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CHAPTER XVI
A bit of paper, yellow and crumbling from age, has recently been sent to me by the son of an old Charlottesville friend. The tiny scrap has survived the vicissitudes of fifty-one years, and because of the changes it has seen and the dangers it has passed, if for nothing more, it deserves preservation. It marks an important era in our life, although it contains only this:—

"Charlottesville, July 1, 1858.

"Dear Mrs. Cochran:—

"May I have your receipt for brandy-peaches? You know Roger is speaking all over the country, trying to win votes for a seat in Congress. I'm not sure he will be elected—but I am sure he will like some brandy-peaches! If he is successful, they will enhance the glory of victory—if he is defeated, they will help to console him.

"Affectionately,
"S. A. Pryor."

In this campaign my husband established his reputation as an orator. He was canvassing the district of his kinsman, John Randolph of Roanoke, and old men who heard his speeches did not hesitate to declare him the equal of the eccentric but eloquent Randolph. I always like to quote directly from the journals of the day,—I like my countrymen to tell my story,—and happily, although I lost all memoranda, 129some old men have written since the war of the noted Virginians whom they knew in the fifties. One from a North Carolina paper I have preserved, but lost the precise date.

"The late Rev. Thos. G. Lowe, of Halifax, was the greatest natural orator North Carolina ever produced. He was silver-tongued and golden-mouthed, a cross between Chrysostom and Fénelon. He was, besides, a very earnest Whig in his politics. On one occasion, in 1860, we knew him to go from Halifax to Henderson, a distance of some sixty miles, to hear Pryor speak. We asked him what he thought of the Virginian. His reply was, 'You think I didn't stand up in a hot sun three mortal hours just to hear him abuse my party? He is wonderful, with the finest vocabulary I have ever known.' Charles Bruce, Esq., of Charlotte, Virginia, told us, in 1870, that when Pryor spoke at Charlotte Court House, he saw elderly gentlemen who had ridden forty miles in their carriages to hear him, and who said to each other, after the great orator had concluded his masterly effort, 'We have had no such speaking in Virginia since John Randolph's day.'"

Another from the old district writes, July 9, 1891:—

"Of all the men I ever heard speak, Pryor made the strongest impression on me. Young, enthusiastic, brilliant; with a not unbecoming faith in a capacity of high order, he might reasonably have aspired to the loftiest dignities. He was a born orator; thorough master of those rare persuasive powers that captivate and lead multitudes. His figure was erect and finely proportioned, his gestures easy and graceful, 130his features mobile and expressive of every shade of emotion. But the charm of his oratory lay in his wonderfully organized vocal apparatus, which he played upon with the skill of a musical expert. No speaker of the present time can claim to rival him in the easy flow of rhetoric that sparkled through his harmoniously balanced periods, except, probably, Senator Daniel. While listening to him, the Richard Henry Lee of Wirt's graphic portraiture seemed to move and speak in every tone and gesture."

Another for the Richmond Times-Democrat of November 2, 1902, writes:—

"A famous orator of the antebellum period was Roger A. Pryor, who still survives. He had a poetic imagination, which is the basis of all true oratory. His vocabulary, though florid, was superb, and kept company with the airy creatures of his exuberant imagination. He rarely spoke but to evolve a beautiful figure, and in his political campaigns for Congress, in the now Fourth Virginia district, he frequently soared above the comprehension of his audience, whose reading was limited. He combined a logical mind with his poetic fancy, and the effect and product of his thought were striking and impressive, illustrating the aphorism that the poet always sees most deeply into human nature. Pryor had the face, the figure, the dramatic air, the attitude, and the vocabulary. When we saw him last summer at the White Sulphur, he looked the grave and dignified jurist, in contrast with the typical politician and editor of the fire-eating school of fifty years ago."

While all these fine speeches were delighting our Democratic friends, I was very happy with my dear aunt at her country place, Rock Hill, near Charlottesville. There my dear son Roger was born—now 131my only son. The house, like a small Swiss chalet, was perched lightly on the side of an elevation that well deserved its name. From the crest of the hill there was a noble view of the Blue Mountains, and of sunsets indescribable. To the little boy and girl who spent their childhood at this place it soon became enchanted ground. A quarry, from which stone had been taken for building the house, was the cave of Bunyan's giants, Pope and Pagan, who "hailed the Christians as they passed, saying, 'Turn in hither'"; two crayfish that lived in the great spring under the Druidical oaks were the genii of the fountain; the corn-field was a mighty forest to be entered with fear because of the Indians and wild beasts therein.

These two children, Gordon and her brother, Theodorick, fourteen months younger, were blessed in having my own dear aunt's care and teaching from their infancy until they were aged respectively nine and ten years. They were not at first "remarkable" children. They were not infant phenomena, subjected to the perilous applause of admiring friends and kindred. They were normal in every respect—clean-blooded, sturdy, and wholesome; with good appetites, cool heads, and quick perceptions. They became, under the care of their wise preceptor, unusually interesting and intelligent children. My aunt adored the children, firmly believing that, however degeneracy might have impaired the human race in its progress of evolution,—these two at least had been made in God's image. In the words of their nurse, she "tuned them as if they 132were little harps—just to see how sweet the music could be!" They studied together—Gordon understanding that she must encourage the little brother, and read to him until he could read himself. In summer the schoolroom was sometimes al fresco, even drawing upon the knotted branches of the cherry tree for desks!

Gordon read very well at the age of three. She was also taught, before she could read, to point out rivers and cities on a map. Before he was four, Theodorick could read also. The children never had a distasteful task. I heard a great scholar say that all learning could be made charming to a young mind. The aunt of these children made their lessons a reward. "Now be good when you dress, and you may have a lesson," or "if Gordon and Theo don't ask for anything, I will give them a lesson right after dinner." The lessons, through the teacher's skill and patience, were made delightful. At once they were given paper and pencils, colored and plain, and both wrote before they were five. Their teacher disapproved of gory tales of giants and hobgoblins. Instead of these, they had histories quite as thrilling, and stories of the animal kingdom, with which they lived in perfect amity and kinship. They never had caged birds, but ducks and chickens, dogs small and great, cats and kittens, were all regarded as part of the family, and bore historic names. Theo once picked up (he was three) a small chicken, whereupon the mother hen rose to his shoulders and administered a good spanking with her wings. A servant, with great 133heat, belabored the hen; and Theo checked his sobs to entreat for her, explaining, "she didn't like for me to love her little white chicken." The hen, forsooth, was jealous! He once caught a bee in his hand and received a stinging rebuke. "How could you be so silly?" exclaimed his little sister. "Not at all," said Theo; "I have often done the same thing—but this little fellow," he added affectionately, "this little fellow had a brier in his tail!"

Their aunt hesitated whether she should tell them harrowing stories from history, but experiment proved, however, that the heroic held for them such fascination that they lost sight completely of the pain or suffering attending it. They adored the men and women who died bravely, but had their favorites. Lady Jane Grey was not one, nor Mary Queen of Scots (perhaps because of their ruffs), but they worshipped Marie Antoinette and Charles I. They had a very high regard for honor and fair dealing. Theo was a little over three years when he complained to me of his little sister, "I just laid my head on the stool and let her chop it off—because I am Charles I—and now she is Marie Antoinette, and when I am ready to cut off her head, she screams and runs away." His sense of justice was outraged, but the little sister's vivid imagination made her nervous, notwithstanding the fact that a cushion was the guillotine! Having observed that a large knotted stick was treated with respect, and travelled, to my inconvenience, with Theo on several journeys, I essayed to throw it away. With great dignity he gravely informed me, "This is 134Rameses III." Not only was it one of the Egyptian kings, but the richest of them all. I wish I could follow these two fascinating children beyond their babyhood, but I cannot venture! I dare not!

Late in the autumn I left Rock Hill to visit my uncle at the Oaks in Charlotte. I had travelled alone from Richmond to Mossingford, ten or twelve miles from my uncle's house, and there old Uncle Peter met me with the great high-swung chariot and a hamper well filled with broiled partridges, biscuits, cakes, and fruit. The rain had poured a steady flood for several days, but to my joy the clouds were now rolling away in heavy masses, and the sun shining hotly on the water-soaked earth.

"We got to hurry, Mistis," said the old coachman, as we prepared to enjoy an al fresco luncheon; "the cricks was risin' mighty fas' when I come along fo' sun-up dis mornin'."

"But we don't have to cross the river, Uncle Peter?"

"Gawd A'mighty, no," exclaimed the old man. "Ef'n I had to cross Staunton River, I'd done give clean up, fo' I see you! When we git home, we'll fine out what ole Staunton River doin'. I lay she's jes' a'bilin'!"

"Well, then there is some danger?"

"Who talkin' 'bout danger? De kerridge sets mighty high. No'm, der ain't no danger, but I ain't trustin' dem cricks. I knows cricks! Dee kin swell deeself up as big's a river in no time!"

We had not gone far before we were overtaken by a mud-splashed horseman, who arrested our horses 135and spoke in a low tone to the driver. Presently he appeared at the carriage window. "This is Mrs. Pryor? You remember Mr. Carrington? I hope I see you well, Madam. I am on my way to vote for your husband—or rather, help elect him. We have a fine day; the polls need not be kept open to-morrow. But I must hasten on. We will soon have the pleasure of congratulating our congressman."

"One moment, please, Mr. Carrington! Are the creeks too high for us to cross?"

"I think not, Madam. The carriage hangs high, and Peter knows all about freshets. Good morning."

There were swollen streams for us to cross. Several of them had overflowed the meadows until they looked like lakes. At one or two the water flowed over the floor of the carriage, and we gathered our feet under us on the seats. My little Theo enjoyed it, but my poor nurse was ashen from terror. Very wet, very cold, and very grateful were we when at night we reached our haven. My dear uncle, Dr. Rice, was already there, with cheering news from the polls.

The next morning we looked out upon a turbid yellow sea. The Staunton had sustained her reputation, overflowed her low banks, and spread herself generously over the face of the earth. It was a week or more before my husband was assured of his election. He spent the intervening days of rest sleeping—like the boy he was!

Several years later, when he was re?lected, we were in Richmond with my little family. Gordon 136and the two little boys were keen politicians. Of course I was now too busy a mother to concern myself with politics, as was my wont in the earlier days. Moreover, I knew my congressman would be re?lected. I was pretty sure by this time that he would always be elected—so the day passed serenely with me. I was overwhelmed with dismay when one of his friends called after the polls closed at sunset, and informed me that a torch-light procession would reach our house about eight o'clock, and would expect to find it illuminated.

"Illuminated!" I exclaimed. "And pray with what? There are not half a dozen candles in the house, and the stores are all closed. Besides, the baby will be asleep. It is bad for babies to be waked out of their first sleep."

My friend did not contradict me, but in the evening he sent a bushel of small turnips and a box of candles, with a note telling me to cut a hole in the turnips, insert a candle, and they would answer my purpose admirably. Everybody went to work with a will, and when the crowd, shouting and cheering, surrounded us, every window-pane blazed a welcome into the happy faces. My young congressman made one of his charming speeches, and then—the lights went out on the last election he was destined to celebrate! True, he was twice after elected to Congress—in the Confederate States; for the South had need of him in her legislative hall as well as in the field. In both he gave her all his heart and soul and strength, but the days were too sad for illuminations in his honor.

137 My story has now reached the period at which my "Reminiscences of Peace and War" begin. I shall not relate the political history of the period—which has been better told by others than I can hope to tell it. I shall endeavor to bring forward some things that were omitted in my late book, but in narrating the incidents of the Civil War and the preceding life in Washington, I may in some measure repeat myself. For this I have a valid excuse. Apologizing for quoting himself from a former book on Edmund Burke, John Morley remarks: "Though you may say what you have to say well once, you cannot so say it twice." Lord Morley strengthens his position by a quotation in Greek, which, unhappily, remains Greek to me, and I therefore cannot avail myself of its help, but I am glad to be sustained by his example. Besides, what says Oliver Wendell Holmes? "It is the height of conceit for an author to be afraid of repeating himself—because it implies that everybody has read—and remembers—what he has said before."


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