If these notes have any readers they may think that I have rushed into the experiences of boyhood, omitting to say anything in regard to my home and family. Perhaps I was led to this because genealogical matters have never in the least interested me and in reality I know almost nothing of my family history. And then, as a family, we were not important as such things are reckoned. There was no family background held before me as a child as something to live up to, and I was never taught that Barrys or Hurds were any different from other people, or that there were children in the community with whom I ought not to associate. I was early warned off any pride of race, if that had been possible, by a sentence which I read in a book by, I think, George William Curtis, to the effect that it must be very humiliating to think that one would be nobody if one's grandfather had not been somebody. My own grandfather Hurd, when he was sufficiently fed up by talk about family and blood, used to break in on the conversation with the statement that the first Hurd that came to this country was sold on the block in Boston to pay his passage over. The statement was not historically accurate but it embodied grandfather's views.
Female relatives, devoted to "family," unearthed the fact that there were Barrys who went to England from Normandy at the conquest and later assisted at the conquest of Ireland. There one branch of the family settled and became Earls of Barrymore. To the female relatives it seemed a small matter to jump from the Irish earls to the Quaker settlers in Salem, Massachusetts. But it is a jump that I have never been able to make. I am content with the Quakers who migrated from England to New England early in the seventeenth century. They are a fact: I suspect that the relation of them to Irish earls is a dream. These Quaker ancestors were, I have no doubt, English folk of quite obscure social status in England as they remained in New England. I never heard of any Barry of the Salem line who achieved distinction. By marriage they were connected with more or less distinguished people. We were in some way connected with the Bancrofts, and I remember hearing an amusing story of some ambitious lady of our line revealing this fact of remote cousinship to the historian George Bancroft and being properly frozen for her presumption.
My father's middle name was Frye, which indicates a connection with John Frye who came from England in 1638 and settled in Andover, Massachusetts. Our connection with him was perhaps through a descendant of John Peter Frye who was graduated from Harvard in 1744 and subsequently taught school in Salem--or perhaps not. There was a Benjamin Frye who served through the Revolutionary War with some distinction. I was told when a boy of two ancestors--great-grandfathers?--who fought in the battle of Concord, where they valiantly fared on the British from behind a stone wall. I am sure this is true because I have seen the wall. That is ancestral glory enough for me.
My father, Nathan Frye Barry, was born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1814. He asserted that he was born on the 29th of February, but we declined to believe this, and regarded it as a dodge to avoid having birthdays and telling his age. He was very sensitive about his age till he was about eighty, when he suddenly became proud of it and told everyone how old he was. He lived to be ninety-two. He must have left home quite young. I am sorry that I had so little curiosity about the matter that I have no notion how his early life was spent. The family were to some extent sailors, as was natural to a Salem family, and I know that father tried one voyage, for we used to guy him about it. I think that he went to China. That life did not appeal to him. One of his sisters was married to a man who took up a farm in Illinois and father went out there in the eighteen-forties. He went by water from Buffalo and was thirty days on the lakes before reaching Chicago. Neither Chicago nor the farm appealed to him and he came back East. I hear of him in Florida where my mother's family were accustomed to spend the winter--I think my mother's father had a hotel at Appalachicola; how that came about I cannot say, as he was a sea captain. Father and mother seem to have been married at this time. When I knew him he was connected in some capacity with a hotel in New York--the United States Hotel, now long since passed away. It was then apparently a hotel of some importance, as during the War it was filled with army and navy people. Father seemed to know them personally and had a large collection of photos, which I rather stupidly burned when I came in possession of them at his death.
As I said, he left home early and could have had but a very elementary education. But he had a good mind and was fond of reading, and accumulated quite a library. He was a great admirer of Napoleon and a number of lives of Napoleon and histories of that period were among his books. He was a very silent man, and as during my childhood he was in New York in business and his family lived in Connecticut, I saw little of him and had no personal relations with him at all. I do not think that in all my life he ever told me to do or not to do anything. I was left entirely to my mother's direction. I suppose that it was due to this detachment from his children, or at least from me, that I never remember his giving me anything. When he came home, he always brought me something, but he never himself gave it. Soon after his arrival mother would appear with a toy or a book or whatever it was, and say: "Your father brought you this/' I do not remember ever going to him and thanking him. Yet he was a most kind and self-denying man, and in subsequent years when he was at home, and in the years in which he lived with me, I grew to appreciate his fine qualities. Thoroughly upright in all respects, he was respected and loved by all who really knew him. He and my mother lived in perfect peace and harmony together for over sixty years. I never knew of their having any quarrel. He survived her a year and died at the age of ninety-two.
