What you see on this page is one chapter from a book written in 1843 by Baynard Rush Hall, under the pseudonym Robert Carlton, describing his experiences from 1823 to 1831 while teaching at Indiana University. The chapter is reproduced in this Carey family album because it gives his impressions of our ancestor, Austin Seward (1797-1872), whom he refers to as Vulcanus Allheart. Dr. Hall's use of pseudonyms for the people he wrote about was a necessity; his portraits of many of Austin Seward's contemporaries weren't as complimentary as this one of the village blacksmith.
We've preserved the article exactly as received from Indiana researcher Allison Lendman, with all of Dr. Hall's spelling and punctuation intact. The footnotes at the end came with the article and were possibly written by the editor of the "Indiana centennial edition" of The New Purchase.
"Forgive my general and exceptless rashness,
Perpetual sober gods! I do proclaim
One honest man -- mistake me not -- but one."
"What find I here!
Fair Portia's counterfeit? what demi-god
Hath come so near creation?"
THIS chapter is devoted to a man;-- Mr. Vulcanus Allheart. And, although he will rap our knuckles for smiling at a few smileable things in him, Mr. Allheart will not be displeased to see that Mr. Carlton, the author, remembers his friend, as Mr. Canton the storekeeper and tanner, always said he would, when we blew his bellows for him or fired rifles together.
During a life somewhat peculiarly chequered, we have both by land and sea been more or less intimate with excellent persons in the learned professions, and in the commercial, agricultural and mechanical classes; but never out of the circle of kinsfolk, including the agnati and the cognati, have I ever so esteemed, ay, so loved any one as Vulcanus Allheart. And who and what was he?
He was by birth a Virginian, by trade a blacksmith, by nature a gentleman, and by grace a Christian; if more need be said, he was a genius. Ay! for his sake to this hour I love the very sight and smell of a blacksmith's shop; and, many a time in passing one, do I pause and steal a glance towards the anvil, vainly striving to make some sooty hammerer there assume the form and look of my lame friend! -- for he was lame from a wound in his thigh received in early life. Oh! how more than willing would I stand once more and blow his bellows to help him gain time for an evening's hunt, could I but see anew that honest charcoal face and that noble soul speaking from those eyes, as he rested a moment to talk till his iron arrived at the proper heat and colour!
But let none suppose Vulcanus Allheart was a common blacksmith. He was master both of the science and the art, from the nailing of a horse-shoe up to the making of an axe; and to do either right, and specially the latter, is a rare attainment. Not one in a million could make an axe as Allheart made it; and hence in a wooden country, where life, civilization, and Christianity itself, are so dependent on the axe, my blacksmith was truly a jewel of a man. His axes, even where silver was hoarded as a miser's gold, brought, in real cash, one dollar beyond any patent flashy affairs from New England, done up in pine boxes and painted half black, while their edge-part was polished and shiney as a new razor -- and like that article, made not to shave but to sell, and all this his axes commanded, spite of the universal nation, all-powerful and tricky as it is. No man in the Union could temper steel as my friend tempered; and workmen from Birmingham and Sheffield, who sometimes wandered to us from the world beyond the ocean, were amazed to find a man in the Purchase that knew and practised their own secrets.
Necessity led him to attempt one thing and another out of his line, till, to accommodate neighbours, (and any man was his neighbour) he made sickles, locks and keys, augers, adzes, chisels, planes, in short, any thing for making which are used iron and steel. His fame consequently extended gradually over the West two hundred miles at least in any direction; for from that distance came people to have well done at Woodville, what otherwise must have been clone, or a Sort of done, at Pittsburgh. Nay, liberal offers were made to Allheart to induce him to remove to Pittsburgh; but he loved us too much to accept them; and beside, he was daily becoming richer, having made a very remarkable discovery, which, however, he used to impart to others for a consideration -- viz. he had found out the curious art of beating iron into gold. My friend was indeed the great "Lyon" of the West.1
Mr. Allheart's skill was great also in rifle-making, and also naturally enough in rifle-shooting. I have compared Pittsburgh and Eastern and Down-eastern rifles with his (for the one concealed in my chamber is a present from Allheart), but none are so true, and none have sights that will permit the drawing of a bead so smooth and round. Does any maker doubt this? Grant me three months to regain my former skill, and I stake my rifle against all you have on hand, that she beats the things, one and all, eighty-five yards off-hand -- or (as I shall only give back your articles) I'll try you for the fun and glory alone! By the way, do you shoot with both eyes open? If not, let me commend the practice, both from its superiority and because it may save you from killing your own wife, as it did Mr. Allheart once.
He excelled, we have intimated, as a marksman. Perhaps in horizontal shooting he could not have a superior; for in his hands the rifle was motionless as if screwed in one of his vices; and thence would deliver ball after ball at fifty, sixty, or seventy yards, into one and the same auger hole. For him missing was even difficult; and all I had ever heard of splitting bullets on the edge of axe or knife, hitting tenpenny nails on the head, and so forth, was accomplished by Allheart. And his sight had become like that of the lynx; for at the crack of the gun he would himself call out where the ball had struck. Nor is all this so wonderful if we recollect that many years in proving rifles he practised daily; indeed target-shooting was a branch of his business -- and in it his skill became rare, ay! even bewitching!
His place for making these daily trials was at first a large stump some seventy yards distant on the far side of a hollow, against which stump was fixed his target; and along that ravine his wife, a pretty young woman, used to pass and repass to get water from a spring at the lower end. Her almost miraculous escape in that ravine I shall give in Mr. Allheart's own words, although his idiom was slightly inaccurate and provincial.
"You say, why can't we shoot across the holler agin that ole walnut stump yander? I ain't pinted a rifle across thare for four year -- and never intend to no more."
"Why so, Vulcanus? I'm sure 'tis a capital place for our mark."
"Well, Mr. Carlton, I'll tell you, and then you wont wonder. One day, about six months after we was furst married, I had a powerful big bore2 to fix for a feller going out West; and so I sit down just here -- (at the shop-door) -- to take it with a rest agin a clap-board standing before that stump, and where I always before tried our guns. I sit down, as I sort a suspicioned the hind sight mought be a leetle too fur to the right, and I wanted to shoot furst with allowance, and then plump at the centre without no allowance -- and then to try two shots afterwards off-hand. Well, I got all fixed, and was jeest drawing a fine bead, and had my finger actially forrard of the front triggur -- (and she went powerful easy)-- and was a holdin my breath -- when something darkened the sight, and my left eye ketch'd a glimpse of something atween me and the dimind -- and I sort a raised up my head so -- and there was Molly's head (Mrs. Allheart's) -- with the bucket in her hand a goin for water! She pass'd you know in a instant, almost afore I could throw up the muzzle; but, Mr. Carlton, if I hadn't a had both eyes open or no presence of mind, she'd a been killed to a dead certainty! I unsot the triggurs and went right in; and for more nor two hours my hand trembled so powerful I couldn't hold a hammer or use a file. And that's the reason I never fired across to that ole stump since, and why I never will agin."
But another reason for shooting with both eyes open is, that a curious experiment in optics cannot conveniently be made with one eye closed -- an experiment taught me by Mr. Allheart. And hence I would now commend both our book and the experiment to all spectacle-makers and spectacle-wearers -- to all ladies and ladies' gentlemen with quizzing glasses -- in fact to all persons with two or more eyes, and all speculative and practical opticians.
Place over the muzzle of your loaded rifle a piece of paste- board about four inches square, and so as entirely to prevent the right eye while looking steadily on the bead in the hind sight from seeing the diamond mark in the target placed twenty yards from you; then keep the left eye fixed immoveably on the diamond, and stand yourself without motion thus for a few seconds; and then will the thick paper over your muzzle disappear, and you will see or seem to see the diamond mark with your right eye and mixing with the bead -- touch then your "forrad" trigger and your ball is in the centre of the target. A dead rest is indispensable for this experiment. N.B.--If this experiment properly done fails, I will give you a copy of this work; provided, if I myself can successfully perform it, you will purchase two copies.
When it is said Mr. Allheart made rifles, be it understood as certain rules of grammar, in the widest sense; for his making was not like a watch-maker's a mere putting parts and pieces together, but our artist made first all the separate parts and pieces, and then combined them into a gun. He made, and often with his own hand, the barrel -- the stock -- the lock -- the bullet moulds, complete; the brass, gold, or silver mountings; the gravings, the everything! And each and every part and the whole was so well executed, that one would think all the workmen required to make a pin had been separately employed upon the rifle! He even made the steel gouges for stamping names on his own work, and also for stamping type-founders' matrices; he made, moreover, tools for boring musical instruments.
And this last reminds me that Allheart was the most "musical blacksmith" I ever knew -- more so probably than our learned blacksmiths. Not only could he play the ordinary and extraordinary anvil tunes with hammers of all sizes, making "sparks" and points, too, of light flash out much warmer and far more brilliant than ever sprang from the goat-strings of the Italian Maestro under the flaggellating horse-hair, but Allheart played the dulcimer, a monotone instrument shaped like an Æolian harp, and done with a plectrum on wire strings; and could, beyond all doubt, have easily played a sackbut, psaltery and cymbals.
He soon ]iecame enamoured of the flute; and on my proposing to give him lessons, he purchased an instrument and attended regularly at my house one or more evenings of every week for two years, till he became as great a proficient as his master, and from that to the present time (as he lately wrote me) he has been the conductor of the Woodville Band.3 Perhaps my friend's musical enthusiasm may be better understood. from the following little incident. His hands and fingers were nearly as hard as cast-iron; but this, while no small advantage in fingering the iron strings of a dulcimer, or in playing on the sonorous anvil, was a serious disadvantage in flute-playing; for the indurated points of his fingers stopped the holes like keys with badly formed metallic plugs, and permitted the air to leak out. On several occasions I had admired secretly the fresh and polished look of his finger-points when he came to take lessons; till once he accidentally, and with the most delightful naivete, unfolded the cause in answer to the following indirect query:--
"You are quite late to-night, Allheart?
"Yes -- ruther -- but some customers from Kaintuck stopped me, and after that I had to stay till I filed down my fingers!"
My friend was besides all this a painter. And verily, as to the lettering of signs, the shading, the bronzing, the peppering and salting, and so forth, I defy any first-rate glazier any where to beat Allheart; for he yet does signs for his neighbours, and more from the goodness of his heart and the love of the arts than for gain. To be sure, formerly he would mis-punctuate a little, placing commas for periods and periods where no diacritical mark was needed -- although I do believe he sometimes, like a wag of a printer, only followed copy. One thing is certain, he never improperly omitted a capital, though he may have put such in where it might have been omitted; but then, this only rendered the name more conspicuous, and the sign itself altogether more capital.
Lettering was not, however, his sole forte; he aspired to pictorial devices, such as vignettes; and at last he ventured boldly upon portraits and even full-length figures. His own portrait was among the very first he took, and that by means of a mirror; but, whether from modesty or want of skill, or want of faithfulness in the glass, the likeness was not very flattering. And yet one thing done by our New Purchase artist ought (I speak with becoming deference) to be imitated by many eminent eastern portrait-painters.
"What is that, sir ?"
Well, I am actuated by the best of motives, gentlemen, as it was a peculiarity in Mr. Allheart's finish, by which, however bad the mere painting, the likeness intended could always be seen at a glance if you knew how to look.
"What was it, sir?" we are impatient."
Why, he always painted on the frame of the picture the name of the person to whom the likeness or portrait belonged.4
But the chef-d'œuvre of Allheart was a full-length figure of the American Goddess, Liberty, done for the sign of the new hotel -- the Woodville House. He was engaged at this picture, during the intervals stolen from his smithery, one whole summer: and many were the wondering visitors, from far and near, that favoured the artist with their company and remarks. For most matters here done in private were with us then done in public, -- this of course being conducive to the perfection of the fine arts. And hence it is not surprising that Allheart, profiting by the endless remarks and suggestions of our democratical people, should have embodied all the best sentiment of the purest republicans in nature, and given to the Purchase the very beau ideal of American Liberty.
I shall attempt no elaborate critique, but shall say enough to help intelligent readers to a fair conception of this piece.
The Goddess, like a courageous and independent divinity, stood, Juno fashion, right straight up and down the canvass, and with immovable and fearless eyes fronted the spectator and looked exactly into his face; thus countenancing persecuted freemen, to the confusion of all tyrannical oppressors! Her face, in size and feature, was a model for wholesome Dutch milkmaids to copy after; but the cheeks, instead of blushing, were, I regret to say, only painted red, like those of an actress too highly rouged.
In the right hand was a flag-staff, less indeed than a liberty-pole or Jackson-hickory, but considerably larger every way than a broom-handle; and on its top was hung, exactly in the centre, a cap -- thus by its perfect balance and equi-distances of all parts of the rim from the staff, showing that liberty is justice, and is independent and impartial. The cap had, however, an ominous resemblance to one of Jack Ketch's;5 and no doubt foreign despots, ecclesiastical and secular, will pull said article over Liberty's eyes, if they succeed in apprehending and hanging her.
On the left shoulder squatted a magnificant eagle in all the plenitude of stiff golden feathers, and in the act of being-a-going to drink from a good sized bowl held up by the left-hand fingers of the goddess. What was the mixture could not be seen -- the bowl was so high -- but most probably it was a sleeping-potion, as the bird seemed settled for a night's roost. Nay, this was the sentiment intended -- to mark a time of profound peace, like shutting the gates of Janus: and hence the eagle held in his claws no arrowy thunder and lightning, being evidently disposed to let kings alone to take their naps, if they would let him alone to take his. The idea was equal in sublimity to Pindar's eagle snoozing on Jupiter's sceptre at the music of Orpheus; although my friend's bird was uncommonly big and heavy -- but then his goddess was hale and hearty.
The drapery or dress was a neat white muslin slip then fashionable in Kentucky, which was the Paris whence we derived fashions; and this simple attire was tied gently under the celestial bosom, which was heaved far up towards the chin, as if the heart was swollen with one endless and irrepressible emotion, and threatened some day or other to sunder the tie and burst right out, breast and all, through the frail barrier of the frock! Yet doubtless the slip was high in the back, and, à la Kaintuque, well secured between the shoulders, so that if things gave way in the front, there was still some support from behind -- but then it looked dangerous. The frock was, however, undeniably starched and rather too short -- (owing maybe to the upward heave of the bosom, as is the case sometimes with dresses from ill-made or too much tournure and bustle,) -- for the article stood forth, not from the canvass but from the person, and all smooth and un-wrinkled as if just from under the hot smoothing-iron! And, alas! its great brevity -- (and the figure up so high too) -- revealed the sturdy ankles away up till they began to turn into limbs!
The feet, unlike Liberty's martyrs in the Revolution, and to indicate our advance in comfort and security, and perhaps in compliment to a ladies' shoe-maker just established next the Woodville House, were covered with a pair of red morocco slippers; while on the ankles and upwards were drawn nice white stockings -- so that there was no denudity of limb, as a lady-reader may have feared, and the fashionable frock was not so bad after all. Some error, perhaps, in foreshortening had happened as to the position of the feet, or rather the red moroccos; for, while the artist designed to represent the right foot as stepping from the other, and the left, as pointing the shoe-toe at the spectator immediately in front, yet the right shoe was fixed horizontally with its heel at a right angle with the other, and that other, the left hung perpendicularly down as if broken at the instep -- a marvellous likeness to the two slippers on the shoe-maker's own sign, one there with its sole slap against the board, and the other up and down as if hung upon a peg.
And oh! how I do wish I had not been born before the era of composition books!-- or only now could take a few lessons with the author of one!-- so as write with all the modern improvements, like the talented family of the Tailmaquers in the leading magazines and other picture books for grown up children!-- I should so like to describe the putting up of our new tavern post, and the first hanging of the Goddess of Liberty! But that's not for the like of me -- I'm no orator as Brutus. How can I paint the open-mouthed wonder of that crowd! How make you see the hunchings!-- the winks!-- the nods!-- the pointings!-- or hear the exclamations!-- the queries!-- the allowings!-- the powerfuls!-- the uproar? And when lawyer Insidias Cutswell, candidate for Congress, mounted the "hoss block" at the post, and ended his half-hour's speech -- oh! I never!
"_____ Beautiful, indeed, fellow-citizens, vibrates above us in the free air and sunshine of Heaven, that picture! but more beautiful even is our own dear, blood-bought liberty! Long! long may her sign dance and rejoice there -- (pointing up) -- long, long may her image repose here -- (slapping the chest and rather low) -- and long, long, long live our enterprising townsman and fellow-citizen, who, untaught, has yet so ably embodied all that is substantial and. solid, and upright and unflinching and stable in abstract, glorious, lovely liberty -- our townsman, Allheart!"
But "Non possumus omnia" must be our moral and conclusion.