By Dr. Samuel Smiles, 1859

It is not ease, but effort; not facility, but difficulty, that makes men, there is, perhaps, no position in life in which difficulties have not been encountered and overcome before any decided measure of success can be achieved; those difficulties are, however, our best instructors, as our mistakes often form our best experience. We learn wisdom from failure, more than from our success; we often discover what will do, by finding out what will not do; and he who never made a mistake, never made a discovery. Horne Tooke used to say of his studies in intellectual philosophy, that. he had become all the better acquainted with the. country through having the good luck sometimes to lose his way. And a distinguished investigator in physical science has left on record, that whenever, in the course of his researches, he encountered an apparently insuperable obstacle, he generally found himself on the brink of some novel discovery.

The very greatest things—great thoughts, discoveries, inventions—have generally been nurtured in hardship, often pondered over in sorrow, and at length established with difficulty. Beethoven said of Rossini, that he had in him the stuff to have made a good musician, if he had only, when a boy, been well flogged; but that he had been spoiled by the facility with which he produced. Men who feel their strength within them need not fear to encounter adverse opinions; they have far greater reason to fear undue praise and too friendly criticism. When Mendelssohn.was about to enter the orchestra at Birmingham,on his first performance of his “Elijah,” he said laughingly to one of his friends and critics, “Stick your claws into me. Don’t tell, me what you like, but what you don’t like!”

It has been said, and truly, that it is the defeat that tries the general, far more than the victory. Washington lost far more battles than he gained; but he succeeded in. the end; The Romans, in their most victorious campaigns, almost invariably began with defeats. More used to be compared, by his companions, to a drum, which nobody hears of except it be beaten. Wellington’s military genius was perfected by encounters with difficulties of apparently the most overwhelming character, but which only served to nerve his resolution and bring out more prominently his great qualities as a man and a general. The skillful mariner obtains his best experience amidst storms, which train him to self-reliance, courage, and the highest discipline. And he, let me add, is the true Christian minister or professor who sails the sea of life not “with an infinite depth of summer blue sky” forever above him, but who is called upon to reef sails and drive under bare poles; who has nights without stars, heavens thick with tempests, and troubles like an army often bearing down upon him.


 Posted by on 06/30/2012 Articles, Pulpit to The Pew   Add comments