Foundation Stones

In all matters, before beginning, a diligent preparation should

be made.


How great soever a genius may be, ... certain it is that he

will never shine in his full lustre, nor shed the full

influence he is capable of, unless to his own experience he

adds that of other men and other ages.


It is for want of the little that human means must add to the

wonderful capacity for improvement, born in man, that by far

the greatest part of the intellect, innate in our race,

perishes undeveloped and unknown.


If any man fancies that there is some easier way of gaining a

dollar than by squarely earning it, he has lost his clue to his

way through this mortal labyrinth and must henceforth wander as

chance may dictate.


What we do upon some great occasion will probably depend on

what we already are; and what we are will be the result of

previous years of self-discipline.


Learn to labor and to wait.


"What avails all this sturdiness?" asked an oak tree which had grown

solitary for two hundred years, bitterly handled by frosts and wrestled

by winds. "Why am I to stand here useless? My roots are anchored in

rifts of rocks; no herds can lie down under my shadow; I am far above

singing birds, that seldom come to rest among my leaves; I am set as a

mark for storms, that bend and tear me; my fruit is serviceable for no

appetite; it had been better for me to have been a mushroom, gathered in

the morning for some poor man's table, than to be a hundred-year oak,

good for nothing."

While it yet spoke, the axe was hewing at its base. It died in sadness,

saying as it fell, "Weary ages for nothing have I lived."

The axe completed its work. By and by the trunk and root form the knees

of a stately ship, bearing the country's flag around the world. Other

parts form keel and ribs of merchantmen, and having defied the mountain

storms, they now equally resist the thunder of the waves and the murky

threat of scowling hurricanes. Other parts are laid into floors, or

wrought into wainscoting, or carved for frames of noble pictures, or

fashioned into chairs that embosom the weakness of old age. Thus the

tree, in dying, came not to its end, but to its beginning of life. It

voyaged the world. It grew to parts of temples and dwellings. It held

upon its surface the soft tread of children and the tottering steps of

patriarchs. It rocked in the cradle. It swayed the limbs of age by the

chimney corner, and heard, secure within, the roar of those old,

unwearied tempests that once surged about its mountain life. All its

early struggles and hardships had enabled it to grow tough and hard and

beautiful of grain, alike useful and ornamental.

"Sir, you have been to college, I presume?" asked an illiterate but

boastful exhorter of a clergyman. "Yes, sir," was the reply. "I am

thankful," said the former, "that the Lord opened my mouth without any

learning." "A similar event," retorted the clergyman, "happened in

Balaam's time."

Why not allow the schoolboy to erase from his list of studies all

subjects that appear to him useless? Would he not erase every thing

which taxed his pleasure and freedom? Would he not obey the call of his

blood, rather than the advice of his teacher? Ignorant men who have made

money tell him that the study of geography is useless; his tea will come

over the sea to him whether he knows where China is or not; what

difference does it make whether verbs agree with their subjects or not?

Why waste time learning geometry or algebra? Who keeps accounts by

these? Learning spoils a man for business, they tell him; they begrudge

the time and money spent in education. They want cheap and rapid transit

through college for their children. Veneer will answer every practical

purpose for them, instead of solid mahogany, or even paint and pine will


It is said that the editors of the Dictionary of American Biography

who diligently searched the records of living and dead Americans, found

15,142 names worthy of a place in their six volumes of annals of

successful men, and 5326, or more than one-third of them, were

college-educated men. One in forty of the college educated attained a

success worthy of mention, and but one in 10,000 of those not so

educated; so that the college-bred man had two hundred and fifty times

the chances for success that others had. Medical records, it is said,

show that but five per cent. of the practicing physicians of the United

States are college graduates; and yet forty-six per cent. of the

physicians who became locally famous enough to be mentioned by those

editors came from that small five per cent. of college educated persons.

Less than four per cent. of the lawyers were college-bred, yet they

furnished more than one-half of all who became successful. Not one per

cent. of the business men of the country were college educated, yet that

small fraction of college-bred men had seventeen times the chances of

success that their fellow men of business had. In brief, the

college-educated lawyer has fifty per cent. more chances for success

than those not so favored; the college-educated physician, forty-six per

cent. more; the author, thirty-seven per cent. more; the statesman,

thirty-three per cent.; the clergyman, fifty-eight per cent.; the

educator, sixty-one per cent.; the scientist, sixty-three per cent. You

should therefore get the best and most complete education that it is

possible for you to obtain.

Knowledge, then, is one of the secret keys which unlock the hidden

mysteries of a successful life.

"I do not remember," said Beecher, "a book in all the depths of

learning, nor a scrap in literature, nor a work in all the schools of

art, from which its author has derived a permanent renown, that is not

known to have been long and patiently elaborated."

