Orison Swett Marden Chapter VI
The Solace Of Nature
The Life Story of Orison Swett Marden Chapter VI:
The new experience brought little change to the waif again cast
adrift on life's sea.
A sullen, gray, monotonous sea it continued to be — a never-ending
stretch of toilsome days and weary nights — nights in which, through
sheer misery and utter exhaustion of mind and body, he often sobbed
himself to sleep.
To go over his struggles in this or in any of the following homes in
which his guardian had placed him, would be to change only the details
of the picture. In all of them the broad outlines remain the same.
Regarding him as an interloper, each of the five different families
in which he was bound out seemed to think that a homeless orphan had no
rights that anybody was bound to respect. To be cuffed and whipped, and
starved, worked to the limit of human endurance, abused and insulted, —
this was the uniform experience of the "hired boy," Orison Marden.
Although at that time, especially in remote country places, the hired
boy or girl, hired help in general, was treated as a member of the
family, this was not Orison's good fortune.
When the family had company he was supposed to eat in the kitchen
alone. On the rare occasions when he happened to be present, when
neighbors dropped in unexpectedly, or for some other reason, he was, as
at Elder Strong's, put under severe restrictions. He could not partake
of the tempting flavors, which were apparently put to his lips only to
be snatched away before he could taste them. He was warned beforehand
that he must not eat any of the delicacies passed to him — cakes,
preserves, pudding, or such other luxuries as marked for the
entertainment of guests!
Like Lincoln, wherever young Marden went he found something to laugh
at. His love of joking and his sense of humor were always breaking
through, even in the most trying situations.
"His love for Nature was a passion. It kept alive in him a belief in the
benevolent Creator who planned and sustained the universe."
Recalling his life in the home of the worthy Mr. and Mrs. Joshua
Chapman, he says: "They were a strange couple. I well remember the
impression they made on me the first day I saw them — the day I went to
live with them. Mr. Chapman was a surveyor, a kindly, pleasant man, but
of no force of character. His wife was his opposite in every respect.
She was very short, while he was very tall, and proportionately
large. In fact, he was almost twice as tall as his wife, and she was
nearly twice as old as he. A couplet composed by their neighbors at the
time of their marriage, I was told, fastened itself in my memory. It
Joshua Chapman, three times six and three,
To Mary G. Bailey, twice as old as he.
"Mrs. Chapman was of a fiery temperament, and when she got mad she
used to delight in pounding me on the back. At all events, this was her
favorite method of punishing me, and I rather enjoyed the humor of it. I
was then growing rapidly, and was so much taller than she was that she
would have to stand on tiptoe to get at my back.
"Concentration is the factor that causes the great discrepancy between
men and the results they achieve... the difference in their power of
calling together all the rays of their ability and concentrating on one
- Orison Swett Marden
Orison Swett Marden Chapter VI , continued...
She could not handle me very well in any other way, and the situation
was so ludicrous that I could hardly keep from laughing out loud.
This, of course, would have made her angrier than ever. But I couldn’t
help picturing the comic appearance of the irate little woman, on her
tip-toes in her frantic efforts to pummel my back!"
Working from dawn till dark, with a little intermittent schooling in
winter when there was no work to be done on the backwoods farm —
barefooted and poorly clad — sleeping in an attic under the eaves,
sometimes on the bare floor, without a mattress, the snow blowing over
him and the cold so intense that he could hardly go to sleep, Orison
struggled on toward adolescence.
Altogether apart from physical suffering, the hardships of the
body, cold, hunger, hard work, blows, there was a deeper sense of need
growing steadily within the boy. His spiritual nature was crying out for
food. His soul was starving.
Deprived of his natural and inherited rights, those boyhood years,
which should have been the happiest and most care-free of his life, were
full of unsatisfied questionings, desires, longings, doubts and fears.
There was no one to answer his questions; no one to allay his doubts and
fears; no one to sympathize with his unspoken yearnings. The Church
frightened and repelled him. There was no one to whom he could turn for
sympathy, for enlightenment, for love.
Fortunately the boy had one outlet, one refuge from his misery, — an inborn love of Nature.
To her, the universal Mother, Mother Nature, he turned for the mothering, the solace and comfort denied him on the human plane.
"Everything in Nature seemed to speak to me," he said, "to try to
make up to me for my homelessness and loneliness. I loved every bit of
it. Often in an ecstasy of emotion I would throw my arms around the
trees and hug them. Natural objects seemed so near to me that I could
feel my affinity, my kinship with them all. They filled me with a sense
of the very presence of God, and I felt that I could read His thoughts
in the flowers, in the grass, in the trees, in the birds, — in all the
beauty He created.
"Something spoke through all these things to me; gave me assurance
and hope, and in a measure satisfied my hunger for love. When out in the
sunshine, under the blue sky, I could not believe that I was left quite
alone in this great universe, just because my father and mother had
left me. It did not seem right to me that I should be shut off from
communication with all who had any interest in me. Indeed, I fancied
that I could feel the pulse of the unseen life, and that I could
communicate with the spirit, the reality of my father and mother through
the things I loved so much."
This love of Nature was a special refuge from the torment caused by
Elder Strong's sermons. While it didn't quite settle his theological
perplexities, it soothed his troubled young spirit and gave him a better
conception of the true God.
"I could not understand," he said, "how the Creator who made the
wonderful landscape upon which I looked out — the great mountains, the
beautiful valleys, and the lovely wild flowers which seemed to smile at,
and beckon me, as though trying to make me understand their language —
could cast into a lake of fire any of the creatures He had called into
"I could not understand how a Being who made the beautiful sunlight,
which spread warmth and life everywhere, and blessed everybody and
everything with its brightness and gladness, could have revengeful
feelings towards me just because I could not reconcile this discrepancy
in His character."
"I only knew that I was happy when out in the fields or in the woods,
listening to the birds and watching the butterflies and the bees
gathering honey from the wild flowers whose fragrance and beautiful
colors delighted my heart, and that I was miserable and unhappy when in
the church, which Elder Strong called the 'Gate of Heaven.' To me it
seemed much more like the gate of the opposite place, for its very walls
echoed his brimstone sermons, thundering the doctrine which would damn
people forever and ever.
"Like Lincoln, wherever young Marden went he found something to laugh
at. His love of joking and his sense of humor were always breaking
through, even in the most trying situations."
"I used to dread leaving all the wondrous peace and loveliness of the
out-of-doors and going into the gloomy church, where I heard only
denunciations and threats of torture and punishment.
"When out there with Nature, I loved God. When in there, listening
to Elder Strong, I feared and shrank from Him. I couldn't understand
Him. It seemed to me that the Creator of everything good and sweet and
beautiful should be like His creation. I could not believe that the God
who created Love also created Hate, — that the God who stamped beauty on
everything I saw outdoors could be cruel, bitter and revengeful."
Nature was for him the great antidote to the gloomy orthodoxy of the
religion of his youth. His love for it was a passion. It kept alive in
him a belief in the benevolent Creator who planned and sustained the
While he dared not mention such thoughts to his elders, he thought
how nice it would be if they would only worship out in the fields or on
the mountainside on Sundays! He had heard them read from the Bible that
Christ used to teach on the hillsides, by the lakes and the sea, out in
the open. Why couldn't the Elder do that? Why should people be forced to
go out of God's beautiful world, — away from the loveliness of brook
and meadow, from the song of the birds, the fascination of the
mountains, the sky, and the flowers, — into a church that was like a
tomb to worship that same God who had made all the marvelous beauty and
Why should they be compelled to leave that which was so grand and
inspiring to go into a dark, gloomy church, without a single picture but
that of the Savior on the cross? Why should people go to express the
sublimest thing in them, to worship the ideal God, in such a forbidding
place, with great high-backed pews and a pulpit which hid all but the
head of the solemn minister in his solemn black clothes?
Although such thoughts would come trooping through his mind in vague,
shadowy form, they brought with them, too, an undefined sense of guilt.
And he felt that there must be something wrong in his being so glad to
get out of church on Sundays that, when going after the cows in the
evening, he used to run in the pasture with all the joy and gladness of
an imprisoned bird let out of its cage.
How this early love of Nature deepened with the years, and ministered
to soul and body is evidenced again and again in his books and
editorials. A short time before his work on earth was finished, in an
editorial on "The Value of an Education," he wrote:
"In exploring the wonders of our country in those sections where
Nature has been permitted — as Montaigne expresses it — 'to take her own
way,' I once had an experience which made an indelible impression on my
"I was going through the Yosemite region. After riding one hundred
miles in a stage coach, over rough mountain roads, I felt so utterly
exhausted that it did not seem possible for me to hold on to my seat
while we covered the ten more miles that lay between us and our
destination. But we toiled on and at length reached the summit of the
"Never shall I forget the sight that greeted my eyes on looking down.
The sun, just breaking through the clouds, which until then had hung
over the landscape, shone out in all its noonday splendor on the
wonderful Yosemite Falls and the surrounding scenery. Spread out below
us, above us, around us, there was revealed a picture painted by the
Almighty Himself, — a picture of such rare beauty, of such marvelous
form and coloring, such an infinite variety of texture and tinting that
my soul was ravished. Every particle of the fatigue, mental exhaustion,
and muscle weariness, which had threatened physical collapse, vanished.
My whole being thrilled with a winged sense of sublimity, grandeur, and
beauty which I had never before experienced. I felt a spiritual uplift
which brought tears of joy to my eyes. I seemed to stand in the visible
presence of God, in the very Holy of Holies."
"In that moment's spiritual vision a new life had entered into me. I
had been recreated. All my hurts were healed. A new ambition surged
through me, filled me with a desire to attempt great things, — to do
something bigger than I had before thought possible to me.
Like the mythological giant, Antaeus, whose strength was renewed
every time he touched his Mother Earth, I felt a new and wonderful
strength throbbing through my veins, — I was a new man!
"Said the Psalmist: 'I will lift mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.'
"When we are jaded and worn from the strenuous life of the city; when
exhausted after a year's run, struggling with the daily problems of our
vocation — toiling in office, in school, in factory or home, in big
business, in studio or laboratory — at some profession or occupation —
it is to the 'everlasting hills' we must turn for help — for health, for
physical and spiritual renewal. We must go into God's laboratory, the
great outdoors, where Mother Nature will 'take her own way with us.'
"If we give ourselves to her unreservedly, she will lay her healing
hand upon us, overhaul and repair our exhausted bodies, restore our
flagging spirits — renew us physically and spiritually — and, after a
few weeks, send us back to our tasks, new men, new women."
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The Life Story of Orison Swett Marden Chapter VI
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