E-text prepared by Ferdinand van Aartsen
THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER
The earlier chapters of this collection are so much in the nature of an autobiography that the author has long shrunk from the idea of allowing them to see the light during his lifetime. His repugnance has been overcome by very warm expressions on the subject uttered by valued friends to whom they were shown, and by a desire that some at least who knew him in youth should be able to read what he has written.
The author trusts that neither critic nor reader will object because he has, in some cases, strayed outside the limits of his purely personal experience, in order to give a more complete view of a situation, or to bring out matters that might be of historic interest. If some of the chapters are scrappy, it is because he has tried to collect those experiences which have afforded him most food for thought, have been most influential in shaping his views, or are recalled with most pleasure.
I THE WORLD OF COLD AND DARKNESS Ancestry.—Squire Thomas Prince.—Parentage.—Early Education.— Books read.
II DR. FOSHAY A Long Journey on Foot.—A Wonderful Doctor.—The Botanic System of Medicine.—Phrenology.—A Launch into the World.—A Disillusion.— Life in Maryland.—Acquaintance with Professor Henry.—Removal to Cambridge.
III THE WORLD OF SWEETNESS AND LIGHT The American Astronomical Ephemeris.—The Men who made it.— Harvard in the Middle of the Century.—A Librarian of the Time.— Professor Peirce.—Dr. Gould, the "Astronomical Journal," and the Dudley Observatory.—W. P. G. Bartlett.—John D. Runkle and the "Mathematical Monthly."—A Mathematical Politician.—A Trip to Manitoba and a Voyage up the Saskatchewan.—A Wonderful Star.
IV LIFE AND WORK AT AN OBSERVATORY A Professor, United States Navy.—The Naval Observatory in 1861.— Captain Gilliss and his Plans.—Admiral Davis.—A New Instrument and a New Departure.—Astronomical Activity.—The Question of Observatory Administration.—Visit from the Emperor of Brazil.— Admiral John Rodgers.—Efforts to improve the Work of the Observatory.
V GREAT TELESCOPES AND THEIR WORK Curious Origin of the Great Washington Telescope.—Congress is induced to act.—A Case of Astronomical Fallibility.— The Discovery of the Satellites of Mars.—The Great Telescope of the Pulkova Observatory.—Alvan Clark and his Sons.—A Sad Astronomical Accident.
VI THE TRANSITS OF VENUS Old Transits of Venus.—An Astronomical Expedition in the 18th Century.—Father Hell and his Observations.—A Suspected Forger vindicated.—The American Commission on the Transit of Venus.— The Photographic Method to be applied.—Garfield and the Appropriation Committee.—Weather Uncertainties.—Voyage to the Cape of Good Hope.—The Transit of 1882.—Our Failure to publish our Observations.
VII THE LICK OBSERVATORY James Lick and his Ideas.—Mr. D. O. Mills.—Plans for the Lick Observatory.—Edward E. Barnard.—Professor Holden.—Wonderful Success of the Observatory.
VIII THE AUTHOR'S SCIENTIFIC WORK The Orbits of the Asteroids.—The Problems of Mathematical Astronomy.—The Motion of the Moon and its Perplexing Inequalities.—A Visit to the Paris Observatory to search for Forgotten Observations.—Wonderful Success in finding Them.— The Paris Commune.—The History of the Moon's Motion carried back a Century.—The Harvard Observatory.—The "Nautical Almanac" Office and its Work.—Mr. George W. Hill and his Work.—A Wonderful Algebraist.—The Meridian Conference of 1884, and the Question of Universal Time.—Tables of the Planets completed.— The Astronomical Constants.—Work unfinished.
IX SCIENTIFIC WASHINGTON Professor Henry and the Smithsonian Institution.— Alumni Associations.—The Scientific Club.—General Sherman.— Mr. Hugh McCulloch.—A Forgotten Scientist.—The National Academy of Sciences.—The Geological Survey of the Territories.—The Government Forestry System.—Professor O. C. Marsh.—Scientific Humbugs.— Life on the Plains.
X SCIENTIFIC ENGLAND My First Trip to Europe.—Mr. Thomas Hughes.—Mr. John Stuart Mill. —Mr. Gladstone and the Royal Society Dinner.—Other Eminent Englishmen.—Professors Cayley and Adams.—Professor Airy and the Greenwich Observatory.—A Visit to Edinburgh.
XI MEN AND THINGS IN EUROPE A Voyage to Gibraltar with Professor Tyndall.—The Great Fortress. —"Whispering Boanerges."—A Winter Voyage in the Mediterranean.— Malta and Messina.—Advantage of not understanding a Language.— German Astronomers.—The Pulkova Observatory.—A Meeting which might have been Embarrassing.—From Germany to Paris at the Close of the War.—Experiences at Paris during the Commune.—The Greatest Astronomer of France.—The Paris Observatory.
XII THE OLD AND THE NEW WASHINGTON Washington during the Civil War.—Secretary Stanton.— The Raid of General Early.—A Presidential Levee in 1864.— The Fall of Richmond.—The Assassination of President Lincoln.— Negro Traits and Education.—Senator Sumner.—An Ambitious Academy. —President Garfield and his Assassination.—Cooling the White House during his Illness.—The Shepherd Regime in Washington.
XIII MISCELLANEA The Great Star-Catalogue Case.—Professor Peters and the Almagest of Ptolemy.—Scientific Cranks.—The Degrees of the French Universities.—A Virginia Country School.—Political Economy and Education.—Exact Science in America before the Johns Hopkins University.—Professor Ely and Economics.—Spiritualism and Psychic Research.—The Georgia Magnetic Girl.
THE REMINISCENCES OF AN ASTRONOMER
THE WORLD OF COLD AND DARKNESS
I date my birth into the world of sweetness and light on one frosty morning in January, 1857, when I took my seat between two well-known mathematicians, before a blazing fire in the office of the "Nautical Almanac" at Cambridge, Mass. I had come on from Washington, armed with letters from Professor Henry and Mr. Hilgard, to seek a trial as an astronomical computer. The men beside me were Professor Joseph Winlock, the superintendent, and Mr. John D. Runkle, the senior assistant in the office. I talked of my unsuccessful attempt to master the "Mecanique Celeste" of Laplace without other preparation than that afforded by the most meagre text-books of elementary mathematics of that period. Runkle spoke of the translator as "the Captain." So familiar a designation of the great Bowditch—LL. D. and a member of the Royal Societies of London, Edinburgh, and Dublin—quite shocked me.
I was then in my twenty-second year, but it was the first time I had ever seen any one who was familiar with the "Mecanique Celeste." I looked with awe upon the assistants who filed in and out as upon men who had all the mysteries of gravitation and the celestial motions at their fingers' ends. I should not have been surprised to learn that even the Hibernian who fed the fire had imbibed so much of the spirit of the place as to admire the genius of Laplace and Lagrange. My own rank was scarcely up to that of a tyro; but I was a few weeks later employed on trial as computer at a salary of thirty dollars a month.
How could an incident so simple and an employment so humble be in itself an epoch in one's life—an entrance into a new world? To answer this question some account of my early life is necessary. The interest now taken in questions of heredity and in the study of the growing mind of the child may excuse a word about my ancestry and early training.
Though born in Nova Scotia, I am of almost pure New England descent. The first Simon Newcomb, from whom I am of the sixth generation, was born in Massachusetts or Maine about 1666, and died at Lebanon, Conn., in 1745. His descendants had a fancy for naming their eldest sons after him, and but for the chance of my father being a younger son, I should have been the sixth Simon in unbroken lineal descent. 
Among my paternal ancestors none, so far as I know, with the exception of Elder Brewster, were what we should now call educated men. Nor did any other of them acquire great wealth, hold a high official position, or do anything to make his name live in history. On my mother's side are found New England clergymen and an English nonconformist preacher, named Prince, who is said to have studied at Oxford towards the end of the seventeenth century, but did not take a degree. I do not know of any college graduate in the list.
Until I was four years old I lived in the house of my paternal grandfather, about two miles from the pretty little village of Wallace, at the mouth of the river of that name. He was, I believe, a stonecutter by trade and owner of a quarry which has since become important; but tradition credits him with unusual learning and with having at some time taught school.
My maternal grandfather was "Squire" Thomas Prince, a native of Maine, who had moved to Moncton, N. B., early in his life, and lived there the rest of his days. He was an upright magistrate, a Puritan in principle, and a pillar of the Baptist Church, highly respected throughout the province. He came from a long-lived family, and one so prolific that it is said most of the Princes of New England are descended from it. I have heard a story of him which may illustrate the freedom of the time in matters of legal proceedings before a magistrate's court. At that time a party in a suit could not be a witness. In the terse language of the common people, "no man could swear money into his own pocket." The plaintiff in the case advised the magistrate in advance that he had no legal proof of the debt, but that defendant freely acknowledged it in private conversation.
"Well," said the magistrate, "bring him in here and get him to talk about it while I am absent."
The time came.
"If you had n't sued me I would have paid you," said the defendant.
On the moment the magistrate stepped from behind a door with the remark,—
"I think you will pay him now, whether or no."
My father was the most rational and the most dispassionate of men. The conduct of his life was guided by a philosophy based on Combe's "Constitution of Man," and I used to feel that the law of the land was a potent instrument in shaping his paternal affections. His method of seeking a wife was so far unique that it may not be devoid of interest, even at this date. From careful study he had learned that the age at which a man should marry was twenty-five. A healthy and well-endowed offspring should be one of the main objects in view in entering the marriage state, and this required a mentally gifted wife. She must be of different temperament from his own and an economical housekeeper. So when he found the age of twenty-five approaching, he began to look about. There was no one in Wallace who satisfied the requirements. He therefore set out afoot to discover his ideal. In those days and regions the professional tramp and mendicant were unknown, and every farmhouse dispensed its hospitality with an Arcadian simplicity little known in our times. Wherever he stopped overnight he made a critical investigation of the housekeeping, perhaps rising before the family for this purpose. He searched in vain until his road carried him out of the province. One young woman spoiled any possible chance she might have had by a lack of economy in the making of bread. She was asked what she did with an unnecessarily large remnant of dough which she left sticking to the sides of the pan. She replied that she fed it to the horses. Her case received no further consideration.
The search had extended nearly a hundred miles when, early one evening, he reached what was then the small village of Moncton. He was attracted by the strains of music from a church, went into it, and found a religious meeting in progress. His eye was at once arrested by the face and head of a young woman playing on a melodeon, who was leading the singing. He sat in such a position that he could carefully scan her face and movements. As he continued this study the conviction grew upon him that here was the object of his search. That such should have occurred before there was any opportunity to inspect the doughpan may lead the reader to conclusions of his own. He inquired her name—Emily Prince. He cultivated her acquaintance, paid his addresses, and was accepted. He was fond of astronomy, and during the months of his engagement one of his favorite occupations was to take her out of an evening and show her the constellations. It is even said that, among the daydreams in which they indulged, one was that their firstborn might be an astronomer. Probably this was only a passing fancy, as I heard nothing of it during my childhood. The marriage was in all respects a happy one, so far as congeniality of nature and mutual regard could go. Although the wife died at the early age of thirty-seven, the husband never ceased to cherish her memory, and, so far as I am aware, never again thought of marrying.
My mother was the most profoundly and sincerely religious woman with whom I was ever intimately acquainted, and my father always entertained and expressed the highest admiration for her mental gifts, to which he attributed whatever talents his children might have possessed. The unfitness of her environment to her constitution is the saddest memory of my childhood. More I do not trust myself to say to the public, nor will the reader expect more of me.
My father followed, during most of his life, the precarious occupation of a country school teacher. It was then, as it still is in many thinly settled parts of the country, an almost nomadic profession, a teacher seldom remaining more than one or two years in the same place. Thus it happened that, during the first fifteen years of my life, movings were frequent. My father tried his fortune in a number of places, both in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Our lot was made harder by the fact that his ideas of education did not coincide with those prevalent in the communities where he taught. He was a disciple and admirer of William Cobbett, and though he did not run so far counter to the ideas of his patrons as to teach Cobbett's grammar at school, he always recommended it to me as the one by which alone I could learn to write good English. The learning of anything, especially of arithmetic and grammar, by the glib repetition of rules was a system that he held in contempt. With the public, ability to recite the rules of such subjects as those went farther than any actual demonstration of the power to cipher correctly or write grammatically.
So far as the economic condition of society and the general mode of living and thinking were concerned, I might claim to have lived in the time of the American Revolution. A railway was something read or heard about with wonder; a steamer had never ploughed the waters of Wallace Bay. Nearly everything necessary for the daily life of the people had to be made on the spot, and even at home. The work of the men and boys was "from sun to sun,"—I might almost say from daylight to darkness,—as they tilled the ground, mended the fences, or cut lumber, wood, and stone for export to more favored climes. The spinning wheel and the loom were almost a necessary part of the furniture of any well-ordered house; the exceptions were among people rich enough to buy their own clothes, or so poor and miserable that they had to wear the cast-off rags of their more fortunate neighbors. The women and girls sheared the sheep, carded the wool, spun the yarn, wove the homespun cloth, and made the clothes. In the haying season they amused themselves by joining in the raking of hay, in which they had to be particularly active if rain was threatened; but any man would have lost caste who allowed wife or daughter to engage in heavy work outside the house.
The contrast between the social conditions and those which surround even the poorest classes at the present day have had a profound influence upon my views of economic subjects. The conception which the masses of the present time have of how their ancestors lived in the early years of the century are so vague and shadowy as not to influence their conduct at the present time.
What we now call school training, the pursuit of fixed studies at stated hours under the constant guidance of a teacher, I could scarcely be said to have enjoyed. For the most part, when I attended my father's school at all, I came and went with entire freedom, and this for causes which, as we shall see, he had reasons for deeming good.
It would seem that I was rather precocious. I was taught the alphabet by my aunts before I was four years old, and I was reading the Bible in class and beginning geography when I was six.
One curious feature of my reading I do not remember to have seen noticed in the case of children. The printed words, for the most part, brought no well-defined images to my mind; none at least that were retained in their connection. I remember one instance of this. We were at Bedeque, Prince Edward Island. During the absence of my father, the school was kept for a time by Mr. Bacon. The class in reading had that chapter in the New Testament in which the treason of Judas is described. It was then examined on the subject. To the question what Judas did, no one could return an answer until it came my turn. I had a vague impression of some one hanging himself, and so I said quite at random that he hanged himself. It was with a qualm of conscience that I went to the head of the class.
Arithmetic was commenced at the age of five, my father drawing me to school day by day on a little sled during the winter. Just what progress I made at that time I do not recall. Long years afterward, my father, at my request, wrote me a letter describing my early education, extracts from which I shall ask permission to reproduce, instead of attempting to treat the matter myself. The letter, covering twelve closely written foolscap pages, was probably dashed off at a sitting without supposing any eye but my own would ever see it:—
June 8th, '58.
I will now proceed to write, according to your request, about your early life.
While in your fifth year, your mother spoke several times of the propriety of teaching you the first rudiments of book-learning; but I insisted that you should not be taught the first letter until you became five.  I think, though, that at about four, or four and a half I taught you to count, as far, perhaps, as 100.
When a little over four and a half, one evening, as I came home from school, you ran to me, and asked, "Father, is not 4 and 4 and 4 and 4, 16?" "Yes, how did you find it out?" You showed me the counterpane which was napped. The spot of four rows each way was the one you had counted up. After this, for a week or two, you spent a considerable number of hours every day, making calculations in addition and multiplication. The rows of naps being crossed and complexed in various ways, your greatest delight was to clear them out, find how many small ones were equal to one large one, and such like. After a space of two or three weeks we became afraid you would calculate yourself "out of your head," and laid away the counterpane.
Winter came, and passed along, and your birthday came; on that day, having a light hand-sled prepared, I fixed you on it, and away we went a mile and a half to school.
According to my belief in educational matters "that the slate should be put into the child's hands as soon as the book is," you of course had your slate, and commenced making figures and letters the first day.
