One of the most striking examples is William Cobbett, the author of the famous “Advice to Young Men.” He has told us how he taught himself English grammar. “I learned grammar”, he said, “when I was a private soldier on the pay of six-pence a day. The edge of may berth, or that of my guard-bed, was my seat to study in; my knapsack was my book-case; a bit of board lying on my lap was my writing-table; and the task did not demand anything like a year of my life to buy a pen or a sheet of paper. I was compelled to forego some portion of food, though in a state of semi-starvation; I had no moment of time I could call my own; and I had to read and write amidst the talking, laughing, singing, whistling, and brawling of at least half-a-score of the most thoughtless of men, and that, too, in the hours of their freedom from all control.
If I, under such circumstances accomplished this undertaking, what excuse can there be for any youth, however poor, however possessed with business, or however circumstanced as to room or other conveniences?” John Leyden, who became a great scholar in languages and a poet, in the 18th century, was the son of a poor shepherd in the Highlands of Scotland. When he was a poor barefooted boy, he used to walk eight miles across the moors everyday to learn to read at a little village school. Eventually, in spite of his poverty, he became a student in the college in Edinburgh; but he was so poor that he could not afford to buy any books, and did all his reading in the shop of a friendly bookseller. Another example is Alexander Murray, who became Professor of Oriental Languages in the Edinburgh University.
He also was the son of a poor Scotch shepherd, who had only one book in his house; yet Alexander, who had no schooling, taught himself to write by scribbling his letters on an old wool-card with the end of a burnt stick. Many other instances might be given to illustrate the proverb, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way”. Such examples should put to shame boys and men who neglect the excellent opportunities provided for them of getting learning in good schools and colleges; and should encourage and stimulate those who have few such advantages to persevere in educating themselves.