a sufficient mark of the stuff from which young Herschel was compounded. It was a copy of “Locke on the Human Understanding.” Now, Locke’s famous work, oftener named than read, is a very tough and serious bit of philosophical exposition; and a boy of seventeen who buys such a book out of his meagre earnings as a military bandsman is pretty sure not to end his life within the four dismal bare walls of the barrack. It is indeed a curious picture to imagine young William Herschel, among a group of rough and boisterous German soldiers, discussing high mathematical problems with his father, or sitting down quietly in a corner to read “Locke on the Human Understanding.”
In 1757, during the Seven Years’ War, Herschel was sent with his regiment to serve in the campaign of Rossbach against the French. He was not physically strong, and the hardships of active service told terribly upon the still growing lad. His parents were alarmed at his appearance when he returned, and were very anxious to “remove” him from the service. That, however, was by no means an easy matter for them to accomplish. They had no money to buy his discharge, and so, not to call the transaction by any other than its true name, William Herschel was forced to run away from the army. We must not judge too harshly of this desertion, for the times were hard, and the lives of men in Herschel’s position were valued at very little by the constituted authorities. Long after, it is said, when Herschel had distinguished himself by the discovery of the planet Uranus, a pardon for this high military offence was duly handed to him by the king in person on the occasion of his first presentation. George III. was not a particularly wise or brilliant man; but even he had sense enough to perceive that William Herschel could serve the country far better by mapping out the stars of heaven than by playing the oboe to the royal regiment of Hanoverian Guards.
William was nineteen when he ran away. His good mother packed his boxes for him with such necessaries as she could manage, and sent them after him to Hamburg, but, to the boy’s intense disgust, she forgot to send the copy of “Locke on the Human Understanding.” What a sturdy deserter we have here, to be sure! “She, dear woman,” he says plaintively, “knew no other wants than good linen and clothing!” So William Herschel the oboe player started off alone to earn his living as best he might in the great world of England. It is strange he should have chosen that, of all European countries; for there alone he was liable to be arrested as a deserter: but perhaps his twelvemonth’s stay in London may have given him a sense of being at home amongst us which he would have lacked in any other part of Europe. At any rate, hither he came, and for the next three years picked up a livelihood, we know not how, as many other excellent German bandsmen have done before and since him. Our information about his early life is very meagre, and at this period we lose sight of him for a while altogether.
About the year 1760, however, we catch another incidental glimpse of the young musician in his adopted country. By that time, he had found himself once more a regular post as oboist to the Durham militia, then quartered for its muster at Pontefract. A certain Dr. Miller, an organist at Doncaster, was dining one evening at the officers’ mess; when his host happened to speak to him in high praise of a young German they had in their band, who was really, he said, a most remarkable and spirited performer. Dr. Miller asked to see (or rather hear) this clever musician; so Herschel was called up, and made to go through a solo for the visitor’s gratification. The organist was surprised at his admirable execution, and asked him on what terms he was engaged to the Durham militia. “Only from month to month,” Herschel answered. “Then leave them at the end of your month,” said Miller, “and come to live with me. I’m a single man; I think we can manage together; and I’m sure I can get you a better situation.” Herschel frankly accepted the offer so kindly made, and seems to have lived for much of the next five years with Miller in his little two-roomed cottage at Doncaster. Here he took pupils and performed in the orchestra at public concerts, always in a very quiet and modest fashion. He also lived for part of the time with a Mr. Bulman at Leeds, for whom he afterwards generously provided a place as clerk to the Octagon Chapel at Bath. Indeed, it is a very pleasing trait in William Herschel’s character that to the end he was constantly engaged in finding places for his early friends, as well as for the less energetic or less fortunate members of his own family.
During these years, Herschel also seems to have given much attention to the organ, which enabled him to make his next step in life in 1765, when he was appointed organist at Halifax. Now, there is a great social difference between the position of an oboe-player in a band and a church organist; and it was through his organ-playing that Herschel was finally enabled to leave his needy hand-to-mouth life in Yorkshire. A year later, he obtained the post of organist to the Octagon Chapel at Bath, an engagement which gave him new opportunities of turning his mind to the studies for which he possessed a very marked natural inclination. Bath was in those days not only the most fashionable watering-place in England, but almost the only fashionable watering-place in the whole kingdom. It was, to a certain extent, all that Brighton, Scarborough, Buxton, and Harrogate are to-day, and something more. In our own time, when railways and steamboats have so altered the face of the world, the most wealthy and fashionable English society resorts a great deal to continental pleasure towns like Cannes, Nice, Florence, Vichy, Baden, Ems, and Homburg; but in the eighteenth century it resorted almost exclusively to Bath. The Octagon Chapel was in one sense the centre of life in Bath; and through his connection with it, Herschel was thrown into a far more intelligent and learned society than that which he had left behind him in still rural Yorkshire. New books came early to Bath, and were read and discussed in the reading-rooms; famous men and women came there, and contributed largely to the intellectual life of the place; the theatre was the finest out of London; the Assembly Rooms were famous as the greatest resort of wit and culture in the whole kingdom. Herschel here was far more in his element than in the barracks of Hanover, or in the little two-roomed cottage at rustic Doncaster.
He worked very hard indeed, and his work soon brought him comfort and comparative wealth. Besides his chapel services, and his later engagement in the orchestra of the Assembly Rooms, he had often as many as thirty-eight private pupils in music every week; and he also composed a few pieces, which were published in London with some modest success. Still, in spite of all these numerous occupations, the eager young German found a little leisure time to devote to self-education; so much so that, after a fatiguing day of fourteen or sixteen hours spent in playing the organ and teaching, he would “unbend his mind” by studying the higher mathematics, or give himself a lesson in Greek and Italian. At the same time, he was also working away at a line of study, seemingly useless to him, but in which he was afterwards to earn so great and deserved a reputation. Among the books he read during this Bath period were Smith’s “Optics” and Lalande’s “Astronomy.” Throughout all his own later writings, the influence of these two books, thoroughly mastered by constant study in the intervals of his Bath music lessons, makes itself everywhere distinctly felt.
Meanwhile, the family at Hanover had not been flourishing quite so greatly as the son William was evidently doing in wealthy England. During all those years, the young man had never forgotten to keep up a close correspondence with his people in Germany. Already, in 1764, during his Yorkshire days, William Herschel had managed out of his savings as an oboe-player to make a short trip to his old home; and his sister Carolina, afterwards his chief assistant in his astronomical labours, notes with pleasure the delight she felt in having her beloved brother with her once more, though she, poor girl, being cook to the household apparently, could only enjoy his society when she was not employed “in the drudgery of the scullery.” A year later, when William had returned to England again, and had just received his appointment as organist at Halifax, his father, Isaac, had a stroke of paralysis which ended his violin-playing for ever, and forced him to rely thenceforth upon copying music for a precarious livelihood. In 1767 he died, and poor Carolina saw before her in prospect nothing but a life of that domestic drudgery which she so disliked. “I could not bear the idea of being turned into a housemaid,” she says; and she thought that if only she could take a few lessons in music and fancy work she might get “a place as governess in some family where the want of a knowledge of French would be no objection.” But, unhappily, good dame Herschel, like many other uneducated and narrow-minded persons, had a strange dread of too much knowledge. She thought that “nothing further was needed,” says Carolina, “than to send me two or three months to a sempstress to be taught to make household linen; so all that my father could do was to indulge me sometimes with a short lesson on the violin when my mother was either in good humour or out of the way. It was her certain belief that my brother William would have returned to his country, and my eldest brother would not have looked so high, if they had had a little less learning.” Poor, purblind, well-meaning, obstructive old dame Herschel! what a boon to the world that children like yours are sometimes seized with this incomprehensible fancy for “looking too high”!
Nevertheless, Carolina managed by rising early to take a few lessons at daybreak from a young woman whose parents lived in the same cottage with hers; and so she got through a little work before the regular daily business of the family began at seven. Imagine her delight then, just as the difficulties after her father’s death are making that housemaid’s place seem almost inevitable, when she gets a letter from William at Bath, asking her to come over to England and join him at that gay and fashionable city. He would try to prepare her for singing at his concerts; but if after two years’ trial she didn’t succeed, he would take her back again to Hanover himself. In 1772, indeed, William in person came over to fetch her, and thenceforth the brother and sister worked unceasingly together in all their undertakings to the day of the great astronomer’s death.
About this time Herschel had been reading Ferguson’s “Astronomy,” and felt very desirous of seeing for himself the objects in the heavens, invisible to the naked eye, of which he there found descriptions. For this purpose he must of course have a telescope. But how to obtain one? that was the question. There was a small two-and-a-half foot instrument on hire at one of the shops at Bath; and the ambitious organist borrowed this poor little glass for a time, not merely to look through, but to use as a model for constructing one on his own account. Buying was impossible, of course, for telescopes cost much money: but making would not be difficult for a determined mind. He had always been of a mechanical turn, and he was now fired with a desire to build himself a telescope eighteen or twenty feet long. He sent to London for the lenses, which could not be bought at Bath; and Carolina amused herself by making a pasteboard tube to fit them in her leisure hours. It was long before he reached twenty feet, indeed: his first effort was a seven-foot, attained only “after many continuous determined trials.” The amateur pasteboard frame did not fully answer Herschel’s expectations, so he was obliged to go in grudgingly for the expense of a tin tube. The reflecting mirror which he ought to have had proved too dear for his still slender purse, and he thus had to forego it with much regret. But he found a man at Bath who had once been in the mirror-polishing line; and he bought from him for a bargain all his rubbish of patterns, tools, unfinished mirrors and so forth, with which he proceeded to experiment on the manufacture of a proper telescope. In the summer, when the season was over, and all the great people had left Bath, the house, as Carolina says ruefully, “was turned into a workshop.” William’s younger brother Alexander was busy putting up a big lathe in a bedroom, grinding glasses and turning eyepieces while in the drawing-room itself, sacred to William’s aristocratic pupils, a carpenter, sad to relate, was engaged in making a tube and putting up stands for the future telescopes. Sad goings on, indeed, in the family of a respectable music-master and organist! Many a good solid shopkeeper in Bath must no doubt have shaken his grey head solemnly as he passed the door, and muttered to himself that that young German singer fellow was clearly going on the road to ruin with his foolish good-for-nothing star-gazing.
In 1774, when William Herschel was thirty-six, he had at last constructed himself a seven-foot telescope, and began for the first time in his life to view the heavens in a systematic manner. From this he advanced to a ten-foot, and then to one of twenty, for he meant to see stars that no astronomer had ever yet dreamt of beholding. It was comparatively late in life to begin, but Herschel had laid a solid foundation already, and he was enabled therefore to do an immense deal in the second half of those threescore years and ten which are the allotted average life of man, but which he himself really overstepped by fourteen winters. As he said long afterwards with his modest manner to the poet Campbell, “I have looked further into space than ever human being did before me; I have observed stars of which the light, it can be proved, must take two millions of years to reach this earth.” That would have been a grand thing for any man to be able truthfully to say under any circumstances: it was a marvellous thing for a man who had laboured under all the original disadvantages of Herschel–a man who began life as a penniless German bandsman, and up to the age of thirty-six had never even looked through a telescope.
At this time, Herschel was engaged in playing the harpsichord in the orchestra of the theatre; and it was during the interval between the acts that he made his first general survey of the heavens. The moment his part was finished, he would rush out to gaze through his telescope; and in these short periods he managed to observe all the visible stars of what are called the first, second, third, and fourth magnitudes. Henceforth he went on building telescope after telescope, each one better than the last; and now all his glasses were ground and polished either by his own hand or by his brother Alexander’s. Carolina meanwhile took her part in the workshop; but as she had also to sing at the oratorios, and her awkward German manners might shock the sensitive nerves of the Bath aristocrats, she took two lessons a week for a whole twelvemonth (she tells us in her delightfully straightforward fashion) “from Miss Fleming, the celebrated dancing mistress, to drill me for a gentlewoman.” Poor Carolina, there she was mistaken: Miss Fleming could make her into no gentlewoman, for she was born one already, and nothing proves it more than the perfect absence of false shame with which in her memoirs she tells us all these graphic little details of their early humble days.
