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Title: Acres of Diamonds: Our Every-day Opportunities
Author: Conwell, Russell H.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.

*** Start of this LibraryBlog Digital Book "Acres of Diamonds: Our Every-day Opportunities" ***


By Russell H. Conwell

Founder Of Temple University


_His Life And Achievement By Robert Shackleton_

With an Autobiographical Note





THOUGH Russell H. Conwell’s Acres of Diamonds have been spread all over
the United States, time and care have made them more valuable, and now
that they have been reset in black and white by their discoverer, they
are to be laid in the hands of a multitude for their enrichment.

In the same case with these gems there is a fascinating story of the
Master Jeweler’s life-work which splendidly illustrates the ultimate
unit of power by showing what one man can do in one day and what one
life is worth to the world.

As his neighbor and intimate friend in Philadelphia for thirty years, I
am free to say that Russell H. Conwell’s tall, manly figure stands out
in the state of Pennsylvania as its first citizen and “The Big Brother”
 of its seven millions of people.

From the beginning of his career he has been a credible witness in the
Court of Public Works to the truth of the strong language of the
New Testament Parable where it says, “If ye have faith as a grain of
mustard-seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, ‘Remove hence to yonder

As a student, schoolmaster, lawyer, preacher, organizer, thinker and
writer, lecturer, educator, diplomat, and leader of men, he has made his
mark on his city and state and the times in which he has lived. A man
dies, but his good work lives.

His ideas, ideals, and enthusiasms have inspired tens of thousands of
lives. A book full of the energetics of a master workman is just what
every young man cares for.

1915. {signature}


_Friends_.--This lecture has been delivered under these circumstances:
I visit a town or city, and try to arrive there early enough to see the
postmaster, the barber, the keeper of the hotel, the principal of the
schools, and the ministers of some of the churches, and then go into
some of the factories and stores, and talk with the people, and get into
sympathy with the local conditions of that town or city and see what
has been their history, what opportunities they had, and what they had
failed to do--and every town fails to do something--and then go to the
lecture and talk to those people about the subjects which applied to
their locality. “Acres of Diamonds”--the idea--has continuously been
precisely the same. The idea is that in this country of ours every man
has the opportunity to make more of himself than he does in his own
environment, with his own skill, with his own energy, and with his own
friends.                    RUSSELL H. CONWELL.


WHEN going down the Tigris and Euphrates rivers many years ago with a
party of English travelers I found myself under the direction of an old
Arab guide whom we hired up at Bagdad, and I have often thought how
that guide resembled our barbers in certain mental characteristics. He
thought that it was not only his duty to guide us down those rivers,
and do what he was paid for doing, but also to entertain us with stories
curious and weird, ancient and modern, strange and familiar. Many of
them I have forgotten, and I am glad I have, but there is one I shall
never forget.

The old guide was leading my camel by its halter along the banks of
those ancient rivers, and he told me story after story until I grew
weary of his story-telling and ceased to listen. I have never been
irritated with that guide when he lost his temper as I ceased listening.
But I remember that he took off his Turkish cap and swung it in a circle
to get my attention. I could see it through the corner of my eye, but
I determined not to look straight at him for fear he would tell another
story. But although I am not a woman, I did finally look, and as soon as
I did he went right into another story.

Said he, “I will tell you a story now which I reserve for my particular
friends.” When he emphasized the words “particular friends,” I listened,
and I have ever been glad I did. I really feel devoutly thankful, that
there are 1,674 young men who have been carried through college by this
lecture who are also glad that I did listen. The old guide told me that
there once lived not far from the River Indus an ancient Persian by the
name of Ali Hafed. He said that Ali Hafed owned a very large farm,
that he had orchards, grain-fields, and gardens; that he had money at
interest, and was a wealthy and contented man. He was contented because
he was wealthy, and wealthy because he was contented. One day there
visited that old Persian farmer one of these ancient Buddhist priests,
one of the wise men of the East. He sat down by the fire and told the
old farmer how this world of ours was made. He said that this world was
once a mere bank of fog, and that the Almighty thrust His finger into
this bank of fog, and began slowly to move His finger around, increasing
the speed until at last He whirled this bank of fog into a solid ball of
fire. Then it went rolling through the universe, burning its way through
other banks of fog, and condensed the moisture without, until it fell in
floods of rain upon its hot surface, and cooled the outward crust.
Then the internal fires bursting outward through the crust threw up
the mountains and hills, the valleys, the plains and prairies of this
wonderful world of ours. If this internal molten mass came bursting out
and cooled very quickly it became granite; less quickly copper, less
quickly silver, less quickly gold, and, after gold, diamonds were made.

Said the old priest, “A diamond is a congealed drop of sunlight.” Now
that is literally scientifically true, that a diamond is an actual
deposit of carbon from the sun. The old priest told Ali Hafed that if he
had one diamond the size of his thumb he could purchase the county, and
if he had a mine of diamonds he could place his children upon thrones
through the influence of their great wealth.

Ali Hafed heard all about diamonds, how much they were worth, and went
to his bed that night a poor man. He had not lost anything, but he was
poor because he was discontented, and discontented because he feared
he was poor. He said, “I want a mine of diamonds,” and he lay awake all

Early in the morning he sought out the priest. I know by experience that
a priest is very cross when awakened early in the morning, and when he
shook that old priest out of his dreams, Ali Hafed said to him:

“Will you tell me where I can find diamonds?”

“Diamonds! What do you want with diamonds?” “Why, I wish to be immensely
rich.” “Well, then, go along and find them. That is all you have to do;
go and find them, and then you have them.” “But I don’t know where to
go.” “Well, if you will find a river that runs through white sands,
between high mountains, in those white sands you will always find
diamonds.” “I don’t believe there is any such river.” “Oh yes, there are
plenty of them. All you have to do is to go and find them, and then you
have them.” Said Ali Hafed, “I will go.”

So he sold his farm, collected his money, left his family in charge of
a neighbor, and away he went in search of diamonds. He began his search,
very properly to my mind, at the Mountains of the Moon. Afterward he
came around into Palestine, then wandered on into Europe, and at last
when his money was all spent and he was in rags, wretchedness, and
poverty, he stood on the shore of that bay at Barcelona, in Spain, when
a great tidal wave came rolling in between the pillars of Hercules, and
the poor, afflicted, suffering, dying man could not resist the awful
temptation to cast himself into that incoming tide, and he sank beneath
its foaming crest, never to rise in this life again.

When that old guide had told me that awfully sad story he stopped the
camel I was riding on and went back to fix the baggage that was coming
off another camel, and I had an opportunity to muse over his story while
he was gone. I remember saying to myself, “Why did he reserve that
story for his ‘particular friends’?” There seemed to be no beginning, no
middle, no end, nothing to it. That was the first story I had ever heard
told in my life, and would be the first one I ever read, in which the
hero was killed in the first chapter. I had but one chapter of that
story, and the hero was dead.

When the guide came back and took up the halter of my camel, he went
right ahead with the story, into the second chapter, just as though
there had been no break. The man who purchased Ali Hafed’s farm one day
led his camel into the garden to drink, and as that camel put its nose
into the shallow water of that garden brook, Ali Hafed’s successor
noticed a curious flash of light from the white sands of the stream. He
pulled out a black stone having an eye of light reflecting all the hues
of the rainbow. He took the pebble into the house and put it on the
mantel which covers the central fires, and forgot all about it.

A few days later this same old priest came in to visit Ali Hafed’s
successor, and the moment he opened that drawing-room door he saw that
flash of light on the mantel, and he rushed up to it, and shouted:
“Here is a diamond! Has Ali Hafed returned?” “Oh no, Ali Hafed has not
returned, and that is not a diamond. That is nothing but a stone we
found right out here in our own garden.” “But,” said the priest, “I
tell you I know a diamond when I see it. I know positively that is a

Then together they rushed out into that old garden and stirred up
the white sands with their fingers, and lo! there came up other more
beautiful and valuable gems than the first. “Thus,” said the guide
to me, and, friends, it is historically true, “was discovered the
diamond-mine of Golconda, the most magnificent diamond-mine in all the
history of mankind, excelling the Kimberly itself. The Kohinoor, and the
Orloff of the crown jewels of England and Russia, the largest on earth,
came from that mine.”

