Clad in a homespun tow shirt, shrunken, butternut-colored, linsey-woolsey pantaloons, battered straw hat, and much-mended jacket and shoes, with ten dollars in his pocket, and all his other worldly goods packed in the bundle he carried on his back, Horace Greeley, the future founder of the New York Tribune, started to seek his fortune in New York.
A newspaper had always been an object of interest and delight to the little delicate, tow-haired boy, and at the mature age of six he had made up his mind to be a printer. His love of reading was unusual in one so young. Before he was six he had read the Bible and “Pilgrim’s Progress” through.
Like the children of all poor farmers, Horace was put to work as soon as he was able to do anything. But he made the most of the opportunities given him to attend school, and his love of reading; stimulated him to unusual efforts to procure books. By selling nuts and bundles of kindling wood at the village store, before he was ten he had earned enough money to buy a copy of Shakespeare and of Mrs. Hemans’s poems. He borrowed every book that could be found within a radius of seven miles of his home, and by many readings he had made himself familiar with the score of old volumes in his log-cabin home.
Mrs. Sarah K. Bolton draws a pleasing picture of the farmer boy reading at night after the day’s work on the farm was done. “He gathered a stock of pine knots,” she says, “and, lighting one each night, lay down by the hearth and read, oblivious to all around him. The neighbors came and made their friendly visits, and ate apples and drank cider, as was the fashion, but the lad never noticed their coming or their going. When really forced to leave his precious books for bed, he would repeat the information he had learned, or the lessons for the next day to his brother, who usually, most ungraciously, fell asleep before the conversation was half completed.”
“Ah!” said Zaccheus Greeley, Horace’s father, when the boy one day, in a fit of abstraction, tried to yoke the “off” ox on the “near” side: “Ah! that boy will never know enough to get on in the world. He’ll never know more than enough to come in when it rains!”
Yet this boy knew so much that when at fourteen he secured a place as printer in a newspaper office at East Poultney, Vermont, he was looked up to by his fellow-printers as equal in learning to the editor himself.
At first they tried to make merry at his expense, poking fun at his odd-looking garments, his uncouth appearance, and his pale, delicate face and almost white hair, which subsequently won for him the nickname of “Ghost.” But when they saw that Horace was too good humored and too much in earnest with his work to be disturbed by their teasing, they gave it up. In a short time he became a general favorite, not only in the office, but in the town of Poultney, whose debating and literary societies soon recognized him as leader. Even the minister, the lawyer, and the school-teachers looked up to the poor, retiring young printer, who was a veritable encyclopedia of knowledge, ready at all times to speak or to write an essay on any subject.