I shall show the cinders of my spirits Through the ashes of my chance. SHAKESPEARE.
What though ten thousand faint, Desert, or yield, or in weak terror flee! Heed not the panic of the multitude; Thine be the captain's watchword,--Victory! HORATIUS BONAR.
Better to stem with heart and hand The roaring tide of life, than lie, Unmindful, on its flowery strand, Of God's occasions drifting by! Better with naked nerve to hear The needles of this goading air, Than in the lap of sensual ease forego The godlike power to do, the godlike aim to know. WHITTIER.
Let fortune empty her whole quiver on me, I have a soul that, like an ample shield, Can take in all, and verge enough for more. DRYDEN.
There's a brave fellow! There's a man of pluck! A man who's not afraid to say his say, Though a whole town's against him. LONGFELLOW.
Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.--GOLDSMITH.
Attempt the end and never stand to doubt; Nothing's so hard but search will find it out. HERRICK.
The barriers are not yet erected which shall say to aspiring talent, "Thus far and no farther."--BEETHOVEN.
"Friends and comrades," said Pizarro, as he turned toward the south, after tracing with his sword upon the sand a line from east to west, "on that side are toil, hunger, nakedness, the drenching storm, desertion, and death; on this side, ease and pleasure. There lies Peru with its riches; here, Panama and its poverty. Choose, each man, what best becomes a brave Castilian. For my part, I go to the south." So saying, he crossed the line and was followed by thirteen Spaniards in armor. Thus, on the little island of Gallo in the Pacific, when his men were clamoring to return to Panama, did Pizarro and his few volunteers resolve to stake their lives upon the success of a desperate crusade against the powerful empire of the Incas. At the time they had not even a vessel to transport them to the country they wished to conquer. Is it necessary to add that all difficulties yielded at last to such resolute determination?
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[Illustration: ANDREW JACKSON]
"Stick to your aim: the mongrel's hold will slip, But only crowbars loose the bull-dog's grip."
"The nerve that never relaxes, the eye that never blenches, the thought that never wanders,--these are the masters of victory."
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"Perseverance is a Roman virtue, That wins each godlike act, and plucks success E'en from the spear-proof crest of rugged danger."
At a time when abolitionists were dangerously unpopular, a crowd of brawny Cape Cod fishermen had made such riotous demonstrations that all the speakers announced, except Stephen Foster and Lucy Stone, had fled from an open-air platform. "You had better run, Stephen," said she, "they are coming." "But who will take care of you?" asked Foster. "This gentleman will take care of me," she replied, calmly laying her hand within the arm of a burly rioter with a club, who had just sprung upon the platform. "Wh--what did you say?" stammered the astonished rowdy, as he looked at the little woman; "yes, I'll take care of you, and no one shall touch a hair of your head." With this he forced a way for her through the crowd, and, at her earnest request, placed her upon a stump and stood guard with his club while she delivered an address so effective that the audience offered no further violence, and even took up a collection of twenty dollars to repay Mr. Foster for the damage his clothes had received when the riot was at its height.
"When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as if you could not hold on a minute longer," said Harriet Beecher Stowe, "never give up then, for that's just the place and time that the tide'll turn."
Charles Sumner said, "Three things are necessary: first, backbone; second, backbone; third, backbone."
While digging among the ruins of Pompeii, which was buried by the dust and ashes from an eruption of Vesuvius, A. D. 79, the workmen found the skeleton of a Roman soldier in the sentry-box at one of the city's gates. He might have found safety under sheltering rocks close by; but, in the face of certain death, he had remained at his post, a mute witness to the thorough discipline, the ceaseless vigilance and fidelity which made the Roman legionaries masters of the known world. Bulwer, describing the flight of a party amid the dust, and ashes, and streams of boiling water, and huge hurtling fragments of scoria, and gusty winds, and lurid lightnings, continues: "The air was now still for a few minutes; the lamp from the gate streamed out far and clear; the fugitives hurried on. They gained the gate. They passed by the Roman sentry. The lightning flashed over his livid face and polished helmet, but his stern features were composed even in their awe! He remained erect and motionless at his post. That hour itself had not animated the machine of the ruthless majesty of Rome into the reasoning and self-acting man. There he stood amidst the crashing elements; he had not received the permission to desert his station and escape."
The world admires the man who never flinches from unexpected difficulties, who calmly, patiently, and courageously grapples with his fate, who dies, if need be, at his post.
"Clear grit" always commands respect. It is that quality which achieves, and everybody admires achievement. In the strife of parties and principles, backbone without brains will carry against brains without backbone. "A politician weakly and amiably in the right is no match for a politician tenaciously and pugnaciously in the wrong." You cannot, by tying an opinion to a man's tongue, make him the representative of that opinion; at the close of any battle for principles, his name will be found neither among the dead nor among the wounded, but among the missing.
The "London Times" was an insignificant sheet published by Mr. Walter and was steadily losing money. John Walter, Jr., then only twenty-seven years old, begged his father to give him full control of the paper. After many misgivings, the father finally consented. The young journalist began to remodel the establishment and to introduce new ideas everywhere. The paper had not attempted to mould public opinion, and had no individuality or character of its own. The audacious young editor boldly attacked every wrong, even the government, when he thought it corrupt. Thereupon the public customs, printing, and the government advertisements were withdrawn. The father was in utter dismay. The son he was sure would ruin the paper and himself. But no remonstrance could swerve him from his purpose, to give the world a great journal which should have weight, character, individuality, and independence.
The public soon saw that a new power stood behind the "Times"; that its articles meant business; that new life and new blood and new ideas had been infused into the insignificant sheet; that a man with brains and push and tenacity of purpose stood at the helm,--a man who could make a way when he could not find one. Among other new features foreign dispatches were introduced, and they appeared in the "Times" several days before their appearance in the government organs. The "leading article" also was introduced to stay. But the aggressive editor antagonized the government, and his foreign dispatches were all stopped at the outpost, while those of the ministerial journalists were allowed to proceed. But nothing could daunt this resolute young spirit. At enormous expense he employed special couriers. Every obstacle put in his way, and all opposition from the government, only added to his determination to succeed. Enterprise, push, grit were behind the "Times," and nothing could stay its progress. Walter was the soul of the paper, and his personality pervaded every detail. In those days only three hundred copies of the "Times" could be struck off in an hour by the best presses, and Walter had duplicate and even triplicate types set. Then he set his brain to work, and finally the Walter Press, throwing off 17,000 copies, both sides printed, per hour, was the result. It was the 29th of November, 1814, that the first steam printed paper was given to the world. Walter's tenacity of purpose was remarkable. He shrank from no undertaking, and neglected no detail.
"Mean natures always feel a sort of terror before great natures, and many a base thought has been unuttered, many a sneaking vote withheld, through the fear inspired by the rebuking presence of one noble man." As a rule, pure grit, character, has the right of way. In the presence of men permeated with grit and sound in character, meanness and baseness slink out of sight. Mean men are uncomfortable, dishonesty trembles, hypocrisy is uncertain.
Lincoln, being asked by an anxious visitor what he would do after three or four years if the rebellion was not subdued, replied: "Oh, there is no alternative but to keep pegging away."
"It is in me and it shall come out," said Sheridan, when told that he would never make an orator, as he had failed in his first speech in Parliament. He became known as one of the foremost orators of his day.
When a boy Henry Clay was very bashful and diffident, and scarcely dared recite before his class at school, but he determined to become an orator. So he committed speeches and recited them in the cornfields, or in the barn with the horse and cows for an audience.
