The Poor Rich Man, and the Rich Poor Man/Chapter XII
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Chapter XII. "Society" at the Poor Man's Home
|Chapter XIII. "Society" at the Rich Man's Home→|
All the preliminaries were arranged, and the time arrived for the first sociable, as the parties had agreed to call their meeting. They all belonged, according to the common classification, to the lower orders—shame to us that we do not abjure terms inappropriate to our country. Our humble friends, having no help, were obliged to make considerable efforts to effect their meetings; but when persons set about in earnest to obtain a moderate good, they will find, or make a way, to compass the means. Aunt Lottie was always at home to see to the youngest children—there was a care-taking old grandmother in one family—another had a kind "Cousin Sally" ready to lend a hand—and one good mother "would manage any way rather than lose such a privilege for her children." So, at six o'clock, the prescribed time, the members of the sociable, numbering thirty, parents and children included, assembled at the Aikins'. Their room had the air of comfort that tidiness and judicious arrangement can give to the commonest apartment. The bed (it must be remembered the Aikins were yet obliged to make one room serve for kitchen, bedroom, and parlour), the bed was made up as nicely as a shaking Quaiker's, and covered by a patchwork quilt—the work and pride of the little Aikins, and the admiration of the matrons. A substantial rag carpet was spread over the middle of the floor. The stove, a mournful substitute for the cheerful, open fireplace of the olden time, was black and shining as stove could be. Uncle Phil's cushioned chair, and Aunt Lottie's stuffed one, stood on either side of the stove. The window-ledges were filled with the prettiest screens—plants. Aunt Lottie's charge—the stoutest in pots, and the nurslings in well-patched teapots and mugs. A Connecticut clock (bless the economical artists that have placed within the reach of every poor man this domestic friend and faithful monitor) stood on the mantel-piece. A curtain was drawn aside from two book-shelves, filled with excellent books; the most conspicuous were a Bible, a Hymn-book, the Pilgrim's Progress, a Compend of Universal History, History of America, the American Revolution, a Life of Washington, and a Constitution of the United States, bound up with Washington's Farewell Address. Underneath these shelves was a pine table, with a pile of books, slates, and writings books, two clearly-burning lamps on it, and a chair for Mr. Barlow and benches for the children beside it. A smaller table was placed in the middle of the room; and on it, bright as burnished gold, two brass candlesticks, which Susan had inherited from her grandmother, and which proudly bore two good mould candles of her thrifty grandchild's running. On another table, under the glass, was a waiter, with a nice napkin, which covered a simple treat of biscuits and butter, cakes, nuts, and apples; and on the stove a pot of cocoa.
"We none of us," Harry Aikin had said, when arranging the sociables with his friends, "spend a penny at the dram-shop, so we may well afford a little family cheer at home, where wives and children can partake with us; and thus the good things God gives us may be used to nourish our affections." May not this be esteemed a mode of obedience to the Christian law—eating and drinking to the glory of God?
Our, details may be tiresome; but do they not show that, in this country, real comforts, and even the best pleasures of life—hospitality, liberality, and charity—can be attained by the poor, if intelligent and managing? that they are not compelled, even the less-favoured portions of them, to exhaust life in painful efforts to keep soul and body together? but that, by exertion and contrivance, they may cultivate their own and their children's minds and hearts, and advance them in that upward course open to all. Let others glory in the countries of luxuries and the arts; let us thank God that ours is filled with blessings for the poor man.Mr. Barlow selected the horse and the cow, as the most useful animals to man, for the subjects of his first lecture. He was a sincerely and earnestly religious man; and he believed ignorance to be the most fruitful source of irreligion, and that, the more the mind was awakened to the wonders of creation, the more it understood of the wisdom and benevolence of the contrivances of the Creator, the more certainly would it reject the bad seed of infidelity that is sowed at broadcast with such cruel industry.
The children, at first, thought they knew every thing to be known about horses and cows; some of their parents thought so too, and looked up to the clock, secretly hoping the lecture would not last long; but while Mr. Barlow described, in the simplest possible terms, the structure of these animals—the provisions for their own enjoyment, and their adaptation to the wants of man,—while he told particulars of their history and habits in different countries, and related some authentic anecdotes of them—the clock struck seven, and the pointer was approaching to eight when he finished. He was saluted with the most unequivocal of all compliments to speakers, of, "Oh, how short!" and, "Please, Mr. Barlow, go on." He thanked the audience for their attention; said he would put off going on till the next meeting, when he expected the children would show him their books, with the best drawings they could make of a horse and a cow, and as much of his lecture as they could remember, neatly written down. The children then formed into little knots, some playing at jack-straws and some at checkers. The treat was served, and Sam M'Elroy (now a sturdy boy, apprenticed to a farmer on Long Island) proposed to his companions that they should pick out nuts for the girls. While this boyish gallantry was being executed, "Do you really believe, William Aikin," said John Miner, "all Mr. Barlow said about horses? I know very well they are so made as to be strong, and fleet, and spry; but do you really believe a horse has thoughts and feelings? I think it's just of a piece with a fairy story."
"That's because, John, you are not acquainted with horses. I am sure father's horse knows more than some men, and feels more, too. When I go into the stable, he turns his head and gives me a look that all but says, 'How d'ye do, Will?' and he will lay his head against me just as our baby does; that must be feeling, John: he don't do so to a stranger. He knows, as well as I do, the places he is in the habit of stopping at; and if you could see how impatient he is to get home to his stable at night, you would own he had hope or expectation, and there must be thought for that—thought of the rest and food that's coming. I don't know the truth of what Mr. Barlow says, about the superior intelligence of horses in Asia, where they are treated like companions and friends; but I believe it, for, as far as I have seen, whatever thinks and feels is the better for being well treated."
"That's true, I believe, William," said Sam M'Elroy; "Mr. Birt has a little heifer among his cows that is the crossest, soarlingest thing you ever saw: not one of the boys or men either can milk her, but she'll stand as patient as a lamb to Nannie Smith. I told you. about Nannie: she is the girl that is so kind to everybody; and she always speaks softly to the heifer, and pats her, and strokes her, and the men kick her and beat her."
"Well, then, Sam," resumed John Miner, "I suppose you think cows have feelings?""Cows have feelings!—to be sure I do. You should see a cow meet her calf after they have been apart a day; and you should hear her moanings when the calf is taken away from her. Ah," added the poor boy, sighing, as some painful recollections pressed on him, "cows have a great deal more feeling than some mothers."
"Well," said John Miner, after a little reflection, "I don't know but Mr. Barlow and you are right, boys. Any how, I hope I never shall abuse an animal as I have seen some people. I think—don't you, William?—people would be a great deal better if they knew about things."
"Yes, I do, John; and I was thinking almost the very same things when Mr. Barlow was explaining to us some parts of the anatomy of the horse and cow. I thought, when God had seemed to take such pains to contrive them, so that they might enjoy their lives, it was a horrid shame for men to beat, and kick, and maim God's wonderful work:"
"And did not you think," asked Sam, "that part of it was good where he spoke of men beating horses and swearing at the same time—calling on God, as it were, to witness their abuse of his creatures? I guess, if they only stopped to think a minute, they would not do so."
"There is great use," replied William, "as Aunt Lottie always says, in thinking beforehand, and beginning right. Now, would it not be a good plan for us to draw up a paper, and sign it, resolving always to be kind and thoughtful for animals?" The boys readily agreed to the proposition. They retired to the writing-table. William wrote the resolution. They all signed it, and left it in his safe keeping; and many a dumb creature has since profited by it.
Little Ruth Aikin had drawn her stool close to Mr. Barlow, and was picking out nuts for him, while Juliet was paring his apple.
"That was a funny story you told, sir," said Ruth, "about a cow being mother to a baby, out in the new country; did she really lie down for the poor little thing to suckle her, and low when she was creeping towards her?"
"Why, yes, Anne," answered Juliet, anticipating Mr. Barlow's reply; "and don't you remember how she licked over the baby's head and face, just as she would have done her calf's? I think such a mother is the best if you lose your real one."
"Why, Juliet, how funny!"
" ou would not think I felt funny," whispered Juliet to Ruth, with the confidence natural to childhood, "if you knew I had not eaten any thing today but a bunch of raisins, and they tasted horribly."
"Raisins taste horribly—that can't be," replied Ruth, who had not tasted them above twice in her life.
"They did—and so does cake very often to me, when we have not any thing else. Mother, as call her, sometimes sleeps all day, and she forgets we have not any thing to eat."
"Do eat some biscuits, Juliet."
"I can't—I am not hungry; I hardly ever am hungry now-a-days."
"How strange, when you have raisins and cake, and I don't get any thing but a bit of dry bread for supper; but I'm so hungry it always tastes good."
Poor Juliet, while little Ruth was plump and rosy on her dry bread, was suffering the cruel effects of irregular and improper food.
Not one of the company enjoyed the sociable more than Uncle Phil; to be sure, he took a long sound nap during Mr. Barlow's lecture; but, when that was over, he endorsed every word of it, averring that horses and cows were knowing critters—and remarking with delightful complacency—"It's a great privilege for the young folks to meet together with them that's seen life, and knows as much as we do."
"Why, yes," said Caleb Miner, whose rugged features expressed a general discontent, "it's a kind of a privilege, to be sure, and thanks to you, Aikin, for thinking of it; a poor man, and a poor man's children, have but few privileges in this life; work, work, and no play; while the rich have nothing to do but enjoy themselves."
"Enjoy themselves if they can, and work too," replied Henry Aikin, with a smile. "I often drive home at nightfall with a light heart, for my work is done, my wages earned and paid; and I leave the merchants who employ me standing over their desks, their brows drawn up to a knot with care and anxiety; and there they stay till seven, eight, or nine o'clock, looking over puzzling accounts, calculating gains or losses, as the case may be. If there are such rich men as you speak of, Miner, they are beyond my knowledge. I don't know that you join in it; but, I must say, I think there is a useless and senseless outcry against rich men. It comes from the unobserving, ignorant, and unreflecting. We must remember that, in our country, there are no fixed classes; the poor family of this generation is the rich family of the next; and, more than that, the poor of to-day are the rich of tomorrow, and the rich of to-day the poor of to-morrow. The prizes are open to all, and they fall without favour. Our rich people, too, are, many of them, among the very best persons in society. I know some such—there is Mr. Beckwith, he has ten talents, and a faithful steward is he; he and his whole family are an honour and blessing to their country—doing in every way all the good they can. Such a rich man as Morris Finley I despise, or rather pity, as much as you or any man can; but, pray, do not let us envy him his riches—they are something quite independent of himself; and, can a man be really poorer than he is—a poor mind, a poor heart—that is the poverty to shun. As to rich men being at their ease, Miner, every new acquisition brings a new want—a new responsibility."
"But, Aikin, Aikin—now, candidly, would you not be willing to take their wants and responsibilities with their purses?"
"I cannot say, Miner; money is the representative of power—the means of extended usefulness; and we all have dreams of the wonderful good we should do if we had these means in our hands. But this I do know, that, till we are conscious of employing, and employing well, the means we have, we ought not to crave more. But let us look at the matter in the right point of view. We are all children of one family—all are to live here a few years—some in one station, and some in another. We are all of us, from the highest to the lowest, labourers in our Father's field; and as we sow, so shall we reap. If we labour rightly, those words of truth and immense import will sound in our ears like a promise, and not like a threat. We shall work at our posts like faithful children, not like tasked slaves; and shall be sure of the riches that perish not in the using. As to all other riches, it is not worth our while to covet or envy them; except in some rare cases, we have all, in this country, gifts and means enough. As to property, I am the poorest man of you all."
"Yes, yes, Aikin; but you've every thing else—what is the little advantage we have in property, compared to your education, and so forth?"
This argument Aikin could not sincerely gainsay; but, anxious to impart some of his sentiments to his friends, he proceeded—
"Among us working-men, property is a sign of industry, ingenuity, temperance, and frugality; therefore, I am anxious to make what excuse I can for being so much poorer than the rest of you. You know I began with a broken-down constitution, and have never been able to perform half the labour of a sound man; but I have taken care of what strength I had—I selected a healthy business—I have been strictly temperate, not only in drinking, but in eating—and this, with always a clean, cheerful home to come to, has made me a stouter man at forty than I was at three-and-twenty. In the meantime, I have seen many a lawyer growing rich, and, just when he has laid up much goods, falling a prey to disease contracted sitting at an office table, performing labour that some of us might fancy no labour at all; but which is proved, by its effects, to be much harder than our work. Merchants, too, whom I remember, bright and bloomings have gone on laying up their thousands and tens of thousands—going from fagging in their counting-houses to feasting like kings; and, at forty-five or fifty, look at them—they have houses, and lands, and coaches, to be sure, but do they enjoy them? There is John Marlow, of the house of Marlow, Minter, & Co.—why, he would give half his fortune to be able to eat those nuts you are eating, Miner, and go to bed and sleep as you will after them. Look at Morris Finley—his face looks to me like an account-book, written over with dollars and cents, as if he had coined his soul into them. And there is Robson, of the house of Robson & Co.—I remember his hair as black, glossy, and thick as your John's, and his colour as pure red and white; now, he has a scratch on the top of his head—his eyes buried in unwholesome fat—his skin mottled, and he lives between his counting-house and Broadway, in continual dread of an apoplexy. How many Pearl-street merchants over five-and-thirty are dyspeptics?"
"But, mercy on us, Aikin! you don't suppose money is infected with dyspepsy?"
"No; but I do suppose that those who make it an end, and not a means, pay the penalty of their folly. I do suppose that the labour and anxiety of mind attending the accumulation and care of it, and the animal indulgences it procures, are a very common means of destroying the health. Now, Miner, have we not a greater chance for health, which we all allow to be the first of earthly blessings, than the rich? Then, we have some advantages for the education of our children which they cannot get. You may say, necessity is a rough schoolmaster, but his lessons are best taught. The rich cannot buy books, or hire masters, that will teach their children as thoroughly as ours are taught by circumstances, industry, ingenuity, frugality, and self-denial. Besides, are not our little flocks mutual assistance and mutual kindness societies?"
"They are, that's true—they are; and though I must own mine ain't brought up like yours, and they do have their little sprees and flashes, yet they are open-handed to one another, and take part with one another in their pleasures, and troubles, and battles, and so on. But go on, Aikin; I feel as if I were growing richer every sentence you utter."
Before Aikin could proceed, a hand-bell rung loudly and impatiently, the well-known signal for poor little Juliet. The children gathered around her to express their unwillingness to part with her, and William Aikin, in his eagerness, stumbled over Miner's foot, which was in rather an obtrusive position. "Oh, Mr. Miner, I beg your pardon," said the little fellow.
"There, now," said Miner, "that puts me in mind of what I am often grumbling at; your children are an exception; but how, in the name of nature, are our children to learn manners in our rough and tumble way of living? Can you figure that out?""Why, Miner, manners, for the most part, are only the signs of qualities. If a child has a kind and gentle disposition, he will have the outward sign; if he have the principle that teaches him to maintain his own rights, and not encroach on those of others, he will have dignity and deference, which I take to be qualities of the best manners. As to forms of expression, such as my boy used when he stumbled over your foot, they are easily taught: this I call women's work. They are naturally more mannerly than we. There are, to be sure, certain forms that are in use by what are called the 'polite world' that we can know nothing of; but they are not essential to the spirit of good manners. Ours, I believe, is the only country where those who compose the lower classes have the power and the means of good manners; for here there is no sense of degradation from the necessity of labour. Here, if we will, the poorest of us can get education enough for our children to make them feel the dignity of their nature and destiny, and to make them realize the real equality of rights on which the institutions of the country are based. Self-respect is the real basis of good manners. It makes my blood boil to see the manners of the low-born who come here from the old countries—their servility, their meanness, their crouching to their superiors when they expect a favour, and their impertinence, and dis-obligingness, and downright insolence, when the power is in their own hands. They are like horses used to being guided and driven, and know no more than they would how, without harness, reins, and blinders, to do their duty."
"You say, Harry," interposed Mrs. Aikin, "that it is women's work to teach manners to the children; but, don't you think they learn them mostly from example?"
"Certainly I do; manners, as well as every thing else. Man is called an imitative animal. You can tell by the actions of a child a year old what sort of people it has lived with. If parents are civil and kind to one another,—if children never hear from them profane or coarse language, they will as naturally grow up well-behaved as that candle took the form of the mould it was run in."
"But," said Miner, who was willing to shift off the consequences, of some of his short-comings upon inevitable chances, "suppose you do set a bright example at home, you can't shut your children up there—they've got to go out, and go to school, and hear and see every thing under the sun."
"Yes, Mr. Miner," replied Susan Aikin, "but it's surprising, if they are taken care of at home, how little any thing out of doors seems to harm them."
"I tell you what, Miner," said Uncle Phil, glad of an opportunity to cut in, "what our folks call taking care is a pretty considerable chore—it's doing a little here, and doing a little there, and always doing."
"Wife!" called out Miner to his helpmate, who had just given her child a cuff for treading on her toe,—"wife, I depend on your remembering all this: you know I've a dreadful poor memory; and I want you to tell it over to the children."
Poor Miner, in spite of all Henry Aikin's hints, continued in the common error of expecting to effect that by precept which is the work of example, patiently repeated, day after day, and year after year.
The conversation then took a more miscellaneous turn. The women talked over their domestic affairs, and the men ran upon politics, showing themselves sufficiently enlightened, and as disinterested as we wish all politicians were. At half past nine they separated, cheerful, and, we trust, profited; and, as they heard the carriages rumbling along the streets that were then conveying the earliest of our fashionables to their crowded parties, we think our humble friends had no reason to contrast their social pleasures unfavourably with those of the rich, but that they might feel that their meeting together, as Uncle Phil said, "in this neighbourly way, was a privilege."
- While writing this page, a circumstance has come to my knowledge that illustrates my theory of the effect of condition upon manners. Our streets, since the last snow-storm, even the side-walks, are almost impassable with masses of snow and ice. M., distinguished exile, and his wife, who earn an honourable living by imparting the accomplishments of their more fortunate days, were returning from their lessons. The hackney-coach had disappointed them. M., deprived of one leg, found it impossible to use his crutches on the ice. They stopped at the corner of a street. The packed omnibuses passed them. Private sleighs, from which, as they drew up to turn the corner, they heard of expressions of compassion, also, like the Levite, passed on. Two labouring men offered their aid: one carried crutches, the other all but earned him to his own door, when they both respectfully took their leave, declining the compensation (a most liberal one) which M. offered, accustomed to countries where the services of, the poor have always their money value.