Patience is the courage of the conqueror; it is the virtue,
_par excellence_, of Man against Destiny, of the One against
the World, and of the Soul against Matter. Therefore this is
the courage of the Gospel; and its importance, in a social
view--its importance to races and institutions--cannot be too
Perpetual pushing and assurance put a difficulty out of
countenance, and make a seeming impossibility give way.
To bear is to conquer fate.
The nerve that never relaxes, the eye that never blenches, the
thought that never wanders,--these are the masters of victory.
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
"How long did it take you to learn to play?" asked a young man of
Geradini. "Twelve hours a day for twenty years," replied the great
violinist. Layman Beecher's father, when asked how long it took him to
write his celebrated sermon on the "Government of God," replied, "About
"If you will study a year I will teach you to sing well," said an
Italian music teacher to a pupil who wished to know what can be hoped
for with study; "if two years, you may excel. If you will practice the
scale constantly for three years, I will make you the best tenor in
Italy; if for four years, you may have the world at your feet."
Perceiving that Caffarelli had a fine tenor voice and unusual talent, a
teacher offered to give him a thorough musical education free of charge,
provided the pupil would promise never to complain of the course of
instruction given. The first year the master gave nothing but the
scales, compelling the youth to practice them over and over again. The
second year it was the same, the third, and the fourth, the conditions
of the bargain being the only reply to any question in relation to a
change from such monotonous drill. The fifth year the teacher introduced
chromatics and thorough bass, and, at its close, when Caffarelli looked
for something more brilliant and interesting, the master said: "Go, my
son, I can teach you nothing more. You are the first singer of Italy and
of the world." The _mastery_ of scales and diatonics gave him power to
"Keep at the helm," said President Porter; "steer your own ship, and
remember that the great art of commanding is to take a fair share of the
work. Strike out. Assume your own position. Put potatoes in a cart,
over a rough road, and the small ones go to the bottom."
"Never depend upon your genius," said John Ruskin, in the words of
Joshua Reynolds; "if you have talent, industry will improve it; if you
have none, industry will supply the deficiency."
"The only merit to which I lay claim," said Hugh Miller, "is that of
patient research--a merit in which whoever wills may rival or surpass
me; and this humble faculty of patience when rightly developed may lead
to more extraordinary development of ideas than even genius itself."
Titian, the greatest master of color the world has seen, used to say:
"White, red and black, these are all the colors that a painter needs,
but he must know how to use them." It took fifty years of constant, hard
practice to bring him to his full mastery.
"How much grows everywhere if we do but wait!" exclaims Carlyle. "Not a
difficulty but can transfigure itself into a triumph; not even a
deformity, but if our own soul have imprinted worth on it, will grow
dear to us."
Persistency is characteristic of all men who have accomplished anything
great. They may lack in some other particular, have many weaknesses, or
eccentricities, but the quality of persistence is never absent in a
successful man. No matter what opposition he meets or what
discouragements overtake him, he is always persistent. Drudgery cannot
disgust him, obstacles cannot discourage him, labor cannot weary him. He
will persist, no matter what comes or what goes; it is a part of his
nature. He could almost as easily stop breathing.
It is not so much brilliancy of intellect or fertility of resource as
persistency of effort, constancy of purpose, that makes a great man.
Persistency always gives confidence. Everybody believes in the man who
persists. He may meet misfortunes, sorrows and reverses, but everybody
believes that he will ultimately triumph because they know there is no
keeping him down. "Does he keep at it, is he persistent?" is the
question which the world asks of a man.
Even the man with small ability will often succeed if he has the quality
of persistence, where a genius without persistence would fail.
"How hard I worked at that tremendous shorthand, and all improvement
appertaining to it," said Dickens. "I will only add to what I have
already written of my perseverance at this time of my life, and of a
patient and continuous energy which then began to be matured within me,
and which I know to be the strong point of my character, if it have any
strength at all, that there, on looking back, I find the source of my
"I am sorry to say that I don't think this is in your line," said
Woodfall the reporter, after Sheridan had made his first speech in
Parliament. "You had better have stuck to your former pursuits." With
head on his hand Sheridan mused for a time, then looked up and said, "It
is in me, and it shall come out of me." From the same man came that
harangue against Warren Hastings which the orator Fox called the best
speech ever made in the House of Commons.
"The man who is perpetually hesitating which of two things he will do
first," said William Wirt, "will do neither." The man who resolves, but
suffers his resolution to be changed by the first counter-suggestion of
a friend--who fluctuates from opinion to opinion, from plan to plan, and
veers like a weather-cock to every point of the compass, with every
breath of caprice that blows, can never accomplish anything great or
useful. Instead of being progressive in anything, he will be at best
stationary, and, more probably, retrograde in all.
Great writers have ever been noted for their tenacity of purpose. Their
works have not been flung off from minds aglow with genius, but have
been elaborated and elaborated into grace and beauty, until every trace
of their efforts has been obliterated. Bishop Butler worked twenty years
incessantly on his "Analogy," and even then was so dissatisfied that he
wanted to burn it. Rousseau says he obtained the ease and grace of his
style only by ceaseless inquietude, by endless blotches and erasures.
Virgil worked eleven years on the AEneid. The note-books of great men
like Hawthorne and Emerson are tell-tales of enormous drudgery, of the
years put into a book which may be read in an hour. Montesquieu was
twenty-five years writing his "Esprit de Louis," yet you can read it in
sixty minutes. Adam Smith spent ten years on his "Wealth of Nations." A
rival playwright once laughed at Euripides for spending three days on
three lines, when he had written five hundred lines. "But your five
hundred lines in three days will be dead and forgotten, while my three
lines will live forever," replied Euripides.
Sir Fowell Buxton thought he could do as well as others, if he devoted
twice as much time and labor as they did. Ordinary means and
extraordinary application have done most of the great things in the
Defoe offered the manuscript of Robinson Crusoe to many booksellers and
all but one refused it. Addison's first play, Rosamond, was hissed off
the stage, but the editor of the Spectator and Tattler was made of stern
stuff and was determined that the world should listen to him, and it
David Livingstone said: "Those who have never carried a book through the
press can form no idea of the amount of toil it involves. The process
has increased my respect for authors a thousand-fold. I think I would
rather cross the African continent again than undertake to write another
"For the statistics of the negro population of South America alone,"
says Robert Dale Owen, "I examined more than a hundred and fifty
Another author tells us that he wrote paragraphs and whole pages of his
book as many as fifty times.
It is said of one of Longfellow's poems that it was written in four
weeks, but that he spent six months in correcting and cutting it down.
Bulwer declared that he had rewritten some of his briefer productions as
many as eight or nine times before their publication. One of Tennyson's
pieces was rewritten fifty times. John Owen was twenty years on his
"Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews;" Gibbon on his "Decline and
Fall," twenty years; and Adam Clark, on his "Commentary," twenty-six
years. Carlyle spent fifteen years on his "Frederick the Great."
A great deal of time is consumed in reading before some books are
prepared. George Eliot read 1000 books before she wrote "Daniel
Deronda." Allison read 2000 before he completed his history. It is said
of another that he read 20,000 and wrote only two books.
Virgil spent several years on the Georgics, which could be printed in
two columns of an ordinary newspaper.
"Generally speaking," said Sydney Smith, "the life of all truly great
men has been a life of intense and incessant labor. They have commonly
passed the first half of life in the gross darkness of indigent
humility,--overlooked, mistaken, condemned by weaker men,--thinking
while others slept, reading while others rioted, feeling something
within them that told them they should not always be kept down among the
dregs of the world. And then, when their time has come, and some little
accident has given them their first occasion, they have burst out into
the light and glory of public life, rich with the spoils of time, and
mighty in all the labors and struggles of the mind."
Malibran said: "If I neglect my practice a day, I see the difference in
my execution; if for two days, my friends see it; and if for a week, all
the world knows my failure." Constant, persistent struggle she found to
be the price of her marvelous power.
"If I am building a mountain," said Confucius, "and stop before the last
basketful of earth is placed on the summit, I have failed."
"Young gentlemen," said Francis Wayland, "remember that nothing can
stand day's work."
America will never produce any great art until our resources are
developed and we get more time. As a people we have not yet learned the
art of patience. We do not know how to wait. Think of an American artist
spending seven, eight, ten, and even twelve years on a single painting
as did Titian, Michael Angelo and many of the other old masters. Think
of an American sculptor spending years and years upon a single
masterpiece, as did the Greeks and Romans. We have not yet learned the
secret of working and waiting.
"The single element in all the progressive movements of my pencil," said
the great David Wilkie, "was persevering industry."
The kind of ability which most men rank highest is that which enables
its possessor to do what he undertakes, and attain the object of his
ambition or desire.
"The reader of a newspaper does not see the first insertion of an
ordinary advertisement," says a French writer. "The second insertion he
sees, but does not read; the third insertion he reads; the fourth
insertion he looks at the price; the fifth insertion he speaks of it to
his wife; the sixth insertion he is ready to purchase, and the seventh
insertion he purchases."
The large fees which make us envy the great lawyer or doctor are not
remuneration for the few minutes' labor of giving advice, but for the
mental stores gathered during the precious spare moments of many a year
while others were sleeping or enjoying holidays. A client will
frequently object to paying fifty dollars for an opinion written in five
minutes, but such an opinion could be written only by one who has read a
hundred law books. If the lawyer had not previously read those books,
but should keep a client waiting until he could read them with care,
there would be fewer complaints that fees of this kind are not earned.
We are told that perseverance built the pyramids on Egypt's plains,
erected the gorgeous temple at Jerusalem, inclosed in adamant the
Chinese Empire, scaled the stormy, cloud-capped Alps, opened a highway
through the watery wilderness of the Atlantic, leveled the forests of
the new world, and reared in its stead a community of States and
nations. Perseverance has wrought from the marble block the exquisite
creations of genius, painted on canvas the gorgeous mimicry of nature,
and engraved on a metallic surface the viewless substance of the shadow.
Perseverance has put in motion millions of spindles, winged as many
flying shuttles, harnessed thousands of iron steeds to as many freighted
cars, and sent them flying from town to town and nation to nation;
tunneled mountains of granite, and annihilated space with the
lightning's speed. Perseverance has whitened the waters of the world
with the sails of a hundred nations, navigated every sea and explored
every land. Perseverance has reduced nature in her thousand forms to as
many sciences, taught her laws, prophesied her future movements,
measured her untrodden spaces, counted her myriad hosts of worlds, and
computed their distances, dimensions, and velocities.
"Whoever is resolved to excel in painting, or, indeed, in any other
art," said Reynolds, "must bring all his mind to bear upon that one
object from the moment that he rises till he goes to bed."
"If you work hard two weeks without selling a book," wrote a publisher
to an agent, "you will make a success of it."
"Know thy work and do it," said Carlyle; "and work at it like a
Hercules. One monster there is in the world--an idle man."
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