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Bowing down in blind credulity, as is my custom, before mere authority and the tradition of the elders, superstitiously swallowing a story I could not test at the time by experiment or private judgment, I am firmly of opinion that I was born on the 29th of May, 1874, on Campden Hill, Kensington; and baptised according to the formularies of the Church of England in the little church of St.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."You are an Historical Character," said the admiring stranger."You have changed the whole destiny of Church and State." My grandfather still assumed airily that this might be a poetical manner of describing a successful house-agency.Nothing quite like it at least can be found in England; nothing in the least like it, I fancy, was ever found in America.One peculiarity of this middle-class was that it really was a class and it really was in the middle.
For the particular sort of British bourgeoisie of which I am speaking has been so much altered or diminished, that it cannot exactly be said to exist today.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! We never have been respectable yet; don't let's begin now." And I remember my father mildly replying, "My dear, you present a rather alarming picture of our lives, if you say that we have never for one single instant been respectable." Readers of Pride and Prejudice will perceive that there was something of Mr.I may add that my grandfather, when the story was told, always used to insist that he had added to the phrase "I don't care how they are conducted," the qualifying words (repeated with a grave motion ot the hand) "provided it is with reverence and sincerity." But I grieve to say that sceptics in the younger generation believed this to have been an afterthought.
The point is, however, that my grandfather was pleased, and not really very much amazed, to be called a monument and a landmark.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.