It was the last three days of the first voyage of Columbus that told. All his years of struggle and study would have availed nothing if he had yielded to the mutiny. It was all in those three days. But what days!
“Often defeated in battle,” said Macaulay of Alexander the Great, “he was always successful in war.” He might have said the same of Washington, and, with appropriate changes, of all who win great triumphs of any kind.
One of the greatest preachers of modern times, Lacordaire, failed again and again. Everybody said he would never make a preacher, but he was determined to succeed, and in two years from his humiliating failures he was preaching in Notre Dame to immense congregations.
Orange Judd was a remarkable example of success through grit. He earned corn by working for farmers, carried it on his back to mill, brought back the meal to his room, cooked it himself, milked cows for his pint of milk per day, and lived on mush and milk for months together. He worked his way through Wesleyan University, and took a three years’ post-graduate course at Yale.
Oh, the triumphs of this indomitable spirit of the conqueror! This it was that enabled Franklin to dine on a small loaf in the printing-office with a book in his hand. It helped Locke to live on bread and water in a Dutch garret. It enabled Gideon Lee to go barefoot in the snow, half starved and thinly clad. It sustained Lincoln and Garfield on their hard journeys from the log cabin to the White House.
The very reputation of being strong-willed, plucky, and indefatigable is of priceless value. It often cowes enemies and dispels at the start opposition to one’s undertakings which would otherwise be formidable.
“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as if you could not hold on a minute longer,” said Harriet Beecher Stowe, “never give up then, for that’s just the place and time that the tide’ll turn.”
“Never despair,” says Burke, “but if you do, work on in despair.”
Once when Marshal Ney was going into battle, looking down at his knees which were smiting together, he said, “You may well shake; you would shake worse yet if you knew where I am going to take you.”
“Go it, William!” an old boxer was overheard saying to himself in the midst of a fight; “at him again!–never say ‘die’!”
A striking incident is related of the early experience of George Law, who, in his day, was one of the most conspicuous financiers and capitalists of New York City. When he was a young man he went to New York, poor and friendless. One day he was walking along the streets, hungry, not knowing where his next meal would come from, and passed a new building in course of erection. Through some accident one of the hod carriers fell from the structure and dropped dead at his feet. Young Law, in his desperation, applied for the job to take the dead man’s place, and the place was given him. He went to work, and this was how one of the wealthiest and shrewdest New York business men got his start.
See young Disraeli, sprung from a hated and persecuted race; without opportunity, pushing his way up through the middle classes, up through the upper classes, until he stands self-poised upon the topmost round of political and social power. Scoffed, ridiculed, rebuffed, hissed from the House of Commons, he simply says, “The time will come when you will hear me.” The time did come, and the boy with no chance swayed the sceptre of England for a quarter of a century.
If impossibilities ever exist, popularly speaking, they ought to have been found somewhere between the birth and the death of Kitto, that deaf pauper and master of Oriental learning. But Kitto did not find them there. In the presence of his decision and imperial energy they melted away. Kitto begged his father to take him out of the poorhouse, even if he had to subsist like the Hottentots. He told him that he would sell his books and pawn his handkerchief, by which he thought he could raise about twelve shillings. He said he could live upon blackberries, nuts and field turnips, and was willing to sleep on a hayrick. Here was real grit. What were impossibilities to such a resolute will? Patrick Henry voiced that decision which characterized the great men of the Revolution when he said, “Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”
Look at Garrison reading this advertisement in a Southern paper: “Five thousand dollars will be paid for the head of W. L. Garrison by the Governor of Georgia.” Behold him again; a broadcloth mob is leading him through the streets of Boston by a rope. He is hurried to jail. See him return calmly and unflinchingly to his work, beginning at the point at which he was interrupted. Note this heading in the _Liberator_, the type of which he set himself in an attic on State Street, in Boston: “I am in earnest, I will not equivocate, I will not excuse, I will not retreat a single inch, and I will be heard.” Was Garrison heard? Ask a race set free largely by his efforts. Even the gallows erected in front of his own door did not daunt him. He held the ear of an unwilling world with that burning word “freedom,” which was destined never to cease its vibrations until it had breathed its sweet secret to the last slave.