Encouraging Courage – Teaching Boys to Be Brave

The courageous man is a real helper in the work of the world’s advancement. His influence is magnetic. He creates an epidemic of nobleness. Men follow him, even to the death…

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 #21 in the Raising Great Americans Project! Click Here to learn More!






The best hearts are always the bravest.

— Sterne

In noble souls, valor does not wait for years.

— Corneille

Courage is always greatest when blended with meekness.

— Earl Stanhope

A brave man hazards life, but not his conscience.

— Schiller

A great deal of talent is lost in the world for want of a little courage.

— Sydney Smith


The definition of courage given by Webster is, “that quality of mind which enables men to encounter danger and difficulties with firmness or without fear or depression of spirits.” We would rather say that courage does not consist in feeling no fear, but in conquering fear. Our meaning will perhaps be best made clear by the following illustrations:

Two French officers at Waterloo were advancing to charge a greatly superior force. One, observing that the other showed signs of fear, said “Sir, I believe you are frightened.” “Yes, I am,” was the reply; “and if you were half as much frightened, you would run away.”

“That’s a brave man,” said Wellington, when he saw a soldier turn pale as he marched against a battery; “he knows his danger, and faces it.”

Genuine courage is based on something more than animal strength; and this holds true always. Cowardly hearts are often encased in giant frames. Slender women often display astounding bravery.

The courageous man is a real helper in the work of the world’s advancement. His influence is magnetic. He creates an epidemic of nobleness. Men follow him, even to the death.

“Our enemies are before us,” exclaimed the Spartans at Thermopylae. “And we are before them,” was the cool reply of Leonidas. “Deliver your arms,” came the message from Xerxes. “Come and take them,” was the answer Leonidas sent back. A Persian soldier said: “You will not be able to see the sun for flying javelins and arrows.” “Then we will fight in the shade,” replied a Lacedaemonian. What wonder that a handful of such men checked the march of the greatest host that ever trod the earth.

Don’t be like Uriah Heep, begging everybody’s pardon for taking the liberty of being in the world. There is nothing attractive in timidity, nothing lovable in fear. Both are deformities, and are repulsive. Manly courage is dignified and graceful.

The spirit of courage will transform the whole temper of your life. “The wise and active conquer difficulties by daring to attempt them. The lazy and the foolish shiver and sicken at the sight of trial and hazard, and create the very impossibility they fear.”

Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood was one long struggle with poverty, with little education, and no influential friends. When at last he had begun the practice of law, it required no little daring to cast his fortune with the weaker side in politics, and thus imperil what small reputation he had gained. Only the most sublime moral courage could have sustained him as President to hold his ground against hostile criticism and a long train of disaster, to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, to support Grant and Stanton against the clamor of the politicians and the press, and, through it all, to do what he believed to be right.

Did you ever read the fable of the magician and the mouse? It is worth reading in this connection:

A mouse that dwelt near the abode of a great magician, was kept in such constant fear of a cat, that the magician, taking pity on it, turned it into a cat itself. Immediately it began to suffer from its fear of a dog, so the magician turned it into a dog. Then it began to suffer from fear of a tiger. The magician therefore turned it into a tiger. Then it began to suffer from fear of hunters, and the magician said in disgust:

“Be a mouse again. As you have only the heart of a mouse, it is impossible to help you by giving you the body of a nobler animal.” The moral of the story you can gather for yourselves.

We have already said that many women have displayed courage of a very high order. Here is a case in point:

Charles V. of Spain passed through Thuringia in 1547, on his return to Swabia after the battle of Muehlburg. He wrote to Catherine, Countess Dowager of Schwartzburg, promising that her subjects should not be molested in their persons or property if they would supply the Spanish soldiers with provisions at a reasonable price. On approaching her residence, General Alva and Prince Henry of Brunswick, with his sons, invited themselves, by a messenger sent forward, to breakfast with the Countess, who had no choice but to ratify so delicate a request from the commander of an army. Just as the guests were seated at a generous repast, the Countess was called from the hall and told that the Spaniards were using violence and driving away the cattle of the peasants.

Quietly arming all her retinue, she bolted and barred all the gates and doors of the castle, and returned to the banquet to complain of the breach of faith. General Alva told her that such was the custom of war, adding that such trifling disorders were not to be heeded. “That we shall presently see,” said Catherine; “my poor subjects must have their own again, or, as God lives, prince’s blood for oxen’s blood!” The doors were opened, and armed men took the place of the waiters behind the chairs of the guests. Henry changed color; then, as the best way out of a bad scrape, laughed loudly, and ended by praising the splendid acting of his hostess, and promising that Alva should order the cattle restored at once. Not until a courier returned, saying that the order had been obeyed, and all damages settled satisfactorily, did the armed waiters leave. The Countess then thanked her guests for the honor they had done her castle, and they retired with protestations of their distinguished consideration.

There is a form of moral courage which bears most directly upon ourselves. It is seen in the career of William H. Seward, who was given a thousand dollars by his father to go to college with, and told that this was all he was to have. The son returned home at the end of his freshman year with extravagant habits and no money. His father refused to give him more, and told him he could not stay at home. When the youth found the props all taken out from under him, and that he must now sink or swim, he left home moneyless, returned to college, graduated at the head of his class, studied law, was elected governor of New York, and became Lincoln’s great Secretary of State during the Civil War.

Genuine courage is neither rash, vain, nor selfish. It sometimes leads us to appear cowardly; and cowardice sometimes puts on the guise of boldness. We need to know the individual and the circumstances to judge correctly as to whether courage is of the true order. We should all discourage the tendency to exalt brute force and mere muscle to high admiration; and enforce the power of mind, ideas, and lofty ambition. The noblest phase of courage and heroism is in the submission of this might to the laws of right and helpfulness.




There is no better modern illustration of courage than that thrilling exploit of Lieutenant Hobson in taking the Merrimac into the harbor of Santiago.

While the Spanish fleet, under Admiral Cervera, lay blockaded in Santiago Bay, the idea was conceived of making the blockade doubly safe by sinking the coal-ship Merrimac across the narrow channel. To carry out this plan cool-headed, heroic men were needed, who would be willing to take their lives in their hands, for the good of their country’s cause. To accomplish the object, the vessel must be taken into a harbor full of mines, under the fire of three shore batteries, supported by a powerful Spanish fleet and two regiments of soldiers. The honor of carrying out this bold scheme was given to young Hobson, by whom the plan had been mainly outlined.

He was a young man from Alabama, twenty-seven years of age, a graduate of the Naval Academy in the class of 1889, being the youngest member, and standing at the head of his class. He had already shown himself to be a gentleman, a student, and an adept in practical affairs. Now he was to prove that he was a hero.

Here came to him, in the ordinary course of duty, the opportunity for which he had prepared himself; and the courage with which he carried it out made for him a name which will always be remembered in the annals of naval warfare.

Out of the hundreds who volunteered to assist him in this perilous undertaking, six men were selected. At an early hour in the morning the gallant crew set out. Every vessel in the American fleet was on the alert: every man’s nerves were at the highest tension over the success of the project and the fate of Hobson and his comrades. Thousands of anxious eyes peered through the darkness as they watched the old collier disappear into the harbor.

Suddenly the scene changed. Sheets of fire flashed from Morro Castle and the other batteries along the shore. It seemed impossible for human life to exist in that deadly and concentrated fire. In the downpour of shot and shell the Merrimac’s rudder was blown away and her stern anchor cut loose. The electric batteries were damaged to such an extent that only part of the torpedoes could be exploded. The result was that instead of sinking where intended, the vessel drifted with the tide past the narrow neck. The Merrimac sank but did not completely block up the channel.

The enemy’s fire was so incessant and sweeping that it was impossible for the crew to reach the life-raft which they had in tow; so Hobson and his men lay flat on deck and waited for the ship to sink. It was a terrible waiting while every great gun and Mauser rifle was pouring its deadly fire upon the ship. At last the end came. The ship sank beneath the waves, and, through the whirlpool of rushing water, the men rose to the surface and climbed upon their raft. Clinging to this, with their faces only out of water they waited for daylight, and then gave themselves up as prisoners to the Spaniards.

In the afternoon, Admiral Cervera sent an officer, under a flag of truce, to Admiral Sampson, telling him of their safety, and adding: “Daring like theirs makes the bitterest enemies proud that their fellow-men can be so brave.”

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.

Also available through Amazon.com in quality trade paperback and Kindle e-book download editions.


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