"I thought Nat always wanted things respectable," said a gentleman. "Does he consider the theatre a respectable place?"
"What has he done with his books?" inquired another. "I supposed that he thought of little but an education,—does he find the theatre a good school in which to be educated?"
"It is a good school in which to be educated for evil," replied the individual to whom the remark was addressed.
One person, however, was heard to say,
"It will not hurt Nat at all. You may be sure that he did not go there just for the pleasure of the thing. I have no doubt that he went for the same reason that he went to hear Webster, Everett, and others speak,—to learn something. He was drawn thither, not by his love of amusement, but by his desire to learn. Nat learns more by seeing, than half the scholars do by hard study."
"What in the world could he learn there that is good?" inquired a person who heard the last remark.
"He could learn how to speak better, if nothing else," was the reply. "And that he said, in the beginning, was his object in going. When he has acquired what he thinks he can get there to aid him, you will see that he will stop."
"And by that time he may be ruined," was the reply.
Nat carried out his resolution, and went to the theatre a number of times, to hear certain plays, walking to Boston and back each time. One result of his visits was to increase his interest in Shakspeare, so that he began to practise reading his plays aloud, and personating the different characters. He made decided progress in this art, and subsequently gave public readings of Shakspeare, by which he gained much applause. The result satisfied nearly every one, that he went to the theatre simply to observe the manner of speaking, as he went to hear distinguished orators.
That the object for which a youth visits the theatre will decide, in a great measure, its influence upon him, no one can deny, and it is so with all forms of amusement. If he is drawn thither by the fascination of the play alone, yielding himself up to the witchery of it, without any regard to the intellectual or moral character of the scenic representations, he is in a dangerous path. A large majority of those who visit the theatre with this motive, as mere thoughtless pleasure-lovers, are probably ruined.
The youthful reader should not infer that it is altogether safe to visit the theatre, even for the reason that Nat did. It was a hazardous step for him on account of the attractions that are thrown around it to dazzle and bewilder. A high aim, in the path of knowledge, and great energy and decision of character to execute his purpose, were his protection. Perhaps not ten of a hundred youth could do the same thing, and be saved from ruin. Augustine tells of a Christian young man who was prevailed upon to visit the amphitheatre to witness the gladiatorial games. He was unfriendly to such sports, and consented to go solely to please his companion. For his own protection he resolved to close his eyes that he might not be influenced by the scene. For some time he kept his eyes closed; but, at length, a tremendous shout caused him to open them, and look out upon the arena. In an instant, he was fired with the spirit of those around him,—he cheered the gladiators on,—he shouted with all his might,—and ever after he became a constant patron of the games. So it is often with the youth, in our day, who goes to the theatre for once only. He merely wants to see what the theatre is, resolved, perhaps, that he will never be known as a theatre-goer. But he cannot withstand the fascination. Once going has created an irresistible desire to go again, and again, and again, until his character is ruined. Where one derives the impulse and knowledge that Nat did, a hundred are destroyed. It is not wise, then, to try the experiment. It is acquiring knowledge at too great a risk. Who would cross a rough and stormy river where he knew that only one in a hundred had reached the other shore?
Theatres have always been schools of vice. There never was a time when their influence was good. At the time our country was struggling for independence, Congress passed an act recommending the different States to suppress theatrical performances by law; and soon after they passed another act declaring that no person who visited the theatre should hold an office under the government. It seems impossible to make them otherwise than disreputable. Attempts have been made to establish respectable theatres, but they have always failed. Such an attempt was made to reform one of the royal theatres of London, some years ago, and the committee to whom the subject was submitted reported that the institution could not be supported after such reform. The experiment was actually tried with the late Tremont Theatre, in Boston. Intoxicating drinks were not allowed to be sold, and no females were admitted unaccompanied by gentlemen, as the better class of people would not attend if profligate persons were admitted. But the theatre could not be supported on these principles, and the plan was abandoned. A report was published, in which it was stated, that if the rent of the building was free, it could not be sustained by the reform system. Intemperance and licentiousness appear to be indispensable to support the theatre. There is good reason, then, for the legend recorded by Tertullian, running as follows: A Christian woman went to the theatre, and came home possessed of a demon. Her confessor, seeking to cast out the evil one, demanded of him how he dared to take possession of a believer, who, by holy baptism, had been redeemed out of his kingdom. "I have done nothing but what is proper," said the devil, "for I found her on my own territory." He might have made a captive of Nat for the same reason.
Some pronounce this hostility to theatres a prejudice of Christian ministers and their sympathizers, but this is not true. The popular actor, Macready, who won a world-wide fame in the business, by his long connection with the stage, expressed a similar opinion of theatres after he left the play. He settled in Sherbourne, England, where he had a pleasant, promising family, and one rule to which his children were subjected was, "None of my children shall ever, with my consent or on any pretence, enter a theatre, or have any visiting connection with actors and actresses." The honored Judge Bulstrode at one time expressed the feelings of the English bench, when, in his charge to the grand jury of Middlesex, he said, "One play-house ruins more souls than fifty churches are able to save." Sir Matthew Hale relates that when he was at Oxford, he was making rapid advancement in his studies when the stage-players came thither, and he went to the performance, and became so corrupted that he almost entirely forsook his studies. He was saved only by resolving never to attend another play. Even the infidel, Rousseau, condemned theatres. He said, "I observe that the situation of an actor is a state of licentiousness and bad morals; that the men are abandoned to disorder; that the women lead a scandalous life; that the one and the other, at once avaricious and profane, ever overwhelmed with debt, and ever prodigal, are as unrestrained in their dissipation as they are void of scruple in respect to the means of providing for it. In all countries their profession is dishonorable; those who exercise it are everywhere contemned."
THE DRAMATIC SOCIETY.
"Let us form a dramatic society," said Nat to his companions, one day. "Perhaps we can put an extra touch on 'Henry the Eighth' or 'The Merchant of Venice.'"
"I should laugh," answered Charlie, "to see us undertaking the drama. I guess it would be straining at a gnat (Nat) and swallowing a camel," attempting to perpetrate a pun, over which he, at whose expense it was said, laughed as heartily as any of them.
"Let Charlie laugh as much as he pleases," said Marcus, "I think we could do well in such an enterprise. We might not eclipse Booth, but we could get along without a bar and some other things as bad."
"You will find," continued Charlie, "that a play of Shakspeare will not go off very well without scenery."
"Of course it would not," replied Nat. "But we must have scenery of some kind."
"Where will you get it?"
"Make it," quickly responded Nat. "It will be an easy matter to paint such representations as will answer our purpose."
"So you will turn actor and artist all at once," said Charlie. "What will you try to do next, Nat?"
"As to that," answered Nat, "I will let you know when I have done this. 'One thing at a time,' was Dr. Franklin's rule. But say, now, will you all enlist for a dramatic society?"
Frank and Marcus replied promptly in the affirmative, and Charlie brought up the rear, by saying,
"Well, I suppose I must be on the popular side, and go with the majority—yea."
Here was one of the fruits of going to the theatre. What had been witnessed there created the desire to undertake the same, although Nat's object was to improve himself in rhetorical exercises. But the enterprise grew out of his visits to the theatre, and was well suited to excite critical remarks. It is probable that most actors and actresses are made so by first witnessing theatrical performances. We are acquainted with a person, whose nephew is an actor, with no purer character than actors usually possess. He was a lover of books in his youth; and his desire to become an actor was begotten in the theatre. He was so delighted with what he saw on the stage, that he finally resolved to make stage-playing his profession; and he now belongs to that unhonored fraternity. It is not strange that some people were surprised that Nat should originate such a society.
"What shall we play?" inquired Frank, on the evening the dramatic society was organized.
"'Macbeth,'" replied Nat, who had witnessed this at the theatre. "It may be more difficult than some others, but it is one of the best plays."
"You must get up the scenery," said Frank.
"With the assistance of the rest of you," replied Nat. "It will be no great affair to paint what we want for this play."
"How long will it take?" inquired Marcus.
"We can do it in two evenings," answered Nat. "We ought not to be longer than that, if we intend to commit the play so as to act it next week."
"No one but members of the society will be admitted, I suppose," said Charlie, "until we have thoroughly practised the play."
"No; we must speak it over and over, so that it will be perfectly familiar, before we attempt it before visitors."
On that evening the society was organized by the choice of officers and the adoption of a constitution and by-laws. Nat had the chief agency in preparing the constitution and by-laws, as he did in the debating society, and he found that a knowledge of grammar was indeed a decided assistance. He was often reminded of the remarks of his teacher, when he (Nat) was opposed to studying the science.
