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Title: A Wheel Within a Wheel
 - How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle, With Some Reflections by the Way
Author: Willard, Frances E. (Frances Elizabeth)
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 "A Wheel Within a Wheel
 - How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle, With Some Reflections by the Way" ***

produced from images generously made available by The
Internet Archive)


[Illustration: _Frances E Willard_]


           HOW I LEARNED TO




          [Decoration: Wheel]

  New York      Chicago      Toronto

           Copyright, 1895,
     By Fleming H. Revell Company.



           WHO GAVE ME “GLADYS,”


  Miss Willard             _Frontispiece_

  A Lack of Balance      _facing page_ 21

  Eastnor Castle                       29

  “So Easy—When You Know How”          36

  “It’s Dogged as Does It”             44

  “Let Go—but Stand By”                57

  “At Last”                            72



From my earliest recollections, and up to the ripe age of fifty-three,
I had been an active and diligent worker in the world. This sounds
absurd; but having almost no toys except such as I could manufacture,
my first plays were but the outdoor work of active men and women on a
small scale. Born with an inveterate opposition to staying in the
house, I very early learned to use a carpenter’s kit and a gardener’s
tools, and followed in my mimic way the occupations of the poulterer
and the farmer, working my little field with a wooden plow of my own
making, and felling saplings with an ax rigged up from the old iron
of the wagon-shop. Living in the country, far from the artificial
restraints and conventions by which most girls are hedged from the
activities that would develop a good physique, and endowed with the
companionship of a mother who let me have my own sweet will, I “ran
wild” until my sixteenth birthday, when the hampering long skirts were
brought, with their accompanying corset and high heels; my hair was
clubbed up with pins, and I remember writing in my journal, in the
first heartbreak of a young human colt taken from its pleasant
pasture, “Altogether, I recognize that my occupation is gone.”

From that time on I always realized and was obedient to the
limitations thus imposed, though in my heart of hearts I felt their
unwisdom even more than their injustice. My work then changed from my
beloved and breezy outdoor world to the indoor realm of study,
teaching, writing, speaking, and went on almost without a break or
pain until my fifty-third year, when the loss of my mother
accentuated the strain of this long period in which mental and
physical life were out of balance, and I fell into a mild form of what
is called nerve-wear by the patient and nervous prostration by the
lookers-on. Thus ruthlessly thrown out of the usual lines of reaction
on my environment, and sighing for new worlds to conquer, I determined
that I would learn the bicycle.

An English naval officer had said to me, after learning it himself,
“You women have no idea of the new realm of happiness which the
bicycle has opened to us men.” Already I knew well enough that tens of
thousands who could never afford to own, feed, and stable a horse, had
by this bright invention enjoyed the swiftness of motion which is
perhaps the most fascinating feature of material life, the charm of a
wide outlook upon the natural world, and that sense of mastery which
is probably the greatest attraction in horseback-riding. But the steed
that never tires, and is “mettlesome” in the fullest sense of the
word, is full of tricks and capers, and to hold his head steady and
make him prance to suit you is no small accomplishment. I had often
mentioned in my temperance writings that the bicycle was perhaps our
strongest ally in winning young men away from public-houses, because
it afforded them a pleasure far more enduring, and an exhilaration as
much more delightful as the natural is than the unnatural. From my
observation of my own brother and hundreds of young men who have been
my pupils, I have always held that a boy’s heart is not set in him to
do evil any more than a girl’s, and that the reason our young men fall
into evil ways is largely because we have not had the wit and wisdom
to provide them with amusements suited to their joyous youth, by means
of which they could invest their superabundant animal spirits in ways
that should harm no one and help themselves to the best development
and the cleanliest ways of living. So as a temperance reformer I
always felt a strong attraction toward the bicycle, because it is the
vehicle of so much harmless pleasure, and because the skill required
in handling it obliges those who mount to keep clear heads and steady
hands. Nor could I see a reason in the world why a woman should not
ride the silent steed so swift and blithesome. I knew perfectly well
that when, some ten or fifteen years ago, Miss Bertha von Hillern, a
young German artist in America, took it into her head to give
exhibitions of her skill in riding the bicycle she was thought by some
to be a sort of semi-monster; and liberal as our people are in their
views of what a woman may undertake, I should certainly have felt
compromised, at that remote and benighted period, by going to see her
ride, not because there was any harm in it, but solely because of what
we call in homely phrase “the speech of people.” But behold! it was
long ago conceded that women might ride the tricycle—indeed, one had
been presented to me by my friend Colonel Pope, of Boston, a famous
manufacturer of these swift roadsters, as far back as 1886; and I had
swung around the garden-paths upon its saddle a few minutes every
evening when work was over at my Rest Cottage home. I had even hoped
to give an impetus among conservative women to this new line of
physical development and outdoor happiness; but that is quite another
story and will come in later. Suffice it for the present that it did
me good, as it doth the upright in heart, to notice recently that the
Princesses Louise and Beatrice both ride the tricycle at Balmoral; for
I know that with the great mass of feminine humanity this precedent
will have exceeding weight—and where the tricycle prophesies the
bicycle shall ere long preach the gospel of outdoors.

For we are all unconsciously the slaves of public opinion. When the
hansom first came on London streets no woman having regard to her
social state and standing would have dreamed of entering one of these
pavement gondolas unless accompanied by a gentleman as her escort.
But in course of time a few women, of stronger individuality than the
average, ventured to go unattended; later on, use wore off the glamour
of the traditions which said that women must not go alone, and now
none but an imbecile would hold herself to any such observance.

A trip around the world by a young woman would have been regarded a
quarter of a century ago as equivalent to social outlawry; but now
young women of the highest character and talent are employed by
leading journals to whip around the world “on time,” and one has done
so in seventy-three, another in seventy-four days, while the young
women recently sent out by an Edinburgh newspaper will no doubt
considerably contract these figures.

As I have mentioned, Fräulein von Hillern is the first woman, so far
as I know, who ever rode a bicycle, and for this she was considered to
be one of those persons who classified nowhere, and who could not do
so except to the injury of the feminine guild with which they were
connected before they “stepped out”; but now, in France, for a woman
to ride a bicycle is not only “good form,” but the current craze among
the aristocracy.

Since Balaam’s beast there has been but little authentic talking done
by the four-footed; but that is no reason why the two-wheeled should
not speak its mind, and the first utterance I have to chronicle in the
softly flowing vocables of my bicycle is to the following purport. I
heard it as we trundled off down the Priory incline at the suburban
home of Lady Henry Somerset, Reigate, England; it said: “Behold, I do
not fail you; I am not a skittish beastie, but a sober, well-conducted
roadster. I did not ask you to mount or drive, but since you have done
so you must now learn the laws of balance and exploitation. I did not
invent these laws, but I have been built conformably to them, and you
must suit yourself to the unchanging regulations of gravity, general
and specific, as illustrated in me. Strange as the paradox may seem,
you will do this best by not trying to do it at all. You must make up
what you are pleased to call your mind—make it up speedily, or you
will be cast in yonder mud-puddle, and no blame to me and no thanks to
yourself. Two things must occupy your thinking powers to the exclusion
of every other thing: first, the goal; and, second, the momentum
requisite to reach it. Do not look down like an imbecile upon the
steering-wheel in front of you—that would be about as wise as for a
nauseated voyager to keep his optical instruments fixed upon the
rolling waves. It is the curse of life that nearly every one looks
down. But the microscope will never set you free; you must glue your
eyes to the telescope for ever and a day. Look up and off and on and
out; get forehead and foot into line, the latter acting as a rhythmic
spur in the flanks of your equilibriated equine; so shall you win, and
that right speedily.

“It was divinely said that the kingdom of God is within you. Some
make a mysticism of this declaration, but it is hard common sense; for
the lesson you will learn from me is this: every kingdom over which we
reign must be first formed within us on what the psychic people call
the ‘astral plane,’ but what I as a bicycle look upon as the common
parade-ground of individual thought.”


Courtiers wittily say that horseback riding is the only thing in which
a prince is apt to excel, for the reason that the horse never flatters
and would as soon throw him as if he were a groom. Therefore it is
only by actually mastering the art of riding that a prince can hold
his place with the noblest of the four-footed animals.

Happily there is now another locomotive contrivance which is no
flatterer, and which peasant and prince must master, if they do this
at all, by the democratic route of honest hard work. Well will it be
for rulers when the tough old Yorkshire proverb applies to them as
strictly as to the lowest of their subjects: “_It’s dogged as does
it._” We all know the old saying, “Fire is a good servant, but a bad
master.” This is equally true of the bicycle: if you give it an
inch—nay, a hair—it will take an ell—nay, an evolution—and you a
contusion, or, like enough, a perforated kneecap.

Not a single friend encouraged me to learn the bicycle except an
active-minded young school-teacher, Miss Luther, of my hometown,
Evanston, who came several times with her wheel and gave me lessons. I
also took a few lessons in a stuffy, semi-subterranean gallery in
Chicago. But at fifty-three I was at more disadvantage than most
people, for not only had I the impedimenta that result from the
unnatural style of dress, but I also suffered from the sedentary
habits of a lifetime. And then that small world (which is our real
one) of those who loved me best, and who considered themselves
largely responsible for my every-day methods of life, did not
encourage me, but in their affectionate solicitude—and with abundant
reason—thought I should “break my bones” and “spoil my future.” It
must be said, however, to their everlasting praise, that they opposed
no objection when they saw that my will was firmly set to do this
thing; on the contrary, they put me in the way of carrying out my
purpose, and lent to my laborious lessons the light of their
countenances reconciled. Actions speak so much louder than words that
I here set before you what may be called a feminine bicycler’s first
position—at least it was mine.

Given a safety-bicycle—pneumatic tires and all the rest of it which
renders the pneumatic safety the only safe Bucephalus—the gearing
carefully wired in so that we shall not be entangled. “Woe is me!” was
my first exclamation, naturally enough interpreted by my outriders
“Whoa is me,” and they “whoaed”—indeed, we did little else but “check

  [Illustration: A LACK OF BALANCE.]

(Just here let me interpolate: Learn on a low machine, but “fly high”
when once you have mastered it, as you have much more power over the
wheels and can get up better speed with a less expenditure of force
when you are above the instrument than when you are at the back of it.
And remember this is as true of the world as of the wheel.)

The order of evolution was something like this: First, three young
Englishmen, all strong-armed and accomplished bicyclers, held the
machine in place while I climbed timidly into the saddle. Second, two
well-disposed young women put in all the power they had, until they
grew red in the face, offsetting each other’s pressure on the
cross-bar and thus maintaining the equipoise to which I was unequal.
Third, one walked beside me, steadying the ark as best she could by
holding the center of the deadly cross-bar, to let go whose handles
meant chaos and collapse. After this I was able to hold my own if I
had the moral support of my kind trainers, and it passed into a
proverb among them, the short emphatic word of command I gave them at
every few turns of the wheel: “Let go, but stand by.” Still later
everything was learned—how to sit, how to pedal, how to turn, how to
dismount; but alas! how to vault into the saddle I found not; that was
the coveted power that lingered long and would not yield itself.

That which caused the many failures I had in learning the bicycle had
caused me failures in life; namely, a certain fearful looking for of
judgment; a too vivid realization of the uncertainty of everything
about me; an underlying doubt—at once, however (and this is all that
saved me), matched and overcome by the determination not to give in to

The best gains that we make come to us after an interval of rest which
follows strenuous endeavor. Having, as I hoped, mastered the
rudiments of bicycling, I went away to Germany and for a fortnight did
not even see the winsome wheel. Returning, I had the horse brought
round, and mounted with no little trepidation, being assisted by one
of my faithful guides; but behold! I found that in advancing, turning,
and descending I was much more at home than when I had last exercised
that new intelligence in the muscles which had been the result of
repetitions resolutely attempted and practised long.

Another thing I found is that we carry in the mind a picture of the
road; and if it is humpy by reason of pebbles, even if we steer clear
of them, we can by no means skim along as happily as when its
smoothness facilitates the pleasing impression on the retina; indeed,
the whole science and practice of the bicycle is “in your eye” and in
your will; the rest is mere manipulation.

As I have said, in many curious particulars the bicycle is like the
world. When it had thrown me painfully once (which was the extent of
my downfalls during the entire process of learning, and did not
prevent me from resuming my place on the back of the treacherous
creature a few minutes afterward), and more especially when it threw
one of my dearest friends, hurting her knee so that it was painful for
a month, then for a time Gladys had gladsome ways for me no longer,
but seemed the embodiment of misfortune and dread. Even so the world
has often seemed in hours of darkness and despondency; its iron
mechanism, its pitiless grind, its swift, silent, on-rolling gait have
oppressed to pathos, if not to melancholy. Good health and plenty of
oxygenated air have promptly restored the equilibrium. But how many a
fine spirit, to finest issues touched, has been worn and shredded by
the world’s mill until in desperation it flung itself away. We can
easily carp at those who quit the crowded race-course without so much
as saying “By your leave”; but “let him that thinketh he standeth
take heed lest he fall.” We owe it to nature, to nurture, to our
environments, and, most of all, to our faith in God, that we, too, do
not cry, like so many gentle hearts less brave and sturdy, “Anywhere,
anywhere, out of the world.”

Gradually, item by item, I learned the location of every screw and
spring, spoke and tire, and every beam and bearing that went to make
up Gladys. This was not the lesson of a day, but of many days and
weeks, and it had to be learned before we could get on well together.
To my mind the infelicities of which we see so much in life grow out
of lack of time and patience thus to study and adjust the natures that
have agreed in the sight of God and man to stand by one another to the
last. They will not take the pains, they have not enough specific
gravity, to balance themselves in their new environment. Indeed, I
found a whole philosophy of life in the wooing and the winning of my

Just as a strong and skilful swimmer takes the waves, so the bicycler
must learn to take such waves of mental impression as the passing of a
gigantic hay-wagon, the sudden obtrusion of black cattle with
wide-branching horns, the rattling pace of high-stepping steeds, or
even the swift transit of a railway-train. At first she will be upset
by the apparition of the smallest poodle, and not until she has
attained a wide experience will she hold herself steady in presence of
the critical eyes of a coach-and-four. But all this is a part of that
equilibration of thought and action by which we conquer the universe
in conquering ourselves.

I finally concluded that all failure was from a wobbling will rather
than a wobbling wheel. I felt that indeed the will is the wheel of the
mind—its perpetual motion having been learned when the morning stars
sang together. When the wheel of the mind went well then the rubber
wheel hummed merrily; but specters of the mind there are as well as of
the wheel. In the aggregate of perception concerning which we have
reflected and from which we have deduced our generalizations upon the
world without, within, above, there are so many ghastly and
fantastical images that they must obtrude themselves at certain
intervals, like filmy bits of glass in the turn of the kaleidoscope.
Probably every accident of which I had heard or read in my
half-century tinged the uncertainty that by the correlation of forces
passed over into the tremor that I felt when we began to round the
terminus bend of the broad Priory walk. And who shall say by what
original energy the mind forced itself at once from the contemplation
of disaster and thrust into the very movement of the foot on the pedal
a concept of vigor, safety, and success? I began to feel that myself
plus the bicycle equaled myself plus the world, upon whose
spinning-wheel we must all learn to ride, or fall into the sluiceways
of oblivion and despair. That which made me succeed with the bicycle
was precisely what had gained me a measure of success in life—it was
the hardihood of spirit that led me to begin, the persistence of will
that held me to my task, and the patience that was willing to begin
again when the last stroke had failed. And so I found high moral uses
in the bicycle and can commend it as a teacher without pulpit or
creed. He who succeeds, or, to be more exact in handing over my
experience, she who succeeds in gaining the mastery of such an animal
as Gladys, will gain the mastery of life, and by exactly the same
methods and characteristics.

One of the first things I learned was that unless a forward impetus
were given within well-defined intervals, away we went into the
gutter, rider and steed. And I said to myself: “It is the same with
all reforms: sometimes they seem to lag, then they barely balance,
then they begin to oscillate as if they would lose the track and
tumble to one side; but all they need is a new impetus at the right
moment on the right angle, and away they go again as merrily as if
they had never threatened to stop at all.”

  [Illustration: EASTNOR CASTLE.]

On the Castle terrace we went through a long, narrow curve in a turret
to seek a broader esplanade. As we approached it I felt wrought up in
my mind, a little uncertain in my motions; and for that reason, on a
small scale, my quick imagination put before me pictures of a
“standing from under” on the part of the machine and damaging bruises
against the pitiless walls. But with a little unobtrusive guiding by
one who knew better than I how to do it we soon came out of the dim
passage on to the broad, bright terrace we sought, and in an instant
my fears were as much left behind as if I had not had them. So it will
be, I think, I hope—nay, I believe—when, children that we are, we
tremble on the brink and fear to launch away; but we shall find that
death is only a bend in the river of life that sets the current

One afternoon, on the terrace at Eastnor Castle—the most delightful
bicycle gallery I have found anywhere—I fell to talking with a young
companion about New-Year resolutions. It was just before Christmas,
but the sky was of that moist blue that England only knows, and the
earth almost steamy in the mild sunshine, while the soft outline of
the famous Malvern Hills was restful as the little lake just at our
feet, where swans were sailing or anchoring according to their fancy.

One of us said: “I have already chosen my motto for 1894, and it is
this, from a teacher who so often said to her pupils, when meeting
them in corridor or recitation-room, ‘I have heard something nice
about you,’ that it passed into a proverb in the school. Now I have
determined that my mental attitude toward everybody shall be the same
that these words indicate. The meaning is identical with that of the
inscription on the fireplace in my den at home—‘Let something good be
said.’ I remember mentioning to a literary friend that this was what I
had chosen, and so far was he from perceiving my intention that he
sarcastically remarked, ‘Are you then afraid that people will say dull
things unless you set this rule before them?’ But my thought then was
as it is now, that we should apply in our discussions of people and
things the rule laid down by Coleridge, namely, ‘Look for the good in
everything that you behold and every person, but do not decline to see
the defects if they are there, and to refer to them.’”

“That is an excellent motto,” brightly replied the other, “but if we
followed it life would not be nearly so amusing as it is now. I have
several friends whose rule is never to say any harm of anybody, and to
my mind this cripples their development, for the tendency of such a
method is to dull one’s powers of discrimination.”

“But,” said the first speaker, “would not a medium course be
better?—such a one, for instance, as my motto suggests. This would not
involve keeping silence about the faults of persons and things, but
would develop that cheerful atmosphere which helps to smooth the
rough edges of life, and at the same time does not destroy the
critical faculty, because you are to tell the truth and the whole
truth concerning those around you, whereas the common custom is to
speak much of defects and little or not at all of merits.”

“Yes,” was the reply, “but it is not half so entertaining to speak of
virtues as of faults, especially in this country; if you don’t
criticize you can hardly talk at all, because the English dwell a
great deal on what we in America call ‘the selvage side’ of things.”

“Have you, then, noticed this as a national peculiarity after ten
years of observation?”

“Yes; and I have often heard it remarked, not only by our own
countrymen, but by the people here.”

“What do you think explains it?”

“Well, I am inclined to apply the theory of M. Taine, the great French
critic, to most of the circumstances of life, and I should say it was
the climate; its uncertainty, its constant changes, the heaviness of
the atmosphere, the amount of fog, the real stress and strain to live
that results from trying physical conditions added to the razor-sharp
edge of business and social competition and the close contact that
comes of packing forty millions of people of pronounced individuality
on an island no bigger than the State of Georgia. To my mind the
wonder is that they behave so well!”

Once, when I grew somewhat discouraged and said that I had made no
progress for a day or two, my teacher told me that it was just so when
she learned: there were growing days and stationary days, and she had
always noticed that just after one of these last dull, depressing, and
dubious intervals she seemed to get an uplift and went ahead better
than ever. It was like a spurt in rowing. This seems to be the law of
progress in everything we do; it moves along a spiral rather than a
perpendicular; we seem to be actually going out of the way, and yet
it turns out that we were really moving upward all the time.

One day, when my most expert trainer twisted the truth a little that
she might encourage me, I was reminded of an anecdote.

In this practical age an illustration of the workings of truthfulness
will often help a child more than any amount of exhortation concerning
the theory thereof. For instance, a father in that level-headed part
of the United States known as “out West” found that his little boy was
falling into the habit of telling what was not true; so he said to him
at the lunch-table, “Johnnie, I will come around with a horse and
carriage at four o’clock to take you and mama for a drive this
afternoon.” The boy was in high spirits, and watched for his father at
the gate; but the hours passed by until six o’clock, when that worthy
appeared walking up the street in the most unconcerned manner; and
when Johnnie, full of indignation and astonishment, asked him why he
did not come as he had promised, the father said, “Oh, my boy, I just
took it into my head that I would tell you a lie about the matter,
just as you have begun telling lies to me.” The boy began to cry with
mingled disappointment and shame to think his father would do a thing
like that; whereupon the father took the little fellow on his knee and
said: “This has all been done to show you what mischief comes from
telling what is not true. It spoils everybody’s good time. If you
cannot believe what I say and I cannot believe what you say, and
nobody can believe what anybody says, then the world cannot go on at
all; it would have to stop as the old eight-day clock did the other
day, making us all late to dinner. It is only because, as a rule, we
can believe in one another’s word that we are able to have homes, do
business, and enjoy life. Whoever goes straight on telling the truth
helps more by that than he could in any other one way to build up the
world into a beautiful and happy place; and every time anybody tells
what is not true he helps to weaken everybody’s confidence in
everybody else, and to spoil the good time, not of himself alone, but
of all those about him.”


I studied my various kind teachers with much care. One was so helpful
that but for my protest she would fairly have carried me in her arms,
and the bicycle to boot, the whole distance. This was because she had
not a scintilla of knowledge concerning the machine, and she did not
wish me to come to grief through any lack on her part.

Another was too timorous; the very twitter of her face, swiftly
communicated to her arm and imparted to the quaking cross-bar,
convulsed me with an inward fear; therefore, for her sake and mine, I
speedily counted her out from the faculty in my bicycle college.

  [Illustration: “SO EASY—WHEN YOU KNOW HOW.”]

Another (and she, like most of my teachers, was a Londoner) was
herself so capable, not to say adventurous, and withal so solicitous
for my best good, that she elicited my admiration by her ingenious
mixture of cheering me on and holding me back; the latter, however,
predominated, for she never relinquished her strong grasp on the
cross-bar. She was a fine, brave character, somewhat inclined to a
pessimistic view of life because of severe experience at home, which,
coming to her at a pitifully early period, when brain and fancy were
most impressionable, wrought an injustice to a nature large and
generous—one which under happier skies would have blossomed out into a
perfect flower of womanhood. My offhand thinkings aloud, to which I
have always been greatly given, especially when in genial company, she
seemed to “catch on the fly,” as a reporter impales an idea on his
pencil-point. We had no end of what we thought to be good talk of
things in heaven and earth and the waters under the earth; of the
mystery that lies so closely round this cradle of a world, and all
the varied and ingenious ways of which the bicycle, so slow to give
up its secret to a care-worn and inelastic pupil half a century old,
was just then our whimsical and favorite symbol.

We rejoiced together greatly in perceiving the impetus that this
uncompromising but fascinating and inimitably capable machine would
give to that blessed “woman question” to which we were both devoted;
for we had earned our own bread many a year, and she, although more
than twenty years my junior, had accumulated an amount of experience
well-nigh as great, because she had lived in the world’s heart, or the
world’s carbuncle (just as one chooses to regard what has been called
in literary phrase the capital of humanity). We saw that the physical
development of humanity’s mother-half would be wonderfully advanced by
that universal introduction of the bicycle sure to come about within
the next few years, because it is for the interest of great
commercial monopolies that this should be so, since if women
patronize the wheel the number of buyers will be twice as large. If
women ride they must, when riding, dress more rationally than they
have been wont to do. If they do this many prejudices as to what they
may be allowed to wear will melt away. Reason will gain upon
precedent, and ere long the comfortable, sensible, and artistic
wardrobe of the rider will make the conventional style of woman’s
dress absurd to the eye and unendurable to the understanding. A reform
often advances most rapidly by indirection. An ounce of practice is
worth a ton of theory; and the graceful and becoming costume of woman
on the bicycle will convince the world that has brushed aside the
theories, no matter how well constructed, and the arguments, no matter
how logical, of dress-reformers.

A woman with bands hanging on her hips, and dress snug about the waist
and chokingly tight at the throat, with heavily trimmed skirts
dragging down the back and numerous folds heating the lower part of
the spine, and with tight shoes, ought to be in agony. She ought to be
as miserable as a stalwart man would be in the same plight. And the
fact that she can coolly and complacently assert that her clothing is
perfectly easy, and that she does not want anything more comfortable
or convenient, is the most conclusive proof that she is altogether
abnormal bodily, and not a little so in mind.

We saw with satisfaction the great advantage in good fellowship and
mutual understanding between men and women who take the road together,
sharing its hardships and rejoicing in the poetry of motion through
landscapes breathing nature’s inexhaustible charm and skyscapes
lifting the heart from what is to what shall be hereafter. We
discoursed on the advantage to masculine character of comradeship with
women who were as skilled and ingenious in the manipulation of the
swift steed as they themselves. We contended that whatever diminishes
the sense of superiority in men makes them more manly, brotherly, and
pleasant to have about; we felt sure that the bluff, the swagger, the
bravado of young England in his teens would not outlive the complete
mastery of the outdoor arts in which his sister is now successfully
engaged. The old fables, myths, and follies associated with the idea
of woman’s incompetence to handle bat and oar, bridle and rein, and at
last the cross-bar of the bicycle, are passing into contempt in
presence of the nimbleness, agility, and skill of “that boy’s sister”;
indeed, we felt that if she continued to improve after the fashion of
the last decade her physical achievements will be such that it will
become the pride of many a ruddy youth to be known as “that girl’s
brother.” As we discoursed of life, death, and the judgment to come,
of “man’s inhumanity to man,” as well as to beasts, birds, and
creeping things, we frequently recurred to a phrase that has become
habitual with me in these later years when other worlds seem anchored
close alongside this, and when the telephone, the phonograph, and the
microphone begin to show us that every breath carries in itself not
only the power, but the scientific certainty of registration: “Well,
one thing is certain: we shall meet it in the ether.”

