Elihu Vedder.

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the same with me in regard to hard words. I don't like them;
luckily I know but few ; if I knew many more I would use them,
whereas I detest them, or at least regard them with apprehension.
After the foregoing, I feel at last prepared to "settle to my ar-


Quaint Legends of my Infancy



AT propose to narrate all the remarkable things and events
which have happened to me, or are connected with
me, I cannot help alluding to my ancestry. We are
all familiar with the origin of American families: they all
start from one of three brothers who went over to America in
the year so-and-so. Now my family is remarkable from having
descended from one ancestor, one, no more, no less ; but he
proved himself equal to the occasion.

That friend of mankind, Mr. Burbank, can take a poor little
measly berry and make out of it a thing that will fill a teacup.
And so it is with the heralds. By great industry and at consider-
able expense, they can take a slip a mere name and out of it
evolve a good-sized genealogical tree. This is not the case with
my family, for the good old dominies kept a register of Births,
Marriages, and Deaths, which exists to this day ; so it is all down
in black and white.

Schenectady was settled in 1661, surveyed in 1663, and en-
tirely destroyed by the Indians, and the inhabitants scattered
or slain, in 1690. The register of Dominie Thesschenmaeker dis-



appeared in the burning of his parsonage. But as they at once
proceeded to rebuild, and began to beget and die, the register now
goes back, nearly entire, to the year 1691. And now we come to
the first Vedder.

Harmon Albertse Vedder was born in 1637 or before; died
17 15 about. He could not well have registered his birth before
Schenectady was built; that was done doubtless in Holland, and
about the time of his death he may have become careless. But
the main thing is he married ; and the marriage was duly
registered. He married, and then the begetting began, and he
begat Harmanus Arent - Albert - Johannes Corset
Here I must interrupt the flow of my narrative and advise the
reader to skip, for this which immediately follows can only be
interesting to those interested in such things. I will try not to
interrupt myself again.



I should like to linger a little over this Harmon Albertse. He
must have been a very live man indeed, and seemed to get about
pretty well considering the means of locomotion then at his dis-
posal. Observe his chronology:

1657. Trader at Bevernwyck; sold house and lot to Rutger
Jacobson for 2325 guilders. Pretty good.

1660. Returned to Holland.

1661. As agent of Dirk de Wolf set up as alt-kettle on Coney
Island. The inhabitants of Gravesend ousted him, I
dare say a most outrageous proceeding.

1663. Leased his Brewery to Simon Groot for six years at 500

1664. Harmon Vedder, William Teller, and Sander Leendertse
Glen petitioned Stuyvesant to have their land surveyed.
Doubtless he married this Glen's daughter.

1667. Lived in Albany, in a house belonging to Dirk de Wolf
of Amsterdam. This Dirk having returned to Holland,
his house was confiscated by Governor Nicolls. I have
always thought the house I drew was Dirk's home.

1672. Bought Dirk Hesselingh's Bouwerry. This comprised
twelve morgens and 130 rods of land now homestead
of D. D. Campbell of Rotterdam. No doubt some rela-
tion of my friend Campbell of the Century Club ; he has
gone, like so many others, so I can't find out about it.

1672. Sold more land, to Claese Janse Van Boekhoven and
Ryck Claese Van Vranken.

1673. Appointed one of the Three Magistrates of Schenectady.

1674. Was Schout whatever that may mean of the same
place. And was getting proud ; for he was reprimanded


for not showing due respect to the Magistrates of Willem-
stadt (Albany) and for pretending to the privilege of the
Indian trade. He was particularly complained of for his
conduct to Captain Schuyler, and was warned to "regulate
himself accordingly." '

And just think, I am sometimes asked if I came from Boston,
or if I am Dutch? but as "Dutch as be damned" would be
quite an improper answer, I simply deplore their lack of reading,
- such as Washington Irving, for instance. " But I have read
him," they say. "Then how about Nicolas Vedder, the inn-
keeper, in the story of Rip Van Winkle ?" ;< Why, I never con-
nected the two names ! "

To come to my own birth. I must say that, as far as I can
remember, it cost me far less trouble than writing the above
prelude. I was born in the City of New York in Varick Street,
about ten p. M. on the 26th of February, 1836. This gives a
good chance for a horoscope. Having no memory for dates,
for a long time I went without knowing when I was born, and was
happy, even though I knew people thought it was an affectation.
But finally, late in life, I came across the date in the family Bible,
and I really believe I have not been the same man since. It will be
noticed how the Vedders intermarried. When a Vedder did not
marry a Vedder, he married a Veeder. This practice could have
but one result, which I pass over in silence. Many were gradu-

1 I had this out with my friend, Montgomery Schuyler, in the Century Club. There
had been a coolness between the families arising from this incident for a long time,
in fact, they no longer knew each other. But by his apologising for the arrogance
of the Captain, and I for the rudeness of Albertse, promising to "regulate myself
accordingly," we made it up and smoked the calumet, or pipe of peace, and took
several Manhattans, as being both pleasant and appropriate.


ates of Union College ; some came to the surface as clergymen or
physicians ; only one attained eminence in politics, and he
was known only for a Whiskey Bill. I don't know the nature
of this Bill, but I wish he had n't. The rest followed all sorts of
callings, but were above all industrious and persistent marriers ;
if at first they did n't succeed, they would try, try again. A glance
through my father's favourite book the Genealogies of the first
settlers of Schenectady will show how they permeated thewhole
social fabric of that territory.

When I came upon the scene, the old Dutch days, the Colonial
period, the Revolution, were to me legends of the fireside, but
far more vivid than the War of 18 12 or the Mexican War sub-
sequently became. The romance of those days was still in the
air, it was a beautiful Indian summer preceding the appear-
ance of the brown-stone front and that cyclone of jig-sawing
which swept over the land shortly after, leaving scarcely a house
untouched. I had become a boy a big boy when that
catastrophe struck us, and the house my father was building on
Clinton Avenue, in Brooklyn, suffered among the rest. My
childhood was all passed in that beautiful Indian summer, and
I shall now try to bring back or rather try to go back into
that most peaceful light.

In Chambers Street, where it joins the ends of the Bowery,
there is, or was, a block of houses running to a sharp point, in
fact, a precursor in little of the celebrated Flatiron up-town. In
this house, with the last rooms like a section of pie, as I used to
think, my father had his office, and we one of our temporary homes.

In this house I had my first accident, which corresponded
exactly with my first rocking-horse, and also with the first day


I mounted it ; for at once I rocked so vigorously that, the horse
falling over backwards, my head came in contact with the sharp
edge of a mahogany sofa, and I was knocked senseless. My
father shaved the spot and patched me up to such good purpose
that I was soon well.

That first ride, which easily might have been my last, has
often made me wonder if my bump of memory was not the part
affected. Having lost my phrenological chart, which I with others
received when I had my bumps examined at Fowler and Wells's,
as was the custom in those days, I am unable to locate the bump,
and Time has obliterated the wound. Yet I wonder. A lady
remarked the other day in the studio that her bump of memory
was represented by a hollow ; from her careless manner in throw-
ing off this remark, I judged that it was neither new nor original,
but I know that hollow or no hollow my memory has been
very bad since the day of that fall.

Here Death on the hobby-horse had made a slight offer at me ;
but in a few days 1 was to see a completed specimen of his work.
I have been kept pretty well in touch with him ever since. We
had staying with us at that time a dear old fellow a Mr.
Humphrey. I may as well say at once that all people over twenty
were old to me then. I was very fond of him, we were great friends,
and so the event made a deep impression on me. His room was
in the attic and I was sent up to call him to breakfast. I found
him crouched on the floor, his head leaning against the wall.
He had a comb in his right hand. I thought him asleep, his
face was so peaceful; I tried to awaken him, but could not. He
was dead.

Years after, I painted a picture called "The Dead Alchemist" ;
in it you can see just how he looked.


( With detail sketch of Aead)


There was an apothecary whose shop was next door to us in
Chambers Street. The back steps leading into the respective gar-
dens were close together. On his steps he frequently set out his
decoctions to cool or dry, and many other things. One day I no-
ticed amongst the other things certain semi-transparent, shiny,
gummy things, that seemed nicely adapted to dissolve slowly in
the mouth. I simply reached over and took one and put it in
my mouth. All went merry as a marriage-bell at first, but when
I got to the true inwardness of the thing, a change came o'er the
spirit of my dreams. Heavens! but it was nasty! However, it
was a good lesson, and thereafter I never took anything from my
neighbour but apples and plums.

That I must already have acquired reading is shown by my
first attempt to acquire a book; this I tell of in the Legend of the
Devil on Two Sticks. It may also account for that literary qual-
ity, seen in my pictures, of which I have been so often accused.

The Devil on Two Sticks and the Bologna sausage.

When very little I used to be taken over to New Jersey on

visits to my father's old friend, Jesse Halenbeck. It was there
that fishing in a ditch I caught a great eel. I was frightened
when I got the great brute out on the grass, for he seemed to my
childish eyes a veritable python, and I did not know what to do
with him, or how to secure him ; but some farm-hands helping me,
I bore him in triumph to the house.

But the wonders of that day did not end with catching the eel,
for prowling in the garret I came across a shelf of old books, and
amongst them was one whose title struck me with amazement.
It was "The Devil on Two Sticks." This, like the eel, I also
bore off in triumph, but it was taken away from me, for some


mysterious reason which I could not then make out. However,
I determined then and there to keep an eye open for that book,
and strange to say, shortly after became the happy possessor of
it for a brief period. It happened thus: -

I had been given money the first I ever possessed ; and, what
was more delightful, permission to buy just what I pleased with
it. We were then living near the City Hall, and I fared me forth
to that shady and secluded spot, and there on a book-stand I
espied the book that had never been out of my mind, and there
felt for the first time the thrill of the born collector. It took al-
most all my money, but with the rest, being "an hungered," I
bought a most fascinating, shiny Bologna sausage. With these
two prizes I hurried home, determined to enjoy them together.
But, alas for the vanity of human hopes ! they were both
taken from me, the sausage being considered as pernicious for
the body as the book was for the mind. But not before I had
read of how Asmodeus, in gratitude to the Spanish student for
liberating him from the enchanted bottle, had taken the student
to the top of a high tower and unroofed all the houses in Madrid,
as you would take the lid off a pot, and let him see the olla
podrida stewing in each. Little did I foresee that on that very
spot would rise the domed mansions of the daily press, which
would do that business for the reader far better than did the
Devil on Two Sticks for the Spanish student.

From Chambers Street we moved up-town to Grand Street.
This "up-town" may cause a smile, but I can tell you it was not
so very far up-town after all ; for I once went way up-town
as far as the Bull's Head Tavern and saw the hay-scales and
the farmers and their loads of hay. That was up-town, if you


please, as far up as the Cooper Institute, and the hay must
have come all the way from, the neighbourhood of Central

Our new home was one block east of the Bowery, and was a
happy home with one exception, that I here parted with my
father, who, to better his fortunes, went to Cuba ; a step, on his
part, which doubtless changed the whole tenor of my life. But
there was always the kind mother, sharing all our joys and lighten-
ing our little sorrows. There was a yard running way back, and
a long shed overhung with lilac-bushes. The lilac was my mother's
favourite flower and is mine to this day. In this garden I played
and my brother experimented, for he soon turned out a very
superior person and always remained so in his own estimation.
Here we had our first magic-lantern, a little smoky, smelly affair,
dimly lighted with a little oil lamp, but a wonder. Here an
older young friend gave me a beautiful little sloop, with isinglass
windows in the stern. He afterwards built gunboats on the Mis-
sissippi during the War.

We had a pretty little kitten, about whose neck we tied a cherry
coloured ribbon; but alas! one day she was missed, and we
found her hanging by the ribbon from a nail in the fence under
the lilac-bushes : quite dead. I never see a cat with a ribbon
without forebodings. Another event I never can forget. A wan-
dering uncle from the West paid us a visit and brought with
him a black dog, a dear, affectionate creature. I had made
me a little bow and arrows, and of course I became an Indian
and he a buffalo, and I began shooting at the buffalo, and then
like a flash it happened : the arrow entered his eye, he gave
one little yelp, and then came and licked the hand that had
blinded him. It took all my mother's affection to assuage my


tears and grief; but the deep remorse remains in my heart to
this day.

My father belonged to the militia, and was my admiration
when attired in his gray uniform with white trimmings; and
armed with musket and bayonet he inspired awe ; but he some-
times attended drill with a simple umbrella, as did others. 1
fear we were somewhat primitive.

Once a week I was trusted to go to my grandfather's. I was
little, but by keeping on the right-hand side-walk, looking out
carefully at the crossings, and following my nose, I always ar-
rived safely at the little house, the last but one before coming to
Varick Street; the abode of grandpa, before he by the sale of it
purchased the old Dutch cottage on Long Island. Had he but
held on, just fancy property in New York now ! The first thing
was, "Grandma, did you make me a pie ? " and then an examina-
tion of the pantry, and the discovery of the edge of a plate high
up on a shelf, which, on being handed down, turned out a nice
little pie made expressly for me.

But then pies are not the only delicacies remaining in my
memory of that little house. Near by, an old woman had gar-
nished her basement window with a beautiful display of tempt-
ing candies, and on sunny days the light shining into it enabled
us children to see, beyond, a mysterious room or grotto in which
the enchantress lived, and even see her working at her toothsome
compounds. One day, while we children were lined up against
the railing, trying to decide what we could buy to the best ad-
vantage for our pennies, we discovered her bending over a caul-
dron on the stove, and stirring with a wooden spatula some
strange mixture. Round and round went her hand in rhythmic
circles, unvarying as the hand of Fate. Meanwhile a crystal drop



was slowly gathering at the end of her nose, which was directly
over the pot, and it grew and grew, and we stood spellbound,
crystal gazers indeed. Would it, or would it not ? It did! And
we fled. Shortly after, the shutters were put up on the basement
windows and the old woman disappeared, doubtless wonder-
ing to the end of her days, trying to account for her mysterious
failure, never dreaming of that "fatal drop."

My brother here developed not only into a superior person,
but into a superior tease or plaguer. It sometimes, when we were
going to bed, took the form of commencing a most exciting story
about a giant and a certain Jack a small but most intelligent
and brave hero. Just at the most interesting part his voice would
grow weaker and weaker and would finally drift off into a gentle
snore. I knew he was making-believe, and loudly called for him
to go on, but he sleepily answered that he had forgotten the rest.
Then loud appeals to mother to stop Alexander plaguing me,
and mocking imitations of me. I thought him simply diabolic.

Just one more of his diabolical inventions. He once crooked his
finger and asked me to look at it. I saw nothing remarkable, but
he said: "Keep on looking; it's the funniest thing you ever
saw." I said, "Don't be a fool"; but he returned, "Just look
at it, the more you look, the funnier it will get to be." And
he kept on in the same strain until he put me in a rage ; that was
all he wanted.

Suffice it to say that this brother Alexander was a born speller
and already began by criticising the grammar of his neighbours,
while I in such matters was the born dunce.

My father, before he left for Cuba, used to take me walking
with him, usually way down to the foot of Canal Street, and I
think it must have been on Sundays, from the perfect quiet of that


spot. The great warehouses looked solemn and deserted, as did
the wharves with sloops and schooners tied up to them. Beyond,
over the noble river, stretched the green and peaceful shores of
Hoboken and New Jersey. Did he go fishing on Sunday ? I
wonder. I seem almost to remember something of the sort. My
mother went to church, but I know, wherever a fish was to be
found, my father went fishing. I know I went to Sunday School,
for there I met Emmeline. I tell of it in the Legend of the Mists
of Time.

My father left "with hopes high burning," but soon came
desponding letters, and mother had an anxious time. There
were no steamers in those days, and letters came always by the
kindness or the politeness of some one, or else were brought per-
sonally by the bluff captains themselves. Also bananas and oranges
came, but in such quantities that tax our stomachs as we would
- it was a question what to do with the surplus. I know we boys
tried hard enough to solve that problem.

Finally a letter came announcing that father was coming back,
and that mother was to take another house. This she did. It
was a far better house, in Grand Street yet, but about a block
west beyond the Bowery.

It was in this new house that Death had another try at me :
this time not on a hobby-horse, but in a bottle. I dare say he lurks
in bottles still, but if he does not make better progress with that
implement than he has heretofore, I bid fair to reach a hundred.

It happened in this way : We had moved into the new house ;
furniture was standing about and the carpets not yet down. A
dentist had moved out of it, but there are always things left about
after a moving, so I found, hunting in a closet, a bottle. Now


this bottle was new and of a kind Root Beer was put up in. Root
Beer was the champagne of my infancy, so I cried out to my
brother: "Ah, I now know why I was sent to bed before you,
you and your friends were having Root Beer!" And shaking the
bottle and hearing some yet in it, never doubting, I put it to my
lips and took a swallow. I could only have taken a few drops, for
it set my mouth on fire, and where I threw down the bottle and
the contents had run out, the floor was burned black. It was
nitric acid. My brother, who was always experimenting, seemed
to grasp the situation at once and rushed across the way where
he had seen a doctor's sign. He seemed to return the same instant
with the doctor, who, without his hat or coat, came stirring some-
thing white in a tumbler, with his finger. My mother, dear soul,
seeing that it was something that burnt, and knowing vinegar
was good for burns, had given me vinegar. The doctor's mixture
made me vomit, and it was black. He said, "I 'm afraid it is too
late"; but on being told of the vinegar, gave my mother hopes.
My brother's clear explanation and the doctor having the very
stuff in his hand at the moment, probably saved me. Then, also,
the acid could not have been full strength. I, as one always does
under such circumstances, said nothing and thought nothing, but
as I slowly recovered, used to complain that everything tasted
of chalk ; however, as I was fed on ice-cream, all was not lost.

Father's letters were most desponding. It was settled that he
was to come home, and mother was lying awake all night con-
triving how to make the best of things with our straitened
means, as I have just seen from some old letters. These letters
came with fearful delays in those times, so she in her trouble went
to a Fortune-Teller.

Now comes this strange thing. The Fortune-Teller told my


mother that she had a husband over the water; that she had a
letter saying he was coming home ; but that a letter would arrive
from him in a few days that would change all her plans; this
letter would tell her that all was going well with him and that she
and her children must go to him. All this came true, every
word of it. She gave up the house, but with many misgivings,
packed up everything, and with her two children sailed for Cuba.

But this was not all. The Fortune-Teller told her that there
seemed to be no reason why she should not live to a good old age,
except that in a certain year all was very dark; could she get
through that year alive, she would live a long time. She gave the
year, and in that year my mother died. That happened in Brook-
lyn. After, when my brother became a physician, he knew her
death was simply owing to the neglect of the doctor who, when
she had passed the critical point, forgot to change the treatment
from debilitating to stimulating food, and she had died from
sheer weakness.

Before that sad event we had many years of happiness, to which
I gladly turn.

You will have seen how important were the parts played by
Death and School. Death, however, only intruded his work oc-
casionally, while School was ever present: little, fussy, bother-
some School, doing no good but only keeping me from my legiti-
mate business of healthy play. Now, although in a sense I am
still at school, their parts seem reversed in importance and Death
is the schoolmaster, ever standing over me with his fatal ferule.

No such sad thought troubled me as I boarded the stout brig
of worthy Captain Liesgang. I was in the very hey-day of the
Robinson Crusoe period. I was going where desert islands


abounded, islands offering every inducement to a pleasant and
easy wreck, and a chromo of clear springs of water and shady
cocoanut groves thrown in. You may be sure I provided myself
amply with such things as I thought indispensable. Not a pin,
bit of wire, nail, fish-hook, string, or jack-knife escaped me, so
that my pockets were a veritable reproduction of the celebrated
bag of the good mother of the "Swiss Family Robinson."

One day we had a pretty bad storm. I was in high glee, but
must confess that I kept an anxious outlook for a desert island.
The good captain made his way down the coast by instinct, al-
though a semblance of taking observations was gone through by

Online LibraryElihu VedderThe digressions of V. → online text (page 2 of 29)