previous next

Chapter 5: at Westhaven, Vermont.

  • Description of the country
  • -- clearing up land -- all the family assist a la Swiss-family -- Robinson -- primitive costume of Horace -- his early indifference to dress -- his manner and attitude in school -- a Peacemaker among the boys -- gets into a scrape, and out of it -- Assists his school-fellows in their studies -- an evening scene at home -- Horace knows too much -- Disconcerts his teachers by his questions -- leaves school -- the pine knots still blaze on the hearth -- reads incessantly -- becomes a great draught player -- Bee—hunting -- reads at the mansion House -- taken for an idiot -- and for a possible President -- reads Mrs. Hemans with rapture -- a wolf story -- a pedestrian journey -- Horace and the horseman -- yoking the oxen -- scene with an old soaker -- rum in Westhaven -- Horace's first pledge -- narrow escape from drowning -- his religious doubts -- becomes a Universalist -- Discovers the humbug of ‘Democracy’ -- impatient to begin his apprenticeship.

The family were gainers in some important particulars, by their change of residence. The land was better. The settlement was more recent. There was a better chance for a poor man to acquire property. And what is well worth mention for its effect upon the opening mind of Horace, the scenery was grander and more various. That part of Rutland county is in nature's large manner. Long ranges of hills, with bases not too steep for cultivation, but rising into lofty, precipitous and fantastic summits, stretch away in every direction. The low-lands are level and fertile. Brooks and rivers come out from among the hills, where they have been officiating as water-power, and flow down through valleys that open and expand to receive them, fertilizing the soil gaming among these hills, the boy must have come frequently upon little lakes locked in on every side, without apparent outlet or inlet, as smooth as a mirror, as silent as the grave. Three miles from his father's house was the great Lake Champlain. He could not see it from his father's door, but he could see the blue mist that rose from its surface every morning and evening, and hung over it, a cloud veiling a Mystery. And he could see the long line of green knoll-like hills thatformed its opposite shore. And he could go down on Sundays to the shore itself, and stand in the immediate presence of the lake. [58] Nor is it a slight thing for a boy to see a great natural object which he has been learning about in his school books; nor is it an uninfluential circumstance for him to live where he can see it frequently. It was a superb country for a boy to grow up in, whether his tendencies were industrial, or sportive, or artistic, or poetical. There was rough work enough to do on the land. Fish were abundant in the lakes and streams. Game abounded in the woods. Wild grapes and wild honey were to be had for the search after them. Much of the surrounding scenery is sublime, and what is not sublime is beautiful. Moreover, Lake Champlain is a stage on the route of northern and southern travel, and living upon its shores brought the boy nearer to that world in which he was destined to move, and which he had to know before he could work in it to advantage. At Westhaven, Horace passed the next five years of his life. He was now rather tall for his age; his mind was far in advance of it. Many of the opinions for which he has since done battle, were distinctly formed during that important period of his life to which the present chapter is devoted.

At Westhaven, Mr. Greeley, as they say in the country, “took jobs;” and the jobs which he took were of various kinds. He would contract to get in a harvest, to prepare the ground for a new one, to “tend” a saw-mill; but his principal employment was clearing up land; that is, piling up and burning the trees after they had been felled. After a time he kept sheep and cattle. In most of his undertakings he prospered. By incessant labor and by reducing his expenditures to the lowest possible point, he saved money, slowly but continuously.

In whatever he engaged, whether it was haying, harvesting, sawing, or land-clearing, he was assisted by all his family. There was little work to do at home, and after breakfast, the house was left to take care of itself, and away went the family, father, mother, boys, girls, and oxen, to work together. Clearing land offers an excellent field for family labor, as it affords work adapted to all degrees of strength. The father chopped the larger logs, and directed the labor of all the company. Horace drove the oxen, and drove them none too well, say the neighbors, and was gradually supplanted in the office of driver by his younger brother. Both the boys could chop the smaller trope. Their mother and sisters [59] gathered together the light wood into heaps. And when the great logs had to be rolled upon one another, there was scope for the combined skill and strength of the whole party. Many happy and merry days the family spent together in this employment. The mother's spirit never flagged. Her voice rose in song and laughter from the tangled brush-wood in which she was often buried; and no word, discordant or unkind, was ever known to break the perfect harmony, to interrupt the perfect good humor that prevailed in the family. At night, they went home to the most primitive of suppers, and partook of it in the picturesque and labor-saving style in which the dinner before alluded to was consumed. The neighbors still point out a tract of fifty acres which was cleared in this sportive and Swiss-Family-Robinson-like manner. They show the spring on the side of the road where the family used to stop and drink on their way; and they show a hemlock-tree, growing from the rocks above the spring, which used to furnish the brooms, nightly renewed, which swept the little house in which the little family lived. To complete the picture, imagine them all clad in the same material, the coarsest kind of linen or linsey-woolsey, home-spun, dyed with butternut bark, and the different garments made in the roughest and simplest manner by the mother.

More than three garments at the same time, Horace seldom wore in the summer, and these were—a straw hat, generally in a state of dilapidation, a tow-shirt, never buttoned, a pair of trousers made of the family material, and having the peculiarity of being very short in both legs, but shorter in one than the other. In the winter he added a pair of shoes and a jacket. During the five years of his life at Westhaven, probably his clothes did not cost three dollars a year; and, I believe, that during the whole period of his childhood, up to the time when he came of age, not fifty dollars in all were expended upon his dress. He never manifested, on any occasion, in any company, nor at any part of his early life, the slightest interest in his attire, nor the least care for its effect upon others. That amiable trait in human nature which inclines us to decoration, which make us desirous to present an agreeable figure to others, and to abhor peculiarity in our appearance, is a trait which Horace never gave the smallest evidence of possessing. [60]

He went to school three winters in Westhaven, but not to any great advantage. He had already gone the round of district school studies, and did little more after his tenth year than walk over the course, keeping lengths ahead of all competitors, with little effort. ‘He was always,’ says one of his Westhaven schoolmates,

at the top of the school. He seldom had a teacher that could teach him anything. Once, and once only, he missed a word. His fair face was crimsoned in an instant. He was terribly cut about it, and I fancied he was not himself for a week after. I see him now, as he sat in class, with his slender body, his large head, his open, ample forehead, his pleasant smile, and his coarse, clean, homespun clothes. His attitude was always the same. He sat with his arms loosely folded, his head bent forward, his legs crossed, and one foot swinging. He did not seem to pay attention, but nothing escaped him. He appeared to attend more from curiosity to hear what sort of work we made of the lesson than from any interest he took in the subject for his own sake. Once, I parsed a word egregiously wrong, and Horace was so taken aback by the mistake that he was startled from his propriety, and exclaimed, loud enough for the class to hear him, “ What a fool” The manner of it was so ludicrous that I, and all the class, burst into laughter.

Another schoolmate remembers him chiefly for his gentle manner and obliging disposition. ‘I never,’ she says, ‘knew him to fight, or to be angry, or to have an enemy. He was a peacemaker among us. He played with the boys sometimes, and I think was fonder of snowballing than any other game. For girls, as girls, he never manifested any preference. On one occasion he got into a scrape. He had broken some petty rule of the school, and was required, as a punishment, to inflict a certain number of blows upon another boy, who had, I think, been a participator in the offence. The instrument of flagellation was placed in Horace's hand, and he drew off, as though he was going to deal a terrific blow, but it came down so gently on the boy's jacket that every one saw that Horace was shamming. The teacher interfered, and told him to strike harder; and a little harder he did strike, but a more harmless flogging was never administered. He seemed not to have the power, any more than the will, to inflict pain.’

If Horace got little good himself from his last winters at school [61] he was of great assistance to his schoolfellows in explaining to them the difficulties of their lessons. Few evenings passed in which some strapping fellow did not come to the house with his grammar or his slate, and sit demurely by the side of Horace, while the distracting sum was explained, or the dark place in the parsing lesson illuminated. The boy delighted to render suck assistance. However deeply he might be absorbed in his own studies, as soon as he saw a puzzled countenance peering in at the door, he knew his man, knew what was wanted; and would jump up from his recumbent posture in the chimney-corner, and proceed, with a patience that is still gratefully remembered, with a perspicuity that is still mentioned with admiration, to impart the information required of him. Fancy it. It is a pretty picture. The “little whiteheaded fellow” generally so abstracted, now all intelligence and animation, by the side of a great hulk of a young man, twice his age and three times his weight, with a countenance expressing perplexity and despair. An apt question, a reminding word, a few figures hastily scratched on the slate, and light flushes on the puzzled mind. He wonders he had not thought of that: he wishes Heaven had given him such a “head-piece.”

To some of his teachers at Westhaven, Horace was a cause of great annoyance. He knew too much. He asked awkward questions. He was not to be put off with common-place solutions of serious difficulties. He wanted things to hang together, and liked to know how, if this was true, that could be true also. At length, one of his teachers, when Horace was thirteen years old, had the honesty and good sense to go to his father, and say to him, point blank, that Horace knew more than he did, and it was of no use for him to go to school any more. So Horace remained at home, read hard all that winter in a little room by himself, and taught his youngest sister beside. He had attended district school, altogether, about forty-five months.

At Westhaven, the pine-knots blazed on the hearth as brightly and as continuously as they had done at the old home in Amherst. There was a new reason wily they should; for a candle was a luxury now, too expensive to be indulged in. Horace's home was a favorite evening resort for the children of the neighborhood—a fact which says much for the kindly spirit of its inmates. They came [62] to hear his mother's songs and stories, to play with his brother and sisters, to get assistance from himself; and they liked to be there, where there was no stiffness, nor ceremony, nor discord. Horace cared nothing for their noise and romping, but he could never be induced to join in an active game. When he was not assisting some bewildered arithmetician, he lay in the old position, on his back in the fireplace, reading, always reading. The boys would hide his book, but he would get another. They would pull him out of his fiery den by the leg; and he would crawl back, without the least show of anger, but without the slightest inclination to yield the point.

There was a game, however, which could sometimes tempt him from his book, and of which he gradually became excessively fond. It was draughts, or “checkers.” In that game he acquired extraordinary skill, beating everybody in the neighborhood; and before he had reached maturity, there were few draught-players in the country—if any—who could win two games in three of Horace Greeley. His cronies at Westhaven seem to have been those who were fond of draughts. In his passion for books, he was alone among his companions, who attributed his continual reading more to indolence than to his acknowledged superiority of intelligence. It was often predicted that, whoever else might prosper, Horace never would.

And yet, he gave proof, in very early life, that the Yankee element was strong within him. In the first place, he was always doing something; and, in the second, he always had something to sell. He saved nuts, and exchanged them at the store for the articles he wished to purchase. He would hack away, hours at a time, at a pitch-pine stump, the roots of which are as inflammable as pitch itself, and, tying up the roots in little bundles, and the little bundles into one large one, he would ‘back’ the load to the store, and sell it for kindling wood. His favorite out-door sport, too, at Westhaven, was bee-hunting, which is not only an agreeable and exciting pastime, but occasionally rewards the hunter with a prodigious mess of honey—as much as a hundred and fifty pounds having been frequently obtained from a single tree. This was profitable sport, and Horace liked it amazingly. His share of the honey generally found its way to the store. By these and other expedients, the boy managed always to have a little money and when a pedler came [63] along with books in his wagon, Horace was pretty sure to be his customer. Yet he was only half a Yankee. He could earn money, but the bargaining faculty he had not.

What did he read? Whatever he could get. But his preference was for history, poetry, and—newspapers. He had read, as I have before mentioned, the whole Bible before he was six years old. He read the Arabian Nights with intense pleasure in his eighth year; Robinson Crusoe in his ninth; Shakspeare in his eleventh; in his twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth years, he read a good many of the common, superficial histories—Robertson's, Goldsmith's, and others—and as many tales and romances as he could borrow. At Westhaven, as at Amherst, he roamed far and wide in search of, books. He was fortunate, too, in living near the “mansion-house” before mentioned, the proprietor of which, it appears, took some interest in Horace, and, though he would not lend him books, allowed him to come to the house and read there as often and as long as he chose.

