This small volume and others of a similar character from the same hand
have not been composed without a deep sense of responsibility. The
author regards children as sacred and would not for the world cast
anything into the fountain of a young heart that might imbitter and
pollute its waters. And even in point of the reputation to be aimed
at juvenile literature is as well worth cultivating as any other. The
writer if he succeed in pleasing his little readers may hope to be
remembered by them till their own old age--a far longer period of
literary existence than is generally attained by those who seek
immortality from the judgments of full-grown men.
When Edward Temple was about eight or nine years old he was afflicted
with a disorder of the eyes. It was so severe and his sight was
naturally so delicate that the surgeon felt some apprehensions lest the
boy should become totally blind. He therefore gave strict directions to
keep him in a darkened chamber with a bandage over his eyes. Not a ray
of the blessed light of heaven could be suffered to visit the poor lad.
This was a sad thing for Edward. It was just the same as if there were
to be no more sunshine nor moonlight nor glow of the cheerful fire
nor light of lamps. A night had begun which was to continue perhaps for
months--a longer and drearier night than that which voyagers are
compelled to endure when their ship is icebound throughout the winter
in the Arctic Ocean. His dear father and mother his brother George
and the sweet face of little Emily Robinson must all vanish and leave
him in utter darkness and solitude. Their voices and footsteps it is
true would be heard around him; he would feel his mother's embrace and
the kind pressure of all their hands; but still it would seem as if they
were a thousand miles away.
And then his studies--they were to be entirely given up. This was
another grievous trial; for Edward's memory hardly went back to the
period when he had not known how to read. Many and many a holiday had
he spent at his hook poring over its pages until the deepening twilight
confused the print and made all the letters run into long words. Then
would he press his hands across his eyes and wonder why they pained him
so; and when the candles were lighted what was the reason that they
burned so dimly like the moon in a foggy night? Poor little fellow!
So far as his eyes were concerned he was already an old man and needed
a pair of spectacles almost as much as his own grandfather did.
And now alas! the time was come when even grandfather's spectacles
could not have assisted Edward to read. After a few bitter tears which
only pained his eyes the more the poor boy submitted to the surgeon's
orders. His eyes were bandaged and with his mother on one side and
his little friend Emily on the other he was led into a darkened
"Mother I shall be very miserable!" said Edward sobbing.
"O no my dear child!" replied his mother elicerfully. "Your eyesight
was a precious gift of Heaven it is true; but you would do wrong to be
miserable for its loss even if there were no hope of regaining it.
There are other enjoyments besides what come to us through our eyes."
"None that are worth having" said Edward.
"Ah but you will not think so long" rejoined Mrs. Temple with
tenderness. "All of us--your father and myself and George and our
sweet Emily--will try to find occupation and amusement for you. We will
use all our eyes to make you happy. Will they not be better than a
"I will sit by you all day long" said Emily in her low sweet voice
putting her hand into that of Edward.
"And so will I Ned" said George his elder brother "school time and
all if my father will permit me."
Edward's brother George was three or four years older than himself--a
fine hardy lad of a bold and ardent temper. He was the leader of his
comrades in all their enterprises and amusements. As to his proficiency
at study there was not much to be said. He had sense and ability enough
to have made himself a scholar but found so many pleasanter things to
do that he seldom took hold of a book with his whole heart. So fond was
George of boisterous sports and exercises that it was really a great
token of affection and sympathy when he offered to sit all day long in a
dark chamber with his poor brother Edward.
As for little Emily Robinson she was the daughter of one of Mr.
Temple's dearest friends. Ever since her mother went to heaven (which
was soon after Emily's birth) the little girl had dwelt in the household
where we now find her. Mr. and Mrs. Temple seemed to love her as well
as their own children; for they had no daughter except Emily; nor would
the boys have known the blessing of a sister had not this gentle
stranger come to teach them what it was. If I could show you Emily's
face with her dark hair smoothed away from her forehead you would be
pleased with her look of simplicity and loving kindness but might think
that she was somewhat too grave for a child of seven years old. But you
would not love her the less for that.
So brother George and this loving little girl were to be Edward's
companions and playmates while he should be kept prisoner in the dark
chamber. When the first bitterness of his grief was over he began to
feel that there might be some comforts and enjoyments in life even for
a boy whose eyes were covered with a bandage.
"I thank you dear mother" said he with only a few sobs; "and you
Emily; and you too George. You will all be very kind to me I know.
