Sample text for Badge of courage : the life of Stephen Crane / Linda H. Davis.


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Counter Chapter One

HOW DO YOU
SPELL "O"?

In the fall of 1890, a group of Delta Upsilon fraternity brothers
at Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, stormed one of the
college dormitories in search of
their next hazing victim. East Hall was set far from the other college
buildings, down a hill, so the hazers had to go out of their way to
get him. Lafayette's dangerous
hazing practices had recently come to the attention of the local
press. Just two weeks earlier the Easton Sunday Call had reported that
a group of sophomores had
surprised a freshman baseball player, who attacked the leader of the
group with a bat, critically injuring him.

The new pledge, who lived alone in a single room, had recently
arrived from a school up north. When the sophomores reached Room 170
at the rear of the
building, they issued a "loud summons," remembered Ernest G. Smith,
who was one of the group, and pounded on the door. There was no
answer. The brothers and
freshman pledges lighted a lamp and burst into the room. They were
startled to see the pledge quivering in a corner, holding a loaded
revolver. He was unimpressive
looking--small and thin, with pale hair and large, shadowed eyes. He
was dressed, improbably, in "a grotesque nightgown." His skin had
turned a "ghastly white" and
he was "extremely nervous." By the time Smith saw the pledge, the
revolver was aimed at the floor. Then the boy's body went limp, and
the gun dropped from his
hand. According to Smith, cooler heads prevailed, preventing further
hazing of the new boy.

It was the last time anyone would record seeing Stephen Crane
afraid.

Years later, seeming to draw on this experience in a work of
fiction, he would write: "he was suddenly smitten with the terror. It
came upon his heart like the grasp
of claws. All the power faded from his muscles. For an instant he was
no more than a dead man."

*

The image of Stephen Crane pale and quivering, backed into a corner
with a loaded revolver in his hand, is at odds with other pictures of
the scrappy, scrawny kid,
who was usually remembered for his pluck. His brother Edmund (Ed)--one
of eight older brothers and sisters--offered a picture of
three-year-old Stevie, as his
family called him, struggling to keep up with his brothers when they
went bathing in the Raritan River near Bound Brook, New Jersey Not yet
able to swim, Stevie
had nevertheless ventured in over his head, extending his arms out
over the water like a preacher at a baptism, calling out to his
brothers that he was "fimming." One
summer day in 1875, when he was not yet four, Stevie got in so far
over his head that Edmund finally "plucked him out, gasping but
unscared, just as his yellow hair
was going, under," remembered his brother. "We boys were naturally
delighted with his grit."

And yet water--taken in a religious context that would seem quite
literal to a young child--figured in an episode that had terrified
Stephen a year earlier. On
August 10, 1874, the two-year-old accompanied his middle-aged parents
and his grown sister Agnes to a Methodist revival meeting at Camp
Tabor, near Denville,
New Jersey. There, according to a witness, the preacher thundered on
about "the final conflagration" awaiting them. Stamping his feet,
raising and smashing down his
fist, he asked the sinners whether they were prepared "to take hell by
storm? Are your bones iron, and your flesh brass, that you plunge
headlong into the lake of
fire?" And as the sinners responded with a chorus of "fervent
supplication," baby Stevie "clung to his sister's skirt, and wept."

Stephen Crane's childhood as the son of the Reverend Jonathan
Townley Crane, a Methodist minister, and Mary Helen Peck Crane, a
clergyman's daughter and
a member of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union, had its share of
psychological terrors--the worst of the religious rhetoric flying out
at the sensitive young
boy, it seems, like furies or black riders coming from the sea, as he
would later write. In Holiness, the Birthright of All God's Children,
Stephen's father described
man's condition as "one of inexpressible evil. He is guilty,
condemned, corrupt, helpless, the wrath of God resting on him, and
hell waiting his coming, with its eternal
darkness and despair." The maternal side of Stephen's family was
stocked with ministers, even including a Methodist Episcopal bishop,
Jesse Truesdale Peck, author
of the chilling What Must I Do to Be Saved? "Upon my mother's side,
everybody as soon as he could walk, became a Methodist clergyman--of
the old
ambling-nag, saddlebag, exhorting kind," Stephen wrote a friend years
later.

