The Adventures of Hugh Trevor

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The Adventures of Hugh Trevor


Thomas Holcroft





Every man of determined inquiry, who will ask, without the dread of
discovering more than he dares believe, what is divinity? what is law?
what is physic? what is war? and what is trade? will have great reason
to doubt at some times of the virtue, and at others of the utility, of
each of these different employments. What profession should a man of
principle, who is anxiously desirous to promote individual and general
happiness, chuse for his son? The question has perplexed many parents,
and certainly deserves a serious examination. Is a novel a good mode
for discussing it, or a proper vehicle for moral truth? Of this some
perhaps will be inclined to doubt. Others, whose intellectual powers
were indubitably of the first order, have considered the art of novel
writing as very essentially connected with moral instruction. Of this
opinion was the famous Turgot, who we are told affirmed that more
grand moral truths had been promulgated by novel writers than by any
other class of men.

But, though I consider the choice of a profession as the interesting
question agitated in the following work, I have endeavoured to keep
another important inquiry continually in view. This inquiry is, the
growth of intellect. Philosophers have lately paid much attention
to the progress of mind; the subject is with good reason become a
favourite with them, and the more the individual and the general
history of man is examined the more proofs do they discover in
support of his perfectability. Man is continually impelled, by the
vicissitudes of life, to great vicissitudes of opinion and conduct. He
is a being necessarily subject to change; and the inquiry of wisdom
ought continually to be, how may he change for the better? From
individual facts, and from them alone, can general knowledge be

Two men of different opinions were once conversing. The one scoffed at
innate ideas, instinctive principles, and occult causes: the other was
a believer in natural gifts, and an active fabricator of suppositions.
Suggest but the slightest hint and he would erect a hypothesis which
no argument, at least none that he would listen to, could overthrow.
So convinced was he of the force of intuitive powers, and natural
propensities, as existing in himself, that, having proposed to write
a treatise to prove that apple trees might bear oysters, or something
equally true and equally important, he was determined he said to
seek for no exterior aid or communication, from books, or things, or
men; being convinced that the activity of his own mind would afford
intuitive argument, of more worth than all the adulterated and
suspicious facts that experience could afford.

To this his antagonist replied, he knew but of one mode of obtaining
knowledge; which was by the senses. Whether this knowledge entered
at the eye, the ear, the papillary nerves, the olfactory, or by that
more general sense which we call feeling, was, he argued, of little
consequence; but at some or all of these it must enter, for he had
never discovered any other inlet. If however the system of his
opponent were true, he could only say that, in all probability, his
intended treatise would have been written in the highest perfection
had he begun and ended it before he had been born.

If this reasoning be just, I think we may conclude that the man of
forty will be somewhat more informed than the infant, who has but
just seen the light. Deductions of a like kind will teach us that
the collective knowledge of ages is superior to the rude dawning of
the savage state; and if this be so, of which I find it difficult
to doubt, it surely is not absolutely impossible but that men may
continue thus to collect knowledge; and that ten thousand years hence,
if this good world should last so long, they may possibly learn
their alphabet in something less time than we do even now, in these
enlightened days.

For these reasons, I have occasionally called the attention of the
reader to the lessons received by the principal character of the
following work, to the changes they produced in him, and to the
progress of his understanding. I conclude with adding that in my
opinion, all well written books, that discuss the actions of men, are
in reality so many histories of the progress of mind; and, if what I
now suppose be truth, it is highly advantageous to the reader to be
aware of this truth.


My birth: Family dignity insulted: Resentment of my grandfather:
Parental traits of character

There are moments in which every man is apt to imagine, that the
history of his own life is the most important of all histories. The
gloom and sunshine, with which my short existence has been chequered,
lead me to suppose that a narrative of these vicissitudes may be
interesting to others, as well as to myself.

In the opinion of some people, my misfortunes began before I was born.
The rector of ***, my grandfather, was as vain of his ancestry, as a
German baron: and perhaps with no less reason, being convinced that
Adam himself was his great progenitor. My mother, not having the
fear of her father before her eyes, forgetful of the family dignity,
disgraced herself, and contaminated the blood of her offspring, by
marrying a farmer’s son. Had she married a gentleman, what that very
different being, which a gentleman doubtless must have generated,
might have been, is more than I, as I now am, can pretend to divine.
As it is, however low it may sink me in the reader’s opinion, truth
obliges me to own, I am but of a mongrel breed.

