Gateway to the Classics: Stephen of Philadelphia by James Otis
Stephen of Philadelphia by  James Otis

The End of Our School Days

In three months' time we had completed our course at school, unless we felt disposed to pay eight shillings more and go over the same routine; but neither Jethro nor I believed we should be warranted in so doing, for there was much work to be done in the building of the new town, and it seemed like willful waste to turn our backs on the forge when so many shillings could be earned making nails or spikes. Therefore it was we set about working old iron into shape once more, striving earnestly to make perfect wares.

I have since come to understand, however, that we had better never have forged a nail, than fail of gaining all the knowledge possible, for he who has not as much of book-learning as his fellows, is in a bad way when he comes to be a man grown.

More than once since Jethro and I went out from Enoch Flower's house for the last time as pupils, have I regretted most bitterly that I cast aside the one opportunity I had for learning that which is to be had from books.

Then, however, I said to myself that when another school was opened in Philadelphia, with a teacher who gave more time to the children than he did to carding or spinning, I would present myself as a pupil, no matter what the cost might be; but like many another foolish fellow before me, I reckoned on a chance which never came.

It was not until the year of grace 1689 that the Friends' school was opened, with George Keith, a Scotch Quaker and public preacher, as the teacher, and then I was not only too old, but had so many of worldly cares on my shoulders that school-going was out of the question, even though I had not been painfully ashamed to sit myself down with small children who could put me to blush because of knowing more than I did.

Therefore it is I know full well of what I write, when I set it down that the lad who fails to get whatsoever of knowledge he can in his early youth, is worse than a fool, and, if God spares his life many years, will spend the greater portion of them mourning over his folly.

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