Family legend maintains that Stephen was descended from both a
Stephen Crane of Elizabethtown, New Jersey, who was married to a woman
with red hair, and
a Revolutionary War patriot, also named Stephen Crane, who was
bayoneted to death by British troops just before the battle of
Springfield in June 1780. The
novelist, who was named for both Stephens, would embrace the story as
part of his inheritance, though it is not certain that he was
descended from the second man.
Writing about the patriot Crane's courageous death, Stephen would say,
"In those old times the family did it's duty." Of his immediate
forebears, who had traded
their guns for Bibles, he would write with disappointed affection. His
father "was a great, fine, simple mind" who had written "numerous"
tracts on theology. As for his
mother, Stephen is said to have marveled that such a well-educated,
talented woman "could have wrapped herself so completely in the
`vacuous, futile, psalm-singing
that passed for worship' in those days."

Stephen Crane's parents were not, in fact, the one-dimensional
people that such comments would indicate. The frizzy-bearded,
bespectacled father, who was
"without an evil habit," as his wife put it, was also courageous in
his convictions. He was not afraid to express even the more unwelcome
parts of Methodist ideology
or to disagree with the church hierarchy, including his own
father-in-law. Remembered in later years as an "eloquent" preacher, "a
pleasant, genial personage, always
dignified, yet cheerful and companionable," he was beloved for his
sense of humor. Some of his admirers even tried to get "a book of his
witticisms" published, said a
granddaughter. In family diaries, letters, and reminiscences, Jonathan
Townley Crane emerges as a noble, scholarly, kind man who was modest
about his own
preaching, a physically affectionate and sympathetic father who was
keenly interested in his children and proud of his wife. "The baby is
a miracle, as all babies are,
& to be appreciated, must be seen," he once wrote his father-in-law.
He was patient--even amused, it seems--with his numerous children, who
were apt to interrupt
him in the midst of a sermon. Bursting into a Sunday service with a
rattrap in hand, two of them once called out, "Here it is, Father. You
said to bring it to you as
soon as we found it." During another service he shook out what he
thought was his pocket handkerchief and found himself holding a
child's undershirt. He liked to
work in his garden and was once so distracted by the beauties of
nature while trolling for pickerel that he "almost forgot the fish."

Jonathan Townley Crane was born on June 19, 1819. Raised in
Connecticut Farms (Union), New Jersey, he had lost both of his parents
by the time he was
thirteen. Forced to make his own way in the world, he became
apprenticed to a trunk maker, who helped him go to college, and at
eighteen he made the decision
that would direct the course of his life thereafter, leaving the
Presbyterian Church in which he had been raised for the Methodist
Episcopal Church. Having rejected
the "repulsive" Calvinist teachings of his youth, which included such
"deformities" as predestination and infant damnation, he now embraced
a kindlier church that
preached salvation through individual faith but was scarcely less
severe in the narrowness of its doctrine. Jonathan's rigid set of
beliefs seemed calculated to keep him
toeing the moral line by rejecting all pleasures that threatened one's
virtuousness, including dancing, drinking, smoking, novel reading, and
gambling. After graduating
from the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) in 1843
with a prize in English composition, he became an itinerant preacher
on circuits in New Jersey,
Pennsylvania, and New York. Early in 1848, at the age of twenty-eight,
he married twenty-one-year-old Mary Helen Peck--a love match, it
seems--the only
daughter of Methodist clergyman George Peck, editor of the Methodist
Quarterly Review.

Mary Helen Peck Crane looks out from the only known photograph of
her, taken in middle age, with a kind, softly smiling face
distinguished by a prominent nose.
A boyhood friend of Stephen's would remember that she "dressed in dark
colors, somewhat suggesting the quakeress without the poke-bonnet."
Born on April 20,
1827, she graduated from Rutgers Female Institute in New York the year
before she married. The letters she wrote home to her parents give a
picture of a woman
who is duty-bound, reconciled to life as a minister's wife and the
mother of a large brood, and yet frustrated, feeling that she should
be doing something more than
tending her children and sewing.

Writing to her parents soon after her wedding, she talked of the
difficulties of being apart from her husband when he left in the
mornings on his pastoral calls. "I
find that I am yet something of a baby--I can hardly help feeling
lonely when left alone but of course I cannot always go with him, or
always have him stay with me,
however I think I am improving, and I trust that the sage lectures of
my dear mother were not altogether lost upon me." Sensing that her
husband's parishioners were
"a little shy of me at first"--an attitude she attributed to her city
origins--she was making an effort to draw them out and was succeeding.
"Pray for me," she wrote in
closing. Her husband felt the separations, too. In a letter to his
mother- and father-in-law, written as he was about to go away on
business a year after his marriage,
he confided his feelings about leaving his wife and their first child.
The baby was sick, and Mary Helen apparently pregnant again. "I had
hoped to take my little
world with me: but this now seems quite doubtful," he wrote. His wife,
he wrote in another letter, was "my better half."

Being married to a clergyman meant frequent moves, and for Helen
it also meant unending pregnancies--fourteen in all. Following a
relatively long settling-in
period at Pennington Seminary in New Jersey, where Jonathan served as
president from 1849 to 1858, the Cranes moved with their rapidly
growing brood from
one church to the next in New Jersey and New York, living in each
place from one to three years.

The letters to Helen's parents soon were dominated by accounts of
sick children, children suffering accidents and mishaps, children
outwearing and outgrowing
their clothes. There was always a new baby in the house. The lonely
young bride of the first year was quickly replaced in these letters by
a figure barely discernible
beneath a mountain of sewing. She was "getting weary of quite so much
of it," she wrote after six years. "I have plenty of work, enough for
two or three pairs of
hands," she wrote in 1857, nine years after her marriage. Her
husband--"Mr. Crane," she called him in her letters--assumed a large
part of the letter-writing duties.
He sent his in-laws cheerful, newsy accounts of "Mrs. Crane" or
"Helen," of their children, and of church business. He dutifully
repeated the children's funny remarks
and worried about their health, filling the letters with more details
than his overburdened wife could get into hers. In one letter dated
"Sunday Evening, Feb. 18th / 20
minutes past 10 o'clock," he records the birth of a baby girl.

Dear Father,

All is well. While deeply engaged in reading the life of John
Nelson, I was interrupted by sounds not to be mistaken. They were
nothing more nor
less than the crying of a genuine baby, which mother pronounced,
in her report, `a great big girl.' I am writing (and was reading) in
the front room, or
parlour, while the Committee on Posterity are in session in the
back room upstairs, Ergo, the said crying was a pretty fair
performance for the first
attempt, showing that the young lady in question is well provided
for in the matter of lungs.

While keeping an ear lovingly tuned to the clamor of his swelling
household, Jonathan was deeply engaged in his ministerial work and
related interests, to which he
applied himself with seemingly boundless energy. Awarded a doctorate
of divinity from Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, in 1856,
he turned out articles
and books declaiming the evils of dancing, novel reading, and
intoxication. He lectured on astronomy and pondered the flammable
question of slavery as the country
moved toward civil war. Though he was against slavery, he proposed a
system modeled on Russia's serfdom as a compromise to avoid war. By
late January 1865,
Jonathan had preached at or attended seven funeral services for
soldiers, the last one for a former prisoner at Andersonville. From
his post in Morristown, New
Jersey, Jonathan noted the fall of Richmond and Petersburg, as well as
Lee's surrender, which left the town "full of joy." He offered a brief
entry for Lincoln's
assassination, which had not yet been confirmed: "The whole place
rings with the startling rumor," he wrote on April 15, 1865. "How
cheering the thought that God
lives." There followed "a day of gloom, and excitement," during which
he preached to a full house, though he "felt wholly unfitted to preach
at all."

Consumed by the demands of her large family, Helen Crane managed
only a fleeting mention of the war in the letters she hastily wrote
her parents. "I hope
Sherman will get through safely and do great things," she wrote on
November 29, 1864. Even religious matters were only lightly touched
on. Whatever great or small
things Helen wanted to accomplish for herself would have to wait.
Although she wrote her father that she had not inherited her mother's
"failing"--a tendency to
"work too hard"--she sewed and mended clothes and linens by the
bushel, making quilts, new jackets, overcoats, and pants out of old
jackets and trousers.

She loved to paint but was usually compelled to lay aside her
brushes for the sewing needle. One year, however, she produced a
picture of autumnal Virginia in
crayon. "Mr. C. thinks [it] finer than an oil painting," she wrote her
parents. "I have an ardent admirer of my genius in my husband, he is
very proud of my paintings
and flowers." Stealing some time to write to her parents, she
confessed that she was seeing "visions of pantaloons with rents before
& behind with troops of
unfinished and unmended garments, coming to haunt me as I write but I
must send them to the rear." Her husband helped with the children,
"taking care of Sissy at
night which is a great relief to me," she wrote when her household was
ringing with whooping cough, but the burden fell on her. By 1869,
after more than twenty
years of marriage and child-rearing, she expressed amazement about a
complimentary mention of her in a Methodist paper. "I guess the
accomplishments have long
since disappeared--been burried out of sight by stern realities and
duties," she wrote her parents.

