Forester, by Maria Edgeworth

Forester, a Printer.

It was some time before our hero acquired dexterity in his new trade: his companions formed, with amazing celerity, whole sentences, while he was searching for letters, which perpetually dropped from his awkward hands: but he was ashamed of his former versatility, and he resolved to be steady to his present way of life. His situation, at this printer’s, was far better suited to him than that which he had quitted, with so much disgust, at the brewer’s. He rose early, and, by great industry, overcame all the difficulties which at first so much alarmed him. He soon became the most useful journeyman in the office. His diligence and good behaviour recommended him to his master’s employers. Whenever any work was brought, Forester was sent for. This occasioned him to be much in the shop, where he heard the conversation of many ingenious men who frequented it; and he spent his evenings in reading. His understanding had been of late uncultivated; but the fresh seeds that were now profusely scattered upon the vigorous soil took root, and flourished.

Forester was just at that time of life when opinions are valued for being new: he heard varieties of the most contradictory assertions in morals, in science, in politics. It is a great advantage to a young man to hear opposite arguments, to hear all that can be said upon every subject.

Forester no longer obstinately adhered to the set of notions which he had acquired from his education; he heard many, whom he could not think his inferiors in abilities, debating questions which he formerly imagined scarcely admitted of philosophic doubt. His mind became more humble; but his confidence in his own powers, after having compared himself with numbers, if less arrogant, was more secure and rational: he no longer considered a man as a fool the moment he differed with him in opinion; but he was still a little inclined to estimate the abilities of authors by the party to which they belonged. This failing was increased, rather than diminished, by the company which he now kept.

Amongst the young students who frequented Mr. ——‘s, the bookseller, was Mr. Thomas —— who, from his habit of blurting out strange opinions in conversation, acquired the name of Tom Random. His head was confused between politics and poetry; his arguments were paradoxical, his diction florid, and his gesture something between the spouting action of a player, and the threatening action of a pugilist.

Forester was caught by the oratory of this genius from the first day he heard him speak.

Tom Random asserted, that “this great globe, and all that it inhabits,” must inevitably be doomed to destruction, unless certain ideas of his own, in the government of the world, were immediately adopted by universal acclamation.

It was not approbation, it was not esteem, which Forester felt for his new friend it was for the first week blind, enthusiastic admiration — every thing that he had seen or heard before appeared to him trite and obsolete; every person who spoke temperate common sense he heard with indifference or contempt; and all who were not zealots in literature, or in politics, he considered as persons whose understandings were so narrow, or whose hearts were so depraved, as to render them “unfit to hear themselves convinced.”

Those who read and converse have a double chance of correcting their errors.

Forester most fortunately, about this time, happened to meet with a book which in some degree counteracted the inflammatory effects of Random’s conversation, and which had a happy tendency to sober his enthusiasm, without lessening his propensity to useful exertions: this book was the Life of Dr. Franklin.

The idea that this great man began by being a printer interested our hero in his history; and whilst he followed him, step by step, through his instructive narrative, Forester sympathized in his feelings, and observed how necessary the smaller virtues of order, economy, industry, and patience were to Franklin’s great character and splendid success. He began to hope that it would be possible to do good to his fellow-creatures, without overturning all existing institutions.

About this time another fortunate coincidence happened in Forester’s education. One evening his friend, Tom Random, who was printing a pamphlet, came, with a party of his companions, into Mr. —— the bookseller’s shop, enraged at the decision of a prize in a literary society to which they belonged.

All the young partisans who surrounded Mr. Random loudly declared that he had been treated with the most flagrant injustice; and the author himself was too angry to affect any modesty upon the occasion.

“Would you believe it?” said he to Forester —“my essay has not been thought worthy of the prize! The medal has been given to the most wretched, tame, commonplace performance you ever saw. Every thing in this world is done by corruption, by party, by secret influence!”

At every pause the irritated author wiped his forehead, and Forester sympathized in his feelings.

In the midst of the author’s exclamations, a messenger came with the manuscript of the prize essay, and with the orders of the society to have a certain number of copies printed off with all possible expedition.

Random snatched up the manuscript, and, with all the fury of criticism, began to read aloud some of the passages which he disliked.

Though it was marred in the reading, Forester could not agree with his angry friend in condemning the performance. It appeared to him excellent writing and excellent sense.

“Print it — print it then, as fast as you can — that is your business — that’s what you are paid for. Every one for himself,” cried Random, insolently throwing the manuscript at Forester; and, as he flung out of the shop with his companions, he added, with a contemptuous laugh, “A printer’s devil setting up for a critic! He may be a capital judge of pica and brevier, perhaps — but let not the compositor go beyond his stick.”

“Is this the man,” said Forester, “whom I have heard so eloquent in the praise of candour and liberality? Is this the man who talks of universal toleration and freedom of opinion, and who yet cannot bear that any one should differ from him in criticising a sentence? Is this the man who would have equality amongst all his fellow-creatures, and who calls a compositor a printer’s devil? Is this the man who cants about the pre-eminence of mind and the perfections of intellect, and yet now takes advantage of his rank, of his supporters, of the cry of his partisans, to bear down the voice of reason? —‘Let not the compositor go beyond his composing-stick!’— And why not? Why should not he be a judge of writing?” At this reflection, Forester eagerly took up the manuscript, which had been flung at his feet. All his indignant feelings instantly changed into delightful exultation — he saw the hand — he read the name of Henry Campbell. The title of the manuscript was, “An Essay on the best Method of reforming Abuses.” This was the subject proposed by the society; and Henry had written upon the question with so much moderation, and yet with such unequivocal decision had shown himself the friend of rational liberty, that all the members of the society who were not borne away by their prejudices were unanimous in their preference of this performance.

Random’s declamation only inflamed the minds of his own partisans. Good judges of writing exclaimed, as they read it, “This is all very fine; but what would this man be at? His violence hurts the cause he wishes to support.”

Forester read Henry Campbell’s essay with all the avidity of friendship; he read it again and again — his generous soul was incapable of envy; and whilst he admired, he was convinced by the force of reason.

His master desired that he would set about the essay early in the morning; but his eagerness for his friend Henry’s fame was such, that he sat up above half the night hard at work at it. He was indefatigable the next day at the business; and as all hands were employed on the essay, it was finished that evening.

Forester rubbed his hands with delight, when he had set the name of Henry Campbell in the title-page — but an instant afterwards he sighed bitterly.

“I am only a printer,” said he to himself. “These just arguments, these noble ideas, will instruct and charm hundreds of my fellow-creatures: no one will ever ask, ‘Who set the types?’”

His reflections were interrupted by the entrance of Tom Random and two of his partisans: he was extremely displeased to find that the printers had not been going on with his pamphlet; his personal disappointments seemed to increase the acrimony of his zeal for the public good: he declaimed upon politics — upon the necessity for the immediate publication of his sentiments, for the salvation of the state. His action was suited to his words: violent and blind to consequences, with one sudden kick, designed to express his contempt for the opposite party, this political Alnaschar unfortunately overturned the form which contained the types for the newspaper of the next day, which was just going to the press — a newspaper in which he had written splendid paragraphs.

Forester, happily for his philosophy, recollected the account which Franklin, in his history of his own life, gives of the patience with which he once bore a similar accident. The printers, with secret imprecations against oratory, or at least against those orators who think that action is every thing, set to work again to repair the mischief.

Forester, much fatigued, at length congratulated himself upon having finished his hard day’s work, when a man from the shop came to inquire whether three hundred cards, which had been ordered the week before to be printed off, were finished. The man to whom the order was given had forgotten it, and he was going home: he decidedly answered, “No; the cards can’t be done till to-morrow: we have left work for this night, thank God.”

“The gentleman says he must have them,” expostulated the messenger.

“He must not, he cannot have them. I would not print a card for his majesty at this time of night,” replied the sullen workman, throwing his hat upon his head, in token of departure.

“What are these cards?” said Forester.

“Only a dancing-master’s cards for his ball,” said the printer’s journeyman. “I’ll not work beyond my time for any dancing-master that wears a head.”

The messenger then said, that he was desired to ask for the manuscript card.

This card was hunted for all over the room; and, at last, Forester found it under a heap of refuse papers: his eye was caught with the name of his old friend, Monsieur Pasgrave, the dancing-master, whom he had formerly frightened by the skeleton with the fiery eyes.

“I will print the cards for him myself; I am not at all tired,” cried Forester, who was determined to make some little amends for the injury which he had formerly done to the poor dancing-master. He resolved to print the cards for nothing, and he stayed up very late to finish them. His companions all left him, for they were in a great hurry to see, what in Edinburgh is a rare sight, the town illuminated.

These illuminations were upon account of some great naval victory.

Forester, steady to Monsieur Pasgrave’s cards, did what no other workman would have done; he finished for him, on this night of public joy, his three hundred cards. Every now and then, as he was quietly at work, he heard the loud huzzas in the street: his waning candle sunk in the socket, as he had just packed up his work.

By the direction at the bottom of the cards, he learned where M. Pasgrave lodged, and, as he was going out to look at the illuminations, he resolved to leave them himself at the dancing-master’s house.

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Last updated Sunday, March 2, 2014 at 14:44