( Originally Published 1879 )
TWENTY clerks in a store; twenty hands in a printing office; twenty apprentices in a shipyard; twenty young men, in a village—all want to get on in the world, and expect to succeed. One of the clerks will become a partner and make a fortune, one of the compositors will own a newspaper and become an influential citizen; one of the apprentices will become a master builder; one of the young villagers will get a handsome farm and live like a patriarch—but which one is the lucky individual? Lucky! there is no luck about it. The thing is almost as certain as the Rule of Three. The young fellow who will distance his competitors is he who maters his business, who preserves his integrity, who lives cleanly and purely, who devotes his leisure hours to the acquisition of knowledge, who never gets into debt, who gains friends by deserving them, and who saves his spare money. There are some ways to fortune shorter than this old dusty highway—but the staunch men of the community, the men who achieve something really worth having, good fortune and serene old age, all go on in this road.
We hear a great deal about "good luck" and "bad luck." If a person has prospered in business, he is said to have had "good luck." If he has failed, he has had "bad luck," If he has been sick, good or bad luck is said to have visited him, accordingly as he got, well or died. Or, if he has remained in good health, while others have been attacked by some epidemic disease, he has had the "good luck" to escape that with which others have had the "bad luck" to be seized. Good or bad luck is, in most cases, but a synonym for good or bad judgment. The prudent, the considerate, and the circumspect seldom complain of ill luck.
We do not know anything which more fascinates youth than what, for want of a better word, we may call brilliancy. Gradually, however, this peculiar kind of estimation changes very much. It is no longer those who are birilliant, those who affect to do the most and the best work with the least apparent pains and trouble, whom we are most inclined to admire. We eventually come to admire labor, and to respect it the more, the more openly it is proclaimed by the laborious man to be the cause of his success, if he has any success to boast of.
A great moral safeguard is habits of industry. This promotes our happiness; and so leaves no cravings for those vices which lead on and down to sin and its untold miseries. Industry conducts to prosperity. Fortunes may, it is true, be won in a day; but they may also be lost in a day. It is only the hand of the diligent that makes one permanently rich. The late Mr. Ticknor, of Boston, a model merchant-and publisher, in his last hours spoke of the value of a steady pursuit of one's legitimate business. He commented on the insane traffic in gold at that moment, as ruinous to the country and the parties engaged in it. "The pathway of its track," said he, "is strewn with wrecks of men and fortunes; but few have failed of success who were honest, earnest, and patient." He attributed his own success to his clinging to his resolution to avoid all speculations, and steadily pursuing the business of his choice. He had been bred to the trade of a broker; but thought it as dangerous as the lottery and dice. And no young man could fail to be warned by him, who had seen the frenzy that comes over the "Brokers' Board." "A Babel of conflicting sounds—a hot oven of excitement" is that board; it is a moral storm which few can withstand long. How much wiser is he who keeps out of this whirlpool, content with an honest calling and reasonable gains.
Who are the successful men? They are those who when boys were compelled to work either to help themselves or their parents, and who when a little older were under the stern necessity of doing more than their legit-mate share of labor, who as young men had their wits sharpened by having to devise ways and means of making their time more available than it would be under ordinary circumstances. Hence in reading the lives of eminent men who have greatly distinguished themselves, we find their youth passed in self denials of food, sleep, rest, and recreation. They sat up late, rose early, to the performance of imperative duties, doing by daylight the work of one man, and by night that of another. Said a gentleman, the other day, now a private banker of high integrity, and who started in life without a dollar, "For years I was in my place of business by sunrise, and often did not leave it for fifteen or eighteen hours." Let not, then, any youth be discouraged if he has to make his own living, or even to support a widowed mother, or sick sister, or unfortunate' relative; for this has been the road to eminence of many a proud name. This is the path which printers and teachers have often trod—thorny enough at times, at others so beset with obstacles as to be almost impassable: but the way was cleared, sunshine came, success followed—then the glory and renown.
The secret of one's success or failure in nearly every enterprise is usually contained in answer to the question: How earnest is he? Success is the child of confidence and perseverance. The talent of success is simply doing what you can do well, and doing well whatever you do—without a thought of fame. Fame never comes because it is craved. Success is the best test of capacity. Success is not always a proper criterion for judging a man's character. It is certain that success naturally confirms us in a favorable opinion of ourselves. Success in life consists in the proper and harmonious development of those faculties which God has given' us.
Be thrifty that you may have wherewith to be charitable. He that labors and thrives spins gold.
