Book II, My Boyhood
I forget what month of the Spring of 1807, it was in which I made my Exodus from Stratford, never again to be more than a temporary resident of that beloved home. But no dream of this had ever entered my head. I did not know what it was to leave home except on a visit, full of promises of pleasure, & in this occasion my beloved brother Henry accompanied me, who took me in a light carriage & two bobtail grey’s. We went off merrily, & I remember no tears among the kisses I gave & received at parting. The dear old servants were cordial & affectionate, & my old nanny Fick, especially & all this gave such animation to the scene that I did not recognize what was sad in it. Besides I was presented with a little purse of four pences & nine pences, & I distinctly remember six cents among the shining little pieces, whose jingle was very cheering to me, it being my very first possession of that precious thing, which men strive & horses run so hard for.
I remember but little of our two days journey (recollect, reader, it was sixty years ago) except that after we got into Culpepper the roads became very bad – so much so, that we had to stop the second day, about four miles short of Parson Woodville’s, at Strode’s Tavern, as Fleetwood was then commonly called. The next morning we arrived at the Glebe, which the [illegible] life of the resident Parson still kept from sale under the shameless act of confiscation. We entered the gate of the Boys’ Playground, at the corner of the schoolhouse on the top a hill, & drove to that broad style over which we entered the green yard around the dwelling house. It was a modest mansion adorned & shaded by a magnificent white oak, whose branches growing spherically from its grand trunk threw a broad shade, hallowed by our recollections of the many Sunday evenings we said out Catechism under it. We were received by Mrs. Woodville, who had lost much of the beauty, which added to the attractions of her youth, but she possessed all the amiable & matronly manners of the ladies of her a day. Mr. Woodville soon joined us, with the plain manners of a scholar, & the amiable deportment of an English Divine. I was kindly received & deported myself with the easy gaiety which I had always indulge in among all sorts of people. I remember how the younger boys were surprised at the freedom with which I treated one so awful in their eyes, as their schoolmaster parson. My brother finding me so easy & contended left me that afternoon, I think, for Elkwood, then the seat of Carter Beverley Esq., an old friend of my father’s. I do not remember that I grieved much at parting even with him nor with Tim, the coachman, nor the bobtail grey’s, but went at once to amusing myself as best I might, with whomsoever I could. It was the custom of the school, when a boy was invalided, as we may say, that he was kept from the school house, “And the demesnes that there adjacent lie,” & confined to the dwelling house to its sweetly shaded yard, to be under that care of Mrs. Woodville, which was as maternal to all the scholars, as to her own children. O how affectionately every one of us, who was sick at her house must remember her! Well it so happened that Edmund Fanning Wickham, the younger son of the distinguished lawyer of Richmond, John Wickham, by his first marriage, was the invalided one at the period of my arrival at the Glebe School of Culpepper. Well! I like all the first arrivals at the school was honored with the freedom of the Manse & yard, & even garden, I believe, to mitigate the sadness of our first days from home. It thus happened that my first acquaintance & playfellow among my first schoolmates, was Edmund F. Wickham, with whom then began that friendship between us, which lasted to the day of his death. Alas too soon! Though it is a consolation to remember, not until he had left sons & daughters for me to love & to charm me with their affection, to this day. He had an elder brother, still living, & standing to me in equal friendship, & equal connexion, whose house is one of the favourite resorts of my age.
But to return to my boyhood, & to my first recollections of my cousin Edmund, as by marriage to one of my most beloved cousins, he in due time became – He was the handsomest boy in school. How well I remember his rosy face & bright light chestnut curls & with those winning manners, which he could hardly help catching in his father’s house. And I believe that it was by that father’s choice for a school for his sons, that my father selected the same for me.
I must have made but little acquaintance with the school & its ways before the first Sunday after my arrival at it, for I have a distinct recollection of how, to the great [illegible] of the boys when summoned to prayers & to hear a sermon read, in the afternoon, as the Bible, Prayer book & Blair’s Sermons were placed upon the table before Mr. Woodville. I exclaimed, “Why I can’t read in those big books! But all were relieved I think, at Mr. Woodville’s smiling reply – of “Well, I hope we shall teach you to do it before long.” I had won his heart a good deal, not only by affectionate playfulness towards him & his family, but by repeating Psalms & hymns which my mother had taught me, & which induced him, when afterwards chiding me with misbehavior, to say – “What would your pious mother think of such conduct?
Monday I was duly inducted to my seat in the school-room, put into Corduroy &c & fell just into the ways of the boys. Mr. Woodville, though a great scholar, & of the famous English School at Harrow, had not a happy faculty of imparting his knowledge, & we made no great progress in our studies which were purely classical. I remember among the rhythmical instructions for the conjunction of verbs in our grammar, which Print, “The Revolution,” she stirred the ocean to its very depths, by announcing & enforcing his wonderful discovery that a woman had the right of choosing, who should be the father of her children. The poor men I suppose have, consequently, nothing to do with the selection of the mothers of theirs.
But our little crowd was perplexed with no question of that sort, though I daresay, all the boys had sweethearts. I know I had one, then a young lady, whose blooming cheek I remember to this day, Miss Hudnall. And there was Miss Gatewood, & Miss Waugh of the village, & blooming Handsboroughs, just out of it, their White House shades with large old time blackheart cherry trees, & many other ladies residents & visitors.
“To witch the world with lovely womanhood.” We Woodville’ boys were so fond of prolonging our stay there, that of Mr. Tibbs’s alternative offer to send us to the Glebe Saturday evening or let us stay with him until Sunday, when we had to walk thither, we always chose the latter, unless when the Beverleys or Carters would take us home with them, or, sometimes, divide us between them, & send us to school early Monday morning. This was a charming let down from the Terpsichorean Ulisses of the Masonic Hall, to the Cleosophic labours of the school-house.
But the greatest joy of the year to me was my Xmas visit to Stratford, where, as I went but once a year, and the ride on horseback, a long & cold one, I was kept about six weeks, twice the time of the popular holliday. I well remember that my joy at the first sight of the house was so vivid & elating, that I could scarcely refrain from jumping from my horse, to run to it, as if I could accomplish the distance of about three miles quicker without my horse than with him. And then the joyful crowd at the door, of all colours & from age to infancy! O life thou art indeed a blessed system of compensations, among which are those we find in the joys of meeting for the pains of seperation!
And I had now become strong & active enough to partake, to some extent, of the pleasure of foxhunting, of which my bother Henry was passionately fond, & I delighted in the hounds, & was especially proud of their superiority to the packs of those of other gentlemen in the neighbourhood. They once, in a grand hunting match, were lucky enough to start a red instead of the more common & artful dodger, the grey fox & the long stretches of this larger reynard, gave a fine chance for the rival packs to try their speed; when brother Henry’s ran the others out of hearing & he & his hounds were returning with their dead fox, when they met the distance packs in full cry after the game already bagged. O how much more proudly after that did we pet Hotspur & Stormer & Dido & Clio & the rest, whose feeding & management were as well attended to as that of Bonaparte & Fresco, my father’s & brother’s riding horses.
And my brothers while administering to my exercise in the education of the foot over that of the head, & completing the chain of human accomplishments from top to toe. Hope connects them in his famous couplet.
“True ease in writing comes from art, not chance. As those move easiest who have learned to dance. And it was because of the ease & grace it gives the deportment rather than for the amusement it afforded, that in my boyhood, dancing was taught as an important part of education.
Our dancing schooldays always closed on Saturdays, the evenings of which days were rendered doubly delightful by the visits of the neighbours, who had a standing invitation then to join in our amusements. The Beverley’s sometimes came in their coach & four, & the Carters in their carriage & pair & the great ornament of these occasions, was my cousin Eliza Carter, who had just returned from Philadelphia, adorned with all the accomplishments of Madame Revardy’s school. Among these dancing was deemed an important one, of course, & such an elegant adept in it was Miss Carter, that Mr. Tibbs, himself, used to solicit her hand for a minuet, & display all his grace & agility to save himself from being too much eclipsed by hers. Well do I remember with what admiration we beheld her gliding, & him springing along in their graceful circles displaying more elegance though less activity then the dances, which exerted the admiration of the wise Ulysses, at the court of Alcinous where –
“Skilled in the dance, tall youths, a blooming band graceful before the heavenly minstrel stand. Light bounding from the earth, at once they rise, Their feet half viewless quiver in the skies, Ulysses gazed astonished to survey, The glancing splendors as their sandals play.
We, if not more astonished were more charm than the wise Ulysses, for in the dance which we surveyed, a young lady was the gay, the graceful, the blooming performer.
I remember nothing in my boyhood which pleased me more than these days at the dancing school; & if the strong-minded women of the North take as much delight in wearing the breeches, as I did, on one occasion then, in meaning the petticoats, I do not wonder at their being so anxious to get into that most unbecoming garment of male attire. It rained so hard one evening that none of us could go to the dancing hall, but there were enough of the scholars, from a distance who stayed at Mr. Tibbs’s, to form a dance there, & the boys predominated by two over the number of the girls. It was proposed that I, as the smallest of the boys, should be arrayed in girls’ outward apparel, & figure among them in the dance. I was eerily persuaded to play this novel part, & the boys wishing to show me, how gallant they were to the girls, & the girls to impress me with how sweet they were to each other, made me as triumphant as Mrs. Stanton was lately, when according to that great Sorosisoni Preplia pleasures did not neglect my improvement, but taught me my lessons much more thoroughly than I leant them at school. But my plays with Ann & Smith (for Robert was a baby) which our father was fond of sharing, as he might, & my rambles with him, were my chief delights. During the post I learned from him the shortest & simplest song I ever heard, tune & all.
“Poor Captain Johnson, he lost his billiard table, But he’ll get another as soon as is able, & in the latter, one of the finest lines in Horace, which I have never forgotten – “Nil desperandum Teursduce, et auspice Teuro” which may be translated faithfully enough, though rather familiarly, thus,
To despond will never do,
Under the auspices of Teucer.1 (No need to despair with Teucer as your leader and Teucer to protect you).
Well, the simple song & the classical line breathe a kindred spirit, & may be united in some such ditty as the following from the looser, as he evidently hoped but for a time, of his instrument of pleasure & profit.
Well, I have lost my billiard table,
Which I will not despond on,
For O! What fest is there, not able
To be achieved by Johnson.”
But these holiday weeks would fly away, & then came the parting too painful to be described. I had learned, after the first one, to know the pain of such separations. And yet the arrivals were more pleasing than my first at the Glebe. I was glad to meet my playmates, of whom I had become fond, & my cousins, at Farley whom I had learned to love, & in the second year of my school days, we had an accession to our ranks in the son of Mr. Payne, of that neighbourhood, who as an old friend of my father’s used often to send a horse for me, when he sent for his boys, on Saturday, with whom I had a merry time at their father’s hospitable house, at which the kindness of all filled me with gratitude never forgotten. The eldest son, William, married Miss Fanny Woodville. Walker, the brother younger than himself, followed his father’s hallowed profession & the youngest child, a pretty little girl, when I left her, I forget the fates of. This leaving occurred in the month of February 1811, when I arrived in Alexandria & found my sister Mildred a few days old. My parents thought it better to remove to that town & have their children educated under their eyes, than to endure the pain of being separated from us, while we were undergoing that indispensable process. I found them in a small but convenient brick house at the head of Cameron Street, a square from Christ’s Church, which with its grave yard, blocked up that Street, named as was another of its streets, Fairfax, from Lord Fairfax, who was Baron of Cameron, & whose Proprietorship of the Northern Neck, & sometime residence near Alexandria, might make that he be regarded as his metropolitan town. Mr. Barkclay, an Englishman, too, I think was Rector of Christ Church, & had a small school, to which went the sons of the distinguished lawyer Thomas Swann, then a resident of Alexandria, & also two of Judge Fitzhugh’s, who about that time built a fine brick house, not far from Parson Barkley’s, much plainer one. Hither I was sent to continue the studies I had begun at Mr. Woodville’s. And I was doing it advantageously, it was thought, when our Parson offended his congregation in a way so often done, by a man’s marrying to please himself instead of his neighbours. I have forgotten, if I ever knew, the merits of the case, but recollect that the lady was his house keeper, & I think English too, & the misalliance was thought unbecoming to one in his position & calling. The Parson left for parts unknown to me, & I was sent to Alexandria Academy, then kept by a graduate of Harvard University. Yes, & a Yankee too, yea! a Massachusetts Yankee! But a better man I have seldom known, never violating any of the proprieties of life. Nor was his conversation spotted with Yankee peculiarities. He did not guess extravagantly nor were his gratifying words strung together as if it were impossible to express exactly the right thing. I never heard him use half the common pearls of their speech strung on such a fine thread of distinctions as the following, - I guess – maybe – perhaps – in a manner, after a fashion – somehow anyhow – I think so. I believe in my opinion as at present advised. I never heard him half so noncommittal as that. But, I think he used to say “I had not ought,” & I know he used to pronounce none as it is spelt, exactly as known, & to rhyme with bone, & did not corrupt it, as the English do, into nun. And this pronunciation of his used to strike us with peculiar force in a line of Brutus, speech over the body of Julius Caesar, in that play, “None? Then none have I offended.” Nor had his Latin quantities the classical purity of those taught at the old English school of Harrow. In fact, Harvard has a hankering after Germany, & a scholar of that country once retorted on an English Latinist, who was continually correcting the Germans pronunciations of Latin, while they were conversing in that language, (it being the only one of which they had a common knowledge) the German becoming impatient of such frivolous objections, as he deemed them, follows. Nos Germani non curumus quantitation syllabanum thus giving a false quantity to every word capable of it, & would doubtless have given it to the two monosyllables had it been possible. Mr. Holbrook (Abiel Holbrook) that was his name, was not so bad as this, but Oxonians would have found fault with his Latin quantities. But, on the whole he was a good teacher, & punctual & faithful in the discharge of every duty. He gave us lessons in an art, neglected at Mr. Woodville’s, viz declaration, in which appropriate gesticulation was also taught us Collins’s Ode to the Passions was a very favourite piece for that purpose. The recoil of Fear even from the sound himself had made in New York his excellent host, opening a bottle of an eminently excellent specimen of the juice of the grape, said – Gentlemen – I think you can hardly meet with a better bottle of wine than this,” adding a little sarcastically – “if I may say so without offence to my friend Mr. Mercer?” The latter knowing to what he referred, though admitting the great excellence of the wine before him, confessed his preference for his Alexandria favourite, & their happening to be at the table, a gentleman from Madeira, & connected with its wine trade, said that Mr. Mercer was right fully justified in his preference – that the best wine in the Island was made by Murdoc & Company that they were very proud & furnishing Genl Washington, & always sent him their very best – that through him his friends procured the same kind; & thus the best wine of the Island found its way to Alexandria, & there obtained the name of Washington wine.
But even this delightful wine did not tempt its admirers to anything like extravagant indulgence, yet indeed, extravagance is so natural to any indulgence & so strong the attractions of enebriation from any source, even from the grossest grog, to that of the impious fanaticism which would confound the administering of wine in the holy sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, with the mixing of juleps & cocktails at the bar of a drinking saloon, & tax both alike, as the Newspapers tell us, a member of the degenerate into nastiness legislature of once glorious Massachusetts, lately did – that the pleasures of wine are perhaps better entirely avoided, unless, they can be very moderately indulged in the authority of Homer, through the precept & example of Hector, is an authority worthy of regard, despite of the disgust which the impious fanatics of teetotalism inspire in behalf of any cause, which the devil to whom they belong, inspires them to advocate, that men may despise it. I could not understand until I saw that poor devil’s imps proposed amendment to the liquor law, whereby the profanity above mentioned was attempted to be inserted in it, how it was possible that Boston should be distinguished above all the towns of America for the drunkenness exhibited in its Streets. But we must not be deterred by the monstrous exhibitions of these demoniacs from listening to teachings which we ought to respect. Surely if one ever might “with a plenteous draught refresh his soul, And draws new spirits from the generous bowl,” it was when Hecuba invited her glorious son to do it in the condition she described him. “Spent as thou art with long laborious fight, the brave defender of thy country’s right,” Far hence be Bacchus gifts (the prince rejoined). Inflaming wine, previous to mankind, Unnerves the limbs & dulls the noble mind. Let chiefs abstain, & spare the sacred juice, To sprinkle to the Gods, its nobler use.”2
Yet the same great authority, which approves the rejection of wine by a son when offered by a mother to refresh him spent with long laborious fight, commends it through a son who advocates its use by his father, when spent with worse than the labours of fight, the long accumulated weight of years. Ulysses says to his aged father, when he found him toiling in his garden.
“Soft sleep, fair garments to the joys of mine,
Such are the rights of age & should be thine.”
Perhaps, my dear mother’s advice to her sons was the best. She said one glass of wine after dinner might be properly indulged in, for its social & hygean effects. That sometimes two might not be objectionable, but for the third – look for my ghost in it, warning you against it. The consequence was that my brothers, brought up under their mother’s eye, may be said to drink nothing inebriating, unless administered as physic. My brother Smith never drew his grog during the many years of his life in the navy, unless to give it to a sailor - & as to wine, except a glass of domestic sweet currant, so called, he never tastes it, except as a medical prescription, unless some accidently gets into his mouth, when put to his lips in a complimentary wining with a friend, or a drop of gallantry to a lady. And as to Robert, he is almost as bad, or should not I say good. Yet I used to be for a moment vexed, where upon the circulation of some rumour, that he was unwell & the Doctors had prescribed the daily use of old Port, if he could get it pure, his friends would send him hundreds of bottles, when instead of sending some to me, he would keep, perhaps a dozen for Head Quarters, & send all the rest to the Hospitals.
And I remember once visiting the residence of his family on Franklin St., Richmond, the property; & at one time the residence of my most excellent Scotch-born, but true Virginian friend, John Stuart, & which he generously lent them, I found a large box of bottles of French Brandy, then a great rarity in the Confederacy, & expressed my pleasure at the prospect they afforded us, when my gallant nephew, who graduated at West Point No. 1 in every study, replied to me. “Why, uncle, father has directed that it should all be sent to the hospitals.” “Ah! well then,” I sighed, it is better that it should be so, I would not arrest one of them on their charitable mission. The reader will perceive my shortcomings, compared with my dear brothers, in following this excellent advice of my Mother, but I hope he will find in besetting circumstances some excuse for this failure.
But of the society of Alexandria I shall have more to say, when after my return from College I saw more of it. Its great charm to me now was my father, when I used to enjoy so much of the smiles of
Those his goodly eyes
Which o’er the files & musters of the war
Had glowed like pated Mars, now bend now turn
1. From Horace.
2. From The Iliad, by Homer.
Source: Photocopy of original, University of Virginia Special Collections, Charlottesville. Copy located in vertical files, Jessie Ball duPont Library, Stratford Hall
Transcribed by Colin Woodward, 2016 October 10