The YOUNG MAN and THE WORLD
Albert J. Beveridge
D. Appleton and Company New York 1905
COPYRIGHT, 1905, BY D. APPLETON AND COMPANY
Published October, 1905
The chapters of this volume were, originally, papers published in The Saturday Evening Post of Philadelphia. The first paper on "The Young Man and the World," which gives the title to the book, was written, at the request of the editor of that magazine, as an addition to a series of articles upon the Philippines and statesmen of contemporaneous eminence.
This paper called for another, and each in its turn called for the one that followed it. And so the series grew from day to day, largely out of the suggestions of its readers—a sort of collaboration. A considerable correspondence resulted, and requests were made that the articles be collected in permanent form. This is the genesis of this book. I hope it will do some good.
While addressed more directly to young men, these papers were yet written for men on both sides the hill and on the crest thereof. I would draw maturity and youth closer together. I would have the sympathy between them ever fresh and vital. I would have them understand one another and thus profit each by the strength of the other.
The manner in which these papers were written created certain repetitions. After careful consideration I have concluded to let them remain. They are upon subjects of vital concern. Where it is necessary to remember, it is better to be wearied than to forget. And these papers were meant to be helpful. They are merely plain talks as of friends conferring together.
ALBERT J. BEVERIDGE.
INDIANAPOLIS, May 1, 1905.
I.—THE YOUNG MAN AND THE WORLD 1
II.—THE OLD HOME 54
III.—THE COLLEGE? 83 1. The Young Man who Goes. 2. The Young Man who Cannot Go.
IV.—THE NEW HOME 152
V.—THE YOUNG LAWYER AND HIS BEGINNINGS 186
VI.—PUBLIC SPEAKING 217
VII.—THE YOUNG MAN AND THE PULPIT 246
VIII.—GREAT THINGS YET TO BE DONE 278
IX.—NEGATIVE FUNDAMENTALS 310
X.—THE YOUNG MAN AND THE NATION 334
XI.—THE WORLD AND THE YOUNG MAN 366
XII.—THE YOUNG MAN'S SECOND WIND; OR, FACING THE WORLD AT FIFTY 387
THE YOUNG MAN AND THE WORLD
THE YOUNG MAN AND THE WORLD
Be honest with the world and the world will be honest with you. This is the fundamental truth of all real prosperity and happiness. For the purposes of every man's daily affairs, all other maxims are to this central verity as the branches of a tree to its rooted trunk.
The world will be honest with you whether you are honest with it or not. You cannot trick it—remember that. If you try it, the world will punish you when it discovers your fraud. But be honest with the world from nobler motives than prudence.
Prudence will not make you be honest—it will only make you act honest. And you must be honest.
I do not mean that lowest form of honesty which bids you keep your hands clean of another's goods or money; I do not mean that you shall not be a "grafter," to use the foul and sinister word which certain base practices have recently compelled us to coin. Of course you will be honest in a money sense.
But that is only the beginning; you must go farther in your dealings with the world. You must be intellectually honest. Do not pretend to be what you are not—no affectations, no simulations, no falsehoods either of speech or thought, of conduct or attitude. Let truth abide in the very heart of you.
"I take no stock in that man; he poses his face, he attitudinizes his features. The man who tries to impress me by his countenance is constitutionally false," said the editor of a powerful publication, in commenting on a certain personage then somewhat in the public eye.
You see how important honesty is even in facial expression. I emphasize this veracity of character because it is elemental. You may have all the gifts and graces but if you have not this essential you are bankrupt. Be honest to the bone. Be clean of blood as well as of tongue.
Never try to create a deeper impression than Nature creates for you, and that means never attempt to create any impression at all. For example, never try to look wise. Many a front of gravity and weight conceals an intellectual desolation. In Moscow you will find the exact external counterpart of Tolstoi. It is said that it is difficult to distinguish the philosopher from his double. Yet this duplicate in appearance of the greatest of living writers is a cab driver without even the brightness of the jehu.
Be what you are, therefore, and no more; yes, and no less—which is equally important. In a word, start right. Be honest with yourself, too. If you have started wrong, go back and start over again. But don't change more than once. Some men never finish because they are always beginning. Be careful how you choose and then stick to your second choice. A poor claim steadily worked may be better than a good one half developed. The man who makes too many starts seldom makes anything else.
But don't pretend that you have a thousand dollars in bank when you hold in your hands the statement of your overdraft. Face your account with Nature like a man. For Nature is a generous, though remorseless, financier, delivering you your just due and exacting the uttermost of your debt. Also Nature renders you a daily accounting.
And, at the very beginning, Nature writes upon the tablet of your inner consciousness an inventory of your strengths and of your weaknesses, and lists there those tasks which you are best fitted to perform—those tasks which Nature meant you to perform. For Nature put you here to do something; you were not born to be an ornament.
First, then, learn your limitations. Take time enough to think out just what you cannot do. This process of elimination will soon reduce life's possibilities for you to a few things. Of these things select the one which is nearest you, and, having selected it, put all other loves from you.
It is a business maxim in my profession that "law is a jealous mistress." It is very true, but it is not more true than it is that every other calling in life is a jealous mistress. To every man his task is the hardest, his situation the most difficult.
By finding out one's limitations is not meant, of course, what society will permit you to do, or what men will permit you to do, but what Nature will permit you to do. You have no other master than Nature. Nature's limitations only are the bounds of your success. So far as your success is concerned, no man, no set of men, no society, not even all the world of humanity, is your master; but Nature is. "We cannot," says Emerson, "bandy words with Nature, or deal with her as we deal with persons."
"Poeta nascitur, non fit," is just as applicable to lawyers and mechanics and engineers as to poets. More failures have been caused by the old idea that a man may make himself what he will, than by any single half-truth that has crept into our common speech and belief. A man may make himself what he will within the limitations Nature has set about him.
"When I was born, From all the seas of strength Fate filled a chalice, Saying, This be thy portion, child,"
declares the Persian sage. But all that Hafiz means by that is that a Paderewski shall not attempt blacksmithing, or a Rothschild try cartooning or sculpture or watchmaking, or any man undertake that for which Nature has not fitted him.
Do we not see instances every day of men made unhappy for life, and their powers lost to the world by trying to do that for which they have no aptitude? Parents obeying the attractive theory that any boy can make himself what he pleases decide upon some ambitious career for him without considering his natural abilities and efficiencies. Usually some calling of clamorous conspicuity is selected.
Twenty years ago the law was the favorite avenue upon which fond parents would thus set the feet of their offspring; the law, they thought, would enable him better to "make his mark"—that is, to parade up and down before the public eye and fill the public ear with declamation. Even yet that profession has clientless members, miserable in their hearts over their self-consciousness that they are not lawyers and never can be lawyers, who would have been useful, prosperous, and happy if they could have been permitted to be architects or merchants or farmers or doctors or soldiers or sculptors or editors or what not.
One of the cleverest of our present-day writers of fiction started out to be a lawyer. But he could not keep his pen from paper nor restrain that mysterious instrument from tracing sketches of character and drawing pictures of human situations. Very well! He had the courage to obey the call of his preferences; and to-day, instead of being an unskillful attorney, he is noted and notable in the present-hour world of letters.
Anthony Hope in England is another illustration precisely in point. On the other hand, Erskine, who was intended by his parents for the army, was destined by Nature for the bar. This master-advocate of all the history of English jurisprudence felt it in his blood that he must practise law; and so his sword rusted while he studied Blackstone. Finally, he deserted the field for the forum, there to become the most illustrious barrister the United Kingdom has produced.
I therefore emphasize the importance of finding out what you can do best rather than what either you or your parents wish you could do best. For it seems to me that this is getting very close to the truth of life. The thoughtless commonplace that "every boy may be President" has worked mischief, sown unhappiness, and robbed humanity of useful workers.
