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From Farm Boy to Senator
Being the History of the Boyhood and Manhood of Daniel Webter
Horatio Alger Jr.
CHAPTER I. THE COTTON HANDKERCHIEF.
CHAPTER II. DANIEL AND HIS FATHER.
CHAPTER III. A MEMORABLE BATTLE.
CHAPTER IV. AN IMPORTANT STEP.
CHAPTER V. DANIEL AT EXETER ACADEMY.
CHAPTER VI. PREPARING FOR COLLEGE.
CHAPTER VII. DANIEL’S COLLEGE LIFE.
CHAPTER VIII. DANIEL RECEIVES SOME VALUABLE ADVICE
CHAPTER IX. BROTHERLY LOVE.
CHAPTER X. THE TWO BROTHERS.
CHAPTER XI. DANIEL AS AN ORATOR.
CHAPTER XII. STUDYING LAW.
CHAPTER XIII. HOW DANIEL WENT TO FRYEBURG.
CHAPTER XIV. THE PRECEPTOR OF FRYEBURG ACADEMY.
CHAPTER XV. THE NEXT TWO YEARS.
CHAPTER XVI. A GREAT TEMPTATION.
CHAPTER XVII. DANIEL REFUSES A CLERKSHIP.
CHAPTER XVIII. D. WEBSTER, ATTORNEY.
CHAPTER XIX. DANIEL OVERCOMES A BRAMBLE.
CHAPTER XX. “THE LITTLE BLACK STABLE-BOY.”
CHAPTER XXI. WHY DANIEL WAS SENT TO CONGRESS.
CHAPTER XXII. MR. WEBSTER AS A MEMBER OF CONGRESS.
CHAPTER XXIII. JOHN RANDOLPH AND WILLIAM PINKNEY.
CHAPTER XXIV. MR. WEBSTER IN BOSTON.
CHAPTER XXV. THE ORATION AT PLYMOUTH.
CHAPTER XXVI. THE BUNKER HILL ORATION.
CHAPTER XXVII. ADAMS AND JEFFERSON.
CHAPTER XXVIII. HOME LIFE AND DOMESTIC SORROWS.
CHAPTER XXIX. CALLED TO THE SENATE.
CHAPTER XXX. THE BEGINNING OF A GREAT BATTLE.
CHAPTER XXXI. THE REPLY TO HAYNE.
CHAPTER XXXII. THE SECRET OF WEBSTER’S POWER.
CHAPTER XXXIII. HONORS RECEIVED IN ENGLAND.
CHAPTER XXXIV. CALLED TO THE CABINET.
CHAPTER XXXV. LIFE AT MARSHFIELD.
CHAPTER XXXVI. THE SEVENTH OF MARCH SPEECH.
CHAPTER XXXVII. CLOSING SCENES.
CHAPTER XXXVIII. CENTENNIAL TRIBUTES.
But thirty years have elapsed since the death of Daniel Webster, and there is already danger that, so far as young people are concerned, he will become an historic reminiscence. Schoolboys, who declaim the eloquent extracts from his speeches which are included in all the school speakers, are indeed able to form some idea of his great oratorical powers and the themes which called them forth; but I have found that young classical students, as a rule, know more of Cicero’s life than of his. It seems to me eminently fitting that the leading incidents in the life of our great countryman, his struggles for an education, the steps by which he rose to professional and political distinction, should be made familiar to American boys. I have therefore essayed a “story biography,” which I have tried to write in such a manner as to make it attractive to young people, who are apt to turn away from ordinary biographies, in the fear that they may prove dull.
I have not found my task an easy one. Webster’s life is so crowded with great services and events, it is so interwoven with the history of the nation, that to give a fair idea of him in a volume of ordinary size is almost impossible. I have found it necessary to leave out some things, and to refer briefly to others, lest my book should expand to undue proportions. Let me acknowledge then, with the utmost frankness, that my work is incomplete, and necessarily so. This causes me less regret, because those whom I may be fortunate enough to interest in my subject will readily find all that they wish to know in the noble Life of Webster, by George Ticknor Curtis, the captivating Reminiscences, by Peter Harvey, the Private Correspondence, edited by Fletcher Webster, and the collection of Mr. Webster’s speeches, edited by Mr. Everett. They will also find interesting views of Mr. Webster’s senatorial career in the Reminiscences of Congress, by Charles W. March.
