And I shall always marvel at our family doctor. Dear old Dr. Skillman! My father’s doctor, my mother’s doctor, in the village home! He carried all the confidences of all the families for ten miles around. We all felt better as soon as we saw him enter the house. His face pronounced a beatitude before he said a word. He welcomed all of us children into life, and he closed the old people’s eyes.
When moving out of a house I have always been in the habit, after everything was gone, of going into each room and bidding it a mute farewell. There are the rooms named after the different members of the family. I suppose it is so in all households. It was so in mine; we named the rooms after the persons who occupied them. I moved from the house of my boyhood with a sort of mute affection for its remembrances that are most vivid in its hours of crisis and meditation. Through all the years that have intervened there is no holier sanctuary to me than the memory of my mother’s vacant chair. I remember it well. It made a creaking noise as it moved. It was just high enough to allow us children to put our heads into her lap. That was the bank where we deposited all our hurts and worries.
Some time ago, in an express train, I shot past that old homestead. I looked out of the window and tried to peer through the darkness. While I was doing so, one of my old schoolmates, whom I had not seen for many years, tapped me on the shoulder, and said: “DeWitt, I see you are looking out at the scenes of your boyhood.”
“Oh, yes,” I replied, “I was looking out at the old place where my mother lived and died.”
I pass over the boyhood days and the country school. The first real breath of life is in young manhood, when, with the strength of the unknown, he dares to choose a career. I first studied for the law, at the New York University.
New York in 1850 was a small place compared to the New York of to-day, but it had all the effervescence and glitter of the entire country even then. I shall never forget the excitement when on September 1st, 1850, Jenny Lind landed from the steamer “Atlantic.” Not merely because of her reputation as a singer, but because of her fame for generosity and kindness were the people aroused to welcome her. The first $10,000 she earned in America she devoted to charity, and in all the cities of America she poured forth her benefactions. Castle Garden was then the great concert hall of New York, and I shall never forget the night of her first appearance. I was a college boy, and Jenny Lind was the first great singer I ever heard. There were certain cadences in her voice that overwhelmed the audience with emotion. I remember a clergyman sitting near me who was so overcome that he was obliged to leave the auditorium. The school of suffering and sorrow had done as much for her voice as the Academy of Stockholm.