Many years ago, long before the internet, a friend of mine called me up on the phone and said he had just heard of a strange tale about a man whom had abandoned society and fled to live the remainder of his life in a cave.
“The guys name was Willy Ames, or Amos Williams of something like that, ” my friend had said, “and he was called the ‘Pennsylvania Hermit.’ ” My friend continued and told me that this guy’s sister was executed or imprisoned, which the hermit felt was completely unjustified, thus he left one day to live his remaining years on this planet in a cave.
“He had kept a journal of his writings and when he died, his journal was found and it was published. This was in the early 1800′s.”
“What was the name of the book?” I remember asking.
“I don’t know,” my friend replied, “that’s what you are to find out.”
I lived in Philadelphia at the time and I guess he figured all I would have to do is pop into the local library, state the name “Pennsylvania Hermit” and I would be handed the book. And to be quite honest, I thought this was all I need to do as well.
I looked everywhere for this book. Obviously, the first place I went was to the Philadelphia Public Library. I walked up to the main information desk, uttered the words “Pennsylvania Hermit” and held out my hands expectantly. The woman sitting behind the desk tilted her head a bit, looked at me with a very strange expression on her face, then said, “Excuse me?”
“Okay”, I had thought, “this may be harder than I imagined.” I then explained to her what I was looking for and gave her all the information I had. She promptly pulled out her volumes of Books in Print and quickly scanned the pages.
She returned the books under the desk, scratched her head, bit on the end of her pencil, then led me to a small alcove in the reference department. She pointed to a bookcase reaching to the ceiling upon which sat several collections of dusty reference books. I cannot recall their names, but it was suggested to me that I looked through each one of them for any reference to a “Pennsylvania Hermit”. She smiled, said good luck, then left me alone.
I spend several hours in this little nook searching every single volume for any reference to a ‘Willy’, or an ‘ Amos’ or a hermit of any kind.
So, with aching arms, burning eyes, dusty hands and a massive allergy attack caused by the dust clouds I had kicked as I pulled each volume off the shelf, I left the library empty handed…but not defeated.
The next day began the phone calls. I knew “Willy”, as I began to call him, had lived in Pennsylvania, thus I got out an atlas and searched for caves. Any cave. I called every park, forest and nature preserve in the state which had a cave and asked whomever answered the phone if they knew Willy.
“Willy who?”, was their usual response. After I fully explained myself, they still had nothing more for me.
Several weeks later, I found the book.
Yeah I know, you were probably waiting for me to tell you about some remarkable bit of good fortune which brought my quest to an end. Or about a sudden inspiration which came to me in a dream which led me to the book. Or about an old woman I ran into while spelunking in one of the caves who said she was Willy’s great grand-daughter and handed me his weathered, leather bound manuscript, but no such thing can be told here.
I simply do not remember where I read the words “Amos Wilson”, and “Sweets of Solitude”, but I did. And obviously, now that I had this bit of info, it was simply a matter of going back to the library.
So, I filled out the request for the book at the Rare Book Department of the Philly Library. I jotted Amos’s name and the book’s title down on a scrap of paper, then handed it to the girl behind the desk. She read the words, then said it would be about an hour.
When I returned to the department, she handed me a small book, roughly four by six inches and not a quarter inch thick. The book was bound in a heavy cardboard, dark brown and aged. I took it to a table and sat down.
I opened it and turned the pages carefully, for it was indeed fragile. They were yellow, the paper brittle. I turned to the first page and began to read:
“IN this Miserable World (so termed by a great portion of mankind,) HAPPINESS appears to be their general pursuit: yet how few are there who have approached the goal of their constant pursuit and wishes! The only man who can be considered happy, is he who can reconcile himself to his circumstances, be they what they may; who can wean himself from the fashionable follies of the world and content himself to live within the limits of his income. But how few are there who have the fortitude and resolution to pursue such a plan of conduct! the lust of power, the blandishments of wealth, the phantom of honour, are so stumbling blocks to their felicity.”
The book in its entirety is here on these pages for you to read now.
I have kept the original spelling and punctuation as it is in the book. I did break it up into seven parts for this site, but the paragraph breaks are as Amos had meant them.
Well that’s it. Enjoy!