Page images


[merged small][merged small][ocr errors][merged small][merged small]


By John H. SHEPPARD, A.M., Librarian of the N. E. Hist. Gen. Society. To portray the life and labors of one so widely known, and so intimately connected by numerous official relations with public institutions and the great industrial enterprises of the age, is an arduous and responsible task; more especially as several sketches of this distinguished Horticulturist have already appeared, and a fresh memorial of his life, though extending to a later period and containing many facts which are found in no other narrative, may lack the charm of originality. It is the province and object of this Society to obtain biographies of benefactors of our country; and if possible, while they are living, to treasure up and record the events of their lives, before it is too late and they are lost forever. Col. Wilder has long been an honored member of the New England Historic-Genealogical Society, and it was by the request of the Committee of Publication that he kindly, though reluctantly, consented to allow us the use of his Portrait* for this number of the Register.

Marshall Pinckney Wilder was born September 22, 1798, at Rindge in New Hampshire ; he is the oldest son of Samuel Locke Wilder, Esq., and his grandmother was sister of Samuel Locke, D.D., former President of Harvard University, from whom his father derived his Christian name. With an elder brother his father removed, in 1794, to Rindge, from Sterling, anciently a part of Lancaster, Massachusetts, where they commenced business as merchants. He was representative to the New Hampshire Legislature thirteen years, held important offices, and was a member of the Congregational Church of that place. He married Miss Anna Sherwin, May 2, 1797-a lady endeared to her friends by great moral worth and piety, and a warm admirer of the beauties of nature. They had four sons and five daughters. In the Indian wars, to which the border settlements were peculiarly exposed, and in the Revolution and Shays's rebellion, the paternal ancestors of Col. Wilder performed meritorious services ; and his grandfather was one of the seven delegates from Worcester County, in the Convention of Massachusetts, 1787, who voted in

* This excellent likeness is from a fine steel engraving, formerly executed in connection with his services while President of the American Pomological and the United States Agricultural Societies.

Vol. XXL

favor of the Constitution of the United States. The Worcester Magazine, Vol. ii. p. 45, bears this testimony :-“ Of all the ancient Lancaster families, there is no one that has sustained so many important offices as that of Wilder."

Rindge was incorporated in 1768, and has given birth to several men who rose to a high rarik in society. It lies six miles to the south of Monadnock, and in the midst of hills and forests, with thirteen ponds in its embrace. It possesses all the charm of a rural village, surrounded by picturesque scenery. From one of the heights may be traced streams, which from one declivity run into the Merrimack, and on the opposite side into the Connecticut. Rindge was famous in the Revolution for the daring and patriotism of its citizens ; for hardly had the news of the battle of Lexington reached their ears, before a company of fifty men was organized, equipped and sent off in defence of their country ; three of whom fell at Bunker Hill. The population of the place in 1859-according to Coolidge's valuable History and Description of New England”-was only 1274. But it should be recollected that many a beautiful and flourishing town in that State has been merely the birth-place and nursery of young men who, when their education was finished, like fledged birds leaving the maternal nest, emigrated to some larger and more enterprising place. The granite hills of New Hampshire abound with such instances, producing minds like the diamond of the first water. Who can forget Edward Payson, the eloquent divine ; Lewis Cass, Levi Woodbury, Jeremiah Mason, or that man of massive intellect, Daniel Webster, who seemed to wield the artillery of Heaven in the thunders of his eloquence! What a host of eminent men were born and nurtured among the highlands of New Hampshire !

Such was the birth-place of the subject of this memoir. From the door-step of his father's house he could gaze, on a summer morn, on hills and valleys, on flocks and herds, and the abodes of industry and comfort; or here, too, by a short ascent, he could behold the majestic Monadnock, which from its throne in the air looks down upon a hundred smiling villages-a mountain from whose summit may be seen the White Hills, Ascutney and Wachusett, looming up on the verge of the horizon, and afar off a dim view of Boston and the ocean.

That such rural charms and sublime scenes in childhood had an influence on his future career, there can be no doubt ; for his favorite pursuits in life and his numerous speeches on public occasions are imbued with an enthusiastic love of Nature. Indeed, the brain of a child is a busy workshop. The philosopher may study it, but he cannot enter into the mysterious working of the boy's mind and predict with certainty what the man may be hereafter. The turn for a particular pursuit—the tact for some invention or discovery—the talent to charm the world by some heroic act, or intellectual power, may lie for years in embryo, until time or opportunity call it forth.

" It may be a sound-
A tone of music-summer's eve-or spring-

A flower--the wind-the ocean-which shall wound,

Striking the electric chain, wherewith we are darkly bound.”—BYRON. The parents of young Marshall well knew the value and importance of education, and they sent him to school, at the early age of four years. That period and his school-boy days Mr. Wilder has described to us in a speech which he made on the 14th of November, 1861. It was on the Fortieth Anniversary of the pastorate of the Rev. A. W. Burnham, D.D.; at the celebration of which, several of the sons of Rindge, who had long been residents in other places, were present. After Dr. B. had delivered an appropriate discourse at the church before a large audience, the assembly adjourned to the town hall, decorated for the festival, and partook of a handsome collation. The presiding officer, S. B. Sherwin, Esq., then called on the speakers, and the floods of memory began to break forth in sweet reminiscences of boy. hood. Mr. Wilder drew a graphic picture of his early life, wherein he portrayed the old school-house near his father's door-the little rods of chastisement “ resembling a bundle of apple grafts,” behind the master's desk, and the evening spelling matches, where each one carried a candle in a turnip to the arena. The whole description is so true to nature, and given in so humorous and happy a manner, that it is to be regretted that only a few extracts can be given.

" Who," said he, “ that has a soul within him can forget the place of his birth, the home of his childhood, the old District School where he learned his A B C, the Church where he was offered at the baptismal font, or the consecrated ground in which repose the loved and lost ones of earth ?"

Touching his studies, and he had already gone through Adams's arithmetic, he quotes a quaint verse-some old college dithyrambic

“ Multiplication is vexation,

Division is as bad;
The Rule of Three, it puzzles me,

• And Fractions make me mad." “Well, Sir, here I finished my common school education, and entered upon a higher course of study, which my venerable father-God be thanked that he is spared to this dayhoped would terminate in one of the learned professions. And strange as it may seem, I proceeded so far, as to read six or seven books of the Æneid of Virgil; and now, lest any one should doubt the correctness of this statement, I will attempt to construe and translate a line which I have not seen since that time. It ran thus :- Musa,' Oh muse; 'memora,' declare; mihi,' to me; 'causas,' the causes ; 'quo numine læso'-Ah, Mr. President, my memory falters, and I shall leave it to the learned divines by my side to translate the three last words." (Laughter). He goes on, " I think, however, I can truly say, that from the day my sainted mother first took me into the garden, 'to help dress and to keep it,' I have never seen the time when I did not love the cultivation of the soil, and I shall never cease to feel that a part of my humble mission on earth is to promote that most honorable and useful of all employments."

He speaks affectionately of “his honored Pastor," and goes on : "I can recollect this old Church as it then was, with its high pulpit, spacious galleries and its square pews, surmounted with a balustrade, and rail, and how terrified I was if by chance I turned one of the rounds and made it squeak, lest I should have disturbed the venerable Deacon Biake, whose pew was between that of my father and the sacred desk ; and now and then in time of service I opened one eve and looked around to espy the handsomest young lady in the congregation; and that here it was my eye caught hers, who became my first love and the wife of my youth. Of one other circumstance I have been reminded today by our honored Pastor, namely, that forty years ago this day I acted as chorister at his ordination."

These quotations need no apology. They seem like photographs of long buried friends; they bring back the halcyon days of boyhood, and must call up many delightful recollections to every one who feels that the finger of time has touched his brow. And who that ever felt grief, would not sympathize with him, when he said :

"I never return to this good old town--the place of my birth, the home of my youth, and in whose sacred soil repose my mother, my brother and sister, the wife of my youth, and some of my children-but I feel sensations which no language can describe. I never revisit this ancieot town, but with the first glimpse of her glorious old hills, over which I

« PreviousContinue »