The next time the master asked questions of the youth at the head of the class Walter saw the boy's fingers feel for the button, and then saw him look down at the place on his coat where it should have been. When he saw it was missing he grew confused, stammered, muttered to himself, and could not answer the question. Walter came next, and, being able to answer the question, took the other boy's place, chuckling to himself. He did not hold it long. He had simply wished to see what would happen, and having found out he was quite willing to surrender the place to the boy who was really the better scholar.
In a thousand ways Walter showed his love of history and romance. Anything that was picturesque, whether it was a view or an old dirk, caught his attention at once. For a short time he took lessons in oil painting from a German. He soon found that he had not the eye nor the hand for the work, but it happened that the teacher's father had been a soldier in the army of Frederick the Great, and as soon as Walter found this out, he plied the man with questions. Long afterward he said he vividly remembered the man's picturesque account of seeing a party of the famous Black Hussars bringing in forage carts which they had captured from the Cossacks, with the wounded Cossacks themselves lying high up on the piles of straw.
Often in good weather the boys of George's Square would go on long excursions into the country, frequently staying away from home for several days at a time. On one such occasion they found themselves some twenty miles away from Edinburgh without a single sixpence left among them. Walter said afterward, "We were certainly put to our shifts, but we asked every now and then at a cottage door for a drink of water; and one or two of the good wives, observing our worn-out looks brought out milk in place of water—so with that, and hips and haws, we came in little the worse."
His father was not at all pleased with his long absence, and asked how he had managed with so little money.
"Pretty much like the ravens," said the boy. "I only wished I had been as good a player on the flute as poor George Primrose in 'The Vicar of Wakefield.' If I had his art, I should like nothing better than to tramp like him from cottage to cottage over the world."
"I doubt," said the father, "I greatly doubt, sir, you were born for nae better than a scapegoat."
It may be that as a result of these chance expeditions Walter's father finally came to realize that the boy might be made use of in certain legal business that required sending messengers into the Highlands. Soon he was sent with some legal papers to the Maclarens, who lived in that beautiful lake country about Loch Lomond which Scott was later to make famous in "The Lady of the Lake." It was the first time he had been in that country, and the changing panorama unrolled before his eyes like a land of dreams.
It happened that Walter was traveling in the company of a sergeant and six men from a Highland regiment stationed in Sterling, and so he journeyed quite like some ancient chieftain, with a front and rear guard, and bearing arms. The sergeant was a thorough Highlander, full of stories of Rob Roy and of his own early adventures, and an excellent companion. The trip was a great success, and fired Walter's desires to see more of a country which even then was only half-civilized.
A little later he had another chance, being sent north to visit another of his father's clients, an old Jacobite who had fought in the uprisings of 1715 and 1745. Paul Jones was then threatening a descent on the Scotch coast, and Walter had the satisfaction of seeing the old Jacobite chief making ready to bear arms again, and heard him exult at the prospect of drawing claymore once more before he died. The boy was so delighted at the stories the old man told that the latter invited him to visit him that fall, and so he spent his holiday with him.
Riding northward on this visit the vale of Perth first burst on his view. Long afterward he described the tremendous impression this sight made upon him. "I recollect pulling up the reins," he wrote later, "without meaning to do so, and gazing on the scene before me as if I had been afraid it would shift, like those in a theatre, before I could distinctly observe its different parts, or convince myself that what I saw was real."
Even as he remembered so vividly the tales the old men and women had told him when he was a very little boy, the stories of his grandmother, of border warfare, of heroes of Scotland, such as Watt of Harden, and Wight Willie of Aikwood, merrymen much like Robin Hood and Little John, and as he remembered the romances he and his friend had read in the hills, so he was now treasuring up wild bits of scenery with all the ardor of a poet or a painter. He was growing to know Scotland as no other man had ever known it.
The boy Walter had little knowledge then of the great use to which he was later to put his love of Scottish history; he expected to be a lawyer and was studying to that end, but all his spare moments were spent in hunting legends of his land. He became eager to visit the then wild and inaccessible region of Liddesdale, so that he might see the ruins of the famous castle of the Hermitage, and try to pick up some of the ancient "riding ballads" as they were called, songs which were said to be still preserved among the descendants of the old moss-troopers, who had followed the banners of the House of Douglass, when they were lords of that remote castle.
He found a man who knew that rugged country well, and for seven successive years Walter Scott made a "raid," as he called it, into that country, following each stream to its source, and studying every ruined tower or castle from foundation stone to topmost battlement.
There were no inns in the whole district. The explorers had to stop over night at any chance shepherd's hut or farmer's cottage, but everywhere they met with open welcome, and from each home they gathered songs and stories, and sometimes relics of border wars to take back with them to Edinburgh. Even then the youth had little notion of what he should do with all the facts he was gathering. The friend he traveled with said later, "Walter was makin' himself a' the time, but he didna ken maybe what he was about till years had passed. At first he thought o' little, I dare say, but the queerness and the fun."
* * * * *
In course of time Scott was called to the bar as a lawyer, and took his place with the dozens of young men who hung about the Parliament House in Edinburgh waiting for briefs of cases to be argued. There were lots of debating clubs in the Scotch capital at that time, and Scott was a member of several. Some time was spent in argument, but more in telling stories and in singing songs.
Here the young lawyer ruled supreme. No other man could tell such tales as he, and none knew so many and such curious songs. The stories were not all his own; frequently he retold old ones that he had heard, dressing them up to suit his taste. Once a friend complained that he had changed a story told him the day before.
"Why," said Scott, with twinkling eyes, "I don't change stories. I only put a cocked hat on their heads, and stick a cane into their hands—to make them fit for going into company."
Fifteen years passed and all England was reading eagerly the wonderful historical poems and romances written by a man who called himself the "Wizard of the North."
Scotland had always been a desolate barren country in the eyes of the rest of the world, its history unknown, its people cold and uninviting. Suddenly all that was changed: Scotland sprang into being as a land of romance, filled with poetry, a country full of glorious scenery, a people descended from a line of kings. Even the narrow streets of Edinburgh and the old Canongate itself became historic ground under the Wizard's spell. The Wizard was Walter Scott, and now he found the whole world as eager to hear the stories and poems he had to tell about his country as his boy friends had been years before. He had not changed much as he grew up. At the height of his fame Walter Scott was still in spirit the eager boy of the old city, finding romance everywhere about him because he looked for it with the eyes of youth.
James Fenimore Cooper
The Boy of Otsego Hall: 1789-1851
The finest house in central New York State in 1801 was Otsego Hall. The owner of the house, a Mr. Cooper, fond of old English customs, lived much like a lord of the manor of the old country, and kept open house for his neighbors of the region. On a Saturday afternoon in September of that year he was giving a great party, and all roads in the neighborhood of Cooperstown, which had been named in honor of this popular gentleman, led to Otsego Hall.
A gay stream flowed up to the great stone posts that flanked the entrance driveway. There were men in bright-hued, tight-fitting trousers with high shining top-boots, brilliant plum and claret colored coats and fawn or scarlet waistcoats, with lace stocks at their throats, their hair well powdered, their tri-cornered hats matching their vivid coats. They rode fine, spirited horses, and they knew how to ride, for most of them had seen service under General Washington. Some of the ladies also rode, but more of them came in open carriages. These latter wore flowered satins, and carried painted fans and sunshades. Some came across fields on foot, a young gallant swinging a light gold-headed cane, and paying lavish compliments to the fair girl whose dimples were heightened by small beauty patches cut in stars or crescents.
The gay throng wound up the long drive of Otsego Hall, themselves scarcely less brilliant than the flowers beside the path. At the top of the drive was the big, white colonial mansion, with its high storied porch and great white pillars. On the porch stood the genial host in a buff-colored suit with knee-breeches, his kindly face radiating welcome to each guest. The riders sprang from their saddles and threw the bridles to the waiting servants, the chaises and the chariots emptied their owners and were whisked away. All mounted the wide steps, greeted Mr. Cooper, and passed across the porch into the polished hall.
Here stood a large round table with a huge punchbowl in the centre and a ring of shining glasses about it. Each guest toasted the fair lady of the manor, and some particular lady of his own fancy, with such charming sentiments as his wit supplied. There was a great buzz of talk and laughter and neighborly greeting.
Presently three young men, all dressed in the height of fashion, came up the driveway and shook hands with Mr. Cooper. He was especially glad to see them, for they were sons of men he had known in war times. All three came of wealthy families living in the city of New York, and were now traveling north to learn something of the business possibilities of the young country. They stopped for a moment to chat with Mr. Cooper, and then two of them entered the hall. The third was looking at a small boy, who, dressed like Mr. Cooper in buff clothes, stood at one side of the porch.
