Little Visits with Great Americans

by Orison Swett Marden

Robert Collyer, The Blacksmith Preacher

"So you want me to tell you of myself, to 'blaw my ain harn,' as we used to say in old Yorkshire. Well, I'm not in love with the undertaking, for what we call a self-made man usually shows that he has made a pretty poor fist of it when he begins to describe the job himself. However, if an outline of my life be of service, I give it gladly. The beginning was in the hamlet of Ilkley, Yorkshire, England, seventy-five years ago. I was born well; that is, I was born of simple, hardworking folk who inspired in me very early a hearty respect for work. My mother was a noble woman. I can see the old home now, —the bit of grass in front, the plum tree, the whitewashed walls, and within, the two rooms with floor of flags, the old prints on the walls, the highly polished chairs and bureau, the tall clock that was always too fast at bedtime and in the morning, and always too slow at mealtime, the little shelf of books, —Bunyan, 'Robinson Crusoe,' Goldsmith, and the Bible, full of pictures. Until I was eight years old, I went to school to old Willie Hardie, who tried to find in me the spring of what we called the humanities in the same way that they used to try to locate a spring of water, namely: with a hazel rod."


"All the schooling I ever had under the master was finished in my eighth year, when I went to earn my own living in a linen factory. There was an article of faith in our good home creed about which both my father and mother were of one mind, —-the boys must learn a trade. So, after six years in the factory, I was apprenticed to the village blacksmith. I was a hardworking, conscientious boy, but full of mischief and fond of fun. I had, however, a ravenous appetite for books. I remember once, when quite small, I stood for a long time before a shop window with a big English penny in my hand, debating whether I should spend it for a particular kind of candy, of which I was very fond, or for a little paper-covered book of travels. At length I went in and bought the book. At meals I used to read, and even when I was courting the lass whom I made my wife, I read all the books in her father's house. I am surprised she did not give me the mitten, and it would have served me right, too.

"Books were not only pleasing to me, but were my passion. Give a young man or maiden a passion for anything, —for books, business, painting, teaching, farming, mechanics or music, I care not what, and you give him or her a lever with which to lift their world, and a patent of nobility, if the thing they do is noble. So I call my reading my college course. It was not an adequate college nor an adequate course, and there have been times when I felt a trifle sad that there should have been no chance for me at a good, all-round education. But there is a chance in the everlasting hunger to read books, and it is with reading as it is with eating, — you grow choice when there is a plenty. You instinctively learn to distinguish what is sweet and wholesome and what is neither, and then you read as you eat, —only the best.

"A great sorrow came to me in 1849. As a result of it, I found my way into a Methodist meeting house, and began to express what I felt. From a few words, uttered standing by my seat in the meeting, I began to preach at irregular intervals; and when I did, it became the custom, after a while, for some one to go through the village, ringing a bell and calling out: 'The blacksmith is going to preach this morning.' The working people came to hear me because I was one of themselves. Then they would have me preach regularly, — at nothing a Sunday and find myself.

"Sometimes I would forget the flight of time and preach for two hours or more. As I look back upon the poor mortals who sat under my ministrations for such a length of time, I am reminded of the judge who, when asked how long a sermon ought to last, replied: 'About twenty minutes, with leanings to the side of mercy.' "


"My only worldly ambition was to make my way as a blacksmith, but one day there came to me in a flash the thought that I must go to America, where I would have to bow to no class, but would be as good a man as any. Many times in my life these sudden burstings of light, half thought, half feeling, have come to me; and, when they do come, I cease to reason about the matter. I simply obey the impulse with all the power of my will. It would have taken tremendous difficulties to have kept me from embarking for this country after the flash came, and so, one fine spring morning in 1850, I and my little family, with our small store of worldly goods, went aboard the old ship 'Roscius,' made ourselves as comfortable as we could in the steerage, and a month later were in New York.

"I had made up my mind to settle in the vicinity of Philadelphia, and there I soon found work at the anvil. It was lucky I did, for, when we reached our destination, my whole capital amounted to only about twenty dollars. We made ourselves a little home, and I worked at my trade for the next nine years, except during the panic of 1857, when I carried the hod and broke stone on the turnpike for a dollar a day. Meanwhile, I was preaching o' Sundays, again at nothing a Sunday. In 1859, I was asked to devote myself altogether to preaching, —to go to Chicago as a minister to the poor. Well, I went. I said good-by forever to the anvil, in whose ringing voice I had heard so many years the old sermon on the nobility of work,"


"Before I had been in Chicago a great while, some people got together and built a church, and appointed me pastor of it, hardly so much as saying to me 'by your leave.' It was named the Unity Church, and I remained in charge of it till 1879, when I came to New York to preach in the Church of the Messiah. "Here I have since remained. My life, you see, is divided into two sections, —forty years in the pulpit, twenty-one years at the anvil. I have worked on long lines, and I will say to young men that, when your homes and your schools have done all they can for you, and you begin the work of life, you must take hold with a will and be content to work hard on long lines. People say that such and such a person has genius for what he or she takes in hand, and that is the secret of the success attained. But I say that genius means strong devotion and steadfast application. You may imagine that you can go from the bottom to the top of the ladder at one jump, but it is not true. Going up the ladder at one jump is like the toy monkey that goes up at a jump and comes down head first. The men and women who achieve true success are all hard climbers. They work in one direction. Our course must not be like a cow-path, all over the pasture and into the woods, for that may mean through the woods into the wilderness.

"I want to say, too, that, if we expect to do well in this life, we must keep well, by all the means in our power ;—eat well, and sleep well eight hours out of the twenty-four. Young men should choose, as early as they can, a good and true woman for a wife, and look forward to a noble family of children. My ambition was to have seven, and the all-wise Father gave me nine. If a young man has good mental and physical health and works hard, his life will be sweet and clean. He will do his day's work well and his life's work well, and at the end he will be able to say, with Adam in the play:—

" 'Though I look old, yet am I strong and lusty,

For in my youth I never did apply hot and rebellious liquors to my blood,

And did not with unbashful forehead woo

The means of weakness and debility.

Therefore my age is lusty winter, frosty, but kindly.'


«— Frank W. Gunsaulus, D.D. || Index Page || Chapter 47, Success Maxima —»