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STORIES OF ACHIEVEMENT, VOLUME IV

Authors and Journalists

Edited by

ASA DON DICKINSON

Authors and Journalists

JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU
ROBERT BURNS
CHARLOTTE BRONTE
CHARLES DICKENS
HORACE GREELEY
LOUISA M. ALCOTT
HENRY GEORGE
WILLIAM H. RIDEING
JACOB A. RIIS
HELEN KELLER







[Frontispiece: Robert Burns]





Garden City - - New York
Doubleday, Page & Company
1925
Copyright, 1916, by
Doubleday, Page & Company
All Rights Reserved




ACKNOWLEDGMENT

In the preparation of this volume the publishers have received from
several houses and authors generous permissions to reprint copyright
material. For this they wish to express their cordial gratitude. In
particular, acknowledgments are due to the Houghton Mifflin Company for
permission to reprint the sketch of Horace Greeley; to Little, Brown &
Co. for permission to reprint passages from "The Life, Letters, and
Journals of Louisa May Alcott"; to Mr. Henry George, Jr., for the
extract from his life of his father; to William H. Rideing for
permission to reprint extracts from his book "Many Celebrities and a
Few Others"; to the Macmillan Company for permission to use passages
from "The Making of an American," by Jacob A. Riis; to Miss Helen
Keller for permission to reprint from "The Story of My Life."




CONTENTS


AUTHORS AND JOURNALISTS

JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU
The Man to Whom Expression was Travail

ROBERT BURNS
The Ploughman-poet

HORACE GREELEY
How the Farm-boy Became an Editor

CHARLES DICKENS
The Factory Boy

CHARLOTTE BRONTE
The Country Parson's Daughter

LOUISA MAY ALCOTT
The Journal of a Brave and Talented Girl

HENRY GEORGE
The Troubles of a Job Printer

JACOB RIIS
"The Making of an American"

WILLIAM H. RIDEING
Rejected Manuscripts

HELEN ADAMS KELLER
How She Learned to Speak




JEAN JACQUES ROUSSEAU

(1712-1778)

THE MAN TO WHOM EXPRESSION WAS TRAVAIL

From the "Confessions of Rousseau."

It is strange to hear that those critics who spoke of Rousseau's
"incomparable gift of expression," of his "easy, natural style," were
ludicrously incorrect in their allusions. From his "Confessions" we
learn that he had no gift of clear, fluent expression; that he was by
nature so incoherent that he could not creditably carry on an ordinary
conversation; and that the ideas which stirred Europe, although
spontaneously conceived, were brought forth and set before the world
only after their progenitor had suffered the real pangs of labor.

But after all it is the same old story over again. Great things are
rarely said or done easily.

Two things very opposite unite in me, and in a manner which I cannot
myself conceive. My disposition is extremely ardent, my passions
lively and impetuous, yet my ideas are produced slowly, with great
embarrassment and after much afterthought. It might be said my heart
and understanding do not belong to the same individual. A sentiment
takes possession of my soul with the rapidity of lightning, but instead
of illuminating, it dazzles and confounds me; I feel all, but see
nothing; I am warm but stupid; to think I must be cool. What is
astonishing, my conception is clear and penetrating, if not hurried: I
can make excellent impromptus at leisure, but on the instant could
never say or do anything worth notice. I could hold a tolerable
conversation by the post, as they say the Spaniards play at chess, and
when I read that anecdote of a duke of Savoy, who turned himself round,
while on a journey, to cry out "_a votre gorge, marchand de Paris_!" I
said, "Here is a trait of my character!"

This slowness of thought, joined to vivacity of feeling, I am not only
sensible of in conversation, but even alone. When I write, my ideas
are arranged with the utmost difficulty. They glance on my imagination
and ferment till they discompose, heat, and bring on a palpitation;
during this state of agitation I see nothing properly, cannot write a
single word, and must wait till all is over. Insensibly the agitation
subsides, the chaos acquires form, and each circumstance takes its
proper place. Have you never seen an opera in Italy where during the
change of scene everything is in confusion, the decorations are
intermingled, and any one would suppose that all would be overthrown;
yet by little and little, everything is arranged, nothing appears
wanting, and we feel surprised to see the tumult succeeded by the most
delightful spectacle. This is a resemblance of what passes in my brain
when I attempt to write; had I always waited till that confusion was
past, and then pointed, in their natural beauties, the objects that had
presented themselves, few authors would have surpassed me.

