"Do what thou dost as if the stake were heaven,
And this thy last deed ere the judgment day."
If you wish to reach the highest begin at the lowest.
What is a man,
If his chief good, and market of his time,
Be but to sleep, and feed? A beast, no more.
Sure He, that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before, and after, gave us not
That capability and godlike Reason
To rust in us unused.
Ambition is the spur that makes man struggle with destiny. It
is heaven's own incentive to make purpose great and achievement
"Not failure, but low aim, is crime."
"Endeavor to be first in thy calling, whatever it
may be; neither let anyone go before thee in well
O may I join the choir invisible
Of those immortal dead who live again
In minds made better by their presence; live
In pulses stirred to generosity,
In deeds of daring rectitude, in scorn
For miserable aims that end with self,
In thoughts sublime that pierce the night like stars,
And with their mild persistence urge man's search
To vaster issues.
"Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne and myself have founded empires," said
Napoleon to Montholon at St. Helena; "but upon what did we rest the
creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ alone founded his
empire on love, and at this moment millions of men would die for Him. I
die before my time and my body will be given back to worms. Such is the
fate of him who has been called the great Napoleon. What an abyss
between my deep misery and the eternal kingdom of Christ, which is
proclaimed, loved and adored, and which is extended over the whole
earth. Call you this dying? Is it not rather living? The death of Christ
is the death of a God."
"No true man can live a half life," says Phillips Brooks, "when he has
genuinely learned that it is a half life. The other half, the higher
half, must haunt him."
"Ideality," says Horace Mann, "is only the _avant courier_ of the mind;
and where that in a healthy and normal state goes I hold it to be a
prophecy that realization can follow."
"If the certainty of future fame bore Milton rejoicing through his
blindness, or cheered Galileo in his dungeon," writes Bulwer, "what
stronger and holier support shall not be given to him who has loved
mankind as his brothers and devoted his labors to their cause?--who has
not sought, but relinquished, his own renown?--who has braved the
present censures of men for their future benefit, and trampled upon
glory in the energy of benevolence? Will there not be for him something
more powerful than fame to comfort his sufferings and to sustain his
"If I live," wrote Rufus Choate in his diary in September, 1844, "all
blockheads which are shaken at certain mental peculiarities shall know
and feel a reasoner, a lawyer and a man of business."
I have read that none of the humbler races have the muscle by which man
turns his eye upward, though I am not anatomist enough to be sure of the
"Show me a contented slave," says Burke, "and I will show you a degraded
"They truly are faithful," says one writer, "who devote their entire
lives to amendment."
General Grant said of the Chinese Wall: "I believe that the labor
expended on this wall could have built every railroad in the United
States, every canal and highway, and most, if not all, our cities."
"The real benefactors of mankind," says Emerson, "are the men and women
who can raise their fellow beings out of the world of corn and money,
who make them forget their bank account by interesting them in their
higher selves; who can raise mere money-getters into the intellectual
realm, where they will cease to measure greatness and happiness by
dollars and cents; who can make men forget their stomachs and feast on
"Men are not so much mistaken in desiring to advance themselves," said
Beecher, "as in judging what will be an advance, and what the right
method of obtaining it. An ambition which has conscience in it will
always be a laborious and faithful engineer, and will build the road and
bridge the chasms between itself and eminent success by the most
faithful and minute performances of duty. The liberty to go higher than
we are is given only when we have fulfilled amply the duty of our
present sphere. Thus men are to rise upon their performances and not
upon their discontent. And this is the secret and golden meaning of the
command to be _content_ in whatever sphere we are placed. It is not to
be the content of indifference, of indolence, of unambitious stupidity,
but the content of industrious fidelity. When men are building the
foundations of vast structures they must needs labor far below the
surface, and in disagreeable conditions. But every course of stone which
they lay raises them higher; and at length, when they reach the surface,
they have laid such solid work under them that they need not fear now to
carry up their walls, through towering stories, till they overlook the
whole neighborhood. A man proves himself fit to go higher who shows that
he is faithful where he is. A man that will not do well in his present
place, because he longs to be higher, is fit neither to be where he is
nor yet above it; he is already too high and should be put lower."
Do that which is assigned thee and thou canst not hope too much, or dare
too much. What a man does, that he has. In himself is his might. Don't
waste life on doubts and fears. Spend yourself on the work before you,
well assured that the performance of this hour's duties will be the best
preparation for the hours or ages that follow it.
Tradition says that when Solomon received the gift of an emerald vase
from the Queen of Sheba he filled it with an elixir which he only knew
how to prepare, one drop of which would prolong life indefinitely. A
dying criminal begged for a drop of the precious fluid, but Solomon
refused to prolong a wicked life. When good men asked for it they were
refused, or failed to obtain it when promised, as the king would forget
or prefer not to open the vase to get but a single drop. When at last
the king became ill, and bade his servants bring the vase, he found that
the contents had all evaporated. So it is often with our hope, our
faith, our ambition, our aspiration.
A man cannot aspire if he looks down. God has not created us with
aspirations and longings for heights to which we cannot climb. Live
upward. The unattained still beckons us toward the summit of life's
mountains, into the atmosphere where great souls live and breathe and
have their being. Even hope is but a promise of the possibility of its
own fulfillment. Life should be lived in earnest. It is no idle game, no
farce to amuse and be forgotten. It is a stern reality, fuller of duties
than the sky of stars. You cannot have too much of that yearning which
we call aspiration, for, even though you do not attain your ideal, the
efforts you make will bring nothing but blessing; while he who fails of
attaining mere worldly goals is too often eaten up with the canker-worm
of disappointed ambition. To all will come a time when the love of glory
will be seen to be but a splendid delusion, riches empty, rank vain,
power dependent, and all outward advantages without inward peace a mere
mockery of wretchedness. The wisest men have taken care to uproot
selfish ambition from their breasts. Shakespeare considered it so near a
vice as to need extenuating circumstances to make it a virtue.
Who has not noticed the power of love in an awkward, crabbed, shiftless,
lazy man? He becomes gentle, chaste in language, energetic. Love brings
out the poetry in him. It is only an idea, a sentiment, and yet what
magic it has wrought. Nothing we can see has touched the man, yet he is
Not less does ambition completely transform a human being, for a woman
thirsting for fame can work where a man equally resolute would faint.
He despises ease and sloth, welcomes toil and hardship, and shakes even
kingdoms to gratify his master passion. Mere ambition has impelled many
a man to a life of eminence and usefulness; its higher manifestation,
aspiration, has led him beyond the stars. If the aim be right the life
in its details cannot be far wrong. Your heart must inspire what your
hands execute, or the work will be poorly done. The hand cannot reach
higher than does the heart.
But do not strive to reach impossible goals. It is wholly in your
power to develop yourself, but not necessarily so to make yourself a
king. How many Presidents of the United States or Prime Ministers of
England are chosen within the working lifetime of a man? What if a
thousand young men resolve to become President or Prime Minister? While
such prizes are within your reach, remember that your will must be
tremendous and your qualifications of the highest order, or you cannot
hope to secure them. Too many are deluded by ambition beyond their power
of attainment, or tortured by aspirations totally disproportionate to
their capacity for execution. You may, indeed, confidently hope to
become eminent in usefulness and power, but only as you build upon a
broad foundation of self-culture; while, as a rule, specialists in
ambition as in science are apt to become narrow and one-sided. Darwin
was very fond of poetry and music when young, but after devoting his
life to science, he was surprised to find Shakespeare tedious. He said
that, if he were to live his life again, he would read poetry and hear
music every day, so as not to lose the power of appreciating such
God asks no man whether he will accept life. That is not the choice. You
_must_ take it. The only choice is _how_.
"When I found I was black," said Dumas, "I resolved to live as if I were
white, and so force men to look below my skin."
In the collection of the Massachusetts Historical Society is a
prospectus used by Longfellow in canvassing, on one of the blank leaves
of which are the skeleton stanzas of "Excelsior," which he was evidently
evolving as he trudged from house to house.
"Disregarding the honors that most men value and looking to the truth,"
said Plato, "I shall endeavor in reality to live as virtuously as I can;
and, when I die, to die so. And I invite all other men to the utmost of
my power; and you, too, I invite to this contest, which, I affirm,
surpasses all contests here."
"Did you ever hear of a man who had striven all his life faithfully and
singly toward an object, and in no measure obtained it?" asked Thoreau.
"If a man constantly aspires, is he not elevated? Did ever a man try
heroism, magnanimity, truth, sincerity, and find that there was no
advantage in them,--that it was a vain endeavor?"
"O if the stone can only have some vision of the temple of which it is
to be a part forever," exclaimed Phillips Brooks, "what patience must
fill it as it feels the blows of the hammer, and knows that success for
it is simply to let itself be wrought into what shape the master wills."
Man never reaches heights above his habitual thought. It is not enough
now and then to mount on wings of ecstasy into the infinite. We must
habitually dwell there. The great man is he who abides easily on heights
to which others rise occasionally and with difficulty. Don't let the
maxims of a low prudence daily dinned into your ears lower the tone of
your high ambition or check your aspirations. Hope lifts us step by step
up the mysterious ladder, the top of which no eye hath ever seen. Though
we do not find what hope promised, yet we are stronger for the climbing,
and we get a broader outlook upon life which repays the effort. Indeed,
if we do not follow where hope beckons, we gradually slide down the
ladder in despair. Strive ever to be at the top of your condition. A
high standard is absolutely necessary.