No Excellence Without Labor

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The Merchants' Magazine and Commercial Review, Vol. 43, July-December 1860, pp. 393-394


There is perhaps no general principle more fully established than this — that there is no excellence without labor; nothing great or noble has ever been accomplished without hard, persevering labor; no great enterprises have been carried out without labor. How did

ALEXANDER become one of the greatest warriors of antiquity, the conquerer of all the then known world, who wept when there were no more worlds to conquer? How did CÆSAR extend his conquests until he made Rome the mistress of the world? How did NAPOLEON — at the mention of whose name the heart of the Frenchman even now thrills with feeling, and his eve kindles with emotion — starting in life with no friend but his sword, fight his way upward till he became Emperor of France? How did he at the head of his army, go forth to conquer and astonish the world by the number and greatness of his victories, and make Europe tremble at his progress? How did these men accomplish so much? They were

ambitious, they wished to achieve for themselves a name as great military chieftains, and in the pursuit of this object they spared no labor, they underwent hardships and privations; in short, they sacrificed everything at the shrine of their idol ambition.

NAPOLEON when about to lead his army over the Alps, said to the engineer who had been sent forward to ascertain the possibility of the undertaking —

"Is it practicable?"

"It is barely practicable," was the reply. "Let us set forward, then," said NAPOLEON.

They did set forward, and that extraordinary undertaking, which won the admiration of the world, was successfully accomplished. This short conversation furnishes an index of

NAPOLEON'S character. It discloses the secret of his success, his indomitable energy and perseverance in whatever he chose to undertake.

With regard to intellectual greatness, it is especially true that there is “no excellence without labor." No man ever rose from a humble position in life to that of a distinguished scholar or great man, great in the the sense of the word, without much labor. All the great men that have every lived, men of learning and disciplined minds, became great by their own exertions. They did not hesitate to make sacrifices, to undergo hardships, to expose themselves to persecution and ridicule in the pursuit of knowledge. They felt that knowledge was a priceless gem, an immortal prize for which they were seeking, one which would not desert them at death, but which, if rightly used, would conduct them to happier worlds above; and in the pursuit of this object, they scorned whatever had a tendency to divert their attention from this, their beloved pursuit. These great men frequently met with ridicule and persecution. Their motives and conduct were not understood and appreciated by the men of their age. It remained for after generations to honor and immortalize their names, and reap the reward of their labors. To them we are indebted for all the great discoveries and inventions that have benefited mankind, and for whatever civilization and refinement we now possess.


Numerous instances might be given to show that there is no intellectual greatness without labor. NEWTON, the great philosopher, when asked how he had succeeded in making so many important discoveries, replied— "by thinking." By profound study and thought this great man succeeded in tracing from the trifling occurrence of an apple falling from a tree, the laws which govern the motions of the heavenly bodies. By observation and study COLUMBUS became convinced of the globular shape of the earth, and sailing westward, discovered a new world. FKANKLIN, after much observation and study, succeeded in establishing the identity of lightning and electricity, proving that lightning is only electricity on a large scale, thus adding to his fame as a statesman, that of a philosopher. What difficulties and hardships did the late Dr. [Elisha K.] KANE pass through in acquiring the admiration and renown

everywhere so deservedly paid to his name. Possessed in childhood of a feeble constitution, he overcame, as it were, by the strong power of his will, his natural predisposition to disease, passed through a seven years' course of study, and at an early age graduated with high honor as Doctor of Medicine, having been characterized throughout as a thorough student. It was there that he acquired that mental discipline and well balanced judgment that so well

qualified him for the duties that afterwards devolved on him as commander of an expedition to the frozen seas.

These examples are sufficient to teach us that would we ourselves become great, we must labor for it. If we would distinguish ourselves above the common mass of mankind we must labor for it. If we would acquire an education that will fit us for usefulness and distinction, we must study, study diligently, study thoroughly.

Lastly, if we are determined to obtain an education, no difficulties need discourage us. In this case difficulties, instead of discouraging us, will, by being surmounted, only strengthen our minds for further exertion. One writer has said, 'The highest idea of education is the training of the mind to surmount obstacles.' We are told of some ambitions young men, afterwards distinguished scholars, that they acquired their first knowledge of the classics by studying at night after their day's work, by the light of the blazing wood fire on the hearth. Let us emulate their example, and be discouraged by no difficulties; remembering always, "no excellence without labor."


McGuffey's Fifth Eclectic Reader by William Holmes McGuffey, pp. 230-231


William Wirt (b. 1772, d. 1834) was born in Bladensburg, Md. He was admitted to the bar in 1799, and afterwards practiced law, with eminent success, at Richmond and Norfolk, Va. He was one of the counsel for the prosecution in the trial of Aaron Burr for treason. From 1817 to 1829 he was attorney-general for the United States. In 1803 he published the "Letters of a British Spy," a work which attracted much attention, and in 1817 a "Life of Patrick Henry." 1. THE education, moral and intellectual, of every individual, must be chiefly his own work. Rely upon it that the ancients were right; both in morals and intellect we give the final shape to our characters, and thus become, emphatically, the architects of our own fortune. How else could it happen that young men, who have had precisely the same opportunities, should be continually presenting us with, such different results, and rushing to such opposite destinies? 2. Difference of talent will not solve it, because that difference is very often in favor of the disappointed candidate. You will see issuing from the walls of the same college, nay,

sometimes from the bosom of the same family, two young men, of whom one will be admitted to be a genius of high order, the other scarcely above the point of mediocrity; yet you will see the genius sinking and perishing in poverty, obscurity, and wretchedness; while, on the other hand, you will observe the mediocre plodding his slow but sure way up the hill of life, gaining steadfast footing at every step, and mounting, at length, to eminence and distinction, an ornament to his family, a blessing to his country.

3. Now, whose work is this? Manifestly their own. They are the architects of their respective fortunes. The best seminary of learning that can open its portals to you can do no more than to afford you the opportunity of instruction; but it must depend, at last, on yourselves, whether you will be instructed or not, or to what point you will push your instruction. 4. And of this be assured, I speak from observation a certain truth: THERE is NO

EXCELLENCE WITHOUT GREAT LABOR. It is the fiat of fate, from which no power of genius can absolve you.

5. Genius, unexerted, is like the poor moth that nutters around a candle till it scorches itself to death. If genius be desirable at all, it is only of that great and magnanimous kind, which, like the condor of South America, pitches from the summit of Chimborazo, above the clouds, and sustains itself at pleasure in that empyreal region with an energy rather invigorated than weakened by the effort.

6. It is this capacity for high and long-continued exertion, this vigorous power of profound and searching investigation, this careering and wide-spreading comprehension of mind, and these long reaches of thought, that


"Pluck bright honor from the pale-faced moon, Or dive into the bottom of the deep, And pluck up drowned honor by the locks;"

this is the prowess, and these the hardy achievements, which are to enroll your names among the great men of the earth.


Miscellaneous Writings by Mary Baker Eddy, pp. 339-340



Change and the grave may part us; the wisdom that might have blessed the past may come too late. One backward step, one relinquishment of right in an evil hour, one faithless tarrying, has torn the laurel from many a brow and repose from many a heart. Good is never the reward of evil, and vice versa.

There is no excellence without labor; and the time to work, is now. Only by persistent, unremitting, straightforward toil; by turning neither to the right nor to the left, seeking no other pursuit or pleasure than that which cometh from God, can you win and wear the crown of the faithful.

That law-school is not at fault which sends forth a barrister who never brings out a brief. Why? Because he followed agriculture instead of litigation, forsook Blackstone for gray stone, dug into soils instead of delving into suits, raised potatoes instead of pleas, and drew up logs instead of leases. He has not been faithful over a few things.

Is a musician made by his teacher? He makes himself a musician by practising what he was taught. The conscientious are successful. They follow faithfully; through evil or through good report, they work on to the achievement of good; by patience, they inherit the promise. Be active, and, however slow, thy success is sure: toil is triumph; and — thou hast been faithful over a few things.


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

A Psalm of Life

What the Heart of the Young Man Said to the Psalmist

TELL me not, in mournful numbers, Life is but an empty dream!— For the soul is dead that slumbers, And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest! And the grave is not its goal; Dust thou art, to dust returnest, Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow, Is our destined end or way; But to act, that each to-morrow Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,

And our hearts, though stout and brave, Still, like muffled drums, are beating Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world's broad field of battle, In the bivouac of Life,

Be not like dumb, driven cattle! Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe'er pleasant! Let the dead Past bury its dead! Act,—act in the living Present! Heart within, and God o'erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us We can make our lives sublime, And, departing, leave behind us Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another, Sailing o'er life's solemn main, A forlorn and shipwrecked brother, Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing, With a heart for any fate; Still achieving, still pursuing, Learn to labor and to wait.





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