E. A. (Edward Austin) Sheldon.

Autobiography of Edward Austin Sheldon online

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matters of fashion and dress. This was more than my
chum was competent to undertake, and very likely had he
been the one first to appear in this new costume, I should
have hesitated to follow, but once having committed myself,
I was the last one to retreat. I had too much pride and
spunk for this. Stubborness was characteristic of me as a
boy, a trait that never entirely left me.

It was about this time that we formed our resolution to
go through college together, a pledge from which, as I
have said, we never wavered, although circumstances quite
beyond my control prevented the full completion of my
course. From this time on, everything was made to bend
to the accomplishment of our purpose. John helped to
carry himself through his preparatory course by work at
the shoemaker's bench. The only assistance I was able to
render him was to furnish him with all the apples he could
eat, with which I always filled my pockets to overflowing
every morning, and o'f which he always had a liberal share.
I suppose that his family friends must have done for him
more than I knew, for I can hardly conceive that his
expenses were fully provided for by the work he did at
his trade, or by the proceeds of a singing school he occa-
sionally taught. As for myself, I lived at home and was
there provided with necessary clothing and books.

During a short period of this preparatory course, I occu-
pied the office of our town physician, Dr. Ward, as a place


of study during the day, with my cousin, Stewart Sheldon,
who had also decided to prepare for college. This physi-
cian was a man of no ordinary character. He was the only
doctor in our part of the town and was known 'far and
near. He had the confidence and respect of everybody, and
left the impress of his strong character upon the church
and people generally. I shall never forget the shock that
was felt in the assembled congregation one Sabbath morn-
ing, when his death was announced. Everybody in that
congregation was a personal friend and a mourner.
Although in some ways odd and peculiar, both in manner
and ideas, he had a warm heart and tender affections.

I came very near this man, and he had an important influ-
ence on my life and character.

The man, however, who had the most to do with my life,
was my teacher, C. A. Huntington. I may truthfully say
that he made me what I proved to be and to him I owe a
debt of gratitude I shall never be able fully to express. But
for him I should have died on the farm, unlettered, and
my influence would have been greatly circumscribed. What
was true in my case was also true of many another Perry
boy, who, through his influence, went out into the broad
world to make himself felt in a large way.



IT WAS in the autumn of 1844 that four of these boys left-
together for Hamilton College, with such meager prepara-
tion as we had been able to make in four short years.- I
can say for myself that my elementary English education
was pretty much left out, and judging from the answers
given by some of my comrades at our entrance examina-
tion, in President North's house, I would infer that the same
thing was true of them. I recall one of these questions and
answers. The President asked one of my associates to
locate the river Nile. This he readily did, but in a very
different quarter 'from that in which the Creator placed it,
for he put it somewhere in South America. Whether all
our answers were as wide of the mark or not, I will not
at this distance of time undertake to say, but my presump-
tion is that it was not altogether an exceptional case.

I am of the opinion that the decision to admit us was
made before the examination, and that our failure or suc-
cess in answering questions had very little to do with our
acceptance. At any rate, we four Perry boys, John D. Hig-
gins, Stewart Sheldon, Henry Butler, and myself, were
admitted in spite of our poor preparation. Three of us
were cousins, and John, as I have said, I called brother.

This going to college was a great event in ou^ lives. It



was much more so to boys in that day than it is now, and
more to us and our immediate families than to many others.
I started out with the ambitious intention of spending four
years in college and three years in a law school. This to
my boyish mind seemed a long, long time, and I so expressed
myself to my good minister whose reply I well remember.
He said, "Take your knapsack and go ahead ; and when, at
the end o'f your course, you look back, it will seem shorter
to you than it does now." Although I never reached the
end of the course I had laid out for myself, I went far
enough to make it evident to me that the minister was right.
I have always found the prospective end farther away than
the retrospective beginning.

That day of departure from the dear old home and its
loved ones brought to me a strange mixture of emotions.
My father had asked the minister to be present at the time
of my leaving, and had selected the thirty-third chapter of
Exodus to be read, probably having in mind the sentiment
contained in the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth verses.
After the final meal had been taken, all were gathered round
the 'family altar ; the minister read the chosen chapter, and
led in prayer. It was an impressive occasion, never to be
forgotten. I have always regarded this as an epoch in my

No other event of my life so thoroughly stirred all that
was in me. The scenes and activities that I was leaving
behind, and those that lay before me, into which I was about
to enter, were well calculated to awaken emotion of no
ordinary character.

The large, square trunk, that had been made for this
purpose, was filled to its utmost capacity with such wear-


ing apparel as had been prepared largely by my mother,
some of these garments being spun and woven by her own
hands; together with such other articles of convenience and
comfort as loving hearts could devise and anticipate. As
the last loving kisses were being given and good-byes said,
my father moved off to the wagon that stood waiting for
me, followed the team along to the gate, that he might be
the last, as it would seem, to press the hand and say good-
bye. That last warm pressure of the hand and the tears
that trickled down the furrowed cheeks are as 'fresh in my
memory as though it were but yesterday. The wagon moved
on, and a few last, lingering glances left the old home out
of sight.

I was not on my way to a railroad station, but to Cuyler-
ville, six miles away, where the boats on the Genesee Valley
canal stopped to take on freight and passengers. At Roches-
ter this canal intersected the Erie canal. At Cuylerville I
was met by Brother John and my cousins.

This was our first ride on any public conveyance. To
have gone by rail would have been possible, but for the
expense. The packet boat was much cheaper, and our lim-
ited means made it necessary to economize at every point.
We had good company, for the packet boats were patronized
by very many people who had more money than we, and who
were well conditioned in life. Everything was new and
interesting to us boys ; the canal with its locks, the boat with
its crew, the villages and cities through which we passed.
We were probably about twenty- four hours in reaching
Oneida, a small village near Syracuse, where we landed,
and took stage across the country to College Hill.

At Oneida we were met by a very nice, polite, and oblig-


ing student named Willoughby. So obliging was he that he
came on purpose to meet us, show us the way to the college,
help us to select a room and a boarding-place, and to intro-
duce us to the president and other members of the faculty,
and to various students we happened to meet, especially to
those who belonged to a particular literary society, which he
very kindly advised us to join, for very good reasons, which
he made plain to us. Not until we had been in college some
time, were we able to divine the possible motive that led
this young man to give us such marked attention, valuable
assistance, and good advice. We joined his society, of course,
and to him this was doubtless full compensation for all his
trouble. Both parties were very well satisfied; he had a
motive that was gratified, and we were benefited by the

We were located in "North College, South Hall, first floor
back middle." Off the main room was a bedroom with a
double bed; our rooms were taken care of by the college
janitor, a jolly Irishman by the name of "Terry." His
official title was "Professor of Dust and Ashes." His duty
was to make the beds, sweep the rooms, and remove the
ashes. He was inclined to be funny, was always good-
natured, and, as a rule, the boys were a match for him.

Brother John was strongly inclined to stick to the bed
until quite late in the morning, so one bed sometimes went
unmade for many days in succession. He was usually
able to persuade Terry to let him alone, and have his sleep
out. On one occasion, however, the bed had got into so
bad a condition that it could be neglected no longer, and the
"Professor" gave Brother John warning that the next
morning, if he found him in bed when he came around, he


would pull him out. The next morning he found, as he
supposed, Brother John in bed. He grabbed for him, when
behold, he found in his hand an image, instead of the real
person he had thought to lay hold of. At the same moment
Brother John sprang out from behind the bedroom door,
where he lay secreted, caught Terry by the heels and threw
him into the bed. Terry took it in good part as a smart
joke, but gave the perpetrator notice that he must not play
the "likes" on him again. The next morning, as he came
around, he looked cautiously into the room, and having
scanned the bed and 'found it empty, looked suspiciously
behind the door, where to his great delight he discovered
what he supposed to be Brother John secreted in the dark
corner behind the door. The bedrooms had no windows,
but were lighted only by the door from the study-room.
Here again he mistook the image for the reality, and tri-
umphantly grabbed it, greatly to his chagrin. Having been
outwitted by Brother John on these two occasions, he gave
up all thought of playing any more tricks on him, and
Brother John thereafter had his morning naps to his heart's
content. When the bed got into such bad condition that
one-half of it oozed but at the foot, he would give Terry
a chance to make it up.

In one way, and one only, as I remember, John and I
did not make very well-mated chums. He retired late and
rose late in the morning, while I retired regularly at nine
o'clock and rose invariably at four. My first exercise in
tke morning was to take a shower bath. This was done
with no regard to the weather. Many a time have I broken
the ice in the pail that held the water for the bath, with my
heel, poured the contents into the box over my head, and


pulled the string that discharged them over my head and
body. It may seem like heroic treatment, but I survived it.

During the winter months, I often spent an hour sawing
wood out of doors, for which the college paid me fi'fty cents
a cord. The pay was small, but it was something to a poor
boy, and gave me healthful exercise, which paid better.

We lived in a very economical way, as our limited means
required. We boarded at Mrs. Quinn's, a short distance
from the college, where we paid a dollar a week for board.
The food was plain, but wholesome, and we did not suffer.
For the rent of the room, I gave my notes or my father's,
I really forget which. These notes were paid long after
leaving college. As a rule, we purchased second-hand books,
and with my clothing and bedding furnished from home, I
managed to get on in a very inexpensive way.

I had not been in college long, before I was invited to
become a member of the Alpha Delta Phi Society. This I
felt to be a great compliment. This society was composed
o'f the most scholarly and best elements in the college, and
I did not hesitate to accept the honor proffered me. The
plan adopted at the time of the organization of the society
was, not to select members during the first two years in col-
lege, or until they had been proven and known by the society.
As there were rival societies, however, they sometimes took
men earlier, to avoid the risk of losing them to other fra-
ternities. Such selections were sub rosa, and the persons so
selected were not allowed to wear the pin or "swing out,"
as it was called, until the Sophomore year.

Not being known as an "Alpha Delta Phi," another soci-
ety courted my membership. In this way, being often seen
in the society of some of the leading members, a doubt was


pretty effectively thrown over the minds of my comrades,
as to my true society relations. This effort to cover my
true relation to the Greek letter societies I have never ceased
to regret. Little things were done, more or less deceptive in
their character, which were not consistent with my ideals
of manhood. The act that has caused me more regret than
any other, was the separation from my chum, my dearest
'friend on earth. It was not consistent with the idea of
secrecy that I should room with one who was not a mem-
ber of the same fraternity. It was therefore arranged that
I should leave Brother John and room with a brother of
Professor North, who was an Alpha Delta Phi. To this
I consented, an act for which I can never forgive myself.
Not that my new chum was in any way disagreeable or
in any way unworthy of my companionship, for, on the con-
trary, he was a most delightful companion, a highly respect-
able and worthy young man, the soul of integrity and
uprightness, an exemplary Christian, and the leader of his
class in scholarship; but to leave an old friend and tried
friend for a new one, has always seemed to me one of
the most dishonorable acts of my life, one which never
ceases to awaken a feeling of shame and reproach every
time it comes into my mind.

Other acts growing out of this effort to keep up the idea
in college that the Alpha Delta Phi Society did not choose
its members before Sophomore year, were not so serious
in their character, but at the same time were questionable
as to their influence on me. It was regarded as a matter
of the highest importance that my attendance on the meet-
ings of the society should not be known ; otherwise the repu-
tation of the society for carefulness in the selection of its


members might receive harm. To avoid any suspicion, in-
stead of going straight to the place of meeting, I would
start in a different direction, and by wandering round
through the woods and cornfields, come to the place of meet-
ing. This was a sort of deception, perhaps harmless,
because no one other than myself was affected by it, but
such methods were not up to my ideas of manhood.

Nevertheless, my association with the members of this
'fraternity was of great value to me. I would not have
lost the good that came to me through the close contact with
the young men who composed this society, for any consid-
eration. I value it above all other good I got out of my
college life. They were strong men, possessed of high
ideals and noble aspirations, and they brought into my life
that which I never could get from the study of books.
Among them were men who have taken high positions in
the civil, religious, and literary world. I have always been
proud of and thankful for their companionship.

Early in my college course I discovered something about
myself that, curiously enough, I had never known before.
I noticed that I could not see work on the board that other
members of my class seemed to see readily. This led me to
the suspicion that I was near-sighted. When convinced
that this was true, I lost no time in bringing to my aid a
pair of glasses. It was in the early spring that I went to
Utica, nine miles away, and provided myself with these helps
to see. On returning to College Hill, I went to the fourth
story of one of the college buildings, to look out upon the
world which I had never really seen before. It was on a
bright spring morning, just after a refreshing shower. The
trees and the hills were delicately green with the new life


of the season. From my point of observation I commanded
a wide stretch of landscape. In the beautiful valley a mile
below, lay the pretty village of Clinton, and beyond, stretch-
ing away to the distant horizon, lay a range of high hills
covered with the fresh verdure of spring. As I looked out
on this grand sweep of landscape, I felt more like flying
than anything else. As I beheld the world for the first time
in the beauty of springtime, I was filled with an ecstasy of
delight. I now realized as never before what a glorious
world I lived in. From that time to this I have never been
without my glasses, except that at first when returning to
my Perry home, I would doff them and put them in my
pocket to avoid possible remarks from my good country

I kept them in their hiding place at all times when likely
to be observed, until I left the bounds of Perry neighbor-
hood. This was doubtless a foolish pride, but one that a
timid boy is very likely to feel.



THE scholastic work in college was almost exclusively of
a bookish character and confined very largely to the lan-
guages and mathematics. Very little was done in science,
and that little was in Chemistry. It was pretty generally
thought by the students that if we had our pictures taken
by the professor of this department, paying for the same
the sum of three dollars, we should be safe from rejection
in this subject. For me this seemed the easiest and surest
way out, and I had my picture taken. It was a daguerreo-
type, the only mode of taking pictures at that day, and it
was then quite new. This picture is well preserved to this
day. How much this transaction had to do with my pass-
ing out of Chemistry, no one will ever know, but of one
thing I am certain, I got "out" of the subject without know-
ing anything about it; and my case was not different from
that of most students.

Occasionally, one especially interested in the subject would
offer his services to the professor and work in the laboratory
with him, and so get something out of it. With all others
it was of no service whatever to them.

In the languages and mathematics we had good teachers,
and thorough work was done. Work in the languages was
confined mostly to the Latin and Greek. Very little was



done in German and French. Under Processor Mandeville
we had very good instruction in reading and elocution,
although taught in a somewhat perfunctory manner. The
professor dictated, and the class wrote out his dictations.
His plan of work was original and philosophical. His anal-
ysis of the English sentence and his method of punctuation
was founded in nature, and for this reason has never been
surpassed, in my judgment. It is unfortunate that it has
not met with more general recognition and adoption. It
may be regarded as somewhat stilted and complicated, but
if the spirit of freedom were thrown into it, I think these
objections would vanish.

This was at the time when Professor Mandeville was
bringing out his series of school readers. He was just
negotiating with the Appletons to publish the series. He
was invited by the publishers to go to New York with two
or three of his students to meet a 'few distinguished gentle-
men divines, lawyers, and other educated men to explain
and illustrate his method of teaching reading as contained
in his books. Another student and I were chosen to go
with him on this mission. This was a grand opportunity
for an unsophisticated, green boy to travel and see the
greatest city on our continent. To us boys it was indeed
a great occasion.

It was in the month of June, and on a warm day, when
we landed in New York. I had never before been in a
great city, and very naturally was extremely interested in
everything, all being so new to me. To my sorrow, I
was tempted into tasting the great varieties of fruits and
other goodies so abundantly displayed in the shops and at
the street stands. As a natural consequence, I was con-


fined for a day at my hotel, to recover from the effects of
my indulgence.

After the first day I was domiciled at the home of Mr.
Appleton. I was given a large, elegantly furnished room,
such as I had never seen before. This was a new il'fe to
me, and withal somewhat bewildering. I did not know
how to act in my new conditions. So long as I was left
alone in my room I could get along very well, but when I
came to the beautifully appointed table with its various
courses, its (to me) many new dishes and methods of serv-
ing, I was put to my wit's end to know how to behave
myself. I kept my eye out to see what others did, and then
imitated them as well as I could.

I well remember my first experience with the egg-cup.
I observed that all put their eggs into the cup, broke the
upper end and seasoned and ate the egg from its broken
end. To me this seemed a somewhat difficult and delicate
performance ; but as all did it with so much ease and grace,
I resolved to risk the undertaking. Greatly to my delight
and satisfaction, I made a success of it and came off, some-
what to my surprise, without any mishap.

This was my first appearance in elite society, and it
afforded an admirable opportunity to learn many things. I
do not remember about the finger-bowls. I think it must
be that they did not appear on this occasion, otherwise I
should have been saved a mortifying experience on a sub-
sequent occasion, when at a crowded dinner table in a fine
hotel in Philadelphia, curious to know what the appar-
ently high-colored liquid was that was placed at our plates,
and supposing it must be some delicious beverage, I put it
to my lips to drink. I never after used a finger-bowl with-


out being reminded of the embarrassment which taught me
their use.

The most trying hour, however, for a poor, timid country
boy was yet to come the appearance before the committee
of gentlemen selected by the publishers to test our ability
to read and to explain the principles of good reading accord-
ing to Professor Mandeville. This meeting was in the
grand parlor of Mr. Appleton's home. I remember more
distinctly than anything else how very small and utterly
insignificant I seemed to myself in the presence of those
august gentlemen. I think I must have nearly lost my head.
I only remember that we read and were questioned, and I
infer that we did our part to their entire satisfaction, inas-
much as the Appletons bought the copyright of the Mande-
ville readers, paying for the same, as I was told, five thou-
sand dollars; more money, I am inclined to believe, than
they ever realized out of their sale. They met with very
sharp competition in books that were less philosophical, and
so more easily used by teachers who did not care to spend
their time studying up new theories and plans of work.

Having accomplished the object of our mission, we
started 'for home, embarking on one of the elegant Hudson
River steamers. It was a bright, starry night, with a mild,
soft air, most grateful to one who had been spending the
day in a hot city. All the conditions were strongly inviting
to sit on deck and enjoy the charming scenery of the Hud-
son as it passed before us in panoramic view. The full
moon shone out in its glory, lighting up the whole land-
scape, giving it that soft, bewitching charm that the moon-
light only can bestow. In the very midst of all this there
came up a slight shower, and for the first and last time in


my life I saw a beautiful lunar rainbow. This was the
crowning display of all the new and interesting sights I
had seen on this trip.

There is something about the atmosphere of college life
that tends to put the spirit of mischief into the ordinary boy.
One is likely to 'feel that he has not done his whole duty in
college until he has played some trick. I was not wholly
free from inspirations to this kind of fun, but my jokes
were very few, simple, and harmless. Nobody was any the
worse for them. Brother John was much more ingenious
and successful than I.

My associates were not, as a rule, given to college pranks.

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Online LibraryE. A. (Edward Austin) SheldonAutobiography of Edward Austin Sheldon → online text (page 4 of 18)