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

some meeting.

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


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