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 #13 in the Raising Great Americans Project! Click Here to learn More!
Every noble work is at first impossible.
Victory belongs to the most persevering.
Our greatest glory is, not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
Success in most things depends on knowing how long it takes to succeed.
Perseverance is failing nineteen times and succeeding the twentieth.
–Dr J. Anderson
Perseverance depends on three things,–purpose, will, enthusiasm. He who has a purpose is always concentrating his forces. By the will, constantly educated, the hope and plan are prevented from evaporating into dreams, and a little gain is all the time being added. Enthusiasm keeps the interest up, and makes the obstacles seem small. Young people often call perseverance plodding, and look with impatience on careful, steady efforts of any kind. It is plodding in a certain sense, but by it the mountain is scaled; whereas the impetuous nature soon tires, or is injured, and the climb is over, half-finished. The founders of New England did not believe in “chances.” They did believe in work. The young man who thinks to get on by mere smartness and by idling, meets failure at last.
But there is a higher outlook. Life is in a sense a battle; certainly there is an unending struggle within ourselves to make the better part rule the worse. Perseverance is the master impulse of the firmest souls, and holds the key to those treasure-houses of knowledge from which the world has drawn its wealth both of wisdom and of moral worth.
Great men never wait for opportunities; they make them. Nor do they wait for facilities or favoring circumstances; they seize upon whatever is at hand, work out their problem, and master the situation. A young man determined and willing, will find a way or make one. Great men have found no royal road to their triumph. It is always the old route, by way of industry and perseverance.
Bunyan wrote his “Pilgrim’s Progress” on the untwisted papers used to cork the bottles of milk brought for his meals. Gifford wrote his first copy of a mathematical work, when a cobbler’s apprentice, on small scraps of leather; and Rittenhouse, the astronomer, first calculated eclipses on his plow handle.
“Circumstances,” says Milton, “have rarely favored famous men. They have fought their way to triumph through all sorts of opposing obstacles. The greatest thing a man can do in this world is to make the most possible out of the stuff that has been given to him. This is success, and there is no other.”
Paris was in the hands of a mob; the authorities were panic-stricken, for they did not dare to trust their underlings. In came a man who said, “I know a young officer who has the courage and ability to quell this mob.” “Send for him; send for him,” said they. Napoleon was sent for, came, subjugated the mob, subjugated the authorities, ruled France, then conquered Europe.
One of the first lessons of life is to learn how to get victory out of defeat. It takes courage and stamina, when mortified and embarrassed by humiliating disaster, to seek in the wreck or ruins the elements of future conquest. Yet this measures the difference between those who succeed and those who fail. You cannot measure a man by his failures. You must know what use he makes of them.
Always watch with great interest a young man’s first failure. It is the index of his life, the measure of his success-power. The mere fact of his failure has interest; but how did he take his defeat? What did he do next? Was he discouraged? Did he slink out of sight? Did he conclude that he had made a mistake in his calling, and dabble in something else? Or was he up and at it again with a determination that knows no defeat?
There is something grand and inspiring in a young man who fails squarely after doing his level best, and then enters the contest again and again with undaunted courage and redoubled energy. Have no fears for the youth who is not disheartened at failure.
Raleigh failed, but he left a name ever to be linked with brave effort and noble character. Kossuth did not succeed, but his lofty career, his burning words, and his ideal fidelity will move men for good as long as time shall last. O’Connell did not win his cause, but he did achieve enduring fame as an orator, patriot, and apostle of liberty.
President Lincoln was asked, “How does Grant impress you as a leading general?” “The greatest thing about him is his persistency of purpose,” he replied. “He is not easily excited, and he has the grip of a bulldog. When he once gets his teeth in nothing can shake him off.”
Chauncey Jerome’s education was limited to three months in the district school each year until he was ten, when his father took him into his blacksmith shop at Plymouth, Connecticut, to make nails. Money was a scarce article with young Chauncey. His father died when he was eleven, and his mother was forced to send him out to earn a living on a farm. At fourteen he was apprenticed for seven years to a carpenter, who gave him only board and clothes. One day he heard people talking of Eli Terry, of Plymouth, who had undertaken to make two hundred clocks in one lot. “He’ll never live long enough to finish them,” said one. “If he should,” said another, “he could not possibly sell so many. The very idea is ridiculous.”
Chauncey pondered long over this rumor, for it had long been his dream to become a great clock-maker. He tried his hand at the first opportunity, and soon learned to make a wooden clock. When he got an order to make twelve at twelve dollars apiece he thought his fortune was made.
One night he happened to think that a cheap clock could be made of brass as well as of wood, and would not shrink, swell, or warp appreciably in any climate. He acted on the idea, and became the first great manufacturer of brass clocks. He made millions at the rate of six hundred a day, exporting them to all parts of the globe.
A constant struggle, a ceaseless battle to bring success from hard surroundings, is the price of all great achievements. The man who has not fought his way upward, and does not bear the scar of desperate conflict, does not know the highest meaning of success.
Columbus was dismissed as a fool from court after court, but he pushed his suit against an unbelieving and ridiculing world. Rebuffed by kings, scorned by queens, he did not swerve a hair’s breadth from the overmastering purpose which dominated his soul. The words “New World” were graven upon his heart; and reputation, ease, pleasure, position, life itself, if need be, must be sacrificed. Neither threats, ridicule, storms, leaky vessels, nor mutiny of sailors, could shake his mighty purpose.
Lucky for the boy who can say, “In the bright lexicon of youth there is no such word as fail. We do not care for the men who change with every wind! Give us men like mountains, who change the winds. You cannot at one dash rise into eminence. You must hammer it out by steady and rugged blows.
A man can get what he wants if he pays the price–persistent, plodding perseverance. Never doubt the result; victory will be yours. There may be ways to fortune shorter than the old, dusty highway; but the staunch men in the community all go on this road. If you want to do anything, don’t stand back waiting for a better chance to arise, but rush in and seize it; and then cling to it with all the power you possess until you have made it serve the purpose for which you desired it, or yield the good which you believe it to contain.
The lack of perseverance is the cause of many a failure. We do not stand by our plans faithfully. Fashion, or criticism, or temporary weariness, or fickleness of taste, leads us off; and we have to begin our work all over. Look at the history of every noted invention; read the lives of musicians who were born with genius, but wrought out triumph by perseverance; and you will find abundant proof that without perseverance nothing valuable can be accomplished.
George Stephenson’s struggle for the adoption of his locomotive is another noteworthy case in point. People said “he is crazy”; “his roaring steam engine will set the houses on fire with its sparks”; “the smoke will pollute the air”; “the carriage makers and coachmen will starve for want of work.” So intense was the opposition, that for three whole days the matter was debated in the House of Commons; and on that occasion a government inspector said that if a locomotive ever went ten miles an hour, he would undertake to eat a stewed engine for breakfast. “What can be more palpably absurd and ridiculous than the prospect held out of locomotives traveling twice as fast as horses?” asked a writer in the English Quarterly Review for March, 1825. “We trust that Parliament will, in all the railways it may grant, limit the speed to eight or nine miles an hour, which we entirely agree, with Mr. Sylvester, is as great as can be ventured upon.”
This article referred to Stephenson’s proposition to use his newly invented locomotive instead of horses on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, then in process of construction. The company referred the matter to two leading English engineers, who reported that steam would be desirable only when used in stationary engines one and a half miles apart, drawing the cars by means of ropes and pulleys.
But Stephenson persuaded them to test his idea by offering a prize of about twenty-five hundred dollars for the best locomotive produced at a trial to take place October 6, 1829. On the eventful day, long waited for, thousands of spectators assembled to watch the competition of four engines, the “Novelty,” the “Rocket,” the “Perseverance,” and the “Sanspareil.” The “Perseverance” could make but six miles an hour, and so was ruled out, as the conditions called for at least ten. The “Sanspareil” made an average of fourteen miles an hour, but as it burst a water-pipe it lost its chance. The “Novelty” did splendidly, but also burst a pipe, and was crowded out, leaving the “Rocket” to carry off the honors with an average speed of fifteen miles an hour, the highest rate attained being twenty-nine. This was Stephenson’s locomotive, and so fully vindicated his theory that the idea of stationary engines on a railroad was completely exploded. He had picked up the fixed engines which the genius of Watt had devised, and set them on wheels to draw men and merchandise, against the most direful predictions of the foremost engineers of his day.
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.