Monday, January 22, 2007

"An ignorant, obscure fellow"

If you ever sense that you are one of the most unproductive people in the world, recall what historian David McCullough revealed about John Adams:

At a young age, he began to keep a diary–it was about the size of the palm of your hand, and his handwriting so small you need a magnifying glass to read it–with the idea that by reckoning day-by-day his moral assets and liabilities, he could improve himself: “Oh! that I could wear out of my mind every mean and base affectation, conquer my natural pride and conceit,” he wrote. His natural pride and conceit would be among the things his critics would throw at him for the rest of his life. What's so interesting here is that he recognized this himself so early. On July 21, 1756, at the age of 20, he wrote this memorable entry:

I am resolved to rise with the sun and to study Scriptures on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings, and to study some Latin author the other three mornings. Noons and nights I intend to read English authors . . . . I will rouse up my mind and fix my attention. I will stand collected within myself and think upon what I read and what I see. I will strive with all my soul to be something more than persons who have had less advantages than myself.

But the next morning he slept until seven, and in a one-line entry the following week he wrote: “A very rainy day. Dreamed away the time." There was so much that he wanted to know and do, and he would have moments when he thought life was passing him by: “I have no books, no time, no friends. I must therefore be contented to live and die an ignorant, obscure fellow.”

Read McCullough's
entire speech here.

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