Elihu Vedder.

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speed of the "A Number One, fast-sailing, copper-bottomed
clipper." I came to the conclusion that the owners were, as
mild-spoken Horace Greeley used to put it, little better than
wilful falsifiers.


One day, when the turtle before a smart wind was slowly
thrusting her barnacled nose through the water, there came
towards us over the heaving waves a beautiful white boat with
a snowy, Chinese-like sail spread out by bamboo slats like a fan.
We slackened sail and she surged alongside. There were twenty-
five people in her. I did the translating, and we took them on
board, and mighty glad they were, for we were so far from Cuba,
the nearest land, that it was a toss-up if all could have reached it

During this somewhat difficult business, my Italian friend, the
miner, had the ball of a thumb pinched off by a rope, and my
surgical skill was thus put to a severe test, for there was not a
single clean rag on board so I used paper. This convinced
him the more of the soundness of his belief that there was no place
like an underground home. We got them on board, and their
boat, fastened to a strong hawser, was allowed to drift astern;
and so, towing her, we bore off on our course again.

The notable members of the rescued people were the Cap-
tain, the second mate, a Bermuda Negro boatman, and, above all,
a beautiful, dignified lady and her little boy. She was one of the
finest women I have met in my life, and must have been also
the first real lady the Captain had ever met; and it is needless to
say he simply worshipped her and would have willingly laid down
his life for her sake. The rest of the crew were Germans, Irish,
Scandinavians, etc., men who had been shipped drunk in
San Francisco, and awakening found themselves in a living hell.
For the foundering ship from which they had put off was one
of those splendid American clippers trying to beat the record to
Liverpool, under the command of one of the greatest drivers
of that day. Her name was the David Brown ; she was a sister


ship of the Great Republic I had seen burnt to the water's edge in
New York before I left. The second mate told me it was simply
awful the way she came round the Horn in a gale, sails carried
away and replaced, and the belaying-pin in constant use. The
Captain was proud of his ship and her great flush snowy decks
and her mahogany fittings, and it was worth a man's life to spot
the one or scratch the other.

The Captain and I became friends, and it was strange to see
him beginning to think for the first time in his strenuous life,
during this enforced idleness. He told me all about the disaster.
The big ship was loaded with wheat in bulk, and the orders were
to make the quickest passage ever made, and he had tried to do
it; but she was strained coming round the Horn, and as there
were no ports to put into on her route along the coasts of South
America, where she could be overhauled, he had to keep on.
Seeing that she held her own, when further north he had made
up his mind to try a rush for Liverpool ; but a great gale coming
on, she began to open with the swelling wheat and then began
to sink.

His first mate was a splendid sailor, but had lost all his posi-
tions one after the other through drunkenness ; he was a ruined
man, no one would have him. The Captain met him one day in
San Francisco and told him that he was just the man he needed,
and that he would give him one more chance to retrieve his re-
putation. This the mate with tears of gratitude and by all that
was most sacred swore he would do, and behaved splendidly up to
the last day on the ship, when, worn out with the ten days' storm,
he found a bottle of whiskey and drank it all. This set him wild,
and yet he knew what he was about. They stove all the boats
except those they got off in. The Captain's boat was well pro-


visioned, but that of the mate had been nearly wrecked, and the
last the Captain saw of him, he was diving under her, getting a
sail placed to prevent her leaking. The understanding was that
they should keep together, but when it was dark enough, the
Captain deliberately altered his course, and the next morning
the mate's boat was nowhere to be seen. He did reach land, how-
ever, as I heard long afterwards, but the crew were more dead
than alive.

There was a big Dutchman on board the Captain's boat, who,
eating more than any one else, took up a great deal of room, and
besides had stolen a bottle of beer which the Captain had put
apart for the lady. It was well for him that we picked them up,
for the next night the Captain had appointed to be his last. He
was to have been called on to take his turn at the tiller between
the Captain and the Negro ; then, the tiller affording a handy
weapon, and all the rest sleeping the sleep of exhaustion, a blow
on the head and a sudden splash over the stern, and the accident
would have been over. This the Captain told me with the ut-
most coolness, and the Hercules of a Negro confirmed it. That
bottle of beer, however, was the unpardonable sin. The Captain
also said that the strength and skill of the Negro saved them from
being lost in the gale then blowing. It was beautiful to see with
what deference that Negro was treated ; even the ex-slaver tried
no tricks on him.

You may imagine that with the accession of twenty-five to our
company, the food did not grow more abundant and we were re-
duced to galatas hard tack ; and now the human nature came
out. The lady had a maid with her. While she herself behaved
always like the perfect lady she was, this maid soon commenced
a most outrageous flirtation with our handsome mate, and the


rescued crew began to complain of the food. The Captain and
I were disgusted particularly when one day, a sudden squall
coming up and we having to take in sail, the Spanish crew took
the mainmast and the rescued crew the foremast. The Spanish
crew were up the masts like cats, and had gotten all snug and
were down again before the lubberly American crew had barely
begun. The American Captain, with that arrogant scorn of
foreigners which made the American of those days beloved from
pole to pole, was taken down several pegs, and before the end
of the voyage had to admit that the old Captain was a first-rate
sailor and his crew a smart one.

I had given up my mattress to the lady, and the snorers had
been turned out, so that, with the exception of the cockroaches,
she was as comfortable as could be expected. She turned out to be
the wife of an English officer a Major Foster of British Co-
lumbia. Her little boy was a noble little fellow. Some one had
found a bunch of raisins ; you may imagine what a treat it was
to him, yet when I asked him for some, he at once held out the
whole bunch to me. Before we parted, she gave me her address
in Staffordshire, England, and assured me a warm welcome.

I have said I gave her my mattress ; what that meant, no one
but myself can know. The old steward, when he spread a single
blanket on the deck, used to remark: "Es muy sensilio." Thin!
I should think so. Long before arriving I had exhausted every
available spot on which to lie, and my body was one universal
soreness. My only comfort was in the bow, as far from hu-
man nature as possible, and I communed with Nature, without
the human element. There I only had the sky and the waves,
and the murmur of water as the moss-covered prow ploughed its
way ever nearer land.


At last came the morn of our arrival, and a magical change
took place in the appearance of this ragamuffin ship's company.
I have said the Spaniard hides his finery in travelling; now it
blossomed out. The barbers first shaved all the bull-fighters, and
then shaved each other and the crew; and over the side went
bundles of such vile rags that no self-respecting shark would ever
dream of examining them. Now it was all spotless linen, bright
cravats, patent-leather shoes, and silver-headed canes. Even I
selected out the least dirty of my clothes ; but the poor Captain
and the lady had to go as they were.

The Morro Castle was saluted and we glided into the harbour
of Havana and dropped anchor. Washing off the dirt of forty
days and forty nights, and a generous meal, and a good night's
sleep in a soft bed, made another man of me, and I began to
think of the coming struggle and wonder what was in store for
me only too glad to quit for ever the track of Columbus.

Our old Captain received a fine gold watch and a letter of
thanks from the government. He might have had the beautiful
boat, but the American Captain did not make it clear to him that
he was welcome to it, so he tried to tow it. The spray half-filled
her with water, which, running down to the bow, put it under
and the hawser snapped and she was lost. The British Consul
took charge of the lady and child and nurse, and I never saw


her again, but often felt like running down to Staffordshire
the address sounds so pleasant. The strenuous Captain and
his romance, and the rest, have disappeared, so far as I am con-
cerned, as utterly as the fas^sailing clipper, David Brown. The
"turtle" ought to be floating in the Sargossa Sea. I shall never
try to find her.

From lotus-eating Florence to the Havana of those days was
a somewhat violent transition. The clouds were gathering, the
Southerners were threatening and boasting, and no one could
tell when the storm would burst forth. It soon became clear that
if I were to go North, the quicker I left the better ; so I did not
stand upon the order of my going but went at once, and that by
the only chance I had.

