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Putting Me on a Platform! by Jonathan F. Kelley

 

Human nature doubtless has a great many weak points, and no few bipeds have a great itching after notoriety and fame. Fame, I am credibly informed, is not unlike a greased pig, always hard chased, but too eternal slippery for every body to hold on to! I have never cared a tinker's curse for glory myself; the satisfaction of getting quietly along, while in pursuit of bread, comfort and knowledge, has sufficed to engross my individual attention; but I've often “had my joke” by observing the various grand dashes made by cords of folks, from snob to nob, patrician to plebeian, in their gyrations to form a circle, in which they might be the centre pin! This desire, or feeling, is a part and parcel of human nature; you will observe it every where—among the dusky and man-eating citizens of the Fejee Islands—the dog-eating population of China—the beef-eaters of England, and their descendants, ye Yankoos of the new world; all, all have a tendency for lionization.

This very innocent pastime finds a great many supporters, too; toadyism is the main prop that sustains and exalteth the vain glory of man; if you can only get a toady—the more the better—you can the sooner and firmer fix your digits upon the greased pig of fame; but as thrift must always follow fawning, or toadyism, it is most essentially necessary that you be possessed of a greater or lesser quantity of the goods and chattels of this world, or some kind of tangible effects, to grease the wheels of your emollient supporters; otherwise you will soon find all your air-built castles, dignity and glory, dissolve into mere gas, and your stern in the gravel immediately.

Such is the pursuit of glory, and such its supporters, their gas and human weakness. I have said that I never sought distinction, but I have had it thrust upon me more than once, and the last effort of the kind was so particularly salubrious, that I must relate to you, confidentially of course, how it came about.

When I first came to Boston, as a matter of course, I spent much of my time in surveying “the lions,” dipping into this, and peeping into that; promenading the Common and climbing the stupendous stairway of Bunker Hill; ransacking the forts, islands, beautiful Auburn, &c., &c.

Finally, I went into the State House, but as this notable building was undergoing some repairs, placards were tacked up about the doors, prohibiting persons from strolling about the capitol. The attendant was very polite, and told me, and several others desirous to see the building inside, that if we called in the course of a few days, we could be gratified, but for the present no one but those engaged about the work, were allowed to enter. I persisted so closely in my desire to examine the interior, while on the spot, that the man, when the rest of the visitors had gone, relented, and I was not only allowed to see what I should see, but he toted me “round.”

We sauntered into the Assembly Chamber, surveyed and learned all the particulars of that, peered into the side-rooms, closets, &c., and then came to the Senate Chamber. This you know is something finer than the country meeting house, or circus-looking Assembly Chamber, where the “fresh-men,” or green members from Hard-Scrabble, Hull, Squantum, etc.,—incipient Demostheneses, and sucking Ciceros, first tap their gasometers “in the haouse.” Here I found the venerable pictures of the ancient mugs, who have figured as Governors, &c., of the commonwealth, from the days of Puritan Winthrop to the ever-memorable Morton, who, strange as it may appear, was really elected Governor, though a double-distilled Democrat. Bucklers, swords, drums and muskets, that doubtless rattled and banged away upon Bunker Hill, were duly, carefully and critically examined, and as a finale to my debut in the Senate, I mounted the Speaker's stand, and spouted about three feet of Webster's first oration at Bunker Hill. To be sure, my audience was small, but it was duly attentive, and as I waved my hands aloft, and thumped my ribs, after the most approved system of patriotic vehemence of the day, he—my audience—opened his mouth, and stretched his eyes to the size of dinner plates, at my prodigious slaps at eloquence; the very ears of the canvased governors seemed pricked up, and I descended the stand big as Mogul, insinuated “a quarter” into the palm of the polite attendant, informed him I should call in a few days to take a view from the top of the dome, &c. He bowed and I took myself off.

Several days afterwards I found myself in the vicinity of the State House; so, thinks I, I'll just drop in, and go up to the top of the dome and get a view of the city and suburbs.

My chaperon was on hand, and he no sooner clapped eyes upon me, than he pitched into all manner of highfernooten flub-dubs, bowed and scraped, and regretted that the day was so misty and dull, as I would not be enabled to have half a chance to get a view.

“I wouldn't try it to-day, sir,” said he.

“What's the reason?” asked I.

“Oh,” replied he, “you'll not see half the outline of the city and the villages around, and you'll want to get them all down distinct.”

“Get them all down distinct?” quoth I.

“Yes, sir; and the day is so dull and cloudy that you'll not see half the prominent buildings, never mind the whole of the former and not so easily seen houses. You intend taking a full view, don't you, sir?”

“Why, yes, I would like to,” says I, partly lost to conceive what caused such a sudden and unaccountable ebullition of the man's great interest in my getting “a first rate notice” of matters and things from the top of the capitol! But up I went, in spite of my attentive friend's fears of my not getting quite so clear and distinct a view as he could wish. Having gratified myself with such a view as the weather and the height of the capitol afforded (and in clear weather you can get far the best survey of Boston and the environs from the top of the State House than from any other promontory about), I descended again. At the foot of the stairway my assiduous cicerone again beset me, introduced several other miscellaneous-looking chaps to me, and, in short, was making of me, why or wherefore I knew not, quite a lion!

“Well, sir,” said he, “what do you think of it, sir? Could you get the outline?”

“Not very well,” said I, “but the view is very fine.”

“O, yes, sir,” said he; “but as soon as you wish to begin, sir, let me know, and I'll lock the upper doors when you go up, and you'll not be disturbed, sir.”

“Lock the doors?” said I, in some amazement.

“Yes, sir,” quoth he, “but it would be best to come as early in the morning as possible, or, if convenient, before the visitors begin to come up; they'd disturb you, you know!”

“Disturb me! Why, I don't know how they would do that?”

“Why, sir, when Mr. Smith—you know Mr. Smith, sir, I suppose?”

“Why, yes; the name strikes me as somewhat familiar; do you refer to John Smith?” I observed, beginning to participate in the joke, which began to develop itself pretty distinctly.

“Yes, sir; I believe his name is John—John R. Smith; he's a splendid artist, sir; his sketch or panorama is a beauty! Sir! did you ever see his panorama?”

“I think I did, in New York,” I replied.

By this time some dozen or two visitors had congregated around us, and I was the centre of a considerable circle, and from the whispers, and pointing of fingers, I felt duly sensible, that, great or small, I was a LION! Under what auspices, I was in too dense a fog to make out; to me it was an unaccountable mist'ry.

“I'll tell you what I can do, sir,” continued my toady; “I can have a small platform erected, outside of the cupola, for you, to place your designs or sketches on, and you'll not be so liable to be disturbed. Mr. Smith, he had a platform made, sir.”

I beckoned the man to step aside, in the Senate Chamber.

“Now, sir,” said I, “you will please inform me, who the devil do you take me for?”

“Oh, I knew who you were, the moment you came in, sir,” said he, with a very knowing leer out of his half-squinting eyes.

“Did you? Well then I must certainly give you credit for devilish keen perception; but, if it's a fair question,” I continued, “what do you mean by fixing a platform for my designs? You don't think I'm going to fly, jump or deliver orations from the cupola, do you?”

“No, I don't; but you're to draw a grand panorama of Boston, ain't you?”

“ME?”

“Yes, you; ain't your name Mr. Banvard?”

“Oh, yes, yes—I understand—you've found me out, but keep dark—mum's the word—you understand?” said I, winkingly.

“Yes, sir; I'll fix it all right; you'll want the platform outside, I guess.”

“Yes; out with it, and keep dark until I come!

I skeeted down them steps into the Common to let off my corked up risibilities.—Whether the man actually did prepare a platform for my designs, or whether Banvard ever went to take his designs there, I am unable to say, as I went South a few days afterward, and did not return for some time.

 
 
 

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