It was decided to act "Macbeth," and the parts were assigned, and the time of the first meeting appointed. Many of the young people joined the society, and were much interested in its object. Such an organization was suited to awaken more enthusiasm among the young, than a debating society.
It was a pleasant evening on which the play was to be performed for the first time, and every member of the society was there, curious to behold the result. It went off with considerable eclat, although there were some blunders and mistakes, as might have been expected. Even Charlie, who was incredulous about their success, confessed that it passed off very well. The scenery, which had been prepared by the boys, under Nat's direction, was quite decent, and it showed that Nat's early practice of drawing was very useful to him now. It would not bear very close inspection, it is true; but a short distance off, and by lamp-light, it looked very well.
Thus evening after evening they met, with closed doors, to practise the piece. At length, concluding that they could entertain an audience, they decided upon a public performance. The plan was adopted with much spirit, and all were resolved to do their best.
The entertainment was given at the appointed time, and a good audience assembled. Each one performed his part well, but Nat, as usual, was thought to excel.
"I had no idea the boys would do so well," said Mr. Graves. "I am surprised that Nat should perform so handsomely; he would make a complete actor with practice."
"Marcus did very well indeed," replied the gentleman to whom he addressed the remark; "in fact, all of them exceeded my expectations. But Nat plays as if he were perfectly at home."
"I don't know about the influence of such things," added Mr. Graves. "I have my fears that such a society will foster a love for theatrical exhibitions of a far more exceptionable character."
"I feel exactly so, too. I think it may lead some of the young people here to attend the theatre, when otherwise they would not. There is no doubt that Nat originated this society in consequence of attending the theatre himself. If nothing worse than such an exhibition as we have had to-night would grow out of it, it would be well enough. I would say amen to it. But I fear that it will lead to something else."
"There is the danger," replied Mr. G. "Young people are easily led astray by such appeals to their senses, and the more easily because they do not see any evil in them. It is just as it is with using intoxicating drinks. A young man sees no wrong in sipping a little wine at a party; but that first wine-glass may create an appetite that will make him a drunkard. So the sight of such a theatrical performance as this may lead some of the boys to want to witness a play on a grander scale at the theatre."
The exhibition of the Dramatic Society occasioned many remarks like the above in the village. Some people had expressed their opinions unfavorably before the exhibition, but this settled the matter in their view. The very skill which the boys displayed in the performance served to awaken still greater fears; for the greater the witchery of the play, the more danger to the young.
"Thar," said old Mrs. Lane, who entertained us on a former occasion, "I knowd that it would turn out so. It is jist what I telled ye, when I heard Nat went to Boston nights arter great speakers. You'll have to b'lieve me byme bye whether or no."
"Ah!" said the lady addressed, "it would all have been well enough if Nat had confined his attention to that. Perhaps it will be well enough now, though I fear that theatrical performances will have a bad influence."
"Pesky bad," replied the old lady. "When boys are runnin arter such things allers, there is no tellin whar they'll stop. And thar's the danger of too much edication. If Nat had stuck to his bobbin, and never knowd any thing else, I guess it would turn out better for him in the eend. I don't b'lieve in so many new-fangled notions as they have in these ere times."
"I have no fears for Nat," responded the lady; "for I think he participates in these things for self-improvement; but others may do it for the sake of the amusement. I am afraid that others may imbibe a taste for the drama, and become theatre-goers in consequence."
"You seem to think that Nat can't be spiled; but I take it that his good motives can't make the theatre good. It is a corruptious place, anyhow, and if it don't spile him, it won't be because it ain't bad enough."
"Time will show us the result," continued the lady. "But they say Nat exhibited marked talents for the drama at the exhibition. Several persons have told me that they were surprised at his ability, but I am not; for he always excels in whatever he undertakes. He enters into every thing with all his heart, and does it with all his might."
"Lor, yes, we all know that," replied Mrs. Lane; "and so I reckon that if the theatre should spile him, he would be wicked with all his might. He'd make a rale prodergal son, only more so."
On the point of Nat's excellence in performing the drama, the following conversation took place after this public entertainment.
"You ought to be an actor," said Charlie to him. "You are exactly cut out for it, and every one who heard you the other night would tell you so."
"So far as that is concerned," answered Nat, "the profession of an actor is the last one I should choose."
"Why?" inquired Charlie. "I thought you was in love with the business."
"By no means. I have told you over and over my object in going to the theatre, and in forming the Dramatic Society, but you always appear to doubt me. I would not be an actor even if I could be as famous as Booth."
"You would not? and yet many seem to think you have a taste in that direction, and I have thought so too. But tell me why not."
"Because I have little respect for the business as a profession. It affords a brief pleasure to an audience for a short time, and that is all it amounts to. I think it is a good discipline for us in the Dramatic Society, and I know that I learned some valuable lessons at the theatre, and I am still of the opinion that a theatre might be so conducted as to prove a source of innocent amusement, and not a curse."
"You couldn't make many of the people in this community believe that," said Charlie. "They think it is a gone case with you since you have favored theatricals."
"I know that," replied Nat, "and they would not believe me if I should tell them what I have you, so that I see no way to convince them but to wait, and time will do it. I would carry bobbin all my life before I would be an actor."
"Well, what would you be, Nat, if you could have your own way?" inquired Charlie.
"I would be an orator and statesman like Edward Everett," quickly answered Nat. "I always had great respect for such men. It is easy to respect them; but no man can cherish high respect for an actor."
Here the conversation was interrupted.
"Heard the news, Nat?" inquired Frank one morning.
"No, what is it?"
"The men are going to annihilate our Dramatic Society in the lyceum next week. They are going to debate a question about dramatic exhibitions, I understand."
"Oh, I had heard of that," replied Nat. "We seem to be of much consequence just now. I hardly thought we were able to create such a commotion."
"It seems we are," said Frank, "so you may expect to be finished within a week. Better write your will, and prepare to be made mince-meat of."
"The rest of you will come in for a share," said Nat, "so I shall have a plenty of company, and 'misery loves company' they say."
"But you are the chief sinner," said Frank, smilingly. "You started the thing, and carried off all the glory of performing, so you will have to shoulder the consequences."
"Not a very heavy burden, I am thinking," responded Nat. "I see no need of making such a fuss about a trifle, just as if we boys would spoil the whole town! If Shakspeare were alive he might write another comedy on it like 'MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING.' If the town is so dependent on us, I think they ought to make us the fathers of it."
The truth was, that the Dramatic Society had created quite a commotion, as we saw, in part, in a previous chapter. The good people of the village were afraid of the consequences, as well they might be, and the matter was discussed in many family circles, in social gatherings, in the street and other places, until so much interest was awakened on both sides, that the subject was introduced into the town lyceum.
In the hall that was dedicated when Nat was twelve years old, and where he heard the address upon the life and character of Count Rumford by which he was so much impressed, there was a lyceum sustained by the citizens. It was here that the subject of dramatical exhibitions was introduced by a proposition to discuss the following question,
"ARE DRAMATICAL EXHIBITIONS BENEFICIAL TO SOCIETY?"
No question had elicited so much interest as this, pro and con, so that a large attendance was confidently expected.
"Are you going to hear the Dramatic Society used up to-night?" inquired Marcus of Nat, on the day of the proposed discussion.
"Certainly; I am curious to see how the thing will be done. I wouldn't fail of it for any thing. Let us all go, and save the pieces if we can."
"I expect they are preparing for a warm debate, from all I hear; and there will be a crowd there," said Marcus.
Nat and his boon companions were at the hall in good season, to secure seats near the debaters. The hall was filled by the time the hour for opening had arrived, and a spicy time was expected. The president called the meeting to order, the records of the last meeting were read, and other preliminaries disposed of, when the question for discussion was announced. Mr. Bryant, an intelligent and influential man, opened the debate, and remarked, in substance, as follows:
"It is enough to know the origin of theatrical exhibitions. According to the best authorities, when theatrical exhibitions were first given, an old cart was the stage, the chief actor was a coarse mimic or clown, the music was discoursed by itinerant singers, and the poem itself was a motley combination of serious and ludicrous ideas. These performances were first given in honor of the god of wine, Bacchus, which accounts, I suppose, for the fact that a theatre cannot live without a bar. On certain festive days, they acted these plays often in the most indecent manner, with drunkenness and debauchery abounding—scenes which are re-enacted in theatres at the present day. Now, they have a more splendid stage, within a costly, spacious building, but there is little or no improvement in the purity of the play and its incidentals. It is just as demoralizing now as it was then, and has been so in every age of the world. For that reason, such exhibitions have been suppressed, at times, in some countries, and this was the case, at one period, in our own land."
