Section 1: School Days
The life of a student at an Academy or College is necessarily monotonous and without much variety, and I will pass over that part of my life briefly. My friend Paul arrived a day or two after I did, entering in the middle of a Term. We started by ourselves. Our first lesson was in Adams Latin grammar. We were roommates as well as classmates. To two young farmers, declining Latin nouns seemed a trifling business and was slow and tiresome, and soon Mr. Paul decided there was no sense in it. But we fell into the ways of the school.
One of the scholars was a full blooded negro who did several things besides reading Latin. At the Winter Term he rung the bell at precisely 5 o'clock A.M. and in ten minutes from the first tap he commenced calling the roll in the chapel, and all failing to answer were marked for punishment or censure. This was for the double purpose of teaching the boys the habit of early rising and to be smart at dressing. Then came prayer and a selected speech from one of the students, then breakfast in the large dining room. Dr. Jankin's family and the tutors sat at the table. Then family worship, singing a hymn, reading a chapter in which all the students took a part, and prayer by Dr. Jankin or someone called on by him. Then study till 10 A.M., then go to the shop and work two hours.
In those days traveling trunks were made of pine boards and covered with goat skins. This was one branch of the work performed by the students for which they were paid so much an hour. Another extensive branch was making husk mattresses. The husks were hackled fine and made into bed mattresses, and this furnished work for quite a number. Then they had a turning lathe propelled by a wheel, turned by the students like a grindstone. Turning this lathe was not popular work among the boys. Other work in wood was also done. After dinner, reciting and study till 4:30 P.M., then two hours' work. After supper, study, reading and social talk. I soon became acquainted with the boys and had company plenty. Mr. Paul was not quick at picking up the grammar, although he mumbled away at it faithfully, and I soon got ahead of him. Finally after several weeks the old Doctor set us our first lesson in Visi Romae and we were some hours poring over "Sumator sax Albinorum duos filios habuit," but we worked it out triumphantly, and I felt with some exultation that I was reading Latin.
We plodded along till about the first of February, when my chum, Jim Paul got tired and said he would go home. He was a clever fellow and the only one who could talk with me about my friends at home. He sent his trunk by stage and went home as he came -- on foot. On Sundays after church we did a great deal of talking. The Sunday morning after he left was balmy and warm. My window was hoisted and I was sitting there enjoying the fresh air, when the first bluebird of the season perched on a pear tree near my window and began to sing. I had been lonesome before, and the soft notes to me were all of home, and in all my after life I never felt so strong an emotion of homesickness as on that morning-and it stuck to me all day. I did not want to go to church, till I did, but in the afternoon I walked away out a lane eastward some three miles and sat upon a fence by a quaking aspen tree quite away from any house. I cut the initials of my name on the tree and the date. I took a long look at the country around me and I thought I never wished to see that spot again, and I never have. That was a blue day in my College life.
About this time Dr. Jankin was elected President of Lafayette College at Easton. The talk was that as many of the students as could be induced to go were to be taken up during the April vacation, and work would be plenty in getting ready to open by the first of May the 22nd of February of that year, a day's vacation was given the students to attend the centennial anniversary of Geo. Washington's birthday. Nearly all went -- many on foot -- I traveled with this crowd. It was a great show. I was on my feet the whole day except about 20 minutes while I was eating a lunch. Every trade was represented, and most of them had a shop on wheels with men at work in them. I recollect a small ship on wheels with sailors aboard climbing up among the sails, though propelled by horse power, and one fellow in the rear of the vessel taking soundings which was thought very funny. The carpenters had an elegant coach with thirteen columns supporting a highly ornamental cap of Liberty. The coach was drawn by eight splendid gray horses with a boy on each. A man on the weavers' car wove carpets all that day. The printers struck off Washington's farewell address and distributed all day among the crowd. Bricks were moulded on the brickmakers' car. Four hundred fine looking young butchers dressed in white shirts over pants rode in line. About 4,000 uniformed militia and Marines marched at the head of the procession. A vast crowd was in the city. It was said that one hundred thousand people were present on Broad street when the procession was passing. I stayed to see the illumination. I stood in front of the State House steps when old Bishop White (then said to be over 80) knelt and made the prayer dismissing the procession. I saw the old man kneel on the steps, his long, gray hair swaying with the breeze as he prayed for the country. All appeased, and I felt solemn. Just after dark the State House was illuminated, but I was worn out and with two others started to walk to Germantown. I never did a harder day's work. We got our supper at the Academy and I needed no one to rock me to sleep that night.
Some time that winter Stephen Girard died. The news came to the Academy the next morning.
I worked away quietly at my Latin till the April vacation and intended to work enough to pay my boarding till the first of May. About that time several wagons were loaded for Easton and about fifteen or twenty of the students went along. In a couple of weeks after that Tommy Pollock, our farmer, was going to take another load up and proposed to take me along if I would walk up the hills. I accepted the proposal, and we got under way one pleasant morning about the middle of April. I never liked Germantown, and as soon as I got up through Mount Airy and got a sniff of fresh country air, I felt full of fun and frolic, and I enjoyed walking up the hills rather more than sitting up in the wagon with Tommy. It was a two days' trip and I had a pleasant time and could have walked ahead and left him but had not the heart to do so. The second evening I tumbled in among the boys at Easton and had a jolly time.
They were putting up a rough frame house to hold a dozen or so of the students through the summer. Dr. Jankin was not there. We had good boarding, plenty of work and got paid for it. I don't recollect how much, but there were no strikes in those days and we were satisfied. I planed, plowed and grooved boards and sometimes assisted to haul up from the river.
The College was started in a farm house south of the Lehigh, rented from a man named Medlar. There was a good sized farm house and barn, the latter used for a carpenter shop. It is now in what is called South Easton, but then no houses near it except a small one out at the road occupied by an old fellow called "Dunnhiller," and the lockhouse down at the canal. The location overlooked the town up on the side of the hill southeast of the lock. A chain bridge over the Lehigh connected us with the town. It was then a place of four thousand inhabitants, pretty compactly built up. A covered bridge spanned the Delaware. A dam at the mouth of the Lehigh, by means of a lock, let the boats out into the Delaware, and on the New Jersey side connected with the Morris and Essex Canal to New York. At that day a large quantity of coal came down the Lehigh Canal from Mauch Chunk and on to New York. Right opposite the College building there was a flat between the Lehigh and the bank and close up to the steep bank was a stagnant pond which the next fall poisoned the atmosphere at the College and caused sickness.
By the first of May the new building was completed, and with three others I was put into one of the rooms upstairs.
At the commencement of the term, six boys from New York City came on about as far advanced as I was. A nice young French boy named Dilateur was found so much ahead of the rest that he was advanced to the next class. I had been pretty thoroughly drilled in the grammar and generally parsed every word in the lesson. My new classmates could read pretty well, but seemed to have had little or no training in parsing and I soon found that I could beat them translating and instead of being a help they were a drag on me. This went on for a few weeks (we were then reading Caesar). One day the old Doctor came in to hear us recite. The lesson was not long, and soon we got to parsing, and when one failed the word was passed on to the next, and as I was pretty well posted I parsed nearly all the lesson. The result was the others were put back to Visi Romae and I was told to get a Virgil and go into the next class ahead of me.
In that class were William Worrell, a man of 30 and had a family, his brother, Charley a couple of years younger, and Isaac Hall about the same. They seemed to resent my intrusion into the class. They wanted long lessons and it required hard and pretty long work for me to get the lessons; and when I made a mistake in reciting, which I sometimes did, they were careful to sneer and laugh till I got to hate the whole three, and I formed a stern resolution to give them enough of it before the end of the session. Charley McCoy was our tutor. He was afterwards President, I think, of Columbia College, South Carolina.