Orison Swett Marden Chapter XIX
The Rise And Fall Of 'Success'
The Life Story of Orison Swett Marden Chapter XIX:
When the writer became associated with Doctor Marden, — or, "the Doctor." as
the members of the Success staff from the beginning familiarly called him, the magazine was yet an infant in swaddling clothes.
The editorial "office" was still in Boston, in that same room
from which the editor had not only bartered his books but had also
pawned his overcoat in order to buy a dictionary!
In a desperate effort to make both ends meet, the new-fledged editor
was repeating the hand-to-mouth struggles of earlier days. Despite this
he was happy. He felt, at last, that he had found his real vocation,
that he was in a better position to benefit men!
He was dreaming great dreams, but he worked while he dreamed.
Like Lincoln, whom he so loved and admired, while his head might be
in the clouds he always kept his feet on the earth. While his feet were
on the floor of the "second-floor back" in Bowdoin Street, his eyes saw
something beyond, something that no one else saw at that time. He had a
vision of a great magazine that would carry his gospel of self-help and
success far and wide.
One afternoon he gave me a glimpse of this vision. Standing by the
window near my desk, talking half to me and half to himself, he said,
"Success will some day have a home of its own in New York. It will
have a hundred employees and at least a hundred thousand subscribers."
"Do you really think so, Doctor," I said, "that Success will ever grow to that size?"
"I don't think, I know it!" was his quick response. "If I didn't see
such a future for this magazine I never would have started it!"
This was typical of the vim and enthusiasm he put into everything he
undertook. It left no room for doubts or fears; and, as the blacksmith
at his forge hammers and bends the red-hot iron to his purpose, he bent
circumstances to his will.
It doesn't matter how much money or talent is behind the enterprise, —
starting a magazine is always a gamble. The most experienced editor
cannot tell how the public will react to a new publication, any more
than the most experienced theatrical producer can tell how the public
will react to a new play.
The way the public reacted to Success, launched as it was in the
midst of difficulties and discouragements, was one of the most
remarkable things in the history of magazine publishing, and showed that
the editor's faith in such a magazine was not misplaced. It hit the
mark at once.
"Analyzing what you haven't got as well as what you have is a necessary ingredient of a successful career."
- O.S. Marden
Zona Gale, in an article in The Critic, covering "Editors of the
Younger Generation," said: "To name a magazine Success was to account
for it. There is magic in the name, just as there was found to be when
Samuel Smiles changed his unknown book with an abstruse title into
'Self-Help,' and immediately found it in every bookshop. People like to
think that they have a lucky charm. Success has been a charm to a good
many people. The magazine did have a future, and it 'came true' almost
Its name indeed proved a "lucky charm." Within a few years from its
humble beginnings it had outgrown its narrow quarters in Cooper Union,
and was occupying an entire floor of the University Building, in
Washington Square, New York. In a few years more, it had that home of
its own which its founder had visualized at the start, and his own
position was established as a vital force in the efforts of modern
When Success moved up from Washington Square to the Success
Building, in East Twenty-second street, between Broadway and Fourth
Avenue, it ranked as one of the most popular and stimulating magazines
in the world.
Success Magazine occupied a unique field as the only publication of
its kind. It had its own printing plant, a force of two hundred or more
employees, and a growing circulation steadily mounting toward the
The Success Building became a central power-house of inspiration. The
editor-in-chief of Success was the dynamo that generated the power. He
filled his employees and everyone else who came in contact with him with
his own enthusiasm and an urgent sense of the wonderful privileges and
opportunities of life.
Editorials and articles that stirred the most sluggish flowed from
his ever-active mind, while the magazine itself was a channel of life
through which men and women prominent in every field spoke to their
The magazine had become what Dr. David Gregg, in an early letter to
its editor, prophesied it would become. "Success will be a living organ
of a living age," said Dr. Gregg. "It will connect those who are
striving for success with those who have succeeded, and thus enable them
to get power from living batteries.”
Frances E. Willard made an equally optimistic prediction. Writing
about the same time, she said, "I rejoice that you are to take the
wonderful word 'success' and put into it God and brotherhood. You have
hit the nail on the head. Keep pounding away. It is enough to stir the
blood of age, these bugle notes from those who have set flying the
echoes of 'Excelsior.'"
"Men often become what they believe themselves to be. If I believe I
cannot do something, it makes me incapable of doing it. But when I
believe I can, then I acquire the ability to do it even if I didn't have
it in the beginning."
- Orison Swett Marden
Orison Swett Marden Chapter XIX , continued...
Men and women of national and international repute rallied to the
support of Success, and their contributions helped to maintain the high
standard set by its founder.
Among these were Charles Dudley Warner, Thomas Wentworth Higginson,
Lady Henry Somerset, Bishop Vincent, George W. Cable, Mary A. Livermore,
Julia Ward Howe, Edward Everett Hale, Harriet Spofford, Edna Dean
Proctor, William M. Thayer, Bishop Newman, Samuel W. McCall, Robert S.
Mac Arthur, Booker T. Washington, William O. Stoddard, Margaret E.
Sangster, and many other distinguished writers of that day.
Like the book which suggested it, the appeal of the magazine reached
around the world, it had subscribers in every English-speaking country,
and in many foreign lands. It inspired the publication of a magazine
along similar lines in Japan, while the Indian Academy of Science, in
India, conferred on Doctor Marden an honorary degree for "the
distinguished service he had rendered humanity at large through his
The ideals and ambitions of the poor boy from the backwoods of New Hampshire had become realities.
He had reached the apex of editorial success. But again came one of
those strange reversals of fortune with which he had battled all his
Rival magazines were now seeking some weapon with which to challenge
his position. Many ingenious plans were evolved without avail, until
"muck-raking" attacks upon big business men and politicians were
launched. These magazines, in attempts to command public attention,
directed assaults upon American political and civic life, upon the
personalities and methods of our great industrial leaders, and upon some
of our institutions. And for a time they succeeded.
"Muck-raking" swept the country like a pestilent wave. To speak well of a
man or an institution became a "lost art." A period of destruction and confiscation of character and property set in.
So great became this wave that it forced its insidious way even into
the magazine founded on faith in God and man. Inside groups in Doctor
Marden's own Success "household," through ingenious methods, playing on
his faith in man and his associates, maneuvered until they secured
control of the magazine. They vetoed his principles; reversed his
policies; joined the "muck-raking" writers; and entered upon a regime of
exploitation and what they believed to be "expansion" — until one day
the climax came.
The splendid structure, the institution that Editor Marden and his
ideals had built, collapsed. Like modern Samsons, the muck-rakers had
pulled down the temple on their own shoulders.
Like all large publishing plants, Success had monthly bills running
into the thousands of dollars with printers, paper-makers, and others.
The expense of getting out a single issue of such a periodical is
enormous, and its income from subscribers and advertisers is spread over
a period of months. Consequently, the life blood of a great magazine is
In swerving from Doctor Marden's fixed standards, and attacking "big
business," Success laid itself open to a counter-attack below the
waistline, in its most vulnerable spot — its financial credit — and this
is just what occurred.
It was dealt a staggering blow when a great banker — evidently
offended by these articles on big business — stated politely, but
firmly, that its loans must be curtailed. Demand notes were called in.
Printers and paper men grew insistent, and Success suddenly found itself
upon the financial rocks. It was forced into the hands of a receiver —
and this despite its hundreds of thousands of reader friends.
"The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another."
Marden witnessed the cruel shipwreck with a sense of twofold loss. In
the crusade against big business, he had seen some of his best friends
in the business world thrown into the muck-raking arena.
Great as were his financial losses, they were as nothing compared
with the sting
of a personal trust betrayed. His beloved magazine had been the
connecting link between himself and its great throng of readers, the
medium through which he had come into intimate personal touch with them.
It had become a part of himself, something which he felt he could not
let die, and himself survive. It was the crowning blow of his many
defeats — something he later never cared to dwell upon, in talking even
to his most trusted associates.
Nevertheless, the Marden fighting spirit was not daunted. And it was
in this spirit that he again rose after the first shock of defeat. To
him it was but a temporary defeat, out of which a greater victory could
and should be won.
So, just as twenty years before, in middle life, he had started to
re-write "Pushing to the Front" while the first manuscript lay in ashes
in the ruins of his hotel, now, although facing old age, he began, while
the debris of his undermined magazine lay all about him, to make plans
for the New Success that was to rise out of the Old.
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