The Autobiography of a Journalist, Volume I
Stillman, William James

Part 1 out of 5

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[Illustration: W.J. Stillman]







That a man should assume that his life is worth the venture of
a record in the form of an autobiography suggests a degree of
self-conceit of which I am not guilty. From my own initiative this
would never have been written, and the first suggestion that I should
write it, coming from a man of such experience in books and judgment
of men as the late Mr. Houghton, then head of the firm of Houghton,
Mifflin & Co., was as much a surprise to me as the publication will
be to any one. The impression it made on me was so vivid that I have
never forgotten the details of the occasion which called it out. I had
gone with Mr. Houghton and his daughters to the ruins of the Villa of
Hadrian, at Tivoli, and, wandering idly amongst them on a beautiful
autumn morning, not in the spirit of crude sightseeing, I was led to
talk of my experiences more than is my wont to do. "You should write
your life," he said to me with a manner of authority which at once
convinced me, and I decided that if there should come in my life a
pause in which the past could be considered rather than the needs of
the present and the cares of the future, I would set about it. Had
I at some earlier date entertained such a project, I should have
preserved many documents and data now lost, and have been able to
write more precisely of some things of greater interest than my
personal adventures. But in that part of my life which may be
considered relatively of a public character, or in which events of a
public interest occurred, I have ample record made at the time. In
what is peculiar to myself, and so of relatively trivial moment, dates
and the order of events are of little importance. It occurred to me in
the connection, that to give a human document of Puritan family life,
and the development of a mind from the archaic severity of New England
Puritanism to a complete freedom of thought, by a purely evolutionary
process, without revolt or revulsion, might be worth doing. For what
it is worth I have done it without much consideration of my own
dignity, and, candidly, not as to my blunders and peccadilloes, which
are of no importance to the story, but as to the earlier mental
conditions which were a part of the process. So much for the

Orthodox journalists may object to my assumption of their title. In my
multifarious occupation and random life I have, as I see when I look
back found my highest activity, and rendered my most serious services
to others, in my occupation as a journalist--all the rest was fringe
or failure. If I have been good for anything it was in connection
with, or through my position on, the press. And it would be ungrateful
and dishonest if I should omit to bear my testimony to the noble
character and large sincerity of the great journal to which the most
of my strength for more than twenty years has been given. If ever
I had a noble impulse, aroused by wrongs that came to my knowledge
during those years, a good cause to defend, or a public abuse to
attack, "The Times" has never refused to give me room to tell my
story, nor have I ever been expected to conform my views to those of
the office, or shape my correspondence to any ulterior purpose; nor
have I ever done so. And I consider it the greatest honor that has
ever come to me to have been so many years in its service, and to have
maintained the confidence of its direction.

To my critics much that I have told may seem trivial. I cannot judge
of what may interest others. I should hardly have believed that my
life as a whole could interest a public that does not know me, and I
am equally unable to judge of the value which its details may have to
others. In default of any criterion beyond my own judgment, I have
selected the items which had to me most importance, or had a marked
influence on my life or an interest beyond myself. I have told things
that will seem trite to Americans, and others that will be commonplace
to Englishmen, but I have two publics to think of, differing in slight
matters in their knowledge of things.

In affixing to the book the portraits of myself, I have yielded my own
opinion, which was opposed to it, to that of the publishers and my
friends, who urged it. To me it seemed a vanity for one almost unknown
to assume that a public would care what manner of man he might be, and
that such an assumption should follow an expressed general desire; but
the views of the publishers are imperative, and those of my friends
weightier than my own.

The drawing by Rowse was done about 1856, so that the interval between
its doing and that by my daughter in 1900 included all the active
period of my life, unless I except the Hungarian expedition. When the
Rowse drawing was executed, Lowell said of it, "You have nothing to do
for the rest of your life but to try to look like it." Since that time
every friend I then had, except Rowse and Norton, is gone where I must
soon follow.


























A theory is advanced by some students of character that in what
concerns the formation of the individual nature, the shaping and
determination of it in the plastic stage, and especially in respect to
the moral elements on which the stability and purpose of a man's life
depend, a man is indebted to his mother, for good or for ill.
The question is too abstruse for argument, but, so far as my own
observation goes, it tends to a confirmation of the theory. I have
often noticed in children of friends that in childhood the likeness
to the mother was so vivid that one found no trace of the father, but
that in maturity this likeness disappeared to give place to that of
the father. In my own case, taking it for what it is worth, I can only
wish that the mother's part had been more enduring, not that I regret
the effect of my father's influence, but because I think my mother had
some qualities from which my best are derived, and which I should like
to see completely carried out in the life of a man, while I recognize
in a certain vagarious tendency in my father the probable hereditary
basis of the inconstancy of purpose and pursuit, which may not
have deprived my life of interest to others, but which has made
it comparatively barren of practical result. As a study of a
characteristic phase of New England life which has now entirely
disappeared, I believe that a picture of her and her family will be of
interest to some readers.

In my oldest brother, Thomas B. Stillman, known in the last generation
as the chief of the steam engineering of his day in the United States,
the mentor of that profession, I can see more of my mother than in any
other of the six brothers. He inherited, like all of us, his father's
mechanical tendency and inventiveness, and added to it a persistency
and constancy of purpose peculiarly hers, which none of the other
children inherited to the same extent; and he had in its fullness the
devotional sentiment, the absorption in religious duties, as the chief
motive in life, which was her ruling passion,--for passion it was in
her,--the hanging on the Cross of everything she most valued in life.

My mother, Eliza Ward Maxson, was born in Newport, Rhode Island,
on September 11, 1783, my father being seven years her senior.
The childhood of both was, therefore, surrounded by the facts and
associations of the war of American independence. He, in fact, as I
have heard him say, was born under the rule of the King of England,
and his father considered the Revolution so little justified that to
the day of his death he refused to recognize the government of the
United States; but, living a quiet life on his farm, he was never
disturbed by the pressure which exiled the noted and active Tories.

My mother's earliest recorded ancestor was a John Maxson, one of the
band of Roger Williams, driven by the Puritans out of Massachusetts
into the wilder parts of "Rhode Island and Providence Plantations,"
where--in the absence of all established law, as well as
government--they might worship God in the way their consciences
dictated, free from the restrictions on the liberty of conscience
imposed by the Pilgrim Fathers. There, at last, complete freedom of
dissent was found, and one of the consequences was that the colony
became a sort of field for Christian dialectics, where the most
extreme doctrines on all points of Christian belief were discussed
without other or more serious results of the _odium theologicum_ than
the building of many meeting-houses and the multiplication of sects.
Among these sects was one which played an important part in the local
theology of that day and for many years afterward, that known as the
"Seventh-Day Baptist," to which, it seems, John Maxson belonged. It
was not a new invention of the colonists, but had existed in England
since the days of early dissent, and it is possible that John Maxson
had brought the doctrine with him from England. Adhering to the
practice of baptism by immersion, the sect also maintained the
immutable obligation of the Seventh-Day Sabbath of the Ten
Commandments, the Jewish day of rest.

The grave disabilities imposed on them in Massachusetts by the
obligatory abstention from labor on two days, on one day by conscience
and the other by the rigorous laws of the Puritans, made Roger
Williams's little state the paradise of the Sabbatarians, and the sect
flourished greatly in it, while the social isolation consequent on
the practice of contracting marriages only in their church
membership--made imperative if family dissensions were to be avoided
on a question of primary importance to that community, which had
sacrificed all worldly advantages to what it believed to be obedience
to the Word of God--at once knit together their church in closer
relations, and drew to it others from the outside, attracted by the
magnetism of a more ascetic faith.

Amongst the emigrants from England on the Restoration were a family by
the name of Stillman, who, having had relations with the regicides,
went into what was then the most obscure and remote part of New
England and settled at Wethersfield, in Connecticut. One of the
brothers,--George,--hearing of this strange doctrine denying the
sanctity of the "Lord's Day," came to Newport to convert the erring
brothers; but, convinced by them, remained in the colony, where
he became a shining light. Thus it happened that both lines of my
ancestry became involved in the mystic bonds of a faith which was
shut off in a peculiar manner from all around them. The consequent
isolation, I fear, made much for self-righteousness. In their eyes it
was this observance which maintained continuity between the Christian
church and the institutions imposed in Paradise, and therefore made
them peculiarly the people of God. This amiable fanaticism, fervent
without being uncharitable, interfered in no wise with the widest
exercise of Christian sympathy with other sects, the observance of the
Seventh-Day Sabbath not being held as an essential to godliness or to
Christian fellowship, the non-observance being possibly only due to
ignorance, so that the relations of the historic First Seventh-Day
Baptist Church at Newport with the churches observing the "Lord's-Day
Sabbath" were always most kindly. The meeting-house occupied by
the Sabbatarians on the seventh day was occupied by one of the
Sunday-observing sects on the first, and the preachers of one often
officiated for the other. But the worldly advantage enjoyed by the
Sunday keeper was so considerable that all who did not hold to the
finest scruple of conscience in their conduct passed over to the
majority, and were excluded from the communion as a precaution against
the Sunday keepers becoming a majority in the church and taking it
away from the Sabbath keepers, as did actually occur with one of their
congregations in Vermont. In our community generally there was a most
scrupulous avoidance of any occupation on Sunday which might annoy
those who held it as Sabbath, and though in the State of New York the
laws were extremely liberal in this respect, my father in my boyhood
always made it a point not to allow in his workshop any work which
would be heard by the neighbors.

The absolute freedom of religious belief and practice, for the first
time found in this colony, had, as its first effect, the banishment
of all forms of sectarian persecution, so that the maxim of the
Broad Church--"Freedom in non-essentials"--was here put in practical
activity to an extent probably never before known in the Christian

It can be readily understood that this continual selection of the most
scrupulous consciences, the closest thinkers, and the least worldly
characters in the church of my ancestors must have developed a
singularly fine and cutting-edge temper in its adherents, and the
succession of generations of men and women who had graduated in the
school of Scripture dialectics, and knew every text and its various
interpretations, made a community of Bible disputants such as even
Massachusetts could not show.

Amongst the refugees for religious liberty who found their billet
at Newport were many Jews, between whom and the Sabbatarians the
community of the Sabbath was a strong tie, and amongst the formulas of
prayer in use even down to my own boyhood I remember a common petition
for the restoration of Israel; and the Sabbatarian eye of prophecy
looked forward to the day when, in the peace of the millennium,
the Jews in Jerusalem should be the witnesses of the faith of the
Seventh-Day Baptist Church in the keeping alive the observance of the
Eden repose initiated by the Creator. Amongst my own earliest personal
recollections concerning Newport is that of a visit of some Jewish
friends of my mother's girlhood, who lived there, to my father's house
in Schenectady.

