How to Attain
by T. S. Arthur
My voice shall yet be heard in those halls! said a young man, whom
we will call James Abercrombie, to his friend Harvey Nelson, as the two
walked slowly, arm in arm, through the beautiful grounds of the Capitol
Your ambition rises, Nelson replied, with a smile. A seat in our
State Legislature was, at one time, your highest aim.
Yes. But as we ascend the mountain, our prospect becomes enlarged.
Why should I limit my hopes to any halfway position, when I have only
to resolve that I will reach the highest point? I feel, Harvey, that I
have within me the power to do any thing that I choose. And I am
resolved that the world shall know me as one of its great men.
[Illustration: A TALK ABOUT THE FUTURE. Page 39.]
Some, if they were to hear you speak thus, James, might smile at
what they would consider a weak and vain assumption. But I know that
you have a mind capable of accomplishing great things; that you have
only to use the means, and take an elevated position as the natural
result. Still I must say, that I do not like the spirit in which you
speak of these things.
You seem to desire an elevated station more for the glory of
filling it, than for the enlarged sphere of usefulness that it must
necessarily open to you.
I do not think, Harvey, his friend replied, that I am influenced
by the mere glory of greatness to press forward. There is something too
unsubstantial in that. Look at the advantages that must result to me if
I attain a high place.
In either case, I cannot fully approve your motive.
Then, from what motive would you have me act, Harvey? I am sure
that I know of none other sufficiently strong to urge me into activity.
Both of these have their influence; and, in combination, form the
impulse that gives life to my resolutions.
There is a much higher, and purer, and more powerful motive, James.
A motive to which I have just alluded.
What is that?
The end of being useful to our fellow-men.
You may act from that motive, if you can, Harvey, but I shall not
attempt the vain task. It is too high and pure for me.
Do not say so. We may attain high motives of action, as well as
attain, by great intellectual efforts, high positions in the world.
It is a moral law, that any peculiar tendency or quality of the
mind grows stronger by indulgence. The converse of the proposition is,
of course, true also. You feel, then, that your motives of action are
selfishthat they regard your own elevation and honour as first, and
good to your neighbour as only secondary. Now, by opposing instead of
indulging this propensity to make all things minister to self, it must
grow weaker, as a natural consequence. Is not that clear?
Why, yes, I believe it is; or at least, the inference is a logical
one, though I must confess that I do not see it as an unquestionable
That is because your natural feelings are altogether opposed to
Perhaps sofor undoubtedly they are. I cannot see any thing so
very desirable in the motive of which you speak, that I should seek to
act from it. There is something tame in the idea of striving only to do
good to others.
It really pains me to hear you say so, the friend replied in a
serious tone. But now that we are on this subject, you must pardon me
if I attempt to make you see in a rational light the truth that it is a
much nobler effort to do good to others, than to seek only our own
Well, go on.
You have, doubtless, heard the term 'God-like' used, as indicating
a high degree of excellence in some individual, who has stood
prominently before the eyes of his fellow-men?
And to your mind it is no doubt clear, that the nearer we can
approach the character of the Divine Being, the higher will be the
position that we attain?
And that the purest motives from which we can act, are an approach
toward those from which we see Him acting.
Now, so far as we can judge of His motives of action, as exhibited
in His Word and in His Works, do we see a desire manifested to promote
His own glory, or to do good to His creatures, and make them happy?
Well, I cannot say, at this moment, for I have not thought upon the
Suppose, then, we think of it now. It is certainly worth a little
serious attention. And first, let us refer to His Word, in which we
shall certainly find a transcript of his character. In that, we
perceive a constant reference to his nature as being, in one of its
principal constituents, love. Not love of himself, but love
going out in the desire to benefit His creatures. And His wisdom, which
infinitely transcends that of man, is ever active in devising means
whereby to render those creatures happy. And not only is His love ever
burning with the desire to do good to His creatures, and His wisdom
ever devising the best means for this end, but His divine love and His
divine wisdom unite in divine activity, producing all that is required
to give true happiness to all. In all parts of His Word we discover
evidences of the strongest character, which go to prove that such is
the nature and activity of the Lord. There could have been no seeking
of His own glory, when he assumed a material body, and an infirm human
principle, in which were direful hereditary evils, that he might redeem
man from the corruptions of his own fallen nature, and from the
influence and power of hell. Little glory was ascribed to him by the
wicked men who persecuted him, and condemned him, and finally put him
to death. But he sought not His own glory. In his works, how clearly
displayed is His divine benevolence! I need only direct your thoughts
to nature. I need only refer you to the fact that the Lord causes the
sun to shine upon the evil and the good, and the rain to fall alike
upon the just and the unjust. Even upon those who oppose His laws, and
despise and hate his precepts, does He pour down streams of perpetual
blessings. How unlike manselfish, vain manever seeking his own
You draw a strong picture, Harvey, the friend said.
But is it not a true one?
Very well. Now if we are seeking to be truly great, let us imitate
Him who made us and all the glorious things by which we are surrounded.
He that would be chief among you, said the Lord to his disciples, let
him be your servant. Even He washed his disciples' feet.
Yes, but Harvey, I do not profess to be governed by religious
principle. I only account myself a moral man.
But there cannot be any true morality without religion.
That is a new doctrine.
I think not. It seems to me to be as old as the Divine Word of God.
To be truly moral is to regard others as well as ourselves in all our
actions. And this we can never do apart from the potency and life of a
But what do you mean by a religious principle?
I mean a principle of pure love to the Lord, united with an
unselfish love to our neighbour, flowing out in a desire to do him
But no man can have these. It is impossible for any one to feel the
unselfish love of which you speak.
Of course it is, naturallyfor man is born into hereditary evils.
But if he truly desires to rise out of these evils into a higher and
better state, the Lord will be active in his effortsand in just so
far as he truly shuns evils as sins against him, looking to him all the
while for assistance, will he remove those evils from their central
position in his mind, and then the opposite good of those evils will
flow in to take their place, (for spiritually, as well as naturally,
there can be no vacuum,) and he will be a new man. Then, and only then,
can he begin to lead truly a moral life. Before, he may be externally
moral from mere external restraints; now, he becomes moral from an
internal principle. Do you apprehend the difference?
Yes, I believe that I do. But I must confess that I cannot see how
I am ever to act from the motives you propose. If I wait for them, I
shall stand still and do nothing.
Still, you can make the effort. Every thing must have a beginning.
Only let the germ be planted in your mind, and, like the seed that
seems so small and insignificant, it will soon exhibit signs of life,
and presently shoot up, and put forth its green leaves, and, if
fostered, give a permanent strength that will be superior to the power
of every tempest of evil principles that may rage against it.
Your reasonings and analogies are very beautiful, and no doubt
true, but I cannot feel their force, James Abercrombie said,
with something in his tone and manner so like a distaste for the whole
subject, that his friend felt unwilling to press it further upon his
The two young men here introduced had just graduated at one of our
first literary institutions, and were about selecting professions. But
in doing so, their acknowledged motives were, as may be gathered from
what has gone before, very different. The one avowed a determination to
be what he called a great man, that he might have the glory of
greatness. The other tried to cherish a higher and better motive of
action. Abercrombie was not long in deciding upon a profession. His
choice was law. And the reason of his choice was, not that he might be
useful to his fellow-men, but because in the profession of law he could
come in contact with the great mass of the people in a way to make just
such an impression upon them as he wished. In the practice of law, too,
he could bring out his powers of oratory, and cultivate a habit of
public speaking. It would, in fact, be a school in which to prepare
himself for a broader sphere of action in the legislative halls of his
country; for, at no point below a seat in the national legislature, did
his ambition rest.
