MY FIRST FROLIC IN COLLEGE
Although we cannot compliment “Jo of Mississippi,”
by saying that he equals “the great Longstreet,” we cheerfully publish
his “first frolic,” to revive old associations and to impart variety
to our pages. We were never too prudish to take a little egg-nog, and even at
College have more than once indulged in that “commingling” to which
“Jo” alludes; but we always so “commingled” the dictates
of Prudence, Inclination and Conscience, as never to have been forced out of
a back window, under the bed, or into the closet. As the worthy “college
authorities” alluded to are still upon the stage, we must invoke their
pardon for the references made to them; and the soubriquets given them.—[Ed.
MR. EDITOR: Although in the following description of a scene which actually occurred, you cannot exclaim “quorum pars fui,” for you were always a masculine prude, still you can appreciate the joke, for you cannot but remember the merriment it caused at the time. The sketch may be too frivolous for your dignified journal, but we have the high sanction of the great Longstreet in giving such chronicles of our youthful days. If I were called on to embody in painting the ideal of College Memory, I would represent her “with a smile on her lip and a tear in her eye,” for while we laugh over the recollection of some mad prank, we sigh to think that the days are gone never to return; and then, one by one, well-loved faces rise up and with melancholy looks seem to utter “you will never see us more.” It is to revive but a moment of this communion that I now strike the chord of levity.
A few nights before Christmas in 183— I was poring over the chapter on “personal identity” in Brown’s philosophy: the fire was burning cheerily and but for the Brown study I was in, I would have felt comfortable. I had just reached a portion where the Philosopher seemed confounded, when I was interrupted by a boy who delivered the following note—
We are to have a little egg-noggin’ at our room, No 19, Rowdy Row, on —— evening; come down and join us.
Here was a new train given to my ideas—the joys of Christmas! The question was, shall I go? And forthwith a silent but fierce debate ensued, in my mental Congress, between Prudence, Inclination and Conscience.
“You had better not go,” urged Prudence, “you’ll be caught and dismissed for drinking ardent spirits.”
“Risk it,” said Inclination, “you have been poring over books so long (a fib) your mind is stupid. Besides, I would’nt give a fig for knowledge of books without that of the world; there is little harm and positive advantage. Go, by all means.”
But here Conscience, with tremendous argumentative power which no sophistry could elude, took the negative; “you are just from your pious mother: perhaps at this very hour she is kneeling before God and asking benedictions on your head, imploring him to guide you from the seductive path of dissipation: you cannot disguise the fact, if you go you will violate a law you are pledged to obey,” &c., &c., &c.
The negative had the argument, but Inclination still held me in suspense, until that night came, and it was a glorious one for a Christmas frolic. The moon hung high in the heavens and the earth, covered with snow, so cold, so dead, gave a ghost-like brightness to every thing. Towering above the surrounding buildings, stood the modern Pantheon of science, while far off in the distance loomed the mountain-tomb of Jefferson; which stands like a Gibraltar to guard the only pass from the perfect basin formed by a circle of mountains. In such a night and surrounded by such soul-stirring scenery, no wonder my young heart bounded with exhilaration. I forthwith pronounced Conscience “out of order,” and decided to devote this night to fun and frolic.
The room where the guests were to assemble was of small dimensions, and had two beds, one deal table, two closets, (which in the sequel proved important,) and a book-shelf ornamented with Dunglison’s Physiology, and one of the works of Dewees. On the mantel was a stray novel of Bulwer, accompanied by the poems of Coleridge, Shelley and Keats. It was evidently a studio, not luxurious withal, of a son of Esculapius, now desecrated to bacchanal revelry.
When I reached there I found every thing in hubbub and smoke, for the meerschaum is not dearer to the German, than the regalia to the American student. The academic scions were lolling about in every imaginable posture; beds were chairs and chairs were beds; every body was talking and no body was listening. The whole range of science, physical, moral and political, was dis-
cussed with the most perfect nonchalance, and each had its knot of debaters, until some joke would call them together, and then some wag would clap his thumb-nails together in token of applause.
The group before me was interesting. There was the bright eye of genius, flashing with the light that at some future day was to spread a halo around its possessor’s memory. There was the steady but dull countenance of plodding application, that was to supply the mature fruits of study and reflection, and astonish the more showy intellects of young companions, by leaving them far behind in the race of honor. In a squad to themselves stood the free-and-easy, devil-may-care phizes of jolly idlers, whose natural ‘cuteness’ saved them from dismission. There, too, stood the victim of the boy-god, with gloomy brow, listless as a dreaming turkey, and when rallied about low spirits always had “the headache,” which every one knew to be heartache, for there’s no secrecy in college love.
Mr. Peter Patrick, the host of the evening, was a genuine Paddy from the emerald isle. Though not overly gifted with the graces of person, being bandy-legged, still he was not ill-looking. He was, moreover, a practical wit, the very impersonation of quizicalness. Of course he was very busy and had not much time “to blarney,” as he called it. What with the bustling about, now cracking an egg, now stirring the yolk and then beating the white, his face got very red, and all that he could tell us was “make yourselves agraable.” We of course answered that we were.
