The Gentleman from Everywhere
James Henry Foss
Part 1 out of 4
Produced by Ted Garvin, Josephine Paolucci and the Online Distributed
THE GENTLEMAN FROM EVERYWHERE
JAMES HENRY FOSS
MY BELOVED, ON EARTH AND IN HEAVEN,
THIS BOOK IS
MOST AFFECTIONATELY DEDICATED
IN THE EARNEST HOPE THAT
BY ITS PERUSAL
Many sailing o'er life's solemn main,
Forlorn and shipwrecked brothers, may take heart again.
I. Launching of My Life Boat
II. My First Voyage
III. Near to Nature's Heart
IV. Joys and Sorrows of School-Days
V. Career of a Dominie-Pedagogue
VI. Dreams of My Youth
VII. A Disenchanted Collegian-Preacher
VIII. In Shadow Land
IX. Sunlight and Darkness in Palace and Cottage
XI. Adventures in Mosquito Land
XI. In Arcadie
XII. From Philistine to Benedict and a Honeymoon
XIII. The Angels of Life and Death
XIV. Tribulations of a Widower
XV. Faith Sees a Star
XVI. On the Political Stump
XVII. That _Eddyfying_ Christian Science
XVIII. In the Land of Flowers
XIX. Sunbeam, The Seminole
XX. A Founder of Towns and Clubs
XXI. A Million Dollar Business with a One Dollar Capital
XXII. Pendulum 'twixt Smiles and Tears
XXIII. Monarch of all He Surveyed: Then Deposed,
XXIV. Foregleams of Immortality
XXV. A Practical Socialist and Colonizer
XXVI. Hand in Hand with Angels
XXVII. Among the Law-Sharks
XXVIII. Campaigning in Wonderland
XXIX. Among the Clouds
XXX. Disenchanted: Home Again
XXXI. The Florida Crackers
XXXII. Looking Forward
[Illustration: [cursive] Your friend, the Author
James H. Foss]
LAUNCHING OF MY LIFE-BOAT.
Wild was the night, yet a wilder night
Hung around o'er the mother's pillow;
In her bosom there waged a fiercer fight
Than the fight on the wrathful billow.
Already there were more children than potatoes in her hut of logs, and
yet, another unwelcome guest was coming, to whom fate had ordained
that it would have been money in his pocket had he never been born.
A sympathizing neighbor held over the suffering woman an umbrella to
shield her from the rain which poured through the dilapidated roof,
and when the dreary light of that Sunday morning dawned, my frail bark
was launched on the stormy, sullen sea of life.
My father, a good man, but a ne'er-do-well financially, had loaned his
best clothes, watch and pocketbook to a friend to enable him to call
on his best girl in captivating style, and said friend expressed his
gratitude by eloping with the girl and all the borrowed finery.
That same night the boom broke, and allowed all the savings of our
family invested in logs, cut by my father and his lumbermen, to float
down the river and be lost in the sea.
Thus storm, flood, calamity and sorrow, far in advance heralded the
future of myself, the fourth son of a fourth son who, on that Sunday,
in the dog-days of 1841, reluctantly came into this world.
The howling of the wolves in the surrounding wild-woods, the screaming
of the catamounts in the near-by tree-tops, the sterile dog-star
drying up the crops, the marching of my father to fight in the
threatened Aroostook war, all conspired for months before this fateful
night to awaken a restlessness, discontent, and gloomy forebodings in
the lonely mother's heart which prenatal influences impressed upon the
mind of the baby yet unborn.
All through that wretched summer, scorching drought alternating
with cloud-bursts vied with each other in blasting the hopes of the
farmers, and premature frost destroyed the few remaining stalks of
corn, so that when the winter snows came, gaunt famine stared our
family fiercely in the face.
My father and three brothers faced the withering storms bravely,
unpacking their internal stores of sunshine, as the camel in the
desert draws refreshment from his inner tank when outward water fails.
We were isolated from human companionship, except when occasionally
the doctor came on the tops of the fences and branches of the
pine-trees to soothe the pains of my sickly mother. At this time the
snow was so deep that a tunnel was cut to the neighboring hovel where
shivered our ancient horse and cow.
My father and brothers tramped with snare and gun on snow-shoes
through the woods, securing occasionally a partridge or squirrel, and
semi-occasionally a deer, or pickerel from the lake. On one of these
occasions, two of my brothers and the dog met with an adventure which
nearly gave them deliverance from all earthly sorrows. As they faced
the terrible cold of a January morning, the wailing of the winds in
the tree-tops, and the few flying snowflakes foreboded a storm which
burst upon them in great fury while about two miles from home.
Bewildered and benumbed, they dug a hole in the snow down to the
earth, and were soon buried many feet deep, thus affording them some
relief from the cold; but they nearly famished with hunger and gave
themselves up for lost. Suddenly, the dog, who was huddled with them
for warmth, jumped away whining and scratching in great excitement.
He refused to obey their orders to be still and die in peace, but,
digging for some minutes, his claws struck a tree, then, rushing over
the boys and back again to the trees repeatedly, he roused them from
their lethargy to follow him; but nothing was visible but a hole in a
tree through which the dog jumped and barked furiously.
Cutting the hole larger with their axe, they found the interior to be
dry punk, which at once suggested the exhilarating thought of a fire,
and soon a delightful heat from the burning drywood permeated their
snow cave, the smoke being more endurable than the previous cold. All
at once they heard a strange snorting and scratching above in the
tree with whines which drove the dog wild with excitement, then,
with burning embers and suffocating smoke, down came a huge animal,
well-nigh breaking the necks of frantic dog and "rubbering" boys.
After this came the tug of war. Teeth, axe, gun, fire, dog, bear, and
boys all mixed up in a fight to the finish. Finally, as bruin was not
fully recovered from the comatose state of his winter hibernating,
after many scratches and thumps, cuts and shots, came the survival of
Not even imperial Caesar, with the world at his feet, could have been
prouder than were boys and dog when they looked at their prostrate
foe, and reflected that this conquest meant the physical salvation
of our entire family. Soon the chips flew from the tree, and over a
cheerful fire they roasted and devoured bear steaks to repletion.
Digging to the surface, they found that the storm had subsided, and
rigging a temporary sled from the boughs of the tree, they dragged
home this "meat in due season."
All through the hours of the following night the wolves, attracted by
the scent of blood, howled and scratched frantically around the hut,
calling for their share in that "chain of destruction," by which the
laws of the universe have ordained that all creatures shall subsist.
The infant, of course, joined lustily in the chorus until the boys
almost wished themselves back in their shroud of snow.
So, with alternate feasting and fasting we passed the long weeks of
that Arctic winter until the frogs in the neighboring swamp crying:
"Knee deep, knee deep," and "better go round, better go round,"
proclaimed the season of freshets when the vast plain below us was
traversible only in boats. Then the birds returned from the far South,
but brought no seed-time or harvest, for that was the ever to be
remembered "Year without a summer," and but for the wild ducks and
geese shot on the lake, and the wary and uncertain fish caught with
the hook, all human lives in that region would have returned to the
invisible from whence they came.
It seemed as if chaos and dark night had come back to those wild
woods. The migratory fever seized upon us all, and my parents
determined to seek some unknown far away, to sail to the beautiful
land of somewhere, for they felt sure that--
Somewhere the sun is shining,
Elsewhere the song-birds dwell;
And they hushed their sad repining
In the faith that somewhere all is well.
Somewhere the load is lifted
Close by an open gate;
Out there the clouds are rifted,
Somewhere the angels wait.
MY FIRST VOYAGE.
My father and brothers constructed a "prairie schooner" from our
scanty belongings, and one forlorn morning in early autumn, with the
skeleton horse and cow harnessed tandem for motive power, we all set
sail for far-off Massachusetts.
We slept beneath our canopy of canvas and blankets; those of our
number able to do so worked occasionally for any who would hire,
but employers were few, as this was one of the crazy seasons in the
history of our Republic when the people voted for semi-free trade, and
the mill wheels were nearly all silent for the benefit of the mills of
foreign nations. They shot squirrels and partridges when ammunition
could be obtained, forded rivers, narrowly escaping drowning in the
swift currents, and suffered from chills and fever.
One dark night some gypsies stole our antediluvian horse and cow. The
barking of the faithful dog awakened father and brothers who rushed
to the rescue, leaving mother half dead with fear; but at length the
marauders were overtaken, shots were exchanged, heads were broken, and
after a fierce struggle and long wandering, lost in the woods, our
fiery steeds were once more chained to our chariot wheels.
The next day we came to a wide river which it was impossible to ford,
but mercy, which sometimes "tempers the blast to the shorn lamb," sent
us relief in the shape of an antiquated gundalow floating on the tide.
Like Noah and family of old, we managed to embark on this ancient ark,
and paddled to the further shore.
There we miraculously escaped the scalping knife and tomahawk. While
painfully making our way through the primeval forest, we were suddenly
saluted by the ferocious war-whoop, and a dozen Indians barred our
way, flourishing their primitive implements of warfare. A shot from
father's double-barreled gun sent them flying to cover, our steeds
rushed forward with a speed hitherto unknown, the prairie schooner
rocked like a boat in a cyclone, the mother shrieked, the _enfant
terrible_ howled like a bull of Bashan, and just as the "Red devils"
were closing in from the rear, the mouth of a cave loomed up in the
hillside into which dashed "pegasus and mooly cow" pell-mell.
Our red admirers halted almost at the muzzle of the gun and the blades
of my brothers' axes. Luckily the Indians had neither firearms nor
bows and arrows. They made rushes occasionally, but the shotgun
wounded several, the axes intimidated, and they seemed about to settle
down to a siege when, with a tremendous shouting and singing of
"Tippecanoe and Tyler too," a band of picturesquely arrayed white men
came marching along the trail. The enemy took to their heels, and we
learned that our rescuers had been to a William Henry Harrison parade
and barbecue, for this was the time of the famous "hard cider"
The Indians had been there too and, filling up with "fire water,"
their former war-path proclivities had returned to their "empty,
swept, and garnished" minds, to the extent that they yearned to
decorate their belts with our scalps.
Our preservers scattered to their homes, and the would-be scalpers
were seen no more, leaving the world to darkness and to us in the
woods. The woods, where Adam and Eve lived and loved, where Pan
piped, and Satyrs danced, the opera house of birds; the woods, green,
imparadisaical, mystic, tranquillizing--to the poet perhaps when all
is well--but to us, they seemed haunted by spirits of evil, the yells
of the demons seemed to echo and reecho; but an indefinable something
seemed to sympathize with the infinite pathos of our lives, and at
last sleep, "the brother of death," folded us in his arms, and the
"There is a place called Pillow-land,
Where gales can never sweep
Across the pebbles on the strand
That girds the Sea of Sleep.
