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Page 99


The winter, having fairly set in, dragged on its monotonous
round. During the cold weather there was less to
do in the store, and I had frequent hours of leisure, which I
passed on my high stool at the desk, reading such books as
I could procure, and a few which I bought. The sale of
the cottage and furniture left a surplus of sixty-seven dollars,
after paying the expenses of my mother's funeral and
my last term at Dr. Dymond's. On making this statement,
as my guardian, my uncle said, —

“You don't need any more clothes this winter, and you 'd
better let me put this out for you. You 'll have no expenses
here, as I count that what you do in the store will
about balance your board.”

I greatly longed to have the whole sum in my hands, but
offered to let him “put out” fifty dollars and give me the
remainder. He consented, though with an ill grace, saying,
“It is n't good to give boys the means of temptation.”

I had never before had one tenth part as much money
in my pocket, and it gave me a wonderfully comfortable
feeling of wealth and independence. My first step was to
buy an octavo volume, containing the poems of Milton,
Young, Gray, Beattie, and Collins, every word of which I
faithfully read. (I wonder whether anybody else ever did
the same thing.) I also purchased a blank diary, with
headings for every day in the year, and kept it in the breast-pocket
of my coat, with fear and trembling lest it should
be left lying where my uncle might find and read it. For


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a month or two the entries were very regular, then more
and more fragmentary, and before summer they ceased
altogether. The little volume, with its well-worn cover
and embrowned paper, is now lying before me. I turn its
pages with a smile at its extravagant sentiment and immature
reflections. Can it be that I really wrote such stuff
as this? —

Jan. 28. — Cold and cloudy — emblematic of my life.
In the afternoon, gleams of sunshine, flashing like the
wings of angels. Would I too could soar above these sublunary
cares! Read `Childe Harold' while uncle was
out. Is it wrong to steal one's intellectual food? No; the
famishing soul must have nourishment!”

As I became familiar with the routine of my duties, and
Uncle Amos found that the accounts could be safely intrusted
to my care, he frequently left the store to Bolty
and myself, and made short trips into the country for the
purpose of procuring supplies and perfecting his system of
exchange. In this way he snapped up many a pound of
butter and dozen of eggs, which would have found their
way to other groceries; and during the season when those
articles were rather scarce he was always well supplied, —
a fact which soon became known and brought a notable
increase of custom. He also went to Philadelphia, to make
his purchases of the wholesale dealers in person, instead
of ordering them by letter. We, of course, felt a greater
responsibility during his absence, and were very closely
confined to our duties. Bolty had no other ambition than
to set up in business for himself, some day; it was an aim
he never lost sight of, and I was sure he would reach it.
For my part, having been forced into my present position,
I longed for the coming of the day which would release
me, but I was too conscientious either to break loose from
it or to slight my share of the labor.

About the beginning of April, either from the close confinement
within-doors to which I had been subjected, or to


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some change in my system, — for I was still growing, and
had now attained the average height of men, — I was attacked
with fever. The malady was not severe nor dangerous,
but stubborn; and though, after a week's confinement
to the spare bedroom on the second story, I was able
to sit up and move about again, the physician prescribed
rest for a fortnight longer, with moderate exercise when
the weather was fine. Aunt Peggy waited upon me as well
as she was able: that is, when her household duties had
been performed, she brought her knitting and sat by the
stove at the foot of my bed, asking occasionally, in a tearful
voice, “How do you feel, John?” Fortunately, I required
no watching at night, for there was no element of
tenderness in the house to make it endurable. My uncle
took my place in the store, though it must have been a serious
interruption to his outside plans. He acquiesced, without
apparent impatience, in the doctor's prescription of
further rest.

During those days of convalescence I experienced a
delicious relief and lightness of heart. Spring had burst
suddenly upon the land with a balmy brightness and
warmth which lingered, day after day, belying the fickle
fame of the month. Walking down Penn Street and crossing
the bridge, I would find a sunny seat on the top of the
gray cliff beyond, and bask in the soft awakening of the
landscape around. The bluebird sang like the voice of
the season; below me, in gardens and fields, I saw how the
dark brown of the mellow earth increased for the planting,
and how sheets or cloudy wafts of green settled over the
barrenness of winter. Again I became hopeful, joyous,
confident of the future. Time and the tenderness of memory
had softened my grief: I often recalled mother's words
on her death-bed, and allowed no unavailing sting of remorse
for neglected duties to cloud the serenity of my resignation.
It was thus, I felt, that she would have me to feel,
and her sainted spirit must rejoice in the returning buoyancy
of mine.


