Self-Help: With Illustrations of Character and Conduct

Samuel Smiles
Smiles, Samuel
Display paragraphs in this book containing:
First Pub. Date
Boston: Ticknor and Fields
Pub. Date
10 of 17

Chapter VI


"Active doer, noble liver,
Strong to labor, sure to conquer."—Browning.


PRACTICAL industry, wisely and vigorously applied, never fails of success. It carries a man onward and upward, brings out his individual character, and powerfully stimulates the action of others. All may not rise equally, yet each, on the whole, very much according to his deserts. "Though all cannot live on the piazza," as the Tuscan proverb has it, "every one may feel the sun."


We have already referred to some illustrious Commoners raised from humble to elevated positions by the power of application and industry; and we might point to even the Peerage itself as affording equally instructive examples. One reason why the peerage of England has succeeded so well in retaining its vigor and elasticity, arises from the fact that, unlike the peerages of other countries, it has been fed from time to time by the best industrial blood of the country—the very "liver, heart, and brain of Britain." Like the fabled Antæus, it has been invigorated and refreshed by frequently touching its mother earth, and mingling freely with that most ancient order of nobility,—the working order; as Lord Chesterfield inferentially admitted it to be when he placed as the first of his pedigree, "ADAM de Stanhope,—EVE de Stanhope."


The blood of all men doubtless flows from equally remote sources; and the proximate roots of most families in this country, not many centuries ago, closely intermingled in the common Teutonic stock from which we derive our origin. The grand pervading features of the race,—industry, energy, and the spirit of independence,—have ever remained the same. To this day the adventurous daring of the Vikings crops out from time to time in our common soldiers and sailors, as in the aristocratic officers who lead them; and the same noble spirit looks out from under the peasant's garb as well as the peer's ermine.


Besides, there has been a constant rising and falling in society going on,—new families taking the place of the old, which have subsided in many cases into the ranks of the common people. The civil wars and rebellions ruined the old nobility, and dispersed their families, but did not destroy them. They became farmers, mechanics, and laborers,—mingling again with the great industrial race from which they had originally sprung. Thus, not many years since, the representative of the earldom of Mar was discovered in the person of a laborer in a North-umberland coal-pit; and at this day, it is understood that the linear representative of Simon de Montfort, England's premier baron, is a saddler in Tooley Street. Hugh Miller, when working as a stonemason near Edinburgh, was served by a hodman, who was one of the numerous claimants for the earldom of Crauford,—all that was wanted to establish his claim being a missing marriage certificate; and while the work was going on, the cry resounded from the walls many times in the day, of—"John, Yearl Crauford, bring us anither hod o' lime."


The great bulk of our peerage is comparatively modern, so far as the titles go; but it is not the less noble that it has been recruited to so large an extent from the ranks of honorable industry. In olden times, the wealth and commerce of London, conducted as it was by energetic and enterprising men, was a prolific source of peerages. Thus, the earldom of Cornwallis was founded by Thomas Cornwallis, the Cheapside merchant; that of Essex by William Capel, the draper; and that of Craven by William Craven, the merchant tailor. The modern Earl of Warwick is not descended from "the Kingmaker," but from William Greville, the wool-stapler; whilst the modern dukes of Northumberland find their head, not in the Percies, but in Hugh Smithson, a respectable London apothecary. The founders of the families of Dartmouth, Radnor, Ducie, and Pomfret, were respectively a skinner, a silk manufacturer, a merchant tailor, and a Calais merchant; whilst the founders of the peerages of Tankerville, Dormer, and Coventry, were mercers. The ancestors of Earl Romney, and Lord Dudley and Ward, were goldsmiths and jewellers; and Lord Dacres was a banker in the reign of Charles I., as Lord Overstone is in that of Queen Victoria. Edward Osborne, the founder of the dukedom of Leeds, was apprentice to William Hewet, a rich clothworker on London Bridge, whose only daughter he courageously rescued from drowning, by leaping into the Thames after her, and eventually married. Among other peerages founded by trade, are those of Fitzwilliam, Leigh, Petre, Cowper, Darnley, Hill, and Carrington. The founders of the houses of Foley and Normanby were remarkable men in many respects, and, as furnishing striking examples of energy of character, the story of their lives is especially worthy of preservation.


The father of Richard Foley, the founder of the family, was a small yeoman living in the neighborhood of Stourbridge in the time of Charles I. That place was then the centre of the iron manufacture of the midland districts, and Richard was brought up to work at one of the branches of the trade,—that of nail-making. He was thus a daily observer of the great labor and loss of time caused by the clumsy process then adopted for dividing the rods of iron in the manufacture of nails. It appeared that the Stourbridge nailers were gradually losing their trade, in consequence of the importation of nails from Sweden, by which they were very much undersold in the market. It became known that the Swedes were enabled to make their nails so much cheaper, by the use of splitting mills and machinery, which had completely superseded the laborious process of preparing the rods for nail-making still in use in England.


Richard Foley, having ascertained this much, determined to make himself master of the new process. He suddenly disappeared from the neighborhood of Stourbridge, and was not heard of for several years. No one knew where he had gone; not even his own family; for he had not informed them of his intention, lest he should fail. He had little or no money in his pocket, but contrived to get to Hull, where he engaged himself on board a ship bound for a Swedish port, and worked his passage there. The only article of property which he possessed was his fiddle, and on landing in Sweden he begged and fiddled his way to the Dannemora mines, near Upsala. He was a capital musician, as well as a pleasant fellow and soon ingratiated himself with the iron-workers. He was received into the works, to every part of which he had access; and he seized the opportunity thus afforded him of storing his mind with observations, and mastering as he thought, the mechanism of iron-splitting. After a continued stay for this purpose, he suddenly disappeared from amongst his kind friends the miners,—no one knew whither.


Arrived in England, he communicated the results of his voyage to Mr. Knight and another person at Stourbridge, who had sufficient confidence in him to advance the requisite funds for the purpose of erecting buildings and machinery for splitting iron by the new process. But when set to work, to the great vexation and disappointment of all, and especially of Richard Foley, it was found that the machinery would not act,—at all events it would not split the bars of iron. Again Foley disappeared. It was thought that shame and mortification at his failure had driven him away forever. Not so! Foley had determined to master this secret of iron-splitting, and he would yet do it. He had again to set out for Sweden, accompanied by his fiddle as before, and found his way to the iron-works, where he was joyfully welcomed by the miners; and, to make sure of their fiddler, they this time lodged him in the very splitting-mill itself. There was such an apparent absence of intelligence about the man, except in fiddle-playing, that the miners entertained no suspicions as to the object of their minstrel, whom they thus enabled to attain the very end and aim of his life. He now carefully examined the works, and soon discovered the cause of his failure. He made drawings or tracings of the machinery as well as he could, for this was a branch of art quite new to him; and after remaining at the place long enough to enable him to verify his observations, and to impress the mechanical arrangements clearly and vividly on his mind, he again left the miners, reached a Swedish port, and took ship for England. A man of such purpose could not but succeed. Arrived amongst his surprised friends, he now completed his arrangements, and the results were entirely successful. By his skill and his industry he soon laid the foundations of an immense fortune, at the same time that he restored the business of an extensive district. He himself continued, during his life, to superintend his trade, aiding and encouraging all works of benevolence in his neighborhood. He founded and endowed a school at Stourbridge; and his son Thomas (a great benefactor of Kidderminster), who was High Sheriff of Worcestershire in the time of "The Rump," founded and endowed an hospital, still in existence, for the free education of children at Old Swinford. All the early Foleys were Puritans. Richard Baxter seems to have been on familiar and intimate terms with various members of the family, and makes frequent mention of them in his "Life and Times." Thomas Foley, when appointed high sheriff of the county, requested Baxter to preach the customary sermon before him; and Baxter in his "Life" speaks of him as "of so just and blameless dealing, that all men he ever had to do with magnified his great integrity and honesty, which were questioned by none." The family was worthily ennobled in the reign of Charles the Second.


William Phipps, the founder of the Mulgrave or Normanby family, was a man quite as remarkable in his way as Richard Foley. His father was a gunsmith,—a robust Englishman,—settled at Woolwich, in Maine, then forming part of our English colonies in America. He was born in 1651, one of a family of not fewer than twenty-six children (of whom twenty-one were sons), whose only fortune lay in their stout hearts and strong arms. William seems to have had a strong dash of the Danish sea-blood in his veins, and did not take kindly to the quiet life of a shepherd in which he spent his early years. By nature bold and adventurous, he longed to become a sailor and roam through the world. He sought to join some ship; but not being able to find one, he apprenticed himself to a ship-builder, with whom he thoroughly learned his trade, acquiring the arts of reading and writing during his leisure hours. Having completed his apprenticeship and removed to Boston, he wooed and married a widow of some means, after which he set up a little ship-building yard of his own, built a ship, and, putting to sea in her, he engaged in the lumber trade, which he carried on in a plodding and laborious way for the space of about ten years.


It happened that one day, whilst passing through the crooked streets of old Boston, he overheard some sailors talking to each other of a wreck which had just taken place off the Bahamas; that of a Spanish ship, supposed to have much money on board. His adventurous spirit was at once kindled, and getting together a likely crew without loss of time, he set sail for the Bahamas. The wreck being well in-shore, he easily found it, and succeeded in recovering a great deal of its cargo, but very little money; and the result was, that he barely defrayed his expenses. His success had been such, however, as to stimulate his enterprising spirit; and when he was told of another and far more richly laden vessel, which had been wrecked near Port de la Plata more than half a century before, he forthwith formed the resolution of raising the wreck, or at all events fishing up the treasure.


Being too poor, however, to undertake such an enterprise without powerful help, he set sail for England, in the hope that he might there obtain it. The fame of his success in raising the wreck off the Bahamas had already preceded him. He applied direct to the government; and by his urgent enthusiasm, he succeeded in overcoming the usual inertia of official minds; and Charles II. eventually placed at his disposal the "Rose Algier," a ship of eighteen guns and ninety-five men, appointing him to the chief command.


Phipps then set sail to find the Spanish ship and fish up the treasure. He reached the coast of Hispaniola in safety; but how to find the sunken ship was the great difficulty. The fact of the wreck was more than fifty years old; and Phipps had only the traditionary rumors of the event to work upon. There was a wide coast to explore, and an outspread ocean, without any trace whatever of the wrecked argosy beneath it. But the man was stout in heart, and full of hope. He set his seamen to work to drag the coast, and for weeks they went on fishing up sea-weed, shingle, and bits of rock. No occupation could be more trying to seamen, and they began to grumble together, and to whisper that the man in command had brought them on a fool's errand.


At length the murmurs spoke aloud, and the men broke into open mutiny. A body of them rushed one day on to the quarter-deck, and demanded that the voyage should be relinquished. Phipps, however, was not a man to be intimidated; he seized the ringleaders, and sent the others back to their duty. It became necessary to bring the ship to anchor close to a small island for the purpose of repairs; and, to lighten her, the chief part of the stores were landed. Discontent still increasing amongst the crew, a new plot was laid amongst the men on shore to seize the ship, throw Phipps overboard, and start on a piratical cruise against the Spaniards in the South Seas. But it was necessary to secure the services of the chief ship-carpenter, who was consequently made privy to the plot. The man proved faithful, and seized an opportunity of telling Phipps of his danger. Summoning about him the men he knew to be loyal, he had the ship's guns load ed which commanded the shore, and the bridge communicating with the vessel drawn up. When the mutineers made their appearance, Phipps hailed them, and told them he would fire upon them if they approached the stores (still on land), and they drew back; on which, Phipps had the stores reshipped under cover of his guns. The mutineers, fearful of being left on a barren island, threw down their arms and implored to be permitted to return to their duty. The request was granted, and suitable precautions were taken against future mischief. Phipps took the first opportunity of landing the mutinous part of his crew, and engaging other men in their place; but, by the time he could again proceed actively with his explorations, he found it absolutely necessary to proceed to England for the purpose of repairing his ship. He had now, however, gained more precise information as to the spot where the Spanish treasure-ship had sunk; and, though as yet baffled, he was more confident than ever in the eventual success of his enterprise.


Returned to London, Phipps reported the result of his voyage to the Admiralty, who professed to be pleased with his exertions; but he had been unsuccessful, and they would not intrust him with another king's ship. James II. was now on the throne, and the government was in trouble; so Phipps and his golden project appealed to them in vain. He next tried to raise the requisite means by a public subscription. At first he was laughed at; but his ceaseless importunity at length prevailed, and after four years' dinning of his project into the ears of the great,—during which time he lived in great poverty,—he at length succeeded. A company was formed, in twenty shares, the Duke of Albemarle, son of General Monk, taking the chief interest in it, and subscribing the principal part of the necessary funds for the enterprise.