A story is told by one who lived at the “mansion-house” when Horace used to read there. Horace entered the library one day, when the master of the house happened to be present, in conversation with a stranger. The stranger, struck with the awkwardness, and singular appearance of the boy, took him for little better than an idiot, and was inclined to laugh at the idea of lending books to “such a fellow as that.” The owner of the mansion defended his conduct by extolling the intelligence of his protege, and wound up with the usual climax, that he should ‘not be surprised, sir, if that boy should come to be President of the United States.’ People in those days had a high respect for the presidential office, and really believed—many of them did—that to get the highest place it was only necessary to be the greatest man. Hence it was a very common mode of praising a boy, to make the safe assertion that he might, one day, if he persevered in well-doing, be the President of the United States. That was before the era of wire-pulling and rotation in office. He must be either a very young or a very old man who can now mention the presidential office in connection with the future of any boy not extraordinarily vicious. Wire-pulling, happily, has robbed the schoolmasters of one of their bad arguments for a virtuous life. But we are wandering from the library. [64] The end of the story is, that the stranger looked as if he thought Horace's defender half mad himself; and, ‘to tell the truth,’ said the lady who told me the story, ‘we all thought Mr.——had made a crazy speech.’ Horace does not appear to have made a favorable impression at the “mansion-house.”

But he read the books in it, for all that. Perhaps it was there, that he fell in with a copy of Mrs. Hemans' poems, which, where ever he found them, were the first poems that awakened his enthusiasm, the first writings that made him aware of the better impulses of his nature. ‘I remember,’ he wrote in the Rose of Sharon for 1841, ‘as of yesterday, the gradual unfolding of the exceeding truthfulness and beauty, the profound heart-knowledge (to coin a Germanism) which characterizes Mrs. Hemans' poems, upon my own immature, unfolding mind.— “Cassabianca,” “Things that change,” “The voice of spring,” “The Traveller at the source of the Nile,” “The Wreck,” and many other poems of kindred nature are enshrined in countless hearts—especially of those whose intellectual existence dates its commencement between 1820 and 1830— as gems of priceless value; as spirit-wands, by whose electric touch they were first made conscious of the diviner aspirations, the loftier, holier energies within them.’

Such a testimony as this may teach the reader, if he needs the lesson, not to undervalue the authors whom his fastidious taste may place among the Lesser Lights of Literature. To you, fastidious reader, those authors may have little to impart. But among the hills in the country, where the feelings are fresher, and minds are unsated by literary sweets, there may be many a thoughtful boy and earnest man, to whom your Lesser Lights are Suns that warm, illumine, and quicken!

The incidents in Horace's life at Westhaven were few, and of the few that did occur, several have doubtless been forgotten. The people there remember him vividly enough, and are profuse in imparting their general impressions of his character; but the facts which gave rise to those impressions have mostly escaped their memories. They speak of him as an absorbed boy, who rarely saluted or saw a passer-by—who would walk miles at the road-side, following the zig-zag of the fences, without once looking up—who was often taken by strangers for a natural fool, but was known by [65] his intimates to be, in the language of one of them—‘a darned smart fellow, in spite of his looks’—who was utterly blameless in all his ways, and works, and words—who had not, and could not have had, an enemy, because nature, by leaving out of his composition the diabolic element, had made it impossible for him to be one. The few occurrences of the boy's life, which, in addition to these general reminiscences of his character, have chanced to escape oblivion, may as well be narrated here.

As an instance of his nervous timidity, a lady mentions; that when he was about eleven years old, he came to her house one evening on some errand, and staid till after dark. He started for home, at length, but had not been gone many minutes before he burst into the house again, in great agitation, saying he had seen a wolf; by the side of the road. There had been rumors of wolves in the neighborhood. Horace declared he had seen the eyes of one glaring upon him as he passed, and he was so overcome with terror, that two of the elder girls of the family accompanied him home. They saw no wolf, nor were there any—wolves about at the time; the mistake probably arose from some phosphorescent wood, or some other bright object. A Vermont boy of that period, as a general thing, cared little more for a wolf than a New York boy does for a cat, and could have faced a pack of wolves with far less dread than a company of strangers. Horace was never abashed by an audience; but two glaring eye-balls among the brush-wood sent him flying with terror.

In nothing are mortals more wise than in their fears. That which we stigmatize as cowardice—what is it but nature's kindly warning to her children, not to confront what they cannot master, and not to undertake what their strength is unequal to Horace was a match for a rustic auditory, and he feared it not. He was not a match for a wild beast; so he ran away. Considerate nature!

Horace, all through his boyhood, kept his object of becoming a printer, steadily in view; and soon after coming to Vermont, about his eleventh year, he began to think it time for him to take a step towards the fulfilment of his intention. He talked to his father on the subject, but received no encouragement from him. His father said, and very truly, that no one would take an apprentice so young. But the boy was not satisfied; and, one morning, he trudged off to [66] Whitehall, a town about nine miles distant, where a newspaper was published, to make inquiries. He went to the printing office, saw the printer, and learned that his father was right. He was too young, the printer said; and so the boy trudged home again.

A few months after, he went on another and much longer pedestrian expedition. He started, with seventy-five cents in his pocket and a small bundle of provisions on a stick over his shoulder, to walk to Londonderry, a hundred and twenty miles distant, to see his old friends and relatives. He performed the journey, stayed sevral weeks, and came back with a shilling or two more money than he took with him—owing, we may infer, to the amiable way aunts and uncles have of bestowing small coins upon nephews who visit them. His re-appearance in New Hampshire excited unbounded astonishment, his age and dimensions seeming ludicrously out of proportion to the length and manner of his solitary journey. He was made much of during his stay, and his journey is still spoken of there as a wonderful performance, only exceeded, in fact, by Horace's second return to Londonderry a year or two after, when he drove over the same ground, his aunt and her four children, ill a “one—horse wagon,” and drove back again, without the slightest accident.

