Roundell Palmer's Memorials

Memorials. Part I. Family and Personal. 1766-1865. Roundell Palmer, Earl of Selborne. Volume 1. London, Macmillan & Co. Ltd. 1896. Index



THE time had come when it was necessary that my Father should have some rest from teaching, and that William and I should be sent to school. Rugby, then under Dr. Wooll, was chosen. It was of all the public schools the nearest to Mixbury; and an old college friend of my father, Mr. Grant of Litchborough, near Towcester, with whom he always kept up his in­timacy, had a nephew in the schoolhouse to which we were sent nearly grown up and well placed in the school. To his good offices we were commended.

We went there in the summer of 1823. Dr. Bloxam of Magdalen College, Oxford, has recorded in a memorandum, shown to me by the President of that College, his earliest recollection of me:— “I suppose that it was in the autumnal half-year that, walking up and down the school opposite the Great School, as Praeposter of the week, before the lessons commenced, I observed with great amusement an odd-looking little boy chewing a pen and making strange faces, while his mind was occupied with intense thought. It was Roundell Palmer.” And he adds, that at the end of that half-year he, with Claughton (Bishop of Rochester when that memorandum was written, afterwards of St. Albans ), got up the play of The Critic; and that, some of the actors wanting time to get up their parts, my brother William and I “undertook to compose several copies of verses (on one subject) to be shown up as their exercises by certain of the actors.” I well remember the acting of The Critic, in which Claughton was Tilburina. But as to the rest of the story my memory is less clear.

[In a letter dated 9th December 1823, Mr. Moor, one of the masters, writing from Rugby, after recommending as a holiday task that “the boys should parse Greek with a minute application of the Eton Grammar, and a tracing back of each word to its root,” goes on to say that “in all other respects they are equal to their place in school; and indeed they have improved more than I should have expected in boys on first joining a class in a public school, where the novelty of all around them generally takes up their attention, and they rarely gain much ground for the first few months. Your elder son was removed a few weeks since into Mr. Birch’s form, who speaks very well of him, though he complains that he takes it for granted that he understands things, without always ascertaining that fact with sufficient care. His brother is going on very well at the head of my form, and will, no doubt, stand first in the list for promotion at the close of the half-year.

If they go on according to the opinion I have formed of them, of their talents and conduct, it will be much to the satisfaction of all connected with them.”]

I remained at Rugby for two years, after which my Father thought it prudent to make a change. William remained one year longer, and then went to Oxford, having obtained, when he was only just fifteen, a demyship at Magdalen College. When I left Rugby there was only one boy between us in the school, Edwin Martin Atkins, of Kingston Lisle, in Berkshire, “the Squire” of Tom Brown’s Schooldays; and his younger brother William (then a great friend of mine) came next to me. My brother derived from Rugby more benefit than I did, and was fitter, morally as well as physically, to hold his own there. It might perhaps have been better for him to have remained there longer than he did; for me it was certainly best to be removed, though I did not like it at the time.

My Rugby recollections are chiefly of pleasant wanderings in the fields and lanes near Bilton and Newbold, or by the river-side; of gaining some credit by verse exercises, and paying for it by being made to do those of other boys, an experience so disagreeable that I resisted it steadily when at Winchester. At Rugby also I had a taste of the birch-rod, in comparison with which the Winchester instrument of castigation was child’s play; and I had there my first and only pugilistic encounter with a Manx boy of about my own size, in which neither can be said to have come off victorious, for our backers made us go on till we were both fairly exhausted. Civilisation had not yet found its way into our public schools. I was sensitive to bullying, and was (no doubt for that reason) a good deal bullied. Notwithstanding the advantages of our home training, my character was childish and volatile, and my temper by no means good. The faults by which I gave most trouble arose partly from thoughtlessness, partly from ill temper. Our parents managed us upon a regular and methodical system, and we sometimes chafed at it. I had to be taught the government of my tongue and my hands by correction, more severe on some occasions than my conscience acknowledged to be just. I see now that the levity of speech and the tendency to meddle with things not belonging to me, which were so repressed, were not the less dangerous because I did not understand their danger or do the things for which I was punished with any consciousness that it was wrong; and I am thankful that those aberrations were effectually checked, though at some cost to the openness and unreserve which is so important between parents and children. But the radical defect of character, the want of habitual self-government, of which these were symptoms, remained, and it made me much more liable than my brother (in that respect unlike me) to suffer from the contagion of bad example at school.

