"Father?" "Yes, Ben." "I want to come to work with you."
He was always ambitious, my son Ben. Always in motion. As a child he was difficult to photograph as he simply would not be still for the pose. Nothing seemed to hold his gaze for the time needed to capture his likeness. Even my gentle admonishments received little attention.
As he grew older, he became more aware of the position of prosperity my profession had brought upon our household. We lived well. His sister and he had, within reason, all they could desire. I say within reason as I did try to raise them in a Christian manner. Weekly Friends meetings were attended and an attempt at instilling the theology of love and service was endeavored.
Still, the physical wealth was apparent. The carriages and horses, our homes on Fifth Avenue and Henry Street in Brooklyn, all appointed and outfitted with the latest and finest that New York City had to offer. Phebe doted on them far too much. And there was her sister Charlotte and their mother Lavina living with us. There were Irish housemaids too. All of them conspiring to coddle and fawn over both Ben and Mattie in the most obscene manner!
I had many a conversation with one and all about the way my children were being attended to and my objections to such. Nods of acquiescense and assurances of being more stern with them were received and still, within hours, the over-indulgence would continue. I must confess, I myself had a difficult time adhering to my own rigidity. Ben was, is my son and Mattie my dearest daughter! As children and even today, there is not a mean spirited aspect about them and nothing their father wouldn't do to help them.
His request concerned me. At 20, I had hoped he would continue in his education at the university. Explore what interested him and have at it with the same level of enthusiasm that had come upon me in the early days of my studies with Morse and Draper. I said as much to him in reply.
"Father, I want to come to work with you. I have been to your studios. I have observed the photographic process with you and your employees. I understand as well as anyone, the nature of your business. Who better than your son to bring on?"
My ambivalence surely must have stung him for I saw it on his face and in his reasoning. Still, a sense of foreboding hung over me. A fear that life had come too easily for my Ben and the implications of what might arise as a result of it worried me.
If I was to object to his entering into my business, I might lose him altogether. If I brought him on as he seemed inclined to believe as rightfully befitting, I would further pacify him.
From my study, I sat and looked out my window upon the muted coming and going of hansom cabs and omnibuses making their awkward, twisting way along Henry Street, Brooklyn in the year 1857.
Gazing up into my son's young face and nodding with assent, I suggested he plan on making the morning ferry to 349 Broadway though both he and I would do as much on our own, not together. There would be no nepotism attached to this position. No patronage.
It was then that he smiled. That warm smile that I've seen cross his face in either actual kindness and gratitude or, as in so many instances, whenever he had received his way. He began to take his leave when I offered a final reproof.
"And Ben, you will be working for me, not with me."
|From the 1857 Trow's New York City Directory|