Enthusiasm is the romance of the boy that becomes the heroism of the man…
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 #20 in the Raising Great Americans Project! Click Here to learn More!
Nothing is so contagious as enthusiasm.
Enthusiasm is the fundamental quality of strong souls.
The only conclusive evidence of a man’s
sincerity is that he gives himself for a principle.
Enthusiasm is the romance of the boy that becomes the heroism of the man.
–A. Bronson Alcott
Every great and commanding movement in the
annals of the world is the triumph of some enthusiasm.
In the course of every life there are sure to be obstacles and difficulties to be met. Prudence hesitates and examines them; intelligence usually suggests some ingenious way of getting around them; patience and perseverance deliberately go to work to dig under them; but enthusiasm is the quality that boldly faces and leaps lightly over them. By the power of enthusiasm the most extraordinary undertakings, that seemed impossible of accomplishment, have been successfully carried out. Enthusiasm makes weak men strong, and timid women courageous. Almost all the great works of art have been produced when the artist was intoxicated with a passion for beauty and form, which would not let him rest until his thought was expressed in marble or on canvas.
A recent writer has said: “Enthusiasm is life lit up and shining. It is the passion of the spirit pushing forward toward some noble activity. It is one of the most powerful forces that go to the making of a noble and heroic character.”
In the Gallery of Fine Arts, in Paris, is a beautiful statue conceived by a sculptor who was so poor that he lived and worked in a small garret. When his clay model was nearly done, a heavy frost fell upon the city. He knew that if the water in the interstices of the clay should freeze, the beautiful lines would be distorted. So he wrapped his bedclothes around the clay image to preserve it from destruction. In the morning he was found dead; but his idea was saved, and other hands gave it enduring form in marble.
Another instance of rare consecration to a great enterprise is found in the work of the late Francis Parkman. While a student at Harvard, he determined to write the history of the French and English in North America. With a steadiness and devotion seldom equaled, he gave his life, his fortune, his all, to this one great object. Although he had ruined his health while among the Dakota Indians, collecting material for his history, and could not use his eyes more than five minutes at a time for fifty years, he did not swerve a hair’s breadth from the high purpose formed in his youth, until he gave to the world the best history upon this subject ever written.
What a power there is in an enthusiastic adherence to an ideal! What are hardships, ridicule, persecution, toil, or sickness, to a soul throbbing with an overmastering purpose? Gladstone says that “what is really wanted, is to light up the spirit that is within a boy.” In some sense, and in some degree, there is in every boy the material for doing good work in the world; not only in those who are brilliant and quick, but even in those who are stolid and dull.
A real enthusiasm makes men happy, keeps them fresh, hopeful, joyous. Life never stagnates with them. They always keep sweet, anticipate a “good time coming,” and help to make it come.
Enthusiasm has been well called the “lever of the world”; for it sets in motion, if it does not control, the grandest revolutions! Its influence is immense. History bears frequent record of its contagiousness, showing how vast multitudes have been roused into emotion by the enthusiasm of one man; as was the case when the crowd of knights, and squires, and men-at-arms, and quiet peasants, entered, at the bidding of St. Bernard, upon the great Crusade.
The simple, innocent Maid of Orleans,–with her sacred sword, her consecrated banner, and her belief in her great mission,–sent a thrill of enthusiasm through the whole French army such as neither king nor statesman could produce. Her zeal carried everything before it.
Enthusiasm makes men strong. It wakes them up, brings out their latent powers, keeps up incessant action, impels to tasks requiring strength, and then carries them to completion. Many are born to be giants, yet, from lack of enthusiasm, few grow above common men. They need to be set on fire by some eager impulse, inspired by some grand resolve, and they would then quickly rise head and shoulders above their fellows.
Enthusiasm is the element of success in everything. It is the light that leads, and the strength that lifts men on and up in the great struggles of scientific pursuits and of professional labors. It robs endurance of difficulty, and makes a pleasure of duty.
Enthusiasm gives to man a power that is irresistible. It is that secret and harmonious spirit which hovers over the production of genius, throwing the reader of a book, or the spectator of a statue, into the presence of those with whom these works have originated. A great work always leaves us in a state of lofty contemplation, if we are in sympathy with it.
The most irresistible charm of youth is its bubbling enthusiasm. The youth who comes fully under its control sees no darkness ahead. He forgets that there is such a thing as failure in the world, and believes that mankind has been waiting all these centuries for him to come and be the liberator of truth and energy and beauty.
The boy Bach copied whole books of musical studies by moonlight, for want of a candle churlishly denied. Nor was he disheartened when these copies were taken from him. The boy painter West, began his work in a garret, and cut hairs from the tail of the family cat for bristles to make his brushes. Gerster, an unknown Hungarian singer, made fame and fortune sure the first night she appeared in opera. Her enthusiasm almost mesmerized her auditors. In less than a week she had become popular and independent. Her soul was smitten with a passion for growth, and all the powers of heart and mind were devoted to self-improvement.
Enthusiasm is purified and ennobled by self-denial. As the traveler, who would ascend a lofty mountain summit, to enjoy the sunset there, leaves the quiet of the lowly vale, and climbs the difficult path, so the true enthusiast, in his aspiration after the highest good, allows himself to be stopped by no wish for wealth and pleasure, and every step he takes forward is connected with self-denial, but is a step nearer to success.
THOMAS A. EDISON
If one were to ask what individual best typifies the industrial progress of this nation, it would be easy to answer, Thomas Alva Edison. Looking at him as a newspaper boy, at the age of fifteen, one would hardly have been led to predict that this young fellow would be responsible for the industrial transformation of this continent.
At that early age he had already begun to dabble in chemistry, and had fitted up a small traveling laboratory. One day, as he was performing an experiment, the train rounded a curve and the bottles of chemicals were dashed to the floor. There followed a series of unearthly odors and unnatural complications. The conductor, who had suffered long and patiently, now ejected the youthful enthusiast; and, it is said, accompanied the expulsion with a resounding box upon the ear. This did not dampen Edison’s ardor, in the least. He passed through one dramatic situation after another, mastering each and all; but his advancement was due to patient, persevering work.
Not long ago a reporter asked him if he had regular hours for work. “Oh!” he answered, “I do not work hard now. I come to the laboratory about eight o’clock every day, and go home to tea at six; and then I study and work on some problem until eleven, which is my hour for bed.” When it was suggested that fourteen or fifteen hours’ work per day could scarcely be called loafing, he replied, “Well, for fifteen years I have worked on an average twenty hours a day.”
Nothing but a rare devotion to an interesting subject could keep any man so diligently employed. So enthusiastically did he pursue his researches, that, when he had once started to solve a difficult problem, he has been known to work at it for sixty consecutive hours.
In describing his Boston experiences, Edison relates that he bought Faraday’s works on electricity, and beginning to read them at three o’clock in the morning, continued until his room-mate arose, when they started on their long walk for breakfast. Breakfast, however, was of small account in Edison’s mind compared with his love for Faraday; and he suddenly remarked to his friend, “Adams, I have so much to do, and life is so short, that I must hustle;” and with that he started off on a dead run for the boarding-house.
Edison has shown that he cares nothing for money, and has no particular enthusiasm for fame. “What makes you work so hard?” asked a friend. “I like it,” he answered, after a moment’s puzzled expression; and then repeated several times, “I like it. I do not know any other reason. You know how some people like to collect stamps. Anything I have begun is always on my mind, and I am not easy while away from it until it is finished.”
Electrical science is still in its infancy, but the enthusiasm of Edison has done much for its advancement. The subject indeed is a fascinating one, and Edison’s devotion to it, and the discoveries and practical applications he has made in his researches, have placed him in the front rank of America’s greatest inventors.
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.