Scotland, on the 10th of October, 1802. Like Chatterton, he had little patience with the schools. He would play truant in order to enjoy a book in freedom on the hill or by the sea, and his old schoolmaster feared that he would become a dunce. Curious to state, when it became necessary for him to decide upon a trade, he chose that of stone-mason so that he might be unemployed in the winter frosts, and thus have opportunity to read and write.
For fifteen years he worked in the quarry during the pleasant days of summer, and spent the hours of winter prosecuting the object of his ambition—the writing of good English. His clear, choice diction caused the Edinburgh Review to ask, "Where could this man have acquired his style?" little thinking that the greater part of his life had been spent in the quarry and hewing-shed.
His work attracted so much attention that in 1840 he was called to the editorial chair of The Witness, a semi-weekly paper published in Edinburgh for the purpose of securing spiritual independence. Unremitting labor resulted, and the night following the completion of his greatest work, The Testimony of the Rocks, he yielded to the strain to which his overworked brain had been subjected and sent a bullet through his heart.
Another similar case is that of Robert Tannahill, a Paisley weaver, who was one of the most popular successors of Burns in song-writing. He was born in 1774, apprenticed to his father's trade when twelve years of age, and composed his songs as his shuttle went to and fro. He apparently had a single love affair, which occasioned the composition of the popular song, "Jessie, the Flower of Dunblane." He was shy, sensitive, and awkward, and therefore uncomfortable except in the presence of his humble friends. His monotonous existence was broken only by occasional trips to Glasgow, and the one memorable day in all his life was when James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, paid him a visit. The meeting was prolonged into the night, and the parting was painful and pathetic. Tannahill, grasping the hand of his poet-brother, said, while tears suffused his eyes: "Farewell! We shall never meet again." His words were prophetic, for shortly afterward his body was found stark and stiff in a pool near his house.
To come down to more recent times, we have but to recall the melancholy end of Richard Realf, an English peasant, born in Framfield, Sussex County, June 14, 1834. I can not better give the story of his life than by quoting freely from a letter written to Rossiter Johnson in 1875, who was at work upon a short biography of the poet for the Little Classic Series. In this letter he says: "I never received any education in my boyhood, except for a year or two at the little village school. We were a large family