OUT OF DOORS.
WE were close by the Common. The Common was still recognized as
1. A pasture for cows.
2. A playground for children.
3. A place for beating carpets.
4. A training-ground for the militia.
It had served these purposes, or some of them, for two hundred years, since Blackstone had first turned in his cows among its savins and blackberries and rocks to pick up a scanty living. In modern days it had not been fenced until 1815. After the war with England, there was some money left from a popular subscription for fortifying the harbor, which the Virginian dynasties had, in their way, neglected. This money was used for making a wooden fence around the Common. The rails of this fence were hexagonal, — two or three inches in diameter, perhaps. If a flat side were on top, as was generally the case, it made a good seat for boys, as they sat on the top rail with their foot on the second. If the corner came uppermost, it was not so good. The fence was double, — inside the mall and outside. When a muster took place, or Artillery Election, or when the Sacs and Foxes danced on the Common, the space within the inner fence was cleared. Then boys and girls sat on it to witness the sports within, and those taller stood in rows behind.
There cannot be a square yard of the Common on which I have not stood or stepped, and the same could be said of most boys of that time. As for the cows, we saw but little of them. I cannot think that in our time there were ever fifty at once there. They retired to the parts near Charles Street, with which we had less, though much, to do. So did the people who beat carpets. Practically the Common was ours to work our own sweet will upon. On musters, and on the two election days and Independence Day, we shared it with the rest of the town. On those days “ old Reed ” would appear with his constable’s pole; but on other days it was ours, and ours only.
Even Mrs. Child, in her Juvenile Miscellany, gave the impression that the coasting scene, in which the Latin School boys defied General Gage, began with coasting on the Common. But she was wholly wrong there. In 1775, no boy went out of town to coast on the Common, And the famous embassy which the Latin School boys sent to General Haldimand, to complain that their rights were violated, negotiated about a coast which went down Beacon Street, across Tremont Street, and down School Street, opposite their school. The story was told me by Mr. Robins, the last survivor of the delegation.
Fifty-five years later, we coasted on Beacon Street when we dared. But this was in face of the ordinances of the young city. In one of Dr. Jacob Bigelow’s funny poems, printed in the Advertiser, he made himself our spokesman : —
Can’t you wink a little bit, or be a little blinder ?
Can’t you let us coasting fellows have a little fun ?
Were you born old, or was ’t your way all childish sports to shun ?
Did you ne’er know how slick it is to coast from top to bottom ?
And can’t we use our irollers and planers, now we 've got ’em ?
Five dollars makes our pas look cross, — that’s proper bad, you know ;
Our youth will soon be gone, alas! and sooner still the snow.”
Practically we went to the Common for coasting. The smaller boys made a coast on Park Street mall. But the great coast was from the foot of Walnut Street, where a well-marked path runs now, leaving the great elm on the right as you went down.
This may be my last chance to put on paper a note of Percy’s encampment. His brigade, in the winter of 1775-76, and perhaps of the previous year, was encamped in tents, in a line stretching southwest from the head of West Street. As the weather grew cold, the tents were doubled, and the space between the two canvas roofs was filled with straw. The circles made by such tents and the life in them showed themselves in a different color of the grass for a hundred years after Percy’s time. The line is now almost all taken up by what I may call the highway from the Providence station down town.
As the snow melted, and the elms blossomed, and the grass came, the Common opened itself to every sort of game. We played marbles in holes in the malls. We flew kites everywhere, not troubled, as boys would be now, by trees on the cross-paths, for there were no such trees. The Old Elm and a large willow by the Frog Pond were the only trees within the pentagon made by the malls and the burial-ground. Kite-flying was and is a science ; and on a fine summer day, with southwest winds, a line of boys would be camped in groups, watching or tending their favorite kites, as they hung in the air over Park Street. Occasionally a string would break. It was a matter of honor to save your twine. I remember following my falling kite, with no clue but the direction in which I saw it last, till I found that the twine was lying across a narrow court which opened where the Albion Hotel is now. There were two rows of three-story houses which made the court, and my twine festooned it, supported by the ridgepoles of the roofs on either side. I rang a doorbell, stated my case, and ran up, almost without permission, into the attic. Here I climbed out of the attic window, ran up the roof as Teddy the Tyler might have done, and drew in the coveted twine. For the pecuniary value of the twine we cared nothing ; but it would have been, in a fashion, disgraceful to lose it.
