My good Uncle Lauder justly set great value upon recitation in education, and many were the pennies which Dod and I received for this. In our little frocks or shirts, our sleeves rolled up, paper helmets and blackened faces, with laths for swords, my cousin and myself were kept constantly reciting Norval and Glenalvon, Roderick Dhu and James Fitz-James to our schoolmates and often to the older people.
I remember distinctly that in the celebrated dialogue between Norval and Glenalvon we had some qualms about repeating the phrase, – „and false as hell.” At first we made a slight cough over the objectionable word which always created amusement among the spectators. It was a great day for us when my uncle persuaded us that we could say „hell” without swearing. I am afraid we practiced it very often. I always played the part of Glenalvon and made a great mouthful of the word. It had for me the wonderful fascination attributed to forbidden fruit. I can well understand the story of Marjory Fleming, who being cross one morning when Walter Scott called and asked how she was, answered:
„I am very cross this morning, Mr. Scott. I just want to say ‚damn’ [with a swing], but I winna.”
Thereafter the expression of the one fearful word was a great point. Ministers could say „damnation” in the pulpit without sin, and so we, too, had full range on „hell” in recitation. Another passage made a deep impression. In the fight between Norval and Glenalvon, Norval says, „When we contend again our strife is mortal.” Using these words in an article written for the „North American Review” in 1897, my uncle came across them and immediately sat down and wrote me from Dunfermline that he knew where I had found the words. He was the only man living who did.
My power to memorize must have been greatly strengthened by the mode of teaching adopted by my uncle. I cannot name a more important means of benefiting young people than encouraging them to commit favorite pieces to memory and recite them often. Anything which pleased me I could learn with a rapidity which surprised partial friends. I could memorize anything whether it pleased me or not, but if it did not impress me strongly it passed away in a few hours.
One of the trials of my boy’s life at school in Dunfermline was committing to memory two double verses of the Psalms which I had to recite daily. My plan was not to look at the psalm until I had started for school. It was not more than five or six minutes’ slow walk, but I could readily master the task in that time, and, as the psalm was the first lesson, I was prepared and passed through the ordeal successfully. Had I been asked to repeat the psalm thirty minutes afterwards the attempt would, I fear, have ended in disastrous failure.
The first penny I ever earned or ever received from any person beyond the family circle was one from my school-teacher, Mr. Martin, for repeating before the school Burns’s poem, „Man was made to Mourn.” In writing this I am reminded that in later years, dining with Mr. John Morley in London, the conversation turned upon the life of Wordsworth, and Mr. Morley said he had been searching his Burns for the poem to „Old Age,” so much extolled by him, which he had not been able to find under that title. I had the pleasure of repeating part of it to him. He promptly handed me a second penny. Ah, great as Morley is, he wasn’t my school-teacher, Mr. Martin – the first „great” man I ever knew. Truly great was he to me. But a hero surely is „Honest John” Morley.
In religious matters we were not much hampered. While other boys and girls at school were compelled to learn the Shorter Catechism, Dod and I, by some arrangement the details of which I never clearly understood, were absolved. All of our family connections, Morrisons and Lauders, were advanced in their theological as in their political views, and had objections to the catechism, I have no doubt. We had not one orthodox Presbyterian in our family circle. My father, Uncle and Aunt Aitken, Uncle Lauder, and also my Uncle Carnegie, had fallen away from the tenets of Calvinism. At a later day most of them found refuge for a time in the doctrines of Swedenborg. My mother was always reticent upon religious subjects. She never mentioned these to me nor did she attend church, for she had no servant in those early days and did all the housework, including cooking our Sunday dinner. A great reader, always, Channing the Unitarian was in those days her special delight. She was a marvel!
During my childhood the atmosphere around me was in a state of violent disturbance in matters theological as well as political. Along with the most advanced ideas which were being agitated in the political world – the death of privilege, the equality of the citizen, Republicanism – I heard many disputations upon theological subjects which the impressionable child drank in to an extent quite unthought of by his elders. I well remember that the stern doctrines of Calvinism lay as a terrible nightmare upon me, but that state of mind was soon over, owing to the influences of which I have spoken. I grew up treasuring within me the fact that my father had risen and left the Presbyterian Church one day when the minister preached the doctrine of infant damnation. This was shortly after I had made my appearance.
