Wednesday, 4 January 2017


Saturday Musings

Spectator December 21, 1915

        "Marley was dead, to begin with.” It was thus that the gifted Dickens began his Christmas Carol. “Old Marley was as dead as a door nail … Scrooge knew he was dead? Of course he did. Scrooge and he were partners for many years.”

          Dickens’ stories are not read nowadays like they were by the ancient Hamiltonians of the past century; and the more pity it is, for their reading would make a better world. The Christmas Carols tell us that old Scrooge was a tight-fisted hand at the grindstone, “ a squealing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous, old sinner!”

Hamilton may have a few of the Scrooge tribe, but they are mighty few, as the history of the past four years can cheerfully give testimony. Very few have suffered from the high cost of living, for there has been hard work for everybody that wanted it, wages were good and liberal.

God bless the generous-hearted people of dear old Hamilton! They have always responded to every call from the time it was but a village and called the Head of the Lake. There has never been any need of suffering if the wants of the unfortunate were known, for the women of Hamilton responded to every call for help, especially for women and children. Every church and every society of women have their relief corps. When the influenza became epidemic, how quick the S.O.S. was organized, and the pastor nd official board of the First Methodist church promptly tendered to the ladies the use of their kitchen and outfit, and hundreds of baskets of delicate food were sent out every day to the homes of the afflicted. Those grand women of the S.O.S. left their homes, by units, happy in the thought that there was work for them to do, not only giving their time but also carrying to the church baskets of delicacies from their own larders. And the people who owned motor cars placed them under the direction of the S.O.S. to distribute their bounty in the homes of the afflicted. Let us change Tiny Tim’s prayer just a little, God bless them, every one.

This is not an unkind world after all, and dear old Hamilton stands in the front rank in every good work. Count up the tag days for the Red Cross, and for other benevolences since the dark days of 1914 overshadowed every home and country, and Hamilton has more than met every call made upon it, not only in brave men to answer the bugle call, but for money to provide for the dependent wives and children and parents of those who left home and comfort to create a new world of liberty.

Let us be thankful that the worst is past, and that

“When Johnny comes marching home again,

 We’ll give him a royal welcome then,

 The girls will cheer, the boys will shout,

 The people will all turn out,

 And we’ll feel gay,

 When Johnny comes marching home.”

Hamilton sent more than its quota – nearly 12,000. Many of the bravest and best will never return home again!

“In Flanders’ fields the poppies blow,

 Between the crosses, row on row,

 That mark our place; and in the shy

 The larks, still bravely singing, fly,

 Scarce heard amidst the guns below.

 We are the dead. Short days ago

 We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

 Loved and were loved; and now we lie

   In Flanders’  fields.


 Take up our quarrel with the foe

 To you from failing hands we throw

 The torch. Be yours to hold it high!

 If ye break faith with us who die

 We shall not sleep, though poppies grow

   In Flanders’ fields.”


In Flanders’ Fields is the tribute of the brave Lieut.-Col. John H. McRae to his Canadian comrades who have been “mustered out” on the firing line. Col. McCrae was born in Canada in 1872; passed from the glory of the battlefield in France in 1918. What a brave answer came back from an American comrade-in-arms, R. W. Gillard, herewith given !

The Red Cross society in Hamilton have done a service that will live forever in publishing the booklet, containing the original poem and the answer, with a handsome sketch of the growing poppy in Flanders’ Fields, drawn by Hamilton lady artist, and a photo of the gifted Canadian author.

Here is the answer:

“Rest ye in peace, ye Flanders dead.

 The fight that ye bravely led

 We’ve taken up. And we will keep

 True faith with you who lie asleep

 With each a cross to mark his bed

 And poppies glowing overhead

 Where once his own life-blood ran red.

 So, let your rest be sweet and deep

   In Flanders’ fields.


 Fear not that ye have died for naught,

 The torch ye throw to us we caught.

 Ten million hands will hold it high,

 And Freedom’s light shall never die!

 We’ve learned the lesson that she taught

   In Flanders’ fields.


The glory won by our Canadian boys will be told by future historians when recounting the story of the great war of 1914-1918. It cost the blood and the lives of the bravest and best of all in the allied ranks. In thousands of Canadian homes, there will be at least one vacant chair at the coming Christmas feast.

“At the fireside, sad and lonely,

   Often will the bosom swell,

 At remembrance of the glory,

   How their noble Willie fell;

 How he strove to bear our banner

   Thro’ the thickest of the fight,

 And uphold our country’s honor.

   In the strength of manhood’s right.”

The boys who responded to the bugle call, and will return home to future years, will proudly tell their children of the humble part they took in the great world war.

Cheers for the returning soldier! Tears for the dead !


Saturday Musings
Spectator December 21, 1915
        This was the nom de plume of Alexander Somerville, who lived in Hamilton away back in the early sixties. He was born in Scotland in the year 1811, and died in Toronto in 1895. His parents were in humble circumstances, and at the early age of eight years, he had to earn a living by herding sheep on the grazing lands in Scotland. He had no school advantages, but, having a natural desire for an education, he studied while attending his flocks, and laid the foundation for a scholarship that resulted in his becoming learned in economic and political subjects. Early in the sixties, Mr. Somerville became a citizen of Hamilton, coming from Toronto, and earned a somewhat precarious living by writing for the newspapers, which, at that time, was not so profitable for either the owners of the newspapers or for the men who had educated brains to sell. The reader may ask, why is this resurrection of an ancient “penny-a-liner” at this time? A couple of weeks ago, an inquiry from Toronto came to the editor of the Spectator as to the matters of history that could be dug up of the time when Mr. Somerville was an occasional contributor to the columns of the Spectator, over the nom de plume of “The Whistler at the Plow.” There is not a man who was connected with the paper sixty years ago now living to answer it, for about that time, when Mr. Somerville lived in Hamilton, this Old Muser was sojourning down in Dixieland, shouldering a musket and standing up to be shot at for the magnificent sum of $16 a month, a corporal’s pay, and getting fat on hardtack and “sowbelly.” Let me here suggest that if the clock could only be put back to my age at that time, gladly would I feast on government rations, not to be a soldier again mind you, but to be young once again and have the promise of fifty years more of life in this beautiful world. But what has all that dreaming got to do with the story about ‘The Whistler at the Plow?” The only man in Hamilton  the Muser could think of that would be able to give an answer to the Toronto inquiry was H. B. Witton, who has lived continuously in Hamilton for more than sixty years, and, who, at one time, was connected with the Canadian Illustrated News, in which paper appeared the literary contribution of Mr. Somerville away back in 1863. Mr. Witton was able to furnish the information the Toronto man desired, for one of Mr. Somerville’s sons worked under him in the Great Western railway paint shops as an apprentice boy, and afterwards was in business for himself in Hamilton for a few years.
          In Mr. Witton’s private library – one of the most select, as far as rare and costly books are connected in Canada – is Somerville’s Diligent Life, “One Who Has Whistled at the Plow,” one of the many works of that writer. Mr. Somerville’s early life was spent in laboring work in Scotland, and, not having the advantages of learning a trade, he naturally fell in the ways of the indigent young men of Great Britain, preferring the queen’s shilling and a soldier’s life and two meals a day to digging ditches and other laboring work for a shilling a day. In the year 1831, he enlisted in the Scots Greys, known as the Royal North British Dragoons, one of crack horse regiments in the British service. In those days, young Scotsmen smitten with military ambition, and not less than five feet ten inches of upright bulk, talked vauntingly of the “Greys;” of the horses with long tails, of scarlet coats and long swords, the high bearskin caps and the plumes of white feathers encircling them in front, the blue overalls with the broad yellow stripes on the outside, the boots and spurs, the carbines slung at the saddle side, the holster pipes and pistols, the shoulder belts and the ammunition, and the long scarlet cloaks flowing from the riders’ necks to their knees in wet and wintry weather, and the grey charges with white tails. It was an easy matter for the recruiting sergeant to fill up his quota of recruits with such a picture to present to the young Scot, who had no desire to shoulder his spades at daylight and take to the ditches. And then King Billy, of blessed memory, was paying a bright English shilling, with two meals a day, a comfortable barracks to live in, and a uniform such as only the gentry could afford to wear. It was a temptation that not many could withstand. Somerville saw the day, and not long after his enlistment in the Scottish Greys, he wished he had never straddled a horse in that regiment.
          On the first day of March, 1831, the first reform bill was introduced into the British house of parliament, which resulted in a threat by the anti-reformers that they would stop supplies. It is not our purpose to peer into the history of those stirring times any further than to introduce into this brief chapter the mistake of a soldier entering a discussion of political affair of the government under which he was serving. Alexander Somerville had given some attention to political economy in his readings while herding sheep, and, unfortunately for him, he gave expression to his ideas in one of the leading newspapers, which were copied widely and led to his undoing. London and every town in the kingdom were the scenes of riots, and the windows of the home of the Duke of Wellington, Sir Robert Peel and other leading anti-reformers were broken with stones by the mobs. The Scots Greys were booted and saddled for three days, ready to turn out at a moment’s notice. Not since before the battle of Waterloo had the swords of the Greys been rough-sharpened, and old soldiers spoke of it as threatening dire calamity to the rioters. The soldiers had no desire to be called out to shoot or saber down their own countrymen, and many letters were written by them to that effect and dropped in the streets. Somerville sent his letters to the newspapers.
          Up to this time, Somerville’s standing in his troop was first-class; and then even the suspicion did not rest upon him as being the writer of the objectionable letter that was widely published in the newspapers. Some innocent men were suspected, and while it might not be possible to prove what was denominated a military crime, the sergeant-major, adjutant, riding master and commanding officer had them watched until they were driven into some fault for which they could be punished. To save his comrades, Somerville confessed to the major commanding the regiment that he was the writer of the objectionable letter, and from that time forth, every effort was made to catch him in some delinquency that would bring him to a court martial. One day the riding master was very cross with Somerville, and finally charged him with insubordination in not mounting his horse when commanded to do so. Somerville had been put through this part of the drill of mounting and dismounting until the unfortunate soldier was physically worn out and unable to obey the command to mount. This was the desired moment the riding master was waiting for, and a corporal’s guard was summoned and Somerville sent to the guard house. The next morning he was tried by court-martial, and, of course, convicted of insubordination, and sentenced to two hundred lashes with the cat-o’-nine-tails, and that afternoon the regiment was paraded to witness the infliction of the punishment.
          It was an unusual proceeding to hurry the punishment immediately after the trial. The regiment was formed in four square, the sentence of the court read by the commanding officer, and Somerville was roped to an upright ladder with his wrists and feet fastened to iron rings in a wall. The regimental sergeant-major, with book and pencil in hand to count each each lash and number, gave the command. “Farrier Simpson, do your duty.” Simpson took the “cat,” as ordered, and swinging it twice around his head brought the brutal instrument of torture with full force across the bare back of the unfortunate Somerville. This was repeated for twenty-five times, and then another stalwart soldier took the lash and continued the punishment. The farrier and the trumpeter alternated till one hundred lashes were administered, and by this time Somerville’s back was raw. Figure in your mind, the number of strokes with a cat-o’-nine-tails with six knots in each tail, making 5,400 gashes on Somerville’s bare back. No wonder the commanding officer’s heart revolted at such brutality, and when the last of one hundred lashes were given, he gave the command “Stop! Take him down; he is a young soldier.” After cutting the man to pieces, he was then sent to the hospital for repairs. And all this brutal punishment was inflicted on the plea that Somerville had disobeyed the command of the riding master to mount his horse when he was physically unable to do so.
          That one hundred lashes sounded the death knell of the whipping post in the British army and navy, for in due time, it became the subject of a parliamentary inquiry, and was prohibited by law. The authorities were slow in action, and it took several years before it was finally prohibited. A penny fund was raised in England with which to buy Somerville’s discharge from the army and a sum of 30 pounds was collected, and in 1833, he became once more a private citizen. Somerville was a man of excellent habits, free from the vice of drink, and always attentive to duty. Had it not been for that letter, he would have been promoted to be a non-commissioned officer, and in time further advanced to a commission.
          There is a fascination about a soldier’s life that unfits a man who has served even for the short space of three years from settling-down to civil life after his discharge from the army. The boys who are now returning from the world war and are being mustered out will miss the bugle call and the daily routine of a soldier’s duty. This old Muser can sympathize with them, for he passed through the stages of returning to civil life and to his printing office at the close of the American civil war. There are three conditions that unfit a man for civil life – to serve as a soldier, as a fireman, or as a policeman. Somerville after his discharge from the Scots Greys became interested in newspaper work, as a writer on the Weekly Dispatch, but he could not settle down to it. In 1835, he again heard the bugle call and re-enlisted in the Eighth Highlanders, serving under General Sir De Lac Evans in the army in Spain. But we will not follow the history of Alexander Somerville, further than to say that on his return to civil life, he became an author of some repute, writing a library of books principally on political science.
          After retiring from the army, Somerville married and settled down to civil life, earning his living as a writer. In the month of July, 1858, he left England to make a home in Canada, intending to settle in Toronto. When they sailed from Liverpool, his wife and family were in excellent health, but shortly after arriving in Quebec, his wife’s health gave way and speedily developed into consumption. Eleven months from the day of quitting her native city of London, Mrs. Somerville died in Quebec. Out of work and with a family of six children to provide for, Mr. Somerville tried the lecture field as a means of earning a living, but it was not a success. After struggling as best he could, friends came to his assistance, and through their kindness, he was able to pay the fare of his family to Toronto. A year or two later, he came to Hamilton, and made a precarious living for a time as a contributor to the Spectator and the Canadian Illustrated News. Old-timers will remember “The Whistler at the Low,” but not many of that class are now living in Hamilton. One of his sons learned the painter’s trade in the Great Western shops, under Mr. Witton, and another son carried the business of manufacturing window blinds. Those who remember Mr. Somerville recall him as they used to see him in the streets with his luxuriant crop of gray hair streaming down his shoulders. Herbert Gardiner, one time editor of the Spectator, and later editor of the Times, remembers the old man well, and can recall many interesting incidents of the days when he lived in Hamilton.
          That cruel flogging of one hundred lashes with the cat-o’-nine-tails that Alexander Somerville received, without cause, when he was a private in the Scots Greys in the year 1832, was the means afterward of saving the backs of hundreds and thousands of men in the British army and navy.
          In briefly telling the incidents in the life of Alexander Somerville, The Whistler at the Plow, recalls to memory a similar scene that occurred in the citadel at Quebec less than eighty years ago when this Muser was a child living in the citadel, his father being a soldier in the Seventieth regiment. An unfortunate soldier named Michael Macnamara drank too much liquor at times, and when in that condition would steal whatever he could lay his hand on. Michael was a member of the pioneer corps of the regiment, for in those days each regiment had a detail of six men whose duty was to keep the barrack grounds clean. Michael was a stalwart soldier of six feet in height and built in proportion, with a kindly face. Every child in the barracks loved Michael, for he always carried in his pockets a stock of candy for the young ones. But the poor fellow could not resist the temptation to steal, and the money he got from the articles he stole and sold was mostly spent in buying candy for the children. Every kind of mild punishment was tried on Michael, for the colonel of the regiment had a kind heart and looked with sympathy on the erring soldier’s penchant for stealing, especially as he knew that Michael stole to give pleasure to the children. Finally patience ceased to be a virtue, and as Michael was proven guilty of more than ordinary theft, and he was sentenced to fifty lashes with the cat-o’-nine-tails. That was a sad day in the old citadel at Quebec, for almost every child in the barracks cried because their old friend was to be punished. To carry out the sentence, the regiment was paraded in the citadel and formed four square. In the center was the triangle to which poor Michael was tied up, and when the sentence of the court martial was read, a stalwart drummer was detailed to inflict the punishment. There was not a man in the regiment that was not in sympathy with the kindly old Irishman who stole mainly to give to the children. For years after, this old Muser could in imagination hear the shrieks of the children’s friend as the cruel lash tore the flesh off his back. When twenty-five lashes had been administered, the kindly old colonel could not stand it any longer, and he ordered the drummer to stop. That was the last soldier in the Seventieth regiment to be punished by flogging.
          Poor old Mike, when he came out of the hospital, fell back into his old ways. The love of liquor was his ruin. Finally he was again tried by court martial and sentenced to be drummed out of the regiment. That was another sad day for the children, who were dismissed from school that they might see their friend receive his punishment. Well do I remember that day. Poor old Mike was marched around the barrack square with a file of the guard behind him, the drum corps playing that old tune – the Rogue’s March :
 “Once, twice, for selling my kit,
   Three times for desertion,
 If ever I ‘list to be a soldier again,
   The devil be may be my sergeant.”
Twice in long years did we hear that same tune played when two men who had been incorrigible thieves were drummed out of camp during the American civil war. The days of flogging had long since passed, but there was another punishment that was inflicted in the early days of the civil war. Men who were incorrigible, and being put in the guard house had no terrors for them, used to be tied up by the thumbs and left suspended till such time as they would beg forgiveness and promise to reform. The company officer, who ordered the man to be tied up, suffered for his brutality, and many a one had his head punched, when he did not know who was his assailant. A general order was issued prohibiting the tieing up by the thumbs as a means of punishment
                   THE MONTREAL HERALD
          Having had an existence of 108 years, in a most forbidding constituency for an English newspaper, the Montreal Herald recently fell asleep in the hands of a receiver; and if there is enough left after it passes through the receiving process to pay a dividend of ten per cent to the creditors, the venerable Herald will not have died in vain. There was a time in the early history of the Herald when it was one of the brightest papers in Canada. This old Muser took the first lessons in the newspaper trade away back in 1846 in the Herald office, when that paper was published as a semi-weekly. Before daylight on a cold winter morning, we had to start out with a  route of nearly two hundred papers, and have them delivered at the home of the subscribers in time for the head of the family to read while at breakfast. The newsboys in those days were provided with a tin horn, which they blew loud and long to notify the householder of his approach. Then home to breakfast after the route was delivered, and back to the office before eight o’clock to take the first lessons in the rudiments of the typographic art, which were picking up the type the compositors dropped on the floor, sweeping out the office, and them sorting and distributing the pi. The remainder of the day was spent in learning to set and distribute type, or at the roller, for there were no marching presses in the Herald office in those days. And all this for the extravagant salary of one dollar per week for the first six months, and a promise of a raise if the proprietor though you were worth it. There were no extravagant salaries paid to boys or men severnty-two years ago. Eight years later, the four newspapers in Hamilton were paying from $7 to $8 a week, when in March, 1854, the printers plucked up courage, organized a union, and humbly asked for a slight advance to $9 a week. Now they are getting nearly three times that sum and are rolling in wealth. The old Herald could not stand the pressure. Farewell, the typographical mentor of my youth !

