An Excerpt from You Can Be a Great American! 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness (a Growing Up Great Guide for American Boys and for the Parents and Teachers Who Love Them), by W. F. Markwick and W. A. Smith
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EDUCATION OF THE NATURAL FACULTIES
Every man stamps his value on himself.
No capital earns such interest as personal culture.
The end and aim of all education is the development of character.
–Francis W. Parker
training is a knowledge of our own capacities.
Education is a growth toward intellectual and moral perfection.
–Nicholas Murray Butler
Education begins in the home, is continued through the public school and college, and finds inviting and ever-widening opportunities and possibilities throughout the entire course of life. The mere acquisition of knowledge, or the simple development of the intellect alone, may be of little value. Many who have received such imperfect or one-sided education, have proved to be but ciphers in the world; while, again, intellectual giants have sometimes been found to be but intellectual demons. Indeed, some of the worst characters in history have been men of scholarly ability and of rare academic attainments.
The true education embraces the symmetrical development of mind, body and heart. An old and wise writer has said, “Cultivate the physical exclusively, and you have an athlete or a savage; the moral only, and you have an enthusiast or a maniac; the intellectual only, and you have a diseased oddity,–it may be a monster. It is only by wisely training all of them together that the complete man may be found.”
To cultivate anything–be it a plant, an animal, or a mind–is to make it grow. Nothing admits of culture but that which has a principle of life capable of being expanded. He, therefore, who does what he can to unfold all his powers and capacities, especially his nobler ones, so as to become a well-proportioned, vigorous, excellent, happy being, practices self-culture, and secures a true education.
It is a commonplace remark that “a man’s faculties are strengthened by use, and weakened by disuse.” To change the form of statement, they grow when they are fed and nourished, and decay when they are not fed and nourished. Moreover, every faculty demands appropriate food. What nourishes one will not always nourish another. Accordingly, one part of man’s nature may grow while another withers; and one part may be fed and strengthened at the expense of another.
In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s beautiful allegory, the “Great Stone Face,” you remember how the man Ernest, by daily and admiring contemplation of the face, its dignity, its serenity, its benevolence, came, all unconsciously to himself, to possess the same qualities, and to be transformed by them, until at last he stood revealed to his neighbors as the long promised one, who should be like the Great Stone Face. So in every human life, the unrealized self is the unseen but all-powerful force that brings into subjection the will, guides the conduct, and determines the character.
The early life of our first President, George Washington, is singularly transparent as to the creation and influence of the ideal. We see how one quality after another was added, until the character became complete. Manly strength, athletic power and skill, appear first; then, courtesy and refined manners; then, careful and exact business habits; then, military qualities; then, devotion to public service.
Steadily, but rapidly, the transforming work went on, until the man was complete; the ideal was realized. Henceforth, the character, the man, appears under all the forms of occupation and office. Legislator, commander, president; the man is in them all, though he is none of them.
Half the blunders of humanity come from not knowing one’s self. If we overrate our abilities, we attempt more than we can accomplish; if we underrate our abilities we fail to accomplish much that we attempt. In both cases the life loses just so much from its sum of power.
He who might wield the golden scepter of the pen, never gets beyond the plow; or perhaps he who ought to be a shoemaker attempts the artistic career. When a life-work presents itself we ought to be able from our self-knowledge to say, “I am, or am not, fitted to be useful in that sphere.”
Sydney Smith represents the various parts in life by holes of different shapes upon a table–some circular, some triangular, some square, some oblong–and the persons acting these parts, by bits of wood of similar shapes, and he says, “we generally find that the triangular person has gotten into the square hole, the oblong into the triangular, and a square fellow has squeezed into the round hole.”
A fundamental need is to find out the elements of power within us, and how they can be trained to good service and yoked to the chariot of influence. We need to know exactly for what work or sphere we are best fitted, so that when opportunities for service open before us, we may invest our mental capital with success and profit.
Self-knowledge must not be confused with self-conceit; for it implies no immodesty or egotism. Even if the faithful study of one’s self reveals a high order of natural gifts, it is not needful to imitate the braggart who always lifted his hat and made an obsequious bow when he spoke of himself or mentioned his own name. George Eliot (the pen name used by English novelist Mary Ann Evans) hits off pompous self-conceit happily when she likens its possessor to “a cock that thinks the sun rises in the morning to hear him crow.”
Margaret Fuller wrote: “I now know all the people in America worth knowing, and I have found no intellect comparable with my own.” Even if she did not overrate herself, such self-estimate implied no little boldness in expression. We also read in Greek history, how, when the commanders of the allied fleets gave in, by request, a list of the names of those who had shown the highest valor and skill at the battle of Salamis, each put his own name first, graciously according to Themistocles, the real hero of the day, the second rank.
Not a few come to know themselves only through failures and disappointments. Strangers to their own defects–perhaps also to their own powers–they see how they might have succeeded only when success is finally forfeited. Their eyes open too late. It will be a real calamity to us if our eyes only open when it is too late to make our life of any use.
All true life-power has a basis of high moral integrity. Far higher in the scale than any life of impulse, passion, or even opinion, is the life regulated by principle. The end of life is something more than pleasure. Man is not a sponge, to absorb all into himself. The essentials of happiness are: something to love, something to hope for, something to do–affection, aspiration, action.
We must also educate our dispositions. Some one has said: “Disposition is a lens through which men and things are seen. A fiery temper, like a red glass, gives to all objects a lurid glare; a melancholic temper, like a blue lens, imparts its own hue; through the green spectacles of jealousy every one else becomes an object of distrust and dislike; and he who looks through the black glass of malice, finds others wearing the aspect of his own malevolence. Only the cheerful and charitable soul sees through a clear and colorless medium, whose transparency shows the world as it is.”
Disposition has also its concave and convex lenses, which magnify some things and minimize others. The self-satisfied man sees everyone’s faults in giant proportions; and everyone’s virtues, except his own, dwarfed into insignificance. To the fretful man others seem fretful; to the envious man, envious; and so with the well-disposed, gentle, and generous; sunshine prevails over shadows. The world is different to different observers, largely because they have different media through which they look at it.
Cheerful tempers manufacture solace and joy out of very unpromising material. They are the magic alchemists who extract sweet essences out of bitter herbs.
Goodness outranks even uprightness, because the good man aims to do good to others. Uprightness is the beauty of integrity; goodness is the loveliness of benevolence. The good man visits the hut of misery, the hovel of poverty, leaving in a gentle and delicate way, a few comforts for the table or wardrobe, dainties for the fevered palate of the sick, or such other helps as the case may call for, as far as his means and circumstances will allow.
A true education should cover all these points, and many others also; but it must never be allowed to destroy the pupil’s individuality. It must teach that a person can be himself, and study all the models he pleases. Webster studied the orations of Cicero so thoroughly that he could repeat most of them by heart; but they did not destroy or compromise his individuality, because he did not try to be Cicero. It has been said that Michael Angelo, who was the most original of ancient or modern artists, was more familiar with the model statues and paintings of the world than any other man. He studied the excellences of all the great works of art, not to copy or imitate them, but to develop his own powers. “As the food he consumed became bone and muscle by assimilation; so, by mental assimilation, the knowledge he acquired by art-models entered into the very composition of his mind.”
The more thoroughly a man’s nature is developed under the influences of a good education, the more justly does he claim the liberty of thought and action, and a suitable field whereon to think and act. The materials of useful and honorable life–of life aiming at great and noble ends–are within him. He feels it, he knows it to be so; and a denial uttered by ten thousand voices would not check the ardor of his pursuit, or induce him to surrender one atom of his claim. His claim involves a right. He is as conscious of it as of his existence. His mind has acquired the power of observing, reasoning, reflecting, judging, and acting; and he feels that, like a pendulum, the action of his mind is capable of giving activity, force, and value to a large body of well-compacted machinery, of which he is a part.
It is the mind that acts as the universal pendulum; and if its liberty of action be circumscribed, and its vibrations consequently fall short of the mark, then its power will be crippled, and the life, as a whole will be imperfect and incomplete.
This Article is an Excerpt from You Can Be a Great American! 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness (a Growing Up Great Guide for American Boys and for the Parents and Teachers Who Love Them), by W. F. Markwick and W. A. Smith, which is available from Better Days Books in quality hardbound, sturdy trade paperback and convenient .PDF e-book editions starting at just $4.95.
Industry, Ambition, Self Control, Self-Respect, Courtesy, Faithfulness, Courage, Duty, Honesty, Enthusiasm, Humility, Patriotism… In every era of our Nation’s history, the true alchemy by which ordinary boys have been transformed into Great American Men has always and only occurred where these indispensible moral principles have been successfully applied. In an age like our own, where such manly ideals are openly mocked and derided by our popular culture, it’s time to turn to the past to recapture a clear vision of what it takes to be a Great American, and the true moral and ethical ladder that leads reliably to its attainment.
You Can Be a Great American: 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness was first published in 1900, under the title The True Citizen, How to Become One, and contains 39 essential lessons in manhood tailored to each age and transition in a boy’s life, from infancy to adulthood. It is the clearest roadmap to American Greatness ever compiled for the youth of our Nation, and remains as life-changing today as it was when first published, over 100 years ago.
Whether you are an adult raising boys in a Traditional family setting, the single parent of a son, or a boy abandoned to no or poor parenting, left to grab your own bootstraps and lift yourself up to a life of achievement, success and All-American Greatness (or an adult who knows a boy in such sad straits), You Can Be a Great American!: 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness is the only guidebook you’ll ever need.