Page 102

On one of those lovely April afternoons, as I was musing
on the cliff, — my thoughts taking a vague, wandering
rhythm from the sound of a boatman's horn down the
river, — the idea of writing something for publication came
into my mind. A poem, of course, — for “Childe Harold,”
“Manfred,” and “The Corsair” had turned the whole drift
of my ideas into a channel of imagined song. To write
some verses and have them printed would be joy — triumph
— glory. The idea took possession of me with irresistible
force. Two dollars out of my seventeen had gone for a
subscription to the Saturday Evening Post, — an expense
at which Uncle Amos had grumbled, until he found that
Aunt Peggy took stealthy delight in perusing the paper.
In its columns I found charming poetry by Bessie Bulfinch
and Adeliza Choate, besides republications from contemporary
English literature, especially Dickens. B. Simmons,
T. K. Hervey, and Charles Swain became, for me, demigods
of song: I could only conceive of them as superior
beings, of lofty stature and majestic beauty. I had never
seen a man who had written a book. Even the editors
of the Gazette and Adler, in Reading, were personages
whose acquaintance I did not dare to seek. There was
always a half-column in the Post, addressed “To Correspondents,”
containing such messages as, — “Ivanhoe's
story contains some sweet passages, but lacks incident: declined
with thanks;” or, “The `Fairy's Bower,' by `Cecilia,'
is a poem of much promise, and will appear next
week.” I invariably read the articles thus accepted, and,
while I recognized their great merit, (for were they not
printed?) it seemed to me that, by much exertion, I might
one day achieve the right to appear in their ranks.

After having given hospitality to the idea, I carried pencil
and paper with me, and devoted several afternoons to
the poem. It was entitled, “The Unknown Bard” (meaning
myself, of course), written in heroic lines, after I had
vainly attempted the Spenserian stanza. As nearly as I


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can recollect, there were fifty or sixty lines of it, describing
my intellectual isolation, and how I must stifle the burning
thoughts that filled my bosom, lest the cold world should
crush me with its envenomed scorn! I signed myself
“Selim,” a name which I found in Collins's First Eclogue,
and particularly admired. How I used to wish that some
good genius had inspired my mother to give me the name
of “Selim,” or “Secander,” instead of “John”! However,
as “Selim” I would be known in the world of letters and
on the tablets of fame — Selim, the Unknown Bard!

Finished, at last, and copied in my distinctest hand, there
came the question — how should I send it? The clerk at
the post-office knew me, because I went there for my uncle's
letters, and also, weekly, for my beloved newspaper.
Perhaps he also read the paper, and would be sure to find
a connection between my letter and the editorial answer to
Selim of Reading. Not for the world would I have intrusted
the awful secret to a single soul, — not even to Penrose
or Bob Simmons. Perhaps I should still have run
the risk, as I fancied it to be, of using the post, but for a
most lucky and unexpected chance. Uncle Amos suggested
that I should go to Philadelphia in his stead, on
some business relating to sugar, with the details of which I
was acquainted. I was almost too demonstrative in my
delight; for my suspicious uncle shook his head, and made
it a condition that I should go down in the morning-train,
accomplish my mission at once, and return the same evening.

On reaching the right-angled city, I found my way with
little difficulty to “Simpson & Brother,” Market Street,
near Second, and, after very faithfully transacting the business,
had still two hours to spare before the departure of
the return-train. The newspaper office was near at hand,
— Chestnut, above Third, — and thither I repaired, with
flushed face and beating heart, the precious epistle held
fast in my hand, yet carefully concealed under my sleeve,


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lest any one, in passing by, should read the superscription
and guess the contents. I do not smile at myself, as I recall
this experience. The brain, like the heart, has its virginity,
and its first earnest utterance is often as tremulously
shy as the first confession of love.

My intention had been to deliver the letter at the office
of the paper, as if I had been simply its bearer and not its
author. But after I had mounted two dark, steep flights
of steps, and found myself before the door, my courage
failed me. I heard voices within: there were several persons,
then. They would be certain to look at me sharply
— to notice my agitation — perhaps to question me about
the letter. While I was standing thus, twisting and turning
it in my hand, in a veritable perspiration from excitement,
I heard footsteps descending from an upper story.
Desperate and panic-stricken, I laid the letter hastily on
the floor, at the door of the office, and rushed down to the
street as rapidly and silently as possible. Without looking
around, I walked up Chestnut Street with a fearful impression
that somebody was following me, and turning the corner
of Fourth, began to read the titles of the books in
Hart's window. Five minutes having elapsed, I knew that
I was not discovered, and recovered my composure; though,
now that the poem had gone out of my hands, I would
have given anything to get it back again.

When the next number of the paper arrived, I tore off
the wrapper with trembling fingers and turned to the fateful
column on the second page. But I might as well have
postponed my excitement: there was no notice of the poem.
Perhaps they never received the letter, — perhaps it had
been trodden upon and defaced, and swept down-stairs by
the office-boy! These were, at least, consoling possibilities,
— better that than to be contemptuously ignored. By the
following week my fever was nearly over, and I opened the
paper with but a faint expectation of finding anything; but
lo! there it was, — “Selim” at the very head of the announcements!


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These were the precious words: “We are
obliged to `Selim' for his poem, which we shall publish
shortly. It shows the hand of youth, but evinces a flattering
promise. Let him trim the midnight lamp with diligence.”

If the sinking sun had wheeled about and gone up the
western sky, or the budding trees had snapped into full leaf
in five minutes, I don't believe it would have astonished
me. I was on my way home from the post-office when I read
the lines, and I remember turning out of Penn Street to go
by a more secluded and circuitous way, lest I should be
tempted to cut a pigeon-wing on the pavement, in the sight
of the multitude. I passed a little brick building, with a tin
sign on the shutter, — “D. J. Mulford, Attorney-at-Law.”
“Pooh!” I said to myself; “what 's D. J. Mulford? He
never published a poem in his life!” As I caught a
glimpse of his head, silhouetted against the back window,
I found myself, nevertheless, rather inclined to pity him for
being unconscious that the author of “The Unknown Bard”
was at that moment passing his door.

This disproportionate exultation, the reader will say, betrayed
shallow waters. Why should I not admit the fact?

My mind was exceedingly shallow, at that time, but,
thank Heaven! it was limpid as a mountain brook. It
could have floated no craft heavier than a child's toy-sloop,
but the sun struck through it and filled its bed with light.
If it is expected that we should feel ashamed of our intellectual
follies, we must needs regret that we were ever young.

When the poem at last appeared, after a miserably weary
interval of two or three weeks, I was a little mortified to
find that some liberty had been taken with the language.
Where I had written “hath” I found “has” substituted,
and, what was worse, “Fame's eternal brow,” which I thought
so grand, was changed into “Fame's resplendent brow.”
The poem did n't seem quite mine, with these alterations:
they took the keen edge off my pride and my happiness.


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However, Selim was at last the companion, if not the equal,
of Bessie Bulfinch and Adeliza Choate, — that was a great
point gained. I determined that he should not relapse into

My next essay was a tale, called “Envy; or, the Maiden
of Ravenna.” I am ashamed to say that I placed the city
upon the summit of a frightful precipice, the base of which
was washed by the river Arno! Laurelia, the maiden of
the story, fell from the awful steep, but fortunately alighted
on the branch of a weeping willow, which gently transferred
her to the water, whence she was rescued by the Knight
Grimaldi. But this story proved too much even for the
kindly editor, whose refusal was so gentle and courteous
that it neither wounded my pride nor checked my ambition.

One day in early summer I happened to pass again by
the office of D. J. Mulford. I glanced at the sign mechanically,
and was going on, when a terrible thumping on
the window-panes startled and arrested me. I stopped: the
window was suddenly raised, and who but Charley Rand
poked his head out!

“I say, Godfrey!” he cried; “come in here a minute!
Mulford 's out, and I have the office to myself.”

“Why, Rand,” said I, as he opened the door for me,
“how did you get here?”

“Sit down, and I 'll tell you all about it. Father said,
you know, that I might be a lawyer, if I had a mind. Well,
this spring, when he found I had Latin enough to tell him
what posse comitatus meant, and scire facias, and venditioni
and so on, — such as you see in the sheriff's advertisements,
— he thought I was ready to begin the study. I
had no objections, for I knew that the school would be dull,
with Penrose, Marsh, Brotherton, and most of the older
boys gone, and, besides, it 's time I was seeing a little more
life. Many fellows set up in business for themselves at my
age. Mulford 's father's lawyer, whenever he 's obliged to


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have one; I suppose he 'll be my first client, after I pass.
I 've been here ten days, and was just thinking I must find
you out, when I saw you go by the window. Have a cigar?”

I declined the offer, and politely, considering my abhorrence
of the custom.

“You 've grown, Godfrey,” Rand continued, hauling a
second chair towards him and hoisting his feet upon the
arms, “and I see you 're getting some fuzz on your chin.
You 'll be a man soon, and I should n't wonder if you 'd
make your mark some day.”

I overlooked the patronizing manner of this remark in its
agreeable substance. And here I should explain that Charley
Rand was now by no means the same youth as on the day
when we were together intrusted to Dr. Dymond's care.
Until then he had been petted and humored in every possible
way, and was selfish and overbearing in his manner.
A few months among forty or fifty boys, however, taught
him to moderate his claims. He was brought down to the
common level, and with that flexibility of nature which was
his peculiar talent, or faculty, leaped over to the opposite
extreme of smooth-tongued subservience. What he had
ceased to gain by impudence, he now endeavored to obtain
by coaxing, flattering, and wheedling. In the latter art he
soon became an adept. Many a time have I worked out
for him some knotty problem, in violation of the rules of
the school, and in violation, also, of my own sense of right,
cajoled by his soft, admiring, affectionate accents. I do not
describe his character as I understood it then, but as I
afterwards learned it. I was still his dupe.

In the space of half an hour he managed to extract from
me the particulars of my life and occupation in Reading.
He already knew, in ten days, much more about the principal
families of the place than I had learned in eight
months. After this interview, I soon got the habit of walking
around to Mulford's office on Sunday afternoons and
spending an hour or two with him. We sat in the backroom,


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which opened on a little yard covered with weeds,
boards, and broken bottles, so that the proprieties of the
street-side of the building were carefully respected. I
felt less lonely, now that there was a schoolmate within

In my uncle's house things went on very much as usual.
Bolty and I had scarcely any taste in common, (unless it
was a fondness for pea-nuts, which I retain to this day,)
but we never quarrelled. As we were strictly attentive to
our respective duties, my uncle seemed to be satisfied with
us, and was, for this reason perhaps, forbearing in other
respects. Aunt Peggy adhered to her monotonous household
round, and made no attempt to control my actions,
except when I bought white linen instead of nankeen, for
summer wear. “There 'll be no end to the washin' of it,”
she said, in a voice so suggestive of tears that I expected
to see her take out her handkerchief.

It was plain to me that Uncle Amos intended to enlarge
his business as rapidly as was consistent with his prudent
and cautious habits. I had good reason to believe that my
services were included in his plans; yet, though I was
more firmly fixed than ever in my determination to leave
when his legal guardianship should cease, I judged it best
to be silent on this point. It would only lead to tedious
sermons, — discussions in which neither could have the
least sympathy with the other's views, and possibly a permanent
and very disagreeable disturbance in our relations
towards each other. I do not think he recognized, as I
did, that I had quietly established an armistice, which I
could at any time annual.

In one sense, Bolty was my aid. He never mentioned
the subject, but I understood then as well as I do now that
he knew my want of liking for the business, and was satisfied
that it should be so. After the weather grew warm
enough, I resumed my Latin studies in the garret; thither
also I took prohibited books, and filled quires of paper with


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extracts and comments, feeling, instinctively, that my companion
would never betray me.

This sort of life was not what I would have chosen. It
was far from satisfying the cravings of heart and brain;
but I bore it with patience, looking forward to the day of