My mother's grandfather, on her mother's side, was a clergyman, Elder
Bliss, who, though a non-combatant, was a fiery patriot, two of whose
sons were in the Revolutionary army. His house was in a valley under
the fort held by the British force in occupation, between whose guns
and those of a battery held by the rebels there was occasional firing,
during which the balls sometimes went through the house, so that when
the first shot was heard he used to order all the family down into the
cellar, which afforded a valid protection. The girls of the household
were patriots, in whom zeal often overran discretion, and the pranks
they played on the British officers must sometimes have tasked the
gentlemen in the latter to a point on the limits of endurance. I
remember one incident recounted by my grandmother to my mother, and
by her to me, in which two of the girls stole past the sentry in the
British fort, or battery, for I could never learn exactly what was the
nature of these two outposts of authority and rebellion, and, running
the flag down, tore it into thirteen stripes and ran it up again and
escaped unseen. This insult brought the whole force about their ears,
and the commandant came, with his staff, to question the household if
any clue to it could be found. Fortunately, when the girls had come
back from their expedition and went giggling in their glee to their
mother, she suspected some dangerous venture and peremptorily ordered
them to hold their tongues and not come to her with any of their
mischief. She was thus able to reply to the officer charged with the
inquisition that she knew nothing of the matter, and such was the
rigid obligation of the truth in that Puritan community that even
the danger of a court-martial would not have induced her to tell
a falsehood, however the truth might compromise the family. The
officers, who well knew their sometime hosts, were so well assured
of this that the seniors were at once acquitted, and, regarding the
girls, they were too gentlemanly to push an inquiry which might have
punished a childish freak with the gravest military consequences, for,
as the officer on the quest said, "Even it's being a woman would not
protect the author of such a grave insult to the flag." Irrepressible
as they were, in spite of the danger they had so narrowly escaped,
they, not much later, stole the sword of one of the officers when they
were all temporarily quartered on the preacher, and, when the island
was evacuated by the British forces, brought it out and gave it to the
brother, an officer in the American army.

A feat of practical housewifery, which my mother used to tell
of, shows another side of the Rhode-Islander, which is not less
illustrative of the stock. One of the boys of the pastor's family
volunteered, or was drawn, in the militia for active service; but, as
he had no clothes fit for the camp, the sisters had a black and white
sheep brought from the pasture and clipped, and within twenty-four
hours had spun, woven, and made up a suit of mixed gray clothes for
the brother to go to the war in. No doubt such things have been done
in many another home, even in later times, but this is the home I have
to deal with, and in this my mother grew up. She was the eldest of a
family of five, left motherless when she was sixteen. Her father was
the director of the smallpox hospital in Newport, then an institution
of grave importance to the community, as the practice of obligatory
inoculation prevailed, and all the young people of the colony had to
go up in classes to the hospital and pass the ordeal. Her mother's
death left her the matron of the hospital and caretaker of her sister
and brothers, and the stories of her life at that time, which she
told me now and then, showed that, with the position, she assumed the
effective authority, and ruled her brothers with a severity which my
own experience of her maturer years enables me to understand. "Spare
the rod and spoil the child" was the maxim which flamed in the air
before every father and mother of that New England, and my mother's
physical vigor at sixty, when her conception of authority began to
relax,--I being then a lad six feet high and indisposed to physical
persuasion,--satisfied me that when her duty had required her to
assume the responsibility bequeathed her by her mother, she was fully
competent to meet it.

Accustomed to the hardest life, the most rigid economy in the
household, and without servants, for, except rare and lately
emancipated negro slaves, there was then no servile class in that
colony, the children had to perform all the duties pertaining to the
daily life, official or private, and my mother was able to pull an oar
or manage the sail-boat with her brothers, and catch the horses and
ride them bareback from pasture, when necessary for the daily work,
which was not insignificant, for Newport was really the seaport of
that section of the State, and as it was on an island of importance,
the intercourse with the mainland called for sea and land service. The
boys were all fishermen, for a large part of the subsistence of the
family came from the fishing-grounds outside the harbor, and, as the
oldest brother took early to the sailor's life, my mother had to
assume a larger share of all the harder services. The hospital was
also the quarantine station, and received all the cases of smallpox
which came to the port, and they must have been many and fatal, for I
have heard her say that she had to go the rounds of the hospital at
night, and that there would sometimes be five or six dead in the
dead-room at once.

The first acquaintance of my parents with each other was made in the
inoculating class, my father being resident in Westerly, a town of
Rhode Island on the borders of Connecticut. The marriage must have
taken place about two years later, on the second marriage of my
grandfather Maxson to the daughter of Samuel Ward, one of the leading
delegates from Rhode Island to the convention which drew up and
promulgated the Declaration of Independence[1]. Their early days of
married life must have been passed in an extreme frugality, for my
father was one of a large number of children, and, brought up on a
farm, learned the trade of ship-carpenter, which he alternated, as was
generally the habit of the young men of the New England coast, with
fishing on the banks of Newfoundland in the cod-fishing season.
Having, in addition, a share of the Yankee inventiveness, he became
interested in the perfecting of a fulling-machine, to introduce which
into what was then the West, he made a temporary residence in New York
State, at the old Dutch town of Schenectady, at that time the
entrepot of commerce between the Eastern cities and New York, and the
Northwest. Utica was then a frontier settlement, Buffalo an outpost in
the wilderness, and, the country having barely recovered from the
war of 1812-15 between the United States and England, enterprise
and exploration had just begun to push through the thin lines of
settlements along the valleys of the Mohawk and upper Hudson, westward
by Buffalo and the great lakes to Ohio (then the Far West), and
northward to the valley of the St. Lawrence. Schenectady was the
distributing point of this wagon-borne commerce and movement until
the completion of the Erie Canal, which, down to my own period of
recollection, was the quickest channel of communication westward, with
its horse "packets," traveling at the creditable speed of four miles
an hour, the traffic barges making scarcely more than two.

[Footnote 1: Mr. Ward died just before the signing of the Declaration,
so that his name does not figure in the list of signers.]

Hardly established in what was intended for a temporary visit, the
residence of the family became fixed at Schenectady, owing to the
partner of my father, left to manage the business at Westerly,
becoming involved in personal embarrassments which brought on the
bankruptcy of the firm and the seizure of all my father's little
property, and, what was worse, the certainty of imprisonment for debt
in the case of his returning home. Owing to the judgments hanging
over him, which a succession of misfortunes prevented him from ever
satisfying, it was late in my own remembrance, I think about 1848 or
1850, before he was enabled to visit his early home. Hard times came
on the whole people of that section, and the practical destruction of
his business by the loss of all his capital drove him into seeking any
employment which would give a momentary relief.

Of this period of their existence my mother rarely spoke, and it must
have been one of severe privations. She has told me that she often
went to bed hungry, that the children might have enough to eat.
She had no assistance in her household duties, except that of her
daughter, a girl of tender years, and, having her husband's five
journeymen as members of the household, with five children, of whom my
sister was the second, she not only did the daily household duties,
including washing and baking, but spun and wove the cloth for the
clothes of her husband and children, cut and made them up. Her
cheerful faith in an overruling Providence must have been, in those
days, a supreme consolation, for, even in recalling them in the days
of my boyhood, the light of it still illumined her, and she never
questioned that He who had led them into the wilderness would maintain
them in it. She seemed to have but one care in her life while I knew
her--to know and do her duty. She found a special providence in
every instance of relief from their pressing wants, and I recall the
religious serenity with which she told me of the greatest strait of
the hardest winter of that period, when resources seemed to have been
exhausted to the last crumb, and they unexpectedly received from one
of her half brothers, who had gone farther west, and lived in what was
practically the wilderness, a barrel of salted pigeons' breasts.
There had been one of those almost fabulous flights of the now nearly
extinct passenger pigeons, which used to come north to breed in such
numbers that the forests where they colonized were so filled with
their nests that the settlers went into them and beat the young down
with poles, and the branches became so overloaded with the broods in
their nests that their weight often broke them down and threw the
young on the ground. They had that year chosen the forests in my
uncle's neighborhood for their nesting ground, and had been killed by
thousands and salted down for winter provision, only the breast being
used, owing to the superabundance of the birds. The gift came like the
answer to a prayer, for there was hunger in the house and the snow was
heavy on the ground, all the community being more or less in the same

Being the youngest of nine children, I can remember my mother only in
the days of comparative freedom from anxiety, when, the day's work
over and the house quiet, she used, as she sat by the fire with her
knitting, which occupied all the moments when her hands were not
required for other duties,--she knit all the stockings required for
the family,--to tell me incidents of her past life, mostly to show how
kind God had been to her and hers, and how faith in his providence
was justified in the event. Of herself she spoke only incidentally.
Dominating every act and thought of her existence was the profoundest
religious veneration I have ever met with, an openness of her mind
upward, as if she felt that the eternal eye was on her and reading her
thoughts. The sense of her responsibility was so serious that I think
that only the absorbing activity of her daily life, and the way in
which every moment was occupied with positive duties, prevented her
from falling into religious insanity. Her life was a constant prayer,
a wrestling with God for the salvation of her children. No image of
her remains in my mind so clear as that in which I see her sitting
by the fireside in the dim light of our single home-made candle, her
knitting-needles flying and her lips moving in prayer, while the tears
stole down her cheeks in the fervency of her devotion, until she felt
that she was being noticed, when the windows of her soul were suddenly
shut, and she turned to some subject of common interest, as if ashamed
to be discovered praying, for she permitted herself no ostentation of
devotion, but reserved it for her nights and solitary moments. Of her
own salvation she had only a faltering hope, harassed always by a fear
that she had at some time in her life committed the unpardonable sin,
as to the nature of which she knew nothing, and which was, therefore,
all the more feared, as the nature of it was to her the terrible
mystery of life and death.

What I inherit from her, and doubtless the indelible impression of her
fervent faith overshadowing my young life, produced a moulding of my
character which has never changed. I lived in an atmosphere of prayer
and trust in God which impressed me so that to this day the habit of
thought and conduct so formed is invincible, and in all the subsequent
modifications of the primitive and Hebraic conception of the spiritual
life which she inoculated me with, an unconscious aspiration in prayer
and an absolute and organic trust in the protection of the divine
Providence persist in my character, though reason has long assured me
that this is but a crude and personal conception of the divine law.
Truly from the environment of our early religious education we can
never escape. This the Jesuits know and profit by.

My mother was also haunted by the dread of God's wrath at her loving
her children more than she did Him, for, with all the fervency of her
gentle devotion, she never escaped the ghastly Hebrew conception of
God, always in wrath at every omission or transgression of the Law,
who, at the last great day, would demand of her an account of every
neglect of duty, every idle word and thought, and especially of the
manner in which she had taught her children to obey his commandments.
She seemed to scan her life continually to find some sin in the past,
for which she had not specifically repented, and, at times, as I knew
by the confidences of my later years, when she would appeal to me
for my opinion, the problem of the unpardonable sin became one of
absorbing study, which she finally laid aside in the supreme trust in
his goodness, who alone knew her intentions and desire to be obedient
to the Law.

Every one of her sons, as they were born, she dedicated to the service
of the Lord, in the ardent hope that one of them would become a
minister, and over me, the last, she let her hopes linger longest,
for, as I was considered a delicate child, unable to support the life
of hard work to which my older brothers had taken, she hoped that I
might be spared for study. Only the eldest son ever responded to her
desire by the wish to enter the service of the church, and he was far
too important to my father's little workshop to be spared for the
necessary schooling. He struggled through night schools, and in the
intervals of day leisure, to qualify himself to enter the college in
our city. Before doing so he fell under the notice of old Dr. Nott,
president of the college, who was, beside being a teacher of wonderful
ability, a clever inventor, and, perceiving my brother's mechanical
capacity, persuaded him to abandon the plan of entering the ministry,
and made him foreman of his establishment, the "Novelty Iron Works,"
at New York, for many years known as the leading establishment of its
kind in America. The next two brothers, having more or less the
same gifts, followed the eldest to New York; the next, an incurable
stammerer, was disqualified for the pulpit, and studied medicine,
being moreover of a fragile constitution; and the next, having the
least possible sympathy for the calling, also took to medicine.

