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style; and when they were printed, my brother sent me about the town to sell them. The first sold prodigiously, the event being recent, and having made a great noise. This success flattered my vanity, but my father discouraged me, by criticising my performances, and telling me, verse makers were generally beggars. Thus I escaped being a poet, and probably a very bad one: but as prose writing has been of great use to me in the course of my life, and was a principal means of my advancement, I shall tell you how in such a situation, I acquired what little ability I may be supposed to have in that way.
There was another bookish lad in the town, John Collins by name, with whom I was intimately acquainted. We somctimes disputed, and very fond we were of argument, and very desirous of confuting one another, which disputatious turn, by the way, is apt to become a very bad habit, making people often extremely disagreeable in company, by the contradiction that is necessary to bring it into practice; and thence besides souring and spoiling the conversation, it is productive of disgusts and perhaps eninities with those who may have occasion for friendship. I had caught this by reading my father's books of disputes on religion. Persons of good sense, I have since observed, seldom fall into it, except lawyers, university men, and generally men of all sorts who have been bred at Edinburg. A question was once some how or other started, between Collins and me, on the propriety of educating the female sex in learning, and their abilities for study. He was of opinion that it was improper, and that they were naturally unequal to it. I took the contrary side, perhaps for dispute sake. He was naturally more eloquent, hav. ing a greater plenty of words; and sometimes as I thought I was vanquished more by his fluency than by the strength of his reasons. As we parted without settling the point, and were not to see one another again for some time, I sat down to put my arguments in writing, which I copied fair and sent to him. He answered, and I replied. Three or four letters on a side had passed, when my father happened to find my pa. pers and read them. Without entering into the subject in dispates, lie took occasion to talk to me about my manner of writing; observed that though I had the advantage of my antagonist in correct spelling and pointing, (which he attributed to the printing house) I fell far short in elegance of expression, in method, and perspicuity, of which he convinced me by several instances. I saw the justice of his remarks, and thence grew more attentive to my manner of writing, and determined to endeavor to improre my style.
About this time I met with an odd volume of the Spectator. I had never before seen any of them. I bought it, read it over and over, and was much delighted with it. I thought the writing excellent, and wished if possible to imitate it. With that view I took some of the papers, and making short bints of the sentiments in each sentence, laid them by a few days, and then without looking at the book, tried to complete the papers again, by expressing each hinted sentiment at length and as fully as it had been expressed before in any suitable words that should occur to me. Then I compared iny Spectator with the original, discovered some of my faults, and corrected them. But I found I wanted a stock of words, or a readiness in recollecting and using them, which I thought I should have acquired before that time, if I bad gone on making verses; since the continual scarch for words of the same import, but of different lengths, to suit the measure, or of different sounds for the rhyme, would have laid mo under a constant necessity of searching for variety, and also haye tended to fix that variety in my mind, and make me master of it. Therefore I took some of the tales in the Spectator, and turned them into verse: and after a time, when I bad pretty well forgotten the prose, turned them back again. I also some. times jumbled my collection of loints into confusion, and after some weeks endeavored to reduce them into the best order, before I began to form the full sentences and complete the subject. This was to teach me inethod in the arrangement of the thoughts. By comparing my work with the original, I discovered many faults and corrected them; but I sometimes had
the pleasure to fancy, that in particulars of small consequence I had been fortunate enough to improve the method or the language, and this encouraged me to think, that I might in time come to be a tolerable English writer, of which I was extremely ambitious. The time I alloted for writing exercises and for reading, was at night, or before work began in the morning, or on Sunday, when I contrived to be in the printing house, avoiding as much as I could, the constant attendance at public worship, which my father used to exact from me when I was under his care, and which I still continued to consider as a duty, though I could not afford time to practise it.
When about sixteen years of age, I happened to meet with another book, written by one Tryon recommending a vegetable diet. I determined to go into it. My brother being yet unmarried, did not keep house, but boarded himself and his apprentices in another family. My refusing to eat flesh occasioned an inconvenience, and I was frequently chid for my singularity. I made myself acquainted with Tryon's manner of preparing some of his dishes, such as boiling potatoes or rice, making hasty pudding, and a few others, and then proposed to my brother, if he would give me weekly half the money he paid for my board, I would board myself. He instantly agreed to it, and I presently found that I could save half what he paid me.
This was an additional fund for buying of books. But I had another advantage in it. My brother and the rest going from the printing office to their meals, I remained there alone; and dispatching presently my light repast, which was often no more than a biscuit, or a slice of bread and a handful of raisins, a tart from the pastry cook's, and a glass of water, had the rest of the time till their return for study, in which I made the greater progress, from that greater clearness of head and quick apprehension, which generally attends temperance in eating and drinking.
Now it was, that being on some occasion made ashamed of my ignorance in figures, which I had twice failed learning
when at school. I took Cocker's book on arithmetic, and went through the whole by myself with the greatest ease. I also read Sellers and Sturny's book on navigation, which made me acquainted with the little geometry it contained; but I never proceeded far in that science. I read about this time Locke on the Human Understanding, and the Art of Thinking by Messrs. du Port Royal.
While I was intent on improving my language, I met with an English grammar, (I think it was Greenwood's) having at the end of it two little sketches, on the arts of rhetoric and logic, the latter finishing with a dispute in the Socratic method; and soon after 1 procured Xenophon's Memorablc things of Socrates, wherein there are many examples of the sawe method. I was charmed by it, adopted it, dropt my abrupt contradiction and positive argumentation, and put on the humble inquirer; and being then, from reading Shaftesbury and Collins, made a doubter, as I already was in many points of our religious doctrines, I found this method the safest for myself and very embarrassing to those against whom I used it; therefore I took delight in it, practised it continually, and grew very artful and expert in drawing people, even of superior knowledge, into concessions, the consequences of which they did not foresee; entangling them in difficulties, out of which they could not extricate themselves, and so obtaining victories, that neither myself nor my cause always deserved. I continued this method some few years, but gradually left it, retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence; never using, when I advanced any thing that may possibly be disputed, the word certainly—undoubtedly, or any other that gave the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather say I conceive, or apprehend a thing to be so and so; it appears to me; or I should not think it so, for such and such reasons; or I imagine it to be so; or it is so, if I am not mistaken. This habit I believe has been of great advantage to me, when I bave had occasion to inculcate my opinions, and persuade men into measures that I have been from time to
time engaged in promoting; and as the chief ends of conver. sation are to inform, or to be informed, to please or to persuade; I wish well meaning and sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive assuming manner that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition, and to defeat most of those purposes for which speech was given to us.
In fact if you wish to instruct others, a positive and dogmatical manner in advancing your sentiments may occasion opposition and prevent a candid attention. If you desire improvement from others you should not at the same time express yourself fixed in your present opinions; modest and sensible men who do not love disputation will leave you undisturbed in the possession of your errors. In adopting such a manner, you can seldom expect to please your hearers, or obtain the concurrence you desire. Pope judiciously observes,
Men must be taught as if you taught them not,
And things unknown proposed as things forgot. He also recommends it to us, " To speak tho' sure, with seeming diffidence. And he might have joined with this line, that which he has coupled with another, I think less properly,
For want of modesty is want of sense,
Immodest words admit of no defence,
For want of modesty is want of sense. Now is not the want of sense (where a man is so unfortunate as to want it) some apology for his want of modesty? and would not the lines stand more justly thus?
Immodest words admit but this defence,
That want of modesty is want of sense. This however, I should submit to better judgments. . My brother had in 1720 or 21, began to print a newspaper. It was the second that appeared in America, and was called the New England Courant. The only one before it, was the Boston News Letter. I remember his being dissuaded by some of his friends from the undertaking, as not likely to succeed,