Amazing articles on just about every subject...

Work In Civil Engineering And Study In Europe

( Originally Published 1911 )

THE trouble with my throat described on page 40, really changed the whole plan of my life, as I had then marked it out. I had formed the purpose of studying for the ministry. Some of my most intimate college friends were already pursuing theological studies in the Andover Theological Semi-nary, where I used to visit them. I had formed the acquaintance of the eminent Professors, Park, Edwards, and Phelps. I had even gone so far as to engage my room for the autumn. But the trouble with my throat continued for weeks so obstinate that I deemed it wise to consult a noted Boston specialist on diseases of the throat. He informed me that I must not indulge in the hope of being able to pursue any profession in which I should have to speak in public. He said it would not be prudent for me even to attempt to teach. He advised me to choose some outdoor employment. This announcement was a bitter disappointment. It seemed for a time that every door to a career in which I had any interest was shut in my face.

I asked myself what out-of-door employment is there in which I can profit by the education I have had. I decided that civil engineering gave the best promise of fulfilling that condition. Fortunately some of my friends knew Mr. E. S. Chesboro, a former resident of Providence, and then City Engineer of Boston. In answer to their inquiries he expressed a willingness to take me into his office. I reported to him for duty in August, 1851. The work on the Cochituate water supply in Boston was not then completed, and I was employed mainly on that. In those days few men in the engineering offices had received a technical or even a mathematical education in the schools. They had usually worked their way up from the position of rodman, and they accomplished what they did by rule-of-thumb work or by the mechanical use of formulae the rationale or origin of which they did not know. It proved that I was the only one in the office from the chief down who had studied the Calculus, and as a real knowledge of some of the formulae for water problems involved that study, I presently found them turned over to me. As one recalls how slender were the opportunities in those days for training in engineering studies and observes the large number of excellent engineering schools in our country, one may say that in no branch of education has there been more rapid and helpful development than in that of engineering in all its applications.

The Grand Trunk road from Montreal to Boston was opened while I was in the office. I assisted in making an immense map, which was stretched in the tent on the Common when the celebration of this event was held. Lord Elgin, the Governor-general of Canada, and President Fillmore were present. I remember that as Mr. Fillmore was said to be unaccustomed to riding, I saw two negroes holding his horse carefully by the bits as the animal slowly walked in the procession. We all agreed that he was a very handsome man, but not much of a cavalier.

At one time complaint was made of the impurity of the Cochituate water in Boston. Mr. Chesboro invited me to walk with him through about two miles of the conduit, from which the water had been partially drawn off, somewhere west of Cambridge. And there on this subterranean excursion I made the acquaintance of Professor Horsford of Harvard, whose friendship I afterwards enjoyed through his life. The walking on the bottom of an egg-shaped conduit in which about a foot of water had been left was not altogether easy or agreeable. It was decided that some vegetable deposit had found its way into the water.

One day near the end of November, Mr. Chesboro assigned to me the task of making a survey and a map of Boston Common, showing every path and every tree on it. This was to be made at the request of some dweller on Beacon Street, who for many years had daily walked around the Common. I began in the corner just in front of the State House. While I was at work I received a letter from my friend Hazard saying that he was still having trouble with his lungs and that his father had decided to send him to Southern Europe for the winter and wished me to accompany him. He begged me to come to his home immediately and confer with him. I did so, and it was decided that we should sail at once. I went back to Boston, and took my leave of Mr. Chesboro, to whose kindness I was greatly indebted. So ended my work in engineering. After a brief visit to my parents, I joined Mr. Hazard and we sailed from New York for Havre on the steamship Arago, Captain Lines, on December 13.

