Chapter 1: I Begin My Life As A Man Of The World
Now Mrs. Higginbottom was a hideous old crone, with a great hook of flesh for a nose, and slimy skin like a haddock left out in the hot summer sun. She was not like other elderly matrons, those whom you could imagine were great beauties in their youth. She was a goblin, and had always been as such. And yet despite her reptilian countenance, she had secured herself a Proud husband who had left her a fortune whence he succumbed to the flux of Seventeen-hundred Thirty-Two. She lived in a very fine house built of grey Hampshire granite and long timbers cut in whole piece from ancient poplars. The house had many rooms, and cupboards, and hallways and staircases. It had expensive rugs, and very fine tables, chairs, wardrobes, nightstands, armoires, writing desks and divans, all of which were kept polished to a high sheen by a dozen servants.
In time, a small salon, in the French style, had grown up around her house, and many of the leading intellects of the day gathered weekly in her drawing room to discuss matter of political and religious importance.
“I say Liberty!” cried the parson, and stood tall before the assembled room. “Tyranny is not only a crime against men, but a crime against God. The Awakening is not only a moral, but a political necessity. It is God who desires men to be secure in the bosom of liberty, and what God has wrought, let no King tear asunder!”
“And women?” asked the Dowager. “Does God also desire the political liberty of women?”
“Ah yes, well the scriptures are less clear on that point,” rejoined the Parson. “But I will surely investigate further.”
I recall how she used to sit in the parlor under a thick woolen blanket near the fireplace. I would tend to her there, massaging her feet and reading to her from Alexander Pope and Bunyan. She complimented my recitation and I secretly concocted fantastic schemes that should one day bear much fruit. In fact it was just such a scheme that I intended which led to my journey to Cambridge.
I had it in my head that the Dowager should stand me the capital to purchase a sugar plantation in the West Indies. There were great fortunes to be made then, and I had read much on the subject. I showed her my sketching, and a very basic budget that should raise the enterprise to Profit. I proposed this to the Dowager as a very sound investment and one that would earn not less than Eight percent per annum.
“Not the Indies,” she shook her nose and raised a single finger in contemplation. “No certainly not the Indies. I believe in the great Awakening of our people, and mean for you to play a role. You will attend New College. You will learn the Gospel and the Hebrew Scriptures. And ethics, George. We must not forget ethics!”
“Well the Awakening to be sure,” I said, highly disappointed at the thought. “Only I’m not entirely certain if my talents are suitable to the charge.”
“George, you must know that I believe in the rights of the people,” said Mrs. Higginbottom. “I believe in the rights of the people to be secure in the bosom of liberty. You must know that I have read Monsieur Voltaire, and Diderot? The French have a great deal to teach us on the subject! You will edify our congregation, and prove Charitable, Hospitable, and Thrifty. I have already arranged it with the Minister to take you on as Deacon upon your graduation.”
I found the idea most unsatisfactory to me. The thought of spending my life reading the Scriptures, and consoling the old and decrepit was most distressing to me. But Mrs. Higginbottom was very keen on it, and I was forced to go along with this ruse if I was to obtain any foot in the world. “I think it’s a very fine idea.”
And so it was that in the autumn of Seventeen hundred and Sixty-Two that I was sent down to Harvard to train for the ministry. Veritas in Christae et Ecclesiae. The President of the College, a certain Reverend Holyoke, had a fine house along the banks of the Charles. I drove up in the lady’s carriage attached to two fat horses with blazing harness. I stepped out in my three-corner hat and shiny pigtail, and rapped at the door with a silver topped cane. I was escorted into the study by the servant.
This President Holyoke had a great square jaw, and large fleshy bags beneath his eyes. He had long fingers, a tall erect frame and his face was adorned with a monocle and periwig. The President stoked a low fire, and I told him of my life, though a version mended, trimmed and polished so that he should understand that I meant to be treated as a gentleman.
“I am very pleased to hear it, master Sperryhawke,” he said. “And can you decline the Greek verbs?
“Oh most assuredly.”
“The aorist, the accusative, and the vocative, master Sperryhawke?”
“All of those, to be sure.”
“And can you write true Latin? Have you knowledge of the works of Cicero, master Sperryhawke?”
