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The Captain's Toll-gate - A Memorial Sketch Post by :cclittle Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :May 2012 Read :3416

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The Captain's Toll-gate - A Memorial Sketch




_With a Memorial Sketch by Mrs. Stockton

As this--The Captain's Toll-Gate--is the last of the works of Frank R. Stockton that will be given to the public, it is fitting that it be accompanied by some account of the man whose bright spirit illumined them all. It is proper, also, that something be said of the stories themselves; of the circumstances in which they were written, the influences that determined their direction, and the history of their evolution. It seems appropriate that this should be done by the one who knew him best; the one who lived with him through a long and beautiful life; the one who walked hand in hand with him along the whole of a wonderful road of ever-changing scenes: now through forests peopled with fairies and dryads, griffins and wizards; now skirting the edges of an ocean with its strange monsters and remarkable shipwrecks; now on the beaten track of European tourists, sharing their novel adventures and amused by their mistakes; now resting in lovely gardens imbued with human interest; now helping the young to make happy homes for themselves; now sympathizing with the old as they look longingly toward a heavenly home; and, oftenest, perhaps, watching girls and young men as they were trying to work out the problems of their lives. All this, and much more, crowded the busy years until the Angel of Death stood in the path; and the journey was ended.

In regard to the present story--The Captain's Toll-Gate--although it is now after his death first published, it was all written and completed by Mr. Stockton himself. No other hand has been allowed to add to, or to take from it. Mr. Stockton had so strong a feeling upon the literary ethics involved in such matters that he once refused to complete a book which a popular and brilliant author, whose style was thought to resemble his own, had left unfinished. Mr. Stockton regarded the proposed act in the light of a sacrilege. The book, he said, should be published as the author left it. Knowing this fact, readers of the present volume may feel assured that no one has been permitted to tamper with it. Although the last book by Mr. Stockton to be published, it is not the last that he wrote. He had completed The Captain's Toll-Gate, and was considering its publication, when he was asked to write another novel dealing with the buccaneers. He had already produced a book entitled Buccaneers and Pirates of our Coasts. The idea of writing a novel while the incidents were fresh in his mind pleased him, and he put aside The Captain's Toll-Gate, as the other book--Kate Bonnet--was wanted soon, and he did not wish the two works to conflict in publication. Steve Bonnet, the crazy-headed pirate, was a historical character, and performed the acts attributed to him. But the charming Kate, and her lover, and Ben Greenaway were inventions.

Francis Richard Stockton, born in Philadelphia in 1834, was, on his father's side, of purely English ancestry; on his mother's side, there was a mixture of English, French, and Irish. When he began to write stories these three nationalities were combined in them: the peculiar kind of inventiveness of the French; the point of view, and the humor that we find in the old English humorists; and the capacity of the Irish for comical situations.

Soon after arriving in this country the eldest son of the first American Stockton settled in Princeton, N.J., and founded that branch of the family; while the father, with the other sons, settled in Burlington County, in the same State, and founded the Burlington branch of the family, from which Frank R. Stockton was descended. On the female side he was descended from the Gardiners, also of New Jersey. His was a family with literary proclivities. His father was widely known for his religious writings, mostly of a polemical character, which had a powerful influence in the denomination to which he belonged. His half-brother (much older than Frank) was a preacher of great eloquence, famous a generation ago as a pulpit orator.

When Frank and his brother John, two years younger, came to the age to begin life for themselves, they both showed such decided artistic genius that it was thought best to start them in that direction, and to have them taught engraving; an art then held in high esteem. Frank chose wood, and John steel engraving. Both did good work, but their hearts were not in it, and, as soon as opportunity offered, they abandoned engraving. John went into journalism; became editorially connected with prominent newspapers; and had won a foremost place in his chosen profession; when he was cut off by death at a comparatively early age.


Frank chose literature. He had, while in the engraving business, written a number of fairy tales, some of which had been published in juvenile magazines; also a few short stories, and quite an ambitious long story, which was published in a prominent magazine. He was then sufficiently well known as a writer to obtain without difficulty a place on the staff of Hearth and Home, a weekly New York paper, owned by Orange Judd, and conducted by Edward Eggleston. Mrs. Mary Mapes Dodge had charge of the juvenile department, and Frank went on the paper as her assistant. Not long after Scribner's Monthly was started by Charles Scribner (the elder), in conjunction with Roswell Smith, and J.G. Holland. Later Mr. Smith and his associates formed The Century Company; and with this company Mr. Stockton was connected for many years: first on the Century Magazine, which succeeded Scribner's Monthly, and afterward on St. Nicholas, as assistant to Mrs. Mary Mapes Dodge, and, still later, when he decided to give up editorial work, as a constant contributor. After a few years he resigned his position in the company with which he had been so pleasantly associated in order to devote himself exclusively to his own work. By this time he had written and published enough to feel justified in taking, what seemed to his friends, a bold, and even rash, step, because so few writers then lived solely by the pen. He was never very strong physically; he felt himself unable to do his editorial work, and at the same time write out the fancies and stories with which his mind was full. This venture proved to be the wisest thing for him; and from that time his life was, in great part, in his books; and he gave to the world the novels and stories which bear his name.

I have mentioned his fairy stories. Having been a great lover of fairy lore when a child, he naturally fell into this form of story writing as soon as he was old enough to put a story together. He invented a goodly number; and among them the Ting-a-Ling stories, which were read aloud in a boys' literary circle, and meeting their hearty approval, were subsequently published in The Riverside Magazine, a handsome and popular juvenile of that period; and, much later, were issued by Hurd & Houghton in a very pretty volume. In regard to these, he wrote long afterward as follows:

"I was very young when I determined to write some fairy tales because my mind was full of them. I set to work, and in course of time produced several which were printed. These were constructed according to my own ideas. I caused the fanciful creatures who inhabited the world of fairy-land to act, as far as possible for them to do so, as if they were inhabitants of the real world. I did not dispense with monsters and enchanters, or talking beasts and birds, but I obliged these creatures to infuse into their extraordinary actions a certain leaven of common sense."

It was about this time, while very young, that he and his brother became ambitious to write stories, poems, and essays for the world at large. They sent their effusions to various periodicals, with the result common to ambitious youths: all were returned. They decided at last that editors did not know a good thing when they saw it, and hit upon a brilliant scheme to prove their own judgment. One of them selected an extract from Paradise Regained (as being not so well known as Paradise Lost), and sent it to an editor, with the boy's own name appended, expecting to have it returned with some of the usual disparaging remarks, which they would greatly enjoy. But they were disappointed. The editor printed it in his paper, thereby proving that he did know a good thing if he did not know his Milton. Mr. Stockton was fond of telling this story, and it may have given rise to a report, extensively circulated, that he tried to gain admittance to periodicals for many years before he succeeded. This is not true. Some rebuffs he had, of course--some with things which afterward proved great successes--but not as great a number as falls to the lot of most beginners.

The Ting-a-Ling tales proved so popular that Mr. Stockton followed them at intervals with long and short stories for the young which appeared in various juvenile publications, and were afterward published in book form--Roundabout Rambles. Tales out of School, A Jolly Fellowship, Personally Conducted, The Story of Viteau, The Floating Prince, and others. Some years later, after he had begun to write for older readers, he wrote a series of stories for St. Nicholas, ostensibly for children, but really intended for adults. Children liked the stories, but the deeper meaning underlying them all was beyond the grasp of a child's mind. These stories Mr. Stockton took very great pleasure in writing, and always regarded them as some of his best work, and was gratified when his critics wrote of them in that way. They have become famous, and have been translated into several languages, notably Old Pipes and the Dryad, The Bee Man of Orne, and The Griffin and the Minor Canon. This last story was suggested by Chester Cathedral, and he wrote it in that venerable city. The several tales were finally collected into a volume under the title: The Bee Man of Orne and Other Stories, which is included in the complete edition of his novels and stories. During the whole of his literary career Mr. Stockton was an occasional contributor of short stories and essays to The Youth's Companion.