This happened to be a schooner leaving for Richmond, Vir-
ginia almost out of the frying-pan into the fire. She was lying
at Cardenas. One thing I have always regretted : that was, leav-
ing my old passport, a veritable history of my wanderings in
Europe, dates and all, properly vised at all the little Duchies
there were before the Italians came in.

This schooner was in reality a big ship rigged as a schooner,
the first of the kind, and a fine time we had with the big sails
beating up through the storm which accompanied us the whole
way. We left Cardenas at night; it was pitch dark, but by the
aid of lanterns the Spanish custom-house officer could see that
we had a great pile of cigars far more than the law allowed.
He was scandalized, but had been there before, and although
his honour did not permit his accepting the shining gold we
offered, said that his subordinate was not so particular and
as he was n't, the cigars all went on board.


I was sorry to bid good-bye to my dear father, for I did not
know if I should ever see him again ; but in time I got used to
this, as I periodically bade him good-bye until his ninety-sixth
year when the good-bye was final.

We were three of us the Captain, the supercargo, and my-
self. The mate ate with us but did n't count ; there were no plums
in the side of the plum-duff served to him, or the Captain would
have spoken to the cook. And the storm kept on. Soon there
was no plum-duff nor anything ; we had to eat biscuit and drink
simple water. It was always tacking. In one of the lulls on a long
tack, the conversation taking a theological turn, I ventured to
air some of my theories. The Captain and supercargo were re-
ligious, and I at that time had not swept away a vast mass of
stuff as useless rubbish, and theology then afforded my wits a
pleasant playground. It soon came to the Captain saying that
had he known such were my opinions, he would never have al-
lowed me to put my foot on board his ship. This was crisp ; but
I had only to hand in something about infant damnation, when
the supercargo whirled in, and I thought before they got through
the Captain would have thrown the supercargo overboard. But
they never got through we had to tack, then we all hid our-
selves, and as the ship went about, the great blocks came across
her deck like cannon-balls. They had little spats afterwards,
but I do not believe that question of infant damnation was ever
settled to their satisfaction.

We were trying to get into the mouth of the James River. We
would run in until we saw or heard the breakers and then stand
off again. The weather was warm, and it looked like swimming,
so my costume was appropriate to the occasion a shirt and a
pair of drawers. Words cannot describe the blissful sensation as


we slid into the peaceful waters of the river, leaving the howling
sea astern.

We went on shore, and as we entered a tavern, I heard a lanky
individual talking to another :

"Ye don't say he got ten dollars fer that old horse! Well,
I'll be darned!"

Here they were, talking of horses when they ought to have
been thanking God they were safe on dry land.

We bought everything in the way of eatables, and, though the
Captain and the supercargo were temperance, a bottle of whis-
key. In spite of the Captain's vigilance the crew got a bottle or
two also, and after feeding and a nightcap, every soul on board
was dead-asleep or something. During the night, the wind shift-
ing and blowing hard, the schooner dragged her anchor, and in
the morning we found ourselves fast on shore. It took three
months to get her off.

So here the dream of my childhood was fulfilled and I was
finally shipwrecked and mighty glad was I that it was no

My father's friends received me warmly, like good Southerners,
but were very anxious to see me safe off. The cigars came with
us in the tug which took us from the schooner, and were mys-
teriously landed, and I sold my share. Now this was sheer smug-
gling, and I have thought of conscience-money since ; but things
were very mixed then, and the money came in so handy on ar-
riving in New York that I have let it pass. I got through to New
York, and the first gun was fired on Fort Sumter the very day
of my arrival.

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New York in Wartime - The Struggle


I SAY Introduction, for that is what it is. I know all these
backings and fillings on my part must be very annoying
to my reader ; but they cannot annoy him so much as they
do me, for they are nothing but gropings, on my part, in the dark
of a memory which refuses to give up its secrets ; especially the
pleasant ones, for, Lord knows, the disagreeable ones remain
with fearful distinctness. But, confound it, what is one to do
when he has to tell of events which must have shaped the future
of a long life, always being shaped by such trivial things ; until
the trivial takes the place of the important and the important
sinks into triviality. Why, out of a comfortable home, without
any great disaster, I should have had for my share one mattress,
one pillow, three sheets, and a blanket, is more than I can ac-
count for. To be sure, there came to me afterwards a fine old-
fashioned mahogany sofa ; but the old English portrait of Lord
Coke, whose long row of buttons I used to count, the Wedg-


wood vase, the iridescent Dutch tea-pot and saucers, and all the
books, remain a family mystery which my father or my brother
knew more about than I. My brother was by this time married
and highly unsettled in life, while I was so unsettled that I should
not have known where to store the things, things brought
back from Europe understood.

> The four years I spent abroad were spent by those who re-
mained at home in making friends and reputation ; I came on the

\ scene without either, j To be sure there was Kate Field, a most
loyal friend, a host in herself; through her and her good Aunt
Corda the doors of society were thrown open. Milton Sanford,
Aunt Corda's husband, was a fine, generous fellow and disposed
to help me, and he did so when I was discovered ; but being
a fierce Copperhead, as they were called in those days, myjnit-
and-out Union sentiments offended him past remedy. I had
belongings, all the little pictures I painted in Florence and
all the drawings, to the most insignificant scrap, I had with me ;
\ they formed a sort of carapace or turtle's shell in which I lived
and in which I am living, to a certain extent, yet, and really,
I had, for a sort of a dreamer, been a pretty busy one. ' But it was
just as Grandpa said, always beginning things and never fin-
ishing. There was one thing I thought frequently of finishing,
and that was my life. The two noble rivers were near at hand,
and had it not been for the fun going on around me, and the
Boys, who knows ? \I had told my father I would earn my

j living and I did, but it was a struggle. Strange to think that by
my father's first marriage I was brought into the world, and by
his second was enabled to stay in it ; for my stepmother coming
North and seeing for herself how I was situated, after a good cry
got me a couple of nice rooms, gave me money for materials and



frames, and all the rest soon settled itself, and so no more of the
noble rivers.

Of course at first I sought Ben. I went to live with him in
Hoboken. I don't know how it is now, but then it was far from
being a promising field for an artist, and so I had to try my luck
in the City, and through the kindness of his father was given a
large room in the old house where he had his offices 48 Beek-
man Street. At Ben's in Hoboken, the heights were very
pleasant after all ; the grand view over the river and the great
city opposite I shall never forget, and the palace-like steam-
boats of a bright morning, on their way to Albany, when the
notes of the calliopes or steam-organs came softened by the dis-
tance, as they played such beautiful airs as " Pop goes the Wea-
sel." And then there were some charming girls opposite, who
helped materially to brighten my somewhat darkened young
prospects. Ah, the girls ! how good they were, and how one girl
saved me from another all through the troublous period of the
War, so that I was enabled to flee away at its conclusion without
having spoken that hasty word which might have led to much
unhappiness and a leisurely repentance.

Forty-eight Beekman Street had once been a colonial man-
sion, and the room I worked and slept in might have served for
one of the innumerable dining-rooms of General Washington
then. It contained a fine mantelpiece and nothing else, except
one table, two chairs, one mattress and a pillow, three sheets and
a blanket. A small trunk served as night-stand, on which stood
one bottle serving as a candlestick, and one glass mug. The view
out of the large windows was fine but monotonous, plain brick
walls and iron shutters. The noises of the street were shut out of


my room, it being in the back of the house ; but to make up, it
being wartime a saddler worked all night at warlike things, and
whistled, with great vigour of accent but with no idea of time or
tune, the warlike airs of the day. This gave me an uncomfortable
sense of companionship. The boys, when they came, sat on the
chairs, the table, the trunk, or stretched themselves luxuriously
on the mattress, for they were many ; and there you have my
surroundings. And I made my living. Sometimes I earned a
good deal of money ; sometimes next to nothing ; for I remember
once having only crackers and sausage. I put them together, and
the sausage going bad contaminated the crackers. I had to throw
all away and content myself with a drink of water for breakfast,
and so, mighty sad, to work in sorrow and in debt, for owing
to my father's remissness there were certain little bills yet un-
settled in Florence.

Goya, the Spanish painter, says that the dreams of the imagin-
ation are demons, but one can see from the engravings for which
that serves as title, that he means devils. The ancients said
that each man was accompanied by his demon, or familiar spirit,
who might be good or bad. On the floor, huddling in my single
blanket, I too had dreams, of angels and devils, and that mat-
tress became by turns a throne or a rack, according, I suppose,
to the day's affairs or the day's fare. It was there I conceived
" The Fisherman and the Genii," " The Roc's Egg," " The Ques-
tioner of the Sphinx," " The Lost Mind," "The Lair of the Sea-
Serpent," etc. but I lacked the means ; I could not carry out the
ideas. You see poverty has its defects. It leaves something to be
desired, such as good clothes, good food, a studio, paints, can-
vas, and frames. When I was supplied with these things, I painted
my pictures, was noticed, sold them, and have never been in




absolute want since, but have been fearfully hampered, with every
prospect of remaining so until the unhampering takes place.

It was in this bare room, kneeling at the window one night,
that I made my great prayer the last. I only asked for guid-
ance, not for anything else, and it was an honest prayer. The only
answer was the brick walls and iron shutters. Long after, I

did indeed make one more prayer in my deepest distress, but
that was for another an innocent life ; but it was found that the
great laws could not be disturbed for such a small matter, in
fact were not disturbed in the least, and I have never prayed
since. Lack of faith, perhaps ? Perhaps.

To clear up things as I go along, and so get them out of the way,
I will add that the Florentine debts were duly settled. The good
tradesmen had never written or dunned me once, such was their
faith in me. This shows that like the pirates of my school-days
(who were all good pirates), I must have been a good Bohemian.


And I made a living, looking back, I hardly know how I
managed it, but I did. At first, trying to draw for "Vanity Fair" ;
Idea, fifty cents ; Idea with suggestive sketch, one dollar and fifty
cents ; drawn on block, five dollars. But I found that my train-
ing, such as it was, was too serious for the touch-and-go style
then in vogue. I never aspired to draw the cartoons or full-page
illustrations ; these the two Stevens brothers, who ran the paper,
reserved for themselves. Then came the period of comic valen-
tines. These were horrible things, but drawn on graphotype
blocks were cheap enough to suit the publisher; but the funny
thing about it was that he insisted on my making the verses
poetry, he called it as well. He said : "You artists can make
anything but money." Here I called on the Boys, and we set
to work writing them and had great fun, for we instilled our
stories and personal jokes into these things, which all passed
undetected by the good publisher, who thought the " poems "
fine. Poor Wood the playwright's only idea of fun consisted in
pounding on the table with a big stick and yelling. This reminds
me of a Neapolitan cab-driver: I scolded him for yelling at trav-
ellers to attract their attention, asking him what made him do
it? He answered with a smile "Hunger." That must have
been it.

And then a rosy-gilled, prosperous calisthenics man gave me
much work in the way of illustrating a book he was getting up,
the drawings consisting of figures showing the action by dotted
lines until they looked like multitudinously armed Indian gods.
This was the period of the wooden dumb-bell ; we had not
arrived at the period of breathing deeply or chewing slowly yet.
This person would go through his exercises whistling " Yankee
Doodle," and looking the while like a great ape ; and I used to pre-



tend not to catch the idea until he was in a raging perspiration,
thus making him take his own medicine. Then Kate Field's
uncle bought several little pictures I brought with me from Flor-
ence (for painting in such surroundings was impossible). But
that did not help matters ; it was only a stop-gap, and the trouble
went on. The four or five years of the War now a dream
seemed a century, but was in fact an important period for me, in
which I gradually drew out of the slough of despair in which so

Online LibraryElihu VedderThe digressions of V. → online text (page 12 of 29)