When that old Arab guide told me the second chapter of his story, he
then took off his Turkish cap and swung it around in the air again to
get my attention to the moral. Those Arab guides have morals to their
stories, although they are not always moral. As he swung his hat, he
said to me, “Had Ali Hafed remained at home and dug in his own cellar,
or underneath his own wheat-fields, or in his own garden, instead of
wretchedness, starvation, and death by suicide in a strange land, he
would have had ‘acres of diamonds.’ For every acre of that old farm,
yes, every shovelful, afterward revealed gems which since have decorated
the crowns of monarchs.”

When he had added the moral to his story I saw why he reserved it for
“his particular friends.” But I did not tell him I could see it. It was
that mean old Arab’s way of going around a thing like a lawyer, to
say indirectly what he did not dare say directly, that “in his private
opinion there was a certain young man then traveling down the Tigris
River that might better be at home in America.” I did not tell him I
could see that, but I told him his story reminded me of one, and I told
it to him quick, and I think I will tell it to you.

I told him of a man out in California in 1847 who owned a ranch. He
heard they had discovered gold in southern California, and so with a
passion for gold he sold his ranch to Colonel Sutter, and away he went,
never to come back. Colonel Sutter put a mill upon a stream that ran
through that ranch, and one day his little girl brought some wet sand
from the raceway into their home and sifted it through her fingers
before the fire, and in that falling sand a visitor saw the first
shining scales of real gold that were ever discovered in California. The
man who had owned that ranch wanted gold, and he could have secured it
for the mere taking. Indeed, thirty-eight millions of dollars has
been taken out of a very few acres since then. About eight years ago I
delivered this lecture in a city that stands on that farm, and they
told me that a one-third owner for years and years had been getting one
hundred and twenty dollars in gold every fifteen minutes, sleeping or
waking, without taxation. You and I would enjoy an income like that--if
we didn’t have to pay an income tax.

But a better illustration really than that occurred here in our
own Pennsylvania. If there is anything I enjoy above another on the
platform, it is to get one of these German audiences in Pennsylvania
before me, and fire that at them, and I enjoy it to-night. There was
a man living in Pennsylvania, not unlike some Pennsylvanians you have
seen, who owned a farm, and he did with that farm just what I should do
with a farm if I owned one in Pennsylvania--he sold it. But before he
sold it he decided to secure employment collecting coal-oil for his
cousin, who was in the business in Canada, where they first discovered
oil on this continent. They dipped it from the running streams at that
early time. So this Pennsylvania farmer wrote to his cousin asking for
employment. You see, friends, this farmer was not altogether a foolish
man. No, he was not. He did not leave his farm until he had something
else to do. _*Of all the simpletons the stars shine on I don’t know of a
worse one than the man who leaves one job before he has gotten another_.
That has especial reference to my profession, and has no reference
whatever to a man seeking a divorce. When he wrote to his cousin for
employment, his cousin replied, “I cannot engage you because you know
nothing about the oil business.”

Well, then the old farmer said, “I will know,” and with most commendable
zeal (characteristic of the students of Temple University) he set
himself at the study of the whole subject. He began away back at the
second day of God’s creation when this world was covered thick and deep
with that rich vegetation which since has turned to the primitive beds
of coal. He studied the subject until he found that the drainings
really of those rich beds of coal furnished the coal-oil that was worth
pumping, and then he found how it came up with the living springs. He
studied until he knew what it looked like, smelled like, tasted like,
and how to refine it. Now said he in his letter to his cousin, “I
understand the oil business.” His cousin answered, “All right, come on.”

So he sold his farm, according to the county record, for $833 (even
money, “no cents”). He had scarcely gone from that place before the
man who purchased the spot went out to arrange for the watering of the
cattle. He found the previous owner had gone out years before and put
a plank across the brook back of the barn, edgewise into the surface
of the water just a few inches. The purpose of that plank at that
sharp angle across the brook was to throw over to the other bank a
dreadful-looking scum through which the cattle would not put their
noses. But with that plank there to throw it all over to one side, the
cattle would drink below, and thus that man who had gone to Canada had
been himself damming back for twenty-three years a flood of coal-oil
which the state geologists of Pennsylvania declared to us ten years
later was even then worth a hundred millions of dollars to our state,
and four years ago our geologist declared the discovery to be worth
to our state a thousand millions of dollars. The man who owned that
territory on which the city of Titusville now stands, and those
Pleasantville valleys, had studied the subject from the second day of
God’s creation clear down to the present time. He studied it until he
knew all about it, and yet he is said to have sold the whole of it for
$833, and again I say, “no sense.”

But I need another illustration. I found it in Massachusetts, and I am
sorry I did because that is the state I came from. This young man in
Massachusetts furnishes just another phase of my thought. He went to
Yale College and studied mines and mining, and became such an adept as
a mining engineer that he was employed by the authorities of the
university to train students who were behind their classes. During his
senior year he earned $15 a week for doing that work. When he
graduated they raised his pay from $15 to $45 a week, and offered him a
professorship, and as soon as they did he went right home to his mother.

_*If they had raised that boy’s pay from $15 to $15.60 he would have
stayed and been proud of the place, but when they put it up to $45 at
one leap, he said, “Mother, I won’t work for $45 a week. The idea of
a man with a brain like mine working for $45 a week!_ Let’s go out in
California and stake out gold-mines and silver-mines, and be immensely

Said his mother, “Now, Charlie, it is just as well to be happy as it is
to be rich.”

“Yes,” said Charlie, “but it is just as well to be rich and happy,
too.” And they were both right about it. As he was an only son and she a
widow, of course he had his way. They always do.

They sold out in Massachusetts, and instead of going to California they
went to Wisconsin, where he went into the employ of the Superior Copper
Mining Company at $15 a week again, but with the proviso in his contract
that he should have an interest in any mines he should discover for the
company. I don’t believe he ever discovered a mine, and if I am looking
in the face of any stockholder of that copper company you wish he had
discovered something or other. I have friends who are not here because
they could not afford a ticket, who did have stock in that company at
the time this young man was employed there. This young man went out
there, and I have not heard a word from him. I don’t know what became
of him, and I don’t know whether he found any mines or not, but I don’t
believe he ever did.

But I do know the other end of the line. He had scarcely gotten out of
the old homestead before the succeeding owner went out to dig potatoes.
The potatoes were already growing in the ground when he bought the farm,
and as the old farmer was bringing in a basket of potatoes it
hugged very tight between the ends of the stone fence. You know in
Massachusetts our farms are nearly all stone wall. There you are obliged
to be very economical of front gateways in order to have some place to
put the stone. When that basket hugged so tight he set it down on the
ground, and then dragged on one side, and pulled on the other side, and
as he was dragging that basket through this farmer noticed in the upper
and outer corner of that stone wall, right next the gate, a block of
native silver eight inches square. That professor of mines, mining, and
mineralogy who knew so much about the subject that he would not work for
$45 a week, when he sold that homestead in Massachusetts sat right on
that silver to make the bargain. He was born on that homestead, was
brought up there, and had gone back and forth rubbing the stone with his
sleeve until it reflected his countenance, and seemed to say, “Here is
a hundred thousand dollars right down here just for the taking.” But he
would not take it. It was in a home in Newburyport, Massachusetts, and
there was no silver there, all away off--well, I don’t know where, and
he did not, but somewhere else, and he was a professor of mineralogy.

My friends, that mistake is very universally made, and why should we
even smile at him. I often wonder what has become of him. I do not know
at all, but I will tell you what I “guess” as a Yankee. I guess that he
sits out there by his fireside to-night with his friends gathered around
him, and he is saying to them something like this: “Do you know that man
Conwell who lives in Philadelphia?” “Oh yes, I have heard of him.” “Do
you know that man Jones that lives in Philadelphia?” “Yes, I have heard
of him, too.”

Then he begins to laugh, and shakes his sides and says to his friends,
“Well, they have done just the same thing I did, precisely”--and that
spoils the whole joke, for you and I have done the same thing he did,
and while we sit here and laugh at him he has a better right to sit out
there and laugh at us. I know I have made the same mistakes, but, of
course, that does not make any difference, because we don’t expect the
same man to preach and practise, too.

As I come here to-night and look around this audience I am seeing again
what through these fifty years I have continually seen-men that are
making precisely that same mistake. I often wish I could see the younger
people, and would that the Academy had been filled to-night with our
high-school scholars and our grammar-school scholars, that I could have
them to talk to. While I would have preferred such an audience as that,
because they are most susceptible, as they have not grown up into their
prejudices as we have, they have not gotten into any custom that they
cannot break, they have not met with any failures as we have; and while
I could perhaps do such an audience as that more good than I can do
grown-up people, yet I will do the best I can with the material I have.
I say to you that you have “acres of diamonds” in Philadelphia right
where you now live. “Oh,” but you will say, “you cannot know much about
your city if you think there are any ‘acres of diamonds’ here.”

I was greatly interested in that account in the newspaper of the young
man who found that diamond in North Carolina. It was one of the purest
diamonds that has ever been discovered, and it has several predecessors
near the same locality. I went to a distinguished professor in
mineralogy and asked him where he thought those diamonds came from. The
professor secured the map of the geologic formations of our continent,
and traced it. He said it went either through the underlying
carboniferous strata adapted for such production, westward through
Ohio and the Mississippi, or in more probability came eastward through
Virginia and up the shore of the Atlantic Ocean. It is a fact that the
diamonds were there, for they have been discovered and sold; and that
they were carried down there during the drift period, from some northern
locality. Now who can say but some person going down with his drill in
Philadelphia will find some trace of a diamond-mine yet down here?
Oh, friends! you cannot say that you are not over one of the greatest
diamond-mines in the world, for such a diamond as that only comes from
the most profitable mines that are found on earth.

But it serves simply to illustrate my thought, which I emphasize by
saying if you do not have the actual diamond-mines literally you have
all that they would be good for to you. Because now that the Queen of
England has given the greatest compliment ever conferred upon American
woman for her attire because she did not appear with any jewels at all
at the late reception in England, it has almost done away with the use
of diamonds anyhow. All you would care for would be the few you would
wear if you wish to be modest, and the rest you would sell for money.

Now then, I say again that the opportunity to get rich, to attain unto
great wealth, is here in Philadelphia now, within the reach of almost
every man and woman who hears me speak to-night, and I mean just what I
say. I have not come to this platform even under these circumstances to
recite something to you. I have come to tell you what in God’s sight I
believe to be the truth, and if the years of life have been of any value
to me in the attainment of common sense, I know I am right; that the men
and women sitting here, who found it difficult perhaps to buy a ticket
to this lecture or gathering to-night, have within their reach “acres of
diamonds,” opportunities to get largely wealthy. There never was a place
on earth more adapted than the city of Philadelphia to-day, and never
in the history of the world did a poor man without capital have such an
opportunity to get rich quickly and honestly as he has now in our city.
I say it is the truth, and I want you to accept it as such; for if you
think I have come to simply recite something, then I would better not be
here. I have no time to waste in any such talk, but to say the things I
believe, and unless some of you get richer for what I am saying to-night
my time is wasted.

I say that you ought to get rich, and it is your duty to get rich. How
many of my pious brethren say to me, “Do you, a Christian minister,
spend your time going up and down the country advising young people to
get rich, to get money?” “Yes, of course I do.” They say, “Isn’t that
awful! Why don’t you preach the gospel instead of preaching about man’s
making money?” “Because to make money honestly is to preach the gospel.”
 That is the reason. The men who get rich may be the most honest men you
find in the community.

“Oh,” but says some young man here to-night, “I have been told all my
life that if a person has money he is very dishonest and dishonorable
and mean and contemptible.” My friend, that is the reason why you have
none, because you have that idea of people. The foundation of your faith
is altogether false. Let me say here clearly, and say it briefly, though
subject to discussion which I have not time for here, ninety-eight out
of one hundred of the rich men of America are honest. That is why they
are rich. That is why they are trusted with money. That is why they
carry on great enterprises and find plenty of people to work with them.
It is because they are honest men.

Says another young man, “I hear sometimes of men that get millions of
dollars dishonestly.” Yes, of course you do, and so do I. But they are
so rare a thing in fact that the newspapers talk about them all the time
as a matter of news until you get the idea that all the other rich men
got rich dishonestly.

My friend, you take and drive me--if you furnish the auto--out into the
suburbs of Philadelphia, and introduce me to the people who own their
homes around this great city, those beautiful homes with gardens and
flowers, those magnificent homes so lovely in their art, and I will
introduce you to the very best people in character as well as in
enterprise in our city, and you know I will. A man is not really a true
man until he owns his own home, and they that own their homes are made
more honorable and honest and pure, and true and economical and careful,
by owning the home.

For a man to have money, even in large sums, is not an inconsistent
thing. We preach against covetousness, and you know we do, in the
pulpit, and oftentimes preach against it so long and use the terms about
“filthy lucre” so extremely that Christians get the idea that when
we stand in the pulpit we believe it is wicked for any man to have
money--until the collection-basket goes around, and then we almost swear
at the people because they don’t give more money. Oh, the inconsistency
of such doctrines as that!

Money is power, and you ought to be reasonably ambitious to have it. You
ought because you can do more good with it than you could without it.
Money printed your Bible, money builds your churches, money sends your
missionaries, and money pays your preachers, and you would not have many
of them, either, if you did not pay them. I am always willing that my
church should raise my salary, because the church that pays the largest
salary always raises it the easiest. You never knew an exception to it
in your life. The man who gets the largest salary can do the most good
with the power that is furnished to him. Of course he can if his spirit
be right to use it for what it is given to him.

I say, then, you ought to have money. If you can honestly attain unto
riches in Philadelphia, it is your Christian and godly duty to do so. It
is an awful mistake of these pious people to think you must be awfully
poor in order to be pious.

Some men say, “Don’t you sympathize with the poor people?” Of course I
do, or else I would not have been lecturing these years. I won’t give in
but what I sympathize with the poor, but the number of poor who are to
be sympathized with is very small. To sympathize with a man whom God has
punished for his sins, thus to help him when God would still continue a
just punishment, is to do wrong, no doubt about it, and we do that more
than we help those who are deserving. While we should sympathize with
God’s poor--that is, those who cannot help themselves--let us remember
there is not a poor person in the United States who was not made poor by
his own shortcomings, or by the shortcomings of some one else. It is all
wrong to be poor, anyhow. Let us give in to that argument and pass that
to one side.

A gentleman gets up back there, and says, “Don’t you think there are
some things in this world that are better than money?” Of course I do,
but I am talking about money now. Of course there are some things higher
than money. Oh yes, I know by the grave that has left me standing alone
that there are some things in this world that are higher and sweeter
and purer than money. Well do I know there are some things higher
and grander than gold. Love is the grandest thing on God’s earth, but
fortunate the lover who has plenty of money. Money is power, money is
force, money will do good as well as harm. In the hands of good men and
women it could accomplish, and it has accomplished, good.

I hate to leave that behind me. I heard a man get up in a prayer-meeting
in our city and thank the Lord he was “one of God’s poor.” Well, I
wonder what his wife thinks about that? She earns all the money that
comes into that house, and he smokes a part of that on the veranda. I
don’t want to see any more of the Lord’s poor of that kind, and I don’t
believe the Lord does. And yet there are some people who think in order
to be pious you must be awfully poor and awfully dirty. That does not
follow at all. While we sympathize with the poor, let us not teach a
doctrine like that.

Yet the age is prejudiced against advising a Christian man (or, as a Jew
would say, a godly man) from attaining unto wealth. The prejudice is so
universal and the years are far enough back, I think, for me to safely
mention that years ago up at Temple University there was a young man in
our theological school who thought he was the only pious student in that
department. He came into my office one evening and sat down by my desk,
and said to me: “Mr. President, I think it is my duty sir, to come in
and labor with you.” “What has happened now?” Said he, “I heard you say
at the Academy, at the Peirce School commencement, that you thought it
was an honorable ambition for a young man to desire to have wealth, and
that you thought it made him temperate, made him anxious to have a good
name, and made him industrious. You spoke about man’s ambition to have
money helping to make him a good man. Sir, I have come to tell you the
Holy Bible says that ‘money is the root of all evil.’”

I told him I had never seen it in the Bible, and advised him to go out
into the chapel and get the Bible, and show me the place. So out he went
for the Bible, and soon he stalked into my office with the Bible open,
with all the bigoted pride of the narrow sectarian, or of one who founds
his Christianity on some misinterpretation of Scripture. He flung the
Bible down on my desk, and fairly squealed into my ear: “There it is,
Mr. President; you can read it for yourself.” I said to him: “Well,
young man, you will learn when you get a little older that you cannot
trust another denomination to read the Bible for you. You belong to
another denomination. You are taught in the theological school, however,
that emphasis is exegesis. Now, will you take that Bible and read it
yourself, and give the proper emphasis to it?”

He took the Bible, and proudly read, “‘The love of money is the root of
all evil.’”

Then he had it right, and when one does quote aright from that same old
Book he quotes the absolute truth. I have lived through fifty years of
the mightiest battle that old Book has ever fought, and I have lived to
see its banners flying free; for never in the history of this world
did the great minds of earth so universally agree that the Bible is
true--all true--as they do at this very hour.

So I say that when he quoted right, of course he quoted the absolute
truth. “The love of money is the root of all evil.” He who tries to
attain unto it too quickly, or dishonestly, will fall into many snares,
no doubt about that. The love of money. What is that? It is making an
idol of money, and idolatry pure and simple everywhere is condemned by
the Holy Scriptures and by man’s common sense. The man that worships
the dollar instead of thinking of the purposes for which it ought to be
used, the man who idolizes simply money, the miser that hordes his money
in the cellar, or hides it in his stocking, or refuses to invest it
where it will do the world good, that man who hugs the dollar until the
eagle squeals has in him the root of all evil.

I think I will leave that behind me now and answer the question of
nearly all of you who are asking, “Is there opportunity to get rich in
Philadelphia?” Well, now, how simple a thing it is to see where it is,
and the instant you see where it is it is yours. Some old gentleman gets
up back there and says, “Mr. Conwell, have you lived in Philadelphia for
thirty-one years and don’t know that the time has gone by when you can
make anything in this city?” “No, I don’t think it is.” “Yes, it is;
I have tried it.” “What business are you in?” “I kept a store here for
twenty years, and never made over a thousand dollars in the whole twenty

“Well, then, you can measure the good you have been to this city by what
this city has paid you, because a man can judge very well what he is
worth by what he receives; that is, in what he is to the world at this
time. If you have not made over a thousand dollars in twenty years in
Philadelphia, it would have been better for Philadelphia if they had
kicked you out of the city nineteen years and nine months ago. A man has
no right to keep a store in Philadelphia twenty years and not make at
least five hundred thousand dollars even though it be a corner grocery
up-town.” You say, “You cannot make five thousand dollars in a store
now.” Oh, my friends, if you will just take only four blocks around you,
and find out what the people want and what you ought to supply and set
them down with your pencil and figure up the profits you would make if
you did supply them, you would very soon see it. There is wealth right
within the sound of your voice.

Some one says: “You don’t know anything about business. A preacher never
knows a thing about business.” Well, then, I will have to prove that I
am an expert. I don’t like to do this, but I have to do it because my
testimony will not be taken if I am not an expert. My father kept a
country store, and if there is any place under the stars where a man
gets all sorts of experience in every kind of mercantile transactions,
it is in the country store. I am not proud of my experience, but
sometimes when my father was away he would leave me in charge of the
store, though fortunately for him that was not very often. But this did
occur many times, friends: A man would come in the store, and say to me,
“Do you keep jack knives?” “No, we don’t keep jack-knives,” and I went
off whistling a tune. What did I care about that man, anyhow? Then
another farmer would come in and say, “Do you keep jack knives?” “No,
we don’t keep jack-knives.” Then I went away and whistled another tune.
Then a third man came right in the same door and said, “Do you keep
jack-knives?” “No. Why is every one around here asking for jack-knives?
Do you suppose we are keeping this store to supply the whole
neighborhood with jack-knives?” Do you carry on your store like that
in Philadelphia? The difficulty was I had not then learned that the
foundation of godliness and the foundation principle of success in
business are both the same precisely. The man who says, “I cannot
carry my religion into business” advertises himself either as being an
imbecile in business, or on the road to bankruptcy, or a thief, one of
the three, sure. He will fail within a very few years. He certainly will
if he doesn’t carry his religion into business. If I had been carrying
on my father’s store on a Christian plan, godly plan, I would have had
a jack-knife for the third man when he called for it. Then I would have
actually done him a kindness, and I would have received a reward myself,
which it would have been my duty to take.

There are some over-pious Christian people who think if you take any
profit on anything you sell that you are an unrighteous man. On the
contrary, you would be a criminal to sell goods for less than they cost.
You have no right to do that. You cannot trust a man with your money who
cannot take care of his own. You cannot trust a man in your family that
is not true to his own wife. You cannot trust a man in the world that
does not begin with his own heart, his own character, and his own life.
It would have been my duty to have furnished a jack-knife to the third
man, or the second, and to have sold it to him and actually profited
myself. I have no more right to sell goods without making a profit on
them than I have to overcharge him dishonestly beyond what they are
worth. But I should so sell each bill of goods that the person to whom I
sell shall make as much as I make.

To live and let live is the principle of the gospel, and the principle
of every-day common sense. Oh, young man, hear me; live as you go along.
Do not wait until you have reached my years before you begin to enjoy
anything of this life. If I had the millions back, or fifty cents of it,
which I have tried to earn in these years, it would not do me anything
like the good that it does me now in this almost sacred presence
to-night. Oh, yes, I am paid over and over a hundredfold to-night for
dividing as I have tried to do in some measure as I went along through
the years. I ought not speak that way, it sounds egotistic, but I am old
enough now to be excused for that. I should have helped my fellow-men,
which I have tried to do, and every one should try to do, and get the
happiness of it. The man who goes home with the sense that he has stolen
a dollar that day, that he has robbed a man of what was his honest due,
is not going to sweet rest. He arises tired in the morning, and goes
with an unclean conscience to his work the next day. He is not a
successful man at all, although he may have laid up millions. But the
man who has gone through life dividing always with his fellow-men,
making and demanding his own rights and his own profits, and giving to
every other man his rights and profits, lives every day, and not only
that, but it is the royal road to great wealth. The history of the
thousands of millionaires shows that to be the case.

The man over there who said he could not make anything in a store in
Philadelphia has been carrying on his store on the wrong principle.
Suppose I go into your store to-morrow morning and ask, “Do you know
neighbor A, who lives one square away, at house No. 1240?” “Oh yes, I
have met him. He deals here at the corner store.” “Where did he come
from?” “I don’t know.” “How many does he have in his family?” “I don’t
know.” “What ticket does he vote?” “I don’t know.” “What church does
he go to?” “I don’t know, and don’t care. What are you asking all these
questions for?”

If you had a store in Philadelphia would you answer me like that? If so,
then you are conducting your business just as I carried on my father’s
business in Worthington, Massachusetts. You don’t know where your
neighbor came from when he moved to Philadelphia, and you don’t care. If
you had cared you would be a rich man now. If you had cared enough about
him to take an interest in his affairs, to find out what he needed,
you would have been rich. But you go through the world saying, “No
opportunity to get rich,” and there is the fault right at your own door.

But another young man gets up over there and says, “I cannot take up the
mercantile business.” (While I am talking of trade it applies to every
occupation.) “Why can’t you go into the mercantile business?” “Because
I haven’t any capital.” Oh, the weak and dudish creature that can’t
see over its collar! It makes a person weak to see these little dudes
standing around the corners and saying, “Oh, if I had plenty of capital,
how rich I would get.” “Young man, do you think you are going to get
rich on capital?” “Certainly.” Well, I say, “Certainly not.” If your
mother has plenty of money, and she will set you up in business, you
will “set her up in business,” supplying you with capital.

The moment a young man or woman gets more money than he or she has grown
to by practical experience, that moment he has gotten a curse. It is
no help to a young man or woman to inherit money. It is no help to your
children to leave them money, but if you leave them education, if you
leave them Christian and noble character, if you leave them a wide
circle of friends, if you leave them an honorable name, it is far better
than that they should have money. It would be worse for them, worse for
the nation, that they should have any money at all. Oh, young man, if
you have inherited money, don’t regard it as a help. It will curse you
through your years, and deprive you of the very best things of
human life. There is no class of people to be pitied so much as the
inexperienced sons and daughters of the rich of our generation. I pity
the rich man’s son. He can never know the best things in life.

One of the best things in our life is when a young man has earned his
own living, and when he becomes engaged to some lovely young woman, and
makes up his mind to have a home of his own. Then with that same love
comes also that divine inspiration toward better things, and he begins
to save his money. He begins to leave off his bad habits and put money
in the bank. When he has a few hundred dollars he goes out in the
suburbs to look for a home. He goes to the savings-bank, perhaps, for
half of the value, and then goes for his wife, and when he takes his
bride over the threshold of that door for the first time he says in
words of eloquence my voice can never touch: “I have earned this home
myself. It is all mine, and I divide with thee.” That is the grandest
moment a human heart may ever know.

But a rich man’s son can never know that. He takes his bride into a
finer mansion, it may be, but he is obliged to go all the way through
it and say to his wife, “My mother gave me that, my mother gave me that,
and my mother gave me this,” until his wife wishes she had married his
mother. I pity the rich man’s son.

The statistics of Massachusetts showed that not one rich man’s son out
of seventeen ever dies rich. I pity the rich man’s sons unless they have
the good sense of the elder Vanderbilt, which sometimes happens. He went
to his father and said, “Did you earn all your money?” “I did, my son. I
began to work on a ferry-boat for twenty-five cents a day.” “Then,” said
his son, “I will have none of your money,” and he, too, tried to get
employment on a ferry-boat that Saturday night. He could not get one
there, but he did get a place for three dollars a week. Of course, if
a rich man’s son will do that, he will get the discipline of a poor boy
that is worth more than a university education to any man. He would then
be able to take care of the millions of his father. But as a rule the
rich men will not let their sons do the very thing that made them great.
As a rule, the rich man will not allow his son to work--and his mother!
Why, she would think it was a social disgrace if her poor, weak, little
lily-fingered, sissy sort of a boy had to earn his living with honest
toil. I have no pity for such rich men’s sons.

I remember one at Niagara Falls. I think I remember one a great deal
nearer. I think there are gentlemen present who were at a great banquet,
and I beg pardon of his friends. At a banquet here in Philadelphia there
sat beside me a kind-hearted young man, and he said, “Mr. Conwell,
you have been sick for two or three years. When you go out, take my
limousine, and it will take you up to your house on Broad Street.” I
thanked him very much, and perhaps I ought not to mention the incident
in this way, but I follow the facts. I got on to the seat with the
driver of that limousine, outside, and when we were going up I asked the
driver, “How much did this limousine cost?” “Six thousand eight hundred,
and he had to pay the duty on it.” “Well,” I said, “does the owner of
this machine ever drive it himself?” At that the chauffeur laughed so
heartily that he lost control of his machine. He was so surprised at the
question that he ran up on the sidewalk, and around a corner lamp-post
out into the street again. And when he got out into the street he
laughed till the whole machine trembled. He said: “He drive this
machine! Oh, he would be lucky if he knew enough to get out when we get

I must tell you about a rich man’s son at Niagara Falls. I came in from
the lecture to the hotel, and as I approached the desk of the clerk
there stood a millionaire’s son from New York. He was an indescribable
specimen of anthropologic potency. He had a skull-cap on one side of his
head, with a gold tassel in the top of it, and a gold-headed cane under
his arm with more in it than in his head. It is a very difficult thing
to describe that young man. He wore an eye-glass that he could not see
through, patent-leather boots that he could not walk in, and pants that
he could not sit down in--dressed like a grasshopper. This human cricket
came up to the clerk’s desk just as I entered, adjusted his unseeing
eye-glass, and spake in this wise to the clerk. You see, he thought it
was “Hinglish, you know,” to lisp. “Thir, will you have the kindness to
supply me with thome papah and enwelophs!” The hotel clerk measured that
man quick, and he pulled the envelopes and paper out of a drawer, threw
them across the counter toward the young man, and then turned away to
his books. You should have seen that young man when those envelopes came
across that counter. He swelled up like a gobbler turkey, adjusted his
unseeing eye-glass, and yelled: “Come right back here. Now thir, will
you order a thervant to take that papah and enwelophs to yondah dethk.”
 Oh, the poor, miserable, contemptible American monkey! He could not
carry paper and envelopes twenty feet. I suppose he could not get
his arms down to do it. I have no pity for such travesties upon human
nature. If you have not capital, young man, I am glad of it. What you
need is common sense, not copper cents.

The best thing I can do is to illustrate by actual facts well-known to
you all. A. T. Stewart, a poor boy in New York, had $1.50 to begin
life on. He lost 87 1/2 cents of that on the very first venture. How
fortunate that young man who loses the first time he gambles. That boy
said, “I will never gamble again in business,” and he never did. How
came he to lose 87 1/2 cents? You probably all know the story how he
lost it--because he bought some needles, threads, and buttons to sell
which people did not want, and had them left on his hands, a dead loss.
Said the boy, “I will not lose any more money in that way.” Then he went
around first to the doors and asked the people what they did want. Then
when he had found out what they wanted he invested his 62 1/2 cents to
supply a known demand. Study it wherever you choose--in business, in
your profession, in your housekeeping, whatever your life, that one
thing is the secret of success. You must first know the demand. You must
first know what people need, and then invest yourself where you are most
needed. A. T. Stewart went on that principle until he was worth what
amounted afterward to forty millions of dollars, owning the very store
in which Mr. Wanamaker carries on his great work in New York. His
fortune was made by his losing something, which taught him the great
lesson that he must only invest himself or his money in something
that people need. When will you salesmen learn it? When will you
manufacturers learn that you must know the changing needs of humanity if
you would succeed in life? Apply yourselves, all you Christian people,
as manufacturers or merchants or workmen to supply that human need. It
is a great principle as broad as humanity and as deep as the Scripture

The best illustration I ever heard was of John Jacob Astor. You know
that he made the money of the Astor family when he lived in New York. He
came across the sea in debt for his fare. But that poor boy with nothing
in his pocket made the fortune of the Astor family on one principle.
Some young man here to-night will say, “Well they could make those
fortunes over in New York but they could not do it in Philadelphia!” My
friends, did you ever read that wonderful book of Riis (his memory
is sweet to us because of his recent death), wherein is given his
statistical account of the records taken in 1889 of 107 millionaires
of New York. If you read the account you will see that out of the 107
millionaires only seven made their money in New York. Out of the 107
millionaires worth ten million dollars in real estate then, 67 of them
made their money in towns of less than 3,500 inhabitants. The richest
man in this country to-day, if you read the real-estate values, has
never moved away from a town of 3,500 inhabitants. It makes not so much
difference where you are as who you are. But if you cannot get rich in
Philadelphia you certainly cannot do it in New York.

Now John Jacob Astor illustrated what can be done anywhere. He had a
mortgage once on a millinery-store, and they could not sell bonnets
enough to pay the interest on his money. So he foreclosed that mortgage,
took possession of the store, and went into partnership with the very
same people, in the same store, with the same capital. He did not give
them a dollar of capital. They had to sell goods to get any money. Then
he left them alone in the store just as they had been before, and he
went out and sat down on a bench in the park in the shade. What was
John Jacob Astor doing out there, and in partnership with people who had
failed on his own hands? He had the most important and, to my mind, the
most pleasant part of that partnership on his hands. For as John Jacob
Astor sat on that bench he was watching the ladies as they went by; and
where is the man who would not get rich at that business? As he sat on
the bench if a lady passed him with her shoulders back and head up, and
looked straight to the front, as if she did not care if all the world
did gaze on her, then he studied her bonnet, and by the time it was out
of sight he knew the shape of the frame, the color of the trimmings, and
the crinklings in the feather. I sometimes try to describe a bonnet, but
not always. I would not try to describe a modern bonnet. Where is the
man that could describe one? This aggregation of all sorts of driftwood
stuck on the back of the head, or the side of the neck, like a rooster
with only one tail feather left. But in John Jacob Astor’s day there
was some art about the millinery business, and he went to the
millinery-store and said to them: “Now put into the show-window just
such a bonnet as I describe to you, because I have already seen a lady
who likes such a bonnet. Don’t make up any more until I come back.”
 Then he went out and sat down again, and another lady passed him of
a different form, of different complexion, with a different shape and
color of bonnet. “Now,” said he, “put such a bonnet as that in the show
window.” He did not fill his show-window up town with a lot of hats and
bonnets to drive people away, and then sit on the back stairs and bawl
because people went to Wanamaker’s to trade. He did not have a hat or a
bonnet in that show-window but what some lady liked before it was made
up. The tide of custom began immediately to turn in, and that has been
the foundation of the greatest store in New York in that line, and still
exists as one of three stores. Its fortune was made by John Jacob Astor
after they had failed in business, not by giving them any more money,
but by finding out what the ladies liked for bonnets before they wasted
any material in making them up. I tell you if a man could foresee the
millinery business he could foresee anything under heaven!

Suppose I were to go through this audience to-night and ask you in this
great manufacturing city if there are not opportunities to get rich in
manufacturing. “Oh yes,” some young man says, “there are opportunities
here still if you build with some trust and if you have two or three
millions of dollars to begin with as capital.” Young man, the history of
the breaking up of the trusts by that attack upon “big business” is only
illustrating what is now the opportunity of the smaller man. The time
never came in the history of the world when you could get rich so
quickly manufacturing without capital as you can now.

But you will say, “You cannot do anything of the kind. You cannot start
without capital.” Young man, let me illustrate for a moment. I must do
it. It is my duty to every young man and woman, because we are all going
into business very soon on the same plan. Young man, remember if you
know what people need you have gotten more knowledge of a fortune than
any amount of capital can give you.

There was a poor man out of work living in Hingham, Massachusetts. He
lounged around the house until one day his wife told him to get out and
work, and, as he lived in Massachusetts, he obeyed his wife. He went out
and sat down on the shore of the bay, and whittled a soaked shingle
into a wooden chain. His children that evening quarreled over it, and he
whittled a second one to keep peace. While he was whittling the second
one a neighbor came in and said: “Why don’t you whittle toys and sell
them? You could make money at that.” “Oh,” he said, “I would not know
what to make.” “Why don’t you ask your own children right here in your
own house what to make?” “What is the use of trying that?” said the
carpenter. “My children are different from other people’s children.” (I
used to see people like that when I taught school.) But he acted upon
the hint, and the next morning when Mary came down the stairway, he
asked, “What do you want for a toy?” She began to tell him she would
like a doll’s bed, a doll’s washstand, a doll’s carriage, a little
doll’s umbrella, and went on with a list of things that would take him
a lifetime to supply. So, consulting his own children, in his own house,
he took the firewood, for he had no money to buy lumber, and whittled
those strong, unpainted Hingham toys that were for so many years known
all over the world. That man began to make those toys for his own
children, and then made copies and sold them through the boot-and-shoe
store next door. He began to make a little money, and then a little
more, and Mr. Lawson, in his _Frenzied Finance_ says that man is the
richest man in old Massachusetts, and I think it is the truth. And that
man is worth a hundred millions of dollars to-day, and has been only
thirty-four years making it on that one principle--that one must judge
that what his own children like at home other people’s children would
like in their homes, too; to judge the human heart by oneself, by
one’s wife or by one’s children. It is the royal road to success in
manufacturing. “Oh,” but you say, “didn’t he have any capital?” Yes, a
penknife, but I don’t know that he had paid for that.

I spoke thus to an audience in New Britain, Connecticut, and a lady
four seats back went home and tried to take off her collar, and the
collar-button stuck in the buttonhole. She threw it out and said, “I
am going to get up something better than that to put on collars.” Her
husband said: “After what Conwell said to-night, you see there is a
need of an improved collar-fastener that is easier to handle. There is a
human need; there is a great fortune. Now, then, get up a collar-button
and get rich.” He made fun of her, and consequently made fun of me, and
that is one of the saddest things which comes over me like a deep cloud
of midnight sometimes--although I have worked so hard for more than half
a century, yet how little I have ever really done. Notwithstanding the
greatness and the handsomeness of your compliment to-night, I do not
believe there is one in ten of you that is going to make a million of
dollars because you are here to-night; but it is not my fault, it is
yours. I say that sincerely. What is the use of my talking if people
never do what I advise them to do? When her husband ridiculed her, she
made up her mind she would make a better collar-button, and when a woman
makes up her mind “she will,” and does not say anything about it, she
does it. It was that New England woman who invented the snap button
which you can find anywhere now. It was first a collar-button with
a spring cap attached to the outer side. Any of you who wear modern
waterproofs know the button that simply pushes together, and when you
unbutton it you simply pull it apart. That is the button to which I
refer, and which she invented. She afterward invented several other
buttons, and then invested in more, and then was taken into partnership
with great factories. Now that woman goes over the sea every summer
in her private steamship--yes, and takes her husband with her! If her
husband were to die, she would have money enough left now to buy
a foreign duke or count or some such title as that at the latest

Now what is my lesson in that incident? It is this: I told her then,
though I did not know her, what I now say to you, “Your wealth is too
near to you. You are looking right over it”; and she had to look over it
because it was right under her chin.

I have read in the newspaper that a woman never invented anything.
Well, that newspaper ought to begin again. Of course, I do not refer
to gossip--I refer to machines--and if I did I might better include
the men. That newspaper could never appear if women had not invented
something. Friends, think. Ye women, think! You say you cannot make a
fortune because you are in some laundry, or running a sewing-machine, it
may be, or walking before some loom, and yet you can be a millionaire if
you will but follow this almost infallible direction.

When you say a woman doesn’t invent anything, I ask, Who invented
the Jacquard loom that wove every stitch you wear? Mrs. Jacquard. The
printer’s roller, the printing-press, were invented by farmers’ wives.
Who invented the cotton-gin of the South that enriched our country so
amazingly? Mrs. General Greene invented the cotton-gin and showed the
idea to Mr. Whitney, and he, like a man, seized it. Who was it that
invented the sewing-machine? If I would go to school to-morrow and ask
your children they would say, “Elias Howe.”