Friday, 23 December 2016


Spectator December 18, 1915


        Far up in the Kanawha valley, in West Virginia, near Camp Platt, an advanced picket of 167th Ohio was surprised by Jennings’ guerilla band, during the Civil War in the United States, some fifty years ago, and, for a couple of hours the conflict was brisk. The guerillas had the advantage, for they were fighting on their native heath and knew every foot of the valley. More than one fellow on both sides answered his last roll call, and many were wounded, none very seriously. Like all guerilla warfare, the fight was sharp and quick. The Jennings band was outnumbered and hastily withdrew from the conflict, which was a source of satisfaction to the Federal soldiers. No prisoners were taken, as it was one of the rules of guerilla warfare not to be hampered with prisoners. It was a might fall, yet cold and chilly, and Christmas was close at hand. Only a few more days and the families would gather in the home churches and sing the songs of “Peace on Earth; good will to men”, while husbands and sons were engaged in bloody war on the field of battle. The night after the skirmish all seemed peaceful and quiet, and one would never think that within a mile from the Federal camp, but a few hours before, the Federals and Confederates had been engaged in deadly strife. And for what? The soldiers in either army had no ill will toward each other, nor indeed had they ever met except to wound and kill. “War is hell!” sure enough, as German Sherman said. In the Federal camp, numerous fires were burning, the moving forms which surrounded them rising upon the vision of the distant spectator like giant shadows. The rain, that dripped and drizzled clammily, evoked no complaint from the hardy soldier’s lips. He recited not of the sights that had met his eyes during the hours before on the battlefield that day, nor of the unburied braves that lay but a short distance from his present bivouac, stiffening in the rain. He and his bunk-mate, the kindly-hearted Jake, had built for refuge a temporary habitation, and the big fire that hissed in the storm was solid comfort to their stiffened limbs. Frequently you might hear a boisterous laugh, a song of more mirth than melody, and the sounds of a mouth-organ or fiddle – no Stradivarius by nay means – or, see, now and then, looming up fantastically, the brawny forms of Uncle Sam’s jovial boys, in a reckless stag dance around the fires.

          It was well toward evening when the picket guard got back into camp. As far as the eye could reach, the white tents were visible. As the sky grew heavy and lowering, suggestive of tempestuous weather, the boys began to collect material from the neighboring fields for the erection of shacks for shelter or warmth. It does not take long for the veteran soldier to build a hut if there is material anywhere within a mile of the camp. When in the enemy’s territory, might makes right. The moving of Burnam Wood toward Dunsinane may have been an astounding spectacle in Macbeth’s opinion; but if that bloody Thane had risen from his grave on that cold December night and paid a ghostly visit to the vicinity of Camp Platt, he would have gone back to Scotland with a weakened estimate of General Macduff’s stratagem. Hundreds of acres of land lay under good fence. The corn was still standing in the shock; the wheat in the stack ; the hay in the rick. See how they disappear from their respective places, as if by magic. The air is alive with huge piles of cornstalks, hay, straw, rails and lumber of every description – all moving toward camp. Company A is sure to have its share of the good things. Corporal Jake is a stalwart, and anything that is within reach is not a bit too good for him and his bunk mate. Each man has, with mutual ambition, appointed himself commander-in-chief to order and furnish a shack and a fire for his companions and himself. Some seize upon the great oaken logs which the West Virginia farmer has cut into shape for the splitting out of staves. With a “Yo-heave-ho!” and “Altogether!” these are rolled to the summit of the ridge, and soon the fire is frisking about them cheerfully. The rails are arranged into frames for shacks; and the straw, hay and fodder are carefully piled on top and around the sides, to exclude the wind and rain, or are nicely laid on the ground for beds.


          With such an array as this, no great length of time is required to desolate the landscape. The soldier regards himself as a privileged character, and his own comforts and enjoyments are above those of the planter. Wherever his footsteps tread, woe to that land – be it the property of friend or foe! Recklessness and daring have been the characteristics of the soldier in all climes, and from time immemorial, no matter what flag, be it the Union Jack or the Stars and Stripes. His food and raiment are of the coarsest – he lives virtually “from hand to Mouth” – and the country through which he passes must pay custom to him nolens volens. It is well when he is so far advanced in the courtesies of civilization as to decently respect the personality of the inhabitants of an occupied country. The larders and granaries must necessarily pay tribute, in the best and politest ages, to the scarred warrior, as the prompt supplying by the government of the needs of an immense body of men constantly on the march is impossible. He should consider himself a happy patriot who has furnished the weary soldier a shelter from the wintry blast – the hungry one a yellow-legged chicken from the roost for his evening meal.


          It was the night before Christmas. The loved ones in our Ohio home had not forgotten the absent ones. That afternoon the steamer Annie Laurie came puffing up the Kanawha river and her siren had shrieked out a warning to the boys that the boxes of which they had been notified were coming. Every company in the regiment was remembered. Talk about your Christmas dinners !! Never was there the prospect of such a feast ! The soldiers were so anxious to investigate the contents of the boxes that they could hardly wait to get them up from the landing to the camp. Just fancy, after months of feeding on sowbelly and hard tack, and baked beans, and tomorrow it would be turkey, chicken, roast beef, plum pudding, mince pie – what is the use of giving the list of good things when we tell you that those boxes came from home, sweet home, and our wives and mothers knew just what we would like best! My, it makes the mouth of this old Muser water even now to go back in memory to that Christmas of more than half a century ago. The boys did not wait for old Pap Fisher to beat up the reveille the next morning, for they had tumbled out of their bunks long before the sun had sent his bright and frosty rays down the valley. Breakfast was but little thought of for everyone wanted a sharp appetite to do justice to the Christmas feast that was in store for him. The company cooks did themselves proud that day in warming up the turkeys and the chicken and geese, and as the mothers and wives had sent word to the cooks that they had only partially cooked the beef, the big fat roasts got their finishing touches over the log fires, and were pronounced fit for a feast for the gods. Corp. Jake, being a college professor back in Ohio, the superintendent of a Sunday school and the leader of a Presbyterian choir, was considered the proper man to invoke the divine blessing on the feast set before us, which he did reverently, and also prayed for the Girls We Left Behind Us in the old Ohio homes, to which the entire company responded with a hearty amen! And then the good mothers and wives had another think coming when they packed those boxes, and they remembered the cigars, and boxes of them, so that the smoke from the fragrant weed arose as sweet incense around the camp fire that Christmas night.


          The mountain ranges along the valley of the Kanawha were mines of wealth in Cannel coal, and all that was necessary to get at it was to scrape the earth a foot or two on the side of the hill and get an abundance of black diamonds. The boys had provided a supply, and along the front of the company quarters great roaring fires gave us summer warmth. The boys from other companies tempted by the cheerful blaze that rose from our coal and log fires, flocked to our cosy quarters and threw themselves into comfortable positions. As we began to grow more cheerful after feast and the fragrance of the cigars, conversation and storytelling, interspersed with song, made happy the passing hours. There is no soldier in an army I presume who has not had some pleasing incident – a reminiscence of march, carnage, or camp fire – that a trifling suggestion will call forth. Almost everyone at our bivouac fire that night, enlivened the hour with an interesting anecdote or broad witticism, and I wish I could now remember even a tithe of them. It seems to me that they would be interesting to readers of Saturday Musings in these days of war when the whole world is one vast battlefield. The program opened with the United States national anthem. Of course, being an American army, what might you expect for a curtain raiser? This was followed by marching through Georgia. This put Corp. Jake in mind of a story about the time when our regiment was called to Cincinnati to defend that city from the raid of Kirby Smith’s army. “Didn’t you remember the day at Camp King?” said the corporal, “when we were ordered into line of battle because Captain Dan was scared by four women and a coach dog on St. John’s Hill, south of Cincinnati? He thought that the innocent crowd was the advance guard of Kirby Smith’s army swinging over the brow of the hill. Well, by jove, I never saw an officer brandish his sword more heroically than Captain Dan did on that occasion. It seemed to me he was so furious and looked so terrible that if the enemy had appeared they must have been appalled into surrender. His looks were a whole park of artillery.”

          A grave-looking corporal, who was leaning against a tree, and roasting his shins at the fire, seemed interested in the conversation. He said : “I am from the Eighty-First, the regiment adjoining yours. Your cheerful fire attracted me here, and Corp. Jake’s story has somewhat fascinated me. Captain Dan was probably green in military matters. Give the old man a chance. The first fight doesn’t always show the soldierly character. One of the greatest captains of all time was panic-stricken in his first battle – Frederick the Great, you know. Macaulay tells the story. I’ve been in a few fights myself before this civil war began – in Mexico with Taylor; on the border with Johnston; in Missouri and Arkansas with Fremont, and, before that, with the British army in the Crimea, and chanced often to notice the conduct of both raw recruits and veterans. Soldiers need to be tested, boys. Many a fellow I have seen hide away, or turn ghastly, and even faint in his first scrimmage, who afterward became one of the bravest men in the army, and would risk the shot and shell of the enemy to carry off a wounded comrade from the firing line. It isn’t always those who look the strongest and speak the loudest that prove the best in the end, as I’ve found out. I suppose you have noticed that a good many volunteers, who seemed to be the toughest, and were really tough in camp – great, hulking chaps, with biceps like a hickory wart, and always itching for a row – have played out before many days’ marching, and have gone into the ambulance or the hospital, especially if there is a prospect of a fight with the enemy, while timid-looking fellows – counterhoppers or boys from whom you expected nothing – have bronzed into health and cheerfulness, always ready to find their place on the firing line, and passed through the hard phases of a soldier’s life with courage.”


          “That’s gospel!” said the Orderly Sergeant Langstroth. “There’s that big lubber of Co. H. with a fist like a triphammer and a leg like a weaver’s beam. On our first day’s march, he was away head of the regiment, applauded for his sturdiness, and swaggering grandly; on the second day, he had dropped down to the middle, and dropped his swagger a bit; on the third, he was among the tail-enders, with still less swagger; on the fourth, he was lolling in the ambulance, his face wrinkled with the blues, and guyed unmercifully by his comrades afoot. A few days later, he disappeared. When we next saw him, Billy was trudging wearily along with a rail tied to his back, and the swagger gone altogether. Some disgusted officer had caught him wandering about, like a chronic shirk, without gun or knapsack, and had subjected him to the disgraceful penalty of the rail and the derision of the whole army. Lord knows where Bill is now. A deserter maybe.

          The oldest genius , and one of the bravest I ever saw,” said the strange corporal, “was a little fellow who was killed at the siege of Atlanta, with a ‘coon on his shoulder. That little chap came from a farm near Clinton, Illinois, and had carried a pet ‘coon all the way from home. Jim Farnworth was his name.  Jim was a small, pale boy, as thin as a sandpiper, and looked as if he might give out in a day’s march. But men of apparently twice his size and muscle shed their overcoats, blankets and baggage along the line of march, while Jim swung along bravely, always in his place in the regiment, and carrying every shred of a soldier’s equipage, besides his ‘coon. He was a most tenderhearted lad, too; would go out of his way if he saw an insect on the ground to avoid treading on it, and cried as easily as a baby if anything went wrong with his ‘coon. The boys indeed called him Baby Jim. But Baby Jim, I’ll tell you, was no slouch when tough work was at hand. He was generally at the fore then, first in mounting an escarpment and in planting a banner of the enemy’s works – that pet ‘coon always on his shoulder, seeming to enjoy his master’s excitement. Poor Jim! He died in the van in Atlanta, while bearing forward the flag which a wounded color-sergeant had dropped. The boys of the Twentieth Illinois, his regiment, had begun to love and worship him long before he fell in battle. He was no longer Baby Jim, but our Bully Little Corporal. The shot that killed Jim also killed the ‘coon.


                   THEN YOU’LL REMEMBER ME

          “Come dick,” said Corp. Jake, “let’s sing that dear old song of Balfe’s, from the Bohemian Girl.” The corporal and this old Muser some ‘on the singing when we were young, and many an hour was whiled away around the camp fire in the valley of the Kanawha. The songs of half a century ago were altogether different from the ragtime we hear nowadays; they were full of heart sentiment, with music that thrilled the soul. “Then,” said the corporal, “tell us the story of the young musician and his wife away up in Hamilton, Canada, where you spent your boyhood days.”

