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´╗┐Title: Confessions of Boyhood
Author: Albee, John, 1833-1915
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Confessions of Boyhood" ***

book was produced from scanned images of public domain




Copyright 1920 by John Albee
All Rights Reserved
The Gorham Press, Boston, U.S.A.



The Walls of the World

Shadows and Echoes


The Amputation

Country Funerals

My Mother's Red Cloak

My Uncle Lyman

The Dorr War and Millerism

Woods and Pastures


    Home and Homesickness

    The Saw Mill


    Love and Luxury

    Shop Boy

    Pistol Maker

    The Awakening

    Student Life

    School Master

    Farm Hand


Ave Atgue Vale


For so many years Bellingham has had its abode in my fancy that I find
it hard to associate the town with a definite geographical location. I
connect it rather with the places of dreams and wonderland; the lost
cities of the Oxus and Hydaspes, the Hesperian Gardens and those
visionary realms visited and named by poets. My birthplace grows
unfamiliar when I take down an atlas and run my finger over the
parti-colored divisions of the Norfolk County of Massachusetts and trace
the perimeter which confines Bellingham to its oblong precinct,
surrounded by those mythical lands of Mendon, Milford and Medway. They
wear an authoritative appearance on the map; but for me they occupied no
such positions in my childhood and stand as stubborn realities hindering
my feet when I wish to return to the Red House of my fathers. Once
there, memory and fact are no longer conflicting. I find, as of old, the
gently undulating hills, the gently loitering stream.

The legends concerning the founding of Bellingham are missing. I am
sorry; for I could believe the most extravagant, feeling with Plutarch,
that fortune, in the history of any town, often shows herself a poet.
The Delphian Pythoness advised Theseus to found a city wherever in a
strange land he was most sorrowful and afflicted. There at length he
would find repose and happiness. Thus it happened when the wanderers
from Braintree settled on the shores of the upper Charles. They brought
their unhappy fortunes so far, and there, in due time, found comfort and

The traveller, journeying through the highways of Bellingham, would see
nothing to attract his attention or interest. It has no monuments, ruins
nor historic associations; no mountain, nor hill even. The Charles river
has travelled so little way from its source as hardly yet to be a river.
The soil is stony and pays back not much more than is put into it. The
fine forests of white oak have been mostly reduced to ashes in the
stoves of Milford, and their oracles have ceased. My father, who could
cut as clean a scarf as any man of his day, helped to fell them. Scrub
oak and gray birch have taken their places, but do not fill them. One
great elm remains; it seemed to me the largest and oldest tree in the
world. My mother nursed her children in its shade; under it my world
began. In its top lived the wind and from the longest spray of its
longest limb the oriole hung her artistic basket and brooded her golden
babies. Like many another ancient dooryard tree it carried back its
traditional origin to a staff stuck in the ground and left to its fate.

Bellingham was incorporated in 1719 by yeoman farmers, and later settled
largely by Revolutionary soldiers from neighboring communities on the
east, particularly from old Braintree. On the Mendon tablet placed in
memory of the founders of the town appears the name of my earliest
ancestor. He was a surveyor and plotted the land and built the first
mill, being called from Braintree for that purpose. Permit me to take
pride in my learned ancestor, especially in his talent for figures--the
distress of my life. The most interesting periods in the annals of the
New England people are when they began to organize themselves into
communities for the promotion of law, learning and piety. Their efforts
were primitive yet affecting. Their language halted, but they knew what
they wanted and meant to have.

Such are the records of Bellingham. And other history it has little out
of the common incidents of humanity. No eminent sons have as yet
remembered it with noble benefactions. It has had no poet and no mention
in literature. The reporters pass it by. It is not even a suburb, last
sad fate of many towns and villages. This is one of the reasons for my
attachment--its unchangeableness, its entire satisfaction of sentiment.

Yet such is the charm of one's native soil that he is able to find in it
the most wonderful of all the beautiful things of the soul, namely,
those which no one else can see or believe. After long years of absence,
on returning to Bellingham, my memory sees more than my eyes. She who
accompanies me in my rambles over the town often takes photographs of
the places dearest to me; but her pictures show not what I behold, and
she wonders what it can be that so infatuates me. I see a hand she
cannot see--forms, faces, happenings not registered on the camera;
places where linger the invisible spirits of joyful or painful
experiences; playmates, companions, whole families now dust, a thousand
events recalled only when time begins to obliterate those of the present

Although the sun went down over venerable Mendon town, it lingered
longer over Bellingham in summer days than in any place I have known.
There was hardly any night; just a few attic stairs, a dream, and the
sun and I were again at play. Nor elsewhere were ever the summer clouds
so high, so near the blue, so impetuous in the constant west wind to
follow each other into the unknown, mysterious east.

Fortunate is the town with a river flowing through its whole length and
boys and girls to accompany its unhasting waters. It was made for them,
also for the little fish and the white scented lilies. For a few hours
of the day the great floats of the mill wheel drank of it, sending it
onward in the only agitation it ever permitted itself. Then there was
Bear Hill, though never a bear in the oldest memory, yet the name was
ominous to children. I feared it and liked to visualize its terrors from
a safe distance in the blackberry field behind the Red House. To kill a
bear or an Indian was the very limit of imaginative prowess. It was too
easy, and in an hour, tiresome, to kill birds, snakes and anything one
chanced upon that had life. Only the grasshopper could escape with the
ransom of some molasses from the jug he carries hidden, no one knows
where. You never knew a grasshopper was provisioned with a molasses jug?
Well then you have never studied the boy's traditional natural history.
Therein are recorded things unknown to science; discoveries never
divulged, secrets more deep than the Elusinian, passed on from initiate
to initiate for countless generations. Nature has told them only to
children, and when grown to manhood, seals their lips with that impious
injunction to put away childish things.

It is not a river nor a landscape that gives to a town its real
importance; it is the character of its men and women. That is the
pinnacle from which to view its landscape. Before cities and factories
had begun to stir the ambition and attract the young by opportunities
for fortune and fame, Bellingham was the home of an intelligent,
liberty-loving people; a community self-sufficing, sharing its abundance
with those less abounding. It was thus the best place in the world to be
born about the first third of the last century--to be explicit, in
eighteen hundred and thirty-three. And I wish that I and the companions
of my childhood could have imitated Plutarch who said "I live in a
little town and choose to live there lest it should become smaller."

All that is dear remains as it was, and it is my delight to remember and
magnify what it is to me. My friends laugh when I say it is better to be
remembered in Bellingham than to be famous in ten cities. It has been my
misfortune never to have lived in any other place that in a few years,
did not change and forget itself. I cannot find anything in my later
residences that continues to connect me with them. They have cut a
street through me, they have torn down and rebuilt my old nests; and I
know no more melancholy intimation of the small consequence of one's
life and associations than this. Therefore I thank Heaven for a town
removed from the track of progress, uninvaded by summer visitors and all
business enterprises; land left sacred to its native inhabitants, a
sluggish stream, unprofitable earth, huckleberry bushes and the
imagination. Since this is so, and there is little fear of intrusion by
the curious or the mercenary, I will confide to my readers the situation
of the town with the understanding that they will never attempt to
verify my description.

It lies in the southwestern corner of Norfolk county, is eight miles
long from north to south, from three to four in width. The brooks and
ponds in the southern part have their outlet into the Blackstone river;
those of the north into the Charles, which is the natural but tortuous
bound between eighteen towns and cities of the county. It was named for
one of the Provincial governors of Massachusetts, Richard Bellingham--a
fine name. Farming is the chief occupation of the inhabitants at present
as it always has been. In former times there were two or three small
cotton and woollen mills on the river. The oldest of them, on the banks
of the Charles, is as picturesque a ruin as time, fire and neglect are
able to achieve in a hundred years. The walls of heavy blocks of stone,
roofless and broken in outline, are still standing. Great trees have
grown up within them and now overtop them. Here and there a poplar leans
forth from a broken window casement, leaving scant room for the ghosts
of ancient spinners and weavers to peer into the outer world at
midnight. From a distance it resembles a green, enclosed orchard. Decay
may mantle itself in newest green but cannot obliterate memories of
former generations. On these fallen floors the young women of Bellingham
once labored and were merry on fifty cents a day, a working day never
less than twelve hours long. They sang at their work, and when the loom
was running in good order, they leaned out of the windows or gossiped
with each other. On Sundays the roads and fields were gay with these
respectable Yankee maidens, becurled and beribboned, philandering with
their sweethearts or in bevies visiting each other's houses. Every girl
had her album in which her friends wrote their names, and usually they
were able to contribute an original stanza; or, if not, a line from the
hymn-book, or a sentiment from the school reader or Bible. They dressed
in calico in summer and in winter linsey-woolsey, and wore at their work
ample aprons of osnaburg, a small checked blue and white cloth. Vice was
unknown; at least the annals record no flagrant examples.

I fear those who only know the cotton and woollen mills of this day
cannot realize or believe what an immense blessing they were to New
England when they first began to dot all the streams offering sufficient
water power to operate their machinery. For the first time they opened a
way for young women to earn money whereby they could assist their
families and promote the improvement of their own condition. Work in
these mills was sought as a temporary employment generally; or for the
purpose of gaining money enough to attend an academy for a few terms,
from whence they were graduated qualified to teach a district school. It
is said, that formerly, when the factory girls were all American, five
hundred could have been found at any time in the Lowell mills competent
to teach school. What a contrast these girls were in health, beauty and
intelligence to the pale, pinched faces and bedraggled dresses now seen
hurrying to the Fall River and Manchester mills. The mill girls of 1840
were self-respecting, neat in their dress, religious, readers of good
books, members of all kinds of clubs for study, and many of them could
write excellent English. The _Lowell Offering+, a magazine conducted by
factory girls at the period I have mentioned, now seems very remarkable;
not so much perhaps for its contributions, as that it should have
existed at all. Yet the writing in the _Operatives' Magazine+ and the
_Lowell Offering+ was as good as that now appearing in periodicals, in
some respects superior, being the free, unpaid and spontaneous
utterances of the human heart. It is mentioned with praise in Emerson's
_Dial+. One of our sweetest New England poets, Lucy Larcom, began her
career as a writer in them. I write that name where I can see from my
window a mountain named in her honor. Although her childhood was widely
different from mine in outward circumstances, I find in her
autobiography something of her inward experiences that reminds me of my

All the old-time life of farm and factory is gone. It is refreshing to
know a single remnant of it left anywhere; and I was never more
surprised and delighted than to find in Florence, Massachusetts, a few
years ago, a large class of silk mill girls reading and studying Chaucer
under the direction of a farmer's wife of the same place. Bellingham
mill, may you continue to be filled with goodly trees until you can
assemble a class in Chaucer!

Near this ruined mill stands a row of tenement houses fast falling to
pieces and one large house where some of the operatives were boarded. In
the neighboring hamlet nearly every house is standing that was there
fifty years ago, and there are no new ones. There was an ancient law of
Solon that houses in the country should be placed a bowshot apart, and
this regulation seems to have been observed in Bellingham. You could see
their lights in the evening, hear the dogs bark and the cock crow at

Over the Green Store is a hall where formerly Adin Ballou used to preach
his various gospels of Universalism, temperance, peace and abolition on
Sunday afternoons following the morning services in his neighboring
parish, the Hopedale Community. As my family was attached to the Baptist
and Methodist persuasions I cannot now imagine what drew them to hear
this famous reformer of society and religion. They must have attended in
this hall, for although I cannot recall anything else, I do remember
going to sleep there in the hot summer afternoons in my sister's lap.
But any kind of a meeting was a temptation not to be resisted in that
little community. Adin Ballou was in full sympathy with all the other
reformers and transcendentalists of the Commonwealth, and when I search
myself for an explanation of my early and intuitive attraction to their
ideals I sometimes fancy they must have visited me in my sleep in that
old hall; or perhaps I heard something which lay like a seed in the
unconscious, secret recesses of my being until time and favoring
circumstances called it forth. For I find it recorded, that he fired his
hearers with aspirations for "grand objects and noble ideas."

Regarding the topography of Bellingham, the most that can be said is,
that it has none, none that distinguishes it either by lakes or hills.
The best soil is in the northern and southern parts of the town and
along the valley of the Charles river. The white oaks were once the most
abundant of the deciduous trees. They seem to love a lean and stubborn
soil. I have seen graves laid open to a considerable depth where oaks
had once stood, and still uncovering nothing but coarse gravel. I have
talked with ancient well-diggers who declared that the bottom of
Bellingham was just like the top and only good for grey birch and beans.
Yet they may not have dug after all to the veins which supply the floral
and arboreal life of the earth. A poor soil is usually porous, admitting
more wholesome air and sunshine, and it is through these vital forces
that trees and men grow taller and hardier. Thus do I like to compensate
the sterile fields of my native place by their stalwart, thin,
straight-backed citizens, all bone and muscle, living with undimmed eyes
and ears to ripe old age, mowing their meadows to the last summer of
their lives and dying conveniently in some winter month when work was

The dial of my childhood marked none but sunny days; the dry air and
drier earth of Bellingham gave me health and strength. I never found any
road in the town too long for my walking if only the summer afternoon
were as long. I knew the roads and byways foot by foot, and could find
my way, if need were, in the night as well as in the day. All the houses
I knew and their occupants; all the good apple trees and whose was every
cow grazing in the roadside pastures or resting beneath a tree. If I
could have my will I would spend the remainder of my days rambling once
more and every day those familiar roads and lanes, like Juno descending
the Olympian path--

      "Reflecting with rapid thoughts
    There was I, and there, remembering many things."

The most perfect picture of contentment is a cow lying in the green
grass under a green tree chewing her cud; and this contentment I could
realize, give me back the sandy highways and green meadows, my bare
feet, idleness and long summer days.

I was even more familiar with the pastures and the woods than with the
roads. The whole surface of my ambit was spread out like a miniature map
in my eye, and continues to be. Especially I knew the convenient ways of
reaching the river and Beaver pond and the brook which connects it with
the river Charles. It grieves me that this stream has never been
celebrated in verse or prose; while the Concord, which rises on the same
water-shed with the Charles and almost from the same spring, has had
several famous poets and is historic in Revolutionary annals. Longfellow
sang one short song to our river, but he looked out only on the foul
mudbanks of its Cambridge course, shut the door, went back to his study
and composed his subjective Charles.

Slowly did I learn the actual extent and course of the river Charles
which, in my childhood, rose as a shallow stream in the green depths of
a wood lying to the north of Bellingham, flowing east, then south under
the arched bridge near the school house, emptying somewhere in the
southern sky; for, in my childish apprehension, I thought it must run up
from where I was most familiar with it. Its youth and mine were
coincident, and as years were added, the river broadened and lengthened
until I found myself one day at its mouth, in reaching which, it had
touched and watered eighteen towns. It is the father of no considerable
stream, but innumerable rivulets add to its waters. It is about thirty
miles from source to mouth in a direct course though it wanders a
hundred miles in its efforts to find the ocean.

    "There runs a shallow brook across our field
    For twenty miles where the black crow flies five."

It never has any headlong haste to arrive. It saunters like a schoolboy
and stops to visit a thousand recesses and indentations of upland and
meadow. It stays for a cow to drink, or an alder to root itself in the
bank, or to explore a swamp, and it rather wriggles than runs through
its eighteen townships. It is likely to stop at any one of them and give
up the effort to reach the sea. For my part I wish it had, and actually,
as in my memory and fancy, ended at the outermost shores of Bellingham.

The revolution of the earth can only account for the flow of the Charles
for there is no perceptible descent of the land. I like to think it is
ruled by the stars and not by the configuration of the earth's surface.
It is vagrant and nomadic in its habits, moving on a little, returning,
winding and doubling, uncertain of its own intentions, a brother of the
English Wye, said to derive its name from _Vaga_, the wanderer, or
vagabond. Since its waters sprang from their fountain head and learned
that their destiny was to become a river, they have never been in haste
to reach its turbid outlet, but go reluctantly from town to town with
whole days before them, yes, perhaps, it was an age in making its first
journey. It loses its way often, but cares not so there be a pleasant
meadow to meander through or a contemplative fisherman to companion its
course. The Charles has never gained force, as man is said to do, by
having obstacles to overcome. It treats all the dams which intercept its
current with a lenient benevolence, never having been known to carry one
away. Meeting a dam, it turns the other cheek; in other words it
patiently retires into its higher channels and fountains, filling and
stilling the little babbling brooks by its backward impulse, contented
to be a pond when it cannot be a river. It scarcely resisted the
ancients of Dedham, when they attempted to steal it. Having no water-shed
of its own, the Charles is not subject to those floods and frenzies
which make so many other streams dangerous. Sedges and flags, the skunk
cabbage and marsh marigold, grape vines, alders, willows and button bush
abound along its shores. White and yellow lilies and the pickerel weed
almost choke its course in many places. Under the leaves of these hides
himself that fish which old anglers named the water-wolf, the pickerel,
who preys upon his smaller brothers and sisters. All is fish that comes
into his net. There was no more exciting moment in my boyhood than when
a pickerel swallowed the frog's leg on my hook and began to retreat with
it under the lily pads. In the stream also were horned pouts, perch,
shiners and that silly little fish we called "kivers," for which my
earliest fishing was done with a bent pin. I was naturally capacitated
for fishing by my fondness for silence and solitude. The mystery of
water drew me from one pool to another and a constant expectancy of a
larger fish than had ever been caught. I was not aware that words could
make him as big as one chose; but I had pictured him in my mind in all
his immense and shining length. What I most wished to catch was a
leviathan; my mother when reading the word in the Bible had told me it
meant some kind of great fish, the largest in the world. Once indeed I
thought I had him on my hook, but it proved only a sunken log. Of
stillness and solitude I had my fill strolling along the banks of the
river. It seemed like Sunday without the requirements imposed upon me by
that day, stiff shoes and Sunday-school. I became as still as the nature
around me, stepping softly and almost hushing my breath. If I might
describe in one word the sensation which I commonly experienced in my
earliest lonely intercourse with stream and forest it was a breathless
expectation, made up in part of fear, in part of a vague hope of
discovering something wonderful. This quest never wearied nor
disheartened me; I only became more eager in its pursuit the more it
evaded me; another search, another day and it would be revealed. What
would be revealed? There are no words given to man in which he can
clearly portray the striving of the spirit for that which shall resemble
and satisfy its visions and aspirations. The child sees these visions
and feels these aspirations and strives to put his finger upon them;
they exist for him as physical objects which he wishes to capture and
carry home to his mother with a proud consciousness of his valor. As
soon as she had praised my handful of flowers, my pocketful of nuts, or
little string of fish they palled upon me and I began immediately to
feel an uneasy sense of disappointment, of disillusion, knowing I had
miserably failed. The bombastic brag to my mother and her praise were a
kind of mockery and falsehood. Illusion followed illusion, defeat
followed defeat, yet the morrow was ever to be their healer and
compensation. How often have I been soothed by the waveless waters of
the Charles river, its whispering ripples scarcely reaching the shores
and making no impression upon it. But on my ear they sounded like words
interjected with soft laughter. There I made acquaintance with the
earth, the waters, the shadows of the sky, trying often to sink my hook
to the edge of a cloud. It was not in the heavens that I first noticed
the stars, but their trembling images in water.

Thus by the humble and narrow environment of my childhood was it made
doubly dear to me; the very limitations themselves enforcing and
promoting the growth of wonder and healthy imagination. It is this which
has kept alive my early memories and made them pleasant and suggestive
throughout my life. Nor do I think my experiences peculiar. Sir Henry
Wotton in the last years of his life happily expressed the feeling
common to men. "Seeing that very place where I sat when I was a boy
occasioned me to remember those very thoughts of my youth which then
possessed me; sweet thoughts indeed, that promised my growing years
numerous pleasures without mixture of cares; and those to be enjoyed
when time, which I therefore thought slow-paced had changed my youth
into manhood".

As I have already said unchangeableness is the characteristic of
Bellingham, and I repeat it, that I may add that it is the counterpart
of something in myself. I have been swept on with my race and my time
and while sharing all their tendencies, at heart what I value most, that
which is most native and dearest to me is the simple undisturbed life,
full of friendliness, piety and humble amusements into which I was born.
What this life was, as reflected in a happy childhood, a neglected youth
and idealised by its irrecoverable loss the following pages attempt to


A one-storied house was lofty and convenient enough in a land where God
had planted a community of his common people. That was the height of the
temple of the Greeks, which was only the enlarged form of the hut or the
house of their Pelasgian ancestors. It was built low in due reverence to
its origin and to their gods. No other architecture has ever surpassed
its beauty and sublimity. The earth is ours to build upon and over, nor
much above. The early New England farmhouse was as beautiful in its
place as the Greek temple. Sometimes it was set directly on the highway;
sometimes in the middle of a field or on the side of rising ground, and
not infrequently on the top of a hill, where it shared without
deforming, the natural elevation of the earth. It was usually square,
but sheds and outbuildings lengthened its appearance and these latter
added a comfortable and homelike aspect and were a larger sort of window
through which the wayfarer seemed to behold the life of the family more
intimately. The pitch of the roof was flattened, the better to resist
wind and storm, and through it arose the chimney stack. On either side
of the front door were the parlor and living room; the former seldom
opened, and the latter rarely occupied until afternoon and evening. The
back door was the most in use at all times, and it was through it that
one came nearest to the hearts and homelife of the inmates. The kitchen
was where the meals were cooked and eaten, the Bible read at morning and
evening and pipes lighted by a live coal from the hearth. This live coal
was sometimes lost and the tinderbox missing; then the man of the family
would travel to the nearest house for a spark with which to kindle his
lost fire. The methods of carrying and keeping it alive were numerous
and ingenious; a warming pan or iron pot would answer, if the distance
was not too great. One of my forefathers awoke on a winter morning to
find the ashes in the fireplace cold, and the nearest neighbor eight
miles away. It was an impossible undertaking to keep a coal alive on a
walk of eight miles. Wrapping a piece of cotton cloth tightly about a
small stick he ignited one end at his neighbor's hearth, and like an
humble Prometheus carried the smouldering gift to his little world and
its belated breakfast.

The kitchen was the favorite gathering place of humble New England
families and it was there they were best seen and understood; there the
spinning wheel hummed while the pot was boiling or the bannock baking;
there stockings and boots were dried by the open fire and the latter
daily greased. With what pride did I see my first pair standing there
shining in their coat of pig's scrotum, this being thought invulnerable
to wet, especially snow water. Hardly could I go to bed for longing to
look at them and to try them on for I know not how many times. By the
wide hearth of stone or brick, one could whittle with impunity. Dirt is
not common dirt in front of an open fire. Charles Lamb's clean hearth or
that of the too fastidious modern house robs it of half its comfort and
attractiveness. A little matter out of place, somebody's definition of
dirt, is one of the most hospitable and cordial things I ever meet in
the houses of my friends. A room with evidences of being lived in by the
family invites me to share the intimacy of that life for the time being;
but a too carefully garnished room, which my host occupies only while a
guest is present, relegates me to my proper place--a stranger within the
gates. It was with difficulty the family could be driven into the
sitting room in the evening. The men preferred to stretch out on the
settle and smoke another pipe; the boys had a little more whittling to
do and loved to hear their elders talk. Rarely was an outer garment put
on by men during the week days of winter except on Sundays when riding
cloaks were the common wear for women, surtouts for men. These were hand
woven, or if purchased, were of camlet. It was said of a certain family
that a drop of its blood was as good as a great coat, so hardy and
healthy were its sons.

Among such farmers and manners and customs was I born, in a red house
under the great elm. In its shade the old doctor waited and talked with
the expectant father until called into the house by the women who
presided at such functions in the neighborhood. My memory does not reach
back to the "trailing clouds of glory", but doubtless it was these which
obscured the April sun that afternoon, so that the new baby could be
carried out under the elm tree and there rocked to his first sleep. My
next excursion, so the family traditions aver, was to Uncle Peter's, the
nearest neighbor, the oracle of the community for all signs, omens and
country folk-lore, who, taking me in his arms, carried me to the attic
of his house and touched my head to the ridgepole: "What did you do that
for?" my mother asked. "Oh, that's the way to make him a great man
sometime. I does it to all the boy babies. There's luck in it." In those
days there were great hopes, and prophecies had not ceased. Many a sweet
sleep did I have under the elm tree's shade later on; and many a
tiresome hour turning the grindstone for the long bladed sythes. In the
trunk of the tree were stuck many worn out blades, their points imbedded
by the tree's growth from year to year. Thus they became tallies marking
the past seasons of haying. Under the tree was the afternoon parlor of
the family throughout the summer; there all the feminine industries went
on, braiding straw, knitting and mending, or a letter was added to the
sampler. Often some neighbor came bringing her work, for nobody could be
idle for a moment. I do not know what they talked about, but I can
guess. However the picture is faithful and attractive, though for us,
silent now. I find as few representatives of the ideal common people as
of the nobility or of genius. So let them remain a picture, and do not
ask for their conversation, neither for their grammar nor
pronunciation. Cannot a Dorian speak Doric? Kindly and helpful
neighbors can live together without the correctness and elegancies of
either. To me it is hateful to see them caricatured and made literary
merchandise. Not so were the classic idyls and pastorals of Theocritus,
Virgil, Spenser and Saint Pierre composed. Is there nothing but bad
grammar, mispronunciation and provincialisms in the heart of the
rustic? Must he be forever misrepresented by his speech that he may be
saved by his virtues? The closer a picture is drawn to the outward
circumstance the more transient it will be. Ideals alone survive in art
and literature. I should like to have the Theban law reenacted, which
required the imitation in art of the beautiful and forbade the
representation of the deformed and grotesque.

Four summers had passed before I knew of any world beyond the walls of
the Red House, the dooryard and the shade of the elm tree. I did not
feel their confinement. There seemed to be boundless liberty, and the
delusion is complete when there is no sense of limitation. The goldfish
in his glass prison no doubt supposes himself swimming in an infinite
sea. When the boy's growth can be still measured by his mother's
yardstick his outlook is restricted correspondingly. He climbs upon a
chair with difficulty and cannot see over the table. This being, so
lately from heaven, creeps upon the earth, and his first experiences are
with the feet and under side of things. Ask the creeper how the human
face, a room and its furniture appear to him. My father's face as I
looked up to him seemed to be very narrow and a yard long. A face there
was not. Nor had my mother's round table any top; but its two crossbars
beneath, screws and catch and three feet belonged to my under world. I
could explore the floor from corner to corner; the mantel-shelf, windows
and ceiling were worlds and worlds above me. Lifted on some one's
shoulder I touched the ceiling with my finger and knew no greater joy
nor anything more wonderful.

At length the creeper raises himself to his feet. He walks, he can sit
in a chair, but will not. If he only would, what care and trouble might
be taken from his protectors. But he has found the door open and the
alluring dangers beyond; he has found a new realm which he hears called
in the homely country speech out-of-doors. There is where he now lives
and finds his liveliest interests. As he is no longer a creeper but a
being of importance to himself he deserves a name, and it shall be
henceforth I--my own small, as yet uncapitalized i.

The walls of my newly extended world are the low enchanted hills of
Mendon. There the sky seems to curve down, to rest and to end. It takes
a long time to remove that horizon line; even when one is six feet, it
often remains in its accustomed place. I shall pass beyond it, yet
return again. My vision will be often contracted; I shall see what I
once saw, become what I once was; shadowy memories become bright by the
touch of hand and foot, and even the sense of smell shall guide me
through many a path and restore many a room, many a threshing floor and
corn crib. When thrust back upon myself, defeated, hopeless, I have
retreated to the scenes of my childhood where I could be triumphant and
happy in possessions, of which I cannot be deprived, and that are beyond
my own power to alienate. But that time is far in the future and I am
contented with the walls of my present world now expanded to the hills
of Mendon. Between them and me flows the Charles stream. It is
impassible as far as I can see, yet I have heard and been warned of a
bridge full of peril. It is, however, an incredible distance to that
bridge--as much as a quarter of a mile. When there, I dare not go
forward lest I might be lost. I tremble with desire and apprehension. I
return, slowly at first, then faster and faster, until, breaking into a
run, I reach my mother's yard, where agitated but safe, I seem to have
escaped some fearful thing. This risk gives me joy. So I go again, and
this time I shall pass over the bridge and beyond into the unknown that
eludes me. Adding to danger the temptation to disobedience, I go to the
bridge oftener and oftener, sometimes leaning over the rail to watch for
a while the chips and straws floating along the surface of the slow
stream. They are moving in a direction of which I know nothing. The
depth of the water at the bridge is not great, yet deep enough to be
mysterious and it hypnotises me. It draws me into it and I lose myself.
North and south, east and west, in the water and in the skies all is
mystery which I am trying every moment to penetrate. As to myself I know
nothing. Reflection, melancholy introspection, that sweet disease of
youth, from which it is so difficult to escape, have not yet found me.
There is as yet little consciousness of any thing beyond external and
material things save a faint incommunicable magic which hangs like a
veil over the bounds of a small farm. From those bounds my feet will not
disengage me. On very still days I hear sounds far away and feel
something within me that wishes to follow them, does indeed follow over
a great space and leaves my body behind. As I hang far over the rail of
the bridge I see my face in the water and become absorbed in its
distorted reflections. I amuse myself exaggerating them by various
grimaces, swelling out and drawing in my fat cheeks. I dare the image to
battle with my little fists; it accepts the challenge and returns blow
for blow.