Mr. Bryant was followed by a gentleman on the other side of the subject, but, for a reason that will be obvious to the reader before he gets through the chapter, we shall not report the arguments in the negative.
Another speaker said "that the characters of the actors were loose, exceedingly so; and if the audience could learn something of human nature there, it was only the debasing side of it. It is generally true that actors lend their influence to intemperance, licentiousness, and irreligion. They do not patronize Sabbath schools, churches, and other Christian institutions, but they patronize bars, gambling saloons, and houses of ill-fame. Many of those men even who go to the theatre, would be quite unwilling to introduce actors to the society of their sons and daughters. They are so well convinced that this class are corrupt and unprincipled, that they would exclude them from the fireside."
Another speaker, in the affirmative, said: "As a general thing, dramatic literature is immoral and debasing. I admit that the tragedies of Shakspeare are a pattern of classic elegance and dignity, yet there are passages even in his works that never should be read or spoken in the hearing of others. In them vice is often stripped of its deformity, while virtue is made to appear to disadvantage. The youth who witnesses a play where vice is made to appear as an indiscretion rather than a sin, is likely to think less of virtue, and more favorably of vice. An English scholar has taken pains to read all the plays of the stage of England, and mark all the profane or indecent passages unfit to be read or spoken in a public assembly, and he has found seven thousand. During the reign of King James the First, an act was passed 'For the preventing and avoiding the great abuse of the holy name of God in stage-plays.' Addison condemned the theatre 'for ridiculing religion, and for representing the rake and debauchee as the true gentleman.' It is vain to attempt to defend the moral character of dramatic writings."
The first speaker rising to address the audience the second time, said, "that the class of persons who generally patronize the theatre are the most frivolous and useless part of the community. Moral and religious citizens do not lend it their influence, but those who are indifferent or hostile to Christian institutions. Fathers and mothers who are careless of the example they set their children; vain followers of the fashions, who think more of a golden trinket than they do of virtue; idle and dissipated hangers-on of society; fast young men in the road to ruin; vicious young women; dissolute men, whose vices would horrify every sensitive heart were they uncovered; with a sprinkling, perhaps, of better people who forget, for the time being, what company they are in;—these constitute the principal patrons of the stage. Now, then, this single fact is enough to brand the character of theatres as corrupt and pernicious. There is not a person in this hall who would think well of the principles of a man of whom you might be told, 'he is an habitual theatre-goer.' You would infer that his principles were loose, and, in nine cases out of ten, your inference would be correct."
Thus the usual arguments against theatres were quite thoroughly pressed, and were met by the usual ones on the opposite side, though it was evident that the negative realized they had a difficult subject to defend.
Nat listened to the discussion with constantly increasing interest and excitement. His face became flushed, and a nervous tremor passed over his body. At length his frame fairly shook with the excitement under which he was laboring, and Frank, who was sitting by his side, observed it.
"What is the matter with you, Nat?" whispered Frank. Nat made no reply, but continued to catch every word that was uttered. He was evidently dissatisfied with the defence of the theatre by the negative side, and thought that a better plea for it might be made.
"I say, Nat, what's the matter?" whispered Frank again; "got the fever and ague?"
Nat kept his eyes fixed, and did not even bestow a nod of the head upon Frank's inquiry, and the moment the question was given to the audience for general debate,—according to the custom,—Nat started to his feet.
"Mr. President," said he, and every head was up, and every eye fixed, at the sound of his voice. All were astonished that he should presume to speak on that floor; they would scarcely have been more surprised if a strange debater had dropped down through the plastering into the audience. But Nat went on to say, in substance,
"I have listened to the discussion of the question before us with mingled feelings of interest and surprise. Much that has been said I can most cordially respond to, while some of the arguments upon the affirmative do not appear to me legitimate or just. Every subject should be treated fairly, and especially one like this, which is so apt to encounter superstition and prejudice. It is no objection, in my mind, to an enterprise, that it had a lowly origin, any more than it is for an honest and noble man to have descended from ignoble parents. If a man will work his way up from poverty and obscurity by his indomitable energy and perseverance, until he carves his name with scholars and statesmen on the temple of fame, it is the climax of meanness in any one to twit him of his humble origin, and hold him up to ridicule because his parents are poor and unhonored. And so when the gentleman tells us that the theatre was born in a cart, and was originated by those who had neither learning nor character, it is no argument against it, in my view, when I see the rank to which it has attained. The cart has given place to the marble edifice, decorated in the highest style of art, and the place of the untutored street-singer and clown is filled by the queen of song and the prince of orators. The play is no longer devoid of literary character, but is invested with a classic elegance which only the gifted intellect of Shakspeare could impart. What is it that has elevated dramatic entertainments from the cart to the costly temple? Human meanness could not do it, nor human policy alone. It has been accomplished by the intrinsic value to be found in such dramas as those composed by Shakspeare, and that justly entitles them to something nobler than a contemptuous sneer.
"I do not presume to defend theatres as they are, with all the vices that attach to the present manner of conducting them. I admit that the actors are no better than they should be, and that intemperance and licentiousness may be countenanced by them. But when it is intimated that all this is necessarily and inevitably so, I repel the insinuation. Do not gentlemen know that the names of certain actors are associated with all that is pure in character and noble in purpose? Were Garrick and Siddons men of corrupt lives, unworthy to hold an honorable place in society? Who can point to the first line or word ever penned to stigmatize these men? So long as we can refer to them as pure and upright actors, it will be true that corruption does not necessarily belong to the stage.
"I would have intoxicating drinks forever excluded from the theatre, and every possible measure adopted to prevent moral corruption of every kind. I would take the play out of the hands of the base and profligate, and give it to those who are virtuous and true. I would expunge every profane and vulgar word and thought from both tragedy and comedy, leaving nothing that is unfit to be said in the ear of the purest men and women, and then I see not why the stage might not become a medium of innocent pleasure, and intellectual culture. It is bad now, because it is in the hands of bad men. When the virtuous control it, we may expect that its character will be changed.
"When it is said, as it has been on this floor to-night, that nothing good can be learned at a theatre, even as it is at the present time, I must beg to dissent from the opinion. I can testify from actual experience, that much can be learned there of human nature, and much that belongs to the art of speaking. I do not say that many people go to the theatre to learn these things, but I do say they might learn them if they would. Even admitting that the baser side of human nature alone is seen on the stage, a man may learn something from that if he will. As in the low groggery, a pure man may behold to what awful degradation the use of strong drink may reduce its victims, and derive therefrom an argument for temperance that is irresistible, so the exhibitions of the stage may show a pure-minded man how revolting he may become by yielding to the power of his lowest appetites and passions. If he visits such a drinking place to minister to a depraved appetite, and carouse with others, he will go to ruin himself; but if he goes there to acquire the knowledge to which I have referred, he will make a valuable accession to his information and principles. In like manner, if a person goes to the theatre simply to be amused, or for a more dishonorable purpose, he may be corrupted by what he sees and hears; but if he goes for the higher object I have named, he will probably escape contamination."
In this strain Nat proceeded for twenty minutes or more, filling the audience with surprise and wonder. He waxed warmer and warmer, as he advanced, and spoke in a flow of eloquence and choice selection of words, that was unusual for one of his age. No one in the hall had ever listened to such a display of oratorical ability on the part of a youth like him. The most strenuous opposers of the theatre almost overlooked the weakness of Nat's argument in their admiration of his eloquence. It was so unexpected that the surprise alone was almost sufficient to bewilder, them. His mother was in the audience, and her heart leaped into her mouth, as she was first startled by the sound of his voice. She was almost indignant that her boy should attempt to speak in that hall, before such an audience. She expected every moment that he would break down, to his own disgrace and others. But he spoke on, never hesitating for choice words, and put an earnestness and power into every sentence that amazed her. She could scarcely believe what she saw and heard. She was well satisfied with her son when he concluded his speech.
"Nat will make a second Daniel Webster," said the agent of the factory to a friend, as he was going out of the hall.
"I am surprised at his eloquence," replied the friend addressed. "I never heard the like in my life by one of his age."
"We must get him to join the lyceum at once, and bring him out before the public," said the agent.
"That would be an excellent idea, I think; and there will be a great desire to hear him again. I am sure I would like to hear him discuss another question."
"Nat has always been a close student," continued the agent. "When he has not been learning from books, he has studied men and things; and I have expected he would make his mark."