With the migration of the three older brothers to New York, the
diminution of the family, and the aid the brothers in New York were
able to give the younger children at home, my mother's life took on
a new activity, in her resolute determination that the younger boys
should have such an education as the college (Union) afforded them.
This determination was opposed by my father, whose idea of the
education needed by boys did not go beyond the elements, and who
wanted them in the workshop. But it had become to my mother a
conception of her duty, that, as the relations between my eldest
brother and the president of the college led to an offer of what was
practically a free education, the younger boys should be permitted to
profit by the offer, and when duty entered her head there was no force
capable of driving it out. Charles, the first of us to graduate,
became the college bell-ringer, to pay his fees, but Jacob and myself
were in turn excused, even from this service. My father's practical
opposition, the refusal to pay the incidental expenses for what he
always persisted in regarding as a useless education, was met, in
Charles's case, by my mother's taking in the students' washing, to
provide them. In the cases of Jacob and myself, this drudgery was
exchanged for that of a students' boarding-house.

In all the housework involved in this complication of her duties, she
never had a servant until shortly before my birth, when she took into
the house a liberated African slave, the only other assistance in the
house, in my childhood, being a sister six years older than myself and
the daughter of one of our neighbors, who came as a "help" at the time
of my birth, and subsequently married my second brother. My mother was
also the family doctor, for, except in very grave cases, we never
had any other physician. She pulled our teeth and prescribed all our
medicines. I was well grown before I wore a suit which was not of her
cutting and making, though sometimes she was obliged to have in a
sewing-woman for the light work. She made all the bread we ate, cured
the hams, and made great batches of sausages and mincemeat for pies,
sufficient for the winter's consumption, as well as huge pig's-head
cheeses. How she accomplished all she did I never understood.

But with all her passionate desire to see one of her boys in what she
considered the service of God, there was never, on my mother's
part, the least pressure in that direction, no suggestion that the
sacrifices she was making demanded any measure of deviation from our
views as to the future. It was her hope that one of us would feel as
she did, but she cheerfully resigned the hope, as son after son turned
the other way. A boy who was born three years before me, and whose
death occurred before my birth, was, perhaps, in her mind, the
fulfillment of her dedication, for he was, according to the accounts
of friends of the family, a child of extraordinary intelligence, and
she felt that God had taken him from her. In one of those moments
of confidence, in the years when I had become a counselor to her, I
remember her telling me of this boy (known in the family as "_little_
William," to distinguish him from me), and the sufferings she endured
through her doubts, lest he should have lived long enough to sin, and
had not repented, for, though her dreary creed taught that the rigors
of eternal damnation rested on every one who had not repented of each
individual sin, and that adult baptism was the only assurance of
redemption, it did not teach, nor did she believe, that the innocence
of childhood required the certificate of the church. All the rest of
her children had professed religion and received baptism according
to the rites of the Baptist Church, but little William left in the
mother's heart the sting of uncertainty. Had he lived long enough
to transgress the Law and not repented? was to her an ever-present
question of terrible import. Years rolled by without weakening this
torture of apprehension that this little lamb of all her flock might
be expiating the sin of Adam in the flames of Eternity, a perpetual
babyhood of woe. The depth of the misery this haunting fear inflicted
on her can only be imagined by one who knew the passionate intensity
of her love for her children,--a love which she feared to be sinful,
but could not abate. Finally, one night, as she lay perplexing her
soul with this and other problems of sin and righteousness, she saw,
standing near her bed, her lost child, not as she supposed him to be,
a baby for eternity, but apparently a youth of sixteen, regarding her
silently, but with an expression of such radiant happiness in his face
that the shadow passed from her soul forever. She needed no longer to
be told that he was amongst the blessed. She told me this one day,
timidly, as something she had never dared tell the older children,
lest they should think her superstitious, or, perhaps, dissipate her
consolation by the assurance that she had dreamed. Dream she was
convinced it was not; but only to me, in her old age, had she ever
dared to confide this assurance, which had been so precious to her.

In charity, comfort for the afflicted, help,--not in money, for of
that there was little to spare,--but in food; in watching with the
sick and consoling the bereaved in her own loving, sympathetic
mother's way, she abounded. There was always something for the really
needy, and I remember that one of her most painful experiences came
from having refused food to a begging woman, to whose deathbed she was
called the next day, a deathbed of literal starvation. She recognized
the woman, who had come to our house with a story of a family of
starving children, but as my mother's experienced eye assured her she
had never been a mother, she refused her as a deceiver what the poor
always got. "Why did you tell me you had children," mother asked her,
"when you came to me yesterday?" "It was not true," said the dying
woman, "but I was starving, and I thought you would be more willing to
help me if you thought I had children." But from that day no beggar
was turned from our door without food. Silently and in secret she did
what good works came to her to be done, letting not her right hand
know what her left hand was doing, but all the poor knew her and her

Silent too and undemonstrative in all her domestic relations she
always was, and I question if to any other of her family than myself
she ever confided her secret hopes or fears. And to me even she was so
undemonstrative that I never remember her kissing me from a passing
warmth; only when I went away on a journey or returned from one did
she offer to kiss me, and this was the manner of the family. And her
maintenance of family discipline was on the same rigorous level,
dispassionate as the law. If I transgressed the commands of herself or
of my father the punishment was inevitable, never in wrath, generally
on the day after the offense, but inexorable; she never meant to spoil
the child by sparing the rod, but flogged with tears in her eyes and
an aching heart, often giving the punishment herself, to prevent my
father from giving it, as he always flogged mercilessly and in anger,
though if I could keep out of his sight till the next day he forgot
all about it; she never forgot, and though the flogging might not come
for a week, it was never omitted when promised. And her worst severity
never raised a feeling of resentment in me, for I recognized it as
deserved, while my father's floggings, inflicted in the unreasoning
severity of anger, always made me rebellious. I remember only one
occasion on which I was punished unjustly by my mother.

A neighboring farmer had asked me to go to his field and shake down
the fruit from two apple-trees. It was in the hour before dinner, and
the regulations of the family were very severe about being at meals,
and unfortunately I had, in my glee at having a job of paying work to
do, infringed on the dinnertime. In payment for my services I received
from the farmer two huge pumpkins, charged with which I hastened home,
looking forward to my mother's praise and pleasure, but was met by
her in the hall, strap in hand, with which she administered a solid
flogging, explaining that my father was so angry at my being out at
dinner that she gave me the punishment to forestall his, which would
be, as I well knew, much severer. It is more than sixty years since
that punishment fell on my shoulders, but the astonishment with which
I received the flogging instead of the thanks I anticipated for the
wages I was bringing her, the haste with which my mother administered
it lest my father should anticipate her and beat me after his fashion,
are as vivid in my recollection as if it had taken place last year.
This was a sample of the family discipline. I was forbidden to walk
with other boys when I drove the cow to pasture; forbidden to bathe
in the mill-pond near by except at stated times, to play with certain
children, to amuse myself on the Sabbath, and other similar doings,
all to my childish apprehension harmless in themselves, and the
punishment never failed to follow the discovery of the transgression.
Naturally I learned to lie, a thing contrary to my inclination and
nature, and a torture to my conscience, but I had not the courage
to meet the flogging, or the firmness to resist temptation and the
persuasion of my young companions who rejoiced in a domestic freedom
of which I knew nothing. My father's severity finally brought
emancipation by its excess. He used to follow me to see if I obeyed
his orders, and one day when I had been persuaded by some boys of our
neighborhood to go and bathe in the forbidden hours, he found me in
the pond, led me home, and, cutting two tough peartree switches about
the thickness, at the butt, of his forefinger, he took me down into
the cellar, and making me strip off my jacket, broke them up to the
stumps over my back, protected only by a cotton shirt. This was the
deciding event which determined me to run away from home, which I did
the next week, and though my escapade did not last beyond ten days, on
my return the rod was buried.



Looking back at my mother, after a lapse of nearly forty years since I
saw her last, I am surprised at the largeness of character developed
in the narrow and illiberal mould of the exclusive Puritanism of the
church of her inheritance, her freedom from bigotry, and the breadth
of her knowledge of human nature, as well as at the justice of her
instincts of religious essentials, which always kept her cheerful
and hopeful in spite of the gloomy doctrine imposed on her by her
education and surroundings. Believing firmly in the eternity of
hell-fire, with the logical and terrible day of judgment casting its
gloomy shadow over her life, she maintained an unbounded charity for
all humanity except herself, admitting the extenuation of ignorance
for all others, keeping for herself even to the tithes of mint and
cummin, but condoning, in her judgment of those who differed from her,
the offenses which for herself she would have thought mortal sins. In
her own household all latitude in religious observance was resisted
with all her strength.

In my paternal grandfather's house the Seventh Day was a day of
feasting, and after the church services all the connection went to the
ancestral home to eat the most sumptuous dinner of the week. Against
this infraction of the law which forbade on the Sabbath all work not
of mercy or necessity, my mother set her face, and when this was done
there was no long resistance possible and my father had to give way,
so that on that day we had a cold dinner, cooked on Friday. At sunset
on Friday, all work and all secular reading or amusements ceased,
and only a Sabbath day's journey was permitted so far as she could
control. But my father was a rover from his youth, and Saturday being
his only leisure day he used to take me with him on long walks in the
woods and fields, according to the season; and the weather and the
length of the day were his only limitations. In the house she ruled,
but out of it he made his own conscience, and so it happened that the
only pleasures that I owe him, except the bringing me a few books when
he came back from his business trips to New York to sell his machines,
were those long walks in the face of nature. He was, in his family,
apparently a cold, hard man, but out of it, kindly and benevolent,
melting always to distress which came in his way; with a passionate
love of animals and of nature. He was a poor business man, for he
could never press for the payment of debts due to him, but his honesty
was so rigid that it became a proverb in our town that a man should be
"as honest as old Joe Stillman," and that good name was all he gave or
left his children.

My father died in one of my occasional absences in Europe, and when I
saw my old mother in the black she never again laid off, she told me,
tranquilly and with a firm voice, but with the tears running down her
cheeks, how he died, and said, "He was so handsome that I wanted to
keep him another day." The warmth of expression struck me strangely,
for in all my home experience I had never heard before a word
which could be taken as a token of conjugal tenderness, but when I
reflected, I could see that it was and always had been the same with
the children. Of the nine children she bore, five died before she did,
including her second and, during my life, her only daughter, but in
all the bereavements she retained her calm, self-contained manner,
weeping silently, and tranquilly going about the house, comforting
those who shared the bereavement, uncomplaining, reconciled in
advance; she had consigned her beloved to the God who gave them to
her, and would have thought it rebellion to repine at any dispensation
which He sent her. In the most sudden and crushing grief I remember
her to have experienced, that which came with the news that my brother
Alfred had been killed by the explosion of a steamboat boiler at New
Orleans, there was one brief break-down of her fortitude, an hour's
yielding, and then all her thought was for the widow and the children.
No detail of the household duties was neglected, and nothing was
forgotten that concerned the comfort of others. She avoided all
external signs of grief, and, until my father died, she never wore
mourning. Her bereavements and her prayers were matters that concerned
only God and herself.

What I have said might give her the character of an ascetic, but
nothing could be further from her. She was always optimistic as to
earthly troubles, always cheerful and fond of mild festivities. At
times no one was more merry than she, and I have seen her laughing at
a good joke or story till the tears ran down her cheeks. Cheerfulness
was to her a duty which was never violated except when she was laying
her case before God.