Like Foley, Phipps proved more fortunate in his second voyage than in his first. The ship arrived without accident at Port de la Plata, in the neighborhood of the reef of rocks supposed to have been the scene of the wreck. His first object was to build a stout boat capable of carrying eight or ten oars, in constructing which Phipps used the adze himself. It is also said that he constructed a machine, for the purpose of exploring the bottom of the sea, similar to what is now known as the Diving-Bell. Such a machine was found referred to in books, but Phipps knew little of books, and may be said to have reinvented the apparatus for his own use. He also engaged Indian divers, whose feats of diving for pearls, and in submarine operations, were very remarkable. The tender and boat having been taken to the reef, the men were set to work, the diving-bell was sunk, and the various modes of dragging the bottom of the sea were employed continuously for many weeks, but without any prospect of success. Phipps, however, held on valiantly, hoping almost against hope. At length, one day, a sailor, looking over the boat's side down into the clear water, observed a curious sea-plant growing in what appeared to be a crevice of the rock; and he called upon an Indian diver to go down and fetch it for him. On the red man coming up with the weed, he reported that a number of ship's guns were lying in the same place. The intelligence was at first received with incredulity, but on further investigation it proved to be correct. Search was made, and presently a diver came up with a solid bar of silver in his arms. When Phipps was shown it, he exclaimed, "Thanks be to God! we are all made men." Diving-bell and divers now went to work with a will, and in a few days, treasure was brought up to the value of about £300,000, with which Phipps set sail for England. On his arrival, it was urged upon the king that he should seize the ship and its cargo, under the pretence that Phipps, when soliciting his Majesty's permission, had not given accurate information respecting the business. But the king replied, that he knew Phipps to be an honest man, and that he and his friends should divide the whole treasure amongst them, even though he had returned with double the value. Phipps's share was about £20,000, and the king, to show his approval of his energy and honesty in conducting the enterprise, conferred upon him the honor of knighthood. He was also made High Sheriff of New England; and during the time he held the office, he did valiant service for the mother-country and the colonists against the French, by expeditions against Port Royal and Quebec. He also held the post of Governor of Massachusetts; from which he returned to England, and died in London in 1695.


Phipps throughout the later part of his career was not ashamed to allude to the lowness of his origin, and it was matter of honest pride to him that he had risen from the condition of a common ship-carpenter to the honors of knighthood and the government of a province. When perplexed with public business, he would often declare that it would be easier for him to go back to his broad axe again. He left behind him a character for probity, honesty, patriotism, and courage, which is certainly not the least noble inheritance of the house of Normanby.


William Petty, the founder of the house of Lansdowne, was a man of like energy and public usefulness in his day. He was the son of a clothier in humble circumstances, at Romsey, in Hampshire, and was born in 1623. In his boyhood he obtained a tolerable education at the grammar-school of his native town; after which he determined to improve himself by study at the University of Caen, in Normandy. Whilst there he contrived to support himself, unassisted by his father, carrying on a sort of small peddler's trade with "a little stock of merchandise." Returning to England, he had himself bound apprentice to a sea-captain, who "drubbed him with a rope's end" for the badness of his sight. He left the navy in disgust, taking to the study of medicine. When at Paris he engaged in dissection, during which time he also drew diagrams for Hobbes, who was then writing his treatise on Optics. He was reduced to such poverty that he subsisted for two or three weeks entirely on walnuts. But again he began to trade in a small way, turning an honest penny, and he was enabled shortly to return to England with money in his pocket. Being of an ingenious mechanical turn, we find him taking out a patent for a letter-copying machine. He began to write upon the arts and sciences, and practised chemistry and physic with such success that his reputation shortly became considerable. Associating with men of science, the project of forming a Society for its prosecution was discussed, and the first meetings of the infant Royal Society were held at his lodgings. At Oxford he acted for a time as deputy to the anatomical professor there, who had a great repugnance to dissection. In 1652 his industry was rewarded by the appointment of physician to the army in Ireland, whither he went; and whilst there he was the medical attendant of three successive lords-lieutenant, Lambert, Fleetwood, and Henry Cromwell. Large grants of forfeited land having been awarded to the Puritan soldiery, Petty observed that the lands were very inaccurately measured; and in the midst of his many avocations he undertook to do the work himself. His appointments became so numerous and lucrative that he was charged by the envious with corruption, and removed from them all; but was again taken into favor at the Restoration.


