Transcriber's Note: This sentence is incomplete, as printed:
Wheelwright, hoping that he was the bearer of agreeable tidings from his estates, threw him all but his last quarter, and Thady took his leave with,
UPS AND DOWNS
IN THE LIFE OF
A DISTRESSED GENTLEMAN.
BY THE AUTHOR OF "TALES AND SKETCHES, SUCH AS THEY ARE."
WILLIAM L. STONE
If fortune wrap thee warm, Then friends about thee swarm, Like flies about a honey pot; But if fortune frown, And cast thee down, Thou mayest lie and rot.
LEAVITT, LORD & CO. 180 BROADWAY.
BOSTON:—CROCKER & BREWSTER.
Entered, according to Act of Congress, by LEAVITT, LORD & Co., in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty-six, in the Clerk's office of the southern district of New-York.
WEST & TROW, PRS.
TO ALL DOATING PARENTS, WHO IMAGINE THAT WISDOM WILL DIE WITH THEIR OWN CHILDREN, THIS LITTLE RECORD OF THE LIFE AND MISFORTUNES OF A GENIUS, IS AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED, BY THEIR FRIEND AND WELL WISHER,
BILL OF LADING.
How to keep a secret—Unique illustration of the way to do it—Historical truth—Anecdote of a Chinese Emperor 9
Wherein the Author discourses of cycles, of which he enumerates a great variety, illustrates the uses of some, and speaks of the genesis of others. As to the intent or application of this chapter, the reader will be kept in the dark for a time 13
Of pedigree—Introduction to a beautiful section of country—Birth of the hero—The secret of obtaining the root of all evil 20
Genius in its juvenility—Indulgent mothers—Women sure to carry their points—Preparation for the university—How he gets in 27
Intellectual development—Learned societies—The progress of genius—Idleness and incompetency no bar to academic advancement—Literary exercises—A bit of knotty and doubtful metre—The hill of science—The crowning honor 33
The learned professions—Why a man should not be a lawyer—Contention respecting the birthplace of Homer—Any body can be a doctor—Bas bleus—Medical studies and lectures—A studious genius in New-York—Gallantry—Sad effects of choosing the wrong profession 46
Easy methods of pulpit preparation—Revival of ancient pulpit eloquence—Style of living—The mercantile profession not incompatible with genius—Parallel between Burke and the last man that would be thought of in Rhode-Island—The art of sinking capital—A profitable clerk—A fire—And a mercantile catastrophe 57
A claim upon the public treasury—Amy Darden—Mr. Whittlesey—Life in Washington—Swells and attaches—Fortune's frolics—Difficulty of getting rich by lotteries—Pockets to let 69
Ancient edifice—Brief lecture upon the arts—of architecture in particular—Summons from a gentleman in distress—Poppy Lownds—Prison discipline—Not improved since the days of the Vicar of Wakefield—Unexpected meeting with a genius—A scene in limbo—The bastile—An aged prisoner—Illiberality of a landlord—Paying debts by the assistance of the Record 80
Unexpected morning scene at the foot of Courtlandt-street—An agreeable surprise—Some things can be done as well as others—Fashionable travelling—Touches of the sublime and beautiful—Ancient history of Lake George—Darkness visible—Ludicrous situation of the hero—A skeleton dance which did not take place—Fire works, and a midnight view of mountain, wood, and water scenery 95
The yellow fever—The Genius appearing by the side of a mysterious lady—Unsatisfied curiosity—Fortune-hunting—Bright prospects ahead—Obscured by a little cloud of dubiousness 111
Mistake of Mr. Pope—Anticipation—Value of editorial assistance in the march of mind—Female education—Model of a modern prospectus—Advantages of travel in the art of imparting female embellishments, mental and physical 124
Village excitement and ambition—A pattern seminary—Beautiful embroidery and blending of languages—Flight of a flock of girls—A touch of the brogue—An explosion—Miss Fortune turns out to be a humbug—A sad development 139
Reflections on poverty—Mistakes of country people concerning the supposed wealth and comfort of every body that lives in town—The narrative resumed—Visit from the hero in a snow-storm—Evidences of misfortune, with a colloquy thereon—Hard way to earn a living—Destitution—Relief therefrom—Miss Edgeworth's tale of Murad, the Unlucky—Seneca—Closing moralities of the chapter 155
Visit to the abode of Famine—Unexampled state of destitution—A spectacle that would have melted the heart of Shylock—Singular affection of a wife who loved her husband too well to keep him from starvation—Charitable character of New-Yorkers—Visit to the Lombards—Painful scenes—Frauds and oppression of those establishments—Avarice—How it chills the current of sympathy—Chapter breaks off unfinished 171
Continuation of the subject—Pawn-brokers' shops good schools of study for the philosopher—Illustration of intemperance—A loving husband—How to provide for one's household—A young man about town—A benevolent gambler—A shark in trouble—Unexpected development—An interesting stranger—Gems—How to embezzle a jewel—The lady's history—Ship of war going to sea—Forebodings—West India climate and scenery—Venus and her glittering train—A hurricane and a shipwreck in which the hero has no concern—Return from the digression—Bedstead timber 183
Dilemma of Garrick and the author hereof—Evils of prosperity—Message from a gentleman in Bridewell—Account of a domestic civil war—Tribulations of matrimony—Gallantry of a husband in defence of his wife—Accident to a nose with a woman behind it—Scene in the police, the actors in which were unhappily born in exile from their native land—Clemency of the magistrate—What sad care some people take of their virtue—How to divide a quarrelsome house—COMPLETION OF THE CIRCLE—THE MORAL 207
The best parallel to the conduct of the silly ostrich, that thrusts her head into a thicket, or the sand, and fancies she is thereby hidden from view, occurred some years since in the village of Catskill. A printer, who was neither an observer of the Sabbath, nor a member of the Temperance Society, went to a grocery one Sunday morning for a bottle of gin. On coming out of the dram-shop, with his decanter of fire-water, he perceived that the services in the church near by, were just closed, and the congregation were returning to their homes. Not having entirely lost his self-respect, and unwilling to be seen in the public street by the whole village, on such a day, and with such a burden, he hastily thrust his hand, holding the bottle, behind, for the purpose of concealing it underneath the skirts of his coat: and in this way, apparently with the greatest possible unconcern, the disciple of Faust walked up the street, just in advance of the congregation. Unfortunately, however, in his haste he had thrust his decanter quite through between the folds of his coat-skirts, so that his hands and the neck of the bottle only were concealed; while, to the irresistible merriment of the people, the object which he wished to hide was ten times more the subject of observation than it could have been before. Very much in the same predicament stands the writer of the following pages. His intention was to publish them anonymously, if at all. But an unauthorized annunciation of his name, in the Booksellers' Advertiser, a few weeks since, has rendered the effort as abortive as the trick of the foolish bird, and the expedient of the printer. The mask, thus torn, has therefore been entirely doffed.
And now a few words as to the sketches themselves.
Whatever else may be said of the writer, it cannot be predicated of him, as by Addison of a certain class of biographers of his day, "that they watched for the death of a great man, like so many undertakers, on purpose to make a penny by him." The subject of this little volume is neither a great man, nor, happily, is he yet numbered among the dead. Should it then be asked, Why write about small men at all, or, in any event, until after they are dead? The answer is at hand: it is the fashion of the times in which we live. The present is the age of small men, whose lives are necessarily written while living, lest, when dead, and all hope of reward is past, nothing should be remembered to be said of them. What, moreover, can be more agreeable, than for a man to read his own biography, especially when drawn by the partial hand of friendship, and retouched in each successive edition, as new circumstances require, new virtues are disclosed, and new deeds demand a record? It may be likened to the reading of one's own epitaph, wherein one can see to it for himself, that SHAKSPEARE did not speak advisedly when he wrote, "It is the evil only that men do that lives after them, while the good is interred with their bones." And besides, biography is history; and history has been defined to be "philosophy teaching by example." By having his own biography in his library, therefore, a man may become his own philosophical teacher, and save the expense of a professor; while, at the same time, he can enjoy the consolation of seeing how mankind around him are improving themselves by the study of his example. Should the subject of the present sketches object, that the writer has deviated from the course of most modern biographers, by the indulgence of his old-fashioned notions of impartiality and truth, he must plead guilty to the charge; but, in mitigation of punishment, he would beg leave to relate a story:
It is written in the annals of the Celestial Empire, that there once, and for ages, existed an historical tribunal, instituted for the purpose of perpetuating the virtues and vices of their monarchs. One day the Emperor Tai-t-song summoned the President of this tribunal before him, and ordered him to exhibit the history of his own reign. The President declined to obey the mandate, upon the ground that they were required to keep an exact record of the virtues and vices of their sovereigns, and would no longer be at liberty to record the truth, if their register was to be subject to the royal inspection. "What!" exclaimed the Father of the Sun and the Uncle of the Moon, "you transmit my history to posterity, and do you assume the liberty of acquainting it with my faults?" "It is inconsistent with my character," rejoined the President, "and with the dignity of my office, ever to disguise the truth. I am bound to record the whole, even to the slightest fault; and such is the exactness and severity of my duty, that I am not suffered to omit a record of our present conversation." Tai-t-song had an elevation of soul to be found in the hearts of few monarchs, even in more civilized countries than the land of Confucius. "Continue," said he to the official historian, "to write the truth without constraint. May my virtues and vices contribute to the public utility, and be instructive to my successors. Your tribunal is free; I will for ever protect it, and permit it to write my history with the utmost impartiality."
