Success and Moderation! Is Restraint The Key To Success?
Judgment, Industry, and Health, as the instruments of success, depend largely on a fourth quality, which may be called either restraint or moderation. The successful men of these arduous days are those who control themselves strictly.
Those who are learned in the past may point out exceptions to this rule. But Charles James Fox or Bolingbroke were only competing with equals in the art of genteel debauchery. Their habits were those of their competitors. They were not fighting men who safeguarded their health and kept a cool head in the morning.
It is impossible to imagine today a leader of the Opposition who, after a night of gambling at faro, would go down without a breakfast or a bath to develop an important attack on the Government. The days of the brilliant debauchee are over. Politicians no longer retire for good at forty to nurse the gout. The antagonists that careless genius would have to meet in the modern world would be of sterner stuff.
The modern men of action realize that a sacrifice of health is a sacrifice of years—and that every year is of value. They protect their constitutions as the final bulwark against the assault of the enemy. A man without a digestion is likely to be a man without a heart. Political and financial courage spring as much from the nerves or the stomach as from the brain. And without courage no politician or business man is worth anything. Moderation is, therefore, the secret of success.
And, above all, I would urge on ambitious youth the absolute necessity of moderation in alcohol. I am the last man in the world to be in favor of the regulation of the social habits of the people by law. Here every man should be his own controller and law-giver. But this much is certain: no man can achieve success who is not strict with himself in this matter; nor is it a bad thing for an aspiring man of business to be a teetotaler.
Take the case of the Prime Minister. No man is more careful of himself. He sips a single glass of burgundy at dinner for the obvious reason that he enjoys it, and not because it might stimulate his activities. He has given up the use of tobacco. Bolingbroke as a master of maneuvers would have had a poor chance against him. For Bolingbroke lost his nerve in the final disaster, whereas the Prime Minister could always be trusted to have all his wits and courage about him.
Mr. Lloyd George is regarded as a man riding the storm of politics with nerves to drive him on. No view could be more untrue. In the very worst days of the war in 1916 he could be discovered at the War Office taking his ten minutes' nap with his feet up on a chair and discarded newspapers lying like the debris of a battle-field about him. It would be charitable to suppose that he had fallen asleep before he had read his newspapers! He even takes his golf in very moderate doses.
We are often told that he needs a prolonged holiday, but somewhere in his youth he finds inexhaustible reserves of power which he conserves into his middle age. In this way he has found the secret of his temporary Empire. It is for this reason that the man in command is never too busy to see a caller who has the urgency of vital business at his back.
The Ex-Leader of the Conservative Party, Mr. Bonar Law, however much he may differ from the Premier in many aspects of his temperament, also finds the foundation of his judgment in exercise and caution. As a player of games he is rather poor, but makes up in enthusiasm for tennis what he lacks in skill. His habits are almost ascetic in their rigor.
He drinks nothing, and the finest dinner a cook ever conceived would be wasted on him. A single course of the plainest food suffices his appetite, and he grows manifestly uneasy when faced with a long meal. His pipe, his one relaxation, never far absent, seems to draw him with a magic attraction. As it was, his physical resources stood perhaps the greatest strain that has been imposed on any public man in our time.
From the moment when he joined the first Coalition Government in 1915 to the day when he laid down office in 1921 he was beset by cares and immersed in labors which would have overwhelmed almost any other man. Neither this nor succeeding Coalition Governments were popular with a great section of his Conservative followers, and to the task of taking decisions on the war was added the constant and irritating necessity of keeping his own supporters in line with the administration.
In 1916 he had to take the vital decision which displaced Mr. Asquith in favor of Mr. Lloyd George, and during the latter's Premiership he had to suffer the strain of constantly accommodating himself, out of a feeling of personal loyalty, to methods which were not congenial to his own nature. In the face of all these stresses he never would take a holiday, and nothing except the rigid moderation of his life enabled him to keep the cool penetration of his judgment intact and his physical vigor going during those six terrible years.
The Lord Chancellor might appear to be an exception to the rule. This is very far from being the case. It is true that his temperament knows no mean either in work or play. One of the most successful speeches he ever delivered in the House of Commons was the fruit of a day of violent exercise, followed by a night of preparation, with a wet towel tied round the head. And yet he appeared perfectly fresh; he has the priceless asset of the most marvelous constitution in the British Empire. Kipling's poem on France suggests an adaptation to describe the Lord Chancellor:
"Furious in luxury, merciless in toil,
Terrible with strength renewed from a tireless soil."
No man has spent himself more freely in the hunting-field or works harder today at games. Yet, with all this tendency to the extreme of work and play, he is a man of iron resolution and determined self-control. Although the most formidable enemy of the Pussyfooters and the most powerful protector of freedom in the social habits of the people that the Cabinet contains, he is, like Mr. Bonar Law, a teetotaler. It is this capacity for governing himself which is pointing upwards to still greater heights of power.
Mr. McKenna is, perhaps, the most striking instance of what determination can achieve in the way of health and physique. His rowing Blue was the simple and direct result of taking pains—in the form of a rowing dummy in which he practiced in his own rooms. The achievement was typical of a career which has in its dual success no parallel in modern life.
There have been many Chancellors of the Exchequer and many big men in the City. That a man, after forcing his way to the front in politics, should transfer his activities to the City and become in a short four years its most commanding figure is unheard of. And Mr. McKenna had the misfortune to enter public life with the handicap of a stutter. He set himself to cure it by reading Burke aloud to his family, and he cured it.
He was then told by his political friends that he spoke too quickly to be effective. He cured himself of this defect too, by rehearsing his speeches to a time machine—an ordinary stop-watch, not one of the H. G. Wells' variety. Indeed, if any man can be said to have "made himself," it is Mr. McKenna. He bridges the gulf between politics and the City, and brings one to a final instance of the purely business man.
Mr. Gordon Selfridge is an exemplar of the simple life practical in the midst of unbounded success. He goes to his office every morning regularly at nine o'clock. In the midst of opulence he eats a frugal lunch in a room which supplies the one thing of which he is avaricious—big windows and plenty of fresh air. For light and air spell for him, as for the rest of us, health and sound judgment.
He possesses, indeed, one terrible and hidden secret—a kind of baron's castle somewhere in the heart of South England, where he may retire beyond the pursuit of King or people, and hurl his defiance from its walls to all the intruders which threaten the balance of the mind. No one has yet discovered this castle, for it exists only on paper.
When Mr. Gordon Selfridge requires mental relaxation, he may be found poring over the plans which are to be the basis of this fairy edifice. Moat and parapet, tower, dungeon, and drawbridge, are all there, only awaiting the Mason of the future to translate them into actuality. But the success of Mr. Selfridge lies in his frugality, and not in his dreams. One can afford to have a castle in Spain when one possesses the money to pay for it.
It is the complexity of modern life which enforces moderation. Science has created vast populations and huge industries, and also given the means by which single minds can direct them. Invention gives these gifts, and compels man to use them. Man is as much the slave as the master of the machine, as he turns to the telephone or the telegram.
In this fierce turmoil of the modern world he can only keep his judgment intact, his nerves sound, and his mind secure by the process of self-discipline, which may be equally defined as restraint, control, or moderation. This is the price which must be paid for the gifts the gods confer.