Excerpts from

The Grandest Thing in the World

Orison Swett Marden

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Book Description
In this book one has all the ingredients to understand what it takes to build a strong moral character that is the foundation for a happy and successful life. Do we ask, what is character? Is it not that sum of qualities which distinguishes one person from another? It is no part of Dr. Marden's intent, in this book, to catalog those mental and moral traits of most value to mankind, yet it is his intent to name certain deep-rooted dispositions, which are essential in the mental makeup of those who set before themselves a high ideal in seeking for the grandest thing in the world.

Chapter 1




IF Drummond was wise in calling an abstract quality such as Love, the Greatest Thing in the World — then Love, paired with a fully developed Character, must truly be the Grandest Thing in the World. Drummond himself, in his life story, is far grander than anything he ever wrote, for his was the life of a radiant personality.


"When you met him," says Dr. George Adam Smith, his biographer, "you saw a graceful, well-dressed gentleman, tall, with a slight swagger in his walk and a brightness in his face; who seemed to carry no worries, and to suffer neither from presumption nor timidity. When you spoke with him, you’d find him knowledgeable and interested about most any topic.


He fished, he hunted, he skated, as few can; he played cricket; he would go any distance to see a bon-fire or a football game.


He had a new story or a new puzzle or a new joke every time he met you. If it was on the street, he’d encourage you to watch the everyday happenings with a keen eye for detail. He helped you appreciate the miracle of the smaller things in life. If you’d meet him on the train, he was ever poised to read you a fresh tale from a book he had most recently

discovered. He’d make you more aware of what’s going on in the world.


He loved to play and he was known for introducing games and within a matter of minutes he’d have everybody in the thick of it. Children loved him for his generosity and encouragement.”


 “Drummond had a genius for friendship," says Professor Grose. He so won the affection of working-men that one said, after Drummond died, that he almost felt as if he must talk to him in his prayers — to invoke his influence for good, from out of the heavens.


Ian Maclaren, who first knew Drummond as a boy on the cricket field said, "His influence more than that of any other man I ever met, was mesmerizing — which means that, while other men affect people by their speech and example, he was able to seize one directly by his vibrant personality. Overly reserved and always sensible people grew uneasy in his presence, and would sometime even force themselves to resist Drummond, — as one might do who recognized a magician, and feared his spell. Men would quickly become observant, interested, fascinated by the very sight of the man, and could not take their eyes off him. It was as if the prince from a children’s fairytale had dropped in among the common folk.''


So when we ask — What is Character? Is it not that sum of qualities

which distinguishes one person from another? Do we say that Drummond's versatility and ability to connect with people of all interests was his distinguishing characteristic? It was, in fact, his unique combination of higher qualities; and no man can acquire a far-reaching influence without a fair mental balance, without great strengths from many sides.


While it is not my intent, in this booklet, to catalogue every mental and moral trait to be acquired by the most ambitious, it is my intent to name certain deep-rooted ideals, which are most essential in the mental make-up of those who set before themselves the goal of developing their character, the highest ideal, also known as The Grandest Thing in the World.


The dominant influences in the shaping of character are heredity and environment. Before an individual can think or act independently these strong influences are hard at work, making their firm impression upon our entire being.


As Daniel Webster wrote:


“If we work upon marble, it will perish; if we work upon brass, time will efface it; if we rear temples, they will crumble into dust; but if we work upon immortal souls, if we imbue them with immortal principles, with the just fear of God and love of fellow men, we engrave on those tablets something which will brighten all eternity.”



Chapter 2




True worth is in being, not seeming,—

In doing, each day that goes by,

Some little good, not in the dreaming

Of great things to do by and by.

For whatever men say in their blindness,

And in spite of the fancies of youth,

There's nothing so kingly as kindness,

And nothing so royal as truth.

                                      —ALICE CART


A gentleman's first characteristic is that fineness of structure in the body which renders it capable of the most delicate sensation, and of structure in the mind which renders it capable of the most delicate sympathies; one may say, simply, "fineness of nature."



There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being happy. . . By being happy we sow anonymous benefits upon the world, which remain unknown even to ourselves.



On the steps of a public building in Florence, an old soldier sat playing a violin. By his side stood a faithful dog holding in his mouth the disabled veteran's hat, into which, now and then, a passer-by would drop a coin. A gentleman, in passing, paused, and asked for the violin; first tuning it, he then began to play.


The sight of such a well-dressed man, playing the poor man’s violin in such a place, and with such kindness and enthusiasm, attracted the passersby, and they stopped. The music was so charming that they stood there, enchanted. The number of donations in the hat increased largely. The hat became so heavy that the dog began to growl. It was emptied, and soon filled again. The company grew until a great congregation was gathered. The performer played one of the national anthems, handed the violin back to its owner, and quickly went along his way.


One man who was present said: "That was Amard Bucher, the world renowned violinist. He did this for charity; let us follow his example." And immediately the hat was passed again for a collection for the old veteran.


Mr. Bucher did not give a penny, but yet he flooded the old man's day with sunshine and showed him that there was one who cared for his welfare and truly appreciated him for his service.


So, too, it is related that when Michael Angelo was at the height of his fame, when monarchs and popes were paying fabulous prices for his works, a little boy met him in the street, with an old pencil and a piece of dirty brown paper, and asked him for a picture. The great artist sat on the curbstone and drew a picture for his little admirer.


Another like charming story is told of Jenny Lind, a famous singer from Sweden, the story tells us of her noble nature. Once when walking with a friend she saw an old woman staggering into the door of her concert hall. Her pity for the woman was immediate, and she entered the door, pretend-ing to need to rest for a moment, but in reality she wished to give something to the poor woman. To her surprise, the old woman began at once to talk of Jenny Lind, saying, —


"I have lived a long time in this world, and desire nothing more before I die but to hear the sweet sound of the great Jenny Lind."


"Would it make you happy?" inquired Jenny.


"Ay, that it would; but such folks as I can't afford to go to the concert, and so I shall never hear her in person."


"Don't be so sure of that," said Jenny. "Sit down, my friend, and listen.”


She then sang, with genuine glee, one of her best songs. The old woman was wild with delight and wonder, when she added,—


''Now you have heard Jenny Lind."


“Sweeter than the perfume of roses, is a reputation for a kind, charitable, unselfish nature; a ready disposition to do for others any good turn that is within your power. The health and wellbeing of the mind is closely linked to the sensibilities of the body; even what the body wears and where it resides has influence on our self-esteem.”


"Good looking," Horace Smith remarks," is looking good." "Be good, be manly, be womanly, be gentle, generous in your sympathies, take rightful ownership of all the good that is all around you, — do this and you will never lack kind words of admiration toward others."


Was there ever an unselfish person, of charitable and generous impulses; one who was sociable, loving, kind, of tender spirit and thoughtful of others, who was not universally beloved by all? The kind soul, indeed, can be regarded as “the light-bearer.”


Some people are naturally happy and optimistic. No matter what their circumstances are, they are joyous, content, and satisfied with most everything. They carry a perpetual holiday in their eyes, and see joy and beauty everywhere. When we meet them they impress us as having just met with some good luck, or as having some grand news to share. Like the bees that extract honey from every flower, they have a happy air about them which transforms gloom into sunshine. In the hospitals their smiles and wit outperform the physician and have a more potent effect than most drugs. All doors open to these people. They are welcome everywhere.


The most fascinating person is always the one with the most winning manners. Inner character eventually out-shines the most seductive outward physical beauty.

We do not need a formal introduction to feel the greatness within a man of true character. If you meet a cheerful man on the street on a cold day you seem to feel the mercury rise several degrees. The two main characteristics of a lady or of a gentleman are, according to Earl Beaconsfield, propriety and consideration, for others. "If you fall into any

extreme, let it be on the side of gentleness.'' "Let each one strive to yield to the wishes of others, in absolute unselfishness." "Never part without loving words.'' How appropriate are such giving sentiments, that we should adopt them as our life mottos!


The following was found in an old manor-house in England, written and framed, and hung over the mantel-piece of a sitting-room:


"The true gentleman is God's servant, the world's master, and his own man. Virtue is his business; study, his recreation; contentment, his rest; and happiness, his reward. God is his Father; the saints, his brethren; and all that need him his friends. Devotion is his chaplain; chastity, his chamberlain; sobriety, his butler; temperance, his cook; hospitality, his housekeeper; Providence, his steward; charity, his treasurer; and discretion, his porter, to let in or out, as appropriate. Thus his whole life is made up of virtue, and he is master of his house. He is committed to take the world with him, on his personal journey toward heaven, and all his business along the way is to make himself and others happy. His determination for good is what makes him — a man."

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