The mottoes of great men often give us glimpses of the secret of their characters and success. “Work! work! work!” was the motto of Sir Joshua Reynolds, David Wilkie, and scores of other men who have left their mark upon the world. Voltaire’s motto was “Toujours au travail” (always at work). Scott’s maxim was “Never be doing nothing.” Michael Angelo was a wonderful worker. He even slept in his clothes ready to spring to his work as soon as he awoke. He kept a block of marble in his bedroom that he might get up in the night and work when he could not sleep. His favorite device was an old man in a go-cart, with an hour-glass upon it, bearing this inscription: “Ancora imparo” (still I’m learning). Even after he was blind he would ask to be wheeled into the Belvidere, to examine the statues with his hands. Cobden used to say, “I’m working like a horse without a moment to spare.” It was said that Handel, the musician, did the work of a dozen men. Nothing ever daunted him. He feared neither ridicule nor defeat. Lord Palmerston worked like a slave, even in his old age. Being asked when he considered a man in his prime, he replied, “Seventy-nine,” that being his own age. Humboldt was one of the world’s great workers. In summer he arose at four in the morning for thirty years. He used to say work was as much of a necessity as eating or sleeping. Sir Walter Scott was a phenomenal worker. He wrote the “Waverley Novels” at the rate of twelve volumes a year. He averaged a volume every two months during his whole working life. What an example is this to the young men of to-day, of the possibilities of an earnest life! Edmund Burke was one of the most prodigious workers that ever lived.
George Stephenson used to work at meal time, getting out loads of coal while the miners were at dinner in order that he might earn a few extra shillings to buy a spelling-book and an arithmetic. His associates thought he was very foolish, and asked him what good it would do to learn to read and cipher. He told them he was determined to improve his mind; so he studied whenever he could snatch a minute before the engine’s fire, and in every possible situation until he had a good, practical, common-sense education.
Garibaldi’s father decided that Guiseppe should be a minister, because the boy was so sorry for a cricket which lost its leg. Samuel Morse’s father concluded that his son would preach well because he could not keep his head above water in a dangerous attempt to catch bait in the Mystic River. President Dwight told young Morse he would never make a painter, and hinted that he never would amount to much any way if he did not study more. Although under the teaching of West and Allston in London, he became a tolerable portrait painter, he did not find his sphere until returning from England on a sailing vessel, he heard Professor Jackson explain an electrical experiment in Paris, when the thought of the telegraph flashed into his mind and he found no rest, until he flashed over the wire the first message, “What hath God wrought!” on the experimental line between Baltimore and Washington: this was May 24, 1844.
William H. Vanderbilt was by far the wealthiest man in the world. Chauncey M. Depew estimated his fortune at two hundred millions. He left his eight children ten millions each, except Cornelius and William K., who had sixty-five millions each. Commodore Vanderbilt, his father, amassed a fortune of eighty millions of dollars in his own lifetime, and that too at a time when it was more difficult to make money than it is now.
Mr. C. P. Huntington is a good example of a self-made man. His father was a Connecticut farmer. The farm was left to him, but he traded it off for a lot of clocks which he peddled in mining districts for gold dust and nuggets. He and Mark Hopkins formed a partnership and opened a hardware store in California. They united with Leland Stanford in the construction of a railroad, and they all got rich rapidly. Mr. Huntington is one of the greatest railroad operators of the country. He always acted upon the principle that he would control the stock of any road in which he was interested. He is one of the most methodical men of all the millionaires of this country. He is very plain in his manner, strictly temperate, and very abstemious in his living. He said he never knew what it was to be tired.
Russell Sage used to keep a grocery store in Troy, N. Y. He finally associated himself with Jay Gould, who used to be a constant borrower of money of him. Mr. Sage probably keeps more ready money on hand than any other millionaire. He can nearly always control ten millions or more at call. He has never speculated in stocks to any extent. Mr. Sage’s word is as good as any bond. He has no taste for ordinary diversions, except driving.
Philip D. Armour, who has the appearance of a prosperous farmer, was born on a farm near Watertown, N. J. He became fired with a desire to see the “Boundless West.” His mind seemed to run to hogs, and with a financial instinct he made up his mind that there was a fortune in transporting the hogs from where they were so plenty to where there were so few of them and so many to eat them. He could now purchase every hog in the world and then have money left to buy a railroad or two.