Andrew Kennedy Hutchison] [Boyd.

The every-day philosopher in town and country online

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in life save in modified terms. " Our minister," said
the old lady to me, " had two sons. One went to In-
dia. As for John, he went to London ; and he got on
very well." No doubt John had got on ; for he was
at that time Chief Justice of England. If you look
at " The Reliques of Father Prout," you will find a
large picture, containing portraits of the contributors
to a well-known London magazine, thirty years ago.
There is a portrait of a comparatively unnoted man,
with a glass stuck in his eye. He was an outsider
then ; and had given little sign of what he was to be
to-day. The portrait is of Mr. Thackeray. You may
have heard the name before. This very day, I was
told about a man who forty years since opened a lit-
tle shop, stocked chiefly with coarse towels. So my
informant averred. If so, the demand for coarse


towels in a certain great town must have been enor-
mous, or the individual in question must have been
most fortunate in drawing general attention to his
coarse towels ; for he drew ahead of other dealers in
towels, and became one of the greatest merchant-
princes of England. But without taking extreme
cases, you know that within more modest limits, there
are people who are steadily Getting On. While one
man lives for thirty years in the same house, and
maintains the same general appearance ; his next
neighbor ascends the scale of fashion ; gets time af-
ter time a better house, till he attains a grand coun-
try mansion ; and from the total absence of any save
the conveyance common to mankind, attains to the
phaeton, the brougham, and the family chariot. One
preacher does his duty steadily and respectably, year
after year ; and no one thinks anything particular
about him. Another tears like a rocket to the high-
est elevation of the preacher's precarious popularity.
His church-doors are mobbed ; his fame overspreads
the land ; his portrait is in the shop-windows ; his
sermons sell by scores of thousands.

How is it that men Get On ? How is it that in
every walk of life, there are those who draw ahead of
their competitors ? It is a very simple and primary
notion, not likely to be entertained unless by youthful
and unsophisticated minds in remote rural districts,
that the most deserving men Get On the best. To


gain any advantage or eminence, indeed, which is not
bestowed by high-handed patronage, a man must have
a certain amount of merit. The horse that wins the
Derby must unquestionably be able to gallop at a very
great pace. Of course, if the Derby prize were given
by patronage, it might occasionally fall to a horse with
only three legs. And there are places in the Church
and the Law which are filled up by unchecked patron-
age ; and in which a perfectly analogous state of mat-
ters may be discerned. It would be insulting some
men to suggest that they were placed where they
are because they were the best men eligible ; or
even because they were fit to be placed there at
all. You may have known in^stances in which a man
was put in a certain place, because he was the worst
man, or one of the worst men, that could be found.
But even in cases where the eminence is not arbitra-
rily given, — where it is understood to be earned by the
man himself, and not allotted to him by some other
man, — it is a simple and unsophisticated notion, that
the best man gets the best place. The winner of the
Derby must be able to gallop very fast ; but nine
times out of ten, he is by no means the best horse that
starts. A bad place at starting ; an unlucky push
from a rival in mid career ; the awkward straining of
a muscle ; a little nervousness or w^ant of judgment in
the jockey who rides him ; and the best horse is
beaten by a very inferior one, more lucky or better
handled. I am obliged to say, as the result of all my


observation of the way in which human beings Get
On, that human beings get on mainly by Chance, or
Luck. I use the words in their ordinary meaning.
I mean that human beings Get On or fail to Get On,
in a fashion that looks fortuitous. There must be
merit, in walks where men have to make their own
way ; but that a man may get on, he must be seconded
by Good Luck, or at least not crossed by 111 Luck.
We must speak of things, you know, as they appear
to our ignorance. I know there is a Higher Hand ;
and I humbly recognize that I know that " Promo-
tion Cometh neither from the East, nor from the West,
nor from the South ; but God is the Judge ; he put-
teth down one, and setteth up another." We all feel
that. I believe that these words of the Psalmist give
us the entire philosophy of Getting On. It is a mat-
ter of God's sovereignty ; and God's sovereignty, as it
affects human beings, we speak of as their Good or
111 Luck. Of course, there is no chance in the mat-
ter ; everything is tightly arranged and governed ;
and doubtless, if we could see aright, we should see
that there are wise and good reasons for all ; but as
we do not know the reasons, and as we cannot foresee
the arrangement, we fall back on a word whicli ex-
presses our ignorance ; and which states the fact of
the apparent arbitrariness of the government of Provi-
dence. Nothing can be more certain than the fact,
that there are men who are lucky ; and other men
who are unlucky. The unlucky, perhaps, need it all ;


