The Courage That Faces Obstacles

"YOU may expect to spend the rest of your days tied to your chair."

Theodore Roosevelt's physician made this disconcerting announcement to

his patient a few weeks before his death.

How would the courageous man receive an announcement like that? How

would you receive it?

Let the words spoken in reply by the lion-hearted Roosevelt never be

forgotten by others who struggle with difficulties:

"All right! I can work and live that way, too!"

Surely the triumphant words justified the characterization made by

Herman Hagedorn of this colossal worker:

"He was frail; he made himself a mountain of courage."

At a dinner given to celebrate the worthy achievement of a public man, a

guest spoke of him to a companion at table.

"No wonder he has been so well. Everything is in his favor: he is young,

he is brilliant, he is in good health."

"In good health?" was the answering comment. "Where did you get that?

For years he has been in wretched health; many a night he was unable to

sleep except he knelt on the floor by the bedside and stretched himself

from his waist across the bed. But it is not strange that you did not

know, he has said nothing of his ailments; he is so full of courage

himself that he makes everyone around him courageous."



When the famous Sioux Indian, Charles A. Eastman, was a boy, his father,

who had learned the joys of civilized life, urged his son to secure an

education. "I am glad that my son is brave and strong," he said to him.

"I have come to start you on the White Man's way. I want you to grow to

be a good man."

Then he urged his son, Ohiyesa, as he was called, to put on the

civilized clothes he had brought with him. The boy rebelled at first; he

had been accustomed to hate white men and everything that belonged to

them. But when he reflected that they had done him no harm, after all,

he decided to try on the curious garments.

Together father and son traveled toward the haunts of the white man. As

they traveled Ohiyesa listened to tales of the wonderful inventions he

would see. He was especially eager to look on a railroad train.

But even after he had gone with his father, he was reluctant to enter on

his long training, until his father suggested that he make believe he

was starting on a long war-path, from which there could be no honorable

return until his course was completed. Entering into the spirit of the

proposal, the Indian lad began his schooling at Flandreau Indian Agency,

and persisted for twelve long years. After graduating from college he

devoted himself to his people, and in many years since has accomplished

wonders for them, teaching them the patience he had himself learned, and

enabling them to understand that such patience and persistence always

brings its reward.

The experience of Isaac Pitman, the inventor of shorthand, was

different, yet, after all, it was much the same. As a boy he had little

education. But soon after he went to work he made up his mind to supply

the lack. The record of how he did this is one of the most remarkable

instances of courageous patience on record.

The long office hours at his place of employment, from six in the

morning until six at night, made study difficult, but he showed

conclusively that where there is a will there is a way, and that he had

the will. He was accustomed to leave his bed at four, that he might

study two hours before the beginning of the day's work. Two hours in the

evening also were set apart for study. Sometimes it happened that work

at the factory was light, and the young clerk was excused for the

morning. Instead of taking the time for sport, it was his habit to take

a book with him into the fields or under the trees.

Thomas Allen Reid, in his biography of Pitman says: "One of the books

which he made his companion in morning walks into the country was

Lennie's Grammar. The conjugation of verbs, list of irregular verbs,

adverbs, prepositions, and conjunctions, and the thirty-six rules of

syntax, he committed to memory so that he could repeat them in order.

The study of the books gave him a transparent English style."

His father was a subscriber to the local library. "I went regularly to

the library for fresh supplies of books," Isaac said, in 1863, "and thus

read most of the English classics. I think I was quite as familiar with

Addison, and Sir Roger, and Will Honeycomb, and all the Club, as I was

with my own brothers and sisters ... and when reading The Spectator at

that early age, I wished that I might be able to do something in


Before he left school he formed the habit of copying choice pieces of

poetry and prose into a little book which he kept in his pocket. These

bits he would commit to memory when he had leisure. A later pocket

companion contained a neatly written copy of Valpey's Greek Grammar, as

far as the syntax, which he committed to memory. In his morning walks in

1832 he committed to memory the first fourteen chapters of Proverbs. He

would not undertake a fresh chapter until he had repeated the preceding

one without hesitation.

As most of his knowledge of words was gained from books, he had

difficulty in pronunciation. "His method of overcoming the deficiency

was ingenious," his biographer wrote. "Again and again he read 'Paradise

Lost.' Careful attention to the meter enabled him to correct his faulty

pronunciation of many words. Words not found in the poem he discovered

in the dictionary. With unusual courage he decided to read through

Walker's Dictionary, fixing his mind on words new to him and on the

spelling and pronunciation of familiar terms. On the pages of one of his

pocket-books he copied all words he had been in the habit of

mispronouncing. Although there were more than two thousand of these

words, the plan was carried out before he was seventeen."

The labor of writing out so many extracts from books led him to study

the imperfect system of shorthand then current, and to develop the

system that was to bear his name.

So many young people feel that they "simply cannot abide" the long

process of getting an education; they give up when they are only a part

of the way to the goal. But for most of them the day of bitter regret

will come when they will wish that they had been more like Eastman or

Pitman in their determination to be patient and persistent, to allow

nothing to stand in the way of their purpose to fit themselves in the

best possible manner for the serious business of life.



Young men just starting out in life nowadays, who find the path to

success difficult, are more fortunate than some of those who struggled

with hard times a century or more ago, because they are determined to

make a self-respecting fight on their own merits. It was not always so;

once nothing was thought of the effort made by an impecunious young man

to throw himself on the generosity of one who had already achieved

success. Then it was a habit of many authors to seek as a patron a man

of influence and means who would help them live till their books were

ready for the publisher, and then help to get the books before the


From letters of George Crabbe, a poet of some note in his century,

asking Edmund Burke to become his patron, something of his story may be

known. As a boy he was apprenticed to an apothecary; later he was

proprietor of a small shop of his own. Business, neglected for books and

writing, did not prosper. With his sister, his housekeeper, he "fasted

with much fortitude." Then he went to London, with a capital of nine

pounds, and starved some more. Months were spent in trying to enlist

two patrons. At last, threatened with a prison for debt, he decided to

try a third patron; and this was his procedure, as he himself described


"I looked as well as I could into every character that offered itself to

my view, and resolved to apply where I found the most shining abilities,

for I had learnt to distrust the humanity of weak people in all


So he wrote to Edmund Burke, telling him that he could no longer be

content to live in the home of poor people, who had kept him for nearly

a year, and had lent him money for his current expenses. Describing

himself as "one of those outcasts on the world, who are without a

friend, without employment and without bread," he told of his vain

appeal to another for gold to save him from prison, added that he had

but one week to raise the necessary funds, and made his request.

"I appeal to you, sir, as a good, and, let me add, a great man. I have

no other pretensions to your favor than that I am an unhappy one. It is

not easy to support thoughts of confinement, and I am coward enough to

dread such an end to my suspense ... I will call upon you, sir,

to-morrow, and if I have not the happiness to obtain credit with you I

must submit to my fate ... I have only to hope a speedy end to a life so

unpromisingly begun ... I can reap some consolation in looking to the

end of it."

The appeal was successful. Edmund Burke became Crabbe's patron. The poet

was glad to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table, and

submitted to many unpleasant slights and insinuations while he received

the dole of charity.

That suing thus for a patron did not always have the effect of

destroying an author's self-respect is shown by a letter written by Dr.

Samuel Johnson to Lord Chesterfield. When, after years of hard labor,

Dr. Johnson's dictionary was known to be ready for publication, Lord

Chesterfield wrote for "The World" two flattering articles about the

author, evidently thinking that the work would be dedicated to him. At

once Dr. Johnson wrote:

"My Lord: When, upon some slight encouragement, I first visited your

lordship, I ... could not forbear to wish ... that I might obtain that

regard for which I saw the world contending; but I found my attendance

so little encouraged, that neither pride nor modesty would suffer me to

continue it....

"Seven years, my lord, have passed since I waited in your outward room,

or was repulsed from your door, during which time I have been pushing on

my work through difficulties, of which it is useless to complain, and

have brought it at last to the verge of publication, without one act of

assistance, one word of encouragement or one smile of favor. Such

treatment I did not expect for I never had a patron before.... The

notice which you have been pleased to take of my labor, had it been

early, had been kind; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and

cannot enjoy it; till I am solitary, and cannot impart it; till I am

known, and do not want it.... I have long awakened from that dream of

hope, in which I once boasted myself with so much exultation, my lord,

"Your lordship's most humble, most obedient servant,

"Sam Johnson."

The lapse of a century has brought a change. Self-respecting, courageous

young workers do not seek a patron to help them to fame. To-day they ask

only to fight their own battles, win their own victories.



Nor do courageous workers complain when little things go wrong.

"I don't know what I shall do if the mail does not come to-morrow. Think

of being two days without a morning paper!"

The complaint was heard when railway traffic had been tied up by

washouts on the railway. The inconvenience suffered by the speaker

seemed to him very great. Though there had been no other interruption to

the many comforts and conveniences to which he had been accustomed, the

single difficulty made him lose his temper and spoiled his day.

When one is tempted to magnify such a small difficulty into a mountain

it is worth while to look at things from the standpoint of a man whose

life far from the centers of civilization makes him so independent of

circumstances and surroundings that he can be cheerful even in the face

of what seem like bitter privations.

A company of travelers in the forests of Canada thought that the

knowledge of the most recent news was necessary to happiness. They

learned their mistake when they reached the camp of a man from whom

they expected to learn news more recent than the events reported in the

paper the day they left civilization, seven weeks before. They felt sure

that, as he lived on the trail, he would have seen some traveler who had

left the railroad since their own departure.

When they asked him for late news from the States, he said he had some

very recent news, and proceeded to tell of events eight months old! "Do

you call that recent?" he was asked, in disgust.

"What's the matter with that?" was the wondering reply. "It only

happened last fall, and there ain't been nobody through here since." And

he contentedly resumed the task at which he had been engaged when

interrupted by the demand for "recent" news.

On the same journey the travelers--whose story is told in "Trails in

Western Canada"--showed that they were learning the lesson. Carelessness

in handling a campfire caused a forest fire which threatened their food

supply. They saved this, but lost their only axes. After a long search

they found these in the embers, but the temper had been utterly ruined

by the heat. Only a few hours before they felt that an axe was

absolutely necessary not only to comfort but to life itself, yet when

the ruined tools were found the travelers turned to their tasks without

giving the disaster a second thought. They knew that there is always a

way out of difficulty. They continued their expedition without an axe,

and found that they managed very well.

The lesson was impressed still more by the attitude of a guide who spent

a few days with them. Like many other people on vacation they allowed

themselves to worry about finances. But their thoughts were set on a new

track by the guide, who, after telling of the success in trapping

grizzly bear and beaver which had enabled him to save a little money,

said: "Life is too short to worry about money. If I lose all I have

to-morrow, I can get a couple of bear traps and by next spring I'll be

on my feet again. The mountains are always here, and I know where there

is a bunch of bear and a colony of beaver, and I can get along out here,

and live like a prince while those poor millionaires are lying awake at

nights, lest someone come and steal their money."

Two other guides were engaged to pole the travelers' raft down the

Fraser River. Nearly every day the cold rain fell in torrents, but the

men were unmoved. "All day long they would stand in their wet clothes,

their hands numb and blue from the cold as they handled their dripping

poles; yet not a comment indicating discomfort is recalled. Physical

annoyances, which in the city would bring an ambulance, scarcely are

mentioned by them."

One day one of the men was asked what they did when they were sick.

"Cain't say we ever are sick," was the reply. "The worst thing that ever

happened to us, I reckon, was when Mort here had a bad tooth; but, after

a day or two, we got sick of it, and took it out." That was all he

thought worth saying about it till he was pressed for an account of the

operation. "Oh, I looked through our dunnage bag," he said, "and found

an old railroad spike. Mort held it against the tooth and I hit the head

with a big rock, and knocked her out the first time."

His companion was unwilling to agree that this was the most trying

experience. He told of a day when the man who had reported the tooth

extraction, cut his foot severely with an axe. "Oh, that didn't bother

us," the victim interrupted. "I just slapped on some spruce gum and

never thought anything more about it." Asked how long he was laid up,

the surprised answer was: "Laid up for that? We weren't laid up at all.