As a set-off to these marvels, it must be recorded, that on two other occasions he was taken for an idiot—once, when he entered a store, in one of the brownest of his brown studies, and a stranger inquired, ‘What darn fool is that?’—and a second time, in the manner following. He was accustomed to call his father ‘Sir,’ both in speaking to, and speaking of him. One day, while Horace was chopping wood by the side of the road, a man came up on horse-back and inquired the way to a distant town. Horace could not tell him, and, without looking up, said, ‘ask Sir,’ meaning, ask father. The stranger, puzzled at this reply, repeated his question; and Horace again said, ‘ask Sir.’ ‘I am asking,’ shouted the man. ‘Well, ask Sir,’ said Horace, once more. ‘Aint I asking, you—fool,’ screamed the man. ‘But I want you to ask Sir,’ said Horace. It was of no avail, the man rode away in disgust, and inquired at the next tavern ‘who that tow-headed fool was down the road.’

In a similar absent fit it must have been, that the boy once attempted, [67] in vain, to yoke the oxen that he had yoked a hundred times before without difficulty. To see a small boy yoking a pair of oxen is, O City Reader, to behold an amazing exhibition of the power of Mind over Matter. The huge beasts need not come under the yoke—twenty men could not compel them—but they do come under it, at the beck of a boy that can just stagger under the yoke himself and whom one of the oxen, with one horn and a shake of the head, could toss over a; hay-stack. The boy, with the yoke on his shoulders, and one of the ‘bows’ in his hand, marches up to the “off” ox, puts the bow round his neck, thrusts the ends of the bow through the holes of the yoke, fastens them there—and one ox is his. But the other! The boy then removes the other bow, holds up the end of the yoke, and commands the “near” ox to approach, and “come under here sir.” Wonderful to relate the near ox obeys I He walks slowly up, and takes his place by the side of his brother, as though it were a pleasant thing to pant all day before the plough, and he was only too happy to leave the dull pasture. But the ox is a creature of habit. If you catch the near ox first, and then try to get the off ox to come under the near side of the yoke, you will discover that the off ox has an opinion of his own. He won't come. This was the mistake which Horace, one morning in an absent fit, committed, and the off ox could not be brought to deviate from established usage. After much coaxing, and, possibly, some vituperation, Horace was about to give it up, when his brother chanced to come to the field, who saw at a glance what was the matter, and rectified the mistake. ‘Ah!’ his father used to say, after Horace had made a display of this kind, ‘that boy will never get along in this world. He'll never know more than enough to come in when it rains.’

Another little story is told of the brothers. The younger was throwing stones at a pig that preferred to go in a direction exactly contrary to that in which the boys wished to drive him—a common case with pigs, et ceteri. Horace, who never threw stones at pigs, was overheard to say, ‘Now, you ought n't to throw stones at that hog; he don't know anything.’

The person who heard these words uttered by the boy, is one of those libulant individuals who, in the rural districts, are called “old soakers,” and his face, tobacco-stained, and rubicund with the [68] drinks of forty years, gleamed with the light of other days, as he hiccoughed out the little tale. It may serve to show how the boy is remembered in Westhaven, if I add a word or two respecting my interview with this man. I met him on an unfrequented road; his hair was gray, his step was tottering; and thinking it probable he might be able to add to my stock of reminiscences, I asked him whether he remembered Horace Greeley. He mumbled a few words in reply; but I perceived that he was far gone towards intoxication, and soon drove on. A moment after, I heard a voice calling behind me. I looked round, and discovered that the voice was that of the soaker, who was shouting for me to stop. I alighted and went back to him. And now that the idea of my previous questions had had time to imprint itself upon his half-torpid brain, his tongue was loosened, and he entered into the subject with an enthusiasm that seemed for a time to burn up the fumes that had stupefied him. He was full of his theme; and, besides confirming much that I had already heard, added the story related above, from his own recollection. As the tribute of a sot to the champion of the Maine-Law, the old man's harangue was highly interesting.

That part of the town of Westhaven was, thirty years ago, a desperate place for drinking. The hamlet in which the family lived longer than anywhere else in the neighborhood, has ceased to exist, and it decayed principally through the intemperance of its inhabitants. Much of the land about it has not been improved in the least degree, from what it was when Horace Greeley helped to clear it; and drink has absorbed the means and the energy which should have been devoted to its improvement. A boy growing up in such a place would be likely to become either a drunkard or a tee-totaller, according to his organization; and Horace became the latter. It is rather a singular fact, that, though both his parents and all their ancestors were accustomed to the habitual and liberal use of intoxicating liquors and tobacco, neither Horace nor his brother could ever be induced to partake of either. They had a constitutional aversion to the taste of both, long before they understood the nature of the human system well enough to know that stimulants of all kinds are necessarily pernicious. Horace was therefore a tee-totaller before tee-totalism came up, and he took a sort of pledge before the pledge was inverted. It happened once [69] day that a neighbor stoked to take dinner with the family, and, as a matter of course, the bottle of rum was brought out for his entertainment. Horace, it appears, either tasted a little, or else took a disgust at the smell of the stuff, or perhaps was offended at the effects which he saw it produce. An idea struck him. He said, ‘Father, what will you give me if I do not drink a drop of liquor till I am twenty-one?’ His father, who took the question as a joke, answered, ‘I'll give you a dollar.’ ‘It's a bargain,’ said Horace. And it was a bargain, at least on the side of Horace, who kept his pledge inviolate, though I have no reason to believe he ever received his dollar. Many were the attempts made by his friends, then and afterwards, to induce him to break his resolution, and on one occasion they tried to force some liquor into his mouth. But from the day on which the conversation given above occurred, to this day, he has not knowingly taken into his system any alcoholic liquid.

