Overworked Boys by Unknown
The boys of our time are too much afraid of work. They act as if the
honest sweat of the brow was something to be ashamed of. Would that they
were all equally afraid of a staggering gait and bloated face! This
spirit of laziness builds the gambling houses, fills the jails, supplies
the saloons and gaming places with loiterers, and keeps the alms houses
and charitable institutions doing a brisk business.
It doesn't build mammoth stores and factories, nor buildings like the
Astor Library and Cooper Institute. The men who built such monuments of
their industry and benevolence were not afraid of work.
All the boys have heard of the great publishing house of the Harpers.
They know of their finely illustrated papers and books of all kinds, and
perhaps have seen their great publishing house in New York City. But if
I should ask the boys how the eldest of the brothers came to found such
an illustrious house, I should perhaps be told that he was a
"wonderfully lucky man."
He was lucky, and an old friend and fellow-workman, a leading editor,
has revealed the secret of his luck. He and the elder Harper learned
their trade together, many years ago, in John Street, New York. They
began life with no fortune but willing hands and active brains;—fortune
enough for any young man in this free country.
"Sometimes after we had done a good day's work, James Harper would say,
'Thurlow, let's break the back of another token (a quarter of a ream
of paper),—just break its back.' I would generally reluctantly consent
just to break the back of the token; but James would beguile me, or
laugh at my complaints, and never let me off until the token was
completed, fair and square!
"It was our custom in summer to do a fair half-day's work before the
other boys and men got their breakfast. We would meet by appointment in
the gray of the morning, and go down to John Street. We got the key of
the office by tapping on the window, and Mr. Seymour would take it from
under his pillow, and hand it to one of us through the blind.
"It kept us out of mischief, and put money into our pockets."
The key handed through the window tells the secret of the luck that
enabled these two men to rise to eminence, while so many boys that lay
soundly sleeping in those busy morning hours are unknown.
No wonder that James Harper became mayor of the city, and head of one of
the largest publishing houses in the world. When his great printing
house burned down, the giant perseverance which he had learned in those
hours of overwork, made him able to raise, from the ashes, a larger
and finer one.
Instead of watching till his employer's back was turned, and saying,
"Come, boys, let's go home; we've done enough for one day," and
sauntering off with a cigar in his mouth, his cry was, "Let's do a
That overwork which frightens boys nowadays out of good places, and
sends them out West, on shipboard, anywhere, eating husks, in search of
a spot where money can be had without work, laid the foundation of the
apprentice boy's future greatness.
Such busy boys were only too glad to go to bed and sleep soundly. They
had no time nor spare strength for dissipation, and idle thoughts, and
Almost the last words that James Harper uttered were appropriate to the
end of such a life, and ought to be engraven upon the mind of every boy
who expects to make anything of himself: "It is not best to be studying
how little we can work, but how much."
Boys, make up your minds to one thing,—the future great men of this
country are doing just what those boys did. If you are dodging work,
angry at your employer or teacher for trying to make you faithful; if
you are getting up late, cross, and sleepy, after a night of
pleasure-seeking, longing for the time when you can exchange honest work
for speculation, you will be a victim to your own folly.
The plainly-dressed boys whom you meet carrying packages, going of
errands, working at trades, following the plow, are laying up stores of
what you call good luck. Overwork has no terrors for them. They are
preparing to take the places of the great leaders of our country's
affairs. They have learned James Harper's secret. The key handed out
to him in the "gray of the morning"—that tells the story!
"The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night."