Couldn't travel quite as fast for a day or two, but we didn't lose no

time at that, for we traveled longer to make up."

Still another guide gave an object lesson in making light of

difficulties when his horse fell on him, bruising one of his knees so

that it swelled to an enormous size. The injured man made no complaint,

though his companions were full of sympathy. He knew he could reduce the

swelling by heroic remedies.

One day when traveling was unusually difficult, the guide cheered his

employers by telling them of the fine camp he owned just ahead--"a house

like a hotel," he said. And when the camp was reached he pointed proudly

to "a great log with a few great pieces of bark and some cedar slivers

stretched over the top." In this camp the night was spent, without

blankets and in the rain. "But as no one seemed to consider this

anything out of the ordinary, the travelers made no complaint."

Perhaps a taste of the wilderness is what we need when we become

impatient of trifles and make ourselves miserable because everything

does not go to suit us.



Failure camps on the trail of the man who is ready to give up because

difficulties multiply. A representative of a large paper warehouse made

up his mind to add to his list of customers a certain Michigan firm.

Repeated rebuffs did not daunt him. Every sixty days he sent the firm a

letter of invitation to buy his goods. During twenty-seven years one

hundred and sixty-one letters were mailed without result. Then, in reply

to the one hundred and sixty-second letter, the Michigan firm asked for

quotations. These were given promptly, and two carloads of paper were

sold. What if this letter writer had become discouraged before he wrote

this final letter?

"I thought you were planning to complete your education," a friend said

to a young man whom he had not seen for some time; "yet now you are

clerking in a store. Perhaps, though, you are earning money for next

year's expenses."

"No, I am earning money for this year's expenses," was the discouraged

reply. "I did want an education, but I found it was too difficult to get

what I sought, so I have decided to settle down."

Of course it is easier to give up than it is to push on in the face of

difficulty, but the youth who pushes on is fitting himself to fill a

man's place in the world, while the young man who is easily discouraged

is fitting himself for nothing but disappointment. The world has no

place for a quitter.

There is a tonic for young people who purpose to make the most of

themselves in glimpses of a few college students who had the courage to

face difficulty. One of these was an Italian boy, who was glad to beat

carpets, wash windows, scrub kitchen floors, mow lawns, teach grammar,

arithmetic and vocal exercises at a night school for foreigners.

Then--as if his time was not fully occupied by these occupations--he

made arrangements to care for a furnace and sift the ashes, in exchange

for piano lessons. That student finished his preparatory course with

credit, taking a prize for scholarship.

A seventeen-year-old boy wanted an education, but he had nine brothers

and sisters at home, and he knew that he could look for no financial

assistance from his parents. So he picked cotton at sixty cents a

hundred pounds, sawed wood, cut weeds and scrubbed floors--and thus paid

his expenses.

One student could not spare the money to pay his railroad fare to the

school of his choice. But he had a pony. So he rode the pony the entire

distance of five hundred miles, working for his expenses along the way.

A beginner in college was too full of grit to give up when bills came on

him more heavily than he had expected. During the school year he did

chores, rang the bell for the change of classes, did janitor work, and

waited on table in restaurants. In the summer he found work on farms

near by.

"No task is too difficult for the man with a purpose," declared a worker

with young men, some of whom were ready to give up. "Two things are

necessary if you would be successful," was another man's message to

those whom he wished to inspire to do purposeful work. "First: know what

you want to do. Second: do it."

Those who permit obstacles to stand in the way of the performance of

tasks they know they ought to perform if they would make the most of

themselves, need to take to heart the message given by a mother to her

son when he was ready to give up the unequal struggle with poverty and

physical infirmity. "Thou wilt have much to bear, many hardships to

suffer," she said. "But mark what I say, we must not mind the trouble.

During the first part of the night we must prepare the bed on which to

stretch ourselves during the latter part."

