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Library of Congress
Subject Headings, 19th edition, 1996
Library of Congress Subject Headings, 19th edition, 1996
WILLIAM DALLAM ARMES
BY D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
During the illness of his daughter in California in 1900 Professor Le Conte had many long talks with her about his early experiences and was by her urged to write out an account of them for his family. He was then too busy preparing for a trip abroad to undertake the work; but later in the year, in his old home in Columbia, S. C., whither he had gone from New York to recuperate from a severe illness that interfered with his plan of visiting Europe, his thoughts reverted to her request, and in this period of enforced leisure he began to write his reminiscences. In the midst of the scenes in
which the events that he was narrating occurred, and surrounded by his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, for whom the manuscript was intended and to whom from time to time portions of it were read, he wrote con amore, and what was originally intended as a sketch became a detailed autobiography. On his return to California early in 1901 he continued the work, but with flagging interest, the latter years of his life being treated in a comparatively summary manner. Fortunately, however, the account was brought down to a few months before his death, and concluded with a statement of what he himself considered of most value in his life-work.
After his death a number of his colleagues were asked to prepare biographical memoirs for publication by the various scientific associations of which he was a member, and were permitted to use the "autobiographic sketch." Their extracts from it attracted attention, and the family was urged to have the whole edited and published. Somewhat reluctantly they acceded to the request of his friends, and to me was given the honor of preparing for the press the last work of my old teacher.
The question of the future publication of
the work had been suggested to Professor Le Conte by his daughter, and he had answered that it certainly could not be published in the shape in which he left it, but that it would be a rich store of material for any possible future biographer. No implied trust was violated, therefore, either in having the manuscript published or in having it edited.
My desire has been to treat the manuscript with all due reverence, but many changes have been necessary. Many omissions had to be made, as, owing to its origin and the purpose for which it was originally written, it contained much that was too intimately personal and much of too little general interest for publication. On the other hand, many lacunæ had to be filled, for in a number of instances Professor Le Conte merely referred to what he had written elsewhere. His personal experiences during the last days of the Confederacy, for instance, are told in briefest outline in a single paragraph in the manuscript and reference made to a detailed account written immediately after the events. An abstract of this journal, itself a manuscript as long as the autobiographic sketch, has therefore been substituted for the paragraph and forms Chapters VII and VIII of the book. In
other similar instances use has been made of Professor Le Conte's letters and published writings. A certain amount of rearrangement of the material in the manuscript, moreover, was necessitated by the division of the long, continuous narrative into chapters of approximately equal length. The titles of Professor Le Conte's publications, which he, writing currente calamo and with no time for verification, frequently cited in the manuscript in general terms or somewhat inaccurately, are in the book taken directly from the articles, to which references are given in foot-notes for the convenience of those desiring to read them.
With all these changes it has been the editor's desire to preserve the tone and spirit of the original. That the style is frequently colloquial seems to him no defect, for he wished so far as possible to retain all that would tend to reveal the man to those who knew only the author. To them he was the patient investigator, the wise scientist, the fearless, independent, truth-loving thinker; to those who knew him personally, and particularly to those who had the inestimable privilege of being numbered among his "boys and girls," he was all this, but, first and foremost, he was the
gentle, kindly spirit, the welcome companion and helpful friend, our beloved "Professor Joe."
The manuscript was finished such a short time before Professor Le Conte's death that there is but little to add as to the events of his life. His own account ends, "I still hope to finish my year of absence in Europe, but I know not. My son is to marry in June and much desires that I should be present at his wedding." He yielded to the desire, gave up all thought of another European trip, and remained quietly in Berkeley until the marriage-day, June tenth. The departure of the young couple on a wedding-trip to the King's River cañon and the High Sierra thereabouts awakened in him a longing for the mountains and a desire to show the wonders of the Yosemite to his daughter, Mrs. Davis, who had come from South Carolina to be present at her brother's wedding. The Sierra Club, of which he had been an active and enthusiastic member since its organization, was planning a large excursion to the valley and he determined to join it, though warned by his devoted wife that his strength and power of endurance were by no means what they formerly were.
