Charlotte M. Yonge. My Young Alcides

This Etext of My Young Alcides - A Faded Photograph, by Charlotte M Yonge, was prepared by Sandra Laythorpe. A web page about Charlotte M Yonge may be found at www.menorot.com/cmyonge.htm.


Ideas have a tyrannous power of insisting on being worked out, even when one fears they may be leading in a track already worthily preoccupied.

But the Hercules myth did not seem to me to be like one of the fairy tales that we have seen so gracefully and quaintly modernised; and at the risk of seeming to travestie the Farnese statue in a shooting- coat and wide-awake, I could not help going on, as the notion grew deeper and more engrossing.

For, whether the origin of the myth be, or be not, founded on solar phenomena, the yearning Greek mind formed on it an unconscious allegory of the course of the Victor, of whom the Sun, rejoicing as a giant to run his course, is another type, like Samson of old, since the facts of nature and of history are Divine parables.

And as each one's conquest is, in the track of his Leader, the only true Conqueror, so Hercules, in spite of all the grotesque adjuncts that the lower inventions of the heathen hung round him, is a far closer likeness of manhood--as, indeed, the proverbial use of some of his tasks testifies--and of repentant man conquering himself. The great crime, after which his life was a bondage of expiation; the choice between Virtue and Vice; the slain passion; the hundred-headed sin for ever cropping up again; the winning of the sacred emblem of purity;--then the subduing of greed; the cleansing of long-neglected uncleanness; the silencing of foul tongues; the remarkable contest with the creature which had become a foe, because, after being devoted for sacrifice, it was spared; the obtaining the girdle of strength; the recovery of the spoil from the three-fold enemy; the gaining of the fruit of life; immediately followed by the victory over the hell-hound of death; and lastly, the attainment of immortality--all seem no fortuitous imagination, but one of those when 'thoughts beyond their thoughts to those old bards were given.'

I have not followed all these meanings, for this is not an allegory, but a mere distant following rather of the spirit than the letter of the old Greek tale of the Twelve Tasks. Neither have I adhered to every incident of Hercules' life; and the most touching and beautiful of all--the rescue of Alcestis, would hardly bear to come in merely as an episode, in this weak and presumptuous endeavour to show that the half-divine, patient conqueror is not merely a classic invention, but that he and his labours belong in some form or other to all times and all surroundings.

C. M. YONGE. Nov. 8, 1875.


One of the children brought me a photograph album, long ago finished and closed, and showed me a faded and blurred figure over which there had been a little dispute. Was it Hercules with club and lion-skin, or was it a gentleman I had known?

Ah me! how soon a man's place knoweth him no more! What fresh recollections that majestic form awoke in me--the massive features, with the steadfast eye, and low, square brow, curled over with short rings of hair; the mouth, that, through the thick, short beard, still invited trust and reliance, even while there was a look of fire and determination that inspired dread.

The thing seemed to us hideous and absurd when it was taken by Miss Horsman. I hated it, and hid it away as a caricature. But now those pale, vanishing tints bring the very presence before me; and before the remembrance can become equally obscure in my own mind, let me record for others the years that I spent with my young Alcides as he now stands before me in memory.

Our family history is a strange one. I, Lucy Alison, never even saw my twin brothers--nor, indeed, knew of their existence--during my childhood. I had one brother a year younger than myself, and as long as he lived he was treated as the eldest son, and neither he nor I ever dreamed that my father had had a first wife and two sons. He was a feeble, broken man, who seemed to my young fancy so old that in after times it was always a shock to me to read on his tablet, 'Percy Alison, aged fifty-seven;' and I was but seven years old when he died under the final blow of the loss of my little brother Percy from measles.

The dear old place--house with five gables on the garden front, black timbered, and with white plaster between, and oh! such flowers in the garden--was left to my mother for her life; and she was a great deal younger than my father, so we went on living there, and it was only when I was almost a woman that I came to the knowledge that the property would never be mine, but would go in the male line to the son of one of my disinherited convict brothers.

The story, as my mother knew it, was this: Their names were Ambrose and Eustace: there was very little interval between their births, and there had been some confusion between them during the first few hours of their lives, so that the question of seniority was never entirely clear, though Ambrose was so completely the leader and master that he was always looked upon as the elder.

In their early youth they were led away by a man of Polish extraction, though a British subject, one Count Prometesky, who had thrown himself into every revolutionary movement on the Continent, had fought under Kosciusko in Poland, joined the Carbonari in Italy, and at last escaped, with health damaged by a wound, to teach languages and military drawing in England, and, unhappily, to spread his principles among his pupils, during the excitement connected with the Reform Bill. Under his teaching my poor brothers became such democrats that they actually married the two daughters of a man from Cumberland named Lewthwayte, whom Lord Erymanth had turned out of one of his farms for his insolence and radicalism; and not long after they were engaged in the agricultural riots, drilling the peasants, making inflammatory speeches, and doing all they could to bring on a revolution. Dreadful harm was done on the Erymanth estate, and the farm from which Lewthwayte had been expelled suffered especially, the whole of the ricks and buildings being burnt down, though the family of the occupant was saved, partly by Prometesky's exertions.

When the troops came, both he and my brothers were taken with arms in their hands; they were tried by the special commission and sentenced to death. Lewthwayte and his son were actually hung; but there was great interest made for Ambrose and Eustace, and in consideration of their early youth (they were not twenty-two) their sentence was commuted to transportation for life, and so was Prometesky's, because he was half a foreigner, and because he was proved to have saved life.

My father would not see them again, but he offered their wives a passage out to join them, and wanted to have had their two babies left with him, but the two young women refused to part with them; and it was after that that he married again, meaning to cast them off for ever, though, as long as their time of servitude lasted, he sent the wives an allowance, and as soon as his sons could hold property, he gave them a handsome sum with which to set themselves up in a large farm in the Bush.

And when little Percy died, he wanted again to have his eldest grandson sent home to him, and was very much wounded by the refusal which came only just before his death. His will had left the estate to the grandson, as the right heir. Everyone looked on it as a bad prospect, but no one thought of the 'convict boy' as in the immediate future, as my mother was still quite a young woman.

But when I was just three-and-twenty, an attack of diphtheria broke out; my mother and I both caught it; and, alas! I alone recovered. The illness was very long with me, partly from my desolateness and grief, for, tender as my kind old servants were, and good as were my friends and neighbours, they could only make me feel what they were not.

Our old lawyer, Mr. Prosser, had written to my nephew, for we knew that both the poor brothers were dead; but he assured me that I might safely stay on at the old place, for it would be eight months before his letter could be answered, and the heir could not come for a long time after.

I was very glad to linger on, for I clung to the home, and looked at every bush and flower, blossoming for the last time, almost as if I were dying, and leaving them to a sort of fiend. My mother's old friends, Lady Diana Tracy and Lord Erymanth, her brother, used to bemoan with me the coming of this lad, born of a plebeian mother, bred up in a penal colony, and, no doubt, uneducated except in its coarsest vices. Lord Erymanth told at endless length all the advice he had given my father in vain, and bewailed the sense of justice that had bequeathed the property to

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