He made up his mind to put himself before the public, and talked of his plans to his friends. In order to keep in practice in speaking he walked seven or eight miles to debating clubs. “Practicing polemics,” was what he called the exercise.
He seems now for the first time to have begun to study subjects. Grammar was what he chose. He sought Mentor Graham, the schoolmaster, and asked his advice.
“If you are going before the public,” Mr. Graham told him, “you ought to do it.”
But where could he get a grammar? There was but one in the neighborhood, Mr. Graham said, and that was six miles away.
Without waiting for more information the young man rose from the breakfast-table, walked immediately to the place, borrowed this rare copy of Kirkham’s Grammar, and before night was deep in its mysteries. From that time on for weeks he gave every moment of his leisure to mastering the contents of the book. Frequently he asked his friend Greene to “hold the book” while he recited, and when puzzled by a point he would consult Mr. Graham.
Lincoln’s eagerness to learn was such that the whole neighborhood became interested. The Greenes lent him books, the schoolmaster kept him in mind and helped him as he could, and even the village cooper let him come into his shop and keep up a fire of shavings sufficiently bright to read by at night. It was not long before the grammar was mastered.
“Well,” Lincoln said to his fellow-clerk, Greene, “if that’s what they call science, I think I’ll go at another.”
He had made another discovery–that he could conquer subjects.
The poor and friendless lad, George Peabody, weary, footsore and hungry, called at a tavern in Concord, N. H., and asked to be allowed to saw wood for lodging and breakfast. Half a century later he called there again, but then George Peabody was one of the greatest millionaire bankers of the world. Bishop Fowler says: “It is one of the greatest encouragements of our age, that ordinary men with extraordinary industry reach the highest stations.”
Greeley’s father, because the boy tried to yoke the off ox on the near side, said: “Ah! that boy will never get along in the world. He’ll never know enough to come in when it rains.”
He was too poor to wear stockings. But Horace persevered, and became one of the greatest editors of his century.
Handel’s father hated music, and would not allow a musical instrument in the house; but the boy with an aim secured a little spinet, hid it in the attic, where he practiced every minute he could steal without detection, until he surprised the great players and composers of Europe by his wonderful knowledge of music. He was very practical in his work, and studied the taste and sensitiveness of audiences until he knew exactly what they wanted; then he would compose something to supply the demand. He analyzed the effect of sounds and combinations of sounds upon the senses, and wrote directly to human needs. His greatest work, “The Messiah,” was composed in Dublin for the benefit of poor debtors who were imprisoned there. The influence of this masterpiece was tremendous. It was said it out-preached the preacher, out-prayed prayers, reformed the wayward, softened stony hearts, as it told the wonderful story of redemption, in sound.
A. T. Stewart began life as a teacher in New York at $300 a year. He soon resigned and began that career as a merchant in which he achieved a success almost without precedent. Honesty, one price, cash on delivery, and business on business principles were his invariable rules. Absolute regularity and system reigned in every department. In fifty years he made a fortune of from thirty to forty million dollars. He was nominated as Secretary of the Treasury in 1869, but it was found that the law forbids a merchant to occupy that position. He offered to resign, or to give the entire profits of his business to the poor of New York as long as he should remain in office. President Grant declined to accept such an offer.
Poor Kepler struggled with constant anxieties, and told fortunes by astrology for a livelihood, saying that astrology as the daughter of astronomy ought to keep her mother; but fancy a man of science wasting precious time over horoscopes. “I supplicate you,” he writes to Moestlin, “if there is a situation vacant at Tübingen, do what you can to obtain it for me, and let me know the prices of bread and wine and other necessaries of life, for my wife is not accustomed to live on beans.” He had to accept all sorts of jobs; he made almanacs, and served anyone who would pay him.
Who could have predicted that the modest, gentle boy, Raphael, without either riches or noted family, would have worked his way to such renown, or that one of his pictures, but sixty-six and three-quarter inches square (the Mother of Jesus), would be sold to the Empress of Russia, for $66,000? His Ansedei Madonna, was bought by the National Gallery for $350,000. Think of Michael Angelo working for six florins a month, and eighteen years on St. Peter’s for nothing!
Dr. Johnson was so afflicted with king’s-evil that he lost the use of one eye. The youth could not even engage in the pastimes of his mates, as he could not see the gutter without bending his head down near the street. He read and studied terribly. Finally a friend offered to send him to Oxford, but he failed to keep his promise, and the boy had to leave. He returned home, and soon afterward his father died insolvent. He conquered adverse fortune and bodily infirmities with the fortitude of a true hero.