If great success were possible only to men of great talents, then there would be but little success in the world.

Optin Page: Goal Mastery For Personal And Financial AchievementIt has been said that talent is quite as much the ability to stick to a thing, as the aptitude to do it better than another. "I will fight it out on this line, if it takes all summer." This statement of General Grant does not indicate the man of genius, but it does show the man of indomitable perseverance, a perseverance to which he owed all his success, for it is well known that he was a very modest, and by no means a brilliant man. The key to his character was pertinacity: the secret of his success was perseverance.

"I will to-day thrash the Mexicans, or die a-trying!" was what Sam Houston said to an aide, the morning of the battle of San Jacinto.

And he won.

The soldier who begins the battle in doubt is half beaten in advance.

The man who loses heart after one failure is a fool to make a beginning.

There is a great deal in good preparation, but there is a great deal more in heroic perseverance. The man who declines to make a beginning till everything he thinks he may need is ready for his hand, is very apt to make a failure. The greatest things have been achieved by the simplest means. It is the ceaseless chopping that wears away the stone. The plodder may be laughed at, and the brilliant man who accomplishes great things at a leap admired; but we all remember the fable of the tortoise and the hare; the latter, confident of her powers, stopped to rest; the former, aware of his limitations, persevered and toiled laboriously on—and he won the race.

We do not wish to be understood as underestimating genius. We believe in it; but one of its strongest characteristics is perseverance, and the next is its capacity to accomplish great results with the simplest means.

"Easy come, easy go." Those things that are acquired without much effort, are usually appreciated according to the effort expended. Determination has a strong will; stubbornness has a strong won't. The one is characterized by perseverance, and it builds up; the other, having no purpose but blind self, ends in destruction.

It is a fact at once remarkable and encouraging that no man of great genius who has left his mark on his times, ever believed that his success was due to gifts that lifted him above his fellows. The means by which he rose were within the reach of all, and perseverance was a prime requisite.

The greatest results in life are usually attained by simple means, and the exercise of ordinary qualities. The common life of everyday, with its cares, necessities, and duties, affords ample opportunity for acquiring experience of the best kind; and its most beaten paths provide the true worker with abundant scope for effort and room for self-improvement. The road of human welfare lies along the old highway of steadfast well-doing; and they who are the most persistent, and work in the truest spirit, will usually be the most successful.

Fortune has often been blamed for her blindness; but fortune is not so blind as men are. Those who look into practical life will find that fortune is usually on the side of the industrious, as the winds and waves are on the side of the best navigators. In the pursuit of even the highest branches of human inquiry, the commoner qualities are found the most useful—such as common sense, attention, application, and perseverance. Genius may not be necessary, though even genius of the highest sort does not disdain the use of these ordinary qualities. The very greatest men have been among the least believers in the power of genius, and as worldly wise and persevering as successful men of the commoner sort. Some have even defined genius to be only common sense intensified. A distinguished teacher and president of a college spoke of it as the power of making efforts. John Foster held it to be the power of lighting one's own fire. Buffon said of genius, "It is patience."

Newton's was unquestionably a mind of the very highest order, and yet, when asked by what means he had worked out his extraordinary discoveries, he modestly answered, "By always thinking unto them." At another time he thus expressed his method of study: "I keep the subject continually before me, and wait till the first dawnings open slowly by little and little into a full and clear light." It was in Newton's case as in every other, only by diligent application and perseverance that his great reputation was achieved. Even his recreation consisted in change of study, laying down one subject to take up another. To Dr. Bentley he said: "If I have done the public any service, it is due to nothing but industry and patient thought." So Kepler, another great philosopher, speaking of his studies and his progress, said: "As in Virgil, 'Fama mobilitate viget, vires acquirit eundo,' so it was with me, that the diligent thought on these things was the occasion of still further thinking; until at last I brooded with the whole energy of my mind upon the subject."

