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My inclination for books at last determined my father to make me a printer, though he had already a son in that profession. My brother had returned from England in 1717, with a press and types, in' •order to establish a printing office at Boston. This business pleased me much better than that of my father, though I had still a predilection for the sea. , To prevent the effects which might result from this inclination, my father was impatient to see me engaged with my brother. I held back for some time; at length however I suffered myself to be persuaded, and signed my indentures, being then only twelve years of age. It was agreed that I should serve as an apprentice to the age of twenty* one, and sould receive journeyman's wag^s only during the last year.
In a very short time I made great proficiency in this business, and became very serviceable to my brother. I had now an opportunity of procuring better books. The acquaintance I necessarily formed with booksellers'apprentices, enabled me to borrow a volume now and then, which I never failed to return punctually and without injury. How often has it happened to me to pass the greater part of the night in reading by my bed-side, when the book had been lent me in the evening, and was to be returned the next morning, lest it might be missed or wanted.
At length, Mr. Matthew Adams, an ingenious tradesman, who had a handsome collection of books, and who frequented our printing-office, took notice of me. He invited me to see his library, and had tne goodness to lend me any books I was desirous of reading. I then took a strange fancy for poetry, and composed sevcral little pieces. My brother, thinking he might find his accountant, encouraged me, and engaged me to write two ballads. One, called the Light-House Tragedy, contained an account of the shipwreck of captain Worthilake and and his two daughters; the other was a sailor's song on the capture of the noted pirate called Teach or Black-beard. They were wretched verses ia point of style, mere blind-men's ditties. When printed, he dispatched me about the town to sell them. The first had a prodigious run, because the event was recent, and had made a great noise. to imitate it. With this view I selected some of the papers, made short summaries of the sense of each period, and put them for a few days aside. I then, without looking at the book, endeavored to restore the essays to their true form, and to express each thought at length, as it was in the original,. employing the most appropriate words that occurred to my mind. I afterwards compared my Spectator with the original; I perceived some faults, which I corrected: but I found that I wanted a fund of words, if I may so express myself, and a facility of recollecting and employing them, which I thought I should by that time have acquired, had I continued to make verses. The continual need of words of the same meaning, but of different lengths for the measure, or of different sounds for the rhyme, would have obliged me to seek for a variety of synonymes, and have rendered me master of them. From this belief, I took some of the tales of the Spectator, and turned them into verse; and after a time, when I had sufficiently forgot.en them, I again converted them into prose.
My vanity was flattered by this success; but my father checked my exultation, by ridiculing my productions, and telling me that versifiers were always poor. I thus escaped the misfortune of being, probably, a very wretched poet. But as the faculty of writing prose has been of great service to me in the course of my life, and principally contributed to my advancement, I shall relate by what means, situated as I was, I acquired the small skill I may possess in that wayThere was in the town another young man, a great lover of books, of the name of John Collins, with whom I was intimately connected. We frequently engaged in dispute, and were indeed so "f >nd of argumt ntation, that nothing was so agreeable to us as a war of words. This contentious temper, I would observe by the bye, is in danger of becoming a very bad habit, and frequently renders a manVs company insupportable, as being no otherwise capable of indulgence than by indiscriminate contradiction. Independently of this acrimony and discord it introduces into conversation, it is ofien productive of dislike, and even hatred, between persons to whom friendship is indispensably necessary. I acquired it by reading, while I lived with my father, books of religious controversy. I
have since remarked that men of sense seldom fall into this error; lawyers, fellows of universities, and persons of every profession educated at Edinburgh, excepted.
Collins and I fell one day into an argument relative to the education of women; namely, whether it were proper to instruct them in the sciences, and whether they were competent to the study. Collins supported the negative, and affirmed that the task was beyond their capacity. I maintained the oppo* site opinion, a little perhaps for the pleasure of disputing. He was naturally more eloquent than I; words flowed copiously from his lips; and frequently I thought myself vanquished, more by his volubility than by the force of his arguments. We . separated without coming to an agreement upon this point; and as we were not to see each other again for some time, I committed my thoughts to paper, made a fair copy, and sent it him. He answered, and I replied. Three or four letters had been written by each, when my father chanced to light upon my papers and read them. Without entering into the merits of the cause, he embraced the opportunitv of speaking to me upon the manner of writing. He observed that though I had the advantage of my adversary in correct spelling and pointing, which I owed to my occupation, I was greatly his inferior in elegance of expression, in arrangement, and perspicuity. Of this he convinced me by several examples- I felt the justice of his remarks, became more attentive to language, and resolved to make every effort to improve my style. Amidst these resolves, an odd volume of the Spectator fell into my hands. This was a publication I had never seen. I bought the volume, and read it again and again. I was enchanted with it, thought the style excellent, and wished it were in my power
Sometimes also I mingled all my summaries together ; and a few weeks after, endeavored to arrange them in the best order, before I attempted to form the periods and complete the essays. This I did with a view of acquiring method in the arrangement of my thoughts. On comparing afterwards my performance with the original, many faults were apparent, which I corrected ; but I had sometimes the satisfaction to think, that, in certain particulars of little importance I had been fortunate enough to improve the order of thought or the style ; and this encouraged me to hope that I should succeed, in time, in writing the English language, which was one of the great objects of my ambition.
The time which I devoted to these exercises,
and to reading, was the evening after my day's labor was finished, the morning before it began, and Sundays when I could escape attending divine service. While I lived with my father, he had insisted on my punctual attendance on public worship, and I still indeed considered it as a dut\, but a duty which I thought I had no time to practise.
When about sixteen years of age, a work of TryOik fell into my hands, in which he recommends vegetable diet. I determined to observe it. My brother, being a bachelor, did not keep house, but boarded with his apprentices in a neighboring family. My refusing to eat animal food was found inconvenient, and I was often scolded for my singularity. I attended to the mode in which Ti yon prepared some of his dishes, particularly how to boil potatoes and rice, and make hasty puddings. I then said to my brother, that if he would allow me per week half what he paid for my board, I would undertake to maintain myself. The offer was instantly embraced, and I soon found that of what he gave me I was able to save alf. This was a new fund for the purchase of books ; and other advantages resulted to me from the plan. When my brother and his workmen left the printing house to go to dinner, I remained behind ; and dispatching my frugal meal, which frequently consisted of a biscuit only, or a slice of bread and a bunch of raisins, or a bun from the pastry cook's, with a glass of water, I had the rest of the time till their return, forstu.lv ; and my progress therein was proportioned to that clearness of ideas, and quickness of conception, which are the fruit of temperance" in eating and drinking.
It was about this period that, having one. day been put to th': blush for my ignorance in the art of calculation, which I had twice failed to learn