Thence arises the extreme difficulty I find in writing; my manuscripts,
blotted, scratched, and scarcely legible, attest the trouble they cost
me; nor is there one of them but I have been obliged to transcribe four
or five times before it went to press. Never could I do anything when
placed at a table, pen in hand; it must be walking among the rocks, or
in the woods; it is at night in my bed, during my wakeful hours, that I
compose; it may be judged how slowly, particularly for a man who has
not the advantage of verbal memory, and never in his life could retain
by heart six verses. Some of my periods I have turned and returned in
my head five or six nights before they were fit to be put to paper:
thus it is that I succeed better in works that require laborious
attention than those that appear more trivial, such as letters, in
which I could never succeed, and being obliged to write one is to me a
serious punishment; nor can I express my thoughts on the most trivial
subjects without it costing me hours of fatigue. If I write
immediately what strikes me, my letter is a long, confused, unconnected
string of expressions, which, when read, can hardly be understood.

It is not only painful to me to give language to my ideas but even to
receive them. I have studied mankind, and think myself a tolerable
observer, yet I know nothing from what I see, but all from what I
remember, nor have I understanding except in my recollections. From
all that is said, from all that passes in my presence, I feel nothing,
conceive nothing, the exterior sign being all that strikes me;
afterward it returns to my remembrance; I recollect the place, the
time, the manner, the look, and gesture, not a circumstance escapes me;
it is then, from what has been done or said, that I imagine what has
been thought, and I have rarely found myself mistaken.

So little master of my understanding when alone, let any one judge what
I must be in conversation, where to speak with any degree of ease you
must think of a thousand things at the same time: the bare idea that I
should forget something material would be sufficient to intimidate me.
Nor can I comprehend how people can have the confidence to converse in
large companies, where each word must pass in review before so many,
and where it would be requisite to know their several characters and
histories to avoid saying what might give offence. In this particular,
those who frequent the world would have a great advantage, as they know
better where to be silent, and can speak with greater confidence; yet
even they sometimes let fall absurdities; in what predicament then must
he be who drops as it were from the clouds? It is almost impossible he
should speak ten minutes with impunity.

In a tête-à-tête there is a still worse inconvenience; that is, the
necessity of talking perpetually, at least, the necessity of answering
when spoken to, and keeping up the conversation when the other is
silent. This insupportable constraint is alone sufficient to disgust
me with variety, for I cannot form an idea of a greater torment than
being obliged to speak continually without time for recollection. I
know not whether it proceeds from my mortal hatred of all constraint;
but if I am obliged to speak, I infallibly talk nonsense. What is
still worse, instead of learning how to be silent when I have
absolutely nothing to say, it is generally at such times that I have a
violent inclination; and, endeavoring to pay my debt of conversation as
speedily as possible, I hastily gabble a number of words without ideas,
happy when they only chance to mean nothing; thus endeavoring to
conquer or hide my incapacity, I rarely fail to show it.

I think I have said enough to show that, though not a fool, I have
frequently passed for one, even among people capable of judging; this
was the more vexatious, as my physiognomy and eyes promised otherwise,
and expectation being frustrated, my stupidity appeared the more
shocking. This detail, which a particular occasion gave birth to, will
not be useless in the sequel, being a key to many of my actions which
might otherwise appear unaccountable; and have been attributed to a
savage humor I do not possess. I love society as much as any man, was
I not certain to exhibit myself in it, not only disadvantageously, but
totally different from what I really am. The plan I have adopted of
writing and retirement is what exactly suits me. Had I been present,
my worth would never have been known, no one would ever have suspected
it; thus it was with Madam Dupin, a woman of sense, in whose house I
lived for several years; indeed, she has often since owned it to me:
though on the whole this rule may be subject to some exceptions. . . .

