With all their pleasures the messenger boys were hard worked. Every other evening they were required to be on duty until the office closed, and on these nights it was seldom that I reached home before eleven o’clock. On the alternating nights we were relieved at six. This did not leave much time for self-improvement, nor did the wants of the family leave any money to spend on books. There came, however, like a blessing from above, a means by which the treasures of literature were unfolded to me.
Colonel James Anderson – I bless his name as I write – announced that he would open his library of four hundred volumes to boys, so that any young man could take out, each Saturday afternoon, a book which could be exchanged for another on the succeeding Saturday. My friend, Mr. Thomas N. Miller, reminded me recently that Colonel Anderson’s books were first opened to „working boys,” and the question arose whether messenger boys, clerks, and others, who did not work with their hands, were entitled to books. My first communication to the press was a note, written to the „Pittsburgh Dispatch,” urging that we should not be excluded; that although we did not now work with our hands, some of us had done so, and that we were really working boys. Dear Colonel Anderson promptly enlarged the classification. So my first appearance as a public writer was a success.
[Footnote 15: The note was signed „Working Boy.” The librarian responded in the columns of the Dispatch defending the rules, which he claimed meant that „a Working Boy should have a trade.” Carnegie’s rejoinder was signed „A Working Boy, though without a Trade,” and a day or two thereafter the Dispatch had an item on its editorial page which read: „Will ‚a Working Boy without a Trade’ please call at this office.” (David Homer Bates in Century Magazine, July, 1908.)]
My dear friend, Tom Miller, one of the inner circle, lived near Colonel Anderson and introduced me to him, and in this way the windows were opened in the walls of my dungeon through which the light of knowledge streamed in. Every day’s toil and even the long hours of night service were lightened by the book which I carried about with me and read in the intervals that could be snatched from duty. And the future was made bright by the thought that when Saturday came a new volume could be obtained. In this way I became familiar with Macaulay’s essays and his history, and with Bancroft’s „History of the United States,” which I studied with more care than any other book I had then read. Lamb’s essays were my special delight, but I had at this time no knowledge of the great master of all, Shakespeare, beyond the selected pieces in the school books. My taste for him I acquired a little later at the old Pittsburgh Theater.
John Phipps, James R. Wilson, Thomas N. Miller, William Cowley – members of our circle – shared with me the invaluable privilege of the use of Colonel Anderson’s library. Books which it would have been impossible for me to obtain elsewhere were, by his wise generosity, placed within my reach; and to him I owe a taste for literature which I would not exchange for all the millions that were ever amassed by man. Life would be quite intolerable without it. Nothing contributed so much to keep my companions and myself clear of low fellowship and bad habits as the beneficence of the good Colonel. Later, when fortune smiled upon me, one of my first duties was the erection of a monument to my benefactor. It stands in front of the Hall and Library in Diamond Square, which I presented to Allegheny, and bears this inscription:
To Colonel James Anderson, Founder of Free Libraries in Western Pennsylvania. He opened his Library to working boys and upon Saturday afternoons acted as librarian, thus dedicating not only his books but himself to the noble work. This monument is erected in grateful remembrance by Andrew Carnegie, one of the „working boys” to whom were thus opened the precious treasures of knowledge and imagination through which youth may ascend.
This is but a slight tribute and gives only a faint idea of the depth of gratitude which I feel for what he did for me and my companions. It was from my own early experience that I decided there was no use to which money could be applied so productive of good to boys and girls who have good within them and ability and ambition to develop it, as the founding of a public library in a community which is willing to support it as a municipal institution. I am sure that the future of those libraries I have been privileged to found will prove the correctness of this opinion. For if one boy in each library district, by having access to one of these libraries, is half as much benefited as I was by having access to Colonel Anderson’s four hundred well-worn volumes, I shall consider they have not been established in vain.
„As the twig is bent the tree’s inclined.” The treasures of the world which books contain were opened to me at the right moment. The fundamental advantage of a library is that it gives nothing for nothing. Youths must acquire knowledge themselves. There is no escape from this. It gave me great satisfaction to discover, many years later, that my father was one of the five weavers in Dunfermline who gathered together the few books they had and formed the first circulating library in that town.
The history of that library is interesting. It grew, and was removed no less than seven times from place to place, the first move being made by the founders, who carried the books in their aprons and two coal scuttles from the hand-loom shop to the second resting-place. That my father was one of the founders of the first library in his native town, and that I have been fortunate enough to be the founder of the last one, is certainly to me one of the most interesting incidents of my life. I have said often, in public speeches, that I had never heard of a lineage for which I would exchange that of a library-founding weaver. I followed my father in library founding unknowingly – I am tempted almost to say providentially – and it has been a source of intense satisfaction to me. Such a father as mine was a guide to be followed – one of the sweetest, purest, and kindest natures I have ever known.
[Footnote 16: „It’s a God’s mercy we are all from honest weavers; let us pity those who haven’t ancestors of whom they can be proud, dukes or duchesses though they be.” (Our Coaching Trip, by Andrew Carnegie. New York, 1882.)]
I have stated that it was the theater which first stimulated my love for Shakespeare. In my messenger days the old Pittsburgh Theater was in its glory under the charge of Mr. Foster. His telegraphic business was done free, and the telegraph operators were given free admission to the theater in return. This privilege extended in some degree also to the messengers, who, I fear, sometimes withheld telegrams that arrived for him in the late afternoon until they could be presented at the door of the theater in the evening, with the timid request that the messenger might be allowed to slip upstairs to the second tier – a request which was always granted. The boys exchanged duties to give each the coveted entrance in turn.
In this way I became acquainted with the world that lay behind the green curtain. The plays, generally, were of the spectacular order; without much literary merit, but well calculated to dazzle the eye of a youth of fifteen. Not only had I never seen anything so grand, but I had never seen anything of the kind. I had never been in a theater, or even a concert room, or seen any form of public amusement. It was much the same with „Davy” McCargo, „Harry” Oliver, and „Bob” Pitcairn. We all fell under the fascination of the footlights, and every opportunity to attend the theater was eagerly embraced.
A change in my tastes came when „Gust” Adams, one of the most celebrated tragedians of the day, began to play in Pittsburgh a round of Shakespearean characters. Thenceforth there was nothing for me but Shakespeare. I seemed to be able to memorize him almost without effort. Never before had I realized what magic lay in words. The rhythm and the melody all seemed to find a resting-place in me, to melt into a solid mass which lay ready to come at call. It was a new language and its appreciation I certainly owe to dramatic representation, for, until I saw „Macbeth” played, my interest in Shakespeare was not aroused. I had not read the plays.
[Footnote 17: Edwin Adams.]
At a much later date, Wagner was revealed to me in „Lohengrin.” I had heard at the Academy of Music in New York, little or nothing by him when the overture to „Lohengrin” thrilled me as a new revelation. Here was a genius, indeed, differing from all before, a new ladder upon which to climb upward – like Shakespeare, a new friend.
I may speak here of another matter which belongs to this same period. A few persons in Allegheny – probably not above a hundred in all – had formed themselves into a Swedenborgian Society, in which our American relatives were prominent. My father attended that church after leaving the Presbyterian, and, of course, I was taken there. My mother, however, took no interest in Swedenborg. Although always inculcating respect for all forms of religion, and discouraging theological disputes, she maintained for herself a marked reserve. Her position might best be defined by the celebrated maxim of Confucius: „To perform the duties of this life well, troubling not about another, is the prime wisdom.”
She encouraged her boys to attend church and Sunday school; but there was no difficulty in seeing that the writings of Swedenborg, and much of the Old and New Testaments had been discredited by her as unworthy of divine authorship or of acceptance as authoritative guides for the conduct of life. I became deeply interested in the mysterious doctrines of Swedenborg, and received the congratulations of my devout Aunt Aitken upon my ability to expound „spiritual sense.” That dear old woman fondly looked forward to a time when I should become a shining light in the New Jerusalem, and I know it was sometimes not beyond the bounds of her imagination that I might blossom into what she called a „preacher of the Word.”
As I more and more wandered from man-made theology these fond hopes weakened, but my aunt’s interest in and affection for her first nephew, whom she had dandled on her knee in Scotland, never waned. My cousin, Leander Morris, whom she had some hopes of saving through the Swedenborgian revelation, grievously disappointed her by actually becoming a Baptist and being dipped. This was too much for the evangelist, although she should have remembered her father passed through that same experience and often preached for the Baptists in Edinburgh.
Leander’s reception upon his first call after his fall was far from cordial. He was made aware that the family record had suffered by his backsliding when at the very portals of the New Jerusalem revealed by Swedenborg and presented to him by one of the foremost disciples – his aunt. He began deprecatingly:
„Why are you so hard on me, aunt? Look at Andy, he is not a member of any church and you don’t scold him. Surely the Baptist Church is better than none.”
The quick reply came:
„Andy! Oh! Andy, he’s naked, but you are clothed in rags.”
He never quite regained his standing with dear Aunt Aitken. I might yet be reformed, being unattached; but Leander had chosen a sect and that sect not of the New Jerusalem.
It was in connection with the Swedenborgian Society that a taste for music was first aroused in me. As an appendix to the hymn-book of the society there were short selections from the oratorios. I fastened instinctively upon these, and although denied much of a voice, yet credited with „expression,” I was a constant attendant upon choir practice. The leader, Mr. Koethen, I have reason to believe, often pardoned the discords I produced in the choir because of my enthusiasm in the cause. When, at a later date, I became acquainted with the oratorios in full, it was a pleasure to find that several of those considered in musical circles as the gems of Handel’s musical compositions were the ones that I as an ignorant boy had chosen as favorites. So the beginning of my musical education dates from the small choir of the Swedenborgian Society of Pittsburgh.
I must not, however, forget that a very good foundation was laid for my love of sweet sounds in the unsurpassed minstrelsy of my native land as sung by my father. There was scarcely an old Scottish song with which I was not made familiar, both words and tune. Folk-songs are the best possible foundation for sure progress to the heights of Beethoven and Wagner. My father being one of the sweetest and most pathetic singers I ever heard, I probably inherited his love of music and of song, though not given his voice. Confucius’ exclamation often sounds in my ears: „Music, sacred tongue of God! I hear thee calling and I come.”
An incident of this same period exhibits the liberality of my parents in another matter. As a messenger boy I had no holidays, with the exception of two weeks given me in the summer-time, which I spent boating on the river with cousins at my uncle’s at East Liverpool, Ohio. I was very fond of skating, and in the winter about which I am speaking, the slack water of the river opposite our house was beautifully frozen over. The ice was in splendid condition, and reaching home late Saturday night the question arose whether I might be permitted to rise early in the morning and go skating before church hours. No question of a more serious character could have been submitted to ordinary Scottish parents. My mother was clear on the subject, that in the circumstances I should be allowed to skate as long as I liked. My father said he believed it was right I should go down and skate, but he hoped I would be back in time to go with him to church.
I suppose this decision would be arrived at to-day by nine hundred and ninety-nine out of every thousand homes in America, and probably also in the majority of homes in England, though not in Scotland. But those who hold to-day that the Sabbath in its fullest sense was made for man, and who would open picture galleries and museums to the public, and make the day somewhat of a day of enjoyment for the masses instead of pressing upon them the duty of mourning over sins largely imaginary, are not more advanced than were my parents forty years ago. They were beyond the orthodox of the period when it was scarcely permissible, at least among the Scotch, to take a walk for pleasure or read any but religious books on the Sabbath.