We had only thirteen passengers. Among them were Mr. Spence of Baltimore, after-wards our Minister to Turkey, George W. Kendall, editor of the New Orleans Picayune, who greatly enlivened our voyage by his wit, and one typical specimen of the self-reliant Connecticut Yankee. This last was on his wedding trip. His opportunities for education had been limited. But he was daunted by no obstacles of travel in foreign parts. By some means he had persuaded himself that although he knew no French, he could make a French word out of an English word if he pronounced it very loudly and added the termination bus. So he would accost one of the waiters who were all French, thus: "Garçon, bring me some cheeseibus." And in fact he generally got it. He travelled at such a pace that by the time we reached Florence he had been all through the East and was on his way home. We met him in the street in Florence one morning with one-half of his face covered with lather and inquired of him what had happened to him. With much vehemence he said : "I wanted to be shaved. I went into a shop which had a barber's pole in front and sat down. The barber soon gave me to understand that he bled people, but did not shave them. So I went to another shop. The barber there lathered my face and began to shave me with a razor so dull that I snatched it from his hand and told him I could make a razor sharper than that on the sole of my boot. So here I am looking for another barber." We asked him how he had contrived to get all over southern and eastern Europe so rapidly and with no language but English. Holding his purse in one hand and his cane in the other, he replied, " With that purse in one hand and that cane in the other, and with swearing a little at times, I can go all over Europe." And I have reason to think he did.

We arrived at Havre on December 27. When the pilot came aboard he astonished us by the announcement that by a coup d'état Louis Napoleon had taken full possession of the government, that many of the prominent statesmen were in prison, and that martial law was declared. On landing, Mr. Hazard and I proceeded at once to Rouen, where we spent a day in visiting the churches. We were delighted with our first view of the florid Gothic architecture. Thence we went immediately to Paris, where we found much excitement over the coup d'état. The marks of the bullets which had been fired in the conflicts along the Boulevard des Italiens were still fresh.

But the places of amusement were all open. At the Theatre Français we saw that great actor Got in Molière's Malade Imaginaire and Rachel in Phèdre and the theatre was crowded on both nights. When I was in college we were, like students in most New England colleges, forbidden to attend the theatre on pain of expulsion. Therefore I had never before seen plays presented by great actors and actresses. Although my understanding of the language was imperfect, these performances were the revelation of a new world to me.'

We were assured that many prominent men had been thrown into prison. But so far as we could observe, business seemed to be going on everywhere, and we were not interfered with at all.

There was a notable service in Notre Dame which we attended, in which the Archbishop of Paris invoked the divine blessing on the President in his new under-taking.

We also attended a reception given by our Consul, Mr. Goodrich, the Peter Parley, whose books have been the delight of our childhood. He appeared to us to be the impersonation of the amiable, entertaining, child-loving Peter Parley, of whom we had been so fond, and he seemed much pleased at our acknowledgment of our great indebtedness to his books.

The weather was very damp and chilly, and therefore, a week after our arrival, we set out for Marseilles on our way to Italy. Having engaged our seats in the diligence, we went to the office at the appointed hour and occupied them. The diligence was driven to the railway station and there the body was lifted with passengers and baggage by a crane and deposited on a flat car. So we were transported to Dijon, where the diligence body was again lifted by a crane and placed on wheels. We were then drawn by horses to Lyons. Thence we were taken by rail to Marseilles. On our journey we saw many citizens tied to ropes and marching under military guard to prison. Everywhere there was manifest a feeling of high tension.

A young lieutenant in uniform journeyed with us from Lyons to Marseilles. On arrival there a customs officer came to examine our baggage. The lieutenant refused to allow the officer to touch his port-manteau. When the officer insisted, the lieutenant drew his pistol and forced a retreat. After the officer left, the lieutenant turned to us with a laugh and said, "The pistol was not loaded." Leges silent inter arma.

From Marseilles we went by diligence via Draguignan to Genoa, and thence by sea to Naples. We spent a few days there, of course visiting Pompeii and ascending Vesuvius. We met our old teacher, Professor Gammell, who was on his wedding trip with his wife, the daughter of Robert H. Ives. He proposed to us to join them in the journey to Rome in a private carriage. In those days of few railways this was a charming method of travel. The vetturino, usually a Swiss, furnished the carriage and horses, stopped wherever one wished on the journey, paid all the hotel bills, and spared one all the trouble of bargaining with the natives. As there was a railway as far as Capua, Mr. Hazard and I went ahead to visit that place of so much historic interest. We drove out towards evening to the village near which Hannibal was said to have encamped, and found a most interesting fête going on. The peasants in their picturesque costumes were dancing on the green. On our return to the hotel we were told that we were fortunate in escaping robbery, since that village was the resort at such times of some desperate characters.