          When other lips and other hearts

             Their tales of love shall tell,

          In language whose excess imparts,

             The pow’r they feel so well,

          There may, perhaps, in such a scene

             Some recollection be,

          Of days that have as happy been,

             And you’ll remember me.

          When coldness of deceit shall slight

             The beauty now they prize,

          And deem it but a faded light

             Which beams within your eyes,

          When hollow hearts shall wear a mask,

             ‘Twill break your own to see.

          In such a moment I but ask,

              That you’ll remember me.

          “Now, Dick, for the story,” said Corp. Jake.


          Once before we have told in these Musings the story we told that Christmas night at the campfire in the Virginia mountains. As the great army of readers of the Spectator has increased since that time, it may not be amiss to give it again in connection with our reminiscences of the days in the long ago when we carried a musket in Uncle Sam’s army.

          “The memories of the song that Corporal Jake and I have just sung,” said the Muser, “recall the long ago when I was emerging into young manhood in dear old Hamilton, where I spent many happy years as an apprentice at the printing business and preparing for the life of work before me. The incident has long since been forgotten save by one here and there who lives in the past. A young musician and his child wife came across the sea to make their home in Canada, and Hamilton, with its small population of not more than 10,000 seemed to hold out a friendly hand to the young foreigners and decided them to go no further. Both were accomplished musicians, but he excelled on the violin and guitar. The way opened to them as teachers, and the future promised a prosperous and happy home in the town of their adoption. Never of a robust nature, the severe climate of their second winter in Hamilton was too much for the delicate child wife, who had been born and raised in a foreign sunny clime, and she gradually faded away. How they hoped and prayed for the warm summer months that would bring healing in balmy air to the suffering one! She had to give up her work of teaching, but her love of music was so great that even when her voice was too weak for song, she would take a seat at the piano and play over the airs of her favorite opera, The Bohemian Girl. In the summer twilight, when the din and bustle of outside life seemed to be hushed around their humble cottage, the neighbors could hear husband and wife playing, he on the violin and she softly the accompaniment on the piano or guitar, from the songs they loved. Rarely did one of those recitals end without one or more selections from The Bohemian Girl.


          Death came slowly, but surely and silently, to that little cottage home, and with the blossoming of the summer roses, the child wife passed to the life of perpetual sunshine, music and flowers. Out in the cemetery on the heights overlooking the beautiful bay of Hamilton, neighbors and friends gently laid away the mortal remains of his loved one, and the bereaved husband took up his sad life among the kind neighbors who had known and ministered to his child wife. The sounds of music from the lonely corner in the cemetery attracted the attention of passersby in the lone hours of the summer nights. That was a superstitious age, and the sweet strains of the arias from the Bohemian Girl as they came floating through the sift summer night sounded uncanny to the listeners. One night when the moon was shining brightly, a party of young folks plucked up courage to visit the graveyard, and, secreting themselves on the side of the hill, to learn from whence came the songs they too loved so well, saw the young musician approaching the grave of his child wife. As he seated himself on the mound, and for a moment bowed his head as if in prayer, he took from its case his violin and began to play the arias from the opera that his wife loved so well and that had comforted her in many a lonely hour during the closing months of her life. Her favorite was Then You’ll Remember Me, and after playing through a score of the other songs he ended his midnight serenade with that tender heart song.


          On almost every pleasant night during the summer months was the midnight serenade repeated, and always the same songs. No one broke in on his vigil, although he was never alone, for those who had learned the story, rarely missed the privilege of being present, unknown, however, to the bereaved musician. It would have been a sacrilege to intrude upon his solitude. The cottage home was broken up, for the musician was without relatives in Canada. With the approaching winter, his health began to fail, and before the blooming of the spring flowers, he was compelled to give up his scholars. Gradually his gentle life ebbed away, and early in the summer months, strangers bore his remains to the grave and laid them beside his angel wife. One night the small company of young who had first discovered the musician in his midnight reverie, went out to the cemetery and, reverently kneeling at the grave of the musician and his child wife, sang the selections from The Bohemian Girl which both loved so well. It was a solemn hour for those who took part in the service of song.”


          When the boys were weaving recollections of the past, and interspersing the program with songs, the clouds gathered for a storm, and the wind developed a gale. Tenting Tonight could not be omitted, after which, as by one common impulse, the company rose to their feet, uncovered their heads and reverently sang that song of all songs, Home, Sweet Home. It was long past the hour of midnight, and no company of men ever enjoyed such a Christmas. By this time, the storm became a fury, whirled great sparks and cinders from the fires in wild and wide confusion. Our combustible shacks caught the flying embers and burned with alarming ferocity. The whole landscape was a scene of exciting conflagration. It was as grand as a battle. Before the great blaze had died down, old Pap Fisher’s drum corps was beating the assembly, the orderly sergeant’s command, “Fall in!” echoed far and wide, and the boys were once more on their winding way. But few of the old boys are left to answer roll call at the annual reunion.

          Religion has somehow come to be looked upon as sentiment, a something that is weak and valuable for the aged, or in case of sickness or death, but not needful or suited for the young or a strong life. And there has too often come into religion a softness and effeminacy that may well fail to satisfy the mind of a thoughtful man, if indeed it does not offend him. Religion needs to become more practical, more heroic, and to be carried more into the great fields of thought and activity where the young men live. They must have something more than to turn over the experiences in meeting and talk about saving their souls. They may be well; but they want to feel that they are in the grasp pf a powerful truth and under the inspiration of lofty motives, and charged with the dignity of men, and sent forth to save the world from darkness and sin. They want to feel that religion is not an exceptional thing – a something apart from life. And upon the ministry of today there is a weight of responsibility. The pulpit must not let the young men pass from its power. It cannot hold them by mere commonplaces, or by issues long dead and passed from living thought. Young men must be met on the battlefield of today’s duty. And, O young men, you owe much to home, to a mother’s prayers and a father’s love; much to the church and to society. They have helped you to be what you are. Come a step further; to take your places in the line of battle against sin; against the influence of the saloon; take your places in the field where the harvesters are bending to the ripened grain; take your places at the altars where hymns are chanted and paryers are offered; take your places in the great work of humanity – bring all your thought, your morality, your strength, your love, your heroism, and help mankind in the work, help your sisters and your mothers fight intemperance; help God save the world. If you have strayed from the path of right during the year that is now closing, remember that there is hope for you if you will begin the new year with a sincere determination to open up a clean chapter in life’s history. There are many pitfalls in the pathway of a young man – the saloon, the gambling den, evil companions of both sexes – and it is only by constant watch that temptation can be overcome. God bless the youth of today, and may brightness and happiness be theirs this blessed Christmas season.

Friday, 9 December 2016


Saturday Musings

Spectator December 31, 1915

        A man who loves boys and can sympathize and forgive many of their shortcomings, told the Muser a bit of his own history. He was born on a farm almost within sound of St. Paul’s chimes, and spent the first twelve years of his life clod-hopping on the Flamboro hills. He had a loving mother and a father whose idea was to bring up his children in the fear and admonition of the Lord and to put them at work on the farm as soon as they were old enough to pick bugs from the potato vines, or other work that a great healthy boy of six or seven years ought to be able to do. He was really a kind father in his way, but having been brought up from childhood to hard work (and he never spared himself), he was determined that his boys should be educated in habits of industry, even if they wasted but little time in the country school house. Well, that boy stood it till he was about 14 years of age, and then he determined to paddle his own canoe, and get an education. He was a husky boy and could plow and harrow, plant and sow, and make an ordinary hand in the field. He was just such a boy as the average farmer wanted, because he could hire his services cheaply, and get lots of work out of him. In telling his story, he said a house, despite the grandeur of its architectural proportions, never necessarily constituted a home. There are more boys living in what to them are cages rather than a home. He could not complain of lack of comforts in his father’s home, nor was anything grudgingly withheld from him; but, after all, there was something, he could hardly define what, that was missing. Being a country boy,  his experience had been confined to country life, and now that he had become the father of a family he felt that the country boy was more to be pitied in his home surroundings than the boy brought up in a village or a city. He has but few recreations compared with the town boy, and there are always the odd jobs on the farm requiring his early and late attention. The country boy has his daily duties to perform, and woe be unto him if he ever forgets or neglects them. The cows have to be brought up from the pasture field at night and driven back in the morning; the gaps in the fences must be repaired; weeds must be kept down, the plants hoed; potato bugs must not be allowed to get away with the potato crop; the water must be pumped for the cattle and feed prepared for them. These are the regular routine work on the farm, but the odd jobs are numberless, and by the time that his daily tasks are ended, his wearied body is ready for bed, just about the hour that the town boy is going to singing school or to some place of recreation in which to spend the evening hours. The country boy is even too tired to read a chapter in Baxter`s Saint`s Rest, or some such volume as may be found in the family library.

There is a trite saying that  ``all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy`.`The town boy has his share of odd jobs to perform, but he has also many opportunities for recreation that come not within the reach of the country boy. The father of the country boy rises early and works late because he feels the necessity of making hay while the sun shines; and he argues, if he must do this to make a home for his family, why should not his boys do their part ? He must take advantage of the short Canadian summer to make and gather his harvest. He was born and raised on a farm, and he proudly boasts that there is not a more independent life. He is his own master and is surrounded with every comfort, and can snap his fingers at the tax collector, for he has always the money ready when the time comes to pay his share of running the local government. However, his every effort is expended to accomplish the maximum amount of work in the shortest possible time. The father of the country boy was born and raised on a farm and forgets his boyhood days, since they contained for him some things that were always not pleasant. He is a good man in every sense of the word, but general conditions and surroundings have had a tendency to narrow his views of that which goes to make a happy boy life. He sees the necessity of continued and strenuous effort to accomplish the tasks that he has learned so religiously to respect. “Make hay while the sun shines” was drilled into him in his boyhood days, and he naturally feels that his boy should be brought up in the same way, and do his share from the time he is able to crush a potato bag between two stones.

          A colt born in springtime is pampered and petted for a couple of years because there is money value in the colt. But there comes a time when the colt is broken to harness, and now he must his share in the farm work, or is sold for a good price. He is a silky-nosed colt no longer, just a plain horse. The country boy is a boy only until the time he is big enough to be of service, then, like the colt, he is harnessed up for work, and he is a boy no longer. He is allotted tasks that may not be too much for his strength but they take the boy out of him and have a tendency to make him old before his time. He passes from a stripling in short pants, with freckled legs to the gosling class in long trousers, and the chances are ten to one that the father never notices the transition stage till the boy develops into young manhood. The father does not realize that he is no longer a boy, and that he should have certain liberties and a stipulated allowance for his labor. The boy is modest in his demands and does not ask the same pay that a hired man would get, even though his labor is more profitable, for he feels an interest in his father’s prosperity; but he would like to have some regular amount that he could call his own, so that when the young people in the neighborhood are getting up a garden party or a Sunday school picnic or an excursion, he can pay his share of the expenses. This all he asks, and the father looks in wonder at his audacity. Has he not reared the boy from infancy, clothed and fed him, and now to think he would ask for pay! The day comes when there is an election, and the stripling of only yesterday has now arrived at man’s estate. He announces that he is going to take a half day off and go and vote with his dad. It comes as a shock to dad. The father thinks of him only as a boy yet. Every farmer boy likes to own his own horse and buggy, and when he makes the modest request, the father tells him that boys are incapable of handling a horse, and that when he gets older, he will think about it.

          Our friend to whom we are indebted for this chapter on country boys is now a well-to-do business man in Hamilton. He said, in closing : “I do not intend to cast unworthy reflections upon the father of the country boy, but to make him think that he has other responsibilities than merely raising a boy to the slavish work on the farm when he should be a boy and have a boy’s enjoyment of life. I left home at 14 because I saw no other chance of being anything but a farm hand without pay. I am now a man of 35 years and have a boy of my own. He is no sluggard, but is being trained to usefulness in life. He is getting an education to fit him for the place he may occupy in the world’s activities. I occasionalkly go back to the old Flamboro home and enjoy the day on the farm. My father is still inclined to look upon me as an inexperienced youngster . The farmer should have no work that cannot be paid for and if it is worth paying for, who should deserve pay more than his own son? I have made it a rule to pay my boy when I take him from his boy pleasures. It has taught him industrious habits, and a thrift in saving money, and whenever an opportunity offers to run an errand for someone else, where a penny can be earned, he drops his play to go. This is work with some object in view, and that object is a pleasant one.”

