Orison Swett Marden Chapter XII
The Life Story of Orison Swett Marden Chapter XII:
Many years after he had conquered the difficulties that lay between him and the education he sought, Doctor Marden, in an article in Success Magazine entitled "No Surrender!" said:
"'No surrender!' must ever be the slogan of the man or woman who would overcome the obstacles that block the road to success.”
"The one who loses heart when he finds the way to his goal
unexpectedly blocked — who waits for smooth conditions and favorable
circumstances, — will not go far in this world."
"Conditions will never be such that success in any field will be a
cake-walk. It is he who, at the start, makes up his mind to win in spite
of adverse conditions — the man who, instead of surrendering to
obstacles, rides over them, — this is the kind of man that succeeds in
life. The very struggle to overcome the obstacles in his way develops
the power that carries him step by step to his goal."
No one has better known the truth of those words than the man who wrote them.
His philosophy as well as his power had been developed in the rough
school of experience. There was no other way to his goal than to blaze
his own path through his forest of difficulties. And at every forward
step some new or unforeseen hindrance had a way of presenting itself.
While working his way through Colby Academy, and afterward, he had
comforted himself at many crucial junctures with the thought that, when
he had reached the age of adulthood, the road to an education would not
be so hard. He would inherit enough from his father's estate to enable
him, perhaps, to go to New Hampton Institute, and afterwards to college.
He would have more time for study, too. All, or nearly all of the
daylight hours would not be crowded with the relentless struggle for
food, clothing, and shelter. He would have more leisure time to read
and think, and to digest what he read; more time for social life; more
opportunities to improve himself in every way, — in mind, in bodily
health, and in personal appearance.
"We fail to see that we can control our own destiny; make ourselves do
whatever is possible; make ourselves become whatever we long to be."
- O.S. Marden
Bitter was the disappointment that awaited him. When twenty-one, he
lost no time in calling on his guardian to claim his inheritance. He was
then informed that there was practically nothing coming to him. In
fact, he received only a small fraction of the money he believed his
father had left to him, and when he appealed for justice to the probate
judge, he obtained no satisfaction. The judge favored the guardian, and
awarded him twenty-five dollars for his great kindness to the three
While trying to reason with his guardian about the accounts which, he
suspected, had not been properly kept, Mrs. Fifield interposed with:
"What do you want with money? It would do you no good if you had it, for
you will never amount to anything! Why don't you pattern yourself after
my son George, who is envied by all the boys and admired by all the
girls in town?"
George, who thought farming too hard work, had secured a position in
Somerville, Boston, at a salary of forty dollars a month. He came home
twice a year and, with his starched white collar and cuffs, necktie, and
thin boots, seemed the epitome of the fashionably dressed man, compared
to the gaping youth of the countryside.
Orison Swett Marden
Luckily, Orison had no yearning to pattern himself after this model.
Now, with fifty dollars in his pocket, he started on his second academic
adventure. He was determined to enter the New Hampton Institute, in New
Hampshire. Walking much of the way in order to save stage fare, he
finally reached his destination.
One can picture the tall, lean, awkward young man at this stage as a
sort of replica of General Thomas Jonathan Jackson, of whom a biographer
said: "When 'Stonewall' Jackson reached West Point one could read in
his awkward figure and in his grim face - the determination that says, 'I have come to stay.'"
Young Marden had gone to New Hampton, to stay, although he appeared
even more out of place among the advanced students there than he had at
"With my coarse clothes and thick boots, I felt much out of place,"
he said. "It seemed to me that I had never before seen such smart
'fellers' as the seniors were. They carried canes, wore tall hats, and
talked as if they knew everything. They could discourse learnedly for
hours, on any question, in the society meetings.
Neither before nor since have I looked up to human beings as quite so
irreproachable and awe-inspiring as I did those young men. Could it be
possible that three years in the Academy would transform rough, homely,
threadbare, green country boys like myself, for instance, into such
refined and polished gentlemen?"
