Historic Boyhoods
by Rupert Sargent Holland
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"You do know a heap o' things, don't you?" said the little girl, lost in admiration. "I'd rather have a shillin' though than all the fairy tales in the world."

"I wouldn't," said Charles stoutly. "I'd rather read books than do anythin' else."

"You've got to eat though," objected his companion, "and books won't make you food. 'Tain't common sense." She relented in an instant. "It's fun though, Charley Dickens. Good-bye 'til to-morrow."

Charles went on down to the old blacking-factory by Hungerford Stairs, a ramshackle building almost hanging over the river, damp and overrun with rats. His place was in a recess of the counting-room on the first floor, and as he covered the bottles with the oil-paper tops and tied them on with string he could look from time to time through a window at the slow coal barges swinging down the river.

There were very few boys about the place; at lunch time he would wander off by himself, and selecting his meal from a careful survey of several pastry-cook's windows invest his money for the day in fancy cakes or a tart. He missed the company of friends of his own age; even Fanny, his oldest sister, he saw only on Sundays when she came back to the Marshalsea from the place where she worked, to spend the day with her family. It was only grown-up people that he saw most of the time, and they were too busy with their own affairs to take much interest in the small, shabby boy who looked just like any one of a thousand other children of the streets. Of all the men at the factory it was only the big clumsy fellow named Fagin who would stop to chat with the lad.

So it was that Charles was forced to make friends with whomever he could, people of any age or condition, and was driven to spend much of his spare time roaming about the streets, lounging by the river, reading stray books by a candle in the prison or in the little attic where he slept. It was not a boyhood that seemed to promise much.

In spite of this hard life which he led, Charles rarely lost his love of fun or his natural high spirits. When he was about twelve years old his father came into a little money, which enabled him to pay his debts so that he was released from prison. He was also able to send his son to school. Here he quickly blossomed out into a leader among the boys. He was continually inventing new games, and queer languages, which were made by adding extra syllables to ordinary words. Frequently he and several of his school friends would go out into the street and talk to each other in this language of their own, understanding what each other said, but pretending to be foreigners to every one who heard them.

Charles was also continually writing short stories, which he lent to his friends on payment of marbles or slate-pencils or white mice, which the boys were very fond of keeping in their desks. He and a few others built a small theatre and painted gorgeous scenery for it, and then gave regular plays, which he specially wrote for the theatre, to the great entertainment of the other boys and the masters. This comfortable school life was a great contrast to the hard knocks he had to endure when he was at the blacking factory, and he flourished under its influence and began to show something of his real talent for entertaining those about him.

Mr. Dickens, however, soon concluded that Charles ought to be making a start in some business, and so a few years after he had entered school he was placed as clerk in the office of a solicitor in Lincoln's Inn. Here he had to run errands through the busy streets of London's business life, copy all legal documents, and answer the clients who came to call on the firm.

The other clerks found young Dickens immensely entertaining. He could mimic every one who called at the office, and in addition he knew the different cockney voices of all the rabble of the London streets. He had learnt to know the queer types of people who drifted about the river banks and the poorer sections of the city. He knew every small inflection of their voices and their every trick and gesture, and now he acted them out to the great delight of the other clerks. But he could put his powers of mimicry to greater uses. He went to the theatre, particularly to hear Shakespeare's plays, as often as he could, and then would repeat long passages from the plays, giving the exact voice and manner of the leading actors. Many friends predicted that Charles would be a great actor himself some day, and so perhaps he might had not his interest all been drawn another way.

At the time he was so much charmed with the thought of becoming an actor that he wrote to the manager of the theatre at Covent Garden, telling him what he thought of his own gifts for the stage, and asking if he might have an appointment. The manager wrote that they were very busy at that time with a new play, but that he would write him soon when he might have a chance to meet him. A little later Charles was invited to go to the theatre and act a short piece in the presence of Charles Kemble, a very famous actor. When the day arrived, however, he was suffering from a very bad cold which had so swollen his throat that he could hardly speak at all. As a result he could not go to the theatre, and before he had another chance to try his luck he had made up his mind that he would rather be a writer than an actor.

It did not take Charles long to realize that the law was not to his taste. He did not like what he saw of lawyers, and was much more apt to make fun of than to imitate them. Looking about for some more interesting work, he took to studying short-hand in the evenings. He found it very hard to learn, particularly as he had to dig it out of books in the reading-room of the British Museum, but he persevered, and finally became very skilful, so that when he was sent by one of the newspapers to report a debate in the House of Commons he did so extremely well that experts stated "there never was such a short-hand writer before."

The life of a reporter had great charm for the youthful Dickens. He liked the adventurous side of it, the chance to see strange scenes and mix in interesting events. He had a great many strange adventures of his own, and told later how on one occasion soon after he had become a reporter, he was sent far out of London to take down a political speech, and how coming back he had to write out his short-hand notes holding his paper on the palm of his hand, and by the light of a dull, flickering lantern, while the coach galloped at fifteen miles an hour through wild and hilly country at midnight.

In addition to reporting speeches Charles was sent to write notices of new plays in the theatres and also reviewed new books. He signed these reviews with his nickname "Boz," and it was not long before these articles by Boz attracted the attention of a great many judges of good writing. The chief editor of the Morning Chronicle, for which Charles wrote, said of the youth, "He has never been a great reader of books or plays and knows but little of them, but has spent his time in studying life. Keep 'Boz' in reserve for great occasions. He will aye be ready for them."

So it proved, and he might have been a prominent newspaper man just as he might have been a great actor had not the desire to see what he could do with a story seized upon him.

We have Dickens' own words to tell us how he wrote a little paper in secret with much fear and trembling, and then dropped it stealthily into "a dark little box, in a dark office, up a dark court in Fleet Street." A little later his story appeared in the magazine to which he had sent it, and he tells us how, as he looked at his words standing so gravely before him in all the glory of print, he walked down to Westminster Hall and turned into it for half an hour, because his eyes "were so dimmed with joy and pride that they could not bear the street and were not fit to be seen there." He had been very much excited over this venture of his little story. Now he took the fact of its success to indicate that it was worth his while to practice using his pen as a writer of fiction.

After that Charles Dickens, although he continued working as reporter, spent his spare hours in writing comic accounts of the various scenes of London life which he knew so well. These were published as fast as they were written, over the pen name of "Boz." He was paid almost nothing for them, but he persevered, prompted by his inborn love of writing and the fun he had in describing curious types of people.

Then one day a young man who had just recently become a publisher called at Charles's lodgings and told him that he was planning to publish a monthly paper in order to sell certain pictures by Robert Seymour, an artist who had just finished some sporting plates for a book called "The Squib Annual." Seymour had drawn most of the pictures for this new venture, and they were almost all of a cockney sporting type. Now Charles was asked if he would write something to go with the pictures.

Some one suggested that he should tell the adventures of a Nimrod Club, the members of which should go out into the country on fishing and hunting expeditions which would suit the drawings, but this did not appeal to the young writer, as he knew very little about these country sports, and was much more interested in describing curious people. He asked for a day or two's time to think the matter over, and then finally sent the publishers the first copy of what he chose to call the "Pickwick Papers."

According to a common custom of the time, the author was allowed to write a story as it was needed by the printer, so that the first numbers of the "Pickwick Papers" appeared while Charles was still working on the next ones. This often put him to great inconvenience, as he sometimes found it hard to invent new adventures to fit Seymour's pictures and yet had to have the story written by a certain time.

He wrote to a friend one night, "I have at this moment got Pickwick and his friends on the Rochester coach, and they are going on swimmingly, in company with a very different character from any I have yet described" (Alfred Jingle), "who I flatter myself will make a decided hit. I want to get them from the ball to the inn before I go to bed; and I think that will take till one or two o'clock at the earliest. The publishers will be here in the morning, so you will readily suppose I have no alternative but to stick to my desk."

The public was slow in appreciating the humor of the "Pickwick Papers," and the series dragged until Part IV appeared, and with it the character of Sam Weller. This original and very entertaining figure turned the scales, and almost instantly there was the greatest demand for the "Pickwick Papers." By the time the series was finished the name of "Boz" was constantly on almost every English tongue. Here again fortune had had much to do with deciding Dickens' career. Had the series failed, he might have continued merely a reporter, but the humorous figure of Weller tipped the scales in favor of his adopting the profession of novelist.

From that time on one novel after another flowed from Dickens' pen. For many of their most vivid pictures he was indebted to the hard life of his boyhood, and the strange people he had known in the days when he worked in the blacking factory finally grew into some of his greatest characters. The little maid-of-all-work became the Marchioness in the "Old Curiosity Shop," Bob Fagin loaned his name to "Oliver Twist," and in "David Copperfield" we read the story of the small boy who had to fight his way through London alone.

Those days of boyhood had given him a deep insight into human nature, into the humor and pathos of other people's lives, and it was that rare insight that enabled him to become in time one of the greatest of all English writers, Charles Dickens, the beloved novelist of the Anglo-Saxon people.


Otto von Bismarck

The Boy of Goettingen: 1815-1898

A tall, slender boy, followed by a great Danish hound, walked down the main street of the German town of Goettingen in Hanover one spring morning in 1832. The small round cap, gay with colors, told the world that the boy was a student at the University, and also that he belonged to one of the students' clubs, or fighting corps, as they were called. But this boy looked quite a dandy. A wide sash was tied about his waist, high-polished boots came up to his knees, and he wore a knot of colors on his breast, the same colors he sported in his cap, the emblem that he belonged to the Brunswick student corps. Moreover he carried himself with rather a haughty manner, and the big dog, following at his heels, walked in much the same way.

Presently there came strolling along the street a group of a half dozen boys who wore the round caps of the Hanoverian Club. Something about the boy with the dog struck them as comical, and they began to laugh, and nudge each other, and when they came up to the boy they stopped and stared at him in undisguised amusement. Quick color sprang to his cheeks, he hesitated, and then came to a full stop. It was not pleasant to be singled out as a laughing-stock in the main street of Goettingen.

"Well, what are you laughing at?" he demanded, looking squarely at the group of boys.

One of them waved his hand airily in answer. "At the magnificence of our new little Brunswicker," he answered mockingly.

"So? And are you accustomed to laugh at magnificence?" The boy's brows were bent and his lips had set in a very stern line.

"When it amuses us we laugh," put in one of the others.

"Then I'd have you know it's ill manners to laugh, and I'll teach you better as soon as we get schlaegers in our hands."

"And who may you be?" asked the one who had spoken first.

"My name is Otto von Bismarck. I come from Prussia, and I'm a new student here."

"And which of us will you fight?"

"I'll fight you all. Send your man to me at my room, and I'll agree on any time and place." Then, with his head held very high the boy walked on, and the great Dane followed at his heels.

"Bismarck?" said one of the Hanover boys to the others. "It seems to me I've heard of him. They say he's splendid company."

"He's surely got pluck enough," agreed another. "I like the way he faced the lot of us." So they went on down the street, discussing the new student.

Otto, no whit daunted by his adventure, shortly after returned to his room. He lighted a big china-bowled pipe, and was smoking and reading when the messenger from the boys he had challenged came to see him. Otto offered him a pipe, and the two were soon eagerly discussing horses and dogs and telling about the fine hunting there was to be had in the different parts of Germany in which their homes lay. They got on together famously, and finally the visitor, who was the chief of his corps, said, "What a shame we got into this trouble over nothing. You're too good a fellow for any of us to fight. We shouldn't have guyed you that way. Let me see if I can't fix matters up."

"I'm quite ready to fight them all," said Otto stoutly. "I told them so, and I always stand by my word."

"I know," said the other, who by now had taken a great liking to the young Prussian. "But you're not the sort to get really angry at such a little thing, and I like you too much to want to cross swords with you."

"And I like you," answered Otto warmly, "but remember I'm quite ready if the others aren't of your way of thinking."

The Hanover boy went back to his clubmates, and told them the result of his talk with Otto. He said the latter was not a coxcomb or a dandy, but one of the best humored fellows he had ever met, and if he had been driven to showing his temper on the street that morning it was the result of their rudeness, and not Otto's ill will. The other boys quite agreed with what their captain said, and he was asked to carry their regrets to Otto for the unfortunate meeting and their hope that the duels might not be fought.

The reconciliation was at once carried out, but the adventure did not end there as far as the young paladin named Bismarck was concerned. The Hanover captain, who was a year or two older than Otto, and knew much more about the University, became his best friend, and soon one boy was rarely seen without the other. There was no regular Prussian student corps at Goettingen, and so Otto, when he had reached the University and had been invited to join the Brunswick Club, had at once accepted. Now his chum began to show him how much better the Hanover corps was than that of Brunswick, and argued with him that as it was not a matter of home pride, but simply a question as to which boys he liked best, he had better join his new friends' club. It took little persuasion to convince Otto that his wishes really all lay that way, and so he resigned from the corps of Brunswick and was received into that of Hanover.

As soon as this news spread through the University the Brunswickers were very indignant. They declared they had been grossly insulted, and that Otto von Bismarck should be made to pay for this slight upon them. Their captain and best swordsman at once challenged Otto to fight with the schlaeger. Otto accepted, and the duel quickly took place.

This schlaeger fighting was an old custom of all the German universities, and every boy who belonged to a corps was pretty sure to fight one or more such duels. The schlaeger is very heavy and clumsy compared with a dueling sword, and requires a very strong wrist and arm. Instead of dexterous fencing the fighting is done by downright slashing and cutting and usually ends when one or the other fighter has received a cut on the face. The duel takes place with a great deal of ceremony, each student being attended by a number of his own club, and each corps values as its highest honor the reputation of having the best fighters in the university.

Otto proved his strength in this first duel with the Brunswick captain. He himself received a number of hard blows, but he gave more than he took, and finally cut his opponent on the cheek. That ended the duel, and each boy retired satisfied, Otto because he had won, and the Brunswick captain because he had another scar to prove his fighting spirit.