By an odd coincidence he met at the railway station in Oakland one of his companions on his first visit to the Yosemite, Professor Frank Soulé, and together they sped in luxurious cars and comfortable stages over the long, hot miles they had weariedly ridden thirty-one years before. In the January, 1902, number of the Sierra Club Bulletin Professor Soulé published an article on Joseph Le Conte in the Sierra, in which he gives the facts as to the last days of his old friend. He writes: "He was happy at the thought of revisiting (for the eleventh time) the great Yosemite, and of showing to his dear ones the unrivaled scenery of that mountain fastness.
"Standing upon the veranda of the hotel at Wawona, he said to me: 'I have retraced in memory every day's march of our excursion in 1870. Can you point out our camping-ground here at Wawona?'
"I looked around me and confessed that I could not; the place was so greatly changed and built upon.
"With a pleasant smile and a merry chuckle of triumphant recollection, he pointed along the front line of the veranda to the open field near the stream, and said: 'Do you see those three
trees standing together? Well, there were four of them thirty-one years ago, and you and I spread our blankets beneath their branches.'
" 'Yes, I recall it all now,' I replied. And I marveled at his wonderful memory."
He arrived at the camp at the base of Glacier Point on the third of July considerably fatigued but in his usual high spirits. For the next two days he was the life of the party, driving with his daughter all over the valley, walking to near-by points of interest, and explaining the geological phenomena to crowds of eager listeners. On the evening of the fifth, while very tired from a tramp, he ate a hearty dinner, and soon afterward complained of a severe pain in the region of the heart. A physician was at once summoned and diagnosed the trouble as angina pectoris, and with this diagnosis Professor Le Conte, himself a physician, agreed. Everything possible was done to relieve the sufferer, and in the morning he seemed much better. But about ten o'clock, while the physician was absent procuring additional remedies, he turned upon his left side, and at once his daughter saw a great change come over his countenance. "Do not lie upon your left side, father," she cried. "You know it is not good for you." With a
smile he answered, "It does not matter, daughter." They were his last words. Five minutes later the happy-starred, light-searching spirit had found its way to the source of all happiness and light.
That evening a coach slowly made its way across the floor of the valley. On one seat was the stricken daughter with a faithful friend, on the other a casket buried from sight beneath laurel wreaths, pine boughs, and the wild flowers of the Yosemite. Following it scores of California students and graduates walked with uncovered heads. Halting at the foot of the grade, they watched with straining eyes the coach with its mournful burden toil up the long, lonely mountain road till it disappeared in the darkness, then slowly returned to camp, each with a feeling of personal loss. Five days later the words of the funeral service were spoken in the presence of a vast throng that testified to the grief of all classes of citizens, and all that was mortal of Joseph Le Conte was laid away beside that beloved brother from whom he had so seldom been separated and for whom he had never ceased to mourn. There he rests in the beautiful Mountain View cemetery, his grave marked by a huge boulder from near the spot
where he died in the Yosemite that he had loved so long and so well.
"When the Greeks made their fine saying that those whom the gods love die young, I can not help believing they had this sort of death also in their eye. For surely, at whatever age it overtake the man, this is to die young."
W. D. A.
BERKELEY, February, 1903.
The name Le Conte was continued through Pierre, the second son, through whose wife, Valeria Eatton, the Le Conte family is connected,
though now but distantly, with many distinguished families in the United States, among them the Biddle, Baird, and Berrien. Of the children of Pierre, who was a physician, several moved South and lived in Bryan and Liberty Counties, Georgia; some permanently, as William; some only in winter, as John Eatton.
William, a lawyer, lived partly in Savannah and partly at "Sans Souci," his plantation on the Ogeechee River. He took a very prominent part in the revolutionary movement in Georgia; having been appointed a member of the first Council of Safety for the Province of Georgia, on June 22, 1775; and of the Provincial Congress that met at Savannah on July 4 of the same year. As a member of the Council, he signed a letter of remonstrance directed to Sir James Wright, Royal Governor of Georgia, and was therefore named on the so-called "blacklist" that Sir James sent to King George; he is there termed "Rebel Counselor." He died in Savannah without issue.
