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
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 the fittest.
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" campaign.
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 curtain fell.
"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.
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 boyhood.
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 obstacles.
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 the gospel."
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 Ancient archaeology, Aryan philology, Prosody, zoology, Physics, climatology, 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 rival text-books.
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.
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 summer's heat.
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 students.
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 heaven.
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 drunkards' graves.
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 tears."
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 more."
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 window.
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 repeat itself.
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 text.
"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 shouted:
"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 Betsy imaginable.
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 the ground.
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 cathedrals.
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 barrel.
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 to mention.
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 the ice.
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 shouted.
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 paradise regained.
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 unworthy teacher.
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 praise.
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, Profani!"
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 of Eden?
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 the stationhouse.
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 training ground.
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 assurance that
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 turkeys.
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 the eyes.
"Boys," I said, quietly, "when sinners entice thee, consent thou not—row."
"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 enemies.
"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 friends."
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.