Boats on the Frog Pond were much what they are now. The bottom of the pond was not paved until 1848. There were no frogs, so far as I know, but some small horned pout were left there, for which boys fished occasionally. The curb around the pond was laid in Mr. Quincy’s day, in 1823 ; I mean when he was mayor. To provide the stone the last of the boulders on the Common were blasted. In old days, as appears from Sewall, they were plenty ; he blasted enough for the foundations of a barn. Among those which were destroyed was the Wishing Stone. This stood — or so Dr. Shurtleff told me — where two paths now join, a little east of the foot of Walnut Street. If you went round it backward nine times, and repeated the Lord’s Prayer backward, whatever you wished would come to pass. I once proposed to the mayor and aldermen to go round the Frog Pond nine times backward and wish that the city debt might be reduced fifty per cent. But they have never had the faith to try. Mr. Quincy proposed that the Frog Pond should be called Crescent Lake. But nobody ever really called it so. I have seen the name on maps, I think, but it is now forgotten.
Charles Street was new in those days, and the handsome elms which shade the Charles Street mall were young trees, just planted, in 1825. By the building of the Milldam, about that time, the water was shut out from the southern side of Charles Street. There existed a superstition amongst the boys that law did not extend to the flat, because it was below high-water mark. On holidays, therefore, there would be shaking of props and other games of mild gambling there, which “ old Reed ” did not permit on the upland. This was, of course, a ridiculous boyish superstition. In those days, however, we had a large number of seafaring men, who brought with them foreign customs. Among others was “ props,” a gambling game which the boys had introduced perfectly innocently as an element in playing marbles. I dare say people played props for money on the dried surface of the Back Bay.
Of all the entertainments of the Common, however, nothing, to our mind, compared with the facilities which the malls gave for driving hoop and for post-offices. The connection of the two may not be understood at first, and I will describe it. When the season for driving hoops came round, — for, as Mr. Howells has remarked, such things are regulated by seasons as much as is the coming of apple blossoms, — we examined last year’s hoops; and if they had come to grief, Fullum negotiated some arrangements by which we had large hoops from sea-going casks. I see none such now. These hoops were as distinguished in their way as Sunol is to-day in hers: My hoop was named Whitefoot. With these hoops it was our business to carry a daily mail.
The daily mail was made chiefly from small newspapers, which were cut from the leading columns of larger ones. In an editor’s house we had plenty. The Quebec Gazette was specially chosen, because its column-head was a small copy of its larger head, and squares cut from that column made very good little papers. With a supply of these folded, we started at the head of Park Street, two or three of us, secret as the grave, to leave the day’s mail.
No, I will not, after sixty years, tell where those post-offices were. I have no doubt that the ashes of the Quebec Gazette are now fertilizing some of those elms. But one was near Joy Street, one was in a heart which some landscape gardener had cut in the turf near Spruce Street, one was halfway along Charles Street. They were holes in the ground, or caches between the roots of trees. At each was a box, — or, in one case, two tight-fitting oyster - shells, — which received the mail. From it the yesterday’s mail was taken to the next office.
When the mail-riders with their hoops arrived at one of these post-offices, they threw themselves negligently upon the ground, as if tired ; but one dug with care for the box buried below. Of course he found it, unless some fatal landscape gardener, of whom the Common knew but few, had interfered. When found, the paper or letter from the last office was left here, the sods or stones or sand were replaced, and the cautious mail-riders galloped on. At the end of a winter the chances were worse for finding a mail, or after a long rain or vacation.
There was then no mall on Boylston Street. The burial-ground, with a brick wall, ran close to the street, and there was no sidewalk on that side, so that we generally crossed by the line of Percy’s encampments. And to all boys, I imagine, that little corner where the deer-park is was comparatively little known.
It is, however, a waste of honest paper to be telling of Such trifles about the Common, when its great importance was as a training-field, or for holidays, as one may read in Sewall’s Diary and in the old votes of the town. There were four holidays in the year, — 'Lection proper, Artillery Election (generally called ’Tillery ’Lection), the Fourth of July (called Independence Day, I think, more than it is now), and, in October, Muster, or the Fall Training. By good luck, of course, Lafayette might come along, or General Jackson, or the Sacs and Foxes might dance, but these could not be expected. And alas ! by a utilitarian revolution, in 1831, the real old Election Day was changed from the last Wednesday in May to the 1st of January. When my father confessed to me that he had himself voted for the change in the constitution of Massachusetts, I think he did it with a certain shame. I was at that time nine years old, so that I could not rebuke him as the vote seemed to require. But he knew, and they all knew, that if the vote had been submitted to the children of Boston no such innovation would have been made.
Unlearned readers, unhappily not born in Massachusetts, must be informed that, under the first charter of Massachusetts, “ yearly once in the year forever after, namely the last Wednesday in Easter term yearly, the governor, deputy governor, and assistants of the said company, and all other officers shall be in the General Court duly chosen.” Under the charter of the province, given by William and Mary, the last Wednesday in May was fixed for the beginning of the political year ; and when the constitution of the State was made, in 1779, the same date was retained. The General Court met, — that is the name to this day of the legislature of Massachusetts ; in the first charter it meant what we should call a stockholders’ meeting. In old days the General Court elected the governor on this day ; so Winthrop, Dudley, and all the early governors were elected. Under the constitution, the election returns were examined on this day, and perhaps reported on. Anyway, the legislature met, referred them to a committee, and, under escort of the Cadets, who were the governor’s guard, they marched to the Old South Meeting-House to hear the election sermon.
With these intricacies of government, I need not say, the boys of Boston had nothing to do. What was truly important was the festivity, principally on the Common, of Election Day. Early in the morning, perhaps even Tuesday evening, hucksters of every kind began to put up their tables, tents, and stalls on each side of the Tremont Street mall, and, to a less extent, on the other malls. On the Common itself, a mysterious man — in a mysterious octagonal house painted green and red, as I remember — displayed camera views of the scene. Of these I speak from hearsay, for I never had money enough to pay for admission to this secret chamber.
I found in Hawthorne’s English NoteBook some curious bits of information about fairs in England which reminded me, queerly, of some of these customs of holidays on the Common.
To prepare for these festivities, every child in Boston expected “’Lection money.” ’Lection money was money given specifically to be spent on the Common on Election Day. The day before Election my mother sent Fullum to the office for three or four dollars’ worth of silver; and she knew that all her train of vassals, so far as they could pretend to be children, would expect “ 'Lection money ” from her. First, she had her own children, to whom she gave twelve and a half cents each. There was a considerable number of nephews and nieces who might or might not look in ; but if they did, each of them was also sure to have a “ ninepence,” which was the name given to the Spanish piece which was half a “ quarter dollar.” American silver coinage was still very rare.
It may be of use to young orators getting ready to speak on the silver question to know that when, in 1652, the colony of Massachusetts Bay usurped the royal privilege of the mint and coined its own silver, the leaders thought they could keep this silver at home by making it two thirds the weight of the king’s silver. The Massachusetts shilling, therefore, was two thirds the weight of the English shilling. Six shillings went to the Spanish dollar. It proved that Spanish coin became very largely the currency of the colonies, and so of the States for long years after independence. We took the Spanish dollar for our unit when we made a national currency. Twelve and a half cents of that currency, the old Spanish real-piece, became worth ninepence in the Massachusetts standard; and fourpence-halfpenny and ninepence, the half-real and real of the early time, were the coins most familiar to children. The " piece of eight ” in Robinson Crusoe is a dollar - piece, amounting to eight of our ninepences. Old-lashioned New Englanders will to this hour speak of seventy-five cents as four-and-sixpence, or of thirty-seven and a halt cents as two-and-threepence. These measures are in pine-tree currency.
To come back to Election money. Other retainers expected it. There were families of black children, who never appeared at any other time, who would come in with smiling faces and make a little call. Mother would give each one his or her ninepence. On the other hand, if in the street I happened to meet an uncle, he would ask me if I did not want some Election money, and produce his ninepence. I never heard of “tipping ” in any other connection except when a boy held water for a horse, as you rode anywhere; then you always gave him a hit of silver or a few cents.
Thus provided with the sinews of war, we went up on the Common with such company as might have happened along, — girls with girls, and boys with boys. The buying and selling were confined almost wholly to things to eat and drink; though there is a bad story told of me, that, having gone out with a quarter of a dollar one morning, I spent the whole of it for a leather purse, into which, for the rest of the day, I had nothing to put. This is my experience of Ben Franklin’s whistle. Certain things were sold there which we never saw sold anywhere else, and which we should never have thought of buying anywhere else. Boston was then in active trade with the West Indies, more than it is now. You could not bring bananas in the long schooner-voyages of that time, but we had cocoanuts in plenty, and occasionally a bit of sugar-cane. Oddly enough, tamarinds, in the curious “ original packages,” were always for sale, and dates, of which we did not see much on other occasions. At home we never had oysters, I believe because my father did not like them ; but on the Common we could buy two oysters for a cent, and we ate them with rapture. To this day I doubt if a raw oyster is ever as good as it was when eaten under the trees of Park Street mall, with vinegar and pepper and salt ad libitum, and this in May ! Candy of all the kinds then known was for sale, but the kinds were limited. There was one manufactured form which, I am sorry to say, has died out. One or two dealers sold large medals of checkerberry stamped with a head. Whom this originally represented I do not know, but very early we all said it was John Endicott, because he was the first governor of Massachusetts Bay, and we called them “ John Endicotts.” I advertised in a newspaper for anybody who knew how to make these things, some years ago, but I had no answer. You would see sailor-looking men eating lobsters, but those we were quite sure of at home. Ginger beer and spruce beer were sold from funny little wheelbarrows which had attractive pictures of the bottles throwing out the corks by their own improvised action. You might have a glass of spruce beer for two cents, and to boys as impecunious as most of us were the dealers would sell half a glass for one cent. Why we did not all die of the trash which we ate and drank on such occasions I do not know. But we are alive, a good many of us, to tell the story to this hour.
In all this we had little thought or care for the election itself. Independence Day passed in much the same fashion. I remember, as I returned home from the Common, having expended every cent of my money, one independence Day, I saw a procession of children going into Park Street Church. To see a church open on a week-day was itself extraordinary. To see children going in procession into a church was more extraordinary. With a disposition to find out what was going on I followed in the train, and went into the gallery. We were not Orthodox at our house, but I had been in that meeting-house before. I soon perceived that it was a Sundayschool entertainment, at which I remained as long as seemed pleasing to me, and then retired. I have no recollection of anything that passed there, but, by putting the dates together, I am fond of believing that then and there I heard Dr. Smith’s national song, “ My country, ’t is of thee,” sung for the first time that it was ever sung in public. Possibly my untrained voice joined in the enthusiasm of the strain.
It was at one of the first of the elections after the anniversary had been changed to January that an event took place which made quite a mark in the local history, and to which boys attached immense importance. Governor Lincoln had been escorted to the Old South Meeting-House by the Cadets, whose force was not large at that time. The escort had opened to the right and the left for the civic procession to pass in, and then, instead of following them, had repaired to the Exchange CoffeeHouse for refreshment. The commander had left a messenger who was to inform him when the sermon approached its close, so that he might be ready with the escort at the door of the church to go back with the governor to the StateHouse. Unfortunately, the preacher wound up too suddenly, the hymn which followed the sermon was too short, and when the governor, who was the prince of punctilio in such matters, came, with the council and the legislature, to the door there was no escort. Governor Lincoln walked up Winter Street with the gentlemen of his personal staff, but without any Cadets. The colonel of the Cadets arrived at the church a minute too late. He put his men at double quick, and they fairly ran up Bromfield Street, and came to the corner of the Common in time to meet the governor, and presented arms. But the governor declined to recognize his escort, and proceeded on the sidewalk to the StateHouse or his lodging-house. with the melancholy Cadets following as they might. A court-martial ensued, of which the proceedings are in print, and military circles and the circles of schoolboys were highly excited about it. It was one of the fortunate events of my early life that I stumbled on the governor and his staff as they walked up Winter Street on that fatal occasion.
On the evening of Independence Day there was sometimes a display of fireworks on the Common; but the science of pyrotechnics was then but little advanced in America, and there was much more waiting than there was exhibition. My recollections of these displays are of our always leaving to go home, tired out, before the successful pieces were shown. To the boys and girls of today it will be interesting to know that the pieces were set up either for spectators who stood on the hill and looked down toward St. Paul’s Church, or near the foot of Walnut Street for groups of spectators below who were to look up to them there. The entire absence of trees from the Common inside the malls enabled those in charge to make the stages for the fireworks just where they pleased.
The military system of the State in those days required two annual parades, in which every militiaman should appear with his gun and other equipments. It is by a comparatively modern arrangement that the State or the United States furnishes the arms for the militia. Under the simpler arrangements of the colony, and of the State at the beginning, every man who considered himself a man was obliged to have a gun, a cartridge-box, a belt, a “ primer,” and the other necessaries for an infantry soldier. We therefore had, in the attic, Fullum’s gun, cartridge-box, and primer, which made good properties in any theatricals which required the presence of an army. My father was a member of the New England Guards, and his gun was kept in the armory.
These arms the militiaman bought with his own money, and he must produce them once a year for inspection. I believe that they were shown at a certain spring meeting, to which comparatively little attention was given by boys. But in the autumn every man between the ages of eighteen and forty-five, unless he were on the list of " exempts,”had to appear in person, with his gun, belt, and cartridge-box, to show that the commonwealth had him as a soldier, and that he knew something of the art of arms.
Young men who had a real interest in the military art did as they do now. They volunteered into what were called the " volunteer companies,” or sometimes the “ flank companies.” These companies had uniforms, had generally their own separate charters as fusileers, rangers, light infantry, or guards ; they were proud of their history; the State or somebody provided them with armories, — generally over Faneuil Hall, — and they had frequent parades, while they had sufficient instruction for keeping up their military discipline. All this was precisely as uniformed militia companies exist to-day. But whereas now the other militiamen are simply on a certain register, which they never see and of which they know nothing, — though they are counted to the credit of Massachusetts in the quota which exists at Washington, — then the militiaman had to appear and show himself ; and this he did at the annual training. A man knew to what company he belonged, He was notified that he must attend at a certain place on the morning of the fall muster ; he did attend there, and thence he marched to the Common for the fall training.
The military zeal of the war of 1812 had not wholly died out, but there was beginning to be a suspicion that the conditions were such that it was not necessary for every man to be trained to arms. A certain ridicule, therefore, attached itself to what was called the “ militia ” in distinction from the “ volunteer companies.” Occasionally a militia company, under spirited lead, tried to distinguish itself by its drill, but this seldom happened. Old Boston people will remember a joke of that time about the Berry Street Rangers. The particular company which met in front of Dr. Channing’s church in Berry Street chose, one year, as their captain a gentleman who, they thought, would let them off lightly. But he interested himself at once in bringing up the company’s equipment and drill, and gave them the name of the Berry Street Rangers ; so that for some years we heard of their exploits in one way or another.
The interest among young men which now goes largely to the keeping up of military companies was then expended on the volunteer fire department. So it was that, when the fall training came, the prime interest of the boys was naturally in the companies which were in uniform; and when the parade was formed on the Common, these companies always held the right of the line, either by courtesy or because they were entitled to it by law. According as the major-general commanding had more or less enthusiasm there would or would not be a sham fight. The whole Common was cleared for these exercises. Of course a considerable detail of melancholy sentinels was required to keep the boys from running in, and the principal fights, sham or real, on these occasions, were their contests with these sentinels. But as the army to be reviewed really amounted to one fifth of the men of Boston, even after this large detail of sentries there would be a considerable force in the field. It seems to me that the line always extended, with its back to the Tremont Street mall, for the whole length of that mall. The reviewing officers would pass it, as in any review to-day, and then the sham fight would begin. We boys, sitting on the fence, criticised the manœuvres of this Waterloo with such information on tactics as we had got from reading Botta’s History of the American Revolution or Cæsar’s Commentaries on the war with Gaul. I recollect a sham fight in which the hill — still fortified, as I have said — was defended against an attack. It appears to me, however, that the attacks were generally made by the whole force against an unseen enemy. This mode of fighting has its advantages. Practically, however, after the Rangers had been thrown out as skirmishers, and the different companies had moved backward and forward across the Common, at about five in the afternoon the whole line was formed again, and a discharge of blank cartridges began, which lasted till all the cartridges of all the soldiers were burned up. I say all the cartridges, but we would solicit Fullum to slip one or more cartridges into his pocket instead of firing them off, and on rare occasions he succeeded in doing this. Then there were superstitions that individual soldiers were afraid to burn their cartridges, and dropped them surreptitiously on the grass ; so that, the next morning, we always went over to the Common to see if we could not find some of these. I cannot recollect that any boy ever did. The actual presence of war, as it showed itself in this discharge of powder, was of course very attractive, and muster had a certain value which belonged to none of the other holidays of the year.
There was great antipathy in the ruling circles at our house to boating, in any of the forms then pursued in the harbor. On the other hand, my father and mother were both country-bred, and, as I believe I have said, my mother was very fond of flowers. As soon as spring opened, in the earlier days, father and mother went to drive very often on Thursday and Saturday afternoons. This drive was taken in the chaise, and, for the purpose of the ride, a little seat was fitted in, which was in fact a trunk, in which mother brought home any wild flowers which she picked. On this trunk one of us four ” went, in a regular order laid down by the Medes and Persians. This entertainment of a holiday was one of the great joys of my early life. But for the half-holidays which were not thus provided for my brother and I took care by using “ the means which God and nature put into our hands.” That is to say, we walked out of town to such woodland generally as we had not explored before, until we were personally acquainted with the whole country for a circle of five miles’ radius around the State-House.
An enterprising English surveyor named John G. Hales had lived in Boston long enough to make a good working map of the suburbs of Boston. He printed a little book, still known to the curious, on that country. He was rather in advance of the times, I suppose, and when he succumbed to adversity my father bought from him all the plates and drawings of his different maps. Among these was the map of Boston and vicinity, which is still a good map, and is still regularly stolen from by anybody who wants to publish such a map, without much regard to any copyright which existed in the original surveys. Two or three times new editions of this map were published, and in such a case “ we four ” generally had more or less to do with the painting of the different towns, so that their lines might be the better designated. It thus happens that at this moment I could pass with some credit a competitive examination which should turn on the township lines of the various towns within fifteen miles of Boston.
But the personal knowledge of tramping through the interior circle of such towns was worth much more than the painting. The Hales map indicated the woodland which was then left, and to this woodland we boys regularly repaired. I need not say that such expeditions were encouraged at home. Whenever we chose to undertake one, two cents were added to our allowance, for the purchase of luncheon.
We always kept for such expeditions what were known as phosphorus-boxes, which were the first steps in the progress that has put the tinder - boxes of that day entirely out of sight. Most of the young people of the present day have not so much as seen a tinder-box, and I do not know where I should go to buy one. But in the working of the household the tinder-box was the one resource for getting a light. We boys, however, with the lavishness of boys, used to buy at the apothecary’s phosphorus-boxes, which were then coming in. These boxes were made in Germany ; they were of red paper, little cylinders about four inches high and an inch in diameter. You could carry one, and were meant to carry it, in your breast-pocket. In the bottom was a little bottle which contained asbestos soaked with sulphuric acid, and in the top were about a hundred matches, made, I think, from chlorate of potash. One of these you put into the bottle, and pulled it out aflame. We never should have thought of taking one of these walks without a phosphorus - box. When we arrived at the woodland sought, we invariably made a little fire. We never cooked anything, that I remember, but this love of fire is one of the earlier barbarisms of the human race which dies out latest. I suppose, if it had been the middle of the hottest day in August, we should have made a fire.
So soon as school was over, in the summer or autumn months, if it were a half-holiday, we would start on one of these rambles. Sometimes, if the walk were not to a great distance, we invited, or permitted, the two girls to come with us. We had a tin box for plants, and always brought home what seemed new or pretty. On rare occasions, when we had made up a larger party, we took the “ truck ” with us, that we might treat any weaker member of the party to a ride. The truck was quite a fashionable plaything at that time; I do not see it much now, excepting in the hands of boys who have to use it for freight. But in those days boys rode on trucks a good deal. A truck was a pair of wooden wheels on a stout axle, — generally not stout enough, — with two thills, in which the boy harnessed himself by the simple process of taking hold of them with his hands. If he chose to be jaunty, he had twine reins passed under his arms, that the person who sat on the seat of the truck might pretend to be driving.
When, in 1833, the Worcester Railroad was opened, this walking gave way, for a family as largely interested in that railroad as we were, to excursions out of town to the point where the walk was to begin. The line to West Newton was opened to the public on the 7th of April, 1833, but from the day when the Meteor, which was the first locomotive engine in New England, ran on her trial trip, we were generally present at the railroad on every half-holiday, to take our chances for a ride out upon one of the experimental trips. We knew the engineers and the men who were not yet called conductors, and they knew us. My father was the president of the road, and we thought we did pretty much as we chose. The engine-drivers would let us ride with them on the engine, and I for one got my first lessons in the business of driving an engine on those excursions. But so soon as the road was open to passengers these rides on the engine dropped off, perhaps were prohibited. Still, we went to Newton as often as we could in the train, and afterwards to Needham. There were varied cars in those days, some of them open, like our open horse-cars of to-day, and all of them entered from the side, as in England up to the present time. After this date, our long walks out of town naturally ceased. Nothing was more common in our household than for the whole family to go out to Brighton or to Newton, and, with babies and all, to establish ourselves in some grove, where we spent the afternoon very much as God meant we should spend it, I suppose, returning late in the evening with such spoils of wild flowers as the season permitted.
More methodical excursions out of town took forms quite different from what they would take to-day. At our house the custom was to deride canals in proportion as we glorified railroads. All the same, in the summer of 1826 — still recollected as the hottest summer which has been known in this century in New England — it was announced one day that we were going to Chelmsford, and that we were going by the canal. I have no recollection of the method by which we struck the Middlesex Canal ; I suppose that we had to drive to East Cambridge and take the General Sullivan there. The General Sullivan was what was known, I think, as a packetboat, which carried passengers daily from Boston to the Merrimac River, where the name “Lowell” had just then been given to a part of the township of Chelmsford. Mr. Samuel Batchelder, the distinguished engineer and manufacturer, to whom New England owes so much, was one of my father’s most intimate friends. He was engaged in some of the first works at Lowell, and by way of escape from the heat father had arranged that the whole family should go down to the tavern at Chelmsford and spend a few days.
The present generation does not know it, but traveling on a canal is one of the most charming ways of traveling. We are all so crazy to go fifty miles an hour that we feel as if we had lost something when we only go five miles an hour. All the same, to sit on the deck of a boat and see the country slide by you, without the slightest jar, without a cinder or a speck of dust, is one of the luxuries. The difficulty about speed is much reduced if you will remember, with Red Jacket, that “ you have all the time there is.” And I have found it not impossible to imagine that the distance over which I am going is ten times as great as in fact the statistical book would make it. Simply, I think a man may get as much pleasure out of a journey to Lowell on a canal which is thirty miles long as he may out of a journey of three hundred miles by rail between Albany and Buffalo. But this leads into metaphysical considerations which do not belong to the boyhood of New England.
What did belong to it was a series of very early reminiscences which have clung to me when more important things have been forgotten. Fullum, of course, was of the party. He would spring from the deck of the General Sullivan upon the tow-path, and walk along the path collecting flowers, or perhaps more active game. I have never forgotten my terror lest Fullum should be left by the boat and should never return. When he did return from one of these forays, he brought with him for us children a very little toad, the first I had ever seen. My mother put him in her thimble, he was so small. Not long after, we heard that a delicate friend of hers had taken cold because she put on her thimble when it was damp. With a child’s facility, I always associated the two thimbles with each other; and I think I may say I never see a little toad now without imagining that he is carrying the seeds of catarrh or influenza to some delicate invalid.
We stayed at the old tavern on the Merrimac, which, I suppose, was long ago pulled down. A story of that time tells how Mr. Isaac P. Davis, who was, I think, one of the proprietors of the locks and canals which made Lowell, went to this same hotel with a party, and inquired what they were to have for dinner. The keeper said that a good salmon had come up the river the night before, and he proposed to serve him, — with which answer Mr. Davis was well pleased. Later in the morning he said he should like to see the salmon. But the man only expressed his amazement at such folly on the part of a Boston man. “ You don’t suppose I would take him out of the water, do you ? He is in the water at the foot of the falls, and has been there since last night. When it is time to cook him, I shall go out and catch him.”
Edward Everett Hale.