“Cicero! To be sure,” said I. And I recited for him a sampling of one or other of the orations against Catiline.
“It’s a very fine achievement,” the Reverend sighed and his face grew weary with uneasiness. “They say that I am a libertine, Master Sperryhawke. They say that I have allowed the Moral condition of our great College to deteriorate. Well, it is not the case!”
“No I can see that.”
“In fact, there will be no reading of the Platonick dialogues under my tutelage. Is that clear master Sperryhawke?”
“I should never dream of it.”
“Nor shall I allow the plays of Terrence, nor the comedies of Aristophanes to be read. They are highly rude and immoral, master Sperryhawke!”
“I quite agree.”
“I see that you have your hat, master Sperryhawke,” said the Reverend. “You must know that a freshman is not permitted to wear his hat in the College-yard, nor is he permitted to wear his hat when speaking to a tutor or any sophister, be he junior or senior. He may not wear his hat indoors, nor at chapel. He may, however, wear his hat in the yard if it is raining or sleeting, provided both of his hands are full of Books or other Proper Goods.”
“Yes, well it seems like a reasonable rule.”
“A freshman must perform any duty or errand asked of him by his upperclassmen, master Sperryhawke; he is not required to divulge the Name of the sophister who sent him on this errand, unless it be asked by a governor. However, a senior colleague may not abuse this privilege, and must send the freshman on an errand of genuine Need and Merit. Is that clear to you Master Sperryhawke?
“I quite understand, your Reverence.”
“Students will not frequent publick houses in Cambridge, nor congregate with men of rustic or dissolute character. Students must not game, drink to intoxication, or in any way disturb the Honor of the College with jesting, babbling, cursing or loose speech. A freshman must be in his room prior to the hour of 9 o’clock. Any person may enter his room upon knocking, and no freshman may first inquire who be knocking at his door, but instead must open the door with Haste.”
“I have been called a libertine by some, master Sperryhawke! I have abandoned corporal punishment, and have tried to integrate some of the pagan classics into your curriculum. I trust that you will repay my kindness and trust?”
“I shall certainly try.”
“There are fines, Master Sperryhawke! Let me read to you the most important; there shall be no intoxication, fined at 5 shillings; cards & dice shall be fined at 20 shillings; blaspheming at 3 shillings; no student shall wear silk, lace, or any other new-fangled fashions, each offense to be fined at 10 shillings; all payable prior to the completion of the term, master Sperryhawke!”
* * *
I was assigned quarters in Old Stoughton Hall, a dreary old place done up in red brick and crawling with rats. Each boy was given but a short iron bed and two drawers of a cupboard for our personal effects. There were Nineteen other freshman besides, mostly sons of Vicars, magistrates, and merchants. And yet they were dull things for the most part. It is quite pathetic what passed for gentility in the colonies in those days.
Once we had secured our lodgings, we then repaired to the Commons where we were required to pay over Seven shillings Three pence for our board. We thence had our names enrolled upon the Buttery Table, a system of ranking which would thereafter determine our position in College. I believe the practice has now been abandoned, but in those days, the Buttery rolls were still arranged according to the Dignity of the family. Though since this was never an exact method, fathers were known to complain of their son’s “insulting position below a family without distinction.” At Commons, we were also introduced to our Senior proctor, a Mr. John Worthington. He was a tall, lanky fellow dressed in maroon cloth with gilt buttons, velvet and ruffles, with a powdered hair and periwigs. He informed us that he would be our overseer and our Master for the term. But this was not the first time I had come across Mr. John Worthington. For would you believe, that this lisping bon vivant was none other than the son of that wretched candle merchant in Salem to whom I had been bonded in labor all those years ago.
“George Sperryhawke?” Worthington roared in laughter as he examined the Buttery rolls. “The dowager’s candle boy?” And then he completed a most disturbing act. He took up a quill, scratched my name from the middle of the list, and degraded me to the foot because he said, “The Sperryhawkes are bankrupts and vagabonds. And you Sperryhawke, are a low-fellow.”