Giving up after failure is always easier than trying again, but the men

and women who count are those who will not be dismayed by failure. When

J. Marion Sims, the famous surgeon, was beginning the practice of

medicine, he proudly tacked an immense tin sign on the front of his

office. Then he lost two patients, and pride and courage both failed

him. "I just took down that long tin signboard from my door," he wrote

in the story of his life. "There was an old well back of the house,

covered over with boards. I went to the well, took that sign with me,

dropped it in there, and covered the old well over again. I was no

longer a doctor in the town." But fortunately he conquered

discouragement, made a fresh beginning, and overcame tremendous

obstacles. After his death a famous man said that if all his discoveries

should be suppressed, it would be found that his own peculiar branch of

surgery had gone backward at least twenty-five years.

Indomitable perseverance is necessary for the business man as for the

professional man; and it will just as surely bring reward to those who

are engaged in Christian work as to those who are seeking worldly honor.

So when the uphill climb seems too difficult, there must be no

faltering. Remember--as Christina Rossetti said--"We shall escape the

uphill by never turning back."

In gathering material for a history of Charles V of Spain, a Spanish

historian was painstaking in his researches. Finally he was able to tell

the king's whereabouts on every day of his career, except for two weeks

in 1538.

Then friends assured him that he had done his best. In all probability

nothing of importance happened during those days. But the historian

believed in being thorough to the end. So he delayed publication. For

fifteen years he sought news of the missing fortnight. Finally, and

reluctantly, when he was seventy-five years old, he published the book.

At length an American woman, studying in the archives of Spain, having

learned of the lost days, resolved to find them. Among musty documents,

in many libraries, she toiled. Then, by a woman's intuition, she was led

to look for documents of a sort the Spanish historian had never thought

of. And she found where the king was on some of those days. The news was

sent to the historian, just in time for him to make additions to his

inaugural address to be delivered on taking his seat in the Academy of

History. In this address he rejoiced to give full credit for the

discovery to the American.

But the woman was not satisfied; there was still a gap to be filled. She

made further trials, and failed. Again intuition led her to documentary

sources that had hardly been touched since they were filed away nearly

three hundred years before. She succeeded, and now that bit of history

is complete.

A well known writer for young people was also persistent in tracing a

story to its source. When he came to America from his native Holland he

heard for the first time the story of the Dutch hero who stopped the

hole in the dike, a story unknown in Holland. He resolved to prove or

disprove this. The record of his long search was published later. Not

only did he prove the existence of the boy, but he proved that the boy's

sister was a partner in the heroic deed. Thus the helpful story has been

saved for future generations.

These incidents make interesting reading. But do they not do more?

Surely it is unnecessary to urge the lesson of persistence in a task

seriously undertaken. Often there is temptation to slight some

worth-while task, after one has worked on it painstakingly for a time.

"Why pay so much attention to detail?" is asked. "Surely no real harm

will be done if I give less time to some of these things that seemed so

important at the beginning!"

Fortunately there are multitudes of workers who are constitutionally

unable to slight a task. The proofreader on a paper of large circulation

is an example. It is a part of her work to prove statements made, to

verify facts and figures, to see that these are altogether accurate.

Once when there was an unusual pressure of work the editor suggested

that she might wish to take certain things for granted, but she showed

her conscientious thoroughness by performing the task to the end,

according to the rules of the office, and in the face of weariness that

was almost exhaustion.

It may not be given to you to be a historian. You may not be called upon

to prove the story of a hero. It may not be your task to read proof or

to verify manuscripts. But each one has a definite part in the work of

the world and there is no one to whom the example of historian and

proofreader is without value. All need to remember the truth in the

assurance, "There is nothing so hard but search will find it out."



Two young people were passing out of a building where they had just

listened to a speaker of note.

"What a wonderful talk that was!" said one who found it a heavy cross to

make the simplest address in public. "I wish I had such a gift of


"It isn't a gift in his case; it is an acquirement," was the response.

"If you had known that man five years ago, you would agree with me. When

I first knew him he could not get up in a public meeting and make the

simplest statement without floundering and stammering in a most pitiful

manner. But he had made up his mind to be a public speaker, and he put

himself through a severe course of discipline. To-day you see the


The biography of Dr. Herrick Johnson tells of courageous conquest of

difficulties that seemed to block the way to success: "Hamilton College

has always given great attention to public speaking and class orations.