"You are a fool to stick so close to your work all the time," said one

of Vanderbilt's young friends; "we are having our fun while we are

young, for when will we if not now?" But Cornelius was either earning

more money by working overtime, or saving what he had earned, or at home

asleep, recruiting for the next day's labor and preparing for a large

harvest later. Like all successful men, he made finance a study. When he

entered the railroad business, it was estimated that his fortune was

thirty-five or forty million dollars.

"The spruce young spark," says Sizer, "who thinks chiefly of his

mustache and boots and shiny hat, of getting along nicely and easily

during the day, and talking about the theatre, the opera, or a fast

horse, ridiculing the faithful young fellow who came to learn the

business and make a man of himself, because he will not join in wasting

his time in dissipation, will see the day, if his useless life is not

earlier blasted by vicious indulgences, when he will be glad to accept a

situation from his fellow-clerk whom he now ridicules and affects to

despise, when the latter shall stand in the firm, dispensing benefits

and acquiring fortune."

"When a man has done his work," says Ruskin, "and nothing can any way be

materially altered in his fate, let him forget his toil, and jest with

his fate if he will; but what excuse can you find for willfulness of

thought at the very time when every crisis of fortune hangs on your

decisions? A youth thoughtless, when all the happiness of his home

forever depends on the chances or the passions of the hour! A youth

thoughtless, when the career of all his days depends on the opportunity

of a moment! A youth thoughtless, when his every action is a

foundation-stone of future conduct, and every imagination a foundation

of life or death! Be thoughtless in any after years, rather than

now--though, indeed, there is only one place where a man may be nobly

thoughtless, his deathbed. Nothing should ever be left to be done


"On to Berlin," was the shout of the French army in July, 1870; but, to

the astonishment of the world, the French forces were cut in two and

rolled as by a tidal wave into Metz and around Sedan. Soon two French

armies and the Emperor surrendered, and German troopers paraded the

streets of captured Paris.

But as men thought it out, as Professor Wells tells us, they came to see

that it was not France that was beaten, but only Louis Napoleon and a

lot of nobles, influential only because they bore titles or were

favorites. Louis Napoleon, the feeble bearer of a great name, was

emperor because of that name and criminal daring. By a series of happy

accidents he had gained credit in the Crimean War, and at Magenta and

Solferino. But the unmasking time came in the Franco-Prussian War, as it

always comes when sham, artificial toy-men meet genuine self-made men.

And such were the German leaders,--William, strong, upright, warlike,

"every inch a king;" Von Roon, Minister of War, a master of

administrative detail; Bismarck, the master mind of European politics;

and, above all, Von Moltke, chief of staff, who hurled armies by

telegraph, as he sat at his cabinet, as easily as a master moves

chessmen against a stupid opponent.

Said Captain Bingham: "You can have no idea of the wonderful machine

that the German army is and how well it is prepared for war. A chart is

made out which shows just what must be done in the case of wars with

the different nations. And every officer's place in the scheme is laid

out beforehand. There is a schedule of trains which will supersede all

other schedules the moment war is declared, and this is so arranged that

the commander of the army here could telegraph to any officer to take

such a train and go to such a place at a moment's notice. When the

Franco-Prussian War was declared, Von Moltke was awakened at midnight

and told of the fact. He said coolly to the official who aroused him,

'Go to pigeonhole No. ---- in my safe and take a paper from it and

telegraph as there directed to the different troops of the empire.' He

then turned over and went to sleep and awoke at his usual hour in the

morning. Every one else in Berlin was excited about the war, but Von

Moltke took his morning walk as usual, and a friend who met him said,

'General, you seem to be taking it very easy. Aren't you afraid of the

situation? I should think you would be busy.' 'Ah,' replied Von Moltke,

'all of my work for this time has been done long beforehand, and

everything that can be done now has been done.'"

"A rare man this Von Moltke!" exclaims Professor Wells; "one who made

himself ready for his opportunities beyond all men known to the modern

world. Of an impoverished family, he rose very slowly and by his own

merit. He yielded to no temptation, vice, or dishonesty, of course, nor

to the greater and ever present temptation to idleness, for he

constantly worked to the limit of human endurance. He was ready for

every emergency, not by accident, but because he made himself ready by

painstaking labor, before the opportunity came. His favorite motto was,

'_Help yourself and others will help you_.' Hundreds of his age in the

Prussian army were of nobler birth, thousands of greater fortune, but he

made himself superior to them all by extraordinary fidelity and


"The greatest master of strategy the world has ever seen was sixty-six

years at school to himself before he was ready for his task. Though born

with the century, and an army officer at nineteen, he was an old man

when, in 1866, as Prussian chief of staff, he crushed Austria at Sadowa

and drove her out of Germany. Four years later the silent, modest

soldier of seventy, ready for the still greater opportunity, smote

France, and changed the map of Europe. Glory and the field-marshal's

baton, after fifty-one years of hard work! No wonder Louis Napoleon was

beaten by such men as he. All Louis Napoleons have been, and always will

be. Opportunity always finds out frauds. It does not make men, but shows

the world what they have made of themselves."

Sir Henry Havelock joined the army of India in his twenty-eighth year,

and waited till he was sixty-two for the opportunity to show himself

fitted to command and skillful to plan. During those four and thirty

years of waiting, he was busy preparing himself for that march to

Lucknow which was to make him famous as a soldier.


"The viking of our western clime

Who made his mast a throne,"

began his naval career as a mere boy, and was sixty-four years old

before he had an opportunity to distinguish himself; but when the great

test of his life came, the reserve of half a century's preparation made

him master of the situation.

Alexander Hamilton said, "Men give me credit for genius. All the genius

I have lies just in this: when I have a subject in hand I study it

profoundly. Day and night it is before me. I explore it in all its

bearings. My mind becomes pervaded with it. Then the effort which I make

the people are pleased to call the fruit of genius; it is the fruit of

labor and thought." The law of labor is equally binding on genius and


"Fill up the cask! fill up the cask!" said old Dr. Bellamy when asked by

a young clergyman for advice about the composition of sermons. "Fill up

the cask! and then if you tap it anywhere you will get a good stream.

But if you put in but little, it will dribble, dribble, dribble, and

you must tap, tap, tap, and then you get but a small stream, after all."

"The merchant is in a dangerous position," says Dr. W. W. Patton, "whose

means are in goods trusted out all over the country on long credits, and

who in an emergency has no money in the bank upon which to draw. A heavy

deposit, subject to a sight-draft, is the only position of strength. And

he only is intellectually strong, who has made heavy deposits in the

bank of memory, and can draw upon his faculties at any time, according

to the necessities of the case."

They say that more life, if not more labor, was spent on the piles

beneath the St. Petersburg church of St. Isaac's, to get a foundation,

than on all the magnificent marbles and malachite which have since been

lodged in it.

Fifty feet of Bunker Hill Monument is under ground, unseen, and

unappreciated by the thousands who tread about that historic shaft. The

rivers of India run under ground, unseen, unheard, by the millions who

tramp above, but are they therefore lost? Ask the golden harvest waving

above them if it feels the water flowing beneath? The superstructure of

a lifetime cannot stand upon the foundation of a day.

C. H. Parkhurst says that in manhood, as much as in house-building, the

foundation keeps asserting itself all the way from the first floor to

the roof. The stones laid in the underpinning may be coarse and

inelegant, but, even so, each such stone perpetuates itself in silent

echo clear up through to the finial. The body is in that respect like an

old Stradivarius violin, the ineffable sweetness of whose music is

outcome and quotation from the coarse fibre of the case upon which its

strings are strung. It is a very pleasant delusion that what we call the

higher qualities and energies of a person maintain that self-centered

kind of existence that enables them to discard and contemn all

dependence upon what is lower and less refined than themselves, but it

is a delusion that always wilts in an atmosphere of fact. Climb high as

we like our ladder will still require to rest on the ground; and it is

probable that the keenest intellectual intuition, and the most delicate

throb of passion would, if analysis could be carried so far, be

discovered to have its connections with the rather material affair that

we know as the body.

Lincoln took the postmastership for the sake of reading all the papers

that came to town. He read everything he could lay his hands on; the

Bible, Shakespeare, Pilgrim's Progress, Life of Washington and Life of

Franklin, Life of Henry Clay, AEsop's Fables; he read them over and over

again until he could almost repeat them by heart; but he never read a

novel in his life. His education came from the newspapers and from his

contact with men and things. After he read a book he would write out an

analysis of it. What a grand sight to see this long, lank, backwoods

student, lying before the fire in a log cabin without floor or windows,

after everybody else was abed, devouring books he had borrowed but could

not afford to buy!

"I have been watching the careers of young men by the thousand in this

busy city of New York for over thirty years," said Dr. Cuyler, "and I

find that the chief difference between the successful and the failures

lies in the single element of staying power. Permanent success is

oftener won by holding on than by sudden dash, however brilliant. The

easily discouraged, who are pushed back by a straw, are all the time

dropping to the rear--to perish or to be carried along on the stretcher

of charity. They who understand and practice Abraham Lincoln's homely

maxim of 'pegging away' have achieved the solidest success."

It is better to deserve success than to merely have it; few deserve it

who do not attain it. There is no failure in this country for those

whose personal habits are good, and who follow some honest calling

industriously, unselfishly, and purely. If one desires to succeed, he

must pay the price, work.

No matter how weak a power may be, rational use will make it stronger.

No matter how awkward your movements may be, how obtuse your senses, or

how crude your thought, or how unregulated your desires, you may by

patient discipline acquire, slowly indeed but with infallible certainty,

grace and freedom of action, clearness and acuteness of perception,

strength and precision of thought, and moderation of desire.

It would go very far to destroy the absurd and pernicious association of

genius and idleness, to show that the greatest poets, orators,

statesmen, and historians--men of the most imposing and brilliant

talents--have actually labored as hard as the makers of dictionaries and

arrangers of indexes; and the most obvious reason why they have been

superior to other men, is, that they have taken more pains.

Even the great genius, Lord Bacon, left large quantities of material

entitled "Sudden thoughts set down for use." John Foster was an

indefatigable worker. "He used to hack, split, twist, and pull up by the

roots, or practice any other severity on whatever did not please him."

Chalmers was asked in London what Foster was doing. "Hard at it" he

said, "at the rate of a line a week."

When a young lawyer, Daniel Webster once looked in vain through all the

libraries near him, and then ordered at an expense of $50 the necessary

books, to obtain authorities and precedents in a case in which his

client was a poor blacksmith. He won his case, but, on account of the

poverty of his client, only charged $15, thus losing heavily on the

books bought, to say nothing of his time. Years after, as he was passing

through New York city, he was consulted by Aaron Burr on an important

but puzzling case then pending before the Supreme Court. Webster saw in

a moment that it was just like the blacksmith's case, an intricate

question of title, which he had solved so thoroughly that it was to him

simple as the multiplication table. Going back to the time of Charles

II., he gave the law and precedents involved with such readiness and

accuracy of sequence that Burr asked, in great surprise: "Mr. Webster,

have you been consulted before in this case?"

"Most certainly not. I never heard of your case till this evening."

"Very well," said Burr, "proceed." And when he had finished, Webster

received a fee that paid him liberally for all the time and trouble he

had spent for his early client.

What the age wants is men who have the nerve and the grit to work and

wait, whether the world applaud or hiss. It wants a Bancroft, who can

spend twenty-six years on the "History of the United States;" a Noah

Webster, who can devote thirty-six years to a dictionary; a Gibbon, who

can plod for twenty years on the "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire;"

a Mirabeau, who can struggle on for forty years before he has a chance

to show his vast reserve, destined to shake an empire; a Farragut, a Von

Moltke, who have the persistence to work and wait for half a century for

their first great opportunities; a Garfield, burning his lamp fifteen

minutes later than a rival student in his academy; a Grant, fighting on

in heroic silence, when denounced by his brother generals and

politicians everywhere; a Field's untiring perseverance, spending years

and a fortune laying a cable when all the world called him a fool; a

Michael Angelo, working seven long years decorating the Sistine Chapel

with his matchless "Creation" and the "Last Judgment," refusing all

remuneration therefor, lest his pencil might catch the taint of avarice;

a Titian, spending seven years on the "Last Supper;" a Stephenson,

working fifteen years on a locomotive; a Watt, twenty years on a

condensing engine; a Lady Franklin, working incessantly for twelve long

years to rescue her husband from the polar seas; a Thurlow Weed, walking

two miles through the snow with rags tied around his feet for shoes, to

borrow the history of the French Revolution, and eagerly devouring it

before the sap-bush fire; a Milton, elaborating "Paradise Lost" in a

world he could not see, and then selling it for fifteen pounds; a

Thackeray, struggling on cheerfully after his "Vanity Fair" was refused

by a dozen publishers; a Balzac, toiling and waiting in a lonely garret,

whom neither poverty, debt, nor hunger could discourage or intimidate;

not daunted by privations, not hindered by discouragements. It wants men

who can work and wait.

That is done soon enough which is done well. Soon ripe, soon rotten. He

that would enjoy the fruit must not gather the flower. He who is

impatient to become his own master is more likely to become his own

slave. Better believe yourself a dunce and work away than a genius and

be idle. One year of trained thinking is worth more than a whole college

course of mental absorption of a vast series of undigested facts. The

facility with which the world swallows up the ordinary college graduate

who thought he was going to dazzle mankind should bid you pause and

reflect. But just as certainly as man was created not to crawl on all

fours in the depths of primeval forests, but to develop his mental and

moral faculties, just so certainly he needs education, and only by means

of it will he become what he ought to become,--man, in the highest

sense of the word. Ignorance is not simply the negation of knowledge,

it is the misdirection of the mind. "One step in knowledge," says

Bulwer, "is one step from sin; one step from sin is one step nearer to


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