John Addison Porter.

Sketches of Yale life; being selections, humorous and descriptive, from the college magazines and newspapers online

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whom I sold my stove thought this peculiarity ought
to diminish its value to a mere fraction of the price I
put upon it, but I finally convinced him to the contrary.
Said I " My dear sir, supposing you should start on a
trip round the world, and should leave a good fire in
that stove, would you want it to keep burning all the
while you were gone? Not at all ; every one of poor
Richard's maxims would be irrecoverably demolished by
such a proceeding as that, sir. Very well. Just take
that stove ; make as good a fire as you can in it ; say
good-bye to your weeping friends ; put more coal on the
fire and seize your carpet-bag ; then calmly lock your
door, and I'll guarantee that that fire will go out before
the key touches the bottom of your pocket !"

As I sat by my stove for the last time previous to its
removal, naturally I thought about the approaching
change. Those new buildings with all their modern
improvements rose up before me in their ideal beauty.
And especially the heating apparatus. A vast skeleton
of iron pipes and brazen coils upreared itself like the
gothic steed of the Potomac warrior. And every one
packed full of steam every pipe, little and big, fairly
sweating with the steam it contained. I began to fear
my new home would be uncomfortably warm. And
then steam steam ! Ominous word for me connected,
from the day in which I burned my nose trying to smell



2O6 IMPEDIMENTA. .

of the spout of the family tea-kettle, to the time of the
last railroad disaster, with horrible things ! I looked at
the shadowy fabric again ; I saw no way for the steam
to go, if it got out, except perhaps upon my unsuspecting
back, perhaps into my innocent face. But that would
hardly be called. an improvement, thought I, even by an
intelligent, though interested artisan. And then I
smiled grimly at my stove as I thought it could play no
more jokes on me ; " Summer the year round after this,
you know, my dear old friend," said I, blandly. An
equable temperature, that's what's on the programme of
the future, which will tend, let us hope, towards an
equable temper ; whereupon the ungrateful old hard-
ware nearly tipped itself off its legs trying to put a
damper on my expectations. The next moment one of
my boots went nearly through its shaky sides, thereby
making it a piece of fixed property for me.

It was in July when I saw the perspiration on the
iron pipes and brazen coils ; in January those beaded
drops were turned into icicles ; and I still live ! I
have gotten over my ancient dread of steam at least in
the mild form in which it has assailed me. I verily be-
lieve I could stand in it up to my neck and not shiver
unless with cold. I now understand what an equable
temperature means two-degrees above the freezing-
point and a temper at the same level thrown in !

A steam-heater is beyond question an ingenious con-
trivance. It warms the body and disciplines the soul.
In this respect it seems to have been patterned after the
prospective abode of unrepentant sinners. It delights
the eye and tortures the ear. In this respect it resem-
bles the shrewish talk of a pretty woman. It is now
hot and now cold.

The normal condition of the steam-heater is one of



MY STOVE. 207

frigidity. It tempers the air delightfully, in the summer
months. Even in May and June it adds much to the
pleasure of life. With the warm air streaming in at the
open windon one enjoys sitting by it and reading about
the pre-Adamic world. The steam-heater, when full) up
to the modern standard, is an odoriferous arrangement,
and yet it never suggests the aromatic musk or the spicy
spikenard. Oil of long-standing and much experienced
in the vicissitudes of fortune issues from it in a delicate
mist, and the clayey tenement of the unfortunate tenant
of the room is kept well-oiled for unavoidable contests
with a cold and unfeeling world. The steam-heater is
a great promoter of sociality. Most men when under
its influence have something to say, and it's poor fun to
scold about a cold to one's self. It exhiliarates one to
hear a crowd of fellows, on a cold day, talk about a
steam-heater. There is a crispness and vigor in the
conversation which augurs well for the future of the
U. S. Senate.

The ideal steam-heater, like the ideal baby, is a de-
lightful thing. But, as the real baby seems to be always
the victim of a chronic disarrangement, so the real
steam-heater is generally out of order in some way or
other from one week's end to another. For instance ;
the pictured steam-heater is always represented as
swelling with steam. In point of fact, however, the
every-day steam-heater is as a rule in a woeful state of
collapse on account of the lack of steam. As an useful
fixture in a room, therefore, it is at the best unreliable ;
while as an ornamental fixture it is too suggestive of this
age of brass and the business of the shop.

