“People smile at the enthusiasm of youth,” said Charles Kingsley; “that enthusiasm which they themselves secretly look back at with a sigh, perhaps unconscious that it is partly their own fault that they ever lost it.”
“Should I die this minute,” said Nelson at an important crisis, “want of frigates would be found written on my heart.”
Said Dr. Arnold, the celebrated instructor: “I feel more and more the need of intercourse with men who take life in earnest. It is painful to me to be always on the surface of things. Not that I wish for much of what is called religious conversation. That is often apt to be on the surface. But I want a sign which one catches by a sort of masonry, that a man knows what he is about in life. When I find this it opens my heart with as fresh a sympathy as when I was twenty years younger.”
Archimedes, the greatest geometer of antiquity, was consulted by the king in regard to a gold crown suspected of being fraudulently alloyed with silver. While considering the best method of detecting any fraud, he plunged into a full bathing tub; and, with the thought that the water that overflowed must be equal in weight to his body, he discovered the method of obtaining the bulk of the crown compared with an equally heavy mass of pure gold. Excited by the discovery, he ran through the streets undressed, crying, “I have found it.”
Equally celebrated is his remark, “Give me where to stand and I will move the world.”
His only remark to the Roman soldier who entered his room while engaged in geometrical study, was, “Don’t step on my circle.”
Refusing to follow the soldier to Marcellus, who had captured the city, he was killed on the spot. He is said to have remarked, “My head, but not my circle.”
“Every great and commanding moment in the annals of the world,” says Emerson, “is the triumph of some enthusiasm. The victories of the Arabs after Mahomet, who, in a few years, from a small and mean beginning, established a larger empire than that of Rome, is an example. They did they knew not what. The naked Derar, horsed on an idea, was found an overmatch for a troop of cavalry. The women fought like men and conquered the Roman men. They were miserably equipped, miserably fed. They were temperance troops. There was neither brandy nor flesh needed to feed them. They conquered Asia and Africa and Spain on barley. The Caliph Omar’s walking-stick struck more terror into those who saw it than another man’s sword.”
Horace Vernet’s enthusiasm and devotion to the one idea of his life knew no bounds. He had himself lashed to the mast in a terrible gale on the Mediterranean when all others on board were seized with terror, and with great delight sketched the towering waves which threatened every minute to swallow the vessel. Several writers tell the story that a great artist, Giotto, about to paint the crucifixion, induced a poor man to let him bind him upon a cross in order that he might get a better idea of the terrible scene that he was about to put upon the canvas. He promised faithfully that he would release his model in an hour, but to the latter’s horror the painter seized a dagger and plunged it into his heart; and, while the blood was streaming from the ghastly wound, painted his death agony.
Beecher was a very dull boy and was the last member of the family of whom anything was expected. He had a weak memory, and disliked study. He shunned society and wanted to go to sea. Even when he went to college many of his classmates stood ahead of him, who have fallen into oblivion. But when he was converted his whole life changed: he was full of enthusiasm, hopefulness and zeal. Nothing was too menial for him to undertake to carry his purpose. He chopped wood, built the fire in his little church in Lawrenceburg, Ind., of only eighteen members, cleaned the lamps, swept the floor and washed the windows. He built the fire, baked, washed, when his wife was ill. The pent-up enthusiasm of his ambitious life burst the barriers of his inhospitable surroundings until he blossomed out into America’s greatest pulpit orator.
When Handel was a little boy he bought a clavichord, hid it in the attic, and went there at night to play upon it, muffling the strings with small pieces of fine woolen cloth so that the sounds should not wake the family. Michael Angelo neglected school to copy drawings which he dared not carry home. Murillo filled the margin of his school-book with drawings. Dryden read Polybius before he was ten years old. Le Brum, when a boy, drew with a piece of charcoal on the walls of the house. Pope wrote excellent verses at fourteen. Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician, composed at sixteen a tract on the conic sections.
Professor Agassiz was so enthusiastic in his work and so loved the fishes, the fowl and the cattle that it is said these creatures would die for him to give him their skeletons. His father wanted him to fit for commercial life, but the fish haunted him day and night.
Confucius said that “he was so eager in the pursuit of knowledge that he forgot his food;” and that, “in the joy of its attainment, he forgot his sorrows;” and that “he did not even perceive that old age was coming on.”
“That boy tries to make himself useful,” said an employer of the errand boy, George W. Childs. It is this trying to be useful and helpful that promotes us in life.