The hither side of the bridge became more and more familiar, the farther
side more and more desired. I knew the road to the school-house and to
our three neighbors, all of whom I was accustomed to address as uncles
and aunts. There was a fourth neighbor and nearer, yet there was a
distance of some social kind. They were spoken of as Captain and
Mistress Barber. To this house, a great Colonial mansion, with windows
as large as those of the meeting-house, I was often sent on errands. No
matter how often, I could not deliver my message, or note or borrowed
salt without the greatest confusion. I felt my breath give way,
something fill my throat. It was the words I was told to say over and
over, repeated all the way until I was too full for utterance. Mistress
Barber looked down upon me with her long white face and was able to
guess the purpose of the boy's mission through his stammering and
embarrassment. In her gentle, affable voice, as I now recall it, I
recognise the tone of a lady. She would inquire when the errand was done
if the little boy would like an apple or a cake. The question was too
difficult; so she gave him both. As I turned away I passed under the
great pine tree standing a little way from the mansion. It stood alone
and it still stands two centuries old, in ample space and in consequence
has grown symmetrical in form and luxuriant with foliage. It had
realised the promise of its youth, a fate which happens to few trees in
a forest. From its first majestic upward sweeping limbs to its tufted
top reigned solemn and perpetual night. The wind scarcely swayed its
dense and plumy branches. It merely turned up the silvery sides of the
five-fingered clusters of needles which responded with a low melancholy
voice like an aeolian harp, or those minor chords composed under its
shade by my friend the Flute Player of Bellingham. In the woods when the
pines sing it is not these I hear but the lone tree by the Barber
mansion. It was the only tree in my reach I had never climbed. I was
afraid of its dark mysterious recesses--also of Captain Barber.

I grew old enough to do errands at longer and longer distances. It was
in doing them that I at length crossed the bridge, an event as important
to the child as the Rubicon to Caesar. I began the conquest of new
worlds and to beat down the Mendon ramparts. I was despatched to a more
distant neighbor, the great and wealthy house of the Pennimans. In a
clean frock and Sunday shoes, my face freshly washed, and with the
largess of one cent with which to buy candy at the Green Store I
departed full of anticipation, fear and excitement. To the bridge it was
a familiar way; beyond that half a mile, never before travelled by me. I
crossed the bridge with three skips and a jump; never had it seemed so
narrow; but once beyond I was assailed with a thousand frights. The
stone walls rose up to an intolerable height; behind them lurked
innumerable wicked men and bears. There was terror in everything, and I
looked back continually to see if the way of retreat remained open. When
at last I lost sight of my mother's cottage my heart almost stopped
beating. Should I ever find my way back? Should I ever see my home
again? I hurried forward without turning my head as if the only safety
now was in reaching my journey's end. Soon I climbed the eminence on
which stood the Penniman mansion. Its vast size astonished me. It was
two storied with a high gambrel roof making in effect a third story.
Through the gambrel peaks rose two great chimneys, and I wondered what
two chimneys could be for. Elaborate cornices surmounted the doors and
windows; the doors were all closed, the windows draped; there was no
sign of life anywhere. High shrubbery in bloom surrounded the house on
three sides. There was not even a wood pile in sight, that most common
accompaniment of every door yard I had ever seen. The barn and other out
buildings were at some distance from the house--another strange thing.
From the eminence of the Penniman mansion I could overlook the Mendon
hills and to my surprise there was something beyond, indistinct, a
greater distance than I had ever looked into, and there vague forms rose
up, whether clouds or other hills I could not tell. My errand called me
away. I lifted the heavy brass knocker of the green double door and let
it fall once. It was opened and I acquitted myself very well as I did
not have to speak; I had only to deliver a parcel with a note. Whether
it was a lordly Penniman or only a servant who met me I knew not, as I
feared to raise my eyes from under my wide brimmed straw hat, I held out
the parcel, felt it taken and rushed away. Then my own important
business began, the spending of my cent. The doors of the Green Store
were wide open; a dog lay stretched on the platform in front; the sun
poured his full rays over everything and an aspect of sleepy quiet
pervaded the outside and inside of the building. There were no customers
to be seen, nor sound to be heard save the buzzing of flies about the
molasses measures at the farther end of the room. The store-keeper
himself was fast asleep in a chair tilted against the counter. I stepped
softly half fearing to awaken him. My Sunday shoes squeaked a little and
the sound aroused him, though not entirely. He slowly opened his eyes,
looking at me fixedly as if uncertain of any presence. Then, at length,
he tilted his chair forward with a bang, put a hand on each knee, raised
himself, stretched, yawned and scowled upon me as a disturber of his
peace. However the trader also awoke in him and he went behind his
counter. I had not yet spoken a word. Words were not necessary, for the
country store-keeper knows without being told what the small urchin with
one hand clutched tightly wants of him. He took down a glass jar with a
bright brass cover full of sticks of candy. There was only one short
question to be asked and answered, "what color"? The boy, savage that he
is, knows and delights in but one, and he said "red", a word he can
spell also; blue has a twist he cannot yet master. Sometime Launa's eyes
are going to teach him. In the shop, as he hurried out, his eyes saw
many things never seen before. He coveted them all, especially such as
shone in steel or brass or bright new wood. He hardly knew their names;
but what beautiful playthings they would make. All movable objects are
potential playthings to him. He makes them also, like the Creator, out
of nothing; if he wants a horse he has it on the instant by straddling a
stick or tying a string to a companion. He has epic uses for his
father's tools, his mother's knitting needles; they can slay a thousand
foes at one stroke and the button bag contains them alive and dead. Six
marching clothes-pins are his army and conquer the world in an

The dog still slept as I left the store, the merchant returned to his
chair, the sun shone on in noontide splendor. No shadow fell from the
Penniman mansion; it looked more lifeless and larger than ever. It
seemed too large to me to live in and like a meeting-house. Not a leaf
stirred on the great elm; the trim spires of the Lombardy poplars had
folded their limbs upward to rest, as sometimes one does his arms. The
grasshopper began with a sudden shrill note which grew drowsy toward the
close as if he were too lazy and hot to complete it. Over the sunburnt
fields shimmered the heated air. I seemed to be the only living, moving
thing; the intense hush, the high noon of the midsummer day interfused
my whole being so that I hardly dared to step for fear of disturbing the
universal repose. It oppressed me with a sense of loneliness. A wagon
coming along the road broke the spell and all things were restored to

Before returning homeward I gazed once more over the Mendon hills and I
wonder where and what that new looming world is. It is not many years
before I know. My legs grow longer, the heart braver. I cross the bridge
fearless and careless. Stone walls conceal neither friend nor foe. The
forests contain only trees. I look down upon small boys; they are now my
natural prey. I throw stones at them and make them cry, which gives me
unspeakable delight. I am proud, restless, agitated by nameless
longings. The walls of my world oppress me. Destiny has determined that
I shall not be disenchanted before that world is entirely exhausted so
that after many years I may recover its earliest charm. Nothing
interests me more than a moment. I have become acquainted with Mistress
Barber, the aristocratic Pennimans and Dr. Thurber, the poet--for
Bellingham has a small poet, though I was like to forget it. He nods to
me from his sulky. They say he writes his prescriptions in rhyme. He
also composes epitaphs for his patients when his boluses fail to save
them, and divides the glory with the local Fourth of July orators with a
suitable poem. His _magnum opus_ is an elementary chemistry in verse for
use in schools. He had a chubby, rubicund face and a head of iron grey
curls which shook as he laughed.

The Barbers and Pennimans are kind to me, but they no longer offer me an
apple and a cake. Perhaps they like me and think they can make something
of me. Or it may be on my mother's account, whose kind heart and sweet,
winning face every body knows except herself, for she is as humble and
modest as she is good. Admitted to their houses I discover new manners;
their clothing is different and their rooms have unfamiliar furnishings
that show no sign of usage. I sit very straight in a soft-seated chair
as I have been instructed, but do not know what to do with my hands and
can hardly keep them out of my pockets. My heels secretly feel for the
rung of the chair; it has none, which seems curious, and it is a puzzle
I take home with me. These superior neighbors of ours speak of books, of
music and persons and places unknown to me. They have been as far as
Mendon, beyond I imagine, for I hear the names Boston and Providence. It
incites me to know all that they know, and I begin to make comparisons,
to find that one house differs from another, that one person differs
from another and to choose between them. All things draw or repel me. I
have glimmerings of an ideal, of something less or more than is present
and actual. A cent, that formerly made me rich, now makes me poor. I am
not so eager for playmates; there are moments when they seem mere
babies, and our sports dull and trivial. The sweet child whose frock
falls only to her knees, whose wide white pantalets almost touch her red
shoes, with whom I have romped for three summers alternately teasing and
caressing, yet always with the lofty port of protection and superiority,
no longer satisfies my heart or gratifies my pride. I try to avoid her.
She follows me about meekly, confused by my coldness. Her long-lashed
eyes look at me distrustfully and are suffused with tears when I decline
to play. What do I care? My heart is harder than a stone. Moreover, I
have transferred my affections; I am in love with a woman of
twenty-three, seventeen years older than myself. To be with her makes me
perfectly happy; I am transformed, I am humble to slavishness and my
manner toward this enchanting being is precisely like that of my
discarded maid toward me. Thus is she avenged, for I too have to suffer
when unnoticed. My new love's smile, (for she only deigns to smile upon
me and seldom speaks), enthralls me, I cannot express myself; I follow
her about like a dog.

There is a plant called Boy Love because it never comes to fruition,
seldom blooms. It is almost extinct save in old neglected house-yards.
My gardener allows me to cultivate it in an uncherished corner of one of
her beds. I can never pass it without plucking a spray of its fragrant
leaves. Its very smell is of other days and ancient gardens. The
fashionable rose cannot endure it. I mean sometime to disprove its
impotence and entice it into flowering for the encouragement of little
boy lovers that they be not ashamed of their infantile, ardent
attachments but bravely confess them as I do.

This phase of young life passes like so many others. How swiftly they
pass! and must, since we have in ten years to rehearse all the parts for
the next fifty. In due time my girl playmate and also the young woman
were married, and meeting long afterward we found nothing in common, not
even a memory. One had forgotten that we ever played together; the other
laughed incredulously at the boyish attachment. At length I too forget
these mere matrons; I remember only the little maid and the coquette of

As one climbs the sides of a mountain it lowers its crest, but the view
becomes extended. The hills of Mendon diminished as often as I climbed
other hills or succeeded in reaching the topmost spires of taller trees.
They were no longer so lofty, so distant, so infatuating. The walls of
my world were expanded on two sides, the south and the west. All unknown
lands were on the north. China was there, which to me was a place where
they did nothing but fly kites; so much I remembered from my geography
book; there too was Boston, merely a place where we sold our
huckleberries in summer. I had been as far as Mendon and found that the
world did not end there, nor were there any hills even. They had moved
themselves to the next horizon whitherto my fancies had flown.
Disillusions increased with my height. A yardstick no longer measured to
the top of my head; the score is now marked upon the jambs of the cellar
door, and sometimes I cheat with yarn balls in the heels of my boots. I
cannot grow fast enough to keep pace with my ambition. When I am larger,
when I am a man, then I shall--could one but recover the predicate of
those phrases! There is a cell in my brain as yet filled with nothing;
but there is commotion, an eddy, like that of the vorticel which is
drawing thither its destined deposits. The things that draw me are also
themselves moving toward me. The cell is in time filled, emptied and
filled again and again. Particles of this and that remain. Who can
predict what will be the permanent deposit?

The Mendon hills and those, rising continually beyond, caused me many a
heart break, many disillusions, journeyings, pathless and lampless, many
apprenticeships to unprofitable masters. I explored the unknown because
it was unknown and because I knew not what I wanted. There was
disappointment wherever the pursuit ended. I would go on--never
arriving. "Stay, thou art so fair", is not the wish of boys. The
mountains were not so high, the ocean not so vast, the cities not so
immense, no good so good as anticipated. My heart hungered for the
impossible before it had attained the possible; for the fruitage of
things before the plough and the hardened hand; in fine, before
reckoning with those forces which determine the happiness and miseries
of life. But there is compensation for every disappointment and mistaken
dream of childhood and youth. I cherish them fondly as the early drama
of my life, in which, now a spectator, I see the small actor performing
his mimic part with mingled feelings of amusement, censure or sympathy.
When the curtain rises I am once more on my own side of the Mendon
hills; the walls of that first world enclose and protect me. Here I
again recover my first sense of nature and the existence of other
beings; here I discern the inward foreshadowings of what was to attract
and mould me through life.


Two things in nature impressed me more than any others in my childhood.
One was the apparent motion of the moon, when I tried to walk or run
away from it. To see it keep an equal pace with me, moving when I moved,
stopping when I stopped, sometimes vexed me and more often amused me.
The heavens are young when we are, close and companionable; they come
down to the earth not more than two miles from where we stand. I tried
many experiments with the moon, when it was full, to see if I could not
outrun the bright and tricksy traveller. My efforts were vain and only
increased my wonder. I never spoke of it nor required an explanation
from my elders. Children ask no questions regarding those simple
operations of nature which they first observe. They remain deep in their
silent consciousness. Such as they do ask are superficial, and are
either a passing impulse of a dawning social nature or are inspired by
parents and teachers. I have observed that when they ask these questions
they care nothing and remember naught of the answers. What is deepest in
them is growing in silence; it is not yet formed into conceptions, and
has no language. The difference between the spoken questions of children
and their impressions, as yet so undefined, is like that between
pictures of the snapshot camera and the astronomer's plates which, for
hours, gather and develop the figure of some distant, unseen star.

My other childish observation was of shadows, especially my own, cast
upon the ground by a low afternoon sun. This never vexed or puzzled me
as did the outfooting moon. An old play says that the shadows of things
are better than the things themselves; and Pindar places man at two
removes from them. But indeed shadows pleased me before I knew of the
humiliating comparisons poets and prophets had made; and sometimes more
than the real substances with which I was familiar--trees, brooks and
pastures. In the shadow of myself were the flattering length and size
which I coveted, the huge man; for I wished above all other things to
become a man as fast as possible that I might do and have the things
which men do and have. These as I remember were trousers, long-legged
boots, two pieces of pie, to sit up in the evening and never to go to
school again; for I was always driven to bed and went unwillingly to my
books. Many were the subterfuges by which I escaped my lessons, a lost
book or a headache; and how I rejoiced in the storms which made it
impossible to send me the long mile through snow or rain. I remember
only one evening when I was allowed to sit up as long as I wished, my
parents, having gone to see a man hung in Dedham, one of the festive
occasions in old Norfolk County, the boy was left in charge of a sister.
I remember it chiefly because my sister read to me that evening John
Gilpin's Ride. It was the first, and for a long time, the only poem in
which I took any interest. Gilpin on his horse, his cloak and bottles
twain visualized themselves before me so clearly that they still remain
more vivid than what I read yesterday.

But my shadow, ah, that was quite enough to satisfy my most ardent
longings. Moreover I seemed able to step on it, to lengthen or shorten
it, to make it assume strange grotesque shapes; in a word I could play
with it. This I could not do with such objects as trees, house, barn and
fences; or rather there was no such response from them as from the

Echo was the only other direct responsive thing I found in nature as
yet. Echo is the shadow of sound. Echo and shadow are brother and
sister; irresponsible children of nature who love to sport and play
pranks with matter and make men doubt their own senses. I knew several
of the dwelling places of echo; one in chief was between a large barn
and a deep wood, and others at different points on Beaver Pond. Never
would they return the individual voice; all came reflected back as
echo's own, neither mine nor that of my companions; only now louder or
less, more distinct or faint. It had a lonely, plaintive, even
melancholy tone, which the Greeks explained was in consequence of an
unfortunate love affair with the beautiful Narcissus. It sulked, and
hiding in a cave, never spoke again unless first spoken to. I could
hardly believe that echo was not the voice of a human being. To satisfy
myself I examined the barn and forest for some mocking man or boy. Was
not this better than the explanations which never explain to children?
And who can expound a shadow? When I once heard a minister exclaim that
man is but a shadow I understood him literally and was glad in my little
heart thinking only of its size and nimble movements.

Echo and shadow hint of other things in nature besides solid matter and
that which can be appropriated by any machinery or resolved by any
chemical yet discovered. These and sounds and perfumes also remind us
that the world was made for admiration and amusement as well as for use.
I believe that the Creator was thinking, when He planned it, as much of
little boys and girls and poets as of the husbandman and craftsman. Echo
loves to imitate our voice as much as we love to hear it; and shadows
love to caricature our forms that we may laugh and even assist them; for
if you stretch an arm between the sun and a snowbank shadow aids you
with its comic pencil. It is no wonder the sad ghosts throw no shadow;
there must be sunshine, life and joy or you cannot even living cast a
pleasant one. I sometimes more admire the shadows in a painting than the
figures or the scene. The imperfect landscape of the Greeks excused
itself from observing none in the sacred enclosures of the temples of
Zeus. The light must find no impediment in the unsubstantial matter of
divine beings.

It was pleasant in my afternoon rambles to see my form projected over
places where I could not follow; on the other shore of a stream and
along stony fields good for nothing but a crop of shadows. Thus by my
shadow I triumphed over space, and when it came to a vanishing point, I
imagined it still extending itself to some neighbor's door or into the
next town. My eyes could not follow it nor my feet; yet something in me
accompanied it and gave me a sense of magic power. An unconscious
feeling for beauty in things of earth began to draw me away from houses
and children and to make me lonely. I found playthings I could not carry
in my pocket. These have remained with me all my life. The path we leave
behind us is the one we oftenest tread. One little brook still flows
through my heart. I feel it, I hear its smothered ripple, not meant for
hearing, and I smell its meadowy fragrance.

I treated matter with the perfect frankness and credulity which passes
away with childhood; and she rewarded me with visions and illusions that
are withheld from self-guarded and discreet manhood. I knew not then
that shadows were the scoffing synonym for all unsubstantial vanities
and day-dreams, or that other mystic conception that substance itself is
but the shadow and reflection of the power which created it, or that
light itself is but the adumbration of God. How good it is that the
child is ignorant of so many things. It leaves room for the existence
and growth of a mind, of an imagination which, in time, shall lead
rather than follow the processes of reason; which shall leap before it
looks, conscious of prescience before proof, arriving on wings while the
shoestrings are being tied. Blessed are the ignorance, the beliefs and
the innocency of the country boy. For if he can maintain a remnant of
these into maturity the world will be more beautiful; he will idealize
his friends and lovers, and never be conquered by the untoward
circumstances and events of his life. The child is a plant that blossoms
first at the root underground, like the fringed polygala, and only after
a free and natural nurture, again blossoms at the top with the same
color, the same modest beauty. Let the child pursue shadows and believe
them real; let him discover their unreality and suffer defeats; but he
shall not know when he is defeated, for still other shadows shall allure
him to the end of his days. The pursuit, not the attainment, is the true
joy of living. Perilous are the conditions of attainment. The goal is
seldom in sight. We are driven on from dream to dream, and to awake is
to lose the charm of existence. No pearl grows in the shell without the
pressure of some irritating substance; and no boy becomes a man until he
has felt the sting of opposition, discouragement, defeat, and has
pursued shadows with an unfaltering faith.


    Phantom of being, Protean face,
    Parasite of rock, of towers and man
    Since sun and matter erst began,
    Fleet vanisher from our embrace,
    Thy fairy forms the faithful ape
    Of substance; all the landscape
    In thy mimic loom mere woven air
    Where naught is real yet all is fair;
    Taunting us with bold mockeries
    And willing cheats and splendid lies,
    Deceiving all sense save the eyes.
    Flying without wings
    Gigantic o'er the mountain's knees;
    Or of tiniest things
    Etching their wavy images;
    Or playing some fantastic trick
    To please the fancy of a child;
    Or tireless watcher of the sick
    When others are by sleep beguiled.
    Thou follower of sun and moon,
    Gatherer of the undulating mass
    Through which no light may pass,
    Over the whole world darkening soon,
    Or standing steadfast all an afternoon
    Behind some oak tree's ancient crown
    Until the lingered sun goes down--
    Give to the weary traveller repose
    In thy cool umbrageous tent,
    And to the husbandman, who goes
    To thee by heat and toil forespent,
    Give sleep, and let thy veil his limbs enclose.


    Echo is mate of shadow and of shade,
      Saying only what is given it to say;
    Hiding in wall or cave or wooded glade,
      Without ideas, sound with sound at play.

    But thou, sweet echo, art my faithful friend;
      For when my simple songs on all ears die
    Thou art responsive to the very end,
      And answerest them with perfect flattery.


In the small towns of Norfolk County, even as late as the middle of the
nineteenth century, Christmas was not kept as a holiday. The people
adhered mainly to the Congregational and Baptist faiths. Christmas was
in some way associated with Popish superstitions. The Woman in Scarlet
was still preached against and feared as became the sons and daughters
of the Puritans. I have never forgotten my childish vision of this
wonderful creature, a vision that connected itself with a neighbor's
daughter who dressed in bright red mousseline-delaine and wore an
immense hoop, played the fiddle and scandalized the community by her
manners, music and muslin. But the young men were all in love with her
and she held a nightly court in a little brown house in that part of the
town called Hard Scrabble. She took the pick of her admirers, was
married at eighteen, bore what Aeschylus calls the "divine load" in
fifteen travails, fourteen sons and one daughter, and lived to play her
fiddle to more than thirty grandchildren. The community at length became
reconciled to her, although she continued to wear to the end of her life
red gowns and a bulging hoop--the women gossips now said to conceal her
usual condition. To me she was and is the Scarlet Woman, an inhabitant
not of Rome or Babylon, but of a town where I am the supreme pontiff, a
town not made of galvanized iron nor stone nor brick, but
weather-stained boards with sometimes a touch of red paint.

Doubtless many people sigh for the days when Christmas was not, for it
has become a burden in its secular observances, a game of give and take.
I never heard of the day in my childhood. Scarcely will this be
believed, so difficult is it to realise that a present universal custom,
and one so linked with religious sentiment, has not always existed;
nevertheless it is true. If I were relating something that happened
yesterday, or the day before, I should not be much chagrined to be
disputed and to find myself in error; but the memory of the events of
childhood is authentic and indisputable. There was no Christmas for
children in Bellingham, or I should remember it as vividly as I do Fast
Day, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July and Town Meeting Day. The last named
was the first holiday of the year for the male population, occurring on
the first Tuesday in March. It was a day when the solid men of the town
came to the front and sat in high seats, dignified and important; when
the less solid or more gay got drunk, and the boys played games about
the town-house, and ate as many buns as they had cents to buy. The
town-house of Bellingham was an old Universalist church whose society
had been uprooted and driven away by the sermons, prayers and
persecutions of the Baptist brethren and sisters. It must have been an
ancient building as it had a high pulpit, a sounding board still higher
and square pews. I used to go in when hungry to buy the buns, which were
on sale in one of these square pews fitted up as a small shop, boards
being laid on the top rail, and the high seats forming shelves for the
display of eatables. I recall only the buns with distinctness, buns with
three large plums sticking out of their shiny red tops, which afforded
the greatest return to a hungry boy for the trifling sum he had to
expend. These plums deceived me into the belief that there were more
inside and sometimes I did find one lost in the air holes of the
sponge-like cake. But the bun was sweet and that was enough, sweetened
with white sugar too, a rare flavor in those days. I write white sugar
but its current name was loaf sugar. It came in cone-shaped packages
wrapped in heavy chocolate colored paper, and this paper was used by
women for dyeing. These packages were hung up over the counters of all
country stores. The sale was small as it was expensive and limited in
use, chiefly to the sick room, wedding and funeral feasts. A trader
would buy enough to last him for a long time; consequently the packages
hung in their places year after year, becoming dirty and fly specked.
But the inside was well protected with soft white paper, and, when
opened, revealed its dazzling crystals. I liked it almost as much as
candy and I rarely had a bit of the precious article. Brown sugar and
molasses were the common household sweets; bread and molasses an
excellent lunch for hungry boys always crying for something to eat and
never filled.

The town meeting bun is a thing of the past. When I ventured into the
town house I stepped very softly and felt an exceeding awe. It was a
strange sensation to be moving about among men whose legs were as long
as I was tall, and, generally, as unnoticed as if I did not exist.
Sometimes a kindly old man would look down, put his hand on my head and
say: "You'll be a man before you know it;" or another would vary the
expression with, "you'll be a man before your mother." Both meant the
boy had grown since the last town meeting. I have, since those days,
known town meetings from the standpoint of a man and voter and have even
taken part in their counsels; yet I have had always more interest in
them as an observer than as an active participant. Perhaps this was
because I was not an office seeker. I have revolved schemes for town
improvements a whole year and taken them into the March meeting only to
have them smashed in a moment. In general at the meetings in rural
districts, where there is little business to transact and the day is
before them, the citizens like to hear discussion, especially if the
disputants get into a passion or interject a little fun. Then everybody
takes a hand and the main question is so confused and lost that even the
moderator cannot restate it. Party spirit rages, old feuds come to life
and men remember all the ugly doings and sayings of their neighbors and
are hot to pay off old scores and get even, as they say. Suddenly, at
the height of the wrangle, the whole matter is dropped, peace reigns and
the regular business is resumed as if nothing had happened. These
tempests clear the air for a year, and everybody is in better humor
having discharged his accumulation of grudges and animosities. I have
heard closer speech, more sententious, more convincing and in more
direct and forcible language in town meeting than from any other forum.
Men are not so much ambitious of eloquence as they are to carry their
point. There is often more fun, wit and sarcasm as well as logic than
goes with more pretentious and popular rostrums. When the town-meeting
is abolished freedom will have lost her humble but most powerful ally.
When the town grows to a city all is lost; for our freedom and
individual rights depend on direct and individual participation in
public affairs. Otherwise, all is compromise, averages, irresponsibility
and mere chance how affairs turn out. The larger the city, the easier it
is for rascals to rule.

The town meeting was succeeded in April by Fast Day, appointed always
for a Thursday. For some unknown reason Thursday in New England was an
almost sacred day, a sort of secular Sabbath. Thanksgiving was
invariably on that day of the week; also evening prayer meetings and
usually religious conventions, quarterly meetings, Sunday-school
conferences and weddings. There is an ancient proverb which says
"Thursday come, the week is gone;" for farmers and laboring people it
was uphill to that day, and an easy and quick descent to the end of the
week. By Friday, or, at least, Saturday we could go a-fishing or
visiting; or to the store for some Sunday snuff, tobacco or "West Injy"
goods. Work relaxed a little, the strain to finish a job was less, we
went to bed and arose somewhat later. Boys were not generally compelled
to attend the Fast Day religious service. It had ceased to be as
strictly kept as formerly. In villages and centers of towns there was
customarily a match game of ball, very unlike the present base ball.
Boys played with boys and men with men. The New England bootmakers, of
whom there were some in most villages, were the leaders in these games.
Fast Day was above all days the established one for shooting and burning
powder. Why, it would be hard to discover, as it was too late for winter
game and too early for any other. However, it was fun and made men and
boys jolly and important to roam through the woods and fields with a gun
over the shoulder, for that was still the soldiery way of carrying it.
It was more often fired at a mark than at bird or beast. Powder had to
be exploded to give expression to the holiday exuberance and a noise
made, game or no game. I suffered dreadfully for several years in not
being able to have a gun, and my misery grew acute at the approach of
Fast Day. I had to content myself with percussion caps, powder and lead
cannon. The latter I made myself and when I had no lead I made them of
wood. These I fired as long as the ammunition held out and then with one
mighty charge I would burst them into fragments, and Fast Day was over
for me.

As Fourth of July approached, my chief concern was to get possession of
twenty-five cents. This was the traditional limit of a boy's spending
money for that day. He must save or earn it, or expect a miracle. How to
save on nothing a year was an early problem of mine; and as to earning,
my services, even then, were not in demand, and I cannot remember ever
to have been hired to be a good boy. My mother had a cheaper way and a
more effectual. Such is the miserable history of poor boys and poor
mothers. Thus it was that I rarely had the twenty-five cents; it was
oftener a dime. Even that seemed large enough to fill one pocket and buy
a world of things. To think over all the single articles that it would
purchase was to possess them for that moment, and I never had a truer
ownership in my life than that which was enjoyed in these imaginary
possessions. Strangely enough, I could so feel my own what I knew the
dime or the quarter would purchase, that I was content not to spend it
at all. Yet a day would come when some sudden impulse or appetite would
snatch it away from me; then with what penitence was I overcome; for, as
soon as I had a thing in my hand it ceased to have the least value; if
eaten, it did not fill me; if a plaything, I soon tired and then hated
it; and only its destruction gave me one passing moment of joy.

