Application And Perseverance
( Originally Published 1884 )
Great Results Attained by Simple Means.—Fortune Favors the Industrious. —" Genius is Patience."—Newton and Kepler.—Industry of Eminent Men.—Power Acquired by Repeated Effort.—Anecdote of Sir Robert Peel's Cultivation of Memory.—Facility Comes by Practice.—Importance of Patience.—Cheerfulness.—Hope an Important Element in Character. —Anecdote of Audubon the Ornithologist.—Anecdote of Mr. Carlyle and His MS. of the "French Revolution."—Perseverance of Watt and Stephenson.
" Rich are the diligent, who can command
THE greatest results in life are usually attained by simple means, and the exercise of ordinary qualities. The common life of every day, with its cares, necessities, and duties, affords ample opportunity for acquiring experience of the best kind; and its most beaten paths provide the true worker with abundant scope for effort and room for self-improvement. The road of human welfare lies along the old highway of steadfast well-doing; and they who are the most persistent, and work in the truest spirit, will usually be the most successful.
Fortune has often been blamed for her blindness; but fortune is not so blind as men are. Those who look into practical life will find that fortune is usually on the side of the industrious, as the winds and waves are on the side of the best navigators. In the pursuit of even the highest branches of human inquiry, the commoner qualities are found the most useful such as common sense, attention, application, and perseverance. Genius may not be necessary, though even genius of the highest sort does not disdain the use of these ordinary qualities. The very greatest men have been among the least believers in the power of genius, and as worldly wise and persevering as successful men of the commoner sort. Some have even defined genius to be only common sense intensified. A distinguished teacher and president of a college spoke of it as the power of making efforts. John Foster held it to be the power of lighting one's own fire. Buffon said of genius, " It is patience."
Newton's was unquestionably a mind of the very highest order, and yet, when asked by what means he had worked out his extraordinary discoveries, he modestly answered, " By always thinking unto them." At another time he thus expressed his method of study: " I keep the subject continually before me, and wait till the first dawnings open slowly by little and little into a full and clear light." It was in Newton's case as in every other, only by diligent application and perseverance that his great reputation was achieved. Even his recreation consisted in change of study, laying down one subject to take up another. To Dr. Bentley he said: " If I have done the public any service, it is due to nothing but industry and patient thought." So Kepler, another great philosopher, speaking of his studies and his progress, said: " As in Virgil, ' Fama mobiliate viget, vires acquirit eundo,' so it was with me, that the diligent thought on these things was the occasion of further thinking; until at last I brooded with the whole energy of my mind upon the subject."
The extraordinary results effected by dint of sheer industry and perseverance, have led many distinguished men to doubt whether the gift of genius be so exceptional an endowment as it is usually supposed to be. Thus Voltaire held that it is only a very slight line of separation that divides the man of genius from the man of ordinary mould. Beccaria was even of opinion that all men might be poets and orators, and Reynolds that they might be painters and sculptors. If this were really so, that stolid Englishman might not have been so very far wrong after all, who, in Canova's death, inquired of his brother whether it was " his intention to carry on the business!" Locke, Helvetius, and Diderot believed that all men have an equal aptitude for genius, and that what some are able to effect under the laws which regulate the operations of the intellect, must also be within the reach of others who, under like circumstances, apply themselves to like pursuits. But while admitting to the fullest extent the wonderful achievements of labor, and recognizing the fact that men of the most distinguished genius have invariably been found the most, indefatigable workers, it must nevertheless be sufficiently obvious that, without the original endowment of heart and brain, no amount of labor, however well applied, could have produced a Shakspeare, a Newton, a Beethoven, or a Michael Angelo.
Dalton, the chemist, repudiated the notion of his being " a genius," attributing every thing which he had accomplished to simple industry and accumulation. John Hunter said of himself, " My mind is like a bee-hive; but full as it is of buzz and apparent confusion, it is yet full of order and regularity, and food collected with incessant industry from the choicest stores of nature." We have, indeed, but to glance at the biographies of great men to find that the most distinguished inventors, artists, thinkers, and workers of all kinds, owe their success, in a great measure to their indefatigable industry and application. They were men who turned all things to gold even time itself. Disraeli the elder held that the secret of success consisted in being master of your subject, such mastery being attainable only through continuous application and study. Hence it happens that the men who have most moved the world, have not been so much men of genius, strictly so called, as men of intense mediocre abilities, and untiring perseverance; not so often the gifted, of naturally bright and shining qualities, as those who have applied themselves diligently to their work, in whatsoever line that might lie. " Alas !" said a widow, speaking of her brilliant but careless son, " he has not the gift of continuance." Wanting in perseverance, such volatile natures are outstripped in the race of life by the diligent and even the dull. " Chc va piano, va longano, e va lontano," says the Italian proverb: Who goes slowly, goes long, and goes far.
Hence, a great point to be aimed at is to get the working quality well trained. When that is done the race will be found comparatively easy. We must repeat and again repeat; facility will come with labor. Not even the simplest art can be accomplished without it; and what difficulties it is found capable of achieving! It was by early discipline and repetition that the late Sir Robert Peel cultivated those remarkable, though still mediocre powers, which rendered him so illustrious an ornament of the British Senate. When a boy at Drayton Manor, his father was accustomed to set him up at table to practice speaking extempore; and he early accustomed him to repeat as much of the Sunday's sermon as he could remember. Little progress was made at first, but by steady perseverance the habit of attention became powerful, and the sermon was at length repeated almost verbatim. When afterwards replying in succession to the arguments of his parliamentary opponents an art in which he was perhaps unrivaled it was little surmised that the extraordinary power of accurate remembrance which he displayed on such occasions had been originally trained under the discipline of his father in the parish church of Drayton.
It is indeed marvellous what continuous application will effect in the commonest of things. It may seem a simple affair to play upon a violin; yet what a long and laborious practice it requires! Giardini said to a youth who asked him how long it would take to learn it, " Twelve hours a day for twenty years together." Industry, it is said, fait l'ours danser. The poor figurante must devote years of incessant toil to her profit-less task before she can shine in it. When Taglioni was preparing herself for her evening exhibition, she would, after a severe two hours' lesson from her father, fall down exhausted, and had to be undressed, sponged, and resuscitated, totally unconscious. The agility and bounds of the evening were insured only at a price like this.
Progress, however, of the best kind, is comparatively slow. Great results can not be achieved at once; and we must be satisfied to advance in life as we walk, step by step. De Maistre says that " To know how to wait is the great secret of success. We must sow before we can reap, and often have to wait long, content meanwhile to look patiently forward in hope; the fruit best worth waiting for often ripening the slowest. But " Time and patience," says the Eastern proverb, " change the mulberry leaf to satin."
To wait patiently, however, men must work cheer-fully. Cheerfulness is an excellent working quality, imparting great elasticity to the character. As a bishop has said, " Temper is nine-tenths of Christianity;" so are cheerfulness and diligence nine-tenths of practical wisdom. They are the life and soul of success, as well as of happiness; perhaps the very highest pleasure in life consisting in clear, brisk, conscious working; energy, confidence, and every other good quality mainly depending upon it. Sydney Smith, when laboring as a parish priest at Foston-le-Clay, in Yorkshire though he did not feel himself to be in his proper element went cheerfully to work in the firm determination to do his best. " I am resolved," he said, " to like it, and reconcile myself to it, which is more manly than to feign myself above it, and to send up complaints by the post of being thrown away, and being desolate, and such like trash." So Dr. Hook, when leaving Leeds for a new sphere of labor, said, " Wherever I may be, I shall, by God's blessing, do with my might what my hand findeth to do; and if I do not find work, I shall make it."
Laborers for the public good especially, have to work long and patiently, often uncheered by the prospect of immediate recompense or result. The seeds they sow sometimes lie hidden under the winter's snow, and be-fore the spring comes the husbandman may have gone to his rest. It is not every public worker, who like Rowland Hill, sees his great idea bring forth fruit in his lifetime. Adam Smith sowed the seeds of a great social amelioration in that dingy old University of Glasgow where he so long labored, and laid the founda lions of his " Wealth of Nations;" but seventy years passed before his work bore substantial fruits, nor indeed are they all gathered in yet.
