Every noble work is at first impossible.--Carlyle
Victory belongs to the most persevering.--Napoleon
Our greatest glory is, not in never falling, but in rising every time we
Success in most things depends on knowing how long it takes to succeed.
erance is failing nineteen times and succeeding the twentieth.
--Dr J. Anderson
Perseverance depends on three things,--purpose, will, enthusiasm. He
who has a purpose is always concentrating his forces. By the will,
constantly educated, the hope and plan are prevented from evaporating
into dreams, and a little gain is all the time being added. Enthusiasm
keeps the interest up, and makes the obstacles seem small. Young people
often call perseverance plodding, and look with impatience on careful,
steady efforts of any kind. It is plodding in a certain sense, but by it
the mountain is scaled; whereas the impetuous nature soon tires, or is
injured, and the climb is over, half-finished. The founders of New
England did not believe in "chances." They did believe in work. The
young man who thinks to get on by mere smartness and by idling, meets
failure at last.
But there is a higher outlook. Life is in a sense a battle; certainly
there is an unending struggle within ourselves to make the better part
rule the worse. Perseverance is the master impulse of the firmest souls,
and holds the key to those treasure-houses of knowledge from which the
world has drawn its wealth both of wisdom and of moral worth.
Great men never wait for opportunities; they make them. Nor do they wait
for facilities or favoring circumstances; they seize upon whatever is at
hand, work out their problem, and master the situation. A young man
determined and willing, will find a way or make one. Great men have
found no royal road to their triumph. It is always the old route, by way
of industry and perseverance.
Bunyan wrote his "Pilgrim's Progress" on the untwisted papers used to
cork the bottles of milk brought for his meals. Gifford wrote his first
copy of a mathematical work, when a cobbler's apprentice, on small
scraps of leather; and Rittenhouse, the astronomer, first calculated
eclipses on his plow handle.
"Circumstances," says Milton, "have rarely favored famous men. They have
fought their way to triumph through all sorts of opposing obstacles. The
greatest thing a man can do in this world is to make the most possible
out of the stuff that has been given to him. This is success, and there
is no other."
Paris was in the hands of a mob; the authorities were panic-stricken,
for they did not dare to trust their underlings. In came a man who said,
"I know a young officer who has the courage and ability to quell this
mob." "Send for him; send for him," said they. Napoleon was sent for,
came, subjugated the mob, subjugated the authorities, ruled France, then
One of the first lessons of life is to learn how to get victory out of
defeat. It takes courage and stamina, when mortified and embarrassed by
humiliating disaster, to seek in the wreck or ruins the elements of
future conquest. Yet this measures the difference between those who
succeed and those who fail. You cannot measure a man by his failures.
You must know what use he makes of them.
Always watch with great interest a young man's first failure. It is the
index of his life, the measure of his success-power. The mere fact of
his failure has interest; but how did he take his defeat? What did he do
next? Was he discouraged? Did he slink out of sight? Did he conclude
that he had made a mistake in his calling, and dabble in something else?
Or was he up and at it again with a determination that knows no defeat?
There is something grand and inspiring in a young man who fails
squarely after doing his level best, and then enters the contest again
and again with undaunted courage and redoubled energy. Have no fears for
the youth who is not disheartened at failure.
Raleigh failed, but he left a name ever to be linked with brave effort
and noble character. Kossuth did not succeed, but his lofty career, his
burning words, and his ideal fidelity will move men for good as long as
time shall last. O'Connell did not win his cause, but he did achieve
enduring fame as an orator, patriot, and apostle of liberty.
President Lincoln was asked, "How does Grant impress you as a leading
general?" "The greatest thing about him is his persistency of purpose,"
he replied. "He is not easily excited, and he has the grip of a bulldog.
When he once gets his teeth in nothing can shake him off."
Chauncey Jerome's education was limited to three months in the district
school each year until he was ten, when his father took him into his
blacksmith shop at Plymouth, Connecticut, to make nails. Money was a
scarce article with young Chauncey. His father died when he was eleven,
and his mother was forced to send him out to earn a living on a farm. At
fourteen he was apprenticed for seven years to a carpenter, who gave him
only board and clothes. One day he heard people talking of Eli Terry, of
Plymouth, who had undertaken to make two hundred clocks in one lot.
"He'll never live long enough to finish them," said one. "If he
should," said another, "he could not possibly sell so many. The very
idea is ridiculous."
Chauncey pondered long over this rumor, for it had long been his dream
to become a great clock-maker. He tried his hand at the first
opportunity, and soon learned to make a wooden clock. When he got an
order to make twelve at twelve dollars apiece he thought his fortune
One night he happened to think that a cheap clock could be made of
brass as well as of wood, and would not shrink, swell, or warp
appreciably in any climate. He acted on the idea, and became the first
great manufacturer of brass clocks. He made millions at the rate of six
hundred a day, exporting them to all parts of the globe.
A constant struggle, a ceaseless battle to bring success from hard
surroundings, is the price of all great achievements. The man who has
not fought his way upward, and does not bear the scar of desperate
conflict, does not know the highest meaning of success.
Columbus was dismissed as a fool from court after court, but he pushed
his suit against an unbelieving and ridiculing world. Rebuffed by kings,
scorned by queens, he did not swerve a hair's breadth from the
overmastering purpose which dominated his soul. The words "New World"
were graven upon his heart; and reputation, ease, pleasure, position,
life itself, if need be, must be sacrificed. Neither threats, ridicule,
storms, leaky vessels, nor mutiny of sailors, could shake his mighty
Lucky for the boy who can say, "In the bright lexicon of youth there is
no such word as _fail_." We do not care for the men who change with
every wind! Give us men like mountains, who change the winds. You cannot
at one dash rise into eminence. You must hammer it out by steady and
A man can get what he wants if he pays the price--persistent, plodding
perseverance. Never doubt the result; victory will be yours. There may
be ways to fortune shorter than the old, dusty highway; but the staunch
men in the community all go on this road. If you want to do anything,
don't stand back waiting for a better chance to arise, but rush in and
seize it; and then cling to it with all the power you possess until you
have made it serve the purpose for which you desired it, or yield the
good which you believe it to contain.
The lack of perseverance is the cause of many a failure. We do not stand
by our plans faithfully. Fashion, or criticism, or temporary weariness,
or fickleness of taste, leads us off; and we have to begin our work all
over. Look at the history of every noted invention; read the lives of
musicians who were born with genius, but wrought out triumph by
perseverance; and you will find abundant proof that without perseverance
nothing valuable can be accomplished.
George Stephenson's struggle for the adoption of his locomotive is
another noteworthy case in point. People said "he is crazy"; "his
roaring steam engine will set the houses on fire with its sparks"; "the
smoke will pollute the air"; "the carriage makers and coachmen will
starve for want of work." So intense was the opposition, that for three
whole days the matter was debated in the House of Commons; and on that
occasion a government inspector said that if a locomotive ever went ten
miles an hour, he would undertake to eat a stewed engine for breakfast.
"What can be more palpably absurd and ridiculous than the prospect held
out of locomotives traveling twice as fast as horses?" asked a writer
in the English _Quarterly Review_ for March, 1825. "We trust that
Parliament will, in all the railways it may grant, _limit the speed
to eight or nine miles an hour_, which we entirely agree, with Mr.
Sylvester, is as great as can be ventured upon."
This article referred to Stephenson's proposition to use his newly
invented locomotive instead of horses on the Liverpool and Manchester
Railway, then in process of construction. The company referred the
matter to two leading English engineers, who reported that steam would
be desirable only when used in stationary engines one and a half miles
apart, drawing the cars by means of ropes and pulleys.
But Stephenson persuaded them to test his idea by offering a prize of
about twenty-five hundred dollars for the best locomotive produced at a
trial to take place October 6, 1829. On the eventful day, long waited
for, thousands of spectators assembled to watch the competition of four
engines, the "Novelty," the "Rocket," the "Perseverance," and the
"Sanspareil." The "Perseverance" could make but six miles an hour, and
so was ruled out, as the conditions called for at least ten. The
"Sanspareil" made an average of fourteen miles an hour, but as it burst
a water-pipe it lost its chance. The "Novelty" did splendidly, but also
burst a pipe, and was crowded out, leaving the "Rocket" to carry off
the honors with an average speed of fifteen miles an hour, the highest
rate attained being twenty-nine. This was Stephenson's locomotive, and
so fully vindicated his theory that the idea of stationary engines on
a railroad was completely exploded. He had picked up the fixed engines
which the genius of Watt had devised, and set them on wheels to draw
men and merchandise, against the most direful predictions of the
foremost engineers of his day.
[Footnote: See Smiles' "Life of George Stephenson" (new ed., 1874);
Jeaffreson and Pole's "Life of Robert Stephenson" (1864), and article
in Johnson's Cyclopedia, Vol. VII., p. 740.]