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A Plea for Old Cap Collier   By: (1876-1944)

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A PLEA FOR OLD CAP COLLIER

By Irvin S. Cobb

To Will H. Hogg, Esquire

For a good many years now I have been carrying this idea round with me. It was more or less of a loose and unformed idea, and it wouldn't jell. What brought it round to the solidification point was this: Here the other week, being half sick, I was laid up over Sunday in a small hotel in a small seacoast town. I had read all the newspapers and all the magazines I could get hold of. The local bookstore, of course, was closed. They won't let the oysters stay open on Sunday in that town. The only literature my fellow guests seemed interested in was mailorder tabs and price currents.

Finally, when despair was about to claim me for her own, I ran across an ancient Fifth Reader, all tattered and stained and having that smell of age which is common to old books and old sheep. I took it up to bed with me, and I read it through from cover to cover. Long before I was through the very idea which for so long had been sloshing round inside of my head this idea which, as one might say, had been aged in the wood took shape. Then and there I decided that the very first chance I had I would sit me down and write a plea for Old Cap Collier.

In my youth I was spanked freely and frequently for doing many different things that were forbidden, and also for doing the same thing many different times and getting caught doing it. That, of course, was before the Boy Scout movement had come along to show how easily and how sanely a boy's natural restlessness and a boy's natural love for adventure may be directed into helpful channels; that was when nearly everything a normal, active boy craved to do was wrong and, therefore, held to be a spankable offense.

This was a general rule in our town. It did not especially apply to any particular household, but it applied practically to all the households with which I was in any way familiar. It was a community where an old fashioned brand of applied theology was most strictly applied. Heaven was a place which went unanimously Democratic every fall, because all the Republicans had gone elsewhere. Hell was a place full of red hot coals and clinkered sinners and unbaptized babies and a smell like somebody cooking ham, with a deputy devil coming in of a morning with an asbestos napkin draped over his arm and flicking a fireproof cockroach off the table cloth and leaning across the back of Satan's chair and saying: "Good mornin', boss. How're you going to have your lost souls this mornin' fried on one side or turned over?" Sunday was three weeks long, and longer than that if it rained. About all a fellow could do after he'd come back from Sunday school was to sit round with his feet cramped into the shoes and stockings which he never wore on week days and with the rest of him incased in starchy, uncomfortable dress up clothes just sit round and sit round and itch. You couldn't scratch hard either. It was sinful to scratch audibly and with good, broad, free strokes, which is the only satisfactory way to scratch. In our town they didn't spend Sunday; they kept the Sabbath, which is a very different thing.

Looking back on my juvenile years it seems to me that, generally speaking, when spanked I deserved it. But always there were two punishable things against which being disciplined my youthful spirit revolted with a sort of inarticulate sense of injustice. One was for violation of the Sunday code, which struck me as wrong the code, I mean, not the violation without knowing exactly why it was wrong; and the other, repeated times without number, was when I had been caught reading nickul libruries, erroneously referred to by our elders as dime novels.

I read them at every chance; so did every normal boy of my acquaintance. We traded lesser treasures for them; we swapped them on the basis of two old volumes for one new one; we maintained a clandestine circulating library system which had its branch offices in every stable loft in our part of town... Continue reading book >>




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