It is readily admitted that the cases are not exactly parallel. Still, the relation contains an excellent lesson, not only to princes, but to other people. How happy would it be for the world, if we all lived under the full persuasion of the fact, that the faithful hand of history will not fail to send us down to posterity odious or respected, as by our lives and conduct we shall have deserved! And if my friend Wheelwright shall feel offended that I have kept a record of the most striking incidents of his life, I have only to hope that he will dispel his frowns, dismiss his objections, and, by his own example, illustrate the value of such magnanimity as that displayed by the Emperor of China.
IN THE LIFE OF
MR. DANIEL WHEELWRIGHT.
A DISQUISITION ON CIRCLES.
"In circle following circle."
The horse at the cider-mill; the mules in the press-room of the American Tract Society; and the watchman who walks his drowsy round until he falls asleep; are not the only beings that spend their lives in traversing a circle. As the curve is the true line of beauty, and as the circle in Egyptian hieroglyphics is ever used as the symbol of renewed life—the type or sign of the generative principle—so the motion produced by the centripetal and centrifugal forces, seems to be that of nature. We are often told of the never-ending domestic duties of the faithful housewife, doomed—
"To tread the same dull circle round and round;"—
The parson often discourses touching the round of his parochial duties; and who does not sympathize with the diurnal editor at the thought of the harassing duties devolving upon him, "in circles incessant." The man of the world, and the sensualist, dance the giddy round of pleasure. The judge goes his circuit, to bring men to justice in this world, and the self-denying missionary traverses his, to save them from it in the next. It is very true that the periphery of the circles traversed by some persons and objects, is greater than that of others. One man walks the circumference of his duties in a single day; another in a week; while it may require the whole life of the third to perform the journey. Many members of Congress make speeches in circles, whether arguing abstruse points of constitutional law, or the claims of a party candidate; as do lawyers their cases at the bar, proving the foregoing proposition by the following, and inferring the following from the foregoing. Cast a stone into a lake or a mill-pond, and it will produce a succession of motions, circle following circle in order, and extending the radius until they disappear in the distance. The political movements of nations are circular. Under the severe pressure of despotism the people rise in their fury, and snap their chains asunder. A republic follows; degenerating first into a rude and wild democracy; and thence into a cruel and more turbulent anarchy. As a relief from the evils of this, the people, sighing for repose, fly back again into the arms of despotism. But with a people who have once tasted the sweets of liberty, this kind of tranquillity is short. Maddened by wrongs, real or supposed, they are soon prepared again to rush into the death-dance of revolution. The "one eternal principle" of the Chinese, forming "the first link in the great material chain" of their system, is represented by a circle. Time wings his flight in circles, and every year rolls round within itself. Hence the poets sing of "the circling years." The sun turns round upon his own axis; and the moon "changes monthly in her circled orb." The other celestial bodies all wheel their courses in circles around the common centre. The moons of Jupiter revolve around him in circles, and he carries them along with him in his periodical circuit round the sun. Saturn always moves within his rings, and thus adorned himself, walks in circles through the regions of space:—
"And other planets circle other suns."
A ship on the ocean, though apparently bounding over a plain of waters, rides in fact upon the circumference of a circle around the arch of the earth's diameter. The brisk swallow cuts the air in circles; the vampire wheels circularly about your head; the timid hare flees the ravenous pack of the sportsman in a winding course, until in despair it returns to die in its form. The lunar circle betokens a tempest;—modern writers on pneumatics affirm every breeze that blows, from the gentle-breathing zephyr to the rude northeastern blast, to be a whirlwind; and the beautiful hues of the iris, bright with hope and promise, play upon the melting clouds in the segment of a circle. The eagle soars toward the heavens in curves, as though measuring the angles of distant objects by geometrical figures; and the drunkard, when unable longer to control his movements, describes a curvilinear path as he reels homeward from his revels, and waits at his bed-side to catch hold of a post as it "comes round again." Those German principalities which are represented in the Diet, are denominated circles; and if a man is so ignorant as not to know that the moss always grows on the north side of a tree, and consequently gets lost in the woods, he invariably makes the discovery by finding that he has been unconsciously traversing a circle. Indeed, with most of our race the journey of human life would be circular, were it not that it has both a beginning and an end,—and so has a circle, if you could find them. From all which it follows, that by the laws of the universe, all things, animate and inanimate, move in revolutionary harmony; and though complex in their machinery as the wheels of Ezekiel's vision, are yet so perfect and beautiful in their order, as to have suggested to the ancients the poetical idea of "the music of the spheres." And now for the truth of the foregoing propositions in geometrical physics, they shall, in at least one striking instance, be illustrated by a few passages from the life and adventures of a quondam acquaintance of mine, whose name stands at the head of this bit of biography.
BIRTH AND PARENTAGE.
"I am no herald, to inquire of men's pedigrees; it sufficeth me if I know their virtues."—Sidney.
There being no herald's college in this free and happy country, where equality was declared by the revolutionary congress to be as self-evident as our right to independence, I have no means of tracing the pedigree of my friend for many generations back. Indeed, as it was long ago remarked by Lord Camden, alterations of sirnames were in former ages so very common, as to have obscured the truth of our pedigrees, so that it is no little labor to deduce many of them. But, although no crest marks the career of his ancestors, or shield emblazons their escutcheon with mementoes of achievements in arts or in arms; and although I claim not in his behalf, as of the heroes in olden times, "a pedigree that reached to heaven," yet no doubt exists of the antiquity of his family. The name was duly inscribed in the Doomsday book of the Norman Conqueror, and had not the limbs of the genealogical tree been broken, it is believed that their ancestry might, nevertheless, have been traced back to a gentleman by the name of Japheth, "who was the son of Noah." Still, as I have already intimated, this inquiry can be of little consequence. In this land of freedom, where every tub stands on its own bottom—where men are the architects of their own fame and fortunes—where he that hath neither coat nor shoes is at liberty to go without them,—it is of little moment whether a man knows who he happens to be, or not, provided always that he behaves well. Nay, if he cannot tell whence he sprung, he escapes the censure of being the son of his father, and may arrive at the highest honors of the republic without either borrowing merit from the dead, or having any too much of his own. Avoiding genealogies, therefore, I will come directly to the point, and assume it as granted, that, inasmuch as Mr. Daniel Wheelwright is known to have had a father and mother, so likewise he must have had grand-parents. And these were, doubtless, sensible and judicious people, more desirous of being industrious and useful, than what the world calls great. Borrowing, therefore, a hint from their own honest name, in selecting an occupation for their son, they chose that of coachmaking—an art, which, in the progress of civilization, he carried from New-Jersey into the beautiful valley of the Mohawk—not many years after the original proprietors of that section of the republic had been finally driven away by those who understood tilling their land better than they. It was in this picturesque and delightful valley, on the banks of the river, and in a town alike celebrated for the taste of its people in architecture, and distinguished as a seat of learning, that my friend and hero, Daniel, first saw the light. I have cast no figure to ascertain which of the divinities presided at his birth, or what particular star first pencilled his pale blue eyes with its silver rays. But no angry planet was culminating in that particular chamber of the heavens at the time, for he grew up the best-natured being in those parts; and if the genius of Dulness was not actually present on the occasion, his court must have been held on that evening at no great distance therefrom. Not to be too particular, however, it is enough for the present to say, that he waxed towards the stature of manhood much as other boys do—save that he was never engaged in a quarrel—from the circumstance, probably, that he had neither sufficient energy, nor decision of character, to commence or to end one. To do him justice, if honesty be a fault, it was surely his; and I can truly say that in all the passing vicissitudes of his life, it has never been taken out of him to this day. His father was industrious and economical, never losing an hour in which he could make any thing, or parting with a dollar so long as he could keep it. In his domestic arrangements he was exceedingly careful that nothing should be lost. If he had eels for breakfast, he would always contrive, by preserving and drying the skins, to save more than the original cost of these somewhat questionable members of the piscatory family. He early instructed his son in the elementary principles of his trade; and it is believed that before he was seventeen he not only knew the number of spokes in a wheel, but had actually adjusted them to the felloes, and driven them up to the hub. He was also taught in some branches of household carpentry work, which proved of no disadvantage to him in the end. Full of good nature, he was always popular with the boys; was never so industrious as when manufacturing to their order little writing desks, fancy boxes, and other trifling articles not beyond the scope of his mechanical ingenuity—for which he exacted such compensation as he could obtain. In sober truth, like his parent, he was fond of money. The world, he was wont to say, owed him a living, and he prided himself not a little on his skill in procuring the wherewithal. And yet he was rarely known to realize one shilling that did not cost him two; or in other words, in all his multifarious transactions of barter and otherwise, he was almost uniformly overreached. There was one way, moreover, in which his little earnings could always be taken from him. He was fond of good living, albeit not his father's fault, since his family board was seldom spread with other than the plainest and least expensive fare. Certain was it, therefore, that the palate had never received any epicurean lessons at home; but it was equally certain that he had acquired a taste for the good things of this world. Hence those of his associates who had a design upon whatever of small change they supposed him from time to time to have accumulated, had only to tempt him with some trifling luxury, and the work was done. A plate of oysters was irresistible!