Dr. Wooll was a good scholar of my Father’s own type, a Wykehamist, a dignified gentleman of stately presence, and desirous, both as a teacher and as a Christian, to do his duty. Among the pupils whom he sent to Oxford in his latter days (besides my brother William), were Leighton, afterwards Warden of All Souls’; Claughton, Bishop of St. Albans; and Henry Halford Vaughan, John Edward Walker, and John Frederick Christie, Fellows of Oriel. He was aided in his duties by a wife who was like a mother to the boys in the schoolhouse, universally respected and beloved. Nevertheless, the discipline and the numbers of the school declined under his government.

My Father often wrote to my brother and myself, and encouraged frequent correspondence, interesting himself in all our school work, criticising copies of verses or translations which we sent him, and giving us, on all subjects, the benefit of his advice. If we spoke in our letters of anything disagreeable, he advised us to bear silently what we could not help, unless indeed it were of a corrupting as well as a tormenting kind; in which case we were to consult the elder boy to whom we had been recommended as a protector in case of emergency, and in whose good principles he placed confidence. “Do not,” he said, “forget these disagreeable things, but, when you come to be an older and bigger boy, then do not so to little boys, but be kind to them always, and use your best endeavour to protect them from the more ill natured or the less considerate.” He recommended us to aim principally at the regard and goodwill of boys of our own strength and standing, and not to pay court to those much older; and, if we could not help doing some bigger boys’ exercises, at least never to be guilty of the dishonesty of letting others do our, own, or passing off anything as our work which was not really so. He made a great point of our incurring no debt, and impressed upon us the importance of an early habit of keeping accounts. [1]

My Father’s experience of school life and of the world had, of course, made him aware of the moral evils, to the existence of which at Rugby (in a general way) our letters, more or less, bore witness; and, while it was not without full consideration that he determined to incur those risks for the sake of what he thought greater good, he felt them much, and constantly endeavoured to strengthen us against them. He wrote a letter, such as became a father and a clergyman, to Dr. Wooll as to the necessity of vigilance concerning those things, which Dr. Wooll accepted and replied to in the same spirit. With reference to the heathenism of the classics, he wrote to us:—

Never forget that we are Christians; and, whenever we speak or write upon a subject connected with heathen worship, let it never be in the heathen character, but always as might become a Christian.

When grave disorders in the school led to the expulsion of certain boys, he wrote strongly in support of the masters, and urged upon us strict obedience to authority and discipline, enforcing his counsels by our Saviour’s teaching, and reminding us of our lost brother.

Bear this in mind, and think of one who has gone before you, and the blessing of God shall be upon you; and some such as yourselves—perhaps yourselves—hereafter shall by their learning and good conduct reflect as much honour upon the place of your education as may be the disgrace and disrepute which the ill behaviour of others now seems to bring upon it.

One thing (he wrote to myself) I am most anxious about,—that you should not fall into the grievous mistake of thinking anything of yourselves, which would spoil all, and be an effectual bar to all improvement, and to the acquisition of true wisdom and sound knowledge. God bless you, my dear boys, worthy, I trust, of all my love, and of all the pains I have bestowed upon you; for which I hope you will love me as dear Tom loved me, and not love one another the less either, or think that I love one more than another.

In a later letter, of September 1824, addressed to us both, he repeated the same warning against self-esteem, and said:—

We are not to judge too harshly of others, who may have had bad examples or other disadvantages elsewhere. If there were no evil in the world, there would be no reason why we should pray to be delivered from it. But so, you know, we have been taught to pray, and by Him, who Himself prayed His Father to deliver us from the evil, but not to take us out of the world. Even now you see, and you will still see (I trust more and more clearly), that we are living in the midst of it. This is therefore the point on which we are to be on our guard. And if we consent not to it, nor suffer ourselves to be led to do the thing we disapprove, God will deliver us from the evil that we behold, and from all its evil consequences, both in this world and in the next. And more than that, He will make us the happy means, if we earnestly seek to do His will, of extending the same deliverance to many, who shall learn to think or act otherwise than they now do. Depend upon it, such will be the result. But in this you must not forget that you are not called upon to be teachers yet, but you are now only to continue good boys, watchful, diligent, and attentive learners. “Discendo docebitis; et, si salvi vos esse velitis, aliis saluti eritis.” [2]

While my brother William and myself were still together at Rugby, some family events of importance happened. My Grandmother, Mrs. Palmer, died on the 3rd July 1824, having survived the rest of her generation; happy in death as in life, happy in all her children. On her death, the home in Gloucester Place was broken up. My Aunt Elizabeth, preferring to be within reach of friends, to whose society she had been accustomed in London, and of her brothers who lived there or in its neighbourhood, took a house in Great Cumberland Street, where, as long as she lived, she always gave a home to such of us as from time to time visited London. My Aunt Mary came to live in my Father’s Rectory house at Finmere; where she remained till the end of his life, full of good works and labours of love towards all his people, and a second mother to ourselves. I have known few women in whose character all the best qualities of human nature were so happily blended. She had an excellent understanding, and a good store of knowledge, to which she added continually by reading. She was cheerful, sociable, hospitable, always the same; full of practical good sense and consistent piety, and absolutely unselfish. Her devotion to my Father and Mother, and her kindness and generosity to us, were unbounded. The atmosphere of her house was what Plato calls “a breeze bringing health from wholesome places”; [3] it was impossible to be in her presence without being better for it. She was eleven years older than my Father; and my recollection of her only goes back to a time when she was no longer young; but she had always a fine countenance, expressive of her character, and she must have been very attractive in her youth. There was a floating tradition among us, which I cannot trace to its origin, that there had been an attachment between her and Sir John Moore, the hero of Corunna, who certainly was acquainted with the Nazing family, and to whose good offices my Grandmother commended my uncle Edward in Egypt. If there was any foundation for that belief, we were gainers by her remaining single, whatever the cause may have been. It tends to confirm the idea, that I do not remember her mentioning Sir John Moore’s name, nor am I sure that my Father ever spoke of him to us, as he did of most other notable men whom he had personally known.

It was shortly before my Aunt Mary settled at Finmere, at the beginning of 1825, that my uncle Ralph Palmer, the youngest of my Grandfather’s family, went to India as Chief-Justice of Madras. He had been called to the Bar in 1808, and had practised in the Court of Chancery. He was then a bachelor; and, as is often the case with the youngest, was a favourite with all the family. Of his character and principles there is good evidence in prayers which he used daily, and which were found among his papers when he died.

“Teach me” (he prayed) “the way to execute justice, and to maintain truth. Let no harsh, impatient, or angry feeling ever enter my into heart, but clothe me at all times and upon all occasions with meekness, humility, and charity.” And he concluded with a petition that, in whatever cases, civil or criminal, he might be called upon to sit in judgment, the administration of justice in his hands might shine to God’s honour and glory, to the credit and praise of his country, to the lasting good of his fellow-creatures, and to the profit of his own soul, so that, as to all those things, he might have a good conscience when the time came to be himself judged. In another prayer he adapted to his own use one found among his mother’s papers (dated in 1808, but left unaltered at her death), in which she implored God’s blessing upon her children, that He would be pleased to unite them in the close union of unreserved friendship and affection, that all might be kindly indulgent towards the infirmities and failings of each other, and by reciprocal acts of kindness cement a union to end only with their lives; and that He would enlighten their understanding and teach them His way, and not suffer the temptations and allurements of this world to seduce them from His service; but that His power might sustain and strengthen them amidst the difficulties with which they might be surrounded; so that: continuing His faithful servants here, they might, through their Redeemer’s atonement and mediation, be in the end partakers of the happiness of His kingdom.

Such was my Uncle Ralph then; and his later life was answerable to his own and his mother’s prayers.

[1] William, one Easter holidays, brought home some cases of stuffed birds as presents for our elder sisters. My Father asked him if he had had enough money to pay for them. He stammered out that he should pay next half, as no doubt he should have tips, and the man was willing to wait. My Father told him he was never to order any thing he could not pay for on the spot, and sent him back at once to Rugby (a three days’ journey, there and back), in the gig, to return the stuffed birds to the dealer; and with a letter to Dr. Wooll asking him to instruct the tradesmen not to supply his sons unless they paid ready money. This lesson the boys never forgot.—EMILY F. PALMER.
[2] You will teach by learning; and if you would be saved yourselves, you will help to save others
[3] ẅσπερ αϋρα φέρονσα άπό χρηστών τόπω ύγίεαν.— Plato Republ. lib. iii. cap. 12.