"What do you think," said he to Charlie, "about my engaging in politics? I have been urged to speak at political meetings."
"You better do it," replied Charlie. "You are well qualified for it; and you always have taken an interest in politics ever since you read the Life of Jefferson. Where do they want you should speak?"
"Here, and in other places, too; and I scarcely know what to do about it. In some respects I should like it, and in others I should not."
"Do it, by all means," added Charlie. "It will not interfere much with your studies, as you will speak only in the evening."
"But that will interfere very much with my present plans. It will be on my mind all the time, so that my interest will be divided at least. No one can have too many irons in the fire, and attend to them all. One thing at a time is about as much as any person can do well."
"That may be very true, but why not make that one thing politics? We must have men to manage State affairs, as certainly as to be lawyers, physicians, and ministers. Besides, if I can read you, Nat, you are actually cut out for this sphere of action."
"You don't read me correctly if that is your opinion. There must be a great many unpleasant things in such a life. If the speaking were all, I should like that well enough, but that is a small part of political experience."
"Try it, try it," added Charlie, "and see how you make it go. You need not continue in it longer than you please. I want to see you take the stump once. Perhaps you will make a Democrat of me."
Nat met the last remark with a laugh, and said "That is too much to expect. You are a hopeless case,—too incorrigible to be won over to the right side. I relinquished all hope of you a long time ago."
"Now, seriously," said Charlie, "I advise you to speak at political meetings, and I hope you will speak here first. It will be the best thing you can do. If I possessed your abilities for public speaking, I would do it in a minute."
"Perhaps I shall conclude to do so," was Nat's reply, as they separated.
The result was, that Nat decided to address a political gathering in his native town; and soon after he visited some neighboring places on the same errand. He soon acquired a reputation, as the "young orator," and committees waited upon him from towns near and remote. The adventure of one of these committees rehearsed, will show what expectations were awakened by his spreading fame.
A committee, in the town of ——, were instructed to wait upon him, and secure his services at a great political gathering there. Accordingly the committee put on their "Sunday suit," harnessed the horse into the best carriage, and started for Nat's residence. Meeting a man, as they entered the village.
"Where is Esquire —— (meaning Nat)'s office?"
The person addressed did not understand who was meant at first, and asked for the repetition of the inquiry, which was readily granted.
"Oh," answered he, "it is down yonder," at the same time pointing to a street a quarter of a mile distant or more, and scarcely able to control his risibles as he thought of the joke he was about to perpetrate.
"Very much obliged to you," responded the inquirer, at the same time whipping up his horse.
"This is nothing but a carpenter's shop," said one of them, as they reached the place. "We must have misunderstood him."
"It is very evident," said the other, "that we shall have to look further yet. But let us go in and inquire."
So they alighted, and went in.
"We are looking for Esquire ——'s office. A gentleman directed us a short distance back, but we find that we did not understand him."
"Whose office did you say?" inquired Nat's father, who happened to be the person addressed.
"Esquire ——'s office, the young orator we have heard so much about."
Nat's father was very much amused at this turn of matters; but he kept on a sober face, and replied, pointing to Nat, who was planing a board,
"That is the young man you want to see, I suppose."
The committee looked at each other, and then at the black-haired board-planer, with perfect amazement. Their countenances told just what they thought; and if we should write their thoughts out in plain English, they would run thus:
"What! that young fellow the stump orator of which we have been told so much. We better have staid at home, than to risk our party in his hands. Why! he is nothing but a boy. There must be some mistake about the matter."
While astonishment was evaporating from the tops of their heads, and oozing out of the ends of their fingers, Nat had turned away from the bench to welcome the official strangers. There he stood hatless, and coatless, with his shirt-sleeves stripped up to his elbows, and his noble brow wet with perspiration, looking little like one who could sway an audience by the power of his eloquence.
"We are a committee from the town of——instructed to wait on you, and engage you to address a political convention," said one of them, breaking the silence.
"When is the convention?" inquired Nat.
"Two weeks from this time, the 15th day of October."
"I will be there," answered Nat, "and do the best I can for you."
The matter was adjusted, and the committee left, evidently thinking that an orator whose office was a carpenter's shop could not be a remarkable defender of democratic principles. On their way home, they spoke freely to each other of their mistake in engaging one so inexperienced to address the convention. They concluded that it would teach them a good lesson, and that in future they would not risk the reputation of their party in unskilful hands.
It is sufficient to say, that Nat filled the appointment to the satisfaction of the crowd, and the surprise of the committee. Before he had spoken fifteen minutes, the committee discovered that they had misjudged the orator, and that he was, indeed, the youthful champion of their party. His speech fully convinced them that he could address a political assembly a little better than he could plane a board.
[Footnote A: A good sketch of Eli Whitney's Life, and the lives of some other self-made men, spoken of in this volume, may be found in "Biography of Self-Taught Men," by Professor B. B. Edwards. Every youth in the land ought to read this work, not only for the information it imparts, but for the incentives to "noble, godlike action," which it presents on almost every page.]
THE EARLY VICTIM
"I have just heard," said Nat one morning to a neighbor, "that James Cole was frozen to death last night while intoxicated. Is it true?"
"I had not heard of it," replied the neighbor. "Some people at the head of the street were conversing about something that had occurred as I passed, but I did not understand what it was. Perhaps it was that. He has conducted badly for a year past, and I suppose he is a confirmed drunkard, although he is so young."
Just then Frank came along, and, before Nat had time to inquire, proceeded to say, "James Cole came very near freezing to death last night, and the physician thinks it is doubtful whether he will recover."
"How did it happen?" asked Nat.
"He spent last evening at one of the grog-shops, I don't know which, and staid drinking until it was very late; and he was badly intoxicated when he started for home, so that he did not get far before he fell down in the road, and was unable to get up. It was so late that no one came along until this morning, and there he laid senseless all the while, and was completely chilled through when Mr. Bates found him this morning."
"Then Mr. Bates found him?" said Nat.
"Yes; and he could scarcely tell whether he was dead or alive at first. He carried him to his father's immediately, and sent for the doctor as quickly as possible."
"Do you know what time it was when he left the grog-shop?"
"No; but I heard it was very late."
"Well," added Nat, "a man who will sell James Cole liquor until he makes him drunk, and then send him home alone, on such a night as last night was, has no more feeling than a brute. If he should die, that rumseller would be the actual cause of his death."
"Certainly," answered Frank; "it would not have been half so bad to have robbed him of his money, and turned him away without any drink. But I wonder if Jim thinks now of the conversation we had with him about forming the Total Abstinence Society?"
"He has probably found out by this time," replied Nat, "that he can't stop drinking when he pleases, after an appetite for it is acquired. He was very sure that he should never be a drunkard; and that was but little more than two years ago."
"I never expected he would be much, but I had no idea he would come to this so soon," added Frank. "I scarcely ever heard of a person going to ruin so quick."
"James was a very smart fellow, naturally," said Nat. "I once thought he was the most talented fellow of his age in town, and it would have turned out so if he had tried to make anything of himself."
"I think so, too," said Frank. "But he never wanted to be respectable. He always seemed to glory in drinking. He was earning five dollars a day in the machine-shop when they turned him away, and was considered by far the best workman there. He lost his place on account of his intemperate habits; but it never seemed to trouble him. It is my opinion now, that he had a strong appetite for intoxicating drinks at the time we organized the Total Abstinence Society, and for that reason he opposed it."
"His case will be a good defence of the temperance cause," continued Nat, "and I hope the rumsellers will never hear the last of it. I can scarcely see what a person can say in favor of the use and traffic in strong drink, with such an illustration of the evil before them."
The news of James's condition spread through the village, and many received it in a very exaggerated form. Some heard that he was dead, and others that he was near dying, the latter rumor not being far from the truth. Before night, however, it was announced that he was better, and there was hope of his recovery. All sorts of stories were put in circulation about the place of his drinking, and the circumstances attending it. The rumseller very justly came in for his share of condemnation, while he and his allies were disposed to say very little, for the simple reason that there was not much for them to say. Such an instance of degradation in the very dawn of manhood, when the dew of his youth was still upon the victim, was an unanswerable argument for the cause of temperance. He who could close his senses against such an appeal in behalf of sobriety, would take the side of error in spite of the plainest evidence to the contrary. It was not strange, then, that much was said at the fireside, in the streets and shops, and everywhere, concerning the event, nor that the foes of temperance were inclined to be unusually silent.
"Doctor! how is James Cole now?" inquired a gentleman who met him some three or four weeks after the fatal night of drunkenness.
"His case is hopeless," answered the doctor. "He has a hard cough, and to all appearance is in a quick consumption."
"Do you consider it the consequence of his exposure on that night?"
"Certainly, it can be nothing else. If it had been a very cold night he would have been frozen to death in the morning. I did not know that he had become so much of a drunkard until this happened."
"I did," replied the gentleman. "I have seen a good deal of him, and have known something of his habits. I was satisfied, when he was but sixteen or eighteen years of age, that he had an appetite for liquor, and I am not surprised at the result."
"The poor fellow will soon know the worst," added the doctor. "He can't live many weeks at the longest."
"I hope it will prove a warning to the young here," said the gentleman. "The fact is, I wonder sometimes that we do not have more of such cases when the temptations to drink are so common. But one ought to be sufficient to move the whole town on the subject."
* * * * *
Not quite twelve weeks have elapsed since the foregoing incident occurred. The bell tolls out its solemn death-knell, and the sable hearse is moving slowly on to the grave-yard. Sad, tearful mourners follow, to lay all that remains of James Cole—the son, and brother—in the silent "narrow house." For the demon-vice has done its worst, and loosed the silver chord, and his youthful spirit has gone before the drunkard's offended God. Alas! what painful memories throng the minds of beholders at the sight of the long, mournful procession on its way to the tomb! Never did a hearse convey more blasted hopes or wasted powers, more abused and withered ties, or dishonored members, to the house of the dead. Within that coffin is the bright promise of youth, the strength of early manhood, parental expectations and love—all blighted by the breath of the destroyer, and laid in as sad a winding-sheet as ever wrapped a tenant of the grave. Oh! how great the woes of intemperance appear, when these appalling realities dash earthly hopes, and send the wretched victim away to that world "from whose bourne no traveller returns!" So thought many as the lifeless form of James Cole was consigned to its kindred dust.
"Another drunkard's grave," said the sexton, as the stones rattled upon the coffin which he proceeded to cover, when the procession had retired; and his remark was addressed to a neighbor who stood by his side.
"Not exactly a drunkard's grave," was the reply. "James was intemperate, but he died of consumption."
"And was not that consumption the consequence of his drunkenness?" inquired the sexton.
"I suppose it was; still I thought we could hardly call this a drunkard's grave, though it is true enough."
"It is too painfully true," added the sexton. "Would that it might be called otherwise; but it cannot be. When you and I are numbered with the dead, this spot will be known by all who have seen James Cole buried to-day, as the drunkard's grave. There are many of them in this yard, but I never dug a sadder one than this."
"And I hope you never will another," said the man.
So the sexton buried the sleeper, and turned away to his home. For more than twenty years his dust has been mingling with its native earth, without a stone to mark the spot, nor a flower to tell of hope. But his early companions, whose wiser choice and better resolves allied them to the cause of virtue, know where the early victim was laid, and call it the youthful DRUNKARD'S GRAVE.
Let almost a quarter of a century pass, and inquire, where and what are Nat and his associates now? We have advocated the sentiment throughout these pages, that the character and position of manhood are determined by boyhood and youth. How is it with the group of boys who have figured in the foregoing pages? Does the history of each one verify the truth we have taught? or is even one of the number an exception to the general principle stated?
We have already seen one of this number laid in a drunkard's grave,—the boy who thought he could take the social glass, according to the custom of the times, and still be safe,—the youth who had more confidence in his own strength to resist temptation, than he had in the wholesome counsels of superiors. How speedily the thoughts, habits, and corrupt principles of his youth, wrought his ruin!
Some distance back in the story, we lost sight of Samuel and Benjamin Drake,—the two disobedient, idle, reckless, unmanageable boys, at fifteen years of age. What has been their history? Alas! it is written in letters of shame! The following description of these boys, when they became young men, taken from the records of a State prison, will show that both of them have been there.
"Samuel Drake: 28 years old—blue eyes—sandy hair—light complexion. —— Mass."
"Benjamin Drake: 22 years old—blue eyes—light hair—light complexion—scar on right instep. ——, Me."
We give the true record, except that we use the fictitious names employed in this volume, and withhold the names of the towns from whence they were conveyed to prison.
Five years later to the records of the same prison was added the following:
"Samuel Drake: 33 years old—blue eyes—sandy hair—light complexion—second comer. ——, Mass."
By this it appears that Samuel was twice in the State prison by the time he was thirty-three years of age. What has been his course since that period is not exactly known, though report said, a few years ago, that he ended his life on board a pirate-ship.
But the reader is surprised, perhaps, that Benjamin should become the inmate of a prison; for the last we saw of him was when he was preparing for the ministry—a converted youth, as he thought, of seventeen years. We cannot furnish every link that connects his boyhood and manhood; but the painful story is told, in substance, when it is said that his religion proved like the morning dew, and his early vicious habits returned with redoubled power, so that five years after he attended the prayer-meeting with Frank Martin, he was incarcerated for theft. It is a startling illustration of the force of boyhood's evil habits, often lording it over a man to his shame and ruin, even when he has resolved to lead a better life.
The remainder of this group of boys have proved an honor to their sex, as the principles and habits of their early lives fairly promised.
Frank Martin stands at the head of a public institution, where great responsibilities are devolved upon him, as a servant of the Commonwealth. Strange as it may seem, the institution over which he presides is the one in which his old associates, Samuel and Benjamin Drake, were incarcerated; and Frank himself opened the prison records for the writer to make the foregoing extracts.
Charlie Stone has been connected with manufactures from the beginning, advancing from one post of responsibility to another, employing his leisure time to improve his mental faculties; and he is now the honored agent of one of the wealthiest and most celebrated manufacturing companies of New England, commanding a salary of THREE THOUSAND AND FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS.
Marcus Treat, perhaps influenced by the example of Nat, devoted his spare moments to self-culture, and made commendable progress before he resolved to quit his trade, and educate himself for the legal profession. Without means of his own, or wealthy friends to aid, he succeeded in his laudable efforts, and, without being able to command a collegiate education, was admitted to the bar. He now occupies a post of honor and influence in a thriving State of our Union, where he is known as one of the most popular members of the bar.
And Nat—what and where is he? He is now known to fame as His Excellency, The Governor of ——, the best State in the Union, which is only one remove from the Presidency of the best country in the world. By his own diligence, industry, perseverance, and self-reliance, he has fully earned the confidence of his constituents. No "lucky stars," no chance-game or accident, can make a Governor out of a bobbin boy; but the noble qualities named can, as if by the power of magic, achieve the wonderful transformation. It is true of him, as the poet has said of all distinguished men,—
"The heights by great men reached and kept Were not attained by sudden flight; But they, while their companions slept, Were toiling upward in the night."
And now, ere the youthful reader closes this volume, let him stop and resolve to imitate the bright example of him whom we never more shall dare to call Nat. His business now is so different from that of carrying bobbins, and his position and character so far removed from that of student-boy in his father's attic, that we can only call him HIS EXCELLENCY, as we reverently tip our hat. But the leading characteristics of his youth are worthy of your imitation, whether you desire to pursue the path of knowledge or any other honorable vocation. Are you poor? So was he; poorer than hundreds of the boys who think that poverty stands in the way of their success. Are your advantages to acquire an education small? So were his; smaller than the opportunities of many youth who become disheartened because they are early deprived of school. Are you obliged to labor for a livelihood, so that your "odd moments" are few and far between? So was he; and if ever a lad could be excused from effort on this plea, it was he who toiled fourteen hours per day in a factory, to earn his bread. There is no excuse for non-exertion that will stand before the Bobbin Boy's example—not one. Imitate it, then, by cultivating those traits of character which proved the elements of his success.