The conversation kept up pretty brisk for a while, but gradually flagged, through impatience, and the scattering fire showed that the talking battle was nearly over. Just about the time to commence work, one youngster, very long and gawky, rose up on his elbow from the far corner of the bed, stretched, yawned, and said, “fellows, it’s getting dull, let’s have a song; John, give us a song.” Now John was the veritable original of the fat boy in Pickwick. Caesar would have been satisfied on first inspection that he “slept o’ nights.” He sang with loud and sonorous voice, several joining in the chorus, the following song, which whetted our appetites for the Christmas beverage.
(Tune, Rosin the Bow.)
“Come join we all jolly young fellows
In praise of this glorious grog;
Let’s on the shelf lay our studies
And drain off a glass of egg-nog.
“Professors may talk of the fountain
That drips from Pieria’s brink,
But when you’ve climbed up that mountain
You’ll find there is nothing to drink.
“The dandy may sip up his champagne,
And whiskey may do for the prog,
But the surest of cures for true pain
Is a bowl full of jolly egg-nog.”
"Now may every true-hearted fellow,
As on through life's journey we jog,
At Christmas be never made mellow
Except by the glorious egg-nog."
The last note of this song had scarcely sunk into silence, when all our ears were pricked up to another sound far more pleasing. The soft, subdued note, which, like the matrimonial benediction, tells the unity of two elements, the “gugle, gurgle, gugella, gugella,” knelled “the departing spirit” from the jug, and the thick, muffled sound, told us that the commingling had begun, in which, to use the language of transcendentalism, the spirit was being absorbed in the primordial elements of adolescent fowls—a glorious union of the vegetable and animal creation, where the one approximates nearest to vitality and the other to inanimateness. What a sublime reflection, that in drinking such a beverage one is devouring the animal spiritualized of all grossness! Glorious egg-nog! how delightful is the memory of the full richness of thy flavor, so sweet yet so solid, so heavy with body and yet so light as to exhilarate the spiritual of our nature! I well remember my transcendental glow on approaching the brimming tureen, but alas! “there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip.”
The beverage is finished, the scramble for tumblers, cups, gourds, commences. “Fill up gintlemen,” said Patrick, “and before we drink I call for a sintiment from Tom Willoughby.”
“A sentiment, a sentiment,” was echoed round.
Now Tom was not over ready, but he never refused a chance for display. In a very pompous manner he gave utterance to the following toast,
“Gentlemen, may every rock that threatens the ship of State be a Sham-rock!”
Every fellow was about to shout out “good!” when “knock,” “knock,” “knock,” at the door.
Consternation on every face was there, and ‘cheeks all pale and tremblings of distress.’
“Knock, knock, knock,” again at the door.
“The Proctor, by Jupiter,” was the suppressed exclamation.
Friend reader, did you ever see a brood of chickens pecking in the midst of leaves on a hill side, and the old mother give the alarm cackle, “for the hawk is nigh?” Well if you have and seen the young ones scampering for life, you may form some faint idea of the sudden evaporation of our jolly crowd. One squad dropped their glasses and tumbled hurry scurry out of the back window, another huddled under the bed, and a third, “alas, the hour!” squeezed themselves into the closet.
But what was Patrick in the meanwhile doing?
While the scuffle for place was going on, he deliberately emptied the tureen of egg-nog into the slop-tub and spread a dirty towel over it, pitched the tumblers, contents and all out of the window on the heads of his retreating companions; then picking up “Abercrombie’s intellectual powers,” seating himself in a studying position, he halloed out, in a loud voice as though he was continuing an argument,
“How in the divil can ye say that sintiment has an organ distanct, whin it’s only an amotion, and Sparzehim pratends so? I’ll jist tell ye phraeknowledgy is a hombug.”
This was uttered in the excited tone of one nettled in argument. His room-mate stood with eyes and mouth wide open, completely dumbfounded at his audacity. Patrick commenced again, when “rap, rap, rap” at the door.
“Who’s there?” said Patrick in an angry tone.
“Open the door,” said a dry nasal voice from without.
“Go to the divil, I’m studying, I’ll raeport you for botheration to me.”
A silvery lisping voice here took up the burden: “Open the door, Mr. Patrick, we wish to speak with you.”
“Arrah, you can’t quiz me for old Pelasgi, clair out and don’t bother mae.”
“It’s the Proctor and Professor,” said the first voice again.
“Bless my sowl, gintlemen! I crave pardon: why really I had no idee ’twas you; walk in, walk in, be sated.”
Sputtering out this, Patrick unlocked the door and ushered in his distinguished visitors.
“We were passing and we thought we heard a noise in here,” said the doctor.
“Noo wander, docthor, I alway spake very loud against that Phraeknowledgy as I concaive it militates against medicine.”
