Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

swered, and I replied. Three or four letters had · been written by cach, 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 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 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 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 suiticiently 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 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 in 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 labour 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 consider it as a duty. · When about 16 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 neighbouring 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 Tryon 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 un

dertake to maintain myself. The offer was instantI ly embraced, 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 advantages the resulted to me from the plan. When my brother

and his workmen left the printing-house to go to dinner, I remained behind, and dispatched 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 fruit 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 up Cocker's Treatise of Arithmetic, and went through it by myself with the greatest ease; I also read a book of navigation, by Seller and Sturmy, and made myself master 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 labouring 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 an humble questioner. I found Socrates's method to be both the safest for myself, as well as the most embarrassing to those against whom I employed it. It soon afforded me singular pleasure: I incessantly practiced it, and became very adroit in obtaining, even from persons of superior understanding, concessions of which they did not foresee the consequences.Thus I involved them in difficulties from which they were unable to extricate themselves, and sometimes obtained victories, which neither my cause nor my arguments merited. .

This method I continued to employ for some years; but I afterwards abandoned it by degrees, retaining only the habit of expressing myself with modest diffidence, and never making use, when I advanced any proposition which might be controverted, of the words certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that might give the appearance of being obstinately attached to my opinion. I rather said, I imagine, I suppose, or it appears to me that such a thing is so or so, for such and such reasons; or, it is so, if I am not mistaken. This habit has, I think, been of considerable advantage to me, when I have had occasion to impress my opinion on the minds of others, and persuade them to the opinion of the measures I have suggested.

In 1720, or 1721, my brother began to print a new public paper. It was the second that made its appearance in America, and was entitled “The New-England Courant. The only one that existed before was the • Boston News-Letter.' Some of his friends, I remember, would have dissuaded him from this undertaking, as a thing that was not likely to succeed; a single newspaper being, in *their opinion, sufficient for all America. At present, however, in 1777, there are no less than twenty-five. But he carried his project into execution, and I was e nployed in distributing the copies to his customers, after having assisted in composing and working thom off.

Among his friends he had a number of literary characters, whe, as an amusement, wrote short essays for the paper, which gave it reputation anil increased its sale. These gentlemen came frequentdy to our house. I heard the conversation that

N

passed, and the accounts they gave of the favourable reception of their writings with the public. I was tempted to try my hand among them; but, being still a child as it were, I was fearful that my brother might be unwilling to print in his paper any performance of which he should know me to be the author, I therefore contrived to disguise my hand, and having written an anonymous piece, I placed it, at night, under the door of the printing house, where it was found the next morning. My brother communicated it to his friends, when they came as usual to see him, who read it, commented upon it in my hearing, and I had the exquisite pleasure to find that it met with approbation, and, that, in the various conjectures they made respecting the author, no one was mentioned who did not enjoy a high reputation in the country, for talents and genius. I now supposed myself fortunate in my judges, and began to suspect that they were not such excellent writers as I had hitherto supposed them. Be that as it may, encouraged by this little adventure, I wrote and sent to the press, in the same way, many other pieces, which were equally approved; keeping the secret till my slender stock of information and knowledge for such performances was completely exhausted, when I made myself known.

My brother, upon this discovery, began to entertain a little more respect for me; but he still regarded himself as my master, and treated me like an apprentice. He thought himself entitled to the same services from me as from any other person. On the contrary, I conceived that in many instances, he was too rigorous, and that, on the part of a brother, I had a right to expect greater indulgence. Our disputes were frequently brought before my father, and either my brother was generally in the wrong, or I was the better pleader of the two, for judgment was commonly given in my favour. Buť

« ZurückWeiter »