Young man, your success or your failure, your weal or woe of life will hang largely in the
manner in which you treat these two words.
Rev. G. S. Weaver says: "The word luck is suggestive of a want of law." This idea has passed into
many common proverbs, such as these: "It is more by hit than good wit;" "It is as well to be
born lucky as rich;" "Fortune is a fickle jade;" "Risk nothing, win nothing;" and more of a
similar import, all ignoring the grand rule of law and resting upon the atheistical idea of chance.
Our fathers were good, religious people, and did not mean to foster atheism when they talked
about luck, and gave a half-way assent to its Godless reality. If the universe were an infinite
chaos; if order had not throne in its wide realm; if universal law were a fable of fancy; if God
were a Babel, or the world a Pandemonium, there might be such a thing as luck. But while from
the particle to the globe, from the animalcule to the archangel, there is not a being or a thing, a
time or an event, disconnected with the great government of eternal law and order, we cannot
see how such a game of chance as the word luck supposes can be admitted into any corner of the
great world. Luck! What is it? A lottery? A hap-hazard? A frolic of gnomes? A blind-man's-bluff
among the laws? A ruse among the elements? A trick of dame nature? Has any scholar defined
luck, any philosopher explained its nature, any chemist shone us its elements? Is luck that
strange, nondescript unmateriality that does all things among men that they cannot account for?
If so, why does not luck make a fool speak words of wisdom? an ignoramus utter lectures on
philosophy; a stupid dolt write the great works of music and poetry; a double-fingered dummy
create the beauties of art, or an untutored savage the wonders of mechanism?
If we should go into a country where the sluggard's farm was covered with the richest grains
and fruits, and where industry was rewarded only with weeds and brambles; where the
drunkard looked sleek and beautiful, and his home cheerful and happy, while temperance wore
the haggard face and ate the bread of want and misery; where labor starved, while idleness was
fed and grew fat; where common sense was put upon the pillory, while twaddle and moonshine
were raised to distinction; where genius lay in the gutter and ignorance soared to the skies;
where virtue was incarcerated in prison, while vice was courted and wooed by the sunlight, we
might possibly be led to believe that luck had something to do there. But where we see, as we
everywhere do in our world, the rewards of industry, energy, wisdom and virtue constant as the
warmth in sunlight or beauty in flowers, we must deny in toto the very existence of this good and
evil essence which men have called luck.
Was it luck that gave Girard and Astor, Rothschild and Gray their vast wealth? Was it luck that
won victories for Washington, Wellington, and Napoleon? Was it luck that carved Venus de'
Medici, that wrote the "Aeneid," "Paradise Lost," and Festus?" Was it luck that gave Morse his
telegraph, or Fulton his steamboat, or Franklin the lightning for his plaything? Is it luck that
gives the merchant his business, the lawyer his clients, the minister his hearers, the physician his
patients, the mechanic his labor, the farmer his harvest? Nay, verily , No man believes it. And
yet many are the men who dream of luck, as though such a mysterious spirit existed, and did
sometimes humor the whims of visionary cowards and drones.
Many are the young men who waste the best part of their lives in attempts to woo this coy maid
into their embraces. They enter into this, or that, or the other speculation, with the dreamy hope
that luck will pay them a smiling visit. Some go to California, or Australia, or the "Far West,"
or to the torrid or the frigid zone, or some wondrous away-off place, with no fair prospect or
hope of success from their own energies and exertions, but depending almost wholly on a gentle
smile from capricious luck. Poor fellows! they find that luck does not get so far from home.
Some, less daring and more lazy, loiter about home, drawl around town, or loll through the
country. Their only trust or expectation is in a shuffle of luck in their favor. They know they
deserve nothing, yet, with an impudence hard as brass, they will pray to luck for a "windfall,"
or a "fat office," or a "living," and foolishly wait for an answer. These are the men who make
your gamblers, your horse-thieves, your counterfeiters, your gentleman-loafers. They are not
men who originally meant any harm. But they believe in luck, and their trust is in luck, and they
are going to have it out of luck some way. They despised meanness at first, perhaps, as much as
you and we do; but somebody told them of luck, and they believed, and lo! they got duped. Little
by little they went over to meanness, waiting all the wile for a shake of the hand from luck.
Some of the believers in luck of more moral firmness, dally with all life's great duties, and so do
about the same as nothing, and eat the bread of disappointment. They do a little at this business,
and luck does not smile. They do a little at that, and still luck keeps away. They do a little at
something else, they hear not a foot-fall from luck. And so they fritter away time and life. These
are the do-littles. Hard-working men they are frequently. It is with them as though they had
started to go to a place a thousand miles distant, leading to which there were many roads. They
set out at full speed on one road, go a few miles, and get tired, and so conclude to turn back and
try another. And so they try one road after another, each time returning to the starting-place. In
a little while it is too late to get there at the appointed time, and so they mope along any road
they happen to be on till the day is over.
They crave a good they do not earn; they pray to luck to give what does not belong to them;
their whole inward life is a constant craving wish for something to which they have no just
claim. It is a morbid, feverish covetousness, which is very apt to end in the conclusion, "The
world owes me a living, and a living I'll have," and so they go out to get a living as best they may.
They fancy that every rich and honored man has got his good by some turn of luck, and hence
they feel that he has no special right to his property or his honors, and so they will get either
from him if they can. They look upon the world, not as a great hive of industry, where men are
rewarded according to their labors and merits, but as a grand lottery, a magnificent scheme of
chance, in which fools and idlers have as fair a show as talent and labor.
In our humble opinion, this philosophy of luck is at the bottom of more dishonesty, wickedness,
and moral corruption than anything else. It sows its seeds in youthful minds just at that
visionary season when judgment has not been ripened by experience nor imagination corrected
by wisdom. And it takes more minds from the great school-house of useful life, and more arms
from the great workshop of human industry, than any other one thing to which our mind
reverts. It is a moral palsy, against which every just man should arm himself. The cure of the evil
is found in pluck.
It is not luck, but pluck, which weavers the web of life; it is not luck, but pluck, which turns the
wheel of fortune. It is pluck that amasses wealth, that crowns men with honors, that forges the
luxuries of life. We use the term pluck as synonymous with whole-hearted energy, genuine
bravery of soul.
That man is to be pitied who is too fearful and cowardly to go out and do battle for an honest
living and a competence in the great field of human exertion. He is the man of luck, bad luck.
Poor fellow! He lost his luck when he lost his pluck. Good pluck is good luck. Bad pluck is bad
luck. Many a man has lost his luck, but never while he had good pluck left. Men lose their luck
by letting their energies leak out through bad habits and unwise projects. One man loses his
luck in his late morning naps, another in his late evening hours. One loses his luck in the
bar-room, another in the ball-room; one down by the river holding the boyish fishing-rod,
another in the woods chasing down the innocent squirrel. One loses his luck in folly, one in
fashion, one in idleness, one in high living, one in dishonesty, one in brawls, one in sensualism,
and a great many in bad management. Indeed, bad management is at the bottom of nearly all
bad luck. It is bad management to drink liquor, and eat tobacco, and smoke, and swear, and
tattle, and visit soda-fountains, and cream saloons, and theatres, and brothels, and live high, and
chase after the fashions, and fret and scold, and get angry, and abuse people, and mind other
people's business and neglect one's own. It is bad management to expose one's health or overtax
one's powers, and get sick, and take drugs to get well; to be idle or extravagant, or mean or
dishonest. All these things tend to bring that evil genius which men call bad luck.
Indeed, there is hardly a word in the vocabulary which is more cruelly abused than the word
"luck." To all the faults and failures of men, their positive sins and their less culpable
short-comings, it is made to stand a godfather and sponsor. We are all Micawbers at heart,
fancying that "something" will one day "turn up" for our good, for which we have never striven.
An unskillful commander sometimes wins a victory; and again a famous warrior finds himself,
"after a hundred victories, foiled." Some of the skillfulest sea-captains lose every ship they sail
in; others, less experienced, never lose a spar. Some men's houses take fire an hour after the
insurance expires; others never insure, and never are burned out. Some of the shrewdest men,
with indefatigable industry and the closest economy, fail to make money; others, with
apparently none of the qualities that insure success, are continually blundering into profitable
speculations, and Midas-like, touch nothing but it turns to gold. Beau Brummell, with his lucky
sixpence in his pocket, wins at every gaming-table, and bags 40,000 Lyra in the clubs of London
So powerfully does fortune appear to sway the destinies of men, putting a silver spoon into one
man's mouth, and a wooden one into another's, that some of the most sagacious of men, as
Cardinal Mazarin and Rothschild, seem to have been inclined to regard luck as the first element
of worldly success; experience, sagacity, energy, and enterprise as nothing, if linked to an
unlucky star. Whittington, and his cat that proved such a source of riches; the man who, worn
out by a painful disorder, attempted suicide, and was cured by opening an internal imposthume;
the Persian, condemned to lose his tongue, on whom the operation was so bunglingly performed
that it merely removed an impediment in his speech; the painter who produced an effect he had
long toiled after in vain, by throwing his brush at the picture in a fit of rage and despair; the
musical composer, who, having exhausted his patience in attempts to imitate on the piano a
storm at sea, accomplished the precise result by angrily extending his hands to the two
extremities of the keys, and bringing them rapidly together - all these seem to many fit types of
the freaks of fortune by which some men are enriched or made famous by their blunders, while
others, with ten times the capacity and knowledge, are kept at the bottom of her wheel. Hence
we see thousands fold their arms and look with indifference on the great play of life, keeping
aloof from its finest and therefore most arduous struggles, because they believe that success is a
matter of accident, and that they may spend their heart's choicest blood and affection on noble
ends, yet be balked of victory, cheated of any just returns. Really "lucky fellows" there have
always been in the world; but in a great majority of cases they who are called such will be found
on examination to be those keen-sighted men who have surveyed the world with a scrutinizing
eye, and who to clear and exact ideas of what is necessary to be done unite the skill necessary to
execute their well-approved plans.
At first, in our admiration of the man who stands upon the topmost round of the ladder of fame,
we are apt to mistake the way in which he got there. Our eyes are weary with gazing up, and
dazzled by the brilliant light; and we fancy that God must have let him down out of heaven for
us; never thinking that he may have clambered up, round after round, through the mists which
shroud the base of that ladder, while all the world, in its heedlessness, was looking another way.
Then, when we come to know better, we are content to lie prostrate at the foot of our ladder, as
Jacob slept beneath his, dreaming that they are angels whom we see ascending, and believing
they ascend by heaven-born genius, or some miraculous way, not by pluck.
A better solution is that which explains the phenomena of eminent success by industry. Clearly,
the industrious use of ordinary tools, whether mechanical or intellectual, will accomplish far
more than the mere possession of the most perfectly appointed toolchest that was ever contrived.
This is especially true of the mind, whose powers improve with use. When we reflect how the
sharp wit-blade grows keener in often cutting, how the logic-hammer swells into a perfect sledge
in long striking, how all our mental tools gain strength and edge in severe employment, we shall
see that it is but a poor question to ask concerning success in life, "What tools had you?" - that a
better question is, "How have you used your tools?"
One who thus educates himself up to success is often contented to labor a long while in a very
humble sphere. He knows too much, indeed, to abandon one position before his powers for a
higher one are fully ripe; for he has observed that they who leap too rapidly from one of life's
stepping-stones to another, are more likely to lose their footing than to improve it. Very often,
therefore, one who possesses this character grows up to complete manhood before his neighbors
take him out of his cradle. In some Western parish, in some country practice, or at the head of
some district school, he labors quietly for years and years, gathering a secret strength from
every occurrence of his life, unnoticed, unknown, until at last the crisis of opportunity arrives ---
to every man such opportunity some time comes --- and he starts forth, armed and equipped,
thoroughly built from head to foot; there is bone for strength, and stout muscle for movement,
and society around is astonished to find that it contained such a power, and knew it not. This
rise of an individual, thus trained, is sometimes surprising in its suddenness. To the vision of
mankind around, he seems to shoot up like a rocket; and they gaze, and wonder, and glorify the
power of genius. Whereas he grew, grew by a slow, steady, natural process of growth, available
to all men. He grew, however, under cover; and it was not until circumstances threw the cover
off him, that we saw to what stature he had attained.
It is by the exercise of this forward-reaching industry that men attain eminence in intellectual
life. The lives of eminent men of all nations determine, by a vote almost overwhelming, that
whatever may have been their native powers, they did not attain their ultimate success without
the most arduous, well-directed, life-lasting labor for self-improvement.
Idleness is death; activity is life. The worker is the hero. Luck likes in labor. This is the end.
And labor the fruit of pluck. Luck and pluck, then, meet in labor. Pleasure blossoms on the tree
of labor. Wisdom is its fruit. Thrones are built on labor. Kingdoms stand by its steady props.
Homes are made by labor. Every man of pluck will make him one and fill it with the fruits of
industry. In doing this he will find no time to wait for, or complain of, luck.
Luck and Pluck
The Royal Path of Life - Aims and Aids to Success and Happiness - 1882 by T.L. Haines & L.W. Yaggy