We can conceive of no spectacle better calculated to lead the mind to serious reflections than that of an aged person, who has misspent a long life, and who, when standing near the end of life’s journey, looks down the long vista of his years, only to recall opportunities unimproved. Now that it is all too late, he can see where he passed by in heedless haste the real “gems of life” in pursuit of the glittering gewgaws of pleasure, but which, when gained, like the apples of Sodom, turned to ashes in his very grasp. What a different course would he pursue would time but turn backward in his flight and he is allowed to commence anew to weave the “tangled web of life.” But this is not vouchsafed him. Regrets are useless, save when they awaken in the minds of youth a wish to avoid errors and a desire to gather only the true “jewels of life.”
Life, with its thousand voices wailing and exulting, reproving and exalting, is calling upon you. Arouse, and gird yourself for the race. Up and onward, and
Be awake to sleep no more.”
Not alone by its ultimate destiny, but by its immediate obligations, uses, enjoyment, and advantages must be estimated the infinite and untold value of life. It is a great mission on which you are sent. It is the choicest gift in the bounty of heaven committed to your wise and diligent keeping and is associated with countless benefits and priceless boons that heaven alone has the power to bestow. But, alas! its possibilities for woe are equal to those of weal.
It is a crowning triumph or a disastrous defeat, garlands or chains, a prison or a prize. We need the eloquence of Ulysses to plead in our behalf, the arrows of Hercules to do battle on our side. It is of the utmost importance to you to make the journey of life a successful one. To do so you must begin with the right ideas. If you are mistaken in your present estimates it is best to be undeceived at the first, even though it cast a shadow on your brow. It is true, that life is not mean, but it is grand. It is also a real and earnest thing. It has homely details, painful passages, and a crown of care for every brow.
We seek to inspire you with a wish and a will to meet it with a brave spirit. We seek to point you to its nobler meanings and its higher results. The tinsel with which your imagination has invested it will all fall off of itself so soon as you have fairly entered on its experience. So we say to you, take up life’s duties now, learn something of what life is before you take upon yourself its great responsibilities.
Great destinies lie shrouded in your swiftly passing hours; great responsibilities stand in the passages of every-day life; great dangers lie hidden in the by-paths of life’s great highway; great uncertainty hangs over your future history. God has given you existence, with full power and opportunity to improve it and be happy; he has given you equal power to despise the gift and be wretched; which you will do is the great problem to be solved by your choice and conduct. Your bliss or misery in two worlds hangs pivoted in the balance.
With God and a wish to do right in human life, it becomes essentially a noble and beautiful thing. Every youth should form at the outset of his career the solemn purpose to make the most and the best of the powers which God has given him and to turn to the best possible account of every outward advantage within his reach. This purpose must carry with it the assent of the reason, the approval of the conscience, the sober judgment of the intellect. It should thus embody within itself whatever is vehement in desire, inspiring in hope, thrilling in enthusiasm, and intense in desperate resolve. To live a life with such a purpose is a peerless privilege, no matter at what cost of transient pain or unremitting toil.
It is a thing above professions, callings, and creeds. It is a thing which brings to its nourishment all good, and appropriates to its development of power all evil. It is the greatest and best thing under the whole heavens. Place can not enhance its honor; wealth can not add to its value. Its course lies through true manhood and womanhood; through true fatherhood and motherhood; through true friendship and relationship of all legitimate kinds—of all natural sorts whatever. It lies through sorrow and pain and poverty and all earthly discipline. It lies through unswerving trust in God and man. It lies through patient and self-denying heroism. It lies through all heaven prescribed and conscientious duty; and it leads as straight to heaven’s brightest gate as the path of a sunbeam leads to the bosom of a flower.
Several of you today are just starting on the duties of active life. The volume of the future lies unopened before you. Its covers are illuminated by the pictures of fancy, and its edges are gleaming with the golden tints of hope. Vainly you strive to loosen its wondrous clasp; ’tis a task which none but the hand of Time can accomplish. Life is before you—not earthly life alone, but life; a thread running interminably through the warp of eternity. It is a sweet as well as a wondrous thing. A man may make life what he pleases and give it as much worth, both for himself and others, as he has energy for.
The journey is a laborious one, and you must not expect to find the road all smooth. And whether rich or poor, high or low, you will be disappointed if you build on any other foundation. Take life as a man; take it just as though it was as it is—an earnest, vital, essential affair. Take it just as though you were born to the task of performing a merry part in it—as though the world had waited for your coming. Live for something, and something worthy of life and its capabilities and opportunities, for noble deeds and achievements. Every man and every woman has his or her assignments in the duties and responsibilities of daily life. We are in the world to make the world better, to lift it to higher levels of enjoyment and progress, to make the hearts and homes brighter and happier by devoting to our fellows our best thoughts, activities, and influences.
It is the motto of every true heart and the genius of every noble life that no man liveth to himself—lives chiefly for his selfish good. It is a law of our intellectual and moral being that we promote our happiness in the exact proportions we contribute to the comfort and happiness of others. Nothing worthy the name of happiness is the experience of those who live only for themselves, all oblivious to the welfare of their fellows. That only is the true philosophy which recognizes and works out the principle in daily live that—
“Life was lent for noble deeds.”
Life embraces in its comprehensiveness a just return of failure and success as the result of individual perseverance and labor. Live for something definite and practical; take hold of things with a will, and they will yield to you and become the ministers of your happiness and that of others. Nothing within the realm of the possible can withstand the man or woman who is intelligently bent on success. Every person carries within the key that unlocks either door of success or failure. Which shall it be? All desire success; the problem of life is its winning.
Strength, bravery, dexterity, and unfaltering nerve and resolution must be the portion and attribute of those who resolve to pursue fortune along the rugged road of life. Their path will often lie amid rocks and crags, and not on lawns and among lilies. Great action is always preceded by a great purpose. History and daily life are full of examples to show us that the measure of human achievements has always been proportional to the amount of human daring and doing. Deal with questions and facts of life as they are. What can be done, and is worth doing, do with dispatch; what can not be done, or would be worthless when done, leave for the idlers and dreamers along life’s highway.
Life often presents us with a choice of evils instead of good; and if any one would get through life honorably and peacefully he must learn to bear as well as forbear, to hold the temper in subjection to the judgment, and to practice self-denial in small as well as great things. Human life is a watch-tower. It is the clear purpose of God that every one—the young especially—should take their stand on this tower, to look, listen, learn, wherever they go and wherever they tarry. Life is short, and yet for you it may be long enough to lose your character, your constitution, or your estate; or, on the other hand, by diligence you can accomplish much within its limits.
If the sculptor’s chisel can make impressions on marble in a few hours which distant eyes shall read and admire if the man of genius can create work in life that shall speak the triumph of mind a thousand years hence, then may true men and women, alive to the duty and obligations of existence, do infinitely more. Working on human hearts and destinies, it is their prerogative to do imperishable work, to build within life’s fleeting hour’s monuments that shall last forever. If such grand possibilities lie within the reach of our actions in the world how important that we live for something every hour of our existence, and something harmonious with the dignity of our present being and the grandeur of our future destiny!
A steady aim, with a strong arm, willing hands, and a resolute will, is the necessary requisites to the conflict which begins anew each day and writes upon the scroll of yesterday the actions that form one mighty column wherefrom true worth is estimated. One day’s work left undone causes a break in the great chain that years of toil may not be able to repair. Yesterday was ours, but it is gone; today is all we possess, for tomorrow we may never see; therefore, in the golden hour of the present the seeds are planted whereby the harvest for good or evil is to be reaped.
To endure with cheerfulness, hoping for little, asking for much, is, perhaps, the true plan. Decide at once upon a noble purpose, then take it up bravely, bear it off joyfully, lay it down triumphantly. Be industrious, be frugal, be honest, deal with kindness with all who come in your way, and if you do not prosper as rapidly as you would wish to depend upon it you will be happy.
The web of life is drawn into the loom for us, but we weave it ourselves. We throw our own shuttle and work our own treadle. The warp is given us, but the woof we furnish—find our own materials, and color and figure it to suit ourselves. Every man is the architect of his own house, his own temple of fame. If he builds one great, glorious, and honorable, the merit and the bliss are his; if he rears a polluted, unsightly, vice-haunted den, to himself the shame and misery belongs.
Life is often but a bitter struggle from first to last with many who wear smiling faces and are ever ready with a cheerful word, when there is scarcely a shred left of the hopes and opportunities which for years promised happiness and content. But it is human still to strive and yearn and grope for some unknown good that shall send all unrest and troubles to the winds and settle down over one’s life with a halo of peace and satisfaction. The rainbow of hope is always visible in the future. Life is like a winding lane—on either side bright flowers and tempting fruits, which we scarcely pause to admire or taste, so eager are we to pass to an opening in the distance, which we imagine will be more beautiful; but, alas! we find we have only hastened by these tempting scenes to arrive at a desert waste.
We creep into childhood, bound into youth, sober into manhood, and totter into old age. But through all let us so live that when in the evening of life the golden clouds rest sweetly and invitingly upon the golden mountains, and the light of heaven streams down through the gathering mists of death, we may have a peaceful and joyous entrance into that world of blessedness, where the great riddle of life, whose meaning we can only guess at here below, will be unfolded to us in the quick consciousness of a soul redeemed and purified.