No more touching story of success, in spite of great difficulties, than Bernard Palissy’s has been written. It is bad to think that after the terrible trials which he endured for the sake of his art, his last years also should have been clouded by misfortune. During the civil war which raged in France between the Huguenots and the Catholics, he was, on account of his religious views, imprisoned in the Bastile, where he died in 1589, at the age of eighty.
“The loss of an hour,” says the philosopher, Leibnitz, “is the loss of a part of life.” This is a truth that has been appreciated by most men who have risen to distinction,—who have been world benefactors. The lives of those great moral heroes put to shame the laggard youth of to-day, who so often grumbles: “I have no time. If I didn’t have to work all day, I could accomplish something. I could read and educate myself. But if a fellow has to grub away ten or twelve hours out of the twenty-four, what time is left to do anything for one’s self?”
How much spare time had Elihu Burritt, “the youngest of many brethren,” as he himself quaintly puts it, born in a humble home in New Britain, Connecticut, reared amid toil and poverty? Yet, during his father’s long illness, and after his death, when Elihu was but a lad in his teens, with the family partially dependent upon the work of his hands, he found time,—if only a few moments,—at the end of a fourteen-hour day of labor, for his books.
While working at his trade as a blacksmith, he solved problems in arithmetic and algebra while his irons were heating. Over the forge also appeared a Latin grammar and a Greek lexicon; and, while with sturdy blows the ambitious youth of sixteen shaped the iron on the anvil, he fixed in his mind conjugations and declensions.
How did this man, born nearly a century ago, possessing none of the advantages within reach of the poorest and humblest boy of to-day, become one of the brightest ornaments in the world of letters, a leader in the reform movements of his generation?
Apparently no more talented than his nine brothers and sisters, by improving every opportunity he could wring from a youth of unremitting toil, his love for knowledge grew with what it fed upon, and carried him to undreamed-of heights. In palaces and council halls, the words of the “Learned Blacksmith” were listened to with the closest attention and deference.
Read the life of Elihu Burritt, and you will be ashamed to grumble that you have no time—no chance for self-improvement.