Skip to main content


This one thing I do. - ST. PAUL

The one prudence in life is concentration ; the one evil is dissipation ; and it makes no difference whether our dissipations are coarse or fine. . . . Everything is good which takes away one plaything and delusion more, and sends us home to add one stroke of faithful work. - EMERSON.

Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left. -PROVERBS.

The man who seeks one thing in life, and but one, May hope to achieve it before life be done ; But he who seeks all things, wherever he goes, Only reaps from the hopes which around him he sows, A harvest of barren regrets.


The longer I live, the more deeply am I convinced that that which makes the difference between one man and another-between the weak and powerful, the great and insignificant, is energy-invincible determination - a purpose once formed, and then death or victory.


One science only will one genius fit. - POPE.

He did it with all his heart and prospered. - 2 CHRONICLES

"THERE was not room enough for us all in Frankfort," said Nathan Mayer Rothschild, speaking of himself and his four brothers. "I dealt in English goods. One great trader came there, who had the market to himself ; he was quite the great man, and did us a favor if he sold us goods. Somehow I offended him, and he refused to show me his patterns. This was on a Tuesday. I said to my father, ' I will go to England' On Thursday I started. The nearer I got to England, the cheaper goods were. As soon as I got to Manchester, I laid out all my money, things were so cheap, and I made a good profit."


" He who would do some great thing in this short life must apply himself to the work with such a concentration of his forces, as, to idle spectators, who live only to amuse themselves, looks like insanity."

"I hope," said a listener, "that your children are not too fond of money and business, to the exclusion of more important things. I am sure you would not wish that." "I am sure I would wish that," said Rothschild; "I wish them to give mind, and soul, and heart, and body, and everything to business; that is the way to be happy.' “ Stick to one business, young man," he added, addressing a young brewer; "stick to your brewery, and you may be the great brewer of London. But be a brewer, and a banker, and a merchant, and a manufacturer, and you will soon be in the Gazette."

Not many things indifferently, but one thing supremely, is the demand of the hour. He who scatters his efforts in this intense, concentrated age, cannot hope to succeed.

"Goods removed, messages taken, carpets beaten, and poetry composed on any subject," was the sign of a man in London who was not very successful at any of these lines of work, and reminds one of Monsieur Kenard, of Paris, " a public scribe, who digests accounts, explains the language of flowers, and sells fried potatoes."

The great difference between those who succeed and those who fail does not consist in the amount of work done by each, but in the amount of intelligent work. Many of those who fail most ignominiously, do enough to achieve grand success; but they labor at haphazard, building up with one hand only to tear down with the other. They do not grasp circumstances and change them into opportunities. They have no faculty of turning honest defeats into telling victories. With ability enough, and time in abundance, - the warp and woof of success, - they are forever throwing back and forth an empty shuttle, and the real web - of life is never woven.

If you ask one of them to state his aim and purpose in life, he will say: “I hardly know yet for what I am best adapted, but I am a thorough believer in genuine hard work, and I am determined to dig early and late all my life, and I know I shall come across something-either gold, silver, or at least iron."

I say most emphatically, no. Would an intelligent man dig up a whole continent to find its veins of silver and gold ? The man who is forever looking about to see what he can find, never finds anything. We find what we seek with all our heart, and if we look for nothing in particular, we find just that and no more. The bee is not the only insect that visits the flower, but it is the only one that carries honey away. It matters not how rich the materials we have gleaned from the years of our study and toil in youth, if we go out into life with no well-defined idea of our future work, there is no happy conjunction of circumstances that will arrange them into an imposing structure, and give it magnificent proportions.

"What an immense power over the life," says Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, " is the power of possessing distinct aims. The voice, the dress, the look, the very motions of a person, define and alter when he or she begins to live for a reason. I fancy that I can select, in a crowded street, the busy, blessed women who support themselves. They carry themselves with an air of conscious self-respect and self-content, which a shabby alpaca cannot hide, nor a bonnet of silk enhance, nor even sickness nor exhaustion quite drag out."

The wind never blows fair for that sailor who knows not to what port he is bound.

"The weakest living creature," says Carlyle, "by concentrating his powers on a single object, can accomplish something; whereas the strongest, by dispersing his over many, may fail to accomplish anything. The drop, by continually falling, bores its passage through the hardest rock. The hasty torrent rushes over it with hideous uproar and leaves no trace behind."

