Based loosely on the life of Massachusetts governor,
Nathaniel Banks, The Bobbin Boy tells the story of a young man
who rises in life through "self-culture." The idea that Americans
could advance in life by pursuing a course of self-education was very
popular in the early nineteenth century, a period in which successful
individuals often boasted of the fact that they had not attended college.
Books for children often told tales of "self-made men" who
had advanced from poverty and obscurity to a position of importance
by working hard and studying in their spare time. Manuals for young
people offered inspirational essays on the importance of "self-cultivation"
and described methods for pursuing an education outside of school. Reading,
attending lectures at a lyceum, and participating in meetings and debates
were the types of activities most frequently recommended by those advice
The Bobbin Boy was written during the 1860's, a
time when industrialism and other changes were changing the way people
lived in America. Instead of working on the family farm or apprenticing
in a small shop, young men--and young women--might work in a large factory.
Instead of working in a small family setting or in the company of a
master and several apprentices, they would be part of a large workforce.
Instead of working in the country or a small town, they might find themselves
moving to a mill town or a city to find employment. Although factory
work was different from farm or shop work in almost every respect, one
difference was particularly significant. Young people laboring on farms
or as apprentices might reasonably expect to become owners of their
own farms or shops one day; there was no expectation that a mill hand
would eventually become owner of the factory. It is easy to understand
why Americans worried about changes that might lead to the establishment
of permanent classes and a widening gap between rich and poor in a country
that had always prided itself on providing each individual the opportunity
The self-culture movement appealed to the traditional
American belief in the importance of hard work while offering reassurance
that people would still be able to rise in a country filled with factories.
In his roles as a minister and educator, William Makepeace Thayer attempted
to persuade young people to believe that industry and education still
mattered by writing fictionalized biographies such as The Poor Boy
and Merchant Prince, The Poor Girl and the True Woman, The
Printer Boy, and The Pioneer Boy. The story of The Bobbin
Boy tells how one boy rose by dedicating himself to hard work and
self-cultivation, even though he was forced to abandon the schoolroom
for the factory. Any reader who wanted to know the message of Nat's
life would only need to look at the spine of the book to find the answer.
Embossed there in gold is the image of a ladder. At the bottom of the
ladder stands a young boy, his basket full of bobbins for the machines
of a factory. He stands there looking up to the top of the ladder, where
the State House--or White House-- awaits him.
For a useful discussion of The Bobbin Boy,
see Scott Caspar's thought-provoking work, Constructing American
Lives: Biography and Culture in Nineteenth Century America. Because
of the wide popularity enjoyed by biographies and autobiographies in
that period, Caspar argues--and demonstrates--that by tracing the evolution
of that genre we can develop a better insight into 19th century culture.
As Caspar notes, "Notwithstanding the critic's strictures, biography
remained the essential genre for creating American pantheons: collections
of lives that represented the nation's history, aimed to promote values
and virtues, or both."
In the following scene, we find Nat talking
with his mother about the things he learned in school that day. Nat
is a boy who tries to do his best in school and has been telling his
mother how much is is looking forward to showing that he has done his
assignment when the teacher calls on him the next day. What Nat does
not realize is that when the next morning comes, he will be setting
out for the factory rather than the classroom.
Perhaps you will not be called upon to recite the
lesson, replied his mother. "Any scholar who gets rid of reciting
a lesson which this teacher gives him must be one of the favorites,"
said Nat, not being the least -suspicious that his mother was going
to communicate any thing unpleasant. "For one, I want to recite
it, after I have mastered it, and I know that I can master it. At any
rate, I shall not give up beat until I have tried."
"Then you mean to belong to the 'I try' company
a while longer?" interrupted his mother.
"Yes, mother; the teacher read us some capital
verses the other day on 'I'll try,' and she told a number of stories
to illustrate what had been accomplished by trying.
"Your purpose is very good indeed, Nat, and
I am sorry that we are not able to give you better advantages. But did
you know that your services are in great demand? The agent of the factory
has been after you this afternoon."
"For what?" asked Nat, with great surprise.
"To work in the factory to be sure. He wants
a 'bobbin boy' very much, and thinks that you will make a good
one ; what do you say to it?"
"You didn't tell him that I would go, did you?"
"Well, your father and I have talked the matter
over, and concluded that it will be necessary for you to do something
for a living. We are poor, and your father does not see how he can support
the family and keep you in school. The agent will give you two dollars
a week, and this will be a great help to us."
"You can't mean, mother, that I am not to go
to school any more," inquired Nat.