And to increase the insult, he entered my name not as ‘Sperryhawke’ but instead wrote ‘Candlehawke,’ which made all the other boys roar in laughter and thereafter became my nickname.3 Oh his pride was something awful. And whatever might be said of George Sperryhawke, none shall say I lack humility.
Our days at Harvard were regimented. Awaked at 5, followed by prayers, morning bevers, then on to study with the tutor in Divinity, natural Philosophy, and Logick. Dinner at 12, followed by more study, afternoon bevers, still again more study, prayer, supper, and recreation until the day was extinguished at Nine O’clock. Our primary tutor, a Reverend Sterling, was a pompous old dodger with great tufts of white hair that stuck out from his skull like cactus sprigs. He was illiberal in his tendencies, and insisted we lads memorize all the genealogies of the Old Testament.
“And Enoch begot Irad, who begot Mehujael, who in turn begot Methushael. And Mathushael begot Lamech, who laid with Adah, and thence begot Jabal and Jubal, and Lamech also laid with Zillah, and then thence begot Tubal-Cain, and Naamah.”
“Excuse me, Sir,” asked a boy called Thomas Adams, with a mischievous grin. “When Cain was cast out to the land of Nod, he found a wife and coupled with her, and she bore him a son, Enoch. But if God created Adam and Eve, who bore Cain, and these three were the only living persons, from whence came Cain’s wife?”
The boys grew silent upon this curious complaint, and waited with fear and trembling for our Proctor’s explanation.
“Blasphemy!” cried Sterling. “And you have fallen victim to a very childish mistake. Argumentum ad ignorantiam! That the Scriptures are silent on the other children of Adam, it is an Error in logick to conclude there were none!”
“But then –- but then, Cain married his own sister?”
I could not help but chuckle at this curiosity and Thomas noticed & appreciated my camaraderie. But old Sterling surely thought there was no such humor in it, and whence he discerned we lads were mocking him, he attacked Thomas with a firm thatch, and gave him six lashes across the backside. Thomas accepted these marks without complaint. I rather liked the lad’s spirit, and afterwards told him as much. He smiled, and put his arm around me and told me I was a good fellow. “Sperryhawke my boy, do not let the others bother you. There is no shame as I see it in being a Candle-boy.”
Thomas was a native of Cambridge, the son of a Royal official, and was second on the Buttery rolls. He introduced me to all the proper places for a gentleman to carouse, including an alehouse just off the Charlestown Path called the Pig and Thistle, to which we repaired most evenings. It was a jolly place, kept warm by a roaring fire and merry by an Irish fiddler. Life moved along quite well those first few months. The Dowager had made me an allowance of Two pounds Four shilling, to be spent at my pleasure on pomatum, snuff, tobacco, cider and such other delicacies. I had three sets of fine clothes, and twice monthly I saw the barber. And although the other boys continued to chastise me behind my back and Worthington took every opportunity to degrade me, Thomas and I were inseparable.
* * *
One Sunday morning, Thomas and I were coming out of chapel, when we saw Reverend Holyoke with a sprightly young lady. She was entirely unlike the vinegar-faced old maids usually attended upon by the President; petite, youthful, with fresh-skin that glowed in the bright sun. This girl had a large bosom, and long curls of blond hair that fell upon her shoulders like heaps of freshly harvested hay.
“See what morsel Holyoke has brought?” Thomas smiled, and nodded to the lady in question. “Must be his daughter.”
“I’m pleased to see you here, Master Sperryhawke,” the Reverend said. I ignored the President, and instead approached the young lady, that she might smell my tonic and gaze upon my steely frame. Her name was Harriet, and we made small gossip; but no sooner had I piqued her interest, than that old fool Holyoke was buzzing in my ear. “Mister Sperryhawke, please,” the Reverend said. “I must see you in my study just now.”
I tipped my hat to the lady, and followed after Holyoke down the cobble path towards his residence. We entered his study, where he removed his cloak and hat, and seated himself behind his large desk. He affixed his monocle to his eye, and began rummaging through the scrolls on his desk.
“You owe monies, master Sperryhawke,” he said this, and screwed up his left eye. “Six shillings for lying and conceit; three shillings for taking the Lord’s name in vain; and there are more, master Sperryhawke.”
He handed me the sheaf that itemized my offenses, and I examined the totals. “The problem is, I should have to repair to my benefactress in order to satisfy these debts. Might I instead pay these at the start of next term?”
“Nay, master Sperryhawke, there will be no next term if these monies are not paid by the,” he looked down at his calendar and then back up at me, “the Sixteenth.”
“The Sixteenth?” I said, for it was assuredly going to be difficult to satisfy the debt in that amount of time.
“Master Sperryhawke, they say that I am a libertine because I have done away with corporal punishment and introduced the pagan classics. They say I am tolerant of Popery, Idleness, and Idolatry. I shall not give my detractors the satisfaction of knowing that I extended a debt!”
* * *
I made my way across the snowy road to the Pig and Thistle, and resolved to talk out my problem with the barman Brigsby. It is one of my failings that I have always been so liberal with my affection to men of low rank. My enemies will say this is because I too was born into adversity. And so let them. I make no apology for my benevolence; provided a man is useful to me, provided he is wholly committed and true to my Purpose, provided he shall do as I say and be eager about it, I care not if he were conceived in a Boarding house and reared in a gutter.
“I have debts to the college, Brigsby. Near on a pound,” I said and dropped my head into my hands. “Tell me fellow -- what am I to do?”
Brigsby lent over the bar, and rested his face on the palms of his hands. “Aye Master Sperryhawke, I’s can see to your jobbing.”
This suggestion pleased me and I asked where.
“Down at the harbor, just over the river, in Botolph’s Stone.”
“And what am I to do there?”
“Unloading ships. Mending sails. Seaman’s work! It’s good fetchin’ and pays handsome too.”
“Don’t be ridiculous Brigsby,” said I. “I cannot degrade myself with common labor. I am to be made a Deacon, fellow.”
“Pity,” he said sadly, before screwing up his eyes with an Ingenious suggestion. “Then yous can see your luck in the cards.”
I inquired where I should find men at Play.
“Just in the tavern behind us.”
Brigsby led me down the alley behind the Thistle, and showed me into a crowded barroom beneath the adjacent Tannery. It was an extraordinary sort of place having the most foul & dismal charnel house odor. There was jesting and jilting, smoking, fighting, skulking and merrymaking of all variety. Great clouds of tobacco smoke hung about the low rafters, and tradesmen drunk on three-penny whiskey chased the girls around bands of fiddlers playing ’Ole Jack Straw.
“Aye, you see the Men are at cards just over there in the corner,” said Brigsby.
I turned towards them, and saw the practitioners gathered round a table in the back, where a Faro bank had been laid out. I thanked Brigsby, and quickly set my attention to the game. The Rules were not so very complicated, and I resolved that I should succeed where so many others had failed. At last a seat came up when an old man had bankrupted himself by wagering it all on the copper when the dealer had laid a double Queen. I exchanged my six pence for chips in kind, and the banker laid out the new row of spades. I felt that I was assured victory, and so did not hesitate to make a Bold wager on the six. The banker burned off the top soda from the shoe, and laid out his card, which was a Nine, followed by the English card, which was nothing else but a Six. “Bravo!” I cried, and collected my winnings. I set them again, and twice more I won. We were four punters at the table, and the banker continued turning up rounds of 6’s for my pleasure. When at last the Shoe was near empty, the banker called the turn. I made a bold play on the Hock and the reader will not be amazed that I won again and so finished the round with 2 pounds 9 shillings. The banker was most distressed by my winnings, which had reduced substantially his profit for the day. I paid back a shilling in tribute, and left the tavern.
My spirits repaired, and I fancied that I should pay off my debts, and still have money remaining to purchase new lace & hair-Wax. I came out across the broad road, and was turning to pass through the yard when I encountered the beast Worthington upon the hill.
“Freshman are not permitted at the taverns, nor at the gaming tables,” he said. Worthington was dressed in a broad black cape and short britches, of a cut and style that I rather envied. He was not alone in this intended assault, and I let him know that I would not be intimidated by his number.
“I take my wine in the evening, as a gentleman will.”
“A gentleman!” Worthington chuckled and moved closer to touch the hem of my linen. “You are a beggar and a factory boy, Sperryhawke. This is your second offense. And you shall have the punishment.”
“No man shall lay a hand on my person,” I shouted, and showed him I was prepared to fight him with fists or cudgels as he fancied. But just then the two Fellows seized me by both arms, and held me firm against the brick wall. I resisted with great force, and split the lip of one fellow with a jerk of my elbow; although, this only compelled them to greater Violence until at last I gave up my resistance. I bent my neck as best I could and informed Worthington that he might do with me as he pleased, but that he should not have the satisfaction of hearing me whimper.
I am troubled now even to record these events. That I should have let Mister John Worthington of Salem cane me with a thatch, and that I did not break free and put a knife in his belly, is a Memory most disagreeable to me even these sixty-years later. It was & remains the Most intolerable humiliation of my Life, and it is a testament to my Fortitude that I did not commit suicide that very evening.
After the caning, they left me in the gutter, and it was nearly a half hour before I raised myself and made my way back to the Hall. I climbed into bed that night, and swore Eternal vengeance on the beast.
* * *
My backside was still swollen from the caning when I attended Breakfast the next morning. I bore my disgrace in silence, as I did not want it put about that I had succumbed to so great a Humiliation as that. And I knew that Worthington would not otherwise say a word of the incident; seniors were not permitted to cane freshman, no matter for cause.
Now on that particular morning Worthington, who presided over our table at Mess, was speaking of his pending marriage to none other than the President Holyoke’s daughter.
“She is a girl of perfect Virtue,” said Worthington with a dull grin. “She has mastered the arts of the hand-Loom, Decoupage, and Pottery. And she has very wide hips, for child-Rearing.”
“And she comes with six-Hundred pounds!” roared Thomas. I chuckled at this wit, and let Worthington know that I quite agreed with Adams.
“That is a most vulgar Comment,” snapped Worthington. “She will be a godly bride, and shall lend dignity and Honor to my household.”
I returned to my pudding and stuffed the watery mess into my mouth. But this talk of Worthington’s pending nuptials gave me pause. For it occurred to me that this Girl and none other should be the object of my revenge on the dandy. And I set about my plan to seduce the girl that very evening.
I left the Hall after the prayer hour and cut across the Yard. I knew that the President was at Boston for the week, and that his house was unattended. The yard was deserted as I walked across the stone path in the pale Moonlight. I reached the gate of the house, took out my dinner knife, and cut a wound into the top of my head, and then ruffled my shirt, and tore it in two places. Then I flung myself upon the door and knocked with my heavy fist.
“Oh dear!” cried Harriet, who opened the door and found me lying on the stoop. “Are you quite injured, Sir?”
“Miss Harriet, I have only now been savagely attacked while standing vigil at the chapel for the President. Is he presently at home?”
“No, I’m afraid he’s not,” Harriet shook her head, and leaned down to help me off the steps. “But come in, come in. We must dress your wounds.”
She took me into the kitchen, where I explained how I had been accosted by a band of Irishmen intent upon larceny against the alms box. “They were six, and I was only one. But I managed to fight them off with a Candlestick and a small dinner-fork.”
She was most impressed by my courage, and listened with great interest as I wove this tale. She washed and dressed the wound. Already I could feel her flesh lusting after me.
“Are you here all alone, Miss Harriet?” I asked.
“Yes, for today. And perhaps tomorrow,” she said and then went silent. “May I offer you some supper?”
I said I should be grateful, and she fed me some cold mutton, and hard cider.
“May I make one confession to you?” I said, after I had finished the mutton and looked her square in the eyes.
“What is it?” she asked with great eagerness.
“I believe I am in love with you.”
“You are?” she giggled in self-Consciousness, clearly inexperienced in amours.
“Yes, ever since that first day I saw you at chapel, I have dreamed of nothing more than kissing your lips.”
She cast down her eyes, but her breathing became heavy, which I knew was Nature’s way of showing she lusted for me. I touched the side of her cheek, and pushed a curl of hair behind her ear. She did not object, and so I grabbed her, pulled her to my person, and pushed my hot wet tongue deep into her mouth. She writhed in delight, and returned the compliment. I thence tore off her short-Britches, and had my way with her just there in the parlor; yet never once did she make mention of her affianced Worthington.