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Lecturing When Nineteen

One evening some time in October, 1872, examining my expense account, I discovered that I was spending too much money. I at once decided to leave school and go west. This was the result of a mere impulse. I counseled with no one, in fact, I decided without thinking, and obeyed the impulse. Before leaving, I delivered a lecture on phrenology before the Adelphi society.

I went from Oswego directly to Pontiac, Michigan. There I remained only a few hours, just long enough to invest one dollar and a quarter in some handbills announcing the coming of the would-be lecturer.

From Pontiac I rode by stage to Oxford, Michigan, where a boyhood friend of my father, Solomon Snyder lived. He had two children, Amanda and Rossman, who had been my schoolmates prior to their going west. Solomon Snyder was a Campbellite preacher, although he preferred to be called a Christian preacher. He lived at Oxford up to the time of his death, a few years ago. Since he was widely known he officiated at many weddings and funerals.

I was cordially received on a rainy Saturday night after a long disagreeable stage ride.

After remaining in this hospitable home for a few days, I began my proposed work of lecturing on phrenology. I visited the public school and, through the kindness of theprincipal, secured the use of the building for a free lecture. After reading an advertisement, "Wanted, shovelers on the Bay City and Detroit Northern Railroad at three dollars a day", my plans were completed. I needed money. On my arrival at Oxford I had just six cents in my pocket. With this I purchased two postage stamps and wrote two letters, one to my parents and one to Miss Helen Gillespie. I did not ask my father for funds, because in a letter to him explaining my departure to Michigan, I had suggested that I would probably get homesick and ask for money. In that event, he was instructed to refuse.

On the evening advertised a sympathetic audience assembled and when the hat was passed, contributed seven or eight dollars. This was a good omen and seemed to indicate that at least for the time being, I would not have to shovel gravel. I lectured in country school houses near Oxford, at Metamora, Rochester and other villages. For oral delineations of character I charged twenty-five cents. Not infrequently I was asked to examine whole families. At one time during this lecture tour I wrote to my father for money. Reminding me that he was under special instructions, he declined to comply with my wish.

I now confess that my audacity must have amused my friends. After two or three months I concluded to visit home and at the beginning of the new term at Oswego resume my studies.

Old schoolmates gave me a hearty welcome.

Following the close of school at Oswego in June, 1873, I made an engagement for the delivery of two lectures at Skaneateles, New York. Insomuch as I was an absolute stranger in the town, I am confident that one of my classmates must have induced me to make the experiment. All details connected with the affair have vanished from my memory perhaps they are in the realm of unconsciousness through unconscious repression.

At the appointed hour I appeared at the Academy where a goodly number of people had assembled. I was in command of one written lecture on human nature, the one I had given at the Oswego Normal School in the autumn of 1872. I had resolved to pursue a new plan which was to use the written subject matter of one lecture for two extemporaneous lectures. I retained the written introduction and for headings retained the first sentence of every paragraph. My self confidence was colossal. I was sure that I could read the introduction. I was confident that the first sentence would call to mind the substance of the paragraph.

The actual test proved a humiliating failure. After reading the first sentence I paused. My mental engine had stopped dead. I read the next and the next, only to discover that I was lost in automobile language, "stalled," I quietly drew my remnants of a real manuscript from the speakers stand and crumpled it in my hands, never to make any reference to it again. I talked in a rambling way for twenty minutes or less and then announced that my second lecture would be delivered the next evening.

It was never delivered in Skaneateles. Before going to bed that night I discovered that I could get out of town on a very early train. I received an imaginary telegram calling me home. I sent the report to my would-be benefactor and was on my way to my home before the sun came up over the eastern hills. Prior to making this experiment, I had planned on giving lectures in other villages and cities of my native state.

Upon my arrival at father's farm I found him in the harvest field. He was surprised to see me because I had previously informed him of my plans.

In a day or two after my arrival I visited Halsey Valley, a very small village three and a half miles from my home. The leading citizen of this village was Dr. Henry Voxburg. Because he had been my father's family physician, I was acquainted with him. In fact he had been interested in my progress and welfare for several years. I asked his advice as to renting the Christian Church for the delivery of five or six lectures. The doctor enthusiastically aided me in completing the arrangements. At the beginning he may have thought the whole affair would be one huge, enjoyable burlesque, something really new sensational. Before the series of lectures were completed he manifested a degree of interest that materially aided and encouraged me.

Let the reader bear in mind that I am not relating this experience for the purpose of putting a high value upon the lectures. I am telling the true story of how I became an extemporaneous speaker.

No admission fee was charged. I now think that the doctor in visiting his patients was my advance agent. Every night the church was crowded. I discovered that I had in my mind sufficient material for a dozen lectures. I adopted a conversational, story-telling form of delivery. More or less curiosity was aroused every night.

After I had talked forty or forty-five minutes the audience was invited to select two or three well-known persons and have them submit to what is called a character delineation. This consisted in my giving the dominating characteristics of each candidate. The only person in this neighborhood well known to me was Doctor Voxburg, who never gave me information in advance relative to any man, woman or child of the village and vicinity. Seemingly the Doctor was in an experimental mood. His curiosity was on a par with other members of my audience. I was conscientious in my delineations, ever trying to put to the test the principles of phrenology as taught by the Fowlers. I am aware that modern physicians and psychologists give a derisive laugh when they read of an experience like mine. Once more let me declare that phrenology is not a science, nor is medicine proper a science. There is enough truth in both to make them worthy of men's serious consideration.

Just before dismissing the audience a collection was taken. At the close of the sixth and last lecture I had collected a total of fifty or sixty dollars above all expenses. The people of the village and vicinity had been instructed, awakened and inspired. This was the expressed opinion of everybody who attended one or more of the lectures.

The big thing for me was my mastery of a problem. At Skaneateles, New York, I had utterly failed. The method I pursued there was wrong. The method I pursued at Halsey Valley was right. This little story of a bit of my experience is written for the sole purpose of encouraging some reader in the mastery of the fine art of public speaking.