Energy And Courage
( Originally Published 1884 )
Energy Charaoteristic of the Teutonic Race.—The Foundations of Strength of Character.—Force of Purpose.—Concentration.—Courageous Working.—Words of Hugh Miller and Fowell Buxton.—Power and Freedom of Will.—Words of Lamennais.—Suwarrow.—Napoleon and "Glory."—Wellington and " Duty."
"In every work that he began . . . . he did it with all his heart, and prospered."—2 Chron. xxxi. 21.
THERE is a famous speech recorded of an old Norseman, thoroughly characteristic of the Teuton. " I believe neither in idols or demons," said he, " I put my sole trust in my own strength of body and soul." The ancient crest of a pickaxe with the motto of " Either I will find a way or make one," was an expression of the same sturdy independence which to this day distinguishes the descendants of the Northmen. Indeed nothing could be more characteristic of the Scandinavian mythology, than that it had a god with a hammer. 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 inhabitants of a particular district, in which a friend of his proposed to settle and buy land. " 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 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. As the French proverb has it: " Tant vaut l'homme, tant vaut sa terre."
The cultivation of this quality is of the greatest importance; resolute determination in the pursuit of worthy objects being the foundation of all true greatness of character. Energy enables a man to force his way through irksome drudgery and dry details, and carries him onward and upward in every station in life. It accomplishes more than genius, with not one-half the disappointment and peril. It is not eminent talent that is required to insure success in any pursuit, so much as purpose not merely the power to achieve, but the will to labor energetically and perseveringly. Hence energy of will may be defined to be the very central power of character in a man in a word, it is the Man himself. It gives impulse to his every action, and soul to every effort. True hope is based on it and it is hope that gives the real perfume to life. There is a fine heraldic motto on a broken helmet in Battle Abbey, "L'espoir est ma force," which might be the motto of every man's life. " Woe unto him that is faint-hearted," says the son of Sirach. There is, indeed, no blessing equal to the possession of a stout heart. Even if a man fail in his efforts, it will be a satisfaction to him to enjoy the consciousness of having done his best. In humble life nothing can be more cheering and beautiful than 'to see a man combating suffering by patience, triumphing in his integrity, and who, when his feet are bleeding and his limbs failing him, still walks upon his courage.
Mere wishes and desires but engender a sort of green sickness in young minds, unless they are promptly embodied in act and deed. It will not avail merely to wait, as so many do, " until Blucher comes up," but they must struggle on and persevere in the mean time, as Wellington did. The good purpose once formed must be carried out with alacrity and without swerving. In most conditions of life, drudgery and toil are to be cheerfully endured as the best and most whole-some discipline. " In life," said Ary Scheffer, " nothing bears fruit except by labor of mind or body. To strive and still strive such is life; and in this respect mine is fulfilled; but I dare to say, with just pride, that nothing has ever shaken my courage. With a strong soul, and a noble aim, one can do what one wills, morally speaking."
Hugh Miller said the only school in which he was properly taught was " that world-wide school in which toil and hardship are the severe but noble teacher." He who allows his application to falter, or shirks his work on frivolous pretexts, is on the sure road to ulti mate failure. Let any task be undertaken as a thing not possible to be evaded, and it will soon come to be performed with alacrity and cheerfulness. Charles IX. of Sweden was a firm believer in the power of will, even in youth. Laying his hand on the head of his youngest son when engaged on a difficult task, he exclaimed, " He shall do it ! he shall do it!" The habit of application becomes easy in time, like every other habit, . Thus persons with comparatively moderate powers will accomplish much, if they apply themselves wholly and indefatigably to one thing at a time. Fowell Buxton placed his confidence in ordinary means and extraordinary application, realizing the scriptural injunction, " Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might;" and he attributed his own success in life to his practice of " being a whole man to one thing at a time."
Nothing that is of real worth can be achieved without courageous working. Man owes his growth chiefly to that active striving of the will, that encounter with difficulty which we call effort; and it is astonishing to find how often results apparently impracticable are thus made possible. An intense anticipation itself transforms possibility into reality ; our desires being often but the precursors of the things which we are capable of performing. On the contrary, the timid and hesitating find every thing impossible, chiefly because it seems so. It is related of a young French officer, that he used to walk about his apartment exclaiming, " I will be Marshal of France and a great general." His ardent desire was the presentiment of his success; for the young officer did become a distinguished commander, and he dieci a Marshal of France.
Mr. Walker, author of the " Original," had so great a faith in the power of will, that he says on one occasion he determined to be well, and he was so. This may answer once; but, though safer to follow than many prescriptions, it will not always succeed. The power of mind over body is no doubt great, but it may be strained until the physical power breaks down altogether. It is related of Muley Moluc, the Moorish leader, that, when lying ill, almost worn out by an incurable disease, a battle took place between his troops and the Portuguese; when starting from his litter at the great crisis of the fight, he rallied his army, led them to victory, and instantly afterwards sank exhausted and expired.
It is will force of purpose that enables a man to do or be whatever he sets his mind on being or doing. A holy man was accustomed to say, " Whatever you wish, that you are: for such is the force of our will, joined to the Divine, that whatever we wish to he, seriously, and with a true intention, that we become. No one ardently wishes to be submissive, patient, modest, or liberal, who does not become what he wishes." The story is told of a working carpenter, who was ob served one day planing a magistrate's bench which he was repairing, with more than usual carefulness; and when asked the reason, he replied, " Because I wish to make it easy against the time when I come to sit upon it myself." And singularly enough, the man actually lived to sit upon that very bench as a magistrate.
Whatever theoretical conclusions logicians may have formed as to the freedom of the will, each individual feels that practically he is free to choose between good and evil that he is not as a mere straw thrown upon the water to mark the direction of the current, but that he has within him the power of a strong swimmer and is capable of striking out for himself, of buffeting with the waves, and directing to a great extent his own independent course. There is no absolute constraint upon our volitions, and we feel and know that we are not bound, as by a spell, with reference to our actions. It would paralyze all desire of excellence were we to think otherwise. The entire business and conduct of life with its domestic rules, its social arrangements, and its public institutions, proceed upon the practical conviction that the will is free. Without this where would be responsibility ?—and what the advantage of teaching, advising, preaching, reproof, and correction? What were the use of laws, were it not the universal belief, as it is the universal fact, that men obey them or not, very much as they individually determine! In every moment of our life, conscience is proclaiming that our will is free. It is the only thing that is wholly ours, and it rests solely with ourselves individually, whether we give it the right or the wrong direction. Our habits or our temptations or not our masters, but we of them. Even in yielding, conscience tells us we might resist; and that were we determined to master them, there would not be required for that purpose a stronger resolution than we know ourselves to be capable of exercising.
" You are now at the age," said Lamennais once, addressing a gay youth, " at which a decision must be formed by you; a little later, and you may have to groan within the tomb which you yourself have dug, without the power of rolling away the stone. That which the easiest becomes a habit in us is the will. Learn, then, to will strongly and decisively; thus fix your floating life, and leave it no longer to be carried hither and thither, like a withered leaf, by every wind that blows."
Buxton held the conviction that a young man might be very much what he pleased, provided he formed a strong resolution and held to it. Writing to one of his sons, he said to him, " You are now at that period of life, in which you must make a turn to the right or the left. You must now give proofs of principle, determination, and strength of mind; or you must sink into idleness, and acquire the habits and character of a desultory, ineffective young man; and if once you fall to that point, you will find it no easy matter to rise again. I am sure that a young man may be very much what he pleases. In my own case it was so. . . . Much of my happiness, and all my prosperity in life, have resulted from the change I made at your age. If you seriously resolve to be energetic and industrious, depend upon it that you will for your whole life have reason to rejoice that you were wise enough to form and to act upon that determination." As will, considered without regard to direction, is simple constancy, firmness, perseverance, it will be obvious that every thing depends upon right direction and motives. Directed towards the enjoyment of the senses, the strong will may be a demon, and the intellect merely its debased slave; but directed towards good, the strong will is a king, and the intellect the minister of man's highest well-being.
" Where there is a will there is a way," is an old and true saying. He who resolves upon doing a thing, by that very resolution often scales the barriers to it, and secures its achievement. To think we are able, is almost to be so to determine upon attainment is frequently attainment itself. Thus, earnest resolution has often seemed to have about it almost a savor of omnipotence. The strength of Suwarrow's character lay in his power of willing, and, like most resolute persons, he preached it up as a system. " You can only half he would say to people who failed. Like Richelieu and Napoleon, he would have the word " impossible- " banished from the dictionary. " I don't know,"
" I can't," and "impossible," were words which he detested above all others. " Learn! Do ! Try!" he would exclaim. His biographer has said of him, that he furnished a remarkable illustration of what may be effected by the energetic development and exercise of faculties, the germs of which at least are in every human heart.
One of Napoleon's favorite maxims was, " The truest wisdom is a resolute determination." His life, beyond most others, vividly showed what a powerful and unscrupulous will could accomplish. He threw his whole force of body and mind direct upon his work. Imbecile rulers and the nations they governed went down before him in succession. He was told that the Alps stood in the way of his armies—" There shall be no Alps," he said, and the road across the Simplon was constructed, through a district formerly almost inaccessible. " Impossible," said he, " is a word only to be found in the dictionary of fools." He was a man who toiled terribly; sometimes employing and exhausting four secretaries at a time. He spared no one, not even himself. His influence inspired other men, and put a new life into them. " I made my generals out of mud," he said. But all was of no avail; for Napoleon's intense selfishness was his ruin, and the ruin of France, which he left a prey to anarchy. His life taught the lesson that power, however energetically wielded, with-out benificence, is fatal to its possessor and its subjects; and that knowledge, or knowingness, without goodness, is but the incarnate principal of evil.
Our own Wellington was a far greater man. Not less resolute, firm, and persistent, but more self-denying, conscientious, and truly patriotic. Napoleon's aim was " Glory;" Wellington's watchword, like Nelson's was " Duty." The former word, it is said, does not once occur in his dispatches; the latter often, but never accompanied by any high-sounding professions. The greatest difficulties could neither embarrass nor intimidate Wellington; his energy invariably rising in pro-portion to the obstacles to be surmounted. The patience, the firmness, the resolution, with which he bore through the maddening vexations and gigantic difficulties of the Peninsular campaigns, is, perhaps, one of the sublimest things to be found in history. In Spain, Wellington not only exhibited the genius of the general, but the comprehensive wisdom of the statesman. Though his natural temper was irritable in the ex treme, his high sense of duty enabled him to restrain it; and to those about him his patience seemed absolutely inexhaustible. His great character stands untarnished by ambition, by avarice, or any low passion. Though a man of powerful individuality, he yet displayed a great variety of endowment. The equal of Napoleon in generalship, he was as prompt, vigorous, and daring as Clive; as wise a statesman as Cromwell; and as pure and high-minded as Washington.