By then, stern reality had brought illness and death into the
large household. The energetic Jonathan suffered from what he called
sick headaches--"the enemy of
my peace in the days of my youth." Five of the Crane children died in
infancy or childhood, a high mortality rate even in those pre-vaccine
days. Lizzie and Blanche
died of scarlet fever in October 1866, within three days of each
other, thus breaking the family circle, noted Jonathan, and beginning
"our colony on the other shore."
The following January Jonathan's fifty-eight-year-old sister, Agnes
"my beloved sister" and "a faithful conscientious christian," he wrote
in his journal--died at the
Crane home three days after she suddenly began "bleeding at the
lungs." Perhaps of tuberculosis. A month later the eleventh Crane
child, a boy named Jesse Peck,
was born. He died at the age of five months, of cholera infantum. Two
more children died of unknown causes.

The letters to Helen's parents tell of a baby girl who suffered
from "fits," she said, and later died; of Sis (Nellie) taking iron one
summer "to strengthen her"; and of
children who seemed to their mother "debilitated" even when healthy.
Having contracted dysentery as a toddler, Georgie continued to be a
worry, looking
"emaciated," in his father's eyes, long after the illness had passed.
He suffered from convulsions, attributed to a bad cough, and was a
slow learner whose speech
also developed slowly. "Nellie," Mary Helen, was overtaken at
seventeen or eighteen by something her mother referred to vaguely as
"difficulties" and was sent away
for some weeks. Though the doctor had not seemed alarmed, Helen
worried that her eldest daughter was "destined to a life of disease
and suffering."

In his journal, at least, Jonathan seemed borne aloft by his
faith. "Well, God reigns, and in his hands we are all safe, whatever
awaits us," he wrote on the first
expected death of a child. Another baby had gone "from our arms, to
those of the Good Sheperd," yet another "to the better home above." In
her letters home,
Helen wrote of missing her dead babies, who were buried under a rose
bush in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

In the fall of 1871 the family was living in a three-story red
brick house at 14 Mulberry Street, a quiet, tree-shaded street in
Newark, where Jonathan had been
the church's presiding elder since 1868. At 5:30 in the morning of
November 1, Helen gave birth to her fourteenth and last child, a boy
they named Stephen. The
new baby--"our precious baby," Helen called him--arrived less than two
years after the birth of an apparently healthy baby boy, who had died.
Helen was now
forty-five years old; Jonathan, fifty-two. Stephen joined eight
surviving brothers and sisters, Mary Helen, George Peck, Jonathan
Townley, William Howe, Agnes
Elizabeth, Edmund Brian, Wilbur Fiske, and Luther, ranging in age from
eight to twenty-one.

On a summer day nearly four years later, a small yellow-haired boy
stretched out on the back of a large Newfoundland dog named Solomon,
who was paddling in
the Raritan River. By holding on to the big dog's collar, Stevie was
able to swim along while his older brothers bathed.

As the baby of the family, Stephen was always holding on--to an
older sister's hand, to the dog's collar struggling to keep up, to
stay afloat. Cherubic-looking,
with huge blue eyes and blond curls brushed with gold, he was
physically fragile. At five months the baby seemed to his father
"uncommonly strong," but by eight
months the Cranes were worried enough to take him to the country. The
move revived him; the infant appeared "much improved by the change
from the city to the
woods." At not quite two, he seemed "fat and flourishing"; a month
later, however, Jonathan described him as "so sick that we are anxious
about him." Though he
was a faithful diarist of Stephen's health, Jonathan offered no
precise information about the nature of these illnesses, which in time
frequently kept the boy home from
school.

Like the two creased and grainy photographs of Stephen Crane that
survive from this time, the few known facts about his childhood form a
hazy picture. After
Newark, the family moved to Bloomington when his father became
presiding elder of the Elizabeth District. He was a plucky, precocious
boy who taught himself to
read before the age of four and was attempting to write by age three,
when he offered his own letters to "Ganma" to be included in one of
his father's letters to
George Peck. "I suppose that he will expect her to reply in regard to
every topic introduced," Jonathan wrote his father-in-law with obvious
delight. Stephen's older
brothers and sisters, urged along by his proficiency with language,
read to him and challenged him with large vocabulary words. Edmund,
finding the baby "bright and
very teachable, amused myself by having him pronounce five and six
syllable words," he wrote later. "After a few laughable failures,
[Stephen] would accomplish a
correct pronunciation by spelling the word after me syllable by
syllable, resolving them into their sound."

