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Erie Canal project, of Jackson's inroads into Florida, and the subse quent cession of that province to the United States, of the first meeting of Congress in the Capitol, of the passage of the Missouri Compromise. During the progress of the various commercial treaties with the States of Europe, which were negotiated after the conclusion of the general peace, the whole theory, practice, and history of commercial intercourse, were amply discussed in Congress and the newspapers; and the mind of Horace, even in his ninth year, was mature enough to take some interest in the subject, and derive some impressions from its discussion. The Farmer's Cabinet, which brought all these and countless other ideas and events to bear on the education of the boy, is now one of the thousand papers with which the Tribune exchanges.
Horace scoured the country for books. Books were books in that remote and secluded region; and when he had exhausted the collections of the neighbors, he carried the search into the neighboring towns. I am assured that there was not one readable book within seven miles of his father's house, which Horace did not borrow and read during his residence in Amherst. He was never without a book. As soon, says one of his sisters, as he was dressed in the morning, he flew to his book. He read every minute of the day which he could snatch from his studies at school, and on the farm. He would be so absorbed in his reading, that when his parents required his services, it was like rousing a heavy sleeper from his deepest sleep, to awaken Horace to a sense of things around him and an apprehension of the duty required of him. And even then he clung to his book. He would go reading to the cellar and the cider-barrel, reading to the wood-pile, reading to the garden, reading to the neighbors; and pocketing his book only long enough to perform his errand, he would fall to reading again the instant his mind and his hands were at liberty.
He kept in a secure place an ample supply of pine knots, and as soon as it was dark he would light one of these cheap and brilliant illuminators, put it on the back-log in the spacious fire-place, pile up his school books and his reading books on the floor, lie down on his back on the hearth, with his head to the fire and his feet coiled away out of the reach of stumblers; and there he would lie and read all through the long winter evenings, silent, motionless, dead
to the world around him, alive only to the world to which he was transported by his book. Visitors would come in, chat a while, and go away, without knowing he was present, and without his being aware of their coming and going. It was a nightly struggle to get him to bed. His father required his services early in the morning, and was therefore desirous that he should go to bed early in the evening. He feared, also, for the eye-sight of the boy, reading so many hours with his head in the fire and by the flaring, flickering light of a pine knot. And so, by nine o'clock, his father would begun the task of recalling the absent mind from its roving, and rousing the prostrate and dormant body. And when Horace at length had been forced to beat a retreat, he kept his younger brother awake by telling over to him in bed what he had read, and by reciting the school lessons of the next day. His brother was by no means of a literary turn, and was prone-much to the chagrin of Horace—to fall asleep long before the lessons were all said and the tales all told.
So entire and passionate a devotion to the acquisition of knowledge in one so young, would be remarkable in any circumstances. But when the situation of the boy is considered-living in a remote and very rural district-few books accessible-few literary persons residing near the school contributing scarcely anything to his mental nourishment-no other boy in the neighborhood manifesting any particular interest in learning--the people about him all engaged in a rude and hard struggle to extract the means of subsistence from a rough and rocky soil-such an intense, absorbing, and persistent love of knowledge as that exhibited by Horace Greeley, must be accounted very extraordinary.
That his neighbors so accounted it, they are still eager to attest. Continually the wonder grew, that one sinall head should carry all he knew.
There were not wanting those who thought that superior means of instruction ought to be placed within the reach of so superior a child. I have a somewhat vague, but very positive, and fully confirmed story, of a young man just returned from college to his father's house in Bedford, who fell in with Horace, and was so struck with his capacity and attainments that he offered to send him to an academy in a neighboring town, and bear all the ex
penses of his maintenance and tuition. But his mother could not let him go, his father needed his assistance at home, and the boy himself is said not to have favored the scheme. A wise, a fortunate choice, I cannot help believing. That academy may have been an institution where boys received more good than harm-where real knowledge was imparted-where souls were inspired with the love of high and good things, and inflamed with an ambition to run a high and good career—where boys did not lose all their modesty and half their sense-where chests were expanded-where cheeks were ruddy—where limbs were active where stomachs were peptic. It may have been. But if it was, it was a different academy from many whose praises are in all the newspapers. It was better not to run the risk. If that young man's offer had been accepted, it is a question whether the world would have ever heard of Horace Greeley. Probably his fragile body would not have sustained the brain-stimulating treatment which a forward and eager boy generally receives at an academy.
