Support the Monkey! Tell All your Friends and Teachers
I returned to my book-Bewick’s History of British Birds: the
letterpress thereof I cared little for, generally speaking; and yet
there were certain introductory pages that, child as I was, I could
not pass quite as a blank. They were those which treat of the haunts
of sea-fowl; of ‘the solitary rocks and promontories’ by them only
inhabited; of the coast of Norway, studded with isles from its
southern extremity, the Lindeness, or Naze, to the North Cape-
‘Where the Northern Ocean, in vast whirls,Boils round the naked,
melancholy isles Of farthest Thule; and the Atlantic surge Pours in
among the stormy Hebrides.’ - Nor could I pass unnoticed the
suggestion of the bleak shores of Lapland, Siberia, Spitzbergen,
Nova Zembla, Iceland, Greenland, with ‘the vast sweep of the
Arctic Zone, and those forlorn regions of dreary space,- that
reservoir of frost and snow, where firm fields of ice, the
accumulation of centuries of winters, glazed in Alpine heights
above heights, surround the pole and concentre the multiplied
rigours of extreme cold.’ Of these death-white realms I formed an
idea of my own: shadowy, like all the half-comprehended notions
that float dim through children’s brains, but strangely impressive.
The words in these introductory pages connected themselves with
the succeeding vignettes, and gave significance to the rock
standing up alone in a sea of billow and spray; to the broken boat
stranded on a desolate coast; to the cold and ghastly moon glancing
through bars of cloud at a wreck just sinking.
I cannot tell what sentiment haunted the quite solitary churchyard,
with its inscribed headstone; its gate, its two trees, its low horizon,
girdled by a broken wall, and its newly-risen crescent, attesting the
hour of eventide.
The two ships becalmed on a torpid sea, I believed to be marine
The fiend pinning down the thief’s pack behind him, I passed over
quickly: it was an object of terror.
So was the black horned thing seated aloof on a rock, surveying a
distant crowd surrounding a gallows.
Each picture told a story; mysterious often to my undeveloped
understanding and imperfect feelings, yet ever profoundly
interesting: as interesting as the tales Bessie sometimes narrated on
winter evenings, when she chanced to be in good humour; and
when, having brought her ironing-table to the nursery hearth, she
allowed us to sit about it, and while she got up Mrs. Reed’s lace
frills, and crimped her nightcap borders, fed our eager attention
with passages of love and adventure taken from old fairy tales and
other ballads; or (as at a later period I discovered) from the pages
of Pamela, and Henry, Earl of Moreland.