E. A. (Edward Austin) Sheldon.

Autobiography of Edward Austin Sheldon online

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into the form of a rope, talking in the meantime to the
boy as though his end was near, to prepare his mind for
the final event so near at hand. The handkerchief would
be adjusted to the boy's neck and when he began to feel the
pull on his throat, the effect the master desired to make on
the boy was considered satisfactory and a reprieve was
granted. Of course, this scheme soon wore out and some
other device had to be substituted. Another master was
reported as kicking his pupils in punishment, but I was
never an eye-witness to this proceeding.

Personally, I never suffered very seriously from the
school punishments. The worst thing that happened to me
in this line was to be caught by the collar and thrown
through the air backward into the middle of the floor, land-
ing on the back of my head in a way that stunned me.

The arrangement of the seats was on this wise: we had
no desks proper, but around the outside of the room against
the wall ran a pine board, sixteen or eighteen inches wide,
with front edge an inch or two lower than the rear edge.
This served as writing-desk or support for the books when



28 AUTOBIOGRAPHY

"studying." In front of this shelf were arranged pine
benches without backs on which to sit. All the pupils had
to do when they wished to face the wall was to throw their
feet over this bench or get them over as best they could.
When sitting at the writing desk in this way, our backs
were toward the master. Lower benches were arranged
around the room 'for the younger children.

One of the rules of the school was that there should be
no eating of fruit in the schoolroom. At recess I had
been eating an apple, and when the rap on the window
called us in, I came promptly, with some of the apple I had
been eating still in my mouth. I took my seat, facing the
wall. The next thing that happened to me I have already
stated. I went 'home, not to return for some days, not
until the teacher had apologized to my father for his rude,
hasty treatment of a boy innocent of any serious offense.

The only other punishment at school to which I remem-
ber having taken any particular exception, was the require-
ment of the teacher that I should kiss my great toe. The
fact that the teacher was a cousin made the demand none
the less offensive. It is true I had just performed the act
of my own accord as a bit o'f fun, which led the teacher
to require a repetition of the performance as a punishment.
The conditions were very different. In the one case it was
a voluntary act entered into to amuse my seatmates, and
in the other case it was forced upon myself for the amuse-
ment of the teacher and the ridicule of companions.

As a rule, instruments of punishment were kept on hand
ready for use. In the teacher's desk securely locked were
whips, ferules, fool's caps and dunce-blocks, so that no
time need be lost for the application while the temper was



EDWARD AUSTIN SHELDON 29

still hot. This particular teacher who was so ingenious in
his method of punishment, was also ingenious in other
directions. He believed in keeping his school wide awake,
a feature in which he succeeded very well. Among other
tricks he resorted to when things got a little dull, was to
have the school drop everything and spell the 'following
words in concert: Ho, no, hono-; ri, honori; fi, honorifi-;
ca, honorifica-; bi, honorificabi-; li, honorificabili; to, honori-
ficabilito-; ti, honorificabilitoti- ; bus, honorificabilitotibus- ;
que, honorificabilitotibusque. Every syllable spelled was
pronounced by itself and then added to the preceding syll-
ables, and the word so far as completed was pronounced
and the last syllable was long drawn out with a tremendous
squeal. This was always entered into with great gusto, and
was sure to wake up all drowsy souls.

The "spelling school" was a characteristic feature of these
old-time country schools, and one that especially interested
me. Not the spelling, at all. I didn't care a fig about
learning to spell. I utterly despised learning of all kinds.
I regarded grammatical forms of speech as stilted, bom-
bastic, "set up." The dialect of the neighborhood was
good enough for me. I was interested in the evening
spelling schools on account of their social element, their
jolly fellowship, and particularly because they afforded an
opportunity of "going home with the girls."



CHAPTER VI

THE DOMESTIC LIFE OF THE BOY ON THE FARM

I HAVE no remembrance of a cross or unkind word that
ever passed between my father and mother. They were
uniformly respect' ful, kind, and loving toward each other.

We children had a genuine affection for our parents and
never thought of disobeying them. Our father said little,
but when he spoke, his words were like orders to us. My
mother was more social in her nature and talked more
freely. She was intelligent, she was well educated for a
woman in her time, and she talked good sense. We had a
feeling of reverence for both parents.

All our domestic habits were very simple, our diet was
plain, but everything was wholesome and well-cooked. Our
meats were largely salt pork and beef, with an occasional
cod or salmon. Fresh meat came in occasionally. The
meats were mostly fried for breakfast and boiled for dinner.
For supper, we often had dried beef cooked in a delicious
milk gravy. Of this we never tired. Milk was abundant
and we used it freely. In the season of currants and
raspberries, I enjoyed nothing better than a bowl of bread
and milk with currants or other berries. We were also
fond of jellies and honey, of which we always had an
abundant supply. Pies, doughnuts, and cookies were al-

30



EDWARD AUSTIN SHELDON 31

ways on hand. We never thought of closing any meal
without a piece of pie.

Cold water was our only beverage, except that my mother
had an occasional cup of tea, or of homemade barley coffee.
This was made by scorching barley and grinding it, and
using it the same as coffee. It was a palatable and nourish-
ing drink. My 'father used no tobacco or spirituous
beverages of any kind. As a family it might have been
said of us very truly and in a literal sense that we were
every one of us tee-totalers.

Our clothing was always of the plainest and most sub-
stantial kind, largely homemade. Our best suits were worn
only on Sundays or rare social occasions. We put them on
Sunday morning after the chores were done and the horses
harnessed and doffed them immediately on reaching home
after the church services. They were carefully put away in
a dark closet, where they were safe from dust and moths.
In this way they lasted a long time, sometimes until we
quite outgrew them and the fashion was left far behind.

This careful economy brought thrift and the old house,
in due time, gave place to a new and better one. We were
many years accumulating the materials for the new house.
Logs were cut in the woods and drawn to the saw-mill in
the neighborhood, already alluded to, and out of these were
sawn boards and the smaller pieces o'f timber for various
uses in the construction of the new house. The heavy
timbers were cut and hewn in the woods. The pine lumber
we went to Portage Falls to get, nine miles away.

At last, after some years of gathering materials and other
preparations, we were ready to raise the 'frame of the new
house. The thing now in order was a "raising bee." All



32 AUTOBIOGRAPHY

able-bodied men within the compass of a mile or two
were invited to the bee. Great preparations were made
for this grand occasion one of the most important in the
life of a farmer. All the good things the housewife could
devise were prepared in its honor. Cakes in great variety,
the richest and the best that could be made, lemonade and
other "soft drinks" were provided.

The bee over, the finishing of the house went on, slowly
very slowly. It was a long time before it was completed.
My 'father was very particular to have everything well done,
and the carpenter, a slow mortal at best, took his own time
for it.

The one thing about the house for which my father had
the most care, was the chimney with the accompanying
fireplace. In the old house was a liberal fireplace with its
cranes and hooks and chains, and the new one must be
built on a still more liberal and better plan. At the end
what was his disappointment to find that the chimney
smoked! This was a sore trial to my father. It had to
be reconstructed and made to "draw."

This new fireplace would hold, at a low estimate, an
eighth of a cord of wood prepared for 'the purpose. This
wood was piled up at the side of the fireplace ready for
the morning fire. There was a "back log," and the "little
back log" designed to go on the top of the big one. Then
there was a fore stick, a log of no mean dimensions, and
between this and the back logs was ample space for filling
in with the small wood. When once fully afire, this pile
made an astonishing blaze, with intense heat.

The crane was strong and ample for holding the kettles,
large and small, that were required 'for cooking and other



EDWARD AUSTIN SHELDON 33

housekeeping pufposes. Generous provision was made for
a brick oven in which to do the baking of the household. A
smaller fireplace was arranged in the bedroom intended for
my father and mother.

I remember well when all these gave way to the modern
stove. With this change came much of increased comfort
and reduction of labor, but at the same time there was a loss
that we all felt, and none more than my father and the chil-
dren, who always enjoyed the bright, cheerful blazing fire.
It is true that in cold weather we found it difficult to warm
more than one side at a time: but what of that? we could
readily change sides, and there was a pleasant glow of
warmth from the open fire that the stove never gives. How-
ever, considerations of economy and labor-saving prevailed,
and the old-'fashioned fireplace and brick oven had to be
sacrificed for the introduction of more modern methods in
heating and baking.

Before the advent of the stove and range, we used as a
partial substitute for the old brick oven, a tin oven, a sort
of reflector that was placed before the open fireplace, in
which were set the loaves of bread or pies to be baked. It
was so constructed with flaring sides and top, as to catch
the rays of heat and concentrate them on the contents of
the oven. This was a sort of connecting link between the
brick oven and the stove, and as such served a very good
purpose. Then came in, too, the open Franklin stove, which
was placed in the parlor, a room only used on state occa-
sions. It was, indeed, a very meager substitute for the
fireplace as its capacity for wood was scarcely one-tenth
that o'f the latter. It gave, however, an open fire, and in
this way reminded one of by-gones.



34 AUTOBIOGRAPHY

Under the whole house was a superb cellar. That was
the place where the vegetables, fruits, meats, and other
necessary supplies for the household were stored. This
was always well filled, and it was a sight well calculated
to make a farmer quite contented, to go into the cellar after
the apples, potatoes, and other vegetables were stored
away for winter use. There was the cider barrel, the
vinegar barrel, the pork barrel, the beef barrel, the barrel
of apple sauce, the great bins filled to overflowing with such
apples as are seldom seen now-a-days, in every variety, and
the great potato bin with its ample store. I have rarely seen
such a sight as my father's cellar presented in those
halcyon days. All this greatly added to our comfort and
convenience, and my father and mother lived many years to
enjoy these hard-earned enlargements.

My mother was an excellent cook, made all our butter
and cheese, with some to spare for the market, to be ex-
changed 'for groceries or other household necessities. She
also made soap, spun and wove the linen cloth for the bags,
towels, and much of the summer wear o'f the household,
besides many of the woolen garments worn by the children
and other members of the household. Some of these gar-
ments, both in linen and in wool, constituted an important
item of the outfit of the boy when he went to college. She
looked after the wardrobe of the family, washing, ironing,
mending the clothing, and darning the stockings.

All this our mother did with occasional outside help,
added to what assistance was rendered by my sister, who
was never well or strong. Mother was always the last in
the house to retire, and much of her needle-work was done



EDWARD AUSTIN SHELDON 35

while we were in bed. To us, she seemed a remarkable
woman one in a thousand. I have yet to see a better
ordered, better kept, better fed, and, as a whole, more de-
sirable domestic household than that over which my mother
and father presided.



CHAPTER VII

THE RELIGIOUS LIFE OF THE BOY ON THE FARM

MY FATHER and mother were Calvinists of the New Eng-
land type. Next to the Bible, my father placed Dr. Em-
mons' sermons, a complete set of whose works he presented
to each of his children. He usually read one of these ser-
mons aloud to the assembled family every Sabbath after-
noon. Dr. Spring of New York, and Dr. Weeks were also
among his favorite teachers. He firmly believed and stoutly
advocated their doctrines, and rejected everything that did
not agree with them. Naturally enough, the children, with
their confidence and respect for their parents, never ques-
tioned the points held by them.

The sovereignity of God, His immutable decrees, His
foreknowledge, foreordination and election, the necessity of
faith in Christ, repentance, and sanctification, to salvation,
formed the meat on which we were fed. Rightly inter-
preted and understood, I doubt whether there is any escape
from the conclusions to which these doctrines led. At any
rate, such was our faith, and having been so trained, it
never ceases to influence our minds and our lives.

Believing as I did the necessity for regeneration, or
change o'f heart, for salvation, I longed for the experience
indicative of such a change. We always went to church
regularly, never omitting any church service, fair weather

36



37

or stormy. I gave such respectful attention to the sermon
and other services as a boy could give. I honestly desired
to be rightly affected by them, and although I realized little
impression made upon my mind or heart by all that minister
said, out of respect to him I kept my eyes fixed on him, so
far as I was able to keep awake ; and I distinctly remember
at least one occasion when I thought I ought to be deeply
affected, even to tears, but was not. I did what I could
to give the minister the impression that I was so affected,
by wetting my fingers in my mouth, and with them my
eyes, thinking in this way to give the appearance of tears.

It was not until many years later, when quite a well-
grown youth, that I thought any real change of heart came
to me. It was then that new emotions came into my soul.
I felt as I had not felt before. A spiritual element entered
into my life which I had not previously realized. Even the
external world, itself, put on a coloring that I had not seen
before. I saw myself in a new light. My heart was filled
with joy and rejoicing. What I had so long desired had
come to me. I now realized myself a Christian. It was not,
however, considered safe to admit a new convert into the
church until sufficient time had been given in which to test
the genuineness of the conversion. In due time, after a
year or so, in 1840, when I was seventeen years of age, I
was received into the Congregational Church at Ferry
Center.

From this time on, I read many religious books of a
highly spiritual order books that were well calculated to
search the heart and test the genuineness of the spiritual
life. Measured by these tests, I felt that I had not the
proper evidence of a change of heart, and that I had no right



38 AUTOBIOGRAPHY

to a membership in the church of Christ, and asked to have
my name stricken from the church roll. I was informed
by the pastor that this could not be done so long as there
was no outward act that made me liable to discipline. As
I had no inclination to commit such acts, no alternative was
left me but to let the whole matter rest as it was, and I con-
tinued a member in good fellowship.

At home we always had family prayers in the morning
immediately a'fter breakfast, and on Sabbath afternoons
before sunset. With us, in accordance with New England
custom, the Sabbath began with the going down of the sun
on Saturday night and ended with its setting on Sunday
night. Before sunset on Saturday night, all the farm work
was la-id aside; the milking of the cows, the care of the
stock, and all chores were "done up," and when the sun was
down we were all supposed to be quiet in the house, and
religious reading of some sort was in order. No whistling
or secular songs, or light or trifling conversation were al-
lowed between the two setting suns. I well remember as
a small boy, how I used to go out and watch the last ray
of the setting sun as it disappeared below the horizon on
Sabbath night. I was then set free to play as much as I
pleased. This was the night of the week for social gath-
erings and the frolics of the children. This custom held
sway for many years after I le'ft home and had a family
of my own.

Brought up in such a home, it is not a matter of wonder
that the old man thus trained as a boy, is not given to Sun-
day parties, Sunday dinners, Sunday riding, or secular oc-
cupations of any kind. The old proverb, "Train up a child



EDWARD AUSTIN SHELDON 39

in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not
depart from it," has proven true in my case at least. At
three score years and ten and three more, I find myself in-
clined to the beliefs and practices in which I was trained.



CHAPTER VIII

PREPARING FOR COLLEGE

THUS far I have endeavored to give an account of what
came to me as a boy on the farm. At the turning point
between youth and young manhood, a circumstance occurred
that changed the plans of my whole life, and turned all
my ambitions into an entirely new channel. When I was
seventeen, Mr. Charles Huntington, just out of college, came
to Perry Center and opened a private school. Into this school
were gathered most o'f the young men and women of the
town in the immediate vicinity. Here for the first time I
became interested in books, and began to study.

Mr. Huntington had the power to arouse enthusiasm in
his pupils, and he it was who first waked me up and aroused
in me new aspirations. I found new acquaintances, and
among them was John D. Higgins, whose mother resided at
Perry Village, two miles away. The inspiration of the teach-
ers had given to him also, as well as to many another boy
in this school, new life and ambition. He became a fre-
quent visitor at our house, and one day, as we were coming
down the street talking over our life plans, we mutually
agreed that an education was the thing 'for which we ought
to strive; and we then and there resolved that we would
bend our efforts in this direction, and get such an education
as a college would give us. Stopping in the middle of the

40



EDWARD AUSTIN SHELDON 41

road, we shook hands over this resolution ,and from this
purpose we never swerved.

Up to this time I had detested both books and the school,
and as a consequence I had no intellectual equipment. My
father had always urged me to go to school, and I had as
persistently urged to be allowed to stay at home and work
on the farm. All at once my father's and my ideas were
reversed. I had now come to an age when I could make
myself very useful on the 'farm, and my father desired my
services, and wanted to make a farmer of me. My younger
brother, I was told by the farm hands, was destined to be
a scholar and a doctor, and I a farmer; an arrangement,
as I now look back upon it, very natural for my parents
to make, for my brother had shown much more taste and
aptitude for books than I, while I had shown more skill
and interest in farming. So now my father wanted me to
stay at home on the farm just when I wanted to go to
school.

I had become so thoroughly in earnest in my desire for
an education that, being naturally headstrong and persist-
ent, I set about it with a full determination to accomplish it.
'A man living two or three miles 'from our house, who some-
times did work for my father, had a Latin grammar and
dictionary, which he offered to lend me. This offer I
eagerly accepted, lost no time in going for them, and began
the study of Latin in earnest. Seeing that my purpose was
fully set in this direction, and accepting the advice of my
teacher, my father no longer objected or put obstacles in
my way, but, on the contrary, gave me every possible aid
in his power. My elementary education had been wholly
neglected, and I had much to do in repairing the loss that



42 AUTOBIOGRAPHY

had just come to my comprehension; what my father had
said so often, came true I was reaping the fruits of my
early neglect, to my sorrow.

"Brother John," as I now called my new friend, and I
took a room together in the upper gable end of a shoeshop,
where he had been learning his trade, and we settled down
to earnest work in preparation for entering college. We
were pretty well matched in taste and natural ability, and
we worked together most harmoniously. So our academic
life passed on in a very agreeable way. I slept at home,
and he in the shop, except on the nights when he went home
to stay with me. On going to school, I would fill my pockets
with apples, and divide with "Brother John," and when he
went home with me at night, we always paid a visit to the
cellar, where we feasted on honey and apples.

Our progress as students was not rapid, but we applied
ourselves earnestly and patiently, and so got on fairly well.
"Brother John's" talent was rather for writing, and mine
for speaking. He occasionally wrote articles for country
papers, and I attended all the debating societies, took an
active part in the public exercises of the school, and espe-
cially in all the exhibitions and dialogues, of which there
were not a few. In this way, I got a little local reputation
as an actor and speaker, which greatly flattered my pride
and ambition, and I formed the resolution to prepare myself
for the bar and public positions. My chum resolved to pur-
chase a Webster's dictionary and give himself the task of
learning the orthography and meaning of every word, from
beginning to end, the better to serve his purpose as a writer.

We have both lived long enough to be amused at our reso-
lutions and realize their 'folly. Like many another youth-



EDWARD AUSTIN SHELDON 43

ful ambition, they were soon left behind. Of the two, my
chum's undertaking was the more herculean, and sooner
found its end. My tenacity led me to hold on to my ambi-
tion until circumstances quite beyond my control cut off all
my plans.

These were not the only resolutions that were formed by
one or the other, or both, that met with an untimely end.
One time "Brother John" resolved that he would not be
bothered with a razor all his life, and providing himself
with a pair of tweezers, began to pull out every hair by the
roots as fast as it appeared on his face. I cannot say how
long he persevered in his undertaking, but I imagine about
as long as in his resolution to devour Webster's Unabridged
Dictionary.

Early one summer we resolved to introduce a new style
in the cut of coats. We were both to buy the same material
and have full summer suits just alike in every respect. The
coats were cutaways, just such as are now worn. I have
never thought we introduced this fashion, but with us it
was certainly original, for we had never seen such a gar-
ment, and no one had suggested the idea to us. I had my
suit made according to agreement, and came sailing up the
aisle of the academy one Monday morning, greatly amusing
both pupils and teachers. I shall never forget how com-
pletely I demoralized the dignity of Mr. Huntington, when
his eye first caught sight of me. But I was not to be
laughed out of what seemed to me a sensible idea, and went
on wearing the cutaway until it was worn out.

When John saw how our idea took, his heart failed him,
and he never appeared in his suit. In other words, he broke



44 AUTOBIOGRAPHY

the contract, and I had to live down the ridicule single-
handed.

It was not, however, characteristic of my chum to break
his agreements, and especially in more important matters.
It is a rare individual who can breast public sentiment in


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Online LibraryE. A. (Edward Austin) SheldonAutobiography of Edward Austin Sheldon → online text (page 3 of 18)