"When I was young I used to think it was thunder that killed men," said a shrewd preacher; "but as I grew older, I found it was lightning. So I resolved to thunder less, and lighten more."

This is the age of concentration or specialization of energy. The problem of the day is to get ten horsepower out of an engine that shall occupy the space of a one horsepower engine and no more. The solution of that problem will solve in its turn the lesser problem of flying. Just so society demands a ten man-power out of one individual. It crowns the man who knows one thing supremely, and can do it better than anybody else, even if it only be the art of raising turnips. If he raises the best turnips by reason of concentrating all his energy to that end, he is a benefactor to the race, and is recognized as such. “

Lord, help me to take fewer things into my hands, and to do them well," is a prayer recommended by Paxton Hood to an overworked man.

If a salamander be cut in two, the front part will run forward and the other backward. Such is the progress of him who divides his purpose. Success is jealous of scattered energies.

No one can pursue a worthy object steadily and persistently with all the powers of his mind, and yet make his life a failure. You can't throw a tallow candle through the side of a tent, but you can shoot it through an oak board. Melt a charge of shot into a bullet, and it can be fired through the bodies of four men. Focus the rays of the sun in winter, and you can kindle a fire with ease.

The giants of the race have been men of concentration, who have struck sledge-hammer blows in one place until they have accomplished their purpose. The successful men of today are men of one overmastering idea, one unwavering aim, men of single and intense purpose. "Scatteration" is the curse of American business life. Too many are like Douglas Jerrold's friend, who could converse in twenty-four languages, but had no ideas to express in any one of them.

One of the hardest tasks for a boy or a girl is to concentrate the whole attention upon the lesson of the morrow; for the student in college to prepare for the next recitation without running to the ball-field, or allowing his gaze to wander around the room, or doing anything, else in order to cheat himself out of what he ought to do. In study, as in business, we must not only strike the iron while it is hot, but strike it until it is made hot.

William A. Mowry tells a story of one of the foremost of American scholars, who found himself spending two hours a day in preparing his Latin lesson. He determined to get that lesson in an hour and fifty minutes, and succeeded.: When he afterwards sat down to learn his Latin, he bent every energy to accomplish it in the shortest possible time. He found by daily trials, that he could learn it in an hour and forty-five minutes, and that the time required was diminishing.

Concentrating all his powers upon the task, day by day, he soon found himself studying only an hour and a half upon it, then five, ten, fifteen, and even thirty minutes less. Encouraged, he redoubled his efforts, and within a few months the lesson could be learned in less than half an hour, a thing absolutely impossible with his habits of study when he entered the school. But he had done something more than to learn a Latin lesson in a shorter time. He had learned something of the value of concentration. The acquisition of such power is of more value than the acquisition of knowledge.

Mr. Mowry gives another good illustration of this power in his “Talks with My Boys." A boy of fifteen once agreed to commit seven long stanzas of poetry in twenty minutes, with his companions allowed to use every possible effort to disturb him, provided they would not touch him. Amid such a pandemonium as only boys can make, the task was accomplished. This boy, George S. Boutwell, was afterwards governor of Massachusetts, United States Senator, and Secretary of the United States Treasury.

" The only valuable kind of study," said Sydney Smith, " is to read so heartily that dinner-time comes two hours before you expected it; to sit with your Livy before you and hear the geese cackling that saved the Capitol, and to see with your own eyes the Carthaginian sutlers gathering up the rings of the Roman knights after the battle of Cannae, and heaping them into bushels, and to be so intimately present at the actions you are reading of, that when anybody knocks at the door it will take you two or three seconds to determine whether you are in your own study or on the plains of Lombardy, looking at Hannibal's weather-beaten face and admiring the splendor of his single eye."

Don't dally with your purpose.

“The one serviceable, safe, certain, remunerative, attainable quality in every study and pursuit is the quality of attention," said Charles Dickens. " My own invention, or imagination, such as it is, I can most truthfully assure you would never have served me as it has, but for the habit of commonplace, humble, patient, daily, toiling, drudging attention." When asked on another occasion the secret of his success, he said: " I never put one hand to anything on which I could throw my whole self." "Be a whole man at everything," wrote Joseph Gurney to his son, "a whole man at study, in work, in play."

" I go at what I am about," said Charles Kingsley, "as if there was nothing else in the world for the time being. That's the secret of all hard-working men; but most of them can't carry it into their amusements."