Father could not stand it and said: „If that be your religion and that your God, I seek a better religion and a nobler God.” He left the Presbyterian Church never to return, but he did not cease to attend various other churches. I saw him enter the closet every morning to pray and that impressed me. He was indeed a saint and always remained devout. All sects became to him as agencies for good. He had discovered that theologies were many, but religion was one. I was quite satisfied that my father knew better than the minister, who pictured not the Heavenly Father, but the cruel avenger of the Old Testament – an „Eternal Torturer” as Andrew D. White ventures to call him in his autobiography. Fortunately this conception of the Unknown is now largely of the past.
One of the chief enjoyments of my childhood was the keeping of pigeons and rabbits. I am grateful every time I think of the trouble my father took to build a suitable house for these pets. Our home became headquarters for my young companions. My mother was always looking to home influences as the best means of keeping her two boys in the right path. She used to say that the first step in this direction was to make home pleasant; and there was nothing she and my father would not do to please us and the neighbors’ children who centered about us.
My first business venture was securing my companions’ services for a season as an employer, the compensation being that the young rabbits, when such came, should be named after them. The Saturday holiday was generally spent by my flock in gathering food for the rabbits. My conscience reproves me to-day, looking back, when I think of the hard bargain I drove with my young playmates, many of whom were content to gather dandelions and clover for a whole season with me, conditioned upon this unique reward – the poorest return ever made to labor. Alas! what else had I to offer them! Not a penny.
I treasure the remembrance of this plan as the earliest evidence of organizing power upon the development of which my material success in life has hung – a success not to be attributed to what I have known or done myself, but to the faculty of knowing and choosing others who did know better than myself. Precious knowledge this for any man to possess. I did not understand steam machinery, but I tried to understand that much more complicated piece of mechanism – man. Stopping at a small Highland inn on our coaching trip in 1898, a gentleman came forward and introduced himself. He was Mr. MacIntosh, the great furniture manufacturer of Scotland – a fine character as I found out afterward. He said he had ventured to make himself known as he was one of the boys who had gathered, and sometimes he feared „conveyed,” spoil for the rabbits, and had „one named after him.” It may be imagined how glad I was to meet him – the only one of the rabbit boys I have met in after-life. I hope to keep his friendship to the last and see him often. [As I read this manuscript to-day, December 1, 1913, I have a very precious note from him, recalling old times when we were boys together. He has a reply by this time that will warm his heart as his note did mine.]
With the introduction and improvement of steam machinery, trade grew worse and worse in Dunfermline for the small manufacturers, and at last a letter was written to my mother’s two sisters in Pittsburgh stating that the idea of our going to them was seriously entertained – not, as I remember hearing my parents say, to benefit their own condition, but for the sake of their two young sons. Satisfactory letters were received in reply. The decision was taken to sell the looms and furniture by auction. And my father’s sweet voice sang often to mother, brother, and me:
„To the West, to the West, to the land of the free, Where the mighty Missouri rolls down to the sea; Where a man is a man even though he must toil And the poorest may gather the fruits of the soil.”
The proceeds of the sale were most disappointing. The looms brought hardly anything, and the result was that twenty pounds more were needed to enable the family to pay passage to America. Here let me record an act of friendship performed by a lifelong companion of my mother – who always attracted stanch friends because she was so stanch herself – Mrs. Henderson, by birth Ella Ferguson, the name by which she was known in our family. She boldly ventured to advance the needful twenty pounds, my Uncles Lauder and Morrison guaranteeing repayment. Uncle Lauder also lent his aid and advice, managing all the details for us, and on the 17th day of May, 1848, we left Dunfermline. My father’s age was then forty-three, my mother’s thirty-three. I was in my thirteenth year, my brother Tom in his fifth year – a beautiful white-haired child with lustrous black eyes, who everywhere attracted attention.
I had left school forever, with the exception of one winter’s night-schooling in America, and later a French night-teacher for a time, and, strange to say, an elocutionist from whom I learned how to declaim. I could read, write, and cipher, and had begun the study of algebra and of Latin. A letter written to my Uncle Lauder during the voyage, and since returned, shows that I was then a better penman than now. I had wrestled with English grammar, and knew as little of what it was designed to teach as children usually do. I had read little except about Wallace, Bruce, and Burns; but knew many familiar pieces of poetry by heart. I should add to this the fairy tales of childhood, and especially the „Arabian Nights,” by which I was carried into a new world. I was in dreamland as I devoured those stories.
