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" Will” before he was fifteen; and before he was eighteen had mastered the contents of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations,” for a copy of which he had exchanged a gold pocket-piece which had been presented to him.
Born and bred among the traditions of our war for Independence, he early made himself familiar with so much of its history as had then got into print. The facility with which he absorbed knowledge, and the rapidity with which he digested it, led his parents, doubtless under the advice of aunt Younglove, to think him worth the expense of a collegiate education. That they reached that conclusion is the best possible evidence that they had begun to think very highly of his abilities; for the cost of a collegiate education in those days, trifling as it seems in comparison with the expense of such privileges now, was a serious burden even to those who, like Mr. Tilden, were living in comparative ease.
The war of 1812, following so soon the more protracted war for Independence, had fearfully impoverished the country. All kinds of business had been paralyzed, capital to revive it was not abundant, and the public credit was seriously impaired. The general depression was felt acutely in small towns like New Lebanon, where the population for miles around depended for subsistence almost entirely upon the tillage of the soil. So long as the people were contented with the commodities which their town or country produced, they could, by exchange, get on very comfortably without much money; but when it became necessary to procure what the neighborhood did not produce (and an academic education was of this class), money was required, and for a collegiate degree a sum which to the parents of those days was far from inconsiderable. However, it was thought to be the best use father Tilden could put his money or his son to, to educate him for some intellectual profession; and, in accordance with that conclusion, the young philosopher was sent to an academy in Williamstown, in the State of Massachusetts, in the spring of 1830 and in the sixteenth year of his age, to be fitted for college.
1 Aside from travelling expenses, the average annual expense of a collegian in New England during the first quarter of this century was about $250. William Cullen Bryant paid one dollar a week for his board and instruction while fitting for college.
When Doctor Guthrie, one of the most celebrated of the Scotch preachers of this century, entered the University of Edinburgh, November, 1815, he paid one dollar and a quarter a week for his room, which served as bedroom, parlor, and study in one, coals, attendance, and cooking included. “ The usual bill of fare," he has told us, “was tea once every day, oatmeal porridge twice a day, and for dinner fresh herring and potatoes. I don't think we indulged in butcher's meat more than twice during the whole first session at college, nor that, apart from the expense of fees, books, and what my tutor received, I cost my father £10."
There was no provision here for football or boating matches or theatre parties or champagne suppers.
Of Samuel's brief experience at this academy we know nothing save what we gather from his correspondence with his family, which, though not copious, occasionally gives interesting glimpses of his habits of mind at that early age, and of the conditions and limitations, physical, financial, and educational, with which he had to contend.
In a letter written to his father in June, 1830, we see a curious evidence of the authority he had already acquired, not only in his own family, but in the New Lebanon community. He had left home charged with the commission to find a suitable teacher for the school at New Lebanon. In this letter he thus reported on a candidate by the name of Darby:
" Mr. Darby is anxious to hear the result soon, so as to prepare to come if you employ him. He comes highly recommended and I doubt not that he will answer your purpose well.”
He then goes on to personal and more interesting matters. "I wish you would enclose two or three compositions which may be found in my bureau. I
| These compositions were carefully preserved by Mr. Tilden, and are now in the possession of the Tilden Trust.
wrote for some articles of clothing - two pairs of stockings would be sufficient. It has not rained for these two days, and I hope to have some dry and pleasant weather. I have at last been able to procure a recitation in French — six recitations of an hour per week for forty-two cents. discontinue them any time. I believe Mr. Darby has a little French. I will do about continuing the recitations as you write. I wish Moses would send up the 'Evangelist,'
Pittsfield Sun,' and once in a while the Traveller.' I wish some of you would write often and let me know what is going on.”
How and where is Smith? What is the prospect? Are you enquiring or have you found a teacher? I want to hear the news. I rise every morning between half-past four and half-past five - go to bed between nine and ten. I cannot say that I am as much pleased with the academy as I had anticipated, but I can get my lessons and recite them. I can learn pretty fast."
"I think you had better get a teacher, and, if Smith stays, hire a room to prevent the scholars from leaving, and prepare for getting scholars in the winter. If the school is discontinued now, it cannot get started this winter."
Two days later he writes again about the school. The Doctor Griffin referred to in this letter, whose recommendation is so freely criticised, was then president of Williams College.
" WILLIAMSTOWN, Monday, June 21, 1830. DEAR PARENTS :
"I should have written before, but I missed the mail, and now have little to say.
"Doctor Griffin says: Tell you that he can furnish you with a teacher who will suit you. He mentioned SBut I doubt whether there is any probability of obtaining a teacher here. The doctor has generally a considerable number of applicants for places, and would probably give any one or anything a recommendation. I have not as yet had an opportunity of seeing Mr. Lockwood and ascertaining whether there is any suitable person in the senior class,
The name of a man who had been teaching at New Lebanon in a small way.
and have little hope from there. As soon as I see him and make some inquiries, I will write again. There are some tutors here that might answer the purpose, if they could be procured, which is very doubtful, — Tutor Harris and
Tutor Lazelle, the latter of whom has taught in the high school at Pittsfield.
" The weather is very pleasant except that it rains a great part of the time, and is cold enough to chill a Laplander. I wish you would send by the next opportunity two or three pairs of woollen stockings, and, as I have my washing by the article, a black handkerchief. They have few scholars at the academy, but I have not been long enough to judge as to the teacher. He is a very pleasant man. I study entirely in my room and go in for recitations. It is doubtful whether I shall be permitted to attend the recitations of the French class, but may recite to some scholar. I shall ascertain as to those things when it finishes raining.”
Though Samuel carried through with success his negotiations for a teacher, he seems to have been disappointed with the school at Williamstown, or with some of the other conditions of life there, for he remained but three months. The principal reason for his leaving, no doubt, was his health, which was very delicate. The next two years he resided at home, making the best of such limited opportunities as the county afforded.
Early in the spring of 1832, desiring to avail himself of a higher order of medical skill than New Lebanon could furnish, and not satisfied with the progress he was making in his education, he went to New York to live with a widowed aunt who eked out a scanty income by keeping what was then esteemed a fashionable boarding-house; father Tilden being its financial sponsor.
Samuel soon became his aunt's prime minister, of whose advice and kind offices she was not long in learning the value. The management of her affairs constitutes a topic of more or less prominence in all his correspondence with his family during several succeeding years.
He had not been long in New York before we find him pleading with his father for the privilege of taking some lessons in elocution, which were offered upon what he considered pecuniarily advantageous terms.
The importance which he seemed to attach to these lessons and the vigor with which he pressed his suit, though only on the score of health, suggests a suspicion that he had already begun to indulge a hope that some day he too might be endowed with the charm of eloquence. His family were apprehensive that his lungs were in danger and he was threatened with consumption. They therefore questioned the prudence of his subjecting his chest to the training of an elocutionist. To this he made answer on the 23d of May, 1832 :
"I have reflected more upon the subject of the lessons, but am unable to resist the impression that, so far from being injurious, they would be beneficial to my health. I was first induced by my experience a long time since to believe that regular occupation is not less necessary than regularity of diet or exercise. Exercise itself loses half its value by being without an object. Without occupation, without some stimulus to activity, a lassitude and indisposition to exertion, not less unfavorable to health than to the progress of one's business, unavoidably creeps through the whole frame. More than this, an irregularity of habits, ex
. ceedingly pernicious, is and ever must be attendant upon indolence. Vacuity of mind, too, is as prejudicial to health as an exciting, stimulating ardor and activity are beneficial
My attention was first called to this subject, and my opinion changed, by an observation of the fact that I have usually declined in health on giving up regular and habitual occupation, while I have improved faster while I have been thus occupied. So convinced I had become that I had intended, in case my present course of measures had failed, as more than once has seemed likely, and I should not take a sea voyage, to return home to execute, firmly, a plan deliberately formed."
le Do not imagine that I write wholly at the dictation of my imagination. If I have ever sacrificed my health, it has