Ann Plato

Eminence of obscurity

Many instances are known of obscure youths becoming the most distinguished men. There are not the number in this country, who have passed through so many hidden difficulties, and have overcome the like obstacles, as in the Mother Country.

Perhaps you have seen the son of the rich man, expensively dressed, having many attendants, and exercising all the pomp and magnificence, which worldly riches can give. You say in your heart, HOW HAPPY the MAN! He may be, and he may not be. This depends upon the state of matters within. As to knowledge, they may say, I have plenty of time for it, my father is rich in possessions, and I have naught to disturb me from learning, when I choose.

But this is not the case with the poor. They are compelled to practice industry. This protects them from many vices and promotes health, and self-approbation.

If their object is to attain an education, and they are obliged to be partially occupied in those toils by which subsistence is gained, of course, they will value more highly, every fragment of time, than those whose leisure is uninterrupted. A sense of the value of time, is one of the first steps, which some have made in improvement and wisdom.

Another privilege, is the habit of overcoming obstacles. Strength of mind, and moral energy, are thus acquired. Those who lead lives of indulgence, have not the opportunity of learning that perseverance “which is daunted by no difficulty, and without which genius avails little.”

Distinction is sometimes gained by those who rise from obscure birth, by viewing the contrast. The fame of Dr. Franklin, is heightened by the circumstance, that he was a printer’s boy, and the son of a chandler; and that of Bently, the celebrated English scholar, by the fact, that he was the son of a blacksmith.

Bloomfield, the poet, was the son of a tailor, and an apprentice to a shoemaker. He was busily employed at his trade, while composing the “Farmer’s Boy,” and being often destitute of paper, retained great numbers of his lines in memory, until he could obtain materials, and time for writing.

Inigo Jones, the great architect, was the son of a cloth-manufacturer, and it was intended that he should be a mechanic. Sir Edmund Saunders, chief justice, in the reign of Charles the Second, was an errand boy.

Winckelman, a distinguished writer on classical antiquities, and the fine arts, was the son of a shoemaker. He supported himself while at college, chiefly by teaching younger students, and at the same time, aided in maintaining his poor, sickly father.

The celebrated Metastasio, was the son of a poor mechanic. The father of Opie, a distinguished portrait painter, was a carpenter; and he, himself was raised from the bottom of a saw-pit where he labored as a wood-cutter, to the professorship of painting, in the Royal Academy, at London.

The learned Dr. Prideaux, bishop of Worcester, obtained his education, by walking on foot, to Oxford, and getting employment, at first, as assistant in the kitchen of Exeter College.

Haydn, the celebrated musical composer, was the son of a wheel-wright, who officated also as sexton; and his mother, was a servant in the family of a neighboring nobleman.

Dr. Isaac Milnor, who filled the chair as Professor of Mathematics, at Cambridge, which Sir Isaac Newton occupied, was once a weaver; as was also his brother, the author of the well known Church History.

Dr. White, professor of Arabic, in the University of Oxford, England, was originally, a weaver: and James Ferguson, the celebrated writer on Astronomy, was the son of a day-laborer.

Having discovered, when quite a child, some important truths in mechanics, he went on to illustrate them, without teacher or book and with no other tools, than a little knife and a simple turning lathe.

While in the employment of a farmer, he improved every slight interval of leisure in constructing models, during the day, and studying the stars at night. He was elected a member of the Royal Society, and King George, the third, after hearing his lectures, settled on him an annual pension; while his writing still continue the admiration of the men of science.

The celebrated Benjamin Johnson worked as a bricklayer and a mason. Thomas Sympson, an able English scholar, Professor of Mathematics, and Fellow of the Royal Society, was the son of a weaver. Castalio, who translated the Bible into Latin, was the son of poor peasants, and reared by them, in the midst of privations, among the mountains of Dauphiny. Avaigio, one of the Italian poets, of the sixteenth century, though working with his father, at the trade of a blacksmith, till he was eighteen years old, found means to cultivate his genius, and to obtain learning.

Those who have risen from humble stations, often recur with satisfaction to the steps through which they have been led on their upward way. It was pleasing to Aurelian, to have it known that he was the son of peasants. Dioclesian felt that the splendor of his sway in Rome was heightened by his obscure birth, of Dalmatia.

I have now succeeded in telling that eminence has risen from obscurity. Remembering the difficulties which they passed through, they were naturally skilful, patient guides, and qualified to impart somewhat of the perseverance and moral energy which they themselves profited.

If the poor obtain distinguished stations, their sympathies ought to be more active, more overflowing than those of other men. They must know how to enter the feelings of the humbler classes of society, and to relieve, and take part in their sorrows.

Dear youth of my country, her pride and her hope, catch the spirit of well done Philanthropy. If you cannot surpass the great and the good who have gone before you, study their excellences, walk in their footsteps, and God give you grace to fill their places well, when they are mouldering into dust.


MLA Citation

Plato, Ann. “Eminence of obscurity.” 1841. Quotidiana. Ed. Patrick Madden. 20 Feb 2007. 01 Oct 2023 <>.

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