How to Succeed, or Stepping-Stones to Fame and Fortune

CHAPTER XXIV.

BOOKS AND SUCCESS.

Ignorance is the curse of God,
Knowledge the wing wherewith we fly to heaven.
–SHAKESPEARE.

Prefer knowledge to wealth; for the one is transitory, the
other perpetual.
–SOCRATES.

If a man empties his purse into his head, no man can take it
away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best
interest.
–FRANKLIN.

My early and invincible love of reading, I would not exchange
for the treasures of India.
–GIBBON.

If the crowns of all the kingdoms of the empire were laid down
at my feet in exchange for my books and my love of reading, I
would spurn them all.
–FÉNELON.

Who of us can tell
What he had been, had Cadmus never taught
The art that fixes into form the thought,–
Had Plato never spoken from his cell,
Or his high harp blind Homer never strung?
–BULWER.

When friends grow cold and the converse of intimates languishes
into vapid civility and common-place, these only continue the
unaltered countenance of happier days, and cheer us with that
true friendship which never deceived hope, nor deserted sorrow.
–WASHINGTON IRVING.

“Do you want to know,” asks Robert Collyer, “how I manage to talk to you in this simple Saxon? I read Bunyan, Crusoe, and Goldsmith when I was a boy, morning, noon, and night. All the rest was task work; these were my delight, with the stories in the Bible, and with Shakespeare, when at last the mighty master came within our doors. The rest were as senna to me. These were like a well of pure water, and this is the first step I seem to have taken of my own free will toward the pulpit. * * * I took to these as I took to milk, and, without the least idea what I was doing, got the taste for simple words into the very fibre of my nature. There was day-school for me until I was eight years old, and then I had to turn in and work thirteen hours a day. * * * * From the days when we used to spell out Crusoe and old Bunyan there had grown up in me a devouring hunger to read books. It made small matter what they were, so they were books. Half a volume of an old encyclopædia came along–the first I had ever seen. How many times I went through that I cannot even guess. I remember that I read some old reports of the Missionary Society with the greatest delight.

“There were chapters in them about China and Labrador. Yet I think it is in reading, as it is in eating, when the first hunger is over you begin to be a little critical, and will by no means take to garbage if you are of a wholesome nature. And I remember this because it touches this beautiful valley of the Hudson. I could not go home for the Christmas of 1839, and was feeling very sad about it all, for I was only a boy; and sitting by the fire, an old farmer came in and said: ‘I notice thou’s fond of reading, so I brought thee summat to read.’ It was Irving’s ‘Sketch Book.’ I had never heard of the work. I went at it, and was ‘as them that dream.’ No such delight had touched me since the old days of Crusoe. I saw the Hudson and the Catskills, took poor Rip at once into my heart, as everybody has, pitied Ichabod while I laughed at him, thought the old Dutch feast a most admirable thing, and long before I was through, all regret at my lost Christmas had gone down with the wind, and I had found out there are books and books. That vast hunger to read never left me. If there was no candle, I poked my head down to the fire; read while I was eating, blowing the bellows, or walking from one place to another. I could read and walk four miles an hour. The world centred in books. There was no thought in my mind of any good to come out of it; the good lay in the reading. I had no more idea of being a minister than you elder men who were boys then, in this town, had that I should be here to-night to tell this story. Now, give a boy a passion like this for anything, books or business, painting or farming, mechanism or music, and you give him thereby a lever to lift his world, and a patent of nobility, if the thing he does is noble. There were two or three of my mind about books. We became companions, and gave the roughs a wide berth. The books did their work, too, about that drink, and fought the devil with a finer fire.”

“In education,” says Herbert Spencer, “the process of self-development should be encouraged to the fullest extent. Children should be led to make their own investigations, and to draw their own inferences. They should be _told_ as little as possible, and induced to _discover_ as much as possible. Humanity has progressed solely by self-instruction; and that to achieve the best results each mind must progress somewhat after the same fashion, is continually proved by the marked success of self-made men.”

“My books,” said Thomas Hood, “kept me from the ring, the dog-pit, the tavern, and the saloon. The associate of Pope and Addison, the mind accustomed to the noble though silent discourse of Shakespeare and Milton, will hardly seek or put up with low or evil company or slaves.”

“When I get a little money,” said Erasmus, “I buy books, and if any is left, I buy food and clothes.”

“Hundreds of books read once,” says Robertson, “have passed as completely from us as if we had never read them; whereas the discipline of mind got by writing down, not copying, an abstract of a book which is worth the trouble fixes it on the mind for years, and, besides, enables one to read other books with more attention and more profit.”