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SBButler Letters, April 1917

April 1, 1917
April 3, 1917
April 8, 1917
April 15, 1917
April 22, 1917
April 29, 1917


Pleasantville, N.J.
April 1,1917


Dear Mother,

Perhaps I am not using this paper for the intent in which in to which it was put. That letter you sent me in the laundry bag asked me to write my congressman, urging him to support the Chamberlain universal military service bill now before Congress, and also write 5 friends, urging them to write their representatives in congress to the same effect. I thought that perhaps the six sheets of writing paper and six envelopes were meant to do this on. Thank you for them, anyway, also for the doughnuts. As for the universal military training and service proposition, I am, to say the least, on the fence, and naturally therefore, am not going out of my way to support it. It's supporters say that it is the only democratic military system, in that under it every citizen has an equal responsibility for his country's defense, by contrast with the volunteer system, under which many may shirk their responsibilities; and other things being equal I can see this point of view. But on the other hand, there lies the fact that every citizen may be called out without any choice in the matter to serve in any war the country may enter; this removes the possibility of recognizing honest differences of opinion as to the justice of a war in which the country is engaged, and I can't see where there is any democracy in forcing a man to fight for a cause which he honestly does not believe to be worth fighting for. There are many, a very great many, people who don't believe that we should stand up for our rights & the rights of humanity on the seas against Germany to the point of war; I am not one of these people, I believe that the rights which Germany has trampled under foot are so elementary that they should be maintained to the last ditch. But I don't believe that folks who think otherwise, the much despised pacifists, and so on, are cowards, fools, and traitors, as the New York Times and the daily press in general are always howling.

For the first time this year I am writing early Monday morning instead of Sunday; last evening I got in from an all afternoon and evening outing with Miss Tolbert and Eva Lutz, and was so plumb tired I couldn't get beyond about three ; so gave it up and went to bed. We have found quite an attractive old deserted farm out beyond the outposts of civilization in a northwesterly direction, and we yesterday went up in the afternoon, taking along some lunch for suppertime, including some eggs which we boiled, and some frankfurters, which we roasted over a fire, and it was half-past ten by the time I got home. This place that I speak of has a house over a century old, which must have been in good repair up to not long ago; a long gray house, with a long front veranda, and gabled roof; we have, in the course of a couple of trips, explored the house, from cellar to attic; I think it has no less than five fireplaces, all closed up, however, and in practically every room there is a little cubby-hole in the wall by the floor - I can't imagine what they would be convenient for keeping. Back of the house there is quite a large mill pond, and below a little way, the ruins of an old mill, known as Doughty's Mill; the Doughty family was one which originally built the house. Along the road between the mill and the house, there is the greatest profusion of honeysuckle vines, I have ever seen; I only hope some of them blossom before June, because they must be exceptionally beautiful. The front yard of the house incidentally has some good shade trees, and just south of the house is the only hemlock I have seen here. Across the street are a couple of barns, chicken houses, corn-crib, tool shed, and pig pen, back of which a little way is a little frog pond. It is altogether quite a picturesque place; there are woods all around, and plenty of shade; as much like Connecticut as any place I have discovered here. The road to it is a long straight road, thru a scrubby forest.

I of course attended the lecture Saturday evening on Form, Style and Content in Music; it was as interesting as any we have had. The evening ended with all the crowd singing some songs Mr. Surette thinks particularly good for community singing.

This week comes the reelection of teachers for next year. My chief interest is to see whether Cruse will actually be dropped, as Dr. Whitney has freely indicated he will be. I certainly hope so; he isn't a fit teacher, and has been a constant thorn in my side. To rehearse his activities here would take a dozen sheets of paper, at least, and then isn't a very pleasant subject. I personally think him about the most contemptible cur I ever met, certainly the most contemptible among men possessing the intelligence he ought to have, by virtue of his training. Carey hasn't conducted himself in the most discreet manner possible, and isn't popular with the board, but he at least has some manhood in him, and as far as I know, is reliable and dependable - not to do his proper amount of work - but his word is good, and he wouldn't intentionally injure another person in any way, especially try to injure their reputation to cover up his own faults or help his own reputation in any way. [ note - my curiosity is piqued at what Cruse must have done and/or said (probably at Gramp's expense) to earn such scorn. Susan Czaja, grand-daughter ]

I am sorry I forgot to enclose laundry list last Sunday; I had it in my letter holder but it hid itself on me. Miss Samantha hasn't gotten anything off on us, lately; gets some amusing unintentional ones off on herself once in a while, which make the retention of perfect composure no mean task.