Make men of your boys, but do not lose sight of the fact that in making men of them, you must treat them as such. If this were done, fewer boys would leave the country for city life. Instead of our boys seeking the too-often uncertainties of a city life, they would remain on the farm and be independent. Educate your boys to be business farmers instead of making them slavish farmhands. Never forget that you were a boy yourself, and if you were deprived of the pleasures of boyhood, see to it that your boy has a happy youth at least.


          To brighten the lives with the romance of love, especially of the younger generation, may not be out of the way, now and then, for an old Muser. The stories and songs of other days are full of love and romance. Were the boys and girls of the last century different to those of the present day, or were they brought up in a simpler atmosphere and surrounded by simpler influences? This is a problem hard to solve. Well, at a venture, we will say that the boys of sixty and seventy years ago did not indulge in the cigarette habit, nor did the girls expose the upper part of their upper bodies to the vulgar gaxe in the street. One of those plain, outspoken preachers in a western town said to his congregation, in the course of his sermon, that “Eve in the Garden of Eden never discovered she was naked till she had eaten of the apple; and,” said he, “I wish the young ladies of my congregation would eat more apples.” There are a great many ways for accounting for things now and then. Old-timers will remember the serenaders that made sweet melody at the midnight hour in singing to their lady loves. Hamilton always had a reputation for its singers and its musicians, and this talent was cultivated  in the singing schools which the young people of both sexes attended. One could hear the songs of Stephen Foster, Come Where My Love Lies Dreaming; The Evening Bells by Beethoven; Balfe’s Then You’ll Remember Me; Moore’s Oft in the Stilly Night, and, as a farewell, Hatton’s Goodbye, Sweetheart, Goodbye. Indeed, the jolly singers even attempted that difficult but sweet melody, Shubert’s Serenade, written in the early years of the last century, by the gifted composer as a farewell to the girl he could only love in secret, for in those days it was the height of presumption for the humble composer and teacher, the son of a peasant, to aspire to the hand of his pupil, the daughter of a nobleman.


          If you love the classical in music, attend one of the many recitals at the Conservatory of Music, on James street south, and the chances are Shubert’s Serenade will have a prominent place on the program. If you have not read the history of that masterpiece of Shubert’s, we will give it to you in brief as we found it in a magazine. Captious critics have protested against the popularity of this familiar Serenade, and would even now at this late day., though it was written one hundred years ago, rob the divine author of this graceful little gem. While, the critics say, it is by no means certain that Shubert is actually the author of the Serenade, yet they unwillingly concede that the air reveals many traces of the style of the great composer. The story, as we find it, tells us that  the year 1816 witnessed the beginning of an episode in Shubert’s life, quite different in many respects from what had preceded. He was engaged by a Hungarian count to teach music to his family, two daughters and a son. Shubert’s intercourse with this amiable family was very pleasant, and in the course of it seems to have occurred the nearest approach to a love affair that can be detected in his life. Caroline, the second daughter of Count Esterhazy, was only eleven years of age when she became his pupil. But as time elapsed and she became seventeen or eighteen, it is supposed Shubert manifested symptoms of having fallen in loive with her. Caroline asked him, in a moment of girlish coquetery, why he was dedicating so many delightful works to other people, and he had never dedicated any to her. Shubert is said to have replied, “Why should I?”Is not all that I have done been dedicated to you? How could a man who was never in love have written that Serenade in which all that is beautiful and scared for the love of a woman not come like a breath from heaven? Never was the voice of love so passionate and so pure. He was the son of a peasant, she was the daughter of a count.


          But here is the story as it has been told by one who admired Shubert, and it is so interesting that it will read by the students at the Hamilton Conservatory who have so often played and sung the Serenade. Toward the palace of the great Count Easterhazy a young musician walked rapidly through the streets of Vienna one morning more than a hundred years ago. Little had he slept that night, and with the sun he was up, brushing away at his worn coat, and all the while wondering if it were true, or only a dream, that he, the unknown Franz Shubert, was to have a nobleman’s daughter for a pupil.

          Still, his beloved master, old Master Heizer, often had said that sme day he would become famous as a teacher. Now he was standing in the splendid hall of the palace and to him the Count was saying, “This is my daughter, Caroline.”

She stood before him, that great count’s daughter, a child in years, in innocence. Her ees – what mirrored purities they were! She looked and gently pitied as she looked. She smiled and touched such spark of love that it would glow in song, in other centuries in a world grown old.

Ah ! how he lived for but that lesson after that ! The week was all too long a time to wait. How when he guided her dainty hands over the keys his own hands would tremble. How dumb were words that lay within his heart! Did she understand that day when she said, “Master, speak to me through the keys?”

His souls spoke then. His heart leaped forth as he played ! Could she know? Did she understand?

That evening came a note from her/ “In three days we leave for Hungary to stay till autumn,” it said.

Ah, could he but find a way to give her the message in his heart which his lips refused to utter!

It was the night before she was to leave. The air was still and the moon rode in the high heaven. All the world lay in a shining veil. Love had led the master’s feet till he stood beneath her chamber window, his head bowed to the jeweled sky, in his eyes the purity of love supreme. It was spring, and spring’s spirit spoke through the silver silence of the night, into his mind and heart and soul it crept – ihto a life made magic by its call.

“Nightingales for me imploring,

   Sing in notes divine,’

 Ev’ry tone of sweet lamenting,

   Breaches a sigh of mine.”

So Shubert sang his Serenade, in that, the velvet night of love. So voiced he there, poor lover, the magic of his immortal plea.

Softly it ceased, he had come to the end measure,  that final sighof the most perfect music of love. The Serenade – whose soul-satisfying loveliness has thrilled the hearts of all who since have heard it. When next a recital is announced in the Hamilton Conservatory, if Shubert’s Serenade is in the program, be there to listen to it. If you have not the words, here they are :


Tho’ leaves the night winds moving,

   Murmur low and sweet;

To thy chamber window roving,

   Love hath led my feet.

Silent prayers of blissful feeling

   Link us, though apart,

On the breath of music stealing

   To thy dreaming heart.


Moonlight on the earth is sleeping,

   Winds are rustling low,

Where the darkling streams are creeping,

   Dearest let us go!


All the stars keep watch in heaven,

    While I sing to thee,

And the night for love was given,

   Dearest, come to me.


Sadly in the forest mourning,

   Wails the whippoorwill;

And the heart for thee is yearning,

   Hit it, love, be still.