New Thought Pioneer
by Eva Martin
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Chapter 1 - SHIP’s BOY AND SEA-COOK
2 - LIFE ON A WHALING VESSEL
Chapter 3 - GOLD-MINING AND SCHOOL-TEACHING
Chapter 4 - LAST ADVENTURES
Chapter 5 - THE PEACEFUL END
Chapter 6 - HEALTH AND SELF- DEVELOPMENT
Chapter 7 - THE POWER OF THOUGHT AND LOVE
IT sometimes happens that there is an extreme detachment between a man's inner and outer life, or that as regards environment and occupation one period of his life differs so much from another that the two seem scarcely reconcilable. Whether this detachment was, in the case of Prentice Mulford, as complete as would appear from his own account is a matter for some doubt; but certainly the contrast between the early and later portions of his life was great enough to make it difficult, in retrospect, to weld them into a coherent whole.
So unusual and adventurous a career as his is worth considering in detail, for there is something of peculiar interest about a man who, having from early youth up endured the fatigue and drudgery of many different kinds of hard physical labour from sheer necessity and in order to live—has yet made himself known and remembered in two continents entirely by the fruits of his mind. Yet, if we study Mulford’s early years carefully, we shall see how their varied experiences and hardships gave ample opportunity for the growth of those ideas which later he expressed with so much force and vigour.
He was born on April 5, 1834, at Sag Harbour, Long Island, in the State of New York, and we can gather from his own story a fairly definite impression of his early surroundings. His birthplace was a whaling-village, where two-thirds of the male population were bred to the sea, and boys learnt to know the ropes of a ship more easily than their multiplication tables. The names of strange and distant lands were commonplaces of everyday talk, and children grew up familiar with the idea of leaving home and sailing away into unknown seas in search of fortune.
During Mulford’s boyhood the Californian gold fever was raging, but we have small in formation about these years, and he seems to have been about twenty-two when, in company with five other youths from his native place, he shipped "before the mast" on the clipper Wizard, bound for San Francisco. The first duty allotted to him was the cleaning out of the ship's pig-pen, and, while not objecting to the task in itself—"Cincinnatus on his farm," he remarks, "may have done the same thing."—the curses and abuse showered on him and his fellows, on this and similar occasions, by their superior officers, seem to have made a deep and bitter impression on his mind. It was, indeed, a rough and even brutal life, and when the miseries of storm and sea-sickness were added to other trials, the six unhappy youths thought longingly of the comfortable homes they had left so light-heartedly.
In time they grew accustomed to the harsh discipline and coarse fare, which had at first seemed unbearable, but a long voyage in the Wizard can have been no pleasure-trip. She leaked, and had to be pumped all the way round Cape Horn; she shipped huge seas unexpectedly, decks and cabins alike being swept by tons of water that often carried away their very meals from under the hungry sailors eyes; worst of all, she was undermanned to such an extent that when fifteen seamen mutinied, on being called to the pumps out of their turn in the small hours of the night, and were put in irons, they had to be released next day because it was found impossible to work the ship without them.
Mulford seems to have felt some doubts as to whether he had chosen the right calling. He was handicapped for more than half the voyage by an injured finger, but apart from this, and despite his early environment, he was found to be of little use in the continual operations of loosing or reefing sails. Though anxious to help, and quick to get into the rigging, he invariably found, when there, that he could do nothing save hold on with both hands. "On a yard in a storm," he says with characteristic humour, "I believed and lived up to the maxim: ‘Hold fast to that which is good.’ The yard was good."
The captain of the vessel apparently had no doubts in the matter, for when in August 1856, after a four months voyage, the Wizard at last lay safely at anchor in San Francisco harbour, he informed Mulford that he did not consider him "cut out for a sailor." The latter took the hint, together with his wages, and left the vessel. Nevertheless, he did not accept the captain's verdict as final, and it is at this point that we come upon the first suggestion of those strongly-held views of his on the power of thought, which were to be expanded and developed to so great an extent in later years.
"Never," he declares emphatically, "accept any person's opinion of your qualifications or capacities for any calling." And he enlarges on the numerous lives that have been spoilt and crippled by the discouraging influence of parents and relatives, which "remains within them, becomes a part of them, and chokes aspiration and effort. Years afterward I determined to find out for myself whether I was cut out for a sailor or not. As a result I made myself master of a small craft in all winds and weathers, and proved to myself that, if occasion required, I could manage a bigger one."
Mulford omits here to consider the possibility that the captain's frankly expressed opinion may have been the very stimulus that bred in him the determination to prove it wrong; and he entirely ignores the fact that many of the most successful lives of which we have record have been the fruit, not of early parental praise and encouragement, but of their exact opposites. That factor in human nature which causes it to fight best against great odds, and to achieve its finest results in the face of obstacles and difficulties, seems by him to have been left out of account altogether, though its active working in his own case is constantly suggested by the story of his life.
that may be, it certainly seemed as though life at sea, in some
capacity or other,
were his destiny at this time, for after a few months "drifting
round," as he puts it, in San Francisco, he shipped as cook and steward
a whaling vessel, the schooner Henry.
Once at sea, his unsuitability for the post became immediately
the first two weeks he was miserably sea-sick; his culinary efforts
received by all concerned with disgust and rage; and it took him three
to learn even the rudiments of his trade. But he persevered in the face
threats, abuse, and discouragement, and at the end of a ten months
attained, in his own opinion, the status of a second-class sea-cook.
At a later period of his life Mulford himself seems to have suffered from the operations of one whom he describes as "an unbalanced cook." This was one of his mining partners who was apt to get anxious and flurried while cooking, and Mulford found that "an unbalanced cook puts flurries into his stews, for I felt sometimes as if trying to digest a whirl wind after eating his dinners." Further, he gives it as his opinion that "two hours work about a hot stove exhausts more than four hours work out-of-doors," and that the European women who work in the fields are better off than the American women who spend the greater part of their time in the kitchen.
All things considered, it is plain that he had not found his true métier in life among the saucepans.
But relief was not yet at hand.
LIFE ON A WHALING VESSEL
THE Henry lay for four or
five months in
St. Barthol-omew's, or Turtle Bay, all hands—except
in finding and curing abalones, a kind of shell-fish. The lovely
of the shells made them valuable for inlaid work, and the contents,
and dried, were intended for the Chinese market in San Francisco.
During the abalone-gathering Mulford was left on the vessel all day, from dawn till sunset, "alone with my own thoughts, pots, pans, and kettles. . . . No companions save gulls in the air and sharks in the water." The gulls were sociable, and occasionally entered the cabin to pick up crumbs, and he can scarcely find words to express his amazement at their capacity for food. "A Pacific-coast gull does not feed," he says. "It seeks simply to fill up the vast, unfathomable space within. Eternity is, of course, without end, but the nearest approach to eternity must be the inside of a gull; I would say stomach, but a stomach implies metes and bounds, and there is no proof that there are any metes or bounds inside of a gull."
the intervals of preparing an evening meal for the hungry "insides"
of his absent comrades, the self-made cook had plenty of time for
animal and bird life surrounding him, and so entertaining are some of
comments and descriptions that one feels he must have had in him the
a successful naturalist. Apart from such observations, however, we are
little of the thoughts that filled his mind during these long solitary
Knowing what we do of his later life, we may conclude that they ranged
wide, and touched on subjects that would have astonished those who
him merely as the ship's provider of meals, good, bad, or indifferent.
No doubt the freshness and raciness that characterise his writings are partly due to this avoidance of books. Yet a closer familiarity with the great minds of the past, and with the beauty and dignity of great literature, might have given them a quality that is lacking, while enabling him to avoid the faults of confused expression, clumsy construction, and undue repetition which annoy many of his readers. A man who has something new to say—as Mulford undoubtedly had—will not say it any the worse for having cultivated a sense of style. "To study the great masters of prose and poetry who have preceded him does not necessarily induce slavish imitation and loss of originality in the student. That is a danger only to the weak, and Mulford was not of their company, despite his emphatically expressed fear of "the rules and canons of art, which shackle and repress originality." "Genius," he says, "knows no old master," thus declaring himself, long before their day, in sympathy with those modern schools of poets, painters, and musicians who desire to escape from the trammels of classical tradition in every form of art-expression.
he would have approved of the extreme forms taken, in their attempts to
overthrow form, by the efforts of some of these modernists, is a
can scarcely attempt to answer. Nor would the opinion of one who had
the artist in his composition be of any real value.
Mulford recounts all this with a certain pity, but it is a detached, impersonal pity. He was not, apparently, shaken by the deep passion and loathing that would have filled the hearts of many men on seeing such outrages committed in the sacred name of "Trade"; nor was he at this time inspired, like Saint Francis, with an abiding sense of the universal Divine Life in all sentient creatures. Yet certain of his later writings show a clear awareness of this, and knowing that he was always, in his own degree, a mystic, and endowed with refined and sensitive feelings, we needs must wonder how he ever endured the appalling sights, smells, and sounds of these awful days. Of the smells he has, indeed, much to say. There seems to be nothing in the universe that can be aptly compared to the smell of boiling blubber and decaying whale combined, and he even tells us how, when serving the meals, he often had to climb and crawl over the huge chunks of blubber which were piled all over the deck and up to the top of the bulwarks.
After six weeks whaling the Henry set sail for the lonely island of Guadalupe, 200 miles off the coast of Lower California. Here, says Mulford, "it was our business to murder all the mother sea-lions . . . and a boat-load of murderers was quickly sent on shore." But for once luck was on the side of the to-be-murdered, for the boat's crew disappeared, and was not seen again for three days. At the end of this time they returned to the ship in a much-battered yawl that they had found on one of the island beaches, probably left there by former sealers, and it transpired that they had lost sight of the Henry in a fog, been driven ashore, had their boat smashed to pieces in a semi-hurricane, and lived on shell fish in the interval. The cook was kept busy; they ate steadily for an hour.
No sooner was this adventure over than the ship was caught in a treacherous current that threatened to drive her straight on to an enormous rock, five hundred feet high. Just in time a breeze sprang up and saved her, but, says Mulford, "we trifled no more with Guadalupe, but sailed straight away for our old harbour."
As the Henry thus ignominiously departed, there was heard "the howling and barking of what, judged by the sound, might have been ten thousand seals. It was as the roaring of a dozen combined menageries. . . . These seals were howling at our discomfiture. The rock was half veiled in a mist, through which we could indistinctly see their countless forms writhing and tumbling about."
This was the end of Mulford's youthful sea-experiences. He landed at San Francisco after a ten months’ cruise with a share of the proceeds amounting to 250 dollars; shipped, after a time, as cook on a coasting schooner, but was discharged before he left the wharf, his preliminary efforts having failed to please the captain’s palate. When he next set foot on the deck of a ship it was to steam eastwards to New York, after sixteen years of laborious exile.