“Story of Peter Brown” (from Parley’s Magazine, June 20, 1835; pp. 13-14)
What I am now going to tell you is true; for it is about a boy whom I knew almost as well as I did my own brothers. I have only changed his name, and kept back the place of his residence.
Peter Brown was sent to school, (like the rest of the boys in the neighborhood,) about four months in the winter, and four in the summer. He was by no means a very bad boy, at school, nor very slow to get his lessons. But when he had said his lessons, and got out of the school room again, that was the end of it. He never thought over his lessons when out of school, or studied them at home.
“But how then, did he busy himself out of school hours?” you will ask. “Did he work?” No, he never labored much till he was a dozen years old. “Did he play the whole time?” No. “What then?”
I will tell you. He used to robs birds’ nests, and catch birds in snares, and rabbits in traps; and he was fond of throwing stones at birds and squirrels, to kills and wound them. He used also to go a fishing often; not because he wanted the fish, but for the cruel pleasure of catching them.
Peter had another foolish habit. It was the habit of trading with other boys; selling, swapping, and buying penknives, pocket-books, combs, &c. He was very ingenious, too, in wood-work; and used to make and sell a great many things, and lay up the money. Gradually he grew to be quite a sharper, as people who make good bargains are called. And strange to tell, his parents and friends were mostly well pleased with it. They thought he would certainly become a rich man; and with them, a rich man was almost every thing.
As Peter grew older, and left off going to school, his love of trading greatly increased. His father had a farm, and wanted his help on that; but no; he could not get money enough so, he thought;—he wanted to be a pedler; and as his parents were rather pleased with the plan, a pedler he became.
There are many sorts of pedlers. Some walk, and carry round, from door to door, small articles in tin boxes. Others travel with a single horse, and a plain country wagon. Others again travel with two fine horses, and a very gay wagon. Some carry tin; some dry goods; some books; some clocks; and some a little of almost every thing. But you understand all this; for you have seen a great many pedlers, I dare say, when the country is so full of them.
Peter became a foot pedler at first. When he had travelled a year or two in New England, he went into other states,—five, six, or eight hundred miles off. After a few years, he bought a horse and wagon, and travelled in that manner.
It could not be justly said that Peter was very dishonest, in the common use of the term. He did not do any thing that would injure his reputation; and yet if he could take the advantage of a person whom he never expected to see again, and in such a way that the law could take no hold on him, he was sometimes apt to do so. He took care to buy cheap and sell dear; and when he got money, he took care to save it. He not only avoided wasting it, but he even went poorly clad, in order to save a few dollars more in a year.
But if he could not be openly charged with dishonesty to mankind, he paid no regard to the laws of God: he was not honest towards him. In a country where people did not keep the Sabbath, he did not keep it. He travelled about, and sometimes did busi-
ness on that day. He never thought of going to church, sometimes for a whole year; unless to hear some half crazy stranger. And when he used, once or twice a year, to go to see his friends, he never attended church with them. Nor do I know that he ever read his Bible.
He seemed to regard all religious people, and all who pretended to care for any thing but money, as hypocrites and pretenders. And after following his business as a pedler twelve or fifteen years, he became one of the greatest misers I ever saw. He cared for nobody but himself; he desired to see nobody;—he went nowhere, except to traffic with people. He hardly allowed himself clothes, or food, which were even comfortable.—When I say he became a miser, I do not mean that he had millions of dollars hoarded up; for a person who cares for nothing but money and hardly thinks of any thing else, and holds fast to every cent he gets with an iron grasp, is truly a miser, whether he possesses millions or only thousands. I suppose Peter may have one thousand or two thousand dollars.
But what is that? One thing he has not, and I do not believe all his money would buy it;—I mean a friend. He has a father, and brothers and sisters; but they appear to care very little for each other. And nobody else cares for Peter, if they do. He is now forty years old, nearly; and what good has he done in the world? If he should die, he would hardly be missed. Why should he be?