Quentin Matsys was a blacksmith at Antwerp. When in his twentieth year he wished to marry the daughter of a painter. The father refused his consent. “Wert thou a painter,” said he, “she should be thine; but a blacksmith–never!” “_I will be_ a painter,” said the young man. He applied to his new art with so much perseverance that in a short time he produced pictures which gave a promise of the highest excellence. He gained for his reward the fair hand for which he sighed, and rose ere long to a high rank in his profession.
Take two acorns from the same tree, as nearly alike as possible; plant one on a hill by itself, and the other in the dense forest, and watch them grow. The oak standing alone is exposed to every storm. Its roots reach out in every direction, clutching the rocks and piercing deep into the earth. Every rootlet lends itself to steady the growing giant, as if in anticipation of fierce conflict with the elements. Sometimes its upward growth seems checked for years, but all the while it has been expending its energy in pushing a root across a large rock to gain a firmer anchorage. Then it shoots proudly aloft again, prepared to defy the hurricane. The gales which sport so rudely with its wide branches find more than their match, and only serve still further to toughen every minutest fibre from pith to bark.
The acorn planted in the deep forest shoots up a weak, slender sapling. Shielded by its neighbors, it feels no need of spreading its roots far and wide for support.
Take two boys, as nearly alike as possible. Place one in the country away from the hothouse culture and refinements of the city, with only the district school, the Sunday school, and a few books. Remove wealth and props of every kind; and, if he has the right kind of material in him, he will thrive. Every obstacle overcome lends him strength for the next conflict. If he falls, he rises with more determination than before. Like a rubber ball, the harder the obstacle he meets the higher he rebounds. Obstacles and opposition are but apparatus of the gymnasium in which the fibres of his manhood are developed. He compels respect and recognition from those who have ridiculed his poverty. Put the other boy in a Vanderbilt family. Give him French and German nurses; gratify every wish. Place him under the tutelage of great masters and send him to Harvard. Give him thousands a year for spending money, and let him travel extensively.
The two meet. The city lad is ashamed of his country brother. The plain, threadbare clothes, hard hands, tawny face, and awkward manner of the country boy make sorry contrast with the genteel appearance of the other. The poor boy bemoans his hard lot, regrets that he has “no chance in life,” and envies the city youth. He thinks that it is a cruel Providence that places such a wide gulf between them. They meet again as men, but how changed! It is as easy to distinguish the sturdy, self-made man from the one who has been propped up all his life by wealth, position, and family influence, as it is for the shipbuilder to tell the difference between the plank from the rugged mountain oak and one from the sapling of the forest. If you think there is no difference, place each plank in the bottom of a ship, and test them in a hurricane at sea.
The athlete does not carry the gymnasium away with him, but he carries the skill and muscle which give him his reputation.
The lessons you learn at school will give you strength and skill in after life, and power, just in proportion to the accuracy, the clearness of perception with which you learn your lessons. The school was your gymnasium. You do not carry away the Greek and Latin text-books, the geometry and algebra into your occupations any more than the athlete carries the apparatus of the gymnasium, but you carry away the skill and the power if you have been painstaking, accurate and faithful.
“It is in me, and it _shall_ come out!” And it did. For Richard Brinsley Sheridan became the most brilliant, eloquent and amazing statesman of his day. Yet if his first efforts had been but moderately successful, he might have been content with mere mediocrity. It was his defeats that nerved him to strive for eminence and win it. But it took hard, persistent work in his case to secure it, just as it did in that of so many others.
Byron was stung into a determination to go to the top by a scathing criticism of his first book, “Hours of Idleness,” published when he was but nineteen years of age. Macaulay said, “There is scarce an instance in history of so sudden a rise to so dizzy an eminence as Byron reached.” In a few years he stood by the side of such men as Scott, Southey and Campbell. Many an orator like “stuttering Jack Curran,” or “Orator Mum,” as he was once called, has been spurred into eloquence by ridicule and abuse.
Where the sky is gray and the climate unkindly, where the soil yields nothing save to the diligent hand, and life itself cannot be supported without incessant toil, man has reached his highest range of physical and intellectual development.
The most beautiful and the strongest animals, as a rule, have come from the same narrow belt of latitude which has produced the heroes of the world.