Look at Garrison reading this advertisement in a Southern paper: "Five thousand dollars will be paid for the head of W. L. Garrison by the Governor of Georgia." Behold him again; a broadcloth mob is leading him through the streets of Boston by a rope. He is hurried to jail. See him return calmly and unflinchingly to his work, beginning at the point at which he was interrupted. Note this heading in the "Liberator," the type of which he set himself in an attic on State Street, in Boston: "I am in earnest, I will not equivocate, I will not excuse, I will not retreat a single inch, and I will be heard." Was Garrison heard? Ask a race set free largely by his efforts. Even the gallows erected in front of his own door did not daunt him. He held the ear of an unwilling world with that burning word "freedom," which was destined never to cease its vibrations until it had breathed its sweet secret to the last slave.
If impossibilities ever exist, popularly speaking, they ought to have been found somewhere between the birth and the death of Kitto, that deaf pauper and master of Oriental learning. But Kitto did not find them there. In the presence of his decision and imperial energy they melted away. Kitto begged his father to take him out of the poorhouse, even if he had to subsist like the Hottentots. He told him that he would sell his books and pawn his handkerchief, by which he thought he could raise about twelve shillings. He said he could live upon blackberries, nuts, and field turnips, and was willing to sleep on a hayrick. Here was real grit. What were impossibilities to such a resolute will? Patrick Henry voiced that decision which characterized the great men of the Revolution when he said, "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"
Grit is a permanent, solid quality, which enters into the very structure, the very tissues of the constitution. A weak man, a wavering, irresolute man, may be "spunky" upon occasion, he may be "plucky" in an emergency; but pure "grit" is a part of the very character of strong men alone. Lord Erskine was a plucky man; he even had flashes of heroism, and when he was with weaker men, he was thought to have nerve and even grit; but when he entered the House of Commons, although a hero at the bar, the imperiousness, the audacious scorn, and the intellectual supremacy of Pitt disturbed his equanimity and exposed the weak places in his armor. In Pitt's commanding presence he lost his equilibrium. His individuality seemed off its centre; he felt fluttered, weak, and uneasy.
Many of our generals in the late war exhibited heroism. They were "plucky," and often displayed great determination, but Grant had pure "grit" in the most concentrated form. He could not be moved from his base; he was self-centred, immovable. "If you try to wheedle out of him his plans for a campaign, he stolidly smokes; if you call him an imbecile and a blunderer, he blandly lights another cigar; if you praise him as the greatest general living, he placidly returns the puff from his regalia; and if you tell him he should run for the presidency, it does not disturb the equanimity with which he inhales and exhales the unsubstantial vapor which typifies the politician's promises. While you are wondering what kind of creature this man without a tongue is, you are suddenly electrified with the news of some splendid victory, proving that behind the cigar, and behind the face discharged of all tell-tale expression, is the best brain to plan and the strongest heart to dare among the generals of the Republic."
Demosthenes was a man who could rise to sublime heights of heroism, but his bravery was not his normal condition and depended upon his genius being aroused.
He had "pluck" and "spunk" on occasions, but Lincoln had pure "grit." When the illustrated papers everywhere were caricaturing him, when no epithet seemed too harsh to heap upon him, when his methods were criticised by his own party, and the generals in the war were denouncing his "foolish" confidence in Grant, and delegations were waiting upon him to ask for that general's removal, the great President sat with crossed legs, and was reminded of a story.
Lincoln and Grant both had that rare nerve which cares not for ridicule, is not swerved by public clamor, can bear abuse and hatred. There is a mighty force in truth and in the sublime conviction and supreme self-confidence behind it, in the knowledge that truth is mighty and the conviction and confidence that it will prevail.
Pure grit is that element of character which enables a man to clutch his aim with an iron grip, and keep the needle of his purpose pointing to the star of his hope. Through sunshine and storm, through hurricane and tempest, through sleet and rain, with a leaky ship, with a crew in mutiny, it perseveres; in fact, nothing but death can subdue it, and it dies still struggling.
The man of grit carries in his very presence a power which controls and commands. He is spared the necessity of declaring himself, for his grit speaks in his every act. It does not come by fits and starts, it is a part of his very life. It inspires a sublime audacity and a heroic courage. Many of the failures of life are due to the want of grit or business nerve. It is unfortunate for a young man to start out in business life with a weak, yielding disposition, with no resolution or backbone to mark his own course and stick to it, with no ability to say "No" with an emphasis, obliging this man by investing in hopeless speculation, and rather than offend a friend, indorsing a questionable note.
Whipple tells a story of Masséna which illustrates the masterful purpose that plucks victory out of the jaws of defeat. "After the defeat at Essling, the success of Napoleon's attempt to withdraw his beaten army depended on the character of Masséna, to whom the Emperor dispatched a messenger, telling him to keep his position for two hours longer at Aspern. This order, couched in the form of a request, required almost an impossibility; but Napoleon knew the indomitable tenacity of the man to whom he gave it. The messenger found Masséna seated on a heap of rubbish, his eyes bloodshot, his frame weakened by his unparalleled exertions during a contest of forty hours, and his whole appearance indicating a physical state better befitting the hospital than the field. But that steadfast soul seemed altogether unaffected by bodily prostration; half dead as he was with fatigue, he rose painfully and said, 'Tell the Emperor that I will hold out for two hours.' And he kept his word."
"Often defeated in battle," said Macaulay of Alexander the Great, "he was always successful in war." He might have said the same of Washington, and, with appropriate changes, of all who win great triumphs of any kind.
In the battle of Marengo, the Austrians considered the day won. The French army was inferior in numbers, and had given way. The Austrian army extended its wings on the right and on the left, to follow up the French. Then, though the French themselves thought the battle lost, and the Austrians were confident it was won, Napoleon gave the command to charge; and, the trumpet's blast being given, the Old Guard charged down into the weakened centre of the enemy, cut it in two, rolled the two wings up on either side, and the battle was won for France.
"Never despair," says Burke, "but if you do, work on in despair."
Once when Marshal Ney was going into battle, looking down at his knees which were smiting together, he said, "You may well shake; you would shake worse yet if you knew where I am going to take you."
It is victory after victory with the soldier, lesson after lesson with the scholar, blow after blow with the laborer, crop after crop with the farmer, picture after picture with the painter, and mile after mile with the traveler, that secures what all so much desire--SUCCESS.
A promising Harvard student was stricken with paralysis of both legs. Physicians said there was no hope for him. The lad determined to continue his college studies. The examiners heard him at his bedside, and in four years he took his degree. He resolved to make a critical study of Dante, to do which he had to learn Italian and German. He persevered in spite of repeated attacks of illness and partial loss of sight. He was competing for the university prize. Think of the paralytic lad, helpless in bed, competing for a prize, fighting death inch by inch. What a lesson! Before his book was published or the prize awarded, the brave student died, but the book was successful. He meant that his life should not be a burden or a failure, and he was not only graduated from the best college in America, but competed successfully for the university prize, and made a valuable contribution to literature.
Professor L. T. Townsend, the famous author of "Credo," is another triumph of grit over environment. He had a hard struggle as a boy, but succeeded in working his way through Amherst College, living on forty-five cents a week.
Orange Judd was a remarkable example of success through grit. He earned corn by working for farmers, carried it on his back to mill, brought back the meal to his room, cooked it himself, milked cows for his pint of milk per day, and lived on mush and milk for months together. He worked his way through Wesleyan University, and took a three years' post-graduate course at Yale.
Congressman William W. Crapo, while working his way through college, being too poor to buy a dictionary, actually copied one, walking from his home in the village of Dartmouth, Mass., to New Bedford to replenish his store of words and definitions from the town library.
Oh, the triumphs of this indomitable spirit of the conqueror! This it was that enabled Franklin to dine on a small loaf in the printing-office with a book in his hand. It helped Locke to live on bread and water in a Dutch garret. It enabled Gideon Lee to go barefoot in the snow, half starved and thinly clad. It sustained Lincoln and Garfield on their hard journeys from the log cabin to the White House.
President Chadbourne put grit in place of his lost lung, and worked thirty-five years after his funeral had been planned.