The high standard was set by a remarkably gifted man, Professor

Mandeville, who instituted a system in the study of oratory and public

speaking which has been known ever since, with some modification, as the

'Mandeville System.'"

"In 1853, Dr. Anson J. Upson was in the Mandevillian chair, and had

lifted up to still greater height the standard of public speaking, and

had awakened a great, inextinguishable enthusiasm for it. Not one of the

boys who entered that year, and who were at that prize-speaking contest,

could fail to be seized with the public-speaking craze. It especially

met Herrick Johnson's taste and trend and gifts, and fired his highest

aim. Probably there was nothing he wanted so much as the prize in his

class at the next commencement. But unfortunately his standards and

ideals of public speaking were just then as far as possible from the

Mandevillian standard. He had acquired what was called a ministerial

tone, and other faults fatal to any success, unless eradicated. The best

speakers of the upper classes were the recognized and accepted

'drillers' of the new boys, who at once put themselves under their care

and criticism. Every spring and fall a certain valley with a grove,

north of the college, was the resort of the aspirants for success at

this time. The woods would ring with their 'exercises' and strenuous

declamation, and I presume it is the same to-day.

"Herrick Johnson had a magnificent voice, well-nigh ruined by his sins

against the right method of using it. He soon saw that it was going to

be essential for him to go down to the foundation of his wrong methods

and break them all up and absolutely eradicate his 'tone.' It was no

easy thing to do, but the young man was intensely ambitious, and so he

worked with the greatest energy. He failed of an appointment on the

'best four' of his Freshman class. But he worked away throughout his

Sophomore year and failed again. The upperclassmen saw his pluck, they

recognized his grand voice, and they worked with him during his Junior

year, until he had mastered the Mandevillian style, wholly eradicated

his 'tone,' corrected all defects, and got his appointment for one of

the best four speakers of the Junior year; and on the prize-speaking

night of that commencement, he went on the platform conscious of his

power and swept everything before him as the Junior prize speaker. It

set the standard for that young man. Voice, manner, address, were all

masterful and accounted easily for his great success as a public speaker

through all his subsequent prominent and successful career in his


A part of the good of "speaking a piece" is to try again, determined to

retrieve failure. Success is not always a good thing for a boy or a

girl, any more than for a man or a woman. The discipline of failure is

sometimes needed. To fail is not always a calamity, if the failure leads

to the correction of the faults that lead to failure. Whether it be

speaking a piece or learning a lesson or facing a trying situation in

business, no matter how many times one has failed, he needs to take to

heart the message of Macbeth:

We fail!

But screw your courage to the sticking-point,

And we'll not fail.

Always there is a reward for those who fight against difficulties, who

persist in their struggle even when failure follows failure. Everyday

the glad story of the sequel to such persistent struggles is recorded.

The records of commercial life, of school life, of home life are full of




Of all obstacles that can stand in the way of courageous conquest, one

of the most fatal, in the opinion of many, is blindness. Yet it is not

necessary that the loss of the eyes should be the fatal handicap it is

almost universally considered. It is a mistake to feel that when a

worker has anything seriously and permanently wrong with his eyes he

cannot be expected longer to perform tasks that are normal for one who

has the full use of all his five senses. In fact, when we hear that a

man is going blind we are apt to dismiss with a sigh his chance for

continuing productive labor of any sort; we feel that there is little

left for him but sitting resignedly in a chimney corner and listening to

others read to him or patiently fingering the raised letters provided

for the use of the blind.

In protest against this error a novelist has taken for his hero a young

man who lost his sight. His friends pitied him, talked dolefully to him,

promised to look after him in the days of incapacity. Of course he sank

lower and lower in the doleful dumps. Then one came into his life who

never seemed to notice his blindness, who talked to him as if he could

see, who encouraged him to do things by taking it for granted that they

would be performed. Her treatment proved effective; before long the

blind man was learning self-reliance, and was well on the road to


The story was true to life for, times without number, blind men and

women have shown their ability to work as effectively as if they could

see. More than two hundred years ago a teacher in London named Richard

Lucas lost his eyesight. Many of his friends thought that he would, of

course, give up all idea of being a useful man; in that day few thought

of the possibility of one so afflicted doing anything worth much. But

the young man thought differently. He listened to others as they read to

him, and completed his studies. He became the author of a dozen volumes,

and was among the leaders of his day. One of his greatest works was the

book "An Enquiry after Happiness." He knew how to be happy, in spite of

his affliction, so he could teach others to follow him.

A little earlier there lived on the farm of a poor Irishman the boy

Thomas Carolan. When he was five years old, he had smallpox, a disease

that was much more virulent in those days than it is to-day because the

treatment required was not understood. As a result the boy lost his

sight. Soon he showed a taste for music, and he was able to take a few

lessons, in spite of the poverty at home. As a young man he composed

hundreds of pieces of music, and it has been said of him that he

contributed much towards correcting and enriching the style of national

Irish music.

Another youthful victim of smallpox was Thomas Blacklock, the son of a

bricklayer in Scotland. "He can't be an artisan now," his friends said.

But it did not occur to them that he could be a professional man. His

father read him poetry and essays. When he was only twelve the boy began

to write poetry in imitation of those whose verses he had heard. After

his father's death, when the blind boy was but nineteen, he was more

than ever dependent on himself. By the help of a friend he was enabled

to go to school for a time. Then he became an author, and, later, a

famous preacher. Often, as he walked about, a favorite dog preceded him.

On one occasion he heard the hollow sound of the dog's tread on the

board covering a deep well, and just in time to avoid stepping on the

board himself. The covering was so rotten that he would surely have

fallen into the water.

As a boy Francis Huber, of Geneva, Switzerland, was a great student. He

insisted on reading by the feeble light of a lamp, or by the light of

the moon, even when he was urged not to do so, and the result was

blindness. A few years later he married one who rejoiced to be "his

companion, his secretary and his observer." He became the greatest

authority of his day on bees, although he knew nothing of the subject

until after his misfortune. The strange thing is that all his

conclusions were based on observation. Among other things he studied the

function of the wax, the construction of their combs, the bees' senses

and their ability to ventilate the hive by means of their wings. In

recognition of his work he was given membership in a number of learned

societies. His name must always be connected with the history of early

bee investigation.

Not long after the close of the American Revolution James Holman, a

British naval officer, lost his eyesight while in Africa. He was then

about twenty-five years old. Later he became one of the best known

travelers of his day. The world was told of his travels in lectures and

in books, and others were also inspired to travel. "What is the use of

traveling to one who cannot see?" he was asked at one time. "Does every

traveler see all he describes?" he replied. He said that he felt sure he

visited, when on his travels, as many interesting places as others, and

that, by having the things described to him on the spot, he could form

as correct a judgment as his own sight would have enabled him to do.

In 1779 Richmond, Virginia, gave birth to James Wilson, who lost his

sight when he was four years old, because of smallpox. He was then on

shipboard, and was taken to Belfast, Ireland, where he grew to manhood.

When a boy he delivered newspapers to subscribers who lived as far as

five miles from the city. When fifteen he used part of his earnings to

buy books which he persuaded other boys to read to him. At twenty-one he

entered an institution for the blind, for fuller instruction. Then he

joined with a circle of mechanics in forming a reading society. One

friend promised to read to him every evening such books as he could

procure. The hours for reading were from nine to one every night in

summer and from seven to eleven every night in the winter. "Often I

have traveled three or four miles, in a severe winter night, to be at my

post in time," he said once. "Perished with cold and drenched with rain,

I have many a time sat down and listened for several hours together to

the writings of Plutarch, Rollins, or Clarendon." After seven or eight

years of this training, he was "acquainted with almost every work in the

English language" his biographer says, perhaps a little extravagantly.

His education he used in literary work.

B. B. Bowen was a Massachusetts boy just a century ago. When a babe he

lost his sight. In 1833 Dr. Howe--husband of Julia Ward Howe--selected

him as one of six blind boys on whom he was to make the first

experiments in the instruction of the blind. Later he wrote a book of

which eighteen thousand copies were sold.