There was an offset, however, to the awe-inspiring seniors, for he
adds: "The Dean and Principal of the Institute were very good to me and
encouraged me to go on with my studies. But there was one thing, I said
to myself, I could not do, I could not go out before the class and
When my name should be called and all eyes would be focused upon me, I
would want to go through the floor. No, it would be even worse than
that, for I would not be able to rise from my seat if thus called upon.
So I went to the Professor of Rhetoric and pleaded with him to spare me
this terrible ordeal. I told him that, if I were called upon to stand up
and speak before the class, I should be obliged to leave the Academy
and would thus be deprived of my chance of an education. Finally, the
kind-hearted professor consented to allow me to write compositions in
the place of public speaking, and to release me from speaking as long as
he could do so without serious protest from the other students."
He worked through his first term in New Hampton in about the same way
as at Colby, adding to his duties the ringing of the Academy bell and
sweeping floors. He also spent his vacation in the old way, — farming,
haying, and lumbering, — trying desperately to save some money for the
beginning of the next term.
"The greatest trouble with most of us is that our demands upon ourselves
are so feeble, the call upon the great within of us so weak and
intermittent that it makes no impression upon the creative energies; it
lacks the force that transmutes desires into realities."
- Orison Swett Marden
Orison Swett Marden Chapter XII , continued...
He had a lively recollection of his return that second term when a
party of those awe-inspiring seniors drove by him in a mountain wagon on
their five-mile ride from the station to the Academy. Still sensitive
to the difference between their appearance and his, he fancied he could
hear them laugh at him as he trudged along, carrying all his possessions
in a bundle. He walked to save the cost of riding, for he knew that he
would need every bit of the precious capital which the summer's work had
netted him in addition to whatever he could earn as he went along.
This term he branched out into a new business. Although he knew
nothing whatsoever about barbering, not even having been inside of a
barber's shop, he conceived the idea of opening one for his schoolmates.
Dipping into his capital, he invested in a razor, a pair of shears, a
comb, a wooden chair, and a yard of calico for a barber's apron. Having
installed these "properties" in his little attic room, he opened it as a
barber shop, advertising by word of mouth that he was ready for
His first customer was a youth who was planning to attend a ball that
night. Seating himself in the chair provided for apprenticeship victims
the young man called to the amateur barber, "Come, get busy and fix me
"Realizing that I would probably cut my patron at least once, I tore
off bits of paper from a local weekly before starting to shave, and,
whenever I drew blood, — which I did at least a half dozen times, — I
would apply one of those pieces to the wound. 'Twas years ago, but I
have not lived long enough since to forget the expression on that young
man's face when he looked in the mirror. He was white as a sheet with
anger, and I had to work very hard to pacify him. Finally I succeeded
in soothing him by putting an extra amount of oil in his hair."
"This first shave naturally proved a very poor advertisement for me,
so much so that I did not get another customer for several days. In
desperation I asked a student with very long, stiff, straight black hair
to exchange hair cuts with me. He agreed. I knew no more of the science
of cutting hair than I did of shaving, and soon had the back of the
fellow's head looking like a stairway. The more I attempted to cut down
the stairs, the greater became the number of steps. I continued cutting
deeper and deeper, until I had just about done a scalp job. I knew it
would never do to let him seek consolation by cross-haggling my hair, so
I bowed out and begged his forgiveness. I stuck to the barber shop,
however, improving with practice, until, at the end of the year, with my
original razor and pair of shears, I had earned nearly one hundred
Trouble was brewing for the amateur barber in the rhetoric class
however. His fellow students had noticed that he was not called upon to
speak. He began to fear that the professor would speak to him about it.
He did. One day he told him that he could not be excused any longer
from speaking, that the other members of the class were not willing to
allow him to be exempted any more than anyone else. Besides, as the
professor insisted, he was only increasing his bashfulness and further
weakening himself by not at least making an effort to overcome it.