The extraordinary results effected by dint of sheer industry and perseverance, have led many distinguished men to doubt whether the gift of genius be so exceptional an endowment as it is usually supposed to be. Thus Voltaire held that it is only a very slight line of separation that divides the man of genius from the man of ordinary mould. Beccaria was even of opinion that all men might be poets and orators, and Reynolds that they might be painters and sculptors. If this were really so, that stolid Englishman might not have been so very far wrong after all, who, on Canova's death, inquired of his brother whether it was "his intention to carry on the business!" Locke, Helvetuis, and Diderot believed that all men have an equal aptitude for genius, and that what some are able to effect, under the laws which regulate the operations of the intellect, must also be within the reach of others who, under like circumstances, apply themselves to like pursuits. But while admitting to the fullest extent the wonderful achievements of labor, and recognizing the fact that men of the most distinguished genius have invariably been found the most indefatigable workers, it must nevertheless be sufficiently obvious that, without the original endowment of heart and brain, no amount of labor, however well applied, could have produced a Shakespeare, a Newton, a Beethoven, or a Michael Angelo.

Dalton, the chemist, repudiated the notion of his being a "genius" attributing everything which he had accomplished to simple industry and perseverance. John Hunter said of himself, "My mind is like a beehive; but full as it is of buzz and apparent confusion, it is yet full of order and regularity, and food collected with incessant industry from the choicest stores of nature." We have, indeed, but to glance at the biographies of great men to find that the most distinguished inventors, artists, thinkers, and workers of all kinds, owe their success, in a great measure, to their indefatigable industry and application. They were men who turned all things to good—even time itself. Disraeli, the elder, held that the secret of success consisted in being master of your subject, such mastery being attainable only through continuous application and study. Hence it happens that the men who have most moved the world have not been so much men of genius, strictly so called, as men of intent mediocre abilities and untiring perseverance; not so often the gifted, of naturally bright and shining qualities, as those who have applied themselves diligently to their work, in whatsoever line that might lie. "Alas!" said a widow, speaking of her brilliant but careless son, "he has not the gift of continuance." Wanting in perseverance, such volatile natures are outstripped in the race of life by the diligent and even the dull.

Hence, a great point to be aimed at is to get the working quality well trained. When that is done, the race will be found comparatively easy. We must repeat and again repeat: facility will come with labor. Not even the simplest art can be accomplished without it; and what difficulties it is found capable of achieving! It was by early discipline and repetition that the late Sir Robert Peel cultivated those remarkable, though still mediocre, powers, which rendered him so illustrious an ornament of the British senate. When a boy at Drayton Manor, his father was accustomed to set him up at table to practice speaking extempore; and he early accustomed him to repeat as much of the Sunday's sermon as he could remember. Little progress was made at first, but by steady perseverance that habit of attention became powerful, and the sermon was at length repeated almost verbatim. When afterward replying in succession to the arguments of his parliamentary opponents—an art in which he was perhaps unrivaled—it was little surmised that the extraordinary power of accurate remembrance which he displayed on such occasions had been originally trained under the discipline of his father in the parish church of Drayton.

It is indeed marvelous what continuous application will effect in the commonest of things. It may seem a simple affair to play upon a violin; yet what a long and laborious practice it requires! Giardini said to a youth who asked him how long it would take to learn it, "Twelve hours a day for twenty years together."

Progress, however, of the best kind is comparatively slow. Great results cannot be achieved at once; and we must be satisfied to advance in life as we walk, step by step. De Maistre says that "To know how to wait is the great secret of success." We must sow before we can reap, and often have to wait long, content meanwhile to look patiently forward in hope: the fruit best worth waiting for often ripening the slowest. But "time and patience," says the Eastern proverb, "change the mulberry leaf to satin."

To wait patently, however, men must work cheerfully. Cheerfulness is an excellent working quality, imparting great elasticity to the character. As a bishop has said, "Temper is nine-tenths of Christianity;" so are cheerfulness and diligence nine-tenths of practical wisdom. They are the life and soul of success, as well as of happiness; perhaps the very highest pleasure in life consisting in clear, brisk, conscious working; energy, confidence, and every other good quality mainly depending upon it. Sydney Smith, when laboring as a parish priest at Foston-le-Clay, in Yorkshire—though he did not feel himself to be in his proper element—went cheerfully to work in the firm determination to do his best. "I am resolved," he said, "to like it, and reconcile myself to it, which is more manly than to feign myself above it, and to send up complaints by the post of being thrown away, and being desolate, and such like trash." So Dr. Hook, when leaving Leeds for a new sphere of labor, said, "Wherever I many be, I shall, by God's blessing, do with my might what my hand findeth to do; and if I do not fined work, I shall make it."

Laborers for the public good especially have to work long and patiently, often uncheered by the prospect of immediate recompense or result. The seeds they sow sometimes lie hidden under the winter's snow, and before the spring comes the husbandman may have gone to his rest. It is not every public worker who, like Rowland Hill, sees his great idea bring forth fruit in his lifetime. Adam Smith sowed the seeds of a great social amelioration in that dingy old University of Glasgow, where he so long labored, and laid the foundations of his "Wealth of Nations;" but seventy years passed before his work bore substantial fruits, nor indeed are they all gathered in yet.

Nothing can compensate for the loss of hope in a man: it entirely changes the character. "How can I work—how can I be happy," said a great but miserable thinker, "when I have lost all hope?" One of the most cheerful and courageous, because one of the most hopeful of workers, was Carey, the missionary. When in India, it was no uncommon thing for him to weary out three pundits, who officiated as his clerks in one day, he himself taking rest only in change of employment. Carey, the son of a shoemaker, was supported in his labors by Ward, the son of a carpenter, and Marsham, the son of a weaver. By their labors a magnificent college was erected at Serampore; sixteen flourishing stations were established; the Bible was translated into sixteen languages, and the seeds were sown of a beneficent moral revolution in British India. Carey was never ashamed of the humbleness of his origin. On one occasion, when at the Governor-General's table, he overheard an officer opposite him asking another, loud enough to be heard, whether Carey had not once been a shoemaker: "No, sir," exclaimed Carey immediately; "only a cobbler." An eminently characteristic anecdote has been told of his perseverance as a boy. When climbing a tree one day, his foot slipped and he fell to the ground, breaking his leg by the fall. He was confined to his bed for weeks, but when he recovered and was able to walk without support, the very first thing he did was to go and climb that tree. Carey had need of this sort of dauntless courage for the great missionary work of his life, and nobly and resolutely he did it.

It was a maxim of Dr. Young, the philosopher, that "Any man can do what any other man has done;" and it is unquestionable that he himself never recoiled from any trials to which he determined to subject himself. It is related of him, that the first time he mounted a horse he was in company with the grandson of Mr. Barclay, of Ury, the well-known sportsman. When the horseman who preceded them leaped a high fence, Young wished to imitate him, but fell off his horse in the attempt. Without saying a word, he remounted, made a second effort, and was again unsuccessful, but this time he was not thrown farther than on to the horse's neck, to which he clung. At the third trial he succeeded, and cleared the fence.

The story of Timour, the Tartar, learning a lesson of perseverance under adversity from the spider is well know. Not less interesting is the anecdote of Audubon, the American ornithologist, as related by himself: "An accident," he says, "which happened to two hundred of my original drawings, nearly put a stop to my researches in ornithology. I shall relate it, merely to show how far enthusiasm—for by no other name can I call my perseverance—may enable the preserver of nature to surmount the most disheartening difficulties. I left the village of Henderson, in Kentucky, situated on the banks of the Ohio, where I resided for several years, to proceed to Philadelphia on business. I looked to my drawings before my departure, placed them carefully in a wooden box, and gave them in charge of a relative, with injunctions to see that no injury should happen to them. My absence was of several months; and when I returned, after having enjoyed the pleasures of home for a few days, I inquired after my box, and what I was pleased to call my treasure. The box was produced and opened; but, reader, feel for me—a pair of Norway rats had taken possession of the whole, and reared a young family among the gnawed bits of paper, which, but a month previous, represented nearly a thousand inhabitants of air! The burning heat which instantly rushed through my brain was too great to be endured without affecting my whole nervous system. I slept for several nights, and the days passed like days of oblivion—until the animal powers being recalled into action through the strength of my constitution, I took up my gun, my notebook and my pencils, and went forth to the woods as gayly as if nothing had happened. I felt pleased that I might now make better drawings than before; and ere a period not exceeding three years had elapsed, my portfolio was again filled."

The accidental destruction of Sir Isaac Newton's papers, by his little dog "Diamond" upsetting a lighted taper upon his desk, by which the elaborate calculations of many years were in a moment destroyed, is a well-known anecdote, and need not be repeated: it is said that the loss caused the philosopher such profound grief that it seriously injured his health, and impaired his understanding. An accident of a somewhat similar kind happened to the manuscript of Mr. Carlyle's first volume of his "French Revolution." He had lent the manuscript to a literary neighbor to peruse. By some mischance, it had been left lying on the parlor floor, and become forgotten. Weeks ran on, and the historian sent for his work, the printers being loud for "copy." Inquiries were made, and it was found that the maid-of- all-work, finding what she conceived to be a bundle of waste paper on the floor, had used it to light the kitchen and parlor fires with! Such was the answer returned to Mr. Carlyle; and his feelings can be imagined. There was, however, no help for him but to set resolutely to work to rewrite the book; and he turned to it and did it. He had no draft and was compelled to rake up from his memory, facts, ideas, and expressions which had been long since dismissed. The composition of the book in the first instance had been a work of pleasure; the rewriting of it a second time was one of pain and anguish almost beyond belief. That he persevered and finished the volume under such circumstances, affords an instance of determination of purpose which has seldom been surpassed.

There is no walk in life, in which success has been won, that has not its brilliant examples of the achievements of perseverance. The literary life, in which all who read are interested, has many illustrations of this. No great career affords stronger proof of this than that of the great Sir Walter Scott, who, delighting his own generation, must be honored by all the generations that follow.

His admirable working qualities were trained in a lawyer's office, where he pursued for many years a sort of drudgery scarcely above that of a copying clerk. His daily dull routine made his evenings, which were his own, all the ore sweet; and he generally devoted them to reading and study. He himself attributed to his prosaic office discipline that habit of steady, sober diligence, in which mere literary men are so often found wanting. As a copying clerk he was allowed 3_d._ for every page containing a certain number of words; and he sometimes, by extra work, was able to copy as many as 120 pages in twenty-four hours, thus earning some 30_s._; out of which he would occasionally purchase an odd volume, otherwise beyond his means.

During his after-life Scott was wont to pride himself upon being a man of business, and he averred, in contradiction to what he called the cant of sonneteers, that there was no necessary connection between genius and an aversion or contempt for the common duties of life. On the contrary, he was of opinion that to spend some fair portion of every day in any matter-of-fact occupation was good for the higher faculties themselves in the upshot. While afterward acting as clerk to the Court of Session in Edinburgh, he performed his literary work chiefly before breakfast, attending the court during the day, where he authenticated registered deeds and writings of various kinds. "On the whole," says Lockhart, "it forms one of the most remarkable features in his history, that throughout the most active period of his literary career, he must have devoted a large proportion of his hours, during half at least of every year, to the conscientious discharge of professional duties." It was a principle of action which he laid down for himself, that he must earn his living by business, and not by literature. On one occasion he said, "I determined that literature should be my staff, not my crutch, and that the profits of my literary labor, however convenient otherwise, should not, if I could help it, become necessary to my ordinary expenses."

His punctuality was one of the most carefully cultivated of his habits, otherwise it had not been possible for him to get through so enormous an amount of literary labor. He mad it a rule to answer every letter received by him on the same day, except where inquiry and deliberation were requisite. Nothing else could have enabled him to keep abreast with the flood of communications that poured in upon him and sometimes put his good-nature to the severest test. It was his practice to rise by five o'clock and light his own fire. He shaved and dressed with deliberation, and was seated at his desk by six o'clock, with his papers arranged before him in the most accurate order, his works of reference marshaled round him on the floor, while at least one favorite dog lay watching his eye, outside the line of books. Thus by the time the family assembled for breakfast, between nine and ten, he had done enough—to use his own words—to break the neck of a day's work. But with all his diligent and indefatigable industry, and his immense knowledge, the result of may years' patient labor, Scott always spoke with the greatest diffidence of his own powers. On one occasion he said, "Throughout every part of my career I have felt pinched and hampered by my own ignorance."

But perseverance and effort do not always mean successful work. Freeman Hunt distinguishes admirably between activity and energy in the following statement, which it would be well to remember:

"There are some men whose failure to succeed in life is a problem to others, as well as to themselves. They are industrious, prudent, and economical; yet, after a long life of striving, old age finds them still poor. They complain of ill-luck; they say fate is against them. But the real truth is that their projects miscarry because they mistake mere activity for energy. Confounding two things essentially different, they suppose that if they are always busy, they must of a necessity be advancing their fortune; forgetting that labor misdirected is but a waste of activity."

"The person who would succeed in life is like a marksman firing at a target—if his shot misses the mark, it is but a waste of powder; to be of any service at all, it must tell in the bull's eye or near it. So, in the great game of life, what a man does must be made to count, or it had almost as well be left undone.

"The idle warrior, cut from a block of wood, who fights the air on the top of a weather-cock, instead of being made to turn some machine commensurate with his strength, is not more worthless than the merely active man who, though busy from sunrise to sunset, dissipates his labor on trifles, when he ought skillfully to concentrate it on some great end.

"Every person knows some one in his circle of acquaintance who, though always active, has this want of energy. The distemper, if we may call it such, exhibits itself in various ways. In some cases, the man has merely an executive faculty when he should have a directing one; in other words, he makes a capital clerk for himself, when he ought to do the thinking work for the establishment. In other cases, what is done is either not done at the right time, or not in the right way. Sometimes there is no distinction made between objects of different magnitudes, and as much labor is bestowed on a trivial affair as on a matter of great moment.

"Energy, correctly understood, is activity proportioned to the end. The first Napoleon would often, when in a campaign, remain for days without undressing himself, now galloping from point to point, now dictating dispatches, now studying maps and directing operations. But his periods of repose, when the crisis was over, were generally as protracted as his previous exertions had been. He has been known to sleep for eighteen hours without waking. Second-rate men, slaves of tape and routine, while they would fall short of the superhuman exertions of the great emperor, would have considered themselves lost beyond hope if they imitated what they call his indolence. They are capital illustrations of activity, keeping up their monotonous jog- trot for ever; while Napoleon, with his gigantic industry, alternating with such apparent idleness, is an example of energy.

"We do not mean to imply that chronic indolence, if relieved occasionally by spasmodic fits of industry, is to be recommended. Men who have this character run into the opposite extreme of that which we have been stigmatizing, and fail as invariably of securing success in life. To call their occasional periods of application energy, would be a sad misnomer. Such persons, indeed, are but civilized savages, so to speak; vagabonds at heart in their secret hatred of work, and only resorting to labor occasionally, like the wild Indian who, after lying for weeks about his hut, is roused by sheer hunger to start on a hunting excursion. Real energy is persevering, steady, disciplined. It never either loses sight of the object to be accomplished, or intermits its exertions while there is a possibility of success. Napoleon on the plains of Champagne, sometimes fighting two battles in one day, first defeating the Russians and then turning on the Austrians, is an illustration of this energy. The Duke of Brunswick, idling away precious time when he invaded France at the outbreak of the first Revolution, is an example of the contrary. Activity beats about a cover like an untrained dog, never lighting on the covey. Energy goes straight to the bird at once and captures it."

A Review of "How to Get On in Life"

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Chapter XVII - Success But Seldom Accidental


Law of Attraction Articles - The Key to Success

Patience and Perseverance
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