good prospect), through the opportunity afforded me by my excellent friend Mr. Evans, he became a partner with Mr. Thomas Letts, of the Royal Exchange, and after some months he was engaged to marry the eldest daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Nettlefold. He very sincerely l0ved her, and I was most entirely satisfied with his choice. To casual beholders, I dare say I might appear not to think so deeply on the inevitable separation his marriage must occasion, as I really did; no one can describe the ordeal it was to me, but I never allowed him to see the workings of my mind. It was a second education, however, after all I had gone through, to part with him.
The day of his marriage arrived, and I only now dwell on all these feelings to prove that I was not insensible, if I had command of myself. "He is happily settled. The trial is past for me, and I trust that length of years and a thousand blessings may ever surround this dear child, the first born to me." Around him, therefore, are my first associations of becoming a "mother," and as such I always considered him in a peculiar light, though not more was my lovc for him than for the others.
Overcoming her Fear of Death
During my whole life I have felt the immense power of circumstances in moulding and forming my opinions and character. I lovc to trace the wonderful care and benevolence of my Father in heaven who has conducted me through many intricate and trying scenes safely to the present hour. My early position relative to the important subject of religion, placed me among Roman Catholic and Protestant families, and, as I have stated, my education was conducted by each party. The consequenee of this was, at a very juvenile age the subject absorbed much of my time and thought; whcn I was engaged in the forest riding, or on the sands on the sea shore, my little mind would wander into these subjects. I very distinctly reeolleet my idea of heaven, and went to our old gardener to get the longest poles he used to have for sticking the highest growing peas, and asking him to let mc tie scveral of them togethcr that "I might pierce a hole into heaven when the sky was low;" and I actually set about the work.
Death was a most startling subject to me, and I received some very distressing impressions upon the subject from stories that my nursemaid had told me. The terror I had of being in a house where the event of death was anticipated was dreadful. A dear old gentleman (Mr. Colman), who used to he a constant guest at my father's, was taken ill, and considered for days previously to his death in a dangerous state. No one could induce me to pay a visit to him in his room; at last I was assured that Mr. Colman was able to sit up in an arm chair, and by the use of close reasoning I was prevailed upon to go up to see him, and I now can, in the mind's eye, see the whole scene before meI shuddered to see my kind old friend so altered.
The morning on which he died I distinctly remember, I rose from my dear grandmother's bed, ran down the garden, and made up my mind to be as little as possible in the house, everything about it seemed mysterious to me. In the evening I heard rumours from the servants about a coffin that was to come, and I went off to a neighbour's to avoid seeing it. All the management of my little mind upon the subject is vividly before me. The day of the funeral I got up early and went down our long garden; from the bottom I could see through the house when the front door was opened, and I waited at the farthest point I could place myself until the funeral procession had left, and for years had a terror of going into the room where this kind old man had died.
My grandmother's death, which took place when I was just turned fourteen, strongly acted upon me. I scarcely dared to venture to approach her, yet could not bear to be out of her sight. I used to sit on the step of her door and listen to hear her speak. In and out with quiet foot, but with a palpitating heart and a terrible sense of fear. After her death my father deemed it right to take me out of the house until the last sad duties were over. It was well for me that he did so, for I am now quite sure the effort I should have made would have been too much for my nervous system at that age.
These circumstances made a very strong impression on my mind. I reasoned thus very soon after with myself. Suppose my dear father were to be ill and die; onght I not to be able to attend him. Well, I am determined to go among the sick as much as I can, and see the dying and the dead.
Several years after this, during my residence at Olney, I heard of the death of two poor children from measles. I determined to go and ask the mother to let me see them. It was at night; I went alone. She readily consented, aud took me into the room. The certainty of death made me feel a sensation of awe, I looked and looked upon those waxen features and inanimate hands and bodies, returned home so excited that all idea of sleep was useless.
The Baptist minister and his wife were very kind friends of ours at Olney, and I told them all my fears relative to these subjeets. Mr. Simmons very judiciously offered to take me with him when he visited his sick people, and I resolved to conquer this dread if possible, and really had a sincere wish to be useful to those who were suffering from bodily sickness. One young intcresting girl I watched with him; she was dying from consumption. Then I saw after death Kate Robinson, the "Crazy Kate" of the Task. Her mind was unsound on every other subject but the Bible; from that book she would quote long passages, and really took delight in reading and having it read to her. Happy was it for me that I was led to think of the importance of eonquering early my fears on these snbjects, for in my own family, alas! I have had the painful duty repeatedly of watching to the last, those who I have tenderly and affectionately loved, and in the homes of deeply attached friends have often boon enabled to be of nse to others.