We are familiar with people who whine continually at fate. To believe them, never was a lot so hard as theirs; yet those who know their history will generally tell you that their life has been but one long tale of opportunities disregarded, or misfortunes otherwise deserved. Perhaps they were born poor. In this case they hate the rich, and have always hated them, but without ever having emulated their prudence or energy. Perhaps they have seen their rivals more favored by accident. In this event they forgot how many have been less lucky than themselves; so they squandered their little, because, as they say, they cannot save as much as others. Irritated at life, they grow old pre-maturely. Dissatisfied with everything, they never permit themselves to be happy. Because they are not born at the top of the wheel of fortune, they refuse to take hold of the spoke as the latter comes around, but lie stubborn to the dirt, crying like spoiled children, neither doing anything themselves, nor permitting others to do it for them.
Some men make a mistake in marrying. They do not in this matter either begin right. Have they their fortunes still to make? Too often, instead of seeking one who would be a helpmate in the true sense of the term, they unite themselves to a giddy, improvident creature, with nothing to recommend her but the face of a doll and a few showy accomplishments. Such a wife, they discover too late, neither makes home happy nor helps to increase her husband's means. At first, thriftless, extravagant and careless, she gradually be-comes -cross and reproachful, and while she envies other women, and reproaches her husband because he cannot afford to maintain her like them, is really the principal cause of his ill fortune. The selection of a proper companion is one of the most important concerns of life. A well-assorted marriage assists, instead of retarding, a man's prosperity. Select a sensible, agree-able, amiable woman, and you will have secured a prize "better than riches." If you do otherwise, then, alas for you!
Treat every one with respect and civility. "Everything is gained, and nothing lost, by courtesy." "Good manners insure, success." Never anticipate wealth from any other source than labor. "He who waits for dead men's shoes may have to go a long time bare foot." And above all, "Nil desperandum," for "Heaven helps those who help themselves." If you implicitly follow these precepts, nothing can hinder you from accumulating. Let the business of everybody else alone, and attend to. your own; don't buy what you don't want; use every hour to advantage, and study to make even leisure hours useful; think twice before you throw away a shilling; remember you will have another to make for it; find recreation in your own business; buy low, sell fair, and take care of the profits; look over your books regularly, and, if you find an error, trace it out; should a stroke of misfortune come over your trade, retrench, work harder, but never fly the track; confront difficulties with unceasing perseverance, and they will disappear at last; though you should fail in the struggle, you will- be honored, but shrink from the task and you will be despised.
Engage in one kind of business only, and stick to it faithfully until you succeed, or until your experience shows that you should abandon it. A constant hammering on one nail will generally drive it home at last, so that it can be clinched. When a man's undivided attention is centered on one object, his mind will constantly be suggesting improvements of value, which would escape him if his brain was occupied by a dozen different subjects at once. Many a fortune has slipped through a man's fingers because he was engaging in too many occupations at a time. There is good sense in the old caution against having too many irons in the fire at once.
"At thy first entrance upon thy estate," once said a wise man, "keep a low sail, that thou mayst rise with honor; thou canst not decline without shame; he that begins where his father ends, will end where his father began." An English judge being asked what contributed most to success at the bar, replied, "Some succeed by great talent, some by the influence of friends, some by a miracle, but the majority by commencing_ without a shilling."
Everywhere in human experience, as frequently in nature, hardship is the vestibule of the highest success. That magnificent oak was detained twenty years in its upward growth while its roots took a great turn around a boulder by which the tree was anchored to withstand the storms of centuries.
In our intercourse with the world a cautious circumspection is of great advantage. Slowness of belief, and a proper distrust, are essential to success. The credulous and confiding are ever the dupes of knaves and imposters. Ask those who have lost their property how it happened, and you will find in most cases it has been owing to misplaced confidence. One has lost by endorsing; another by crediting; another by false representations; all of which a little more foresight and a little more distrust would have prevented. In the affairs of this world men are not saved by faith, but by the want of it.
They who are eminently successful in business, or who achieve greatness, or even notoriety in any pursuit, must expect to make enemies. Whoever becomes distinguished is sure to be a mark for the malicious spite of those who, not deserving success themselves, are galled by the merited triumph of the more worthy. Moreover, the opposition which originates in such despicable motives, is sure to be of the most unscrupulous character; hesitating at no iniquity, descending to the shabbiest littleness. Opposition, if it be honest and manly, is not in itself undesirable. It is the whetstone by which a highly tempered nature is polished and sharpened. He that has never known adversity, is but half acquainted with others or with himself. Constant success shows us but one side of the world. For, as it surrounds us with friends, who will tell us only our merits, so it silences those enemies from whom alone we can learn our defects.