"I pleaded," he says, "that it was impossible for me to speak in
public, and that, if forced to do so, I should have to leave school. But
it was no use, for he was stern and paid no heed to my argument. I saw
that a crisis had come. It was a question whether I should leave the
Institute and sacrifice what I had already accomplished, or summon
courage to go up on the platform and speak. It was up to myself to
"I went out into the woods, about a mile and a half from the school,
and had a good heart-to-heart talk with myself, winding up something
'Now, Orison Marden, you are right square up against it. Either there is
something in you, or there is not, and the quicker you find out the
truth the better. If there isn't anything in you, you would do better to
go back to the woods, the saw-mill, the farm, the stumps, and the
rocks. If there is anything in you, you will go back to the Academy and
tell the professor that you are going to remain there and try to do what
is required of you, even if you die in the attempt.'
I decided upon the latter course.
"Selecting a piece that appealed to me, I went out into the woods
daily to practice my speech. The fatal Wednesday speaking day came. I
had scarcely closed my eyes the night before. The class had assembled.
The professor called the students in turn. Finally he got down the
alphabet near the M's. Never shall I forget the sensation which rushed
through my brain when I heard my name called. Oh, the cold chills, the
clammy sweat that ran down my back, the deathlike silence that filled
the room as all eyes were turned upon the green, awkward, tall, timid
chap from the country! Everything had grown dark. There seemed to be
only a little glimmer of light at the window openings. I tried to rise,
but felt glued to my seat. At length I pulled myself up, and, with a
scarlet face, staggered to the platform and made my bow. My lips were
parched. I tried to speak, but my voice stuck in my throat and for one
awful moment everything I had ever known fled from my memory. Then I
stammered something, halted, broke, started in again, and, although my
wits seemed to be all gone, struggled through my piece. My legs trembled
so that I had to keep shifting from one foot to the other in a vain
effort to hide my embarrassment."
"At length the ordeal was over and I managed somehow to get back to
my seat. But, so great was my chagrin and mortification, I again wavered
in my determination. In the bitterness of my failure I felt that I
could never again go through the humiliation and the awful suffering of
such an experience, — that I would quit the Academy first. I spoke to
the professor once more, but he was relentless."
"I went to my room and wrestled with myself. This was final, and I
vowed to conquer my bashfulness and timidity and not make such an
exhibition of myself the next time I was called on to speak."
So well did he succeed in keeping his vow to himself that, a few
months later, he won the second prize in oratory. Moreover, for public
speaking at the Commencement exercises, he was awarded the first prize;
and for two successive years he ranked first in oratory and original
A New Hampton student, who had become acquainted with young Marden in
his second year at the Institute, said of him: "He had entered with
very poor preparation, far behind most in his class; yet in the second
year, he was one of the most prominent men in the school." Throughout
his stay there he maintained a high rank in scholarship and character,
and his influence was felt for good in every department of the
During the worst of his struggle at New Hampton he received much
encouragement and some advice from Professor A. B. Meservey, toward whom
he ever after cherished the liveliest feelings of affection and
gratitude. Only one who has struggled under similar disadvantages to get
an education can realize what it meant to him when this kindly
instructor, coming to him one day and putting his hand on his shoulder,
"Marden, I have noticed that you are having quite a struggle to
get an education. Now, I want to tell you that the day will come when
the boys in the Institute, sent here by wealthy parents — boys who dress
so much better and live so much better than you do — will look up to
you instead of down upon you, as you now believe they do."
On another occasion, when his load seemed beyond his strength, and,
work as he might, he couldn't earn more than eight or ten cents an hour,
the professor cheered him up with the words, "Remember, Orison, that
every hour you spend in honest self-improvement is worth more than a
dollar to you."
His conquest over himself in the matter of speaking before his class
seemed to release some new power in him that thereafter made his
educational problem easier to solve.
