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STORIES OF ACHIEVEMENT, VOLUME IV
Authors and Journalists
ASA DON DICKINSON
Authors and Journalists
JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU ROBERT BURNS CHARLOTTE BRONTE CHARLES DICKENS HORACE GREELEY LOUISA M. ALCOTT HENRY GEORGE WILLIAM H. RIDEING JACOB A. RIIS HELEN KELLER
[Frontispiece: Robert Burns]
Garden City —— New York Doubleday, Page & Company 1925 Copyright, 1916, by Doubleday, Page & Company All Rights Reserved
In the preparation of this volume the publishers have received from several houses and authors generous permissions to reprint copyright material. For this they wish to express their cordial gratitude. In particular, acknowledgments are due to the Houghton Mifflin Company for permission to reprint the sketch of Horace Greeley; to Little, Brown & Co. for permission to reprint passages from "The Life, Letters, and Journals of Louisa May Alcott"; to Mr. Henry George, Jr., for the extract from his life of his father; to William H. Rideing for permission to reprint extracts from his book "Many Celebrities and a Few Others"; to the Macmillan Company for permission to use passages from "The Making of an American," by Jacob A. Riis; to Miss Helen Keller for permission to reprint from "The Story of My Life."
AUTHORS AND JOURNALISTS
JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU The Man to Whom Expression was Travail
ROBERT BURNS The Ploughman-poet
HORACE GREELEY How the Farm-boy Became an Editor
CHARLES DICKENS The Factory Boy
CHARLOTTE BRONTE The Country Parson's Daughter
LOUISA MAY ALCOTT The Journal of a Brave and Talented Girl
HENRY GEORGE The Troubles of a Job Printer
JACOB RIIS "The Making of an American"
WILLIAM H. RIDEING Rejected Manuscripts
HELEN ADAMS KELLER How She Learned to Speak
JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU
THE MAN TO WHOM EXPRESSION WAS TRAVAIL
From the "Confessions of Rousseau."
It is strange to hear that those critics who spoke of Rousseau's "incomparable gift of expression," of his "easy, natural style," were ludicrously incorrect in their allusions. From his "Confessions" we learn that he had no gift of clear, fluent expression; that he was by nature so incoherent that he could not creditably carry on an ordinary conversation; and that the ideas which stirred Europe, although spontaneously conceived, were brought forth and set before the world only after their progenitor had suffered the real pangs of labor.
But after all it is the same old story over again. Great things are rarely said or done easily.
Two things very opposite unite in me, and in a manner which I cannot myself conceive. My disposition is extremely ardent, my passions lively and impetuous, yet my ideas are produced slowly, with great embarrassment and after much afterthought. It might be said my heart and understanding do not belong to the same individual. A sentiment takes possession of my soul with the rapidity of lightning, but instead of illuminating, it dazzles and confounds me; I feel all, but see nothing; I am warm but stupid; to think I must be cool. What is astonishing, my conception is clear and penetrating, if not hurried: I can make excellent impromptus at leisure, but on the instant could never say or do anything worth notice. I could hold a tolerable conversation by the post, as they say the Spaniards play at chess, and when I read that anecdote of a duke of Savoy, who turned himself round, while on a journey, to cry out "a votre gorge, marchand de Paris!" I said, "Here is a trait of my character!"
This slowness of thought, joined to vivacity of feeling, I am not only sensible of in conversation, but even alone. When I write, my ideas are arranged with the utmost difficulty. They glance on my imagination and ferment till they discompose, heat, and bring on a palpitation; during this state of agitation I see nothing properly, cannot write a single word, and must wait till all is over. Insensibly the agitation subsides, the chaos acquires form, and each circumstance takes its proper place. Have you never seen an opera in Italy where during the change of scene everything is in confusion, the decorations are intermingled, and any one would suppose that all would be overthrown; yet by little and little, everything is arranged, nothing appears wanting, and we feel surprised to see the tumult succeeded by the most delightful spectacle. This is a resemblance of what passes in my brain when I attempt to write; had I always waited till that confusion was past, and then pointed, in their natural beauties, the objects that had presented themselves, few authors would have surpassed me.
Thence arises the extreme difficulty I find in writing; my manuscripts, blotted, scratched, and scarcely legible, attest the trouble they cost me; nor is there one of them but I have been obliged to transcribe four or five times before it went to press. Never could I do anything when placed at a table, pen in hand; it must be walking among the rocks, or in the woods; it is at night in my bed, during my wakeful hours, that I compose; it may be judged how slowly, particularly for a man who has not the advantage of verbal memory, and never in his life could retain by heart six verses. Some of my periods I have turned and returned in my head five or six nights before they were fit to be put to paper: thus it is that I succeed better in works that require laborious attention than those that appear more trivial, such as letters, in which I could never succeed, and being obliged to write one is to me a serious punishment; nor can I express my thoughts on the most trivial subjects without it costing me hours of fatigue. If I write immediately what strikes me, my letter is a long, confused, unconnected string of expressions, which, when read, can hardly be understood.
It is not only painful to me to give language to my ideas but even to receive them. I have studied mankind, and think myself a tolerable observer, yet I know nothing from what I see, but all from what I remember, nor have I understanding except in my recollections. From all that is said, from all that passes in my presence, I feel nothing, conceive nothing, the exterior sign being all that strikes me; afterward it returns to my remembrance; I recollect the place, the time, the manner, the look, and gesture, not a circumstance escapes me; it is then, from what has been done or said, that I imagine what has been thought, and I have rarely found myself mistaken.
So little master of my understanding when alone, let any one judge what I must be in conversation, where to speak with any degree of ease you must think of a thousand things at the same time: the bare idea that I should forget something material would be sufficient to intimidate me. Nor can I comprehend how people can have the confidence to converse in large companies, where each word must pass in review before so many, and where it would be requisite to know their several characters and histories to avoid saying what might give offence. In this particular, those who frequent the world would have a great advantage, as they know better where to be silent, and can speak with greater confidence; yet even they sometimes let fall absurdities; in what predicament then must he be who drops as it were from the clouds? It is almost impossible he should speak ten minutes with impunity.
In a tete-a-tete there is a still worse inconvenience; that is, the necessity of talking perpetually, at least, the necessity of answering when spoken to, and keeping up the conversation when the other is silent. This insupportable constraint is alone sufficient to disgust me with variety, for I cannot form an idea of a greater torment than being obliged to speak continually without time for recollection. I know not whether it proceeds from my mortal hatred of all constraint; but if I am obliged to speak, I infallibly talk nonsense. What is still worse, instead of learning how to be silent when I have absolutely nothing to say, it is generally at such times that I have a violent inclination; and, endeavoring to pay my debt of conversation as speedily as possible, I hastily gabble a number of words without ideas, happy when they only chance to mean nothing; thus endeavoring to conquer or hide my incapacity, I rarely fail to show it.
I think I have said enough to show that, though not a fool, I have frequently passed for one, even among people capable of judging; this was the more vexatious, as my physiognomy and eyes promised otherwise, and expectation being frustrated, my stupidity appeared the more shocking. This detail, which a particular occasion gave birth to, will not be useless in the sequel, being a key to many of my actions which might otherwise appear unaccountable; and have been attributed to a savage humor I do not possess. I love society as much as any man, was I not certain to exhibit myself in it, not only disadvantageously, but totally different from what I really am. The plan I have adopted of writing and retirement is what exactly suits me. Had I been present, my worth would never have been known, no one would ever have suspected it; thus it was with Madam Dupin, a woman of sense, in whose house I lived for several years; indeed, she has often since owned it to me: though on the whole this rule may be subject to some exceptions. . . .
The heat of the summer was this year (1749) excessive. Vincennes is two leagues from Paris. The state of my finances not permitting me to pay for hackney coaches, at two o'clock in the afternoon, I went on foot, when alone, and walked as fast as possible, that I might arrive the sooner. The trees by the side of the road, always lopped, according to the custom of the country, afforded but little shade, and exhausted by fatigue, I frequently threw myself on the ground, being unable to proceed any farther. I thought a book in my hand might make me moderate my pace. One day I took the Mercure de France, and as I walked and read, I came to the following question proposed by the academy of Dijon, for the premium of the ensuing year: Has the progress of sciences and arts contributed to corrupt or purify morals?
The moment I had read this, I seemed to behold another world, and became a different man. Although I have a lively remembrance of the impression it made upon me, the detail has escaped my mind, since I communicated it to M. de Malesherbes in one of my four letters to him. This is one of the singularities of my memory which merits to be remarked. It serves me in proportion to my dependence upon it; the moment I have committed to paper that with which it was charged, it forsakes me, and I have no sooner written a thing than I had forgotten it entirely. This singularity is the same with respect to music. Before I learned the use of notes I knew a great number of songs; the moment I had made a sufficient progress to sing an air of art set to music, I could not recollect any one of them; and, at present, I much doubt whether I should be able entirely to go through one of those of which I was the most fond. All I distinctly recollect upon this occasion is, that on my arrival at Vincennes, I was in an agitation which approached a delirium. Diderot perceived it; I told him the cause, and read to him the prosopopoeia of Fabricius, written with a pencil under a tree. He encouraged me to pursue my ideas, and to become a competitor for the premium. I did so, and from that moment I was ruined.
