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In special cases Providence seems to smile on the man who is ready and to open the way. The boy Davy was brimful of chemistry when the president of the Royal Society accidentally saw him leaning on his father's gate and soon took him to London to his brilliant career. When from the brain of Ericsson there sprang, all armed, like Minerva from the brain of Jupiter, that Monitor which saved our fleets and harbors and revolutionized naval warfare, we are apt to think but of the hundred days of the contract; whereas it was but the birth travail of long years of pregnant invention. Not seldom the waiting seems longest and weariest for the best things. Havelock, but seven years before his name became a household word, could write as a subordinate officer : “I was purchased over by three sots and two fools.” But Cawnpore and Lucknow told his tale to the world.
I say work wins, and one of the best forms of genius is a genius for wise work. Without it all other genius is little worth. The paintings of Meissonier of enormous prices are the fruit of enormous work. Some of his minor pieces were painted with a brush of one bristle. He told a theater manager that to paint him a drop-curtain would require, at his usual working speed, a hundred and ninety years. For his famous “1814,” which money cannot buy, he painted before a mirror in an open room on his roof in a snowstorm, with an exact duplicate of Napoleon's gray overcoat mounted on a “lay" horse before him.
Work wins. Nothing without it now in business,
science, art, literature, invention even. The great nov. elist studies up like a German professor. Bushels of rhyme and acres of novels wither away because they have no deepness of earth. The architect must be half engineer. The professional man must read forward or drop behind. The farmer must figure better than he plants. Men cannot take all their astronomy in Verne's voyage to the moon, their political economy in "Looking Backward,” nor their ethics and theology from “Robert Elsmere." Things have passed from the molluscous to the vertebrate.
Providence often guides the seeker and even the wanderer to his sphere. James Montgomery could look back to the time when, as a truant with a pack on his back and a sorry heart in his breast, he sat down in the little inn at Wentworth and could say of it : “Had I not taken the right instead of the left hand road, had I not crossed over, I knew not why, to Wentworth, it is quite certain that not a single occurrence of my life, perhaps not a single thought, would have been the same."
Untoward events may become to the right man the right way. Loyola's career, whether we call it success or no, had never been but for a broken leg badly set. Twelve years in Bedford jail gave the Christian world of its few deathless books. William Goodell's feeble childhood determined that forty years in the Turkish empire. But for Samuel Williston's failing eyesight Amherst College and other charities would be a million and a half the poorer.
Had Grant succeeded as a farmer the nation might have missed its greatest general. God's ways are not our ways.
“ The greatest piece of luck I ever had," said Peter Cooper, “was investing the first surplus money I earned in a lottery ticket." “ And you won?” “No; I lost." Yet it was for the opposite hint that young Richard Baxter in Ludlow Castle forswore gambling forever. Playing against a noted gamester, with a bet a hundred to one against him as a hand so green, he had such a marvelous succession of throws that he believed the devil was in the dice, — rightly enough,returned the money he had won, and played no more. To such men there is no luck - nothing but perseverance, patience, prudence, and Providence.
It is an infelicity that we must draw all our illustrations from conspicuous lives; whereas this is a day of opportunity to the humble as well. When the czar and four grand dukes lately followed on foot through dirt and snow the hearse of Catherine Stratton, their octogenarian English nurse, they paid tribute to a brighter life than their own. What was strange enough in Russia is characteristic with us. The place for which a man is thoroughly equipped he may reasonably expect to find. It is useless fretting and fuming and aspiring. The small man in too large a place rattles and is rattled. The open secret is to do so well this thing as to be ready for that. “Ready” is the watchword. The boy Davy was ready for the place when the place called. The young Faraday was ready too when the place called again. Von Moltke
had so mastered the map of eastern France in every nook and corner and the resources of Germany that when they roused him at midnight to say that war was declared he only replied, “ Third portfolio on the left," and went to sleep again.
With such faithful forecast and preparation there is room for us all, whatsoever our capacity and tendency, as preachers, teachers, lawyers, physicians, journalists, inventors, manufacturers, mechanics, engineers, financiers, traders, poets, litterateurs, historians, linguists, scientists, archæologists, artists, metaphysicians, with scores of specialties in almost every line.
And what is more than all and above all, there is ample opportunity for manhood, good manhood, in all these lines of life-work. Christian manhood never had a broader field, a higher function, or a louder summons. The old guard and the young guard both need to rally round the banner of the cross. The function of the modern chevalier is still to save our sacred things from the infidel. The evil of the times is as luxuriant as the good, the tares as tall as the wheat. We have scientists that boast of spiritual nescience; philosophers who sooner believe in blind unconscious causes than in an omniscient and omnipotent God; romances of the frivolous and the brutal ; journals saturated with doubt; Christian teachers tampering with their divine commission; the world crowding the Church and the Church compounding with the world, with a loosening hold on the supernatural and the sacred ; astounding frauds in business life; silver senators and a dishonest
dollar; the rich oppressor and the ferocious poor; opportunities all around for the Christian man, for the poised intellect, the stout heart, the firm will. It is a time to live and labor and love and be loyal, a time and opportunity to be earnestly seized and faithfully used.
For there is another phrase in the Scriptures, They might have had opportunity,” used there of a rejected chance to go wrong, but too often of the lost chance to go right. There is no sadder phrase in human speech, no sadder fact in human life than those words then convey : “I might have been; I might have done.” Life opened fair and bright. The paths of usefulness and blessing lay wide and clear, stretching from earth to heaven. The voice of wisdom cried without, the voice of God spoke within. “I might have heard; I might have heeded. I might, I might.” If those sad words at the last should be but a whole life's review, then would they rise to a great and endless bitter wail.
There is a strain, the “Song of Opportunity”:
“ Master of human destinies am I,
God's choicest blessings on my footsteps wait.