In a well-regulated family it is possible that the aver-
age steam-heater might be of some use. In stormy
weather I should suppose it would be a good thing on



208 IMPEDIMENTA.

which to hang clothes, though unless there was a good
stove in the room I doubt if they would ever dry ; for
which statement old Falstaff's saying, that " a good wit
will make use of anything," is my chief warrant, though,
to be sure, he never so much as dreamed of steam-
heaters.



Clock.

THOUGH the category of " Possessions of mine," with
which the reading and traveling public has been favored
I came very near saying bored for the past year or
two, has been well-nigh exhausted, extending in an un-
broken succession from "That Husband of mine," with
his " wide-awake hat and cut-away coat," down to " That
Wife of mine," with all her distinctive peculiarities, one
possession has unfortunately been passed over. I can-
not conscientiously accuse our popular writers of neg-
lect in this matter, and yet the subject has not been
mentioned. I refer to " That Clock of Mine." So it be-
comes my painful duty to inflict upon the literary world
one more, and I hope a final, history, whose title is to
be vaunted with glaring capitals upon the bookstore
bulletins, and shrieked with the discordant notes of the
newsboys upon every railroad train in the land. It is
necessary for me to state by way of explanation, and in
order to save myself from the imprecations which might
otherwise fall upon my defenseless head, that " That
clock of mine " is not, dear reader, the identical time-
piece the story of whose birth, life and death has made
melodious the midnight air on many a college campus,
and which is credited with having belonged to " My
Grandfather." In these prominent respects does my
clock differ from the above. First, it was not " bought
on the morn of the day that I was born," how could it
have been, when I purchased it myself? Secondly.it



2IO IMPEDIMENTA.

did not " stop short never to go again, when the ' old
man ' died," because, unfortunately, the ' old man ' is
still in the land of the living, and, Thirdly, it never
belonged to my grandfather at all ! And so the ava-
lanche of wrath and the vengeance which every sensi-
bly-minded man has sworn upon the next poor unfor-
tunate who should allude to " My Grandfather's Clock,"
must for the present be spared from me.

The metamorphoses which the Yale student's room
undergoes during the four fleeting years of his tarrying
in the land of elms would indeed furnish material for
many a popular writer. The various stages of its
transformation are interesting to study. First, the
Freshmanic, in the top floor of North or North Middle.
Its occupant, with the parental instructions to beware
of college extravagance still fresh in his memory, fur-
nishes it scantily and barely, and lives like his fellow-
student at a four-dollar club, in the hope of something
better and brighter to come in the future. Second, the
Sophomoric stage amid the classic and venerable shades
of South Middle, with forty centuries more or less
looking down upon us ! This is the year when ingenu-
ity and Sophomoric taste vie with each other in decora-
tion. The traditional bangers and stove-pipe must be
crossed above the door, and the announcement, " Chil-
dren positively not admitted here unless accompanied
by their parents," must be placed in a conspicuous
position. In a word, everything must be done to strike
terror to the Freshmanic heart and inspire him with
reverential awe when he is summoned before that
dreaded tribunal which is very likely to hold its sessions
in the afore-mentioned room about the beginning of the
fall term.

Sophomore annuals safely passed, " a change comes



MY CLOCK. 211

o'er the spirit of his dreams." Childish things must
be put away. South Middle, with all its tender as-
sociations, must be handed over to the ruthless Fresh.
The dignity of Junior year must be assumed, and
a room in Farnam or Durfee is considered the only
proper thing. And at this stage I must beg leave to
pause, for, thanks to an indulgent faculty and skillful
systematic skinning, I am now enjoying the privileges

of Junior year at No. Farnam. There ! I came

near telling the number of my foom, which would be
a decidedly rash and dangerous procedure, not only
"giving myself away," of all things most dreaded by
a college man but it would spoil all chances for guess-
ing and conjecture, which are the reader's special priv-
ilege.