All the rest of my misfortunes during my life were the inevitable effect of this moment of error.
My sentiments became elevated with the most inconceivable rapidity to the level of my ideas. All my little passions were stifled by the enthusiasm of truth, liberty, and virtue; and, what is most astonishing, this effervescence continued in my mind upward of five years, to as great a degree, perhaps, as it has ever done in that of any other man. I composed the discourse in a very singular manner, and in that style which I have always followed in my other works, I dedicated to it the hours of the night in which sleep deserted me; I meditated in my bed with my eyes closed, and in my mind turned over and over again my periods with incredible labor and care; the moment they were finished to my satisfaction, I deposited in my memory, until I had an opportunity of committing them to paper; but the time of rising and putting on my clothes made me lose everything, and when I took up my pen I recollected but little of what I had composed. I made Madam le Vasseur my secretary; I had lodged her with her daughter and husband nearer to myself; and she, to save me the expense of a servant, came every morning to make my fire, and to do such other little things as were necessary. As soon as she arrived I dictated to her while in bed what I had composed in the night, and this method, which for a long time I observed, preserved me many things I should otherwise have forgotten.
As soon as the discourse was finished, I showed it to Diderot. He was satisfied with the production, and pointed out some corrections he thought necessary to be made. However, this composition, full of force and fire, absolutely wants logic and order; of all the works I ever wrote, this is the weakest in reasoning, and the most devoid of number and harmony. With whatever talent a man may be born, the art of writing is not easily learned.
I sent off this piece without mentioning it to anybody, except, I think, to Grimm.
The year following (1750), not thinking more of my discourse, I learned it had gained the premium at Dijon. This news awakened all the ideas which had dictated it to me, gave them new animation, and completed the fermentation of my heart of that first leaves of heroism and virtue which my father, my country, and Plutarch had inspired in my infancy. Nothing now appeared great in my eyes but to be free and virtuous, superior to fortune and opinion, and independent of all exterior circumstances; although a false shame, and the fear of disapprobation at first prevented me from conducting myself according to these principles, and from suddenly quarrelling with the maxims of the age in which I lived, I from that moment took a decided resolution to do it. . . .
A note of pride in his humble origin rings throughout the following pages. The ploughman poet was wiser in thought than in deed, and his life was not a happy one. But, whatever his faults, he did his best with the one golden talent that Fate bestowed upon him. Each book that he encountered was made to stand and deliver the message that it carried for him. Sweethearting and good-fellowship were his bane, yet he won much good from his practice of the art of correspondence with sweethearts and boon companions. And although Socrates was perhaps scarcely a name to him, he studied always to follow the Athenian's favourite maxim, Know thyself; realizing, with his elder brother of Warwickshire, that "the chiefest study of mankind is man."
From an autobiographical sketch sent to Dr. Moore.
[To Dr. Moore]
MAUCHLINE, August 2, 1787.
For some months past I have been rambling over the country, but I am now confined with some lingering complaints, originating, as I take it, in the stomach. To divert my spirits a little in this miserable fog of ennui, I have taken a whim to give you a history of myself. My name has made some little noise in this country; you have done me the honour to interest yourself very warmly in my behalf; and I think a faithful account of what character of a man I am, and how I came by that character, may perhaps amuse you in an idle moment. I will give you an honest narrative, though I know it will be often at my own expense; for I assure you, sir, I have, like Solomon, whose character, excepting in the trifling affair of wisdom, I sometimes think I resemble—I have, I say, like him turned my eyes to behold madness and folly, and like him, too, frequently shaken hands with their intoxicating friendship. After you have perused these pages, should you think them trifling and impertinent, I only beg leave to tell you that the poor author wrote them under some twitching qualms of conscience, arising from a suspicion that he was doing what he ought not to do; a predicament he has more than once been in before.
I have not the most distant pretensions to assume that character which the pye-coated guardians of escutcheons call a gentleman. When at Edinburgh last winter I got acquainted in the Herald's office; and, looking through that granary of honors, I there found almost every name in the kingdom; but for me,
My ancient but ignoble blood Has crept thro' scoundrels ever since the flood.
Gules, purpure, argent, etc., quite disowned me.
My father was of the north of Scotland, the son of a farmer, and was thrown by early misfortunes on the world at large; where, after many years' wanderings and sojournings, he picked up a pretty large quantity of observation and experience, to which I am indebted for most of my little pretensions to wisdom. I have met with few who understood men, their manners and their ways, equal to him; but stubborn, ungainly integrity, and headlong, ungovernable irascibility, are disqualifying circumstances; consequently, I was born a very poor man's son. For the first six or seven years of my life my father was gardener to a worthy gentleman of small estate in the neighbourhood of Ayr. Had he continued in that station, I must have marched off to be one of the little underlings about a farmhouse; but it was his dearest wish and prayer to have it in his power to keep his children under his own eye till they could discern between good and evil; so with the assistance of his generous master, my father ventured on a small farm on his estate.
At those years, I was by no means a favourite with anybody. I was a good deal noted for a retentive memory, a stubborn, sturdy something in my disposition, and an enthusiastic, idiotic piety. I say idiotic piety because I was then but a child. Though it cost the schoolmaster some thrashings, I made an excellent English scholar; and by the time I was ten or eleven years of age, I was a critic in substantives, verbs, and particles. In my infant and boyish days, too, I owe much to an old woman who resided in the family, remarkable for her ignorance, credulity, and superstition. She had, I suppose, the largest collection in the country of tales and songs concerning devils, ghosts, fairies, brownies, witches, warlocks, spunkies, kelpies, elf-candles, dead-lights, wraiths, apparitions, cantraips, giants, enchanted towers, dragons, and other trumpery. This cultivated the latent seeds of poetry; but had so strong an effect on my imagination that to this hour in my nocturnal rambles I sometimes keep a sharp lookout in suspicious places; and though nobody can be more sceptical than I am in such matters, yet it often takes an effort of philosophy to shake off these idle terrors.
The earliest composition that I recollect taking pleasure in was "The Vision of Mirza," and a hymn of Addison's beginning, "How are thy servants blest, O Lord!" I particularly remember one half-stanza which was music to my boyish ear—
For though on dreadful whirls we hung High on the broken wave—
I met with these pieces in Mason's English Collection, one of my schoolbooks. The first two books I ever read in private, and which gave me more pleasure than any two books I ever read since, were "The Life of Hannibal" and "The History of Sir William Wallace." Hannibal gave my young ideas such a turn that I used to strut in raptures up and down after the recruiting drum and bagpipe and wish myself tall enough to be a soldier; while the story of Wallace poured a Scottish prejudice into my veins, which will boil along there till the floodgates of life shut in eternal rest.
Polemical divinity about this time was putting the country half mad, and I, ambitious of shining in conversation parties on Sundays, between sermons, at funerals, etc., used a few years afterward to puzzle Calvinism with so much heat and indiscretion that I raised a hue and cry of heresy against me, which has not ceased to this hour.
My vicinity to Ayr was of some advantage to me. My social disposition, when not checked by some modifications of spirited pride, was like our catechism definition of infinitude, without bounds or limits. I formed several connections with other younkers, who possessed superior advantages; the youngling actors who were busy in the rehearsal of parts, in which they were shortly to appear on the stage of life, where, alas! I was destined to drudge behind the scenes. It is not commonly at this green age that our young gentry have a just sense of the immense distance between them and their ragged playfellows. It takes a few dashes into the world to give the young, great man that proper, decent, unnoticing disregard for the poor, insignificant, stupid devils, the mechanics and peasantry around him, who were, perhaps, born in the same village. My young superiors never insulted the clouterly appearance of my plough-boy carcase, the two extremes of which were often exposed to all the inclemencies of all the seasons. They would give me stray volumes of books; among them, even then, I could pick up some observations, and one, whose heart, I am sure, not even the "Munny Begum" scenes have tainted, helped me to a little French. Parting with these my young friends and benefactors, as they occasionally went off for the East or West Indies, was often to me a sore affliction; but I was soon called to more serious evils. My father's generous master died, the farm proved a ruinous bargain; and to clench the misfortune, we fell into the hands of a factor, who sat for the picture I have drawn of one in my tale of "Twa Dogs." My father was advanced in life when he married; I was the eldest of seven children, and he, worn out by early hardships, was unfit for labour. My father's spirit was soon irritated, but not easily broken. There was a freedom in his lease in two years more, and to weather these two years, we retrenched our expenses. We lived very poorly; I was a dexterous ploughman for my age; and the next eldest to me was a brother (Gilbert), who could drive the plough very well, and help me to thrash the corn. A novel-writer might, perhaps, have viewed these scenes with some satisfaction, but so did not I; my indignation yet boils at the recollection of the scoundrel factor's insolent, threatening letters, which used to set us all in tears.
This kind of life—the cheerless gloom of a hermit, with the unceasing moil of a galley slave, brought me to my sixteenth year; a little before which period I first committed the sin of rhyme. You know our country custom of coupling a man and woman together as partners in the labours of harvest. In my fifteenth autumn my partner was a bewitching creature, a year younger than myself. My scarcity of English denies me the power of doing her justice in that language, but you know the Scottish idiom: she was a "bonnie, sweet, sonsie (engaging) lass." In short, she, altogether unwittingly to herself, initiated me in that delicious passion, which, in spite of acid disappointment, gin-horse prudence, and bookworm philosophy, I hold to be the first of human joys, our dearest blessing here below! How she caught the contagion I cannot tell; you medical people talk much of infection from breathing the same air, the touch, etc., but I never expressly said I loved her. Indeed I did not know myself why I liked so much to loiter behind with her when returning in the evening from our labours; why the tones of her voice made my heartstrings thrill like an Aeolian harp; and particularly why my pulse beat such a furious ratan, when I looked and fingered over her little hand to pick out the cruel nettle-stings and thistles. Among her other love-inspiring qualities, she sung sweetly; and it was her favourite reel to which I attempted giving an embodied vehicle in rhyme. I was not so presumptuous as to imagine that I could make verses like printed ones, composed by men who had Greek and Latin; but my girl sung a song which was said to be composed by a small country laird's son, on one of his father's maids with whom he was in love; and I saw no reason why I might not rhyme as well as he; for, excepting that he could smear sheep, and cast peats, his father living in the moorlands, he had no more scholar-craft than myself.
Thus with me began love and poetry, which at times have been my only, and till within the last twelve months have been my highest, enjoyment. My father struggled on till he reached the freedom in his lease, when he entered on a larger farm, about ten miles farther in the country. The nature of the bargain he made was such as to throw a little ready money into his hands at the commencement of his lease, otherwise the affair would have been impracticable. For four years we lived comfortably here, but a difference commencing between him and his landlord as to terms, after three years' tossing and whirling in the vortex of litigation, my father was just saved from the horrors of a jail by a consumption which, after two years' promises, kindly stepped in, and carried him away, to where the wicked cease from troubling, and where the weary are at rest!
It is during the time that we lived on this farm that my little story is most eventful. I was, at the beginning of this period, perhaps the most ungainly, awkward boy in the parish—no hermit was less acquainted with the ways of the world. What I knew of ancient story was gathered from Salmon's and Guthrie's Geographical Grammars; and the ideas I had formed of modern manners, of literature, and criticism, I got from the Spectator. These, with Pope's Works, some Plays of Shakespeare, Tull, and Dickson on Agriculture, The "Pantheon," Locke's "Essay on the Human Understanding," Stackhouse's "History of the Bible," Justice's "British Gardener's Directory," Boyle's "Lectures," Allan Ramsay's Works, Taylor's "Scripture Doctrine of Original Sin," "A Select Collection of English Songs," and Hervey's "Meditations," had formed the whole of my reading. The collection of songs was my companion, day and night. I pored over them driving my cart, or walking to labour, song by song, verse by verse; carefully noting the true, tender, or sublime, from affectation and fustian. I am convinced I owe to this practice much of my critic-craft, such as it is.
In my seventeenth year, to give my manners a brush, I went to a country dancing-school. My father had an unaccountable antipathy against these meetings, and my going was, what to this moment I repent, in opposition to his wishes. My father, as I said before, was subject to strong passions; from that instance of disobedience in me he took a sort of dislike to me, which, I believe, was one cause of the dissipation which marked my succeeding years. I say dissipation, comparatively with the strictness, and sobriety, and regularity of Presbyterian country life; for though the will-o'-wisp meteors of thoughtless whim were almost the sole lights of my path, yet early ingrained piety and virtue kept me for several years afterward within the line of innocence. The great misfortune of my life was to want an aim. I had felt early some stirrings of ambition, but they were the blind gropings of Homer's Cyclops round the walls of his cave. I saw my father's situation entailed on me perpetual labour. The only two openings by which I could enter the temple of fortune were the gate of niggardly economy or the path of little chicaning bargain-making. The first is so contracted an aperture I never could squeeze myself into it; the last I always hated—there was contamination in the very entrance! Thus abandoned of aim or view in life, with a strong appetite for sociability, as well from native hilarity as from a pride of observation and remark; a constitutional melancholy or hypochondriasm that made me fly solitude; add to these incentives to social life my reputation for bookish knowledge, a certain wild, logical talent, and a strength of thought, something like the rudiments of good sense; and it will not seem surprising that I was generally a welcome guest where I visited, or any great wonder that always, where two or three met together, there was I among them. But far beyond all other impulses of my heart was a leaning toward the adorable half of humankind. My heart was completely tinder, and was eternally lighted up by some goddess or other; and, as in every other warfare in this world, my fortune was various; sometimes I was received with favour, and sometimes I was mortified with a repulse. At the plough, scythe, or reap-hook I feared no competitor, and thus I set absolute want at defiance; and as I never cared further for my labours than while I was in actual exercise, I spent the evenings in the way after my own heart.
Another circumstance in my life which made some alteration in my mind and manners was that I spent my nineteenth summer on a smuggling coast, a good distance from home, at a noted school, to learn mensuration, surveying, dialling, etc., in which I made a pretty good progress. But I made a greater progress in the knowledge of mankind. The contraband trade was at that time very successful, and it sometimes happened to me to fall with those who carried it on. Scenes of swaggering riot and roaring dissipation were, till this time, new to me; but I was no enemy to social life.
My reading meantime was enlarged with the very important addition of Thomson's and Shenstone's Works. I had seen human nature in a new phase; and I engaged several of my schoolfellows to keep up a literary correspondence with me. This improved me in composition. I had met with a collection of letters by the wits of Queen Anne's reign, and pored over them most devoutly. I kept copies of any of my own letters that pleased me, and a comparison between them and the composition of most of my correspondents flattered my vanity. I carried this whim so far that, though I had not three farthings' worth of business in the world, yet almost every post brought me as many letters as if I had been a broad plodding son of the day-book and ledger.
My life flowed on much in the same course till my twenty-third year. The addition of two more authors to my library gave me great pleasure: Sterne and Mackenzie—"Tristram Shandy" and the "Man of Feeling"—were my bosom favourites. Poesy was still a darling walk for my mind, but it was only indulged in according to the humour of the hour. I had usually half a dozen or more pieces on hand; I took up one or other, as it suited the momentary tone of the mind, and dismissed the work as it bordered on fatigue. My passions, when once lighted up, raged like so many devils, till they got vent in rhyme; and then the conning over my verses, like a spell, soothed all into quiet! None of the rhymes of those days are in print, except "Winter, a Dirge," the eldest of my printed pieces; "The Death of Poor Maillie," "John Barleycorn," and Songs First, Second, and Third. Song Second was the ebullition of that passion which ended the forementioned school business.
My twenty-third year was to me an important era. Partly through whim, and partly that I wished to set about doing something in life, I joined a flax-dresser in a neighbouring town (Irvine), to learn the trade. This was an unlucky affair. As we were giving a welcome carousal to the new year, the shop took fire and burned to ashes, and I was left, like a true poet, not worth a sixpence.
I was obliged to give up this scheme, the clouds of misfortune were gathering thick round my father's head; and, what was worst of all, he was visibly far gone in a consumption; and to crown my distresses, a beautiful girl, whom I adored, and who had pledged her soul to meet me in the field of matrimony, jilted me, with peculiar circumstances of mortification. The finishing evil that brought up the rear of this infernal file was my constitutional melancholy being increased to such a degree that for three months I was in a state of mind scarcely to be envied by the hopeless wretches who have got their mittimus—depart from me, ye cursed!
From this adventure I learned something of a town life; but the principal thing which gave my mind a turn was a friendship I formed with a young fellow, a very noble character, but a hapless son of misfortune. He was the son of a simple mechanic; but a great man in the neighbourhood taking him under his patronage, gave him a genteel education, with a view of bettering his situation in life. The patron dying just as he was ready to launch out into the world, the poor fellow in despair went to sea; where, after a variety of good and ill fortune, a little before I was acquainted with him he had been set on shore by an American privateer, on the wild coast of Connaught, stripped of everything. I cannot quit this poor fellow's story without adding that he is at this time master of a large West Indiaman belonging to the Thames.
His mind was fraught with independence, magnanimity, and every manly virtue. I loved and admired him to a degree of enthusiasm, and of course strove to imitate him. In some measure I succeeded; I had pride before, but he taught it to flow in proper channels. His knowledge of the world was vastly superior to mine, and I was all attention to learn. . . . My reading only increased while in this town by two stray volumes of "Pamela," and one of "Ferdinand Count Fathom," which gave me some idea of novels. Rhyme, except some religious pieces that are in print, I had given up; but meeting with Fergusson's Scottish Poems, I strung anew my wildly sounding lyre with emulating vigour. When my father died his all went among the hell-hounds that growl in the kennel of justice; but we made a shift to collect a little money in the family amongst us, with which to keep us together; my brother and I took a neighbouring farm. My brother wanted my hare-brained imagination, as well as my social and amorous madness; but in good sense, and every sober qualification, he was far my superior.
