A the age of fourteen I entered the academy at Spencer, a village three and one-half miles from my home. On all fair days, I walked to and from this school. Unlike my home district school the academy made an attempt at grading.
These were not happy days. My ill-fitting clothing and awkward manners excited the ridicule of the village boys and girls. I am now unable to explain why I attended the academy for a term of twelve weeks. It was, in itself, an heroic performance since every country boy was a target for the village boy or girl. Why the teachers utterly ignored this unfortunate situation I cannot explain. I can only guess that because, through fear, the victims did not report, the teachers were ignorant of actual conditions.
Twelve weeks at the academy worked no important changes in my attitude. My class work compared favorably with that of other pupils except in English Grammar. Because of failure in this subject the teacher called me a blockhead. Because my seatmate, George Barker Stevens, utterly failed in algebra, he was called a blockhead.
I take this opportunity to remark that the origin of my hatred for degrading school epithets is associated with the foregoing experience. In all of my schoolroom work I have never called any human being a 'stick', a 'blockhead', or a 'bonehead'. I have said, "Why don't you use your brains! You have them in abundance, therefore use them."
George Barker Stevens and I were chums. To be frank, we actually loved each other. He frequently visited my home, I just as frequently visited his. The last time we were together George said, "Ferris, what are you going to do in order to earn money for further schooling?"
I answered, "I am going to try teaching," I obtained the same answer from George.
More than a quarter of a century from our last meeting, while on a journey to visit my mother, I read in a New York City daily paper this announcement, "During the six month's absence of Theodore Dwight, president of Yale University and professor of theology, George Barker Stevens will be the acting president." This bit of information explains fully what became of one of the Spencer Academy blockheads.
George Barker Stevens is another one of the numerous specimens of late fruit of a rich, abiding quality. I treasure his friendship as one of boyhood's choicest blessings.
During the autumn of 1867 and the winter of 1868, I returned to the academy adding six months to my original three months.
In the following autumn I returned to my home district school, where Frank Tibbetts, a Cornell University student, was in charge. It would take many pages to tell the story of his triumph over some of the toughest and roughest young men who ever entered any school room.
I have a vivid recollection of the first day and many succeeding days. The larger boys hearing a rumor that the new teacher was a college student and small of stature, boasted that he would not last long. An hour before opening of school the boys were on hand at the schoolhouse eagerly watching for his appearance. A few minutes before nine o'clock Frank Tibbetts drove up. The boys were on the alert to observe every movement of the new teacher. At that moment they knew little of the athletic training he had received at Cornell University.
School was called on time. Everything moved along smoothly until recess. The larger boys asked permission to jump over the stove poker. Permission being granted, the two boys holding the poker would raise it a few inches higher for each successive jump. After the champion boy had had his turn, the teacher was asked to jump. His skill amazed them. Experiments in high kicking also resulted in favor of the teacher. The boys postponed, for a few days, "throwing the teacher out."
Out of doors at recesses the boys engaged in wrestling. On one occasion the teacher was invited to participate. One after another of the boys were overcome without effort. The teacher then laughingly taking two of the largest boys at one time, tossed them about as he would handle toys. Again the throwing out date was postponed.
Possibly four weeks elapsed when a religious revival was announced for Halsey Valley, a small village three miles from the schoolhouse. The boys were convinced that the teacher had the ability of a trained athlete, but not being so
sure as to his powers of endurance, they invited him to meet them at the schoolhouse and from there go on foot to the revival. Large boys and small boys assembled. I with the latter came at the appointed time. The large boys suggested that since walking was a slow form of locomotion, why not run? At the end of the first mile the small boys were all walking. At the end of the second mile all but two or three of the large boys were walking. At the "finish" the teacher was the only one running.
After the revival meeting was over the teacher and the boys started on their return. The teacher said, "Boys, walking is too slow for me, come on, let's run." He was alone when he arrived at his abiding place. Bear in mind, the teacher on the first day of his arrival was fully aware of what the boys contemplated doing to him. He was diplomatic in demonstrating his physical superiority.
The boys postponing indefinitely "throwing out the teacher" eagerly sought to learn how to jump, wrestle, and box. Frank Tibbetts was a magnificent type of American manhood. The boys and girls who had the slightest desire to learn could not avoid doing so under this teacher's guidance. I know that the whole community received a moral uplift.
Some years later, Frank Tibbetts was graduated from Cornell University, studied law and became a power in his chosen profession in New York City. Three or four years before beginning this sketch I received a letter from the son announcing his father's death.
March fifteen, 1869 I entered the Candor Free Academy at Candor, New York, eight miles from my home. From time to time I have attempted to answer the question, "Why the Candor Academy?" There must have been a real or fancied reason; however, it is now unknown to me.
The principal of this academy, Charles Evans, is still living. He was a teacher who inspired confidence, who entertained high ideals, a man who loved boys and girls.
During my first attendance of four months, father paid for my board and room five days each week. Every Friday night I walked home and returned Monday morning. Besides common school branches, I studied algebra and bookkeeping.
One feature of the old district school prevailed in the academies, namely "speaking pieces." I was born short in word memory. I do not recall ever having recited a selection without the aid of a prompter.
Since those boyhood days this limitation has haunted me. On no day in all my life have I known the words of more than one poem nor the words of more than one paragraph of prose. The pedagogues of days gone by declared that this condition indicated a poor memory. But this is not true. Today we know that there are as many kinds of memories as there are kinds of mental activity. Most of my memories are and always have been excellent.
During July and August, I assisted father on the farm.
Early in September I returned to the Candor Academy, where I remained eight weeks. During this period a fellow student, Edward E. Snyder, with whom I had become acquainted the first term, and I "boarded ourselves." This was a novel experience. My classmate, three or four years my senior, was a frail, delicate, refined young man, possessing a high degree of patience and self control. I was impatient, explosive and anything but refined. He exerted a lasting influence over my impetuous nature. On one occasion I was trying to adjust a fourth leg to a rickety stove that we had rented. The stove seemed to prefer three legs. In this contest I recalled without special effort the vocabulary I had acquired while plowing with a side-hill plow pulled by a pair of cantankerous steers.
I let loose a volley that shocked Edward. Later I said, "Why is it that you never get 'mad'?"
His answer was simple; "I cannot afford it; anger consumes energy that I need for my studies."
Again and again, after having a fit of anger, Edward's remark come to me, "I cannot afford it." Our friendship still lives.
I never shall forget another experience that came to me while associated with this schoolmate. On our return from school one afternoon Snyder said, "Ferris, you are going over to tea at Harry Denman's home this evening, aren't you?"
I said, "No, I am not going because the embarrassment would be greater than I care to endure. Harry's father has addressed our academy several times. He is a scholarly gentleman of more than ordinary refinement both in manners and dress. Harry, too, is well-dressed and cultured. Beyond doubt the home is attractive and its furnishings are luxurious, I am not going."
Edward said very emphatically, "You are going."
I went. My embarrassment measured up to my expectations, especially at the table. After being seated I noticed neatly folded pieces of cloth at the side of each plate. I tried to guess what they were for. My observing powers were called into use. I saw Edward, carefully unfolding his piece of cloth, place it gracefully across his knees. I am glad I was under a good teacher.
All my life in the dining room of hotels and restaurants I have seen fashionably dressed men tuck this piece of cloth, now known to me as a napkin, under the chin where it is held dangling from the collar a reminder of a baby's bib.
I observed a small dish at the side of each plate, and by keeping an eye on Edward, I discovered that this dish was for butter and bread. In my dear old home these details of the table were unknown.
At the home table the location of the food, potatoes, meat, bread, butter, salt, and pepper were centralized. The size of the table was suited to the family so that each member helped himself. In fact, guests were instructed as follows; "Help yourself. Make yourself at home."
In early days the table fork was much less used than now. In my boyhood days it was a steel fork of two tines later of three tines. Then it gave way to the fork of today, the indispensable tool for conveying food from the plate to the mouth.
At Harry Denman's tea we probably spent forty minutes at the table. For me those minutes were hours, distressing hours of embarrassment. This was my first introduction into a home of practical refinement.
Edward E. Snyder became a successful physician. The larger part of his professional life has been spent in Binghamton, New York.
I was an extremely bashful young man and although I had five sisters, the smile of a young woman was sufficient to fill me with alarm. While in the Academy two or three girls, probably for their own amusement, occasionally wrote me a note or gave me a mischievous wink. Later on, I ventured to accompany one or more of these girls to church. My courage at that time was never sufficient to enable me to attend a school party or social gathering. This bashfulness prolonged the green stage of my development.
I owe something to the Wentworth brothers who, as students, were only moderate in their scholastic attainments.
Loving poetry, they filled pages of foolscap with their own verses. They compared their poems to those of Tennyson. Since through this comparison I fell in love with Tennyson, I owe these brothers a lasting debt of gratitude.