Living in an air-castle is about as profitable as owning a
half-interest in a rainbow. It is no more nourishing than a dinner
of twelve courses—eaten in a dream. Air-castles are built of golden
moments of time, and their only value is in the raw material thus
The atmosphere of air-castles is heavy and stupefying with the incense
of vague hopes and phantom ideals. In them man lulls himself into
dreaming inactivity with the songs of the mighty deeds he is going to
do, the great influence he some day will have, the vast wealth that
will be his, sometime, somehow, somewhere, in the rosy, sunlit days
of the future. The architectural error about air-castles is that the
owner builds them _downward_ from their gilded turrets in the clouds,
instead of _upward_ from a solid, firm foundation of purpose and
energy. This diet of mental lotus-leaves is a mental narcotic, not a
Ambition, when wedded to tireless energy is a great thing and a good
thing, but in itself it amounts to little. Man cannot raise himself to
higher things by what he would like to accomplish, but only by what
he endeavors to accomplish. To be of value, ambition must ever be
made manifest in zeal, in determination, in energy consecrated to an
ideal. If it be thus reinforced, thus combined, the thin airy castle
melts into nothingness, and the individual stands on a new strong
foundation of solid rock, whereon, day by day and stone by stone, he
can rear a mighty material structure of life-work to last through time
and eternity. The air-castle ever represents the work of an architect
without a builder; it means plans never put into execution. They tell
us that man is the architect of his own fortunes. But if he be merely
architect he will make only an air-castle of his life; he should be
architect and builder too.
Living in the future is living in an air-castle. To-morrow is the grave
where the dreams of the dreamer, the toiler who toils not, are buried.
The man who says he will lead a newer and better life to-morrow, who
promises great things for the future, and yet does nothing in the
present to make that future possible, is living in an air-castle. In
his arrogance he is attempting to perform a miracle; he is seeking to
turn water into wine, to have harvest without seed-time, to have an end
without a beginning.
If we would make our lives worthy of us, grand and noble, solid and
impregnable, we must forsake air-castles of dreaming for strongholds
of doing. Every man with an ideal has a right to live in the glow and
inspiration of it, and to picture the joy of attainment, as the tired
traveller fills his mind with the thought of the brightness of home,
to quicken his steps and to make the weary miles seem shorter, but the
worker should never really worry about the future, think little of it
except for inspiration, to determine his course, as mariners study
the stars, to make his plans wisely and to prepare for that future by
making each separate day the best and truest that he can.
Let us live up to the fulness of our possibilities each day. Man has
only one day of life—to-day. He _did_ live yesterday, he _may_ live
to-morrow, but he _has_ only to-day.
The secret of true living—mental, physical and moral, material and
spiritual,—may be expressed in five words: _Live up to your portion._
This is the magic formula that transforms air-castles into fortresses.
Men sometimes grow mellow and generous in the thought of what they
would do if great wealth came to them. “If I were a millionaire,” they
say,—and they let the phrase melt sweetly in their mouths as though it
were a caramel,—”I would subsidize genius; I would found a college; I
would build a great hospital; I would erect model tenements; I would
show the world what real charity is.” Oh, it is all so easy, so easy,
this vicarious benevolence, this spending of other people’s fortunes!
Few of us, according to the latest statistics, have a million, but we
all have something, some part of it. Are we living up to our portion?
Are we generous with what we have?
The man who is selfish with one thousand dollars will not develop
angelic wings of generosity when his million comes. If the generous
spirit be a reality with the individual, instead of an empty boast, he
will, every hour, find opportunity to make it manifest. The radiation
of kindness need not be expressed in money at all. It may be shown in
a smile of human interest, a glow of sympathy, a word of fellowship
with the sorrowing and the struggling, an instinctive outstretching of
a helping hand to one in need.
No man living is so poor that he cannot evidence his spirit of
benevolence toward his fellowman. It may assume that rare and
wondrously beautiful phase of divine charity, in realizing how often
a motive is misrepresented in the act, how sin, sorrow and suffering
have warped and disguised latent good, in substituting a word of gentle
tolerance for some cheap tinsel of shabby cynicism that pretends to
be wit. If we are not rich enough to give “cold, hard” cash, let us
at least be too rich to give “cold, hard” words. Let us leave our
air-castles of vague self-adulation for so wisely spending millions
we have never seen, and rise to the dignity of living up to the full
proportion of our possessions, no matter how slight they may be.