Every boy cannot be President, and, what is more, every boy ought not to be. Let Edison remain in his laboratory and enrich mankind with his wizard wisdom. England would have lost her great explorer if Drake had tried to write plays; while Shakespeare would doubtless have been sea-sick on the decks of the Golden Hind. Let Verdi compose, and charm the universal heart with his witcheries of sound; let Cavour keep to his statesmanship, that a dismembered people may again be made one. Every man to his calling. "Let the shoemaker stick to his last," said Appelles.
Ito might have led the Japanese armies to defeat—Oyama led them to victory. But Ito created modern Japan, wrote its constitution and introduced those methods which made Oyama's successes possible. Each man succeeded because he chose to do what Nature fitted him to do.
Of course you may be fitted for more than one thing. Caesar could have equaled if not surpassed Cicero in mere oratory had he not preferred to find, in war and government, a fame more enduring. But, if you try all things for which you may be equipped by Nature, you will so scatter your energies through the delta of your aptitudes that your very wealth and variety of gifts neutralizes them all. No. Pick out one of the things you can do well and let the others go. A tree is pruned on the same principle. Stick to one thing. Beware of your versatilities.
Your life's work chosen give wing to your imagination. Behold yourself preeminent in your field of effort. Dream of yourself as the best civil engineer of your time, or the soundest banker or ablest merchant. If you are a farmer fancy yourself the master of all the secrets science is daily discovering in this most engaging of occupations; picture yourself as the man who has accomplished most in the realm of agriculture.
Set for yourself the ideal of perfection in your calling—being sure that it is Nature's calling. Then let your dreams become beliefs; let your imaginings develop into faith. Complete the process by resolving to make that belief come true. Then go ahead and make it come true. Keep your resolution bright. Never let it rust. Burnish it with work—untiring, unhasting, unyielding work.
Work—that is the magic word. In these four letters all possibilities are wrapped up. "Seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you." Or let us paraphrase the sacred page and say—Work and you will win. Work to your ideal. If you never reach it—and who can achieve perfection?—you surely will approach it.
Do not be impatient of your progress. If, to your own measurement, you seem to be moving slowly, remember that, to the observation of your fellow men, you are making substantial and satisfactory advance and, to the eye of your rivals, you are proceeding with unreasonable speed.
Don't pay any attention to how fast you are getting on but go ahead and get on. Keep working. And work with all your might. How wise the Bible is: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might." And keep on doing it—persist—persist—persist. Again the Bible: "Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings." Do not fear hard knocks. They are no sign that you will not finally win the battle. Indeed, ability to endure in silence is one of the best evidences that you will finally prevail.
Yes, put yourself into your work—and put all of yourself into your work. Having done that, be content with your effort—do not fret. If all you do yields the fruit you hope for, do not fret while that fruit is ripening. On the other hand, if your labor comes to nothing, still do not fret. A like fate has fallen upon uncounted millions before you and will come to unnumbered myriads after you. If you have done your best you have done better than the man who has done more than you but who has not done his best.
And so, whatever the outcome, start out with this rule and keep it to the end. For nothing wastes your powers so much as apprehension. The hardest work, if done with common sense, is after all a tonic. But fear lest that work will not yield you as much as you wish is a sort of irritating cocaine of character, numbing and deadening all of your powers and at the same time lashing your mind and nerves with the knotted thongs of unhappiness. Besides, fretting is so trivial, so little, so commonplace. Fail if you must, but do not be contemptible.
He who worries not only poisons the very fountains of his own strength but arouses in the world's attitude toward him a sort of sneering pity. So the very first thing that I have to suggest to you is that you should be a man in all your doings and throughout your whole career.
That is it—be a man; a great, strong, willing, kindly man—calm in the glory of a fearless heart, serene in your trust and belief in God, the Father of the world, and so sure of the justice of His providence that you go about your daily business free from those silly cares which corrode and ruin manhood itself.
Be a man—that is the first and the last rule of the greatest success in life. For the greatest success in life does not mean dollars heaped in bank-vaults nor volumes written, nor railroads built, nor laws devised, nor armies led. No, the greatest success is none of these. The supreme success is character.
Pay no attention to mere spiteful criticism, but seek, as for gold and precious stones, the chastening advice of friends. Do not be offended if your friends say an unpleasant thing of you. And here we are at the Bible again: "Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful."
These recurrences to what those wise old Hebrews said make one feel that one is committing a superfluity when one attempts to say anything along the line of practical advice, since anything that any man can say is nothing more than a very weak dilution of the concentrated thought of the most acute minds of the greatest business people, the most successful material people—yes, and the most idealistic people—who ever lived, the ancient, the mysterious, the persistent Jews.
This is saying much for the Hebrew blood and genius; but have not these Jews given us our moral laws, our spiritual ideals, our sacred faith? Not only the bankers of the world are they, but the formulators of the rules of conduct between man and man, and of that adoring attitude which the enlightened mind should always maintain toward the All-Father. The Jews are the universal people.
If you like ethnology, study the Jews. Study the Germans, too. What peoples they both are—utterly unlike, yet full of the inspiration of thoughts and deeds and persistence. Persistence—there is a word of might it will pay you to ponder over.
Persistence—"stick-to-it-ive-ness." It is a quality better than genius. The Germans have that quality preeminently, and other wholesome and masterful characteristics as well. They are domestic yet warlike, industrial yet artistic, experts in commerce yet disciples of science. Study the Germans!
Though you must not fear criticism, do not disregard it. You may find a suggestion in it, and thus your enemy will become your counselor. But applause! Fly from the desire for it as from pestilence. It will weaken you infinitely. And to a strong man achievement is the only applause of value—the making of his point.
Many years ago I heard this story of Bismarck. If it is not true, it ought to be. And if it is not true specifically, it is true abstractly. He had just returned from one of his notable diplomatic victories at the beginning of his career; great crowds had assembled for a speech.
Bismarck heard it all, but smoked and drank his beer and gave no sign. His secretary rushed in with excitement, and said:
"You must go out and acknowledge the applause of the people, and make a speech."
"And why," said Bismarck; "why do they want me to speak; why are they applauding me?"
"Because of your great success in these negotiations," said the secretary.
"Humph!" said Bismarck, "suppose I had failed?" and turned back to his smoking and his beer.
Bismarck, you see, was too great for applause.
I have quoted the Bible so frequently that it suggests remarks upon one of the great influences of life—the influence of books. Like every other power, this should be exercised with judgment. Let us indulge no immoderate expectations of the results of mere reading. Reading is, at best, only second-hand information and inspiration. It is not the number of books a man has read that makes him available in the world of business.
What the world wants is power; how to get that is the question.
Books are one source of power; but, necessarily, books are artificial. That is why we cannot dispense with teachers in our schools, professors in our colleges, preachers in our pulpits, orators on the political platform. There is no real way of teaching but by word of mouth. There is no real instruction but experience.
You see that the German universities have come back to the lecture method exclusively—or did they ever depart from it? And they know what they are about, those profound old German scholars. They have created scientific scholarship. They have made what we once thought history absurd, and have rewritten the story of the world.
But all this is obiter dicta. The point is that they know the value of books as a source of power and learning, and they know their limitations, too. So does the public. Public speaking will never decline. It is Nature's method of instruction. You will listen with profit to a speech which you cannot drive your mind to read.
It would seem, therefore, that the largest wisdom dictates conservatism in mere reading. Read, of course, and deeply, widely, thoroughly. But let Discrimination select your books. Choose these intellectual companions as carefully as you pick your personal comrades. Read only "tonic books," as Goethe calls them. Yes, read, and abundantly—but don't stop there. Don't imagine that books, of themselves, will make you wise. Reading, alone, will not render you effective.
Mingle with the people—I mean the common people. Talk with them. Do not talk to them but talk with them, and get them to talk with you. Who that has had the experience would exchange the wit and wisdom of the "hands" at the "threshings," during the half hour of rest after eating, for the studied smartness of the salon or even the conversation of the learned? But think not to get this by going out to them and saying, "Talk up now." The farm-hand, the railroad laborer, the working man of every kind, does not wear his heart on his sleeve.
