Hope without an object cannot live.--Coleridge
Have an aim in life, or your energies will all be wasted.
--M. C. Peters
Every one should take the helm of his own life, and steer instead of
drifting.--C. C. Everett
Ambition is to life just what steam is to the locomotive.
--J. C. Jaynes
No toil, no hardships can restrain ambitious men inur'd to pain.--Horace
Ambition is one of the great forces of human life. We may describe it as
a strong, fixed desire in the heart to get honor, or to attain the best
things. It is a kind of hunger or thirst for success that makes men dare
danger and trial to satisfy it. A man is of little use in the world
unless he have ambition to set him in motion. Small talent with great
ambition often does far more than genius without it.
The severest censure that can be passed upon a man is that of the poet,
"Everything by turns and nothing long." The words contain a sad
revelation of wasted opportunities, wasted powers, wasted life. These
words apply, with a painful degree of exactness, to the career of Lord
Brougham. Few men have been more richly endowed by nature. Few men have
exhibited a greater plasticity of intellect, a greater affluence of
mental resources. He was a fine orator, a clear thinker, a ready writer.
It is seldom that a man who sways immense audiences by the power of his
eloquence attains also to a high position in the ranks of literature.
Yet Brougham did this; while, as a lawyer, he gained the most splendid
prize of his profession, the Lord Chancellorship of England; and as a
scientific investigator, merited and received the applause of
All this may seem to indicate success; and, to a certain extent,
Brougham was successful. Nevertheless, having been everything by turns
and nothing long--having given up to many pursuits the powers which
should have been reserved for one or two--he was on the whole, a
failure. Not only did he fail to make any permanent mark on the history
or literature of his country, but he even outlived his own fame. He was
almost forgotten before he died. He frittered away his genius on too
It has long been a question of debate whether circumstances make men, or
men control circumstances. There are those who believe that men are
governed by their environments; that their surroundings determine their
The other school of philosophers boldly assert the opposite view. Men
may control their surroundings. They are not the sport of the winds of
circumstance. Carlyle, who is a member of this school, does not
hesitate, in one of his essays, to say that "there have been great
crises in the world's history when great men were needed, but they did
This much is certain, we have many instances in which people have risen
above their surroundings. Warren Hastings's case is one in point.
Macaulay tells the story with his accustomed brilliancy and
attractiveness. When Hastings was a mere child, the ancestral estate,
through some mismanagement, passed out of the hands of the family.
Warren would often go--for the family remained in the neighborhood--and
gaze through the bars upon what had once been his home. He registered a
mental vow to regain that estate. That became the ambition of his life;
the one great purpose to which he devoted all his energies. Many years
passed; Hastings went to other climes; but there was ever with him the
determination to get that estate; and he succeeded.
After all, would it not appear that the true theory is that of a golden
mean between these two extremes? Circumstances sometimes control men or,
at any rate, some kind of men; men, especially men of strong will power
sometimes control their environments. Circumstances give men an
opportunity to display their powers. The fuller study of this subject
clearly shows the need of some principles of morality that are not
dependent upon any chance companionship, and that may belong to the man
himself, and not merely to his surroundings.
An ambition to get on in the world, the steady struggle to get up, to
reach higher, is a constant source of education in foresight, in
prudence, in economy, in industry and courage; in fact is the great
developer of many of the strongest and noblest qualities of character.
The men at the summit fought their way up from the bottom. "John Jacob
Astor sold apples on the streets of New York; A. T. Stewart swept out
his own store; Cornelius Vanderbilt laid the foundation of his vast
fortune with a hundred dollars given him by his mother; Lincoln was a
rail splitter; Grant was a tanner; and Garfield was a towboy on a
By hard work and unconquerable perseverance you can rise above the low
places of poverty. True, you may never shine in the galaxy of the great
ones of this earth, but you may fill your lives and homes with
blessings, and make the world wiser and better for your having lived in
it. Cash cannot take the place of character. It is far better to be a
man, than merely to be a millionaire.
A man who heard Lincoln speak in Norwich, Connecticut, some time before
he was nominated for the presidency, was greatly impressed by the
closely-knit logic of the speech. Meeting him next day on a train, he
asked him how he acquired his wonderful logical powers and such
acuteness in analysis. Lincoln replied: "It was my terrible
discouragement which did that for me. When I was a young man I went into
an office to study law. I saw that a lawyer's business is largely to
prove things. I said to myself, 'Lincoln, when is a thing proved?' That
was a poser. What constitutes proof? Not evidence; that was not the
point. There may be evidence enough, but wherein consists the proof? I
groaned over the question, and finally said to myself, 'Ah! Lincoln, you
can't tell.' Then I thought, 'What use is it for me to be in a law
office if I can't tell when a thing is proved?' So I gave it up and went
"Soon after I returned to the old log cabin, I fell in with a copy of
Euclid. I had not the slightest notion what Euclid was, and I thought I
would find out. I therefore began, at the beginning, and before spring I
had gone through that old Euclid's geometry, and could demonstrate every
proposition like a book. Then in the spring, when I had got through with
it, I said to myself one day, 'Ah, do you know now when a thing is
proved?' And I answered, 'Yes, sir, I do.' 'Then you may go back to the
law shop;' and I went."
We may be rightly ambitious in various ways. It is right to be ambitious
for _fame and honor_. The love of praise is not bad in itself, but
it is a very dangerous motive. Why? Because in order to be popular, one
may be tempted to be insincere. Never let the world's applause drown the
voice of conscience.
It is right to be ambitious to excel in whatever you do. Slighted work
and half-done tasks are sins. "I am as good as they are"; "I do my work
as well as they"; are cowardly maxims. Not what others have done, but
perfection, is the only true aim, whether it be in the ball-field or in
the graver tasks of life.
Many people think that ambition is an evil weed, and ought to be pulled
up by the roots. Shakespeare makes Wolsey say,--
"I charge thee, fling away ambition
By that sin fell the angels."
But the great cardinal had abused ambition, and had changed it into a
vice. Ambition is a noble quality in itself, but like any other virtue
it may be carried to excess, and thus become an evil. Like fire or
water, it must be controlled to be safe and useful. Napoleon, while
commanding armies, could not command his own ambition; and so he was
caged up like a wild beast at St. Helena. A millionaire may be so
ambitious for gain as purposely to wreck the fortunes of others. A
politician may sell his manhood to gratify his desire for office. Boys
and girls may become so ambitious to win their games, or to get the
prizes at school, that they are willing to cheat, or take some mean
advantage; and then ambition becomes to them not a blessing but a curse.
We ought now and then to stop and test our ambition, just as the
engineer tries the steam in the boiler; if we do not, it may in some
unexpected moment wreck our lives. There are two ways of finding out
whether our ambition is too strong for safety. First, if we discover
that ambition is hurting our own character, there is danger. Second, if
we find ambition blinding us to the rights of others, it is time to
stop. These are the two tests; and so long as your ambition is harming
neither your own life nor the lives of others, it is good and wholesome,
and will add value and brightness to your life.
Henry Havelock, commonly known as "The Hero of Lucknow," was born in
England, 1795, just about the time when Napoleon was beginning his
brilliant career, and all Europe was a battlefield. As a boy he was
rather serious and thoughtful, so that his school fellows used to call
him "Old Phlos," a nickname for Old Philosopher. And yet he loved boyish
sports, and never was behind any of his companions in courage and
He was not the first scholar in his class, but he was a great reader and
took intense delight in stories of war and descriptions of battles.
Napoleon was his hero, and he watched all his movements with breathless
interest; and soon began to dream of being a soldier, too. Thus was born
in the boy's heart that ambition which afterward lifted the man into
honor and fame.
At the age of sixteen Havelock began to study law, but he soon tired of
it, and three years later obtained an appointment in the army. He now
gave himself, with all the love and enthusiasm of his nature, to his
chosen profession. He was to be a soldier; and he decided that he would
be a thorough one, and would understand the art of war completely. He
studied very hard, and it is said that it was his habit to draw with a
stick upon the ground the plan of some historic battlefield, then, in
imagination fight the battle over again, so that he might clearly see
what made the one side lose and the other win.
After eight years of service in England, he was ordered to go to India.
There he became a soldier in earnest. It would take too long to tell of
the battles he was in, and of the terrible campaigns through which he
served. It is enough to say that he always followed where duty led, and
always seemed to know just what to do amid the confusion of the
battlefield. It was the dream of his life to become a general, but he
was doomed, year after year, to stand still and see untried, beardless
men promoted above his head. This certainly was hard to bear, but he
never lost heart, never sulked, never neglected any opportunity to serve
his government. His ambition was to do his best; and this he did,
whether the world saw and applauded or not.
Until he reached the age of sixty-two, he was scarcely known outside of
India; but then came the occasion that made him famous. All India was in
mutiny. The native soldiers, mad with power, were murdering the English
in every city. Far up in the interior, at Lucknow, was a garrison of
English soldiers, women, and children, hemmed in by thousands of these
bloodthirsty Sepoys. To surrender meant a horrible death. To hold the
fort meant starvation at last, unless rescue should speedily come.
Although, when the news reached him, he was hundreds of miles away,
Havelock undertook to save that little garrison. It seemed an impossible
task, and yet with a few hundred brave soldiers, in a country swarming
with the enemy, through swamps, over swollen rivers, he fought his way
to the gates at Lucknow. And then, beneath a hailstorm of bullets from
every house-top, he marched up the narrow street, and never paused until
he stood within the fortress walls, and heard the shout of welcome from
the lips of the starving men and women. It was a wonderful march, and
put him among the great soldiers of history; but it was the direct
result of that powerful ambition which had influenced his entire career.
The world rang with applause of his heroism; but praise came too late;
for while the queen was making him a baronet, and Parliament was voting
him a princely pension, he was dying of a fever within the very city he
had so bravely stormed. But his life-work was fully completed, and his
name shines brightly among those of the great military heroes of his
[Footnote: See Marshman's "Life of Havelock" (1860); Headley's "Life of
Havelock" (1864); Brock's "Life of General Sir Henry Havelock" (1854);
Molesworth's "History of England," Vol. III., Chap, ii., and Mitchell's
"History of India" (London, 1895).]