He left us and we sat down by the glowing candles. Soon I told them what Ramsey had done. There was a moment of silence. Uncle Peabody rose and went to the water-pail for a drink.
“Bart, I believe I’ll plant corn on that ten-acre lot next spring—darned if I don’t,” he said as he returned to his chair.
None of us ever spoke of the matter again to my knowledge.
ON THE SUMMIT
My mental assets would give me a poor rating I presume in the commerce of modern scholarship when I went to Washington that autumn with Senator and Mrs. Wright. Still it was no smattering that I had, but rather a few broad areas of knowledge which were firmly in my possession. I had acquired, quite by myself since leaving the academy, a fairly serviceable reading knowledge of French; I had finished the AEneid; I had read the tragedies of Shakespeare and could repeat from them many striking passages; I had read the histories of Abbott and the works of Washington Irving and certain of the essays of Carlyle and Macaulay. My best asset was not mental but spiritual, if I may be allowed to say it, in all modesty, for, therein I claim no special advantage, saving, possibly, an unusual strength of character in my aunt and uncle. Those days the candles were lighting the best trails of knowledge all over the land. Never has the general spirit of this republic been so high and admirable as then and a little later. It was to speak, presently, in the immortal voices of Whittier, Emerson, Whitman, Greeley and Lincoln. The dim glow of the candles had entered their souls and out of them came a light that filled the land and was seen of all men. What became of this mighty spirit of democracy? My friend, it broke down and came near its death in a long, demoralizing war which gave to our young men a thorough four-year course in the ancient school of infamy.
The railroads on which we traveled from Utica, the great cities through which we passed, were a wonder and an inspiration to me. I was awed by the grandeur of Washington itself. I took lodgings with the Senator and his wife.
“Now, Bart,” said he, when we had arrived, “I’m going to turn you loose here for a little while before I put harness on you. Go about for a week or so and get the lay of the land and the feel of it. Mrs. Wright will be your guide until the general situation has worked its way into your consciousness.”
It seemed to me that there was not room enough in my consciousness for the great public buildings and the pictures and the statues and the vast machinery of the government. Beauty and magnitude have a wonderful effect when they spring fresh upon the vision of a youth out of the back country. I sang of the look of them in my letters and soon I began to think about them and imperfectly to understand them. They had their epic, lyric and dramatic stages in my consciousness.