The delinquency of my mother was aggravated by the daringness of her
disobedience; for the rector, having a foresight of what was likely to
happen, had laid his express command on her never to see Hugh Trevor,
my father, more, on the very night that she eloped. Add to which,
she had the example of an elder sister, to terrify her from such
dereliction of duty; who, having married a rake, had been left a
widow, poor, desolate, and helpless, and obliged to live an unhappy
dependent on her offended father. ‘I’ll please my eye though I break
my heart,’ said my mother.

She kept her word. Young Hugh was an athletic, well proportioned,
handsome man; of a sanguine temper, prone to pleasure, a frequenter
of wakes and fairs, and much addicted to speculate; particularly in
cards, cocking, and horse-racing.

Discarded by the rector, who was obstinately irreconcileable,
my mother went with her husband to reside in the house of her
father-in-law. Folly visits all orders of men. Farmers, as well as
lords and rectors, can be proud of their families. The match was
considered as an acquisition of dignity to the house of Trevor; and
my mother, bringing such an addition of honour, was most graciously

Here she remained something more than a year; and here, ten months
after the marriage, I was born. I had not openly assumed the form
which the vanity of man has dignified with divine above a fortnight,
before my grandfather, Trevor, died. He had been what is usually
called a good father; had lived in reputation, and had brought up
a large and expensive family. But as good in this sense usually
signifies indulgent, not wise, he had rather afforded his children the
means, and taught them the art, of spending money than of saving. His
circumstances were suspected, the creditors were hasty to prefer their
claims, and it soon appeared that he had died insolvent. The family
was consequently dispersed, and I, thus early, was in danger of being
turned, a poor, wailing, imbecil wanderer, on a world in which the
sacred rights of meum and tuum daily suffer thousands to perish.

Fortunately, considering the exigence of the moment, my father, who
was enterprising, adroit, and loquacious, prevailed on some friends
to lend him money to stock the farm, of the lease of which he was now
in possession. In this he succeeded the more easily, because he had
already acquired the character of an excellent judge of agricultural
affairs. He was known to be acute at driving bargains, could value
sheep, heifers, steers, and bullocks better than a Leicestershire
drover, was an excellent judge of horse flesh, and, during his
father’s life, had several times proved he knew the exact moment of
striking earnest. Had fate sent him to a minister’s levee instead of a
market for quadrupeds, he would have been a great politician! He would
have bought and sold with as much dexterity as any dealer in black
cattle the kingdom can boast!

At the first approach of misfortune, my mother had felt great
despondency; but when she saw her young husband so active, animated,
and fruitful in resource, her hopes presently began to brighten. The
parish where the rector resided was four miles from Trevor farm,
and the desolate prospect that at first presented itself to the
imagination of my mother had induced her to write, with no little
contrition, and all the pathos she could collect, to implore pardon
for her offence. But in vain. Her humiliation, intreaties, and dread
of want, excited sensations of triumph and obduracy, but not of
compassion, in the bosom of the man of God. The rector was implacable:
his pride was wounded, his prejudices insulted, and his anger rouzed.
He had, beside, his own money in his own pocket, and there he was
willing it should remain. Now we all know that pride, prejudice,
anger, and avarice, are four of the most perverse imps the dramatis
of the passions can afford. The irreparable wrong done
to the family dignity, and the proper vengeance it became parental
authority to inflict, on such presumption as my father had been
guilty of, and such derogatory meanness as that of my mother, were
inexhaustible themes.

The severity of her father rendered the fortunate efforts of her
husband tenfold delightful. They mutually exulted in that futurity
that should enable them to set the unkind rector at defiance; and Hugh
often boasted he would prove, though but a farmer, that the blood
in his veins was as warm, and perhaps as pure, as that of any proud
parson’s in the kingdom.

