1925. Dr. Marden founded a new school of philosophy that is distinctly American. It is a philosophy without any taint of pessimism, a philosophy which, on the contrary, breathes the very spirit of optimism, emphasizes the divinity of man, and asserts his power, under God, to conquer all handicaps, and to overcome all adverse conditions which would bar him from the achievement of his noblest ambition. The material for this brief life story has been gathered from notes for an autobiography which he planned to write, from memories of conversations spread over many years of association in cooperative work with him, and from correspondence with the surviving friends of his youth and early manhood.
"If Doctor Marden
had not written his first book he would have been a millionaire," said
friend, Frank A. Munsey, the well-known publisher of magazines and
"He had a genius for hotel making."
While working his way through school and college, the future editor and author had demonstrated his business ability, and had he chosen a commercial career, he might have been wealthy. But his ideal of life was service, and he sacrificed all material prospects to devote himself to its attainment. In its pursuit he found a satisfaction in life which no fortune, however great, could give and won a success that mere money could never bestow.
He founded a new school of philosophy that is distinctively American. It is a philosophy without any taint of pessimism, a philosophy which, on the contrary, breathes the very spirit of optimism, emphasizes the divinity of man, and asserts his power, under God, to conquer all handicaps, and to overcome all adverse conditions which would bar him from the achievement of his noblest ambition.
His own victory over the hardest of circumstances and his remarkable accomplishments in the face of grinding poverty, bitter opposition and heartrending discouragement, furnish outstanding testimony to the soundness of his psychology.
In his books and in every issue of his magazine, Success, he heartened and inspired ambitious strugglers in many lands by citing the stories of men and women who, in spite of apparently insurmountable obstacles, heroically fought for their ideals and won the victor's crown. But it was because he wrote as one having first-hand knowledge, not as a mere theorist, that his influence was so far-reaching and compelling. His own life was an epic of struggle and triumph, and in writing out of the fullness of his personal experience, he exercised a power that was probably unexcelled in stirring his readers to enthusiastic emulation of his heroes.
The material for this brief life story has been gathered from notes for an autobiography, which he had planned to write, from memories of conversations spread over many years of association in cooperative work with him, and from correspondence with the surviving friends of his youth and early manhood. In this latter connection, the author is especially indebted to Mr. Arthur W. Brown, of Providence, R. I., one of his most valued friends, and, for many years co-worker with Doctor Marden.
The book is sent out at this time in response to a widespread demand from friends and admirers and in the hope that something of the spirit of its subject may be reflected in its pages and the man who has helped so many may be revealed, at least partially, to the world.
A SON OF THE GRANITE HILLS
Our God, our fathers' God;
—Hymn of Swiss Mountaineers.
THE dominant influences in the shaping of character are heredity and environment.
Before an individual can think or act independently these influences are at work, making their indelible impress upon his entire being. As surely as they determine the trend of his mind do they perform their part in molding his body.
Stephen Allen, in his reminiscences of Daniel Webster, said: "I could not help thinking, as I stood with some of his neighbors and kinsmen upon the spot where he first saw the light of day, that those wild, bleak hills amongst which he was cradled, and those rough pastures in which he grew, had left their impress upon his soul."
No less applicable are such thoughts in relation to another son of New Hampshire, Orison Swett Marden. Less favored by circumstances than Webster, the sternness of his environment had even more profoundly affected his character. His earliest ideals, tinged with a lofty austerity, were unforgettably linked with that far-famed wonder of New England, the "Old Man of the Mountain."
Every tourist visiting the White Mountains is thrilled at his first glimpse of that massive stone face. Fashioned from the granite front of Profile Mountain, as if by the cunning hand of a giant sculptor, the stern face, like the guardian spirit of Puritan New England, looks out through the ages over the rugged hills and verdant valleys of New Hampshire.
Its compelling features, stamped upon the subconscious mind of the boy, Orison, remained with him through life, exerting a powerful influence upon his whole career.
It fell out, one summer, that in the performance of his tasks, his homecoming steps at evening led him past the "Old Man of the Mountain." Coming toward it as the sun, dropping behind the mountain peaks, encircled the head with a flaming aureole, it fascinated and, at times, terrified, the sensitive, lonely child. In after years he recalled how, as the shadows passed over the face, and the darkness gathered, it loomed in his imagination as a stern judge,—one who would be implacable toward any deviation from honor and justice. "It had a mysterious influence over me," he said. "I felt, in a vague, undefined way, that it required of every one who looked upon it a high ideal of life, and that I must live up to what it demanded of me."
There is a strange coincidence between the origin of the New Hampshire boy's early ideal and that of the hero of Edward Roth's "Christus Judex," a popular legend of the White Mountains, according to Rev. J. H. Hoffman, in his admirable lecture on Doctor Marden's life and work. Pietro Casola, a young Italian, so runs the story, wished to paint an immortal canvas.
"Mother," asked he, "what picture shall I paint? How can I benefit men?"
"Why not paint the Christ coming to judge the world?" she suggested.
In preparation for his task the boy was sent to the best schools and studied art to the best schools and studied art under the great masters of Europe. Its technique learned, he next sought for a model. He visited the famous galleries of the Old World, but found no approach to his idea of the coming Christ. Then it was decided that he must come to the New World.
He came and explored along our shores and up and down our great rivers. He wandered far West, saw our inland lakes, and again turned his face to the East. While ascending the Kennebec River he was shown the outlines of some "White Foreheads." The Indian guide informed him that each of the "Foreheads" was the abode of a Great Spirit.
Suddenly the guide beckoned to Pietro to look up. He looked, and saw a great Stone Face, calm, stern, majestic—a portrait of the Divine Judge. Pietro had found his model. He would paint that face—to benefit men.
Like the Old World painter of the legend, Orison Marden, of the New World, spent his youth in pursuit of his ideal and in preparation for his life work. That work, like Pietro Casola's, was to benefit men. But there the resemblance between the hero of legend and the representative of the simple, everyday life of humanity's toilers ends.
The boy, Marden, born in the New World, in 1850, under the very shadow of the White Mountains, where it falls across a New Hampshire hamlet, Thornton Gore,—just across the valley from the great white Stone Face of the legend,—was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. No mother yearned over him in childhood, sympathized with him in his hopes and dreams, planned and discussed his future with him. No balmy climate, no smiling Italian landscape, warmed and brightened his young life. Yet, out of the very hardness of his environment, the austere hills, the harsh New England climate, the stony soil—an environment which harmonized with the harsh conditions of his life—he drew that indomitable strength of character that made him a leader, an inspirer of men.
What he did for the world cannot yet be fully estimated. But we do know that millions of men and women, regardless of race, creed or political conditions, are applying the dynamics of his practical philosophy in their everyday lives.
"Modern times have not produced a more remarkable character than Orison Swett Marden," says the historian, Doctor Francis Trevelyan Miller. "He was the twentieth century materialization of Aristotle and Plato—he put their philosophies of life in the abstract into a practical science of living.
"Having risen to a definite position among the philosophers of the ages, Doctor Marden might have founded a new school of science, or a new religion, but he found that, in his day, what the world needed most was not more conflicting creeds, but a welding of all creeds into a law of daily action—a rule of conduct—a definite schedule of living that could be as accurately applied to every day's problems as the law of mathematics itself.
"So, he took philosophy, science, religion, psychology, physics, metaphysics, psychiatrics, and all the 'isms' of the ages, and worked out for the human race a practicable, demonstrable, positive law of living that, correctly used, could not fail. This he gave to the world, free and untrammeled, uncontrolled by theological doctrines or church organization, unallied with any school of science."