While they were thus working at Bath an incident occurred which is worth mentioning because it shows the very different directions in which the presence or the want of steady persistence may lead the various members of the very self-same family. William received a letter from his widowed mother at Hanover to say, in deep distress, that Dietrich, the youngest brother, had run away from home, it was supposed for the purpose of going to India, “with a young idler no older than himself.” Forthwith, the budding astronomer left the lathe where he was busy turning an eye- piece from a cocoa-nut shell, and, like a good son and brother as he always was, hurried off to Holland and thence to Hanover. No Dietrich was anywhere to be found. But while he was away, Carolina at Bath received a letter from Dietrich himself, to tell her ruefully he was “laid up very ill” at a waterside tavern in Wapping–not the nicest or most savoury East End sailor-suburb of London. Alexander immediately took the coach to town, put the prodigal into a decent lodging, nursed him carefully for a fortnight, and then took him down with him in triumph to the family home at Bath. There brother William found him safe and sound on his return, under the sisterly care of good Carolina. A pretty dance he had led the two earnest and industrious astronomers; but they seem always to have treated this black sheep of the family with uniform kindness, and long afterwards Sir William remembered him favourably in his last will.
In 1779 and the succeeding years the three Herschels were engaged during all their spare time in measuring the heights of about one hundred mountains in the moon, which William gauged by three different methods. In the same year, he made an acquaintance of some importance to him, as forming his first introduction to the wider world of science in London and elsewhere. Dr. Watson, a Fellow of the Royal Society, happened to see him working at his telescope; and this led to a visit from the electrician to the amateur astronomer. Dr. Watson was just then engaged in getting up a Philosophical Society at Bath (a far rarer institution at that time in a provincial town than now), and he invited William Herschel to join it. Here Herschel learned for the first time to mix with those who were more nearly his intellectual equals, and to measure his strength against other men’s.
It was in 1781 that Herschel made the great discovery which immediately established his fame as an astronomer, and enabled him to turn from conducting concerts to the far higher work of professionally observing the stars. On the night of Tuesday, March 13th, Herschel was engaged in his usual systematic survey of the sky, a bit at a time, when his telescope lighted among a group of small fixed stars upon what he at first imagined to be a new comet. It proved to be no comet, however, but a true planet–a veritable world, revolving like our own in a nearly circular path around the sun as centre, though far more remote from it than the most distant planet then known, Saturn. Herschel called his new world the _Georgium Sidus_ (King George’s star) in honour of the reigning monarch; but it has since been known as Uranus. Astronomers all over Europe were soon apprised of this wonderful discovery, and the path of the freshly found planet was computed by calculation, its distance from the sun being settled at nineteen times that of our own earth.
In order faintly to understand the importance attached at the time to Herschel’s observation of this very remote and seemingly petty world, we must remember that up to that date all the planets which circle round our own sun had been familiarly known to everybody from time immemorial. To suggest that there was yet another world belonging to our system outside the path of the furthest known planet would have seemed to most people like pure folly. Since then, we have grown quite accustomed to the discovery of a fresh small world or two every year, and we have even had another large planet (Neptune), still more remote than Herschel’s Uranus, added to the list of known orbs in our own solar system. But in Herschel’s day, nobody had ever heard of a new planet being discovered since the beginning of all things. A hundred years before, an Italian astronomer, it is true, had found out four small moons revolving round Saturn, besides the big moon then already known; but for a whole century, everybody believed that the solar system was now quite fully explored, and that nothing fresh could be discovered about it. Hence Herschel’s observation produced a very different effect from, say, the discovery of the two moons which revolve round Mars, in our own day. Even people who felt no interest in astronomy were aroused to attention. Mr. Herschel’s new planet became the talk of the town and the subject of much admiring discussion in the London newspapers. Strange, indeed, that an amateur astronomer of Bath, a mere German music-master, should have hit upon a planet which escaped the sight even of the king’s own Astronomer Royal at Greenwich.
Of course there were not people wanting who ascribed this wonderful discovery of Herschel’s to pure chance. If he hadn’t just happened to turn his telescope in that particular direction on that particular night, he wouldn’t have seen this _Georgium Sidus_ they made such a fuss about at all. Quite so. And if he hadn’t built a twenty-foot telescope for himself, he wouldn’t have turned it anywhere at any time. But Herschel himself knew better. “This was by no means the result of chance,” he said; “but a simple consequence of the position of the planet on that particular evening, since it occupied precisely that spot in the heavens which came in the order of the minute observations that I had previously mapped out for myself. Had I not seen it just when I did, I must inevitably have come upon it soon after, since my telescope was so perfect that I was able to distinguish it from a fixed star in the first minute of observation.” Indeed, when once Herschel’s twenty-foot telescope was made, he could not well have failed in the long run to discover Uranus, as his own description of his method clearly shows. “When I had carefully and thoroughly perfected the great instrument in all its parts,” he says, “I made a systematic use of it in my observation of the heaven, first forming a determination never to pass by any, the smallest, portion of them without due investigation. This habit, persisted in, led to the discovery of the new planet (_Georgium Sidus_).” As well might one say that a skilled mining surveyor, digging for coal, came upon the seam by chance, as ascribe to chance the necessary result of such a careful and methodical scrutiny as this.
Before the year was out, the ingenious Mr. Herschel of Bath was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, and was also presented with the Copley gold medal. From this moment all the distinguished people in Bath were anxious to be introduced to the philosophical music-master; and, indeed, they intruded so much upon his time that the daily music lessons were now often interrupted. He was soon, however, to give up lessons for ever, and devote himself to his more congenial and natural work in astronomy. In May, 1782, he went up to London, to be formally admitted to his Fellowship of the Royal Society. There he stayed so long that poor Carolina was quite frightened. It was “double the time which my brother could safely be absent from his scholars.” The connection would be broken up, and the astronomy would be the ruin of the family. (A little of good old dame Herschel’s housewifely leaven here, perhaps.) But William’s letters from London to “Dear Lina” must soon have quieted her womanly fears. William had actually been presented to the king, and “met with a very gracious reception.” He had explained the solar system to the king and queen, and his telescope was to be put up first at Greenwich and then at Richmond. The Greenwich authorities were delighted with his instrument; they have seen what Herschel calls “_my_ fine double stars” with it. “All my papers are printing,” he tells Lina with pardonable pride, “and are allowed to be very valuable.” But he himself is far from satisfied as yet with the results of his work. Evidently no small successes in the field of knowledge will do for William Herschel. “Among opticians and astronomers,” he writes to Lina, “nothing now is talked of but _what they call_ my great discoveries. Alas! this shows how far they are behind, when such trifles as I have seen and done are called _great_. Let me but get at it again! I will make such telescopes and see such things!” Well, well, William Herschel, in that last sentence we get the very keynote of true greatness and true genius.
But must he go back quietly to Bath and the toils of teaching? “An intolerable waste of time,” he thought it. The king happily relieved him from this intolerable waste. He offered Herschel a salary of L200 a year if he would come and live at Datchet, and devote himself entirely to astronomical observations. It was by no means a munificent sum for a king to offer for such labour; but Herschel gladly accepted it, as it would enable him to give up the interruption of teaching, and spend all his time on his beloved astronomy. His Bath friend, Sir William Watson, exclaimed when he heard of it, “Never bought monarch honour so cheap.” Herschel was forty-three when he removed to Datchet, and from that day forth he lived almost entirely in his observatory, wholly given up to his astronomical pursuits. Even when he had to go to London to read his papers before the Royal Society, he chose a moonlight night (when the stars would be mostly invisible), so that it might not interfere with his regular labours.
Poor Carolina was horrified at the house at Datchet, which seemed terribly desolate and poor, even to her modest German ideas; but William declared his willingness to live permanently and cheerfully upon “eggs and bacon” now that he was at last free to do nothing on earth but observe the heavens. Night after night he and Carolina worked together at their silent task–he noting the small features with his big telescope, she “sweeping for comets” with a smaller glass or “finder.” Herschel could have had no more useful or devoted assistant than his sister, who idolized him with all her heart. Alexander, too, came to stay with them during the slack months at Bath, and then the whole strength of the family was bent together on their labour of love in gauging the heavens.
But what use was it all? Why should they wish to go star-gazing? Well, if a man cannot see for himself what use it was, nobody else can put the answer into him, any more than they could put into him a love for nature, or for beauty, or for art, or for music, if he had it not to start with. What is the good of a great picture, a splendid oratorio, a grand poem? To the man who does not care for them, nothing; to the man who loves them, infinite. It is just the same with science. The use of knowledge to a mind like Herschel’s is the mere possession of it. With such as he, it is a love, an object of desire, a thing to be sought after for its own sake; and the mere act of finding it is in itself purely delightful. “Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding. For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies; and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her.” So, to such a man as Herschel, that peaceful astronomer life at Datchet was indeed, in the truest sense of those much-abused words, “success in life.” If you had asked some vulgar- minded neighbour of the great Sir William in his later days whether the astronomer had been a successful man or not, he would doubtless have answered, after his kind, “Certainly. He has been made a knight, has lands in two counties, and has saved L35,000.” But if you had asked William Herschel himself, he would probably have said, with his usual mixture of earnestness and humility, “Yes, I have been a very fortunate man in life. I have discovered Uranus, and I have gauged all the depths of heaven, as none before ever gauged them, with my own great telescope.”
Still, those who cannot sympathize with the pure love of knowledge for its own sake–one of the highest and noblest of human aims–should remember that astronomy is also of immense practical importance to mankind, and especially to navigation and commerce. Unless great astronomical calculations were correctly performed at Greenwich and elsewhere, it would be impossible for any ship or steamer to sail with safety from England to Australia or America. Every defect in our astronomical knowledge helps to wreck our vessels on doubtful coasts; every advance helps to save the lives of many sailors and the cargoes of many merchants. It is this practical utility of astronomy that justifies the spending of national money on observatories and transits of Venus, and it is the best apology for an astronomer’s life to those who do not appreciate the use of knowledge for its own beauty.
At Datchet, Herschel not only made several large telescopes for sale, for which he obtained large prices, but he also got a grant of L2000 from the king to aid him in constructing his huge forty-foot instrument. It was here, too, in 1783, that Herschel married. His wife was a widow lady of scientific tastes like his own, and she was possessed of considerable means, which enabled him henceforth to lay aside all anxiety on the score of money. They had but one child, a son, afterwards Sir John Herschel, almost as great an astronomer as his father had been before him. In 1785, the family moved to Clay Hall, in Old Windsor, and in 1786 to Slough, where Herschel lived for the remainder of his long life. How completely his whole soul was bound up in his work is shown in the curious fact recorded for us by Carolina Herschel. The last night at Clay Hall was spent in sweeping the sky with the great glass till daylight; and by the next evening the telescope stood ready for observations once more in the new home at Slough.
To follow Herschel through the remainder of his life would be merely to give a long catalogue of his endless observations and discoveries among the stars. Such a catalogue would be interesting only to astronomers; yet it would truly give the main facts of Herschel’s existence in his happy home at Slough. Honoured by the world, dearly loved in his own family, and engrossed with a passionate affection for his chosen science, the great astronomer and philosopher grew grey in peace under his own roof, in the course of a singularly placid and gentle old age. In 1802 he laid before the Royal Society a list of five thousand new stars, star-clusters, or other heavenly bodies which he had discovered, and which formed the great body of his personal additions to astronomical knowledge. The University of Oxford made him Doctor of Laws, and very late in life he was knighted by the king–a too tardy acknowledgment of his immense services to science. To the very last, however, he worked on with a will; and, indeed, it is one of the great charms of scientific interest that it thus enables a man to keep his faculties on the alert to an advanced old age. In 1819, when Herschel was more than eighty, he writes to his sister a short note–“Lina, there is a great comet. I want you to assist me. Come to dine and spend the day here. If you can come soon after one o’clock, we shall have time to prepare maps and telescopes. I saw its situation last night. It has a long tail.” How delightful to find such a living interest in life at the age of eighty!