If this unpretending volume shall contribute in any way to extend the study of Mr. Webster’s life and works, I shall feel that my labor has been well bestowed.
Horatio Alger, Jr.March 28, 1882.
Daniel Webster at the Age of Sixteen.
“Where are you going, Daniel?”
“To Mr. Hoyt’s store.”
“I’ll go in with you. Where is ’Zekiel this morning?”
“I left him at work on the farm.”
“I suppose you will both be farmers when you grow up?”
“I don’t know,” answered Daniel, thoughtfully. “I don’t think I shall like it, but there isn’t anything else to do in Salisbury.”
“You might keep a store, and teach school like Master Hoyt.”
“Perhaps so. I should like it better than farming.”
Daniel was but eight years old, a boy of striking appearance, with black hair and eyes, and a swarthy complexion. He was of slender frame, and his large dark eyes, deep set beneath an overhanging brow, gave a singular appearance to the thin face of the delicate looking boy.
He was a farmer’s son, and lived in a plain, old-fashioned house, shaded by fine elms, and separated from the broad, quiet street by a fence. It was situated in a valley, at the bend of the Merrimac, on both sides of which rose high hills, which the boy climbed many a time for the more extended view they commanded. From a high sheep-pasture on his father’s farm, through a wide opening in the hills, he could see on a clear day Brentney Mountain in Vermont, and in a different direction the snowy top of Mount Washington, far away to the northeast.
He entered the humble store with his companion.
Behind the counter stood Master Hoyt, a tall man, of stern aspect, which could strike terror into the hearts of delinquent scholars when in the winter they came to receive instruction from him.
“Good morning, Daniel,” said Master Hoyt, who was waiting upon a customer.
“Good morning, sir,” answered Daniel, respectfully.
“I hope you won’t forget what you learned at school last winter.”
“No, sir, I will try not to.”
“You mustn’t forget your reading and writing.”
“No, sir; I read whatever I can find, but I don’t like writing much.”
“You’ll never make much of a hand at writing, Daniel. Ezekiel writes far better than you. But you won’t need writing much when you’re following the plough.”
“I hope I shan’t have to do that, Master Hoyt.”
“Ay, you’re hardly strong enough, you may find something else to do in time. You may keep school like me—who knows?—but you’ll have to get some one else to set the copies,” and Master Hoyt laughed, as if he thought it a good joke.
Daniel listened gravely to the master’s prediction, but it seemed to him he should hardly care to be a teacher like Mr. Hoyt, for the latter, though he was a good reader, wrote an excellent hand, and had a slight knowledge of grammar, could carry his pupils no further. No pupil was likely to wonder that “one small head could carry all he knew.” Yet the boys respected him, and in his limited way he did them good.
Master Hoyt had by this time finished waiting upon his customer, and was at leisure to pay attention to his two young callers. He regarded them rather as pupils than as customers, for it is quite the custom in sparsely settled neighborhoods to “drop in” at the store for a chat.
Meanwhile Daniel’s roving eyes had been attracted by a cotton pocket-handkerchief, which appeared to have something printed upon it.
Master Hoyt noticed the direction of the boy’s gaze.
“I see you are looking at the handkerchief,” he said. “Would you like to see what is printed on it?”
The handkerchief was taken down and placed in the boy’s hands. It was quite customary in those days, when books and papers were comparatively rare and difficult to obtain, to combine literature with plain homely utility, by printing reading matter of some kind on cheap cotton handkerchiefs. Nowadays boys would probably object to such a custom, but the boy, Daniel who was fond of reading, was attracted.
“Is it a story?” he asked.
“No, Daniel; it is the Constitution of the United States—the government we live under.”
Daniel’s interest was excited. Of the government he knew something, but not much, and up to that moment he had not known that there was a constitution, and indeed he couldn’t tell what a constitution was, but he thought he would like to know.
“What is the price?” he asked.
Daniel felt in his pocket, and drew out a quarter of a dollar. It represented all his worldly wealth. It had not come to him all at once, but was the accumulation of pennies saved. He may have had other plans for spending it, but now when there was a chance of securing something to read he could not resist the temptation, so he passed over his precious coin, and the handkerchief became his.
