HISTORY OF CHRISTIAN COUNTY KENTUCKY
charles m. meacham
AUTHORS OF CHRISTIAN COUNTY
Authors of the County; James Weir; Sketch of Charles W. Webber, by
W. T. Tandy; S. C. Mercer, Hanson Penn Diltz, V. M. Met calf e, John
W. McGarvey, Hattie Lee Johnson, Florence Brasher, Hallie Erminie
Rives, W. W. Hamilton, C. W. Merriweather John 0. R’ust, Cyrus S.
Radford, J. N. Prestridge and J. C. Metcalf.
The first book written in or about Christian County was a novel called “Lonz Powers,” by a young lawyer named James Weir, who lived in the adjoining county of Muhlenberg, at one time a part of Christian. He spent much of his time in the county and perhaps lived some years in Hopkinsville. At any rate, he practiced law in the courts of the county. His book was a thinly disguised story of the life of Alonzo Pennington, narrated somewhat in historical detail, in another chapter. It was written in a bombastic, moralizing style, interspersed with essays on many subjects foreign to the narrative. Fictitious names for well-known characters were used and an element of romance was woven into the story that had no place in the events of Pennington’s career. It was of some historical interest, but of little value, since the real facts were colored and distorted to conform to the ideas of an amateur novelist. There are still a few of the books preserved in the county. The book appeared in a few years after the execution of Pennington in 1846. Mr. Weir later removed from Greenville to Owensboro and so far as known never wrote any other books. He became a distinguished lawyer and lived to be an old man, prominent and highly respected in Daviess County.
CHARLES WILKINS WEBBER
The first native of Hopkinsville to attain distinction as a writer was Charles W. Webber, born in 1819, and who, during the thirty-seven years of an eventful life, became famous in more ways than one and deserves more than a passing notice in this history. The story of his life used in this connection is from the pen of William T. Tandy, President of the City Bank and Trust Company, himself a gentleman of widely recognized literary attainments, who has consented to pay a proper tribute to one of the most gifted writers of eighty years ago in American literature. The little story in his paper is taken from Goodrich’s Fifth Reader, published in 1857, and many old people will recall it as a reminder of their school days. The numbers of the paragraphs are left off in this reproduction. The scene of the story is laid in a forest near Henderson in the early settlement of the county, afterwards divided.
(Paper read by W. T. Tandy before the Athenaeum, in Hopkinsville, in 1907.)
CHARLES WILKINS WEBBER
In the old pioneer Cemetery in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, on Thirteenth Street, are the graves of Dr. Augustine Webber, born February 9, 1790, and died December 23, 1873, and his wife, Nancy Webber, born December 13, 1796, and died October 26, 1840, to whom were born thirteen children, the second and the oldest son, the subject of this sketch, Charles Wilkins Webber, born in Hopkinsville, May
The father, Dr. Augustine Webber, “the beloved physician,” was unquestionably one of the foremost citizens of Southern Kentucky, prominent, not only in his profession, and as a man of affairs, but he stood equally as high in church. The records of the Old Baptist Church abound in references to him in all prominent matters coming before its body, and in January, 1826, we find a record of the church having passed a resolution, because of his rare spiritual gifts, granting him license to exercise his talents in preaching the gospel. This Old Baptist Church occupied the spot of ground immediately north of the old cemetery at the head of and fronting 13th Street, and about where was afterwards built the Christian County Academy, or more modernly known as “The Ferrell High School.” Dr. Webber’s residence at this time was east of the old cemetery, and fronting on Water Street, and occupied the northern portion of the grounds afterwards known as the Leavell homestead. These grounds were filled with large forest trees, and constituted ‘what was said to have been one of the most beautiful homes in the town. It was here that the youth, Charles Webber, is first remembered as an amateur ornithologist, leading the life somewhat of a recluse, reclining under these trees, or quietly strolling in the quiet walks of the graveyard near by, and studying the colors and habits of our native song birds. With him, Cicero was right, “Never less alone, than when alone.” Well do I remember, when as a boy, I had read one of his books, I was told by an elderly gentleman, who knew him as a schoolmate, that Webber was very fond of spending all his holidays with him in the country home, and that all during the day, even without returning to the noon meal, he would spend his time alone in the woods, perfectly engrossed in the study of birds, or noting the habits of the smaller animals of the forest.
