“P. S.—Josephus has just come back! Lean, and singed by hot ashes, I judge. I dread the shock to him when he knows about the yard!”
MARTIN CORTRIGHT’S LETTERS TO BARBARA AND DOCTOR RICHARD RUSSELL
“December 10, 19—.
“MY DEAR BARBARA:—
“You have often asked me to write you something of myself, my youth, but where shall I begin?
“I sometimes think that I must have been born facing backward, and a fatality has kept me walking in that direction ever since, so wide a space there seems to be to-day between myself and those whose age shows them to be my contemporaries.
“My father, being a man of solid position both in commerce and society, and having a far greater admiration for men of art and letters than would have been tolerated by his wholly commercial Knickerbocker forbears, I, his youngest child and only son, grew up to man’s estate among the set of contemporaries that formed his world, men of literary and social parts, whose like I may safely say, for none will contradict, are unknown to the rising generation of New Yorkers; for not only have types changed, but also the circumstances and appreciations under which the development of those types was possible.
“In my nineteenth year events occurred that altered the entire course of my life, for not only did the almost fatal accident and illness that laid me low bar my study of a profession, but it rendered me at the same time, though I did not then realize it, that most unfortunate of beings, the semi-dependent son of parents whose overzeal to preserve a boy’s life that is precious, causes them to deprive him of the untrammelled manhood that alone makes the life worth living.
“I always had a bent for research, a passion for following the history of my country and city to its fountain heads. I devoured old books, journals, and the precious documents to which my father had ready access, that passed from the attic treasure chests of the old houses in decline to the keeping of the Historical Society. As a lad I besought every gray head at my father’s table to tell me a story, so what more natural, under the circumstances, than that my father should make me free of his library, and say: ’I do not expect or desire you to earn your living; I can provide for you. Here are companions, follow your inclinations, live your own life, and do not be troubled by outside affairs.’ At first I was too broken in health and disappointed in ambition to rebel, then inertia became a habit.
“As my health unexpectedly improved and energy moved me to reassert myself and step out, a soft hand was laid on mine—the hand of my mother, invalided at my birth, retired at forty from a world where she had shone by force of beauty and wit—and a gentle voice would say: ’Stay with me, my son, my baby. Oh, bear with me a little longer. If you only knew the comfort it is to feel that you are in the house, to hear your voice. You will pen a history some day that will bring you fame, and you will read it to me here—we two, all alone in my chamber, before the world hears it.’ So I stayed on. How mother love often blinds the eyes to its own selfishness.