During the first twelve years of my life, I saw my rather only intermittently. He was in business in New York and we lived in Middle Haddam. The communication was by boat and he came home in the summer rather frequently, arriving by the morning boat at four or five A. M., and leaving by the evening boat on Sunday. He came permanently to Middle Haddam later, as I shall tell in its place. I was older then and knew him better. He was a very awkward man with no mechanical ability of any sort, a characteristic I have inherited. His attempts to do things about the house often had ludicrous results. He loved to be busy and to be helpful, but his ignorance of ordinary matters got him frequently into trouble. His utter ignorance of all things pertaining to house and garden was inconceivable. I remember his leading mother out one afternoon in the fall proudly to show her the hen-house which he had laboured all the afternoon to fill with dried leaves for the hens to sleep in, and his infinite disgust when it was explained that the hens would prefer to sleep on the naked poles in the cold of the winter nights! His conception of a proper garden was a perfectly clear piece of ground without any disturbing plants thereon. Mother came home from church one Sunday to find that in the pursuit of this ideal he had hoed up a quantity of berry plants that she had recently had set out. His sense that he was doing useful and helpful work made it difficult to be angry with him.
I am one of the few Americans that was born in the same house that one of my parents was born in: I was born in the same house as my mother. She was Caroline Lockwood Hurd. The first Hurd came to this country from the Highlands of Scotland in 1685. A descendant, Jacob Hurd, was born in 1763, and lived to raise the flag in Middle Haddam at the outbreak of the war between the States in 1861. One of my earliest, possibly my earliest, memories is of being lifted up on to the bed where he lay dying that he might see his latest born relative.
My mother's parents were Benjamin and Sarah Hurd. Grandfather was a sailor, a sea-captain, trading, I fancy, mostly with the West Indies. Sugar and rum were the principal objects of import in those days. Grandfather died before I was born, so I knew nothing of him except through report. I take it he was what the novelists used to call "a bluff sailor man." I remember one story which I fancy was characteristic. He was driving the cow somewhere with my brother George trotting at his heels. The cow objected to going where grandfather wanted her to go. As he was in difficulties with her George helped out with the suggestion: "Call her a damned fool, grandfather, then she will go." Grandfather came in quite shocked, wondering where the child could have got such an idea. Grandmother suggested that the cause was not far to seek. My grandmother lived till I was twelve years old, staying on in the old house with us, my father having bought the house after grandfather's death, and remodelled it. Grandmother was a wonderful old lady, as I remember her, sitting most of the time in her rocking chair knitting or reading, with a lace cap on her head and a snuff box by her side. I shall have more to say of her presently.
My mother was a most intelligent and delightful person. That that is not the prejudiced judgment of a son is evidenced by the fact that until the very end she had multitudes of friends. She was the fourth of seven sisters; there were in addition two brothers. Brought up in a small village she had very limited educational opportunities, but her taste for reading resulted in a very exceptionally informed mind. I have never known anyone with broader intellectual interests. She read and enjoyed everything that came in her way, and was exceptionally well-read in Victorian fiction. History and memoirs she delighted in, and as I grew older and came to have books of my own she was always eager to read them--was a little miffed if I suggested that a book was a little difficult. During the fifteen years following my ordination she was living with me and I had hard work to keep her supplied with reading matter. This was not because she did nothing else. She was all the time keeping house and doing a good deal of the work. She also sewed endlessly and I had as hard work to keep her in embroidery, which she took up late in life, as in reading. She was a very rapid reader and remembered what she read.
Owing to father's continued absence from home during my childhood she had the entire direction of me. Our relations were of the most intimate. I delighted to sit in her lap, and often warned that I must cease to do so when my legs were so long that my feet touched the floor, I would sit as far back as possible to avoid that calamity. In all my life we were never separated save for one year until she died at the age of eighty-two a year before my father's death. Although she was endlessly loving and indulgent she was nevertheless a very strict disciplinarian. There was no sentimentality in our relations. I am often amused now as I go about among people at the contrast in this matter of sentimentalism.
My father and mother were just father and mother: there was no dad or mumsie about it. No dearest or lovie on their part. I was just plain Joe and nothing else. I am glad of this Puritan bracing air that I experienced.
When I deserved it, I am thankful to say that I was properly punished. I cannot remember mother showing any signs of anger; she never threatened; but she never hesitated to make her rule obeyed. I am not conscious that any of the awful things that the modern educationalist and "child psychologist" (perhaps "childish psychologist" would be more accurate) say will follow corporal punishment, followed in my case. I am glad that my mother had sense enough to whip me, though naturally I did not appreciate the privilege at the time. I was never permitted to dispute orders and it was fatal to say, 7 won't. The first whipping that I remember, though it could not have been the first in fact, was one day when we had callers and another small boy and myself sat on the floor playing with my blocks. Mother told me to do, or not to do, something, and I said, "I won't." She merely looked at me and went on with her conversation with the caller, but I knew what would happen, and what did in fact happen, when the caller had gone. There was no anger or scolding, only a few sharp cuts with a whip.
That switch, by the way, produced in me a sense of injustice. There was a privet hedge close by the kitchen door, and privet abounds in long slender branches which make admirable switches. When I had been conspicuously bad I would be told to go out to the hedge and cut a whip. Now I recognised the justice of the whipping, but I thought it utterly unjust that I should be compelled to provide the instrument for the administration of justice. Ordinarily, to be sure, this was not necessary, for there was a switch handy beside the pantry door which was appointed to the discipline of the cat when he disobeyed orders and strayed with an innocent air toward the forbidden ground. So well-trained was he that a mere motion toward the whip would send him off into safer territory. In emergencies the whip could be commandeered for my benefit--and the cat did not seem to mind.
I still remember the last whipping I received. I had spent the afternoon huckleberrying with some other boys. Picking huckleberries is tedious work and I was not interested and picked only a few which I ate on the way home. When I reached home mother asked what I did with the berries, and being rather ashamed of having eaten them I said that I sold them. My older brother was sufficiently interested in my moral welfare to make enquiries and, after the manner of older brothers, reported that I had lied. That was a serious offence and unfortunately for me at the time when I was summoned before the court I was bare-foot, and received the lash on my naked feet. In later years I used to enjoy holding this up before mother as an instance of the inhumanity of her training of her children.
Although mother was extremely capable and energetic and for a considerable time--the time in which she was providing for my education--had to work very hard, she never complained in the least. She met the difficult years cheerfully and wonderfully. She had that gift of humor which so aids in carrying one over hard places. Her gentleness, her humor, her interest in all sorts of subjects, made her very popular. I never knew of her having a quarrel with anyone or having an enemy of any sort. Her devotion to me and her wisdom in training me were wonderful, and I can never be grateful enough for them.
Home life in an isolated village was quiet and, I suppose, from a present point of view, quite intolerable in dullness. To me every moment was delightful. The events of one's childhood come back in detached incidents which have no connection or sequence. Two or three things stand out from my early years. I am not sure what is my earliest memory, but it must have been wjien I took my first independent step in life. I know that this is not a false memory induced by hearing the event many times narrated. In fact I never heard the setting mentioned; but I have always had a perfectly clear vision of what occurred. I can still see the dining-room at home. There are three women sitting about. One of them is my mother. I am standing by one, I cannot say which, and being supported by her. A woman a few feet away, probably my mother, calls and beckons to me, and I walk across to her. I can hear the exclamations of surprise. I was then nine months old.
The incident of being shown to Uncle Jacob has a rival in an exciting incident. I clearly remember being taken to a picnic, or rather, being taken away. I recall being bundled up and put in a buggy and driven rapidly home from a picnic which was broken up by a thunder storm. To this happening I attribute my life-long detestation of picnics. In this I differ vastly from my mother, who had what might today be characterised as a picnic complex. Any excuse was good enough to eat other than reasonably on a table in a dining-room. We were hustled into wagons and taken off into the woods. Baskets were hastily packed and we went out on the river to take tea. If nothing else could be done in the picnic way, at least we could lug a table on to the lawn and eat supper under a tree. As I grew older and became a member of a social group the picnic still pursued me. Elaborate all-day picnics in which the enjoyment (for me, at least) consisted in lugging heavy baskets and pails and cakes of ice to a boat. Then a long row. The picnic ground selected was always (so it seemed to me) on the top of a hill where there was no water. One carried the baskets and pails and ice up the hill; then one came down the hill and got water and carried that up; then one ate hard-boiled eggs and sandwiches and badly made coffee and pie; after which one packed the baskets and rowed several miles back home, and carried the pails and baskets (fortunately not the ice) back--always uphill in Middle Haddam. And for what? Apparently, in older folks, to get away from home for awhile; in the younger set, the joy of mild flirtation or courting. I had not wanted to go from home and I had no joy in female society, so I was completely bored. In later years I have been able to avoid picnics by saying frankly that I do not like them. The only exception since I grew up was in my first parish where I found the Sunday School picnic an established custom. For three successive years I conducted a Sunday School picnic with, in each case, the temperature over one hundred degrees in the shade. When I came back from the third picnic I said if the Christian religion depended picnics, it would have to get along without me. I have never been to a picnic since, and I did not find that my parish work at all suffered.
Our home was a country house of fifteen rooms, but with no "modern conveniences" in the way of heat or light or water. It was heated by stoves and lighted by kerosene lamps and what water there was, was brought in from the cistern or well. I never could understand what mother did with so much water. It seemed to me that I never appeared on the scene--came in from school, or ran in to get a ball or a fish pole while the boys were waiting outside--but I was met with the request, "Joe, won't you bring in a pail of water?" I used to accuse mother of turning the water down the sink as soon as my back was turned in order to be ready for my reappearance. The cistern was at the kitchen door, but the well was at a considerable distance and was a most useful feature in our life. As we had no ice-box till I was in my teens, the well had to serve instead, and such things as required coolness were hung in the well. Consequently, it was rather a ticklish job to draw a pail of water and in the process of so doing not upset a pail of milk or butter or detach a beefsteak that hung somewhere in the cool obscurity.
I had the advantage or disadvantage of being the only child in the house. My eldest brother had died as a child before I was born. The next brother, Edward, I remember vaguely. A number of my relatives were sea captains, and my brother Edward, who was delicate, when he was twelve years old was sent on a sea voyage to China with my uncle Edward Gardiner, who commanded a clipper ship in the China trade. It proved an eventful voyage for the ship was badly damaged by a hurricane in the China sea. While she was in a disabled condition a Chinese pirate junk bore down upon them and they would no doubt have been murdered, had not a British sloop of war hove in sight and frightened the Chinamen off. Storm and pirates, which fascinate small boys in story books, fascinated Edward in real life, and he took to the sea. I suppose I saw him several times but I only remember seeing him once. I remember him as very tall and very brown and very handsome. In his brief life he had many adventures. Sailing with another of my uncles, Captain Benjamin Hurd, mother's youngest brother, he was wrecked on Baker's Island in the South Pacific. All the crew got safely ashore. The island proved uninhabited, and they lived on fish and birds' eggs, till they were taken off by a passing ship. My uncle's leg was injured in the wreck and he had to give up the sea. Edward cheerfully went on with a sailor's life. He shipped on a whaler and while he was out in a boat harpooning a whale, the whale, objecting to the treatment, hit the boat with his tail and Edward found himself on an iceberg, where he remained for several hours till another boat from the ship came to the rescue. His last voyage was to France. He fell ill with typhoid on the way over and was taken to a hospital where he died. The hospital was under the care of Sisters. He was unconscious or delirious when taken in. He had tattooed on his breast a large Crucifix; why, I never knew, as I suppose he had no religion beyond having been baptised as a boy. However, the Sisters, seeing the Crucifix, assumed that he was a Roman Catholic and had him properly administered to and given Christian burial. He was only twenty-one when he died. I remember the day the news came, and that T climbed up into mother's lap with some sort of notion that I would be a comfort to her.
My other brother, George, who was nine years older than I, was not at home very much in my remembrance. First he was away at school and afterwards in business, So we had practically no relations. To all intents and purposes I was an only child. Uncle Ben's son Charlie was my chief companion, but he was rarely available as they lived in East Hampton, three miles off, during my first years. Later we were great chums. The consequence was that for the first years of my life I was chiefly associated with grandmother and mother. Though our house was in the village, the grounds were large, I should think about five acres, and there was therefore plenty of room to play. I was, I fancy, rather inclined to hang about the house, which meant in the morning hanging about the kitchen. I remember the maid used to threaten to pin a dish-cloth on me if I did not get out of the way. I must have been under mother's feet much of the time.
My mother, one of five girls, was carefully brought up in all that pertained to housekeeping. She was a most competent housekeeper and an unrivalled cook. As the family at no time was in other than moderate circumstances, the house work fell on grandmother and her daughters. I fancy there was no maid most of the time, only a woman to assist in the scrubbing and washing. The daughters were all trained to take their turn in house-management. The result was complete competence. In my childhood after father had bought the house and grandmother's family had dispersed, we sometimes had a permanent maid and sometimes not. The first I remember was my personal friend, and I recall as a very early experience being brought in from ; play to take leave of her. She remained in the village, however, and often came to work at the house. She was really a friend of the family, so devoted was she.
I suppose all children are gluttons. I can still delight in the memory of the sensuous joys of the kitchen and pantry. As I tagged about after mother I was rewarded } with various special dishes--a private pattern of cookies cut in the shape of animals, special turnovers when other I people had only commonplace pies, the privilege of t cleaning the beater taken from the ice-cream freezer j' which for my sake was not too minutely scraped off. » The pantry was a wonderful place, full of temptations. Living remote from the base of supplies, we were stocked as for a siege. The rain and the snow might come, and it made no difference to us. We had a visit from a butcher's wagon twice a week, but if this visit failed i it was all the same. What a store-house it was--that pantry: everything wholesale. Chests of tea of various varieties; bags of coffee. These were due to the seafaring habits of the family which permitted of such supplies being imported direct from the source. There were at least six kinds of sugar, most sorts bought by the barrel. There was salt mackerel in half-barrels and salt codfish in quantity; a barrel of salt beef. In the fall the pig was killed--a joyous time, though I never brought myself to watch the actual killing. The pig was dissected and salted down and smoked and tried out and ground f; up and otherwise disposed of in several days of (for me) intense excitement. My immediate reward was participation in "scraps"--one could have had no fear of indigestion in those days!
Then from spring till late fall there was going on the work of preserving and jelly making, beginning with canned rhubarb and proceeding in regular course to dried apples. Our orchard yielded apples and pears of many varieties and there was other fruit in abundance, especially quinces and grapes. Stored up in cellar and pantry all these fascinated one. As the cold weather came they became accessible to appetite. With the advent of the cold, too, long rows of pies took their place on the pantry shelves, chiefly pumpkin and mince pies, as they would "keep" well. The mince pie was predestined for Thanksgiving, a feast of holy (and also sensuous) joy in New England.
The succession of feasts in the year kept a boy interested and expectant. We were a tribe of a number of households in the same village, and each household observed one feast on behalf of the family. Our special feast was Christmas; I can never forget all that that meant to me in many ways. What it meant religiously, I shall speak of later.
There was, of course, always the Christmas tree--we were far enough removed from our Puritan ancestry to admit of that; Puritan opposition had broken down by my time. It is sometimes the practice to keep the preparation of the Christmas tree from the children of the family with the thought of revealing it to them in all its glory on the Christmas Eve or morning. That, I think, is a mistake. There is endless delight to the child in the preparation of the tree. In the country there is, first of all, the getting of the tree, if one be permitted to go out in the woods when it is cut. I think I was rather older than the period that I am now dealing with when I was first permitted to go after the Christmas greens: still the experience was an early one. It was connected with the gathering of the greens for the decoration of the church. In the time I recall we went in an oxcart, winding over snow-covered roads to the woods where the hemlock was plentiful. There the trees were cut and loaded on the cart. It was a fine experience for a boy who loved the woods.
Our tree--we were careful to have a spreading one and one that would reach to the ceiling of the back-parlour--was set up the day before Christmas. The decorations were the usual colored glass balls and small candles. To be permitted to place these on the tree was a privilege much valued. I was excluded only when the time came to hang on the presents. We were indulged in great quantities of candy and fruit and presents. The fact that father was in business in New York facilitated the acquisition of the fruit, which would have been difficult in the country in those days--oranges were then a great treat, but they were a supreme necessity of our Christmas celebration. The plentifulness of all sorts of fruits at all seasons of the year even in remote country places at present is one mark of the great change of the last half century.
