The Story of Daniel Webster

by James Baldwin

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Chapter VI: Getting Ready for College

One day in the early winter, Judge Webster asked Daniel to ride with him to Boscawen. Boscawen was a little town, six miles away, where they sometimes went for business or for pleasure.

Snow was on the ground. Father and son rode together in a little, old-fashioned sleigh; and as they rode, they talked about many things. Just as they were going up the last hill, Judge Webster said:

"Daniel, do you know the Rev. Samuel Wood, here in Boscawen?"

"I have heard of him," said Daniel. "He takes boys into his family, and gets them ready for college."

"Yes, and he does it cheap, too," said his father. "He charges only a dollar a week for board and tuition, fuel and lights and everything."

"But they say he is a fine teacher," said Daniel. "His boys never fail in the college examinations."

"That is what I have heard, too," answered his father. "And now, Dannie, I may as well tell you a secret. For the last six years I have been planning to have you take a course in Dartmouth College. I want you to stay with Dr. Wood this winter, and he will get you ready to enter. We might as well go and see him now."

This was the first time that Daniel had ever heard his father speak of sending him to college. His heart was so full that he could not say a word. But the tears came in his eyes as he looked up into the judge's stern, kind face.

He knew that if his father carried out this plan, it would cost a great deal of money; and if this money should be spent for him, then the rest of the family would have to deny themselves of many comforts which they might otherwise have.

"Oh, never mind that, Dan," said his brother Ezekiel. "We are never so happy as when we are doing something for you. And we know that you will do something for us, some time."

And so the boy spent the winter in Boscawen with Dr. Wood. He learned everything very easily, but he was not as close a student as he had been at Exeter.

He was very fond of sport. He liked to go fishing. And sometimes, when the weather was fine, his studies were sadly neglected.

There was a circulating library in Boscawen, and Daniel read every book that was in it. Sometimes he slighted his Latin for the sake of giving more time to such reading.

One of the books in the library was Don Quixote. Daniel thought it the most wonderful story in existence. He afterwards said:

"I began to read it, and it is literally true that I never closed my eyes until I had finished it, so great was the power of this extraordinary book on my imagination."

But it was so easy for the boy to learn, that he made very rapid progress in all his studies. In less than a year, Dr. Wood declared that he was ready for college.

He was then fifteen years old. He had a pretty thorough knowledge of arithmetic; but he had never studied algebra or geometry. In Latin he had read four of Cicero's orations, and six books of Virgil's Aeneid. He knew something of the elements of Greek grammar, and had read a portion of the Greek Testament.

Nowadays, a young man could hardly enter even a third-rate college without a better preparation than that. But colleges are much more thorough than they were a hundred years ago.


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