Monday, 30 July 2012


It is altogether too absurd, said an old-time Hamilton newspaper reporter, to say that man is not perfect. Who is there who has not met with perfect strangers, some who were perfect rascals, and not a few who were perfect fools. The world has not changed much in this matter of perfection since the writer of the above gave vent to his feelings. The perfection most desired is never attained in this world, for it would be contrary to human nature when a man smites you on one cheek to turn unto him the other that he may swat you a second time; and until we can get up to that condition, perfection is impossible. But of perfect rascals and perfect fools, there is no end, the world is full of them, and each one of us must be mighty careful in our daily life if we are not placed in one of the lists. Charity suffereth long and in kind, but one never gets over the idea that he ought to be placed in the list of angelic beings.


          There was a suspicion in the long ago that now and then some man of business who was pulling against the tide would dispose of his stock of goods to a fire insurance company, and thus get out of his financial difficulties. In looking over an old Hamilton newspaper, a suggestive item shows up. A merchant engaged in the rag business was about to remove, and as he had $1,000 insurance on his stock, the night before he was to give up possession, the building and stock were consumed by fire. There had been no fire in the premises and the only way to account for the conflagration was to charge it up to some wicked incendiary who wanted to see rags go up in smoke. The rag merchant got his insurance, but the owner of the building, not having it insured, had a total loss. Such things have often happened since insurance companies were first organized, and were likely to continue to the end of the chapter.


          When Colin C. Ferrie was mayor of Hamilton in the year 1847, the City Council appropriated $400 as pay for his services, Mr. Ferrie declined to accept any remuneration and suggested to council that the amount be divided equally between the chief officers of the city as an increase to their meager salaries.


          The City council of 1849 was an economical body and were very careful in the matter of creating new offices. At the beginning of the year an appropriation was made for police service, the high bailiff being allowed$400 a year; an assistant $300, and two policemen $100 each. In order to keep down expenses, the council dispensed with the services of the health officer, one assistant bailiff, and a laborer, their duties to be performed by the police force. After ten o’clock at night, the police force of two men went home to bed, as it was supposed that no Hamiltonian would be on the streets at such a late hour.


          To have the contract for keeping the chimneys of Hamilton clean must have been a bonanza in the old days, judging from the spirited manner in which applicants bid for the job. In the year 1849, when the city was way below the the ten thousand mark in population, there were no less than eight aspirants, and the bids ranged from $100 to $380 for the year, and Thomas Husband was the lucky man, he having bid the highest. The men who managed the taxpayers’ money in those days looked after the city’s interest, and instead of handing out the office of master chimney sweep at a fat salary, they made the men who got the job pay a bonus for keeping Hamilton’s chimneys in drawing order.


          Thackeray once said :  “ I vow and believe that the cigar has been one of the greatest creature comforts of my life – a kind companion, a gentle stimulant, an amiable anodyne, a cementer of friendship. May I die if I abuse that kindly weed has given me so much pleasure.” So it is with many of the baneful things of life; they give temporary pleasure if used in moderation, but when indulged to excess, then comes the penalty. That tobacco is a poison, there is no gainsaying, yet if used sparingly, one might live a hundred years, and, after all, die of old age. In these days of scientific discovery, there are germs of disease in everything we eat or drink, yet we keep right on in the good old way, satisfying the cravings of hunger or tickling the palate with some delicious dish, even if the penalty is a sour stomach or a prolonged fit of indigestion. Indeed, there is no luxury which is no open to some objection as the use of tobacco. Medical science has proven that tobacco used in excess has a directly harmful influence on the healthy system; but then science tells us the same thing about nearly every pleasure of the appetite indulged in. It is a fact, however, and not to be gainsaid , that excessive smoking affects the rhythm in the beating of the heart and produces an affection of the eyes, which impairs the vision and reduces the power of distinguishing colors, and a man of sense who indulges in the use of the weed will call a halt when he feels those symptoms. From the days when Walter Raleigh first learned the luxury of tobacco from the noble redmen of the American forests down to the present time, its use has been a solace to millions and will continue its mission of comfort to the end of the chapter. Any old soldier who has stood sentry on the midnight picket line in front of the enemy will tell you how much comfort he enjoyed with his pipe. It was not always safe to smoke on the picket line at night, for the glow of the pipe was a sure mark for the enemy’s sharpshooter, and whizz would come a leaden messenger past one’s face as a warning. And even then, rather than forgo the companionship and pleasure of the pipe, the soldier would be face downward to the ground and cover his pipe with his cap to hide the glow from the enemy’s picket. The writer of these Musings was once an inveterate smoker, but thirteen years ago, he had to forgo the pleasures of a cigar and become a total abstainer because of the results from its use; yet we would not say unkind things about the soothing weed, only warn those who cannot stand it to avoid tobacco. One of the great evils of tobacco in the present day is the cigarette. Boys begin it before they have outgrown knee pants, and grow up to be nervous wrecks. Young men indulge in cigarettes to the disgust of those who are compelled to walk behind them on the streets. One rarely sees a man advanced in years ever smoking a cigarette. Some constitutions are altogether intolerant of tobacco, even when used to a limited extent, and the sensible course for such a one is to give it up altogether. Prof. Huxley said : “There is no more harm in a pipe than there is in a cup of tea.” That may be true to a limited extent, especially if one will only use a pipe as he does a tea cup. Other scientists tolerate the tobacco habit because of its soothing effect. The rabid opponents of the use of tobacco go to extremes in saying unkind things about it, and compare it as a twin evil of intoxicating liquors. This is pure rot. Whoever heard of a smoker’s family suffering from poverty because of his indulging in the soothing weed. Not so with the hilarious highball tosser’s family; his daily indulgence brings sooner or later want and suffering. The worst that can be said of the tobacco habit is that the smoking of cigars is costly when indulged to excess, and that the money might be used to a better purpose. But if a man indulges in liquor, he must pay the bill. It is a blessing that women have not acquired a taste for cigars.


