My Brief History Hardcover edition. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 11 October The Guardian. Retrieved 22 November The Boston Globe. Stephen Hawking. My Brief History There were two or three blacksmiths, a stone-cutter, a tinner, a carpenter, a few laborers, two doctors, two or three preachers, and a dentist.
Few of these had ever been far from home, and all knew next to nothing of the outside world.
Most of their children followed in their steps. Very few of these laughing, boasting boys and girls ever left the old village, and almost none were drawn into any broader or different fields than their parents knew before. None of them ever found any practical use for what they learned, or tried to learn at school beyond ordinary reading and writing. The exceptions who aspired to other avenues were moved by some inner or outer urge and specially prepared for their future course of life. Schools probably became general and popular because parents did not want their children about the house all day.
The school was a place to send them to get them out of the way. If, perchance, they could learn something it was so much to the good. Colleges followed the schools for the same reason. These took charge of the boy at a time when he could be of little or no use at home, and was only a burden and a care. All established institutions are very slow to change. The defects of schools and colleges have been discussed for many years, and the lines of a rational and worth-while education have been developed to take their place, but still the old-time education with most of the ancient methods persists and flourishes yet.
It is worse than useless to try to make scholars of the great majority of boys and girls. In fact, scholarship as it is understood is not so necessary to life as people have been taught to believe. Man does not live by books alone. Indeed, they fill a very small part of the life of even those who know how to read. Schools were not established to teach and encourage the pupil to think; beyond furnishing a place for keeping the children out of the way, their effort was to cement the minds of pupils according to certain moulds.
The teachers were employed to teach the truth, and the most important truth concerned the salvation of their souls. From the first grade to the end of the college course they were taught not to think, and the instructor who dared to utter anything in conflict with ordinary beliefs and customs was promptly dismissed, if not destroyed. Even now there are very few schools that encourage the young or the old to think out questions for themselves.
And yet, life is a continuous problem for the living, and first of all we should be equipped to think, if possible. Then, too, education should be adjusted to the needs of the pupil and his prospective future. Wise teachers and intelligent parents can tell at an early age the trend and probable capacity of the mind of the child.
All learning should be adapted to making life easier to be lived. After finishing at the academy, I went one year to Allegheny College, at Meadville, in the preparatory department. I still found baseball an important adjunct to school life. Here I continued my Latin and tried to add some Greek, with very poor success. I found geometry far easier, but no more useful. I did get something in zoology that remained with me; but I cannot to-day find the slightest excuse for studying either Latin or Greek; both are absolutely devoid of practical value.
The college professor who gives his life to Latin cannot speak it as well as the street gamin who lived in Rome two thousand years ago; and all the treasures of learning that were buried in ancient languages have long since been better rendered into English and other languages than any modern student could ever hope to do. If perchance some untranslated manuscript should be unearthed, there is little need that all boys and girls should learn Latin so that it may be translated.
There is no possible chance that the keys for translating languages will again be lost. To spend years in studying something that has nothing but what is called a cultural value is most absurd. All knowledge that is useful has a cultural value; the fact that it has some other value should make it more desirable instead of less. Since I left Allegheny College I have never opened the lids of Virgil or any other Latin author, except in translation. Greek was even more useless and wasteful of time and effort than Latin. I never really attempted to do anything with either, excepting to "get by," and it is hard to understand the apologists for the dead languages of the dead.
We live in a world full of unsolved mysteries. Their real study has been but begun. Every fresh fact that we master can add to the happiness of man, both by its use in life and by the cultural value that worth-while knowledge brings. I am inclined to believe that the age-long effort to keep the classics in schools and colleges has been an effort not to get knowledge but to preserve ignorance.
The mythical soul really is not worth so much consideration. I spent one year at Allegheny College. I came back a better ball player for my higher education. I learned to despise the study of Latin and Greek, although I never told my father so. He believed that there could be no education without Latin and Greek, and he had added Hebrew to the list. I did learn something of geology, and caught a glimpse of the wonders of natural science. Throughout my life I have been industriously enlarging my view of what some are pleased to call the "material" world, but what to me is the only world.
I went home for my summer vacation, intending to return to college the next autumn, but the panic of settled this matter for me. Although my father was anxious that I should go back, I was certain that I ought not to burden him longer. So I abandoned further school life and began my education. My mother died before I went away to school. My memory of her is blurred and faded, although I was fourteen years old at the time. I know that she had a long illness, and for months calmly looked forward to swift and certain death. She had no religious beliefs. Her life was given fully and freely to her home and children, and she faced the future without hope or fear.
On the day of her death I was away from home, so I did not see her in her last moments, though all the family were summoned. I never could tell whether I was sorry or relieved that I was not there, but I still remember the blank despair that settled over the home when we realized that her tireless energy and devoted love were lost forever. After I left Allegheny College I was set to work in the factory and the little store. I was never fond of manual labor. I felt that I was made for better things. I fancy all boys and girls harbor the same delusion. I had no mechanical ability, and to this day have none.
I could do rather well at a turning lathe, and could handle a paint brush, but I never bragged about it. But I still played baseball. I don't know just when I gave up the game, but I think that it forsook me when I was no longer valuable to my side. During the winter I taught a district school in a country community. I remember even the salary, or wages, that I received. The pay was thirty dollars a month "and found"--the latter of which I collected by going from house to house one night after another, and then returning to my own home on Friday night. Boarding around was not so bad. I was "company" wherever I arrived, and only the best was set before me.
I had pie and cake three times a day. I taught in the same school three winters, which completed that part of my career. I have been teaching more or less all my life, but confining my activities to those who did not want to learn. In this three years I had some fifty scholars, ranging from seven years old to a year or two above my own age. On the whole, it was a pleasant three years. I am not sure how much I taught the pupils, but I am certain that they taught me. In most district schools rods and switches were a part of the course. My school was large and had caused much trouble to the teachers before I came, but I determined that there should be no corporal punishment while I was there, and of this the pupils were early informed.
I told them that I wanted no one to do anything through fear. I joined in their games and sports, including, of course, baseball when the snow was not on the ground. I lengthened the noon hours and recesses, which made a hit with the pupils but brought criticism from their parents. However, I managed to convince them that I was right, and am still quite sure that I was. Whether they learned much or little, they certainly enjoyed those winters. No matter when I go back to my old home I am sure to meet some of the thinning group whom I tried to make happy even if I could not make them wise.
I feel sure that if the same effort could be given to making people happy that is devoted to making them get an education which could not be accomplished this world would be a much better home for the human race. During my teaching days I began the study of law. I am not sure what influenced me to make this choice. I knew that I never intended to work with my hands, and no doubt I was attracted by the show of the legal profession. When I was still quite young the lawyers from the county seat always visited our town on all public occasions.
On the Fourth of July and on Decoration Day, in political campaigns and on all holidays, they made speeches and were altogether the most conspicuous of the locality. Then, too, we lived across the street from a tin-shop, and the tinner was the justice of the peace, and I never missed a chance to go over to his shop when a case was on trial. I enjoyed the way the pettifoggers abused each other, and as I grew toward maturity I developed a desire to be a lawyer, too. Every Monday morning, as I started off to teach my school, I took a law book with me, and having a good deal of time improved it fairly well.
When my third term of teaching ended my eldest brother, Everett, was teaching in high school, and my sister, Mary, in a grade school. They were both as self-sacrificing and kind as any human beings I have ever known; they and my father insisted that I should go to Ann Arbor in the law department, which I did for one year. At that time the full course was two years.
At the end of one year I was positive that I could make my preparation in another year in an office, which would cost much less money and give a chance to be admitted to the bar at twenty-one. So I went to work in a law office in Youngstown, Ohio, until I was ready for examination for admission to the bar. In those days a committee of lawyers were chosen to examine applicants.
They were all good fellows and wanted to help us through. The bar association of to-day lay down every conceivable condition; they require a longer preliminary study, and exact a college education and long courses in law schools, to keep new members out of the closed circle. When I considered that I was ready for the test I presented myself, with some dozen other ambitious young men, for the examination. A committee of lawyers was appointed to try us out. That committee did not seem to take it as seriously as examiners do to-day.
