The Life of Benjamin R. Tucker

Disclosed by Himself

In the Principality of Monaco
At the age of 74

"I fear no man, and love but few."
Benjamin Butler

[The following has been transcribed from the microfilm of pages written in Tucker's hand. Apologies for spelling errors and the like. This is a labor of love, done in spare hours, and made available for free. Please credit this site if/when you distribute the autobiography. Thanks! Wendy McElroy]

Whether the life pictured in these pages was worth living or not, may those who are to follow profit by the example!

I write my book for few men and for few years...I will not, after all, as I often hear dead men spoken of, that men should say of me: "He judged and lived so and so; he would have done this or that. Could he have spoken when he was dying, he would have said so or so, and have given this thing or the other. I knew him better than any." Now, as much as decency permits, I here discover any inclinations and affections. What I cannot express, I point out with my finger:

"But by these footsteps a sagacious mind
May easily all other matters find."

...If people must be talking of me, I would have it to be justly and truly. I would come again with all my heart from the other world to give any one the lie that should report me other than I was; though he did it to honor me. -- Michel de Montaigne

Table of Contents

1. Nativity and Pedigree.
An April Snow-Bird. A Dartmouth Bazaar. Abner Tucker's Two Marriages. A Notable Centenarian.
2. Childhood in Padanaram.
Miraculous Power of the Bible. Rebellion in the Tucker Blood. First Lesson in French. My Musical Repertory.
3. Boyhood in New Bedford.
A Negative Lesson in Self-Determination. The Firm of Tucker and Cummings. Summer in the Green Mountains. The Friends' Academy. My First Composition. Favorite Sports. My Debt to Unitarianism. My Escape from Sunday School. The New Bedford Lyceum. Literary Preferences. New Bedford Homes. Dancing and Riding. Death of Sister Julia. Joyous Memories of the Great. Earning my Pocket-Money. My Unique Cousin. A Defeat and a Victory. Punctuality and Diet, Disease and Death. "Joe Bigler." Trip to Washington. First Play and First Opera. Household Games. A Momentous Decision. The Last Day at Friends' Academy. Billy Rip's Hasty Conclusion.
4. Youth in Boston, New York, and Europe.
My Boarding-House and its Conveniences. On the Road to Atheism, and My Arrival. The Atheist's Prayer. Zenas T. Haines. Change of Residence and New Associates. The Era of My Awakening. My First and Last Dip into Politics.


The Life of Benjamin R. Tucker

At a banquet given in celebration of the seventieth anniversary of the birth of Bernard Shaw, a letter of congratulations was read from an eminent German statesman. In Shaw's grateful acknowledgement published in the press, he paid warm acknowledgment to the German nation and its culture, of which he found apparently the highest evidence in its enthusiastic reception of his plays. Being very fond of Shaw, but less fond of the Germans, I addressed to him, under date of August 10, 1926, a rather saucy note, beginning thus: "Apropos of your letter of thanks to the German nation, may I suggest that ability to discern at an early date the surpassing value of Bernard Shaw is not the sole, or even the chief criterion by which to measure men or nations? Were it such, I perhaps should be accounted the greatest man on earth today, next of course to Shaw himself." I give here the opening sentences of Shaw's reply (italics his own), written from the Hotel Regina Palace, Stresa, Italy, under date of August 17, 1926: "Well, my dear Tucker, so you are. I shall be the first to acknowledge it, if I am challenged."

Whatever may be thought of the verdict thus pronounced by the foremost living dramatist upon the man generally admitted to be the foremost living Anarchist, it at any rate encourages me to yield to the pressing solicitation that have reached me from widely-scattered friends and tell the story of my life.

The task is difficult and distasteful. Difficult, because I have not at my command the biographic style. Distasteful, because it compels me to fling modesty to the winds. But I shall try, and I shall cry! However, the difficulty is lessened by the abundance of material, most of which is ready to my hand, and the distaste is alleviated by the joy of battles yet to come, of which the signs are visible afar.

In fact, the book itself will be a battle, a battle against liars. And here gleams through another reason, -- perhaps, after all, the principal one -- for this risky undertaking. I am going to tell my story, because I am afraid that, if I do not, some one else will. And I am becoming more and more convinced that most story-tellers are either mendacious or negligent -- many of them both. They are "story-tellers" in the euphemistic sense. In this book I intend to head off the liars, and, if possible, to force the reckless to take heed. I cannot hope to exterminate them all, but I may succeed in crippling some. It is worth while.

