Saturday, November 25, 2006

Pigeon-livered?

The following page is from a book "Getting on in the World" 1872, by William Mathews, LL. D.
The advice to young men it contains was common in America up through the fifties. Sadly it has become lost in present day. It may seem somewhat harsh to the modern day young person, with all of our luxuries, but a strong dose of its influence will no doubt be of great advantage.
There are many books written in the nineteenth, and early twentieth century that encourage a young person to do their best with example after example of those with less, that have made themselves useful to God, society, and family.

"It is the misfortune of many young persons today that they begin life with too many advantages. Every possible want of their many-sided natures is supplied before it is consciously felt. Books, teachers, mental and religious training, lectures, amusements, clothes, and food, all of the best quality and without stint in quantity, -- in short, the pick of the world’s good things, and helps of every kind, --- are lavished upon them, till satiety results, and all ambition is extinguished. What motive has a young man, for whom life is thus “thrice winnowed,” to exert himself? Having supped full of life’s sweets, he finds them palling on his taste; having done nothing to earn its good things, he cannot appreciate their value. “like a hot house plant, grown weak and spindling through too much shelter and watching, he needs nothing so much as to be set in the open air of the world, and to grow strong, with the struggling for existence.”

Mere hardship, of course, will not make a man strong, but it is an all important aid in the development of greatness. Want, confinement, opposition, roughness alternating with smoothness, difficulty with ease, storm with sunshine, sorrow with joy, -- these constitute the discipline of life, the education which makes a man of a being, who would otherwise be little better than an animal.
It has been justly said that in deprivation alone there is untold might. Imprison a gill of water ( two ounces ) in a solid rock, and deprive it of heat, and it will burst its flinty bonds as did Samson the cords of the Philistines. Apply a match to a pound of powder in the open air, and it explodes with a harmless flash; but confine it in a rifle-barrel, and tease it with the smallest spark, and it carries doom to a distant life.
Great men can no more be made without trials, than bricks can be made without fire.

In past ages men believed in the existence of ghosts, -- a belief which has disappeared before the light of intelligence; but the truth is, they really exist, only in a different form from that with which the popular imagination has invested them. A ghost is popularly supposed to be a soul without a body, fond of darkness and graveyards, and wearing a thin white drapery, which you can see, but not touch. The strongest man might strike through it without hitting or hurting it.
A character in one of Dicken’s novels knew a ghost “because he could see straight through the body to the buttons on the back of the coat.” But the real ghost is the man who has no pluck;
no perseverance, firmness, or energy; no backbone of determination; in short, the pigeon-livered thing, for it is not worthy to be called a man, that has a body without a soul.

After all, there is but one true way in which to meet the troubles and trials of life, and that is, to encounter them unflinchingly. It is doubtless very pleasant to sit in some loophole of retreat, and now and then, oyster-like, cautiously open one’s bivalves, and thank God he is not buffeting the billows like his fellows. Those who risk nothing, of course, can lose nothing; sowing no hopes, they cannot suffer from the blight of disappointment. But let him who is enlisted for the war expect to meet the foe. Either accept the advice of the tawny Philip to his hesitating warrior, -- “Go away with the children and the squaws,” – or be prepared not only for the contest, but for its consequences.

Fortunately, adversity is like the panther, look it boldly in the face, and it turns cowering away from you. It is like life’s troubles as with the risks of the battle-field, there is always less of aggregate danger to the party that stands firm than to that which gives way, the cowards being always cut down ingloriously in the fight.

No doubt it is easier to moralize on ‘the uses of adversity’ than to bear it.
We are aware that it is hard to begin life without a dollar, hard to be poor, and harder to seem poor in the eyes of others. No young man, especially no young man in our cities, likes to make his entrance in life with his boots patched; to wear an out of date hat, and clean gloves smelling of cheap oil and economy; nor to carry a cotton umbrella; nor to ask a girl to marry him and live in the sky-parlor of a cheap boarding-house. We all like to drive along smoothly, to have a fine turnout, to have the hinges of life oiled, the backs padded, and the seats cushioned. But such is not the road to success in any profession or calling; and if you are poor, and feel that you cannot climb the steeps of life unassisted, -- that you must be carried in a vehicle, instead of trudging on foot along the dusty highway, -- then confess your weakness and seek your Hercules in the first heiress who is as lacking in judgment as you in nerve and resolution. Mary for money if you can and be a stall-fed ox for the remainder of your days. But do not, while thus ‘boosted’ into life, boast of your success. Do not, while rising in the world like a balloon, by pressure from without instead of within, fancy you have any claim to triumph. The world will tip its hat to you, and give you plenty of ceremonious respect; but its real regard, its loftiest esteem, it will reserve for the moral hero who has the nerve to throw his hat into the ring, and fight out the battle of life in a manly and creditable way".

If that doesn't inspire you, you must hate John Wayne.

2 comments:

fcb4 said...

That is simply brilliant. The tough thing is that the wisdom of that piece is only truly understood with age.
Oh the tragedy of it all....to only gain a measure of wisdom so often through folly. Learning the value of seat-belts only when you are picking glass from your forehead while looking at a toothless ghoul in the mirror.
I am going to be using that piece in my leadership training and passing it along to my kids.

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