'Tis here where grief lets loose the rein,
And age forgets to weep,
For all are children once again,
Who cross the Sea of Sleep.
The gates are ope'd at daylight close,
When weary ones may creep,
Lulled in the arms of sweet repose,
Across the Sea of Sleep.
Oh weary heart, and toil-worn hand,
At eve comes rest to thee,
When ply the boats to Pillow-land,
Across the Sleepy sea.
Thank God for this sweet Pillow-land,
Where weary ones may creep,
And breathe the perfume on the strand
That girds the Sea of Sleep."
It is pleasant in this sunset of life, to recall the testimony of my
brothers that through all those troublous scenes, father and mother
were soothed and consoled by an unfaltering faith in the ultimate
triumph of the good and true, that their faces were often illumined as
they repeated to each other those priceless words of the sweet singer,
"Drifting over a sunless sea, cold dreary mists encircling me,
Toiling over a dusty road with foes within and foes abroad,
Weary, I cast my soul on Thee, mighty to save even me,
Jesus Thou Son of God."
At last the "perils by land and perils by sea, and perils from false
brethren," this long, long journey ended and we reached the promised
land. We halted in old Byfield, in the state of Massachusetts, with
worldly goods consisting of a bushel of barberries, threadbare
toilets, and the ancient equipage dilapidated as aforesaid.
After much tribulation, father took a farm "on shares," which was
found to result in endless toil to us, and the lion's share of the
crops going to the owners, who toiled not, neither did they spin, but
reaped with gusto where we had sown.
After a few years of this profitless drudgery, my father bought an old
run-down farm with dilapidated buildings in the neighboring town of
R----, mortgaging all, and our souls and bodies besides, for its
payment. We hoped we had rounded the cape of storms which sooner or
later looms up before every ship which sails the sea of life, for we
had fully realized the truth of the poem--
We may steer our boats by the compass,
Or may follow the northern star;
We may carry a chart on shipboard
As we sail o'er the seas afar;
But, whether by star or by compass
We may guide our boats on our way,
The grim cape of storms is before us,
And we'll see it ahead some day.
How the prow may point is no matter,
Nor of what the cargo may be,
If we sail on the northern ocean,
Or away on the southern sea;
It matters not who is the pilot,
To what guidance our course conforms;
No vessel sails o'er the sea of life
But must pass the cape of storms.
Sometimes we can first sight the headland
On the distant horizon's rim;
We enter the dangerous waters
With our vessels taut and trim;
But often the cape in its grimness
Will before us suddenly rise,
Because of the clouds that have hid it
Or the blinding sun in our eyes.
Our souls will be caught in the waters
That are hurled at the storm cape's face;
Our pleasures and joys, our hopes and fears,
Will join in the maddening race.
Our prayers, desires, our penitent griefs,
Our longings and passionate pain,
Be dashed to spray on the stormy cape
And fly in our faces like rain.
But there's always hope for the sailor,
There is ever a passage through;
No life goes down at the cape of storms,
If the life and the heart lie true.
If in purpose the soul is steadfast,
If faithful in mind and in will,
The boat will glide to the other side,
Where the ocean of life is still.
[Illustration: "It was a Fair Scene of Tranquillity."]
NEAR TO NATURE'S HEART.
It seems but yesterday, although more than a half century ago, that I,
a puny boy, stood on the hilltop and looked for the first time upon
this, the earliest home of which I have any vivid recollection. It
was a fair scene of rustic tranquillity, where a contented mind might
delight to spend a lifetime mid hum of bees and low of kine.
Along the eastern horizon's rim loomed the blue sea beyond the sandy
dunes of old Plum Island; the lazy river born in babbling brooks and
bubbling springs flowing languidly mid wooded islands, and picturesque
stacks of salt hay, representing the arduous toil of farmers and
dry-as-dust fodder for reluctant cows. Nearer, the two church spires
of the little village, striving to lift the sordid minds of the
natives from earthly clods to the clouds, and where beckoning hands
strove vainly to inspire them with heavenly hopes; around them,
glistening in the sunlight, the marble slabs where sleep the rude
forefathers of the hamlet, some mute inglorious Miltons who came from
England in the early sixties, whose tombstones are pierced by rifle
bullets fired at the maraudering red skins. These are the cities of
the dead, far more populous than the town of the living.
Nearer, the willowy brook that turns the mill; to the south the dense
pine woods, peopled in our imaginations, with fairy elves, owls, and
hobgoblins--now, alas, owing to the rapacity of the sawmills, naught
but a howling wilderness of stumps and underbrush.
Directly below me, stands our half-century old house with its eaves
sloping to the ground, down which generations of boys had ruined their
pants in hilarious coasting; near by, the ancient well-swipe, and the
old oaken bucket which rose from the well; beyond this, of course,
as usual, the piggery and hennery to contaminate the water and breed
typhoid fever, and in the house cellar, the usual dampness from the
hillside to supply us all with rheumatism and chills.
There existed apparently in the early dawn of the nineteenth century,
an unwritten law which required the farmers to violate all the laws of
sanitation, and then to ascribe all ills the flesh is heir to, to the
mysterious will of an inscrutable Providence whose desire it was to
make the heart better by the sorrows of the countenance, and to save
the soul from hell by the punishment of the body. Vegetables were
allowed to rot in the cellars, and to make everybody sick with
their noxious odors so that we might not be too much wedded to this
transitory existence. Pork, beans, and cabbage must be devoured in
enormous quantities just before going to bed for the purpose of
inspiring midnight groans and prayers to be delivered from the pangs
of the civil war in the inner man.
This moralizing is inspired by the pessimism of disenchanted age; but
on that beautiful morning of the long ago, naught occurred to me
save the wedlock of earth and heaven: I was near to nature's heart,
listening to the ecstatic songs of the robins, the orioles and
sweetest of all the bobolink.
"Oh, winged rapture, feathered soul of spring:
Blithe voice of woods, fields, waters, all in one,
Pipe blown through by the warm, mild breath of June,
Shepherding her white flocks of woolly clouds,
The bobolink has come, and climbs the wind
With rippling wings that quiver not for flight
But only joy, or yielding to its will
Runs down, a brook of laughter through the air."
After the charm of the novelty of the scene had vanished, I descended
from my perch to explore this sleepy hollow: the barn door hung
suspended on a single hinge, like a bird with but one unbroken wing to
soar upon. The swallows twittered their love-songs under the eaves;
chipmunks scolded my intrusion and threw nuts at my head from the
beams; a lone, lorn hen proclaimed her triumph over a new laid egg,
and then, with fiery eyes, assaulted me with profanity as I filled
my hat with her choicest treasures. A litter of pigs scampered away,
wedging themselves into a hole in the wall, and hung there kicking and
squealing, while their indignant mother chased me up a ladder where
she hurled at me the vilest imprecations; a solitary Phoebe bird
wailed out her plaintive "pee wee, pee wee, pee whi itt," and a
newly-married pair of sandpipers chanted their song of the sea on the
edge of a mud puddle in the yard.
At last the infuriated sow went to liberate her wedged-in offspring,
leaving me to flee to the house where I cooked my eggs and some
ancient potatoes in the ashes of a fire smoldering in the wide old
fireplace. I have since eaten royal dinners in palatial hotels, but
nothing has ever tasted half as good as this extemporized lunch of my
Here the rest of the family found me later when they came bringing
their household goods; here I might have laid, broad and deep, the
foundations of a useful life, had I possessed even a modicum of the
stick-to-itiveness so essential to success.
A limited amount of discontent is a powerful stimulus to more
strenuous endeavor; but when you have intensity without continuity of
mental action, beware of imitating my example of progressing along the
lines of the least resistance; for if you do you will never attain
to that persistency of effort which can come only from overcoming
When my father gave me a moderate task of weeding onions, I soon
became tired of crawling on hands and knees under a scorching sun,
inundating the earth with perspiration and tears, so I substituted a
hoe for fingers, tearing up onions with the weeds that I might the
sooner secure unlimited rheumatism by bathing in the brook. Had
my father given me what he earnestly desired, and what I richly
deserved,--a sound spanking, and more weeding to do,--I might have
developed much needed perseverance, but spanking was never allowed by
my fond mother, and I became a shirk.
I was set to picking berries to replenish the family larder; but
this soon became monotonous, and I appropriated the old grain-sieve,
placing it beside the bushes, and pounding the huckleberries into it
with a stick; the result was a heterogeneous conglomeration of worms,
leaves, bugs, and crushed berries; but I succeeded in eliminating the
refuse by throwing the whole mass into a tub of water, and skimming
off the risings. I would then descant to buyers upon the freshness
of the berries wet with the dews of heaven, but my ruse was soon
discovered, and people refused to purchase such mucilaginous pulp.
Our widowed hired woman was possessed of a baby, and I was assigned
the task of rocking the cradle; but I soon sighed for the apple
blossoms and songs of birds,--we had no English sparrows then--so I
drove a nail into the cradle, tied to it the clothes-line, and went
out of doors and began pulling at the cord. Soon agonizing screams
were heard, and baby was found on the floor with the cradle pounding
on top of him.
I was sent to drive home the cows from pasture, but left the task to
the dog, who chased them over the wall into the corn-field where they
devastated the crop, and ruined the milk by devouring green apples,
while I, skylarking in a neighbor's pasture, was treed by an angry
bull, who kept me in the branches until I caught a violent cold and
became for weeks a family burden.
I was set to milking the cows, but I tied their tails to the beams,
applied a lemon-squeezer to their udders until everybody was aroused
by the bellowings of the infuriated beasts, and the milk and myself
were found carpeting the dirty floor.
At last all patience was exhausted, and as I was born on Sunday, and
was good for nothing else my parents, good, pious church-members,
concluded I must become a minister, consequently they sent me to
school. School! What memories come back to us over the arid wastes of
life at the very mention of this magic word! There is the place where
immortal minds are filled with loathing at the very sight of books,
or where the torch of learning is kindled, which burns on with
ever-increasing brightness forever more, and when I think of some of
the teachers of my youth I am reminded of what the wise pastor said to
a "stupid lunk-head" who had conceived the preposterous idea that he
was called to be a preacher. "What, you be a minister?"
"Yes," said the dunce, "are we not commanded in the holy book to
preach the gospel to every critter?"
"Verily," was the reply; "but every critter is not commanded to preach
So long as percentages obtained after "cramming" for examinations are
the criterions which decide the accepting or rejecting of candidates
for teaching positions, we must expect "critters" for the school
guides of our children, who, like some of my own tutors, will
"Ram it in, cram it in--
Children's heads are hollow;
Rap it in, tap it in--
Bang it in, slam it in
Calculus and mathematics,
Rhetoric and hydrostatics.
Stuff the school children, fill up the heads of them,
Send them all lesson-full home to the beds of them;
When they are through with the labor and show of it,
What do they care for it, what do they know of it?"
JOYS AND SORROWS OF SCHOOL-DAYS.
It was the custom in R----, and is now to quite an extent elsewhere,
to elect as school committee those especially noted for their
ignorance and unfitness for the duties, perhaps to keep them out of
the almshouse, or to educate them by the absorption process while
hearing pupils recite. These men were paid two dollars for each call
they made at schools, consequently they "called" early and often,
especially when the school ma'ams were young and pretty.
Here, as elsewhere, there was always a great fight at town-meetings
for these school board positions, especially when the school-book
agents became numerous, for these committees could secure from said
agents unlimited free books, and get high prices for all their
spavined horses, dried up cows, and sick pigs in return for voting for
As the committees were often unequal to the task of making out a
course of study, pupils selected what studies they pleased, as
suicidal a policy as it would be if, when you were sick and went
to the physician for relief, he should point to a lot of different
medicines, and tell you to pay your money, and take your choice.
As there was a cramming machine close by called an academy, whose sole
object was to push students into Harvard College, of course the common
schools must be "crammers" for the academy, and the result was, that
we had no educational institutions whatever, and mental dyspepsia
was well-nigh universal, a smattering of everything, a knowledge of
nothing. As well might we pour food into the mouth by the peck, pound
it down with a ramrod, and expect healthful physical growth.
Hundreds of poor parents are working themselves to death to send their
children to such schools with a view to elevating them to "higher
positions" than they themselves occupy, and soon we will have none to
do the honest physical labor of life, but the world will be full of
kid-gloved hangers on for soft jobs, who regard working with the hands
to be a disgrace.
Well do I remember going to a neighbor, whose farm was mortgaged for
all it was worth to buy finery and pay tuition bills in said academy,
and begging for the services of the daughter to help my sick mother. I
was refused with insult and scorn. "Do you think," shrieked the irate
virago, "that I will allow my daughter who is studying French, Latin,
Greek, and German to wash your dirty dishes?" I was driven from the
house at the point of the boot. That daughter is to-day shaking and
twitching with St. Vitus's dance, a physical and mental wreck from
overstudy, causing nervous exhaustion and despair.
Hundreds of girls throughout our country who might have been good
housekeepers, are to-day useless invalids, made so by what is called
"higher education." Hundreds of boys, who might have become successful
farmers and mechanics, are now dissipating in beer shops while waiting
in vain for lily-fingered positions as bookkeepers or teachers. In
scores of New England towns, one man, employed to fill the heads of a
reluctant few with the dead languages, receives more salary than all
the other teachers combined.
It seems to require a surgical operation to get the fact through our
thick heads, that our school system demands radical reform from top to
bottom to the end that hands as well as heads may receive technical
bread-and-butter, practical education.
I was a victim of this elective-study craze, and with the usual
stupidity displayed by a child when left to decide what he shall do,
I chose Latin as my principal study in this common district school,
because I fancied it smacked of erudition.
The teacher, knowing no more than myself of the language, set me to
committing to memory the whole of Andrews' Latin Grammar. I gained
the important information that "_sto, fido, confido, assuesco_, and
_preditus_" govern the ablative, and other valuable lore; but when I
asked the teacher where the Latin vernacular came in, she replied that
that would come to me later--that I must "open my mouth and shut my
eyes while she gave me something to make me wise." A solemn awe not
unmixed with envy pervaded the schoolroom as I, parrot-like, rattled
off this valueless jargon of a people dead for hundreds of years.
As this study possessed no interest for me, I naturally dropped into
mischief, and being caught one day with a distorted picture of the
teacher on my slate with the following suggestive poem lines beneath
it:--"Savage by name and savage by nature, I hope the Lord will take
your breath before you lick us all to death,"--I was chased about the
room by the angry pedagoguess until I leaped through the back window,
and the hole made in the bank by my head is pointed out to this day as
a warning to recalcitrant pupils.
[Illustration: "Floating 'Neath the Trees of Mill River."]
I refused to return to this temple of wisdom, and digging a hole into
the haymow, secreted myself therein, pulling the hole in after me.
Here I would remain during school hours, watching through a crevice
cut in the side of the barn, my father who made the air resound
with threats of what he would do if I did not at once return to my
education mill. Here I was often joined by a congenial spirit, and
we played cards which were regarded as the emissaries of Satan by my
religious parents; then we would sally forth with masked faces and
wooden guns, and inspired by dime novels, overthrow the walls of
children's playhouses, throw rocks against the schoolhouse, bully the
small boys almost into fits, hook the neighbors' eggs, corn, melons
and apples, which we devoured at leisure in a hidden hut in the woods.
When the spirit moved, we would "swipe" a neighbor's skiff and go
floating and paddling beneath the overarching trees of Mill River,
lazily watching the muskrats sliding down the banks and sporting
in the water or building their huts of mud, sticks and leaves; the
fish-hawk, plunging beneath the surface and emerging with a struggling
victim in his talons which he bore away to a tree-top to tear and eat;
then a timid wood duck casting suspicious glances as it glided across
a cove, secreting her little ones in the swamp; then a crane standing
on one long leg motionless as a statue, watching with half-closed eyes
for a mud-eel for its dinner.
Then we would imitate those animal murderers, by catching some
fish which we broiled to satisfy our carnivorous appetites. It was
delightful to float in that tiny boat, gazing through the green canopy
of leaves at the great white clouds sailing over like ships upon
the sea, listening to the ecstatic trilling of the orioles, and the
flute-like melodies of the mockingbird of the north.
We would watch the delicate traceries of the water gardens through
which the mild-eyed stickle-backs sailed serenely, having implicit
confidence in the protection of their sharp spinacles, presenting to
all enemies an impervious array of bayonets; the shark-like pickerel
endeavoring to swallow every living thing; the lazy barvel,
everlastingly sucking his sustenance from the animalculae around him;
the turtles, snapping at everything in sight with impunity relying
upon the impregnable defense of their coats-of-mail.
On one of these occasions we were aroused from our Arcadian dream by
a frightful roar, and the destruction of all things seemed at hand. A
young cyclone had struck the fire over which we had cooked our fish,
fanning it into a furious conflagration. We climbed a tall oak, and
soon, as far as the eye could reach, all the hills and woodlands
seemed wrapped in flames. Frantic farmers were seen flagellating the
excited oxen and horses, who, with tails in air, were dragging the
ploughs, making furrows around the houses and barns, which were nearly
all located in pastures rendered dry as tinder by that extraordinary
The cause of this disturbance was traced to us, and we barely escaped
coats of tar and feathers at the hands of the infuriated neighbors,
by the pleadings of our ever-loving mothers who promised we should go
every day to the academy and sin no more.
We were thoroughly sobered by our dangers, and commenced our careers
at this ancient institution founded by the first Lieutenant-Governor
of Massachusetts. Here reigned supreme a fiery autocrat, a fervent
admirer of Greek and Latin, a cordial hater of mathematics--my weakest
point--a D.D., LL.D., who was determined to drive everybody into
college. He had heard of my escapades, and was fully prepared to lay
upon my devoted head all the pranks of a restless fun-loving crowd of
On the first day of my initiation, while the professor was invoking
the Divine blessing, the sight of a big dinner pail belonging to the
fat boy in front of me, proved too much of a temptation, and I hurled
it down the aisle, scattering pork, pickles, doughnuts, and so forth
in its wake, and ending with a loud bang against the platform. Of
course I was the suspect, and cutting off prayer abruptly, down he
rushed, and banged my head till I saw more stars than ever shone in
My academy "_alma mater_" has graduated but few who have--
"Climbed fame's ladder so high
From the round at the top they have stepped to the sky,"
and it is sad to recall that many of the most gifted, acquired
in college secret societies the alcohol habit, and now sleep in
Brilliant Charlie, my chum, who mastered languages and sciences as
easy as "rolling off a log." I saw him last summer, a wreck--wine and
bad women did it. The idolized son of pious parents, whose youth was
surrounded at home with the halo of Bible and prayer; but like Esau,
he "sold his birthright for a mess of pottage" and afterwards "found
no space for repentance, though he sought it earnestly and with many
It seems but yesterday that he and I were enjoying a game of
"pickknife," lacerating the top of a new desk, when in rushed the
"D.D." with his feet encased in the thinnest of slippers and with
which he gave me a kick which broke his toe, then clasping it in his
hand, danced on one leg, whooping unconsciously cuss word ejaculations
till we shrieked with laughter; then he bumped our heads together
until my big brother shook the dominie-pedagogue as a dog would a rat,
and threatened that if he ever struck my head again he would drown him
in the horsepond.
Dear, good brother, he always was, and is now my guardian angel,
although now he comes from heaven to shield me, for I am the last on
earth of my father's family.
Alas, how many of those academy classmates, each of whom was then the
soul of honor and the heart of truth, drowned their intellects in the
flowing bowl. _Eheu, Eheu, fugaces anni labuntur!_ But surely it was
only this morning oh, beautiful, star-eyed Harry, that you and I,
wearied with the frantic vain attempts of the unmathematical professor
to elucidate by appalling triangles and hieroglyphics on the
blackboard the perplexities of cube root, ousted each other from the
seat, sprawling upon the floor, and were chased by the LL.D. out of
doors, never to return until we apologized and promised "to do so no
Although I had been as "prone to mischief" as the sparks to fly
upward--ringing the academy bell at midnight by means of a string tied
to the tongue, bringing the professor in his night shirt from his bed
to chase me, covering his chimney with a board till he was well-nigh
suffocated with smoke, hitching his horse to a boat in Mill River,
pillaging his coop and scattering his hens to the four winds of
heaven, crawling under his bed at night and nearly frightening him to
death with unearthly groans, catching him by the legs as he jumped out
and leaving him kicking on the floor as I leaped through the window
amid applauding students--I was appointed assistant teacher at the
beginning of my senior year.
