The world suffers for want of men who are educated all over; whose nerves are brought to their acutest sensibility; whose brain are cultured, keen, and penetrating; whose hands are deft; whose eyes are alert and sensitive, and whose hearts are tender, broad, magnanimous and true…
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 #33 in the Raising Great Americans Project! Click Here to learn More!
THE IDEAL MAN
From the lowest depth there is a path to the highest height.
A man seldom loses the respect of others until he has lost his own.
–F. W. Robertson
There are certain things we feel to be beautiful
and good, and we must hunger after them.
The man who thinks himself inferior to his
fellows, deserves to be, and generally is.
It is characteristic of small men to avoid
emergencies; of great men to meet them.
Every man has characteristics which make him a distinct personality; a different individual from every other individual. It is an interesting fact that a man cannot change his nature, though he may conceal it; while no art or application will teach him to know himself, as he really is, or as others see him.
If the idea of humanity carry with it the corresponding idea of a physical, intellectual, and moral nature–if it be this trinity of being which constitutes the man,–then let us think of the first or the second elements as we may, it is the third which completes our conception. Let us praise the mechanism of the body to the utmost; let it be granted that the height and force of our intellect bespeaks a glorious intelligence; still our distinctive excellence and preeminence lies in moral and spiritual perfection.
There are those who think and speak as if manhood consisted in birth or titles, or in extent of power and authority. They are satisfied if they can only reckon among their ancestors some of the great and illustrious, or if noble blood but flow in their veins. But if they have no other glory than that of their ancestors; if all their greatness lies in a name; if their titles are their only virtues; if it be necessary to call up past ages to find something worthy of our homage,–then their birth rather disparages and dishonors them.
That these creatures lay claim to the name and the attributes of man, is a desecration. Man is a noble being. There may be rank, and title, and ancestry, and deeds of renown, where there is no intellectual power. Nor would we unduly exalt reason. There may be mental greatness in no common degree, and yet be a total absence of those higher moral elements which bring our manhood more clearly into view. It is the combination of intellectual power and moral excellence which goes to make the perfect man.
The world suffers for want of men who are educated all over; whose nerves are brought to their acutest sensibility; whose brain are cultured, keen, and penetrating; whose hands are deft; whose eyes are alert and sensitive, and whose hearts are tender, broad, magnanimous and true. Indeed, the only man who can satisfy the demands of an age like this, is the man who has been rounded into perfectness by being cultured along all the lines we have indicated in the foregoing pages.
This education must commence with the very first opening of the infant mind. Our lessons will multiply and be of a still higher character with the progress of our years. Truth may succeed truth, according to the mental power and capacity; nor must our instruction cease till the probationary state shall close. Our education can finish only with the termination of life.
Everyone is conscious of a most peculiar feeling when he looks at anything whose formation or development is imperfect. Let him take up an imperfectly-formed crystal, or an imperfectly-developed flower, and he can scarcely describe his feelings. The same holds true as to the organization and structure of the human body. Who ever contemplates stunted growth, or any kind of visible deformity, with complacency and satisfaction? And why should we not look for full mental development, and for the most perfect moral maturity? If what is imperfect constitutes the exception in the physical world, why should it be otherwise in the world of mind and of morals? Is it a thing to be preferred, to be stunted, and little in our intellectual and moral stature? Or do we prefer a state of childhood to that of a perfect man? If the mind is the measure of the man, and if uprightness constitutes the noblest aspect of life, then our advancement in knowledge and in righteousness should appear unto all men.
There is a god in the meanest man; there is a philanthropist in the stingiest miser; there is a hero in the biggest coward,–which an emergency great enough will call out. The blighting greed of gain, the chilling usages and cold laws of trade, encase many a noble heart in crusts of selfishness; but great emergencies break open the prison doors, and the whole heart pours itself forth in deeds of charity and mercy.
The poor and unfortunate are our opportunity, our character-builders, the great schoolmasters of our moral and spiritual growth. Every kind and noble deed performed for others, is transmuted into food which nourishes the motive promoting its performance, and strengthens the muscles of habit. Gladstone, in the midst of pressing duties, found time to visit a poor sick boy whom he had seen sweeping the street crossings. He endeared himself to the heart of the English people by this action more than by almost any other single event of his life; and this incident is more talked about to-day than almost any of his so-called greater deeds.
Not what men do, but what their lives promise and prophesy, gives hope to the race. To keep us from discouragement, Nature now and then sends us a Washington, a Lincoln, a Kossuth, a Gladstone, towering above his fellows, to show us she has not lost her ideal.
We call a man like Shakespeare a genius, not because he makes new discoveries, but because he shows us to ourselves,–shows us the great reserve in us, which, like the oil-fields, awaited a discoverer,–and because he says that which we had thought or felt, but could not express. Genius merely holds the glass up to nature. We can never see in the world what we do not first have in ourselves.
“Every man,” says Theodore Parker, “has at times in his mind the ideal of what he should be, but is not. In all men that seek to improve, it is better than the actual character. No one is so satisfied with himself that he never wishes to be wiser, better, and more perfect.”
The ideal is the continual image that is cast upon the brain; and these images are as various as the stars; and, like them, differ one from another in magnitude. It is the quality of the aspiration that determines the true success or failure of a life. A man may aspire to be the best billiard-player, the best coachman, the best wardroom politician, the best gambler, or the most cunning cheat. He may rise to be eminent in his calling; but, compared with other men, his greatest height will be below the level of the failure of him who chooses an honest profession. No jugglery of thought, no gorgeousness of trappings, can make the low high, the dishonest honest, the vile pure. As is a man’s ideal or aspiration, so shall his life be.
But when all this has been said, it still remains true that much of the difference between man and man arises from the variety of occupations and practices,–a certain special training which develops thought and intelligence in special directions. All men meet, however, on the common level of common sense. A man’s thought is indicated by his talk, by verbal expression. Mental action and expression is affected by the senses, passions, and appetites.
Whatever great thing in life a man does, he never would have done in that precise way except for the peculiar training and experience which developed him; and no single incident in his life, however trifling, may be excepted in the work of rounding him out to the exact character he becomes.
The poet is really calling for what we regard as the ideal man, when he says:
“God give us men. A time like this demands
Strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands:
Men whom the lust of office does not kill;
Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy;
Men who possess opinions and a will;
Men who have honor–men who will not lie;
Men who can stand before a demagogue
And scorn his treacherous flatteries without winking;
Tall men, sun-crowned, who live above the fog
In public duty, and in private thinking.”
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.