Price Of Success
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
Another requirement for the highest excellence is to form a just appreciation of the difficulty with which success is won. It is a great thing to achieve a truly successful life ; but it is a difficult thing. There is no royal road. None but the greatest geniuses go with a bound to the top. For the most of us no way is left but to labor long and arduously for that degree of excellence which we may reasonably hope to attain. "There are a few gifted souls who seem. to accomplish marvelous results with no apparent effort. Lord Byron "awoke in the morning to find himself famous."
He wrote poetry that made his name immortal, lived an infamous life, and died at the early age of thirty-seven. Shelley, too, had run his "mad career" before he reached the age of thirty-two. Raphael, too, died while a young man, after placing his name among the masters of the world. But to the mass of mankind success is bought at a fearful cost of effort and application. Not only busy days lengthening out into years, but a long life of closest devotion to single pursuits is necessary for most men to win a lasting fame. Goethe did all the best work of his life after he had turned forty, and the mantle of genius had fallen on him. Milton, Shakespeare, Bacon, Michael Angelo and a host of others were long-lived, hard-working men, who worked their way up by hard toil and in the face of great difficulties.
Public lecturers and writers of a certain stamp never seem to tire of saying that any man can be what he. will. The price of success is fixed, say these preachers of a false doctrine, and any man who will pay the price can have it. Pluck, and energy, and determination, say they, will carry a man anywhere in this country, if they be exercised in sufficient proportions. All such statements assume that success is won by the exercise of force and is not a result of character as well. Force may be misdirected, often is. Pluck applied to the life of a shallow-brained pettifogger becomes brazen effrontery and unendurable cheek, which will carry a man nowhere but to the fools' paradise. Energy and determination are powerful adjuncts to a good character and a sensible judgment; but they are a positive hindrance to the man who cannot use them as intelligent means to greatness.
It is so easy to reason in a circle here. It is the nature of genius to labor patiently to a given end. Therefore, say our popular lecturers, patient labor to a given end is genius. Men who have achieved striking success are possessed of great powers of will. Therefore it is easy to leap to the conclusion that the exercise of will in a large measure will achieve success. There could be no greater mistake. Effort, Will, Spunk, Pluck, Talent, Energy and Company are not in themselves success. A man is needed : a man of large brain and sterling character, a man of judgment, sense and rectitude, who can cultivate these other virtues and use them as stepping-stones to excellence. Mathews has well said on this point, that will cannot do the work of intellect, that effort cannot supply genius, and that mere intensity of desire must not be confused with intensity of power. It is perhaps doubtful," says he, "whether any great intellectual thing was ever done by great effort; a great thing can be done only by a great man, and he does it without effort."
Just how much effort would it take to put a rough, untutored farm hand into the White House? Everybody knows that when it was done the highest qualities of mind and character dwelt in the soul of the young man, and in his marvelous career, they always counted for more than his effort, great as it was and persistent as it was. How much pluck would be needed to elevate a street gamin to a millionaire, a gentleman and a railroad king? About as much, we think, as it would to accomplish the unattainable. If the gamin could not exercise thrift habitually; if he could not easily adapt means to ends ; if he had not a genius for great enterprises, with great capital invested and great is-sues at stake, his pluck would be like that of the silly moth that flies to the alluring light of the evening lamp. The gamin would beat out his brains against the first difficulties that he met, and the poor moth would singe his wings in the heat of the lamp.