Petty was a most indefatigable contriver, inventor, and organizer of industry. One of his inventions was a double-bottomed ship, to sail against wind and tide. He published treatises on dyeing, on naval philosophy, on woollen cloth manufacture, on political arithmetic, and many other subjects. He founded iron-works, opened lead-mines, and commenced a pilchard fishery and a timber-trade; in the midst of which he found time to take part in the discussions of the Royal Society, to which he largely contributed. He left an ample fortune to his sons, the eldest of whom was created Baron Shelburne. His will was a curious document, singularly illustrative of his character; containing a detail of the principal events of his life, and the gradual advancement of his fortune. His sentiments on pauperism are characteristic: "As for legacies for the poor," said he, "I am at a stand; as for beggars by trade and election, I give them nothing; as for impotents by the hand of God, the public ought to maintain them; as for those who have been bred to no calling nor estate, they should be put upon their kindred;"..."wherefore I am contented that I have assisted all my poor relations, and put many into a way of getting their own bread; have labored in public works; and by inventions have sought out real objects of charity; and I do hereby conjure all who partake of my estate, from time to time, to do the same at their peril. Nevertheless, to answer custom, and to take the surer side, 1 give 20l. to the most wanting of the parish wherein I die." He was interred in the fine old Norman church of Romsey,—the town where he was born a poor man's son,—and on the south side of the choir is still to be seen a plain slab, with the inscription, cut by an illiterate workman, "Here Layes Sir William Petty."


Another family, ennobled by invention and trade, in our own day, is that of Strutt, of Belper. Their patent of nobility was virtually secured by Jedediah Strutt in 1758, when he invented his machine for making ribbed stockings, and thereby laid the foundations of a fortune which the subsequent bearers of the name have largely increased and nobly employed. The father of Jedediah was a farmer and maltster, who did very little for the education of his children; yet they all prospered. Jedediah was the second son, and while occupied as a farmer at Blackwell, near Normanton, he learned from his wife's brother, who was a hosier, and well acquainted with the stocking-frame, that some unsuccessful attempts had been made to manufacture ribbed stockings upon it. Being naturally ingenious, and self-trained in mechanics, he was induced to investigate the operations of the stocking-frame; and after the sacrifice of considerable time, labor, and means, he at length succeeded in perfecting his invention. A manufactory of ribbed stockings was then started by him at Derby, in conjunction with his brother, and proved eminently successful. He afterwards joined Arkwright,—being quick to detect the value of his invention for cotton-spinning,—found the means for securing his patent, and established extensive cotton-mills at Cromford, in Derbyshire. Mr. Edward Strutt was of like inventive genius to his father, and he is said to have invented a self-acting mule, the success of which was only prevented by the mechanical skill of that day not being equal to its manufacture. After the lapse of the partnership with Arkwright, the Strutts erected their cotton-mills at Milford, near Belper, which worthily gives its title to the present head of the family.


No less industry and energy have been displayed by the many brave men both in present and past times, who have earned the peerage by their valor on land and at sea. Not to mention the older feudal lords, whose tenure depended upon military service, and who so often led the van of the English armies in great national encounters; we may point to Nelson, St. Vincent, and Lyons,—to Wellington, Hill, Hardinge, Clyde, and many more in recent times, who have nobly earned their rank by their distinguished services. But plodding industry has far oftener worked its way to the peerage by the honorable pursuit of the legal profession, than by any other. No fewer than seventy British peerages, including two dukedoms, have been founded by successful lawyers. Mansfield and Erskine were, it is true, of noble families; but the latter used to thank God, that out of his own family he did not know a lord.*7 The others were, for the most part, the sons of attorneys, grocers, clergymen, merchants, and hard-working members of the middle class. Out of this profession have sprung the peerages of Howard and Cavendish, the first peers of both families having been judges; those of Aylesford, Ellenborough, Guildford, Shaftesbury, Hardwicke, Cardigan, Clarendon, Camden, Ellesmere, Rosslyn; and others nearer our own day, such as Tenterden, Eldon, Brougham, Denman, Truro, Lyndhurst, St. Leonards, Cranworth, Campbell, and Chelmsford.