A better friend, though not a better meaning one, was a jovial neighbor, a sea-captain, who had taken to farming. The captain had seen the world, possessed the yarn-spinning faculty, and besides being himself a walking traveler's library, had a considerable collection of books, which he freely lent to Horace. His salute, on meeting the boy, was not 'How do you do, Horace?' but 'Well, Horace, what's the capital of Turkey?' or, 'Who fought the battle of Eutaw Springs?' or, 'How do you spell Encyclopedia, or Kamtschatka, or Nebuchadnezzar?' The old gentleman used to question the boy upon the contents of the books he had lent him, and was again and again surprised at the fluency, the accuracy, and the fullness of his replies. The captain was of service to Horace in various ways, and he is remembered by the family with gratitude. To Horace's brother he once gave a sheep and a load of hay to keep it on during the winter, thus adapting his benefactions to the various tastes of his juvenile friends.
A clergyman, too, is spoken of, who took great interest in Horace, and gave him instruction in grammar, often giving the boy erroneous information to test his knowledge. Horace, he used to say, could never be shaken on a point which he had once clearly understood, but would stand to his opinion, and defend it against anybody and everybody-teacher, pastor, or public opinion.
In New England, the sons of farmers begin to make themselves useful almost as soon as they can walk. They feed the chickens. they drive the cows, they bring in wood and water, and soon come to perform all those offices which come under the denomination of "chores." By the time they are eight or nine years old, they frequently have tasks assigned them, which are called "stints," and not till they have done their stint are they at liberty to play. The reader may think that Horace's devotion to literature would naturally enough render the farm work distasteful to him; and if he had gone to the academy, it might. I am bound, however, to say that all who knew him in boyhood, agree that he was not more devoted to study in his leisure hours, than he was faithful and assiduous in performing his duty to his father during the hours of work. Faithful is the word. He could be trusted any where, and to do anything within the compass of his strength and years. It was hard, sometimes, to rouse him from his books; but when he had been roused, and was entrusted with an errand or a piece of work, he would set about it vigorously, and lose no time till it was done. "Come," his brother would say sometimes, when the father had set the boys a task and had gone from home; "come, Hod, let's go fishing." "No," Horace would reply, in his whining voice, "let us do our stint first." "He was always in school, though," says his brother, “and as we hoed down the rows, or chopped at the woodpile, he was perpetually talking about his lessons, asking questions, and narrating what he had read."
Fishing, it appears, was the only sport in which Horace took much pleasure, during the first ten years of his life. But his love of fishing did not originate in what the Germans call the "sport impulse." Other boys fished for sport; Horace fished for fish. He fished industriously, keeping his eyes unceasingly on the float, and never distracting his own attention, or that of the fish, by conversing with his companions. The consequence was that he would often catch more than all the rest of the party put together. Shoot ing was the favorite amusement of the boys of the neighborhood, but Horace could rarely be persuaded to take part in it. When he did accompany a shooting-party, he would never carry or discharge a gun, and when the game was found he would lie down and stop his ears till the murder had been done.
HIS FATHER RUINED-REMOVAL TO VERMONT.
New Hampshire before the era of manufactures-Causes of his father's failure--Rum in the olden time-An execution in the house-Flight of the father-Horace and the Rum Jug-Compromise with the creditors-Removal to another farm-Final ruin-Removal to Vermont-The winter journey--Poverty of the familyScene at their new home-Cheerfulness in misfortune.
BUT while thus Horace was growing up to meet his destiny, pressing forward on the rural road to learning, and secreting character in that secluded home, a cloud, undiscerned by him, had come over his father's prospects. It began to gather when the boy was little more than six years old. In his seventh year it broke, and drove the family, for a time, from house and land. In his tenth, it had completed its work-his father was a ruined man, an exile, a fugitive from his native State.
In those days, before the great manufacturing towns which now afford the farmer a market for his produce had sprung into existence along the shores of the Merrimac, before a net-work of railroads regulated the price of grain in the barns of New Hampshire by the standard of Mark Lane, a farmer of New Hampshire was not, in his best estate, very far from ruin. Some articles which forty years ago were quite destitute of pecuniary value, now afford an ample profit. Fire-wood, for example, when Horace Greeley was a boy, could seldom be sold at any price. It was usually burned up on the land on which it grew, as a worthless incumbrance. Fire-wood now, in the city of Manchester, sells for six dollars a cord, and at any point within ten miles of Manchester for four dollars. Forty years ago, farmers had little surplus produce, and that little had to be carried far, and it brought little money home. In short, before the manufacturing system was introduced into New Hampshire, affording employment to her daughters in the factory, to her sons on the land, New Hampshire was a poverty-stricken State.