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

Columbus returned to Genoa, and again renewed his propositions to the Republic, but without success. Nothing discouraged him. The finding of the New World was the irrevocable object of his life. He went to Spain, and landed at the town of Palos, in Andalusia. He went by chance to a convent of Franciscans, knocked at the door and asked for a little bread and water. The prior gratefully received the stranger, entertained him, and learned from him the story of his life. He encouraged him in his hopes, and furnished him with an admission to the Court of Spain, then at Cordova. King Ferdinand received him graciously, but before coming to a decision he desired to lay the project before a council of his wisest men at Salamanca. Columbus had to reply, not only to the scientific arguments laid before him, but to citations from the Bible. The Spanish clergy declared that the theory of the antipodes was hostile to the faith. The earth, they said, was an immense flat disk; and if there was a new earth beyond the ocean, then all men could not be descended from Adam. _Columbus was considered a fool._

Still bent on his idea, he wrote to the King of England, then to the King of France, without effect. At last, in 1492, Columbus was introduced by Louis de Saint Angel to Queen Isabella of Spain. The friends who accompanied him pleaded his cause with so much force and conviction that he at length persuaded the queen to aid him.

Lord Ellenborough was a great worker. He had a very hard time in getting a start at the bar, but was determined never to relax his industry until success came to him. When he was worked down to absolute exhaustion, he had this card which he kept constantly before his eyes, lest he might be tempted to relax his efforts: “Read or Starve.”

Show me a man who has made fifty thousand dollars, and I will show you in that man an equivalent of energy, attention to detail, trustworthiness, punctuality, professional knowledge, good address, common sense, and other marketable qualities. The farmer respects his savings bank book not unnaturally, for it declares with all the solemnity of a sealed and stamped document that for a certain length of time he rose at six o’clock each morning to oversee his labors, that he patiently waited upon seasonable weather, that he understood buying and selling. To the medical man, his fee serves as a medal to indicate that he was brave enough to face small pox and other infectious diseases, and his self-respect is fostered thereby.

The barrister’s brief is marked with the price of his legal knowledge, of his eloquence, or of his brave endurance during a period of hope-deferred brieflessness.

A rich man asked Howard Burnett to do a little thing for his album. Burnett complied and charged a thousand francs. “But it took you only five minutes,” objected the rich man. “Yes, but it took me thirty years to learn how to do it in five minutes.”

“I prepared that sermon,” said a young sprig of divinity, “in half an hour, and preached it at once, and thought nothing of it.” “In that,” said an older minister, “your hearers are at one with you, for they also thought nothing of it.”

Virgil seems to have accomplished about four lines a week; but then they have lasted eighteen hundred years and will last eighteen hundred more.

Seven years Virgil is said to have expended in the composition of the Georgics, and they could all be printed in about seven columns of an ordinary newspaper. Tradition reports that he was in the habit of composing a few lines in the morning and spending the rest of the day in polishing them. Campbell used to say that if a poet made one good line a week, he did very well indeed; but Moore thought that if a poet did his duty, he could get a line done every day.

What an army of young men enters the success-contest every year as raw recruits! Many of them are country youths flocking to the cities to buy success. Their young ambitions have been excited by some book, or fired by the story of some signal success, and they dream of becoming Astors or Girards, Stewarts or Wanamakers, Vanderbilts or Goulds, Lincolns or Garfields, until their innate energy impels them to try their own fortune in the magic metropolis. But what are you willing to pay for “success,” as you call it, young man? Do you realize what that word means in a great city in the nineteenth century, where men grow gray at thirty and die of old age at forty,–where the race of life has become so intense that the runners are treading on the heels of those before them; and “woe to him who stops to tie his shoestring?” Do you know that only two or three out of every hundred will ever win permanent success, and only because they have kept everlastingly at it; and that the rest will sooner or later fail and many die in poverty because they have given up the struggle.

There are multitudes of men who never rely wholly upon themselves and achieve independence. They are like summer vines, which never grow even ligneous, but stretch out a thousand little hands to grasp the stronger shrubs; and if they cannot reach them, they lie dishevelled in the grass, hoof-trodden, and beaten of every storm. It will be found that the first real movement upward will not take place until, in a spirit of resolute self-denial, indolence, so natural to almost every one, is mastered. Necessity is, usually, the spur that sets the sluggish energies in motion. Poverty, therefore, is often of inestimable value as an incentive to the best endeavors of which we are capable.