Mr. Stockton considered his career as an editor of great advantage to him as an author. In an autobiographical paper he writes: "Long-continued reading of manuscripts submitted for publication which are almost good enough to use, and yet not quite up to the standard of the magazine, can not but be of great service to any one who proposes a literary career. Bad work shows us what we ought to avoid, but most of us know, or think we know, what that is. Fine literary work we get outside the editorial room. But the great mass of literary material which is almost good enough to print is seen only by the editorial reader, and its lesson is lost upon him in a great degree unless he is, or intends to be, a literary worker."

The first house in which we set up our own household goods stood in Nutley, N.J. We had with us an elderly _attache of the Stockton family as maid-of-all-work; and to relieve her of some of her duties I went into New York, and procured from an orphans' home a girl whom Mr. Stockton described as "a middle-sized orphan." She was about fourteen years old, and proved to be a very peculiar individual, with strong characteristics which so appealed to Mr. Stockton's sense of humor that he liked to talk with her and draw out her opinions of things in general, and especially of the books she had read. Her spare time was devoted to reading books, mostly of the blood-curdling variety; and she read them to herself aloud in the kitchen in a very disjointed fashion, which was at first amusing, and then irritating. We never knew her real name, nor did the people at the orphanage. She had three or four very romantic ones she had borrowed from novels while she was with us, for she was very sentimental.

Mr. Stockton bestowed upon her the name of Pomona, which is now a household word in myriads of homes. This extraordinary girl, and some household experiences, induced Mr. Stockton to write a paper for Scribner's Monthly which he called Rudder Grange. This one paper was all he intended to write, but it attracted immediate attention, was extensively noticed, and much talked about. The editor of the magazine received so many letters asking for another paper that Mr. Stockton wrote the second one; and as there was still a clamor for more, he, after a little time, wrote others of the series. Some time later they were collected in a book. For those interested in Pomona I will add, that while the girl was an actual personage, with all the characteristics given to her by her chronicler, the woman Pomona was a development in Mr. Stockton's mind of the girl as he imagined she would become, for the original passed out of our lives while still a girl.

Rudder Grange was Mr. Stockton's first book for adult readers, and a good deal of comment has been made upon the fact that he had reached middle life when it was published. His biographers and critics assume that he was utterly unknown at that time, and that he suddenly jumped into favor, and they naturally draw the inference that he had until then vainly attempted to get before the public. This is all a misapprehension of the facts. It will be seen from what I have previously stated, that at this time he was already well known as a juvenile writer, and not only had no difficulty in getting his articles printed, but editors and publishers were asking him for stories. He had made but few slight attempts to obtain a larger audience. That he confined himself for so long a time to juvenile literature can be easily accounted for. For one thing, it grew out of his regular work of constantly catering for the young, and thinking of them. Then, again, editorial work makes urgent demands upon time and strength, and until freed from it he had not the leisure or inclination to fashion stories for more exacting and critical readers. Perhaps, too, he was slow in recognizing his possibilities. Certain it is that the public were not slow to recognize him. He did, however, experience difficulties in getting the collected papers of Rudder Grange published in book form. I will quote his own account, which is interesting as showing how slow he was to appreciate the fact that the public would gladly accept the writings of a humorist:

"The discovery that humorous compositions could be used in journals other than those termed comic marked a new era in my work. Periodicals especially devoted to wit and humor were very scarce in those days, and as this sort of writing came naturally to me, it was difficult, until the advent of Puck, to find a medium of publication for writings of this nature. I contributed a good deal to this paper, but it was only partly satisfactory, for articles which make up a comic paper must be terse and short, and I wanted to write humorous tales which should be as long as ordinary magazine stories. I had good reason for my opinion of the gravity of the situation, for the editor of a prominent magazine declined a humorous story (afterward very popular) which I had sent him, on the ground that the traditions of magazines forbade the publication of stories strictly humorous. Therefore, when I found an editor at last who actually _wished me to write humorous stories, I was truly rejoiced. My first venture in this line was Rudder Grange. And, after all, I had difficulty in getting the series published in book form. Two publishers would have nothing to do with them, assuring me that although the papers were well enough for a magazine, a thing of ephemeral nature, the book-reading public would not care for them. The third publisher to whom I applied issued the work, and found the venture satisfactory."

The book-reading public cared so much for this book that it would not remain satisfied with it alone. Again and again it demanded of the author more about Pomona, Euphemia, and Jonas. Hence The Rudder Grangers Abroad and Pomona's Travels.

The most famous of Mr. Stockton's stories, The Lady or the Tiger?, was written to be read before a literary society of which he was a member. It caused such an interesting discussion in the society that he published it in the Century Magazine. It had no especial announcement there, nor was it heralded in any way, but it took the public by storm, and surprised both the editor and the author. All the world must love a puzzle, for in an amazingly short time the little story had made the circuit of the world. Debating societies everywhere seized upon it as a topic; it was translated into nearly all languages; society people discussed it at their dinners; plainer people argued it at their firesides; numerous letters were sent to nearly every periodical in the country; and public readers were expounding it to their audiences. It interested heathen and Christian alike; for an English friend told Mr. Stockton that in India he had heard a group of Hindoo men gravely debating the problem. Of course, a mass of letters came pouring in upon the author.

A singular thing about this story has been the revival of interest in it that has occurred from time to time. Although written many years ago, it seems still to excite the interest of a younger generation; for, after an interval of silence on the subject of greater or less duration, suddenly, without apparent cause, numerous letters in relation to it will appear on the author's table, and "solutions" will be printed in the newspapers. This ebb and flow has continued up to the present time. Mr. Stockton made no attempt to answer the question he had raised.

We both spent much time in the South at different periods. The dramatic and unconsciously humorous side of the negroes pleased his fancy. He walked and talked with them, saw them in their homes, at their "meetin's," and in the fields. He has drawn with an affectionate hand the genial, companionable Southern negro as he is--or rather as he was--for this type is rapidly passing away. Soon there will be no more of these "old-time darkies." They would be by the world forgot had they not been embalmed in literature by Mr. Stockton, and the best Southern writers.

There is one other notable characteristic that should be referred to in writing of Mr. Stockton's stories--the machines and appliances he invented as parts of them. They are very numerous and ingenious. No matter how extraordinary might be the work in hand, the machine to accomplish the end was made on strictly scientific principles, to accomplish that exact piece of work. It would seem that if he had not been an inventor of plots he might have been an inventor of instruments. This idea is sustained by the fact that he had been a wood-engraver only a short time when he invented and patented a double graver which cuts two parallel lines at the same time. It is somewhat strange that more than one of these extraordinary machines has since been exploited by scientists and explorers, without the least suspicion on their part that the enterprising romancer had thought of them first. Notable among these may be named the idea of going to the north pole under the ice, the one that the center of the earth is an immense crystal (Great Stone of Sardis), and the attempt to manufacture a gun similar to the Peace Compeller in The Great War Syndicate.

In all of Mr. Stockton's novels there were characters taken from real persons who perhaps would not recognize themselves in the peculiar circumstances in which he placed them. In the crowd of purely imaginative beings one could easily recognize certain types modified and altered. In The Casting away of Mrs. Leeks and Mrs. Aleshine he introduced two delightful old ladies whom he knew, and who were never surprised at anything that might happen. Whatever emergency arose, they took it as a matter of course, and prepared to meet it. Mr. Stockton amused himself at their expense by writing this story. He was not at first interested in the Dusantes, and had no intention of ever saying anything further about them. When there was a demand for knowledge of the Dusantes Mr. Stockton did not heed it. He was opposed to writing sequels. But when an author of distinction, whose work and friendship he highly valued, wrote to him that if he did not write something about the Dusantes, and what they said when they found the board money in the ginger jar, he would do it himself, Mr. Stockton set himself to writing The Dusantes.

I have been asked to give some account of the places in which Mr. Stockton's stories and novels were written, and their environments. Some of the Southern stories were written in Virginia, and, now and then, a short story elsewhere, as suggested by the locality, but the most of his work was done under his own roof-tree. He loved his home; it had to be a country home, and always had to have a garden. In the care of a garden and in driving, he found his two greatest sources of recreation.


I have mentioned Nutley, which lies in New Jersey, near New York. His dwelling there was a pretty little cottage, where he had a garden, some chickens, and a cow. This was his home in his editorial days, and here Rudder Grange was written. It was a rented place. The next home we owned. It stood at a greater distance from New York, at the place called Convent, half-way between Madison and Morristown, in New Jersey. Here we lived a number of years after Mr. Stockton gave up editorial work; and here the greater number of his tales were written. It was a much larger place than we had at Nutley, with more chickens, two cows, and a much larger garden.

Mr. Stockton dictated his stories to a stenographer. His favorite spot for this in summer was a grove of large fir-trees near the house. Here, in the warm weather, he would lie in a hammock. His secretary would be near, with her writing materials, and a book of her choosing. The book was for her own reading while Mr. Stockton was "thinking." It annoyed him to know he was being "waited for." He would think out pages of incidents, and scenes, and even whole conversations, before he began to dictate. After all had been arranged in his mind he dictated rapidly; but there often were long pauses, when the secretary could do a good deal of reading. In cold weather he had the secretary and an easy chair in the study--a room he had built according to his own fancy. A fire of blazing logs added a glow to his fancies.

I may state here that we always spent a part of every winter in New York. A certain amount of city life was greatly enjoyed. Mr. Stockton thus secured much intellectual pleasure. He liked his clubs, and was fond of society, where he met men noted in various walks of life.(1)

(Footnote 1: Edward Gary, the secretary of the Century Club, in the obituary notice of Mr. Stockton written by him for the club's annual report, says of Mr. Stockton as a member: "It was but a dozen years ago that Frank R. Stockton entered the fellowship of the Century, in which he soon became exceedingly at home, winning friends here, as he won them all over the land and in other lands, by the charm of his keen and kindly mind shining in all that he wrote and said. He had an extraordinary capacity for work and a rare talent for diversion, and the Century was honored by his well-earned fame, and fortunate in its share in his ever fresh and varying companionship.")

I am now nearing the close of a life which had had its trials and disappointments, its struggles with weak health and with unsatisfying labor. But these mostly came in the earlier years, and were met with courage, an ever fresh-springing hope, and a buoyant spirit that would not be intimidated. On the whole, as one looks back through the long vista, much more of good than of evil fell to his lot. His life had been full of interesting experiences, and one of, perhaps, unusual happiness. At the last there came to pass the fulfilment of a dream in which he had long indulged. He became the possessor of a beautiful estate containing what he most desired, and with surroundings and associations dear to his heart.

He had enjoyed The Holt, his New Jersey home, and was much interested in improving it. His neighbors and friends there were valued companions. But in his heart there had always been a longing for a home, not suburban--a place in the _real country, and with more land. Finally, the time came when he felt that he could gratify this longing. He liked the Virginia climate, and decided to look for a place somewhere in that State, not far from the city of Washington. After a rather prolonged search, we one day lighted upon Claymont, in the Shenandoah Valley. It won our hearts, and ended our search. It had absolutely everything that Mr. Stockton coveted. He bought it at once, and we moved into it as speedily as possible.

Claymont is a handsome colonial residence, "with all modern improvements"--an unusual combination. It lies near the historic old town of Charles Town, in West Virginia, near Harpers Ferry. Claymont is itself an historic place. The land was first owned by "the Father of his Country." This great personage designed the house, with its main building, two cottages (or lodges), and courtyards, for his nephew Bushrod, to whom he had given the land. Through the wooded park runs the old road, now grass grown, over which Braddock marched to his celebrated "defeat," guided by the youthful George Washington, who had surveyed the whole region for Lord Fairfax. During the civil war the place twice escaped destruction because it had once been the property of Washington.

But it was not for its historical associations, but for the place itself, that Mr. Stockton purchased it. From the main road to the house there is a drive of three-quarters of a mile through a park of great forest-trees and picturesque groups of rocks. On the opposite side of the house extends a wide, open lawn; and here, and from the piazzas, a noble view of the valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains is obtained. Besides the park and other grounds, there is a farm at Claymont of considerable size. Mr. Stockton, however, never cared for farming, except in so far as it enabled him to have horses and stock. But his soul delighted in the big, old terraced garden of his West Virginia home. Compared with other gardens he had had, the new one was like paradise to the common world. At Claymont several short stories were written. John Gayther's Garden was prepared for publication here by connecting stories previously published into a series, told in a garden, and suggested by the one at Claymont. John Gayther, however, was an invention. Kate Bonnet and The Captain's Toll-Gate were both written at Claymont.

(Illustration: A CORNER IN MR. STOCKTON'S STUDY AT CLAYMONT. Showing the desk at which all his later books were written.)

Mr. Stockton was permitted to enjoy this beautiful place only three years. They were years of such rare pleasure, however, that we can rejoice that he had so much joy crowded into so short a space of his life, and that he had it at its close. Truly life was never sweeter to him than at its end, and the world was never brighter to him than when he shut his eyes upon it. He was returning from a winter in New York to his beloved Claymont, in good health, and full of plans for the summer and for his garden, when he was taken suddenly ill in Washington, and died three days later, on April 20, 1902, a few weeks after Kate Bonnet was published in book form.

Mr. Stockton passed away at a ripe age--sixty-eight years. And yet his death was a surprise to us all. He had never been in better health, apparently; his brain was as active as ever; life was dear to him; he seemed much younger than he was. He had no wish to give up his work; no thought of old age; no mental decay. His last novels, his last short stories, showed no falling-off. They were the equals of those written in younger years. Nor had he lost the public interest. He was always sure of an audience, and his work commanded a higher price at the last than ever before. His was truly a passing away. He gently glided from the homes he had loved to prepare here to one already prepared for him in heaven, unconscious that he was entering one more beautiful than even he had ever imagined.

Mr. Stockton was the most lovable of men. He shed happiness all around him, not from conscious effort but out of his own bountiful and loving nature. His tender heart sympathized with the sad and unfortunate, but he never allowed sadness to be near, if it were possible to prevent it. He hated mourning and gloom. They seemed to paralyze him mentally until his bright spirit had again asserted itself, and he had recovered his balance. He usually looked either upon the best, or the humorous side of life. Pie won the love of every one who knew him--even that of readers who did not know him personally, as many letters testify. To his friends his loss is irreparable, for never again will they find his equal in such charming qualities of head and heart.


This is not the place for a critical estimate of the work of Frank R. Stockton.(2) His stories are, in great part, a reflex of himself. The bright outlook on life; the courageous spirit; the helpfulness; the sense of the comic rather than the tragic; the love of domestic life; the sweetness of pure affection; live in his books as they lived in himself. He had not the heart to make his stories end unhappily. He knew that there is much of the tragic in human lives, but he chose to ignore it as far as possible, and to walk in the pleasant ways which are numerous in this tangled world. There is much philosophy underlying a good deal that he wrote, but it has to be looked for; it is not insistent, and is never morbid. He could not write an impure word, or express an impure thought, for he belonged to the "pure in heart," who, we are assured, "shall see God."

(Footnote 2: I may, however, properly quote from the sketch prepared by Mr. Gary for the Century Club: "He brought to his later work the discipline of long and rather tedious labor, with the capital amassed by acute observation, on which his original imagination wrought the sparkling miracles that we know. He has been called the representative American humorist. He was that in the sense that the characters he created had much of the audacity of the American spirit, the thirst for adventures in untried fields of thought and action, the subconscious seriousness in the most incongruous situations, the feeling of being at home no matter what happens. But how amazingly he mingled a broad philosophy with his fun, a philosophy not less wise and comprehending than his fun was compelling! If his humor was American, it was also cosmopolitan, and had its laughing way not merely with our British kinsmen, but with alien peoples across the usually impenetrable barrier of translation. The fortune of his jesting lay not in his ears, but in the hearts of his hearers. It was at once appealing and revealing. It flashed its playful light into the nooks and corners of our own being, and wove close bonds with those at whom we laughed. There was no bitterness in it. He was neither satirist nor preacher, nor of set purpose a teacher, though it must be a dull reader that does not gather from his books the lesson of the value of a gentle heart and a clear, level outlook upon our perplexing world.")


CLAYMONT, _May 15, 1903_.

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