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Biography of Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal
Chapter XXIII. Practical Maxims


Such a remarkable career as that of Lord Strathcona is not only interesting as a study of what one man may accomplish but it may be profitable as exhibiting on a large scale those fundamental qualities and principles on which all success, greater or less, depends. For there is nothing magical about his achievements, nothing of the spectacular in his career except as we look at the result. The methods and processes by which the humble clerk became a Peer of the realm are not new. He did not discover and patent some novel machinery by which he could produce results with greater facility than others. It is true that he was endowed with a most remarkable bodily constitution. He was able to endure physical tests that would put the average man out of business. He not only lived to a great age but up to the very last was physically alert and strong. Within a short time of his death we find him crossing the Atlantic, spending a busy week in Montreal and then taking a steamer back. His life was crowded with work which seemed to sit lightly upon his sturdy shoulders. It is true that he had a good mind, perhaps more than the average of intelligence, and was in possession of certain traits of character which were invaluable. We have no intention of belittling his great natural abilities. What we would point out is that his success was not due entirely to the possession of these but to the use he made of them. There are hosts of men that have just as strong a body, just as good a mind, who are, indeed, more brilliantly gifted in many ways, and yet, if they were put down where he was, would not have attained the position which he reached. To young men who are ambitious of success the study of his life is valuable, all the more, because it is not so much a case of genius and extraordinary powers as it is an example of what can be done by the persistent following of the most commonplace maxims and the most homely virtues. There was a kind of monastic simplicity about the man, a directness of speech and purpose, a force of will, a kind of common sense optimism, and a large and judicial and impersonal way of looking at things which were the fruits of experience and discipline and culture. lie was master of himself and in that self-mastery lies much of the secret of his great career. He himself has told us same of the things he deemed essential, some of the rules by which his life was governed. It is worth while to glance at a few of these. A young man, starting out in his life's enterprise, would do well to pay attention to these rugged maxims drawn from a big man's experience. Lord Strathcona had many opportunities of addressing young men, in whom he always had a deep interest, and his speeches ring the changes on a few simple practical counsels. The following are examples:-

"Be content with your lot, but always be fitting yourself for something higher."

He had no sympathy with that theory of life which regarded a man's condition as fixed and unchangeable. A man should be content in whatsoever place it had pleased God to put him, but he should not be content to stay in it if he could fit himself for something higher and better. The contentment which destroys a legitimate ambition is fatal to success. A classification of society that ignored merit, and the bounds of which could not be broken, would have no support from Lord Strathcona. Each place might be the training school for a higher place, and while it was all right to be cheerful and content in it yet one must not overlook the possibility of advance and earn it by the faithful and conscientious discharge of its duties. There is no better way. There are some examples, it is true, of men being advanced by favor and influence and "pull" but these are the exceptions. The rule in the practical world where things have to he done is to give positions to those men who have proved that they can do them. "Fit yourself for something higher''—that is the sound advice. He practised that himself. In the humble position in which he first found himself he won recognition by the way he did things. He made no great leap to the top. He had no friends at court to secure his advance. His only friend was himself and his only chance of advancement lay in doing so well whatever he was set to do that, as a matter of course, his fitness was recognized, and he was given something more important to do. It is a long way from a clerkship in a Hudson Bay post in Labrador, to the High Commissionership of Canada in London and a seat in the house of Lords, but he traversed that distance by the simple plan of fitting himself in one position for another higher up. And that plan is within reach of all.

Buck Board, MacLeod, Alta

"Only cheerful perseverance will bring you to a better position; grumbling won't help you an inch."

Caught in a blizzard and floundering through snow drifts, and uncertain where he was (but knowing he was a long way from his destination) many a time he realized the truth and wisdom of this declaration. In the stormy expeditions of his early days he had come through safely where others had failed, simply because he had learned this lesson, and was prepared to apply it. He would not give up. The cheerful spirit and the strong will drove the body on and compelled it to go through. And that same principle worked out in all his life. He had difficult tasks to perform, opposition to encounter, obstacles to overcome, but he cheerfully persevered. He was not to be turned back from his purpose whether it was to discharge some arduous duty in Labrador or some more important public duty in later life. The driving of the last spike in the Canadian Pacific Railway, amid the towering mountains of the Rockies, meant the completion of an undertaking that to men of lesser parts seemed impossible. But he would never admit it. He had the cheerfulness, not of the fool but of the strong and conquering spirit. Never did he show to better advantage than when engaged in some contest, with men or circumstance or nature, that put him on his mettle. "Grumbling will not help you an inch." Nothing is truer than that. It is a waste of time and energy. "A stout heart to a stac brae" was for him a better motto. While men grumbled and whined and complained he was up and doing, pushing his way and achieving his purpose. It was a great thing for an old man, whose life spoke louder than his speech, to say to the young men of his generation. It had been good for him. It would he good for them. The persevering man has the grumbler beaten from the start.

"Do the work yourself; don't depend on the influence of friends on your behalf." This means self reliance. It is a rebuke of that miserable dependent spirit which leads a man to lean upon his fellows and clutch at their skirts and beg their favor or assistance. This man had seen a great deal of that. His position and influence and, latterly, his great wealth drew about him a host of people who were anxious to avail themselves of his help and save themselves from the consequence of their on folly or weakness or idleness.

He was not a hard-hearted man. He was not without sympathy. He was glad to help and did help. Many a young man got his start through him, and many a struggling cause was lifted out of trouble. But he had little sympathy with those who were too willing to take assistance in order to save themselves from effort. "Do it yourself," that is the way of success. That is the way to acquire strength and fortitude, that is the way to win esteem and commend one's self.

As he thought of his own history and how, unaided, he had accomplished many a difficult task, had conquered a hostile situation, had stormed the gates that barred the entrance to some desired possession, it seemed to him out of that experience and all it meant to him, a good thing to cry out to the young men just beginning their life's struggle, ''Do the work yourself; don't depend on others."

It is advice well worth considering. There is a tendency, against which youth cannot be too vigilant, to build one's life upon what others may do for us. For in the struggle of life what we need is strength and the more we lean upon others the weaker we become. The French have an excellent motto - ''Help yourself, and heaven will help you." And if a man aims at usefulness or position or wealth he cannot follow a better principle. It is by pushing one's own fortunes, doing one's own thinking, earning one's own living, originating and carrying out one's own plans that one comes to confidence and power and influence. All that is commonplace but it is none the less true. Props, crutches, helps are for weaklings. The men who have come to the front in all varieties of achievement have nourished this virtue. They may have other failings, they may, indeed, have been offensively conceited and overbearing, but they have never been weak. As a rule they have had to fight their way, have had to compel recognition, have imposed themselves by sheer force upon those who realized their value. And this stern necessity, this lack of external advantage has fostered in them this sterling quality of independence. It has made them self-contained, self-reliant, self-directing. And never were these qualities more in demand than to-day. Individuality is in danger from the pressure of society. Men are afraid to assert themselves, to break away from the regular route, to do things themselves without consultation and without help. If we explore the realm of success—in material things, in intellectual attainment, in the great movements that have reformed and transformed the world—we will find everywhere this quality embodied. In the vast majority of cases the gigantic men have been those who have followed this counsel of Lord Strathcona, "Do the work yourself; don't depend on the influence of friends on your behalf." This big man, of whom we write, had tried it and found it true. No feature of his character was more pronounced than this—his confidence in himself and his determination to preserve his independence, he fought his own battle, he won his own game, in his life's splendid result the biggest factor was himself.

"Opportunity comes to some men more frequently than to others but there are very few it does not visit at some time or other."

Here we have the recognition of a fact which is apparent to every student of life, namely, that much depends on opportunity. Grey in his "Elegy" fills the rural graves of the country churchyard with those who, had fortune favored them, might have been different:—

"Some village Hampden that with dauntless breast
The petty tyrant of his fields withstood,
Some mute, inglorious Milton here may rest.
Some Cromwell, guiltless of his country's blood."

There is such a thing as, what we call, luck and it plays a considerable part in the destinies of men. Indeed some go so far as to say that success is largely a matter of accident, and that, no matter how well one may he qualified, if he have not the opportunity he cannot succeed. That has enough truth in it to qualify our judgment of those who have not succeeded as we might have hoped, but it is not wise, especially for youth, to lay too much stress upon it. It is true that some have more opportunities than others. But it is equally true that all have an opportunity some time, and failure is due, not to lack of opportunity, but to the neglect of it. The Roman Cardinal was right who said, ''There is nobody whom Fortune does not visit once in his life; but when she finds he is not ready to receive her, she goes in at the door, and out through the window." That is the secret— to he ready for it when it does come. The careless, slow, unobservant fail to see it, or clutch at it when it has gone. But those who are ready, perceive it at once and catch it on the wing. More than that, they not only are ready and waiting for ''something to turn up" but they make it lurn up. They hammer at circumstances till they shape them to their will. They do not whine and wail and cry out against their lot but set themselves to change it. As Wendell Phillips says, "Common sense plays the game with the cards it has. Common sense bows to the inevitable, and makes, use of it. It does not ask an impossible chessboard, but takes the one before it and plays the game." That was Lord Strathcona's policy. And in his old age he was justified in pressing it home to the youth of the land. His own life was a splendid illustration of his text. For surely no one had a poorer chance than he! When he left his native land behind him he seemed to be leaving every chance of a great career. He had no money. and no influence, and no social position. He went into a wilderness. For half a lifetime he labored in obscurity, in a bleak and desolate country. But when the opportunity came he was ready and at every stage of his history it found him ready. Even in the narrow life of the fur-trader he reached the top. When he came to the front great doors opened and he was ready to enter in. No feature of his remarkable story is more noteworthy than this—the readiness with which he responded to every call. It seems almost miraculous that the boy "Smith" should become the "Lord" Strathcona. Yet there is no sign of miracle. He was ready for opportunity. That was all. While others were bewailing their unlucky late and were busy explaining their lack of success he applied himself to the duty of the hour. With a cheerful temper and a steady purpose he kept on his way and at every turn of the road he was ready for the new development. His progress from the beginning to the end was uniform, each stage of it fitting into the next in an orderly series. There were no violent upheavals, no brilliant flights; only the constant and consistent warfare with circumstances as they came to him. It is probable that he builded better than he knew. It is questionable if he ever dreamed of the colossal result. He just did what everybody may do. He did the work himself and did not depend on others. The influence of friends is not to be despised but it is it poor substitute for the driving force of one's own determined will.

"Follow the old counsel: 'Trust in Providence and keep your powder dry.'

In this we get a glimpse into the secret places of this reticent Scotchrnan's mind, he accepted the theory of a universe ruled and regulated by a Power transcending the limits of our understanding. He recognized the two elements which enter into every human effort—on the one hand, the element of "Providence" which controls the vast machine of which we are but a small part, which determines the final issue, which is concerned with results on a stupendous scale, and on the other, the element of the individual effort. The one is theory which is a matter of faith. The other is practical. It comes within the range of human action and control. It rests on the conviction that the individual must play his part, must link his efforts with the great, overruling Force. Even Providence is helpless if we will not exert ourselves, refuse to make use of the means at our disposal, and wait, supine, for some supernatural interference. "Trust in Providence" is good. It makes for optimism, hope, courage, but does not eliminate the personal responsibility. "Keep your powder dry" is just as necessary as "Trust in Providence." The two work together. And, so far as men are concerned, the keeping of the "powder dry" is the more important factor. And many a battle has ended in defeat because this has been overlooked. Men have faced the problems of life with a vain and impracticable faith in Providence. They have been so obsessed with that, that they have failed to equip themselves to meet reasonable demands. "Keep your powder dry" is the counsel which this old veteran sounds in our ears. Look after your bodily health, cultivate your mind, foster the qualities of industry, thoroughness, fidelity and prudence. Do the thing that lies to hand and do it well. Keep yourself fit. have your armor ready, your lamps trimmed, your powder dry. Then you may hope to swing into line with the greater movements of Providence. This was Lord Strathcona's practice and it was based on his profound faith in the infinite directing Power.

These are a few of the maxims which had been brought to the proof in the actual working out of this marvellous life. They are the tools which were used in the building of a career which has commanded universal admiration. It will be noticed how simple they are and how far removed from originality. Lord Stratheona did not create them. One can find these, and a hundred like them, in the pages of literature. They are part of the experience of the race. We are all familiar with them as words and phrases. But the significant thing here is that they are not mere theories, an ideal practical philosophy, but come to us as actualities, clothed with the flesh of practical performance. This man was not quoting from a book but was exhibiting the real processes of his own life. He had found himself in many a tight place; he had been confronted with formidable difficulties; for over seventy years he had been thrown upon his own resources; he had found himself the centre of many an exciting conflict; he had had grave responsibilities thrust upon him; he had succeeded wonderfully and had established himself in the esteem and respect of all classes in the Empire; he had carried to a successful completion enormous enterprises and had come to be reckoned one of the great men of the time. The words of such a man are weighty. his counsels should compel attention. These maxims of his may well be pondered for he hammered them out on the anvil of his own experience.

Mount Sir Donald


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