Mr. and Mrs. Gammell joined us on the next day, and we had a delightful three days' journey to Rome. The approach to the city from that side is far more picturesque than from Civitavecchia or from Florence. We spent six weeks in the highest enjoyment I ever experienced in all my travels. Fresh from our college studies, with Horace in the pocket as a guide-book, every step revealed to us some object of the deepest interest. At night we returned to our rooms to read afresh of all we had seen. Almost literally we could say that we travelled and observed all day and then studied all night. Such delights could hardly come to one later in life. Subsequent visits to Rome never yielded a full repetition of the first experiences. Rome was also more interesting then to the young American traveller than it is now because it was completely under ecclesiastical control, and the streets were always gay with processions, celebrations, church festivals of one kind and another. We saw Pius IX (to whom the liberals everywhere were still looking as friendly to their cause) on two occasions, a man with so benignant a face that no one who saw him could expect from him anything but benevolence and love. We first saw him in the Sistine Chapel on Ash Wednesday, when with the impressive ceremonial of his church he placed the ashes on the heads of the cardinals and on that of the Duke of Norfolk, the great English Catholic. I remember distinctly the marked face of Cardinal Antonelli who be-came the dominant adviser of the Pope. He had brilliant eyes, a swarthy complexion, and an expression that put you on your guard against his strategy. One act in the service produced a comical effect on us who had never witnessed the ceremonial before. When the Cardinals kneeled as a prayer was offered, a page stepped behind each and twisted the tail of his gown into a knot, exactly as we tie a horse's tail into a knot in muddy weather.

One morning with a large assembly we stood in St. Peter's, waiting for the Pope to appear before the high altar for a great ceremonial. Distinguished representatives from all civilized lands were present. At last the doors from the Vatican approach swung open, the song from the choir broke upon the ear, and the Holy Father appeared borne in a sort of palanquin. As the attention of the multitude was absorbed by the scene, a man standing by my side pointed to a beautiful Italian boy near us and said, "It is hard, is it not, to realize that this little body is a temple greater than that in which we stand?"

A drive to Tivoli and the sight of the "Praeceps Anio" gave us one of our most delightful days.

The visit to Rome brought to me the first real revelation of the arts of sculpture and painting. The galleries and churches opened to me a new world. One can not describe what it was to a person who had no conception of art except what he had derived from the sight of Powers' Greek Slave and copies in private houses of two or three classical masterpieces of painting, to have suddenly spread before him the immeasurable artistic wealth of Rome, with full liberty to gaze upon it at will and to attain to some worthy appreciation of its wealth. Life could never again be quite what it was before. Of all the gifts of Rome to me that was the greatest.

During our stay in Rome the diligence on the journey between Rome and Florence was several times stopped by highwaymen, and the passengers were robbed of their money, watches, and jewels. It was said that the robbers were for the most part men of good families. Certainly they showed good breeding. They usually begged the passengers to fear no bodily harm. They said that they regretted extremely that the stress of the revolutionary period had forced them to resort to this means of gaining a livelihood. They politely helped the ladies to alight, and after receiving their jewels and money politely handed them back to the carriage.

We four, who found the travelling from Naples with the vetturino so pleasant, employed him to take us to Florence. We were six days on the journey, going by Perugia, and a most agreeable journey it was. We encountered no highwaymen.

Of course the galleries at Florence chiefly absorbed our attention. But the political situation was extremely interesting. The Austrians were in possession of Tuscany. They were intensely hated by the Italians. We had rooms on the great Piazza del Gran Duca.

Twice a week Austrian troops assembled there and their attractive bands discoursed most charming music. But as the troops passed along the streets the shutters were closed and on the Piazza not a Florentine could be seen. The foreigners and the Austrians had the music to themselves. On the occasion of a church festival we saw the Grand Duke and members of his family in garb of penitence, marching at the head of the procession. But on his approach the streets were deserted.

We went via Bologna and Padua to Venice where we spent some days in that delight which Venice brings to every traveller. The city seems to me to have changed less since that time than any other Italian city of importance.

We sailed thence to Trieste and then made the long journey by diligence, travel-ling day and night, to Gratz, which was even then a flourishing, manufacturing city, though we like most Americans had hardly known of its existence. From Gratz we were able to go by rail to Vienna. Partly because we had friends there, we spent several days in the Austrian capital.