"We do not know what may yet transpire in your
favor, but for the present, at least, your schooling must cease."
Nat was almost overcome at this announcement, and
his lips fairly quivered. His mother felt as badly as he did, though
she exerted herself to conceal her emotion. At length she went on to
"I do not expect you will accede to this plan
without a struggle with your love of study, but if it is best for us
all that you should leave school and work in a factory, you can do it
cheerfully, can you not?"
"I can do it," answered Nat," but
"I did not mean exactly that, when I spoke;
for I expect you will do it only because our necessities make that change
"When does the agent want I should begin?"
"On Monday. It is very short notice, but you
may as well begin then as any time. There is one thing to be thought
of for your advantage. You love to read, and the manufacturing company
have a good library for the operatives. You can take out books, and
"There will be scarcely any time for me to
read after coming out of the factory at seven o'clock; and besides,
after working from five o'clock in the morning until seven at night,
I think I shall like the bed better than books."
"You will find as much time to acquire knowledge
as ever Dr. Franklin did, and many other men who have been distinguished;
and that is some encouragement."
"Last winter our teacher told Frank and I about
Patrick Henry and Dr. Franklin, and he said that boys now have far better
advantages. Do you suppose that the life of Dr. Franklin or the life
of Patrick Henry will be in the library at the factory?"
"I have no doubt that both of them are there,
and you can take the first opportunity to draw one of them out."
This last suggestion was a very important one to
Nat. The prospect of having access to a good library made Nat almost
willing to go into the factory. At any-rate, after thinking the matter
over, and becoming convinced that it was best for the family, as his
mother said, that he should become a bobbin boy, and weighing the advantage
of having a library to visit, be was quite reconciled to the arrangement.
He was the eldest of the children, a large family, and it seemed reasonable
that he should be required to do something for a livelihood, if necessity
demanded. He knew very well that his parents would not have made such
an arrangement, unless their low circumstances bad forced them to it.
Both of them highly valued a good school, and were interested in the
education of their children, but their desires could not be gratified.
Saturday evening wore away, and the family dispersed for nightly repose.
The last thoughts of Nat, ere he resigned himself to the arms of Morpheus,
were of school and bobbins. [pp. 96-99]
In the morning, Matt reports to the factory
and is surprised to find that one of his best friends has also been
obliged to quit school in order to help support his family as a "bobbin
boy." Happy for the unexpected companionship, the two boys meet
at the lunch break and decide to join together to pursue an education
in their free time.
They had no opportunity, during the forenoon, to
converse with each other concerning the manner of their having entered
the factory. But as soon as the rattling machinery silenced its clatter
for the dinner hour, the subject was talked over until both fairly understood
"Come," said Nat, as they passed out of
the factory, "let us step into the office and see when we can take
"Perhaps Mr. Holt' (the agent) has gone to
"We'll see," added Nat. So saying they
both walked into the office. " What is wanted, boys? " inquired
the doctor, who was there, and he smiled upon them so benignantly that
they could not but feel at home.
"We stepped in, Sir, to inquire when we could
take books out of the library," answered Nat.
"To-night, my lads, as soon as the factory
stops. So it seems you are going to improve your spare moments reading?"
"Yes, Sir," replied both of them together.
"That is right. It is not the worst berth in
the world to be a factory boy, especially if there is a good library
to use. Two hours a day in reading will do a great deal for a boy. Most
of the young people waste time enough to acquire an education, if it
were only well improved. You will have more time for self-improvement
than William Cobbett had in his youth that distinguished member of the
British Parliament, of whom so much has been said in the papers of late."
The doctor was an intelligent, well-read man, affable
and kind, and deeply interested in the welfare of those over whom he
had an oversight. The boys particularly shared his tender sympathies,
especially such bright ones as the two who stood before him. His words
were uttered in such a way as to go straight to the heart of an enterprising
lad. They were words of cheer and hope, such as give spirit and pluck
to a poor fellow whose experience is shadowy, to say the least. More
than one boy has had occasion to remember the doctor with gratitude.
His allusion to William Cobbett, really contained more information than
he imparted, as the following account which Cobbett published of himself,
" I learned grammar," said he, "
when I was a private soldier on the pay of sixpence a day. The edge
of my berth, or that of my guard-bed, was my seat to study in; my knapsack
was my bookcase; a bit of board lying on my lap was my writing table
; and the task did not demand any thing like a year of my life. I bad
no money to purchase candle oil; in wintertime it was rarely that I
could get any evening light but that of the fire, and only my turn of
even that. And if I, under such circumstances, and without parent or
friend to advise or encourage me, accomplished this undertaking, what
excuse can there be for any youth, however poor, however pressed with
business, or however circumstanced as to room or other conveniences?