and the lucky can stand it all ; but there is the fact.
And we know that there are blessed compensations,
not known to onlookers, which may make the thorn in
the flesh or the crook in the lot a true blessing ; which
cause men thankfully to say that it was good for them
that they were afflicted and disappointed ; good for
them that they did not Get On. The wise man Jabez,
you remember, knew that God might " bless indeed,"
while to other eyes He did not seem to bless at all.
And so his prayer was, not that he mighit absolutely
Get On ; but that he might Get On or fail to do so as
God saw best. " Oh, that thou wouldst bless me
indeed I " And so, speaking in ordinary language,
let me say that I hold by the Psalmist. It is God's
sovereignty. Fiat Voluntas Tua ! The thing that
makes men Get On in this world, is mainly their
luck ; and in a very subordinate degree, their merit
or desert.

Life is a lottery. No doubt there is no real chance
in life ; but then there is no real chance in any lottery.
I do not hesitate to say that what we deserve has very
little to do with our Getting On. And all human schem-
ing and labor have very little to do with the actual re-
sult in Getting On. And for this reason, I find a great
defect in all that I have seen written as to the arts of
self-advancement, whether these arts be honest and
commendable, or otherwise. It is easy to point out a
number of honorable means which tend to help a man
on, and a number of contemptible tricks and dodges


which tend towards worldly wealth and influence. But
the pi-actical use of all these directions is nullified by
the fact, that some fortuitous accident may come across
all the hard work and self-denial of the worthy man,
or all the dirty trickery of the diplomatic cheat ; and
make all perfectly futile. Honest industry and perse-
verance, also resolute selfishness, meanness, toadyism,
and roguery, tend to various forms of worldly success.
But you can draw no assurance from these general
principles, as to what either may do for yourself. Out
of a hundred men, the Insurance tables will tell you
very nearly how many will live for five or ten years to
come ; but not the slightest assurance can be conveyed
by these tables to any individual man of the hundred
as to his expectations of life. I have a practical lesson
to draw from all this, by and by ; but here let it be re-
peated, that as a general rule, it is not the most deserv-
ing who Get On, but the most lucky. My reader, if
you have met success in life yourself, you know this
well. The man who has succeeded knows this far
better than the man who has failed. The writer states
his principle the more confidently, because he knows
he has himself got on infinitely better than he de-
serves. He looks back on the ruck with which he
started, and he sees that he has drawn ahead of some
who deserved at least as well ; who deserved far bet-
ter. The writer says earnestly that it is not the most
deserving who get on the best ; not because he thinks
he has got less than he deserves, but because he knows


he has got an immense deal more. For these things
he knows Whom to thank ; and he desires to be thank-

Chance, then (which means God's Providence),
advances people in many ways. A man publishes a
book. It meets great success. There is no particular
reason. Other books as good, and some books a great
deal better, prove entire fliihires. A man goes to the
bar, and shortly a stream of briefs begins to set in tow-
ards his chambers. Men of equal ability, and eager
to excel in their profession, wait wearily on year after
year. A man goes into the Church ; he is put in con-
spicuous places, where his light is not hid under a
bushel ; he gets large preferments, no one can exactly
say why. He fills respectably the place where he is
put ; but doubtless there are many who would fill it
lust as well. You will find a man chance upon a gen-
eral reputation for great learning, of which he never
gave the slightest proof. Somehow it became the fash-
ion to speak of him as the possessor of unexplored
mines of information. Then you know how a man
then and there becomes a privileged person, you can-
not say how. A privileged person means a man who
is permitted to say and do the silliest and most inso-
lent things, and to evince the most babyish pettedness
of temper, — things for which anybody else would be
kicked, or esteemed as an idiot ; but when the privi-
leged man does all this, every one sets himself to
smooth the creature down if he be petted, and to ap-


