BIRTH AND EARLY TRAINING
1839-1855 TO THE 16TH YEAR
His father's blood was English, with a tradition of Welsh; his mother's blood English and Scottish. In the main he came of middle-class stock. The only persons among his ancestors who achieved any distinction were his grandfathers; on his mother's side, John Vallance, a native of Glasgow, Scotland, who became an engraver of repute in this country in the early days of the republic and whose name may be seen on some of the commissions signed by President Washington; and on his father's side, Richard George, born in Yorkshire, England, who was one of the well-known shipmasters of Philadelphia when that city was the commercial metropolis of the new world.
Captain George married Mary Reid, of Philadelphia, and to them were born three children, the youngest of whom, Richard Samuel Henry, in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in 1798. This Richard Samuel Henry George became the father of Henry George, the subject of the present volume. In 1873, on the day preceding his seventy-fifth natal anniversary, he wrote his son Henry a letter of reminiscences, of which the following serves to show the man and the early conditions in Philadelphia:
"I go back to 1810, during Jefferson's long embargo. Then Front Street, Philadelphia, was what Chestnut Street is now – the fashionable thoroughfare of the city. All the principal merchants lived on Front Street and on Water Street above South. Below South lived mostly sea captains, all hands to business.
"Your grandfather had two ships, the Medora and Burdo Packet, and during the embargo and the war with England they were housed in; and from the navy yard down to the Point House, now called Greenwich, all the principal ships in port were housed in and hauled up on the mud, with noses touching the bank.
"Although times were hard, I did not feel them. I had a pleasant, happy home, let me tell you. The first thing to be done was to provide for winter. Wood was burned for cooking and heating. Your grandfather would purchase a sloop-load of wood, so that I had a good time helping to throw it down cellar. We would have enough to last all winter and late into the spring. Then there was a supply of beef to corn and two or three hogs to cut up. That was a grand time! We had a smokehouse at one corner of the yard, and when father had cut up the hogs we would have a number of hams to smoke and cure. I do not taste such now, nor ever will again. At hog time mother made all sorts of good things – scrapel, sausage and all that hog could do for man. And didn't I go in for it all with the rest of the boys, for father had four 'prenticed boys and two girls in the kitchen, all in good tune and happy. We had all sorts of songs and wonderful stories, both of the sea and of the land.
"It was at this time (I am sorry I have no dates) that my father arrived at Almond Street wharf from France, to which he had gone with a flag of truce, carrying out a lot of passengers and bringing back a lot. Well, it was Sunday morning, about light, when I was waked up by mother. I asked what was the matter. She said that pop had arrived and that he had on board of the ship General Moreau and family from France; and she wanted to get some fresh provisions for their breakfast. So I took on board lots of things – nice fresh milk and cream, butter, nice bread, chickens, etc. – for the general and his family. I tell you it was hard work getting on board, the crowd was so dense. On Almond Street from Second clear down to the wharf was a line of private carriages with invitations of hospitality. The boys crowded me hard, and one or two fellows I had to fight before I could pass.
"Going so often to the ship, I found I was as much noticed as the general himself. It gave me a big lift among the downtown-gang. I was made captain of a company and had to fight the Mead Alley and Catherine Street boys every Saturday afternoon. Many bricks I got on the head while leading my men (or boys) into battle....
"One fight I had built me right up, and afterwards I was a No.1 among the boys, and cock of the walk. I went on the principle of do nothing that you are ashamed of and let no living man impose on you.
"In my youth I could swim like a duck and skate well. And I was considered a good sailor. I could handle a boat equal to anybody. I got a good amount of praise, both on the Delaware and the Mississippi, for my seamanship. I could go aloft as quick and as handy as any seaman. Going to New Orleans, I often lent a hand on topsails, and could do as well as most of them."
R.S.H. George made this trip to New Orleans when a young man, and there engaged in the dry goods business. Returning to Philadelphia, he settled down and married Miss Louisa Lewis, by whom he had two children, one of whom died while an infant, and the other, Richard, while at boarding school in his twelfth year. Within four or five years after marriage this wife died, and several years later R.S.H. George married another Philadelphia lady, Catherine Pratt Vallance. As has been said, her father was John Vallance, the engraver, born in Glasgow, Scotland. Her mother was Margaret Pratt, born in Philadelphia, but of English extraction. John Vallance died in 1823 leaving his widow, seven daughters and one son in modest means, which Henry Pratt, a wealthy merchant of Philadelphia and first cousin of the widow's father, improved by giving to each of the seven girls a small brick house. These girls received a good boarding school education, and Catherine and Mary were conducting a small private school when Catherine was married to R.S.H. George, who then had a book publishing business.
Mr. George had for several years occupied a good clerical position in the Philadelphia Custom House, and left it in 1831 to enter a book publishing partnership with Thomas Latimer, who had married Rebecca, the eldest of the Vallance girls. The business was confined to the publication and sale of Protestant Episcopal Church and Sunday School books, and for a time became the depository of the General Episcopal Sunday School Union, the Bible and Prayer Book Society and the Tract Society. After two and a half years Thomas Latimer withdrew and others were associated successively in the business, which for seventeen years Richard George carried on, the store for a time being at the north-west corner of Chestnut and Fifth Streets. A contemporary in the business was George S. Appleton, who afterwards went to New York and merged with his brother in a general book publishing and book selling business, under the firm name of D. Appleton & Co. – the same D. Appleton & Co. who, several decades later, were to be the first publishers of "Progress and Poverty." By 1848 the business of the general book houses had encroached so much on denominational business that the latter became unprofitable, and Mr. George withdrew and went back to the Custom House, obtaining the position of Ascertaining Clerk, which he thereafter held for nearly fourteen years.
To the union of R.S.H. George and Catharine Pratt Vallance ten children were born, six girls – Caroline, Jane, Catharine, Chloe, Mary and Rebecca, the last two of whom died early – and four boys – Henry, Thomas, John and Morris – the second child and oldest boy being the subject of this work. Like the son by the former marriage, this boy was named after his father; but as the former bore the name of Richard, the first of the father's three Christian names – Richard Samuel Henry – the last of the names was selected for this son; and as the father desired a short name, complaining of the annoyance to himself of a long one, the simple one of Henry George was chosen.
Henry George's father was a strict churchman. He was a vestryman at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, when that church, under the earnest preaching of Dr. Richard Newton, was at the height of its prosperity. The congregation was of the extreme "Low Church" division and regarded "High Church" tendencies with the utmost abhorrence. Sunday was a day for austere devotions – church services morning and afternoon, and frequently in the evening. On other days there were morning and evening family prayers. Rt. Rev. Ignatius F. Horstmann, Catholic Bishop of Cleveland, O., who was a boy in the neighbourhood at the time, has said: "I can recall Henry George going to church every Sunday, walking between his two elder sisters, followed by his father and mother – all of them so neat, trim and reserved."
But that there were occasional breaks in the austerity may be certain. Rev. George A. Latimer, Henry George's cousin, has said:
Rev. William Wilberforce Newton, son of the rector, who was in this school with Henry George, said in an address after the latter's death that "that school turned out some remarkable men," naming Bishop Charles R. Hall of Illinois, Bishop Wm. H. Odenheimer of New Jersey, Rev. Wm. W. Farr, Henry S. Getz, Rev. Richard N. Thomas, editor of the "American Church Sunday School Magazine," George C. Thomas, of Drexel & Co. bankers, and Treasurer of the Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church, and Rev. R. Heber Newton, William Wilberforce Newton's brother. Mr. Newton told this anecdote:
"My people were extremely hospitable to missionaries. One time Missionary Bishop Payne of Africa came with his wife to our house and staid six weeks. They brought with them a lot of monkeys and other beasts of the tropical clime. We used to have great times among ourselves – the boys of the neighbourhood and the monkeys and the dumb animals – playing 'firemen.' One day we were having a parade. There was no flag. So I went into the house and got a Sunday school banner with an illustration of Paul preaching at Ephesus. It was not exactly appropriate, but it answered the purpose. Henry George insisted upon carrying the banner which all the boys thought a good deal of.
"As our firemen's parade was turning the corner of the house that day, Henry George heard my father say to the missionary that if he saw anything about the house that he thought would be of service to him in Africa he was welcome to it, and the missionary replied that he thought the tool chest would come in handy. George passed the word along the line and very soon our parade was broken up and we became an army of warriors for the protection of that tool chest. But it went to Africa just the same."
At the time of his son Henry's birth, the book business enabled Mr. George to keep his family in comfort. Giving care to his children's education, he sent them as they grew old enough to Mrs. Graham's private school, on Catharine Street near Third, the family having moved from Tenth Street to the west side of Third Street, three doors north of Queen, where they remained for nearly twenty-five years. After three years at Mrs. Graham's, and when he was in his ninth year, the eldest son, Henry, was sent to a public school, Mount Vernon Grammar, where Ignatius Horstmann attended in a class above him. A year later, in 1849, he was sent to the Episcopal Academy.
This institution, flourishing to-day, was founded in revolutionary times, but seemed to decline until Bishop Alonzo Potter raised it at the end of the forties to first rank as a place of instruction in the city and State. Rev. Dr. Hare was then principal, and the institution was frequently spoken of as Hare's Academy. The Bishop's two sons, Henry C. and E.N. Potter were at the Academy then, and in the years to come were to achieve distinction, the former as the Episcopal Bishop of New York City and the other as president of two colleges successively. R. Heber Newton and William Wilberforce Newton were also fellow students. Dr. Heber Newton remembers the school as being in a most prosperous condition, "the large chapel being quite filled with boys, and the class rooms seemingly well filled, and attendance upon it was esteemed an advantage and a privilege."
But though it was a good school, young George did not stay there long. His father had now ceased to be publisher of Church books, yet he obtained for his son the reduced rate of tuition granted to clergymen's sons. This concession was regarded by the boy as something to which he was not entitled and he believed that every boy in the school knew of it; and perhaps it was for this reason that from the start he did not get along well there. At any rate, his father, yielding to his entreaties, took him away and put him in the hands of Henry Y. Lauderbach to be prepared for High school. This short period, Henry George always recognised as the most profitable portion of his little schooling. Mr. Lauderbach had a way of his own, drawing out and stimulating the individuality of his pupils. Thirty years afterwards he clearly remembered Henry George as a student remarkable among boys for quickness of thought, originality and general information. The special training under Lauderbach enabled the youth at little more than thirteen to enter a class in the High school that was to produce some notable men in Pennsylvania – Theodore Cramp, ship builder; Charles W. Alexander, journalist; James Morgan Hart, professor and author; Samuel L. Gracey, Methodist Episcopal clergyman; David H. Lane, a Recorder of Philadelphia; and William Jenks Fell, Commissioner of Deeds. This school, like the Episcopal Academy, was an excellent one, but later in life Henry George said that while there he was "for the most part idle and wasted time." Perhaps it was that he had his mind's eye set on the world outside of school! Perhaps it was that conscious that the growing family was putting a strain on his father, whose sole income was the $800 salary of a Custom House clerk, he felt that he should be supporting himself. It was probably his Uncle Thomas Latimer who at this time gave him advice of which he spoke in a speech about thirty years later: "I remember when a boy, I wanted to go to sea. I talked with a gentleman, who wanted me to go into business as a boy in a store. I had nothing, no particular facility, yet I remember his saying to me: 'If you are honest, if you are steady, if you are industrious, you can certainly look forward to being able to retire at forty with comfort for the rest of your days.'" These words may have had a strong influence on the boy's mind. At any rate, after less than five months in the High School, he induced his father to take him away, to stop his schooling altogether, and put him to work; and he never went to school afterwards. He was then less than fourteen years old. He first obtained employment in the china and glass importing house of Samuel Asbury & Co., at 85 South Front Street, at $2 a week. His duties were to copy, to tie up bundles and to run errands. Afterwards he went into the office of a marine adjuster and did clerical work.
But though he had left school for good, his real education suffered no interruption. In school or out of it, he had acquired a fondness for reading. Or perhaps it was that at his birth, while the Fairies of Gain, Fashion and Pleasure passed him by, one came and sat beside his cradle and softly sang:
"Mine is the world of thought, the world of dream;
Mine all the past, and all the future mine."
First he had a grounding in the Bible; and the Puritanical familiarity with book, chapter and verse, which in the elders moulded speech, established habit, and guided the steps of life, filled the young mind with a myriad of living pictures. Then, though his father while a publisher handled only religious books, and those confined to the Episcopal Church, there were the strange tales of missionaries in foreign lands to feed the imagination. Afterwards when the father left the book business there was still an atmosphere of reading about the home, and other books came in the boy's way. He delighted in history, travels and adventure, fiction and poetry. While in his strong democratic principles and practical side, the boy followed his father, it was in a love of poetry that he resembled his mother, who as an elderly woman could quote verse after verse and poem after poem learned in her girlhood. She manifested at all times an intense fondness for Scott, and had a taste for Shakespeare, though owing to her austere principles, she never in her life attended a Shakesperian play. This religious ban extended in the boy's reading to much in the realm of romance and adventure, such works as the "Scottish Chiefs," for instance, having to be read in the seclusion of his attic bed chamber. But in the open or in the smuggled way books were obtained, and the old Quaker Apprentice's Library and the Franklin Institute Library furnished inexhaustible mines of reading matter. Book after book was devoured with a delight that showed that now certainly the youthful mind was not "idle" nor his "time wasted." He absorbed information as the parched earth a summer shower, and what he thus took in he retained. To this fondness for reading he always ascribed the beginning of his real education and the commencement of his career.
And what came like enchantment to his mind and supplemented his reading were popular scientific lectures at the Franklin Institute. This institution, named after the famous townsman, Benjamin Franklin, and incorporated in 1824 for "the promotion and encouragement of manufactures and the mechanic and useful arts," in the forties and fifties took first rank in scientific learning in the city, which at the same time was without peer in this country for its public libraries, museums and private cabinets. Of the Institute, Henry George's uncle, Thomas Latimer, was a member. To him the boy was indebted for access to the lectures – lectures that revealed the wonders of the physical sciences in simple language and magic lantern pictures. Like a torch they lit up the young understanding and made a fitting attendant to that university of reading to which he was of his own volition applying himself.
This reading fed a desire that his father's stories and the tales and traditions about his grandfather had kindled in him for the sea. "One of our chief playgrounds," Rev. W.W. Newton has said, "was about the wharves of the city. He had a friend who was a sea captain and I a cousin, and both of us had our minds set on a sea voyage." Mr. George encouraged in his son an active life, going to see him skate and swim. One day he saved him from drowning by putting down his cane when the boy had dived under a float. Though a strict churchman, the father could not forget his own early warlike days and was not averse to having his boy fight in just quarrels. But it was the shipping that chiefly interested father and son, and as they strolled along the river-piers together, the father talked about hull and rig, wind and weather, and the wonders of sea and foreign lands, so that the wharves had a fascination for the boy, and it was around them that with Willie Newton or Bill Horner, Col and Charley Walton and Will Jones he spent much of his play time, climbing about vessels, going swimming or sailing toy boats. And this was not all idle play, but served its purposes in later life, for the boy's powers of observation and reasoning were in constant exercise.
After a while, when the boy left the crockery house and went into the marine adjuster's office, the desire for the sea increased so much that he went to his cousin, George Latimer, who was ten years older than himself, and asked him to speak in his behalf to an acquaintance of the family, a young man named Samuel Miller who was mate and whose father was captain of the ship Hindoo. No better insight into the habits of the boy and of his constant thought of the sea can be obtained than from extracts from a short journal that he kept at the beginning of 1855, probably at the suggestion of his uncle, Thomas Latimer. Though then scarcely more than fifteen, and although he had spent all his life in a town of brick houses and perhaps had never more than seen the ocean, he noted wind and weather with the care of a veteran sea captain. Incidentally the journal shows the important part the lectures at the Franklin Institute were playing:
Young Samuel W. Miller, then about twenty-five, had obtained command of the ship Hindoo, an old East Indiaman, on which he had formerly sailed as mate under his father, who was now transferred to a new ship. At the suggestion of George Latimer, and after talking with Henry George's father, he had formally invited young Henry to sail with him. For Richard George was a clear headed, common-sensed man. Much as he disliked to have the boy go to sea, he knew that his son inherited the longing. Moreover, knowing the strong, wilful nature of his son, he feared that if objection was raised the boy might run away, as he had done once before while yet going to school. The lad had made an impertinent reply to his mother, and his father, overhearing it, reproved him with words and a blow. To be struck by his father was so unusual that he was humiliated. He stole away, got his school books and a little cold lunch – all that he could get to eat – and left the house with the resolve never to return again. He remained out until half past nine o'clock that night, when he returned with a tamer spirit and was forgiven. The father had not forgotten this incident, and he was determined that if the boy must go to sea he should go with his parents' consent. So he talked to Captain Miller and suggested to him not to make the boy's berth too comfortable, but to let him see and feel the rigours of a sailor's life, so that by a single voyage the desire for roving should be destroyed. Henry George was then accepted as foremast boy on the Hindoo, bound for Melbourne, Australia, and Calcutta, India.