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ever employed to better advantage. The surprising quickness, with which he would transfer to his own mind the contents of a book, at a time when a new book was a greater rarity than it now is, threatened to exhaust his sources of information through this medium. All the books in his father's collection, and the " Parish Library," which were of a character suited to his age and attainments, were read, before he left the paternal home; and retained with such tenacity of memory, as to be ever after available for illustrating truths, or enlivening and embellishing discourse.
It is natural to inquire, whether there was any thing in the circumstances of his early youth, which will account for his mental habits, and especially the rapidity of his intellectual operations. A partial answer may be found in the fact, that his time was divided between labor and study. His father, like most ministers of country parishes, derived the means of supporting his family, in part, from a farm, which his sons assisted in cultivating. From his share in these agricultural labors the subject of this memoir was not exempted, particularly in the "busy seasons" of the year. But whatever were his employment, though he appears to have engaged in it with cheerfulness' and to have prosecuted it with fidelity, his thirst for knowledge was the ruling passion of his soul. This he sought to quench, or rather to cherish, by resorting to his book at every interval from toil, however short, when he tasked his mind to the utmost of its power, intent on making the greatest possible acquisition in a given time. His mind, though strung up to the highest pitch of exertion at these seasons, suffered no injury thereby, as it was so soon diverted from its employment by a call to the field; and every repetition of the process extended its capability and power. The acquisitions in this way obtained furnished materials, on which to employ the thoughts while engaged in manual labor, which he would not fail to digest and lay up in store for future use,―a voluntary discipline of most auspicious influence, as it respects the facility of acquiring knowledge, and the power of retaining it.
His early literary, as well as moral and religious education is believed to have been conducted principally by his parents, except the studies preparatory to college, which
were pursued, in part at least, at the Academy in New Ipswich. After his preparatory course was completed, his father delayed sending him to college, assigning as the reason, that he saw in him no certain indications of special seriousness, and could not, therefore, consistently educate him; that it were better, on all accounts, to retain him on the farm; for, added he, to give you a liberal education, while destitute of religious principle, would be like putting a sword into the hands of a madman."
Whether the father was led to adopt such strong language from having observed in his son the existence of those properties, which, in their future developement, were to give him such power over his species; or whether it was only the application of what he held as a general principle, there does not appear to have been in either the disposition or conduct of the son any particular cause for his apprehensions. His filial affection and conduct had been, and ever continued to be, most exemplary, as manifested by his letters when absent, and by his rever ence for his parents and cheerful obedience when at home. His fraternal feelings were kind, and his conduct towards his brothers and sisters faithful and affectionate. By them he was greatly beloved, and his vacations, when he should visit home and mingle again in the domestic circle, were anticipated with delightful interest, as the halcyon days of their lives. His moral character comes down to us, even from the first, without a blemish, and, by consent of all, he sustained the reputation of a magnanimous, honorable, generous youth.
His father's decision, however, was not peremptory and unalterable. Young Payson was indeed detained from college, yet permitted to pursue his studies,-but whether exclusively, or in connection with other employments, does not appear,-till he was fitted to join the Sophomore class; when, all objections being waived, he entered Harvard College at an advanced standing, at the commencement in 1800, about the time he completed his seventeenth year.
He had now a new ordeal to pass-a severe test for both his talents and character. Many a youth, who was regarded as a prodigy of genius in his native parish, or in a country village, and who anticipated the same eminence
at the seat of science, has found himself sadly disappointed in being obliged to take his rank below mediocrity. Thus it had nearly fared with Payson-not that he was destitute of real worth, but there were circumstances, which prevented that worth from being appreciated. The first impressions respecting him were unfavorable. 'You would have taken him, says a classmate, for an unpolished, ignorant country lad; exceedingly modest, unassuming, and reserved in his manners. And as we generally look for a long time at the words and actions of a character through the same medium, by which he was first presented to us, his merit was for a long time unknown.' This judging from appearances is, perhaps, unavoidable, though often very injurious. In the greenness of his youth, Mr. Payson's modesty might easily be mistaken for bashfulness; as through life he had much of a downcast look, holding his eyes inclined to the earth, except when warmly engaged in conversation; then they would beam most expressively; and when addressing an audience from the pulpit, they would "pry through the portals of the head," and give a thrilling emphasis to the language of his lips.
Mr. Payson's classmate, just quoted, and who also occupied the same rooms with him during the whole period of his residence at college, bears decided testimony to the purity of his morals, and the regularity of his habits, as well as other estimable qualities. With his intimate friends he was social, communicative, and peculiarly interesting and improving, and by those, who best knew him, was much beloved. He was distinguished for his industry; his first care always was to get his lesson, which engaged him but a short time, and then he would resume his reading. He was invariably prepared to meet his instructer, prompt in reciting, and seldom committed a mistake. His manner of rehearsing was rapid, his tone of voice low, with a kind of instinctive shrinking from every thing, which had the appearance of display. He seems to have been regarded as no more than a decent scholar by his associates and teachers generally at college; but "after having been with him a few months, I was convinced that he possessed uncommon mental powers. Others knew not this, because they knew not the man. During the
latter part of his collegiate course, as he became more known, he rose rapidly in the estimation of both the government and his classmates, as a young man of correct morals, amiable disposition, and respectable talents."
The testimony of another classmate agrees with this as to the general character of the man, but is more discriminating and positive in reference to his merits as a scholar. "The circumstance of joining his class at an advanced standing, combined with his naturally retiring and unobtrusive manners, contributed, probably, to his being so little known to a large portion of his college cotemporaries, who seemed scarcely aware that his talents were of that high order, by which he was soon afterwards so eminently distinguished. Yet even at that early period he manifested an energy, hardihood, and perseverance of character, which were sure indications of success, in whatever course he might eventually direct his professional pursuits. In the regular course of college studies, pursued at the time of his residence at Cambridge, he maintained the reputation of a respectable scholar in every branch. Intellectual and moral philosophy were more to his taste, than physical science; yet he sustained a distinguished rank in the higher branches of the mathematics, as well as natural philosophy and astronomy, at that time so unpopular, and so little understood by a large proportion of the students." It is not remembered, however, that there was any public recognition of distinguished merit in him, at the time he commenced Bachelor of Arts.
The reputation of being "a great reader," as the phrase is often applied, is a very undesirable distinction; it is one, however, which Mr. Payson bore in common with thousands, who are not the wiser for their reading. His frequent resort to the college library was a theme of raillery with his fellow students, who, at one time, represented him as having 'a machine to turn over the leaves;' and at another, as having left off taking out books, because he had read all the thousands in the alcoves of old Harvard.' Ridicule, in his case, was egregiously misapplied; for, says his constant companion in the study and in the dormitory, "every thing he read, he made his own. He had the strongest and most tenacious memory, I ever knew. It is truly astonishing with what rapidity he could
read; how soon he could devour a large volume, and yet give the most particular and accurate account of its contents." Testimonies of the same kind might be multiplied, and confirmed by many anecdotes, which to a stranger would appear incredible, illustrating the power of this faculty, and the severity of those tests to which it has been subjected.