Page images
PDF
EPUB

to imitate it. With this view I selected some of the papers, made snort 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, employe ing the most appropriate words that occurred to my mind. I afterwards compared my Spectator with the original; 1 perceived soine faults, which I corrected but I found that I wanted a fimd 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 langths for the measure, or of different sounds for the rhymne, 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.

Soinetimes also I mingled all my summaries toge. ther; and, a few weeks after, endeavoured tv arrange them in the best order, before I attempted to form the periods and compiete 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 soinetimes the satisface tion to think, that, in certain particulars of little inportance, I had been fortunate enough to improve ihe 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 the great ohjects of my ambition.

The time which I devoted to these exe.cises, and to reading, was the erening 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 indeed considered it as a duty, but a duty which I thought I had po time to practise.

When about sixteen years of age, a work of Tryon fell into my hands, in which he recommends vegeta. ole siiet. I deternincd to cbserve it. My brother being a bachelor, did not keep house, bu: 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 fo 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 half. This was a new fund for the purchase of books; and other advantages resulted to nie from the plan. When my brother and his workmen left the printing. house to go to dinner, I remained behind, and des. patching 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 retum, for study; arid my progress therein was proportioned to that clearness of ideas, and quickness of concep, tion, which are the fruit of temperance in eating and drinking.

It was about this period that, having cne day been put to the blush for my ignorance in the art of calcı. lation, which I had twice failed to learn while at school, I took Cocker's Treatise of Arithmetic, and went through it myself with the utmost 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 this science. Nearly a the same time, I read Locke on the Human Under standing, and the Art of Thinking, by Messrs. Du! Port Royal.

While labouring to form and improve my style, I met with an English Gramn.ar, which I believe was Greenwood's, having at the end of it two little essays on rhetoric and logic. In the lattier I found a model of disputation after the manner of Socrates. Shortly after I procured Xenrphon's work, entiiled, Memoras

ble Things of Socrates, in which are various exam. ples 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 hum. ble questioner. The perusal of Shaftsbury and Col. lins had made me a sceptic; and, being previously so as to many doctrines of Christianity, I found Socra. es' 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 practised it; and became very adroit in obtaining, even from persons of superior understand. ing, concessions of which they did not foresee the consequence. Thus I involved them in difficulties from which they were unable to extricate themselves, and sometimes obtained victories, which neither niy 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 dif. fidence, and never making use, when I advanced any proposition which might be controverted, of the words certainly, undoubtedly, or any others which might give the appearance of being obstinately attached to my opinion. I rather said, I imagine, 1 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 advanttage to me, when I have had occasion to impress my opinion on the minds of others, and persuade them to the adoption of the measures I have suggested. And since the chief ends of conversation are, to inform or o be informed, to please or to persuade, I could wish hat intelligent and well-meaning men would no themselves diminish the power they possess of being useful, by a positive and presumptuous manner of ex. pressing theinselves, which scarcely ever fails to dis. gust the hearer, and is only calculated to excite op. position, and defeat every purpose for which the fa. culty of speech has been bestowed,on man. In short, if you wish to inform, a positive and dogmatical manner of advancing your opinion may provoke contradiction, and prevent your being heard with attention. On the other hard, if, with a desire of being informed, and of benefiting by the know edge of others, you express yourself as being strongly attached to your own opinions, modest and sensible men, who do not love disputation, will leave you in tranquil possession of your errors. By following such a nie thod, you can rarely hope to please your auditors conciliate their good-will, or work conviction on those whom you may be desirous of gaining over to you views. Pope judiciously observes,

Men must be taught as if you taught them not,
And things unknown proposed as things forgot

And in the same poem he afterwards advises us,

To speak, though sure, with seeming diffidence.

He might have added to these lines, one that he has coupled elsewhere, in my opinion, with less propraty. It is thus:

For want of modesty is want of sense. If you ask why I say with less propriety, I must give you the two lines together :

Immodest words admit of no defence

For want of decency is want of sense. Now, want of sense, when a man has the inisfortuno to be so circumstanced, is it not a kind of excuse tur want of modesty? And would not the verses have been more accurate, if they had been consu ucted thus:

Immodest words admit brut this defence,

The want of decency is want or sense. But I leave the decision of this to better judges than mysell.

In 1720, or 1721, my brother began to print a new public paper. It was the second that made as apo

pearance in America, and was entitled the “New England Courant." The only one that existed beforo was tire.

Boston News Letter.” Some of his frier:ds, I remember, wou!r! have dissuaded hinn from this une dertaking, as a thing that was not likely to succeed; a single newspaper being, in their opinion, sufficient for all America. At present, however, in 1771, t'ere are no less than tweniy-five. But he carried his pro jest ilito execution, and I was employed in distri. buting the copies to his customers, after having assisted in coinposing and working thein off.

Among his friends he had a number of literary characters, who, as an amusement, wrole short essays for the paper, which gave it reputation, and increased the sale. These gentlemen frequently came to our house. I heard the conversation that passed, and the accounts they gave of the favourable reception of their writings with the public. I was tempted to try my hand anong them; bui, 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 w disguise my hand, and having written an anonymous picce, I placed it at night under the door of the print. ing-house, where it was found the next moming. My brother communicated it to his friends, when they came as usual to see him, who read it, commented upon it 'vithin my hearing, and I had tho exquisito picasure to find that it niet with their appruhation, and that in their various conjectures they made respecting the author, no one was mentioned who did not enjoy a high reputation ir, the country for talents and genius. I now supposed myself fortunate in judges, and began to suspect that they were not suor excellent writers as I had hitherto supposed them Be this as it may, encouraged by this liule adventure, I wrote and sent to press, in the same way, many other pieces, which were equally approved : keeping the secret till sny slender stock of information and knowledge for such performances was preseg cam pleteig exhausted, when I niade myself knorvn.

My brother, upon this discovery, began to entertata wide more respect for me; but he still reganted them

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »