| In My Youth|
|by James Baldwin|
|A decidedly different autobiography, originally published under the pseudonym Robert Dudley, eventually revealed to be James Baldwin. A portrayal of life in rural Indiana in the middle of the 19th century it certainly is, but it is so much more. In the words of Mr. Howland, an editor for the original publisher, 'It is difficult to describe just what there is so remarkable about this book, but it is undeniably wonderful. It is literature. It is a strange combination of autobiography and fiction, and records only the simplest happenings -- the life of people in the Indiana backwoods, the primitive life, the commonplace experiences, the visits between neighbors. To tell about it in this way does not make it sound remarkable, yet it is. The style is simple and clear; there is a quiet humor running through it, and in other places the reading brings tears to the eyes.' Ages 10-12 |
SOMETHING FROM THE SADDLE-BAGS
 THE next morning we were all in a bustle of excitement, for
our Friend from England was about to take his
departure. Two brother ministers had ridden over from
the White Lick Settlement and, together with Barnabas
the schoolmaster, would accompany him on his journey.
It was his intention to visit the settlements on the
Wabash and to carry a message of love and fellowship to
the Friends in Vermillion (wherever that might be).
His horse was brought, saddled and bridled, from the
"stable—a" borrowed horse which was to be
returned next month in care of Barnabas and the White
The great man himself was so busy that he had scarcely
time to notice the barefooted awkward urchin who had
been his companion of the day before. But, at length,
after the other men had gone out and were waiting at
the gate, he called softly to me and said:
"Robert Dudley, I think I have something in my
saddle-bags for thee. Come and get it."
I followed him into the settin-room of the big-house.
He opened one end of the leather bags that had already
been packed for the journey, and drew forth a thin,
paper-covered, large-paged book, which he put into my
"I think thee will enjoy this," he said; "and thee may
add it to thy library. It is the latest work of one
 of our most charming writers, and thee will learn much
from it concerning the history of our country. And
now, farewell, Robert. I shall not likely see thee
again, but I have great hopes that I may live to hear
much about thee. Make good use of thy gifts, and above
all, be sure to keep the light burning. Farewell, and
may the Lord bless thee!"
He shook my hand heartily, lovingly, picked up his
saddle-bags and hurried out. On his way past the cabin
door, where the rest of the family were waiting to bid
him farewell, he met father, and I overheard him say:
"Give the little lad a chance, Stephen. Don't quench
Then there were handshakings and kind words and earnest
farewells all round; and the three ministers and the
schoolmaster mounted their steeds and rode away on
their long journey of love. And we watched them until
they disappeared among the trees.
That there Benjamin Seafoam, he's jist bully!"
exclaimed David, slapping his thigh to give vent to his
emotions. "Why, he ain't a bit like a preacher; he's
more like one of us big boys."
"That's so," said Jonathan. "He never said a word to
us about religion; but somehow it always made me feel
better jist to see him. He ain't always a-preachin' to
a feller, like Old Joel Sparker."
"It's my 'pinion," marked Cousin Mandy Jane, "that
Benjamin Seafoam has got more sense in his little
finger than that there Old Joel Sparker ever had in his
hull dried-up body."
"Well, 'tain't everybody that can be borned in
England," sighed good old Aunt Rachel, as she tottered
back to her easy chair.
 As soon as I could safely do so, I sought the seclusion
of the back yard to examine my new book. Sitting in my
favorite place under the biggest cherry tree, I opened
the volume and read the title-page: "A Child’s
History of England, by Charles Dickens." As I
afterward learned, it was probably only an advance copy
of the first of the three volumes, or parts, in which
that masterpiece of its kind was originally issued. It
is doubtful if at that time the remaining two parts had
been printed; but this made little difference to me,
since the book seemed complete in itself.
I turned to the first page and began the delightful
task of reading it through. Imagine, if you can, the
pleasures that were mine during the remainder of that
day! I threw myself flat on the grass, my elbows upon
the ground, my head resting upon my hands, the
wonderful book before me. And soon all other things of
time and sense were forgotten in the absorbing story of
England’s origin. The impressions that were then made
upon my imagination had not yet been effaced although
the mental accumulations of threescore years have been
superimposed upon them. To this day, at the mere
mention of the book, familiar visions present
themselves of the white-cliffed island with the stormy
sea roaring round it and the bleak winds blowing over
its forests; of good King Alfred, the bravest, the
humblest, the noblest of all the monarchs that have
ruled over the English people; of the Conqueror, master
of two realms and wielder of the world’s destiny,
deserted by his own children and denied a grave wherein
to hide his loathsome remains, of the lion-hearted
Richard, minstrel, poet, beast, who, if he had not been
born a prince, might have been a worthy leader of
honest men; and of John, the vilest of all those
 useless creatures, signing the Magna Charta, and then
cursing and swearing, gnawing his finger-nails, and
drinking hard cider till he died like a fool.
And there the book ended.
But why need I dwell upon these early literary
impressions, O my Leonidas, my Leona? They have little
in common with any experiences that you can ever have.
At ten years of age you will have passed through the
primary grades of a great modern school, receiving your
instruction from a teacher trained in all the mysteries
of scientific pedagogy. Your reading will have
consisted mainly of nursery tales, of barbarous folk
stories and of various classical productions mutilated
and adapted so as not to overburden your infant
understandings. You can have no sympathy with my
random excursions into the field of
"literature—unguided", unaided, groping as it
were in the darkness. And when you have reached (as I
have) the last stage of slippered caducity, what sort
of reminiscences will remain to you of childish
literary joys? Your bookish memories will not hark
back to white-cliffed islands and real live kings and
world-shaping events, but they will recall certain dim
impressions concerning the house that Jack built and
the pig that wouldn’t go over the stile, with other
"literary legacies" equally improving and civilizing.
Forgive me this digression.
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