A Reflection on the Virtue of Perseverance
By Rev. M. McDonnell
Perseverance is a sure path to eminence.
It gives power to weakness, and to the virtues the joys of Heaven.
Perseverance in the steady pursuit of a laudable and lawful object is almost a sure path to eminence. It is a thing which seems to be inherent in some, but it may be cultivated in all. Even those children who seem to be either indolent like the sloth, or changeful as the butterfly, by the skillful training of a watchful parent may be endowed with the habit of perseverance. Napoleon Bonaparte was accustomed to say that “the future good or bad conduct of a child depended entirely on the mother.” He himself attributed his rise in life, in a great measure, to the training of his will, his energy, and his self-control, by his mother at home. “Nobody had any command over him,” says one of his biographers, “except his mother, who found means by a mixture of tenderness, severity, and justice to make him love, respect and obey her.” From her he learned the virtues of obedience and perseverance.
It is said of Count de Buffon, the great Natural Historian, that when as a youth he was considered to have but very ordinary talents; and he was constitutionally indolent. Being heir to a large estate, it might be expected that his will would run with the bent of his inclinations; but no, he early formed a resolution of denying himself rest, and devoted himself to the study of nature. Regarding time as a treasure that was limited and finding that he was losing many hours by lying in bed in the mornings, he determined to break himself of the habit. He struggled against it for some time, but failed in being able to rise at the hour he had fixed. He then called his servant Joseph to his aid, and promised him a crown every time he would succeed in getting him out of bed before six o’clock. At the first call Buffon failed to rise, pretended anger for being disturbed, alleging that he was sick. Joseph continued calling until he got the count on his feet, but he found that he had earned nothing, only reproaches, for having permitted his master to lie in bed so long, contrary to his express orders. Next morning Joseph determined to earn his money, and notwithstanding his master’s threats and entreaties, tore him out of bed before six o’clock. But one morning Buffon was extremely obstinate, and Joseph had to resort to the extreme measure of dashing a basin of ice-cold water onto the bed, which had the desired effect. Buffon finally conquered the habit, and was accustomed to say that he owed to Joseph three volumes of his Natural History.
Examples of Perseverance
Timour, the celebrated Tartar warrior, after a series of the most brilliant victories, was at length conquered and made captive. Though confined in a prison, whose massive walls and thick iron bars discouraged every attempt to escape, he still strove at each chink and crevice to find some way of escape. At length weary and dispirited, he sat down in a corner of his gloomy prison and almost gave himself up to despair. While brooding over his sorrows, an ant with a piece of wood twice as large as itself attracted his attention; the insect seemed determined to ascend the perpendicular face of the wall and made several attempts to affect it. But after reaching a little elevation it came to the jutting angle of a stone and fell backward to the floor. But again, again and again the attempt was renewed; the prisoner watched the struggles of the insect, and in the interest he forgot his own condition. The ant persevered and at the sixteenth trial surmounted the obstacle. Timour sprang to his feet, exclaiming: “I will never despair, perseverance conquers!”
A similar anecdote is told of Robert Bruce, the restorer of the Scottish monarchy. Being out on an expedition to reconnoiter the enemy, he had once stopped to sleep the night in a barn. In the morning, still reclining his head on a pillow of straw, he saw a spider climbing up a beam of the roof. The insect fell to the ground, but immediately made a second attempt to ascend; this attracted the notice of the hero, who with regret saw the spider fall a second time. It made a third unsuccessful attempt. Not without a mixture of concern and curiosity, the monarch twelve times beheld the insect baffled in its aim, but the thirteenth effort was crowned with success. It gained the summit of the barn, and the king, starting from his bed, exclaimed: “This despicable insect has taught me perseverance; I will follow its example. Have I not been twelve times defeated by the enemy’s superior force? On one more fight depends the independence of my country!” In a few days his anticipations were fully realized by the glorious result to Scotland of the battle of Bannockburn.
A few years ago while traveling in an adjacent state, we came to a little valley surrounded by rocky and precipitous hills. In the valley was a single house. It was old and by its irregularity of form, seemed to have been built at various times. It was, however, in good condition, and bespoke thrift and comfort. Not a shingle was missing from the roof, no dangling clapboards to disfigure its sides, no unhinged shutters swung idly in the wind. All around was tidy and well-conditioned; the wood-house was well-stored with seasoned fuel. As we have said, the soil around was rocky, but cultivation had rendered it fertile. Thriving orchards, rich pastures and prolific meadows occupied the bed of the valley and the rugged sides of the hills. We were delighted with the scene, and when we reached a village at the distance of two or three miles, we made inquiry regarding the proprietor of the beautiful farm, and learned his history as follows. He was once a poor boy, destitute and wholly dependent upon his own labors. In childhood he had read that “procrastination is the thief of time.” He did not at first understand its meaning, and pondered long upon this desperate thief, who bore the horrible name of procrastination. It was finally explained to him, he strived hard to comprehend the adage fixing it deep into his mind.
He often thought of it, and, feeling its force, it became the ruling maxim of his life. Following its dictates with inflexible perseverance, he at length became the proprietor of the little valley we have just described; year after year it improved under his care, and at the time we saw the property it was worth twenty thousand dollars.
Power to Weakness
Such is the result of perseverance. It gives power to weakness, to poverty the world’s wealth, and to the virtuous the joys of Heaven. Yet, while we know that in the pursuit of worldly aims or objects, the best efforts men can make may fail, it is consoling to know that all who strive honestly and perseveringly to win Heaven will obtain it, for Saint Paul says, Know you not that they who run in the race, all run indeed, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain. Every one that strives for the mastery refrains himself from all things, and they indeed that they may obtain a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible one. I therefore say run, not as an uncertainty, I so fight, not as one beating the air, but I chastise my body and bring it into subjection, lest perhaps when I have preached to others, I myself should become a castaway. (1 Cor. 9:24-27)
Saint Paul cites the example of those who contended for prizes at the Olympic and other games, each one carefully abstaining from every luxury that would have a tendency to increase burdensome fat, or in any other way weaken the force of physical exertion. If to win a material prize men will undergo the severest trials and depravations, how much more should we, for the sake of the Heavenly crown of eternal happiness, abstain from those improper desires by which the soul is weakened, and practice those holy virtues, Prudence, Justice, Fortitude and Temperance, for the love of our Creator, and to obtain for ourselves a place in His Heavenly Kingdom!