Breakfast has been called. I suppose [we] will all learn some interesting things before the day is out.
With much love to you and all.
Sylvester.

[The next letter is one sent two days later to his father. It is quite a departure from what he wrote to his mother about, and sounds to be in response to one Great-grandpa wrote him discussing "don't-worry-your-mother" stuff.]


[On April 2nd, President Wilson addressed a special session of Congress and gave his "the world must be made safe for Democracy" speech, effectively declaring war on Germany, which was formally declared on April 6th after the House and the Senate both passed the resolution.]

To: George S. Butler, Esq.
36 Pearl St.
Hartford, Conn.

Pleasantville, N.J.
April 3,1917


Dear Dad,

Thank you for your letter. I have decided not to make any military moves until school closes, and in the meantime I am acquiring information as to the possibilities for service. Dick Robbins put me in touch with the Secretary of the Military Committee of the New York Yale Club, whom I have just now finished writing, with particular reference to a College Men's Training Corps, the necessary time to receive an officer's training for a war time army, and the matter of compensation. And there is always the Reserve Officers' Training Corps for artillery at Yale, which I was this last week invited, as all graduates of 5 years & less, to join.

If I volunteered as an individual in a regular government recruiting station, and didn't try to get into any of these special organizations, it would of course be in Connecticut and not New Jersey. I am interested to see the details of the President's plan to raise 500,000 men at once & further increments of equal number as it becomes possible to train them on the basis of a universal obligation to service. I can't say that I approve of the idea, if it is what it appears to be on the surface.

I'll wait until I get Mother's letter tomorrow, and then if she speaks about the matter, write her that I am going to wait until the end of the school year before going into any actual training, as, now that the war is on, she will, I assume, be rather anxious to know just what I intend to do.

I rather look for both international and external events of considerable moment during the year for Germany, with a strong likelihood of their deciding the war before any U.S. troops can be gotten ready to send across.

Tomorrow night I go up to Bridgeton to Miss Stieberitz' annual students' concert. Binky won't be down until the next day, but I hope to see him in Pleasantville.

This letter reflects my sleepy headedness, I imagine, and as I can hardly keep my eyes open, I'd probably better turn in.
Affectionately yours
Sylvester.


Pleasantville, N.J.
April 8,1917


Dear Mother,

This has been a stirring week, has it not? The events which have transpired I have felt to be inevitable since the first of February, but now they are actually on us, it is hard to make them real. I believe the step which our government has taken to be the only right one, as it had become obvious that the German government would not veer from its course of ruthless destruction on the seas, and that the mere arming of merchant ships would be a useless defense with the German threat to treat the gunners on the armed ships as pirates; furthermore, to arm American Merchant ships wouldn't protect our citizens on belligerent or other neutral merchant vessels. Not to take up the gauntlet thrown at us by the German government's attempt to destroy the poor "minimum of right" which mankind has built up "by painful stage after stage," as President Wilson expresses it, would be to make ourselves a party to a backward step in civilization, should Germany win by the use of such methods of warfare as she has put into practice. Surely no nation ever went into war for nobler ends than those we shall seek, now that we are in it - "to vindicate the principles of peace and justice in the life of the world against selfish and autocratic power," - a union of really self-governed nations to insure the permanent establishment of peace and justice in the world, (The League to Enforce Peace) - universal democracy - and no "material compensation" sought, our only intent being to do our duty as "one of the champions of the rights of mankind." I have quoted quite freely from the President's address, because I think it a wonderfully inspiring thing. I hope it is needless to say that what satisfaction I take in the President's address and the events which have transpired is not a light-hearted one over a pleasant task ahead, but satisfaction is seeing what is right being done and championed wholeheartedly. The government is doing the right thing, I think, in going into the war with all its power; when we are actually in war, it is the only safe thing to be prepared for any emergency, and it is the quickest way to bring it to an end. I think there is a strong likelihood of the war ending before United States troops can be trained and sent across the water, but it is better to have them ready to go if necessary, and not let the war drag and drag, with much more life lost and destruction done, than if whole hearted measures were taken at once.