You have made your choice, I presume, before this, he said to his
friend Harvey, in allusion to this subject.
Indeed, I have not, was the reply. And I never felt so much at a
loss how to make a decision in my life.
Well, I should think that you might decide very readily. I found no
Then you have settled that matter?
Oh, certainly; the law is to be my sphere of actionor rather, my
stepping-stone to a higher place.
I cannot so easily decide the matter!
Why not? If you study law, you will rise, inevitably. And in this
profession, there is a much broader field of action for a man of
talent, than there is in any other profession.
Perhaps you are right. But the difficult question with me is'Can
I be as useful in it?'
Nonsense, Harvey! Do put away these foolish notions. If you don't,
they will be the ruin of you.
I hope not. But if they do, I shall be ruined in a good cause.
I am really afraid, Harvey, Abercrombie said in a serious tone,
that you affect these ultra sentiments, or are self-deceived. It is my
opinion that no man can act from such motives as you declare to be
I did not know that I had declared myself governed by such motives.
To say that, I know, would be saying too much, for I am painfully
conscious of the existence and activity of motives very opposite. But
what I mean to say is, that I am so clearly convinced that the motives
of which I speak are the true ones, that I will not permit myself to
come wholly under the influence of such as are opposite. And that is
why I find a difficulty in choosing a profession. If I would permit
myself to think only of rising in the world, for the sake of the
world's estimation, I should not hesitate long. But I am afraid of
confirming what I feel to be evil. And therefore it is that I am
resolved to compel myself to choose from purer ends.
Then you are no longer a free agent.
Because, in that kind of compulsion, you cease to act from
Is it right, James, for us to compel ourselves to do right when we
are inclined to do wrong? Certainly there is more freedom in being able
to resist evil, than in being bound by it hand and foot, so as to be
its passive slave.
You are a strange reasoner, Harvey.
If my conclusions are not rational, controvert them.
And have to talk for ever?
No doubt you would, James, to drive me from positions that are to
me as true as that the sun shines in heaven.
Exactly; and therefore it is useless to argue with you. But, to
drop that point of the subject, to what profession do you most
Then why not choose it?
Perhaps I shall. But I wish first to define with myself my own
position. I must understand truly upon what ground I stand, or I will
not move forward one inch.
Well, you must define your own position for yourself, for I don't
see that I can help you much. And there the subject was dropped.
It was some time before the debate in Harvey's mind was decided. His
predilections were all in favour of the lawbut in thinking of it,
ambition and purely selfish views would arise in his mind, and cause
him to hesitate, for he did not wish to act from them. At last he
decided to become a law student, with the acknowledgment to himself
that he had low and selfish motives in his mind, but with the
determination to oppose them and put them away whenever they should
arise into activity. Under this settled principle of action, he entered
upon the study of the profession he had chosen.
Thus, with two opposite leading motives did the young men commence
life. Let us see the result of these motives upon their characters and
success after the lapse of ten years. Let us see which is farthest on
the road to true greatness. Both, in an ardent and untiring devotion to
the duties of their profession, had already risen to a degree of
eminence, as lawyers, rarely attained under double the number of years
of patient toil. But there was a difference in the estimation in which
both were held by those who could discriminate. And this was apparent
in the character of the cases referred to them. A doubtful case,
involving serious considerations, was almost certain to be placed in
the hands of Abercrombie, for his acuteness and tact, and determination
to succeed at all hazards, if possible, made him a very desirable
advocate under these circumstances. Indeed, he often said that he would
rather have a bad cause to plead than a good one, for there was some
honour in success where every thing was against the case. On the
contrary, in the community where Harvey had settled, but few thought of
submitting to him a case that had not equity upon its side; and in such
a case, he was never known to fail. He did not seek to bewilder the
minds of a jury or of the court by sophistry, or to confuse a witness
by paltry tricks; but his course was straightforward and manly,
evolving the truth at every step with a clearness that made it apparent
It's all your fault, said an unsuccessful client to him one day in
an angry tone.
No, sir, it was the fault of your cause. It was a bad one.
But I should have gained it, if you had mystified that stupid
witness, as you could easily enough have done.
Perhaps I might; but I did not choose to do that.
It was your duty, sir, as an advocate, to use every possible means
to gain the cause of your client.
Not dishonest means, remember. Bring me a good cause, and I will do
you justice. But when you place me in a position where success can only
be had in the violation of another's rights, I will always regard
justice first. Right and honour have the first claims upon memy
client the next.
It's the last cause you will ever have of mine, then, replied the
And most certainly the last I want, if you have no higher claims
than those you presented in the present instance.
About the same time that this incident occurred, an individual,
indicted for a large robbery, sent for Lawyer Abercrombie. That
individual came to the prisoner's cell, and held a preliminary
interview with him.
And the first thing to be done, if I take charge of your case,
said the lawyer, is for you to make a clean confession to me of every
thing. You know that the law protects you in this. It is necessary that
I may know exactly the ground upon which we stand, that I may keep the
prosecution at fault.
The prisoner, in answer to this, made promptly a full confession of
his guilt, and stated where a large portion of the property he had
taken was concealed.
And now, said he, after his confession, do you think that you can
Oh yes, easily enough, if I have sufficient inducement to devote
myself to the case.
Will five thousand dollars secure your best efforts?
Very well. The day after I am cleared, I will place that sum in
You shall be cleared, was the positive answer. And he was cleared.
Justice was subvertedproperty to a large value lostand an
accomplished villain turned loose upon the community, by the venal tact
and eloquence of a skilful lawyer.
In these two instances we have an exhibition of the characters of
the two individuals, ripening for maturity. Both possessing fine
talents, both were eminent, both successful,but the one was a curse,
and the other a blessing to society. And all this, because their ends
of life were different.
Time passed on, and Abercrombie, as the mere tool of a political
party, elected by trick and management, under circumstances humiliating
to a man of feeling and principle, became a representative in the State
legislature. But he was a representative, and this soothing opiate to
his ambition quieted every unpleasant emotion. Conscious, in the state
of political feeling, that there was little or no possible chance of
maintaining even his present elevation, much less of rising higher,
unless he became pliant in the hands of those who had elected him, he
suffered all ideas of the general good to recede from his mind, and
gave himself up wholly to furthering the schemes and interested views
of his own party. By this means, he was enabled to maintain his
position. But what a sacrifice for an honourable, high-minded man! A
few years in the State legislature, where he was an active member,
prepared him for going up higher. He was, accordingly, nominated for
Congress, and elected, but by the same means that had accomplished all
of his previous elections. And he went there under the mistaken idea
that he was becoming a great man, when it was not with any particular
reference to his fitness for becoming a representative of one section
of the country for the good of the whole that he was sent there, but as
a fit tool for the performance of selfish party ends. Thus he became
the exponent in Congress of the same principles that he had laid down
for his own government, viz. such as were thoroughly selfish and
In the course of time, it so happened that, as eminent lawyers, the
two individuals we have introduced were again thrown together as
inhabitants of the same city, and became practitioners at the same bar.
At first, Abercrombie did not fear Harvey; but he soon learned that, as
an opponent, not even he could gain over him, unless his cause were
just. For some years Abercrombie went regularly to Congress, usually
elected over the opposing candidate by a large majorityfor his party
far outnumbered the other. At length the time seemed to have arrived
for him to take another step. The senatorial term for the district in
which he lived was about to expire, and there was to be an election for
a United States senator. For this vacancy he was nominated as a
candidate by his party, and as that was the strongest party, he looked
confidently for an election. The opposing interest cast about them for
some time, and at last fixed upon Harvey, who, after mature
deliberation, accepted the nomination.
