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an ill-natured cow, which nearly cost him his life, and deprived him of the sight he had recovered. He early manifested great mental as well as physical activity, and was held in high esteem by his youthful associates, for daring exploits and inventive genius. So perfect a knowledge did he acquire of every street, nook, and principal building in Belfast, that he was not unfrequently a guide to strangers, with perfect sight, who groped about in midnight darkness, unable again to find their lodgings.
His first effort for self-maintenance, when about twelve years of age, was in carrying letters to and from the different offices of merchants and professional gentlemen, and was afterward employed by Mr. Gordon, editor of the Belfast News Letter, to deliver the papers to subscribers on the days of publication. While in this employment, he was often compelled to call at the residences of gentlemen four or five miles out of the city. But having a perfect knowledge of the surrounding country, he was enabled to execute his business with correctness and dispatch. His indigent circumstances and friendless condition, rendered his opportunities for acquiring knowledge exceedingly limited. But his native genius soon suggested plans to overcome these embarrassments, which his indomitable perseverance at length carried into full effect.
It seems to be indispensably necessary, that a minr destined to be truly great should be first disciplinea in the school of rigid self-denial, and its progress
hedged up with the most formidable obstacles. For proof of this, we have but to turn over the annals of ancient and modern record, where we find mention of but few personages whose deeds brighten the pages of man's history, or who have been considered illustrious benefactors of their race, that have not risen from humble and embarrassing situations in life. The path leading to true intellectual greatness is fraught with such incessant toil, that there are few surrounded with wealth and affluence, who do not prefer their ease to walking therein. Hence the development of science and the fine arts, in every age, has been left to men of low estate, and often those seeming to labor under the greatest disadvantages.
A vigorous and aspiring intellect cannot be suppressed by mere physical circumstances; but like old Ocean's tide, it gathers strength from impediments, pressing forward with irresistible force, and scales in triumph the loftiest summits of opposition. To the truth of this remark, the trials and triumphs of Mr. Wilson during his long and eventful life bear testimony. When we behold him a poor, sightless, and friendless boy, groping his way through the populous city of Belfast, delivering letters and papers from door to door, while the winter storms howled dismally through the narrow alleys, and the sleety rains fell upon his thin-clad form, a feeling of surprise unconsciously steals over us, that his young and tender heart did not give way under the mountain of afflic. tion that seemed to rest upon it. But He, without
whose notice not a sparrow falls to the ground, “who feedeth the young ravens when they cry," has also made the never-failing promise to be a Father to the fatherless.
When Wilson was about fifteen years of age, being destitute of the means requisite for his attending school, he appropriated a part of his scanty earnings each week for educational purposes. With this he purchased such publications as are usually attractive to boys of that age, and employed his young associates to read to him during their leisure hours. A few years subsequent to this time, desiring a more lucrative employment, he chose that of an itinerant dealer; but he found this occupation ill adapted to his circumstances.
“ The want of sight,” says he in his memoir, “made it difficult for me to steer my course aright, and I was often exposed both to hardships and danger. Many a time have I heard the thunder roll over my head, and felt the teeming rain drench me from head to foot, while I have unknowingly passed by a place of shelter, or stood like a statue, not knowing which way to turn, though within a few paces of a house. Still, however, while reflecting on all these circumstances, and on the sympathy which I was sure to meet with after my sufferings, I have been often led to conclude that the balance was in my favor, when compared with many who enjoyed the use of every
There is no rose without its thorn, neither is there any state without its comforts."
During his peregrinations through the country, he was frequently exposed to the most imminent dangers, from which he sometimes narrowly escaped with his life; for example, we give the following as related by himself. “From Ballymena I was one day going out to the Rev. Robert Stewart's. At the end of the town the road divides; one branch leads to Ballymena, and the other to Broughshane. In the forks an old well was opened for the purpose of sinking a pump. It being two o'clock in the day, the workmen were all at dinner, and I was groping about with my staff to ascertain the turn in the road, when a man called out to me to stand still and not move a single step. I did so, when he came forward and told me, that two steps more would have hurried me into a well eighty feet deep, and half full of water. He held me by the arm, and made me put forth my staff to feel and be convinced of my danger, when I found that I was actually not more than one yard from the edge ! The blood ran cold in my veins; I was scarcely able to stand erect,
And every limb, unstrung with terror, shook.'”
In the year 1800, a temporary Institution was established at Belfast, for the instruction of those destitute of sight, in such mechanical pursuits as were best adapted to their peculiar situation. Of this, James Wilson became an inmate, and soon acquired a knowledge of the upholstery business ; a trade, by the pursuit of which, under the patronage of his
friends, he rendered his circumstances more easy. In 1803, a number of young men formed a reading bociety in Belfast, and, although they were all mechanics, some of them were also men of taste, and possessed considerable talent. Into this association Wilson was admitted a member, which was the dawn ing of a brighter day in his literary pursuits. One of its members, to whom he was warmly attached, kindly offered to read to him such books as he could procure. Their stated time for this employment was from nine o'clock in the evening until one in the morning, in the winter season, and from seven until eleven in the summer. In this way he committed to . memory a vast collection of pieces, both in
prose and “So ardent," says he, “was my desire for knowledge at that time, that I could never bear to be absent a single night from my friend ; and often, when walking in the country, where I could have been comfortably accommodated, I have traveled three or four miles, in a severe winter night, to be at my post in time. Pinched with cold and drenched with rain, I have many a time sat down and listened for several hours together, to the writings of Plutarch, Rollin, or Clarendon.” This course of reading he continued for seven or eight years, during which time he was made acquainted with almost every work in the English language.
Aided by a retentive power cultivated to a surprising degree, it may well be supposed that Mr. Wilson had by this time accumulated a large store of use