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OBSERVATIONS OF A RETIRED VETERAN
By HENRY C. TINSLEY
The essays contained in this little book comprise a selection from many of a like character which were contributed at intervals through a series of years to the columns of the VINDICATOR, a weekly newspaper of Staunton, Virginia, by its editor, the late Henry C. Tinsley, under the pen-name of "P. Boyzy." The perusal of them in their present form will serve to confirm the opinion of those who read them as they then appeared, that they possess in marked degree the unusual quality of a winning humor coupled with the pathos that is often humor's most exquisite accompaniment; and that they combine a shrewd if homely wit with a profound knowledge of the workings of the human heart.
In the more strenuous life of political journalism, to which Mr. Tinsley devoted his energies from the time when he laid down his arms at the close of the War between the States to the beginning of his last lingering illness, these "Observations" were for him but an inadequate outlet for the expression of the courageous and hopeful philosophy which was always his distinguishing characteristic. To cover his pain with a jest,--to preach without cant the gospel of love,--to do the best that he could do according to the lights before him--these generous motives and high purposes are to be read between the lines by those who knew him as legibly as if they shone out in words upon the printed page.
During his lifetime he was frequently asked to gather into book form these little essays which had delighted so many of the readers of his newspaper; but to all such requests he smilingly turned a deaf ear. His innate modesty esteemed their value at far below their real worth. They are given here just as they were written by him and printed in the VINDICATOR, without change or correction other than of typography. It goes without saying that if their author might have revised them with a view to their publication in a permanent form, there would probably have been many changes; but it is believed that as they came warm from heart and brain, they will serve to reproduce him most vividly for those who knew him best and to illustrate once more for them in all its dignity and sweetness the simple courage of his life.
It is for such friends that this book is published.
ARMISTEAD C. GORDON. Staunton, Virginia. October, 1904.
Henry C. Tinsley was born April 7, 1834, in Richmond, Virginia, and lived on the corner of Franklin and Governor streets, in his father's residence, which was opposite the old WHIG office. His father was a native of Ireland and died at the early age of 28, the day after the birth of his only daughter, Ella, who was educated at the Virginia Female Institute in Staunton, while presided over by the Rev. Dr. Phillips. She and his mother have since died, and it is not believed that he has at this time any living relative.
Mr. Tinsley's education was obtained at the old Richmond Academy of that city, a classical school. In his 18th year he began his journalistic career as a reporter for the Richmond DISPATCH, in which profession of his choice he soon attracted attention.
The war coming on, he enlisted in the Richmond Howitzers and served during the whole war as a faithful and brave soldier.
After the war he returned to the Richmond DISPATCH and soon became one of the most valued men upon its working corps.
Early in the '70's he became by purchase, half owner and editor of the Staunton VINDICATOR, being associated with the late W. H. H. Lynn until 1876 when Mr. Lynn sold his interest to Capt T. C. Morton. The paper was then for eight years conducted under the style of Tinsley & Morton. After this Capt. Morton retired from the paper and his eldest son, A. S. Morton, became in turn half owner, the firm continuing as before until 1895 when it was dissolved, Mr. R. S. Turk purchasing the office and good will of the VINDICATOR and consolidating it with the SPECTATOR, since which time it has been known as the Staunton SPECTATOR and VINDICATOR, Mr. Tinsley retiring from the paper of which he had been chief editor for twenty-four years.
Mr. Tinsley died in Staunton, after a long and painful illness, August 21, 1902.
OBSERVATIONS OF A RETIRED VETERAN I
I saw the Sweet Harbinger of Spring last week. A violet? No. A swallow? No. A bud? No. Ah! no; put up your encyclopedia of Spring information and I'll tell you. It was the annual boy with his shoes off for the first time since the warm weather. He stepped gingerly; he stood still longer than usual; he hoisted the bottom of his foot for inspection often; he let a cat go by, though a rock lay in a yard of him; he picked out a velvety place on the tan-bark sidewalk before he put his feet firmly down and squared himself on them to give the two-finger whistle for his chum, which is the terror to the nervous. Much of the boy had gone out of him. He moved with the motion and sloth of decrepit age. Next week you will not know him for the same boy. His feet will be hardened, he will dance over the macadam mixed streets with the callosity of a stone-crusher, and the fugacious cat will be lucky if it gets its tail through the fence in time. The mourner's bench humility of today will have changed to the noisy glee of the hardened criminal. His baseball practice will pervade the middle of every street, and his large and assorted stock of general trouble and annoyance will be displayed under all our noses with the request that we will call and examine before purchasing elsewhere. I cannot understand how any man can be indifferent to the blessings of the church, when he remembers that one of them is the Sunday School--invented by the Fathers as an ingenious and effective place of torment for this Boy. Through the week he is intolerable, but the blessed Sabbath is to him a day of retribution. It is the awful day when his ears are washed and touseled about; when his eyes are punched out by the towelled but unsparing hand of a Christian mother; when his shoes are put back on him for a day, and when, with a neck encircled by a collar starched to maddening stiffness, and with a pocket handkerchief the consistency of pasteboard, he is sent to the place of punishment. I have read many beautiful poems about the sweet quiet of the Sabbath, but few of the poets have given the right solution of it. It is because all over the civilized world on that day, millions of Boys have been captured and corraled in Sunday schools. The very church bells understand it, and in the early hours ring out triumphantly, "Got-'em-in-here! Got-'em-in-here!"
* * * * * Of course, as we move on through this alternately delightful and disagreeable world, we must be brought face to face with bores of many varieties. Setting aside that pest, the egotist, for whom there can be no excuse, I should like to mention the man or woman who conceives that the way to talk about books is to deal with the acts and characters instead of what they say. It seems to me that it is just one of the modes, if I may call it that, of talking literature that is little better than no mode at all. It is a rare thing to meet with even the most modern work--I am speaking of fiction--by a fairly successful writer, that does not contain some utterance to arouse thought and challenge us to mental debate. The acts must of necessity be commonplace from familiarity, for man has behaved himself for a million of years from the same motives and only varied his manner with the advancing material circumstances which surrounded him. But his thoughts are not obliged to be commonplace. The thoughts of men are marching in ever moving procession towards the Light, and as each one emerges from the darkness it catches on its forehead a ray which transforms it. It is these that are to be discussed when we talk about books, and not the mere acts of the actors therein. What, as a matter of conversation, is the suicide of Dido, compared with the fine lines in which she so touchingly summarizes what her life would have been had the false AEneas never seen her? I lately heard two exceptionally intelligent young people discussing the novel--Put Yourself in His Place--which though a very second rate work was written with a very first rate purpose. Their criticism and discussion was confined wholly to the action of the characters and they seemed to have thought the purpose of no account compared with the plot and love-making. And it is not young people alone who are given to this skimming process. I have known people who really deserved the title of readers, to find their chief if not their only criticism in the decision of how well this or that character was drawn, and what surprises the plot contained; while as to the thoughts, good or bad, old or novel, the critics seemed to be oblivious. If we expect really to improve ourselves by books--still I am speaking of fiction--we should try to remember and afterwards discuss the thoughts they contained and which we found in the mouths of the characters or in the comments of the author. There has never been in my recollection a time when the fiction of the day was more completely abreast of the advancing thought of the world, or in which it teemed with more new and practical views logically connected with passing events and new situations. It is when, closing the book, we take away with us those seeds and subject them to the attrition of discussion, which wears off the pollen, that we arrive at, possibly, a new and valuable thought which may deserve the name of knowledge.
* * * * *
"It seems to me your observations are nothing but opinions," said Mrs. Boyzy to me the other evening. She called it o-pin-ions. Women have an art of expressing contempt by syllabic emphasis that men never acquire. It is their failure to accomplish this that induces men to substitute profanity. Nevertheless, as that excellent woman remarked, the things I say in these papers are for the most part opinions. But what of that; what moves the world but opinions--what has moved it up to where it is now, but opinions? Where would the world be if it were not for new opinions; where would men be? Suppose every public man clung to precedents in public affairs; every politician pinned his faith on his party policy, and every preacher planted himself on orthodoxy--all with a determination to go no further. The world would come to a standstill. There would be no progress. Opinions are the lever that works the world. Precedents become mouldy, politicians change with the times, and creeds advance with the public thought. What do we care what a man thought two hundred years ago, when we have
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