The heat of the summer was this year (1749) excessive. Vincennes is
two leagues from Paris. The state of my finances not permitting me to
pay for hackney coaches, at two o'clock in the afternoon, I went on
foot, when alone, and walked as fast as possible, that I might arrive
the sooner. The trees by the side of the road, always lopped,
according to the custom of the country, afforded but little shade, and
exhausted by fatigue, I frequently threw myself on the ground, being
unable to proceed any farther. I thought a book in my hand might make
me moderate my pace. One day I took the _Mercure de France_, and as I
walked and read, I came to the following question proposed by the
academy of Dijon, for the premium of the ensuing year: Has the progress
of sciences and arts contributed to corrupt or purify morals?

The moment I had read this, I seemed to behold another world, and
became a different man. Although I have a lively remembrance of the
impression it made upon me, the detail has escaped my mind, since I
communicated it to M. de Malesherbes in one of my four letters to him.
This is one of the singularities of my memory which merits to be
remarked. It serves me in proportion to my dependence upon it; the
moment I have committed to paper that with which it was charged, it
forsakes me, and I have no sooner written a thing than I had forgotten
it entirely. This singularity is the same with respect to music.
Before I learned the use of notes I knew a great number of songs; the
moment I had made a sufficient progress to sing an air of art set to
music, I could not recollect any one of them; and, at present, I much
doubt whether I should be able entirely to go through one of those of
which I was the most fond. All I distinctly recollect upon this
occasion is, that on my arrival at Vincennes, I was in an agitation
which approached a delirium. Diderot perceived it; I told him the
cause, and read to him the prosopopoeia of Fabricius, written with a
pencil under a tree. He encouraged me to pursue my ideas, and to
become a competitor for the premium. I did so, and from that moment I
was ruined.

All the rest of my misfortunes during my life were the inevitable
effect of this moment of error.

My sentiments became elevated with the most inconceivable rapidity to
the level of my ideas. All my little passions were stifled by the
enthusiasm of truth, liberty, and virtue; and, what is most
astonishing, this effervescence continued in my mind upward of five
years, to as great a degree, perhaps, as it has ever done in that of
any other man. I composed the discourse in a very singular manner, and
in that style which I have always followed in my other works, I
dedicated to it the hours of the night in which sleep deserted me; I
meditated in my bed with my eyes closed, and in my mind turned over and
over again my periods with incredible labor and care; the moment they
were finished to my satisfaction, I deposited in my memory, until I had
an opportunity of committing them to paper; but the time of rising and
putting on my clothes made me lose everything, and when I took up my
pen I recollected but little of what I had composed. I made Madam le
Vasseur my secretary; I had lodged her with her daughter and husband
nearer to myself; and she, to save me the expense of a servant, came
every morning to make my fire, and to do such other little things as
were necessary. As soon as she arrived I dictated to her while in bed
what I had composed in the night, and this method, which for a long
time I observed, preserved me many things I should otherwise have
forgotten.

As soon as the discourse was finished, I showed it to Diderot. He was
satisfied with the production, and pointed out some corrections he
thought necessary to be made. However, this composition, full of force
and fire, absolutely wants logic and order; of all the works I ever
wrote, this is the weakest in reasoning, and the most devoid of number
and harmony. With whatever talent a man may be born, the art of
writing is not easily learned.

I sent off this piece without mentioning it to anybody, except, I
think, to Grimm.

The year following (1750), not thinking more of my discourse, I learned
it had gained the premium at Dijon. This news awakened all the ideas
which had dictated it to me, gave them new animation, and completed the
fermentation of my heart of that first leaves of heroism and virtue
which my father, my country, and Plutarch had inspired in my infancy.
Nothing now appeared great in my eyes but to be free and virtuous,
superior to fortune and opinion, and independent of all exterior
circumstances; although a false shame, and the fear of disapprobation
at first prevented me from conducting myself according to these
principles, and from suddenly quarrelling with the maxims of the age in
which I lived, I from that moment took a decided resolution to do
it. . . .




ROBERT BURNS

(1759-1796)

THE PLOUGHMAN-POET

A note of pride in his humble origin rings throughout the following
pages. The ploughman poet was wiser in thought than in deed, and his
life was not a happy one. But, whatever his faults, he did his best
with the one golden talent that Fate bestowed upon him. Each book that
he encountered was made to stand and deliver the message that it
carried for him. Sweethearting and good-fellowship were his bane, yet
he won much good from his practice of the art of correspondence with
sweethearts and boon companions. And although Socrates was perhaps
scarcely a name to him, he studied always to follow the Athenian's
favourite maxim, _Know thyself_; realizing, with his elder brother of
Warwickshire, that "the chiefest study of mankind is man."


From an autobiographical sketch sent to Dr. Moore.

[_To Dr. Moore_]

MAUCHLINE, August 2, 1787.

For some months past I have been rambling over the country, but I am
now confined with some lingering complaints, originating, as I take it,
in the stomach. To divert my spirits a little in this miserable fog of
ennui, I have taken a whim to give you a history of myself. My name
has made some little noise in this country; you have done me the honour
to interest yourself very warmly in my behalf; and I think a faithful
account of what character of a man I am, and how I came by that
character, may perhaps amuse you in an idle moment. I will give you an
honest narrative, though I know it will be often at my own expense; for
I assure you, sir, I have, like Solomon, whose character, excepting in
the trifling affair of wisdom, I sometimes think I resemble - I have, I
say, like him turned my eyes to behold madness and folly, and like him,
too, frequently shaken hands with their intoxicating friendship. After
you have perused these pages, should you think them trifling and
impertinent, I only beg leave to tell you that the poor author wrote
them under some twitching qualms of conscience, arising from a
suspicion that he was doing what he ought not to do; a predicament he
has more than once been in before.

I have not the most distant pretensions to assume that character which
the pye-coated guardians of escutcheons call a gentleman. When at
Edinburgh last winter I got acquainted in the _Herald's_ office; and,
looking through that granary of honors, I there found almost every name
in the kingdom; but for me,

My ancient but ignoble blood
Has crept thro' scoundrels ever since the flood.

Gules, purpure, argent, etc., quite disowned me.

My father was of the north of Scotland, the son of a farmer, and was
thrown by early misfortunes on the world at large; where, after many
years' wanderings and sojournings, he picked up a pretty large quantity
of observation and experience, to which I am indebted for most of my
little pretensions to wisdom. I have met with few who understood men,
their manners and their ways, equal to him; but stubborn, ungainly
integrity, and headlong, ungovernable irascibility, are disqualifying
circumstances; consequently, I was born a very poor man's son. For the
first six or seven years of my life my father was gardener to a worthy
gentleman of small estate in the neighbourhood of Ayr. Had he
continued in that station, I must have marched off to be one of the
little underlings about a farmhouse; but it was his dearest wish and
prayer to have it in his power to keep his children under his own eye
till they could discern between good and evil; so with the assistance
of his generous master, my father ventured on a small farm on his
estate.

At those years, I was by no means a favourite with anybody. I was a
good deal noted for a retentive memory, a stubborn, sturdy something in
my disposition, and an enthusiastic, idiotic piety. I say idiotic
piety because I was then but a child. Though it cost the schoolmaster
some thrashings, I made an excellent English scholar; and by the time I
was ten or eleven years of age, I was a critic in substantives, verbs,
and particles. In my infant and boyish days, too, I owe much to an old
woman who resided in the family, remarkable for her ignorance,
credulity, and superstition. She had, I suppose, the largest
collection in the country of tales and songs concerning devils, ghosts,
fairies, brownies, witches, warlocks, spunkies, kelpies, elf-candles,
dead-lights, wraiths, apparitions, cantraips, giants, enchanted towers,
dragons, and other trumpery. This cultivated the latent seeds of
poetry; but had so strong an effect on my imagination that to this hour
in my nocturnal rambles I sometimes keep a sharp lookout in suspicious
places; and though nobody can be more sceptical than I am in such
matters, yet it often takes an effort of philosophy to shake off these
idle terrors.

The earliest composition that I recollect taking pleasure in was "The
Vision of Mirza," and a hymn of Addison's beginning, "How are thy
servants blest, O Lord!" I particularly remember one half-stanza which
was music to my boyish ear -

For though on dreadful whirls we hung
High on the broken wave -

I met with these pieces in Mason's English Collection, one of my
schoolbooks. The first two books I ever read in private, and which
gave me more pleasure than any two books I ever read since, were "The
Life of Hannibal" and "The History of Sir William Wallace." Hannibal
gave my young ideas such a turn that I used to strut in raptures up and
down after the recruiting drum and bagpipe and wish myself tall enough
to be a soldier; while the story of Wallace poured a Scottish prejudice
into my veins, which will boil along there till the floodgates of life
shut in eternal rest.

Polemical divinity about this time was putting the country half mad,
and I, ambitious of shining in conversation parties on Sundays, between
sermons, at funerals, etc., used a few years afterward to puzzle
Calvinism with so much heat and indiscretion that I raised a hue and
cry of heresy against me, which has not ceased to this hour.

My vicinity to Ayr was of some advantage to me. My social disposition,
when not checked by some modifications of spirited pride, was like our
catechism definition of infinitude, without bounds or limits. I formed
several connections with other younkers, who possessed superior
advantages; the youngling actors who were busy in the rehearsal of
parts, in which they were shortly to appear on the stage of life,
where, alas! I was destined to drudge behind the scenes. It is not
commonly at this green age that our young gentry have a just sense of
the immense distance between them and their ragged playfellows. It
takes a few dashes into the world to give the young, great man that
proper, decent, unnoticing disregard for the poor, insignificant,
stupid devils, the mechanics and peasantry around him, who were,
perhaps, born in the same village. My young superiors never insulted
the clouterly appearance of my plough-boy carcase, the two extremes of
which were often exposed to all the inclemencies of all the seasons.
They would give me stray volumes of books; among them, even then, I
could pick up some observations, and one, whose heart, I am sure, not
even the "Munny Begum" scenes have tainted, helped me to a little
French. Parting with these my young friends and benefactors, as they
occasionally went off for the East or West Indies, was often to me a
sore affliction; but I was soon called to more serious evils. My
father's generous master died, the farm proved a ruinous bargain; and
to clench the misfortune, we fell into the hands of a factor, who sat
for the picture I have drawn of one in my tale of "Twa Dogs." My
father was advanced in life when he married; I was the eldest of seven
children, and he, worn out by early hardships, was unfit for labour.
My father's spirit was soon irritated, but not easily broken. There
was a freedom in his lease in two years more, and to weather these two
years, we retrenched our expenses. We lived very poorly; I was a
dexterous ploughman for my age; and the next eldest to me was a brother
(Gilbert), who could drive the plough very well, and help me to thrash
the corn. A novel-writer might, perhaps, have viewed these scenes with
some satisfaction, but so did not I; my indignation yet boils at the
recollection of the scoundrel factor's insolent, threatening letters,
which used to set us all in tears.

This kind of life - the cheerless gloom of a hermit, with the unceasing
moil of a galley slave, brought me to my sixteenth year; a little
before which period I first committed the sin of rhyme. You know our
country custom of coupling a man and woman together as partners in the
labours of harvest. In my fifteenth autumn my partner was a bewitching
creature, a year younger than myself. My scarcity of English denies me
the power of doing her justice in that language, but you know the
Scottish idiom: she was a "bonnie, sweet, sonsie (engaging) lass." In
short, she, altogether unwittingly to herself, initiated me in that
delicious passion, which, in spite of acid disappointment, gin-horse
prudence, and bookworm philosophy, I hold to be the first of human
joys, our dearest blessing here below! How she caught the contagion I
cannot tell; you medical people talk much of infection from breathing
the same air, the touch, etc., but I never expressly said I loved her.
Indeed I did not know myself why I liked so much to loiter behind with
her when returning in the evening from our labours; why the tones of
her voice made my heartstrings thrill like an Aeolian harp; and
particularly why my pulse beat such a furious ratan, when I looked and
fingered over her little hand to pick out the cruel nettle-stings and
thistles. Among her other love-inspiring qualities, she sung sweetly;
and it was her favourite reel to which I attempted giving an embodied


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