"Who is the youngster?" asked the visitor.
Mr. Cooper turned about to see. "Oh, that's my son James." He beckoned to the boy. "Come here, son. I want you to meet Captain Philip Kent, one of father's old friends."
The boy, not at all abashed, put out his hand, and welcomed Captain Kent. "Have you ever fought Indians?" he asked solemnly.
Kent laughed and winked at Mr. Cooper. "Oh, yes. We've all fought Indians in our day. But, thank God, that day's passed. What we want now is a chance to rest in quiet, and try our hands at writing, and singing, and painting, like other civilized people." He saw that some other guests were arriving, and put his hand on the boy's shoulder. "Come, James. You and I don't care to go salute the ladies just yet. Let's find a place in the garden and have a talk."
They went down a gravel path and turned in to the rose-garden. A bench invited them to rest. Captain Kent sat down, and drawing a gilded snuff-box from his waistcoat-pocket, offered it to the boy. "The very best rappee," he said.
James Cooper shook his head. "I don't like snuff, sir. I'd rather smoke a pipe."
Captain Kent took snuff and flicked the grains from his coat with his handkerchief. "Tut, tut, young man, if you're to be a man of fashion, and I misdoubt your father's son could be ought else, you must like what the fashion likes. The gentlemen of St. James' Palace still take snuff, and never are seen smoking pipes, like some of our clumsy Dutchmen over here."
"But St. James' Palace is in London, and we're free from England now."
"Quite so, my good sir. But our fashions still come from across the seas."
"And what is a man of fashion?" asked the boy.
Captain Kent smiled. "Ah, so you are concerned? Good! Well, I am a man of fashion, and so are those two friends of mine who just entered your hall. A man of fashion has a discriminating taste in wines and foods. He knows what colors go in harmony, how to draw his sword in any matter of honor, how to tread a minuet—oh, yes, and how to write verses to his lady's eyes."
The Captain put his hand in the pocket of his coat and drew out several folded sheets of paper. He spread them out on his knee. "Do you know Miss Betty Cosgrove?" he asked.
The boy nodded. "Yes, indeed. She lives very near us, and always gives me plum-cake when I go there with messages from mother."
"Ah, she does!" exclaimed Kent, as though greatly struck and charmed by the idea. "Well, Mr. James Cooper, I have written some verses in her honor, hoping I might offer them to her here this afternoon. I'll read them to you."
"She's indoors," said the boy. "I saw her come."
"Quite so. But I hope to lure her out here later, and I want to rehearse the verses. What do you think of this?"
The young man held the paper before him, and read from it. Every few lines he would glance at the boy. James did not think much of the poetry. He heard a great deal about tresses, and eyes, and smiles, about Gods and Goddesses, but nothing about soldiers or Indians. He was surprised that the Captain should have become so red in the face and that his eyes should shine so brightly.
"What do you think of it?" asked Captain Kent, when he had finished.
"I don't understand it," said James. Then he added frankly, "I don't think much of poetry."
"May Heaven grant she does!" exclaimed the Captain. "I think 'tis quite a fair performance for an humble poet." He folded the verses and put them away. "Some day you will be doing the same thing, Mr. Cooper."
"No," said the boy. "I'm to go to Yale College at New Haven next year and learn Greek."
"'Tis better to write verses than learn Greek," objected Kent. He put his hand on the boy's shoulder. "But there's better yet waiting to be done, boy. In London men write what they call novels; wonderful stories of the great world of fashion. There's one called 'Amelia,' by Henry Fielding, and another named 'Clarissa Harlowe,' by Richardson. Why should not some one write such tales of our country? Alas, I fancy because as yet we have so little fashion."
"But we've plenty of hunters and Indians and sailors," said the boy; "I wish I had a book about what's happened in those great woods back of Albany."
"Write it, lad, write it," said the Captain. "We've had our soldiers, you and your friends must be our poets and writers. I envy you. Now let us be going in to greet the ladies."
The lower floor of Otsego Hall was now filled with people. All the gentry of the countryside were gathered in the great hall, in the dining-room, and other apartments that opened into it. Captain Kent and his boy friend made their way through the crowd, and the Captain bent over the hand of Mrs. Cooper and congratulated her on having so fine a son. The boy liked his gallant friend and stayed near him, even when the Captain finally caught sight of Miss Betty Cosgrove talking with his two mates in a corner of the hall.
James watched the Captain advance and in his most polished manner bend over the lady's hand and touch it with his lips. Then the four of them started to laugh and talk rapidly as though they had a great many things to tell each other. The boy thought this very tiresome, and was about to make his way back to the porch and freedom when he heard a man who stood on the broad stairs call out, "Ladies and gentlemen, I give you all a toast, our worthy friend and most gracious host, Mr. Cooper!"
Servants passed glasses of punch to the guests and soon all held their glasses raised high.
"I pledge them," cried the man on the stairs, and the toast was drunk with a murmur of cheers.
"Another to our charming hostess!" some one cried, and this also was drunk.
Then Captain Kent clapped his hands for silence. "Ladies and gentlemen of Cooperstown," said he, "three of us here have journeyed from New York City to pay our duty to the fairest maid in all the thirteen states. We have none like her on Manhattan Island. I give you Mistress Betty Cosgrove!"
The three young men raised their glasses, the rest followed their example, and the toast was drunk. Miss Cosgrove blushed the color of the rose she wore.
One of the young men looked down to find a small boy pulling his sleeve. "What is it?" he asked.
"Captain Kent's been writing verses to her too," said James Cooper. "He read them to me in the garden."
"Ho—ho," came the laughing answer. "Good enough." He turned about. "Ladies and gentlemen, my friend Captain Kent is a poet. He has some verses in his pocket written to the adorable Mistress Betty. Shall we hear them?"
"Yes, yes," came a chorus of voices.
It was poor Kent's turn to blush. He looked very uncomfortable. Miss Cosgrove glanced at him with wide inquiring eyes. He had not expected to read his poetry in such a setting. He stepped forward, and seizing little James Cooper under the arms lifted him to a chair.
"Behold," he said, "I should be glad to read the verses, but this gentleman, Master Cooper, has told me they are poor, and he should know because he plans to be an author."
The Captain's diversion succeeded. The guests were looking at the boy.
"My son James an author!" exclaimed Mrs. Cooper. "It's the first I've heard of it!"
"I don't want to," said the boy, very uncomfortable now that he was the centre of notice. "I want to be a soldier."
"That's right," said his father, "and I hope you may be if ever the country needs you. Friends, I give you these United States!"
By the time that toast was drunk Captain Kent had drawn Miss Cosgrove into a little alcove under the stairs and James had stolen out of the great hall.
James Cooper was a very fortunate boy. His father's house stood in one of the loveliest reaches of country on the Atlantic coast. Cooperstown lay on the southeastern shore of Otsego Lake, where the Susquehanna rushes out through a fertile valley between high hills. Bays and points of woodland break the Lake's edge, and in the distance rise the clear blue slopes of mountains.
Otsego Hall was built about the time when the young republic was stretching out for space in which to grow. Mr. Cooper found this lovely lake, and built on the frontier. Beyond his home spread seemingly endless forests, filled with the wandering bands of the Indians of the Six Nations, and with all manner of wild animals. The Lake was the home of flocks of gulls, loons and wild duck, and more times than he could count young Cooper had seen a long file of Indian canoes steal swiftly across its upper bays. It was an ideal region for a boy of an adventurous turn of mind, fond of the outdoor world.
The heir of Otsego Hall was not such a boy of the wilderness as were Daniel Boone, Andrew Jackson or Abraham Lincoln. He did not have to fight his way in the rough new world as they did. Mr. Cooper was well-to-do, and intended that his son should take a proper place in the young nation. There was little he could learn at the local academy, and so he was soon sent to school at Albany, where he lived in the home of an English clergyman who was fond of denouncing the war of the Revolution and the new country, and so made James Cooper more of an ardent patriot than ever.
When he was thirteen he was sent to Yale College, and felt himself almost a grown man. He had been better prepared than most of his classmates, and so decided he did not need to study to keep up with them. Instead of working he devoted all his time to sport, and to wandering through the beautiful country about New Haven. He was learning a great deal about outdoor life, and storing his mind with pictures, but at the same time was learning little of the Latin and Greek which his teachers thought vastly more important. He got into scrape after scrape with other boys of his way of thinking, and finally in his third year a midnight frolic led to his being dismissed. Mr. Cooper took his son's side and argued with the faculty, but the boy had to leave. His father looked about for some means of taming his son's wild habits and decided to send him to sea for a time.
Nothing could have pleased James better. He wanted to see the world, and he was fond of ships. He had no special ambition, but rather looked forward to serving in the navy. In the fall of 1806 he sailed from New York on the ship Sterling bound for England with a freight of flour. The voyage was a long and stormy one, and the boy, who was simply a sailor before the mast, got a good taste of life at sea. He enjoyed it thoroughly. When they reached England he went to London in his sailor's clothes, and knocked about that great city much like any other jack on shore. He made friends quickly, enjoyed any new adventure, and stored up a great stock of stories to take home.
The boy enjoyed his voyage before the mast so much that when he returned to New York he asked his father to get him a commission in the United States navy. Mr. Cooper was able to do this, and James was soon after sent as midshipman with a party of men to build a brig of sixteen guns on Lake Ontario. It took them a winter to build the ship, and during that time the party stayed at the tiny settlement of Oswego, a collection of some twenty houses. All around lay the unbroken forest stretching thirty or forty miles without a break. There was abundance of game, many Indians, and a splendid chance to live the frontier life that Cooper loved. He now knew the habits of the wild red men and whites, the lore of the woods, the perils and joys of the sea, and as he helped to build the gunboat he learned a thousand things that he was to turn to splendid uses later.
The boy had now grown to manhood, and yet no sign of his real work had appeared. He was not especially fond of books or history, his views of the charm of a soldier's life were much those he had spoken to Captain Kent at Otsego Hall. It seemed as though he were settled in the navy.
It is strange how chance determined the fate of young Cooper. About this time his grandmother asked him to take her name, and for a while he called himself Fenimore-Cooper. Then a little later he married, and his wife did not like the idea of his leaving her on long sea voyages. He seems to have been quite willing to give up the navy, and settle down at Otsego Hall as lord of the manor after his father's fashion. He liked the life of a country gentleman, and spent his time planting trees, draining swamps, planning lawns, and cultivating flowers and fruits. By the time he was thirty he had tried his hand at almost everything except writing.
It happened that as Cooper was one day reading aloud to his wife from an English novel he threw the book down, exclaiming, "Why, I believe I could write a better story myself!" His wife laughed, and asked him to prove it. He said he would, and thereupon sat down and began to lay out a plot. A few days later he was deep in work on the story, and he kept at it until he had finished a two-volume novel, which he called "Precaution."
His wife and friends liked it and urged him to publish it; so in November, 1820, appeared the first of that great series of native American stories which were to give the young nation a distinct place in English literature. Chance began them, but the first few books proved so successful that Cooper settled at once into the career of novelist.
The famous "Leather-Stocking Tales" followed, and the world made the acquaintance of the America of the Indian and the pioneer in "The Deerslayer," "The Last of the Mohicans," "The Pathfinder," "The Pioneers," and "The Prairie." Here he tells the romantic story of the conquest of the wilderness, and draws the portraits of the pioneer, the hunter, and the Indian. The same character, Harvey Birch, called Leather-Stocking, runs through them all, first as a youth in the novels that deal with the red men, with the great characters of Chingachcook and Uncas, then as a man in the dramas of the white men who blazed the trail westward through the forests, and settled the great prairies.
The story of Daniel Boone inspired him in these latter novels, and he tells of such scenes as the great prairie fire and the panther fight with the vividness of an eye-witness. "The Pioneers" is laid on the shores of Lake Ontario where he built the war-ship, and "The Deerslayer" about the little lake near Otsego Hall.
He wrote great tales of the sea also, in one of which, "The Pilot," he took as his hero John Paul Jones, tales founded on his own knowledge of a sailor's life won at first hand; but it was the Indian tales that brought him greatest fame. Whether the pictures of the men of the Six Nations be accurate or not they made direct appeal to the imagination of the world, and Indian character will always stand as Cooper drew it. Shakespeare and Scott have made English history for us, and Cooper has done the same thing for the history of the Indian.
Cooper said later that he might have chosen happier periods for his stories, more stirring events, and perhaps more beautiful scenes, but none which would have lain so close to his heart. He never forgot what had interested him so deeply in his boyhood, and when he wrote he went back to his boyhood memories. Little had he realized in those days how the words Captain Kent spoke in the garden would come true. He had drifted into writing before he realized what a great untrodden field lay before him.
The story of James Fenimore Cooper is an inspiration to every American. It is the history of a man who loved his country deeply, and who was as fine-spirited a gentleman as he was a great author.
The Boy of the Goeta Canal: 1803-1889
Among the Swedish country people there still lingers a primitive half belief in witches and goblins, and nymphs and elves of the forests and the sea. Many a simple mountaineer, returning home from some lonely trip, tells tales of prophetic voices he heard whispering in the wind or of gnomes who interrupted his slumbers in the woods. One such legend runs as follows.
A wealthy farmer named Ericsson, who owned many acres in the Swedish province of Vermland, had in his service a crippled lad whose business it was to tend the sheep. This work kept him away from people much of the time, and led him through the pine woods, beside the little tarns, or hidden inland lakes, and up and down the wild mountains where the fairy people dwell. He grew quite accustomed to meeting wood or lake nymphs in his wanderings, and became so friendly with them that they often gave him good advice, such as when to expect a storm, or where he might find the best grazing for his flock.
One day he was caught in the rain and when he found shelter in a deserted barn he was so wet and exhausted that he fell into a troubled sleep. While he slept a pixie came to him and whispered in his ear that in time to come a house should be built on that part of farmer Ericsson's land, and that two boys should be born there who should make the name of Ericsson known round the world.
The shepherd was much excited by the news, and as soon as he reached the Ericsson house he told the fairy's prophecy. The family were very much concerned and wrote the prophecy down in the family Bible, and also spread the story through the province. That was in the seventeenth century.
Near the end of the eighteenth century young Olof Ericsson married, and built him a home on that part of the family land where the old barn had stood. He had three children, a daughter named Caroline, and two sons, named Nils and John. One day the mother heard the old legend and identified the place with her husband's house, and so became convinced that her boys were to become world famous. They came of very good stock, and the family traced their ancestry back to the great Leif Ericsson, son of Eric the Red, who had been the Norse discoverer of America.
Olof and his wife Brita were devoted to their children. Olof was part owner of a mine at the town of Langsbaushyttan near which they lived. The children had a governess for a time, and father and mother taught them what they could, but the most of their days were spent playing in the thick pine woods along the shore of the little Lake Hytt which lay in front of their house. Sometimes Olof took the two boys with him to the mine, and from almost the first visit a perfect passion for machinery took possession of the younger boy John. After that he was always playing with pencils and paper, with bits of wood and metal, and spent hours drawing figures in the sand on the beach of the lake.
At about this period hard times befell Sweden. The small Northern country, half the size of Texas, with fewer people than the single city of London, never very rich, had trouble keeping her independence from Russia. Her king was a weakling, and lost part of his land. Then a gentleman of fortune, a man who had been a French lawyer's apprentice, and had risen to be a marshal, one whose sword had helped to carve out an empire for Napoleon, suddenly was elected King of Sweden. He brought the little country French support and better times, but meantime Olof Ericsson had lost his property and found that he must seek work at once to keep his family from starving.
Olof had lost his share in the mine and had been living in the depths of the pine forest choosing lumber for builders. He had encouraged his son John's talent for machinery, and now began to believe that the old prophecy might really come true. He had seen John, only ten years old, build a miniature sawmill and pumping engine at the mine, and had been as much astonished as any of the men there when his son proudly showed them the designs he had drawn for a new kind of pump to drain the mines of water.
Even when the little family had left the mining town and were living in the deep woods the boy continued working out his own inventions. He made tools for himself, using sharp pine needles for the points of a drawing compass he fashioned out of sticks, begging his mother for a few hairs from her fur coat to make paint brushes, and actually devising a ball and socket joint for a small windmill he was building. Everything he could lay his hands on he turned to some mechanical use, and all his thoughts seemed bent in that one direction.
The new King of Sweden was now planning to build a great ship canal at Goeta to unite the Baltic and the North Seas, a scheme which had for a long time appealed to Swedish patriots as a protection against their great grasping neighbor, the Russian Bear. Through the influence of a friend, Count Platen, Olof Ericsson was given work in connection with the canal, and moved his family with him to a town called Forsvik. Here a great many soldiers were at work, for the canal was in charge of the army, and many skilled engineers were gathered to superintend the building.
