‘To tell the truth,’ wrote Augustus Hare, ‘had my books not been published, had The Story of My Life, and Memorials of a Quiet Life never seen the light of day, I should have missed even the most abusive things people say. One critic wrote, “What is Augustus Hare? He is neither anybody nor nobody, neither male nor female. Mr Hare’s paragraphs plump like drops of concentrated venom on the printed page.”’
Augustus Hare was the author of nineteen travel books as well as several biographies; but it was above all Memorials of a Quiet Life – the story of his adoptive mother, Maria Hare – and his six volume autobiography, published between 1896 and 1900 (the longest in the English language, running to 3,000 pages), which brought him the greatest fame. This last was especially popular in America, which resulted in a constant stream of Americans seeking him out at his home in Sussex – ‘my pilgrims’ as he called them.
Hare was born in Rome in 1834, a most unwelcome addition to an already large family. His godmother, Maria Hare, after whose lately deceased husband he was christened, wrote to Augustus’s mother asking if she might adopt the child, and received the prompt reply: ‘My dear Maria, yes, certainly the baby shall be sent to you as soon as it is weaned. And if anyone else would like one, would you kindly recollect that we have others?’ And so Augustus came to live at Lime, in Herstmontceux in Sussex. From then on, until the end of his life, he looked upon Maria Hare as ‘my real, only, mother’.
The other dominant figure in his childhood was his uncle Julius, rector of Herstmontceux, who was always sent for to whip him when he was naughty. At the age of 5, after breakfast, Augustus was made to study reading, writing, drawing, arithmetic, geography and the architecture of the Temple at Jerusalem; after lunch – almost always mutton followed by rice pudding – he would have to read aloud from Jos
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