On the 25th of August, 1822, this truly great and simple man passed away, in his eighty-fifth year. It has been possible here only to sketch out the chief personal points in his career, without dwelling much upon the scientific importance of his later life-long labours; but it must suffice to say briefly upon this point that Herschel’s work was no mere mechanical star-finding; it was the most profoundly philosophical astronomical work ever performed, except perhaps Newton’s and Laplace’s. Among astronomers proper there has been none distinguished by such breadth of grasp, such wide conceptions, and such perfect clearness of view as the self-taught oboe-player of Hanover.
JEAN FRANCOIS MILLET, PAINTER.
There is no part of France so singularly like England, both in the aspect of the country itself and in the features and character of the inhabitants, as Normandy. The wooded hills and dales, the frequent copses and apple orchards, the numerous thriving towns and villages, the towers and steeples half hidden among the trees, recall at every step the very similar scenery of our own beautiful and fruitful Devonshire. And as the land is, so are the people. Ages ago, about the same time that the Anglo-Saxon invaders first settled down in England, a band of similar English pirates, from the old common English home by the cranberry marshes of the Baltic, drove their long ships upon the long rocky peninsula of the Cotentin, which juts out, like a French Cornwall, from the mainland of Normandy up to the steep cliffs and beetling crags of busy Cherbourg. There they built themselves little hamlets and villages of true English type, whose very names to this day remind one of their ancient Saxon origin. Later on, the Danes or Northmen conquered the country, which they called after their own name, Normandy, that is to say, the Northmen’s land.
Mixing with the early Saxon or English settlers, and with the still more primitive Celtic inhabitants, the Northmen founded a race extremely like that which now inhabits our own country. To this day, the Norman peasants of the Cotentin retain many marks of their origin and their half-forgotten kinship with the English race. While other Frenchmen are generally dark and thick-set, the Norman is, as a rule, a tall, fair- haired, blue-eyed man, not unlike in build to our Yarmouth fisherman, or our Kentish labourers. In body and mind, there is something about him even now which makes him seem more nearly akin to us than the true Frenchmen who inhabit almost all the rest of France.
In the village of Gruchy, near Greville, in this wild and beautiful region of the Cotentin, there lived at the beginning of the present century a sturdy peasant family of the name of Millet. The father of the family was one of the petty village landholders so common in France; a labourer who owned and tilled his own tiny patch of farm, with the aid of his wife and children. We have now no class in England exactly answering to the French peasant proprietors, who form so large and important an element in the population just across the Channel. The small landholder in France belongs by position to about the same level as our own agricultural labourer, and in many ways is content with a style of dress and a mode of living against which English labourers would certainly protest with horror. And yet, he is a proprietor, with a proprietor’s sense of the dignity of his position, and an ardent love of his own little much-subdivided corner of agricultural land. On this he spends all his energies, and however many children he may have, he will try to make a livelihood for all by their united labour out of the soil, rather than let one of them go to seek his fortune by any other means in the great cities. Thus the ground is often tilled up to an almost ridiculous extent, the entire labour of the family being sometimes expended in cultivating, manuring, weeding, and tending a patch of land perhaps hardly an acre in size. It is quite touching to see the care and solicitude with which these toilsome peasants will laboriously lay out their bit of garden with fruits or vegetables, making every line almost mathematically regular, planting every pea at a measured distance, or putting a smooth flat pebble under every strawberry on the evenly ridged-up vines. It is only in the very last resort that the peasant proprietor will consent to let one of his daughters go out to service, or send one of his sons adrift to seek his fortune as an artisan in the big, unknown, outer world.
Millet the elder, however, had nine children, which is an unusually large number for a French peasant family (where the women ordinarily marry late in life); and his little son Jean Francois (the second child and eldest boy), though set to weed and hoe upon the wee farm in his boyhood, was destined by his father for some other life than that of a tiller of the soil. He was born in the year before Waterloo–1814–and was brought up on his father’s plot of land, in the hard rough way to which peasant children in France are always accustomed. Bronzed by sun and rain, poorly clad, and ill-fed, he acquired as a lad, from the open air and the toilsome life he led, a vigour of constitution which enabled him to bear up against the numerous hardships and struggles of his later days. “A Norman Peasant,” he loved to call himself always, with a certain proud humility; and happily he had the rude health of one all his life long.
Hard as he worked, little Francois’ time was not entirely taken up with attending to the fields or garden. He was a studious boy, and learned not only to read and write in French, but also to try some higher flights, rare indeed for a lad of his position. His family possessed remarkable qualities as French peasants go; and one of his great-uncles, a man of admirable strength of character, a priest in the days of the great Revolution, had braved the godless republicans of his time, and though deprived of his cure, and compelled to labour for his livelihood in the fields, had yet guided the plough in his priestly garments. His grandmother first taught him his letters; and when she had instructed him to the length of reading any French book that was put before him, the village priest took him in hand. In France, the priest comes often from the peasant class, and remains in social position a member of that class as long as he lives. But he always possesses a fair knowledge of Latin, the language in which all his religious services are conducted; and this knowledge serves as a key to much that his unlearned parishioners could never dream of knowing. Young Millet’s parish priest taught him as much Latin as he knew himself; and so the boy was not only able to read the Bible in the Latin or Vulgate translation, but also to make acquaintance with the works of Virgil and several others of the great Roman poets. He read, too, the beautiful “Confessions” of St. Augustine, and the “Lives of the Saints,” which he found in his father’s scanty library, as well as the works of the great French preachers, Bossuet and Fenelon. Such early acquaintance with these and many other masterpieces of higher literature, we may be sure, helped greatly to mould the lad’s mind into that grand and sober shape which it finally acquired.
Jean Francois’ love of art was first aroused by the pictures in an old illustrated Bible which belonged to his father, and which he was permitted to look at on Sundays and festivals. The child admired these pictures immensely, and asked leave to be permitted to copy them. The only time he could find for the purpose, however, was that of the mid- day rest or siesta. It is the custom in France, as in Southern Europe generally, for labourers to cease from work for an hour or so in the middle of the day; and during this “tired man’s holiday,” young Millet, instead of resting, used to take out his pencil and paper, and try his hand at reproducing the pictures in the big Bible. His father was not without an undeveloped taste for art: “See,” he would say, looking into some beautiful combe or glen on the hillside–“see that little cottage half buried in the trees; how beautiful it is! I think it ought to be drawn so–;” and then he would make a rough sketch of it on some scrap of paper. At times he would model things with a bit of clay, or cut the outline of a flower or an animal with his knife on a flat piece of wood. This unexercised talent Francois inherited in a still greater degree. As time went on, he progressed to making little drawings on his own account; and we may be sure the priest and all the good wives of Gruchy had quite settled in their own minds before long that Jean Francois Millet’s hands would be able in time to paint quite a beautiful altar- piece for the village church.
By-and-by, when the time came for Francois to choose a trade, he being then a big lad of about nineteen, it was suggested to his father that young Millet might really make a regular painter–that is to say, an artist. In France, the general tastes of the people are far more artistic than with us; and the number of painters who find work for their brushes in Paris is something immensely greater than the number in our own smoky, money-making London. So there was nothing very remarkable, from a French point of view, in the idea of the young peasant turning for a livelihood to the profession of an artist. But Millet’s father was a sober and austere man, a person of great dignity and solemnity, who decided to put his son’s powers to the test in a very regular and critical fashion. He had often watched Francois drawing, and he thought well of the boy’s work. If he had a real talent for painting, a painter he should be; if not, he must take to some other craft, where he would have the chance of making himself a decent livelihood. So he told Francois to prepare a couple of drawings, which he would submit to the judgment of M. Mouchel, a local painter at Cherbourg, the nearest large town, and capital of the department. Francois duly prepared the drawings, and Millet the elder went with his son to submit them in proper form for M. Mouchel’s opinion. Happily, M. Mouchel had judgment enough to see at a glance that the drawings possessed remarkable merit. “You must be playing me a trick,” he said; “that lad could never have made these drawings.” “I saw him do them with my own eyes,” answered the father warmly. “Then,” said Mouchel, “all I can say is this: he has in him the making of a great painter.” He accepted Millet as his pupil; and the young man set off for Cherbourg accordingly, to study with care and diligence under his new master.
Cherbourg, though not yet at that time a great naval port, as it afterwards became, was a busy harbour and fishing town, where the young artist saw a great deal of a kind of life with which he possessed an immense sympathy. The hard work of the fishermen putting out to sea on stormy evenings, or toiling with their nets ashore after a sleepless night, made a living picture which stamped itself deeply on his receptive mind. A man of the people himself, born to toil and inured to it from babyhood, this constant scene of toiling and struggling humanity touched the deepest chord in his whole nature, so that some of the most beautiful and noble of his early pictures are really reminiscences of his first student days at Cherbourg. But after he had spent a year in Mouchel’s studio, sad news came to him from Gruchy. His father was dying, and Francois was only just in time to see him before he passed away. If the family was to be kept together at all, Francois must return from his easel and palette, and take once more to guiding the plough. With that earnest resolution which never forsook him, Millet decided to accept the inevitable. He went back home once more, and gave up his longings for art in order to till the ground for his fatherless sisters.
Luckily, however, his friends at Gruchy succeeded after awhile in sending him back again to Cherbourg, where he began to study under another master, Langlois, and to have hopes once more for his artistic future, now that he was free at last to pursue it in his own way. At this time, he read a great deal–Shakespeare, Walter Scott, Byron, Goethe’s “Faust,” Victor Hugo and Chateaubriand; in fact, all the great works he could lay his hands upon. Peasant as he was, he gave himself, half unconsciously, a noble education. Very soon, it became apparent that the Cherbourg masters could do nothing more for him, and that, if he really wished to perfect himself in art, he must go to Paris. In France, the national interest felt in painting is far greater and more general than in England. Nothing is commoner than for towns or departments to grant pensions (or as we should call them, scholarships) to promising lads who wish to study art in Paris. Young Millet had attracted so much attention at Cherbourg, that the Council General of the Department of the Manche voted him a present of six hundred francs (about L24) to start him on the way; and the town of Cherbourg promised him an annual grant of four hundred francs more (about L16). So up to Paris Millet went, and there was duly enrolled as a student at the Government “School of Fine Arts.”
Those student days in Paris were days of hunger and cold, very often, which Millet bore with the steady endurance of a Norman peasant boy. But they were also days of something worse to him–of effort misdirected, and of constant struggling against a system for which he was not fitted. In fact, Millet was an original genius, whereas the teachers at the School of Fine Arts were careful and methodical rule-of-thumb martinets. They wished to train Millet into the ordinary pattern, which he could not follow; and in the end, he left the school, and attached himself to the studio of Paul Delaroche, then the greatest painter of historical pictures in all Paris. But even Delaroche, though an artist of deep feeling and power, did not fully understand his young Norman pupil. He himself used to paint historical pictures in the grand style, full of richness and beauty; but his subjects were almost always chosen from the lives of kings or queens, and treated with corresponding calmness and dignity. “The Young Princes in the Tower,” “The Execution of Marie Antoinette,” “The Death of Queen Elizabeth,” “Cromwell viewing the Body of Charles I.”–these were the kind of pictures on which Delaroche loved to employ himself. Millet, on the other hand, though also full of dignity and pathos, together with an earnestness far surpassing Delaroche’s, did not care for these lofty subjects. It was the dignity and pathos of labour that moved him most; the silent, weary, noble lives of the uncomplaining peasants, amongst whom his own days had been mostly passed. Delaroche could not make him out at all; he was such a curious, incomprehensible, odd young fellow! “There, go your own way, if you will,” the great master said to him at last; “for my part, I can make nothing of you.”
So, shortly after, Millet and his friend Marolle set up a studio for themselves in the Rue de l’Est in Paris. The precise occasion of their going was this. Millet was anxious to obtain the Grand Prize of Rome annually offered to the younger artists, and Delaroche definitely told him that his own influence would be used on behalf of another pupil. After this, the young Norman felt that he could do better by following out his own genius in his own fashion. At the Rue de l’Est, he continued to study hard, but he also devoted a large part of his time to painting cheap portraits–what artists call “pot-boilers;” mere hasty works dashed off anyhow to earn his daily livelihood. For these pictures he got about ten to fifteen francs apiece,–in English money from eight to twelve shillings. They were painted in a theatrical style, which Millet himself detested–all pink cheeks, and red lips, and blue satin, and lace collars; whereas his own natural style was one of great austerity and a certain earnest sombreness the exact reverse of the common Parisian taste to which he ministered. However, he had to please his patrons–and, like a sensible man, he went on producing these cheap daubs to any extent required, for a living, while he endeavoured to perfect himself meanwhile for the higher art he was meditating for the future. In the great galleries of the Louvre at Paris he found abundant models which he could study in the works of the old masters; and there, poring over Michael Angelo and Mantegna, he could recompense himself a little in his spare hours for the time he was obliged to waste on pinky- white faces and taffeta gowns. To an artist by nature there is nothing harder than working perforce against the bent of one’s own innate and instinctive feelings.