Her ardent desire that her children should have a liberal education
came to a climax on me, the last, born at the end of the period of
child-bearing. She taught me my letters before I could articulate
them, when I was two I could read, and at three I was put on a high
stool to read the Bible for visitors, so that I cannot remember when I
could not read, and when not more than five or six I used to be at the
head of the spelling classes and spelling matches, in which all
the boys and girls were divided into equal companies, and the
school-teacher gave out the hardest words in the spelling-book to each
side in turn, all who failed to spell their word sitting down, until
the solitary survivor on one side or the other decided the victory,
and even before I was seven I was generally that survivor. I read
insatiably all the good story-books they would let me have, and I
cannot recall the time at which there was anything even in the Bible
new to me. With an incipient passion for nature and animal life, I
read with delight all the books of natural history I could get, and I
have heard in later years that in all the community of Sabbatarianism
I was known as a prodigy. Fortunately I was saved from a probable
idiocy in my later life by a severe attack of typhoid fever at seven,
out of which attack I came a model of stupidity, and so remained until
I was fourteen, my thinking powers being so completely suspended that
at the dame's school to which I was sent I was repeatedly flogged for
not comprehending the simplest things. I got through simple arithmetic
as far as "Long Division," and there had to turn back to the beginning
three times before I could be made to understand the principle of
division by more than one figure.

In the humiliation of this period of my life, in which I came to
consider myself as little better than a fool, my only consolation was
the large liberty I enjoyed in the woods and fields with my father
on Saturdays, or with my brothers Charles and Jacob on their long
botanizing excursions, or in the moments of leisure when I was not
wanted to turn the grindstone or blow the bellows in the workshop.
Those long walks, in which I was indefatigable, and the days or nights
when I went fishing with my brother Jacob, who was ten years older
than myself, and who inherited the wandering and adventurous longings
of my father, are the only things I can remember of this period which
gave me any pleasure. I can see vividly the banks of the Mohawk, where
we used to fish for perch, bream, and pike-perch; recall where, with
my brother Charles, we found the rarer flowers of the valley, the
cypripediums, the most rare wild-ginger, only to be found in one
locality, the walking fern, equally rare, and the long walks in the
pine forests, whose murmuring branches in the west wind fascinated me
more than any other thing in nature.

Perhaps I mingle in recollection the nature-worship of the two
septennates, for of the former was my first rapturous vision of the
open sea, which comes back to me with the memory of the pines. I had
gone with my father and mother to New York on a visit to my eldest
brother, who had just then finished the engines of the steamer
Diamond, which was the first that by her build was enabled to run
through from New York to Albany, past the "overslough" or bar formed
in the Hudson, which prevented the steamers of greater draught from
getting up to the wharf at Albany; and he had profited by her first
trip to visit home again and take us back with him. My brother pointed
out to me the Clermont, Fulton's trial steamer, then disused and
lying at Hoboken, but a cockboat to the Diamond, which was one of the
greatest successes of the day. Machinery fascinated me, being of the
mechanical breed, and I can recall the engines of the boat, which were
of a new type, working horizontally, and so permitting larger engines
in proportion to the draught of the steamer than had been before used.
We all went one day to Coney Island, on the southern shore of Long
Island, since a fashionable bathing place for New York, but then a
solitary stretch of seashore, with a temporary structure where bathers
might get refreshments, and a few bathing boxes. We drove out in my
brother's buggy, and as, at a turn in the road, I caught a glimpse of
the distant sea horizon, I rose in the buggy, shouting, "The sea!
the sea!" and, in an uncontrollable frenzy, caught the whip from my
brother's hand and slashed the horse in wild delirium, unconscious of
what I was doing. The emotion remains uneffaceable after more than
threescore years, one of the most vivid of my life. It was a rapture
and an interesting case of heredity, for I had not before been within
a hundred and fifty miles of the sea.

And how ecstatic was the sensation of the plunge into the breakers,
holding fast to my mother's hand, and then the race up the beach
before the next comber, trembling lest it should catch me, as if it
were a living thing ready to devour me. They never come back, these
first emotions of childhood; and though I have loved the sea all my
life, I have never again felt the sight of it as then.

Of this first period, I remember very well the grand occasion of the
opening of the Hudson and Mohawk Railroad, the first link in that line
which is now the New York Central, and see vividly the curious old
coaches,--three coach bodies together on one truck. This was in
1832, when I was four years old. The road was, I believe, the first
successful passenger railway in America, and was sixteen miles long,
with two inclined planes up which the trains were drawn, and down
which they were lowered by cables. There was an opposition line of
stagecoaches between Albany and Schenectady, running at the same price
and making the same time.

Of the second period, that of nature worship, was my first trout,
another delirium. My mother had taken me to visit one of her brothers,
a farmer in the western section of New York, soon after made famous
by the anti-rent war, in which my uncle was one of the "Indian
Chiefs[1]," and there I went fishing in the brook that ran through his
farm. I caught a small trout and did not know what fish it might be,
till I saw the crimson spots on his side and remembered that the trout
in books bore them, and then I threw him on the grass and danced
a wild dance around him, a powwow as furious as a red Indian's
scalp-dance, while he, poor little fingerling, jumped in the unkindly
herb. Then I caught him up and raced to the house nearly half a mile,
to show him, and put him in the trough under the pump, where he
arrived still gasping but alive, and where he remained for all my
recollection of his fate thereafter. But I remember that the beauty of
the little creature gave me more pleasure than the capture.

[Footnote 1: The bands which carried on what became an actual
insurrection against the civic authorities were led by men disguised
as red Indians and called chiefs.]

About this time I began to try to draw, and especially birds and
beautiful forms, though years before I had begun to color the
wood-cuts in my books. And my mother, who had an utterly uncultivated
but most tender love of art, gave up finally the oft-renewed ambition
to see one of her boys in the pulpit, and made every opportunity for
me to learn drawing,--I never quite understood why, for my abilities
in that line were little more than nine boys out of ten show.

It was a fortunate thing for my after-life that I lived so near the
forests that all my odd time was spent in them and in the surrounding
fields, and I knew every apple-tree of early fruiting for miles, and
every hickory-tree whose nuts were choice; and one of the joyous
experiences of the time was running down a young gray squirrel in the
woods, and catching him with my bare hands, and badly bitten they
were. I took him home and tamed him perfectly, and was very happy with
him, my first pet. He used to come and sleep in my pocket, and was
never kept in a cage. My father one morning left the window of our
room open, and "Bob" went out to explore, but, when he tried to find
his way back again, a dog of the neighborhood, as a neighbor told us,
chased him away, and to my intense grief he was shot by a hunter a
few days after in the adjoining forest. I cannot to this day see a
squirrel without emotion and affectionate remembrance of "Bob." The
love of animals, which I inherited from my father, was one of the
passions of my childhood, and I had an insatiate longing for pets.

Naturally my religious education during these early years was of the
severest orthodox character, and my mother's sincere, fervent, and
practical piety brought home to me, with the conviction of certainty,
the persuasion of its divine authority. Hell and its terrors were
always present to me, and she taught me that the wandering suggestions
of childish imagination, the recurrence of profane expressions heard
from others, and all forms of irreverent fantasies were the very
whisperings of the devil, to her, as to me, consequently, an
ever-present spirit, perpetually tempting me to repeat, and so make
myself responsible for the wickedness in them. I remember with great
vividness a caricature of Mrs. Trollope in a satirical illustrated
edition of her travels in America, representing her sitting in a
large armchair surrounded by negroes on their knees, one of whom was
represented as saying, "De Lord lub Missee Trollope," an expression
which my mother stigmatized as impious and not to be repeated, but
which perhaps for that very reason would recur to me in thought, and
which I set myself to pray against as the very whisper of the devil in
my ears. And naturally, the more I tried to put it out of my head, the
more it got fixed there, and it was long a source of great misery to
me that I could not keep the devil away from my ears. I was never
allowed a candle to go to bed with, and as I slept in the huge garret,
covering the whole house, I used to shut my eyes when I left the
kitchen, where we all sat in the evening, and groped my way to bed
without ever again opening my eyes until the next morning, for fear
of seeing the devil on my way. Awful spiritual presences haunted
me always in the dark, when I passed a churchyard or an empty and
solitary house. Such a house stood in the pasture where I used to
drive the cow, and when it happened that she had not come home at
nightfall, and I had to go to find her, the panic I endured from the
necessity of searching around this old house no one can imagine but a
boy naturally timid and accustomed to see ghosts and evil spirits
in the dusk. But I kept my fears to myself and always made a
conscientious search.

The peculiar ideas concerning conversion and regeneration, held in
common by all the branches of the adult-Baptist churches, were in my
mother's mind an obsession. Conviction of sin, repentance, the public
confession, profession of faith, and baptism were the necessary
degrees to regeneration, and, looking back on the tortures to which
my mother was subjected by those theological problems and the daily
anxiety she endured until each of us had passed through the gates of
salvation into the narrow way, I must wonder at that divine maternal
instinct which made her rejoice at my birth, as I know she did.

The whole community in which we lived, with the exception of a small
Episcopal church, had the same ideas of conversion and regeneration,
and a prominent feature in our social existence was the frequent
recurrence of the great revival meetings in which all the rude
eloquence of celebrated and powerful preachers, Baptist, Methodist,
and of other sects, was poured out on excited congregations. There
were "protracted meetings," or campaigns of prayer and exhortation,
lasting often a fortnight, at which all the resources of popular
theology were employed to awaken and maintain their audiences in a
state of frenzy and religious delirium, during which conviction of sin
was supposed to enter the heart more effectually. The tortures of hell
alternated with the delights of heaven, in imagery calculated to
drive the timid and conscientious young folks to insanity, at these
meetings, to which, once awakened, the subject of conviction went
three times a day, until the hysteria, the prolonged excitement so
produced, came as a sign of acceptance. As each new convert rose on
the "anxious seat[1]," where he or she went when the first feeling
of conviction came, and afterwards made the declaration of salvation
found, the shouts and cries of "Glory to God," the sobbing and groans
of the congregation were redoubled, and the exhortations of the
preacher renewed, to the still unconvicted to come forward to the
anxious seat where they would become subject to the concentrated
and personal prayers of the whole assembly. These meetings were the
substitutes for all other social diversions or emotions. There was a
revival preacher by the name of Knapp, whose lurid eloquence in this
vein made him famous, and whose imagery was equal in ghastliness to
anything that the Catholic Church could produce. I remember one of his
most dramatic bits, borrowed from a much earlier preacher, a passage
in his description of hell. In hell, he said, there was a clock,
which, instead of "tick," "tick," said, "Eternity," "Eternity," and
when the damned, weary of their tortures down in the depths, came up
to see what time it was, they heard the sentence of the clock, and
turned in despair to go down into the depths again as far as they

[Footnote 1: The front line of seats next the pulpit, set apart for
those who had "found conviction."]

To these meetings my mother used to send me, giving me a holiday from
school for all the time the protracted meeting lasted. But conviction
never came. I was honest with myself, and though the frenzied and
ghastly exhortations harried my soul with dread, and I longed for the
coming of the ecstasy which was the recognizable sign of the grace
of God, I could not rise to the participation in it which the most
material and hysterical of the congregation enjoyed, and day after day
I went home saddened by the conviction that I was still one of the
unregenerate. The sign never came, but several years later I went
to make a visit to my brother Charles, who had then removed to
Plainfield, N.J., where he practiced medicine, and was one of the main
supports of the church in a community where the sect was large enough
to have a constant worship, which it never had in Schenectady. Here I
came under the influence of a beloved brother of my mother, one of the
most earnest and humble Christians I have ever known, and here were
gathered others of the denomination at a protracted meeting, at which
some of my friends of my own age became seriously inclined, and we
drifted together into the profession of Christian faith. But here
there was nothing of the ghastly terrors of the great revival
agitations. My uncle was a man of the world, had been all his early
life a sailor, and had taken late to what, in his experiences of men
and the vicissitudes of life, he considered the only reality, the duty
of making known to his fellows the importance of the spiritual life.
To fit himself for the ministry, he taught himself Hebrew and Greek
as well as Latin, and many years later was chosen as one of the New
Testament revisers for the American revision committee. But to him
the profession of religion was an act of the reason, not of revival
excitement, and in his ministrations he shunned carefully all the
frenzied exhortation of the revivalists. Associated with him in the
ministry and leading the meetings was another of the Sabbatarian
pastors, Elder Estee, a grave and earnest man like my uncle, who
inspired me with great confidence.

As I look back from the standpoint of one who reposes in the
evolutionary philosophy, in which the accidental and ecstatic
disappear, upon this phase of psychology, in which hysteria becomes
an element of moral reform, it seems to me worth while to record the
experience of one subjected to the forces which were counted as such
powerful aids to the spread of Christianity,--of one either under the
influences of the pomp of ceremony, the stimulus of music, the purely
sensuous stimulants to devotion,--or in the crude form of that
ecstatic exaltation in which the individual is carried into
a supersensuous state, in which perception, reason, and even
responsibility to a great extent are, if not suspended, so far made
abnormal that analysis becomes impossible. The term for this latter
condition amongst revivalists was "the power," and it was distinctly
a phenomenon sought for as the evidence of divine grace. The uncle of
whom I have spoken had once during his prior religious experience felt
the "power," and described it as an emotion which for the time
lifted him above the consideration of his surroundings, and left him
subsequently indifferent to that very curious shame which generally
accompanies the early yielding to the revivalist urgency of
acknowledging the necessity of change of heart,--a sense of having
made one's self ridiculous, which was, in my own and many other cases
in my knowledge, a powerful influence adverse to the "going forward"
at the meetings, or being understood to be "religious," as those were
considered who became serious in their attention at the meetings. This
was recognized by the preachers as the "fear of the world," and was
the object of attack of the most eloquent adjurations. Once carried
away by this hysteria, one had no longer any of this shame or fear of
the taunts of his irreligious companions, which was very heavy with a
nervous and sensitive boy like myself. But though I had all through my
attendance on the revival meetings earnestly desired to attain to that
exaltation, and considered it an indication of my graceless state,
that I was so insensible to the "spirit," which was another term for
the frenzy, I found it impossible to provoke it. It is a curious
subject, this usurpation of the reasoning faculties by the irrational,
which is permitted when religion becomes emotional, either in the
revolutionary condition of the revivalist or that of the conservative
and decorous ecclesiastical forms.

The movement at Plainfield, finding me in different surroundings from
those in my native place, and under the influence of deliberate and
sober-minded people, put the religious question under another light,
but, still under the persuasion, the natural result of my life's
training, that some special emotion or spiritual change, recognizable
as such, was an indispensable sign of the "change of heart" which was
desired, I was unhappy that no such sign appeared. I can distinctly
remember that the desire to satisfy my mother's passionate longing for
what she considered my regeneration was a large part of my desire to
meet the change, and, if I might, provoke it. I did not in spite of
my efforts really understand the view which my mother, in common with
most evangelical Christians, took of the work of regeneration. The
calm, rational conviction that all men are sinners, was clear enough
to me even in my youth, and the necessity of turning from what we
call "the world," to the cultivation of the higher and spiritual
development of character was equally clear, though not so in all
points was the distinction between the things condemned as worldly and
those approved as religious, the theatre, games of chance, dancing,
and frivolous amusements in general being all in the index of those
severe theologians.

As I remember my extreme youth I was, in spite of occasional
falsehoods,--mainly the consequence of the severity of the parental
discipline and the desire to escape the punishments I had to endure
when transgressing the sometimes whimsical injunctions laid on
me,--morbidly conscientious. I was absent-minded and often forgot
my duties, feeling, however, always the sting of remorse for any
omission, but, beyond taking apples or nuts for my own eating, I do
not think that I ever transgressed a commandment deliberately or
knowingly; I was, in fact, regarded by the boys of the neighborhood as
hopelessly "goody." I could not understand why the desire to go to a
dancing-school and dance should be a moral transgression, though
when I asked permission of my father to accept the offer of an
ex-dancing-master for whom I had been able to do some work in the
workshop, to give me preparatory lessons so that I might appear less
clumsy on entering the class, I was sternly brought to a sense of the
enormity of the matter by my father's replying, "William! I would
rather see you in your grave than in a dancing-school." I could only
understand that I had not been lifted by the divine grace from the
condition of total depravity in which I had been born, and I knew
that the preternatural indication of my redemption, which would be
recognized in the descent of the spirit in the form of the revival
frenzy, was wanting. I longed for it, prayed for it, and considered
myself forsaken of God because it would not come, but come it never
did, and it seemed to me that I was attempting to deceive both my
mother and the church when I finally yielded to the current which
carried along my young friends, and took the grace for granted, since,
as I thought, having asked the special prayers of the elders, men of
God, and powerful in influence with Him, I had a right to assume the
desired descent of the redeeming light on me, though I had never had
that peculiar manifestation of it which my companions seemed to have
experienced. I felt not a little twinge of conscience in assuming so
much, but I could not consent to prolong my mother's suspense and
grave concern at the exclusion of one of her children from the fold of
grace. I put down the doubts, accepted the conversion as logical
and real, and went forward with the others. I remember that at
the relation of our "experience" which followed as a rite on the
presentation of the convert for membership of the church, I was
the only one who told it calmly and audibly, all the others being
inaudible from their excitement and timidity, so that the presiding
elder was obliged to repeat to the audience what they said in his ear,
trembling, weeping with the emotion of the event. I felt as if I were
a hypocrite, and only the thought of my mother's satisfaction gave
me the courage to go through the ceremony. We were baptized, my
companions and I, in the little river in midwinter, after a partial
thaw, the blocks of ice floating by us in the water.

I must have been about ten or eleven when I went through this
experience, and I never got rid of the feeling of a certain unreality
in the whole transaction, but on the other hand I had the same feeling
of unreality in the system of theology which led to it. I tried to do
my best to carry out the line of spiritual duties imposed upon me. I
made no question that I was a bad boy, but the conception of total
depravity in the theological sense never gained a hold on me, and once
inside the church there seemed to be a certain safeguard thrown over
me. The sense of _ecstasy_ (which my Uncle William had experienced in
his religious relation, the "power" of the revivalists) I have since
known in conditions of extraordinary mental exaltation, and understand
it as a mental phenomenon, as the momentary extension of the
consciousness of the individual beyond the limitations of the bodily
sense--a being snatched away from the body and made to see and feel
things not describable in terms of ordinary experience, but in my
religious evolution it had no place, then or since.

The intellectual slowness of which I have spoken continued through
all these years. I had left the dame's school, where the rule of long
division proved my _pons asinorum_, and went to a man's school, where
I earned my schooling by making the fires and sweeping the schoolroom,
and here I learned some Latin and the higher rules in arithmetic by
rote, always with the reputation of a stupid boy, good in the snowball
fights of the intermission, when we had two snow forts to capture
and defend; in running foot-races, the speediest, and in backhand
wrestling, the strongest, but mentally hopeless. All this period of
my life seems dreary and void, except when I got to nature, and the
delight of my hours in the fields and woods is all that remains to
me of a childhood tormented by burdens of conscience laid on me
prematurely, and by a domestic discipline the severity of which,
with all the reverence and gratitude I bear my parents, I can hardly
consider otherwise than gravely mistaken and disastrous to me, though
my mother's discipline has never made me an enemy of the rod for
children. My own experience as child and parent convinces me that an
inexorable, though mild, physical punishment is the only remedy for
the obstinacy of certain fractious child natures, in the years before
reason operates, and for the assurance of necessary discipline in

The incessant Bible lessons, filling my mind with indigestible
conceptions of life present and to come, mysteries for the
contemplation of a philosopher, not for a boy of ten; the recognition
of my total depravity, as manifested in the trivial transgressions of
a thoughtless child, to whom life had hardly yet offered a duty to
fulfill or transgress; the terrible gloom of this Puritan horizon, on
which no light showed me promise of better things, only to be hoped
for through a process of repentance and atonement for the sins of
Adam, the fitness and method of which process were far beyond my
capacity to comprehend, as beyond that of any child,--all these things
made my intellectual life so sombre that I can but regard the long
interval of intellectual apathy as a fortunate provision against some
form of mental malady consequent on the morbid development of my early

Our winters were long and hard, and I remember the snow falling on
Thanksgiving Day (the last Thursday in November) and not thawing again
until the beginning of March, and that, in the house where I was born,
we had the fall of snow so heavy that we could tunnel the path to the
barn, the drift covering the door of the house. The coming of spring
was my constant preoccupation through the winter, and my joy was
intense at the first swelling of the buds, the coming color in the
willow twigs, which ushered in the changes of spring; then the
catkins, the willow leaves, and the long rains which carried off
the snow, all welcome as daylight after a weary night, because they
restored me to the forests and the wildflowers, the fields and the
streams; and for miles around I knew every sunny spot where came the
first anemones, hepaticas, and, above all, the trailing arbutus, joy
of my childhood, the little white violets, their yellow sisters, then
the "dog-tooth violet," and a long list of flowers whose names I have
forgotten long ago.

The perennial delight of this return of springtime was the great
feature of my life, and then began the excursions into the forests
around us, and the succession of sights and sounds, the order of the
unfolding of the leaves, from the willow to the oak, the singing of
the frogs in the marshes, and the birds in the copses and fields (for
in the great woods there are few singing birds). I knew them all, and
when and where to hear them. The bluebird, or blue robin, as it was
called in our neighborhood, was the first, and he assured us that
spring had really come with a plaintive song, the sweetest to memory
of all nature's voices; then the American robin (the migratory
thrush), a bold, cheery note, full of summer life; and after those the
chief was the bobolink, singing up into the sky like the skylark, and
with which we connected the ripening of the strawberry, the merriest
and most rollicking of all bird songs, as that of the bluebird was the
tenderest. Then came the hermit thrush, heard only in the depth of
the forest, shy and remote in his life and nesting, and the
whip-poor-will, in the evening. Each was a new leaf turned over in my
book of life, the reading of which was my only happiness. What else,
or more, could be expected of an existence hedged in by the terrors of
eternity, the hauntings of an inevitable condemnation, unless I could
obtain some mysterious renovation, only attainable through an act of
divine grace which no human merit could entitle me to, and which I
tried in vain to win the benediction of? And how dreary seemed the
heaven I was set to win--no birds, no flowers, no fields or forests,
only the eternal continuation of the hymn-singing and protracted
meetings, in which, in our system, consisted the glorification of
God, which was the end and aim of our existences! I wonder how many
religious parents remember the misery of child life under such

The struggles of conscience through which I went in those days can be
imagined by no one, and I can hardly realize them myself, except by
recalling little incidents which show what the pressure must have
been. I have mentioned an escapade of this period, connected with
the last flogging my father gave me, but of which that was only the
secondary cause, determining the moment but not the movement. It was
a matter of conscience at bottom. My mother had, when I was about six
years old, taken a little octoroon girl of three, the illegitimate
daughter of a quadroon in our neighborhood, with the intention
of bringing her up as a servant. The child was quick-witted and
irrepressible, and disputes began between us as soon as she felt at
home. I suppose she must have been inclined to impertinence, for she
had to be whipped, and as at her age no difference of condition was
evident to her, she became a severe trial to my equanimity. Every
outbreak of temper induced by her conduct toward me became occasion
of a period of penitence, for I was taught that such outbreaks were
sinful, and as neither had I the amount of self-control that I needed
to overlook the provocations she gave, nor had she the power of
understanding the position, the transgressions that my conscience had
to bear up under became an intolerable load.

