The most beautiful as well as the strongest characters are not developed in warm climates, where man finds his bread ready made on trees, and where exertion is a great effort, but rather in a trying climate and on a stubborn soil. It is no chance that returns to the Hindoo ryot a penny and to the American laborer a dollar for his daily toil; that makes Mexico with her mineral wealth poor, and New England with its granite and ice rich. It is rugged necessity, it is the struggle to obtain, it is poverty the priceless spur, that develops the stamina of manhood, and calls the race out of barbarism. Labor found the world a wilderness and has made it a garden.
The law of adaptation by which conditions affect an organism is simple and well known. It is that which callouses the palm of the oarsman, strengthens the waist of the wrestler, fits the back to its burden. It inexorably compels the organism to adapt itself to its conditions, to like them, and so to survive them.
As soon as young eagles can fly the old birds tumble them out and tear the down and feathers from their nest. The rude and rough experience of the eaglet fits him to become the bold king of birds, fierce and expert in pursuing his prey.
Benjamin Franklin ran away and George Law was turned out of doors. Thrown upon their own resources, they early acquired the energy and skill to overcome difficulties.
Boys who are bound out, crowded out, kicked out, usually “turn out,” while those who do not have these disadvantages frequently fail to “come out.”
From an aimless, idle and useless brain, emergencies often call out powers and virtues before unknown and unsuspected. How often we see a young man develop astounding ability and energy after the death of a parent or the loss of a fortune, or after some other calamity has knocked the props and crutches from under him. The prison has roused the slumbering fire in many a noble mind. “Robinson Crusoe” was written in prison. The “Pilgrim’s Progress” appeared in Bedford Jail. The “Life and Times” of Baxter, Eliot’s “Monarchia of Man,” and Penn’s “No Cross, No Crown,” were written by prisoners. Sir Walter Raleigh wrote “The History of the World” during his imprisonment of thirteen years. Luther translated the Bible while confined in the Castle of Wartburg. For twenty years Dante worked in exile, and even under sentence of death. His works were burned in public after his death; but genius will not burn.
Adversity exasperates fools, dejects cowards, draws out the faculties of the wise and industrious, puts the modest to the necessity of trying their skill, awes the opulent, and makes the idle industrious. Neither do uninterrupted success and prosperity qualify men for usefulness and happiness. The storms of adversity, like those of the ocean, rouse the faculties, and excite the invention, prudence, skill and fortitude of the voyager. The martyrs of ancient times, in bracing their minds to outward calamities, acquired a loftiness of purpose and a moral heroism worth a lifetime of softness and security. A man upon whom continuous sunshine falls is like the earth in August: he becomes parched and dry and hard and close-grained. Men have drawn from adversity the elements of greatness. If you have the blues, go and see the poorest and sickest families within your knowledge. The darker the setting, the brighter the diamond. Don’t run about and tell acquaintances that you have been unfortunate; people do not like to have unfortunate men for acquaintances.
This is the crutch age. “Helps” and “aids” are advertised everywhere. We have institutes, colleges, universities, teachers, books, libraries, newspapers, magazines. Our thinking is done for us. Our problems are all worked out in “explanations” and “keys.” Our boys are too often tutored through college with very little study. “Short roads” and “abridged methods” are characteristic of the century. Ingenious methods are used everywhere to get the drudgery out of the college course. Newspapers give us our politics, and preachers our religion. Self-help and self-reliance are getting old fashioned. Nature, as if conscious of delayed blessings, has rushed to man’s relief with her wondrous forces, and undertakes to do the world’s drudgery and emancipate him from Eden’s curse.