From: How To Succeed
In all matters, before beginning, a diligent preparation should
How great soever a genius may be, ... certain it is that he
will never shine in his full lustre, nor shed the full
influence he is capable of, unless to his own experience he
adds that of other men and other ages.
It is for want of the little that human means must add to the
wonderful capacity for improvement, born in man, that by far
the greatest part of the intellect, innate in our race,
perishes undeveloped and unknown.
If any man fancies that there is some easier way of gaining a
dollar than by squarely earning it, he has lost his clue to his
way through this mortal labyrinth and must henceforth wander as
chance may dictate.
What we do upon some great occasion will probably depend on
what we already are; and what we are will be the result of
previous years of self-discipline.
--H. P. LIDDON.
Learn to labor and to wait.
"What avails all this sturdiness?" asked an oak tree which had grown
solitary for two hundred years, bitterly handled by frosts and wrestled
by winds. "Why am I to stand here useless? My roots are anchored in
rifts of rocks; no herds can lie down under my shadow; I am far above
singing birds, that seldom come to rest among my leaves; I am set as a
mark for storms, that bend and tear me; my fruit is serviceable for no
appetite; it had been better for me to have been a mushroom, gathered in
the morning for some poor man's table, than to be a hundred-year oak,
good for nothing."
While it yet spoke, the axe was hewing at its base. It died in sadness,
saying as it fell, "Weary ages for nothing have I lived."
The axe completed its work. By and by the trunk and root form the knees
of a stately ship, bearing the country's flag around the world. Other
parts form keel and ribs of merchantmen, and having defied the mountain
storms, they now equally resist the thunder of the waves and the murky
threat of scowling hurricanes. Other parts are laid into floors, or
wrought into wainscoting, or carved for frames of noble pictures, or
fashioned into chairs that embosom the weakness of old age. Thus the
tree, in dying, came not to its end, but to its beginning of life. It
voyaged the world. It grew to parts of temples and dwellings. It held
upon its surface the soft tread of children and the tottering steps of
patriarchs. It rocked in the cradle. It swayed the limbs of age by the
chimney corner, and heard, secure within, the roar of those old,
unwearied tempests that once surged about its mountain life. All its
early struggles and hardships had enabled it to grow tough and hard and
beautiful of grain, alike useful and ornamental.
"Sir, you have been to college, I presume?" asked an illiterate but
boastful exhorter of a clergyman. "Yes, sir," was the reply. "I am
thankful," said the former, "that the Lord opened my mouth without any
learning." "A similar event," retorted the clergyman, "happened in
Why not allow the schoolboy to erase from his list of studies all
subjects that appear to him useless? Would he not erase every thing
which taxed his pleasure and freedom? Would he not obey the call of his
blood, rather than the advice of his teacher? Ignorant men who have made
money tell him that the study of geography is useless; his tea will come
over the sea to him whether he knows where China is or not; what
difference does it make whether verbs agree with their subjects or not?
Why waste time learning geometry or algebra? Who keeps accounts by
these? Learning spoils a man for business, they tell him; they begrudge
the time and money spent in education. They want cheap and rapid transit
through college for their children. Veneer will answer every practical
purpose for them, instead of solid mahogany, or even paint and pine will
It is said that the editors of the Dictionary of American Biography
who diligently searched the records of living and dead Americans, found
15,142 names worthy of a place in their six volumes of annals of
successful men, and 5326, or more than one-third of them, were
college-educated men. One in forty of the college educated attained a
success worthy of mention, and but one in 10,000 of those not so
educated; so that the college-bred man had two hundred and fifty times
the chances for success that others had. Medical records, it is said,
show that but five per cent. of the practicing physicians of the United
States are college graduates; and yet forty-six per cent. of the
physicians who became locally famous enough to be mentioned by those
editors came from that small five per cent. of college educated persons.
Less than four per cent. of the lawyers were college-bred, yet they
furnished more than one-half of all who became successful. Not one per
cent. of the business men of the country were college educated, yet that
small fraction of college-bred men had seventeen times the chances of
success that their fellow men of business had. In brief, the
college-educated lawyer has fifty per cent. more chances for success
than those not so favored; the college-educated physician, forty-six per
cent. more; the author, thirty-seven per cent. more; the statesman,
thirty-three per cent.; the clergyman, fifty-eight per cent.; the
educator, sixty-one per cent.; the scientist, sixty-three per cent. You
should therefore get the best and most complete education that it is
possible for you to obtain.
Knowledge, then, is one of the secret keys which unlock the hidden
mysteries of a successful life.
"I do not remember," said Beecher, "a book in all the depths of
learning, nor a scrap in literature, nor a work in all the schools of
art, from which its author has derived a permanent renown, that is not
known to have been long and patiently elaborated."
"You are a fool to stick so close to your work all the time," said one
of Vanderbilt's young friends; "we are having our fun while we are
young, for when will we if not now?" But Cornelius was either earning
more money by working overtime, or saving what he had earned, or at home
asleep, recruiting for the next day's labor and preparing for a large
harvest later. Like all successful men, he made finance a study. When he
entered the railroad business, it was estimated that his fortune was
thirty-five or forty million dollars.
"The spruce young spark," says Sizer, "who thinks chiefly of his
mustache and boots and shiny hat, of getting along nicely and easily
during the day, and talking about the theatre, the opera, or a fast
horse, ridiculing the faithful young fellow who came to learn the
business and make a man of himself, because he will not join in wasting
his time in dissipation, will see the day, if his useless life is not
earlier blasted by vicious indulgences, when he will be glad to accept a
situation from his fellow-clerk whom he now ridicules and affects to
despise, when the latter shall stand in the firm, dispensing benefits
and acquiring fortune."
"When a man has done his work," says Ruskin, "and nothing can any way be
materially altered in his fate, let him forget his toil, and jest with
his fate if he will; but what excuse can you find for willfulness of
thought at the very time when every crisis of fortune hangs on your
decisions? A youth thoughtless, when all the happiness of his home
forever depends on the chances or the passions of the hour! A youth
thoughtless, when the career of all his days depends on the opportunity
of a moment! A youth thoughtless, when his every action is a
foundation-stone of future conduct, and every imagination a foundation
of life or death! Be thoughtless in any after years, rather than
now--though, indeed, there is only one place where a man may be nobly
thoughtless, his deathbed. Nothing should ever be left to be done
"On to Berlin," was the shout of the French army in July, 1870; but, to
the astonishment of the world, the French forces were cut in two and
rolled as by a tidal wave into Metz and around Sedan. Soon two French
armies and the Emperor surrendered, and German troopers paraded the
streets of captured Paris.
But as men thought it out, as Professor Wells tells us, they came to see
that it was not France that was beaten, but only Louis Napoleon and a
lot of nobles, influential only because they bore titles or were
favorites. Louis Napoleon, the feeble bearer of a great name, was
emperor because of that name and criminal daring. By a series of happy
accidents he had gained credit in the Crimean War, and at Magenta and
Solferino. But the unmasking time came in the Franco-Prussian War, as it
always comes when sham, artificial toy-men meet genuine self-made men.
And such were the German leaders,--William, strong, upright, warlike,
"every inch a king;" Von Roon, Minister of War, a master of
administrative detail; Bismarck, the master mind of European politics;
and, above all, Von Moltke, chief of staff, who hurled armies by
telegraph, as he sat at his cabinet, as easily as a master moves
chessmen against a stupid opponent.
Said Captain Bingham: "You can have no idea of the wonderful machine
that the German army is and how well it is prepared for war. A chart is
made out which shows just what must be done in the case of wars with
the different nations. And every officer's place in the scheme is laid
out beforehand. There is a schedule of trains which will supersede all
other schedules the moment war is declared, and this is so arranged that
the commander of the army here could telegraph to any officer to take
such a train and go to such a place at a moment's notice. When the
Franco-Prussian War was declared, Von Moltke was awakened at midnight
and told of the fact. He said coolly to the official who aroused him,
'Go to pigeonhole No. ---- in my safe and take a paper from it and
telegraph as there directed to the different troops of the empire.' He
then turned over and went to sleep and awoke at his usual hour in the
morning. Every one else in Berlin was excited about the war, but Von
Moltke took his morning walk as usual, and a friend who met him said,
'General, you seem to be taking it very easy. Aren't you afraid of the
situation? I should think you would be busy.' 'Ah,' replied Von Moltke,
'all of my work for this time has been done long beforehand, and
everything that can be done now has been done.'"
"A rare man this Von Moltke!" exclaims Professor Wells; "one who made
himself ready for his opportunities beyond all men known to the modern
world. Of an impoverished family, he rose very slowly and by his own
merit. He yielded to no temptation, vice, or dishonesty, of course, nor
to the greater and ever present temptation to idleness, for he
constantly worked to the limit of human endurance. He was ready for
every emergency, not by accident, but because he made himself ready by
painstaking labor, before the opportunity came. His favorite motto was,
'_Help yourself and others will help you_.' Hundreds of his age in the
Prussian army were of nobler birth, thousands of greater fortune, but he
made himself superior to them all by extraordinary fidelity and
"The greatest master of strategy the world has ever seen was sixty-six
years at school to himself before he was ready for his task. Though born
with the century, and an army officer at nineteen, he was an old man
when, in 1866, as Prussian chief of staff, he crushed Austria at Sadowa
and drove her out of Germany. Four years later the silent, modest
soldier of seventy, ready for the still greater opportunity, smote
France, and changed the map of Europe. Glory and the field-marshal's
baton, after fifty-one years of hard work! No wonder Louis Napoleon was
beaten by such men as he. All Louis Napoleons have been, and always will
be. Opportunity always finds out frauds. It does not make men, but shows
the world what they have made of themselves."