In all cases, after you had read and spelled a lesson, and made some figures, and worked a sum, suppose one hour's study, I sent you out, telling you to run about and play a "good spell." To the best of my judgment you studied, during the five months that this school lasted, nearly four hours a day, two being at figures.
* * * * *
During the year that I taught at Bedeque, you studied about five hours a day in school; and I used to exercise you about an hour a day besides, either morning or evening. This would make six hours per day, nearly or quite two and a half hours of that time at numbers either at your slate or mentally. When my school ended here, you were six and a half years of age, and pretty well through the arithmetic. You had studied, I think, all the rules preceding including the cube root. . . .
I had frequently heard, during my boyhood, of a supposed mental breakdown about this period, and had asked my father for a description of it in the letter from which I am quoting. On this subject the letter continues:—
You had lost all relish for reading, study, play, or talk. Sat most of the day flat on the floor or hearth. When sent of an errand, you would half the time forget what you went for. I have seen you come back from Cale Schurman's crying,  and after asking you several times you would make out to answer, you had not been all the way over because you forgot what you went for. You would frequently jump up from the corner, and ask some peculiar question. I remember three you asked me.
1st. Father, does form mean shape? Yes. Has everything some shape? Yes. Can it be possible for anything to be made that would not have any shape? I answered no; and then showed you several things, explaining that they all had some shape or form. You now brightened up like a lawyer who had led on a witness with easy questions to a certain point, and who had cautiously reserved a thunderbolt question, to floor the witness at a proper time; proceeded with, "Well, then, how could the world be without form when God made it?"
* * * * *
3d. Does Cale Schurman's big ram know that he has such big crooked horns on him? Does he know it himself, I mean? Does he know himself that he has such horns on him?
You were taken down suddenly I think about two or three days from the first symptoms until you were fairly in the corner. Your rise was also rapid, I think about a week (or perhaps two weeks) from your first at recovery, until you seemed to show nothing unusual. From the time you were taken down until you commenced recovery was about a month.
We returned to Prince Edward Island, and after a few weeks I began to examine you in figures, and found you had forgotten nearly all you had ever learned.
* * * * *
While at New London I got an old work on Astronomy; you were wonderfully taken with it, and read it with avidity. While here you read considerable in "Goldsmith's History of England." We lived two years in New London; I think you attended school nearly one year there. I usually asked you questions on the road going to school, in the morning, upon the history you had read, or something you had studied the day previous. While there, you made a dozen or two of the folks raise a terrible laugh. I one evening lectured on astronomy at home; the house was pretty well filled, I suppose about twenty were present. You were not quite ten years old and small at that. Almost as soon as I was done you said: "Father, I think you were wrong in one thing." Such a roar of laughter almost shook the house.
You were an uncommon child for truth. I never knew you to deviate from it in one single instance, either in infancy or youth.
From your infancy you showed great physical courage in going along the woods or in places in the dark among cattle, and I am surprised at what you say about your fears of a stove-pipe and trees.
Perhaps I should have said "mental" instead of physical courage, for in one respect you were uncommonly deficient in that sort of courage necessary to perform bodily labor. Until nine or ten years of age you made a most pitiful attempt at any sort of bodily or rather "handy" work.
* * * * *
An extraordinary peculiarity in you was never to leap past a word you could not make out. I certainly never gave you any particular instructions about this, or the fact itself would not at the time have appeared so strange to me. I will name one case. After a return to Wallace (you were eleven) I, one day, on going from home for an hour or so, gave you a borrowed newspaper, telling you there was a fine piece; to read it, and tell me its contents when I returned. On my return you were near the house chopping wood. "Well, Simon, did you read the piece?" "No, sir." "Why not?" "I came to a word I did not know." This word was just about four lines from the commencement.
At thirteen you read Phrenology. I now often impressed upon you the necessity of bodily labor; that you might attain a strong and healthy physical system, so as to be able to stand long hours of study when you came to manhood, for it was evident to me that you would not labor with the hands for a business. On this account, as much as on account of poverty, I hired you out for a large portion of the three years that we lived at Clements.
At fifteen you studied Euclid, and were enraptured with it. It is a little singular that all this time you never showed any self-esteem; or spoke of getting into employment at some future day, among the learned. The pleasure of intellectual exercise in demonstrating or analyzing a geometrical problem, or solving an algebraic equation, seemed to be your only object. No Junior, Seignour or Sophomore class, with annual honors, was ever, I suppose, presented to your mind.
Your almost intuitive knowledge of geography, navigation, and nautical matters in general caused me to think most ardently of writing to the Admiral at Halifax, to know if he would give you a place among the midshipmen of the navy; but my hope of seeing you a leading lawyer, and finally a judge on the bench, together with the possibility that your mother would not consent, and the possibility that you would not wish to go, deterred me: although I think I commenced a letter.
Among the books which profoundly influenced my mode of life and thought during the period embraced in the foregoing extracts were Fowler's "Phrenology" and Combe's "Constitution of Man." It may appear strange to the reader if a system so completely exploded as that of phrenology should have any value as a mental discipline. Its real value consisted, not in what it taught about the position of the "organs," but in presenting a study of human nature which, if not scientific in form, was truly so in spirit. I acquired the habit of looking on the characters and capabilities of men as the result of their organism. A hot and impulsive temper was checked by the reflection that it was beneath the dignity of human nature to allow a rush of blood to the organs of "combativeness" and "destructiveness" to upset one's mental equilibrium.
That I have gotten along in life almost without making (so far as I am aware) a personal enemy may be attributed to this early discipline, which led me into the habit of dealing with antagonism and personal opposition as I would deal with any physical opposition—evade it, avoid it, or overcome it. It goes without saying, however, that no discipline of this sort will avail to keep the passions of a youth always in check, and my own were no exception. When about fifteen I once made a great scandal by taking out my knife in prayer meeting and assaulting a young man who, while I was kneeling down during the prayer, stood above me and squeezed my neck. He escaped with a couple of severe though not serious cuts in his hand. He announced his intention of thrashing me when we should meet again; so for several days thereafter I tried, so far as possible, in going afield to keep a pitchfork within reach, determined that if he tried the job and I failed to kill him, it would be because I was unable to do so. Fortunately for both of us he never made the attempt.
I read Combe's "Constitution of Man" when between ten and twelve years of age. Though based on the ideas of phrenology and not, I believe, of high repute as a system of philosophy, it was as good a moral tonic as I can imagine to be placed in the hands of a youth, however fallacious may have been its general doctrines. So far as I can recall, it taught that all individual and social ills were due to men's disregard of the laws of Nature, which were classified as physical and moral. Obey the laws of health and we and our posterity will all reach the age of one hundred years. Obey the moral law and social evils will disappear. Its reading was accompanied by some qualms of conscience, arising from the non-accordance of many of its tenets with those of the "Catechism" and the "New England Primer." The combination of the two, however, led to the optimistic feeling that all wrongs would be righted, every act of injustice punished, and truth and righteousness eventually triumph through the regular processes of Nature and Society. I have been led to abandon this doctrine only by much experience, some of which will be found in the following pages.
In the direction of mathematical and physical science and reading generally, I may add something to what I have quoted from my father. My grandfather Simon had a small collection of books in the family. Among those purely literary were several volumes of "The Spectator" and "Roderick Random." Of the former I read a good deal. The latter was a story which a boy who had scarcely read any other would naturally follow with interest. Two circumstances connected with the reading, one negative and the other positive, I recall. Looking into the book after attaining years of maturity, I found it to contain many incidents of a character that would not be admitted into a modern work. Yet I read it through without ever noticing or retaining any impression of the indelicate side of the story. The other impression was a feeling of horror that a man fighting a duel and finding himself, as he supposed, mortally wounded by his opponent, should occupy his mind with avenging his own death instead of making his peace with Heaven.