And my father--will not he come and see me every day?"
"Yes my dear boy" said Mr. Temple; for though invisible to Edward he
was standing close beside him. "I will spend some hours of every day
with you. And as I have often amused you by relating stories and
adventures while you had the use of your eves I can do the same now
that you are unable to read. Will this please you Edward?"
"O very much" replied Edward.
"Well then" said his father "this evening we will begin the series of
Biographical Stories which I promised you some time ago."
When evening came Mr. Temple found Edward considerably revived in
spirits and disposed to be resigned to his misfortune. Indeed the
figure of the boy as it was dimly seen by the firelight reclining in a
well-stuffed easy-chair looked so very comfortable that many people
might have envied hun. When a man's eyes have grown old with gazing at
the ways of the world it does not seem such a terrible misfortune to
have them bandaged.
Little Emily Robinson sat by Edward's side with the air of an
accomplished nurse. As well as the duskiness of the chamber would
permit she watched all his motions and each varying expression of his
face and tried to anticipate her patient's wishes before his tongue
could utter them. Yet it was noticeable that the child manifested an
indescribable awe and disquietude whenever she fixed her eyes on the
bandage; for to her simple and affectionate heart it seemed as if her
dear friend Edward was separated from her because she could not see his
eyes. A friend's eyes tell us many things which could never be spoken
by the tongue.
George likewise looked awkward and confused as stout and healthy boys
are accustomed to do in the society of the sick or afflicted. Never
having felt pain or sorrow they are abashed from not knowing how to
sympathize with the sufferings of others.
"Well my dear Edward" inquired Mrs. Temple "is Your chair quite
comfortable? and has your little nurse provided for all your wants? If
so your father is ready to begin his stories."
"O I am very well now" answered Edward with a faint smile. "And my
ears have not forsaken me though my eyes are good for nothing. So
pray dear father begin."
It was Mr. Temple's design to tell the children a series of true
stories the incidents of which should be taken from the childhood and
early life of eminent people. Thus he hoped to bring George and
Edward and Emily into closer acquaintance with the famous persons who
have lived in other times by showing that they also had been children
once. Although Mr. Temple was scrupulous to relate nothing but what was
founded on fact yet he felt himself at liberty to clothe the incidents
of his narrative in a new coloring so that his auditors might
understand them the better.
"My first story" said he "shall be about a painter of pictures."
"Dear me!" cried Edward with a sigh. "I am afraid I shall never look
at pictures any more."
"We will hope for the best" answered his father. "In the mean time
you must try to see things within your own mind."
Mr. Temple then began the following story:--
[BORN 1738. DIED 1820]
In the year 1735 there came into the world in the town of Springfield
Pennsylvania a Quaker infant from whom his parents and neighbors
looked for wonderful things. A famous preacher of the Society of
Friends had prophesied about little Ben and foretold that he would be
one of the most remarkable characters that had appeared on the earth
since the days of William Penn. On this account the eyes of many people
were fixed upon the boy. Some of his ancestors had won great renown in
the old wars of England and France; but it was probably expected that
Ben would become a preacher and would convert multitudes to the
peaceful doctrines of the Quakers. Friend West and his wife were
thought to be very fortunate in having such a son.
Little Ben lived to the ripe age of six years without doing anything
that was worthy to be told in history. But one summer afternoon in his
seventh year his mother put a fan into his hand and bade him keep the
flies away from the face of a little babe who lay fast asleep in the
cradle. She then left the room.
The boy waved the fan to and fro and drove away the buzzing flies
whenever they had the impertinence to come near the baby's face. When
they had all flown out of the window or into distant parts of the room
he bent over the cradle and delighted himself with gazing at the
sleeping infant. It was indeed a very pretty sight. The little
personage in the cradle slumbered peacefully with its waxen hands under
its chin looking as full of blissful quiet as if angels were singing
lullabies in its ear. Indeed it must have been dreaming about heaven;
for while Ben stooped over the cradle the little baby smiled.
"How beautiful she looks!" said Ben to himself. "What a pity it is that
such a pretty smile should not last forever!"
Now Ben at this period of his life had never heard of that wonderful
art by which a look that appears and vanishes in a moment may be made
to last for hundreds of years. But though nobody had told him of such
an art he may be said to have invented it for himself. On a table near
at hand there were pens and paper and ink of two colors black and red.
The boy seized a pen and sheet of paper and kneeling down beside the
cradle began to draw a likeness of the infant. While he was busied in
this manner he heard his mother's step approaching and hastily tried to
conceal the paper.
"Benjamin my son what hast thou been doing?" inquired his mother
observing marks of confusion in his face.
At first Ben was unwilling to tell; for he felt as if there might be
something wrong in stealing the baby's face and putting it upon a sheet
of paper. However as his mother insisted he finally put the sketch
into her hand and then hung his head expecting to be well scolded.
But when the good lady saw what was orn the paper in lines of red and
black ink she uttered a scream of surprise and joy.
"Bless me!" cried she. "It is a picture of little Sally!"
And then she threw her arms round our friend Benjamin and kissed him so
tenderly that he never afterwards was afraid to show his performances to
As Ben grew older he was observed to take vast delight in looking at
the lines and forms of nature. For instance he was greatly pleased
with the blue violets of spring the wild roses of sumnmer and the
scarlet cardinal-flowers of early autumn. In the decline of the year
when the woods were variegated with all the colors of the rainbow Ben
seemed to desire nothing better than to gaze at them from morn till
night. The purple and golden clouds of sunset were a joy to him. And
he was continually endeavoring to draw the figures of trees men
mountains houses cattle geese ducks and turkeys with a piece of
chalk on barn doors or on the floor.
In these old times the Mohawk Indians were still numerous in
Pennsylvania. Every year a party of them used to pay a visit to
Springfield because the wigwams of their ancestors had formerly stood
there. These wild men grew fond of little Ben and made him very happy
by giving him some of the red and yellow paint with which they were
accustomed to adorn their faces. His mother too presented him with a
piece of indigo. Thus he now had three colors--red blue and yellow
--and could manufacture green by mixing the yellow with the blue. Our
friend Ben was overjoyed and doubtless showed his gratitude to the
Indians by taking their likenesses in the strange dresses which they
wore with feathers tomahawks and bows and arrows.
But all this time the young artist had no paint-brushes; nor were there
any to be bought unless he had sent to Philadelphia on purpose.
However he was a very ingenious boy aid resolved to manufacture paint-
brushes for himself. With this design he laid hold upon--what do you
think? Why upon a respectable old black cat who was sleeping quietly
by the fireside.
"Puss" said little Ben to the cat "pray give me some of the fur from
the tip of thy tail?"
Though he addressed the black cat so civilly yet Ben was determined to
have the fur whether she were willing or not. Puss who had no great
zeal for the fine arts would have resisted if she could; but the boy
was armed with his mother's scissors and very dexterously clipped off
fur enough to make a paint-brush. This was of so much use to him that
be applied to Madame Puss again and again until her warm coat of fur
had become so thin and ragged that she could hardly keep comfortable
through the winter. Poor thing! she was forced to creep close into the
chimney-corner and eyed Ben with a very rueful physiognomy. But Ben
considered it more necessary that he should have paint-brushes than that
puss should be warm.
About this period friend West received a visit from Mr. Pennington a
merchant of Philadelphia who was likewise a member of the Society of
Friends. The visitor on entering the parlor was surprised to see it
ornamented with drawings of Indian chiefs and of birds with beautiful
plumage and of the wild flowers of the forest. Nothing of the kind was
ever seen before in the habitation of a Quaker farmer.
"Why Friend West" exclaimed the Philadelphia merchant "what has
possessed thee to cover thy walls with all these pictures? Where on
earth didst then get them?"
Then Friend West explained that all these pictures were painted by
little Ben with no better materials than red and yellow ochre and a
piece of indigo and with brushes made of the black cat's fur.
"Verily" said Mr. Pennington "the boy hath a wonderful faculty. Some
of our friends might look upon these matters as vanity; but little
Benjamin appears to have been born a painter; and Providence is wiser
than we are."
The good merchant patted Benjamin on the head and evidently considered
him a wonderful boy. When his parents saw how much their son's
performances were admired they no doubt remembered the prophecy of
the old Quaker preacher respecting Ben's future eminence. Yet they
could not understand how he was ever to bccome a very great and useful
man merely by making pictures.
One evening shortly after Mr. Pennington's return to Philadelphia a
package arrived at Springfield directed to our little friend Ben.
"What can it possibly be?" thought Ben when it was put into his hands.
"Who can have sent me such a great square package as this?"
On taking off the thick brown paper which enveloped it behold! there
was a paint-box with a great many cakes of paint and brushes of
various sizes. It was the gift of good Mr. Pennington. There were
likewise several squares of canvas such as artists use for painting
pictures upon and in addition to all these treasures some beautiful
engravings of landscapes. These were the first pictures that Ben had
ever seen except those of his own drawing.
What a joyful evening was this for the little artist! At bedtime he put
the paint-box under his pillow and got hardly a wink of sleep; for all
night long his fancy was painting pictures in the darkness. In the
morning he hurried to the garret and was seen no more till the dinner-
hour; nor did he give himself time to eat more than a mouthful or two of
food before he hurried back to the garret again. The next day and the
next he was just as busy as ever; until at last his mother thought it
time to ascertain what he was about. She accordingly followed him to
On opening the door the first object that presented itself to her eyes
was our friend Benjamin giving the last touches to a beautiful picture.
He had copied portions of two of the engravings and made one picture
out of both with such admirable skill that it was far more beautiful
than the originals. The grass the trees the water the sky and the
houses were all painted in their proper colors. There too where the
sunshine and the shadow looking as natural as life.
"My dear child thou hast done wonders!" cried his mother.
The good lady was in an ecstasy of delight. And well might she be proud
of her boy; for there were touches in this picture which old artists
who had spent a lifetime in the business need not have been ashamed of.
Many a year afterwards this wonderful production was exhibited at the
Royal Academy in London.
When Benjamin was quite a large lad he was sent to school at
Philadelphia. Not long after his arrival he had a slight attack of
fever which confined him to his bed. The light which would otherwise
have disturbed him was excluded from his chamber by means of closed
wooden shutters. At first it appeared so totally dark that Ben could
not distinguish any object in the room. By degrees however his eyes
became accustomed to the scanty light.
He was lying on his back looking up towards the ceiling when suddenly
he beheld the dim apparition of a white cow moving slowly over his head!
Ben started and rubbed his eyes in the greatest amazement.
"What can this mean?" thought he.
The white cow disappeared; and next came several pigs which trotted
along the ceiling and vanished into the darkness of the chamber. So
lifelike did these grunters look that Ben almost seemed to hear them
"Well this is very strange!" said Ben to himself.
When the people of the house came to see him Benjamin told them of the
marvellous circumstance which had occurred. But they would not believe
"Benjamin thou art surely out of thy senses!" cried they. "How is it
possible that a white cow and a litter of pigs should be visible on the
ceiling of a dark chamber?"
Ben however had great confidence in his own eyesight and was
determined to search the mystery to the bottom. For this purpose when
he was again left alone he got out of bed and examined the window-
shutters. He soon perceived a small chink in one of them through which
a ray of light found its passage and rested upon the ceiling. Now the
science of optics will inform us that the pictures of the white cow and
the pigs and of other objects out of doors came into the dark chamber
through this narrow chink and were painted over Benjamin's head. It is
greatly to his credit that he discovered the scientific principle of
this phenomenon and by means of it constructed a camera-obscura or
magic-lantern out of a hollow box. This was of great advantage to him
in drawing landscapes.
Well time went on and Benjamin continued to draw and paint pictures
until he had now reached the age when it was proper that he should
choose a business for life. His father and mother were in considerable
perplexity about him. According to the ideas of the Quakers it is not
right for people to spend their lives in occupations that are of no real
and sensible advantage to the world. Now what advantage could the
world expect from Benjamin's pictures? This was a difficult question;
and in order to set their minds at rest his parents determined to
consult the preachers and wise men of their society. Accordingly they
all assembled in the meeting-house and discussed the matter from
beginning to end.
Finally they came to a very wise decision. It seemed so evident that
Providence had created Benjamin to be a painter and had given him
abilities which would be thrown away in any other business that the
Quakers resolved not to oppose his inclination. They even acknowledged
that the sight of a beautiful picture might convey instruction to the
mind and might benefit the heart as much as a good book or a wise
discourse. They therefore committed the youth to the direction of God
being well assured that he best knew what was his proper sphere of
usefulness. The old men laid their hands upon Benjamin's head and gave
him their blessing and the women kissed him affectionately. All
consented that he should go forth into the world and learn to be a
painter by studying the best pictures of ancient and modern times.
So our friend Benjamin left the dwelling of his parents and his native
woods and streams and the good Quakers of Springfield and the Indians
who had given him his first colors; he left all the places and persons
whom he had hitherto known and returned to them no more. He went first
to Philadelphia and afterwards to Europe. Here he was noticed by many
great people but retained all the sobriety and simplicity which he had