A CERTAIN REMARKABLE BOOK—A FEW SUGGESTIONS RESPECTING BOSTON—DELUSIONS OF CHILDHOOD—BULLYING GENERAL GAGE—JUDGE PITMAN AND THE CATECHISM—AN EXTRAORDINARY BLUNDER—THE FACTS IN THE CASE OF HILLEGASS—A FALSE ALARM.
HILE I was helping one of my youngsters a night or two ago to master a tough little problem in his arithmetic, I picked up the history that he had been studying, and as he went off to bed with the other tiny travelers up the hill of knowledge, I looked through the volume. It was Goodrich's History of the United States, for the use of beginners; and it had a very familiar appearance. I gained my first glimpse of the past from this very book; and not only could I remember the text as I turned over the leaves, but the absurd pictures of General Washington and the surrender of Cornwallis, the impossible portraits of John Smith and Benjamin Franklin, and the unnatural illustration of the manner in which the Pilgrim Fathers landed, seemed like respectable old acquaintances whom I had known and admired in happier days.
The man who can find one of the books that he studied when he was a child at school will experience a pleasant sensation if he will open it and look over its pages. It will recall some delightful memories, and bring him very close again to the almost forgotten time when that wretched little book was to him the mightiest literary achievement in existence. For this reason I love Goodrich's History; and I will continue to regard it with affection even though my judgment may not give it approval as a work of very remarkable excellence.
When Mrs. Adeler descended, after tucking the weary scholars comfortably in bed, I directed her attention to these facts, and to some of the peculiarities of Goodrich's effort:
"This little book, Mrs. A., first unlocked for me the door of history. It is a history of the United States; and as it was written by a man who lived in Boston and believed in Boston, it is hardly necessary to say that in my childhood I obtained from the volume the impression that our beloved native land consisted chiefly of Boston. I do not wish to revile that city. It is in many respects a model municipality. It is, I think, better governed than any other large community in the land, it has greater intellectual force than any of our cities, and its people have a stronger and more demonstrative civic pride. In Boston the best men are usually at the front, and the conduct of public affairs is not entrusted, as it is in Philadelphia and other cities, to blackguardly politicians whom a respectable man would not admit to his house, and who maintain themselves in power by fraudulent elections and by stealing the people's money. Every Boston man believes in the greatness of his city, and is proud of it. That is an excellent condition of public sentiment, and we may pardon it even if it does sometimes produce results that are slightly ridiculous.
"Goodrich was what might be called an excessive Boston man, and his little history is very apt, unintentionally, to convey erroneous impressions to the infant mind. In my early boyhood, being completely saturated with Goodrich, I entertained an indistinct idea that the eye of Columbus rested upon Boston long before any other object appeared above the horizon, and somehow I cherished a conviction that the natives who greeted him and bowed down at his feet were men who inhabited Bunker Hill Monument and disported themselves perpetually among the chambers of Faneuil Hall. I never doubted that every important event in our annals, from the landing of those unpleasant old Puritans of the Mayflower down to the election of Andrew Jackson, occurred in Boston, and was attributable entirely to the remarkable superiority of the people of that city. I scoffed at the theory that John Smith was in Virginia at the time of his salvation by Pocahontas, and I was even disposed to regard the account of the signing of the Declaration of Independence at Philadelphia as a sort of an insignificant 'side show' which should have been alluded to briefly in a foot-note. I honestly believed that the one great mistake of George Washington's life was that he was born elsewhere than in Boston, and I felt that, however hard such retribution might appear, he deserved to be considered a little less great on account of that error.
"As for the war of the Revolution, I could not doubt, while I maintained my faith in Goodrich, that it was begun by the high-spirited citizens of Boston in consequence of the wrongs inflicted upon them by that daring and impious monarch King George III. It was equally clear that the conflict was carried on only by the people of Boston, and that the victory was won at last because of the valor displayed by the citizens of that community.
"In my opinion, and apparently in the opinion of Goodrich, the leading event of the war was that related in chapter eighty-five. The story occupies the whole chapter. The historian evidently intended that the youthful mind, while meditating upon the most important episode of the dreadful struggle, should not be disturbed by minor matters.
“Chapter eighty-five relates that certain British soldiers demolished snow hills that had been constructed by some boys upon Boston Common, a hallowed spot which Goodrich taught me to regard as the pivotal point of the universe. The boys determined to call upon General Gage, and to protest against this brutal outrage committed by the hireling butchers of a bloated despot. Now listen while I read the account of that interview as it is given by Goodrich:
"General Gage asked why so many children had called upon him. 'We come, sir,' said the tallest boy, 'to demand satisfaction.' 'What!' said the general; 'have your fathers been teaching you rebellion, and sent you to exhibit it here?' 'Nobody sent us, sir,' answered the boy, while his cheek reddened and his eye flashed. We have never injured nor insulted your troops; but they have trodden down our snow-hills and broken the ice on our skating-ground. We complained, and they called us young rebels, and told us to help ourselves if we could. We told the captain of this, and he laughed at us. Yesterday our works were destroyed the third time, and we will bear it no longer.' General Gage looked at them a moment in silent admiration, and then said to an officer at his side, “The very children here draw in a love of liberty with the air they breathe.'
"The story of this event, which shaped the destinies of a great nation and gave liberty to a continent, I learned by heart. Many and many a night have I lain awake wishing that Philadelphians would organize another war with Great Britain, so that British soldiers could come over and batter down a snow hill that I would build in Independence Square. I felt certain that I should go at once, in such an event, to see the general, and should overwhelm him with another outburst of fiery indignation. It seemed rather hard that Philadelphia boys should never have a chance to surpass the boys of Boston. But still I could not help admiring those young braves and regarding them as the real authors of American independence. I was well assured that if that 'tallest boy' had not entered the general's room and flashed his eye at Gage all would have been lost; the country would have been ground beneath the iron heel of the oppressor, and Americans would have been worse than slaves. Perhaps it did me no harm to believe all this; but it seems to me that we might as well instruct children properly to begin with. Therefore I shall give our boy, Agamemnon, some private lessons in history to supplement the wisdom of Goodrich."
Just as I had concluded my remarks, Judge Pitman came in to ask me to let him look at the evening paper which I had brought with me from the city. I explained to him the nature of the subject that had been considered, and the judge, as usual, had something to say about it.
"Do you know," he observed, "that them school-books that they make now-a-days is perfectly bewilderin' to a man like me? When I went to school, we learned nothin' but readin', writin' and arithmetic. But now—well, they've got clear past me. I could no more rassle with the learnin' they have at the schools now than a babe unborn."
"To what special department of learning do you refer?" I inquired.
"Oh, all of 'em, all of 'em. I had a very cur'ous experience with one o' them books once," said the judge, with a laugh. "Some years ago I took a notion to jine the church, an' they give me the catechism to learn afore I could git in. When I got home, I laid the book away on the shelf, an' didn't go for it for two or three days. When I was ready to study it up, I reached down what I thought was the catechism, an' I was kinder surprised to see that it was called 'Familiar Science.' You understand it was a book my daughter had been learnin' at school. But I knowed no better. I never paid no 'tention to religion afore; an' although it struck me as sorter queer that a catechism should have such questions and answers in it, I thought the church people that give me the book must know what was right, so I said nothin' an' went to work at it."
"How did you succeed?"
"Oh, putty good. I learned three or four pages by heart, an' I thought that was 'bout enough. So after while the minister an' the rest come 'round an' begun examinin' me. I noticed that the questions kinder didn't fit in, but I did my best; an' when they'd ask me about the Scripters, I'd jam in somethin' about carbonic acid gas, an' when they inquired about the whole duty of man, I desp'rately give 'em somethin' relatin' to the functions of lightnin'-rods."
"You must have astonished them."
"You never seen men wuss bewildered," replied the judge; "but I think I really skeered 'em when they asked me about Solomon's temple, an' I lit out with an answer referrin' to smoky chimneys. They thought I was insane. But, when I pulled out the book an' showed it to 'em, the preacher laughed an' told me about the mistake. Then we hunted up the catechism an' got the thing straight. The church folks had the laugh on me for a while, but I didn't mind it. An' it was pretty fair for a joke, wasn't it?"
"But I got a better one on at least one of them fellers. Doctor Brindley was on the examinin' committee, an' he run me harder than any of 'em about it. Well, sir—Do you know old Hillegass?"
"No; I never heard of him."
"He lives out yer on the Wilmington road. Well, sir, some time afore that Hillegass was putty near dead. He was the wust case I ever seen. Broken down, thin an' pale, with no appetite, his lungs weak, his liver good for nothin', his legs full of rheumatics, his heart affected an' his head achin' with neuralger, I really believe that man was the sickest human bein' that ever breathed the breath of life. All the doctors in the country had a shy at him one time an' another; an' as he kep' a-gettin' wuss an' wuss, they made him mad, an' he wouldn't pay their bills."
"He was not much to blame for that."
"Certainly not. Well, one day them doctors met, an' after talkin' the thing over they agreed not to go to Hillegass's again unless he settled up, you understand. They said, 'Now we'll let Hillegass die; we've fooled with him long enough. He's either got to pay or perish. No more Hillegass for us unless we see some cash.' So for about a year they let him alone; an' whenever one of 'em would drive past the house, he would pull up for a minute, look to see if there was crape on the door, an' then go on, shakin' his head an' sayin', 'Poor Hillegass! the stingy old fool's not long for this world.'"
"Did he die?"
"Die! One day Dr. Brindley felt kinder sorry for Hillegass, an' he weakened on his resolution. So he called at the house to see how he was gittin' on. As he went in the yard he seen a stoutish man liftin' a bar'l of flour in a waggin. When the man got the bar'l in, he seen the doctor an' come for'ard. The doctor thought he knew the scar on the man's nose, but he couldn't believe it. Howsomedever, it was old Hillegass, well an' hearty as a buck, an' able to h'ist the roof off the barn if he'd a mind to. You understand that I had a very soft thing on Brindley jes' then; an' he never seemed to take no furder interest in the catechism business when he met me. An' they don't encourage doctors much out that way now; no, sir. They trust to luck an' natur', which in my opinion is the best way, anyhow."
"A great many remarkable things seem to have happened in this place," I said.
"Yes," responded the judge. "You'd hardly think it of such quiet town as this 'pears to be; but somehow there's 'most always somethin' lively goin' on. There was that fuss 'round at Dr. Hopkins's a couple o' year ago; did you hear 'bout that?"
"Not that I know of."
"Well, we'd jes' got a new fire-engine in the town, an' the men that run her thought they'd play a little joke on the chief of the department by rushin' 'round to his house an' pretendin' it was afire. By a most unfort'nit circumstance, the chief moved out of the house that mornin', and Dr. Hopkins—the preacher, you know—moved in. Them fellers come a-peltin' 'round with the engine, an' they run up their ladders an' begun aplayin' on the roof in a manner that skeered the Hopkinses nearly to death. But the other fire company thought there really was a fire, an' they come out with their engine an' begun to squirt on the house. The others tried to explain how it was, but the new-comers wouldn't believe 'em, an' they kep' a-pourin' water into the winders an' a carryin' on like mad. So at last they got up a fight, an' they fought all over the house an' on the stairs an' up an' down the entries, until Dr. Hopkins was putty near insane; an' when they went home, he counted up about two hundred dollars damages, which them fellers had to pay. Yes, it is astonishin' how they used to keep things a-movin' in this town. An now I really must be goin'. I'll send back the paper the fust thing in the mornin', for certain."
The judge then went home; and just as he passed out of the door Bob Parker came in with a radiant countenance. He had succeeded in obtaining the evidence that was needed for his vindication.