Following that personal triumph, at the close of the term, he secured
a position as waiter in the Crawford House, one of the famous hotels of
the White Mountains. It was there that he first met Frank A. Munsey —
who later became the famous newspaper and magazine proprietor and
publisher. Munsey was then filling the double position of waiter and
telegraph operator at that hotel. The two young men struck up a
friendship which continued through Marden's whole life.
On his return to New Hampton at the opening of the fall term of 1872,
he utilized his summer's experience at the Crawford House in starting a
students' eating club. This venture proved so successful that later,
when working through Boston University, he organized a similar club for
professors and students.
He had at length succeeded in getting his feet firmly on the
educational ladder. Incidentally, he had begun a training in the hotel
business which later made him financially independent, and it might have
even made him wealthy had he been so inclined. During the remainder of
the academic course, he spent his summer vacations at the Crawford
House, the last year as head waiter.
In the meantime, to such purpose had he continued his work in voice
production and debating that he had become well known in those areas. He
was also active in the "Literary Club." Throughout the curriculum he
was proving the truth of what, in after years, was one of his favorite
maxims — "He can who thinks he can."
In 1873, having completed the full academic course, he was graduated
with honors and left New Hampton Institute with the affection and esteem
of his teachers and fellow students and the good wishes of all the
townspeople. Marden's classmates at New Hampton well remember the
optimistic youth of those days, whose ready smile, unvarying courtesy,
and friendly nature made him a general favorite.
"It is those who have this imperative demand for the best in their
natures, and who will accept nothing short of it, that holds the banners
of progress, that set the standards, the ideals, for others."
"He was a kind and genial fellow" said Dr. Ellen A. Wallace, of
Manchester, New Hampshire. "I remember him in many good times as well as
serious ones, but under all circumstances he was a gentleman." Charles
W. Weeks, of Rochester, New Hampshire, another classmate, recalled how
Marden's smiling face won the respect and good-will of all with whom he
came in contact.
"You will remember," he wrote in a letter to Dr. Wallace, "that the
late Elder Neal came to New Hampshire at the age of thirty and entered
our class in preparation for the ministry. Mrs. Neal, who was as old, if
not older, accompanied him. Not being a member of the school, she did
not feel like attending all of the class functions, but Marden would
come around and insist that she do so. Mrs. Neal spoke of this to me
the last time I met her. I refer to it only to show his desire to make
everyone feel happy and welcome."
Perhaps the most intimate picture of Marden, the New Hampton student,
is given by Dr. Edmund March Vittum, pastor of the First Congregational
Church, in Muscatine, Iowa. Dr. Vittum, who seems to have been more
closely associated with Marden than was any other student then at New
"We were roommates as well as classmates. We attended the same
classes, ate at the same table, studied under the same lamp, slept in
the same bed, and prayed together every day. I loved him as one loves a
brother; and, although he was five or six years my senior, I think he
felt a similar attachment for me. At least, he was of great assistance
to me from the beginning of my attendance at the New Hampton school. He
had been there before and 'knew the ropes.'"
"He was bright in intellect, resourceful in practical affairs, clean
in body and mind, pure in heart and soul, upright in life. Though Fate
had robbed him of his boyhood, she had not succeeded in inoculating him
with bitterness and gloom. His boyhood returned to him after he
attained adulthood, and he was cheerful, buoyant, hopeful, — one of the
most genial and jolly of companions. Inexperienced though we were, we
saw in him, not the foreshadowing, but the foreshining of his future
"He had the natural art of making friends and he specialized in
friendship. 'He was my friend, faithful and just to me.' Though our
friendship has not proved to be what is usually called 'lasting,' still
it is one of those unseen living realities which cannot die. No one
could know Orison Swett Marden as I knew him without being influenced by
his wonderful personality. His friendship is one of the best things
that entered into my early education; and I still think of my friend,
Orison Marden, when I repeat the suggestive words of Henry Van Dyke:"
Oh, who will walk a mile with me along life's merry way? -
And who will walk a mile with me along life's weary way? -
Mid summer's heat and winter's rain, -
And then, farewell! — we shall meet again.
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