My fears were great as to being in a room in the dark alono, and it is only sinoo the death of my husband that I have entirely banished apprehonsions of going to bed alone or being in the dark. N ow, the cellar or the attio, lightness or darkness, would make no differenoe. A determined will may aocomplish very much. I am quite sure difficulties may be overcome if we exercise our reason, but morbid feeling will take its place and reign paramount, if care be not taken.
Her Unitarian Faith & Prison Visiting
In after-life, when I had lost two dear children, I felt a great wish to beeome a visitor of the Newgate Prison. It was situated within an easy walk of Chancery Lane, and my husband seconded my wish to be of use to the juvenile members of my own sex, who I might find there. Accordingly I went. After two or three visits, Mrs. Fry spoke to me, and asked if I would like to join the "Ladies' Committee," and take a ward to visit the poor persons? I replied by telling her it was my wish to do so.
The day was fixed for a meeting of the committee, and we were to be paired off, two and two, to attend each ward. Mrs. Fry said, "I think Catherine Fraser and Catherine Steer may work well together." Mrs. Charles Pearson (who was a friend of mine, and wife of one of the Under-Sheriffs at that time), said to me, "My dear Mrs. Steer, the ladies are very frightened, they have heard that you are a Unitarian, and they think that they cannot unite in working with yon in the prison cause." "Oh! my good friend," I replied, as soon as Mrs. Fry pauses, "I will go up to her, and tell all the ladies before her, that I certainly am a Unitarian; and honestly state my object in wishing to visit the prison." The moment quickly came. I rose, and I think said nearly as follows:
"I find that the ladies are alarmed at my religious opinions; Miss Fraser cannot conscientiously act with me. I confess myself a Unitarian from conviction. My religious opinions have been the consequenee of reflection; and though such is the fact, that I hold Unitarian doctrines, I hope I could unite with persons of all denominations in the great work and duty of benevolence." Mrs. Fry said, "Catherine Steer, I admire thy candour; l can at with thee; though I think that thou art in the dark on this all-important subjeet, I hope that we may not see any want of harmony among us in consequence; and I will meet thee every Friday morning, at ten o'clock, if thou wilt come, and we will have an hour's work in the prison before the publie reading commences."
I readily agreed to this, and requested that my name might be erased from the list of the committee, if there were grounds for fearing that my being a member of it should produce disunion where there had always existed perfect harmony. Mrs. Fry told me at our next meeting, that, out of her own family, she had never felt anything more on her mind, as she should have been vexed if the ladies had wished my name to be erased; and miserable, if there should follow any want of harmony among us all. The beautiful spirit manifested by Mrs. Fry and each of the ladies, I look back upon with delight. Eight years followed, and with the exceptions only of illness or absenee from London, I never missed going to my ward on a Friday morning; and believe that a careful looking after the juvenile offenders in prisons, may often be followed by solid reformation. Mrs. Fry became a very sincere friend of mine; and who shall say how much I owe to her observations, and those of other excellent women, who were sister-workers with us, that served to open an immense duty to me? the duty of becoming more and more interested in every child of humanity.
I confess, I think my visits to the prison greatly improved my own mind. There existed a very affectionate tone of mind among all the ladies, and an intense earnestness to be of use. They were very anxious to see that my religious opinions assimilated more with their own, and several of them invited me to read the Seriptures with them every Friday, after Mrs. Fry's public reading was over. I readily assented, and we met in a ward for that purpose regularly for a long time.
My opinions certainly did not undergo a change during this period. The first modification of my views I date from becoming acquainted with Mr. Means, and reading a little work written by him on "The Atonement." At first, however, I did not read with a disposition to see anything but "crotchets," which I boldly told Mr. Means I thought it was full of; but by closely perusing its pages, and comparing Mr. Means with Scripture, I became decidedly convinced of this doctrine, and cannot imagine what language means, if it does not convey the doctrine of the death of Christ as an atonement.
I have read much on the all-absorbing subject of religionhave heard a vast number of preachers, and am very intimate with friends of several denominations. I see good among all their differences, and perfection in no system of worship. Baptism by immersion, as a sign of faith and repentance, I honestly maintain to be the only baptism we have any authority from Scripture to support; and I think for that we have the highest. Every day convinces me more and more of the lovely simplicity of the spirit of real Christianity a genuine spirit of charity. Instead of we poor mortals daring to condemn one another for varied modes of belief, and even venturing to pronounce upon the final state in the future world of those who do not hold the same opinions as we do, how far more like the Gospel spirit should we become if we "judged no man."
Genuine faith must be proved by a consistent life. No person was, at one period of my life, more disposed to become nar'ow and exclusive in their opinions than myself. A high rationalism appeared to me to be the right position of mind; and I held for a short time very low opinions of many who were not within this pale. I have, thank GOD, lived to outgrow these prejudices, and feel delighted to be able to be a listener in churches and chapels where the worshippers hold divers opinions all, doubtless, equally anxious to be right; and from each teacher I find good is to be got. Minds, if they are honest, cannot be twins at all points. Agreement to differ ought to be the starting point with each; and it does appear to my mind to be very clear how we are to please our GOD, but very difficult to perform His will in a right spirit of perfect love to Him and all mankind.
"For modes of faith, let graceless zealots fight;
His can't be wrong whose life is in the right."
T'he review of a life consisting of nearly fifty-one years must, to all thinking minds, be a subject of interest. Some lives are more varied than otherssome have fewer difficulties to encounter than otherssome do not dig deep into their interior self, and bring up what may in a less or greater degree be found at the root of all searching spirits. There must be in each much to review with interest, and much to say to others who are launching into life, "Try to avoid." Experience ought to teach us wisdom.
I very seriously feel that in the eommencement of my life I had around me very superior minds to govern and direct me. I feel gratefel for such a position. I was surrounded by quicksands of danger from a very buoyant temperament; yet, happily for me, there was under this gladsomeness a dash of pensive melancholy, which occasioned me to think, even in very early girlhood, seriously on many important subjects; and it must not be considered true that cheerful spirits betray a want of solidity of moral conduct. My leading feattures of character, I honestly believe, were frankness and a disposition perfectly unsuspicious; and to this day, notwithstanding bitter disappointments, I cannot become suspicious of the intentions of others.
"Better be sometimes deceived than never to trust," says Dr. Johnson; so I heartily believe.
One of my very great faults has been that of liking to contradict, for contradiction's sake, and hold an argument for the mere sake of the love of opposition. I never either liked to give in, and "e'en though vanquished I would argue still."
My temper was closely attended to in childhood. I never remember being teased, or in any way tantalized. My grand-mother was always truthful and kind. Having no brothers or sisters, and living in a small village where there were scarcely any children in the same position as that in which my father moved. I gladly sought the companionship of the poor children. To this I date my strong leaning to the levelling principle of "the universal brotherhood of man." Equality is not what I mean, it could not exist for twenty-four hours; some would be superior intellectually to otherssome more industrious. We could not be equal, but we ought to feel that the distinctions of occupation do not really constitute a just difference. The occupation of a man may be elevated by the manner in which he discharges its duties. An aristocratic lord may be, and often is, a very degraded character; and an humble labourer for daily bread present an example of self-denying virtue and moral power far, far beyond the wealthy lordling's imagination to conceive, and immensely beyond his power to imitate.
Talent, industry, and above all a high-minded moral action, deserve the homage of mankind, find it in whatever sphere we may. The only aristocracy to which I will bow, I say, not to riches, not to mere elevated station will I do honour, but from the very bottom of my soul to the man who has intellect and feels true dignity of a respon- sible moral being, and acts in harmony with such convictions. This is the style of aristocracy I will dare to uphold, and none beside.
My father's nature was so entirely social; his love of making everyone comfortable who came either as a frequent guest in his house, or those who partook of his hospitality at a dinner or for the day, that I insensibly became attracted to the heart-stirring influence of his genial welcome. The reception he gave his friends was beautiful. He made everyone feel at home in his society. There was no formal provision; a thorough welcome attended all who came; a fine vein of conversation flowed throughout the day, enriched by anecdotes, very bountifully, of Parson, Fox, and Sheridan, and almost all the leading minds of his day. My father read much, all kinds of books; his memory was excellent, and he abounded in humour; his spirits were remarkably lively, and his temper as nearly perfect as I think it possible to arrive at. And his good nature; his large allowances for errors, where the head, and not the heart (as he would say) was to be found fault with, were of the most generous character. He was a man whose very soul seemed to be sunny, bright, and doing you good. His presence was the signal for laughterreal jovial feeling. He banished all petty, narrow views by his appearance; for no one could be permitted to say small things before him without his giving a remonstrance in a spirit so kind as to put to shame all the gossipping scandal of such persons as too frequently are to be found in all small country towns.
My grandmother was the very perfection of home management; this was allowed by all our friends. Her nature was most kind, her temper warm; but in a moment after she had expressed dissatisfaction she would be quite right again with yon, and never permitted an apology to pass unnoticed. The servants would rcquire from her observations which occasionally they disliked, and would induce an uucivil reply. She wisely would say, "You are not in a fit state to talk to me now." After a time they would clearly see and feel they had said things to her for which they were sorry. One word was quite sufficient to her noble and generous mind, and she never allowed herself to revert to past offences. This I remember she observed towards myself. If I did wrong, she would never correct me by beginning, "I told you so," and relate the past grievance; that was gone, and with her gone for ever. Self-willed as I was, high-spirited and obstinate in trying to keep my own foolish opinions, what do I not owe to the memory of two such dear creatures as my father and my grandmother? I did cherish fond love for them both; and now I see volumes of excellence that afford at this distance of time food for thoughtful reflection for me.
In early womanhood to have married so excellent a man as "John Steer," is an event to look back upon with love and gratitude, for it was the all-momentous period and act of my life. I never could have been a good wife to a weak-minded man. I should, as Coleridge told me, "have ridden the high horse." I could not have borne to have looked down on my husband. I must have looked up with r'espect to his judgment. In all the conduct of my life as a wife, I felt I had a mind to reverence for strict principle, and the closest adherence to truth. John Steer could acknowledge no man his superior; laborious industry, uncomplaining, untiring effort to advance himself, in order to advance me, was an all-absorbing object in his mind; a temper as good as I believe it possible to be, he possessed; but an act of oppression to a friend, or any human being, he would stoutly resent; there was a thorough generosity of action and sentiment in him.
I used often to say, "'What should I do without you, John Steer?" I leaned upon his judgment entirely; but he used to say, "Kate, dear, your opinion is as good as mine, and you can act very well for yourself." Then he would refer to the difficulties which brought my mind out early, during my father's trials, and they certainly fitted me better for many after-scenes. Similar difficulties I never had to experience, but a marriage upon very slender means, our united income being under £200 a year, required great care and vigilant economy, such as perhaps few (who do not know me intimately), would give me credit for. And be it observed I possessed a high spirit, and never in the whole course of my married life would I express a wish for that which I well knew that our means could not afford. Justice was our motto- "Be just before you are generous;" this motto, with our feelings, we found it difficult to carry out; but we endeavoured to do it, and, haviug a horror of debt, we certainly accomplished much.
Laborious indeed was the life of my husband; yet our home was cheerful at all times, and No. 15, Chancery Lane, was a sort of family hotel. We never offered a grand establishment to friends, but we ever wished them to feel a hearty welcome to our meal, whether hot or cold was the joint; and over the "mahogany;" there many a delightful hour has passed, enlivened by the "wit of reason and the flow of soul." Other rooms have displayed more grace, more fastidious nicety, but "dear old Chancery Lane" had the heart's reception, which many dearly loving friends of my husband's and my own acknowledge. "Long, long, be my heart with such memories filled."
It happened, about two years previous to Mr. Steer's death, that one summer we proposed to spend a month at Southend; our choice was governed by the easy access it gave my husband to London, where his business went on when many barristers were out of town. We went there, my dear husband, Charles and Willie. Our lodgings happened to be in the same house that Mr. and Mrs. Young, Miss Helen Steven, and Miss Birkmyre were. Opposite rooms separated us. After we had been several days in the same house, Mr. Steer said to me, "I wonder, my dear, that you do not become acquainted with those nice ladies on the opposite side of the cottage." I said, "Why, my dear John Steer, perhaps they might not wish to make our acquaintance."
He left for town. Mr. Young was absent in his duties. A violent thunder storm occurred; my servant knew how timid I was on such occasions, and she told me that the "ladies," meaning Mrs. Young, Miss Steven, and Miss Birkmyre, would be happy to come to me, if I liked." I very thankfully accepted this offer, and they came; from that moment until the present time we have been vcry dear friends. My husband had for Mr. Young a very high respect, and acknowledged that he was quite pleased that we should have formed an acquaintance that was likely to end in a strong friendship. His death, alas, interfered to prevent that reciprocity of feeling which I have lived to enjoy; and I must for ever cherish friends who have abided by me through many severely trying hours. For dear Isabella Steven (late Miss Birkmyre) and for her husband, Oscar, I feel all that it is possible for affection, short of being an actual mother to them, to feel; and for Mr. and Mrs. Young, a sentiment of profound respect, such as a brother or sister would wish to have towards those who in that relation are both strong in moral and intellectual character.
My life, to fifty-one, is now gone through, that is to say, its principal bearings, the outline at least has been drawn; many of the fillings-in are wanting; droll incidents, peculiar situations, with a variety of characters to which only a viva voce explanation can be given, are omitted; but the workings of a great part of my very odd mind are faithfully given; and if the close of 1849, and the commencement of 1850, may have received a few minutes' pleasure by the perusal of these pages, I shall be glad.
To you both, my dear Mr. and Mrs. Young, and those dear to you and me, Oscar and Isabella, for whom this epitome of my life is written also, I say now, adieu; wishing every blessing your own hearts can desire; and may we all live to enjoy, each in their peculiar position, and according to and in our several capacities, the blessings a kind Providence richly bestows. Be it ours to use wisely the gifts so bountifully given.
Believe me, my dear Mrs. Young,
Your old attached friend,