Child psychology is a tedious subject, and if I advance one or two facts about my early childhood, I do so in no seriously scientific spirit or belief in their significance. I was a persistent bed-wetter. My Aunt Bunny told me that, like my brother, I was an accident and a “little unwanted” and that some attempt was made to prevent my arrival also. Possibly it was more perfunctory, possibly my instinct for self-preservation preserved me; at any rate, I emerged a robust and healthy child, but became a persistent bed-wetter. Psychology, I believe, has abandoned a theory it once held that bed-wetting is a kind of unconscious revenge mechanism; I am sorry if that is so, for it seems to me an amusing notion that I might have been pissing upon a world that had not accorded me the wholehearted welcome my ego required. But whatever may be thought of that theory now, my parents could hardly have known of it then, for child psychology was not invented, nor would my father, I hope, have had the impudence to beat me for my behavior, which he eventually did. A good deal of patience, it is true, must have been expended upon me for years, and many a good mattress did I ruin until I slept permanently upon rubber sheets. Then came a time when the practice ceased, then it began again in my early teens. I myself, of course, knew nothing about it, only that at first it was pleasantly warm, then unpleasantly cold, and in the resumed cycle I used to dream, I recollect, that I was standing in a urinal—a devilish dream, for what more natural than to pee? At any rate, when I began once more to ruin the new and unprotected mattresses with which I had at last been entrusted, my father denounced it as “sheer laziness,” to which, I fancy, he had long attributed it, and taking down my trousers in front of my protesting mother he beat me upon the bare bottom with his hand.
This is not recommended treatment, I believe, for my particular weakness, or strength, whichever it was, nor is it recommended for building up a relationship of love and confidence between father and son, and I still faintly remember the embarrassment and humiliation I felt when I pulled and buttoned up the trousers he had taken down before laying me across his knees—though, memory being what it is, I can’t be sure that this was on that particular occasion, for he beat me for other things as well, though not often and not hard, and if these chastisements had upon our future relations any effect, I certainly never bore him any conscious grudge.
Another disadvantage to which he may be thought to have put himself in regard to us children was that throughout our formative years he was what may be called a “weekend” father, if as frequent as that. He had a flat in Marylebone where, according to Aunt Bunny, he led a gay, free bachelor’s life—“all the fun of the fair,” as she put it—and to which my mother was never invited. We were therefore brought up and surrounded by women, my mother, aunt, grandmother, his sisters, old Sarah and various nurses, governesses, and maids, while he himself was an irregular weekend visitor: in 1900, for instance, eighteen months after my sister’s birth, he departed with his friend Arthur Stockley for Jamaica on a business trip. It was not until 1903, when he removed us again, this time to the first of the three houses we were to occupy in Richmond, Surrey, that he lived with us and we became a united family.
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