A Great Cerebrator by Edgar Wilson Nye

Story type: Literature

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.

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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 it.

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.

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This story is what made me speak of that section a few minutes ago as an outlying country.

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 with emotion.

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.

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.

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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 friend.

“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.’

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“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 sunbeam.

“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.

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“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 either.

“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 your minds.”

He then passed gently from my sight.

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