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He knew he had but two years in which to accomplish a usual four-years' cruise. He mated with the steadier sort of the youthful crew, and so passed with distinction through his course.
While at Bowdoin he gave earnest of his future brilliancy, and the prediction was then made that he would make his mark in the world. Besides pursuing his ordinary prescribed studies he joined a select literary society,-composed of his college-chums, Apthorp, McClellan, Appleton, Paine, and Lord,—the main object of which was to improve the members in extempore speaking. The rule of the society was, that when it met some question should be sprung for immediate debate, and then each member was to give his views, without a moment's preparation.
In all my reading I never read or heard of such a society before. Its name was a compound of Greek and English,“Spouteroi,”—and expressed its object. The spouting of the youngsters must have been, at first, very crude, but of course they improved by practice, and the habit learned in this boyish forum may have given the bent to the genius of Prentiss that gave him, in after-times, such extraordinary facility of (to use the expression of Judge Alexander Walker) “ thinking on his legs."
In the severer college studies his college-mate, Hilliard, says, “He studied the most abstruse branches with the same facility as the lighter ones.
He seemed to master · Butler's Analogy' without apparent extra effort, while at the same time he fed his imagination with the works of fiction,” Shakspeare, Byron, Scott, Milton, “ The Arabian Nights,” “Don Quixote," and Lemprière, all contributed to swell the volume of beauty that in after-years he used to lavish in such prodigal profusion. While he stood high with his professors, he ranked yet higher with his fellow-students, for he exhibited to them traits of genius unknown to the faculty.
It was during his college career, while winning golden opinions from professors and students, that an overwhelming calamity fell upon him. His father, who had looked upon him with 80 much pride and affection, fell a victim to that same insidious disease which afterwards carried to the grave his illustrious son. Those who have passed through life without a father's guidance
and affection experience a yearning that never can be gratified, but it is only when a youth is old enough to have looked up to the father for guidance, and felt his love, that he can appreciate the loss when it falls.
Independent of the anguish of his heart at the death of his father, Seargent, then but sixteen years of age, felt that a heavy responsibility had fallen upon his shoulders. He was to take the position and help his elder brother, as the head of the house, to be a comfort, as far as in him lay, to the bereaved mother, to be a father to the younger children. How he discharged these solemn obligations will be seen in the course of this narrative.
His college career closed on the second Wednesday of September, 1826, when the degree of “Bachelor of Arts” was conferred upon him by Bowdoin College, a name rendered classic by the reflected glory of so many of her illustrious alumni. Of course the graduate felt the elation that it is supposed an imprisoned bird feels upon its being released from the cage, but it was tinged by the sadness of bidding adieu to his young companions. For some of these he had formed an attachment that outlasted their ephemeral college days and lingered to the close of life. Appleton seems to have been the one to whom he was most devotedly attached, but he died in the very spring-time of early manhood. Samuel S. Boyd was the one with whom he was thrown in after-life, and their destinies were partially linked together. A touching tribute has been paid to others of his companions in the beautiful “Memoirs" by his brother.
After leaving college he had but a brief vacation, for, young as he was, he had no time to spare for recreation or pleasure. Accordingly, on the 20th of September of the same year, just on the verge of eighteen years of age, he entered, as a student of law, the office of Judge Pierce. With him he studied law just ten months. He had the happy faculty of adapting himself to his situation, of domesticating himself and becoming a part of the family with whom he lived ; this was owing to the natural kindliness of his disposition. And so it was here; Mrs. Pierce lost her sister during the absence of her husband. Seargent acted throughout the painful scene with all the tenderness of a brother, and consoled by his sympathy the distress he could not wholly
alleviate. It is in the hours of sorrow that the affections take deepest root and bloom to perfection, and his kindness to them then more than repaid the obligations he was under to the family. The pride with which they watched his after brilliant career was blended with the affection for the boy student of law.
The time of fallowing, so to speak, of the professional student is a sombre epoch in one's life; it was so with young Prentiss: occasionally there floated over his spirits fits of gloom and despondency bordering on cynicism. He felt depressed at the idea of being, even for a time, a drone in the family hive, not making anything. The world was to him out of joint, and he chafed for the opportunity to prove himself equal to cope with it. He continued with Judge Pierce for nearly a year, but his impatience for self-support grew so strong that he determined to strike out for himself. He had said when a boy that he was determined to have a profession if he had to learn a shoemaker's trade and work until he got enough money to educate himself; now that he was well on the road he would launch out for himself, and complete his profession on his own means and from his own toil.
The sentiment that had been poetically expressed by, Bishop Berkeley—“ Westward the course of empire takes its way" – seemed to be now in the full course of its fulfilment, for the current set that way, and hundreds of ambitious New England youths thither turned their eyes to seek their fortunes.
Young Prentiss caught the contagion; his ambitious hopes were briefly summed up: he would emigrate to the West, he would teach a school, study law, make a fortune, and then return to the home of his childhood to enjoy life in the midst of his friends.
How often has that dream of ambition been realized but in part! how often has the young sapling transplanted to other soil, after its roots are deeply struck as an exotic, found it impossible to tear itself from its adopted home! Be that as it may, it was the chateau en Espagne that determined the movement of Prentiss. It cost the heart of his mother a bitter pang to part with him for such a perilous journey and such a hazardous venture, but the necessity was inevitable and had to be endured. As her hand had nursed him so tenderly in his infancy, so now the same hands, with provident care, plied the needle to give him such an outfit in clothes as to place him above want in that respect for at least two years. In his letters back to his home he lovingly refers to this provident care of his mother in terms of affectionate gratitude.
It was on the 1st of August, 1827, that the boy of eighteen took leave of the family for his long journey “to the land of the West.” Like our first parent, Adam, at the gate of Paradise,
“ The world was all before him where to choose
His place of rest, and Providence his guide.” Amid the tears and blessings of the little group he mounted the wagon drawn by the old gray horse of the family and went his way to Portland. From there he took the steamer to Boston. This great city was then, as it is now, to the New England boy what Mecca is to the Mohammedan. He lingered there some four or five days, visiting his friends and revelling in its historic associations. He then resumed his journey “Westward ho.” He took the stage from Boston to Providence, and thence the steamer to New York. He was armed with those blessed inventions, letters of introduction. I call them blessed, for they are the life-buoys to the young stranger in foreign waters to keep him afloat until he can himself swim without them. Judge Pierce had given him a letter to Mr. Thomas Fessenden, of New York, and on reaching there he presented it. That gentleman gave him a kindly greeting and a helping hand by introducing him to others.
He put up at the "American Hotel,” away down Broadway, in the then fashionable part of the city. He seems not to have been much struck with admiration for the great metropolis. Alas! how could a mere youth as he was, voyaging to an unknown world, have the heart to enjoy anything?
“His heart was in the Hielands,
and the shadow of memory lengthened the farther he left his home behind him.
He lingered in New York only three days, but there, as elsewhere, he ingratiated himself with the few persons to whom he
was introduced. Before he left there Mr. Fessenden gave him a letter of introduction to his friend, Judge Wright, of Cincinnati.
He left New York on the 10th of August, that witching time of the year when the coming autumn in that climate begins to breathe its invigorating air. With a poetic eye he revelled in the beauty of the Hudson and its scenery. The Palisades, the Catskill, the Tappan Zee, West Point, each in succession, as he passed them, imbued his soul with their softened sublimity. It took just twelve hours to make the trip of one hundred and sixty miles to Albany; and, as a reminder of the way they managed to save time in taking on passengers on the route in those times, we give an extract from his letters to the “old folks at home" :
“Just before arriving at a landing-place," he writes, " the small boat was let down, having a long rope attached. Passengers and baggage were put aboard and let loose. The small boat would then run along to the landing place, leave the passengers, take in new ones, and the rope being immediately attached to some machinery on the steam boat, in a few minutes the small boat was along side and taken in, and the steamboat all the while under headway at twelve miles an hour.”
He passed through Albany without stopping and took the route through the lovely Mohawk Valley, partly by way of the canal, at the rate of three and a half miles per hour, and partly by stage to the then village of Buffalo. From there he went to visit the falls of Niagara. His first impressions about them are best given in his own language:
“ They are truly grand and magnificent, but I must confess I was somewhat disappointed in them, especially in the noise, which is not half so great as I anticipated ; still they are probably the most sublime and tremendous in the world, and I have no doubt if I should see them again I should be even more struck than at the first time."
Such, I believe, is the experience of nine-tenths of visitors at their first sight of Niagara. It is only when revisited after the first view that their awful sublimity fully impresses itself upon our minds. When we return and see the sparkling rapids “ leaping and dashing and splashing” along; when we behold for a second time the awful plunge of the “inland sea,”—the yeasty waves churned to a milky whiteness in the caldron below,--the ever-changing but ever-present iris hues; when we hear again