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and for seven or eight years now I have done nothing but write stories. Besides short stories I have written seven volumes of boys' books, the “Camp and Trail” series and “Along the Coast” series. While writing these I took a mid-winter snowshoe tramp through the wilds of Maine accompanied by my twelve-year-old son. We slept in logging camps and roughed it generally and found the trip delightful, although the mercury often went well below
- The American Boy, Detroit, January, 1919.
A sketch of this sort can hardly be written by a young person, because few young persons have found their vocations as Mr. Pendexter has found his. But if you have already chosen your vocation, if you have a dominant interest, and if you discovered your vocation or interest at a very early age, you might imitate Mr. Pendexter's sketch at least through the first two paragraphs.
Biography of Peter Cooper.
Compare the two preceding sketches with the following brief biography of Peter Cooper :
Peter Cooper, the famous manufacturer and philanthropist, said to a friend one day, “I have always tried to do the best I know how, and then people have wanted what I made. I determined to make the best glue, and found out every method and ingredient looking to that end, and so it has always been in demand.” This remark contains the secret of Cooper's success. He was born in New York City, February 12, 1791, and lived
the age of ninety-two. Shortly after Peter's birth, his father, a hatter by trade, removed to Peekskill, New York, where he built a store and a church. One of Peter Cooper's earliest recollections was being set to pull the hair out of rabbit skins to help his
father. He remained in the business until he could make every part of a hat. Even as a boy, he delighted in making and contriving things. Of his own accord he undertook one day to make a pair of shoes. First he took apart an old pair to see the structure. Then after procuring some leather and tools, he made the shoes without further instructions. As a young man, Cooper was apprenticed to a wagon maker, receiving for his work his board and twenty-five dollars per year. His inventive genius was early shown, and he invented a mortising machine which was in use as late as 1879.
His term of apprenticeship ended, he embarked in business for himself, and in one of the cheapest streets of New York was seen the sign, Peter Cooper, Coach and Wagon Maker. Since all business was affected by the War of 1812, Cooper did not make a success of this venture, and before the war closed he had failed. He opened a cabinet shop and escaped failure again only by changing his business. He bought a grocery store, and finding that it was yielding profit, he looked about for something else in which to invest, in order to add to his earnings.
As a coach builder and cabinet-maker he had noticed that the glue in use was very poor, and he thought he could make a better glue. He bought a glue factory, located at the corner of Madison Avenue and Twenty-ninth Street in New York City. For thirty years he worked here, and for twenty of these years he had no bookkeeper, no clerk, no salesman, no agent. He was up at dawn and lighted the factory fires to be ready for the men who came to work at seven o'clock. At noon he drove to town and sold his product, and in the evening posted his books.
The glue business prospered greatly and Cooper began to be wealthy. Desiring to invest some of his wealth, about 1830 he began to smelt iron at Canton, a little town near Baltimore; he was the first to apply anthracite coal to puddling. In 1845 he moved his smelting business to Trenton and erected a rolling
mill there. Here was initiated the use of iron beams for fireproof buildings. The directors of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad were looking for some one to design for them a steam engine that would run on the many curves of the road. They applied to Mr. Cooper, and in 1830 he designed and built the first locomotive ever made in America. He was his own engineer, and personally directed the building of the engine. At the trial of the engine, a horsedrawn vehicle tried to outstrip it, and the engine won.
Many inventions occupied the agile mind of Mr. Cooper. He invented a machine to rock his baby and at the same time keep away the flies; another to move boats by utilizing the rise and fall of the tide; and one to shear the nap of cloth. He began the study of the science of aviation, but was severely injured by an explosion of gas. This experience took away all desire for further investigations along this line. When the question of a cable across the Atlantic was discussed, he helped to finance the company which laid the first successful one.
His greatest work was the foundation of Cooper Institute in New York City in 1854. Its object was to provide free schools of art and science, free reading-rooms, and a library for those who work. To-day it has both day and night schools, and has aided thousands to gain an education in the arts and sciences.
He was unfailing in industry, simple in habits, truthful and just in his dealings. He believed that the rich are but trustees of their wealth for the good of their fellow-men, and he used his great wealth with this idea in mind. He was beloved by all classes of citizens. The roughest cartman or the most reckless cab-driver would draw up his horses and wait without a word of impatience if it was Peter Cooper's quaint old gig that blocked the way. Somebody said of him, “He is like sunshine on a dark day, lighting up thousands of faces. Those who meet him look as if they thought, 'It cannot be so bad a world, since Peter Cooper lives in it.””
Edgar W. Ames (ADAPTED).
This is not a better sketch than the two preceding but it is longer and, being written after Cooper's death, will serve as a better model for biography in general.
How to Write Biographical Sketches.
Let us study the last sketch for a little while as a sort of pattern by which we may write brief biographical sketches :
(1) The writer had a plan, and no biography or autobiography can be well written that is not planned in advance. The paragraph topics are: first, “The Secret of Cooper's Success”; second, “From Birth through Apprenticeship”; third, “In Business for Himself"; fourth, "Maker of Glue": fifth, “In the Iron Business"; sixth, “Other Interests” ; seventh, "Founder of Cooper Institute"; eighth, “General Characteristics."
(2) The writer begins with something that interests us at once in Cooper. It might have been an anecdote, an incident, something said about Cooper by a friend or enemy; it happens to be something that Cooper said about himself, something that goes to the very heart of his life and character. Our attention is arrested at once and, though we may never have heard of Cooper before, we want to know something more about him. A good beginning in any kind of composition is half the battle. “Of a good beginning,” said an old poet, “cometh a good end."
(3) Now come in order the facts in Cooper's life, and these fill up all the remaining paragraphs except the last. Of course hundreds of facts are omitted, but those given are important. Without them the sketch would be more fragmentary than it is. The aim of this part of a biography is to record only the essential facts and to record them accurately, interestingly, and in the order of their occurrence.
(4) The conclusion, or last paragraph, is the most important of all. It interprets the facts; it sums up the whole; it is the most biographical part of a biography; it is the part to which all the other parts have been leading.
1. What two chief uses has biography?
2. What characteristics of Lincoln appear in his autobiographical sketch ?
3. How does the second sketch differ from Lincoln's ? 4. How does the third sketch differ from the other two?
5. What four principles are suggested for the writing of biographical sketches ?
Choose one of these two exercises :
(1) Write a sketch of yourself, using the following paragraph topics:
(a) Birth and early associations to the age of 12.
(2) Sketch the life of some relative or acquaintance who, like Mr. Pendexter,
"Among the tasks of real life, hath wrought