Success, July 1902 p. 411

 

 

 

So much has been said at random of the self-made man, and so often he has been presented as an altogether wonderful being, that it is not strange that, in some quarters, there exists an entire misapprehension of the manner of his creation well as an exaggerated idea of his stature and mission A romantic and sentimental glamour has enveloped him, magnifying his proportions and causing him to appear much largerand in every way greater than other men. As to the origin of his qualities of size and greatness, the notion seems to be current that they are the direct results of the frowns of fortune, which have deprived him of educational advantages and doomed him to travel to success by a road rugged with obstacles and difficulties.

Of course, in this view of the self-made man, success is a necessary factor in his existence. Unless he accomplishes something not altogether commonplace and usual, he is deemed unworthy of the name. It is not surprising to find that success, if reached after a fierce struggle with difficulties and disadvantages, leads by familiarity and easy association to a sort of hazy conception that these difficulties and disadvantages were not untoward incidents, but necessary accompaniments such success.

Respect and admiration are the due of those have won honorable success in spite of discouraging surroundings, and have made themselves great and useful in their day and generation through sheer force of indomitable will and courage. Nothing can be more noble and heroic than their struggles, and nothing can be more inspiring and valuable than their struggles, and nothing can be more inspiring and valuable than the example of their achievements. Whatever may be the measure of their success, their willingness to undergo hardships to win it demonstrates that they have in their nature the fiber and lasting qualitites that make strong men.

Paying a deserved tribute to true manliness should not be construed as an admission of the fanciful notion that the difficulties that stood in the way of these self-made men were essential to their success. They were, rather, obstacles which they overcame, thus winning distinction and honor. Thousands of others have been discouraged by these same obstacles, but have found an appropriate place among dullards and drones.

Many eager men have laid the foundation of future usefulness and greatness in study between the hours of their labor for bread, or by the light of a pine e knot or an open fireplace; but many others have spent the same time more profitably than in careless, sleepy indolence, and have by the same light undermined their mental and moral health with vile books and companionship, or in learning the first lessons in vice.

In considering those who succeed notwithstanding difficulties, it should be remembered that not all successes, even though so obtained, are of that useful and elevating kind that excites admiration. The churlish curmudgeon who, by sharp practice and avaricious dealing, has fed a fortune, should not be permitted to cajole his fellows by boasting of his early privations and sordid self-denial al. There should be prompt resentment of an attempt to cover a multitude of sins with the cloak of the self- made man, by playing upon regard for the worth of labor that conquers a useful and honorable career; nor should the successful political hack be allowed to distract attention from a damaged character by parading his humble origin, his lack of early advantages and the struggles of his boyhood as independent and sufficient proofs that he is entitled to consideration.

The merit of the successful man who has struggled with difficulties and disadvantages must be judged by the kind of success he has achieved, by the use he makes of it, and by its effect upon his character and life. If his success is clean and wholesome, if he uses it to make his fellows better and happier, and if he faithfully responds to all the obligations of a liberal, public spirited, and useful citizen, his struggles should add immensely to honor and consideration he deserves

If, on the other hand, his success is of the grasping, sordid kind; if he snatches closely for his selfish gratification; and if, with success, he is bankrupt in character, sordidly mean, useless as a citizen, or of evil influence his relations with his fellow man, his struggles should not save him from contempt

Those included in either of these classes may, in the ordinary accepted definition, be termed self-made men, but it is quite evident that there are so-called self-made men not worth the making. The latter should be excluded from consideration. What should be considered is the manner of production and the characteristics and use of the men who fit themselves to benefit and improve human conditions according to their environments, who, if they fulfill their mission, learn that the fruits they gather are sweetest when shared by others, and who cheerfully yield, in benefactions to their fellow men, self-imposed tithes in kind, from their accumulations of hand, mind, or heart. The men thus described are self-made men because they can only be the products of self endeavor and struggle,&emdash;often to overcome external. difficulties and disadvantages, and always to improve whatever opportunities are within their reach, to subdue the selfishness of human nature, and to stimulate its noblest aspirations and best purposes.

The construction of such a man requires fit material and the use of proper tools. Some grades of material may be capable of better finish and finer form than others, but all will yield sufficiently to treatment to become strong, durable, and useful

Manifestly, among the tools to be used in the construction of the best quality of self-made men, education is vitally important. Its share of the work consists in so strengthening and fashioning the grain and fiber of the material as to develop its greatest power and fit it for the most extensive and varied service. The right kind of educated self-made men are needed in business circles, on the farms, and everywhere else. They are needed for the good they may do by raising the standard of intelligence within their field of influence, for the evidence they may furnish that education is a profitable factor in all vocations and in all the ordinary affairs of a community, and especially and sorely is there need of such men abundantly distributed among the people for what they may do in patriotically steadying the currents of political sentiment and action. In a country like this, where the people are the rulers, it is exceedingly unfortunate that there should be so many blind followers of lying partisans and flattering demagogues.

It must be remembered that, after the happy completion of construction, his care and preservation cannot be safely neglected. The self-made man will be exposed to the warping distortion of temptation from without and to the corrosion of selfishness from within. But continual watchfulness and well-directed activity in attempting to compass the high purposes of his creation may easily baffle temptation, while by opening his heart to the bright influences of love for his fellow men, and by deeds of charity and kindness, he may save himself from selfishness.

There should be no cause for depression in recalling the fact that success will not always bring to the self-made man either riches or fame. Though these rewards will be lavishly distributed, he to whom they may not be forthcoming if he endures to the end and remains true to himself and his mission, will have in his own keeping a more valuable reward in the consciousness of duty well and faithfully performed. Popular applause is, of course, gratifying, but there are times when a man's satisfaction with his own conduct is a better criterion of real merit

Wealth should by no means be disparaged a-a representing success, provided it is accompanied by a reasonable realization of the obligations its possession imposes. If wealth is the best that can be exhibited as a result of success, it cannot do less than to make its fair contribution to the welfare of society. We have a right to complain of rich people, if, after spending their lives in gathering wealth, they find in its possession no mandate of-duty and no pleasure, save in the inactive and sordid contemplation of their hoards and in expecting the masses to fawn before them.

Sordidness is not confined to those whose only success consists in riches. There is a sordidness of education more censurable, though perhaps less exposed. There are those whose success is made up of a vast accumulation of education who are as miserly in its possession as the most avaricious among the rich. No one is justified in hoarding education solely for his selfish use. To keep it entirely in close custody, to take a greedy pleasure in its contemplation, and to utilize it only as a means of personal and unshared enjoyment, are more unpardonable than the clutch of the miser upon his money; for he, in its accumulation, has been subjected to the cramping and narrowing influences of avarice, while he who hoards education does violence to the broad and generous influences which accompany its acquisition

The self-made man ought to see his course so plainly as to make it easy for him to avoid the wrong of sordidness in the possession of any of the rewards of his success. He ought especially and with clearness to apprehend the binding force of the active and affirmative obligations which are laid upon the rewards of success. Their discharge involves enlightened and discriminating charity, the inauguration and encouragement of agencies for increased culture and information, intelligent liberality in business, a clear regard for the interest and welfare of those who toil, a constant exemplification of the strength and nobility of strict integrity, the incitement, by precept and example, to frugality and economy, the continual inculcation of the benefits and usefulness of education in every occupation, the stimulation of genuine patriotism, the cultivation of independent and thoughtful political judgment, and last, but by no means least, a hearty and healthful interest in the ministrations of religion and the extension of a sound moral sentiment.

There is, too, a particular condition of American life which needs the active and persistent interposition of the well- constructed and well-preserved self-made man. Evidence is constantly accumulating that at no point can he do more vitally useful work than in the field of politics, where self-made men are always in the greatest demand.