Orison Swett Marden Chapter IV
The Life Story of Orison Swett Marden Chapter IV:
Orison was only seven years old when his father died. Then began
his grim struggle with fate — his training for the part he was to play
Until then, he had done his little best, to lighten his father's
labors, the boy was never overtaxed, while he always had his father's
love and companionship, and that of his sisters. They had no luxuries,
but they had a real home, sufficient clothing, and plenty of wholesome
food. Now, he was to learn a new and hard lesson.
After his father's funeral there was a brief interval. The three
orphans, Mary, Orison and Rose, were sent to the home of their
grandmother, a little log house in an out-of-the-way corner of New
Hampshire, even more remote from the world than Thornton-Gore.
In this lonely place the boy loved to listen at night to the barking
of wild foxes, as they came out in the moonlight into the open clearing
near the house. He used to enjoy, too, the cakes which his grandmother
baked before the open chimney fire, and the onions and potatoes roasted
in the ashes. How delicious they were to a hungry boy!
Later he gave this pathetic and amusing picture of his grandmother's
difficulties when she tried to cook with her first cooking stove:
"I can well remember seeing her, on more than one occasion, cry like a
child when she burned the food or her fingers in baking corn bread,
pies, or other things, in what she always scornfully referred to as
'that newfangled device.'
"She was old, and it was very hard for her to adjust herself to
innovations of any kind. Like all other housewives in those days, she
made her own sap, dipped her own candles, and did her own spinning,
weaving and dyeing. In fact, in my childhood and youth what were then
called 'boughten things' were practically unknown. It was a rare thing
for us to see what are now collectively called 'groceries,' or anything
else that came from a store."
"Most of the things used by a typical New England family — clothing,
food, rugs, carpets, blankets, and so on — were manufactured at home. I
never saw a factory-made broom until I was an adult. Boys used to be
sent into the woods to get hemlock boughs for brooms. Today all this is
reversed, and even the 'pies that mother used to make' can now be
bought at 'the shop around the corner.'"
The interlude at the old grandmother's home was all too short, for
she was poor and could not keep the children. The man-child, at least,
must work to live. Up to that time Orison had not known that there are
such things in the world as cruelty and injustice. He was to learn
through bitter experience what they were. He was "bound out" by his
guardian successively in five different families, throughout the
backwoods of New Hampshire. This is the first of his recollections about
his young experience among strangers:
"When I was taken to my new home in Woodstock, everything seemed cold
and strange. I looked distrustfully at the new faces, into the eyes
which so critically scanned me. The family consisted of the father and
mother and several children, all girls, and I wondered how they would
treat me. I didn't have long to wait; for, although they were quite
well-to-do people, they did not consider me too young to be set to work
for the benefit of the family.
"Although I was so small that I had to stand on a box to enable me to
reach up to the wood on the saw horse, they put me to sawing wood,
taking care of the barn, and doing chores.
The girls started to 'boss' me, which I resented, but very soon found
that I would have to succumb, for their parents considered me an
'outsider', and thereafter I was obliged to mind whatever the daughters
said. They were allowed to abuse me, and I was whipped by the father and
mother upon the slightest provocation.
"Joy, beauty, exuberance, enthusiasm, buoyancy, belong to childhood."
I remember sometimes being whipped on our way to church on Sunday,
and even being called down from a load of hay, which I was helping to
make, whipped and then sent back "The father was a strict man, not
particularly in love with his wife, and on occasion the pair would get
to quarreling so violently as to which one of them should whip me, that I
would have a respite from my almost daily thrashing. The disputing
would grow in intensity until they would be exhausted, so to speak,
before they got to my case, and then I would escape."
Even amid the hardships of his childhood, the boy developed that
sense of humor which is the saving grace of life, a quality which in
after years helped him to ease the rough jolts of life and relieved the
pain of many embarrassing situations. No matter how he was kicked or
smacked or abused, if there were a humorous side to a situation, he saw
and enjoyed it, whether the joke was at his own or some one's else
Young Marden's sense of humor was one of the things that saved him
from any tinge of that bitterness or cynicism which harsh or unjust
treatment, especially in childhood, often develops even in those with
naturally sweet dispositions.
It was with this family that he tasted his first real bitterness in
childhood, engendered by the pangs of homesickness and lack of the
affection he so greatly craved. Perhaps he never again felt so lonely
and homesick as when, a few days before his first Christmas among
strangers, he overheard the father and mother talking over the presents —
dolls, toys, and other things, — they were planning to get for their
children. He was incidentally referred to as the "hired boy." But, with
some faint prompting of maternal sympathy, the mother said that being so
young, he would probably hang up his stocking, and that they should
probably give him something.
So on Christmas Eve he was allowed to hang his stocking with the
other children. And he says, "I lay awake a good part of the night
thinking what nice things Santa Claus would bring me, and what I would
do with them. Imagine, then, my surprise and chagrin on Christmas
morning to find nothing in my stocking but a cheap stick of candy!
When I compared it with the things the other children were eager to
show me, it was more than I could bear. Memory brought before me a
picture of the previous Christmas, the last one that father was with us,
and the contrast between that and this was so bitter that I could not
suppress my tears. Although father was then so ill that he was unable to
go out of the house, he made, with his own hands, a little suit of
clothes for me, besides giving me other nice things.
Thinking of all this I felt so grieved and hurt over my stick of candy that I could not eat it."
The little suit of clothes made by his father's loving hands must
have been worn out by this time, for the boy suffered bitterly from cold
that first winter away from home. The New England winters are cruel,
and he was so scantily clad that on one occasion he came near freezing
The pupils at the little school which he was allowed to attend during
the winter months discovered one day that his fingers and ears were
frozen, and promptly rolled him in the snow to restore his circulation.
There was little time in the new life for play or recreation of any
sort, for his taskmasters were apparently determined to get the most
they could out of him. "I had to work very hard," he says, "and soon I
forgot what it was like to be a child with other children."
If one were to judge by externals alone, it might appear that some
malign influence was at work to crush out of the heart of this child all
the natural joy and exuberance of young life; that his experiences
would embitter him, and make him a cynic, a pessimist, — a doubtor who
would see no beauty or joy in life, no virtue or good in his fellow-men.
Yet, in that mysterious way in which, as St. Paul tells us, "all things
work together for good to them that love God," it was out of the very
bitterness of his own experience that he was able to learn the glorious
secret of real happiness.
It was from the unsatisfied longings, the harsh repressions, the very
joylessness of his own childhood, the utter starvation of body and
soul, of his whole nature, — that he learned to know, as few men know,
the nature and the needs of the child.
"The aim of every man should be to secure the highest and most
harmonious development of his powers to a complete and consistent
Orison Swett Marden Chapter IV , continued...
Long before he had children of his own, he had learned to understand
and to love all children, to voice their desires and needs, as he does
in many of his editorials and magazine articles, and especially in his
book, "The Joys of Living," in which he says:
"The first duty we owe a child is to teach him to fling out his
inborn joy and gladness with the same freedom and abandon as the
bobolink does when it makes the meadow joyous with its song.
"Suppression of the fun-loving nature of a child means the suppression of its mental and moral faculties. Joy will go out of the heart of a child after a while, if he is constantly suppressed. Mothers who are constantly cautioning their little ones not to do this or not to do that, telling them not to laugh or make a noise, until they lose their naturalness and become little old men and women, do not realize the harm they are doing.
"Joy, beauty, exuberance, enthusiasm, buoyancy, belong to childhood. A sad, worrying child, a child who has no childhood, is a disgrace to civilization.
"Let the children give vent to all that is joyous and happy in their natures, and they will blossom out into helpful men and women instead of sedate, sad, melancholy ones. Spontaneity, bouyancy and bubbling over of animal spirits are worth everything in one's education.
"Children who are encouraged in the expression of their play-instinct will make better business men, better professional men, — better men and better women in any walk of life. They will succeed farther and have a better influence than those who are repressed."
The boy had been but a short time in the Glover family, where he was first bound out, when he had an experience which would have tested the courage and endurance of a grown man. It was one of the high spots in the monotonous round of his daily routine, and began the development of that resourcefulness which, in after years, helped him through many grave situations.
He was sent by Mr. Glover to the home of Mr. Tucker, another farmer who lived some miles away, on an errand which must have been of some importance. It seems strange that it should have been entrusted to a mere child, and that he should have been sent alone and afoot on a journey that was full of peril.
The Tucker home lay on the opposite side of Welsh Mountain. Two routes led to it, one around a bridle path in the forest, which was used only in winter time for logging purposes; the other, through the woods and over the mountain top.
The boy's instructions were to take the latter route; to stay for the night at Tucker's and to return home the next morning. He had heard many stories of the bears, wildcats and wolves that still haunted that wild region, and it is small wonder that at his age he was scared at the prospect that lay before him. What if he should lose his way and have to remain all night in the forest! What if he should be attacked by a bear or a wolf, with no one to help, and no means of defending himself!
These were terrifying thoughts that chilled his blood, but he dared not give utterance to them, or make any protest. He was silently reminded by thought of the many welts and black marks on his body that it was useless to rebel against doing anything he was told to do.
After the mid-day dinner, without any path or blazed trail to guide him, the young messenger set out on his difficult errand. Trying to bear in mind Mr. Glover's instructions — to follow the East Branch into the forest until he came to Loon Pond, where he could see the top of the mountain peak; then to bear to the left till he got into the valley beyond, where he would see the clearing — he whistled to keep up his courage as he went on his lonely way.
While the sun was still high in the heavens he trudged bravely on, clambering over rocks and huge fallen trees, still keeping near enough to the East Branch to hear the water leaping down over the rocks, until he reached Loon Pond. At this point Orison Marden was five miles from the nearest house.
The screeching of the loons as they flew across the lake was the only sound that broke the stillness. It but accentuated the loneliness of the forest, and he longed for the sound of a human voice. His foot was bleeding from a deep gash, caused by stepping on a sharp knot as he was climbing over a fallen tree. He stopped to tear a strip of cloth from his little blue jacket, with which he bound up the wound as best he could, and limped on.
Cheered by the fact that he could see the top of the mountain from Loon Pond, as Mr. Glover had described, he felt reassured and started up the mountain side with renewed courage.
Suddenly a crackling in the bushes and underbrush a little way ahead
of him set his heart madly thumping against his side. But he kept
pushing on, when again a noise from something moving, caused him to look
up. At this point a fallen tree had been caught in the fork of another
tree, and hung balanced some twenty feet in the air. There on a
transverse limb crouched a wildcat, its fierce eyes glaring into the
upturned face of the boy!
For an instant he stood terror-bound. Then, taking to his heels, he
fled as fast as he could in the opposite direction. Dodging behind trees
and springing over rocks, intent only on putting as much distance as
possible between himself and the crouching creature in the tree, he ran
on and on. Forced to halt a moment to get his breath, he discovered with
dismay that he could no longer see the top of the mountain which was to
guide him in the right direction.
The forest here was dense, the branches of the great spruce and
hemlock trees being so closely interwoven that he could scarcely see
through them. He kept on up the side of the mountain, however, believing
that he was moving in the direction of the Tucker home. But he was
growing footsore and weary. He felt as if he had already walked twenty
The sun had dropped below the horizon. The shadows were gathering.
Night was coming on, and he had not even sighted the clearing that was
his objective. What should he do if he were attacked by a bear or a
wolf? He had a small jackknife and a stout stick, but would it be
possible to beat off a bear with these?
It grew darker and darker. It was night, and he began to realize that he had lost his way.
Terrible thought! Must he stay in the forest all night? It was too
dark to go on, for he could not tell whether he was moving in the
direction of the Tucker home or away from it. He climbed a tree to see
if he could get a glimpse of the longed-for clearing, but in vain.
What should he do? — remain in the tree or lie down on the ground? If
he remained in the tree, he might go to sleep, and, perhaps fall down
and get killed! If he lay on the ground wild animals might find and
In his terrible dilemma, the Yankee boy, now used to taking care of
himself, remembered hearing that wild animals are afraid of fire and
will not come near it. Fortunately, he had some matches in his pocket.
He clambered down out of the tree, gathered what dead wood and dry
branches he could find, and started a fire.
In the early afternoon as he tramped through the woods he had filled
his pockets with beechnuts. He was hungry now, and, after roasting the
nuts in the fire, he ate them with great relish. They made an excellent
His hunger satisfied, he began to feel sleepy, and set about making
himself a bed of leaves and hemlock branches. The moment he lay down, in
spite of his fears, he went to sleep. But he had terrifying dreams. He
thought that he was being carried away by a bear into a cave, where
there were other bears. They were about to tear him to pieces when he
sprang up in terror, to find himself in utter darkness. His fire had
died out. The bears he had seen in his dream might be upon him at any
Suddenly, a shrill cry that was almost human pierced the stillness.
The boy was petrified with fear. Again the cry was repeated. It came
from a tree near by. Then he recognized it. It was only a screech-owl.
But how hideous it sounded to one lost in the forest in the dead of
He had but three matches left in his pocket. With trembling hand he
tried to light one to start his fire again, but the head broke off; the
brimstone ignited, sputtered, and burned out before it touched the dry
leaves. Now there were only two left. A sharp noise like that of a huge
branch breaking under a heavy weight made his hair stand on end. Then
came more crackling of branches and stealthy sounds like the steps of
some wild animal going through the shrubbery. He must get a light.
Taking his second precious match from his pocket, he drew it across
his trousers, but his hand shook so that again the match missed fire.
Now there was but one standing between him and a terrible danger. He
could feel his heart bound into his throat as he tried his last match.
Fortunately it lighted at once, and in a few seconds he had his fire
By this time the sounds that had alarmed him had died away, and the
silence was so intense he felt that he could hear it. He had no idea how
long he had been asleep or what time it was.
He was conscious of nothing but the awful darkness and silence
everywhere beyond the circle of his fire. That should not be allowed to
go out again. He must gather more fuel and, at all costs, keep it going
He started to get a new supply, when again came that terrifying
crackling noise of dry leaves and sticks, as if some heavy animal were
prowling around. He peered into the darkness in the direction from which
the sound came, but could see nothing.
Then, all at once, two great fierce eyes stood out of the gloom.
There was no form visible — only the awful eyes glaring at him out of
Too frightened to move, he stood rooted to the spot, until the eyes
began to move toward him. There was no time to lose. The animal was
slowly advancing. Soon its head was visible, then its body took form, — a
large black bear.
Thoughts tumbled madly through his brain. What should he do? run
away, or climb a tree? If he stayed where he was he would surely be
killed. Then the instinct of self-preservation rushed to his aid.
"All things work together for good to them that love God."
- St. Paul
Hardly knowing what he did, Orison turned to the fire, and, snatching
from it two blazing knots, one in each hand, ran toward the bear,
yelling with all his might and brandishing his flaming torches in its
face. The animal stood up on its hind legs, as straight as a man, glared
at him and growled. But the boy kept yelling and whirling the burning
brands until the bear dropped again on all fours and started to run.
Overjoyed at his success, after chasing his enemy as far as he dared
go, the boy returned to the fire, but not to sleep, for the adventures
of the night were not yet at an end. His fire was burning low again,
and he could not run the risk of going too far away from it to get fresh
fuel. Wolves as well as wildcats and bears were prowling around and
liable to appear at any moment. His only refuge was to climb a tree.
No sooner was he seated high up in the branches of a tall hemlock
than a great catamount came creeping stealthily along on top of a log
that lay near the smoldering fire. Jumping off the end of the log, it
came to the fire and began sniffing the ground, as a dog does when
tracking some animal. Then, advancing to the tree in which the boy was
sitting, it raised itself on its paws and began to smell of the bark.
The fugitive, aloft in the branches, held his breath lest he should
be discovered. Would the catamount climb the tree? Should he try to go
up higher? No; the beast dropped to the ground and went once more
toward the fire; then returned to the tree. In an agony of terror the
boy held himself in his seat by gripping the branches with hands and
feet, fearing to move a muscle lest he should be discovered.
After what seemed an eternity, though but a few moments, the
catamount went away. The night wore slowly on. It seemed to the boy it
would never end. Fear kept him awake and he dared not come down from the
At last the first faint tints of dawn began to streak the eastern
sky, and surely never before was a boy so glad to see the morning light.
Never did he forget the terrors and the sufferings of that awful night.
Never did he feel such joy as when, battered and bruised, with bleeding
feet and torn clothes, he finally found his way to the home of Farmer
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The Life Story of Orison Swett Marden Chapter IV
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