Mark the idioms in Shakespeare. He spoke the words and uttered the thoughts of hostlers as well as of kings. Observe the common language in the Bible. It is curious to note the number of the pithy expressions daily appearing among us which are repetitions of what the people were saying in the time of Isaiah.
All who love Robert Burns have their affection for him rooted in the human quality of him; and Burns's oneness with the rest of us is revealed by the earthiness of his words. They smell of home. They have the fragrance of trees and soil. We know that they were not coined by Burns the genius, but repeated from the mouths of plain men and women by Burns the reporter. It is so with all literature that lives.
Mingle with the people, therefore; be one of them. Who are you that you should not be one of them? Who is any one that he should not be one of the people? Their common thought is necessarily higher and better than the thought of any man. This is mathematical.
And the people, too, are young, eternally young. They are the source of all power, not politically speaking now, but ethnically, even commercially, speaking. The successful manager of any business will tell you that he takes as careful an inventory of public opinion as he does of the material items of his merchandise. A capable merchant told me that he makes it a point to mingle with the crowds.
"Not," said he, "to hear what they have to say, for you catch only a scrap or a sentence here and there; but to go up against them. Somehow or other you get their drift that way. Anyhow I am conscious that this helps me to understand what the people need and want. There is such a thing as commercial instinct; and contact with the people keeps this fresh and true."
We have come to that state of enlightenment where the people want to know not only that they are getting the best goods or best service, but that the business which supplies either is run all right. Who can doubt that in the universal mind there is a question as to the moral element in American business?
This is nothing but the composite conscience of the American people demanding that American business shall not only be conducted ably, but also that it shall be conducted honestly. It is a force which you must take into account. It will be a glorious asset for you if you will pay enough attention to it to understand it.
But you must mingle with the people yourself in order to comprehend this source of power. Do not sit alone in your room and read about the people; that is no way to learn about them.
Remember that no workable constitution was ever written exclusively by scholars. Recall the ordinance for the government of Carolina devised by the philosopher Locke. It failed; yet it reads well. Time and again theorists with highest purpose and broadest book wisdom have formulated laws for the good of mankind which would not work.
Most statutes that live and operate have had their origins among men of the soil as well as men of the study. The point I am making is that learning and accomplishments will do no good if you do not connect them with the people.
Is not this why so many reformers retire disappointed—men and women of finest excellencies of purpose and practical and fruitful thought—they have insisted in projecting their reforms from office or parlor upon the masses without knowing those masses? It is as impossible for the wisest man to be a statesman by confining himself to his study and his weighty volumes and his careful abstract thinking, as it is to be a chemist by reading about chemistry.
The laboratory, the test-tube, the actual contact with the real materials and forces in nature, are essential to the scientist of matter. This is much more true of the art of government. No man ever lived so wise that association with the millions would not enrich his wisdom mightily. And thus, page after page, we might go on pointing out the value of contact with the people, whom, after all, it ought to be your highest purpose to serve in some way.
For in all your doings never forget that, build you ever so cunningly, young man, you have builded in vain if the work of your hands has not helped humanity. Every occupation, trade, business, employment has its reason in service of the people.
Grocery man, harness-maker, carpenter; doctor, lawyer, or railway man; farmer, miner, or journalist; actor on the stage, teacher in the school-room, preacher in the pulpit—all your effort is for the service of the people, the ministering to their needs, the enlightenment of their minds, the uplifting of their souls. And I insist, therefore, that you shall know with the knowledge of kinship this humanity with whom you are to work and for whom you are to work.
Spend some time with Nature, too. The people and Nature—they alone contain the elemental forces. They alone are unartificial, unexhausted. You will be surprised at the strength you will get from a day in the woods. I do not mean physical strength alone, but mental vigor and spiritual insight.
The old fable of Antaeus is so true that it is almost literally true. Every time he touched the earth when thrown, that common mother of us all gave him new strength; and, rising, he came to the combat as fresh as when he began.
Learn to know the trees; make friends with them. I know that this counsel will appear far-fetched if you have never cultivated the companionship of the woods. But try it, and keep on trying it, and you will find that there is such a thing as making friends with the trees. They will come to have a sort of personality for you.
No doubt this is all in your mind. No matter, it is good for you. It makes you more natural; that means that you are more simple, kindly, and truthful. What is more soothing and restorative than to stand quite still in field or forest and listen to the thousand mingled sounds that make up that wondrous melody which Nature is always playing on the numberless strings of her golden harp. Learn the peace which that music brings to you.
In short, cultivate Nature, get close to Nature. Try to get Nature to give you what she has for you as earnestly as you try to get what you want in business; and your days and nights will be glorified with a beauty and strength the existence of which you would have denied before you experienced their blessings.
But, of course, you must work for the benefits you get from Nature, just as you must work for everything worth having. You cannot quit your office and say, "Now I shall take a ten-minutes' walk in the park and commune with Nature." Nature is not to be courted in any such way. She does not fling her favors at your feet—not until you have won her utterly. Then all of the wealth and power which Nature has for those who love her are yours in a profuse and exhaustless opulence.
There is nothing so important for a young man, especially a young American, as to resolve not to wear himself out nervously and physically. Take stated vacations, therefore. I should advise every young man who expects to run a long race to resolve, after he has established himself, that he will take one, and, if possible, two months' period of absolute vacation every year. Let him make this a part of his business, just as he makes sleeping a part of his business every day.
What matter if another lawyer gets the case that would have come to you, or another real-estate dealer secures the corner lot on which you have had your eye, or another operator makes the profitable deal which would have given you fame and fortune?
You have obtained and preserved that which they most probably have lost. You have made an investment in Youth. You have purchased power. You have taken stock in length of years. You have equipped yourself with new nerves, a rested heart, a refreshed brain, a hearty stomach, and a sane mind in a sound body.
And you have done more than all this: You have restored your perspective. You have corrected your vision, so that you see things in their just proportion. One reason why men waste energy so prodigally is that their intense pursuit of their business makes them lose all sense of the proportion of things. That which is of little consequence appears, to the distorted vision, of immense importance; and as much energy is wasted in trifles as should be expended on great affairs. This process keeps up until really first-class men are reduced to very small men.
Let a man go each year to the everlasting mountains; to the solitude of the ancient forests; to the eternal ocean with its manifestation of power and repose. Let him sit by its solemn shore listening to it sing that song which for a million years before our civilization was thought of it had been singing, and which for a million years after our civilization has become merely a line in history it will continue to sing, and he will realize how unimportant are the things which only a few weeks before seemed to him of such vast moment. Perhaps the words of the old Khayyam will come to him:
"And fear not lest Existence, closing your Account and mine, should know the like no more; The Eternal Saki from that Bowl has pour'd Millions of Bubbles like us, and will pour."
"When You and I behind the Veil are passed, Oh! but the long, long while the World shall last, Which of our Coming and Departure heeds As the sea's self should heed a pebble cast."
Then you will come back to your work and see things in their proper dimensions. You will expend your energy on things that require it, and you will smile at the things that do not deserve your attention, and pass them by. You will substitute duty for ambition, and you will go your way with sanity for perhaps ten months. Then you will need again the elemental lesson of the forest, the mountain, or the sea.
I do not mean that you shall take a vacation until you have deserved it. What right have you to rest before you have labored—before you have earned a thread that clothes you or a mouthful that nourishes you. There are men whose whole lives are a vacation. These words are not for them. From my viewpoint, such men might as well be dead. The men upon whom I am urging the wisdom of taking periods for recuperation are those who have been pulling with the team and keeping their traces taut. And I assume that you who read are one of these worth-while men. Very well! I want you to last a long time.
On this subject, many is the talk I have had with friends who are business men. "Well," my business friend has said, "I just cannot get away this summer. Next summer I will go away, but I cannot go away this summer. You see, I have a 'deal' which I am about to close; it demands my personal attention. It would be treason to my business to leave this summer."
