When I fully decided to devote my life to the ministry of the Word, I felt an overwhelming desire for a better education, in order to do the kind of work for the Master that his cause demanded. I had a good deal of general information that I had acquired through years of reading and study, but I was wholly ignorant of a number of things that I felt to be necessary to reliable, satisfactory work for the Lord. I wanted to devote my life to study, and I needed assistance in laying the foundation on which to build in after years. I decided, therefore, to quit business and go to college. This was vigorously opposed by all my friends. The church insisted that I had education enough, and that all I lacked was practice, to make me as good a preacher as there was need to be. My relatives opposed it, because they could not see the necessity, and it promised to wife and children only starvation. I had had some reverses, and had got just fairly square with the world. The flush war times had just come on. Trade was booming, money abundant and prices going up. I was now prepared to make money as I had never made it before, by five to one. To quit business just at that time, cut off all source of revenue, and go with a wife and three children to college, with but little money to start on, did, indeed, in one sense, look like absolute recklessness. Indeed, some of the brethren thought I was actually going crazy.
It was then argued that I should at least defer it a few years, till I should make some money, which was then easily done, and thus provide for the wants of my family while going through college. This looked very plausible; but I was deeply impressed with the blunders I had already made in trying to be a politician, then a soldier, and not going at once to the work of the Lord. I was afraid to dally about the matter any longer. I laid the case before the Lord and my wife. I knew she was to be the greatest sufferer by the change, and her counsel weighed more with me than that of all others. Considering what might result from delay, the brave little woman said "Go." That settled it.
In August, 1862, I wound up my business, and prepared to enter Eminence College. I rented an old, dilapidated house near the railroad, a mile above town. The place had about three acres for cultivation, and the same amount in grass. I kept a horse and buggy, a cow and several hogs. My wife raised a large number of fowls. I cultivated the ground, making it produce all it would, cut and hauled my fuel from the woods, and so managed as to be at no great expense in living. But when going to a city market every week, and feeling no embarrassment about money, we indulged in a style of living that now had to be discontinued. This went rather hard, but we tried to bear it bravely. The plainest and hardest living of our lives, by far, were those years at Eminence. The self-denial of my wife, for my sake and the gospel's, greatly encouraged me to bear the cross.
I did double work during the whole time, reciting eight times a day. This required intense application. I allowed myself eight hours for sleep, and the other sixteen were given to study. Whether eating, walking, working in the garden or chopping wood, I was boring into the questions of the recitation room. I would occasionally take a little turn with the boys on the playground at noon, but not often. I was fond of it, but felt that I could not spare the time. This was a sad mistake, confirmed by a life of broken-down health. But, like many others, it was not discovered till the mischief was done. A determined effort to crowd four years' work into two, under discouraging circumstances, resulted in impaired health; which continued labor beyond my strength kept impaired for the rest of my life. It is often stated that preachers suffer more from overeating than overwork. This is doubtless true to a large extent. But it was far from true in my case. I was never a large eater after I was grown. And when my health first failed me, want of a variety of good, nourishing food had no little to do with it. And all through subsequent life, a trouble has been to take sufficient food to meet the wants of the system.
I was the first married man that ever attended Eminence College. It was considered quite a novelty by some. But a few months later, in the same term, Bro. Briney came in. He and his wife boarded at the college. A few years later Bro. George Bersot and wife came, and married school-boys got to be quite common.
While attending school, I preached once a month for the old church at home -- Pleasant Hill. The distance was twenty miles, with a good dirt road -- when it wasn't bad. This afforded my wife an opportunity, during favorable weather, to go to see her parents once a month. And her father was now getting low with consumption. The church promised me no specified amount for my preaching, and, as is frequently the case, most of them considered the contract complied with when they gave me a hearing. They were not in sympathy with my college enterprise, and were not specially concerned about supporting it.
In May, 1863, my father-in-law died. In his death I lost one of my best and dearest earthly friends. He was the only one who encouraged me in my efforts for an education. While he could give me no material aid, being himself embarrassed by years of affliction, his wise counsel and deep sympathy helped me even more than money, badly as that was needed. When he was gone, I felt as if the only bright spot in my horizon, apart from my family, had faded into darkness. By nature he had a quick temper, and was very impulsive. By Christian culture he came to be a model in gentleness, patience and self-control. He was a wonderful example of how men, by faith, "out of weakness are made strong." As we stood around his bed of death, and his breathing indicated that the end was at hand, he opened his eyes as I was bending over him, looked me earnestly in the face, and composedly said, "Frank, be a true man." And with these words his spirit took its flight. No other words that ever fell from mortal lips ever so impressed me as these. The source whence they came, and the circumstances under which they were uttered, gave them peculiar significance. My soul, what is it for one to be a true man -- true to his friends and true to his foes; true to his family and to her whose life is dearer to him than his own; true to himself and his better nature in all that involves his honor as a man; true to the truth, under all circumstances; and true to the Saviour and His cause, to which he has dedicated his life? Ever in after years when tempted in regard to a faithful discharge of its responsibilities, those sacred words came from the sleeping dust of death -- "Frank, be a true man." Though dead, he yet speaks, and his words have been fruitful of good.
While attending his death and funeral, our house was broken into, and almost everything we had was stolen. We had laid in meat and lard for the year, and not a pound was left. All the flour, meal, sugar, coffee, preserves, jams, jellies, and everything else, was taken. Not a pound of anything to eat was left on the place. All the best cupboard ware, and part of the bedding and my wife's clothing were taken. This was a sorry plight to find ourselves in when we returned from the funeral. The country was full of soldiers, and nothing was done towards recovering the property. Thus we started on a darker and rougher road for the rest of college life.
During the first year at Eminence there grew up a strong rivalry between the two leading college societies -- the Philomathean and the Rising Star. Both were strong in numbers, and each had in it an unusual amount of talent. I was appointed by the Philomathean Society to criticise the Rising Stars. This was my special business. I prepared what I called a scrap-basket. For this I would prepare notes from time to time, as something would suggest them, and on the nights of public exhibition, which were quite frequent, I would read them. These were cuts at the young ladies and criticisms of their performances, as sharp as I could make them. The result was, the whole Society soon got too much out of humor to speak to me. They called me "Scraps." Even Sister Giltner became offended, and was so for several months, till I was brought down in sickness, and then her good heart conquered, and she came to see me, bringing a load of delicacies to tempt and satisfy my appetite. The "scrap" at which she became offended was about this: Coming on the stage, the first scrap I took from the basket read: "We do not expect many compliments for this dish of scraps, especially from the young ladies of the boarding-house, as they are so used to being fed on scraps, it will be no variety to them." Sister G. prided herself on her good table. I knew it was good, and hence felt free to make the jocular remark. Had it been otherwise, I should have felt some hesitation in doing so.
President Giltner and I were in frequent conflict, and he came in for a full share of notice from the scrap-basket. While I would not assent to his views of things, which frequently caused disputation, on the whole he was kind and generous, and did much to help me through those hard school years. I have since met many of those young ladies in all parts of the country, mothers of interesting families, but not one of them had ever forgotten that scrap-basket.
Doctor Russell was my teacher in Latin and the Sciences, and Prof. Henry Giltner in Mathematics and Greek. The Doctor was a fine moralist, but an unbeliever. He was a fine teacher, and very popular with the boys.
In the public debates in our society, Bro. J. B. Briney and I were always pitted against each other. We were the oldest and the nearest equal in our advancement, especially in this line. We had quite a number of public discussions.
Here, as elsewhere, many went through on the shoulders of others. As an illustration of this, take two young men who were appointed on public debate. Soon each came to me insisting that I should write his speech. I refused both. The time was drawing nigh, and neither had done anything. One evening one of them went home with me from school, and compelled me, virtually, to write his speech. He was delighted with it. The next morning, while he was asleep, I got up and wrote a reply, just "tearing it all to flinders." The negative gained the decision, and neither one knows to this day that I wrote the speech of the other.
During the winter of 1862-3 I went to Hendronsville, the old church that now composes the one at Smithfield, to fill an appointment for Bro. Giltner. I went to dinner with old Bro. Hieatt. On leaving, he gave me a dollar -- the first dollar I ever received for preaching.
In the summer of 1863 I held a meeting at Hendronsville, with Bro. Giltner, for which I was liberally paid, all things considered, and this was my first pay for a protracted meeting.
The same vacation, I went to South Fork, in Boone county, to fill an appointment for Bro. Wm. Tandy. Bro. Jacob Hugley was to come on the first of the week, and join me in a protracted meeting. Something prevented him from coming. I soon ran out of sermons, the supply on hand being small. In the meantime a fine interest had sprung up, and I had no excuse for quitting. So I had either to face the music, prepare and preach two sermons a day, or ingloriously surrender. The meeting continued two weeks, with some eighteen or twenty additions. During the same trip I held a meeting at a church near Walton, at which several additions were made to the congregation.
I did but little preaching during the school term. Convenient churches could not be obtained, and inconvenient ones took too much of my time to be given for nothing.
At Eminence I first met Bro. I. B. Grubbs. He came to preach for a few days, and spent a day at our humble home. I then formed for him a peculiar attachment, which has grown and strengthened with the passing years. Our minds ran close together in the channels of divine truth, and they have never materially diverged. A disagreement between us in the interpretation of Scripture has been very rare.
Old Bro. T. M. Allen preached for the church at Eminence while I was there. His sermons were enjoyable, and possessed considerable power, but they lacked logical construction, and I learned but little from them.
In a few weeks after going to Eminence, in the fall of 1862, we were blessed with the birth of a third daughter, and in the summer of 1864 the Lord took her to himself, and left us to mourn her absence.
In June, 1864, I went with Willis and Wallace Cox to Daviess county, to hold some meetings. Wallace was not able to preach, but went along for the enjoyment of the trip. He had labored there before, and was well acquainted. We held a meeting at Owensboro, and one at a new church some eight miles in the country. Both meetings were moderately successful.
As an evidence of what some men can do, I shall speak of a meeting held about this time, without giving place or name. The meeting had been successful, and a fine interest prevailed. The night it was to close there came a severe storm, and no one was out. We had to leave the next morning, and on the next Lord's day the brethren raised considerable money and gave it to the preacher to send to us. Some years after, the brother who was with me in the meeting went back there to preach for the church, and while there some one asked him whether he and I received our money all right. This was the first intimation that any money had been sent to us. The case was investigated by the church, and the man confessed he had never sent it. The brother got his, and the thief preacher promised to send mine, but hasn't done it yet. He is still preaching, and on several occasions has come a long way to hear me preach. What kind of a face and heart such a man can have, is a mystery I have never been able to solve!