Another of the men who proved the loss of sight was not a bar to

successful work was Thomas R. Lounsbury, the Yale scholar whose studies

in Chaucer and Shakespeare made him famous. Toward the close of his busy

life he was engaged in a critical study of Tennyson, preparatory to

writing an exhaustive book on the life of the great poet. He did not

live to complete the work, but he left it in such shape that a friend

was able to put it in the hands of the publishers.

In the Introduction to the biography this friend told of the courageous

manner in which Professor Lounsbury faced threatening blindness and

continued his writing in spite of the danger. We are told that his eyes,

never very good, failed him for close and prolonged work. "At best he

could depend upon them for no more than two or three hours a day.

Sometimes he could not depend upon them at all. That he might not

subject them to undue strain, he acquired the habit of writing in the

dark. Night after night, using a pencil on coarse paper, he would sketch

a series of paragraphs for consideration in the morning. This was almost

invariably his custom in later years. Needless to say, these rough

drafts are difficult reading for an outsider. Though the lines could be

kept reasonably straight, it was impossible for a man enveloped in

darkness to dot an i or to cross a t. Moreover, many words were

abbreviated, and numerous sentences were left half written out. Every

detail, however, was perfectly plain to the author himself. With these

detached slips of paper and voluminous notes before him, he composed on

a typewriter his various chapters, putting the paragraphs in logical


Francis Parkman, the historian who made the Indian wars real to

fascinated readers, was a physical wreck on the completion of "The

Oregon Trail," when he was but twenty-five years old. He could not write

even his own name, except with his eyes closed; he was unable to fix his

mind on a subject, except for very brief intervals, and his nervous

system was so exhausted that any effort was a burden. But he would not

give up. During the weary days of darkness he thought out the story of

the conspiracy of Pontiac and decided to write it. Physicians warned him

that the results would be disastrous, yet he felt that nothing could do

him more harm than an idle, purposeless life.

One of his chief difficulties he solved in an ingenious manner. In a

manuscript, published after his death, his plan was described:

"He caused a wooden frame to be constructed of the size and shape of a

sheet of letter paper. Stout wires were fixed horizontally across it,

half an inch apart, movable back of thick pasteboard fitted behind

them. The paper for writing was placed between the pasteboard and wires,

guided by which and using a black-lead crayon, he could write not

illegibly with closed eyes."

This contrivance, with improvements, he used for about forty years of


The documents on which he depended for his facts were read to him,

though sometimes for days he could not listen, and then perhaps only for

half an hour at a time. As he listened to the reading he made notes with

closed eyes. Then he turned over in his mind what he had heard and

laboriously wrote a few lines. For months he penned an average of only

three or four lines a day. Later he was able to work more rapidly and he

completed the book in two years and a half. No publisher was found who

was willing to bear the expense of issuing the volume, and the young man

paid for the plates himself.

Friends thought that now he would have to give up. His eyes were still

troubling him, he became lame, his head felt as if great bands of iron

were fastened about it, and frequently he did not sleep more than an

hour or two a night. Then came the death of his wife, on whom he had

depended for some years. At one time his physician warned him that he

had not more than six months to live. But when a friend said that he had

nothing more to live for, he made the man understand that he was not

ready to hoist the white flag.

He lived for forty-five years after it was thought that he could never

use his eyes again, and during all this time he worked steadily and

patiently, accomplishing what would have been a large task for a man who

had the full use of all his powers.

An Englishman was told by his physician he could never see again. For a

time the news weighed heavily upon him. Afterward he said: "I remained

silent for a moment, thinking seriously, and then, summoning up all the

grit I possessed, I said, 'If God wills it, He knows best. What must be

will be. And,' I added, putting my hand up to a tear that trickled down

my face, 'God helping me, this is the last tear I shall ever shed for my

blindness.'" It was. He secured the degrees of doctor of philosophy and

master of arts. He was a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and

the Chemical Society. He made many valuable scientific discoveries and

inventions, saved a millionaire's life, and received the largest fee

ever awarded any doctor--$250,000.

To these men difficulties were a challenge to courage. They accepted the

challenge and proved themselves superior to circumstances. Thus their

lives became a challenge to the millions of their countrymen who read of

their triumph.

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