From: The True Citizen How To Become One
(Category: The Youth
Our remedies oft in ourselves do lie, which we ascribe to Heaven.
Be sure, my son, and remember that the best men always make themselves.
God gives every bird its food, but he does not throw it into the nest.
--J. G. Holland
Every person has two educations, one which he receives from others, and
one, more important, which he gives himself.--Gibbon
In battle or business, whatever the game,
In law, or in love it is ever the same:
In the struggle for power, or the scramble for pelf,
Let this be your motto, "Rely on yourself."--J. G. Saxe
History and biography unite in teaching that circumstances have rarely
favored great men. They have fought their way to triumph over the road
of difficulty and through all sorts of opposition. Boys of lowly origin
have made many of the greatest discoveries, are presidents of our banks,
of our colleges, of our universities. Our poor boys and girls have
written many of our greatest books, and have filled the highest places
as teachers and journalists. Ask almost any great man in our large
cities where he was born, and he will tell you it was on a farm or in a
small country village. Nearly all the great capitalists of the city came
from the country.
Frederick Douglass, America's most representative colored man, was born
a slave, reared in bondage, liberated by his own exertions, educated and
advanced by sheer pluck and perseverance, to distinguished positions in
the service of his country, and to a high place in the respect and
esteem of the whole world.
Chauncey Jerome, the inventor of machine-made clocks, started with
twoothers on a tour through New Jersey, they to sell the clocks, and he
to make cases for them. On his way to New York he went through New
Haven, Connecticut, in a lumber wagon, eating bread and cheese. He
afterward lived in a fine mansion in that city, and stood very high
among its people.
Men who have been bolstered up all their lives are seldom good for
anything in a crisis. When misfortune comes, they look around for
somebody to lean upon. If the prop is not there down they go. Once
down, they are helpless as capsized turtles. Many a boy has succeeded
beyond all his expectations simply because all props were knocked out
from under him and he was obliged to stand upon his own feet. "Poverty
is uncomfortable, as I can testify," said James A. Garfield; "but nine
times out of ten the best thing that can happen to a young man is to be
tossed overboard and compelled to sink or swim for himself. In all my
acquaintance I have never known a man to be drowned who was worth the
What is put into the first of life is put into the whole of life. The
great London preacher, Mr. Spurgeon, once said "Out of a church of
twenty-seven hundred members, I have never had to exclude a single one
who was received while a child;" and in other respects it is equally
true that our earliest impressions and habits most powerfully influence
our later life.
Washington, at thirteen, copied into his commonplace book one hundred
and ten maxims of civility and good behavior, and was most careful in
the formation of all his habits. Franklin, too, devised a plan of
self-improvement and character-building. No doubt the noble characters
of these two men, almost superhuman in their excellence, are the natural
result of their early care and earnest striving toward perfection.
But the opposite truth needs to be quite as fully considered. "Many men
of genius have written worse scrawls than I do," said a boy at Eugby,
when his teacher remonstrated with him for his bad penmanship; "it is
not worth while to worry about so trivial a fault." Ten years later,
when he had become an officer in the Crimea, his illegible copy of an
order caused the loss of many brave men.
The insidious growth of the power of habit is well illustrated by the
old fable which says that one of the Fates spun filaments so fine that
they were invisible, and then became a victim of her own cunning; for
she was bound to the spot by these very threads.
There is also a story of a Grecian flute-player who charged double fees
for pupils who had been taught by inferior masters, on the ground that
it was much harder to undo bad habits than to form good ones.
"Conduct," says Matthew Arnold, "is three fourths of life;" but conduct
has its source in character. Right conduct in life is to be secured by
the formation of right character in youth. The prime element in
character, as related to conduct, is the power of self-directions and
hence the supreme aim of school discipline is to prepare the young to
be self-governing men and women.
An easy and luxurious existence does not train men to effort or
encounter with difficulty; nor does it awaken that consciousness of
power which is so necessary for energetic and effective action in life.
Indeed, so far from poverty being a misfortune, it may, by vigorous
self-help, be converted into a blessing.