HIS DESTINY UNDERGOES A CHANGE.
"God give them wisdom that have it; and those that are fools, let them use their talents."—Shakspeare.
Daniel Wheelwright grew up a tall and stately youth; and to do him justice, his personal appearance was not a little in his favor. I have before intimated that the city in which he dwelt was the seat of a learned institution; and it was his fortune—ill or good, will appear in the sequel—to make the acquaintance of several inmates of the university, who seemed "to take a liking to him," to borrow the quaint juvenile expression in such cases, especially during the ripening and ingathering of the fruit in his father's little orchard. At these seasons their visits were frequent; and as the student's life appeared to be at once more easy and promising than a coachmaker's, and more genteel withal, Daniel manifested a desire to change his occupation. It may be, however—for Daniel is my friend, and were he not, I would do him no injustice—that the fire of ambition had begun to glow in his bosom, and that he was really and truly desirous of describing a wider "circle" than that of a carriage wheel. His mother, too—mothers always most love and indulge the oldest son—discovered a genius in Daniel requiring only means and opportunity, to wing an eagle-flight. It was some considerable time, however, before the father could be persuaded into the measure. By dint of industry and economy, he was getting along snugly in the world; and as he had no more extended education himself, he judged it all-sufficient if a man could read his Bible, and cast the interest on a note of hand by the assistance of Daboll's Arithmetic. My friend's common-school education, therefore, was judged by his father to be all that was necessary for an honest man. But the woman prevailed,—as women generally do. It happened that at the distance of some sixty or seventy miles farther up the vale of the Mohawk, lived a man whom she had previously known in New-Jersey, and whose occupation was that of "teaching young ideas how to shoot"—not grouse and woodcock, but to shoot forth into scions of learning. He had a son whom he desired exceedingly to send to college; but as he was forever compelled to be scraping the bottom of his scanty exchequer to supply the current wants of his family, he was destitute of the means;—and there were fewer education societies, and other facilities for obtaining eleemosynary instruction in those days than in the present age of disinterested benevolence. The inventive genius of the woman was therefore not slow to devise a project by which her friend might be served, while at the same time her own favorite design might be furthered—and that, too, without making, even prospectively, any essential encroachment upon the means of her husband. For the attainment of this object—or rather for the removal of so formidable an obstacle in the future career of her son—she had for a long while been taxing her inventive and diplomatic powers. An arrangement was therefore soon negotiated, by which the pedagogue received our hero under his own roof, and prepared him for the university, while his own son was taken as a boarder into the family of the coachmaker, where he remained during the whole of his collegiate course. The immediate results were auspicious. The son of the pedagogue took the honors of his class, and has since been enabled to rejoice as the president of a transmontane university; and our hero was, in turn, duly prepared for matriculation beneath the academic evergreens of his own neighborhood. It is but fair to acknowledge, moreover, that students have entered that institution, as well as divers others, no better prepared than Daniel Wheelwright. Notwithstanding the natural indolence of his character, he knew that he must know something before he could enter college, and that in case of a failure, he must again cultivate more acquaintance with the felloes of the shop, than with the fellows of the university; and with the stimulus of such a consideration before him, he applied himself to his books with extraordinary diligence. His preceptor was in all respects adequate to his task; and the requisites of the college being quite liberal and republican—not repressing the generous ardor of young ambition by exacting too much in the outset—the aspiring Daniel crossed the threshhold of the university without any considerable difficulty. His prudent and sagacious mother had managed every thing with consummate forecast and tact; and to avoid any difficulty that might have resulted from too many unanswered questions, her son had been represented to the faculty as a very modest and diffident youth, who knew much more than he could tell—like the grave bird, of which it was believed that although it said but little, it thought the more. Indeed, it is believed that he had actually read Cornelius Nepos and three books of the AEneid. He had likewise thumbed over his Greek grammar, and gone through the gospel of John. The kind mother heard of his initiatory success with delight, and the father was rather gratified than otherwise—especially as it cost him nothing.
OF UNIVERSITY HONORS AND THE WAY THEY ARE OBTAINED.
"O this learning! what a thing it is!"—Shakspeare.
"You do ill to teach the child such words: he teaches him to hick and to hack, which they'll do fast enough of themselves; and to call horum; fye upon you!"—Idem.
How young Wheelwright had ever accomplished even what has already been indicated, was a matter of astonishment to himself; and before many months had passed away, to every body else, for his subsequent acquirements did not correspond thereunto. In good sooth it is believed that he never really mastered a single lesson afterward. Having succeeded in getting into the college, it was a very rational conclusion that he would some day find his way out of it. He knew that the four years would pass away in less than five; and as he had turned student to avoid hard labor, why should he fatigue himself by digging at the roots of hard language! It was either from sheer indolence, or because he had completely exhausted himself in his preparatory studies, that he made no farther advances in literature, although he kept within its flowery walks. I have already mentioned a snug little orchard, which, in truth, was one of rare productiveness, and of which his father's industry had made him the proprietor. The produce of this orchard, both of apples and cider, added to, and in connection with, his imperturbable good nature, enabled Daniel to maintain the popularity among the students of which I have spoken in a former chapter. The reader will not be surprised, therefore, to learn that he succeeded in obtaining an election as a member of the Philo-Peitho-logicalethian Institute—a society, as its name imports, learned in all that is eloquent, logical and veracious—and of which, I am proud to say, the distinguished subject of this memoir had the honor once of being chosen semi-monthly secretary, after a sharp and close canvass. In the transactions of this society the principal forte of Daniel was debating; albeit the character of his elocution was not the most brilliant, and it was not often until after the ayes and noes were called, that it could be determined from the drift of his argument, which side he had espoused, or in fact whether he himself understood the proposition—unless, indeed, as was sometimes the case, he commenced his speech by saying, "Mr. President, I are in favor of the negative of that are question." In the ordinary tasks of his class he contrived from day to day, by the promptings of others, to work his way along; and previous to the quarterly examinations, it was his practice to obtain the assistance of some of his classmates to go over his exercises with him, which they very cheerfully did, as an evening could always be comfortably spent in this way, over a pitcher of cider and a basket of apples. Having a pretty good memory, Dan could retain a part of his lesson, guess at another part, and catch the wings and legs of the residue from the promptings of friends—although he so greatly outstripped them in growth, that it became difficult to send the necessarily subdued sounds of their corrections up to his anxious ears. It was a kind and indulgent class of which he was a member, and of no ordinary character—it having furnished the president of one university; the chief manager, for years, of half the Christian missionaries in heathendom; and its full share of learned professors, sagacious legislators, and eloquent counsellors in the law. And as the truly great are ever the most active in labors of love, its members were always ready and willing to lend our hero a helping hand in "climbing" the difficult "steep" which Dr. Beattie pronounces so "hard" of access. Still, at the close of every quarter, he was regularly "read off," as the declaration of deficiency is denominated, and threatened with degradation. But he nevertheless kept along; how, his biographer cannot tell;—all that he is able to say upon this point, being the fact, that the close of every academic year found him one year older, somewhat taller, and advanced one grade higher in his classic course. Whether on the ground of proficiency, of size, of family influence, or for the purpose of swelling the catalogue by another name, the reader is left to determine for himself.
The earth having at length nearly completed her fourth annual circle around the orb of day, since Daniel commenced his collegiate course, the anniversary at which he was to take his degree, if he could get it, was rapidly approaching, for which occasion it may well be supposed he was no better prepared than he should be. The faculty, however, were indulgent, and had, moreover, even at that early day, hit upon the happy expedient of awarding to every member of the graduating class an honor of some sort, the delivery of an oration or a poem,—taking especial care, by the way, to note in the proces verbal of the exercises that those students who were too poor to purchase, and too stupid to manufacture, either the one or the other, had been excused from taking the part assigned;—a convenient device, by which many a deceived and doting parent has been adroitly blinded. It was in this way that the faculty determined to dispose of the subject of this memoir; and an Irish professor, who was an incontinent snuff-taker, and sometimes a little mischievous withal, caused him to be announced for a poem. Alike to the amusement and the astonishment of every body, although he had no ear for numbers, and scarcely knew a dactyl from a spondee, Daniel accepted the honor. Nor, after all, was he so much of a fool as many people took him to be; and, whether by the process of counting his fingers, or by some other means, I cannot say, but still I have known him to bring out several stanzas of Hudibrastic metre, sweetly rhyming "trees" with "breeze," "love" with "dove," "zephyr" with "heifer," &c. Indeed I have likewise known him to be guilty of positive waggery; but it must be confessed that in this line his attempts were few and far between, and not always successful. He had seen, however, that the professor, though not exactly poking fun at him, had nevertheless intended a sly touch of irony upon his proverbially prosing character. He therefore determined to "be up to him," as the fancy have it; and having somewhere found the copy of an obsolete satirical epic which an enamored snuff-taker had once addressed to a mistress, who could reciprocate the interjection over her snuff box,—
"Knows he the joys that my nose knows!"
Wheelwright copied it out, and presented it to the faculty as his own composition. Being addicted to the use of the titillating powder himself, it was but a reasonable supposition on his own part, that it would give no offence. It commenced thus:—
Softly waft, ye southern breezes, Bear my plaints to her I love— Say to her whene'er she sneezes, Sympathy my muscles move;
My true-love is formed of graces, Takes cephalic, likes a quid, And is beauteous as the faces Carved on an Irish snuff-box lid.
The hit at the rhetoric-professor's snuff-box was only understood by those who had seen the article referred to; and on the whole, the performance was considered a very clever jeu-d'esprit by the faculty, who knew nothing of its paternity, and set it down as his own. Still, as being hardly in keeping with the gravity of the occasion, it was rejected as a part of the public exercises of the commencement. Anticipating this result, however, Daniel had provided himself, by virtue of a basket of Spitzenbergs, with a few stanzas of metre, entitled "An Ode on Ambition," which were more successful. It was written by a young gentleman who has since taken several silver cups for theatrical prize-addresses, full of phoenixes, and the Greek classics from Lempriere. He has also been a large contributor to those beautifully printed, useful, and fashionable hebdomadals, the Milliners' Literary Gazette, Young Ladies' Companion, et id genus omne. The ode ran thus:—
The warrior fights, and dies for fame— The empty glories of a name;— But we who linger round this spot, The warrior's guerdon covet Nott.
Nott for the miser's glittering heap Within these walls is bartered sleep; The humble scholar's quiet lot With dreams of wealth is troubled Nott.
While poring o'er the midnight lamp, In rooms too cold, and sometimes damp, O man, who land and cash hast got, Thy life of ease we envy Nott.
Our troubles here are light and few;— An empty purse when bills fall due, A locker, without e'er a shot,— Hard recitations, or a Knot.
Ty problem, which we can't untie,— Our only shirt hung out to dry,— A chum who never pays his scot,— Such ills as these we value Nott.
O, cherished *****! learning's home, Where'er the fates may bid us roam, Though friends and kindred be forgot, Be sure we shall forget thee Nott.
For years of peaceful, calm content, To science and hard study lent, Though others thy good name may blot, T'were wondrous if we loved thee Nott.
There was a touch of waggery, if not of mischief, in these verses, which happened to escape detection from the faculty, though not very artfully concealed. But the terminations of the stanzas rendered the thing transparent to the audience during the delivery, as was quite manifest from the general movement of their risibles. But Wheelwright was himself as ignorant of the pun as the faculty were, until both were enlightened the following week, when the real author caused it to be published in the Cistula Literaria—an interesting journal, edited by a committee of the junior class—with a capital "N" and a superfluous "t" in the monosyllable referred to, as it appears in the present memoir. The conceit was Nott thought a bad one, and those who were not in the secret gave my hero more credit for his metrical skill, than he has ever received since.
Thus borne along upon the current with his class, Wheelwright was admitted ad gradum in artibus—a certificate of which fact he took care to have elegantly filled out upon the largest and handsomest scroll of parchment that could be procured. It was of course verified by the signature of the Reverend Praeses, and decorated with an enormous seal, representing, very appropriately in the present and many other instances the Temple of Science perched upon an inaccessible hill. At the base of the hill, stood the goddess of Wisdom with her favorite bird (the owl) upon her shoulder, and pointing the attention of young aspirants to its beetling summit. The motto was "Perseverantia omnia vincit," a very consoling legend to the numerous alumni proceeding annually from this venerable university.
With the subject of this history, and perhaps with many others also, the puzzle was to construe this splendid testimonial for the edification of his simple-minded parents, when he came home with the burden of his blushing honors. But in this effort we question whether he ever succeeded. Indeed it has always been a grave matter of doubt among philologers, whether the document was even capable of being rendered into English, in conformity with the laws of any language which the human race has ever spoken, since the low Dutch and the Basque dispersed our ambitious ancestors at the building of Babel.
HE CHOOSES A PROFESSION.
"Here let us breathe, and happily introduce a course of learning, and ingenious studies."—Shakspeare.
"The whole world cannot again prick out five such, take each one in his vein."—Idem.
Having thus completed his classical studies, and come off, as we have seen, with the customary academic honors, the next subject of consideration at the domestic fireside was the choice of a profession. His parents were not only conscientious people, but sincerely religious, and really desirous of doing good. They would, therefore, have preferred making him a clergyman, had he given evidence of piety. But such was not the fact. He was truly amiable in his disposition, of grave and quiet manners, and of sound morality. Still, they could not think of thrusting their son into the sacerdotal office, as is oftentimes the practice with regard to younger sons in foreign parts, merely as a trade to get a living by, while the head only is engaged in the work, and the heart has neither part nor lot in the matter. Some other profession was therefore necessary; and as his good parents were religiously opposed to the quarrelsome profession of the law, the choice was necessarily directed to that of medicine. In the sequel it will be seen, that, let people be ever so conscientious, they are obnoxious to great errors in the education of their children, and equally liable with others to err in the selection of that walk of life, or profession, for which they are least adapted by character or capacity.
But to proceed. Law and divinity being out of the question, it was resolved, in family council, that Daniel should become a disciple of Galen, and acquire the art of compounding simples, and healing the various diseases which flesh is heir to. He was accordingly entered in the office of an eminent medical gentleman, in one of the most beautiful cities which adorn the banks of the majestic Hudson. I will not be so particular as to name the place, lest other towns should be moved to jealousy. Each of the seven cities that contended for the honor of giving birth to Homer, was as well off as though each was actually entitled to it—whereas, had the point been settled, six of them would not have been worth living in; rent-free. There is another reason for not being too particular. Although, unlike Byron, I have no fear of being taken for the hero of my own tale, yet were I to bring matters too near their homes, but too many of the real characters of my narrative might be identified. Suffice it, then, to say of the location—Ilium fuit!
Immediately after his induction into the office of his AEsculapian Mentor, Daniel became DOCTOR WHEELWRIGHT—and through all the subsequent vicissitudes of his life, and all the changes of his pursuits, and they have neither been few nor unimportant, the title has adhered to him until this day.
I have already said that his personal appearance was good, a circumstance which of course was not at all to his disadvantage. His first business in his new station, was the selection of a genteel boarding-house, the purchase of a new and fashionable suit of clothes, and a snuff-box. Ever partial to the society of ladies, he was assiduous in his efforts to cultivate their acquaintance, especially of those among them who were of a literary turn. Chief of the female literati of the town, was a lady of no certain age, but of great pretensions, whose hose were deeply azure. With her he became quite intimate, and she found his services particularly convenient, in sending to the circulating library for books, and in other respects in which it was found he could render himself useful; and he in turn was never more truly happy than when obeying the behests of a blue of such celebrity. These preliminary arrangements occupied about three or four months of the first year, during which he could of course have but little time to attend to his books. He did, however, make a beginning; but mental application was no easier now, than when in college, and he had moreover succeeded in forming acquaintances in a larger and more attractive circle than was to be found within and about the college walls. It required the greater portions of his mornings to keep alive these acquaintances; and every body knows it is no time for hard study after a hearty dinner—of which, particularly if it were good, few were more fond than "Doctor Wheelwright." Thus the first year found him scarcely at the close of the first chapter of Cheselden's Anatomy.
An attendance upon the lectures of some regular medical college was of course essential to a thorough professional education, and his father had now become ambitious of doing the best for a son upon whom he began to look as a young man of high promise. Every where he was now spoken of as "young Doctor Wheelwright;" and there was something gratifying to a parent's ear in that. He was therefore sent to New-York to hear the instructive eloquence of Hosack; the wise and prudent counsels of Post; to press into his goblet the grapes of wisdom clustering around the tongue of Mitchill; and to acquire the principles of surgery from the lips, and the skilful use of the knife from the untrembling hand, of Mott. Tickets were procured for all the regular courses of the college lectures, all of which were attended without intermission, and most of them slept over without compunction. The truth is, that neither medical authors, nor medical orations had any congeniality with his feelings. His love for science could not conquer his aversion to the dissecting-room, and he greatly preferred taking care of the body as he found it, to the labor of ascertaining how it was made;—he liked well to have the springs and wheels of his own frame in easy and accurate motion, but cared not to examine the delicate structure of the complicated machinery. The consequence was, that when not in the lecture-room his time was occupied—not with his books, but in lion-hunting. He visited the theatre when Cooper, and Pritchard, and Mrs. Darley, were in their glory; lounged frequent hours in the museums; and was the first to run after every new attraction placarded at the corners. He was greatly taken with the agility of an Armenian girl, upon the wire and slack-rope, who was in truth a second Fenella in the sprightliness of her nimble exhibitions. Day Francis, the conjuror, was his admiration. He was delighted with Rannie, the old ventriloquist, and the first in America; and Potter, the late sable and celebrated professor of legerdemain, in slight-of-hand, he thought actually excelled Doctor Mott himself.
At the close of the term he returned to the country, and resumed Cheselden. But he yet preferred the society of the ladies—accompanying them in their morning walks, and at their evening parties. And with them all he was a favorite—of a particular description. Full of good nature—easy and accommodating in his disposition, ever ready to oblige, when any of the fair were in distress for a beau, he could always be had, and even felt honored to be called upon such service, when it was not desirable to take such a liberty with gallants of a different cast and temperament. Especially were his services of value at parties, where exigencies of a particular description were likely to occur—as, when some not very popular damsel lived at the farthermost end of the town; or in such other undefinable cases as might result in the danger of some forlorn maidens being left, after the whips and blanc-manges were disposed of, to perform the homeward pilgrimage on foot and alone—as the girl went to get married.
But the beau and the student are different animals; and at the close of the second year, the young doctor had only half completed Cheselden's article on Osteology. It began now to be evident that at this rate he would never become an M.D., easily as this honor is obtained; and it was equally doubtful whether the most complaisant censors of a medical society, would, at the end of three years, admit him to practice. The distinguished medical gentleman with whom he was attempting to play the student, saw that if Harvey had not discovered the theory of the circulation of the blood, Doctor Wheelwright certainly would never have made it, and he hinted to his pupil in as delicate a manner as possible, that even if he had been cut out by nature for a physician, he had been spoiled in the making up. My friend was by this time quite of the same opinion himself; and he thereupon quitted the profession, with no more medical knowledge than the art of mixing suitable portions of salts and senna for children, and the preparation of cough-drops, by compounding the syrup of squills with paregoric and balsam of honey in equal proportions—which mixture, by the way, is the best prescription to be found in the Vade Mecum of any physician in Christendom—from Sir Astley Cooper down to Hahnnemann, of all medical humbugs the chief. Would that Daniel Wheelwright were the only person who has trifled away the misapplied money of industrious and misjudging parents!
HOW HE BECAME A MERCHANT—AND THE RESULT.
"——Now I play a merchant's part, And venture madly on a desperate mart."—Shakspeare.
"A man whom Fortune hath cruelly scratched."—Idem.
Having thus "thrown physic to the dogs," the next important subject of consideration was the choice of some new occupation or pursuit, not of a professional character. His mother's project of making him a clergyman had been previously rejected, as stated in a former chapter. The decision might have been otherwise had the lot of our hero been cast in England, where the minor clergy of the establishment purchase their sermons already written to their hands, if they are able, or copy them from the moral essays of Doctor Johnson, or the more devotional writings of Hannah More, according to their tastes and feelings, if they are not. But such easy methods of pulpit preparation are not tolerated in this country, unless in respect of the youngest ecclesiastics; and even they are compelled to be exceedingly chary in the use even of the printed skeletons to be found in most Episcopal libraries—not venturing to let their people know of the existence of such "helps," much less that they are in the habit of cutting out their sermons by such patterns. Moreover, as for the preaching of other men's sermons outright, the Americans are such a reading people, that the detection of borrowed "thunder," is almost certain to follow its use. An instance in point was then fresh in the public mind, in which one of the most eloquent and popular pulpit orators in the land, had been arraigned before an ecclesiastical tribunal, on the charge of appropriating ad libitum to his own use and the behoof of his congregation the works of Barrow and Jeremy Taylor, Flavel and Massillon, Toplady and Tillotson. True, the depredator was endowed with powers of eloquence worthy of the great masters whose sermons he had the good taste to prefer to his own—delivering their breathing thoughts and burning words, with a deep-toned solemnity, and a splendor of elocution, which thrilled the bosoms, and alternately charmed the minds, and melted the hearts, of his devotional hearers. But the disguise of manner was not sufficient. There were those of his congregation who had read and remembered the works with which he was making so free; and although they were by no means the losers by the substitution of the kindling periods of the sound old divines for his own, yet the late Rev. Mr. Hooper soon found himself under the discipline of his clerical superiors. Shut out, therefore, from the pulpit, my friend Wheelwright had turned his attention to medicine, as being in his apprehension the next easiest of the learned professions; and now that he had relinquished the healing art, because he possessed neither the industry nor the capacity for acquiring it, some other method of earning a subsistence seemed to be necessary. Should it be the law? His resolution would have deserted him at the thought of mastering even the elementary treatises of Blackstone, and the sight of an ordinary law library would have appalled him. But employment he must have. He had cultivated a taste for style, and ease, and luxury, which it would require no inconsiderable means to indulge. He desired to cut a figure in the world, and to make money that he might do so; and he was anxious withal to select that occupation with which he might personally be the least occupied—in which he might indulge his inactive propensities with the least corporeal exertion—and by which he might realize the greatest profit. After duly weighing matters, therefore, and balancing the various considerations that occurred, with all appropriate gravity, he determined to engage in merchandise—a branch of business for which of all men he possessed the least possible fitness. His worthy parents, moreover, were thereunto consenting. Fond and unhappy people! They had never read the splendid philippic of Burke against the mercantile character, in which the indignant senator denounced the members of that enterprising occupation as having no altar but their counter, no Bible but their leger, and no God but their gold! Nor, (being neither prophets nor descendants of prophets,) could they foresee that another Burke was soon to illuminate this occidental hemisphere, by the blaze of his genius,—embodying in his own person half the wisdom of the whole nation of Rhode Island,—who should revive and indorse the dictum of the florid British rhetorician, and fix upon the name of the American merchant as fact, the fancy sketch first drawn by a brilliant but libellous imagination! Had it been otherwise, I am sure my friend would have been spared the toils and perplexities incident alike to the mercantile calling, whether dealing in foreign commerce by millions, or vending tape and buckram by the yard in Chatham-street or Albany.
But it was written that Daniel was to be a merchant; and an opportunity was soon presented for purchasing the odds and ends of a fashionable fancy and jobbing concern in Albany. His father, moreover, who had by this time accumulated a snug property by his own honest calling—who knew little of the perils of the mercantile business, and still less of the skill and attention necessary for its successful prosecution, consented in an evil hour to become his indorser. The chief clerk of the concern, a young man by the name of John Smith, was continued in the establishment; new goods were bought in New-York in most enterprising quantities; and although both old and new were purchased at no small disadvantage, yet a plausible exterior, and a fair credit, enabled Mr. Wheelwright to drive a brisk, and, as he no doubt honestly thought, a thriving business. It was indeed true that the return of every six months found him somewhat deeper in debt. He was obliged to fill up the blanks in the notes which his kind parent had indorsed in advance, and by the quantity, for larger and yet larger sums, and occasionally to ask the name of some other friend, "just for form's sake," under that of his father. But his faithful clerk assured him that his capital was increasing, as the books would show, and that every thing was going on swimmingly. He took lodgings at the Tontine, like a gentleman of means; was free and liberal in his expenditures; invited his friends often to suppers of game and oysters, which invitations were but too often accepted;—and as he knew nothing of his own business, but continued to repose all confidence in his chief clerk—taking his assurances that all was well,—he supposed it was so, and began to fancy that he was actually becoming rich. It had ever been a common saying in his mouth, that "the world owed him a living," and he now verily believed that he had taken the wave of fortune at its flood, and was floating along triumphantly upon the spring-tide of wealth. Nor was he undeceived until the disclosure was too late for the salvation of his credit. His notes began to come round too fast to be promptly "lifted;" and just at the moment when a portion of his increased capital would have been exceedingly convenient, greatly to his surprise he was unable to find even that with which he had commenced. The consequence was frequent visits from the notary; and his indorsers began occasionally to receive an unceremonious call from those officious legal gentlemen, Messrs. John Doe and Richard Roe.
At this stage of his unpromising mercantile career, the approaching catastrophe was hastened by a very grievous and untoward event. After having despatched a duck and a dozen of oysters at Bement's, he had scarcely composed himself to sleep before he was aroused by an alarm of fire, and astounded by the vociferations of a watchman under the window, who thundered in his ears that it was his own store that was now illuminating the venerable Dutch capital! Not an article escaped the ravages of "the devouring element," to quote the newspaper account of the following morning; and what was more melancholy still, his faithful clerk, who always slept in the store, was for the moment supposed to have perished in the flames! Morning came, however, and lo! Mr. John Smith, junior, was seen to emerge from the portal of a house, the fame whereof was no better than it should have been—it being none other than one of those places of which the wise man would have said, "the dead are there," and "the guests in the depths of hell."
The residue of this section of Mr. Wheelwright's biography is soon told. With the flames of his store, were his fortunes for the time being extinguished; and his father soon afterward found himself to be as destitute of property as when he first entered the valley of the Mohawk, with only an adz, a pod-auger, and an axe upon his shoulder. The trusty clerk soon afterward sickened, even unto death, and in his last moments disclosed various delinquencies which had hastened his employer's ruin;—for all of which he was readily forgiven by the really kind-hearted man whom he had so deeply wronged, and from his penitence it is to be hoped he was also forgiven by Him against whom he had yet more grievously sinned.
The merchants of New-York are proverbially liberal to unfortunate debtors; the tale of Mr. Wheelwright's misfortunes excited their lively sympathies; and they generously released him from all those obligations which neither he nor his indorsers could pay. And thus amid the frowns of adversity ended the mercantile career of the subject of this memoir.
HOW FORTUNE AGAIN SMILED, AND THEN FROWNED UPON HIM.
"——Fortune is merry, And in this mood will give us any thing."—Shakspeare.
"Full oft 'tis seen our mere defects Prove our commodities."—Idem.
"——A motley company, Blacklegs, and thieves, and would-be gentlemen."—Idem.
"The lottery of my destiny bars me the right of voluntary choosing."—Idem.
The succeeding stage in the life of my hero and friend, was marked by no very striking or extraordinary event; but the incidents attending it were nevertheless quite characteristic of his varying fortunes. It so happened that in adjusting the results of his mercantile experiment, Mr. Wheelwright became possessed of a questionable claim upon the government, for property said to have been destroyed by the enemy on the northern frontier, during the late war with Great Britain. It came into his hands by way of satisfaction for a debt due from a country merchant; and although the chances were as twenty to one, either that it had already been paid, or that it had no existence in equity, or that even if ever so just, like the claim for Amy Dardin's celebrated blood-horse, the period of two generations would be consumed in petitioning for relief, yet he determined forthwith to proceed to the federal capital, and prosecute his suit before the august majesty of the people in congress assembled. What with boats taken by General Wilkinson for the public service, in his memorable descent of the St. Lawrence,—for the purpose, among other things, of celebrating Christmas in Montreal—a festival, by the way, which an obstinate enemy would not allow him to keep there,—and buildings so effectually destroyed during an irruption of the British across the lines, that their sites have never been discovered to this day,—all duly set forth in the papers with which he was furnished,—Mr. Wheelwright presented a claim, respectable in amount, which was referred to the proper committee of the "collective wisdom." The hawk-eyed Whittlesey was not then its chairman. In process of time, therefore, the committee reported in his favor; and, in the end, to the astonishment of every body, he succeeded in obtaining it! How, or by what artful appliances, he became thus successful,—and that, too, during the first session,—I have never been clearly informed. It was, however, a winter of great activity and excitement at Washington. A distinguished "military chieftain," flushed with the pride of victory, and crowned with Indian laurels, had suddenly appeared in the capital, to defend himself against charges preferred by the legislative authorities of the nation,—authorities, which he openly derided, and threatened to beard in their own council-chambers;—and it is not unlikely that while some of the members were engaged in studying the arts of self-defence, and others holding with both hands upon the ears that had been openly threatened, the bill for the liquidation and payment of Mr. Wheelwright's claims, was passed in the alarm and confusion, without observation. It is not impossible, moreover, that as the claimant had resided at Albany, and as the Albanian tactics had not then been introduced into Washington, he might have tried his hand at some of those ingenious devices, of the successful operation of which he had been the silent witness in the pure and incorruptible capital of the empire state.
Be all these matters, however, as they may, it is certain that he succeeded in his application beyond the most sanguine expectations alike of himself and his friends. Thus far, therefore, all was well; a brighter prospect seemed to dawn upon his fortunes; and all would probably have continued well, had he turned his back upon the capital the day after receiving the auditor's warrant upon the treasury, and hastened home. But the President's levees were about opening for the season; and two or three of those most insufferable of all coxcombs, the attaches of foreign embassies,—whisking their dandy rattans and sporting finely curled mustachoes;—who, to his unsophisticated observation, appeared to be men of far greater importance than their less-pretending diplomatic masters,—and who not unfrequently shared oysters with him during the day at Laturno's, and canvass-backs and champagne at O'Neal's by night,—persuaded him to remain a few weeks longer,—not much to the advantage of his exchequer, as may well be supposed. Still, as he was not a gambler, and was withal a moral man, no great inroad upon his purse would have resulted from a few entertainments thus bestowed upon his sponging acquaintances,—who, as he really supposed, were reversing the order of the obligation, by the light and flashy touches they gave him of high life in Europe,—relating, with great particularity, their adventures in France,—dining with the Dukes of Chartres and Angouleme, and attending the opera with the Duke of Berry and the Countess de Chausel,—visiting Rome with the grand Duke of Tuscany, and flirting with the Countess Guiccioli, in the absence of Lord Byron,—engaged in the chase with the Percies of Northumberland, or at Almack's, with the Marchioness of Conyngham,—all of which apocryphal incidents and adventures my simple-minded friend received as sober verity, and felt himself exceedingly edified thereby.
The result was, that Wheelwright whiled away the whole winter in Washington; and it was a marvel, that what between the mid-day dissipation at Laturno's—that unhallowed den in the base of the capitol, which has proved the grave of so many reputations,—and the suppers at Brown's and O'Neal's, he did not quite use himself up. But he escaped in those respects; and notwithstanding his natural indifference to public and intellectual matters, he actually became not a little interested in the great debates on the Seminole war, and the conduct of the commander who had conducted it according to law "as he understood it."
It was during these interesting proceedings that Mr. Wheelwright most unluckily formed two other acquaintances, in the persons of a clever and plausible lottery-broker at Washington, the author of the celebrated parody of "Hail to the Chief," beginning—
"All hail to Ben Tyler, who sells all the prizes," &c.
and the chief manager of the memorable Washington Monument Lottery. Both were acute, and the manager no less plausible than the vender;—and the easy good nature of Mr. Wheelwright, who was not a little credulous withal, pointed him out as a person whose pockets would not be of difficult access. It is not necessary to descend minutely into particulars in this place. Suffice it to say, that the next ensuing scheme of the lottery promised a capital prize of one hundred thousand dollars, besides one of thirty thousand, another of twenty, with the customary lots of smaller ones; and as my hero had yet a lingering attachment to "CIRCLES," he was very soon persuaded to mount upon the wheel of Fortune. Every body has heard of the honest Hibernian, who, in order to ensure the highest prize, determined to purchase the whole lottery; and although Mr. Wheelwright did not exactly form the same resolve, yet he understood enough of the doctrine of chances, to know, that the more tickets he possessed, the greater his number of chances of obtaining the splendid capital he was seeking,—he stopped not to reflect that the odds were two to one against him for any thing, even the smallest prize, and twenty-nine thousand nine hundred and ninety-nine to one against him for the great prize, besides the discount of fifteen per centum on the whole.
Forgetting these trifling drawbacks, therefore, he invested the whole of his revenues in the aforesaid lottery; and from that day until the drawing thereof, he lived upon the brightest hopes. The golden shower of the heathen poets, in which Jove once descended, was but a little sprinkle, in comparison with the river of that precious metal, soon to flow into his coffers. But alas! the goddess, being blind, not only failed to discern his peculiar claims upon her regard, but was cheated herself! A shrewd Virginian dreamed the ticket which drew the hundred thousand dollars, into his own pocket; the manager failed, and thereby turned all the prizes into blanks;—and Mr. Daniel Wheelwright found himself flat on his back, at the bottom of the wheel, when he least anticipated such a downfall. He was therefore, on his return to New-York, again in the condition of Bob Logic, "with pockets to let"—or perchance of the poor Yankee, who complained, not without reason, that with him there were five OUTS to one IN, viz: out of money, and out of clothes; out at the heels, and out at the toes; Out of credit, and in debt!
HOW AN HONEST MAN MAY GET INTO LIMBO.
"And as for the Bastile,—the terror is in the word.—Make the most of it you can, said I to myself, the Bastile is but another word for a tower;—and a tower is but another word for a house you can't get out of."—Sterne.
A stranger in New-York, and even many of its younger citizens, would hardly suppose, from the present appearance of the handsome Ionic temple standing directly east of the City Hall, for what "base uses" that classic edifice was originally built, or for what ignoble purposes it was kept, until within a few years back. Although it may now be justly considered one of the most correct and pleasing specimens of architecture in the union, yet, until the recent transformation of its outward form and proportions, it was one of the most unsightly of buildings. It was not, however, of republican origin—having been erected early in the reign of his late most excellent Majesty, King George the Third, as a place of confinement for such of his refractory subjects as either could not, or would not, pay their debts. And it is no great credit to his Majesty's successors in the government, that it should not have been appropriated to some other use at a much earlier day. Long did the citizens of New-York petition for its removal or destruction, but in vain,—until, "in the course of human events," the public service demanded an additional edifice as a depository for its records. A change from the Boeotian to the Ionic order, and its conversion to a more humane purpose, were then determined upon, not only for the public convenience, but from motives of economy. One of the patriotic members of the city government, distinguished for his enterprise, and his public spirit, undertook the job, and gave to the ancient walls of unhewn stone their existing "form and pressure;"—at an amount, too, not much exceeding, probably, twice the cost of two new buildings of the same dimensions.
Architecture is one of the crowning glories of a city; and nothing more strongly indicates the cultivation of a people, than refinement in this beautiful department of science. "Order is the first law of nature," and the utter disregard hitherto paid to all established orders of architecture in this country, is one reason, probably, that we have become such a disorderly people. The taste of the Greeks in the arts has contributed more to their glory than their deeds in arms. The chisel of Phidias carved for him a name of more true renown, than the sword did for Alexander; and the name of Sir Christopher Wren will live as long in English history as the Duke of Wellington's. Every patriotic Gothamite, therefore, should rejoice at each successive indication of an improvement in architectural taste amongst us. Who knows but the beauty of the new commercial exchange that is to be, will cause gladness to those who wept alike over the ugliness and the destruction of the old! Who knows but that a grinning populace will one day displace the lions grinning from the gutters at the eaves of the new stone church in Duane-street! And who knows but that in process of time, American architects will be found who shall understand the difference between the Composite and the Corinthian, and that a long sperm candle was never intended as a model for a Doric column!
The simple-minded reader who imagines that every narrative, biographical or historical, should read straight on, like Robinson Crusoe, or a speech of Colonel Crockett, may suppose that a digression like this in which I have just indulged, must be wholly irrelevant, in the life of an humble and unpretending individual like Daniel Wheelwright,—but he will soon discover his mistake—with which preliminary flourish, the order of my history is resumed.
It was some four or five years before the change in the don-jon just indicated, that the humble writer hereof was informed by a special messenger, that there was "a gentleman in distress" at the debtor's prison, who desired to see him. Not for the instant recollecting any friend who was just then in need of house-room at the public expense, the writer was entirely at a loss to imagine who could have requested the interview. But aside from the dictates of humanity, in a country where every Shylock has a right to imprison such of his debtors as may have become too poor to pay in any thing but flesh, it is always wise to answer summonses of this description, since there is no telling whose turn may come next. And besides, if your friend in the bilboes has brought himself thither by his own imprudence, there is a chance that you may have the consolation of seeing him come out a wiser man than he went in.
No time was lost, therefore, in repairing to the sombre and substantial mansion already described. It was during the latter days of the venerable "Poppy Lownds," as the worthy old jailer was called, who for so long a succession of years had presided over the internal police of the prison. He was a kind-hearted old gentleman; and amidst all the storms and vicissitudes of party, was never removed from office during his life-time—for the good reason, probably, among others, that the venerable officer had grown so lusty in his place, that it was impossible to remove him out of it, without removing a portion of the prison walls also. Be that, however, as it may, the writer found Poppy Lownds sitting in his big oaken arm-chair, dozing in some pleasing reverie, like a Turk over his sherbet after dinner, or "as calm and quiet as a summer's morning," to quote a favorite metaphor of the day, in regard to the guiding spirit of an often-killed but still living and breathing "monster." As the writer entered his apartment, he took a long pipe from his mouth with the most easy deliberation, while the last whiff from the aromatic Virginia weed curled upward in an azure cloud, and mingled with the vapor which had preceded it.
Having made known the cause of my visit, in answer to the inquiry as to the inmate of his establishment who had despatched the messenger, Poppy Lownds assured me that the "distressed gentleman" was a good-looking stranger, with an indifferent wardrobe, and rather out-at-the-elbows like,—destitute of money, and somewhat in want of a dinner,—but one of the easiest and best-natured prisoners ever committed to his charge, since the evacuation by the British troops, in November, 1783;—an event, by the way, which General Morton will not live long enough to forget, although on every cold and drizzling return of the anniversary, his brigade for three generations past have heartily wished that it had taken place in June, or almost not at all!
The scowling turnkey was thereupon summoned, and the writer was conducted through one dark passage and another, secured by bolts and bars enough to have ensured the safe keeping of Baron Trenck, or a second Ethan Allen. At length, ascending a flight of stairs, he was ushered into an apartment, connected with several others, the communicating doors between which were opened for the day, containing sundry sorry groups of inmates, with long beards, and patches upon both elbows, some of whom were eating the soup just received from that excellent charity, the Humane Society—while others were playing at all fours, with cards looking as old and dirty as though first used by the Moabites. Others, again, were engaged at domino; and others still busied in scoring the walls with their pen-knives, or whittling shingles as they whistled for want of thought. These latter were Yankees of course; but an air of idleness and indifference pervaded the apartments, which almost begets a yawn in the remembrance.
When the good Vicar of Wakefield was sent to prison by the villany of Thornhill, he expected on his entrance to find nothing but lamentations and various sounds of misery; but it was very different. The prisoners seemed all employed in one common design—that of forgetting thought in merriment or clamor. My own disappointment was equally great on the occasion I am relating—although there was less of clamor, probably, than that encountered by the Vicar—owing, most likely, to the lassitude incident to a fervid sun in July. But in all other respects, the prison scene depicted by Goldsmith one hundred years ago, would have answered very well for New-York in 1821—albeit we discerned not among them the shrewd features of a Jenkinson, and heard nothing of the cosmogony either of Sanchoniathon or Manetho.
