Thomas A. (Thomas Asbury) Morris.

Miscellany: consisting of essays, biographical sketches and notes of travel online

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the shop, it may possibly be obtained for the full value of
it, beside the disappointment and loss of time. The sin
of the disappointing party does not consist in failing to
perform what is impracticable, but in promising what he
knows to be so, rather than lose a job by letting the cus-
tomer go elsewhere. And how much better is the farmer
that engages to bring your breadstuff, fuel, or provender,
and fails; the debtor who secures your property on an
obligation to pay at a certain time., which he knows he can
not do, or does not intend to perform; the minister who
calls out the people by the promise of a sermon, and then,
for a trivial difficulty, or from want of inclination, fails to
meet them; or, in a word, any individual of any calling,
who is in the habit of making voluntary engagements, and
willfully breaking them, which is no more or less than
habitual lying? If such people could be convinced that
"honesty is the best policy," and persuaded to act
accordingly, it would add much bo their interest* b;> tui

160 M I SC KLL AN Y .

increase of public confidence and patronage, and much to
the comfort of all concerned. One point more should be
noticed here. Not unfrequently, men having committed
faults, will deny them, or tell lies to conceal them; thus
adding sin to sin, instead of seeking pardon for those
already committed, by suitable acknowledgment. 0,
human nature, how art thou fallen !

Professional lies. The charge of falsehood no more
lies against all professional men, than it does against all
mechanics, farmers, or traders. But is it not too just in
reference to some of each profession? What think you
of the doctor who, to get employ, will tell the patient he
is very ill, when he knows but little ails him ; or, what is
worse, that the patient is in a curable condition, when he
knows the contrary ? Are there not just such doctors in
the world? Again: what think ye of that "limb of the
law," who encourages his client to bring suit, by assuring
him of success, while he believes that success is doubtful;
and who represents the said client as a worthy citizen,
while he knows him to be a scoundrel ; and awards a fair
reputation to the perjured witness that is used to swear
him clear, and stamps with infamy the character of every
honest man who dares to tell the truth against him ? He
may be a shrewd lawyer, but he is not a respectable one,
nor a man of truth. Of just such characters, there are
too many. Once more : what think ye of the pretended
minister of Christ, who preaches what he knows to be
false as certainly as he knows the Bible to be true ; as,
for instance, that there is no general judgment in a future
state, no punishment to the wicked after death? Is he
not a "lying prophet?" Every man must admit this, or
deny the truth of the following texts: "It is appointed
unto men once to die, but after this the judgment;" "I
saw the dead, small and great, stand before God;" "For
we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ:

ESSAYS. 1.51

that every one may receive the things done in his body,
according to that he hath done, whether it be good or
bad;" "Then shall he say to them on his left hand,
Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared
for the devil and his angels."

Malicious lies. Of all falsehoods, these are the most
criminal, being uttered not only to deceive those to whom
they are told, but purposely to injure the characters
against whom they are directed, and to gratify the spirit
of malice in the propagator of them. Of all the princi-
ples of our fallen nature, this is one of the most degrad-
ing. The victim of slander may be one whose only crime
or offense is, that of an amiable character, forming such a
contrast with that of the slanderer, as to become an object
of hatred ; for the carnal mind, which is enmity against
God, is also opposed to his image, formed on the hearts,
and exhibited in the lives of his children. Hence, "all
that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecu-
tion" — will be pursued with malice and intent to injure.
Or the pretext for slander may be some personal offense,
real or supposed, for which revenge is sought without
regard to truth ; or it may originate in envy, on account
of rivalship ; but no matter what, the principle of slander
is the same.

Now, as lies are more or less criminal, and as men are
to be judged according to their deeds, some of those who
deal in falsehood may be punished more than others ; but
fearful will be the doom of them all. He that is to judge
the world in righteousness, has said, "All liars shall have
their part in the lake which burnetii with fire and brim-
stone; which is the second death."

