Chapter XI

We Must Help Ourselves

To the young man of the right kind, the inheritance of a fortune, or the possession of influential friends, may be great advantages, but more frequently they are hindrances. To win you must fight for yourself, and the effort will give you strength.

Optin Page: Goal Mastery For Personal And Financial AchievementThe spirit of self-help is the root of all genuine growth in the individual; and, exhibited in the lives of many, it constitutes the true source of national vigor and strength. Help from without is often enfeebling in its effects, but help from within invariably invigorates. Whatever is done for men or classes, to a certain extent takes away the stimulus and necessity of doing for themselves; and where men are subjected to over-guidance and over-government, the inevitable tendency is to render them comparatively helpless.

The privileges of a superior education, like the inheritance of a fortune, depends upon the man. It should encourage those who have only themselves and God to look to for support, to remember that self-education is the best education, and that some of the greatest men have had few or no school advantages.

Daily experience shows that it is energetic individualism which produces the most powerful effects upon the life and action of others, and really constitutes the best practical education. Schools, academies, and colleges give but the merest beginnings of culture in comparison with it. Far more influential is the life-education daily given in our homes, in the streets, behind counters, in workshops, at the loom and the plough, in counting-houses and manufactories, and in the busy haunts of men. This is that finishing instruction as members of society, which Schiller designated "the education of the human race," consisting in action, conduct, self-culture, self-control...all that tends to discipline a man truly, and fit him for the proper performance of the duties and business of life...a kind of education not to be learned from books, or acquired by any amount of mere literary training. With his usual weight of words Bacon observes, that "Studies teach not their own use; but that is a wisdom without them, and above them, won by observation;" a remark that holds true of actual life, as well as of the cultivation of the intellect itself. For all experience serves to illustrate and enforce the lesson, that a man perfects himself by work more than by reading--that it is life rather than literature, action rather than study, and character rather than biography, which tend perpetually to renovate mankind.

No matter how humble your calling in life may be, take heart from the fact that many of the world's greatest men have had no superior advantages. Lincoln studied law lying on his face before a log-fire; General Garfield drove a mule on a canal tow-path in his boyhood, and George Peabody, owing to the poverty of his family, was an errand boy in a grocery store at the age of eleven.

Great men of science, literature, and art...apostles of great thoughts and lords of the great heart...have belonged to no exclusive class or rank in life. They have come alike, from colleges, workshops, and farm-houses...from the huts of poor men and the mansions of the rich.

Some of God's greatest apostles have come from "the ranks." The poorest have sometimes taken the highest places, nor have difficulties apparently the most insuperable proved obstacles in their way. Those very difficulties, in many instances, would even seem to have been their best helpers, by evoking their powers of labor and endurance, and stimulating into life faculties which might otherwise have lain dormant. The instances of obstacles thus surmounted, and of triumphs thus achieved, are indeed so numerous as almost to justify the proverb that "with will one can do anything."

If we look to England, the mother country, a land where the advantages are not nearly so great as in this and the difficulties greater, we shall find noble spirits rising to usefulness and eminence in the face of difficulties equally great.

Shoemakers have given us Sir Cloudesley Shovel the great admiral, Sturgeon the electrician, Samuel Drew the essayist, Gifford the editor of the "Quarterly Review", Bloomfield the poet, and William Carey the missionary; whilst Morrison, another laborious missionary, was a maker of shoe-lasts. Within the last few years, a profound naturalist has been discovered in the person of a shoemaker at Banff, named Thomas Edwards, who, while maintaining himself by his trade, has devoted his leisure to the study of natural science in all its brandies, his researches in connection with the smaller crustaceae having been rewarded by the discovery of a new species, to which the name of "Praniza Edwardsii" has been given by naturalists.

