From: The True Citizen How To Become One
(Category: The Youth
One to-day is worth two to-morrows.--Franklin
Whilst we are considering when we are to begin, it is often too late to
By the street of by and by one arrives at the house of never.--Cervantes
When a fool makes up his mind, the market has gone by.--Spanish Proverb
The individual who is habitually tardy in meeting an appointment, will
never be respected or successful in life.--W. Fisk
Promptness and punctuality are among the greatest blessings and comforts
of life. For lack of these qualities, some of the greatest men have
failed. Most men have abundant opportunities for promoting and securing
their own happiness. Time should be made the most of. Stray moments,
saved and improved, may yield many brilliant results. It is astonishing
how much can be done by using up the odds and ends of time in leisure
hours. We must be prompt to catch the minutes as they fly, and make them
yield the treasures they contain, or they will be lost to us forever.
"In youth the hours are golden, in mature years they are silvern, in old
age they are leaden." "The man who at twenty knows nothing, at thirty
does nothing, at forty has nothing." Yet the Italian proverb adds, "He
who knows nothing is confident in everything."
In the most ordinary affairs of life we must take heed of the value of
time, keep watch over it, and be punctual to others as well as to
ourselves; for without punctuality, men are kept in a perpetual state of
worry, trouble, and annoyance.
Webster was never late at a recitation in school or college. In court,
in congress, in society, he was equally punctual. So, amid the cares and
distractions of a singularly busy life, Horace Greeley managed to be on
time for every appointment. Many a trenchant paragraph for the _Tribune_
was written while the editor was waiting for men of leisure, tardy at
John Quincy Adams was never known to be behind time. The Speaker of the
House of Representatives knew when to call the House to order by seeing
Mr. Adams coming to his seat. On one occasion a member said that it was
time to begin. "No," said another, "Mr. Adams is not in his seat." It
was found that the clock was three minutes fast, and prompt to the
minute, Mr. Adams arrived.
Begin with promptness in little things. Be punctual at breakfast, even
if you are sleepy. Be punctual at school, even if you have errands to
do. Whatever you may have to do, think out the quickest way of doing it,
and do it at once. By and by the habit becomes a quality of mind and
action. Don't loiter about anything; it takes too much time.
We must be careful to remember that promptness is more than punctuality,
which is an outward habit, and a very necessary one, if people live
together. It is important also for one's own sake, even if he should be
a Robinson Crusoe without a man Friday.
Promptness has to do with thought. It begins in learning how to think
and reason. Behind it lies concentration, which first of all has made
one thoroughly understand a subject. Then comes the second point,--what
to do instantly in any given case; and the trained judgment ends in
instant, wise action. When a boy saves another who has fallen through
the ice, he unconsciously thought out long ago what to do when the
moment came for him to act. When a girl throws a rug over the dress of
her sister, which has caught fire, she knew long before what to do.
This knowing what to do, and doing it, is called presence of mind,
that is, having common sense all ready for use.
Promptness takes the drudgery out of an occupation. Putting off, usually
means leaving off; and "going to do" becomes "going undone." Doing a
deed is like sowing a seed; if not done at just the right time it will
be forever out of season. The summer of eternity will not be long enough
to bring to maturity the fruit of a delayed action.
Even in the old, slow days of stage-coaches, when it took a month of
dangerous travel to accomplish the distance we can now cover in a few
hours, unnecessary delay was a crime. One of the greatest gains
civilization has made, is in the measuring and utilizing of time. We
can do as much in an hour to-day as men could in twenty hours a hundred
years ago; and if it was a hanging affair then to lose a few minutes,
what should the penalty now be for a like offense?
One of the best things about school and college life is that the bell
which strikes the hour for rising, for recitations, or for lectures,
teaches habits of promptness. Every man should have a watch which is a
good timekeeper; one that is "nearly right" encourages bad habits, and
is an expensive investment at any price. Wear threadbare clothes, if you
must, but never carry an inaccurate watch.
Some people are always a little too late, or a little too early, in
everything they attempt. John B. Gough used to say "They have three
hands apiece,--a right hand, a left hand, and a little behindhand." As
boys, they were late at school, and unpunctual in their home duties.
That was the way the habit was acquired; and now, when a responsibility
claims them, they think that if they had only gone yesterday they would
have obtained the situation, or they can probably get one to-morrow.
Delays often have dangerous endings. Colonel Rahl, the Hessian commander
at Trenton, was playing cards when a messenger brought a letter stating
that Washington was crossing the Delaware. He put the letter in his
pocket without reading it, until the game was finished. He rallied his
men only to die just before his troops were taken prisoners. Only a few
minutes' delay, but it resulted in the loss of honor, liberty, and life.
Indecision becomes a disease, and procrastination is its forerunner.
There is only one known remedy for the victims of indecision, and that
is promptness. Otherwise the disease is fatal to all success or
achievement. He who hesitates is lost. General Putnam was plowing, with
his son Daniel, in eastern Connecticut, when the news of the battle of
Lexington reached him. "He loitered not," said Daniel, "but left me, the
driver of his team, to unyoke it in the furrow; and, not many days
after, to follow him to camp."
The man who would forge to the front in this competitive age must be a
man of prompt and determined decision. Like Cortes, he must burn his
ships behind him, and make retreat forever impossible. When he draws his
sword he must throw the scabbard away, lest in a moment of
discouragement and irresolution he be tempted to sheath it. He must nail
his colors to the mast, as Nelson did in battle, determined to sink with
his ship if he cannot conquer. Prompt decision and sublime audacity have
carried many a successful man over perilous crises where deliberation
would have been ruin.
Henry IV, king of France, was another leader of remarkable promptness.
His people said of him that "he wore out very little broadcloth, but a
great deal of boot-leather," for he was always going from one place to
another. In speaking of the Duc de Mayenne, Henry called him a great
captain, but added, "I always have five hours the start of him." Getting
ahead of time is as good a rule for boys and girls as for generals.
In our own country we have had generals who were especially noted for
their dispatch. You know the story of "Sheridan's Ride" in the
Shenandoah Valley. His men, thoroughly beaten for the moment, were
fleeing before the Southerners, when he suddenly appeared, promptly
decided to head them right about, and, by the inspiration of his
single presence, turned defeat into victory.
Sailors must be even more prompt than soldiers, for in danger at sea not
an instant can be lost. Not only must a sailor be prompt in action
against storm, but he must be prompt with his sails in squally weather;
he must be prompt with his helm when approaching land. Among the heroes
of the sea, Lord Nelson is conspicuous for his prompt and courageous
deeds. He had many faults; but England felt safe while he watched over
her maritime affairs; for he was always beforehand, and never allowed
himself to be surprised by misfortune.
It is so in the voyage of life. Incidents often occur which demand
instantaneous action on our part; and these are the events which usually
issue in failure or success. Prompt movement, at the right moment, is
more valuable than rubies; and its lack often leads to utter ruin.
Napoleon changed the art of war quite as much by his promptness as by
the concentration of his men in large masses. By his exceeding rapidity
of movement he was long able to protect France against the combined
powers of Europe. He was always quick to seize the advantages of an
emergency. Though he can never be considered as the type of a noble man,
he was an extraordinarily great man. Boys who like to read of battles,
and trace the maneuvers of a campaign, will find that his military
renown was largely due to his promptness.
Decision of purpose and rapidity of action enabled him to astonish the
world with his marvelous successes. He appeared to be everywhere at
once. What he could accomplish in a day, surprised all who knew him. He
seemed to electrify everybody about him. His invincible energy thrilled
the whole army. He could rouse to immediate and enthusiastic action the
dullest troops, and inspire with courage the most stupid men. He would
sit up all night, if necessary, after riding thirty or forty leagues,
to attend to correspondence, dispatches and details. What a lesson his
career affords to the shiftless and half-hearted!
There have been many times when a prompt decision, a rapid movement, an
energetic action, have changed the very face of history; and, on the
other hand, there have been many instances where the indecisions of
generals, or the procrastination of subordinates, has cost thousands of
precious lives, and the loss of millions of dollars worth of property.
Napoleon once invited his marshals to dine with him; but, as they did
not arrive at the moment appointed, he began to eat without them. They
came in just as he was rising from the table. "Gentlemen," said he, "it
is now past dinner, and we will immediately proceed to business."
He laid great stress upon that "supreme moment," that "nick of time,"
which occurs in every battle; to take advantage of which means victory,
and to lose in hesitation means disaster. He said that he beat the
Austrians because they did not know the value of five minutes; and it
has been said that, among the trifles that conspired to defeat him at
Waterloo, the loss of a few minutes by himself and Grouchy on that
fatal morning, was the most significant. Blucher was on time, and
Grouchy was late. That may seem a small matter, but it was enough to
bring Napoleon's career to a close, and to send him to St. Helena.
[Footnote: On Napoleon, see Seeley's "Short History of Napoleon I.";
Ropes's "The First Napoleon," and articles in the current