Self Help V.
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"Not for to hide it in a hedge,
     Nor for a train attendant,
 But for the glorious privilege
     Of being independent.—Burns.


"Neither a borrower nor a lender be:
 For loan oft loses both itself and friend;
 And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry."—Shakespeare.

Never treat money affairs with levity—Money is character.—Sir E. L. Bulwer Lytton.

HOW a man uses money—makes it, saves it, and spends it—is perhaps one of the best tests of practical wisdom.  Although money ought by no means to be regarded as a chief end of man's life, neither is it a trifling matter, to be held in philosophic contempt, representing as it does to so large an extent, the means of physical comfort and social well-being.  Indeed, some of the finest qualities of human nature are intimately related to the right use of money; such as generosity, honesty, justice, and self-sacrifice; as well as the practical virtues of economy and providence.  On the other hand, there are their counterparts of avarice, fraud, injustice, and selfishness, as displayed by the inordinate lovers of gain; and the vices of thriftlessness, extravagance, and improvidence, on the part of those who misuse and abuse the means entrusted to them.  "So that," as is wisely observed by Henry Taylor in his thoughtful 'Notes from Life,' "a right measure and manner in getting, saving, spending, giving, taking, lending, borrowing, and bequeathing, would almost argue a perfect man."

    Comfort in worldly circumstances is a condition which every man is justified in striving to attain by all worthy means.  It secures that physical satisfaction, which is necessary for the culture of the better part of his nature; and enables him to provide for those of his own household, without which, says the Apostle, a man is "worse than an infidel."  Nor ought the duty to be any the less indifferent to us, that the respect which our fellow-men entertain for as in no slight degree depends upon the manner in which we exercise the opportunities which present themselves for our honourable advancement in life.  The very effort required to be made to succeed in life with this object, is of itself an education; stimulating a man's sense of self-respect, bringing out his practical qualities, and disciplining him in the exercise of patience, perseverance, and such like virtues.  The provident and careful man must necessarily be a thoughtful man, for he lives not merely for the present, but with provident forecast makes arrangements for the future.  He must also be a temperate man, and exercise the virtue of self-denial, than which nothing is so much calculated to give strength to the character.  John Sterling says truly, that "the worst education which teaches self-denial, is better than the best which teaches everything else, and not that."  The Romans rightly employed the same word (virtus) to designate courage, which is in a physical sense what the other is in a moral; the highest virtue of all being victory over ourselves.

    Hence the lesson of self-denial—the sacrificing of a present gratification for a future good—is one of the last that is learnt.  Those classes which work the hardest might naturally be expected to value the most the money which they earn.  Yet the readiness with which so many are accustomed to eat up and drink up their earnings as they go, renders them to a great extent helpless and dependent upon the frugal.  There are large numbers of persons among us who, though enjoying sufficient means of comfort and independence, are often found to be barely a day's march ahead of actual want when a time of pressure occurs; and hence a great cause of social helplessness and suffering.  On one occasion a deputation waited on Lord John Russell, respecting the taxation levied on the working classes of the country, when the noble lord took the opportunity of remarking, "You may rely upon it that the Government of this country durst not tax the working classes to anything like the extent to which they tax themselves in their expenditure upon intoxicating drinks alone!"  Of all great public questions, there is perhaps none more important than this,—no great work of reform calling more loudly for labourers.  But it must be admitted that "self-denial and self-help" would make a poor rallying cry for the hustings; and it is to be feared that the patriotism of this day has but little regard for such common things as individual economy and providence, although it is by the practice of such virtues that the genuine independence of the industrial classes is to be secured.  "Prudence, frugality, and good management," said Samuel Drew, the philosophical shoemaker, "are excellent artists for mending bad times: they occupy but little room in any dwelling, but would furnish a more effectual remedy for the evils of life than any Reform Bill that ever passed the Houses of Parliament."  Socrates said, "Let him that would move the world move first himself."  Or as the old rhyme runs

"If every one would see
     To his own reformation,
 How very easily
     You might reform a nation."

It is, however, generally felt to be a far easier thing to reform the Church and the State than to reform the least of our own bad habits; and in such matters it is usually found more agreeable to our tastes, as it certainly is the common practice, to begin with our neighbours rather than with ourselves.

    Any class of men that lives from hand to mouth will ever be an inferior class.  They will necessarily remain impotent and helpless, hanging on to the skirts of society, the sport of times and seasons.  Having no respect for themselves, they will fail in securing the respect of others.  In commercial crises, such men must inevitably go to the wall.  Wanting that husbanded power which a store of savings, no matter how small, invariably gives them, they will be at every man's mercy, and, if possessed of right feelings, they cannot but regard with fear and trembling the future possible fate of their wives and children.  "The world," once said Mr. Cobden to the working men of Huddersfield, "has always been divided into two classes,—those who have saved, and those who have spent—the thrifty and the extravagant.  The building of all the houses, the mills, the bridges, and the ships, and the accomplishment of all other great works which have rendered man civilized and happy, has been done by the savers, the thrifty; and those who have wasted their resources have always been their slaves.  It has been the law of nature and of Providence that this should be so; and I were an impostor if I promised any class that they would advance themselves if they were improvident, thoughtless, and idle."

    Equally sound was the advice given by Mr. Bright to an assembly of working men at Rochdale, in 1847, when, after expressing his belief that, "so far as honesty was concerned, it was to be found in pretty equal amount among all classes," he used the following words:—"There is only one way that is safe for any man, or any number of men, by which they can maintain their present position if it be a good one, or raise themselves above it if it be a bad one,—that is, by the practice of the virtues of industry, frugality, temperance, and honesty.  There is no royal road by which men can raise themselves from a position which they feel to be uncomfortable and unsatisfactory, as regards their mental or physical condition, except by the practice of those virtues by which they find numbers amongst them are continually advancing and bettering themselves."

    There is no reason why the condition of the average workman should not be a useful, honourable, respectable, and happy one.  The whole body of the working classes might, (with few exceptions) be as frugal, virtuous, well-informed, and well-conditioned as many individuals of the same class have already made themselves.  What some men are, all without difficulty might be.  Employ the same means, and the same results will follow.  That there should be a class of men who live by their daily labour in every state is the ordinance of God, and doubtless is a wise and righteous one; but that this class should be otherwise than frugal, contented, intelligent, and happy, is not the design of Providence, but springs solely from the weakness, self-indulgence, and perverseness of man himself.  The healthy spirit of self-help created amongst working people would more than any other measure serve to raise them as a class, and this, not by pulling down others, but by levelling them up to a higher and still advancing standard of religion, intelligence, and virtue.  "All moral philosophy," says Montaigne, "is as applicable to a common and private life as to the most splendid.  Every man carries the entire form of the human condition within him."

    When a man casts his glance forward, he will find that the three chief temporal contingencies for which he has to provide are want of employment, sickness, and death.  The two first he may escape, but the last is inevitable.  It is, however, the duty of the prudent man so to live, and so to arrange, that the pressure of suffering, in event of either contingency occurring, shall be mitigated to as great an extent as possible, not only to himself, but also to those who are dependent upon him for their comfort and subsistence.  Viewed in this light the honest earning and the frugal use of money are of the greatest importance.  Rightly earned, it is the representative of patient industry and untiring effort, of temptation resisted, and hope rewarded; and rightly used, it affords indications of prudence, fore-thought and self-denial—the true basis of manly character.  Though money represents a crowd of objects without any real worth or utility, it also represents many things of great value; not only food, clothing, and household satisfaction, but personal self-respect and independence.  Thus a store of savings is to the working man as a barricade against want; it secures him a footing, and enables him to wait, it may be in cheerfulness and hope, until better days come round.  The very endeavour to gain a firmer position in the world has a certain dignity in it, and tends to make a man stronger and better.  At all events it gives him greater freedom of action, and enables him to husband his strength for future effort.

    But the man who is always hovering on the verge of want is in a state not far removed from that of slavery.  He is in no sense his own master, but is in constant peril of falling under the bondage of others, and accepting the terms which they dictate to him.  He cannot help being in a measure, servile, for he dares not look the world boldly in the face and in adverse times he must look either to alms or the poor's rates.  If work fails him altogether, he has not the means of moving to another field of employment; he is fixed to his parish like a limpet to its rock, and can neither migrate nor emigrate.

    To secure independence, the practice of simple economy is all that is necessary.  Economy requires neither superior courage nor eminent virtue; it is satisfied with ordinary energy, and the capacity of average minds.  Economy, at bottom, is but the spirit of order applied in the administration of domestic affairs: it means management, regularity, prudence, and the avoidance of waste.  The spirit of economy was expressed by our Divine Master in the words 'Gather up the fragments that remain, so that nothing may be lost.'  His omnipotence did not disdain the small things of life; and even while revealing His infinite power to the multitude, he taught the pregnant lesson of carefulness of which all stand so much in need.

    Economy also means the power of resisting present gratification for the purpose of securing a future good, and in this light it represents the ascendancy of reason over the animal instincts.  It is altogether different from penuriousness: for it is economy that can always best afford to be generous.  It does not make money an idol but regards it as a useful agent.  As Dean Swift observes, "we must carry money in the head, not in the heart." Economy may be styled the daughter of Prudence, the sister of Temperance, and the mother of Liberty.  It is evidently conservative—conservative of character, of domestic happiness, and social wellbeing.  It is, in short, the exhibition of self-help in one of its best forms.

    Francis Homer's father gave him this advice on entering life:—"Whilst I wish you to be comfortable in every respect, I cannot too strongly inculcate economy.  It is a necessary virtue to all; and however the shallow part of mankind may despise it, it certainly leads to independence, which is a grand object to every man of a high spirit."  Burns' lines, quoted at the head of this chapter, contain the right idea; but unhappily his strain of song was higher than his practice; his ideal better than his habit.  When laid on his death-bed he wrote to a friend, "Alas! Clarke, I begin to feel the worst.  Burns' poor widow, and half a dozen of his dear little ones helpless orphans;—there I am weak as a woman's tear.  Enough of this;—'tis half my disease."

    Every man ought so to contrive as to live within his means.  This practice is of the very essence of honesty.  For if a man do not manage honestly to live within his own means, he must necessarily be living dishonestly upon the means of somebody else.  Those who are careless about personal expenditure, and consider merely their own gratification, without regard for the comfort of others, generally find out the real uses of money when it is too late.  Though by nature generous, these thriftless persons are often driven in the end to do very shabby things.  They waste their money as they do their time; draw bills upon the future; anticipate their earnings; and are thus under the necessity of dragging after them a load of debts and obligations which seriously affect their action as free and independent men.

    It was a maxim of Lord Bacon, that when it was necessary to economize, it was better to look after petty savings than to descend to petty gettings.  The loose cash which many persons throw away uselessly, and worse, would often form a basis of fortune and independence for life.  These wasters are their own worst enemies, though generally found amongst the ranks of those who rail at the injustice of "the world."  But if a man will not be his own friend, how can he expect that others will?  Orderly men of moderate means have always something left in their pockets to help others whereas your prodigal and careless fellows who spend all never find an opportunity for helping anybody.  It is poor economy, however, to be a scrub.  Narrow-mindedness in living and in dealing is generally short-sighted, and leads to failure.  The penny soul, it is said, never came to twopence.  Generosity and liberality, like honesty, prove the best policy after all.  Though Jenkinson, in the 'Vicar of Wakefield,' cheated his kind-hearted neighbour Flamborough in one way or another every year, "Flamborough," said he, "has been regularly growing in riches, while I have come to poverty and a gaol."  And practical life abounds in cases of brilliant results from a course of generous and honest policy.

    The proverb says that "an empty bag cannot stand upright;" neither can a man who is in debt.  It is also difficult for a man who is in debt to be truthful; hence it is said that lying rides on debt's back.  The debtor has to frame excuses to his creditor for postponing payment of the money he owes him; and probably also to contrive falsehoods.  It is easy enough for a man who will exercise a healthy resolution, to avoid incurring the first obligation; but the facility with which that has been incurred often becomes a temptation to a second; and very soon the unfortunate borrower becomes so entangled that no late exertion of industry can set him free.  The first step in debt is like the first step in falsehood; almost involving the necessity of proceeding in the same course, debt following debt, as lie follows lie.  Haydon, the painter, dated his decline from the day on which he first borrowed money.  He realized the truth of the proverb, "Who goes a-borrowing, goes a-sorrowing."  The significant entry in his diary is: "Here began debt and obligation, out of which I have never been and never shall be extricated as long as I live."  His Autobiography shows but too painfully how embarrassment in money matters produces poignant distress of mind, utter incapacity for work, and constantly recurring humiliations.  The written advice which he gave to a youth when entering the navy was as follows: "Never purchase any enjoyment if it cannot be procured without borrowing of others.  Never borrow money: it is degrading.  I do not say never lend, but never lend if by lending you render yourself unable to pay what you owe; but under any circumstances never borrow."  Fichte, the poor student, refused to accept even presents from his still poorer parents.