He was in the Civil War with me, and often in my tent, and I often heard
him say that he worked fourteen years to get up that sewing-machine.
But his wife made up her mind one day that they would starve to death
if there wasn’t something or other invented pretty soon, and so in two
hours she invented the sewing-machine. Of course he took out the patent
in his name. Men always do that. Who was it that invented the mower and
the reaper? According to Mr. McCormick’s confidential communication, so
recently published, it was a West Virginia woman, who, after his father
and he had failed altogether in making a reaper and gave it up, took a
lot of shears and nailed them together on the edge of a board, with one
shaft of each pair loose, and then wired them so that when she pulled
the wire one way it closed them, and when she pulled the wire the
other way it opened them, and there she had the principle of the
mowing-machine. If you look at a mowing-machine, you will see it is
nothing but a lot of shears. If a woman can invent a mowing-machine, if
a woman can invent a Jacquard loom, if a woman can invent a cotton-gin,
if a woman can invent a trolley switch--as she did and made the trolleys
possible; if a woman can invent, as Mr. Carnegie said, the great iron
squeezers that laid the foundation of all the steel millions of the
United States, “we men” can invent anything under the stars! I say that
for the encouragement of the men.

Who are the great inventors of the world? Again this lesson comes before
us. The great inventor sits next to you, or you are the person yourself.
“Oh,” but you will say, “I have never invented anything in my life.”
 Neither did the great inventors until they discovered one great secret.
Do you think it is a man with a head like a bushel measure or a man like
a stroke of lightning? It is neither. The really great man is a plain,
straightforward, every-day, common-sense man. You would not dream that
he was a great inventor if you did not see something he had actually
done. His neighbors do not regard him so great. You never see anything
great over your back fence. You say there is no greatness among your
neighbors. It is all away off somewhere else. Their greatness is ever
so simple, so plain, so earnest, so practical, that the neighbors and
friends never recognize it.

True greatness is often unrecognized. That is sure. You do not know
anything about the greatest men and women. I went out to write the life
of General Garfield, and a neighbor, knowing I was in a hurry, and as
there was a great crowd around the front door, took me around to General
Garfield’s back door and shouted, “Jim! Jim!” And very soon “Jim” came
to the door and let me in, and I wrote the biography of one of the
grandest men of the nation, and yet he was just the same old “Jim” to
his neighbor. If you know a great man in Philadelphia and you should
meet him to-morrow, you would say, “How are you, Sam?” or “Good morning,
Jim.” Of course you would. That is just what you would do.

One of my soldiers in the Civil War had been sentenced to death, and I
went up to the White House in Washington--sent there for the first time
in my life to see the President. I went into the waiting-room and sat
down with a lot of others on the benches, and the secretary asked one
after another to tell him what they wanted. After the secretary had
been through the line, he went in, and then came back to the door and
motioned for me. I went up to that anteroom, and the secretary said:
“That is the President’s door right over there. Just rap on it and go
right in.” I never was so taken aback, friends, in all my life, never.
The secretary himself made it worse for me, because he had told me how
to go in and then went out another door to the left and shut that.
There I was, in the hallway by myself before the President of the United
States of America’s door. I had been on fields of battle, where the
shells did sometimes shriek and the bullets did sometimes hit me, but I
always wanted to run. I have no sympathy with the old man who says, “I
would just as soon march up to the cannon’s mouth as eat my dinner.” I
have no faith in a man who doesn’t know enough to be afraid when he is
being shot at. I never was so afraid when the shells came around us at
Antietam as I was when I went into that room that day; but I finally
mustered the courage--I don’t know how I ever did--and at arm’s-length
tapped on the door. The man inside did not help me at all, but yelled
out, “Come in and sit down!”

Well, I went in and sat down on the edge of a chair, and wished I were
in Europe, and the man at the table did not look up. He was one of the
world’s greatest men, and was made great by one single rule. Oh, that
all the young people of Philadelphia were before me now and I could say
just this one thing, and that they would remember it. I would give a
lifetime for the effect it would have on our city and on civilization.
Abraham Lincoln’s principle for greatness can be adopted by nearly all.
This was his rule: Whatsoever he had to do at all, he put his whole mind
into it and held it all there until that was all done. That makes men
great almost anywhere. He stuck to those papers at that table and did
not look up at me, and I sat there trembling. Finally, when he had put
the string around his papers, he pushed them over to one side and looked
over to me, and a smile came over his worn face. He said: “I am a very
busy man and have only a few minutes to spare. Now tell me in the fewest
words what it is you want.” I began to tell him, and mentioned the case,
and he said: “I have heard all about it and you do not need to say any
more. Mr. Stanton was talking to me only a few days ago about that. You
can go to the hotel and rest assured that the President never did sign
an order to shoot a boy under twenty years of age, and never will. You
can say that to his mother anyhow.”

Then he said to me, “How is it going in the field?” I said, “We
sometimes get discouraged.” And he said: “It is all right. We are going
to win out now. We are getting very near the light. No man ought to
wish to be President of the United States, and I will be glad when I get
through; then Tad and I are going out to Springfield, Illinois. I
have bought a farm out there and I don’t care if I again earn only
twenty-five cents a day. Tad has a mule team, and we are going to plant

Then he asked me, “Were you brought up on a farm?” I said, “Yes; in the
Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts.” He then threw his leg over the corner
of the big chair and said, “I have heard many a time, ever since I was
young, that up there in those hills you have to sharpen the noses of the
sheep in order to get down to the grass between the rocks.” He was so
familiar, so everyday, so farmer-like, that I felt right at home with
him at once.

He then took hold of another roll of paper, and looked up at me and
said, “Good morning.” I took the hint then and got up and went out.
After I had gotten out I could not realize I had seen the President of
the United States at all. But a few days later, when still in the city,
I saw the crowd pass through the East Room by the coffin of Abraham
Lincoln, and when I looked at the upturned face of the murdered
President I felt then that the man I had seen such a short time before,
who, so simple a man, so plain a man, was one of the greatest men that
God ever raised up to lead a nation on to ultimate liberty. Yet he was
only “Old Abe” to his neighbors. When they had the second funeral, I was
invited among others, and went out to see that same coffin put back in
the tomb at Springfield. Around the tomb stood Lincoln’s old neighbors,
to whom he was just “Old Abe.” Of course that is all they would say.

Did you ever see a man who struts around altogether too large to notice
an ordinary working mechanic? Do you think he is great? He is nothing
but a puffed-up balloon, held down by his big feet. There is no
greatness there.

Who are the great men and women? My attention was called the other day
to the history of a very little thing that made the fortune of a very
poor man. It was an awful thing, and yet because of that experience
he--not a great inventor or genius--invented the pin that now is called
the safety-pin, and out of that safety-pin made the fortune of one of
the great aristocratic families of this nation.

A poor man in Massachusetts who had worked in the nail-works was injured
at thirty-eight, and he could earn but little money. He was employed in
the office to rub out the marks on the bills made by pencil memorandums,
and he used a rubber until his hand grew tired. He then tied a piece of
rubber on the end of a stick and worked it like a plane. His little girl
came and said, “Why, you have a patent, haven’t you?” The father said
afterward, “My daughter told me when I took that stick and put the
rubber on the end that there was a patent, and that was the first
thought of that.” He went to Boston and applied for his patent, and
every one of you that has a rubber-tipped pencil in your pocket is now
paying tribute to the millionaire. No capital, not a penny did he invest
in it. All was income, all the way up into the millions.

But let me hasten to one other greater thought. “Show me the great men
and women who live in Philadelphia.” A gentleman over there will get up
and say: “We don’t have any great men in Philadelphia. They don’t
live here. They live away off in Rome or St. Petersburg or London or
Manayunk, or anywhere else but here in our town.” I have come now to the
apex of my thought. I have come now to the heart of the whole matter and
to the center of my struggle: Why isn’t Philadelphia a greater city in
its greater wealth? Why does New York excel Philadelphia? People say,
“Because of her harbor.” Why do many other cities of the United States
get ahead of Philadelphia now? There is only one answer, and that is
because our own people talk down their own city. If there ever was
a community on earth that has to be forced ahead, it is the city of
Philadelphia. If we are to have a boulevard, talk it down; if we are
going to have better schools, talk them down; if you wish to have wise
legislation, talk it down; talk all the proposed improvements down. That
is the only great wrong that I can lay at the feet of the magnificent
Philadelphia that has been so universally kind to me. I say it is time
we turn around in our city and begin to talk up the things that are
in our city, and begin to set them before the world as the people of
Chicago, New York, St. Louis, and San Francisco do. Oh, if we only
could get that spirit out among our people, that we can do things in
Philadelphia and do them well!

