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A Question And An Answer
by [?]


I have been reading your articles in The Evening Post. They are really most amusing! You do know such a lot about people and things, that I am tempted to write and ask you a question on a subject that is puzzling me. What is it that is necessary to succeed–socially? There! It is out! Please do not laugh at me. Such funny people get on and such clever, agreeable ones fail, that I am all at sea. Now do be nice and answer me, and you will have a very grateful


The above note, in a rather juvenile feminine hand, and breathing a faint perfume of violette de Parme, was part of the morning’s mail that I found lying on my desk a few days ago, in delightful contrast to the bills and advertisements which formed the bulk of my correspondence. It would suppose a stoicism greater than I possess, not to have felt a thrill of satisfaction in its perusal. There was, then, some one who read with pleasure what I wrote, and who had been moved to consult me on a question (evidently to her) of importance. I instantly decided to do my best for the edification of my fair correspondent (for no doubt entered my head that she was both young and fair), the more readily because that very question had frequently presented itself to my own mind on observing the very capricious choice of Dame “Fashion” in the distribution of her favors.

That there are people who succeed brilliantly and move from success to success, amid an applauding crowd of friends and admirers, while others, apparently their superiors in every way, are distanced in the race, is an undeniable fact. You have but to glance around the circle of your acquaintances and relations to be convinced of this anomaly. To a reflecting mind the question immediately presents itself, Why is this? General society is certainly cultivated enough to appreciate intelligence and superior endowments. How then does it happen that the social favorites are so often lacking in the qualities which at a first glance would seem indispensable to success?

Before going any further let us stop a moment, and look at the subject from another side, for it is more serious than appears to be on the surface. To be loved by those around us, to stand well in the world, is certainly the most legitimate as well as the most common of ambitions, as well as the incentive to most of the industry and perseverance in life. Aside from science, which is sometimes followed for itself alone, and virtue, which we are told looks for no other reward, the hope which inspires a great deal of the persistent efforts we see, is generally that of raising one’s self and those one loves by one’s efforts into a sphere higher than where cruel fate had placed them; that they, too, may take their place in the sunshine and enjoy the good things of life. This ambition is often purely disinterested; a life of hardest toil is cheerfully borne, with the hope (for sole consolation) that dear ones will profit later by all the work, and live in a circle the patient toiler never dreams of entering. Surely he is a stern moralist who would deny this satisfaction to the breadwinner of a family.

There are doubtless many higher motives in life, more elevated goals toward which struggling humanity should strive. If you examine the average mind, however, you will be pretty sure to find that success is the touchstone by which we judge our fellows and what, in our hearts, we admire the most. That is not to be wondered at, either, for we have done all we can to implant it there. From a child’s first opening thought, it is impressed upon him that the great object of existence is to succeed. Did a parent ever tell a child to try and stand last in his class? And yet humility is a virtue we admire in the abstract. Are any of us willing to step aside and see our inferiors pass us in the race? That is too much to ask of poor humanity. Were other and higher standards to be accepted, the structure of civilization as it exists to-day would crumble away and the great machine run down.