“Though Providence has granted me an unvaried and unusual success in the pursuit of fortune in other lands,” he said, “I am still in heart the humble boy who left yonder unpretending dwelling many, very many years ago. ... There is not a youth within the sound of my voice whose early opportunities and advantages are not very much greater than were my own; and I have since achieved nothing that is impossible to the most humble boy among you. Bear in mind, that, to be truly great, it is not necessary that you should gain wealth and importance. Steadfast and undeviating truth, fearless and straightforward integrity, and an honor ever unsullied by an unworthy word or action, make their possessor greater than worldly success or prosperity. These qualities constitute greatness.”
“I will paint or die!”
“I will paint or die!” So stoutly resolved a poor, friendless boy, on a far-away Ohio farm, amid surroundings calculated to quench rather than to foster ambition. He knew not how his object was to be accomplished, for genius is never fettered by details. He only knew that he would be an artist. That settled it. He had never seen a work of art, or read or heard anything on the subject. It was his soul’s voice alone that spoke, and “the soul’s emphasis is always right.”
Left an orphan at the age of eleven, the boy agreed to work on his uncle’s farm for a term of five years for the munificent sum of ten dollars per annum, the total amount of which he was to receive at the end of the five years. The little fellow struggled bravely along with the laborious farm work, never for a moment losing sight of his ideal, and profiting as he could by the few months’ schooling snatched from the duties of the farm during the winter.
Toward the close of his five years’ service a great event happened. There came to the neighborhood an artist from Washington,—Mr. Uhl, whom he overheard by chance speaking on the subject of art. His words transformed the dream in the youth’s soul to a living purpose, and it was then he resolved that he would “paint or die,” and that he would go to Washington and study under Mr. Uhl.
On his release from the farm he started for Washington, with a coarse outfit packed away in a shabby little trunk, and a few dollars in his pocket. With the trustfulness of extreme youth, and in ignorance of a great world, he expected to get work that would enable him to live, and, at the same time, find leisure for the pursuit of his real life work. He immediately sought Mr. Uhl, who, with great generosity, offered to teach him without charge.
Then began the weary search for work in a large city already overcrowded with applicants. In his earnestness and eagerness the youth went from house to house asking for any kind of work “that would enable him to study art.” But it was all in vain, and to save himself from starvation he was at length forced to accept the position of a day laborer, crushing stones for street paving. Yet he hoped to study painting when his day’s work was done!