Adventures and Letters HTML version

The Early Days
Richard Harding Davis was born in Philadelphia on April 18, 1864, but, so far as memory
serves me, his life and mine began together several years later in the three-story brick
house on South Twenty-first Street, to which we had just moved. For more than forty
years this was our home in all that the word implies, and I do not believe that there was
ever a moment when it was not the predominating influence in Richard's life and in his
work. As I learned in later years, the house had come into the possession of my father and
mother after a period on their part of hard endeavor and unusual sacrifice. It was their
ambition to add to this home not only the comforts and the beautiful inanimate things of
life, but to create an atmosphere which would prove a constant help to those who lived
under its roof--an inspiration to their children that should endure so long as they lived. At
the time of my brother's death the fact was frequently commented upon that, unlike most
literary folk, he had never known what it was to be poor and to suffer the pangs of hunger
and failure. That he never suffered from the lack of a home was certainly as true as that in
his work he knew but little of failure, for the first stories he wrote for the magazines
brought him into a prominence and popularity that lasted until the end. But if Richard
gained his success early in life and was blessed with a very lovely home to which he
could always return, he was not brought up in a manner which in any way could be called
lavish. Lavish he may have been in later years, but if he was it was with the money for
which those who knew him best knew how very hard he had worked.
In a general way, I cannot remember that our life as boys differed in any essential from
that of other boys. My brother went to the Episcopal Academy and his weekly report
never failed to fill the whole house with an impenetrable gloom and ever-increasing fears
as to the possibilities of his future. At school and at college Richard was, to say the least,
an indifferent student. And what made this undeniable fact so annoying, particularly to
his teachers, was that morally he stood so very high. To "crib," to lie, or in any way to
cheat or to do any unworthy act was, I believe, quite beyond his understanding.
Therefore, while his constant lack of interest in his studies goaded his teachers to despair,
when it came to a question of stamping out wrongdoing on the part of the student body he
was invariably found aligned on the side of the faculty. Not that Richard in any way
resembled a prig or was even, so far as I know, ever so considered by the most
reprehensible of his fellow students. He was altogether too red-blooded for that, and I
believe the students whom he antagonized rather admired his chivalric point of honor
even if they failed to imitate it. As a schoolboy he was aggressive, radical, outspoken,
fearless, usually of the opposition and, indeed, often the sole member of his own party.
Among the students at the several schools he attended he had but few intimate friends;
but of the various little groups of which he happened to be a member his aggressiveness
and his imagination usually made him the leader. As far back as I can remember, Richard
was always starting something--usually a new club or a violent reform movement. And in
school or college, as in all the other walks of life, the reformer must, of necessity, lead a
somewhat tempestuous, if happy, existence. The following letter, written to his father
when Richard was a student at Swarthmore, and about fifteen, will give an idea of his
conception of the ethics in the case: