A shoemaker's tale

"We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars." -- Oscar Wilde

In David McCullough's popular and detailed biography of John Adams, the second U.S. president, the writer includes a little anecdote that highlights the value of taking a positive approach to life, no matter what one's circumstances.

During a particularly difficult time in his life, after he lost the presidency, Adams, writing to a friend, said he wished he had become a shoemaker. Adams's father, a man he deeply respected, had been a shoemaker. Another close friend had also been a shoemaker. McCullough tells the story of how Adams remembered walking around Boston on his rounds as a young lawyer. He often heard a man singing behind the door of an obscure house. The man apparently had a wonderful voice. Adams decided to find out more.

"One day, curious to know who 'this cheerful mortal' might be, he had knocked at the door, to find a poor shoemaker with a large family living in a single room. Did he find it hard getting by, Adams had asked. 'Sometimes,' the man said. Adams ordered a pair of shoes. 'I had scarcely got out the door before he began to sing again like a nightingale,' Adams remembered. 'Which was the greatest philosopher? Epictetus or this shoemaker?' he would ask when telling this story."

"Epictetus, the Greek Stoic philosopher, had said, among other things, 'It is difficulties that show what men are.' "

(From McCullough, David. John Adams. Simon and Schuster (paperback), New York, N.Y., 2001. Pages 570-571.)


If you'd like to read a review of the book John Adams, here's one from the New York Times: "Plain Speaking."

David McCullough has won two Pulitzer prizes for biography. You can learn more about him here.

Photo courtesy of Miguel Ugalde, through www.sxc.hu.

(Check out the blog archive for other posts)

No comments:

Post a Comment