The great liberator of Scotland did not disdain to learn perseverance from the example of the spider. After six vain attempts to free his country from the yoke of England, he was laying humbled and dispirited and half inclined to give up the struggle.
Just when he was on the point of yielding to despair, we are told that he looked up to the roof of the humble building in which he was taking refuge, and noticed a spider trying to reach a beam. Six times he saw it fail, and, six times after failure, with unconquerable spirit it refused to give up the struggle. The seventh attempt it made was successful, and Bruce determined not to show himself inferior to the little insect in determination. He, too, made a seventh effort to save his country, and this time his perseverance was rewarded by success. It is no wonder that from gratitude for the lesson then taught to Robert Bruce, no patriotic Scotchman, even at the present day, will willingly harm a spider.
We all need to take to heart the lesson that the Scottish king then learnt. Whether we are kings on a throne or peasants in a cottage, our success in life mainly depends on the amount of perseverance we bring to bear on the work we have to do. No one is more sure to fail in life than the man who tries one thing after another, and never perseveres in the task he has begun.
Whatever calling in life we adopt, there is plenty of scope for the exercise of perseverance. It is commonly supposed that in certain callings success can be achieved without effort by the inborn power of genius. It would be rash to say that this is never the case; but we may safely assert that such cases are extremely rare, so rare, that they need hardly be taken into consideration by ordinary men. No work would seem to be less the result of patient labour than poetry, yet we know that Milton did not trust entirely to the inspiration of his mighty genius, but continuously trained himself by hard study from his earliest youth, that he might be able to write such a poem as the world would not willingly allow to die. Similar facts can be quoted of many other writers of the highest genius.
Bacon wrote and re-wrote his logic of induction twelve times, before it reached its ultimate form in the Novum Organum, as we now have it. Virgil devoted seven years to the composition of his Georgics and eleven years to the Eeneid, and after all he regarded the latter poem as so incomplete that he wished to destroy it at his death. The easy grace of style that distinguishes the writings of great authors in prose and poetry, is almost always the result of long and persevering study of the style and thoughts of previous men of genius. The same may be said of oratory. Demosthenes prepared himself to be an orator by laborious training of his voice and by learning by heart the history of Thucydides, Cicero wrote a treatise on the oratorical art, in which we may learn the vast amount of varied training required to produce perfect eloquence. Lord Beaconsfield, on his first appearance in the House of Commons, was laughed down.
He angrily exclaimed, “The time will come when you shall hear me”; and by his perseverance made himself one of the greatest orators of England. Painters seem to the uninitiated to lead an easy life, and to earn their living by work that resembles play; but even they have in the beginning of their career to persevere in learning troublesome technical details which are so laborious that they frighten away all not imbued with the determination inspired by strong love of art. If perseverance is so necessary for the production of the inspired works of the painter, the orator, and the poet, there is little difficulty in recognizing the immense value of this virtue in the more prosaic walks of professional, official, and business life.