This speech set everybody in the village to talking. Nothing had occurred for a long time that caused so much remark and excitement. The surprise and interest it created remind us of Patrick Henry's first plea, of which Nat himself spoke to Charlie, as we saw in a former chapter. The description which Mr. Wirt gives of it is so applicable to the case before us, that we shall quote it.
"His attitude, by degrees, became erect and lofty. The spirit of his genius awakened all his features. His countenance shone with a nobleness and grandeur which it had never before exhibited. There was a lightning in his eye that seemed to rive the spectator. His action became graceful, bold and commanding; and in the tones of his voice, but more especially in his emphasis, there was a peculiar charm, a magic, of which any one who ever heard him will speak as soon as he is named....
"In less than twenty minutes they might be seen in every part of the house, on every bench, in every window, stooping forward from their stands, in death-like silence, their features fixed in amazement; all their senses listening and riveted upon the speaker, as if to catch the last strain of some heavenly visitant....
"The jury seem to have been so completely bewildered, that they lost sight, not only of the act of seventeen hundred and forty-eight, but that of seventeen hundred and fifty-eight also; for thoughtless even of the admitted right of the plaintiff, they had scarcely left the bar, when they returned with a verdict of one penny damages. A motion was made for a new trial; but the court, too, had now lost the equipoise of their judgment, and overruled the motion by a unanimous vote. The verdict and judgment overruling the motion, were followed by redoubled acclamations, from within and without the house.
"The people, who had with difficulty kept their hands off their champion, from the moment of closing his harangue, no sooner saw the fate of the cause finally sealed, than they seized him at the bar, and in spite of his own exertions, and the continual cry of order from the sheriff and the court, they bore him out of the court house, and raising him on their shoulders, carried him about the yard in triumph."
Nat was not carried out of the hall like Patrick, but if his companions and some others, could have acted their own pleasure, a similar scene would have taken place. The reader can scarcely fail to trace some connection between his early familiarity with the life of Patrick Henry, and this brilliant chapter of his experience before the large audience in the town hall. It looks very much as if the reading of that book made a permanent impression upon his mind. It shows, also, that he had not studied the manners of public speakers in vain.
"You couldn't do that again if you should try," said Charlie to Nat, at the close of the meeting. "You was inspired to-night."
"Inspired with respect for our dramatic society," answered Nat, with a laugh. "I thought I would not let it die without one struggle."
"Well," said Frank, "we can afford to let it give up the ghost now, after such a glorious funeral oration over it. But I thought you was having the shaking palsy before you got up to speak."
"It was only the debaters shaking a little interest into me," replied Nat. "They made the spirit move, that's all."
The reader must not infer that opposers of the theatre changed their views in consequence of Nat's argument. For no argument can be framed that will defend the stage from the charge of being a great public evil. In another place we have said enough to show that the ground of his defence was fallacious, though he uttered sentiments which he then sincerely believed. It is certainly no strong defence of the drama that it has risen from the cart to the marble palace, for sin, in some of its grossest forms, thus ascends from a revolting to a gilded degradation. Nor does it avail much to point to here and there a virtuous Garrick among stage-players, when we know that there are a hundred worthless, corrupt actors to one Garrick. And in respect to the possibility of making the theatre respectable, we have seen that it has been repeatedly tried, and failed.
But the audience fell in love with Nat's eloquence. They were charmed by its gracefulness and power. It was that which won their hearts. The result was, that nearly every one became satisfied with his good intention in going to the theatre, and originating dramatic entertainments in the village. It was apparent that it was done for his own personal improvement. He was invited to connect himself with the citizens' lyceum, where he surprised and pleased his friends many times thereafter, by the ability and eloquence with which he discussed different subjects.
The Dramatic Society was relinquished, and the general interest manifested in it was transferred to the town lyceum. A wider and more important field of effort was now open to test Nat's endowments and acquisitions; and he rapidly advanced by making the most of every opportunity.
"What are you doing here, Nat?" inquired Charlie, one day, as he entered the carpenter's shop where he was at work with his father.
"I am going to run a partition through here to make a new study for me. Father has given me liberty to use this part of the shop."
"It will make a cozy room," said Charlie, "though it is a little lower down in the world than your other study. It seems you are really going to be a student and nothing else. You must look out that Mother Lane's prophecies are not fulfilled," the last sentence being intended for a sly appeal to Nat's good nature.
"I expect to do a good deal of work yet," replied Nat; "at least, I shall be obliged to work until I find the way to wealth as plain as the way to market. I shall study part of the time, and work the remainder."
At this time Nat had resolved to devote a larger portion of his time to study, and labor only enough to pay his own way along, and provide himself with books—a plan in which his parents cheerfully acquiesced. He went on and finished off his study in his father's shop, and furnished it as well as his limited means would allow. A table, two or three chairs, his scanty library, and a couch on which he slept nights, constituted the furniture of this new apartment. It was more convenient for him to lodge in his study, since he could sit up as late as he pleased, and rise as early, without disturbing any one.
Now he ceased to labor constantly in the machine shop, and worked at his trade only a few months at a time, enough to support himself while pursuing his studies. Occasionally he labored with his father, and played the part of a carpenter.
Charlie was anxious to see the new study when it was completed, and he availed himself of the earliest opportunity to look in upon Nat.
"Here you are, in a brown study. This is capital—I had no idea you would have so good a room as this, Nat. Did you do all this yourself?"
"Certainly; have you any criticisms to offer? You look as if you hardly credited my word."
"I guess your father was round about home," said Charlie, pleasantly.
"But he did not drive a nail, nor plane a board."
"A carpenter, then, with all the rest," added Charlie. "I suppose now the library will be read up pretty fast."
"Not so fast as you imagine. I could never begin with you in reading books. You have read two to my one, I should think."
"Not so bad as that; and it is a poor compliment if it were true, for too much reading is as bad as too little, I expect. The difference between you and me is very plain; you read and study to have something to use; and I read for the pleasure of it."
"It is true," answered Nat, "that I try to make use of what I learn, though I enjoy the mere pleasure of study as well as you do. But when a person learns something, and then makes use of it, he will never forget it. I might study surveying a whole year in school, but if I did not go out into the fields to apply what I learned to actual practice, it would do me little good; and it is so with every thing."
"There is a good deal of truth in that," replied Charlie; "but there is a difference in the ability of persons to use what they acquire. Some persons have a very poor way of showing what they know."
It was true that Nat did not gorge his mind by excessive reading. Some readers can scarcely wait to finish one book, because they hanker so for another. They read for the mere pleasure of reading, without the least idea of laying up a store of information for future use. Their minds are crammed all the time with a quantity of undigested knowledge. They read as some people bolt down a meal of victuals, and the consequences are similar. The mind is not nourished and strengthened thereby, but is rather impaired finally by mental indigestion.
Coleridge divides readers into four classes. "The first," he says, "may be compared to an hour-glass, their reading being as the sand; it runs in, and it runs out, and leaves not a vestige behind. A second class resembles a sponge, which imbibes every thing, and returns it nearly in the same state, only a little dirtier. A third class is like a jelly-bag, which allows all that is pure to pass away, and retains only the refuse and the dregs. The fourth class may be compared to the slave in the diamond mines of Golconda, who, casting aside all that is worthless, preserves only the pure gem." Nat was a reader of the latter class, and, at the same time, saved every gem for use. He had no disposition to hoard knowledge, as the miser does his gold. He thought it was designed for use as really as a coat or hat—an idea that does not seem to have entered the heads of many youth, of whom it may be said, "their apparel is the best part of them."
It is as necessary to have a fixed, noble purpose behind a disposition to read, as behind physical strength in secular pursuits, otherwise what is read will be of comparatively little service. The purpose with which a thing is done determines the degree of success therein, and the principle applies equally to reading. Nat's purpose converted every particle of knowledge acquired into a means of influence and usefulness, so that he made a given amount of knowledge go further towards making a mark on society than Charlie. The latter usually mastered what he read, and he made good use of it, as the end will show, only it was done in another channel, and in a more private way. He could not have made so deep and lasting an impression on those around him as Nat, with even more knowledge, if he had tried.
"What work are you reading now, Nat?"
"Burke's Essay on the Sublime and Beautiful," replied Nat, taking up the volume from the table. "It is a splendid work."
"I never read it," added Charlie; "the title is so magnificent that I never thought I should like it. My head is not long enough for such a work."
"You don't know what it is. It is one of the most practical and useful volumes there is. It is not so taking a book for rapid reading as many others; but it is a work to be studied."
"What is the particular use of it?"
"Its use to me is, the information it gives concerning those objects and illustrations that have the most power over the hearts of men in speaking and writing. I should think it must aid a person very much in the ability to illustrate and enforce a subject."