Lies of misrepresentation. One of the most success-
ful methods of propagating falsehood, is to mix some
appearance of truth with it, to render it less suspicious to
those who at first are not prepared to enter entirely into

II I 8 EL L A H Y .

the views of the propagator. A compound of truth and
falsehood, is more dangerous than simple falsehood,
because it is more difficult to understand, disprove, and
counteract. Open infidelity is less to be feared than semi-
infidelity. But our business is with practice rather than
opinion. When the Jews demanded of Jesus a sign, he
meekly replied, "Destroy this temple, [meaning his body,]
and in three days I will raise it up." Whereupon they
charged him with affirming, that he could rebuild the
Jewish temple in three days, which cost their fathers
forty-six years labor. Thus they perverted his words.
This case forcibly illustrates a principle of our nature as
old as the fall of man; one which is characteristic of his
children who is the father of lies. When prejudice is
formed in the mind against an individual, his enemies,
instead of interpreting his conduct by the rules of fair-
ness, catch at every word that can be wrested from the
true deskm of the author, and use it to his disadvantage.
This is not doing as they would be done by. Simple lies
are easily detected, in most cases, and therefore compara-
tively harmless, except to the authors of them ; but dark
insinuations and lies, mixed with some truth to make them
current, require a nice investigation to separate the good
and evil, and are, consequently, more mischievous in their
tendency. This principle of misrepresentation is too com-
mon among violent partisans, both in politics and religion,
whether expressed through the press, in legislative halls,
or from the pulpit. Desperate, indeed, must be that
cause, which requires slander to support its claims en
public opinion.

Commonplace lies. Let any candid man make his
observations on men and things as he pursues Ins ordi-
nary business in any populous place, and then say whether
there be any just ground for this charge, we do ft
against all, but against too many. Lei him take a few


lessons, as an observer, where he will see human nature
acted out in little things. Examples :

Wherever I turn my eyes, they are frequently met with
the word grocery. In some cases, it is a fair index to the
shop which bears the inscription; as such, it is convenient
and right. But when the grocery is in fact a "drunkery ,"
and, instead of sugar, coffee, etc., contains barrels, kegs,
and bottles full of rum, gin, brandy, and whisky, it has a
lie inscribed, in large letters, without, and bears the strong
marks of pollution and crime within. Another word made
very conspicuous among us, of late, is, coffee-house.
Where the term is truly applied, it means a house of
entertainment. But when a house is set apart for retail-
ing strong drink, drunkenness, gambling, swindling, and
swearing, all days and nights of the week — Sunday not
excepted — no man can nail up his sign over his door,
with the title coffee-house, without publicly recording a
falsehood. Enough of this for the present.

Lies in high places. The Bible says, "Men of high
degree are a lie." In most cases their pretended patriot-
ism is empty show. What they profess to do for the love
of their country, is too often done for self-aggrandize-
ment; and what they pretend to do from principle, is
frequently done for party purposes. I speak not of any
party exclusively, but of individuals in all parties. The
unrenewed heart is deceitful above all things, and despe-
rately wicked.

If falsehood and deceit existed only without the pales
of the visible Church, the consequence would be less evil.
But this is not the fact. Suppose a man should profess
belief in the doctrine and government of some branch of
the Christian Church, in order to gain admission to her
privileges, or obtain ordination among her ministers, and
then spend most of his time in writing, preaching, or
speaking against the same things to which he had sub-

1 54 M ISGELLA N Y .

scribed in a public and formal manner ; with what would
lie be justly chargeable? If, in such case, he be sincere
and speak the truth when he makes his formal profession
of belief, which should be done with all the solemnity of
an oath, he is not sincere and does not speak truly, when
he opposes that belief; and if true and honest in his oppo-
sition, then he is not so in his profession. If it be said,
he might change his belief after joining a Church, or
being ordained a minister; I answer, then let him pro-
claim that change, and peaceably retire like an honest
man, unite with those of the same opinion, and he will be
both believed and respected. But he who remains in any
Church, and so opposes her doctrines and his own former
creed as to disturb her quiet, and break the peace of her
members, is not entitled to much credit for his honesty or
veracity. "Their deceit is falsehood," Psalm cxix, 118.
All hypocrisy is falsehood. Every hypocrite is a liar.
His profession, his prayers, songs, alms, and acts of pub-
lic devotion, are all lies. He may deceive himself by
aiming to deceive others; but God can not be deceived,
and will not be mocked. He can not look upon sin with
allowance, but he abhors lying in all its forms, especially
in those who "depart from the faith, giving heed to
seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; speaking lies in
hypocrisy, having their conscience seared with a hot iron,
forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from
meats," etc. For further proof of the Divine displeasure
against this sin, I refer to the fearful end of Annanias
and Sapphira, who having "lied to the Holy Ghost," sud-
denly fell down, and were carried out to their burial.
See Acts v, 1-11.



