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At a Forge


"Seek and ye shall find." What impels a man toward achievement? Certainly not always money, for many men have achieved much and refused money; Cer tainly not fame, for many men have labored successfully to a great purpose so quietly that no one heard of them while they labored.

Why then do men strive? Why do they work and pray that the inner light may il lumine the chaos about them.

An answer to these queries is at least sug gested by the words : "Knock and it shall be opened ;" "Seek and ye shall find ;" "Ask and ye shall receive." Whether or not one finds a satisfactory answer in these words depends entirely upon his interpretation of the unnamed factor: 277 What is to be opened? What discovered? What received? I doubt not that a man seeking the source of divinity whence he proceeds finds it permeat ing himself as ether permeates all space. Once he is aware of this, once conscious of the im mense reservoir on which he may draw, the possibilities of achievement for making mani fest the divine energy are so great that he can not rest content and be inactive. So he speaks to the chaos and its "without form and void" takes on form and expresses a purpose.

A man may be impelled by this truth and yet not be fully conscious that he entertains it. In fact he can hardly escape it, so im pelling is its force. One can trace it dis tinctly in the activity of all men who are not wholly slaves to the attraction of environ ment. It shows itself majestically in those who are free and it never entirely withholds itself from those who are bound fast to the wheel of life. Its evidence abounds in simple biography.

Witness the case of this boy: About one hundred years ago there was born in the town of New Britain, Conn., a boy—the youngest of ten children. The boy's name was Elihu Burritt.

His father was a farmer and a shoemaker, and the boy himself, as he grew up, followed these pursuits and many others, generally those of a mechanical nature, and although Elihu Burritt attended a district school, his opportunities to learn were few, for the fam ily required the income of his working-power for its support.

When the boy was fifteen years old his father died. He then apprenticed himself to a blacksmith in New Britain. Even in his teens, the boy had acquired a hunger for knowl edge. He read the books, particularly the his torical works in the local library, and while he stood at his forge he worked out problems in mathematics. Here are some of them, home made and exacting: "How many barley-corns, at three to the inch, will it take to go around the earth at the equator ?" "How many cubic yards of cloth, three feet in width, cut into strips an inch wide, and al lowing half an inch at each end for the lap, would it require to reach from the centre of the earth to the sun ?" "How much will all this cloth cost at a shilling a yard ?" All this was accomplished without writing down a single figure. He carried on all the operations in his head, and at night submitted problem and answer for verification to his brother, who was skilled in mathematics.

Then it entered the boy's head that he should study Latin. In the evenings of one winter, with the help of an elder brother who had been to college, he finished reading Virgil. Then he read other Latin authors, and, com pleting these, took up the study of Greek.

At this time, every hour of daylight, and often other hours beyond daylight, had to be spent at the forge. But this offered no per manent obstacle to Elihu Burritt. "I car ried," he said, "my Greek grammar in my hat, and often found a moment, when I was heating some large irons, when I could place my book open before me, against the chim ney of my forge, and go through my lesson.

At evenings I sat down, unassisted and alone, to the Iliad and Homer, twenty books of which measured my progress in that lan guage during the evenings of another win ter." Burritt had occasionally sought instruction during his apprenticeship, but it cost him the loss of his wages, a dollar a day, and he could not afford to allow himself such oppor tunity as freedom from work offered. But after mastering, to an extent, the Latin and Greek languages, he found that they furnished him with the key to many of the modern European languages. He grasped the relation and derivation of these languages, and, de termining to learn them, he left his work and went to New Haven, where he had instruc tion in French, German, Spanish and Italian.

Then he went back to the forge and re sumed his work as a blacksmith. But he was not puffed up with the vanity of a scholar who knew six or eight languages. He next turned to Hebrew. In a few weeks he had so well mastered the principles of this language that he set himself the task of reading two chapters of the Hebrew Bible every day before break fast.

He then took up the Oriental languages. But he could find no teacher who could properly aid him to begin this study. He determined then to give up his work at the forge and to ship as a sailor on a vessel that put in at various European ports, where he hoped to collect books on modern and Oriental lan guages.

He walked to Boston, over a hundred miles, but found no opportunity to ship as a sailor.

Then he heard of the American Antiqua rian Society of Worcester. Thither he walked in order to discover what it had to offer. The library of the society was rich in the very books he wanted, and he was granted the freest use of them. What was the result of this? This, in Burritt's own words : "Through the facilities afforded by this in stitution I have been able to add so much to my previous acquaintance with ancient, mod ern and Oriental languages as to be able to read upward of fifty of them with more or less facility." From Mr. Burritt's diary, written when he was twenty-seven years old, the following is taken : "All that I have accomplished, or expect, or hope to accomplish, has been and will be, by that plodding, patient, persevering, process of accretion which builds the-ant-heap, particle by particle, thought by thought, fact by fact." Now, it may be said that a poor blacksmith who mastered fifty or more languages has done the world little good. Mr. Burritt, however, did not look upon his successes as a student in that light. His ambition was to turn his knowledge over to the benefit of mankind.

He interested himself in the penny postage movement. He labored as earnestly as ever Mr. Carnegie has in the interest of universal peace. He spread his message through maga zines and papers of his own publication. He went frequently to Europe and placed his plans for the betterment of mankind before others.

When, after one of his European trips, he returned to his native town—New Britain—he was honored by his townsmen, not as a black smith alone, but as a man who, by the use of his moments when standing at the forge, had moved steadily onward into international prominence.

The finest tribute that he received in his remarkable life was also from his townsmen. They named one of the public schools, The Burritt school.

He was denied much opportunity in school when a boy, but he showed that even the art of going to school to one's own ambition is a wonderful thing to do, for it is made mani fest thereby that when one knocks, it is made open for him; when he seeks, the treasure is there waiting to be found; when he asks, an abundance is given unto him.

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