Part 2 out of 3
great, dirty mill and a lot of little dirty houses around the mill.
The hands lived in the little dirty houses and worked six days of
the week in the big mill.
There was a little, old man who went about that mill, often saying,
"I hain't got no book l'arnin' like the rest of you." He was the
man who owned the mill. He had made it with his own genius out of
nothing. He had become rich and honored. Every man in the mill
loved him like a father.
He had an idolatry for a book.
He also had a little pink son, whose name was F. Gustavus Adolphus.
The little old man often said, "I'm going to give that boy the best
education my money can buy."
He began to buy it. He began to polish and sandpaper Gussie from
the minute the child could sit up in the cradle and notice things.
He sent him to the astrologer, the phrenologer and all other
"ologers" they had around there. When Gussie was old enough to
export, he sent the boy to one of the greatest universities in the
land. The fault was not with the university, not with Gussie, who
was bright and capable.
The fault was with the little old man, who was so wise and great
about everything else, and so foolish about his own boy. In the
blindness of his love he robbed his boy of his birthright.
The birthright of every child is the opportunity of becoming
great--of going up--of getting educated.
Gussie had no chance to serve. Everything was handed to him on a
silver platter. Gussie went thru that university about like a steer
from Texas goes thru Mr. Armour's institute of packnology in
Chicago. Did you ever go over into Packingtown and see a steer
receive his education?
You remember, then, that after he matriculates--after he gets the
grand bump, said steer does not have to do another thing. His
education is all arranged for in advance and he merely rides thru
and receives it. There is a row of professors with their sleeves
rolled up who give him the degrees. So as Mr. T. Steer of Panhandle
goes riding thru on that endless cable from his A-B-C's to his
eternal cold storage, each professor hits him a dab. He rides along
from department to department until he is canned.
They "canned" Gussie. He had a man hired to study for him. He rode
from department to department. They upholstered him, enameled him,
manicured him, sugar-cured him, embalmed him. Finally Gussie was
done and the paint was dry. He was a thing of beauty.
Gussie and Bill Whackem Gussie came back home with his education in
the baggage-car. It was checked. The mill shut down on a week day,
the first time in its history. The hands marched down to the depot,
and when the young lord alighted, the factory band played, "See,
the Conquering Hero Comes."
A few years later the mill shut down again on a week day. There was
crape hanging on the office door. Men and women stood weeping in
the streets. The little old man had been translated.
When they next opened up the mill, F. Gustavus Adolphus was at its head.
He had inherited the entire plant. "F. Gustavus Adolphus, President."
Poor little peanut! He rattled. He had never grown great enough to
fill so great a place. In two years and seven months the mill was
a wreck. The monument of a father's lifetime was wrecked in two
years and seven months by the boy who had all the "advantages."
So the mill was shut down the third time on a week day. It looked
as tho it never could open. But it did open, and when it opened it
had a new kind of boss. If I were to give the new boss a
descriptive name, I would call him "Bill Whackem." He was an
orphan. He had little chance. He had a new black eye almost every
day. But he seemed to fatten on bumps. Every time he was bumped he
would swell up. How fast he grew! He became the most useful man in
the community. People forgot all about Bill's lowly origin. They
got to looking up to him to start and run things.
So when the courts were looking for somebody big enough to take charge
of the wrecked mill, they simply had to appoint Hon. William Whackem.
It was Hon. William Whackem who put the wreckage together and made
the wheels go round, and finally got the hungry town back to work.
Colleges Give Us Tools
After that a good many people said it was the college that made a
fool of Gussie. They said Bill succeeded so well because he never
went to one of "them highbrow schools." I am sorry to say I thought
that way for a good while.
But now I see that Bill went up in spite of his handicaps. If he
had had Gussie's fine equipment he might have accomplished vastly more.
The book and the college suffer at the hands of their friends. They
say to the book and the college, "Give us an education." They cannot
do that. You cannot get an education from the book and the college
any more than you can get to New York by reading a travelers' guide.
You cannot get physical education by reading a book on gymnastics.
The book and the college show you the way, give you instruction and
furnish you finer working tools. But the real education is the
journey you make, the strength you develop, the service you perform
with these instruments and tools.
Gussie was in the position of a man with a very fine equipment of
tools and no experience in using them. Bill was the man with the
poor, homemade, crude tools, but with the energy, vision and
strength developed by struggle.
The "Hard Knocks Graduates"
For education is getting wisdom, understanding, strength,
greatness, physically, mentally and morally. I believe I know some
people liberally educated who cannot write their own names. But
they have served and overcome and developed great lives with the
poor, crude tools at their command.
In almost every community are what we sometimes call "hard knocks
graduates"--people who have never been to college nor have studied
many or any books. Yet they are educated to the degree they have
acquired these elements of greatness in their lives.
They realized how they have been handicapped by their poor mental tools.
That is why they say, "All my life I have been handicapped by lack of
proper preparation. Don't make my mistake, children, go to school."
The young person with electrical genius will make an electrical
machine from a few bits of junk. But send him to Westinghouse and
see how much more he will achieve with the same genius and with
Get the best tools you can. But remember diplomas, degrees are not
an education, they are merely preparations. When you are thru with
the books, remember, you are having a commencement, not an
end-ment. You will discover with the passing years that life is
just one series of greater commencements.
Go out with your fine equipment from your commencements into the
school of service and write your education in the only book you
ever can know--the book of your experience.
That is what you know--what the courts will take as evidence when
they put you upon the witness stand.
The Tragedy of Unpreparedness
The story of Gussie and Bill Whackem is being written in every
community in tears, failure and heartache. It is peculiarly a
tragedy of our American civilization today.
These fathers and mothers who toil and save, who get great farms,
fine homes and large bank accounts, so often think they can give
greatness to their children--they can make great places for them in
life and put them into them.
They do all this and the children rattle. They have had no chance
to grow great enough for the places. The child gets the blame for
making the wreck, even as Gussie was blamed for wrecking his
father's plant, when the child is the victim.
A man heard me telling the story of Gussie and Bill Whackem, and he
went out of my audience very indignant. He said he was very glad
his boy was not there to hear it. But that good, deluded father now
has his head bowed in shame over the career of his spoiled son.
I rarely tell of it on a platform that at the close of the lecture
somebody does not take me aside and tell me a story just as sad
from that community.
For years poor Harry Thaw was front-paged on the newspapers and
gibbeted in the pulpits as the shocking example of youthful
depravity. He seems never to have had a fighting chance to become
a man. He seems to have been robbed of his birthright from the
cradle. Yet the father of this boy who has cost America millions in
court and detention expenses was one of the greatest business
generals of the Keystone state. He could plat great coal empires
and command armies of men, but he seems to have been pitifully
ignorant of the fact that the barrel shakes.
It is the educated, the rich and the worldly wise who blunder most in
the training of their children. Poverty is a better trainer for the rest.
The menace of America lies not in the swollen fortunes, but in the
shrunken souls who inherit them.
But Nature's eliminating process is kind to the race in the barrel
shaking down the rattlers. Somebody said it is only three
generations from shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves.
How long this nation will endure depends upon how many Gussie boys
this nation produces. Steam heat is a fine thing, but do you notice
how few of our strong men get their start with steam heat?
Children, Learn This Early
You boys and girls, God bless you! You live in good homes. Father
and mother love you and give you everything you need. You get to
thinking, "I won't have to turn my hand over. Papa and mamma will
take care of me, and when they are gone I'll inherit everything
they have. I'm fixed for life."
No, you are unfixed. You are a candidate for trouble. You are going
to rattle. Father and mother can be great and you can be a peanut.
You must solve your own problems and carry your own loads to have
a strong mind and back. Anybody who does for you regularly what you
can do for yourself--anybody who gives you regularly what you can
earn for yourself, is robbing you of your birthright.
Father and mother can put money in your pocket, ideas in your head
and food in your stomach, but you cannot own it save as you digest
it--put it into your life.
I have read somewhere about a man who found a cocoon and put it in
his house where he could watch it develop. One day he saw a little
insect struggling inside the cocoon. It was trying to get out of
the envelope. It seemed in trouble and needed help. He opened the
envelope with a knife and set the struggling insect free. But out
came a monstrosity that soon died. It had an over-developed body
and under-developed wings. He learned that helping the insect was
killing it. He took away from it the very thing it had to have--the
struggle. For it was this struggle of breaking its own way out of
that envelope that was needed to reduce its body and develop its
Not Packhorse Work
But remember there is little virtue in work unless it is getting us
somewhere. Just work that gets us three meals a day and a place to
lie down to sleep, then another day of the same grind, then a year
of it and years following until our machine is worn out and on the
junkpile, means little. "One day nearer home" for such a worker
means one day nearer the scrapheap.
Such a worker is like the packhorse who goes forward to keep ahead
of the whip. Such a worker is the horse we used to have hitched to
the sorghum mill. Round and round that horse went, seeing nothing,
hearing nothing, his head down, without ambition enough to prick up
his ears. Such work deadens and stupefies. The masses work about
that way. They regard work as a necessary evil. They are
right--such work is a necessary evil, and they make it such. They
follow their nose. "Dumb, driven cattle."
But getting a vision of life, and working to grow upward to it,
that is the work that brings the joy and the greatness.
When we are growing and letting our faculties develop, we will love
even the packhorse job, because it is our "meal ticket" that
enables us to travel upward.
"Helping" the Turkeys
One time I put some turkey eggs under the mother hen and waited day
by day for them to hatch. And sure enough, one day the eggs began
to crack and the little turkeys began to stick their heads out of
the shells. Some of the little turkeys came out from the shells all
right, but some of them stuck in the shells.
"Shell out, little turkeys, shell out," I urged, "for Thanksgiving
is coming. Shell out!"
But they stuck to the shells.
"Little turkeys, I'll have to help you. I'll have to shell you by
hand." So I picked the shells off. "Little turkeys, you will never
know how fortunate you are. Ordinary turkeys do not have these
advantages. Ordinary turkeys do not get shelled by hand."
Did I help them? I killed them, or stunted them. Not one of the turkeys
was "right" that I helped. They were runts. One of them was a regular
Harry Thaw turkey. They had too many silk socks. Too many "advantages."
Children, you must crack your own shells. You must overcome your
own obstacles to develop your own powers.
A rich boy can succeed, but he has a poorer chance than a poor boy.
The cards are against him. He must succeed in spite of his "advantages."
I am pleading for you to get a great arm, a great mind, a great
character, for the joy of having a larger life. I am pleading with
you to know the joy of overcoming and having the angels come and
minister to you.
Happiness in Our Work
Children, I am pleading with you to find happiness. All the world
is seeking happiness, but so many are seeking it by rattling down
instead of by shaking up.
The happiness is in going up--in developing a greater arm, a
greater mind, a greater character.
Happiness is the joy of overcoming. It is the delight of an
expanding consciousness. It is the cry of the eagle mounting
upward. It is the proof that we are progressing.
We find happiness in our work, not outside of our work. If we
cannot find happiness in our work, we have the wrong job. Find the
work that fits your talents, and stop watching the clock and
Loving friends used to warn me against "breaking down." They scared
me into "taking care" of myself. And I got to taking such good care
of myself and watching for symptoms that I became a physical wreck.
I saved myself by getting busier. I plunged into work I love. I
found my job in my work, not away from it, and the work refreshed
me and rejuvenated me. Now I do two men's work, and have grown from
a skinny, fretful, nervous wreck into a hearty, happy man. This has
been a great surprise to my friends and a great disappointment to
the undertaker. I am an editor in the daytime and a lecturer at
I edit all day and take a vacation lecturing at night. I lecture
almost every day of the year--maybe two or three times some
days--and then take a vacation by editing and writing. Thus every
day is jam full of play and vacation and good times. The year is
one round of joy, and I ought to pay people for the privilege of
speaking and writing to them instead of them paying me!
If I did not like my work, of course, I would be carrying a
terrible burden and would speedily collapse.
You see, I have no time nowadays to break down. I have no time to
think and grunt and worry about my body. And like Paul I am happy
to be "absent from the body and present with the Lord." Thus this
old body behaves just beautifully and wags along like the tail
follows the dog when I forget all about it. The grunter lets the
tail wag the dog.
I have never known a case of genuine "overwork." I have never known
of anyone killing himself by working. But I have known of
multitudes killing themselves by taking vacations.
The people who think they are overworking are merely overworrying.
This is one species of selfishness.
To worry is to doubt God.
To work at the things you love, or for those you love, is to turn
work into play and duty into privilege.
When we love our work, it is not work, it is life.
Many Kinds of Drunkards
The world is trying to find happiness in being amused. The world is
amusement-mad. Vacations, Coca Cola and moviemania!
What a sad, empty lot of rattlers! Look over the bills of the movies,
look over the newsstands and see a picture of the popular mind,
for these places keep just what the people want to buy. What a lot
of mental frog-pond and moral slum our boys and girls wade thru!
There are ten literary drunkards to one alcoholic drunkard. There
are a hundred amusement drunkards to one victim of strong drink.
And all just as hard to cure.
We have to have amusement, but if we fill our lives with nothing
but amusement, we never grow. We go thru our lives babies with new
rattleboxes and "sugar-tits."
Almost every day as I go along the street to some hall to lecture,
I hear somebody asking, "What are they going to have in the hall
"Going to have a lecture."
"Lecture?" said with a shiver as tho it was "small pox." "I ain't
goin.' I don't like lectures."
The speaker is perfectly honest. He has no place to put a lecture.
I am not saying that he should attend my lecture, but I am grieving
at what underlies his remark. He does not want to think. He wants
to follow his nose around. Other people generally lead his nose.
The man who will not make the effort to think is the great menace
to the nation. The crowd that drifts and lives for amusement is the
crowd that finds itself back near the caboose, and as the train of
progress leaves them, they wail, they "never had no chanct." They
want to start a new party to reform the government.
The Lure of the City
Do you ever get lonely in a city? How few men and women there. A
jam of people, most of them imitations--most of them trying to look
like they get more salary. Poor, hungry, doped butterflies of the
bright lights,--hopers, suckers and straphangers! Down the great
white way they go chasing amusement to find happiness. They must be
amused every moment, even when they eat, or they will have to be
alone with their empty lives.
The Prodigal Son came to himself afterwhile and thought upon his
ways. Then he arose and went to his father's house. Whenever one
will stop chasing amusements long enough to think upon his ways, he
will arise and go to his father's house of wisdom. But there is no
hope for the person who will not stop and think. And the devil
works day and night shifts keeping the crowd moving on.
That is why the crowd is not furnishing the strong men and women.
We must have amusement and relaxation. Study your muscles. First
they contract, then they relax. But the muscle that goes on
continually relaxing is degenerating. And the individual, the
community, the nation that goes on relaxing without
contracting--without struggling and overcoming--is degenerating.
The more you study your muscles, the more you learn that while one
muscle is relaxing another is contracting. So you must learn that
your real relaxation, vacation and amusement, are merely changing
over to contracting another set of muscles.
Go to the bank president's office, go to the railroad magnate's
office, go to the great pulpit, to the college chair--go to any
place of great responsibility in a city and ask the one who fills
the place, "Were you born in this city?"
The reply is almost a monotony. "I born in this city? No, I was
born in Poseyville, Indiana, and I came to this city forty years
ago and went to work at the bottom."
He glows as he tells you of some log-cabin home, hillside or
farmside where he struggled as a boy. Personally, I think this
log-cabin ancestry has been over-confessed for campaign purposes.
Give us steam heat and push-buttons. There is no virtue in a
log-cabin, save that there the necessity for struggle that brings
strength is most in evidence. There the young person gets the
struggle and service that makes for strength and greatness. And as
that young person comes to the city and shakes in the barrel among
the weaklings of the artificial life, he rises above them like the
eagle soars above a lot of chattering sparrows.
The cities do not make their own steam. The little minority from
the farms controls the majority. The red blood of redemption flows
from the country year by year into the national arteries, else
these cities would drop off the map.
If it were not for Poseyville, Indiana, Chicago would disappear.
If it were not for Poseyville, New York would disintegrate
for lack of leaders.
"Hep" and "Pep" for the Home Town
But so many of the home towns of America are sick. Many are dying.
Many are dead.
It is the lure of the city--and the lure-lessness of the country.
The town the young people leave is the town the young people ought
to leave. Somebody says, "The reason so many young people go to
hell is because they have no other place to go."
What is the matter with the small town? Do not blame it all upon
the city mail order house. With rural delivery, daily papers,
telephones, centralized schools, automobiles and good roads, there
are no more delightful places in the world to live than in the
country or in the small town. They have the city advantages plus
sunshine, air and freedom that the crowded cities cannot have.
I asked the keeper who was showing me thru the insane asylum at
Weston, West Virginia, "You say you have nearly two thousand insane
people in this institution and only a score of guards to keep them
in. Aren't you in danger? What is to hinder these insane people
from getting together, organizing, overpowering the few guards and
The keeper was not in the least alarmed at the question. He smiled.
"Many people say that. But they don't understand. If these people
could get together they wouldn't be in this asylum. They are
insane. No two of them can agree upon how to get together and how
to break out. So a few of us can hold them."
It would be almost unkind to carry this further, but I have been
thinking ever since that about three-fourths of the small towns of
America have one thing in common with the asylum folks--they can't
get together. They cannot organize for the public good. They break
up into little antagonistic social, business and even religious
factions and neutralize each other's efforts.
A lot of struggling churches compete with each other instead of
massing for the common good. And when the churches fight, the devil
stays neutral and furnishes the munitions for both sides.
So the home towns stagnate and the young people with visions go
away to the cities where opportunity seems to beckon. Ninety-nine
out of a hundred of them will jostle with the straphangers all
their lives, mere wheels turning round in a huge machine.
Ninety-nine out of a hundred of them might have had a larger
opportunity right back in the home town, had the town been awake
and united and inviting.
We must make the home town the brightest, most attractive, most
promising place for the young people. No home town can afford to
spend its years raising crops of young people for the cities. That
is the worst kind of soil impoverishment--all going out and nothing
coming back. That is the drain that devitalizes the home towns more
than all the city mail order houses.
America is to be great, not in the greatness of a few crowded
cities, but in the greatness of innumerable home towns.
The slogan today should be, For God and Home and the Home Town!
A School of Struggle
Dr. Henry Solomon Lehr, founder of the Ohio Northern University at
Ada, Ohio, one of Ohio's greatest educators, used to say with
pride, "Our students come to school; they are not sent."
He encouraged his students to be self-supporting, and most of them
were working their way thru school. He made the school calendar and
courses elastic to accommodate them. He saw the need of combining
the school of books with the school of struggle. He organized his
school into competing groups, so that the student who had no
struggle in his life would at least have to struggle with the
others during his schooling.
He pitted class against class. He organized great literary and
debating societies to compete with each other. He arranged contests
for the military department. His school was one surging mass of
contestants. Yet each student felt no compulsion. Rather he felt
that he was initiating an individual or class effort to win. The
literary societies vied with each other in their programs and in
getting new members, going every term to unbelievable efforts to
win over the others. They would go miles out on the trains to
intercept new students, even to their homes in other states. Each
old student pledged new students in his home country. The military
companies turned the school into a military camp for weeks each
year, scarcely sleeping while drilling for a contest flag.
Those students went out into the world trained to struggle. I do
not believe there is a school in America with a greater alumni roll
of men and women of uniformly greater achievement.
I believe the most useful schools today are schools of struggle
schools offering encouragement and facilities for young people to
work their way thru and to act upon their own initiative.
Men Needed More Than Millions
We are trying a new educational experiment today.
The old "deestrick" school is passing, and with it the small
academies and colleges, each with its handful of students around a
teacher, as in the old days of the lyceum in Athens, when the
pupils sat around the philosopher in the groves.
From these schools came the makers and the preservers of the nation.
Today we are building wonderful public schools with equally
wonderful equipment. Today we are replacing the many small colleges
with a few great centralized state normal schools and state
universities. We are spending millions upon them in laboratories,
equipment and maintenance. Today we scour the earth for specialists
to sit in the chairs and speak the last word in every department of
O, how the students of the "dark ages" would have rejoiced to see
this day! Many of them never saw a germ!
But each student has the same definite effort to make in
assimilation today as then. Knowing and growing demand the same
personal struggle in the cushions of the "frat" house as back on
the old oak-slab bench with its splintered side up.
I am anxiously awaiting the results. I am hoping that the boys and
girls who come out in case-lots from these huge school plants will
not be rows of lithographed cans on the shelves of life. I am
hoping they will not be shorn of their individuality, but will have
it stimulated and unfettered. I am anxious that they be not
veneered but inspired, not denatured but discovered.
All this school machinery is only machinery. Back of it must be
men--great men. I am anxious that the modern school have the modern
equipment demanded to serve the present age. But I am more anxious
that each student come in vital touch with great men. We get life
from life, not from laboratories, and we have life more abundantly
as our lives touch greater lives.
A school is vastly more than machinery, methods, microscopes and millions.
Many a small school struggling to live thinks that all it needs is
endowment, when the fact is that its struggle for existence and the
spirit of its teachers are its greatest endowment. And sometimes
when the money endowment comes the spiritual endowment goes in
fatty degeneration. Some schools seem to have been visited by
calamities in the financial prosperity that has engulfed them.
Can we keep men before millions, and keep our ideals untainted by
foundations? That is the question the age is asking.
You and I are very much interested in the answer.
The Salvation of a "Sucker"
The Fiddle and the Tuning
HOW long it takes to learn things! I think I was thirty-four years
learning one sentence, "You can't get something for nothing." I
have not yet learned it. Every few days I stumble over it
For that sentence utters one of the fundamentals of life that
underlies every field of activity.
What is knowing?
One day a manufacturer took me thru his factory where he makes
fiddles. Not violins--fiddles.
A violin is only a fiddle with a college education.
I have had the feeling ever since that you and I come into this
world like the fiddle comes from the factory. We have a body and a
neck. That is about all there is either to us or to the fiddle. We
are empty. We have no strings. We have no bow--yet!
When the human fiddles are about six years old they go into the
primary schools and up thru the grammar grades, and get the first
string--the little E string. The trouble is so many of these human
fiddles think they are an orchestra right away. They want to quit
school and go fiddling thru life on this one string!
We must show these little fiddles they must go back into school and
go up thru all the departments and institutions necessary to give
them the full complement of strings for their life symphonies.
After all this there comes the commencement, and the violin comes
forth with the E, A, D and G strings all in place. Educated now?
Why is a violin? To wear strings? Gussie got that far and gave a
lot of discord. The violin is to give music.
So there is much yet to do after getting the strings. All the book
and college can do is to give the strings--the tools. After that
the violin must go into the great tuning school of life. Here the
pegs are turned and the strings are put in tune. The music is the
knowing. Learning is tuning.
You do not know what you have memorized, you know what you have
vitalized, what you have written in the book of experience.
Gussie says, "I have read it in a book." Bill Whackem says," I
Reading and Knowing
All of us are Christopher Columbuses, discovering the same new-old
continents of Truth. That is the true happiness of
life--discovering Truth. We read things in a book and have a hazy
idea of them. We hear the preacher utter truths and we say with
little feeling, "Yes, that is so." We hear the great truths of life
over and over and we are not excited. Truth never excites--it is
falsehood that excites--until we discover it in our lives. Until we
see it with our own eyes. Then there is a thrill. Then the old
truth becomes a new blessing. Then the oldest, driest platitude
crystallizes into a flashing jewel to delight and enrich our
consciousness. This joy of discovery is the joy of living.
There is such a difference between reading a thing and knowing a
thing. We could read a thousand descriptions of the sun and not
know the sun as in one glimpse of it with our own eyes.
I used to stand in the row of blessed little rascals in the
"deestrick" school and read from McGuffey's celebrated literature,
I did not learn it. I wish I had learned by reading it that if I
play with the fire I will get my fingers burned. I had to slap my
hands upon hot stoves and coffee-pots, and had to get many kinds of
blisters in order to learn it.
Then I had to go around showing the blisters, boring my friends and
taking up a collection of sympathy. "Look at my bad luck!" Fool!
This is not a lecture. It is a confession! It seems to me if you in
the audience knew how little I know, you wouldn't stay.
"You Can't Get Something for Nothing"
Yes, I was thirty-four years learning that one sentence. "You can't
get something for nothing." That is, getting it in partial tune. It
took me so long because I was naturally bright. It takes that kind
longer than a human being. They are so smart you cannot teach them
with a few bumps. They have to be pulverized.
That sentence takes me back to the days when I was a "hired man" on
the farm. You might not think I had ever been a "hired man" on the
farm at ten dollars a month and "washed, mended and found." You see
me here on this platform in my graceful and cultured manner, and
you might not believe that I had ever trained an orphan calf to
drink from a copper kettle. But I have fed him the fingers of this
hand many a time. You might not think that I had ever driven a yoke
of oxen and had said the words. But I have!
I remember the first county fair I ever attended. Fellow sufferers,
you may remember that at the county fair all the people sort out to
their own departments. Some people go to the canned fruit
department. Some go to the fancywork department. Some go to the
swine department. Everybody goes to his own department. Even the
"suckers"! Did you ever notice where they go? That is where I
went--to the "trimming department."
I was in the "trimming department" in five minutes. Nobody told me
where it was. I didn't need to be told. I gravitated there. The
barrel always shakes all of one size to one place. You notice
that--in a city all of one size get together.
Right at the entrance to the "local Midway" I met a gentleman. I
know he was a gentleman because he said he was a gentleman. He had
a little light table he could move quickly. Whenever the climate
became too sultry he would move to greener pastures. On that table
were three little shells in a row, and there was a little pea under
the middle shell. I saw it there, being naturally bright. I was the
only naturally bright person around the table, hence the only one
who knew under which shell the little round pea was hidden.
Even the gentleman running the game was fooled. He thought it was
under the end shell and bet me money it was under the end shell.
You see, this was not gambling, this was a sure thing. (It was!)
I had saved up my money for weeks to attend the fair. I bet it all
on that middle shell. I felt bad. It seemed like robbing father.
And he seemed like a real nice old gentleman, and maybe he had a
family to keep. But I would teach him a lesson not to "monkey" with
people like me, naturally bright.
But I needn't have felt bad. I did not rob father. Father cleaned
me out of all I had in about five seconds.
I went over to the other side of the fairgrounds and sat down. That
was all I had to do now--just go, sit down. I couldn't see the
mermaid now or get into the grandstand.
Sadly I thought it all over, but I did not get the right answer.
I said the thing every fool does say when he gets bumped and fails
to learn the lesson from the bump. I said, "Next time I shall be
When anybody says that he is due for a return date.
I Bought the Soap
Learn? No! Within a month I was on the street a Saturday night when
another gentleman drove into town. He stopped on the public square
and stood up in his buggy. "Let the prominent citizens gather
around me, for I am going to give away dollars."
Immediately all the prominent "suckers" crowded around the buggy.
"Gentlemen, I am introducing this new medicinal soap that cures all
diseases humanity is heir to. Now just to introduce and advertise,
I am putting these cakes of Wonder Soap in my hat. You see I am
wrapping a ten-dollar bill around one cake and throwing it into the
hat. Now who will give me five dollars for the privilege of taking
a cake of this wonderful soap from my hat--any cake you want, gentlemen!"
And right on top of the pile was the cake with the ten wrapped
around it! I jumped over the rest to shove my five (two weeks' farm
work) in his hands and grab that bill cake. But the bill
disappeared. I never knew where it went. The man whipped up his
horse and also disappeared. I never knew where he went.
My "Fool Drawer"
I grew older and people began to notice that I was naturally bright
and therefore good picking. They began to let me in on the ground
floor. Did anybody ever let you in on the ground floor? I never
could stick. Whenever anybody let me in on the ground floor it
seemed like I would always slide on thru and land in the cellar.
I used to have a drawer in my desk I called my "fool drawer." I
kept my investments in it. I mean, the investments I did not have
to lock up. You get the pathos of that--the investments nobody
wanted to steal. And whenever I would get unduly inflated I would
open that drawer and "view the remains."
I had in that drawer the deed to my Oklahoma corner-lots. Those
lots were going to double next week. But they did not double I
doubled. They still exist on the blueprint and the Oklahoma
metropolis on paper is yet a wide place in the road.
I had in that drawer my deed to my rubber plantation. Did you ever
hear of a rubber plantation in Central America? That was mine.
I had there my oil propositions. What a difference, I have learned,
between an oil proposition and an oil well! The learning has been
I used to wonder how I ever could spend my income. I do not wonder now.
I wonder how I will make it.
I had in that drawer my "Everglade" farm. Did you ever hear of the
"Everglades"? I have an alligator ranch there. It is below the
frost-line, also below the water-line. I will sell it by the
I had also a bale of mining stock. I had stock in gold mines and
silver mines. Nobody knows how much mining stock I have owned.
Nobody could know while I kept that drawer shut. As I looked over
my gold and silver mine stock, I often noticed that it was printed
in green. I used to wonder why they printed it in green--wonder if
they wanted it to harmonize with me! And I would realize I had so
much to live for--the dividends. I have been so near the dividends
I could smell them. Only one more assessment, then we will cut the
melon! I have heard that all my life and never got a piece of the rind.
Why go farther? I am not half done confessing. Each bump only
increased my faith that the next ship would be mine. Good, honest,
retired ministers would come periodically and sell me stock in some
new enterprise that had millions in it--in its prospectus. I would
buy because I knew the minister was honest and believed in it. He
was selling it on his reputation. Favorite dodge of the promoter to
get the ministers to sell his shares.
I was also greatly interested in companies where I put in one
dollar and got back a dollar or two of bonds and a dollar or two of
stock. That was doubling and trebling my money over night. An old
banker once said to me, "Why don't you invest in something that
will pay you five or six per cent. and get it?"
I pitied his lack of vision. Bankers were such "tightwads." They
had no imagination! Nothing interested me that did not offer fifty
or a hundred per cent.--then. Give me the five per cent. now!
By the time I was thirty-four I was a rich man in worthless paper.
It would have been better for me if I had thrown about all my
savings into the bottom of the sea.
Then I got a confidential letter from a friend of our family I had
never met. His name was Thomas A. Cleage, and he was in the Rialto
Building, St. Louis, Missouri. He wrote me in extreme confidence,
"You have been selected."
Were you ever selected? If you were, then you know the thrill that
rent my manly bosom as I read that letter from this man who said he
was a friend of our family. "You have been selected because you are
a prominent citizen and have a large influence in your community.
You are a natural leader and everybody looks up to you."
He knew me! He was the only man who did know me. So I took the
cork clear under.
"Because of your tremendous influence you have been selected to go
in with us in the inner circle and get a thousand per cent.
Did you get that? I hope you did. I did not! But I took a night
train for St. Louis. I was afraid somebody might beat me there if
I waited till next day. I sat up all night in a day coach to save
money for Tom, the friend of our family. But I see now I need not
have hurried so. They would have waited a month with the
sheep-shears ready. Lambie, lambie, lambie, come to St. Louis!
I don't get any sympathy from this crowd. You laugh at me. You
respect not my feelings. I am not going to tell you a thing that
happened in St. Louis. It is none of your business!
O, I am so glad I went to St. Louis. Being naturally bright, I
could not learn it at home, back in Ohio. I had to go clear down to
St. Louis to Tom Cleage's bucket-shop and pay him eleven hundred
dollars to corner the wheat market of the world. That is all I paid
him. I could not borrow any more. I joined what he called a "pool."
I think it must have been a pool, for I know I fell in and got
That bump set me to thinking. My fever began to reduce. I got the
thirty-third degree in financial suckerdom for only eleven hundred
I have always regarded Tom as one of my great school teachers. I
have always regarded the eleven hundred as the finest investment I
had made up to that time, for I got the most out of it. I do not
feel hard toward goldbrick men and "blue sky" venders. I sometimes
feel that we should endow them. How else can we save a sucker? You
cannot tell him anything, because he is naturally bright and knows
better. You simply have to trim him till he bleeds.
I Am Cured
It is worth eleven hundred dollars every day to know that one
sentence, You cannot get something for nothing. Life just begins to
get juicy when you know it. Today when I open a newspaper and see
a big ad, "Grasp a Fortune Now!" I will not do it! I stop my
subscription to that paper. I simply will not take a paper with
that ad in it, for I have graduated from that class.
I will not grasp a fortune now. Try me, I dare you! Bring a
fortune right up on this platform and put it down there on the
floor. I will not grasp it. Come away, it is a coffee-pot!
Today when somebody offers me much more than the legal rate of
interest I know he is no friend of our family.
If he offers me a hundred per cent. I call for the police!
Today when I get a confidential letter that starts out, "You have
been selected--" I never read farther than the word "selected."
Meeting is adjourned. I select the waste-basket. Here, get in there
just as quick as you can. I was selected!
O, Absalom, Absalom, my son, my son! Learn it early in life. The
law of compensation is never suspended. You only own what you earn.
You can't get something for nothing. If you do not learn it, you
will have to be "selected." There is no other way for you, because
you are naturally bright. When you get a letter, "You have been
selected to receive a thousand per cent. dividends," it means you
have been selected to receive this bunch of blisters because you
look like the biggest sucker on the local landscape.
The other night in a little town of perhaps a thousand, a banker
took me up into his office after the lecture in which I had related
some of the above experiences. "The audience laughed with you and
thought it very funny," said he. "I couldn't laugh. It was too
pathetic. It was a picture of what is going on in our own little
community year after year. I wish you could see what I have to see.
I wish you could see the thousands of hard-earned dollars that go
out of our community every year into just such wildcat enterprises
as you described. The saddest part of it is that the money nearly
always goes out of the pockets of the people who can least afford
to lose it."
Absalom, wake up! This is bargain night for you. I paid eleven
hundred dollars to tell you this one thing, and you get it for a
dollar or two. This is no cheap lecture. It cost blood.
Learn that the gambler never owns his winnings. The man who
accumulates by sharp practices or by undue profits never owns it.
Even the young person who has large fortune given him does not own
it. We only own what we have rendered definite service to bound.
The owning is in the understanding of values.
This is true physically, mentally, morally. You only own what you
have earned and stored in your life, not merely in your pocket,
stomach or mind.
I often think if it takes me thirty-four years to begin to learn
one sentence, I see the need of an eternity.
To me that is one of the great arguments for eternal life--how slowly
I learn, and how much there is to learn. It will take an eternity!
Those Commencement Orations
The young person says, "By next June I shall have finished my
Bless them all! They will have put another string on their fiddle.
After they "finish" they have a commencement, not an end-ment, as
they think. This is not to sneer, but to cheer. Isn't it glorious
that life is one infinite succession of commencements and
I love to attend commencements. The stage is so beautifully
decorated and the joy of youth is everywhere. There is a row of
geraniums along the front of the stage and a big oleander on the
side. There is a long-whiskered rug in the middle. The graduates
sit in a semicircle upon the stage in their new patent leather. I
know how it hurts. It is the first time they have worn it.
Then they make their orations. Every time I hear their orations I
like them better, because every year I am getting younger. Damsel
Number One comes forth and begins:
"Beyond the Alps (sweep arms forward to the left, left arm leading)
lieth Italy!" (Bring arms down, letting fingers follow the wrist.
How embarrassing at a commencement for the fingers not to follow
the wrist! It is always a shock to the audience when the wrist
sweeps downward and the fingers remain up in the air. So by all
means, let the fingers follow the wrist, just as the elocution
teacher marked on page 69.)
Applause, especially from relatives.
Sweet Girl Graduate Number 2, generally comes second. S. G. G. No.
2 stands at the same leadpencil mark on the floor, resplendent in
a filmy creation caught with something or other.
"We (hands at half-mast and separating) are rowing (business of
propelling aerial boat with two fingers of each hand, head
inclined). We are not drifting (hands slide downward)."
Children, we are not laughing at you. We are laughing at ourselves.
We are laughing the happy laugh at how we have learned these great
truths that you have memorized, but not vitalized.
You get the most beautiful and sublime truths from Emerson's
essays. (How did they ever have commencements before Emerson?) But
that is not knowing them. You cannot know them until you have lived
them. It is a grand thing to say, "Beyond the Alps lieth Italy,"
but you can never really say that until you know it by struggling
up over Alps of difficulty and seeing the Italy of promise and
victory beyond. It is fine to say, "We are rowing and not
but you cannot really say that until you have pulled on the oar.
O, Gussie, get an oar!
My Maiden Sermon
Did you ever hear a young preacher, just captured, just out of a factory?
Did you ever hear him preach his "maiden sermon"? I wish you had heard
mine. I had a call. At least, I thought I had a call. I think now I
was "short-circuited." The "brethren" waited upon me and told me I had
been "selected": Maybe this was a local call, not long distance.
They gave me six weeks in which to load the gospel gun and get
ready for my try-out. I certainly loaded it to the muzzle.
But I made the mistake I am trying to warn you against. Instead of
going to the one book where I might have gotten a sermon--the book
of my experience, I went to the books in my father's library. "As
the poet Shakespeare has so beautifully said," and then I took a
chunk of Shakespeare and nailed it on page five of my sermon. "List
to the poet Tennyson." Come here, Lord Alfred. So I soldered these
fragments from the books together with my own native genius. I
worked that sermon up into the most beautiful splurges and spasms.
I bedecked it with metaphors and semaphores. I filled it with
climaxes, both wet and dry. I had a fine wet climax on page
fourteen, where I had made a little mark in the margin which meant
"cry here." This was the spilling-point of the wet climax. I was to
cry on the lefthand side of the page.
I committed it all to memory, and then went to a lady who taught
expression, to get it expressed. You have to get it expressed.
I got the most beautiful gestures nailed into almost every page.
You know about gestures--these things you make with your arms in
the air as you speak. You can notice it on me yet.
I am not sneering at expression. Expression is a noble art. All
life is expression. But you have to get something to express. Here
I made my mistake. I got a lot of fine gestures. I got an
express-wagon and got no load for it. So it rattled. I got a
necktie, but failed to get any man to hang it upon. I got up before
a mirror for six weeks, day by day, and said the sermon to the
glass. It got so it would run itself. I could have gone to sleep
and that sermon would not have hesitated.
Then came the grand day. The boy wonder stood forth and before his
large and enthusiastic concourse delivered that maiden sermon more
grandly than ever to a mirror. Every gesture went off the bat
according to the blueprint. I cried on page fourteen! I never knew
it was in me. But I certainly got it all out that day!
Then I did another fine thing, I sat down. I wish now I had done
that earlier. I wish now I had sat down before I got up. I was the
last man out of the church--and I hurried. But they beat me
out--all nine of them. When I went out the door, the old sexton
said as he jiggled the key in the door to hurry me, "Don't feel
bad, bub, I've heerd worse than that. You're all right, bub, but
you don't know nothin' yet."
I cried all the way to town. If he had plunged a dagger into me he
would not have hurt me so much. It has taken some years to learn
that the old man was right. I had wonderful truth in that sermon.
No sermon ever had greater truth, but I had not lived it. The old
man meant I did not know my own sermon.
So, children, when you prepare your commencement oration, write
about what you know best, what you have lived. If you know more
about peeling potatoes than about anything else, write about
"Peeling Potatoes," and you are most likely to hear the applause
peal from that part of your audience unrelated to you.
Out of every thousand books published, perhaps nine hundred of them
do not sell enough to pay the cost of printing them. As you study
the books that do live, you note that they are the books that have
been lived. Perhaps the books that fail have just as much of truth
in them and they may even be better written, yet they lack the
vital impulse. They come out of the author's head. The books that
live must come out of his heart. They are his own life. They come
surging and pulsating from the book of his experience.
The best part of our schooling comes not from the books, but from
the men behind the books.
We study agriculture from books. That does not make us an
agriculturist. We must take a hoe and go out and agricult. That is
the knowing in the doing.
You Must Live Your Song
"There was never a picture painted,
There was never a poem sung,
But the soul of the artist fainted,
And the poet's heart was wrung."
So many young people think because they have a good voice and they have
cultivated it, they are singers. All this cultivation and irritation
and irrigation and gargling of the throat are merely symptoms of
a singer--merely neckties. Singers look better with neckties.
They think the song comes from the diaphragm. But it comes from the
heart, chaperoned by the diaphragm. You cannot sing a song you have
Jessie was singing the other day at a chautauqua. She has a
beautiful voice, and she has been away to "Ber-leen" to have it
attended to. She sang that afternoon in the tent, "The Last Rose of
Summer." She sang it with every note so well placed, with the
sweetest little trills and tendrils, with the smile exactly like
her teacher had taught her. Jessie exhibited all the machinery and
trimmings for the song, but she had no steam, no song. She sang the
notes. She might as well have sung, "Pop, Goes the Weasel."
The audience politely endured Jessie. That night a woman sang in
the same tent "The Last Rose of Summer." She had never been to
Berlin, but she had lived that song. She didn't dress the notes
half so beautifully as Jessie did, but she sang it with the
tremendous feeling it demands. The audience went wild. It was a
case of Gussie and Bill Whackem.
All this was gall and wormwood to Jessie. "Child," I said to her,
"this is the best singing lesson you have ever had. Your study is
all right and you have a better voice than that woman, but you
cannot sing "The Last Rose of Summer" yet, for you do not know very
much about the first rose of summer. And really, I hope you'll
never know the ache and disappointment you must know before you can
sing that song, for it is the sob of a broken-hearted woman. Learn
to sing the songs you have lived."
Why do singers try to execute songs beyond the horizon of their
lives? That is why they "execute" them.
The Success of a Song-Writer
The guest of honor at a dinner in a Chicago club was a woman who is
one of the widely known song-writers of this land. As I had the
good fortune to be sitting at table with her I wanted to ask her,
"How did you get your songs known? How did you know what kind of
songs the people want to sing?"
But in the hour she talked with her friends around the table I
found the answer to every question. "Isn't it good to be here?
Isn't it great to have friends and a fine home and money?" she
said. "I have had such a struggle in my life. I have lived on one
meal a day and didn't know where the next meal was coming from. I
know what it is to be left alone in the world upon my own
resources. I have had years of struggle. I have been sick and
discouraged and down and out. It was in my little back-room, the
only home I had, that I began to write songs. I wrote them for my
own relief. I was writing my own life, just what was in my own
heart and what the struggles were teaching me. No one is more
surprised and grateful that the world seems to love my songs and
asks for more of them."
The woman was Carrie Jacobs-Bond, who wrote "The Perfect Day,"
"Just a Wearyin' for You," "His Lullaby" and many more of those
simple little songs so full of the pathos and philosophy of life
that they tug at your heart and moisten your eyes.
Anybody could write those songs--just a few simple words and notes.
No. Books of theory and harmony and expression only teach us how to
write the words and where to place the notes. These are not the
song, but only the skeleton into which our own life must breathe
the life of the song.
The woman who sat there clad in black, with her sweet, expressive
face crowned with silvery hair, had learned to write her songs in
the University of Hard Knocks. She here became the song philosopher
she is today. Her defeats were her victories. If Carrie Jacobs-Bond
had never struggled with discouragement, sickness, poverty and
loneliness, she never would have been able to write the songs that
appeal to the multitudes who have the same battles.
The popular song is the song that best voices what is in the
popular heart. And while we have a continual inundation of popular
songs that are trashy and voice the tawdriest human impulses, yet
it is a tribute to the good elements in humanity that the
wholesome, uplifting sentiments in Carrie Jacobs-Bond's songs
continue to hold their popularity.
Theory and Practice
My friends, I am not arguing that you and I must drink the dregs of
defeat, or that our lives must fill up with poverty or sorrow, or
become wrecks. But I am insisting upon what I see written all
around me in the affairs of everyday life, that none of us will
ever know real success in any line of human endeavor until that
success flows from the fullness of our experience just as the songs
came from the life of Carrie Jacobs-Bond.
The world is full of theorists, dreamers, uplifters, reformers, who
have worthy visions but are not able to translate them into
practical realities. They go around with their heads in the clouds,
looking upward, and half the time their feet are in the flower-beds
or trampling upon their fellow men they dream of helping. Their
ideas must be forged into usefulness available for this day upon
the anvil of experience.
Many of the most brilliant theorists have been the greatest
failures in practice.
There are a thousand who can tell you what is the matter with
things to one person who can give you a practical way to fix them.
I used to have respect amounting to reverence for great readers and
book men. I used to know a man who could tell in what book almost
anything you could think of was discussed, and perhaps the page. He
was a walking library index. I thought him a most wonderful man.
Indeed, in my childhood I thought he was the greatest man in the
He was a remarkable man--a great reader and with a memory that
retained it all. That man could recite chapters and volumes.
He could give you almost any date. He could finish almost any quotation.
His conversation was largely made up of classical quotations.
But he was one of the most helpless men I have ever seen in
practical life. He seemed to be unable to think and reason for
himself. He could quote a page of John Locke, but somehow the page
didn't supply the one sentence needed for the occasion. The man was
a misfit on earth. He was liable to put the gravy in his coffee
and the gasoline in the fire. He seemed never to have digested any
of the things in his memory. Since I have grown up I always think
of that man as an intellectual cold storage plant.
The greatest book is the textbook of the University of Hard Knocks,
the Book of Human Experience the "sermons in stones" and the "books
in running brooks." Most fortunate is he who has learned to read
understandingly from it.
Note the sweeping, positive statements of the young person.
Note the cautious, specific statements of the person who has lived
long in this world.
Our education is our progress from the sweeping, positive,
wholesale statements we have not proved, to the cautious, specific
statements we have proved.
Tuning the Strings of Life
Many audiences are gathered into this one audience. Each person
here is a different audience, reading a different page in the Book
of Human Experience. Each has a different fight to make and a
different burden to carry. Each one of us has more trouble than
I know there are chapters of heroism in the lives of you older
ones. You have cried yourselves to sleep, some of you, and walked
the floor when you could not sleep. You have learned that "beyond
the Alps lieth Italy."
A good many of you were bumped today or yesterday, or maybe years
ago, and the wound has not healed. You think it never will heal.
You came here thinking that perhaps you would forget your trouble
for a little while. I know there are people in this audience in pain.
Never do this many gather but what there are some with aching hearts.
And you young people here with lives like June mornings, are not
much interested in this lecture. You are polite and attentive
because this is a polite and attentive neighborhood. But down in
your hearts you are asking, "What is this all about? What is that
man talking about? I haven't had these things and I'm not going to
have them, either!"
Maybe some of you are naturally bright!
You are going to be bumped. You are going to cry yourselves to
sleep. You are going to walk the floor when you cannot sleep. Some
of you are going to know the keen sorrow of having the one you
trust most betray you. Maybe, betray you with a kiss. You will go
through your Gethsemane. You will see your dearest plans wrecked.
You will see all that seems to make life livable lost out of your
horizon. You will say, "God, let me die. I have nothing more
to live for."
For all lives have about the same elements. Your life is going to
be about like other lives.
And you are going to learn the wonderful lesson thru the years, the
bumps and the tears, that all these things somehow are necessary to
promote our education.
These bumps and hard knocks do not break the fiddle--they turn the pegs.
These bumps and tragedies and Waterloos draw the strings of the
soul tighter and tighter, nearer and nearer to God's great concert
pitch, where the discords fade from our lives and where the music
divine and harmonies celestial come from the same old strings that
had been sending forth the noise and discord.
Thus we know that our education is progressing, as the evil and
unworthy go out of our lives and as peace, harmony, happiness, love
and understanding come into our lives.
That is getting in tune.
That is growing up.
Memories of the Price We Pay
WHAT a price we pay for what we know! I laugh as I look
backward--and weep and rejoice.
I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, altho it is quite
evident that I could have handled a pretty good-sized spoon. But
father being a country preacher, we had tin spoons. We never had to
tie a red string around our spoons when we loaned them for the
ladies' aid society oyster supper. We always got our spoons back.
Nobody ever traded with us by mistake.
Do you remember the first money you ever earned? I do. I walked
several miles into the country those old reaper days and gathered
sheaves. That night I was proud when that farmer patted me on the
head and said, "You are the best boy to work, I ever saw." Then the
cheerful old miser put a nickel in my blistered hand. That nickel
looked bigger than any money I have since handled.
That "Last Day of School"
Yet I was years learning it is much easier to make money than to
handle it, hence the tale that follows.
I was sixteen years old and a school teacher. Sweet sixteen--which
means green sixteen. But remember again, only green things grow.
There is hope for green things. I was so tall and awkward then--I
haven't changed much since. I kept still about my age. I was
several dollars the lowest bidder. They said out that way, "Anybody
can teach kids." That is why I was a teacher.
I had never studied pedagogy, but I had whittled out three rules
that I thought would make it go. My first rule was, Make 'em study.
My second, Make, em recite. That is, fill 'em up and then empty 'em.
My third and most important rule was, Get your money!
I walked thirteen miles a day, six and a half miles each way, most of
the time, to save money. I think I had all teaching methods in use.
With the small fry I used a small paddle to win their confidence and
arouse their enthusiasm for an education. With the pupils larger and
more muscular than their teacher I used love and moral suasion.
We ended the school with an "exhibition." Did you ever attend the
old back-country "last day of school exhibition"? The people that
day came from all over the township. They were so glad our school
was closing they all turned out to make it a success. They brought
great baskets of provender and we had a feast. We covered the
school desks with boards, and then covered the boards with piles of
fried chicken, doughnuts and forty kinds of pie.
Then we had a "doings." Everybody did a stunt. We executed a lot of
literature that day. Execute is the word that tells what happened
to literature in District No. 1, Jackson Township, that day. I can
shut my eyes and see it yet. I can see my pupils coming forward to
speak their "pieces." I hardly knew them and they hardly knew me,
for we were "dressed up." Many a head showed father had mowed it
with the sheepshears. Mother had been busy with the wash-rag--clear
back of the ears! And into them! So many of them wore collars that
stuck out all stiff like they had pushed their heads on thru their
big straw hats.
I can see them speaking their "pieces." I can see "The Soldier of
the Legion lay dying in Algiers." We had him die again that day,
and he had a lingering end as we executed him. I can see "The boy
stood on the burning deck, whence all but he had fled." I can see
"Mary's little lamb" come slipping over the stage. I see the
tow-headed patriot in "Give me liberty or give me death." I feel
now that if Patrick Henry had been present, he would have said,
"Give me death."
There came a breathless hush as "teacher" came forward as the last
act on the bill to say farewell. It was customary to cry. I wanted
to yell. Tomorrow I would get my money! I had a speech I had been
saying over and over until it would say itself. But somehow when I
got up before that "last day of school" audience and opened my
mouth, it was a great opening, but nothing came out. It came out of
my eyes. Tears rolled down my cheeks until I could hear them
spatter on my six-dollar suit.
And my pupils wept as their dear teacher said farewell. Parents
wept. It was a teary time. I only said, "Weep not for me, dear
friends. I am going away, but I am coming back." I thought to cheer
them up, but they wept the more.
Next day I drew my money. I had it all in one joyous wad--$240. I
was going home with head high and aircastles even higher. But I
never got home with the money. Talk about the fool and his money
and you get very personal.
For on the way home I met Deacon K, and he borrowed it all. Deacon K
was "such a good man" and a "pillar of the church." I used to wonder,
tho, why he didn't take a pillow to church. I took his note for $240,
"due at corncutting," as we termed that annual fall-time paying up
season. I really thought a note was not necessary, such was my
confidence in the deacon.
For years I kept a faded, tear-spattered, yellow note for $240,
"due at corncutting," as a souvenir of my first schoolteaching.
Deacon K has gone from earth. He has gone to his eternal reward. I
scarcely know whether to look up or down as I say that. He never
left any forwarding address.
I was paid thousands in experience for that first schoolteaching,
but I paid all the money I got from it--two hundred and forty
thirteen-mile-a-day dollars to learn one thing I could not learn
from the books, that it takes less wisdom to make money, than it
does to intelligently handle it afterwards. Incidentally I learned
it may be safer to do business with a first-class sinner than with
a second-class saint.
Which is no slap at the church, but at its worst enemies, the foes
of its own household.
Calling the Class-Roll
A lyceum bureau once sent me back to my home town to lecture. I
imagine most lecturers have a hard time lecturing in the home town.
Their schoolmates and playmates are apt to be down there in the
front rows with their families, and maybe all the old scores have
not yet been settled. The boy he fought with may be down there.
Perhaps the girl who gave him the "mitten" is there.
And he has gotten his lecture out of that home town. The heroes and
villains live there within striking distance. Perhaps they have
come to hear him. "Is not this the carpenter's son?" Perhaps this
is why some lecturers and authors are not so popular in the home
town until several generations pass.
I went back to the same hall to speak, and stood upon the same platform
where twenty-one years before I had stood to deliver my graduating oration,
when in impassioned and well modulated tones I had exclaimed,
"Greece is gone and Rome is no more, but fe-e-e-e-ear not,
for I will sa-a-a-a-ave you!" or words to that effect.
Then I went back to the little hotel and sat up alone in my room
half the night living it over. Time was when I thought anybody who
could live in that hotel was a superior order of being. But the
time had come when I knew the person who could go on living in any
hotel has a superior order of vitality.
I held thanksgiving services that night. I could see better. I had
a picture of the school in that town that had been taken twenty-one
years before, just before commencement. I had not seen the picture
these twenty-one years, for I could not then afford to buy one. The
price was a quarter.
I got a truer perspective of life that night. Did you ever sit
alone with a picture of your classmates taken twenty-one years
before? It is a memorable experience.
A class of brilliant and gifted young people went out to take
charge of the world. They were so glad the world had waited so long
on them. They were so willing to take charge of the world. They
were going to be presidents and senators and authors and
authoresses and scientists and scientist-esses and geniuses and
genius-esses and things like that.
There was one boy in the class who was not naturally bright. It was
not the one you may be thinking of! No, it was Jim Lambert. He had
no brilliant career in view. He was dull and seemed to lack
intellect. He was "conditioned" into the senior class. We all felt
a little sorry for Jim.
As commencement day approached, the committee of the class
appointed for that purpose took Jim back of the schoolhouse and
broke the news to him that they were going to let him graduate, but
they were not going to let him speak, because he couldn't make a
speech that would do credit to such a brilliant class. They hid Jim
on the stage back of the oleander commencement night.
Shake the barrel!
The girl who was to become the authoress became the helloess in the
home telephone exchange, and had become absolutely indispensable to
the community. The girl who was to become the poetess became the
goddess at the general delivery window and superintendent of the
stamp-licking department of the home postoffice. The boy who was
going to Confess was raising the best corn in the county, and his
wife was speaker of the house.
Most of them were doing very well even Jim Lambert. Jim had become
the head of one of the big manufacturing plants of the South, with
a lot of men working for him. The committee that took him out
behind the schoolhouse to inform him he could not speak at
commencement, would now have to wait in line before a frosted door
marked, "Mr. Lambert, Private." They would have to send up their
cards, and the watchdog who guards the door would tell them, "Cut
it short, he's busy!" before they could break any news to him
They hung a picture of Mr. Lambert in the high school at the last
alumni meeting. They hung it on the wall near where the oleander
stood that night.
Dull boy or girl--you with your eyes tear-dimmed sometimes because
you do not seem to learn like some in your classes can you not get
a bit of cheer from the story of Jim?
Hours pass, and still as I sat in that hotel room I was lost in
that school picture and the twenty-one years. There were fifty-four
young people in that picture. They had been shaken these years in
the barrel, and now as I called the roll on them, most of them that
I expected to go up had shaken down and some that I expected to
stay down had shaken up.
Out of that fifty-four, one had gone to a pulpit, one had gone to
Congress and one had gone to the penitentiary. Some had gone to
brilliant success and some had gone down to sad failure. Some had
found happiness and some had found unhappiness. It seemed as tho
almost every note on the keyboard of human possibility had been
struck by the one school of fifty-four.
When that picture was taken the oldest was not more than eighteen,
yet most of them seemed already to have decided their destinies.
The twenty-one years that followed had not changed their courses.
The only changes had come where God had come into a life to uplift
it, or where Mammon had entered to pull it down. And I saw better
that the foolish dreams of success faded before the natural
unfolding of talents, which is the real success. I saw better that
"the boy is father to the man."
The boy who skimmed over his work in school was skimming over his
work as a man. The boy who went to the bottom of things in school
was going to the bottom of things in manhood. Which had helped him
to go to the top of things!
Jim Lambert had merely followed the call of talents unseen in him
twenty-one years before.
The lazy boy became a "tired" man. The industrious boy became an
industrious man. The sporty boy became a sporty man. The
domineering egotist boy became the domineering egotist man.
The boy who traded knives with me and beat me--how I used to envy
him! Why was it he could always get the better of me? Well, he went
on trading knives and getting the better of people. Now, twenty-one
years afterwards, he was doing time in the state penitentiary for
forgery. He was now called a bad man, when twenty-one years ago
when he did the same things on a smaller scale they called him
smart and bright.
The "perfectly lovely" boy who didn't mix with the other boys, who
didn't whisper, who never got into trouble, who always had his hair
combed, and said, "If you please," used to hurt me. He was the
teacher's model boy. All the mothers of the community used to say
to their own reprobate offspring, "Why can't you be like Harry?
He'll be President of the United States some day, and you'll be in
jail." But Model Harry sat around all his life being a model. I
believe Mr. Webster defines a model as a small imitation of the
real thing. Harry certainly was a successful model. He became a
seedy, sleepy, helpless relic at forty. He was "perfectly lovely"
because he hadn't the energy to be anything else. It was the boys
who had the hustle and the energy, who occasionally needed
bumping--and who got it--who really grew.
I have said little about the girls of the school. Fact was, at that
age I didn't pay much attention to them. I regarded them as in the
way. But I naturally thought of Clarice, our social pet of the
class--our real pretty girl who won the vase in the home paper
beauty contest. Clarice went right on remaining in the social
spotlight, primping and flirting. She outshone all the rest. But it
seemed like she was all out-shine and no in-shine. She mistook
popularity for success. The boys voted for her, but did not marry
her. Most of the girls who shone with less social luster became the
happy homemakers of the community.
But as I looked into the face of Jim Lambert in the picture, my
heart warmed at the sight of another great success--a sweet-faced
irish lass who became an "old maid." She had worked day by day all
these years to support a home and care for her family. She had kept
her grace and sweetness thru it all, and the influence of her
white, loving life radiated far.
The Boy I Had Envied
Frank was the boy I had envied. He had everything--a fine home,
a loving father, plenty of money, opportunity and a great career
awaiting him. And he was bright and lovable and talented.
Everybody said Frank would make his mark in the world and make
the town proud of him.
I was the janitor of the schoolhouse. Some of my classmates will
never know how their thoughtless jeers and jokes wounded the
sensitive, shabby boy who swept the floors, built the fires and
carried in the coal. After commencement my career seemed to end and
the careers of Frank and the rest of them seemed to begin. They
were going off to college and going to do so many wonderful things.
But the week after commencement I had to go into a printing office,
roll up my sleeves and go to work in the "devil's corner" to earn
my daily bread. Seemed like it took so much bread!
Many a time as I plugged at the "case" I would think of Frank and wonder
why some people had all the good things and I had all the hard things.
How easy it is to see as you look backward. But how hard it is to
see when you look forward.
Twenty-one years afterward as I got off the train in the home town,
I asked, "Where is he?" We went out to the cemetery, where I stood
at a grave and read on the headstone, "Frank."
I had the story of a tragedy--the tragedy of modern unpreparedness.
It was the story of the boy who had every opportunity, but who had
all the struggle taken out of his life. He never followed his
career, never developed any strength. He disappointed hopes, spent
a fortune, broke his father's heart, shocked the community, and
finally ended his wasted life with a bullet fired by his own hand.
Why Ben Hur Won
It revived the memory of the story of Ben Hur.
Do you remember it? The Jewish boy is torn from his home in
disgrace. He is haled into court and tried for a crime he never
committed. Ben Hur did not get a fair trial. Nobody can get a fair
trial at the hands of this world. That is why the great Judge has
said, judge not, for you have not the full evidence in the case. I
alone have that.
Then they condemn him. They lead him away to the galleys. They
chain him to the bench and to the oar. There follow the days and
long years when he pulls on the oar under the lash. Day after day
he pulls on the oar. Day after day he writhes under the sting of
the lash. Years of the cruel injustice pass. Ben Hur is the
helpless victim of a mocking fate.
That seems to be your life and my life. In the kitchen or the
office, or wherever we work we seem so often like slaves bound to
the oar and pulling under the sting of the lash of necessity. Life
seems one futureless round of drudgery. We wonder why. We often
look across the street and see somebody who lives a happier life.
That one is chained to no oar. See what a fine time they all have.
Why must we pull on the oar?
How blind we are! We can only see our own oar. We cannot see that
they, too, pull on the oar and feel the lash. Most likely they are
looking back at us and envying us. For while we envy others, others
are envying us.
But look at the chariot race in Antioch. See the thousands in the
circus. See Messala, the haughty Roman, and see! Ben Hur from the
galleys in the other chariot pitted against him. Down the course
dash these twin thunderbolts. The thousands hold their breath. "Who
will win?" "The man with the stronger forearms," they whisper.
There comes the crucial moment in the race. See the man with the
stronger forearms. They are bands of steel that swell in the
forearms of Ben Hur. They swing those flying Arabians into the
inner ring. Ben Hur wins the race! Where got the Jew those huge
forearms? From the galleys!
Had Ben Hur never pulled on the oar, he never could have won the
Sooner or later you and I are to learn that Providence makes no
mistakes in the bookkeeping. As we pull on the oar, so often lashed
by grim necessity, every honest effort is laid up at compound
interest in the bank account of strength. Sooner or later the time
comes when we need every ounce. Sooner or later our chariot race is
on--when we win the victory, strike the deciding blow, stand while
those around us fall--and it is won with the forearms earned in the
galleys of life by pulling on the oar.
That is why I thanked God as I stood at the grave of my classmate.
I thanked God for parents who believed in the gospel of struggle,
and for the circumstances that compelled it.
I am not an example of success.
But I am a very grateful pupil in the first reader class of The
University of Hard Knocks.
Go On South!
The Book in the Running Brook
THERE is a little silvery sheet of water in Minnesota called Lake Itasca.
There is a place where a little stream leaps out from the lake.
"Ole!" you will exclaim, "the lake is leaking. What is the name of
this little creek?"
"Creek! It bane no creek. It bane Mississippi river."
So even the Father of Waters has to begin as a creek. We are at the
cradle where the baby river leaps forth. We all start about alike.
It wabbles around thru the woods of Minnesota. It doesn't know
where it is going, but it is "on the way."
It keeps wabbling around, never giving up and quitting, and it gets
to the place where all of us get sooner or later. The place where
Paul came on the road to Damascus. The place of the "heavenly vision."
It is the place where gravity says, "Little Mississippi, do you
want to grow? Then you will have to go south."
The little Mississippi starts south. He says to the people,
"Goodbye, folks, I am going south." The folks at Itascaville say,
"Why, Mississippi, you are foolish. You hain't got water enough to
get out of the county." That is a fact, but he is not trying to get
out of the county. The Mississippi is only trying to go south.
The Mississippi knows nothing about the Gulf of Mexico. He does not
know that he has to go hundreds of miles south. He is only trying
to go south. He has not much water, but he does not wait for a
relative to die and bequeath him some water. That is a beautiful
thought! He has water enough to start south, and he does that.
He goes a foot south, then another foot south. He goes a mile
south. He picks up a little stream and he has some more water. He
goes on south. He picks up another stream and grows some more. Day
by day he picks up streamlets, brooklets, rivulets. Business is
picking up! He grows as he flows. Poetry!
My friends, here is one of the best pictures I can find in nature
of what it seems to me our lives should be. I hear a great many
orations, especially in high school commencements, entitled, "The
Value of a Goal in Life." But the direction is vastly more
important than the goal. Find the way your life should go, and then
go and keep on going and you'll reach a thousand goals.
We do not have to figure out how far we have to go, nor how many
supplies we will need along the way. All we have to do is to start
and we will find the resources all along the way. We will grow as
we flow. All of us can start! And then go on south!
Success is not tomorrow or next year. Success is now. Success is
not at the end of the journey, for there is no end. Success is
every day in flowing and growing. The Mississippi is a success in
Minnesota as well as on south.
You and I sooner or later hear the call, "Go on south." If we
haven't heard it, let us keep our ear to the receiver and live a
more natural life, so that we can hear the call. We are all called.
It is a divine call--the call of our unfolding talents to be used.
Remember, the Mississippi goes south. If he had gone any other
direction he would never have been heard of.
Three wonderful things develop as the Mississippi goes on south.
1. He keeps on going on south and growing greater.
2. He overcomes his obstacles and develops his power.
3. He blesses the valley, but the valley does not bless him.
Go On South and Grow Greater
You never meet the Mississippi after he starts south, but what he
is going on south and growing greater. You never meet him but what
he says, "Excuse me, but I must go on south."
The Mississippi gets to St. Paul and Minneapolis. He is a great
river now--the most successful river in the state. But he does not
retire upon his laurels. He goes on south and grows greater. He
goes on south to St. Louis. He is a wonderful river now. But he
does not stop. He goes on south and grows greater.
Everywhere you meet him he is going on south and growing greater.
Do you know why the Mississippi goes on south? To continue to be
the Mississippi. If he should stop and stagnate, he would not be
the Mississippi, river. he would become a stagnant, poisonous pond.
As long as people keep on going south, they keep on living. When
they stop and stagnate, they die.
That is why I am making it the slogan of my life--GO ON SOUTH AND
GROW GREATER! I hope I can make you remember that and say it over
each day. I wish I could write it over the pulpits, over the
schoolrooms, over the business houses and homes--GO ON SOUTH AND
GROW GREATER. For this is life, and there is no other. This is
education--and religion. And the only business of life.
You and I start well. We go on south a little ways, and then we
retire. Even young people as they start south and make some little
knee-pants achievement, some kindergarten touchdown, succumb to
their press notices. Their friends crowd around them to congratulate
them. "I must congratulate you upon your success. You have arrived."
So many of those young goslings believe that. They quit and get
canned. They think they have gotten to the Gulf of Mexico when they
have not gotten out of the woods of Minnesota. Go on south!
We can protect ourselves fairly well from our enemies, but heaven
deliver us from our fool friends.
Success is so hard to endure. We can endure ten defeats better than
one victory. Success goes to the head and defeat goes to "de feet."
It makes them work harder.
The Plague of Incompetents
Civilization is mostly a conspiracy to keep us from going very far south.
The one who keeps on going south defies custom and becomes unorthodox.
But contentment with present achievement is the damnation of the race.
The mass of the human family never go on south far enough to
become good servants, workmen or artists. The young people get a
smattering and squeeze into the bottom position and never go on
south to efficiency and promotion. They wonder why their genius is
not recognized. They do not make it visible.
Nine out of ten stenographers who apply for positions can write a
few shorthand characters and irritate a typewriter keyboard. They
think that is being a stenographer, when it is merely a symptom of
a stenographer. They mangle the language, grammar, spelling,
capitalization and punctuation. Their eyes are on the clock, their
minds on the movies.
Nine out of ten workmen cannot be trusted to do what they advertise
to do, because they have never gone south far enough to become
efficient. Many a professional man is in the same class.
Half of our life is spent in getting competents to repair the
botchwork of incompetents.
No matter how well equipped you are, you are never safe in your job
if you are contented to do today just what you did yesterday.
Contented to think today what you thought yesterday.
You must go on south to be safe.
I used to know a violinist who would say, "If I were not a genius,
I could not play so well with such little practice." The poor