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Book the First - Chapter II.
The Kind of Boy I Was and Why and How I Became a Doctor


I was not a bright boy; I was not a stupid one. Indeed, I have a kind of feeling now that I was one of those dreary, sensible boys who provoke people because they find a fellow is so sensible—for a boy. I scarcely ever got into scrapes, which makes me wonder now how I pushed my way in the world so well in after-life ; for boys who have not spirit enough in them to get into scrapes are generally slow, steady-going fellows who live and die within the radius of a small and narrow local vision.

At. school I did not shine, and could only just manage to keep a little above the middle of my class. I well remember I used to wonder why this was so, because I felt myself a better fellow than those beside me, and my companions were invariably those at the head of the class. In after-years the reason why dawned upon me, and I came to the conclusion—in confidence to myself—that I really should have been a tremendously clever man if I had not, most unfortunately for myself and the world at large, of course, been born with only—half a memory! This has been my bane through life; to save that life I could not at this moment tell you the year in which I was born. Little wonder that I was only in time middle form, little wonder my poor mother used to deplore that she never once knew me to say my Sunday lessons without a blunder. So hopeless was I, that she once offered a sovereign whenever I could repeat to her a chapter from the Bible without making a mistake. Did I not, one Sunday, with a sort of mean feeling that I was not doing the right thing, go to her to claim the trial, and repeat a chapter from the old Testament? I had managed to find one with only a couple of verses! The old lady was equal to the occasion, and, looking sternly at me, asked, "Is that a chapter from the New Testament?"

Of course I was ashamed to tell her she had said a chapter from the Bible. She had bowled me over, and—I never pocketed the sovereign!

With herculean labour I do remember managing to learn the song "If I had a donkey," thinking all the time what a marvelously stupid one I was myself, a belief confirmed beyond all contradiction when three days afterwards I in vain endeavoured to repeat "If I had a donkey." No, I had none other than myself - had to sigh and give it up. I had not then discovered that I had been born with only half a memory or I might have been consoled.

My school-days were pain and grief to me. I learned, l but only to forget; it was as hopeless as the task of trying to carry water in a sieve. I grew up a horrid, classicless, sensible lad; I laboured at Latin and Greek through the accepted curriculum of school and college for over six years—in my case a direful waste of my young life. My masters thought well of me, over much of me though only figuring in the middle of my class; but I did differ from those on each side of me, for they never attempted an "essay," and I always got my half-holiday for my composition. If I could not retain I could create there was something in me, in myself, however much I allowed what others ordained to be driven into me, to run out again, and before my school-days were ended fearful was the quantity which had run out.

And what next? What was I going to be? Only sons generally have little difficulty in fixing the grooves in which their lives are to run, for in nine cases out of ten it is fixed for them; they follow in their father's wake, if there are two boys, people will ask "What are you going to be?" of the second, it being taken for granted the eldest is entitled to succeed his father, be it in his estates or in his business. Of course I was going to be a doctor—it never entered my mind to be anything else—it was a fixed and determined thing before I had brains enough to think about it myself. And I found myself becoming a doctor accordingly.

But as the time kept slipping past which was converting me into a doctor, I had brains enough to force home the conclusion that when I fairly was one, the sticking up my name on brass plate on the door, below my father's, with "Junior" on it, would not add to his practice; nor did I see, as long as he was alive and well, how it would bring me any. What connection I had was his already; he was hale and hearty, and up to more work than he had to do. And so it came about that by degrees, slow but sure, it became a fixed idea in my mind that I would push my fortune abroad somewhere or other. I am quite satisfied now that in this conclusion there came out some of the "sensible fellow" that I had been christened by my friends.

Doubtless you will be wondering how it came about that a man with only half a memory managed to pass his examinations, but with superhuman perseverance I did so. True, I was still a mere sieve, but I kept pouring the thousands of facts which I had to "be up in" in such an incessant stream through my brain that the necessary quantum got entangled therein somehow or other for the ordeal of examinations.

But it was hard work. For six months before going up for the degree of' physician, and diploma of surgeon—for I took both—I had only five hours sleep a night. I was at college all day attending lectures, not getting home until five o'clock, then came dinner, and thereafter digestion and the sleepiness of worn out nerves, so that one did not brighten up to work until ten o'clock, then at it I went, in cold attic room in winter without a fire, wrapped in a cloak, until two in morning. During these hours the meshes in my brain—my poor sieve brain--seemed to grow closer, but. it was overstrained work, bordering on danger both to the mental and bodily system. Sometimes I would protract my sederunt to half-past two or three, but I soon found that this was not to be done with impunity. As soon as I exceeded the four hours grind I spoiled my five hours' sleep. I used to fall into a half-nightmare, half-cataleptic state, alive to the night-watchman's call and every noise in the street, but unable to move a muscle of my body.

And I soon learned that two o'clock was the extreme limit that nature would stand, and so I was compelled to stick to it. I had to get up at seven o'clock all the winter to go to attend a lecture at eight.

When spring came I exchanged that hour's lecture for very different work, as shall be chronicled further on in these memoirs.


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