Chapter 1: lineage and education.
- All men are not created equal
-- conditions that tend to produce superiority
-- early settlers of New Hampshire
-- the Butler family
-- “Brick” Pomeroy considered
-- childhood and first school-days
-- early development of a tenacious memory
-- learned political principles from grandmother
-- in Phillips (Exeter) Academy
-- Rev. Mr. Edson, founder of Lowell's schools
-- clergyman objects to West Point
-- intended for the ministry
-- life at Waterville College
-- Theological conflict with authorities there
-- determines upon the law as a profession
-- graduates, weighing ninety-seven pounds
-- voyage in a fishing vessel
-- study of law
-- method pursued
-- experience as teacher in private school
-- examination for admission to the bar
The political system of this country is founded upon what Rufus Choate
once termed a “glittering generality,” contained in the Declaration of Independence
, that “all men are created equal.”
This is a truth as applied to political rights, immunities, and burdens, but an utter absurdity so far as it is made to describe other mutual relations of people.
He would not be considered sane who should solemnly declare that all individuals of any other of the larger species of animals are created equal.
Take the horse, for example.
All the world agrees to radical differences and varying capabilities among horses according to the race and “blood,” and all acknowledge distinctions in the higher class of “blood.”
This recognized difference in the peculiarities of different classes of animals has led to grave consequences to mankind, causing one to be called to be a king, another a lord, and the great mass peasants.
This fact, misapplied in giving right and power to “blood,” still maintains itself in most countries of the world save ours, where it does not and cannot affect governmental action.
That blood does not and cannot of itself maintain a class, either of intellectual superiority or of physical vigor, by “breeding in and in,” is patent from the well-known condition of the royal families of Europe
, among whom there has been so much intermarrying for many years that hardly a reigning monarch in Europe
has had any considerable influence in the conduct of affairs of his own government because of his inferior intellectual qualities.
And so far as health and vigor of body is concerned, many people of the royal families can scarcely be said to have a “leg to stand on.”
directed the affairs of Europe
, if not of the world, more than all the monarchs of their century; and the people govern America
The nobility of England
, it is but just to say, stands higher in physical beauty and strength, and in intellectual force, than any other “peerage” in Europe
But it would long since have died out from inanition, had it not maintained itself by very frequent marriages with the yeomanry and the peasant classes, and by constant accessions from the commercial men and mechanics of England
through the appointment of fresh peers therefrom, with an occasional admixture of brewers and Jews.
The progeny of a class of this sort exhibits higher mental and physical qualities than are shown in the children of parents who are themselves the product of intermarriages for a series of generations.
Of course there are exceptions to this generalization.
There may be able children of degenerate sires.
But whether such instances are not proof of the rule depends upon the question, whether, from some earlier intermingling, better blood may not have been taken from the lower class.
There is another rule which it is believed is well established, that the firstborn inherits the highest qualities of the capabilities of the father and mother.
This rule has a curious corollary, shown in early English history, and perhaps now, that these higher qualities are transmitted to the offspring in greater extent when the procreation is under circumstances of high mental or physical excitement, and in a marked degree when not sanctioned by legal forms.
The bar sinister of heraldry is on the escutcheons of the highest, bravest, and greatest men in the upper classes of all nations.
What may be called domestic history in our country proves that the truths here spoken can and do appear where all men are politically equal, and that they require no privileged class to demonstrate a natural fact.
Such occurrences may be tested by the reader of mature age who calls up retrospections of the family traditions of his own neighborhood.
Indeed, it is neither speculative nor theoretical to aver that the great longevity, physical strength, soundness of constitution, assured health, endurance, and mental and physical energy and activity of the earlier inhabitants of our country, came in the very largest degree from the intermingling and mixing of the blood of several
distinct races and peoples.
There would have been no such result to the descendants of any one people.
The colonists of the province of New Hampshire
, which at first included Vermont
, possessed very largely these qualities which I have ascribed in part to the intermingling of distinct races.
Many of them were strong men, born amid the turmoil and strife of other countries, fleeing here for refuge from oppression, or more often for the purpose of enjoying full liberty of opinion, religious and political.
Here they were surrounded in their every-day life with conditions of the strongest excitement because of the incursions of savage foes.
Every faculty of mind was on the alert, and every function and sinew of the body was called into constant and intense endeavor to support life and defend themselves, their wives, and their children.
Thus they lived in that state of “mental and physical excitement” which I have claimed causes the transmission of the best faculties of the parents in the fullest development of their offspring.
They dwelt in an atmosphere of continual warfare for almost two hundred years, no generation escaping either an incursion of savages at their doors, or a general war. Does not history show that such conditions have in all times made braver, stronger, and more capable founders of states?
In 1620 King James had established a council of forty noblemen, knights, and gentlemen for the planting and governing of New England
, in America
Their territory extended from the fortieth to the forty-eighth degree of north latitude.
This was the origin of all the grants of the country of New England
The charters issued in those times show no knowledge of the country, for even its geographical boundaries by lakes and seas continually interlaced each other.
, a sea officer and prominent member of the council, obtained, in 1621, an immense tract extending from Salem
on the sea around Cape Ann
to the Merrimack River
, and to the farthest head thereof, with all the islands lying within three miles of the coast.
This grant was named “Marianna
In 1622, another grant was made to Mason
of all the lands between the Merrimack
, extending back to the Great Lakes
and “River of Canada
This grant was called “Laconia
So little was known of the continent that it was supposed the “River of Canada
” (the St.
) was within a hundred miles of the mouth of the Merrimack
It seems to be beyond dispute that this colony of Laconia
was established by prominent merchants whose aim was to establish stations for fishing and carrying on commerce.
Entire freedom of religious views was permitted, and Wheelwright
came here when expelled from Massachusetts Bay
The land within certain portions of the grant was afterwards occupied under the designation of New Hampshire
, and this included the territory now known as Vermont
The townships were all laid out with a church and parsonage lot, or glebe, and a school lot, after the manner of the Church of England.
This was in compliance with an order made to the ministers by the council.
was settled in organized plantations about the year 1623.
A charter was given to Mason
in opposition to the Plymouth
charter, which had been taken possession of by Puritan adherents of that most wonderful man Cromwell
, a farmer, who, having married into the nobility, begot one child, Richard, who inherited none of the qualities of father or mother.
fathers were highly intolerant, as they had a right to be. They came here to establish a theocracy, which looked to God as the divine ruler, and to His word as containing the best system of laws.
And they did perfectly right, for they had come more than three thousand miles to a savage wilderness expressly for a home where all men might enjoy freedom to worship God, provided one worshipped in compliance with the creed and tenets of the Puritan
Indeed, they had left Holland
because they found there entire freedom of worship according to every one's conscience and belief.
This license, they claimed, seduced away their young men and maidens from the true faith, so that the service of God had fallen into disrepute, and the number of worshippers had decreased.
I, for one, believe they had the most indisputable right to prevent anybody from remaining within their boundaries who did not worship God precisely as the owners of the soil and founders of the colony determined.
fathers had by no means taken exclusive possession of the best part of the United States
, but they certainly had a right to control that part which they had taken, and anybody who did not choose to conform to their religious views could move on. Therefore they had the Episcopalians take the back
seat in the meeting-house with the negroes, and they banished Roger Williams
He was of the most prayerful life and conversation, and his followers, in their belief, differed from the Puritans on little else than the question, whether the use of any considerable water was necessary fully to convert a confessed sinner into a Christian, and constitute him a member of the Church of God.
were also banished, and Quakers were prohibited from coming in under a penalty of one hundred pounds, which the person who brought them must pay, and carry them back besides.
And if a Quaker was found there not coming by sea, he was to be punished by death.1
Indeed, the distinction between the two colonies was that during all this time freedom from religious persecution found its home in New Hampshire
So well was this understood in the mother country, that New Hampshire
was largely settled by the cadets of good Episcopalian families, and loyalty to the royal government was so substantially maintained therein that when, under Charles II., the monarchy was restored, while Puritan Massachusetts
, the regicides, none of the attainted or proclaimed thought of taking refuge in New Hampshire
A most remarkable accession to its population, and one which has had the best influence upon the character of its people, came from Ireland
It was a colony of Scotch Presbyterians which had settled in the Province of Ulster
in the reign of James I. They had borne the brunt of the siege of Londonderry
; they had been the right hand of King William in the battle of Boyne Water; and, being oppressed by their Catholic neighbors after James had been routed from Ireland
, they emigrated to New Hampshire
They established themselves in the centre and northern parts of the province, naming their new settlements after their Irish homes, so that to-day, going through their towns of Derry
, and Hillsboro
, one would almost think that he was travelling in the north of Ireland
These men in position at home were far above the ordinary ranks of life.
They were of exceedingly vigorous physical organization; so much so that there was added to them great length of days.
The first planters in Londonderry
lived to an average of eighty years; some lived to ninety, and others to one
Among the last was William Scovy
, who died at the age of one hundred and four.
The last two heads of the sixteen families who first settled that town died there in 1782, aged ninety-three years each.
, an adjoining town, there died James Wilson
, aged one hundred years; James Shirley
, 1754, aged one hundred and five, and his relative of the same name aged ninety-one; and William Cragy
and wife in 1775, each aged one hundred years. Col. James Davis
was one of these emigrants, and he was a man of remarkable stature as well as years.