Occasionally Fourth of July was celebrated in military fashion; the
train-band marched to the music of drum and fife accompanied by a
procession of urchins. The crowning exercise was the firing of a salute
by the whole company. It made every boy wish to be a soldier as soon as
possible. Then the muskets were stacked under a great elm tree from a
limb of which swung the sign, "E. Thayer, Inn" and we all took a free
drink, in consideration of the dinner which was to follow at a shilling
a head.

The more common observance of the day was of a much milder character,
Sunday-school picnics, in which the churches of towns near each other
united. We went to Mendon, and next year Mendon came to us. These
picnics consisted of a little religion, much lemonade and cake, followed
next day by headache. The day ended with a thunderstorm when the picnic
was in Mendon; such was the common saying. Thunder storms in the night
were the dread of my mother's household, especially on the Fourth of
July when already excited by the day's events. We invariably expected
the end of the world so much prophesied by neighbor White. If the storm
came on in the daytime the whole family went to bed and covered up their
heads. For my part, I longed to be out of doors in the rain, and enjoyed
nothing so much as the drops falling on my bare head, and in splashing
about through the puddles with bare feet. I was exhilarated by the sound
of thunder, but lightning terrified me and seemed to throw me down. It
was in an August thunderstorm that my father lost his life in an attempt
to save his shocks of rye from ruin, which was indeed the end of the
world for his family. It was no wonder that my mother and sisters were
alarmed when the black clouds and sultry air came over the Mendon hills.
I was too young to heed the menace or to be reminded of the domestic
catastrophe and sorrow. Nature, rain or shine, winter or summer, river,
pasture, clouds, woods, flowers, berries, apples, birds, were my
playthings from which I was learning to find the images and equivalents
in myself. Lying on my back and watching the summer clouds race across
the sky gave me my first comparison and attachment of a natural object
to a conscious mental conception. I arrested those clouds in their
flight across the blue, and whether they went sailing on or sank below
the horizon I still saw them, and their images remained firmly fixed in
my mind.

It was a rare chance when I was allowed to spend Fourth of July in
Milford, the little metropolis of our region. There the celebrations
were on a grander scale; the local militia company gathered to itself
others from the border towns, and besides fife and drum, a whole band of
music marched at the head of the companies, and a cannon on the town
common saluted the Fourth of July rising and setting sun and the noon of
the day. There was probably an oration in the church but I had no ear
for speech when my eyes were filled with seeing; for there were shows of
various kinds in booths about the common and in the town hall. How to
make twenty-five cents take me into all was beyond my arithmetic; so I
contented myself with spending ten cents on an exhibition of Albino
children, white-haired, ivory-skinned and pink-eyed. Another ten cents
admitted me to a collection of dwarfs and giants, the dwarfs mounted on
the shoulders or heads of the giants. The remaining five cents let me
into the best show of all, a learned pig that played cards and performed
amusing tricks. For a good while I wished for nothing so much as a
learned pig. But now my money was gone, and I was hungry as only a boy
on a holiday can be. I had walked three miles to the town, and there
were three miles now between me and my mother's cupboard. When I arrived
there I feasted for the remainder of the day and went to bed still
hungry. The next few days were flat and languid. In all my boyhood
pleasures and excitements I suffered intensely from these reactions. I
tormented the family by persistent teasings to go somewhere, or to do
something. "Go play, go read your book, go see what Aunt Chloe is
doing," they would say. How could I fill the void with such trivial
pastimes with a Fourth of July cannon ringing in my ears and the learned
pig's red eyes following me? I wanted all days to be Fourth of July, and
for a while I made them so with a wooden gun, a General Washington paper
chapeau and a tin pan for a brass band. At length the days gradually
fell into their usual tenor and I became reconciled to such amusements
and mischiefs as my two playmates, George Jennison and Harry Thurber,
and myself could invent.

We now began to look forward to the time of ice and snow. Meanwhile
Thanksgiving day is near. Little as it meant to me, it was nevertheless
a break in the usual order of the days. I have read many cheerful
accounts of the Thanksgiving home gatherings--the feastings and the
frolic in which the turkey and plum pudding appeared to be treated
almost like divinities. But never did I know, in boyhood, the family
reunion, the turkey or the pudding, so that these gatherings and dinners
are to me pictures and I regard them as I do the feasts of Homer's
heroes, pleasant to read of and to imagine. Some of our neighbors
celebrated the day in the customary manner and no doubt acknowledged the
goodness of the Divine Providence as enjoined by the Governor's
proclamation. But the bounty of the Divine Providence never travelled by
our lonely road, nor left a turkey or pudding at the door of the little
Red House. Saddest of all her sad days I think my mother felt it to be,
seeing the bounties and friends at the tables of others and unable to
make her own worthy of the occasion. She sometimes spared an aged and
unprofitable hen from her scanty flock and made us each a custard in an
earthen cup. For that day she brought out her only silver, six tea
spoons, and spread on her round table her only table cloth, hand-woven
and white as snow. In the evening we parched corn over the hearth fire.
My mother sat at one corner of the fireplace and by her side a tall
light stand, her candle, her Bible and her knitting. At bedtime she read
a chapter aloud, and kneeling, made a low, plaintive prayer, the burden
of which was always thankfulness and trust. I remember not the words,
but the tone still sounds in my ear. Thus returned from year to year my
four holidays until I was old enough to find the road that led from the
town and on which I now love to travel back and indulge a holiday of


Aside from the formal and appointed holidays, the events and days that a
country community most enjoyed were not numerous; yet their infrequency
and unexpectedness added a certain amount of zest to its monotonous
annals. A fire, an accident, a death, a raising, an engagement, a fight,
a new minister, even Miss Penniman's new style of gown from Boston were
not unwelcome excitements. They furnished food for talk, for wonder,
discussion and scandal.

Although there was a certain terror connected with the unusual event I
am about to describe, yet this did not deter me from looking forward to
it as a kind of holiday.

For a long time it had been rumored that our neighbor, Amos Partridge,
would have to lose his leg. He had what was called a white swelling on
his knee. Besides his house, Amos Partridge had a large barn and a shop,
where, in winter, he bottomed boots. The bottomer of boots sat on a low
bench and did most of his work on his lap and knee. It was thought that
the primary cause of Amos' trouble arose from a slight blow upon his
knee as he sat at his work, increased by subsequent constant pressure
upon the spot by the strap which held the boot in place. He worked as
long as he was able, and for some time before the operation, he was
obliged to use a crutch in passing from his shop to his house. The
swelling grew steadily in size, and became more and more troublesome
although every remedy then known to New England therapeutics had been
tried, including all the nostrums of the neighborhood, plasters,
poultices, washes and prayers; for Amos was much beloved by his
neighbors, mostly Methodists, to which sect he himself belonged. He was
about thirty-five years old, tall and large-framed, light-haired,
full-bearded and with blue eyes, a pure Saxon type of a man. His
forehead was high and narrow and much work and suffering had ploughed
untimely furrows upon it. His house stood close by the roadside, in a
field between two pieces of woodland. It was small, one-storied, the
only unusual thing about it being that it was painted white, as was also
the neat fence which enclosed a tiny space in front almost touching the
road. This enclosure was in summer a tangle of cinnamon roses, lilacs,
sweet-william, bouncing-Bet and other common flowers which propagate and
harvest themselves. A narrow gravelled walk, upon which the flowers
constantly encroached, led to the front door--a useless door, generally,
as no one ever thought of entering it. There were two rooms on either
side of this door; one, the family sitting room, the other, the sacred
country parlor with the usual hair-cloth covered furniture and home-made
rugs in bright colors and quaint patterns. There was a gilt mirror too,
the upper third of which was opaque, and upon it was painted a
one-masted vessel with impossible sails set straight from stem to stern,
which helps me to recall the room and much of the interior of the house.
I had never seen so fine a picture; nor had I ever seen a vessel of any
kind. It was wonderful. I never tired of looking at it although I had
seen it many times as the room was opened for prayer meetings, which my
mother attended regularly, taking me with her. How well I recall those
meetings, which sobered me for life. Not that any spoken words impressed
me, for I understood nothing of what was said or sung; but there was a
sadness, a suppression in the air, as of the valley of Jehosaphat. The
stillness too, that intense hush which often occurred between the
remarks and prayers of the brethren and sisters, filled me with a
nameless, shrinking fear. Had I been old enough, conversion would have
been easy as the only means of escape from those terrible silences. My
usual relief was in clinging to my mother's hand which gave me a sense
of protection from I knew not what; or in looking at the vessel in the
mirror and sailing away to other worlds. Under that sail I visited all
the neighboring inland towns whose names and nothing more I
knew--Milford, Medway, Mendon and Hopkinton, the utmost bound of my
little world--beyond Hopkinton, nothing.

At length there came a day when Amos Partridge could work no longer; the
pain in his knee became too excruciating to be endured. The surgeon was
summoned and a date determined for an amputation. The neighborhood was
informed and nothing else was talked or thought of during the preceding
days. The chances of Amos surviving the operation were discussed; for it
was before the days of anaesthetics and the science of surgery had not
then made the removal of a limb the least of its triumphs. Most of the
neighbors, especially the women, took a hopeless view of the result.
Preparations were made much resembling those for a funeral. My mother
told me she was going to the amputation, and as she never left me at
home when she went abroad, I knew I should go too. But this did not
oppress me, not nearly as much as the thought of a prayer meeting. A dim
sensation of something extraordinary about to happen filled me with
excitement. Yet, on the whole, it was an emotion of joy.

The momentous day of the amputation arrived. I could hardly restrain my
impatience. It was a calm, soft afternoon in early spring when my mother
and I set out for the house of Amos Partridge; not however, before my
mother had been to her chamber, and, on her knees, offered a silent
prayer. She appeared very serious and silent on the way. Could she be
ignorant of the pleasure I was anticipating? I danced along by her side;
hardly feeling the earth beneath my feet; I was already at the scene of
expected festivity. I noticed that my mother carried a fan. It was not a
hot day and I wondered much what the fan was for. We arrived at the
house where there was already a considerable assemblage of the neighbors
and friends from a distance. Horses were fastened to trees, fences and
the sides of the barn, just as on Sunday at the meeting-house or at the
annual town-meeting. The small boy was there in numbers, but only a few
girls. Alas, for the small boy! He was not permitted to play near the
house nor to make the least noise. Instead of a holiday, for him, it
turned out a more serious affair than the usual Puritan Sabbath. Bitter
was my disappointment. My mother, as she left me to go into the house,
warned me to keep very still and be a good boy. Accordingly I remained
under the window of the room in which the operation was to be performed.
The windows were wide open, and I could see and hear all that was said
and done. I had a view of my mother and two other women standing by the
bedside of Amos, fanning him. I could see the face of the sufferer,
pale, emaciated and troubled. Presently I heard the voice of the
minister, and looking toward the foot of the bed, I saw opened before
him the great family Bible from which he was reading. From the frequent
recurrence of the words boils and afflictions I think it must have been
some chapter in Job that he had selected as suitable for the occasion.
After the Scriptures the minister made a long prayer.

Then the dreadful preparations began. I saw the bed-clothing pulled back
and the diseased limb exposed; it was twice its natural size. The
surgeon was the once famous Dr. Miller, of Franklin, reputed the seventh
son of a seventh son, some extraordinary gift in surgery being credited
to such a descent. In his day he performed all the surgical operations
in that part of Massachusetts and the bordering towns of Rhode Island.
Spread out on a small table at his right hand were his instruments,
whose names I did not know, but they interested me immensely. What would
I not have given for one of those dainty polished saws or keen knives
with handsome handles! The room was partly filled with neighbors, mostly
women, ready to lend their aid to the surgeon and to comfort the
patient, whose family sat weeping in an adjoining room. Amos' eyes were
now closed and his mouth set firm. As the tourniquet was twisted tighter
and tighter the lines in his brow grew deeper. He breathed hard and a
moan, the only one, escaped him as the knife went through the outer
skin. It was not long before the sound of the saw came through the open
window. The operation was over and the leg had taken its last step with
its fellow. It was carried away into the barn for dissection; we heard
with awe that Amos felt a faint sensation of pain when the knives and
probes were searching for the hidden disease, as if the severed limb
still remembered its possessor.

Subsequently the remains of the leg were buried in Amos' garden, which
gave rise to some questionings in this pious and scrupulous community as
to whether it ought not to have been placed in the graveyard. But Amos
said that he did not own a lot yet, and when he died, he should not need
his old leg to welcome him to his grave.

The operation proved successful. In a short time Amos was up with the
empty pantaloon fastened back and the stump of the leg encased in a
thick leather protector. As he had used crutches for some time before
the amputation he soon learned to accommodate himself to their new use.
He could not now walk long distances, so the weekly prayer meetings were
generally appointed at his house. He became what was called among
Methodists a class-leader; he took the leading part in all the private
religious gatherings and never failed in his opening prayer to thank the
Lord for bringing him safely through his peril. "It was Thy hand that
held the knife", he would exclaim, "yea, it was"; and all the brethren
said, amen.

There was, in the little community of which Amos Partridge was the
central and pathetic figure, a sincere belief in the nearness and
activity of Heaven in its every day affairs. It rendered them serious,
careful and slightly superstitious. It was also true, however, that
these tendencies sometimes seemed to create antagonism and a rebellious
spirit in the young men. We children, from the same causes, were timid,
afraid of the dark, afraid of everything; or, it may be, these very,
nameless terrors of the night, of wild beasts and the forests, together
with reactions from fancied escapes were the best stimulants and rustic
guardians of the imagination--the primitive Muses of the Bellingham boy.


If a surgical operation brought with it a country lad's holiday, a
funeral may also be reckoned among the events which varied his life, if
not with gaiety, at least with pleasing diversion. As a very young child
I was present at two funerals which for special reasons have impressed
themselves upon my memory. I had heard much of a widowed sister of my
father, supposed to be rich; this proved to be a fable. Her husband had
left the bulk of his estate to foreign missions, and only a bare support
to his wife. As he had acquired his property by selling liquor it was
but natural he should wish to make a restitution in the land of the
heathen. The widow, my aunt, lived to an advanced age. When she died I
accompanied my family to her obsequies. There I met her other young
nephews and nieces besides the children of the neighborhood. We had a
merry time together all day except for the hour of the services. There
was a general feast served for everybody. The children were served at a
second table, but there was a plentiful supply of goodies reserved for
us and no tears to check our appetites. At the table we were told that
our aunt had left us each fifty dollars. I had never heard of, least of
all, seen such a sum of money and I conjectured it was enough to last
the remainder of our lives.

A great deal takes place at a country funeral characteristic of the
kindly as well as the weaker side of rustic men and women. There is much
bustle and subdued cheerfulness mingled with awe; conversation is
carried on in whispers. The chief mourners are permitted to be as
helpless as they please; everything is done for them; they are treated
as automatons. They are arranged in ranks next to the corpse according
to consanguinity. Then come the neighbors and those persons who love to
attend funerals. Children bring up the rear and in the hall and doorway
lean a few men who seem to have no particular relation to the occasion.
The important personage, not excepting the minister, is the volunteer
undertaker, who for some unknown reason, has become the man usually
called upon to officiate at the exercises. He knows his business, and
for an hour feels himself a man of consequence. He is impartial in his
attentions; be the dead old or young, saint or sinner, he is equally
anxious that the ceremonies shall be conducted with proper decency and
order. The rich give him a little more care, as they, perhaps, have
rendered unto their dead a handsomer outfit for their last appearance
and farewell journey; such I think may have been the case when our
distinguished neighbors, the Scammels and Pennimans passed away. When
the minister has concluded his remarks and his prayer, generally in the
most lugubrious words and scriptural phrases he can muster, the man in
charge of the funeral, (for country people knew no such professional
name as undertaker), comes briskly forward, and, with much ceremony,
lifts the lid of the coffin, rearranges some portion of the dress about
the face of the dead, gives a searching glance over the coffin and then
announces: "The friends and all those who desire, may now view the
'remains'". This is the most affecting moment in the ceremony; the last
parting look which wrings the heart of the stoutest, when the women
break down and are led away blinded by their tears. It is then that the
most indifferent spectator pays that beautiful tribute of weeping for
those he may not have loved, nay, hated or despised. All the ill is
forgotten, the good alone remembered. A hearse was hardly known in the
old days. The coffin was placed on a bier of home construction and
carried to the graveyard on the shoulders of four men. The sad funeral
procession followed behind, the mourners walking two and two and the
rear made up of a straggling company of men, women and children. The
minister offered a farewell prayer at the grave, and in summer time, an
appropriate hymn was sung, its appropriateness consisting mostly in its
dismal words and tune. Then the terrible moment arrived, the lowering of
the coffin and the sound of the first earth upon it; for, formerly the
company awaited this last act. This was not the formal dust to dust, a
verbal and figurative act, but some shovelfuls of real earth that for a
few moments rattled and pounded the top of the coffin with a
heart-rending sound. The minister shook hands with the chief mourners,
every one took his way home, the bier was placed under a tree and left
to the elements and to be the plaything of boys until the feet of them,
that await at the door to carry out the dead, are heard again.

The next funeral of which I have a recollection came into my own home.
My father was dead, dead in the prime of his life, his labors and his
hopes. Of this event I recall only two things, being taken from my
playthings under an apple tree to the grave, and the hard pressure of my
hand by my sister as the coffin was lowered. This became in after years
my most pathetic memory as I grew to realize what it meant. In that
grave all our hopes were buried; that I was unconscious of it must have
made the grief of my family only the more poignant. At the same time I
became the object of their greater solicitude and affection, and it was
a miracle that, in a family of women only, I was not spoilt by too much
indulgence. But while my sisters petted and pampered me, my mother's
graver manners and prayers doubtless saved me from being too selfish and
effeminate. Boys, however, owe chiefly to each other their escape from
the apron string and the softness of nursery manners.

How empty now seemed the house whence the dear father had gone forever.
The problems of life offered themselves to my mother and sisters with a
terrible and crushing reality. My sisters were old enough and had
sufficient education to teach the summer terms of district schools. My
mother boarded the winter schoolmaster and planted and cared for her
garden with her own hands. There was a pig in the pen and a flock of
hens in the sod house. Most of my father's tools were sold at public
vendue, which brought in a little ready money. There was straw to be
braided at one and a half, sometimes two cents per yard; in summer
huckleberries were picked and sold for three and four cents a quart.
There was a peddler who made his rounds monthly and always put up for
the night at my mother's house, paying his score with a liberal barter
of such articles as he carried, dry goods, women's shoes and small
wares. Dresses were made over and over, were darned and patched as long
as the cloth would hold the stitches. My father's clothes were cut down
for me and I wore the last of them in my sixteenth year. My straw hats
and winter caps were home-made. Every year a cousin in business in
Woonsocket Falls presented me with a pair of new boots. There was no
want in the household because wants were few and had been reduced to the
last limit. I am sure I never went cold or hungry although I never had a
boughten plaything or any of those delicacies which are more necessary
to children than necessities.

It is in such circumstances that the friendliness of country neighbors
appears in its most beautiful light. There is no thought of almsgiving
on their part, nor a sense of accepting charity on the part of the
recipients. Benevolence and gratitude were not called upon to exchange
compliments. Farmer Bosworth is going our way and leaves a jug of milk;
he stops to chat a while and relight his pipe with a coal from the
hearth. Would you see him do it with a boy's eyes? The tongs are too
long and heavy to bring around to his pipe; but with them he pulls out a
coal of the right size, picks it up between thumb and finger and puts it
into his pipe bowl. I stand close beside him, and although he doesn't
cringe, I do, and almost feel my fingers burn. He winks out of the
corner of his eye at me and says, 'Your old daddy is tough isn't he?'
and shows me the end of his thumb calloused and hard as the knurl of
white oak; only fire could clean it to the original skin. He shakes out
his blue frock for fear of fire in it, and goes his way. There is always
something to spare by those who have more, to those who have less.
Whoever kills a fatted cow or a pig in early winter sends a portion to
the Red House; and a load of wood is left in the night by some farmer
who does not wish his right hand to know what his left doeth. Money is
scarce; but everything else is shared with those in distress or in
sickness. This is so much a matter of course that no one thinks of
credit or reward.

In such ways as I have described were the widow and her fatherless
children saved from destitution or loss of their respectable position in
the little community. I am sure my mother relied with complete trust on
the scriptural promises made to those in her difficult circumstances. If
they were fulfilled by human agencies, that, also, was the doing of the
Divine Director of the affairs of the poor. In those days men and women
were good and simple, obedient, not only unto the commands and examples
of their Bible, but also to the impulses of their own kind hearts.

Yet the household never again felt the highest happiness of domestic
life. A soft and tranquil resignation took its place. They moved about
with a gentler step, speaking in subdued tones, more often not at all.
They had to live out their lives, although it now seemed hardly worth
the struggle. Tears were in their eyes at the table, and one or another
would arise before the meal was half finished. I heard suppressed sobs
as I went to sleep on a truckle-bed beside my mother, who during the day
was more composed than her daughters. Neighbors soon began to call;
there was then a hearty cry in which everybody in the room joined.
Nothing so relieves the pent-up feeling as this, if only a little
sympathy is present, as it were, to receive and consecrate the precious
and sacred tribute of tears.

As for me when I returned from the grave of my father, unconscious of
what had happened, I resumed my interrupted play under the apple tree. I
had never as yet wept for anything except the crossing of my will--April
tears, soon dried.


My mother was a silent woman, seldom speaking unless first addressed,
and she never asked questions of callers beyond what an extreme courtesy
required. I noticed the latter trait when a child, in contrast to the
custom of most people; for to ask questions seemed to be the usual and
almost only manner of carrying on conversation among the neighbors.
Moreover, I was myself pestered beyond endurance by a fire of questions
whenever I went anywhere, or anybody came to us. I inherit from my
mother a great reserve in speech and fondness for silence; and, as the
latter can only be purchased by retirement, I have added to silence a
love of solitude in which I have doubtless too much indulged myself. All
sorts of suppositions follow a man who retires and declines the
ambitions of his contemporaries. By some he is thought a coward or
eccentric; by others he is believed to be a philosopher. Those of a more
indulgent temper guess that delicate health or some disappointment in
love, in business or profession has driven him away from his kind. None
of these solutions hits the marks. And although I have no wish to
relieve myself of responsibility for my course of life, still less to
apologize for it, destiny, in form of a woman, my mother, has directed
my life in spite of reason, the persuasion of friends or the allurements
of the world--the world which inflicts its just penalties upon him who
refrains from becoming an actor, who persists in being a spectator. The
paradox of my nature is that I love my kind as much as I love solitude
and silence. My friendships are now sixty years old. My mother also
enjoyed society although she never sought it. She was easily amused, but
I never heard her laugh aloud; her whole face smiled and it was more
contagious than the outbursts of more demonstrative persons. She
listened apparently with all her senses and faculties. It was this
characteristic I imagine, that, when outward voices were withdrawn, made
possible the turning of an inward ear to the responses of her soul. In
no other way can I account for the fact that without education or
opportunities she became a refined gentle-woman, became intelligent
without books and had an insight and judgment in all matters within her
sphere, much depended upon by her family and acquaintances. She was
feminine to the tips of her fingers, and sympathetic with distress and
misfortune. From her scanty cupboard she fed all who asked for food. She
believed and often said that the loaf which is divided is never
consumed. Wandering beggars knew her door and were never turned away.
But, as her house was small, and without a man, if they asked for
shelter, she sent them to the next neighbor.

Bred in such a quiet atmosphere I was usually very silent in my mother's
presence. When alone on the road, or in the fields, or with my
playthings I talked to myself a great deal; or rather I addressed
inanimate objects as if they were living beings, a habit which still
clings to me, although the voice is no longer needed. My days were full;
I found everywhere enough to keep my feet moving and my hands busy. I
was completely filled and satisfied with the earth just as I found it in
the town of Bellingham. When, however, evening came on and I had to go
into the house, everything shrank to the size of the room. I became
restless and fretful. Having exhausted every amusement which the house
afforded and, however sleepy, unwilling to go to bed, I sat down upon a
cricket at my mother's knee and kept saying, "tell me one little story."

One such evening I recall when the days were growing short and shorter
and the candle was lighted at half past four o'clock. It was a privilege
always granted me to light the candle. If no one happened to be looking
I blew it out for the pleasure of relighting it; for, like other
children I loved to play with fire and the candles and the open hearth
gave me ample opportunities. The bellows and I were intimate and
constant playmates. We played many a trick together; sometimes stealing
up behind one of my sisters and blowing into her ear, or going some
distance away from the candle I made a current of air which would sway
the candle flame, when my mother would exclaim, "how the wind does blow;
some door must be open." Then my titter would reveal the rogue, who was
reminded that it was his bedtime.

But, on the evening to which I have referred, I was a good boy having
expended my naughtiness during the day. There was a still calm
throughout the house and the intense cold had hushed the air over field
and wood. The candle was alight on the three-footed stand and my mother
was counting the stitches in the setting of a new stocking. As usual I
was coaxing for a story. Perhaps it was the red yarn which reminded my
mother of her red cloak, or some sudden flash of tender memories. When
she had fairly started the stocking so that she could knit without
counting or looking at her work she said, "I had a red cloak once; would
you like to hear about it?"

"Oh yes, and tell it long, long, mother."

"I was a little girl then, so the cloak was short, and so the story. Red
was the color I most admired when I was ten years old. It became me, so
I thought, for I was almost as dark skinned as an Indian. Folks called
me Widow Thayer's red-winged blackbird when I wore my cloak, of which I
was very proud. It had no sleeves and came down to my feet and was
closed at the neck with a fastening of silk cord braided in a pretty

"I went to meeting in it all one winter, proud and gay, but never wore it
on any other day except the Sabbath. At the end of winter it was packed
away in a great chest where our winter clothing was kept in summer with
tansy laid among the garments to prevent moths. My red cloak was placed
at the bottom of the chest and I myself spread an unnecessary number of
green tansy sprays over it. I never thought of the cloak again until the
next winter. When it was taken out for me to wear one cold November
Sabbath, what was my grief to see the cloak, as I thought, ruined. The
tansy leaves had printed their exact shapes in a dark brown color all
over the back, which had lain uppermost in the bottom of the chest. The
pressure and the heat had acted like a dye. I cried my eyes red and
would not go to meeting. Every one thought the cloak was spoilt. But one
day the minister's wife called at our house, and the sad tale of the
cloak was related to her, and asking to see it she said, "Why, if it
wasn't pretty before--and I never liked red for little girls--it
certainly is now. It is beautiful with those brown leaves; it looks
almost like a palm-leaf cashmere shawl." Now a palm-leaf cashmere shawl
was the finest and most costly outer garment a woman could possess in
those days. My mother and sisters agreed with the minister's wife, as
her opinion about all women's concerns was as much respected as was her
husband's on religious matters. So I began to wear the cloak again, and
people thought it was a new one, and wondered how my mother could be so
extravagant when she was so poor. But the cloak was much admired and
thought to become me more than the last year's red one. The secret was
not kept long for the minister's wife explained it to someone to free my
mother from the charge of extravagance. Soon everybody knew it and many
inquiries were made how it happened. Some of our neighbor's daughters
even tried to produce the same effects on their dresses and cloaks by
pressing green leaves on them with hot flatirons. But it did not
succeed. You cannot imitate accidents; they just happen once; the next
one is something different. So all the girls envied me my cloak. It
lasted me ten years, for I was not much taller at twenty than at ten."

My mother was silent again and I exclaimed "is that all, mother? Tell
some more, do."

"Stories, my son, must have an end or you would not like them--but there
would never be another. I have heard of a book that had a thousand, but
it took a thousand evenings to tell them. So one an evening ought to be
enough, and it is your bedtime."

Here my youngest sister, Harriet, who was fifteen years old, said,
"Mother, why don't you tell him the other part of the cloak story?"

"Yes, tell it," I entreated.

My mother appeared to be wholly absorbed in her stocking; she had
dropped a stitch and was working her needles painfully, trying to
recover it. A half sad smile, half pleased expression came into her face
and a faint blush upon her brown cheek.

