Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 42.djvu/380

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

and very poor, and I went to work in the fields at a very tender age." At fifteen, or thereabouts, he states that he began to write verse, "lisping in numbers, for the numbers came." When sixteen he went to visit his sister, who was a servant in the family of a physician at Brighton, and the wife of the doctor, who was a lady of literary tastes, manifested an interest in him and made him her amanuensis. A physician, who lectured on phrenology, shortly afterward became a guest of his benefactress, and learning of the young poet's ventures made use of some of them in one of his lectures to illustrate the organ of ideality. Among the listeners was Lady Byron. She with Rogers, Mrs. Jameson, and Lady Jane Pell, determined upon publishing a collection of his verses, and did so in 1852, under the title of Guesses at the Beautiful. He soon realized that he was in danger of being spoiled by condescending patronage and praise, and therefore wrote to Lady Byron, who was then at her country residence in Surrey, begging her to get him away from surroundings which might make him forget the honest peasant parentage from which he sprang. She at once made arrangements for him to go down to Leicestershire to her nephew, Mr. Noel, manager of one of her estates, where he would have opportunity to study the science of agriculture as well as to prosecute his literary purposes. Like all men of poetic temperament, he had the fatal faculty of falling in love, and an attachment soon sprang up between himself and the eldest daughter of Mr. Noel. Realizing that there was a gulf between them which could never be bridged, he determined to come to America. Reaching New York in 1854, he began to explore the slums for the purpose of writing sketches, but instead became a sort of Five Points missionary. He kept at this work for two years, and then in 1856 conducted a large number of Free State emigrants to Kansas. He became intimate with John Brown, was with him at Harper's Ferry, and narrowly escaped lynching. He enlisted in 1862 and served through the war with credit, rising by promotions to the rank of captain. The next step in his history has a local interest for us who live in the western part of New York, for in the autumn of 1867 we hear of him in Rochester writing a series of remarkable poems for the Rochester Union. It was there that Rossiter Johnson, who was then assistant editor of the Democrat and Chronicle, became interested in him, and it was also there that he contracted the unfortunate marriage which darkened his life and ultimately brought it to an end. Johnson, who has written fully of this episode, tries to excuse him by saying that the woman had nursed him through a critical illness, and that his gratitude made him believe that he could find peace and contentment where an ordinary man would have known that nothing but disappointment and unhappiness would follow.