The eminent Lord Lyndhurst's father was a portrait-painter, and that of St. Leonards a hairdresser in Burlington Street. Young Edward Sugden was originally an errand-boy in the office of the late Mr. Groom, of Henrietta Street, Cavendish Square, a certificated conveyancer; and it was there that the future Lord Chancellor of Ireland obtained his first notions of law. The origin of the late Lord Tenterden was perhaps the humblest of all, nor was he ashamed of it; for he felt that the industry, study, and application, by means of which he achieved his eminent position, were entirely due to himself. It is related of him, that on one occasion he took his son Charles to a little shed then standing opposite the western front of Canterbury Cathedral, and pointing it out to him, said, "Charles, you see this little shop; I have brought you here on purpose to show it to you. In that shop your grandfather used to shave for a penny! that is the proudest reflection of my life." When a boy, Lord Tenterden was a singer in the cathedral, and it is a curious circumstance that his destination in life was changed by a disappointment. When he and Mr. Justice Richards were going the Home Circuit together, they went to service in the cathedral; and on Richards commending the voice of a singing-man in the choir, Lord Tenterden said, "Ah! that is the only man I ever envied! When at school in this town, we were candidates for a chorister's place, and he obtained it."


Not less remarkable was the rise to the same distinguished office of Lord Chief Justice, of the rugged Kenyon and the robust Ellenborough; nor is he a less notable man who recently held the same office,—the astute Lord Campbell, now Lord Chancellor of England, son of a parish minister in Fifeshire. For many years he worked hard as a reporter for the press, while diligently preparing himself for the practice of his profession. It is said of him, that at the beginning of his career, he was accustomed to walk from county-town to county-town when on circuit, being as yet too poor to afford the luxury of posting. But step by step he rose slowly but surely to that eminence and distinction which ever follow a career of industry, honorably and energetically pursued, in the legal, as in every other profession.


There have been equally illustrious instances of Lords Chancellors who have plodded up the steep of fame and honor with equal energy and success. The career of the late Lord Eldon, is perhaps one of the most remarkable examples. He was the son of a Newcastle coalfitter; a mischievous rather than a studious boy; a great scape-grace at school, and the subject of many terrible thrashings,—for orchard-robbing was one of the favorite exploits of the future Lord Chancellor. His father first thought of putting him apprentice to a grocer, and afterwards had almost made up his mind to bring him up to his own trade of a coal-fitter. But by this time his eldest son William (afterwards Lord Stowell) who had gained a scholarship at Oxford, wrote to his father, "Send Jack up to me, I can do better for him." John was sent up to Oxford accordingly, where, by his brother's influence and his own application, he succeeded in obtaining a fellowship. But when at home during the vacation, he was so unfortunate,—or rather so fortunate, as the issue proved,—as to fall in love; and running across the Border with his eloped bride, he married, and, as his friends thought, ruined himself for life. He had neither house nor home when he married, and had not yet earned a penny. He lost his fellowship, and at the same time shut himself out from preferment in the Church, for which he had been destined. He accordingly turned his attention to the study of the law. To a friend he wrote, "I have married rashly; but it is my determination to work hard to provide for the woman I love."


John Scott came up to London, and took a small house in Cursitor Lane, where he settled down to the study of the law. He worked with great diligence and resolution; rising at four every morning, and studying till late at night, binding a wet towel round his head to keep himself awake. Too poor to study under a special pleader, he copied out three folio volumes from a manuscript collection of precedents. Long after, when Lord Chancellor, passing down Cursitor Lane one day, he said to his secretary, "Here was my first perch; many a time do I recollect coming down this street with sixpence in my hand to buy sprats for supper." When at length called to the bar, he waited long for employment. His first year's earnings amounted to only nine shillings. For four years he assiduously attended the London courts and the Northern Circuit, with little better success. Even in his native town, he seldom had other than pauper cases to defend. The results were indeed so discouraging, that he had almost determined to relinquish his chance of London business, and settle down in some provincial town as a country barrister. His brother William wrote home, "Business is dull with poor Jack, very dull indeed!" But as he had escaped being a grocer, a coal-fitter, and a country parson, so did he also escape being a country lawyer.


