Luck And Pluck
( Originally Published 1879 )
YOUNG man, your success or your failure, your weal or woe of life will hang largely in the manner in which you treat these two words.
Rev. G. S. Weaver says: "The word luck is suggestive of a want of law." This idea has passed into many common proverbs, such as these: "It is more by hit than good wit;" "It is as well to be born lucky as rich;" "Fortune is a fickle jade;" "Risk nothing, win nothing;" and more of a similar import, all ignoring the grand rule of law and resting upon the atheistical idea of chance.
Our fathers were good, religious people, and did not mean to foster atheism when they talked about luck, and gave a half-way assent to its Godless reality. If the universe were an infinite chaos; if order had no throne in its wide realm; if universal law were a fable of fancy; if God were a Babel, or the world a Pandemonium, there might be such a thing as luck. But while from the particle to the globe, from the animalcule to the archangel, there is not a being or a thing, a time or an event, disconnected with the great government of eternal law and order, we cannot see how such a game of chance as the word luck supposes can be admitted into any corner of the great world. Luck! What is it? A lottery? A hap-hazard? A frolic of gnomes? A blind-man's-bluff among the laws? A ruse among the elements? A trick of dame Nature? Has any scholar defined luck, any philosopher explained its nature, any chemist shown us its elements? Is luck that strange, nondescript unmateriality that does all things among men that they cannot account for? If so, why does not luck make a fool speak words of wisdom; an ignoramus utter -lectures on philosophy; a stupid dolt write the great works of music and poetry; a double-fingered dummy create the beauties of art, or an untutored savage the wonders of mechanism?
If we should go into a country where the sluggard's farm is covered with the richest grains and fruits, and where industry is rewarded only with weeds and brambles; where the drunkard looks sleek and beautiful, and his home cheerful and happy, while temperance wears the haggard face and eats the bread of want and misery; where labor starves, while idleness is fed and grows fat; where common sense is put upon the pillory, while twaddle and moonshine are raised to distinction; , where genius lies in the gutter and ignorance soars to the skies; where virtue is incarcerated in prison, while vice is courted and wooed by the sunlight, we might possibly be led to believe that luck had something to do there. But where we see, as we everywhere do in our world, the rewards of industry, energy, wisdom and virtue constant as the warmth in sunlight or beauty in flowers, we must deny in toto the very existence of this good and evil essence which men have called luck.
Was it luck that gave Girard and Astor, Rothschild and Gray their vast wealth? Was it luck that won victories for Washington, Wellington and Napoleon? Was it luck that carved Venus de Medici, that wrote the "AEneid," "Paradise Lost," and "Festus?" Was it luck' that gave Morse his telegraph, or Fulton his steamboat, or Franklin the lightning for his plaything? Is it luck that gives the merchant his business, the lawyer his clients, the minister his hearers, the physician his patients, the mechanic his labor, the farmer his harvest? Nay, verily. No man believes it. And yet many are the men who dream of luck, as though such a mysterious spirit existed, and did sometimes humor the whims of visionary cowards and drones.
Many are the young men who waste the best part of their lives in attempts to woo this coy maid into their embraces. They enter into this, or that, or the other speculation, with the dreamy hope that luck will pay them a smiling visit. Some go to California, or Australia, or the " Far West," or to the torrid or the frigid zone, or some wondrous away-off place, with no fair prospect or hope of success from their own energies and exertions, but depending almost wholly on a gentle smile from capricious luck. Poor fellows ! they find that luck does not get so far from home.
Some, less daring and more lazy, loiter about home, drawl around town, or loll through the country, whose only trust or expectation is in a shuffle of luck in their favor. They know they deserve nothing, yet, with an impudence hard as brass, they will pray to luck for a "windfall," or a "fat office," or a "living," and foolishly wait for an answer. These are the men that make your gamblers, your house thieves, your counterfeiters, your gentlemen loafers. They are not men that originally mean any harm. But they believe in luck, and their trust is in luck, and they are going to have it out of luck some way. They despised meanness at fi -st, perhaps, as much as you and I do; but somebody told them of luck, and they believed, and to ! they got duped. Little by little they went over to meanness, waiting all the while for a shake of the hand from luck.
Some of the believers in luck, of more moral firmness, dally with all life's great duties, and so do about the same as nothing, and eat the bread of disappointment. They do a little at this business, and luck does not smile. They do a little at that, still luck keeps. away. They do a little at something else, they hear not a foot-fall from luck. And so they fritter away time and life. These are the do littles. Hard-working men they are frequently. It is with them as though they had started to go to a place a thousand miles distant, leading to which there were many roads. They set out at full speed on one road, go a few miles, and get tired, and so conclude to turn back and try another And so they try one road after another, each time returning to the starting-place. In, a little while it is too late to get there at the appointed time, and so they mope along any road they happen to be on till the day is over.
They crave a good they do not earn; they pray to luck to give what does not belong to them; their whole inward life is a constant craving wish for something to which they have no just claim. It is a morbid, feverish covetousness, which is very apt to end in the conclusion, " The world owes me a living, and a living I'll have," and so they go out to get a living as best they may. They fancy that every rich and honored man has got his good by some turn of luck, and hence they feel that he has no special right to his property or his honors, and so they will get either from him if they can. They look upon the world, not as a great hive of industry, where men are rewarded according to their labors and merits, but as a grand lottery, a magnificent scheme of chance, in which fools and idlers have as fair a show as talent and labor.
In my humble opinion, this philosophy of luck is at the bottom of more dishonesty, wickedness, and moral corruption than any thing else. It sows its seeds in youthful minds just at that visionary season when judgment has not been ripened by experience nor imagination corrected by wisdom. And it takes more minds from the great school-house of useful life, and more arms from the great workshop of human industry, than any other one thing to which my mind reverts. It is a moral palsy, against which every just man should arm himself. The cure of the evil is found in pluck.
It is not luck, but pluck, which weaves the web of life; it is not luck, but pluck, which turns the wheel of fortune. It is pluck that amasses wealth, that crowns men with honors, that forges the luxuries of life. I use the term pluck as synonymous with whole-hearted energy, genuine bravery of soul.
That man is to be pitied who is too fearful and cowardly to go out and do battle for an honest living and a competence in the great field of human exertion. He is the man of luck, bad luck. Poor fellow! He lost his luck when he lost his' pluck. Good pluck is good luck. Bad pluck is bad luck. Many a man has lost his luck, but never while he had good pluck left. Men lose their luck by letting their energies eke through bad habits and unwise projects. One man loses his luck in his late morning naps, another in his late evening hours. One loses his luck in the barroom, another in the ball-room; one down by the river holdng the boyish fishing-rod, another in the woods chasing down the innocent squirrel. One loses his luck in folly, one in fashion, one in idleness, one in high living, one in dishonesty, one in brawls, one in sensualism, and a great many in bad management. Indeed, bad management is at the bottom of nearly all bad luck. It is bad management to train up a family of bad habits, to eat out one's living and corrupt his life. It is bad management to drink liquor, and, eat tobacco, and smoke, and swear, and tattle, and visit soda-fountains, and cream saloons, and theatres, and brothels, and live high, and chase after the fashions, and fret and scold, and get angry, and abuse people, and mind other people's business and neglect one's own. It is bad management to expose one's health or overtax one's powers, and get sick, and take drugs to get well; to be idle or extravagant, or mean or dishonest. All these things tend to bring that evil genius which men call bad luck.
Indeed, there is hardly a word in the vocabulary which is more cruelly abused than the word "luck." To all the faults and failures of men, their positive sins and their less culpable short-comings, it is made to stand a godfather and sponsor. We are all Micawbers at heart, fancying that "something " will one day "turn up" for our good, for which we have never striven.
An unskillful commander sometimes wins a victory; and again a famous warrior finds himself, "after a hundred victories, foiled." Some of the skillfulest sea-captains lose every ship they sail in; others, less experienced, never lose a spar. Some men's houses take fire an hour after the insurance expires; others never insure, and never are burned out. Some of the shrewdest men, with indefatigable industry and the closest economy, fail to make money; others, with apparently none of the qualities that insure success, are continually blundering into profitable speculations, and, Midas-like, touch nothing but it turns to gold. Beau Brummell, with his lucky sixpence in his pocket, wins at every gaming-table, and bags £40,000 in the clubs of London and Newmarket.
So powerfully does fortune appear to sway the destinies of men, putting a silver spoon into one man's mouth, and a wooden one into another's, that some of the most sagacious of men, as Cardinal Mazarin and Rothschild, seem to have been inclined to regard luck as the first element of worldly success; experience, sagacity, energy, and enterprise as nothing, if linked to an unlucky star. Whittington, and his cat that proved such a source of riches; the man who, worn out by a painful disorder, attempted suicide, and was cured by opening an internal imposthume; the Persian, condémned to lose his tongue, on whom the operation was so bunglingly performed that it merely removed an impediment in his speech; the painter who produced an effect he had long toiled after in vain, by throwing his brush at the picture in a fit of rage and despair; the musical composer, who, having exhausted his patience in attempts to imitate on the piano a storm at sea, accomplished the precise result by angrily ex-tending his hands to the two extremities of the keys, and bringing them rapidly together — all these seem to many fit types of the freaks of fortune by which some men are enriched or made famous by their blunders, while others, with ten times the capacity and knowledge, are kept at the bottom of her wheel. Hence we see thousands fold their arms and look with indifference on the great play of life, keeping aloof from its finest and therefore most arduous struggles, because they believe that success is a matter of accident, and that they may spend their heart's choicest blood and affection on noble ends, yet be balked of victory, cheated of any just returns. Really "lucky fellows" there have always been in the world; but in a great majority of cases they who are called such will be found on examination to be those keen-sighted men who have surveyed the world with a scrutinizing eye, and who to clear and exact ideas of what is necessary to be done unite the skill necessary to execute their well-approved plans.
At first, in our admiration of the man who stands upon the topmost round of the ladder of fame, we are apt to mistake the way in which he got there. Our eyes are weary with gazing up, and dazzled by the brilliant light; and we fancy that God must have let him down out of heaven for us; never thinking that he may have clambered up, round after round, through the mists which shroud the base of that ladder, while all the world, in its heedlessness, was looking another way. Then, when we come to know better, we are content to lie prostrate at the foot of our ladder, as Jacob slept beneath his, dreaming that they are angels whom we see ascending, and believing they ascend by heaven-born genius, or some miraculous way, not by pluck.
A better solution is that which explains the phenomena of eminent success by industry. Clearly, the industrious use of ordinary tools, whether mechanical or intellectual, will accomplish far more than the mere possession of the most perfectly appointed tool-chest that was ever contrived. This is especially true of the mind, whose powers improve with use. When we reflect how the sharp wit-blade grows keener in often cutting, how the logic-hammer swells into a perfect sledge in long striking, how all our mental tools gain strength and edge in severe employment, we shall see that it is but a poor question to ask concerning success in life, "What tools had you? "—that a better question is, "How have you used your tools?"
One who thus educates himself up to success is often contented to labor a long while in a very humble sphere. He knows too much, indeed, to abandon one position before his powers for a higher one are fully ripe; for he has observed that they who leap too rapidly from one of life's stepping stones to another, are more likely to lose their footing than to improve it. Very often, there-fore, one who possesses this character grows up to complete manhood before his neighbors take him out of his cradle. In some Western parish, in some country practice, or at the head of some district school, he labors quietly for years and years, gathering a secret strength from every occurrence of his life, unnoticed, unknown, until at last the crisis of opportunity arrives—to every man such opportunity some time comes—and he starts forth, armed and equipped, thoroughly built from head to foot; there is bone for strength, and stout muscle for movement, and society around is astonished to find that it contained such a power, and knew it not. The rise of an individual, thus trained, is sometimes surprising in its suddenness. To the vision of mankind around, he seems to shoot up like a rocket; and they gaze, and wonder, and glorify the power of genius. Whereas he grew, grew by a slow, steady, natural process of growth, available to all men. He grew, however, under cover; and it was not until circumstances threw the cover off him, that we saw to what stature he had attained.
It is by the exercise of this forward-reaching indus. try that men attain eminence in intellectual life. The lives of eminent men of all nations determine, by a vote almost overwhelming, that whatever may have been their native powers, they did not attain their ultimate success without the most arduous, well-directed, life-lasting labor for self-improvement.
Idleness is death; activity is life. The worker is the hero. Luck lies in labor. This is the end. And labor the fruit of pluck. Luck and pluck, then, meet in labor. Pleasure blossoms on the tree of labor. Wisdom is its fruit. Thrones are built on labor. Kingdoms stand by its steady props. Homes are made by labor. Every man of pluck will make him one and fill it with the fruits of industry. In doing this he will find no time to wait for, or complain of, luck.