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Chapter 6: apprenticeship.

  • The village of East Poultney
  • -- Horace applies for the place -- scene in the garden -- he makes an impression -- a difficulty arises and is overcome -- he enters the office -- rite of Initiation -- Horace the Victor—his employer's recollections of him -- the pack of cards -- Horace begins to paragraph -- joins the Debating Society -- his manner of Debating -- Horace and the Dandy -- his noble conduct to his father -- his first glimpse of Saratoga -- his manners at the table -- becomes the town -- Encyclopedia -- the doctor's story -- recollections of one of his fellow apprentices -- Horace's favorite poets -- politics of the time -- the anti-mason excitement -- the Northern Spectator stops -- the apprentice is Free.

East Poultney is not, decidedly not, a place which a traveler if, by any extraordinary chance, a traveler should ever visit it would naturally suspect of a newspaper. But, in one of the most densely-populated parts of the city of New York, there is a field! —a veritable, indubitable field, with a cow in it, a rough wooden fence around it, and a small, low, wooden house in the middle of it, where an old gentleman lives, who lived there when all was rural around him, and who means to live there all his days, pasturing his cow and raising his potatoes on ground which he could sell—but won—at a considerable number of dollars per foot. The field in the metropolis we can account for. But that a newspaper should ever have been published at East Poultney, Rutland county, Vermont, seems, at the first view of it, inexplicable.

Vermont, however, is a land of villages; and the business which is elsewhere done only in large towns is, in that State, divided among the villages in the country. Thus, the stranger is astonished at seeing among the few signboards of mere hamlets, one or two containing most unexpected and metropolitan announcements, such as, ‘Silversmith,’ ‘organ factory,’ ‘Piano Fortes,’ ‘print-ing office,’ or ‘Patent melodeons.’ East Poultney, for example, is little more than a hamlet, yet it once had a newspaper, and boasts a small factory of melodeons at this moment. A foreigner [83] would as soon expect to see there an Italian opera house or a French cafe.

The Poultney river is a small stream that flows through a valley, which widens and narrows, narrows and widens, all along its course; here, a rocky gorge; a grassy plain, beyond. At one of its narrow places, where the two ranges of hills approach and nod to one another, and where the river pours through a rocky channel—a torrent on a very small scale—the little village nestles, a cluster of houses at the base of an enormous hill. It is built round a small triangular green, in the middle of which is a church, with a handsome clock in its steeple, all complete except the works, and bearing on its ample face the date, 1805. No village, however minute, can get on without three churches, representing the Conservative, the Enthusiastic, and Eccentric tendencies of human nature; and, of course, East Poultney has three. It has likewise the most remarkably shabby and dilapidated schoolhouse in all the country round. There is a store or two; but business is not brisk, and when a customer arrives in town, perhaps, his first difficulty will be to find the storekeeper, who has locked up his store and gone to hoe in his garden or talk to the blacksmith. A tavern, a furnace, a saw-mill, and forty dwelling houses, nearly complete the inventory of the village. The place has a neglected and “seedy ” aspect which is rare in New England. In that remote and sequestered spot, it seems to have been forgotten, and left behind in the march of progress; and the people, giving up the hope and the endeavor to catch up, have settled down to the tranquil enjoyment of Things as they Are. The village cemetery, near by,—more populous far than the village, for the village is an old one—is upon the side of a steep ascent, and whole ranks of gravestones bow, submissive to the law of gravitation, and no man sets them upright. A quiet, slow little place is East Poultney. Thirty years ago, the people were a little more wide awake, and there were a few more of them.

It was a fine spring morning in the year 1826, about ten o'clock, when Mr. Amos Bliss, the manager, and one of the proprietors, of the Northern Spectator, “might have been seen” in the garden behind his house planting potatoes. He heard the gate open behind him, and, without turning or looking round, became dimly conscious of the presence of a boy. But the boys of country villages go into [84] whosesoever garden their wandering fancy impels them, and supposing this boy to be one of his own neighbors, Mr. Bliss continued his work and quickly forgot that he was not alone. In a few minutes, he heard a voice close behind him, a strange voice, high pitched and whining.

It said, ‘Are you the man that carries on the printing office?’ Mr. Bliss then turned, and resting upon his hoe, surveyed the person who had thus addressed him. He saw standing before him a boy apparently about fifteen years of age, of a light, tall, and slender form, dressed in the plain, farmer's cloth of the time, his garments cut with an utter disregard of elegance and fit. His trousers were exceedingly short and voluminous; he wore no stockings; his shoes were of the kind denominated “high-lows,” and much worn down; his hat was of felt, “one of the old stamp, with so small a brim, that it looked more like a two-quart measure inverted than anything else;” and it was worn far back on his head; his hair was white, with a tinge of orange at its extremities, and it lay thinly upon a broad forehead and over a head “rocking on shoulders which seemed too slender to support the weight of a member so disproportioned to the general outline.” The general effect of the figure and its costume was so outre;, they presented such a combination of the rustic and ludicrous, and the apparition had come upon him so suddenly, that the amiable gardener could scarcely keep from laughing.

He restrained himself, however, and replied, ‘Yes, I'm the man.’

Whereupon the stranger asked, ‘Don't you want a boy to learn the trade?’

‘Well,’ said Mr. Bliss, ‘we have been thinking of it. Do you want to learn to print?’

‘I've had some notion of it,’ said the boy in true Yankee fashion, as though he had not been dreaming about it, and longing for it for years.

Mr. Bliss was both astonished and puzzled—astonished that such a fellow as the boy looked to be, should have ever thought of learning to print, and puzzled how to convey to him an idea of the absurdity of the notion. So, with an expresssion in his countenance, such as that of a tender-hearted dry-goods merchant might be supposed [85] to assume if a hod-carrier should apply for a pace in the lace department, he said, ‘Well, my boy—but, you know, it takes considerable learning to be a printer. Have you been to school much?’

