Nothing that is of real worth can be achieved without courageous working. Man owes his
growth chiefly to that active striving of the will, that encounter with difficulty, which we call
effort, and it is astonishing to find how often results apparently impracticable are thus made
possible. An intense anticipation itself transforms possibility into reality; our desires being
often but the precursors of the things which we are capable of performing. On the contrary,
the timid and hesitating find everything impossible, chiefly because it seems so. It is related of
a young French officer that he used to walk about his apartment exclaiming, "I will be
marshal of France and a great general." This ardent desire was the presentiment of his
success; for he did become a distinguished commander, and he died a marshal of France.
Courage, by keeping the senses quiet and the understanding clear, puts us in a condition to
receive true intelligence, to make just computations upon danger, and pronounce rightly
upon that which threatens us. Innocence of life, consciousness of worth, and great
expectations are the best foundations of courage.
True courage is the result of reasoning. A brave mind is always impregnable. Resolution lies
more in the head than in the veins; and a just sense of honor and of infamy, of duty and of
religion, will carry us further than all the force of mechanism.
To believe a business impossible is the way to make it so. How many feasible projects have
miscarried through despondency, and been strangled in the birth by a cowardly imagination.
It is better to meet danger than to wait for it. A ship on a lee shore stands out to sea in a
storm to escape shipwreck. Impossibilities, like vicious dogs, fly before him who is not afraid
of them. Should misfortune overtake, retrench - work harder - but never fly the track -
confront difficulties with unflinching perseverance. Should you then fail, you will be honored;
but shrink, and you will be despised. When you put your hands to a work, let the fact of your
doing so constitute the evidence that you mean to prosecute it to the end. Stand like a beaten
anvil. It is the part of a great champion to be stricken and conquer.
"Trouble's darkest hour
Shall not make me cower
To the scepter's power --
Never, never, never.
"Then up my soul, and brace thee,
While the perils face thee;
In thyself encase thee
Manfully for ever.
"Storms may howl around thee,
Foes may hunt and hound thee:
Shall they overpower thee?
Never, never, never."
Courage, like cowardice is undoubtedly contagious, but some persons are not at all liable to
catch it. The attention of restless and fickle men turns to no account; poverty overtakes them
whilst they are flying so many different ways to escape it. What is called courage is oftentimes
nothing more than the fear of being thought a coward. The reverence that restrains us from
violating the laws of God or man is not unfrequently branded with the name of cowardice.
The Spartans has a saying, that he who stood most in fear of the law generally showed the
least fear of an enemy. And we may infer the truth of this from the reverse of the proposition,
for daily experience shows us that they who are the most daring in a bad cause are often the
most pusillanimous in a good one.
Plutarch says courage consists not in hazarding without fear, but by being resolute in a just
cause. An officer, after a very severe battle, on being complimented on standing his ground
firmly, under a terrible fire, replied, "Ah, if you knew how I was frightened, you would
compliment me more still." It is not the stolid man, or the reckless man, who exhibits the
noblest bravery in the great battle of life, It is the man whose nerves and conscience are all
alive; who looks before and behind; who weighs well all the probabilities of success or defeat,
and is determined to stand his ground. There is another fine anecdote apropos to this subject:
A phrenologist examining the head of the Duke of Wellington, said, "Your grace has not the
organ of animal courage largely developed." "You are right," replied the great man, "and
but for my sense of duty I should have retreated in my first fight." This first fight, in India,
was one of the most terrible on record. O, that word "duty!" What is animal courage
compared with it? Duty can create that courage, or its equivalent, but that courage never can
create duty. The Duke of Wellington saw a man turn pale as he marched up to a battery.
"That is a brave man," said he, "he knows his danger and faces it."
To led the forlorn hope in the field of courage requires less nerve than to fight nobly and
unshrinkingly the bloodless battle of life. To bear evil speaking and illiterate judgment with
equanimity, is the highest bravery. It is, in fact, the repose of mental courage.
Physical courage, which despises all danger, will make a man brave in one way; and moral
courage, which despises all opinion, will make a man brave in another. The former would
seem most necessary for the camp, the latter for council; but to constitute a great man, both
No one can tell who the heroes are, and who the cowards, until some crisis comes to put us to
the test. And no crisis puts us to the test that does not bring us up alone and single-handed to
face danger. It is nothing to make a rush with the multitude even into the jaws of destruction.
Sheep will do that. Armies might be picked from the gutter, and marched up to make food for
powder. But when some crisis singles one out from the multitude, pointing at him the
particular finger of fate, and telling him, "Stand or run," and he faces about with steady
nerve, with nobody else to stand behind, we may be sure the hero stuff is in him. When such a
crisis comes, the true courage is just as likely to be found in people of shrinking nerves, or in
weak and timid women, as in great burly people. It is a moral, not a physical trait. Its seat is
not in the temperament, but the will. How courageous Peter was, and all those square-built
fishermen of the sea of Galilee, at the Last Supper, and in the garden of Gethsemane, where
Peter drew his sword and smote the officer! But when Christ looked down from his cross,
whom did he see standing in that focus of Jewish rage? None of those stout fishermen, but a
young man and a tender-hearted woman - John and Mary.
A good cause makes a courageous heart. They that fear an overthrow are half conquered. To
be valorous is not always to be venturous. A warm heart requires a cool head.
Though the occasions of high heroic daring seldom occur but in the history of the great, the
less obtrusive opportunities for the exertion of private energy are continually offering
themselves. With these, domestic scenes as much abound as does the tented field. Pain may be
as firmly endured in the lonely chamber as amid the din of arms. Difficulties can be manfully
combated; misfortunes bravely sustained; poverty nobly supported; disappointments
courageously encountered. Thus courage diffuses a wide and succoring influence, and
bestows energy apportioned to the trial. It takes from calamity its dejecting quality, and
enables the soul to possess itself under every vicissitude. It rescues the unhappy from
degradation, and the feeble from contempt.
Courage, like every other emotion, however laudable in its pure form, may be allowed to
degenerate into a faulty extreme. Thus rashness, too often assuming the name of courage, has
no pretensions to its merit. For rashness urges to useless and impossible efforts, and thus
produces a waste of vigor and spirit, that, properly restrained and well directed, would have
achieved deeds worthy to be achieved. Rashness is the exuberance of courage, and ought to be
checked, as we prune off the useless though vigorous shoots of shrubs and trees.
The Royal Path of Life - Aims and Aids to Success and Happiness - 1882 by T.L. Haines & L.W. Yaggy