Chapter V
Courage and Determined Effort

Carlyle has said that the first requisite to success is carefully to find your life work and then bravely to carry it out. No soldier ever won a succession of triumphs, and no business man, no matter how successful in the end, who did not find his beginning slow, arduous and discouraging. Courage is a prime essential to prosperity. The young man's progress may be slow in comparison with his ambition, but if he keeps a brave heart and sticks persistently to it, he will surely succeed in the end.

The forceful, energetic character, like the forceful soldier on the battle-field, not only moves forward to victory himself, but his example has a stimulating influence on others.

Energy of character has always a power to evoke energy in others. It acts through sympathy, one of the most influential of human agencies. The zealous, energetic man unconsciously carries others along with him. His example is contagious and compels imitation. He exercises a sort of electric power, which sends a thrill through every fibre, flows into the nature of those about him, and makes them give out sparks of fire.

Dr. Arnold's biographer, speaking of the power of this kind exercised by him over young men, says: "It was not so much an enthusiastic admiration for true genius, or learning, or eloquence, which stirred the heart within them; it was a sympathetic thrill, caught from a spirit that was earnestly at work in the world--whose work was healthy, sustained and constantly carried forward in the fear of God--a work that was founded on a deep sense of its duty and its value."

The beginner should carefully study the lives of men whose undaunted courage has won in the face of obstacles that would cow weaker natures.

It is in the season of youth, while the character is forming, that the impulse to admire is the greatest. As we advance in life we crystallize into habit and "Nil admirari" too often becomes our motto. It is well to encourage the admiration of great characters while the nature is plastic and open to impressions; for if the good are not admired--as young men will have their heroes of some sort--most probably the great bad may be taken by them for models. Hence it always rejoiced Dr. Arnold to hear his pupils expressing admiration of great deeds, or full of enthusiasm for persons or even scenery.

"I believe," said he, "that 'Nil admirari' is the devil's favorite text; and he could not choose a better to introduce his pupils into the more esoteric parts of his doctrine. And therefore I have always looked upon a man infected with the disorder of anti-romance as one who has lost the finest part of his nature and his best protection against everything low and foolish."

MichelangeloGreat men have evoked the admiration of kings, popes and emperors. Francis de Medicis never spoke to Michael Angelo without uncovering, and Julius III made him sit by his side while a dozen cardinals were standing. Charles V made way for Titian; and one day when the brush dropped from the painter's hand, Charles stooped and picked it up, saying, "You deserve to be served by an emperor."

Bear in mind that nothing so discourages or unfits a man for an effort as idleness. "Idleness," says [Robert] Burton, in that delightful old book "The Anatomy of Melancholy", "is the bane of body and mind, the nurse of naughtiness, the chief mother of all mischief, one of the seven deadly sins, the devil's cushion, his pillow and chief reposal . . . An idle dog will be mangy; and how shall an idle person escape? Idleness of the mind is much worse than that of the body; wit, without employment, is a disease--the rust of the soul, a plague, a hell itself. As in a standing pool, worms and filthy creepers increase, so do evil and corrupt thoughts in an idle person; the soul is contaminated . . . Thus much I dare boldly say: he or she that is idle, be they of what condition they will, never so rich, so well allied, fortunate, happy--let them have all things in abundance, all felicity that heart can wish and desire, all contentment--so long as he, or she, or they, are idle, they shall never be pleased, never well in body or mind, but weary still, sickly still, vexed still, loathing still, weeping, sighing, grieving, suspecting, offended with the world, with every object, wishing themselves gone or dead, or else carried away with some foolish fantasy or other.".

Barton says a great deal more to the same effect.

It has been truly said that to desire to possess without being burdened by the trouble of acquiring is as much a sign of weakness as to recognize that everything worth having is only to be got by paying its price is the prime secret of practical strength. Even leisure cannot be enjoyed unless it is won by effort. If it have not been earned by work, the price has not been paid for it.

But apart from the supreme satisfaction of winning, the effort required to accomplish anything is ennobling, and, if there were no other success it would be its own reward.

"I don't believe," said Lord Stanley, in an address to the young men of Glasgow, "that an unemployed man, however amiable and otherwise respectable, ever was, or ever can be, really happy. As work is our life, show me what you can do, and I will show you what you are. I have spoken of love of one's work as the best preventive of merely low and vicious tastes. I will go farther and say that it is the best preservative against petty anxieties and the annoyances that arise out of indulged self-love. Men have thought before now that they could take refuge from trouble and vexation by sheltering themselves, as it wore, in a world of their own. The experiment has often been tried and always with one result. You cannot escape from anxiety or labor--it is the destiny of humanity . . . Those who shirk from facing trouble find that trouble comes to them.

"The early teachers of Christianity ennobled the lot of toil by their example. 'He that will not work,' said St. Paul, 'neither shall he eat;' and he glorified himself in that he had labored with his hands and had not been chargeable to any man. When St. Boniface landed in Britain, he came with a gospel in one hand, and a carpenter's rule in the other; and from England he afterward passed over into Germany, carrying thither the art of building. Luther also, in the midst of a multitude of other employments, worked diligently for a living, earning his bread by gardening, building, turning, and even clock-making."

[Samuel Taylor] Coleridge [1772 - 1834], has truly observed, that "if the idle are described as killing time, the methodical man may be justly said to call it into life and moral being, while he makes it the distinct object, not only of the consciousness, but of the conscience. He organizes the hours and gives them a soul; and by that, the very essence of which is to fleet and to have been, he communicates an imperishable and spiritual nature. Of the good and faithful servant, whose energies thus directed are thus methodized, it is less truly affirmed that he lives in time than that time lives in him. His days and months and years, as the stops and punctual marks in the record of duties performed, will survive the wreck of worlds, and remain extant when time itself shall be no more."

[George] Washington, also, was an indefatigable man of business. From his boyhood he diligently trained himself in habits of application, of study and of methodical work. His manuscript school-books, which are still preserved, show that, as early as the age of thirteen, he occupied himself voluntarily, in copying out such things as forms of receipts, notes of hand, bills of exchange, bonds, indentures, leases, land warrants and other dry documents, all written out with great care. And the habits which lie thus early acquired were, in a great measure the foundation of those admirable business qualities which he afterward so successfully brought to bear in the affairs of the government.

The man or woman who achieves success in the management of any great affair of business is entitled to honor--it may be, to as much as the artist who paints a picture, or the author who writes a book, or the soldier who wins a battle. Their success may have been gained in the face of as great difficulties, and after as great struggles; and where they have won their battle it is at least a peaceful one and there is no blood on their hands.

Courage, combined with energy and perseverance, will overcome difficulties apparently insurmountable. It gives force and impulse to effort and does not permit it to retreat. [John] Tyndall said of [Michael] Faraday, that "in his warm moments he formed a resolution and in his cool ones he made that resolution good." Perseverance, working in the right direction, grows with time and when steadily practiced, even by the most humble, will rarely fail of its reward. Trusting in the help of others is of comparatively little use. When one of Michael Angelo's principal patrons died, he said: "I begin to understand the promises of the world are for the most part vain phantoms and that to confide in one's self and become something of worth and value is the best and safest course."

It ought to be a first principle, in beginning life to do with earnestness what we have got to do. If it is worth doing at all, it is worth doing earnestly. If it is to be done well at all it must be done with purpose and devotion.

Whatever may be our profession, let us mark all its bearings and details, its principles, its instruments, its applications. There is nothing about it should escape our study. There is nothing in it either too high or too low for our observation and knowledge. While we remain ignorant of any part of it, we are so far crippled in its use; we are liable to be taken at a disadvantage. This may be the very point the knowledge of which is most needed in some crisis, and those versed in it will take the lead, while we must be content to follow at a distance.

Our business, in short, must be the main drain of our intellectual activities day by day. It is the channel we have chosen for them they must follow in it with a diffusive energy, filling every nook and corner. This is a fair test of professional earnestness. When we find our thoughts running after our business, and fixing themselves with a familiar fondness upon its details, we may be pretty sure of our way. When we find them running elsewhere and only resorting with difficulty to the channel prepared for them, we may be equally sure we have taken a wrong turn. We cannot be earnest about anything which does not naturally and strongly engage our thoughts.

A Review of "How to Get On in Life"

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Chapter VI - The Importance of Correct Habits


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