‘No,’ said the boy, ‘I hav'nt had much chance at school. I've read some.’

‘What have you read?’ asked Mr. Bliss.

‘Well, I've read some history, and some travels, and a little of most everything.’

‘Where do you live?’

‘At Westhaven.’

‘How did you come over?’

‘I came on foot.’

‘What's your name?’

Horace Greeley.’

Now it happened that Mr. Amos Bliss had been for the last three years an Inspector of Common Schools, and in fulfilling the duties of his office—examining and licensing teachers—he had acquired an uncommon facility in asking questions, and a fondness for that exercise which men generally entertain for any employment in which they suppose themselves to excel. The youth before him was—in the language of medical students—a “fresh subject,” and the Inspector proceeded to try all his skill upon him, advancing from easy questions to hard ones, up to those knotty problems with which he had been wont to “stump” candidates for the office of teacher. The boy was a match for him. He answered every question promptly, clearly and modestly. He could not be “stumped” in the ordinary school studies, and of the books he had read he could give a correct and complete analysis. In Mr. Bliss's own account of the interview, he says, ‘On entering into conversation, and a partial examination of the qualifications of my new applicant, it required but little time to discover that he possessed a mind of no common order, and an acquired intelligence far beyond his years. He had had but little opportunity at the common school, but he said “he had read some,” and what he had read he well understood and remembered. In addition to the ripe intelligence manifested in one so young, and whose instruction had been so limited, there was a single-mindedness, a truthfulness and common sense in what he said, that at once commanded my regard.’ [86]

After half an hour's conversation with the boy, Mr. Bliss intimate ed that he thought he would do, and told him to go into the printing-office and talk to the foreman. Horace went to the printing office, and there his appearance produced an effect on the tender minds of the three apprentices who were at work therein, which can be much better imagined than described, and which is most vividly remembered by the two who survive. To the foreman Horace addressed himself, regardless certainly, oblivious probably, of the stare and the remarks of the boys. The foreman, at first, was inclined to wonder that Mr. Bliss should, for one moment, think it possible that a boy got up in that style could perform the most ordinary duties of a printer's apprentice. Ten minutes talk with him, however, effected a partial revolution in his mind in the boy's favor, and as he was greatly in want of another apprentice, he was not inclined to be over particular. He tore off a slip of proof-paper, wrote a few words upon it hastily with a pencil, and told the boy to take it to Mr. Bliss. That piece of paper was his fate. The words were: “Guess we'd better try him.” Away went Horace to the garden, and presented his paper. Mr. Bliss, whose curiosity had been excited to a high pitch by the extraordinary contrast between the appearance of the boy and his real quality, now entered into a long conversation with him, questioned him respecting his history, his past employments, his parents, their circumstances, his own intentions and wishes; and the longer he talked, the more his admiration grew. The result was, that he agreed to accept Horace as an apprentice, provided his father would agree to the usual terms; and then, with eager steps, and a light heart, the happy boy took the dusty road that led to his home in Westhaven.

‘You're not going to hire that tow-head, Mr. Bliss, are you?’ asked one of the apprentices at the close of the day. ‘I am,’ was the reply, ‘and if you boys are expecting to get any fun out of him, you'd better get it quick, or you'll be too late. There's something in that tow-head, as you'll find out before you're a week older.’

A day or two after Horace packed up his wardrobe in a small cotton handkerchief. Small as it was, it would have held more; for its proprietor never had more than two shirts, and one change [87] of outer-clothing, at the same time, till he was of age. Father and son walked, side by side, to Poultney, the boy carrying his possessions upon a stick over his shoulder.

At Poultney, an unexpected difficulty arose, which for a time made Horace tremble in his high-low shoes. The terms proposed by Mr. Bliss were, that the boy should be bound for five years, and receive his board and twenty dollars a year. Now, Mr. Greeley had ideas of his own on the subject of apprenticeship, and he objected to this proposal, and to every particular of it. In the first place, he had determined that no child of his should ever be bound at all. In the second place, he thought five years an unreasonable time; thirdly, he considered that twenty dollars a year and board was a compensation ridiculously disproportionate to the services which Horace would be required to render; and finally, on each and all of these points, he clung to his opinion with the tenacity of a Greeley. Mr. Bliss appealed to the established custom of the country; five years was the usual period; the compensation offered was the regular thing; the binding was a point essential to the employer's interest. And at every pause in the conversation, the appealing voice of Horace was heard: ‘Father, I guess you'd better make a bargain with Mr. Bliss;’ or, ‘Father, I guess it won't make much difference;’ or, ‘Don't you think you'd better do it, father?’ At one moment the boy was reduced to despair. Mr. Bliss had given it as his ultimatum that the proposed binding was absolutely indispensable; he ‘could do business in no other way.’ ‘Well, then, Horace,’ said the father, ‘let us go home.’ The father turned to go; but Horace lingered; he could not give it up; and so the father turned again; the negotiation was re-opened, and after a prolonged discussion, a compromise was effected. What the terms were, that were finally agreed to, I cannot positively state, for the three memoirs which I have consulted upon the subject give three different replies. Probably, however, they were—no binding, and no money for six months; then the boy could, if he chose, bind himself for the remainder of the five years, at forty dollars a year, the apprentice to be boarded from the beginning. And so the father went home, and the son went straight to the printing office and took his first lesson in the art of setting type.

A few months after, it may be as well to mention here, Mr [88] Greeley removed to Erie county, Pennsylvania, and bought some wild land there, from which he gradually created a farm, leaving Horace alone in Vermont. Grass now grows where the little house stood in Westhaven, in which the family lived longest, and the barn in which they stored their hay and kept their cattle, leans forward like a kneeling elephant, and lets in the daylight through ten thousand apertures. But the neighbors point out the tree that stood before their front door, and the tree that shaded the kitchen window, and the tree that stood behind the house, and the tree whose apples Horace liked, and the bed of mint with which he regaled his nose. And both the people of Westhaven and those of Amherst assert that whenever the Editor of the Tribune revisits the scenes of his early life, at the season when apples are ripe, one of the things that he is surest to do, is to visit the apple trees that produce the fruit which he liked best when he was a boy, and which he still prefers before all the apples of the world.

The new apprentice took his place at the font, and received from the foreman his “copy,” composing stick, and a few words of instruction, and then he addressed himself to his task. He needed no further assistance. The mysteries of the craft he seemed to comprehend intuitively. He had thought of his chosen vocation for many years; he had formed a notion how the types must be arranged in order to produce the desired impression, and, therefore, all he had to acquire was manual dexterity. In perfect silence, without looking to the right hand or to the left, heedless of the sayings and doings of the other apprentices, though they were bent on mischief, and tried to attract and distract his attention, Horace worked on, hour after hour, all that day; and when he left the office at night could set type better and faster than many an apprentice who had had a month's practice. The next day, he worked with the same silence and intensity. The boys were puzzled. They thought it absolutely incumbent on them to perform an initiating rite of some kind; but the new boy gave them no handle, no excuse, no opening. He committed no greenness, he spoke to no one, looked at no one, seemed utterly oblivious of every thing save only his copy and his type. They threw type at him, but he never looked around. They talked saucily at him, but he threw back no retort. This would never do. Towards the close of the third day, [89] the oldest apprentices took one of the large black balls with which printers used to dab the ink upon the type, and remarking that in his opinion Horace's hair was of too light a hue for so black an art as that which he had undertaken to learn, applied the ball, well inked, to Horace's head, making four distinct dabs. The boys, the journeyman, the pressman and the editor, all paused in their work to observe the result of this experiment. Horace neither spoke nor moved. He went on with his work as though nothing had happened, and soon after went to the tavern where he boarded, and spent an hour in purifying his dishonored locks. And that was all the “fun” the boys “got out” of their new companion on that occasion. They were conquered. In a few days the victor and the vanquished were excellent friends.

Horace was now fortunately situated. Ampler means of acquiring knowledge were within his reach than he had ever before enjoyed; nor were there wanting opportunities for the display of his acquisitions and the exercise of his powers.

‘About this time,’ writes Mr. Bliss,

a sound, well-read theologian and a practical printer was employed to edit and conduct the paper. This opened a desirable school for intellectual culture to our young debutant. Debates ensued; historical, political, and religious questions were discussed; and often while all hands were engaged at the font of types; and here the purpose for which our young aspirant ‘had read some’ was made manifest. Such was the correctness of his memory in what he had read, in both biblical and profane history, that the reverend gentleman was often put at fault by his corrections. He always quoted chapter and verse to prove the point in dispute. On one occasion the editor said that money was the root of all evil, when he was corrected by the “devil,” who said he believed it read in the Bible that the love of money was the root of all evil.

A small town library gave him access to books, by which, together with the reading of the exchange papers of the office, he improved all his leisure hours. He became a frequent talker in our village lyceum, and often wrote dissertations.

In the first organization of our village temperance society, the question arose as to the age when the young might become members. Fearing lest his own age might bar him, he moved that they be received when they were old enough to drink—which was adopted nem. con.

Though modest and retiring, he was often led into political discussions with our ablest politicians, and few would leave the field without feeling instructed [90] by the soundness of his views and the unerring correctness of his statements of political events.

Having a thirst for knowledge, he bent his mind and all his energies to its acquisition, with unceasing application and untiring devotion; and I doubt if, in the whole term of his apprenticeship, he ever spent an hour in the common recreations of young men. He used to pass my door as he went to his daily meals, and though I often sat near, or stood in the way, so much absorbed did he appear in his own thoughts—his head bent forward and his eyes fixed upon the ground, that I have the charity to believe the reason why he never turned his head or gave me a look, was because he had no idea I was there!

On one point the reminiscences of Mr. Bliss require correction. He thinks that his apprentice never spent an hour in the common recreations of young men during his residence in Poultney. Mr. Bliss, however, was his senior and his employer; and therefore observed him at a distance and from above. But I, who have conversed with those who were the friends and acquaintances of the youth, can tell a better story. He had a remarkable fondness for games of mingled skill and chance, such as whist, draughts, chess, and others; and the office was never without its dingy pack of cards, carefully concealed from the reverend editor and the serious customers, but brought out from its hiding-place whenever the coast was clear and the boys had a leisure hour. Horace never gambled, nor would he touch the cards on Sunday; but the delight of playing a game occasionally was heightened, perhaps, by the fact that in East Poultney a pack of cards was regarded as a thing accursed, not fit for saintly hands to touch. Bee-hunting, too, continued to be a favorite amusement with Horace. ‘He was always ready for a bee-hunt,’ says one who knew him well in Poultney, and bee-hunted with him often in the woods above the village. To finish with this matter of amusement, I may mention that a dancing-school was held occasionally at the village-tavern, and Horace was earnestly (ironically, perhaps) urged to join, it; but he refused. Not that he disapproved of the dance—that best of all home recreations—but he fancied he was not exactly the figure for a quadrille. He occasionally looked in at the door of the dancing-room, but never could be prevailed upon to enter it.

Until he came to live at Poultney, Horace had never tried his land [91] at original composition. The injurious practice of writing “ compositions' was not among the exercises of any of the schools which he had attended. At Poultney, very early in his apprenticeship, he began, not indeed to write, but to compose paragraphs for the paper as he stood at the desk, and to set them in type as he composed them. They were generally items of news condensed from large articles in the exchange papers; but occasionally he composed an original paragraph of some length; and he continued to render editorial assistance of this kind all the while he remained in the office. The ” Northern Spectator “ was an Adams paper,” and Horace was an Adams man.

