The Courage Of Industry
ANYBODY can drift, but only the man or woman of courage can breast the
current, can fight on upstream.
It is so easy to be idle or to work listlessly. Average folks drift
heedlessly into occupations in which they have no special interest and
for which they have as little fitness. Most people waste their evenings
or use them to little profit: it never occurs to them that each day they
waste precious hours.
They give more thought to schemes to do less work
than to attempts to increase output.
And so they show their weakness, their unfitness for bearing
responsibility, their cowardice when the world is calling for courage.
Worth-while work demands the finest kind of courage, and with perfect
fairness work gives back courage to those who put courage into it.
"Yes, he's a right good worker, when you once get him started," a
country newspaper editor said to a friend who was inquiring about a boy
who had been in the office three months. "Watch him now; you'll see what
The boy had just brought from the express office the package of "patent
insides," as the papers for the weekly edition of the newspaper, already
half printed in the nearby city, were called. With a sigh he dragged
these up the stairs and laid them on the folding table. With another
sigh he contemplated the pile and thought how much time would be
required to fold the eight hundred papers. After lengthy calculation he
stopped to read a column of jokes from the top paper in the pile. At
least five minutes passed before the first paper was folded. At the end
of ten minutes he had succeeded in folding perhaps twenty-five papers.
When the noon hour arrived not one third of the task was completed.
While he ate his lunch he was thinking of the dread ordeal of the
afternoon--six hundred more papers to be folded! Would he ever be done?
He was still pitying himself as he walked slowly back to the office.
Just before reaching the doorway into which he must turn, he spied an
acquaintance. He made his way over to the boy who had attracted him, not
because he had anything to say to him, but that he might delay a little
longer the moment of beginning work at the folding table.
"What are you going to do?" he asked idly of the boy, who had taken off
his coat and was rolling up his sleeves.
"The boss wants me to sort that lot of old iron," was the reply.
"What, that huge pile! It will take you a week, won't it? Just think how
much of it there is!"
"No, there isn't time to think how much of it there is," was the reply.
"And what would be the good? Not a bit of use getting discouraged at the
very start, and that is what would happen if I didn't pitch in hard. The
job is going to be done before night--that is, if I'm not interrupted by
too many loafers coming in to ask fool questions."
The boy from the printing office was about to resent this speech of the
boy at the iron pile, but he thought better of it. "Perhaps there is
something in what he says," he said to himself, as he went up the
stairs. "Suppose I try to pitch in hard."
So he surprised the foreman by beginning at the pile of six hundred
papers as if he was to be sent to a ball game when he finished. And he
surprised himself by finishing his task in a little more than an hour.
The lesson he learned that day stood him in good stead when later he was
taking his first difficult examination in a technical school. His
neighbor stopped to look over the paper from beginning to end, and was
heard to mutter, "How do they expect us to get through ten questions
like these in an hour's time?" The boy from the printing office had no
time for such an inquiry, but began work at once on the first question,
without troubling himself about those that came later until he was ready
So it was when, his technical course completed, he was confronted by his
first great railroad task, the clearing up of a wreck that looked to his
assistants like an inextricable tangle. After one good look at it he
pitched in for all he was worth, thus inspiring the men who had felt the
task was impossible, and within a few hours the tracks were clear.
The ability to pitch in at once on a hard job is one characteristic of
the man who accomplishes tasks that make others sit up and take notice.
John Shaw Billings, the famous librarian, had this ability. To a friend
who praised him for the performance of what others thought to be a most
difficult task, he said:
"I'll let you into the secret--it is nothing really difficult if you
only begin. Some people contemplate a task until it looks so big it
seems impossible, but I just begin, and it gets done somehow. There
would be no coral islands if the first bug sat down and began to wonder
how the job was to be done."
One of the interesting points the fascinated reader of biography comes
to look for is the first hint of the formation of the purpose that later
characterized the life of the subject. There is infinite variety, but in
every case there is apt to be something that takes the purposeful reader
back to the days when his own ambition was taking shape.
For instance, there is Daniel Boone. One would not be apt to select him
as an example of one whose life was ruled by a purpose deliberately
formed and adhered to for many years. Yet he had his vision of what he
desired to accomplish when, at twenty-one years of age, he was marching
from North Carolina to Pennsylvania to join Braddock's company. On the
way he met John Finley, a hunter who had traveled through Ohio and into
the wild regions to the south. His tale of Kentucky fired Boone's
imagination, and the two men planned to go there just as soon as the
trip to Fort Duquesne was at an end. It proved impossible to carry out
the plan for many years, but Boone never lost sight of his purpose, and
ultimately he carved out the Wilderness Road and opened the way for the
pioneers to seek homes in the Kentucky Wilderness.
Alexander Hamilton was but twelve years old when he wrote from his home
in St. Croix, in the West Indies, to a friend in America:
"I contemn the grovelling condition of a clerk, or the like, to which my
fortune condemns me, and would willingly risk my life, though not my
character, to exalt my station. I am confident, Ned, that my youth
excludes me from any hope of immediate preferment, nor do I desire it,
but I mean to prepare the way for futurity."
Not for a day did he lose sight of his purpose. The opportunity he
sought came years later. He sailed for America, and began the career
that led to usefulness and fame.
As a boy Robert Fulton was ambitious. He had two dreams. He wished to go
to Europe to study art, and he wished to buy a farm for his widowed
mother. For these objects he saved every dollar he could. On his
twenty-first birthday he took his mother and sister to the home he had
bought for them, and later in the same year he sailed for Europe.
When Peter Cooper was making his way against odds in New York City he
felt the need of an education. But he had to work by day and there was
no night school. Night after night he studied by the light of a tallow
candle. And while he studied, his life purpose was formed: some day he
would make it easy for apprentice boys to secure an education after
working hours. Many years passed before he was able to carry this
purpose into effect. By this time the apprentice system had been
displaced, but he felt that young people still needed the school he had
in mind. In 1859, nearly fifty years after his own boyhood struggle, he
founded Cooper Union, in which thousands have had the opportunity "to
open the volume of Nature by the light of truth--so unveiling the laws
and methods of Deity that the young may see the beauties of creation,
enjoy its blessings and learn to love the Being from whom cometh every
good and perfect gift."
As a boy Abraham Lincoln made up his mind "to live like Washington." He
was twenty-two years old when, in New Orleans,--where he had taken a
flatboat loaded with produce--he saw a slave auction and spoke the
never-to-be-forgotten words: "If ever I get a chance to hit that thing,
I'll hit it hard." Thirty-five years later came his chance, and he did
"hit that thing hard" with the Emancipation Proclamation.
Alexander Graham Bell's life ambition was to teach deaf children how to
articulate. Funds were short. That he might have more funds he engaged
in experiments that led to the invention of the telephone. When the
telephone instrument was given the attention it deserved at the
Philadelphia Centennial of 1876, the inventor wrote triumphantly to his
parents: "Now I shall have the money to promote the teaching of speech
to deaf children."
James Stewart, the Scotch boy who became a famous missionary in South
Africa, was fifteen years old when, one day while following the plow in
Perthshire, he began to brood over the future. "What was it to be?" The
question flashed across his mind, "Might I not make more of my life than
by remaining here?" Then he said, "God helping me, I will be a
missionary." At another time, while hunting with a cousin, he said "Jim,
I shall never be satisfied till I am in Africa with a Bible in my pocket
and a rifle on my shoulder, to supply my wants."
James Robertson was a school teacher in Canada when he became a
Christian. On the Sunday he was to take his vows as a follower of
Christ, he walked two miles to church with a friend who has told of his
memories of the day thus:
"As we went along the Governor's Road there was a bush, 'Light's Woods,'
on the south side of the road. Robertson suggested that we turn aside
into the bush, not saying for what purpose. We penetrated it a short
distance, when, with a rising hill on our right and on comparatively
level ground, the tall maples waving their lovely heads far above us,
and the stillness of the calm, sunny day impressing us with a sense of
the awful, we came to a large stone. Robertson proposed that we engage
in prayer. We knelt down together. He prayed that he might be true to
the vows he was about to take, true to God and ever faithful in his
From that day the young man's purpose was inflexible. He would be a
minister. He did not dream of conspicuous places in the church. When the
temptations came to seek place and position, he wrote to Miss Cowing,
who had promised to be his wife, "We are no longer our own. The time for
self is gone for us."
William Duncan likewise was tempted to seek a position of prominence.
When he decided to become a missionary, his employers sought to dissuade
him. "You have one of the keenest brains in England," one of them said.
"Don't you see you are making a fool of yourself?" "Fool or no fool, my
mind is made up, and nothing can change it," was the positive reply. And
he set his face like a flint, and in time began the wonderful work that
has written his name indelibly in the history of the Indians of Western
Canada and Alaska.
Washington Gladden was a country newspaper man in Owego, New York, when
he united with the church, and began to make definite plans for a larger
future than he had yet dreamed of. First he went to the Academy and
then to college, with the ministry always in view.
George Grenfell, who became a missionary in Africa, was thirteen years
old when he began to think of devoting his life to work for others. The
reading of Livingstone's first book turned his thoughts to Africa.
William Waddell was fifteen years old when he became a Christian. At the
time he was working for a ship-joiner at Clydebank, Scotland. The
ambition took possession of him to become a missionary to Africa.
Neither lack of education nor scarcity of funds was allowed to stand in
his way. He kept at his work until he saw an advertisement asking for
men to go to the Orange Free State to assist in building a church. He
volunteered, and, as a layman and a mechanic, began his wonderful career
David Lloyd-George was an orphan in Wales when he determined to be a
lawyer. So he read, under the guidance of his shoemaker uncle, and when
he was fourteen he was ready for the preliminary examination. For six
years more he continued his preparation. Before he was twenty-one he set
out on the career that has made him the leader to whom King and people
of England alike turned eagerly.
These men found their place and did their work, not because they sought
great things for themselves, but because they lived in the spirit of the
advice given by a celebrated Canadian to a company of young people:
"You cannot all attain high positions: there are not enough to go
around. You cannot all be preachers or premiers, but you can all do
thoroughly and well what is set you to do, and so fit yourselves for
some higher duty, and thus by industry and fidelity and kindness you can
fill your sphere in life and at last receive the 'Well done' of your
USING TIME WISELY
A remark made by an acquaintance in the street car showed such
familiarity with the work and trials of the busy conductor that inquiry
"Yes, I was a conductor once," the man said, "but I had my eye on
something else. At night I took a business course, and soon was able to
take a position with a railroad company."
"That was fine!" was the answering comment. "How you must have enjoyed
resting on your oars as you reaped the fruits of extra toil."
"Enjoyment--yes! But rest--no!" came the reply. "I wasn't done. I still
had my evenings, and I kept on studying. The things I learned in these
extra hours came in handy when the Superintendent asked me to become his
Service in the railroad office was interrupted by enlistment in the
army, although the worker was well beyond the age of the draft. "How
could I think of anything but service at the front?" he said, with a
matter-of-fact accent. While in the service the habit of study in spare
hours persisted; becoming familiar with the military manual he attracted
the attention of his officers, and was marked for added responsibility.
At the close of the war he resumed his work for the railroad and entered
a technical school which provides night courses for the ambitious.
Forty years of age, and still learning!
An employer has written of an employee who, ten years ago, was securing
fifteen dollars per week. But he was studying, and he soon attracted the
attention of the head of the business, who called him "a rough diamond."
He knew that the ambitious man seemed to lack some of the vital
elements of success. But he watched him as he took evening courses in
business psychology and salesmanship. "This man is paid by me to-day
from $12,500 to $15,000 a year," was the gratifying conclusion of the
A great executive recently told in a magazine article of a young man in
the office of his employment director who attracted attention because of
an exceptionally pleasing personal appearance. Before the director saw
him the executive asked him what he was studying. "When I left school,"
was the reply, made with something of a sneer, "I promised myself I
would never open a book again as long as I lived, and I'm keeping my
The executive was about to leave the office for a two weeks' vacation.
First, however, he wrote a few words about the applicant, placed them in
a sealed envelope, and left this with the employment director, to be
kept for him. On his return he asked about the applicant, by name. The
answer came, with prompt disgust:
"That fellow was the limit! Fired him two days after he was hired. Dead
from the neck up!"
Then the sealed letter was produced and the message enclosed was read:
"You will hire A---- H---- on his looks. Within two weeks you will fire
him. He's dead from his neck."
A writer in Association Men has made a comparison between two men, and
the way they spent their leisure:
"Here is my friend Chris Hall--that is not his real name, but I assure
you he is a real person. I like Chris, and so does everybody who knows
him. He is honest and kind and clean, but in spite of these splendid
characteristics he never makes progress. Five years ago he was promoted
to his present position, and he draws as salary just about what he did
then. And there is no prospect that he will ever draw much more. Yet he
could make himself worth four times as much in a very short while--$200
a week instead of $50--if he would only fit himself for the job ahead.
But he lives entirely in the present. Perhaps the best way to describe
him is to give his diary for a week, a record of how he spent his time
when not actually working. And, please notice that everything he did was
perfectly legitimate and honorable; but also notice, that everything was
for immediate personal pleasure:
Monday--Rainy evening; went to bed early after
playing a while with the kids.
Tuesday--Strolled over to see Mollie's brother,
who is just back from France; he looks well but
would not talk much about the fighting; advised
him not to hurry about getting a job, as he
deserved a good long spell of rest after the hard
Wednesday--Left office early; first big league
game this year; went around to the club and talked
it all over with the boys after supper.
Thursday--Office closed all day on account of
parade of returning troops; took Mollie and
children to see it; awfully tired and went to bed
Friday--Sold my two Liberty Bonds which I had
bought on installments; Mollie needed summer
dresses and there were several small debts I had
to pay; took Mollie to the movies after supper.
Saturday (afternoon)--Whole family went to
Seaside Park by steamer--children enjoyed it for a
while but soon got tired and fretful; what with
the heat and the crowds and the late hour of
getting home it really didn't pay.
Sunday--In bed till nearly noon; read the
papers; changed the soil in Mollie's potted
plants; afternoon, Tom and his wife and Charlie
Nichols and his best girl came over and all stayed
to supper; strolled over to Mother's and found
"Over against that let me put a few lines from the diary of Elihu
Monday--Headache; 40 lines Cuvier's 'Theory of
the Earth'; 64 pages French; 11 hours forging.
Tuesday--60 lines Hebrew; 30 pages French; 10
pages Cuvier; 8 lines Syriac; 10 lines Danish; 10
lines Bohemian; 9 lines Polish; 15 names of
stars; 10 hours forging.
Wednesday--25 lines Hebrew; 8 lines Syriac; 11
"Who was Elihu Burritt? He was a New England blacksmith who worked on an
average 10 hours a day at his forge; but who studied in his spare
moments until he became known and honored all over the world as 'the
learned blacksmith.' He became great--not by forging--but by the way he
used his afterwork hours."
"It was the rule of his life to study not how little he could do, but
These words were spoken of a great publisher and might have been made
the text of the volume issued to commemorate the centenary of the
business house founded by the man of whom they were spoken.
The young man was sixteen when his father drove him from their country
home to the city, and apprenticed him to a firm of printers.
As an apprentice he and another young man were frequently partners in
working an old-fashioned hand press. "One applied the ink with
hand-balls, and the other laid on sheets and did the pulling. They
changed work at regular intervals, one inking and the other pulling."
The biographer who gives this description of the work of the two, adds
that his hero was accustomed to remain at his press after the other men
had quit work whenever he could secure a partner to assist him.
The young man's fellow worker was often persuaded to assist him in these
extra efforts--usually much against his will. While he often felt like
rebelling because of his partner's ambition to do his utmost for his
employers, he could not restrain his admiration for the man's industry.
Once the unwilling partner said: "Often, after a good day's work, he
would say to me, 'Let's break the back of another token (two hundred and
fifty impressions)--just break its back.' I would often consent
reluctantly but he would beguile me, or laugh at my complaints, and
never let me off till the token was completed, fair and square. It was a
custom for us in the summer to do a clear half-day's work before the
other boys and men got their breakfast. We would meet by appointment in
the grey of the early morning and go down to the printing-room."
Fellow workmen made sport of the ambitious young man, not only because
of what they felt was his excessive industry, but because of his
homespun clothes and heavy cow-hide boots. He seldom retorted, but once,
when jests had gone further than usual, he said to a tormentor: "When I
am out of my time and set up for myself, and you need employment, as you
probably will, come to me and I will give you work." The man little
thought the prophecy would be fulfilled, but forty years after, when the
industrious apprentice was mayor of the city and one of the world's
leading publishers, he was reminded of the promise made to the
tormentor, and the promised position was given to him. The workman who
believed in doing more than was expected of him had won his way to fame
and fortune, while his derider had made no progress.
In 1817 the industrious apprentice asked a brother--who in the meantime
had served his apprenticeship in a printing office--to go into business
with him. Later two other brothers were taken into the firm. All were
believers in the doctrine that had led the oldest member of the firm to
success--the doctrine of doing as much instead of as little as possible.
Their readiness to work constantly enabled the four brothers, who
started with little capital except their knowledge of their trade, to
build up within a generation one of the world's greatest publishing
houses. They improved every moment. But they were never tempted to work
on Sunday; business was never so pressing that they would break into the
day of rest, or make their men do so. In this they were only living in
accordance with purposes formed during their days of working for others.
It is stated of one of the brothers, whose employer rejoiced in his
readiness to do hard work and plenty of it, that he was expected to work
on Sunday, in order to get ready the catalogue of an auction sale which
was to be held next day. "That I will not do," he said, respectfully but
firmly: "I cannot work on Sunday." He did work till midnight; then--in
spite of the threat that he would be discharged--he laid down his
composing stick on the case. On Monday morning his employer apologized
and asked him to return to work.
Thirty-six years after the founding of the house, it occupied five
five-story buildings on one street and six on another street. Then a
careless plumber started a fire that--within a few hours--destroyed the
entire property. But the energetic men who knew how to work were not
discouraged at the thought of beginning again. The night after the fire
they met for conference. As they separated one of them remarked that the
evening had seemed more like a time of social festivity than a
consultation over a great calamity.
Business associates hastened to make offers of loans. Within forty-eight
hours the firm was tendered more than one hundred thousand dollars.
Publishers offered their presses, printing material and office room.
Authors wrote that they were ready to wait indefinitely for pay, while
employees not only made a like suggestion, but said they were willing to
have their pay reduced. While none of these offers were accepted, they
were greatly appreciated, for they told of the place the brothers had
won for themselves by untiring industry and sterling integrity.
After the fire the house became greater than ever, so that to-day it
stands as an example of what "hard work coupled with high ideals" may
accomplish. And to every young man the thought of it gives inspiration
to follow in the steps of the founder who "made it the rule of his life
to study not how little he could do, but how much."
ABUSING THE WILL TO WORK
There are times when the real test of a worker's courage is not his
readiness to work but his will to curb the temptation to be intemperate
When the word "intemperance" is mentioned most people think at once of
strong drink; many people are unwilling to think of anything but strong
drink. As if where there is no temptation to drink there can be no
temptation to intemperance!
Paul had a different idea. When he wrote to the Corinthians, "Every man
that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things," he must have
had in mind scores of different ways in which intemperance endangers
If people were to make a list of some of the aspects of intemperance
that are characteristic of modern life, it is quite likely that a large
proportion would omit one of the most serious of all--the intemperance
of the man who lives to work, who drives himself to work, who is never
happy unless he is working, who makes himself and others unhappy because
he labors too long, and too persistently, perhaps with the result that
his own promising career is wrecked and the industry of others is
interfered with seriously.
One of the most striking illustrations of intemperance in work is
supplied by the life of Samuel Bowles, editor of the Springfield,
Massachusetts, Republican, one of the famous editors of the generation
beginning a few years after the Civil War.
Mr. Bowles was but eighteen years old when he had his first warning that
his system could not stand the strain of the work to which a strong will
drove him. His mother used to set a rocking chair for him at the table
at meal-time, because, as she said, "Sam has so little time to rest."
But the rocking chair was empty for months, when a breakdown sent him
South for a long period of recuperation.
When he returned home he plunged into work with all his might. "He
worked late at night; vacations and holidays were unknown; of recreation
and general society he had almost nothing," his biographer says. For
years his office hours began before noon and continued until one or two
in the morning. Finally the strain became too great, and loss of sight
was feared. Still he forced himself to work, and the injury to his brain
was begun that was later to cause his death. He would take a bottle of
cold tea to the office, that by its use he might aid his will to work
when nature said, "Stop!" For a long time his only sleep--and it was
sadly broken sleep--was on a lounge in the office, from two to six or
seven in the morning. Then he would set to work again. "By his unceasing
mental activity he wore himself out," the comment was made on his
career. "For the last twenty years of his life his nerves and stomach
were in chronic rebellion. Heavy clouds of dyspepsia, sciatica,
sleeplessness, exhaustion, came often and staid long."
The intemperate worker knew what he was doing. Once he wrote to a
friend, "You can't burn the candle at both ends, and make anything by it
in the long run; and it is the long pull that you are to rely on, and
whereby you are to gain glory." Persistent headaches, "nature's sharp
signal that the engine had been overdriven," added to the warning. At
last, when he was thirty-seven, he wrote: "My will has carried me for
years beyond my mental and physical power; that has been the offending
rock. And now, beyond that desirable in keeping my temper, and forcing
me up to proper exercise and cheerfulness through light occupation, I
mean to call upon it not at all, if I can help it, and to do only what
comes freely and spontaneously from the overflow of power and life. This
will make me a light reader, a small worker."
Well for him if he had kept his resolution. Still he drove himself to
work beyond what his body and brain could stand. Then came paralysis.
"Nothing is the matter with me but thirty-five years of hard work," he
said. At the time of his death he was not fifty-one years old.
His friends could not but admire him for strength of will, for
achievement in the face of ill health, for triumph, by sheer will-power,
over every obstacle except the will that drove him to his death. He
accomplished much, but how much more he might have accomplished if he
had been temperate in his use of the wonderful powers of mind and body
which God had given him!
In connection with this glimpse of the life of one who illustrates the
disaster brought by the will to be intemperate, it is helpful to think
of the life of another American man of letters whose will to be
temperate in his treatment of a body weak and frail prolonged life and
Francis Parkman, the historian, was never a well man after his trip
that resulted in the writing of The Oregon Trail. In fact, he was a
physical wreck at twenty-five years of age. He could not even write his
own name, until he first closed his eyes; he was unable to fix his mind
on a subject, except for very brief intervals, and his nervous system
was so exhausted that any effort was a burden. However, in spite of this
limitation, which became worse, if possible, instead of better, he
managed to accomplish an immense amount of the finest literary work by
doing what he could and stopping when this was wise. His will to take
care of himself was given the mastery of his will to work. For
forty-four years after the completion of The Oregon Trail he labored
on, preparing history after history. He was seventy years old when he
died, leaving behind him achievements that would have been a tremendous
task for a man in perfect health.
To everyone is given the marvelous equipment of body and brain, as well
as the will which makes possible their judicious investment or their
prodigal waste in the struggle to make life count.