The most prominent piece of furniture in my room
is a tall, slender, wooden clock. It is an ancient time-
piece, which, like the " Horologue of Eternity,"

" Points and beckons with its hands
From its case of massive oak !
Like a monk who, under his cloak
Crosses himself and sighs, alas !
With sorrowful voice to all who pass,
' Forever never !
Never Forever.' "

I came across it at an auction of ancient furniture in
New York last summer. A second-hand dealer and
myself were the only bidders, and finally it was knocked

down to me at , but to tell the price would take

away all the beauty. I bought it, brought it to New
Haven, and placed it in my room, where, thanks to a
little oil and furniture polish, it looks as bright as in
its youth, and the old pendulum performs its slow and
steady oscillations with all the regularity and dignity of
years gone by. It may seem childish and foolish, and



212 IMPEDIMENTA.

yet I love that ancient clock. It has come to be so
companionable that I regard it as a friend, and some-
times when it starts to strike, it almost seems as it were
alive and trying to speak ! It used to show all the
changes of the moon and planets in former days, but
now the wheels are out of order and the solar system
for the present is at rest. The new moon tries pretty
hard to creep out from behind the cloud in the sky
which is painted on its face, but remains hidden in spite
of itself. Some days it looks so bright and cheerful,
and seems to say with its stately tick as I leave it to go
to recitation :

" Rush ! Fizzle !
Fizzle ! Rush !"

And then I always get a splendid mark. But of late its
tone has changed, and now its voice is subdued and
sad, and there is a touch of plantive melancholy in it
as it motions to me with its ancient hands, and warns
me,

" Flunk ! Fizzle !
Fizzle! Flunk!"

Too true ! too true ! old friend. Physiology and Ahn
have done their work, and what was once a splendid
stand is now upon the ragged-edge of average. Two
letters with the college stamp have evaded all the plans
of interception and reached the paternal hearth the
outlook is indeed a dark one.



DESCRIPTIVE PIECES.



THREE years in New Haven, and have never seen the
Thimble Islands ! Well, a day or two on salt water
and in sunshine, will do wonders for that dyspepsia of
yours ; so borrow a double-barrel from somebody, and
join Captain and the Doctor on a ducking-party. Four
of us will be merry enough for the Gem ; there's a
capital cold lunch in that hamper, and never mind what
it is that clinks against the ice in the bucket.

Captain's portly form looks odd enough in his well-
worn shooting-jacket ; which tells, however, many a
tale of swift destruction to innocent snipe and plover,
in its ooze-drabbled edges, and the evident traces of
Charm's muddy paws. His moustache, too, takes a
still fiercer curl as he carefully sifts the powder into
his flask. One cannot look at him without thinking of
Kingsley's ideal naturalist. " He must be strong in
body, able to haul a dredge, climb a rock, tu.rn a boul-
der, walk all day uncertain where he shall eat or rest ;
ready to face sun and rain, wind and frost, and to eat
or drink thankfully anything, however coarse or meagre ;
he should know how to swim for his life, to pull an oar,
to sail a boat, and ride the first horse which comes to
hand ; and, finally, he should be a thoroughly good shot
and a skillful fisherman ; and, if he go far abroad, be
able on occasion to fight for his life."

Even the Doctor's impregnable countenance is lighted
with a complacent look, not to accuse him of a smile,



2l6 . DESCRIPTIVE PIECES.

which reminds one of some old granite fortress, bright-
ened by a ray or two of sunset.

You and I, unsportsmanlike in our boating flannels,
wear perhaps too unsophisticated a gladness on our
visages, though the well-earned tan on our hands and
faces, together with the patches on our fishing-boots,
will clear us from any sweeping charge of verdancy.
But the tide has turned ebb by eight o'clock, and we
cannot afford to lose this fresh south-wester, which
every October morning does not give us, so pulling off
to the stake in Brooks' diminutive scow, we are forthwith
on board. Not a very bad twenty foot craft this ; hardly
celebrated, or likely to be, regatta-wise, but staunch,
and a sufficiently good sailer. Haul away your throat-
halyards ! now the peak ! slack a little for boom-lifts ?
up with your jib ! lay her head a little more to
port ! and as the sails fill, we slip off easily toward
the old fort, for we cannot quite lay our course, with
the breeze in this quarter. As we get beyond the
wharf we can take in New Haven at a glance, just
astern. To port are the hill-barriers of Lake Salton-
stall, dark with evergreens ; Indian hill, crowned with
the fort, which ancient settlers of Quinnipiac made
good against the Pequots ; and right over the bow,
Fort Hale, round, wave-washed, and rugged in its ruin,
not very formidable in look, and, even in its best days,
less dangerous probably to an invading armament, than
the crooked channel, and these mud shoals on which
we shall ground if we do not come about.

The next tack disclosed the white shining crescent of
the cove beach, with the country houses above it, and;
once more on starboard tack, we leave the stunted
cedars and barnacled rocks at the lighthouse ; the flat
beach, and creek outside, and are fairly into the Sound.