A young man stood listlessly watching some anglers on a bridge. He was
poor and dejected. At length, approaching a basket filled with fish, he
sighed, "If now I had these I would be happy. I could sell them and buy
food and lodging." "I will give you just as many and just as good," said
the owner, who chanced to overhear his words, "if you will do me a
trifling favor." "And what is that?" asked the other. "Only to tend this
line till I come back; I wish to go on a short errand." The proposal was
gladly accepted. The old man was gone so long that the young man began
to get impatient. Meanwhile the fish snapped greedily at the hook, and
he lost all his depression in the excitement of pulling them in. When
the owner returned he had caught a large number. Counting out from them
as many as were in the basket, and presenting them to the youth, the old
fisherman said, "I fulfill my promise from the fish you have caught, to
teach you whenever you see others earning what you need, to waste no
time in foolish wishing, but cast a line for yourself."
After a stained-glass window had been constructed for a great European
cathedral, an artist picked up the discarded fragments and made one of
the most exquisite windows in Europe for another cathedral. So one boy
will pick up a splendid education out of the odds and ends of time
which others carelessly throw away, or he will gain a fortune by saving
what others waste.
There is an English fable that is worthy of special attention. The story
is as follows:
Some larks had a nest in a field of grain. One evening the old larks
coming home found the young ones in great terror. "We must leave our
nest at once," they cried. Then they related how they had heard the
farmer say that he must get his neighbors to come the next day and help
him reap his field. "Oh!" cried the old birds, "if that is all, we may
rest quietly in our nest." The next evening the young birds were found
again in a state of terror. The farmer, it seems, was very angry because
his neighbors had not come, and had said that he should get his
relatives to come the next day and help him. The old birds took the news
easily, and said there was nothing to fear yet. The next evening the
young birds were quite cheerful. "Have you heard nothing to-day?" asked
the old ones. "Nothing important," answered the young. "It is only that
the farmer was angry because his relatives also failed him, and he said
to his sons, 'Since neither our neighbors nor our relations will help
us, we must take hold to-morrow and do it ourselves!'" The old birds
were excited this time. They said, "We must leave our nest to-night.
When a man decides to do a thing for himself, and to do
it at once, you may be pretty sure that it will be done."
If you have anything to do, do it yourself; for that is both the surest
and the safest way to permanent success.
We present by way of special illustration, a few incidents from
thecareer of Stephen Girard.
A sloop was seen one morning off the mouth of Delaware Bay, floating the
flag of France and a signal of distress. Girard, then quite a young man,
was captain of this sloop, and was on his way to a Canadian port with
freight from New Orleans. An American skipper, seeing his distress, went
to his aid, but told him the American war had broken out, and that the
British cruisers were all along the American coast, and would seize his
vessel. He told him his only chance was to make a push for Philadelphia.
Girard did not know the way, and was short of money. The skipper loaned
him five dollars to get the service of a pilot who demanded his money
in advance; and his sloop passed into the Delaware just in time to
avoid capture by a British war vessel. He sold the sloop and cargo in
Philadelphia, and began business on the capital. Being a foreigner,
unable to speak English, with a repulsive face, and blind in one eye,
it was hard for him to get a start. But he was not the man to give up.
There seemed to be nothing he would not do for money. He bought and sold
anything, from groceries to old junk. Everything he touched prospered.
In 1780, he resumed the New Orleans and San Domingo trade, in which he
had been engaged at the breaking out of the War of the Revolution, and
in one year cleared nearly fifty thousand dollars.
Everybody, especially his jealous brother merchants, attributed his
great success to his luck. While, undoubtedly, he was fortunate in
happening to be at the right place at the right time, yet he was
precision, method, accuracy, energy itself. He left nothing to chance.
His plans and schemes were worked out with mathematical care. His
letters, written to his captains in foreign ports, laying out their
routes and giving detailed instruction from which they were never
allowed to deviate under any circumstances, are models of foresight and
Girard never lost a ship; and many times, what brought financial ruin to
many others, as the War of 1812, only increased his wealth. What seemed
luck with him was only good judgment and promptness in seizing
opportunities, and the greatest care and zeal in personal attention to
all the details of his business and the management of his own affairs.
[Footnote: See Simpson's "Life of Stephen Girard" (Phila. 1832), and H.
W. Arey's "Girard College and its Founder" (1860).]