A Great Cerebrator by Edgar Wilson Bill Nye
Being at large in Virginia, along in the latter part of last season,
I visited Monticello, the former home of Thomas Jefferson, also his
grave. Monticello is about an hour's ride from Charlottesville, by
diligence. One rides over a road constructed of rip-raps and broken
stone. It is called a macadamized road, and twenty miles of it will
make the pelvis of a long-waisted man chafe against his ears. I have
decided that the site for my grave shall be at the end of a trunk line
somewhere, and I will endow a droska to carry passengers to and from
Whatever my life may have been, and however short I may have fallen
in my great struggle for a generous recognition by the American people,
I propose to place my grave within reach of all.
Monticello is reached by a circuitous route to the top of a
beautiful hill, on the crest of which rests the brick house where Mr.
Jefferson lived. You enter a lodge gate in charge of a venerable negro,
to whom you pay two bits apiece for admission. This sum goes towards
repairing the roads, according to the ticket which you get. It just
goes toward it, however; it don't quite get there, I judge, for the
roads are still appealing for aid. Perhaps the negro can tell how far
it gets. Up through a neglected thicket of Virginia shrubs and
ill-kempt trees you drive to the house. It is a house that would
readily command $750, with queer porches to it, and large, airy
windows. The top of the whole hill was graded level, or terraced, and
an enormous quantity of work must have been required to do it, but
Jefferson did not care. He did not care for fatigue. With two hundred
slaves of his own, and a dowry of three hundred more which was poured
into his coffers by his marriage, Jeff did not care how much toil it
took to polish off the top of a bluff or how much the sweat stood out
on the brow of a hill.
Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence. He sent it to one
of the magazines, but it was returned as not available, so he used it
in Congress and afterward got it printed in the Record.
I saw the chair he wrote it in. It is a plain, old-fashioned wooden
chair, with a kind of bosom-board on the right arm, upon which
Jefferson used to rest his Declaration of Independence whenever he
wanted to write it.
There is also an old gig stored in the house. In this gig Jefferson
used to ride from Monticello to Washington in a day. This is untrue,
but it goes with the place. It takes from 8:30 A. M. until noon to ride
this distance on a fast train, and in a much more direct line than the
old wagon road ran.
Mr. Jefferson was the father of the University of Virginia, one of
the most historic piles I have ever clapped eyes on. It is now under
the management of a classical janitor, who has a tinge of negro blood
in his veins, mixed with the rich Castilian blood of somebody else.
He has been at the head of the University of Virginia for over forty
years, bringing in the coals and exercising a general oversight over
the curriculum and other furniture. He is a modest man, with a tendency
toward the classical in his researches. He took us up on the roof,
showed us the outlying country, and jarred our ear-drums with the big
bell. Mr. Estes, who has general charge of Monticellocalled
Montechellosaid that Mr. Jefferson used to sit on his front porch
with a powerful glass, and watch the progress of the work on the
University, and if the workmen undertook to smuggle in a soft brick,
Mr. Jefferson, five or six miles away, detected it, and bounding
lightly into his saddle, he rode down there to Charlottesville, and
clubbed the bricklayers until they were glad to pull down the wall to
that brick and take it out again.
This story is what made me speak of that section a few minutes ago
as an outlying country.
The other day Charles L. Seigel told us the Confederate version of
an attack on Fort Moultrie during the early days of the war, which has
never been printed. Mr. Seigel was a German Confederate, and early in
the fight was quartered, in company with others, at the Moultrie House,
a seaside hotel, the guests having deserted the building.
Although large soft beds with curled hair mattresses were in each
room, the department issued ticks or sacks to be filled with straw for
the use of the soldiers, so that they would not forget that war was a
serious matter. Nobody used them, but they were there all the same.
Attached to the Moultrie House, and wandering about the back-yard,
there was a small orphan jackass, a sorrowful little light blue mammal,
with a tinge of bitter melancholy in his voice. He used to dwell on the
past a good deal, and at night he would refer to it in tones that were
choked with emotion.
The boys caught him one evening as the gloaming began to arrange
itself, and threw him down on the green grass. They next pulled a straw
bed over his head, and inserted him in it completely, cutting holes for
his legs. Then they tied a string of sleighbells to his tail, and hit
him a smart, stinging blow with a black snake.
[Illustration: Then they tied a string of sleighbells to his
tail, and hit him a smart, stinging blow with a black snake (Page
Probably that was what suggested to him the idea of strolling down
the beach, past the sentry, and on toward the fort. The darkness of the
night, the rattle of hoofs, the clash of the bells, the quick challenge
of the guard, the failure to give the countersign, the sharp volley of
the sentinels, and the wild cry, to arms, followed in rapid
succession. The tocsin sounded, also the slogan. The culverin, ukase,
and door-tender were all fired. Huge beacons of fat pine were lighted
along the beach. The whole slumbering host sprang to arms, and the
crack of the musket was heard through the intense darkness.
In the morning the enemy was found intrenched in a mud-hole, south
of the fort, with his clean new straw tick spattered with clay, and a
wildly disheveled tail.
On board the Richmond train not long ago a man lost his hat as we
pulled out of Petersburg, and it fell by the side of the track. The
train was just moving slowly away from the station, so he had a chance
to jump off and run back after it. He got the hat, but not till we had
placed seven or eight miles between us and him. We could not help
feeling sorry for him, because very likely his hat had an embroidered
hat band in it, presented by one dearer to him than life itself, and so
we worked up quite a feeling for him, though of course he was very
foolish to lose his train just for a hat, even if it did have the
needle-work of his heart's idol in it.
Later I was surprised to see the same man in Columbia, South
Carolina, and he then told me this sad story:
I started out a month ago to take a little trip of a few weeks, and
the first day was very, very happily spent in scrutinizing nature and
scanning the faces of those I saw. On the second day out, I ran across
a young man whom I had known slightly before, and who is engaged in the
business of being a companionable fellow and the life of the party.
That is about all the business he has. He knows a great many people,
and his circle of acquaintances is getting larger all the time. He is
proud of the enormous quantity of friendship he has acquired. He says
he can't get on a train or visit any town in the Union that he doesn't
find a friend.
He is full of stories and witticisms, and explains the plays to
theater parties. He has seen a great deal of life and is a keen critic.
He would have enjoyed criticising the Apostle Paul and his elocutionary
style if he had been one of the Ephesians. He would have criticised
Paul's gestures, and said, 'Paul, I like your Epistles a heap better
than I do your appearance on the platform. You express yourself well
enough with your pen, but when you spoke for the Ephesian Y. M. C. A.,
we were disappointed in you and we lost money on you.'
Well, he joined me, and finding out where I was going, he decided
to go also. He went along to explain things to me, and talk to me when
I wanted to sleep or read the newspaper. He introduced me to large
numbers of people whom I did not want to meet, took me to see things I
didn't want to see, read things to me that I didn't want to hear, and
introduced to me people who didn't want to meet me. He multiplied
misery by throwing uncongenial people together and then said: 'Wasn't
it lucky that I could go along with you and make it pleasant for you?'
Everywhere he met more new people with whom he had an acquaintance.
He shook hands with them, and called them by their first names, and
felt in their pockets for cigars. He was just bubbling over with mirth,
and laughed all the time, being so offensively joyous, in fact, that
when he went into a car, he attracted general attention, which suited
him first-rate. He regarded himself as a universal favorite and
When we got to Washington, he took me up to see the President. He
knew the President wellclaimed to know lots of things about the
President that made him more or less feared by the administration. He
was acquainted with a thousand little vices of all our public men,
which virtually placed them in his power. He knew how the President
conducted himself at home, and was 'on to everything' in public life.
Well, he shook hands with the President, and introduced me. I could
see that the President was thinking about something else, though, and
so I came away without really feeling that I knew him very well.
Then we visited the departments, and I can see now that I hurt
myself by being towed around by this man. He was so free, and so
joyous, and so bubbling, that wherever we went I could hear the key
grate in the lock after we passed out of the door.
He started south with me. He was going to show me all the
battle-fields, and introduce me into society. I bought some strychnine
in Washington, and put it in his buckwheat cakes; but they got cold,
and he sent them back. I did not know what to do, and was almost wild,
for I was traveling entirely for pleasure, and not especially for his
At Petersburg I was told that the train going the other way would
meet us. As we started out, I dropped my hat from the window while
looking at something. It was a desperate move, but I did it. Then I
jumped off the train, and went back after it. As soon as I got around
the curve I ran for Petersburg, where I took the other train. I presume
you all felt sorry for me, but if you'd seen me fold myself in a long,
passionate embrace after I had climbed on the other train, you would
have changed your minds.
He then passed gently from my sight.