To buy a pen or a sheet of paper I was compelled to forego some portion
of food, though in a state of half starvation; I had no moment of time
that I could call my own; and I had to read and write amidst the talking,
laughing, singing, whistling, and brawling of at least half a score
of the most thoughtless of men, and that, too, in the hours of their
freedom from all control. Think not lightly of the farthing that I had
to give, now and then, for ink, pen, or paper! That farthing was, alas!
a great sum to me! I was as tall as I am now; I had great health and
great exercise. The whole of the money, not expended for us at market,
was twopence a week for each man. I remember, and well I may, that on
one occasion I, after all necessary expenses) had, on Friday, made shifts
to have a halfpenny in reserve, which I had destined for the purchase
of a red herring in the morning; but when I pulled off my clothes at
night, so hungry then as to be hardly able to endure life, I found that
I had lost my halfpenny! I buried my head under the miserable sheet
and rug, and cried like a child And again I say, if I, under circumstances
like these, could encounter and overcome this task, is there, can there
be, in the whole world, a youth to find an excuse for the non-performance?"
Nat had no time to converse with his parents at
noon concerning his new business-his time was occupied, after dinner,
until the factory bell rung, in giving a history of his surprise at
meeting Charlie there. His parents were surprised too, as they had not
heard that he intended to work in the mill.
"I am glad for you," said his mother,
"that Charlie is to work with you, though I am sorry that his parents
are so poor as to make it necessary. Charlie is a noble boy, and I know
you have a good companion when you have him."
"We can take books from the library to-night,"
"And what one are you going to take out?"
inquired his mother.
"The Life of Patrick Henry," was his quick
"What is there about Patrick Henry that interests
you in his life?"
"He was a great orator and statesman, and made
himself so by improving his time, so the teacher told us last winter."
Nat was obliged to hasten back to the factory at
the call of the bell, so that a period was put to the conversation very
suddenly. His work in the factory was to carry bobbins around to the
operatives as fast as they wanted them, and hence he was called "The
Bobbin Boy." It was rather light work, though be was often obliged
to step around quite lively, which he could do without much trouble,
since be was none of your half-way boys. His movements were quick, and
what he did he did with all his heart, with only occasional exceptions.
A smart, wide-awake, active boy could carry bobbins to better advantage
than a clumsy man in meridian life. Nat carried them as if he were made
on purpose for the business. It was difficult to tell which he did best,
carry bobbins or speak pieces. He did both, as a looker-on said, "
in apple-pie order," which means, I suppose, about as well as they
could be done by one of his age.
At the close of the day, when the boys came to take
out books, Nat found that the life of Patrick Henry was out, so he took
the life of Dr. Franklin, without feeling much disappointed. He was
so anxious to read both of these volumes that he cared but little which
he read first.
"That you, Nat?" exclaimed David Sears,
with whom Nat met on his way home from the factory. "What's got
you to-day? We missed you and Charlie at school."
"Done going to school," answered Nat.
" We are going to finish our education in the factory."
"You have graduated in a hurry, it seems to
me. But you don't mean that you are not going to school any more, do
"Why, yes; I think that will really be the
case, though I hope for the best," replied Nat. " Perhaps
I may go again after a while."
"It is really too bad," continued David.
"I wish the factory was a thousand miles off. It is a pretty bard
case to be tied up to a factory bell every day, and work from five o'clock
in the morning till seven at night."
"I don't care much about the bell," replied
Nat. "I can get up as early as the man who rings it, I know. And
then it is capital to make one punctual. There is no chance for delays
when the bell calls a fellow must be on the mark."
Nat struck upon a very important thought here. Punctuality
is a cardinal virtue, and the earlier a person learns to be punctual
the better it is for him. Being obliged to obey the summons of a bell
at just such a minute aids in establishing the habit of Punctuality.
Hence, the modern rules of the schoolroom, requiring pupils to be there
at a precise hour, and to recite their lessons at such a minute, are
very valuable to the young. Pupils who form the habit of getting to
school any time in the morning, though usually late, are generally behind
time all theca way through life. They make the men and women who are
late at meeting, late to meet their business engagements, late everywhere
a tardy, dilatory, inefficient class of persons, wherever they are found.
It is good to be obliged to plan and do by car-time. The man who is
obliged to keep his watch by railroad time, and then make all things
bend to the same, is more likely to form the habit of being punctual,
than he -who has not a fixed moment for going and coming. And so it
is with the factory. The boy who must be up at the first bell-call,
and get to his place of toil at five o'clock in the morning, is more
likely to be prompt in every place and work. Nat was right. It is another
instance of his ability to perceive the real tendencies of things.