    Dr. Johnson held that early debt is ruin.  His words on the subject are weighty, and worthy of being held in remembrance.  "Do not," said he, "accustom yourself to consider debt only as an inconvenience; you will find it a calamity.  Poverty takes away so many means of doing good, and produces so much inability to resist evil, both natural and moral, that it is by all virtuous means to be avoided. . . . Let it be your first care, then, not to be in any man's debt.  Resolve not to be poor; whatever you have spend less.  Poverty is a great enemy to human happiness; it certainly destroys liberty, and it makes some virtues impracticable and others extremely difficult.  Frugality is not only the basis of quiet, but of beneficence.  No man can help others that wants help himself; we must have enough before we have to spare."

    It is the bounden duty of every man to look his affairs in the face, and to keep an account of his incomings and outgoings in money matters.  The exercise of a little simple arithmetic in this way will be found of great value.  Prudence requires that we shall pitch our scale of living a degree below our means, rather than up to them; but this can only be done by carrying out faithfully a plan of living by which both ends may be made to meet.  John Locke strongly advised this course: "Nothing," said he "is likelier to keep a man within compass than having constantly before his eyes the state of his affairs in a regular course of account."  The Duke of Wellington kept an accurate detailed account of all the monies received and expended by him.  "I make a point," said he to Mr. Gleig, "of paying my own bills, and I advise every one to do the same; formerly I used to trust a confidential servant to pay them, but I was cured of that folly by receiving one morning, to my great surprise, duns of a year or two's standing.  The fellow had speculated with my money, and left my bills unpaid."  Talking of debt his remark was, "It makes a slave of a man.  I have often known what it was to be in want of money, but I never got into debt."  Washington was as particular as Wellington was, in matters of business detail; and it is a remarkable fact, that he did not disdain to scrutinize the smallest outgoings of his household—determined as he was to live honestly within his means—even while holding the high office of President of the American Union.

    Admiral Jervis, Earl St. Vincent, has told the story of his early struggles, and, amongst other things, of his determination to keep out of debt.  "My father had a very large family," said he, "with limited means.  He gave me twenty pounds at starting, and that was all he ever gave me.  After I had been a considerable time at the station [at sea], I drew for twenty more, but the bill came back protested.  I was mortified at this rebuke, and made a promise, which I have ever kept, that I would never draw another bill without a certainty of its being paid.  I immediately changed my mode of living, quitted my mess, lived alone, and took up the ship's allowance, which I found quite sufficient; washed and mended my own clothes; made a pair of trousers out of the ticking of my bed; and having by these means saved as much money as would redeem my honour, I took up my bill, and from that time to this I have taken care to keep within my means."  Jervis for six years endured pinching privation, but preserved his integrity, studied his profession with success, and gradually and steadily rose by merit and bravery to the highest rank.

    Mr. Hume hit the mark when he once stated in the House of Commons—though his words were followed by "laughter"—that the tone of living in England is altogether too high.  Middle-class people are too apt to live up to their incomes, if not beyond them: affecting a degree of "style" which is most unhealthy in its effects upon society at large.  There is an ambition to bring up boys as gentlemen, or rather "genteel" men; though the result frequently is, only to make them gents.  They acquire a taste for dress, style, luxuries, and amusements, which can never form any solid foundation for manly or gentlemanly character; and the result is, that we have a vast number of gingerbread young gentry thrown upon the world, who remind one of the abandoned hulls sometimes picked up at sea, with only a monkey on board.

    There is a dreadful ambition abroad for being "genteel."  We keep up appearances, too often at the expense of honesty; and, though we may not be rich, yet we must seem to be so.  We must be "respectable," though only in the meanest sense—in mere vulgar outward show.  We have not the courage to go patiently onward in the condition of life in which it has pleased God to call us; but must needs live in some fashionable state to which we ridiculously please to call ourselves, and all to gratify the vanity of that unsubstantial genteel world of which we form a part.  There is a constant struggle and pressure for front seats in the social amphitheatre in the midst of which all noble self-denying resolve is trodden down, and many fine natures are inevitably crushed to death.  What waste, what misery, what bankruptcy, come from all this ambition to dazzle others with the glare of apparent worldly success, we need not describe.  The mischievous results show themselves in a thousand ways—in the rank frauds committed by men who dare to be dishonest, but do not dare to seem poor; and in the desperate dashes at fortune, in which the pity is not so much for those who fail, as for the hundreds of innocent families who are so often involved in their ruin.

British general and C-in-C in India.
Picture: Wikipedia.

    The late Sir Charles Napier, in taking leave of his command in India, did a bold and honest thing in publishing his strong protest, embodied in his List General Order to the officers of the Indian army, against the "fast" life led by so many young officers in that service, involving them in ignominious obligations.  Sir Charles strongly urged in that famous document—what had almost been lost sight of—that "honesty is inseparable from the character of a thorough-bred gentleman;" and that "to drink unpaid-for champagne and unpaid-for beer, and to ride unpaid-for horses, is to be a cheat, and not a gentleman."  Men who lived beyond their means and were summoned, often by their own servants, before Courts of Requests for debts contracted in extravagant living, might be officers by virtue of their commissions, but they were not gentlemen.  The habit of being constantly in debt, the Commander-in-chief held, made men grow callous to the proper feelings of a gentleman.  It was not enough that an officer should be able to fight: that any bull-dog could do.  But did he hold his word inviolate?—did he pay his debts?  These were among the points of honour which, he insisted, illuminated the true gentleman's and soldier's career.  As Bayard was of old, so would Sir Charles Napier have all British officers to be.  He knew them to be "without fear," but he would also have them "without reproach."  There are, however, many gallant young fellows, both in India and at home, capable of mounting a breach on an emergency amidst belching fire, and of performing the most desperate deeds of valour, who nevertheless cannot or will not exercise the moral courage necessary to enable them to resist a petty temptation presented to their senses.  They cannot utter their valiant "No," or "I can't afford it," to the invitations of pleasure and self-enjoyment; and they are found ready to brave death rather than the ridicule of their companions.

    The young man, as he passes through life, advances through a long line of tempters ranged on either side of him, and the inevitable effect of yielding, is degradation in a greater or a less degree.  Contact with them tends insensibly to draw away from him some portion of the divine electric element with which his nature is charged; and his only mode of resisting them is to utter and to act out his "no" manfully and resolutely. He must decide at once, not waiting to deliberate and balance reasons; for the youth, like "the woman who deliberates, is lost." Many deliberate, without deciding; but "not to resolve, is to resolve."  A perfect knowledge of man is in the prayer, "Lead us not into temptation."  But temptation will come to try the young man's strength; and once yielded to, the power to resist grows weaker and weaker.  Yield once, and a portion of virtue has gone.  Resist manfully, and the first decision will give strength for life; repeated, it will become a habit.  It is in the outworks of the habits formed in early life that the real strength of the defence must lie; for it has been wisely ordained, that the machinery of moral existence should be carried on principally through the medium of the habits, so as to save the wear and tear of the great principles within.  It is good habits, which insinuate themselves into the thousand inconsiderable acts of life, that really constitute by far the greater part of man's moral conduct.

    Hugh Miller has told how, by an act of youthful decision, he saved himself from one of the strong temptations so peculiar to a life of toil.  When employed as a mason, it was usual for his fellow-workmen to have an occasional treat of drink, and one day two glasses of whisky fell to his share, which he swallowed.  When he reached home, he found, on opening his favourite book—'Bacon's Essays'—that the letters danced before his eyes, and that he could no longer master the sense.  "The condition," he says, "into which I had brought myself was, I felt, one of degradation.  I had sunk, by my own act, for the time, to a lower level of intelligence than that on which it was my privilege to be placed; and though the state could have been no very favourable one for forming a resolution, I in that hour determined that I should never again sacrifice my capacity of intellectual enjoyment to a drinking usage; and, with God's help, I was enabled to hold by the determination."  It is such decisions as this that often form the turning-points in a man's life, and furnish the foundation of his future character.  And this rock, on which Hugh Miller might have been wrecked, if he had not at the right moment put forth his moral strength to strike away from it, is one that youth and manhood alike need to be constantly on their guard against.  It is about one of the worst and most deadly, as well as extravagant, temptations which lie in the way of youth.  Sir Walter Scott used to say that "of all vices drinking is the most incompatible with greatness."  Not only so, but it is incompatible with economy, decency, health, and honest living.  When a youth cannot restrain, he must abstain.  Dr. Johnson's case is the case of many.  He said, referring to his own habits, "Sir, I can abstain; but I can't be moderate."

    But to wrestle vigorously and successfully with any vicious habit, we must not merely be satisfied with contending on the low ground of worldly prudence, though that is of use, but take stand upon a higher moral elevation.  Mechanical aids, such as pledges, may be of service to some, but the great thing is to set up a high standard of thinking and acting, and endeavour to strengthen and purify the principles as well as to reform the habits.  For this purpose a youth must study himself, watch his steps, and compare his thoughts and acts with his rule.  The more knowledge of himself he gains, the more humble will he be, and perhaps the less confident in his own strength.  But the discipline will be always found most valuable which is acquired by resisting small present gratifications to secure a prospective greater and higher one.  It is the noblest work in self-education,—for

                                                   "Real glory
 Springs from the silent conquest of ourselves,
 And without that the conqueror is nought
 But the first slave."

    Many popular books have been written for the purpose of communicating to the public the grand secret of making money.  But there is no secret whatever about it, as the proverbs of every nation abundantly testify.  "Take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves."  "Diligence is the mother of good luck."  "No pains no gains."  "No sweat no sweet."  "Work and thou shalt have."  "The world is his who has patience and industry."  "Better go to bed supperless than rise in debt."  Such are specimens of the proverbial philosophy, embodying the hoarded experience of many generations, as to the best means of thriving in the world.  They were current in people's mouths long before books were invented; and like other popular proverbs they were the first codes of popular morals.  Moreover they have stood the test of time, and the experience of every day still bears witness to their accuracy, force, and soundness.  The proverbs of Solomon are full of wisdom as to the force of industry, and the use and abuse of money:—"He that is slothful in work is brother to him that is a great waster."  "Go to the ant thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise."  Poverty, says the preacher, shall come upon the idler, "as one that travelleth, and want as an armed man;" but of the industrious and upright, "the hand of the diligent maketh rich."  "The drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty; and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags."  "Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings."  But above all "It is better to get wisdom than gold; for wisdom is better than rubies, and all the things that may be desired are not to be compared to it."

    Simple industry and thrift will go far towards making any person of ordinary working faculty comparatively independent in his means.  Even a working man may be so, provided he will carefully husband his resources, and watch the little outlets of useless expenditure.  A penny is a very small matter, yet the comfort of thousands of families depends upon the proper spending and saving of pennies.  If a man allows the little pennies, the results of his hard work, to slip out of his fingers—some to the beer shop, some this way and some that—he will find that his life is little raised above one of mere animal drudgery.  On the other hand, if he take care of the pennies—putting some weekly into a benefit society or an insurance fund, others into a savings' bank, and confiding the rest to his wife to be carefully laid out, with a view to the comfortable maintenance and education of his family—he will soon find that this attention to small matters will abundantly repay him, in increasing means, growing comfort at home, and a mind comparatively free from fears as to the future.  And if a working man have high ambition and possess richness in spirit,—a kind of wealth which far transcends all mere worldly possessions—he may not only help himself, but be a profitable helper of others in his path through life.  That this is no impossible thing even for a common labourer in a workshop, may be illustrated by the remarkable career of Thomas Wright of Manchester, who not only attempted but succeeded in the reclamation of many criminals while working for weekly wages in a foundry.

    Accident first directed Thomas Wright's attention to the difficulty encountered by liberated convicts in returning to habits of honest industry.  His mind was shortly possessed by the subject; and to remedy the evil became the purpose of his life.  Though he worked from six in the morning till six at night, still there were leisure minutes that he could call his own—more especially his Sundays—and these he employed in the service of convicted criminals; a class then far more neglected than they are now.  But a few minutes a day, well employed, can effect a great deal; and it will scarcely be credited, that in ten years this working man, by steadfastly holding to his purpose, succeeded in rescuing not fewer than three hundred felons from continuance in a life of villany!  He came to be regarded as the moral physician of the Manchester Old Bailey; and where the Chaplain and all others failed, Thomas Wright often succeeded.  Children he thus restored reformed to their parents; sons and daughters otherwise lost, to their homes; and many a returned convict did he contrive to settle down to honest and industrious pursuits.  The task was by no means easy.  It required money, time, energy, prudence, and above all, character, and the confidence which character invariably inspires.  The most remarkable circumstance was that Wright relieved many of these poor outcasts out of the comparatively small wages earned by him at foundry work.  He did all this on an income which did not average, during his working career, £100 per annum; and yet, while he was able to bestow substantial aid on criminals, to whom he owed no more than the service of kindness which every human being owes to another, he also maintained his family in comfort, and was, by frugality and carefulness, enabled to lay by a store of savings against his approaching old age.  Every week he apportioned his income with deliberate care; so much for the indispensable necessaries of food and clothing, so much for the landlord, so much for the schoolmaster, so much for the poor and needy; and the lines of distribution were resolutely observed.  By such means did this humble workman pursue his great work, with the results we have so briefly described.  Indeed, his career affords one of the most remarkable and striking illustrations of the force of purpose in a man, of the might of small means carefully and sedulously applied, and, above all, of the power which an energetic and upright character invariably exercises upon the lives and conduct of others.

    There is no discredit, but honour, in every right walk of industry, whether it be in tilling the ground, making tools, weaving fabrics, or selling the products behind a counter.  A youth may handle a yard-stick, or measure a piece of ribbon; and there will be no discredit in doing so, unless he allows his mind to have no higher range than the stick and ribbon; to be as short as the one, and as narrow as the other.  "Let not those blush who have," said Fuller, "but those who have not a lawful calling."  And Bishop Hall said, "Sweet is the destiny of all trades, whether of the brow or of the mind."  Men who have raised themselves from a humble calling, need not be ashamed, but rather ought to be proud of the difficulties they have surmounted.  An American President, when asked what was his coat-of-arms, remembering that he had been a hewer of wood in his youth, replied, "A pair of shirt sleeves."  A French doctor once taunted Flechier, Bishop of Nismes, who had been a tallow-chandler in his youth, with the meanness of his origin, to which Flechier replied, "If you had been born in the same condition that I was, you would still have been but a maker of candles."

    Nothing is more common than energy in money-making, quite independent of any higher object than its accumulation.  A man who devotes himself to this pursuit, body and soul, can scarcely fail to become rich.  Very little brains will do; spend less than you earn; add guinea to guinea; scrape and save; and the pile of gold will gradually rise.  Osterwald the Parisian banker, began life a poor man.  He was accustomed every evening to drink a pint of beer for supper at a tavern which he visited, during which he collected and pocketed all the corks that he could lay his hands on.  In eight years he had collected as many corks as sold for eight Louis d'ors.  With that sum he laid the foundations of his fortune—gained mostly by stock-jobbing; leaving at his death some three millions of francs.  John Foster has cited a striking illustration of what this kind of determination will do in money-making.  A young man who ran through his patrimony, spending it in profligacy, was at length reduced to utter want and despair.  He rushed out of his house intending to put an end to his life, and stopped on arriving at an eminence overlooking what were once his estates.  He sat down, ruminated for a time, and rose with the determination that he would recover them.  He returned to the streets, saw a load of coals which had been shot out of a cart on to the pavement before a house, offered to carry them in, and was employed.  He thus earned a few pence, requested some meat and drink as a gratuity, which was given him, and the pennies were laid by.  Pursuing this menial labour, he earned and saved more pennies; accumulated sufficient to enable him to purchase some cattle, the value of which he understood, and these he sold to advantage.  He proceeded by degrees to undertake larger transactions, until at length he became rich.  The result was, that he more than recovered his possessions, and died an inveterate miser.  When he was buried, mere earth went to earth.  With a nobler spirit, the same determination might have enabled such a man to be a benefactor to others as well as to himself.  But the life and its end in this case were alike sordid.

    To provide for others and for our own comfort and independence in old age, is honourable, and greatly to be commended; but to hoard for mere wealth's sake is the characteristic of the narrow-souled and the miserly.  It is against the growth of this habit of inordinate saving that the wise man needs most carefully to guard himself: else, what in youth was simple economy, may in old age grow into avarice, and what was a duty in the one case, may become a vice in the other.  It is the love of money—not money itself—which is "the root of evil,"—a love which narrows and contracts the soul, and closes it against generous life and action.  Hence, Sir Walter Scott makes one of his characters declare that "the penny siller slew more souls than the naked sword slew bodies."  It is one of the defects of business too exclusively followed, that it insensibly tends to a mechanism of character.  The business man gets into a rut, and often does not look beyond it.  If he lives for himself only, he becomes apt to regard other human beings only in so far as they minister to, his ends.  Take a leaf from such men's ledger and you have their life.

    Worldly success, measured by the accumulation of money, is no doubt a very dazzling thing; and all men are naturally more or less the admirers of worldly success.  But though men of persevering, sharp, dexterous, and unscrupulous habits, ever on the watch to push opportunities, may and do "get on" in the world, yet it is quite possible that they may not possess the slightest elevation of character, nor a particle of real goodness.  He who recognizes no higher logic than that of the shilling, may become a very rich man, and yet remain all the while an exceedingly poor creature.  For riches are no proof whatever of moral worth; and their glitter often serves only to draw attention to the worthlessness of their possessor, as the light of the glow-worm reveals the grub.

    The manner in which many allow themselves to be sacrificed to their love of wealth reminds one of the cupidity of the monkey—that caricature of our species.  In Algiers, the Kabyle peasant attaches a gourd, well fixed, to a tree, and places within it some rice.  The gourd has an opening merely sufficient to admit the monkey's paw.  The creature comes to the tree by night, inserts his paw, and grasps his booty.  He tries to draw it back, but it is clenched, and he has not the wisdom to unclench it.  So there he stands till morning, when he is caught, looking as foolish as may be, though with the prize in his grasp.  The moral of this little story is capable of a very extensive application in life.

    The power of money is on the whole over-estimated.  The greatest things which have been done for the world have not been accomplished by rich men, nor by subscription lists, but by men generally of small pecuniary means.  Christianity was propagated over half the world by men of the poorest class; and the greatest thinkers, discoverers, inventors, and artists, have been men of moderate wealth, many of them little raised above the condition of manual labourers in point of worldly circumstances.  And it will always be so.  Riches are oftener an impediment than a stimulus to action; and in many cases they are quite as much a misfortune as a blessing.  The youth who inherits wealth is apt to have life made too easy for him, and he soon grows sated with it, because he has nothing left to desire.  Having no special object to struggle for he finds time hang heavy on his hands; he remains morally and spiritually asleep; and his position in society is often no higher than that of a polypus over which the tide floats.

"His only labour is to kill the time,
 And labour dire it is, and weary woe."

    Yet the rich man, inspired by a right spirit, will spurn idleness as unmanly; and if he bethink himself of the responsibilities which attach to the possession of wealth and property he will feel even a higher call to work than men of humbler lot.  This, however, must be admitted to be by no means the practice of life.  The golden mean of Agur's perfect prayer is, perhaps, the best lot of all, did we but know it: "Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me."  The late Joseph Brotherton, M.P., left a fine motto to be recorded upon his monument in the Peel Park at Manchester,—the declaration in his case being strictly true: "My richness consisted not in the greatness of my possessions, but in the smallness of my wants."  He rose from the humblest station, that of a factory boy, to an eminent position of usefulness, by the simple exercise of homely honesty, industry, punctuality, and self-denial.  Down to the close of his life, when not attending Parliament, he did duty as minister in a small chapel in Manchester to which he was attached; and in all things he made it appear, to those who knew him in private life, that the glory he sought was not "to be seen of men," or to excite their praise, but to earn the consciousness of discharging the every-day duties of life, down to the smallest and humblest of them, in an honest, upright, truthful, and loving spirit.

    "Respectability," in its best sense, is good.  The respectable man is one worthy of regard, literally worth turning to look at.  But the respectability that consists in merely keeping up appearances is not worth looking at in any sense.  Far better and more respectable is the good poor man than the bad rich one—better the humble silent man than the agreeable well-appointed rogue who keeps his gig.  A well balanced and well-stored mind, a life full of useful purpose, whatever the position occupied in it may be, is of far greater importance than average worldly respectability.  The highest object of life we take to be, to form a manly character, and to work out the best development possible, of body and spirit—of mind, conscience, heart, and soul.  This is the end: all else ought to be regarded but as the means.  Accordingly, that is not the most successful life in which a man gets the most pleasure, the most money, the most power or place, honour or fame; but that in which a man gets the most manhood, and performs the greatest amount of useful work and of human duty.  Money is power after its sort, it is true; but intelligence, public spirit, and moral virtue, are powers too, and far nobler ones.  "Let others plead for pensions," wrote Lord Collingwood to a friend; "I can be rich without money, by endeavouring to be superior to everything poor.  I would have my services to my country unstained by any interested motive; and old Scott [p.313] and I can go on in our cabbage-garden without much greater expense than formerly."  On another occasion he said, "I have motives for my conduct which I would not give in exchange for a hundred pensions."

    The making of a fortune may no doubt enable some people to "enter society," as it is called; but to be esteemed there, they must possess qualities of mind, manners, or heart, else they are merely rich people, nothing more.  There are men "in society" now, as rich as Crœsus, who have no consideration extended towards them, and elicit no respect.  For why?  They are but as money-bags: their only power is in their till.  The men of mark in society—the guides and rulers of opinion—the really successful and useful men—are not necessarily rich men; but men of sterling character, of disciplined experience, and of moral excellence.  Even the poor man, like Thomas Wright, though he possess but little of this world's goods, may, in the enjoyment of a cultivated nature, of opportunities used and not abused, of a life spent to the best of his means and ability, look down, without the slightest feeling of envy, upon the person of mere worldly success, the man of money-bags and acres.




    "Every person has two educations, one which be receives from others, and one, more important, which he gives to himself."—Gibbon.

    "Is there one whom difficulties dishearten—who bends to the storm?  He will do little.  Is there one who will conquer?  That kind of man never fails."—John Hunter.

"The wise and active conquer difficulties,
 By daring to attempt them: sloth and folly
 Shiver and shrink at sight of toil and danger,
 And make the impossibility they fear."—Rowe.

"THE best part of every man's education," said Sir Walter Scott, "is that which he gives to himself."  The late Sir Benjamin Brodie delighted to remember this saying, and he used to congratulate himself on the fact that professionally he was self-taught.  But this is necessarily the case with all men who have acquired distinction in letters, science, or art.  The education received at school or college is but a beginning, and is valuable mainly inasmuch as it trains the mind and habituates it to continuous application and study.  That which is put into us by others is always far less ours than that which we acquire by our own diligent and persevering effort.  Knowledge conquered by labour becomes a possession—a property entirely our own.  A greater vividness and permanency of impression is secured; and facts thus acquired become registered in the mind in a way that mere imparted information can never effect.  This kind of self-culture also calls forth power and cultivates strength.  The solution of one problem helps the mastery of another; and thus knowledge is carried into faculty.  Our own active effort is the essential thing; and no facilities, no books, no teachers, no amount of lessons learnt by rote will enable us to dispense with it.


THOMAS ARNOLD (1795-1842):
English educator and historian.
Picture: Wikipedia.

    The best teachers have been the readiest to recognise the importance of self-culture, and of stimulating the student to acquire knowledge by the active exercise of his own faculties.  They have relied more upon training than upon telling, and sought to make their pupils themselves active parties to the work in which they were engaged; thus making teaching something far higher than the mere passive reception of the scraps and details of knowledge.  This was the spirit in which the great Dr. Arnold worked; he strove to teach his pupils to rely upon themselves, and develop their powers by their own active efforts, himself merely guiding, directing, stimulating, and encouraging them.  "I would far rather," he said, "send a boy to Van Diemen's Land, where he must work for his bread, than send him to Oxford to live in luxury, without any desire in his mind to avail himself of his advantages."  "If there be one thing on earth," he observed on another occasion, "which is truly admirable, it is to see God's wisdom blessing an inferiority of natural powers, when they have been honestly, truly, and zealously cultivated."  Speaking of a pupil of this character, he said, "I would stand to that man hat in hand."  Once at Laleham, when teaching a rather dull boy, Arnold spoke somewhat sharply to him, on which the pupil looked up in his face and said, "Why do you speak angrily, sir? indeed, I am doing the best I can."  Years afterwards, Arnold used to tell the story to his children, and added, "I never felt so much in my life—that look and that speech I have never forgotten."

    From the numerous instances already cited of men of humble station who have risen to distinction in science and literature, it will be obvious that labour is by no means incompatible with the highest intellectual culture.  Work in moderation is healthy, as well as agreeable to the human constitution.  Work educates the body, as study educates the mind; and that is the best state of society in which there is some work for every man's leisure, and some leisure for every man's work.  Even the leisure classes are in a measure compelled to work, sometimes as a relief from ennui, but in most cases to gratify an instinct which they cannot resist.  Some go foxhunting in the English counties, others grouse-shooting on the Scotch hills, while many wander away every summer to climb mountains in Switzerland.  Hence the boating, running, cricketing, and athletic sports of the public schools, in which our young men at the same time so healthfully cultivate their strength both of mind and body.  It is said that the Duke of Wellington, when once looking on at the boys engaged in their sports in the play-ground at Eton, where he had spent many of his own younger days, made the remark, "It was there that the battle of Waterloo was won!"

    Daniel Malthus urged his son when at college to be most diligent in the cultivation of knowledge, but he also enjoined him to pursue manly sports as the best means of keeping up the full working power of his mind, as well as of enjoying the pleasures of intellect.  "Every kind of knowledge," said he, "every acquaintance with nature and art, will amuse and strengthen your mind, and I am perfectly pleased that cricket should do the same by your arms and legs; I love to see you excel in exercises of the body, and I think myself that the better half, and much the most agreeable part, of the pleasures of the mind is best enjoyed while one is upon one's legs."  But a still more important use of active employment is that referred to by the great divine, Jeremy Taylor.  "Avoid idleness," he says, "and fill up all the spaces of thy time with severe and useful employment; for lust easily creeps in at those emptinesses where the soul is unemployed and the body is at ease; for no easy, healthful, idle person was ever chaste if he could be tempted; but of all employments bodily labour is the most useful, and of the greatest benefit for driving away the devil."

    Practical success in life depends more upon physical health than is generally imagined.  Hodson, of Hodson's Horse [p.317], writing home to a friend in England, said, "I believe, if I get on well in India, it will be owing, physically speaking, to a sound digestion."  The capacity for continuous working in any calling must necessarily depend in a great measure upon this; and hence the necessity for attending to health, even as a means of intellectual labour.  It is perhaps to the neglect of physical exercise that we find amongst students so frequent a tendency towards discontent, unhappiness, inaction, and reverie,—displaying itself in contempt for real life and disgust at the beaten tracks of men,—a tendency which in England has been called Byronism, and in Germany Wertherism.  Dr. Channing noted the same growth in America, which led him to make the remark, that "too many of our young men grow up in a school of despair."  The only remedy for this green-sickness in youth is physical exercise—action, work, and bodily occupation.

ELIHU BURRITT (1810-79);
American philanthropist and social activist.
Picture Wikipedia.

    The use of early labour in self-imposed mechanical employments may be illustrated by the boyhood of Sir Isaac Newton.  Though a comparatively dull scholar, he was very assiduous in the use of his saw, hammer, and hatchet "knocking and hammering in his lodging room"—making models of windmills, carriages, and machines of all sorts, and as he grew older, he took delight in making little tables and cupboards for his friends.  Smeaton, Watt, and Stephenson, were equally handy with tools when mere boys; and but for such kind of self-culture in their youth, it is doubtful whether they would have accomplished so much in their manhood.  Such was also the early training of the great inventors and mechanics described in the preceding pages, whose contrivance and intelligence were practically trained by the constant use of their hands in early life.  Even where men belonging to the manual labour class have risen above it, and become more purely intellectual labourers, they have found the advantages of their early training in their later pursuits.  Elihu Burritt says he found hard labour necessary to enable him to study with effect; and more than once he gave up school-teaching and study, and, taking to his leather-apron again, went back to his blacksmith's forge and anvil for his health of body and mind's sake.

    The training of young men in the use of tools would, at the same time that it educated them in "common things," teach them the use of their hands and arms, familiarize them with healthy work, exercise their faculties upon things tangible and actual, give them some practical acquaintance with mechanics, impart to them the ability of being useful, and implant in them the habit of persevering physical effort.  This is an advantage which the working classes, strictly so called, certainly possess over the leisure classes,—that they are in early life under the necessity of applying themselves laboriously to some mechanical pursuit or other,—thus acquiring manual dexterity and the use of their physical powers.  The chief disadvantage attached to the calling of the laborious classes is, not that they are employed in physical work, but that they are too exclusively so employed, often to the neglect of their moral and intellectual faculties.  While the youths of the leisure classes, having been taught to associate labour with servility, have shunned it, and been allowed to grow up practically ignorant, the poorer classes, confining themselves within the circle of their laborious callings, have been allowed to grow up in a large proportion of cases absolutely illiterate.  It seems possible, however, to avoid both these evils by combining physical training or physical work with intellectual culture; and there are various signs abroad which seem to mark the gradual adoption of this healthier system of education.

    The success of even professional men depends in no slight degree on their physical health; and a public writer has gone so far as to say that "the greatness of our great men is quite as much a bodily affair as a mental one." [p.319]  A healthy breathing apparatus is as indispensable to the successful lawyer or politician as a well-cultured intellect.  The thorough aeration of the blood by free exposure to a large breathing surface in the lungs, is necessary to maintain that full vital power on which the vigorous working of the brain in so large a measure depends.  The lawyer has to climb the heights of his profession through close and heated courts, and the political leader has to bear the fatigue and excitement of long and anxious debates in a crowded House.  Hence the lawyer in full practice and the parliamentary leader in full work are called upon to display powers of physical endurance and activity even more extraordinary than those of the intellect,—such powers as have been exhibited in so remarkable a degree by Brougham, Lyndhurst, and Campbell; by Peel, Graham, and Palmerston—all full-chested men.

    Though Sir Walter Scott, when at Edinburgh College, went by the name of "The Greek Blockhead," he was, notwithstanding his lameness, a remarkably healthy youth: he could spear a salmon with the best fisher on the Tweed, and ride a wild horse with any hunter in Yarrow.  When devoting himself in after life to literary pursuits, Sir Walter never lost his taste for field sports; but while writing 'Waverley' in the morning, he would in the afternoon course hares.  Professor Wilson was a very athlete, as great at throwing the hammer as in his flights of eloquence and poetry; and Burns, when a youth, was remarkable chiefly for his leaping, putting, and wrestling.  Some of our greatest divines were distinguished in their youth for their physical energies.  Isaac Barrow, when at the Charterhouse School, was notorious for his pugilistic encounters, in which he got many a bloody nose; Andrew Fuller, when working as a farmer's lad at Soham, was chiefly famous for his skill in boxing; and Adam Clarke, when a boy, was only remarkable for the strength displayed by him in "rolling large stones about,"—the secret, possibly, of some of the power which he subsequently displayed in rolling forth large thoughts in his manhood.

    While it is necessary, then, in the first place to secure this solid foundation of physical health, it must also be observed that the cultivation of the habit of mental application is quite indispensable for the education of the student.  The maxim that "Labour conquers all things" holds especially true in the case of the conquest of knowledge.  The road into learning is alike free to all who will give the labour and the study requisite to gather it; nor are there any difficulties so great that the student of resolute purpose may not surmount and overcome them.  It was one of the characteristic expressions of Chatterton, that God had sent his creatures into the world with arms long enough to reach anything if they chose to be at the trouble.  In study, as in business, energy is the great thing.  There must be the "fervet opus": we must not only strike the iron while it is hot, but strike it till it is made hot.  It is astonishing how much may be accomplished in self-culture by the energetic and the persevering, who are careful to avail themselves of opportunities, and use up the fragments of spare time which the idle permit to run to waste.  Thus Ferguson learnt astronomy from the heavens, while wrapt in a sheep-skin on the highland hills.  Thus Stone learnt mathematics while working as a journeyman gardener; thus Drew studied the highest philosophy in the intervals of cobbling shoes; and thus Miller taught himself geology while working as a day labourer in a quarry.

    Sir Joshua Reynolds, as we have already observed, was so earnest a believer in the force of industry that he held that all men might achieve excellence if they would but exercise the power of assiduous and patient working.  He held that drudgery lay on the road to genius, and that there was no limit to the proficiency of an artist except the limit of his own painstaking.  He would not believe in what is called inspiration, but only in study and labour.  "Excellence," he said, "is never granted to man but as the reward of labour."  "If you have great talents, industry will improve them; if you have but moderate abilities, industry will supply their deficiency.  Nothing is denied to well-directed labour; nothing is to be obtained without it."  Sir Fowell Buxton was an equal believer in the power of study; and he entertained the modest idea that he could do as well as other men if he devoted to the pursuit double the time and labour that they did.  He placed his great confidence in ordinary means and extraordinary application.

    "I have known several men in my life," says Dr. Ross, who may be recognized in days to come as men of genius, and they were all plodders, hard-working, intent men.  Genius is known by its works; genius without works is a blind faith, a dumb oracle.  But meritorious works are the result of time and labour, and cannot be accomplished by intention or by a wish . . . . Every great work is the result of vast preparatory training.  Facility comes by labour.  Nothing seems easy, not even walking, that was not difficult at first.  The orator whose eye flashes instantaneous fire, and whose lips pour out a flood of noble thoughts, startling by their unexpectedness, and elevating by their wisdom and truth, has learned his secret by patient repetition, and after many bitter disappointments." [p.321]

    Thoroughness and accuracy are two principal points to be aimed at in study.  Francis Horner, in laying down rules for the cultivation of his mind, placed great stress upon the habit of continuous application to one subject for the sake of mastering it thoroughly; he confined himself, with this object, to only a few books, and resisted with the greatest firmness "every approach to a habit of desultory reading."  The value of knowledge to any man consists not in its quantity, but mainly in the good uses to which he can apply it.  Hence a little knowledge, of an exact and perfect character, is always found more valuable for practical purposes than any extent of superficial learning.

    One of Ignatius Loyola's maxims was, "He who does well one work at a time, does more than all."  By spreading our efforts over too large a surface we inevitably weaken our force, hinder our progress, and acquire a habit of fitfulness and ineffective working.  Lord St. Leopards once communicated to Sir Fowell Buxton the mode in which he had conducted his studies, and thus explained the secret of his success.  "I resolved," said he, "when beginning to read law, to make everything I acquired perfectly my own, and never to go to a second thing till I had entirely accomplished the first.  Many of my competitors read as much in a day as I read in a week; but, at the end of twelve months, my knowledge was as fresh as the day it was acquired, while theirs had glided away from recollection."

    It is not the quantity of study that one gets through, or the amount of reading, that makes a wise man; but the appositeness of the study to the purpose for which it is pursued; the concentration of the mind for the time being on the subject under consideration; and the habitual discipline by which the whole system of mental application is regulated.  Abernethy was even of opinion that there was a point of saturation in his own mind, and that if he took into it something more than it could hold, it only had the effect of pushing something else out.  Speaking of the study of medicine, he said, "If a man has a clear idea of what he desires to do, he will seldom fail in selecting the proper means of accomplishing it."

    The most profitable study is that which is conducted with a definite aim and object.  By thoroughly mastering any given branch of knowledge we render it more available for use at any moment.  Hence it is not enough merely to have books, or to know where to read for information as we want it.  Practical wisdom, for the purposes of life, must be carried about with us, and be ready for use at call.  It is not sufficient that we have a fund laid up at home, but not a farthing in the pocket: we must carry about with us a store of the current coin of knowledge ready for exchange on all occasions, else we are comparatively helpless when the opportunity for using it occurs.

    Decision and promptitude are as requisite in self-culture as in business.  The growth of these qualities may be encouraged by accustoming young people to rely upon their own resources, leaving them to enjoy as much freedom of action in early life as is practicable.  Too much guidance and restraint hinder the formation of habits of self-help.  They are like bladders tied under the arms of one who has not taught himself to swim.  Want of confidence is perhaps a greater obstacle to improvement than is generally imagined.  It has been said that half the failures in life arise from pulling in one's horse while he is leaping.  Dr. Johnson was accustomed to attribute his success to confidence in his own powers.  True modesty is quite compatible with a due estimate of one's own merits, and does not demand the abnegation of all merit.  Though there are those who deceive themselves by putting a false figure before their ciphers, the want of confidence, the want of faith in one's self, and consequently the want of promptitude in action, is a defect of character which is found to stand very much in the way of individual progress; and the reason why so little is done, is generally because so little is attempted.

    There is usually no want of desire on the part of most persons to arrive at the results of self-culture, but there is a great aversion to pay the inevitable price for it, of hard work.  Dr. Johnson held that "impatience of study was the mental disease of the present generation;" and the remark is still applicable.  We may not believe that there is a royal road to learning, but we seem to believe very firmly in a "popular" one.  In education, we invent labour-saving processes, seek short cuts to science, learn French and Latin "in twelve lessons," or "without a master."  We resemble the lady of fashion, who engaged a master to teach her on condition that he did not plague her with verbs and participles.  We get our smattering of science in the same way; we learn chemistry by listening to a short course of lectures enlivened by experiments, and when we have inhaled laughing gas, seen green water turned to red, and phosphorus burnt in oxygen, we have got our smattering, of which the most that can be said is, that though it may be better than nothing, it is yet good for nothing.  Thus we often imagine we are being educated while we are only being amused.

    The facility with which young people are thus induced to acquire knowledge, without study and labour, is not education.  It occupies but does not enrich the mind.  It imparts a stimulus for the time, and produces a sort of intellectual keenness and cleverness; but, without an implanted purpose and a higher object than mere pleasure, it will bring with it no solid advantage.  In such cases knowledge produces but a passing impression, a sensation, but no more; it is, in fact, the merest epicurism of intelligence—sensuous, but certainly not intellectual.  Thus the best qualities of many minds, those which are evoked by vigorous effort and independent action, sleep a deep sleep, and are often never called to life, except by the rough awakening of sudden calamity or suffering, which, in such cases, comes as a blessing, if it serves to rouse up a courageous spirit that, but for it, would have slept on.

    Accustomed to acquire information under the guise of amusement, young people will soon reject that which is presented to them under the aspect of study and labour.  Learning their knowledge and science in sport, they will be too apt to make sport of both; while the habit of intellectual dissipation, thus engendered, cannot fail, in course of time, to produce a thoroughly emasculating effect both upon their mind and character.  "Multifarious reading," said Robertson of Brighton, "weakens the mind like smoking, and is an excuse for its lying dormant.  It is the idlest of all idlenesses, and leaves more of impotency than any other."

    The evil is a growing one, and operates in various ways.  Its least mischief is shallowness; its greatest, the aversion to steady labour which it induces, and the low and feeble tone of mind which it encourages.  If we would be really wise, we must diligently apply ourselves, and confront the same continuous application which our forefathers did; for labour is still, and ever will be, the inevitable price set upon everything which is valuable.  We must be satisfied to work with a purpose, and wait the results with patience.  All progress, of the best kind, is slow; but to him who works faithfully and zealously the reward will, doubtless, be vouchsafed in good time.  The spirit of industry, embodied in a man's daily life, will gradually lead him to exercise his powers on objects outside himself, of greater dignity and more extended usefulness.  And still we must labour on; for the work of self-culture is never finished.  "To be employed," said the poet Gray, "is to be happy."  "It is better to wear out than rust out," said Bishop Cumberland.  "Have we not all eternity to rest in?" exclaimed Arnauld.  "Repos ailleurs" was the motto of Marnix de St. Aldegonde, the energetic and ever-working friend of William the Silent.

    It is the use we make of the powers entrusted to us, which constitutes our only just claim to respect.  He who employs his one talent aright is as much to be honoured as he to whom ten talents have been given.  There is really no more personal merit attaching to the possession of superior intellectual powers than there is in the succession to a large estate.  How are those powers used—how is that estate employed?  The mind may accumulate large stores of knowledge without any useful purpose; but the knowledge must be allied to goodness and wisdom, and embodied in upright character, else it is naught.  Pestalozzi even held intellectual training by itself to be pernicious; insisting that the roots of all knowledge must strike and feed in the soil of the rightly-governed will.  The acquisition of knowledge may, it is true, protect a man against the meaner felonies of life; but not in any degree against its selfish vices, unless fortified by sound principles and habits.  Hence do we find in daily life so many instances of men who are well-informed in intellect, but utterly deformed in character; filled with the learning of the schools, yet possessing little practical wisdom, and offering examples for warning rather than imitation.  An often quoted expression at this day is that "Knowledge is power;" but so also are fanaticism, despotism, and ambition.  Knowledge of itself, unless wisely directed, might merely make bad men more dangerous, and the society in which it was regarded as the highest good, little better than a pandemonium.

    It is possible that at this day we may even exaggerate the importance of literary culture.  We are apt to imagine that because we possess many libraries, institutes, and museums, we are making great progress.  But such facilities may as often be a hindrance as a help to individual self-culture of the highest kind.  The possession of a library, or the free use of it, no more constitutes learning, than the possession of wealth constitutes generosity.  Though we undoubtedly possess great facilities it is nevertheless true, as of old, that wisdom and understanding can only become the possession of individual men by travelling the old road of observation, attention, perseverance, and industry.  The possession of the mere materials of knowledge is something very different from wisdom and understanding, which are reached through a higher kind of discipline than that of reading,—which is often but a mere passive reception of other men's thoughts; there being little or no active effort of mind in the transaction.  Then how much of our reading is but the indulgence of a sort of intellectual dram-drinking, imparting a grateful excitement for the moment, without the slightest effect in improving and enriching the mind or building up the character.  Thus many indulge themselves in the conceit that they are cultivating their minds, when they are only employed in the humbler occupation of killing time, of which perhaps the best that can be said is that it keeps them from doing worse things.

    It is also to be borne in mind that the experience gathered from books, though often valuable, is but of the nature of learning; whereas the experience gained from actual life is of the nature of wisdom; and a small store of the latter is worth vastly more than any stock of the former.  Lord Bolingbroke truly said that "Whatever study tends neither directly nor indirectly to make us better men and citizens, is at best but a specious and ingenious sort of idleness, and the knowledge we acquire by it, only a creditable kind of ignorance—nothing more,"

    Useful and instructive though good reading may be, it is yet only one mode of cultivating the mind; and is much less influential than practical experience and good example in the formation of character.  There were wise, valiant, and true-hearted men bred in England, long before the existence of a reading public.  Magna Charta was secured by men who signed the deed with their marks.  Though altogether unskilled in the art of deciphering the literary signs by which principles were denominated upon paper, they yet understood and appreciated, and boldly contended for, the things themselves.  Thus the foundations of English liberty were laid by men, who, though illiterate, were nevertheless of the very highest stamp of character.  And it must be admitted that the chief object of culture is, not merely to fill the mind with other men's thoughts, and to be the passive recipient of their impressions of things, but to enlarge our individual intelligence, and render us more useful and efficient workers in the sphere of life to which we may be called.  Many of our most energetic and useful workers have been but sparing readers.  Brindley and Stephenson did not learn to read and write until they reached manhood, and yet they did great works and lived manly lives; John Hunter could barely read or write when he was twenty years old, though he could make tables and chairs with any carpenter in the trade.  "I never read," said the great physiologist when lecturing before his class; "this" —pointing to some part of the subject before him—"this is the work that you must study if you wish to become eminent in your profession."  When told that one of his contemporaries had charged him with being ignorant of the dead languages, he said, "I would undertake to teach him that on the dead body which he never knew in any language, dead or living."

    It is not then how much a man may know, that is of importance, but the end and purpose for which he knows it.  The object of knowledge should be to mature wisdom and improve character, to render us better, happier, and more useful; more benevolent, more energetic, and more efficient in the pursuit of every high purpose in life.  "When people once fall into the habit of admiring and encouraging ability as such, without reference to moral character—and religious and political opinions are the concrete form of moral character—they are on the highway to all sorts of degradation." [p.329]  We must ourselves be and do, and not rest satisfied merely with reading and meditating over what other men have been and done.  Our best light must be made life, and our best thought action.  At least we ought to be able to say, as Richter did, "I have made as much out of myself as could be made of the stuff, and no man should require more;" for it is every man's duty to discipline and guide himself, with God's help, according to his responsibilities and the faculties with which he has been endowed.

    Self-discipline and self-control are the beginnings of practical wisdom; and these must have their root in self-respect.  Hope springs from it—hope, which is the companion of power, and the mother of success; for whoso hopes strongly has within him the gift of miracles.  The humblest may say, "To respect myself, to develop myself—this is my true duty in life.  An integral and responsible part of the great system of society, I owe it to society and to its Author not to degrade or destroy either my body, mind, or instincts.  On the contrary, I am bound to the best of my power to give to those parts of my constitution the highest degree of perfection possible.  I am not only to suppress the evil, but to evoke the good elements in my nature.  And as I respect myself, so am I equally bound to respect others, as they on their part are bound to respect me."  Hence mutual respect, justice, and order, of which law becomes the written record and guarantee.

    Self-respect is the noblest garment with which a man may clothe himself—the most elevating feeling with which the mind can be inspired.  One of Pythagoras's wisest maxims, in his 'Golden Verses,' is that with which he enjoins the pupil to "reverence himself."  Borne up by this high idea, he will not defile his body by sensuality, nor his mind by servile thoughts.  This sentiment, carried into daily life, will be found at the root of all the virtues—cleanliness, sobriety, chastity, morality, and religion.  "The pious and just honouring of ourselves," said Milton, "may be thought the radical moisture and fountain-head from whence every laudable and worthy enterprise issues forth."  To think meanly of one's self, is to sink in one's own estimation as well as in the estimation of others.  And as the thoughts are, so will the acts be.  Man cannot aspire if he look down; if he will rise, he must look up.  The very humblest may be sustained by the proper indulgence of this feeling.  Poverty itself may be lifted and lighted up by self-respect; and it is truly a noble sight to see a poor man hold himself upright amidst his temptations, and refuse to demean himself by low actions.

    One way in which self-culture may be degraded is by regarding it too exclusively as a means of "getting on."  Viewed in this light, it is unquestionable that education is one of the best investments of time and labour.  In any line of life, intelligence will enable a man to adapt himself more readily to circumstances, suggest improved methods of working, and render him more apt, skilled and effective in all respects.  He who works with his head as well as his hands, will come to look at his business with a clearer eye; and he will become conscious of increasing power—perhaps the most cheering consciousness the human mind can cherish.  The power of self-help will gradually grow; and in proportion to a man's self-respect, will he be armed against the temptation of low indulgences.  Society and its action will be regarded with quite a new interest, his sympathies will widen and enlarge, and he will thus be attracted to work for others as well as for himself

    Self-culture may not, however end in eminence, as in the numerous instances above cited.  The great majority of men, in all times, however enlightened, must necessarily be engaged in the ordinary avocations of industry; and no degree of culture which can be conferred upon the community at large will ever enable them—even were it desirable, which it is not—to get rid of the daily work of society, which must be done.  But this, we think, may also be accomplished.  We can elevate the condition of labour by allying it to noble thoughts, which confer a grace upon the lowliest as well as the highest rank.  For no matter how poor or humble a man may be, the great thinker of this and other days may come in and sit down with him, and be his companion for the time, though his dwelling be the meanest hut.  It is thus that the habit of well-directed reading may become a source of the greatest pleasure and self-improvement, and exercise a gentle coercion, with the most beneficial results, over the whole tenour of a man's character and conduct.  And even though self-culture may not bring wealth, it will at all events give one the companionship of elevated thoughts.  A nobleman once contemptuously asked of a sage, "What have you got by all your philosophy?"  "At least I have got society in myself," was the wise man's reply.

    But many are apt to feel despondent, and become discouraged in the work of self-culture, because they do not "get on" in the world so fast as they think they deserve to do.  Having planted their acorn, they expect to see it grow into an oak at once.  They have perhaps looked upon knowledge in the light of a marketable commodity, and are consequently mortified because it does not sell as they expected it would do.  Mr. Tremenheere, in one of his 'Education Reports' (for 1840-1) states that a schoolmaster in Norfolk, finding his school rapidly falling off, made inquiry into the cause, and ascertained that the reason given by the majority of the parents for withdrawing their children was, that they had expected "education was to make them better off than they were before," but that having found it had "done them no good," they had taken their children from school, and would give themselves no further trouble about education!

    The same low idea of self-culture is but too prevalent in other classes, and is encouraged by the false views of life which are always more or less current in society.  But to regard self-culture either as a means of getting past others in the world, or of intellectual dissipation and amusement, rather than as a power to elevate the character and expand the spiritual nature, is to place it on a very low level.  To use the words of Bacon, "Knowledge is not a shop for profit or sale, but a rich storehouse for the glory of the Creator and the relief of man's estate."  It is doubtless most honourable for a man to labour to elevate himself, and to better his condition in society, but this is not to be done at the sacrifice of himself.  To make the mind the mere drudge of the body, is putting it to a very servile use; and to go about whining and bemoaning our pitiful lot because we fail in achieving that success in life which, after all, depends rather upon habits of industry and attention to business details than upon knowledge, is the mark of a small, and often of a sour mind.  Such a temper cannot better be reproved than in the words of Robert Southey, who thus wrote to a friend who sought his counsel: "I would give you advice if it could be of use; but there is no curing those who choose to be diseased.  A good man and a wise man may at times be angry with the world, at times grieved for it; but be sure no man was ever discontented with the world if he did his duty in it.  If a man of education, who has health, eyes, hands, and leisure, wants an object, it is only because God Almighty has bestowed all those blessings upon a man who does not deserve them."

    Another way in which education may be prostituted is by employing it as a mere means of intellectual dissipation and amusement.  Many are the ministers to this taste in our time.  There is almost a mania for frivolity and excitement, which exhibits itself in many forms in our popular literature.  To meet the public taste, our books and periodicals must now be highly spiced, amusing, and comic, not disdaining slang, and illustrative of breaches of all laws, human and divine.  Douglas Jerrold once observed of this tendency, "I am convinced the world will get tired (at least I hope so) of this eternal guffaw about all things.  After all, life has something serious in it.  It cannot be all a comic history of humanity.  Some men, would, I believe, write a Comic Sermon on the Mount.  Think of a Comic History of England, the drollery of Alfred, the fun of Sir Thomas More, the farce of his daughter begging the dead head and clasping it in her coffin on her bosom.  Surely the world will be sick of this blasphemy."  John Sterling, in a like spirit, said: "Periodicals and novels are to all in this generation, but more especially to those whose minds are still unformed and in the process of formation, a new and more effectual substitute for the plagues of Egypt, vermin that corrupt the wholesome waters and infest our chambers."

    As a rest from toil and a relaxation from graver pursuits, the perusal of a well-written story, by a writer of genius, is a high intellectual pleasure; and it is a description of literature to which all classes of readers, old and young, are attracted as by a powerful instinct; nor would we have any of them debarred from its enjoyment in a reasonable degree.  But to make it the exclusive literary diet, as some do,—to devour the garbage with which the shelves of circulating libraries are filled,—and to occupy the greater portion of the leisure hours in studying the preposterous pictures of human life which so many of them present, is worse than waste of time: it is positively pernicious.  The habitual novel-reader indulges in fictitious feelings so much, that there is great risk of sound and healthy feeling becoming perverted or benumbed.  "I never go to hear a tragedy," said a gay man once to the Archbishop of York, "it wears my heart out."  The literary pity evoked by fiction leads to no corresponding action; the susceptibilities which it excites involve neither inconvenience nor self-sacrifice; so that the heart that is touched too often by the fiction may at length become insensible to the reality.  The steel is gradually rubbed out of the character, and it insensibly loses its vital spring.  "Drawing fine pictures of virtue in one's mind," said Bishop Butler, "is so far from necessarily or certainly conducive to form a habit of it in him who thus employs himself, that it may even harden the mind in a contrary course, and render it gradually more insensible."

    Amusement in moderation is wholesome, and to be commended; but amusement in excess vitiates the whole nature, and is a thing to be carefully guarded against.  The maxim is often quoted of "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy;" but all play and no work makes him something greatly worse.  Nothing can be more hurtful to a youth than to have his soul sodden with pleasure.  The best qualities of his mind are impaired; common enjoyments become tasteless; his appetite for the higher kind of pleasures is vitiated; and when he comes to face the work and the duties of life, the result is usually aversion and disgust.  "Fast" men waste and exhaust the powers of life, and dry up the sources of true happiness.  Having forestalled their spring, they can produce no healthy growth of either character or intellect.  A child without simplicity, a maiden without innocence, a boy without truthfulness, are not more piteous sights than the man who has wasted and thrown away his youth in self-indulgence.  Mirabeau said of himself, "My early years have already in a great measure disinherited the succeeding ones, and dissipated a great part of my vital powers."  As the wrong done to another to-day returns upon ourselves tomorrow, so the sins of our youth rise up in our age to scourge us.  When Lord Bacon says that "strength of nature in youth passeth over many excesses which are owing a man until he is old," he exposes a physical as well as a moral fact which cannot be too well weighed in the conduct of life.  "I assure you," wrote Giusti the Italian to a friend, "I pay a heavy price for existence.  It is true that our lives are not at our own disposal.  Nature pretends to give them gratis at the beginning, and then sends in her account."  The worst of youthful indiscretions is, not that they destroy health, so much as that they sully manhood.  The dissipated youth becomes a tainted man; and often he cannot be pure, even if he would.  If cure there be, it is only to be found in inoculating the mind with a fervent spirit of duty, and in energetic application to useful work.

    One of the most gifted of Frenchmen, in point of great intellectual endowments, was Benjamin Constant; but, blasé at twenty, his life was only a prolonged wail, instead of a harvest of the great deeds which he was capable of accomplishing with ordinary diligence and self-control.  He resolved upon doing so many things, which he never did, that people came to speak of him as Constant the Inconstant.  He was a fluent and brilliant writer, and cherished the ambition of writing works, "which the world would not willingly let die."  But whilst Constant affected the highest thinking, unhappily he practised the lowest living; nor did the transcendentalism of his books atone for the meanness of his life.  He frequented the gaming-tables while engaged in preparing his work upon religion, and carried on a disreputable intrigue while writing his 'Adolphe.'  With all his powers of intellect, he was powerless, because he had no faith in virtue.  "Bah!" said he, "what are honour and dignity?  The longer I live, the more clearly I see there is nothing in them."  It was the howl of a miserable man.  He described himself as but "ashes and dust."  "I pass," said he, "like a shadow over the earth, accompanied by misery and ennui."  He wished for Voltaire's energy, which he would rather have possessed than his genius.  But he had no strength of purpose—nothing but wishes: his life, prematurely exhausted, had become but a heap of broken links.  He spoke of himself as a person with one foot in the air.  He admitted that he had no principles, and no moral consistency.  Hence, with his splendid talents, he contrived to do nothing; and, after living many years miserable, he died worn out and wretched.

French historian.
Picture: Wikipedia.

    The career of Augustin Thierry, the author of the 'History of the Norman Conquest,' affords an admirable contrast to that of Constant.  His entire life presented a striking example of perseverance, diligence, self-culture, and untiring devotion to knowledge.  In the pursuit he lost his eyesight, lost his health, but never lost his love of truth.  When so feeble that he was carried from room to room, like a helpless infant, in the arms of a nurse, his brave spirit never failed him; and blind and helpless though he was, he concluded his literary career in the following noble words:—"If, as I think, the interest of science is counted in the number of great national interests, I have given my country all that the soldier, mutilated on the field of battle, gives her.  Whatever may be the fate of my labours, this example, I hope, will not be lost.  I would wish it to serve to combat the species of moral weakness which is the disease of our present generation; to bring back into the straight road of life some of those enervated souls that complain of wanting faith, that know not what to do, and seek everywhere, without finding it, an object of worship and admiration.  Why say, with so much bitterness, that in the world, constituted as it is, there is no air for all lungs--no employment for all minds? Is not calm and serious study there? and is not that a refuge, a hope, a field within the reach of all of us?  With it, evil days are passed over without their weight being felt.  Every one can make his own destiny—every one employ his life nobly.  This is what I have done, and would do again if I had to recommence my career; I would choose that which has brought me where I am.  Blind, and suffering without hope, and almost without intermission, I may give this testimony, which from me will not appear suspicious.  There is something in the world better than sensual enjoyments, better than fortune, better than health itself—it is devotion to knowledge."

ROBERT SOUTHEY (1774-1843):
English poet (Poet Laureate).
Picture: Project Gutenberg.

    Coleridge, in many respects, resembled Constant.  He possessed equally brilliant powers, but was similarly infirm of purpose.  With all his great intellectual gifts, he wanted the gift of industry, and was averse to continuous labour.  He wanted also the sense of independence, and thought it no degradation to leave his wife and children to be maintained by the brain-work of the noble Southey, while he himself retired to Highgate Grove to discourse transcendentalism to his disciples, looking down contemptuously upon the honest work going forward beneath him amidst the din and smoke of London.  With remunerative employment at his command he stooped to accept the charity of friends and, notwithstanding his lofty ideas of philosophy, he condescended to humiliations from which many a day-labourer would have shrunk.  How different in spirit was Southey! labouring not merely at work of his own choice, and at taskwork often tedious and distasteful, but also unremittingly and with the utmost eagerness seeking and storing knowledge purely for the love of it.  Every day, every hour had its allotted employment: engagements to publishers requiring punctual fulfilment; the current expenses of a large household duly to provide for: Southey had no crop growing while his pen was idle.  "My ways," he used to say, "are as broad as the king's high-road, and my means lie in an inkstand."

English poet, literary critic and philosopher.
Picture: Internet Text Archive.

    Robert Nicoll wrote to a friend, after reading the 'Recollections of Coleridge,' "What a mighty intellect was lost in that man for want of a little energy—a little determination!"  Nicoll himself was a true and brave spirit, who died young, but not before he had encountered and overcome great difficulties in life.  At his outset, while carrying on a small business as a bookseller, he found himself weighed down with a debt of only twenty pounds, which he said he felt "weighing like a millstone round his neck," and that "if he had it paid he never would borrow again from mortal man."  Writing to his mother at the time he said, "Fear not for me, dear mother, for I feel myself daily growing firmer and more hopeful in spirit.  The more I think and reflect—and thinking, not reading, is now my occupation—I feel that, whether I be growing richer or not, I am growing a wiser man, which is far better.  Pain, poverty, and all the other wild beasts of life which so affrighten others, I am so bold as to think I could look in the face without shrinking, without losing respect for myself, faith in man's high destinies, or trust in God.  There is a point which it costs much mental toil and struggling to gain, but which, when once gained, a man can look down from, as a traveller from a lofty mountain, on storms raging below, while he is walking in sunshine.  That I have yet gained this point in life I will not say, but I feel myself daily nearer to it."

    It is not ease, but effort—not facility, but difficulty, that makes men.  There is, perhaps, no station in life, in which difficulties have not to be encountered and overcome before any decided measure of success can be achieved.  Those difficulties are, however, our best instructors, as our mistakes often form our best experience.  Charles James Fox was accustomed to say that he hoped more from a man who failed, and yet went on in spite of his failure, than from the buoyant career of the successful.  "It is all very well," said he, "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."

    We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success.  We often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery.  It was the failure in the attempt to make a sucking-pump act, when the working bucket was more than thirty-three feet above the surface of the water to be raised, that led observant men to study the law of atmospheric pressure, and opened a new field of research to the genius of Galileo, Torrecelli, and Boyle.  John Hunter used to remark that the art of surgery would not advance until professional men had the courage to publish their failures as well as their successes.  Watt the engineer said, of all things most wanted in mechanical engineering was a history of failures: "We want," he said, "a book of blots."  When Sir Humphry Davy was once shown a dexterously manipulated experiment, he said—"I thank God I was not made a dexterous manipulator, for the most important of my discoveries have been suggested to me by failures."  Another distinguished investigator in physical science has left it on record that, whenever in the course of his researches he encountered an apparently insuperable obstacle, he generally found himself on the brink of some discovery.  The very greatest things—great thoughts, discoveries, inventions—have usually been nurtured in hardship, often pondered over in sorrow, and at length established with difficulty.

    Beethoven said of Rossini, that he had in him the stuff to have made a good musician if he had only, when a boy, been well flogged; but that he had been spoilt by the facility with which he produced.  Men who feel their strength within them need not fear to encounter adverse opinions; they have far greater reason to fear undue praise and too friendly criticism.  When Mendelssohn was about to enter the orchestra at Birmingham, on the first performance of his 'Elijah,' he said laughingly to one of his friends and critics, "Stick your claws into me!  Don't tell me what you like, but what you don't like!"

    It has been said, and truly, that it is the defeat that tries the general more than the victory.  Washington lost more battles than he gained; but he succeeded in the end.  The Romans, in their most victorious campaigns, almost invariably began with defeats.  Moreau used to be compared by his companions to a drum, which nobody hears of except it be beaten.  Wellington's military genius was perfected by encounter with difficulties of apparently the most overwhelming character, but which only served to nerve his resolution, and bring out more prominently his great qualities as a man and a general.  So the skilful mariner obtains his best experience amidst storms and tempests, which train him to self-reliance, courage, and the highest discipline; and we probably owe to rough seas and wintry nights the best training of our race of British seamen, who are, certainly, not surpassed by any in the world.

    Necessity may be a hard schoolmistress, but she is generally found the best.  Though the ordeal of adversity is one from which we naturally shrink, yet, when it comes, we must bravely and manfully encounter it.  Burns says truly,

"Though losses and crosses
     Be lessons right severe,
 There's wit there, you'll get there,
     You'll find no other where."

    "Sweet indeed are the uses of adversity."  They reveal to us our powers, and call forth our energies.  If there be real worth in the character, like sweet herbs, it will give forth its finest fragrance when pressed.  "Crosses," says the old proverb, "are the ladders that lead to heaven."  "What is even poverty itself," asks Richter, "that a man should murmur under it?  It is but as the pain of piercing a maiden's ear, and you hang precious jewels in the wound."  In the experience of life it is found that the wholesome discipline of adversity in strong natures usually carries with it a self-preserving influence.  Many are found capable of bravely bearing up under privations, and cheerfully encountering obstructions, who are afterwards found unable to withstand the more dangerous influences of prosperity.  It is only a weak man whom the wind deprives of his cloak: a man of average strength is more in danger of losing it when assailed by the beams of a too genial sun.  Thus it often needs a higher discipline and a stronger character to bear up under good fortune than under adverse.  Some generous natures kindle and warm with prosperity, but there are many on whom wealth has no such influence.  Base hearts it only hardens, making those who were mean and servile, mean and proud.  But while prosperity is apt to harden the heart to pride, adversity in a man of resolution will serve to ripen it into fortitude.  To use the words of Burke, "Difficulty is a severe instructor, set over us by the supreme ordinance of a parental guardian and instructor, who knows us better than we know ourselves, as He loves us better too.  He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our skill: our antagonist is thus our helper."  Without the necessity of encountering difficulty, life might be easier, but men would be worth less.  For trials, wisely improved, train the character, and teach self help; thus hardship itself may often prove the whole-sourest discipline for us, though we recognise it not.  When the gallant young Hodson, unjustly removed from his Indian command, felt himself sore pressed down by unmerited calumny and reproach, he yet preserved the courage to say to a friend, "I strive to look the worst boldly in the face, as I would an enemy in the field, and to do my appointed work resolutely and to the best of my ability, satisfied that there is a reason for all; and that even irksome duties well done bring their own reward, and that, if not, still they are duties."

    The battle of life is, in most cases, fought up-hill; and to win it without a struggle were perhaps to win it without honour.  If there were no difficulties there would be no success; if there were nothing to struggle for, there would be nothing to be achieved.  Difficulties may intimidate the weak, but they act only as a wholesome stimulus to men of resolution and valour.  All experience of life indeed serves to prove that the impediments thrown in the way of human advancement may for the most part be overcome by steady good conduct, honest zeal, activity, perseverance, and above all by a determined resolution to surmount difficulties, and stand up manfully against misfortune.

    The school of Difficulty is the best school of moral discipline, for nations as for individuals.  Indeed, the history of difficulty would be but a history of all the great and good things that have yet been accomplished by men.  It is hard to say how much northern nations owe to their encounter with a comparatively rude and changeable climate and an originally sterile soil, which is one of the necessities of their condition,—involving a perennial struggle with difficulties such as the natives of sunnier climes know nothing of.  And thus it may be, that though our finest products are exotic, the skill and industry which have been necessary to rear them, have issued in the production of a native growth of men not surpassed on the globe.

    Wherever there is difficulty, the individual man must come out for better for worse.  Encounter with it will train his strength, and discipline his skill; heartening him for future effort, as the racer, by being trained to run against the hill, at length courses with facility.  The road to success may be steep to climb, and it puts to the proof the energies of him who would reach the summit.  But by experience a man soon learns that obstacles are to be overcome by grappling with them,—that the nettle feels as soft as silk when it is boldly grasped,—and that the most effective help towards realizing the object proposed is the moral conviction that we can and will accomplish it.  Thus difficulties often fall away of themselves before the determination to overcome them.

    Much will be done if we do but try.  Nobody knows what he can do till he has tried; and few try their best till they have been forced to do it.  "If I could do such and such a thing," sighs the desponding youth.  But nothing will be done if he only wishes.  The desire must ripen into purpose and effort; and one energetic attempt is worth a thousand aspirations.  It is these thorny "ifs"—the mutterings of impotence and despair—which so often hedge round the field of possibility, and prevent anything being done or even attempted.  "A difficulty," said Lord Lyndhurst, "is a thing to be overcome;" grapple with it at once; facility will come with practice, and strength and fortitude with repeated effort.  Thus the mind and character may be trained to an almost perfect discipline, and enabled to act with a grace, spirit, and liberty, almost incomprehensible to those who have not passed through a similar experience.

    Everything that we learn is the mastery of a difficulty; and the mastery of one helps to the mastery of others.  Things which may at first sight appear comparatively valueless in education—such as the study of the dead languages, and the relations of lines and surfaces which we call mathematics—are really of the greatest practical value, not so much because of the information which they yield, as because of the development which they compel.  The mastery of these studies evokes effort, and cultivates powers of application, which otherwise might have lain dormant.  Thus one thing leads to another, and so the work goes on through life—encounter with difficulty ending only when life and culture end.  But indulging in the feeling of discouragement never helped any one over a difficulty, and never will.  D'Alembert's advice to the student who complained to him about his want of success in mastering the first elements of mathematics was the right one—"Go on, sir, and faith and strength will come to you."

HENRY CLAY (1777-1852);
American statesman and orator.
Picture: Wikipedia.

    The danseuse who turns a pirouette, the violinist who plays a sonata, have acquired their dexterity by patient repetition and after many failures.  Carissimi, when praised for the ease and grace of his melodies, exclaimed, "Ah! you little know with what difficulty this ease has been acquired."  Sir Joshua Reynolds, when once asked how long it had taken him to paint a certain picture, replied, "All my life."  Henry Clay, the American orator, when giving advice to young men, thus described to them the secret of his success in the cultivation of his art: "I owe my success in life," said he, "chiefly to one circumstance—that at the age of twenty-seven I commenced, and continued for years, the process of daily reading and speaking upon the contents of some historical or scientific book.  These off-hand efforts were made, sometimes in a corn-field, at others in the forest, and not unfrequently in some distant barn, with the horse and the ox for my auditors.  It is to this early practice of the art of all arts that I am indebted for the primary and leading impulses that stimulated me onward and have shaped and moulded my whole subsequent destiny."

    Curran, the Irish orator, when a youth, had a strong defect in his articulation, and at school he was known as "stuttering Jack Curran."  While he was engaged in the study of the law, and still struggling to overcome his defect, he was stung into eloquence by the sarcasms of a member of a debating club, who characterised him as "Orator Mum;" for, like Cowper, when he stood up to speak on a previous occasion, Curran had not been able to utter a word.  The taunt stung him and he replied in a triumphant speech.  This accidental discovery in himself of the gift of eloquence encouraged him to proceed in his studies with renewed energy.  He corrected his enunciation by reading aloud, emphatically and distinctly, the best passages in literature, for several hours every day, studying his features before a mirror, and adopting a method of gesticulation suited to his rather awkward and ungraceful figure.  He also proposed cases to himself, which he argued with as much care as if he had been addressing a jury.  Curran began business with the qualification which Lord Eldon stated to be the first requisite for distinction, that is, "to be not worth a shilling."  While working his way laboriously at the bar, still oppressed by the diffidence which had overcome him in his debating club, he was on one occasion provoked by the Judge (Robinson) into making a very severe retort.  In the case under discussion, Curran observed "that he had never met the law as laid down by his lordship in any book in his library."  "That may be, sir," said the judge, in a contemptuous tone, "but I suspect that your library is very small."  His lordship was notoriously a furious political partisan, the author of several anonymous pamphlets characterised by unusual violence and dogmatism.  Curran, roused by the allusion to his straitened circumstances, replied thus: "It is very true, my lord, that I am poor, and the circumstance has certainly curtailed my library; my books are not numerous, but they are select, and I hope they have been perused with proper dispositions.  I have prepared myself for this high profession by the study of a few good works, rather than by the composition of a great many bad ones.  I am not ashamed of my poverty; but I should be ashamed of my wealth, could I have stooped to acquire it by servility and corruption.  If I rise not to rank, I shall at least be honest; and should I ever cease to be so, many an example shows me that an ill-gained elevation, by making me the more conspicuous, would only make me the more universally and the more notoriously contemptible."

    The extremest poverty has been no obstacle in the way of men devoted to the duty of self-culture.  Professor Alexander Murray, the linguist, learnt to write by scribbling his letters on an old wool-card with the end of a burnt heather stem.  The only book which his father, who was a poor shepherd, possessed, was a penny Shorter Catechism; but that, being thought too valuable for common use, was carefully preserved in a cupboard for the Sunday catechisings.  Professor Moor, when a young man, being too poor to, purchase Newton's 'Principia,' borrowed the book, and copied the whole of it with his own hand.  Many poor students, while labouring daily for their living, have only been able to snatch an atom of knowledge here and there at intervals, as birds do their food in winter time when the fields are covered with snow.  They have struggled on, and faith and hope have come to them.  A well-known author and publisher, William Chambers, of Edinburgh, speaking before an assemblage of young men in that city, thus briefly described to them his humble beginnings, for their encouragement: "I stand before you," he said, "a self-educated man.  My education was that which is supplied at the humble parish schools of Scotland; and it was only when I went to Edinburgh, a poor boy, that I devoted my evenings, after the labours of the day, to the cultivation of that intellect which the Almighty has given me.  From seven or eight in the morning till nine or ten at night was I at my business as a bookseller's apprentice, and it was only during hours after these, stolen from sleep, that I could devote myself to study.  I did not read novels: my attention was devoted to physical science, and other useful matters.  I also taught myself French.  I look back to those times with great pleasure, and am almost sorry I have not to go through the same experience again; for I reaped more pleasure when I had not a sixpence in my pocket, studying in a garret in Edinburgh, than I now find when sitting amidst all the elegancies and comforts of a parlour."


WILLIAM COBBETT (1763-1835):
English pamphleteer, farmer and journalist.
Picture: Wikipedia.

    William Cobbett's account of how he learnt English Grammar is full of interest and instruction for all students labouring under difficulties. "I learned grammar," said he, "when I was a private soldier on the pay of sixpence a day.  The edge of my berth, or that of my guard-bed, was my seat to study in; my knapsack was my book-case; a bit of board lying on my lap was my writing-table; and the task did not demand anything like a year of my life.  I had no money to purchase candle or oil; in winter time it was rarely that I could get any evening light but that of the fire, and only my turn even of that.  And if I, under such circumstances, and without parent or friend to advise or encourage me, accomplished this undertaking, what excuse can there be for any youth, however poor, however pressed with business, or however circumstanced as to room or other conveniences?  To buy a pen or a sheet of paper I was compelled to forego some portion of food, though in a state of half-starvation: I had no moment of time that I could call my own; and I had to read and to write amidst the talking, laughing, singing, whistling, and brawling of at least half a score of the most thoughtless of men, and that too, in the hours of their freedom from all control.  Think not lightly of the farthing that I had to give, now and then, for ink, pen, or paper!  That farthing was, alas! a great sum to me!  I was as tall as I am now; I had great health and great exercise.  The whole of the money, not expended for us at market, was two-pence a week for each man.  I remember, and well I may! that on one occasion I, after all necessary expenses, had, on a Friday, made shifts to have a halfpenny in reserve, which I had destined for the purchase of a red herring in the morning; but, when I pulled off my clothes at night, so hungry then as to be hardly able to endure life, I found that I had lost my halfpenny!  I buried my head under the miserable sheet and rug, and cried like a child!  And again I say, if, I, under circumstances like these, could encounter and overcome this task, is there, can there be, in the whole world, a youth to find an excuse for the non-performance?"

    We have been informed of an equally striking instance of perseverance and application in learning on the part of a French political exile in London.  His original occupation was that of a stonemason, at which he found employment for some time; but work becoming slack, he lost his place, and poverty stared him in the face.  In his dilemma he called upon a fellow exile profitably engaged in teaching French, and consulted him what he ought to do to earn a living.  The answer was, "Become a professor!"  "A professor?" answered the mason—"I, who am only a workman, speaking but a patois!  Surely you are jesting?"  "On the contrary, I am quite serious," said the other, "and again I advise you—become a professor; place yourself under me, and I will undertake to teach you how to teach others."  "No, no!" replied the mason, "it is impossible; I am too old to learn; I am too little of a scholar; I cannot be a professor."  He went away, and again he tried to obtain employment at his trade.  From London he went into the provinces, and travelled several hundred miles in vain; he could not find a master.  Returning to London, he went direct to his former adviser, and said, "I have tried everywhere for work, and failed; I will now try to be a professor!"  He immediately placed himself under instruction; and being a man of close application, of quick apprehension, and vigorous intelligence, he speedily mastered the elements of grammar, the rules of construction and composition, and (what he had still in a great measure to learn) the correct pronunciation of classical French.  When his friend and instructor thought him sufficiently competent to undertake the teaching of others, an appointment, advertised as vacant, was applied for and obtained; and behold our artisan at length become professor!  It so happened, that the seminary to which he was appointed was situated in a suburb of London where he had formerly worked as a stonemason; and every morning the first thing which met his eyes on looking out of his dressing-room window was a stack of cottage chimneys which he had himself built!  He feared for a time lest he should be recognised in the village as the quondam workman, and thus bring discredit on his seminary, which was of high standing.  But he need have been under no such apprehension, as he proved a most efficient teacher, and his pupils were on more than one occasion publicly complimented for their knowledge of French.  Meanwhile, he secured the respect and friendship of all who knew him—fellow-professors as well as pupils; and when the story of his struggles, his difficulties, and his past history, became known to them, they admired him more than ever.

    Sir Samuel Romilly was not less indefatigable as a self cultivator.  The son of a jeweller, descended from a French refugee, he received little education in his early years, but overcame all his disadvantages by unwearied application. and by efforts constantly directed towards the same end.  "I determined," he says, in his autobiography, "when I was between fifteen and sixteen years of age, to apply myself seriously to learning Latin, of which I, at that time, knew little more than some of the most familiar rules of grammar.  In the course of three or four years, during which I thus applied myself, I had read almost every prose writer of the age of pure Latinity, except those who have treated merely of technical subjects, such as Varro, Columella, and Celsus.  I had gone three times through the whole of Livy, Sallust, and Tacitus.  I had studied the most celebrated orations of Cicero, and translated a great deal of Homer.  Terence, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, and Juvenal, I had read over and over again."  He also studied geography, natural history, and natural philosophy, and obtained a considerable acquaintance with general knowledge.  At sixteen he was articled to a clerk in Chancery; worked hard; was admitted to the bar; and his industry and perseverance ensured success.  He became Solicitor-General under the Fox administration in 1806, and steadily worked his way to the highest celebrity in his profession.  Yet he was always haunted by a painful and almost oppressive sense of his own disqualifications, and never ceased labouring to remedy them.  His autobiography is a lesson of instructive facts, worth volumes of sentiment, and well deserves a careful perusal.

    Sir Walter Scott was accustomed to cite the case of his young friend John Leyden as one of the most remarkable illustrations of the power of perseverance which he had ever known.  The son of a shepherd in one of the wildest valleys of Roxburghshire, he was almost entirely self-educated.  Like many Scotch shepherds' sons—like Hogg, who taught himself to write by copying the letters of a printed book as he lay watching his flock on the hill-side—like Cairns, who from tending sheep on the Lammermoor raised himself by dint of application and industry to the professor's chair which he now so worthily holds—like Murray, Ferguson, and many more, Leyden was early inspired by a thirst for knowledge.  When a poor barefooted boy, he walked six or eight miles across the moors daily to learn reading at the little village schoolhouse of Kirkton; and this was all the education he received; the rest he acquired for himself.  He found his way to Edinburgh to attend the college there, setting the extremest penury at defiance.  He was first discovered as the frequenter of a small bookseller's shop kept by Archibald Constable, afterwards so well known as a publisher.  He would pass hour after hour perched on a ladder in mid-air, with some great folio in his hand, forgetful of the scanty meal of bread and water which awaited him at his miserable lodging.  Access to books and lectures comprised all within the bounds of his wishes.  Thus he toiled and battled at the gates of science until his unconquerable perseverance carried everything before it.  Before he had attained his nineteenth year he had astonished all the professors in Edinburgh by his profound knowledge of Greek and Latin, and the general mass of information he had acquired.  Having turned his views to India, he sought employment in the civil service, but failed.  He was however informed that a surgeon's assistant's commission was open to him.  But he was no surgeon, and knew no more of the profession than a child.  He could however learn.  Then he was told that he must be ready to pass in six months!  Nothing daunted, he set to work, to acquire in six months what usually required three years.  At the end of six months he took his degree with honour.  Scott and a few friends helped to fit him out; and he sailed for India, after publishing his beautiful poem 'The Scenes of Infancy.'  In India he promised to become one of the greatest of oriental scholars, but was unhappily cut off by fever caught by exposure, and died at an early age.

    The life of the late Dr. Lee, Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge, furnishes one of the most remarkable instances in modern times of the power of patient perseverance and resolute purpose in working out an honourable career in literature.  He received his education at a charity school at Lognor, near Shrewsbury, but so little distinguished himself there, that his master pronounced him one of the dullest boys that ever passed through his hands.  He was put apprentice to a carpenter, and worked at that trade until he arrived at manhood.  To occupy his leisure hours he took to reading; and, some of the books containing Latin quotations, he became desirous of ascertaining what they meant.  He bought a Latin grammar, and proceeded to learn Latin.  As Stone, the Duke of Argyle's gardener, said, long before, "Does one need to know anything more than the twenty-four letters in order to learn everything else that one wishes?"  Lee rose early and sat up late, and he succeeded in mastering the Latin before his apprenticeship was out.  Whilst working one day in some place of worship, a copy of a Greek Testament fell in his way, and he was immediately filled with the desire to learn that language.  He accordingly sold some of his Latin books, and purchased a Greek Grammar and Lexicon.  Taking pleasure in learning, he soon mastered the language.  Then he sold his Greek books, and bought Hebrew ones, and learnt that language, unassisted by any instructor, without any hope of fame or reward, but simply following the bent of his genius.  He next proceeded to learn the Chaldee, Syriac, and Samaritan dialects.  But his studies began to tell upon his health, and brought on disease in his eyes through his long night watchings with his books.  Having laid them aside for a time and recovered his health he went on with his daily work.  His character as a tradesman being excellent, his business improved, and his means enabled him to marry, which he did when twenty-eight years old.  He determined now to devote himself to the maintenance of his family, and to renounce the luxury of literature; accordingly he sold all his books.  He might have continued a working carpenter all his life, had not the chest of tools upon which he depended for subsistence been destroyed by fire, and destitution stared him in the face.  He was too poor to buy new tools, so he bethought him of teaching children their letters,—a profession requiring the least possible capital.  But though he had mastered many languages, he was so defective in the common branches of knowledge, that at first he could not teach them.  Resolute of purpose, however, he assiduously set to work, and taught himself arithmetic and writing to such a degree as to be able to impart the knowledge of these branches to little children.  His unaffected, simple, and beautiful character gradually attracted friends, and the acquirements of the "learned carpenter" became bruited abroad.  Dr. Scott, a neighbouring clergyman, obtained for him the appointment of master of a charity school in Shrewsbury, and introduced him to a distinguished Oriental scholar.  These friends supplied him with books, and Lee successively mastered Arabic, Persic, and Hindostanee.  He continued to pursue his studies while on duty as a private in the local militia of the county; gradually acquiring greater proficiency in languages.  At length his kind patron, Dr. Scott, enabled Lee to enter Queen's College, Cambridge; and after a course of study, in which he distinguished himself by his mathematical acquirements, a vacancy occurring in the professorship of Arabic and Hebrew, he was worthily elected to fill the honourable office.  Besides ably performing his duties as a professor, he voluntarily gave much of his time to the instruction of missionaries going forth to preach the Gospel to eastern tribes in their own tongue.  He also made translations of the Bible into several Asiatic dialects; and having mastered the New Zealand language, he arranged a grammar and vocabulary for two New Zealand chiefs who were then in England, which books are now in daily use in the New Zealand schools.  Such, in brief, is the remarkable history of Dr. Samuel Lee; and it is but the counterpart of numerous similarly instructive examples of the power of perseverance in self-culture, as displayed in the lives of many of the most distinguished of our literary and scientific men. [p.354]

    There are many other illustrious names which might be cited to prove the truth of the common saying that "it is never too late to learn."  Even at advanced years men can do much, if they will determine on making a beginning.  Sir Henry Spelman did not begin the study of science until he was between fifty and sixty years of age.  Franklin was fifty before he fully entered upon the study of Natural Philosophy.  Dryden and Scott were not known as authors until each was in his fortieth year.  Boccaccio was thirty-five when he commenced his literary career, and Alfieri was forty-six when he began the study of Greek.  Dr. Arnold learnt German at an advanced age, for the purpose of reading Niebuhr in the original; and in like manner James Watt, when about forty, while working at his trade of an instrument maker in Glasgow, learnt French, German, and Italian, to enable himself to peruse the valuable works on mechanical philosophy which existed in those languages.  Thomas Scott was fifty-six before he began to learn Hebrew.  Robert Hall was once found lying upon the floor, racked by pain, learning Italian in his old age, to enable him to judge of the parallel drawn by Macaulay between Milton and Dante.  Handel was forty-eight before he published any of his great works.  Indeed hundreds of instances might be given of men who struck out an entirely new path, and successfully entered on new studies, at a comparatively advanced time of life.  None but the frivolous or the indolent will say, "I am too old to learn."

    And here we would repeat what we have said before, that it is not men of genius who move the world and take the lead in it, so much as men of steadfastness, purpose, and indefatigable industry.  Notwithstanding the many undeniable instances of the precocity of men of genius, it is nevertheless true that early cleverness gives no indication of the height to which the grown man will reach.  Precocity is sometimes a symptom of disease rather than of intellectual vigour.  What becomes of all the "remarkably clever children?"  Where are the duxes and prize boys?  Trace them through life, and it will frequently be found that the dull boys, who were beaten at school, have shot ahead of them.  The clever boys are rewarded, but the prizes which they gain by their greater quickness and facility do not always prove of use to them.  What ought rather to be rewarded is the endeavour, the struggle, and the obedience; for it is the youth who does his best, though endowed with an inferiority of natural powers, that ought above all others to be encouraged.

    An interesting chapter might be written on the subject of illustrious dunces—dull boys, but brilliant men.  We have room, however, for only a few instances.  Pietro di Cortona, the painter, was thought so stupid that he was nicknamed "Ass's Head" when a boy; and Tomaso Guidi was generally known as "Heavy Tom" (Massaccio Tomasaccio), though by diligence he afterwards raised himself to the highest eminence.  Newton, when at school, stood at the bottom of the lowest form but one.  The boy above Newton having kicked him, the dunce showed his pluck by challenging him to a fight, and beat him.  Then he set to work with a will, and determined also to vanquish his antagonist as a scholar, which he did, rising to the top of his class.  Many of our greatest divines have been anything but precocious.  Isaac Barrow, when a boy at the Charterhouse School, was notorious chiefly for his strong temper, pugnacious habits, and proverbial idleness as a scholar; and he caused such grief to his parents that his father used to say that, if it pleased God to take from him any of his children, he hoped it might be Isaac, the least promising of them all.  Adam Clarke, when a boy, was proclaimed by his father to be "a grievous dunce;" though he could roll large stones about.  Dean Swift was "plucked" at Dublin University, and only obtained his recommendation to Oxford "speciali gratia."  The well-known Dr. Chalmers and Dr. Cook [p.356-1] were boys together at the parish school of St. Andrew's; and they were found so stupid and mischievous, that the master, irritated beyond measure, dismissed them both as incorrigible dunces.

    The brilliant Sheridan showed so little capacity as a boy that he was presented to a tutor by his mother with the complimentary accompaniment that he was an incorrigible dunce.  Walter Scott was all but a dunce when a boy, always much readier for a "bicker," than apt at his lessons.  At the Edinburgh University, Professor Dalzell pronounced upon him the sentence that "Dunce he was, and dunce he would remain."  Chatterton was returned on his mother's hands as "a fool, of whom nothing could be made."  Burns was a dull boy, good only at athletic exercises.  Goldsmith spoke of himself as a plant that flowered late.  Alfieri left college no wiser than he entered it, and did not begin the studies by which he distinguished himself, until he had run half over Europe.  Robert Clive was a dunce, if not a reprobate, when a youth; but always full of energy, even in badness.  His family, glad to get rid of him, shipped him off to Madras and he lived to lay the foundations of the British power in India.  Napoleon and Wellington were both dull boys, not distinguishing themselves in any way at school. [p.356-2]  Of the former the Duchess d'Abrantes says, "he had good health, but was in other respects like other boys."


General-in-Chief of the Union Army and 18th President of the United States.
Picture (1865): Wikipedia.

    Ulysses Grant, the Commander-in-Chief of the United States, was called "Useless Grant" by his mother—he was so dull and unhandy when a boy; and Stonewall Jackson, Lee's greatest lieutenant, was, in his youth, chiefly noted for his slowness.  While a pupil at West Point Military Academy he was, however, equally remarkable for his indefatigable application and perseverance.  When a task was set him, he never left it until he had mastered it; nor did he ever feign to possess knowledge which he had not entirely acquired.  "Again and again," wrote one who knew him, "when called upon to answer questions in the recitation of the day, he would reply, 'I have not yet looked at it; I have been engaged in mastering the recitation of yesterday or the day before.'  The result was that he graduated seventeenth in a class of seventy.  There was probably in the whole class not a boy to whom Jackson at the outset was not inferior in knowledge and attainments; but at the end of the race he had only sixteen before him, and had outstripped no fewer than fifty-three.  It used to be said of him by his contemporaries, that if the course had been for ten years instead of four, Jackson would have graduated at the head of his class." [p.357]


Confederate general during the American Civil War.
Picture: Wikipedia.

    John Howard, the philanthropist, was another illustrious dunce, learning next to nothing during the seven years that he was at school.  Stephenson, as a youth, was distinguished chiefly for his skill at putting and wrestling, and attention to his work.  The brilliant Sir Humphry Davy was no cleverer than other boys: his teacher, Dr. Cardew, once said of him, "While he was with me I could not discern the faculties by which he was so much distinguished."  Indeed, Davy himself in after life considered it fortunate that he had been left to "enjoy so much idleness" at school.  Watt was a dull scholar, notwithstanding the stories told about his precocity; but he was, what was better, patient and perseverant, and it was by such qualities, and by his carefully cultivated inventiveness, that he was enabled to perfect his steam-engine.

    What Dr. Arnold said of boys is equally true of men—that the difference between one boy and another consists not so much in talent as in energy.  Given perseverance and energy soon becomes habitual.  Provided the dunce has persistency and application he will inevitably head the cleverer fellow without those qualities.  Slow but sure wins the race.  It is perseverance that explains how the position of boys at school is so often reversed in real life; and it is curious to note how some who were then so clever have since become so commonplace; whilst others, dull boys, of whom nothing was expected, slow in their faculties but sure in their pace, have assumed the position of leaders of men.  The author of this book, when a boy stood in the same class with one of the greatest of dunces.  One teacher after another had tried his skill upon him and failed.  Corporal punishment, the fool's cap, coaxing, and earnest entreaty, proved alike fruitless.  Sometimes the experiment was tried of putting him at the top of his class, and it was curious to note the rapidity with which he gravitated to the inevitable bottom.  The youth was given up by his teachers as an incorrigible dunce—one of their, pronouncing him to be a "stupendous booby."  Yet, slow though he was, this dunce had a sort of dull energy of purpose in him, which grew with his muscles and his manhood; and, strange to say, when he at length came to take part in the practical business of life, he was found heading most of his school companions, and eventually left the greater number of them far behind.  The last time the author heard of him, he was chief magistrate of his native town.

    The tortoise in the right road will beat a racer in the wrong.  It matters not though a youth be slow, if he be but diligent.  Quickness of parts may even prove a defect, inasmuch as the boy who learns readily will often forget as readily; and also because he finds no need of cultivating that quality of application and perseverance which the slower youth is compelled to exercise, and which proves so valuable an element in the formation of every character.  Davy said "What I am I have made myself;" and the same holds true universally.

    To conclude: the best culture is not obtained from teachers when at school or college, so much as by our own diligent self-education when we have become men.  Hence parents need not be in too great haste to see their children's talents forced into bloom.  Let them watch and wait patiently, letting good example and quiet training do their work, and leave the rest to Providence.  Let them see to it that the youth is provided, by free exercise of his bodily powers, with a full stock of physical health; set him fairly on the road of self-culture; carefully train his habits of application and perseverance; and as he grows older, if the right stuff be in him, he will be enabled vigorously and effectively to cultivate himself.


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