In 1840, Millet found his life in Paris still so hard that he seemed for a time inclined to give up the attempt, and returned to Greville, where he painted a marine subject of the sort that was dearest to his heart–a group of sailors mending a sail. Shortly after, however, he was back in Paris–the record of these years of hard struggle is not very clear– with his wife, a Cherbourg girl whom he had imprudently married while still barely able to support himself in the utmost poverty. It was not till 1844 that the hard-working painter at last achieved his first success. It was with a picture of a milkwoman, one of his own favourite peasant subjects; and the poetry and sympathy which he had thrown into so commonplace a theme attracted the attention of many critics among the cultivated Parisian world of art. The “Milkwoman” was exhibited at the Salon (the great annual exhibition of works of art in Paris, like that of the Royal Academy in London, but on a far larger scale); and several good judges of art began immediately to inquire, “Who is Jean Francois Millet?” Hunting his address out, a party of friendly critics presented themselves at his lodgings, only to learn that Madame Millet had just died, and that her husband, half in despair, had gone back again once more to his native Norman hills and valleys.
But Millet was the last man on earth to sit down quietly with his hands folded, waiting for something or other to turn up. At Cherbourg, he set to work once more, no doubt painting more “pot-boilers” for the respectable shop-keepers of the neighbourhood–complacent portraits, perhaps, of a stout gentleman with a large watch-chain fully displayed, and of a stout lady in a black silk dress and with a vacant smile; and by hook or by crook he managed to scrape together a few hundred francs, with which once more he might return to Paris. But before he did so, he married again, this time more wisely. His wife, Catharine Lemaire, was a brave and good woman, who knew how to appreciate her husband, and to second him well in all his further struggles and endeavours. They went for a while to Havre, where Millet, in despair of getting better work, and not ashamed of doing anything honest to pay his way, actually took to painting sign-boards. In this way he saved money enough to make a fresh start in Paris. There, he continued his hard battle against the taste of the time; for French art was then dominated by the influence of men like Delaroche, or like Delacroix and Horace Vernet, who had accustomed the public to pictures of a very lofty, a very romantic, or a very fiery sort; and there were few indeed who cared for stern and sympathetic delineations of the French peasant’s unlovely life of unremitting toil, such as Millet loved to set before them. Yet, in spite of discouragement, he did well to follow out this inner prompting of his own soul; for in that direction he could do his best work–and the best work is always the best worth doing in the long run. There are some minds, of which Franklin’s is a good type, so versatile and so shifty that they can turn with advantage to any opening that chances to offer, no matter in what direction; and such minds do right in seizing every opportunity, wherever it occurs. But there are other minds, of which Gibson and Millet are excellent examples, naturally restricted to certain definite lines of thought or work; and such minds do right in persistently following up their own native talent, and refusing to be led aside by circumstances into any less natural or less promising channel.
While living in Paris at this time, Millet painted several of his favourite peasant pictures, amongst others “The Workman’s Monday,” which is a sort of parallel in painting to Burns’s “Cotter’s Saturday Night” in poetry. Indeed, there is a great deal in Millet which strongly reminds one at every step of Burns. Both were born of the agricultural labouring class; both remained peasants at heart, in feelings and sympathies, all their lives long; neither was ashamed of his origin, even in the days of his greatest fame; painter and poet alike loved best to choose their themes from the simple life of the poor whose trials and hardships they knew so well by bitter experience; and in each case they succeeded best in touching the hearts of others when they did not travel outside their own natural range of subjects. Only (if Scotchmen will allow one to say so) there was in Millet a far deeper vein of moral earnestness than in Burns; he was more profoundly impressed by the dignity and nobility of labour; in his tender sympathy there was a touch of solemn grandeur which was wanting in the too genial and easy-going Ayrshire ploughman.
In 1848, the year of revolutions, Millet painted his famous picture of “The Winnower,” since considered as one of his finest works. Yet for a long time, though the critics praised it, it could not find a purchaser; till at last M. Ledru Rollin, a well-known politician, bought it for what Millet considered the capital price of five hundred francs (about L20). It would now fetch a simply fabulous price, if offered for sale. Soon after this comparative success Millet decided to leave Paris, where the surroundings indeed were little fitted to a man of his peculiarly rural and domestic tastes. He would go where he might see the living models of his peasant friends for ever before him; where he could watch them leaning over the plough pressed deep into the earth; cutting the faggots with stout arms in the thick-grown copses; driving the cattle home at milking time with weary feet, along the endless, straight white high-roads of the French rural districts. At the same time, he must be within easy reach of Paris; for though he had almost made up his mind not to exhibit any more at the Salon–people didn’t care to see his reapers or his fishermen–he must still manage to keep himself within call of possible purchasers; and for this purpose he selected the little village of Barbizon, on the edge of the forest of Fontainebleau.
The woods of Fontainebleau stand to Paris in somewhat the same relation that Windsor Great Park stands to London; only, the scenery is more forest-like, and the trees are big and antique looking. By the outskirts of this great wood stands the pretty hamlet of Barbizon, a single long street of small peasant cottages, built with the usual French rural disregard of beauty or cleanliness. At the top of the street, in a little three-roomed house, the painter and his wife settled down quietly; and here they lived for twenty-seven years, long after Millet’s name had grown to be famous in the history of contemporary French painting. An English critic, who visited the spot in the days of Millet’s greatest celebrity, was astonished to find the painter, whom he had come to see, strolling about the village in rustic clothes, and even wearing the _sabots_ or wooden shoes which are in France the social mark of the working classes, much as the smock-frock used once to be in the remoter country districts of England. Perhaps this was a little bit of affectation on Millet’s part–a sort of proud declaration of the fact that in spite of fame and honours he still insisted upon counting himself a simple peasant; but if so, it was, after all, a very pretty and harmless affectation indeed. Better to see a man sticking pertinaciously to his wooden shoes, than turning his back upon old friends and old associations in the days of his worldly prosperity.
At Barbizon Millet’s life moved on so quietly that there is nothing to record in it almost, save a long list of pictures painted, and a gradual growth, not in popularity (for that Millet never really attained at all), but in the esteem of the best judges, which of course brought with it at last, first ease, then comfort, and finally comparative riches. Millet was able now to paint such subjects as pleased him best, and he threw himself into his work with all the fervour of his intensely earnest and poetical nature. Whatever might be the subject which he undertook, he knew how to handle it so that it became instinct with his own fine feeling for the life he saw around him. In 1852 he painted his “Man spreading Manure.” In itself, that is not a very exalted or beautiful occupation; but what Millet saw in it was the man not the manure–the toiling, sorrowing, human fellow-being, whose labour and whose spirit he knew so well how to appreciate. And in this view of the subject he makes us all at once sympathize. Other pictures of this period are such as “The Gleaners,” “The Reapers,” “A Peasant grafting a Tree,” “The Potato Planters,” and so forth. These were very different subjects indeed from the dignified kings and queens painted by Delaroche, or the fiery battle-pieces of Delacroix; but they touch a chord in our souls which those great painters fail to strike, and his treatment of them is always truthful, tender, melancholy, and exquisite.
Bit by bit, French artistic opinion began to recognize the real greatness of the retiring painter at Barbizon. He came to be looked upon as a true artist, and his pictures sold every year for increasingly large prices. Still, he had not been officially recognized; and in France, where everything, even to art and the theatre, is under governmental regulation, this want of official countenance is always severely felt. At last, in 1867, Millet was awarded the medal of the first class, and was appointed a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour. The latter distinction carries with it the right to wear that little tag of ribbon on the coat which all Frenchmen prize so highly; for to be “decorated,” as it is called, is in France a spur to ambition of something the same sort as a knighthood or a peerage in England, though of course it lies within the reach of a far greater number of citizens. There is something to our ideas rather absurd in the notion of bestowing such a tag of ribbon on a man of Millet’s aims and occupations; but all honours are honours just according to the estimation of the man who receives them and the society in which he lives; and Millet no doubt prized his admission to the Legion of Honour all the more because it had been so long delayed and so little truckled for.
To the end of his days, Millet never left his beloved Barbizon. He stopped there, wandering about the fields, watching peasants at work, imprinting their images firmly upon his eye and brain, and then going home again to put the figures he had thus observed upon his vivid canvas. For, strange to say, unlike almost every other great painter, Millet never painted from a model. Instead of getting a man or woman to sit for him in the pose he required, he would go out into the meadows and look at the men and women at their actual daily occupations; and so keen and acute was his power of observation, and so retentive was his inner eye, that he could then recall almost every detail of action or manner as clearly as if he had the original present in his studio before him. As a rule, such a practice is not to be recommended to any one who wishes to draw with even moderate accuracy; constant study of the actual object, and frequent comparison by glancing from object to copy, are absolutely necessary for forming a correct draughtsman. But Millet knew his own way best; and how wonderfully minute and painstaking must his survey have been when it enabled him to reproduce the picture of a person afterwards in every detail of dress or movement.
He did not paint very fast. He preferred doing good work to much work– an almost invariable trait of all the best workmen. During the thirty- one years that he worked independently, he produced only eighty pictures–not more, on an average, than two or three a year. Compared with the rate at which most successful artists cover canvas to sell, this was very slow. But then, Millet did not paint mainly to sell; he painted to satisfy his own strict ideas of what constituted the highest art. His pictures are usually very simple in their theme; take, for example, his “Angelus,” painted at the height of his fame, in 1867. A man and a woman are working in the fields–two poor, simple-minded, weather-beaten, devout French peasants. It is nightfall; the bell called the “Angelus” rings out from the church steeple, and the two poor souls, resting for a moment from their labours, devote a few seconds to the silent prayers enjoined by their church. That is all; and yet in that one picture the sorrows, the toils, and the consolations of the needy French peasantry are summed up in a single glimpse of a pair of working and praying partners.
Millet died somewhat suddenly in 1875. Strong and hearty as he was, even the sturdy health of the Norman peasant had been undermined by the long hardships of his early struggles, and his constitution gave way at last with comparative rapidity. Still, he had lived long enough to see his fame established, to enjoy ten years of ease and honour, and to find his work cordially admired by all those for whose admiration he could have cared to make an effort. After his death, the pictures and unfinished sketches in his studio were sold for 321,000 francs, a little less than L13,000. The peasant boy of Greville had at last conquered all the difficulties which obstructed his path, and had fought his own way to fame and dignity. And in so fighting, he had steadily resisted the temptation to pander to the low and coarse taste in art of the men by whom he was surrounded. In spite of cold, and hunger, and poverty, he had gone on trying to put upon his canvas the purer, truer, and higher ideas with which his own beautiful soul was profoundly animated. In that endeavour he nobly succeeded. While too many contemporary French pictures are vicious and sensual in tone and feeling, every one of Millet’s pictures is a sermon in colour–a thing to make us sympathize more deeply with our kind, and to send us away, saddened perhaps, yet ennobled and purified.
JAMES GARFIELD, CANAL BOY.
At the present time, the neighbourhood of Cleveland, Ohio, the busiest town along the southern shore of Lake Erie, may fairly rank as one of the richest agricultural districts in all America. But when Abram Garfield settled down in the township of Orange in 1830, it was one of the wildest and most unpeopled woodland regions in the whole of the United States. Pioneers from the older states had only just begun to make little clearings for themselves in the unbroken forest; and land was still so cheap that Abram Garfield was able to buy himself a tract of fifty acres for no more than L20. His brother-in-law’s family removed there with him; and the whole strength of the two households was immediately employed in building a rough log hut for their common accommodation, where both the Garfields and the Boyntons lived together during the early days of their occupation. The hut consisted of a mere square box, made by piling logs on top of one another, the spaces between being filled with mud, while the roof was formed of loose stone slabs. Huts of that sort are everywhere common among the isolation of the American backwoods; and isolated indeed they were, for the Garfields’ nearest neighbours, when they first set up house, lived as far as seven miles away, across the uncleared forest.
When Abram Garfield came to this lonely lodge in the primaeval woodlands, he had one son and one daughter. In 1831, the year after his removal to his new home, a second boy was born into the family, whom his father named James Abram. Before the baby was eighteen months old, the father died, and was buried alone, after the only possible fashion among such solitary settlers, in a corner of the wheat field which he himself had cleared of its stumps. A widow’s life is always a hard one, but in such a country and under such conditions it is even harder and more lonely than elsewhere. Mrs. Garfield’s eldest boy, Thomas, was only eleven years old; and with the aid of this one ineffectual helper, she managed herself to carry on the farm for many years. Only those who know the hard toil of a raw American township can have any idea what that really means. A farmer’s work in America is not like a farmer’s work in England. The man who occupies the soil is there at once his own landlord and his own labourer; and he has to contend with nature as nobody in England has had to contend with it for the last five centuries at least. He finds the land covered with trees, which he has first to fell and sell as timber; then he must dig or burn out the stumps; clear the plot of boulders and large stones; drain it, fence it, plough it, and harrow it; build barns for the produce and sheds for the cows; in short, _make_ his farm, instead of merely _taking_ it. This is labour from which many strong men shrink in dismay, especially those who have come out fresh from a civilized and fully occupied land. For a woman and a boy, it is a task that seems almost above their utmost powers. Nevertheless, Mrs. Garfield and her son did not fail under it. With her own hands, the mother split up the young trees into rude triangular rails to make the rough snake fences of the country–mere zigzags of wood laid one bit above the other; while the lad worked away bravely at sowing fall and spring wheat, hoeing Indian corn, and building a little barn for the harvest before the arrival of the long cold Ohio winter. To such a family did the future President originally belong; and with them he must have shared those strong qualities of perseverance and industry which more than anything else at length secured his ultimate success in life.
For James Garfield’s history differs greatly in one point from that of most other famous working men, whose stories have been told in this volume. There is no reason to believe that he was a man of exceptional or commanding intellect. On the contrary, his mental powers appear to have been of a very respectable but quite ordinary and commonplace order. It was not by brilliant genius that James Garfield made his way up in life; it was rather by hard work, unceasing energy, high principle, and generous enthusiasm for the cause of others. Some of the greatest geniuses among working men, such as Burns, Tannahill, and Chatterton, though they achieved fame, and though they have enriched the world with many touching and beautiful works, must be considered to have missed success in life, so far as their own happiness was concerned, by their unsteadiness, want of self-control, or lack of fixed principle. Garfield, on the other hand, was not a genius; but by his sterling good qualities he nevertheless achieved what cannot but be regarded as a true success, and left an honourable name behind him in the history of his country.
However poor an American township may be, it is seldom too poor to afford its children a moderate and humble education. While James Garfield was still very young, the settlers in the neighbourhood decided to import a schoolmaster, whom they “boarded about” between them, after a fashion very common in rural western districts. The school-house was only a log hut; the master was a lad of twenty; and the textbooks were of the very meagrest sort. But at least James Garfield was thus enabled to read and write, which after all is the great first step on the road to all possible promotion. The raw, uncouth Yankee lad who taught the Ohio boys, slept at Widow Garfield’s, with Thomas and James; and the sons of the neighbouring settlers worked on the farm during the summer months, but took lessons when the long ice and snow of winter along the lake shore put a stop almost entirely for the time to their usual labours.
James continued at school till he was twelve years old, and then, his brother Thomas (being by that time twenty-one) went away by agreement still further west to Michigan, leaving young Jim to take his place upon the little farm. The fences were all completed by this time; the barn was built, the ground was fairly brought under cultivation, and it required comparatively little labour to keep the land cropped after the rough fashion which amply satisfies American pioneers, with no rent to pay, and only their bare living to make out of the soil. Thomas was going to fell trees in Michigan, to clear land there for a farmer; and he proposed to use his earnings (when he got them) for the purpose of building a “frame house” (that is to say, a house built of planks) instead of the existing log hut. It must be added, in fairness, that hard as were the circumstances under which the young Garfields lived, they were yet lucky in their situation in a new country, where wages were high, and where the struggle for life is far less severe or competitive than in old settled lands like France and England. Thomas, in fact; would get boarded for nothing in Michigan, and so would be able easily to save almost all his high wages for the purpose of building the frame house.
So James had to take to the farm in summer, while in the winter he began to work as a sort of amateur carpenter in a small way. As yet he had lived entirely in the backwoods, and had never seen a town or even a village; but his education in practical work had begun from his very babyhood, and he was handy after the usual fashion of American or colonial boys–ready to turn his hand to anything that happened to present itself. In new countries, where everybody has not got neighbours and workmen within call, such rough-and-ready handiness is far more common than in old England. The one carpenter of the neighbourhood asked James to help him, on the proud day when Tom brought back his earnings from Michigan, and set about the building of the frame house, for which he had already collected the unhewn timber. From that first beginning, by the time he was thirteen, James was promoted to assist in building a barn; and he might have taken permanently to a carpenter’s life, had it not been that his boyish passion for reading had inspired him with an equal passion for going to sea. He had read Marryatt’s novels and other sailor tales–what boy has not?–and he was fired with the usual childish desire to embark upon that wonderful life of chasing buccaneers, fighting pirates, capturing prizes, or hunting hidden treasure, which is a lad’s brilliantly coloured fancy picture of an everyday sailor’s wet, cold, cheerless occupation.
At last, when James was about fifteen, his longing for the sea grew so strong that his mother, by way of a compromise, allowed him to go and try his luck with the Lake Erie captains at Cleveland. Shipping on the great lakes, where one can see neither bank from the middle of the wide blue sheet of water, and where wrecks are unhappily as painfully frequent as on our own coasts, was quite sufficiently like going to sea to suit the adventurous young backwoodsman to the top of his bent. But when he got to Cleveland, a fortunate disappointment awaited him. The Cleveland captains declined his services in such vigorous seafaring language (not unmixed with many unnecessary oaths), that he was glad enough to give up the idea of sailoring, and take a place as driver of a canal boat from Cleveland to Pittsburg in Pennsylvania, the boat being under the charge of one of his own cousins. Copper ore was then largely mined on Lake Superior, where it is very abundant, carried by ship to Cleveland, down the chain of lakes, and there transferred to canal boats, which took it on to Pittsburg, the centre of a great coal and manufacturing district in Pennsylvania, to be smelted and employed in various local arts. Young Garfield stuck for a little while to the canal business. He plodded along wearily upon the bank, driving his still wearier horse before him, and carrying ore down to Pittsburg with such grace as he best might; but it didn’t somehow quite come up to his fancy picture of the seaman’s life. It was dull and monotonous, and he didn’t care for it much. In genuine American language, “he didn’t find it up to sample.” The sea might be very well in its way; but a canal was a very different matter indeed. So after a fair trial, James finally gave the business up, and returned to his mother on the little homestead, ill and tired with his long tramping.
While he was at home, the schoolmaster of the place, who saw that the lad had abilities, was never tired of urging him to go to school, and do himself justice by getting himself a first-rate education, or at least as good a one as could be obtained in America. James was ready enough to take this advice, if the means were forthcoming; but how was he to do so? “Oh, that’s easy enough,” said young Bates, the master. “You’ll only have to work out of hours as a carpenter, take odd jobs in your vacations, live plainly, and there you are.” In England there are few schools where such a plan would be practicable; but in rough-and-ready America, where self-help is no disgrace, there are many, and they are all well attended. In the neighbouring town of Chester, a petty Baptist sect had started a young school which they named Geauga Seminary (there are no plain schools in America–they are all “academies” or “institutes”); and to this simple place young Garfield went, to learn and work as best he might for his own advancement. A very strange figure he must then have cut, indeed; for a person who saw him at the time described him as wearing a pair of trousers he had long outworn, rough cow-hide boots, a waistcoat much too short for him, and a thread-bare coat, with sleeves that only reached a little below the elbows. Of such stuff as that, with a stout heart and an eager brain, the budding presidents of the United States are sometimes made.
James soon found himself humble lodgings at an old woman’s in Chester, and he also found himself a stray place at a carpenter’s shop in the town, where he was able to do three hours’ work out of school time every day, besides giving up the whole of his Saturday holiday to regular labour. It was hard work, this schooling and carpentering side by side; but James throve upon it; and at the end of the first term he was not only able to pay all his bill for board and lodging, but also to carry home a few dollars in his pocket by way of savings.
James stopped three years at the “seminary” at Chester; and in the holidays he employed himself by teaching in the little township schools among the country districts. There is generally an opening for young students to earn a little at such times by instructing younger boys than themselves in reading, writing, and arithmetic; and the surrounding farmers, who want schooling for their boys, are glad enough to take the master in on the “boarding round” system, for the sake of his usefulness in overlooking the lads in the preparation of their home lessons. It is a simple patriarchal life, very different from anything we know in England; and though Ohio was by this time a far more settled and populated place than when Abram Garfield first went there, it was still quite possible to manage in this extremely primitive and family fashion. The fact is, though luxuries were comparatively unknown, food was cheap and abundant; and a young teacher who was willing to put his heart into his work could easily earn more than enough to live upon in rough comfort. Sometimes the school-house was a mere log hut, like that in which young Garfield had been born; but, at any rate, it was work to do, and food to eat, and that alone was a great thing for a lad who meant to make his own way in the world by his own exertions.
Near the end of his third year at Chester, James met, quite accidentally, with a young man who had come from a little embryo “college,” of the sort so common in rising American towns, at a place called Hiram in Ohio. American schools are almost as remarkable as American towns for the oddity and ugliness of their names; and this “college” was known by the queer and meaningless title of the “Eclectic Institute.” It was conducted by an obscure sect who dub themselves “The Disciples’ Church,” to which young Garfield’s father and mother had both belonged. His casual acquaintance urged upon him strongly the desirability of attending the institute; and James, who had already begun to learn Latin, and wished to learn more, was easily persuaded to try this particular school rather than any other.
In August, 1851, James Garfield, then aged nearly twenty, presented himself at the “Eclectic Institute,” in the farm-labourer’s clothes which were his only existing raiment. He asked to see the “president” of the school, and told him plainly that he wished to come there for education, but that he was poor, and if he came, he must work for his living. “What can you do?” asked the president. “Sweep the floors, light the fires, ring the bell, and make myself generally useful,” answered the young backwoodsman. The president, pleased with his eagerness, promised to try him for a fortnight; and at the end of the fortnight, Garfield had earned his teaching so well that he was excused from all further fees during the remainder of his stay at the little institute. His post was by no mean an easy one, for he was servant-of-all-work as well as student; but he cared very little for that as long as he could gain the means for self-improvement.
Hiram was a small town, as ugly as its name. Twelve miles from a railway, a mere agricultural centre, of the rough back-country sort, all brand new and dreary looking, with a couple of wooden churches, half a dozen wooden shops, two new intersecting streets with wooden sidewalks, and that was all. The “institute” was a square brick block, planted incongruously in the middle of an Indian-corn plantation; and the students were the sons and daughters of the surrounding farmers, for (as in most western schools) both sexes were here educated together.
But the place suited Garfield far better than an older and more dignified university would have done. The other students knew no more than he did, so that he did not feel himself at a disadvantage; they were dressed almost as plainly as himself; and during the time he was at Hiram he worked away with a will at Latin, Greek, and the higher mathematics, so as to qualify himself for a better place hereafter. Meanwhile, the local carpenter gave him plenty of planing to do, with which he managed to pay his way; and as he had to rise before five every morning to ring the first bell, he was under no danger of oversleeping himself. By 1853, he had made so much progress in his studies that he was admitted as a sort of pupil teacher, giving instruction himself in the English department and in rudimentary Greek and Latin, while he went on with his own studies with the aid of the other teachers.
James had now learnt as much as the little “Eclectic Institute” could possibly teach him, and he began to think of going to some better college in the older-settled and more cultivated eastern states, where he might get an education somewhat higher than was afforded him by the raw “seminaries” and “academies” of his native Ohio. True, his own sect, the “Disciples’ Church,” had got up a petty university of their own, “Bethany College”–such self-styled colleges swarm all over the United States; but James didn’t much care for the idea of going to it. “I was brought up among the Disciples,” he said; “I have mixed chiefly among them; I know little of other people; it will enlarge my views and give me more liberal feelings if I try a college elsewhere, conducted otherwise; if I see a little of the rest of the world.” Moreover, those were stirring times in the States. The slavery question was beginning to come uppermost. The men of the free states in the north and west were beginning to say among themselves that they would no longer tolerate that terrible blot upon American freedom–the enslavement of four million negroes in the cotton-growing south. James Garfield felt all his soul stirred within him by this great national problem–the greatest that any modern nation has ever had to solve for itself. Now, his own sect, the Disciples, and their college, Bethany, were strongly tinctured with a leaning in favour of slavery, which young James Garfield utterly detested. So he made up his mind to having nothing to do with the accursed thing, but to go east to some New England college, where he would mix among men of culture, and where he would probably find more congenial feelings on the slavery question.
Before deciding, he wrote to three eastern colleges, amongst others to Yale, the only American university which by its buildings and surroundings can lay any claim to compare, even at a long distance, in beauty and associations, with the least among European universities. The three colleges gave him nearly similar answers; but one of them, in addition to the formal statement of terms and so forth, added the short kindly sentence, “If you come here, we shall be glad to do what we can for you.” It was only a small polite phrase; but it took the heart of the rough western boy. If other things were about the same, he said, he would go to the college which offered him, as it were, a friendly grasp of the hand. He had saved a little money at Hiram; and he proposed now to go on working for his living, as he had hitherto done, side by side with his regular studies. But his brother, who was always kind and thoughtful to him, would not hear of this. Thomas had prospered meanwhile in his own small way, and he insisted upon lending James such a sum as would cover his necessary expenses for two years at an eastern university. James insured his life for the amount, so that Thomas might not be a loser by his brotherly generosity in case of his death before repayment could be made; and then, with the money safe in his pocket, he started off for his chosen goal, the Williams College, in one of the most beautiful and hilly parts of Massachusetts.
During the three years that Garfield was at this place, he studied hard and regularly, so much so that at one time his brain showed symptoms of giving way under the constant strain. In the vacations, he took a trip into Vermont, a romantic mountain state, where he opened a writing school at a little country village; and another into the New York State, where he engaged himself in a similar way at a small town on the banks of the lovely Hudson river. At college, in spite of his rough western dress and manners, he earned for himself the reputation of a thoroughly good fellow. Indeed, geniality and warmth of manner, qualities always much prized by the social American people, were very marked traits throughout of Garfield’s character, and no doubt helped him greatly in after life in rising to the high summit which he finally reached. It was here, too, that he first openly identified himself with the anti-slavery party, which was then engaged in fighting out the important question whether any new slave states should be admitted to the Union. Charles Sumner, the real grand central figure of that noble struggle, was at that moment thundering in Congress against the iniquitous extension of the slave-holding area, and was employing all his magnificent powers to assail the abominable Fugitive Slave Bill, for the return of runaway negroes, who escaped north, into the hands of their angry masters. The American colleges are always big debating societies, where questions of politics are regularly argued out among the students; and Garfield put himself at the head of the anti-slavery movement at his own little university. He spoke upon the subject frequently before the assembled students, and gained himself a considerable reputation, not only as a zealous advocate of the rights of the negro, but also as an eloquent orator and a powerful argumentative debater.
In 1856, Garfield took his degree at Williams College, and had now finished his formal education. By that time, he was a fair though not a great scholar, competently read in the Greek and Latin literatures, and with a good knowledge of French and German. He was now nearly twenty- five years old; and his experience was large and varied enough to make him already into a man of the world. He had been farmer, carpenter, canal driver, and student; he had seen the primitive life of the forest, and the more civilized society of the Atlantic shore; he had taught in schools in many states; he had supported himself for years by his own labours; and now, at an age when many young men are, as a rule, only just beginning life on their own account, he had practically raised himself from his own class into the class of educated and cultivated gentlemen. As soon as he had taken his degree, his old friends, the trustees of the “Eclectic Institute” at Hiram, proud of their former sweeper and bell-ringer, called him back at a good salary as teacher of Greek and Latin. It was then just ten years since he had toiled wearily along the tow-path of the Ohio and Pennsylvania Canal.
As a teacher, Garfield seems to have been eminently successful. His genial character and good-natured way of explaining things made him a favourite at once with the rough western lads he had to teach, who would perhaps have thought a more formal teacher stiff and stuck-up. Garfield was one of themselves; he knew their ways and their manners; he could make allowances for their awkwardness and bluntness of speech; he could adopt towards them the exact tone which put them at home at once with their easy-going instructor. Certainly, he inspired all his pupils with an immense love and devotion for him; and it is less easy to inspire those feelings in a sturdy Ohio farmer than in most other varieties of the essentially affectionate human species.
From 1857 to 1861, Garfield remained at Hiram, teaching and working very hard. His salary, though a good one for the time and place, was still humble according to our English notions; but it sufficed for his needs; and as yet it would have seemed hardly credible that in only twenty years the Ohio schoolmaster would rise to be President of the United States. Indeed, it is only in America, that country of peculiarly unencumbered political action, where every kind of talent is most rapidly recognized and utilized, that this particular form of swift promotion is really possible. But while Garfield was still at his Institute, he was taking a vigorous part in local politics, especially on the slavery question. Whenever there was a political meeting at Hiram, the young schoolmaster was always called upon to take the anti- slavery side; and he delivered himself so effectively upon this favourite topic that he began to be looked upon as a rising political character. In America, politics are less confined to any one class than in Europe; and there would be nothing unusual in the selection of a schoolmaster who could talk to a seat in the local or general legislature. The practice of paying members makes it possible for comparatively poor men to offer themselves as candidates; and politics are thus a career, in the sense of a livelihood, far more than in any other country.
In 1858, Garfield married a lady who had been a fellow-student of his in earlier days, and to whom he had been long engaged. In the succeeding year, he got an invitation which greatly pleased and flattered him. The authorities at Williams College asked him to deliver the “Master’s Oration” at their annual festival; an unusual compliment to pay to so young a man, and one who had so recently taken his degree. It was the first opportunity he had ever had for a pleasure-trip, and taking his young wife with him (proud indeed, we may be sure, at this earliest honour of his life, the precursor of so many more) he went to Massachusetts by a somewhat roundabout but very picturesque route, down the Great Lakes, through the Thousand Islands, over the St. Lawrence rapids, and on to Quebec, the only town in America which from its old- world look can lay claim to the sort of beauty which so many ancient European cities abundantly possess. He delivered his address with much applause and returned to his Ohio home well satisfied with this pleasant outing.
Immediately on his return, the speech-making schoolmaster was met by a very sudden and unexpected request that he would allow himself to be nominated for the State legislature. Every state of the Union has its own separate little legislative body, consisting of two houses; and it was to the upper of these, the Senate of Ohio, that James Garfield was asked to become a candidate. The schoolmaster consented; and as those were times of very great excitement, when the South was threatening to secede if a President hostile to the slave-owning interest was elected, the contest was fought out almost entirely along those particular lines. Garfield was returned as senator by a large majority, and took his seat in the Ohio Senate in January, 1860. There, his voice was always raised against slavery, and he was recognized at once as one of the ablest speakers in the whole legislature.
In 1861, the great storm burst over the States. In the preceding November, Abraham Lincoln had been elected President. Lincoln was himself, like Garfield, a self-made man, who had risen from the very same pioneer labourer class;–a wood-cutter and rail-splitter in the backwoods of Illinois, he had become a common boatman on the Mississippi, and had there improved his mind by reading eagerly in all his spare moments. With one of those rapid rises so commonly made by self-taught lads in America, he had pushed his way into the Illinois legislature by the time he was twenty-five, and qualified himself to practise as a barrister at Springfield. His shrewd original talents had raised him with wonderful quickness into the front ranks of his own party; and when the question between the North and South rose into the region of practical politics, Lincoln was selected by the republicans (the anti-slavery group) as their candidate for the Presidency of the United States. This selection was a very significant one in several ways; Lincoln was a very strong opponent of slavery, and his candidature showed the southern slaveowners that if the Republicans were successful in the contest, a vigorous move against the slave-holding oligarchy would at once be made. But it was also significant in the fact that Lincoln was a western man; it was a sign that the farmers and grangers of the agricultural west were beginning to wake up politically and throw themselves into the full current of American State affairs. On both these grounds, Lincoln’s nomination must have been deeply interesting to Garfield, whose own life had been so closely similar, and who was destined, twenty years later, to follow him to the same goal.
Lincoln was duly elected, and the southern states began to secede. The firing upon Fort Sumter by the South Carolina secessionists was the first blow struck in that terrible war. Every man who was privileged to live in America at that time (like the present writer) cannot recall without a glow of recollection the memory of the wild eagerness with which the North answered that note of defiance, and went forth with overpowering faith and eagerness to fight the good fight on behalf of human freedom. Such a spontaneous outburst of the enthusiasm of humanity has never been known, before or since. President Lincoln immediately called for a supply of seventy-five thousand men. In the Ohio Senate, his message was read amid tumultuous applause; and the moment the sound of the cheers died away, Garfield, as natural spokesman of the republican party, sprang to his feet, and moved in a short and impassioned speech that the state of Ohio should contribute twenty thousand men and three million dollars as its share in the general preparations. The motion was immediately carried with the wildest demonstrations of fervour, and Ohio, with all the rest of the North, rose like one man to put down by the strong hand the hideous traffic in human flesh and blood.
During those fiery and feverish days, every citizen of the loyal states felt himself to be, in reserve at least, a possible soldier. It was necessary to raise, drill, and render effective in an incredibly short time a large army; and it would have been impossible to do so had it not been for the eager enthusiasm with which civilians of every sort enlisted, and threw themselves into their military duties with almost incredible devotion. Garfield felt that he must bear his own part in the struggle by fighting it out, not in the Senate but on the field; and his first move was to obtain a large quantity of arms from the arsenal in the doubtfully loyal state of Missouri. In this mission he was completely successful; and he was next employed to raise and organize two new regiments of Ohio infantry. Garfield, of course, knew absolutely nothing of military matters at that time; but it was not a moment to stand upon questions of precedence or experience; the born organizers came naturally to the front, and Garfield was one of them. Indeed, the faculty for organization seems innate in the American people, so that when it became necessary to raise and equip so large a body of men at a few weeks’ notice, the task was undertaken offhand by lawyers, doctors, shopkeepers, and schoolmasters, without a minute’s hesitation, and was performed on the whole with distinguished success.
When Garfield had organized his regiments, the Governor asked him to accept the post of colonel to one of them. But Garfield at first mistrusted his own powers in this direction. How should he, who had hitherto been poring chiefly over the odes of Horace (his favourite poet), now take so suddenly to leading a thousand men into actual battle? He would accept only a subordinate position, he said, if a regular officer of the United States army, trained at the great military academy at West Point, was placed in command. So the Governor told him to go among his own farmer friends in his native district, and recruit a third regiment, promising to find him a West Point man as colonel, if one was available. Garfield accepted the post of lieutenant-colonel, raised the 42nd Ohio regiment, chiefly among his own old pupils at Hiram, and set off for the seat of operations. At the last moment the Governor failed to find a regular officer to lead these raw recruits, every available man being already occupied, and Garfield found himself, against his will, compelled to undertake the responsible task of commanding the regiment. He accepted the task thus thrust upon him, and as if by magic transformed himself at once from a schoolmaster into an able soldier.
In less than one month, Colonel Garfield took his raw troops into action in the battle of Middle Creek, and drove the Confederate General Marshall, with far larger numbers, out of his intrenchments, compelling him to retreat into Virginia. This timely victory did much to secure the northern advance along the line of the Mississippi. During the whole of the succeeding campaign Garfield handled his regiment with such native skill and marked success that the Government appointed him Brigadier- General for his bravery and military talent. In spite of all his early disadvantages, he had been the youngest member of the Ohio Senate, and now he was the youngest general in the whole American army.
Shortly after, the important victory of Chickamauga was gained almost entirely by the energy and sagacity of General Garfield. For this service, he was raised one degree in dignity, receiving his commission as Major-General. He served altogether only two years and three months in the army.
But while Garfield was at the head of his victorious troops in Kentucky, his friends in Ohio were arranging, without his consent or knowledge, to call him away to a very different sphere of work. They nominated Garfield as their candidate for the United States House of Representatives at Washington. The General himself was unwilling to accede to their request, when it reached him. He thought he could serve the country better in the field than in Congress. Besides, he was still a comparatively poor man. His salary as Major-General was double that of a member of the House; and for his wife’s and children’s sake he hesitated to accept the lesser position. Had he continued in the army to the end of the war, he would doubtless have risen to the very highest honours of that stirring epoch. But President Lincoln was very anxious that Garfield should come into the Congress, where his presence would greatly strengthen the President’s hands; and with a generous self- denial which well bespeaks his thorough loyalty, Garfield gave up his military post and accepted a place in the House of Representatives. He took his seat in December, 1863.
For seventeen years, General Garfield sat in the general legislature of the United States as one of the members for Ohio. During all that time, he distinguished himself most honourably as the fearless advocate of honest government, and the pronounced enemy of those underhand dodges and wire-pulling machinery which are too often the disgrace of American politics. He was opposed to all corruption and chicanery, especially to the bad system of rewarding political supporters with places under Government, which has long been the chief blot upon American republican institutions. As a person of stalwart honesty and singleness of purpose, he made himself respected by both sides alike. Politically speaking, different men will judge very differently of Garfield’s acts in the House of Representatives. Englishmen especially cannot fail to remark that his attitude towards ourselves was almost always one of latent hostility; but it is impossible for anybody to deny that his conduct was uniformly guided by high principle, and a constant deference to what he regarded as the right course of action.
In 1880, when General Garfield had already risen to be the acknowledged leader of the House of Representatives, his Ohio supporters put him in nomination for the upper chamber, the Senate. They wished Garfield to come down to the state capital and canvas for support; but this the General would not hear of. “I never asked for any place yet,” he said, “except the post of bell-ringer and general sweeper at the Hiram Institute, and I won’t ask for one now.” But at least, his friends urged, he would be on the spot to encourage and confer with his partisans. No, Garfield answered; if they wished to elect him they must elect him in his absence; he would avoid all appearance, even, of angling for office. The result was that all the other candidates withdrew, and Garfield was elected by acclamation.
After the election he went down to Ohio and delivered a speech to his constituents, a part of which strikingly illustrates the courage and independence of the backwoods schoolmaster. “During the twenty years that I have been in public life,” he said, “almost eighteen of it in the Congress of the United States, I have tried to do one thing. Whether I was mistaken or otherwise, it has been the plan of my life to follow my conviction, at whatever personal cost to myself. I have represented for many years a district in Congress whose approbation I greatly desired; but though it may seem, perhaps, a little egotistical to say it, I yet desired still more the approbation of one person, and his name was Garfield. He is the only man that I am compelled to sleep with, and eat with, and live with, and die with; and if I could not have his approbation I should have bad companionship.”
Only one higher honour could now fall to the lot of a citizen of the United States. The presidency was the single post to which Garfield’s ambition could still aspire. That honour came upon him, like all the others, without his seeking; and it came, too, quite unexpectedly. Five months later, in the summer of 1880, the National Republican Convention met to select a candidate for their party at the forthcoming presidential election. Every four years, before the election, each party thus meets to decide upon the man to whom its votes will be given at the final choice. After one or two ineffectual attempts to secure unanimity in favour of other and more prominent politicians, the Convention with one accord chose James Garfield for its candidate–a nomination which was quite as great a surprise to Garfield himself as to all the rest of the world. He was elected President of the United States in November, 1880.
It was a marvellous rise for the poor canal boy, the struggling student, the obscure schoolmaster, thus to find himself placed at the head of one among the greatest nations of the earth. He was still less than fifty, and he might reasonably have looked forward to many years of a happy, useful, and honourable life. Nevertheless, it is impossible to feel that Garfield’s death was other than a noble and enviable one. He was cut off suddenly in the very moment of his brightest success, before the cares and disappointments of office had begun to dim the pleasure of his first unexpected triumph. He died a martyr to a good and honest cause, and his death-bed was cheered and alleviated by the hushed sorrow and sympathy of an entire nation–one might almost truthfully add, of the whole civilized world.
From the first, President Garfield set his face sternly against the bad practice of rewarding political adherents by allowing them to nominate officials in the public service–a species of covert corruption sanctioned by long usage in the United States. This honest and independent conduct raised up for him at once a host of enemies among his own party. The talk which they indulged in against the President produced a deep effect upon a half-crazy and wildly egotistic French- Canadian of the name of Guiteau, who had emigrated to the States and become an American citizen. General Garfield had arranged a trip to New England in the summer of 1881, to attend the annual festival at his old school, the Williams College, Massachusetts; and for that purpose he left the White House (the President’s official residence at Washington) on July 2. As he stood in the station of the Baltimore and Potomac Railway, arm in arm with Mr. Blaine, the Secretary of State, Guiteau approached him casually, and, drawing out a pistol, fired two shots in rapid succession, one of which took effect on the President above the third rib. The assassin was at once secured, and the wounded President was carried back carefully to the White House.
Almost everybody who reads this book will remember the long suspense, while the President lay stretched upon his bed for weeks and weeks together, with all Europe and America watching anxiously for any sign of recovery, and sympathizing deeply with the wounded statesman and his devoted wife. Every effort that was possible was made to save him, but the wound was past all surgical skill. After lingering long with the stored-up force of a good constitution, James Garfield passed away at last of blood-poisoning, more deeply regretted perhaps than any other man whom the present generation can remember.
It is only in America that precisely such a success as Garfield’s is possible for people who spring, as he did, from the midst of the people. In old-settled and wealthy countries we must be content, at best, with slower and less lofty promotion. But the lesson of Garfield’s life is not for America only, but for the whole world of workers everywhere. The same qualities which procured his success there will produce a different, but still a solid success, anywhere else. As Garfield himself fittingly put it, with his usual keen American common sense, “There is no more common thought among young people than the foolish one, that by- and-by something will turn up by which they will suddenly achieve fame or fortune. No, young gentlemen; things don’t turn up in this world unless somebody turns them up.”
THOMAS EDWARD, SHOEMAKER.
It is the object of this volume to set forth the lives of working men who through industry, perseverance, and high principle have raised themselves by their own exertions from humble beginnings. Raised themselves! Yes; but to what? Not merely, let us hope, to wealth and position, not merely to worldly respect and high office, but to some conspicuous field of real usefulness to their fellow men. Those whose lives we have hitherto examined did so raise themselves by their own strenuous energy and self-education. Either, like Garfield and Franklin, they served the State zealously in peace or war; or else, like Stephenson and Telford, they improved human life by their inventions and engineering works; or, again, like Herschel and Fraunhofer, they added to the wide field of scientific knowledge; or finally, like Millet and Gibson, they beautified the world with their noble and inspiring artistic productions. But in every one of these cases, the men whose lives we have been here considering did actually rise, sooner or later, from the class of labourers into some other class socially and monetarily superior to it. Though they did great good in other ways to others, they did still as a matter of fact succeed themselves in quitting the rank in which they were born, and rising to some other rank more or less completely above it.
Now, it will be clear to everybody that so long as our present social arrangements exist, it must be impossible for the vast mass of labouring men ever to do anything of the sort. It is to be desired, indeed, that every labouring man should by industry and thrift secure independence in the end for himself and his family; but however much that may be the case, it will still rest certain that the vast mass of men will necessarily remain workers to the last; and that no attempt to raise individual working men above their own class into the professional or mercantile classes can ever greatly benefit the working masses as a whole. What is most of all desirable is that the condition, the aims; and the tastes of working men, as working men, should be raised and bettered; that without necessarily going outside their own ranks, they should become more prudent, more thrifty, better educated, and wider- minded than many of their predecessors have been in the past. Under such circumstances, it is surely well to set before ourselves some examples of working men who, while still remaining members of their own class, have in the truest and best sense “raised themselves” so as to attain the respect and admiration of others whether their equals or superiors in the artificial scale. Dr. Smiles, who has done much to illustrate the history of the picked men among the labouring orders, has chosen two or three lives of such a sort for investigation, and from them we may select a single one as an example of a working man’s career rendered conspicuous by qualities other than those that usually secure external success.
Thomas Edward, associate of the Linnean Society, though a Scotchman all his life long, was accidentally born (so to speak) at Gosport, near Portsmouth, on Christmas Day, 1814. His father was in the Fifeshire militia and in those warlike days, when almost all the regulars were on the Continent, fighting Napoleon, militia regiments used to be ordered about the country from one place to another, to watch the coast or mount guard over the French prisoners, in the most unaccountable fashion. So it happened, oddly enough, that Thomas Edward, a Scotchman of the Scotch, was born close under the big forts of Portsmouth harbour.
After Waterloo, however, the Fifeshire regiment was sent home again; and the militia being before long disbanded, John Edward, our hero’s father, went to live at Aberdeen, where he plied his poor trade of a hand-loom linen weaver for many years. It was on the green at Aberdeen, surrounded by small labourers’ cottages, that Thomas Edward passed his early days. From his babyhood, almost, the boy had a strong love for all the beasties he saw everywhere around him; a fondness for birds and animals, and a habit of taming them which can seldom be acquired, but which seems with some people to come instinctively by nature. While Tam was still quite a child, he loved to wander by himself out into the country, along the green banks of the Dee, or among the tidal islands at the mouth of the river, overgrown by waving seaweeds, and fringed with great white bunches of blossoming scurvy-grass. He loved to hunt for crabs and sea- anemones beside the ebbing channels, or to watch the jelly-fish left high and dry upon the shore by the retreating water. Already, in his simple way, the little ragged bare-footed Scotch laddie was at heart a born naturalist.
Very soon, Tam was not content with looking at the “venomous beasts,” as the neighbours called them, but he must needs begin to bring them home, and set up a small aquarium and zoological garden on his own account. All was fish that came to Tam’s net: tadpoles, newts, and stickleback from the ponds, beetles from the dung-heaps, green crabs from the sea- shore–nay, even in time such larger prizes as hedgehogs, moles, and nestfuls of birds. Nothing delighted him so much as to be out in the fields, hunting for and taming these his natural pets.
Unfortunately, Tam’s father and mother did not share the boy’s passion for nature, and instead of encouraging him in pursuing his inborn taste, they scolded him and punished him bitterly for bringing home the nasty creatures. But nothing could win away Tam from the love of the beasties; and in the end, he had his own way, and lived all his life, as he himself afterwards beautifully put it, “a fool to nature.” Too often, unhappily, fathers and mothers thus try to check the best impulses in their children, under mistaken notions of right, and especially is this the case in many instances as regards the love of nature. Children are constantly chidden for taking an interest in the beautiful works of creation, and so have their first intelligent inquiries and aspirations chilled at once; when a little care and sympathy would get rid of the unpleasantness of having white mice or lizards crawling about the house, without putting a stop to the young beginner’s longing for more knowledge of the wonderful and beautiful world in whose midst he lives.
When Tam was nearly five years old, he was sent to school, chiefly no doubt to get him out of the way; but Scotch schools for the children of the working classes were in those days very rough hard places, where the taws or leather strap was still regarded as the chief instrument of education. Little Edward was not a child to be restrained by that particular form of discipline; and after he had had two or three serious tussles with his instructors, he was at last so cruelly beaten by one of his masters that he refused to return, and his parents, who were themselves by no means lacking in old Scotch severity, upheld him in his determination. He had picked up reading by this time, and now for a while he was left alone to hunt about to his heart’s content among his favourite fields and meadows. But by the time he was six years old, he felt he ought to be going to work, brave little mortal that he was; and as his father and mother thought so too, the poor wee mite was sent to join his elder brother in working at a tobacco factory in the town, at the wages of fourteen-pence a week. So, for the next two years, little Tam waited upon a spinner (as the workers are called) and began life in earnest as a working man. At the end of two years, however, the brothers heard that better wages were being given, a couple of miles away, at Grandholm, up the river Don. So off the lads tramped, one fast- day (a recognized Scotch institution), to ask the manager of the Grandholm factory if he could give them employment. They told nobody of their intention, but trudged away on their own account; and when they came back and told their parents what they had done, the father was not very well satisfied with the proposal, because he thought it too far for so small a boy as Tam to walk every day to and from his work. Tam, however, was very anxious to go, not only on account of the increased wages, but also (though this was a secret) because of the beautiful woods and crags round Grandholm, through which he hoped to wander during the short dinner hour. In the end, John Edward gave way, and the boys were allowed to follow their own fancy in going to the new factory.
It was very hard work; the hours were from six in the morning till eight at night, for there was no Factory Act then to guard the interest of helpless children; so the boys had to be up at four in the morning, and were seldom home again till nine at night. In winter, the snow lies long and deep on those chilly Aberdeenshire roads, and the east winds from the German Ocean blow cold and cutting up the narrow valley of the Don; and it was dreary work toiling along them in the dark of morning or of night in bleak and cheerless December weather. Still, Tam liked it on the whole extremely well. His wages were now three shillings a week; and then, twice a day in summer, there was the beautiful walk to and fro along the leafy high-road. “People may say of factories what they please,” Edward wrote much later, “but I liked this factory. It was a happy time for me whilst I remained there. The woods were easy of access during our meal-hours. What lots of nests! What insects, wild flowers, and plants, the like of which I had never seen before.” The boy revelled in the beauty of the birds and beasts he saw here, and he retained a delightful recollection of them throughout his whole after life.
This happy time, however, was not to last for ever. When young Edward was eleven years old, his father took him away from Grandholm, and apprenticed him to a working shoemaker. The apprenticeship was to go on for six years; the wages to begin at eighteen-pence a week; and the hours, too sadly long, to be from six in the morning till nine at night. Tam’s master, one Charles Begg, was a drunken London workman, who had wandered gradually north; a good shoemaker, but a quarrelsome, rowdy fellow, loving nothing on earth so much as a round with his fists on the slightest provocation. From this unpromising teacher, Edward took his first lessons in the useful art of shoemaking; and though he learned fast–for he was not slothful in business–he would have learned faster, no doubt, but for his employer’s very drunken and careless ways. When Begg came home from the public-house, much the worse for whisky, he would first beat Tam, and then proceed upstairs to beat his wife. For three years young Edward lived under this intolerable tyranny, till he could stand it no longer. At last, Begg beat and ill-treated him so terribly that Tam refused outright to complete his apprenticeship. Begg was afraid to compel him to do so–doubtless fearing to expose his ill- usage of the lad. So Tam went to a new master, a kindly man, with whom he worked in future far more happily.
The boy now began to make himself a little botanical garden in the back yard of his mother’s house–a piece of waste ground covered with rubbish, such as one often sees behind the poorer class of cottages in towns. Tam determined to alter all that, so he piled up all the stones into a small rockery, dug up the plot, manured it, and filled it with wild and garden flowers. The wild flowers, of course, he found in the woods and hedgerows around him; but the cultivated kinds he got in a very ingenious fashion, by visiting all the rubbish heaps of the neighbourhood, on which garden refuse was usually piled. A good many roots and plants can generally be found in such places, and by digging them up, Tam was soon able to make himself a number of bright and lively beds. Such self-help in natural history always lay very much in Edward’s way.
At the same time, young Edward was now beginning to feel the desire for knowing something more about the beasts and birds of which he was so fond. He used to go in all his spare moments among the shops in the town, to look at the pictures in the windows, especially the pictures of animals; and though his earnings were still small, he bought a book whenever he was able to afford one. In those days cheap papers for the people were only just beginning to come into existence; and Tam, who was now eighteen, bought the first number of the _Penny Magazine_, an excellent journal of that time, which he liked so much that he continued to take in the succeeding numbers. Some of the papers in it were about natural history, and these, of course, particularly delighted the young man’s heart. He also bought the _Weekly Visitor_, which he read through over and over again.
In 1831, when Tam was still eighteen, he enlisted in the Aberdeenshire militia, and during his brief period of service an amusing circumstance occurred which well displays the almost irresistible character of Edward’s love of nature. While he was drilling with the awkward squad one morning, a butterfly of a kind that he had never seen before happened to flit in front of him as he stood in the ranks. It was a beautiful large brown butterfly, and Edward was so fascinated by its appearance that he entirely forgot, in a moment, where he was and what he was doing. Without a second’s thought, he darted wildly out of the ranks, and rushed after the butterfly, cap in hand. It led him a pretty chase, over sandhills and shore, for five minutes. He was just on the point of catching it at last, when he suddenly felt a heavy hand laid upon his shoulder, and looking round, he saw the corporal of the company and several soldiers come to arrest him. Such a serious offence against military discipline might have cost him dear indeed, for corporals have little sympathy with butterfly hunting; but luckily for Edward, as he was crossing the parade ground under arrest, he happened to meet an officer walking with some ladies. The officer asked the nature of his offence, and when the ladies heard what it was they were so much interested in such a strange creature as a butterfly-loving militiaman, that they interceded for him, and finally begged him off his expected punishment. The story shows us what sort of stuff Edward was really made of. He felt so deep an interest in all the beautiful living creatures around him for their own sake, that he could hardly restrain his feelings even under the most untoward circumstances.
When Edward was twenty, he removed from Aberdeen to Banff, where he worked as a journeyman for a new master. The hours were very long, but by taking advantage of the summer evenings, he was still able to hunt for his beloved birds, caterpillars, and butterflies. Still, the low wages in the trade discouraged him much, and he almost made up his mind to save money and emigrate to America. But one small accident alone prevented him from carrying out this purpose. Like a good many other young men, the naturalist shoemaker fell in love. Not only so, but his falling in love took practical shape a little later in his getting married; and at twenty-three, the lonely butterfly hunter brought back a suitable young wife to his little home. The marriage was a very happy one. Mrs. Edward not only loved her husband deeply, but showed him sympathy in his favourite pursuits, and knew how to appreciate his sterling worth. Long afterwards she said, that though many of her neighbours could not understand her husband’s strange behaviour, she had always felt how much better it was to have one who spent his spare time on the study of nature than one who spent it on the public-house.
As soon as Edward got a home of his own, he began to make a regular collection of all the animals and plants in Banffshire. This was a difficult thing for him to do, for he knew little of books, and had access to very few, so that he couldn’t even find out the names of all the creatures he caught and preserved. But, though he didn’t always know what they were called, he did know their natures and habits and all about them; and such first-hand knowledge in natural history is really the rarest and the most valuable of all. He saw little of his fellow- workmen. They were usually a drunken, careless lot; Edward was sober and thoughtful, and had other things to think of than those that they cared to talk about with one another. But he went out much into the fields, with invincible determination, having made up his mind that he would get to know all about the plants and beasties, however much the knowledge might cost him.
For this object, he bought a rusty old gun for four-and-sixpence, and invested in a few boxes and bottles for catching insects. His working hours were from six in the morning till nine at night, and for that long day he always worked hard to support his wife, and (when they came) his children. He had therefore only the night hours between nine and six to do all his collecting. Any other man, almost, would have given up the attempt as hopeless; but Edward resolved never to waste a single moment or a single penny, and by care and indomitable energy he succeeded in making his wished-for collection. Sometimes he was out tramping the whole night; sometimes he slept anyhow, under a hedge or haystack; sometimes he took up temporary quarters in a barn, an outhouse, or a ruined castle. But night after night he went on collecting, whenever he was able; and he watched the habits and manners of the fox, the badger, the otter, the weasel, the stoat, the pole-cat, and many other regular night-roamers as no one else, in all probability, had ever before watched them in the whole world.
Sometimes he suffered terrible disappointments, due directly or indirectly to his great poverty. Once, he took all his cases of insects, containing nine hundred and sixteen specimens, and representing the work of four years, up to his garret to keep them there till he was able to glaze them. When he came to take them down again he found to his horror that rats had got at the boxes, eaten almost every insect in the whole collection, and left nothing behind but the bare pins, with a few scattered legs, wings, and bodies, sticking amongst them. Most men would have been so disgusted with this miserable end to so much labour, that they would have given up moth hunting for ever. But Edward was made of different stuff. He went to work again as zealously as ever, and in four years more, he had got most of the beetles, flies, and chafers as carefully collected as before.
By the year 1845, Edward had gathered together about two thousand specimens of beasts, birds, and insects found in the neighbourhood of his own town of Banff. He made the cases to hold them himself, and did it so neatly that, in the case of his shells, each kind had even a separate little compartment all of its own. And now he unfortunately began to think of making money by exhibiting his small museum. If only he could get a few pounds to help him in buying books, materials, perhaps even a microscope, to help him in prosecuting his scientific work, what a magnificent thing that would be for him! Filled with this grand idea, he took a room in the Trades Hall at Banff, and exhibited his collection during a local fair. A good many people came to see it, and the Banff paper congratulated the poor shoemaker on his energy in gathering together such a museum of curiosities “without aid, and under discouraging circumstances which few would have successfully encountered.” He was so far lucky in this first venture that he covered his expenses and was able even to put away a little money for future needs. Encouraged by this small triumph, the unwearied naturalist set to work during the next year, and added several new attractions to his little show. At the succeeding fair he again exhibited, and made still mere money out of his speculation. Unhappily, the petty success thus secured led him to hope he might do even better by moving his collection to Aberdeen.
To Aberdeen, accordingly, Edward went. He took a shop in the great gay thoroughfare of that cold northern city–Union Street–and prepared to receive the world at large, and to get the money for the longed-for books and the much-desired microscope. Now, Aberdeen is a big, busy, bustling town; it has plenty of amusements and recreations; it has two colleges and many learned men of its own; and the people did not care to come and see the working shoemaker’s poor small collection. If he had been a president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, now–some learned knight or baronet come down by special train from London–the Aberdeen doctors and professors might have rushed to hear his address; or if he had been a famous music-hall singer or an imitation negro minstrel, the public at large might have flocked to be amused and degraded by his parrot-like buffoonery; but as he was only a working shoemaker from Banff, with a heaven-born instinct for watching and discovering all the strange beasts and birds of Scotland, and the ways and thoughts of them, why, of course, respectable Aberdeen, high or low, would have nothing in particular to say to him. Day after day went by, and hardly anybody came, till at last poor Edward’s heart sank terribly within him. Even the few who did come were loth to believe that a working shoemaker could ever have gathered together such a large collection by his own exertions.
“Do you mean to say,” said one of the Aberdeen physicians to Edward, “that you’ve maintained your wife and family by working at your trade, all the while that you’ve been making this collection?”
“Yes, I do,” Edward answered.
“Oh, nonsense!” the doctor said. “How is it possible you could have done that?”
“By never losing a single minute or part of a minute,” was the brave reply, “that I could by any means improve.”
It is wonderful indeed that when once Edward had begun to attract anybody’s attention at all, he and his exhibition should ever have been allowed to pass so unnoticed in a great, rich, learned city like Aberdeen. But it only shows how very hard it is for unassuming merit to push its way; for the Aberdeen people still went unheeding past the shop in Union Street, till Edward at last began to fear and tremble as to how he should ever meet the expenses of the exhibition. After the show had been open four weeks, one black Friday came when Edward never took a penny the whole day. As he sat there alone and despondent in the empty room, the postman brought him a letter. It was from his master at Banff. “Return immediately,” it said, “or you will be discharged.” What on earth could he do? He couldn’t remove his collection; he couldn’t pay his debt. A few more days passed, and he saw no way out of it. At last, in blank despair, he offered the whole collection for sale. A gentleman proposed to pay him the paltry sum of L20 10s for the entire lot, the slow accumulations of ten long years. It was a miserable and totally inadequate price, but Edward could get no more. In the depths of his misery, he accepted it. The gentleman took the collection home, gave it to his boy, and finally allowed it all, for want of care and attention, to go to rack and ruin. And so that was the end of ten years of poor