site logo

Failure as a Success

Books: The Majesty of Calmness

It ofttimes requires heroic courage to face fruitless effort, to take

up the broken strands of a life-work, to look bravely toward the

future, and proceed undaunted on our way. But what, to our eyes, may

seem hopeless failure is often but the dawning of a greater success. It

may contain in its debris the foundation material of a mighty purpose,

or the revelation of new and higher possibilities.

Some years
ago, it was proposed to send logs from Canada to New York,

by a new method. The ingenious plan of Mr. Joggins was to bind great

logs together by cables and iron girders and to tow the cargo as a

raft. When the novel craft neared New York and success seemed assured,

a terrible storm arose. In the fury of the tempest, the iron bands

snapped like icicles and the angry waters scattered the logs far and

wide. The chief of the Hydrographic Department at Washington heard of

the failure of the experiment, and at once sent word to shipmasters the

world over, urging them to watch carefully for these logs which he

described; and to note the precise location of each in latitude and

longitude and the time the observation was made.

Hundreds of captains, sailing over the waters of the earth, noted the

logs, in the Atlantic Ocean, in the Mediterranean, in the South Seas--

for into all waters did these venturesome ones travel. Hundreds of

reports were made, covering a period of weeks and months. These

observations were then carefully collated, systematized and tabulated,

and discoveries were made as to the course of ocean currents that

otherwise would have been impossible. The loss of the Joggins raft was

not a real failure, for it led to one of the great discoveries in

modern marine geography and navigation.

In our superior knowledge we are disposed to speak in a patronizing

tone of the follies of the alchemists of old. But their failure to

transmute the baser metals into gold resulted in the birth of

chemistry. They did not succeed in what they attempted, but they

brought into vogue the natural processes of sublimation, filtration,

distillation, and crystallization; they invented the alembic, the

retort, the sand-bath, the water-bath and other valuable instruments.

To them is due the discovery of antimony, sulphuric ether and

phosphorus, the cupellation of gold and silver, the determining of the

properties of saltpetre and its use in gunpowder, and the discovery of

the distillation of essential oils. This was the success of failure, a

wondrous process of Nature for the highest growth,--a mighty lesson of

comfort, strength, and encouragement if man would only realize and

accept it.

Many of our failures sweep us to greater heights of success, than we

ever hoped for in our wildest dreams. Life is a successive unfolding of

success from failure. In discovering America Columbus failed

absolutely. His ingenious reasoning and experiment led him to believe

that by sailing westward he would reach India. Every redman in America

carries in his name "Indian," the perpetuation of the memory of the

failure of Columbus. The Genoese navigator did not reach India; the

cargo of "souvenirs" he took back to Spain to show to Ferdinand and

Isabella as proofs of his success, really attested his failure. But the

discovery of America was a greater success than was any finding of a

"back-door" to India.

When David Livingstone had supplemented his theological education by a

medical course, he was ready to enter the missionary field. For over

three years he had studied tirelessly, with all energies concentrated

on one aim,--to spread the gospel in China. The hour came when he was

ready to start out with noble enthusiasm for his chosen work, to

consecrate himself and his life to his unselfish ambition. Then word

came from China that the "opium war" would make it folly to attempt to

enter the country. Disappointment and failure did not long daunt him;

he offered himself as missionary to Africa,--and he was accepted. His

glorious failure to reach China opened a whole continent to light and

truth. His study proved an ideal preparation for his labors as

physician, explorer, teacher and evangel in the wilds of Africa.

Business reverses and the failure of his partner threw upon the broad

shoulders and the still broader honor and honesty of Sir Walter Scott a

burden of responsibility that forced him to write. The failure spurred

him to almost super-human effort. The masterpieces of Scotch historic

fiction that have thrilled, entertained and uplifted millions of his

fellow-men are a glorious monument on the field of a seeming failure.

When Millet, the painter of the "Angelus" worked on his almost divine

canvas, in which the very air seems pulsing with the regenerating

essence of spiritual reverence, he was painting against time, he was

antidoting sorrow, he was racing against death. His brush strokes, put

on in the early morning hours before going to his menial duties as a

railway porter, in the dusk like that perpetuated on his canvas,--meant

strength, food and medicine for the dying wife he adored. The art

failure that cast him into the depths of poverty unified with

marvellous intensity all the finer elements of his nature. This rare

spiritual unity, this purging of all the dross of triviality as he

passed through the furnace of poverty, trial, and sorrow gave eloquence

to his brush and enabled him to paint as never before,--as no

prosperity would have made possible.

Failure is often the turning-point, the pivot of circumstance that

swings us to higher levels. It may not be financial success, it may not

be fame; it may be new draughts of spiritual, moral or mental

inspiration that will change us for all the later years of our life.

Life is not really what comes to us, but what we get from it.

Whether man has had wealth or poverty, failure or success, counts for

little when it is past. There is but one question for him to answer, to

face boldly and honestly as an individual alone with his conscience and

his destiny:

"How will I let that poverty or wealth affect me? If that trial or

deprivation has left me better, truer, nobler, then,--poverty has been

riches, failure has been a success. If wealth has come to me and has

made me vain, arrogant, contemptuous, uncharitable, cynical, closing

from me all the tenderness of life, all the channels of higher

development, of possible good to my fellow-man, making me the mere

custodian of a money-bag, then,--wealth has lied to me, it has been

failure, not success; it has not been riches, it has been dark,

treacherous poverty that stole from me even Myself." All things become

for us then what we take from them.

Failure is one of God's educators. It is experience leading man to

higher things; it is the revelation of a way, a path hitherto unknown

to us. The best men in the world, those who have made the greatest real

successes look back with serene happiness on their failures. The

turning of the face of Time shows all things in a wondrously

illuminated and satisfying perspective.

Many a man is thankful to-day that some petty success for which he once

struggled, melted into thin air as his hand sought to clutch it.

Failure is often the rock-bottom foundation of real success. If man, in

a few instances of his life can say, "Those failures were the best

things in the world that could have happened to me," should he not face

new failures with undaunted courage and trust that the miraculous

ministry of Nature may transform these new stumbling-blocks into new


Our highest hopes, are often destroyed to prepare us for better things.

The failure of the caterpillar is the birth of the butterfly; the

passing of the bud is the becoming of the rose; the death or

destruction of the seed is the prelude to its resurrection as wheat. It

is at night, in the darkest hours, those preceding dawn, that plants

grow best, that they most increase in size. May this not be one of

Nature's gentle showings to man of the times when he grows best, of the

darkness of failure that is evolving into the sunlight of success. Let

us fear only the failure of not living the right as we see it, leaving

the results to the guardianship of the Infinite.

If we think of any supreme moment of our lives, any great success, any

one who is dear to us, and then consider how we reached that moment,

that success, that friend, we will be surprised and strengthened by the

revelation. As we trace each one, back, step by step, through the

genealogy of circumstances, we will see how logical has been the course

of our joy and success, from sorrow and failure, and that what gives us

most happiness to-day is inextricably connected with what once caused

us sorrow. Many of the rivers of our greatest prosperity and growth

have had their source and their trickling increase into volume among

the dark, gloomy recesses of our failure.

There is no honest and true work, carried along with constant and

sincere purpose that ever really fails. If it sometime seem to be

wasted effort, it will prove to us a new lesson of "how" to walk; the

secret of our failures will prove to us the inspiration of possible

successes. Man living with the highest aims, ever as best he can, in

continuous harmony with them, is a success, no matter what statistics

of failure a near-sighted and half-blind world of critics and

commentators may lay at his door.

High ideals, noble efforts will make seeming failures but trifles, they

need not dishearten us; they should prove sources of new strength. The

rocky way may prove safer than the slippery path of smoothness. Birds

cannot fly best with the wind but against it; ships do not progress in

calm, when the sails flap idly against the unstrained masts.

The alchemy of Nature, superior to that of the Paracelsians, constantly

transmutes the baser metals of failure into the later pure gold of

higher success, if the mind of the worker be kept true, constant and

untiring in the service, and he have that sublime courage that defies

fate to its worst while he does his best.