Stories of Great Americans for Little Americans - Edward Eggleston
Horace Greeley was the son of a poor farmer. He was always fond of books. He learned to read almost as soon as he could talk. He could read easy books when he was three years old. When he was four, he could read any book that he could get.
He went to an old-fashioned school. Twice a day all the children stood up to spell. They were in two classes. Little Horace was in the class with the grown-up young people. He was the best speller in the class. It was funny to see the little midget at the head of this class of older people.
But he was only a little boy in his feelings. If he missed a word, he would cry. The one that spelled a word that he missed would have a right to take the head of the class. Sometimes when he missed, the big boys would not take the head. They did not like to make the little fellow cry. He was the pet of all the school.
People in that day were fond of spelling. They used to hold meetings at night to spell. They called these "spelling schools."
At a spelling school two captains were picked out. These chose their spellers. Then they tried to see which side could beat the other at spelling.
Little Horace was always chosen first. The side that got him got the best speller in the school. Sometimes the little fellow would go to sleep. When it came his turn to spell, somebody would wake him up. He would rub his eyes, and spell the word. He would spell it right, too.
When he was four or five years old, he would lie under a tree, and read. He would lie there, and forget all about his dinner or his supper. He would not move until somebody stumbled over him or called him.
People had not found out how to burn kerosene oil in lamps then. They used candles. But poor people like the Greeleys could not afford to burn many candles. Horace gathered pine knots to read by at night.
He would light a pine knot. Then he would throw it on top of the large log at the back of the fire. This would make a bright flickering light.
Horace would lay all the books he wanted on the hearth. Then he would lie down by them. His head was toward the fire. His feet were drawn up out of the way.
The first thing that he did was to study all his lessons for the next day. Then he would read other books. He never seemed to know when anybody came or went. He kept on with his reading.
His father did not want him to read too late. He was afraid that he would hurt his eyes. And he wanted to have him get up early in the morning to help with the work. So when nine o'clock came, he would call, "Horace, Horace, Horace!" But it took many callings to rouse him.
When he got to bed, he would say his lessons over to his brother. He would tell his brother what he had been reading. But his brother would fall asleep while Horace was talking.
Horace liked to read better than he liked to work. But when he had a task to do, he did it faithfully. His brother would say, "Let us go fishing." But Horace would answer, "Let us get our work done first."
Horace Greeley's father grew poorer and poorer. When Horace was ten years old, his land was sold. The family were now very poor. They moved from New Hampshire. They settled in Vermont. They lived in a poor little cabin.
Horace had to work hard like all the rest of the family. But he borrowed all the books he could get. Sometimes he walked seven miles to borrow a book.
A rich man who lived near the Greeleys used to lend books to Horace. Horace had grown tall. His hair was white. He was poorly dressed. He was a strange-looking boy.
One day he went to the house of the rich man to borrow books. Someone said to the owner of the house, "Do you lend books to such a fellow as that?"
But the gentleman said, "That boy will be a great man some day."
This made all the company laugh. It seemed funny that anybody should think of this poor boy becoming a great man. But it came true. The poor white-headed boy came to be a great man.
Horace Greeley learned all that he could learn in the country schools. When he was thirteen, one teacher said to his father—
"Mr. Greeley, Horace knows more than I do. It is not of any use to send him to school any more."