Swinburne, in the columns of the SPECTATOR. Indeed there was nothing in which men take interest, in which he took not some; and yet always most in the strong human bonds, ancient as the race and woven of delights and duties.

He was even an anxious father; perhaps that is the part where optimism is hardest tested. He was eager for his sons; eager for their health, whether of mind or body; eager for their education; in that, I should have thought, too eager. But he kept a pleasant face upon all things, believed in play, loved it himself, shared boyishly in theirs, and knew how to put a face of entertainment upon business and a spirit of education into entertainment. If he was to test the progress of the three boys, this advertisement would appear in their little manuscript paper:- 'Notice: The Professor of Engineering in the University of Edinburgh intends at the close of the scholastic year to hold examinations in the following subjects: (1) For boys in the fourth class of the Academy - Geometry and Algebra; (2) For boys at Mr. Henderson's school - Dictation and Recitation; (3) For boys taught exclusively by their mothers - Arithmetic and Reading.' Prizes were given; but what prize would be so conciliatory as this boyish little joke? It may read thin here; it would smack racily in the playroom. Whenever his sons 'started a new fad' (as one of them writes to me) they 'had only to tell him about it, and he was at once interested and keen to help.' He would discourage them in nothing unless it was hopelessly too hard for them; only, if there was any principle of science involved, they must understand the principle; and whatever was attempted, that was to be done thoroughly. If it was but play, if it was but a puppetshow they were to build, he set them the example of being no sluggard in play. When Frewen, the second son, embarked on the ambitious design to make an engine for a toy steamboat, Fleeming made him begin with a proper drawing - doubtless to the disgust of the young engineer; but once that foundation laid, helped in the work with unflagging gusto, 'tinkering away,' for hours, and assisted at the final trial 'in the big bath' with no less excitement than the boy. 'He would take any amount of trouble to help us,' writes my correspondent. 'We never felt an affair was complete till we had called him to see, and he would come at any time, in the middle of any work.' There was indeed one recognised playhour, immediately after the despatch of the day's letters; and the boys were to be seen waiting on the stairs until the mail should be ready and the fun could begin. But at no other time did this busy man suffer his work to interfere with that first duty to his children; and there is a pleasant tale of the inventive Master Frewen, engaged at the time upon a toy crane, bringing to the study where his father sat at work a half- wound reel that formed some part of his design, and observing, 'Papa, you might finiss windin' this for me; I am so very busy to- day.'

I put together here a few brief extracts from Fleeming's letters, none very important in itself, but all together building up a pleasant picture of the father with his sons.

'JAN. 15TH, 1875. - Frewen contemplates suspending soap bubbles by silk threads for experimental purposes. I don't think he will manage that. Bernard' [the youngest] 'volunteered to blow the bubbles with enthusiasm.'

'JAN. 17TH. - I am learning a great deal of electrostatics in consequence of the perpetual cross-examination to which I am subjected. I long for you on many grounds, but one is that I may not be obliged to deliver a running lecture on abstract points of science, subject to cross- examination by two acute students. Bernie does not cross-examine much; but if anyone gets discomfited, he laughs a sort of little silver-whistle giggle, which is trying to the unhappy blunderer.'

'MAY 9TH. - Frewen is deep in parachutes. I beg him not to drop from the top landing in one of his own making.'

'JUNE 6TH, 1876.

Robert Louis Stevenson
Classic Literature Library

All Pages of This Book