Sir Henry Havelock joined the army of India in his twenty-eighth year,
and waited till he was sixty-two for the opportunity to show himself
fitted to command and skillful to plan. During those four and thirty
years of waiting, he was busy preparing himself for that march to
Lucknow which was to make him famous as a soldier.
"The viking of our western clime
Who made his mast a throne,"
began his naval career as a mere boy, and was sixty-four years old
before he had an opportunity to distinguish himself; but when the great
test of his life came, the reserve of half a century's preparation made
him master of the situation.
Alexander Hamilton said, "Men give me credit for genius. All the genius
I have lies just in this: when I have a subject in hand I study it
profoundly. Day and night it is before me. I explore it in all its
bearings. My mind becomes pervaded with it. Then the effort which I make
the people are pleased to call the fruit of genius; it is the fruit of
labor and thought." The law of labor is equally binding on genius and
"Fill up the cask! fill up the cask!" said old Dr. Bellamy when asked by
a young clergyman for advice about the composition of sermons. "Fill up
the cask! and then if you tap it anywhere you will get a good stream.
But if you put in but little, it will dribble, dribble, dribble, and
you must tap, tap, tap, and then you get but a small stream, after all."
"The merchant is in a dangerous position," says Dr. W. W. Patton, "whose
means are in goods trusted out all over the country on long credits, and
who in an emergency has no money in the bank upon which to draw. A heavy
deposit, subject to a sight-draft, is the only position of strength. And
he only is intellectually strong, who has made heavy deposits in the
bank of memory, and can draw upon his faculties at any time, according
to the necessities of the case."
They say that more life, if not more labor, was spent on the piles
beneath the St. Petersburg church of St. Isaac's, to get a foundation,
than on all the magnificent marbles and malachite which have since been
lodged in it.
Fifty feet of Bunker Hill Monument is under ground, unseen, and
unappreciated by the thousands who tread about that historic shaft. The
rivers of India run under ground, unseen, unheard, by the millions who
tramp above, but are they therefore lost? Ask the golden harvest waving
above them if it feels the water flowing beneath? The superstructure of
a lifetime cannot stand upon the foundation of a day.
C. H. Parkhurst says that in manhood, as much as in house-building, the
foundation keeps asserting itself all the way from the first floor to
the roof. The stones laid in the underpinning may be coarse and
inelegant, but, even so, each such stone perpetuates itself in silent
echo clear up through to the finial. The body is in that respect like an
old Stradivarius violin, the ineffable sweetness of whose music is
outcome and quotation from the coarse fibre of the case upon which its
strings are strung. It is a very pleasant delusion that what we call the
higher qualities and energies of a person maintain that self-centered
kind of existence that enables them to discard and contemn all
dependence upon what is lower and less refined than themselves, but it
is a delusion that always wilts in an atmosphere of fact. Climb high as
we like our ladder will still require to rest on the ground; and it is
probable that the keenest intellectual intuition, and the most delicate
throb of passion would, if analysis could be carried so far, be
discovered to have its connections with the rather material affair that
we know as the body.
Lincoln took the postmastership for the sake of reading all the papers
that came to town. He read everything he could lay his hands on; the
Bible, Shakespeare, Pilgrim's Progress, Life of Washington and Life of
Franklin, Life of Henry Clay, AEsop's Fables; he read them over and over
again until he could almost repeat them by heart; but he never read a
novel in his life. His education came from the newspapers and from his
contact with men and things. After he read a book he would write out an
analysis of it. What a grand sight to see this long, lank, backwoods
student, lying before the fire in a log cabin without floor or windows,
after everybody else was abed, devouring books he had borrowed but could
not afford to buy!
"I have been watching the careers of young men by the thousand in this
busy city of New York for over thirty years," said Dr. Cuyler, "and I
find that the chief difference between the successful and the failures
lies in the single element of staying power. Permanent success is
oftener won by holding on than by sudden dash, however brilliant. The
easily discouraged, who are pushed back by a straw, are all the time
dropping to the rear--to perish or to be carried along on the stretcher
of charity. They who understand and practice Abraham Lincoln's homely
maxim of 'pegging away' have achieved the solidest success."
It is better to deserve success than to merely have it; few deserve it
who do not attain it. There is no failure in this country for those
whose personal habits are good, and who follow some honest calling
industriously, unselfishly, and purely. If one desires to succeed, he
must pay the price, work.
