B. B. (Bela Bates) Edwards.

Biography of self-taught men: with an introductory essay (Volume 1) online

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Per augusta ad augusta.







Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1846,

In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.



THE present volume, with the exception of the last
article, was prepared by Professor B. B. EDWARDS, of the
Theological Seminary, Andover, and published several
years since. Several sketches, however, in the volume
then published are omitted in this, but will probably appear
hereafter, somewhat enlarged. It was the original plan of
the author to extend the work to several volumes, as he
might be able to prepare them from time to time ; but other
duties, more immediately connected with the station he
now occupies, have compelled him to relinquish it, to be
completed by others.

The object of the author in commencing the work,
which was " to furnish encouragement to a very large and
very deserving class of young men in this country, who
are endeavoring to rise to respectability and usefulness by
their own efforts and resources," is that of the publish-
ers in issuing a new edition, and will also be kept in view
in the preparation of future volumes.

It is the design of the publishers to issue a second vol-
ume in a few months, to be succeeded by others, should
public patronage warrant.




Introductory Essay, 5

Roger Sherman, 63

Christian Gottlob Heyne, (of Gottingen.) 76

William Whipple, 83

Alexander Murray, 86

Stephen Hopkins, 100

Professor Lee, 104

William Gifford, 110

Thomas Baldwin, 121

David Rittenhouse, 131

Samuel Huntington, 146

"William Edwards, 151

Thomas Scott, 158

Lott Gary, 179

John Opie, 191

Nathaniel Smith, 202

John Godfrey Von Herder, 206

Giovanni Battista Belzoni, 210

William Caxton, 216

Richard Baxter, 225

Arthur Young, 237

Charles G. Haines, '. 244

Carsten Niebuhr, 250

Jonas King, 273

Humphrey Davy, 290

Adam Clarke, 305

Count Rumford, (Benjamin Thompson,) 310

















a, and

/hat then

j American

Jonas ,
Adam Claiv



THE future history of the United States is a
subject of deep interest. We are come to a very
important period in our course. The strength
of our political system is beginning to be tried.
The tendencies of our institutions are becoming
apparent. The elements which form a general
national character, are combining and coalescing.
It is emphatically a day of trial. Every thing is
subjected to a rigid scrutiny. Merely prescriptive
rights are abandoned. Reliance upon authority
is given up. Such being the condition of the
country, it is not an inappropriate question, What
is to be done? There are local divisions, civil
strifes, rival religious denominations, great ques-
tions pending in political economy, interesting
relations with other portions of the world, and
boundless resources for good or evil. What then
are the duties which devolve on the American
citizen ?



It is very obvious, in the first place, that in the
passion for novelty and change, we are to see that
we do not give up any thing which is truly valu-
able. "We ought to remain firm on those great
principles of politics and education, morals and
religion, which have been tried, and have not
been found wanting. There is little danger in
this country of a too pertinacious attachment to
old systems. The hazard is all on the other side.
The love of innovation is vastly an overmatch for
a blind regard to authority and antiquity. In
detaching ourselves from what is absurd and er-
roneous in former opinions, we shall, without great
circumspection, abandon the true with the false,
and shall soon find ourselves on an unknown sea,
without any experience from the past, or guide
for the future. As an instance in point, I might
allude to the excessive simplification in books of
education, relieving the student from the necessity
of patient attention, and of thorough and discrimi-
nating habits of thought.

Another duty of great importance is, to induce
a more fervent and general cooperation of the
advocates of sound principles, in the diffusion of
their opinions. There is little concentrated sym-
pathy and fellow-feeling among the friends of man.
They have not learned the power of associated
effort. They do not act in masses. This trait in


our character is principally owing to two reasons.
We have no capital city. We have no acknowl-
edged metropolis of letters or influence. There
is no London, to which all the provincial towns
willingly bow in homage. The tendency of our
republican institutions is such, also, as to prevent
an embodied and powerful action of the friends of
virtue. Our freedom of thought and indepen-
dence of character we sometimes carry to an
extreme. We are better as private citizens than
as members of a commonwealth. It is not true
that the state of public morals and virtue is as
elevated as that of the individuals who compose a
community. We do that in a collective capacity,
which we should not dare to do as friends or
neighbors. Conscience, and the faith of solemn

c *

compact, are often voted away, when personal
honor, or a mere verbal engagement, are sacredly
remembered and redeemed. When a great prin-
ciple is at stake, we must learn to dismiss all
minor differences, to forget all local attachments,
to abjure utterly every selfish consideration.
What is a party, w r hat is a religious denomination,
when a fundamental law of right or justice is at
issue ?