At this juncture came the brutal and as I felt most unmerited flogging
of which I have told the story earlier: this precipitated a decision
which had been slowly forming from my conscientious worries. I
determined to go away from home, and seek a state of life in which I
could maintain my spiritual tranquillity. I discussed the subject with
a playmate of my age, the son of a gardener living near us, and, as
his father had even a stronger propensity to the rod than mine,
we sympathized on that ground and agreed to run away and work our
passages on some ship to a land where we could live in a modified
Robinson Crusoe manner,--not an uninhabited land, but one where we
could earn, by fishing and similar devices, enough to live. I had been
employed for a few months before in carrying to and fro the students'
clothes for a washerwoman, one of the neighbors, and had earned three
or four dollars which my mother had, as usual with any trifle I
earned, put into the fund for the daily expenses. I do not know how it
was with the older boys, but for me the rule was rigid--what I could
earn was a part of the household income. I inwardly rebelled against
this, but to no effect, so I never had any pocket-money. I submitted,
as any son of my mother would have done at my age or have given
a solid reason why not; but on this occasion, when money was
indispensable to that expedition on which so much depended, I quietly
reasserted my right to my earnings, and took the wages I had received,
from the drawer where they were kept. My companion had no money
at all, and thus my trifle had to pay for both as far as it would
go,--fortunately, perhaps, as it shortened the duration of the

We went by train to Albany, where we took deck passage on a towing
steamer for New York. The run was longer than that of a passenger
steamer, so that the New York police who were warned to look out
for us by the post, had given us up when we arrived and search was
diverted in another direction. We arrived at New York with my funds
already nearly exhausted by the food expenses _en route_, and my
companion's courage had already given out--he was homesick and
discouraged, and announced his determination to return home. My own
courage, I can honestly say, had not failed me,--I was ready for
hardship, but to go alone into a strange world damped my ascetic ardor
and confounded all the plans I had made. I yielded, and with the last
few "York shillings"[1] in my pocket bargained for a deck passage
without board on a barge back to Albany. It was midsummer, and the
sleeping on some bags of wool which formed the better part of the
deck-load gave me no inconvenience, and the want of provisions of any
sort was remedied as well as might be by a pile of salt codfish which
was the other part of the deck-load, and which was the only food we
had until our arrival at Albany, which we reached at night after a
voyage of twenty-four hours. We slept under a boat overturned by the
shore that night until the rising tide drove us out, when we decided
to take the road back to Schenectady on foot, through a wide pine
forest which occupied the intervening country, a distance of about
sixteen miles. Passing on the way a stable in which there was nobody,
not even a beast, we turned in to sleep away the darkness, and I
remember very well what a yielding bed a manger filled with salt gave
me. With the dawn we resumed the journey, and by the way ate our fill
of whortleberries, with which the forest abounded.

[Footnote 1: 121/2 cents each.]

The joy of my mother at our unhoped-for arrival--for she had received
no news of us since our departure--is easily imagined, but for me the
failure of all my plans for an ascetic and more spiritual life was
made more bitter by the fact that the little octoroon, who had heard
read the letter which I left for my mother, giving the motives for my
self-exile, had repeated it to all the neighborhood, so that I not
only had failed, but became the butt of the jokes of the boys of the
neighborhood, who already held a pique against me for my serious ways
and my habit of rebuking certain vices amongst them. I was jeered at
as the boy "who left his mother to seek religion," and this made life
for a time almost intolerable. But it was in part compensated for by
the change in the situation in the household. It was clear that I
had ceased to be the boy I used to be, and that I was to be taken
seriously, and reasoned with rather than flogged. I had escaped from
the pupa state of existence. But what I still look back to with
surprise was my unflinching confidence in the future to which I
committed myself in this escapade. I thought I was right, and that the
aspiration for spiritual freedom, which was the chief motive of my
leaving home, was certain to be supported by Providence, to whom I
looked with serene complacence. If my companion had not deserted me I
should not have turned back, but his defection destroyed all my plans.
In several of my maturer ventures, I can recognize the same mental
condition of serene indifference to danger while doing what I thought
my duty, owing, perhaps, in a great measure to ignorance or incapacity
to realize the danger, but also largely to ingrained confidence in an
overruling Providence which took account of my steps and would carry
me through.



Whether on account of the escapade related in the preceding chapter
or from influences of which I knew, and still know, nothing, it was
decided not long after that I should go to New York to attend a public
school there and live with my eldest brother, who, being twenty-five
years older than myself, and childless, had always treated me with an
indulgence which was perhaps due in part to the rigor of my father's
rule, and in part to his fondness for me, of which I retain some early
recollections in his annual visits home. My brother's wife, a fellow
townswoman of ours, and a marriage-convert to the Seventh Day Baptist
Church, was one of the most disagreeable persons I have ever had to
deal with, and hysterical to a degree of occasional insanity. She had
adopted the severities of our Puritanic system with aggravations. The
Sabbath under her rule became a day of preatonement for the sins I was
foreordained to commit. Dinner, as was the general custom in those
days, was at noon, but on Saturday I had none till I had committed to
heart and recited a portion of Scripture, and as the mental apathy
of the period still weighed on me, the task of the Seventh Day was a
sarcastic comment on the divine rest, in commemoration of which it was
supposed to be instituted, and it made me grateful for the Sunday,
which I generally passed in mechanical occupations in the workshop of
my third brother, Paul, the foreman of the department in which the
minor articles of the works were made, steam-gauges, models of
inventions, etc., and as I had my share of the family manual
dexterity, I found interest enough in the workshop. As my brothers
always observed the Sabbath rigidly, they attracted around them a few
of the New England mechanics who were "Sabbath-keepers" and mostly
related to us, and so we had a small congregation and a church of our
way of thinking.

The school to which I was sent was one of those founded by the Public
School Society, a voluntary association of well-to-do citizens, who,
in the absence of any municipal initiative, had organized themselves
for the encouragement and support of primary education. As they
were originally excluded from the management of the schools, the
politicians, finding this a new field of operations and partisan
activity, presently established the rival system of the municipal
schools called "ward schools." At that time the political intrigues of
the Catholic Church for the control of the public school system had
just begun. The Public School Society had been organized for the free
and non-sectarian education of all children unable to meet the expense
of education in the private schools, and received subsidies from the
municipality. Not only were all children under sixteen admitted to
these schools without any fees, but the books, stationery, and all
other material necessary were furnished gratuitously, and those who
were shoeless were even provided with shoes, the only requisites
being cleanliness and regular attendance. The direction was rigidly
non-sectarian. The trustees were unpaid, and they comprised many of
the leading citizens interested in popular education. They had built
for their service sixteen schoolhouses in New York, and in each of
these there were on an average a thousand children. The schoolhouses,
of three stories, had a primary department for such children as were
too young to be taught their letters or were not yet able to read and
write, and to them the basement was given, the second story to the
older girls, and the upper to the boys. The teaching for the boys'
department was limited to the elements of arithmetic, elementary
algebra, astronomy, and geometry, but within these limits the
education was thorough, and all who went through it were qualified for
places in offices or counting-rooms. The day was always opened by
the reading of Scripture and prayer by the principal or one of the
assistants, and this practice was made the ground of attack by the
Catholic politicians, who objected to the Protestant Bible, all the
school-books being already expurgated of every passage to which the
bishops objected.

As our assistant principal was a Catholic, and often had to read the
chapter, there could have been little harm done even to a Catholic
pupil, but the political pressure was sufficient to induce the
corporation of the city to adopt the political or "ward school"
system, controlled by the politicians, and the new schools, one of
which was or was to be established in each ward of the city, began to
run an active opposition to the society schools, which they eventually
drove out of existence.

At the time I was in the school, the interference of politics had just
begun to make itself felt in the schools, but the corporation had not
the courage to introduce its system on a large scale by supplanting
_en bloc_ the society schools, which might have made a political
revolt; the Irish Catholic influence was still a feeble one, and the
population at large was hardly aware of its tendency, but as the
ward schools were gradually brought into active competition with the
society schools the children were drawn off from the latter by various
inducements and pressure on the parents. Each of our schools had four
paid teachers--the principal, an assistant, and a junior and a senior
monitor; and the elder pupils were employed in the instruction of the
younger and in the preservation of order in school and in the school
yard during the intermissions in which the gymnastics were enforced.
My mental apathy must have been still very profound, for I remember
that it often happened that when a question which had passed other
pupils came to me in the class, the senior monitor used to address me,
"Well, stupid, what do you say?" I evidently was the most stupid boy
in the class--nothing seemed to penetrate my mental dullness, but,
having grown tall and strong for my age, I was often made "yard
monitor," to keep order during the physical training.

There was a gang of young ruffians, street boys, who used to hang
around the school gates and maltreat the stragglers and even the boys
in the yard, if the gate was left open, and I remember one day three
or four of them invading the school-yard after I had dismissed the
boys to go upstairs at the end of the intermission, thinking that they
would have a fine game with the monitor. One made a pretext to quarrel
with me, and, gripping me round the body, called to his companions to
go and get some stones to pound me on the head with, this being the
approved manner of the young roughs of New York. Finding that I could
not extricate myself from his grip, I dragged him to the wall, and,
catching him by the ears, beat his head against the rough stones until
he dropped insensible, when, to the astonishment of his comrades,
instead of stamping on him and finishing him at once, I ran upstairs
as fast as my legs could carry me, so that when they came with their
stones they had only their champion to carry out.

On the holidays there were generally stone-fights between the boys of
our quarter and one of the adjoining quarters, and I shall carry to
my grave the scars on my head of cuts received in one of these field
combats, in which I refused to follow my party in flight, and took the
onslaught of the whole vanguard of the enemy, armed with stones,
and had my head pounded yellow, being only saved from worse by the
intervention of the men of the vicinity. This fight gave me the
unmerited reputation of courage and fighting power, and I was
thereafter unmolested by the young roughs, though, in fact, I was
timid to a degree and only stood my ground from nervous obstinacy; I
never provoked a quarrel, and only revolted against a bully when
the position became intolerable. I can remember the amazement of a
companion older than myself, who had been in the habit of bullying me
freely, until one day he went too far and I took him by the collar and
shook and swung him till he was dizzy and begged for mercy, for of
downright pugilistics I knew nothing, and a deliberate blow in the
face with my fist in cold blood was a measure too brutal to enter into
my mind.

The dreariness of this portion of my life was beyond description. The
oppression of my sister-in-law at home, the severities of the teachers
at school, and the exclusion from the influences of nature, in which
I had so long lived without restraint, resulted in an attack of
nostalgia which, when the coming of the first wildflowers brought it
to a crisis, induced my brother to send me home.

My brother was attached to me, but the jealousy of his wife towards
anybody who seemed to have any influence over him made it impossible
for him to show any feeling even to me, for it brought on furious
attacks of hysteria, to appease which he had sometimes to resort to
humiliating devices. One day she became so excited that she fell into
an extreme prostration and declared that she was dying. She had every
indication, indeed, of approaching dissolution, and made her last
dispositions, when my brother Charles, who was the family physician,
seeing that the danger was real, assured her husband that unless some
diversion of her humor was effected she would die. He advised
exciting her jealousy, and her husband, accordingly, as if taking
her dispositions for his conduct after her death, asked her what she
thought of his marrying, in that contingency, a certain lady, whose
name he mentioned, whereupon she rose in her bed in such a rage at the
suggestion (the woman being her especial detestation) that she threw
off all the symptoms of illness, and the next day went about the house
as usual. This cure proved a grave misfortune to the whole family.