Let us fill the world around us with love, brightness, sweetness,
gentleness, helpfulness, courage and sympathy, as if they were the only
legal tender and we were Monte Cristos with untold treasures of such
gold ever at our call.
Let us cease saying: “If I were,” and say ever: “I am.” Let us stop
living in the subjunctive mood, and begin to live in the indicative.
The one great defence of humanity against the charge of unfulfilled
duties is “lack of time.” The constant clamoring for time would be
pathetic, were it not for the fact that most individuals throw away
more of it than they use. Time is the only really valuable possession
of man, for without it every power within him would cease to exist. Yet
he recklessly squanders his great treasure as if it were valueless.
The wealth of the whole world could not buy one second of time. Yet
Society assassins dare to say in public that they have been “killing
time.” The time fallacy has put more people into air-castles than all
other causes combined. Life is only time; eternity is only more time;
immortality is merely man’s right to live through unending time.
“If I had a library I would read,” is the weak plaint of some other
tenant of an air-castle. If a man does not read the two or three
good books in his possession or accessible to him he would not read
if he had the British Museum brought to his bedside, and the British
Army delegated to continual service in handing him books from the
shelves. The time sacrificed to reading sensational newspapers might be
consecrated to good reading, if the individual were willing merely to
live up to his portion of opportunity.
The man who longs for some crisis in life, wherein he may show mighty
courage, while he is expending no portion of that courage in bearing
bravely the petty trials, sorrows and disappointments of daily life, is
living in an air-castle. He is just a sparrow looking enviously at the
mountain crags where the hardy eagle builds her nest, and dreaming of
being a great bird like that, perhaps even daring in a patronizing way,
to criticise her method of flight and to plume himself with the medals
he could win for flying if he only would. It is the day-by-day heroism
that vitalizes all of a man’s power in an emergency, that gives him
confidence that when need comes he will and _must_ be ready.
The air-castle typifies any delusion or folly that makes man forsake
real living for an idle, vague existence. Living in air-castles means
that a man sees life in a wrong perspective. He permits his lower self
to dominate his higher self; he who should tower as a mighty conqueror
over the human weakness, sin and folly that threaten to destroy his
better nature, binds upon his own wrists the manacles of habit that
hold him a slave. He loses the crown of his kingship because he sells
his royal birthright for temporary ease and comfort and the showy
things of the world, sacrificing so much that is best in him for mere
wealth, success, position, or the plaudits of the world. He forsakes
the throne of individuality for the air-castle of delusion.
The man who wraps himself in the Napoleonic cloak of his egotism,
hypnotizing himself into believing that he is superior to all other
men, that the opera-glasses of the universe are focused upon him and
that he treads the stage alone, had better wake up. He is living in
an air-castle. He who, like Narcissus, falls in love with his own
reflection and thinks he has a monopoly of the great work of the world,
whose conceit rises from him like the smoke from the magic bottle of
the genii and spreads till it shuts out and conceals the universe is
living in an air-castle.
The man who believes that all humanity is united in conspiracy against
him, who feels that his life is the hardest in all the world, and lets
the cares, sorrows and trials that come to us all, eclipse the glorious
sun of his happiness, darkening his eyes to his privileges and his
blessings, is living in an air-castle.
The woman who thinks the most beautiful creature in the world is seen
in her mirror, and who exchanges her queenly heritage of noble living
for the shams, jealousies, follies, frivolities and pretences of
society, is living in an air-castle.
The man who makes wealth his god instead of his servant, who is
determined to get rich, rich at any cost, and who is willing to
sacrifice honesty, honor, loyalty, character, family—everything he
should hold dear—for the sake of a mere stack of money-bags, is,
despite his robes of ermine, only a rich pauper living in an air-castle.
The man of ultra-conservatism, the victim of false content, who has no
plans, no ideals, no aspirations beyond the dull round of daily duties
in which he moves like a gold-fish in a globe, is often vain enough to
boast of his lack of progressiveness, in cheap shop-worn phrases from
those whom he permits to do his thinking for him. He does not realize
that faithfulness to duties, in its highest sense, means the constant
aiming at the performance of higher duties, living up, so far as can
be, to the maximum of one’s possibilities, not resignedly plodding
along at the minimum. A piece of machinery will do this, but real men
ever seek to rise to higher uses. Such a man is living in an air-castle.
With patronizing contempt he scorns the man of earnest, thoughtful
purpose, who sees his goal far before him but is willing to pay any
honest price to attain it; content to work day by day unceasingly,
through storm and stress, and sunshine and shadow, with sublime
confidence that nature is storing up every stroke of his effort, that,
though times often seem dark and progress but slight, results _must_
come if he have but courage to fight bravely to the end. This man does
not live in an air-castle; he is but battling with destiny for the
possession of his heritage, and is strengthened in character by his
struggle, even though all that he desires may not be fully awarded him.
The man who permits regret for past misdeeds, or sorrow for lost
opportunities to keep him from recreating a proud future from the new
days committed to his care, is losing much of the glory of living.
He is repudiating the manna of new life given each new day, merely
because he misused the manna of years ago. He is doubly unwise, because
he has the wisdom of his past experience and does not profit by it,
merely because of a technicality of useless, morbid regret. He is
living in an air-castle.
The man who spends his time lamenting the fortune he once had, or the
fame that has taken its winged flight into oblivion, frittering away
his golden hours erecting new monuments in the cemetery of his past
achievements and his former greatness, making what he _was_ ever plead
apology for what he _is_, lives in an air-castle. To the world and to
the individual a single egg of new hope and determination, with its
wondrous potency of new life, is greater than a thousand nests full of
the eggs of dead dreams, or unrealized ambitions.
Whatever keeps a man from living his best, truest and highest life now,
in the indicative present, if it be something that he himself places
as an obstacle in his own path of progress and development, is to him
Some men live in the air-castle of indolence; others in the
air-castle of dissipation, of pride, of avarice, of deception, of
bigotry, of worry, of intemperance, of injustice, of intolerance, of
procrastination, of lying, of selfishness, or of some other mental
or moral characteristic that withdraws them from the real duties and
privileges of living.
Let us find out what is the air-castle in which we, individually, spend
most of our time and we can then begin a re-creation of ourselves. The
bondage of the air-castle must be fought nobly and untiringly.
As man spends his hours and his days and his weeks in an air-castle, he
finds that the delicate gossamer-like strands and lines of the phantom
structure gradually become less and less airy; they begin to grow firm
and firmer, strengthening with the years, until at last, solid walls
hem him in. Then he is startled by the awful realization that habit
and habitancy have transformed his air-castle into a prison from which
escape is difficult.
And then he learns that the most deceptive and dangerous of all things
Swords and Scabbards
Swords and Scabbards
It is the custom of grateful states and nations to present swords as
tokens of highest honor to the victorious leaders of their armies
and navies. The sword presented to Admiral Schley by the people
of Philadelphia, at the close of America’s war with Spain, cost
over $3,500, the greater part of which was spent on the jewels and
decorations on the scabbard. A little more than half a century ago,
when General Winfield Scott, for whom Admiral Schley was named,
received a beautiful sword from the State of Louisiana, he was asked
how it pleased him.
“It is a very fine sword, indeed,” he said, “but there is one thing
about it I would have preferred different. The inscription should be on
the blade, not on the scabbard. The scabbard may be taken from us; the
The world spends too much time, money and energy on the scabbard of
life; too little on the sword. The scabbard represents outside show,
vanity and display; the sword, intrinsic worth. The scabbard is ever
the semblance; the sword the reality. The scabbard is the temporal; the
sword is the eternal. The scabbard is the body; the sword is the soul.
The scabbard typifies the material side of life; the sword the true,
the spiritual, the ideal.
The man who does not dare follow his own convictions, but who lives in
terror of what society will say, falling prostrate before the golden
calf of public opinion, is living an empty life of mere show. He is
sacrificing his individuality, his divine right to live his life in
harmony with his own high ideals, to a cowardly, toadying fear of
the world. He is not a voice, with the strong note of individual
purpose; he is but the thin echo of the voice of thousands. He
is not brightening, sharpening and using the sword of his life in
true warfare; he is lazily ornamenting a useless scabbard with the
hieroglyphics of his folly.