Intimately connected with the preceding remark,
is the undoubted truth, that questions of political
economy are to be viewed far more than they


have been in this country, in connection with the
operations of the providence of God. What
volumes of ingenious speculation have been
wasted in this captivating science, simply because
the authors did not, or would not, look at the ar-
rangements of the Power that ruleth over all.
It is not pretended but that there are great and
intrinsic difficulties in shaping a system of com-
mercial intercourse, among the different parts of
this country, and between the United States and
foreign nations. Still it may be safely asserted,
that one half of the vexation and trouble which
have been experienced, would have been avoided,
if our legislators were all Christian economists.
The Author of nature, and of nations, did not
leave the great subjects of internal or inter-
national commerce in such profound doubt and
mystery as is now thrown around them. He has
made all the parts of a country mutually depend-
ent upon each other, on purpose to counteract the
selfishness of men. To promote the prosperity
of one division of the United States, at the ex-
pense of the happiness of any other portion, is
adopting certain means to ruin the whole. The
unnatural growth of one empire is as certainly
destructive to itself as it is to that land from
which it has subtracted its wealth. Men cannot
be politicians, in the best sense of the word, with-


out adopting the principles of the Bible. The
book of Proverbs, and the sermon on the Mount,
contain the elements of the best political economy
which was ever devised. They inculcate what is
of immeasurable importance in the intercourse of
nations enlargement of mind, and comprehen-
siveness of view, and clearness and power of
conscience. These would settle questions of for-
eign intercouse and domestic improvement, with
far more certainty and safety than the volumes
of Adam Smith, or the statistics of Seybert or
Pitkin. Here, then, is a great duty to be per-
formed. Those same elevated and Christian
principles are to be carried into all the duties of
the statesman, which have been so happily intro-
duced into some of the departments of criminal
jurisprudence and penitentiary discipline.

It is very evident, moreover, that great efforts
are required to maintain the due ascendency of
mind over matter. The accumulation of wealth
is the object which absorbs the attention of all
classes of our community. Almost the entire
population of the country are earnestly engaged
in the development and employment of the
physical resources of the nation. There is a
boundless selfishness a restless and unappeasa-
ble desire to amass riches. This is the general
theme of conversation in the public stage-coach ;


it is the reiterated topic of recommendation in
official documents ; it is the foundation of irrita-
ting comparisons between different portions of the
country ; it causes the desecration of the ever to
be hallowed Sabbath ; it stimulates the waking
hours and animates the dreams of the private
citizen. Mammon is the god of this country.
The attainment of wealth is pursued, not as a
means, but as an end. Our government does not
employ the abundant resources of the nation, in
extending the boundaries of science and of civil-
ization, but rather in the purchase of more land.
Individuals, as a general thing, do not amass
wealth for the sake of becoming Maecenases, or
Thorntons, or Boudinots, but for some personal
and selfish consideration. Now this insatiate
worldliness ought to be counteracted. A power-
ful weight should be thrown into the opposite
scale. Our country is ruined if it becomes too
prosperous. Wealth, with all its concomitants
and adjuncts, will not save us. Rocky coasts and
rough fields, with virtuous hearts, are a richer
inheritance than the golden mines of both hemi-
spheres. It is the extension of the empire of
mind which we need. It is the cultivation of the
domestic graces' and accomplishments. It is in-
tellectual and moral glory, after which we must
aspire. We must attain the enviable honor of


being an intellectual and religious nation. In
renouncing the crowns and coronets, the pomps
and vanities, of the old world, let us not devote
ourselves to that which is infinitely more sordid.

This leads me to remark, that we are called to
the work of educating an innumerable multitude
of minds. Popular instruction, in its most com-
prehensive import, is to be the theme of absorb-
ing interest. Connected with this subject, are
questions of very wide application, which have
been hardly considered yet. We are to provide
means for extending the benefits of education to
the extremities of society, to a scattered and ever
emigrating population. ~\Ve are to devise the best
methods for combining legislative supervision
and patronage, with private munificence. The
philosophy of education is to be studied and taught
as a practical science. Books, in all the depart-
ments of education, are to be written by those
who are intimately acquainted with the laws of
the human mind. In short, a vast population are
not only to have instruction communicated to
them, but are to be inured to habits of self-educa-
tion, and to be intrusted with the power of elevat-
ing themselves indefinitely in the scale of im-

Once more, a national Christian literature is to
be created in this country. There is a period, or


there are periods, in the history of every nation
when the great currents of thought receive their
direction, when the organs . of intellectual life
begin to move. Of what immense benefit had it
been to England in all subsequent ages, if her
Elizabethan era had been a Christian era ; if the
great men who then toiled in the fields of knowl-
edge, had all been Boyles and Miltons. How
different would have been the destiny of France,
if her literary men of the age of Louis XIV.,
had all been Pascals and Fenelons ; if that gor-
geous constellation of intellect had been temper-
ed with the mild beams of Christianity. How
bright would have been the pages of her now
blood-stained history ! The great lesson which
these facts teach us, is to seize the favorable mo-
ment to preoccupy the ground. Our state of
probation, in this respect, is not past. With a
few exceptions, we have now no literature. We
have nothing which can be called a National
Literature. It is yet to be created. Those great
controlling influences, which lift themselves into
the upper firmament of thought, which are like
the polar light, always visible, and always to be re-
garded, are yet to be collected together. Though
there are scattered rays of light every where,
yet they have not been concentrated into reigning
and radiant orbs. The fourth dav is not come.


A great object, therefore, an ultimate object, to
be kept in view in this country, now and forever,
is the highest possible cultivation of science and
literature in connection with religion. It is an
object vast enough for the concentration of every
energy, physical, and mental, and moral, which
God has given to us. Here may be exhibited a
vigor of intellect, a purity of taste, a strength and
fervor of religious feeling, all in delightful com-
bination, such as the old world has never yet seen.
Now is the time. We have separation enough
from the other continents. We have ample
sphere. We have no need to engrave our dis-
coveries on columns of stone, to be wearily deci-
phered by some subsequent age. We may
spread them out before a great people. We may
write them on ten thousand living and breathing

Another very important object is, to turn to the
best account the triumphs of the Christian reli-
gion, which so mark the years that are now pass-
ing over us in this country. These exhibitions of
the grace and power of the Redeeming Saviour,
may be attended with vast collateral benefits, if
they are regarded with that importance which
they deserve. When the powers of the world to
come are visible, when there is an awakened and
tender conscience and clearness of perception,


when men feel deeply that they are spiritual and
immortal beings, then is a most favorable time to
make sure of other great interests. The moral
sense may be brought to bear on the whole circle
of duties. Liberality of feeling and comprehen-
siveness of mind may be successfully inculcated.
The individuals in question, may learn to look on
themselves as the subjects of a new and glorious
economy, where they can breathe a fresher air,
and obtain occasional glimpses of the higher
abodes, where dwell their elder and more favored
brethren. The simple personal safety of an indi-
vidual, is not the only or the great object in view,
in these days of the Redeemer's victories. Why
should not the sphere of human sympathy be en-
larged ? Why should not fresh charms be thrown
over the whole aspect of human society ? Why
should not the genial influence pervade all the
intercourse of men ? Why should not revivals
of Christianity exert a strong influence on the
purity of civil elections, on the sacredness of
judicial proceedings, on the contracts of com-
merce, and on the durability of a republican
government ? The genuineness of that religion
may well be questioned, which does not moderate
the heat of party zeal, which does not diffuse
itself into all the departments of civil life, in
short, which does not make men real philanthro-
pists, pure and incorruptible patriots.


But in order to fulfil these great trusts, and to
accomplish these high purposes, we must bring
some new powers into the field. A hitherto
unknown agency must be employed. All the
ordinary and accustomed means of changing
public opinion, are not sufficient. We have not
men enough, of the proper description, in this
country. A new order of cultivated intellect is
greatly needed. A limited number of eminent
scholars, such as Alexandria, and Athens, and
London in the days of Anne, contained, is not
demanded. A multitude of learned men in the
abstract sciences, such as Paris and some of the
German cities embrace, would not accomplish
the work. Neither would the parish schools and
universities of Scotland supply the deficiency.
They nurture metaphysical acumen, and strength
of reasoning, indeed, but frequently at the ex-
pense of benevolent feeling and religious princi-
ple. Neither are the excellent common school
systems of the northern States of this country,
however great the blessings which they diffuse,
equal to the enterprise to be accomplished.

A class of men which will be fully adequate to
the exigency, may be found in great numbers in
this country. They compose the young men who
have vigor of body, great strength and firmness of
character, an ardent desire to acquire knowledge,
a disposition to employ their powers in the diffusion


of knowledge, with little or no pecuniary resources.
They constitute a portion of the members of our
colleges. Probably from fifty to seventy-five
thousand of this class of young men, are pursuing,
with various interest, the study of the sciences
and of literature, at the lyceums, which are hap-
pily extending into all parts of the country.
Several thousand more are engaged in a course
of study which is habitually connected with
manual labor. A still smaller class, but amount-
ing to nearly two thousand, are under the patron-
age of various societies for the promotion of
ministerial education. So that in all the classes
enumerated, there are, doubtless, at least one hun-
dred thousand young men in the United States,

who are in a course of self-education.


In this description of young men, there are
materials of great value, which may be fashioned
and moulded for important public service. No
other nation on earth is possessed of such a
treasure. This country is comparatively new.
There is not, as in Europe, a multitude of large
estates, which can furnish abundant means of
education to the sons of a family. The popula-
tion, in many parts of the land, is migatory also.
Of course, the ancient seats of learning are left
behind. Opportunities for a finished education
cannot be obtained for many years after the first


settlement of a country. Besides, the population
increases with such rapidity, that all the ordinary
means for providing facilities for thorough mental
discipline, are entirely inadequate. Such being
the condition of things in this country, it follows
almost of consequence, that there will be a class
of men such as I have described, of firm nerve,
of aspiring hope, of powerful understanding, but
not in possession of the means of pursuing an
uninterrupted course of mental improvement. If
they have the benefit of teachers, it is only at in-
tervals. If taught at all, they must in a great
measure teach themselves. They are compelled
to rely on their own resources. That this class
of young men is large, and capable of conferring
great benefits on the country, no one can doubt.

They possess some peculiar advantages over all
other classes of men. They have confidence in
their own power, Whatever of character they
possess has been tried in the school of severe dis-
cipline. They have breasted the billows, in a great
measure, alone. Others have had their doubts
resolved by teachers. In the final resort, they
have depended on foreign and auxiliary aid.
Their own powers have been tasked for a while,
but the last weight has been lifted up by the
shoulders of others. A clearer eye has penetrat-
ed the dark cloud for them. It is sometimes the


fact, that an individual \vho has been taught by
others, has more confidence in the opinion of every
one else, than in his own. As a direct conse-
quence, he is wavering, timid, pliable. His char-
acter is not compacted and assimilated, but yield-
ing and capricious. His usefulness is of course
greatly diminished. But the men of whom I
speak, have measured their powers. They have
depended very little on extraneous aid.

Another attribute of this class of individuals, is
independence of purpose. They are accustomed
to form opinions according to the decisions of
their own judgments. They are like that de-
scription of lawyers, who have deeply studied the
elementary principles of their profession, who
have followed out these principles into all their
ramifications, and who come to conclusions, which
are, in a great measure, irrespective of particular
facts facts which may coincide, or may not,
with an original principle. Such lawyers are in-
dependent, in a great degree, of precedents, or of
the opinion of courts. By severe thought and
well-directed study, they have formed an inde-
pendent habit of judgment. Such is the fact
with those individuals who have been self-
instructers. They may err in opinion, and their
purposes may be formed on insufficient grounds ;

but they are not accustomed to bow to human



authority, nor yield their free agency at the call
of party or sect.

Many of this class have, moreover, an invinci-
ble perseverance. The resoluteness with which
they resolve, has a counterpart in the untiring
execution of their schemes. Difficulties only
excite a more ardent desire to overcome them.
Defeat awakens new courage. Affliction nour-
ishes hope. Disappointment is the parent and
precursor of success. A resolution so strong is
sometimes formed, that it seems to enter into the
nature of the soul itself. It swallows up the
whole man, and produces a firmness of determina-
tion, an iron obstinacy of pursuit, which nothing
but death can break down.

I have seen an individual commence a course
of preparatory studies for a liberal education.
Weakness of sight compelled him to suspend his
labors. After a season of relaxation, he resumed
his books, bat the recurrence of the same disorder
induced him to abandon the pursuit. He then
assumed the duties of a merchant's clerk ; but the
same inexorable necessity followed him. He
entered into the engagements of a third profes-
sion, with as little success as before. But he was
not discouraged. An unconquerable determina-
tion took possession of his soul, that, come what
would, he would not despair. In the merciful


providence of that Being who " helps those who
help themselves," he was directed to the manu-
facturing of a certain article which was new in
that part of the United States, and his labors
were rewarded with entire success. In a few
years, he became one of the most affluent indi-
viduals in his vicinity.

The following facts in relation to a gentleman,
who is now a distinguished professor in one of
the American colleges, w T ill afford an excellent
illustration for my purpose. The father of the
individual alluded to, was a poor but intelligent
man, gave his children a good common education,
and also to some extent the privileges of an
academy, which was situated in his native town.
The occupation of the son was that of husbandry,
especially during the summer months, being em-
ployed by some neighboring farmer, as his father
did not own a farm. Early in life he acquired a
taste for mathematics, and never afterwards did
he advance so rapidly in geometry and the kind-
red studies, in the same number of hours' appli-
cation to them, as in the evening after ten or
twelve hours of hard labor in the field. Having
obtained permission to see some of the astronomi-
cal instruments belonging to the academy, he
became particularly attached to practical astrono-
my, though he could gain access only to elementary


books. Having made an observation upon an
eclipse of the sun, for the purpose of determining
the longitude of the place, he commenced the
work of resolving the problem with only the gen-
eral directions and tables in the common books of


navigation ; and although it cost him several

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Online LibraryB. B. (Bela Bates) EdwardsBiography of self-taught men: with an introductory essay (Volume 1) → online text (page 1 of 21)