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Robert Ingersoll
by [?]

As a boy he was so full of life that he very often did the wrong thing. And I have no doubt that wherever he went he helped hold good the precedent that preachers’ boys are not especially angelic. For instance, we have it on good authority that Bob, aged fourteen, once climbed into the belfry of a church and removed the clapper, so that the sexton thought the bell was bewitched. At another time he placed a washtub over the top of a chimney where a prayer-meeting was in progress, and the smoke broke up the meeting and gave the good people a foretaste of the place they believed in. In these stories, told to prove his depravity, Bob was always climbing somewhere–belfries, steeples, house-tops, trees, verandas, barn-roofs, bridges. But I have noticed that youngsters given to the climbing habit usually do something when they grow up.

For these climbing pranks Robert and Ebon were duly reproved with a stout strap that hung behind the kitchen-door. Whether the parsonage was in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio or Illinois–and it dodged all over these States–the strap always traveled, too. It never got lost. It need not be said that the Reverend John Ingersoll was cruel or abusive–not at all: he just believed with Solomon that to spare the rod was to spoil the child. He loved his children, and if a boy could be saved by so simple a means as “strap-oil,” he was not the man to shirk his duty. He was neither better nor worse than the average preacher of his day. No doubt, too, the poverty and constant misunderstandings with congregations led to much irritability–it is hard to be amiable on half-rations.

When a stepmother finally appeared upon the scene, there was more trouble for the children. She was a worthy woman and meant to be kind, but her heart wasn’t big enough to love boys who carried live mice in their pockets and turned turtles loose in the pantry.

So we find Bob and his brother bundled off to his Grandfather Livingston’s in Saint Lawrence County, New York. Here Bob got his first real educational advantages. The old man seems to have been a sort of “Foxy Grandpa”: he played, romped, read and studied with the boys and possibly neutralized some of the discipline they had received.

Of his childhood days Robert Ingersoll very rarely spoke. There was too much bitterness and disappointment in it all, but it is curious to note that when he did speak of his boyhood, it was always something that happened at “Grandfather Livingston’s,” Finally, the old Grandpa got to thinking so much of the boys that he wanted to legally adopt them, and then we find their father taking alarm and bringing them back to the parsonage, which was then at Elyria, Ohio.

The boys worked at odd jobs, on farms in Summer, clerking in country stores, driving stage–and be it said to the credit of their father, he allowed them to keep the money they made. Education comes through doing things, making things, going without things, taking care of yourself, talking about things, and when Robert was seventeen he had education enough to teach a “Deestrick School” in Illinois.

To teach is a good way to get an education. If you want to know all about a subject, write a book on it, a wise man has said. If you wish to know all about things, start in and teach them to others.

Bob was eighteen–big and strong, with a good nature and an enthusiasm that had no limit. There were spelling-bees in his school, and a debating-society, that had impromptu rehearsals every night at the grocery. Country people are prone to “argufying”–the greater and more weighty the question, the more ready are the bucolic Solons to engage with it. And it is all education to the youth who listens and takes part–who has the receptive mind.