Trinity College, Cambridge. Forty Years Ago

by An Old Student

It was a lovely morning; a remittance had arrived in the very nick of time; my two horses were in excellent condition; and I resolved, with a college chum, to put in execution a long concerted scheme of driving to London, Tandem. We sent our horses forward, got others at Cambridge, and tossing Algebra and Anarcharsis "to the dogs" started in high spirits. We ran up to London in style—went ball-pitch to the play—and after a quiet breakfast at the St. James's, set out with my own horses upon a dashing drive through the west end of the town. We were turning down the Haymarket, when whom, to my utter horror and consternation, should I see crossing to meet us, but my old warmhearted, but severe and peppery uncle, Sir Thomas.

To escape was impossible.—A cart before, and two carriages behind, made us stationary; and I mentally resigned all idea of ever succeeding to his five thousand per annum. Up he came. "What! can I believe my eyes? George? what the-do you here? Tandem too, by—— (I leave blanks for the significant accompaniments which dropped from his mouth like pearls, and rubies in the fairy tale, when he was in a passion.) I have it, thought I, as an idea crossed my mind which I resolved to follow. I looked right and left, as if it was not possible it could be me he was addressing.—"What! you don't know me, you young dog? Don't you know your uncle? Why, Sir, in the name of common sense—Pshaw! you've done with that. Why in ——— name a'nt you at Cambridge?"

"At Cambridge, Sir?" said I. "At Cambridge, Sir," he repeated, mimicking my affected astonishment; "why I suppose you never were at Cambridge!—Oh! you young spendthrift; is this the manner you dispose of my allowance? Is this the way you read hard? you young profligate, you young ——— you ———." Seeing he was getting energetic, I began to be apprehensive of a scene; and resolved to drop the curtain at once, "Really, Sir," said I, with as brazen a look as I could summon upon emergency, "I have not the honour of your acquaintance." His large eyes assumed a fixed stare of astonishment. "I must confess you have the advantage of me. Excuse me; but, to my knowledge, I never saw you before."—A torrent, I perceived, was coming.—"Make no apologies, they are unnecessary. Your next rencontre will, I hope, be more fortunate, though your finding your country cousin in London is like looking for a needle in a bundle of hay.—Bye, bye, old buck." The cart was removed, and I drove off, yet not without seeing him, in a paroxysm of rage, half frightful, half ludicrous, toss his hat on the ground, and hearing him exclaim—"He disowns me! the jackanapes! disowns his own uncle by ———."

Poor Philip Chichester's look of amazement at this finished stroke of impudence is present, at this instant, to my memory. I think I see his face, which at no time had more expression than a turnip, assume that air of a pensive simpleton, d'un mouton qui rêve, which he so often and so successfully exhibited over an incomprehensible problem in "Principia."

"Well! you've done it.—Dished completely. What could induce you to be such a blockhead?" said he. "The family of the blockheads, my dear Phil," I replied, "is far too creditably established in society to render their alliance disgraceful. I'm proud to belong to so prevailing a party."

"Pshaw! this is no time for joking. What's to be done?"

"Why, when does a man want a joke, Phil, but when he is in trouble? However, adieu to badinage, and hey for Cambridge, instantly."

"Cambridge?"

"In the twinkling of an eye—not a moment to be lost. My uncle will post there with four horses instantly; and my only chance of avoiding that romantic misfortune of being cut off with a shilling, is to be there before him."

Without settling the bill at the inn, or making a single arrangement, we dashed back to Cambridge. Never shall I forget the mental anxiety I endured on my way there. Every thing was against us. A heavy rain had fallen in the night, and the roads were wretched, the traces broke—turnpike gates were shut—droves of sheep and carts impeded our progress; but in spite of all these obstacles, we reached the college in less than six hours. "Has Sir Thomas ———— been here?" said I to the porter, with an agitation I could not conceal. "No, Sir." Phil "thanked God, and took courage."

"If he does, tell him so and so," said I, giving veracious Thomas his instructions, and putting a guinea into his hand to sharpen his memory. "Phil, my dear fellow, don't shew your face out of college for this fortnight. You twig! God bless you."—I had barely time to get to my own room, to have my toga and trencher beside me, Newton and Aristotle before me—optics, mechanics, and hydrostatics, strewed around in learned confusion, when my uncle drove up to the gate.

"Porter, I wish to see Mr. ———," said he; "is he in his rooms?"

"Yes, Sir; I saw him take a heap of books there ten minutes ago." This was not the first bouncer the Essence of Truth, as Thomas was known through college, had told for me; nor the last he got well paid for. "Ay! Very likely; reads very hard, I dare say?"

"No doubt of that, I believe, Sir," said Thomas, as bold as brass. "You audacious fellow! how dare you look in my face and tell me such a deliberate falsehood? You know he's not in college!"

"Not in college! Sir; as I hope——"

"None of your hopes or fears to me. Shew me his rooms.—If two hours ago I did not see ———. See him,—yes, I've seen him, and he's seen the last of me."

He had now reached my rooms; and never shall I forget his look of astonishment, of amazement bordering on incredulity, when I calmly came forward, took his hand, and welcomed him to Cambridge. "My dear Sir, how are you? What lucky wind has blown you here?"—"What George! who—what—why—I can't believe my eyes!"—"How happy I am to see you!" I continued; "How kind of you to come! How well you're looking!"—"How people may be deceived! My dear George (speaking rapidly), I met a fellow, in a tandem, in the Haymarket, so like you in every particular, that I hailed him at once. The puppy disowned me—affected to cut a joke—and drove off. Never was I more taken off my stilts. I came down directly, with four post-horses, to tell your tutor; to tell the master; to tell all the college, that I would have nothing more to do with you; that I would be responsible for your debts no longer; to inclose you fifty pounds and disown you for ever"—My dear Sir, how singular!"—Singular! I wonder at perjury no longer, for my part. I would have gone into any court of justice, and would have taken my oath it was you. I never saw such a likeness. Your father and the fellow's mother were acquainted, or I'm mistaken. The air, the height, the voice, all but the manner, and—that was not yours. No, no, you never would have treated your uncle so."—"How rejoiced I am, that—"

"Rejoiced; so am I. I would not but have been undeceived for a thousand guineas. Nothing but seeing you here so quiet, so studious, surrounded by problems, would have convinced me. Ecod! I can't tell you how I was startled. I had been told some queer stories, to be sure, about your Cambridge etiquette. I heard that two Cambridge men, one of St. John's, the other of Trinity, had met on the top of Vesuvius, and that though they knew each other by sight and reputation, yet, never having been formally introduced, like two simpletons, they looked at each other in silence, and left the mountain separately and without speaking: and that cracked fellow-commoner, Meadows, had shewn me a caricature, taken from the life, representing a Cambridge man drowning, and another gownsman standing on the brink, exclaiming, 'Oh! that I had had the honour of being introduced to that man, that I might have taken the liberty of saving him!' But,—it, thought I, he never would carry it so far with his own uncle!—I never heard your father was a gay man," continued he, musing; "yet, as you sit in that light, the likeness is—" I moved instantly—"But it's impossible, you know, it's impossible. Come, my dear fellow, come; I must get some dinner. Who could he be? Never were two people so like!"

We dined at the inn, and spent the evening together; and instead of the fifty, the "last fifty," he generously gave me a draft lor three times the amount. He left Cambridge the next morning and his last words were, as he entered his carriage, "My brother was a handsome man; and there was a Lady Somebody, who, the world said was partial to him. She may have a son. Most surprising likeness. God bless you. Read hard, you young dog; remember. Like as two Brothers!"—I never saw him again.

His death, which happened a few months afterwards, in consequence ol his being bit in a bet, contracted when he was a "little elevated," left me the heir to his fine estate; I wish I could add, to his many and noble virtues. I do not attempt to palliate deception. It is always criminal. But, I am sure, no severity, no reprimand, no reproaches, would have had half the effect which his kindness, his confidence, and his generosity wrought on me. It reformed me thoroughly, and at once. I did not see London again till I had graduated: and if my degree was unaccompanied by brilliant honours, it did not disgrace my uncle's liberality or his name. Many years have elapsed since our last interview; but I never reflect on it without pain and pleasure—pain, that our last intercourse on earth should have been marked by the grossest deception; and pleasure, that the serious reflections it awakened, cured me for ever of all wish to deceive, and made the open and straightforward path of life.