"Well, I suppose the journey I took in the red cloak with the tansy
figures is what your sister wants me to tell you about. My mother, your
grandmother, was a widow. I never saw my own father, for I was born
while he was away fighting in the battles of the Revolution and he never
returned; he was killed at Yorktown. When I was about ten years old my
mother had an offer of marriage from a farmer in Medway who had lost his
wife; his children had grown up, married and settled excepting one son
twenty years old. It was a matter of convenience on both sides; my
mother needed a home and he needed a housekeeper. The marriage took
place in her own house. But she did not go immediately to her new home;
she had a little property to dispose of and other small affairs to
arrange. When she had sold everything but her old white mare she set out
for Medway upon the mare's back, taking me with her on a pillion behind.
It was a day in Spring, and although not cold, I wore my cloak as the
easiest way of carrying it. No doubt it was a queer spectacle we made;
yet, not as queer then as it would seem now--the old white mare ambling
along, head down, and feet hardly clearing the ground under the heavy
load, for your grandmother was a large, stout woman and we had a number
of bags and bundles fastened onto the saddle, and I almost hidden among
them, was quite covered by my cloak so that I might have been mistaken
for another parcel hanging behind my mother's broad back. She wore an
immense bonnet flaring wide in front and big bowed silver spectacles. I
had on a small tightly-fitting bright yellow cap tied under my chin with
blue ribbon. It was not a long journey from Bellingham to Medway, but it
was the first I had ever taken, and it seemed to me it would never end.
I was much subdued and even frightened on the way. It was all so strange
and perplexing to me this marriage of my mother to a strange man, giving
up my childhood home and going to another of which I knew nothing.
Little did I imagine the destiny that awaited me there.

"At last we turned into a long lane and came to a large rambling farm
house with barns all about it. A young man came to the doorstep to meet
us. I was not in the habit of taking much notice of boys and young men,
but I could not help seeing that he was a handsome youth, tall, fair
haired and blue eyed. He helped my mother to dismount, and then lifted
me in his arms from the pillion. That young man, my son, was your
father, and I have heard him say he that moment fell in love with the
little girl in the red cloak. He seemed never so much pleased as when
winter came round and I began to wear it again. He waited and served ten
years for me, and when I was twenty and he thirty we were married. We
went back to Bellingham to be married by my mother's minister, an old
friend. We went on horseback, I on a pillion behind your father just as
I had left the town and wearing still my red cloak, but almost for the
last time, for it was thought no longer suitable for a married woman. It
was hung away in a closet; your father would not have it made over into
any other kind of a garment, as was the thrifty custom of all
households, although I much wanted to make it into a petticoat. Your
father prized it more than any of my newer clothes, and it hung in the
closet for many a year. Sometimes in the long winter evenings when we
would be talking of old times and the ten tedious years of his waiting,
he would make me take out the cloak and parade around the room. It
seemed to make him happy and more affectionate."


As I shall often allude to my Uncle Lyman in these pages, I will sketch
as much of his character and his ways as I can now recall, and that may
interest the reader. He was a farmer of the old style and I love to
remember him. To hear of great men and great events is stimulating, as
even the sound of fire is warming; yet the memory of those who have been
near and dear to us brings a deeper glow into the heart.

Uncle Lyman's farm supplied nearly every one of his needs except what
were called in his day West India goods. He believed with Cato that the
father of a family ought always to sell and never to buy. He strictly
followed his advice in selling his old cattle, his old carts and used up
tools and everything which he did not want. This was why his yards and
buildings were unincumbered with the trumpery which so often disfigures
New England farms. West India goods were the luxuries of his time. These
goods were chiefly rum, sugar and molasses. Tea and spices were even
greater luxuries. The strange marks on tea chests were a cipher no one
had unravelled. On his farm were raised corn, wheat and always rye, for
rye and not wheat was in Bellingham the staff of life. Eggs, cheese,
butter and pork were bartered at the country stores for West India
goods. Work, incessant work was the prime necessity on the farm and in
the house, and Uncle Lyman and his wife never knew an idle day. This
fixed upon him a serious and preoccupied air. He began the day early and
left off late. The sun was his fellow traveller and laborer to and fro
in the furrow, the corn rows and the swath. But it was hard for him to
leave his work at sundown; darkness alone sometimes compelled him to
quit the field. After supper, which was at five o'clock, the year round,
is half and the better half of the day in summer, he used to say. Our
Bellingham neighbors were humble, hard working people, but they taught
me "the great art of cheerful poverty." I was early cured of several
follies by standing under the shadow of rustic wise men. I drove their
oxen to the plow, and often fell behind alongside the ploughman and
picked up the scattered seeds of old, traditional wisdom in his furrows.
With these the sagacious urchin sometimes astonished his little mother.
Visitors, a cloudy day, a gentle rain did not prevent Uncle Lyman from
his labors. "Let us keep ahead of the weather," he would say, "and then
we can go a-fishing." No weeds grew in his corn or rye; and his made hay
seldom was wet. He scented a shower from as far away as the Mendon
hills. He first taught me to notice the sweet perfume which a summer
shower drives before it from afar, the combined perfume of wild flowers,
trees and new mown grass.

There was always the promise held out that, after haying or the first
hoeing, we should go a-fishing on Beaver Pond, and sometimes the promise
was kept. He was a masterful trailer for pickerel; he put into it the
same energy as into his axe and scythe. In the same way that I was
allowed to drive his mare Nancy by holding the slack of the reins, did I
have my part in the fishing excursions. I held a line over the edge of
the boat until the fish bit, then another hand took it and drew it in.
Perch or pout it was mine, and credit and praise were duly given. "What
a smart boy!" words that made me more proud than any commendations I
have heard since. When they were cooked I wanted my own catch to eat and
was humored. And in general that is the boy's disposition; whatever he
captures or finds on trees or on the earth he wishes to eat. No doubt a
green apple and the buds of trees, and all kinds of sweet or peppery
roots give him that wild and strenuous virtue which enables him to
resist pampering and effeminating influences.

Although Uncle Lyman seldom allowed himself a holiday, I believe he
enjoyed it as much as I did. He was simply an older boy; that was the
secret of our sympathy and my admiration for him. He knew so many more
things than I, could do so many more, yet when with me, all in a playful
way as if they were of no account, and only for fun. He was my model and
my ideal of a man in everything that made for me the world. I felt an
inward, irresistible impulsion to do all that he did, just as we are
inclined to beat time to the music that we love. Thus was I taught to
labor and enslaved to it before I knew it; for a boy wants to do what he
sees men do; he must handle the hoe, the rake, the axe and the scythe,
and these are often made to suit his size and strength in order to tempt
him still further on. Thus does he forge his own chains; he is caught in
his own net and his plaything tools become his masters. Now he must mow
and hoe in earnest, however hot the sun, however much he hates to work.
Yet I have never felt any distinction between work and play when the
former was to my liking.

Uncle Lyman's wisdom had been handed down to him by his fathers, and he
had improved it by observation. He added a new touch to the wrinkled
face of ancient use. He knew the properties of all trees, weeds and
herbs. Ash and hornbeam were his most precious woods. Ash served every
purpose this side of iron; it was as good as a rope, for was not the
Gordion knot tied with it? and could be whittled down as fine as a
knitting needle without breaking, and still keeping its strength; it
could be pounded into basket stuff, separating the layers to almost any
degree of thinness. It handled every tool, from a pitchfork to an awl,
and made the whole of a rake, the bows, teeth, head and staff. Besides,
it had medicinal virtues; it was good for nose-bleed ever since it
staunched the royal nose of King James, the Second. Although the most
elastic of wood it never grew crooked, but shot up a trunk as straight
as an arrow. It is a tree prophetic of archery. Uncle Lyman made me many
a bow from a selected piece of ash, each year of my age a little longer
and stouter. He measured the length the bow should be by my height. What
a joy it was at length to shoot an arrow almost out of sight! "Now",
said Uncle Lyman, "you are almost big enough for a gun". Alas, I might
as well have wished for a kingdom. A wooden gun for awhile satisfied my
ambition. With that, however, I shot many an Indian, and the little boys
and girls who teased and provoked me. But I soon tired of these
imaginary foes and marksmanship. With bow and arrow I could hit the
trunk of a tree, the house door, and by accident a pane of glass. Best
of all I liked to shoot over Uncle Lyman's dooryard elm, or try for the
clouds. Often I lost my arrow in them; so I bragged and believed.

The hornbeam was much less common than the ash and was saved with
particular care. It was mainly used for stanchions in the tie-ups of
cows and oxen, for stakes on sleds and carts, and for levers. It is not
easily bent and is almost impossible to break; it is the steel of the
forest. Its foliage resembles that of the elm, but is finer and denser.
It has no insect enemies and minds not the fiercest tempests. Uncle
Lyman said only lightning could rive it, that the hornbeam drew fire
from the clouds, and one should never go near it in a thunder storm.
This was only when it was alive.

His various speculations about natural objects and phenomena, were
always in the way of contraries and offsets. Good weather was enough to
ensure forthcoming bad; a full crop this year meant a poor one next
year. If every kernel of corn sprouted, look out for plenty of crows and
a poor yield. Thus he comforted himself in every reverse and humbled
himself in good fortune. In good years he was more saving, and in bad,
less so than most of his neighbors. Now he had a fear ahead and now a
hope. Thus he balanced both; yet the balance so inclined that the years
increased his store, and thrift, industry and honesty brought him honor
among his neighbors. He helped the widow and the orphan and loaned money
without a mortgage. His debts and credits were obligations of honor; as
he paid, so he was paid.

Uncle Lyman admired trees as the most wonderful things that God had made
grow out of the earth. He could hardly bring himself to chop them down.
The crash of a falling tree which gave me the most intense delight, made
him sorrowful. He stood awhile over it as over the corpse of an old
friend. He had known it for many a year, had noted its growth from a
sapling to a tree as old as himself. Like the old man of Verona,

    "A neighboring wood, born with himself, he sees,
    And loves his old contemporary trees".

The trees I loved and played with most in my boyhood, the white birches,
for which I still have more fondness than any other in our northern
forests, Uncle Lyman cared for not at all. Although he had a sense of
beauty, and long association with an object affected him with a tinge of
romance and secret sentiment, yet utility was the chief criterion in his
estimate of trees and men. Could you do a good day's work, it was
enough; it filled the measure of a man and the promise of a boy. A
useful tree was therefore the best tree. He had no use for white or gray
birches, for they were neither timber nor vendible firewood. He often
ridiculed them, and if there was a worthless fellow in town, he was, in
his comparison, a gray birch, good for nothing but to hoop the cider
barrels, of which the fellow was too fond; if a too gay girl, she was a
white birch, dressed in satin, frizzled and beribboned, dress over dress
of the same stuff to her innermost petticoat. He saw no good in the
birch except for the backs of naughty boys. I now know a hundred uses
for the birch, unsuspected by him. He had never heard of peg and spool
and bobbin mills, nor of the mountain poet who makes his own birch bark
books, on whose leaves he inscribes his simple songs--and, envied man,
is able to sell them.

But all these useful, playful and poetic uses are nothing to me in
comparison to the birchen bower wherein I spent entrancing summer days
with Launa Probana.

Having been my father's most intimate friend, when he died in the midst
of his years, he became my mother's adviser and helper, and to me a
second father. I loved him well, and I believe he reciprocated this
boyish affection. His eyes twinkled and the wrinkles on his
weather-beaten face ran together when I approached him in the field, or
when we talked together beside the hearth fire or under the elm tree
when the day's work was done. For some reason I cannot now fathom,
unless it were the ambitious desire to put myself on a footing with his
years and wisdom, I would assume with him an unnatural gravity. My
wisdom consisted in asking him questions, any that happened to come into
my head. I took for granted that he knew everything. Had he not been to
Boston, and more than once? Yet little would he say about that town. He
liked much better to talk of places he had never seen, especially London
and London Bridge. I only learned that people in Boston dressed every
day in the week in their best clothes; that was what made the deepest
impression upon me; for our best clothes hung in the closet until
Sunday. Uncle Lyman and I went barefooted and shirtsleeved all summer.
He never had a linen shirt or collar; but how fine he looked in a snowy
white cotton shirt and broad collar, a blue coat and tall bell-shaped
hat, a hat he had worn all his life on the Sabbath and at funerals. Nor
do I think he had, during his manhood, more than one best suit of
clothing. In winter he always wore a long woolen frock made by his wife,
and a cap of woodchuck skin. Folks said it was like to be a hard winter
when he put on his overcoat. His complexion was as dark as an Indian's;
eyes as black as night, and he had straight raven hair. He used much
tobacco, always a quid in his mouth except when it was a pipe. He mostly
refrained on the Sabbath until the evening when a long quiet smoke
compensated him for abstinence during two sermons. His voice was rich
and seemed to come from deep down in his chest. When he was a bit
puzzled, he scratched his head with one finger. He was scrupulously neat
in his person and orderly in his yard and buildings. No chips, no
broken-down carts nor tools disfigured his premises. His was almost the
only barn of a working farmer I ever saw that was kept clean and
neat--except my own. He did not belong to any church; but he had a whole
pew in the body of the meeting-house and contributed his full share to
the support of the Gospel. Moreover he gave of the produce of his farm
every year something to the minister's woodshed or cellar. I never heard
him but once make any comment on the sermons he had heard, which were
more than five thousand according to his figures. "My boy", he said to
me one Sunday evening, "if you should ever be a parson, try to make your
sermons different every time. It seems to me as though I had heard the
same sermon all my life". On the Sabbath day, after the chores were
done, there were shaving and dressing, the fires to be put out and the
windows to be made fast with a button or a nail. Then the carryall was
brought out, a high narrow vehicle difficult to get into, and still more
difficult to get out of. The mare, Nancy, was called white, but she had
patches of brown along her expansive sides and was, with much effort,
squeezed between the fills, and the straps made tight in their buckles.
Nancy winced at this tightening. She did not like her Sunday harness
which had grown hard and stiff from infrequent use and too small, having
been made for her when she was younger. I also felt most uncomfortable
in my good clothes, which were ever outgrown and held me like a
corselet. At last the house door was locked and we drove the two miles
to the church, silent and serious as became our Sunday clothes and our
equipage. We felt strange to ourselves and not at ease. When the meeting
was over I had a sudden overpowering revulsion in my spirits. I wanted
to shout, to run, to jump over something and a hitching post as high as
my head offered the nearest opportunity. I forgot the Sunday school
lesson in a moment; I had not understood a word of it. On the way home
we became very cheerful. There was comment on the wayside farms and
gossip of the doings of the neighbors. We compared the height of their
corn with our own field, and always found it a little less than ours. A
heavy load of something seemed lifted from our hearts on returning from
meeting. Uncle Lyman slyly put his quid back into his mouth which at
once made him happier. There was a faint remonstrance from the back
seat, which he pretended not to hear; or he would rejoin, "mother, have
you munched all those caraway seeds you took along to meeting?" My
driving on the way home was much like the illusion which follows us
through life. Hands in front of ours direct our actions and our affairs.
We hold but the slack of the reins, and the driven imagines himself the
driver. There was a short whip in the socket, which was never taken out
in the summer, and in sleighing disappeared altogether; it was only
ornamental. "Hudup" and a flap of the reins were enough for the
encouragement of Nancy. A switch of her tail and a laying back of her
ears showed that she understood. If a letter must be written, it was
done after meeting. Uncle Lyman seldom touched pen and paper except when
an item was to be set down in his account book. Paper was scarce and
costly and postage six good cents; and the pen, a quill, was usually
dried up, and the nib opened too wide to hold the ink, and had to be
soaked a good while before it would write. There was always some excuse
for not answering a letter. But nothing pleased him more than to receive
one. It was read slowly and with great attention, stuck behind the clock
and reread for a week. The Sabbath ended with an early supper and early
sleep, for Monday was always a busy day. Corn and potatoes did not rest
on the Sabbath, neither did weeds.

At last for Uncle Lyman there came the eternal Sabbath day. He lifted
the latch of his house door for the last time, smoked his last pipe, and
laid down willingly to sleep. Other feet now traverse his lands; there
is new paint over the ancient red house walls, and new labor saving
tools; they and hired menials do the work, but no more than his two
hands in proud industrious independence were wont to accomplish. He is
forgotten by those who now possess what he made worth possessing. But I
have not forgotten him, and little do the present owners of his houses
and lands imagine that there is a title back of theirs, registered in
the court of memory which no mere occupation and ownership can


    How pleasant o'er the still autumnal vale
      From his great timbered barn's wide open door
    The muffled sound of his unresting flail
      In rhythmic swing upon the threshing floor!

    How straight their tasselled tops his corn upreared!
      Straight were the rows, no weed dared raise its head;
    How golden gleamed their opening sheaths well eared
      Whose inner husks stuffed out his bulging bed!

    Full many a field of dewy grass breast-high
      His long sharp scythe ere breakfast time did lay;
    Full many a hurrying shower came by,
      But to the mow still faster went the hay.

    To him as inward fires were ice and snow,
      They urged his pulse with warm vivacious blood;
    How made his furrowed cheeks in winter glow
      With ruddy health and iron hardihood!

    Superfluous to him was coat or vest,
      Let blow hot or cold or stormiest weather;
    He, as his hardy fathers, liked the best
      His shirt sleeves free and brimless cap of leather.

    Few were his books, his learning was but small;
      He boasted not of thoughts beyond his speech;
    Some few and simple maxims bounded all
      That he had learned, or wished to teach.

    He loved his home, his farm, his native town;
      These were the walls his happy world confined;
    And heaven with unaccustomed joy looked down
      To see fulfilled a life itself designed.

    Sadly his neighbors bore him to his grave
      Beneath the old perpetual mourning pine,
    Where honest tears and praise they duly gave,
      For all he was, the immemorial sign.


There was trouble enough in Bellingham in 1840. The sleepy old town in
its previous existence had never felt a ripple of excitement more moving
than a sewing bee, a travelling phrenologist or temperance lecturer, a
summer picnic or a winter revival. Now it was invaded on one hand by
Millerism and on the other by the Dorr War. The seat of the latter was
in Rhode Island; but Bellingham, being a border town, was in danger of a
raid. The Dorrites did, in fact, advance as far as Crook's Tavern on the
southern boundary of the town, where, having drunk up what rum they
could find, and hearing that the other tavern in the center of the town
was kept on teetotal principles, they at once retreated. Not, however,
before an alarm had been rung out by the church bell and the militia
company called to arms. Great was the fright of the women and children.
There was no sleeping in any house, no working and little eating for
several days. My mother took her family to the top of a neighboring hill
to reconnoitre and was prepared to run for the woods in case the enemy
appeared. She was in great distress, having no man to care for and
protect her little brood. She was a small, delicate and timid woman,
extremely unfitted to play the heroine, and only used to suffering,
which she bore like a saint. On the contrary I aged seven, armed with a
long fishpole, threatened the advance of the rebels, and was eager to
have them come on. I did not go far from my mother and sisters however.
I enjoyed the situation, for I loved danger, with plenty of protection
and means of escape. I loved fire, deep and threatening water, the roofs
of houses, high, dangerous places, thin ice and a bull in the pasture.
These tempted me to trials of boyish bravery. At heart, a little coward,
I brandished my fishpole and clung to my mother's dress. We could see
our soldiers with their high hats surmounted by pompons, parading in
front of the town house and could hear the snare drum beat the time of
their movement. Nothing came of the affair beyond great excitement and
town talk. The Dorrites retreated to Smithfield, the militia men went
back to their farms and the town was saved. I was terribly disappointed,
and the succeeding days were too flat and dull to be endured. I got
through them by playing at soldiering for the remainder of the summer,
making forts and wooden guns and gay uniforms out of bright bits of
calico, cocked hats of paper stuck full of cock tail feathers. I had
also a long-handled lance which had come down in the family from
Revolutionary times with which I charged the woodpile and the hen house,
made of sods, at an angle in the orchard wall. Through this I thrust so
fiercely one day that I killed our only rooster, to the consternation of
my mother and sisters. As I was much in need of more tail feathers for
my military hat, it did not seem to me such a tragedy. I was punished by
not getting the drumstick and wishing bone when he was cooked, and the
tail feathers, to my chagrin, were made into a hearth duster.

The Dorr Rebellion was not long past when the terrifying prophecies of
Rev. William Miller began to be preached. He had figured out by Biblical
and historical dates that the world was to last six thousand years, and
that era would be reached about 1843. The Dorr scare was a trifle
compared to the panic which now seized upon many people in the country
towns of New England. Even those who disbelieved or scoffed could not
conceal their dread. It sobered everybody and banished all joy and
gaiety. A sad expectancy and presentiment of impending disaster
oppressed whole communities. Church members and serious minded persons
thought it as well to be prepared and to be on the safe side, in case
the end should come. Revivals were going on everywhere and the churches
were refilled. What impression did this talk and excitement make on
children? I can say for one that I enjoyed it almost as much as the Dorr
War. I comprehended nothing of what it meant. I never thought of
anything happening to myself, to the house or my dog and kites. The
general agitation filled me inwardly with a lively joy; the danger
seemed to threaten only our neighbors, that is, such as were Millerites.
I reasoned that they and their houses would somehow disappear while we
should remain. So every morning I climbed a little hill to see if
Sylvanus White's house was standing. He was the leading believer in the
end of the world among our neighbors, a prosperous farmer living in a
large, frame house. I heard my mother say that he had no children, and
it did not make much difference to him what happened. I pondered this
remark of my mother trying to think what she meant. I got no farther
than the curious conclusion that all the Millerites were grown up people
without children, and, by a natural deduction, that my mother and
sisters and myself were safe from the end of the world. But I was not
altogether satisfied. In my heart, so much did I delight in having
something going on, that I wanted to see the great event, which I
pictured to myself, remembering the words, flame, smoke and thunder, as
something like the mimic Indian fights I had once seen represented on
the annual training day of the militia men; only this promised to be on
a grander scale.

It is well known that children play at death and funerals without
sorrow; so I played the destruction of the world with great delight. I
made my world of small boxes for houses, one over the other, and on top
of all, a crippled kite which represented Farmer White, as I had heard
that he had prepared a white robe in which to ascend. I wanted of course
some people in my doomed world besides Farmer White. I manufactured
quite an assemblage out of one thing and another and gave them names,
mostly of older boys whom I disliked, my Sunday-school teacher, who gave
me a bad half hour every week, and my uncle Slocomb who was always
telling my mother I would never be a man if she did not stop indulging
me so much. I added a few pretended animals of corn cobs, a dead snake,
a live frog; and, as these did not seem the real thing, I tied my dog
and cat and a lame chicken close to the sacrificial heap. I surrounded
the whole with sticks, paper and pine cones and then came the exciting
moment when I "touched her off," as boys say. What fun, what glee I
experienced at that moment, no one can know, who does not keep in his
bosom a fragment of his boyish heart. Creation may please the gods, but
it cannot equal the boy's pleasure in destruction, especially by fire. I
only needed a few spectators and I soon had them. The flames began to
singe the dog and cat, and fricassee the chicken. Their howling and
screaming brought the family upon the scene, and none too soon to save
the lives of my pets. I was shut in a dark closet on bread and water for
the remainder of the day and left to meditate, as my mother charged me,
when I confessed my intentions, on "the naughtiness of mocking serious
things." Thus did I innocently anticipate in my own person that _dies
irae_ which I had prepared for my imaginary town. I took no further
interest in Millerism and in neighbor White's big house and ascension
robe. After this I made new and less destructible worlds which continue
to this day.

But the delusion did not expire by my neglect. It is still cherished as
the candid faith of many readers of scriptural oracles. And now they are
comforted by the astronomers who terrify us with their calculations on
the inexorable cataclysm impending over our trusty and splendid earth.
Never mind; we shall not be at the exit. To the vast future belong all
these disconcerting predictions--and welcome. Time has already inscribed
our urns, and, without mathematics, appointed for each one his separate
and appropriate catastrophe. We who have lived fifteen lustrums have
already witnessed the dissolution of our world. What more could the Rev.
William Miller do for us?


There are many matters in the recollections of our earliest years so
minute that to speak of them is only becoming to second childhood. "The
soul discovers great things from casual circumstances", says Porphory.
Providence provides temporary bridges through life which commonly fall
to pieces after we pass over them and are forgotten. It is not so with
me; one bridge remains whole and more beautified by time--that on which
I return to my native town. I require no daylight or lantern for the
journey. Some men can number their happy days; I more often count my
happy nights, when I soothe myself to repose by recalling the sweet and
tender joys of childhood. I travel the roads and pastures or wade the
brook hand in hand with Launa Probana.

There was no gate out of Bellingham in my childhood. Its confines I
never thought to question, or to suspect that there was anything beyond.
It had its own sun, moon and stars, its river, its pond, its pastures
and woods as full of interests and resources and as exhilarating as any
place discovered later on the map of the world. This concentration and
limitation give to children experiences and illusions which color the
whole subsequent life. They are implicit in that soil where we find the
roots of our being. They are what make us good citizens, steadfast
friends, true lovers, observers of nature, disciples of the poets. They,
whose early life is diffused over too many objects, with too many
opportunities, have only a temporary and incomplete hold and delight in
any of the advantages of their superior fortune. What is the good of
however large a circle, if it have no center?

The lean and hungry pastures of Bellingham were prolific in
inexhaustible harvests; what they bore on their surface may hint of
something deeper and more perennial. The pastures and borders of the
woods were covered with patches of huckleberry and blue-berry bushes,
and over every stone heap clambered the low blackberry vines with
racemes of luscious fruit. The pastures were named from one or the other
of these berries, and their owners never claimed private right to them.
To put up the bars as we entered and left the field, was the only
obligation expected of us. Seldom were they taken down; the women
crawled through, the boys leaped over, the small girls squeezed in
between the posts and the wall. Our forefathers left the turnstile
behind them in their English meadows, but not the short-cut from house
to house, from field to field or from village to village. There is
always a shorter way than the crowd travels. Boys and animals, those
untaught explorers and surveyors, are the first to find it. Once within
the pasture, a hundred short paths led hither and thither wherein grew a
little low, sweet grass which the red cows grazed and sheep nibbled; and
as they sauntered along they paid behind for their food in front. Then a
warning voice would be raised telling us to be careful where we stepped.
In these mazy pathways we were always returning upon our tracks and
finding the bushes we had already stripped. Children were crying out to
each other that the bottom of their pails was covered, or that they had
a pint or quart, and generally as many went into the mouth as into the
pail. The days when we went berrying were holidays, although the berries
were picked for market and added a mite to the year's supply of silver
money. Bank bills and gold we never saw, only silver and copper, and of
these, silver was the money of men and women and huge copper cents and
half cents of boys. I can remember a time when one cent was riches
unspeakable, treasured for months and often displayed in triumph to
penniless companions. Poor indeed are they who have never known the day
of small things and the size of a cent. It is said money is only good
for what it will buy, and the miser who hoards is the scoff of mankind.
I must have been a descendant of Shylock for I loved cents for
themselves and the feeling of importance they gave me. I polished them
until they shone like gold and the face of the Father of his Country
gleamed with irridescent benignity. Some were hopelessly worn and
battered; some had a hole in them or a piece nicked out of the rim.
These I exchanged with my mother for more perfect ones which I could

For children, berrying was play, pure pastime; it brought no money to
their pockets. For the first hour it was infinitely exciting; by the
next, we wanted something else, and it was difficult to keep us in
order. What to do next is an eternal question that has followed both
children and man from Eden. It is usually resolved by doing the same
thing over again.

A little boy once sat discontentedly on the bank of a river. A traveller
asked him what was the matter. He answered "I want to be on the other
side of the stream." "What for?" inquired the traveller. "So that I
could come back here," said the restless boy.

To hide and play games was one means of escape from the fatigue of the
slow filling berry pails. Then such quiet fell over the pasture that our
elders knew some mischief was afoot. We were promptly discovered,
scolded and warned that we must fill our pails before we could play.

As milking time approached we gathered up stray hats, aprons and
handkerchiefs and prepared to go home. We painted each others' cheeks
with the red blood of huckleberries and crowned our heads with leaves of
the birch and oak, stalks of indigo weed or broad fern fronds that hung
down over the face like green veils. Thus freaked and marked, walking in
single file, our mothers and elder sisters behind us, shouting, leaping
and laughing, we presented something as near a Bacchic procession as
could be found in a community enshrouded in the black cloak of John
Calvin. What a good time it was to be alive, and never is a boy so young
as in the berry pasture, nor any place so full of enchantments. She--for
it was never a boy--who had picked the most berries that day, headed the
band and was a proud and envied person. Our elders cherished this
emulation. I was always thinking that the next time we went berrying, I
should try for the head of the procession; but the fun was too much for
me; I could not hold to my resolution above a half hour; I was
excessively fond of praise but averse to the ways of meriting it. The
only long word I brought away from childhood was approbativeness. I
never used the word, nor knew its meaning, and, least of all, could have
pronounced it. I heard it once only, together with another word, editor,
which I understood as little, from the lips of a travelling
phrenologist. It happened that my mother lodged and fed him for a night
and he paid his score by examining the heads of all the family. I was
greatly impressed when he remarked that I had a large bump of
approbativeness and would sometime be an editor. As to the bump, feeling
over my own head, I never could find it. My mother said it was inside
and that the phrenologist meant I must be a good boy. I was quite used
to that interpretation of everything concerning myself. A great many
years after, when I became editor of an obscure newspaper, so little
comfort, reputation or profit did I find in it, that I amused myself in
thinking of it as the fulfillment of the phrenologist's prophecy.