"I suppose you are right," said Charlie, "but it is all gammon to me. That is what helped you to illustrate and enforce the claims of our Dramatic Society in the lyceum, was it?" meaning no more than a joke by this suggestion.
"No; I never read it much until recently," answered Nat.
"Well, I thought you had some of the sublime in that speech, if you had none of the beautiful," continued Charlie in a vein of humor. "I concluded that Burke might have helped you some, as I thought it hardly probable that Nat did it alone."
"What do you think you should do, Charlie, if you had not me to make fun of?" asked Nat. "You would have the dyspepsia right away. It is altogether probable that I was made to promote your digestion."
"Very likely," replied Charlie, assuming a grave appearance. "I believe they administer rather powerful medicine for that disease. But they say you go to college now," and here his seeming gravity was displaced by a smile. "When are you going to graduate?"
"About the time you know enough to enter," answered Nat, paying back in the same coin.
Charlie was much amused at this turn, for his allusion to college was in a jesting way, occasioned by the fact that Nat had obtained permission to use the library of Cambridge College, to which place he frequently walked to consult volumes. It was a great advantage to him, to enjoy the opportunity to examine works which he could not possess on account of his poverty, and such works, too, as the library of his native village did not contain. It was quite a walk to Harvard College, but necessity made it comparatively short and pleasant to Nat. Many times he performed the trip to settle some point of inquiry, or compass some difficult subject; and the journeys proved to him what similar walks did to Count Rumford many years before. He, also, was accustomed to visit the Athenaeum in Boston, at this period of his life, where he spent some pleasant and profitable hours. To many youth it would seem too great an outlay of labor to make for an education; but to Nat it was a cheap way of obtaining knowledge. He was willing to make any sacrifice, and to perform almost any labor, if he could add thereby to his mental stature. Often a volume would completely absorb his thoughts upon a given subject, and he could not let it alone until he had thoroughly canvassed it; and this was one of the elements of his success—a power of application, in which all the thoughts were concentrated on the subject before him. It was thus with Hugh Miller from his boyhood. As an instance, his biographer relates, that, on one occasion he read a work on military tactics—a subject that one would think could scarcely command his attention—and he was so thoroughly controlled by the desire to understand the military movements described, that he repaired to the sea-shore, where he got up an imposing battle between the English and French, with a peck or half bushel of shells, one color representing one nation, and another color the other nation. Time after time he fought an imaginary battle with shells, until he definitely understood the military tactics described in the volume which he read.
Sometimes the perusal of a volume starts off the reader upon a career that is really different from that which the book describes. By its hints or suggestions, it awakens the powers to some incidental subject, upon which they seize with an earnestness and devotion that cannot fail of success. Thus, when William Carey read the "Voyages of Captain Cook," he first conceived the idea of going upon a mission to the heathen world. There was information imparted in that volume, which, in connection with the marvellous adventures and success of the great voyager, fired his soul with the determination to carry the gospel to the perishing.
Nat had such a mind, and difficulties rising mountain high could not hinder him from examining a subject that absorbed his thoughts. A walk of ten miles to see a book, the sacrifice of an evening's entertainment at a party of pleasure, or the loss of a night's sleep, never stood between him and the information he earnestly desired. His unwavering purpose surmounted all such obstacles in the attainment of his object.
EULOGY BY JOHN QUINCY ADAMS.
One of the brief periods in which Nat worked at his trade, after he commenced to study more systematically, was spent on the Mill Dam in Boston. At a machine-shop there, he pursued his business a short time, for the purpose of earning the means to defray his expenses while studying.
"John Quincy Adams is to deliver a eulogy on Madison at the old Federal Street Theatre to-morrow," said one of the hands.
"At what time?" inquired Nat.
"Ten o'clock is the time announced for the procession to form. It will probably be twelve o'clock before they get ready for the eulogy."
"I would go," said Nat, "if I had my best clothes here. I could go without losing much time at that hour."
"Did you ever hear John Quincy Adams?"
"No; and that is one reason why I wish to hear him. I have heard many of the distinguished men, but I have never had the opportunity to hear him. I think I shall go as I am."
"And have a representation of the machine-shop there," said his companion. "The nabobs will think you are crazy to come there without your broadcloth."
"Perhaps they would think my broadcloth was too coarse if I should wear it. But if they go to see my suit instead of hearing the eulogy, they are welcome to the sight."
"You will have to lose more time than you expect to; for there will be such a crowd that you cannot get in unless you go early; and you will have to go without your dinner too."
"Dinner is nothing," replied Nat. "It will not be the first time I have gone without my dinner, and supper too. I can leave here at half past eleven o'clock and be in season for the eulogy, and find a place to hear into the bargain. A very small place will hold me at such a time."
"But I prefer a chance to breathe when I can have it as well as not. It is no pleasure to me to go into such a crowd to hear the best speaker in the world. But every one to his taste."
"Yes," responded Nat; "and my taste is right the reverse. I would suffer a pretty good squeezing, and go dinnerless besides, to hear John Quincy Adams speak. I shall try it anyhow."
Nat was usually quite particular in regard to his personal appearance on public occasions. If his best suit had been at hand, he could not have been persuaded to go to hear the eulogy in his working apparel. But he was at work here only a short time, and was at home on the sabbath, so that he provided himself with only his laboring suit. And now we see how strong was his desire to hear the distinguished statesman; for it overcame his regard for his personal appearance so far that he was willing to appear in that assembly wearing his machine-shop apparel, rather than forego the pleasure of an intellectual pastime.
At the appointed time, on the day of the eulogy, Nat dropped his tools, and proceeded to wash himself, and make ready to go.
"Then you are determined to go?" said his companion.
"Yes; I never shall have a better chance to hear the sage of Quincy. I would like to show him a little more respect by donning my best suit if I could, but as it is, he must take the will for the deed."
"You'll cut a dash there among the gentry, I reckon, and perhaps receive more attention than the orator himself. They'll think you are some fellow who has got into the wrong pew."
"You had better conclude to go with me," said Nat, "and enjoy the sight. You will never know how much of a sensation I do create unless you are there to see."
"I'd rather be excused," replied his companion. "I can imagine enough here; besides I like a good dinner too well to go."
Nat hastened to Federal Street, and found the people crowding in very rapidly, and the exercises about commencing. He joined the throng, and was soon borne along with the current into the spacious building. If he had actually wanted to have skulked into some corner, it would have been impossible; for the assembly was so dense that he had no alternative but to remain stationary, or to be carried along by the mass. It so happened that he joined the multitude just in season to be borne well along into the area of the building, in front of the rostrum; and there he was in his working apparel, in full view of hundreds of eyes. Yet he scarcely thought of his clothing in his eagerness to hear the eulogy. It was upon the character of one with whose political life he was quite familiar, and this circumstance increased his interest. His old suit did not at all impair his sense of hearing, nor obscure the language of the orator. He never heard better in his life, and, in but few instances, never felt himself better paid for his effort to hear an oration.
It was known in the shop, before work began in the afternoon, that Nat had gone just as he was to hear the eulogy, and it created some merriment.
"He is a real book-worm," said one; "he always carries a book in his pocket to read when he is not at work."
"Well, I can hardly make out what he is, for he never says much," said another. "He seems to be thinking about something all the time, and yet he attends to his work. He is a queer genius, I guess."
"He is no ignoramus, you may depend on that," said a third. "A chap with such an eye as his knows his P's and Q's. He says little, and thinks the more."
"And then," added the first speaker, "a fellow who will go without his dinner to hear a speech must have a pretty good appetite for knowledge, unless he is obliged to diet."
"He'll have a good appetite for supper, I'm thinking," said another, rather dryly.
Nat heard the eulogy, and was back again to his work within three hours. There were some smiling faces as he entered the shop, and he could very readily read the thoughts behind them.
"Was you in time?" inquired the fellow-workman with whom he had the conversation about going.
"I could not have hit better," Nat replied, "if I had known the precise minute the eulogy would commence. It was good, too; and a greater crowd I never saw."
"There would not have been room for me if I had gone, then?"
"No; I just made out the complement. I took the last place there was, and it was a close fit for me."
"How did you like Mr. Adams?"
"Better than I expected. I had not formed a very exalted idea of his eloquence, perhaps because I have heard Webster and Everett, but he was really eloquent, and spoke evidently without any political or partisan prejudices. He appears older than I expected."
"He is getting to be an old man, and he has been through enough to make him gray long ago."
"I am glad to have heard him," added Nat. "Perhaps I might never have had another opportunity."
This incident is another illustration of the sacrifices Nat would make to hear public speakers, and to acquire knowledge, whenever he could. A commendable enthusiasm is apparent here as elsewhere, in seeking the object desired. All those leading traits of his character, that we have seen were so serviceable to him in other places, appear in this brief experience, while an unquenchable thirst for knowledge lay behind them to goad them on to victory.
THE TEMPERANCE SOCIETY.
In Nat's boyhood the principle of total abstinence was not advocated by the friends of temperance. He was considered temperate who drank intoxicating liquor sparingly, and there were few persons who did not use it at all. But a few years later, at the period of his life to which we have now arrived, the total abstinence theory began to command the public attention. The movement commenced with the New York State Temperance Society, and spread rapidly over the country. It reached Nat's native village, and considerable interest was awakened.
"I have been thinking," said Nat to his companions, when they were together one evening, "that we better form a young people's total abstinence society. That is evidently the only right principle of conducting the temperance reform."
"I am ready for it," replied Charlie. "Something ought to be done to stop the evils of intemperance. I understand the adults are going to organize a society, and there will be more interest awakened if we young people have one among ourselves."
"I suppose we can belong to the town society if we choose," said Frank, "though I think there would be more interest, as you say, if we have one among ourselves. I am ready to do either."
"What do you say, Marcus?" inquired Nat.
"I say 'amen' to it, with real Methodist unction," answered Marcus, with his usual good humor. "Any way that will smash the decanters and get rid of the rum."
"You like it as well as anybody," said James Cole, somewhat pettishly, as he was touched by this last remark of Marcus. "I wouldn't trust you out of sight with a decanter, whether you join the society or not."
"What! are you opposed to it, James?" asked Nat.
"Yes, I am; it is all nonsense to talk about never tasting of liquor again. The whole of you would drink wine at the first party where it is passed around. Not one of you would dare refuse."
"You will have a chance to see," said Frank. "The time is not far off when no one will provide wine for a party, if the total abstinence cause advances, as I believe it will."
"Well, I shall not sign away my liberty," continued James, "by putting my name to a pledge. I shall drink when I please, and stop when I please."
"I have no more intention of signing away my liberty," said Nat, "than you have. But I am not anxious for the liberty of getting drunk and lying in the gutter. I prefer to be free, and know what I am about; for then I can walk the streets without reeling when I please."
"A man has no need to make a beast of himself if he does not join a total abstinence society," said James. "I don't believe in drunkenness any more than you do, and there is no need of drinking to excess."
"That is what every toper said once," answered Nat. "Not one of them expected to become a drunkard, and probably they all thought there was no need of it. When a person begins to drink, it is not certain that he will have the ability to stop."
"Fudge," exclaimed James. "You would make out that a man has no self-respect, and no will to govern his appetite."
"That is exactly what I mean to make out," added Nat. "The habit of using intoxicating drinks nurtures an irresistible appetite, so that there is not one hard drinker in ten who could now stop drinking if he should try."
"Are you green enough to believe that?" asked James, in a tone of derision.
"He is just ripe enough to believe it," interrupted Marcus. "A green-horn has a good deal to learn before he can believe the truth;" and this sly hit James felt.
"I suppose that you all expect that I shall be picked out of the gutter one day, because I can't control my appetite," said James. "I should think so by your talk."
"For one, I should not be at all surprised," replied Nat, "unless you change your views. You certainly maintain the gutter theory."
"Gutter or no gutter," added James, "I shall not sacrifice my liberty by joining a total abstinence society. I will have people know that there is one child who can drink when he pleases, or let it alone."
It was usual at that time, for youth to drink, as well as adults, on certain occasions. If a company of them were out upon an excursion, or attending a party, they did not hesitate to take a glass of wine, and even something stronger. It was according to the custom of the times. It was fashionable to treat callers to something of the kind, and to furnish it as a necessary part of the entertainment at social gatherings. Nat and his companions were accustomed to accept the glass on such occasions. But they were discriminating enough to perceive that there was danger. They did not dare to trust themselves to sustain the drinking usages of the the day. They had heard public lectures upon the subject, in which the perils of the times, both to the young and old, in this respect, were delineated, and they were wise enough to acknowledge the truth of what they heard. Nat espoused the cause from the beginning, with his usual enthusiasm and invincible purpose.
It was decided to organize a Total Abstinence Society, and arrangements were made to effect the object on the following week. Notice was given accordingly, and many of the young people were spoken with upon the subject. The friends of temperance generally encouraged the movement, as a very hopeful one for the young. Nat, assisted by his companions, drafted a constitution before the evening of organization arrived, in order to facilitate the business. The proposition met with many hearty responses.
On the evening appointed to form the society, as many were present as could be expected, and most of them came resolved to join the society. A few were drawn thither by curiosity, having little sympathy with the movement. The meeting was called to order by one of the number, and a temporary chairman elected.
"Mr. Chairman," said Nat, rising from his seat, "we have met here to-night to organize a Total Abstinence Society, and most of us have come with the intention of joining. In order, therefore, to effect a speedy organization, I will present to the meeting the following constitution, which some of us have prepared, for their adoption or rejection. If the constitution is adopted, it will then be proper to circulate it for signatures, and afterwards proceed to the choice of officers."
Nat read the constitution and by-laws, and they were unanimously adopted, and then circulated for signatures. The pledge was incorporated into the constitution, so that signing that was also signing the pledge.
"I move you now," said Charlie, "that we proceed to the choice of officers." The motion was carried.
"How shall the officers be chosen?" inquired the chairman.
"I move they be chosen by ballot," said Frank. This motion was also carried.
"Please prepare and bring in your votes for president," announced the chairman.
Two or three boys' caps made convenient ballot-boxes, so that this order was soon obeyed.
"Votes all in?" inquired the chairman. "If so, I declare the ballot closed."
After counting the ballots, the president announced the result.
"You have made choice of Frank Martin for your president," said he.
Frank took the chair, and the temporary chairman retired.
"Please prepare and bring in your votes for secretary," said Frank.
The order was speedily executed, and the president declared the ballot.
"You have made choice of Charles Stone for your secretary," and Charles took his place at the table.
The remaining officers were duly elected, and other business performed, and thus the first Total Abstinence Society, in Nat's native place, was started by himself and associates. When we consider how long ago it was, and the perils that surrounded the young at that time, on account of the drinking usages, we must concede that it was a very important event to all who put their names to that constitution and pledge. It probably exerted a moulding influence upon their characters through life. Possibly it saved some of them from a drunkard's grave.
The formation of such a society was calculated to create considerable of a sensation in the village, and to provoke many remarks for and against. The principle of total abstinence was so novel to many, that they thought its advocates must be almost insane. Even some temperance men and women, who had defended the cause on the old ground, concluded that there was more zeal than knowledge in taking such a step. In the grog-shops the subject was discussed with much spirit.
"You'll have to shut up shop 'fore long," said one customer to Miles, a rumseller, "if the temperance folks can have their own way."
"I guess they won't have their way," replied Miles. "Very few people will sell their liberty out so cheap. I don't apprehend that it will make much difference with my business, whether they have a temperance society or not."
"You haven't heard how swimmingly the young folks went on the other night, I reckon."
"Yes I have; and that was one of Nat's movements. He's dead set against drinking, they say, but he is welcome to all he can make out of this."
"He better be minding his own business, and not meddle with other people's affairs. They say he studies more than he works now; but if he had been compelled to work on at his trade, it would turn out better for him and all concerned."
"Nat is a smart feller," said the rumseller; "but he'll have to be a good deal smarter before he can get many people to say they'll never drink."
"That's certain," responded the customer. "There is no use in trying to do what can't be done. But boys are getting to know more than their fathers in these ere times. I 'spose there are some folks who would like to tell us what we shall eat and wear, and what we shan't."
"I wonder if Jim Cole joined the society?" inquired the rumseller.
"Jim! no! you wouldn't ketch him to make such a dunce of himself. He believes in using a little when he wants it, and that's my doctrine."
"Jim is steady as a deacon natrally," continued the vender, "and I didn't know but he might be influenced by Nat to join."
"He didn't; for he told me that he shouldn't sign away his liberty for anybody, and he said that he told Nat, and the other fellers, that they would drink wine at the first party they went to."
"He was wrong there, I'm thinking," answered the rumseller; "for Nat is independent, and he don't back out of any thing he undertakes. He'll be the last one to give it up."
"Doesn't Jim patronize you sometimes?"
"Yes; he occasionally drops in, and takes a little; but Jim doesn't favor hard drinking. He thinks that many men drink too much."
If all the remarks and discussions that were consequent upon the organization of the Total Abstinence Society, could be collected, the result would be a volume. But we must be satisfied with this single illustration, and pass on.
The members of the society studied to know how to make it interesting and prosperous. Various plans were suggested, and many opinions were advanced.
"Let us invite Nat to deliver a lecture," said Frank to Charlie. "He will prepare a good one, and it will interest the people in our movement."
"I had not thought of that," answered Charlie. "Perhaps it would be a good plan. But do you suppose he would do it?"
"I think we could urge him to it," replied Frank. "He likes to speak as well as he does to eat, and a little better; and I know that he can give a capital lecture if he will."
"I think it might be the means of inducing more of the young people to join the society," continued Charlie. "The more popular we make it, the more readily some of them will join us."
"I will go and see Nat at once about it if you will," said Frank. "If he does it, the sooner he knows about it the better."
They went to see Nat, and found him in his study. The subject was duly opened, and, after some urging, he consented to deliver a public lecture. At the meeting of the Society on that week, a formal invitation was voted to Nat, and the time of the lecture appointed.
At that time, it required much more decision, perseverance, and moral principle, to espouse the temperance cause than it does to-day. It was a new thing, and many looked with suspicion upon it. Of course, it was a better test of Nat's principles and purpose, than such a movement would be now. That it was a good stand for him to take, and one suited to tell upon his future character, we need scarcely say. It is an important event when a youth of this day resolves that he will never tamper with intoxicating drinks—and that he will pledge his word and honor to this end. It was a far more important event then. And when we look upon that group of youth, conferring together upon the claims of the total abstinence principle, and their resolve to adopt it in the face of opposition, we can but record it as one of the most hopeful and sublime events of Nat's early life.
THE TEMPERANCE LECTURE.
The news that Nat would give a lecture on the subject of temperance soon spread through the town, and both the friends and the foes of the cause discussed the anticipated event.
"So it seems that Nat is going to preach temperance to us," said a customer of Miles, the rumseller. "I should think the little upstart thought he was going to reform the town."
"Nat is no upstart I assure you; but he is going a little too fast now," replied Miles. "He is young, however, and he will learn some things in a few years that he don't know now."
"I 'spose every dog must have his day," continued the customer, "and so it must be with timp'rance. It will have its run, and then die a nat'ral death. But it makes me mad to see folks meddle with what is none of their business. Just as if a man hadn't a right to drink when he is a mind to!"
"It's a free country yet," answered Miles, "and all these reformers will find it out before long. But shall you go to hear Nat lecture?"
"I go!" exclaimed the customer. "You won't ketch this child there, I can tell you. Do you 'spose I would go to hear what I don't believe? It's all nonsense, the whole of it, and it shan't have my support."
"I can't agree with you on that point," replied Miles. "I sometimes go to hear what I don't believe, and I guess you do. I think I shall go to hear Nat if I can leave. I want to see how he makes out!"
"You may go for all I care," added the customer, "and find yourself insulted and abused as rumsellers usually are in such lectures."
On the evening of the lecture, Miles actually went to hear it, and there was a good number of his customers present. Curiosity to hear Nat overcame their opposition to the cause, for the time being, so that they were drawn thither. A lecture by any one else would not have called them out, but the attraction now was too great to be resisted. The hall was crowded with the old and young, and there was not a vacant place for another.
The subject of Nat's lecture was "THE FIFTEEN GALLON LAW," which was then agitating the public mind. It was a new movement by the advocates of temperance, and its friends and foes were arrayed against each other for a hard contest. Nat rejoiced in the movement, and therefore prepared himself to defend the law. We will give, in substance, his argument.
After portraying the evils of intemperance in language and eloquence that riveted the attention of the audience, and confirming his statements by unanswerable statistics, he proceeded to say:—
"That something must be done to stay this tide of evil, or we shall become literally a nation of drunkards. It is vain to enact laws to punish the drunkard, and still allow the vender of strong drink to dole out his poison by the glass. For the poor, who need every farthing they earn to purchase bread for their hungry families, will spend their wages at the dram-shop, and leave their children to starve in poverty and degradation. The 'Fifteen Gallon Law' is admirably adapted to save this class. They are never able to purchase intoxicating drinks in larger quantities than by the quart or gallon, so that this law will cut off their supplies. It is true, another class, who possess the means, will not be deterred from purchases by this law, but it is better to save the poor than to save none at all. This appears to be the best thing that can be done at the present time; perhaps sagacious minds will yet discover a universal remedy for this mammoth evil. At any rate, we are urged by the wants of suffering humanity to advocate this law, which may redeem thousands of the poor from their cups and their misery."
The enemies of the law contended that it was introducing "a new principle of legislation," and that while former laws had only "regulated" the sale of strong drink, this Fifteen Gallon Law was "prohibitory." To this Nat replied,
"That the legislature has power to restrain all trades which are detrimental to the public welfare, and to regulate or prohibit them according as the public good requires. Legislatures have always acted upon this principle, not only in regard to other trades, but also in respect to the traffic in alcoholic drinks. As long ago as 1680, when the public attention was first directed to the evils of intemperance, a law was enacted prohibiting the sale of a less quantity than 'a quarter cask,' by unlicensed persons. It also prohibited all sales after nine o'clock in the evening, and sales at any time to known drunkards. By this law landlords were obliged to suppress excessive drinking on their premises, and not to allow persons to sit in their bar-rooms drinking and tippling. In 1682, intemperance prevailed to such a degree among sailors, that a law was passed forbidding the sale of liquors to this class, except on a written permit from the master or ship-owner. In 1698, a statute was framed prohibiting all sales to 'any apprentice, servant or negro,' without a special order from the master. In 1721 another law was enacted prohibiting sales on credit beyond the amount of ten shillings; and the reason assigned for it was, 'for that many persons are so extravagant in their expenses, at taverns and other houses of common entertainment, that it greatly hurts their families, and makes them less able to pay and discharge their honest, just debts.' In 1787 this rule was reenacted, and subsequently all sales on credit were prohibited. Seven years after the adoption of the constitution, a statute was passed limiting the sale to twenty-eight gallons by unlicensed persons. The statute of 1818 prohibited the sale of liquors 'to common drunkards, tipplers, and gamesters; and to persons who so misspend, waste or lessen their estates, as to expose themselves or their families to want, or the town to the burden of their support, by the use of strong drink—or whose health is thus, in the opinion of the selectmen, endangered or injured.' Here is prohibition with a vengeance, going much beyond the provisions of the Fifteen Gallon Law, and forbidding the sale to certain persons, and at certain times. A man was even prohibited from asking for credit at the bar, and the landlord could not grant it if he did, without violating a statute of the Commonwealth. How, then, can the enemies of this measure be bare-faced enough to assert that it is disregarding their inalienable rights? How can they assert, with a shadow of truth on their side, that it is introducing 'a new principle of legislation?' There is no other principle involved in this law than that which is found in our statutes controlling the shooting of certain birds, the sale of tainted meat, the location of slaughter-houses, the existence of lotteries, and many other things that might be named—all showing that the legislature has authority to prohibit whatever the public good requires. That the public good demands the suppression of intemperance, who can deny? It is the greatest scourge of our land, and the world. It sends thirty thousand annually, in our country, to a drunkard's grave. It tenants our almshouses and prisons with its wretched victims, and causes three fourths of all the crimes that fill the calendars of our courts. It swells your taxes more than all other evils combined, and is the nursery of blasted hopes and miseries that language cannot describe. If then, the public good requires the suppression of any vice in our land, it is this."
Thus he disposed of this plea of the rumsellers, to the happy surprise and satisfaction of the friends of temperance. He discussed other topics connected with the law, and which we have not space to consider. For an hour or more he held his audience in breathless interest, by the strain of argument and oratory that he poured forth from his fruitful mind and earnest heart. A more delighted audience never listened before to a temperance lecture. Its depth, power, and compass were more than they expected. A round of hearty applause told plainly how it was received, as Nat uttered the last word, and took his seat.
"There, Nat," said Marcus to him on the following evening, "you did more good last night than all the temperance lecturers who have come to town."
"How so?" inquired Nat, not understanding his meaning.
"They say you fairly convinced Miles, and he is going to stop selling liquor."
"How do you know?" asked Nat, with a very incredulous look. "I shall want pretty good evidence of that before I believe it."
"He has told a half dozen people so to-day, and one of his best customers among the number."
"Who is that?"
"It was Johnson, who pays him as much money in a year as any other man. Johnson got excited, and denounced him and all the friends of temperance in strong language. He called you a 'fool,' and Miles cracked you up in return, and so they had it for a while rather hot, much to the amusement of Mr. Fairbanks, who happened to hear it."