As I remember at this period the religious celebration of Christmas began with a Christmas Eve service and a Christmas tree in the church. There would be a service the following morning. This would not be early--we had not got to that--but would be morning prayer and communion. There was therefore time in the early morning to investigate the tree and see what fruit it had brought forth for my personal delectation. It was the hour of presents and general joy. Later, when I was thought old enough, I went to church with mother. In the afternoon was the Christmas feast. It was a wonderful feast--deadly, with its rich food and the enormous appetites we brought to it. In our family alcoholic drinks were never served, I have never known quite why. There was certainly no theoretic objection. In our house there was a cupboard wherein were many sorts of intoxicants, but they were reserved for cooking purposes. Brandy and sherry were very much in evidence in mince pies and various sauces. All my boyhood I had ready access to this cupboard and do not remember ever being warned off, yet it never occurred to me to take a drink of any sort. The only exception I remember in the matter of serving drinks was on one special day of the year--I fancy it must have been "Election Day"--egg-nog was made and highly flavored, if I remember rightly, with Jamaica rum. On this occasion there was a large accession to the family circle in the way of male cousins, as "Aunt Caroline" had a great reputation for her egg-nog. This, however, seems to have had the quality of a public and patriotic celebration rather than that of a private drinking bout. I was permitted to partake of this luscious drink. I have never had any since.
While I am on the subject of drink I recall a later incident which gave me much amusement at the time. In the afore-mentioned cupboard mother had treasured a bottle of old brandy. We used in fun to urge her not to be so stingy, but to open and share it. But no; she had had it twenty, twenty-five years and was keeping it for some supreme need which might arise. When we were away from home one winter some boys broke into the house and drank the brandy. To add insult to injury, when mother appeared in court to give testimony against the thieves, one of them rapturously praised the brandy, alleging that never in his life had he drunk such. Mother never heard the last of this incident, which was commented on as a just punishment for avarice.
What a joy a large house is to a child! As our house was heated by stoves, we were in the winter practically confined to one room which was properly the dining-room but now became the living-room as well. Off this was the room we called the back-parlour, which was the sitting-room in the warm weather, and which, in case of need, could be heated by a coal fire in a grate and made habitable. There was a front parlour which was never opened in the winter unless at the Christmas party. All three of these rooms opened by long windows reaching down to the floor and sliding back into the wall, on to the veranda which ran around two sides of the house. This feature made the rooms most delightful in summer. As the house had been remodelled in the days when the old wood fireplace was out of fashion as taking up too much room, these had been replaced by what were then up-to-date furnishings--small coal-burning grates under marble mantel-pieces. These grates had at least this advantage, that they warmed the room well. The furniture of the parlours was of the mahogany and haircloth period. There was a large sofa with a very round and hard haircloth seat on which I delighted surreptitiously to slide. No one, I should imagine, could possibly have sat on it without sliding! Bedroom furniture was also largely mahogany, with marble-topped tables and bureaus and washstands; though painted wood was in the rooms lately refurnished. There were no rugs; all the rooms were completely carpeted--in the parlours and "best bedrooms" with body Brussels. While I was in my teens these carpets and furnishings were a source of much woe and led to a solemn vow (which I have kept) that if ever I had a house of my own there would be no carpet in it. Spring and fall these awful carpets had to be taken up in the New England process of "house-cleaning." Imagine the "best bedroom," a very large room with the heaviest sort of mahogany and marble furniture and completely covered with the carpet; and imagine a boy, say of fourteen, set to work to do his part in cleaning it. In the first place, with aid, of course, he must move all the furniture into the middle of the room. Then he must extract the tacks from the carpet. Then get the carpet out from under the furniture and out of the room and down stairs and out on to the lawn, where he must beat the dust out of it. Then the whole process had to be reversed till the carpet is once more stretched under the furniture and tacked down. Consider going over a house of fifteen rooms twice a year and you will understand a little what New England house-cleaning once was! But while I was a small child the period of house-cleaning was looked forward to with joy.
There were always means of amusement in our house; I was never bored. There is a delightful quality in a child that enables him to do the same thing or look at the same object or listen to the same story again and again without weariness. Within our house there were a variety of objects that I never tired of; a rainy day therefore had no terrors. In the first place, there was a "whatnot." Possibly this is not a self-explanatory word to the present generation. It is a set of shelves made in triangular shape so as to fit into the corner of a room. They are intended to be the receptacle of all sorts of curiosities and knick-knacks. Ours had a great variety of odd things that I was permitted to look at and on occasion to play with. The whatnot, however, yielded in interest to the cabinet. Our front hall ran along the north side of the house from the front door, the doors of the two parlours opening out of it. It was a wide hall and contained the afore-mentioned haircloth sofa on which I surreptitiously slid. Across the far end was built a glass cabinet containing a great variety of curios, mostly gathered by my uncle Benjamin in his voyages about the world. There were shells of all sorts; specimens of a large variety of corals. There were swords from China and a Malay kris. There were bows and arrows and flint arrow-heads, and stone axes. There were models of boats, including a fully rigged Chinese junk. There were opium pipes and sandalwood boxes and Chinese puzzles. There were fans--sandalwood and shell and painted silk--in short it was a museum. I never tired of the inspection of these treasures, and they were, I am sure, a very valuable element in my education.
My chief playmate in the first years of my life was my grandmother. I can see now that she was a very wonderful woman; then she was just a chum always ready to lay down her work or her book and concern herself with me--tell me stories, or listen to mine, or play games, or read to me. I have said we were not a puritan household and there was no prejudice against cards. My grandmother taught me to play cards and backgammon, and I must have been an awful nuisance in my continual demand for entertainment. I think we played but one card game, euchre, which I never hear of nowadays. In the winter evenings we sat about the table and played, mother occasionally joining us. In the intervals of play we popped corn or cracked nuts or ate apples, which were always abundant. When I got tired I crawled on the sofa and went to sleep till mother got ready to take me up to bed.
So the days of a very happy childhood passed by in peace and happiness. There was very little outside companionship, an occasional visit from my cousin Charlie was about all. I am glad that it was so. I learned a certain independence and the capacity to amuse myself and not to bother other people. I was not much petted or looked after, but in pleasant weather turned loose in the grounds to look after myself. My mother's combination of thoughtful love and strict discipline was just what I needed. She did for me what I could not do and insisted on my looking after myself as far as I could. I was taught order and self-reliance and respect for authority and obedience. I was not permitted to question authority; I Was not permitted to whine or tease. The only ill result of this training (if it be ill) that I can see is that it has produced in me a certain impatience and intolerance of what seems to me the fatuous helplessness and utter incompetence of the average parents of the present day in dealing with their children. The child is ninety per cent what the parent makes him, and the undisciplined spoiled baby--dearie and lovey and darling--grows into the stupidly selfish youth whose ill-conduct is the parents' creation and over which they whine.
The transition in my life came between ten and twelve years. It was marked by the death of my grandmother, by my entrance into the world of school and boy life, and by the coming of my father to live in Middle Haddam. The hotel in which my father had been employed in New York went out of business. He was offered a good position in another hotel, but wanted to go into business for himself--a quite disastrous ambition as he had not the slightest trace of business ability. He invested what capital he had in a commercial venture with a cousin, which speedily resulted in the loss of his money. Not satisfied with that, he returned to Middle Haddam and mortgaged the house and entered into partnership with my uncle Ben (as hopeless a business incompetent as himself), a retired sea captain, and set up a general store. As I look back now the whole affair has an opera bouffe aspect, and I cannot imagine how my mother consented to it. The inevitable result was that after a few years' struggle, father retired from the store and Uncle Ben went on for a few years longer to bankruptcy. As this wild venture left us without resources, mother came to the rescue and opened the house to summer boarders, and a little later supplemented this by taking charge of the "Wright House, the commons of the Berkeley Divinity School in Middletown.
It all seemed very hard at the time--not, of course, to me who was too young at the start to appreciate what was going on. Today I can see how it shaped my life and made possible that which otherwise would have been impossible. Had the commercial venture in Brooklyn prospered, I should doubtless have been drafted as a clerk and pushed into a hopelessly banal life. I still shudder to think of what I might have become in a business house in New York. That I have had any experience in life which is worth recording is due to my father's failure and my mother's energy and devotion. I am today devoutly thankful for both.