George William Bagby.

Selections from the miscellaneous writings of Dr. George W. Bagby (Volume 1) online

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beautiful. I wanted to live there ; I ought to have
lived there. I was built for a lock-keeper have that
exact moral and mental shape. Ah! to own your
own negro, who would do all the drudgery of open-
ing the gates. Occasionally you would go through
the form of putting your shoulder to the huge
wooden levers, if that is what they call them, by
which the gates are opened ; to own your own negro
and live and die calmly at a lock! What more
could the soul ask ? I do think that the finest pic-


ture extant of peace and contentment a little ab-
normal, perhaps, in the position of the animal is
that of a sick rnule looking out of the window of a
canal freight-boat. And that you could see every day
from the porch of your cottage, if you lived at a
lock, owned your own negro, and there was no
great rush of business on the canal, (and there sel-
dom was,) on the "Jeems and Kanawhy," as old
Capt. Sam Wyatt always called it, leaving out the
word "canal," for that was understood. Yes, one
ought to live as a pure and resigned lock-keeper, if
one would be blest, really blest.

JSTow that I am on the back track, let me add that,
however bold and picturesque the cliffs and bluffs
near Lynchburg and beyond, there was nothing from
one end of the canal to the other to compare with the
first sight of Richmond, when, rounding a corner not
far from Hollywood, it burst full upon the vision, its
capitol, its spires, its happy homes, flushed with the
red glow of evening. And what it looked to be, it
Avas. Its interior, far from belieing its exterior,
surpassed it. The world over, there is no lovelier
site for a city ; and the world over there was no city
that quite equalled it in the charm of its hospitality,
its refinement, its intelligence, its cordial welcome to
strangers. Few of its inhabitants were very rich,
fewer still were very poor. But I must not dwell on
this. Beautiful city ! beautiful city ! you may grow to
be as populous as London, and surely no one wishes
you greater prosperity than I ; but grow as you may,
you can never be happier than you were in the days


whereof I speak. How jour picture comes back to
me, softened by time, glorified by all the tender, glow-
ing tints of memory. Around you now is the added
glory of history, a defence almost unrivalled in the
annals of warfare ; but for me there is something
even brighter than historic fame, a hue derived only
from the heaven of memory. In my childhood, when
all things were beautiful by the unclouded light of
"the young soul wandering here in nature," I saw
ycu in your youth, full of hope, full of promise,
full of all those gracious influences which made your
State greatest among all her sisters, and which seemed
concentrated in yourself. Be your maturity what it
may, it can never be brighter than this.

To return to the boat. All the scenery in the
world rocks that Salvator would love to paint, and
skies that Claude could never limn all the facilities
for spitting that earth affords, avail not to keep a
Virginian away from a julep on a hot summer day.
From time to time he would descend from the deck
of the packet and refresh himself. The bar was
small, but vigorous and healthy. I was then in the
lemonade stage of boyhood, and it was not until
many years afterwards that I rose through porterees
and claret-punches to the sublimity of the sherry
cobbler, and discovered that the packet bar sup-
plied genuine Havana cigars at fourpence-ha'penny.
Why, eggs were but sixpence a dozen on the canal
bank, and the national debt wouldn't have filled a
tea-cup. Internal revenue was unknown; the cou-
pons receivable for taxes inconceivable, and forcible


readjustment a thing undreamt of in Virginian phil-
osophy. Mr. Mallock's pregnant question, "Is life
worth living ?" was answered very satisfactorily, me-
thought, as I watched the Virginians at their juleps:
"Gentlemen, your very good health;" "Colonel,
my respects to you ;" " My regards, Judge. When
shall I see you again at my house ? Can't you stop
now and stay a little while, if it is only a week or
two ?" " Sam," (to the bar-keeper,) " duplicate these

How they smacked their lips ; how hot the talk on
politics became ; and how pernicious this example
of drinking in public was to the boy who looked on I
Oh ! yes ; and if you expect your son to go through
life without bad examples set him by his elders in a
thousand ways, you must take him to another sphere.
Still, the fewer bad examples the better, and you, at
least, need not set them.

Travelling always with my father, who was a mer-
chant, it was natural that I should become acquainted
with merchants. But I remember very few of them.
Mr. Daniel H. London, who was a character, and
Mr. Fleming James, who often visited his estate in
Roanoke, and was more of a character than London,
I recall quite vividly. I remember, too, Mr. Francis
B. Deane, who was always talking about Mobjack
Bay, and who was yet to build the Langhorne Foun-
dry in Lynchburg. I thought if I could just see
Mobjack Bay, I would be happy. According to Mr.
Deane, and I agreed with him, there ought by this
time to have been a great city on Mobjack Bay. I


saw Mobjack Bay last summer, and was happy.
Any man who goes to Gloucester will be happy.
More marked than all of these characters was Major
Yancey, of Buckingham, "the wheel-horse of De-
mocracy," he w r as called; Tim. Rives, of Prince
George, whose face, some said, resembled the inside
of a gnnlock, being the war-horse. Major Yancey's
stout figure, florid face, and animated, forcible man-
ner, come back with some distinctness; and there
are other forms, but they are merely outlines barely
discernible. So pass away men who, in their day,
were names and powers shadows gone into shadow-
land, leaving but a dim print upon a few brains,
which in time will soon flit away.

Arrived in Lynchburg, the effect of the canal was
soon seen in the array of freight-boats, the activity
and bustle at the packet landing. New names and
new faces, from the canal region of ~New York, most
likely, were seen and heard. I became acquainted
with the family of Capt. Huntley, who commanded
one of the boats, and was for some years quite inti-
mate with his pretty daughters, Lizzie, Harriet and
Emma. Capt. H. lived on Church street, next door
to the Reformed, or as it was then called, the Radi-
cal Methodist Church, and nearly opposite to Mr.
Peleg Seabury. He was for a time connected in
some way with the Exchange hotel, but removed
with his family to Cincinnati, since when I have
never but once heard of them. Where are they all,
I wonder? Then, there was a Mr. Watson, who
lived with Boyd, Edmond & Davenport, married


first a Miss , and afterwards, Mrs. Christian,

went into the tabacco business in Brooklyn, then dis-
appeared, leaving no trace, not the slightest. Then
there was a rare fellow, Charles Buckley, who lived
in the same store with Watson, had a fine voice, and,
without a particle of religion in the ordinary sense,
loved dearly to sing at revivals. I went with him ;
we took back seats, and sang with great fervor.
This was at night. Besides Captain Iluntley, I re-
member among the captains of a later date, Captain
Jack Yeatman ; arid at a date still later his brother,
Captain C. E. Yeatman, both of whom are still
living. There was still another captain whose name

was Love something, a very handsome man;

and these are all.

In 1849, having graduated in Philadelphia, I made
one of my last through-trips on the canal, the happy
owner of a diploma in a green tin case, and the
utterly miserable possessor of a dyspepsia w^hich
threatened my life. I enjoyed the night on deck,
sick as I was. The owl's "long hoot," the "plain-
tive cry of the whippoorwill ;" the melody for it is
by association a melody, which the Greeks have but
travestied with their brek-ke-ex, ko-ex of the frogs,
the mingled hum of insect life, the " stilly sound "
of inanimate nature, the soft respiration of sleeping
earth, and above all, the ineffable glory of the stars.
Oh! heaven of heavens, into which the sick boy,
lying alone on deck, then looked, has thy charm fled,
too, with so many other charms ? Have thirty years
of suffering, of thought, of book-reading, brought


only the unconsoling knowledge, that yonder twink-
ling sparks of far-off fire are not lamps that light the
portals of the palace of the King and Father, but
suns like our sun, surrounded by earths full of woe
and doubt like our own ; and that heaven, if heaven
there be, is not in the sky; not in space, vast as it is;
not in time, endless though it be where then ?
"Near thee, in thy heart!" Who feels this, who
will say this of himself? Away, thou gray-haired,
sunken-cheeked sceptic, away ! Come back to me,
come back to me, wan youth; there on that deck,
with the treasure of thy faith, thy trust in men, thy
worship of womankind, thy hope, that sickness could
not chill, in the sweet possibilities of life. Come
back to me ! "Tis a vain cry. The youth lies there
on the packet's deck, looking upward to the stars,
and he will not return.

The trip in 1849 was a dreary one until there came
aboard a dear lady friend of mine who had recently
been married. I had not had a good honest talk
with a girl for eighteen solid I think I had better
say long, (we always say long when speaking of the
war) "fo' long years !" I have heard it a thousand
times for eighteen long months, and you may im-
agine how I enjoyed the conversation with my friend.
She w r asn't very pretty, and her husband was a Louisa
man ; but her talk, full of good heart and good sense,
put new life into me. One other through-trip, the
very last, I made in 1851. On my return in 1853 ?
I went by rail as far as Farmville, and thence by
stage to Lynchburg ; so that, for purposes of through


travel, the canal lasted, one may say, only ten or a
dozen years. And now the canal, after a fair and
costly trial, is to give place to the rail, and I, in com-
mon with the great body of Yirginians, am heartily
glad of it. It has served its purpose well enough,
perhaps, for its day and generation. The world ha&
passed by it, as it has passed by slavery. Henceforth
Yirginia must prove her metal in the front of steam,,
electricity, and possibly mightier forces still. If she
can't hold her own in their presence, she must go
under. I believe she will hold her own ; these very
forces will help her. The dream of the great canal
to the Ohio, with its nine-mile tunnel, costing fifty
or more millions, furnished by the general govern-
ment, and revolutionizing the commerce of the
United States, much as the discovery of America
and opening of the Suez canal revolutionized the
commerce of the world, must be abandoned along
with other dreams.

One cannot withhold admiration from President
Johnston and other officers of the canal, who made
such a manful struggle to save it. But who can
war against the elements ? Nature herself, imitating
man, seems to have taken special delight in kicking
the canal after it was down. So it must go. Well,
let it go. It knew Yirginia in her palmiest days
and it crushed the stage coach ; isn't that glory
enough? I think it is. But I can't help feeling
sorry for the bull frogs ; there must be a good many
of them between here and Lexington. What will
become of them, I wonder ? They will follow their


predecessors, the batteaux; and their pale, green
ghosts, seated on the prows of shadowy barges, will
be heard piping the roundelays of long-departed joys.

Farewell canal, frogs, musk-rats, mules, packet-
horns and all, a long farewell. Welcome the rail
along the winding valley of the James. Wake up,
Fluvanna ! Arise, old Buckingham ! Exalt thyself,
O Goochland ! And thou, O Powhatan, be not
afraid nor shame-faced any longer, but raise thy
Ebenezer freely, for the day of thy redemption is at
hand. Willis J. Dance shall rejoice ; yea, Wm. Pope
Dabney shall be exceeding glad. And all hail our
long lost brother ! come to these empty, aching arms,
dear Lynch's Ferry !

' I have always thought that the unnatural separa-
tion between Lynchburg and Richmond was the
source of all our troubles. In some way, not entirely
clear to me, it brought on the late war, and it will
bring on another, if a reunion between the two cities
does not soon take place. Baltimore, that pretty
and attractive, but meddlesome vixen, is at the bot-
tom of it all. Richmond will not fear Baltimore
after the rails are laid. Her prosperity will date
anew from the time of her iron wedding with Lynch-
burg. We shall see her merchants on our streets
again, and see them often. That will be a better

Alas ! there are many we shall not see. John G.
Meem, Sam'l McCorkle, John Robin McDaniel, John
Hollins, Charles Phelps, John R. D. Payne, Jehu
Williams, Ambrose Rucker, Wilson P. Bryant (who


died the other day), and many, many others, will not
come to Richmond any more. They are gone. And
if they came, they would not meet the men they used
to meet ; very few of them at least. Jacquelin P..
Taylor, John N. Gordon, Thomas R. Price, Lewis
D. Crenshaw, James Dunlop why add to the list ?
They too are gone.

But the sons of the old-time merchants of Lynch-
burg will meet here the sons of the old-time mer-
chants of Richmond, and the meeting of the two,
the mingling of the waters Blackwater creek with
Bacon Quarter branch deuce take it ! I have gone
off on the water line again the admixture, I should
say, of the sills of Campbell with the spikes of Hen-
rico, the readjustment, so to speak, of the ties (R. R.
ties) that bind us, will more than atone for the ob-
solete canal, and draw us all the closer by reason of
our long separation and estrangement. Richmond
and Lynchburg united will go onward and upward
in a common career of glory and prosperity. And
is there, can there be, a Virginian, deserving the
name, who would envy that glory, or for a moment
retard that prosperity ? Not one, I am sure.

Allow me, now that my reminiscences are ended,
allow me, as an old stager and packet-horn reverer,
one last Parthian shot. It is this : If the James river
does not behave better hereafter than it has done of
late, the railroad will have to be suspended in mid-
heavens by means of a series of stationary balloons ;
travelling then may be a little wabbly, but at all
events, it won't be wet.



THE stranger in Lynchbnrg who stops at the
City Hotel, in passing to and fro, will not fail
to be struck with the singular aspect of a building
not far from his lodgings. Upon the front of this
building, which stands a little back from the house-
line of the street, he will find marked


The shape of the house so marked is unlike the
shape of houses appropriated to business purposes;
but what will most curiously attract the stranger's
eye, is a little belfry perched above the gable. ]STo
bell swings in that belfry. Under a hastily-made
shed-porch in front of the house will be found a
number of rucking-chairs, tables, and other articles,
showing what may be expected inside. In the sweet
summer mornings, the proprietor may not unfre-
quently be seen seated in one of his rocking-chairs,
quietly reading a newspaper.

If the stranger w r ill venture to open either of the
two folding doors that give ingress to this building,
he will find the interior filled to repletion with all
manner of furniture. Let him go boldly in among


the multitude of bureaus, sofas, wash-stands, pier-
tables, and lounges. All is very still there. The
bright and glossy crowd of dumb domestics are
patiently awaiting owners to come and claim them.
One is reminded of those Northern Intelligence
Offices, where hosts of Irish and German girls sit,
without speaking, day after day; only here the ser-
vants are not flesh and blood, but structures of rose-
wood, mahogany and marble.

A strange and not wholly pleasant feeling creeps
over the visitor as he gazes on the inanimate forms
that people the broad wareroom.

If this furniture had been used, if it were old, and
black, and rickety, the feeling should be desolate in-
deed. But now that it is new, and rich, and beauti-
ful, it should suggest cheerful fancies only. Hither
the young couple will come to furnish their house
their home sweet, because it is theirs. In yonder
tall wardrobe will hang the spotless white dresses of
the bride, and the brave black finery of the groom.
The glass on that marble-topped bureau will reflect
the blushes of her pure young face, and the drawers
will be proud to hold the delicate laces and the mani-
fold "nice nothings" that pertain to her in right of
her sex. Upon that gold-embroidered tete-a-tete, the
happy pair will tell each other the story of their love-
days again and again tiring never of that sweet
time when the breeze blew fresh and fragrant from
the ever-nearing Isles of Hope. Surely the dumb
furniture is eloquent, and tells charming stories !

Nevertheless, to the visitor, meditating in the


midst of the wareroom, there comes through all the
meshes of his silver-woven fancies, a something, out
of keeping with the place, breathing awe upon him.

W-hat is this? and why comes it?

It is the nameless spirit that clings to and lingers
in and around every unpeopled habitation; and it
comes here with peculiar solemnity and power be-
cause this wareroom was once the tabernacle and
house of the Most High God ! Yea, it was even so;
^and albeit the pulpit hung with green, the old-fash-
ioned plain benches, and the deep-toned bell are gone,
the stranger may still see that this was a church once.
Here the mysterious rites that conjoin the transient
mortal with the Source infinite and eternal of life,
were performed. Here religion, in its terror and its
tenderness, in the sublimity of its hopes and the
boundlessness of its despair, was preached by lips
fired almost to prophecy; here prayers as pure as
ever trembled up to God's throne were uttered; and
here repentance as sincere as ever transformed err-
ing men was felt and avowed. Can a soul know its
unseen tragedies in 'time and place, and leave no mute
record there ? Can the glow and the joy of a faith
that dulls the last sharp pang, and triumphs over de-
cay be felt, and the spot that saw the birth of that
faith bear no witness of it ? Can celestial ministers
bring messages of everlasting peace to the fear-har-
rowed soul, and no lingering trace, perceptible to the
finer senses, remain upon the walls hallowed by the
touches of their wings, and on the floor pressed once
by their noiseless sandals ? Nay, truly. If the fire-


side delights, and all the "fair humanities" that en-
dear the humblest dwelling, will cluster about the
broken hearthstone, and redeem with tenderest sug-
gestions the horror of the charred and fallen rafters,
how much more shall the higher emotions of religion
hallow holier places, and with greater tenacity cling
to ruined shrines and deserted churches !

But the palpable awe of the sacred wareroom must
be vague and fleeting to the stranger. It is deep, it
is lasting to him who remembers the old church in
its prime. When the white pailings in front enclosed
a little yard, green with a patch of sward 011 either
side, and a little paper-mulberry tree in the centre of
each patch. When the bell, tolling early on a bright
Sunday morning, summoned the children, clean with
starched white clothes, to the Sabbath-school. When
the mind, fretted now and hardened with business
cares, was concerned about the questions of the cate-
chism, and the ear familiar with the getting-by-heart
hum of the hundred round-faced scholars.

Graver was the time when the morning service
came. The little yard was filled then with gentle-
men grouped about the mulberry tree, after they
had assisted the ladies in to the right-hand door.
Youths were there, arrayed in their best, watching
the fair faces and the charming figures as they came
walking, or tripped lightly out of carriages.

Within all was hushed. The scholars, who short-
while hummed so loudly, were silent now, and sat
demurely by their parents' sides, with restless feet
that could not touch the floor. Soon, overcome with


heat, the little forms would be stretched upon the
bench, the moist young brows, protected by a kindly
handkerchief, reposing in a father's or a mother's lap.

Alas ! they who slept sweet slumbers in the hap-
py day when this wareroom was a church, shall
sleep thus again no more. The hands whose gentle
touches waked those sleepers when the sermon ended,
have mouldered into dust, or tremble now with the
palsy of age. The flight of years has made men and
women of those children who in this wareroom first
heard the public accents of prayer and praise. Their
youth is gone, and with it the wonder and the beauty
of life, and almost of religion.

Memories still more solemn come to him who once
sat in this sanctuary memories of high religious fes-
tivals and revivals, with their excitement, their power,
their terror, with that wondrous fascination which the
sight of weeping men and women, repenting, and
heart-broken, and joyful, must ever give.

But sadder yet, and sweeter than these, come mem-
ories imbued with the intense and mysterious charm
of sacred music.

Ah ! the singers, the singers that sang in this old
church! Few, very few of them remain. Some sing
no longer ; some have wandered from the fold ; some
live in far States and in other cities; and some are

One noble old man, whose fine, venerable head
kept time to the divine music in his heart, we all re-
member. Warm was he ; true, upright, full of love
toward his fellow-man, full of service to his Master,


and not to be wearied in well-doing. Who that ever
heard him can forget with what fervor he was wont
to sing :

" All hail the power of Jesus name,
Let angels prostrate fall;
Bring forth the royal diadem,
And crown Him Lord of all."

lending his whole soul to the melodious utterance of
that name he loved so well ?

His earthly voice fell silent long ago ; his honored
dust reposes in the graveyard of his church; and
there a marble obelisk rises to attest the esteem his
townsmen justly bore him.

One other singer, the sweetest that ever sang in
this old church, returns dim but beautiful to the fill-
ing eyes that gaze upon the dead space where once
her living self lovely in the dawn of womanhood
and in the beauty 'of her guilelessness sang praises
to Him who is the source of beauty and of truth.
How pure, how sweet, how tender, was her voice!
the vocal life of her sinless heart ! the fit, intelligent,
worshipful, loving instrument to hymn the highest
music !

Unhappy, unhappy singer ! Neither thy beauty,
nor thy sweetness, nor thy sinlessness, could save
thee from the appointed sorrow. It is over now.
The sweet voice is dumb, the loveful lips are ashes,
and the true, stainless woman's heart shall throb no
more, no more for ever. All of her that could fade
lies in the church-yard, not far from him, the noble
Christian, father and friend of humanity, whose voice


often blended with her own sweet tones when on
earth they sang together the songs of Zion. Over
her, the leaves, dark and glossy-green, of the sombre
oaks have lightly moved to the sighing winds of many
vernal morns ; and upon her tomb, through the long
nights of many autumns, those leaves, grown sere,
have fallen fast, as tears to weep her mournful fate.
Peace be to her, and joy, and love !

Other singers there were in this old church, and
others still who sang only in their hearts ; all worthy
to be named, and all too sadly well remembered and
recalled by those who see the bowed forms, clad in
deep crape, that tremblingly walk the aisles of the
new church, and who miss the reverent faces from
their accustomed pew, and hear no more the well-
known voices in the choir.

Alas ! for life's changes ; alas ! for those that have
already come ; and for those yet to come unknown
changes but which must come oh! how shall we
bear them ?

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