          Don’t you remember that old fountain in front of the court house, with a basin almost of the proportions of a small-sized pool? Some time ago, we told in these musings of the pranks of a jolly lot of fellows who used to meet at Beatty’s tavern and hatch out practical jokes on the unwary ones who fell in their way.  That gang, you remember one Saturday night, tarried long at the beer mug, and in the witching hour, when church yards yawn etc., they persuaded one of their number, a respectable undertaker by profession, to strip off and take a plunge in the pond, and while he was disporting like a mermaid in the water, they stole his clothes and a friendly policeman had to come to his aid so that he could get back to the tavern. It was the town joke for awhile, but the undertaker never forgave the plumber who planned the bath. This was the humorous side. But the old fountain pond had its tough story to tell now and then. At the noon hour on a July day in the ‘60’s, one of the unfortunates that Tom Hood wrote so pathetically about, who had been led from the paths of virtue by some scheming scoundrel who laughed at her calamities, plunged into the pond in hope that in another world her sin might be forgiven. This life was dark and dreary to her, for her conduct, she had become a castaway. Strong drink was her only solace, for under its influence, the present was forgotten. Once she was an innocent babe, the beloved of a fond mother’s heart, and in her youth gave promise of a bright and happy womanhood. Her education was not neglected, for she stood well in her classes in the public schools. As she grew up, the constraints of home life, she thought, were too exacting, and the evening hours were spent away from the protecting and watchful care of father and mother. But it is needless to follow up the history. A street education s bad for the boy or girl, and it generally leads to evil. Tired and disgust with the life she was leading, as she was passing down John street on that July day in company with another girl, a companion in vice, the thought came to her that death in the court house square pond was preferable, and she jumped in. There was less than three feet of water in the pond, yet she made a desperate effort to bury herself in it, hoping to die from suffocation. Constable McElroy, who witnessed the girl’s effort at suicide, pulled her out of the pond and took her and her associate to the cells. Disease and drink accomplished within a few months the desired end, and the poor unfortunate found rest and peace in mother earth. What a lesson such lives should teach, yet there scores and hundreds of girls in this city of churches who are following in the footsteps of the one who tried to commit suicide in the fountain pond.


          Did you ever see such cold weather in June? is a common inquiry one hears in the street, the workshop and the home. Go where you will, the same chilly remarks are to be heard, and this starts the old stagers to open up the cells of memory that they may recall the summerless summers of other days. It would seem as though in the revolving of the earth on its axis that this Canada of ours must have stuck upon an iceberg out in the Arctic seas and there it has become so firmly fixed that the sun has no power whatever to thaw it out, and thus we are up against November weather when we should be reveling in straw hats and linen dusters. Fancy burning money in the house furnace these leafy days in June, when the roses should be in full bloom for bridal purposes. There is one satisfaction, however, even if one must suffer in chilly weather; the ice man will not be able to work off his last winter’s crop at $3 a month per family. A couple of ancient Hamiltonians met suspiciously near Colonel Alderman Phelan’s annex last Thursday morning, and the prolific subject, the weather, came up for discussion. “Do you remember ,” said one of the patriarchs, “the cold June we had in ’59 and the cold summer that followed which ruined the crops and brought disaster to the house of hundreds of farmers who were in debt for their land? Let me see, if I remember rightly, it was on the night of June 6th, and the morning of the 7th. The crops in the fields  and in the gardens were blackened with the frosts, as though a great fire had swept over the land and burned the life out of every growing thing, and even the animals huddled together in the pasture fields to keep themselves warm.” “I remember that terrible frost, old boy, “ responded the other but you are wrong in your dates, for it occurred on the night of the 3rd of June, and the morning of the 4th. I have good cause to remember it, for it about broke me up, and as a result, I had to sell my farm and move to town and get a job on William Hendrie’s contract in digging the ditches for the water mains at seventy-five cents a day, and glad I was able to get the work to keep my little family from want.” A noggin of whiskey was bet on the date and to warm them up, the morning being chilly, they slipped into the Royal annex, and the smiling alderman handed down a bottle of the best. Then they went out to hunt up the proof , and sure enough the old patriarch who helped lay the water mains was right, for that destructive June frost was the night of the 3rd. Memory is not always a safe thing to bet one, but the old boy had proof in an old copy of the Spectator, which the handsome young man in the Spectator counting room furnished him to look at.

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