David smiled at Nat's view of the matter, and asked,
"What book have you there?"
"The life of Dr. Franklin. You know they have
a library for the operatives in the factory, and I mean to make the
most of it."
"But you won't get much time to read, if you
work in the factory all day, from Monday morning till Saturday night."
"I can get two or three hours in a day, if
I sit up till ten o'clock, and that is early enough for anybody to go
to bed. I shall read this volume through by Saturday night."
"Well, you'll make the most of it if anybody
can," said David, laughing, and hurrying on homewards.
Nat commenced reading Dr. Franklin's life that evening.
It was his first step in a somewhat systematic course of reading, for
which he was indebted to the manufacturing company. But for his factory
life he might not have been introduced to those authors that gratified
his desire for knowledge, and nurtured in his soul that energy and perseverance
which be was already known to possess. His parents did not converse
much with him about his new business, as they thought it might not be
wise; but they interested themselves in his reading. His mother found
he was deeply absorbed in Franklin's life, though he said but little
of the book, except in reply to her inquiries. But he seemed hardly
willing to lay it aside at bed-time, and eagerly took it up to read
during the few spare moments he had when he came to his meals. The book
was read through before the next Sabbath.
THE LOFTY STUDY.
SOME TIME after Nat donned the bobbin boy's suit,
he proposed to Charle to come over and spend his evenings with him for
"I have a nice place to read and study all
by myself," said be, " and I want to talk over some subjects
we read about with you. Besides, what do you say to studying Mathematics
together a portion of the time? I think we can get along about as well
in this branch as we could to have a teacher."
"I should like it first rate," answered
Charlie. "Mathematics is your hobby, and I think I can make good
improvement under your tuition."
"I don't propose to teach, sir," added
Nat, "but to learn. I will get what I can out of you, and you may
get what you can out of me. That is fair, I am sure. You will get what
you can out of me just as cheap as I get what I can out of you. It will
not be a very expensive school as you see."
"Agreed," said Charlie. "I will be
at your house this evening by the time you are ready for me."
Charlie was true to his engagement, and by the time
Nat was ready to ascend to his study, a rap announced his arrival. With
lamp in hand, Nat led the way up two flights of stairs, and introduced
Charlie into the attic, saying,
" This is my study. I have permission to use
this for a sanctum as long as I please."
" It is a lofty one, surely," responded
Charlie. "You can't get up much higher in the world if you try."
"When we get into astronomy, all we shall have
to do will be to bore a hole through the roof to make our observations.
Could any thing be more convenient?"
The reader need not smile at Nat's study. It was
better than the first one that the renowned Dr. John Kitto had. Like
Nat's, Kitto's first study was in his father's attic, which was only
seven feet long and four feet wide. Here a two-legged table, made by
his grandfather forty years before, an old chest in which he kept his
clothes and stationery, and a chair that was a very good match for the
table, together with what would be called a bed by a person who had
nothing, better, constituted the furniture. Also, the time-honored St.Pierre
was worse off even when he wrote his celebrated "Studies of Nature."
His study was a garret, less capacious than that which Nat occupied,
and there he spent four years of his life in the most laborious study.
Night after night Nat and Charlie met in the aforesaid
attic, to read, study mathematics, and discuss the subjects of the volumes
which they read. They made very commendable progress in mathematics)
and probably kept in advance of their companions who were in schools
Among the characters who were discussed by them, none received more
attention than Dr. Franklin and Patrick Henry.
"Which of these characters do you like best?"
inquired Charlie one evening.
" I suppose that Dr. Franklin would be considered
the best model; but such eloquence as that of Patrick Henry must have
been grand. Dr. Franklin was not much of a speaker, though what be said
was sound and good."
"And Patrick Henry was a lazy fellow when he
was young, " added Charlie. " You remember that his father
set him up in business two or three times, and he failed because he
was too shiftless to attend to it.,, I6 Very true; and he suffered all
through life on account of not having formed habits of industry, economy
and application. It shows what a splendid man be might have made, if
he had reduced Franklin's rules to practice." Let us read over
those rules of Franklin again," said Charlie. " You copied
them, I believe."
Nat took up a paper, on which the rules were penned
in a handsome hand, and proceeded to read the following:
1. "TEMPERANCE.--Eat not to dulness; drink
not to elevation.
2. .SILENCE.--Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid
3. ORDER.--Let all your things have their places; let each part of your
business have its time.
4. RESOLUTION.--Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail
what you resolve.
5. FRUGALITY-.-Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself;
that is, waste nothing.
6. INDUSTRY.--Lose no time; be always employed in something useful;
cutoff all unnecessary actions.
7. SINCERITY.--Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly; and,
if you speak, speak accordingly.
8. JUSTICE.--Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits
that are your duty.
9. MODERATION.-Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries as much as
you think they deserve.
10. CLEANLINESS.--Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
11. TRAQUILITY.--Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common
12. HUMILITY. --Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
"There is scarcely one of those rules that
Patrick Henry observed in his youth," said Charlie. "After
be got to be a man grown, and his friends were all out of patience with
him, and be was absolutely compelled to do something or starve, then
he began to apply himself."
"Yes; and what a commotion be made!" responded
Nat. " That first plea of his against the clergy, of Virginia on
the tobacco Act, when he won the case against fearful odds, and the
spectators were so excited by his oratory that they carried him out
of the court room on their shoulders, is the best thing thing I ever
read of any orator. It was not his learning nor his argument, but his
eloquence that gave this power over his hearers."
"And it was just the reverse with Dr. Franklin,
said Charlie. " It was his wisdom, solid common sense, and worth
of character, that enabled him to carry his points, and that I think
is far more valuable." I learned one thing," said Nat, "
from the life of Patrick Henry, which I never knew before, that he owed
his final success more to his close observation of men and things than
to the study of books. He learned something from every thing he saw
and heard. Eye-gate and ear-gate were always open. He observed his companions
closely when he was young, and told stories to witness the different
feelings they would awaken in the hearts of different associates. In
fact, he did not learn near so much from books as he did from men. And
afterwards, when be had law students to instruct, one of his lessons
was 'study men and not books.'"
"Well, Nat, you are something like him,"
said Charlie, smiling. "You are always seeing something to learn,
where I should never think of looking."
"Precious little like him," responded
Nat, " but I intend to profit in future by what I learned from
Patrick Henry's life."
"I mean just as I say, Nat, truly, you are
like him now, a little. Last summer you was determined to know why the
water was warmer in windy weather than it was in a calm; and I believe
you found out before we went in a swimming the next time. And as for
studying men, you are always up to that. I don't believe there is an
operative in the factory whose qualities you have not settled in your
own mind. You learned more of that fellow they turned away, by looking
at him, than others found out by talking with him."
It was true that Nat was thus accustomed to observe
and inquire into the whys and wherefores of things. For this reason
he was never satisfied with a lesson until he understood it, unless
we except the study of grammar. He formed his opinions of all his associates
and knew one to be selfish, another to be ill-tempered, another generous,
and so on. He was probably attracted by Patrick Henry's study of men,
on account of this disposition in himself, although he was not altogether
conscious of it. But this quality enabled him to learn much that otherwise
he would not have known. For when he was not reading a book, men, women,
and children.were around him, and many, events were transpiring, all
of which he could study. Thus he found teachers everywhere, and books
everywhere, not indeed such books as are used in schools or fill the
shelves of libraries, but such as are furnished in the shape of incidents,
and such as are bound up in flesh and bones. He could read the latter
while he was carrying bobbins in the factory, and walking the streets,
or going to meeting. In this way he would be learning, learning, learning,
when other boys were making no progress at all.
Shakespeare, the world's great dramatist, must have
been indebted to this faculty of observation, far more than to books
and human teachers, for his illimitable power of delineating human nature.
He was the son of a poor man, who could not read nor write, according
to reports, and he went to London to live, where he held horses for
gentlemen who visited the theatre, receiving small remuneration for
his labor. From holding horses outside, he came to be a waiter upon
the actors within, where he must have been a very close observer of
what was said and done; for his brilliant career began from that hour,
and he went on from step to step until he produced the most masterly
dramatic works, such as the world will not let die. There is no doubt
that he was a born poet, but it was his faculty to read men and things
that at last waked the dormant power of the poet into life. He saw,
investigated, understood, mastered, and finally applied every particle
of information acquired to the work that won him immortal fame.
"Nat, you are the best penman in the mill,"
said Dr. Holt to him one day, as his attention was called to a specimen
of his handwriting. " Where did you learn to write so well?"
"At school, sir," was his laconic reply.
"But how is it that you learn to write so much
better at school thin the other boys? "
" I don't know, sir!" and he never said
a more truthful thing than be did in this reply. For really he did not
know how it was. He did not try very hard to be a good penman. He did
many other things well, which did not cost him very much effort. It
was easy for him to get the "knack " of holding his pen and
cutting letters. He would do it with an ease and grace that we can only
describe by saying it was Nat-like. It is another instance, also, of
the advantage of that principle or habit, which he early cultivated,
of doing things well. As one of his companions said, " He can turn
his hand to any thing." One evening in October, when the harvest
moon was emphatically " the empress of the night, and lads and
lasses thought it was just the season for mirth and frolic, the boys
received an invitation to a party on the following evening.
"Shall you go?" inquired Charlie, when
they were in the attic study.
"I should like to go, but I hardly think I
shall. I want to finish this book, and I can read half of it in the
time I should spend at the party."
"As little time as we get to study," added
Charlie, "is worth all we can make of it; and Dr. Franklin says
in those rules, 'lose no time.' I shall not go."
"I don't think that all time spent in such
a social way can be called I 'lost,' for it is good for a person to
go to such places sometimes. But I think I shall decide with you not
to go. I suppose that some of the fellows will turn up their noses,
and call us I literary gentlemen,' as Oliver did the other day.:
"Yes; and Sam said to me yesterday as I met
him when I was going home to dinner, 'fore I'd work in the factory,
Charlie, and never know any, thing. You look as if you come out of a
cottonbale. I'll bet if your father should plant you, you'd come up
cotton,' and a whole mess of lingo besides."
" And what did you say to him? " asked
"Not much of any thing. I just said, I if I
don't look quite as well as you do, I think I know how to behave as
well,' and passed on."
That Nat met with a good many discouraging circumstances,
must not be denied. It was trying to him occasionally to see other boys
situated much more favorably, having enough and to spare; and now and
then a fling, such as the foregoing, harrowed up his feelings somewhat.
He was obliged to forego the pleasure of many social gatherings, also,
in order to get time to study. Sometimes he went, and usually enjoyed
himself well, but often, as in the case just cited, he denied himself
an evening's pleasure for-the sake of reading.
About this time, when he felt tried by his circumstances,
he said to his mother, "I don't know much, and I never shall."
"You haven't had an opportunity to know much
yet," answered his mother. " If you continue to improve your
time as you have done, I think you will be on a par with most of the
"But poor boys have not so good a chance to
stand well, even if they have the same advantages, as the sons of the
"I am not so sure of that," replied his
mother. I know that money is thought too much of in these days, and
that it sometimes gives a person high position when he does not deserve
it. But as a general thing, I think that character will be respected
; and the poorest boy can have a good character. Was not that true of
all the good men you have been reading about?"
Nat was obliged to confess that it was, and the
conversation with his mother encouraged him, so that he went to his
reading that evening, with as much pluck as ever. The more he learned,
the more he wanted to know; and the faster he advanced, the higher he
resolved to ascend.
Nat eventually leaves the factory
and serves an apprenticeship in another town. The narrator tells us:
He was absent three years, in which time he added
several inches to his stature, and not a little to his stock of information.
We will only say of this period, however, that his leisure hours were
spent in self-improvement, and he was supplied with books, and had some
other sources of information, such as public lectures, opened to him
in the place. On the whole, these three years were important ones to
him, so that there was a gain to et over against the loss he sustained
in bidding adieu to well-laid plans for improvement in his birthplace.
When he finally returns home to work in
his father's shop, his participation in local debates and meetings make
it clear that he has continued his education
"Nat will make a second Daniel Webster,"
said the agent of the factory to a friend, as he was going out of the
"I am surprised at his eloquence," replied
the friend addressed. "I never heard the like in my life by one
of his age."
"We must get him to join the lyceum at once,
and bring him out before the public," said the agent.
"That would be an excellent idea, I think;
and there will be a great desire to hear him again. I am sure I would
like to hear him discuss another question."
"Nat has always been a close student,"
continued the agent. "When he as not been learning from books,
he has studied men and things; and I have expected he would make his
This speech set everybody in the village to talking.
Nothing had occurred for a long time that caused so much remark and
excitement. The surprise and interest it created remind us of Patrick
Henry's first plea of which Nat himself spoke to Charlie, as we saw
in a former chapter. The description which Mr. Wirt gives of it is so
applicable to the case before us, that we shall quote it. . . .
Nat was not carried out of the hall like Patrick,
but if his companions and some others, could have acted their own pleasure,
a similar scene would have taken place. The reader can scarcely fail
to trace some connection between his early familiarity with the life
of Patrick Henry, and this brilliant chapter of his experience before
the large audience in the town hall. It looks very much as if the reading
of that book made a permanent impression upon his mind. It shows, also,
that he had not studied the manners of public speakers in vain. [245-248]
Before long, Nat finds that his interest in
self-culture has made him a topic of interest to the village gossips.
It was known in the shop, before work began in the
afternoon, that Nat had gone just as he was to hear the eulogy [John
Quincy Adams' eulogy on James Madison], and it created some merriment.
"He is real book-worm," said one; "he
always carries a book in his pocket to read when he is not at work."
"Well, I can hardly make out what he is, for
he never says much," said another. "He seems to be thining
about something all the time, and yet he attends to his work. He is
a queer genius, I guess."
"He is no ignoramus, you may depend on that,"
said a third. "A chap with such an eye as his knows his P's and
Q's. He says little, and thinks the more."
"And then," added the first speaker, "a
fellow who will go without his dinner to hear a speech must have a pretty
good appetite for knowledge, unless he is obliged to diet."
"He'll have a good appetite for supper, I'm
thinking," said another, rather dryly.
Nat heard the eulogy, and was back again to his
work within three hours.
The talk occasioned by Nat's interest in oratory
intensifies when he takes part in a public debate over "The
Fifteen Gallon Law." Temperance reformers hoped this law would
curb drinking by limiting the buying and selling of alcohol. In the
scene that follows, a character by the name of Johnson visit his friend
Miles with the intention of making fun of Nat and his support for the
This Johnson was the customer with whom we became
acquainted in another place, a bitter opponent of the "Fifteen
Gallon Law." Curiosity, as well as appetite, led him into Miles's
shop on the morning after the lecture, for he wanted to hear about it.
He had learned in some way that Miles went, as he intimated to him,
and therefore it was a good place to go for information.
"So you went to hear Nat last night?"
he said to Miles, as he entered the shop. "Did he make a temperance
man of you?" meaning this inquiry for a jest.
"Nat spoke real well," answered Miles,
"and his arguments were so good that I can't answer them. He's
a mighty smart chap."
"What did he harp on last night?" inquired
"The Fifteen Gallon Law; and he showed how
it would remove the evils of intemperance, which he described so correctly
and eloquently that I was astonished. I don't see where he has ever
learnt so much."
"Larnt it!" exclaimed Johnson; "he
larnt it where he did his impudence. I see that he has pulled the wool
over your eyes, and you are more than half temperance now."
"All of that," replied Miles, cooly; "I
am going to quit rum-selling at once. If I can't get my living in an
honest way, then I will go to the poor-house."
"I hope you will go there, answered Johnson,
starting up from his chair under great excitement. "A man who has
no mind of his own ought to go there. I ----"
"I thought you was going to say," interrupted
Miles, "that I ought to go there to keep company with the paupers
I have made. I am pretty sure I should have you for a companion before
long, if you don't alter your hand."
"I never thought you was overstocked with brains,"
continued Johnson; "but if you will be hoodwinked by that fool
of a Nat, you have less than I thought you had. It is great business
for a man of your age to give up beat to a boy, and that is all Nat
is, though he thinks he's a man."
"Boy or not," answered Miles, "he
spoke better last night than any man I ever heard. He is a first-rate
orator, and his defence of the 'Fifteen Gallon Law' was unanswerable."
"A feller ought to speak well who has studied
as much as he has," said Johnson. "He ain't earnt his salt
for two or three years, 'cause he's too lazy to do any thing but look
at a book."
"I don't care how much he has studied,"
answered Miles. "If I had a son who could speak as well as he does,
I should be proud of him, though he had done nothing but study for ten
years." [pp. 284-5]
Nat's growing reputation as a speaker and
debater eventually reaches the ears of a group of the political leaders
of the community, and they decide to solicit his support for their party
even though they have never seen him. In the following scene, the delegation
turns up at the shop owned by Nat's father, trying to locate the local
celebrity of whom they've heard so much.
"We are looking for Esquire _____'s office.
A gentleman directed us a short distance back, but we find that we did
not understand him."
"Whose office did you say?" inquired Nat's
father, who happened to be the person addressed.
"Esquire ____'s office, the young orator we
have hard so much about."
Nat's father was very much amused at this turn of
matters; but he kept on a sober face, and replied, pointing to Nat,
who was planing a board,
"That is the young man you want to see, I suppose."
The committee looked a each other, and then at the
black-haired board-planer, with perfect amazement. Their countenances
told just what they thought; and if we should write their thoughts out
in plain English, they would run thus:
"What! that young fellow the stump orator of
which we have been told so much? We better have staid at home, than
to risk our party in his hands. Why! he is nothing but a boy. There
must be some mistake about the matter."
While astonishment was evaporating from the tops
of their heads, and oozing out of the ends of their fingers, Nat had
turned away from the bench to welcome the official stranger. There he
stood hatless, and coatless, with his shirt-sleeves stripped up to his
elbows, and his noble brow wet with perspiration, looking little like
one who could sway an audience by the power of his eloquence.
"We are a committee from the town of ___ instructed
to wait on you, and engage you to address a political convention,"
said one of them, breaking the silence.
"When is the convention?" inquired Nat.
"Two weeks from this time, the 15th day of
"I will be there," answered Nat, "and
do the best I can for you."
The matter was adjusted, and the committee left,
evidently thinking that an orator whose office was a carpenter's shop
could not be a remarkable defender of democratic principles. On their
way home, they spoke freely to each other of their mistake in engaging
one so inexperienced to address the convention. They concluded that
it would teach them a god lesson, and that in future they would not
risk the reputation of their party in unskillful hands.
It is sufficient to say, that Nat filled the appointment
to the satisfaction of the crowd, and the surprise of the committee.
Before he had spoken fifteen minutes, the committee discovered that
they had misjudged the orator, and that he was, indeed, the youthful
champion of their party. His speech fully convinced them that he could
address a political assembly a little better than he could plane a board.
In the conclusion of The Bobbin Boy,
the narrator describes what happened to each of the characters in the
story. The boys who had once made fun of Nat and Charlie end up in jail,
but a different destiny awaits Charlie, Charlie's brother, and our hero,
LET ALMOST a quarter of a century pass, and inquire,
where and what are Nat and his associates now? We have advocated the
sentiment throughout these pages, that the character and position of
manhood are determined by boyhood and youth. How is it with the group
of boys who have figured in the foregoing pages? Does the history of
each one verify the truth we have taught? Or is even one of the number
an exception to the general principle stated? We have already seen one
of this number laid in a drunkard's grave, - the boy who thought he
could take the social glass, according to the custom of the times, and
still be safe, - the youth who had more confidence in his own strength
to resist temptation, than he had in the wholesome counsels of superiors.
How speedily the thoughts, habits, and corrupt principles of his youth,
wrought his ruin! * * *
Charlie Stone has been connected with manufactures
from the beginning,' advancing from one post of responsibility to another,
employing his leisure time to improve 'his mental faculties and he is
now the honored agent of one of the wealthiest and most celebrated manufacturing
companies of New England, commanding a salary of THREE THOUSAND AND
FIVE HUNDRED DOLLARS.
Marcus Stone, perhaps influenced by the example
of Nat. devoted his spare moments to self-culture, and made commendable
progress before he resolved to quit his trade, and educate himself for
the legal profession. Without means of his own, or wealthy friends to
aid, he succeeded in his laudable efforts, and, without being able to
command a collegiate education, was admitted to the bar. He now occupies
a post of honor and influence in a thriving State of our Union, where
he is known as one of the most popular members of the bar.
And Nat - what and where is he? He is now known
to fame as His Excellency, The Governor of -, the best State in the
Union, which is only one remove from the Presidency of the best country
in the world. By his own diligence, industry, perseverance, and self-reliance,
he has fully, earned the confidence of his constituents. No "lucky
stars," no chance-game or accident, can make a Governor out of
a 'bobbin boy' but the noble qualities named can, as if by the power
of magic, achieve the wonderful transformation. It is true of him) as
the poet has said of all distinguished men,--
"The heights by great men reached
Were not attained by sudden flight;
But they, while their Companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night"
And now, ere the youthful reader closes this volume,
let him stop and resolve to imitate the bright example of him whom we
never more shall dare to call Nat. His business now is so different
from that of carrying bobbins, and his position and character so far
removed from that of student-boy in his father's attic, that we can
only call him HIS EXCELLENCY, as we reverently tip our hat. But the
leading characteristics of his youth are worthy of your imitation, whether
you desire to pursue the path of knowledge or any other honorable vocation.
Are you poor? So was he; poorer than hundreds of the boys who think
that poverty stands in the way of their success. -Are your advantages
to acquire an education small? So were his; smaller than the opportunities
of many youth who become disheartened because they are early deprived
of school. Are you obliged to labor for a livelihood, so that your "odd
moments" are few and far between? So was be; and if ever a lad
could be excused from effort on this plea, it was he who toiled fourteen
hours per day in a factory, to earn his bread. There is no excuse for
non-exertion that will stand before the Bobbin Boy's example- not one.
Imitate it, then, by cultivating those traits of character which proved
the elements of his success.