Lord Cavanagh put grit in the place of arms and legs, and went to Parliament in spite of his deformity.
Henry Fawcett put grit in place of eyesight, and became the greatest Postmaster-General England ever had.
Prescott also put grit in place of eyesight, and became one of America's greatest historians. Francis Parkman put grit in place of health and eyesight, and became the greatest historian of America in his line. Thousands of men have put grit in place of health, eyes, ears, hands, legs, and yet have achieved marvelous success. Indeed, most of the great things of the world have been accomplished by grit and pluck. You cannot keep a man down who has these qualities. He will make stepping-stones out of his stumbling-blocks, and lift himself to success.
At fifty, Barnum was a ruined man, owing thousands more than he possessed, yet he resolutely resumed business once more, fairly wringing success from adverse fortune, and paying his notes at the same time. Again and again he was ruined, but phoenix-like, he rose repeatedly from the ashes of his misfortune each time more determined than before.
It was the last three days of the first voyage of Columbus that told. All his years of struggle and study would have availed nothing if he had yielded to the mutiny. It was all in those three days. But what days!
"It is all very well," said Charles J. Fox, "to tell me that a young man has distinguished himself by a brilliant first speech. He may go on, or he may be satisfied with his first triumph; but show me a young man who has not succeeded at first, and nevertheless has gone on, and I will back that young man to do better than most of those who have succeeded at the first trial."
Cobden broke down completely the first time he appeared on a platform in Manchester, and the chairman apologized for him. But he did not give up speaking till every poor man in England had a larger, better, and cheaper loaf.
See young Disraeli, sprung from a hated and persecuted race; without opportunity, pushing his way up through the middle classes, up through the upper classes, until he stands self-poised upon the topmost round of political and social power. Scoffed, ridiculed, rebuffed, hissed from the House of Commons, he simply says, "The time will come when you will hear me." The time did come, and the boy with no chance swayed the sceptre of England for a quarter of a century.
One of the most remarkable examples in history is Disraeli, forcing his leadership upon that very party whose prejudices were deepest against his race, and which had an utter contempt for self-made men and interlopers. Imagine England's surprise when she awoke to find this insignificant Hebrew actually Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was easily master of all the tortures supplied by the armory of rhetoric; he could exhaust the resources of the bitterest invective; he could sting Gladstone out of his self-control; he was absolute master of himself and his situation. You can see that this young man intends to make his way in the world. A determined audacity is in his very face. He is a gay fop. Handsome, with the hated Hebrew blood in his veins, after three defeats in parliamentary elections he was not the least daunted, for he knew his day would come, as it did. Lord Melbourne, the great Prime Minister, when this gay young fop was introduced to him, asked him what he wished to be. "Prime Minister of England," was his audacious reply.
One of the greatest preachers of modern times, Lacordaire, failed again and again. Everybody said he would never make a preacher, but he was determined to succeed, and in two years from his humiliating failures he was preaching in Notre Dame to immense congregations.
The boy Thorwaldsen, whose father died in the poor-house, and whose education was so scanty that he had to write his letters over many times before they could be posted, by his indomitable perseverance, tenacity, and grit, fascinated the world with the genius which neither his discouraging father, poverty, nor hardship could suppress.
William H. Seward was given a thousand dollars by his father to go to college with; this was all he was to have. The son returned at the end of the freshman year with extravagant habits and no money. His father refused to give him more, and told him he could not stay at home. When the youth found the props all taken out from under him, and that he must now sink or swim, he left home moneyless, returned to college, graduated at the head of his class, studied law, was elected Governor of New York, and became Lincoln's great Secretary of State during the Civil War.
Louisa M. Alcott wrote the conclusion to "An Old-Fashioned Girl" with her left hand in a sling, one foot up, head aching, and no voice. She proudly writes in her diary, "Twenty years ago I resolved to make the family independent if I could. At forty, that is done. Debts all paid, even the outlawed ones, and we have enough to be comfortable. It has cost me my health, perhaps." She earned two hundred thousand dollars by her pen.