The man who lives beyond his means, who mortgages his future for
his present, who is generous before he is just, who is sacrificing
everything to keep up with the procession of his superiors, is really
losing much of life. He, too, is decorating the scabbard, and letting
the sword rust in its sheath.
Life is not a competition with others. In its truest sense it is
rivalry with ourselves. We should each day seek to break the record
of our yesterday. We should seek each day to live stronger, better,
truer lives; each day to master some weakness of yesterday; each day
to repair past follies; each day to surpass ourselves. And this is but
progress. And individual, conscious progress, progress unending and
unlimited, is the one great thing that differentiates man from all
the other animals. Then we will care naught for the pretty, useless
decorations of society’s approval on the scabbard. For us it will be
enough to know that the blade of our purpose is kept ever keen and
sharp for the defense of right and truth, never to wrong the rights of
others, but ever to right the wrongs of ourselves and those around us.
Reputation is what the world thinks a man is; character is what he
really is. Anyone can play shuttlecock with a man’s reputation; his
character is his alone. No one can injure his character but he himself.
Character is the sword; reputation is the scabbard. Many men acquire
insomnia in standing guard over their reputation, while their character
gives them no concern. Often they make new dents in their character in
their attempt to cut a deep, deceptive filigree on the scabbard of
their reputation. Reputation is the shell a man discards when he leaves
life for immortality. His character he takes with him.
The woman who spends thousands in charitable donations, and is hard
and uncharitable in her judgments, sentimentally sympathetic with
human sin and weakness in the abstract, while she arrogates to herself
omniscience in her harsh condemnation of individual lapses, is
charitable only on the outside. She is letting her tongue undo the good
work of her hand. She is too enthusiastic in decorating the scabbard of
publicity to think of the sword of real love of humanity.
He who carries avarice to the point of becoming a miser, hoarding
gold that is made useless to him because it does not fulfill its
one function, circulation, and regarding the necessities of life as
luxuries, is one of Nature’s jests, that would be humorous were it
not so serious. He is the most difficult animal to classify in the
whole natural history of humanity—he has so many of the virtues. He
is a striking example of ambition, economy, frugality, persistence,
will-power, self-denial, loyalty to purpose and generosity to his
heirs. These noble qualities he spoils in the application. His
specialty is the scabbard of life. He spends his days in making a solid
gold scabbard for the tin sword of a wasted existence.
The shoddy airs and ostentations, extravagance, and prodigality of some
who have suddenly become rich, is goldplating the scabbard without
improving the blade. The superficial veneer of refinement really
accentuates the native vulgarity. The more you polish woodwork, the
more you reveal the grain. Some of the sudden legatees of fortune
have the wisdom to acquire the reality of refinement through careful
training. This is the true method of putting the sword itself in order
instead of begemming the scabbard.
The girl who marries merely for money or for a title, is a feminine
Esau of the beginning of the century. She is selling her birthright of
love for the pottage of an empty name, forfeiting the possibility of a
life of love, all that true womanhood should hold most dear, for a mere
bag of gold or a crown. She is decorating the scabbard with a crest and
heraldic designs, and with ornaments of pure gold set with jewels. She
feels that this will be enough for life, and that she does not need
love,—real love, that has made this world a paradise, despite all the
other people present. She does not realize that there is but one real
reason, but one justification for marriage, and that is,—love; all
the other motives are not reasons, they are only excuses. The phrase,
“marrying a man for his money,” as the world bluntly puts it, is
incorrect—the woman merely marries the money, and takes the man as an
incumbrance or mortgage on the property.
The man who procrastinates, filling his ears with the lovely song
of “to-morrow,” is following the easiest and most restful method of
shortening the possibilities of life. Procrastination is stifling
action by delay, it is killing decision by inactivity, it is drifting
on the river of time, instead of rowing bravely toward a desired
harbor. It is watching the sands in the hour-glass run down before
beginning any new work, then reversing the glass and repeating the
observation. The folly of man in thus delaying is apparent, when any
second his life may stop, and the sands of that single hour may run
their course,—and he will not be there to see.
Delay is the narcotic that paralyzes energy. When Alexander was asked
how he conquered the world, he said: “By not delaying.” Let us not put
off till to-morrow the duty of to-day; that which our mind tells us
should be done to-day, our mind and body should execute. To-day is the
sword we should hold and use; to-morrow is but the scabbard from which
each new to-day is withdrawn.
The man who wears an oppressive, pompous air of dignity, because he
has accomplished some little work of importance, because he is vested
with a brief mantle of authority, loses sight of the true perspective
of life. He is destitute of humor; he takes himself seriously. It is a
thousand-dollar scabbard on a two-dollar sword.
The man who is guilty of envy is the victim of the oldest vice in the
history of the world, the meanest and most despicable of human traits.
It began in the Garden of Eden, when Satan envied Adam and Eve. It
caused the downfall of man and the first murder—Cain’s unbrotherly
act to Abel. Envy is a paradoxic vice. It cannot suffer bravely the
prosperity of another, it has mental dyspepsia because someone else
is feasting, it makes its owner’s clothes turn into rags at sight of
another’s velvet. Envy is the malicious contemplation of the beauty,
honors, success, happiness, or triumph of another. It is the mud that
inferiority throws at success. Envy is the gangrene of unsatisfied
ambition, it eats away purpose and kills energy. It is egotism gone
to seed; it always finds the secret of its non-success in something
Envy is the scabbard, but emulation is the sword. Emulation regards
the success of another as an object lesson; it seeks in the triumph of
another the why, the reason, the inspiration of method. It seeks to
attain the same heights by the path it thus discovers, not to hurl down
from his eminence him who points out the way of attainment. Let us keep
the sword of emulation ever brightened and sharpened in the battle of
honest effort, not idly dulling and rusting in the scabbard of envy.
The supreme folly of the world, the saddest depths to which the human
mind can sink, is atheism. He surely is to be pitied who permits the
illogical philosophy of petty infidels, or his misinterpretations of
the revelations of science, to cheat him of his God. He pins his faith
to some ingenious sophistry in the reasoning of those whose books he
has read to sum up for him the whole problem, and in hopeless egotism
shuts his eyes to the million proofs in nature and life, because the
full plans of Omnipotence are not made clear to him.
On the technicality of his failure to understand some one
point—perhaps it is why sin, sorrow, suffering and injustice exist in
the world—he declares he will not believe. He might as well disbelieve
in the sky above him because he cannot see it all; discredit the air
he breathes because it is invisible; doubt the reality of the ocean
because his feeble vision can take in but a few miles of the great
sea; deny even life itself because he cannot see it, and no anatomist
has found the subtle essence to hold it up to view on the end of his
He dares to disbelieve in God despite His countless manifestations,
because he is not taken into the full confidence of the Creator and
permitted to look over and check off the ground-plans of the universe.
He sheathes the sword of belief in the dingy scabbard of infidelity.
He does not see the proof of God in the daily miracle of the rising
and setting of the sun, in the seasons, in the birds, in the flowers,
in the countless stars, moving in their majestic regularity at the
command of eternal law, in the presence of love, justice, truth in the
hearts of men, in that supreme confidence that is inborn in humanity,
making even the lowest savage worship the Infinite in some form. It is
the petty vanity of cheap reasoning that makes man permit the misfit
scabbard of infidelity to hide from him the glory of the sword of
The philosophy of swords and scabbards is as true of nations as of
individuals. When France committed the great crime of the nineteenth
century, by condemning Dreyfus to infamy and isolation, deafening her
ears to the cries of justice, and seeking to cover her shame with
greater shame, she sheathed the sword of a nation’s honor in the
scabbard of a nation’s crime. The breaking of the sword of Dreyfus
when he was cruelly degraded before the army, typified the degradation
of the French nation in breaking the sword of justice and preserving
carefully the empty scabbard with its ironic inscription, “Vive la
The scabbard is ever useless in the hour of emergency; _then_ it is
upon the sword itself that we must rely. Then the worthlessness of
show, sham, pretence, gilded weakness is revealed to us. Then the
trivialities of life are seen in their true form. The nothingness
of everything but the real, the tried, the true, is made luminant
in an instant. Then we know whether our living has been one of true
preparation, of keeping the sword clean, pure, sharp and ready, or one
of mere idle, meaningless, day-by-day markings of folly on the empty
scabbard of a wasted life.