No matter how weak a power may be, rational use will make it stronger.
No matter how awkward your movements may be, how obtuse your senses, or
how crude your thought, or how unregulated your desires, you may by
patient discipline acquire, slowly indeed but with infallible certainty,
grace and freedom of action, clearness and acuteness of perception,
strength and precision of thought, and moderation of desire.
It would go very far to destroy the absurd and pernicious association of
genius and idleness, to show that the greatest poets, orators,
statesmen, and historians--men of the most imposing and brilliant
talents--have actually labored as hard as the makers of dictionaries and
arrangers of indexes; and the most obvious reason why they have been
superior to other men, is, that they have taken more pains.
Even the great genius, Lord Bacon, left large quantities of material
entitled "Sudden thoughts set down for use." John Foster was an
indefatigable worker. "He used to hack, split, twist, and pull up by the
roots, or practice any other severity on whatever did not please him."
Chalmers was asked in London what Foster was doing. "Hard at it" he
said, "at the rate of a line a week."
When a young lawyer, Daniel Webster once looked in vain through all the
libraries near him, and then ordered at an expense of $50 the necessary
books, to obtain authorities and precedents in a case in which his
client was a poor blacksmith. He won his case, but, on account of the
poverty of his client, only charged $15, thus losing heavily on the
books bought, to say nothing of his time. Years after, as he was passing
through New York city, he was consulted by Aaron Burr on an important
but puzzling case then pending before the Supreme Court. Webster saw in
a moment that it was just like the blacksmith's case, an intricate
question of title, which he had solved so thoroughly that it was to him
simple as the multiplication table. Going back to the time of Charles
II., he gave the law and precedents involved with such readiness and
accuracy of sequence that Burr asked, in great surprise: "Mr. Webster,
have you been consulted before in this case?"
"Most certainly not. I never heard of your case till this evening."
"Very well," said Burr, "proceed." And when he had finished, Webster
received a fee that paid him liberally for all the time and trouble he
had spent for his early client.
What the age wants is men who have the nerve and the grit to work and
wait, whether the world applaud or hiss. It wants a Bancroft, who can
spend twenty-six years on the "History of the United States;" a Noah
Webster, who can devote thirty-six years to a dictionary; a Gibbon, who
can plod for twenty years on the "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire;"
a Mirabeau, who can struggle on for forty years before he has a chance
to show his vast reserve, destined to shake an empire; a Farragut, a Von
Moltke, who have the persistence to work and wait for half a century for
their first great opportunities; a Garfield, burning his lamp fifteen
minutes later than a rival student in his academy; a Grant, fighting on
in heroic silence, when denounced by his brother generals and
politicians everywhere; a Field's untiring perseverance, spending years
and a fortune laying a cable when all the world called him a fool; a
Michael Angelo, working seven long years decorating the Sistine Chapel
with his matchless "Creation" and the "Last Judgment," refusing all
remuneration therefor, lest his pencil might catch the taint of avarice;
a Titian, spending seven years on the "Last Supper;" a Stephenson,
working fifteen years on a locomotive; a Watt, twenty years on a
condensing engine; a Lady Franklin, working incessantly for twelve long
years to rescue her husband from the polar seas; a Thurlow Weed, walking
two miles through the snow with rags tied around his feet for shoes, to
borrow the history of the French Revolution, and eagerly devouring it
before the sap-bush fire; a Milton, elaborating "Paradise Lost" in a
world he could not see, and then selling it for fifteen pounds; a
Thackeray, struggling on cheerfully after his "Vanity Fair" was refused
by a dozen publishers; a Balzac, toiling and waiting in a lonely garret,
whom neither poverty, debt, nor hunger could discourage or intimidate;
not daunted by privations, not hindered by discouragements. It wants men
who can work and wait.
That is done soon enough which is done well. Soon ripe, soon rotten. He
that would enjoy the fruit must not gather the flower. He who is
impatient to become his own master is more likely to become his own
slave. Better believe yourself a dunce and work away than a genius and
be idle. One year of trained thinking is worth more than a whole college
course of mental absorption of a vast series of undigested facts. The
facility with which the world swallows up the ordinary college graduate
who thought he was going to dazzle mankind should bid you pause and
reflect. But just as certainly as man was created not to crawl on all
fours in the depths of primeval forests, but to develop his mental and
moral faculties, just so certainly he needs education, and only by means
of it will he become what he ought to become,--man, in the highest
sense of the word. Ignorance is not simply the negation of knowledge,
it is the misdirection of the mind. "One step in knowledge," says
Bulwer, "is one step from sin; one step from sin is one step nearer to
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