( Originally Published 1879 )
GOD never intended that strong, independent beings should be reared by clinging to others, like the ivy to the oak, for support. The difficulties, hardships, and trials of life—the obstacles one encounters on the road to fortune—are positive blessings. They knit his muscles more firmly, and teach him self reliance, just as by wrestling with an athlete who is superior to us, we increase our own strength, and learn the secret of his skill. All difficulties come to us, as Bunyan says, of temptation, like the lion which met Samson; the first time we encounter them they roar and gnash their teeth, but, once subdued, we find a nest of honey in them. Peril is the very element in which power is developed. "Ability and necessity dwell near each other," said Pythagoras.
The greatest curse that can befall a young man is to lean, while his character is forming, on others for support. He who begins with crutches will generally end with crutches. Help from within always strength-ens, but help from without invariably enfeebles its recipient. It is not , in the sheltered garden or the hot-house, but on the rugged Alpine cliffs, where the storms beat most violently, that the toughest plants are reared.
The oak that stands alone to contend with the tempest's blasts, only takes deeper root and stands the firmer for ensuing conflicts; while the forest tree, when the woodman's ax has spoiled its surroundings, sways and bends and trembles, and perchance is up-rooted. So it is with men. Those who are trained to self-reliance are ready to go out and contend in the sternest conflicts of life; while men who have always leaned for support on those around them, are never prepared to breast the storms of adversity that arise.
Many a young man —and for that matter, many who are older—halts at his outset upon life's battle-field, and falters and faints for what he conceives to be a necessary capital for a start. A few thousand dollars, or hundreds, or "something handsome" in the way of money in his purse, he fancies to be about the only thing needful to secure his fortune.
The best capital, in nine cases out of ten, a young man can start in the world with, is robust health, sound morals, a fair intelligence, a will to work his way honestly and bravely, and if it be possible, a trade—whether he follows it for a livelihood or not. He can always fall back upon a trade when other paths are closed. Any one who will study the lives of memorable men—apart from the titled, or hereditarily great — will find that a large majority of them rose from the ranks, with no capital for a start, save intelligence, energy, industry, and a will to rise and conquer. In the mechanic and artizan pursuits, in commerce, in agriculture, and even in the paths of literature, science and art, many of the greatest names sprung from poverty and obscurity. Dr. Johnson made himself illustrious by his intellect and industry—so did Franklin, and so have multitudes whose memories are renowned.
The greatest heroes of the battlefield-as Napoleon, Hannibal, Cromwell—sôme of the greatest states-men and orators, ancient and modern—as Demosthenes, Chatham, Burke, and our own Webster and Clay—could boast no patrician advantages, no capital in gold, to start with. The grandest fortunes ever accumulated or possessed on earth were and are, the fruit of endeavor that had no capital to begin with save energy, intellect, and the will. From Croesus down to Astor, the story is the same—not only in the getting of wealth, but also in the acquirement of various eminence—those men have won most, who relied most upon themselves.
The path of success in business is invariably the path of common sense. Notwithstanding all that is said about "lucky hits," the best kind of success in every man's life is not that which comes by accident. The only " good time coming we are justified in hoping for, is that which we are capable of making for our-. selves. The fable of the labors of Hercules is indeed the type of all human doing and success. Every youth should be made to feel that if he would get through the world usefully and happily, he must rely mainly upon himself and his own independent energies. Making a small provision for young men is hardly justifiable; and it is of all things the most prejudicial to themselves. They think what they have much larger than it really is; and they make no exertion. The young should never hear any language but this: "You have your own way to make, and it depends upon your own exertions whether you starve or not." Outside help is your greatest curse. It handcuffs effort, stifles aspiration, shuts the prison door upon emulation, turns the key on energy.
The wisest charity is to help a man to help himself. To put a man in the way of supporting himself gives him a new lease of life, makes him feel young again, for it is very many times all the sick man needs to restore him to perfect health.
People who have been bolstered up and levered all their lives, are seldom good for anything in a crisis. When misfortune comes, they look around for some-body to cling to, or lean upon. If the prop is not there, down they go. Once down, they are as help-less as capsized turtles, or unhorsed men in armor, and they can not find their feet again without assistance.
There are multitudes of such men. They are like summer vines, which never grow even ligneous, but stretch out a thousand little hands to grasp the stronger shrubs; and if they cannot reach them, they lie dishevelled in the grass, hoof-trodden, and beaten of every storm. It will be found that the first real movement upward will not take place, until, in a spirit of resolute self-denial, indolence, so natural to almost every one, is mastered. Necessity is, usually, the spur that sets the sluggish energies in motion. Poverty, therefore, is oftener a blessing to a young man than prosperity; for, while the one tends to stimulate his powers, the other inclines them to languor and disuse. But, is it not very discreditable for the young man, who is favored with education, friends, and all the outside advantages which could be desired as means to worldly success, to let those who stand in these respects, at the beginning, far below him, gradually approach as the steady years move on, and finally outstrip him in the race? It is not only discreditable, but disgraceful. A man's true position in society, is that which he achieves for himself—he is worth to the world no more, no less. As he builds for society in useful work, so he builds for himself. He. is a man for what he does, not for what his father or his friends have done. If they have done well, and given him a position, the deeper the shame, if he sink down to a meaner level through self-indulgence and indolence.
If a boy is not trained to endure and to bear trouble, he will grow up a girl; and a boy that is a girl has all a girl's weakness without any of her regal qualities.
A woman made out of a woman is God's noblest work; a woman made out of a man is his meanest. A child rightly brought up will be like a willow branch, which, broken off and touching the ground, at once takes root. Bring up your children so that they will root easily in their own soil, and not forever be grafted into your old trunk and boughs.