This story has many variants, religious and secular, scientific, economic and mystic.
George opposite the large Waterworks Tower that dominated that ridge. I do not allege any significance in the relation of the two buildings; and I indignantly deny that the church was chosen because it needed the whole water-power of West London to turn me into a Christian.
Nevertheless, the great Waterworks Tower was destined to play its part in my life, as I shall narrate on a subsequent page; but that story is connected with my own experiences, whereas my birth as I have said is an incident which I accept, like some poor ignorant peasant, only because it has been handed down to me by oral tradition.
And before we come to any of my own experiences, it will be well to devote this brief chapter to a few of the other facts of my family and environment which I hold equally precariously on mere hearsay evidence.
Of course what many call hearsay evidence, or what I call human evidence, might be questioned in theory, as in the Baconian controversy or a good deal of the Higher Criticism.
The story of my birth might be untrue. I might be the long-lost heir of The Holy Roman Empire, or an infant left by ruffians from Limehouse on a door-step in Kensington, to develop in later life a hideous criminal heredity. Some of the sceptical methods applied to the world's origin might The responsibility project paper short film applied to my origin, and a grave and earnest enquirer come to the conclusion that I was never born at all.
But I prefer to believe that common sense is something that my readers and I have in common; and that they will have patience with a dull summary of the facts. I was born of respectable but honest parents; that is, in a world where the word "respectability" was not yet exclusively a term of abuse, but retained some dim philological connection with the idea of being respected.
It is true that even in my own youth the sense of the word was changing; as I remember in a conversation between my parents, in which it was used with both implications. My father, who was serene, humorous and full of hobbies, remarked casually that he had been asked to go on what was then called The Vestry.
At this my mother, who was more swift, restless and generally Radical in her instincts, uttered something like a cry of pain; she said, "Oh, Edward, don't!
You will be so respectable! We never have been respectable yet; don't let's begin now. Bennet about my father; though there was certainly nothing of Mrs.
Bennet about my mother. Anyhow, what I mean here is that my people belonged to that rather old-fashioned English middle class; in which a business man was still permitted to mind his own business.
They had been granted no glimpse of our later and loftier vision, of that more advanced and adventurous conception of commerce, in which a business man is supposed to rival, ruin, destroy, absorb and swallow up everybody else's business. My father was a Liberal of the school that existed before the rise of Socialism; he took it for granted that all sane people believed in private property; but he did not trouble to translate it into private enterprise.
His people were of the sort that were always sufficiently successful; but hardly, in the modern sense, enterprising.
My father was the head of a hereditary business of house agents and surveyors, which had already been established for some three generations in Kensington; and I remember that there was a sort of local patriotism about it and a little reluctance in the elder members, when the younger first proposed that it should have branches outside Kensington.
This particular sort of unobtrusive pride was very characteristic of this sort of older business men. I remember that it once created a comedy of cross-purposes, which could hardly have occurred unless there had been some such secret self-congratulation upon any accretion of local status.
The incident is in more ways than one a glimpse of the tone and talk of those distant days. My grandfather, my father's father, was a fine-looking old man with white hair and beard and manners that had something of that rounded solemnity that went with the old-fashioned customs of proposing toasts and sentiments.
He kept up the ancient Christian custom of singing at the dinner-table, and it did not seem incongruous when he sang "The Fine Old English Gentleman" as well as more pompous songs of the period of Waterloo and Trafalgar.
And I may remark in passing that, having lived to see Mafeking Night and the later Jingo lyrics, I have retained a considerable respect for those old and pompous patriotic songs. I rather fancy it was better for the tradition of the English tongue to hear such rhetorical lines as these, about Wellington at the deathbed of William the Fourth, For he came on the Angel of Victory's wing But the Angel of Death was awaiting the King, than to be entirely satisfied with howling the following lines, heard in all music-halls some twenty years afterwards: And when we say we've always won And when they ask us how it's done We proudly point to every one Of England's soldiers of the Queen.
I cannot help having a dim suspicion that dignity has something to do with style; but anyhow the gestures, like the songs, of my grandfather's time and type had a good deal to do with dignity.
But, used as he was to ceremonial manners, he must have been a good deal mystified by a strange gentleman who entered the office and, having conferred with my father briefly on business, asked in a hushed voice if he might have the high privilege of being presented to the more ancient or ancestral head of the firm.
He then approached my grandfather as if the old gentleman had been a sort of shrine, with profound bows and reverential apostrophes. But a light began to break on my father, who had thought his way through all the High Church and Broad Church movements and was well-read in such things.
He suddenly remembered the case of "Westerton versus Liddell" in which a Protestant churchwarden prosecuted a parson for one of the darker crimes of Popery, possibly wearing a surplice. These remarkable words of the Protestant Champion caused his worshipper to gaze upon him with a new dawn of wonder, when my father intervened and explained the error pointing out the fine shade that divides Westerton and Chesterton.The Gateway to Up-To-Date Information on Integrated 'Whole Building' Design Techniques and Technologies.
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