“The greatest master of strategy the world has ever seen was sixty-six years at school to himself before he was ready for his task. Though born with the century, and an army officer at nineteen, he was an old man when, in 1866, as Prussian chief of staff, he crushed Austria at Sadowa and drove her out of Germany. Four years later the silent, modest soldier of seventy, ready for the still greater opportunity, smote France, and changed the map of Europe. Glory and the field-marshal’s baton, after fifty-one years of hard work! No wonder Louis Napoleon was beaten by such men as he. All Louis Napoleons have been, and always will be. Opportunity always finds out frauds. It does not make men, but shows the world what they have made of themselves.”
Sir Henry Havelock joined the army of India in his twenty-eighth year, and waited till he was sixty-two for the opportunity to show himself fitted to command and skillful to plan. During those four and thirty years of waiting, he was busy preparing himself for that march to Lucknow which was to make him famous as a soldier.
“The viking of our western clime
Who made his mast a throne,”
began his naval career as a mere boy, and was sixty-four years old before he had an opportunity to distinguish himself; but when the great test of his life came, the reserve of half a century’s preparation made him master of the situation.
Alexander Hamilton said, “Men give me credit for genius. All the genius I have lies just in this: when I have a subject in hand I study it profoundly. Day and night it is before me. I explore it in all its bearings. My mind becomes pervaded with it. Then the effort which I make the people are pleased to call the fruit of genius; it is the fruit of labor and thought.” The law of labor is equally binding on genius and mediocrity.
“Fill up the cask! fill up the cask!” said old Dr. Bellamy when asked by a young clergyman for advice about the composition of sermons. “Fill up the cask! and then if you tap it anywhere you will get a good stream. But if you put in but little, it will dribble, dribble, dribble, and you must tap, tap, tap, and then you get but a small stream, after all.”
“The merchant is in a dangerous position,” says Dr. W. W. Patton, “whose means are in goods trusted out all over the country on long credits, and who in an emergency has no money in the bank upon which to draw. A heavy deposit, subject to a sight-draft, is the only position of strength. And he only is intellectually strong, who has made heavy deposits in the bank of memory, and can draw upon his faculties at any time, according to the necessities of the case.”
They say that more life, if not more labor, was spent on the piles beneath the St. Petersburg church of St. Isaac’s, to get a foundation, than on all the magnificent marbles and malachite which have since been lodged in it.
Fifty feet of Bunker Hill Monument is under ground, unseen, and unappreciated by the thousands who tread about that historic shaft. The rivers of India run under ground, unseen, unheard, by the millions who tramp above, but are they therefore lost? Ask the golden harvest waving above them if it feels the water flowing beneath? The superstructure of a lifetime cannot stand upon the foundation of a day.
C. H. Parkhurst says that in manhood, as much as in house-building, the foundation keeps asserting itself all the way from the first floor to the roof. The stones laid in the underpinning may be coarse and inelegant, but, even so, each such stone perpetuates itself in silent echo clear up through to the finial. The body is in that respect like an old Stradivarius violin, the ineffable sweetness of whose music is outcome and quotation from the coarse fibre of the case upon which its strings are strung. It is a very pleasant delusion that what we call the higher qualities and energies of a person maintain that self-centered kind of existence that enables them to discard and contemn all dependence upon what is lower and less refined than themselves, but it is a delusion that always wilts in an atmosphere of fact. Climb high as we like our ladder will still require to rest on the ground; and it is probable that the keenest intellectual intuition, and the most delicate throb of passion would, if analysis could be carried so far, be discovered to have its connections with the rather material affair that we know as the body.
Lincoln took the postmastership for the sake of reading all the papers that came to town. He read everything he could lay his hands on; the Bible, Shakespeare, Pilgrim’s Progress, Life of Washington and Life of Franklin, Life of Henry Clay, Æsop’s Fables; he read them over and over again until he could almost repeat them by heart; but he never read a novel in his life. His education came from the newspapers and from his contact with men and things. After he read a book he would write out an analysis of it. What a grand sight to see this long, lank, backwoods student, lying before the fire in a log cabin without floor or windows, after everybody else was abed, devouring books he had borrowed but could not afford to buy!