“Your Grace has not the organ of animal courage largely developed,” said a phrenologist, who was examining Wellington’s head. “You are right,” replied the Iron Duke, “and but for my sense of duty I should have retreated in my first fight.” That first fight, on an Indian field, was one of the most terrible on record.
Grant never knew when he was beaten. When told that he was surrounded by the enemy at Belmont, he quietly replied: “Well, then, we must cut our way out.”
When General Jackson was a judge and was holding court in a small settlement, a border ruffian, a murderer and desperado, came into the court-room with brutal violence and interrupted the court. The judge ordered him to be arrested. The officer did not dare approach him. “Call a posse,” said the judge, “and arrest him.” But they also shrank with fear from the ruffian. “Call me, then,” said Jackson; “this court is adjourned for five minutes.” He left the bench, walked straight up to the man, and with his eagle eye actually cowed the ruffian, who dropped his weapons, afterward saying: “There was something in his eye I could not resist.”
Lincoln never shrank from espousing an unpopular cause when he believed it to be right. At the time when it almost cost a young lawyer his bread and butter to defend the fugitive slave, and when other lawyers had refused, Lincoln would always plead the cause of the unfortunate whenever an opportunity presented. “Go to Lincoln,” people would say, when these bounded fugitives were seeking protection; “he’s not afraid of any cause, if it’s right.”
Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood was one long struggle with poverty, with little education and no influential friends. When at last he had begun the practice of law it required no little daring to cast his fortune with the weaker side in politics, and thus imperil what small reputation he had gained. Only the most sublime moral courage could have sustained him as President to hold his ground against hostile criticism and a long train of disaster; to issue the Emancipation Proclamation; to support Grant and Stanton against the clamor of the politicians and the press; and through it all to do the right as God gave him to see the right.
“Doubt indulged becomes doubt realized.” To determine to do anything is half the battle. “To think a thing is impossible is to make it so.” “Courage is victory, timidity is defeat.”
Don’t waste time dreaming of obstacles you may never encounter, or in crossing bridges you have not reached. Don’t fool with a nettle! Grasp with firmness if you would rob it of its sting. To half will and to hang forever in the balance is to lose your grip on life.
Execute your resolutions immediately. Thoughts are but dreams till their effects be tried. Does competition trouble you? work away; what is your competitor but a man? _Conquer your place in the world_, for all things serve a brave soul. Combat difficulty manfully; sustain misfortune bravely; endure poverty nobly; encounter disappointment courageously. The influence of the brave man is a magnetism which creates an epidemic of noble zeal in all about him. Every day sends to the grave obscure men, who have only remained in obscurity because their timidity has prevented them from making a first effort; and who, if they could have been induced to begin, would in all probability have gone great lengths in the career of usefulness and fame. “No great deed is done,” says George Eliot, “by falterers who ask for certainty.”
A mouse that dwelt near the abode of a great magician was kept in such constant distress by its fear of a cat that the magician, taking pity on it, turned it into a cat itself. Immediately it began to suffer from its fear of a dog, so the magician turned it into a dog. Then it began to suffer from fear of a tiger, and the magician turned it into a tiger. Then it began to suffer from its fear of huntsmen, and the magician, in disgust, said, “Be a mouse again. As you have only the heart of a mouse it is impossible to help you by giving you the body of a nobler animal.” And the poor creature again became a mouse.
Young Commodore Oliver H. Perry, not twenty-eight years old, was intrusted with the plan to gain control of Lake Erie. With great energy Perry directed the construction of nine ships, carrying fifty-four guns, and conquered Commodore Barclay, a veteran of European navies, with six vessels, carrying sixty-three guns. Perry had no experience in naval battles before this.
To believe a business impossible is the way to make it so. Feasible projects often miscarry through despondency, and are strangled at birth by a cowardly imagination. A ship on a lee shore stands out to sea to escape shipwreck. Shrink and you will be despised.
One of Napoleon’s drummer boys won the battle of Arcola. Napoleon’s little army of fourteen thousand men had fought fifty thousand Austrians for seventy-two hours; the Austrians’ position enabled them to sweep the bridge of Arcola, which the French had gained and which they must hold to win the battle. The drummer boy, on the shoulders of his sergeant (who swam across the river with him), beat the drum all the way across the river, and when on the opposite end of the bridge he beat his drum so vigorously that the Austrians, remembering the terrible French onslaught of the day before, fled in terror, thinking the French army was advancing upon them. Napoleon dated his great confidence in himself from this drum. This boy’s heroic act was represented in stone on the front of the Pantheon of Paris.
Two days before the battle of Jena Napoleon said: “My lads, you must not fear death: when soldiers brave death they drive him into the enemy’s ranks.”
Arago says, in his autobiography, that when he was puzzled and discouraged with difficulties he met with in his early studies in mathematics some words he found on the waste leaf of his text-book caught his attention and interested him. He found it to be a short letter from D’Alembert to a young person, disheartened like himself, and read: “Go on, sir, go on. The difficulties you meet with will resolve themselves as you advance. Proceed and light will dawn and shine with increasing clearness on your path.” “That maxim,” he said, “was my greatest master in mathematics.”