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took notice of me. He invited me to see his library, and had the goodness to lend me any books I was desirous of reading, I then took a strange fancy for poetry and composed several little pie
My brother thinking he might find his account in it, encouraged me, and engaged me to write two ballads. One, called the Lighthouse Tragedy, contained an account of the shipwreck of Capt. Worthilake, and his two daughters; the other was a sailor's song on the capture of the noted pirate called Teach, or Blackbeard. They were wretched verses, in point of style-mere blind men's ditties. When printed, he despatched me about the town to sell them. The first had a prodigious run, because the event was recent and had made a great noise.
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, 1 acquired the small skitl I may possess in that way.
There 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 indeed were -80 fond of argumentation, that nothing was so agreeable to us as a war of words. This contentious temper, I would observe, by the by, is in danger of becoming a very bad babit, and frequently renders a man's company insupportable,
as being no otherwise capable of indulgence than by indiscriminate contradiction. Independently of the acrimony and discord it introduces into conversation, it is often productive of dislike, and even hatred, between persons to whom friendship is indispensibly 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, wether it was proper to instruct them in the sciences, and wether they were competent to the study. Collins supported the negative, and affirmed that the task was beyond their capacity. I maintained the opposite opinion, a little, perhaps, for the pleasure of disputing. He was naturally more eloquent than 1; 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 to 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 opportunity of speaking to me upon my 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 consinced 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. ! 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 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, endeavoured to restore the essays to their due 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 forgotten them, I again converted them into prose.
Sometimes, also, I mingled all my summaries together; and a few weeks after, endeavoured to arrange them in the best order, before I at
tempted to form the periods and complete the es says. 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 decently in 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 duty, but a duty which I thought I had no time to practice.
When about sixteen years of age, a work of Tryon 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 Tyron 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 em braced, and I soon found that of what he gave me, I was able to save half. This was a new
fund for the purchase of books; and other advan. tages resulted to me from the plan. When my brother and his workmen left the printing-house, to go to dinner, I remained behind; and despatching 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 for study: and my progress therein, was proportioned to that clearness of ideas, and quickness of conception, which are the fruits of temperance in eating and drinking.
It was about this period, that having one day been put to the blush for my ignorance in the art of calculation, which I had twice failed to learn while at school, I took Cocker's Treaties on Arithmetic, and went through it by myself with the utmost ease. I also read a book ef Navigation by Seller and Sturmy, and made myself inaster of the little geometry it contains, but I never proceeded far in this science. Nearly at the same time, I read Locke on the Human Understanding, and the Art of Thinking, by Messrs. Du Port Royal.
While laboring to form and improve my style, I met with an English Grammar, which I believe was Greenwood's, having at the end of it two little essays on rhetoric and logic. In the latter I found a model of disputation after the manner of Socrates. Shortly after I procured Xenophon's work, entitled, Memorable Things of Socrates, in which are various examples of the same method. Charmed to a degree of enthusiasm with this mode of disputing, I adopted it, and renouncing blunt contradiction, and direct and positive argument, I assumed the character of a bumble questioner. The perusal of Shaftsbury and Collins, had made me a skeptic; and being