At Westhaven, Horace incurred the second peril of his life. He was nearly strangled in coming into the world; and, in his thirteenth year, he was nearly strangled out of it. The family were then living on the banks of the Hubbarton river, a small stream which supplied power to the old “Tryon Sawmill,” which the father, assisted by his boys, conducted for a year or two. Across the river, where it was widened by the dam, there was no bridge, and people were accustomed to get over on a floating saw-log, pushing along the log by means of a pole. The boys were floating about in the river one day, when the log on which the younger brother was standing, rolled over, and in went the boy, over head and ears, into water deep enough to drown a giraffe. He rose to the surface and clung to the bark of the log, but was unable to get upon it from the same cause as that which had prevented his standing upon it—it would roll. Horace hastened to his assistance. He got upon the log to which his brother was clinging, lay down upon it, and put down a hand for his brother to grasp. His brother did grasp it, and pulled with so much vigor, that the log made another revolution, and in went Horace. Neither of the boys could swim. They clung to the log and screamed for assistance; but no one happened to be near enough to hear them. At length, the younger of the drowning pair managed, by climbing over Horace, and sousing [70] him completely under the log, to get out. Horace emerged, half. drowned, and again hung for life at the rough bark. But the future hero of ten thousand paragraphs was not to be crowned in a millpond; so the log floated into shallower water, when, by making a last, spasmodic effort, he succeeded in springing up high enough to get safely upon its broad back. It was a narrow escape for both; but Horace, with all his reams of articles forming in his head, came as near taking a summary departure to that bourn where no Tribune could have been set up, as a boy could, and yet not go. He went dripping home, and recovered from the effects of his adventure in due time.

This was Horace Greeley's first experience of “log-rolling.” It was not calculated to make him like it.

One of the first subjects which the boy seriously considered, and perhaps the first upon which he arrived at a decided opinion, was Religion. And this was the more remarkable from the fact, that his education at home was not of a nature to direct his attention strongly to the subject. Both of his parents assented to the Orthodox creed of New England; his father inherited a preference for the Baptist denomination; his mother a leaning to the Presbyterian. But neither were members of a church, and neither were particularly devout. The father, however, was somewhat strict in certain observances. He would not allow novels and plays to be read in the house on Sundays, nor an heretical book at any time. The family, when they lived near a church, attended it with considerable regularity—Horace among the rest. Sometimes the father would require the children to read a certain number of chapters in the Bible on Sunday. And if the mother—as mothers are apt to be—was a little less scrupulous upon such points, and occasionally winked at Sunday novel-reading, it certainly did not arise from any set disapproval of her husband's strictness. It was merely that she was the mother, he the father, of the family. The religious education of Horace was, in short, of a nature to leave his mind, not unbiased in favor of orthodoxy—that had been almost impossible in New England thirty years ago—but as nearly in equilibrium on the subject, in a state as favorable to original inquiry, as the place and circumstances of his early life rendered possible.

There was not in Westhaven one individual who was known to [71] be a dissenter from the established faith; nor was there any dissenting sect or society in the vicinity; nor was any periodical of a heterodox character taken in the neighborhood; nor did any heretical works fall in the boy's way till years after his religious opinions were settled. Yet, from the age of twelve he began to doubt; and at fourteen—to use the pathetic language of one who knew him then—‘he was little better than a Universalist.’

The theology of the seminary and the theology of the farm-house are two different things. They are as unlike as the discussion of the capital punishment question in a debating society is to the discussion of the same question among a company of criminals accused of murder. The unsophisticated, rural mind meddles not with the metaphysics of divinity; it takes little interest in the Foreknowledge and Free—will difficulty, in the Election and Responsibility problem, and the manifold subtleties connected therewith. It grapples with a simpler question:— “ Am I in danger of being damned?” “Is it likely that I shall go to hell, and be tormented with burning sulphur, and the proximity of a serpent, forever, and ever, and ever?” To minds of an ampler and more generous nature, the same question presents itself, but in another form:— “Is it a fact that nearly every individual of the human family will forever fail of attaining the welfare of which he was created capable, and be ” lost, “ beyond the hope, beyond the possibility of recovery?” Upon the latter form of the inquiry, Horace meditated much, and talked often during his thirteenth and fourteenth years. When his companions urged the orthodox side, he would rather object, but mildly, and say with a puzzled look, ‘It don't seem consistent.’

While he was in the habit of revolving such thoughts in his mind, a circumstance occurred which accelerated his progress towards a rejection of the damnation dogma. It was nothing more than his chance reading in a school-book of the history of Demetrius Poliorcetes. The part of the story which bore upon the subject of his thoughts may be out-lined thus:—

Demetrius, (B. C. 301,) surnamed Poliorcetes, besieger of cities, was the son of Antigonus, one of those generals whom the death of Alexander the Great left masters of the world. Demetrius was one of the “fast” princes of antiquity, a handsome, brave, ingenuous [72] man, but vain, rash and dissolute. He and his father ruled over Asia Minor and Syria. Greece was under the sway of Cassander and Ptolemy, who had re-established in Athens aristocratic institutions, and held the Athenians in servitude. Demetrius, who aspired to the glory of succoring the distressed, and was not averse to reducing the power of his enemies, Cassander and Ptolemy, sailed to Athens with a fleet of two hundred and fifty ships, expelled the garrison and obtained possession of the city. Antigorus had been advised to ret possession of Athens, the key of Greece; but he replied:—‘The best and securest of all keys is the friendship of the people and Athens was the watch-tower of the world, from whence the torch of his glory would blaze over the earth.’ Animated by such sentiments, his son, Demetrius, on reaching the city, had proclaimed that ‘his father, in a happy hour, he hoped, for Athens, had sent him to re-instate them in their liberties, and to restore their laws and ancient form of government.’ The Athenians received him with acclamations. He performed all that he promised, and more. He gave the people a hundred and fifty thousand measures of meal, and timber enough to build a hundred galleys. The gratitude of the Athenians was boundless. They bestowed upon Demetrius the title of king and god-protector. They erected an altar upon the spot where he had first alighted from his chariot. They created a priest in his honor, and decreed that he should be received in all his future visits as a god. They changed the name of the month Munychion to Demetrion, called the last day of every month Demetrius, and the feasts of Bacchus Demetria. ‘The gods,’ says the good Plutarch, ‘soon showed how much offended they were at these things.’ Demetrius enjoyed these extravagant honors for a time, added an Athenian wife to the number he already possessed, and sailed away to prosecute the war. A second time the Athenians were threatened with the yoke of Cassander; again Demetrius, with a fleet of three hundred and thirty ships, came to their deliverance, and again the citizens taxed their ingenuity to the utmost in devising for their deliverer new honors and more piquant pleasures. At length Demetrius, after a career of victory, fell into misfortune. His domains were invaded, his father was slain, the kingdom was dismembered, and Demetrius, with a remnant of his army, was obliged to fly. Reaching Ephesus in want of [73] money, he spared the temple filled with treasure; and fearing his soldiers would plunder it, left the place and embarked for Greece. His dependence was upon the Athenians, with whom he had left his wife, his ships, and his money. Confidently relying upon their affection and gratitude, he pursued his voyage with all possible expedition as to a secure asylum. But the fickle Athenians failed him in his day of need! At the Cyclades, Athenian ambassadors met him, and mocked him with the entreaty that he would by no means go to Athens, as the people had declared by an edict, that they would receive no king into the city; and as for his wife, he could find her at Megare, whither she had been conducted with the respect due to her rank. Demetrius, who up to that moment had borne his reverses with calmness, was cut to the heart, and overcome by mingled disgust and rage. He was not in a condition to avenge the wrong. He expostulated with the Athenians in moderate terms, and waited only to be joined by his galleys, and turned his back upon the ungrateful country. Time passed. Demetrius again became powerful. Athens was rent by factions. Availing himself of the occasion, the injured king sailed with a considerable fleet to Attica, landed his forces and invested the city, which was soon reduced to such extremity of famine that a father and son, it is related, fought for the possession of a dead mouse that happened to fall from the ceiling of the room in which they were sitting. The Athenians were compelled, at length, to open their gates to Demetrius, who marched in with his troops. He commanded all the citizens to assemble in the theatre. They obeyed. Utterly at his mercy, they expected no mercy, felt that they deserved no mercy. The theatre was surrounded with armed men, and on each side of the stage was stationed a body of the king's own guards. Demetrius entered by the tragedian's passage, advanced across the stage, and confronted the assembled citizens, who awaited in terror to hear the signal for their slaughter. But no such signal was heard. He addressed them in a soft and persuasive tone, complained of their conduct in gentle terms, forgave their ingratitude, took them again into favor, gave the city a hundred thousand measures of wheat, and promised the re-establishment of their ancient institutions. The people, relieved from their terror, astonished at their good fortune, and filled with enthusiasm at such [74] generous forbearance, overwhelmed Demetrius with acclamations.

Horace was fascinated by the story. He thought the conduct of Demetrius not only magnanimous and humane, but just and politic. Sparing the people, misguided by their leaders, seemed to him the best way to make them ashamed of their ingratitude, and the best way of preventing its recurrence. And he argued, if mercy is best and wisest on a small scale, can it be less so on a large? If a man is capable of such lofty magnanimity, may not God be who made man capable of it. If, in a human being, revenge and jealousy are despicable, petty and vulgar, what impiety is it to attribute such feelings to the beneficent Father of the Universe? The sin of the Athenians against Demetrius had every element of enormity. Twice he had snatched them from the jaws of ruin. Twice he had supplied their dire necessity. Twice he had refused all reward except the empty honors they paid to his name and person. Ho had condescended to become one of them by taking a daughter of Athens as his wife. He had entrusted his wife, his ships and his treasure to their care. Yet in the day of his calamity, when for the first time it was in their power to render him a service, when lie was coming to them with the remnant of his fortune, without a doubt of their fidelity, with every reason to suppose that his misfortunes would render him dearer to them than ever; then it was that they determined to refuse him even an admittance within their gates, and sent an embassy to meet him with mockery and subterfuge.

Of the offences committed by man against man, there is one which man can seldom lift his soul up to the height of forgiving. It is to be slighted in the day of his humiliation by those who showed him honor in the time of his prosperity. Yet man can forgive even this. Demetrius forgave it; and the nobler and greater a man is, the less keen is his sense of personal wrong, the less difficult it is for him to forgive. The poodle must show his teeth at every passing dog; the mastiff walks majestic and serene through a pack of snarling curs.

Amid such thoughts as these, the orthodox theory of damnation had little chance; the mind of the boy revolted against it more and [75] more; and the result was, that he became as our pious friend lamented, ‘little better than a Universalist’—in fact no better. From the age of fourteen he was known wherever he lived as a champion of Universalism, though he never entered a Universalist church till he was twenty years old. By what means he managed to “reconcile” his new belief with the explicit and unmistakable declarations of what he continued to regard as Holy Writ, or how anybody has ever done it, I do not know. The boy appears to have shed his orthodoxy easily. His was not a nature to travail with a new idea for months and years, and arrive at certainty only after a struggle that rends the soul, and leaves it sore and sick for life. He was young; the iron of our theological system had not entered into his soul; he took the matter somewhat lightly; and, having arrived at a theory of the Divine government, which accorded with his own gentle and forgiving nature, he let the rest of the theological science alone, and went on his way rejoicing.

Yet it was no slight thing that had happened to him. A man's Faith is the man. Not to have a Faith is not to be a man. Beyond all comparison, the most important fact of a man's life is the formation of the Faith which he adheres to and lives by. And though Horace Greeley has occupied himself little with things spiritual, confining himself, by a necessity of his nature, chiefly to the promotion of material interests, yet I doubt not that this early change in his religious belief was the event which gave to all his subsequent life its direction and character. Whether that change was a desirable one, or an undesirable, is a question upon which the reader of course has a decided opinion. The following, perhaps, may be taken as the leading consequences of a deliberate and intelligent exchange of a severe creed in which a person has been educated, for a less severe one to which he attains by the operations of his own mind:

It quickens his understanding, and multiplies his ideas to an extent which, it is said, no one who has never experienced it can possibly conceive. It induces in him a habit of original reflection upon subjects of importance. It makes him slow to believe a thing, merely because many believe it—merely because it has long been believed. It renders him open to conviction, for he cannot forget that there was a time when he told opinions which he now clearly sees to be [76] erroneous. It dissolves the spell of Authority; it makes him distrustful of Great Names. It lessens his terror of Public Opinion; for he has confronted it—discovered that it slows more teeth than it uses—that it harms only those who fear it—that it bows at length in homage to him whom it cannot frighten. It throws him upon his own moral resources. Formerly, Fear came to his assistance in moments of temptation; hell-fire rolled up its column of lurid smoke before him in the dreaded distance. But now he sees it not. If he has the Intelligence to know, the Heart to love, the Will to choose, the Strength to do, tile right; he does it, and his life is high, and pure, and noble. If Intelligence, or Heart, or Will, or Strength is wanting to him, he vacillates; he is not an integer, his life is not. But, in either case, his Acts are the measure of his Worth.

