Dead In Earnest

It is the live coal that kindles others, not the dead. What

made Demosthenes the greatest of all orators was that he

appeared the most entirely possessed by the feelings he wished

to inspire. The effect produced by Charles Fox, who by the

exaggerations of party spirit, was often compared to

Demosthenes, seems to have arisen wholly from this earnestness,

which made up for the want of almost
every grace, both of

manner and style.


Twelve poor men taken out of boats and creeks, without any help

of learning, should conquer the world to the cross.


For his heart was in his work, and the heart

Giveth grace unto every art.


He did it with all his heart and prospered.


The only conclusive evidence of a man's sincerity is that he

gives himself for a principle. Words, money, all things else

are comparatively easy to give away; but when a man makes a

gift of his daily life and practice, it is plain that the

truth, whatever it may be, has taken possession of him.


"The emotions," says Whipple, "may all be included in the single word

'enthusiasm,' or that impulsive force which liberates the mental power

from the ice of timidity as spring loosens the streams from the grasp

of winter, and sends them forth in a rejoicing rush. The mind of youth,

when impelled by this original strength and enthusiasm of Nature, is

keen, eager, inquisitive, intense, audacious, rapidly assimilating facts

into faculties and knowledge into power, and above all teeming with that

joyous fullness of creative life which radiates thoughts as

inspirations, and magnetizes as well as informs."

"Columbus, my hero," exclaims Carlyle, "royalist sea-king of all! It is

no friendly environment this of thine, in the waste, deep waters; around

thee mutinous discouraged souls, behind thee disgrace and ruin, before

thee the unpenetrated veil of night. Brother, these wild

water-mountains, bounding from their deep bases (ten miles deep, I am

told), are not there on thy behalf! Meseems _they_ have other work than

floating thee forward:--and the huge winds, that sweep from Ursa Major

to the tropics and equator, dancing their giant-waltz through the

kingdoms of chaos and immensity, they care little about filling rightly

or filling wrongly the small shoulder-of-mutton sails in this cockle

skiff of thine! Thou art not among articulate-speaking friends, my

brother; thou art among immeasurable dumb monsters, tumbling, howling

wide as the world here. Secret, far-off, invisible to all hearts but

thine, there lies a help in them: see how thou wilt get at that.

Patiently thou wilt wait till the mad southwester spend itself, saving

thyself by dexterous science of defence the while: valiantly, with swift

decision, wilt thou strike in, when the favoring east wind, the

possible, springs up. Mutiny of men thou wilt sternly repress; weakness,

despondency, thou wilt cheerily encourage: thou wilt swallow down

complaint, unreason, weariness, weakness of others and thyself;--how

much wilt thou swallow down? There shall be a depth of silence in thee,

deeper than this sea, which is but ten miles deep: a silence

unsoundable; known to God only. Thou shalt be a great man. Yes, my

world-soldier, thou of the world marine-service,--thou wilt have to be

greater than this tumultuous unmeasured world here round thee is: thou,

in thy strong soul, as with wrestler's arms, shall embrace it, harness

it down; and make it bear thee on,--to new Americas, or whither God


With what concentration of purpose did Washington put the whole weight

of his character into the scales of our cause in the Revolution! With

what earnest singleness of aim did Lincoln in the cabinet, Grant in the

field, throw his whole soul into the contest of our civil war?

The power of Phillips Brooks, at which men wondered, lay in his

tremendous earnestness.

"No matter what your work is," says Emerson, "let it be yours; no matter

if you are a tinker or preacher, blacksmith or president, let what you

are doing be organic, let it be in your bones, and you open the door by

which the affluence of heaven and earth shall stream into you." Again,

he says: "God will not have His works made manifest by cowards. A man is

relieved and gay when he has put his heart into his work and done his

best; but what he has said or done otherwise, shall give him no peace.

It is a deliverance which does not deliver. In the attempt, his genius

deserts him; no muse befriends; no invention, no hope."

"I do not know how it is with others when speaking on an important

question," said Henry Clay; "but on such occasions I seem to be

unconscious of the external world. Wholly engrossed by the subject

before me, I lose all sense of personal identity, of time, or of

surrounding objects."

"I have been so busy for twenty years trying to save the souls of other

people," said Livingstone, "that I had forgotten that I have one of my

own until a savage auditor asked me if I felt the influence of the

religion I was advocating."

"Well, I've worked hard enough for it," said Malibran when a critic

expressed his admiration of her D in alt, reached by running up three

octaves from low D; "I've been chasing it for a month. I pursued it

everywhere,--when I was dressing, when I was doing my hair; and at last

I found it on the toe of a shoe that I was putting on."

"People smile at the enthusiasm of youth," said Charles Kingsley; "that

enthusiasm which they themselves secretly look back at with a sigh,

perhaps unconscious that it is partly their own fault that they ever

lost it."

"Should I die this minute," said Nelson at an important crisis, "want of

frigates would be found written on my heart."

Said Dr. Arnold, the celebrated instructor: "I feel more and more the

need of intercourse with men who take life in earnest. It is painful to

me to be always on the surface of things. Not that I wish for much of

what is called religious conversation. That is often apt to be on the

surface. But I want a sign which one catches by a sort of masonry, that

a man knows what he is about in life. When I find this it opens my heart

with as fresh a sympathy as when I was twenty years younger."

Archimedes, the greatest geometer of antiquity, was consulted by the

king in regard to a gold crown suspected of being fraudulently alloyed

with silver. While considering the best method of detecting any fraud,

he plunged into a full bathing tub; and, with the thought that the water

that overflowed must be equal in weight to his body, he discovered the

method of obtaining the bulk of the crown compared with an equally

heavy mass of pure gold. Excited by the discovery, he ran through the

streets undressed, crying, "I have found it."

Equally celebrated is his remark, "Give me where to stand and I will

move the world."

His only remark to the Roman soldier who entered his room while engaged

in geometrical study, was, "Don't step on my circle."

Refusing to follow the soldier to Marcellus, who had captured the city,

he was killed on the spot. He is said to have remarked, "My head, but

not my circle."

"Every great and commanding moment in the annals of the world," says

Emerson, "is the triumph of some enthusiasm. The victories of the Arabs

after Mahomet, who, in a few years, from a small and mean beginning,

established a larger empire than that of Rome, is an example. They did

they knew not what. The naked Derar, horsed on an idea, was found an

overmatch for a troop of cavalry. The women fought like men and

conquered the Roman men. They were miserably equipped, miserably fed.

They were temperance troops. There was neither brandy nor flesh needed

to feed them. They conquered Asia and Africa and Spain on barley. The

Caliph Omar's walking-stick struck more terror into those who saw it

than another man's sword."

Horace Vernet's enthusiasm and devotion to the one idea of his life knew

no bounds. He had himself lashed to the mast in a terrible gale on the

Mediterranean when all others on board were seized with terror, and with

great delight sketched the towering waves which threatened every minute

to swallow the vessel. Several writers tell the story that a great

artist, Giotto, about to paint the crucifixion, induced a poor man to

let him bind him upon a cross in order that he might get a better idea

of the terrible scene that he was about to put upon the canvas. He

promised faithfully that he would release his model in an hour, but to

the latter's horror the painter seized a dagger and plunged it into his

heart; and, while the blood was streaming from the ghastly wound,

painted his death agony.

Beecher was a very dull boy and was the last member of the family of

whom anything was expected. He had a weak memory, and disliked study. He

shunned society and wanted to go to sea. Even when he went to college

many of his classmates stood ahead of him, who have fallen into

oblivion. But when he was converted his whole life changed: he was full

of enthusiasm, hopefulness and zeal. Nothing was too menial for him to

undertake to carry his purpose. He chopped wood, built the fire in his

little church in Lawrenceburg, Ind., of only eighteen members, cleaned

the lamps, swept the floor and washed the windows. He built the fire,

baked, washed, when his wife was ill. The pent-up enthusiasm of his

ambitious life burst the barriers of his inhospitable surroundings until

he blossomed out into America's greatest pulpit orator.

When Handel was a little boy he bought a clavichord, hid it in the

attic, and went there at night to play upon it, muffling the strings

with small pieces of fine woolen cloth so that the sounds should not

wake the family. Michael Angelo neglected school to copy drawings which

he dared not carry home. Murillo filled the margin of his school-book

with drawings. Dryden read Polybius before he was ten years old. Le

Brum, when a boy, drew with a piece of charcoal on the walls of the

house. Pope wrote excellent verses at fourteen. Blaise Pascal, the

French mathematician, composed at sixteen a tract on the conic sections.

Professor Agassiz was so enthusiastic in his work and so loved the

fishes, the fowl and the cattle that it is said these creatures would

die for him to give him their skeletons. His father wanted him to fit

for commercial life, but the fish haunted him day and night.

Confucius said that "he was so eager in the pursuit of knowledge that he

forgot his food;" and that, "in the joy of its attainment, he forgot his

sorrows;" and that "he did not even perceive that old age was coming


"That boy tries to make himself useful," said an employer of the errand

boy, George W. Childs. It is this trying to be useful and helpful that

promotes us in life.

Once, when Mr. Harvey, an accomplished mathematician, was in a

bookseller's shop, he saw a poor lad of mean appearance enter and write

something on a slip of paper and give it to the proprietor. On inquiry

he found this was a poor deaf boy, Kitto, who afterward became one of

the most noted Biblical scholars in the world, and who wrote his first

book in the poor-house. He had come to borrow a book. When a lad he had

fallen backward from a ladder thirty-five feet upon the pavement with a

load of slates that he was carrying to the roof. The poor lad was so

thirsty for books that he would borrow from booksellers who would loan

them to him out of pity, read them and return them.

The _Youth's Companion_ says that Mr. Edison in his new biography--his

"Life and Inventions"--describes the accidental method by which he

discovered the principle of the phonograph. There is a kind of accident

that happens only to a certain kind of man.

"I was singing to the mouthpiece of a telephone," Mr. Edison says, "when

the vibrations of the voice sent the fine steel point into my finger.

That set me to thinking. If I could record the actions of the point,

and send the point over the same surface afterward, I saw no reason why

the thing would not talk.

"I tried the experiment first on a slip of telegraph paper and found

that the point made an alphabet. I shouted the words 'Halloo! Halloo!'

into the mouthpiece, ran the paper back over the steel point, and heard

a faint 'Halloo! Halloo!' in return.

"I determined to make a machine that would work accurately, and gave my

assistants instructions, telling them what I had discovered. They

laughed at me. That's the whole story. The phonograph is the result of

the pricking of a finger."

It is one thing to hit upon an idea, however, and another thing to carry

it out to perfection. The machine would talk, but, like many young

children, it had difficulty with certain sounds--in the present case

with aspirants and sibilants. Mr. Edison's biographers say, but the

statement is somewhat exaggerated:

"He has frequently spent from fifteen to twenty hours daily, for six or

seven months on a stretch, dinning the word 'Spezia,' for example, into

the stubborn surface of the wax. 'Spezia,' roared the inventor, 'Pezia'

lisped the phonograph in tones of ladylike reserve, and so on through

thousands of graded repetitions till the desired results were obtained.

"The primary education of the phonograph was comical in the extreme. To

hear those grave and reverend signors, rich in scientific honors,

patiently reiterating:

Mary had a little lamb,

A little lamb, _lamb_, LAMB,

and elaborating that point with anxious gravity, was to receive a

practical demonstration of the eternal unfitness of things."

Milton, when blind, old and poor, showed a royal cheerfulness and never

"bated one jot of heart or hope, but steered right onward."

Dickens' characters seemed to possess him, and haunt him day and night

until properly portrayed in his stories.

At a time when it was considered dangerous to society in Europe for the

common people to read books and listen to lectures on any but religious

subjects, Charles Knight determined to enlighten the masses by cheap

literature. He believed that a paper could be instructive and not be

dull, cheap without being wicked. He started the _Penny Magazine_, which

acquired a circulation of 200,000 the first year. Knight projected the

_Penny Cyclopedia_, the _Library of Entertaining Knowledge_, _Half-Hours

With the Best Authors_, and other useful books at a low price. His whole

adult life was spent in the work of elevating the common people by

cheap, yet wholesome, publications. He died in poverty, but grateful

people have erected a noble monument over his ashes.

Demosthenes roused the torpid spirits of his countrymen to a vigorous

effort to preserve their independence against the designs of an

ambitious and artful prince, and Philip had just reason to say he was

more afraid of that man than of all the fleets and armies of the


Horace Greeley was a hampered genius who never had a chance to show

himself until he started the _Tribune_, into which he poured his whole

individuality, life and soul.

Emerson lost the first years of his life trying to be somebody else. He

finally came to himself and said: "If a single man plant himself

indomitably on his instincts, and there abide, the whole world will come

round to him in the end." "Though we travel the world over to find the

beautiful we must carry it with us or we find it not." "The man that

stands by himself the universe stands by him also." "Take Michael

Angelo's course, 'to confide in one's self and be something of worth and

value.'" "None of us will ever accomplish anything excellent or

commanding except when he listens to this whisper which is heard by him


Many unknown writers would make fame and fortune if, like Bunyan and

Milton and Dickens and George Eliot and Scott and Emerson, they would

write their own lives in their MSS., if they would write about things

they have seen, that they have felt, that they have known. It is life

thoughts that stir and convince, that move and persuade, that carry

their very iron particles into the blood. The real heaven has never been

outdone by the ideal.

Neither poverty nor misfortune could keep Linnaeus from his botany.

The English and Austrian armies called Napoleon the

one-hundred-thousand-man. His presence was considered equal to that

force in battle.

The lesson he teaches is that which vigor always teaches--that there is

always room for it. To what heaps of cowardly doubts is not that man's

life an answer.