The vast majority of rich men’s sons are unable to resist the temptations to which wealth subjects them, and they sink to unworthy lives. It is not from this class that the poor beginner has rivalry to fear. The partner’s sons will never trouble you much, but look out that some boys poorer, much poorer, than yourselves, whose parents cannot afford to give them any schooling, do not challenge you at the post and pass you at the grandstand. Look out for the boy who has to plunge into work directly from the common school, and who begins by cleaning toilets or sweeping out the office. He is the probable dark horse that will take all the money and win all the applause. The struggle to get away from poverty has been a great man-developer. Had every human being been born with a silver spoon in his mouth, had there been no necessity put upon him to work, the race would still be in its infancy.
Had everybody in this country been born wealthy, ours would be one of the dark ages. The vast resources of our land would still be undeveloped, the gold would still be in the mines, and our great cities would still be in the forest and the quarry. Society owes more to the perpetual struggle of man to get away from poverty than to anything else. We are so constituted that we make our greatest efforts and do our best work while struggling to attain that for which the heart desires. It is practically impossible for most people to make their utmost exertions without imperative necessity for it. It is the constant necessity to improve his condition that has urged man onward and developed the stamina and sterling character of the whole race. History abounds in stories of failures of men who started with wealth, and, on the other hand, it is illuminated with examples of those who owe everything to the spur of necessity.
A glance at the history of our own country will show that the vast majority of our successful men in every field were poor boys at the start. Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Andrew Jackson, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, Abraham Lincoln, Horace Mann, George Peabody, Ulysses S. Grant, James A. Garfield to mention but a few of the great names of past generations who rose to distinction from an iron environment and direst poverty. Our most useful and successful men of today have, also, been evolved from the school of hard knocks and stern necessity. Our great merchants, railroad presidents, university presidents and professors, inventors, scientists, manufacturers, statesmen, men in every line of human activity have for the most part, been pushed forward by the goad of necessity, and led onward by the desire to make the most of themselves.
A youth, born and bred in the midst of luxury, who has always leaned upon others, who has never been obliged to fight his way up to his own level, and who has been coddled from his infancy, rarely develops great stamina or staying power. He is like the weak sapling in the forest compared with the giant oak which has fought every inch of its way up from the acorn by struggling with storms and tempests. Power is the result of force overcome. The giant is made strong in wrestling with difficulties. It is impossible for one who does not have to struggle and to fight obstacles to develop fiber or stamina. “To live without trial is to die but half a man.” Strength of character is a thing which must be wrung out of obstacles overcome. Life is a great gymnasium, and no man who sits in a chair and watches the parallel bars and other apparatus ever develops muscles or endurance. A father, by exercising for his son, while he sits down, will never develop his muscle.
The son will be a weakling until he uses the dumb-bells and pulley weights himself. How many fathers try to do the exercises for their boys, while they sit on soft benches or easy chairs, watching the process! And still those fathers wonder that their boys come out of the gymnasium weak, with as soft and flabby muscles as they had when they entered. Isn’t it strange that so many successful men who take pride in having made themselves, and consider it the most fortunate thing in the world that they were thrown upon their own resources and were obliged to develop their independence and stamina and self-reliance, should work so hard to keep their children from having the same experience? Isn’t it strange that they should provide crutches so that it will be all the more difficult for them to walk alone?— that they should take away the strongest possible motive for the development of power by making it unnecessary for them to strive, by providing for every desire and guarding them on all sides by wealth?