thumbnail of Some American worthies; John Ledyard, his trip to Siberia
Hide -
If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+
The following tape recorded program is a presentation of the National Association of educational broadcasters. The University of Chicago presents Robert E. Street a professor of English and some American worthies programs about curious and interesting figures in the American past. Today we hear about Al are you a Brit. I Learned Blacksmith magistrate in the beginnings of this country because of the nature of pioneer life. Most Successful men had to be able to work with their hands as well as with their heads. True even from the outset there were some men with special responsibilities in government. The church or law but by and large most Americans combined physical labor with intellectual effort as they went about the task of domesticating a wild continent. As the country became more thoroughly settled however and as the Industrial
Revolution proceeded on its course. All of this changed competitive business and industry encouraged specialization throughout the society. A class of white collar workers remote from contact with manual labor began to appear as early as the 1840s a good many Americans were worrying publicly about the separation of the educated classes from the experience of physical labored. With all this talk in the air about the union of labor and learning it is not surprising that many Americans a century ago were fascinated by the career of Ella Hugh Barrett the Learned Blacksmith of New Britain Connecticut a man who ran through the conjugations of verbs in Sanskrit or Hebrew or Ethiopian as he labored at his forge forward to New England's apostles of self-culture Elohim Bert was a particularly apt example of the truth that a man however umble his origin and however restricted
his formal education. It might do almost anything he wanted to in the way of developing his mind and his character. If he applied himself vigorously to the task. After all Bert while still a laboring man had learned dozens of languages and had taken an active part in the great reform movements of the day great men are made not born as Burke himself pointed out in his popular lecture application and genius. Byrd was born in New Britain in 1910 the son of a small farmer who also worked as a shoemaker during the winter months. His formal education was confined to what he could get in the village school. At the age of eighteen he apprenticed himself to a blacksmith in New Britain to keep his mind active as he worked the bellows for his master. He took up mental arithmetic working out in his head the answers to such problems as how many
barley corns at three to the end. Will it take to go around the earth at the equator. Or how many yards of cloth three feet in width cut into strips and inch wide and allowing half an inch at each end for the lap. Would it require to reach from the center of the sun to the center of the earth. And how much would it all cost of a shilling a yard. After some months of these mental acrobatics he turned from mathematics to languages he found he could pursue this new study conveniently by carrying a small Greek grammar in his hat and counting over the declensions while at work. Becoming interested in furthering his linguistic achievements Byrd finally decided to move to New Haven not to study at Yale College but merely to live in the atmosphere of a learned community. I hope though that his proximity to the college would somehow aid in his studies. Here is how Byrd himself in
some autobiographical notes written in the third person recalled his New Haven days. Being van that surely attended and also half ashamed to ask instruction in the rudiments of Greek and Hebrew at 22 years of age he determined to work his way without consulting any college professor or tutor. So the first morning in New Haven he sat down to Homer's Iliad without note or comment and with a Greek lexicon with Latin definitions. He had not as yet read a line in the book and he resolved if he could make out too by hard study through the whole day he would never ask help of any man thereafter in mastering the Greek language. By the middle of the afternoon he had won a victory which made him feel strong and proud and which greatly affected his subsequent life and pursuits. He mastered the first fifteen lines of the book and committed the originals to memory and walked out among the classic trees of the Elm
City and looked up at the colleges which once had half the audion with a kind of defiant feeling. He now divided the hours of each day between Greek and other languages including Latin French Spanish Italian German and Hebrew giving to Homer about half the time. After this victorious year of self-education in New Haven Barrett temporarily deserted the forge for a few years. He tried white collar work school teaching commercial travelling and store keeping but any prospects he might have had for success in these lines was swept aside by the severe commercial panic of 1837. After the crash which cost him his store he returned to the only life of blacksmithing in studying his journal entries for a week in June 1830 Seven get a fair idea of the energy with which he combined mental and physical labor. Monday June 18 headache
40 pages could be A's theory of the earth 64 pages French 11 hours forging June nineteen sixty lines Hebrew 30 pages French 10 pages could be a theory eight lines Syriac 10 lines Danish 10 Ditto Bohemian nine ditto of poorly 15 names of stars 10 hours forging June 20 25 lines Hebrew 8 of Syriac 11 hours 14. June 21 55 lines Hebrew 8 of Syriac 11 hours foraging June 22. Here he notes he was unwell so all he did was 12 hours foraging. June 23. Lesson for a Bible class. Some of birds inquiries into out-of-the-way languages were made
possible by the fact that he had settled in Worcester Massachusetts where he had access to the fine library of the American at Aquarion society. In this library for instance he found a Kelto Bridge time and dictionary and grammar to which he applied himself with great interest. Without knowing where in the dictionary to look for the words he needed his biographer writes. He set himself to writing a letter in that unique language to the Royal Antiquarian Society of France thanking them for the means of becoming acquainted with the original tongue of Brittany. In the course of a few months a large body M bearing the seal of that society was delivered to him at the end of all. It contained his letter in calico Britain together with an introduction by a French scholar testifying to its correctness of composition. You know a bit of ladybirds accomplishments began to be noised about in New England Edward Everett the governor of Massachusetts praised his intellectual exploits in a speech
to the working man of Taunton and soon Byrd who was widely known as the Learned Blacksmith. He found himself taken up by the rich the well-born and the educated. When Longfellow invited him to come to Harvard for a further study Berndt replied rather wistfully. There is one thing though. May I bring my hammer with me. Must I sink that all together. This was the heyday of the lysine in the American community lecture series and bird found himself deluged with offers to speak on the Lyceum platform and because of his sympathy with such reforms as the peace movement and the anti-slavery cause burn it became increasingly active as Merle Kirby's biography makes clear in the discussion of the great social questions of the day. Even among the reformers However Byrd did not lose his hard headed artisan's view of the realities. In February
1843 he was taken to Northampton Massachusetts to visit what he called a kind of transcendental community a loosely socialistic experiment of a sort then springing up throughout America. In appraising the venture Barrett looked at the carpentry as well as the theory here. All distinctions of rank and occupation are to be abolished he noted. All are to be alternately teachers preachers and artisans with no practicable ideas of business or mechanical art. They are going to compete with shrewd individual genius and enterprise. The apartments I visited were cold comfortless and untidy. Accomplished ladies who had left good homes and the luxuries of refined life were here surrounded by their half abandoned children trying to learn the trade of some factory operative in a room roughly and thinly partitioned off with one planed upright
boards whose open joints were concealed in the inner side by coarse paper pasted over them. This is the drawing room library dressing and working room with all the respective provisions for such a character scattered around in slattern pro fusion and negligence. Even though Byrd was now free from the necessity of laboring 10 hours a day at the Forge he discovered that the lecture circuit itself was not all beer and skittles. After lecturing in Gardiner Maine he noted ironically in his journal my efforts at Gardner were rewarded with a corresponding liberality for making a journey of two hundred miles for the especial purpose of addressing their state convention and the effort itself. They generously gave me ten dollars besides unanimously voting that I should give them a copy of my address thus dispossessing me of a production which was the result of two months later and again in Northampton for a speaking engagement. He found that the weather was
cold the wind was high and walking slippery. I did not expect many many persons and my expectations were disappointed on the wrong side. Only about fifteen persons came in too few to address in a formal lecture so I just talked with them about half an hour in the scheme of compensated emancipation of the slaves. One or two made a few remarks but I had the conversation to myself last year about $7 and all. Even after he had become a celebrity and he had turned entirely from the anvil to the lecture platform Byrd continued to regard himself as the working man's representative in the field of public affairs. Accordingly many of his arguments for world peace or against slavery were addressed to the interests of labor. He attacked slavery for instance primarily on the grounds that the existence of the South's peculiar institution served to lower the value of free labor. As Burke put it slavery is to be the
baseline on which the economist is to plant one foot at his compasses and with the other step off a thin parallel on which free men work for sixpence a day and live on raw turnips or a handful of rice. Also Byrd devoted much of his energy to specific reforms which would be of particular benefit to working men. One such reform was because of ocean penny postage which would make it possible for ordinary folk to communicate easily and cheaply across the Atlantic and thus he argued lessen the chances of war. Another similar reform was what he called an assisted integration. Byrd had been shocked by the fact that poor people wishing to emigrate from Europe to America were pretty much at the mercy of unscrupulous immigration agents and ship owners. Consequently Byrd fought for government assistance or at least some sort of official advice for those planning to emigrate.
Some American worthies
John Ledyard, his trip to Siberia
Producing Organization
University of Chicago
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-dr2p9h21).
A profile of 18th century American explorer and adventurer John Ledyard and his trip to Siberia.
Profiles of curious figures in the American past, based on diaries, journals and other books of personal record. The speaker is Robert E. Streeter, a professor of English at the University of Chicago.
Adventure and adventurers--United States--Biography.
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Producing Organization: University of Chicago
Speaker: Streeter, Robert E.
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 55-11-4 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:14:12
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Some American worthies; John Ledyard, his trip to Siberia,” 1955-04-24, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 23, 2021,
MLA: “Some American worthies; John Ledyard, his trip to Siberia.” 1955-04-24. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 23, 2021. <>.
APA: Some American worthies; John Ledyard, his trip to Siberia. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from