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He seems now to have first begun to shew that ingenuity and taste for intellectual oecupation which we find afterwards so strongly marking his character. His earliest predilection was in favour of music. To this amusement he for some time devoted all his leisure hours. Having bought what he calls a bell-harp for half-a-crown, he laboured, he tells us, in endeavouring to tune it for six months. He then borrowed a dulcimer, and even before learning to play on it, set about making another after it for himself.
« But in the fabrication of this instrument,” says he, “ I had neither timber to work upon, tools to work with, nor money to purchase either. It is said, necessity is the mother of invention. I pulled a large trunk to pieces, one of the relics of my family, but formerly the property of Thomas Parker, the first Earl of Macclesfield: and as to tools, I considered that the hammer-key and the plyers belonging to the stocking-frame would supply the place of hammer and pincers. My pocket-knife was all the edge-tools I could raise ; and a fork with one limb was made to act in the double capacity of sprig-awl and gimlet.” In this way he at last completed the dulcimer, which, after learning to play upon it, he sold to one of his wealthier companions for sixteen shillings, bought a coat with the money, and constructed a better instrument.
The term of his apprenticeship was over at Christmas 1744; but he still continued to work with his uncle as a journeyman. It was in 1746, he tells us, that he first began to be fond of books, his earliest purchase being three volumes of the 'Gentleman's Magazine.' His passion for books gave rise to a
a new application of his manual ingenuity. Those he bought being mostly in a very tattered condition, he felt anxious to be able to restore them to a somewhat more seemly appearance ; and accordingly by ob
serving a binder, with whom he had got acquainted, at his work, soon contrived to make himself a tolerable proficient in that craft. Having bought from this man several of his cast-off tools, among others “ he offered me,” says Hutton, a worn-down press for two shillings, which no man could use, and which was laid by for the fire. I considered the nature of its construction, bought it, and paid the two shillings. I then asked him to favour me with a hammer and a pin, which he brought with half a conquering smile and half a sneer. I drove out the garter-pin, which being galled prevented the press from working, and turned another square, which perfectly cured the press. He said in 'anger,
if I had known you should not have had it. This proved for forty-two years my best binding-press.” Soon after this, too, he began to write verse, which was a favourite amusement with him to the end of his life.
At last, seeing no prospect of any thing but drudgery and poverty in the trade to which he had been brought up, he left his uncle, and took up his residence with a sister, who lived in the same town-an admirable woman, whose affection and unwearied cares for his comfort and welfare did much to compensate the loss and desertion of his other relatives.
His great ambition now was to be settled in business as a bookseller, and he at last determined to set up in that character in the town of Southwell, about fourteen miles from Nottingham. Here he accordingly opened a shop, with, as he expresses it, about twenty shillings' worth of trash for all his siock. “I was,”
my own joiner, put up my shelves and furniture, and in one day became the most eminent bookseller in the place." Being employed, however, during the other days of the week in working at Nottingham as a bookbinder, he could only give his attendance at Southwell on the Saturdays, that being
besides quite enough for the literary wants of the place. Throughout a very rainy summer, “ I set out," says he, “ at five every Saturday morning, carried a burden of from three pounds weight to thirty, opened shop at ten, starved in it all day upon bread, cheese, and half a pint of ale, took from one to six shillings, shut up at four, and by trudging through the solitary night and the deep roads five hours more, I arrived at Nottingham by nine; where I always found a mess of milk porridge by the fire, prepared by my valuable sister.”
This humble attempt, however, was the beginning of his prosperity. Next year he was offered about two hundred pounds weight of old books, on his note of hand, for twenty-seven shillings, by a dissenting minister to whom he was known; and upon this he immediately determined to break up his establishment at Southwell, and to transfer himself to Birmingham. He did so, and succeeded so well, that by never suffering his expenses to exceed five shillings a-week, he found that by the end of the first year he had saved about twenty pounds.
This, of course, enabled him to extend his business, which he soon made a very valuable one. Birmingham was to Hutton what Philadelphia was to Franklin. The first time he had ever seen it was when he entered it after running away from his uncle's, a wearied and homeless wanderer, with scarcely a penny in his pocket, and not a hope in the world to trust to. Yet in this place he was destined to acquire, some years after, an ample fortune, and to take his place among the most honoured of its citizens.
His future success in life was merely the result of integrity, and regular and persevering industry. After having been four or five years in business, during which time he had saved a good deal of money, he married the lady to whom he continued united for more than forty years, and in whom he always considered that he had found the chief blessing of his life. Some of the speculations in which he involved himself, now that he had become a monied man, were not very considerate, and he was once or twice, in this way, reduced to rather alarming difficulties ; but he had a resource, in his renewed industry and attention to business, which never failed to retrieve him. Even in following those fancies which led him away from his proper business, he often gave the most striking evidence of his characteristic activity and perseverance. While superintending the building of a house for himself, “up,” says he, “ at four every morning, I set the people to work, watched over them, and laboured with them all day, and frequently charged myself with the meanest and most laborious parts of the employment." This was after he had been twenty-five years in business. Again, having engaged about the same time in farming, by which he lost a good deal of money, he tells us that he paid his visits to his farm three or four times a week, though it was distant four or five miles, always on foot; and having arrived there by five in the morning, was back to Birmingham by breakfast. He had long before this time, too, shewn his desire for public employment; and having been appointed a commissioner of the Court of Requests, had distinguished himself greatly by his zealous and able exertions in the discharge of the duties of that office.
It was in the midst of all these diversified occupations that Mr. Hutton conceived the idea of commencing author, and actually found time for a succession of literary performances, such as would have been accounted creditable to the application of a person leading a life of uninterrupted leisure. It shews what may be accomplished in any circumstances, if a man's heart be in his work. In such a case, the most incessant calls of business, or the most arduous professional duties, are scarcely any interruption to the prosecution of the fondly cherished enterprise. The moments that other avocations leave for it, the fewer they are, are only the more precious; and being so highly valued are, in a corresponding degree, economically and profitably used. For it, too, are carefully gathered and saved all those little fragments of time, and opportunities of repose and meditation of which the busiest life has many, and which, without some such object ready to take them up, are so apt to be trifled away and lost. As one of our old poets expresses it,
" A good wit, that on the immortal shrine
Of memory engraves a work divine,
To mind his theme, and on his book still muses." Mr. Hutton had been in the habit of sending verses. occasionally to the magazines, almost from the commencement of his residence at Birmingham; but it was in the year 1780 that he undertook, for the first time, to write a book. This was his celebrated History of Birmingham. Upon the composition of this
. work, he tells us he spent nine months. “Fearing my ability,” says he, “ I wrote with dread.” The mere money he received on this occasion was but a scanty remuneration for his labour, all his publisher allowed him being forty pounds, together with seventy-five copies of the work. But he was abundantly rewarded in another way: the enjoyment he took in his task itself was exquisite. Pleased,”
as a fond parent with this history, as my first literary offspring, I may be said, while in manuscript, to have had the whole by heart. Had a line been quoted, I could have followed it up through the