He died in 1749, aged eighty-eight
Samuel, ninety-nine years; James
, ninety-three years; Thomas
, eighty-eight years; Daniel, sixty-five years; Sarah
, ninety-one years; Hannah
, seventy-seven years; Elizabeth
, seventy-nine years; Ephraim, eighty-seven years; and Phoebe
, aged eighty-five years, the widow of Samuel, aged one hundred and two years, were living in 1792.
These noticeable facts bear evidence of the healthfulness of a climate where the air was impregnated with a profusion of the “effluvia from resinous trees.”
From the beginning, the many great men who have stood out before the country as representatives of New Hampshire
will be found to be descendants, either lineally or collaterally, from these progenitors.
One of the descendants of the Scotch Presbyterians
, or one might say almost a contemporary, because he was born with the century, is Hon. George W. Nesmith
, late Justice
of the Supreme Court of Judicature of New Hampshire
He is still in healthful, vigorous old age, with a mind clear, thoughtful, and comprehensive, and, in 1889, gives promise of a much further prolongation of life, a promise which all hope will be fulfilled.
This venerable man has done a thing the like of which no man ever will do again, upon the doctrine of chances: he voted in 1840 as presidential elector for the election of William Henry Harrison
of the United States
, and, in 1888, forty eight years after, as such elector, voted to make president his grandson, Benjamin Harrison
Nay, so potent were the Scotch Irish Presbyterians
in the councils of New Hampshire
, and so intense was their hatred of popery, that in the constitutional convention of 1784, which organized the province as a State of the United States
, they were enabled to have inserted in the Constitution
(which in almost all things else copied the Constitution
of 1783) clauses enacting that every officer of the State
, elective or appointive, must profess the Protestant religion.
Yet at the time there was not a single Roman Catholic
parish, or priest exercising his functions, within the limits of New Hampshire
And so strong has been the feeling transmitted from father to son that this clause was not expunged from the Constitution
until four conventions to amend it had been held.
The fact that there were very many English among the early settlers in New Hampshire
had an effect upon the pronunciation of the language, and especially of the proper names, which was almost as marked as a like pronunciation in Virginia
, and, until lately, the pronunciation in England
For example, the proper name Currier
was always pronounced as if spelled K-i-a-h, and the highest courts in New Hampshire
have judicially determined them to be idem sonans
was pronounced as if spelled G-u-t-r-i-d-g-e; Seelye
spelled C-i-l-l-e-y; and Seabrook
as if spelled S-a-y-b-r-o-o-k. These pronunciations show their English tone.
They found no imitation in Massachusetts
save in Marblehead
, a purely English settlement, where Crowninshield
was pronounced as if spelled G-r-u-n-s-e-l, and Florence
as if spelled F-l-u-r-r-y.
The English blood is also seen from the fact that in the earlier times, in the courts of New Hampshire
, more form and ceremony was observed, and more outward respect was paid to the judges.
This was continued down to a later day than in any other colony.
The towns of New Hampshire
, being on the frontier and in the direct line between Massachusetts
, were the scene of many a conflict in the French
wars that were nearly continuous for the first one hundred and twenty years after the settlement.
This educated almost every one to be a trained fighter, and a man rarely ever left his home, whether for the field or for church, without taking his musket, powder-horn, and bullet-pouch.
From this necessity arose the change of construction in the interior of meeting-houses.
The pews of the English church at home were square, while in New Hampshire
the earlier pews were slips, at the head of which sat the master with his gun always ready to answer the call of the war-whoop of the savage.
So that every one who can trace his lineage back to the early settlers of New Hampshire
is born of fighting stock.
I have endeavored to sketch that part of the early history of my native State which pertains to the colonists who settled it and the causes contributing to the character of its people, in order that I might demonstrate the proposition with which I began, that the stock from which one comes is very material.
For if the proposition be not true, then, in a republican government, the question “of whom begotten or by whom begot?”
is, and ought to be, of no consequence to any individual, or to his peers.
My paternal grandfather was born in Woodbury, Connecticut
, of Irish descent, and of a most strictly Irish Presbyterian family, as his own name Zephaniah
, and his uncles', Levi and Malachi, most plainly show.
The branches of the family were numerous, and the names of those who were of the proper generation to take part in the War
of the Revolution, will be found in the local history of that
contest wherever Connecticut
men took part, whether in Pennsylvania
, or in the western reserve of Ohio
went to Quebec
, and I have the powder-horn which he bore, dated April 22, 1758.
He went from Connecticut
to the town of Nottingham
in New Hampshire
, and married Abigail, daughter of General Joseph Cilley
They had several children, the youngest of whom was John
, my father, who was born May 17, 1782.
He married Sarah Batchelder
, of Deerfield, New Hampshire
, June 5, 1803.
By her he was the
father of three girls, Polly True, born June 8, 1804, Sally, born March 11, 1806, and Betsey Morrill
, born January 9, 1808.
The last of these is now living at Nottingham, New Hampshire
, the widow of the late Daniel B. Stevens
, Esq. Mrs. Sarah Batchelder Butler
died February 23, 1809.
then married Charlotte Ellison
, July 21, 1811.
She bore him three children.
The eldest, Charlotte
, born May 13, 1812, died in August, 1839.
The second child, Andrew Jackson
, was born February 13, 1815, and died February 11, 1864.
The third, Benjamin
F., was born at Deerfield, New Hampshire
, Nov. 5, 1818, about four o'clock in the afternoon.
Upon the breaking out of the war of 1812, John Butler
applied to the war department for permission to raise a company of light dragoons among his neighbors.
Permission was granted, the company was raised, and he was commissioned its captain on the twenty-third of July, 1812.
served with his troop on the northern frontier until he broke his left leg. The broken limb was so badly set that he could not thereafterwards wear a boot, and he resigned his commission.
Unwilling to remain idle while the war was going on, and having a taste for the sea and shipping, he sailed from
in a privateer fitted out by himself and his friends.
He did some harm to the enemy, and in return therefor he received a commission from the government to be the bearer of despatches to General Jackson
at New Orleans.
He carried out his mission and was thus enabled to make the acquaintance of General Jackson
, for whom he entertained the highest respect and admiration.
Hence, having a son born on the 13th of February, 1815, he named him Andrew Jackson
The war being practically ended, as the battle of New Orleans
was fought after the treaty of peace had been agreed upon, my father turned his attention to mercantile voyages going several trips to the West Indies
and Spanish Islands on the coast of South America
so engaged he took letters of marque under Bolivar
, and with his vessel formed a part of Bolivar
crossed the Cordilleras, my father returned to the West India Islands
and, in order to refit, landed at the Island
of St. Christopher
), one of the British Islands
While there he died of the yellow fever, el vomito
. So did some portion of his crew and one of his officers, I believe his first officer.
That pestilence and its terrible results was among the first diseases of which I remember ever to have learned from my suffering mother.
I mention this
because it made so indelible an impression on my memory that it impelled me, when I was older, to investigate that scourge to such extent as I might, and this investigation had some effect upon my conduct of affairs in later life.
My father's services on the South American coast, under a commission from the head of a republic not then having fully achieved its independence, were of much the same kind that Paul Jones
rendered for our Revolutionary fathers on the coast of Scotland
under like circumstances.
A few evil disposed persons, I have heard, have denounced my father's acts as piracy.
The man has never lived who suggested that to me, and I never saw it in print but under the following circumstances:--
After I returned from New Orleans one M. M. Pomeroy
, who had obtained the sobriquet of “Brick Pomeroy
,” established a scurrilous newspaper in New York.
In order to get a circulation, he placed before his office a miniature statue, supposed to be of myself, shouldering a spoon.
This was to the delight, I doubt not, of the inhabitants of Mackerelville, whom I tamed when in New York.
He afterwards made some such publication, I was told, in a pamphlet which I presume he had not the courage to send to me; nor did I ever take any notice of the matter, because I knew the motive of the man. His wife, who, I had been informed, was an estimable lady, had called upon me with grievous complaints of “Brick,” saying that he had entirely neglected her and left her after afflicting her with a terrible disease.
I undertook proceedings for a divorce which led to an adjustment.
I hope the good lady is alive for she can testify to the circumstance.
I had also been counsel against him in another case in the Circuit Court of the United States
for the southern district of New York.
In this case Pomeroy
was sued for grievous wrongs done to a young lady, as the court records will show.
But as Pomeroy
was found to be utterly penniless and worthless, it was useless to bring the case to trial.
I do not know whether Brick is alive or not. I should be sorry to learn that he is dead, because I hope that he may have the pleasure of knowing that, in justice to him, I have preserved his memory to go down with my own as far as mine will go.
The death of my father in St. Kitts
, and the irrecoverable loss of what he had there, left my mother in a state of comparative poverty.
But against it she struggled with wisdom and vigor, and with some success.
My Uncle Benjamin took charge of my brother in his younger years, and so long as he lived looked after him. My mother and my younger sister went to live for a period with my Uncle William and my grandmother on my father's side.
They owned and carried on a small farm in Nottingham, New Hampshire
It is proper, however, that something should be said of that mother, whom I love, honor, and revere beyond any other person ever on earth.
Her father and mother were Scotch Presbyterians.
My grandfather, Richard Ellison
, when a young man, had fought at the battle of Boyne Water for King William, and had received some reward which enabled him and his wife to come to America
He joined the colony about Londonderry, New Hampshire
, and took up a farm at Northfield
, on the Pemigewassett, or main branch of the Merrimack River
Here he had several children, the youngest of whom was my mother.
He and his family removed to Canada
about the time of my mother's marriage.
They were respectable and honorable people, and were certainly long lived, for my mother's sister lived to exceed the age of one hundred and four years.
I, at four years of age, was thought to be a puny child,--probably the results of my mother's anxieties and fears for my father during his absence.
Quiet, gentle, and eager to learn, I was taught my letters by my mother and given a slight advance in the spelling-book.
In the summer I was sent away to school at Nottingham Square. This was quite two miles away from our home, especially as the last half of the distance was up a very steep hill, on which the Vermont
traders in the winter, going down to Portsmouth
with their sleighs heavily loaded with produce, sometimes had to double up their teams.
I attended that school for six weeks, and learned to read with but little difficulty.
I remained at home during the autumn, and then it was that our shoemaker gave me the book of all books for a boy, “Robinson Crusoe
The question was not whether I wanted to read it, but whether I could be kept from reading it, so as to do the little matters that I ought to do, and was able to do, called in New Hampshire
My mother, laying aside her labors which were quite necessary for our support, taught and explained the book to me with great pains.
But being a religious woman of the strictest sect of Calvin, she thought that I ought not to have so much secular reading without some Christian teaching; and so we struck a bargain that I should learn so many verses in the New Testament if she would help me read so many pages in “Robinson Crusoe
,” she agreeing to explain both to me. My reading, thereupon, was almost continuous, scarcely anything but eating and sleeping intervening.
To force me out of doors to take required exercise, she was obliged to send me on errands, and make me get up the cows from the pasture, the limit of which was about a mile away.
I had to get up early in the morning to drive them forth, and go out late in the afternoon to drive them back; and as they were by that time likely to have wandered far off from the opening of the lane into the pasture, it gave me, in the course of the day, about two miles to run. The nearest boy lived a mile from us, and as he had his own duties to attend to, I saw very little of him.
Every fair evening, before her labors began by the light of the candle, and when I had no light to read by, my mother, wrapped up if it was cold, used to sit teaching me the names of the stars and constellations.
These she had learned of her father, who was somewhat of a scholar.
She told me about the signs of the zodiac, and about the rising and setting of the sun. I remember once she stood in a very terrific thunder storm by the window fearlessly,--I now suppose that I might be like fearless,--and explained to me all that she knew — or was then known — of the lightning.
She told me never to be afraid of it, because it was in
God's hands; that if He willed my destruction by it, it was not to be evaded or shunned, and, therefore, was not to be dreaded.
When the evenings were dark, her labors with her needle began earlier.
In the following winter, my mother and my uncle provided a home for me in Deerfield
, with Aunt Polly Dame
,--no relative of mine save that she was aunt to all the world.
She was a good old lady taken care of by her daughter, and sat in the corner spinning flax on what was called “the little wheel,” to distinguish it from the “great wheel” on which wool was spun.
I went to school, and I think was liked by my teacher, for I was not a troublesome scholar, except in the way of asking very many questions, and of seeking explanations about matters which I was not infrequently told did not concern me. The school at Deerfield Parade lasted longer than that at Nottingham
I remained during the summer term, reading everything I could find, almost committing to memory the almanac, and vexing everybody who came into the house for explanations regarding the signs of the zodiac.
Upon this last matter I could get no further information, the usual answer being that it did not concern me. But this did not prevent my asking the next person that I thought could tell me. I appropriated the full astronomy of the almanac, and profited much by it.
In the winter of my sixth year, I walked from my home every morning down to Nottingham Square to school, carrying my dinner in a little package.
Provision had been made, that if it became stormy, I was to be taken into the tavern near the schoolhouse, and there kept until the weather cleared and the roads were again passable,--which they sometimes were not for three or four days. I then learned that there was a small town library there, and of all things that a boy of that age should read, I was allowed to take from the library Rollin
's Ancient History
,--and I read it.
I had not the slightest knowledge of chronology, and I thought the events in the history followed one after another in point of time,--the Assyrians, the Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans, according to the chapters.
But when they began fighting with each other, I got mixed up, because, according to my understanding, the first of these ought to have passed away when the others came on the scene.
My reading did not interfere with my school lessons, which I pursued with a great deal of eagerness and pleasure, and also with
much success, owing to a tenacious and exact memory.
Before I was seven years old, I could answer all the questions in Whelpley's Compend of History, a very bulky volume, the answers having been picked out for me to learn, by being marked by the master's pencil.
I remember now one example which will illustrate the sort of instruction that I received; that is to say, I learned the words, but what they meant was then utterly uncomprehended.
For example, one of the questions was substantially this, as I remember it, and although I have not seen it for more than sixty years, I think I state it accurately: “If these States had not declared their independence, what would they now be?”
Answer: “Little better than British provinces.”
But what a British Province was, I had no earthly idea, and I asked the teacher one day. He had seventy scholars beside myself, and I do not now blame him for not answering me. He told me that he did not have time to explain it to me. Well, I do not think he had.
But there was another part of my education which was thoroughly instilled,--the traditional history of the Revolution, and its battles and events.
Two of our neighbors were Revolutionary pensioners, and our kitchen fireside was a very pleasant resort for them, as the cellar was furnished with an unlimited quantity of cider, which was drawn for them in a tall, yellow earthen pitcher with an overhanging lip dropping away from each side.
To fill it three-parts full, and then bring it up from the cellar, was about the extent of my physical ability; but that I was to do. Then they would take down from the mantel-tree some red peppers which hung on a string under the gun, and cut them up and put them into the cider.
Next, they set the pitcher down on the hearth before a blazing fire, held up by a forestick,--a stick about four feet long and eight inches through,--so that the cider would get very much heated; and then it was drunk with a gusto that almost makes me wish I had some now if I could enjoy it half as well.
Then followed stories of the Indian
wars; of garrison houses, and of women running from the fields of corn, pursued by savages, and sometimes overtaken, and sometimes saved by the faithful musket of the husband or father.
Then they came down to later times,--the opening of the Revolutionary War
, the massacre at Lexington
, and the battle of Bunker Hill
; and so talked on until I had as deep-seated a
prejudice against a red-coat as our turkey gobbler exhibited to a red petticoat, when he drove my sister into the house.
Thus I was taught that the highest achievement in life was to get behind a stone wall and shoot a Britisher, and I longed for the time when I should grow up to do it. So thoroughly was this drilled into me, that in after life it was a matter for reasoning on my part whether I should treat an Englishman decently.
The difference between this feeling and that which I had toward the Frenchmen, who fought us with the Indians, and who helped the savages scalp us, was that the French
were poor fellows who did not know any better; and besides, the French
had helped us in the Revolution against the British
, so that we would forgive them, but the Britishers, never!
As time wore on, I was literally adopted by my grandmother, my grandfather having died several years before.
She was a very remarkable looking woman, who stood about five feet eleven inches in her stockings.
She was then in the neighborhood of eighty years old, and walked with a stick, yet she was as erect as ever, and was the most imperious person I have ever seen, to everybody but me. She had a most inflexible will, apparently never yielding to others, and subjecting all others to herself.
She read to me, but inasmuch as she read as she had been taught in her youth, it was almost unintelligible, and this caused some difficulties between us. For example, she always pronounced w-o-u-l-d as if it were spelled w-o-o-l-d, and s-h-o-u-l-d as if spelled s-h-o-o-l-d, and she taught me that the name of the sign of conjunction (&) at the end of the alphabet was ampersand, a word which I learned afterwards, from an old spelling book of her generation, was really “and per se.”
She told me the history of battles as they were known and seen by her, the daughter of a general and the mother of a captain in the first and second wars with England
, and all the pathetic incidents of the wars, like the capture and death of Jane McRea
, who was surrendered to the French
, and scalped by their Indian allies, in the northern part of New York.
She also told me, boy as I was, of the injustice of the men toward the women, and toward their own younger brothers, in assuming to enforce the law of primogeniture, and how, when they failed to pass it in the constitutional convention of New Hampshire
, the men made
their wills so as to accomplish the same thing, giving substantially all to the eldest son. I reverenced her.
She ate two of her meals at the same time as the rest of the family, having a table to herself, and I alone had a place at it, generally sitting on the elbow of her arm-chair.
She also taught me fully to understand her politics, which, so far as I could understand them, were that there ought not be any kings, princes, barons, nobles, or knights.
She never said anything against aristocrats, and my memory of her now is that if ever there was a high-priestess of the aristocracy, she was one, and especially did she dilate upon the fact that her family, the Cilleys, was the best in the State
Can anyone doubt where I learned my political status: democratic politics in government and personal aristocracy?
I give these details, although they may seem puerile.
In time, they had great effect upon the bent of my mind, though not much then, because the most of what was said I did not understand.
But I remembered it all, and it came up to meet every emergency of thought later on. Hence my democracy; for hers was the only political teaching I ever had until I learned political economy from the books, and that was no teaching at all.
My grandmother died at the age of eighty-four.
A severe cold brought her life to an end, when her physical and mental strength were apparently as good as ever.
Her sister, Alice Cilley
, married Captain Page
and went to Maine
, first settling in Hallowell
, and afterwards living in Cornville with one of her children.
I never saw her until after I went to college in Maine
, and I may possibly have occasion to refer to her hereafter.
She died in 1849, at the age of ninety-nine and a half years, and was able, the summer before she died, to mount her own horse without assistance, and ride out some three miles to visit a neighbor.
I attended a partially private school or academy at Deerfield
until I was eight years old. In this school almost every branch of practical learning was taught except the languages.
There were many young men in the school, and some young women.
My teacher was Mr. James Hersey
, afterwards postmaster of Manchester, New Hampshire
, a city which had no existence in those days.
His specialty was English grammar,--at least he made it so with his pupils,--and he was the most intelligent teacher of the English
language I ever knew.
He saw to it that we were thoroughly versed in the rules, and explained the difficulties of construction of our language with great clearness, so that even I, the youngest, understood them.
His favorite exercise was parsing.
We used very different text-books then, from those now in use. Among them were Pope
's “Essay on man” and Cowper
's “Task,” and I remember I got my first feeling of hostility to slavery from being called upon to parse a half page beginning “Is India
free, or do we grind her still?”
Our teacher taught us to construe verse,--that is, to render it into prose, so as to show the grammatical construction of the parts.
There was a sort of constructiveness about that putting of verse into prose which chimed in with my love of putting things together; and I became quite an adept.
I speak of this because an incident regarding it had an effect on my whole after life.
It had been debated whether it was not desirable that I should go to college, for my mother's most ardent desire was that I should become a Calvinist Baptist
Ways and means were pretty narrow, and it was doubtful whether the plan could be carried out. Boys went to college in those days at the age of from twelve to fifteen. Judge Josiah G. Abbott
, of Boston
, one of the ablest gentlemen now at the bar, with whom I have practised for many years and know how thorough his training was, went to Harvard
There was an examination at our school at which all the Methodists, and other clergymen, and principal men of the vicinity were present.
The first class in parsing was called, and I, naturally in size and every way, was at The foot of it. We had “Pope
's essay on man” as our text-book; for in those days there were no easy books for children,--none of the thousand treatises that have been invented since to teach children not to think, and that are at the present day, I believe, a great hindrance to intelligent education.
I remember this paragraph was the opening one of the recitation:--
l>The lamb thy riot dooms to bleed to-day, Had he thy reason would he skip and play?
Pleased to the last, he crops the flowery food,
And licks the hand just raised to shed his blood.
“Parse lamb,” said the master to the pupil who stood at the head of the class.
He tried, and so down through the class, some eight in all. Then came my turn.
I said: “Lamb
is a noun in the objective case and governed by dooms.”
“How do you know that?”
said the master.
“Because I construe the paragraph ‘ Thy riot dooms the lamb to bleed to-day; had he thy reason, etc.’
“Right,” said the master; “take the head of the class.”
I did so; and it was the proudest event of my life.
A consultation was held by all those who had a right to be consulted, and it was decided that I should be sent to Exeter
to be fitted for college, with the hope that a free scholarship might be found for me. I continued my studies, and late in the following autumn I went to Exeter
Here I commenced the study of Latin, and soon afterwards that of Greek
I must say, truthfully, that my learning at Exeter
did not amount to much.
To be sure, I acquired the Latin
grammar with a certainty of memory that was excelled only by my uncertainty as to the meanings of the rules it contained.
My learning was nothing but memorizing.
It was the same in the study of Greek
I was far too young to appreciate the beauties of the “Iliad,” but I was reasonably well taught in the conjugation of Greek
I attended the Unitarian Church, as the rules of the school required.
Boy like, I was confused by the new doctrine of one God and the Son of Man, as opposed to the doctrine of the triune God,--Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.
I had been taught the latter, and I could not permit myself to have any doubts concerning it.
In 1825, there was springing up on Pawtucket Falls
of the Merrimack River
, the second great manufacturing town in Massachusetts
on the Charles
being the first.
This town, afterwards Lowell
, was then known as East Chelmsford.
It had a growth unexampled in those days, and almost equalling the mushroom growth of towns in some of the western States at the present day. The constitutional convention of 1820, by a new section, made cities possible in Massachusetts
, fixing the limit of population at which any town could become a city at twelve thousand.
was the population of Boston
, and that town became a city in 1822.
But in 1836, Lowell
's population had increased to twelve thousand, and she became the second city.
A clergyman, who had befriended my mother, built a house in Lowell
for her to occupy, and by his advice I came to Lowell
at the end of the winter term in 1828, and studied my Latin at home during the spring
, afterwards Justice
of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts
, kindly permitted me to read Virgil in his office.
He amused himself in hearing my recitation of the text, and taught me to scan the versification of the original.
Later in the year it became necessary that I should earn some money, and my mother got me a place at Meecham & Mathewson
's, the Franklin
bookstore, the only establishment of the kind in the town.
I remained with them until December 18, when the Lowell
High School was established, through the exertions of Rev. Theodore Edson
, rector of St. Anne's Church. Mr. Edson
, having come to Lowell
in 1825, remained as rector of St. Anne's for over sixty years, most respected and most loved by his fellow-citizens.
To him more than to any other, Lowell
owes its school system, which, during its whole existence, has been one of the best established, most thoroughly cared for, and most highly successful of kindred institutions in the State
was a brave man as well as a good man. When he perceived the right thing to do, he did it, regardless of personal consideration, or of danger to himself.
Kirk Boot, who discovered the advantages of this locality as a water power, was then the leading mind in Lowell
He had been an English cavalry officer, and his family had occupied what was known as the Boot estate in Boston
, since changed into the Revere House
He was a very positive man, and inclined to be imperious toward everybody, especially toward those who stood in apparently dependent relations to himself.
The edifice of St. Anne's Church and the parsonage attached, had been built by the Merrimack Manufacturing Company
, and, as I have said, Mr. Edson
, the young clergyman, had been installed therein.
had built for himself a mansion not far from it. He was a devout Episcopalian, and had a highly ornamented pew of large dimensions, after the manner of English squires in parish churches.
To support this church, the operatives of the Merrimack
Manufacturing Company were taxed a small sum,--I think thirty cents each month,--and this sum was deducted from their wages.
, from his training, was not as much impressed as Mr. Edson
was with the necessity for the education and welfare of the common people, who were, of course, the operatives in the mills.
Almost all of the land on which the town stood was held by the Proprietors of the Locks and Canals on the Merrimack River
They sold off this land, and they also sold the water power furnished from the Merrimack River
by a dam. This dam was put across at the head of Pawtucket Falls
, although the law said that there should be no dam, because it would affect the navigation of the river.
The water was conducted through the new town of Lowell
, at first by a canal, which had been established by the Proprietors of the Locks and Canals about the year 1792, for the purpose of taking boats around the falls.
With a foresight as sagacious and remarkable as was the persistency with which the scheme was carried out, Mr. Edson
, in connection with a committee of the citizens of the new town, determined that two squares or commons, the North and South Common, should be dedicated to the public use. It was done; and the commons remain even to this day the breathing and recreation points of the citizens.
That enterprise for the benefit of the laboring man and woman and their children was not opposed by Mr. Boot
, as the land was comparatively valueless.
But Mr. Boot
was astounded when the young clergyman proposed that two schoolhouses, costing more than twenty thousand dollars, should be erected for grammar schools,--one on the corner of each park.
A very considerable number of buildings for primary schools, then termed infant schools, had been hired and put in use in various parts of the town, but up to that time, anything like instruction of the elder classes of children was not provided for, save that two or three small rooms had been hired for that purpose.
The taxation of that day for those new grammar school buildings of brick would be borne substantially by the manufacturing companies and the Proprietors of the Locks and Canals.
declared that this could not and would not be done.
A town meeting was called, to appropriate for such expenditure by the town.
appeared in person and opposed the proposition.
He was backed by the managing agents of the several mills.
made speeches against it. The proposition seemed not to have the slightest chance, when in one corner of the hall stood up a slender, smooth-faced young gentleman of winning manner and graceful ease of speech, and declared to the meeting that it was necessary for the instruction and training of the children of the people of the town that the appropriation should be passed.
He was surprised and chagrined, he said, at the opposition of the representatives of the manufacturing corporations, because it was necessary for the safety of their property and the insurance of its value that the manufacturing community which they were drawing around them, especially the younger portion, should be thoroughly trained and educated, that they might know their duties as men and women, and their rights as citizens and freemen.
His speech was called at that time radical in an almost unheard of degree, although it was accompanied by an appeal for religious instruction in connection with the secular instruction.
But it evidently was carrying the meeting.
The debate was extended by several replies, no man speaking in favor of the proposition save the young clergyman.
Nevertheless it was apparent that if the vote were to be taken then the appropriation would prevail.
Accordingly a motion to adjourn to a day in another week for its consideration was made and carried by its opponents.
During the adjournment Mr. Boot
informed Mr. Edson
that any further advocacy of this proposition would so far meet with his disapprobation that he should withdraw from his church and from attendance upon his ministration; that he should give his attendance and influence to another religious society, and that all support of St. Anne's in any way by the manufacturing companies would be withdrawn.
Few young pastors of the fashionable churches of the town, and certainly very few of the not very popular religious persuasion, would have been found at the next town meeting under such discouraging influences and surroundings.
The day of the meeting came.
The young pastor was there.
With a firmness equalled only by the eloquent appeal made for his fellow-citizens of the coming generation, he answered every argument against the proposition, and after a long debate the vote was taken and the proposition was carried.
The schoolhouses were built and occupied.
the upper story of the southernmost one a Lowell High School was taught.
Here I received, if not the most part, the best of all my educational teaching in my preparation for college.
In the year 1830 another contest was made, and, as its result, the Lowell
High School was established.
The school began in December, 1830, in a little one-story wooden building about forty feet square, rudely fitted up. Here were assembled about fifty pupils whom their parents claimed to be sufficiently advanced to come within the purview of its teaching.
The scholars were drawn together by the spirit of enterprise in their fathers, not one of them having been born in Lowell
At the risk of departing from the true course of self-narrative, I may be permitted to tell who and what were my classmates.
There were eight of us in the first class, the classification being made according to apparent advancement in scholarship.
The one alphabetically at the head, whose education went no further than in that one school, became afterwards a Boston merchant of high standing, and later still a merchant in the State of Vermont
He is an enterprising man, and is one of the wealthiest and best prized citizens of the State
Another fitted for college in the class, became a graduate of Dartmouth, and died young, standing very high in his profession as a surgeon.
Another, whose education was ended there, became a civil engineer of the very highest standing, founded the manufacturing city of Manchester, New Hampshire
, and was for several terms governor of that State.
Another, who left the school and became a midshipman in the navy, rose to be of the first class in his profession, and afterwards was the active head of the navy, and the only efficient one it had during the War
of the Rebellion
He lived to cross the Atlantic
in a new vessel of the unheard — of class, a monitor, and to demonstrate its availability abroad as well as at home.
Another, going from this class to a medical school, fitted himself for his profession as a surgeon, and, before his untimely death, became one of the most successful and best known surgeons of the country.
Two others became reputable and somewhat distinguished citizens.
The remaining one is the writer.
The Rev. Mr. Edson
was the foster father of this school, and brought for us our teacher, Thomas N. Clark
, a graduate of Yale.
taught us for nearly two years, and with him we went
into the new schoolhouse.
The numbers of the school increasing with the same rapidity as the new town, he brought to his assistance a classmate from Yale
, Mr. Clapp
, who afterwards left our school to go to Charleston, South Carolina
, where he finally became the editor of the Charleston Mercury
He was the most bitter proslavery and states-right gentleman I ever knew, and his cutting sarcasms permeated every page of his writing.
In his early life he happened to be bitten in the heel by a rattlesnake.
He did not die from the bite, but those whom he did not like said the venom of the poison remained in him. For some reason, which as a boy I never knew, the school was suspended when Mr. Clark
retired from the teachership to enter his profession of the ministry.
In this profession our reverend teacher rose steadily, and is now loved and honored by his denomination, as he is by every former pupil, as the bishop of the diocese of Rhode Island
During the suspension of the school, I spent the time reading everything that I could command, finding myself again in a lawyer's office, but without any thought of becoming a lawyer.
Finally the school was reorganized under teaching of Mr. Nicholas Hopping
, an estimable gentleman enough, of fine scholarship and usually gentle manners, but utterly without the special capacity to train young men, and particularly those who had enjoyed the teachings of Mr. Clark
Indeed, we dealt with him rather as a foe, and all the resources of pretty active minds were exhausted in an endeavor to make his position as uncomfortable as possible and useless to ourselves.
His unfortunate name was a source of continual attack, and gave occasion to the most unpremeditated and irritating pun I ever heard at school or elsewhere.
One morning a classmate, who may not wish me to give his name, had a pretty severe tiff with the master in which both lost their tempers.
Immediately afterwards the first class was called up to read in Pierpont
The order of exercises was that each man, as we called ourselves, should read a paragraph and then give the definition of the principal words therein.
To the classmate of whom I have spoken a portion of Collins
' Ode to the Passions was given.
It contained the phrase, “Eyes with fine frenzy rolling.”
The teacher: “Give the definition of frenzy.”
No further definition was asked of that scholar.
At the Lowell
High School I finished my fitting for college, to which I went very unwillingly.
Just before I was to enter, my mother asked the Hon. Caleb Cushing
, then a member of Congress from Massachusetts
, to give me an appointment at West Point
, a thing of which I was very desirous.
He had known my mother, and knew that she was a soldier's widow, and he expressed a willingness to appoint me at the next vacancy.
But that vacancy would be a little time thence.
My mother then made application to the Hon. Isaac Hill
, of New Hampshire
, who was supposed to be all-powerful in such matters with Jackson
He replied that he would see to it that such appointment was given to the son of a soldier who was his own early friend.
But here a difficulty arose.
My much loved mother was a very devout Christian
, believing in the doctrine of Calvin, and viewing unbelief as the unpardonable sin. I had been very religiously brought up. I had been taught in the Sunday school, and by her, until I was, for my years, fully conversant with the Scriptures.
I had committed to memory the four Gospels, and once had recited them at call for a quotation in every part.
I knew every word, not even excepting the first eighteen verses of the first chapter of Matthew, where everybody begat everybody else.
That chapter was my hardest lesson, but I was once master of it. My mother's clergyman, a good Baptist, was consulted upon my being sent to West Point
He advised strongly against it. He said that I was a religiously inclined boy, and one well versed in religious principles; and at West Point
there was, he understood, a great deal of free-thinking among the pupils, if not among the teachers He felt that if I went there my religious feelings and principles would be derided and scoffed at, and that I should doubtless be converted into a free-thinker myself.
And, therefore, as my mother earnestly desired that I should be a clergyman of her persuasion, he thought that I had better be sent to a good Baptist college, at Waterville, Me.
(where he had graduated) in the labor department, where I could do something to earn my subsistence.
He was convinced that there, aided by the example of those around me, I should probably fulfil my mother's long-cherished expectations by becoming a clergyman.
He was a very good man, but had very litle insight into human nature, or at least into the nature of the boy for whom he was dealing.
He ought to have known that if I had been sent to West Point
, and had my comrades, or anybody else, derided, scoffed at, or belittled the religion of my mother, I should have fought for it, stood by it, and found argument to support my belief in it, and very possibly would have been one of the few religious gentlemen who have come from West Point
, like General O. O. Howard
So I was sent to Waterville
, where a majority of the pupils were fitting for the ministry, and some of them were even then performing, in part, the duties of clergymen.
Unfortunately, I had a much higher standard as to clergymen than they had, and I naturally observed all their shortcomings and outgoings.
And when religious matters were discussed, as they very soon were, and I was not found quite up to the belief, they undertook to teach me. But they broached subjects upon which I knew quite as much as they did and thought a little more.
In consequence, I could very easily trouble them with questions which it was impossible for them or any one else to answer.
The result of my taking the other side was that my own faith was weakened.
The more we discussed, the more I was disliked by some of my college mates.
On the other hand, certain ones, whose faith had been shaken, closed around me more closely, and we set up for ourselves against the prevalent beliefs in which we were being educated.
Before the first year had ended, I had changed my intention entirely regarding the ministry, if ever I had much in that direction, and devoted myself to the physical sciences, especially chemistry.
I was exceedingly interested in books on alchemy, and in the experiments which had been made in the vain endeavor to find the philosopher's stone.
I think I was imbued almost with the enthusiasm of the earlier chemists, and above all, I was inspired to believe that chemistry and its adjuncts were to be the means of opening a very great field of highly promising labor and research to benefit all mankind, particularly in the study of those sciences which were to test the magnetic and electric discoveries by Galvani
, the results of whose researches were then being exploited by the great discoveries of Sir Humphry Davy
I believed that the gates for pursuing chemical knowledge and investigation in a regularly defined and scientific manner were opened by the wonderful invention of the murdered Lavoisier
chemical nomenclature, which gave name and place to all chemical substances in their relations to each other, and took them out of the unintelligible and incongruous diction which surrounded, hindered, and impeded all the work of the alchemists.
Static electricity, claimed to have been deduced by Franklin
from heaven, and produced on earth by friction upon certain resinous and vitreous surfaces, seemed to me to be too evanescent, fitful, and uncontrollable (because one must use all or none of it at one time) to be of any effectiveness in the arts, or of substantial use to man-kind, save, as I was taught, as a remedy for controlling the nerves of delicate women.
I took great interest in that mysterious substance which made to quiver the leg of a dead frog lying on a copper plate when touched with a piece of zinc, and which could be produced in quantities sufficient for experimental use by means of the pile of Volta.
This pile could readily be made in a student's room by building up plates of differently oxidizable metals with soft moistened porous mattings between them.
It furnished power sufficient for electrical experiments in the same direction in which Davy
, by a powerful battery of cells, was reducing into new combinations at will substances which had been hitherto deemed entirely simple and elementary.
This substance, I believed, was the elective power of the future.
At that time, so far as I knew, no thought of any connection between magnetism and galvanic electricity had occurred to the scientific mind.
For nearly two years, I pursued my scientific studies.
They were substantially outside of the course, because our professor of chemistry, Dr. Holmes
, for reasons satisfactory to himself, did not think it worth while to give lectures on chemistry.
Prof. George W. Keeley
, however, gave us the fullest instructions on light and static electricity, by which I very much profited.
I believe it was at that time that I first heard of Miss Sommerville
's conceptions as to the polarization of light.
Of course, these studies did not advance my standing in my regular recitations, some of which I must confess were wretched.
I remember one in geometry which called forth an animadversion and a reply, neither of which was proper, between teacher and pupil.
The teacher took the chalk from me as I retired from the blackboard, and said, in the presence of the class, “Butler
, you don't know
The pupil replied, “Not about that demonstration; but I can tell you a good many things that you don't know,” --which was as true as it was impudent.
It was admitted in college, however, that upon the subjects of which I have been speaking, I was farther advanced than a pupil, and I was allowed to have access to the chemical laboratory as assistant to Professor Holmes
, who was not there.
I had one mate in these studies, Mr. David Wadleigh
, and we devoted ourselves to chemical experiments together, with the natural result of actually blowing each other up with explosive preparations.
There was another matter which made me careless of my standing in the regular course.
It was that the rules of the college required students to attend prayers at daylight in the winter at the chapel, and go to church twice on Sundays.
I regret to say I did not always do this, shirking the prayers more frequently, however, than the sermons, perhaps, for the reason that I was very much interested in the doctrinal character of the latter.
A course of doctrinal sermons was preached by the Rev. Samuel F. Smith
, an earnest speaker, who very clearly put the doctrines before us so that we could understand them.
During his whole life he had been a teacher of the Calvinist Baptist
faith, and obtained great and deserved celebrity as the author of what has become almost a national hymn, “America
,” “My country, 'tis of Thee.”
The penalty of neglecting each prayer or sermon was ten cents, which was quite a matter, considering how scarce the ten cents were in my pocket.
But there was another penalty, and one which I deemed an injustice.
My failure to attend prayers and church were marked so as to detract from my standing, as otherwise determined by my proficiency in my lessons.
I thought this was unjust then, and I think so now; and I fought then as hard as I have been accustomed to fight against any palpable injustice, whenever such a case has come in my way.
By diligent listening to these sermons I had confirmed for me what I had understood before to be the doctrine of Calvin.
This was: that God was self-existent, omnipotent, omniscient, and foreknowing all things from the beginning; that He was unchangeable, and that what He foreknew was predestined, and could not be different; otherwise He was not from the beginning omniscient.
were of two classes in this regard,--one from the very beginning elected to be saved and to enjoy the presence of God in the mansions of heaven, and the other class, very much the larger, elected from the beginning to be damned to eternal torment in hell, which was a lake of fire and brimstone.
Also, whoever had the means of grace before him,--to wit, sermons and teachings of divine truths,--who did not allow such teachings to bring him to a state of grace, would find hell very much hotter for him than would the poor heathen who had never had the Word of God preached to him, and who knew nothing of the jeopardy in which he stood.
If I were elected to be saved, the sermons would do me no good, except, perhaps, to make heaven somewhat more pleasant.
But where I was to go could not be changed, yet I was to pray God's mercy wherever I might be; that is, I must ask that He, in His mercy for a single person, would alter His divine laws made from the beginning and unalterable.
It was my duty to make these useless trials and hear these teachings, the result of which might be to add to the miseries of the torment of the lake into which I was to be cast.
My whole mind rebelled against this teaching.
I could not and did not believe it. Its logic was inexplicable, and the results reached were wholly contradictory, marked with great injustice, and unworthy of an omnipotent Being who had made His creatures and fixed them from all eternity in this dilemma.
Besides, I was condemned by the rules of the college to attend the prayers and hear these sermons which would bring about such direful results if I were not elected to be saved; and if I did not obey the rules I was to lose my standing as, a scholar, and my money as a poverty-stricken student.
I gave this subject the most careful consideration.
I read much that bore upon it, and among the rest I read “Edwards on the will,” a most powerful argument in favor of the doctrine, of logic inexorable, whose conclusions could not be denied by any thinking mind which granted his premise of an omniscient and omnipotent God who foresaw and determined everything from the beginning.
I saw that I must contend against a doctrine established in 1532, by Calvin, then the acknowledged head of the reformed religion of what was then called “the monstrosity of papacy.”
I saw that I was putting myself in opposition to the belief and platforms of a
very large majority of those who held the established Protestant faith.
All this, instead of changing my views, only confirmed me in my belief; and I believe that my life has shown that where I thought myself in the right I never counted the number of my opponents in shaping my action.
Boy of seventeen as I was, I believed I had a right to controvert a doctrine established at first by the boy Calvin
, only seven years older, three hundred years before, in a superstitious, witch-burning age, whose doctrines modern science and modern thought had overturned in most parts which could be brought to the test of actual truth.
Smarting under the feeling of injustice done me, it occurred to me that I could make my movement against the belief by petitioning the faculty to be relieved from going to prayers and church.
I therefore sent in a petition to the president, couched in the most modest and most carefully chosen language I could command.
In this petition I stated my position fully, and asked to be excused from obeying the rules of the college, since, if they taught me the truth, they would work out upon me the direst results.
I declared I was taught by the sermon I had heard, that the number elected to be saved was a very small percentage of the whole number of God's intelligent creatures on earth; that I believed that all the faculty had, in the language of the sermon, obtained the means of grace, and so must be of the elect.
I admitted that I was a graceless youth, and could have no hope of being one of the elect, and, therefore, all the penalties of the sinning away of days of grace would fall upon me. I admit that the latter part of my prayer was somewhat illogical, because there were no means of determining whether my good teachers were elected to go the right way, and because it was possible that God, from the beginning, had determined that I should go the right way. But still, upon the doctrine of chances, I was clearly right.
It was easy to foresee the result of addressing such a paper to a conscientious body of men thoroughly imbued with the belief that what I claimed was little, if any short of blasphemy.
I was condemned to the severest reprimand, and it was probably only the consideration of the grief that it would cause my Christian mother that kept me in college.
I may say, I trust without offence, that the only thing that made me hesitate to do what I did was the thought of the grief it would cause her. But I could not be a
hypocrite even upon that great inducement.
The mistake that I made was one that I fear I have too often made since, not in religious, but in political matters, of declaring my opinions before the community was ripe for them.
Yet I believe that more often than otherwise the people have grown up to adopt these opinions.
I remember one instance which it may not be out of place to recall here, although hereafter I may have occasion to discuss the matter at more length.
It is that more than twenty years after I enunciated the fact that the greenback is constitutional currency, whether issued in war or in peace, the Supreme Court of the United States
sustained that opinion by an almost unanimous decision.
It has taken longer to vindicate my religious opinions thus enunciated; but I see by the newspapers that the Christian
synod of Presbyterian Calvinists have concluded to abrogate from the Westminster Catechism
and from the platform of the church, those doctrines which I attacked fifty-two years before.
I thank heaven for kindly prolonging my life until the present hour, because I can now go down to my grave with a little prospect that I have some chance of salvation.
I accept the compliment of their endorsement with pride and gratitude.
In the latter part of my junior year in college, a matter came to my attention, which caused an entire change of my intentions as to a future professional life.
I had occasion to contemplate the professional acumen, the varied learning, the great and commanding insight into men's motives, and the mastery of the minds of other men, shown by a lawyer in conducting a trial of a case before a jury where facts are to be elicited, fraud and falsehood foiled, conflicting testimony and discordant facts compared and put together, and a great result worked out.
In a neighboring county, a case was tried, where the country's great lawyer of that day, if not of any other day, took part (and almost sole part) in sustaining a will.
To the reader who is not a lawyer, the name of Jeremiah Mason
, and his skill as a tryer of causes, are now almost unknown.
Even by the profession he is largely forgotten.
Almost all great lawyers who do not write books have their names handed down by tradition, and even this fades out almost entirely after the lapse of half a century.
Daniel Webster was once asked whom he considered the greatest lawyer of the United States
He answered: “I should, of course, say John Marshall
of the Supreme Court of the United States
]; but if you should take me by the throat, and run me back into a corner and demand, ‘ Now, Webster
, upon honor, who is the greatest lawyer?’
I should have to say Jeremiah Mason
I was quite young when I first saw Jeremiah Mason
In later life, I saw him not unfrequently in court trying cases, some of them of the very greatest importance, and I had such cause to reverence and admire him that in my library, where I now write, stand three busts of the three greatest lawyers, each in his peculiar sphere, of whom I ever had any knowledge: Jeremiah Mason
, Daniel Webster, and Rufus Choate
The consummate ability and skill shown by him in perhaps one of his most important trials,--the case of Ware vs
, which I have mentioned,--has nearly tempted me into a description of the trial.
But I am warned that I cannot do Mr. Mason
fair justice, nor delineate him so that others can be brought to see and appreciate with me this consummate skill in cross-examination of witnesses, without taking more space than I dare devote even to so great a topic.
To show him as he was in that trial, and as he appeared to me, would require a verbatim report of the whole case.
The contemplation of his efforts and of the possibilities which were open to me in the profession of the law, convinced me that there were higher vocations in life than being either a doctor or a clergyman, and I resolved that I would take, as my sphere of study and labor, the profession of the law.
I did not, however, give up my studies in physics and chemistry, for I believed that in the profession of the law a knowledge of the wonderfully advancing science of chemistry would be of assistance, especially in the trial of cases of murder by poison.
In after life I have found, on more than one occasion, that the capacity to analyze the contents of the stomach of a person claimed to have died from poison, has been of great service; and in civil cases more than once, when the ascertainment of the purity of substances was necessary to the knowledge of facts, has the knowledge of chemistry given me the most valuable aid in the trial of causes.
The winter vacations were made very long, quite the length of the winter schools in Maine
, and I taught school each winter at least eight weeks. The stipend was quite small, but it gave aid to expenditures during the rest of the year.
I am glad to say, in advice to any young college student who desires to know how best to spend his college vacations, that these winter school teachings were the very best part of my education.
In the day school there were spelling classes, and there were two evening classes in the week especially so devoted.
Many of these evening classes were given up to competitive spelling,--that is, all the young people in the vicinage came together and competed for prizes for proficiency in spelling.
The master gave out the words from the spelling-book, or from any other book he chose, the hard words being always picked out and put to the pupils of the evening classes.
Thus the master of necessity became of the highest proficiency, and, like Lady Byron
's governess, “by teaching learned to spell.”
In the hundreds of scholars under my care, all diversities of human nature were exhibited, and from the model I learned the man. I say, therefore, to the students of this generation, that they might far better spend their winter vacations in teaching school than their summer vacations in waiting on flirts at some fashionable summer resort.
I do not admire that arrangement of college vacations which enables such employment to be followed.
Better return to the old one.
In the third school year, I gave much more attention to the studies of the college course.
They were more congenial.
The text-book, Wayland
's Moral Science, interested me, and in my final examination of the book, I was enabled to recite thirteen pages verbatim.
's Political Economy
taught me to be a free trader, as do all such college text-books teach students.
These doctrinal teachings would be perfect did all nations stand, in all respects, upon a complete level; but as they do not, the teachings applied to statesmanship are as useless as they are vicious.
I have the very highest respect for the learned professors of colleges.
But when they go out to talk on politics, they always remind me of a recluse old maid lecturing on how to bring up children.
One portion of the exercises of that year was the reading of Demosthenes
' “Oratio de Corona
I do not like to burden my printer to hunt up the Greek letters “Pro Stephanou.”
The rendering of that oration into good English was a delightful study, and I have a right to say that I charmed my Greek
professor in that.
But we had, unfortunately for him, a little tiff late in the term.
He had an abiding hope of being made professor of rhetoric in connection with our Greek
At the examination before the trustees, he called upon me to read the paragraph commencing “Gar in Hespera.”
I translated it certainly very creditably.
To show the extent of his instruction, the professor began to ask a few questions in rhetoric: “What is this part of the oration called?”
“The peroration, sir.”
“How do you know it is the peroration?”
Of course the proper answer was: Because the orator sums up as his last and greatest effort the arguments that he has used before, so as to put them in the best shape possible to captivate the sense and mind of his audience.
Thinking it a good time to get even with the professor, I answered: “Because you told me so, sir.”
This reply was to his great disgust, as it made it appear that his best Greek
scholar had learned from him nothing but how to read the text.
Suffice it to say that he did not get the professorship of rhetoric.
As I have already admitted, my forte in college was not mathematics, and especially mathematical demonstrations by means of the blackboards.
My tutor, of whom I have before spoken, remembering my impudence, thought to humble me in the examination in that branch before the faculty.
It so happened that I went out, as those who were not being examined were at liberty to do, while the demonstrations of others were being made.
When I went into my room, my trigonometry lay open at a pretty abstruse and difficult demonstration, and, while waiting there, I went carefully over it with a memory that would carry every line of it for a while.
I had but just returned to my seat in the class when the tutor called out: “Mr. Butler
, demonstrate on the blackboard such a problem.”
By good luck it was the very problem I had just studied.
Of course the demonstration was quite perfect.
If ever a teacher was thunderstruck
at the proficiency of his pupil, it was Tutor Farnham
on that occasion.
Upon the whole, I graduated 7.5 out of 10 on the general average, prayers deducted.
I had a part, and as I remember it, my dissertation was the worst one I ever made.
In the afternoon, after the degrees had been conferred, the graduating class called upon the President
, Rev. Robert B. Paterson
For him I had the very deepest regard, and for him and his family in later years I had tile good fortune to do several kindnesses.
He courteously received the class at the door of his house, offering his hand to each as we came up. We marched up in alphabetical order.
It brought me near the head of the line.
I held back and did not present my hand, and I have no doubt he supposed it was because we had had some discussion on the evidences of Christianity, wherein I took the liberty to differ from some of his propositions.
Neither of us said anything until the rest of the class had passed by him. When I came to my place, 7.5, I said: “Mr. President
, now is my turn; 8 has just passed.”
“Oh,” said he, “Butler
, why so formal?”
“Because I am going to take this place in the class for the last time.
I mean to take hereafter the place I have fairly earned for myself.”
An incident occurred in the spring of that year which had considerable effect on my after life.
On the 11th of May, the ice went out of Kennebec River
, which was immediately behind the college, and a day or two afterwards, I went into the river to take a swim.
Cakes of ice two feet thick were thrown upon the bank, and I used one of them for a seat for undressing and for dressing after I came out. It was not the first time that I had done that, but I lingered too long, and when I undertook to bring myself back to a glow by a run of a mile or so, I found that it was impossible, and at the end I was shivering as much as at the beginning.
I went to my room and found myself seized with a severe cold.
This terminated in a troublesome cough, so that on my graduation I weighed but ninety-seven pounds.
On my return home my mother thought I was going into a decline, and she was told by her medical adviser to give me the benefit of a short sea voyage, which I took in a fishing vessel belonging to a friend of my father.
On the day that we were to sail, I went
The old fisherman received me with great cordiality, which was not diminished until a box was handed over the side.
“What's that, Ben?”
“A box of books, sir.”
, you may put that down in the hold.
You have had enough books, Ben; now I want you to become a sailor.
And them store clothes won't do. Go ashore with the mate and get vou some sea clothes such as he will choose.”
I went ashore, but was not quite satisfied with the mate's selection.
While I got the heavy clothing he desired, I insisted upon its being somewhat ornamented.
I put it on in the shop where I bought it, and the mate took the bundle of other clothes back.
My sou'wester had long ribbons hanging from the hat band; there was some embroidery on my jacket, and my pantaloons were more fit for the stage than for the vessel, and were not tucked in the tops of my boots.
When I presented myself on board, tile skipper said: “What do you think you look like?”
I with reasonable pride, said: “A sailor, sir.”
“No, you don't; you look like a monkey.
Now I suppose you want a good time.
You will sleep here in a bunk in the cabin with me, and you will eat with me, when we sit down to eat. I would advise you to let me put your name on the mate's watch list, and to take your place when the watch is called.
If you do, you will have a good time; but if you set yourself up here by yourself, you will never go forward without a pail of slush happening to tumble over you. You can tell the crew a great many things that will amuse and instruct them, and they can tell you a great many things that you don't know; and if you have any sense,--and you know I don't know whether you have any or not,--you will have to learn a great deal.
But you will have to work hard, and if you have got anything in you that will bring it out of you.”
I took all the old man's advice.
It was not delicate, but it was good.
I took my place an was taught to “knot, reef, and steer,” and very soon the crew became very kind and very fond of me. In the long watches we exchanged information upon such points as each had been taught, so that when the watch was at end at midnight, frequently when I was yawning I would be kindly saluted with,
“Go below, Ben, and get some sleep, and we will take care of the vessel until the next watch is called.”
As we were cod fishing, we preserved the livers by throwing them into a half hogshead, where the oil was separated by the process of maceration and floated on top. The low temperature prevented anything like offensive decomposition, and when it was very cold, say ten below, I have taken the tin dipper,--and I alone was allowed to do so,--and dipped out the oil and drank with as much relish as I ever drank anything in my life.
It was fuel for my stomach furnace.
The air, frozen dry in the upper latitudes, restored my lungs, and when I reached home, I had gained some twenty-five pounds in weight.
Since that time health and strength of body have never deserted me. I have never been sick in my life to a degree requiring me to spend half a day in bed, except as the result of an accident, so that in the four years of the war, I never lost a day by sickness.
On my return to Lowell
, I commenced the study of law in the office of William Smith
, a New Hampshire
lawyer of considerable learning.
He had the most complete library in the city, and remnants of it, after escaping two fires, are still in my possession.
But Mr. Smith
had taken for himself an office in Boston
, where he attended much more largely to operations in real estate
than he did to legal cases, although he had a considerable practice.
He went to Boston
nearly every morning, coming back at night.
He never interfered with my studies or gave any direction concerning them except to reply kindly and carefully to questions asked him. He at first gave me Tucker
's edition of Blackstone
, and told me to read it carefully, not attempting to commit it to memory, but studying it so as to understand it thoroughly.
Then he left me to myself.
I did not know how to read Blackstone
, but I did that which was the very best way, so far as I can yet see,--I read the text and the notes, and then read the cases cited in the notes as the best means of understanding the text.
But this was a very laborious and time-taking method.
I also read some of the cases cited in the citation, so that as far as going through the book was concerned, I made but little progress, although I worked very diligently.
I used to begin reading at half past 7 o'clock in the morning, stopping at twelve for dinner, beginning again before
one and stopping at six.
I then returned to the office at seven, and closed usually at ten.
For exercise, my brother-in-law had given me a small gray saddle horse, very sprightly and strong.
I usually rode him four or five nights a week, for an hour or two hours, about the suburbs of the city and lonely ways of the neighborhood, meanwhile amusing myself by recalling and reciting snatches of poetry, especially from Byron
, and Moore
, whom I much admired, and sometimes from Pope
Commencing in the early autumn of 1838, this continued till late in the spring of 1839.
By this time, I had finished my Blackstone
, and was told to read “Kent
's Commentaries for American law.”
I had lighted upon a treatise published in Rhode Island
upon the Constitution of the United States
, apparently a text-book for schools.
I began by committing to memory the Constitution
Then I read the author's comments upon it, which learning has stood me in good stead ever since.
I also read with eagerness “Stephens on pleading,” one of the most delightful and profitable books I ever studied.
had a considerable number of tenement buildings in his charge, and about this time found it necessary to eject certain defaulting tenants by legal process.
This part of his business he turned over to me, acting in his name, and at the same time allowed me the proceeds in the shape of costs, and sometimes small fees for my work.
That brought me to practice in the police court, which was then presided over by the Hon. Joseph Locke
. Judge Locke
required all the proceedings of the court to be conducted with as much regularity and observance of forms and rules of law as were the proceedings of any other court.
I now know what I did not then, that he was a lawyer fit to have presided even in the Supreme Court.
He made the young gentlemen who generally practiced before him know what the law applicable in their cases was. This was a good fortune, for I looked up the law in regard to my cases, and studied each point with great avidity, so that I substantially began the study of law then.
I soon became proficient in the law of evidence, especially in the rules of pleading in criminal process.
My studies, therefore, lasted frequently into the night, and I often called for my horse at the stable for a ride, after the hour of twelve had struck.
This went on until the autumn of 1839, when a vacancy occurred in a small academy in the town of Dracut
, across the Merrimack River
, and the trustees asked me to take charge of the school.
For my services I was to receive the tuition paid by the pupils, and that depended upon the number of scholars.
It was a queer school.
There were twenty-one scholars, about sixteen of whom were boys.
The large portion of them were pupils who had found cause to leave the schools in Lowell
, generally not because of their virtues.
They ignored all discipline, and had routed the former preceptor.
I, by habit of mind, was a disciplinarian, so that it happened at the end of three weeks I had lost eleven scholars out of my twenty-one, but no one of them had gone away without a thrashing, the remembrance of which would last him a lifetime.
My revenues seemed to be diminishing, but the fact that I had disciplined my school brought some more girls and a different class of young lads, so that I soon regained as many pupils as I had lost, and at the end of three months I had five more than at first.
I took the utmost pains with my pupils, and spent every Wednesday afternoon and Saturday with most of them around me in the woods and pastures, explaining to them what I knew of trees, herbs, and flowers, minerals, and grasses, and the effects of light and shade.
In a large closet belonging to the academy I arranged a camera and lenses, so that in bright afternoons I was able to show the refraction and dispersion of light by different lenses, and to exhibit to pupils the beautiful effect of prisms under a single ray of light, and the direction of the passage of rays of light through a cloud made by burning resin.
The parents of the children became interested in such matters, for they had never seen the like before.
Eventually, they provided means to darken The academy so that the experiments might be carried on with greater effect, and they attended.
Meanwhile, I gave six hours a day to my studies of law. At the end of the term, I had the honor to have an earnest application from the trustees to continue the school for another term at least.
This I felt myself obliged to decline, although my finances sadly needed the tuition money, which would have been in the next term fair remuneration.
My object was my profession, and it could not be delayed.
I returned to my studies and practised in the Police Court, always carefully attending the sessions of the Superior Court, and coming home to the office to study from the books the questions of law raised at the bar. I so continued until the September term, 1840, for the Court of Common Pleas.
The session was held in Lowell
, and the Hon. Charles Henry Warren
had quite given up the practice of the law in courts, although he had frequent applications for advice.
He advised me to make application for admission to the bar, offering, if I were admitted, to go into partnership with me under my own name, because of his own financial difficulties.
As the law then stood, if a student had slept in a lawyer's office for three years, claiming that he was studying law, and his teacher would give him a certificate that he had done so, he could be admitted to the bar as a matter of course.
But if the student had passed any less time in a lawyer's office, he had to be subjected to an examination by a judge of the higher courts before he could be admitted.
made an application for me to the judge for admission upon examination, stating that he thought I could pass the examination.
The judge appointed an hour early that evening, at his lodging, for me to appear to be examined.
He received me very kindly, and asked me when and where I graduated, and what I had done since.
To all of this I answered, saying only that I had been attending to the law for two years, with the exception of three months that I had been engaged in teaching.
He then asked me what text-books I had read.
I told him. He said, “You have read very few text-books.”
That was too true to be denied.
He said that he thought I had better read a year longer, and that he would advise me so to do. I said I was very much obliged to him, and I thought I had better read five years longer, but the difficulty was I did not see how I could get the means to do it. He said that under the circumstances unless I insisted, he would rather not examine me. I said to him that it was necessary that I should be examined, if I were fit to enter the profession, and if I were not he would soon show me wherein I was deficient, and if it would not trouble him too much I desired the examination.
He said, “Very well,” and began a series of questions upon the practice of the law. He supposed I had no knowledge of this, and thought he could
easily convince me that I ought to have some.
But the tuition that I had got from my friend, Judge Locke
, was too much for him. That part of the law I knew better than some gentlemen who had been in practice for years.
I remember that among the questions he asked was this: “If you had a deed to prove in court where both the maker and the subscribing witness were dead, how would you prove it?”
I answered him at once: “By calling somebody who knew the handwriting of the subscribing witness and proving his hand-writing.”
He said to me: “Why not prove the handwriting of the maker?”
“Because the subscribing witness,” was my reply, “was called by the parties as a sort of attestor, and, therefore, we prove the signature of the subscribing witness and not the maker's.”
He continued that kind of examination which related to the practice in courts, saying to me that that was a thing I should feel myself most in need of. This continued for a very long space of time, it seemed to me, but I suppose about the space of an hour.
He then put me this question: “I see you have always been in court while I have been here holding session, apparently attending to the cases as they go on. Do you understand the proceedings?”
“I try to do so, sir, and I think I do understand some of them at least.”
“Well,” he said, “we sat a little later than usual to-night, and I observed that you remained there until the case was finished.”
“Will you state to me, in your own way, what that case was, and the points raised, and the ruling of the court?”
I answered: “That case was a suit brought by the indorsee of a promissory note against the maker.
The defence was that the maker was an infant, i. e
., under twenty-one years of age, when he made it. The answer to that was that after he became twenty-one years of age, when it was presented to him he had promised to pay the note.
The reply to that was that the promise was after the indorsement, and although the note was negotiable, it did not pass to the indorsee.”
He said: “You have stated the case with correctness; I so ruled.”
“Yes,” I said, “and directed a verdict for the defendant.”
I then looked up and said: “I thought your honor ruled incorrectly.”
He, with a kind smile, said: “What reason, Mr. Butler
, have you for that?”
I said: “Because the note was negotiable when it was made, and remained so, and when the infant, when he became of age, promised to pay it, it then became a note precisely as it would have been if it had been made upon that clay.
The note was sued upon as a negotiable note, then made, and it was not the promise passed by the indorsement, but the note.”
“That view of the case was not put to me by the counsel.”
“I observed it was not,” said I, “and as it has been my habit to do, I went to my office to look for an authority which I thought I remembered.
I found it, and the exact case has been decided, and upon the reasons I have given.”
“When you go back to your office, Mr. Butler
, can you send me up that authority?”
“No, your honor; I am the youngest in that office, and I have nobody to send, but I can bring it to you if you desire.”
“You will do me a great favor if you will do so.”
I went home and hunted up the authority in the “English common law reports,” and put in a mark, and gave it to the clerk of the hotel to hand to the judge.
I did not sleep much that night.
I went into the court the next morning, and after some of the motions of course were passed upon, which was the habit in those days, the judge called the counsel who had tried the case the night before, and said to them: “Upon reflection, I think I made a mistake in the ruling I made last night, and as whichever way I rule I suppose the case will go up on exceptions, it will make no difference which way I rule except to myself.
If you will consent, I will reverse the decision and have the jury give the verdict for the plaintiff, no business having intervened since.”
The counsel seemed surprised, but consented.
This comforting thought passed through my mind: “If you do not admit me now, judge, I will tell on you.”
That thought was an unworthy one.
The next thing that he said was: “Mr. Clerk
, Mr. Butler
was. examined by me for admission to the bar, and you can administer the oath and enter his name on the rolls.
It is due him to say that
the matter of my ruling came up in the course of his examination, and his suggestions led me to examine the matter further, and change my ruling.”
He was one of the few judges I have known who was big enough to do such a telling as that.
From that day to the day of his death we were fast friends.
If any one should desire to see the case, it will be found in the 1st Metcalf Mass.
R., Reed vs
, p. 559, where the judge's later ruling was sustained by the Supreme Court.
It may enliven any legal reader to tell that another young gentleman was examined for admission some little time after, and the morning following, he said to me: “The judge asked me a question last night which I do not know whether I answered right or not. He asked me what was an administrator de bonis non
, and I told him it was an administrator where there was not any goods.”
I said, “I hope he won't reject you on account of that answer, because it is generally right in point of fact, even if wrong in point of law.”
During the autumn of 1840, I began my education in national politics, making my first speech in favor of Van Buren
as against Harrison
, who was so triumphantly elected.
's election did me a great good, for, as my speeches did not change the result, I was for a time disgusted with politics and stuck to law, as I would advise every young man to do, until he has secured at least a competence, so as not to be obliged in after life to live upon politics.