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
Entry #9 in the Raising Great Americans Project! Click Here to learn More!
From Child to Youth
THE FIRST TRANSITION PERIOD
The child is father of the man.
Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.
No one can cheat you out of ultimate success but yourself.
A man cannot live a broad life if he runs only in one groove.
–J. Staples White
‘Tis education forms the common mind,
Just as the twig is bent the tree’s inclined.
As the child grows into the youth the utmost care should be exercised, both by himself and by his friends, to prevent the dwarfing of his prospects by evil influences arising either from within or from without himself.
The youthful period of man’s life is by far the most important. No subsequent training can entirely obliterate the results of early impressions. They may be greatly modified; the character may be changed; but some, and indeed many, of the impressions of youth will cling to the mind forever.
It is in this period that the mind forms the ideas which will govern the will throughout the whole career. Then is the twig bent to the direction in which the tree will grow. The faintest whisperings of counsel are eagerly caught, and the slightest direction instantaneously followed. Then is the seed sown which will bring forth fruit in harvest time.
Bishop Vincent, writing about boyhood, says, “If I were a boy? Ah, if I only were! The very thought of it sets my imagination afire. That ‘if’ is a key to dreamland. First I would want a thorough discipline, early begun and never relaxed, on the great truth of will force as the secret of character. I would want my teacher to put the weight of responsibility upon me; to make me think that I must furnish the materials and do the work of building my own character; to make me think that I am not a stick, or a stone, or a lump of putty, but a person. That what I am in the long run, is what I am to make myself.”
Boys and girls should early form a taste for good reading. In the choice of books, as in the choice of friends, there is but one rule,–choose the best.
Macaulay says, “I would rather be a poor man in a garret with plenty of good books to read, than a king who did not love reading.”
A boy ten years of age was seen to enter Westminster Abbey shortly before evening prayers. Going straight up the main aisle he stopped at the tomb of Charles Dickens. Then, looking to see that he was not observed, he kneeled before the tombstone, and tenderly placed upon it a bunch of violets. The little fellow hovered affectionately round the spot for a few moments and went away with a happy, contented smile upon his face. Curiosity led a gentleman present to examine the child’s offering, and this is what he found written in half-formed letters on an envelope attached to the violets:–
“For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than
at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child himself.
— A Christmas Carol.”
The young person that loves books as this little fellow did, will have friends that will unconsciously transform him into a great, noble-hearted man.
It is the thoughts of the boy that shape the future man. Garfield, when asked as a boy, what he was going to do when he grew up, would answer, “First of all I am going to try to be a man. If I become that I shall be fit for anything.” To make the most of one’s youth is to qualify one’s self to become a real man.
Some men, it is true, have been seemingly created by circumstances, and have figured prominently in the world’s history. But, as a general rule, the child makes the man; and the foundation of all greatness and usefulness is laid by the impressions of youth. “Alexander the Great would not have been the conqueror of the world had his father not been Philip of Macedon. Hannibal would not have been the scourge of the Romans if Hamilcar had not sworn him to eternal vengeance against his enemies. Napoleon Bonaparte would not have deluged Europe with blood, if he had not been inspired by the genius of war from the pages of Homer.” And in our own days, those men whose early impressions were the most favorable have been the most successful, both in their own lives, and in their influence upon the world at large.
But it will not be enough to keep children during the season of youth from the reach of improper associates and influences. The seed of right principles must be diligently sown in their minds. Lessons of purity and conscientiousness must be written deep on the tables of the heart. Parental restraint is outward and visible, but the guiding principles of life are inward and invisible. The day will come when the youth must quit the parental roof, and perhaps entirely bid adieu to the influences of home. If he be then destitute of right principles, if his mind be like a ship without a rudder, he will stand in imminent danger of being swept away by the waves of corruption.
Care should be taken to keep good company or none. No sensible person will willingly keep bad horses or bad dogs. Should he be less particular in selecting his companions? And yet, at this very point, some of life’s most cruel blunders are made.
A story is told of two parrots which lived near to each other. The one was accustomed to sing songs, while the other was addicted to swearing. The owner of the latter obtained permission for it to associate with the former, in the hope that its bad habits would be corrected; but the opposite result followed, for both learned to swear alike. This aptly illustrates the usual effect of bad company, and no young man, however strong he may imagine himself to be, can afford to be careless in this matter.
In the forming of your friendships, be less anxious about social standing, and more particular about character. Remember that President Garfield used to say that he never passed a ragged boy in the street without feeling that one day he might owe him a salute, No one knows what possibilities of goodness and greatness are buttoned up under a boy’s coat.
On the tomb of Schubert, the great musician, is written, “He gave much, but promised more”; and it is this immeasurable wealth of promise that makes the lives of our boys and girls so full of beauty and of power.
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.