We were fortunate enough to be there on what was called the Day of the Three Emperors. There was a military celebration of the suppression of the rebellion of Hungary. The three sovereigns present were the Austrian Emperor, Francis Joseph, the Russian Emperor, Nicholas, and the Prussian King, William. Fifteen thousand troops were assembled on the Glacis. The Emperor Nicholas took command and ordered the manoeuvres. He looked the Emperor more than any man I ever saw. Of the gigantic Romanoff stature, of commanding mien, he sat upon his powerful horse as though ready in a joust to meet any foe.' As after the manoeuvres were ended the troops marched through the principal streets, they were preceded not only by the sovereigns and a large number of generals but also by the ladies of the Imperial Austrian family in their open carriages. Though we young Americans, never having seen so many men under arms, were impressed by the brilliant display, yet our sympathy with the Hungarians whom the Austrian government had been enabled only by Russian help to defeat, led us to look on with an in-ward protest, especially as we had seen the breaches in the city walls which the Hungarian revolutionists had made with their cannon as they were on the point of gaining their independence.

In these later years, when the affectionate loyalty of the Austrians to Francis

On the day before this parade we visited the Imperial stables. Noticing one horse standing in his stable with two heavy sacks on his back, we were told that he was to bear the Emperor Nicholas, and was in training for the unaccustomed load, as the Emperor weighed two hundred and forty pounds.

Joseph has apparently saved the Empire from dissolution, I have often recalled the statements made to me by a highly intelligent Viennese during this visit. He said that the young Emperor who had recently come to the throne was really hated then by the populace for his cruel and over-bearing manner. He gave as an illustration the statement that a student crossing the Glacis in a snow storm with his head down did not see the Emperor who was passing, and so did not salute him, and that the Emperor was so affronted that he caused the innocent offender to be flogged. Whether this report was true, I cannot say. But that it could be circulated indicated a feeling utterly different from that which his subjects now cherish towards him.

While at Vienna I received a letter from President Wayland, offering me as I might prefer either the Chair of Civil Engineering or that of the Modern Languages in Brown University, with permission to remain abroad a year and a half for the purpose of study. After deliberation, I decided to accept the Chair of Modern Languages. My throat had so far regained its strength that I thought I could venture to try the experiment of teaching.

We made brief visits at Prague, Dresden, Berlin, and Cologne on our way to Paris. Here Mr. Hazard left me on June 10, 1852, and returned home via England. I began the search for a teacher of French. After a little I had the good fortune to make the acquaintance of Monsieur Jansen who had once been a Professor in a Lycée, but had been thrown out of office owing to his radical republicanisn, He was a guileless, scholarly man, without much skill in making his way in the world, especially in the troublons times which had come to France. He detested Louis Napoleon and all his followers and believed that the eyes of spies were always upon him. He had a charming wife, one of the best type of the intelligent, well-bred, frugal woman of the middle class, and a diffident gentle daughter of eighteen years. Into this charming house-hold I was permitted to come as a boarder and a pupil. It was a surprising revelation to me who, like most young Americans, had formed my ideas of French domestic life from sensational stories of Parisian adventures, to see the beautiful simplicity of this quiet and virtuous French home. I soon learned that this was not an exceptional home. Perhaps in no particular have English and Americans been so far astray in their judgments of the French people as in respect to the purity of their domestic life.

Monsieur Jansen lived in Passy, on the Avenue de St. Cloud, just outside of the Arc de Triomphe de l'Etoile. It was an easy stroll to the Bois de Boulogne, whither I often went with my books. Frequently with the family I went on a picnic to St. Cloud or some other attractive spot. On Sundays I usually went to the Church of the Oratoire, where I heard some of the most eloquent Protestant preachers. One peculiar, but rather commendable custom of the preachers, which I have never seen spoken of in books, I noticed with interest. Their style was picturesque or dramatic. After an eloquent passage which closed one division or head of the sermon, the preacher would pause to clear his throat or use his handkerchief, and the whole congregation availed themselves of that opportunity to do the same thing. Then as he proceeded, he was not interrupted by coughing. In due time he paused again for the same purpose, and the congregation imitated him once more. Occasionally I went to the Sorbonne or the Collège de France and heard lectures. But in the main I gave my attention to writing French and conversing and reading French literature. One interesting and instructive diversion was after reading French history to go to Versailles and see the historical pictures which adorn the walls.