Then at once great dignity was assumed by me which, being resented by
my former cronies, I secured order by licking them at recess one by
one, though I suffered from many "nasal hemorrhages" while engaged
in fistic rough and tumbles to assert my authority; I conquered, but
secured many black eyes and bedewed the campus with much "claret" for
the good of the order.
At length we were declared sufficiently crammed to enter college,
and on graduation day I discoursed in stentorian tones upon "True
Heroism," amid the applause of the fair sex, and convulsed the
audience with laughter by prancing, in my enthusiastic eloquence, upon
the sore toe of one of the reverend trustees on the stage who fairly
yelled with pain: "_Sic transit gloria mundi_."
Among the sins of my youth, which I confess with "shame and confusion
of face" were the pranks played by me and some fellow-sinners upon our
nearest neighbors. These worthies consisted of an old man and what
appeared to be his much older daughter, the two most unaccountable
cranks that dame nature ever presented to my notice.
The father was possessed of the insane hallucination that he was the
greatest poet that ever lived. Often I have seen him drop his hoe in
the potato field, and run for the house so that you could hardly see
his heels for dust, looking for all the world like an animated pair of
tongs. As he expressed it, "an idee had struck him," and all mankind
would die of intellectual starvation unless he at once embodied said
"idee" in a poem.
His greatest delight was to gather about him of an evening a crowd
of young folks and read to us his preposterous "lines." On such
occasions, some of us would quietly steal away up into his garret, and
roll down over the stairs, with a thunderous uproar, a huge gilded
ball which had decorated a post outside a tavern where he formerly
dispensed much "fire water," to the impoverishment of his customers
and to the enrichment of himself.
Then our host, with much profanity, would rush to the rescue armed
with an ancient bayonet and a fish trumpet which, like the bugle-horn
of Roderic Dhu, summoned all the neighbors to his assistance; but some
sympathizing friend would always upset the table holding the candle so
that they could never decide who were the guilty absentees.
At other times while the great poet was singing his sweetest songs, we
would seize his ancient roosters by their tails, and while they were
making night hideous with their lamentations, the angry couple would
bombard the hen-roosts with shovels, hoes and other weapons in the
hope of slaughtering the marauders. These pleasantries made much fun
for us, and varied the monotony of the lives of our entertainers.
The ancient daughter firmly believed that she possessed the fatal gift
of beauty, although her elongated face was of the thickness and color
of sole leather, and one eye was hideously closed, while the other was
of spotless green. It was wonderful to see her cork-screw curls and
languishing smirks when the young men took turns in pretending to
court her, while an admiring crowd gazed at their amours through the
I can recall but two of the greatest of the poems of this man who
delighted in the full belief that Shakespeare could not "hold a candle
to him." These I take pleasure in handing down through the ages.
"A youth of parts, a witty blade
To college went and progress made
Sounding round his logick;
The prince of hell wide spread his net,
And caught him by one lucky hit
And dragged him down to tophet."
"In the year 1801
I, Enoch B----, was born
Without any shirt on."
CAREER OF A DOMINIE-PEDAGOGUE.
Dear old fathers and mothers! Of all the people in this world, they
look through the rubbish of our imperfections, and see in us the
divine ideal of our natures, love in us not perhaps the men we are,
but the angels we may be in the evolution of the "sweet by and by,"
like the mother of St. Augustine, who, even while he was wild and
reckless, beheld him standing clothed in white a ministering priest at
the right hand of God.
They see through us as Michel Angelo saw through the block of marble,
declaring that an angel was imprisoned within it. They are soul
artists. They can never acknowledge our faults, only our divine
possibilities; so, when I left the academy, my parents, with strong
yearning and with tears, entreated me to become a minister. I had
not the heart to disappoint them and as one hypnotized, on a Sabbath
morning during that summer, the clergyman immersed me in the river,
while a wondering crowd watched from the shore. The very waters seemed
to protest, for as I gasped for breath at the cold backward plunge,
I imbibed copious draughts of the briny deep, and was well-nigh
strangled. I survived the ordeal, and that afternoon preached in the
church to nearly the entire population of the town on the "Final state
of the impenitent dead."
Oh, the terrors of this my first sermon, horrors to preacher as well
as to "preachees." As I sat in the pulpit beside our pastor, listening
to the tremulous tones of the organ which followed the prayer, and
gazing at the sea of upturned faces, they seemed taunting me with all
the wild pranks of my boyhood, and crying "Oh fool and hypocrite."
All my schoolmates were there shaking with ill-concealed merriment.
Every pore poured forth perspiration, and my hair seemed to stand on
end like quills upon the back of the fretful porcupine. I thought of
the experience of the first sermon by a theological student which I
had recently read in a comic paper, and I trembled lest history was to
This theologue, like many of his cloth, was possessed of the insane
impression that he was gifted with the sublime inspiration of
eloquence, and being invited to preach on his return to the old home
for vacation, he selected the somewhat startling text "and the dumb
ass opened his mouth and spake." On this elevating theme he wrote a
sensational sermon and committed it to memory in order that he might
electrify his audience with eye power as well as by verbal flow of
soul. The awful day arrived, but when the young apostle arose to
preach, stage fright banished from his mind all but the thrilling
"My friends," said he, "we are informed by the holy book that this
dumb ass opened his mouth and spake." Then pulling his hair in
desperation, he repeated the text several times, when he was
interrupted by the disgusted pastor, who jumped to his feet and
"Well, friends, as the dumb ass has nothing to say, let us pray."
This awful example well nigh converted me into another specimen of
this historic animal, but at last the pent up cave of the winds was
opened, and a gust of sound came forth which so stunned the listening
ears of my hearers that they dazedly mistook it for eloquence.
I painted to them the picture of the incorrigible sinner "on flames of
burning brimstone tossed, forever, oh forever lost." I did not intend
to be a hypocrite; but drifted with the revival tide.
I discoursed often that summer to audiences that crowded the church
to the doors. I was but fifteen years of age, and was called: "The
wonderful boy preacher."
One Sunday the village crank came to hear me, honoring the occasion
by wearing a new stove-pipe hat of prodigious proportions, which he
deposited on the seat as he arose during prayer. When the amen was
pronounced, perhaps paralyzed by the fervor, he sat down upon said
stove-pipe, crushing it to a pie, then leaped from the wreck uttering
a blasphemous yell which convulsed the crowd with laughter, and thus
broke up the meeting without the benediction and passing of the
contribution-box, much to the delight of all who "steal their
preaching" on all possible occasions.
I soon found that however anxious people were to save their souls,
they were unwilling to part with their "filthy lucre" to buy through
tickets to the celestial city, consequently, that winter being
impecunious, I was constrained to accept the offer of my cousin, the
"prudential committee," to teach the district school in Barrington,
N.H., for the generous stipend of $14 per month and what board I could
secure by going from house to house of my pupils.
On arriving there I was ushered into the imposing presence of the
Free-will Baptist minister for examination; then I was made aware that
although I had plenty of Greek and Latin, I was woefully uninstructed
in the rudiments of our mother tongue, and was saved only by the fact
that my cousin was the largest contributor to the dominie's salary.
The reverend superintendent had prepared an appalling array of
"posers" in accordance with the laws of the state, but my cousin at
my urgent request, assured him that I was an alumnus of one of the
greatest institutions in the world, that I was a clergyman of his own
denomination, that it was a waste of time to examine so distinguished
a scholar, that dinner was ready, and the hungry dominie was seduced
to the table where he partook of so much solid and liquid good cheer,
that he quite forgot his official duty, and gave me the required
certificate: thus I was saved from utter destruction.
In this isolated country town the coming of the schoolmaster in his
tour of boarding around, was the great social event of the year to
each family in this Barrington, so called from the numerous children
which the mothers bear. The fatted pig was invariably killed in his
honor, and he was regaled with fried pork, roast pig, broiled hog,
sausages, and doughnuts reeking with swine fat _ad nauseam_, galore.
The teacher was thus made bilious, dyspeptic and so ugly, that he
tried to get even with his carnivorous tormentors by making it "as
hot" as possible for their offspring.
At the opening of the school, this long and lank fifteen year old
pedagogue faced sixty pupils from the "a, b, c, tot" to the brawny
twenty-one-year-older, spoiling for a fight. When I assayed to take a
seat, the half-sawed-off hind legs of the chair gave way, and I fell
heels in air upon the dirty floor amid the yells and cat-calls of this
tumultuous army; then the stalwart ringleader came forward to throw me
into the snow bank, where my predecessor was nearly smothered with his
head under the snow and his feet uplifted to heaven.
I quickly pulled a concealed ruler, and with a blow on the head,
knocked the young giant sprawling, then utilizing all my athletic
training, I tripped and banged his followers till they fled pell-mell
to their benches. Finally, I hypnotized my audience with great
eloquence, stating that I would give them teaching or clubbing as they
might prefer. My sweet sixteen, black-eyed girl cousin gave efficient
aid, winning the girls to my side; they secured the alliance of their
sweethearts, and the victory was complete.
I soon found that some of the bright country lads and lasses knew
more than myself about the "three R's," but by getting a key to the
arithmetic, and trimming the midnight candle I managed to keep ahead
of the game.
In this strictly agricultural town, I found every type of the genuine
unadulterated yankee stock. When I called on Mrs. Jones to furnish her
share of the perambulating schoolmaster's provisions, she remarked, "I
can eat you, but I can't sleep you, because I have no spare bedroom."
With feigned terror, I said that I feared I would not be a very
toothsome subject for a cannibal, thereupon she gave me the glad
hand, "come right in, my poor thing, and we will fat you up for our
Thanksgiving dinner." I entered, and ate my hog and doughnuts with
gladness of heart, for she was the most buxom, joyous, and hospitable
It was she who cheered the house and the hearth more than all the
Christmas fires, an old-fashioned, thoroughly good woman, entirely
happy without the aid of diamonds, finery, or long-tailed gowns
to trail through the mud and sweep the streets. It was extremely
refreshing to see this really sensible, natural human being, as rare
in this age as an oasis in the desert.
Her husband came in smiling, a veritable brother Jonathan, hale and
hearty, though tired, for he had arisen from bed at three o'clock
that morning, milked a dozen cows, done chores enough to kill a dozen
dapper city clerks, and then tramped beside his oxen through the deep
snow, taking a load of wood to sell in Dover nearly twenty miles away.
This load he had labored hard for two days to cut on the mountainside,
and it brought him the munificent sum of three dollars, yet he was
happier than any multi-millionaire I ever saw. There were stumps he
had dug out, and rocks he had picked on his farm, enough to fence his
hundred acres almost sky-high; but even then he said he had to shoot
his corn and potatoes out of a gun to get them through the stones into
This family was the life of every husking-bee, where each red ear of
corn led to rollicking fun, resounding smacks on rosy cheeks, and of
paring-bees when even numbered apple-seeds were the match-makers for
bachelors and maids. They often took prizes in my spelling-matches,
when the bashful swains were allowed to clasp hands with their
sweethearts, which led to many lifelong hand and heart clasps in this
good old-fashioned town where there were no despairing old maids nor
lone, lorn, grouty unmated men.
They went every Sunday to whittle sticks, swap jack-knives and
horses, and to listen to the white-haired parson who led them by the
resistless rhetoric of a blameless life, as well as by his heartfelt
prayers and exhortations in those "ways which are ways of pleasantness
and those paths which are paths of peace."
"One hot summer's day," the farmer told me, "the elder was preaching
to a very drowsy crowd after a hard week's work in the hayfield, when
suddenly he stopped and shouted: 'Fire! Fire!' at the top of his
lungs. 'Where? where?' cried some ex-snorers jumping to their feet.
'In hell,' cried the indignant parson, 'for those who sleep under the
sound of the gospel.'"
This model minister was dear to every heart, for it was he who had
blessed them when they first saw the light of day, had baptized them
when first his kindly teachings had awakened their aspirations to walk
in the straight and narrow way. It was he who married them when they
found each the _alter ego_, to whom they could say:
"Thou art all to me love for which my heart did pine
A green isle in the sea love, a fountain and a shrine."
It was he who had lifted their souls on the breath of prayer, when
their loved ones had "fallen asleep in Jesus, blessed sleep, from
which none ever wake to weep."
They loved him though they gave him from their scanty earnings but
$400 a year, and half the fish he could catch, yet they liberally
supplied his larder with their sweetest butter, freshest eggs, and the
choicest cuts from their flocks. When a city minister once said to
him: "You have a poor salary, brother," he at once replied: "Ah, but I
give them mighty poor preaching, you know."
Grand old man, he followed closely in the footsteps of his Master, and
accomplished much more good than many famous ones who wander far from
the precepts of the lowly Nazarene, and deliver featureless sermons
to unresponsive, gaily-attired Dives under the arches of great
But the trail of the serpent is everywhere found, even in this
sequestered spot. There was, in the outskirts of the town, the
inevitable rumshop, fed, it was said, by an illicit still in the
woods, and there as usual Satan held high carnival among families
dead in trespasses and sins. There we assayed to hold temperance
prayer-meetings, but they loved darkness rather than light, and we
cast our pearls before swine, who turned and rent us.
On one occasion we tried to hold services in the little old deserted
schoolhouse, and found it, much to our surprise, packed with the
inhabitants of Sodom; a more villainous looking crowd I never saw not
even in darkest New York. Beetle-browed, mop-haired men, whose faces,
if tapped, would apparently give forth as much fire-water as a rum
For a short time they listened to the singing: but when the aged
minister attempted with earnest words to inspire to a better life it
seemed as if all the fiends from heaven that fell, had pealed the
banner cry of hell. Then a decayed cabbage struck him full in the
face, ancient and unfragrant turnips and potatoes filled the air, our
little band crowded around to shield him, but unmercifully assailed,
we were obliged to wield the chairs vigorously over their heads to
fight our way to the door.
One of our number left to guard the sleigh, luckily had it ready, in
we jumped and drove for our lives, pursued by invectives too horrible
This attack was inspired by the keeper of the den of iniquity as he
feared he would be deprived of his evil gains, and that night he
rewarded them with unlimited free drinks until they drowned their
consciences in a prolonged debauch.
One of my patrons became my implacable enemy because I gave his
chip-of-the-old-block son some much merited discipline. This man,
Sampson by name, was the most malignant fellow I ever saw. One night
when with my pupils I was enjoying a skating party, he appeared with
some "sodomites" threatening to chuck me under the ice, and they might
have succeeded but for two of my friends who, when the enemy were
close upon my heels, suddenly stretched a rope across their path which
tripped them up, nearly breaking their heads in the concussion with
On another occasion, several of us crawled into a long hole to explore
a cave in the woods. While laboriously making our way on all fours,
carrying torches, we were suddenly horrified by fiendish hisses.
Visions of snakes danced before our minds, the girls shrieked, the
torches fell in our frantic scramble and we were left in Stygian
darkness. A mocking, demoniacal laugh was heard, winged creatures
dashed against our faces scratching and lacerating.
After much confusion and terror, we succeeded in relighting our
torches, and found ourselves in a wizard-like cave. The bats, for such
were our assailants, fled away like lost spirits, grotesque shapes
were seen formed from the rocks by dripping waters during long ages,
fantastic icicles like the stalactites and stalagmites of the famous
Mammoth Cave hung suspended from the arching roof, but a resistless
longing to reach the air of heaven urged us on, and we crawled to
the opening through which we entered. I was in the advance, and on
reaching the entrance was horrified to find it nearly closed by a
large rock, and behind it appeared the malignant face of Sampson, who
danced in Satanic glee, laughing and shouting.
"I've got you rats in a hole, and there you'll stay till you die!" he
We knew our enemy too well to expect any mercy, and painfully made our
way backwards to the main cavern. None had ever explored it further.
I at last saw a glimmer of light, and drawing nearer I discovered an
opening to the upper world through which, with great exertions, we
dragged ourselves back to the sweet air of heaven. The delight of the
reaction was exquisite like that of escaping from paradise lost to
When the ferocious Sampson heard of our deliverance, he fled, and was
never heard of again, yet this demon in human form had a twin brother
who was one of the best men in the town.
"From the same cradle's side, from the same mother's knee,
One to long darkness and the frozen tide, and one to the peaceful sea."
DREAMS OF MY YOUTH.
In the early spring came the close of school term, and teacher, pupils
and parents parted with mutual regrets. My pecuniary reward was small;
but I shall always remember with pleasure the kind assurances received
that I left the intellectual status of that town much higher than I
found it. I have visited the place only once since, but my old friends
had all passed on to the higher life, and my young ones were scattered
to the four winds of heaven in search of that happiness and wealth
which is seldom found beneath the stars.
I reached the old home under the hill, delighted to see once more the
eyes which looked love to eyes that spoke again, to hear the familiar
spring chorus from the river, the first robins and bluebirds rejoicing
over the resurrection of nature, to explore each sheltered nook for
the early cowslips, violets, pussy-willows, dandelions, and crocuses;
to gossip with my old friends the chipmunks, the muskrats, and the
woodchucks; to revisit each mossy hollow and sequestered retreat in my
much loved pine woods; to whittle again the willow whistles, to caress
the opening buds and tiny green growing blades of grass; to float once
more in my little boat under the embracing arms of my chums, the oaks,
birches, and hemlocks I loved so well; to watch the first flight of
Psyche, the butterfly, so emblematic of the soaring of the immortal
soul from the body dead. The wood duck seemed to smile upon me as of
old as she sailed gracefully into the little coves in my river,
the woodpeckers beat their drums in my honor, and the heron, the
"Shu-Shugah"--screamed welcome oh, my lover.
The rapture of the returning life to nature thrilled my inmost being.
Blue waves are tossing, white wings are crossing, the earth springs
forth in the beauty of green, and the soul of the beautiful chanted to
all, the sweet refrain:
Come to me, come to me, oh my God, oh, come to me everywhere,
Let the earth mean Thee, and the mountain sod, the ocean and the air,
For Thou art so far that I sometimes fear,
As on every side I stare
Searching within, and looking without, if Thou art anywhere.
My mother brought out all her choicest treasures for her "long lost
baby"; my father and brothers "killed the fatted calf" for the
"prodigal returned," the wide old fireplace sent forth its cheering
warmth, the neighbors gathered round to swap stories, and the
apples, walnuts and home-brewed juice of the fruit contributed their
inspiration to the hearty good cheer.
Within and without the genial spirit of springtime cheered the heart
of man and the heart of nature, and all things animate and inanimate
sang the words of the poet.
"Doves on the sunny eaves are cooing,
The chip-bird trills from the apple-tree;
Blossoms are bursting and leaves renewing,
And the crocus darts up the spring to see.
Spring has come with a smile of blessing,
Kissing the earth with her soft warm breath,
Till it blushes in flowers at her gentle caressing,
And wakes from the winter's dream of death."
That summer my services were frequently utilized as substitute
preacher by our good pastor, who was much afflicted with what Mrs.
Partington calls "brown creeturs." He had harped on one string of his
vocal apparatus so long that like Jeshuran of old "it waxed fat and
kicked." Exceedingly monotonous and soporific was his voice, and it
was necessary to strain every nerve to tell whether he was preaching,
praying or reading, the words were much the same in each case.
The long cramming of Hebrew, Greek, Latin and all things dead had
driven out all the vim and enthusiasm of his youth; the dry-as-dust
drill of the theological institution had filled his mind with
arguments for the destruction of all other denominations to the entire
exclusion of all common sense. He forcibly reminded me of the Scotch
dominie who stopped at the stove to shake off the water one rainy
morning, and to rebuke the sexton for not having a fire. "Niver mind,
yer Riverince," replied the indignant serving man, "ye'll be dry
enough soon as ye begin praiching."
One hot Sunday when our clergyman was droning away as usual, a
well-to-do fat brother, who once said he had such entire confidence in
our clergyman's orthodoxy that he didn't feel obliged to keep awake
to watch him, commenced to snore like a fog horn, nearly drowning the
speaker's voice. The reverend stopped, and thinking innocently, that
some animal was making the disturbance, said: "Will the sexton please
put that dog out." This aroused fatty, who left the church in a rage,
and his subscription was lost forever.
Our pious pastor was a fair sample of the "wooden men" turned out by
the educational mills of the day; to an assembly of whom Edwin Booth
is reported to have said: "The difference between the theatre and the
church is this, you preach the gospel as if it were fiction, while
we speak fiction as if it were the gospel truth. When you give less
attention to dry theological disquisitions and much more to the graces
of elocution, you may expect to do some good in the world."
His pastoral calls were appalling; arm extended like a pump handle to
shake hands, one up and down motion, a "how do you do?"--"fine day,"
then a solemn pause, generally followed by his one story; "The day my
wife and I were married it rained, but it cleared off pleasant soon
after, and it has been pleasant ever since," then suspended animation,
finally, "let us pray," and when the same old prayer with few
variations was ended, once more the pump-handle operation and he
departed, wearing the same hopeless face. He was not a two-faced man,
for had he another face, he would surely have worn it.
This sad-eyed man was much tormented by a brother minister in the
pews, who seemed to have a strong desire to secure our pastor's poor
little salary for his own private use and behoof. His plan evidently
was to throw the stigma of heresy upon the incumbent, and to this end,
when our preacher was one day laboring hard to show us exactly where
foreordination ends and free moral agency begins, the ex-minister
arose, excitedly declaring such talk to be rank Arminianism, and
denounced it as misleading sinners to the belief that they could be
saved even if they were not so predestinated in the eternal mind of an
all-wise, all-loving Jehovah, who had foredoomed some to heaven and
others to hell. The regular speaker was dumbfounded. An argumentative
duett followed, much to the scandal of the saints and the
hilariousness of the sinners, until the pitying organist struck up
with great force: "From whence doth this union arise?" when the
disgruntled disturber left the church vowing he would never pay
another cent for such heretical sermons.
Later, a heated discussion arose among the church members as to
whether fermented wine should be used at the Sacrament of the Lord's
Supper, and when a vote was taken in favor of the unfermented, the
senior deacon withdrew in disgust and joined the "Pedo Baptist" church
where he could have alcohol in his.
All this of course made the judicious grieve, and the cause of
religion to languish. This was the time, famous in church history,
when a great reaction set in against Cotton Mather theology, who
proclaimed that the pleasure of the elect would be greatly enhanced
by looking down from the sublime heights of heaven upon the non-elect
writhing in hell.
Unitarianism grew apace, and Henry Ward Beecher immortalized himself
by saying: "Many preachers act like the foolish angler who goes to the
trout brook with a big pole, ugly line and naked hook, thrashes the
waters into a foam, shouting, bite or be damned, bite or be damned!
Result; they are not what their great Master commanded them to
be--successful fishers of men."
Our pastor was a good man despite his peculiarities, and led a
blameless though colorless life; but his "hard shell" theology, his
long years of monkish seclusion in the training schools, engendering
gloomy views as to the final misery of the majority of human beings,
his poverty and lack of adaptation, banished all cheerfulness from his
demeanor, and when I recall his sad, solemn face, made so largely by
his views in regard to the horrors awaiting the most of us in the next
world, I find myself repeating the words of Harriet Beecher Stowe in
the "Minister's Wooing," when she was thinking of that hell depicted
by the old theology; "Oh my wedding day, why did they rejoice? Brides
should wear mourning, every family is built over this awful pit of
despair, and only one in a thousand escapes."
When I semi-occasionally peruse one of the sermons I preached in those
days of my youth, I am strongly inclined to crawl into a den and pull
the hole in after me. I can fully believe the orator who said that a
stupid speech once saved his life.
"I went back home," he said, "last year to spend Thanksgiving with the
old folks. While waiting for the turkey to cook, I went into the woods
gunning--it would amuse me, and wouldn't hurt the game, for I couldn't
hit the broadside of a barn at ten paces. While promenading, it
commenced to rain, and not wishing to wet my best Sunday-go-to-meetings,
I crawled into a hollow log for shelter; at last the clouds rolled by
and I attempted to pull out, but to my horror, the log had contracted so
that I was stuck fast in the hole, and I gave myself up for lost. I
remembered all the sins of my youth, and conscience assured me that I
richly deserved my fate; finally, I thought of a certain unspeakably
asinine speech which I once inflicted upon a suffering audience, and I
felt so small that I rattled round in that old log like a white bean in
a washtub, and slipped like an eel out of the little pipe-stem end of
that old tree. I was saved; but the audience had been ruined for life."
Thus often in this cruel world do the innocent suffer, while the
guilty go unscathed to torture a confiding public with what the great
apostle calls the "foolishness of preaching."
This summer brought our family few smiles but many tears, and the
death-angel passed close to our doors. My eldest brother, while
at work in the hayfield, was smitten by the sun, causing a mental
aberration which made him a wanderer upon the face of the earth, and
finally led him to cut the thread of life with his own hand; my second
brother was pulled by his coat entangled in a wheel, beneath a heavy
load which crushed his thigh. This left the rest of us to struggle as
best we could with multitudinous weeds striving to choke the crops,
and the many trials incidental to wresting sustenance from the
reluctant bosom of mother earth.
My brother Mark, about this time took upon himself the joys and
sorrows of a family and home of his own, while I assumed the care of a
family of forty school children in the neighboring town of I----.
I was but "unsweetened sixteen," and lack of tact and strength brought
me many trials in my endeavors to "teach the young ideas how to shoot
correctly." The usual tacks were placed in my chair, causing the
war-dances incidental to such occasions; the customary pranks were
resorted to by young America to settle the oft mooted question as to
who is master; the inevitable interference of parents followed, who as
usual, regarded their children as cherubs whose wings they seemed to
think would soon appear were it not for the tyrannical spanks of the
I survived the fiery ordeal after a fashion, and that winter entered a
college in the state of Maine. The same old unrest came to me there,
wearied with the dry-as-dust lectures by the faculty of superannuated
ministers, but I graduated after a two weeks' course, and vainly
endeavored for three weeks to catch the divine afflatus at the
Theological Institution, which was supposed to be necessary to enable
me to rescue the perishing as a preacher of the gospel. Then at
the suggestion of the president, who quickly discovered my mental
deficiencies, I was matriculated as a student at another university
founded by the brethren of the same "Hard-shell Persuasion." I was but
a dreamer, in the middle of my teens, dazed by conflicting opinions,
but anxious to walk "_quo dews vocat_."
"Here I stood with reluctant feet,
Where the brook and the river meet,
Manhood and childhood sweet.
"I saw shadows sailing by,
As the dove, with startled eye,
Sees the falcon downward fly.
"To me, a child of many prayers,
Life had quicksands, and many snares,
Foes, and tempters came unawares.
"Oh, let me bear through wrong and ruth,
In my heart the dew of youth,
On my lips the smile of truth."
With this prayer of the poet upon our lips, many of us entered these
"classic halls," hoping to find there in communion with the good and
great of the past and the present, that mental and spiritual "manna"
from heaven which would inspire us to lead ourselves and others to the
sublime heights of heroic endeavor.
A DISENCHANTED COLLEGIAN-PREACHER.
Previous to my arrival at this ancient seat of learning, founded and
endowed for the perpetuation and propagation of the doctrines of our
denomination, I had never entertained the faintest shadow of doubt as
to the infallibility of our creed; but now all faith in it vanished
like the baseless fabric of a dream. Here at the fountain head of
wisdom, from which streams were supposed to flow for the healing of
the nations, my faith in the beliefs of my ancestors fled, nevermore
to return; here, where lived the great high priests of the sect, I had
expected to find the whole air roseate with divine love and grace, all
souls lifted to sublime heights on the breath of unceasing prayer and
The disenchantment was appalling; my brothers in Christ, the grave and
reverend professors, were cold as icebergs, evidently caring nothing
for the souls or bodies of their Christian or pagan students; the
preacher at the college church was an ecclesiastical icicle, who,
in his manner at least, continually cried: "_Procul, procul_, oh,
The prayer meetings were dead and formal, no enthusiasm; it was like
being in a spiritual refrigerator--with perhaps one exception, when,
through the cracks in the floor from the room of a frugal freshman who
boarded himself, came the overwhelming stench of cooking onions, and a
wag brother who was quoting scripture to the Lord in prayer, suddenly
opened his eyes, and sniffing the unctuous odors, shouted: "Brethren,
let us now sing 'From whence doth this onion (union) arise?'" and
roars of laughter would put an end to the solemn farce.
Within the dismal college dormitories were herded a few hundred
youths, entirely free from all moral and social restraints, abandoned
to all orgies into which many characters in the formative state are
most likely to drift. I frequently saw a professing Christian teacher
torture with biting sarcasm his brother church-member, who had done
his best, though he failed to grasp some intricate mathematical
problem, until the poor fellow abandoned the college in despair.
Is it strange that I and many others lost all faith in a religion that
brought forth such bitter fruit? When I strayed from the lifeless
dulness of the college church into the light and warmth of the
"liberal sanctuary," where the old man eloquently discoursed of
the ascent instead of the descent of man, and pictured the sublime
development of the race by heroic endeavor from the animal to the
archangel; when this good man welcomed us warmly as brothers to his
hearth and home and loaned me his silken surplice to cover my seedy
clothes when I delivered my orations at the class exhibitions, is
it strange that I embrace his Darwinian theory instead of the
mythological story of the fall of man tempted by a snake in the garden
I usually preached on Sundays, during my four years' course, in
the pulpits of the surrounding towns, but it was not of the total
depravity nor flaming brimstone; far grander themes engrossed my
thoughts and speech; the true heroism of keeping ourselves unspotted
from the world, the sublime possibilities of our natures if we would
walk in the footsteps of the only perfect One ever seen on earth.
By trimming the midnight lamp and ruining my eyes, I won a scholarship
which paid my tuition fees and room rent, so that I was released from
the necessity of drawing on the hard-earned savings of my father. The
usual college pranks were played, tubs of water were poured from
upper windows upon the heads of freshmen who insisted upon wearing
stove-pipe hats and the forbidden canes; we tore each others' clothes
to the verge of nakedness, and broke each others' heads in frantic
football rushes; we indulged in ghost-like sheet and pillow-case
parades, during which we fought the police and made night hideous with
yells and scrimmages with the "townies"; we burned unsightly shanties,
and thus improved the appearance of the city.
We tripped up unpopular professors with ropes in the night, on the
icy, steep sidewalk of college street, sending them bumping down the
long hill, hatless and with badly torn pants till they brought up with
dull thuds against the barber shop on South Main Street; we of course
stole the college bell so there was nothing to call us to prayers or
recitations; we howled for hours under their respective windows:
"Here's to old Harkness, for he is an imp of darkness!
Here's to old Cax., for his nose is made of wax!
Here's to old Prex--for he likes his double x!"
until some of us were thrust by the police into the nauseating dens of
Thus, like pendulums, we swung twixt studies and pranks till the boom
of the rebel cannon bombarding Fort Sumpter thundered upon our ears.