Almost at the same time when Olof reported for work Count Platen and the other officers were surprised to see a small boy, not more than thirteen years old, come every day to watch the digging, to study the machinery, and to ask questions of every one in the place. He was a handsome boy, well built, with light, close-cut, curling hair, fair as Swedish boys almost always are, with clear blue eyes, and a very firm mouth and chin. While other boys of his age were at school or playing he would stand on the bank of the canal, studying by the hour some piece of machinery. Then on another day he would come with a pad of paper, some crude home-made drawing tools, and pencils, and perching himself on a pile of rocks or of lumber would draw the machinery as a skilled draughtsman might, and then work over his sketch, apparently adding to it or altering it to suit ideas of his own.
Count Platen watched the boy for several days, and then one morning went up to him. "May I see what you're doing?" he asked.
The boy, who had been absolutely absorbed in his work, looked up. "It's the sketch of a new pump to drain the canal," said he. "I made one for father's mine in Vermland, and I don't see why the same plan can't be used here. It'll do the work more quickly."
Count Platen looked at the drawing on the boy's lap, and listened intently while the young inventor explained how the machine should work. He was astounded at the knowledge the boy had of engineering.
"You're Olof Ericsson's son, aren't you?" he asked finally.
The boy nodded. "Yes, I'm John Ericsson; I've an older brother Nils, who's fifteen."
"Is Nils as much of an engineer as you are?"
"He knows a good deal about it. Father taught us both, but I don't think he's as fond of machines as I am."
The Count laughed. It sounded strange to him to hear a small boy talk of machinery so eagerly. He could not doubt the boy's earnestness, however. He had watched him for several days and had just examined his plans. The boy evidently meant what he said.
"Well, John, you're certainly a remarkable lad. I shouldn't wonder if you'd the making of a genius in you." He considered a few minutes, and then went on. "We need some engineers here to show these stupid soldiers what to do. How'd you like to try such a job?"
The boy jumped from his seat in his excitement. "I'd like it very much, sir. Do you mean to tell the men what to do, and to have real tools to work with?"
Count Platen smiled. "Yes, to have entire charge of a part of the work. That's what I mean. I really think you could do it. How old are you, John?"
"I'll be fourteen very soon."
"Hm," mused the Count, "It seems absurd to put a boy of fourteen in charge of six hundred soldiers. And yet if he has the skill to do the work, why not? And there's small doubt that he has. Well, John, I'll see what can be done. Meet me here to-morrow morning."
The next day Count Platen found John anxiously awaiting him. He told the boy at once that his plan had proved successful, and that both John and Nils were to be enrolled as cadets in the mechanical corps of the Swedish navy, and that John was to be put in charge of part of the canal building. The boy was highly delighted; he knew that now he should have a chance to try in actual working some of the inventions he had planned on paper. As soon as he had thanked his kind friend the Count he ran home to tell his mother the news of Nils' and his good fortune.
It was a curious sight when the officer in command of the troops placed six hundred soldiers in charge of young John Ericsson. They were too well trained to laugh, but they were tremendously surprised when they saw that their future orders were to come from this small, curly-haired lad just barely turned fourteen. Olof Ericsson himself was scarcely less surprised than the men; he knew his son's great mechanical ability, but he could hardly believe that others had come to realize it so soon.
A few days of actual work on the canal, however proved that Count Platen had made no mistake. John knew what ought to be done, and he could show the soldiers new and better ways of getting results, although he was actually too small to reach the eyepiece of his leveling instrument without the aid of a camp-stool which he carried about with him. He brought out some of the mechanical drawings he had worked over, and had machinery made after them, and whenever his inventions were tried they met with success.
For several years John commanded his six hundred men at the Goeta Canal, and then he decided to enter the army. He had grown tall, and was noted for his great strength and skill in feats of arms. At seventeen he was made an Ensign in the Rifle Corps, and soon after Lieutenant in the Royal Chasseurs. He was fond of the life of the army, but he saw there was no great future in it for him, and he could not give up his passion for science and invention. He procured an appointment as surveyor for the district of Jemtland, and found himself free again to work on his own lines.
Sweden is a rugged country, its northern part serried by great fiords, its mountains steep and often desolate, its forests thick and many. The young surveyor was in his element roughing it through the wild country, with an eye to improving it for cultivation and for defense, making elaborate maps of its hills and valleys, and charts of its fiords and bays. He had a genius for such work, and the drawings he sent back to Stockholm were invaluable for the development of Sweden. The surveyors were paid according to the work they did, but John Ericsson worked so rapidly that the officials were afraid it would cause a scandal if it were known how much money he was receiving, and so they carried him on their account-books as two different men and paid him for two men's work.
In his spare hours in Jemtland and Norrland John was busy with inventions. As a boy he had been delighted to watch his father make a vacuum in a tube by means of fire. Now he worked over uses to which he could put that idea, and finally invented a flame engine based largely on that principle. That success led him to study engines more deeply, and had much to do with deciding his later career.
Sweden had shown the world much that was new in the building of the Goeta Canal, and many of the improvements had been due to the boy cadet Ericsson. He was now persuaded to write a book on "Canals," explaining his inventions and describing the Swedish plans. In such a scientific book the drawings of diagrams were as important as the writing. As soon as John realized that, he could not resist the temptation to try his hand at inventing a machine which should properly engrave the plates he was drawing. It was pure delight to him to exercise his wits on such a problem, and as a result in a short time he had made a machine for engraving plates which was used successfully in preparing the illustrations for his book on "Canals."
The youth had now won wide recognition throughout Sweden for his inventive skill. But his own country offered him small opportunities, devoted though he was to the land and the people. There was more chance for such a man in a country like England, and there he now went. Stephenson was working then on his steam-engine, and Ericsson studied the same subject, and built an engine which in many ways was superior to the Englishman's. In whatever direction he turned his mind he was able to find new ideas for improving on old methods.
Ericsson soon built a locomotive for the directors of the railway between Liverpool and Birmingham which was the lightest and fastest yet constructed, starting off at the rate of fifty miles an hour. He could not find the opportunities he wished, however, in England, and went to Germany, and from there came to the United States.
It was in America that Ericsson won his greatest triumphs. He had invented a screw propeller for boats, and found a splendid market for this type of machinery. He built the steamship Princeton, the first screw steamer with her machinery under the water line. This was a great improvement on the old top-heavy style of steamboats, but how great was only to be known when war showed that ironclads with machinery safely sunk beneath the water line and so out of reach of the enemy's guns were to revolutionize naval warfare.
By the time of the American Civil War men in all countries were experimenting with these new ideas for ships which Ericsson had launched upon the world. News came to Washington that the Confederate government had an all-iron boat, low in the water, which could ram the high-riding wooden ships of the Union navy, and would furnish little target for their fire. The Union was in great alarm, for it looked as though this small iron floating battery could do untold damage to the Union shipping. There was only one man to appeal to if the North were to offset this Southern ship, which had been christened the Merrimac. John Ericsson was the man, and he agreed to build an ironclad which should be superior to the Merrimac, and to build her in one hundred days.
On March 8, 1862, the Merrimac steamed into Hampton Roads, fully expecting to destroy the Union fleet there. But instead, to the great amazement of her officers and men a little iron boat, so small that she looked like a tiny pill-box on a plank, steamed out to meet her. She was so tiny it was almost impossible to hit her; she was almost entirely under water, and her gun turret was built to revolve so that she could fire in any direction. It was like a battle between David and Goliath, and when the day was over David had won, and the Merrimac had to bow to the iron "pill-box" which had been named the Monitor. Proud was John Ericsson then, and rightly so, for he had invented an entirely new kind of ship, and one which was to give its name of Monitor to all ships of its kind.
The building of the Monitor for its successful battle with the Merrimac was the most dramatic incident in Ericsson's career as an inventor, but his whole life showed a series of wonderful inventions which for value and wide range can probably only be compared with those of Edison. The prophecy which the fairy had made to the shepherd in Sweden had come true, the name of Ericsson was known throughout the world. And in addition to John, the older brother Nils had won great renown in Sweden. He was made Director of Canals there, and created a nobleman for his great services to science and to his native land.
On the Battery in New York City, overlooking the wonderful harbor that is filled with ships of every country, stands the statue of a tall, handsome man, somewhat of the type of those Norsemen who were the great adventurers of the Atlantic seas. The statue is of the man who built the Monitor, and who brought to the new world the genius for invention which he had first shown on the hills and in the woods of Sweden in the days when, a boy of fourteen, he had taught men how to build the great canal at Goeta.
The Boy of the Mediterranean: 1807-1882
The town of Nice lay blazing with color under the hot August sun. The houses, with their shining red-tiled roofs, their painted yellow walls, their striped and checkered awnings, were scarcely less vivid than the waters of the bay, which sparkled like a sea of opals under the rich blue Mediterranean sky. Color was everywhere, brilliant even in the sun-tanned cheeks, the black hair and eyes, the orange and gold and red caps and sashes of the three boys who stood on the beach, looking out at the home-coming fleet of feluccas and fishing-smacks.
"If only I were a man!" exclaimed one of the boys. "No more Latin lessons with the Padre. I could sail and fish all day like brother Carlo. And sometimes I'd visit strange lands, like Africa, and have the sort of adventures father tells of."
"I'll be a sailor too, Cesare," agreed the tallest of the three, nodding his head. "Only poor Giuseppe here will have to stay ashore and be a priest." He turned a sympathetic face toward Giuseppe, who stood with his arms folded, his black eyes looking hungrily out to sea.
"Aye, he'll be teaching other boys just as the Padre teaches us," said Cesare.
This prophecy was more than the third boy could stand. He turned quickly toward his friends. "I'll have adventures, too," he exclaimed. "I'll not stay here in Nice all my life; I'll go to Genoa and to Rome, and perhaps I'll fight the Turks. I want to do things, too." His deep eyes shone with excitement and his face glowed. "Look you, Cesare and Raffaelle, why shouldn't we turn sailors now?"
Both boys laughed; they were used to the mad ideas of young Giuseppe Garibaldi. He, however, was not laughing. "Why not? I've been out to sea a hundred times with father. He lets me handle his boat sometimes, though he does say that I'm to enter the Church. Your brother, Cesare, has a boat that he never uses. Why shouldn't we sail in her to Genoa?"
Giuseppe was a born leader. The other boys looked doubtfully at each other, then back at him. The gleam in his eyes held them.
"Let's sail to-morrow at dawn! You, Cesare, furnish the boat, I'll bring bread and sausage from home, and Raffaelle shall get a jug of water. Your brother's boat is sound, Cesare? We'll sail along the shore to Genoa!"
"Some one will catch sight of us and stop us," objected Raffaelle.
"Nay, we'll wait till the other boats are out. They'll all be off before dawn and we'll have the beach to ourselves."
"I've a compass my uncle gave me on my name day," said Cesare. "I'll bring that."
"And I'll bring some fishing lines," put in Raffaelle, unwilling to be outdone.
So almost before they knew it the other two boys had agreed to Giuseppe's plan, just as the boys of Nice usually unconsciously followed his lead.
* * * * *
The Mediterranean was all silver and blue when the three boys met next day in the early summer dawn at the pier near the Porto Olimpio where Carlo Parodi's boat lay. Raffaelle had brought a jug of water and some fishing lines, Giuseppe a basket of provisions, and Cesare his compass. They could hardly wait until the last of the fishing boats had put out to sea before they ran down the pier to embark in their own small craft. The Red Dragon was the boat's name, given her because of the painted picture of a terrible monster that sprawled across the sail. She was old and weather-beaten, a simple sailboat with only a shallow cabin, such as is used in the Mediterranean to coast along the shore.
Under Giuseppe's leadership the food and water were stowed on board, the sail raised, and the boat cast off from the pier. Cesare took the tiller and with a light morning breeze the Red Dragon drew proudly away from the beach and headed eastward toward Genoa.
As the sun rose higher the breeze stiffened, the sail filled and the brilliant dragon spread out his red body and tail. Each of the boys had sailed this inland sea a hundred times before, but never had it seemed so wonderful a place as on this summer morning. The water dashed along the gunwale and sometimes sent a warm spray into their faces. Behind them lay the curving harbor, beyond that the red and yellow and brown roofs and walls of Nice, and still farther back the dim blue outlines of the mountains.
They were so excited that for some time they forgot they had had no breakfast. Presently Raffaelle remembered it, and Giuseppe's basket was opened and its stock of rye bread, bologna sausage and olives handed around. The boys were surprised to find how hungry they were, but like a prudent captain Giuseppe would only let them eat a small part of the rations. "Suppose we should run into a spell of calm weather before we sighted Genoa," said he.
After breakfast Raffaelle took the helm and Cesare and Giuseppe lay up in the bow and planned what they would do after they landed at Genoa.
* * * * *
Meanwhile the three families of Parodi, Deandreis and Garibaldi in Nice were considerably excited. A boy in each family had disappeared. Knowing what close friends the three boys were the fathers sought each other. Each family had the same tale to tell.
Then came word that Carlo Parodi's boat was missing, and this gave the searchers a clue. They went to the beach, but only to find that all the fishing-boats had put out to sea some time ago. Signor Garibaldi, however, was a man of resource and influence, and within an hour he had found a coast-guard captain who would take him in pursuit. The coast-guard boat was big and she could triple the speed of the small Red Dragon. By ten o'clock the runaway boat was sighted just opposite Monaco. The boys saw the pursuers coming, but even by crowding on all their sail they could not gain a lead. So when the coast-guard came alongside of them they surrendered.
Even though they had not reached Genoa, the lads had tasted the salt of adventure. Giuseppe's father boarded the Red Dragon, and, treating the whole matter as a summer's lark, helped the young sailors to bring their boat about, and tacking across toward Monaco and then out to the deeper sea, gave them a lesson in sailing that made them quickly forget that they were going back to Nice.
On that sail home the father learned a good deal about Giuseppe. He heard the boys talk freely to each other, and as he listened he realized that this son of his was not the quiet type of boy who would make a good priest, but that he craved the roving life of the sea, descended as he was from generations of sailors. He himself knew the perils of the sea only too well, how hard a man must work in its service, and how little he might gain, and how much securer was the life on shore. But he also knew that when once the sea called to a boy of Nice it was useless to try to make him forget the call. Giuseppe would not make a good priest, and he might make a good sailor. So the watchful father decided, as he brought the little boat back to shore, to let his son follow his natural bent.
After their adventure Giuseppe and his two friends went quietly on with their school life. Giuseppe's father had promised to teach him something about navigation in the evenings, and had told him that, if he would only be patient and wait a short time, he should make a cruise in earnest. One day, as the boy and his father were coming home from church a tall, black-haired man stepped up to them, and, holding out his hand, said, "Signor, will you give us something for the refugees of Italy?" Giuseppe's father gave the man a few coins, which he received with the greatest thanks. As they walked on the boy kept turning back to look at the tall gaunt-faced man they had met. Finally he said, "Who was he, father, and what did he mean by the refugees of Italy?"
The father looked down into the boy's eager eyes. "Our poor country," said he, "has been thrown to the ground, and different people have been beating her and trying to keep her down, but chiefly the big, white-coated Austrians, Giuseppe boy. Every once in a while some of our men band together and try to do something to help Italy get to her feet again. That man who asked for money was such a man."
"But why did he look so sad and white, father, and why did he say the refugees?"
"Our men are very few, Giuseppe, and have poor arms, and the enemy's army is very large and their men are veteran soldiers, so that we always lose. Then those who fought, like that poor fellow, have to fly and seek refuge out of Italy until the storm blows past."
Giuseppe clasped his hands behind his back, and his face grew very thoughtful. "So that man has been to war," he said, "and for us, and the money you gave him is going to help them the next time?"
"Exactly," said the father, with a smile at the boy's serious manner. Giuseppe was not usually very thoughtful.
"How long do you think the refugees will have to go on fighting, father, before the enemy are finally driven out of our land?"
"Oh, they'll have to fight for years and years, and perhaps they'll never win, for the enemy is much stronger than we Italians."
"Then," said Giuseppe, "I'm glad, for that will give Cesare and Raffaelle and me a chance to help them fight. I'm going to be a refugee myself some day. Will you teach me, father, how to use a sword?"
"All in good time," said the man, smiling. "You've got your hands full learning the points of the compass just now."
For some reason Giuseppe could not get the tall, black-haired man out of his mind, and the next day, at recess, he told his two friends of his meeting with him and what he had learned about him.
"Couldn't we find him or another like him, this afternoon?" suggested Cesare, very much interested.
"We'll hunt," agreed Giuseppe. "A refugee could tell us much better stories than those old sailors can."
After school the three boys looked through the main streets of Nice, but saw no one asking for alms for the cause of Italy. They went down to the harbor, but there were no such men there. Finally in a little square they came upon the very man Giuseppe had seen the day before. He was sitting on the grass under a tree, and seemed to be asleep, for his head was sunk on his folded arms. They crossed over to him quietly. Although the day was warm he had a greatcoat fastened about his shoulders and a soft, broad-brimmed hat pulled down upon his head. He looked tired out.
The three boys stood in front of the man, and finally his eyes opened. He smiled as he saw them staring at him. "What do you want with me, signors?" said he.
Giuseppe dropped on to the grass beside him. "I know now what you meant when you said the refugees of Italy yesterday," he explained. "We three boys mean to be refugees some day. We've made a vow that we'll fight the Austrians until there isn't one of the three of us left. We'd like very much to hear some of the things you've done."
The man threw back his cloak and sat up a trifle straighten "Three future refugees!" he exclaimed. "The world moves! You want to be pushing me away already, do you? Sit down, I'll tell you what I can."
The boys sat in front of him, and listened with rapt attention while he told them that his home was in a little town half-way between Nice and Genoa, that he was a member of a secret society called the Carbonari, and that the first rule of that society was that a man must do exactly as he was told without asking why. Not long before he had received a secret message telling him to go to the city of Milan, taking his sword and pistols with him. He had left his wife and children and gone to Milan, and there he had waited a long time while the leaders of the society planned to surprise the Austrian garrison and drive the troops out of the city.
The night of the attempt finally arrived but some one had betrayed them. No sooner had they met at the place agreed on than word came that they must scatter instantly if they wanted to escape the Austrian bayonets. Each had gone his own way, trying to get as far from Milan as he could. He had managed to get to Nice, where he was near the French border, and could cross it at any time. Meanwhile he and the other refugees had to ask alms or starve.
The boys had heard of the society of the Carbonari which had spread all over Italy, and they listened to this story by one of its members with the greatest interest. They asked him a great many questions, but he would only answer a few of them. He only told them such facts as were public property; inquiries about the society itself were met with a smile and a shake of the head. Before they left him they made him take the few coins they had in their pockets, to help him and other refugees of their country. They also made him write their names on a piece of paper so that when the next uprising should come they might be sent for. And they solemnly organized a secret society among themselves to last until the time when they would be old enough to join the Carbonari.
From that day Giuseppe kept his eyes open for any other refugees who might be roaming through the streets of Nice. Occasionally he found some war-worn soldier or sailor whom the authorities allowed to sit in the sun in one of the city squares or down on the quays, but younger and more active refugees were scarce, and preferred to cross the frontier to Marseilles.
Giuseppe and Raffaelle and Cesare, however, were not to be discouraged, and as soon as they could they laid their hands on long cloaks and broad-brimmed hats, and dressed as nearly as possible like their black-haired friend. They invented countersigns and mottoes, planned conspiracies, and patterned themselves as nearly after the Carbonari as they could. But there was no new uprising at that time, and so after a while the boys lost interest in the game of conspiracy.
His old love of the sea came back more strongly than ever to Giuseppe, and he begged his father to take him with him on his next cruise. His mother thought he was too young to leave the Church school, but the boy, already large and strong for his years, was growing very restless, and there was no telling what mischief he might get into if he were kept at home.
In the long evenings he was always asking his father to describe to him the strange cities he had visited on his travels. He begged him especially to tell him about Rome and her seven wonderful hills, the city which from his earliest childhood had fascinated him more than any other place in the world.
"Do you think I'll ever get to Rome, father?" Giuseppe would ask.
"Yes. We'll go there together some day before long, little son," his father would answer.
So indeed they did. When Giuseppe was about fifteen years old he was allowed to make his first long voyage on a brigantine bound from Nice to Odessa, and a year later he sailed on his father's felucca to Rome. The city of the Caesars seemed even more wonderful than he had dreamed. It was the heart of the world to him, and he never forgot the deep impression that first sight of it made upon him.
After his first voyage the young Garibaldi sailed with many captains and saw a great deal of the world, rounding Cape Horn, voyaging to the far north, and even crossing the Atlantic and visiting South America. He was always deeply interested in strange lands; he loved the thrill of any adventure, and at the sight of an act of injustice or cruelty nothing could keep him from going at once to the rescue.
When he was in South America he heard that the Italians were rising against their foreign masters and were planning to fight for freedom. He sailed for home instantly, and no sooner did he land than he was leading a company of friends to join the Italian army. He was fearless, generous, and as open-hearted as a child; wherever he went men flocked to his command; within a few months the young man was virtually general of an army, and fighting and winning battle after battle in the Alps. At the end of a year his fame had crossed Europe.
The freedom of Italy, however, was not won in a single campaign. Although Garibaldi's troops were victorious, some of the other Italian armies were not, and before long that first war of independence came to an end. For a time the Austrians' hold over the cities of Italy seemed stronger than ever, and Garibaldi and many of his friends were forced to leave their homes and seek refuge in other countries. Again Garibaldi crossed the Atlantic Ocean, and this time he went to New York, and took up the trade of candle-maker, living in a small frame house on Staten Island. He liked Americans; they understood him and his burning desire for Italian freedom better than any other foreigners he met.
He stayed on Staten Island until the chance came for him to go to sea again as captain of a merchantman, and after that it was only a short time before he was again in the Alps, his sword drawn, his devoted volunteers behind him.
It was long before the dream of Italian patriots came true and Rome became the capital of a united country, but during those years Garibaldi led crusade after crusade. He wore the simple costume of an Italian peasant, with a red shirt which was copied by all his men. This red-shirted army swept the enemy out of Sicily and Naples, drove them back through the Alps, won so continually that the superstitious Neapolitans believed that their leader must be in league with the Evil One. But the people of Italy worshiped this general beyond all their other heroes.
Even their praises could not spoil the simplicity of Garibaldi's nature. When his work was done he went home to live quietly with his family. The friends of his boyhood found him very little changed, the same lover of Italy and the sea, the same adventurous, generous spirit he had been as a youth in Nice.
In those youthful days his boy friends had followed him without question, now the whole of Italy looked to him as their leader; he had succeeded in doing what hundreds of other men had dreamed of doing, driving the Austrians permanently out of the peninsula, and restoring to his countrymen the ancient liberty of Italy. Yet whether as a boy upon the Mediterranean or as the liberator of a nation he was always the same frank, straightforward, high-minded Giuseppe Garibaldi.
The Boy of the American Wilderness: 1809-1865
Squire Josiah Crawford was seated on the porch of his house in Gentryville, Indiana, one spring afternoon when a small boy called to see him. The Squire was a testy old man, not very fond of boys, and he glanced up over his book, impatient and annoyed at the interruption.
"What do you want here?" he demanded.
The boy had pulled off his raccoon-skin cap, and stood holding it in his hand while he eyed the old man.
"They say down at the store, sir," said the boy, "that you have a 'Life of George Washington,' I'd like mighty well to read it."
The Squire peered closer at his visitor, surprised out of his annoyance at the words. He looked over the boy, carefully examining his long, lank figure, the tangled mass of black hair, his deep-set eyes, and large mouth. He was evidently from some poor country family. His clothes were home-made, and the trousers were shrunk until they barely reached below his knees.
"What's your name, boy?" asked the Squire.
"Abe Lincoln, son of Tom Lincoln, down on Pidgeon Creek."
The Squire said to himself: "It must be that Tom Lincoln, who, folks say, is a ne'er-do-well and moves from place to place every year because he can't make his farm support him." Then he said, aloud, to the boy: "What do you want with my 'Life of Washington'?"
"I've been learning about him at school, and I'd like to know more."
The old man studied the boy in silence for some moments; something about the lad seemed to attract him. Finally he said: "Can I trust you to take good care of the book if I lend it to you?"
"As good care," said the boy, "as if it was made of gold, if you'd only please let me have it for a week."
His eyes were so eager that the old man could not withstand them. "Wait here a minute," he said, and went into the house. When he returned he brought the coveted volume with him, and handed it to the boy. "There it is," said he: "I'm going to let you have it, but be sure it doesn't come to harm down on Pidgeon Creek."
The boy, with the precious volume tucked tightly under his arm, went down the single street of Gentryville with the joy of anticipation in his face. He could hardly wait to open the book and plunge into it. He stopped for a moment at the village store to buy some calico his stepmother had ordered, and then struck into the road through the woods that led to his home.
The house which he found at the end of his trail was a very primitive one. The first home Tom Lincoln had built on the Creek when he moved there from Kentucky had been merely a "pole-shack," four poles driven into the ground with forked ends at the top, other poles laid crosswise in the forks, and a roof of poles built on this square. There had been no chimney, only an open place for a window, and another for a door, and strips of bark and patches of clay to keep the rain out. The new house was a little better, it had an attic, and the first floor was divided into several rooms. It was very simple, however; in reality only a big log-cabin.
The boy came out of the woods, crossed the clearing about the house, and went in at the door. His stepmother was sitting at the window sewing. He held up the volume for her to see. "I've got it!" he cried. "It's the 'Life of Washington,' and now I'm goin' to learn all about him." He had barely time to put the book in the woman's hands before his father's voice was heard calling him out-of-doors. There was work to be done on the farm, and the rest of that afternoon Abe was kept busily employed, and as soon as supper was finished his father set him to work mending harness.
