To Be Great Concentrate

Let every one ascertain his special business and calling, and

then stick to it.


"He who follows two hares is sure to catch neither."

None sends his arrow to the mark in view,

Whose hand is feeble, or his aim untrue.


He who wishes to fulfill his mission must be a man of one idea,

that is, of
ne great overmastering purpose, overshadowing all

his aims, and guiding and controlling his entire life.


The shortest way to do anything is to do only one thing at a



The power of concentration is one of the most valuable of

intellectual attainments.


The power of a man increases steadily by continuance in one



Careful attention to one thing often proves superior to genius

and art.


"It puffed like a locomotive," said a boy of the donkey engine; "it

whistled like the steam-cars, but it didn't go anywhere."

The world is full of donkey-engines, of people who can whistle and puff

and pull, but they don't go anywhere, they have no definite aim, no

controlling purpose.

The great secret of Napoleon's power lay in his marvelous ability to

concentrate his forces upon a single point. After finding the weak place

in the enemy's ranks he would mass his men and hurl them upon the enemy

like an avalanche until he made a breach. What a lesson of the power of

concentration there is in that man's life! He was such a master of

himself that he could concentrate his powers upon the smallest detail as

well as upon an empire.

When Napoleon had anything to say he always went straight to his mark.

He had a purpose in everything he did; there was no dilly-dallying nor

shilly-shallying; he knew what he wanted to say, and said it. It was the

same with all his plans; what he wanted to do, he did. He always hit the

bull's eye. His great success in war was due largely to his definiteness

of aim. He knew what he wanted to do, and did it. He was like a great

burning glass, concentrating the rays of the sun upon a single spot; he

burned a hole wherever he went.

The sun's rays scattered do no execution, but concentrated in a burning

glass, they melt solid granite; yes, a diamond, even. There are plenty

of men who have ability enough, the rays of their faculties taken

separately are all right; but they are powerless to collect them, to

concentrate them upon a single object. They lack the burning glass of a

purpose, to focalize upon one spot the separate rays of their ability.

Versatile men, universal geniuses, are usually weak, because they have

no power to concentrate the rays of their ability, to focalize them upon

one point, until they burn a hole in whatever they undertake.

This power to bring all of one's scattered forces into one focal point

makes all the difference between success and failure. The sun might

blaze out upon the earth forever without burning a hole in it or setting

anything on fire; whereas a very few of these rays concentrated in a

burning glass would, as stated, transform a diamond into vapor.

Sir James Mackintosh was a man of marvelous ability. He excited in

everybody who knew him great expectations, but there was no purpose in

his life to act as a burning glass to collect the brilliant rays of his

intellect, by which he might have dazzled the world. Most men have

ability enough, if they could only focalize it into one grand, central,

all-absorbing purpose, to accomplish great things.

"To encourage me in my efforts to cultivate the power of attention,"

said a friend of John C. Calhoun, "he stated that to this end he had

early subjected his mind to such a rigid course of discipline, and had

persisted without faltering until he had acquired a perfect control over

it; that he could now confine it to any subject as long as he pleased,

without wandering even for a moment; that it was his uniform habit,

when he set out alone to walk or ride, to select a subject for

reflection, and that he never suffered his attention to wander from it

until he was satisfied with its examination."

"My friend laughs at me because I have but one idea," said a learned

American chemist; "but I have learned that if I wish ever to make a

breach in a wall, I must play my guns continually upon one point."

"It is his will that has made him what he is," said an intimate friend

of Philip D. Armour, the Chicago millionaire. "He fixes his eye on

something ahead, and no matter what rises upon the right or the left he

never sees it. He goes straight in pursuit of the object ahead, and

overtakes it at last. He never gives up what he undertakes."

While Horace Greeley would devote a column of the New York _Tribune_ to

an article, Thurlow Weed would treat the same subject in a few words in

the Albany _Evening Journal_, and put the argument into such shape as to

carry far more conviction.

"If you would be pungent," says Southey, "be brief; for it is with words

as with sunbeams--the more they are condensed the deeper they burn."

"The only valuable kind of study," said Sydney Smith, "is to read so

heartily that dinner-time comes two hours before you expected it; to

sit with your Livy before you and hear the geese cackling that saved the

Capitol, and to see with your own eyes the Carthaginian sutlers

gathering up the rings of the Roman knights after the battle of Cannae,

and heaping them into bushels, and to be so intimately present at the

actions you are reading of, that when anybody knocks at the door it will

take you two or three seconds to determine whether you are in your own

study or on the plains of Lombardy, looking at Hannibal's weather-beaten

face and admiring the splendor of his single eye."

"Never study on speculation," says Waters; "all such study is vain. Form

a plan; have an object; then work for it; learn all you can about it,

and you will be sure to succeed. What I mean by studying on speculation

is that aimless learning of things because they may be useful some day;

which is like the conduct of the woman who bought at auction a brass

door-plate with the name of Thompson on it, thinking it might be useful

some day!"

"I resolved, when I began to read law," said Edward Sugden, afterward

Lord St. Leonard, "to make everything I acquired perfectly my own, and

never go on to a second reading till I had entirely accomplished the

first. Many of the competitors read as much in a day as I did in a week;

but at the end of twelve months my knowledge was as fresh as on the day

it was acquired, while theirs had glided away from their recollection."

"Very often," says Sidney Smith, "the modern precept of education is,

'Be ignorant of nothing.' But my advice is, have the courage to be

ignorant of a great number of things, that you may avoid the calamity of

being ignorant of all things."

"Lord, help me to take fewer things into my hands, and to do them well,"

is a prayer recommended by Paxton Hood to an overworked man.

"Many persons seeing me so much engaged in active life," said Edward

Bulwer Lytton, "and as much about the world as if I had never been a

student, have said to me, 'When do you get time to write all your books?

How on earth do you contrive to do so much work?' I shall surprise you

by the answer I made. The answer is this--I contrive to do so much work

by never doing too much at a time. A man to get through work well must

not overwork himself; or, if he do too much to-day, the reaction of

fatigue will come, and he will be obliged to do too little to-morrow.

Now, since I began really and earnestly to study, which was not till I

had left college, and was actually in the world, I may perhaps say that

I have gone through as large a course of general reading as most men of

my time. I have traveled much and I have seen much; I have mixed much

in politics, and in the various business of life; and in addition to all

this, I have published somewhere about sixty volumes, some upon subjects

requiring much special research. And what time do you think, as a

general rule, I have devoted to study, to reading, and writing? Not more

than three hours a day; and, when Parliament is sitting, not always

that. But then, during these three hours, I have given my whole

attention to what I was about."

"The things that are crowded out of a life are the test of that life.

Not what we would like, but what we long for and strive for with all our

might we attain."

"One great cause of failure of young men in business," says Carnegie,

"is lack of concentration. They are prone to seek outside investments.

The cause of many a surprising failure lies in so doing. Every dollar of

capital and credit, every business-thought, should be concentrated upon

the one business upon which a man has embarked. He should never scatter

his shot. It is a poor business which will not yield better returns for

increased capital than any outside investment. No man or set of men or

corporation can manage a business-man's capital as well as he can manage

it himself. The rule, 'Do not put all your eggs in one basket,' does not

apply to a man's life-work. Put all your eggs in one basket and then

watch that basket, is the true doctrine--the most valuable rule of all."

"A man must not only desire to be right," said Beecher, "he must _be_

right. You may say, 'I wish to send this ball so as to kill the lion

crouching yonder, ready to spring upon me. My wishes are all right, and

I hope Providence will direct the ball.' Providence won't. You must do

it; and if you do not, you are a dead man."

The ruling idea of Milton's life and the key to his mental history is

his resolve to produce a great poem. Not that the aspiration in itself

is singular, for it is probably shared in by every poet in his turn. As

every clever schoolboy is destined by himself or his friends to become

Lord-Chancellor, and every private in the French army carries in his

haversack the baton of a marshal, so it is a necessary ingredient of the

dream of Parnassus that it should embody itself in a form of surpassing

brilliance. What distinguishes Milton from the crowd of youthful

literary aspirants, _audax juventa_, is his constancy of resolve. He not

only nourished through manhood the dream of youth, keeping under the

importunate instincts which carry off most ambitions in middle life into

the pursuit of place, profit, honor--the thorns which spring up and

smother the wheat--but carried out his dream in its integrity in old

age. He formed himself for this achievement and no other. Study at home,

travel abroad, the arena of political controversy, the public service,

the practice of the domestic virtues, were so many parts of the

schooling which was to make a poet.

Bismarck adopted it as the aim of his public life "to snatch Germany

from Austrian oppression," and to gather round Prussia, in a North

German Confederation, all the states whose tone of thought, religion,

manners and interest "were in harmony with those of Prussia." "To attain

this end," he once said in conversation, "I would brave all

dangers--exile, the scaffold itself. What matter if they hang me,

provided the rope with which I am hung binds this new Germany firmly to

the Prussian throne?"

It is related of Greeley that, when he was writing his "American

Conflict," he found it necessary to conceal himself somewhere, to

prevent constant interruptions. He accordingly took a room in the Bible

house, where he worked from ten in the morning till five in the

afternoon, and then appeared in the sanctum, seemingly as fresh as ever.

Cooper Institute is the evening school which Peter Cooper, as long ago

as 1810, resolved to found some day, when he was looking about as an

apprentice for a place where he could go to school evenings. Through all

his career in various branches of business he never lost sight of this

object; and, as his wealth increased, he was pleased that it brought

nearer the realization of his dream.

"See a great lawyer like Rufus Choate," says Dr. Storrs, "in a case

where his convictions are strong and his feelings are enlisted. He saw

long ago, as he glanced over the box, that five of those in it were

sympathetic with him; as he went on he became equally certain of seven;

the number now has risen to ten; but two are still left whom he feels

that he has not persuaded or mastered. Upon them he now concentrates his

power, summing up the facts, setting forth anew and more forcibly the

principles, urging upon them his view of the case with a more and more

intense action of his mind upon theirs, until one only is left. Like the

blow of a hammer, continually repeated until the iron bar crumbles

beneath it, his whole force comes with ceaseless percussion on that one

mind till it has yielded, and accepts the conviction on which the

pleader's purpose is fixed. Men say afterward, 'He surpassed himself.'

It was only because the singleness of his aim gave unity, intensity, and

overpowering energy to the mind."

"The foreman of the jury, however," said Whipple, "was a hard-hearted,

practical man, a model of business intellect and integrity, but with an

incapacity of understanding any intellect or conscience radically

differing from his own. Mr. Choate's argument, as far as the facts and

the law were concerned, was through in an hour. Still he went on

speaking. Hour after hour passed, and yet he continued to speak with

constantly increasing eloquence, repeating and recapitulating, without

any seeming reason, facts which he had already stated and arguments

which he had already urged. The truth was, as I gradually learned, that

he was engaged in a hand-to-hand--or rather in a brain-to-brain and a

heart-to-heart--contest with the foreman, whose resistance he was

determined to break down, but who confronted him for three hours with

defiance observable in every rigid line of his honest countenance. 'You

fool!' was the burden of the advocate's ingenious argument. 'You

rascal!' was the phrase legibly printed on the foreman's incredulous

face. But at last the features of the foreman began to relax, and at the

end the stern lines melted into acquiescence with the opinion of the

advocate, who had been storming at the defences of his mind, his heart,

and his conscience for five hours, and had now entered as victor. The

verdict was 'Not guilty.'"

"He who would do some great thing in this short life must apply himself

to the work with such a concentration of his forces as, to idle

spectators, who live only to amuse themselves, looks like insanity."

It is generally thought that when a man is said to be dissipated in his

habits he must be a drinking man, or a gambler, or licentious, or all

three; but dissipation is of two kinds, coarse and refined. A man can

dissipate or scatter all of his mental energies and physical power by

indulging in too many respectable diversions, as easily as in habits of

a viler nature. Property and its cares make some men dissipated; too

many friends make others. The exactions of "society," the balls,

parties, receptions, and various entertainments constantly being given

and attended by the _beau monde_, constitute a most wasting species of

dissipation. Others, again, fritter away all their time and strength in

political agitations, or in controversies and gossip; others in idling

with music or some other one of the fine arts; others in feasting or

fasting, as their dispositions and feelings incline. But the man of

concentration of purpose is never a dissipated man in any sense, good or

bad. He has no time to devote to useless trifling of any kind, but puts

in as many strokes of faithful work as possible toward the attainment of

some definite good.