Orison did not remain very long with his first master. From the
beginning he felt
that his guardian's conduct toward him was not kind or just, and,
naturally, he resented being "hired out" and treated as the family
For some reason unknown to him, the boy was removed from the Glover
home and placed in the family of Elder Strong, the Baptist minister in
the same place, — Woodstock.
"My guardian," Doctor Marden says, "being a Baptist himself, and a
deacon of the church, always took care that I went into Baptist
"Elder Strong's salary was only a pittance, supplemented by the
yearly 'donation' of the parishioners. He had a little farm, but as
the country all around was exceedingly rough and rocky and the soil
barren, the produce from the farm was very scant. His parishioners, of
course, expected that their minister and his wife would devote
themselves body and soul to the parish, so there was no time to give to
'intensive' cultivation of the farm.
The wife, in addition to visiting all the sick people in the parish
as well as those who were in trouble of any kind, was also expected,
although not a strong woman, to go and help out wherever she was needed.
"The minister was expected to maintain the dignity of his position by
dressing well on all occasions, and if he ever appeared abroad without
his long black coat, white collar, and black tie, there was a scandal in
The church people seemed to imagine that there was some connection
between their pastor's religion and his black coat and tie, and that it
was irreligious for him to go about without them, especially when
calling on his parishioners.
"This made additional work and anxiety for Mrs. Strong; for as the
Elder had only one professional suit, she was obliged to keep it sponged
and pressed and in good shape. But in spite of her care it would get
very shiny, and threadbare at the knees and elbows, before he could
replace it with a new one.
"A bound-out orphan did not seem to have any rights to speak of. His
duty was to work. He had no other use and got very little sympathy, very
"In this backwoods community, twenty-four miles from the nearest
railroad station, everything was exceedingly primitive. In the summer
time many of the men, some of the women, and all of the children, went
to the little church or meeting-house on Sundays barefooted. Yet, even
in this remote place, the mistress of the parsonage would have to make
her clothes over and over again, patching them up here and there, trying
as best she could to keep somewhere near up to what the more well-to-do
women of the parish were wearing. In two years she did not have more
than one new dress, nor in that time did she have new shoes or a new
"The occasion of the yearly 'donation' was an extra hard time for
her. It came late in the Fall after the crops had been gathered. Nearly
all of the men of the congregation were farmers and, instead of bringing
to the 'donation' the things their pastor's family most needed, they
would bring what they could best spare, — the vegetables and other
things of which they had a surplus. For instance, when the potato crop
was good, almost everybody would bring potatoes. When cabbages were
plenty, they would bring cabbages. When apples and other fruits were
abundant, they would contribute fruits.
Very few brought sugar, flour, or any of the staple groceries. As a
matter of fact, however, it was a rare thing for anybody in that section
to have such 'boughten goods' in the house. But it was noticeable that
many of the donations — the vegetables, fruit, etc.—were 'seconds.' The
good people seemed to think that the receiver would be glad to get
almost anything. The day after such a party it was my duty to pick out
the specked apples that had been brought and feed them to the cow and
"Before each great yearly event Mrs. Strong would have cake and pies
made, and what other dainties she could manage to provide, for everybody
who brought a contribution would expect to get a good supper. And what
appetites they had! They would eat up about all that had been cooked,
besides many of the things they had brought themselves.
"The parsonage was as shabby looking as its occupants; its furniture
as poor and scanty as their clothing. The table and the stiff
horse-hair-upholstered chairs in the parlor were old, rickety, and worn,
and the floor uncarpeted, and the rest of the place was in worse
condition. Yet those who came to these donation parties seemed to take a
delight in going through the rooms, peeking into closets and cupboards,
and then gossiping about what they saw, — wondering why their hosts had
this or didn't have that!
"There was very little money among farmers in those days. I remember
that the sight of a dollar was a great curiosity to me. It must have
been almost as great to the Strongs, for they seldom went to a store for
anything but tea. Mrs. Strong would burn bread crusts, especially of
brown bread, now and then to make what she called 'coffee,' for
'boughten' or store-bought coffee was a luxury unknown; and she would
use the tea leaves over and over again until the so-called tea was
almost as colorless as water. In fact, there was so little money and
food was so scarce that everything had to be eked out with the most
The change to this poverty-stricken, backwoods parsonage certainly
did not improve the outlook of the orphan lad. One would have thought
that in the house of the "man of God," however difficult the
circumstances, he would at least have met the boy with sympathy and
kindness. But such was not the case, and in some ways things were even
worse than they had been in the first "bound-out" home.
The minister had no children, and the atmosphere of the parsonage,
surcharged with the rigid Baptist doctrine of those days, was gloomy and
depressing. This might have been relieved had the boy been allowed to
play with the children in the neighborhood, but it was heightened rather
by the fact that he was only permitted now and then to look over a high
fence to see them at their games.
He did not know what it was to get a "square meal." Like poor little
Oliver Twist, he was chronically hungry; and to ask for more would have
been as great a crime for Orison as it was for Oliver — and just as
Moreover, he had to work harder than before. Not only did he saw wood
and do the chores and whatever farm work he was equal to, but he was
also trained to do much of the housework, including the family washing
In his whimsical way, in speaking of the first meal he prepared, he
said: "It seemed to me that Mrs. Strong herself knew next to nothing
about cooking, yet she insisted upon breaking me into the mysteries of
this occult art by setting me, at the outset, to get dinner. Although I
knew as much about cooking as a law student, who was a classmate of mine
in after years, knew about law, and whom we nicknamed 'Necessity', -
because he knew no law, — I wouldn't have minded the cooking so much if I
had been allowed to cook enough. But the preparation of this first meal
showed me what to expect in my new home.
"I was sent down to the cellar, first of all, to get potatoes, and,
not knowing the peculiarities of the family, I brought up a good-sized
pan full, which I thought would be none too much for three hungry
people. When Mrs. Strong looked into the pan she threw up her hands in
amazement, exclaiming, 'What in the world are you going to do with all
"Cook them for dinner, ma'am,” I replied.
"You'll do nothing of the kind,” she said. “Come with me and I'll show you what to do.”
"Returning to the cellar with me, she pointed to a bin containing
large potatoes, saying, 'These are for the Elder, who needs a special
kind. And these, turning to another bin, full of little ones, 'are for
you and me.' She then ordered me to take one potato from the Elder's
bin, and two from the other — one for me and one for herself — assuring
me that 'enough is enough,' and that 'three potatoes make a great plenty
for one meal'.
"I emptied the pan of potatoes, and took three as directed, washed
and put them to boil, — feeling all the time that six would have been a
fair allowance for myself alone! I seldom got up from the table without
feeling that I could have eaten everything that had been put on it.
Many a time I would go out into the woods in the Fall to gather nuts to
have on hand to eke out my meals. These I would hide in the woodshed,
with some apples gathered from a few scraggly apple-trees that grew on
"The minister had a cow, which I learned to milk. I also churned the
cream, in a little dasher churn. Most of the butter had to go to the
Elder, and in my boyish imagination I fancied that it must have been one
of the necessities of his life, just as I imagined that the particular
kind of potato that always had to be cooked for him must have had
something to do with the quality of his sermons. I was not allowed any
butter at the table, and if a visitor happened to be at meals and should
pass it to me, I was obliged to say that I didn't eat butter!
About the only butter I had was what would come up on the dasher when
churning. These little stray bits I would take off and eat when no one
"There is no failure for the man who realizes his power, who never knows
when he is beaten; there is no failure for the determined endeavor; the
unconquerable will. There is no failure for the man who gets up every
time he falls, who rebounds like a rubber ball, who persists when
everyone else gives up, who pushes on when everyone else turns back."
- Orison Swett Marden
Orison Swett Marden Chapter V , continued...
Mrs. Strong was of a naturally suspicious disposition, and, as far as
possible, kept everything under lock and key. Her great poverty
sharpened her wits and increased her watchfulness, so that the boy, no
matter how faint with hunger, did not dare to take a slice of bread, a
doughnut, or anything else from the pantry lest she might miss it.
After making her parish calls, she always examined the cupboards to
see that nothing had been tampered with. Sometimes, when driven to
desperation, the boy would break off morsels of bread and take a tiny
bit here and there of things he thought wouldn't be missed. Or he would
take a pinch of flour and dissolve it in water and drink it.
Yet all the time he was working like a slave twelve or fourteen hours
a day. When not at work outdoors, he was engaged indoors, cooking,
washing dishes and scrubbing floors. This latter had to be done very
thoroughly, for his mistress, like all other New England housekeepers,
had a heightened detest for, and pursuit of, dirt in all forms. She was
always watching the boy to see that he brought no dirt into the house on
Out of the regular farm season the balance of his time was employed
in picking up stones, which were covering almost the entire farm. The
sharp stones cut the tender young fingers and left a trail of blood as
he followed from day to day his dreary, endless task.
"Washing the clothes and the family dishwashing were particularly
trying for me," he says, "because I was obliged to pick stones so much
of the time on the farm that the skin was nearly always worn through on
my fingers. They would often bleed, and so much washing and scrubbing
kept them very tender."
Truly, when speaking of this period of his life, he put it very
mildly when he said that "a bound-out orphan did not seem to have any
rights to speak of. His duty was to work. He had no other use and got
very little sympathy, very few favors."
No work that was not absolutely indispensable was done in the
minister's house on Sunday. Even in preparation for the family washing
Orison was not allowed to put the clothes in soak Sunday night, because
that would be "an unnecessary act."
All the cooking that could possibly be done for that day was done on
Saturday, so that the family ate mostly cold things on the Sabbath. With
his irrepressible sense of humor, which nothing could crush or dampen,
the boy noticed that "it did not seem so wicked for the Elder's wife to
make tea, because they were both so fond of it, but to bake bread or
biscuit, or anything else of that kind, would have been unpardonable.
Neither did the quarreling of the worthy pair seem to be on the
prohibited list on Sunday, for they would often get into a very heated
argument. But at night they were both on their knees and ended the day
with long prayers.
I remember being reprimanded very severely on such an occasion for
getting something to put under my knees to keep them off the bare floor
during the prayer time. And once when the minister was praying aloud and
I thought he wouldn't notice me, I got a terrible scolding for looking
around for the cat."
While there was no manual work on Sunday, the so-called "day of rest"
was even a more terrible day of torture to the boy than any of the six
days of physical labor. The minister and his wife took him to church
with them in the morning, and as they remained for afternoon service
they took a cold lunch with them.
This meant practically the whole day, for the Puritan services were
long. And oh, how they weighed upon the soul of the boy! His body,
weakened by hunger, left his young mind an easy prey to the dreadful
pictures of the hereafter with which the ministers of that time
terrified their congregations. They haunted his dreams, making the night
even more hideous than the day.
Recalling those Sabbaths of his childhood, the man on whose soul they
had left an indelible scar said: "The Sunday sermon on eternal
punishment did not feed me spiritually. It meant nothing to me but
unspeakable terror — the picture of a dreadful avenging God, who had
prepared a frightful hell of never-dying flames and endless torture for
those who offended Him. Its suggestions overshadowed, and often shut
out, the beauties of God's world for me. Many a night I could not go to
sleep for fear that I had committed the 'unpardonable sin' and might be
cast into the 'fiery furnace', an 'eternal outcast' from the presence of
"In my boyhood the churches did not consider that happiness plays any
special part in man's life. All the emphasis was laid upon the life
beyond the grave.”
Dogmatic religion was the end result of salvation. And dogmatic
religion as then taught was a terribly somber, sad affair. Eternal
punishment was harped upon so much that the plastic minds of the young
were saturated with this frightful dogma.
I was taught that, if I did not conform to the basic requirements of
the Church, such as conversion, baptism, and membership in the Baptist
communion, I should be cast into the lake of brimstone and fire, where I
would burn forever.
"In my boyhood the churches did not consider that happiness plays any
special part in man's life. All the emphasis was laid upon the life
beyond the grave."
"Now, this was a horrible idea to get into a child's mind. Such
teaching was calculated to warp and twist its whole nature, to make it
abnormal. Indeed, many children in those days grew up sad, morose,
unhappy, because of the consequences — the frightful theological
judgment — always hanging over their heads.
"It was many, many years before I was able to throw off the bonds
with which the teachings of theology had shackled my mind. In my youth I
was firmly convinced that Catholics, Jews, Congregationalists,
Unitarians — in fact, all but Baptists — would be forever lost. I
remember pitying them, and thinking how dreadful it was that they were
ignorant of their doom!
"When grown up, I shrank from the idea of being baptized and from
joining the Church. I used to lie awake nights thinking it over and
trying to decide what to do. But after listening to the evangelists at
the 'revival' meetings telling the people they would be damned if they
did not receive baptism and join the church, I followed suit and went
with the 'converted'.
"Even then, however, I must have been in my heart 'unrepentant'.
Baptism was by immersion, of course, and I remember how humiliating it
was to me even to think of being taken out in the pond around which
everyone I knew would congregate to see me put under the water. I was
then working my way through the New London Academy, and all the
religious students and a large proportion of the townspeople witnessed
It was a mortifying ordeal, and of course I strangled and struggled
in the water, to the great amusement, no doubt, of many of the
The spirit of revolt against dogmatic religion, unconsciously
engendered by its teachings and the harsh experiences of his childhood,
fortunately did not shake Doctor Marden's faith in God or drive him to
become an agnostic. As will be seen in later chapters, his religion
based on the great commandment — to love God with all one's heart and
one's neighbor as oneself — was as broad as the universe. He did not
harbor a grudge against any human being.
Even as a child there was no ill-will, no anomosity in his heart
toward any of those who had starved and beaten and in other ways treated
In spite of the treatment he received at their hands, his sympathy
often went out to Elder Strong and his wife. That it ever aroused any
corresponding feeling about them does not appear. It may be that their
own hardships and limitations blinded them to the needs and sufferings
of a growing lad.
Certain it is that the story of his stay with them is an exceedingly
sordid and pitiful one. It might be summed up in a few words —
starvation, cold, incessant laborious work, lack of sympathy, lack of
all understanding of the nature and needs of child life.
Yet he had nothing but compassion for them when, at a convention of
their church, it was decided that the preacher was growing too old for
his position and must be replaced by a younger man.
"I felt very sorry for both of them," he said. "They had worked
hard; had given their lives, their energies, and even what little money
they could squeeze out of their small salary 'to the Lord's cause,' and
in their old age they must leave their home and begin all over again.
On her knees, with tears in her eyes, Mrs. Strong pleaded before the
convention to allow her husband one or two years more to make some
preparation, because they would have absolutely nothing to live on. They
had no property, no money, nothing — not even owning the meager
furniture of the parsonage. But tears and prayers were of no avail —
they would have to go.
"They remained for hours that night sitting in the dark, talking over
their gloomy prospects, and wondering what they should do.
Finally it was decided that the Elder should take a stock of what he
called his 'cure-all' and try to sell it among the parishioners. This
'universal remedy', which, judging from the smell, must have been a very
powerful one, he made from a prescription which some one had given him.
"Next morning I rose early, as usual, and got the breakfast, boiled
potatoes and some salt pork. The Elder said grace, a long one, and after
the meal he made another long prayer and read from the Bible. Then
loading his satchel with bottles of cure-all, he started out with the
determination to bring back some money for the encouragement of his
wife, who was in a state of collapse.
After tramping all day he returned with seventy-five cents! As he
reckoned that the stock cost him twenty-one cents, the outlook for
making a living by selling the remedy didn't seem too bright."
With this the Elder and his wife passed out of the life of the boy. Then he moved on to a new experience.
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