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Starr King
by [?]

I once heard George William Curtis speak at Saint James Hall, Buffalo, on Civil-Service Reform–a most appalling subject with which to hold a “popular audience.” He was introduced by the Honorable Sherman S. Rogers, a man who was known for ten miles up the creek as the greatest orator in Erie County. After the speech of introduction, Curtis stepped to the front, laid on the reading-desk a bundle of manuscript, turned one page, and began to talk. He talked for two hours, and never once again referred to his manuscript–we thought he had forgotten it. He himself tells somewhere of Edward Everett doing the same. It is fine to have a thing and still show that you do not need it. The style of Curtis was in such marked contrast to the bluegrass article represented by Rogers that it seemed a rebuke. One was florid, declamatory, strong, full of reasons: the other was keyed low–it was so melodious, so gently persuasive, that we were thrown off our guard and didn’t know we had imbibed rank heresy until we were told so the next day by a man who was not there. As the speaker closed, an old lady seated near me sighed softly, adjusted her Paisley shawl and said, “That was the finest address I ever heard, except one given in this very hall in Eighteen Hundred Fifty-nine by Starr King.”

And I said, “Well, a speech that you can remember for twenty-five years must have been a good one!”

“It wasn’t the address so much as the man,” answered this mother in Israel, and she heaved another small sigh.

And therein did the good old lady drop a confession. I doubt me much whether any woman will remember any speech for a week–she just remembers the man.

And this applies pretty nearly as much to men, too. Is there sex in spirit? Hardly! Thoreau says the character of Jesus was essentially feminine. Herbert Spencer avers, “The high intuitive quality which we call genius is largely feminine in character.” “Starr King was the child of his mother, and his best qualities were feminine,” said the Reverend E. H. Chapin.

* * * * *

When Starr King’s father died the boy was fifteen. There were five younger children and Starr was made man of the house by Destiny’s acclaim. Responsibility ripens. This slim, slender youth became a man in a day.

The father had been the pastor of the Charlestown Universalist Church. I suppose it is hardly necessary to take a page and prove that this clergyman in an unpopular church did not leave a large fortune to his family. In truth, he left a legacy of debts. Starr King, the boy of fifteen, left school and became clerk in a drygoods-store. The mother cared for her household and took in sewing.

Joshua Bates, master of the Winthrop School, describes Starr King as he was when the father’s death cut off his schooldays: “Slight of build, golden-haired, active, agile, with a homely face which everybody thought was handsome on account of the beaming eyes, the winning smile and the earnest desire of always wanting to do what was best and right.”

This kind of boy gets along all right anywhere–God is on his side. The hours in the drygoods-store were long, and on Saturday nights it was nearly midnight before Starr would reach home. But there was a light in the window for him, even if whale-oil was scarce, and the mother was at her sewing. Together they ate their midnight lunch, and counted the earnings of the week.

And the surprise of both that they were getting a living and paying off the debts sort of cleared the atmosphere of its gloom.

In Burke’s “Essay on the Sublime,” he speaks of the quiet joy that comes through calamity when we discover that the calamity has not really touched us. The death of a father who leaves a penniless widow and a hungry brood comes at first as a shock–the heavens are darkened and hope has fled.