As the state is mostly dependent on parents for the raw
material, I would suggest a few things to those parents
who live in cities and large towns, and who wish to pro-
pose their sons as candidates for penitentiary distinction,
which, if they attend to, will probably prove successful.

If young children cry for what they want, be sure to
give it to them, that they may be encouraged to cry

When the mother bids her little son to do her any serv-
ice, let his father put these words in his mouth for answer :
"I won't." And if his mother undertake to correct him
for a fault, let his father take the rod from her and throw
it in the fire : this will greatly confirm him in his re-

As soon as boys are large enough, let them run at large
in the street, selecting their own company. If they want
candy or toys, give them money to go and buy at will, to
encourage their extravagance. Furnish them also with
marbles, and send them out with larger and worse boys,
that they may not only learn the game, but also the art
of profane swearing: but do not send them to school; it
is too confining. As they advance in years, let them
know that Sunday is a day intended for strolling, fishing,
and swimming, and not for Church and Sabbath school.
Send them to all shows and public occasions, but more
especially to the circus and (heater.

Instead of training them to labor and habits of indus-
try, let them race all day through the market-house,
throwing stones at each other, and at ni" - ht <>-o the rounds
wherever inclination leads, sport with squibs, and halloo
without restraint.


It will not be necessary for parents to be at the trouble
of continuing this course long; boys at ten or twelve years
of age, under such training, will have such a fine start, as
to be able to proceed with success in the school of vice;
many of them will graduate before they are eighteen ; be
turned loose on society well prepared to act their part in
villainy, and obtain an honorable seat in the penitentiary
before they are eligible for one in the legislature. There
is a large and promising lot of them coming on in Cincin-
nati, and some smaller classes of them in the less populous
places of the west.


To one who was born in, and has ever hailed from the
west, it is matter of interest to compare the present state
of society in the Mississippi Valley, as it regards the
knowledge of letters, with what it was at the beginning of
the nineteenth century. The contrast is striking. Well
do I remember the first school I ever attended in the days
of my childhood, the latter part of the year 1 800, which
may serve as a specimen of the literary institutions of
that period, and in that part of the country. I was but
little more than six years old, but had the advantage of
going in company with two older brothers and a sister.
To receive the benefits of that school, we had daily to
cross and recross the Big Kanawha river in a canoe. Our
temple of science was a small hut, built of round logs and
covered with clapboards, having no floor but the naked
earth. During the forenoon of the first day the school
opened, the teacher and large boys were employed in
repairing the house, while the smaller children were
scraping up an outdoor acquaintance. Amid those scenes,


to me perfectly novel, one of the teacher's sons, older
than I, took from my hand Dihvorth's Spelling-Book, and
examining it, asked questions and received answers as
follows: "Are you in baker?" No. "Are you in a-b
ab's?" No. "Are you in a b c's?" No. "What
then?" In nothing- yet; I have just come to begin. In
the afternoon we heard the call, "Come to books." I
began with the alphabet, and before night could read it
all correctly, and felt encouraged, especially so when
allowed to "turn a leaf" next day.

Our school-house was situated in a beech grove on the
bank of the river, a few miles above Charleston, Va., on
the present site of the celebrated Kanawha Saline, where,
in those days, our slumbers were often disturbed by the
howling of wolves, or an uproar among the swine, occa-
sioned by the attack of a wild bear, which was always
promptly repelled by the hardy settlers, with their dogs
and rifles, and generally attended with a total defeat on
the part of the ferocious enemy.

The teacher — Mr. Clayton — was little more than a
dwarf in stature, but decidedly a gentleman in his man-
ners, and a very popular schoolmaster of that day. It is
true his scientific attainments were very limited, but that
was not then objectionable, as the standard of education
■was very moderate. Indeed, many of those born and
reared in the west, among the early settlers, had none at
all, nor did they generally feel much concern on the sub-
ject. Those who did pretend to afford their children a
knowledge of letters, had many difficulties to contend
with, especially the want of competent teachers. The
custom in country places then was, for some one of the
farmers best qualified for the task, to spend a few weeks,
or months, of the most leisure season of the year, in
teaching the children of the neighborhood, whose parents
might choose to send them, at a small expense, say $1.25



a quarter, payable in work or provisions. In this way
some of them succeeded in obtaining such an education
as was then thought to be necessary among the common
people; for the course was very short and superficial.
Girls learned to spell and read imperfectly — the art of
writing being a rare attainment among the native daugh-
ters of the west of that day, except in the larger towns,
and a few favored spots in the older settlements. The
education of a boy was then considered sufficient among
us if he could spell, read, write, and had "ciphered to
the rule of three;" and if by any superipr privilege was
added to these a knowledge of grammar and geography,
he was considered quite learned. The following ^were the
principal items in the bill of expense for the entire course
of studies : one child's book, one spelling-book, one reader,
one New Testament — which should never be excluded —
one quire of foolscap, one arithmetic, one slate, and the
tuition fees of a few quarters — the pupil gathered his pen-
cil from the brook, and plucked his quills from the wing
of a raven, or wild goose, killed by the father's rifle.

Great simplicity of manners then prevailed. The teacher
and children ate their dinners from their school-baskets,
and frequently united, on a common level, in the sports
of "play-time," as they called the recess at noon. The
amusements consisted of athletic exercises, such as foot-
racing, leaping, catch-ball, corner-pen, etc. Those of the
girls, who were always required to occupy different ground,
were milder and more simple. The scholars were, gen-
erally, disposed to conform to the rules of the preceptor,
except once a year, when they would deliberately enter
into a plot to "turn out the master," that they might
enjoy a Christmas frolic without restraint. The manner
of conducting on such occasions was sufficiently ludicrous.
When the appointed time arrived, which they took good
care to keep concealed from the master, they met early in


the morning in the school-house, and secured the door
with bars, logs, etc., shutting themselves in and him out.
They also took care to arm themselves with clubs, sharp-
pointed sticks, and shovels for throwing -ashes, should he
attempt to descend the chimney. When he came and de-
manded entrance, it was refused ; but they presented him
with written terms of compromise, securing to themselves
as much holiday as they desired. If lie complied, the
door was unbarred; if not, they put him at defiance. In
some instances he obtained a reinforcement, and attempted
to storm their fort, when a general engagement would
ensue ; but knowing what would be the consequence if
overcome, they fought like little heroes and heroines, and
generally maintained their ground too; for tlreir cause
was popular with the citizens, and but few would join to
oppose the little rebels. Strange as it may seem, this
custom prevailed with the knowledge and consent of the
parents and patrons of the school, who frequently took
more delight in feats of strength and activity among their
children, than in literary acquirements.

Since that I have had occasion to travel considerably
through the west, and from the information obtained in
this way, I am satisfied that the same state of things that
existed in our own neighborhood at the beginning of the
nineteenth century, in reference to learning, very generally
prevailed in the western states and territories; from which
the reader can judge of the opportunity we had of be-
coming scholars.

A few years subsequently, however, a brighter day
began to dawn upon us.

In 1811 Mr. Paine, a native of England, who was a
member of the Methodist Church, came to the west, and
taught the first grammar class ever formed in Cabell
county, where we then lived. He had been employed
about forty years as a teacher in different parts of Amer-


ica, raised a large family, and given them a good English,
education, but had little else as the proceeds of his toils
to leave them. He died a few years after, a poor, but
pious and highly-respectable man. Such were the encour-
agements of teachers among us in those days, who were
competent, for he was eminently so. Of his first grammar
class in that part of the country, several became profes-
sional men, and have since been useful to society as phy-
sicians, jurists, and divines. Mr. Paine's school was a
mile and a half from the clerk's office, in which I was
then employed; and after completing my day's work, I
walked that distance every afternoon to recite my gram-
mar lesson, prepared at home in the evening, and reviewed
on my way to school. Still I kept up and graduated with
the class, and never since regretted my extra effort to
secure that little stock of knowledge.

Pioneers of the south-west often settle in the midst of
extensive cane-brakes, and occupy camps for temporary
habitations, till they can erect houses. To prepare the
ground for cultivation, they first cut down the cane, which
is from fifteen to twenty-five feet high, from a half an inch
to an inch and a half in diameter, and so close together in
places, that it can be passed with great difficulty by man
or beast. The main stalks are straight, hollow, and
jointed ; these put forth small branches toward the top,
covered with a foliage of evergreen. Among these beau-
tiful reeds, an experienced hand, with his crooked cleaver,
makes great havoc, taking the forest in throughs, like the
reapers do the field of corn, and laying the cut cane with
some degree of regularity behind him, that he may have

fc8 SAYS. 161

room to work. When all is laid waste, the whole ground

is covered with a layer some two feet thick, which, when

properly dried, is set on fire, and creates a flame sufficient

to clear the around of underbrush and all light combus-
ts o

tible matter. Burning the cane also kills the standing
trees, which are generally few and large on such ground ;
for it not only produces an immense heat about the trunks,
but also communicates flame to the long moss which is
attached in large quantities to the boughs, till the whole
area seems to be enveloped in a general conflagration,
rising above the tops of the tallest sweet gums and elms.
What adds greatly to the interest of the occasion, is the
terrible sound caused by the action of the fire on the cane
stalks, all the joints of which, unless previously fractured
by accident, burst with steam pressure, making reports
similar to those of fire-arms. In a very dry time the fire
will run through standing cane, where there is enough of
the dead article to set the green on fire ; and in such case
the reports are louder, though less rapid, for the green
cane produces more steam than the dry. Perhaps there
is no noise which so much resembles that of a fearful battle
between two extensive armies of enraged soldiers, as the
noise of a cane-brake on fire. As the fire passes through
the thinner places, the explosions of the small, the me-
dium, and the large joints, resemble the reports of numer-
ous pistols, rifles, and muskets, all distinctly heard in quick
succession ; but when the fire gets properly under way in
the stiff cane-brake, whether cut or standing, the explo-
sions are like a heavy volley simultaneously poured from
the whole length of the opposing lines in battle array.
The effects, however, on the feelings are very different;
while the noise of the battle thrills the soul with horror,
that of the burning cane forest imparts emotions at once
sublime and pleasant.



The American crocodile, or alligator, has been justly
styled "the king of reptiles." Those of the south-west,
when fully grown, are usually from nine to twelve feet
long, rather larger round the middle than a common-sized
man, and weigh from two to three hundred pounds. In
their general form they resemble the lizard. The mouth
is of fearful dimension, especially when extended; for,
unlike other animals, they have power to move, not only
the lower, but also the upper jaw, by reason of a joint on
the back of the head where it joins on to the neck, which
gives the head a singular and frightful appearance. The
upper and lower parts of the alligator are shielded by
scales, or connected, bony substances, as large as silver
dollars, a quarter of an inch thick, and nearly as impen-
etrable as iron. These scales are overlaid with a thin
membranous substance, which gives them rather a smooth,
spotted appearance. Immediately over the spine there is
a row of scales with horns, or knobs, projecting upward,
which causes the animal's back to appear scolloped or
indented. His sides are covered only with thick, tough

Online LibraryThomas A. (Thomas Asbury) MorrisMiscellany: consisting of essays, biographical sketches and notes of travel → online text (page 12 of 30)