“It’s a good purchase,” said Master Hoyt, approvingly. “Take it home, Daniel, and read it, and you’ll know something of the government we’re living under. I suppose you’ve heard your father talk of the days when he was a soldier, and fought against the British?”
“When soldiers were called for, Captain Webster was one of the first to answer the call. But of course you are too young to remember that time.”
“Yes, sir; but I have heard father talk about it.”
“Ay, ay; your father was selected to stand guard before General Washington’s headquarters on the night after Arnold’s treason. The general knew he could depend upon him.”
“Yes, sir; I am sure of that,” said the boy proudly, for he had a high reverence and respect for his soldier father, who on his side was devoted to the best interests of his sons, and was ready when the time came to make sacrifices for them such as would have made most fathers hesitate.
“Ah, those were dark days, Daniel. You are lucky to live in peaceful times, under a free government, but you must never forget how your father and other brave men fought to secure the blessings we now enjoy. Now General Washington is President, and we are no longer a subject colony, but we have a free and independent government.”
It is doubtful how far Daniel and his young companion understood the remarks of Master Hoyt, but doubtless a time came further on when the words recurred to him, and in the light of his father’s conversations, which from time to time he held with his neighbors, gave him a more adequate idea of the character of that government in which in after years he was to take so prominent a part.
“Are you going, Daniel?” asked William Hoyt, as the boys turned to leave his humble store.
“Yes, sir; father may want me at home.”
“Don’t forget your learning, my lad. You must be ready to take up your studies next winter. Soon you will know as much as I do.”
It was meant for an encouraging remark, but the prospect it held out was not one to dazzle the imagination even of a boy of eight, for as I have already said the good man’s acquirements were of the most limited character.
Daniel went home with his precious handkerchief snugly stowed away in his pocket. He was saving it till evening when he promised himself the pleasure of reading it.
After supper by the light of the open log fire he brought out his new possession.
“What have you there, my son?” asked his father.
“It is a handkerchief, father, with the Constitution of the United States printed on it.”
“Where did you get it?”
“At Master Hoyt’s store.”
“Dan spent all his money for it,” said Ezekiel.
“Well, well, he might have done worse. It will do him no harm to read the Constitution of his country,” said the father, gravely.
Thus assured of his father’s approval, the boy devoted himself to the reading of that famous document, of which in after years he was to become the staunch supporter and defender. For this boy was in his manhood to rank among the great men of the earth, and to leave a name and a fame to which his countrymen for centuries to come will point with just and patriotic pride.
This boy with slender form, swarthy face, and dark eyes, was Daniel Webster.
Daniel’s family had not lived many years at Elms Farm. Captain Webster first occupied a log house which he had himself built, and in this humble dwelling Ezekiel and one of his sisters were born. He was poor in worldly goods, but rich in children, having had ten born to him, five by the second marriage. Daniel was the youngest but one, and Sarah the youngest of all.
When the war of the American Revolution broke out Daniel’s father was one of the first to take up arms. He himself drew up, and induced eighty-four of his townsmen to sign, the following patriotic pledge:
“We do solemnly engage and promise that we will, to the utmost of our power, at the risk of our lives and fortunes, with arms, oppose the hostile proceedings of the British fleets and armies against the United American Colonies.”
Daniel was proud of his descent from such a man, and in the last year of his life declared that “this is sufficient emblazonry for my arms; enough of heraldry for me.”
Ebenezer Webster, Daniel’s father, is described as “a man of great firmness, whose bearing and manner were decisive; tall and erect, with a full chest, black hair and eyes, and rather large and prominent features.” He had never attended school, but his natural powers, supplemented by his own persistent efforts for education, qualified him for a high and influential place in the community in which he lived. But in one thing he was lacking, the ability to make money, and was obliged to practise the utmost frugality in his household. Though he filled various important positions, his compensation was of the smallest. He charged the town for important services but three or four shillings a day—a sum which even the most modest of office-holders nowadays would regard as quite beneath their acceptance.
How he succeeded in wresting a subsistence for his large family from his sterile acres must remain a mystery. He was willing to live poorly, but there was one subject which cost him anxious thought. How was he to provide his family, and especially the two youngest boys, with the educational advantages which had been denied to him? There were no good schools near home, and without money he could not send his boys out of town to school.
Help came in an unexpected way.
One day the stalwart farmer entered his house with a look of satisfaction on his dark and rugged features.
