Read CHAPTER IV of Ups and Downs in the Life of a Distressed Gentleman , free online book, by William L. Stone, on


“O this learning! what a thing it is!” Shakspeare.

“You do ill to teach the child such words: he teaches him to hick and to hack, which they’ll do fast enough of themselves; and to call horum; fye upon you!” Idem.

How young Wheelwright had ever accomplished even what has already been indicated, was a matter of astonishment to himself; and before many months had passed away, to every body else, for his subsequent acquirements did not correspond thereunto. In good sooth it is believed that he never really mastered a single lesson afterward. Having succeeded in getting into the college, it was a very rational conclusion that he would some day find his way out of it. He knew that the four years would pass away in less than five; and as he had turned student to avoid hard labor, why should he fatigue himself by digging at the roots of hard language! It was either from sheer indolence, or because he had completely exhausted himself in his preparatory studies, that he made no farther advances in literature, although he kept within its flowery walks. I have already mentioned a snug little orchard, which, in truth, was one of rare productiveness, and of which his father’s industry had made him the proprietor. The produce of this orchard, both of apples and cider, added to, and in connection with, his imperturbable good nature, enabled Daniel to maintain the popularity among the students of which I have spoken in a former chapter. The reader will not be surprised, therefore, to learn that he succeeded in obtaining an election as a member of the Philo-Peitho-logicalethian Institute a society, as its name imports, learned in all that is eloquent, logical and veracious and of which, I am proud to say, the distinguished subject of this memoir had the honor once of being chosen semi-monthly secretary, after a sharp and close canvass. In the transactions of this society the principal forte of Daniel was debating; albeit the character of his elocution was not the most brilliant, and it was not often until after the ayes and noes were called, that it could be determined from the drift of his argument, which side he had espoused, or in fact whether he himself understood the proposition unless, indeed, as was sometimes the case, he commenced his speech by saying, “Mr. President, I are in favor of the negative of that are question.” In the ordinary tasks of his class he contrived from day to day, by the promptings of others, to work his way along; and previous to the quarterly examinations, it was his practice to obtain the assistance of some of his classmates to go over his exercises with him, which they very cheerfully did, as an evening could always be comfortably spent in this way, over a pitcher of cider and a basket of apples. Having a pretty good memory, Dan could retain a part of his lesson, guess at another part, and catch the wings and legs of the residue from the promptings of friends although he so greatly outstripped them in growth, that it became difficult to send the necessarily subdued sounds of their corrections up to his anxious ears. It was a kind and indulgent class of which he was a member, and of no ordinary character it having furnished the president of one university; the chief manager, for years, of half the Christian missionaries in heathendom; and its full share of learned professors, sagacious legislators, and eloquent counsellors in the law. And as the truly great are ever the most active in labors of love, its members were always ready and willing to lend our hero a helping hand in “climbing” the difficult “steep” which Dr. Beattie pronounces so “hard” of access. Still, at the close of every quarter, he was regularly “read off,” as the declaration of deficiency is denominated, and threatened with degradation. But he nevertheless kept along; how, his biographer cannot tell; all that he is able to say upon this point, being the fact, that the close of every academic year found him one year older, somewhat taller, and advanced one grade higher in his classic course. Whether on the ground of proficiency, of size, of family influence, or for the purpose of swelling the catalogue by another name, the reader is left to determine for himself.

The earth having at length nearly completed her fourth annual circle around the orb of day, since Daniel commenced his collegiate course, the anniversary at which he was to take his degree, if he could get it, was rapidly approaching, for which occasion it may well be supposed he was no better prepared than he should be. The faculty, however, were indulgent, and had, moreover, even at that early day, hit upon the happy expedient of awarding to every member of the graduating class an honor of some sort, the delivery of an oration or a poem, taking especial care, by the way, to note in the procès verbal of the exercises that those students who were too poor to purchase, and too stupid to manufacture, either the one or the other, had been excused from taking the part assigned; a convenient device, by which many a deceived and doting parent has been adroitly blinded. It was in this way that the faculty determined to dispose of the subject of this memoir; and an Irish professor, who was an incontinent snuff-taker, and sometimes a little mischievous withal, caused him to be announced for a poem. Alike to the amusement and the astonishment of every body, although he had no ear for numbers, and scarcely knew a dactyl from a spondee, Daniel accepted the honor. Nor, after all, was he so much of a fool as many people took him to be; and, whether by the process of counting his fingers, or by some other means, I cannot say, but still I have known him to bring out several stanzas of Hudibrastic metre, sweetly rhyming “trees” with “breeze,” “love” with “dove,” “zephyr” with “heifer,” &c. Indeed I have likewise known him to be guilty of positive waggery; but it must be confessed that in this line his attempts were few and far between, and not always successful. He had seen, however, that the professor, though not exactly poking fun at him, had nevertheless intended a sly touch of irony upon his proverbially prosing character. He therefore determined to “be up to him,” as the fancy have it; and having somewhere found the copy of an obsolete satirical epic which an enamored snuff-taker had once addressed to a mistress, who could reciprocate the interjection over her snuff box,

“Knows he the joys that my nose knows!”

Wheelwright copied it out, and presented it to the faculty as his own composition. Being addicted to the use of the titillating powder himself, it was but a reasonable supposition on his own part, that it would give no offence. It commenced thus:

Softly waft, ye southern breezes,
Bear my plaints to her I love
Say to her whene’er she sneezes,

Sympathy my muscles move;

My true-love is formed of graces,
Takes cephalic, likes a quid,
And is beauteous as the faces
Carved on an Irish snuff-box lid.

Cetera desunt.

The hit at the rhetoric-professor’s snuff-box was only understood by those who had seen the article referred to; and on the whole, the performance was considered a very clever jeu-d’esprit by the faculty, who knew nothing of its paternity, and set it down as his own. Still, as being hardly in keeping with the gravity of the occasion, it was rejected as a part of the public exercises of the commencement. Anticipating this result, however, Daniel had provided himself, by virtue of a basket of Spitzenbergs, with a few stanzas of metre, entitled “An Ode on Ambition,” which were more successful. It was written by a young gentleman who has since taken several silver cups for theatrical prize-addresses, full of phoenixes, and the Greek classics from Lempriere. He has also been a large contributor to those beautifully printed, useful, and fashionable hebdomadals, the Milliners’ Literary Gazette, Young Ladies’ Companion, et id genus omne. The ode ran thus:

The warrior fights, and dies for fame
The empty glories of a name;
But we who linger round this spot,
The warrior’s guerdon covet Nott.

Nott for the miser’s glittering heap
Within these walls is bartered sleep;
The humble scholar’s quiet lot
With dreams of wealth is troubled Nott.

While poring o’er the midnight lamp,
In rooms too cold, and sometimes damp,
O man, who land and cash hast got,
Thy life of ease we envy Nott.

Our troubles here are light and few;
An empty purse when bills fall due,
A locker, without e’er a shot,
Hard recitations, or a Knot.

Ty problem, which we can’t untie,
Our only shirt hung out to dry,
A chum who never pays his scot,
Such ills as these we value Nott.

O, cherished ! learning’s home,
Where’er the fates may bid us roam,
Though friends and kindred be forgot,
Be sure we shall forget thee Nott.

For years of peaceful, calm content,
To science and hard study lent,
Though others thy good name may blot,
T’were wondrous if we loved thee Nott.

There was a touch of waggery, if not of mischief, in these verses, which happened to escape detection from the faculty, though not very artfully concealed. But the terminations of the stanzas rendered the thing transparent to the audience during the delivery, as was quite manifest from the general movement of their risibles. But Wheelwright was himself as ignorant of the pun as the faculty were, until both were enlightened the following week, when the real author caused it to be published in the Cistula Literaria an interesting journal, edited by a committee of the junior class with a capital “N” and a superfluous “t” in the monosyllable referred to, as it appears in the present memoir. The conceit was Nott thought a bad one, and those who were not in the secret gave my hero more credit for his metrical skill, than he has ever received since.

Thus borne along upon the current with his class, Wheelwright was admitted ad gradum in artibus a certificate of which fact he took care to have elegantly filled out upon the largest and handsomest scroll of parchment that could be procured. It was of course verified by the signature of the Reverend Praeses, and decorated with an enormous seal, representing, very appropriately in the present and many other instances the Temple of Science perched upon an inaccessible hill. At the base of the hill, stood the goddess of Wisdom with her favorite bird (the owl) upon her shoulder, and pointing the attention of young aspirants to its beetling summit. The motto was “Perseverantia omnia vincit,” a very consoling legend to the numerous alumni proceeding annually from this venerable university.

With the subject of this history, and perhaps with many others also, the puzzle was to construe this splendid testimonial for the edification of his simple-minded parents, when he came home with the burden of his blushing honors. But in this effort we question whether he ever succeeded. Indeed it has always been a grave matter of doubt among philologers, whether the document was even capable of being rendered into English, in conformity with the laws of any language which the human race has ever spoken, since the low Dutch and the Basque dispersed our ambitious ancestors at the building of Babel.