In spite of my aversion I was sent back to New York the next autumn
for another winter's schooling. I landed from the steamer at the foot
of Cortlandt Street two or three days after a great fire in New York,
and I saw the ruins still smoking and the firemen playing on them.
My baggage--a biscuit box, with my scanty wardrobe and a bag of
hickory-nuts for my city cousins--I carried on my shoulders and walked
the length of the city, my brother living in what was then farther New
York, in Seventh Street, near the East River. At that time Fourteenth
Street was the extreme limit of the city's growth, except for a few
scattering residences. Beyond, and, on the East River side, even most
of what lay beyond Seventh Street, was unreclaimed land. I sailed my
toy boats on the salt marshes where Tompkins Square now is, and I used
to shoot, botanize, and hunt for crystals all over the island beyond
Thirty-Second Street, the land being sparsely inhabited. I discovered
a little wild cactus growing freely amongst the rocks, and carried
a handkerchief full of it home, getting myself well pricked by the
spines, but to my botanical enthusiasm this was nothing in view of the
discovery. Only here and there patches of arable land maintained small
farmhouses, but the greater part of the surface of Manhattan Island
was composed of a poor grazing land, interspersed with rolling ledges
of bare granite, on which were visible what were then known as
"diluvial scratches," which my brother Charles, who was an ardent
naturalist, explained to me as the grooves made by the irruption of
the deluge, which carried masses of stone across the broad ledges and
left these scratches, then held widely as testimony to the actuality
of the great deluge of Genesis. I think that we had to wait for
Agassiz to show us that the "diluvial scratches" were really glacial
abrasions, caused by the great glacier which came down the valley of
the Hudson and went to sea off Sandy Hook. At this time my brother was
making conchology his special study, and many holidays we spent on the
harbor, dredging for shells, and great was our joy when he discovered
a new species, which was named after him by the Lyceum of Natural
History of New York.

The following year my fifth brother, Jacob, on leaving college, took
charge of a school in the centre of New York State, built by the
Sabbatarian community at large, in De Ruyter, a village of which many
of the inhabitants were Sabbatarians, and it was decided that I should
go there to follow my studies in preparation for college. I was to
"board out" a debt which an uncle owed to my eldest brother, and
which was uncollectible in any other way, and there I made my first
acquaintance with semi-independent life, exchanging a home for a
dormitory and a boarding-house. My uncle was to supply also my
bedding, the academy being provided with bedsteads; but he was a
heedless man, and I remember that I had to sleep six weeks on the
bed-cords, with my wearing apparel as my only covering, before he
awoke to the fact that I had a prepaid claim on him for mattress and
bedding. But we were on the edge of a great forest, and in the almost
primeval woodland I found compensation for many discomforts, and what
time my tasks spared me was spent wandering there. The persistent
apathy which had oppressed me for so many years still refused to lift,
and my stupidity in learning was such that my brother threatened to
send me home as a disgrace to the family. I had taken up Latin again,
algebra, and geometry, and, though I was up by candlelight in the
morning, and rarely put my books away till after ten at night except
for meals, it was impossible for me to construe half of the lesson
in Virgil, and the geometry was learned by rote. I at length gave up
exercise to gain time for study, and my despairing struggles were
misery. I was then fourteen, and in the seventh year of this darkness,
and it seemed to me hopeless.

What happened I know not, but about the middle of the first term the
mental fog broke away suddenly, and before the term ended I could
construe the Latin in less time than it took to recite it, and the
demonstrations of Euclid were as plain and clear as a fairy story. My
memory came back so completely that I could recite long poems after
a single reading, and no member of the class passed a more brilliant
examination at the end of the term than I. At the end of the second
term I could recite the whole of Legendre's geometry, plane and
spherical, from beginning to end, without a question, and the class
examination was recorded as the most remarkable which the academy
had witnessed for many years. I have never been able to conceive an
explanation of this curious phenomenon, which I record only as of
possible interest to some one interested in psychology. Unfortunately,
the academy failed to meet the expenses, and at the end of my second
term the students dispersed to their homes, I going with great regret,
for I enjoyed intensely this life on the edge of a large natural
forest, through which ran a trout brook, and in which such wild
woodland creatures as still survived our civilization were tolerably
abundant. Amongst my fellow-students at De Ruyter was Charles Dudley
Warner, with whom I contracted a friendship which survives in
activity, though our paths in life have been since widely separated.
I recall him as a sensitive, poetical boy,--almost girlish in his
delicacy of temperament,--and showing the fine _esprit_ which has
made him one of the first of our humorists. His "Being a Boy" is a
delightful and faithful record of the existence of a genuine
New England boy, which will remain to future generations as a
paleontological record when the race of them is extinct, if indeed it
be not so already.

Returning to Schenectady, I found that the family had begun to
discuss the future of my career, which had arrived at the point of
divergences. My father, who had no opinion of the utility of advanced
education for boys in our station, was tenacious in his intention to
have me in his workshop, where he needed more apprentices, but my
mother was still more obstinate in hers that I should have the
education; and in the decision the voices of my brothers were too
potent not to hold the casting vote. In the stern, Puritanical manner
of the family, I had been more or less the _enfant gate_ of all its
members, except my brother Paul, the third of my brothers, who, coming
into the knowledge of domestic affairs at the time when the family was
at its greatest straits, had expressed himself bitterly at my birth,
over the imprudence of our parents' increasing their obligations when
they were unable to provide for the education of the children they had
already, and had always retained for me a little of the bitterness of
those days. On the whole, the vote of the family council was for the
education. My own wishes were hardly consulted, for I differed from
both opinions, having an intense enthusiasm for art, to which I wished
to devote myself.

The collective decision, in which my father and myself were alike
overruled, was that I should go to Union College, in Schenectady,
as the collegiate education was supposed to be a facilitation for
whatever occupation I might afterwards decide on. This was, so far as
I was concerned, a fatal error, and one of a kind far too common in
New England communities, where education is estimated by the extent
of the ground it covers, without relation to the superstructure to
be raised on it. I had always been a greedy reader of books, and
especially of histories and the natural sciences,--everything in the
vegetable or animal world fascinated me,--and I had no ambition for
academic honors, nor did I ever acquire any, but I passionately
desired a technical education in the arts, and the decision of the
family deferred the first steps in that direction for years, and
precisely those years when facility of hand is most completely
acquired and enthusiasm against difficulties is strongest--the years
when, if ever, the artist is made.

That one of the gravest difficulties in our modern civilized life
is the excessive number of liberally educated young men whose
professional ambitions are, and can be, given no outlet, is now well
recognized, and of these, many no doubt, like myself, are diverted
from a natural bent to follow one which has no natural leading or
sequence. It was very possible for a clever man three hundred years
ago to learn all that science could show him without interference with
the acquisition of the special knowledge required to fit him for the
attainment of eminence in a technical study, or the technical mastery
in the working it out, but now the range of a liberal education is
so great that those who are required to take respectable rank in a
specialty must devote themselves exclusively to it, during the years
in which alone technical mastery is possible of acquirement. There
will always be many to whom the devotion to study for study's sake is
invincible, but the ranks of the brain-workers are so overcrowded that
it is a great pity to force into them a man or woman who would be
content to be a worker in another and humbler line, especially in
those of the manual occupations which bring their happiness in the
following of them. In my case the result of the imposed career was a
disaster; I was diverted from the only occupation to which I ever had
a recognizable calling, and ultimately I drifted into journalism,
as the consequence of a certain literary facility developed by the
exercises of the college course. The consequences were the graver that
I was naturally too much disposed to a vagrant life; and the want of
a dominant interest in my occupation led to indulgence, on every
occasion that offered in later life, of the tendency to wander. I came
out of the experience with a divided allegiance, enough devotion to
letters to make it a satisfaction to occupy myself with them, but
too much interest in art to be able to abandon it entirely. Before
entering college, art was a passion, but when, at the age of twenty,
the release gave me the liberty to throw myself into painting, the
finer roots of enthusiasm were dead, and I became only a dilettante,
for the years when one acquires the mastery of hand and will which
make the successful artist were past.

It was decided that I should continue my preparation for college in
the Lyceum of my native town, a quaint octagonal building in which the
students were seated in two tiers of stalls, the partitions between
which were on radii drawn from a centre on the master's desk, so that
nothing the pupil did escaped his supervision. The larger boys, some
of whom were over sixteen, were in a basement similarly arranged with
a single tier of desks, and I earned my instruction by supervising
this room. I had here full authority so far as the maintenance of
order was concerned and kept it, though some of the pupils were
older than myself. I remember that one of them, about my own age and
presumed strength, but himself convinced of his superiority, repeated
some act which I had reprimanded him for, and as I knew that to allow
it to pass unpunished was to put an end to my authority and position,
yet did not feel competent or authorized to give him a regular
flogging, I caught him by the collar and jerked him into the middle of
the room, setting him down on the floor with force enough to bewilder
him a little, and ordered him to sit there till I released him, and
his surprise was such that he actually did not move till I told him
to. I met no attempt to put my authority at defiance after that. A
schoolfellow here and classmate in college was Chester A. Arthur,
afterward President of the United States, a brilliant Hellenist, and
one of the best scholars and thinkers in the class.

There were two associate principals at the head of the school, one for
the classics, and the other for mathematics. Of the former I became
a favorite on account of the facility with which I got on in his
branches, and when the year was up I passed easily the examinations
for entrance into college, and by his advice entered in the freshman
year, though fairly well prepared to enter the sophomore with slight
conditions. He was anxious that I should do him credit in college. But
long before the term was out I found that the routine gave me hardly
an occupation. I had already done all the mathematics of the year at
De Ruyter, and the Latin and Greek came so easy that I found myself
idle most of my time. I decided to try a fresh examination in order to
gain a year by reentering as a sophomore. The faculty declared such a
thing unprecedented and inadmissible, to which I replied that I would
then go to another college and enter, quite oblivious of the fact that
I had neither the means nor the consent of my family to leave its
protection and go to another city. The classical principal of the
Lyceum, who was also a tutor in the college, did what he could to
dissuade me, but I persisted and offered myself for examination, and
found him on the examining committee. He was really fond of me, and in
my own interest wanted me to go through college with honors, but this
was to me of trivial importance, compared with the abbreviation by a
year of the captivity of college life. He punished me by putting me to
read for examination a passage of Juvenal, which I had never opened,
as it did not come in the course even of the sophomores, but I passed
fairly well on it, and he, with a little irritation, gave me the
certificate, saying that it was not for what I did, but for what
he knew me to be capable of. So, conditioned by some trivial
supplementary examinations on subjects which I do not remember, I went
up a class.

The constitution of Union College, like most of the American schools
of the highest grade at that time, differed from that of the English
model in some respects very widely. The "University" of Union was
completed by collegated schools for medicine, divinity, law, and
technical education. The medical and law schools of Union were at
Albany, the capital of New York State. Our college buildings were
three--one, West College, in the town, for the freshman and sophomore
classes, and two on the hill above the town, North and South colleges,
for the juniors and seniors. As a large proportion of the students
were young men to whom the expenses of the education were a serious
matter, many prepared themselves at home to enter the junior class, so
that a class which only numbered a score as freshmen, often graduated
a hundred. Others, again, used to spend the winter term and vacations
in teaching in the rural or "district" schools to pay the expenses
of the other terms, and the majority of the graduates were of these
classes of men, often adults on entering, so that the class gathered
seriousness as it went on.