In October, 1852, I left Paris for Germany. I travelled through Holland and went to Braunschweig to study German. I found an excellent home in the house of Herr Sack, the clerk of the Circuit Court, an elderly man who had fought in the Battle of Waterloo and was a somewhat noted local antiquary. His eldest daughter, who was a teacher in a private school and was a scholar of large reading in English as well as in German literature, became my teacher. She was most competent. I have always regarded myself as so greatly indebted to her that I continued correspondence with her until her death in 1907. I know few American women who can recite so many fine passages from English poets as she could. I was impressed by this and other facts with the excellent literary training which the German schools gave their girls,

One book from the father's pen was a striking illustration of the German thoroughness (Gründlichkeit), which I had occasion so often to remark in German writers. In early times the Brunswickers of wealth and rank placed elaborate family coats-of-arms on their chimneys in conspicuous positions. Herr Sack found in these with their mottoes a valuable contribution to the history of the city. So he wrote a book on the History of the Chimneys of Brunswick. It was divided into two parts. In order to lay a proper foundation for his interpretation of the symbols, he devoted the first part to the history of chimneys in Greece and Rome and there reached the conclusion that the Greeks and Romans had no chimneys. Not till he had done this was he prepared to discuss the History of Chimneys in Brunswick.

So far as I could learn I was the first American ever known in Brunswick. One South American from Bogota arrived there before me. But as people generally knew nothing of Bogota, he used in company to draw near to me, throw his arm across my shoulder, and say somewhat ostentatiously, "Ach! wir sind Amerikaner."

I was invited to join a club of German gentlemen who met occasionally to speak English and who wished me to correct their expressions when necessary. It so happened that for some time the only member to whom English was vernacular was a mechanical engineer from London, connected with the railway. He was illiterate and his speech was pure cockney. I was soon embarrassed by their remarking the differences between his speech and mine, and asking for explanations. These I gave when he was not present.

"Uncle Tom's Cabin " by Mrs. Stowe appeared while I was in Brunswick, and was read with great eagerness. But many of my acquaintances were puzzled by Topsy's English, and could find no help in their dictionaries. For a time I could scarcely take a walk on the street without being accosted, occasionally by strangers to whom I had been pointed out as an American, for aid in interpreting the negro dialect.

In this connection I am tempted to de-scribe an adventure which befell me in a school to which English and Irish girls of good families had been sent to learn German. The proprietor of the school was a relative of the Sacks with whom I was living. So I was invited with them to a Christmas supper at the school. I was seated at the table at a safe distance from the girls who appeared to be from fourteen to eighteen years of age. At the close of the supper I was surprised to receive, through the host, a request from the girls that I would say a few words in American. It had not occurred to me that they could be ignorant of the fact that English is our vernacular. But as it appeared that they were, I thought an innocent trick was allow-able. So I arose and made a speech in what in my childhood we boys called "hog Latin." It consists in beginning a word with the last syllable and then recurring to the first : e.g., the word "German" would appear as "man-o-ger." Of course there was resemblance enough in some words to the real words so that they would catch a little of what I was saying. But they were much bewildered. And the German hearers were even more so. I sat down amid hearty applause. The young ladies sent up an expression of thanks. I never explained the trick to my German friends until I went to Brunswick forty years later.

The tenor singer in the Brunswick Opera Company and his wife occupied a room directly under mine. He was a very genial, jolly fellow, and I used often to walk with him. Through him I made the acquaintance in his rooms of his associates in the Opera Company. As the members of the company hold permanent positions in a German city, I met them at times in general society. They presented to me a new side of life. I found them very companionable and entertaining, but was surprised to observe that most of them had very limited attainments beyond their professional training. The breath of their life seemed to be public applause of their performances, and perhaps as a consequence of this they were very jealous of each other's success. Most of them mingled with their neighbours without attracting more especial attention than other respectable citizens.

I spent a pleasant afternoon with Herr Sack, visiting the great library at Wolfenbüttel, then in charge of an aged librarian who, though utterly blind, could lay his hand on any book he sought in the great collection.

It was on the whole a most profitable and enjoyable winter that I spent in Brunswick. In April, 1853, I left the circle of friends, by whom I had been most hospitably received, with sincere regret, in order to attend lectures on modern German literature at the University of Berlin.

I took lodgings near the middle of the city. I was disappointed in applying at the University to find that there was no course to be given on the subject I wished to study. I sent to several Universities and could learn of no such course except at Munich. While I was busy in this quest, and was seeking to procure from the city authorities the ordinary permission to occupy lodgings, I was surprised to be in-formed by the police officers who had received my passport that I could not receive that permission in the usual form. On the contrary I was directed to report twice a week in person at the police office. In answer to my inquiry for the reason of this extraordinary demand, I was told that revolutionists with the spirit of 1848 were busy, that bombs and other munitions had been found in the attic of a storehouse, and that Germans bearing American passports were supposed to be coming to town to en-gage in lawless enterprises. "Well," I said, "how does that concern me?" "Well, we thought you might be one of these Germans." "It is very flattering," I replied, "to be regarded by you as a German. Will you not be good enough to tell me why you have taken me for a German?" "Well," was the reply, "you have a square head and light hair and complexion, in short, look like a German." "But," I rejoined, "you must see that I do not speak your language like a German. I have been in your country only a few months." "Yes," said the official, "but the foreign accent could be assumed."

I could not argue against "Caesar with his ten legions." After a week's sojourn under these conditions, reflecting that only in Munich could I find the lectures I wanted, I resolved to go there. So I went to the police office and demanded my passport, viséd for Munich. To my surprise and to my temporary satisfaction the officer could not find it. I saw at once that there I had him at my mercy. In those days a pass-port was regarded in official circles as such a sacrosanct document that a police official could hardly commit a more serious offence than to lose it. So I assumed the menacing air, and told him that if the passport was not at my room viséd within three hours I would report the case to the American Chargé for complaint to the Government. It was delivered to me within the time and I set out for Munich.

On the way I spent a day or two with intense delight at Nuremburg, in which it was so easy to reproduce in imagination the mediaeval life of Hans Sachs' time. I also stopped at Augsburg.

At Munich the police office at first declined to give me permission to reside, be-cause in my application I wrote out my middle name in full, while my passport contained merely the initial letter of my middle name. It required an argument to convince the stupid official of my identity.

One of my first pleasures in Munich was that of hearing the great chemist Liebig lecture. Of all the professors I heard, he was the most attractive in manner. It proved to be his son-in-law, Moritz Carrière, who gave the course in modern German literature which I came to hear. I wanted especially to listen to discourses on Lessing, Goethe, and Schiller. As I had six weeks at my disposal, and Carrière was announced for three lectures a week, I hoped I might get some valuable instruction. He was an excellent lecturer. But alas ! the old German " Gründlichkeit," if not so striking as that of Herr Sack in his "History of the Chimneys of Brunswick," proved fatal. For he began back with the Germans of whom I had read in the Germania of Tacitus, and in my six weeks had only got down towards the modern times as far as the translation of the Bible by Ulfilas. However, I heard other excellent lectures on the Ancient Classics, and enjoyed much the visits to the galleries of art. My sojourn was not without profit and pleasure.

From Munich I went to Zürich. After a short stay there I crossed the lake and walked over the Brünig Pass to Thun and Berne, and travelled thence by diligence to Geneva and thence by diligence and rail to Paris. I received a hearty welcome from my old friends, the Jansens, with whom I remained about six weeks. During this sojourn in Paris I had the pleasure of meeting at dinner at the house of a friend, Monsieur Sainte-Beuve, the great critic, whose writings had greatly attracted me. He was most genial and interesting. He was of medium height, inclined to embonpoint, and for some reason which I should be puzzled to explain reminded me of the picture I had always formed to myself of the poet Horace.

From Paris in July I made a hurried journey through England, spending a week in London, then passing by Stratford, War-wick, Oxford, and York, to Edinburgh and Glasgow and to Liverpool, whence I sailed on July 29 for Philadelphia. We had a wonderfully smooth voyage. The steamer soon sailed on her return voyage, and was never heard from. I stopped in New York, where the first of our national expositions was being held. I remember seeing a good farmer and his wife gazing on the casts of Thorwaldsen's Christ and the Apostles, and concluding after some discussion that they were the Presidents of the United States.

I reached my father's house in Scituate after an absence of nearly two years. I learned that both my maternal grandparents had died since my last letters had reached me abroad. I was especially grieved at the death of my grandmother. It was from her that my dear mother inherited most of her traits.

Home | More Articles | Email: