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


Smith. The clerk of Chatham: he can write, and read, and cast accompt.

Cade. O monstrous!

Smith. We took him setting of boys’ copies.

Cade. Here’s a villain!

Smith. H’as a book in his pocket with red letters in’t.

Cade. Nay, then, he’s a conjuror.

Cade. Dost thou use to write thy name? or hast thou a mark to thyself, like an honest man?

Clerk. Sir, I thank God, I have been so well brought up that I can write my name.” Shakspeare.

“Hail, wedded love” “and all that sort of thing.”

Milton and Matthews.

It may well be imagined that the appearance of such a flourishing literary manifesto as that set forth in the preceding chapter, created an uncommon sensation in the village. The ladies admired the distiches of poetry with which the pompous proclamation was so plentifully sprinkled, and the gentlemen, not being conversant with those convenient helps, the “Elegant Extracts,” supposed of course that the advertisers must be persons of considerable erudition. Indeed, the thing took wonderfully, and nothing was thought of, or talked of, by ambitious mothers, and those opening rose-buds, their daughters, for the full period of nine days, but the new “Institute,” or “Seminary” the old-fashioned word “school” never being once mentioned. Nor were the lords of creation unmindful of the good fortune in which they were so soon to rejoice. Various situations were proposed and discussed, for the site of a new edifice which would doubtless be required within a twelve-month, and real estate rose exorbitantly in every vicinity thus designated. A charter from the Legislature was of course to be applied for, and several meetings of those who were to form the Board of Trustees, were held to adjust the details. The privileges of a college were to be obtained, with the power of conferring the same degrees upon female students, as upon males forgetting, in their ardor, that the constitution of female Bachelors and Masters of Arts would be a misnomer in any other country than Ireland. In one word, there was to be no other classical institution, in this country or any other, comparable with it and to it the nuns of Canada, the Moravians of Bethlehem, and the azure-hosed professors of modern Ilium, would forever thereafter be compelled to send for instructers.

It need not be added, that under all this excitement, and in view of all these measures, on the opening of the institute, there was a rush of pupils, promising golden returns to the accomplished and enterprising teachers. As to its progress, and the moral and intellectual results, the biographer has not been supplied with the materials for a minute history. It is known, however, that the principals provided themselves with the most modern, and consequently the best elementary “helps” to be found in the bookstores. Justice also requires of the biographer to say, that his friend Wheelwright did not enter upon his preceptorial duties without many severe misgivings; and for some weeks previous to the opening of the seminary, he applied himself to the work of preparation with unwonted assiduity. But he was nevertheless sadly deficient, as may well be supposed. Still, in his classes of geography and rhetoric, he managed to get along for several weeks, by the aid of those convenient instruments of instruction, which contain all necessary questions and answers at the bottom of the pages Kames and Malte-Brun done over again by sciolists, so that the real authors would be astonished to find how greatly they had been simplified. Alexander’s Virgil, also, reflecting the Latin of one page back in English from the other, was of great assistance to him. But in arithmetic and grammar he was completely at fault. He had never been able to repeat the whole multiplication table; and he now found it utterly beyond his capacity to work a common problem in the rule of three. In grammar, moreover, he could never quite distinguish between a noun and a verb; and although he almost committed the rules, and could enumerate the several parts of speech, yet he could never apply the principles in parsing.

It was not long, therefore, before the most forward of his pupils began to discover that they knew more than their instructer and the natural consequences contempt and insubordination speedily followed.

Meantime the qualifications and efforts of Mrs. Wheelwright, in the other branch of the institute, were presently discovered to be equally, even if not more, defective and profitless. She was an Irish lady by birth had resided for a time in Scotland, and likewise in England previous to her visit across the channel to complete her education in the capital of la grande nation. When she left the emerald isle, “her speech,” to use a phrase of Lord Bacon, “was in the full dialect of her nation.” She had afterward conversed enough with English and Scotch, to complete the union of the three kingdoms to all which was added such a smattering of French as was to be acquired by a residence as a femme de chambre, as it was afterward scandalously reported in Paris of a year or perhaps more. She had readily picked up a good many French words, in the course of her sojourn; but her Gallic pronunciation was blended with all the other dialects, among which the brogue of her own mother tongue ludicrously enough predominated.

The reader has probably heard the story of the Yankee candidate for the mastership of one of our common schools, who, on being asked by the inspectors whether he knew any thing of mathematics, answered that he didn’t know Matthew, although he had seen a good deal of one Tom Mattocks, in Rhode Island; but he’d never hearn of his having any brother. So with Mrs. Wheelwright Mr. Syntax was equally a stranger to her. But she had seen some coarse pieces of embroidery from the rustic pupils of country boarding schools, and knew that they were needlework, of some sort. She therefore set herself to teaching that elegant branch of the fine arts. The first group attempted, was a family picture a mother and her six children at the tomb of their deceased husband and father, under what was meant for a willow tree drooping over an obelisk. But such a group! such a widow! and such weeping children! Indeed they looked sorry enough. Surely no eye e’er saw such scare-crows; and no one could look upon them without emotion but of what kind, the reader, who has doubtless seen many kindred specimens in this department of a modern education, may decide for himself. The next piece was the Prodigal Son, taking leave of his benevolent father, in a red dress-coat and white-top boots! The drawings were copies, and the needlework resembling the darnings in the hose to be seen on the heels of the ladies sitting in the country markets. Thus much for her fancy work; and the French she taught was on a par. Such French had never before been spoken out of Ireland!

Such were the condition and prospects of this hopeful seminary, when another unexpected change came over the temporal circumstances of poor Wheelwright. The girls under the charge of his accomplished consort having been engaged in a frolic during her absence to prepare the pottage for dinner and girls at school will always have their frolics the gentle instructress returned in a rage, flushed with passion, the heat of the kitchen fire, and perhaps a drop of the CRATHUR swore several big Irish oaths that she would have no more such carryings on by the childers in her house, and by the powers, she would be afther clearing them out the spalpeens! that’s what she would, honies!

It was her first outbreak of the kind, and the little misses were appalled, and many of them, thinking, perhaps, that she was crazy, or had “a drop in her eye,” ran home in affright. Nor did their parents, or at least the most of them, allow their children again to return.

“Rare are solitary woes,” says the poet on the contrary, they are ever apt to be treading each other’s heels; and it was so with the hero of this biography in the present instance. The school had been undertaken as a temporary resource, during the pendency of the legal measures necessary to obtain his estates. It had now been suddenly broken up, and that, too, before any thing but delays and expense had been realized. An incident that occurred the day following, moreover, might have occasioned misgivings as to the future to a man of quicker perceptions than Mr. Wheelwright but fortunately his wife was the earliest riser. It happened that as his spouse was exchanging some rather undignified jokes with the milkman, a jolly son of Erin came along, whose rubicund visage kindled with a thousand smiles as his eyes rested on the lady.

“Och! the top o’ the morning to you, Misthress Judy O’Calloran!” says Pat. “Divil burn me, but it’s a long while sin my eyes have seen the like o’ye, Misthress Judy,” he continued.

“And that’s you, Misther Thady O’Flannerty,” replied the fair one “but I’m not Misthress Judy O’Calloran, and d’ye think it’s myself that does’ent know.”

“Troth, and if ye’re not Misthress Judy, honey, then it’s not your dare ould mother’s darther that ye be.”

“Whisht!” rejoined the lady: “Don’t ye percave that it’s not I it’s not Judy botheration, Thady how can ye be afther coming where you ain’t known?”

“Och, Judy, thin ye see if it’s not ye’rsel, it’s bekase I’m not Thady O’Flannerty that was, sin the wake last night. But it’s mighty unnathural if it’s not Judy I suspict. And where’s the man that ye had, Pat Rooney that was!”

“Get ye gone, ye baste,” replied the amiable Misthress Wheelwright, “you mallet-headed bog-throtter, to hinsult an honest woman all of a suddint so. No gintilman would thrifle with a dacent woman afther this gate, whin he’d niver seen her.”

“Och, murther in Irish now, and it’s the blissed thruth, Misthress Judy, that I was tellin ye. But thin, such is the way of the world Saint Pathrick save us! If the crathur hadn’t bin afther laving her own husband, and runnin’ off with Pat Rooney, may be that her darlint ould mother’s life would have bin extinded many years afther her death shame on the crathur! But thin, it’s not the ould lady’s wake that would have bin the last that Thady O’Flannerty attinded in Limerick bad luck to her!”

Long before her unwelcome acquaintance had finished his oration, however, the indignant lady had scampered into the house, slamming the door after her with great violence, and dashing her pitcher of milk to fragments by the same unguarded action. But Thady followed on, as though to make good his acquaintanceship, and was met at the threshhold by Wheelwright himself, who had been aroused by the clamor.

“And plase your honor,” says Thady, “can you tell me where is Misther Whalewright’s boardin’-school that was, that’s called the siminary that is?”

“That was sure enough, said Wheelwright, bitterly. I ’spose this is the place you’re looking for as-like-as-not.”

“Arrah, thin it’s the right place that I’m already in thanks to Misthress Judy for that. And thin, there’s a letter for your worship’s honor, and that’s yer’self!”

Wheelwright took the despatch, and at once perceived from the superscription, that it was a missive from his counsel. He was turning upon his heel, but Thady, unwilling to retire without a fee, arrested his retreat by saying:

“Faith, thin, but I’m thinking your honor’s mimory is none of the longest, and that a thrifle of change would do me no harm for the throuble I’ve had.”

Wheelwright, hoping that he was the bearer of agreeable tidings from his estates, threw him all but his last quarter, and Thady took his leave with,

“Blissings on your honor, and long life to ye; and as your worship is a civil-spoken gintilman, may be ye’ll not think it bowld if I jist hint to your honor, that if Misthress Judy there is a servant, she needs looking to and bad luck to her!”

Not having heard the street dialogue already related, this benevolent caution was lost upon the husband, who, on opening the note, found it as he had anticipated a summons to call upon his lawyer in the city. High with hope, therefore, upon the pleasures of which he had been living already too long, not doubting that success had at length crowned the exertions of his legal advisers, and supposing, therefore, that the school was just dissolving at the fortunate moment when it was no longer necessary to his support, he hastened across the ferry. But alas! Little indeed did he anticipate the cause of his summons to the city. The development fell upon his disappointed senses like the crash of a thunderbolt. In the progress of his investigations, the learned counsel had discovered that the accomplished lady of my friend, was none other than one of the unmarried wives of the lamented Captain Scarlett, and that the legal representatives were already in the secure possession of his estates!