I shall show the cinders of my spirits
Through the ashes of my chance.
Perseverance is a virtue
That wins each god-like act, and plucks success
E'en from the spear-proof crest of rugged danger.
Never say "Fail" again.
It is the one neck nearer that wins the race and shows the
blood; the one pull more of the oar that proves the "beefiness
of the fellow," as Oxford men say; it is the one march more
that wins the campaign; the five minutes' more persistent
courage that wins the fight. Though your force be less than
another's, you equal and out-master your opponent if you
continue it longer and concentrate it more.
"I know no such unquestionable badge and ensign of a sovereign
mind as that tenacity of purpose which, through all changes of
companions, or parties, or fortunes, changes never, bates no
jot of heart or hope, but wearies out opposition and arrives at
"Well done, Tommy Brooks!" exclaimed his teacher in pleased surprise
when the dunce of the school spoke his piece without omitting a single
word. The other boys had laughed when he rose, for they expected a bad
failure. But when the rest of the class had tried, the teacher said
Tommy had done the best of all, and gave him the prize.
"And now tell me," said she, "how you learned the poem so well."
"Please, ma'am, it was the snail on the wall that taught me how to do
it," said Tommy. At this the other pupils laughed aloud, but the teacher
said: "You need not laugh, boys, for we may learn much from such things
as snails. How did the snail teach you, Tommy?"
"I saw it crawl up the wall little by little," replied the boy. "It did
not stop nor turn back, but went on, and on; and I thought I would do
the same with the poem. So I learned it little by little, and did not
give up. By the time the snail reached the top of the wall, I had
learned the whole poem."
"I may here impart the secret of what is called good and bad luck," said
Addison. "There are men who, supposing Providence to have an implacable
spite against them, bemoan in the poverty of old age the misfortunes of
their lives. Luck forever runs against them, and for others. One with a
good profession lost his luck in the river, where he idled away his time
a-fishing. Another with a good trade perpetually burnt up his luck by
his hot temper, which provoked all his employes to leave him. Another
with a lucrative business lost his luck by amazing diligence at
everything but his own business. Another who steadily followed his
trade, as steadily followed the bottle. Another who was honest and
constant to his work, erred by his perpetual misjudgment,--he lacked
discretion. Hundreds lose their luck by indulging sanguine expectations,
by trusting fraudulent men, and by dishonest gains. A man never has good
luck who has a bad wife. I never knew an early-rising, hard-working,
prudent man, careful of his earnings and strictly honest, who complained
of his bad luck. A good character, good habits, and iron industry are
impregnable to the assaults of the ill luck that fools are dreaming of.
But when I see a tatterdemalion creeping out of a grocery late in the
forenoon with his hands stuck into his pockets, the rim of his hat
turned up, and the crown knocked in, I know he has had bad luck,--for
the worst of all luck is to be a sluggard, a knave, or a tippler."
"You have a difficult subject," said Anthony Trollope at Niagara Falls,
to an artist who had attempted to draw the spray of the waters. "All
subjects are difficult," was the reply, "to a man who desires to do
well." "But yours, I fear, is impossible," said Trollope. "You have no
right to say so till I have finished my picture," protested the artist.
"Tell Louisa to stick to her teaching; she can never succeed as a
writer." When her father delivered the rejected manuscript of a story
sent to James T. Fields, editor of the _Atlantic Monthly_, with the
above message, Miss Alcott said, "Tell him I _will_ succeed as a writer,
and some day I shall write for the _Atlantic_." Not long after she sent
an article to the _Atlantic_ and received a check for $50. With the
money she said she bought "a second hand carpet for the parlor, a bonnet
for her sister, shoes and stockings for herself." Her father was calling
upon Longfellow some time after this, when Longfellow took the
_Atlantic_, and said, "I want to read to you Emerson's fine poem upon
Thoreau's flute." Mr. Alcott interrupted him with delight and said, "My
daughter Louisa wrote that."
"Men talk as if victory were something fortunate," says Emerson. "_Work
is victory._ Wherever work is done victory is obtained. _There is no
chance and no blanks._ You want but one verdict; if you have your own,
you are secure of the rest. But if witnesses are wanted, witnesses are
"Young gentlemen," said Francis Wayland, "remember that nothing can
stand day's work."
Alexander the Great exclaimed to his soldiers, disaffected after a long
campaign, "Go home and tell them that you left Alexander to conquer the
"We discount only our own bills, and not those of private persons," said
the cashier of the Bank of England, when a large bill was offered drawn
by Anselm Rothschild of Frankfort, on Nathan Rothschild of London.
"Private persons!" exclaimed Nathan, when told of the cashier's remark;
"I will make these gentlemen see what sort of private persons we are."
Three weeks later he presented a five-pound note at the bank at the
opening of the office. The teller counted out five sovereigns, looking
surprised that Baron Rothschild should have troubled himself about such
a trifle. The baron examined the coins one by one, weighing them in the
balance, as he said "the law gave him the right to do," put them into a
little canvas bag, and offered a second, then a third, fourth, fiftieth,
thousandth note. When a bag was full he handed it to a clerk in waiting,
and proceeded to fill another. In seven hours he had changed L21,000,
and, with nine employes of his house similarly engaged, had occupied the
tellers so busily in changing $1,050,000 worth of notes that no one else
could receive attention. The bankers laughed, but the next morning
Rothschild appeared with his nine clerks and several drays to carry away
the gold, remarking, "These gentlemen refuse to pay my bills; I have
sworn not to keep theirs. They can pay at their leisure, only I notify
them that I have enough to employ them for two months." The smiles faded
from the features of the bank officials, as they thought of a draft of
$55,000,000 in gold which they did not hold. Next morning notice was
given in the newspapers that the Bank of England would pay Rothschild's
bills as well as its own.
"Well," said Barnum to a friend in 1841, "I am going to buy the American
Museum." "Buy it!" exclaimed the astonished friend, who knew that the
showman had not a dollar; "what do you intend buying it with?" "Brass,"
was the prompt reply, "for silver and gold have I none."
Every one interested in public entertainments in New York knew Barnum,
and knew the condition of his pocket; but Francis Olmstead, who owned
the Museum building, consulted numerous references all telling of "a
good showman, who would do as he agreed," and accepted a proposition to
give security for the purchaser. Mr. Olmstead was to appoint a
money-taker at the door, and credit Barnum toward the purchase with all
above expenses and an allowance of fifty dollars per month to support
his wife and three children. Mrs. Barnum gladly assented to the
arrangement, and offered, if need be, to cut down the household expenses
to a little more than a dollar a day. Some six months later Mr. Olmstead
happened to enter the ticket office at noon, and found Barnum eating for
dinner a few slices of bread and some corned beef. "Is this the way you
eat your dinner?" he asked.
"I have not eaten a warm dinner since I bought the Museum, except on the
Sabbath; and I intend never to eat another until I get out of debt."
"Ah! you are safe, and will pay for the Museum before the year is out,"
said Mr. Olmstead, slapping the young man approvingly on the shoulder.
He was right, for in less than a year Barnum had paid every cent out of
the profits of the establishment.
A noted philosopher said: "The favors of fortune are like steep rocks;
only eagles and creeping things mount to the summit." Lord Campbell, who
became Chief Justice and Lord Chancellor of England and amassed a large
fortune, began life as a drudge in a printing office. A little
observation shows us that, as a rule, the men who accomplish the most in
the world are the most useful, and sensible members of society, the men
who are depended upon most in emergencies, the men of backbone and
stamina, the bone and sinew of their communities; the men who can always
be relied upon, who are healthiest and happiest, are, as a rule, of
ordinary mental calibre and medium capacity. But with persistent and
untiring industry, these are they, after all, who carry the burdens and
reap the prizes of life. It is the men and women who keep everlastingly
at it, who do not believe themselves geniuses, but who know that if they
ever accomplish anything great, they must do it by common drudgery and
persistent industry and with an unwavering aim in one pursuit. Those who
believe themselves geniuses are apt to scatter their efforts and thus
fritter away their great energies without accomplishing anything in
proportion to their high promise. Often the men who promise the most pay
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.
A little boy was asked how he learned to skate. "Oh, by getting up every
time I fell down," he replied.
The boy Thorwaldsen, whose father died in the poorhouse, 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 repress.
"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."
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!
"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.
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.
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.
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.
The very reputation of being strong-willed, plucky, and indefatigable is
of priceless value. It often cowes enemies and dispels at the start
opposition to one's undertakings which would otherwise be formidable.
"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."
"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."
"Go it, William!" an old boxer was overheard saying to himself in the
midst of a fight; "at him again!--never say 'die'!"
A striking incident is related of the early experience of George Law,
who, in his day, was one of the most conspicuous financiers and
capitalists of New York City. When he was a young man he went to New
York, poor and friendless. One day he was walking along the streets,
hungry, not knowing where his next meal would come from, and passed a
new building in course of erection. Through some accident one of the hod
carriers fell from the structure and dropped dead at his feet. Young
Law, in his desperation, applied for the job to take the dead man's
place, and the place was given him. He went to work, and this was how
one of the wealthiest and shrewdest New York business men got his start.
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.
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
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.
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.
"Luck is ever waiting for something to turn up," says Cobden; "labor,
with keen eyes and strong will, will turn up something. Luck lies in
bed, and wishes the postman would bring him the news of a legacy; labor
turns out at six o'clock, and with busy pen or ringing hammer lays the
foundation of a competence. Luck whines; labor whistles. Luck relies on
chance; labor, on character."
There is no luck, for all practical purposes, to him who is not
striving, and whose senses are not all eagerly attent. What are called
accidental discoveries are almost invariably made by those who are
looking for something. A man incurs about as much risk of being struck
by lightning as by accidental luck. There is, perhaps, an element of
luck in the amount of success which crowns the efforts of different men;
but even here it will usually be found that the sagacity with which the
efforts are directed and the energy with which they are prosecuted
measure pretty accurately the luck contained in the results achieved.
Apparent exceptions will be found to relate almost wholly to single
undertakings, while in the long run the rule will hold good. Two
pearl-divers, equally expert, dive together and work with equal energy.
One brings up a pearl, while the other returns empty-handed. But let
both persevere and at the end of five, ten or twenty years it will be
found that they succeeded almost in exact proportion to their skill and
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.
It takes great courage to fight a lost cause when there is no hope even
of victory. To contest every inch of ground with as much persistency and
enthusiasm as if we were assured of victory; this is true courage.
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.
President Chadbourne put grit in place of his lost lung, and worked
thirty-five years after his funeral had been planned.
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
Grit and pluck are not always exhibited only by poor boys who have no
chance, for there are many notable examples of pluck, persistence and
real grit among youth in good circumstances, who never have to fight
their way to their own loaf. Mr. Mifflin, who has recently become the
head of the celebrated publishing firm of Houghton, Mifflin & Co., is a
notable example of persistency, push and grit. After graduating at
Harvard and traveling abroad, he was determined, although not obliged to
work for a living, to get a position at the Riverside Press in
Cambridge. He called upon the late Mr. Houghton and asked him for a
situation. Mr. Houghton told him that he had no opening, and that, even
if he had, he did not believe that a graduate from Harvard who had money
and who had traveled abroad would ever be willing to begin at the bottom
and do the necessary drudgery, for boy's pay. Mr. Mifflin protested
that he was not afraid of hard work, and that he was willing to do
anything and take any sort of a position, if he could only learn the
business. But Mr. Houghton would not give him any encouragement. Again
and again Mr. Mifflin came to the Riverside Press, and pressed his suit,
but to no purpose. Mr. Mifflin persuaded his father to intercede for
him, but Mr. Houghton succeeded in convincing him that it would be very
unwise for his son to attempt it. But young Mifflin was determined not
to give up. Finally, Mr. Houghton, out of admiration for his persistence
and pluck, made a place for him, which had been occupied by a boy, for
$5 a week.
Young Mifflin took hold of the work with such earnestness, and showed so
much pluck and determination, that Mr. Houghton soon called him into the
office and raised his pay to $9 a week from the time he began. Although
the young man lived in Boston, he was always at the Riverside Press in
Cambridge early in the morning, and would frequently remain after all
the others had gone. Mr. Houghton happened to go in late one night,
after everybody had gone, as he supposed, and was surprised to find Mr.
Mifflin there, taking one of the presses apart. Of course such a young
man would be advanced. These are the boys who become the heads of
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.
Stick to the thing and carry it through. Believe you were made for the
place you fill, and that no one else can fill it as well. Put forth your
whole energies. Be awake, electrify yourself; go forth to the task. Only
once learn to carry a thing through in all its completeness and
proportion, and you will become a hero. You will think better of
yourself; others will think better of you. The world in its very heart
admires the stern, determined doer.
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