Printing On The Cotton Pocket Handkerchief
( Originally Published 1902 )
WHEN Daniel Webster was only eight years of age, he entered a country store, near his father's farm, to look at the pretty things, with a view of spending a few pennies that he had saved. He examined one thing after another till he found a cotton handkerchief, with printing on both ends of it. He took the article home, and in the evenings he spread it out on the floor before the fire-place, by the light of which he read the writing on the article he had bought. That writing was the Constitution of the United States. He read and studied it, until he had learned it almost by heart. A writer has said : " Forty years from that time came the great Hayne debate. But I would travel farther to see a master's picture of the lad reading the Constitution, in the rude home on the edge of the northern wilderness, than to see Healy's great painting of the orator in his senatorial debate; as I would go farther to see a picture of the springs of the Amazon, far up under the cold white splinters of the Andes, than the most adequate representation of the imperial river's tropical tide."
Webster as an old man, could be seen on the streets of Boston, wearing his olive-green frock coat, and having about his neck a heavy gold chain, which had been presented to him by the people of California. Upon the clasp of the chain was this inscription, " To Daniel Webster, the defender of the Constitution and the Advocate of the Union." On the receipt of this present, he wrote a letter, which contains this reference to California : " At last we have seen our country stretch from sea to sea, and a new highway opened across the continent from us to our fellow-citizens on the shore of the Pacific. Far as they have gone, they are yet within the protection of the Union, and ready, I doubt not, to join us all in its defence and support. They are pursuing a new and absorbing interest. While their Eastern brethren continue to be engaged in agriculture, manufactures, commerce, navigation and the fisheries, they are exploring a region whose wealth surpasses fiction. They are gathering up treasure in a manner and in a degree hitherto unknown, at the feet of inaccessible mountains and along those streams ` whose foam is amber and their gravel gold.' Over them and over us stands the broad arch of the Union, and long may it stand, as firm as the arches of heaven and as beautiful as the bow which is set in the clouds !"
The impressions of childhood are the strongest, and run farthest through an earthly life. The pocket-handkerchief on the floor may have had much more to do with determining the direction which the future life would take than anyone would imagine. Its threads may have become woven into the fabric of his being; the reading upon it may have become a part of the fibre of his mind. Childhood is the period of greatest susceptibility to influences good and bad; then the nature is like clay ready for the potter; like metal ready for the stamp.
How important it is that the pliant nature should be molded by the Divine hand into the likeness of Our Heavenly Father ! How necessary that the image of Jesus Christ be stamped upon the face of the coin ! More beautiful than the picture of a boy studying the Constitution of the United States, is that of the childhood of to-day studying the Word of God, whose precepts and principles, and inspiration will lift it up to the highest eminence, and greatest usefulness in this life and in the one which is to come.