Yes, quite true, no doubt. But so has Nature a "deal" on with this same business man; and it will be treason to Nature if he does not go away and let Nature's ministers attend him. If he has got to be false to his business or to Nature, he had better be false to the former. It is a fine thing to be true to one's business. But be sure that you are really true to your business; and that means that, first of all, you shall look to your health. Your business demands that. Good health is good "business."
I knew a business man who was so true to his business that he was unfaithful to himself. The machinery of his superb mind had been running at highest speed for ten months. It needed a rest—oil on the heated bearings, a reburnishing of the soiled steel, a rest from the high tension. He would have given just such care to an automobile, or an engine, or any inanimate mechanism. He would have given much greater care to his horse.
But did he give it to himself? No. He had a "deal" on of large proportions; that "deal" must be consummated before attending to the mind and body that put it through. So the lever was pulled back another notch; the machine was driven to its highest burst of speed and power, and the "deal" was a success.
Mark now what followed. The next day this splendid man did not feel very well—a headache. And on the following day there was an eternal end to all his "deals." I do not call that good business. Therefore, my friend, the sea, the mountains, the forests; therefore Nature, with her medicine for body and mind and soul.
"Turn yourself out to pasture," said a wise old country doctor to an exhausted city man. Certainly, that's the thing to do—"turn yourself out to pasture."
Singular advice for young men, you will say, this counseling of restraint, calmness, and the husbanding of his powers. Yes; but I would prevent you from exhausting yourself. No nervous prostration at forty; no arrested development at fifty; no mental vacuity at fifty-five. Too many Americans cease to count after middle life. They have wasted their ammunition and are sent to the rear—there is no longer use for them on the firing-line. Youth is so strong that it wastes power like a millionaire of vitality. But you will need all this dissipated energy later on—every ounce of it.
And so, while I would have you labor to the last limit of your strength while you are about your work, I would also have you regain the strength thus consumed. I would have you let Nature fill up your empty batteries. Hence the suggestion of vacations, a level mind, and books of serenity.
While you do work, pour your full strength into every blow; but having done your best do not spoil it by lying awake over it. No half-heartedness in your task, however. If you try to save yourself while you are about your business—if you "try to do things easy"—you will neither work well nor rest well nor do anything else well.
I know there are those who cannot, for long, quit work—those who "have their noses to the grindstone," to borrow one of those picture-sentences of the people. In the far off end to which evolution tends, civilization will doubtless reach the point where every human being may have his solid month of play, repose, and recuperation—though this cannot be, of course, while nation competes with nation. A universal industrial agreement alone can compass that happy end. And do we not here perceive, afar off, one of the vast and glorious tasks for the statesmen of the future?
Meanwhile, if every man may not have an entire season of holiday, he may have every day his hour of fun and rest. For every man that, at least, is possible. And, too, he whom necessity drives hardest owns—absolutely owns—for himself one day in seven. Not so bad after all, is it? Not the ideal condition, but still quite tolerable. Fifty-two days in three hundred and sixty-five, nearly two months in the year, already given every man by the usage of our Christian civilization for the purpose of "rest from all his work"; and with divine example encouraging and instructing him in its use.
A man can get along on these two months distributed at the intervals of one in every seven days. He can get along, that is, if he really rests—really gives himself up to the sane joy of normal repose. The humblest toiler, even in our greatest cities, can find physical renewal and soul's upliftment in forest, at river's side, or on the shore of lake or ocean—thanks to rapid transit and cheap fares.
So let us not get to pitying ourselves—we are pretty well circumstanced for the alternation of work and play, even in our state of partial development. It is for us to use the opportunity already afforded us; and, speaking by and large, ought we not to deserve more by using, without waste or worse than waste, what we already have? Is there not sound philosophy in the legend which Mr. Lewis tells us was inscribed on the headboard of Jack King, deceased: "Life ain't in holding a good hand, but in playing a poor hand well"?
My suggestion of one or two months' outing in addition to our fifty-two Sundays and several holidays is to those who have poured out in brain-work and nervous strain more than the system can possibly replenish except by a period devoted exclusively to the manufacture of force to replace that which has been unnaturally expended. There are men who toil night and day. Mostly they are young men establishing their business or getting their "start."
I know many young men who work twelve and even fourteen hours every day, and keep it up the year round. One of the greatest merchants of my acquaintance worked from five o'clock in the morning until twelve and one o'clock at night, and then slept in his little store. He was just building up his business. We all know men who literally will not stop work while awake, and when their task is near them. Such men must go away from their business and let Nature work on them awhile.
Have your doctor look you over every six months, no matter how well you feel—or oftener, if he thinks best. Have your regular physician. Pick out a good one, and, especially, a man congenial to yourself. Make him your friend as well as medical adviser. The true doctor is a marvelous person.
How astonishing the accurate knowledge of the accomplished physician! How miracle-like the dainty and beneficent skill of the modern surgeon. The peculiar ability of a great diagnostician amounts to divination. And he, whom Nature has fitted for this noble profession, is endowed with a sympathy for you and an intuitive understanding of you very much akin to the peculiar sixth sense of woman—that strange power by which she "knows and understands."
Consult your doctor, therefore. Be careful of medicines he does not prescribe. The most innocent drug is a veiled force, a compound of hidden powers—the system a delicate intricacy whose condition may be different every day. The neurosis of our American life is seducing too many of our best and busiest men to the use of chemicals, mixtures, nostrums, pick-me-ups, etc., which make nerves and brain utter brave falsehoods of a strength that is not theirs.
Your doctor won't let you do this—he will stay your unconsciously suicidal hand. If your machinery is out of order, he will tell you so, and do what is necessary to repair it. He will comfort and reassure you, too, and administer to the mind a medicine as potent as powder or liquid. But you will get no false sympathy from him. If you have nothing the matter with you, yet think you have, your doctor will take you by the collar of your coat, stand you on your feet, and bid you be a man. So don't dose yourself. Be a faithful guardian of the treasures Nature gave you.
Returning now to reading: You are not to neglect books. They must be read. If you are a professional man they must be more than read; they must be studied, absorbed, made a part of your intellectual being. I am not despising the accumulated learning of the past. Matthew Arnold, in his "Literature and Dogma," quite makes this point. What I am speaking of is miscellaneous reading.
After a while one wearies of the endless repetition, the "damnable iteration" contained in the great mass of books. You will finally come to care greatly for the Bible, Shakespeare, and Burns. Compared with these most others are "twice-told tales" indeed. Of course one must read the great scientific productions. They are an addition to positive knowledge, and are a thing quite apart from ordinary literature.
My recommendation of the Bible is not alone because of its spiritual or religious influences; I am advising it from the material and even the business view-point. By far the keenest wisdom in literature is in the Bible, and is put in terms so apt and condensed, too, that their very brevity proves its inspiration—is an inspiration to you.
Carry the Bible with you, if for nothing else than as a matter of literary relaxation. The tellers of the Bible stories tell the stories and stop. "He builded him a city"—"he smote the Philistines"—"he took her to his mother's tent." You are not wearied to death by the details. Go into any audience addressed by a public speaker, and you will perceive that his hearers' interest depends on whether he is getting to the point. "Well, why doesn't he get to the point," is the common expression in public assemblages. The Bible "gets to the point."
And it has something for everybody. If you are a politician, or even a statesman, no matter how astute you are, you can read with profit several times a year the career of David, one of the cleverest politicians and greatest statesmen who ever lived. If you are a business man, the proverbs of Solomon will tone you up like mountain-air.
A young woman should read Ruth. A man of practical life, a great man, but purely a man of the world, once said to me: "If I could enact one statute for all the young women of America, it would be that each of them should read the book of Ruth once a month." But the limits and purpose of this paper do not permit a dissertation on the Bible.
Shakespeare, of course, you cannot get along without. I shall say no more about him here; for if anything at all is said about Shakespeare (or the Bible), it ought to take up an entire paper at least. "Don't read anybody's commentaries on Shakespeare—don't read mine; read Shakespeare," was the final advice of Richard Grant White, one of the ripest of the world's commentators on this universal poet.
From the Bible and Shakespeare roads lead down among books but little lower in elevation and outlook. Of these the essays of Emerson furnish a noble example; and the poems of the Concord philosopher are the wisdom of the ancients stated in terms of Americanism. I would have every young man spend half an hour over each page of our American Thinker's essays on Character, Manners, Power, and Self-reliance.
Indeed, wherever you turn, among the pages of our Sage, you find no desert place, but always a very forest of thought, tumultuous and vibrant with fancy and suggestion, sweet and wholesome with living truth and all helpfulness. You can form no better habit than to read a page or two of Emerson every night.
Take Emerson as an example; read books of that sort—books that are kin to the Bible and Shakespeare. There is no excuse for your poisoning your time with idle books or low books or transient books—moth volumes that flutter an instant in the light and in an instant die. For the great books are entertaining. If you want excitement, Plutarch's Lives furnish you thrilling-narrative fiction cannot surpass—and undying inspiration besides.
The great novels, too, have in them all the blood and battle-ax the stoutest nerve can crave, all the incidents of love, self-sacrifice, and gentle invention the tenderest heart can need. Yes, certainly: Read books that come to stay—the kind of books you would like to be as a man.
The Rubaiyat would deserve mention but for the danger of misunderstanding its message. Rightly read Omar Khayyam's lesson is serenity and poise and that power and happiness which come from these. The disciple of the tent-maker is not apt to lose his bearings. He no longer regards to-day as eternity, no longer looks at the world and the universe from himself as a center. Reject the Persian poet's apotheosis of wine, absorb his philosophy of calmness, and you will do your duty regardless of consequences. And that is the chief thing, is it not?
Do your duty, have the courage of your thought, and walk off with the old fatalist's verse soothing your soul and brain, and let the disturbed ones clamor. The clamor will cease in time and turn to applause. And whether it does or not is a matter of absolutely no importance if you have done right.
There is nothing which will more conserve the nervous forces of any serious-minded young man, nothing which will give him so much of that composure of mind and necessary concentration of powers, as the resolution to do his best and let it go at that, whether the world applaud, or laugh, or rage. Be true to your deed, whatever it may have been, and if the deed was true, the end must necessarily be satisfactory.
Burns, of course, we must read. We must have him to keep the milk of human kindness flowing in our veins—to keep sweet and sincere and loving. The good that you get from Burns cannot be analyzed. You cannot say, "I have read Burns, and find in him of wisdom so many grains, of humor so many grains, of beauty of expression so many grains," and so forth and so on to the end.
It is the general effect of Burns that is so valuable, so indispensable. Read a little bit of Burns every day, and you will find it very hard to be unkind; you are conscious that you are more human. A mellow and delightful sympathy for your fellow man—aye, and for all living things—warms your heart. And this human quality is more valuable than all the riches of all the lords of wealth.
At all cost keep your capacity for human sympathy.
The sharp, hard processes of our strictly business civilization tend to regulate even our sympathies into a system. It is as if we should say each day, "I have time to-day for five minutes of human sympathy," and promptly push the button of our stop-watch when the second-hand shows that the time has expired. Burns is the best corrective of this that I know—the best, that is, outside of the Bible itself.
Indeed the more one thinks about it the clearer it is that we might throw away all other books but the Bible, and still have all our mental and moral needs ministered to by those who through all time have thought and felt most highly; for the Bible is the record of the loftiest of all human expression, not to mention its divine origin.
Put your Bible, your Shakespeare, your Burns in your bundle when you go for a journey, and you are intellectually and spiritually equipped.
Let a man have the courage of his thought—I repeat it. Courage is where we fail, not intellect. We hear much about intellect, about "brains," as the rather coarse expression is. It is not that which is needed; it is courage.
Enter into conversation the next time you are at the club, or in a hotel, or restaurant, or wherever you meet men in intellectual hospitality, on almost any subject you may choose, you will be amazed at the information, the original thought, the keen analysis, even the constructive ideas of most of the men there.
One of the most fertile minds I have ever known is nothing but an unsuccessful lawyer in a country town; yet his intellect is as tropical, and as accurate, too, as was Napoleon's, or Gould's.
How is it that all these people do not achieve the successes to which their mere thinking entitles them? I say, to which their mere thinking entitles them, because—I say it again—if you will put them beside the great masters of affairs you will find that they have as many ideas as have these captains of business. My young friend, it is simply because they have not courage and constancy. Long ago I catalogued the qualities that make up character, in relative importance, as follows:
First: Sincerity; fidelity, the ability to be true—true to friends, true to ideas, true to ideals, true to your task, true to the truth Who shall deny that the martyrs Nero burned did not experience joys in the consuming flame more delicate and sweet than ever thrilled epicure or lover?
Second (and well-nigh first): Courage—the godlike quality that dreads not; the unanalyzable thing in man that makes him execute his conception—no matter how insane or absurd it may appear to others—if it appears rational to him, and then stride ahead to his next great deed, regardless of the gossips.
Third: Reserve—the power to hold one's forces in check, as a general disposes his army in an engagement on which the fate of an empire or of the world may depend. This power of reserve involves silence. Talk all you please, but keep your large conceptions to yourself till the hour to strike arrives, and then strike with all your might.
In politics they call some men "rubber shoes"; such men continue long, but they never achieve highly. Do not try to cultivate this quality if Nature has been so kind as not to endow you with it. It is not a masterful quality. Have the courage not only of your convictions—that is not so hard—but have the courage of your conceptions. But do not simulate courage if you have it not. False courage is worse than cowardice—it is falsehood and cowardice combined.
Reserve also includes the power to wait; and that is almost as crucial a test of greatness as courage itself. Many a battle has been lost by over-eagerness. There was the greatness of Fate itself in the order of the American officer of the Revolution who said, "Wait, men, until you see the whites of their eyes."
Time is a young man's greatest ally. That is why youth holds the whip-hand of the world. That is why youth can afford to dare. It is also why age does not dare to dare. With youth, to-morrow is merely an accession of power; but with age—ah, well, with age, as Omar says,
"To-morrow I may be Myself with yesterday's seven thousand years."
Fourth: The fourth quality in character, the lowest one in the list, is Intellect. Not that it is not so valuable as the others, but it is so abundant, and, without the others, so useless. What is it we hear the strong-handed Philistines say in the market-place? "Brains are cheap"; that is what we hear them say. And they say truly. Many years ago I became acquainted with a millionaire who had acquired his wealth by building things, raising cattle, erecting factories—not by shuffling the cards of trade.
His grammar is defective, but his elemental vitality will do you as much good as a walk in the fresh air after the poisoned and steaming atmosphere of a crowded room. "How have I succeeded?" said he, in answer to a question one day. "Oh, by just having the nerve to decide upon a plan, and then by hiring these brainy fellows to do my work. I can get the services of the ablest lawyer in this city for a crumb of the loaf I realize from his thought and industry. The secret of success? Why, sir, it is will, that is all—will, nerve, 'sand.'"
Let me enlarge on the first great quality of character. Sincerity, truthfulness—write these on the tablets of your heart; get them into your blood. This is something that you can cultivate. One of the keen lawyers of my town whom we elected as judge of our court, and who is full of the fresh and living wisdom of the people, said this one day:
"A man can cultivate honesty—there is no doubt about that; but a man who is born honest has a great advantage."
So if you have any taint of the blood which you discover inclines you toward guile, insincerity, and untruthfulness fortify yourself by the reflection that insincerity is a losing game. Put it on the low ground of self-interest, and be truthful, be "square."
The old saying that "honesty is the best policy" has lost its original force by much repetition. And it does not go far enough, either. I am speaking of more than mere mercantile honesty; I am speaking of political sincerity, of intellectual sincerity. Never attempt to fool anybody. We live at such a rate of speed, our perceptions have become so abnormally sensitive and acute, that it is next to impossible to deceive any one; and he who attempts it is usually the only one deceived.
If, then, a man can mount upon this humble stepping-stone of low personal interest to sincerity for the sake of his own advantage, he will, after a while, be able to climb higher, to the exalted plane of truthfulness for the sake of truth; and then he will behold the beatitudes of righteous living, and experience the joys which putting oneself in harmony with the order of the universe and the on-going of events never fails to bring. As a great scientist puts it, "Establish your polarity, young man, and sleep soundly at night."
And courage: A successful manufacturer said to me one day, in explaining his own success: "I never let my idea get cold. That, I think, is why I have succeeded. When a great business deal came to my mind, I did not waste my energy inquiring about whether I could do it. I did not waste time and strength regretting that I was not stronger. I did not destroy my force by doubting my own conception. I went at it. I did it. I spent all my energy on execution after I had once conceived it. Did I not make mistakes following such a plan? Why, of course I made mistakes; and God protect me from the man who never made a mistake!
"But acting by that method alone," said he, "is the way I achieved all my triumphs. I do not pursue that course now, because I am getting old, and I am in very poor health. Age and ill health make me doubt; so I have not made any large business success for several years. I should say that the reason why so many men who are really capable intellectually fail, is because they are infidels to their own thought, traitors to their own conception.
"If I could concentrate all the advice of my life into one thing," declared this strong wise man, in concluding his comments on failure and success, "it would be for those young men who expect to do something constructive to have faith in their idea, and act upon it before it gets cold. There is a tremendous force in the enthusiasm of your freshly formed plan. You have contributed largely to the defeat of your scheme when you have permitted yourself to doubt it."
It was only the other day that the newspapers were full of an extraordinary achievement of one of the American magicians of business; and the papers said that the remarkable thing about it was that the plan flashed upon him in a single evening, as he was leaving for a long vacation. He acted upon it instantly, and devoted his fortune, reputation, almost life, to its consummation. He succeeded. If he had taken six months to have thought over it, his conception would have been abandoned.
While this man's plan came on him in an evening, a study of his life shows that, unconsciously to himself, it had been growing for a long series of years. It flowered out all at once, like the night-blooming cereus. Caesar decided to cross the Rubicon on the instant? Yes, but we cannot doubt that this imperial resolution had been formed the day when in the Forum, as Macaulay describes it, Caesar said that the future Dictator of Rome might be Pompey, or Crassus, or still somebody else whom nobody was thinking of (that somebody else being himself, of course).
And, indeed, Caesar would at that time have been the last that any Roman would have selected as the master of the world. He was young. He was small. He seemed almost frail. He was an unspeakable egotist. He was fastidious in his dress. I have read that he even used perfumes. And how could the common eye discern, through all of these externals of frippery, the lion heart, the eagle vision, and the mind of conquest and empire?
There is a very great danger in the examples just cited. These men were geniuses, and they are not to be imitated except as their methods may be applicable to the common man. This paper is for common men—for people like ourselves. There are geniuses; but their high-wrought lives, tornado activity, and methods of lightning are not for us. All the world's real leaders, whether in the fields of thought or action, whether in the council-chamber of the statesman, on the battle-field of the warrior, in the study of the writer, or in the laboratory of the scientist—all have been men of genius. No mediocre man ever was a great leader in the historic sense.
With our habit of looking at to-day as though it were eternity, we consider men "leaders," and use the adjectives "great," "splendid," etc., as applied to them, when historically these men will hardly be discernible.
But all the figures large enough to fill history's perspective always have been and always will be geniuses—men in whom the energy, the thought, the imagination, the power of hundreds of men are concentrated. Let us not deceive ourselves, and reap misery and disappointment by thinking that we can, by any effort, equal them. Alexander, Caesar, Richelieu, Napoleon, Bismarck, Washington, Darwin, Goethe, Shakespeare, Lincoln, Pasteur, Edison, Plato, Rhodes, Ito, Diaz, Peter the Great—we cannot explain these phenomena of human intellect and character except by the word genius.
All our toil and patience and everything cannot seat us in the high places of these princes of Nature. "Who, by taking thought, can add a cubit to his stature?" (The Bible again, you see; we cannot get away from the Bible.)
But these men never knew that they were geniuses. They would have known it undoubtedly if they had stopped to think about it. But they were too busy with their task. A genius never thinks about his powers, any more than an eagle is concerned about the method of his royal flight from the mountain crag. But for us, of the common mass of men, only those methods of genius are applicable which are within our reach. Mostly for us are the slow and toilsome—the sure, if gradual—processes of patient labor and infinite pains.
So do not let the thought that you are a genius abide with you for a moment—the main traveled roads for us ordinary mortals! The beaten paths are not so far wrong, after all; and at their end is certain, even perhaps distinguished, if not startling and historic, success.
And, besides, epoch-makers are not needed until an epoch needs to be made.
Do not worry about greatness, therefore. If greatness is for you, God's call will surely come to you. If it does not—well, the archeologists uncovered Nippur the other day, with its palaces and courts and abodes of those who were great and mighty more than 2,500 years before Abraham.
So consider Nippur, and be patient and humble. I instanced Rhodes in naming some of the world's monarchs of mind and will. Very well! Yesterday all Christendom was ringing with his imperial work. He was developing a continent; establishing the reign of law, industry, and peace where savagery and the wilderness had held sway for a million years.
But it was yesterday that he did this. He is dead now. Already you have half forgotten him. You see we are living a century in a minute.
Besides, if Clotho has not spun greatness into your destiny, be sure that it does not matter. The reward of Cecil Rhodes was in the thing he did, and not in the memory which men have of it. The man who digs a well has precisely the same reward. The point is that you must do the deed for the deed's sake. Do not do it because the crowd will clap their hands. When present applause or ultimate fame become your chief purpose in life, what are you, after all? You are a play-actor—that is what you are. Put it from you. Be a man.
Yes, consider Nippur, and be a man. One lesson these ancient ruins teach—the nothingness of fame, and that the only things in life worth while are love and duty. I cannot think of any blessing so great to an ardent young American as to learn at the very threshold of his career of activities that duty and affection are the only things really whose value lasts and increases—the only things that pay increasing dividends.
In a conversation in which the same view of reading given in this paper was set forth, a very bright and earnest woman questioned the propriety of such advice. "For," said she, "the result of that advice is to quiet rather than excite the activities and ambitions; it is to retard rather than hasten intellectual acquisition; it is to check rather than advance a young man's career."
But, granting that this be true, the very objection is itself one of the highest merits of the advice thus criticized. For the only grave danger before capable young Americans, and, indeed, before our Nation, is that of hastening too much, of sweeping on too rapidly, of straining every nerve too tensely, of living our lives with an ardor all too fierce and hot. Don't hurry—the world will last several millions of years longer.
What most of the young men of this country need is restraint, not stimulant; what this Nation needs is reserve. The only serious fear I entertain for our future is that the great rapidity of our common lives will make us neurotic. I prefer a young man to be a little less scintillant, than that his brilliancy should be at the expense of exhausted nerves and enfeebled vitality.
This paper is supposed to be advice which will be practically helpful to young men in their struggle with the world. Very well, then! From the low view-point of self-interest, I would advise every young man to cultivate unselfishness. Do at least one thing every day which helps somebody else, and from which you cannot possibly harvest any profit and advantage. Do one thing every day that cannot in any way bring you tangible reward, directly or indirectly, now or ever.
I know of no discipline of character equal to this. After a while a subtle change will come over your nature. You will grow into an understanding of the practical value of the Master's words: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." There comes to you an acquisition of power. Your influence, by a process which escapes any human analysis, reaches out over your associates, and, in proportion to the magnitude of your character, over humanity.
A man cannot select a surer road to character ruin than to have a selfish motive back of every action. To do all of your deeds, or most of them, with the thought of the advantage they will bring you, will result in paralysis of soul as surely as certain drugs introduced into the nerves for a long period of time will result in physical paralysis. I do not think that there can be a more valuable suggestion made to a young man facing the world and desiring to increase his powers than to practise unselfishness.
What is it we say of certain men: "Oh, he is for himself." It is a Cain-like label. Never let it be pinned on your coat. In politics, note how the power of some leader dissolves when his followers find out that it is all for him and none for them. And in business we are all on our guard against the man who wants the whole thing, and will take it if he is not watched. Even when selfishness succeeds, it never satisfies. It is like the drunkard's thirst.
No, no, young man, put selfishness from you. It is not even the method of business profit. After all, we are living for happiness, are we not? Very well. Try to make some one else happy, and experience a felicity more delicate and exalted than you ever imagined in your fondest dreams of joy. By all means practise unselfishness. "Get the habit," as our Americanism has it. Live for somebody or something besides yourself. Really none of us amount to enough to live for ourselves alone. Oh, no! that game is not worth the candle, believe me.
Finally and especially, reverence age. Be deferential to maturity. This is the one thing in which we Americans are yet deficient. The man who has lived a single decade longer than you, deserves your consideration and respect. Be in no haste to displace your seniors. Time will do that all too quickly. The finest characteristic of the Oriental is his profound regard for all age. Follow the Asiatic in this one thing only. Heed venerable counsels; defer to maturity's wisdoms. There is something majestic about advancing years. Be to all men and women older than yourself what you would like other young men to be to your father and mother.
Be a man; that's the sum of it all—be a man. Be all that we Americans mean by those three words.
THE OLD HOME
Do we not pay so much attention to mere material success that we exclude from mind and heart other things more precious? I am anxious that every young American should win in all the conflicts of life—win in college, win in business, etc.; but I am even more anxious that through all of his triumphs he should grow ever broader, sweeter, and more kindly. After all, we are human beings. We do not want to become mere machines of success, do we?
That is carrying our mechanical age a little too far. We want to keep that within us which makes our victory worth having after we have won it. What matters your mountains of wealth, or your network of political power, or those secrets which in your laboratory you have wrung from Nature—what matters all and everything that the world calls "success," if the human quality has been dried up in you?
Those are fine things that St. Paul says about a man not amounting to anything, no matter how talented and powerful he may be, if he have not charity: "And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing"; and you will recall the remainder of his admirable comments on this subject.
Everybody points out to you what you can get out of college, and how to get it; what you can get out of a "career," and how to get that. But lest all of your getting turns to bitter emptiness in the end, you must pay attention to that elemental manhood exalted by those beautiful moralities that you get at but one place and at but one period in this world. That period is the early time of your young manhood before you enter college; and that place is the old home where influences angelic have been at work upon your character.
It could not be otherwise. Home—the home that you leave or the home you make—is the spot where most of your life is to be spent. Home was the place of your birth; and if the angel of death is kind to you, home will be the place of your farewell. It is to the home that you bring life's wages, whether those wages are opulence, glory, or merely daily bread.
It is the home which interprets the whole universe for you. And it is the home which not only furnishes a reason for your existence, but in itself constitutes the motive for all manly effort. Quite naturally, therefore, the home is concerned with character more than it is with grosser things.
The instruction which the American mother gives her son is a training in honor rather than in success. Her passion for righteousness creeps into the commonplaces of her daily speech. "Be a good boy" is what she says to the little fellow each day as he starts to school. "Be a good boy" is what she says to the youth when he leaves for college. "Be a good boy" is still her sacred charge when, standing at the gate, she gives him her blessing as he goes out into the world.
And, finally, "Be a good boy" is what her lips murmur when in after years, rich perchance in achievement, honor, power, or wealth, the man of the world returns to the old home to again get her benediction, and have his weary soul refreshed by the beauty of her almost holy presence.
For you never cease to be a boy to her; and her supreme wish and most passionate prayer for you is not that you shall be a strong man, or a rich man, or an able man—she wants you to be all these, of course, and everything else that is fine—but chiefly she cares that you should be a good man.
And so it is that home is the temple of ideals, the sanctuary of the true, the beautiful, and the good. Or put it in scientific phrase, and say: Home is the laboratory of character. The home is the place where you get what the common people so pithily call your "bringing up." It is there where your conception of all human relationships is formed. It is there where it is largely determined whether you will make your life worth the living.
Your future sits at the old fireside. The fate of the Nation abides beneath the roof-tree. And so it is that neither college, nor market-place, nor forum, nor editor's sanctum, nor traffic of the high seas, nor anything that you may do, nor any environment that may hereafter surround you, is so important to you as the old home and your early years. Yes, and not to you only, but to the Nation also.
Nothing means so much to the Republic as the influence of the American home upon the young manhood of the Nation.
We are about to enter upon the serious problem of the regulation of railway rates, which is a beginning in some sort of the national control of transportation. It is a problem whose weight and possibilities challenge and all but confound every thoughtful and serious mind. Every step in its solution must be taken with both wisdom and justice.
Our relations with the Orient daily increase, and the fixedness of our position in the Far East hourly becomes more definite. The public man wears a scarf about his eyes who does not see that our historic statesmanship during this century will deal with our growing mastery of the Pacific, and the weaving backward and forward across that ocean of our ever-multiplying relations with the East.
This paper might be entirely taken up with a statement of tangled situations and deep problems which will require the combined intelligence of the whole American people to solve.
Yet, for the purpose of this life, what are they all, compared with the character of individual Americans, and therefore with the influence of the American home upon American men in the making; for men in the making is what the youth of our land are. Gladstone stated a truth, wide and vital as English institutions, when he said that the relation of the Church to the youth of Great Britain is a matter of more concern than all the problems of the Empire put together.
All this is commonplace, you say. I say so too. Yet it is the commonplaces, and those things alone, by which we live and move and have our being. For example, sunlight is commonplace, and so is air. Who was it that spoke about the damnable iteration of the seasons?
A storm is not commonplace, but how long could any of us live—how long would any of us choose to live—were each day and night a succession of thunder, lightning, and downpour? Good citizenship is commonplace, whereas a murder mystery excites us thrillingly. Yet none of us on that account would choose the society of criminals.
It is to the elemental commonplaces that I am now going to direct your attention. The world is kept alive by its monotonies. The trouble is that the indispensable things are so inevitable and persistent that we take them for granted, and yield them neither gratitude nor even attention.
Take the beauty of daylight as our illustration once more. We had it yesterday, have it to-day, have had it ever since we were born, and will have it until we die. Note, too, the eternal stability of the heavens, which change not at all; and the endless pour of ocean's currents, warming certain coasts and leaving others chill. It is the same with the life intellectual and the life spiritual.
"What is the grandest thing in the universe?" asks Hugo. "A storm at sea," he answers, and continues, "And what is grander than a storm at sea?" "The unclouded heavens on a starry and moonless night." "And what is grander than these midnight skies?" "The soul of man!" A spectacular climax such as Hugo loved; and still, with all its dramatic effect, the picturesque statement of a vast and mighty truth!
Very well. The home is the place where character is to be formed, and therefore its influences on "the soul of man" are like those of the sun on the body of man. Let us get to those commonplaces, therefore, at which the cynic lifts his lip, but which are worth a good deal more to you, young man, than all your achievings will be.
As to the moralities, then, yield yourself utterly to the mother. She has an instinctive perception of righteousness as affecting your character that no other intelligence under heaven has, and that she does not have for any one else, not even for herself. She has her own way, too, of getting this nourishment of the verities into your character. It is done not so much by preaching to you, or lecturing you, as it is by her very presence.
She carries about with her an atmosphere of sweetness and light. The mother gives to her boy a kind of unspoken counsel. It is a very subtle thing, like electricity in the material world, and equally as powerful as that mysterious fluid. You get its effects by putting yourself eagerly and lovingly under its soothing yet ennobling and tonic influence. It is a matter hard to describe, but more real than any other human force I know of.
So the first thing for you to do is to resolve to be "mother's own boy," as the sneering tongue of shallowness puts it, just as long as you possibly can. It will be the greatest luck you will ever have, if you are able to be "mother's own boy" as long as she lives. Don't be afraid that that will make you effeminate and soft; don't think for a moment that it will paralyze the force and power of your growing manhood.
I have seen one of this kind of fellows hold in awe a mob of cowboys and plainsmen when passions were aroused and blows had already been struck. I have seen such a man put down, single-handed, by word of his fearless authority, fights among a score of woodmen who had known nothing but the rank vigor of their unruled male lives.
The man whose will and character has been tempered by this holy fire takes on something of the suppleness, hardness, and firmness of steel, of which a delicate blade will cut the grosser iron of which that blade itself was a part before it was subjected to the refining process that made it steel.
Some time ago I was privileged to read the letters that one of our naval heroes had, when a young man, despatched home to his mother during our civil war. He participated in two or three of our most desperate fights. All of these letters showed him to have been—and, what is better, to have remained—a "mother's own boy" as long as she lived.
He never sailed far enough away to weaken that potent and sacred power. It reached around the world. The years did not diminish it. When her hair of brown had turned to white, he found that the influence which to his boyhood and youth had been so delightful became to his manhood uplifting and glorious.
And yet no buccaneer that rioted afloat with Morgan had courage more ferocious. Yes, and, on the other hand, no Bayard "without fear and without reproach"; no Sydney who, when dying, handed his canteen to a wounded comrade that he might moisten his lips, while Sydney's own were crackling with fever, was ever more tender or considerate.
What was it the expiring Nelson said when his decks ran blood, and crimson victory placed upon his whitening brow laurels of triumph, whose leaves were mingled with cypress? "Kiss me, Hardy," was what he said. Strange words, were they not, for a scene of carnage? Yes, but words which touched the hearts of the English people.
They showed that upon the mind of England's greatest captain of the sea the tender influence of the old mother, and the old home in distant England, survived all the variableness of his character, all the supreme efforts of his career, and that a gentleness and an almost womanly yearning for affection were the qualities that ruled the soul of the most desperate ocean fighter the world had seen since Drake. They showed that the heart of the sternest warrior may be beautiful with the humanities. How does the old song go?—"The bravest are the tenderest"—that is it.
So fear not that mother's influence will weaken you. It will do nothing of the kind. It will strengthen you. It will make you want to fight only for something worth fighting for. But when you fight for that, it will make you fight to the death. And what is the use of fighting at all unless it be to the death. A brawl is not conflict, bravado is not bravery.
I know there is another side to this question. It has been recently stated by a resourceful Oriental. He said that the influence of women on the Occidental man is effeminizing our civilization. He declared that the mother gives the boy his first training, teaches him to talk, etc., which is natural and therefore right and proper.
But then, said our Asiatic critic, we give our boys to women school-teachers, who educate them until they are ready for college, and then, as soon as they are ready for college, they begin to "call on the young women," and generally frequent the society of the softer sex until the time arrives for them to marry.
So that, according to this Oriental, we are under the direct influence of woman from the cradle to the grave; and he points out that gradually (imperceptibly, perhaps, to our own eyes) an effeminizing process occurs in mind and character. As a result of this, he maintains, our men increasingly fear hardships and seek to avoid them; and life and even personal appearance are given a value which is absurd, considering the inevitableness of death in any event, the perfectly unthinkable number of myriads of human beings who exist, have existed, and will exist hereafter.
This philosopher of the East, therefore, claims that we will in the end be no match at all for the Orientals, and that the yellow race, which has been merely resting while we Caucasians have been having our brief innings, is now to the bat again. And there was a lot more to the same effect.
This is of course the Asiatic way of looking at things. There may be something in what he says about the continuity of female influence softening our Western civilization. Certainly the present war shows that the Japanese women, who were only yesterday altogether Oriental in habits and ideals, have produced a race of strong men, so far as physical daring and hardihood is concerned. The influence of women on these men ceased with childhood—even then it was a Spartan influence.
More than this, the Japanese generals and statesmen, nearly all of whom are above sixty, were the product of Japanese civilization before modern ideas had even been sown in the Island Empire. Oyama and Kuroki, Ito and Katsura, and all the rest, are the offspring of purely Asiatic conditions, uninfluenced in the slightest degree by Western thought or custom; and yet the state of society which brought forth these men is unfamiliar to American and European peoples.
But even if what this Oriental assailant of our customs terms the overcharge of femininity in Occidental society does mellow us, it does not follow that it weakens us. Anyhow it does not affect what I say about the influence of the mother upon the purposes and "principles" of young men. And, in any event, our Western civilization constitutes those human conditions in which you, young man, must spend your life, and you must be in harmony with it if you are going to accomplish anything.
Don't try to be an Oriental in the midst of Occidental surroundings. The yellow theory and the white theory of life must fight for the mastery, and the one which is nearest the truth will prevail. Meanwhile, stick to your own race and the ideals of it. I do not mean that you should ignore any true thing you may learn from the East. Welcome knowledge from every source. Light is light, no matter whence it comes.
And this brings back to us the little mother and the old home. If she wishes it, be her companion. In any event, make her your confidant. For a young man there is no source of safety and wisdom so abundant, pure, and unfailing as the making his mother his confessor. Tell her everything. I mean just that, tell her literally everything.
Do not fear her reproof. Chemistry has no miracle a fraction as wonderful as the patience and forgiveness of a mother for the exasperations of her son. There is not a thing which you ought to do, the telling of which to your mother will prevent your doing. And her counsel to you will be golden upon those purely personal matters which you could tell no one else, and which no one else could understand or sympathize with.
Remember that she has the wisdom of instinct—a wisdom peculiarly worldly and practical in its applicability to real things and real situations. The advice of a wife in business affairs has this same peculiarly valuable quality, quite beyond the strength of her or his intellect or the reach of her abstract understanding.
It is the instinct to preserve the home nest which makes the business advice of the wife to the husband so priceless; and it is this same instinct exercising itself in another form—seeking to preserve the offspring—which gives such shrewdness and depth to the counsel of mother to son.
This making your mother your confessor will not only keep you out of trouble, and give you light and direction along lines where you otherwise will be as blind as a young puppy, but it is good for you in a far more important way—a far profounder way. I have always been impressed with the wonderful understanding of human nature and the needs of it which the institution of the confessional in the Catholic Church reveals. "No man liveth to himself alone."
For the ordinary human being there is no such thing as a secret.
The ordinary man who is compelled to keep everything to himself gets morbid and suspicious. He broods over what he thinks he must not utter to others. Not daring to talk with friends, he converses with himself. Thus his sympathies narrow, and his vision grows not only feeble but false. He gets the proportion of things sadly confused. It is not only a relief, but a real benefit to most men and women to be able to unburden their souls to some other human being whom they know to be faithful.
And if this be the intellectual need, strong as nature itself, of grown-up men and women, it is plain that the young man, whose character is forming, requires the same thing a great deal more. Very well. Your mother is the confessor, young man, whom Nature has given you for this beautiful and saving purpose. Do not eat your heart out, therefore, but frankly tell her your hopes, desires, offenses, plans.
Confide in her your good deeds and your bad. And she, who would give her life for you, and count it the happiest thing she ever did if it would only help you, will give you the very gold of wisdom, refined and superrefined by the fires of that love which burn nowhere else in the universe save in a mother's heart.
Of course I am talking now of the ordinary American mother, who is a mother in all that the term implies. We all know that there are women who have children without understanding at all—yes, or even caring at all—what motherhood means; without understanding or caring what their duties to their children mean.
As is always the case with the abnormal, these unfortunate types are found at the social extremes; in the so-called "depths" and the so-called "heights." There are women too vicious to make good mothers and women too vain to make good mothers. But these are not numerous.
The mother this paper is dealing with is that angel in human form that the ordinary American man knew in the old home when he was a boy; and whether she be intellectual or not, educated or not, such mothers have shaped the characters that have made the American people the noblest force for good in all the world.
In her work, her prayers, her daily life, you will find the sources of all that is self-sacrificing, prudent, patriotic, brave, and uplifting in American character. It is the influence of the American mother that has made the American Republic what it is; and it is in her heart that our national ideals dwell.