THE THIMBLE ISLANDS. 217

Now we can make straight sailing to Branford Point,
and well beyond it you may see a cloudy something
just above the water ; that is the outermost island.
Round we come, ' let her pay off a little more slack
your main-sheet !' and we relapse into the most perfect
inertness, until, with the thin jets of smoke from his
hitherto compressed lips, the Doctor slips out a con-
gratulatory " Ah !" and is again silent ; but there are
four muzzles pointed over the weather bow, at a half
dozen fishy, tough, black ducks and a simultaneous
bang. .When we get on shore we shall be more sports-
manlike, and not quite so inclined to broadsides. But
here is the advantage of having a shot in the party ;
there is a dead duck without doubt, for there it nutters,
and quite as undoubtedly, the Captain must be the suc-
cessful marksman. But we are race-crew men, and he
gracefully shares the glory ; and lets the game go to
the commonwealth, without grumbling; the epithet
" beastly," with the accompanying " hem," referring,
beyond question, to the prospective flavor of the duck.

Subsiding again into leisure, Captain regales us with
a scientific account of his new invention for increasing
speed in ocean navigation. The great mechanical and
scientific minds of two continents have made this a
principal object of inquiry for years, ist. How to in-
crease the speed of ships, by models securing a sharp
run and light draught. 2d. How to steer a balloon,
which is supposed to have sufficient speed already.

Truly it is real greatness that shows simplicity in in-
vention, causing to wonder, all those who had before
perplexed themselves with intricate solutions of the
same problem.

Captain simply combines steamship with balloon,
lifts the sharp beautiful hull till only keel and rudder



21 8 DESCRIPTIVE PIECES.

and paddles touch, and the nicely balanced fabric will
slip from wave to wave, with the lightness and velocity
of the balloon, and meeting the resistance of the air
alone ; but moving, nevertheless, with all the steady
security of a steamer, finding propelling-resistance and
steerage-way, in the denser medium of water. He
grows eloquent as he expatiates on the feasibility, the
economy, the safety, the speed. He gives us the cost
in dollars, tells how beautifully the fair craft, Nautilus-
like, shall fold the silk} 7 tissues of the balloon, when
the storm is too powerful and head winds assail her, to
come forth more beautiful, on, or rather above, the
assuaged element. Finally, with formulas and stochio-
metrical deductions innumerable, he shows conclusively
how little burden or expense to the ship would be the

SO 3 .HO + Zn=SO,ZnO + H or HCH Zn=ZnCl + H,
necessary to the production of hydrogen to fill the bal-
loon, if once collapsed by stress of weather. Where
is the Great Eastern ?

Another hour and a half brings us to the Islands.
" Keep outside the spar-buoys," which the Captain
facetiously terms " pugilists," and once by this confused
jumble of rocks and sand-bars, we are in the narrow
channel, and what is worse, in a calm, with no means
of determining what will come next, a puff off the
land, or a white squall. The hamper and the ice-bucket
are examined. Then we all join the Doctor in the
tobacco movement ; for, save while he was eating, his
pipe has been between his teeth since we got under
sail. Still nothing to help us in another mile, no mo-
tive power save tide, and Kidd himself never could
have calculated the multiplicity of eddies among these
countless rocks. So dreamily we puff the fragrant
clouds, more dreamily gaze down into the placid wave



THE THIMBLE ISLANDS. 2IQ

not the pure green of mid-ocean truly, but yet far
other than the muddy brackish stuff in the harbor ; and
we look down

" Far through the wine-dark depths of the crystal, the gardens of

Nereus,
" Coral and sea-fan and tangle, the blooms and the palms of the

ocean,
"Silvery fish, wreathed shell, and the strange lithe things of the

water."

Or as the Captain less poetically suggests, " we see
sharks in the eel-grass."

But you were right ; that cloud to southeast is rolling
up a little and will give us a blow. There it comes,
ruffling the smooth surface, now lashing it. Lucky it is
that we have her head well up into it. Now make Pot
Rock and the cove before we get the heaviest of it ! or
we shall be put to our swimming. Let the jib stand !
Haul it a little closer with the main ! She reels to it
gallantly, but heavier comes the gale ; we cling close to
the weather gunwale, but are almost buried to leeward.
Steady in this narrow inlet ! that is a rock which grates
the rudder, but we are already in the lee of the island,
and now through between these big wave-worn ledges,
and in Capt. Kidd's famous hiding-place, quiet enough,
deep and fair anchorage-ground.

We thought it tried our nerves a little coming through
here in this little thing, but consider the skill it would
take to jam a heavy armed pirate through these wind-
ings ! But here Kidd used to lie at anchor, concealed
by the high rocks and trees of a perfect circle of islands,
with more than one channel, dangerous and intricate to
protect him. Hard up your helm ! Lay her right into
that small cove! Let go main sheet! Now we will
make all ship-shape and see his look out, the top of



22O DESCRIPTIVE PIECES.

this hill}' island. Here is the celebrated punch-bowl
in the rock, big as a barrel ; and near by, his scarcely
traceable initials. But how the wind beats this side of
the island ! We are fortunately out of it : it is grand
to look at, this

" Crashing and Japping of waters, and sighing and tossing of weed-
beds,
Gurgle, and whisper and hiss of the foam, and thundering surges."

But if the worst of it had come first, where you see are
white breakers already, we should have had but an un-
seaworthy craft to get back in, at best.

These rocks, black and dirty at low tide, are broken
by many a reedy inlet, where sea fowl love to hide, as
close and cunning as so many pirates. We have a ren-
dezvous for sleeping and eating, for Pot Rock boasts a
hotel, very caravansary like, but yet a hotel. We shoot
a great deal and hit some.

Captain explains the divers species of game. Doctor
becomes hilarious, and talks up a camel store of con-
versational exertion. We have shot away all our pow-
der would that we had its equivalent ! and " want to
go home," but there are white-caps enough outside yet
and it takes a good hand to keep a boat steady before
such a fickle wind, gusty and strong.

However, Doctor must go home, for he is out of to-
bacco. Captain must go or the "Biddy" will ruin his
aquarium again. You must go or you will not get
" that Philosophical," and I must go or I shall be ship-
ped from college. The tide is full and covers the rocks
that were troublesome at ebb ; we shall not handle the
staunch little Gem very badly, and, if at worst, we do
go over, we are all better at swimming, and far more
likely to distinguish ourselves in that way. So furl



THE THIMBLE ISLANDS. 221

your jib close ! reef the mainsail ! stow everything
snug, and risk the wetting. All very pretty boys' play
till we run out into open water, but now how we pitch
about ! Nice work, but not so wet as might be, and
cannot last long at this speed. How we leap through
it ! A half hour, and then another, still we are right
side up and confident enough, now we are afloat.
The wind has got a little northerly, and these chop-
ping cross-seas off the Light, wash us beautifully.
They are poor sportsmen, however, who cannot take a
bath at any moment, and like it, or at least pretend to



" Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her."

AMONG the facilities offered for acquiring an educa-
tion by New Haven, I count its natural facilities as by
no means the most insignificant. "To eat, drink and
be merry," we do not ask a scriptural confirmation to
assure us, is not the formula of the healthiest philoso-
phy. If board and lodging are the only noble objects,
if there be no kindly influence in virtuous emotion, or
no discipline in the exercise of the most refined enjoy-
ment, then let us stick close to the atmosphere of anti-
quated literature, or enshroud ourselves in the mustiness
which our libraries afford. Nevertheless man cannot
live by erudition alone ; and if he give himself up to
Greece and Rome so completely that he is always a few
thousand years behind his times, his whole life will be
a prolonged endeavor to re-heathenize the world. I
however, am bold to say, that it may be worth our while
to study the "books in the running brooks ;" and that
we are standing quite as near our Creator when the sky
only is over us, as when reading the mummified morals
which have never been accepted in any period of his-
tory.

Better than a good Greek recitation or an original de-
monstration in Euclid ; nay, even better than a meer-
schaum and a hand at whist in a fetid room, is a walk to
West Rock, with its view of the city and the distant



AMBULATORY. 223

meadows, where Mill River, like an antediluvian snake
winds toward the Sound ; with its prospect of the Giant
sleeping in his majestic calm ; with its Judges' Cave,
and all the neighboring trees whispering as you come
up " So, let us see how this fellow worships here !" in
a word, with its balms of lively pulse, and purified
thought, and gentler sympathies toward all mankind.
The writer of this is of a phlegmatic temperament, and
yet if he ever does feel like calling for a lyre, it is when
he looks out upon that file of grand old hills, which
have been halting for some centuries beyond the west-
ern boundary of this city. He has seen them by a clear
summer dawn, when they seem to lie along the horizon


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Online LibraryJohn Addison PorterSketches of Yale life; being selections, humorous and descriptive, from the college magazines and newspapers → online text (page 13 of 18)