Little Visits with Great Americans
by Orison Swett Marden
Apelles, the great artist, traveled all over Greece for years, studying the fairest points of beautiful women, getting here an eye, there a forehead, and there a nose, here a grace and there a turn of beauty, for his famous portrait of a perfect woman which enchanted the world. It was not a portrait, not an imaginary ideal head, but a composite, a combination from the most perfect features he could find. By combining the perfect points, the graceful curves, the lines of beauty of many individuals, he made his wonderful painting.
The great artist knew that all elements of beauty and perfection of physical form could not be found in one person. He knew, too, that some of the most perfect features and beautiful curves would be found in women who were on the whole anything but beautiful — perhaps repulsive.
The editors of this volume have been for many years in quest of the elements of a grand, healthy, symmetrical, successful man—the ideal man. They knew at tlie beginning that it would be impossible to find any one man who would illustrate all these points of perfection, who would combine in perfect degree all the success qualities, but they have found in scores of men who have achieved something worth while qualities wdiich, put together, would make a composite ideal man, a man who, in the evolution of civiHzation", will, perhaps, sometime be possible. Usually, in men who have risen to eminence, some one quality or virtue shines conspicuous, often accompanied with defects, perhaps great weakness, which, to gain the lesson, we must ignore.
The editors have found here a man illustrative of perseverance, here one marked by undaunted ambition, there a life where grit overcame all obstacles, and another where the quick grasping of opportunities led to noble achievement.
They have interviewed successful men and women in the various vocations, trying to get at the secret of their success, the reasons for their advancement. These varied life stories will give the reader the material for constructing the composite character—the ideal man or woman—one that shall combine all the best virtues and qualities, whose imitation will help to insure a useful, profitable and honored life. This composite man will not be a one-sided specialist. He will not be a man cursed with any great weakness. He will be a man raised to the highest power, symmetrical, selfcentered, equipoised, ever master of himself.
It does not follow that every man whose name appears in this book is a model in every respect. Napoleon was not a model character, and yet he exemplifies some success qualities in his career in an almost ideal degree.
What question, arising from individual experience, from family life, or from daily observation within the community, is of more poignant human interest than the query : "Why do some men succeed, while others fail?" and the allied question: "What constitutes success in life, and how may it be attained ?"
An analysis of the ideals and achievements of these leaders in invention, commerce and finance, in public affairs, and in literature, the arts, and the professions, as set forth by themselves, seems to reveal certain salient life lessons well worthy of most careful consideration. First, it would appear that without exception every successful man or woman at some period of his or her life, whether early or late, has formed a life purpose, and has registered a solemn vow to achieve something more than ordinary in the world. An exception to this rule appears to obtain in the cases of men or women possessed of a strong natural bent or talent, the exercise of which is an instinctive craving that will not be denied. This determination to be or to achieve, or this instinctive bent of thought and action, appears to be the first indication of greatness, and the turning point in great careers.
The next most obvious lesson to be drawn from a careful study of these interviews seems to be, that once a determination to succeed is made, and the first steps, however humble, have been entered upon in the new career, the subject commences to take an interest amounting to positive pleasure in the tasks and duties incident to his chosen life work.
The far-away goal of success, wii-h its reward of fame, wealth, and all that money can procure, appears to fade from the worker's sight as he advances toward it, and the incitement to labor for material reward is lost in the joy of congenial labor for its own sake. The player loses sight of the hope of victory in the mere zest of the game. This note appears again and again in the life stories of great workers as revealed by themselves, and accounts for the spectacle, so puzzling to many, of the master of millions apparently grasping for more millions in his declining years. There can be no content with present achievement, however great, because all who have achieved great things have discovered that the ends sought are lost in the value of the faculties developed by the search, and they hence seek, not additional reward of toil, but rather the pleasurable exercise of the chase. The joy of labor will not permit men to lay down the harness and relinquish effort this side the grave.
A determination to succeed once formed, and a congenial career once chosen and entered upon, there commences a process of character-building by the formation of life habits. These solidify into personal characteristics, the varying assortment of which in the individual constitutes what we call his personality, wherein one man differs from another. Character, it has been wisely said, is the resultant of choices. It appears again and again in the reminiscences of those who have succeeded, that from time to time they have deliberately chosen a course of action which by force of habit has become a personal characteristic, and has earned them national, if not world-wide, reputation. The name of "Honest" John Wanamaker stands for a reputation having a commercial value of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The acorn from which grew this mighty oak was a young man's choice of honesty as the foundation of his career.
Books and essays by the score and hundred have been written by theorists upon the principles of success in life. Worthy as are many of the writers, their lives often illustrate the adage of the poet, 'Tt were easier to tell twenty what were good to be done than to be one of the twenty to follow mine own teachings." Boldly contrasted with such writings are the flesh and blood maxims herein contained, stamped with the mint marks of great personalities, towering mountainous among their fellows, each coined from the life habits \v'hich have hardened into enduring character, and have left their impress upon the history of our times.
In a drawing-room or public assemblage he would indeed be unambitious and mean-spirited, who would not choose the company and conversation of the greatest and the best. Carlyle says, "Great men taken up in any way are profitable company." What privilege could promise equal pleasure and profit with a series of visits at the homes of the most notable personages our land contains, to consult with each on the great questions of success or failure, of what constitutes ideal success, and of how it may be attained?
Such is the privilege contemplated by this volume and freely offered to all who choose to avail themselves of it. Compared with the inspiration, the examples and the wise counsel contained within its covers, the cost of such a volume sinks into insignificance. Benjamin Franklin said that the reading of one good book made him what he was. Henry Clay testified, "to the fact that in the midst of her early poverty my mother provided her home with a few choice books, do I owe my success in life." Senator Dolliver, in the present volume, regards a chance-found book as the turning point of his career, and like testimony is all but universal. Let the young and the guardians of youth weigh well the thought that there are sins of omission, as well as of commission, and that it may be hardly a less criminal negligence to refuse fit books for the growing mind than food for the growing body.
Quite aside from considerations of profit and duty are the considerations of pleasure offered by a volume of this character. It is a truism that truth is stranger than fiction. The romance of reality is the most thrilling of all romances, and there is a peculiar fascination associated with those glimpses of the inner man which are revealed by a speaker who sets forth his own life story, and places his own interpretation upon it. From this view point, "Little Visits" possesses a wealth of suggestion and of information, alike valuable and interesting to readers of all ages and of every walk in life.
The dominant note of this book, is inspiration; its keynote, helpfulness.
We have tried to drive home every precept and lesson with stirring and inspiring stories of great lives which show that men and women are the architects of their own fortunes, and which will explode the excuses of those who think they have no chance in life. It shows that necessity has ever been the priceless spur that has urged man to struggle with his destiny and develop his greatest strength.
We think the reader will find in these pages the composite character, the all-round success. We have tried to show that there is something better than making a living, and that is making a life—that a man may make millions and be a failure still.
We have shown that a man to succeed must be greater than his calling, that he must overtop his vocation. We have tried to teach that the really successful man must be greater than the book he writes, than the patient he treats, than the goods he sells, than the cause he pleads in the courts—that manhood is above all titles, greater than any career.
Success Maxims The tissue of the Hfe to be We weave with colors all our own, And in the field of destiny We reap as we have sown. —Whittier.
No man is born into this world whose work is not born with him. — Lowell.
If a man can write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mousetrap than his neighbor, though he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door. — Emerson.
Character is power—is influence; it makes friends, creates funds, draws patronage and support, and opens a sure and easy way to wealth, honor and happiness.—J. Hawes.
To be thrown upon one's own resources is to be cast into the very lap of fortune. — Franklin.
There is no road to success but through a clear, strong purpose. A purpose underlies character, culture, position, attainment of whatever sort.—T. T. Munger.
Heaven never helps the man who will not act. — Sophocles.
The talent of success is nothing more than doing what you can do well, and doing well whatever you do, without a thought of fame. — Longfellow.
The longer I live, the more deeply am I convinced that that which makes the difference between one man and another —^between the weak and powerful, the great and insignificant, is energy—invincible determination—a purpose once formed, and then death or victory. — Fowell Buxton.
In the measure in which thou seekest to do thy duty shalt thou know what is in thee. But what is thy duty? The demand of the hour. — Goethe.
A strong, defiant purpose is many-handed, and lays hold of whatever is near that can serve it; it has a magnetic power that draws to itself whatever is kindred.—T. T. Munger.