This was gratifying news to Nat, and to all who sympathized with him in the temperance cause; and it needs some further notice. This Johnson was the customer with whom we became acquainted in another place, a bitter opponent of the "Fifteen Gallon Law." Curiosity, as well as appetite, led him into Miles's shop on the morning after the lecture, for he wanted to hear about it. He had learned in some way that Miles went, as he intimated to him, and therefore it was a good place to go for information.
"So you went to hear Nat last night?" he said to Miles, as he entered the shop. "Did he make a temperance man of you?" meaning this inquiry for a jest.
"Nat spoke real well," answered Miles, "and his arguments were so good that I can't answer them. He's a mighty smart chap."
"What did he harp on last night?" inquired Johnson.
"The Fifteen Gallon Law; and he showed how it would remove the evils of intemperance, which he described so correctly and eloquently that I was astonished. I don't see where he has ever learnt so much."
"Larnt it!" exclaimed Johnson; "he larnt it where he did his impudence. I see that he has pulled the wool over your eyes, and you are more than half timperance now."
"All of that," replied Miles, coolly; "I am going to quit rum-selling at once. If I can't get my living in an honest way, then I will go to the poor-house."
"I hope you will go there," answered Johnson, starting up from his chair under great excitement. "A man who has no mind of his own ought to go there. I——"
"I thought you was going to say," interrupted Miles, "that I ought to go there to keep company with the paupers I have made. I am pretty sure I should have you for a companion before long, if you don't alter your hand."
"I never thought you was overstocked with brains," continued Johnson; "but if you will be hoodwinked by that fool of a Nat, you have less than I thought you had. It is great business for a man of your age to give up beat to a boy, and that is all Nat is, though he thinks he's a man."
"Boy or not," answered Miles, "he spoke better last night than any man I ever heard. He is a first-rate orator, and his defence of the 'Fifteen Gallon Law' was unanswerable."
"A feller ought to speak well who has studied as much as he has," said Johnson. "He hain't earnt his salt for two or three years, 'cause he's too lazy to do any thing but look at a book."
"I don't care how much he has studied," answered Miles. "If I had a son who could speak as well as he does, I should be proud of him, though he had done nothing but study for ten years. Your talk is very unreasonable, and you know it; and for that reason, it will not change my opinion of Nat."
"Run arter him, then, to your heart's content," said Johnson, turning to go out, "and be a timperance man if you will,—it'll take more than this to make you decent;" and with these words he left the premises in a rage.
Mr. Miles carried out his determination to cease the traffic in strong drink, and engage in some more honorable business. His unexpected espousal of the total abstinence principle, and the closing of his dram-shop, offended many of the rum fraternity. It was a signal achievement for the temperance cause, however, and for the welfare of the village.
The lecture of Nat won for him an enviable reputation, not only at home, but abroad, and he was soon invited to deliver it in the neighboring towns. Wherever he consented to give it, it was received with decided favor, and the anticipations of hearers were more than realized.
Subsequently he delivered other lectures on the subject of temperance in his native village, and the people soon learned that no lecturer called out so large audiences as he. There was always a desire to hear him; and his sonorous voice, bewitching eloquence, and sensible thoughts, never failed to entertain his auditors.
At this time Nat occupied a position of honor and influence which few persons of his age ever attain. But let not the reader suppose it was the result of chance, or the consequence of superior talents alone. He was more indebted for it to the studious habits which he formed from twelve to fifteen years of age, than to any thing else. If he had wasted his spare moments then in idleness,—as many boys do,—he never would have surprised the lyceum with a speech of such eloquence, nor been able to entertain an audience on the subject of temperance. The habits of life are usually fixed by the time a lad is fifteen years of age. The habits which Nat had established at this period of life, made him what he was five years later. Those early years of industry and application could not be thrown away without demolishing the fabric that was reared upon them. They were the underpinning of the beautiful structure that so many delighted to view when the busy architect was a little older. For, if it could ever be truthfully said of any one, "he is the artificer of his own fortune," it could be said of Nat. The bobbin boy was father of the young and popular orator.
It is generally true, as we have intimated before, that the influence of habits at ten or fifteen years of age, is distinctly traceable through the whole career of eminent men. Sir James Mackintosh was thirteen years of age when Mr. Fox and Lord North were arrayed against each other on the subject of the American war. He became deeply interested in the matter through their speeches, and from that time concentrated his thoughts upon those topics that contributed to make him the distinguished orator and historian that he became. He always considered that the direction given to his mind, at that early period of his life, settled his destiny. The great naturalist Audubon, was just as fond of birds and other animals, when ten years old, as he was in manhood. He studied natural objects with perfect admiration, and took the portraits of such birds as he particularly fancied. When he was sent to Paris to be educated, away from the beauty and freshness of rural objects, he became tired of his lessons, and exclaimed, "What have I to do with monstrous torsos and the heads of heathen gods, when my business lies among birds?" The foundation of his success as a naturalist was laid in his sparkling boyhood. Benjamin West was made a painter, as he said, by his mother's kiss of approbation, when she saw a picture he sketched, at seven or eight years of age. He became just what he promised to be in his boyhood, when he robbed the old cat of the tip of her tail out of which to manufacture a brush, to prosecute his delicate art. Thus it was with Eli Whitney, who proved himself such a benefactor to mankind by his inventive genius. His sister gives the following account of his boyhood: "Our father had a workshop, and sometimes made wheels of different kinds, and chairs. He had a variety of tools, and a lathe for turning chair-posts. This gave my brother an opportunity of learning the use of tools when very young. He lost no time; but, as soon as he could handle tools, he was always making something in the shop, and seemed not to like working on the farm. On a time, after the death of our mother, when our father had been absent from home two or three days, on his return he inquired of the house-keeper what the boys had been doing? She told him what B. and J. had been about. 'But what has Eli been doing?' said he. She replied that he had been making a fiddle. 'Ah!' added he despondingly, 'I fear Eli will have to take his portion in fiddles.' He was at this time about twelve years old. This fiddle was finished throughout, like a common violin, and made tolerably good music. It was examined by many persons, and all pronounced it to be a remarkable piece of work for such a boy to perform. From this time he was employed to repair violins, and had many nice jobs, which were always executed to the entire satisfaction, and often to the astonishment of his customers. His father's watch being the greatest piece of machinery that had yet presented itself to his observation, he was extremely desirous of examining its interior construction, but was not permitted to do so. One Sunday morning, observing that his father was going to meeting, and would leave at home the wonderful little machine, he immediately feigned illness as an apology for not going to church. As soon as the family were out of sight, he flew to the room where the watch hung, and, taking it down, he was so much delighted with its motions, that he took it all in pieces before he thought of the consequences of his rash deed; for his father was a stern parent, and punishment would have been the reward of his idle curiosity, had the mischief been detected. He, however, put the work all so neatly together, that his father never discovered his audacity until he himself told him many years afterwards."[A] Such was the boyhood of one who invented the cotton-gin, made improvements in the manufacture of fire-arms, by which the national government saved, as Mr. Calhoun said "twenty-five thousand dollars per annum," and contributed largely to advance other mechanical arts. How distinctly we can trace, in all these examples, the moulding influence of boyhood upon manhood! And how marked the correspondence between the early life of all these men and that of Nat! Thus it is that the beautiful poem of Longfellow, "The Village Blacksmith," is abundantly illustrated in the biography of both the living and the dead! A few of the verses are:—
"Under a spreading chestnut-tree The village smithy stands; The smith, a mighty man is he, With large and sinewy hands; And the muscles of his brawny arms Are strong as iron bands.
"His hair is crisp, and black, and long, His face is like the tan; His brow is wet with honest sweat, He earns what e'er he can, And looks the whole world in the face, For he owes not any man.
"Week in, week out, from morn till night, You can hear his bellows blow; You can hear him swing his heavy sledge, With measured beat and slow, Like a sexton ringing the village bell, When the evening sun was low.
* * * * *
"Toiling,—rejoicing,—sorrowing, Onward through life he goes; Each morning sees some task begin, Each evening sees it close; Something attempted, something done, Has earned a night's repose.
"Thanks, thanks to thee, my worthy friend, For the lesson thou hast taught! Thus at the flaming forge of life Our fortunes must be wrought; Thus on its sounding anvil shaped Each burning deed and thought!"
But to return. For some time Nat's attention had been directed to political subjects, and he had been hither and thither to listen to various speakers. At length he became so enthusiastic in support of his own political tenets, that he was urged to undertake political speech-making. There was ample opportunity for the display of his abilities in this way, since the political excitement was strong.