I entered on this farm with a full resolution, "come, go to, I will be wise!" I read farming books, I calculated crops; I attended markets; and, in short, in spite of the devil, and the world, and the flesh, I believe I should have been a wise man; but the first year, from unfortunately buying bad seed, the second from a late harvest, we lost half our crops. This overset all my wisdom, and I returned, "like the dog to his vomit, and the sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire."
I now began to be known in the neighbourhood as a maker of rhymes. The first of my poetic offspring that saw the light was a burlesque lamentation on a quarrel between two reverend Calvinists, both of them figuring in my "Holy Fair." I had a notion myself that the piece had some merit; but, to prevent the worst, I gave a copy of it to a friend, who was very fond of such things, and told him that I could not guess who was the author of it, but that I thought it pretty clever. With a certain description of the clergy, as well as laity, it met with a roar of applause. "Holy Willie's Prayer" next made its appearance, and alarmed the kirk-session so much, that they held several meetings to look over their spiritual artillery, if haply any of it might be pointed against profane rhymers. Unluckily for me, my wanderings led me on another side, within point-blank shot of their heaviest metal. This is the unfortunate story that gave rise to my printed poem, "The Lament." This was a most melancholy affair, which I cannot yet bear to reflect on, and had very nearly given me one or two of the principal qualifications for a place among those who have lost the chart, and mistaken the reckoning of rationality. I gave up my part of the farm to my brother; in truth, it was only nominally mine; and made what little preparation was in my power for Jamaica.
But before leaving my native country forever, I resolved to publish my poems. I weighed my productions as impartially as was in my power; I thought they had merit; and it was a delicious idea that I should be called a clever fellow, even though it should never reach my ears—a poor Negro driver—or perhaps a victim to that inhospitable clime, and gone to the world of spirits! I can truly say that, poor and unknown as I then was, I had pretty nearly as high an idea of myself and of my works as I have at this moment, when the public has decided in their favour. It ever was my opinion that the mistakes and blunders, both in a rational and religious point of view, of which we see thousands daily guilty, are owing to their ignorance of themselves. To know myself had been all along my constant study. I weighed myself alone; I balanced myself with others. I watched every means of information, to see how much ground I occupied as a man and as a poet; I studied assiduously Nature's design in my formation—where the lights and shades in my character were intended. I was pretty confident my poems would meet with some applause; but at the worst, the roar of the Atlantic would deafen the voice of censure, and the novelty of West Indian scenes make me forget neglect. I threw off six hundred copies, of which I had got subscriptions for about three hundred and fifty. My vanity was highly gratified by the reception I met with from the public; and besides I pocketed, all expenses deducted, nearly twenty pounds. This sum came very seasonably, as I was thinking of indenting myself for want of money to procure my passage. As soon as I was master of nine guineas, the price of wafting me to the torrid zone, I took a steerage passage in the first ship that was to sail from the Clyde, for
Hungry ruin had me in the wind.
I had been for some days skulking from covert to covert, under all the terrors of a jail; as some ill-advised people had uncoupled the merciless pack of the law at my heels. I had taken the last farewell of my few friends; my chest was on the road to Greenock; I had composed the last song I should ever measure in Caledonia—"The Gloomy Night Is Gathering Fast," when a letter from Dr. Blacklock to a friend of mine overthrew all my schemes by opening new prospects to my poetic ambition. The doctor belonged to a set of critics for whose applause I had not dared to hope. His opinion, that I would meet with encouragement in Edinburgh for a second edition, fired me so much, that away I posted for that city, without a single acquaintance, or a single letter of introduction. The baneful star that had so long shed its blasting influence in my zenith for once made a revolution to the nadir; and a kind Providence placed me under the patronage of one of the noblest of men, the Earl of Glencairn. Oublie moi, grand Dieu, si jamais je l'oublie [Forget me, Great God, if I ever forget him!].
I need relate no further. At Edinburgh I was in a new world; I mingled among many classes of men, but all of them new to me, and I was all attention to "catch" the characters and "the manners living as they rise." Whether I have profited, time will show.
POETS ARE BORN—THEN MADE
[To Dr. Moore]
ELLISLAND, 4th January, 1789.
. . . The character and employment of a poet were formerly my pleasure, but are now my pride. I know that a very great deal of my late eclat was owing to the singularity of my situation and the honest prejudice of Scotsmen; but still, as I said in the preface to my first edition, I do look upon myself as having some pretensions from nature to the poetic character. I have not a doubt but the knack, the aptitude, to learn the muses' trade, is a gift bestowed by Him "who forms the secret bias of the soul"; but I as firmly believe that excellence in the profession is the fruit of industry, labour, attention, and pains. At least I am resolved to try my doctrine by the test of experience. Another appearance from the press I put off to a very distant day, a day that may never arrive—but poesy I am determined to prosecute with all my vigour. Nature has given very few, if any, of the profession, the talents of shining in every species of composition. I shall try (for until trial it is impossible to know) whether she has qualified me to shine in any one.
THE KINDLY CRITIC IS THE POET'S BEST FRIEND
[To Mr. Moore]
The worst of it is, by the time one has finished a piece, it has been so often viewed and reviewed before the mental eye that one loses, in a good measure, the power of critical discrimination. Here the best criterion I know is a friend—not only of abilities to judge, but with good nature enough like a prudent teacher with a young learner to praise a little more than is exactly just, lest the thin-skinned animal fall into that most deplorable of all diseases—heart-breaking despondency of himself. Dare I, sir, already immensely indebted to your goodness, ask the additional obligation of your being that friend to me? . . .
HOW THE FARM-BOY BECAME AN EDITOR
Horace Greeley, the farmer's son, lived most of his life in the metropolis, yet he always looked like a farmer, and most people would be willing to admit that he retained the farmer's traditional goodness of heart, if not quite all of his traditional simplicity. His judgment was keen and shrewd, and for many years the cracker-box philosophers of the village store impatiently awaited the sorting of the mail chiefly that they might learn what "Old Horace" had to say about some new picture in the kaleidoscope of politics.
From "Captains of Industry," by James Parton. Houghton, Mifflin & Co., 1884.
I have seldom been more interested than in hearing Horace Greeley tell the story of his coming to New York, in 1831, and gradually working his way into business there.
He was living at the age of twenty years with his parents in a small log-cabin in a new clearing of Western Pennsylvania, about twenty miles from Erie. His father, a Yankee by birth, had recently moved to that region and was trying to raise sheep there, as he had been accustomed to do in Vermont. The wolves were too numerous there.
It was part of the business of Horace and his brother to watch the flock of sheep, and sometimes they camped out all night, sleeping with their feet to the fire, Indian fashion. He told me that occasionally a pack of wolves would come so near that he could see their eyeballs glare in the darkness and hear them pant. Even as he lay in the loft of his father's cabin he could hear them howling in the fields. In spite of all their care, the wolves killed in one season a hundred of his father's sheep, and then he gave up the attempt.
The family were so poor that it was a matter of doubt sometimes whether they could get food enough to live through the long winter, and so Horace, who had learned the printer's trade in Vermont, started out on foot in search of work in a village printing office. He walked from village to village, and from town to town, until at last he went to Erie, the largest place in the vicinity.
There he was taken for a runaway apprentice, and certainly his appearance justified suspicion. Tall and gawky as he was in person, with tow-coloured hair, and a scanty suit of shabbiest homespun, his appearance excited astonishment or ridicule wherever he went. He had never worn a good suit of clothes in his life. He had a singularly fair, white complexion, a piping, whining voice, and these peculiarities gave the effect of his being wanting in intellect. It was not until people conversed with him that they discovered his worth and intelligence. He had been an ardent reader from his childhood up, and had taken of late years the most intense interest in politics and held very positive opinions, which he defended in conversation with great earnestness and ability.
A second application at Erie procured him employment for a few months in the office of the Erie Gazette, and he won his way, not only to the respect, but to the affection of his companions and his employer. That employer was Judge J. M. Sterrett, and from him I heard many curious particulars of Horace Greeley's residence in Erie. As he was only working in the office as a substitute, the return of the absentee deprived him of his place, and he was obliged to seek work elsewhere. His employer said to him one day:
"Now, Horace, you have a good deal of money coming to you; don't go about the town any longer in that outlandish rig. Let me give you an order on the store. Dress up a little, Horace."
The young man looked down on his clothes as though he had never seen them before, and then said, by way of apology:
"You see, Mr. Sterrett, my father is on a new place, and I want to help him all I can."
In fact, upon the settlement of his account at the end of his seven months' labour, he had drawn for his personal expenses six dollars only. Of the rest of his wages he retained fifteen dollars for himself, and gave all the rest, amounting to about a hundred and twenty dollars, to his father, who, I am afraid, did not make the very best use of all of it.
With the great sum of fifteen dollars in his pocket, Horace now resolved upon a bold movement. After spending a few days at home, he tied up his spare clothes in a bundle, not very large, and took the shortest road through the woods that led to the Erie Canal. He was going to New York, and he was going cheap!
A walk of sixty miles or so, much of it through the primeval forest, brought him to Buffalo, where he took passage on the Erie Canal, and after various detentions he reached Albany on a Thursday morning just in time to see the regular steamboat of the day move out into the stream. At ten o'clock on the same morning he embarked on board of a towboat, which required nearly twenty-four hours to descend the river, and thus afforded him ample time to enjoy the beauty of its shores.
On the 18th of August, 1831, about sunrise, he set foot in the city of New York, then containing about two hundred thousand inhabitants. . . . He had managed his affairs with such strict economy that his journey of six hundred miles had cost him little more than five dollars, and he had ten left with which to begin life in the metropolis. This sum of money and the knowledge of the printer's trade made up his capital. There was not a person in all New York, as far as he knew, who had ever seen him before.
His appearance, too, was much against him, for although he had a really fine face, a noble forehead, and the most benign expression I ever saw upon a human countenance, yet his clothes and bearing quite spoiled him. His round jacket made him look like a tall boy who had grown too fast for his strength; he stooped a little and walked in a loose-jointed manner. He was very bashful, and totally destitute of the power of pushing his way, or arguing with a man who said, "No" to him. He had brought no letters of recommendation, and had no kind of evidence to show that he had even learned his trade.
The first business was, of course, to find an extremely cheap boarding-house, as he had made up his mind only to try New York as an experiment, and, if he did not succeed in finding work, to start homeward while he still had a portion of his money. After walking a while he went into what looked to him like a low-priced tavern, at the corner of Wall and Broad streets.
"How much do you charge for board?" he asked the barkeeper, who was wiping his decanters, and putting his bar in trim for the business of the day.
The barkeeper gave the stranger a look-over and said to him:
"I guess we're too high for you."
"Well, how much do you charge?"
"Yes, that's more than I can afford."
He walked on until he descried on the North River, near Washington Market, a boarding-house so very mean and squalid that he was tempted to go in and inquire the price of board there. The price was two dollars and a half a week.
"Ah!" said Horace, "that sounds more like it."
In ten minutes more he was taking his breakfast at the landlord's table. Mr. Greeley gratefully remembered this landlord, who was a friendly Irishman by the name of McGorlick. Breakfast done, the newcomer sallied forth in quest of work, and began by expending nearly half of his capital in improving his wardrobe. It was a wise action. He that goes courting should dress in his best, particularly if he courts so capricious a jade as Fortune.
Then he began the weary round of the printing offices, seeking for work and finding none, all day long. He would enter an office and ask in his whining note:
"Do you want a hand?"
"No," was the inevitable reply, upon receiving which he left without a word. Mr. Greeley chuckled as he told the reception given him at the office of the Journal of Commerce, a newspaper he was destined to contend with for many a year in the columns of the Tribune.
"Do you want a hand?" he said to David Hale, one of the owners of the paper.
Mr. Hale looked at him from head to foot, and then said:
"My opinion is, young man, that you're a runaway apprentice, and you'd better go home to your master."
The applicant tried to explain, but the busy proprietor merely replied:
"Be off about your business, and don't bother us."
The young man laughed good-humouredly and resumed his walk. He went to bed Saturday night thoroughly tired and a little discouraged. On Sunday he walked three miles to attend a church, and remembered to the end of his days the delight he had, for the first time in his life, in hearing a sermon that he entirely agreed with. In the meantime he had gained the good will of his landlord and the boarders, and to that circumstance he owed his first chance in the city. His landlord mentioned his fruitless search for work to an acquaintance who happened to call that Sunday afternoon. That acquaintance, who was a shoemaker, had accidently heard that printers were wanted at No. 85 Chatham Street.
At half-past five on Monday morning Horace Greeley stood before the designated house, and discovered the sign, "West's Printing Office," over the second story, the ground floor being occupied as a bookstore. Not a soul was stirring up stairs or down. The doors were locked, and Horace sat down on the steps to wait. Thousands of workmen passed by; but it was nearly seven before the first of Mr. West's printers arrived, and he, too, finding the door locked, sat down by the side of the stranger, and entered into conversation with him.
"I saw," said the printer to me many years after, "that he was an honest, good young man, and being a Vermonter myself, I determined to help him if I could."
Thus, a second time in New York already, the native quality of the man gained him, at the critical moment, the advantage that decided his destiny. His new friend did help him, and it was very much through his urgent recommendation that the foreman of the printing office gave him a chance. The foreman did not in the least believe that the green-looking young fellow before him could set in type one page of the polyglot Testament for which help was needed.
"Fix up a case for him," said he, "and we'll see if he can do anything."
Horace worked all day with silent intensity, and when he showed to the foreman at night a printer's proof of his day's work, it was found to be the best day's work that had yet been done on that most difficult job. It was greater in quantity and much more correct. The battle was won. He worked on the Testament for several months, making long hours and earning only moderate wages, saving all his surplus money, and sending the greater part of it to his father, who was still in debt for his farm and not sure of being able to keep it.
Ten years passed. Horace Greeley from journeyman printer made his way slowly to partnership in a small printing office. He founded the New Yorker, a weekly paper, the best periodical of its class in the United States. It brought him great credit and no profit.
In 1840, when General Harrison was nominated for the Presidency against Martin Van Buren, his feelings as a politician were deeply stirred, and he started a little campaign paper called The Log-Cabin, which was incomparably the most spirited thing of the kind ever published in the United States. It had a circulation of unprecedented extent, beginning with forty-eight thousand, and rising week after week until it reached ninety thousand. The price, however, was so low that its great sale proved rather an embarrassment than a benefit to the proprietors, and when the campaign ended the firm of Horace Greeley & Co. was rather more in debt than it was when the first number of The Log-Cabin was published.
The little paper had given the editor two things which go far toward making a success in business: great reputation and some confidence in himself. The first penny paper had been started. The New York Herald was making a great stir. The Sun was already a profitable sheet. And now the idea occurred to Horace Greeley to start a daily paper which should have the merits of cheapness and abundant news, without some of the qualities possessed by the others. He wished to found a cheap daily paper that should be good and salutary as well as interesting. The last number of The Log-Cabin announced the forthcoming Tribune, price one cent.
The editor was probably not solvent when he conceived the scheme, and he borrowed a thousand dollars of his old friend, James Coggeshall, with which to buy the indispensable material. He began with six hundred subscribers, printed five thousand of the first number, and found it difficult to give them all away. The Tribune appeared on the day set apart in New York for the funeral procession in commemoration of President Harrison, who died a month after his inauguration.
It was a chilly, dismal day in April, and all the town was absorbed in the imposing pageant. The receipts during the first week were ninety-two dollars; the expenses five hundred and twenty-five. But the little paper soon caught public attention, and the circulation increased for three weeks at the rate of about three hundred a day. It began its fourth week with six thousand; its seventh week with eleven thousand. The first number contained four columns of advertisements; the twelfth, nine columns; the hundredth, thirteen columns.
In a word, the success of the paper was immediate and very great. It grew a little faster than the machinery for producing it could be provided. Its success was due chiefly to the fact that the original idea of the editor was actually carried out. He aimed to produce a paper which should morally benefit the public. It was not always right, but it always meant to be.
THE FACTORY BOY
This factory boy felt in his heart that he was qualified for a better position in life, and great was his humiliation at the wretched meanness of his surroundings. But his demeanor must have been admirable, for he succeeded not only in retaining the respect of his associates, but also in winning their regard. In his case, as in that of so many others, it was darkest just before the dawn of a better day.
They are his own words which follow:
An autobiographical fragment from Forster's "Life."
In an evil hour for me, as I often bitterly thought . . . James Lamert, who had lived with us in Bayham Street, seeing how I was employed from day to day, and knowing what our domestic circumstances then were, proposed that I should go into the blacking warehouse, to be as useful as I could, at a salary, I think, of six shillings a week. I am not clear whether it was six or seven. I am inclined to believe, from my uncertainty on this head, that it was six at first, and seven afterward. At any rate, the offer was accepted very willingly by my father and mother, and on a Monday morning I went down to the blacking warehouse to begin my business life.
It is wonderful to me how I could have been so easily cast away at such an age. It is wonderful to me that, even after my descent into the poor little drudge I had been since we came to London, no one had compassion enough on me—a child of singular abilities, quick, eager, delicate, and soon hurt, bodily or mentally—to suggest that something might have been spared, as certainly it might have been, to place me at any common school. Our friends, I take it, were tired out. No one made any sign. My father and mother were quite satisfied. They could hardly have been more so if I had been twenty years of age, distinguished at a grammar school, and going to Cambridge.
Our relative had kindly arranged to teach me something in the dinner-hour, from twelve to one, I think it was, every day. But an arrangement so incompatible with counting-house business soon died away, from no fault of his or mine; and for the same reason, my small work-table, and my grosses of pots, my papers, string, scissors, paste-pot, and labels, by little and little, vanished out of the recess in the counting-house, and kept company with the other small work-tables, grosses of pots, papers, string, scissors, and paste-pots, downstairs. It was not long before Bob Fagin and I, and another boy whose name was Paul Green, but who was currently believed to have been christened Poll (a belief which I transferred, long afterward again, to Mr. Sweedlepipe, in "Martin Chuzzlewit"), worked generally side by side. Bob Fagin was an orphan, and lived with his brother-in-law, a waterman. Poll Green's father had the additional distinction of being a fireman, and was employed at Drury Lane Theatre, where another relation of Poll's, I think his little sister, did imps in the pantomimes.
No words can express the secret agony of my soul as I sunk into this companionship; compared these every-day associates with those of my happier childhood; and felt my early hopes of growing up to be a learned and distinguished man crushed in my breast. The deep remembrance of the sense I had of being utterly neglected and hopeless; of the shame I felt in my position; of the misery it was to my young heart to believe that, day by day, what I had learned, and thought, and delighted in, and raised my fancy and my emulation up by, was passing away from me, never to be brought back any more, cannot be written. My whole nature was so penetrated with the grief and humiliation of such considerations that even now, famous and caressed and happy, I often forget in my dreams that I have a dear wife and children; even that I am a man; and wander desolately back to that time of my life.
I know I do not exaggerate, unconsciously and unintentionally, the scantiness of my resources and the difficulties of my life. I know that if a shilling or so were given me by any one, I spent it in a dinner or a tea. I know that I worked, from morning to night, with common men and boys, a shabby child. I know that I tried, but ineffectually, not to anticipate my money, and to make it last the week through; by putting it away in a drawer I had in the counting-house, wrapped into six little parcels, each parcel containing the same amount, and labelled with a different day. I know that I have lounged about the streets, insufficiently and unsatisfactorily fed. I know that, but for the mercy of God, I might easily have been, for any care that was taken of me, a little robber or a little vagabond.
A LITTLE GENTLEMAN
But I held some station at the blacking warehouse, too. Besides that my relative at the counting-house did what a man so occupied, and dealing with a thing so anomalous, could, to treat me as one upon a different footing from the rest, I never said, to man or boy, how it was that I came to be there, or gave the least indication of being sorry that I was there. That I suffered in secret, and that I suffered exquisitely, no one ever knew but I. How much I suffered, it is, as I have said already, utterly beyond my power to tell. No man's imagination can overstep the reality. But I kept my own counsel, and I did my work. I knew from the first that if I could not do my work as well as any of the rest I could not hold myself above slight and contempt. I soon became at least as expeditious and as skilful with my hands as either of the other boys. Though perfectly familiar with them, my conduct and manners were different enough from theirs to place a space between us. They and the men always spoke of me as "the young gentleman." A certain man (a soldier once) named Thomas, who was the foreman, and another man Harry, who was the carman, and wore a red jacket, used to call me "Charles" sometimes in speaking to me; but I think it was mostly when we were very confidential, and when I had made some efforts to entertain them over our work with the results of some of the old readings, which were fast perishing out of my mind. Poll Green uprose once, and rebelled against the "young gentleman" usage; but Bob Fagin settled him speedily.
My rescue from this kind of existence I considered quite hopeless, and abandoned as such, altogether; though I am solemnly convinced that I never, for one hour, was reconciled to it, or was otherwise than miserably unhappy. I felt keenly, however, the being so cut off from my parents, my brothers, and sisters; and, when my day's work was done, going home to such a miserable blank. And that, I thought, might be corrected. One Sunday night I remonstrated with my father on this head so pathetically and with so many tears that his kind nature gave way. He began to think that it was not quite right. I do believe he had never thought so before, or thought about it. It was the first remonstrance I had ever made about my lot, and perhaps it opened up a little more than I intended. A back-attic was found for me at the house of an insolvent court agent, who lived in Lant Street in the Borough, where Bob Sawyer lodged many years afterward. A bed and bedding were sent over for me, and made up on the floor. The little window had a pleasant prospect of a timber-yard; and when I took possession of my new abode, I thought it was a paradise.
A FRIEND IN NEED
Bob Fagin was very good to me on the occasion of a bad attack of my old disorder, cramps. I suffered such excruciating pain that time that they made a temporary bed of straw in my old recess in the counting-house, and I rolled about on the floor, and Bob filled empty blacking-bottles with hot water, and applied relays of them to my side, half the day. I got better, and quite easy toward evening; but Bob (who was much bigger and older than I) did not like the idea of my going home alone, and took me under his protection. I was too proud to let him know about the prison; and after making several efforts to get rid of him, to all of which Bob Fagin, in his goodness, was deaf, shook hands with him on the steps of a house near Southwark Bridge on the Surrey side, making believe that I lived there. As a finishing piece of reality in case of his looking back, I knocked at the door, I recollect, and asked, when the woman opened it, if that was Mr. Robert Fagin's house.
My usual way home was over Blackfriars Bridge, and down that turning in the Blackfriars Road which has Rowland Hill's chapel on one side, and the likeness of a golden dog licking a golden pot over a shop door on the other. There are a good many little low-browed old shops in that street, of a wretched kind; and some are unchanged now. I looked into one a few weeks ago, where I used to buy bootlaces on Saturday nights, and saw the corner where I once sat down on a stool to have a pair of ready-made half-boots fitted on. I have been seduced more than once, in that street on a Saturday night, by a show-van at a corner; and have gone in, with a very motley assemblage, to see the Fat Pig, the Wild Indian, and the Little Lady. There were two or three hat manufactories there then (I think they are there still); and among the things which, encountered anywhere, or under any circumstances, will instantly recall that time, is the smell of hat-making.
I was such a little fellow, with my poor white hat, little jacket, and corduroy trousers, that frequently, when I went into the bar of a strange public-house for a glass of ale or porter to wash down the saveloy and the loaf I had eaten in the street, they didn't like to give it me. I remember, one evening (I had been somewhere for my father, and was going back to the Borough over Westminster Bridge), that I went into a public-house in Parliament Street, which is still there, though altered, at the corner of the short street leading into Cannon Row, and said to the landlord behind the bar, "What is your very best—the VERY best—ale a glass?" For the occasion was a festive one, for some reasons: I forget why. It may have been my birthday, or somebody else's. "Twopence," says he. "Then," says I, "just draw me a glass of that, if you please, with a good head to it." The landlord looked at me, in return, over the bar, from head to foot, with a strange smile on his face; and instead of drawing the beer, looked round the screen and said something to his wife, who came out from behind it, with her work in her hand, and joined him in surveying me. Here we stand, all three, before me now, in my study in Devonshire Terrace. The landlord in his shirt-sleeves, leaning against the bar window-frame; his wife looking over the little half-door; and I, in some confusion, looking up at them from outside the partition. They asked me a good many questions, as what my name was, how old I was, where I lived, how I was employed, etc., etc. To all of which, that I might commit nobody, I invented appropriate answers. They served me with the ale, though I suspect it was not the strongest on the premises; and the landlord's wife, opening the little half-door and bending down, gave me a kiss that was half-admiring and half-compassionate, but all womanly and good, I am sure.
DELIVERANCE AT LAST
At last, one day, my father and the relative so often mentioned quarrelled; quarrelled by letter, for I took the letter from my father to him which caused the explosion, but quarrelled very fiercely. It was about me. It may have had some backward reference, in part, for anything I know, to my employment at the window. All I am certain of is that, soon after I had given him the letter, my cousin (he was a sort of cousin by marriage) told me he was very much insulted about me; and that it was impossible to keep me after that. I cried very much, partly because it was so sudden, and partly because in his anger he was violent about my father, though gentle to me. Thomas, the old soldier, comforted me, and said he was sure it was for the best. With a relief so strange that it was like oppression, I went home.
My mother set herself to accommodate the quarrel, and did so next day. She brought home a request for me to return next morning, and a high character of me, which I am very sure I deserved. My father said I should go back no more, and should go to school. I do not write resentfully or angrily, for I know how all these things have worked together to make me what I am, but I never afterward forgot, I never shall forget, I never can forget, that my mother was warm for my being sent back.
From that hour until this at which I write no word of that part of my childhood, which I have now gladly brought to a close, has passed my lips to any human being. I have no idea how long it lasted; whether for a year, or much more, or less. From that hour until this, my father and my mother have been stricken dumb upon it. I have never heard the least allusion to it, however far off and remote, from either of them. I have never, until I now impart it to this paper, in any burst of confidence with any one, my own wife not excepted, raised the curtain I then dropped, thank God.
Dickens sent the following sketch of his early career to Wilkie Collins. It will be noted that he omits all reference to his experiences in the blacking factory. The naive touches of self-appreciation are delightful to the true lover of "The Inimitable."
TAVISTOCK HOUSE, June 6, 1856.
I have never seen anything about myself in print which has much correctness in it—any biographical account of myself I mean. I do not supply such particulars when I am asked for them by editors and compilers, simply because I am asked for them every day. If you want to prime Forgues, you may tell him, without fear of anything wrong, that I was born at Portsmouth on the 7th of February, 1812; that my father was in the Navy Pay Office; that I was taken by him to Chatham when I was very young, and lived and was educated there till I was twelve or thirteen, I suppose; that I was then put to a school near London, where (as at other places) I distinguished myself like a brick; that I was put in the office of a solicitor, a friend of my father's, and didn't much like it; and after a couple of years (as well as I can remember) applied myself with a celestial or diabolical energy to the study of such things as would qualify me to be a first-rate parliamentary reporter—at that time a calling pursued by many clever men who were young at the Bar; that I made my debut in the gallery (at about eighteen, I suppose), engaged on a voluminous publication no longer in existence, called the Mirror of Parliament; that when the Morning Chronicle was purchased by Sir John Easthope and acquired a large circulation, I was engaged there, and that I remained there until I had begun to publish "Pickwick," when I found myself in a condition to relinquish that part of my labours; that I left the reputation behind me of being the best and most rapid reporter ever known, and that I could do anything in that way under any sort of circumstances, and often did. (I daresay I am at this present writing the best shorthand writer in the world.)
That I began, without any interest or introduction of any kind, to write fugitive pieces for the old Monthly Magazine, when I was in the gallery for the Mirror of Parliament; that my faculty for descriptive writing was seized upon the moment I joined the Morning Chronicle, and that I was liberally paid there and handsomely acknowledged, and wrote the greater part of the short descriptive "Sketches by Boz" in that paper; that I had been a writer when I was a mere baby, and always an actor from the same age; that I married the daughter of a writer to the signet in Edinburgh, who was the great friend and assistant of Scott, and who first made Lockhart known to him.
And that here I am.
Finally, if you want any dates of publication of books, tell Wills and he'll get them for you.
This is the first time I ever set down even these particulars, and, glancing them over, I feel like a wild beast in a caravan describing himself in the keeper's absence.
The following letter, criticising the work of an inexperienced author, is valuable in itself, and reveals clearly the essential kindliness of the man.
OFFICE OF HOUSEHOLD WORDS, Monday, June 1, 1857.
MY DEAR STONE:
I know that what I am going to say will not be agreeable; but I rely on the authoress's good sense; and say it knowing it to be the truth.
These "Notes" are destroyed by too much smartness. It gives the appearance of perpetual effort, stabs to the heart the nature that is in them, and wearies by the manner and not by the matter. It is the commonest fault in the world (as I have constant occasion to observe here) but it is a very great one. Just as you couldn't bear to have an epergne or a candlestick on your table, supported by a light figure always on tip-toe and evidently in an impossible attitude for the sustainment of its weight, so all readers would be more or less oppressed and worried by this presentation of everything in one smart point of view, when they know it must have other, and weightier, and more solid properties. Airiness and good spirits are always delightful, and are inseparable from notes of a cheerful trip; but they should sympathize with many things as well as see them in a lively way. It is but a word or a touch that expresses this humanity, but without that little embellishment of good nature there is no such thing as humour. In this little MS. everything is too much patronized and condescended to, whereas the slightest touch of feeling for the rustic who is of the earth earthy, or of sisterhood with the homely servant who has made her face shine in her desire to please, would make a difference that the writer can scarcely imagine without trying it. The only relief in the twenty-one slips is the little bit about the chimes. It is a relief, simply because it is an indication of some kind of sentiment. You don't want any sentiment laboriously made out in such a thing. You don't want any maudlin show of it. But you do want a pervading suggestion that it is there. It makes all the difference between being playful and being cruel. Again I must say, above all things—especially to young people writing: For the love of God don't condescend! Don't assume the attitude of saying, "See how clever I am, and what fun everybody else is!" Take any shape but that.
I observe an excellent quality of observation throughout, and think the boy at the shop, and all about him, particularly good. I have no doubt whatever that the rest of the journal will be much better if the writer chooses to make it so. If she considers for a moment within herself, she will know that she derived pleasure from everything she saw, because she saw it with innumerable lights and shades upon it, and bound to humanity by innumerable fine links; she cannot possibly communicate anything of that pleasure to another by showing it from one little limited point only, and that point, observe, the one from which it is impossible to detach the exponent as the patroness of a whole universe of inferior souls. This is what everybody would mean in objecting to these notes (supposing them to be published), that they are too smart and too flippant.
As I understand this matter to be altogether between us three, and as I think your confidence and hers imposes a duty of friendship on me, I discharge it to the best of my ability. Perhaps I make more of it than you may have meant or expected; if so, it is because I am interested and wish to express it. If there had been anything in my objection not perfectly easy of removal, I might, after all, have hesitated to state it; but that is not the case. A very little indeed would make all this gayety as sound and wholesome and good-natured in the reader's mind as it is in the writer's.
"THE INFINITE CAPACITY FOR TAKING PAINS"
[To his sixth son, Henry Fielding Dickens, born in 1849]
BALTIMORE, U. S.,
TUESDAY, February 11, 1868.
MY DEAR HARRY:
I should have written to you before now but for constant and arduous occupation. . . . I am very glad to hear of the success of your reading, and still more glad that you went at it in downright earnest. I should never have made my success in life if I had been shy of taking pains, or if I had not bestowed upon the least thing I have ever undertaken exactly the same attention and care that I have bestowed upon the greatest. Do everything at your best. It was but this last year that I set to and learned every word of my readings; and from ten years ago to last night, I have never read to an audience but I have watched for an opportunity of striking out something better somewhere. Look at such of my manuscripts as are in the library at Gad's, and think of the patient hours devoted year after year to single lines. . . .
Ever, my dear Harry,
Your affectionate Father.
"FAREWELL? MY BLESSING SEASON THIS IN THEE"
[Dickens's last child, Edward Bulwer Lytton Dickens, was born in 1852. At sixteen he went to Australia, with this parting word from his father:]
MY DEAREST PLORN:
I write this note to-day because your going away is much upon my mind, and because I want you to have a few parting words from me to think of now and then at quiet times. I need not tell you that I love you dearly, and am very, very sorry in my heart to part with you. But this life is half made up of partings, and these pains must be borne. It is my comfort and my sincere conviction that you are going to try the life for which you are best fitted. I think its freedom and wildness more suited to you than any experiment in a study or office would ever have been; and without that training, you could have followed no other suitable occupation.
What you have already wanted until now has been a set, steady, constant purpose. I therefore exhort you to persevere in a thorough determination to do whatever you have to do as well as you can do it. I was not so old as you are now when I first had to win my food, and do this out of this determination, and I have never slackened in it since.
Never take a mean advantage of any one in any transaction, and never be hard upon people who are in your power. Try to do to others as you would have them do to you, and do not be discouraged if they fail sometimes. It is much better for you that they should fail in obeying the greatest rule laid down by our Saviour than that you should. I put a New Testament among your books for the very same reasons, and with the very same hopes that made me write an easy account of it for you, when you were a little child. Because it is the best book that ever was, or will be, known in the world; and because it teaches you the best lessons by which any human creature, who tries to be truthful and faithful to duty, can possibly be guided. As your brothers have gone away, one by one, I have written to each such words as I am now writing to you, and have entreated them all to guide themselves by this Book, putting aside the interpretations and inventions of man. You will remember that you have never at home been harassed about religious observances or mere formalities. I have always been anxious not to weary my children with such things before they are old enough to form opinions respecting them. You will therefore understand the better that I now most solemnly impress upon you the truth and beauty of the Christian Religion, as it came from Christ Himself, and the impossibility of your going far wrong if you humbly but heartily respect it. Only one thing more on this head. The more we are in earnest as to feeling it, the less we are disposed to hold forth about it. Never abandon the wholesome practice of saying your own private prayers, night and morning. I have never abandoned it myself, and I know the comfort of it. I hope you will always be able to say in after life that you had a kind father. You cannot show your affection for him so well, or make him so happy, as by doing your duty.
THE COUNTRY PARSON'S DAUGHTER
Mrs. Gaskell's "Life of Charlotte Bronte" is one of the great biographies of literature, but like other works on the same theme, it is really a history of the Bronte family during the period of Charlotte's life. The individuals of this family were for many years as closely associated with one another as they were closely hidden from the outside world. The personality of each was influenced by its house-mates to an unusual degree. They studied each other and they studied every book that came within reach. Themselves they knew well: the world, through books only. This probably accounts for the weird and even morbid character of much of their work. Their vivid imaginations, unchecked by experience, in a commonplace world were allowed free play, and as a result we find some of the most original creations in the whole realm of literature.
The life of the Bronte sisterhood should convince the literary aspirant that the creative imagination is sufficient unto itself and independent of the stimulus of contact with the busy hum of men. If it be necessary, the literary genius by divination can portray life without seeing it. Bricks are produced without straw.
From "Life of Charlotte Bronte," by Mrs. E. C. Gaskell.
But the children did not want society. To small infantine gayeties they were unaccustomed. They were all in all to each other. I do not suppose that there ever was a family more tenderly bound to each other. Maria read the newspapers, and reported intelligence to her younger sisters which it is wonderful they could take an interest in. But I suspect that they had no "children's books," and their eager minds "browzed undisturbed among the wholesome pasturage of English literature," as Charles Lamb expresses it. The servants of the household appear to have been much impressed with the little Brontes' extraordinary cleverness. In a letter which I had from him on this subject, their father writes: "The servants often said they had never seen such a clever little child" (as Charlotte), "and that they were obliged to be on their guard as to what they said and did before her. Yet she and the servants always lived on good terms with each other. . . ."
I return to the father's letter. He says:
"When mere children, as soon as they could read and write, Charlotte and her brothers and sisters used to invent and act little plays of their own in which the Duke of Wellington, my daughter Charlotte's hero, was sure to come off conqueror; when a dispute would not unfrequently arise amongst them regarding the comparative merits of him, Bonaparte, Hannibal, and Caesar. When the argument got warm, and rose to its height, as their mother was then dead, I had sometimes to come in as arbitrator, and settle the dispute according to the best of my judgment. Generally, in the management of these concerns, I frequently thought that I discovered signs of rising talent, which I had seldom or never before seen in any of their age. . . . A circumstance now occurs to my mind which I may as well mention. When my children were very young, when, as far as I can remember, the oldest was about ten years of age, and the youngest about four, thinking they knew more than I had yet discovered, in order to make them speak with less timidity, I deemed that if they were put under a sort of cover I might gain my end; and happening to have a mask in the house, I told them all to stand and speak boldly from under cover of the mask.
"I began with the youngest (Anne, afterward Acton Bell), and asked what a child like her most wanted; she answered, 'Age and experience.' I asked the next (Emily, afterward Ellis Bell) what I had best do with her brother Branwell, who was sometimes a naughty boy; she answered, 'Reason with him, and when he won't listen to reason, whip him.' I asked Branwell what was the best way of knowing the difference between the intellects of men and women; he answered, 'By considering the difference between them as to their bodies.' I then asked Charlotte what was the best book in the world; she answered, 'The Bible.' And what was the next best; she answered, 'The Book of Nature.' I then asked the next what was the best mode of education for a woman; she answered, 'That which would make her rule her house well.' Lastly I asked the oldest what was the best mode of spending time; she answered, 'By laying it out in preparation for a happy eternity.'
"I may not have given precisely their words, but I have nearly done so, as they made a deep and lasting impression on my memory. The substance, however, was exactly what I have stated."
The strange and quaint simplicity of the mode taken by the father to ascertain the hidden characters of his children, and the tone and character of these questions and answers, show the curious education which was made by the circumstances surrounding the Brontes. They knew no other children. They knew no other modes of thought than what were suggested to them by the fragments of clerical conversation which they overheard in the parlour, or the subjects of village and local interest which they heard discussed in the kitchen. Each had their own strong characteristic flavour.
They took a vivid interest in the public characters, and the local and foreign politics discussed in the newspapers. Long before Maria Bronte died, at the age of eleven, her father used to say he would converse with her on any of the leading topics of the day with as much freedom and pleasure as with any grown-up person. . . .
Miss Branwell instructed the children at regular hours in all she could teach, making her bed-chamber into their schoolroom. Their father was in the habit of relating to them any public news in which he felt an interest; and from the opinions of his strong and independent mind they would gather much food for thought; but I do not know whether he gave them any direct instruction. Charlotte's deep, thoughtful spirit appears to have felt almost painfully the tender responsibility which rested upon her with reference to her remaining sisters. She was only eighteen months older than Emily; but Emily and Anne were simply companions and playmates, while Charlotte was motherly friend and guardian to both; and this loving assumption of duties beyond her years made her feel considerably older than she really was.
I have had a curious packet confided to me, containing an immense amount of manuscript, in an inconceivably small space; tales, dramas, poems, romances, written principally by Charlotte, in a hand which is almost impossible to decipher without the aid of a magnifying glass. . . .
As each volume contains from sixty to a hundred pages . . . the amount of the whole seems very great, if we remember that it was all written in about fifteen months. So much for the quantity; the quality strikes me as of singular merit for a girl of thirteen or fourteen. Both as a specimen of her prose style at this time, and also as revealing something of the quiet domestic life led by these children, I take an extract from the introduction to "Tales of the Islanders," the title of one of their "Little Magazines":
"JUNE the 31st, 1829.
"The play of the 'Islanders' was formed in December, 1827, in the following manner: One night, about the time when cold sleet and stormy fogs of November are succeeded by the snowstorms and high, piercing night-winds of confirmed winter, we were all sitting round the warm blazing kitchen fire, having just concluded a quarrel with Tabby concerning the propriety of lighting a candle, from which she came off victorious, no candle having been produced. A long pause succeeded, which was at last broken by Branwell saying in a lazy manner, 'I don't know what to do.' This was echoed by Emily and Anne.
"Tabby. 'Wha ya may go t'bed.'
"Branwell. 'I'd rather do anything than that.'
"Charlotte. 'Why are you so glum to-night, Tabby? Oh! suppose we had each an island of our own.'
"Branwell. 'If we had I would choose the Island of Man.'
"Charlotte. 'And I would choose the Isle of Wight.'
"Emily. 'The Isle of Arran for me.'
"Anne. 'And mine should be Guernsey.'
"We then chose who would be chief men in our Islands. Branwell chose John Bull, Astley Cooper, and Leigh Hunt; Emily, Walter Scott, Mr. Lockhart, Johnny Lockhart; Anne, Michael Sadler, Lord Bentinck, Sir Henry Halford. I chose the Duke of Wellington and two sons, Christopher North and Co., and Mr. Abernethy. Here our conversation was interrupted by the, to us, dismal sound of the clock striking seven, and we were summoned off to bed. The next day we added many others to our list of men, till we got almost all the chief men of the kingdom. After this, for a long time, nothing worth noticing occurred. In June, 1828, we erected a school on a fictitious island, which was to contain 1,000 children. The manner of the building was as follows: The island was fifty miles in circumference, and certainly appeared more like the work of enchantment than anything real," etc. . . .
There is another scrap of paper in this all but illegible handwriting, written about this time, and which gives some idea of the sources of their opinions. . . .
"Papa and Branwell are gone for the newspaper, the Leeds Intelligencer, a most excellent Tory newspaper, edited by Mr. Wood, and the proprietor, Mr. Henneman. We take two, and see three, newspapers a week. We take the Leeds Intelligencer, Tory, and the Leeds Mercury, Whig, edited by Mr. Baines, and his brother, son-in-law, and his two sons, Edward and Talbot. We see the John Bull; it is a high Tory, very violent. Mr. Driver lends us it, as likewise Blackwood's Magazine, the most able periodical there is. The editor is Mr. Christopher North, an old man seventy-four years of age; the 1st of April is his birthday; his company are Timothy Tickler, Morgan O'Doherty, Macrabin Mordecai, Mullion, Warnell, and James Hogg, a man of most extraordinary genius, a Scottish shepherd. Our plays were established, 'Young Men,' June, 1826; 'Our Fellows,' July, 1827; 'Islanders,' December, 1827. These are our three great plays that are not kept secret. Emily's and my best plays were established the 1st of December, 1827; the others March, 1828. Best plays mean secret plays, they are very nice ones. All our plays are very strange ones. Their nature I need not write on paper, for I think I shall always remember them. The 'Young Men's' play took its rise from some wooden soldiers Branwell had; 'Our Fellows' from 'Aesop's Fables'; and the 'Islanders' from several events which happened. I will sketch out the origin of our plays more explicitly if I can. First, 'Young Men.' Papa brought Branwell some wooden soldiers at Leeds; when papa came home it was night, and we were in bed, so next morning Branwell came to our door with a box of soldiers. Emily and I jumped out of bed, and I snatched up one and exclaimed, 'This is the Duke of Wellington! This shall be the Duke!' When I had said this Emily likewise took one up and said it should be hers; when Anne came down, she said one should be hers. Mine was the prettiest of the whole, and the tallest, and the most perfect in every part. Emily's was a grave-looking fellow, and we called him 'Gravey.' Anne's was a queer little thing, much like herself, and we called him 'Waiting-boy.' Branwell chose his, and called him 'Buonaparte.'"
The foregoing extract shows something of the kind of reading in which the little Brontes were interested; but their desire for knowledge must have been excited in many directions, for I find a "list of painters whose works I wish to see," drawn up by Charlotte Bronte when she was scarcely thirteen: "Guido Reni, Julio Romano Titian, Raphael, Michael Angelo, Coreggio, Annibal Carracci, Leonardo da Vinci, Fra Bartolomeo, Carlo Cignani, Vandyke, Rubens, Bartolomeo Ramerghi."
Here is this little girl, in a remote Yorkshire parsonage, who has probably never seen anything worthy the name of a painting in her life studying the names and characteristics of the great old Italian and Flemish masters, whose works she longs to see some time, in the dim future that lies before her! There is a paper remaining which contains minute studies of, and criticisms upon, the engravings in "Friendship's Offering for 1829," showing how she had early formed those habits of close observation and patient analysis of cause and effect, which served so well in after-life as handmaids to her genius.
The way in which Mr. Bronte made his children sympathize with him in his great interest in politics must have done much to lift them above the chances of their minds being limited or tainted by petty local gossip. I take the only other remaining personal fragment out of "Tales of the Islanders"; it is a sort of apology, contained in the introduction to the second volume, for their not having been continued before; the writers have been for a long time too busy and lately too much absorbed in politics: