[From H Stowell Brown, Notes of my Life, 1888]



I MAY now mention another thing that had an influence in determining my subsequent course. My father’s sight was very painful; he had undergone several operations for cataract without success. He was an insatiable reader, but now he could not read without pain. He chose me to read for him. It was a hard time that from my eleventh to my sixteenth year. I had to spend most of my afternoons, and almost all my evenings, sitting in the window of my father’s study, and glancing stealthily from the book in my hand to the fields in front of the house, where my brothers and their companions were enjoying their games in boisterous mirth. I often read to my father for four or five hours at a stretch, while he smoked his pipe, and I think it is something to my credit and to his that I never read him to sleep, and never got sleepy myself. The reading was various ; it was all as serviceable to me as agreeable to my father. Much of the Latin that I learned in these days I learned in reading Virgil and Horace, Ovid and Cicero, and having my father sometimes for my sake making me construe a passage. The innumerable Latin quotations in the books which I read were also a source of Latin knowledge, as I was generally required to translate them, and I had my ears pulled if I made any grave blunder.

In my reading I had quite enough of theology to suit my youthful taste—Baxter’s 'Saints’ Rest,’ Howe’s ‘Living Temple,’ Booth’s ‘Reign of Grace,’ Matthew Henry’s very heavy Commentary, and Scott’s very dull one. Harvey’s ‘Meditations,’ his ‘Theron and Aspasio,’ in reading which, I must confess, to my sorrow, that the speeches of the somewhat flippant Theron interested me, while the solemn evangelicalism of Aspasio were so much like lectures that I often skipped the half of them. Butler’s ‘Analogy,’ Paley’s ‘Evidences,’ Hooker’s ‘Ecclesiastical Polity’ were carefully studied. History also entered largely into the reading. How I have thanked God for Mosheim, Hume, Gibbon, Robertson, Burnett, and many more! All these I must have read through several times. My father was passionately fond of poetry. In his younger days he had been foolish enough to write some poems and publish them. His friends, who admired him, bought some copies, but I think a great deal of the edition (there never was a second) lay stored up in a cupboard in his study. But I had to read poetry in abundance—Shakespeare, Spencer, Milton, Butler, Dryden, Pope, Thomson, Young, Goldsmith, Scott, Byron, Wordsworth. Among the readings in other literature were the ‘Spectator,’ the ‘Rambler,’ the ‘Tatler,’ the ‘Idler.’ The’Penny Encyclopaedia’ was then in course of publication, and I suppose that I read every word in the first twelve volumes. Those were the days of the’ Morning Herald,’ and an old Tory neighbour used to bring it to the Vicarage, and I had to read all the leaders and Parliamentary intelligence. I took very little interest in what I read, with the exception of such passages in Shakespeare, Dryden, and Byron as my father, with a greater concern for my morals, would perhaps have bid me pass over ; but then that would only have provoked my curiosity, so I read right through sacred and profane, clean and dirty, just as it came to hand. My father was a curiously-minded man. He had an inveterate hatred of King William’s College, and I never knew a man who could hate better. The college authorities, in giving prizes to the scholars, presented one of them with a copy of Gibbon, and the event was duly recorded in the Manx Sun’ and’ Mona’s Herald.’ My father was enraged with a most virtuous indignation. He wrote one of his ‘Anti-humbug’ letters, in which he, I suppose for the first time, enlarged upon the dangerous character of the ‘Decline and Fall,’ showing how the writer sneered at Christianity, setting forth the indecency of many of Gibbon’s passages, and asking whether that was a proper book to put into the hands of youth. I, a lad of fourteen, read Gibbon to him perhaps every week, and actually refreshed his mind for him overnight by reading the very passages on the demoralizing tendency of which he so wrathfully enlarged. On the whole it was well for me that the reading was so varied and so impartial. It led me at that early period into broader paths of thought and knowledge than most boys are acquainted with. It was an excellent exercise of the voice for one who was afterwards to speak so much in public, but at the time I paid little attention to what I read. Still it fixed itself in my memory without my being aware of the fact, and made my subsequent studies for the ministry much easier than they otherwise would have been.


Back index next

Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 1999