Many a man fails to become a great man by splitting into several small ones, choosing to be a tolerable Jack of-all-trades rather than to be an unrivaled specialist. Such people produce admiration but not conviction.

"Many persons seeing me so much engaged in active life," said Edward Bulwer Lytton, "and as much about the world as if I had never been a student, have said to me, ' When do you get time to write all your books ? How on earth do you contrive to do so much work ?' I shall surprise you by the answer I made. The answer is this -' I contrive to do so much by never doing too much at a time. A man to get through work well must not overwork himself; or, if he do too much today, the reaction of fatigue will come, and he will be obliged to do too little tomorrow. Now, since I began really and earnestly to study, which was not till I had left college, and was actually in the world, I may perhaps say that I have gone through as large a course of general reading as most men of my time. I have traveled much and I have seen much; I have mixed much in politics, and in the various business of life; and in addition to all this, I have published somewhere about sixty volumes, some upon subjects requiring much special research. And what time do you think, as a general rule, I have devoted to study, to reading and writing ? Not more than three hours a day; and, when Parliament is sitting, not always that. But then, during these three hours, I have given my whole attention to what I was about." '

S.T. Coleridge possessed marvelous powers of mind, but he had no definite purpose; he lived in an atmosphere of mental dissipation which consumed his energy, exhausted his stamina, and his life was in many respects a miserable failure. He lived in dreams and died in reverie. He was continually forming plans and resolutions, but to the day of his death they remained resolutions and plans. He was always just going to do something, but never did it. “Coleridge is dead,", wrote Charles Lamb to a friend, "and is said to have left behind him above forty thousand treatises on metaphysics and divinity-not one of them complete!"

Every great man has become great, every successful man has succeeded, in proportion as he has confined his powers to one particular channel. Hogarth would rivet his attention upon a face and study it until it was photographed upon his memory, when he could reproduce it at will. He studied and examined each object as eagerly as though he would never have a chance to see it again, and this habit of close observation enabled him to develop his work with marvelous detail. The very modes of thought of the time in which he lived were reflected from his works. He was not a man of great education or culture except in his power of observation.

Great men who have written books in prison know the value of concentrated observation. The slightest circumstance, as the appearance of a visitor, the passing of an officer or prisoner by the door of the cell, would be seized and utilized as though it were the last thing to be seen for a year.

With an immense procession passing up Broadway, the streets lined with people, and bands playing lustily, Horace Greeley would sit upon the steps of the Astor House, use the top of his hat for a desk, and write an editorial for the "New York Tribune" which would be quoted far and wide.

Offended by a pungent article, a gentleman called at the " Tribune " office and inquired for the editor. He was shown into a little seven-by-nine sanctum, where Greeley sat, with his head close down to his paper, scribbling away at a two-forty rate. The angry man began by asking if this was Mr. Greeley. "Yes, sir; what do you want?" said the editor quickly, without once looking up from his paper. The irate visitor then began using his tongue, with no reference to the rules of propriety, good breeding, or reason. Meantime Mr.Greeley continued to write. Page after page was dashed on in the most impetuous style, with no change, of features, and without paying the slightest attention to the visitor. Finally, after about twenty minutes of the most impassioned scolding ever poured out in an editor's office, the angry man became disgusted, and abruptly turned to walk out of the room. Then, for the first time, Mr. Greeley quickly looked up, rose from his chair, and slapping the gentleman familiarly on his shoulder, in a pleasant tone of voice said: "Don't go, friend; sit down, sit down, and free your mind; it will do you good, - you will feel better for it. Besides, it helps me to think what I am to write about. Don't go." One unwavering aim has ever characterized successful men.

" I resolved, when I began to read law," said Edward Sugden, afterwards Lord St. Leonard, "to make everything I acquired perfectly my own, and never go on to a second reading till I had entirely accomplished the first. Many of the competitors read as much in a day as I did in a week; but at the end of twelve months my knowledge was as fresh as on' the day it was acquired, while theirs had glided away from their recollection."

