« PreviousContinue »
All my flattering prospects vanished in an instant; I saw myself sinking under the wretchedness of poverty and disappointed emulation."...... Still I did not murmur, nor cast one reflection against the hand that oppressed me. Divine Providence saw fit that thus it should be, and I submitted, conscious that the Judge of all the earth would do right; and though I saw no other way but to abandon the course I had hitherto so successfully pursued, yet I did not distrust his grace. I expressed my feelings to no one, but my contenance sufficiently indicated my unhappiness.
'One evening after supper I came into my room as usual, and found several of my class-mates assembled there with my chum. I sat down with them, and we all joined conversation. After some time spent in social freedom, they all retired together, and left me alone. This, as you will see directly, was done design. edly. I drew up the table, on which our books were laid, near to the fire, and leaning my head upon my hand, sat ruminating on my unhappy situation, till the college clock summoned me to study. My next lesson was in Livy. I found my book laid, as if inadvertently, under some larger ones. Upon opening to the spot where my lesson began, I discovered a letter, sealed and directed to me. At first sight I thought it might contain some difficult question in algebra, some ænigma, or poetical pun, which are frequently left about to try our ingenuity in answering them: but judge my feelings when, on opening it, I found it contained. a one hundred dollar bill on the State Bank, Boston, and these lines :
"Mr. W. Person,-Dear Sir,
"Permit a number of your friends to present you the inclosed, as a small proof that brilliancy of talent, (which alone sometimes generates envy,) when united to amiability of disposition, invariably gains esteem."
It is impossible to describe the successive emotions of surprize, gratitude, and joy, which this splendid and unexpected favour occasioned: It chased away my despondence and restored my usual vivacity, and in the fulness of my heart, I poured out the purest effusions of gratitude to that Almighty power, whose providence has always been my safeguard and support, and who brought me into those trying circumstances that he might make a more illustrious display of his goodness and beneficence toward How true it is that "the Lord will not forsake those who put their trust in him!" Here is an ample supply for all my present necessities, and as for the future, they are yet unknown.
• Upon inquiry, I learned that a number of my wealthy classmates, having become acquainted with my circumstances, my re
cent disappointment, and my necessity of leaving college in consequence, kindly contributed from their abundance to furnish me with the means of continuing here. A young man by the name of R***, from Charleston, S. C., whose superiority of talent justly gives him the first rank in our class, was the principal agent in procuring this donation, and by his means it was conveyed to me in the manner before described. To him therefore as the representative for himself and fellow-donors, I immediately addressed a billet, containg the "simple expression of my gratitude, as a sincere though inadequate return for their distinguished liberality; rendered still more acceptable by the disinterestedness and delicate regard to personal feeling displayed in its application," together with such encomiums and remarks as justice required and my feelings at that time dictated. This was answered in terms the most friendly and flattering. I have been thus explicit, that you might have some idea of my present circumstances as they are, and that you might rejoice with me in my prosperity.' pp. 33-37.
We are now to state very succinctly by what course of events Person became a member of Harvard University. In 1801, he was taken from Andover by two gentlemen, one of whom he did not see after reaching Boston, and the other he accompanied to Providence, and became a resident in his family, as an apprentice for learning the tanner's trade. When he left Andover, he was told, that he should return in a fortnight. This piece of deception was probably thought necessary, on account of his strong attachment to the family in which he resided; an attachment, which seems hardly to have lessened in the long interval which elapsed before his return. In a record made after that event, he describes this journey in a manner, which shews how deeply every circumstance had been imprinted on his mind. The piece is too long to quote, but in the conclusion he thus speaks of his past occupations, and the prospects, which were then opening upon him.
'At six o'clock P. M. I arrived at Providence. To this succeeded a tedious, long, and unremitted apprenticeship; and the promised fortnight was protracted to thirteen years! But I dwelt in the bosom of a worthy family, and am cheered by the consciousness of having served my master faithfully; and am blessed with the satisfaction of knowing, that am beloved by his family; and possessed with a strong hope of yet enjoying the ac
complishment of my wishes; of being agreeable to myself, and useful to my country; and to crown all, I am restored to Andover!" p. 9.
We are told, that during his residence at Providence, his fidelity and diligence in business were most exemplary; that his moral character was untainted; his manners and conversation singularly amiable and attractive. He seems, indeed, to have there found a home, and to have been cordially adopted into a family circle, where a kindness almost parental made him forget awhile his loneliness. In his letters from Andover and Cambridge, he always speaks in terms of the warmest affection and gratitude of his friends at Bloomsgrove, the name given to his residence at Providence.
Bloomsgrove, Providence, names which never occur to me, without calling up the most agreeable sensations-scenes of childhood and of youth, where I have passed so many happy hours, where I have lived so long and loved so sincerely-abodes too of those friends, to whom, if to any, I look for continued affection-for continued parental fondness and solicitude, and with whom I yet hope often to mingle in the social circle-places and friends endeared to me by such ties, can I ever forget?' p. 127.
And again, March 17, 1817.
Every thing that concerns or comes from Bloomsgrove cannot fail to excite my tenderest interest. Never does my heart glow with such warm affection, and tender sensibility as when moved by reflecting on this beloved and to me endeared spot. 'Tis then all the sympathies of my soul expand, and in one fond embrace, encircle all its dear inhabitants, its friends, its cares, its pleasures and its sorrows. And such reflection is always produced by the perusal of your letters; and while tracing in these the successive demonstrations of your affection and solicitude, I feel the nearest approximation to the pleasures of consanguinity, and almost forget that I am an orphan.' pp. 31, 32.
His ardour for study never abated. His evenings, during his apprenticeship, were as faithfully devoted to his own improvement, as his hours of daylight were to the duties of his employment.' An inclination so strong and decided was not to be overcome. By agreement, he was released from his apprenticeship one year sooner than usual. He then returned to Andover. The whole of this transaction is well
described by himself, but we can only allow ourselves to transcribe what relates to his feelings on revisiting the scenes of his earliest childhood.
'I had an additional motive in visiting this place. [Andover.] It was here I first learned that I was mortal. It was here passed my infantile years. Here were spent my happiest hours of childish gaiety. Those blissful seasons were engrossed by salutary study and playful diversions with my fellow school-mates. Unconscious of the future, I rambled, laughed, and sung, nor knew of evil. Ever grateful will be the recollection of these youthful scenes-ever dear to me this favoured villa, and dearer still its worthy inhabitants. Indescribable were my feelings, at again beholding them. My sensations were not unlike those of an exile restored to his native country after long and many years of sorrow and despondency! Thirteen years had done but little to obliterate the incidents of childhood or their connexions; and the former involuntarily revived in my memory to assist in identifying the latter. With inexpressible pleasure did I recog nize the humble mansion where, for the first seven years of my life, I found a home. Its venerable inmates, with the exception of one, were still living. By them I was cordially received and made paternally welcome.' p. 20.
He remained at Andover, enjoying the benefit of the liberal provision made in Phillips Academy for the support of charity scholars, till he was prepared for Harvard University, where he was admitted in August, 1816. He soon acquired great reputation as a scholar, and applied himself to study with a diligence too great for his constitution. At the close of his freshman year (July 27, 1817,) he thus writes to his friends at Providence.
'One year of my college life has almost passed, and yet I hardly feel wonted to the spot. I can scarcely realize that I am a Cambridge student. How swift is the flight of time! Indeed at every successive period of my reflection upon it, the most striking peculiarity I note of it is its greater apparent rapidity. Infancy and childhood have flitted away like meteors of the night, and the golden hours of youth, which constitute the most important and interesting scene of life, are swiftly passing to their exit! Old age will soon succeed, and then life's little drama close forever! The period of our existence is well compared to a span," "the dream of a night," "a shadow," "a vapour which appeareth for a moment, and then vanisheth away."
Twenty-three years of the little space allotted me, are already numbered and finished. The last three or four of these, the interval between this and the time I lived with you, have been so rapid in their transit, that it seems scarcely possible they could form such a portion of my life. The scenes and circumstances of my apprenticeship are as fresh in my memory, as if they occurred but yesterday, and the forms and features of my friends and associates at that period, I trace with almost visible exactness. Circumstances, which have intervened, though of later date, are still less prominent in my recollection. With seeming surprise, therefore, I ask myself the question, "Am 1, who was so recently an illiterate mechanic, already the subject of three years' continued study? Have I advanced so far as to be a Cambridge student?" Surely not the time, but the change of place and employment only give reality to the fact.' pp. 133, 134.
The spring vacation of 1818 he employed in studying chemistry. The beginning of the term found him in a very low state of health, and he reluctantly obtained leave of absence. He went to Andover, in the hope, that a short residence there would restore him. But,' says his biographer, it was now too late; and no medicine, nor change of place could restore a frame, worn out by intense study, and hastened in its decay by the agonies of an aspiring mind struggling under the pressure of poverty.' Sick and feeble as he was, however, he now resolved to make one last effort for satisfying the impatient desire, which he had ever felt, to know his parents, and the story of his birth. His maintenance, until the time of his apprenticeship, had been paid for by a gentleman residing at a distance of about sixty miles, who professed himself to be acting as the friend of his father. Repeated but unsuccessful applications had been made to this gentleman by Person, and by his friends at his request, for the information, which he so anxiously desired. He now resolved to urge his request in person, and for this purpose he undertook and accomplished a journey into New Hampshire. The interview was granted, and upon his pressing his inquiries in the most determined manner, declaring that he would not go till he was satisfied, he was told the name of his mother, which he is not known,' says his biographer, to have disclosed,' and some particulars of her person and history. She had then been dead about two years. He received no answer to his questions respecting his father. He New Series, No. 4.