The Debating Society, to which Mr. Bliss alludes, was an important feature in the life of East Poultney. There happened to be among the residents of the place, during the apprenticeship of Horace Greeley, a considerable number of intelligent men, men of some knowledge and talent—the editor of the paper, the village doctor, a county judge, a clergyman or two, two or three persons of some political eminence, a few well-informed mechanics, farmers, and others. These gentlemen had formed themselves into a “Lyceum,” before the arrival of Horace, and the Lyceum had become so famous in the neighborhood, that people frequently came a distance of ten miles to attend its meetings. It assembled weekly, in the winter, at the little brick school-house. An original essay was read by the member whose “turn” it was to do so, and then the question of the evening was debated; first, by four members who had been designated at the previous meeting, and after they had each spoken once, the question was open to the whole society. The questions were mostly of a very innocent and rudimental character, as, “Is novel-reading injurious to society?” “Has a person a right to take life in self-defence” “Is marriage conducive to happiness?” “Do we, as a nation, exert a good moral influence in the world?” “Do either of the great parties of the day carry out the principles of the Declaration of Independence?” “ Is the Union likely to be perpetuated ” “Was Napoleon Bonaparte a great man?” “Is it a person's duty to take the temperance pledge? ” et cetera.

Horace joined the society, the first winter of his residence in Poultney, and, young as he was, soon became one of its leading members. ‘He was a real giant at the Debating Society,’ says [92] one of his early admirers. ‘Whenever he was appointed to speak or to read an essay, he never wanted to be excused; he was always ready. He was exceedingly interested in the questions which he discussed, and stuck to his opinion against all opposition—not discourteously, but still he stuck to it, replying with the most perfect assurance to men of high station and of low. He had one advantage over all his fellow members; it was his memory. He had read everything, and remembered the minutest details of important events; dates, names, places, figures, statistics—nothing had escaped him. He was never treated as a boy in the society, but as a man and an equal; and his opinions were considered with as much deference as those of the judge or the sheriff—more, I think. To the graces of oratory he made no pretence, but he was a fluent and interesting speaker, and had a way of giving an unexpected turn to the debate by reminding members of a fact, well known but overlooked; or by correcting a misquotation, or by appealing to what are called first principles. He was an opponent to be afraid of; yet his sincerity and his earnestness were so evident, that those whom he most signally floored liked him none the less for it. He never lost his temper. In short, he spoke in his sixteenth year just as he speaks now; and when he came a year ago to lecture in a neighboring village, I saw before me the Horace Greeley of the old PoultneyForum,” as we called it, and no other.’

It is hardly necessary to record, that Horace never made the slightest preparation for the meetings of the Debating Society in the way of dress—except so far as to put on his jacket. In the summer, he was accustomed to wear, while at work, two garments, a shirt and trowsers; and when the reader considers that his trowsers were very short, his sleeves tucked up above his elbows, his shirt open in front, he will have before his mind's eye the picture of a youth attired with extreme simplicity. In his walks about the village, he added to his dress a straw hat, valued originally at one shilling. In the winter, his clothing was really insufficient. So, at least, thought a kind-hearted lady who used to see him pass her window on his way to dinner. ‘He never,’ she says, ‘had an overcoat while he lived here; and I used to pity him so much in cold weather. I remember him as a slender, pale little fellow, younger looking than he really was, in a brown jacket much too [93] short for him. I used to think the winds would blow him away sometimes, as he crept along the fence lost in thought, with his head down, and his hands in his pockets. He was often laughed at for his homely dress, by the boys. Once, when a very interesting question was to be debated at the school-house, a young man who was noted among us for the elegance of his dress and the length of his account at the store, advised Horace to get a new “rig out” for the occasion, particularly as he was to lead one of the sides, and an unusually large audience was expected to be present. “No,” said Horace, “I guess I'd better wear my old clothes than run in debt for new ones.” ’

Now, forty dollars a year is sufficient to provide a boy in the country with good and substantial clothing; half the sum will keep him warm and decent. The reader, therefore, may be inclined to censure the young debater for his apparent parsimony; or worse, for an insolent disregard of the feelings of others; or, worst, for a pride that aped humility. The reader, if that be the present inclination of his mind, will perhaps experience a revulsion of feeling when he is informed—as I now do inform him, and on the best authority— that every dollar of the apprentice's little stipend which he could save by the most rigid economy, was piously sent to his father, who was struggling in the wilderness on the other side of the Alleghanies, with the difficulties of a new farm, and an insufficient capital. And this was the practice of Horace Greeley during all the years of his apprenticeship, and for years afterwards; as long, in fact, as his father's land was unpaid for and inadequately provided with implements, buildings, and stock. At a time when filial piety may be reckoned among the extinct virtues, it is a pleasure to record a fact like this.

Twice, during his residence at Poultney, Horace visited his parents in Pennsylvania, six hundred miles distant, walking a great part of the way, and accomplishing the rest on a slow canal boat. On one of these tedious journeys he first saw Saratoga, a circumstance to which he alluded seven years after, in a fanciful epistle, written from that famous watering-place, and published in the New Yorker:

Saratoga! bright city of the present I thou ever-during one-and-twenty [94] of existence! a wanderer by thy stately palaces and gushing fountains salutes thee! Years, yet not many, have elapsed since, a weary roamer from a distant land, he first sought thy health—giving waters. November's sky was over earth and him, and more than all, over thee; and its chilling blasts made mournful melody amid the waving branches of thy ever verdant pines. Then, as now, thou wert a City of Tombs, deserted by the gay throng whose light laughter re-echoes so joyously through thy summer-robed arbors. But to him, thou wert ever a fairy land, and he wished to quaff of thy Hygeian treasures as of the nectar of the poet's fables. One long and earnest draught, ere its sickening disrelish came over him, and he flung down the cup in the bitterness of disappointment and disgust, and sadly addressed him again to his pedestrian journey. Is it ever thus with thy castles, Imagination? thy pictures, Fancy? thy dreams, O Hope? Perish the unbidden thought! A health, in sparkling Congress, to the rainbow of life! even though its promise prove as shadowy as the baseless fabric of a vision. Better even the dear delusion of Hope—if delusion it must be—than the rugged reality of listless despair. (I think I could do this better in rhyme, if I had not trespassed in that line already. However, the cabin-conversation of a canal-packet is not remarkably favorable to poetry.) In plain prose, there is a great deal of mismanagement about this same village of Saratoga. The sea son gives up the ghost too easily, &c., &c.

