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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » My Day Reminiscences of a Long Life » CHAPTER I INTRODUCTORY
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I am constrained to encourage a possible reader by assuring him that I have no intention whatever of writing strictly an autobiography. Nothing in myself nor in my life would warrant me in so doing.

I might, perhaps, except the story of the Civil War, and my part in the trials and sorrows of my fellow-women, but this story I have fully and truly told in my "Reminiscences of Peace and War."

My countrymen were so kind to these first stories that I feel I may claim some credentials as a "babbler of Reminiscences." Besides, I have lived in the last two-thirds of the splendid nineteenth century, and have known some of the men and women who made that century notable. And I would fain believe with Mr. Trollope that "the small records of an unimportant individual life, the memories which happen to linger in the brain of the old like bits of drift-wood floating round and round in the eddies of a back-water, can more vividly than anything else bring before the young of the present generation 2those ways of acting and thinking and talking in the everyday affairs of life which indicate the differences between themselves and their grandfathers."

But I shall have more than this "floating driftwood" to reward the reader who will follow me to the end of my story!

Writers of Reminiscences are interested—perhaps more interested than their readers—in recalling their earliest sensations, and through them determining at what age they had "found themselves"; i.e. become conscious of their own personality and relation to the world they had entered.

Long before this time the child has seen and learned more perhaps than he ever learned afterwards in the same length of time. He has acquired knowledge of a language sufficient for his needs. His miniature world has been, in many respects, a foreshadowing of the world he will know in his maturity. He has learned that he is a citizen of a country with laws,—some of which it will be prudent to obey,—such as the law against taking unpermitted liberties with the cat, or touching the flame of the candle; while other laws may be evaded by cleverness and discreet behavior. He finds around him many things; pictures on walls, for instance, that may be admired but never touched,—other lovely things that may be handled and even kissed, but must be returned to mantels and tables,—and yet others, not near as delightful as these, "poor things but his own," to be caressed or beaten, or even broken at his pleasure. He has learned to 3indulge his natural taste for the drama. His nurse covers her head with a paper and becomes the dreadful, groaning villain behind it, while the baby girds himself for attack, tears the disguise from the villain, and shouts his victory. As he learns the names and peculiarities of animals, the scope of the drama widens. He is a spirited horse, snorting and charging along, or—if his picture-books have been favorable—a roaring lion from whom the nurse flees in terror. Of the domestic play there is infinite variety—nursing in sickness, the doctor, baby-tending, cooking,—and once, alas! I heard a baby girl of eighteen months enact a fearful quarrel between man and wife, ending firmly "I leave you! I never come back!"

These natural tendencies of children would seem to prove that the soul or mind of man can be "fetched up from the cradle"—a phrase for which I am indebted to one of my contemporaries, Mr. Leigh Hunt, who in turn quoted it as a popular phrase in his late (and my early) day. But with the single exception of the spoken language all these childish plays have been successfully taught to our humble brothers; to our poor relation the monkey, the dog, elephant, seal, canary bird—even to fleas. All these are capable of enacting a short drama. The elephant, longing for his bottle, never rings his bell too soon. The dog remembers his cue, watches for it, and never anticipates it. The seal, more wonderful than all, born as he has been without arms or legs, mounts a horse for a ride, and waits for his umbrella to be poised on his 4stubby nose. Even the creature whose name is a synonym for vulgar stupidity has been taught to indicate with porcine finger the letters which spell that name.

With these and other animals we hold in common our faculty of imitation, our memory, affection, antipathy, revenge, gratitude, passionate adoration of one special friend, and even the perception of music—the infant will weep and the poodle howl in response to the same strain in a minor key—and yet, notwithstanding this common lot, this common inheritance, there is born for us and not for them a moment when some strange unseen power breathes into us something akin to consciousness of a living soul.

Having no past as a standard for the reasonable and natural, nothing surprises children. They are simply witnesses of a panorama in the moving scenes of which they have no part. When I was three years old, I visited my grandfather in Charlotte County. The Staunton River wound around his plantation and I was often taken out rowing with my aunts. One day the canoe tipped and my pretty Aunt Elizabeth fell overboard. Without the slightest emotion I saw her fall, and saw her recovered. For aught I knew to the contrary it was usual and altogether proper for young ladies to fall in rivers and be fished out by their long hair. But another event, quite ordinary, overwhelmed me with the most passionate distress. Having, a short time before, advanced a tentative finger for an experimental taste of an apple roasting for me at my grandfather's 5fire, I was prepared to be shocked at seeing a colony of ants rush madly about upon wood a servant was laying over the coals. My cries of distress arrested my grandfather as he passed through the room. He quickly ordered the sticks to be taken off, and calling me to a seat in front of him, said gravely: "We will try these creatures and see if they deserve punishment. Evidently they have invaded our country. The question is, did they come of their own accord, or were they while enjoying their rights of life and liberty, captured by us and brought hither against their will?" My testimony was gravely taken. I was quite positive I had seen the sticks, swarming with ants, laid upon the fire. "Uncle Peter," who had brought in the wood, was summoned and sharply cross-questioned. Nothing could shake him. To the best of his knowledge and belief, "them ants nuvver come 'thouten they was 'bleeged to," and so, as they were by this time wildly scampering over the floor, they were gently admonished by a persuasive broom to leave the premises. Uncle Peter was positive they would find their way home without difficulty, and I was comforted.

I remember this little incident perfectly; I can see my dear grandfather, his white hair tied with a black ribbon en queue, advancing his stick like a staff of office. I claim that then and there—three years old—I found myself, "fetched up my soul" from somewhere, almost "from the cradle," inasmuch as I had pitied the unfortunate, unselfishly espoused his cause, and won for him consideration and justice.

Writers of fiction are supposed to present, as in 6a mirror, the truth as it is found in nature. They are fond of hinting that at some moment in the early life of every individual something occurs which foreshadows his fate, something which if interpreted—like the dreams of the ancient Hebrews—would tell us without the aid of gypsy, medium, or clairvoyant the things we so ardently desire to know. In Daniel Deronda, Gwendolyn, in her moment of triumph, touches a spring in a panel, which, sliding back, reveals a picture,—the upturned face of a drowning man. In Lewis Rand, Jacqueline, the bride of half an hour, hears the story of a duel—and the pistol-shot echoes ever after through her brain, filling it with insistent foreboding.

We might recall illustrations of similar foreshadowing in real life. For instance, Jean Carlyle, six years old, beautiful and vivid as a tropical bird, stands before an audience to sing her little song; and waits in vain for her accompanist. Finally she throws her apron over her head and runs away in confusion. She was prepared, she knew her part; but the support was lacking, the accompaniment failed her. It was not given to him who told the story to perceive the prophecy!

Were I fanciful enough to fix upon one moment as prophetic of my life—as a key-note to the controlling principle of that life—I might recall the incident in my grandfather's room, when I ceased to be merely an inert absorber of light and warmth and comfort, and became aware of the pain in the world—pain which I passionately longed to alleviate.


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