The Bacchic procession dropped its members here and there along the road
and we got to our own cottage tired, sunburnt and hungry. We ate our
suppers of berries and milk out of pewter porringers with pewter spoons
and went to bed at dark. The next day we fed on berry pies, and all the
neighborhood during the berry season bore the marks of pies in blackened
teeth and lips, except a few fastidious young women who cleaned theirs
with vinegar. Tooth brushes were as unknown as rouge and powder. Every
Saturday night the children were scrubbed in a wash tub in front of the
fire place in winter, and at the door in summer. During the session of
school my mother washed my ears and face every day, pinned my collar,
kissed me, and always her tedious parting injunction was, mind your
teacher, study your lesson and be a good boy. Then away with flying feet
I overtake my companions, whom no sooner met, than we loitered along the
road, hand in hand, or arms around another's neck, merry and playful,
quite unmindful of nine o'clock and the hateful lesson. There were no
precocious and wonderful children in our red school house. Even I did
not begin to write poetry until I was eighteen or nineteen! The only
literary prodigy among our neighbors was a maiden lady who wrote
obituary verses on the death of her pious friends.

The berry season lasted several weeks, and toward its close prudent
housewives dried some for winter use or preserved them in molasses. The
last we gathered were the swamp, or high-bush blueberries. These had a
sub-acid, delicious flavor, not unlike the smell of the swamp pink, which
grew in the same spot. The black raspberry, which we called thimble
berry, was found along the stone walls, but was not abundant. I knew a
few bushes and kept it secret, for if I found a saucerful I was sure of
a small pie baked by my mother, and all my own. If I could not find
enough for a pie I strung such as I gathered on long spears of grass. As
they were shaped like little thimbles, I fitted them on the grass stems
one over the other like a nest of cups, reversing them at intervals, to
make a pattern, which showed the young savage, generally intent only on
something to eat or to play with, to have a slight artistic instinct. As
I now recall those strings of thimble berries, I think they would make
an humble ornamental border to a picture of a New England roadside with
its crooked and tumbled stone walls. No road to me is attractive that is
not bounded by such walls and fringed with berry bushes, brush and wild
apple trees, from among which peer forth the cymes of the wayfaring bush
and sweet scented clusters of the traveller's joy. Let England have her
trim, hawthorne lanes and pleached gardens of fruit and flower, and
Italy her olive and orange; for me the New England wilding roadside,
interrupted only now and then by a farmhouse and littered yard, is

I have not yet mentioned other berries that used to make a country boy's
life so full of interest. There was the cranberry, not yet exploited by
cultivation and proprietorship. In Bellingham the cranberry meadows were
still wild and free. The farmer who claimed an exclusive right to them
had no standing in the community and was universally denounced as mean
and stingy. No one wanted many, as they were not bought at country
stores, and, required as much sugar in the cooking as there were
berries; so cranberry sauce was a luxury rarely indulged. Like most wild
fruits they were never picked clean. When the spring thaws flooded the
meadows and washed them in windrows on the shore we gathered them to eat
raw and also for paint. Having been frozen and a little sweetened in
their winter and watery wanderings, we found them more palatable than
when cooked. I know not why, yet a country boy prefers the raw and wild
flavor far more than the condiments and seasonings of cookery. The chief
use of the spring cranberries was as a paint; the thin juice made a
pretty, pink color on white paper, or added an admirable touch to a
russet, red cheek, such as commonly beautified Bellingham boys and
girls, nurtured on milk, apples and brown bread, open air and unfinished
attic chambers.

I dwell much on the recollections of the doings of the day, but the
nights had also their joys, none greater than the rain on the roof and
the exquisite, semi-conscious moments when sleep began to overtake body
and soul, gently extinguishing them in a soothing, delicious languor.
The low country attic is the true house of dreams, where the good, the
strange or the fearful spirits play over the subjected and helpless
will. Long time I remembered some of those dreams which visited my
truckle bed, placed on rollers a foot from the floor and thrice as many
from the ridge pole. In winter, tightly tucked in by a loving mother,
the cold without only made me feel the more snug and warm within. The
snow sifted through the chinks in the loose shingles, making little
white hillocks on the floor, and often I found enough on my pillow in
the morning to press into a snowball and pelt my sister, who slept at
the other end of the attic.

I follow no order in my narrative: I wander; but how can one go far in
the small and circumscribed region of earliest memories, bound each to
each by some inwardly felt affinity, which neither time nor world
wanderings can dissever? One thing suggests another and the connection
must be found in the things themselves. Cranberry picking carried me
forward into springtime; now I return to the autumn, the harvest season,
when although not old enough to dig my mother's small patch of potatoes,
I could pick them up in a basket. She herself handled the hoe uncovering
the long reds and the white Chenangos. I liked better to shake down
apples than to gather things from the ground; for to climb trees is as
much a boy's as a monkey's instinct. That was my first thought when I
happened to observe any kind of tree, could I climb it? The wild grapes
which grew in profusion along the banks of our river clambering over the
tall grey birches gave me glorious opportunities for climbing, as the
sweetest and largest clusters were always at the very top of the trees.
The limbs of the grey birch, although small, are very elastic and tough,
making a sure footing for the climber. The danger was, that, as he
approached the slender spire of the tree, it would suddenly bend or
break and drop him into the water. This was all the more fun, if he
could swim. When he reached home he was liable to have his jacket not
only dried but "warmed," which was the colloquial for a thrashing. I
usually sold grapes enough during the day of the Fall militia training
to keep me in pocket money through the winter. This was my first effort
at any kind of trading and, I think, spoilt me for a commercial career;
for there was no cost, no capital, no loss; all was profit; and ever
since that day it has seemed to me the only manner of doing business
worth while. There are, or were, other compensations in a life of trade,
which might fire the ambition of a strenuous youth. I remember three
voyages made the merchant a Thane in ancient England.

When frost began to brown the grass and brighten the trees, the woods
were full of boys, partridges and squirrels. The boys and squirrels,
much alike in their appetites and ability to climb trees, were intent on
gathering a store of nuts for winter. In early morning after a sharp
frost, the chestnut burrs opened and the nuts dropped out, falling and
hiding among the leaves. There we hunted for them; the squirrels did not
appear to have to hunt, but put their intelligent paws under the leaves
with an infallible instinct. They were always on the ground earlier than
we, and filled their cheeks before we had filled our bags and pockets.
What extraordinary care the chestnut takes of herself; a rough outer
garment bristling with sharp needles, and within, the whitest, silkiest
lining fit for the cradle of a baby queen. To prevent accidents and a
more easy delivery from the burr, the nut is annointed with a slight
exudation of oil, which gives a soft, agreeable feeling as you hold it
in your hand. Doubtless it acts as a preservative also keeping the nut
from becoming too soon dry and hard. Chestnuts were laid away for future
use, to be brought out on winter evenings with cider and apples. Nobody
thought of going to bed without first eating something. Sometimes the
chestnuts were roasted in the ashes on the hearth, and less often
boiled. Of all places to warm them, a boy's pocket was the best; there
they were handiest to eat on the road, or at school, when the teacher
was not looking. If caught in the act, you were called up to her desk
and forfeited the contents of your pocket. It might be returned to you
if you had behaved yourself meanwhile and had not whispered, thrown spit
balls, or pinched the little girl who sat next to you. There were two
kinds of walnut trees in the neighborhood; the common name of one was
shagbark, of the other pignut. The shagbark was the walnut of the
market, a nut with a rich, oily kernel; the pignut was smaller with a
very thick shell and correspondingly small meat, hard to separate from
the shell. They were of little worth, not salable and we gathered them
only when the other kind was scarce. It took a hard frost, several times
repeated, to loosen them from the tree. We often clubbed them down. It
was a perilous undertaking to climb a walnut tree, for the limbs began
to grow high up and the trunk was covered with a rough bark, hence the
name shagbark; to shin up, and still more to descend, was apt to make
patches or a new seat to your trousers your mother's evening work after
you had gone to bed. Where grew anything good to eat and free to all, a
boy was sure to have it, although it cost him subsequent patches,
whippings and tears. Shall the squirrel hunt for nuts and the little
sons of men be forbidden, just to save a new pair of breeches, or an old
jacket? But the woes of country boyhood are naught in comparison to its
joys, and a day in a berry field, or a morning among the chestnut trees,
under the blue sky and a west wind, with merry companions, is a memory
that outshines all the purchased pleasures of later life. Confess to me,
ye humble and trivial things, confess what charms were yours, which
never the flood of years submerges. Alas, they have no speech. I hear
but a strain of imperishable music.



It was thought best in New England country towns that boys, who were not
needed on the farm and were not to be educated beyond the common school,
should learn some trade. As my mother possessed no land nor any means to
send me to academy and college, it was early decided to apprentice me to
a trade with some good master. There was another reason; she did not
feel able nor competent to manage me when I should be older. She had a
presentiment that it would require a stronger hand than her own gentle
one to guide me in a straight path. Always after the death of her
husband, her only means of meeting her difficulties and perplexities was
by prayer. Three times each day, after the morning, noon and evening
meals she retired to her own chamber to pray. She read none but
religious books and the Bible. Her Bible was the wedding gift of her
husband--that and one silver spoon marked with his and her initials J.
A. and E. T. intertwined after the manner of silversmiths. My father
appears to have been the owner of but one book, Cotton Mather's, "Essays
to do Good," which I still possess and, alas, could never read through.
Of course the title of the volume at the date of its republication,
1808, had been greatly reduced. No Mather would be satisfied with a
title much less expansive than the contents, nor wanting some Latin
interlardings. The original title was "Benifacias," followed by ten
lines of sub-titles. This was unusual reserve for one of Cotton Mather's
productions. In its day it was as popular as is the worst novel of ours,
and was continually being republished. Even Dr. Franklin read and
praised it and professed that it had influenced his whole life. The
preface is a fine specimen of the manner in which a popular Boston
preacher at the beginning of the eighteenth century expressed himself
when he appeared in print. It has all the airs and attudinizing of a
full dress ball-room. He says that a passage in the speech of a British
envoy suggested the book and declares of it, "Ink were too vile a liquor
to write that passage. Letters of gold were too mean to be the
preservers of it. Paper of Amyanthus would not be precious and perennous
enough to perpetuate it."

A prayerful mother, the Bible and the Rev. Cotton Mather ought to have
been sufficient to turn out good boys from any household. Then there was
Sunday-school where we were much instructed about the nature and
consequences of sin and the end that awaited bad boys. Notwithstanding,
some closer and more practical guidance was needed for a growing lad;
something to put him in the way of preparing to earn his living.
Accordingly in my eighth year I was turned over to an uncle, my father's
only brother, who lived in the next town. He was a boot maker with four
sons of his own. At once I found myself cut off from all the objects and
persons I had ever known, thrown into a strange world, my own lost as
completely as if I had gone to another. I found myself introduced to a
small room up a flight of stairs at the end of the shed of my uncle's
house. The room was full of windows, all of which looked in the
direction of my lost home; it had a number of low shoemaker's benches
ranged along three of its sides. Here my uncle and two of his sons made
boots. I was directed to one of the benches and began by being taught
how to use a waxed end and stitch the counters of bootlegs. Never in my
life before had I been pinned to one spot for any length of time save on
a school bench; never before set at any work that was not or that could
not be made half play. A deadly home-sickness at once seized upon me, of
which I could not be cured by all the kindness and encouragement of my
uncle and aunt. I was constantly looking out of the shop windows,
expecting some one to come and rescue me. Constantly I wept and could
not swallow my food for the lump in my throat; at last food was
loathsome and my eyes became so swollen with continual tears that I
could scarcely see to thread my needle. Thus I suffered for three weeks
and my young heart was wounded and broken past all cure. My nature was
changed from that time; a kind of depression and melancholy, took the
place of my natural gaiety. I can readily believe, such were my misery
and agony, that one might die of home-sickness. I recall it so well that
I can diagnose its symptoms which are like those of a fever. It comes
over one in paroxysms, followed by a great calm as from sudden cessation
of acute pain, then by a choking sensation, a terrible sinking of the
heart, down, down, all things swim in the convulsion of lost senses
until tears once more relieve the overwrought soul. To add to my misery
my two young cousins would have nothing to do with me. For the entire
three weeks I never spoke a word; the moment I tried I choked and burst
into tears. No wonder my cousins and other boys avoided me. Such a baby
was past their comprehension or tolerance. In my own natural place I
should have had no more mercy on such an one. It is remarkable how early
boys begin to trim each other into manly character; they instantly
discover and attack any little weakness, and with rough and ready hand
or tongue make the weakling or the upstart ashamed of himself. But no
treatment harsh or kind could cure a homesick child, and one day my
uncle said he was going to see my mother, and that I was to go with him.
Oh, how my spirits recovered themselves! I never thought of the return;
only to go, to be once more in my own home, with my own river, fields
and companions, filled me with ecstacy. I went and I did not return. I
did not know what was said between my mother and uncle; I saw him drive
away and leave me behind with unspeakable joy. For many subsequent days
I observed my mother's sorrowful eyes when she spoke to me. Her first
experiment, which promised so well, had failed. If she was disappointed,
I was sobered and much easier to manage from that time forth: I tried to
please my mother. Our old way of life went on its usual round. Again the
little Red House was happy. I resumed my play under the garden apple
tree or on the great rock in the corner of the orchard. That year I
mastered the alphabet, and I was given a slate and pencil for the
purpose of keeping me still when not saying my letters. The school days
of that period are memorable to me, chiefly from the recesses and the
noon intermission an hour long. It was in that hour I became intimate
with some little girls, and found that I liked them as well as boy
playmates. How we choose our favorite companions, no man is wise enough
to know; yet choice there certainly was, with no formality or effort.
How could it be otherwise? From the troop by the door or the roadside,
eating their dinner from basket or pail or playing games, some
predestined affinity drew away a boy and maid to the birchen bower,
where with one mind they set up mimic housekeeping and forbade the
entrance of strange children. There one cloak covered them both. Or they
rambled hand in hand through the woods, or waded in the shallow water of
Beaver brook down to the stone arch bridge where the confined streamlet
gurgled softly over the slimy pebbles, and the arch echoed to the sound
of their voices. What matter though pantalets and little breeches,
pulled up as high as they could be, were wet with jumping and splashing;
hot sun and warm blood would soon dry them. Wrinkles and limpness might
betray them when they returned to the mother's fold at night, but her
reproaches had no terror nor any restraint for happy children, who alone
know the secrets of their own pleasures and have no remembrance of
interference with them. With boy and boy there is a perfect equality; no
pretentions are allowed, except those of age. With maid and boy it is
different. With my companion, I wished to appear superior, to show her
things, even to attempt to explain them; and thus I myself learned to
observe natural objects and to love them. She was my teacher, although I
believed myself hers. She listened, she looked up at me and asked
another question, and so I see her to this day. How should I not become
wise? If not, it is no fault of hers. My Launa, whom I led through the
woods, along the water courses, and to whom I promised, that some day we
would catch a cloud and ride around the sky visiting the moon and stars,
yes, it was Launa to whom I promised everything, and promised because
she wished it, and I felt it my business to seem able to gratify all her
desires. She already led me captive; well she knew it, and loved to test
me with impossible demands. She dared me to do a hundred things, which
attempting and failing, I boldly declared I had done. Just as willing to
be deceived as I to deceive, she never questioned my lie, but led me on
to some fresh feat, some brook or fence to leap, or inaccessible flower
or berry to bring her. Already I got out of difficulties by changing the
subject, by evading the challenge and diverting her to some other
object, play or plan to which she as readily listened. How proud, how
important and superior I felt and with what trust the little siren
permitted it. Among all my apprenticeships this to Launa Probana was
that which taught me most and is most ineffaceable.


The next effort to make a craftsman of me was in my tenth year. I was
put under the hands of a mill-wright. He set up the machinery of saw and
grist mills and repaired them when out of order. He had a saw mill and
shingle mill of his own, but he was often away from home, especially in
winter, and then I ran the saw mill alone. Its machinery was old
fashioned and now obsolete, an upright saw, a carriage for the logs
somewhat like that now in use, but much heavier and more clumsy. To set
the logs to the required width of boards or other lumber we used inch
rules, a bar made on purpose for the work and dogs to hold the logs in
place. The power was water turned upon the floats of a large wheel. No
large timber was left in the neighborhood, otherwise a boy of ten could
not have run the mill alone; but with a cant-hook I could usually manage
to roll the log upon the carriage and put it in position. We ran off the
slabs first and these were the perquisites of the mill owner. They were
used in his own family and some were sold or given to poor widows and
others. The saw mill was run only in winter time; the water of the mill
pond was drawn off in early spring, and where it had flooded the land,
grass grew in summer. While the log was running through the saw, it was
my never ending delight to lean out of an opening in the side of the
mill and watch the tailrace rush from under the building. All winter I
looked forward to the day when the great gates of the dam would be
raised and the pond disappear in a few hours. I cannot exactly describe
the feeling with which, after a few days of sunshine, I walked over the
ground where the water had stood; a strange commingling of awe and
curiosity, especially as I threaded the now dry, narrow and deep canal,
which led the water of the pond to the mill. There I often walked just
to enjoy in imagination the thought, what if the water should suddenly
come pouring down upon me! I even selected the best places to escape up
the rough stone walls of the canal. All my boyhood I enjoyed thrilling
imaginary perils, and the planning means of escape. The walls of this
canal were made of irregular stones from the field. Alternately wet and
dry they had taken on beautiful colors, variegated according to the
character of the stone, and between them in summer, and quite covering
them in places, grew many kinds of wild flowers, mosses and ferns, and,
most splendid of all, the cardinal flower. The canal was always damp,
and a few frogs and green snakes made it their summer home. Do not
imagine I made any such observations as these at the time, least of all
that I then knew the cardinal flower by its correct name. I saw, I felt,
I dreamed; now I remember and know a little more. I lacked the right
name and reason for most things, but knowing nothing, I named everything
after my own fancy and found the creation as good and sweet as the
Creator at the end of his week's work. Every boy is a new Adam, and
christens the world of his senses in the most primitive figure of
language, metonomy.

The terms of my apprenticeship included a new suit of clothes each year,
and that I should be sent to school in the summer. The clothes were
never forthcoming and my mother had to furnish them. My master gave me
my boots for winter and shoes for summer, but I went barefooted seven
months of the year. This was no hardship. How I hated to wear shoes on
the only day when it was compulsory, Sunday. It cost me tears to learn
to tie a double bow knot with my shoestring, as my master insisted upon
my doing, and this was the only thing during my apprenticeship that he
took pains to teach me--to tie a shoestring. He was a silent,
self-absorbed man with a stern manner, a square set jaw, wide mouth and
ponderous ears. He was very fond of his two little girls, three and four
years old; but he never had a kind word for me. However, he was not
peculiar in this respect. Boys were not cosseted in those days, but made
to feel the rod and keep their place. It seems to me now that I must
have been to him a necessary nuisance, tolerated for what service I
could render, yet I was not unhappy. My mother lived across the road and
I could see her every day. I had some time for play; the mills, the
tools, the dam and canals interested me and beyond all, I fished to my
heart's content. There was an old mongrel dog at my heels wherever I
went, and together we hunted woodchucks and squirrels without a gun. In
the evening, by the stove, he still hunted them in his dreams,
whimpering and barking as soon as he was sound asleep, and I myself
often had the same dream when I had been unusually excited by the sport.
In the autumn I set snares for partridges which I sold to the Boston
stage drivers for nine-pence apiece. Well do I remember the high hope
with which I entered the silent wood in early morning to examine my
snares, the exhilaration when I found a poor partridge in the noose,
limp and dead, with a white film drawn over her eyes. Pity for bird or
beast or human beings was an unknown feeling then: I liked to torment
such life as I had power over, to see it suffer. The sale of partridges
furnished me with considerable spending money; for what I spent it, I
know not. I am only certain I did not hoard it, as I have never found
any ancient silver pieces in my purse or pockets. I can think of no more
entertaining account book than one which should show the acquisition and
outlay of a boy's money; his financial statement from his fifth to his
fifteenth year. I should like to audit such an account and, however, it
came out I would agree to find it correctly cast, balanced and properly
vouched; for a boy always gets his money's worth and thinks he has what
he wants. In his trades with other boys, money seldom plays any part,
and the little swindler always believes he has got the best of the
bargain. And why? Because he has what he coveted, and what was
another's. Somehow the other fellow's knife is a little better than his
own, it is three blades to his two. When he finds the cheat he has only
to swap again. In this way I traded a dozen times in one summer and came
out with one blade, but a bright brass haft.

By this time I could read and even imitate the copies set in the writing
books. This, however, was not the real method by which I had learned to
use the pen or rather pencil. Much more skill was acquired in little
notes to Launa Probana during school hours, passed furtively under the
desks and benches or hidden in a book which I was suddenly anxious to
borrow or lend. What nothings we wrote! With what pains and searchings
of the brain for words! Still I filled my bit of paper while Launa wrote
only three words, yet her name signed in the tiniest letters satisfied
me. With that name in my vest pocket I felt her near me, fixed my
attention upon my book again, and learned my lessons more easily. I was
conscious that she watched all my movements out of the corner of her
eye, and at recitations it was she, who, when I hesitated and was lost,
bending her head down so as not to be observed by the teacher, whispered
softly the right word and saved me from shame. Thus in a thousand ways
she repaid the boy's devotion, and however out-spelt or out-grammared he
might be, where he stood, was for her the head of the class. What
lessons we learned, not in any book nor taught by any teacher! After a
year or two more of winter saw-mill and summer school my teacher thought
I was old enough to write compositions, an exercise usual in all New
England common schools. Long before this I thought myself competent and
was ambitious to begin. It seemed too much a school exercise to be
undertaken out of it. I saw the older pupils on appointed afternoons
stand up in their places and read from their slates the compositions
they had written. It fired my ambition beyond any of the other exercises
or lessons. It seemed to me the very pinnacle of greatness to stand up
and read a composition before the whole school. How I labored over my
first little essay, not being able to think of anything, or to find
language; how I began without any real beginning sentences that had no
end; how I strung together words without connection or sense, how the
whole school tittered and made faces as I read, how I sat down flushed,
trembling, completely overwhelmed with mortification, it pains me even
to remember. What would Launa care for me now! Without seeming to notice
her I looked over to where she sat and saw that she was weeping. I did
not speak to her for a whole week. Thus I punished myself, and all the
week pondered how I could write something which should make her again
proud of me and reinstate myself with my teacher and schoolmates.
Suddenly it occurred to me that next time I would choose a subject of
which I knew something. Wonderful discovery, which has been of use to me
ever since; a bit as well as reins--this is the reason why I have not
been a prolific writer. Between one book and the next I am totally
forgotten. I found also thus early that one needs a muse. I had made a
blunder in not taking Launa into my counsels, say rather into my mind,
for I had never once thought of her while writing, nor that she would be
my audience. No, I thought only of myself, and the distinction I should
win all for myself. Thus experienced, I did not repeat my mistake. When
we were next called upon for compositions, I coaxed Launa to go with me
at the nooning to the shade of the old blacksmith shop, where I proposed
that we should write them together. There sentence by sentence I made my
little essay, covering one side of my slate, with Launa for inspirer and
critic. My subject was the saw-mill, that one I knew best. There was a
pricking of ears in the school-room when I named my humble subject, and
an elder boy by my side whispered, "Now, give us some sawdust." I
prospered this time and won a smile from Launa. Had I helped her at all
in her own composition? I know not; yet when she read, it seemed to me I
had written it myself. Such has always been my experience in regard to
writing which I have admired, and thought I could do as well--until I

Thus passed two happy summers and two lonely impatient winters; then I
was ill with a fever and came to the doors of death. I never resumed my
apprenticeship to the mill-wright. For some years succeeding my illness
I suffered from periodical sick headache which, before and after, was
accompanied by a dreadful depression, an indescribable apathy, a
distaste for food, for play, for everything: I wished myself dead. My
mother and sisters were very tender to me at this time; they amused me,
they petted me, and in the evening read to me stories out of Merry's
Museum and from the school readers. It was at this time I was sent on a
visit to Boston, perhaps for my health and spirits. I say sent, for I
went alone in a stage coach the thirty miles. Much preparation was made
for my journey and many letters passed to relatives in Boston concerning
it. I had a new cloak lined with bright red flannel, home-made, and a
cap with an extremely flat crown and a tassel that fell upon my
shoulder. These were the first articles of clothing that made me feel
that everybody was looking at me, a feeling something between vanity and
embarrassment. My cousin met me in Boston at the stage office and took
me to his house in the old West End, at that time the residence of the
respectable middle class, with here and there some more wealthy
citizens. There were a few shops at the corners of the streets; but I
did not venture beyond the street where my cousin lived and saw nothing
at all of the city. I was taken to church on Sunday and once to the
Museum, where I saw the elder Booth in Shylock. The only scene that made
an impression upon me was that where Shylock is about to take his pound
of flesh. He squatted upon the floor, his wild and terrible face turned
directly upon me, as it seemed, while he sharpened his knife upon his
rusty shoe. I was filled with terror and began to cry and begged to be
taken away. Quite angry, yet pitying me, too, I suppose, my cousin led
me out and home where I went at once to bed, covering my head tightly,
unable to sleep for apprehension lest I should be discovered by Shylock.
At the Players' Club, in New York City, in the last winter of Edwin
Booth's life, I related this incident to him as a childish tribute to
his father's power. "Yes," he said, "that was my father, and such things
often happened among women and children when he was playing that
character. He was dangerous at times, not to his audiences, but
occasionally to his fellow actors."

I returned from Boston not much wiser nor more travelled than when I
went. I found nothing there that gave me so much pleasure as the freedom
of my own field, my sports and my companions. When asked what I had
seen, what I had done, I candidly confessed, nothing; yet among boys I
did feel a certain pride because I was the only one among them who had
been to Boston. And I have found the result of nearly all travel is
little more than the cheap avenue to conversation between those who have
travelled over the same ground, or the feeling of superiority that one
has wandered farther.

Although I was more active and restless than most boys, ever longing,
yet with no definite object, I believe I should always have remained in
the place of my birth, except for family exigencies, for I had no
ambitions, no special talent nor practical faculty. When I reflect on
the futility of literature without genius, or the miserly rewards of
scholarship, or the disastrous conclusion in a majority of business
enterprises, I confess the life of a New England farmer is to be
preferred. It was so ordered that opportunities, which I never could
have made for myself, came to me unsought and without effort. Such
education as I have, a miscellany of odds and ends of learning, and such
things as I have accomplished, are the chance results of various and
disconnected impulses; and God himself has given me my beautiful
friends. I have found them waiting for me all along my path, and their
attachment has always filled me with astonishment and gratitude; for I
cannot think it is anything I have done that should deserve it. So I
relegate it to that indefinable, unconscious self which is hidden from
our own knowledge. On the whole, who is he, that would not rather be
loved for himself than for his book, his horses or his honors? He, who
is capable of friendship, and inspires it, is happier than Alexander
with worlds conquered and to be conquered.

After much counselling and agitating of the change, my mother moved from
Bellingham, which was her native place, to Hopkinton; and, from this
time forth to the end of her life, she continued to change her residence
from town to town as work, cheaper rent, or the persuasion of friends
induced her. My eldest sister and I went with her. The change filled me
with a pleasant excitement, although we were going to the same place and
the very same house where I had suffered so much from home-sickness. I
did not then know that in leaving my birthplace I left behind me the
fountain head of half my later musings, regrets and imaginings. In
returning now, I find naught but the graves of my family, the elm of my
childhood, fallen to the ground, its bleached trunk and larger limbs
reminding me of a skeleton, the well filled with stones, and the Red
House converted into a woodshed. The river still flows by; one great
pine still murmurs and wonders what has become of the children once
playing in its shade; the pond, the arched bridge which spanned its
outflow are unchanged. And Launa, I fear to inquire what has become of
her, though I never lost her. She followed and reappeared in all my


In Hopkinton I began to feel myself too old to play with girls. Boys
were numerous and knew more than those I had met before. I soon caught
up with their manners and customs, and in some respects bettered them. I
outdid them in mischief, looted the best apple trees, beat them at ball
and managed to escape my tasks oftener. My work was stitching the
counters of boots; my mother and sister filled their spare time with the
same employment. Indeed, at this period it was our sole means of
support. The making of boots, pegged boots, double soled and welted,
with legs treed until they were as stiff and hard as boards, was the
chief occupation of all that portion of the town called Hayden Row. For
a mile or more up and down this street were the houses of the
bootmakers, each with its little shop, either attached to the house, or
built in the yard. Each had from two to six workers. Generally every
part of the boot was made in these shops; the stock was cut and
distributed from some larger shop to which the finished boots were
returned to be put in cases and shipped. The smaller shops were the
centers for the gossip, rumors and discussions which agitated the
community. There men sharpened their wits upon each other, played
practical jokes, sang, argued the questions of that day, especially
slavery, and arranged every week from early spring to late autumn a
match game of ball either among themselves or the bootmakers of
neighboring towns for Saturday afternoon, which was their half holiday.
All this was possible where the men sat on low benches, making scarcely
any noise, and doing work which did not often require concentrated
attention. My uncle was a stern abolitionist, as were the other
bootmakers; and before I knew it, I was one; nor did I know at that time
that there was any other opinion in the world. Little did I understand
or care for the subject. My uncle took the Liberator, and it was
sometimes read aloud in the shop, and I can remember feeling angry at
some of the stories of cruelty to slaves. I am glad I was brought up in
such an atmosphere, for I have not changed on this point, as I have in
so many other of my beliefs. The only church in the place was the
Methodist, and my mother had, almost for the first time since her
conversion at the age of fourteen, an opportunity of mingling with the
brethren and sisters of her own faith. The chief financial pillar of the
Methodists of New England, Lee Claflin, was a citizen of Hopkinton,
although his place of business was Boston. He was, when I knew him, a
rather short, fat man with a large head and a face beaming with
benevolence and good will. To be noticed, to be spoken to by him was a
great honor, so that when he laid his hand upon my head and inquired if
I were a child of grace, although I had not the least idea what he
meant, I was equal to the occasion and said, "Yes, sir." My mother
smiled at my confession and I have no doubt her heart was made glad; for
though she was not at all rigid in the religious discipline of her
children, the great desire of her life was that they should be converted
and saved from the toils of Satan. I had, as early as I had any
conception of my own, a certain image of Satan as something huge, an
aggregation of all the largest objects with which I was most familiar,
arms and legs as long as the tallest trees and church steeples, and it
was of his size that I was afraid, rather than of his temptations and
torments, which I heard thundered from the pulpit. I had a fear, born of
sundry rough encounters with larger boys, of that which was superior in
strength, and to me Satan was as a big and ugly boy, whom I sometimes
looked for along the road, expecting him to dart out from behind the
stone walls, or clumps of bushes. Many writers have said harsh things
about the former religious creeds and preaching of our New England
forefathers, especially in their effects upon children. I do not agree
with them. It did often save the wayward from peril, and offered a rich
field for the imaginative interpretations of children. What does the
modern child find in a modern sermon to give him any sort of quickening?
Yes, my dear pulpit orators, with no wing left to imp your eloquence,
recover Satan in all his immense, Miltonic grandeur and energy.

Those happy Hopkinton days were filled with many new and fascinating
objects and boyish pursuits to which I gave an undivided heart. I
learned all the tricks and sleight-of-hand with which the bootmakers
amused themselves and puzzled each other in their shops. I was long in
discovering the secret of the best trick of all, which was making names
and pictures appear on the bare plaster of the shop walls by striking on
them with a woolen cap such as we all wore. Then there were all sorts of
string, button and ball tricks, and my pockets were full of articles
with which to astonish the uninitiated. He, who introduced or invented a
new trick or puzzle, was the hero of the shops for a day; and for many
days after, as soon as learned, the men and boys were confounding each
other by its performance. In those days Signor Blitz was travelling the
country, giving his necromantic shows, and left behind him everywhere a
taste for his wonderful performances. Our ingenuity was exercised in
weaving watch chains in various patterns with silk twist; in making
handsome bats for ball, and in making the balls themselves with the
ravelled yarn of old stockings, winding it over a bit of rubber, and in
sewing on a cover of fine thin calf skin. This ball did not kill as it
struck one, and, instead of being thrown to the man on the base, was
more usually thrown at the man running between them. He who could make a
good shot of that kind was much applauded, and he who was hit was
laughed at and felt very sheepish. That was true sport, plenty of fun
and excitement, yet not too serious and severe. The issue of the game
was talked over for a week. I did my daily stint of stitching with only
one thing in mind, to play ball when through; for the boys played every
afternoon. When there was to be an important match game the men
practised after the day's work was done.

Meanwhile my education was entirely neglected. I attended no school at
this time, either summer or winter, and came as near acquiring a trade
as I have ever done. In fact I longed to be able to make the whole of a
boot, to last, peg, trim, gum, blackball and stone it, all processes of
the craft as then practised. But how does one know when he is learning?
I was laying up a good store of things more valuable than any in books,
whilst the free life I led was preparing in me the soft and
impressionable tablets on which could be traced future experiences and
acquisitions of a more intellectual kind. Tomorrow would come and this
was its preparation. Yet not consciously can one prepare for it all that
it is to hold. I became a graduate of the shops of the bootmakers before
acquiring the whole of their trade, but not before absorbing most of
that which constituted the overflow of their lives. I began to imitate
the manners and conversation of men. Ridiculed for this, I retreated
into myself and became more observant and more silent. A small, very dim
yet new light appeared to me--reflection, silent thoughts at night, and
when alone; questionings with no least effort at answers. My new world
as yet was not much more than a mile square, as in my native town;
within that mile I knew every natural object and all the people.
Everybody called me by my first name, prefixing, usually, "little curly"
or "snub-nose," and my companions gave me nicknames according to their
likes or dislikes. I much affected the company of boys older than
myself, especially my cousins, whom I naturally looked up to and very
much admired. They would have none of me, called me "nuisance" and
"tag-tail." This last epithet wounded me sorely and made me slink away
like a whipped cur. Added to my mile-square world, I had now also the
germs of memory. Faintly and at long intervals I remembered my life in
Bellingham; but it seemed another planet, far off, indistinct, and I had
as yet no desire to return to it.


My mother had three daughters, one had died within a year of my father's
death. She was the belle of the neighborhood, fair-haired and blue-eyed,
not very tall, graceful and attractive. Every one admired her and her
friends loved her ardently. She had already ventured into verse,
religious in tone, and affectionate effusions to her girl friends. With
a little education she had begun to teach school. She was my first
teacher and the school her first. We were very fond of each other. Her
kiss was the only one I did not shrink from and try to escape. She took
most of the care of me, and I always slept in the same room with her.
Usually I went to sleep in her bed, and in the morning crept back into
it. When death came and took her away from me, when I found, in the
darkened room to which my mother led me where she lay in a white dress,
that she did not kiss me nor even speak, I was frightened and awed. In a
short time I forgot her; but before I grew to be a man I recovered her,
and shed the tears long due her love and loss. Another older sister was
already a successful teacher in the district schools of the region, so
successful indeed, that she taught winters as well as summers, which was
unusual for women teachers to attempt. Several winters she had
undertaken schools, the pupils of which were so unruly that no man could
be found who was able to control them. At length, through friends who
knew her success and abilities, she was invited to take charge of a
private school in Norwich, Connecticut. Her pupils were from the wealthy
and influential families of the upper, the aristocratic part of the
city, round about Savin Hill and along the Yantic riverside. After she
had become established there, she took me back with her at the end of a
spring vacation. I found myself among a very different class of children
from any I had ever known, highbred, well-mannered and well-dressed, I
felt at first abashed and suppressed; but as we were all children, more
or less unconscious of distinctions in rank, democrats at heart, I soon
came to terms with them; if there were any barriers, they were broken
down as soon as we began to play together. There is no realm of equality
like that of the playground; there you are estimated on your merits,
your skill, your honor and good nature. In two weeks I felt perfectly at
home, and already had two or three cronies to whom I was devoted. I
dreaded the hour of my return to my mother. It came; I found myself
again among men in shirtsleeves, and boys in blue jean overalls; my
mother's oven no more busy than of old, my hands black with leather and
sticky with wax, I, who had been eating the fine fare of rich men's
tables with silver forks and knives that shone like mirrors. The world
had been changed in a few weeks and fifty miles of travel. I felt myself
no part of anything around me; I loathed it and longed to return to my
sister. I had had a taste of better things, or so they seemed, or was it
their novelty? I began to look down with shame and disgust at the humble
life around me. Above all I wanted to escape my task and wondered how I
had ever wished to be a bootmaker.

Norwich was a small and beautiful city, well planted with trees, the
houses large and set in ample ground. Two riven meet there to form a
third, the Thames, at the head of which is the port or Landing as it is
called. At the port of the city I had for the first time seen steamers
and sailing vessels. Strange and wonderful creatures they were to me,
and I asked a thousand questions about them without comprehending in the
least the answers. I was told they sailed down the river with the tide,
past New London, then out upon the sea, and at once and ever since I
always behold vessels, as it were, double, one near and another far
away, disappearing on some vast level plain. Here was water enough,
water, the most fascinating thing in nature, tempting by its dangers to
boyish adventures, and I determined to be a sailor as soon as I was old
enough and could get back to Norwich. How to get back was the problem I
vexed myself over day and night for weeks and months. My sister
returning home for her summer vacation, I continued to tease and coax
until she consented to my wishes. My small trunk, covered with hairy cow
hide, was packed with my few belongings, and with a gay heart I left the
town and my mother's door never to return permanently, and as blind as a
stone to what I was going away for; I was going--that was all that
concerned me. There was no future; time does not exist for children;
yesterdays are faint, tomorrows undreamed, today endless. Arriving in
Norwich, at once, I felt at home. I met my former playmates without a
greeting, and just as if we had not been separated for half a year.
Nothing was changed; we resumed our sports, and every afternoon at the
close of school, in which I was now a pupil, we played among the cedars
of Savin Hill; or else we paired off and spent our time with the dogs,
rabbits and pigeons and other pets owned by my different companions. I
had myself one hen which the good dame, with whom my sister and I
boarded, allowed me to keep in a large box in her yard. I spent much of
my time, when without companions, with my hen. I made her many nests in
hopes of enticing her to lay eggs, for which I was promised a cent
apiece by dame Onion. I cannot recall how I came by this hen, nor what
was her final fate. What trifles we pursue! What trifles connect the
seven ages of life, more often remembered than the real steps of our
career. So let biddy spread her wing as wide as Jove's eagle, and eat
gravel with Juno's peacock; and in this narration I keep company with my
betters, who have not lowered their dignity by confessing their
obligations to the beasts of the field, the birds of the air and to all
those friendly creatures which dwell in the shelter of the house and the
barnyard. So, little red hen, I leave thee here on the road by which I
strayed, playing and singing, into the fearful arena of life, walled and
thousand-eyed; whether we fall or triumph, the spectacle and the wonder
of an hour.

Whether it were better to be the limpet fixed to its rock, forever free
from change, or the wild gull soaring over shores and sea, now wading in
the mud, now riding gloriously on the crest of the billows, is a query
which has often agitated me since the time I abandoned the home of my
childhood. For me there was no return now to the rock. I thought of my
home with a gloomy dread lest I should have to return to it. Such
forebodings, however, were rare and did not interfere with my complete
enjoyment of present pleasures. Along with them I caught the manners of
the little aristocrats of my sister's school. It was an ideal company of
boys and girls, handsome, refined and innocent. My sister herself was a
natural lady and rigorous in her demands for perfect conduct on the part
of her pupils. She spared me least of all, as more needing such
discipline, and also, I suppose, that she might escape any suspicion of
sisterly partiality. I have ever been extremely open to personal
influences and environment, and apt to take on the customs and opinions
of those with whom I mingle. What one gains so is a part of his
education. It is true there is a lurking danger as well as advantage,
and we may be wrecked or carried into a safe harbor according to the
accidents of life and the power or feebleness of the will. My good
fortune was seemingly great at this time, having such a sister to watch
over me and such influences around me. On the other hand I was
disqualified by it for living the life of a poor man which circumstances
have made imperative; and it required many years to reconcile me to my
lot and to discover other riches by which a man might make his life
honorable and happy. My sister's pupils were affectionately attached to
her and this feeling was soon shared by their parents. She visited among
them continually, and always took me with her. I saw the inside of the
houses of the rich, the leading citizens of Norwich, governors and
ex-governors of the state, senators, the Rockwells, Greens, Tylers,
Williams, Backuses, Lusks, and others, and became used to the elegancies
and luxuries of their households. My sister seemed to be recognized as
their equal, as well she might be. She was a woman to win her way
anywhere; distinguished looking, full of tact and efficiency. She was
tall, with a perfect figure and graceful movement. Her eyes were large
and dark, her hair black and abundant, in this being the only one of my
mother's children who resembled her, as she did also in the contour of
her face and nose. She was of a hopeful and joyous temperament and full
of energy; by this latter gift she had raised herself from the humblest
position to one of influence and acquired in no long time much
reputation as a remarkably successful teacher, and her services were in
constant demand. She was also a favorite in all classes of society and
knew how to adjust herself to the humblest and the highest of her fellow
creatures. From the time of her father's death she had been the prop of
the family, the mover in all their plans and the provider of their
needs. Over me she had a special charge and a sacred duty, for my
father, conscious of the too gentle nature of his wife and the poverty
in which he was about to leave her, had on his deathbed, committed, had
indeed made a solemn gift of his little boy to the daughter whom he
trusted most; and for fifty years did she fulfil that trust. On her
tombstone are engraved these brief but true words: "Faithful daughter,
sister, friend, teacher." New England has been full of such devoted,
self-sacrificing daughters and sisters, and still is. I do not single
her out as exceptional, but to give her the tribute she merits, and that
she may not be among the uncounted and unremembered where these pages
shall be read.

In my sister's school besides good manners, which now seem to me the
best part of my education, I learned to draw and to sing; and in which I
delighted most, it were hard to say. Never before had I heard any music,
except that of the doleful and droning church choir. We sang simple
songs about nature, conduct, duties to the Heavenly Father, to parents
and teacher. Their notes lingered in my ears for a great many years, and
I can still hum some of them. We drew plain figures, blocks, cones, the
sides and roofs of buildings and outlines of trees. In penmanship I made
no progress, and it was always unformed and illiterate until I was a
man, and took it in hand without a teacher. My two years' detention from
school did not seem to put me into classes below me in age. I could read
and spell very well. There were other longer or shorter periods when my
education was entirely interrupted; yet I did not have to begin my
studies exactly where I had left off. Something carries us along
unconsciously and a natural intelligence bridges over the superficial
differences between ourselves and our associates. How often have I
deceived myself into thinking I knew something when it was merely a
borrowed acquirement, as it were, a cuticular absorption from a
transient environment or interest, from classmates, social circles,
clubs and books. Great books are the most flattering deceivers of all. I
never read one that did not touch me nearly in this way. The fall to my
own proper level is painful, but has been somewhat stayed and alleviated
by reading another. Being of this plastic, imitative nature, I soon took
on the manners and childish ideas of my companions in my sister's
school. I was already aristocrat enough to look down with indifference
upon the boys of the Landing and other parts of the town, and at a good
safe distance, to call them by some insulting name. We never came to
blows, nor ever nearer than a stone's throw. By the natural elective
affinities, which seem to be more marked among boys and girls than among
men and women, I formed the closest intimacy with two brothers about my
own age. They belonged to the leading family among my sister's patrons.
Their father was a wealthy, retired manufacturer who had held every
honor Norwich had to bestow. The boys were indulged in all their wishes,
in every kind of pet animal that walks or flies, a menagerie of small
creatures in cages, ponies for the saddle and dogs to follow. In these I
was allowed to share as if my own, and their house was as much mine as
theirs, more often taking supper in it than at my boarding place. Thus
becoming familiar with and possessing the pleasures which wealth can
furnish a boy, I knew not what a fall I was preparing for myself when
the thread of my destiny should lead me back into its narrow and
tortuous path. How is any one responsible for such passages in his life
which carry him into situations and form in him tastes and propensities
that must be relinquished with much sorrow or maintained with peril? But
the hour of doom was not yet, and my pleasant days had no omen that
their sun would ever set. In truth that sun has never set on the days
when I was in the company and close beside the one girl in my sister's
school with whom I felt the passionless, but none the less ardent
delight. Laugh who will--"Her sweet smile haunts me still." Never was
sweeter or more captivating on the face of a girl or woman, and it was
perpetually there, whether she spoke or only looked in your eyes. By it
I should even now recognize her among a thousand. If I had then known
that souls are reincarnated, I should have known by her smile that she
was the Launa Probana of my earliest awakening. I never played with her,
but I was in the same class; she was at the head of it in spelling
exercises, where, in the then customary manner, we went up when we
mastered a word missed by the pupil below. I was always struggling to
stand next to her, and when I did, I was happy. That is how I learned to
spell so well! I had become diffident with girls and as much more so
with her as I was fond of being with her. Consequently we spoke to each
other but little. To be where she was was enough. Those inclinations and
awkward attentions, which betray the situation to the onlooker, I
manifested always in her presence without suspicion of being observed. I
was alert to win her notice by any sort of indirection, and embarrassed
to speechlessness when I had won it. There were certain occasions when I
could count on having her for my companion, when we found ourselves
together by some inevitable attraction. These were on the excursions
which my sister was fond of taking with her whole school to places of
interest in the vicinity of Norwich. The holiday freedom, the
excitement, made it easier for me to be more demonstrative than usual
toward the new-found Launa. Yet we were still too young and sensitive
for indulgence in the physical tokens of affection. We often walked hand
in hand, yet under cover of that which was a permissible and usual
gallantry among all the children of the school, the secret attachment of
any pair was pleasantly and sufficiently hidden even from themselves.
Wondrous were the places we visited; places of historic or natural
interest; to Groton by steamboat, where we saw Fort Griswold and its
monument to the heroes of the Revolutionary fight, and its still
surviving heroine, Mother Bailey, who tore up her petticoat to make
cartridges for the gunners. We called upon the venerable woman in her
neat, little cottage. She was very proud of her fame. She related the
story of the fight, not omitting her part in it. "Do you think I am a
very old woman?" she said to us. "Well, see," and in an instant she was
whirling around the room in an old fashioned jig. Then we returned to
the Fort, and in its enclosure we opened our baskets and ate our cakes
and apples. I sometimes think that was the happiest day of my life.
Certainly it was the very beginning of what is called seeing the world.
What, is not the first steamboat ride, and with your sweetheart, the
first fort, the scene of a battle and the most celebrated heroine of the
Revolution something? My sweetheart was the only thing not entirely
novel; her smiles ever recalled the memory of Launa Probana. All the way
home we stood on deck, leaning over the rail, watching the swirl and
foam from the paddle wheels, and our tongues were loosened. As usual, in
my attempts at seeming superior to girl companions, I undertook to
explain things about which I knew nothing. Now, any boy could put me
down in a minute with, "how big you talk;" but my gentler hearer led me
on with her acquiescence and her trusting, wondering eyes. The teacher's
brother was somebody in her estimation; he was a new kind of boy. The
other boys she had known all her life, commonplace, tiresome teasers or
clowns. That awkward impediment, a rival, I had not to contest or fear.
All went well with us until I fell from the ranks of the aristocracy and
became a menial shop boy in a store. But before that eclipse there were
other happy days and joyous experiences. Together we visited the grave
of the Indian Uncas, and the remnant of his tribe at Montville; we drove
often to Fishville, where was an estate laid out in a foreign fashion
with grottoes, mazes, fountains, strange trees and shrubbery and a
museum of curiosities.

Doubtless it was not the intention of my sister at this time to educate
me. Perhaps she saw nothing in me worthy of it. I do not much wonder at
her conviction, if such it was, as I look at a daguerreotype of myself
taken about that period, a round head, mostly hair, a low forehead, a
pair of round eyes, thick nose and lips and short neck, altogether just
such a solid, stolid child as one would expect to see from the country,
bred in the sun and cold, and fed on brown bread and milk. My being with
my sister, and a pupil in her school was a temporary expedient until a
place could be found for me. At length it was found, a situation in a
dry goods store, where I could earn my board and clothing. Thus without
warning I fell completely out of the ranks of the elect and again
returned to servitude as a shop boy, a runner of errands, a builder of
fires and floor-sweeper.


In country stores the man or boy behind the counter was an enviable
person. Many boys had no higher ambition than to be a store-keeper. I was
now behind the counter, and although there was nothing in a dry goods
shop to interest me as in the country store, with its varied assortment
of goods, tools, crockery and candies, I felt rather proud of my
position, especially when permitted to wait on a customer. He seemed an
inferior sort of a person, and I had no idea at first of conciliating
him and making a sale. It was not then the custom to observe a fixed
price and simply show the goods; but clerks were expected and instructed
to use persuasion, to expatiate on quality and beauty, and to take less
than they first asked. The cost price was marked with secret characters;
the selling price was variable. The more you could get out of a gullible
customer, the better; and he who could get the most was the smartest
clerk. A thrifty purchaser would beat down the price little by little,
the sharp clerk yielding with many protestations until a last offer was
made, when, with feigned hesitation, the clerk would wrap up the goods.
One thinks he has bought a cheap bargain, the other figures the profit
and laughs in his sleeve. It was not my particular duty to wait upon
customers except in a rush of trade, or early in the day before the
other clerks had arrived. I opened the store in the morning, swept the
floors and sidewalk, dusted the counters, filled the lamps, and in
winter built the fire. During the day I ran on errands, delivered goods
and was the fag of the proprietor and his two clerks. I soon chafed
under the confinement, and when sent out of the store I made no haste to
return; the farther away the bundle was to be delivered the better I
liked it, and I always took the longest way, loitering about, making
acquaintance with strange boys, dogs and any wayside apple or pear tree.
If possible I skirted the region of the wharves and the rivers, where I
always found something interesting going on, a vessel arriving or
leaving, sailors chaffing and fighting. Sometimes I received a small fee
for delivering the bundle at the door of a lady, but this happened
rarely; it was not the custom, and seldom was I even thanked. I had only
two memorable adventures on my travels; one was an attack on my breeches
by a savage dog, and the other--shall I confess it--almost as
disagreeable. A young and handsome woman, whom I had often seen in the
store, and knew me, I imagine, better than I knew her, called me into
the house with my package, set me on her knees, petted and kissed me,
and asked me a lot of questions about one of the clerks. I have reason
to believe her tender behavior was meant rather for her beloved clerk
than for me. I reported nothing on my return, only, on being reproved
for my long absence, I said, "Miss--had kept me," which made the clerk
look sheepish. I was not sent to her house again. The clerks, however,
did use me a good deal as an innocent pander in their various intrigues
with the pretty and fast girls of the town. I carried notes, concealed
in dry goods bundles, and brought back answers in my jacket pocket,
which I was instructed to deliver on the sly.

The proprietor of the store to whom I was bound, and in whose family I
lived, was a tall, thin, sallow-faced man. He had a nervous manner, but
he was not unkind to me. He clothed and fed me well. He chewed tobacco
and was brimming over with funny stories, funny and usually indelicate.
I heard much swearing, too, and I began to think it the proper thing to
try to be wicked myself. I was greatly attached to the two clerks, and
they were my models in everything. One of them was also the bookkeeper
of the establishment as well as a salesman. He dressed after the mode in
trig, close-fitting suits; his pantaloons were like tights, and only
kept on his legs by straps under his boots. He played and fooled with me
in idle hours. The other clerk was exceedingly sober, often melancholy,
seldom smiled and had nothing to do with me, rarely speaking to me. I
stood in awe and admiration of him. He wrote poetry for the local
newspaper, and I think he felt above us all, and above his position. He
belonged to a distinguished family, and why he happened to be a dry
goods clerk I never knew. He seemed as much out of his natural place as
I. How restless and penned up I felt at times no words can tell. The
lean dog with freedom, is much more to be envied than the chained dog
with a golden collar. It was a small store of only three counters, and
during unoccupied hours there was nothing on the shelves or in drawers
with which I could amuse myself. In mere desperation for something to
occupy myself I counted spools of cotton and silk, unrolled and rolled
again pieces of goods, and many a hot summer afternoon, when both the
shops and the streets were deserted, I caught flies and put them in a
bottle, and then smoked them to death.

I now seldom saw my former playmates. Their families traded at a much
larger and more fashionable store. Our customers were of an humbler
class, mainly from the suburbs and adjoining villages. But a boy does
not long remain companionless, be there another boy within reach. I
became intimate first with a lad in a grocery store, whereby there was
considerable access to sugar, raisins and other sweets; through him,
together with others in similar situations, I was made a member of their
secret society, having been tested as to strength, reliability and other
qualifications. Our badge was a red morocco star, worn under the left
lappet of the vest. The only purpose of the club that I could ever
discover, was to lick every boy who did not belong to it! I was expected
to celebrate my initiation by challenging three non-members, which I
proceeded to do, licked two and met my match in the third. Then I was
warned to attack only boys smaller than myself. The morals of the club
were meant to be on a par with those of much older boys, but signally
failed. We were as bad as we knew how to be; none of us had the courage
or the enterprise to do the naughty things which so excited our
emulation in our elders. However, we insulted and beat all the
goody-good boys in our way, swore small oaths, smoked and swaggered
until sick with nausea, and crowning achievement, learned what a Tom and
Jerry tasted like, enticed merely by the name. It was not until we had
Ike Bromley for a leader, that we fairly succeeded in being as bad as we
wished. He had an instinct for mischief and deviltry, and a way with him
that led captive the heart and devotion of all boys. Daring and cool, he
could carry a sober, innocent face which would disarm a detective and
charm a deacon. Whoever got caught or punished, he always escaped. No
one could have guessed at this time that he would become one of the most
brilliant journalists of his day, the wittiest and most engaging of men
at a dinner table, a boon companion, and beloved friend. Money was very
scarce with us; what little we had we earned in various outside ways, in
doing extra errands or selling old rubbers, old boots, copper and brass.
In fact we were the scavengers of the town, and had the run of all the
cellars. We managed to sneak or steal our way into most of the shows
that visited the town. For some reason, now quite incomprehensible, the
wharves were our most common rendezvous. And for what object we spent
our small funds on raw clams, eaten out of the shell, and doused with
pepper sauce, (which, for my part, I could with the greatest difficulty
swallow, bringing tears to my eyes, and burning in my throat for a week
after), I as little know, but now suppose it was in imitation of the
rough men and sailors about the piers with whom we consorted, and whom
we wished to impress with our manliness. Indeed, with all the rough
characters about the streets we made friends and aped their manners as
much as we could, two or three notoriously fast, rich young men being
our particular heroes. Nothing saved us from the realization of our
ideals but our extreme youth and native innocence, and perhaps some
lurking sense that we were playing at vice, with fire that would not
burn and water that would not drown. There was one thing we were
ambitious to do, yet could not screw our courage to the sticking point;
we wanted to get drunk to see how it felt. Either a Tom and Jerry had
not sufficient potency, or we could never find the bottom of the glass
before our stomachs rebelled, for we only paid the penalty in a
penitential headache without the fun of the debauch.

I realized all the while the peril of my ways in case they should come
to light, which only served to increase the excitement, though now and
then I had some serious moments. Several times I barely escaped
discovery, and our pranks often defied punishment because of our number
and the ease with which we could shoulder off the blame on one another.
I now thought of the children of my sister's school, with whom I had
recently been so intimate, with contempt as far beneath me in knowing
how to have real sport.

Although I continued to be the menial of the store, I had acquired some
knowledge of the business; could snap a piece of broadcloth to show its
firm quality and nap, hang dress goods in proper folds over my arm to
give an idea how they would look when made up, and talk quite glibly on
the cheapness of our wares in comparison with those of our competitors.
I could see that the small boy in a jacket, and only two heads higher
than the counter, amused the men customers with his brag attempt at
being a salesman, and that the women smiled down upon him
approvingly--all of which he took as a compliment to his success; for
successful he often was, to the surprise of the older clerks. With what
pride did I enter my sales on a slate kept for the purpose under the
cash drawer. I surmised that the women sometimes bought goods just to
encourage the boy. The clerks laughed and made fun of me telling me it
was my rosy cheeks that sold the goods. Young ladies frequented the shop
for no other purpose than to chat and flirt with the clerks, and one I
remember always kissed me at any favorable chance. How I hated my red
checks, and tried my best to rub out the color. It was a comfort to be
told I should outgrow it, and then the girls would not care for me. For
two long years I had ceased to care for them. It was even with some
shame that I thought of my Launas, they, who later in life, have formed
many an ideal of loveliness.

It is said the child in the womb passes through all animal forms in its
growth from the germ to birth. Whether any incipient wings have been
observed I have not heard. In much the same way the boy represents in
his growth the different stages of civilization from the savage to the
civilized man. Some time the average boy typifies the Indian, the
cowboy, prizefighter, pirate, sailor, soldier; and all classes of rough,
wild men are wonderfully attractive to him. He wishes to be like them
and plays at being one of them. For more than a year I was greatly
attached to the ruffians on the wharves, and to such of the Montville
Indians as I could make friends with. A wandering party of Indians from
the Penobscot tribe had their tents pitched for a whole summer just
outside the city, with whom I became intimate, and spent my leisure time
with them. I made my errands go their way, however long the circuit. I
should have gone away with them, would they have had me. To live in a
tent and shoot with a bow became to me the ideal of life. Strange it is
that the most vivid memory of that episode remaining with me is the
peculiar smell of the Indians; but it was not then offensive to me.

All these propensities were greatly stimulated by reading at this time
the Wandering Jew of Eugene Sue. I had found the volume, a paper covered
pamphlet edition, in a drawer in the store. I carried it home secretly
and read it at night. After I was supposed to be in bed and asleep, and
the house still, I used to get up, partly dress, light my lamp and read
often until midnight or as long as the oil held out. I doubt if any one
knows the supreme pleasure and excitement of reading, who has not read a
book surreptitiously. All the mysteries and horrors of the Wandering Jew
entered into my soul, and while it opened a scene and actions utterly
new to me, it sobered me far beyond anything that had ever happened to
me. About the same time I had many gloomy days and nights of terror from
having seen the bodies of twenty-five drowned passengers from the wreck
of a steamboat which plied between Norwich and New York City. Our poet
clerk took me with him to see them the morning they were brought to the
dock on another steamboat of the same line. They were laid out in rows
on the main deck, frozen stiff, for it was the winter season, covered
with sand and particles of ice, their flesh dreadfully lacerated and
blue, their features contorted into ghastly shapes. Among them were two
men whom we knew well, frequenters of our store. I clung to the hand of
the clerk, and should have fainted, had he not taken me away
immediately. He himself was overcome, and his sad face was sadder and
longer for many days. The whole city was in gloom and mourning. A
revival, which was in progress in one of the Baptist churches, added
greatly to its converts in consequence of the accident, and the presence
of death in such near and fearful form.


At length Fortune took a new turn at her wheel. Suddenly the store door
closed behind me; broom, oil can, coal hod and scissors knew me no more.
I rejoiced in my release and in the prospect of new scenes, new faces
and pleasures. What was to be my occupation did not give me one thought;
I had as yet no choice, no preference. Wherever there were boys was my
world and my trade.

Two of my sister's influential patrons, who had been instrumental in
bringing her to Norwich, removed their business to Worcester, Mass. She
followed them, and, as usual, I followed her. The business of her
patrons was the manufacture of pistols, a patented, six-barrelled,
self-cocking revolver, the first of its kind, I believe, ever invented,
and a wonder in its day. The whole six barrels revolved on a rod running
through their center, and by one and the same ratchet movement the
hammer was raised and the chambers of the barrel thrown into position to
receive the discharge from a percussion cap. There was a great demand
for these pistols in the South and West. It was, I suppose, on account
of my sister's intimacy with the families of these manufacturers that a
place was found for me in their works.

See me now no longer in a linen shirt and brown broadcloth jacket, but
again in blue jean overalls, with grimy, oily hands and dirty face, shut
in walls from which was no escape for ten hours each day. The lathes,
hand tools, forges and engine which operated the machinery were novel
and interesting to me at first. I was the only boy in the establishment.
The workmen, all skilled mechanics, were a remarkably fine body of men.
They earned large wages, lived quite comfortably, and were prominent in
their several circles and churches. One of them became Lieut. Gov. of
Mass. I was placed under the charge of the foreman of the first floor
where the heavier part of the material of the pistol was prepared. I did
the odd jobs of the room, worked a punching machine and managed the
lathe that turned the rough outside of the pistol barrel. My master took
an active personal interest in me and was very minute and painstaking in
his instructions. He was a very pious man and lost no opportunity of
exhorting me to seek religion and become converted. It made no
impression on me; I understood no word he said. Besides, just the same
words had always been familiar to me and had never conveyed any meaning
to my simple ears. It did not trouble me to be called a sinner; it never
occurred to me to question whether I was or not. In short in my
innocence and indifference, I was a perfect type of the thing itself, as
understood by the church. But when my master invited me to go a-fishing
on some half holiday, that was a very different sort of a text, which I
well understood. Alas, when the fish did not bite, it gave an
uncomfortable opportunity for a little exhortation. In addition to the
work in the shop I spent much time in the office, where I was employed
in putting the last touches to the pistols before being packed for
delivery. I burnished the silver plates, set in the handles, cleaned and
oiled the chambers, hammers and nipples, and polished the whole with
fine chamois skin. Thus I had a hand in the beginning and completion of
the construction of a pistol, and knew pretty well all the intermediate
operations. I also obtained an inkling of the way the business was
conducted by hearing the conversation and discussions of the
proprietors. I heard many secrets. Some of them confused my small
glimmerings of moral sense. It seemed to me that I had known the same
sort of obliquities among boys in the swapping of jacknives. I heard the
bookkeeper say one day, "business is business; this is no Sunday
school." I had bewildering thoughts. Was it possible these pistols were
not what they seemed and would not kill a man? For I knew they were sold
mostly in the South for the fighting of duels. I longed to try one on a
cat. The sun rose and set on my suspicions, with never a solution. To
this day I cannot rid myself of an innate doubt when I make a purchase.
I expect to be cheated.

I seemed in a fair way at last of acquiring a trade, and it might have
been, except for the accident of my boarding place. For there I first
came in contact with books and students. It was not a regular boarding
house, save for three months in the winter. I was taken into the family
on account of its association with mine long before in Bellingham. The
master of the house had formerly been the clergyman of that town, but
was now a botanic-eclectic physician and general medical professor of a
school, which held one winter session in his house. It was attended by
only a dozen students. Lobelia was Prof. ----'s strong point. Everybody
in the house was put through a course of lobelia with a heavy sweat,
sometimes to cure a slight indisposition, but more often as an
experiment. My only escape from the drudgery of the workshop was in
feigning sickness and undergoing the Professor's panacea. This confined
me to the bed for a day and gave me another day for recovery, when I
could be about and enjoy myself. These sweatings and retchings took the
color out of my cheeks so that when I returned to the shop it was easily
believed that I had been ill, and, with considerable sympathy, my master
also warned me of the brevity and uncertainty of life and the necessity
of preparing for the day of wrath. Little did he know how all this could
be escaped by a good dose of lobelia.

It was a curious life I led at this time between my regular occupation,
lobelia, the dissecting room of the professor and frequent religious
exhortations. I was immensely delighted by the secrets of the basement
cellar, where, in winter, the cadavers were kept I became accustomed to
the sight of them, and frequently inspected them when alone, curious to
see the internal structure of a human body, for until that time I was
not conscious of any internal structure of the human body. Hands and
feet were the epitome of my physiology. The whole business of dissection
was conducted in the most clandestine manner, although the subjects were
obtained from Boston and were, no doubt, honestly procured. There was
probably some professional reason for their being all women. I know not
why, but I seemed to be trusted by the Professor and his little band of
students, and when cadavers arrived at the railroad station by express,
I was often sent to watch them until they could be removed. They came in
large casks packed in oats.

I had little time to make acquaintance with boys, as I was not allowed
on the street in the evening, and Sunday was strictly observed. Nor did
I know any girls of my own age. With the pretty waitress of the
Professor's dining-room, some years older than myself, I had occasional
ardent encounters on back stairs and in dark entries. I was less
embarrassed by them than formerly and began to play the beau. As usual,
only girls much older than myself attracted me. I began to have the same
experience with regard to men. There were even some moments when I dimly
realized why some men were respected and honored. For the proprietors of
the pistol factory I had a deep reverence. One of them, the inventor of
the self-cocking pistol, was the model of a reserved, dignified
gentleman. I saw much of him in the office attending to his business,
deciding and despatching it with few words. The other member of the firm
was in complete contrast to his partner. His round, jolly face was
always wreathed in smiles, a joke, a pun, or story always forthcoming,
and business the last thing to be considered. He was a college graduate
and a poet of local reputation. It is singular in my boyhood how often I
happened to be dropped in the vicinity of small poets. This gentleman
was, like myself, a native of Bellingham, and on that account he
sometimes noticed me and made inquiries after my well-being. He seemed
to me a very great man, chiefly because he wrote poetry and had it
printed in books. I imagine that he expected me to remain a mechanic,
and had little thought of the influence he was unconsciously exerting
over the future. Nor did I myself recognize it, until years later when
my first article appeared in a magazine; feeling some pride in this
grand, world-moving effort, I sent it to him as a lawful tribute. Time
had not been kind to him; he had almost lost the use of his hand for
writing and was using some sort of mechanical contrivance for that
purpose. But the fire of the proselyter still burned in him, and he
ended his note of acknowledgment with the old familiar query about the
salvation of my soul.


Having no boy associates I began to cultivate the Professor's students.
I spent my leisure time with them, and, through their conversation,
entered a new world. Words are too cold a medium to convey the change
that came over me, for at the same time that I began in some measure to
appreciate the learning and general knowledge of these young men I began
to be conscious of my own ignorance, I became aware that I knew nothing,
never had, and probably never should. Consequently I was more depressed
than stimulated. I reflected on the conversations I heard among the
students, and the pithy, sententious sayings of the Professor at the
table. He usually settled all discussions and table talk with a
witticism or apt quotation, I was about to say with a toothpick; for he
had a curious habit of digging his thumb and finger into his vest pocket
and fumbling for one, jabbing it into one side of his mouth and
delivering his wisdom from the other side. His wife who sat opposite to
him, tall, lean and prim always frowned on any levity at the table. It
was her opinion that we should eat our food in silence and as quickly as
possible, so that, as she often remarked, the table could be cleared and
the kitchen work not be delayed. To her great distress the conversation
often became so lively that the meal dragged, and various were her
devices for bringing back our attention to the business at hand. I had
some sense of the humor of the situation, and as I never took part in
the talk, I amused myself by exchanging winks with the pretty waitress.
She was the only person in the house near my own age. We were very good
friends; she cut me a little larger piece of pie than she served to the
others, darned my socks and called me "Sonny," and "curly head." She was
not averse to an arm around her waist, and I repaid her kindness in the
only currency I had--a kiss. However, I more enjoyed the society of the
students than I did hers. I could be in their company without being
noticed. No word escaped me and slowly, then, at length, overwhelmingly,
there was borne in upon me the crushing sense of the difference between
these young men and myself, their interests, expectations, future
careers and mine. Yet I saw no way out of my present situation. The
bitter seeds of unrest, and ambitions without opportunities, were at the
same time planted in a fruitful soil. When the soul of man is awakened,
not one but all its faculties awaken together. Hitherto the memory of my
past life had no existence and no interest. It was a blank page.

All at once, when most cast down and discouraged in my thought of the
future, that blank page of the past became illuminated and full of
delightful pictures and memories. I was entirely overcome by them. They
all pointed back to Bellingham, which I had not thought of since leaving
it. The attraction to the place became irresistible. It seemed as if
there I could recover myself and begin my life over again, continuing
all its joys, reuniting all its companionships. It is obvious to me now
that this was an evasive yet ingenuous effort to escape from myself, an
awakening that had come to me, which I knew not how to meet. I revolved
several plans for getting back to my native place and becoming a farmer.
None of these were practicable, and I determined to go, trusting to
chance to make the way plain. But even the going had difficulties. I
solved them by setting out. I crossed the bridge before I came to it,
and all the way was easy. I could take no scrip for the journey, for I
had none; neither two coats, for I had but one; nor yet could I take the
blessing of any one, for to no one save the waitress did I entrust my
intentions. I set out on foot, and once on the road, I felt as free and
joyous as a bird. There were twenty-five miles to cover, and I expected
to do them from sun to sun of a late April day. Sometimes I ran for a
mile or two from sheer eagerness to arrive. Most of the way I sauntered
along thinking of nothing, overflowing with animal spirits. Enough the
freedom, the open sky, the earth, which had been lost to me for three
years. It did not occur to me that I was running away, not from outward
conditions, but from myself; that at last I had come to the not unusual
crisis in the life of boys. However, it was a very mild form of runaway,
twenty-five miles, and its objective my old home; not the lure of the
sea nor the army, nor yet the adventures of the dime novel hidden in the
hay mow. No, it was none of these, but strangely in contrast to them, an
impulsive, passionate awakening of memory, an attempted escape from a
future, which had been shown to me as in a vision, and from which I
shrank in fear and despair.

At noon I was half way between Grafton and Upton and I rested on a high
bank with my back against a stone wall. There I could see the church
spires of Milford town, and beyond, the land fell away toward
Bellingham. I ate some food that the waitress had given me for the
journey, and took the road again. Soon I was in Milford. The remainder
of the way was very familiar. I knew every house, rock and tree; yet
everything looked smaller than I anticipated. I hurried on as I wished
to arrive at Uncle Lyman's before his supper time, which I knew was
invariably at five o'clock the year round. Uncle Lyman's house, to which
I was going, was the house in which I was born. He had been my father's
most intimate friend. The house had always been like a home to me, even
after my family had one of their own. As I hurried along I saw again the
house, one-storied, and the elm tree, with its branches extending over
the roof, and arching the highway. I suddenly remembered the flat stone
that had been set in its bole for a seat, which the tree had so
overgrown that, as a child, I could sit there and be almost hidden from
sight; and the brook which flowed through the fields near the house,
where the grass was always a darker green along its course, even when it
dried up; and the windings so many and sharp that they seemed to write
letters when one looked down upon them from a little elevation. I have
sat in a tree and fancied I spelled out words in the green grass.

As I came nearer the house I became more and more agitated about the
welcome that awaited me. It was friendly, yet surprised, and not as warm
as I had expected. Had they changed? Or was it I? Certainly I did not
feel at home. This was the house most dear to me, this the settle where
I had sat when my legs did not reach the floor. How familiar sounded the
voices I now heard, one deep and penetrating, the other a thin falsetto;
yet I did not feel the comfort I had imagined that I should. At the
table were the same dishes I remembered; the taste was gone. After
supper I went out and tried to sit in my old seat in the elm. It was too
small for me now; alas, it seemed to disown me, to have cast me out. The
barn which once looked so enormous appeared insignificant. I went to bed
unreconciled and unhappy. Yet how can a healthy boy awake in the morning
dejected? Night, pitying night, which knows how the evil days succeed
each other, hinders their sad return and hides in her oblivious mantle
their weariness, their sorrows and their disappointments. I was awake at
dawn, and yesterday was forgotten. The sun shone across the tops of the
forest oaks just beginning to show their red buds. There was dew on the
grass and a sweet, earthy smell in the air. Robins were calling
everywhere and blue birds flying low from fence to fence. The little
brook was full to the brim; the lush grass laid flat along its borders.
I found the places where I used to erect my miniature mill wheels, and
the remains of the little dam. Here was already antiquity. I did not
need Egypt or Greece. Childhood contains their whole story. The season
was unusually early; the great elm was becoming misty with the ruffled
edges of its unfolding leaves. The outermost sprays began to drop from
increasing weight of sap and leaf bud. Catkins hung on birch and willow
and alder and the ancient bed of tansy had a new growth of three inches.
Down the hill toward Beaver Pond, and along the meadow clusters of ferns
were leading up their brides and bridegrooms in opposite pairs with
bowed heads. It was twenty days before the usual pasturing time; but
Uncle Lyman was turning his cattle out for half a day to keep the grass
from becoming too rank and sour. I helped him drive the cows, oxen and
heifers to the pasture. How they gamboled, kicked up their heels and
tossed their heads. No more bow and stanchion, no more dry hay and
confinement for them. I shared in their exhilaration, having been myself
a prisoner for the past six months, and as we drove them afield, could
hardly keep from dancing and shouting. "There, my son," said Uncle
Lyman, "let me see if you have forgotten how to put up the bars."

I lifted them into place with a will, and thought, this is the life for
me. Emboldened by his question I opened my mind in a roundabout way as
to helping him all summer on the farm. He saw my drift at once and told
me he could not hire me, nor any other boy; he must have a man if
anybody, and that I must stick to my trade.

"You can stay a few days," he continued, "and then you had better go
back to it," and as if to soften his advice he added, "The first cloudy
day we will try for pickerel, though it is rather too early."

This might have been discouraging and a dreadful check to my plans, but
by some sudden transition wholly inexplicable, I had already half given
them up. My discontent and melancholy had been exhausted in the running
away; and a few hours experience of disenchantment reconciled me to my

There is no human experience more acutely painful than when one awakens
to the fact that he is a person, an ego, unrelated to people or things,
with no real claim to assert save that of habit or associations. The
sense of isolation and loneliness is at first overpowering, and vainly
does he try to attach himself to former objects and environment. The
awakening may come in mature years, it may come in youth; but at what
time it appears, the old heavens and the old earth crumble and the soul
faces its own destiny and recognizes that it must walk alone.

I was surprised to see how the face of things had altered, when, in the
course of the day, I hunted up the two playmates with whom I had
formerly been most intimate. I met a cold reception. We could not find
our way back to the old ground, the old innocent relation. As for Launa
Probana, I did not so much as inquire for her. Time and change had not
yet made her distinct and dear. After this I enjoyed myself very well
for a few days, excusing my prank with the notion that it was a
vacation. We went fishing, but the pickerel would not come from their
hiding places. In the evenings Uncle Lyman and his wife at their several
sides of the fireplace, she with her knitting, and he with his pipe, and
I in a corner of the settle, talked of the days when my father was
alive, and of the labors they underwent to make a good farm, clearing
the brush and stones and building the fences. They told me of my birth
and my father's joy at having a son. Then when I inquired for Nahum,
their son, whom I remembered as a young man, when I was a child, a
sudden silence fell over the great kitchen. There was no reply and the
mother's head drooped over her work and tears fell upon it. I wondered,
but did not dare to speak, and shortly I climbed the attic stairs to my
bed. The next day Uncle Lyman cautioned me not to mention Nahum again
before his wife. He said he had run away, and they knew not where he
was. A guilty pang struck my heart; I became conscious of what I had
done, and thought perhaps at that very moment my sister might be weeping
for me.

Nothing was now wanting to complete the failure of my escapade, and I
was as eager to run back as I had been to run away. Memories, touched by
imagination, had come to naught in contact with reality. I learned my
first lesson in keeping it and ideals in their proper place. A bird in
the bush is worth two in the hand! Utopia is a far country, toward which
to travel is better than to arrive. It was some years before I restored
the Bellingham of my imagination. If experience be nothing but suffering
then I had experienced; over this transaction therefore I grant an act
of oblivion.

The return to Worcester was tedious. I was in no hurry, dreading my
reception; what should I say, what should I answer? I revolved many
explanations, but each I could think of contained a falsehood. With all
my waywardness I was never a good liar; the lie was manifest in my face
and I could feel it there as something not myself. I concluded to say
nothing and not attempt any apology. This proved the wiser plan. Few
questions were asked; reproachful looks were to be expected. Some
penalty I paid in the shop also; harder tasks were set for me and I was
kept more strictly to my work. The students of Prof. Lobelia were now
gone, the sessions of his medical school closing in April, and the house
seemed lonesome. In the course of the summer there came into the family
a young man who was preparing himself to be a missionary. For the first
time I heard of Greek and Latin books. The young man was studying both;
it excited my curiosity. Here were other things of which I knew nothing,
and I began at this period to be oppressed continually by the more and
more frequent discovery of the extent of my ignorance. Luckily I knew
how to read. My rustic mentors had warned me against girls, but never of
books. I found in the Professor's library a queer assortment of odds and
ends of learned works. There was a shelf of theology and missionary
records, doubtless collected when he was a minister; many shelves of
medical books, and a small number of miscellaneous works, histories and
cyclopaedias. Among these latter I chanced one day to take down
Whelpley's Compend of History. All that I can remember of it now are its
stories of ancient heroes, Alexander, Caesar, the greater and lesser men
of Greek and Roman annals. That of Alexander made the deepest impression
upon me; I know not why, perhaps his conquests, his glory, his youth. I
scarcely knew before what the word hero meant. It was a mark of utter
inexperience and a visionary temperament that my ambition should have
been so aroused by the career of an ancient hero instead of the man who
had invented a self-cocking pistol. It was to be two thousand years
behind the times, in an age when half a generation is sufficient to
write you down as belated and not wanted. However, it is well to have a
hero in youth, an example, a spur, a Bucephalus, although one gets many
a fall before he reaches the goal, and I can date my desire to know more
and to achieve something from the reading of that brief compend of
ancient history.

If ever a man finds a path to the true life, he experiences two
awakenings, the intellectual and the spiritual, and it matters little
which is first. In Worcester I stumbled upon the two books in the space
of three years, which led me from darkness to day. The first was that I
have just described; the other was of somewhat the same character,
Emerson's Representative Men.

The beech at last divides the rock in whose invisible seam its tiny seed
was sown. I now began to spend all my leisure time in reading, and to be
more and more aware of my unprofitable and aimless life. Books carried
me this way and that. I was wholly overcome by them as by a strong
personal influence, especially when I read Byron. The student whom I
have mentioned had a few books of poetry, and among them the complete
works of Byron in one thick volume bound in calf, and printed on cheap,
thin paper. He himself had written verses before his conversion. He now
looked upon his poets as witnesses of his former sinful state. He wanted
to sell them to me with all their sins, and eventually I did buy his
copy of Byron for fifty cents, after borrowing and becoming so enamoured
of it that I felt I could not live without the book. The Byronic moods
and fashion I imitated to the best of my ability. I began to turn down
my Sunday linen collar which had stood up to my ears, and to wear my
hair long and careless; whereas formerly, I had brushed it back and
upward as straight as possible, after the manner of ministers and
school-masters, now I let it hang as it would over my forehead and neck.
Melancholy was the wear, and for this, in my present temper, not much
effort was required. I did not, as Alexander and Chrysostom had done,
put my favorite author under my pillow; but often having to sleep on the
floor, this volume of Byron served as my pillow. In turn one book after
another held me like a captive lover, and I endeavored to conform my
life to what I read, no sooner enthralled by one than I found another
more enchanting. I formed a taste for reading that has lasted all my
life, in which, if there be any education, any mental discipline, is the
only consistent part of my development. Our critics and literary mentors
extol such books as are fit to be read a second time. I have a still
better reason for a second reading, because I forget the first. When I
strictly examine myself I cannot say that the contents of any book
remain long with me, not even the Greek and Latin grammars over which I
spent years of terrible toil. Somewhat survives the years, vague,
inexact and never at hand when wanted. Enough for me that I know pretty
well where to find what I have once read. I have been drawn to the
authors, who have written especially for me, by a certain, recurrent
impulse and appetite. Then I can go to the shelf in the dark. I find
that memory is a faculty over which we cannot use the whip and spur to
much purpose. It goes its own gait through barren or fertile fields,
gathering many a weed with its flowers. How many trifles one carries
through life from childhood days, by no effort of his own, things of the
senses mostly, when these were unwritten tablets and blank for the first
impressions. Upon these tablets are indelibly retained a certain box, a
spool, a pair of stairs, the smell of a neighbor's house, when, with all
my efforts, I cannot recover my father's voice and countenance, nor many
another thing that would make a golden treasury of memory. Instead, it
is more like the lumber of an old attic, or the contents of a boy's
pocket. From much reading I began to observe the difference between
written and spoken languages, and to single out the people who used the
best speech in their common conversation. I tried myself to talk like
the books I read. Never before had I noticed any difference between men
as to education. All were on the same plane, only separable by some
personal relation to myself. Little by little they became distinct so
that I attempted to classify them in a crude and bookish way. Character
and the moral point of view, with their manifold applications to life,
were as yet hidden from me. I judged men and women by their speech, even
by their pronunciation, and thought that I could detect the accent of
the educated. In short, education became all in all to my mind; the one
desirable possession, and its end the writing of books, its reward fame.
As was natural I tried to write, but my rude penmanship, my inability to
spell the words, which I was ambitious to use, the difficulty of
beginning a sentence, and still greater perplexity of ending it,
completely disgusted me and filled me with despair. It was more evident
than ever that education was the ladder for my enterprise. There was, at
that time, in Worcester a learned blacksmith, who knew fifty languages;
he might have been an example to me; yet I had never heard of him. I
knew only the great men of Whelpley's ancient history, and the poet
Byron. Schools and colleges assumed great and greater importance. I saw
no way of educating myself: I expected it to be done for me, as
everything thus far had been. I was nearly sixteen years old, barely
able to read and write, but no more advanced than the average boy of ten
or twelve.


After much solicitation I persuaded my sister to send me for one term to
the Worcester Academy. This was a school then in the suburbs of the city
under the patronage of the Baptists. It had formerly been a manual labor
school; that is, students could pay their expenses by labor on a farm
belonging to the institution. This feature had been given up, and it was
conducted like other institutions of a similar character. It was
essentially a country academy, intended primarily for youths who, having
gone through the common schools, desired some further education at small
expense. One or two terms were considered sufficient to round off the
culture of farmers' sons. The school pretended to teach Latin and Greek,
and occasionally sent a student to college. A few, having acquired a
taste for study, remained long enough to fit themselves to become
teachers of common schools, or to enter one of the professions, which at
that time did not place so much importance as at present upon lengthy
preparation and a degree. The expenses were as light as was the fare.
The rooms were scantily furnished; chairs, tables and beds were in the
last stages of dilapidation from the rough usage of a generation of
students. No one felt or was held responsible for their condition. Some
of the students boarded themselves in the dormitory, which did not add
to the tidiness and order of their rooms. Books, clothing, plates and
pots, wood and food were scattered about promiscuously. Each room was a
citadel, neither teachers nor steward ever entered it; a servant made up
the bed, and that was the extent of her function. We filled our own
water pails, cut our own wood and swept the room when we happened to
think of it, and could borrow a broom. As I have said, the common table
was meagerly kept. How could it have been otherwise at the rate of one
dollar per week? We often rose in rebellion at the cooking, when we
drove the waitress from the room, hurling the food, and after it, the
dishes, upon the floor. No punishments ever followed these out-breaks,
nor any of our pranks with the bell, the steward's horse and cow and the
principal's desk. The discipline was mild; or rather there was none. And
yet there were many diligent students and a few who distinguished
themselves in later life. The best features of the institution were its
unbounded freedom, the close democratic companionship of the students,
the affectionate attachments formed, and the tremendous interest we took
in the meetings of the Philomathean society for debates, and the reading
of essays and poetry, exhibited also in a lesser degree in the Saturday
declamations and compositions. How deep and real were our personal
attachments I may illustrate in mentioning that I have maintained two of
them for fifty years. Others that faded out of my life I still remember
with grateful and tender feelings, especially a young man considerably
older than myself, to whom I was passionately devoted. He was a
handsome, reserved fellow with the eyes and lips of genius. He played
the violin, and well do I recall the sensitive twitchings of his mouth
at any strain of unusual thrilling sweetness. It made my heart beat
faster when he spoke to me, which was rarely; and never before had I
felt such a deep emotion as when coming from the city one evening he
asked me to take his arm. It was the common custom with all of us when
walking or strolling about the grounds to lock arms or put them about
each other's necks. Only with him, the violinist, it was less usual than
with the others. How often have I wondered what was the subsequent
career of him whom we thought the greatest man among us.

With such freedom, such slight discipline, and so little pressure in the
classroom, it was nevertheless the best arena for the development of the
whole man which I have ever known. Our debates were exciting, often
fierce; sometimes we almost came to blows, and instead of being merely
practice and forensics, they were very real and vital, so much so, that
we generally resumed them when two or three met in their rooms or on
their walks. They were sure to continue until the next meeting, when a
new question would be proposed. Usually the topics for debate and the
principal disputants were selected a week in advance. Much time was
given to preparation, to the complete neglect of our studies. The
debates were extemporaneous, and after the preliminary speeches, the
question was open to all. The topics of debate were generally on the
social and political issues of the time; anti-slavery, temperance,
women's rights; these questions often led into religious and theological
controversies. Not who was the better scholar, but who was the better
speaker, and next the better writer, was the popular estimate of
reputation and settlement of rank in school. We strove above everything
to be eloquent, to become orators; that being at the time the aim set
before us by ambitious public men, inspired by the examples of Webster,
Clay, Calhoun and others. It is my belief that, at this period, one of
the great public prizes of glory, which young students set before
themselves, was to deliver a Fourth of July oration. Meanwhile no
instruction was given in elocution, rhetoric or composition. The
required exercises in declamation and writing were conducted with almost
no criticism. They neither added nor subtracted from our standing with
the teachers by any sign known to us. We were left to our own
self-instruction, which, on account of our enthusiasm, emulation and
rivalries, was the very best of school-masters. We studied parliamentary
law from a little volume called Cushing's manual; for who could tell
when he might be called upon to be an officer of the club, or at what
point he could with safety move the previous question? Very amusing were
some of the attempts of the students to speak extemporaneously; the
stammering, the hesitation, the confusion and final flunk; the
confidence with which some one would spring to his feet, as if full to
the muzzle, and the entire inconsequence and futility of his words,
ending in apparent abject paralysis of speech. We dealt liberally in
jeers at any exhibition of bathos or fustian; in laughter and applause
at any touch of eloquence or wit. What better training was there than
this? I have always had a fond lingering desire to be an orator, but
when before an audience found myself as cold as a clod. Toward essay
writing and reading our attitude was somewhat different. Yet here we
looked for and were only satisfied with eloquence--good, resounding
periods with plentiful classical allusion and quotations of poetry. We
always expected at least one apostrophe to "Science Hill," which was the
consecrated name of the eminence on which the academy building stood.
Progress, liberty, the Fathers of the Republic and other patriotic
themes were those on which we sharpened our pens. For purely literary
subjects there was no interest whatever; and, because of this
indifference, occurred what was, to me, one of the most mortifying
episodes of my youth. I had come into the possession of Milton's poetry,
and though untouched by his Paradise Lost, his Lycidas was a revelation
to me of the music and rhythm and allusions possible to poetry. I
committed it to memory and startled my class one day by reciting it as a
part of the regular exercises. It was customary for some criticism to
follow such exercises; but, to my distress, my beautiful poem, that had
filled me with delight, was received in absolute silence. It had fallen
like a bolt from heaven on those young wights. Covered with confusion, I
went to my seat feeling that I had committed the unpardonable sin of
attempting to do something beyond my capacity. No comment on my effort
was made at the time; I was not even rallied about it outside the class
room; and only after fifty years had passed did I learn the reason of
the extraordinary silence that had followed my rhetorical outbreak. Said
one of my classmates at a reunion, "I shall never forget the day you
recited Lycidas; none of the fellows had ever done such a thing; they
neither knew nor cared for poetry, and your recitation was a revelation
to us all. It came like a shock and thrilled us to bigger things. We
never forgot it."

So impressionable and plastic is youth in its formative period that it
only takes one great poem to unlock for it the higher mysteries.

We taught ourselves patriotism in season, and before the days of
attenuated and hypersensitive politics. Rough fellows were we, dressed
in cheap coats, eating coarse food, sleeping on hard beds in cold rooms,
and I fear the well was not much called upon for baths. We read but
little. There was not a newspaper nor magazine taken in the whole
establishment, and how we knew what was going on in the world I cannot
tell; yet in some way it penetrated our seclusion. In such a small and
socially affiliated school, what one knew, all the others soon imbibed.
We were every one of us Yankee boys, acquisitive and resolved to make
the most of ourselves and our small opportunities. The library of the
institution contained about a hundred volumes, and of these some were
religious books. There was a ragged, greasy Shakespeare in eight volumes
which I tried to read through, but found the task too much for me.
However, I did have a glimpse of something for which I found myself
unprepared; and such is the constitution of my mind, that I have seldom
been able to grasp dramatic writing with complete enjoyment; I am apt to
dwell too long on its beauty spots. For this reason I prefer the Greek
drama, because of the simplicity of its construction. The characters are
fewer, and, I may say, not so personal, and there are not so many
threads to keep in hand. I am in no perplexity when I begin Agamemnon
and Antigone; there is a clear, simple and straight path for action. The
one book which we all read with greatest diligence was Todd's Student's
Manual. As we did not really study much, it seemed best to know all
about the methods and rules for study. The book was stuffed full of
sound advice in regard to the regulations of the student's time, diet,
sleep and exercise; in short, what may, without offense, be called the
mechanical apparatus for the acquirement of education and character. I
am sure I profited much from this manual, although I could never observe
a tithe of its instructions. It was something to know there was a path
especially laid out for the student, if he could not always keep it. It
prompted the searching of one's self, and in consequence, many of us
began to keep a diary, which, I think in my own case, stimulated
observation and reflection. Feeble as the young child's first effort to
walk were my entries in my first diary. How is one to write without a
definite subject, or one selected for him? But with each day's practice
it became easier, and at last a pleasure to hold a silent intercourse
with myself, to recover and merely to catalogue the day's doings and try
to discriminate them. In vain thus far were my attempts at logic in the
debating club, and the sentences in my diary seemed even more wanting in
connection. Conjunctions would not join, nor any therefores and
wherefores tie the sentences. It was merely chance that I landed a verb
in the right place, and did not altogether lose the noun. I seemed to
know what I wanted to say but it would not form itself on the pen, and
what I wrote one day I had an infinite disrelish for the next. I have
heard something in my time about rising upon our dead selves. I know of
nothing so dead and so precipitating as the look into an early youthful
diary. Not much more encouraging is the book one has written and
published, and some time after has the temerity to open.


After a few terms at Worcester Academy, during which I contrived in
different ways to support myself on a single meal a day, at one time by
ringing the bell for morning prayers and sweeping the general recitation
room, at another by delivering a daily newspaper, the _Worcester Spy_,
to one hundred and twenty-five subscribers, I thought myself competent
to teach a common school, by which I hoped to earn enough to carry me
through another year of study. I was examined as to my qualifications
for teaching by the chairman of the school committee of the town of
Grafton, having applied for one of the district schools. Between fright
and incompetency I passed a most inadequate examination. What little I
did know deserted me at the pinch. The reverend gentleman, who conducted
me through questions in the various common school studies, was one of
the most amiable souls in the world, as I had many subsequent
opportunities of knowing, for he continued my friend as long as he
lived. He told me frankly that he was hardly warranted in giving me a
certificate, but would allow me to make a trial of the school, and, as
my sister had such a high reputation as a teacher, he had no doubt I
would succeed if I was in earnest and studied diligently. The school
consisted of fifty pupils of all ages; some were just learning to read,
others had been through again and again all the text books in use and
went to school in winter for fun, and because they had nothing else to
do. There were six young men four years older than myself. These older
pupils thought they knew their school books well enough, and had no
occasion to study them again. They were much inclined to match their
proficiency with that of their teacher, which was a good way of putting
him on his mettle. A few appeared to be present only to make trouble,
and to try their pugilism against that of the master. I was not
especially athletic; yet, when my temper was up, I was a dangerous
antagonist. I soon discovered the work cut out for me. I spent every
evening in preparation for the next day's lessons, and I introduced some
new exercises for those older boys and girls whose familiarity with
their books gave them little to do. My troubles began soon enough, not
in the school, but among the parents, which was shortly reflected in
their children. In every New England school district there are generally
factions and parties as in larger political divisions; it divides on all
kinds of issues, political, religious or social. I am giving my
experience, not for its personal value, but as the average picture of
the average school district. This particular district was sharply split
by the temperance party and the rummies. It so happened that the
prudential committeeman, as he was called, that is, the agent whose
office it was to hire a teacher and have the general care of all the
business concerns of the school for the year, was an ardent temperance
worker, and I boarded with him. This was reason enough for the other
party to stir up antagonism against the teacher. It was not long before
I became aware of the situation, and learned to my surprise and
amusement that I was a strong temperance man, and in the habit of making
temperance speeches. The rummies, I found, were men addicted only to
their cider barrels; hard working citizens with red faces and rather
lurid speech. On the whole, I thought them much more interesting
characters than the faction to which I was supposed to belong. But they
would have none of me, and I had not sufficient tact to win them to
myself. The crisis came when I thrashed the son of one of them, my first
and last experiment in corporal punishment. The boy's father threatened
and sent me word that the first time he met me I might look out for his
horse whip. I fully expected it, and carried a stick on my way to and
from school. He turned out to be a great coward, for one day we met on
the road and he slunk the other side of his load of wood as we came
opposite each other. He took his boy out of school, and several others
followed him, complaining that I did not know enough arithmetic to teach
them, which was quite true, only I was learning; and gladly would I
learn and gladly teach, if they could have had patience. I think my most
successful teaching has been with those with whom I was also studying
and learning, having a double incitement and interest. The teacher who
knows it all beforehand, and rests in his knowledge is soon dulled and

This incident, the thrashing of one boy and the withdrawal of several
others, brought peace and good will into the school-room, and I became
on intimate and even affectionate terms with the remainder of the
pupils, and on the last day of the term, examination day it was called,
we were all much lauded and flattered by the school committee and
assembled friends. It was my first experience of responsibility, and
settled some matters with me for life, chief of which was that the only
authority and influence of value are those that are gained by love. The
more friendly and intimate my relation with any pupil the more pleasant
was my task, the more easy his lesson, the more rapid his progress. I
also learned that all effort is lost on a stupid mind, and that it is
better to wait upon its awakening. In this I had my own experience to
support me, for I never learned anything until aroused from within; all
else is but untempered plaster that falls away as soon as it ceases to
be fresh. Outside of my school and its duties I found considerable
opportunity for improving myself. The couple, with whom I boarded, were
good souls, and, having no children of their own, showed me much kindly
attention. The table was plentiful; we had pumpkin pie three times
daily, baked in oblong tins, and the corner piece was the favorite cut.
My room was large and pleasant, and better furnished than any I had ever
occupied. My host always wore a cheerful smile and seemed the happiest
of men, although he never joked; his conversation was serious and
religious, in striking contrast to his manner and usual countenance. He
spoke of heaven and hell with the same merry twinkle in his eye, the
same smiling face. His speech was accompanied by a sort of low, half
audible whistle. He encouraged me through all my troubles, and told me
not to worry about the old cider-drinking farmers, as there were more
horsewhips than one in the "deestrict." His wife's chief dread in this
mortal life was fire. She expected the house would burn up every night.
I can see now her painful look of alarm when there was news of a
conflagration anywhere; she would immediately leave her chair, look at
the stove, examine the stovepipe and peer out into the kitchen. Then it
was not unusual for dissolute, drinking men to take revenge on the total
abstainers by setting fire to their barns. There was only one family in
the district with whom I became intimate, and whose friendship across
the continent I still keep. This was the family of a retired
Universalist clergyman. They lived in a large farmhouse, and the
clergyman was engaged in reclaiming an immense bog, and occasionally
supplying some vacant neighboring pulpit. He was a visionary of a
perfect kind. All bogs were to him prospective gardens of Eden;
impossibilities to him the only things worth attempting; all men saints
and angels. He had inherited a considerable fortune, which had mostly
disappeared in the fathomless swamps of the different towns where he had
sojourned as a clergyman. His wife was a lineal descendant of one of the
heroes of Concord Bridge; a beautiful, domestic woman full of prudent
and wise counsels, which had saved the family from being swallowed up in
her husband's Utopias. Three of their younger children were among the
brightest of my pupils; three grown up sons were still at home, working
on the land a part of the year, and in winter they made boots in a
little shop attached to the house. As formerly in Hopkinton, so here in
this shop, but with more intelligence and learning, I heard and now took
part in the discussion of all sorts of questions. Their minds seemed to
have been trained in more philosophical directions than any I had met.
Here I had some new insights which helped me forward, and I heard much
of the worthlessness of religious dogmas. It was, however, with a tin
pedler, a friend and distant relative of this family, that I turned the
newest leaf in my mental progress. He usually travelled through Grafton
twice a month, and made it his convenience to put up over night with his
friends. It was there I used to meet him. His name was Daboll, and he
claimed to be descended from that ancient Connecticut maker of
arithmetics and almanacs, Nathan Daboll. He said that was why he became
a pedler--he was born to calculate. Yet his occupation sat very lightly
upon him. It gave him abundant opportunities for reflection and
conversation. In the latter he took delight, and lost no chance of
displaying his skill in setting forth his own ideas and drawing out
those of his customers. If he sold a pan or a broom it was accompanied
by some bit of philosophy that he had evolved on the lonesome stretches
of road between farmhouse and farmhouse. I write evolved; but that was
not his own word, nor his theory of the origin of his ideas. He claimed
that they came to him when he escaped his own control. I have forgotten
many of the details and examples which he used to give in explanation of
his doctrine, and should not remember them at all after so many years,
save that at various times I have had similar experiences, and that I
have been often reminded of them by the modern discussions of
psychology, and especially of the operations of the subjective mind. He
said that he was led into his view from thinking about his dreams which
were beyond control of the will. His next step was to observe that he
sometimes dreamed when awake; that is, thoughts came into his mind
without conscious effort, and at times when his head was wholly vacant
or wholly occupied with his business. Many things were made clear to him
in this manner, and he had come to the conclusion that the best way to
get the wisdom enjoined by the Bible and learned men, was to escape from
yourself, in short, to become passive. In long summer days, slowly
travelling his circuit of some forty miles, calling at every house where
he was well known, and must needs be in no haste to trade, (for country
people were never sure of what they wanted until they looked the cart
over), he had plenty of time to resign himself to the involuntary and
dreamlike states of mind, which solved for him the questions in which he
was most interested. I was not so much impressed that such notions
should come from a tin pedler as by the notions themselves; for at that
period the democracy of our New England towns considered and treated a
pedler as a man and a brother. His business was not regarded as
demeaning, and frequently was an apprenticeship to that of a store
keeper, and he might, and sometimes did, become the rich merchant of a
great city. Many young men peddled small wares, books and pictures
between terms to help themselves in paying for their education. So
Reuben Daboll was no phenomenon; but his philosophy was phenomenal, at
least to me, and kept me awake on the nights when the evening had been
spent with him. It kept me awake, I say, for I never could reason far,
and trying to think gave me a headache. I was perplexed by a thousand
problems, my own, and those propounded by my companions and elders, and
others suggested in books; and I wondered if Daboll's way was not an
easier and shorter method of answer than the pros and cons of argument.
It is interesting now for me to reflect upon the two influences
following each other so closely, that were quickening my own faculties;
for they were in direct contrast with each other; one, the animated
debates and attempted logical presentation of a subject with its related
facts, as presented at the Worcester Academy; and this new method of
passive receptivity, this opening of the inner eye of the mind to
receive impressions. It was a long time before I could experiment with
any success in this new direction, for I was of an active and impatient
temperament, longing to hurry to an end that I might begin something
new, and wishing to arrive rather than to profit by each day's march. As
I grew to maturity, the latter method was more congenial and became of
more practical use to me, and one of my favorite mottoes has been, "Our
thoughts are a pious reception."

The winter school being over in the spring, I returned to Worcester
Academy feeling older and more sobered. I began Latin with a dim idea of
going to college, how and when, I did not dare to forecast. I was not as
happy as formerly in the school. The debates, compositions and
declamations interested me less, and I should have been quite dull
except for some young girls at the Oread Institute. This institution had
just been opened on the hill, directly opposite our academy. It was not
within speaking distance, but was within writing and signalling
distance. All intercourse between the girl students and ourselves was
prohibited. I have frequently noticed this juxtaposition of schools for
the sexes, and also that laws of non-intercourse are enacted for no
other purpose than to make their infringement the more tempting and
delightful. My chum knew one of the Oreads, a girl from his own village;
with this key we carried the citadel. We established a post office in
the neighboring stone wall and arranged many a clandestine meeting, walk
or drive. The girl whom I had chosen for my devotions was from the White
Mountains of New Hampshire. She wore her hair in long curls, that fell
over her neck and shoulders, and were constantly straggling over her
face. Then with a toss of her comely head and a pretty gesture of her
hand she would throw them back. This little trick captivated me and
fixed my fate. She constantly came between me and the Latin declensions
and conjugations that I was trying to memorize. However, I was saved
from anything like a formal attachment by her early announcement to me
that she was engaged to the son of an ex-governor of New Hampshire. I
had reason to suspect afterward that this was a subterfuge to forestall
any serious consequences from our intercourse. If so, she was a wise
maiden, and whatever claims we men may arrogate to ourselves, women are
better tacticians than we in their personal relations. With this
barrier, thus timely erected, I was kept on my good behavior and we
amused ourselves with each other's company in many a stolen woodland
walk, and in a frequent defrauding of the Worcester post-office of its
revenues. She wrote a tiny hand and could crowd more upon a page than I
could upon four. I treasured her notes in my inmost pocket, and our
secret correspondence gave me almost as deep a joy as did our

It was at this time I began to make verses, as much from an imitative
instinct as from my sentimental relation with the pretty Oread; for
there was now in the school a young man who set up for a poet and was
much admired by us all. It seems to me he must have had a sense of
musical rhythm, for there has remained in my ear ever since a stanza of
his which I caught as he read it to a little coterie of students. There
is nothing in it save its melody.

    "The while amid the greenwood
      Whistled the summer breeze
    Fair Mantua's maiden swore to wed
      Her loving Genoese."

Those two names, Mantua and Genoese, had a wonderful, faraway
imaginative association for me, and still have. Matthew Arnold's magic
of poetry, magical words and lines, explain all its charm for me. A
feeling beyond the words or the sense is what I require in poetry. In
vain did I try to express in rhyme what I felt. The lines halted for the
last word. I never ventured to read them to my Oread or fellow students.
Thus I cherished two secrets and discovered that the private indulgence
of verse-making is almost as sweet as a hidden love. The terms of the
Academy and the Oread Institute ended on the same day, and I parted from
my sweetheart never to meet again.


What to do with myself during the long summer vacation was the next
question. My money was fast wasting in spite of my economies. There were
no country schools open to male teachers in summer. My sister advised me
to find employment on a farm. I thought at once of Bellingham, and my
dear Uncle Lyman. He did not want help and eventually I hired myself to
another uncle who lived in the extreme southern part of the town, close
upon the boundary of Rhode Island. My wages were to be twelve dollars
per month with board. My uncle's wife was my father's only surviving
sister. Their children were married and settled elsewhere. All that was
left to them was a large farm and old age. The one made them rather
poorer than richer; the other brought upon them a growing habit of
penuriousness, gloom and irritability. I was expected to do all the
heavy work and most of the chores, except the milking; that, they would
allow no one to do, for fear of not squeezing out the last drop. My aunt
still made butter and cheese to sell, and in this work I usually helped
her the first thing in the morning before the regular day's work. We had
breakfast at sunrise, often before. After breakfast my uncle went into
the sitting-room where:

    "He waled a portion with judicious care,
    'And let us worship God,' he says, with solemn air."

I suppose that is what he did, for I could hear the low mumble of his
voice and occasionally catch a scriptural phrase, but neither my aunt
nor myself participated in this mockery of family prayers. She said she
had too much to do, and she could not spare me from the cheese tub and
the churn. She scolded her husband for his contributions to the church,
and begrudged every cent that was spent. She had Franklin's prudential
maxims at her tongue's end, besides many another gathered in the course
of her long life of thrift and hard work. She never rested from her
labors until the Sabbath. Our food was of the coarsest kind, but well
cooked, and work and hunger were sauce enough. She baked once a week in
a great brick oven; her other daily cooking was done by an open fire.
Brown bread and cheese were the staff of our life, and I became more
fond of them than of any viands I have since eaten. In vain have I
besought my household to discover the recipe of my aunt's brown loaves.
Who can recover for me the relish that went with them? With this aged
couple I led a lonely yet healthful life. I came nearer to the earth
than ever before; I mean her dirt, her stones, her odors and dews as
well as to cows, sheep and horses, whose closer relation to the soil
insensibly affects those who have the care of them. I felt myself a
brother to the ox that I yoked and guided along the furrow. My nigh ox
came from the pasture at my call and would lick my hand and stretch out
his neck to be stroked. The whole barnyard was friendly, and I took
pleasure, having none other, in the signs of it. The neighbors were few
and I saw nothing of them. One young man sometimes called, but as his
interest in me appeared to consist in a desire to save my soul his
visits distressed me. It was my singular fortune through my childhood
and early youth, to have been followed by soul savers. At last in
desperation I told him that I was not sure as yet that I had a soul to
save; when I had, I would consider his propositions. Whereupon he went
his way and reported that I was a Universalist, that being in Bellingham
the most opprobrious of names, in consequence of an ancient feud between
the Baptist and Universalist churches. The Baptists had come off
conquerers; the name, however, remained; and an indefinable name of
reproach is a convenient thing to have in a country neighborhood.

I have mentioned the penuriousness of my employers. In the case of my
uncle it was exhibited in the most extraordinary, amusing, yet harmless
ways. He never could pass by an old, bent, used-up nail, bit of string,
pin or a straight stick without picking it up and putting it away. The
collar of his coat and front of his gaudy flannel vest were stuck full
of pointless pins and eyeless needles. The shed opposite the house was a
museum of rubbish, odds and ends of the most worthless articles neatly
sorted, tied up in small bundles and hung about the sides of the
building. It was a well-developed mania with him, having acquired it
through his long years of money getting and saving, and in larger
matters, which had made him a well-to-do farmer. Although now old, he
was a well-preserved man; there was still a wholesome red spot in his
cheek, and a gleam of youth in his eye. His movements were so deliberate
and slow that it was impossible that he could ever have worn himself out
with work. He would pause between every hill that he hoed and make some
remark, or look up at the sun for the time of the day. He could not mow
a straight swath because he was always nicking in and out for some straw
left by other mowers. When he harnessed his aged horse, as reliable as
an ox to drive, and not much faster, he would go over and over every
buckle and strap to make sure that all was safe, in the meantime talking
to him in a soothing voice as if he expected every moment that he would
run away. If Jim had a strong point it was in standing still. When he
sneezed he used to say, "I guess I am good for another day," and like
his wife he had a ready proverb for everything. Seldom could I catch the
whole of it, for he sputtered in his speech and had a falsetto voice. It
was evident that he had acquired his property by exceeding thrift,
rather than labor, by that ancient all-pervading custom of the New
England farmer of doing without and making things last another year.

I had promised myself to do some studying during the summer, but found
that the long hours of labor and fatigue at their end unfitted me for
anything save rest and sleep. I scarcely opened a book of any kind. I
had a volume of Macauly's Essays with me in which I read a little on the
Sabbath. On rainy days I stole away to the hay mow and read one of Jane
Porter's novels which I found in the house. I attempted to commit to
memory the whole of the Lady of the Lake, but got no farther than the
first canto, and the songs interspersed through the others. These songs
I recited in the field, and they were a great comfort to me. Little do
the poets know in what strange, obscure places, and in what lonely,
unknown hearts their verses find lodgment. It is not necessary that one
should contend that Scott is the greatest of poets, who thought so for a
single summer.

With thirty dollars in my purse and a blue camlet suit made of a cloak,
which had been my father's best outer garment, I returned to Worcester
Academy. I made a resolution, which I kept, to have no more intimacies
with the Oreads, and to devote myself to study. I still cherished the
idea of college, although it seemed as distant as ever. I began to be
interested in public affairs and attended the first convention of the
Free Soil party which was held in Worcester. I heard Charles Sumner and
Charles Allen speak. Sumner appealed to my sympathies, Allen to my
reason. Allen argued, Sumner was eloquent. Most young men in New England
had hitherto been admirers of Webster and Clay, and termed themselves
Whigs. The truth was they were called to whatever was eloquence. They
worshipped the greatness of sounding, patriotic periods. How we admired
Kossuth, and immediately paid him the shallow compliment of wearing a
Kossuth hat. I also thought I was a Whig, much to the sorrow of my
mother, whose sympathies were with the Abolitionists. After the Free
Soil convention I was a Free Soiler, and such I continued, casting my
first vote for John C. Fremont. At this time Worcester was the favorite
place for every kind of convention of the friends of progress.
Anti-slavery, Non-resistance and Women's Rights. I heard all the strange
and strong speakers and advocates on those free and lively platforms. I
heard Garrison, Phillips, May, Quincy, Pillsbury, the Fosters, Sojourner
Truth, Burleigh, Lucretia Mott, and Ernestine Rose. The last speaker, a
handsome, modishly dressed New York Jewess, converted me to the cause of
woman. In a short time I was an enthusiastic reformer all along the
line. Probably there has been no period in our history so charged with
new and revolutionary ideas as that from 1835 to 1850. It was a good
time to be alive and to be near the center of agitation in
Massachusetts. I heard both church and state and the whole structure of
society attacked. Whatever other reform might be under discussion these
were sure to receive the hardest blows; strike, and spare not, was the
watchword. For me the great event in my personal experience and
awakening at this period, was not especially connected with the reforms
that I have named. One small book very much in common with my former
limited reading and enthusiasms for celebrated men, shook me to the
center of my being. It was Emerson's Representative Men, recently
published. Carelessly looking over the volumes on Mr. Grout's counter in
Worcester, I took it up, attracted by its title, for I was always
hungering for stories of eminent men, always hoping to find the secret
of their greatness, that I might use it for my own advancement. I stood
and read a few pages, laid down the book, but felt that I must read it
through. After some battling between my purse and desire, desire won,
and I bought the precious volume at the cost of my breakfast for several
weeks, so slender were my resources. In the course of three or four
years I added to my library Milton's poems, a volume of Tennyson and
three of Potter's translation of Euripides; the latter, not because I
wanted it, but because I happened to have made the final bid at a book
auction. In Representative Men I found the meat my nature craved. In all
previous histories and biographies that I had read, there was much going
round and about poets and heroes, an external, academic treatment; with
Emerson I seemed to come nearer the possible ideal which was already
vaguely outlined in my mind. Besides there was much else than Napoleon
and Shakespeare in the pages. There were the moral and poetic insights,
and, moreover, there was the style, the vital and penetrating
Emersonianism, which aroused, and no doubt, dazzled the youthful and
impressionable reader. Emerson's terse epigrammatic method of writing
was congenial to my inability to follow difficult logic. His style
seemed to me the poetical foil of all the prosers of all time. Through
the reading of this book eventually I became acquainted with Emerson,
Alcott and Thoreau. They became my teachers; I followed them until, by
their guidance, I was enlarged enough to find my own way into
companionship with those poets and thinkers, who have endured through
the ages. May I never forget to acknowledge my debt to those men of
Concord, my earliest masters in fidelity to ideals and the inward light.


I began to write these confidences of boyhood for my own pleasure. If I
were to continue them into manhood I could not find nor distinguish
myself. It would be like emerging suddenly from solitude into a crowd.
The bright days of childhood easily separate themselves from all later
time, and are painted with the free pencil of the imagination. I have
now come almost to the wide gateways of the world where I must join the
indistinguishable procession and begin to forget myself in its alluring

With the discovery of certain books of ancient history, Plutarch,
Euripides and Emerson's Essays there came an unexpected close to my
student life at the Worcester Academy. Several of my classmates and
myself agreed that we could be better fitted for college at Phillips
Academy, Andover, than where we were, and accordingly we put ourselves
under the tuition of Dr. Samuel H. Taylor, at that time the most eminent
school and drill-master in New England. Under him I just escaped
becoming a classical scholar and also nearly lost the chance of ever
acquiring a love for the classics; for it was drill, paradigms, rules,
exceptions, scansion, in short, all that pertains to the external
apparatus of the Greek and Latin tongues. Often we spent two hours on
eight lines of Homer. The father of literature became a Procrustean,
grammatical bed on which we were to be stretched, and it did nearly
exterminate every one of us. For my own part, I was possessed with an
intemperate haste to read Homer straight through as fast as I could; for
I felt, without exactly knowing, that there was something in the epic I
wanted, yes, I needed and must have. Checked in this by the rigors of
the recitation room I lost much of my interest in study, and spent the
time which was supposed to be given to text books in reading all the
classic and English poetry I could find, and in valorous attempts at
composition, both prose and verse. This I by no means now regret, and
rejoice that my tuition escaped the Spartan discipline no less than the
present pragmatical curricula.

At length I was fitted for college and admitted to Harvard. Misfortunes
culminated at the same moment. I did not remain. I was too ill for
study, and suddenly the bottom of my perfidious purse dropped out.
Bitter was my disappointment. But in another year I began a new career
which brought me happiness, new opportunities, new friends and dividends
from Utopian investments. Health and hope, my natural inheritance,
returned. Boyhood was gone, but not the invincible boy.

As in the Parable I had traveled far, uncertain of the road. My diet had
been mostly husks, but how sweet! Arriving at last at hospitable doors,
I could receive without penitence, without tears the welcome long
prepared for me. Thenceforth I submitted myself with more patience and
trust to the destiny which had been awaiting me throughout my
apprenticeships. My destiny became my choice.


    I shall not pass this way again;
    But near by is the town where I was born;
          I loved it well.

    And near my heart my mother State;
    She wreathed her sword with freedom, learning, law
          When tyrants fell.

    Three words from Athens held me long;
    Nothing-too-much, proportion, harmony;
          By these excel.

    I never hurried for the goal,
    But like the tortoise travelled steadily,
          Sans band, sans bell.

    Born when the star of Spring arose,
    Haply my auspices were cast for calm
          Of wood and dell.

    Form I admired and sounds and scents;
    Motion of waters, silences of stars--
          Mighty their spell!

    No senate called me from the plow;
    No hundred thousand readers read my books--
          They did not sell.

    Many the friends when life was new
    Heaven sent to me, but now, alas, reclaimed;
          Sound, Muse, their knell.

    You, who hereafter pass this way,
    Remember him who made this simple book
          And say farewell.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Confessions of Boyhood" ***

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