The freshmen and sophomores, delegated to the care of the junior
professors and tutors, indulged in many of the escapades of juvenility
for which university life in most countries is distinguished, and were
continually brought under the inflictions of college discipline, and
now and then some one was expelled. The favorite tricks of getting a
horse or cow into the recitation rooms, fastening the tutors in their
rooms just before the class hours, tying up, or stealing, the
bell which used to wake the students and call them to prayers or
recitations, with rare and perilous excursions into the civic domain,
or a fire alarm caused by setting fire to the outhouses, which always
brought down on us the wrath of the firemen, varied the monotony of
the student life, as everywhere else; but as I roomed at home for the
first year I never had part in these escapades, and in my sophomore
winter I took a district school in one of the valleys tributary to
that of the Mohawk, in which the town lies.

The community in which the school was situated was almost exclusively
composed of Scotch Cameronians, of whom several families were the
descendants of a then still vigorous patriarch of the sternest type of
that creed. It was necessary to pass a special examination to get the
State certificate necessary to teach a district school, and this I had
passed, but had still to undergo the questioning of the trustees of
the district, canny and cautious beyond the common. The wages for such
a school were twelve dollars a month and "board around," i.e. staying
at the houses of the parents a week for each pupil in turn, beginning
with those in best estate, so that, as the school had never less than
twenty or thirty pupils, the poorer families were never called on. One
of the boys intended to go to college, and his father was willing to
pay a special contribution to secure a teacher of Latin, and this
brought my wages up to sixteen dollars a month. But the cautious Scots
urged a conditional engagement,--a trial of one month,--a condition
which, as I might have anticipated, would end the engagement with
the month, considering the composition of the district and the usual
difference of views among the people. The two most advanced and oldest
of the pupils belonged to families bound together by the most cordial
jealousy which a petty community could inspire, and one of these was
my Latin pupil. His rival was a lazy student and a turbulent scholar,
with whom I had difficulties from insubordination from the beginning.
As, however, I had adopted the rule of depending entirely on moral
suasion in the government of the school and refused to flog, but
instead offered prizes for good behavior and studiousness at my own
expense for each week, my confidence in the better qualities of human
nature betrayed me from the beginning. The prizes went to stimulate
the jealousies between the two leaders, and the only punishment I
would inflict, that of sending the pupil home for disobedience, made
domestic difficulties.

The first week of the month I was boarded in the family of our
patriarch, whose grandsons furnished a number of the pupils, and the
life they led me was not one to make me regret the termination of the
engagement. I was awaked while it was still night to join in family
prayers, which were of a severity of which I had never dreamed. First
a long selection of Psalms was read, then another long one sung, and
then a prayer which, as I noticed by the clock, varied from ten to
twelve minutes, through which, being still drowsy, I slept, being
awakened by the family rising from their knees. This was the
invariable routine gone through twice a day. As in our own family,
with the exception of the Saturday morning family service, the
devotions were always those of the closet, this tedium of godliness
was a serious infliction. I was waked out of sound sleep, and bored
through, before breakfast, by vain repetitions lasting on an average
half an hour, after having endured the same for another half-hour
before being allowed to go to bed. No escape was permitted even to the
ill-willing, and it may easily be imagined that this addendum to
the annoyances of my school hours made the position of the
district schoolmaster one for which sixteen dollars a month was no

The conflicts in the school, if they gave me less tedium, were all
the more acute. My Latin scholar was a lad who meant to profit by his
opportunities and devoted himself to his studies, and, naturally, had
a most cordial collaboration on my part, while the son of the rival
citizen was both lazy and refractory, so that, with my system of
inflicting no corporal punishments, he got none of the weekly prizes,
and got such milder punishments as could be inflicted. To tell the
truth, the pupils who were refractory to my system were few in
proportion, and the school was a pleasanter place than if the rod had
been always in hand, as in the days of my boyhood. But the month of
trial did not elapse without signs of a storm brewing in the valley.
My novel system of sparing the rod and spoiling the children could not
fail to provoke the disapproval of the orthodox, and the head of the
conspiracy was the father of my lazy schoolboy.

I left the valley for a visit home, on the last week of the month on
Friday night, and started back on foot, a walk of fifteen or twenty
miles, on Sunday afternoon, too late for convenience as I discovered
in the event. That portion of the valley of the Mohawk, a broad and
level plain, is bounded on the west by a range or ranges of hills
divided by deep valleys running north and south, perpendicular to the
course of the river, and in one of these valleys lay the township of
Princeton, in the middle of which was the schoolhouse, the farms of
the community being scattered over the hills around, and some of them
at distances of a mile or two. It was the head of the glen, and the
lay of the land was almost that of an amphitheatre, cannily chosen by
the father of the colony, the old Cameronian whose prayers and long
services grated so on my New England Puritanism. Before I turned out
of the Mohawk valley into that of Princeton, the sun had set, with all
the signs of a coming snowstorm, which broke on me suddenly in the
glen with a furious north wind tearing down the gorge and drifting the
snow as it fell, so that before I had gone a mile with the snow in my
face, it was almost impossible to force my way against snow and wind.
I wore a long Spanish cloak, such as was much in vogue then and there;
wrapping my face in it so that only my eyes were free, I fought on,
sometimes only able to walk backward from the cutting cold against my
face and eyes, making very slow progress; but it was Sunday night, and
the school must be opened at 9 A.M. on Monday. The snow gathered in
drifts often up to my middle, with bare, wind-swept spaces between,
and these drifts at times were crusted with wind-packed snow too hard
to be waded through, and I was obliged to break the snow crust by
throwing myself at full length on it. In this way I struggled on till
ten at night, when I came to a solitary house by the roadside, at
which I stopped to ask a night's lodging, for I could fight the
weather no longer. The house was dark and the family asleep, but I was
admitted. The bed given me was as cold as the snow outside, but it was
luxury compared to some of the quarters I had in my school district.
At one of the houses at which I had to take my turn, I remember that
there had been, as an afterthought of the house architect, a door
cut between the room I slept in and the farmyard, but, whether from
indifference or inability, the door had never been put in, and a
curtain which supplied its place and was intended to keep the snow
out, did it so incompletely that I found in the morning--after a snowy
night--that a heavy drift had formed between the opening and the bed.
In this room, too, I shared the bed of the hired man, who was paid the
same wages as mine, and in the eyes of the community was therefore in
every way my equal.

On reaching the schoolhouse the next morning, I found gathered there
not only a part of the scholars, but some of their parents,--including
the trustees of the school,--and was not long in learning that my
absence had been made use of by the disaffected of the district to
depose me. We had a brief debate, not on the question whether I should
go or not, but on the grounds of disaffection. The father of my lazy
boy was, of course, the spokesman, and it seemed as if he resented his
son's not being flogged, for want of discipline and partiality were
the burden of his complaint. This gave me ample opportunity for a
statement of my principles in instruction, and to say that his son was
the laziest and most stupid boy in the school, and that instruction
was wasted on him, and to contrast his progress and qualities
with those of my Latin boy. It was malicious, I admit, but it was
successful in infuriating the debate, and as I saw by the gathering
that the majority had decided to avail themselves of the month's
conditional engagement to dismiss me, I was quite indifferent to the
discord I left behind me.

"It's all very fine for you," said my antagonist, whose Scotch I will
not attempt to reproduce, "to sit up there on your desk and get your
sixteen dollars a month, as if you were a hard-working man,"--to which
I replied, "Perhaps you think you can come up here and earn it." As I
was quite indifferent to the dismissal, and only did not avail myself
of the privilege of going because I always had an obstinate way of
sticking to a thing I had begun till it was finished, I made no
attempt to conciliate, and it was with neither surprise nor serious
annoyance that I received my notice of dismissal. The only things I
had enjoyed, indeed, during the month, had been the walks through
the dense forest from the farmhouses to the schoolhouse in the quiet
sunshine of the winter mornings. The woods were more natural and older
than those around my home, and there was a freshness in the early
day which I never had realized so fully as in these morning walks to
school, and I shall always remember the snowy silence of that forest,
the first, on that scale, I had become familiar with.

But the poverty of the lives of these prosperous farmers was a
revelation even to me, accustomed as I was to a domestic simplicity
which would surprise modern Americans of any degree. New books were
a luxury none of them indulged in; beyond the Bible and two or three
volumes of general information, there was no reading except a weekly
newspaper, and the diet was such as I had never been used to, even at
De Ruyter. But for the vegetables of the farm, sailors at sea would
fare better than these landsmen. In later years I boarded with one of
the farmers in an adjoining valley, where I was engaged in painting a
cascade of great beauty, and for the six weeks I lived in the family I
saw only two articles of animal food--salt mackerel for breakfast and
salt pork for dinner. The narrowness of intellectual range and the
bigotry--political and religious--prevailing amongst them was such as
I had in no experience ever encountered, even in the "straitest sect
of the Pharisees," the Seventh Day Baptist Church of my youth. In the
community in which I had grown, there was always the early influence
of the sea to widen the range of thought and sympathy, but here, in
the narrow valley to which the farmer was confined, neither nature nor
religion seemed to have any liberating or liberalizing power. A
sturdy independence was the dominant trait of character, but this
independence was converted into a self-enslavement by the narrow range
of thought which everywhere prevailed. The old Cameronian patriarch,
in his sectarian exaltation, seemed almost a luminary in the
intellectual twilight of that secluded community, and it was possible
there to understand how even a narrow religious fanaticism could
become an ennobling element in the character of a community living in
such a restricted and materializing atmosphere. A few weeks in such
a state of society enables one to understand better the irresistible
attraction of cities and the life in the midst of multitudes to the
rustic, born and raised in the back-water stagnation of a rural life
like that of the farmers of my school district.

The remaining two months of the broken term of the college course and
the better part of the vacation were spent in my father's workshop,
where the work was rather pressing and the shop short-handed. My
father's business was mainly the manufacture of certain mechanical
implements for which he and his brother held the patents, and in the
spring and autumn he was accustomed to carry the consignments of them
to his customers in New York. His workshop was resorted to by several
ingenious fellow New Englanders who had inventions to work out, and in
the execution of these I was found useful. Among these was one Daniel
Ball, whose specialty was locks, of which he invented, patented,
and sold the patents of a new one every year, all worked out in my
father's shop. Ball was a man of remarkable mechanical ingenuity and
extraordinary profanity--of a savage temper, and very exclusive in his
human sympathies; but he had a profound reverence for my father, of
whom he used to say that "Old Joe Stillman was the only honest man God
ever made," and I am inclined to think, looking back on a long life
and wide experience in men of all classes and many nations, that Ball
was justified in the esteem he held my father in, though admissibly
wrong in his exclusiveness,--for I cannot recall, in all my memories
of the old man, a single instance of his hesitating over the most
trivial transaction in which a question of honesty was involved, and I
have known him to relinquish his clear rights rather than to provoke
a disagreement with a neighbor. He had a profound aversion to any
ostentation of religious fervor, as had my mother. If he had lived
to-day he would certainly have been an advanced evolutionist; even
then his liberality in matters of doctrine and his unbounded charity
towards all differences of opinion in religious questions used to
cause my mother great anxiety as to his orthodoxy. He thought
the fields and woods better places to pass the Sabbath in than a
meeting-house, and this was a subject of great pain to her, the more
that he developed the same feeling in me; but he never deferred in
these matters to anybody, and never held a shade of that reverence for
the clergy which was almost a passion in my mother's nature. While of
an extreme tenderness of heart to all suffering or hardship outside
the family, even towards animals, his domestic discipline was brutal
and narrow. In the latter respect he was a survival of the old New
England system; in the former, himself.


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