“We are glad to see you studious and beg pardon for the interruption,” said the Doctor, whose unsuspecting, innocent disposition might have been imposed upon.
A smile of triumph began to light up the visage of Patrick; but, alas, the minister of police, another Fouche had taken the deception at a glance.
“Wait a moment, Doctor,” said the Colonel; “Mr. Patrick, I’m almost certain I heard several voices in here.”
“Yis, Ker-r-nal, you may have, I always was a sort of ventrilloquist.” With this he made all sorts of unearthly noises, much to the amusement of his visible and invisible company, but the Colonel’s laugh was loudest and most suspicious.
“What have you got in that tub, Mr. Patrick?” said the Colonel.
Unfortunately in throwing the towel over the bucket the handles raised a part of it and left the contents slightly exposed; of course it did not escape the quick eye of the officer. It was a poser and we all breathed thick, but his quick wit again triumphed.
“Oh, it only the soop soods of my fit water.”
At this answer the Colonel’s eye twinkled and he choked down a laugh.
“Bless me, Mr. Patrick, you have a quantity of egg-shells!”
“Arrah, Ker-r-nal, ould Ireland is great on poached eggs and potatoes, and that reminds mae of the joke on two Irish boys, Pat and O’Brien; they lived in the same room and as I tould you were famous for eggs. Well, one day Pat walked in his room and saw O’Brien with the toongs houlding a paice of charcoal, sowsing it in a taa-kittle o’ water. He saamed to be a working so hard that Pat watched him awhile, then tapping him on the showlder, says he, ‘O’Brien, what is it ye are doing?’ ‘Why, siys O'Brien, I pit that aig in the pot and I want to pit in another, so I jist thought to mark the one in the pot to tell the one done first; but d—n the thing, it keeps a bobbing down as fast as I tooch it.’ ‘Bad luck to ye for a fool,’ says Pat, ‘why downt ye mark the one in ye’r hand.’ With that both roared a laughing, and I niver see aigs without reminding me of it.”
Both the gentlemen laughed loudly at the Irish joke, but the old dog was not to be thrown off the scent. When the laugh was over the Colonel snuffed up the air significantly and with comic gravity “Mr. Patrick, I smell the fume of spirit very strong.”
“Yis, Ker-r-nel, I wash my fit in whisky to kaipe from taking cowld.”
At this answer there was a scarcely perceptible sniggle from under the bed and in the closet.
“Ahem! whose hat is that, Mr. Patrick?” pointing to one of extraordinary size.
“Mine, sir,” said the undaunted Patrick.
“Suppose you try it on,” said the Colonel.
Now so it happened that Patrick had a very small head and this was Tom Willoughby’s hat.
“Certainly, sir.” With that he carefully balanced it on his head and let it fall back on his straight collar behind. It was a sight for a Hogarth. I was crouched under the bed in a position to see their countenances; the Colonel’s face was swollen almost to bursting with laughter; the Doctor, who also began “to smell the rat,” stood with his mouth wide open, and Patrick’s look was indescribable; he felt that the game was up, but his lion heart determined to battle it out.
“Rather, (snort,) rather (snort,) large,” said the Colonel, gulping down laughter.
“Arrah, Ker-r-nel, you know I niver was much of a dandy.”
Just as he finished the sentence, a suppressed tittering and a voice in a strangled whisper was heard in the closet.‘Fellows, you squeethe me tho thight I’ll thneeze.”
“Put your finger under your nose, I’ll kill you if you sneeze,” in a low whisper.
“Akish!” a half strangled cat sneeze was the only answer, and then the pent up flood poured out. The Colonel and Doctor could hold in no longer. They staggered to the door, out of the room, and catching hold of the pillar for support roared with laughter. We all collapsed and such a burst of laughter never before rung in that room. Patrick fell down on the floor. I writhed and shouted and rolled under the bed. The poor little fellow, whose sneeze had betrayed us, and the other closet-boys, crawled out as limber as rags.
We were caught and shipped to the University, Botany Bay, but as Marius in exile derived pleasure from the remembrance of the glory of Carthage, so our brief rustication was enlivened by the recollection of that night’s fun.
The day after the frolic, here and there an anxious visage and a greasy coat, tinged with an ochre yellow, were the only indicia to distinguish those who had escaped via the back window. The old hat is no doubt still kept as a relic in the Archives, as escheated property; it never has been claimed by any heir (hair.) Some anxiety was expressed about the appearance of a new hat, but Patrick was again too cute for the mirmidons of law. Said he to the owner of the fatal hat, “Do you go to town in a close hack, buy a cap, bring it home, souse it in lamp oil, sprinkle it with ashes, then do your best to rub it off and you will have the oldest crown paice in College.
The Colonel’s eye twinkled when the big head next met him, but as he was an attentive student they winked at his first fault. Reader, I hope you will do the same at mine.
JO OF MISSISSIPPI.
Source: Southern Literary Messenger 11.2, (February 1845): 109-112.
Mark Bell and Erin Bartels, UR English department, prepared this typescript.
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