( Originally Published 1879 )
THE longer we live the more we are certain the great difference between men—between the feeble and the powerful, the great and the insignificant, is energy; invincible determination—a purpose, once fixed, and then death or victory! That quality will do anything that can be done in this world; and no talents, no circumstances, no opportunities, will make a two-legged creature a man without it.
Never suffer your energies to stagnate. There is no genius of life like the genius of energy and industry. All the traditions current among very young men that certain great characters have wrought their greatness by an inspiration, as it were, grows out of a sad mistake. There are no rivals so formidable as those earnest, determined minds, which reckon the value of every hour, and which achieve eminence by 'persistent application.
The difference between one boy and another consists not so much in talent as in energy. Provided the dunce has persistency and application, he will inevitably head the cleverer fellow without these qualities. Slow but sure wins the race. It is perseverance that explains how the position of boys at school is often reversed in real life; and it is curious to note how some who were then so clever have since become so common-place, whilst others, dull boys, of whom nothing was expected, slow in their faculties, but sure in their pace, have assumed the position of leaders of men. We recollect that when a boy we stood in the same class with one of the greatest of dunces. One teacher after another had tried his skill upon him and failed. Corporeal punishmënt, the fools-cap, coaxing, and earnest entreaty, proved alike fruitless. Sometimes the experiment was tried of putting him at the top of his class, and it was curious to note the rapidity with which he gravitated to the inevitable bottom, like a lump of lead passing through quicksilver. The youth was given up by many teachers as an incorrigible dunce—one of them pronouncing him to be "a stupendous booby." Yet, slow though he was, this dunce had a dull energy and a sort of beefy tenacity of purpose, which grew with his muscles and his manhood; and, strange to say, when he at length came to take part in the practical business of life, he was found heading most of his school companions, and eventually left the greater number of them far behind. The tortoise in the right road will beat a racer in the wrong. It matters not though a youth be slow, if he be but diligent. Quickness of parts may even prove a defect, inasmuch as the boy who learns readily will often forget quite as readily ; and also because he finds no need of cultivating that quality of application and perseverance which the slower youth is compelled to exercise, and which proves so valuable an element in the formation of every character. The highest culture is not obtained from teachers when at school or college, so much as by our own diligent self-education when we have become men. Parents need not be in too great haste to see their children's talents forced into bloom. Let them watch and wait patiently, letting good example and quiet training do their work, and leave the rest to Providence. Let them see to it that the youth is provided, by free exercise of his bodily powèrs, with a full stock of physical health; set him fairly on the road of self-culture; carefully train his habits of application and perseverance; and as he grows older, if the right stuff be in him, he will be enabled vigorously and effectively to cultivate himself.
He who has heart has everything; and who doth not burn doth not inflame. It is astonishing how much may be accomplished in self culture by the energetic and the persevering, who are careful to avail them-selves of opportunities, and use up the fragments of spare time which the idle permit to run to waste. In study as in business, energy is the great thing. We must not only strike the iron while it is hot, but strike it until it is made hot.
Give us not men like weathercocks, that change with every wind, but men like mountains, who change the winds themselves. There is always room for a man of force, and he makes room for many. You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one. Therefore don't live in hope with your arms folded; fortune smiles on those who roll up their sleeves and put their shoulders to the wheel. "I can't! it is impossible!" said a foiled lieutenant to Alexander. "Begone! " shouted the conquering Macedonian in reply—" there is nothing impossible to him who will try; " and to make good his words, the haughty warrior, not yet come to weep that there were no more worlds to subdue, charged with a phalanx the rock-crested fortress that had defied his timid subaltern, and the foe were swept down as with the besom of destruction.
A man's character is seen in small matters; and from even so slight a test as the mode in which a man wields a hammer, his energy may in some measure be inferred. Thus an eminent Frenchman hit off in a single phrase the characteristic quality of the inhabit-ants of a particular district, in which a friend of his proposed to buy land and settle. "Beware," said he, "of making a purchase there; I know the men of that department; the pupils who come from it to our veterinary school at Paris, do not strike hard upon the anvil; they want energy; and you will not get a satisfactory return on any capital you may invest there." A fine and just appreciation of character, indicating the accurate and thoughtful observer; and strikingly illustrative of the fact that it is the energy of the individual men that gives strength to a state, and confers a value even upon the very soil which they cultivate.
It is a Spanish maxim, that he who loseth wealth, loseth much; he who loseth a friend, loseth more; but he who loseth his energies, loseth all.