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Recollections of a Long Life 1829 - 1915
Chapter XXI


CASTING back over my experiences of almost fourscore years in this cursory fashion brings into rather strong relief, in my own mind at least, some interesting social phenomena which have been lost sight of under the shadow of more important and more conspicuous events.

The readiness with which human beings adapt themselves to their environment and the conditions of living oftentimes outranges the comprehensibility of those whose experiences are embraced within a limited field and an unvaried manner of living. Within my own lifetime the changes have been vast. It is difficult sometimes to convince people of the present day that human nature was able to withstand the rigors we repeatedly encountered three-quarters of a century ago, and the recital of some of my own experiences will probably be received with some incredulity. The whole fabric of living has been altered within that time. The things that go to make up the day's routine, work or play, are different. And who knows what changes the next fifty years will have wrought?

Nevertheless, human nature has conformed to the changes that have occurred with much greater facility than might be imagined by those whose span of life has been too short to enable them to realize their extent. People met with equanimity the rigors of old. With probably too much equanimity they have accepted the comforts and luxuries of the new scale of living, a fact worthy of consideration in weighing the morals of our present community life.

In my early boyhood in New Brunswick, one of the oldest settled regions on the western continent, work began at early dawn, as I have said, and continued until darkness brought it to an end. Every family was clothed with the wool from its own flock of sheep grazed on the commons, and the carding, spinning, weaving, and knitting went on incessantly. There were no stoves nor lamps nor many of the conveniences now regarded as necessities. Domestic activity, centered upon the big open hearths, and for artificial light we depended upon candles of our own molding. No moment was wasted. The exigencies of the time afforded no leisure. And even these conditions, I have no doubt, were an improvement upon those which confronted the greater number of immigrants to the western world.

Yet life seemed to hold its full measure of happiness. There was no idleness to breed discontent. There were no false standards of living to stir up dissatisfaction and envy. The luxuries which now afford so many opportunities for excursions into the field of extravagance simply did not exist.

In the isolated logging camps in New Brunswick, Maine, Michigan, and Wisconsin, almost completely cut off from the world at large by the formidable winters, the same routine prevailed. The limited fare of salt pork, beans, bread, tea, and molasses was unvarying. Yet men thrived upon it and were reasonably content. Nor did they suffer for lack of more diversified sustenance. From this point of view their health was better than that of workmen of the present day.

Even greater contrasts are reached by comparison of modern conditions with those which confronted the voyageurs, the timber explorers, in which capacity I traversed many miles of territory bordering upon Green Bay and the upper lakes. Sometimes when the snow lay deep in the forest and the temperature reached thirty and thirty-five degrees below zero, we slept in the open without a fire and only a pair of blankets to cover us. Nor did we have cooked food, only what we were able to carry in our knapsacks fortified by a cup of hot tea. In the summer-time conditions were almost as uncomfortable. The rains beat down upon us, for we were without shelter of any kind, and in forcing our way through the thick underbrush our clothes were saturated. Yet we were none the worse for these experiences, nor did we suffer from the afflictions supposed nowadays nowadays to result from them.

Many of the conveniences for which our latter-day civilization is conscious were unknown three-quarters of a century ago. Railroads were just beginning to be built. The telephone, electric lights, and a hundred other inventions had not yet been evolved. But all of these, while answering to our needs, have at the same time provided opportunity for extravagance, the national weakness of the American people. No sooner does the automobile make its appearance, by way of illustration, than it becomes an obsession and people that can ill afford to buy them are put to extraordinary extremities to emulate those who are able to maintain one. Improvement of railroads has stimulated the passion for travel and on every side newly discovered luxuries rapidly come to be regarded as necessities, and dissatisfaction and discontent, follow in the wake of overindulgence.

There is now much talk of the high cost of living. If we lived as we did a half-century, or more ago, our expenditures for necessities would be a third less than then. But it is not the necessities that are absorbing the incomes of to-day. It is the rapid advance in the scale of living, the demand for more conveniences, for greater luxury, and the insatiable appetite of human nature for novelty. The essentials of progress, labor, and thrift are too often lost sight of in the rush to adopt new facilities which are of value as aids to industry but detrimental when made the ends to be attained.

Because of the rather unusual position I occupied in the logging camps and lumber settlements and my opportunities for observation, it is but natural that I should be struck by the more recent phenomena that have appeared with the advent of doctors and the multiplication of drug stores. In our isolated camps sickness was rare. Most of the minor and many of the major ills we seemed to escape. I do not wish to disparage the work of physicians. I have known many excellent ones. Among them was Dr. Hall, one of the pioneer lumbermen of the Menominee River. Despite the primitive conditions under which we lived, he never lost a case of typhoid, a common disease in the early days along the river, if he gave it careful attention. I remember one occasion when there were eleven mill employees in Menominee in one room, all afflicted with it, some of whose tongues were parched and cracked with the fever. All of them under Dr, Hall's ministrations recovered as expeditiously, perhaps, as they would have had we enjoyed the facilities of a modern hospital.

With the flood of doctors poured out upon the country after a perfunctory university education I have little patience. We succeeded in getting on very well without them. None the less, human nature, with the same facility with which it adapted itself to the old order, has embraced the new and has developed all manner of ills calling for the attention of physicists and the absorption of drugs and medicines.

Some diseases have even made their appearance as fads which have been assiduously cultivated by the doctors who profited by them. A number of years ago, for example, the country appeared to be in the throes of appendicitis, and many misguided persons partook of grapes and other fruits in fear and trembling lest they swallowed a seed which might lodge in the vermiform appendix. I myself appealed to Dr. Ishiam, at one time dean of the medical profession in Chicago, who happened to be taking breakfast at my house. "There is not much appendicitis,", he said. "There never was. I eat grapes, seeds and all." Then came the scientific revelation that a seed had never been discovered in the appendix, the opening of which is too small to permit one to lodge there.

In spite of this, thousands of persons were subjected to operations, some of whom died; and the fear was so general that one woman I knew informed me that she was going to the hospital for another ailment and purposed to have her appendix cut out at the same time to avoid the possibility of having the disease. That particular fad has passed, but others have succeeded it and the innumerable doctors always find a way of keeping occupied.

The quantity of medicines consumed has gone on at a rapid rate, for no apparent reason. Early experiences and close observation have led me to the conclusion that nature will work its own curative effects and that the elaborate formulae devised by physicians oftentimes becloud the ailment, to the dismay of the patient but to the advantage of the druggist as well as the doctor. The drugs upon which I have come to rely are meager. When the "ague-and-chill fever" prevailed in the Middle West, and I as well as everybody else suffered with it, I came to appreciate the value of quinine. It was used sparingly for many years and administered only with fourth-proof brandy; but I took liberal doses, sometimes a spoonful, and suffered no ill effects. For many years I had been subject to very pronounced attacks of influenza. The quinine, which appeared to be stimulating in its effects, prevented these, I discovered, if taken when the symptoms first became manifest. I also found that snuff did much to relieve the congestion in the nasal passages. For me, at least, these two remedies have been of incalculable value, and for the past nine years I have never been afflicted with a "cold." Although repeatedly threatened with them I have warded them off so successfully that I can defy them with confidence. Another medicine which I have used for forty years, at the suggestion of Dr. Isham, to keep the digestive tract clear is aloes. These have been for me, at least, sufficient to ward off ordinary ills and my continued good health I owe in large measure to them.

The objection that may be taken to the multiplication of doctors may be applied with equal force to lawyers, judging by the perspective of seventy years. They, of course, have their place in the scheme of civilization as well as physicians, but in the early settlements along Green Bay we did very well without them. Now the universities turn them out by the thousands every year and every community is overcrowded with them. Instead of simplifying life their activities have complicated it, and litigation over trivial things clogs the courts and has become a positive evil, especially in the United States. The assertion has been made that there is more litigation in Cook County, Illinois, than in England, and I am inclined to believe that it is true.

I have so tried to regulate my own affairs as to avoid lawsuits or legal entanglements and have succeeded, I think, very well. I have never had a personal lawsuit, never gave my note and endorsed only one, never borrowed a dollar. The suits entered against the companies of which I have had charge have been very few and unimportant. I have managed the affairs of the N. Ludington Company at Marinette, which has done an extensive business, for more than fifty-seven years. For the first fifty years of this time less than fifty dollars was paid in legal fees nor was it involved in a lawsuit. All deeds, of which there were thousands, were prepared in the office of the company and there was never occasion to call for legal counsel or aid.

To sum up, the extraordinary increase in the number of professional men, many of whom are social parasites, has gone on at such a pace in this country, which is becoming overcrowded with them, that it constitutes a sociological fact which must sooner or later be pondered carefully if the nation is to continue in the path of progress. Fundamentally the strength of a nation depends upon its productivity and its productivity depends primarily upon the soil - the farms, mines, and forests. Processes of production, of course, need to be studied and manufacture is essential, but the function of the so-called professions is secondary, to keep the machinery of production running smoothly and to promote the efficiency of the human race. Beyond that point they have no reason for existence and are a sociological encumbrance. Such, at least, is the moral to be drawn from a comparison of present-day conditions with those which prevailed when the Middle West was in the awakening.

Two or three generations ago a far larger proportion of the day was given up to labor than at present. I am not sure that there was even less time for sleep. My own habits in this respect are probably somewhat exceptional and I mention them only because of the general interest in the subject. Mr. Ogden, as I have said, a man of tremendous energy, worked eighteen hours out of twenty-four and seemed to require only a few hours of sleep to keep himself at the highest point of efficiency. Since my twentieth year I have found that four or five hours suffice for me. While others in the camps were asleep, I read far into the night, poring over the Congressional Globe and medical books or thinking over business affairs and laying plans for the future. This rule I have followed throughout my life, much to my own advantage, I have no doubt.

I could moralize at length on a hundred different facts of our present-day existence as emphasized by a comparison with our manner of living long ago; but it would be, I fear, to no purpose, as the world is made and we cannot change it. Likewise my reminiscences might be expanded to fill volumes. What I have written here is but a bare outline. Such as it is, however, it will be found to be accurate. My memory has always served me well, and in casting back over the years it has been no task for me to recall day and date, time and place. From the period when, at the age of three, having been put to bed with the measles, I slipped out of the house and walked barefooted in the snow, much to my mother's alarm, down to the present, I recall vividly all sorts of incidents in my career. Names I do not remember so easily, probably because I have known and employed so many men that it has been impossible to keep them all in mind.

I realize that in the ever-busy present interest in the lesser affairs of the past is not keen, and it is not my purpose to overburden this record with the recital of insignificant events. I give it to the reader for what it is worth; and if, as I have said, the scrutiny of the present from the perspective of three-quarters of a century will enable anyone to judge with clearer vision, I shall count what is here written as of some value.


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