During the four years that Horace lived at East Poultney, he boarded for some time at the tavern, which still affords entertainment for man and beast—i. e. pedler and horse—in that village. It was kept by an estimable couple, who became exceedingly attached to their singular guest, and lie to them. Their recollections of him are to the following effect:— Horace at that time ate and drank whatever was placed before him; he was rather fond of good living, ate furiously, and fast, and much. He was very fond of coffee, but cared little for tea. Every one drank in those days, and there was a great deal of drinking at the tavern, but Horace fever could be tempted to taste a drop of anything intoxicating. ‘I always,’ said the kind landlady, ‘took a great interest in young people, and. when I saw they were going wrong, it used to distress me, no matter whom they belonged to; but I never feared for Horace. Whatever might be going on about the village or in the bar-room, I always knew he would do right.’ He stood on no ceremony at the table; he fell to without waiting to be asked or helped, devoured everything right and left, stopped as suddenly as he had begun, and [95] vanished instantly. One day, as Horace was stretching his long arm over to the other side of the table in quest of a distant dish, the servant, wishing to hint to him in a jocular manner, that that was not exactly the most proper way of proceeding, said, ‘Don't trouble yourself, Horace, I want to help you to that dish, for, you know, I have a particular regard for you.’ He blushed, as only a boy with a very white face can blush, and, thenceforth, was less adventurous in exploring the remoter portions of the table-cloth. When any topic of interest was started at the table, he joined in it with the utmost confidence, and maintained his opinion against anybody, talking with great vivacity, and never angrily. He came, at length, to be regarded as a sort of Town Encyclopedia, and if any one wanted to know anything, he went, as a matter of course, to Horace Greeley; and, if a dispute arose between two individuals, respecting a point of history, or politics, or science, they referred it to Horace Greeley, and whomsoever he declared to be right, was confessed to be the victor in the controversy. Horace never went to a tea-drinking or a party of any kind, never went on an excursion, never slept away from home or was absent from one meal during the period of his residence at the tavern, except when he went to visit his parents. He seldom went to church, but spent the Sunday, usually, in reading. He was a stanch Universalist, a stanch whig, and a pre-eminently stanch anti-Mason. Thus, the landlord and landlady.

Much of this is curiously confirmed by a story often told in convivial moments by a distinguished physician of New York, who on one occasion chanced to witness at the Poultney tavern the exploits, gastronomic and encyclopedic, to which allusion has just been made. ‘Did I ever tell you,’ he is wont to begin,

how and where I first saw my friend Horace Greeley? Well, thus it happened. It was one of the proudest and happiest days of my life. I was a country boy then, a farmer's son, and we lived a few miles from East Poultney. On the day in question I was sent by my father to sell a load of potatoes at the store in East Poultney, and bring back various commodities in exchange. Now this was the first time, you must know, that I had ever been entrusted with so important an errand. I had been to the village with my father often enough, but now I was to go alone, and I felt as proud and [96] independent as a midshipman the first time he goes ashore in command of a boat. Big with the fate of twenty bushels of potatoes, off I drove-reached the village—sold out my load—drove round to the tavern—put up my horses, and went in to dinner. This going to the tavern on my own account, all by myself, and paying my own bill, was, I thought, the crowning glory of the whole adventure. There were a good many people at dinner, the sheriff of the county and an ex-member of Congress among them, and I felt considerably abashed at first; but I had scarcely begun to eat, when my eyes fell upon an object so singular that I could do little else than stare at it all the while it remained in the room. It was a tall, pale, white-haired, gawky boy, seated at the further end of the table. He was in his shirt-sleeves, and he was eating with a rapidity and awkwardness that I never saw equaled before nor since. It seemed as if he was eating for a wager, and had gone in to win. He neither looked up nor round, nor appeared to pay the least attention to the conversation. My first thought was, “This is a pretty sort of a tavern to let such a fellow as that sit at the same table with all these gentlemen; he ought to come in with the ostler.” I thought it strange, too, that no one seemed to notice him, and I supposed he owed his continuance at the table to that circumstance alone. And so I sat, eating little myself, and occupied in watching the wonderful performance of this wonderful youth. At length the conversation at the table became quite animated, turning upon some measure of an early Congress; and a question arose how certain members had voted on its final passage. There was a difference of opinion; and the sheriff, a very finely-dressed personage, I thought, to my boundless astonishment, referred the matter to the unaccountable Boy, saying, “Aint that right, Greeley?” “ No,” said the Unaccountable, without looking up, “you're wrong.” “There,” said the ex-member, “I told you so.” “And you're wrong, too,” said the still-devouring Mystery. Then he laid down his knife and fork, and gave the history of the measure, explained the state of parties at the time, stated the vote in dispute, named the leading advocates and opponents of the bill, and, in short, gave a complete exposition of the whole matter. I listened and wondered; but what surprised me most was, that the company received his statement as pure gospel, and as settling the question beyond [97] dispute—as a dictionary settles a dispute respecting the spelling of a word. A minute after, the boy left the dining-room, and I never saw him again, till I met him, years after, in the streets of New York, when I claimed acquaintance with him as a brother Vermontes, and told him this story, to his great amusement.

One of his fellow-apprentices favors me with some interesting reminiscences. He says, ‘I was a fellow-apprentice with Horace Greeley at Poultney for nearly two years. We boarded together during that period at four different places, and we were constantly together.’ The following passage from a letter from this early friend of our hero will be welcome to the reader, notwithstanding its repetitions of a few facts already known to him:—

Little did the inhabitants of East Poultney, where Horace Greeley went to reside in April, 1826, as an apprentice to the printing business, dream of the potent influence he was a few years later destined to exert, not only upon the politics of a neighboring State, but upon the noblest and grandest philanthropic enterprises of the age. He was then a remarkably plain-looking unsophisticated lad of fifteen, with a slouching, careless gait, leaning away forward as he walked, as if both his head and his heels were too heavy for his body. He wore a wool hat of the old stamp, with so small a brim, that it looked more like a two-quart measure inverted than a hat; and he had a singular, whining voice that provoked the merriment of the older apprentices, who had hardly themselves outgrown, in their brief village residence, similar peculiarities of country breeding. But the rogues could not help pluming themselves upon their superior manners and position; and it must be confessed that the young “ stranger ” was mercilessly “ taken in” by his elders in the office, whenever an opportunity for a practical joke presented itself.

But these things soon passed away, and as Horace was seen to be an unusually intelligent and honest lad, he came to be better appreciated. The office in which he was employed was that of the ‘Northern Spectator,’ a weekly paper then published by Messrs. Bliss & Dewey, and edited by E. G. Stone, brother to the late Col. Stone of the N. Y. Commercial Advertiser. The new comer boarded in Mr. Stone's family, by whom he was well esteemed for his boyish integrity; and Mr. S. on examination found him better skilled in English grammar, even at that early age, than were the majority of school teachers in those times. His superior intelligence also strongly commended him to the notice of Amos Bliss, Esq., one of the firm already mentioned, then and now a highly-respectable merchant of East Poultney, who has marked with pride and pleasure every successive step of the “ Westhaven boy,” from that day to this. [98]

In consequence of the change of proprietors, editors and other things pertaining to the management of the Spectator office, Horace had, during the term of his apprenticeship, about as many opportunities of “ boarding round,” as ordinarily fall to the lot of a country schoolmaster. In 1827, he boarded at the “Eagle tavern,” which was then kept by Mr. Harlow Hosford, and was the Headquarters of social and fashionable life in that pleasant old village. There the balls and village parties were had, there the oysters suppers came off, and there the lawyers, politicians and village oracles nightly congregated. Horace was no hand for ordinary boyish sports; the rough and tumble games of wrestling, running, etc., he had no relish for; but he was a diligent student in his leisure hours, and eagerly read everything in the way of books and papers that he could lay his hands on. And it was curious to see what a power of mental application he had—a power which enabled him, seated in the barroom, (where, perhaps, a dozen people were in earnest conversation,) to pursue undisturbed the reading of his favorite book, whatever it might be, with evidently as close attention and as much satisfaction as if he had been seated alone in his chamber.

If there ever was a self-made man, this same Horace Greeley is one, for he had neither wealthy or influential friends, collegiate or academic education, nor anything to start him in the world, save his own native good sense, an unconquerable love of study, and a determination to win his way by his own efforts. He had, however, a natural aptitude for arithmetical calculations, and could easily surpass, in his boyhood, most persons of his age in the facility and accuracy of his demonstrations; and his knowledge of grammar has been already noted. He early learned to observe and remember political statistics, and the leading men and measures of the political parties, the various and multitudinous candidates for governor and Congress, not only in a single State, but in many, and finally in all the States, together with the location and vote of this, that, and the other congressional district., (whig, democratic and what not,) at all manner of elections. These things he rapidly and easily mastered, and treasured in his capacious memory, till we venture to say he has few if any equals at this time, in this particular department, in this or any other country. I never knew but one man who approached him in this particular, and that was Edwin Williams, compiler of the N. Y. State Register.

Another letter from the same friend contains information still more valuable. ‘Judging,’ he writes,

from what I do certainly know of him, I can say that few young men of my acquaintance grew up with so much freedom from everything of a vicious and corrupting nature—so strong a resolution to study everything in the way of useful knowledge—and such a quick and clear perception [99] of the queer an & humorous, whether in print or in actual life His love of the poets—Byron, Shakspeare, etc., discovered itself in Boyhood—and often have Greeley and I strolled off into the woods, of a warm day, with a volume of Byron or Campbell in our pockets, and reclining in some shady place, read it off to each other by the hour. In this way, I got such a hold of “Childe Harold,” the “ Pleasures of Hope,” and other favorite poems, that considerable portions have remained ever since in my memory. Byron's apostrophe to the Ocean, and some things in the [4th] canto relative to the men and monuments of ancient Italy, were, if I mistake not, his special favorites—also the famous description of the great conflict at Waterloo. “ Mazeppa” was also a marked favorite. And for many of Mrs. Hemans' poems he had a deep admiration.

The letter concludes with an honest burst of indignation:

Knowing Horace Greeley as I do and have done for thirty years, knowing his integrity, purity, and generosity, I can tell you one thing, and that is, that the contempt with which I regard the slanders of certain papers with respect to his conduct, character, is quite inexpressible. There is doubtless a proper excuse or the conduct of lunatics, mad dogs, and rattlesnakes; but I know of no decent, just, or reasonable apology for such meanness (it is a hard word, but a very expressive one) as the presses alluded to have exhibited.

Horace came to Poultney, an ardent politician; and the events which occurred during his apprenticeship were not calculated to moderate his zeal, or weaken his attachment to the party he had chosen. John Quincy Adams was president, Calhoun was vice-president, Henry Clay was secretary of State. It was one of the best and ablest administrations that had ever ruled in Washington; and the most unpopular one. It is among the inconveniences of universal suffrage, that the party which comes before the country with the most taking popular cry is the party which is likeliest to win. During the existence of this administration, the Opposition had a variety of popular Cries which were easy to vociferate, and well adapted to impose on the unthinking, i. e. the majority. “ Adams had not been elected by the people.” “Adams had gained the presidency by a corrupt bargain with Henry Clay.” “Adams was lavish of the public money.” But of all the Cries of the time, “Hurrah for Jackson” was the most effective. Jackson was a man [100] of the people. Jackson was the hero of New Orleans and the conqueror of Florida. Jackson was pledged to retrenchment and reform. Against vociferation of this kind, what availed the fact, evident, incontrovertible, that the affairs of the government were conducted with dignity, judgment and moderation?—that the country enjoyed prosperity at home, and the respect of the world?— that the claims of American citizens against foreign governments were prosecuted with diligence and success?—that treaties highly advantageous to American interests were negotiated with leading nations in Europe and South America?—that the public revenue was greater than it had ever been before?—that the resources of the country were made accessible by a liberal system of internal improvement?—that, nevertheless, there were surplus millions in the treasury?—that the administration nobly disdained to employ the executive patronage as a means of securing its continuance in power?—All this availed nothing. “ Hurrah for Jackson ” carried the day. The Last of the Gentlemen of the Revolutionary school retired. The era of wire-pulling began. That deadly element was introduced into our political system which rendered it so exquisitely vicious, that thenceforth it worked to corruption by an irresistible necessity! It is called Rotation in Office. It is embodied in the maxim, “To the victors belong the spoils.” It has made the word office-holder synonymous with the word sneak. It has thronged the capital with greedy sycophants. It has made politics a game of cunning, with enough of chance in it to render it interesting to the low crew that play. It has made the president a pawn with which to make the first move—a puppet to keep the people amused while their pockets are picked. It has excluded from the service of the State nearly every man of ability and worth, and enabled bloated and beastly demagogues, without a ray of talent, without a sentiment of magnanimity, illiterate, vulgar, insensible to shame, to exert a power in this republic, which its greatest statesmen in their greatest days never wielded.

In the loud contentions of the period, the reader can easily believe that our argumentative apprentice took an intense interest. The village of East Poultney cast little more—if any more—than half a dozen votes for Jackson, but how much this result was owing the efforts of Horace Greeley cannot now be ascertained. All [101] agree that he contributed his full share to the general babble which the election of a President provokes. During the whole administration of Adams, the revision of the tariff with a view to the better protection of American manufactures was among the most prominent topics of public and private discussion.

It was about the year 1827 that the Masonic excitement arose Military men tell us that the bravest regiments are subject to panic. Regiments that bear upon their banners the most honorable distinctions, whose colors are tattered with the bullets of a hundred fights, will on a sudden falter in the charge, and fly, like a pack of cowards, from a danger which a pack of cowards might face without ceasing to be thought cowards. Similar to these causeless and irresistible panics of war are those frenzies of fear and fury mingled which sometimes come over the mind of a nation, and make it for a time incapable of reason and regardless of justice. Such seems to have been the nature of the anti-Masonic mania which raged in the Northern States from the year 1827.

A man named Morgan, a printer, had published, for gain, a book in which the harmless secrets of the Order of Free Masons which he was a member, were divulged. Public curiosity caused the book to have an immense sale. Soon after its publication, Morgan announced another volume which was to reveal unimagined horrors; but, before the book appeared, Morgan disappeared, and neither ever came to light. Now arose the question, What became of Morgan? and it rent the nation, for a time, into two imbittered and angry factions. ‘Morgan!’ said the Free Masons, ‘that perjured traitor, died and was buried in the natural and ordinary fashion.’ ‘Morgan!’ said the anti-Masons, ‘that martyred patriot, was dragged from his home by Masonic ruffians, taken in the dead of night to the shores of the Niagara river, murdered, and thrown into the rapids.’ It is impossible for any one to conceive the utter delirium into which the people in some parts of the country were thrown by the agitation of this subject. Books were written. Papers were established. Exhibitions were got up, in which the Masonic ceremonies were caricatured or imitated. Families were divided. Fathers disinherited their sons, and sons forsook their fathers. Elections were influenced, not town and county elections merely, but State and national elections. There were Masonic candidates and [102] anti-Masonic candidates in every election in the Northern States for at least two years after Morgan vanished. Hundreds of Lodges bowed to the storm, sent in their charters to the central authority, and voluntarily ceased to exist. There are families now, about the country, in which Masonry is a forbidden topic, because its introduction would revive the old quarrel, and turn the peaceful tea-table into a scene of hot and interminable contention. There are still old ladies, male and female, about the country, who will tell you with grim gravity that, if you trace up Masonry, through all its Orders, till you come to the grand, tip-top, Head Mason of the world, you will discover that that dread individual and the Chief of the Society of Jesuits are one and the same Person!

I have been tempted to use the word ridiculous in connection with this affair; and looking back upon it, at the distance of a quarter of a century, ridiculous seems a proper word to apply to it. But it did not seem ridiculous then. It had, at least, a serious side. It was believed among the anti-Masons that the Masons were bound to protect one another in doing injustice; even the commission of treason and murder did not, it was said, exclude a man from the shelter of his Lodge. It was alleged that a Masonic jury dared not, or would not, condemn a prisoner who, after the fullest proof of his guilt had been obtained, made the Masonic sign of distress. It was asserted that a judge regarded the oath which made him a Free Mason as more sacred and more binding than that which admitted him to the bench. It is in vain, said the anti-Masons, for one of us to seek justice against a Mason, for a jury cannot be obtained without its share of Masonic members, and a court cannot be found without its Masonic judge.

Our apprentice embraced the anti-Masonic side of this controversy, and embraced it warmly. It was natural that he should. It was inevitable that he should. And for the next two or three years he expended more breath in denouncing the Order of the Free-Masons, than upon any other subject—perhaps than all other subjects put together. To this day secret societies are his special aversion.

But we must hasten on. Horace had soon learned his trade. He became the best hand in the office, and rendered important assistance in editing the paper. Some numbers were almost entirely his [103] work. But there was ill-luck about the little establishment. Several times, as we have seen, it changed proprietors, but none of them could make it prosper; and, at length, in the month of June, 1830, the second month of the apprentice's fifth year, the Northern Spectator was discontinued; the printing-office was broken up, and the apprentice, released from his engagement, became his own master, free to wander whithersoever he could pay his passage, and to work for whomsoever would employ him.

His possessions at this crisis were—a knowledge of the art of printing, an extensive and very miscellaneous library in his memory, a wardrobe that could be stuffed into a pocket, twenty dollars in cash, and—a sore leg. The article last named played too serious a part in the history of its proprietor, not to be mentioned in the inventory of his property. He had injured his leg a year before in stepping from a box, and it troubled him, more or less, for three years, swelling occasionally to four times its natural size, and obliging him to stand at his work, with the leg propped up in a most horizontal and uncomfortable position. It was a tantalizing feature of the case that he could walk without much difficulty, but standing was torture. As a printer, he had no particular occasion to walk; and by standing he was to gain his subsistence.

Horace Greeley was no longer a Boy. His figure and the expression of his countenance were still singularly youthful; but he was at the beginning of his twentieth year, and he was henceforth to confront the world as a man. So far, his life had been, upon the whole, peaceful, happy and fortunate, and he had advanced towards his object without interruption, and with sufficient rapidity. His constitution, originally weak, Labor and Temperance had rendered capable of great endurance. His mind, originally apt and active, incessant reading had stored with much that is most valuable among the discoveries, the thoughts, and the fancies of past generations. In the conflicts of the Debating Society, the printing-office, and the tavern, he had exercised his powers, and tried the correctness of his opinions. If his knowledge was incomplete, if there were wide domains of knowledge, of which he had little more than heard, yet what he did know he knew well; he had learned it, not as a task, but because he wanted to know it; it partook of the vitality of his own mind; it was his own, and he could use it. [104]

If there had been a people's College, to which the new emancipated apprentice could have gone, and where, earning his subsistence by the exercise of his trade, he could have spent half of each day for the next two years of his life in the systematic study of Language, History and Science, under the guidance of men able to guide him aright, under the influence of women capable of attracting his regard, and worthy of it—it had been well. But there was not then, and there is not now, an institution that meets the want and the need of such as he.

At any moment there are ten thousand young men and women in this country, strong, intelligent, and poor, who are about to go forth into the world ignorant, who would gladly go forth instructed, if they could get knowledge, and earn it as they get it, by the labor of their hands. They are the sons and daughters of our farmers and mechanics. They are the very elite among the young people of the nation. There is talent, of all kinds and all degrees, among them—talent, that is the nation's richest possession—talent, that could bless and glorify the nation. Should there not be—can there not be, somewhere in this broad land, a University-town— where all trades could be carried on, all arts practiced, all knowledge accessible, to which those who have a desire to become excellent in their calling, and those who have an aptitude for art, and those who have fallen in love with knowledge, could accomplish the wish of their hearts without losing their independence, Without becoming paupers, or prisoners, or debtors? Surely such a University for the People is not an impossibility. To found such an institution, or assemblage of institutions—to find out the conditions upon which it could exist and prosper—were not an easy task. A Committee could not do it, nor a “Board,” nor a Legislature. It is an enterprise for one man—a man of boundless disinterestedness, of immense administrative and constructive talent, fertile in expedients, courageous, persevering, physically strong, and morally great—a man born for his work, and devoted to it “with a quiet, deep enthusiasm” . Give such a man the indispensable land, and twenty-five years, and the People's College would be a dream no more, but a triumphant and imitable reality; and the founder thereof would have done a deed compared with which, either [105] for its difficulty or for its results, such triumphs as those of Trafalgar and Waterloo would not be worthy of mention.

There have been self-sustaining monasteries! Will there never be self-sustaining colleges? Is there anything like an inherent impossibility in a thousand men and women, in the fresh strength of youth, capable of a just subordination, working together, each for all and all for each, with the assistance of steam, machinery, and a thousand fertile acres—earning a subsistence by a few hours' labor per day, and securing, at least, half their time for the acquisition of the art, or the language, or the science which they prefer? I think not. We are at present a nation of ignoramuses, our ignorance rendered only the more conspicuous and misleading, by the faint intimations of knowledge which we acquire at our schools. Are we to remain such for ever?

But if Horace Greeley derived no help from schools and teachers, he received no harm from them. He finished his apprenticeship, an uncontaminated young man, with the means of independence at his finger-ends, ashamed of no honest employment, of no decent habitation, of no cleanly garb. ‘There are unhappy times,’ says Mr. Carlyle, ‘in the world's history, when he that is least educated will chiefly have to say that he is least perverted; and, with the multitude of false eye-glasses, convex, concave, green, or even yellow, has not lost the natural use of his eyes.’ ‘How were it,’ he asks, ‘if we surmised, that for a man gifted with natural vigor, with a man's character to be developed in him, more especially if in the way of literature, as thinker and writer, it is actually, in these strange days, no special misfortune to be trained up among the uneducated classes, and not among the educated; but rather, of the two misfortunes, the smaller?’ And again, he observes, ‘The grand result of schooling is a mind with just vision to discern, with free force to do; the grand schoolmaster is practice.’

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