Suddenly our books were forgotten: the university cadets unanimously
tendered their services to the government; were at once accepted,
and it was the proudest day of my life when, as an officer in our
battalion, I marched with the rest to the drill camp on the historic
The citizens turned out en masse to do us honor, and frantically
cheered us on our way to do or die; every house was gay with old
glory; our best girls, inspired with patriotic fervor, applauded while
they bedewed the streets with their tears; the air resounded with
martial music and the boom of saluting cannon; the young war governor,
who went up like a rocket and down like a stick, led the way on
a prancing charger; the people vied with each other in tendering
hospitalities, and every corner afforded its liquid refreshments. We
thought it lemonade, but it "had a stick in it" and, presto!--we were
no longer seedy theologues, but young heroes all, resplendent with
brilliant uniforms and flashing bayonets, marching to defend our great
and glorious republic.
We, unsuspecting, imbibed freely the seductive fluids, and soon our
heads were in a whirl. We wildly sang the war songs and gave the
college yells. It is but a step from the sublime to the ridiculous.
That night, Jupiter Pluvius burst upon our frail tents in all his
fury, and I awoke the next morning half covered with water, and in a
raging fever. I was taken to the hospital, and as I was a minor my
father took me from the service.
For weeks I was a wreck, and all my dreams of martial glory vanished,
alas,--like the many which have bloomed in the summer of my heart.
Before I regained the little strength I ever had, the war was over,
but I had done my best to serve my country, and the rapture of
pursuing is the prize the vanquished know. The few remaining students
plodded along through the curriculum; but our hearts were far away on
the battle-fields, from the glory of which, cruel fate debarred us.
In my senior year I was forced by the necessity for securing lucre to
pay the increasing graduation expenses, to teach the high school in
Bristol, Conn., and returned to the university to "cram" for the final
examinations. For days and nights the merciless grind went on until,
as by a miracle, I escaped the lunatic asylum. I knew but little
of the higher mathematics, but the "Green" professor was a strong
sectarian if not an humble Christian, and when the hour for my private
examination arrived, I contrived to waste the most of it telling him
about the Bristol Church. It was near his dinner hour, and he yearned
for its delights to such an extent, that he did not detect me in
copying the "_Pons Asinorum_" onto the blackboard from a paper hidden
in my bosom, and as he glanced at the figures on the board, he said:
"That's right, I suppose you know the rest," passed me, and hasted to
his walnuts and his wine.
The good president, of blessed memory, had another pressing
engagement, as I well knew, when I called for his examination, he
asked for but little, was too preoccupied to hear whether my answers
were correct, passed me, and my "A.B." was won.
We spoke our pieces on graduation day, rejoiced in the applause of our
"mulierculae," took our sheepskins, and went forth from "_alma mater_"
conquering and to conquer the unsympathizing world. I had acquired
here but a modicum of that learning which was supposed to flow from
this "Pierian Spring," but I rejoiced in the fact that I had cast away
forever my belief in the "total depravity" of the human race, that
in "Adam's fall we sin-ned all, that in Cain's murder, we sin-ned
furder," and could now look hopefully upon my fellow-men in the full
There lies in the centre of each man's heart
A longing and love for the good and pure,
And if but an atom, or larger part,
I know that this shall forever endure.
After the body has gone to decay--
Yes, after the world has passed away.
The longer I live and the more I see
Of the struggles of souls towards heights above,
The stronger this truth comes home to me,
That the universe rests on the shoulders of love--
A love so limitless, deep and broad
That men have renamed it, and called it God.
IN SHADOW LAND.
I had cherished the delusive hope that my university diploma would be
the open sesame to any exalted position to which I might aspire; but
I found there was a multitude of competitors for every professional
emolument, and that a "pull" with the powers that be was essential to
secure any prize. My change in religious sentiments debarred me from
the pulpit, and I had no friends influential enough to give me a
profitable position as a teacher in New England.
After making many applications, and enduring many hopes deferred which
make the heart sick, I struck out for New York one dark, rainy night,
with only $10 in my pocket to seek my fortune in that so-called
"Modern Sodom and Gomorrah." I knew no one in that great city, and on
my arrival before daylight in a dismal drenching storm, I entered the
nearest hotel to obtain some much needed sleep.
A villainous looking servitor showed me to a cold barn-like room where
I found no way of locking the door, so I barricaded the entrance with
the bureau, placing the chair on top as a burglar alarm. The scant
bedclothes were so short that one extremity or the other must freeze,
so I compromised by protecting the "midway plaisance," and in my
cramped quarters, thought with envy of Dr. Root of Byfield, who was
said to stretch his long legs out the window to secure plenty of room
for himself, and a roost on his pedal extremities for his favorite
I was on the point of falling into the arms of Morpheus in the land of
Nod, when a stealthy attempt to open the door sent the chair with a
crash to the floor. Yelling at the top of my voice, "Get out of that,
or I'll put a bullet through you!" I heard a form tumble down the
steep stairs, and muffled curses which reminded me of the lines in the
Hohenlinden poem: "It is Iser (I sir) rolling rapidly."
At the first dawn of a dismal day I crept down the dirty stairs, and
out of the door of what I learned to be one of the most dangerous
houses in that sin-cursed city.
The days immediately following while seeking for employment were
forlorn and miserable; I was the fifth wheel of a coach which no one
wanted. Finally, when I had spent my last cent for a beggarly meal, I
saw an advertisement for a teacher in the reform school, and called on
a Mr. Atterbury, the trustee. He regarded me with a pitying eye; told
me two teachers had recently been driven from the prison by the kicks
and cuffs of the toughest boys that ever went unhung; but if I wished
to try it, he would pass me to that "den of thieves." I grasped at
the chance like a drowning man at a straw, and that very night found
myself facing nearly 1,000 hard looking specimens from the slums of
all nations. The schoolroom was a huge hall, in which, at a tap of the
bell, great doors were rolled on iron tracks to subdivide it into many
small class sections, each in charge of a lady assistant. The organ
pealed out the notes for the opening song which was given fairly well;
but when I attempted to read the Master's beginning of the responsive
ritual, a stalwart young giant hurled a book at my head, and bedlam
broke loose. I jumped from the platform, seized the ringleader by the
hair and collar, and with a strength hitherto undreamed of by me,
dragged him before he could collect his thoughts to a closet door,
hurled him headlong and turned the key. The boys said afterwards that
fire flashed from my eyes, and they thought the devil had come.
I grasped a heavy stick, used for raising the windows, and told them
in stentorian tones of a desperate man, that I would break the heads
of all who were not instantly in their seats. The schoolma'ams
quivered with fear, but the boys slunk to their places and I harangued
them to the effect, that they could have peace or war; if peace, they
would be treated kindly and be taught to become successful men; if
war, they alone would suffer, for I had come there to stay.
I tried to inspire these poor vicious boys, conceived in sin and born
in iniquity, with the thought that knowledge is power; that many
of the greatest and best of earth had risen from their ranks by
persistent endeavor into the light and liberty of the children of God;
that they could become happy and successful by being and doing good;
that if they would set their faces resolutely towards the better life,
I would gladly help to the utmost of my ability.
One by one their eyes kindled with the light that is never seen on
sea or shore. One touch of nature makes the whole world kin. They had
never been appealed to in that way before, and the spark of goodness
lying dormant in even the most depraved natures, responded to the
breath of kindly words.
I touched the bell, the great subdividing doors were rolled, and my
assistants quietly proceeded to the work of instruction, confident
that the war was over.
When I had marched my regiment to their cells that night, and retired
to my room, I reflected that every human existence has its moments of
fate, when the apples of the Hesperides hang ready upon the bough,
but, alas! how few are wise enough to pluck them. The decision of
an hour may open to us the gates of the enchanted garden where are
flowers and sunshine, or it may condemn us, Tantalus-like, to reach
evermore after some far-off and unattainable good. I dreamed that the
clock of fate had struck the hour for me, that I had found my mission
on earth, and that henceforth the "Peace be still" of the Master would
calm life's troubled sea.
In reconnoitring the island the next day, I found much to admire.
The great domes of the massive buildings towered aloft above the
encircling walls, like aerial sentinels warning us to lift our
thoughts to the blessings that come from on high. The great ships went
sailing by to lands beyond the sea; in front was a veritable bower of
paradise, apple and peach-trees fruited deep, green lawns, rippling
waters, fair as the garden of the Lord. Every prospect pleases and
naught but man is vile.
The signal was given from the Harlem shore for the institution's boat.
I jumped on board, and the strong arms of the uniformed boys of our
boat's crew propelled us across the river, where two policemen stood
on the pier guarding a girl about eighteen years of age. Quick as a
flash she pushed one of them into the water, his head stuck in the
mud, his legs kicking in the air; then she shrieked with laughter and
ran like a deer up the street. The other policeman and myself
jumped into an express wagon, seized the reins from the astonished,
protesting black driver, plied the whip to his horse and gave chase.
"What for you dune dar?" cried the darky.
"Shut up!" was the only reply, and away we went, Gilpin-like, with the
horse on the run. We headed off the girl, and after a rough-and-tumble
scrimmage threw her into the wagon, kicking, screaming, and scratching
like a wild-cat. We took her by main force to the girls' wing of the
prison and put her into a cell.
Scarcely was I seated at the table when the alarm-bell rang, and,
being officer of the day I ran over to inquire the cause, and found
the powerful young virago, our prisoner, enjoying herself hugely. When
the matron had been handing her some food through a hole in the cell,
the girl shot out her arm, grabbed her by the hair and with the other
hand was now pulling out the hairs by the roots, sometimes a few at
a time, sometimes by the handful, then she would bang the official's
nose against the wall, then knockout blows on the face. The matron was
in awful agony and faint from loss of blood. Entreaty availed nothing,
so I seized a dipper of hot water and dashed it on the girl's naked
arm; the matron fell heels over head on one side, and the prisoner
executed a somersault in the opposite direction, then jumped to her
feet, shook her fist at me and swore like a pirate.
This young Amazon had been arrested in a vile den kept on a house-boat
in the harbor, and long made life a burden for our women officials.
A careful study of the five hundred girls in this reform school as
compared with the one thousand boys, proved clearly that women, there
as elsewhere, are either the best or the worst of the human race. When
a girl cuts loose from the angel she was intended to be, she usually
descends to the lowest possible pit of degradation; as soon as this
girl in question found there was nothing to be gained by her fiendish
outbursts of fury, she cunningly changed her tactics with her pious
teacher, and pretended to "be born again." She ostensibly chose the
Bible for her favorite reading, prayed fervently, and became so
circumspect in her deportment that she was promoted to the position of
assistant cook in the good girls division.
Here she contrived to bake into a cake a letter which she gave to a
visitor, who took it to one of her former companions in sin, and one
day, while walking with her confiding teacher in the garden, a boat
appeared rowed by four men. Into this the young hypocrite jumped, and
like a "sow that was washed, returned to wallowing in the mire."
In contrast to her ungrateful depravity, the boy I had chucked into
the closet on my first night here became my firm friend, and the
stroke oar of my private boat crew.
One day I was taking a boat ride in the harbor with two of my lady
assistants and six stalwart boy oarsmen, when a boat shot out at us
from Blackwell's Island with four villainous men and two degraded
women. Coming alongside, one of the women said to the boys: "Throw
that officer overboard, and come with us; we will get you $400 a piece
as bounty, then you can desert from the army, and have a jolly good
time." My teachers fainted with fear; my crew rested on their oars,
wild with desire to escape; it was a crisis. I looked them steadily in
"Boys," I said, quietly, "when sinners entice thee, consent thou
"We won't hurt you," said my leader; "you have been good to us; let us
get into that boat."
"Never," said I. "You shall not go to hell, pull!" The men grabbed at
me, my boys pounded them off with their oars, and one of the men
fired two shots which whistled close to my head, but the boys pulled
vigorously, and we sailed away amid the jeers and curses of our
"Sherman," said I, to my stroke oarsman, as we landed on our island,
"why didn't you throw me overboard?"
"You have been kind to us," he replied, "and we never go back on our
I had the pleasure before I left this school, to secure good positions
for all my crew, and they became useful men. I was soon after this
promoted to the vice-principalship of the institution, and an
ex-minister was appointed my first assistant, a good man, but quite
absent-minded. He recalled to my memory the story of a man who came
home in a pouring rain, put his wet umbrella into bed with his wife,
and stood himself up behind the door where he remained all night.
One day, when I was off duty, I went sailing with two ladies through
"Little Hell Gate," which rushes with great fury by our island, to the
sea. All at once the alarm bell rang. In my haste to get ashore, I
ran the boat onto a partially submerged rock, and it would have been
capsized, had I not jumped out onto the rock and pushed it off. Down
I went under the rushing tide. When I came to the surface I saw the
white belly of a shark, as he turned to seize me in his jaws. I could
almost feel his sharp teeth. My head struck the side of the boat, just
as the ladies, with great presence of mind, grabbed me by the hair,
and pulled me on board. We landed and I rushed, puffing and dripping
like a porpoise, to the wall gate, unlocked it and entered.
A frightful scene was before me. Williams, my assistant, was on the
ground, covered with blood, and around him was a crowd of the worst
boys in the prison, pounding, kicking, and trying to snatch his keys
so as to escape by unlocking the gate. Luckily my bat with which I had
played baseball with the boys stood in the corner, and grabbing this
I struck out with all my strength, knocking down the boys right and
left. Just then the guard came up on the run, the wounded man was
carried to the hospital, and his assailants locked up.
Williams, it appeared, had, in his absent-mindedness, unlocked the
jail instead of the wall gates, and let out upon him this horde of
ruffians who had been put in there for safe-keeping. He finally
recovered, but left the island through fear of his life.
The discipline of the school was much benefited by forming a school
regiment, and drilling them to the music of a brass band composed of
the boys themselves. They were as proud of their uniforms, shoulder
straps and accoutrements, as were the old guard of Napoleon, and their
ambition was stimulated by merited promotions from the ranks.
For more than a year I thoroughly enjoyed the work of uplifting
those waifs on our sea of life; they responded appreciatively to the
influence of kindly words and acts, even as the Aeolian harp yields
its sweetest music to the caresses of the airs of heaven. It was an
inspiration to watch the blossoming of purer thoughts and higher
aspirations, and to feel that we were cooperating with the invisible
spirits in developing the hidden angels in this youthful army.
All at once the shadows fell, the baneful greed of that organized
appetite called "Tammany Hall," reached out its devil-fish tentaculae,
which neither fear God, nor have any mercy on men, to seek our blood.
Evil looking Shylock-faced trustees began to supplant those noble men
who had made this refuge a veritable gate of heaven to so many more
sinned against than sinning,--children of the vile. These avaricious,
beastly emissaries of "Tammany," soon snarled at us poor teachers that
we must divide our small salaries with them or give place to those
that would. Not a school book, or a shin-bone for soup, could be
bought unless these leeches had a commission from it; they brought
enormous baskets and filled them with fruit practically stolen from
our children, and carted them home for their own cubs.
Our superintendent and chaplain were strong sectarians, but very
weak Christians, and they readily made friends of the "Mammon of
unrighteousness." One hot Sunday, when I was in command at chapel, the
somnolent tones of the chaplain, who, as usual, was pouring forth a
stream of mere words--words almost devoid of thought, lulled a large
number of my fifteen hundred boys and girls into the land of dreams.
As soon as the services were over and I had surrendered my flock to
the yard master, I was summoned before the superintendent where the
pious chaplain accused me of insulting him by not keeping the children
awake. I quietly asked him how this could be done. "Go among them with
a rattan," said he. I told him I thought the preacher deserved the
rattan much more than the children, that they would listen gladly if
he would give them anything worth hearing. From that moment he was my
One day while returning from a row in the harbor, I treated my
boat's crew to apples and pears from our orchard; just then the
superintendent's whistle sounded, and I was called before the trustees
then in session.
"Are you aware," said he, savagely, "that the rules direct that all
fruit shall be gathered by the head gardener, and by him alone?"
"Yes," was my reply.
"Well, then, you were stealing, just now."
"I was simply imitating your example, sir; it takes a thief to catch a
thief." The trustees roared with laughter. The president of the board
then asked if I had seen others stealing the fruit.
"Yes, sir, the chaplain, superintendent, and nearly all the trustees."
"Well," said he, "this is a den of thieves."
"All except the convicts, sir," I replied.
These incidents did not add to my popularity among the sneaks whose
petty slings and arrows were so annoying, and so minimized my power
for good that I reluctantly resigned, to accept a more lucrative
position as teacher in an aristocratic boarding-school located in the
romantic county of Berkshire, much nearer, geographically, to the
Among our responsibilities at the reform school, were many "wharf
rats"--so called, because having had no homes or visible parents, like
Topsy, they had simply "growed," and slept under the wharves of the
city, swarming out at intervals to steal or beg for something to
assuage the pangs of hunger. They were vicious to a degree, and at
first seemed to prefer a raw shin-bone that they had stolen to an
abundant meal obtained honestly. They would rather fight than eat, and
prized a penny obtained by lies more than dollars secured by telling
the truth. Some were stupid as donkeys; but others possessed minds of
surprising acuteness. I once asked one of these why he was sent to the
"Oh," was the reply, "I stole a sawmill, and when I went back after
the water dam the copper scooped me in."
Another quizzed his teacher unmercifully, when, in trying to teach him
the alphabet, she drew a figure on the board and told him it was A, he
called out: "How do you know that is A?"
"Why, when I went to school my teacher told me it was A."
"Well," said the little imp, "how do ye know but what that feller
At one of our public meetings, the superintendent introduced as a
speaker, a man by the name of Holmes, and wishing to impress the
boys favorably, he announced him as Professor Holmes. The orator was
annoyed at being called professor, and trying to be "funny," commenced
by saying: "I am not Professor Holmes, nor his man-servant, nor his
maid-servant, nor his ox, nor his ass--" At this point, quick as a
flash, up jumped one of our wharf rats, and shouted: "Well, if you
ain't Professor Holmes' ass, whose ass be ye?"
Then the little barbarian, evidently maddened by the sneering
pomposity of our eloquent guest, strutted across the floor in perfect
imitation of Holmes' affected grandiloquence; then he launched into
the coon song:--
"De bigger dat you see de smoke
De less de fire will be,
And de leastest kind ob possum
Climbs de biggest kind ob tree.
"De nigger at de camp-groun'
Dat kin loudest sing an' shout,
Am gwine ter rob some hen-roos'
Befo' de week am out."
Thus, often, from a bud seemingly withered and dead, would
unexpectedly blossom out an unknown flower of startling brilliancy and
SUNLIGHT AND DARKNESS IN PALACE AND COTTAGE.
My pupils at the reform school were from the dens and hovels of the
Bowery, while those at S---- were from the palaces of Fifth Avenue;
but to my utter astonishment, the children of the slums were morally
and perhaps intellectually superior to those of the plutocrats. I
was occasionally the guest of both the poverty-stricken and the
millionaire parents of my scholars, and I verily believe that I saw as
much depravity and misery in the abodes of the rich as in those of the
On my arrival in Berkshire County, I found both of my employers were
off on a spree, and that I was ordered to do the work of receiving and
organizing. One day, a princely equipage with liveried coachman and
outrider halted at the schoolroom door, a "bloated bondholder" and his
wife, arrayed in purple, fine linen, and diamonds, pulled a flashily
appareled, humpbacked boy up to me, every lineament of whose face
showed depravity and cunning. "There," said the father, "is my d----
d son, he drinks, swears, and breaks all the commandments every day.
Take him, and send the bill to me." He handed me his card and away
This was not an isolated case. I did my best for them; but they were
satiated with luxury, hated books, and seemed to care for nothing
but debauchery. The very next day several of these scamps obtained
permission to visit the cave in "Bear Mountain," where ice could be
found throughout the year. As they did not return on time, I went
in search and found them all drunk. They had no appreciation of the
sun-kissed mountains, waving forests, or verdure-clad valleys; the
grand scenery awakened no responsive smiles, no ennobling aspirations;
they were intent upon nothing but drowning their ignoble souls in the
noxious fumes of tobacco and alcohol. I tumbled them into the wagon,
drove them to their dormitory and put them to bed, lower than the
beasts they seemed to be in their depravity; not all to be sure, for
there were a few choice spirits like Julian Hawthorn, who followed to
some extent the example of his illustrious father, and has won his
spurs in literature.
I found to my disgust that bad eggs would ruin the good ones; but that
many good ones could not take the rottenness from even one of the bad.
It seemed a hopeless task to endeavor to inspire such impoverished
souls, and I retired in despair, to accept the principalship of the
ancient academy in the village.
Here I met the children of the so-called middle class, the very bone
and sinew of the Republic; here I was monarch of all I surveyed, and
untrammeled by the cramming regulations of the public schools, I
pursued the delightful avocation of a true educator. E and duco is the
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