Reminiscences of a Long Life
By James M. Pendleton
Everyone who visits Philadelphia must of course see Independence Hall, so called because there the Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1776. This is thought by many to be the grandest uninspired document ever published. It required Mr. Jefferson’s best ability to write it, and it required the sublimest moral courage to adopt it. The men who voted for it placed themselves in advance of the civilized world and showed their superior knowledge of the philosophy of liberty. They levied a large contribution on the gratitude and admiration of succeeding generations. The building in which they deliberated and acted has in itself no special attractions. What was done in it gives the structure a sort of earthly immortality.
The Anniversaries being over, my friend Burrows kindly procured a horse and buggy and we rode to Girard College. This was at the time said to be the finest building in the United States. It is of marble, four stories high. The roof projects several feet and rests on magnificent columns, which cost $14.000 a piece, and there arc thirty-four of these columns. The roof is covered with marble slabs four feet wide. The distance from the eaves to the comb of the roof is fifty-six feet. It is said that Girard in his will expressed a desire to have a plain and substantial building erected, gave a plan, and added, “I let it be according to this plan or any other that good taste may suggest.” The Philadelphians have availed themselves of the latitude given in the phrase “good taste,” and have already expended one million eight hundred thousand dollars, and the building is not yet completed. They, however, justify themselves in this extravagant outlay in the following manner: They say that Girard knew that he would soon be forgotten unless he did something extraordinary, and that he wished a splendid edifice reared out of the most durable material, that his name might be handed down to posterity.
Fair Mount, with its large reservoir, was well worth seeing. The water is thrown up from the Scliuylkill and thus the city is supplied with an indispensable article. Some other cities, no doubt, now have more attractive “water works” than Philadelphia, but at the time to which I refer Fair Mount reservoir was considered a great affair. It may perhaps admit of debate whether the Schuylkill in supplying the city with water is not of greater utility than the Delaware on which the shipping rides so majestically. I do not enter into the discussion, but simply express the opinion that the Delaware might furnish better water, as it now does to Chester.
Laurel Hill Cemetery was the most beautiful repository of the dead I had then seen. It was a most enchanting place. The trees waved their branches, the grass carpeted the ground, the shrubbery was tastefully arranged, and everything was in perfect order. Along how many gravel walks we made our way I know not, for who in admiring the monuments could think of numbers? The specimens of sculpture are very fine, some of one form and some of another, exhibiting beautiful diversity. One monument I noticed with much interest. A fond husband and father had it erected in memory of his wife and seven children. There was on it a very impressive representation of an open rose and seven buds. Ah, how does that bereaved man feel when thinking of the rose and the buds!
I saw a column most elegantly finished and most naturally broken about six feet from the ground – an affecting symbol of the broken hopes of the parents who had there deposited the remains of a dear child. One tomb I saw and long did I gaze on it. The marble out of which it was constructed was beautiful, and on the slab was the exact image of a little boy-pale emaciated, his eyes closed in death, his hair lying in graceful ringlets on his neck, and his head resting on a pillow. Nothing in the cemetery affected me so much as this. I began to think how I should feel on seeing my own dear boy motionless in death. There is an inexpressible tenderness in a father’s feelings when a thousand miles from his children.
I visited the monument erected to the memory of Charles Thompson, a prominent man in our Revolutionary struggle, Secretary to Congress, and Translator of the Old Testament from the Greek Septuagint into English. He was a native of Ireland. After his arrival in America he received manymarks of kindness from Dr. Franklin.
But I mast not enlarge on these objects of interest farther than to say that we visited the House of Refuge, and the Philadelphia Library, which contained a hundred and forty thousand volumes Doubtless it has been greatly enlarged since then, for “of making many books there is no end.” It was my full purpose to go to Washington, that I might for the first time see the capital city of the nation; but I was told that there would be great difficulty in getting a seat in the stage from there to Wheeling in less than two weeks. This was owing to the large number who, it was supposed, would be returning from the great Whig Convention in Baltimore. So I abandoned my purpose to visit Washington.
By the way, that Convention met May 1, 1844, and it was well known beforehand that Henry Clay, of Kentucky, would be nominated for the Presidency. No other man was thought of. The nomination that Mr. Clay was almost idolized in Philadelphia. His praises were heard in all parts of the city. I remember that in going into a bank to cash a check, the teller, learning that I was from Kentucky, said, “You are from his own State.” He seemed to think that everybody would know who was meant. Orators declaimed on Mr. Clay’s greatness and his transcendent fitness for the Presidency and poets made songs. All of these songs were not perfect in poetic merit, and some of them were not much above doggerel. This made no difference. They were sung with the greatest zest and with enthusiastic vociferation. I cannot now call up a single one of those songs, but I well remember the refrain of one. It was this:
“Get out of the way – you are all unlucky;
Clear the track for old Kentcky.”
These lines, in ordinary times, would hardly create even moderate excitement, but in 1844 they stirred the staid city of Philadelphia. Circumstances are often material things.
Having decided to return home without visiting Washington, I took leave of Bro. Burrows and his family. There was a railroad as far as Chambersburg, but from there the public way of travel was by stage and I had the most distressing ride of my life. There were nine inside passengers who had an accidental advantage over me; that is, their names were first on the list. I had of course to ride on the outside. Some of the inside passengers, four of whom were preachers who had attended the Anniversaries, told me that they would exchange places with me from time to time, and that everything would be pleasant. One of them took my place soon after we left Chambersburg late in the afternoon, for he said he would like to have a good view of the scenery. The sun was shining then and everything looked beautiful ; but soon it began to rain and my friend called for his inside seat. I surrendered it and taking my seat by the driver, and owing, no doubt, to the almost continuous rain, I heard no more about an exchange of seats. We were forty-eight hours from Chambersburg to Pittsburg, and for a considerable part of the way I was wet to the skin. I became so tired and weary and sleepy that I was obliged to nod, and in the nodding process my hat fell off, but the driver was kind enough to stop and let me pick it up. I was roused up and kept my eyes open for a time, and I cannot forget that in the midst of a heavy rain the stage broke down. The driver said he would have to goa short distance to get the damage repaired, and asked if some passenger would stand before the horses till he returned. There was a man from Boston on the top of the stage who was protecting himself as well as he could. He generously offered his services on condition that someone would lend him an umbrella. There was only one umbrella not in use and that belonged to one of the preachers. I suppose be had bought it in Philadelphia; but however that was, he refused to lend it, and gave as his reason that ” it had never been wet.” This made the Boston passenger indignant and he said the horses might do what they pleased. I do not remember all his words, but some of them probably were not strictly evangelical. From that day to this I have regarded the refusal to lend the umbrella as the most striking proof of selfishness I ever saw. During our delay I went to some iron works not far away and tried to dry my wet clothes by a glowing fire. The damage being repaired we proceeded on our way, and after a little more than forty-eight hours, two days and two nights, we reached Pittsburg at 9 o’clock P. M. Friday, having left Chambersburg a little before sundown on Wednesday. I have no pleasant memories of that ride, and hope that no one, saint or sinner, will ever be subjected to the calamity of suffering as I suffered. From Pittsburg I descended the Ohio on the steamer “Majestic” and at Wheeling many who had been to the Baltimore Convention came on board, full of patriotic zeal, and perfectly assured of Mr. Clay’s election. Some talked eloquently of what his administration would be, and some sang Whig songs, not forgetting the lines quoted:
“Get out of the way – you are all unlucky;
Clear the track for old Kentucky.”
I reached Louisville May 7th and visited the families of my friends, Halbert and Hetb, who had married into the Willson family. On the 8th, in the afternoon, I left Louisville for Bowling Green on the steamer General Warren, and found several acquaintances on board, among them Judge E. M. Ewing. The boat reached the mouth of Green River early on the 9th and passed through two locks during the day. These’ locks are incomparably better than any on the Pennsylvania Canal. Green River is a very fine stream, though not very straight. The distance from where Big Barren River empties into Green River to Bowling Green is not great. I therefore arrived at home on the 10th, after an absence of twenty-nine days. My family had just returned from Glasgow. There was no concert between us, for there was no certainty then as to the time of a boat’s arrival, but we all reached home about the same hour -a very agreeable coincidence. We devoutly thanked God for his preserving goodness during our separation, and for our re-union amid favorable circumstances.
On a review of my journey I feel glad that I attended the Triennial Convention. It gave me an opportunity of seeing many men of whom I had often heard, but whom I had not seen. Among these were Spencer H. Cone, Francis Wayland, Daniel Sharp, William R. Williams, Bartholomew T. Welch, Richard Fuller, George B. Ide, Jeremiah B. Jeter, J. B. Taylor, William Hague; Rufus Babcock, William W. Everts, Adiel Sherwood, Daniel Dodge, Nathaniel Colver and many others. Concerning a few only of these I record my opinion: I think Dr. Wayland was the most profound man among them. I had studied his “Moral Science” with no little interest and felt a great veneration for him. He had a wonderful power of analysis, and could easily show the component parts of a subject. When introduced to him I inquired concerning his health: He replied, “I am as stiff as a cow,” and I thought if the President of Brown University knows about cows I need not be afraid of him. Dr. Williams was no doubt the most learned man I saw. He was a student from his boyhood, and being lame he could not play at school, and spent “playtime” in reading. This may have had something to do with his life-long love of books. He was the most diffident man I have ever seen. I heard him make a speech and it was some minutes before he could raise his eyes and look at his hearers, who were eager to catch every word that fell from his lips. His sentences were beautiful rhetoric, but at times somewhat artificial. I think this may be seen, too, in his books. His style is by no means so clear and forcible as Dr. Wayland’s. Other persons may not think so.
I have already referred to Dr. Fuller as eloquent. He easily bore away the palm of pulpit oratory in his best days. He was well versed in logic and at home in rhetoric, apt in illustration and pathetic in appeal. His person was commanding, his voice charming, his elocution impressive, his gesticulation natural. It was in the year 1845 that he and Dr. Wayland had their written discussion on slavery. Published at first in the Reflector of Boston, it was afterward published in book form, and everybody ought to read it to see with what dignity a discussion can be conducted, and how men can differ and still respect each other. Alas, of the brethren I have named not one of them is now in the land of the living. They have all fallen under the stroke of death. They had their trials and sorrows while here, but they are free from them now. They had their straggles with temptation and sin, but they have gone where temptation does not assail, and where there is no sin.
“Part of the host have crossed the flood,
And part are crossing now.”
Of all the distinguished brethren I met in 1844, I know of no one now alive except Dr. Robert Ryland, of Lexington, Kentucky – venerated and beloved by all who enjoy his acquaintance. His hoary head is a crown of glory.