How to Succeed, or Stepping-Stones to Fame and Fortune



The high prize of life, the crowning fortune of a man, is to be
born with a bias to some pursuit, which finds him in employment
and happiness.

The art of putting the right man in the right place is perhaps
the first in the science of government, but the art of finding
a satisfactory position for the discontented is the most

It is a celebrated thought of Socrates, that if all the
misfortunes of mankind were cast into a public stock, in order
to be equally distributed among the whole species, those who
now think themselves the most unhappy would prefer the share
they are already possessed of, before that which would fall to
them by such a division.

I was born to other things.

How many a rustic Milton has passed by,
Stifling the speechless longings of his heart,
In unremitting drudgery and care!
How many a vulgar Cato has compelled
His energies, no longer tameless then,
To mould a pin, or fabricate a nail.

“But I’m good for something,” pleaded a young man whom a merchant was about to discharge for his bluntness. “You are good for nothing as a salesman,” said his employer. “I am sure I can be useful,” said the youth. “How? Tell me how.” “I don’t know, sir, I don’t know.” “Nor do I,” said the merchant, laughing at the earnestness of his clerk. “Only don’t put me away, sir, don’t put me away. Try me at something besides selling. I cannot sell; I know I cannot sell.” “I know that, too,” said the principal; “that is what is wrong.” “But I can make myself useful somehow,” persisted the young man; “I know I can.” He was placed in the counting-house, where his aptitude for figures soon showed itself, and in a few years he became not only chief cashier in the large store, but an eminent accountant.

“Out of an art,” says Bulwer, “a man may be so trivial you would mistake him for an imbecile–at best, a grown infant. Put him into his art, and how high he soars above you! How quietly he enters into a heaven of which he has become a denizen, and unlocking the gates with his golden key, admits you to follow, an humble reverent visitor.”

A man out of place is like a fish out of water. Its fins mean nothing, they are only a hindrance. The fish can do nothing but flounder out of its element. But as soon as the fins feel the water, they mean something. Fifty-two per cent of our college graduates studied law, not because, in many cases, they have the slightest natural aptitude for it, but because it is put down as the proper road to promotion.

A man never grows in personal power and moral stamina when out of his place. If he grows at all, it is a narrow, one-sided, stunted growth, not a manly growth. Nature abhors the slightest perversion of natural aptitude or deviation from the sealed orders which accompany every soul into this world.

A man out of place is not half a man. He feels unmanned, unsexed. He cannot respect himself, hence he cannot be respected.

You can enter all kinds of horses for a race, but only those which have natural adaptation for speed will make records; the others will only make themselves ridiculous by their lumbering, unnatural exertions to win. How many truck and family-horse lawyers make themselves ridiculous by trying to speed on the law track, where courts and juries only laugh at them. The effort to redeem themselves from scorn may enable them by unnatural exertions to become fairly passable, but the same efforts along the line of their strength or adaptation would make them kings in their line.

“Jonathan,” said Mr. Chace, when his son told of having nearly fitted himself for college, “thou shalt go down to the machine-shop on Monday morning.” It was many years before Jonathan escaped from the shop to work his way up to the position of a man of great influence as a United States Senator from Rhode Island.

Galileo was sent to the university at Pisa at seventeen, with the strict injunction not to neglect medical subjects for the alluring study of philosophy or literature. But when he was eighteen he discovered the great principle of the pendulum by a lamp left swinging in the cathedral.

John Adams’ father was a shoemaker; and, trying to teach his son the art, gave him some “uppers” to cut out by a pattern which had a three-cornered hole in it to hang it up by. The future statesman followed the pattern, hole and all.

There is a tradition that Tennyson’s first poems were published at the instigation of his father’s coachman. His grandfather gave the lad ten shillings for writing an elegy on his grandmother. As he handed it to him, he said; “There, that’s the first money you ever earned by your poetry, and take my word for it, it will be the last.”

Murillo’s mother had marked her boy for a priest, but nature had already laid her hand upon him and marked him for her own. His mother was shocked on returning from church one day to find that the child had taken down the sacred family picture, “Jesus and the Lamb,” and had painted his own hat on the Saviour’s head, and had changed the lamb into a dog.

The poor boy’s home was broken up, and he started out on foot and alone to seek his fortune. All he had was courage and determination to make something of himself. He not only became a famous artist, but a man of great character.

“Let us people who are so uncommonly clever and learned,” says Thackeray, “have a great tenderness and pity for the folks who are not endowed with the prodigious talents which we have. I have always had a regard for dunces,–those of my own school days were among the pleasantest of the fellows, and have turned out by no means the dullest in life; whereas, many a youth who could turn off Latin hexameters by the yard, and construe Greek quite glibly, is no better than a feeble prig now, with not a pennyworth more brains than were in his head before his beard grew.”