Reminiscences of an octogenarian in the fields of industrial and social reform/03

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Joshua King Ingalls

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In 1833, I was apprenticed to Messrs. James Eames & Co., of Providence to learn the trade of sheet metal worker. I here came in contact with more cultivated people, than hitherto, Mr. Eames' son, James, was preparing for college. He afterwards studied for orders in the Episcopal Church, and became a Doctor of Divinity. Another son, Henry, was in later years a Member of Congress. Their clerk was Amos C. Barstow, a young man of talent, who identified himself with the Temperance, and other reforms, and was ultimately made Mayor of the City. On entering this establishment, I was given a ticket entitling me to get books from the Mechanics and Apprentices' Library. This would have been of more value to me, if I had been able to make judicious selections; but having previously read some books of romance, the love of fiction was indulged to the neglect of more solid reading. However, the reading of Scott, Cooper, Irving, and other English classics, gave me a general idea of the times and places they described, a taste for good English, and a better knowledge of history, than the more trashy literature would have done.

The cause of Temperance, then in its incipiency, had been frequently discussed in our rural neighborhood; but with no great favor. It interfered with the habits of the people, and was looked upon, by many as an insidious scheme to undermine liberty of thought and action. The drinking of New England Rum was a common thing. Every family kept it in the house, and few farmers thought they could get through the heavy farm work in hot weather, or the winter's work in the cold, without constant resort to this popular stimulant. Both at weddings, and at funerals as well as at all social gatherings, it was freely used; but seldom to the extent of drunkenness.

In the winter of 1830, the wife of a neighbor died. He was a constant drinker, but always kept upright, and to appearance sober. It was in the midst of an unusual snow-fall, and no teams were able to get out. Neighboring women came to the house as they best could, to assist, and thought that the usual dinner and refreshments should be served. Whatever was obtained, was brought on foot over the drifted snow, from a store more than two miles away. The [13] women suggested that they should have a little tea, as they could find none in the house. The man replied that he did not like to burden the young man who was to go for them, as he had already given him orders for more than he could well bring, under the circumstances, and as the two gallon jugs of "liquor which must be had," were about all he ought to bring. I refer to this condition of things simply to emphasize the progress, which the Temperance Reform has made in the last sixty-five years. The cause of Temperance had all these conditions, habits and prejudices to contend with. I was too young when I left the country to have such prejudices exert a lasting influence on me.

Mr. Eames, his partner, and Mr. Barstow, were advocates of Temperance, as abstinence from distilled liquors only was termed. They required me to take the pledge which I felt compelled to do, though with a little reluctance. I do not remember attending any temperance meetings, or feeling any particular interest in the question, till about a year after signing the pledge. Then Sylvester Graham was giving lectures on Vegetarianism, and also lectures to young men. Mr. Barstow invited me to attend some of them. The earnest and eloquent words of the Lecturer, his fine address and engaging manners enlisted a deep interest in the man and his theme. It might have occurred to me, that his enthusiasm bordered on fanaticism, but I could not avoid the conclusion that there was abundant need of reform in the field he had chosen. It was then I resolved that total abstinence from all intoxicants was to be my rule in life. And this private resolution I was enabled to maintain for thirty years. Since then, as age crept on occasional stimulants have been employed, but their use has never become a habit with me. For the same length of time, I used no tea or coffee, and at times have used no animal food; but in this, I have found more difficulty, since in this respect, more depends on those, with whom one lives. If a family or community were united on the question, I am satisfied there would be little inconvenience in doing without flesh diet.

Be this as it may, Sylvester Graham, the innovator, and reformer is most certainly entitled to the respect and gratitude of mankind. His name has been immortalized, by being joined to unbolted flour [14] and the bread made from it; but posterity can hardly appreciate the good he did, in arousing the attention of people to the importance of understanding how to correct the evils of sexual excess, springing from ignorance, and weakness of purpose. Everything of this nature was previously scrupulously tabooed in the family, and in society. Of the origin of life, and the physiology of sex, all was left to be learned surreptitiously by children, and from ignorant, and already corrupted associates. Laws against obscene literature, prints and so forth, have availed nothing, and never will against ignorance, and deception, and the false accounting for the facts of life, by parents and which can only for a very brief period deceive the dullest child. It is not a question for ill-digested, and ill-enforced laws, but of early education and development of self-respect, and self-control in the child which confronts parents, if they desire their children to grow up in intelligence and virtue.

To the influence of my associates in the shop, I owed much. There were several men, young and old, who were above the ordinary standard. A journeyman, by the name of Sargent, was well educated, and of highly refined nature and inclined to liberal views in religion. His precepts, and example were of great value to me, as was also that of one or two others. Samuel A. Briggs was an elder apprentice, who always stimulated my mental activities, though tending to the sardonic in humor, and the cynical in philosophy. Anson G. Lewis was less cultured, but of a vigorous tone in thought, he was exact and upright, although occasionally led to excess in drink. I have not met in after life, either of these parties, but their distinct individualities, deeply impressed themselves upon my mind, and are vividly distinct on the tablets of my memory, whenever I recur to those days now past, more than three score years.

My employers took more than usual interest in the intellectual, and religious improvement of their men, the apprentices, particularly. We were sent in winter to an evening school; but in which, we had little attention from the teachers. It was in this school, that I became acquainted with Edwin Eddy, who afterwards became a D. D. among the Baptists, and who with several others organized a debating society, which extended to me, and one other of our apprentices an invitation to join. It was in this, that my taste for [15] discussion, and careful investigation manifested itself. I well remember my first essay to speak. The subject seemed plain enough, and there was much to be said, on one side at least. I arose, without any thought of difficulty, but had scarcely finished my opening sentence, when the sound of my voice quite confused, and alarmed me. The result was, 'stage fright." Luckily the question had proved an interesting one, and was continued till next week. I therefore prepared by writing out, what appeared pertinent to the question and experienced no inconvenience in reading it; and I was complimented, by those who were experienced in debate.

After working at the bench, some two years or more, my left arm was burned by an explosion of some melted solder. I was unable to work for some time, and when the burn was healed, remained an invalid for many weeks. I had gone home to my mother, in Swansea, and inconsiderately accepted an invitation to teach the district school, w here my limited education had been chiefly received. Yet the experience of that term was of value to me, in demonstrating the necessity of exactness in pursuing studies. I had several young men and women, older than myself, for pupils, and who were capable of reasoning upon questions, which arose in process of teaching. The school was well ordered, and the winter passed pleasantly. No corporeal punishment was employed, nor did I find difficulty in maintaining decorum, without it.

But the effect of my leaving my mechanical employment, was not advantageous to my material prosperity. Constant employment as teacher, was out of the question, unless I had been much better qualified and equipped. For a year, or more, I was without steady employment, when finally I went with Mr. James Smith of Warren, Rhode Island, to complete my trade, and with whom I remained till I was of age. He started a shop in Providence, quite near the old stand in Westminister St., and sent me to superintend it. At first it promised a success, but on the approach of the financial crisis of 1837, his limited means proved unequal to the emergency and with many others he had to succumb to the inevitable, and make an assignment to his creditors. It was during the winter of '36 and 37 that I renewed my acquaintance with the members of the earlier debating society. I do not remember whether the organization was [16] the same; but there were many of the same persons. Messrs. Eddy, Weaver, Rounds, and a number of students of Brown University. Some of those who treated me with respect and even with deference as a debator in our meetings, would fail to recognize me in the street in my work day clothes. But I never allowed this to trouble me. I was pursuing a calling serviceable to society. It was those, in my estimation, who were living upon the labor of others, who needed to apologize for their position, however, laudable their efforts to improve their minds, and prepare themselves for future usefulness, might be. Perhaps this stimulated me also to give my leisure hours to reading and study.

In the winter of 1836 and '37, I became acquainted with John B. Gough, who afterwards made himself famous as a reformed drunkard and popular Temperance lecturer. He was learning the book binding business with a Mr. Gladding of New York City, who in the year of the great fire, had been burnt out. He removed his establishment to Bristol, R. I. in 1836, bringing young Gough with him and who soon made himself popular with the young men of Bristol. He had been a close attendant of theatres in New York, was somewhat versed in the elocution of the comic stage, naturally eloquent and a great mimic. Church temperance, had become at that time popular and Bristol was under "local option," a "no license" town. I often heard Gough speak. He held forth on Temperance, and on religious topics also; and made himself conspicuous in Methodist prayer and revival meetings. He was also a favorite among a class of young men who were not noted for their religion or temperance, at whose clubs or coteries, he gave recitations, sang comic songs and gave other exhibitions of his versatile genius. On going to Providence from Warren, I found Mr. Gough at the boarding house which I had selected. He often entertained us, of an evening, with a song or recitation or story. Sometimes serious—but usually of a comic nature. He recited "The Sailor Boy's Dream," with peculiar tragic expression, and sang, "The Cork Leg," a "Trip up to Richmond by Water," with inimitable humor and grimace.

His exit from the boarding house was serio-comic. Our landlord had hardly- obeyed the Scriptural injunction to "Owe no man anything," but was running up accounts whenever he could. It was the [17] era of expansion. A number of creditors had adopted the plan of "boarding it out," either directly or by proxy. Mr. Gough's employer happened to be a creditor, and was having Gough board there in order to get his pay. This was true of several others. Two young men and myself were paying cash every Saturday night. That year the cows seemed to have anticipated the period of contraction, soon to follow in the commercial world, and had left the market bare of good butter—at least so the landlord said. But what was short in quantity, was made up in quality, that is strength. That which found its way to our table was of the highest rank. We complained singly and collectively; but the strength increased. At last, at supper one evening, it proved so strong that it got up and moved from side to side, some of it trying to run up the ceiling, but sticking fast on the way. There was commotion in the kitchen, and next morning an investigation was held, and several boarders were discharged, among them was the very popular Gough, though he was really very little to blame. On inquiry it was found that of a good half dozen who had been turned away, no one who paid cash had been included in the number, though I fear myself and the two friends from Warren were as culpable as any.

There was, at this time, no theatre in Providence; but a company of quite respectable talent, had been playing in "Masonic Hall," over the old market. After a short success some division arose in the company, and there were not enough left to make up the necessary parts. A number of amateurs came forward however, and entertainments were continued, though I think mainly at Washington hall on the west side. Mr. Gough and a young man by the name of Wheeler were the principal amateurs. Mr. Gough had taken a number of minor characters with success and by some contingency was put forward to take the role of Sir Edmund Mortimer, in the "Iron Chest." His personal friends rallied to his support, and there was a good house, but considerable doubt was in the minds of his best friends as to whether he would be equal to the character. This he seemed to feel and the first act passed off without removing the doubt. He obtained little applause but escaped being hissed. The second act passed nearly in the same manner, and I could discern that the want of appreciation was telling on him when at a turn of the dialogue, [18] peculiarly suitable to his style, he elicited a slight applause; this was taken up with great spirit by his personal friends, and prolonged till nearly the whole house joined in it. From this point onward he acquitted himself like an old actor, not without some breaks and faults, but with general success.

Mr. Gough was really a "sensitive," whose success as a speaker depended mainly upon his tact of getting into sympathy with his audience. In later years I have met him but once and that was upon a steamer in the Sound. We recognized each other, and recalled the old scenes; but he had become conservative, and worldly, and seemed to take but little interest in anything but the special work of temperance reform and such religious and social questions as centered in his successful field of labor.

Not a year after my removal from Providence, the lapse of the Temperance Reformer was chronicled, and his damaging debauch made public. I think the thing was greatly exaggerated. When I last knew him, he was by no means a drunkard. I never saw him the least intoxicated. It may be true, as was circulated, that he went often from his Temperance lectures, to the saloons with his society friends and drank with them, but I never saw it manifest any marked effect upon his carriage. He would do similar things after a revival meeting; go out and meet his tony friends and joke about how he had "fooled the fanatics." But those who best understood him, only saw that it was himself he had fooled. With his sensitive, sympathetic nervous system, he actually entered into the sphere of his mental surroundings, sad or gay, temperate or intemperate, religious or irreligious, with equal zest, and with equal sincerity.

In the Washingtonian movement, it had become a fad among the reform speakers to tell the hardest stories upon themselves and this rivalry among reformed men, was responsible for many tough, as well as touching stories. Mr. Gough was not an exception to this rule and he excelled in exaggeration, as well as in vivid description of the scenes he had or had not passed through. It was unquestionably his spiritual environment at the time which made attractive his temperance and religious utterances rather than any logical deductions from moral principles, or well established premises.

I was once told by an official of the Sing Sing Prison, that during [19] revivals of religion in the prison, converts would often draw fearful pictures of their past lives, and were most deeply affected, when making the wildest drafts upon their imaginations for their statements. In the words of this matter of fact, and somewhat irreverent official, "The bigger the lies, the greater the religious fervor of the narrator became." But his judgment was as wide of the mark, as that of Gough's critics, who thought of him only as a hypocritical impostor. To correctly judge of the attitude of any mind to any subject whatever, the mental and moral atmosphere in which such mind moves must be given due consideration.