It is needless here to recapitulate the principles which governed
these two individuals; they have already been fully stated. At the time
that they became rivals for a high station, each had confirmed in
himself the views of life expressed many years before, and was acting
them out fully. One was thoroughly selfishthe other strove to regard,
in all that he did, the good of others.
A few months before the day of election, a woman dressed in deep
mourning came into the office of Mr. Harvey. She stated that she was a
widow with a large familythat her husband had been dead about a year,
and that the executor of her husband's estate, formerly his partner in
business, was about to deprive her of all the property that had been
left to her for the maintenance of her family and the education of her
children, under the plea that there were, in reality, no assets, after
the settlement of the estate.
Well, madam, what do you wish done? asked Mr. Harvey, a good deal
interested in the woman's case.
I want justice, sir, and no more. If there are really no assets,
then I want nothing. But if there is, as I am confident that there must
be a handsome property really due me, then I wish my rights maintained.
Will you undertake my case?
Certainly I will, madam; and if there is justice on your side, I
will see that justice is done.
Accordingly, suit was brought against the executor, who at once
employed Abercrombie, with the promise of a large fee, if he gained the
cause for him.
By some means, the facts of the case, or at least that such a case
was to come up, became known through the medium of the newspapers, and
also that the two rival candidates were to be opposed to each other.
Much interest was excited, and when the trial came on, the court-room
was crowded. The case occupied the attention of the court for three
days, during which time Abercrombie made some of the most brilliant
speeches that had ever fallen from his lips. He managed his case, too,
with a tact, spirit, and sagacity, unusual even for him, as keen a
lawyer as he was. To all this, Harvey opposed a steady, clear, and
rational mode of presenting the claims of the individual he
represented, so that conviction attended him at every step. It was in
vain that Abercrombie would tear into tatters the lucid arguments, full
of calm and truthful positions, that he presentedhe would gather them
all up again, and present them in new and still more convincing forms.
At every step of the trial, it was plainly evident to all, opponents
and friends, that Abercrombie cared solely for success in his cause,
and nothing for justice; and as the sympathies of nearly all were in
favour of the widow, his manner of conducting the case was exceedingly
offensive to nearly every one. On the contrary, in Harvey, all could
see a deep and conscientious regard for justice. He never took any
undue advantage of his opponent, and resorted to no tricks and feints
to blind and confuse him, but steadily presented the justice of the
side he argued, in bold and strong relief, against the evident, wicked
injustice of the defendant.
At last the trial came to a close, and the whole case was submitted
to the jury, who decided that the widow's cause was just. This
righteous decision was received by a universal burst of applause.
Abercrombie was deeply chagrined at the result, and this feeling was
apparent to allso apparent, that nearly every one, friends and
enemies, were indignant. In an electioneering handbill, which came out
in two or three days afterward, was this appeal:
Why do we send a man to the Senate-chamber of the United States? To
legislate from generous and enlarged principles, or to be a narrow,
selfish seeker of his own glory? Do we want the generous philanthropist
therethe man who loves justice for its own sakethe man of strong
natural powers, rendered stronger and clearer by honest principles?or
the narrow-minded timeserverthe man who would sacrifice any thing,
even the liberties of his country, for a selfish endthe legal
oppressor of the widow and the fatherless? Need these questions be
answered from honest, high-souled voters? No! let every man answer for
himself, when he goes to assert the rights of a freeman.
This, and similar appeals, added to the general disapprobation
already felt, completed the work. Harvey was elected to fill the vacant
seat in the Senate for the ensuing six years, by a majority of double
the votes polled for Abercrombie.
From that time, the latter took his position as a third-rate man.
Indeed, he never afterward reached even to the House of Representatives
at Washington, while Harvey still retains his place in the
Senate-chamber, one of the most esteemed and valuable members of that
No man, we would remark, in closing this sketch, can ever be a truly
great man, who is not a good man. The mere selfishness of ambition
defeats its own ends; while the generous impulse to do good to others,
gives to every man a power and an influence that must be felt and