Mrs. Frank Leslie often refers to the time she lived in her carpetless attic while striving to pay her husband's obligations. She has fought her way successfully through nine lawsuits, and has paid the entire debt. She manages her ten publications entirely herself, signs all checks and money-orders, makes all contracts, looks over all proofs, and approves the make-up of everything before it goes to press. She has developed great business ability, which no one dreamed she possessed.
Garfield said, "If the power to do hard work is not talent, it is the best possible substitute for it." The triumph of industry and grit over low birth and iron fortune in America, this land of opportunity, ought to be sufficient to put to shame all grumblers over their hard fortune and those who attempt to excuse aimless, shiftless, successless men because they have no chance.
The fear of ridicule and the dread of humiliation often hinder one from taking decisive steps when it is plainly a duty, so that courage is a very important element of decision. In a New England academy a pupil who was engaged to assist the teacher was unable to solve a problem in algebra. The class was approaching the problem, and he was mortified because, after many trials, he was obliged to take it to the teacher for solution. The teacher returned it unsolved. What could he do? He would not confess to the class that he could not solve it, so, after many futile attempts, he went to a distant town to seek the assistance of a friend who, he believed, could do the work. But, alas! his friend had gone away, and would not be back for a week. On his way back he said to himself, "What a fool! am I unable to perform a problem in algebra, and shall I go back to my class and confess my ignorance? I can solve it and I will." He shut himself in his room, determined not to sleep until he had mastered the problem, and finally he won success. Underneath the solution he wrote, "Obtained Monday evening, September 2, at half past eleven o'clock, after more than a dozen trials that have consumed more than twenty hours of time."
During a winter in the war of 1812, General Jackson's troops, unprovided for and starving, became mutinous and were going home. But the general set the example of living on acorns; then rode before the rebellious line and threatened with death the first mutineer that should try to leave.
The race is not always to the swift, the battle is not always to the strong. Horses are sometimes weighted or hampered in the race, and this is taken into account in the result. So in the race of life the distance alone does not determine the prize. We must take into consideration the hindrances, the weights we have carried, the disadvantages of education, of breeding, of training, of surroundings, of circumstances. How many young men are weighted down with debt, with poverty, with the support of invalid parents or brothers and sisters, or friends? How many are fettered with ignorance, hampered by inhospitable surroundings, with the opposition of parents who do not understand them? How many a round boy is hindered in the race by being forced into a square hole? How many are delayed in their course because nobody believes in them, because nobody encourages them, because they get no sympathy and are forever tortured for not doing that against which every fibre of their being protests, and every drop of their blood rebels? How many have to feel their way to the goal, through the blindness of ignorance and lack of experience? How many go bungling along from the lack of early discipline and drill in the vocation they have chosen? How many have to hobble along on crutches because they were never taught to help themselves, but to lean upon a father's wealth or a mother's indulgence? How many are weakened for the journey of life by self-indulgence, by dissipation, by "life-sappers;" how many are crippled by disease, by a weak constitution, by impaired eyesight or hearing?
When the prizes of life shall be awarded by the Supreme Judge, who knows our weaknesses and frailties, the distance we have run, the weights we have carried, the handicaps, will all be taken into account. Not the distance we have run, but the obstacles we have overcome, the disadvantages under which we have made the race, will decide the prizes. The poor wretch who has plodded along against unknown temptations, the poor woman who has buried her sorrows in her silent heart and sewed her weary way through life, those who have suffered abuse in silence, and who have been unrecognized or despised by their fellow-runners, will often receive the greater prize.
"The wise and active conquer difficulties, By daring to attempt them: sloth and folly Shiver and sink at sight of toil and hazard, And make the impossibility they fear."
Tumble me down, and I will sit Upon my ruins, smiling yet: Tear me to tatters, yet I'll be Patient in my necessity: Laugh at my scraps of clothes, and shun Me as a fear'd infection: Yet scare-crow like I'll walk, as one Neglecting thy derision. ROBERT HERRICK.