Among them all, however, there was not a countenance that could be recognized, and the writer began to flatter himself that he had been called by mistake. It was not so. Turning to a strongly grated window in another direction, whom should he see but his quondam friend Doctor Wheelwright—as sound asleep as though in attendance upon a lecture on the circulation of the blood, in the Medical College! On awaking him from his slumber, he appeared neither surprised nor chagrined at the interview. "The iron had not entered into his soul," whatever might have been the case with others—as may be inferred from the following brief dialogue, in which my friend bore his part with all imaginable non-chalance:—
"Ah, doctor, is this you?"
"How are you? Why shouldn't it be?"
"But pray how came you here?"
"Like most other honest people, for that matter—because I couldn't help it. But it's all come of a mistake."
"Why, they have not mistaken you for another man, have they?"
"I can't say exactly that; but I made a mistake in going into the lottery trade."
"Then you didn't draw the high prize, eh?"
"No: but I came plaguey nigh it though—three more of the figures would have given me two of them."
"Indeed! you made the mistake in selecting the tickets, then? All you wanted was the right numbers!"
"Exactly so: but it's no use to cry over spilt milk, you know; and besides, that fellow the manager has failed, so that it's all blanks and no prizes, and I am as well off as others. But if I could dream as well as that Mr. Clark did, with his eyes open, in Richmond, I should like to go into Yates & M'Intyre's next scheme. It's well enough to have honest managers, you know."
"Very true, friend Wheelwright; but even then, it is the last 'way to wealth,' in my opinion, that any sensible man would take—on calculation."
"Yes: but then it's well enough to be in luck's way, arnt it?"
It will readily have been perceived from the language and bearing of Wheelwright, that his spirits were far less depressed than his circumstances. Indeed he was as cheerful and as full of good nature as ever,—indifferent as to the past,—not much troubled at the present,—and yet unconcerned and full of hope for the future.
On making the necessary inquiry into the state of his affairs, it appeared that, not having a superabundance of visible means for his support, his landlord, on hearing that he had missed drawing the high prize, had very unkindly seized upon his clothes for his board, and shut him up so that he could earn nothing to pay the balance. But, so that it is a part of the contract that in default of the payment of a debt, the delinquent promises to go to jail, it is all right. The wisdom of sending him there, is another matter, which there is not time now to discuss, and we proceed. My friend's object in sending for me, was merely to obtain the means of procuring "a little something to eat," since his only food for the week preceding had been given him by one of the prisoners—a venerable man, with snow-white hair, who had been an inmate of the prison upward of thirty years, and who, to the day of his death, refused to leave the prison, although the creditors who had imprisoned him, had long since paid the debt of nature. If deeds of charity, or the voice of mercy, or the requirements of business, have in former days called any of the readers of these pages to the old prison, they will remember this ancient prisoner. The old man had perhaps read the pathetic tale in the school-books, of the aged prisoner released from the Bastile, and he cared not to return to a world by which he was unknown, or had long since been forgotten. If, perchance, any of those whom he had once taken by the hand, were yet on the stage, their chariot-wheels might roll too fast to enable them to recognize the poor old man by whose early patronage they had been enabled to purchase their equipage. He therefore preferred the cold victuals of his prison-house, to the cold charities of the world.
Wheelwright had already taken the preliminary steps to procure relief under the insolvent law. He should soon be discharged from jail "by order of the honorable Richard Riker;"—and as "the world owed him a living," he was quite confident of doing well enough yet.
All that was necessary for his comfort was of course done for him, and at the time appointed, he was discharged from prison in due course of law—free from debt—and the wide world all before him where to choose. His clothes were redeemed from the landlord; and setting his face northward, he departed, in the first steamboat, for the ancient city of Albany, and to revisit the scenes of his youth in the valley of the Mohawk.
AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE SUBLIME AND BEAUTIFUL.
"Who can speak broader than he who has no house to put his head in?"—Shakspeare.
"With darkness circled, and an ambient cloud."
Nearly a year elapsed after his release from the old don-jon, before I was enabled again to rejoice in a meeting with my friend Wheelwright; and our interview happened on this wise: Passing by, or rather crossing, the foot of Courtland-street, one bright morning in May, I observed a group of laborers occupied in placing some articles of heavy iron-machinery on board of an Albany sloop—the General Trotter, I believe, commanded by Capt. Keeler—a veteran navigator of the Hudson. And whom should I discover among these men, giving directions with an authoritative air, and actually bending his own back to the work, but the veritable Doctor Daniel Wheelwright! It was indeed no less a personage. From the previous character and habits of my friend, the reader may judge of my surprise at beholding him thus engaged—laboring, too, as though his work was made easy by the good will with which he was performing it. Having exchanged salutations, mingled with expressions of surprise at finding him thus employed, and inquired upon what new enterprise he was bent—
"Why havn't you hearn?" was his response.
"No," was the laconic reply.
"What? not of the launch of the 'Lady-of-the-Lake,' on Lake George?"
"Ah—let me see—yes: I think I have seen a paragraph respecting it, in the Sandy Hill newspaper. But pray what have you to do with that?"
"To do with it? Why every thing. I am the agent of the concern. I have made up the company, and built the boat. The engine has gone up the river, and I am now shipping the last of the machinery.—[Come, bear a hand there, boys—what are you about?] Have you ever been to Lake George? If you want to see a touch of the grand and glorious, I guess you'll find it there. The hills is sublime; and the lake so clear that you can see the stars in it when it's cloudy."
"Indeed! And you then are to be wedded to the Lady-of-the-Lake?"
"And a beautiful thing she is, too. We shall have all the travel of the grand tower through the lake to Montreal, and mean to have the boat ready to take the first travellers from the Springs after the fourth of July."
"And you are really looking up in the world again?"
"To be sure I be. I always told you that the world owed me a living, and I believe I have at last struck upon the right track to find it. [Come, bear a hand there, boys—Why don't you take hold of that shackle-bar, Tom?"]
Saying which he applied his own shoulder to a huge cog-wheel, with the alacrity, if not the power, of another Hercules.
I was alike surprised and gratified with this apparent change in the Doctor's circumstances, as also at the unwonted industry and energy he was now putting forth. It seemed as though by some rare chance, my esteemed and hitherto unfortunate friend had at length become associated in an enterprise for which he might be found very competent, and which might one day prove valuable—at least to him, if not to the stockholders. He was moreover taking hold of the work himself like one who had at last been taught by the "sweet uses of adversity," that a man is not always certain of obtaining a living by his wits, unless the labors of his own hands are superadded. Fashionable travelling during the summer months, was even then extensive; it was increasing from year to year—and was sure to continue increasing, with the augmentation of the national wealth and population. The unsurpassed attractions of that region—the lake—its bright waters—its enchanting islands—its course of winding beauty—and its stupendous mountains—glorious in their height, their wildness, and their desolation,—would soon become more generally known, and must inevitably command the attention of all travellers of taste, whenever it should appear that its surface might be traversed by a steamboat in a few hours, from the ruins of Fort William Henry at one extremity, to those of Ticonderoga at the other. Wishing the Doctor a good morning, therefore, and all possible success in his new undertaking,—in which he was evidently sustained by the strongest hope and the most undoubting confidence,—we parted for that time—not, however, without a promise on the part of my friend, proffered of his own accord,—as had been the case at sundry times before,—that he would shortly remit the amount of several small advances which it had fortunately been from time to time in my power to make, for the purpose of occasionally rescuing him from his oft-returning pecuniary tribulations.
The machinery all arrived safe, and in good condition, at the head of the lake, and the boat was actually completed, under the charge of Dr. Wheelwright. The good people of the little borough of Caldwell rejoiced in the brightening prospects of their village, and actually began to calculate how soon they might be able to repaint their houses, and substitute nine by seven window glass for the old hats and petticoats which, in the progress of their poverty, had been stuffed into the broken casements.
Arrangements were making for the first trip down the lake, and among the fairy islands apparently floating like emeralds upon its bosom; and but a few days more were to elapse before all things were to be in readiness. Meantime, however, before the captain and crew had been shipped, and in order that accident might not happen to the fair Lady-of-the-Lake, or danger come nigh her, Mr. Wheelwright slept on board himself, like a prudent guardian of the property confided to his charge.