DECISION TO ADOPT LITERATURE AS A PROFESSION
I returned to Cynthiana and to my studies in the spring of 1854, nothing new in my journey occurred, the only difference being that a railroad had been opened from Cincinnati as far as Cynthiana.
During the year of my absence I had put in a good many hours on Latin, and Greek, and Philosophy, both natural and moral, and I was surprised that I was soon able to take my place in my classes. During this year I must have studied very hard, as I not only kept my standing in my classes, but got through a good deal of miscellaneous reading. My greatest delight was in the Latin, and during school I read the required number of books in Caesar, Virgil, Cicero and the other text books, but I had become so interested in the stories that during the long summer vacation I read the remainder of Caesar's Commentaries, completed the Eneid, and many of Cicero's orations. During this year I had taken greatly to literature, read all the poets I could get hold of, and concluded to adopt it as a profession.
Of course, being only eighteen years old, my first attempts were in verse. At that time there was a paper published in Louisville whose editor was a poet of distinction, and was a great friend of the young. I wrote considerably for publication, and now I think at the age of seventy-six that my poems were not entirely bad; that if I had possessed the means to continue along this line I might in the end have met with some measure of success. I do not wish my readers to take my judgment on this point, and think it will not be inappropriate to introduce two or three short poems at this time, not that I think they will compare with the writings of the great ones of the earth, but I wish my children, grandchildren and their descendants to know as far as I can portray it, every phase of my life and character. It seems to me a psychological problem why boys (I believe girls, too) who try to write, always begin with death and the grave, and the hereafter. But I think it is true, and I was no exception to the rule, my first published writing was entitled:
WHEN I MUST SLEEP
When I must sleep low in the tomb,
As sleep at last I must,
I ask no stone with sculptured base
To mark my lifeless dust.
But I would have some forest tree
Spread its broad arms above,
Where little birds might come and sing
Their symphonies of love.
I would not have the willow tree
Stand drooping o'er my grave,
Nor should the funeral cypress there
Its gloomy foliage wave.
Let Nature there her carpet spread,
And brightest flowers bloom;
Let violets and roses spread
Their fragrance and perfume.
A little later on I published a poem entitled “The Home of Stella May,” a portion of which reads as follows :
Where first is heard the wild bird's song,
The sweet Meander flows along,
Its soft and mossy banks between.
Sometimes it glides through meadows green,
Then softly murmurs through the grove,
Singing songs of quiet love.
And then with quick and sudden bound,
That echoes through the woods around,
The streamlet wakes to life again
And rushes through the darkening glen.
Here hanging o'er the crystal stream,
Far brighter than a poet's dream
And fair as bloom in peri's bowers,
Blush the wildwood's loveliest flowers.
'Tis here the hawthorne rears its head,
While o'er the stream its branches spread.
'Tie here the rose and violet bloom,
And here the sweetbriar's rich perfume
Is spread upon the air,
Or hanging o'er the stream so bright,
They see by morning's rosy light
Each floweret mirrored there.
And yonder on that rising ground,
By hoary oaks and maples crowned,
And where yon elm tree rises high
Its head toward the deep blue sky.
'Tie there within that sylvan shade
Which Nature's own great love has made;
'Tis there, where earliest falls the dew,
Where shrubs and flowers hide from view,
Where shade and sunshine mingling play—
There is the home of Stella May.
Stella May was a cousin of mine, though that was not her real name, and she lived in a beautiful spot. Perhaps poetic license has made it more beautiful than the real.
I will only give one other of a different meter and written shortly before returning to Missouri. I must have been very blue when I wrote it, but then if people of imagination were not sometimes blue there would be no real verse.
MEMORIA IN ETERNA
Again, my rude harp, I will wake thy wild numbers
To sing of the pleasures and friends that were mine,
And when it is finished, away to thy slumbers—
‘Tis the last wreath of song we ever may twine.
I had dreamed that thy notes ne'er again would be heard;
That thy cords were all broken, thy music all hushed
On the rough sea of life, in the battle and strife
The bright dreams that awoke thee too rudely were crushed.
But the days long departed again come around me,
And scenes that from memory can never depart;
The hopes that I cherished, the friends that I loved,
Though I see them no more, are engraved on my heart.
And thou Licking again I can see thee roll by,
And I know 'tis not fancy or the poet's wild dream
That has made thee appear so surpassingly lovely
And as pure and as clear as Chindara—sweet stream.
I remember the meadows, the fields and the grove
Where I wandered with friends or else sat 'neath the bowers
Which Nature had formed, our hearts bounding with love,
We would crown some fair brow with a chaplet of flowers.
But alas! they are past, and forever are gone,
Are those days with the hopes, which so freely they gave.
Disappointment forever soon darkened them all,
And together they vanished beneath Time's murky wave.
Yet the Licking rolls on and the flowers still bloom,
And the voice of the young is still heard in the grove,
While a wanderer far, I disconsolate roam
From the friends of my youth and the place that I love.
Then farewell to the scenes and the friends of the past;
Though no more I may greet you, this rude verse of mine,
A tribute that comes from the heart pure and holy,
I bring and lay down at fond memory's shrine.
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