Three mathematical books were in the collection, Hammond's Algebra, Simpson's Euclid, and Moore's Navigator, the latter the predecessor of Bowditch. The first was a miserable book, and I think its methods, which were crude in the extreme, though not incorrect, were rather more harmful than beneficial. The queer diagrams in Euclid had in my early years so little attraction for me that my curiosity never led me to examine its text. I at length did so in consequence of a passage in the algebra which referred to the 47th proposition of the First Book. It occurred to me to look into the book and see what this was. It was the first conception of mathematical proof that I had ever met with. I saw that the demonstration referred to a previous proposition, went back to that, and so on to the beginning. A new world of thought seemed to be opened. That principles so profound should be reached by methods so simple was astonishing. I was so enraptured that I explained to my brother Thomas while walking out of doors one day how the Pythagorean proposition, as it is now called, could be proved from first principles, drawing the necessary diagrams with a pencil on a piece of wood. I thought that even cattle might understand geometry could they only be communicated with and made to pay attention to it.
Some one at school had a copy of Mrs. Marcet's "Conversations on Natural Philosophy." With this book I was equally enraptured. Meagre and even erroneous though it was, it presented in a pleasing manner the first principles of physical science. I used to steal into the schoolhouse after hours to read a copy of the book, which belonged to one of the scholars, and literally devoured it in a few evenings.
My first undertaking in the way of scientific experiment was in the field of economics and psychology. When about fourteen I spent the winter in the house of an old farmer named Jefferson. He and his wife were a very kindly couple and took much interest in me. He was fond of his pipe, as most old farmers are. I questioned whether anything else would not do just as well as tobacco to smoke, and whether he was not wasting his money by buying that article when a cheap substitute could be found. So one day I took his pipe, removed the remains of the tobacco ashes, and stuffed the pipe with tea leaves that had been steeped, and which in color and general appearance looked much like tobacco. I took care to be around when he should again smoke. He lit the pipe as usual and smoked it with, seemingly, as much satisfaction as ever, only essaying the remark, "This tobacco tastes like tea." My conscience pricked me, but I could say nothing.
My father bought a copy of Lardner's "Popular Lectures on Science and Art." In this I first read of electricity. I recall an incident growing out of it. In Lardner's description of a Leyden jar, water is the only internal conductor. The wonders of the newly invented telegraph were then explained to the people in out of the way places by traveling lecturers. One of these came to Clements, where we then lived, with a lot of apparatus, amongst which was what I recognized as a Leyden jar. It was coated with tin-foil on the outside, but I did not see the inner coating, or anything which could serve as the necessary conductor. So with great diffidence I asked the lecturer while he was arranging his things, if he was not going to put water into the jar.
"No, my lad," was his reply, "I put lightning into it."
I wondered how the "lightning" was going to be conveyed to the interior surface of the glass without any conductor, such as water, but was too much abashed to ask the question.
Moore's "Navigator" taught not only a very crude sort of trigonometry, but a good deal about the warship of his time. To a boy living on the seacoast, who naturally thought a ship of war one of the greatest works of man, the book was of much interest.
Notwithstanding the intellectual pleasure which I have described, my boyhood was on the whole one of sadness. Occasionally my love of books brought a word of commendation from some visitor, perhaps a Methodist minister, who patted me on the head with a word of praise. Otherwise it caused only exclamations of wonder which were distasteful.
"You would n't believe what larnin' that boy has got. He has more larnin' than all the people around here put together," I heard one farmer say to another, looking at me, in my own view of the case, as if I were some monster misshapen in the womb. Instead of feeling that my bookish taste was something to be valued, I looked upon myself as a lusus naturae whom Nature had cruelly formed to suffer from an abnormal constitution, and lamented that somehow I never could be like other boys.
The maladroitness described by my father, of which I was fully conscious, added to the feeling of my unfitness for the world around me. The skill required on a farm was above my reach, where efficiency in driving oxen was one of the most valued of accomplishments. I keenly felt my inability to acquire even respectable mediocrity in this branch of the agricultural profession. It was mortifying to watch the dexterous motions of the whip and listen to the torrent of imperatives with which a young farmer would set a team of these stolid animals in motion after they had failed to respond to my gentle requests, though conveyed in the best of ox language.
I had indeed gradually formed, from reading, a vague conception of a different kind of world,—a world of light,—where dwelt men who wrote books and people who knew the men who wrote books,—where lived boys who went to college and devoted themselves to learning, instead of driving oxen. I longed much to get into this world, but no possibility of doing so presented itself. I had no idea that it would be imbued with sympathy for a boy outside of it who wanted to learn. True, I had once read in some story, perhaps fictitious, how a nobleman had found a boy reading Newton's "Principia," and not only expressed his pleased surprise at the performance, but actually got the boy educated. But there was no nobleman in sight of the backwoods of Nova Scotia. I read in the autobiography of Franklin how he had made his way in life. But he was surrounded with opportunities from which I was cut off. It does seem a little singular that, well known as my tastes were to those around me, we never met a soul to say, "That boy ought to be educated." So far as I know, my father's idea of making me a lawyer met with nothing but ridicule from the neighbors. Did not a lawyer have to know Latin and have money to pursue his studies? In my own daydreams I was a farmer driving his own team; in my mother's a preacher, though she had regretfully to admit that I might never be good enough for this profession.
 The actual sixth was my late excellent and esteemed cousin, Judge Simon Bolivar Newcomb, of New Mexico.
 He had evidently forgotten the home instruction from my aunts, received more than a year previous to the date he mentions.
 The grandfather of President Schurman of Cornell University. I retain a dreamy impression of two half-grown or nearly grown boys, perhaps between fourteen and eighteen years of age, one of whom became, I believe, the father of the president.
In the summer of 1851, when I had passed the age of sixteen, we lived in a little school district a mile or two from the town of Yarmouth, N. S. Late in the summer we had a visit from a maternal uncle and aunt. As I had not seen Moncton since I was six years old, and as I wanted very much to visit my grandfather Prince once more, it was arranged that I should accompany them on their return home. An additional reason for this was that my mother's health had quite failed; there was no prospect of my doing anything where I was, and it was hoped that something might turn up at Moncton. There was but one difficulty; the visitors had driven to St. John in their own little carriage, which would hold only two people; so they could not take me back. I must therefore find my own way from St. John to Moncton.
We crossed the Bay of Fundy in a little sailing vessel. Among the passengers was an English ship captain who had just been wrecked off the coast of Newfoundland, and had the saved remnant of his crew with him. On the morning of our departure the weather was stormy, so that our vessel did not put to sea—a precaution for which the captain passenger expressed great contempt. He did not understand how a vessel should delay going to see on account of a little storm.
The walk of one hundred miles from St. John to Moncton was for me, at that time, a much less formidable undertaking than it would appear in our times and latitude. A thirty-mile tramp was a bagatelle, and houses of entertainment—farmhouses where a traveler could rest or eat for a few pennies—were scattered along the road. But there was one great difficulty at the start. My instructions had been to follow the telegraph wires. I soon found that the line of telegraph came into the town from one direction, passed through it, and then left, not in the opposite direction, but perhaps at right angles to it. In which direction was the line to be followed? It was difficult to make known what I wanted. "Why, my boy, you can't walk to Moncton," was one answer. In a shop the clerks thought I wanted to ride on the telegraph, and, with much chuckling, directed me to the telegraph office where the man in charge would send me on. I tried in one direction which I thought could not be right, then I started off in the opposite one; but it soon became evident that that branch led up the river to Frederickton. So I had to retrace my steps and take the original line, which proved to be the right one.
The very first night I found that my grandfather's name was one to conjure with. I passed it with a hearty old farmer who, on learning who I was, entertained me with tales of Mr. Prince. The quality which most impressed the host was his enormous physical strength. He was rather below the usual stature and, as I remember him, very slightly built. Yet he could shoulder a barrel of flour and lift a hogshead of molasses on its end, feats of strength which only the most powerful men in the region were equal to.
On reaching my destination, I was not many days in learning that my grandfather was a believer in the maxims of "Poor Richard's Almanac," and disapproved of the aimless way in which I had been bred. He began to suggest the desirableness of my learning to do something to make a living. I thought of certain mechanical tastes which had moved me in former years to whittle and to make a reel on which to wind yarn, and to mend things generally. So I replied that I thought the trade of a carpenter was the one I could most easily learn. He approved of the idea, and expressed the intention of finding a carpenter who would want my services; but before he did so, I was started in a new and entirely different direction.
On her last visit to her birthplace, my mother brought back glowing reports of a wonderful physician who lived near Moncton and effected cures of the sick who had been given up by other doctors. I need hardly remark that physicians of wonderful proficiency—Diomeds of the medical profession, before whose shafts all forms of disease had to fall—were then very generally supposed to be realities. The point which specially commended Dr. Foshay to us was that he practiced the botanic system of medicine, which threw mineral and all other poisons out of the materia medica and depended upon the healing powers of plants alone. People had seen so much of the evil effects of calomel, this being the favorite alternative of the profession, that they were quite ready to accept the new system. Among the remarkable cures which had given Dr. Foshay his great reputation was one of a young man with dyspepsia. He was reduced to a shadow, and the regular doctors had given him up as incurable. The new doctor took him to his home. The patient was addicted to two practices, both of which had been condemned by his former medical advisers. One was that of eating fat pork, which he would do at any hour of the day or night. The new doctor allowed him to eat all he wanted. Another was getting up in the night and practicing an ablution of the stomach by a method too heroic to be described in anything but a medical treatise.  He was now allowed to practice it to his heart's content. The outcome of the whole proceeding was that he was well in a few months, and, when I saw him, was as lusty a youth as one could desire to meet.
Before Mr. Prince could see a carpenter, he was taken ill. I was intensely interested to learn that his physician was the great doctor I had heard of, who lived in the village of Salisbury, fifteen miles on the road to St. John.
One of my aunts had an impression that the doctor wanted a pupil or assistant of some kind, and suggested that a possible opening might here be offered me. She promised to present me to the doctor on his next visit, after she had broached the subject to him.
The time for which I waited impatiently at length arrived. Never before had I met so charming a man. He was decidedly what we should now call magnetic. There was an intellectual flavor in his talk which was quite new to me. What fascinated me most of all was his speaking of the difficulties he encountered in supplying himself with sufficient "reading matter." He said it as if mental food was as much a necessity as his daily bread. He was evidently a denizen of that world of light which I had so long wished to see. He said that my aunt was quite right in her impression, and our interview terminated in the following liberal proposition on his part:—
S. N. to live with the doctor, rendering him all the assistance in his power in preparing medicines, attending to business, and doing generally whatever might be required of him in the way of help.
The doctor, on his part, to supply S. N.'s bodily needs in food and clothing, and teach him medical botany and the botanic system of medicine. The contract to terminate when the other party should attain the age of twenty-one.
After mentioning the teaching clause, he corrected himself a moment, and added: "At least all I know about it."
All he knows about it! What more could heart desire or brain hold?
The brilliancy of the offer was dimmed by only a single consideration; I had never felt the slightest taste for studying medicine or caring for the sick. That my attainments in the line could ever equal those of my preceptor seemed a result too hopeless to expect. But, after all, something must be done, and this was better than being a carpenter.
Before entering upon the new arrangement, a ratification was required on both sides. The doctor had to make the necessary household arrangements, and secure the consent of his wife. I had to ask the approval of my father, which I did by letter. Like General Grant and many great men, he was a man of exceptional sagacity in matters outside the range of his daily concerns. He threw much cold water on the scheme, but consented to my accepting the arrangement temporarily, as there was nothing better to be done.
I awaited the doctor's next visit with glowing anticipation. In due course of time I stepped with him into his gig for the long drive, expecting nothing less on the journey than a complete outline of the botanic system of medicine and a programme of my future studies. But scarcely had we started when a chilling process commenced. The man erstwhile so effusive was silent, cold, impassive,—a marble statue of his former self. I scarcely got three sentences out of him during the journey, and these were of the most commonplace kind. Could it be the same man?
There was something almost frightful in being alongside a man who knew so much. When we reached our destination the horse had to be put away in the stable. I jumped up to the haymow to throw down the provender. It was a very peculiar feeling to do so under the eye of a man who, as he watched me, knew every muscle that I was setting in operation.
A new chill came on when we entered the house and I was presented to its mistress.
"So you 're the boy that's come to work for the doctor, are you?"
"I have come to study with him, ma'am"' was my interior reply, but I was too diffident to say it aloud. Naturally the remark made me very uncomfortable. The doctor did not correct her, and evidently must have told her something different from what he told me. Her tone was even more depressing than her words; it breathed a coldness, not to say harshness, to which I had not been accustomed in a woman. There was nothing in her appearance to lessen the unpleasant impression. Small in stature, with florid complexion, wide cheek bones that gave her face a triangular form, she had the eye and look of a well-trained vixen.
As if fate were determined to see how rapid my downfall should be before the close of the day, it continued to pursue me. I was left alone for a few minutes. A child some four years old entered and made a very critical inspection of my person. The result was clearly unfavorable, for she soon asked me to go away. Finding me indisposed to obey the order, she proceeded to the use of force and tried to expel me with a few strong pushes. When I had had enough of this, I stepped aside as she was making a push. She fell to the floor, then picked herself up and ran off crying, "Mamma." The latter soon appeared with added ire infused into her countenance.
"What did you hit the child for?"
"I did n't hit her. What should I want to strike a child like that for?"
"But she says you hit her and knocked her down."
"I did n't, though—she was trying to push me and fell and hurt herself."
A long piercing look of doubt and incredulity followed.
"Strange, very strange. I never knew that child to tell a lie, and she says you struck her."
It was a new experience—the first time I had ever known my word to be questioned.
During the day one thought dominated all others: where are those treasures of literature which, rich though they are, fail to satisfy their owner's voracious intellectual appetite? As houses were then built, the living and sleeping rooms were all on one main floor. Here they comprised a kitchen, dining room, medicine room, a little parlor, and two small sleeping rooms, one for the doctor and one for myself. Before many hours I had managed to see the interior of every one except the doctor's bedroom, and there was not a sign of a book unless such common ones as a dictionary or a Bible. What could it all mean?
Next day the darkness was illuminated, at least temporarily, by a ray of light. The doctor had been absent most of the day before on a visit to some distant patient. Now he came to me and told me he wanted to show me how to make bilious powders. Several trays of dried herbs had been drying under the kitchen stove until their leaves were quite brittle. He took these and I followed him to the narrow stairway, which we slowly ascended, he going ahead. As I mounted I looked for a solution of the difficulty. Here upstairs must be where the doctor kept his books. At each step I peered eagerly ahead until my head was on a level with the floor. Rafters and a window at the other end had successively come into view and now the whole interior was visible. Nothing was there but a loft, at the further end of which was a bed for the housemaid. The floor was strewn with dried plants. Nothing else was visible. The disillusion seemed complete. My heart sank within me.
On one side of the stairway at a level with the floor was screwed a large coffee mill. The doctor spread a sheet of paper out on the floor on the other side, and laid a line sieve upon it. Then he showed me how to grind the dry and brittle leaves in the coffee mill, put them into the sieve, and sift them on the paper. This work had a scientific and professional look which infused a glimmer of light into the Cimmerian darkness. The bilious powders were made of the leaves of four plants familiarly known as spearmint, sunflower, smartweed, and yarrow. In his practice a heaping teaspoonful of the pulverized leaves was stirred in a cup of warm water and the grosser parts were allowed to settle, while the patient took the finer parts with the infusion. This was one of Dr. Foshay's staple remedies. Another was a pill of which the principal active ingredient was aloes. The art of making these pills seemed yet more scientific than the other, and I was much pleased to find how soon I could master it. Beside these a number of minor remedies were kept in the medicine room. Among them were tinctures of lobelia, myrrh, and capsicum. There was also a pill box containing a substance which, from its narcotic odor, I correctly inferred to be opium. This drug being prohibited by the Botanic School I could not but feel that Dr. Foshay's orthodoxy was painfully open to question.
Determined to fathom the mystery in which the doctor's plans for my improvement were involved, I announced my readiness to commence the study of the botanic system. He disappeared in the direction of his bedroom, and soon returned with—could my eyes believe it?—a big book. It was one which, at the time of its publication, some thirty or forty years before, was well known to the profession,—Miner and Tully on the "Fevers of the Connecticut Valley." He explained bringing me this book.
"Before beginning the regular study of the botanic system, you must understand something of the old system. You can do so by reading this book."