Within the confines of a strict Methodist upbringing, Stephen did
the normal boy things, playing for hours at toy soldiers, using
buttons in place of real figures as he
patiently maneuvered his troops across the floor. He had a trick pony,
an old, white circus animal "he loved devotedly," said Edmund. Stevie
was sure that the "B"
branded on the pony's shoulder stood for P. T. Barnun. The family
spent summers at Ocean Grove, a burgeoning Methodist enclave on the
New Jersey shore, and
made excursions to the Methodist campground at Denville.

If anything set Stephen Crane apart from other children, it was
his mother. After nearly twenty-three years of marriage, Helen had
finally escaped the sewing pile
to make her contribution to the world outside. Taking Uncle Jesse
Peck's dictum to heart--that a woman must "be able to bring her quiet
but potent influence to bear
against public dangers"--she now joined the temperance cause with
zeal, attending meetings locally and out of town. She gave public
lectures about the eroding
effects of alcohol on the human body, and joined the newly founded
Woman's Christian Temperance Union, her sense of mission undoubtedly
propelled by the
experience of her own brother, Wilbur F. Peck, whose life had been
shattered by alcoholism. In June of 1873, Wilbur Peck took a
temperance pledge in Newark in
the presence of his father and Jonathan.

As his wife was finding her wings, Jonathan's were becoming less
powerful. He had taken on the conservative Holiness Movement which
required a second
conversion experience called "entire sanctification." The movement was
gaining strength within the church hierarchy, and, having written
against it in Holiness in
1874, Jonathan found himself under siege by some Holiness advocates,
who conspired to ruin his reputation and drive him down in the church
ranks. Holiness was
endorsed by some church leaders but was reviled in print as a
"poisonous reptile" by a reviewer who exulted in having burned the
book in his stove after reading it.
"That brethren should so differ was painful to him," Helen would write
later. George Peck's prominence may have prevented church officials
from taking further
action against Jonathan, but in 1876, following Peck's death, the
church sent Jonathan back to the itinerant ministry, like an angel
expelled from heaven. He was
assigned to the Cross Street Church in Paterson, New Jersey, in 1876,
then was compelled to move his family again just two years later, when
the presiding elder of
the Newark Conference decided to reduce expenses by hiring a pastor at
a smaller salary. (Jonathan had been paid only $1,250, he noted in his
diary, and was
"promised at least $150 more.") On April 6, 1878, when Stephen was
six, the Cranes moved to Port Jervis, New York, where Jonathan became
pastor of the
Drew Methodist Church. But the attacks on his book continued to wound
him. While going on with his ministry with all his usual energy, he
began revising the book
with the hope of changing some minds.

A pretty place nestled amid softly rolling, pine-covered hills in
the Delaware Valley at the junction of New York, New Jersey, and
Pennsylvania, Port Jervis was
an Erie Railroad town. Most of its 10,000 residents worked for the
railroad or in jobs related to it. Before long the wife of the new
minister began to make her mark,
drawing large audiences and favorable press from the Port Jervis
Gazette for her lectures on alcoholism. The town boasted as many as
eighty saloons at one time.
Some of these talks were enhanced by crayon illustrations and live
demonstrations. At one memorable lecture, Mrs. Crane cracked an egg
into a glass, then poured
alcohol over it to show how the mass hardened. Helen also lectured "on
the false religions of India" and on "China and Its People"--the
latter enlivened by children
dressed in native costume, including Helen's own blond, six-year-old
Stephen, according to one story, dressed as a coolie. With her
husband, she cofounded a
Sunday school for the town's black children, and she would later help
organize an industrial school to provide work and training for local
black women and children.
Helen's housekeeping suffered; the church ladies clucked their
disapproval and advised her to stay home and care for her large brood.

In the summer of 1878, when he was seven, Stephen was introduced
to a slightly older boy, Post (George) Wheeler. the two boys were
attending a WCTU rally
with their mothers, and afterward Stephen and his mother accompanied
the Wheelers to their town in Pennsylvania for a short visit. "The day
coach was full," said
Post, so he and Stevie sat apart from their mothers in the smoking
car. Stevie, a blond, pale, "hungry-looking" boy, lit up a Sweet
Caporal cigarette, gave one to
Post, and proceeded to smoke it while occasionally glancing over his
shoulder toward his mother.

The next day the boys attended a centenary celebration
commemorating the British and Indian attack on Forty Fort. Their
mothers gave each boy a quarter "to
spend as we liked." Stevie boldly approached a street vendor selling
beer for ten cents, and plunked down a dime.

Copyright © 1998 Linda H. Davis. All rights reserved. Reprinted by
permission of Houghton Mifflin Company.


Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Crane, Stephen, 1871-1900, Authors, American 19th century Biography