Nothing can compensate for the loss of hope in a man: it entirely changes the character. " How can I work how can I be happy," said a great but miserable thinker, "when I have lost all hope?" One of the most cheerful and courageous, because one of the most hopeful of workers, was Carey, the missionary. When in India, it was no uncommon thing for him to weary out three pundits, who officiated as his clerks, in one day, he himself taking rest only in change of employment. Carey, the son of a shoemaker, was supported in his labors by Ward, the Son of a carpenter, and Marsham, the son of a weaver. By their labors a magnificent college was erected at Serampore; sixteen flourishing stations were established; the Bible was translated into sixteen languages, and the seeds were sown of a beneficent moral revolution in British India. Carey was never ashamed of the humbleness of his origin. On one occasion, when at the Governor-General's table he overheard an officer opposite him asking another, loud enough to be heard, whether Carey had not once been a shoemaker: " No, Sir," exclaimed Carey immediately; only a cobbler." An eminently characteristic anecdote has been told of his perseverance as a boy. When climbing a tree one day, his foot slipped, and he fell to the ground, breaking his leg by the fall. He was con fined to his bed for weeks, but when he recovered and was able to walk without support, the very first thing he did was to go and climb that tree. Carey had need of this sort of dauntless courage for the great missionary work of his life, and nobly and resolutely he did it.
It was a maxim of Dr. Young, the philosopher, that " Any man can do what any other man has done;" and it is unquestionable that he himself never recoiled from any trials to which he determined to subject himself. It is related of him, that the first time he mounted a horse he was in company with the grandson of Mr. Barclay, of Ury, the well-know sportsman, when the horseman. who preceded them leaped a high fence. Young wished to imitate him, but fell off his horse in the attempt. Without saying a word, he remounted, made a second effort, and was again unsuccessful, but this time he was not thrown farther than on to the horse's neck, to which he clung. At the third trial he succeeded, and cleared the fence.
The story of Timour the Tartar learning a lesson of perseverance under adversity from the spider is well-known. Not less interesting is the anecdote of Audubon, the American ornithologist, as related by himself: " An accident," he says, " which happened to two hundred of my original drawings, nearly put a stop to my researches in ornithology. I shall relate it, merely to show how far enthusiasm for by no other name can I call my perseverance may enable the preserver of nature to surmount the most disheartening difficulties.
I left the village of Henderson, in Kentucky, situated on the banks of the Ohio, where I resided for several years, to proceed to Philadelphia on business. I looked to my drawings before my departure, placed them care-fully in a wooden box, and gave them in charge of a relative, with injunctions to see that no injury should happen to them. My absence was of several months; and when I returned, after having enjoyed the pleasures of home for a few days, I inquired after my box, and what I was pleased to call my treasure. The box was produced and opened; but, reader, feel for me a pair of Norway rats had taken possession of the whole, and reared a young family among the gnawed bits of paper, which, but a month previous, represented nearly a thousand inhabitants of air! The burning heat which instantly rushed through my brain was too great to be endured without affecting my whole nervous system. I slept for several nights, and the days passed like days of oblivion until the animal powers being recalled into action through the strength of my constitution, I took up my gun, my note-book and my pencils, and went forth in the woods as gayly as if nothing had happened. I felt pleased that I might now make better drawings than before; and, ere a period not exceeding three years had elapsed, my portfolio was again filled."
The accidental destruction of Sir Isaac Newton's papers, by his little dog " Diamond " upsetting a lighted taper upon his desk, by which the elaborate calculatons of many years were in a moment destroyed, is a well-known anecdote, and need not be repeated: it is said that the loss caused the philosopher such pro-found grief that it seriously injured his health, and impaired his understanding. An accident of a some-what similar kind happened to the manuscript of Mr. Carlyle's first volume of his " French Revolution." He had lent the manuscript to a literary neighbor to peruse. By some mischance, it had been left lying on the parlor floor, and become forgotten. Weeks ran on, and the historian sent for his work, the printers being loud for " copy." Inquiries were made, and it was found that the maid-of-all-work; finding what she conceived to be a bundle of waste paper on the floor, had used it to light the kitchen and parlor fires with! Such was the answer returned to Mr. Carlyle; and his feelings may be imagined. There was, however, no help for him but to set resolutely to work to re-write the book; and he turned to and did it. He had no draft, and was compelled to rake up from his memory facts, ideas, and expressions which had been long since dismissed. The composition of the book in the first instance had been a work of pleasure; the re-writing of it a second time was one of pain and anguish almost beyond belief. That he persevered and finished the volume under such circumstances, affords an instance of determination of purpose which has seldom been surpassed.
The lives of eminent inventors are eminently illustrative of the same quality of perseverance. George Stephenson, when addressing young men, was accustomed to sum up his best advice to them in the words, "Do as I have done persevere." He had worked at the improvement of his locomotive for some fifteen years before achieving his decisive victory at Rainhill; and Watt was engaged for some thirty years upon the condensing-engine before he brought it to perfection. But there are equally striking illustrations of perseverance to be found in every other branch of science, art, and industry.