Moreover, the struggle of a heretic with the practical difficulties of life, and particularly his early struggle, is apt to be a hard one; for, generally, the Ridel, the Respectable, the Talented, and the Virtuous of a nation are ranged on the side of its Orthodoxy in an overwhelming majority. They feel themselves allied with it—dependent upon it. Above all, they believe in it, and think they would be damned if they did not. They are slow to give their countenance to one who dissents from their creed, even though he aspire only to make their sloes, or clean them, and though they more than suspect that the rival shoemaker round the corner keeps a religious newspaper on his counter solely for the effect of the thing upon pious consumers of shoe-leather.

To depart from the established Faith, then, must be accounted a risk, a danger, a thing uncomfortable and complicating. But, from the nettle Danger, alone, we pluck the flower Safety. And he who loves Truth first—Advantage second—will certainly find Truth at length, and care little at what loss of Advantage. So, let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind—with which safe and salutary text we may take leave of matters theological, and resume our story.

The political events which occurred during Horace Greeley's residence in Westhaven were numerous and exciting; some of them were of a character to attract the attention of a far less forward and thoughtful boy than he. Doubtless he read the message of President Monroe in 1821, in which the policy of Protection [77] to American Industry was recommended strongly, and advocated by arguments so simple that a child could understand them; so cogent that no man could refute them—arguments, in fact, precisely similar to those which the Tribune has since made familiar to the country. In the message of 1822, the president repeated his recommendation, and again in that of 1824. Those were the years of the recognition of the South American Republics, of the Greek enthusiasm, of Lafayette's triumphal progress through the Union; of the occupation of Oregon, of the suppression of Piracy in the Gulf of Mexico; of the Clay, Adams and Jackson controversy. It was during the period we are now considering, that Henry Clay made his most brilliant efforts in debate, and secured a place in the sections of Horace Greeley, which he retained to his dying day. It was then, too, that the boy learned to distrust the party who claimed to be pre-eminently and exclusively Democratic.

How attentively he watched the course of political events, how intelligently he judged them, at the age of thirteen, may be inferred from a passage in an article which he wrote twenty years after, the facts of which he stated from his early recollection of them:

‘The first political contest,’ he wrote in the Tribune for August 29th, 1846,

in which we ever took a distinct interest will serve to illustrate this distinction [between real and sham democracy]. It was the Presidential Election of 1824. Five candidates for President were offered, but one of them was withdrawn, leaving four, all of them members in regular standing of the so called Republican or Democratic party. But a caucus of one-fourth of the members of Congress had selected one of the four (William H. Crawford) as the Republican candidate, and it was attempted to make the support of this one a test of party orthodoxy and fealty. This was resisted, we think most justly and democratically, by three-fourths of the people, including a large majority of those of this State. But among the prime movers of the caucus wires was Martin Van Buren of this State, and here it was gravely proclaimed and insisted that Democracy required a blind support of Crawford in preference to Adams, Jackson, or Clay, all of the Democratic party, who were competitors for the station. A Legislature was chosen as “Republican” before the people generally had begun to think of the Presidency, and, this Legislature, it was undoubtingly expected, would choose Crawford Electors of President. But the friends of the rival candidates at length began to bestir themselves and demand that the New York Electors should be chosen by a direct vote of the people, and not by a forestalled Legislature. This demand was vehemently resisted [78] by Martin Van Buren and those who followed his lead, including the leading Democratic politicians and editors of the State, the “ Albany Argus,” “Noah's Enquirer, or National advocate,” &c. &c. The feeling in favor of an Election by the people became so strong and general that Gov. Yates, though himself a Crawford man, was impelled to call a special session of the Legislature for this express purpose. The Assembly passed a bill giving the choice to the people by an overwhelming majority, in defiance of the exertions of Van Buren, A. C. Flagg, &c. The bill went to the Senate, to which body Silas Wright had recently been elected from the Northern District, and elected by Clintonian votes on an explicit understanding that he would vote for giving the choice of the Electors to the people. He accordingly voted, on one or two abstract propositions, that the choice ought to be given to the people. But when it came to a direct vote, this same Silas Wright, now Governor, voted to deprive the people of that privilege, by postponing the whole subject to the next regular session of the Legislature, when it would be too late for the people to choose Electors for that time. A bare majority (17) of the Senators thus withheld from the people the right they demanded. The cabal failed in their great object, after all, for several members of the Legislature, elected as Democrats, took ground for Mr. Clay, and by uniting with the friends of Mr. Adams defeated most of the Crawford Electors, and Crawford lost the Presidency. We were but thirteen when this took place, but we looked on very earnestly, without prejudice, and tried to look beyond the mere names by which the contending parties were called. Could we doubt that Democracy was on one side and the Democratic party on the other? Will “ Democrat” attempt to gainsay it now?

Mr. Adams was chosen President—as thorough a Democrat, in the true sense of the word, as ever lived—a plain, unassuming, upright, and most capable statesman. He managed the public affairs so well that nobody could really give a reason for opposing him, and hardly any two gave the same reason. There was no party conflict during his time respecting the Bank, Tariff, Internal Improvements, nor anything else of a substantial character. He kept the expenses of the government very moderate. He never turned a man out of office because of a difference of political sentiment. Yet it was determined at the outset that he should be put down, no matter how well he might administer the government, and a combination of the old Jackson, Crawford, and Calhoun parties, with the personal adherents of De Witt Clinton, aided by a shamefully false and preposterous outcry that he had obtained the Presidency by a bargain with Mr. Clay, succeeded in returning an Opposition Congress in the middle of his term, and at its close to put in General Jackson over him by a large majority.

The character of this man Jackson we had studied pretty thoroughly and without prejudice. His fatal duel with Dickinson about a horse-race; his pistoling Colonel Benton in the streets of Nashville; his forcing his way through [79] the Indian country with his drove of negroes in defiance of the express order of the Agent Dinsmore; his imprisonment of Judge Hall at New Orleans, long after the British had left that quarter, and when martial law ought long since to have been set aside; his irruption into Florida and capture of Spanish posts and officers without a shadow of authority to do so; his threats to cut off the ears of Senators who censured this conduct in solemn debate—in short, his whole life convinced us that the man never was a Democrat, in any proper sense of the term, but a violent and lawless despot, after the pattern of Caesar, Cromwell, and Napoleon, and unfit to be trusted with power. Of course, we went against him, but not against anything really Democratic in him or his party.

That General Jackson in power justified all our previous expectations of him, need hardly be said. That he did more to destroy the Republican character of our government and render it a centralized despotism, than any other man could do, we certainly believe. But our correspondent and we would probably disagree with regard to the Bank and other questions which convulsed the Union during his rule, and we will only ask his attention to one of them, the earliest, and, in our view, the most significant.

The Cherokee Indians owned, and had ever occupied, an extensive tract of country lying within the geographical limits of Georgia, Alabama, &c. It was theirs by the best possible title—theirs by our solemn and reiterated Treaty stipulations. We had repeatedly bought from them slices of their lands, solemnly guarantying to them all that we did not buy, and agreeing to defend them therein against all agressors. We had promised to keep all intruders out of their territory. At least one of these Treaties was signed by Gen. Jackson himself; others by. Washington, Jefferson, & o. All the usual pretexts for agression upon Indians failed in this case. The Cherokees had been our friends and allies for many years; they had committed no depredations; they were peaceful, industrious, in good part Christianized, had a newspaper printed in their own tongue, and were fast improving in the knowledge and application of the arts of civilized life. They compared favorably every way with their white neighbors. But the Georgians coveted their fertile lands, and determined to have them; they set them up in a lottery and gambled them off among themselves, and resolved to take possession. A fraudulent Treaty was made between a few Cherokees of no authority or consideration and sundry white agents, including one “who stole the livery of Heaven to serve the devil in,” but everybody scoffed at this mockery, as did ninety-nine hundredths of the Cherokees.

Now Georgia, during Mr. Adams' Administration, attempted to extend her jurisdiction over these poor people. Mr. Adams, finding remonstrance of no avail, stationed a part of the army at a proper point, prepared to drive all intruders out of the Cherokee country, as we had by treaty solemnly engaged to do. This answered the purpose. Georgia blustered, but dared not go further. [80] She went en masse for Jackson, of course. When he came in, she proceeded at once to extend her jurisdiction over the Cherokees in very deed. They remonstrated—pointed to their broken treaties, and urged the President to perform his sworn duty, and protect them, but in vain. Georgia seized a Cherokee accused of killing another Cherokee in their own country, tried him for and convicted him of murder. He sued out a writ of error, carried the case up to the U. S. Supreme Court, and there obtained a decision in his favor, establishing the utter illegality as well as injustice of the acts of Georgia in the premises, the validity of our treaties with the Cherokees, and the consequent duty of the President to see them enforced, any thing in any State-law or edict to the contrary notwithstanding, was explicitely affirmed. But President Jackson decided that Georgia was right and the Supreme Court wrong, and refused to enforce the decision of the latter. So the Court was defied, the Cherokee hung, the Cherokee country given up to the cupidity of the Georgians, and its rightful owners driven across the Mississippi, virtually at the point of the bayonet. That case changed the nature of our Government, making the President Supreme Judge of the Law as well as its Chief Minister—in other words, Dictator. ‘Amen! Hurrah for Jackson!’ said the Pharisaic Democracy of Party and Spoils. We could not say it after them. We considered our nation perjured in the trampling down and exile of these Cherokees; perjury would have lain heavy on our soul had we approved and promoted the deed.

On another occasion, when Silas Wright was nominated for Governor of the State of New York, the Tribune broke forth:

The “notorious Seventeen” —what New-Yorker has not heard of them? –yet how small a proportion of our present voting population retain a vivid and distinct recollection of the outrage on Republicanism and Popular Rights which made the “ Seventeen” so unenviably notorious! The Editor of the Tribune is of that proportion, be it small or large. Though a boy in 1824, and living a mile across the Vermont line of the State, he can never forget the indignation awakened by that outrage, which made him for ever an adversary of the Albany Regency and the demagogues who here and elsewhere made use of the terms “Democracy,” “ Democrats,” “Democratic party,” to hoodwink and cajole the credulous and unthinking —to divert their attention from things to names—to divest them of independent and manly thought, and lead them blindfold wherever the intriguers' interests shall dictate—to establish a real Aristocracy under the abused name of Democracy. It was 1824 which taught many beside us the nature of this swindle, and fired them with unconquerable [81] zeal and resolution to defeat the fraud by exposing it to the apprehension of a duped and betrayed people.

These extracts will assist the reader to recall the political excitements of the time. And he may well esteem it extraordinary for a boy of thirteen—an age when a boy is, generally, most a boy—to understand them so well, and to be interested in them so deeply. It should be remembered, however, that in remote country places, where the topics of conversation are few, all the people take a degree of interest in politics, and talk about political questions with a frequency and pertinacity of which the busy inhabitants of cities can form little idea.

Horace's last year in Westhaven (1825) wore slowly away. He —had exhausted the schools; he was impatient to be at the types, and he wearied his father with importunities to get him a place in a printing-office. But his father was loth to let him go, for two reasons: the boy was useful at home, and the cautious father feared he would not do well away from home; he was so gentle, so absent, so awkward, so little calculated to make his way with strangers. One day, the boy saw in the ‘Northern Spectator,’ a weekly paper, published at East Poultney, eleven miles distant, an advertisement for an apprentice in the office of the ‘Spectator’ itself. He showed it to his father, and wrung from him a reluctant consent to his applying for the place. ‘I have n't got time to go and see about it, Horace; but if you have a mind to walk over to Poultney and see what you can do, why you may.’

Horace had a mind to.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
hide Dates (automatically extracted)
Sort dates alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a date to search for it in this document.
1824 AD (4)
7th (2)
August 29th, 1846 AD (1)
1841 AD (1)
1830 AD (1)
1825 AD (1)
1822 AD (1)
1821 AD (1)
1820 AD (1)
301 BC (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: