William Columbus Ferril.

The Connecticut quarterly (Volume 2) online

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winning expression. Every baby stretched out its little arms to him, and children
gathered to him like bees, while animals, large and small, regarded him as their
friend. In those days when there was no organization for their protection, he
was a humane society )n himself. He dearly loved his home. He built his
place named "Rockland" at Jamaica Plain, near Boston, with careful detail, a
house in which he hoped his family would grow and prosper. Every cent of it
was paid out of his own honest work. By this time he had become in easy
circumstances, enjoying the results of his labors.

The rose garden, built especially for my mother's pleasure, was a perfumed
picture and no pains were spared to make it a delight to the eye. Plowering
shrubs dotted the brilliant green lawns and loop-holes were cut out to make attrac-
ti\e views. In short, no other gentle-
man's residence in those days was
more perfect or desirable.

A great deal of the time his mind
was working to shape some great
thought and well we children under-
stood that when we saw him walk-
ing up and down on the broad piazza,
with his hands behind him, he must
not be interrupted. But in the morn-
ing, before he went into Boston to
business, he always had a frolic or
a talk, or a walk with us, and we
waited about in the neighborhood for
his call to us to brush his coat and see
that he was an immaculate gentlemen
in every way. Now and then he elizur Goodrich.

.. .^ 7J u ] *. 1. *.i An Uncle of "Peter Parley." connected with Yale College

would have a word to say to the for about 70 years.


gardener or the stable boys as he sauntered down there with us hand in hand.
We were never allowed to venture into these regions, but there was a lovely hill
rose up just opposite the great barn doors, which, in the early spring, was one
carpet of blue violets, with yellow eyes — one could believe a tender cloud had
come down upon it like a mantle of beauty.

Here we camped, keeping keen watch for his coming again, and if perchance
he was robed in his soft velvet dressing gown, he would have his pockets full of
kittens, or an impudent puppy, or some fluffy chickens, just struggling into life ;
and meanwhile he was filling our small minds with ideas and thoughts of strength
and beauty which stayed by us through life. Or, it might be at the "children's
hour " before the open grate, when perched on his knees like inquisitive birds.,
we plied him with questions without stint and listened to stories galore.

How vivid are these scenes. As I "think back" they come before
my mind's eye like an old-time daguarreotype scarcely dimmed by age.
Among these is a picture of a summer morning, when the family as
usual are gathered to see the head of the house " mount and away." He did not
care much for a lord, but he dearly loved a fine horse, and always had two or three
of them in the stable. Ariel, his riding horse, was standing ready saddled in front
of the veranda. She was an e.xquisite specimen of equine beauty, coal-blaclv,
polished like satin, with a white star on her forehead and not another hair upon
her save black. She never would tolerate being tied, so a groom stood just in
front of her. She obeyed my father with perfect docility but with anyone else
she was not reliable and was, to tell the truth, a rather dangerous animal. Hut
this morning she won our fervent gratitude and admiration by an intelligence
which seems to me marvelous, at this late day.

My mother, seated on one step of the piazza, had my six months' old brother
beside her, holding him by his long dress. All in a flash, no one ever knew how
it happened, the baby suddenly rolled over and down beneath the horse's feet. It
takes little time to tell, but it seemed hours before we could catch a breath. 'I'hen
my father said in a scarcely audible whisper, but full of anguish, " Let no one
stir." The mare was in evident distress, and understood as well as a human, the
terrible danger of the situation. She began an almost inperceptible movement of
her small feet, walking slowly, but surely, away from the baby who was calmly
looking about him, quite unaware of impending danger.

My parents' faces were white and drawn and my father's lips were set and
held between his; teeth to keep from groaning aloud. Of course we children could
not appreciate the horror that those moments contained, but I never forgot the
scene. It was, as it were, seared upon the tablets of my memory.

Meanwhile, our pretty Ariel had moved far enough to one side for mother to
grasp and withdraw the child, and then the mare seemed to wilt and a sweat broke
out all over her so profuse that great drops fell to the ground.

Later she grew too nervous for everyday use and my father reluctantly sold
her. She became a great racer, known as the " Lone Star," and was famous all
over the country.

My father early became somewhat of a public man and entered with enthu-
siasm into politics. As a very young man, when aid to his uncle Cjov. Chauncey
Goodrich, of Hartford, he had met most of the members of the famous Hartford
Convention, and had already made for himself a reputation as a publisher and a


man of great literary attainments, beside being an admirable conversationalist and
witty speaker and lecturer. My mother, an English woman by birth, was remark-
able both as a singer and musician, and between them they drew all that was de-
sirable of surrounding society of talent, culture and charm. Their guests often
brought with them foreigners of note, and entertaining ere long became obliga-
tory on account of the position he had attained. At stated intervals father gave
large dinner parties to gentlemen, while their wives were enjoying a " dish of tea "■
in the drawing-rooms, or on the wide veranda at "Rockland." Music was a
matter of course, and such " chamber concerts " as were held there were rare
treats indeed. Brainard wrote a song for my mother called the " Sea Bird " which
she set to an old Welsh air. I heard Daniel Webster ask her for it one evening
and she sang it, accompanying herself with the harp. Wild, weird, intense, it
seemed to hold something in its measure which seized upon Webster's innermost
feelings and he sat where he could watch the singer ; as she closed with the last
gloomy lines, where the voice mounts higher and higher and then abruptly descends,
in a long wail, — he was so motionless that the other listeners noted it, —

" Tis the sea-bird, sea-bird, sea-Vjird,

Lone witness of despair,
'Tis the sea-bird, sea-bird, sea-bird,

The (inly witness there."

Then a few liquid notes of the harp and she was the very "mocking-bird "itself.
Her trills, echoed through the large rooms and halls — trills I never heard equalled
— even Grisi made a fiasco of them. They are unheard now, not only on account
of their extreme difificulty, but the present style of musical composition does not
lend itself to them.

My father was of an eminently social nature and a delightful entertainer, and
he and my mother made their home most attractive. There was always more or
less of a house party, and "Afternoon Tea" was known there as an established
fact a generation ago.

Of a summer afternoon, elegant equipages from Boston and neighboring
towns drove out for a call, or in winter brilliant sleighing parties filled the air
with their tuneful bells and not unseldom a delicious seranade would seem to melt
in the air.

My brother and I had favorites among these intimate friends. He would
draw as near to Webster as he dared, being recognized only by a sudden raising
of those great, gloomy eyes and a kindly glance. I was more drawn to Haw-
thorne, who would sit remote and silent, brooding over the outlines of some of
those weird tales which surprised and startled the reading world. His sails were
filled out, his ships were going on summer seas, freighted with stories so rare, so
fascinating, that they soon reached the " Fortimate Isles." Henceforth he was
one of the earliest makers of our literature.

Lothrop Motley, afterward one of the most famous of the great historians of
his age, drew us like a magnet.

N. F. Willis, full of life and jokes, bore with us as we drifted up to the two,
just for the pleasure of hearing Motley's winning voice or to watch the ripples of
laughter running over Willis' speaking face. He was nothing if not roguish and
sharp, and at times went beyond the allowances of polite writing and conversa-


tion, but with his light curly locks and brilliant eyes, he made a perfect foil to
Motley. The latter was a gentleman in every sense of the word, and something
in his gracious, quiet manner, presented an example of the best style of an Aneri-
can. In after years he l^ecame a giant in literature.

I can remember to-day, though half a century has elapsed, the enjoyment
these guests all seemed to feel. In perfect .sympathy, drawn together with the
high purpose of refining and elevating the world of letters, their faces were in-
stinct with enthusiasm and glowed with the desire to give of their best.

The result of these simple gatherings was world-wide. These sturdy, young
Americans went forth to represent the growing literature of a youthful republic.
Most, indeed all of them, were for years contributors to the " Token," one of the
earliest books edited by Mr. Goodrich, in which the reader will find embalmed
some of the choicest gems of poetry and prose. This dainty annual has now be-
come one of the treasured "Americana," found in large city libraries only. It
will reward the seeker for "Gems of pure.st ray serene" are bound between its
covers, — a very treasure book. Park Benjamin and Greenwood, Bryant and
Doane, Washington Irving, Emerson, Percival, Brainard, and others beside those
mentioned above, contributed to make it for se\'enteen years, a valued and sought
for work.

My father's study was a fascinating 'room into which we ventured, only
on distinct permission. Its large square table, covered with green broadcloth,
with all the elegant stationery and ornamental paraphernalia so useless to the wri-
ter ; gifts from many friends of elegant ink-stands, elaborate pen-racks, paper-
ciltters, erasers, pen-knives and other adjuncts. These were seldom used. I can
.see now the long black leather ])ortfolio filled with blotted sheets, ink-stained,
marred here and there with figures and notes and memoranda thereon. Here he
wrote down his thoughts, shaping his sentences as he walked up and down his

spacious room, often smiling as a pleasant
( ' thought came over him. Now and then

casting a loving glance out upon the wide
drive-way or down a glorious steep bank
where ornamental trees caught the eye.
Down this bank in winter we coasted. One
sled was built expressly for me with a back
and a shelf behind it on which my grand
old Newfoundland sat as we flew down the
snowy incline, he barking wildly.

It was always a pleasiwe, even a rest,

for my father to see children at play, and

he encouraged the coming of others to join

in our happy games. For many years there

had been at Jamaica Plain, an important

r M '■ ■ '^'X^n^^^ ''"'^' flourishing boarding school for boys,

f- jf ^s^iM^^H l^*-'Pt by Mr. Charles Green. There were-


Online LibraryWilliam Columbus FerrilThe Connecticut quarterly (Volume 2) → online text (page 32 of 46)