Nor have tailors been undistinguished. John Stow, the historian, worked at the trade during some part of his life. Jackson, the painter, made clothes until he reached manhood. The brave Sir John Hawkswood, who so greatly distinguished himself at Poictiers, and was knighted by Edward III for his valor, was in early life apprenticed to a London tailor. Admiral Hobson, who broke the boom at Vigo in 1702, belonged to the same calling. He was working as tailor's apprentice near Bonchurch, in the Isle of Wight, when the news flew through the village that a squadron of men-of-war was sailing off the island. He sprang from the shopboard, and ran down with his comrades to the beach, to gaze upon the glorious sight. The boy was suddenly inflamed with the ambition to be a sailor; and springing into a boat, he rowed off to the squadron, gained the admiral's ship, and was accepted as a volunteer. Years after, he returned to his native village full of honors, and dined off bacon and eggs in the cottage where he had worked as an apprentice.

Oliver Goldsmith was regarded as a dunce in his school days, and Daniel Webster was so dull as a school-boy as not to indicate in any way the great abilities he was to display.

Humbert was a scapegrace when a youth; at sixteen he ran away from home and was by turns servant to a tradesman at Nancy, a workman at Lyons, and a hawker of rabbit-skins. In 1792, he enlisted as a volunteer and in a year he was general of brigade. Kleber, Lefebvre, Suchet, Victor, Lannes, Soult, Massena, St. Cyr, D'Erlon, Murat, Augereau, Bessieres and Ney, all rose from the ranks. In some cases promotion was rapid, in others it was slow. St. Cyr, the son of a tanner of Toul, began life as an actor, after which he enlisted in the chasseurs and was promoted to a captaincy within a year. Victor, Due de Belluno, enlisted in the artillery in 1781: during the events preceding the Revolution he was discharged; but immediately on the outbreak of war he re-enlisted, and in the course of a few months his intrepidity and ability secured his promotion as adjutant-major and chief of battalion. Murat was the son of a village innkeeper in Perigord, where he looked after the horses. He first enlisted in a regiment of chasseurs, from which he was dismissed for insubordination; but again, enlisting he shortly rose to the rank of colonel. Ney enlisted at eighteen in a hussar regiment and gradually advanced step by step; Kleber soon discovered his merits, surnaming him "The Indefatigable," and promoted him to be adjutant-general when only twenty-five.

General Christopher Carson, or "Kit" Carson as he is known to the world, although strictly temperate in his life and as gentle as a blue-eyed child in his manner, ran away from his home in Missouri to the Western wilds, when he was a boy of fourteen. His father wanted him to be a farmer, but Providence had greater if not nobler uses for him. Out in the Rocky Mountains...then a wilderness...he learned the Indian languages, and became as familiar with every trail and pass as the red men.

It was the knowledge gained in those early days that enabled Kit Carson to carry succor to Fremont's men perishing in the mountains. Not only did Carson bring food to the dying men, but when they were strong enough to move he guided them to a place of safety.

This truly great man averted many an Indian war, and did as much for the settlement and civilization of the West as any man of his day...more, indeed. In the days of secession he was a patriot, and though he might have grown rich at the expense of the Government, he preferred to die a poor and honored man.

Admiral Farragut, although born in East Tennessee, went into the United States Navy at the early age of eleven. He was the youngest midshipman in the service. "Before I had reached the age of sixteen," he says, "I prided myself on my profanity, and could drink with the strongest."

One morning on recovering from a debauch he reviewed the situation and saw the shoals ahead. Then and there he fell on his knees and asked God to help him. From that day on he gave up tobacco, liquor, and profanity, devoted himself to the study of his profession, and so became the greatest Admiral of modern times. "The canal boat captains, when I was a boy," said General Garfield, "were a profane, carousing, ignorant lot, and, as a boy, I was eager to imitate them. But my eyes were opened before I contracted their habits, and I left them."

John B. Gough is an example of such a change of life that should encourage every young man who has made a mis-step.

Among like men of the same class may be ranked the late Richard Cobden, whose start in life was equally humble. The son of a small farmer at Midhurst in Sussex, he was sent at an early age to London and employed as a boy in a warehouse in the City. He was diligent, well-conducted, and eager for information. His master, a man of the old school, warned him against too much reading; but the boy went on in his own course, storing his mind with the wealth found in books. He was promoted from one position of trust to another, became a traveler for his house, secured a large connection, and eventually started in business as a calico-printer at Manchester. Taking an interest in public questions, more especially in popular education, his attention was gradually drawn to the subject of the Corn Laws, to the repeal of which he may be said to have contributed more than all the rest of Parliament.

It would be a mistake, however, to judge from this that all the world's greatest men, started life poor, or that some men of wealth and prominent family have not contributed their share, and have not, by reason of that wealth, sedulously followed a useful life-calling.

Riches are so great a temptation to ease and self-indulgence, to which men are by nature prone, that the glory is all the greater of those who, born to ample fortunes, nevertheless take an active part in the work of their generation--who "scorn delights and live laborious days."

It was a fine thing said of a subaltern officer in the Peninsular campaigns, observed trudging along through mud and mire by the side of his regiment, "There goes 15,000 pounds a year!" and in our own day, the bleak slopes of Sebastopol and the burning soil of India have borne witness to the like noble self-denial and devotion on the part of the richer classes; many a gallant and noble fellow, of rank and estate, having risked his life, or lost it, in one or other of those fields of action, in the service of his country.

Nor have the wealthier classes been undistinguished in the more peaceful pursuits of philosophy and science. Take, for instance, the great names of Bacon, the father of modern philosophy, and of Worcester, Boyle, Cavendish, Talbot and Rosse in science. The last named may be regarded as the great mechanic of the peerage; a man who, if he had not been born a peer, would probably have taken the highest rank as an inventor. So thorough was his knowledge of smith-work that he is said to have been pressed on one occasion to accept the foremanship of a large workshop, by a manufacturer to whom his rank was unknown. The great Rosse telescope, of his own fabrication, is certainly the most extraordinary instrument of the kind that has yet been constructed.

We are apt to think that the wealthy classes in America are addicted to idleness, but, in proportion to their number, they are as usefully industrious as those who are forced to work for a living. The Adams family, of Massachusetts, for more than a century, has been even more distinguished for statesmanship and intellect than for great wealth. The Vanderbilts have all been hard workers and able business men. George Gould seems to be quite as great a financier as his remarkable father. The Astors are distinguished for their literary ability; William Waldorf Astor and his cousin, John Jacob, are authors of great merit. The Lees, of Virginia, have ever been distinguished for energy, intellect, and a capacity for hard work. And so we might cite a hundred examples to prove that even in America, want is not the greatest incentive to effort.

The indefatigable industry of Lord Brougham has become almost proverbial. His public labors extended over a period of upward of sixty years, during which he ranged over many fields...of law, literature, politics, and science...and achieved distinction in them all. How he contrived it, has been to many a mystery. Once, when Sir Samuel Romilly was requested to undertake some new work, he excused himself by saying that he had no time; "but," he added, "go with it to that fellow Brougham, he seems to have time for everything." The secret of it was, that he never left a minute unemployed; withal he possessed a constitution of iron. When arrived at an age at which most men would have retired from the world to enjoy their hard-earned leisure, perhaps to doze away their time in an easy chair, Lord Brougham commenced and prosecuted a series of elaborate investigations as to the laws of Light, and he submitted the results to the most scientific audiences that Paris and London could muster. About the same time, he was passing through the press his admirable sketches of the "Men of Science and Literature of the Reign of George III," and taking his full share of the law business and the political discussions in the House of Lords. Sydney Smith once recommended him to confine himself to only the transaction of so much business as three strong men could get through. But such was Brougham's love of work...long become a habit...that no amount of application seems to have been too great for him; and such was his love of excellence that it has been said of him that if his station in life had been only that of a shoeblack, he would never have rested satisfied until he had become the best shoeblack in England.

A Review of "How to Get On in Life"

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