On the morning of the day we started from beloved Dunfermline, in the omnibus that ran upon the coal railroad to Charleston, I remember that I stood with tearful eyes looking out of the window until Dunfermline vanished from view, the last structure to fade being the grand and sacred old Abbey. During my first fourteen years of absence my thought was almost daily, as it was that morning, „When shall I see you again?” Few days passed in which I did not see in my mind’s eye the talismanic letters on the Abbey tower – „King Robert The Bruce.” All my recollections of childhood, all I knew of fairyland, clustered around the old Abbey and its curfew bell, which tolled at eight o’clock every evening and was the signal for me to run to bed before it stopped. I have referred to that bell in my „American Four-in-Hand in Britain” when passing the Abbey and I may as well quote from it now:
[Footnote 10: An American Four-in-Hand in Britain. New York, 1886.]
As we drove down the Pends I was standing on the front seat of the coach with Provost Walls, when I heard the first toll of the Abbey bell, tolled in honor of my mother and myself. My knees sank from under me, the tears came rushing before I knew it, and I turned round to tell the Provost that I must give in. For a moment I felt as if I were about to faint. Fortunately I saw that there was no crowd before us for a little distance. I had time to regain control, and biting my lips till they actually bled, I murmured to myself, „No matter, keep cool, you must go on”; but never can there come to my ears on earth, nor enter so deep into my soul, a sound that shall haunt and subdue me with its sweet, gracious, melting power as that did.
By that curfew bell I had been laid in my little couch to sleep the sleep of childish innocence. Father and mother, sometimes the one, sometimes the other, had told me as they bent lovingly over me night after night, what that bell said as it tolled. Many good words has that bell spoken to me through their translations. No wrong thing did I do through the day which that voice from all I knew of heaven and the great Father there did not tell me kindly about ere I sank to sleep, speaking the words so plainly that I knew that the power that moved it had seen all and was not angry, never angry, never, but so very, very sorry. Nor is that bell dumb to me to-day when I hear its voice. It still has its message, and now it sounded to welcome back the exiled mother and son under its precious care again.
The world has not within its power to devise, much less to bestow upon us, such reward as that which the Abbey bell gave when it tolled in our honor. But my brother Tom should have been there also; this was the thought that came. He, too, was beginning to know the wonders of that bell ere we were away to the newer land.
Rousseau wished to die to the strains of sweet music. Could I choose my accompaniment, I could wish to pass into the dim beyond with the tolling of the Abbey bell sounding in my ears, telling me of the race that had been run, and calling me, as it had called the little white-haired child, for the last time – to sleep.
I have had many letters from readers speaking of this passage in my book, some of the writers going so far as to say that tears fell as they read. It came from the heart and perhaps that is why it reached the hearts of others.
We were rowed over in a small boat to the Edinburgh steamer in the Firth of Forth. As I was about to be taken from the small boat to the steamer, I rushed to Uncle Lauder and clung round his neck, crying out: „I cannot leave you! I cannot leave you!” I was torn from him by a kind sailor who lifted me up on the deck of the steamer. Upon my return visit to Dunfermline this dear old fellow, when he came to see me, told me it was the saddest parting he had ever witnessed.
We sailed from the Broomielaw of Glasgow in the 800-ton sailing ship Wiscasset. During the seven weeks of the voyage, I came to know the sailors quite well, learned the names of the ropes, and was able to direct the passengers to answer the call of the boatswain, for the ship being undermanned, the aid of the passengers was urgently required. In consequence I was invited by the sailors to participate on Sundays, in the one delicacy of the sailors’ mess, plum duff. I left the ship with sincere regret.
The arrival at New York was bewildering. I had been taken to see the Queen at Edinburgh, but that was the extent of my travels before emigrating. Glasgow we had not time to see before we sailed. New York was the first great hive of human industry among the inhabitants of which I had mingled, and the bustle and excitement of it overwhelmed me. The incident of our stay in New York which impressed me most occurred while I was walking through Bowling Green at Castle Garden. I was caught up in the arms of one of the Wiscasset sailors, Robert Barryman, who was decked out in regular Jackashore fashion, with blue jacket and white trousers. I thought him the most beautiful man I had ever seen.
He took me to a refreshment stand and ordered a glass of sarsaparilla for me, which I drank with as much relish as if it were the nectar of the gods. To this day nothing that I have ever seen of the kind rivals the image which remains in my mind of the gorgeousness of the highly ornamented brass vessel out of which that nectar came foaming. Often as I have passed the identical spot I see standing there the old woman’s sarsaparilla stand, and I marvel what became of the dear old sailor. I have tried to trace him, but in vain, hoping that if found he might be enjoying a ripe old age, and that it might be in my power to add to the pleasure of his declining years. He was my ideal Tom Bowling, and when that fine old song is sung I always see as the „form of manly beauty” my dear old friend Barryman. Alas! ere this he’s gone aloft. Well; by his kindness on the voyage he made one boy his devoted friend and admirer.
We knew only Mr. and Mrs. Sloane in New York – parents of the well-known John, Willie, and Henry Sloane. Mrs. Sloane (Euphemia Douglas) was my mother’s companion in childhood in Dunfermline. Mr. Sloane and my father had been fellow weavers. We called upon them and were warmly welcomed. It was a genuine pleasure when Willie, his son, bought ground from me in 1900 opposite our New York residence for his two married daughters so that our children of the third generation became playmates as our mothers were in Scotland.
My father was induced by emigration agents in New York to take the Erie Canal by way of Buffalo and Lake Erie to Cleveland, and thence down the canal to Beaver – a journey which then lasted three weeks, and is made to-day by rail in ten hours. There was no railway communication then with Pittsburgh, nor indeed with any western town. The Erie Railway was under construction and we saw gangs of men at work upon it as we traveled. Nothing comes amiss to youth, and I look back upon my three weeks as a passenger upon the canal-boat with unalloyed pleasure. All that was disagreeable in my experience has long since faded from recollection, excepting the night we were compelled to remain upon the wharf-boat at Beaver waiting for the steamboat to take us up the Ohio to Pittsburgh. This was our first introduction to the mosquito in all its ferocity. My mother suffered so severely that in the morning she could hardly see. We were all frightful sights, but I do not remember that even the stinging misery of that night kept me from sleeping soundly. I could always sleep, never knowing „horrid night, the child of hell.”
Our friends in Pittsburgh had been anxiously waiting to hear from us, and in their warm and affectionate greeting all our troubles were forgotten. We took up our residence with them in Allegheny City. A brother of my Uncle Hogan had built a small weaver’s shop at the back end of a lot in Rebecca Street. This had a second story in which there were two rooms, and it was in these (free of rent, for my Aunt Aitken owned them) that my parents began housekeeping. My uncle soon gave up weaving and my father took his place and began making tablecloths, which he had not only to weave, but afterwards, acting as his own merchant, to travel and sell, as no dealers could be found to take them in quantity. He was compelled to market them himself, selling from door to door. The returns were meager in the extreme.
As usual, my mother came to the rescue. There was no keeping her down. In her youth she had learned to bind shoes in her father’s business for pin-money, and the skill then acquired was now turned to account for the benefit of the family. Mr. Phipps, father of my friend and partner Mr. Henry Phipps, was, like my grandfather, a master shoemaker. He was our neighbor in Allegheny City. Work was obtained from him, and in addition to attending to her household duties – for, of course, we had no servant – this wonderful woman, my mother, earned four dollars a week by binding shoes. Midnight would often find her at work. In the intervals during the day and evening, when household cares would permit, and my young brother sat at her knee threading needles and waxing the thread for her, she recited to him, as she had to me, the gems of Scottish minstrelsy which she seemed to have by heart, or told him tales which failed not to contain a moral.
This is where the children of honest poverty have the most precious of all advantages over those of wealth. The mother, nurse, cook, governess, teacher, saint, all in one; the father, exemplar, guide, counselor, and friend! Thus were my brother and I brought up. What has the child of millionaire or nobleman that counts compared to such a heritage?
My mother was a busy woman, but all her work did not prevent her neighbors from soon recognizing her as a wise and kindly woman whom they could call upon for counsel or help in times of trouble. Many have told me what my mother did for them. So it was in after years wherever we resided; rich and poor came to her with their trials and found good counsel. She towered among her neighbors wherever she went.