An interesting story is told of M. Guinand, the great Swiss inventor. One day, at the home of M. Jaquet Droz, in the village of Brenets, there had been received a small telescope, but one of the finest of that day. Guinand asked permission to take it apart, confident that he could make one like it. The permission was granted and the Swiss inventor examined the parts carefully, carrying away in his mind a perfect counterpart of the instrument, with every measure he needed. Some months afterwards, when a company was assembled at the house of M. Droz, Guinand offered his own telescope for comparison. Each one of the company tried in vain to detect any inferiority in the new instrument. M. Droz was astounded and inquiry into the young artisan's acquirements revealed the fact that he had grown up to be thirty years of age with almost no knowledge of books and had never seen a work on optics. This was, indeed, a marvel. The schools had never taught young Guinand the laws of light ; books had never revealed to him the solution of difficult problems of mathematical art; but, guided by his inspirations, calling into use every hint of experience, and slightly aided by his friendship with a spectacle-maker, he fashioned the best telescope of his time. This was only one of the marvels that this great-minded, simple man accomplished. His was a genius that knew no bounds and stopped before no difficulties. What he lacked in knowledge he made up in observation and experiment. His resources never failed him, and he won most distinguished success as a manufacturer of lenses. No efforts, however great, could have enabled this humble man to make the finest telescope in Europe, unless these efforts were directed by the brilliant genius of M. Guinand. It is time to stop deceiving the young with false hope. " A man cannot be great who simply wants to be."
And yet there is a chance for mediocre men. The price of success is not so great that a man of diminutive capital may not possess it. Character, purpose, industry, determination are the forces that win in the battle of life, and there is always some honored place for each to fill, where he may succeed according to the greatness of his own abilities. It is strange how many of the really great men of earth have been men of only ordinary talent. Well-stocked with sound common-sense, judgment and caution, they have taken advantage of favorable opportunities and have risen high in the annals of the world. Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, in writing upon this, has said, "There lives not a man on earth, out of a lunatic asylum, who has not in him the power to do good. What can writers, haranguers or speculators do more than that ? Have you ever entered a cottage, ever travelled in a coach, ever talked with a peasant in the field or loitered with a mechanic at the loom, and not found that each of these men had a talent you had not, knew some things you did not? The most useless creature that ever yawned at a club, or counted vermin on his rags under the suns of Calabria, has no excuse for want of intellect. What men want is not talent, it is purpose; in other words, not the power to achieve but the will to labor."
Although labor will not supply the lack of genius and other high qualities of mind, yet no man can win the prizes of life without long, persistent and well-directed toil. Given a man of high purpose and respectable talent, and labor is omnipotent in that man's life. He may not rise to the greatest heights, but he will rise high and live nobly. He may not dazzle the world with his inventive genius ; he may not become a master of art or song, yet, if he labor, he will live to fill an honored place among the workers of his day, and there can be no limit to the degree of success which a man may achieve, except that which his own powers and capabilities put upon him. Circumstance will yield to capability and industry. Lack of money, lack of education, lack of favorable surroundings, will give way before a resolute purpose and a hand that is trained to work. Stern difficulties that frown and lower as he approaches are ground to powder before the stalwart blows of labor, and a way is made for even a man of moderate talent to the goal of his ambition. Honest toil is at once the glory and the greatest helper of the man who would win in the race of life.
The price of success is great : great in expenditure of capital, great in the requirement of effort, great in the consumption of time. It is growing greater as civilization grows older and the avenues of the world's work are crowded with eager men rushing to and fro in the pursuit of their vocations. The competition that now exists drives the prizes of life farther and farther from the grasp of those who seek them. Success becomes more and more difficult with every passing year, and the time will come when only men of great genius and character and training can or will succeed. The man who expects to make a lasting mark upon his generation in our day must pay a fearful price for that honor. If he be not a man of genius, some one upon whom the gods have bestowed their graces will pass beyond him. If he be a man without character he will fail, as he ought to fail, in the presence of vices that he does not or cannot resist. If he be a man without training, woe be to him in the race of life! The world's work is being done, more and more by educated men. There is less room for untutored men in this generation than that which is past, and there will be less room still in the generations yet to come. The plodding, methodical tortoise, that knows how to use the talent that it possesses, will out strip the hare, though he be so swift of foot. Talent is capital, so is sterling character and thorough education. These and all the high qualities which a man possesses must be lavishly expended as the price of his success.