BLTC Press Titles

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Some Experiences of an Irish R. M.

Edith Somerville and Martin Ross

Tao Te Ching

Lao Tzu, James Legge (trans.)

The Picture of Dorian Gray

Oscar Wilde

Leaves of Grass

Walt Whitman

Conquering success, or, Life in earnest

by William Mathews


"Fate is a good excuse for our own will." «

"The winds and waves are always on the side of the ablest navigators." — Gibbon.

How far is worldly success or failure due to luck? There are some persons who, whatever the circumstances in which they are placed, seem doomed never to get ahead in the world. In the race for fortune or fame they are continually outstripped by other men with even inferior natural endowments and fewer helps at the start. Yet they never admit that their failure is due to their own fault. They attribute it to their hard luck, to the bad times, to the rascality of the men they have confided in, to the improper organization of society, never to their own indolence, folly, or lack of brains. Instead of resisting their downward doom, putting forth the vivida vis ani7iii of him

"Who breaks his birth's invidious bar,

And grasps the skirts of happy chance,
And breasts the blows of circumstance,
And grapples with his evil star,"

they waste their days in bemoaning their lot, and become at last the victims of chronic apathy or despair. On the other hand, men who win fortunes easily, or who have big balances at their banker's, are apt to deny the existence of luck.

That there is such a thing as luck, good or bad — meaning simply that men are sometimes aided and sometimes baffled in their efforts by agencies beyond their control or power to foresee — is indisputably true. Strictly speaking, indeed, there is no such thing as luck. Chance, fortune, etc., are ideas relative purely to our ignorance, and mean, not that certain events are regulated by no law, but simply that they are regulated by a law which we cannot discern. It is only the lack of sufficient knowledge, and of a calculus sufficiently powerful, that prevents us from reducing all events, even those apparently the most fortuitous, to a certainty. But, using the word "luck " to denote only something apparently, not really fortuitous, it has undoubtedly much to do with human affairs. There are times in almost every man's life when, baffled at every turn, he would be almost forced, if he were a pagan, to believe that his career is directed by an ironical Fate, which delights to mock at all his best plans and efforts. We seem sometimes to be bound hand and foot, and delivered over to blind, impersonal, pitiless laws. The world appears to us like some vast manufactory, in which we hear incessantly the clash and whir of a huge complex machinery, over which we have no control. The man who rules the store or office which he once swept out may seem to owe his advancement wholly to his own merits; but other boys, who also have come up to the city with their worldly goods tied up in a bandanna handkerchief, and who have worked as hard and economized as closely, have remained clerks all their days.

The ancients fully believed in destiny, and so have some great men of modern times. Alexander and Caesar had faith in their good luck; and Cicero tells as that it was not only the courage, but the good fortune, of Fabius, Marcellus, Scipio, and Marius that induced the people to intrust them with the command of the Roman armies. Frederick the Great attributed his conquest of Silesia against fearful odds to a certain good fortune which often waits upon youth, and denies itself to advanced age. "Does it not seem astonishing," he asks, " that all that is most refined in human prudence, joined to force, is often the dupe of unexpected events, of a certain / know not what, that sports contemptuously with the projects of men?"

Cromwell had his lucky days, of which his birthday, on which he won two great battles, was one. Napoleon believed in his star. He was "the child of destiny," he said; and what men absurdly call his crimes were "a necessity." He declared that military science consists in calculating all the chances accurately in the first place, and then in giving accident exactly, ah most mathematically, its place in one's calculations. "Accident, hazard, chance, whatever you choose to call it — a mystery to ordinary minds — becomes," he said, "a reality to superior men." Rothschild said that the best advice he could give a young man was: "Never have anything to do with an unlucky man. I have seen many very clever men who had not shoes to their feet. I never act with them."

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