A duller book I never read. There was every sort of detail about different forms of fever, which needed different treatment; yet calomel and, I think, opium were its main prescriptions. In due time I got through it and reported to my preceptor.
"Well, what do you think of the book?"
"It praises calomel and opium too much. But I infer from reading it that there are so many kinds of fever and other diseases that an immense amount of study will be required to distinguish and treat them."
"Oh, you will find that all these minute distinctions are not necessary when we treat the sick on the botanic system."
"What is the next thing for me? Can I not now go on with the study of the botanic system?"
"You are not quite ready for it yet. You must first understand something about phrenology. One great difference between us and doctors of the old school is that they take no account of difference of temperament, but treat the lymphatic and bilious in the same way. But we treat according to the temperament of the patient and must therefore be expert in distinguishing temperaments."
"But I studied phrenology long ago and think I understand it quite well."
He was evidently surprised at this statement, but after a little consideration said it was very necessary to be expert in the subject, and thought I had better learn it more thoroughly. He returned to his bedroom and brought a copy of Fowler's "Phrenology," the very book so familiar to me. I had to go over it again, and did so very carefully, paying special attention to the study of the four temperaments,—nervous, bilious, lymphatic, and sanguine.
Before many days I again reported progress. The doctor seemed a little impatient, but asked me some questions about the position of the organs and other matters pertaining to the subject, which I answered promptly and correctly by putting my fingers on them on my own head. But though satisfied with the answers, it was easy to see that he was not satisfied with me. He had, on one or two previous occasions, intimated that I was not wise and prudent in worldly matters. Now he expressed himself more plainly.
"This world is all a humbug, and the biggest humbug is the best man. That 's the Yankee doctrine, and that 's the reason the Yankees get along so well. You have no organ of secretiveness. You have a window in your breast that every one can look into and see what you are thinking about. You must shut that window up, like I do. No one can tell from my talk or looks what I am thinking about."
It may seem incredible to the reader that I marveled much at the hidden meaning of this allegorical speech, and never for one moment supposed it to mean: "I, Dr. Foshay, with my botanic system of medicine, am the biggest humbug in these parts, and if you are going to succeed with me you must be another." But I had already recognized the truth of his last sentence. Probably neither of us had heard of Talleyrand, but from this time I saw that his hearty laugh and lively talk were those of a manikin.
His demeanor toward me now became one of complete gravity, formality, and silence. He was always kindly, but never said an unnecessary word, and avoided all reference to reading or study. The mystery which enveloped him became deeper month after month. In his presence I felt a certain awe which prevented my asking any questions as to his intentions toward me.
It must, of course, be a matter of lifelong regret that two years so important in one's education should have been passed in such a way,—still, they were not wholly misspent. From a teacher named Monroe,  who then lived near Salisbury, I borrowed Draper's Chemistry, little thinking that I would one day count the author among my friends. A book peddler going his rounds offered a collection of miscellaneous books at auction. I bought, among others, a Latin and a Greek grammar, and assiduously commenced their study. With the first I was as successful as could be expected under the circumstances, but failed with the Greek, owing to the unfamiliarity of the alphabet, which seemed to be an obstacle to memory of the words and forms.
But perhaps the greatest event of my stay was the advent of a botanic druggist of Boston, who passed through the region with a large wagonload of medicines and some books. He was a pleasant, elderly gentleman, and seemed much interested on learning that I was a student of the botanic system. He had a botanic medical college in or near Boston, and strongly urged me to go thither as soon as I could get ready to complete my studies. From him the doctor, willing to do me a favor, bought some books, among them the "Eclectic Medical Dispensary," published in Cincinnati. Of this book the doctor spoke approvingly, as founded on the true system which he himself practiced, and though I never saw him read it, he was very ready to accept the knowledge which I derived from it. The result was quite an enlargement of his materia medica, both in the direction of native plants and medicines purchased from his druggist.
On one occasion this advance came near having serious consequences. I had compounded some pills containing a minute quantity of elaterium. The doctor gave them to a neighboring youth affected with a slight indisposition in which some such remedy was indicated. The directions were very explicit,—one pill every hour until the desired effect was produced.
"Pshaw," said the patient's brother, "there's nothin' but weeds in them pills, and a dozen of them won't hurt you."
The idea of taking weed pills one at a time seemed too ridiculous, and so the whole number were swallowed at a dose. The result was, happily, not fatal, though impressive enough to greatly increase the respect of the young man's family for our medicines.
The intellectual life was not wholly wanting in the village. A lodge of a temperance organization, having its headquarters in Maine, was formed at a neighboring village. It was modeled somewhat after the fashion of the Sons of Temperance. The presiding officer, with a high sounding title, was my mother's cousin, Tommy Nixon. He was the most popular young man of the neighborhood. The rudiments of a classical education gained at a reputable academy in Sackville had not detracted from his qualities as a healthy, rollicking young farmer. The lodge had an imposing ritual of which I well remember one feature. At stated intervals a password which admitted a member of any one lodge to a meeting of any other was received from the central authority—in Maine, I believe. It was never to be pronounced except to secure admission, and was communicated to the members by being written on a piece of paper in letters so large that all could read. After being held up to view for a few moments, the paper was held in the flame of a candle with these words: "This paper containing our secret password I commit to the devouring element in token that it no longer exists save in the minds of the faithful brethren." The fine sonorous voice of the speaker and his manly front, seen in the lurid light of the burning paper, made the whole scene very impressive.
There was also a society for the discussion of scientific questions, of which the founder and leading spirit was a youth named Isaac Steves, who was beginning the study of medicine. The president was a "Worthy Archon." Our discussions strayed into the field of physiological mysteries, and got us into such bad odor with Mrs. Foshay and, perhaps, other ladies of the community, that the meetings were abandoned.
A soil like that of the Provinces at this time was fertile in odd characters including, possibly, here and there, a "heart pregnant with celestial fire." One case quite out of the common line was that of two or three brothers employed in a sawmill somewhere up the river Petticodiac. According to common report they had invented a new language in order to enable them to talk together without their companions knowing what they were saying. I knew one of them well and, after some time, ventured to inquire about this supposed tongue. He was quite ready to explain it. The words were constructed out of English by the very simple process of reversing the syllables or the spelling. Everything was pronounced backward. Those who heard it, and knew the key, had no difficulty in construing the words; to those who did not, the words were quite foreign.
The family of the neighborhood in which I was most intimate was that of a Scotch farmer named Parkin. Father, mother, and children were very attractive, both socially and intellectually, and in later years I wondered whether any of them were still living. Fifty years later I had one of the greatest and most agreeable surprises of my life in suddenly meeting the little boy of the family in the person of Dr. George R. Parkin, the well-known promoter of imperial federation in Australia and the agent in arranging for the Rhodes scholarships at Oxford which are assigned to America.
My duties were of the most varied character. I composed a little couplet designating my professions as those of
Physician, apothecary, chemist, and druggist, Girl about house and boy in the barn.
I cared for the horse, cut wood for the fire, searched field and forest for medicinal herbs, ordered other medicines from a druggist  in St. John, kept the doctor's accounts, made his pills, and mixed his powders. This left little time for reading and study, and such exercises were still farther limited by the necessity of pursuing them out of sight of the housewife.
As time passed on, the consciousness that I was wasting my growing years increased. I long cherished a vague hope that the doctor could and would do something to promote my growth into a physician, especially by taking me out to see his patients. This was the recognized method of commencing the study of medicine. But he never proposed such a course to me, and never told me how he expected me to become a physician. Every month showed my prospects in a less hopeful light. I had rushed into my position in blind confidence in the man, and without any appreciation of the requirements of a medical practitioner. But these requirements now presented themselves to my mind with constantly increasing force. Foremost among them was a knowledge of anatomy, and how could that be acquired except at a medical school? It was every day more evident that if I continued in my position I should reach my majority without being trained for any life but that of a quack.
While in this state of perplexity, an event happened which suggested a way out. One day the neighborhood was stirred by the news that Tommy Nixon had run away—left his home without the consent of his parents, and sailed for the gold fields of Australia. I was struck by the absence of any word of reprobation for his act. The young men at least seemed to admire the enterprising spirit he had displayed. A few weeks after his departure a letter which he wrote from London, detailing his adventures in the great metropolis, was read in my presence to a circle of admiring friends with expressions of wonder and surprise. This little circumstance made it clear to me that the easiest way out of my difficulty was to out the Gordian knot, run away from Dr. Foshay, and join my father in New England.
No doubt the uppermost question in the mind of the reader will be: Why did you wait so long without having a clear understanding with the doctor? Why not ask him to his face how he expected you to remain with him when he had failed in his pledges, and demand that he should either keep them or let you go?
One answer, perhaps the first, must be lack of moral courage to face him with such a demand. I have already spoken of the mystery which seemed to enshroud his personality, and of the fascination which, through it, he seemed to exercise over me. But behind this was the conviction that he could not do anything for me were he ever so well disposed. That he was himself uneducated in many essentials of his profession had gradually become plain enough; but what he knew or possibly might know remained a mystery. I had heard occasional allusions, perhaps from Mrs. Foshay rather than from himself, to an institution supposed to be in Maine, where he had studied medicine, but its name and exact location were never mentioned. Altogether, if I told him of my intention, it could not possibly do any good, and he might be able to prevent my carrying it out, or in some other way to do much harm. And so I kept silent.
Tuesday, September 13, 1853, was the day on which I fixed for the execution of my plan. The day previous I was so abstracted as to excite remarks both from Mrs. Foshay and her girl help, the latter more than once declaring me crazy when I made some queer blunder. The fact is I was oppressed by the feeling that the step about to be taken was the most momentous of my life. I packed a few books and clothes, including some mementoes of my mother, and took the box to the stage and post-office in the evening, to be forwarded to an assumed name in St. John the next afternoon. This box I never saw again; it was probably stopped by Foshay before being dispatched. My plan was to start early in the morning, walk as far as I could during the day, and, in the evening, take the mail stage when it should overtake me. This course was necessitated by the fact that the little money that I had in my pocket was insufficient to pay my way to Boston, even when traveling in the cheapest way.
I thought it only right that the doctor should be made acquainted with my proceeding and my reason for taking it, so I indited a short letter, which I tried to reproduce from memory ten years later with the following result:—
Dear Doctor,—I write this to let you know of the step I am about to take. When I came to live with you, it was agreed that you should make a physician of me. This agreement you have never shown the slightest intention of fulfilling since the first month I was with you. You have never taken me to see a patient, you have never given me any instruction or advice whatever. Beside this, you must know that your wife treats me in a manner that is no longer bearable.
I therefore consider the agreement annulled from your failure to fulfill your part of it, and I am going off to make my own way in the world. When you read this, I shall be far away, and it is not likely that we shall ever meet again.
If my memory serves me right, the doctor was absent on a visit to some distant patient on the night in question, and I did not think it likely that he would return until at least noon on the following day. By this time my box would have been safely off in the stage, and I would be far out of reach. To delay his receiving the letter as much as possible, I did not leave it about the house, but put it in the window of a shop across the way, which served the neighbors as a little branch post-office.
But he must have returned sooner than I expected, for, to my great regret, I never again saw or heard of the box, which contained, not only the entire outfit for my journey, but all the books of my childhood which I had, as well as the little mementoes of my mother. The postmaster who took charge of the goods was a Mr. Pitman. When I again passed through Salisbury, as I did ten years later, he had moved away, no one could tell me exactly where.
I was on the road before daybreak, and walked till late at night, occasionally stopping to bathe my feet in a brook, or to rest for a few minutes in the shadow of a tree. The possibility of my being pursued by the doctor was ever present to my mind, and led me to keep a sharp lookout for coming vehicles. Toward sunset a horse and buggy appeared, coming over a hill, and very soon the resemblance of vehicle and driver to the turnout of the doctor became so striking that I concealed myself in the shrubbery by the wayside until the sound of the wheels told me he was well past. The probability that my pursuer was in front of me was an added source of discomfort which led me to avoid the road and walk in the woods wherever the former was not visible to some distance ahead. But I neither saw nor heard anything more of the supposed pursuer, though, from what I afterward learned, there can be little doubt that it was actually Foshay himself.
The advent of darkness soon relieved me of the threatened danger, but added new causes of solicitude. The evening advanced, and the lights in the windows of the houses were becoming fewer and fewer, and yet the stage had not appeared. I slackened my pace, and made many stops, beginning to doubt whether I might not as well give up the stage and look for an inn. It was, I think, after ten o'clock when the rattling of wheels announced its approach. It was on a descending grade, and passed me like a meteor, in the darkness, quite heedless of my calls and gesticulations. Fortunately a house was in sight where I was hospitably entertained, and I was very soon sound asleep, as became one who had walked fifty miles or more since daylight.
Thus ended a day to which I have always looked back as the most memorable of my life. I felt its importance at the time. As I walked and walked, the question in my mind was, what am I doing and whither am I going? Am I doing right or wrong? Am I going forward to success in life, or to failure and degradation? Vainly, vainly, I tried to peer into the thick darkness of the future. No definite idea of what success might mean could find a place in my mind. I had sometimes indulged in daydreams, but these come not to a mind occupied as mine on that day. And if they had, and if fancy had been allowed its wildest flight in portraying a future, it is safe to say that the figure of an honorary academician of France, seated in the chair of Newton and Franklin in the palace of the Institute, would not have been found in the picture.
As years passed away I have formed the habit of looking back upon that former self as upon another person, the remembrance of whose emotions has been a solace in adversity and added zest to the enjoyment of prosperity. If depressed by trial, I think how light would this have appeared to that boy had a sight of the future been opened up to him. When, in the halls of learning, I have gone through the ceremonies which made me a citizen of yet another commonwealth in the world of letters, my thoughts have gone back to that day; and I have wished that the inexorable law of Nature could then have been suspended, if only for one moment, to show the scene that Providence held in reserve.
Next morning I was on my way betimes, having still more than thirty miles before me. And the miles seemed much longer than they did the day before, for my feet were sore and my limbs stiff. Quite welcome, therefore, was a lift offered by a young farmer, who, driving a cart, overtook me early in the forenoon. He was very sociable, and we soon got into an interesting conversation.
I knew that Dr. Foshay hailed from somewhere in this region, where his father still lived, so I asked my companion whether he knew a family of that name. He knew them quite well.
"Do you know anything of one of the sons who is a doctor?"
"Yes indeed; I know all about him, but he ain't no doctor. He tried to set up for one in Salisbury, but the people there must a' found him out before this, and I don't know where he is now."
"But I thought he studied medicine in Fredericton or Maine or somewhere on the border."
"Oh, he went off to the States and pretended to study, but he never did it. I tell you he ain't no more a doctor nor I am. He ain't smart enough to be a doctor."
I fell into a fit of musing long enough to hear, in my mind's ear, with startling distinctness, the words of two years before: "This world is all a humbug, and the biggest humbug is the best man. . . . You have a window in your breast and you must close that window before you can succeed in life." Now I grasped their full meaning.
Ten years later I went through the province by rail on my wedding journey. At Dorchester, the next village beyond Moncton, I was shown a place where insolvent debtors were kept "on the limits."
"By stopping there," said my informant, "you can see Dr. Foshay."
I suggested the question whether it was worth while to break our journey for the sake of seeing him. The reply of my informant deterred me.
"It can hardly be worth while to do so. He will be a painful object to see,—a bloated sot, drinking himself to death as fast as he can."
The next I heard of him was that he had succeeded.
I reached St. John on the evening that a great celebration of the commencement of work on the first railway in the province was in progress. When things are undecided, small matters turn the scale. The choice of my day for starting out on my adventurous journey was partly fixed by the desire to reach St. John and see something of the celebration. Darkness came on when I was yet a mile or two from the city; then the first rocket I had ever beheld rose before me in the sky. Two of what seemed like unfortunate incidents at the time were most fortunate. Subsequent and disappointing experience showed that had I succeeded in getting the ride I wished in the stage, the resulting depletion of my purse would have been almost fatal to my reaching my journey's end. Arriving at the city, I naturally found all the hotels filled. At length a kindly landlady said that, although she had no bed to give me, I was quite welcome to lie on a soft carpeted floor, in the midst of people who could not find any other sleeping place. No charge was made for this accommodation. My hope of finding something to do which would enable me to earn a little money in St. John over and above the cost of a bed and a daily loaf of bread was disappointed. The efforts of the next week are so painful to recall that I will not harrow the feelings of the reader by describing them. Suffice it to say that the adventure was wound up by an interview at Calais, a town on the Maine border, a few miles from Eastport, with the captain of a small sailing vessel, hardly more than a boat. He was bound for Salem. I asked him the price of a passage.
"How much money have you?" he replied.
I told him; whether it was one or two dollars I do not recall.
"I will take you for that if you will help us on the voyage."
The offer was gladly accepted. The little craft was about as near the opposite of a clipper ship as one can imagine, never intended to run in any but fair winds, and even with that her progress was very slow. There was a constant succession of west winds, and the result was that we were about three weeks reaching Salem. Here I met my father, who, after the death of my mother, had come to seek his fortune in the "States." He had reached the conclusion, on what grounds I do not know, that the eastern part of Maryland was a most desirable region, both in the character of its people and in the advantages which it offered us. The result was that, at the beginning of 1854, I found myself teacher of a country school at a place called Massey's Cross Roads in Kent County. After teaching here one year, I got a somewhat better school at the pleasant little village of Sudlersville, a few miles away.
Of my abilities as a manager and teacher of youth the reader can judge. Suffice it to say that, looking back at those two years, I am deeply impressed with the good nature of the people in tolerating me at all.
My most pleasant recollection is that of two of my best pupils of Sudlersville, nearly my own age. One was Arthur E. Sudler, for whose special benefit some chemical apparatus was obtained from Philadelphia. He afterwards studied medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and delighted me by writing that what I had taught him placed him among the best in his class in chemistry. The other was B. S. Elliott, who afterward became an engineer or surveyor.
One of my most vivid recollections at Massey's relates to a subject which by no means forms a part of one's intellectual development, and yet is at the bottom of all human progress, that of digestion. The staple food of the inhabitants of a Southern farming region was much heartier than any to which I had been accustomed. "Pork and pone" were the staples, the latter being a rather coarse cake with little or no seasoning, baked from cornmeal. This was varied by a compound called "shortcake," a mixture of flour and lard, rapidly baked in a pan, and eaten hot. Though not distasteful, I thought it as villainous a compound as a civilized man would put into his stomach.
Quite near my school lived a young bachelor farmer who might be designated as William Bowler, Esq., though he was better known as Billy Bowler. He had been educated partly at Delaware College, Newark, and was therefore an interesting young man to know. In describing his experiences at the college, he once informed me that they were all very pleasant except in a single point; that was the miserably poor food that the students got to eat. He could not, he declared, get along without good eating. This naturally suggested that my friend was something of a gourmand. Great, therefore, was my delight when, a few weeks later, he expressed a desire to have me board with him. I accepted the offer as soon as possible. Much to my disappointment, shortcake was on the table at the first meal and again at the second. It proved to be the principal dish twice, and I am not sure but three times a day. The other staple was fried meat. On the whole this was worse than pork and pone, which, if not toothsome, was at least wholesome. As the days grew into weeks, I wondered what Delaware College could give its students to eat. To increase the perplexity, there were plenty of chickens in the yard and vegetables in the garden. I asked the cook if she could not boil some vegetables and bring them on the table.
"Mas'er Bowler don't like wegetable."
Then I found that the chickens were being consumed in the kitchen and asked for one.
"Mas'er Bowler don't like chicken," was the reply, with an added intimation that the chickens belonged to the denizens of the kitchen.
The mystery was now so dark and deep that I determined to fathom it. I drew Mr. Bowler into conversation once more about Delaware College, and asked him what the students had to eat when there.
He had evidently forgotten his former remark and described what seemed to me a fairly well provided students' table. Now I came down on him with my crusher.
"You told me once that the table was miserably poor, so that you could hardly stand it. What fault had you to find with it?"
He reflected a moment, apparently recalling his impression, then replied: "Oh, they had no shortcake there!"
In 1854 I availed myself of my summer vacation to pay my first visit to the national capital, little dreaming that it would ever be my home. I went as far as the gate of the observatory, and looked wistfully in, but feared to enter, as I did not know what the rules might be regarding visitors. I speculated upon the possible object of a queer red sandstone building, which seemed so different from anything else, and heard for the first time of the Smithsonian Institution.
On the very beginning of my work at Massey's the improvement in my position was so remarkable that I felt my rash step of a few months before fully justified. I wrote in triumph to my favorite aunt, Rebecca Prince, that leaving Dr. Foshay was the best thing I had ever done. I was no longer "that boy," but a respectable young man with a handle to my name.
Just what object I should pursue in life was still doubtful; the avenues of the preferment I would have liked seemed to be closed through my not being a college graduate. I had no one to advise me as to the subjects I should pursue or the books I should study. On such books as I could get, I passed every spare hour. My father sent me Cobbett's English Grammar, which I found amusing and interesting, especially the criticisms upon the grammar found here and there in royal addresses to Parliament and other state papers. On the whole I am not sure but that the book justified my father's good opinion, although I cannot but think that it was rather hypercritical. I had been taught the rudiments of French in Wallace when quite a child by a Mr. Oldright, of whose methods and pronunciation my memory gives me a most favorable impression. I now got Cobbett's French Grammar, probably a much less commendable book than his English one. I had never yet fathomed the mysteries of analytic geometry or the calculus, and so got Davies' books on those subjects. That on the calculus was perhaps the worst that could be put into the hands of a person situated as I was. Two volumes of Bezout's Mathematics, in French, about a century old, were, I think, rather better. Say's Political Economy was the first book I read on that subject, and it was quite a delight to see human affairs treated by scientific methods.
I finally reached the conclusion that mathematics was the study I was best fitted to follow, though I did not clearly see in what way I should turn the subject to account. I knew that Newton's "Principia" was a celebrated book, so I got a copy of the English translation. The path through it was rather thorny, but I at least caught the spirit here and there. No teacher at the present time would think of using it as a text-book, yet as a mental discipline, and for the purpose of enabling one to form a mental image of the subject, its methods at least are excellent. I got a copy of the "American Journal of Science," hoping it might enlighten me, but was frightened by its big words, and found nothing that I could understand.
During the year at Sudlersville I made several efforts which, though they were insignificant so far as immediate results were concerned, were in some respects of importance for my future work. With no knowledge of algebra except what was derived from the meagre text-books I could pick up,—not having heard even the name of Abel, or knowing what view of the subject was taken by professional mathematicians,—I made my first attempt at a scientific article, "A New Demonstration of the Binomial Theorem." This I sent to Professor Henry, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, to see if he deemed it suitable for publication. He promptly replied in the negative, but offered to submit it to a professional mathematician for an opinion of its merits. I gladly accepted this proposal, which was just what I wanted. In due course a copy of the report was sent me. One part of the work was praised for its elegance, but a lack of completeness and rigor was pointed out. It was accompanied by a pleasant note from Professor Henry remarking that, while not so favorable as I might have expected, it was sufficiently so to encourage me in persevering.
The other effort to which I refer was of quite a different character. A copy of the "National Intelligencer," intended for some subscriber who had left Sudlersville, came to the post-office for several months, and, there being no claimant, I frequently had an opportunity to read it. One of its features was frequent letters from volunteer writers on scientific subjects. Among these was a long letter from one G. W. Eveleth, the object of which was to refute the accepted theory of the universe, especially the view of Copernicus. For aught I knew Mr. Eveleth held as high a position as any one else in the world of science and letters, so I read his article carefully. It was evidently wholly fallacious, yet so plausible that I feared the belief of the world in the doctrine of Copernicus might suffer a severe shock, and hastened to the rescue by writing a letter over my own name, pointing out the fallacies. This was published in the "National Intelligencer"—if my memory serves me right—in 1855. My full name, printed in large capitals, in a newspaper, at the bottom of a letter, filled me with a sense of my temerity in appearing so prominently in print, as if I were intruding into company where I might not be wanted.