A Great Cerebrator
by Edgar Wilson Nye
Being at large in Virginia, along in the latter part of last season, I
visited Monticello, the former home of Thomas Jefferson, also his grave.
Monticello is about an hour's ride from Charlottesville, by diligence.
One rides over a road constructed of rip-raps and broken stone. It is
called a macadamized road, and twenty miles of it will make the pelvis
of a long-waisted man chafe against his ears. I have decided that the
site for my grave shall be at the end of a trunk line somewhere, and I
will endow a droska to carry passengers to and from said grave.
Whatever my life may have been, and however short I may have fallen in
my great struggle for a generous recognition by the American people, I
propose to place my grave within reach of all.
Monticello is reached by a circuitous route to the top of a beautiful
hill, on the crest of which rests the brick house where Mr. Jefferson
lived. You enter a lodge gate in charge of a venerable negro, to whom
you pay two bits apiece for admission. This sum goes towards repairing
the roads, according to the ticket which you get. It just goes toward
it, however; it don't quite get there, I judge, for the roads are still
appealing for aid. Perhaps the negro can tell how far it gets. Up
through a neglected thicket of Virginia shrubs and ill-kempt trees you
drive to the house. It is a house that would readily command $750, with
queer porches to it, and large, airy windows. The top of the whole hill
was graded level, or terraced, and an enormous quantity of work must
have been required to do it, but Jefferson did not care. He did not care
for fatigue. With two hundred slaves of his own, and a dowry of three
hundred more which was poured into his coffers by his marriage, Jeff did
not care how much toil it took to polish off the top of a bluff or how
much the sweat stood out on the brow of a hill.
Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. He sent it to one of
the magazines, but it was returned as not available, so he used it in
Congress and afterward got it printed in the Record.
I saw the chair he wrote it in. It is a plain, old-fashioned wooden
chair, with a kind of bosom-board on the right arm, upon which Jefferson
used to rest his Declaration of Independence whenever he wanted to write
There is also an old gig stored in the house. In this gig Jefferson used
to ride from Monticello to Washington in a day. This is untrue, but it
goes with the place. It takes from 8:30 A. M. until noon to ride this
distance on a fast train, and in a much more direct line than the old
wagon road ran.
Mr. Jefferson was the father of the University of Virginia, one of the
most historic piles I have ever clapped eyes on. It is now under the
management of a classical janitor, who has a tinge of negro blood in his
veins, mixed with the rich Castilian blood of somebody else.
He has been at the head of the University of Virginia for over forty
years, bringing in the coals and exercising a general oversight over the
curriculum and other furniture. He is a modest man, with a tendency
toward the classical in his researches. He took us up on the roof,
showed us the outlying country, and jarred our ear-drums with the big
bell. Mr. Estes, who has general charge of Monticello—called
Montechello—said that Mr. Jefferson used to sit on his front porch with
a powerful glass, and watch the progress of the work on the University,
and if the workmen undertook to smuggle in a soft brick, Mr. Jefferson,
five or six miles away, detected it, and bounding lightly into his
saddle, he rode down there to Charlottesville, and clubbed the
bricklayers until they were glad to pull down the wall to that brick and
take it out again.
This story is what made me speak of that section a few minutes ago as an
The other day Charles L. Seigel told us the Confederate version of an
attack on Fort Moultrie during the early days of the war, which has
never been printed. Mr. Seigel was a German Confederate, and early in
the fight was quartered, in company with others, at the Moultrie House,
a seaside hotel, the guests having deserted the building.
Although large soft beds with curled hair mattresses were in each room,
the department issued ticks or sacks to be filled with straw for the use
of the soldiers, so that they would not forget that war was a serious
matter. Nobody used them, but they were there all the same.
Attached to the Moultrie House, and wandering about the back-yard, there
was a small orphan jackass, a sorrowful little light blue mammal, with a
tinge of bitter melancholy in his voice. He used to dwell on the past a
good deal, and at night he would refer to it in tones that were choked
The boys caught him one evening as the gloaming began to arrange itself,
and threw him down on the green grass. They next pulled a straw bed over
his head, and inserted him in it completely, cutting holes for his
legs. Then they tied a string of sleighbells to his tail, and hit him a
smart, stinging blow with a black snake.
Then they tied a string of sleighbells to his tail, and
hit him a smart, stinging blow with a black snake (Page 27)
Probably that was what suggested to him the idea of strolling down the
beach, past the sentry, and on toward the fort. The darkness of the
night, the rattle of hoofs, the clash of the bells, the quick challenge
of the guard, the failure to give the countersign, the sharp volley of
the sentinels, and the wild cry, "to arms," followed in rapid
succession. The tocsin sounded, also the slogan. The culverin, ukase,
and door-tender were all fired. Huge beacons of fat pine were lighted
along the beach. The whole slumbering host sprang to arms, and the crack
of the musket was heard through the intense darkness.
In the morning the enemy was found intrenched in a mud-hole, south of
the fort, with his clean new straw tick spattered with clay, and a
wildly disheveled tail.
On board the Richmond train not long ago a man lost his hat as we pulled
out of Petersburg, and it fell by the side of the track. The train was
just moving slowly away from the station, so he had a chance to jump off
and run back after it. He got the hat, but not till we had placed seven
or eight miles between us and him. We could not help feeling sorry for
him, because very likely his hat had an embroidered hat band in it,
presented by one dearer to him than life itself, and so we worked up
quite a feeling for him, though of course he was very foolish to lose
his train just for a hat, even if it did have the needle-work of his
heart's idol in it.
Later I was surprised to see the same man in Columbia, South Carolina,
and he then told me this sad story:
"I started out a month ago to take a little trip of a few weeks, and the
first day was very, very happily spent in scrutinizing nature and
scanning the faces of those I saw. On the second day out, I ran across a
young man whom I had known slightly before, and who is engaged in the
business of being a companionable fellow and the life of the party. That
is about all the business he has. He knows a great many people, and his
circle of acquaintances is getting larger all the time. He is proud of
the enormous quantity of friendship he has acquired. He says he can't
get on a train or visit any town in the Union that he doesn't find a
"He is full of stories and witticisms, and explains the plays to theater
parties. He has seen a great deal of life and is a keen critic. He would
have enjoyed criticising the Apostle Paul and his elocutionary style if
he had been one of the Ephesians. He would have criticised Paul's
gestures, and said, 'Paul, I like your Epistles a heap better than I do
your appearance on the platform. You express yourself well enough with
your pen, but when you spoke for the Ephesian Y. M. C. A., we were
disappointed in you and we lost money on you.'
"Well, he joined me, and finding out where I was going, he decided to go
also. He went along to explain things to me, and talk to me when I
wanted to sleep or read the newspaper. He introduced me to large numbers
of people whom I did not want to meet, took me to see things I didn't
want to see, read things to me that I didn't want to hear, and
introduced to me people who didn't want to meet me. He multiplied misery
by throwing uncongenial people together and then said: 'Wasn't it lucky
that I could go along with you and make it pleasant for you?'
"Everywhere he met more new people with whom he had an acquaintance. He
shook hands with them, and called them by their first names, and felt in
their pockets for cigars. He was just bubbling over with mirth, and
laughed all the time, being so offensively joyous, in fact, that when he
went into a car, he attracted general attention, which suited him
first-rate. He regarded himself as a universal favorite and all-round
"When we got to Washington, he took me up to see the President. He knew
the President well—claimed to know lots of things about the President
that made him more or less feared by the administration. He was
acquainted with a thousand little vices of all our public men, which
virtually placed them in his power. He knew how the President conducted
himself at home, and was 'on to everything' in public life.
"Well, he shook hands with the President, and introduced me. I could see
that the President was thinking about something else, though, and so I
came away without really feeling that I knew him very well.
"Then we visited the departments, and I can see now that I hurt myself
by being towed around by this man. He was so free, and so joyous, and so
bubbling, that wherever we went I could hear the key grate in the lock
after we passed out of the door.
"He started south with me. He was going to show me all the
battle-fields, and introduce me into society. I bought some strychnine
in Washington, and put it in his buckwheat cakes; but they got cold, and
he sent them back. I did not know what to do, and was almost wild, for I
was traveling entirely for pleasure, and not especially for his pleasure
"At Petersburg I was told that the train going the other way would meet
us. As we started out, I dropped my hat from the window while looking
at something. It was a desperate move, but I did it. Then I jumped off
the train, and went back after it. As soon as I got around the curve I
ran for Petersburg, where I took the other train. I presume you all felt
sorry for me, but if you'd seen me fold myself in a long, passionate
embrace after I had climbed on the other train, you would have changed
He then passed gently from my sight.