plaud his silly jokes if he be jocular. I do not know
any more signal instance of the arbitrary allotment of
things in this world, than this. It has been truly said
that one man may steal a horse, while another must
not look over the gate. To a certain extent, it is a
matter of natural constitution. You remember how
the dog was accustomed, without rebuke, to jump upon
his master's knee ; while the donkey was chastised se-
verely on endeavoring to do the same thing. You will
find a man who is always being stroked down and flat-
tered by the members of some public body, to which
he never rendered any particular service. One can
understand why the great Duke of Wellington, even
when he had grown an extreme obstruction to army
business and reform, should be deferred to by the
nation for which he had done so much ; but you may
have known people treated with the like deference,
who had never done anything through hfe but dili-
gently aim at securing the greatest advantage of the
greatest number ; which (it is well known) is Number
One. Then there are men who Get On, even to places
of very great dignity, because somehow they have got
into the track, and are pushed .on with very little mo-
tive force of their own. It would be invidious to
mention striking instances of this : but it would be
very easy. Other men Get On, by being appointed,
with little competition, to some position which at the
time is not worth much, but which grows important
and valuable. And a worthier way of Getting On, is


when a man, by his doings and character, makes a
position important, which in other hands would not
be so.

The Chance (as ah-eady explained) which rules
events in this life, never appears more decidedly than
in making the diligent efforts of some men successful,
and of other men futile. We can see the arts which
men use, thinking to advance themselves ; and no doubt
these arts often tend directly to that end ; but then
Chance comes in to say whether these arts shall sig-
nally fail or splendidly succeed. I have known a la-
borious student get up many pages of Greek for an
examination ; all his pages most thoroughly, save two
or three which were hastily read over. And upon the
examination-day, sure enough he was taken upon the
pages he did not know well, while his competitor was
taken on his pet page, which he knew by heart. And
there were scores of pages which that competitor had
never looked at, but he trusted his Luck, and it did not
faij him.

It may be assumed as certain, that all men would
like to Get On. If you see a number of cabs upon a
stand, you may be quite sure that any one of them
would take a fare if it could get it. And a man, in
all ordinary cases, by entering any profession, becomes
as a cab upon the stand waiting for a fare. If he
stand idle in the market-place all day, it may be taken
for granted that it is because no man has hired him.


And though we may have quite outgrown our early
ambitions ; though we may never have had much am-
bition ; though we may be quite contented with our
present position and circumstances ; still, we should
all like to Get On. "We do not talk of ambition, in
the case of commonplace folk like ourselves ; and
though the " love of fame " has been called the " uni-
versal passion," I believe that it is practically confined
to a very little fraction of mankind. We call it am-
bition when Mr. Disraeli goes in for leader of the
House of Commons ; or when Napoleon twists his
way to a throne. We do not call it ambition when a
clergyman would like a larger congregation to preach
to, or another hundred or two a year of income. We
do not speak of ambition in such cases ; it is only that
people would like to Get On a little. We like to
think that we are Getting On ; that we live in a bet-
ter house than we used to do ; that our little library
is gradually growing ; that our worldly means are im-
proving ; that we are a little wiser and better than
we used to be. But though we may take for granted,
that all men would like to Get On, we may be assured
that there are many who would not take much Trouble
to do so. Their wishes are moderate ; they have
learned to be content. They will not fret themselves
into a fever ; they will not push. And much less will
they sneak, or cheat, or wriggle. If success comes,
they are pleased ; but they are not vexed though it
do not come. They look with interest, and with some


amusement, at the diplomatic schemes of their friends,
who enter themselves in the race of ambition. They
see that pertinacious pushing will make a man Get
On, unless he be very unlucky or very incapable.
But they do not think it Avorth while pertinaciously
to push. Tliey see that judicious puffing, on your
own part and that of your friends, is a helpful thing ;
but they shrink from puffing themselves, or from
hearing their friends puff them. Puffing is a great
power ; as Mr. Barnum and others know. It is a
great thing, to have friends to back you and puff you.
One man publishes a book. He does not know a soul
who ever printed a line. There is not a human being
to say a good word of his book for friendship's sake.
Another author has a host of literary friends ; and
when his book comes out, they raise a sough of ap-
plause through the press. And all this is very natu-
ral ; and is not unfair. Only the unlucky man who
has got no friends will probably grumble. Yet all
this will not always succeed. I have known two
books come out together. One was written by a man
who had no writing friends ; the other by a man who
had many. The former was reviewed widely and
favorably ; the other was very little noticed by the
reviewers. But you cannot always force things upon
the reading public. The unreviewed book sold splen-
didly ; the other hardly sold at all. The unreviewed
book enriched its author ; the other slightly impover-
ished its author. All this, of course, was Luck again.


I have already stated what appears to me the great
defect in all treatises on the arts of self-advancement
and self-help. There appears to me a fallacy at the
foundation of all their instructions. They all say, in
one form or other, " Do so and so, and you will Get
On." Some of these treatises recommend fair and
worthy means ; as industry, self-denial, perseverance,
honesty, and the like. Others of them recommend
unworthy means ; as selfishness, unscrupulousness, im-
pudence, toadyism, sneakiness, and the like. But they
fail to allow for Chance or Providence. They fail to
bring out the utter uncertainty which attends all arts
for Getting On. No mortal can say how a man is to
Get On. A poor Scotch lad, walking the London
streets, fell into a cellar and broke his leg. Tliat
made his fortune. The wealthy owner of the cellar
"took him up, and pushed him on ; and he rose to be
Lord Mayor of London and an eminent member of
Parliament. A certain man (and a good man too)
became a Bishop through accidentally attracting the
notice of a disreputable peeress who was in high favor
with a disreputable monarch, who once reigned (let
us say) in the centre of Africa. The likeliest arts,
whether honest or dishonest, may fail utterly. And
the lesson, I think, is this : Do your duty quietly and
honestly; Don't push, don't puff; Don't set your
heart upon any worldly end ; it is not worth while ;
if success comes, well ; if it does not come, you do
not mind much. " Seekest thou great things for thy-


self? seek them not ! " There never were words
written more worthy of being remembered and acted
on by all men. There is no use in being ambitious.
Being ambitious just means setting your whole heart on
Getting On ; and in this world people seldom get the
thing on which they set their heart. And no matter
how you may labor to attain your end, you c'annot make
sure of attaining it. You may probably see it carried
away by some easy-going man who cared very little for
it, and took very little trouble to get it. Read Mr.
Smiles' excellent book on " Self-Help." It will do
you good to read it. It will spur you to do your best,
to see what other men have done. But remember,
you are in God's hands. The issue is with Him. It
no more follows that if you work like George Ste-
phenson or Lord Eldon, you will get on as they did ;
than that if you eat the same thing for breakfast as
the man who gets the great prize in a lottery, you
will get the prize like him. Still, Mr. Smiles will do
you good. Unless luck sets very greatly against you,
you may, by honestly doing your best. Get On fairly.
Your chance of Getting On to the highest point of
success is just about the same as your chance of being
smashed altogether. It is not great. And remember,
my friend, that it is not worldly success that is the
best thing we can get in this world. There is some-
thing lar better. And perhaps it may be by forbid-
ding that you should Get On, that God may discipline
you into that. I should feel very great interest in

200 GETllNG ON.

reading the lives of a number of men who honestly
did their best, and failed ; yet who were not soured
by failure ; men who, hke St. Paul, bore the painful
weight through life, and bore it kindly and humbly ;
getting great good and blessing out of it all. Let U3
ahvays keep it in our remembrance, that there is
something far better than any amount of worldly suc-
cess, which may come of worldly failure.

Still, remembering all this, it is interesting to look
at the various arts and devices by which men have
Got On. Judicious puffing is a great thing. But it
must be very judicious. Some people irritate one by
their constant stories as to their own great doings. I
have known people who had really done considerable
things ; yet who did not get the credit they deserved,
just because they were given to vaporing of what
they had done. It is much better to have friends
and relatives to puff you ; to record what a splendid
fellow you are, and what wonderful events have be-
fallen you. Even here, if you become known as one
of a set who puff each other, your laudations will do
harm instead of good. It is a grand thing to have
relations and friends who have the power to actually
confer material success. Who Avould not wish to be
DowB, that so he might be " taken care of? " You
have known men at the Bar, to whom some powerful
relative gave a tremendous hft at starting in their
profession. Of course this would in some cases only
make their failure more apparent, unless they were


really equal to the work to which they were set.
There is a cry against Nepotism. It will not be
shared in by the JSfepotes. It must be a fine thing to be
one of them. Unhappily, they must always be a very
small minority ; and thus the cry against them will be
the voice of a great majority. I cannot but observe
that the names of men who hold canonries at cath-
edi*als, and other valuable preferments in the Church,
are frequently the same as the name of the Bishop of
the diocese. I do not complain of that. It is the
plain intention of Providence that the children should
suffer for their fathers' sins, and gain by their fathers'
rise. It is utterly impossible to start all human beings
for the race of life, on equal terms. It is utterly
impossible to bring all men up to a rope stretched
across the course, and make all start fair. If a man be
a drunken blackguard, or a heartless fool, his children
must suffer for it ; must start at a disadvantage. No
human power can prevent that. And on the other
hand, if a man be industrious and able, and rise to
great eminence, his children gain by all this. Robert
Stephenson had a splendid start, because old George
his father got on so nobly. Lord Stanley entered
political life at an immense advantage, because he was
Lord Derby's son. And if any reader of this page
had some valuable ofhce to give away, and had a son,
brother, or nephew, who deserved it as well as any-
body else, and who he could easily think deserved it
a great deal better than anybody else, I have little


doubt that the reader would give that valuable office
to the son, brother, or nephew. I have known, in-
deed, magnanimous men who acted otherwise, who in
exercising abundant patronage suffered no nepotism ;
it was a positive disadvantage to be related to these
men ; they would not give their relatives ordinary
justice. Tiie feet of your being connected with thena
made it tolerably sure that you would never get
anything they had to give. All honor to such men !
Yet they surpass average humanity so far, tliat I do
not severely blame those who act on lower motives.
I do not find much fault with a certain Bishop who
taught me theology in my youth, because I see that
he has made his son a canon in his cathedral. I
notice, without indignation, that the individual who
holds the easy and lucrative office of Associate in
certain Courts of Law, bears the same name with the
Chief Justice. You have heard how Lord Ellen-
borough was once out riding on horseback, when word
was brought him of the death of a man who held a
sinecure office with a revenue of some thousands a
year. Lord Ellenborough had the right of appoint-
ment to that office. He instantly resolved to ap-
point his son. But the thought struck him, that he
might die before reaching home, — he might fall from
his horse, or the like. And so the eminent Judge
took from his pocket a piece of paper and a pencil,
and then and there wrote upon his saddle a formal
appointment of his son to that wealthy place. And as


it was a place ^Yhich notoriously was to be given, not
to a man who should deserve it, but merely to a
man who might be lucky enough to get it, I do not
know that Lord Ellenborough deserved to be greatly
blamed. In any case, his son, as he quarterly pock-
eted the large .payment for doing nothing, would
doubtless hold the blame of mankind as of very little

But whether you Get On by having friends who
cry you up, or by having friends who can materially
advance you, of course it is your luck to have such
friends. We all know that it is *' the accident of an
accident " that makes a man succeed to a peerage or
an estate. And though trumpeting be a great fact
and power, still your luck comes in to say whether the
trumpet shall in your case be successful. One man,
by judicious puffing, gets a great name ; another,
equally deserving, and apparently in exactly the same
circumstances, fails to get it. No doubt the dog who
gets an ill name, even if he deserves the ill name,

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Online LibraryAndrew Kennedy Hutchison] [BoydThe every-day philosopher in town and country → online text (page 12 of 19)