Once, when Mr. Harvey, an accomplished mathematician, was in a bookseller’s shop, he saw a poor lad of mean appearance enter and write something on a slip of paper and give it to the proprietor. On inquiry he found this was a poor deaf boy, Kitto, who afterward became one of the most noted Biblical scholars in the world, and who wrote his first book in the poor-house. He had come to borrow a book. When a lad he had fallen backward from a ladder thirty-five feet upon the pavement with a load of slates that he was carrying to the roof. The poor lad was so thirsty for books that he would borrow from booksellers who would loan them to him out of pity, read them and return them.
The _Youth’s Companion_ says that Mr. Edison in his new biography–his “Life and Inventions”–describes the accidental method by which he discovered the principle of the phonograph. There is a kind of accident that happens only to a certain kind of man.
“I was singing to the mouthpiece of a telephone,” Mr. Edison says, “when the vibrations of the voice sent the fine steel point into my finger. That set me to thinking. If I could record the actions of the point, and send the point over the same surface afterward, I saw no reason why the thing would not talk.
“I tried the experiment first on a slip of telegraph paper and found that the point made an alphabet. I shouted the words ‘Halloo! Halloo!’ into the mouthpiece, ran the paper back over the steel point, and heard a faint ‘Halloo! Halloo!’ in return.
“I determined to make a machine that would work accurately, and gave my assistants instructions, telling them what I had discovered. They laughed at me. That’s the whole story. The phonograph is the result of the pricking of a finger.”
It is one thing to hit upon an idea, however, and another thing to carry it out to perfection. The machine would talk, but, like many young children, it had difficulty with certain sounds–in the present case with aspirants and sibilants. Mr. Edison’s biographers say, but the statement is somewhat exaggerated:
“He has frequently spent from fifteen to twenty hours daily, for six or seven months on a stretch, dinning the word ‘Spezia,’ for example, into the stubborn surface of the wax. ‘Spezia,’ roared the inventor, ‘Pezia’ lisped the phonograph in tones of ladylike reserve, and so on through thousands of graded repetitions till the desired results were obtained.
“The primary education of the phonograph was comical in the extreme. To hear those grave and reverend signors, rich in scientific honors, patiently reiterating:
Mary had a little lamb,
A little lamb, _lamb_, LAMB,
and elaborating that point with anxious gravity, was to receive a practical demonstration of the eternal unfitness of things.”
Milton, when blind, old and poor, showed a royal cheerfulness and never “bated one jot of heart or hope, but steered right onward.”
Dickens’ characters seemed to possess him, and haunt him day and night until properly portrayed in his stories.
At a time when it was considered dangerous to society in Europe for the common people to read books and listen to lectures on any but religious subjects, Charles Knight determined to enlighten the masses by cheap literature. He believed that a paper could be instructive and not be dull, cheap without being wicked. He started the _Penny Magazine_, which acquired a circulation of 200,000 the first year. Knight projected the _Penny Cyclopedia_, the _Library of Entertaining Knowledge_, _Half-Hours With the Best Authors_, and other useful books at a low price. His whole adult life was spent in the work of elevating the common people by cheap, yet wholesome, publications. He died in poverty, but grateful people have erected a noble monument over his ashes.
Demosthenes roused the torpid spirits of his countrymen to a vigorous effort to preserve their independence against the designs of an ambitious and artful prince, and Philip had just reason to say he was more afraid of that man than of all the fleets and armies of the Athenians.
Horace Greeley was a hampered genius who never had a chance to show himself until he started the _Tribune_, into which he poured his whole individuality, life and soul.
Emerson lost the first years of his life trying to be somebody else. He finally came to himself and said: “If a single man plant himself indomitably on his instincts, and there abide, the whole world will come round to him in the end.” “Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful we must carry it with us or we find it not.” “The man that stands by himself the universe stands by him also.” “Take Michael Angelo’s course, ‘to confide in one’s self and be something of worth and value.'” “None of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or commanding except when he listens to this whisper which is heard by him alone.”
Many unknown writers would make fame and fortune if, like Bunyan and Milton and Dickens and George Eliot and Scott and Emerson, they would write their own lives in their MSS., if they would write about things they have seen, that they have felt, that they have known. It is life thoughts that stir and convince, that move and persuade, that carry their very iron particles into the blood. The real heaven has never been outdone by the ideal.
Neither poverty nor misfortune could keep Linnæus from his botany.
The English and Austrian armies called Napoleon the one-hundred-thousand-man. His presence was considered equal to that force in battle.
The lesson he teaches is that which vigor always teaches–that there is always room for it. To what heaps of cowardly doubts is not that man’s life an answer.