At dawn the next day the boy was up and out in the fields, the "Life of Washington" in one pocket, the other pocket filled with corn dodgers. Unfortunately he could not read and run a straight furrow. When it was noontime he sat under a tree, munching the cakes, and plunged into the first chapter of the book. For half an hour he read and ate, then he had to go on with his work until sundown. When he got home he had his supper standing up so that he could read the book by the candle that stood on the shelf. After supper he lay in front of the fire, still reading, and forgetting everything about him.
Gradually the fire burned out, the family went to bed, and young Abe was obliged to go up to his room in the attic. He put the book on a ledge on the wall close to the head of his bed so that nothing might happen to it. During the night a violent storm arose, and the rain came through a chink in the log walls. When the boy woke he found that the book was a mass of wet paper, the type blurred, and the cover beyond repair. He was heartbroken at the discovery. He could imagine how angry the old Squire would be when he saw the state of the book. Nevertheless he determined to go to Gentryville at the earliest opportunity and see what he could do to make amends.
The next Sunday morning found a small boy standing on the Squire's porch with the remains of the book in his hand. When the Squire learned what had happened he spoke his mind freely. He told Abe that he was as worthless as his father, that he did not know how to take care of valuable property, and that he would never loan him another book as long as he lived. The boy faced the music, and when the angry tirade was over, said that he would like to shuck corn for the Squire, and in that way pay him the value of the ruined volume. Mr. Crawford accepted the offer and named a price far greater than any possible value of the book, and Abe set to work, spending all his spare time in the next two weeks shucking the corn and working as chore-boy. So he finally succeeded in paying back the full value of the ruined "Life of Washington."
This was only one of many adventures that befell Abraham Lincoln while he was trying to get an education. His mother had taught him to read and write, and ever since he had learned he had longed for books to read.
One day he said to his cousin, Dennis Hanks, "Denny, the things I want to know are in books. My best friend is the man who will get me one."
Dennis was very fond of his younger cousin, and as soon as he could save up the money he went to town and bought a copy of "The Arabian Nights." He gave this to Abe, and the latter at once started to read it aloud by the wood-fire in the evenings. His mother, his sister Sally, and Dennis were his audience. His father thought the reading only waste of time and said, "Abe, your mother can't work with you pesterin' her like that," but Mrs. Lincoln said the stories helped her, and so the reading went on. When he came to the story of how Sindbad the Sailor went too close to the magic rock and lost all the nails out of the bottom of his boat, Abe laughed until he cried.
Dennis, however, could not see the humor. "Why, Abe," said he, "that yarn's just a lie."
"P'raps so," answered the small boy, "but if it is, it's a mighty good lie."
As a matter of fact Abe had very few books. His earliest possessions consisted of less than half-a-dozen volumes—a pioneer's library. First of all was the Bible, a whole library in itself, containing every sort of literature. Second was "Pilgrim's Progress," with its quaint characters and vivid scenes told in simple English.
"AEsop's Fables" was a third, and introduced the log-cabin boy to a wonderful range of characters—the gods of mythology, the different classes of mankind, and every animal under the sun; and fourth was a History of the United States, in which there was the charm of truth, and from which Abe learned valuable lessons of patriotism.
He read these books over and over till he knew them by heart. He would sit in the twilight and read a dictionary as long as he could see. He could not afford to waste paper upon original compositions, and so he would sit by the fire at night and cover the wooden shovel with essays and arithmetical problems, which he would shave off and then begin again.
The few books he was able to get made the keen-witted country boy anxious to find people who could answer his questions for him. In those days many men, clergymen, judges, and lawyers, rode on circuit, stopping over night at any farmhouse they might happen upon. When such a man would ride up to the Lincoln clearing he was usually met by a small boy who would fire questions at him before he could dismount from his horse.
The visitor would be amused, but Tom Lincoln thought that a poor sort of hospitality. He would come running out of the house and say, "Stop that, Abe. What's happened to your manners?" Then he would turn to the traveler, "You must excuse him. 'Light, stranger, and come in to supper." Then Abe would go away whistling to show that he did not care. When he found Dennis he would say, "Pa says it's not polite to ask questions, but I guess I wasn't meant to be polite. There's such a lot of things to know, and how am I going to know them if I don't ask questions?" He simply stored them away until a later time, and when supper was over he usually found his chance to make use of the visitor.
In that day Indiana was still part of the wilderness. Primeval woods stood close to Pidgeon Creek, and not far away were roving bands of Sacs and Sioux, and also wild animals—bears, wildcats, and lynxes. The settlers fought the Indians, and made use of the wild creatures for clothing and food, and to sell at the country stores. The children spent practically all their time out-of-doors, and young Abe Lincoln learned the habits of the wild creatures, and explored the far recesses of the woods.
From his life in the woods the boy became very fond of animals. One day some of the boys at school put a lighted coal on a turtle's back in sport. Abe rescued the turtle, and when he got a chance wrote a composition in school about cruel jokes on animals. It was a good paper, and the teacher had the boy read it before the class. All the boys liked Abe, and they took to heart what he had to say in the matter.
It was a rough sort of life that the children of the early settlers led, and the chances were all in favor of the Lincoln boy growing up to be like his father, a kind-hearted, ignorant, ne'er-do-well type of man. His mother, however, who came of a good Virginia family, had done her best to give him some ambition. Once she had said to him, "Abe, learn all you can, and grow up to be of some account. You've got just as good Virginia blood in you as George Washington had." Abe did not forget that.
Soon after the family moved to Pidgeon Creek his mother died, and a little later a stepmother took her place. This woman soon learned that the boy was not the ordinary type, and kept encouraging him to make something of himself. She was always ready to listen when he read, to help him with his lessons, to cheer him. When he got too old to wear his bearskin suit she told him that if he would earn enough money to get some muslin, she would make him some white shirts, so that he would not be ashamed to go to people's houses. Abe earned the money, and Mrs. Lincoln purchased the cloth and made the shirts. After that Abe cut quite a figure in Gentryville, because he liked people, and knew so many good stories that he was always popular with a crowd.
Small things showed the ability that was in the raw country lad. When he was only fourteen a copy of Henry Clay's speeches fell into his hands, and he learned most of them by heart, and what he learned from them interested him in history. Then a little later his stepmother was ill for some time, and Abe went to church every Sunday, and on his return repeated the sermon almost word for word to her. Again he loved to argue, and would take up some question he had asked of a stranger and go on with it when the latter returned to the Creek, perhaps months after the first visit. Mrs. Lincoln noted these things, and made up her mind that her stepson would be a great man some day. Most frequently she thought he would be a great lawyer, because, as she said, "When Abe got started arguing, the other fellow'd pretty soon say he had enough."
Probably at this time Abe was more noted for his love of learning new things and for his great natural strength than for anything else. He was in no sense an infant prodigy. It took him a long time to learn, but when he had once acquired anything it stayed by him permanently. The books he had read he knew from cover to cover, and the words he had learned to spell at the school "spelling bees" he never forgot. Now and again he tried his hand at writing short compositions, usually on subjects he had read of in books, and these little essays were always to the point and showed that the boy knew what he was discussing. One or two of these papers got into the hands of a local newspaper and appeared in print, much to Abe's surprise and to his stepmother's delight.
Yet after all these qualities were not the ones which won him greatest admiration in the rough country life. The boys and young men admired his great size and strength, for when he was only nineteen he had reached his full growth, and stood six feet four inches tall. Countless stories were current about his feats of strength.
At one time, it was said, young Abe Lincoln was seen to pick up and carry away a chicken coop weighing six hundred pounds. At another time Abe happened to come upon some men who were building a contrivance for lifting some heavy posts from the ground. He stepped up to them and said, "Say, let me have a try," and in a few minutes he had shouldered the posts and carried them where they were wanted. As a rail-splitter he had no equal. A man for whom he worked told his father that Abe could sink his axe deeper into the wood than any man he ever saw.
This great strength was a very valuable gift in such a community as that of Gentryville, and made people respect this boy even more than would his learning and his kindness of heart.
A little later he lived in a village named New Salem, and there he found a crowd of boys who were called the "Clary's Grove Boys," who were noted for the rough handling they gave to strangers. Many a new boy had been hardly dealt with at their hands. Sometimes they would lead him into a fight and then beat him black and blue, and sometimes they would nail the stranger into a hogshead and roll him down a steep hill.
When Abe Lincoln first came to the town they were afraid to tackle him, but when their friends taunted the crowd of young roughs with being afraid of Lincoln's strength, they decided to lay a trap for him. The leader of the gang was a very good wrestler, and he seized an opportunity when all the men of the town were gathered at the country store to challenge Abe to a wrestling match. Abe was not at all anxious to accept the challenge, but was finally driven to it by the taunts the gang threw at him. A ring was made in the road outside the store, and Abe and the bully set to.
The leader of the gang, however, found that he could not handle this tall young stranger as easily as he had handled other youths. He gave a signal for help. Thereupon the rest of the roughs swarmed about the two wrestlers and by kicking at Abe's legs and trying to trip him they nearly succeeded in bringing him to the ground. When he saw how set they were on downing him Abe's blood rose, and suddenly putting forth his whole strength he seized his opponent in his arms and very nearly choked the life out of him.
For a moment it looked as though the rest of the crowd would set upon Lincoln and that he would have to fight the lot of them single-handed. He sprang back against a wall and called to them to come on. But he looked so able to take care of any number that they faltered, and in a moment their first fury gave place to an honest admiration for Lincoln's nerve. That ended his initiation, and as long as he stayed in New Salem the "Clary's Grove Boys" were his devoted followers.
The leader of the gang, whom Abe had nearly throttled, became his sworn friend, and this bond lasted through life. When other men threatened Abe or spoke against him in any way, this youth was always first to stand up for him, and acted as his champion many times. Curiously enough, in after years, when Abe had become a lawyer, he defended his old opponent's son when the young man was on trial for his life, and succeeded in saving him.
Such an adventure as this with the "Clary's Grove Boys" was typical of the way in which Abe, as he grew up, came to acquire a very definite position in the community. In one way and another he gained the reputation which the boys gave him of being not only the strongest, but also "the cleverest fellow that had ever broke into the settlement." There were many strong men in that country, but there were few really clever ones, and the simple farmers were only too willing to admire brains when they met them.
The time had passed when the boy could stay in the small surroundings of Pidgeon Creek. First he tried life on one of the river steamboats, then served as a clerk in a store at the town of New Salem, and there he began at odd moments to study law.
A little later he knew enough law to become an attorney, and went to Springfield, and after that it was only a short time before he had won his clients. His cousin Denny came to hear him try one of his first cases. He watched the tall, lank young fellow, still as ungainly as in his early boyhood, and heard him tell the jury some of those same stories he had read aloud before the fire.
When Abe had finished his cousin said to him, "Why did you tell those people so many stories?"
"Why, Denny," said Abe, "a story teaches a lesson. God tells truths in parables; they are easier for common folks to understand, and recollect."
Such was the simple boyhood of Abraham Lincoln, but its very simplicity, and the hardships he had to overcome to get an education, made him a strong man. He knew people, and when he came later to be President and to guide the country through the greatest trial in its history, it was those same qualities of perseverance and courage and trust in the people that made the simple-minded man the great helmsman of the Republic.
The Boy of the London Streets: 1812-1870
The little fellow who worked all day long in the tumble-down old house by the river Thames pasting oil-paper covers on boxes of blacking fell ill one afternoon. One of the workmen, a big man named Bob Fagin, made him lie down on a pile of straw in the corner and placed blacking-bottles filled with hot water beside him to keep him warm. There he lay until it was time for the men to stop work, and then his friend Fagin, looking down upon the small boy of twelve, asked if he felt able to go home. The boy got up looking so big-eyed, white-cheeked and thin that the man put his arm about his shoulder.
"Never mind, Bob, I think I'm all right now," said the boy. "Don't you wait for me, go on home."
"You ain't fit to go alone, Charley. I'm comin' along with you."
"'Deed I am, Bob. I'm feelin' as spry as a cricket." The little fellow threw back his shoulders and headed for the stairs.
Fagin, however, insisted on keeping him company, and so the two, the shabbily-dressed undersized boy, and the big strapping man came out into the murky London twilight and took their way over the Blackfriars Bridge.
"Been spendin' your money at the pastry shops, Charley, again? That's what was the matter with you, I take it."
The boy shook his head. "No, Bob. I'm tryin' to save. When I get my week's money I put it away in a bureau drawer, wrapped in six little paper packages with a day of the week on each one. Then I know just how much I've got to live on, and Sundays don't count. Sometimes I do get hungry though, so hungry! Then I look in at the windows and play at bein' rich."
They crossed the Bridge, the boy's big eyes seeming to take note of everything, the man, duller-witted, listening to his chatter. Several times the boy tried to say good-night, but Fagin would not be shaken off. "I'm goin' to see you to your door, Charley lad," he said each time.
At last they came into a little street near the Southwark Bridge. The boy stopped by the steps of a house. "Here 'tis, Bob. Good-night. It was good of you to take the trouble for me."
The boy ran up the steps, and, as he noticed that Fagin still stopped, he pulled the door-bell. Then the man went on down the street. When the door opened the boy asked if Mr. Fagin lived there, and being told that he did not, said he must have made a mistake in the house. Turning about he saw that his friend had disappeared around a corner. With a little smile of triumph he made off in the other direction.
The door of the Marshalsea Prison stood open like a great black mouth. The boy, tired with his long tramp, was glad to reach it and to run in. Climbing several long flights of stairs he entered a room on the top story where he found his family, his father, a tall pompous-looking man dressed all in black, his mother, an amiable but extremely fragile woman, and a small brother and sister seated at a table eating supper. The room was very sparsely furnished; the only bright spot in it was a small fire in a rusty grate, flanked by two bricks to prevent burning too much fuel.
There was a vacant place at the table for Charles, and he sat down upon a stool and ate as ravenously as though he had not tasted food for months. Meanwhile the tall man at the head of the table talked solemnly to his wife at the other end, using strange long words which none of the children could understand.
Supper over Mr. and Mrs. Dickens (for that was their name) and the two younger children sat before the tiny fire, and Mr. Dickens talked of how he might raise enough money to pay his debts, leave the prison, and start fresh in some new business. Charles had heard these same plans from his father's lips a thousand times before, and so he took from the cupboard an old book which he had bought at a little second-hand shop a few days before, a small tattered copy of "Don Quixote," and read it by the light of a tallow candle in the corner.
The lines soon blurred before the boy's tired eyes, his head nodded, and he was fast asleep. He was awakened by his father's deep voice. "Time to be leaving, Charles, my son. You have not forgotten that my pecuniary situation prevents my choosing the hour at which I shall close the door of my house. Fortunately it is a predicament which I trust will soon be obviated to our mutual satisfaction."
The small fellow stood up, shook hands solemnly with his father, kissed his mother, and took his way out of the great prison. Open doors on various landings gave him pictures of many queer households; sometimes he would stop as though to consider some unusually puzzling face or figure.
Into the night again he went, and wound through a dismal labyrinth of the dark and narrow streets of old London. Sometimes a rough voice or an evil face would frighten him, and he would take to his heels and run as fast as he could. When he passed the house where he had asked for Mr. Fagin he chuckled to himself; he would not have had his friend know for worlds that his family's home was the Marshalsea Prison.
Even that room in the prison, however, was more cheerful than the small back-attic chamber where the boy fell asleep for the second time that night. He slept on a bed made up on the floor, but his slumber was no less deep on that account.
The noise of workmen in a timber yard under his window woke Charles when it seemed much too dark to be morning. It was morning, however, and he was quickly dressed, and making his breakfast from the penny cottage loaf of bread, section of cream cheese and small bottle of milk, which were all he could afford to buy from the man who rented him the room. Then he took the roll of paper marked with the name of the day from the drawer of his bureau and counted out the pennies into his pocket. They were not many; he had to live on seven shillings a week, and he tucked them away very carefully in a pocket lest he lose them and have to do without his lunch.
He was not yet due at the blacking-factory, but he hurried away from his room and joined the crowd of early morning people already on their way to work. He went down the embankment along the Thames until he came to a place where a bench was set in a corner of a wall. This was his favorite lounging-place; London Bridge was just beyond, the river lay in front of him, and he was far enough away from people to be safe from interruption.
As he sat there watching the Bridge and the Thames a little girl came to join him. She was no bigger than he, perhaps a year or two older, but her face was already shrewd enough for that of a grown-up woman. She was the maid-of-all-work at a house in the neighborhood, and she had fallen into the habit of stopping to talk for a few moments with the boy on her way to work in the morning. She liked to listen to his stories.
This was the boy's hour for inventing his tales; he could spin wonderful tales about London Bridge, the Tower, and the wharves along the river. Sometimes he made up stories about the people who passed in front of them, and they were such astonishing stories that the girl remembered them all day as she worked in the house. He seemed to believe them himself; his eyes would grow far away and dreamy and his words would run on and on until a neighboring clock brought him suddenly back to his own position.