I think it proper here to give a list of his books, which are as follows:
“Tales of the Southern Border,” “The Spot in the Eye,” “Old Hick, The Guide,” “The Old Mines of the Gila,” “Charles Winterfield Papers,” “Historical and Revolutionary Incidents,” “The History of a Mystery,” “Hunter-Naturalist,” “Series Incomplete, but including Wild Scenes and Wild Hunters,” “Wild Scenes and Songbirds of the World.”
Webber’s best-defined claim to distinction as a naturalist rests most likely upon his reputation and record as an ornithologist. In one of his books, the first volume of the “Hunter-Naturalist,” we catch glimpses of the real characteristics of the boy, and traits of character, as he developed into manhood. His ideal of the American naturalist for the new world, was the Hunter-Naturalist---who with rifle in hand, in that early day, has pushed his way into the secret places of nature, and with scientific accuracy could be depended upon as a true delineator; such men were Wilson, Godman and Audubon.
I was very much pleased to discover very recently, that in Wood’s voluminous work upon the birds of America, that Webber is quoted as freely and familiarly as Audubon, Wilson, Thompson, or other well-known naturalists and ornithologists. But it is true that in this work above referred to, whole pages are given to some of Webber’s descriptions of birds, taken from his work “Wild Scenes and Song-birds of the World.”
His room was a kind of caravansary, filled with every captive traveler of earth and air which he could gather there. His heart was so full of love for these creatures, that he says that when he ensnared them he did not fully realize how much they suffered in being deprived of their freedom, and though they struggled desperately and cried aloud in fear, yet he says, “I comfort myself in believing that it was because they did not understand what I desired, and that when they came to know the good I intended—how I should treat them, and above all how I should love them, that they would become reconciled to everything, and love me, and become as happy as I was in having them. So in my simplicity, I tried to believe this until the whole thing became as real as if it were true, and no one can realize the happiness it was to me, to familiarize each new prisoner with my presence, and sit and watch in low-breathed quiet all their ways, as I used to in the woods. How I loved to have them on my person, to caress me, to feed from my hands, and peck at me in feigned wrath, or seize my hands with harmless teeth in dissembled anger. Aye, I was lordly proud then, even happy as a king.”
Charles Webber’s education was only that which could be obtained from the “Old Field School.” After attending school at home for several years, he was sent, for some reason, to a large country school near LaFayette, Kentucky, which at that day had the reputation of furnishing special facilities for the education of boys and young men. There is nothing of special interest to be related about his early school life, except that as he advances in age, we see the naturalist developing in his life. It was a wild country home that they sent him to, and, of course, he was subject to the intense home-sickness that any boy of delicate and refined nature would be, when transferred from under the wing of a loving mother and thrown in contact with the outer world.
But these feelings were best overcome by seeking the seclusion of the forest, amid those same associates of the shady woods, which he had been accustomed to, where he found that the birds were the same, and sang the same sweet songs that they did at home. He, therefore, sought refuge in the forest, and every haunt for miles around was made familiar to him in his rambling visitations.
He could say in very truth:
“There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society where none intrudes,
I love not man the less—but nature more.”
About this time there came to his knowledge, for the first time, the wonderful story of Audubon. It became to him a delightful name. The rumors of this strange man abroad, living in the wilderness with only his dog and gun, following up the birds all day long, and keeping in sight of them, and watching everything that they might do, sleeping beneath the trees, where they had perched to follow them again at dawn, until he knew every habit and way that belonged to them; and then sitting down on the mossy roots of some giant oak, with no one to even witness his work, but his hunting dog and the squirrel that stamped and scolded at him from above,—would draw such marvelous pictures of birds, as the world never saw before!
What a happy being this strange man must be, and what a strong and brave one to sleep out among the wild animals of the forest, amid dangers from the hostile Indians, and trusting only to his single arm, and his faithful dog. What a master spirit his must be! What holy enthusiasm in his art, to lead him on through tangled swamps, up difficult mountains, or beneath the profound shadows of primeval forests, where the few sunbeams that struggle through at noon day, look like gold-dust scattered over the black earth.
All these things took such deep hold upon his young imagination, that he vowed in his inmost heart that he would see all of those things for himself with his own eyes, and then he could look upon his work, and know with appreciative knowledge whether or not he had wrought all those miracles that fame was crediting to this wonderful man.
This resolve gave tone to his after life. This was unquestionably the ruling passion of his life, the art of the naturalist, and especially as exemplified in the life of Audubon.
Having completed his course at school, we do not know what he was engaged in for the next few years, until the year 1843, when we hear of his being engaged in an unsuccessful commercial enterprise of some kind in the city of Cincinnati.
Webber turned over his assets to his creditors and they presented him with a full discharge of his liabilities.
About this time there was formed in Louisville, Kentucky, an emigration company, that had received a conditional grant from the Texan Government of an immense tract of land, situated at the sources of the Trinity river, and one of the terms of the grant was the introduction of as many as three hundred families and the permanent settlement on the land within five years. Webber was invited to take charge of this business, which he readily consented to do, as there was nothing which could appeal more strongly to him than such an enterprise, and especially as it implied the novel experience of braving the dangers of new and untried territory, which had not yet been fully reclaimed to civilization. In the following May, therefore, taking charge of about eighty of these families, a steamboat was chartered, and into it was crowded men, women and children, and all the accoutrements necessary for this enterprise, and it was soon started down the Ohio river, bound for their new western home.
This was the beginning of a career of a number of years on the western frontier, and was the occasion of several of his most interesting stories. The first of these to be mentioned is “Tales of the Southern Border,” which was published by the Lippincotts in the year 1852. This was not his first book to be published, but I mention it first, because it is only a compilation of his “fugitive sketches” as he termed them, one of these deserving special notice, and was doubtless his first attempt at a literary production. It is very evident that it was the first to attract the attention of the reading public. I allude to the story or sketch, “The Shot in the Eye,” or sometimes known as the story of “Jack Long.” It is a tale of wild frontier life, and a story of revenge, but one must not suppose from the title that it belongs to that class of cheap literature descriptive of Western life, which appeared many years later, and was intended to appeal to the susceptible imagination of juvenile readers. The story is strongly written, of moral tone and dignity, and possesses real literary merit. I sustain this position by recital of the real facts attending its publication. It was accepted and first published by the American Whig Review. It is an interesting fact and worthy of mention that the story of “Jack Long” first appeared in the American Whig Review in the same issue that first published “Poe’s Raven.” After its appearance in this country, it is said that hundreds of thousands of copies of the story were sold in England.
About 1897 one of the leading magazines of the country published a series of what it was pleased to term “Famous Stories,” and this story was published, though its author was not given, but the story was designated as one of the “Old Time Favorites,” and one of the popular frontier stories of “The Thirties.” This date, however, is an error, as it is easily established from the date of the first appearance of “Poe’s Raven,” that the story was first published in the year 1845.
The story and all of the characters are strictly Texan, and the incidents are intended to be perfectly true of life in that State when it came into the Union.
I do not know how many editions “Tales of the Southern Border” may have gone through, but it is known that there was one in 1852 by the Lippincotts, another in 1856, and also one as late as 1887.
In 1848 “Old Hicks the Guide” was first published by the Harpers— another edition in 1860. This is also a frontier story, besides a description of life upon the plains, and containing much valuable information of Indian life, obtained through “much hardship and many sufferings.” I can only judge of a book, as I would a new-found friend—by the impression, pleasant or otherwise, which after parting may have been left upon my mind and heart.
I well remember reading “Old }Iicks the Guide,” when a boy, loaned me by a schoolmate, and the story of those Texas Rangers, under the leadership of Captain Webber, and the guidance of old Hicks, in search of a fabled gold mine, reciting such odd and unique adventures upon the Western plains, was an experience which I recall as charming to my youthful imagination. I have since re-read this book in latter years, and that story of almost aboriginal life, and those wild descriptions of the mountains, the forests, and the boundless prairies of the west, still left such pleasant impressions, that I have parted from it as from an old-time friend.
This story was well enough received to justify a sequel, which was given in “The Goldmines of the Gila,” published by the Harpers in 1849.
I do not know how long Charles Webber remained in the West, but it must have been several years, for we again hear of him at Hopkinsville, engaged in literary work, contributing regularly to the American Whig Review and other periodicals. There is one of his books known as “Charles Winterfield Papers,” which I have never had the good fortune to find, but which is supposed to be a collection of those contributions, as “Tales of the Southern Border” was of his early sketches.
Soon after this, however, he went to New York City for the purpose of settling there permanently in literary work, but on his way he met his great hero, Mr. Audubon. Of all living men, this was the one great ideal whom he had rather know and see. I quote from a few odd sentences from his own interesting account of the scene. “Audubon was dressed in wilderness garb. A patriarchal beard fell white and wavy down his breast, a pair of hawk-like eyes gleamed sharply out from the fuzzy shroud of cap and collar. He looked as I had dreamed the antique Plato must have looked with that fine classic head, and lofty mien. With what eager admiration did I gaze upon this valorous and venerable sage, when I thought what a beautiful dedication his life had been to the holy priesthood of nature. I longed to know him, and to be permitted to sit at his feet, and learn, and hear his own lips discourse upon those lovable themes which had so absorbed my life.” He was ever at the side of Audubon— sometimes for hours. They would walk ashore ahead of the boat and thus the hours glided by as in a dream.
Afterwards he went with Audubon upon one of his trips to the Rocky Mountains. We next know of him as a resident of New York City, where he lived for several years, during which time he married a lady who is remembered as a woman of rare mental endowments and gifted as an artist.
In order to complete the list of Charles Webber’s writings up to this time, I will mention “Historical and Revolutionary Incidents” and the “History of a Mystery.” This title of the first of these explains itself and is written in a very interesting style, the other book, I know nothing of, except that I had learned of his having written such a book.
Now we come to the real crisis in Charles Webber’s life. While yet a resident of New York, in the spirit of the real naturalist that he was, he conceived the idea of editing a work, or rather a series of volumes, constituting a popular Natural History. The cherished object of the undertaking being to furnish a work belonging rather to general literature than the technical science of Natural History. His purpose was also to bring to bear the latest discoveries of science, in applying mechanical forces to pictorial illustration, and the work so cheapened thereby in cost, that what had hitherto been as sealed books, because of their excessive cost, could now come within the reach of people, who would no longer be shut off from the contemplation of themes, which are most beautiful, refreshing and ennobling. This work upon Natural History was to be known as the “Hunter-Naturalist,” and was to consist of a progressive series of seven volumes. The “Hunter-Naturalist” is defined as something of the primitive hunter and the modern field naturalist combined, and being familiar with nature and all her modes, he is accustomed to know her through the medium of his own senses rather than books.
The first volume known as “Wild Scenes and Wild Hunters,” first appeared in 1852, published by the Lippincotts, and while there may have been other editions, there was one issue in 1859. The first volume was only introductory to the other, and is in the form of a narrative, in which lessons in natural history are entertainingly given, and also interesting sketches, in which it seems only incidental.
In order to give you a fair sample of Charles Webber’s style, I shall read one, which is doubtless familiar to many and especially to every school boy of forty years ago. It is always with pleasant recollections that we recall the old school readers, which we used in our youthful schoolboy days. It was our first glimpses of literature. The names of standard authors first became familiar to us through this source, and we can even yet recall to our minds selections of prose and poetry which time will never efface from our memories. There is no better selection anywhere than that known as the old Goodrich series of readers.
Even now, after many years since we used it as a textbook, we can take up the old Fifth Reader and as we glance at it we recognize it as an old friend from whom we have been parted many, many years. We open its pages and look upon its face, and we turn over leaf after leaf, first this page and then the next, new images of the past are instantly brought before our imagination like the face of an old friend, changing successively under the sway of each passing thought. In our imagination, now kindled somewhat, as this old friend recalls those halcyon days, on this page we behold the image of Lord Byron as we read these selections from his matchless verse—over here we see our old friend, Dickens, in his most humorous vein, or over here, perhaps, he has grown pathetic, but sadder than this and rather doleful, does it appear when on this page do we recall the melancholy day when first our tender hearts were made to know the story of The Burial of Sir John Moore. As we turn these pages, we find in quick succession selections from Sir Walter Scott, Hawthorne and Irving, sketches by Audubon, and stories full of adventure, and some natural history by our old favorite, Capt. Mayne Reid, and at last over here we come to the old-time story of “Uncle Dick and the Wolves.” Ah! how well do we recall it, and the first time we ever read it, what pleasant memories does it revive, as we look again upon this familiar picture of the snow-bound, moon-lit scene—of the dilapidated cabin in the edge of the forest, and old Uncle Dick, half-frantic with fear, seated on the top, fiddling for dear life as he gazes with such awful dismay upon the terrible-looking pack of wolves that surround him.
Remembering that when a boy we read it with such interest, it occurs to us that we never knew who wrote it, so now we turn over to see, and find that it was written by C. W. Webber, but we ask ourselves the question, and we are surprised to find that we do not even know who C. W. Webber was, but we are sure of one thing, and that is, that it must be well written, the style must be very good, or old Peter Parley would never have selected it as a suitable sample of modern literature, to be read and studied by his youthful readers, and so we conclude to re-read it.
UNCLE DICK AND THE WOLVES
BY C. W. WEBBER
In the early days of the settlement of the southern part of Kentucky there was great trouble with the wolves. The large gray wolves abounded in the heavy forests bordering on Green River. They were particularly abundant in the neighborhood of Henderson, a town on the Ohio, not far below the mouth of Green River.
They destroyed pigs, calves, and sheep, and in mid-winter sometimes became so voracious as to attack human beings. The belated traveler in the woods sometimes found himself surrounded by a pack of them.
Uncle Dick, a negro servant of one of the Hendersons, was the fiddler of the neighborhood. At weddings, husking-frolics and dances, Dick’s presence was essential.
Uncle Dick was fully aware of his own importance, and assumed in consequence a great deal of dignity in his bearing. Before setting out he always dressed himself with the greatest nicety. At the appointed time he was at the place with all the weight of his dignity upon him. Woe to the “darkie” who violated any of the laws of etiquette in his presence!
On a certain evening there was to be a grand wedding-festival among the colored gentry on a farm about six miles from Uncle Dick’s residence. He was of course called upon to officiate as master of ceremonies.
He donned his long-tailed blue coat, having carefully polished the glittering gilt buttons; then raised his immense shirt-collar, which he considered essential to his dignity, and, fiddle in hand, sallied forth alone. The younger folks had set out some time before; but Uncle Dick was not to be hurried out of his dignity. The narrow path led, for the greater part of the way, through a dense forest, which was as wild as when roamed by the Indians. A heavy snow lay on the ground, on which the moon-beams were shining wherever they could force a passage through the trees. The dreary solitude of the way made no impression on the mind of Uncle Dick. He was anxiously hurrying on to reach the scene of operations, having spent a little too much time in polishing his gilt buttons.
On he dashed, heedless of the black shadows and hideous night-cries of the deep forest. Wolves were howling around him; but he paid no attention to sounds so common, thinking only of the feet that were waiting his arrival to be set in motion. Soon, however, the howling began to approach nearer than was agreeable. The wolves continued to become more and more noisy, till, to his indescribable horror, he heard them on each side in the crackling bushes. Very soon the woods seemed to the old man to be perfectly alive with the yelling pack. Wolves are cautious about attacking a human being; they usually require some little time to work themselves up to the point. Every few moments a dark object would brush past poor old Dick’s legs with a snapping sound like that of a steel trap, while the yelling and crackling increased with terrible rapidity. Dick knew that to run would be instant death, as the cowardly pack would all rush on him the moment he showed fear. His only chance for safety consisted in preserving the utmost coolness. A short distance before him lay some open ground; and he hoped that on reaching this they would leave him, as they do not like to make an attack in such a place. He remembered, too, that in the middle of the open space there stood an old cabin, in which he thought he might be able to find refuge. But now the wolves rushed at him more and more boldly, snapping in closer and closer proximity to his legs.
Snap, snap! nearer and nearer! Instinctively he thrust out his fiddle at them— the jarring of the strings made them leap back. Hope returned. He drew his hand violently across the strings—twang, twang! Instantly the wolves sprang back as if he had fired a gun among them. He was now at the edge of the open space. He twanged his fiddle—the wolves recoiled. Dick rushed toward the hut with all his speed, raking the strings more violently at every jump, till they rang again.
The astonished wolves paused for a moment on the edge of the open ground, with tails between their legs. But the sight of his flying form renewed their savage instincts. With a loud burst of yells they darted after him at full speed. He reaches the hut just as the jaws of the foremost wolf open to seize him. He rushes in, and the closing door dashes against the nose of the nearest beast. The door is too rickety to keep the enemy out; but Dick has time to push himself through the broken roof and get on the top of the cabin.
The wolves were now furious. Rushing into the hut, they jumped and snapped at him, so that Dick almost felt their teeth. It required the greatest activity to keep his legs out of their reach.
Notwithstanding his agonizing terror, he had still clung to his fiddle. Now, in desperation, as he was kicking his feet in the air to avoid their steel-like fangs, he drew his bow shrieking across the strings. The yells instantly ceased.
Dick continued to make the most frightful spasms of sound, but the wolves could not long endure bad fiddling. Their quiet was of short duration. As soon as the first surprise was over the attack was renewed more furiously than ever.
A monstrous head was now thrust up between the boards of the roof, only a few inches from poor Dick. He gave himself up for lost. But the excess of terror seemed to stimulate him, so that almost of their own accord his fingers began to play Yankee Doodle.
Instantly there was complete silence! The silence continued as long as he continued to play; but the moment the music ceased the listeners again became furious, and rushed on with increased ferocity.
Uncle Dick’s pride as a fiddler was flattered. He entered for a while completely into the spirit of the thing. But never before had he played to an audience so fond of music. They permitted no pause. His enthusiasm began to give way to cold and fatigue. He was tired to death, and almost frozen.
What was to be done? There sat the listeners with tongues lolling and ears pricked up, allowing not a moment’s pause, but demanding an uninterrupted stream of music. Several weary hours passed, and Uncle Dick was almost exhausted.
But all this while the wedding-company had been anxiously expecting their musician. Becoming at last impatient or alarmed, some of them set out in search of him. They found him on the top of the hut, still sawing away for life. The wolves were driven away, and Uncle Dick was relieved from his unwilling efforts to charm listeners who got more music than they paid for.
He went to California in the year 1853, presumably for the purpose of collecting material for the next volume, when he unfortunately came in contact with that “Child of Destiny,” so called at the time, Dr. William Walker, of Nicaraguan fame, and known in history as the “Last of the
Filibusters.” We do not know what the circumstances were, in his joining his fate with that remarkable man. We do know in that almost quixotic and fatal scheme, Walker attracted to his standard some of the very bravest and most chivalrous sons of the South. These young southerners drifted into the Nicaraguan scheme from every rank of life, from the ordinary adventurer up to the college graduate.
From the best accounts we have, we can easily believe that Webber would have ranked with any of his comrades in point of courage or gallantry upon the battlefield,—in fact, while the real faGts of his death will most probably never be known—rumor had it however that he lost his life by responding to a call for volunteers to make some desperate charge that proved fatal.
While no authentic account could be obtained, another rumor was that he wandered off from his companions alone, and lost his life in some mysterious way not known. Either of these, of course, might be true, but I am inclined more firmly to believe the latter. In fact, I am not inclined to believe that Charles Webber ever volunteered in the Nicaraguan campaign as a mere adventurer. He had some well-defined purpose in going. What a splendid field for adventure there was in this filibustering invasion, and I have no doubt an equally interesting field among the wilds of Nicaragua to glean material for a natural history. I believe that if Charles Webber had survived this war—if indeed it can be dignified by such a title—he would have returned to his home and friends, rich in new experiences of travel and adventure, a portfolio replete with new studies and possibly discoveries in natural history, and many an interesting volume would have been the outcome of this wild and checkered experience.
I believe that Charles Webber stood upon the very threshold of success in literary life. He was but a young man at the time of hisdeath. It requires no literary critic to discern in his last literary productions a manifest improvement over those of his earlier life—although it is true that in his earliest sketches there were very pronounced characteristics in style, the outcome of a bold and impetuous nature, which added charm rather than detracted from the merits of his writings, but it is true, that in his early sketches, sometimes when impetuous and unguarded, his language is somewhat extravagant, his imagination unrestrained, his narrative overloaded with moralizing—all of which disappeared in his maturer years. It must be remembered that Webber was only twenty-five when his first sketch was a successful publication in this country, and widely published in England. If with the fervid imagination and energy with which nature seems to have endowed him, and the progress he had made in perfecting his style—why should not unbounded success at last have crowned his efforts?
But fate did not so decree. His death is enwrapped in darkness and mystery. Eternity alone will reveal the real secret.
In a human sense there is something of great sadness in the death of Webber. His life went out in mystery—his work was unfinished—his column broken. We are told that it is the glory of God to conceal a thing! In the death of some individuals, do we not lose sight of or condone its realities, and imagine we see something befitting in the attending circumstances. This man worshiped at the shrine of nature, and like all such votaries he loved to be alone. Why not then in death to rest, to sleep in peace alone. We leave thee then thou child of nature to rest undisturbed in solitude, until at last the graves shall give up their dead, and the secret of thy death shall be revealed.
SAMUEL C. MERCER
A citizen of Hopkinsville, for many years noted not only locally, but in other states for his literary ability, was Samuel C. Mercer. During the war between the states, he was engaged in journalism in Nashville, Tennessee, and being a Union sympathizer, was made Public Printer during the time that Nashville was under Federal control with Andrew Johnson as Military Governor and during the Brownlow regime reconstruction. During that period, Mr. Mercer wrote many war poems that were widely circulated and were later collected and published in one or more volumes, with his other poems. After the war, he returned to Hopkinsville and became a writer on current topics and from time to time was connected with the press, as will be noted in the chapter on the Press. He was a writer of undoubted genius and his home was one of great hospitality and literary atmosphere. Mr. Mercer was widely acquainted with the noted men of his day and in the later years of his life wrote much in a spirit of reconciliation. He was a great admirer of Jefferson Davis, as well as of Abraham Lincoln, and one of his best poems was “The Two Kentuckians,” expressing the pride of a true Kentuckian in the achievements of both of these great statesmen. His social standing was of the very best. He is survived by an unmarried son and two daughters, the wives of prominent citizens of Hopkinsville, and another married daughter in a western State. Mr. Mercer died in 1914 and was buried in Hopkinsville. The following poems from his pen are in his best vein.
THE OLD ROCK SPRING
I know not what of sadness strange
Comes over my soul today,
As I think of Time’s unceasing change
And the friends he has snatched away;
For Time has turned those locks to gray,
Which were black as a raven’s wing,
Of the boys and girls who used to play
Around the old Rock Spring.
“How soon we are forgotten clean
When we are gone,” quoth Rip,
We perish and the stream of death Engulfs the proudest ship;
Gone—like a faded broken plume
Dropped from an eagle’s wing
Or pebble tossed by a sportive child
In the depths of the old Rock Spring.
THE TEN BROTHERS’
(In 1859 ten Brown brothers rode in the gents’ riding ring at the county fair in Hopkinsville.)
‘Tis the last afternoon of the old county Fair
The amphitheatre’s thronged for a spectacle rare,
Ten sons of one mother contend for the prize
And a whirlwind of cheering ascends to the skies;
‘Tis surely a pity that horses and sheep,
Mules, poultry and swine the blue ribbon should keep,
O’er a highly bred strain of true women and men
As Mother Brown enters with stalwart sons ten;
On ten iron-gray horses they enter the ring,
Ten brothers as graceful as swallows on wing,
The crowd shouts and claps, for county and town,
Loved their silver-haired mother, Rebecca Brown.
Let others for horses and cattle seek the prize
Her boys she had nursed were more dear in her eyes,
Her sons were her jewels like Cornelia of old
More precious than Solomon’s rubies and gold,
Each son a true citizen honored of men;
Master workmen are all, with plow, anvil or pen.
In pairs and platoons they join and divide,
Ever changing the figure in column they ride,
Firm in the stirrup with regular motion,
Like flights of wild geese or the billows of ocean.
O mother! far better than rank, fashion or wealth
Is the toast all spectators now drink to your health. “Here’s a health to good mothers, the Angels of home,
Write their names in the Temple of Fame—on the dome!”
Swift round the ring rode the Ten Brothers Brown,
Till the bugle sounds “Halt!” for award of the crown,
By what rule of the Fair shall the judges decree?
Horses, horsemen or mother—to which of the three?
Here was strewing of flowers, kerchiefs waving galore,
Acclamations round the vast amphitheatre roar
As waves boom aloud ‘gainst the rocks on the shore,
As around the grandstand the brothers rode up
The judges with one voice cried, “Take, 0 mother, this cup
Far better and higher than wealth, rank or beauty,
Your sons are your jewels,—take the high prize of Duty,
For Motherhood’s Excellence is guarded secure
While Truth reigns on high and the heavens endure.”
HANSON PENN DILTZ
There lived in Hopkinsville during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, a young man of literary ability whose name was Hanson Penn Diltz. He essayed to write both fiction and poetry and was also a contributor to the newspapers. His literary activities were not very remunerative and he supplemented his income from that source by acting as news reporter for the daily papers. His habits were intemperate at times and finally interfered with his literary aspirations. He was a young man of gentle, almost effeminate character, who made many friends. He had no family connections here other than a married sister. After writing and publishing three books he abandoned literary efforts and following a period of declining health, died before reaching middle age. His books were a volume of poems called “Sands of Silver,” dealing with a variety of subjects. His two novels were “Dunleath Abbey, or The Fatal Inheritance,” and “The Duchess Undine, or Slain by a Woman’s Lie.” Through his personal efforts to sell the books, all three of them attained a considerable local circulation and were placed on sale with book stores in other cities. Mr. Diltz is remembered more for his gentleness and kindness of heart than for his ability to contribute to the lasting literature of the day.
REV. V. M. METCALFE
Rev. Vincent M. Metcalf e, a minister of the Christian Church, who was long a resident of Hopkinsville and related to Gov. Thomas Metcalfe, was the author of a little volume of stories for children called “Uncle Minor’s Bedtime Stories.” The little book was much read locally some forty years ago.
JOHN W. McGARVEY
Rev. John W. McGarvey, one of the pioneer leaders of the church now known as the Christian Church, was born in Christian County and moved to Lexington, where most of his life was spent in educational work. He achieved national reputation as a Biblical scholar and wrote many books, including “Lands of the Bible,” “Canon of the New Testament,” and “Commentary on Acts of the Apostles.”
MISS HATTIE LEE JOHNSON
About the beginning of the twentieth century, Miss Hattie Lee Johnson, whose home was on East Ninth Street, near the city limits, published a romance in book form entitled, “The City of Sin.” So far as the writer is advised, the book is out of print.
MISS FLORENCE BRASHER
the author of “In a Day of Darkness,” was the daughter of Judge J. C. Brasher, of Hopkinsville, Ky. The book was published in 1895. She was a descendant of one of the country’s oldest families, her father and her grandfather both officeholders. She was very young when this, her first book, was published in 1895.
Miss Frances Florence Brasher was a daughter of Judge J. C. Brasher. She began writing when only twelve years of age. Her first story was called “Era.” Others were “Deceived,” “Two Cousins,” “Winterberries,” “Lights and Shadows,” “In a Day of Darkness,” “Where Deep Waters Flowed,” and “A Bitter Lesson.” The last three were published in book form by April, 1896. Miss Brasher left Hopkinsville many years ago.
HALLIE ERMINIE RIVES
(Mrs. Post Wheeler)
About the year 1891, Miss Hallie Erminie Rives, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Rives, of LaFayette, Kentucky, published a catchy little novel called “A Fool in Spots.” Miss Rives was an exceedingly attractive young lady and her vivacious, entertaining style caught with the reading public and the following year another book called, “The Singing Wire” was brought out. This book dealt with the thoroughbred race horses of Kentucky in a sprightly little work of fiction. This, too, made a hit and the ambitious young authoress moved to the East and issued new novels in rapid succession. After some years she became the wife of Post Wheeler, a consular agent whose duties carried him all over the world. They spent several years in London, Petrograd and Tokyo, where Mr. Wheeler’s official duties have carried him, and his brilliant wife has written novels with the scenes laid in England, Russia and Japan, and other countries they have visited. Mrs. Wheeler has written in all ten novels, the last being “The Magic City.” A more detailed account of her books will be found in the biographical department. She is the county’s most gifted authoress and is still writing. A list of her books appears in her biography elsewhere.
JOHN CALVIN METCALF, son of Dr. John Calvin and Victoria Jackson (Willis) Metcalf, was born at Garrettsburg, Ky., August 7, 1865. He received at Georgetown College his B.A. degree in 1887 and M.A. in 1888. He was a graduate student at the University of Chicago and received his Master’s degree from Harvard, 1905; professor of English Literature in the University of Virginia since 1917.
He is author of “English Literature,” published in 1912; “American Literature,” 1914; contributor to the “Dictionary of American Biography.”
Professor Metcalf married Miss Ruth Cooper Sharp, of Shelbyville, Tenn., June 16, 1891. Mrs. Metcalf died October 16, 1895.
Rev. W. W. Hamilton, a Baptist minister, a native of the County, was the author of one or more religious books referred to in his biography.
C. W. Merriweather, a colored attorney and newspaper publisher of Hopkinsville, is the author of “The Voice of the Soul,” a small volume of prose and verse.
Rev. John 0. Rust, D.D., who died in Seattle, Washington, was a native of Christian County and the author of several religious books.
Brig.-Gen. Cyrus S. Radford, U. S. M. C., who resigned in 1929, is the author of the Naval textbook on Gunnery.
Rev. J. N. Prestridge, D.D., a Baptist minister and journalist whose home was in this county at one time, was the author of two religious books.
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