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Ten Acres Enough
Chapter XXIV.—Unsuccessful Men—Rebellion not Ruinous to Northern Agriculture


Looking back upon the incidents of my city life, I confess that increasing years bring with them an increasing respect for those who do not succeed in life, as these words are commonly used. Heaven has been said to be a place for those who have not succeeded upon earth; and it is surely true that celestial graces do not best thrive and bloom in the hot blaze of worldly prosperity. Ill success sometimes arises from superabundance of qualities in themselves good, from a conscience too sensitive, a taste too fastidious, a self-forgetfulness too romantic, a modesty too retiring. I will not go so far as to say, with a living poet, that

"The world knows nothing of its greatest men;"

but there are forms of greatness, or at least excel­lence, that die and make no sign; there are martyrs who miss the palm, but not the stake; there are heroes without the laurel, and conquerors without the triumph.

It cannot be denied that there is a class of men who never succeed in business. With a fair amount of earnest industry, they are still unable to get on. Bad luck seems to be their fate, and they are perpetually railing at fortune. In this they are not without sympathy. There are hundreds of simple, good-hearted people, who regard them as ill-starred mortals, against whom an inscrutable destiny had set itself, and who are always ready to pity their mischances and help them in their last extremity. But is not that a very foolish philosophy which refers the misfortunes or the prosperity of individuals to preternatural causes, or even natural causes entirely foreign to the persons? Some people, it is true, owe a great deal to accident. Much of their success is due to circumstances not of their own making. So it is with others who suffer disappointment or disaster. But in those cases in which failure or success is certainly dependent on no extraneous agencies, but on one's own means and energies, I am confident that no little of the complaint of our hard lot is misdirected, and that the charity which helps us out of our successive difficulties is mis­placed. In plain words, our failures in this or that thing are often attributable to the fact that we engage in enterprises beyond our power. The world is filled with examples of this truth. We see hundreds of men in all professions and callings who never achieve even a decent living. The bar of every city is crowded with them. They swell the ranks of our physicians and theologians, and swarm in the walks of science and literature; in short, they run against and elbow you everywhere. They are the unfortunate people who have mistaken their mission. They are always attempting tasks which they have not the first qualification to perform. Their ambition is forever outrunning their capabilities. They fancy that to call themselves law­yers, doctors, divines, or the like, is to be what they are styled. Their signs are stuck thickly on doors and shutters all over the city, but they are without honor or employment. Of course they never prosper. They have no fitness for their vocation, no practical skill, no natural talent, and hence they fail.

But both they and society are losers by this. There is so much real ability for something useful that is thus sunk and wasted. The community is encumbered with a host of very incompetent barristers, preachers, physicians, writers, merchants, and so forth, and is deprived of as many good mechanics, and farmers, and laborers. What a pity it is that men will not be content to choose their pursuits according to their abilities. To encourage them to persist in any business for which they are not suited, and in which they never can obtain fortune or credit, is really unkind. It would be much less cruel to let them early feel the inconveniences of following a calling for which they are unfit, and go into one for which nature may have given them the requisite aptitude and powers.

But, in the ordering of a good Providence, failure in one pursuit does not imply failure in the next. I know and have proved this. The motto should be to keep moving, to try it again. Try it a hundred times, if you do not earlier succeed, and all the while be studying to see if you have not failed through some negligence and oversight of your own. Do not throw down your oars and drift stern foremost, because the tide happens to be against you. The tide does not always run the same way. Never anchor because the wind does not happen to be fair. Beat to windward, and gain all you can until it changes. If you get to the bottom of the wheel, hold on—never think of letting go. Let it move which way it will, you are sure to go up.

If in debt, do not let time wear off the edge of the obligation. Economize, work harder, spend less, and hurry out. If misfortune should overtake you, do not sit down and mope, and let her walk over you. Put on more steam, drive ahead, and get out of the way. If you meet obstacles in your path, climb over, dig under, or go around them—never turn back. If the day be stormy, you cannot mend matters by whining and complaining. Be good-natured, take it easy, for assuredly the sun will shine to-morrow.

If you lose money on a promising speculation, never think of collecting a coroner's inquest about your dead body. Do not put on a long face because money is not so plentiful as usual—it will not add a single dollar to the circulating medium. Preserve your good-humor, for there is more health in a single hearty laugh than in a dozen glasses of rum. Be happy, and impart happiness to others. Look aloft, and trust in God. Be prudent as you please, but do not bleach out your hair, and pucker your face into wrinkles ten years ahead of time, by a self-inflicted fit of the dismals.

I went into the country with a determination to succeed. As others had there succeeded, I could not be induced to believe that failure in so simple an enterprise could overtake me, as I felt myself quite as competent as they. A resolute will overcomes all difficulties. It was one of the leading characteristics of Napoleon to regard nothing as impossible. His astonishing successes are to be attributed to his indomitable will, scarcely less than to his vast military genius. Wellington was distinguished for a similar peculiarity. The entire Peninsular campaign was, indeed, but one long display of an iron will, resolute to conquer difficulties by wearing them out. Alexander the Great was quite as striking an example of what a powerful will can effect. His stubborn determination to subdue the Persians; his perseverance in the crisis of battle, and the emulation to which he thus stimulated his officers and men, did more for his wonderful career of victory than even his great strategic abilities. In the life and death struggle between England and France, during the first fifteen years of this century, it was the stubborn will of the former which carried the day; for though Napoleon defeated the British coalitions again and again, yet new ones were as constantly formed, until at last the French people, if not their emperor, were completely worn out. The battle of Waterloo, which was the climax of this tremendous struggle, was also an illustration of the sustained energy, the superior will of the British. In that awful struggle, French impetuosity proved too weak for English resolution. "We will see who can pound the longest," said Wellington; and as the British did, they won the battle.

It is not only in military chieftains that a strong will is a jewel of great price. Nations and individuals experience the advantages of a resolute will; and this alike in large and small undertakings. It was the determined will of our forefathers to which, with divine help, we are principally indebted for our freedom. For the first few years after the declaration of independence, we lost most of the battles that were fought. New York and Philadelphia were successively captured by the foe; South Carolina fell; New Jersey was practically reannexed to England; almost everything went against us. Had the American people been feeble and hesitating, all would have been lost. But they resolved to conquer or die. Though their cities were taken, their fields ravaged, and their captured soldiers incarcerated in hideous prison-ships, they still maintained the struggle, making the pilgrimage of freedom with naked feet, that bled at every step. Had our fathers been incapable of Valley Forge, had they shrunk from the storm-beaten march on Trenton, we should never have been an independent nation. There are people in the Old World, full of genius and enthusiasm for liberty, who yet cannot achieve freedom, principally, perhaps, because they lack the indomitable will to walk the bloody pilgrimage. The outbreak of the slaveholder's rebellion covered the Union armies with defeat at numerous points, because rebellions are always successful at the beginning. But the determined will to crush out treason will eventually overwhelm and master it.

A strong will is as necessary to the individual as to the nation. Even intellect is secondary in importance to will. A vacillating man, no matter what his abilities, is invariably pushed aside, in the race of life, by the man of determination. It is he who resolves to succeed, who begins resolutely again at every fresh rebuff, that reaches the goal. The shores of fortune are covered with the stranded wrecks of business men who have wasted energy, and therefore courage and faith, and have perished in sight of more resolute but less capable adventurers, who succeeded in making port. In fact, talent without will is like steam dissipating itself in the atmosphere; while abilities controlled by energy are the same steam brought under subjection as a motive power. Or will is the rudder that steers the ship, which, whether a fast-sailing clipper or a slow river-barge, is worthless without it. Talent, again, is but the sail; will is what drives it. The man without a will is the puppet and bubble of others by turns. The man with a will is the one that pulls the strings and catches the dupes. Young man, starting out in life, have a will of your own. If you do not, you will drag along, the victim of perpetual embarrassment, only to end in utter ruin. If you do, you will succeed, even though your abilities be moderate.

All this may be viewed as a digression. But it is not so. I do not write for the rich and prosperous, but for those who have been unsuccessful. They need encouragement and bracing up. If their experience has been disastrous, that of others, who have succeeded, should be set before them. Some fifty years ago there lived in this city an old man, who by dint of tact, with the aid of keen perceptive faculties, had acquired much celebrity with a large class of his neighbors as something between a prophet and a fortune-teller. He did not, however, assume the character either of a religious fanatic or of a crafty disciple of Faustus. But he was well read in the Scriptures; he had a good share of common sense, and a voluble tongue, and by degrees he attained a fame for wise sayings and for capability to advise, which he owed more to his natural talents and a loquacious disposition than to any less worthy means. Being advanced in years, and his lot humble, he turned the good opinion formed of him to the account of his livelihood, by discussing questions put to him by his visitors in a frank and manly spirit; and without ever demanding recompense, he was ready to receive any gratuity that was offered by them on their departure. Moreover, his advice was always, if not valuable, at least good in kind; and few quitted his humble dwelling without leaving their good wishes in a substantial shape, or without having also formed a favorable opinion of their mentor.

At length, so extensive did this good man's fame become, that many from curiosity alone were induced to visit him, and hear his wise sayings. His counsel was usually couched in short and terse sentences; frequently in proverbs, and often in the language of the Bible, to which he would sometimes refer his inquirers for passages which he said would be found applicable to their case. As these passages were usually selected from the Proverbs, and other books of somewhat similar description, which contained some rule of morals, or which advocated the Christian duties, he seldom failed to be right. Among, others who were led by curiosity to this wise man, was a young farmer, then not long entered upon the threshold of life, whom, after some of the Scripture references adverted to, he dismissed with the parting advice, "To keep a smiling countenance, and a good exertion." The young farmer lived to become an old man, and is now gathered to his fathers. But for many years I heard him from time to time revert with pleasure to his visit, and say that this simple aphorism had frequently cheered him in the hour of difficulty; and that the thought of the old man's contented countenance and encouraging voice when he uttered it, had gone far to make him place confidence in his counsel.

We are all too prone to brood over the clouds upon our atmosphere, and too feebly do we keep the eye of hope fixed on the first sunbeam which breaks through as the symbol of their dispersion. In reality, most of them are merely passing clouds.

Some glances at a blacker picture still, will go far to clothe with brighter hues the less gloomy picture which may happen to be our own. Thus, with "a smiling countenance and a good exertion," let every one of us, whether his lot be cast with the plough, the loom, or the anvil, put forth manfully his powers, and, thankful to a gracious God for the blessings yet spared, be it our effort in our worldly duties to follow the example set us in higher things, "forgetting those things that are behind, and reaching forth unto those which are before, let us press towards the mark for the prize;" and if we thus demean ourselves, we shall not fail, in earthly any more than in spiritual things, to obtain our reward.

All know that one effect of the rebellion was to paralyze nearly every kind of business, suddenly enriching the few, but as suddenly impoverishing the many. On my quiet little plantation I was entirely beyond the reach of its disastrous influence. It lost me no money, because my savings had been loaned on mortgage. It is true that interest was not paid up as punctually as aforetime, but the omission to pay occasioned me no distress; hence I occasioned none by compulsory collection. The summer of 1861, however, did reduce prices of most of my productions. The masses had less money to spend, and therefore consumed less. Yet my early consignments of blackberries sold for twenty-five cents a quart, and the whole crop averaged fourteen. My strawberries yielded abundantly, escaping the frost which nipped the first bloom of all other growers, no doubt protected by the well-grown peach trees, and netted me sixteen cents. Raspberries bore generously, and netted quite as much; while peaches, though few in number, brought the highest prices. The total income that year was certainly less than usual, by several hundred dollars—but what of that? It was double what I needed to support my family. Thus, no national disaster, no matter how tremendous, seems able to impoverish the farmer who is free from debt. Nothing short of the tramp of hostile armies over his green fields can impoverish such a man.


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