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 #14 in the Raising Great Americans Project! Click Here to learn More!
One today is worth two tomorrows.
Whilst we are considering when we are to begin, it is often too late to act.
By the street of by and by one arrives at the house of never.
When a fool makes up his mind, the market has gone by.
The individual who is habitually tardy in meeting an
appointment, will never be respected or successful in life.
Promptness and punctuality are among the greatest blessings and comforts of life. For lack of these qualities, some of the greatest men have failed. Most men have abundant opportunities for promoting and securing their own happiness. Time should be made the most of. Stray moments, saved and improved, may yield many brilliant results. It is astonishing how much can be done by using up the odds and ends of time in leisure hours. We must be prompt to catch the minutes as they fly, and make them yield the treasures they contain, or they will be lost to us forever. “In youth the hours are golden, in mature years they are silver, in old age they are leaden.” “The man who at twenty knows nothing, at thirty does nothing, at forty has nothing.” Yet the Italian proverb adds, “He who knows nothing is confident in everything.”
In the most ordinary affairs of life we must take heed of the value of time, keep watch over it, and be punctual to others as well as to ourselves; for without punctuality, men are kept in a perpetual state of worry, trouble, and annoyance.
Webster was never late at a recitation in school or college. In court, in congress, in society, he was equally punctual. So, amid the cares and distractions of a singularly busy life, Horace Greeley managed to be on time for every appointment. Many a trenchant paragraph for the Tribune was written while the editor was waiting for men of leisure, tardy at some meeting.
John Quincy Adams was never known to be behind time. The Speaker of the House of Representatives knew when to call the House to order by seeing Mr. Adams coming to his seat. On one occasion a member said that it was time to begin. “No,” said another, “Mr. Adams is not in his seat.” It was found that the clock was three minutes fast, and prompt to the minute, Mr. Adams arrived.
Begin with promptness in little things. Be punctual at breakfast, even if you are sleepy. Be punctual at school, even if you have errands to do. Whatever you may have to do, think out the quickest way of doing it, and do it at once. By and by the habit becomes a quality of mind and action. Don’t loiter about anything; it takes too much time.
We must be careful to remember that promptness is more than punctuality, which is an outward habit, and a very necessary one, if people live together. It is important also for one’s own sake, even if he should be a Robinson Crusoe without a man Friday.
Promptness has to do with thought. It begins in learning how to think and reason. Behind it lies concentration, which first of all has made one thoroughly understand a subject. Then comes the second point,–what to do instantly in any given case; and the trained judgment ends in instant, wise action. When a boy saves another who has fallen through the ice, he unconsciously thought out long ago what to do when the moment came for him to act. When a girl throws a rug over the dress of her sister, which has caught fire, she knew long before what to do. This knowing what to do, and doing it, is called presence of mind, that is, having common sense all ready for use.
Promptness takes the drudgery out of an occupation. Putting off, usually means leaving off; and “going to do” becomes “going undone.” Doing a deed is like sowing a seed; if not done at just the right time it will be forever out of season. The summer of eternity will not be long enough to bring to maturity the fruit of a delayed action.
Even in the old, slow days of stage-coaches, when it took a month of dangerous travel to accomplish the distance we can now cover in a few hours, unnecessary delay was a crime. One of the greatest gains civilization has made, is in the measuring and utilizing of time. We can do as much in an hour today as men could in twenty hours a hundred years ago; and if it was a hanging affair then to lose a few minutes, what should the penalty now be for a like offense?
One of the best things about school and college life is that the bell which strikes the hour for rising, for recitations, or for lectures, teaches habits of promptness. Every man should have a watch which is a good timekeeper; one that is “nearly right” encourages bad habits, and is an expensive investment at any price. Wear threadbare clothes, if you must, but never carry an inaccurate watch.
Some people are always a little too late, or a little too early, in everything they attempt. John B. Gough used to say “They have three hands apiece,–a right hand, a left hand, and a little behindhand.” As boys, they were late at school, and unpunctual in their home duties. That was the way the habit was acquired; and now, when a responsibility claims them, they think that if they had only gone yesterday they would have obtained the situation, or they can probably get one tomorrow.
Delays often have dangerous endings. Colonel Rahl, the Hessian commander at Trenton, was playing cards when a messenger brought a letter stating that Washington was crossing the Delaware. He put the letter in his pocket without reading it, until the game was finished. He rallied his men only to die just before his troops were taken prisoners. Only a few minutes’ delay, but it resulted in the loss of honor, liberty, and life.
Indecision becomes a disease, and procrastination is its forerunner. There is only one known remedy for the victims of indecision, and that is promptness. Otherwise the disease is fatal to all success or achievement. He who hesitates is lost. General Putnam was plowing, with his son Daniel, in eastern Connecticut, when the news of the battle of Lexington reached him. “He loitered not,” said Daniel, “but left me, the driver of his team, to unyoke it in the furrow; and, not many days after, to follow him to camp.”
The man who would forge to the front in this competitive age must be a man of prompt and determined decision. Like Cortes, he must burn his ships behind him, and make retreat forever impossible. When he draws his sword he must throw the scabbard away, lest in a moment of discouragement and irresolution he be tempted to sheath it. He must nail his colors to the mast, as Nelson did in battle, determined to sink with his ship if he cannot conquer. Prompt decision and sublime audacity have carried many a successful man over perilous crises where deliberation would have been ruin.
Henry IV, king of France, was another leader of remarkable promptness. His people said of him that “he wore out very little broadcloth, but a great deal of boot-leather,” for he was always going from one place to another. In speaking of the Duc de Mayenne, Henry called him a great captain, but added, “I always have five hours the start of him.” Getting ahead of time is as good a rule for boys and girls as for generals.
In our own country we have had generals who were especially noted for their dispatch. You know the story of “Sheridan’s Ride” in the Shenandoah Valley. His men, thoroughly beaten for the moment, were fleeing before the Southerners, when he suddenly appeared, promptly decided to head them right about, and, by the inspiration of his single presence, turned defeat into victory.
Sailors must be even more prompt than soldiers, for in danger at sea not an instant can be lost. Not only must a sailor be prompt in action against storm, but he must be prompt with his sails in squally weather; he must be prompt with his helm when approaching land. Among the heroes of the sea, Lord Nelson is conspicuous for his prompt and courageous deeds. He had many faults; but England felt safe while he watched over her maritime affairs; for he was always beforehand, and never allowed himself to be surprised by misfortune.
It is so in the voyage of life. Incidents often occur which demand instantaneous action on our part; and these are the events which usually issue in failure or success. Prompt movement, at the right moment, is more valuable than rubies; and its lack often leads to utter ruin.
Napoleon changed the art of war quite as much by his promptness as by the concentration of his men in large masses. By his exceeding rapidity of movement he was long able to protect France against the combined powers of Europe. He was always quick to seize the advantages of an emergency. Though he can never be considered as the type of a noble man, he was an extraordinarily great man. Boys who like to read of battles, and trace the maneuvers of a campaign, will find that his military renown was largely due to his promptness.
Decision of purpose and rapidity of action enabled him to astonish the world with his marvelous successes. He appeared to be everywhere at once. What he could accomplish in a day, surprised all who knew him. He seemed to electrify everybody about him. His invincible energy thrilled the whole army. He could rouse to immediate and enthusiastic action the dullest troops, and inspire with courage the most stupid men. He would sit up all night, if necessary, after riding thirty or forty leagues, to attend to correspondence, dispatches and details. What a lesson his career affords to the shiftless and half-hearted!
There have been many times when a prompt decision, a rapid movement, an energetic action, have changed the very face of history; and, on the other hand, there have been many instances where the indecisions of generals, or the procrastination of subordinates, has cost thousands of precious lives, and the loss of millions of dollars worth of property.
Napoleon once invited his marshals to dine with him; but, as they did not arrive at the moment appointed, he began to eat without them. They came in just as he was rising from the table. “Gentlemen,” said he, “it is now past dinner, and we will immediately proceed to business.”
He laid great stress upon that “supreme moment,” that “nick of time,” which occurs in every battle; to take advantage of which means victory, and to lose in hesitation means disaster. He said that he beat the Austrians because they did not know the value of five minutes; and it has been said that, among the trifles that conspired to defeat him at Waterloo, the loss of a few minutes by himself and Grouchy on that fatal morning, was the most significant. Blucher was on time, and Grouchy was late. That may seem a small matter, but it was enough to bring Napoleon’s career to a close, and to send him to St. Helena.
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.