" See a great lawyer like Rufus Choate," says Dr. Storrs, "in a case where his convictions are strong and his feelings are enlisted. He saw long ago, as he glanced over the box, that five of those in it were sympathetic with him; as he went on he became equally certain of seven; the number now has risen to ten; but two are still left whom he feels that he has not persuaded or mastered. Upon them he now concentrates his power, summing up the facts, setting forth anew and more forcibly the principles, urging upon them his view of the case with a more and more intense action of his mind upon theirs, until one only is left. Like the blow of a hammer, continually repeated until the iron bar crumbles beneath it, his whole force comes with ceaseless percussion on that one mind till it has yielded, and accepts the conviction on which the pleader's purpose is fixed. Men say afterward, 'He surpassed himself.' It was only because the singleness of his aim gave unity, intensity, and overpowering energy to the mind."

"Daniel Webster," said Sydney Smith, "struck me much like a steam-engine in trousers."

As Adams suggests, Lord Brougham, like Canning, had too many talents; and, though as a lawyer he gained the most splendid prize of his profession, the Lord Chancellorship of England, and merited the applause of scientific men for his investigations in science, yet his life on the whole was a failure. He was " everything by turns and nothing long." With all his magnificent abilities he left no permanent mark on history or literature, and actually outlived his own fame.

Miss Martineau says, "Lord Brougham was at his chateau at Cannes when the daguerreotype process first came into vogue. An artist undertook to take a view of the chateau with a group of guests on the balcony. He asked His Lordship to keep perfectly still for five seconds, and he promised that he would not stir, but alas, - he moved. The consequence was that where Lord Brougham should have been there was only a blur. So stands the view to this hour.

"There is something," remarks Miss Martineau, "very typical in this. In the picture of our century, as taken from the life by history, this very man should have been the central figure. But, owing to his want of steadfastness, there will be forever a blur where Lord Brougham should have been. How many lives are blurs for want of concentration and steadfastness of purpose."

What a contrast is afforded by the unwavering aim of William Pitt, who lived, ay, and died for the sake of political supremacy. Everything yielded to his lofty aim. He neglected everything else, was careless of his friends and expenditures, so that even with an income of 910,000 a year, and no family, he died hopelessly in debt. He tore by the roots from his heart a love most deep and tender, because it ran counter to his ambition. He was totally indifferent to posthumous fame, so that he did not take pains to transmit to posterity a single one of his speeches. He bent all his energies to the acquisition of power, and wielded the sceptre of England for a quarter of a century. There was no turning to the right or left. He went straight to his goal. There was "no dreaming away time or building air castles; but one look and purpose, forward, onward, and upward, straight to success."

Fowell Buxton attributed his success to ordinary means and extraordinary application, and being a whole man to one thing at a time. It is ever the unwavering pursuit of a single aim that wins. "Non multa, sed multum" - not many things, but much, was Coke's motto.

It is the almost invisible point of a needle, the keen, slender edge of a razor or an age, that opens the way for the huge bulk that follows. Without point or edge the bulk would be useless. It is the man of one line of work, the sharp-edged man, who cuts his way through obstacles, and achieves brilliant success. While we should shun that narrow devotion to one idea which prevents the harmonious development of our powers, we should avoid on the other hand the extreme versatility of one of whom W. M. Praed says: -

His talk is like a stream which runs With rapid change from rocks to roses, It slips from politics to puns, It glides from Mahomet to Moses; Beginning with the laws that keep The planets in their radiant courses, And ending with some precept deep For skinning eels or shoeing horses.

If you can get a child learning to walk to fix his eyes on any object, he will generally navigate to that point without capsizing, but distract his attention and down goes the baby.

He who vacillates in his course, "yawing," as sailors say, first this way, then that, is, pretty sure to be cast away before he has half finished the voyage of life. Weathercock men are nature's failures. No one can succeed who has not a fixed and resolute purpose in his mind, and an unwavering faith that he can accomplish his purpose. One little hair's-breadth above or below a direct aim, and a man has begun his downward course.

“When I have once taken a resolution," said Cardinal Richelieu, "I go straight to my aim; I overthrow all, I cut down all."

The young man seeking a position today is not asked what college he came from or who his ancestors were, but " What can you do ?" is the great question. It is special training that is wanted. Most of the men at the head of great firms and great enterprises have been promoted step by step from the bottom.

"Beware of making a purchase there," said an eminent Frenchman to one who wished to buy land and settle in a certain district; "I know the men of that department; the pupils who come from it to our veterinary school at Paris do not strike hard upon the anvil; they want energy, and you will not get a satisfactory return on any capital you may invest there."

By exercising this art of concentration in a higher degree than did his brother generals, Grant was able to bring the Civil War to a speedy termination. This trait was strongly marked in the character of Washington. One way of acquiring the power of concentration is by close, accurate observation. This was the main factor in Darwin's wonderful success.

"I know that he can toil terribly," said Cecil of Walter Raleigh, in explanation of the latter's success.

As a rule, what the heart longs for the head and the hands may attain. The currents of knowledge, of wealth, of success, are as certain and fixed as the tides of the sea. In all great successes we can trace the power of concentration, riveting every faculty upon one unwavering aim; perseverance in the pursuit of an undertaking in spite of every difficulty; and courage which enables one to bear up under all trials, disappointments, and temptations.

Chemists tell us that there is power enough in a single acre of grass to drive all the mills and steam-cars in the world, could we but concentrate it upon the piston-rod of the steam-engine. But it is at rest, this acre of grass, and so, in the light of science, it is comparatively valueless.

What a great discrepancy there is between men and the results they achieve! It is due to the difference in their power of calling together all the rays of their ability, and concentrating them upon one point. Such a power will find a way, or make one.

A versatile man is usually a smatterer. Dr. Mathews says that the man who scatters himself upon many objects soon loses his energy, and with his energy his enthusiasm, adding, “and how is success possible without enthusiasm?" Dr. J. W. Alexander thus exhorted young ministers: "Live for your sermon-live in your sermon. Get some starling to cry Sermon, sermon, sermon." Rufus Choate advised young lawyers to "carry the jury at all hazards; move heaven and earth to carry the jury, and then fight it out with the judges on the law questions as best you can." Commodore Macdonough on Lake Champlain concentrated the fire of all his vessels upon the "big ship" of Downie, regardless of the fact that the other British ships were all hurling cannon-balls at his little fleet. The guns of the big ship were silenced, and then the others were taken care of easily. William Wirt wrote of a former Chief Justice of the United States: "There is John Marshall, whose mind seems to be little less than a mountain of barren and stupendous rocks, - an inexhaustible quarry from which he draws his materials and builds his fabrics, rude and Gothic, but of such strength that neither time nor force can beat them down; a fellow who would not turn off a single step from the right line of his argument though a paradise should rise to tempt him."

"Never study on speculation," says Waters; " all such study is vain. Form a plan; have an object; then work for it; learn all you can about it, and you will be sure to succeed. What I mean by studying on speculation is that aimless learning of things because they may be useful some day; which is like the conduct of the woman who bought at auction a brass door-plate with the name of Thompson on it, thinking it might be useful some day !"

Definiteness of aim is characteristic of all true art. He is not the greatest painter who crowds the greatest number of ideas upon a single canvas, giving all the figures equal prominence. He is the genuine artist who makes the greatest variety express the greatest unity, who develops the leading idea in the central figure, and makes all the subordinate figures, lights, and shades point to that centre and. find expression there. So in every well-balanced life, no matter how versatile in endowments, or how broad in culture, there is one grand central purpose, in which , all the subordinate powers of the soul are brought to a focus, and where they will find fit expression.

In nature we see no waste of energy, nothing left to chance. Since the shuttle of creation shot for the first time through chaos, design has marked the course of every golden thread. Every leaf, every flower, every crystal, every atom, even, has a purpose stamped upon it which unmistakably points to the crowning summit of all creation - man.

Young men are often told to aim high, but we must aim at what we would hit. He who cannot see an angel in the rough marble can never call it out with mallet and chisel. No, a general purpose is not enough. The arrow shot from the bow does not wander around to see what it can hit on its way, but flies straight to the mark. The magnetic needle does not point to at the lights in the heavens to see which it likes best. They all attract it. The sun, dazzles, the meteor beckons, the stars twinkle to it, and try to win its affections ; but the needle, true to its instinct, and with a finger that never errs in sunshine or in storm, points steadily to the North Star; for, while all the other stars must course with untiring tread around their great centres through all the ages, the North Star, alone, distant beyond human comprehension, moves with stately sweep on its circuit of more than 25,000 years, for all practical purposes of man, stationary, not only for a day but for a century. So all along the path of life other luminaries will beckon to lead us from our cherished aim-from the course of truth and duty; but let no moons which shine with borrowed light, no meteors which dazzle but never guide, turn the needle of our purpose from the North Star of its hope.

JOHN QUINCY ADAMS Promptness takes the drudgery out of an occupation." The mill can never grind with the water that has passed


Syndicate content