Young man, two ways are open before you in life. One points to degradation
and want, the other, to usefulness and wealth. In the old Grecian races one
only, by any possible means, could gain the prize, but in the momentous race of
human life there is no limiting of the prize to one. No one is debarred from
competing; all may succeed, provided the right methods are followed. Life is not
a lottery. Its prizes are not distributed by chance.
There can hardly be a greater folly, not to say presumption, than that of so
many young men and women who, on setting out in life, conclude that it is no use
to mark out for themselves a course, and then set themselves with strenuous
effort to attain some worthy end; who conclude, therefore, to commit themselves
blindly to the current of circumstances. Is it anything surprising that those
who aim at nothing, accomplish nothing in life? No better result could reasonably be expected.
Twenty clerks in a store; twenty apprentices in a ship-yard; twenty young men in
a city or village—all want to get on in the world; most of them expect to
succeed. One of the clerks will become a partner, and make a fortune; one of the
young men will find his calling and succeed. But what of the other nineteen?
They will fail; and miserably fail, some of them. They expect to succeed, but
they aim at nothing; content to live for the day only, consequently, little
effort is put forth, and they reap a reward accordingly.
Luck! There is no luck about it. The thing is almost as certain as the "rule
of three." The young man who will distance his competitors is he who will master
his business; who lives within his income, saving his spare money; who preserves
his reputation; who devotes his leisure hours to the acquisition of knowledge;
and who cultivates a pleasing manner, thus gaining friends. We hear a great deal
about luck. If a man succeeds finely in business, he is said to have "good
luck." He may have labored for years with this one object in view, bending every
energy to attain it. He may have denied himself many things, and his seemingly
sudden success may be the result of years of hard work, but the world looks in
and says: "He is lucky." Another man plunges into some hot-house scheme and
loses: "He is unlucky." Another man's nose is perpetually on the grind-stone; he
also has "bad luck." No matter if he follows inclination rather than judgment,
if he fails, as he might know he would did he but exercise one-half the judgment
he does possess, yet he is never willing to ascribe the failure to himself—he
invariably ascribes it to bad luck, or blames some one else.
Luck! There is no such factor in the race for success. Rufus Choate once
said, "There is little in the theory of luck which will bring man success; but work, guided by thought, will remove mountains or tunnel them." Carlyle said,
"Man know thy work, then do it." How often do we see the sign: "Gentlemen will not; others must not loaf in this room." True, gentlemen never loaf, but labor. Fire-flies shine only in
motion. It is only the active who will be singled out to hold responsible positions. The fact that their ability is manifest is no sign that they are lucky.
Thiers, of France, was once complimented thus: "It is marvelous, Mr. President, how you deliver long improvised speeches about which you have not
had time to reflect." His reply was: "You are not paying me a compliment; it is criminal in a statesman to improvise speeches on public affairs. Those speeches
I have been fifty years preparing." Daniel Webster's notable reply to Hayne was the result of years of study on the problem of State Rights. Professor Mowry
once told the following story: "A few years ago a young man went into a cotton factory and spent a year in the card room. He then devoted another year to
learning how to spin; still another how to weave. He boarded with a weaver, and
was often asking questions. Of course he picked up all kinds of knowledge. He
was educating himself in a good school, and was destined to graduate high in his
class. He became superintendent of a small mill at $1,500 a year. One of the
large mills in Fall River was running behind hand. Instead of making money the
corporation was losing. They needed a first-class man to manage the mill, and
applied to a gentleman in Boston well acquainted with the leading men
in the manufacture of cotton. He told them he knew of a young man who would suit
them, but they would have to pay him a large salary.
"What salary will he require?" "I cannot tell, but I think you will have to
pay him $6,000 a year." "That is a large sum; we have never paid so much." "No,
probably not, and you have never had a competent man. The condition of your mill
and the story you have told me to-day show the result. I do not think he would
go for less, but I will advise him to accept if you offer him that salary." The
salary was offered, the man accepted, and he saved nearly forty per cent. of the
cost of making the goods the first year. Soon he had a call from one of the
largest corporations in New England, at a salary of $10,000 per year. He had
been with this company but one year when he was offered another place at
$15,000 per year. Now some will say: "Well, he was lucky, this gentleman was a
friend who helped him to a fat place."
My dear reader, with such we have little patience. It is evident that this
young man was determined to succeed from the first. He mastered his business,
taking time and going thorough. When once the business was mastered his light
began to shine. Possibly the gentleman helped him to a higher salary than he
might have accepted, but it is also evident that his ability was manifest. The
gentleman knew whereof he spoke. The old proverb that "Circumstances make men"
is simply a wolf in wool. Whether a man is conditioned high or low; in the city
or on the farm: "If he will; he will." "They can who think they can." "Wishes
fail but wills prevail." "Labor is luck." It is better to make our descendants
proud of us than to be proud of our ancestry. There is hardly a conceivable
obstacle to success that some of our successful men have not overcome:
"What man has done, man can do." "Strong men have wills; weak ones,
In the contest, wills prevail. Some writers would make men sticks carried
whither the tide takes them. We have seen that biography vetoes this theory.
Will makes circumstances instead of being ruled by them. Alexander Stephens,
with a dwarf's body, did a giant's work. With a broken scythe in the race he
over-matched those with fine mowing-machines. Will-power, directed by a mind
that was often replenished, accomplished the desired result.
Any one can drift. It takes pluck to stem an unfavorable current. A man fails
and lays it to circumstances. The fact too frequently is that he swallowed
luxuries beyond his means. A gentleman asked a child who made him. The answer
was: "God made me so long—measuring the length of a baby—and I growed the rest."
The mistake of the little deist in leaving out the God of his growth illustrates
a conviction: We are what we make ourselves.
Garfield once said: "If the power to do hard work is not talent it is the
best possible substitute for it." Things don't turn up in this world until some
one turns them up. A pound of pluck is worth a ton of luck. Luck is a false light; you may follow it to
ruin, but never to success. If a man has ability which is reinforced by energy,
the fact is manifest, and he will not lack opportunities. The fortunes of
mankind depend so much upon themselves, that it is entirely legitimate to
enquire by what means each may make or mar his own happiness; may achieve
success or bring upon himself the sufferings of failure.