John Eatton, the second son, from whom descended all subsequent Le Contes, was the grandfather of the present writer. He was born on September 2, 1739; and died in New Jersey on January 4, 1822, when in his eighty-third
year. He spent his summers in New York and his winters on his plantation, "Woodmanston," in Liberty County, Georgia. How large a part he took in the revolutionary struggle, I do not know. I know, however, that he was regarded as a malignant and a rebel, and that his house, near the Barrington road, was burned by Colonel Provost in his march through Liberty on his way to the Indian territory. The ruins of the old well are still visible, and a laurel-tree (Magnolia grandiflora) that ornamented the yard still stands. I find it recorded in the History of Georgia, moreover, that Dr. J. Le Conte took charge of the provisions, etc., contributed by Liberty County to the people of Boston, and sent them by ship in 1775 and 1776.
He married Jane Sloane, of New York, and the issue of the marriage was three sons - William, Louis, and John Eatton, Jr. William died without issue, in Liberty, in the house that was afterward burned; Louis was the father of Professors John and Joseph Le Conte; and John Eatton, Jr., the third son, was the father of John L. Le Conte, of Philadelphia, the distinguished entomologist.
Louis, the father of the writer, was born in Shrewsbury, N. J., on August 4, 1782. He was
educated in New York, graduating at Columbia College in 1799, when he was but seventeen. He studied medicine under Dr. Hosack, and attained great knowledge and skill in that profession. He was called "doctor," but I think never graduated as such, his only object in studying medicine apparently being to practise it on his own plantation.
John Eatton, Jr., remained in New York and became a captain, and later major, in the corps of topographical engineers of the United States army; but Louis, some twelve years before the death of his father, in 1810, when he was twenty-eight, moved South and assumed the management of the property in Georgia.
Louis Le Conte was so remarkable a man and his influence on the writer was so great that it is necessary to dwell on his character and the plantation life in Liberty.
The community of Liberty County was a peculiar one. It was a colony of English Puritans, who settled first in Dorchester, Mass., then moved to Dorchester, S. C., and then, about 1750, to Liberty County. A Dorchester was founded here also, but it was of little importance. As might be supposed from their origin, these settlers were characterized equally by a
rigid orthodoxy and a love of liberty. The name Liberty County was given in recognition of the fact that the flag of independence was there first raised in Georgia. It was characterized also as the most moral and religious, as well as the most intelligent, community in Georgia. The people were, however, very clannish and exclusive. My father, of course, was an outsider, an interloper, not "one of the us"; and was therefore regarded askance for some time. Although there finally grew up on both sides the warmest feelings, although he finally secured the deepest affection and reverence of the whole community, yet he was of a different spirit and never completely affiliated with them: he was always somewhat of an outsider. In January, 1812, he married Ann Quarterman, a Puritan born in the county in 1792 and therefore "one of the us." The issue of this marriage was four sons and three daughters. One of the daughters died in infancy, but the other six children grew up to marry and have families of their own.
I was born on the plantation "Woodmanston," February 26, 1823, the fifth child and youngest son. My mother died of pneumonia in 1826, when I was but three years old. I can not remember at all either her face or any event
of her life. The one thing concerning her that I remember, the earliest event in the self-conscious history of my life, was connected with her death-bed. It was a bowl of blood standing on the bureau of her bedroom. Doubtless it deeply impressed me, and looking back now, it seems ominous. It probably was her death-warrant. My father always thought so, the blood having been drawn by the attending physicians against his judgment.
I can not remember my father and mother in their mutual relations, but my father must have loved his wife passionately. The horror of her death almost dethroned his reason, and out of the resulting gloom and mental paralysis he emerged only slowly and after many years. Although I could not then understand its cause, this feeling tinged all my early life with a mild sadness. I remember well his silent gloom. I remember well how he would snatch me up, strain me to his heart, smother me with passionate kisses, set me down quickly, rise and walk rapidly about the room, sit down, and again relapse into silence. Hence it was that I regarded him with reverence and passionate love, but also with awe and almost with fear. My mother was buried in Midway churchyard, eight miles from
the plantation house. Every Sunday after morning service and our cold lunch, he took one or two of us boys - I was always one - and walked in the cemetery to visit her grave. In tearless silence he leaned on the railing and gazed steadily fifteen or twenty minutes on the simple mound; then silently walked away, leading us by the hand. This he did every Sunday as long as he lived - for twelve years. It was during this period of gloom, when I was between three and four years old, that clear consciousness of self dawned on me.
As the years passed and my father began to take hold on life again, his children became more companions to him. The awe and fear of him diminished more and more, but the love and reverence increased to greater and greater passionateness. But his paroxysms of gloom never entirely disappeared until his two eldest children, William and Jane, married and had children of their own. His joy in his grandchildren was boundless; it was a rejuvenation to him.
In the early part of his lonely life, in order to divert his thoughts from his grief, he fitted up several rooms in the attic, especially one large one, as a chemical laboratory. Day after
day, and sometimes all day, when not too much busied in the administration of his large plantation, he occupied himself with experimenting there. I remember vividly how, when permitted to be present, we boys followed him about silently and on tiptoe; how we would watch the mysterious experiments; with what awe his furnaces and chauffers, his sand-baths, matrasses, and alembics, and his precipitations filled us. Although these experiments were undertaken in the first instance to divert his mind from his sorrow, yet his profound knowledge of chemistry, his deep interest and persistence, certainly eventuated in important discoveries. Thus diversion gradually ripened into intellectual delight.
It was during this time that he fell into a low state of health without any assignable cause. After some time he determined to try vegetarianism, and for two years he absolutely avoided flesh in any form. Feeling no effect, however, he returned to the moderate use of meat, and promptly recovered. His ill-health, I am sure, was brought on, not by any fumes of the laboratory, as he imagined, but from anguish for the loss of his wife.
My father always attended personally to his
place, on foot in winter, when living on the plantation, on horseback when the family was at the summer retreat, Jonesville, about three miles away. But during the period of his ill-health he was not able to attend to the duties of the plantation and about two hundred slaves, so for a year employed an overseer, the only one he ever had.
Always fond of nature and science in all departments, he now devoted himself more and more ardently to the making and cultivation of a botanical and floral garden. About an acre of ground was set apart for this purpose and much of his time, mornings and afternoons, was spent there, "Daddy Dick," a faithful and intelligent old negro being employed under his constant supervision in keeping it in order. This large garden was the pride of my father. Every day after his breakfast, he took his last cup of coffee - his second or third - in his hand, and walked about the garden, enjoying its beauty and neatness and giving minute directions for its care and improvement. His especial pride was four or five camellia-trees - I say trees, for even then they were a foot in diameter and fifteen feet high. I have seen the largest of these, a double white, with a thousand blossoms
open at once, each blossom four or five inches in diameter, snow-white and double to the center. In the vicinity of a large city such a tree would now be worth a fortune, but my father never thought - no one did then - of making any profit from his flowers; it was sufficient to enjoy their beauty.
This garden was the joy and delight of my childhood, and continued to be such through association, long after his death and after it had lost its beauty for want of his care. In 1896 I visited the old place again. It was a mere wilderness, but the old camellia-tree still stood covered with blossoms. I measured its girth; ten inches from the ground, where the great branches came off, it was fifty-six inches in circumference.
I have said that my father was devoted to science. His knowledge of botany and chemistry was really profound. His beautiful garden became celebrated all over the United States, and botanists from the North and from Europe came to visit it, always receiving welcome and entertainment, sometimes for weeks, at his house. On such occasions he would plan and execute long excursions in the Altamaha region for the purpose of collecting rare plants, the
places of which he well knew. These excursions often occupied several days, and he stayed at night at the cabins of the poor "crackers," all of whom delighted to entertain him and his friends. From these excursions he would return laden with treasures that he would help his botanical friends to pack and send off.
As the Altamaha region was a comparatively unexplored field, he discovered many new plants, but he gave them freely to his scientific friends. He loved nature and truth purely for the sake of nature and truth, and never thought of any personal advantage. I remember, moreover, that he entirely ignored the custom of the botanists of that time and anticipated the natural classification. He always preferred to speak of plants in connection with the natural rather than the Linnæan system. In speaking of a plant, he would give the Linnæan order, and then add, "But it belongs to a natural order of such a plant," giving the typical genus.
Although chemistry and botany were his chief love, he was almost equally acquainted with other departments of science, especially zoology, physics, and mathematics. We boys were passionately fond of gunning and fishing; stimulated by his example and precept, we
brought everything strange or remarkable to him to identify and name, which he easily did by the use of his scientific library, ample for that time. His delight and skill in mathematics were remarkable. I remember in particular his joy in working out mathematical puzzles, especially magic squares. When my brother William was in college, he sent my father several questions in mathematics that had proved too hard for the professor. He promptly solved them and sent back the results.
With such predominance of scientific tastes, it might be supposed that he was correspondingly deficient in the classics. But not so, for he was thoroughly acquainted with these also. He read Latin at sight almost as readily as he did English. Indeed I have never known any one who used Latin so nearly as a native would.
So much for the intellectual character of Louis Le Conte. But in moral character he was no less remarkable. Indeed the best qualities of character were constantly exercised and cultivated in the just, wise, and kindly management of his two hundred slaves. The negroes were strongly attached to him, and proud of calling him master. He cared not only for their physical but also for their moral and religious
welfare. Some of the most distinguished clergymen of that time, among whom I may mention Dr. Charles Colcock Jones, the distinguished Presbyterian, and the Rev. Mr. Law, the no less distinguished Baptist, devoted themselves in pure charity to missionary work among the negroes. They established religious organizations on every plantation, with their "Praise Houses" (houses of worship built by the planters) and negro preachers ordained by the missionary; and visited them regularly, going from plantation to plantation. As the services were conducted at night, the minister was entertained by the planter; and I remember frequent visits of this kind by Dr. Jones.
The planters found it necessary, however, to supplement these religious influences with more forcible methods of resistance. To prevent roaming and drunkenness, they formed themselves into a mounted police that regularly patrolled the county by night and arrested all who were without passes. Prohibition laws against the retail of spirits were enacted and strictly enforced. There never was a more orderly, nor apparently a happier, working class than the negroes of Liberty County as I knew them in my boyhood.
My father was active in all these methods of moral improvement and of moral restraint, but his deeply religious and actively sympathetic nature showed itself in other and far more unmistakable ways, especially in his personal charities among the poor "pine knockers" in the neighboring pine barrens of McIntosh County. These "pine knockers," or "crackers," were a degraded and absolutely unprogressive people. They lived in the most meager way by planting small patches of corn, potatoes, and cotton; and supplemented this means of livelihood by shooting deer, and often the cattle of their wealthier neighbors in Liberty County. They were a pale, cadaverous people from want of sufficient and proper food. My father, as has already been said, was educated as a physician, although he never practised medicine except on his own plantation and among these poor people. Knowing that they could not employ a physician, he never refused to respond to their calls for help, sometimes riding twenty miles, carrying his own food and staying over night in their miserable cabins. In several cases of chronic trouble in children, due to bad food, clothing, and housing, he took them to his own home, kept them for months, and sent them back
cured. For all this he never thought of receiving any return.
My mother, as already said, I can not remember. All that I know of her appearance is derived from a silhouette profile, said to be an excellent likeness. It showed a strong face, with high features and noble and refined character. A mother's love I never consciously knew. But on her death all a mother's love was transferred to my father, and he was henceforth both father and mother to his children. Yet who can say how much I owe to my mother; how much of character may be formed before three years of age, before the utmost limit of memory? Who can tell how much we receive by heredity? My mother was passionately fond of art, and especially of music; who can say how much her cradle songs may have impressed my innermost spiritual nature? My father's tastes, on the other hand, were mainly scientific. To this double inheritance, I suppose I owe my equal fondness for science and art.
"Woodmanston" was situated on Bulltown Swamp, the dividing line between Liberty and McIntosh Counties, the house itself being on a kind of knoll that became an island at high water. The situation was not healthy for
whites, and hence arose the necessity for summer retreats. In spite of the retreat the children all suffered more or less from malarial fevers, which were sometimes hard to break. Ill health in my case led to contemplative, reflective, introspective habits. From this cause or from natural tendency, I early became interested in philosophical subjects.
The community, I have said, was intensely
religious. My mother - "one of the us" - was
also deeply and genuinely pious. Although so
sympathetic, self-sacrificing, and in the truest
sense religious, my father was not pious in the
ordinary sense. Caring little for observances,
forms of doctrine, or church organizations, he
never "professed religion" or connected himself
with any church. Yet on his death I heard
the Rev. Dr. Axson say in the funeral sermon
that he never knew any one who in his life so
exemplified the principles of Christianity; that
in his opinion he was in the truest sense a
Christian. He was undoubtedly far ahead of
his time in his religious views, being liberal
without being skeptical. He was, however, reticent
on the subject, because he feared he would
be misunderstood. One concession he made to
his wife: about nine o'clock every night, before