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Worldly Ways and Byways (chapter 34)

2006-07-09 20:34

  CHAPTER    34 - A Question and an Answer


  I HAVE been reading your articles in The Evening Post. They are  really most amusing! You do know such a lot about people and things, that  I am tempted to write and ask you a question on a subject that is puzzling  me. What is it that is necessary to succeed - socially? There! It is out!  Please do not laugh at me. Such funny people get on and such clever,  agreeable ones fail, that I am all at sea. Now do be nice and answer me,  and you will have a very grateful


  The above note, in a rather juvenile feminine hand, and breathing a  faint perfume of VIOLETTE DE PARME, was part of the morning's mail  that I found lying on my desk a few days ago, in delightful contrast to the  bills and advertisements which formed the bulk of my correspondence. It  would suppose a stoicism greater than I possess, not to have felt a thrill of  satisfaction in its perusal. There was, then, some one who read with  pleasure what I wrote, and who had been moved to consult me on a  question (evidently to her) of importance. I instantly decided to do my best  for the edification of my fair correspondent (for no doubt entered my head  that she was both young and fair), the more readily because that very  question had frequently presented itself to my own mind on observing the  very capricious choice of Dame “Fashion” in the distribution of her favors.

  That there are people who succeed brilliantly and move from success  to success, amid an applauding crowd of friends and admirers, while  others, apparently their superiors in every way, are distanced in the race, is  an undeniable fact. You have but to glance around the circle of your  acquaintances and relations to be convinced of this anomaly. To a  reflecting mind the question immediately presents itself, Why is this?  General society is certainly cultivated enough to appreciate intelligence  and superior endowments. How then does it happen that the social  favorites are so often lacking in the qualities which at a first glance would

  seem indispensable to success?

  Before going any further let us stop a moment, and look at the subject  from another side, for it is more serious than appears to be on the surface.  To be loved by those around us, to stand well in the world, is certainly the  most legitimate as well as the most common of ambitions, as well as the  incentive to most of the industry and perseverance in life. Aside from  science, which is sometimes followed for itself alone, and virtue, which  we are told looks for no other reward, the hope which inspires a great deal  of the persistent efforts we see, is generally that of raising one's self and  those one loves by one's efforts into a sphere higher than where cruel fate  had placed them; that they, too, may take their place in the sunshine and  enjoy the good things of life. This ambition is often purely disinterested; a  life of hardest toil is cheerfully borne, with the hope (for sole consolation)  that dear ones will profit later by all the work, and live in a circle the  patient toiler never dreams of entering. Surely he is a stern moralist who  would deny this satisfaction to the breadwinner of a family.

  There are doubtless many higher motives in life, more elevated goals  toward which struggling humanity should strive. If you examine the  average mind, however, you will be pretty sure to find that success is the  touchstone by which we judge our fellows and what, in our hearts, we  admire the most. That is not to be wondered at, either, for we have done all  we can to implant it there. From a child's first opening thought, it is  impressed upon him that the great object of existence is to succeed. Did a  parent ever tell a child to try and stand last in his class? And yet humility  is a virtue we admire in the abstract. Are any of us willing to step aside  and see our inferiors pass us in the race? That is too much to ask of poor  humanity. Were other and higher standards to be accepted, the structure of  civilization as it exists to-day would crumble away and the great machine  run down.

  In returning to my correspondent and her perfectly legitimate desire to  know the road to success, we must realize that to a large part of the world  social success is the only kind they understand. The great inventors and  benefactors of mankind live too far away on a plane by themselves to be  the object of jealousy to any but a very small circle; on the other hand, in

  these days of equality, especially in this country where caste has never  existed, the social world seems to hold out alluring and tangible gifts to  him who can enter its enchanted portals. Even politics, to judge by the  actions of some of our legislators, of late, would seem to be only a  stepping-stone to its door!

  “But my question,” I hear my fair interlocutor saying. “You are not  answering it!”

  All in good time, my dear. I am just about to do so. Did you ever hear  of Darwin and his theory of “selection?” It would be a slight to your  intelligence not to take it for granted that you had. Well, my observations  in the world lead me to believe that we follow there unconsciously, the  same rules that guide the wild beasts in the forest. Certain individuals are  endowed by nature with temperaments which make them take naturally to  a social life and shine there. In it they find their natural element. They  develop freely just where others shrivel up and disappear. There is  continually going on unseen a “natural selection,” the discarding of unfit  material, the assimilation of new and congenial elements from outside,  with the logical result of a survival of the fittest. Aside from this, you will  find in “the world,” as anywhere else, that the person who succeeds is  generally he who has been willing to give the most of his strength and  mind to that one object, and has not allowed the flowers on the hillside to  distract him from his path, remembering also that genius is often but the  “capacity for taking infinite pains.”

  There are people so constituted that they cheerfully give the efforts of  a lifetime to the attainment of a brilliant social position. No fatigue is too  great, and no snubs too bitter to be willingly undergone in pursuit of the  cherished object. You will never find such an individual, for instance,  wandering in the flowery byways that lead to art or letters, for that would  waste his time. If his family are too hard to raise, he will abandon the  attempt and rise without them, for he cannot help himself. He is but an  atom working as blindly upward as the plant that pushes its mysterious  way towards the sun. Brains are not necessary. Good looks are but a trump  the more in the “hand.” Manners may help, but are not essential. The  object can be and is attained daily without all three. Wealth is but the oil

  that makes the machinery run more smoothly. The all-important factor is  the desire to succeed, so strong that it makes any price seem cheap, and  that can pay itself by a step gained, for mortification and weariness and  heart-burnings.

  There, my dear, is the secret of success! I stop because I feel myself  becoming bitter, and that is a frame of mind to be carefully avoided,  because it interferes with the digestion and upsets one's gentle calm! I  have tried to answer your question. The answer resolves itself into these  two things; that it is necessary to be born with qualities which you may not  possess, and calls for sacrifices you would doubtless be unwilling to make.  It remains with you to decide if the little game is worth the candle. The  delightful common sense I feel quite sure you possess reassures me as to  your answer.

  Take gayly such good things as may float your way, and profit by them  while they last. Wander off into all the cross-roads that tempt you. Stop  often to lend a helping hand to a less fortunate traveller. Rest in the heat of  the day, as your spirit prompts you. Sit down before the sunset and revel in  its beauty and you will find your voyage through life much more  satisfactory to look back to and full of far sweeter memories than if by  sacrificing any of these pleasures you had attained the greatest of  “positions.”

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