The work is easier, too, not alone because of the abundance of the material, but because of its nature. Richard Garnett, beginning the prefatory note to his "Life of Emerson," remarked: "Emerson has dealt severely with his biographers. With full knowledge that his history must be written, he thought fit to lead a life devoid of incident, of nearly untroubled happiness, and of absolute conformity to the moral law." My considerateness equals Emerson's severity. My life, though far from unhappy, is packed with incident, and has been one long flouting of the moral law. At the age of eighteen, having read the utilitarian thinkers, my moral conceptions had become tenuous, to say the least; at the age of thirty, on becoming familiar with the doctrine of Stirner, they vanished quite. "Digest the sacramental wafer," says the immortal Max, "and you are rid of it." I passed it long ago. Mounting then to the region of my high ideals, I examined the various modes of living, and chose for my conformity those that seemed to me most advantageous and agreeable, -- that is, most conducive to "peace on earth, good-will to men" of peace. To my fellow-dwellers in that ethereal region my doings will be surely interesting, perhaps attractive; to the unfortunates who linger in the moral realm, they can hardly be other than "nauseatingly repulsive." I warn them off, lacking the power to lead them on. My life is worthy of a better pen. Were I an artist, I could make it picturesque; being simply an old and weary philosopher, it must needs be garbed in drab, befitting the Quaker blood from which I sprang. Drab or dazzling, the costume covers a personality above the moral law and mentally emancipated, in short an Egoistic Anarchist.

But enough of explanation! To the task!

1. Nativity and Pedigree.

The south-eastern corner of Massachusetts, before you reach Cape Cod, consisted, in Old Colonial days, largely of one town, Dartmouth, which was, in point of area, the largest in the State. In 1787, a small section was set apart and called New Bedford, which in 1847 became a city, by legislative charter. Of the town that remained, there were three sections, -- North Dartmouth, South Dartmouth, and Dartmouth proper. The last named was generally called Russells Mills; North Dartmouth was known as Smith Mills; while South Dartmouth had three names, -- South Dartmouth, Apponagansett (which was the Indian name, and the name of the river and bay on which the village was situated), and Padanaram, of Biblical origin. Why it received the name Padanaram I do not know, but at the present day it is more commonly called by that than by any other name.

An April Snow-Bird.

It was in South Dartmouth that I was born, on April 17, 1854. The birth occurred in the night, in the midst of an uncommonly severe snow-storm, which, of course, was unexpected in the middle of April. The storm was so violent that my father could not get his sleigh out of the barn to go for the doctor and he had to tramp through the drifts for a considerable distance.

My father's name was Abner Ricketson Tucker, and he was the son of Benjamin Ricketson Tucker, for whom I was named. It was my mother's desire that I should bear the name Frank, but either my grandfather or my grandmother on my father's side was so eager to have me named for my grandfather that one hundred dollars and, I believe, a silver cup also, were offered as an inducement to that end. The temptation proved a strong one, and the money was deposited in a bank in my name, where it remained until I reached my majority.

A Dartmouth Bazaar.

My grandfather Tucker kept a general store at Russells Mills. I have a copy of the New Bedford Mercury more than a century old (March 9, 1827), which contains a long advertisement of his store and his merchandise. It reads as follows:

"CHEAP GOODS. BENJAMIN R. TUCKER informs his customers and the public, that he has recently received from Boston, an additional supply of GOODS, which, together with his former stock, comprises a very complete assortment of British, French, India and Domestic Goods, all of which he offers for sale as cheap, or cheaper, for cash or approved credit, as can be purchased elsewhere.

Then follows a long list of

Broadcloths, Habit Cloths, Sattinetts, Duffils and Kerseys; flannels, swans down Vestings, Bombazetts, Norwich Crapes, Camblets, Calicoes, some as low as 10 cents per yard; British and Swiss Muslins; Cassimere Shawls; Lustrings, Levantines, Sarsnets, Gro de Naples Dresses; Ladies Kid Gloves at 12 1/2 cents per paid. Also, crockery, Glass and Hardware; hyson, young hyson, sonchong, and bohea Teas; Coffee, Ginger, Pimento, Cloves, Pearlash, Cassia; Tobacco, snuff, Raisins, Figs, Nutmegs, Madeira, Champagne, Malaga, Catalonia, currants, and Post WINES; Cognac, and Spanish Brandy, Cralongee, Weesp, Schiedam and American Gin; Old Irish and Columbia Whiskey; London and American Bottled Porter; Spanish and American Segars. Hayseed of every description, American and English Shovels and Spades, and clean Flaxseed suitable for sowing. I AM NOT SURE OF SOME SPELLINGS.

In common with many other inhabitants of Dartmouth, my grandfather was a Quaker, but, if I may judge from an alleged portrait of him that I possess, and from such references to him as I heard in my boyhood, he was far from the general conception of the Quaker in his appearance and manner of life. He seems to have been rather gay in his dress, and to have been very fond of good living, the last of which qualities he handed down to his son and grandson.

I know very little of my genealogy on my father's side. Of his immediate relatives, I knew only two, -- his sister Rebecca Church, and his half-sister Elizabeth Cummings, who was the wife of my mother's uncle. (These complexities were common in Dartmouth.) His other relatives died before I was born, or else so soon afterwards that I have no recollection of them. My grandmother Tucker was married three times. My grandfather being her first husband. I have never looked upon married with favor, perhaps in part because my ancestors overdid it. I have tried to make amends, not marrying at all.

(Let me hasten to add that I am not without progeny, for it is well to know the worst at the start.) My father very rarely spoke of his own relatives. I am sure, however, that this was not from any lack of interest in them or any unfriendly spirit towards them, but simply because that was his way. The relatives with whom we lived in more or less immediate contact belonged to my mother's side of the house, and naturally our daily association caused the conversation to turn upon them rather than upon people who were dead or who lived some distance away. Nevertheless I may say that Tucker was an extremely common name in Dartmouth, and that a society now exists in that neighborhood for the special investigation of the Tucker genealogy. It is generally said that all the Tuckers descent from three brothers who came from England. The oldest that I have ever heard mentioned [sic] was named Henry; he settled in Dartmouth about 1669, and has had many namesakes. The common origin of these Tuckers is so remote that the different lives now existing have little more blood in common that have the inhabitants of the same locality who bear other names. As a result, there are many inter-marriages among Tuckers who are not supposed to be related.

Abner Tucker's Two Marriages.

Such was my father's case when he married his first wife, a girl not yet seventeen, who name was Tucker also. Of that marriage, five children were born, three of whom died in infancy. The two others were still living at the time of my birth, being named respectively Henry R. and Sarah H. Tucker. My half-brother, born in 1839, was more than fourteen years my senior and my half-sister was ten years my senior. My father married in 1838 at the age of twenty-one, and his wife died in 1852. Almost exactly a year later, he married his second wife, Caroline Almy Cummings, my mother, the eldest child of Benjamin Cummings, who had been a successful farmer in Russells Mills, but afterwards moved to New Bedford, where he devoted himself to the management of his real estate interests. I assume that my father, when he attained his majority, was already in possession of some property by inheritance or otherwise. At any rate, he seems to have moved to Padanaram at about that time, and was, I judge, a somewhat prominent man in that village. Whether he had inherited property or not, he soon became the owner of a piece of land of considerable proportions upon which he built a spacious house, -- probably then the most pretentious residence in the neighborhood. He too kept a general sore, in Padanaram, and was also engaged in the outfitting of whale ships, -- the whaling industry having been, up to sixty years ago, the foundation of most of the fortunes accumulated in New Bedford and vicinity. I do not know at what date my father entered into partnership with my mother's brother, Charles S. Cummings, but certainly the business was conducted under the name of Tucker & Cummings in the days of my earliest recollection.

A Notable Centenarian.

Among the living descendants of my grandfather Cummings one hears much talk of the "Cummings clan." In my opinion the appellation does an injustice. The real credit belongs to the great and plebeian tribe of Smith. Most of the good qualities fairly attributable to the children and grandchildren of Benjamin Cummings were derived from his wife, originally Cynthia Smith, among all my ancestors the "bright particular star." She was a tall woman, of commanding but kindly presence, serene, firm, independent, good-humored, quick at repartee, and, above all honest, straightforward, and sincere in every fibre of her being. Had she been reared in one of the great centres of civilization and culture, it is probable that her influence upon the world would have been great. Growing up as she did, with native faculties untrained, her influence was felt and prized mainly by the goodly number of fortunate beings whose lives she, as mother, grandmother, and great grandmother added to the population of a small provincial city. But, as far as it went, it was thoroughly good and she remained long to bless her beneficiaries with her personal presence, dying in New Bedford in 1902, two months past her centennial day. In general, the members of the Cummings clam (I use the misnomer perforce) hold tenaciously to life. My mother died at nearly eighty-three, her three sister, I think, at ninety-six, eighty-eight, and eighty-six respectively, and one of her brothers at seventy-eight. Among my own cousins still living, one is eighty, another seventy-eight, a third four-months older than myself, and of seven younger than I, the youngest is considerably more than sixty.

Another peculiarity of the clan appears in the superiority, in general, of the Cummings girls to the Cummings boys. The moment that the Cummings blood began to course through female veins it seemed to do its perfect work. In the two generations represented by mother, mother and myself, nine girls grew to womanhood. One of these I hardly knew; of her, naturally, I cannot speak. But of eight I say with confidence that each proved a thoroughly sound investment. For the twelve boys who grew to manhood so sweeping a statement would not be warranted. The majority, it is true, would pass muster very creditably, but some have little or nothing to their credit, save indeed the procreation of Cummings girls, while still others have proved themselves positive social nuisances. In saying this, of course, I am conscious, though not painfully so, that most people will find in my own person the most convincing proof of the truth of my statement.

It may be that the phenomenon just pointed out is not a peculiarity; perhaps it is characteristic of the human race in general. In any case the fine record of the Cummings girls is something to be proud of, and that their wonderful progenitress, Cynthia Smith Cummings, was indeed proud of it there can be no doubt whatsoever.

In my Padanaram days, my mother's relatives, with the exception of her brother Charles, were not her near neighbors. Her brother William Henry lived as a farmer at the old homestead in Russells Mills. Her youngest sister Louise, then in her teens, lived with her parents in what was then the centre of New Bedford's residential district. Her sisters Mary and Emily, each of whom had married an Almy (the two husbands were related only remotely, if at all) and had children of her own, occupied neighboring homes in the northern portion of New Bedford. My Aunt Mary's husband, Charles Almy, was a man of considerable importance in the community. He held liberal views of most public questions, and in my later youth was to me, in some respects, the most sympathetic member of our circle. Indeed, I shared for a time, but soon outgrew, his single illiberal aim, -- to make America "dry." Happily for him, as I think, he did not live to witness the realization of his ideal, though, as candidate of the Prohibitionists for the governorship of Massachusetts, he led for a time what seemed then a "forlorn hope." It could be said of him, as the witty Pat Collins, of Boston, once said of another New Bedford Prohibitionist, Judge Robert C. Pitman: "He is a mighty fine man, but he has just one fault; he can't let rum alone." The husband of my Aunt Emily, Benjamin R. Almy, was a man of means, living in an imposing mansion surrounded by large grounds, the estate being known as "Graystone." Aunt Emily herself was noted throughout the region for her very remarkable beauty and her charm of manner. I remember her fiftieth birthday (June 25, 1877), as well as the poem written in its honor by her friend, Mrs. Sarah T. Craps, herself a lovely character, the wife of William W. Craps, a man of high repute in law and politics. The poem, as such, is not extraordinary, but it delineates my aunt so faithfully that I preserve it in these pages.

In the land between the rivers,
Where laurel and mayflowers grow,
There came to the house of Cummings,
Just fifty years ago

A dimpled and rosy baby girl,
And close within her reach
Grew the lofty and the lowly flower,
And she took a gift from each.

From the hiding fragrant arbutus
The gentle and kindly word,
To soothe, and heal, and strengthen,
And bring us its sweet accord.

The beautiful laurestinus
Gave a gracious and stately mien,
And now our Alma Mater
Walks among us like a Queen.

And we thank the royal giver
For the beauty and the grace,
But more for the loving spirit
Which beams from the dimpled face, --

The loving and cheerful spirit
Which banishes all our gloom,
And drives away our shadows,
Like sunshine in a room.

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