“Wife,” he said, “I have been appointed Judge of the Court of Common Pleas for the county.”
“Indeed!” said his wife, naturally pleased at the honor which had been conferred upon her husband.
“It will bring me three to four hundred dollars a year,” said Mr. Webster, “and now I can hope to educate my boys.”
This was his first thought, and hers. It was not proposed to improve their style of living, to buy new furniture or new clothes, but to spend it in such a way as would best promote the interests of those whom God had committed to their keeping.
Three or four hundred dollars! It was a very small sum, so most of my boy readers will think; and so it was, but in a farmer’s household on the bleak acres of New Hampshire it would go a considerable way. Every dollar in Ebenezer Webster’s hands brought its money’s worth, and as we shall see hereafter it brought rich interest to the investor.
But Daniel was still too young for any immediate steps to be taken in the desired direction. He was sent to the small town schools, where he learned what the master was able to teach him. Sometimes he had two and a half and three miles to walk to school, but the farmer’s boy, though delicate, was not thought too delicate for such a walk. Indeed the boy’s delicacy was in his favor, for he was thought not robust enough to work on the farm steadily, and was sent to school, as an elder half-brother, Joseph, laughingly said, “to make him equal with the rest of the boys.” It was hard for those who saw him in later years, in his majestic proportions, to believe that he had been a delicate boy. The tender sapling had become a stately oak, with not a trace of feebleness or lack of strength.
One day when Daniel was at work in the hayfield, about the middle of the forenoon, Judge Webster, for this was his designation now, saw a carriage approaching.
“Some one to see you, father,” suggested Daniel.
“Yes,” said his father, preparing to leave his work; “it is the Congressman from our district.”
“What is his name?”
“Hon. Abiel Foster, my son. He lives in Canterbury.”
But the Congressman descended from his carriage and entered the field where Daniel and his father were at work. “Don’t let me interrupt you, Judge Webster,” said the visitor. “I merely wished to exchange a few words on public affairs.”
Daniel was old enough to have some notion of the office of a Congressman and his duties, and he regarded the honorable gentleman with attention, and perhaps with reverent respect, though he is said not to have been endowed with more than average ability, notwithstanding he had been educated at college, and had once been a minister.
When the conversation was over the Congressman got into his carriage and rode away. Judge Webster looked thoughtfully after him.
Then he said to Daniel, “My son, that is a worthy man; he is a Member of Congress; he goes to Philadelphia, and gets six dollars a day, while I toil here. It is because he had an education which I never had. If I had had his early education I should have been in Philadelphia in his place. I came near it as it was. But I missed it, and now I must work here.”
“My dear father,” answered Daniel, not without emotion, “you shall not work. Brother and I will work for you, and will wear our hands out, and you shall rest.”
The boy was much moved, and his breast heaved, for he knew well how hard his father had toiled for him and for all the family.
“My child,” said Judge Webster, “it is of no importance to me. I now live but for my children. I could not give your elder brothers the advantages of knowledge, but I can do something for you. Exert yourself, improve your opportunities, learn, learn, and when I am gone you will not need to go through the hardships which I have undergone, and which have made me an old man before my time.”
These words made a profound impression upon the boy. A man’s character and life add weight to the words which he utters, and wise and judicious advice coming from a trifler or a shallow person falls often unheeded, and with reason. But Daniel knew how much his father had accomplished without education—he knew how high his rank was among his neighbors, and no man ever probably received from him a tithe of that reverence which he felt for his plain, unlettered parent.
By this time he knew that his father had been largely instrumental in inducing New Hampshire to ratify that Constitution of which he obtained his first knowledge from the cheap cotton handkerchief which he had purchased at Master Hoyt’s store. The acceptance was by no means a foregone conclusion. Many of the delegates to the convention had been instructed to vote against acceptance, and among them Ebenezer Webster himself. But he obtained permission later to vote according to his own judgment, and the speech which he made in favor of this important action has been preserved. Just before the vote was taken, he rose and said:
“Mr. President, I have listened to the arguments for and against the Constitution. I am convinced such a government as that Constitution will establish, if adopted—a government acting directly on the people of the States—is necessary for the common defence and the public welfare. It is the only government which will enable us to pay off the national debt—the debt which we owe for the Revolution, and which we are bound in honor fully and fairly to discharge. Besides, I have followed the lead of Washington through seven years of war, and I have never been misled. His name is subscribed to this Constitution. He will not mislead us now. I shall vote for its adoption.”
No wonder that Daniel inherited from his father a reverent attachment for that Constitution which Judge Webster by word and deed had helped to secure and establish. His father was a grave and earnest man, but he was not stern nor ascetic. His strength was softened by good humor, and his massive features were often lighted up by a contagious laugh which endeared him to his family, who loved no less than they respected him.
Daniel, as well as his father, had a love of fun, and a sportive humor, which he always preserved. It is said that “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” It is certainly a mistake when a boy is shut out from the innocent sports which boys delight in. John Stuart Mill, who was set to learning while little more than an infant, and who actually began to study Greek at four years of age—lamented in after years that he had never known what boyhood was.
It was not so with Daniel. Though his father’s poverty made it necessary for all to work, Daniel, partly because of his early delicacy, had plenty of time allowed him for amusement. The favorite companion of his leisure hours was not a boy, but a veteran soldier and near neighbor, named Robert Wise. He had built a little cottage in the corner of the Webster farm, and there with his wife he lived till extreme old age. He was born in Yorkshire, had fought on both sides in the Revolutionary struggle, had travelled in various parts of Europe, and had a thousand stories to tell, to all of which the boy listened with avidity. Though he had twice deserted from the English king, his heart still thrilled with pride when Daniel read to him from the newspaper accounts of battles in which the English arms were victorious. He had never learned to read, and Daniel became his favorite because he was always ready to read to him as they sat together at nightfall at the cottage door.
“Why don’t you learn to read yourself, Robert?” asked Daniel one day.
“It’s too late, Dan. I’m gettin’ an old man now, and I couldn’t do it.”
“What will you do when I am grown up, and gone away?”
“I don’t know, Dan. It will be dull times for me.”
When that time came the old man picked up a fatherless boy, and gave him a home and a chance to secure an education, in order that he might have some one to read the newspaper to him.
Whenever Daniel had a day or a few hours to himself he ran across the fields to his humble neighbor’s house.
“Come, Robert,” he would say, “I’ve got nothing to do. Let us go fishing.”
So the two would go down to the banks of the Merrimac, and embark in a boat which belonged to the old man, and paddle up and down the river, sometimes for an entire day. Daniel never lost his love of fishing, but in after years, when the cares of statesmanship were upon him, dressed in suitable style he would take his fishing pole and lie in wait for his finny victims, while perhaps he was mentally composing some one of his famous speeches, destined to thrill the hearts of thousands, or direct the policy of the government. These happy days spent in the open air corrected his native delicacy, and gradually imparted physical strength and vigor, and in time knit the vigorous frame which seemed a fitting temple for his massive intellect.
Even the most trivial circumstances in the boyhood of such a man as Daniel Webster are noteworthy, and I am sure my boy-readers will read with interest and sympathy the account of a signal victory which the boy gained, though it was only over a feathered bully.
Belonging to a neighbor was a cock of redoubtable prowess, a champion whose fame was in all the farmyards for miles around. One day Daniel, coming home from school, beheld with mortification the finish of a contest in which a favorite fowl of his own came off decidedly second best. The victorious rooster strutted about in conscious and complacent triumph.
“It’s too bad, Zeke!” said Daniel in genuine vexation, as he saw the crestfallen look of his own vanquished fowl. “I should like to see that impudent bully get well whipped.”
“There isn’t a rooster about here that can whip him, Dan.”
“I know that, but he will meet his match some time.”
“At any rate I’ll drive him away. He’ll have to run from me.”
Dan picked up a stone, and pelted the victor out of the yard, but the feathered bully, even in his flight, raised a crow of victory which vexed the boy.
“I’d give all the money I’ve got, Zeke, for a rooster that would whip him,” said Dan.
There came a time when Daniel had his wish.
He was visiting a relation at some distance when mention was made casually of a famous fighting cock who had never been beaten.
“Where is he to be found?” asked the boy eagerly.
“Why do you ask?”
“I would like to see him,” said Dan.
“Oh, well, he belongs to Mr.——.”
“Where does he live?”
The desired information was given.
Shortly after Daniel was missed. He found his way to the farm where the pugnacious fowl resided. In the yard he saw the owner, a farmer.
“Good morning, sir,” said Dan.
“Good morning, boy. What can I do for you?” was the reply.
“I hear you have a cock who is a famous fighter.”
“Yes, he’s never been beaten yet!” said the farmer complacently.
“Can I see him?”
“There he is,” said the owner, pointing out the feathered champion.
Daniel surveyed the rooster with great interest.
“Will you sell him?” he asked.
“I don’t know. Why do you want to buy him?”
Daniel explained his object frankly.
“How much are you willing to give?” asked the farmer, for he was a Yankee, and ready for a trade.
Daniel drew from his pocket half a dollar. It represented his entire cash capital.
“Here is half a dollar,” he said. “I’ll give you that.”
“Haven’t you got anymore money?” asked the farmer, who had a keen scent for a bargain.
“No, sir; it is all I have. I’d give you more if I had it.”
Half a dollar in those days was a considerable sum of money, particularly in the eyes of a farmer, who handled very little money, his income being for the most part in the shape of corn, hay and vegetables. Having satisfied himself that it was all he could get, he gave a favorable answer to the boy’s application.
Daniel’s eyes sparkled with delight, and he promptly handed over his fifty cent piece.
“When do you want to take it?” asked the farmer.
“Now,” answered Dan.
The fowl was caught, and Daniel carried it back to the house of his relative in triumph.
“I’m going home,” he said abruptly.
“Going home? Why, you have only just come.”
“I’ll come again soon, but I want to take this cock home, and see if he can’t whip Mr. ——-’s. I want to teach the little bully a lesson.”
So in spite of all that could be said Daniel started on his way home.
When he had gone a short distance he passed a yard stocked with poultry, where a large cock was strutting about defiantly, as if throwing down the gage of battle to any new comers.
A boy was standing near the fence.
“Will your cock fight?” asked Dan.
“He can whip yours,” was the reply.
“Are you willing to try it?”
“Yes, come along.”
The trial was made, and Dan’s new purchase maintained his reputation, by giving a sound drubbing to his feathered rival.
Dan surveyed the result with satisfaction.
“I guess he’ll do,” he said to himself.
He kept on his way till he got within sight of home.
“What brings you home so soon, Dan?” asked Zeke.
“See here, Zeke!” said Dan eagerly.” Here is a cock that will whip Mr. ——’s all to pieces.”
“Don’t be too sure of it!”
“I’ve tried him once, and he’s game.”
The boys did not have long to wait for the trial.
Over came the haughty intruder, strutting about with his usual boastful air.
Dan let loose his new fowl, and a battle royal commenced. Soon the tyrant of the barnyard found that he had met a foe worthy of his spur. For a time the contest was an open one, but in ten minutes the feathered bully was ignominiously defeated, and led about by the comb in a manner as humiliating as had ever happened when he was himself the victor.
Daniel witnessed the defeat of the whilom tyrant with unbounded delight, and felt abundantly repaid for his investment of all his spare cash, as well as the cutting short of his visit. Probably in the famous passage at arms which he had many years after with Mr. Hayne, of South Carolina, his victory afforded him less satisfaction than this boyish triumph.
“What are you thinking about, Dan?” asked his mother one evening as the boy sat thoughtfully gazing at the logs blazing in the fireplace.
“I was wishing for something to read,” answered the boy.
Indeed that was his chief trouble in those early days. Libraries were scarce, and private collections equally scarce, especially in small country places. So the boy’s appetite for books was not likely to be satisfied.
Daniel’s words attracted the attention of his father.
“I have been speaking to some of our neighbors to-day,” he said, “about establishing a small circulating library which we could all use. I think we shall do something about it soon.”
“I hope you will, father,” said Dan eagerly.
“If we all contribute a little, we can make a beginning. Besides we can put in some books we have already.”
A week or two later Judge Webster announced that the library had been established, and it may be easily supposed that Daniel was one of the first to patronize it. It was a small and, many of my boy friends would think, an unattractive collection. But in the collection was the “Spectator,” in reading which Daniel unconsciously did something towards forming a desirable style of his own. He was fond of poetry, and at an early age could repeat many of the psalms and hymns of Dr. Watts.
There was another poem which so impressed him that he learned to repeat the whole of it. This was Pope’s “Essay on Man,” a poem which I fear is going out of fashion, which is certainly a pity, for apart from its literary merits it contains a great deal of sensible advice as to the conduct of life. As it is not of so much importance how much we read as how thoroughly, and how much we remember, there is reason to think that Daniel got more benefit from his four books than most of the boys of to-day from their multitude of books.
Once, however, Daniel’s literary enthusiasm came near having serious consequences. A new almanac had been received, and as usual each of the months was provided with a couplet of poetry. After going to bed Daniel and Ezekiel got into a dispute about the couplet at the head of the April page, and in order to ascertain which was correct Dan got out of bed, went down stairs, and groped his way to the kitchen, where he lighted a candle and went in search of the almanac. He found it, and on referring to it ascertained that Ezekiel was right. His eagerness made him careless, and an unlucky spark from the candle set some cotton clothes on fire. The house would have been consumed but for the exertions and presence of mind of his father. It may be a comfort to some of my careless young readers to learn that so great a man as Daniel Webster occasionally got into mischief when he was a boy.
Somewhere about this time a young lawyer, Mr. Thomas W. Thompson, came to Daniel’s native town and set up an office.
As he was obliged to be absent at times, and yet did not wish to close his office, he proposed to Daniel to sit in his office and receive callers in his absence. Though boys do not generally take kindly to confinement, the office contained one attraction for the boy in a collection of books, probably of a miscellaneous character such as a young man is likely to pick up.
Daniel’s time was not otherwise occupied, for he had no service to render, except to stay in the office and inform callers when Mr. Thompson would be back, and he was therefore at liberty to make use of the books. He made a selection unusual for a boy. There was an old Latin grammar, which the young lawyer had probably used himself in his preparatory course. This book Daniel selected, and began to study by himself. His employer offered to hear him recite in it, and soon had occasion to be surprised at the strong and retentive memory of his office boy. Probably none of the law books attracted the future lawyer. It would have been surprising if they had.
“Judge Webster,” said Thompson, on meeting the father of his young employee, “Dan will make a fine scholar if he has the chance.”
“I think the boy has ability.”
“He certainly has. He ought to go to college.”
Judge Webster shook his head.
“I should like it above all things,” he said, “but I can’t see my way clear. I am a poor man, as you know, and it would cost a great deal of money to carry Dan through college even after he were prepared.”
This was true, and the young lawyer was unprepared with any suggestion as to how the difficult matter was to be arranged. But Judge Webster did not forget the conversation. He was considering what could be done towards giving his promising son an education. He was willing to sacrifice his comfort, even, if thereby he could give him a good start in life.
Finally he made up his mind to start him on the way, even if he were obliged to stop short before reaching the desired goal.
Not far away was an institution which has since become famous, Exeter Academy, which has now for a century been doing an important work in preparing boys for our best colleges, and has always maintained a high standard of scholarship. Thither Judge Webster determined to take Daniel, and provide for his expenses by domestic self-denial. It was not till he had fully made up his mind that he announced his determination to the boy.
“Dan,” he said one evening, “you must be up early to-morrow.”
Daniel supposed he was to be set at some farm work.
“We are going to make a journey,” answered Judge Webster.
“A journey!” repeated the boy in surprise. “Where are we going?”
“I am going to take you to Exeter, to put you at school there.”
The boy listened with breathless interest and delight, mingled perhaps with a little apprehension, for he did not know he would succeed in the untried scenes which awaited him.
“Won’t it be expensive, father?” he asked after a pause, for he knew well his father’s circumstances, and was unusually considerate for a boy.
“Yes, my son, but I look to you to improve your time, so that I may find my investment a wise one.”
“How are we to go, father?”
Dan was a little puzzled, not knowing whether he and his father were to ride on one horse or not, as was a frequent custom at that time. It would have been hard upon any horse, for the judge was a man of weight, and the boy though light would have considerably increased the burden.
The next morning Daniel’s curiosity was gratified. In front of the farmhouse stood two horses, one belonging to his father, the other filled out with a side-saddle.
“Is that horse for me?” asked Daniel in surprise.
“Yes, my son.”
“What do I want of a side-saddle? I am not a lady.”
“Neighbor —— is sending the horse to Exeter for the use of a lady who is to return here. I agreed to take charge of it, and it happens just right, as you can use it.”