These were pleasant and flourishing but fleeting days. My father,
when he went to the fair to purchase his team, happened to see a fine
hunter on sale. It was a beautiful beast. Who could forbear to prefer
him and his noble form, high blood, and spirited action, to the
slouching dull and clumsy cart-horse? Hugh Trevor was not a man so
deficient in taste; he therefore, instead of a team of five, brought
home three horses for the plough, and this high bred hunter for his
pleasure. My mother herself, when she saw the animal, and heard her
husband’s encomiums, could not but admire; nay she had even some
inclination to approve: especially when she listened to what follows.

‘My dear Jane,’ said my father to her, after alighting from the back
of his hunter, which he had walked, trotted, and galloped, to convince
her how perfect he was in all his paces, ‘My dear Jane, we have an
excellent farm; the land is in good condition, the fences sound, and
the soil rich: no man in this county understands seeding, cropping,
and marketing better than I do: we shall improve our stock and double
our rent’ (it was a hundred and fifty pounds per annum) ‘the first
year. I shall soon meet with a smart nag, fit for the side saddle, and
shall easily make you a good horse woman; and then, when the seed is
in the ground, we may be allowed to take a little pleasure. Perhaps we
may ride by the rector’s door, and if he should not ask us in we will
not break our hearts. Who knows but, in time, we may have cause to be
as purse proud as himself?’

My father, as it appears, was sanguine, high spirited, and not without
resentment. My mother, though her fancy was not quite so active, did
not think his reasoning much amiss; and recollected the jaunts they
were to take between seed time and harvest with complacency.


Progress of my education, and conjectures on its consequences

Bold in his projects, lucky in his bargains, and fertile in resources,
every thing, for a time, which my father undertook, seemed to prosper.

In the interim, I grew apace; and, according to the old phrase, was my
father’s pride and my mother’s joy. His free humour, and the delight
she took in exhibiting her boy, had occasioned me, in early infancy,
to be handed from arm to arm, and so familiarized to a variety of
countenances, as soon to be entirely exempted from the usual fears
of children. My father’s bargains and sales brought me continually
acquainted with strange faces. He was vain of me, fond of having me
with him, and, as he called it, of case-hardening me. I became full
of prattle, inquisitive, had an incessant flow of spirits, and often
put interrogatories so whimsical, or so uncommon, as to make myself
remarkably amusing.

From inclination, indeed, and not from plan, my father took some
trouble in my education; which I suspect was productive of unforeseen
effects. He played with me as a cat does with her kitten, and taught
me all the tricks of which he was master. They were chiefly indeed of
a bodily kind; such as holding me over his head erect on the palm of
his hand; putting me into various postures; making me tumble in as
many ways as he could devise; pitching me on the back of his hunter,
and accustoming me to sit on full trot; with abundance of other
antics, at which he found me apt; yet, being accompanied with laughter
and shouts, and now and then a hard knock, they tended, or I am
mistaken, not only to give bodily activity, but to awaken some of the
powers of mind; among which one of the foremost is fortitude. Insomuch
that, since I have had the honour to become a philosopher, I have
begun to doubt whether, hereafter, when the world shall be wiser, the
art of tumbling may not possibly supercede the art of dancing? But
this by the by.

Nor was my mother, on her part, altogether deficient in activity.
Exclusive of providing me with a sister, who from some accident or
other was but a puling, wrangling, rickety young lady, she initiated
me in the mysteries and pleasures of the alphabet. The rector had
taken some trouble to make his daughters good English scholars; and
my mother, though she had retained much of his solemn song, could not
only read currently, and articulate clearly, but made some attempts to
understand what she read. It must be acknowledged, however, that her
efforts were but feeble.

I know not how it happened that I very early became in love with this
divine art, but such was the fact. I could spell boldly at two years
and a half old, and in less than six months more could read the
collects, epistles, and gospels, without being stopped by one word in
twenty. Soon afterward I attacked the Bible, and in a few months the
tenth chapter of Nehemiah himself could not terrify me. My father
bought me many tragical ditties; such as Chevy Chace, the Children in
the Wood, Death and the Lady, and, which were infinitely the richest
gems in my library, Robin Hood’s Garland, and the History of Jack the
Giant-killer. To render these treasures more captivating, observing
the delight it gave me, he used sometimes to sing the adventures of
Robin Hood with me; whether to the right tunes, or to music of his own
composing, is more than I know.

By accidents of this and the like kind, I became so much my father’s

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