. . It is full of pictures of all classes, with a description of each in French. The pictures are a little caricatured, but not much.' Doubtless this was only an echo from his mother, but it shows the atmosphere in which he breathed. It must have been a good change for this art critic to be the playmate of Mary Macdonald, their gardener's daughter at Barjarg, and to sup with her family on potatoes and milk; and Fleeming himself attached some value to this early and friendly experience of another class.

His education, in the formal sense, began at Jedburgh. Thence he went to the Edinburgh Academy, where he was the classmate of Tait and Clerk Maxwell, bore away many prizes, and was once unjustly flogged by Rector Williams. He used to insist that all his bad schoolfellows had died early, a belief amusingly characteristic of the man's consistent optimism. In 1846 the mother and son proceeded to Frankfort-on-the-Main, where they were soon joined by the father, now reduced to inaction and to play something like third fiddle in his narrow household. The emancipation of the slaves had deprived them of their last resource beyond the half-pay of a captain; and life abroad was not only desirable for the sake of Fleeming's education, it was almost enforced by reasons of economy. But it was, no doubt, somewhat hard upon the captain. Certainly that perennial boy found a companion in his son; they were both active and eager, both willing to be amused, both young, if not in years, then in character. They went out together on excursions and sketched old castles, sitting side by side; they had an angry rivalry in walking, doubtless equally sincere upon both sides; and indeed we may say that Fleeming was exceptionally favoured, and that no boy had ever a companion more innocent, engaging, gay, and airy. But although in this case it would be easy to exaggerate its import, yet, in the Jenkin family also, the tragedy of the generations was proceeding, and the child was growing out of his father's knowledge. His artistic aptitude was of a different order. Already he had his quick sight of many sides of life; he already overflowed with distinctions and generalisations, contrasting the dramatic art and national character of England, Germany, Italy, and France. If he were dull, he would write stories and poems. 'I have written,' he says at thirteen, 'a very long story in heroic measure, 300 lines, and another Scotch story and innumerable bits of poetry'; and at the same age he had not only a keen feeling for scenery, but could do something with his pen to call it up. I feel I do always less than justice to the delightful memory of Captain Jenkin; but with a lad of this character, cutting the teeth of his intelligence, he was sure to fall into the background.

The family removed in 1847 to Paris, where Fleeming was put to school under one Deluc. There he learned French, and (if the captain is right) first began to show a taste for mathematics. But a far more important teacher than Deluc was at hand; the year 1848, so momentous for Europe, was momentous also for Fleeming's character. The family politics were Liberal; Mrs. Jenkin, generous before all things, was sure to be upon the side of exiles; and in the house of a Paris friend of hers, Mrs. Turner - already known to fame as Shelley's Cornelia de Boinville - Fleeming saw and heard such men as Manin, Gioberti, and the Ruffinis. He was thus prepared to sympathise with revolution; and when the hour came, and he found himself in the midst of stirring and influential events, the lad's whole character was moved. He corresponded at that time with a young Edinburgh friend, one Frank Scott; and I am here going to draw somewhat largely on this boyish correspondence. It gives us at once a picture of the Revolution and a portrait of Jenkin at fifteen; not so different (his friends will think) from the Jenkin of the end - boyish, simple, opinionated, delighting in action, delighting before all things in any generous sentiment.

Memoir of Fleeming Jenkin Page 12

Robert Louis Stevenson

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Robert Louis Stevenson
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