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 #10 in the Raising Great Americans Project! Click Here to learn More!
Genius is nothing but labor and diligence.
Know something of everything and everything of something.
The difference between one boy and another
lies not so much in talent as in energy.
Work wields the weapons of power, wins the
palm of success, and wears the crown of victory.
–A. T. Pierson.
A lazy man is of no more use than a dead man, and he takes up more room.
–O. S. Harden.
By industry we mean activity that is regular and devoted to the carrying out of some purpose. More definitely, it is activity that is designed to be useful to ourselves or to others. It is thus a regulated activity by which our welfare, or that of others, may be furthered.
We are apt to think, or at least to feel, that the necessity of working regularly is a hardship. Because we get tired with our work and look forward with eagerness to the time of rest, we form the opinion that the pleasantest life would be one which should be all rest.
Industry might well be urged as a duty. But we would rather now speak of it chiefly as an aid in accomplishing other duties. Few things are more helpful toward right living than industry, and few more conducive to wrong living than idleness.
No doubt there are on this subject opposing opinions. Some believe, whether they openly confess it or not, that the glory of the highest success is not within the reach of every honest toiler; that it is, like other legacies, the good fortune to which some are heirs, but which others are denied–the inheritance only of those whom nature has well endowed. These are the advocates of genius.
The reader of “Ivanhoe”–that finest romance of Sir Walter Scott–pronounces its author a genius. The fact is, that book is a conspicuous illustration of industry–patient, persevering toil. It has been pointed out that, “for years Scott had made himself familiar with the era of chivalry; plodded over, in imagination, the weary march of the Crusaders; studied the characteristics and contradictions of the Jewish character; searched carefully into the records of the times in which the scenes of his story were laid; and even examined diligently into the strange process whereby the Norman-French and the Anglo-Saxon elements were wrought into a common tongue.”
Labor is indeed the price set upon everything which is valuable. Nothing can be accomplished without it. The greatest of men have risen to distinction by unwearied industry and patient application. They may have had inborn genius; their natures may have been quick and active; but they could not avoid the necessity of persevering labor.
Labor is the great schoolmaster of the human race. It is the grand drill in life’s army, without which we are confused and powerless when called into action. What a teacher industry is! It teaches patience, perseverance, forbearance, and application. It teaches method and system, by compelling us to crowd the most possible into every day and hour. Industry is a perpetual call upon the judgment and the power of quick decision; it makes ready and practical men.
Industry is essential for that usefulness by which each man may fill his place in the world. The lazy, like the wicked, may be made useful. The Spartans used to send a drunken slave through the city that the sight of his folly and degradation might disgust young men with intemperance. He was made useful; he did not make himself useful. From this it will be seen that the necessity of labor is something at which we should rather rejoice than complain, and that habits of industry are the great helpers to virtue, happiness, and usefulness.
Industry is as important to the woman as to the man. Some years ago, in an art store in Boston, a group of girls stood together gazing intently upon a famous piece of statuary. The silence was broken by the remark, “Just to think that a woman did it.” “It makes me proud,” said another. The famous statue was that of Zenobia, the product of Harriet Hosmer, whose love of knowledge and devotion to art, gave the world a masterpiece.
Work is difficult in proportion as the end to be attained is high and noble. The highest price is placed upon the greatest worth. If a man would reach the highest success he must pay the price. He must be self-made, or never made.
Our greatest men have not been men of luck and broadcloth, nor of legacy and laziness, but men accustomed to hardship; not afraid of threadbare clothes and honest poverty; men who fought their way to their own loaf.
Sir Joshua Reynolds had the passion for work of the true artist. Until he laid aside his pencil from illness, at the age of sixty-six, he was constantly in his painting-room from ten till four, daily, “laboring” as he himself said, “as hard as a mechanic working for his bread.”
Laziness is said to be one of the greatest dangers that besets the youth of this country. Some young men shirk everything that requires effort or labor. Few people entertain the idea that they are of no use in the world; or that they are ruining themselves by their laziness. Yet lazy persons lose the power of enjoyment. Their lives are all holiday, and they have no interval of leisure for relaxation. The lie-a-beds have never done anything in the world. Events sweep past and leave them slumbering and helpless.
Industry is one of the best antidotes to crime. As the old proverb has it, “An idle brain is the devil’s workshop,” for by doing nothing we learn to do ill. The man who does not work, and thinks himself above it, is to be pitied as well as condemned. Nothing can be worse than active ignorance and indulged luxury. Self-indulgence saps the foundation of morals, destroys the vigor of manhood, and breeds evils that nothing but death can blot out.
No one is very anxious about a young man while he is busy in useful work. But where does he eat his lunch at noon? Where does he go when he leaves his boarding-house at night? What does he do after supper? Where does he spend his Sundays and holidays? The way he uses his spare moments reveals his character. The great majority of youth who go to the bad are ruined after supper. Most of those who climb upward to honor and fame devote their evenings to study or work, or to the society of the wise and good. The right use of these leisure hours, we would cordially recommend to every youth. Each evening is a crisis in the career of a young man.
Rome was a mighty nation while industry led her people, but when her great conquest of wealth and slaves placed her citizens above the necessity of labor, that moment her glory began to fade; vice and corruption induced by idleness, doomed the proud city to an ignominious overthrow.
There can be no doubt that industry has been the backbone of the English character. By it her people have made their island respected all over the habitable globe. By industry our own land, America, has come to be recognized as the workshop of the world.
It is a rule in the imperial family of Germany that every young man shall learn a trade, going through a regular apprenticeship till he is able to do good journeywork. This is required because, in the event of unforeseen changes, it is deemed necessary to a manly independence that the heir apparent, or a prince of the blood, should be conscious of ability of making his own way in the world. This is an honorable custom, worthy of universal imitation.
Franklin says, “He that hath a trade hath an estate.” Work, however looked down upon by people who cannot perform it, is an honorable thing; it may not be very profitable, but honorable it always is, and there is nothing to be ashamed of about it. The man who has reason to be ashamed is the one who does nothing, or is always on the lookout for an easy berth with good pay and no work. Let the young man whose conceit greatly exceeds his brains, be ashamed of his cane and kid gloves; but never let a man who works be ashamed of his hard hands. There is an old proverb which says, “Mere gentility sent to market, won’t buy a peck of oats.”
A keen but well deserved rebuke was once administered to a Southern student at Andover who had bought some wood, and who then went to Professor Stuart to learn whom he could get to saw it. “I am out of a job of that kind,” said Mr. Stuart; “I will saw it myself.” It is to be hoped that the young man learned the lesson which his teacher thus sought to impress upon his mind.
“What is the secret of success in business?” asked a friend of Cornelius Vanderbilt. “Secret! there is no secret about it,” replied the commodore; “all you have to do is to attend to your business and go ahead.”
If you would adopt Vanderbilt’s method, know your business, attend to it, and keep down expenses until your fortune is safe from business perils. Note the following incidents in his career: In the year 1806, when about twelve years of age, Cornelius was sent by his father, who was removing the cargo from a vessel stranded near Sandy Hook, with three wagons, six horses, and three men, to carry the cargo across a sandbar to the lighters.
When the work was finished, he started, with but a few dollars in his pocket, to travel a long distance home over the Jersey sands, and at length reached South Amboy. He was anxious to get his teams ferried over to Staten Island, and as the money at his disposal was not sufficient for the purpose, he went to an innkeeper, explained the situation and said, “If you will put us across, I’ll leave with you one of my horses in pawn, and if I don’t send you back six dollars within forty-eight hours you may keep the horse.” “I’ll do it,” said the innkeeper, as he looked into the bright honest eyes of the boy. The horse was soon redeemed.
In the spring of 1810, he applied to his mother for a loan of one hundred dollars with which to buy a boat, having imbibed a strong liking for the sea. Her answer was, “My son, on the twenty-seventh of this month you will be sixteen years old. If, by that time, you will plow, harrow, and plant with corn the eight acre lot, I will advance you the money.” The field was rough and stony, but the work was done in time, and well done. From this small beginning Cornelius Vanderbilt laid the foundation of a colossal fortune. He would often work all night; and, as he was never absent from his post by day, he soon had the best business in New York harbor.
In 1813, when it was expected that New York would be attacked by British ships, all the boatmen, except Cornelius, put in bids to convey provisions to the military posts around New York, naming extremely low rates, as the contractor would be exempted from military duty. “Why don’t you send in a bid?” asked his father. “Of what use?” replied young Vanderbilt; “they are offering to do the work at half price. It can’t be done at such rates.” “Well,” said his father, “it can do no harm to try for it.” So, to please his father, but with no hope of success, Cornelius made an offer fair to both sides, but did not go to hear the award. When his companions had all returned with long faces, he went to the commissary’s office and asked if the contract had been given. “Oh, yes,” was the reply; “that business is settled. Cornelius Vanderbilt is the man. What?” he asked, seeing that the youth was apparently thunderstruck, “is it you?” “My name is Cornelius Vanderbilt,” said the boatman. “Well,” said the commissary, “don’t you know why we have given the contract to you? Why, it is because we want this business done, and we know you’ll do it.”
Here we see how character begets confidence, and how character rests upon industry as the house rests upon its foundation.
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.