THE TWO THINKERS
The following article is taken from Holmes' Fourth Reader published in 1870 by the University Publishing Company, New York.
We think it is quite interesting and has a vital lesson in it for all. -Elmer
In one of the villages of the Newcastle coal-mining region was the humble dwelling of a very humble man. The little, old-fashioned kitchen was the home and study of a poor man, of whom the world then knew nothing, but has since known a great deal. He worked in a coal-pit. He never learned to read or write till he was eighteen, and then only went to school three evenings a week. But he had eyes, and what he saw with his eyes he thought upon. He carried it home, worked it over in his mind, and when occasion called, could use it in a manner that astonished his neighbors. I will give you an instance.
One of the coal-pits was flooded with water. The engine had been fruitlessly pumping for nearly twelve months, and came to be regarded as a total failure. The pit 'was drowned out?
One Saturday afternoon he went over to examine the engine more carefully than he had done before. One of the men asked him, 'Weel, George, what do you make of her?' 'Man,' said George, in reply, 'I could alter her and make her draw: in a week's time from this I could send you to the bottom.'
'What do you know about engines?' cried the men, scornfully. But the superintendent, hearing of it, determined to give George's skill a trial.
In three days he had altered the engine, and in two days more the pit was cleared of water and the workmen sent to the bottom.
How did he do it? He was not bred an engineer. He had no books to teach him. It was because he was a thinker. He had seen engines just as the other men had; but he did what the rest did not. In his spare moments he set his mind at work about how they were built, with all the whys and wherefores. In this way he saw the cause of the difficulty and how to remedy it.
Look at him. He is planning and drawing and studying, instead of spending his time at ale-shops and cock-fights. See the wheels and cogs and axles and bits of machinery about the room. He has no books to guide him. The knowledge of other men is beyond his reach.
His little son is interested in all that interests his father, and his father explains to him pretty much all he knows. Robert goes to school. At thirteen his father sends him to the academy at Newcastle. There is a library at Newcastle. Bob hunts up all the books which tell about machinery. If he could only carry them home to his father! But that is against the rules. What did he do? He took the pains to copy all the pictures and diagrams of machinery which he thought would interest and help his father, and when he went home on Saturday he explained them to him.
While Robert was still at school, his father proposed to him during the holidays that he should construct a sun-dial, to be placed over their cottage door. 'I expostulated with him at first,' said Robert, afterwards, when he had become famous, 'that I had not learned sufficient astronomy and mathematics to enable me to make the necessary calculations.
'But he would have no denial. 'The thing is to be done,' said he; 'so just set about it at once.' Well, we got a 'Ferguson's Astronomy,' and studied the subject together. Many a sore head I had while making the calculations necessary to adapt the dial to the latitude of Killingworth.
'But at last it was done, and we made a very respectable dial of it; there it is, you see,' pointing to it over the cottage door, 'still quietly numbering the hours when the sun shines.' The date carved upon the dial is, 'August 11th, MDCCCXVI.'
Would you know what all this led to? It laid the track of the first railroad and built the first locomotive. The man's name is George Stephenson, who drove the first steam-horse the world ever saw; and his son is Robert Stephenson, who planned the largest bridge in North America, that over the St. Lawrence river at Montreal, called the Victoria bridge; - two names that the world will not soon let die.
No beginning could have been less promising than that of George Stephen-son. Born in a poor condition, yet rich in spirit, he was from the first compelled to rely upon himself. Whether working as a brakeman or an engineer, his mind was always full of the work in hand. When a workman, he put his brains and labor into his work; and when a master, he put character and conscience into it.
You may go to school, boys, and read ever so many books, but unless you learn to think, you will never be able to turn your knowledge to any good or great account. It will be at loose ends in your mind, never ready for use, adding little or nothing to your efficiency or excellence.