One of my companions in the tribulation of learning the bicycle, and
the grace of its mastery, was a tall, bright-faced, vigorous-minded
young Celt who is devoted to every good word and work and has had much
experience with the “submerged tenth,” living among them and trying to
build character among those waste places of humanity. I set out to
teach this young woman the bicycle, and while she took her
lesson—which, as she is young, elastic, and long-limbed, was vastly
less difficult than mine—we talked of many things: American women, and
why they do not walk; the English lower class, and why they are less
vigorous than the Irish; the English girl of the slums, and why she is
less self-respecting than an Irish girl in the same station. “There
are many things for which we cannot account,” said my young friend;
whereupon, with the self-elected mentorship of my half-century, I
oracularly observed: “Cosmos has not a consequence without a cause; it
is the business of reason to seek for causes, and, if it cannot make
sure of them, to construct for itself theories as to what they are or
will turn out to be when found. But the trouble is, when we have
framed our theory, we come to look upon it as our child, that we have
brought into the world, nurtured, and trained up by hand. The curse of
life is that men will insist on holding their theories as true and
imposing them on others; this gives rise to creeds, customs,
constitutions, royalties, governments. Happy is he who knows that he
knows nothing, or next to nothing, and holds his opinions like a
bouquet of flowers in his hand, that sheds its fragrance everywhere,
and which he is willing to exchange at any moment for one fairer and
more sweet, instead of strapping them on like an armor of steel and
thrusting with his lance those who do not accept his notions.”

My last teacher was—as ought to be the case on the principle of
climax—my best. I think she might have given many a pointer to folks
that bring up children, and I realized that no matter how one may
think himself accomplished, when he sets out to learn a new language,
science, or the bicycle he has entered a new realm as truly as if he
were a child newly born into the world, and “Except ye become as
little children” is the law by which he is governed. Whether he will
or not he must first creep, then walk, then run; and the wisest guide
he can have is the one who most studiously helps him to help himself.
This was a truism that I had heard all my life long, but never did a
realizing sense of it settle down upon my spirit so thoroughly as when
I learned the bicycle. It is not the teacher who holds you in place by
main strength that is going to help you win that elusive, reluctant,
inevitable prize we call success, but it is the one who, while
studiously keeping in the background, steers you to the fore. So
No. 12 had the wit and wisdom to retire to the rear of the saucy
steed, that I might form the habit of seeing no sign of aid or comfort
from any source except my own reaction on the treadles according to
law; yet cunningly contrived, by laying a skilled hand upon the saddle
without my observation, knowledge, or consent, to aid me in my
balancing. She diminished the weight thus set to my account as rapidly
as my own increasing courage and skill rendered this possible.

  [Illustration: “IT’S DOGGED AS DOES IT.”
                               _Yorkshire Proverb._]

I have always observed—and not without a certain pleasure, remembering
my brother’s hardihood—that wherever a woman goes some man has reached
the place before her; and it did not dim the verdure of my laurels or
the fullness of my content when I had mastered Gladys to ascertain,
from a letter sent me by the wife of a man sixty-four years of age
who had just learned, that I was “No. 2” instead of “No. 1,” thus
obliging me to rectify the frontier of chronology as I had constructed
it in relation to the conquest of the bicycle; for I vainly thought
that I had fought the antics of Gladys as a sentry on duty away out on
the extreme frontier of time.

But at last (which means in two months or thereabouts, at ten or
twenty minutes’ practice off and on daily) I reached the goal, and
could mount the bicycle without the slightest foreign interference or
even the moral support of a sympathetic onlooker. In doing this I
realized that the totality of what I had learned entered into the
action. Every added increment of power that I had gained in balancing,
pedaling, steering, taking advantage of the surfaces, adjusting my
weight according to my own peculiarities, and so on, was set to my
account when I began to manage the bulky steed that behaves worst of
all when a novice seeks the saddle and strikes out alone. Just so, I
felt, it had been all my life and will be, doubtless, in all worlds
and with us all. The totality of native forces and acquired discipline
and expert knowledge stands us in good stead for each crisis that we
have to meet. There is a momentum, a cumulative power on which we can
count in every new circumstance, as a capitalist counts upon his
credit at the bank. It is not only a divine declaration, it is one of
the basic laws of being, that “all things work _together_ for good to
them that love God”—that is, to them that are in love with God; and he
who loves a law of God and makes himself obedient to that law has by
that much loved God, only he does not always have the wit to know it.

The one who has learned latest and yet has really learned the mastery
of the bicycle is the best teacher. Many a time I have heard boys in
college say that it was not the famed mathematician who could teach
them anything—he knew too much, he was too far ahead for them to hear
his voice, he was impatient of their halting steps; but the tutor who
had left college only the year before, and remembering his own
failures and stupidity, had still that fellow-feeling that made him
wondrous kind.

As has been stated, my last epoch consisted of learning to mount; that
is the _pons asinorum_ of the whole mathematical undertaking, for
mathematical it is to a nicety. You have to balance your system more
carefully than you ever did your accounts; not the smallest fraction
can be out of the way, or away you go, the treacherous steed forming
one half of an equation and yourself with a bruised knee forming the
other. You must add a stroke at just the right angle to mount,
subtract one to descend, divide them equally to hold your seat, and
multiply all these movements in definite ratio and true proportion by
the swiftest of all roots, or you will become the most minus of
quantities. You must foot up your accounts with the strictest
regularity; there can be no partial payments in a business enterprise
like this.

Although I could now mount and descend, turn corners and get over the
ground all by myself, I still felt a lack of complete faith in Gladys,
although she had never harmed me but once, and then it was my own
fault in letting go the gleaming cross-bar, which is equivalent to
dropping the bridle of a spirited steed. Let it be carefully
remembered by every “beginning” bicycler that, whatever she forgets,
she must forever keep her “main hold,” else her horse is not bitted
and will shy to a dead certainty.

As we grew better acquainted I thought how perfectly analogous were
our relations to those of friends who became slowly seasoned one to
the other: they have endured the vicissitudes of every kind of
climate, of the changing seasons; they have known the heavy,
water-logged conditions of spring, the shrinkage of summer’s trying
heat, the happy medium of autumn, and the contracting cold that
winter brings; they are like the bits of wood, exactly apportioned and
attuned, that go to make up a Stradivarius violin. They can count upon
one another and not disagree, because the stress of life has molded
them to harmony. They are like the well-worn robe, the easy shoe.
There is no short road to this adjustment, so much to be desired; not
any will win it short of “patient continuance in well-doing.”