An opportunity at length occurred, which enabled John Scott to exhibit the large legal knowledge which he had so laboriously acquired. In a case in which he was employed, he urged a legal point against the wishes both of the attorney and client who employed him. The Master of the Rolls decided against him, but on an appeal to the House of Lords, Lord Thurlow reversed the decision on the very point that Scott had urged. On leaving the House that day, a solicitor tapped him on the shoulder and said, "Young man, your bread-and-butter's cut for life." And the prophecy proved a faithful one. Lord Mansfield used to say that he knew no interval between no business and 3,000l. a year, and Scott might have told the same story; for so rapid was his progress, that in 1783, when only thirty-two, he was appointed King's Counsel, was at the head of the Northern Circuit, and sat in Parliament for the borough of Weobley. It was in the dull but unflinching drudgery of the early part of his career that he laid the foundation of his future success. He won his spurs by perseverance, knowledge, and ability, diligently cultivated; he was successively appointed to the offices of solicitor and attorney-general, and rose steadily upwards to the highest office that the Crown had to bestow,—that of Lord Chancellor of England, which he held for a quarter of a century.


Henry Bickersteth was the son of a surgeon at Kirkby Lonsdale, in Westmoreland, and was himself educated to that profession. As a student at Edinburgh, he distinguished himself by the steadiness with which he worked, and the application which he devoted to the science of medicine. Returned to Kirkby Lonsdale, he took an active part in his father's practice; but he had no liking for the profession, and grew discontented with the obscurity of a country town. He went on, nevertheless, diligently improving himself, and engaged in speculations in the higher branches of physiology. In conformity with his own wish, his father consented to send him to Cambridge, where it was his ambition to take a medical degree, with the view of practising in the metropolis. Close application to his studies threw him out of health, however, and with a view to reëstablishing his strength he accepted the appointment of travelling physician to Lord Oxford. While abroad he mastered Italian, and acquired a great admiration for Italian literature, but no greater liking for medicine than before. On the contrary he determined to abandon it; but returning to Cambridge, he took his degree, and that he worked hard may be inferred from the fact that he was senior wrangler of his year. Disappointed in his desire to enter the army, he turned to the bar, and entered a student of the Inner Temple. He worked as hard at law as he had done at medicine. Writing to his father, he said, "Everybody says to me, 'You are certain of success in the end,—only persevere;' and though I don't well understand how this is to happen, I try to believe it as much as I can, and I shall not fail to do everything in my power." At twenty-eight he was called to the bar, and had every step in life yet to make. His means were straitened, and he lived upon the contributions of his friends. For years he studied and waited. Still no business came. He stinted himself in recreation, in clothes, and even in the necessaries of life; struggling on indefatigably through all. Writing home he "confesses that he hardly knows how he shall be able to struggle on till he has had fair time and opportunity to establish himself." After three years' waiting thus without success, he wrote to his friends that, rather than be a burden upon them longer, he is willing to give the matter up and return to Cambridge, "where he is sure of support and some profit." The friends at home sent him another small remittance, and he went on. Business gradually came in. Acquitting himself creditably in small matters, he was intrusted with cases of greater importance. He was a man who never missed an opportunity, nor allowed a legitimate chance of improvement to escape him. His unflinching industry soon began to tell upon his fortunes; a few more years and he was not only enabled to do without assistance from home, but he was in a position to pay back with interest the debts which he had incurred. The clouds had dispersed, and the after-career of Henry Bickersteth was one of honor, of emolument, and of distinguished fame. He ended his career as Master of the Rolls, sitting in the House of Peers as Baron Langdale. His life affords only another illustration of the power of patience, perseverance, and conscientious working, in elevating the character of the individual, and crowning his labors with the most complete success.


Such are a few of the distinguished men who have honorably worked their way to the highest position, and won the richest rewards of their profession, by the exercise of honest industry and patient perseverance.

Notes for this chapter

Mansfield owed nothing to his noble relations, who were poor and uninfluential. His success was the legitimate and logical result of the means which he sedulously employed to secure it. When a boy he rode up from Scotland to London on a pony,—taking two months to make the journey. After a course of school and college, he entered upon the profession of the law, and he closed a career of patient and ceaseless labor as Lord Chief Justice of England,—the functions of which he is universally admitted to have performed with unsurpassed ability, justice, and honor.

End of Notes

10 of 17

Return to top