I was not made to feel that the safety of the government or the destiny of the universe was hanging on their verdict. As I remember it now, the whole class was passed, and I became a member of the Ohio Bar. Youngstown was then a promising manufacturing town and county seat. It was about twenty miles from the place of my birth. I would have been glad to open an office there, but it was a city of twenty thousand people, and I felt awed by its size and importance; so I went back home and reported my success to my father.
He was delighted, and possibly surprised, at my good luck. Poor man, he was probably thinking what he could have done had Fortune been so kind to him. But, like most parents, the success of the son was his success. My neighbors and friends warmly congratulated me, but it was some time before they encouraged me with any employment. They could not conceive that a boy whom they knew, and who was brought up in their town, could possibly have the ability and learning that they thought was necessary to the practice of law.
In the English expression, I had now been "called" to the bar. Lawyers are very fond of fiction; especially the English lawyers. Working a long time on obscure subjects, spending all your money, and as much of your family's as you can get, and finally passing examinations against the will and best efforts of the inquisitors, means getting "called to the bar. Perhaps I might digress on the brink of a new and untried world to take account of stock, as one might say. I had no money and no influential friends. I had a rather meagre education. I had never been carefully and methodically trained, and I have felt the lack of it all my life.
My law education came from a year's study at a good law school and from a year's reading under a lawyer's direction. I had never had any experience in court work or in the preparation of cases. I then knew, and have ever since been aware, that I needed specific training which I could not get. I was none too industrious, and I have never loved to work.
In fact, strange as it may seem, I have never wanted to do the things that I did not want to do. These activities are what I call work. I liked to do certain things no matter how much exertion they required; I liked to play baseball, no matter how hot the day. I liked to read books that I liked to read. I liked debating in school and out of school. I liked to "speak pieces" and was always keen to make due preparation for that, no matter what the subject might be.
I always preferred diversions to duties, and this strange taste has clung to me all through life. Again and again these tendencies have kept me from turning to things that my parents and teachers have felt that I should do. In this, the parents and teachers have doubtless often been right. Doing something that one ought to do means foregoing pleasure and enduring pain, or at least boredom, in the hope and belief that one will all the more enjoy a thing in the future by abstaining from it now. Undoubtedly often this is true.
I was strong and healthy. I seemed to have a good mind. I really had a rather good education. While this education was not detailed and explicit, still it was broad and comprehensive for one of my years. I had a strongly emotional nature which has caused me boundless joy and infinite pain. I had a vivid imagination. Not only could I put myself in the other person's place, but I could not avoid doing so. My sympathies always went out to the weak, the suffering, and the poor.
Realizing their sorrows I tried to relieve them in order that I myself might be relieved. I had a thoroughly independent, perhaps individual, way of looking at things, and was never influenced by the views of others unless I could be convinced that they were nearly right. I had little respect for the opinion of the crowd.
My instinct was to doubt the majority view. My father had directed my thought and reading. He had taught me to question rather than accept. He never thought that the fear of God was the beginning of wisdom. I have always felt that doubt was the beginning of wisdom, and the fear of God was the end of wisdom. I took a little office in the village of Andover, ten miles from Kinsman, borrowed some money to buy some books, and flung my shingle to the breeze. I did not succeed at first. I am not certain that I ever did. In fact, I don't know the meaning of the word "success.
To some, success means political preferment; this I never wanted. It is hard enough to maintain an independent stand and freely express one's self without being handicapped by the desire for office or money. Most people who follow a political career grow to be cowards and slaves; for that matter, so do men who sell prunes. In life one cannot eat his cake and have it, too; he must make his choice and then do the best he can to be content to go the way his judgment leads.
Whether he really has anything to do with the making of a choice is still another question for which I have plenty of time and space later on. Soon after I was twenty-one years old, while I was living in Ashtabula, Ohio, I married Miss Jessie Ohl, whose parents were neighbors and friends of our family. Of this marriage my son Paul was born. Later in life we were divorced--in This was done without contest or disagreement and without any bitterness on either side, and our son has always been attached to both of us, and she and I have always had full confidence and respect toward each other.
It would not have been possible to build up what lawyers call "a good practice" where my name was first posted on an office door. The part of Ohio where I lived and dreamed was of course a farming section, with farmers' ideas, if farmers can be said to have ideas. There were some things that they did not merely believe. These they knew. They knew that Protestantism was inspired and that all of its creeds, however conflicting, were true.
They knew that the Republican party and all of its doctrines came as a divine revelation. They knew that the farmers were the backbone of the country and the most intelligent people in the world. They knew that all pleasure was sinful, and suffering was righteous; that the cities were evil and the country was good. Of course there were no saloons in the place. The main industry of the farmers was the dairy business. This was carried on by taking milk to the cheese factories to be converted into butter and cheese; and then each farmer would receive his portion of the money coming from the sale of the output.
My business, as it slowly opened up, grew out of the horse trades, boundary lines, fraudulent representations, private quarrels and grudges, with which the world everywhere is rife. There were actions of debt, actions of replevin, cases of tort, and now and then a criminal complaint. Nearly all of the last mentioned grew out of the sale of liquor or watering milk before it was sent to the factory. The liquor prosecutions generally came from the villages, although here and there a farmer was fined for selling hard cider. The whole community was always against the defendant in the liquor cases, but not so in those pertaining to watering milk.
Membership in a church in no way affected these cases of dilution. It was so easy to pour a bucketful of water into a milk can that many otherwise upright men could not resist. In about two years of steady growth I was convinced that I was too big for that place, whereupon I moved to Ashtabula, twenty-five miles away, a town of about five thousand people and then the largest in that part of the country. Soon after my arrival I was elected city solicitor, with a salary of seventy-five dollars a month and the right to take cases on my own account, which salary and perquisites to me seemed all that I was worth.
Ashtabula furnished a somewhat broader field, but was not especially exciting. With me, as with most lawyers, a case became a personal matter, and my side was right. My feelings were always so strong that fees were a secondary matter.
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The most important case I had in Ohio was an action of replevin for a harness worth fifteen dollars. There were other cases that involved more money, but this concerned the ownership of a harness which my client, a boy, had been given for attending a wealthy man in a case of illness. The suit was commenced before a justice of the peace ten miles away.
I received five dollars for the first trial, but the jury disagreed. It was set for a second trial, but my client had no more five-dollar bills, so I tried it again at my own expense. My client lost the case, but I persuaded a friend of mine to sign a bond to appeal it to the Court of Common Pleas. By that time I had moved to Ashtabula, but went to the adjoining county to try the case, although after the first five-dollar bill I never got a cent, always paying my own expenses and those of my client, too.
I won the case before the jury, but it was taken to the Court of Appeals, where the verdict was reversed. Again it was tried by the jury, who again decided in favor of my client. Once more it was carried to the Court of Appeals, which again reversed the case--the result hinged on a question of law. I wrote the brief, argued the case, paid all expenses, and the court decided in my favor. It was seven or eight years from the time the case was commenced before it ended. I had spent money that I could not afford to spare, but I was determined to see it through.
This was long ago. There was no money involved, and not much principle, as I see it now, but then it seemed as if my life depended upon the result. Outside of the immediate jurisdiction it was not a famous case, but there are still living in Trumbull County, Ohio, a number of people who remember the case of "Jewell versus Brockway"--which involved the title to a harness.
A country law-business, in those days, had some interest and much excitement, although almost anything attracts attention in a little village. If a horse fell down on the street it drew a great audience.
If a safe was lowered from the second story, the entire Main Street came to a standstill to watch it swung by ropes and pulleys to the sidewalk below. After that, we eagerly looked for something else to satisfy our curiosity and interest. Fortunately, there was usually a poker game in progress somewhere, almost any time of the day or night. The limit was small, to be sure, as befitted a community of slender means, but none the less inspiring. After baseball, the next game to fascinate me was poker.
With congenial companions, a deck of cards and a box of chips, and a little something to drink, I could forget the rest of the world until the last white bone had been tossed into the yawning jack pot. I don't know whether I would recommend the sport or not; I doubt if I would recommend anything if I thought my advice was to be followed.
Everything depends on one's point of view of life. I am inclined to believe that the most satisfactory part of life is the time spent in sleep, when one is utterly oblivious to existence; next best is when one is so absorbed in activities that one is altogether unmindful of self.
Poker is able to supply this for many, in all ranks of life; yet I would not advise any one to play, or not play, but do most emphatically advise them to keep the limit down. But poker cannot be said to bear any kinship to the profession of law, excepting that in both games you are dealing with chances, which always helps somewhat to relieve one from the tedium and boredom of life.
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But law practice itself in a country town had its interesting sides. Necessarily, the cases were small; that is, the amount of cash involved was not great. But here, again, what is the difference whether one plays with a blue chip or a white one? The important thing is to play. And habit has much to do with the way one views the importance of the game. I am satisfied that no one with a moderate amount of intelligence can tolerate life, if he looks it squarely in the face, without welcoming whatever soothes and solaces, and makes one forget. Every one instinctively, automatically, seeks satisfaction from the annoyances and banalities of existence.
Some resort to play, some to work, others to alcohol or opiates, and even to religion. But, whatever one takes, and quite regardless of relative values, we all seek something and accept something that gives rest and allays the tension of strenuous living. Much of the business of the country lawyer in my day was the trial of cases before justices of the peace.
These often seemed to be exciting events. And right now I am not so sure but that the old-time country lawyers fighting over the title to a cow were as clever, and sometimes as learned, as lawyers now whose cases involve millions of dollars, or human lives. The trials then were not so much a matter of rote. A lawsuit, then, before a justice of the peace, was filled with color and life and wits. Nor was the country lawsuit a dry and formal affair. Every one, for miles around, had heard of the case and taken sides between the contending parties or their lawyers.
Neighborhoods, churches, lodges, and entire communities were divided as if in war. Often the cases were tried in the town halls, and audiences assembled from far and near. An old-time lawsuit was like a great tournament, as described by Walter Scott. The combatants on both sides were always seeking the weakest spots in the enemy's armor, and doing their utmost to unhorse him or to draw blood. A country lawsuit not only gave the farmers and others not employed somewhere to go, but it left in its wake a chain of hatreds and scars that never healed. In Ashtabula I was quite content, as I had been before in Andover.
I had my friends and enemies, my cronies and critics; my arenas in which to fight, and my poker games at night.
- Quintet in C Minor, Movement 3 - Piano Score.
- The Wreck of the Hesperus!
- Tormenti infernali (Italian Edition)!
And, after all, even though now that life may appear small and superficial, and wasteful of time and opportunity--what does it matter? I am now so near the end of the trail that I can look back and contemplate and compare. Would it have made the slightest difference whether I had remained in Ashtabula, or even in Andover, instead of coming to Chicago, whether the stage was larger; or, whether I had been born at all?
Considering my age and the town, I was prospering in Ashtabula, and would doubtless be there now except for an important event for which I was no more responsible than I am for the course of the earth around the sun. I was married when still a youth and was living there with my wife and son Paul, then four or five years old. I had been practicing law since I came of age, and was nearing my twenty-ninth birthday.
Like most other young men I concluded to buy a home, and found one that I thought would do. I had five hundred dollars in the bank, and I bought the place for thirty-five hundred. The five hundred was to be paid down and the balance over a series of years.
The owner was to deliver the deed to my office the next day. He appeared at the appointed time only to tell me that his wife refused to sign the document, so he could not sell the house. As I had made up my mind to buy this home I was peeved, to put it mildly, but managed to control my temper and answered bluntly, "All right, I don't believe I want your house because--because--I'm going to move away from here. It is perfectly plain that the wish or whim of the woman shaped my whole future, and perhaps hers and her family's as well.
Had I bought the house I would probably be in Ashtabula now trying to meet overdue payments. Perhaps I would be in the graveyard, perhaps in a little law office. No one can possibly guess.
- Audioboom / Getting there - A brief history of my life on wheels.
- Un mariage à tout prix (Azur) (French Edition).
- Exchange Rate Policy Options of the European Central Bank.
- Self-catering accommodation in Mauritius (Travel Handbooks Book 2) (Basque Edition).
But certain it is, whether for better or worse, my life would have been a radically different one. It was easy enough to decide to leave Ashtabula when the woman refused to sign the deed, but where should I go? The world looked big and lonely, and my savings very small. My brother Everett was teaching in Chicago, and this doubtless had something to do with choosing that city for my new venture.
Because of Everett's age and intelligence and kindliness all the family, including myself, always respected him and went to him for advice and assistance; and up to the time of his death, a few years ago, none of us ever looked to him in vain.
A Brief History of My Life Part VII by Leigh Stein | Poetry Foundation
From my youth I was always interested in political questions. My father, like many others in northern Ohio, had early come under the spell of Horace Greeley, and, as far back as I can remember, the New York Weekly Tribune was the political and social Bible of our home. I was fifteen years old when Horace Greeley ran for the presidency. My father was an enthusiastic supporter of Greeley and I joined with him; and well do I remember the gloom and despair that clouded our home when we received the news of his defeat.
From Greeley our family went to Tilden in , but I was not old enough to vote. Of course most of the people in our neighborhood were for Hayes. In our town it was hard to tell which was the chief bulwark, Republicanism or religion. Both were sacred; but not to my family, who always lined up against the great majority. Our candidate, Samuel J. Tilden, was elected in , but was not allowed to take his seat. The Civil War was not then so far in the background as it is now, and any sort of political larceny was justifiable to save the country from the party that had tried to destroy the Union.
So, though Tilden was elected, Rutherford B. Hayes was inaugurated and served Tilden's term. The Tilden campaign stimulated me to find out all I could about political questions, and I tried to carefully form an opinion on the issues of the day. My reading of history and political economy convinced me that states' rights and free trade were both sound doctrines.
When the campaign between Blaine and Cleveland disturbed the political life of the Republic, I was for Cleveland.
As political questions have come and gone I have clung in my political allegiance to the doctrines of states' rights and free trade. To me they are as true and almost as important as they were in the historical campaign of , when Cleveland was elected President of the United States. While I have always been interested in the political situation, I have never wanted a political career.
The scheming and dickering and trading for political place never appealed to me, and I concluded early in life that if one entered a political course he must leave his independence behind, and this I could never abide. For a young man I took a considerable part in each of the three campaigns for Grover Cleveland, and then, and ever since, this President has been one of my idols.
His courage, independence and honesty have always seemed far above those of most of the political figures of his time, or since his day. Strange as it may seem, a banker in Ashtabula, Amos Hubbard, was the first man to give me some insight into radical political doctrines. He, like many others in that period, had been greatly influenced by Henry George's "Progress and Poverty. While Mr.
Hubbard gave me a first insight into advanced political economy, Judge Richards, a police judge in Ashtabula, gave me my first sane idea of crime and criminals. Altgeld, of Chicago, which was a revelation to me. This book and the author came to have a marked influence upon me and my future. I came to Chicago in Soon after my arrival I joined the Single Tax Club, and took part in the second Grover Cleveland campaign, then going on.
This club met regularly every week for several years. In due time I realized that at every meeting the same faces appeared and reappeared, week after week, and that none of them cared to hear anything but a gospel which they all believed. It did not take long for Single Tax to become a religious doctrine necessary to salvation. But, the Single Tax Club furnished a forum for ambitious young lawyers to win a hearing in; and I generally participated in the debates, which led to my speaking at ward meetings and other public gatherings from time to time.
In those days I was rather oratorical. Like many other young men of that day, I did the best, or worst, I could to cover up such ideas as I had in a cloud of sounding metrical phrases. In later years nothing has disturbed my taste along that line more than being called an "orator," and I strive to use simpler words and shorter sentences, to make my statements plain and direct and, for me, at least, I find this the better manner of expression.
When I arrived in Chicago I rented a very modest apartment and took desk room in an office. I had no money to waste and never liked to borrow or be in debt, so I tried to live within my means, but in this I did not fully succeed in that first year in Chicago. I had few friends and acquaintances, and these did not have enough money to indulge in the extravagance of litigation.
In that first year, all told, I did not receive in fees, or any other way, more than about three hundred dollars. I began to feel discouraged. From the very first a cloud of homesickness always hung over me. There is no place so lonely to a young man as a great city where he has no intimates or companions. When I walked along the street I scanned every face I met to see if I could not perchance discover some one from Ohio.
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