But the Brunswickers were not yet satisfied that their reputation was entirely cleared, and so in a few days Otto received a challenge from the next best fighter of their corps, and having fought him was challenged by another, and so the affair continued until he had met and defeated almost every student in the Brunswick corps. He fought twenty schlaeger duels during his first year at the University, and came out of them so well that he was ranked as one of the best fighters at Goettingen, and the Hanoverians were very proud of him.

In only one encounter was the young Prussian wounded. He was fighting with a student named Biederwig, and the latter's sword-blade snapped in two as Otto was parrying his fierce attack. The broken edge gave Bismarck a slight cut on the cheek, and Biederwig at once claimed a victory. The officers of the clubs, however, decided that the duel was a drawn encounter. By this time Otto, who was just eighteen, had become the leader among the students of Goettingen.

Such customs seem strange and almost barbarous to Anglo-Saxon boys, but this dueling played a large part in the college life of Germans at that time. Otto was not by nature quarrelsome, but he was bound to hold his own with his friends, and to do that he felt that he must take his part in the rough life about him. Very soon after the fight with Biederwig he was drawn into a much more serious affair.

Among his close friends was a young German baron who had fallen out with an English student named Knight. Each of them felt that their quarrel demanded serious settlement and they determined to fight with pistols instead of swords. At first Otto refused to have anything to do with the meeting, but at the last minute the Baron's second withdrew, and the Baron begged Otto to take his place. Otto could not refuse this appeal of his friend, and so reluctantly consented.

When the two met Otto paced out a much longer distance than was usual in such cases, and had them stand very far apart. When the word was given each student fired, but both were so nervous that their shots went very wide. Then Otto at once interfered, stating that the honor of each was now fully satisfied, and refusing to let them continue. Here he showed that masterfulness of character which had already made him a leader, and which now at once compelled the duelists to submit.

Such a meeting as this was, however, contrary to the laws of the University, and all the boys who took part in it were at once severely punished. The other students told how Otto had ended the fight and begged that he be let off, but the rector would not listen to their requests, and Bismarck was ordered to undergo eleven days of solitary confinement. When he was released he was welcomed back by all the student corps, and became more of a hero than ever.

But Otto von Bismarck's college life was not all fighting. Although he was not much of a student, he was keenly interested in everything about him, and fond of arguing on all sorts of subjects. History was his favorite study; he devoured stories of great kings and statesmen and soldiers, his keen mind always intent on discovering the reason for the success or failure of each.

There was then at Goettingen a young American, by name John Lothrop Motley, who was as much interested in history as was Otto, and even more fond of an argument. The two became close friends, and often sat up half the night to settle some dispute between them. Motley was the more eager, and often the young German would wake in the morning to find his American friend sitting on the edge of his bed waiting to go on with their discussion of the night before. It was Motley also who interested Otto so much in American history that he took a leading part in celebrating the Fourth of July at Goettingen.

His college life taught the young Prussian student many valuable things that are not told in books. He grew up with a fine knowledge of the boys of his own age, and with a strength and courage which made him admired by all his friends.

A little later, when he was at home on a vacation, he was riding with several neighbors around a pond. The banks of the pond were very steep. Suddenly Otto heard a cry behind him. Turning he saw that a groom's horse had stumbled and pitched the rider into deep water. The man was terribly frightened, and it was evident that he either did not know how to swim or was too excited to try to do so. The other horsemen stood still, doing nothing but call to the groom. Otto, however, tore off his coat and sword, and plunged in. The man caught at him, and clung to him so tightly that it looked as though Otto would be pulled down with him. Once both disappeared entirely under water, but Otto's great strength saved him, and after a short time he was able to drag the groom to shore.

Great events call for great men, and usually find them. The adventures of his college life had never found the Prussian boy wanting in nerve or courage; he had always seized his chance and made the most of it. He did the same thing as he grew into manhood, and tried for a time life in the army, then on his father's farmland, and then in Parliament.

Great changes were coming over Europe as Otto grew to manhood; old countries were falling apart, and new ones being formed, and there was need of strong men to advise and to check the people. Especially was this true of Germany, which was then a collection of small kingdoms loosely joined together. When these kingdoms needed a man to steer them through the troubled waters that were gathering around them Otto von Bismarck saw his opportunity and took it.

He became the great statesman of Germany, the "Iron Chancellor" as he was often called, the man who built the present German Empire, and gave its crown to his own sovereign, William I, of Prussia. He was a man of tremendous power, aggressive, fearless, masterful, showing the same sturdy traits that had made him in his youth the most feared and admired schlaeger-fighter in all Goettingen.


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