Of course you want to know my plans. Unless something extraordinary occurs I shall stay at school until the end of the year; and in the meantime I am trying to find where I can best offer my services to the government in June. Dick Robbins, in New York, whom I wrote a couple of weeks ago, says he believes the Reserve Officers' Training Corps to be the thing for all young college graduates. If I join this, it means going into immediate training (after joining) for officers service with the armies that will be specially raised for the war - those outside the regular army and National Guard, that is, the various increments of 500,000 each, which will be raised as fast as the War Department can take care of them. There is a Reserve Officers' Training Corps organization at Yale, and I, as well as all graduates of five years or less, have been invited to join, but it is for artillery only, and I am not sure artillery is the thing for me. I feel a disagreeable sense of cold-bloodedness in writing about these plans of mine, knowing what they involve, and I have not looked forward to the task, but of course the time has come when silence on the subject was impossible. The heart-tugs must come, but out of it all there is hope I have never lost and shall never lose that the peoples of the earth, when it is over, shall have a better world to live in, a community of nations living in peace, acting fairly and justly toward each other, great or small; I don't believe I shall ever admit this is impossible - autocratic government is the great barrier in its way, and with the autocratic gov'ts of Germany and Austria following in the way of Czar Nicholas, as I firmly believe they will, the backbone of this barrier will be broken.

This idea of securing our armies for the war (outside of the regular army & National Guard) by selective draft I don't like one bit. I earnestly hope that before raising each increment of 500,000 men they will give a reasonable time for volunteers to come forward. I cannot see the right or the democracy in forcing men to fight against their consciences, as the use of the draft must certainly involve. Further than not being right, I don't believe it wise; I think it will react on the government, and if anything, by stirring up antagonistic feelings to the government, do it more harm than good.

Last week at the meeting of the School board I was reelected for the coming year, but I don't know how the other men fared. Mr. Wilson and others have indicated to me quite unreservedly, it seems, if I may speak of it without being suspect of conceit in telling it, their satisfaction in my work, and it is of course gratifying. I think possibly they base their opinion on a realization that I have worked hard and faithfully, rather than on known results; on the former score, it isn't hard to present a contrast to the other male members of the faculty.

Wednesday evening I went up to Tot's students' concert in Bridgeton, and enjoyed it very much, though I was late in getting there. The first part of the program was devoted to vocal and instrumental solos, orchestral selections, & short numbers by the Glee Club; the second part, the part I heard, was a cantata by the glee clubs (boys' & girls') entitled "The Mound Builders." It was done in a very creditable manner, I thought, both to her and her students. I stayed in Bridgeton over night with a Mr. Morgan (Cruse's successor up there); before I went over to his house with him, I spent a while at Tot's house playing cards; two other women teachers and this Mr. Morgan were also there.

I tried hard to get Binky and Tot down here, but they weren't finally able to; of course he was only down for a very short time. I had hoped to have them here Saturday, and take them out for arbutus, getting Eva Lutz to come with us, both because she would know where they grow, and because she would make good company for the party anyway. As it was, Miss Eva and I went anyway; Miss Tolbert being up in Philadelphia over Easter, the usual party of three, on occasions when I am with them, did not occur; we didn't find as many arbutus as we hoped to, only a few sprigs. I was hoping to get a nice bunch of early arbutus to send up to you, but what I got would just about fill a fish-food box.

This morning I went over to Atlantic City with MacDougall and Miss Hodgson, in his car, attended the First Presbyterian Church service with them, and later went up to the Boardwalk to see the much heralded Easter crowd there. There is surely an immense crowd for a tremendous distance along the walk; it is so arranged that the people going in one direction take the inside half of the walk, and those going in the other take the outside. At that it's pretty slow moving. The composition of the crowd, what part we saw as we watched it from one point for about twenty minutes didn't particularly impress, but perhaps there was a greater brilliance further up.

I am sorry I forgot to speak of that wedding cake last Sunday; I found it, and enjoyed it, forgot about dreaming on it, however. Thank you for sending it.

You asked about me and frankfurters; I managed to consume one, our allotment being two each, but had to ask to be excused from taking the other. I can't say as I'm very fond of them or the taste they leave behind them. You also asked about Carey; he expects to go to medical school this fall, if he doesn't get drafted; pretends he's going to do everything he can to keep out of the army, but I don't believe he means half of what he says. I'm wondering if Curley has already enlisted in the navy; I should rather expect that he wouldn't waste much time about getting in.

I hope the present situation won't cause you a lot of worry, and I like to feel that with your philosophical way of looking at things, it won't. In any event, I am sure there is more grounds for hopefulness than discouragement, viewing the whole thing largely.
With much love to you and all
Sylvester.


Pleasantville, N.J.
April 15,1917


Dear Mother,

It gives me great pleasure to say that I have my Psychology examination off my mind, although of course I shan't know the result of it probably until the latter part of next month. I feel fairly hopeful of the result, although I know I could have done better if I had had time to make more careful preparation than I did.

We had a regular blizzard down here Monday, followed by a day or two of freezing weather, which I am afraid must have hurt some of the fruit crops. Even today it's chilly around the house and my hands are cramped, for that reason, so that I can't write half fast enough. I expect you must have had some hard freezes up home, too; I hope that they haven't done any serious damage, for certainly crop shortages will not be salutary, this year.

The week has passed almost without incident, except a few amusing variations in Sunshine Villa life - a remark by Miss Taylor that she couldn't go to a concert because she didn't have any escort - and the mysterious disappearance of Miss Tolbert's alarm clock Thursday evening, said clock having been daily set for the benefit of others here at 6 A.M., and therefore subject to various threats against its personal safety; somehow or other it was discovered the next morning hanging on a line out Miss Tolbert's north window. Miss Davis and I collaborated last evening on a song "The Clock on the Line" to the tune of "The Watch on the Rhine", which narrated the epic of the prodigal clock; this was sung for Miss Tolbert's benefit this morning, I laying aside my scruples of many moons vs. playing the German national air, long enough for Miss Hodgson to do her part. We've had a lot of fun out of it anyway, and Miss Tolbert doesn't yet know who did it. I think that I'm suspected as chief conspirator, but as a matter of fact Miss Davis and Mr. Winch were the sole guilty parties.

I haven't had a word this week from my source of military information, and am somewhat disappointed; perhaps it will be best to make a week- end trip to New York and get all my information at once. I'll see what I get this week in the way of mail, first. I think that I shall plan to join whatever military organization I get into about June 15th, always of course providing that the Germans don't collapse at an earlier date. If the people of Germany could only have free and full information, I think the government would be compelled before long to cease attempting "to dictate peace to a hostile world," as a Socialist member of the Reichstag is said to have recently termed their problem. It looks as though it were only a question of time before most of South America will have broken with Germany.

I was naturally glad to hear of Lucinthia's being in the first scholarship division. Would a little money come in handy with her, just now, do you know? Would you think it best for me to send individual presents to Carl & Ruth? Cruse was not reelected. Sorry to say Myers was, but with a string attached.
With lots of love to all,
Sylvester


Pleasantville, N.J.
April 22,1917


Dear Mother,

Today I have been on an all-day outing at the deserted manor in the woods, with Miss Tolbert, Miss Davis and Eva Lutz, and have just gotten back and had my supper. It has been a lovely spring day, almost too warm, however, to suit my taste. We took lunch along with us, including some lamb chops which we cooked, also some clams for Miss Davis, who doesn't like lamb; also tried rather unsuccessfully to bake some potatoes. Violets are out in full bloom up here, also a japonica bush, myrtles, and a flower known as golden club, which grows in the water; I've made up an assortment of them, and am sending them to you along with a few sprigs from a boxwood shrub at the manor, and a few wintergreen berries that Eva and I found on an exploring expedition - unusually nice large ones, they seem to me. I hope some of this product of South Jersey springtime will keep until Tuesday morning.

I rather like the idea of going up to the Andrus weddings [note - cousins Ruth and Carl], and think I shall write them tonight about it. I am not sure that I could take in both. Vic [note - the man Ruth married] might be able to give me some valuable information and counsel in the military line, which would be an added reason for going. If you will send along Lucinthia's card, I'll see to getting the gifts this time; I think it would be a good idea for Lucinthia and me to go in together, if she is agreeable. Don't bother to send any money until I can tell you just what I've paid for the things.

Monday morning I received the letter for the Yale Club's Military Committee, which I was looking for. They sent me some detailed information about a private organization known as the College Men's Training Corps, which is being formed for training men for examinations which must be taken for officers' commissions; to join this would, I presume, assure me of congenial companionship, but the fact that it would mean payment of living expenses in New York, while receiving no income, put it almost out of the question. The government is of course establishing its own training camp for officers, the first one to start on May 8th; it is planned to have these officers ready by the middle of July to start training the first 500,000 recruits on the 1st of August. Then I suppose a new set of candidates for officers' commissions will start training; how difficult it will be for me to get into this second training camp I don't know. Most every one seems to think that college graduates whatever their previous training or lack of training, should try for officers' commissions. From the above, you will see that I may be home longer than until the 15th of June, perhaps until toward the end of July; if so, and the farm is still in the Butler family's possessions, tell Father I wouldn't mind marketing his strawberries, raspberries and cherries, and taking care of any amount of garden he would have time to put in. But of course I'm dealing with uncertainties.

Dr. Whitney plans to be here next year, as far as I can make out. Myers is the manual training teacher, a decidedly unscrupulous sort of person, who could very easily be missed. The men in the school system I have had to work with have been most of them disappointments, in different ways. I grow to have less and less respect for Dr. Whitney, the more I know him, although as far as his treatment of me is concerned I have nothing of which to complain; he doesn't conduct himself as befits one in his position at all times, what once seemed profundity seems on further acquaintance much more like superficiality, and he is given to double-dealing, taking one position to a man's face and another behind his back, trying too hard to please everybody, as far as the spoken word is concerned. Possibly I couldn't call Cruse and Myers disappointments, as I haven't had any confidence in or respect for either since the beginning of the school year. However, I've kept on good terms with all of them, except two or three rubs with Cruse, and he's the only one that has tried to hurt me. He and I are working together with the boys at track at present, and we are affability personified.

I didn't take any examination this spring except Psychology; this involved considerably more than just the elementary technical psychology I had at college, and of course the whole thing involved its bearing on educational methods. I had expected earlier to take the History of Education exam this spring, but I later found I couldn't possibly give the time to it, and as I didn't have to take it until next fall, I put it off.

Did Bert Phelps get that vacuum bottle to you all right? I gave the letter I had written Bert to Carey to mail and he characteristically left it in his pocket for something over a week; when I finally heard from Bert it was from way out in Chicago.

I must get some more letters written.
With much love to all
Sylvester


Pleasantville, N.J.
April 29,1917


Dear Mother,

You couldn't guess who has been visiting me yesterday afternoon and evening and this morning. I got a postal Thursday from Alfred Chalmers, saying that he was going to be down this way over the week-end, and would pay me a visit if it were convenient for me. Of course I was mighty glad to have him do so, so wrote him to that effect. He got here shortly after lunch yesterday; we went over to Atlantic City in the afternoon, primarily to see an aeroplanist by the name of Kendrick; Alfred had learned that he was to have an aviation school this summer, and wanted to see him about getting in; he wants to do it, as a means towards getting into the Army Aviation Corps, which on account of his youth, he probably couldn't get into directly. Kendrick wasn't around, however, and so Alfred will have to come down again; but of course with his motorcycle he doesn't mind that, and I understand he usually takes long runs on it every week-end. In the evening we went over to the Boardwalk again, and took in a musical comedy, called "Hans und Fritz", based on the comic paper Katzenjammer Kids; it was very funny, and hence very enjoyable. This morning we took a walk and found quite a little trailing arbutus, then a little after noon Alfred started back.

I had some bad news from Sam this week again. In the week before Easter he had a general breakdown, nerves, stomach, and leg, and is now recuperating in a hospital once more; this time they are making his leg stiff and painless for life, and he expects it will be much better behaved in the future. It will of course prevent his graduating in June, but he hopes to be able to complete his work by September.

The school has been having sort of preliminary final examinations this week, made out by Dr. Whitney, and sprung on classes without warning, except the general warning that they were to come. As I gather it, the main purpose is to see where the students are weak, in general and in particular, so that we can take time to remedy the weaknesses before the end of the year; those who pass in these are not required to take any further final examination. The results from my algebra papers were anything but satisfactory, and I am going to spend the rest of the time reviewing. The history papers I haven't been all over as yet, but the results seem to be fair. The majority of the students here don't study, and seem to have and unusually acute aversion to mental effort; I really think that the average high school student in Connecticut is considerably above the average down here.

This week we have a joint high and grammar school track meet, Thursday afternoon, and I expect to be pretty busy this week with Mr. Collins of the No.1 Grammar School, arranging its details. We made out a program of events last evening, but there is a lot more to be done yet, getting officials, making programs for them, staking out distances for the runs, getting the students working to sell tickets for it, and a thousand and one little things. The proceeds are to go towards taking to Hammonton a week from Saturday, those students of our schools who are going to compete in the county meet up there. It's going to take alot of energy to make this little meet of ours a success, but I guess we can do it.

Well, the House has passed the conscription bill, I see, and of course there is no doubt that the Senate will this week do likewise. It's my humble conviction that a large number of the 397 who voted for it voted against their own private convictions, or at least took a good deal of effort to force their opinions around to those of the President. I am afraid a bad mistake has been made, and that draft riots similar to those of our Civil War will occur, but naturally hope that no such results will ensue. Now I suppose that within a couple of weeks all male citizens coming between the required age limits will have to present themselves at stipulated places for registration and physical examinations; whether I shall have to do so here or not I don't know; if I do, I shall try to get my registration transferred to Connecticut, because if I do get drafted before I have a chance to seek my own way into the army, I at least hope I can go from Connecticut. If I get a letter at Cromwell which looks like a summons to appear for registration and examination, will Father please open it and find out from the proper authorities what they would expect me to do, being down here until June? A general notice to all citizens between the required age may be sent out by poster & advertisment; it probably would be well in that case also for me to know from that end what would be expected of me. Of course I don't know just how they are going at it, so am dealing entirely in suppositions.

I plan to go up to Montclair Friday afternoon, and shall probably come back sometime Saturday. I made a mistake in supposing the invitations we had were for both weddings, and acted on that assumption in writing to Cousin Pauline; I was glad, however, that when she wrote me, she told me frankly just what the conditions were in regard to Carl's wedding. I bought the presents yesterday, a silver plated long bread dish for Ruth & Victor and a pair of cutglass, sterling-top salt and pepper shakers for Carl and Connie.

Thank you for the last apple of winter, as I presume it was; also for the new mammoth face mops; they won't be too large, I don't believe. I have kept forgetting to renew the Press subscription so that I haven't been getting it for a month, and I guess I'll pass it up for the rest of the year under the circumstances. I really get most of the news which I'm interested in from you, anyway. A month from to-day will be the last day of school; I imagine it will by then be so hot down here I'll be glad to get into a little cooler clime for a little while.
With much love,
Sylvester

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