I noticed that the great law which I believe to be potential
throughout the universe made no exception here: “According to thy
faith be it unto thee” was the only law of success. When I felt sure
that I should do my pedaling with judicial accuracy, and did not
permit myself to dread the swift motion round a bend; when I formed in
my mind the image of a successful ascent of the “Priory Rise”; when I
fully purposed in my mind that I should not run into the hedge on the
one side or the iron fence on the other, these prophecies were
fulfilled with practical certainty. I fell into the habit of varying
my experience by placing before myself the image—so germane to the
work in which I am engaged—of an inebriate in action, and accompanied
this mental panorama by an orchestral effect of my own producing:
“They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man;” but could
never go through this three consecutive times without lurching off the
saddle. But when I put before me, as distinctly as my powers of
concentration would permit, the image of my mother holding steadily
above me a pair of balances, and looking at me with that quizzical
expectant glance I knew so well, and saying: “Do it? Of course you’ll
do it; what else should you do?” I found that it was palpably helpful
in enabling me to “sit straight and hold my own” on my uncertain
steed. She always maintained, in the long talks we had concerning
immortality, that the law I mention was conclusive, and was wont to
close our conversations on that subject (in which I held the
interrogative position) with some such remark as this: “If Professor
—— thinks he is not immortal he probably is not; if I think I am I may
be sure I shall be, for is it not written in the law, ‘According to
thy faith be it unto thee’?”

Gradually I realized a consoling degree of mastery over Gladys; but
nothing was more apparent to me than that we were not yet thoroughly
acquainted—we had not summered and wintered together. I had not
learned her kinks, and she was as full of them as the most spirited
mare that sweeps the course on a Kentucky race-track. Although I have
seen a race but once (and that was in the Champs Élysées, Paris, a
quarter of a century ago), I am yet so much interested in the fact
that it is a Flora Temple, a Goldsmith Maid, a Maud S., a Sunol, a
California Maid that often stands first on the record, that I would
fain have named my shying steed after one of these; but as she was a
gift from Lady Henry Somerset this seemed invidious in me as a Yankee
woman, and so I called her _Gladys_, having in view the bright spirit
of the donor, the exhilarating motion of the machine, and the
gladdening effect of its acquaintance and use on my health and

As I have said, I found from first to last that the process of
acquisition exactly coincided with that which had given me everything
I possessed of physical, mental, or moral success—that is, skill,
knowledge, character. I was learning the bicycle precisely as I
learned the a-b-c. When I set myself, as a stint, to mount and descend
in regular succession anywhere from twenty to fifty times, it was on
the principle that we do a thing more easily the second time than the
first, the third time than the second, and so on in a rapidly
increasing ratio, until it is done without any conscious effort
whatever. This was precisely the way in which my mother trained me to
tell the truth, and my music-teacher taught me that mastership of the
piano keyboard which I have lost by disuse. Falling from grace may
mean falling from a habit formed—how do we know? This opens a
boundless field of ethical speculation which I would gladly have
followed, but just then the steel steed gave a lurch as if to say,
“Tend to your knitting”—the favorite expression of a Rocky Mountain
stage-driver when tourists taxed him with questions while he was
turning round a bend two thousand feet above the valley.

And now comes the question “What do the doctors say?” Here follow
several testimonies:

“The question now of great interest to girls is in regard to the
healthfulness of the wheel. Many are prophesying dire results from
this fascinating exercise, and fond parents are refusing to allow
their daughters to ride because they are girls. It will be a delight
to girls to learn that the fact of their sex is, in itself, not a bar
to riding a wheel. If the girl is normally constituted and is dressed
hygienically, and if she will use judgment and not overtax herself in
learning to ride, and in measuring the length of rides after she has
learned, she is in no more danger from riding a wheel than is the
young man. But if she persists in riding in a tight dress, and uses no
judgment in deciding the amount of exercise she is capable of safely
taking, it will be quite possible for her to injure herself, and then
it is she, and not the wheel, that is to blame. Many physicians are
now coming to regard the ‘wheel’ as beneficial to the health of women
as well as of men.”

Dr. Seneca Egbert says: “As an exercise bicycling is superior to most,
if not all, others at our command. It takes one into the outdoor air;
it is entirely under control; can be made gentle or vigorous as one
desires; is active and not passive; takes the rider outside of himself
and the thoughts and cares of his daily work; develops his will, his
attention, his courage and independence, and makes pleasant what is
otherwise most irksome. Moreover, the exercise is well and equally
distributed over almost the whole body, and, as Parker says, when all
the muscles are exercised no muscle is likely to be over-exercised.”

He advocates cycling as a remedy for dyspepsia, torpid liver,
incipient consumption, nervous exhaustion, rheumatism, and
melancholia. In regard to the exercise for women he says: “It gets
them out of doors, gives them a form of exercise adapted to their
needs, that they may enjoy in company with others or alone, and one
that goes to the root of their nervous troubles.”

He instances two cases, of girls fourteen and eighteen years of age,
where a decided increase in height could be fairly attributed to

  [Illustration: “LET GO—BUT STAND BY.”]

The question is often asked if riding a wheel is not the same as
running a sewing-machine. Let the same doctor answer: “Not at all.
Women, at least, sit erect on a wheel, and consequently the thighs
never make even a right angle with the trunk, and there is no stasis
of blood in the lower limbs and genitalia. Moreover, the work itself
makes the rider breathe in oceans of fresh air; while the woman at the
sewing-machine works indoors, stoops over her work, contracting the
chest and almost completely checking the flow of blood to and from the
lower half of her body, where at the same time she is increasing the
demand for it, finally aggravating the whole trouble by the pressure
of the lower edge of the corset against the abdomen, so that the
customary congestions and displacements have good cause for their

“The great desideratum in all recreations is pure air, plenty of it,
and lungs free to absorb it.” (Dr. Lyman B. Sperry.)

“Let go, but stand by”—this is the golden rule for parent and pastor,
teacher and friend; the only rule that at once respects the
individuality of another and yet adds one’s own, so far as may be, to
another’s momentum in the struggle of life.

How difficult it is for the trainer to judge exactly how much force
to exercise in helping to steer the wheel and start the wheeler along
the macadamized highway! In this the point of view makes all the
difference. The trainer is tall, the rider short; the first can poise
on the off-treadle while one foot is on the ground, but the last must
learn to balance while one foot is in the air. For one of these
perfectly to comprehend the other’s relation to the vehicle is
practically impossible; the degree to which he may attain this depends
upon the amount of imagination to the square inch with which he has
been fitted out. The opacity of the mind, its inability to project
itself into the realm of another’s personality, goes a long way to
explain the friction of life. If we would set down other people’s
errors to this rather than to malice prepense we should not only get
more good out of life and feel more kindly toward our fellows, but
doubtless the rectitude of our intellects would increase, and the
justice of our judgments. For instance, it is my purpose, so far as I
understand myself, to be considerate toward those about me; but my
pursuits have been almost purely mental, and to perceive what would
seem just to one whose pursuits have been almost purely mechanical
would require an act of imagination of which I am wholly incapable. We
are so shut away from one another that none tells those about him what
he considers ideal treatment on their part toward him. He thinks about
it all the same, mumbles about it to himself, mutters about it to
those of his own guild, and these mutterings make the discontent that
finally breaks out in reforms whose tendency is to distribute the good
things of this life more equally among the living. But nothing will
probe to the core of this the greatest disadvantage under which we
labor—that is, mutual non-comprehension—except a basis of society and
government which would make it easy for each to put himself in
another’s place because his place is so much like another’s. We shall
be less imaginative, perhaps, in those days—the critics say this is
inevitable; but it will only be because we need less imagination in
order to do that which is just and kind to every one about us.

In my early home my father always set us children to work by
stints—that is, he measured off a certain part of the garden to be
weeded, or other work to be done, and when we had accomplished it our
working-hours were over. With this deeply ingrained habit in full
force I set myself stints with the bicycle. In the later part of my
novitiate fifty attempts a day were allotted to that most difficult of
all achievements, learning to mount, and I calculate that five hundred
such efforts well put in will solve that most intricate problem of
specific gravity.

Now concerning falls: I set out with the determination not to have
any. Though mentally adventurous I have always been physically
cautious; a student of physiology in my youth, I knew the reason why
I brought so much less elasticity to my task than did my young and
agile trainers. I knew the penalty of broken bones, for these a
tricycle had cost me some years before. My trainers were kind enough
to encourage me by saying that if I became an expert in slow riding I
should take the rapid wheel as a matter of course and thus be really
more accomplished (in the long run as well as the short) than by any
other process. So I have had but one real downfall to record as the
result of my three months’ practice, and it illustrates the old saying
that “pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a
fall”; for I was not a little lifted up by having learned to dismount
with confidence and ease—I will not say with grace, for at fifty-three
that would be an affectation—so one bright morning I bowled on down
the Priory drive waving my hand to my most adventurous aide-de-camp,
and calling out as I left her behind, “Now you will see how nicely I
can do it—watch!” when behold! that timid left foot turned traitor,
and I came down solidly on my knee, and the knee on a pebble as
relentless as prejudice and as opinionated as ignorance. The nervous
shock made me well-nigh faint, the bicycle tumbled over on my prone
figure, and I wished I had never heard of Gladys or of any wheel save

  “Fly swiftly round, ye wheels of time,
   And bring the welcome day—”

of my release into the ether.

Let me remark to any young woman who reads this page that for her to
tumble off her bike is inexcusable. The lightsome elasticity of every
muscle, the quickness of the eye, the agility of motion, ought to
preserve her from such a catastrophe. I have had no more falls simply
because I would not. I have proceeded on a basis of the utmost
caution, and aside from that one pitiful performance the bicycle has
cost me hardly a single bruise.


They that know nothing fear nothing. Away back in 1886 my alert young
friend, Miss Anna Gordon, and my ingenious young niece, Miss Katharine
Willard, took to the tricycle as naturally as ducks take to water. The
very first time they mounted they went spinning down the long shady
street, with its pleasant elms, in front of Rest Cottage, where for
nearly a generation mother and I had had our home. Even as the
war-horse snuffeth the battle from afar, I longed to go and do
likewise. Remembering my country bringing-up and various exploits in
running, climbing, horseback-riding, to say nothing of my tame heifer
that I trained for a Bucephalus, I said to myself, “If those girls can
ride without learning so can I!” Taking out my watch I timed them as
they, at my suggestion, set out to make a record in going round the
square. Two and a half minutes was the result. I then started with all
my forces well in hand, and flew around in two and a quarter minutes.
Not contented with this, but puffed up with foolish vanity, I declared
that I would go around in two minutes; and, encouraged by their
cheers, away I went without a fear till the third turning-post was
reached, when the left hand played me false, and turning at an acute
angle, away I went sidelong, machine and all, into the gutter, falling
on my right elbow, which felt like a glassful of chopped ice, and I
knew that for the first time in a life full of vicissitudes I had been
really hurt. Anna Gordon’s white face as she ran toward me caused me
to wave my uninjured hand and call out, “Never mind!” and with her
help I rose and walked into the house, wishing above all things to go
straight to my own room and lie on my own bed, and thinking as I did
so how pathetic is that instinct that makes “the stricken deer go
weep,” the harmed hare seek the covert.

Two physicians were soon at my side, and my mother, then over eighty
years of age, came in with much controlled agitation and seated
herself beside my bed, taking my hand and saying, “O Frank! you were
always too adventurous.”

Our family physician was out of town, and the two gentlemen were
well-nigh strangers. It was a kind face, that of the tall, thin man
who looked down upon me in my humiliation, put his ear against my
heart to see if there would be any harm in administering ether,
handled my elbow with a woman’s gentleness, and then said to his
assistant, “Now let us begin.” And to me who had been always well, and
knew nothing of such unnatural proceedings, he remarked, “Breathe into
the funnel—full, natural breaths; that is all you have to do.”

I set myself to my task, as has been my wont always, and soon my
mother and my friend, Anna Gordon, who were fanning me with big
“palm-leaves,” became grotesque and then ridiculous, and I remember
saying (or at least I remember that I once remembered), “You are a
couple of enormous crickets standing on your hind legs, and you have
each a spear of dry grass, and you look as if you were paralyzed; and
you wave your withered spears of grass, and you call that fanning a
poor woman who is suffocating before your eyes.” I labored with them,
entreated them, and dealt with them in great plainness—so much so that
my mother could not bear to hear me talk in such a foolish fashion,
and quietly withdrew to her own room, closed the door, and sat down to
possess her soul in patience until the operation should be over.

Then the scene changed, and as they put on the splints pain was
involved, and I heard those about me laughing in the most unfeeling
manner while I murmured: “She always believed in humanity—she always
said she did and would; and she has lived in this town thirty years,
and they are hurting her—they are hurting her dreadfully; and if they
keep on she will lose her faith in human nature, and if she should it
will be the greatest calamity that can happen to a human being.”

Now the scene changed once more—I was in the starry heavens, and said
to the young friends who had come in and stood beside me: “Here are
stars as thick as apples on a bough, and if you are good you shall
each have one. And, Anna, because you _are_ good, and always have
been, you shall be given a whole solar system to manage just as you
like. The Heavenly Father has no end of them; He tosses them out of
His hand as a boy does marbles; He spins them like a cocoon; He has
just as many after He has given them away as He had before He began.”

Then there settled down upon me the most vivid and pervading sense of
the love of God that I have ever known. I can give no adequate
conception of it, and what I said, as my comrades repeated it to me,
was something after this order:

“We are like blood-drops floating through the great heart of our
Heavenly Father. We are infinitely safe, and cared for as tenderly as
a baby in its mother’s arms. No harm can come anywhere near us; what
we call harm will turn out to be the very best and kindest way of
leading us to be our best selves. There is no terror in the universe,
for God is always at the center of everything. He is love, as we read
in the good book, and He has but one wish—that we should love one
another; in Him we live, and move, and have our being.”

Little by little, freeing my mind of all sorts of queer notions, I
came back out of the only experience of the kind that I have ever
known; but I must say that had I not learned the great evils that
result from using anesthetics I should have wished to try ether again,
just for the ethical and spiritual help that came to me. It let me out
into a new world, greater, more mellow, more godlike, and it did me no
harm at all.

During the time my arm was in a sling I “sat about”—something not
easy to do for one of active mind and life. I learned to write with my
left hand—for this was before the happy days of the many
stenographers—and my hieroglyphics went out to all the leading
temperance women of this country. One morning the bell, distant and
musical, tolled in the steeple of the university. We knew it meant
that General Grant was dead, for the newspapers and despatches of the
previous evening had prepared us. Somehow a deep chord in my soul
vibrated to the tone of the bell—a chord of patriotism—and I went away
to the vine-covered piazza, where I was wont to sit, and in twenty
minutes (which fact is my apology for their limping feet) wrote out my
heart in the following lines. They had at least the merit of sincere
devotion, and were telephoned to Chicago, eleven miles away, by Anna
Gordon, and appearing in the daily _Inter-Ocean_ were read at their
breakfast-tables by many other patriots next morning. I do not know
when anything has given me more real pleasure than to be told that a
stalwart soldier belonging to the Grand Army of the Republic read my
crude but heartfelt lines aloud to his wife and daughter, and at the
close brushed away a manly tear.


_On Hearing the University Bell at Evanston, Ill., Toll for the Death
of General Grant at Nine O’clock A.M., July 23, 1885._

    Toll, bells, from every steeple,
    Tell the sorrow of the people;
    Moan, sullen guns, and sigh
    For the greatest who could die.
          Grant is dead.

  Never so firm were set those moveless lips as now,
  Never so dauntless shone that massive brow;
  The silent man has passed into the silent tomb.
    Ring out our grief, sweet bell,
    The people’s sorrow tell
    For the greatest who could die.
          Grant is dead.

  “Let us have peace!” Great heart,
    That peace has come to thee;
  Thy sword for freedom wrought,
    And now thy soul is free,
  While a rescued nation stands
    Mourning its fallen chief—
  The Southern with the Northern lands,
    Akin in honest grief.
  The hands of black and white
    Shall clasp above thy grave,
  Children of the Republic all,
    No master and no slave.
  Almost “all summer on this line”
  Thou steadily didst “fight it out”;
  But Death, the silent,
  Matched at last our silent chief,
  And put to rout his brave defense.
    Moan, sullen guns, and sigh
    For the bravest who could die.
          Grant is dead.

  The huge world holds to-day
    No fame so great, so wide,
  As his whose steady eyes grew dim
    On Mount McGregor’s side
  Only an hour ago, and yet
  The whole great world has learned
          That Grant is dead.

  O heart of Christ! what joy
  Brings earth’s new brotherhood!
  All lands as one,
  Buckner, Grant’s bed beside,
  The priest and Protestant in converse kind;
  Prayers from all hearts, and Grant
  Praying “we all might meet in better worlds.”
    Toll, bells, from every steeple,
    Tell the sorrow of the people;
    So true in life, so calm and strong,
    Bravest of all, in death suffering so long
    And without one complaint!
    Moan, sullen guns, and sigh
    For the greatest who could die;
    Salute the nation’s head.
          Our Grant is dead.


If I am asked to explain why I learned the bicycle I should say I did
it as an act of grace, if not of actual religion. The cardinal
doctrine laid down by my physician was, “Live out of doors and take
congenial exercise;” but from the day when, at sixteen years of age, I
was enwrapped in the long skirts that impeded every footstep, I have
detested walking and felt with a certain noble disdain that the
conventions of life had cut me off from what in the freedom of my
prairie home had been one of life’s sweetest joys. Driving is not real
exercise; it does not renovate the river of blood that flows so
sluggishly in the veins of those who from any cause have lost the
natural adjustment of brain to brawn. Horseback-riding, which does
promise vigorous exercise, is expensive. The bicycle meets all the
conditions and will ere long come within the reach of all. Therefore,
in obedience to the laws of health, I learned to ride. I also wanted
to help women to a wider world, for I hold that the more interests
women and men can have in common, in thought, word, and deed, the
happier will it be for the home. Besides, there was a special value to
women in the conquest of the bicycle by a woman in her fifty-third
year, and one who had so many comrades in the white-ribbon army that
her action would be widely influential. Then there were three minor

  [Illustration: “AT LAST.”]

I did it from pure natural love of adventure—a love long hampered and
impeded, like a brook that runs underground, but in this enterprise
bubbling up again with somewhat of its pristine freshness and taking
its merry course as of old.

Second, from a love of acquiring this new implement of power and
literally putting it underfoot.

Last, but not least, because a good many people thought I could not do
it at my age.

It is needless to say that a bicycling costume was a prerequisite.
This consisted of a skirt and blouse of tweed, with belt, rolling
collar, and loose cravat, the skirt three inches from the ground; a
round straw hat, and walking-shoes with gaiters. It was a simple,
modest suit, to which no person of common sense could take exception.

As nearly as I can make out, reducing the problem to actual figures,
it took me about three months, with an average of fifteen minutes’
practice daily, to learn, first, to pedal; second, to turn; third, to
dismount; and fourth, to mount independently this most mysterious
animal. January 20th will always be a red-letter bicycle day, because
although I had already mounted several times with no hand on the
rudder, some good friend had always stood by to lend moral support;
but summoning all my force, and, most forcible of all, what Sir
Benjamin Ward Richardson declares to be the two essential
elements—decision and precision—I mounted and started off alone. From
that hour the spell was broken; Gladys was no more a mystery: I had
learned all her kinks, had put a bridle in her teeth, and touched her
smartly with the whip of victory. Consider, ye who are of a
considerable chronology: in about thirteen hundred minutes, or, to put
it more mildly, in twenty-two hours, or, to put it most mildly of all,
in less than a single day as the almanac reckons time—but practically
in two days of actual practice—amid the delightful surroundings of the
great outdoors, and inspired by the bird-songs, the color and
fragrance of an English posy-garden, in the company of devoted and
pleasant comrades, I had made myself master of the most remarkable,
ingenious, and inspiring motor ever yet devised upon this planet.

Moral: _Go thou and do likewise!_

Transcriber’s Note

Inconsistent hyphenation (horseback-riding/horseback riding) has been
retained as printed.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Wheel Within a Wheel
 - How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle, With Some Reflections by the Way" ***

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