Arise, ye millions of Philadelphians, trust in God and man, and believe
in the great opportunities that are right here not over in New York or
Boston, but here--for business, for everything that is worth living for
on earth. There was never an opportunity greater. Let us talk up our own

But there are two other young men here to-night, and that is all I will
venture to say, because it is too late. One over there gets up and says,
“There is going to be a great man in Philadelphia, but never was one.”
 “Oh, is that so? When are you going to be great?” “When I am elected
to some political office.” Young man, won’t you learn a lesson in the
primer of politics that it is a _prima facie_ evidence of littleness
to hold office under our form of government? Great men get into office
sometimes, but what this country needs is men that will do what we
tell them to do. This nation--where the people rule--is governed by the
people, for the people, and so long as it is, then the office-holder is
but the servant of the people, and the Bible says the servant cannot
be greater than the master. The Bible says, “He that is sent cannot be
greater than Him who sent Him.” The people rule, or should rule, and if
they do, we do not need the greater men in office. If the great men in
America took our offices, we would change to an empire in the next ten

I know of a great many young women, now that woman’s suffrage is coming,
who say, “I am going to be President of the United States some day.”
 I believe in woman’s suffrage, and there is no doubt but what it is
coming, and I am getting out of the way, anyhow. I may want an office by
and by myself; but if the ambition for an office influences the women in
their desire to vote, I want to say right here what I say to the young
men, that if you only get the privilege of casting one vote, you don’t
get anything that is worth while. Unless you can control more than
one vote, you will be unknown, and your influence so dissipated as
practically not to be felt. This country is not run by votes. Do
you think it is? It is governed by influence. It is governed by the
ambitions and the enterprises which control votes. The young woman that
thinks she is going to vote for the sake of holding an office is making
an awful blunder.

That other young man gets up and says, “There are going to be great men
in this country and in Philadelphia.” “Is that so? When?” “When there
comes a great war, when we get into difficulty through watchful waiting
in Mexico; when we get into war with England over some frivolous deed,
or with Japan or China or New Jersey or some distant country. Then
I will march up to the cannon’s mouth; I will sweep up among the
glistening bayonets; I will leap into the arena and tear down the flag
and bear it away in triumph. I will come home with stars on my shoulder,
and hold every office in the gift of the nation, and I will be great.”
 No, you won’t. You think you are going to be made great by an office,
but remember that if you are not great before you get the office, you
won’t be great when you secure it. It will only be a burlesque in that

We had a Peace Jubilee here after the Spanish War. Out West they don’t
believe this, because they said, “Philadelphia would not have heard of
any Spanish War until fifty years hence.” Some of you saw the procession
go up Broad Street. I was away, but the family wrote to me that the
tally-ho coach with Lieutenant Hobson upon it stopped right at the front
door and the people shouted, “Hurrah for Hobson!” and if I had been
there I would have yelled too, because he deserves much more of his
country than he has ever received. But suppose I go into school and
say, “Who sunk the _Merrimac_ at Santiago?” and if the boys answer me,
“Hobson,” they will tell me seven-eighths of a lie. There were seven
other heroes on that steamer, and they, by virtue of their position,
were continually exposed to the Spanish fire, while Hobson, as an
officer, might reasonably be behind the smoke-stack. You have gathered
in this house your most intelligent people, and yet, perhaps, not one
here can name the other seven men.

We ought not to so teach history. We ought to teach that, however humble
a man’s station may be, if he does his full duty in that place he is
just as much entitled to the American people’s honor as is the king upon
his throne. But we do not so teach. We are now teaching everywhere that
the generals do all the fighting.

I remember that, after the war, I went down to see General Robert E.
Lee, that magnificent Christian gentleman of whom both North and South
are now proud as one of our great Americans. The general told me about
his servant, “Rastus,” who was an enlisted colored soldier. He called
him in one day to make fun of him, and said, “Rastus, I hear that all
the rest of your company are killed, and why are you not killed?” Rastus
winked at him and said, “‘Cause when there is any fightin’ goin’ on I
stay back with the generals.”

I remember another illustration. I would leave it out but for the fact
that when you go to the library to read this lecture, you will find this
has been printed in it for twenty-five years. I shut my eyes--shut them
close--and lo! I see the faces of my youth. Yes, they sometimes say
to me, “Your hair is not white; you are working night and day without
seeming ever to stop; you can’t be old.” But when I shut my eyes, like
any other man of my years, oh, then come trooping back the faces of
the loved and lost of long ago, and I know, whatever men may say, it is

I shut my eyes now and look back to my native town in Massachusetts,
and I see the cattle-show ground on the mountain-top; I can see the
horse-sheds there. I can see the Congregational church; see the town
hall and mountaineers’ cottages; see a great assembly of people turning
out, dressed resplendently, and I can see flags flying and handkerchiefs
waving and hear bands playing. I can see that company of soldiers that
had re-enlisted marching up on that cattle-show ground. I was but a boy,
but I was captain of that company and puffed out with pride. A cambric
needle would have burst me all to pieces. Then I thought it was the
greatest event that ever came to man on earth. If you have ever thought
you would like to be a king or queen, you go and be received by the

The bands played, and all the people turned out to receive us. I marched
up that Common so proud at the head of my troops, and we turned down
into the town hall. Then they seated my soldiers down the center aisle
and I sat down on the front seat. A great assembly of people a hundred
or two--came in to fill the town hall, so that they stood up all around.
Then the town officers came in and formed a half-circle. The mayor of
the town sat in the middle of the platform. He was a man who had never
held office before; but he was a good man, and his friends have told me
that I might use this without giving them offense. He was a good man,
but he thought an office made a man great. He came up and took his seat,
adjusted his powerful spectacles, and looked around, when he suddenly
spied me sitting there on the front seat. He came right forward on
the platform and invited me up to sit with the town officers. No town
officer ever took any notice of me before I went to war, except to
advise the teacher to thrash me, and now I was invited up on the stand
with the town officers. Oh my! the town mayor was then the emperor, the
king of our day and our time. As I came up on the platform they gave me
a chair about this far, I would say, from the front.

When I had got seated, the chairman of the Selectmen arose and came
forward to the table, and we all supposed he would introduce the
Congregational minister, who was the only orator in town, and that he
would give the oration to the returning soldiers. But, friends, you
should have seen the surprise which ran over the audience when they
discovered that the old fellow was going to deliver that speech himself.
He had never made a speech in his life, but he fell into the same error
that hundreds of other men have fallen into. It seems so strange that a
man won’t learn he must speak his piece as a boy if he in-tends to be
an orator when he is grown, but he seems to think all he has to do is to
hold an office to be a great orator.

So he came up to the front, and brought with him a speech which he
had learned by heart walking up and down the pasture, where he had
frightened the cattle. He brought the manuscript with him and spread
it out on the table so as to be sure he might see it. He adjusted his
spectacles and leaned over it for a moment and marched back on that
platform, and then came forward like this--tramp, tramp, tramp. He must
have studied the subject a great deal, when you come to think of it,
because he assumed an “elocutionary” attitude. He rested heavily upon
his left heel, threw back his shoulders, slightly advanced the right
foot, opened the organs of speech, and advanced his right foot at an
angle of forty-five. As he stood in that elocutionary attitude, friends,
this is just the way that speech went. Some people say to me, “Don’t you
exaggerate?” That would be impossible. But I am here for the lesson and
not for the story, and this is the way it went:

“Fellow-citizens--” As soon as he heard his voice his fingers began to
go like that, his knees began to shake, and then he trembled all over.
He choked and swallowed and came around to the table to look at the
manuscript. Then he gathered himself up with clenched fists and came
back: “Fellow-citizens, we are Fellow-citizens, we are--we are--we
are--we are--we are--we are very happy--we are very happy--we are very
happy. We are very happy to welcome back to their native town these
soldiers who have fought and bled--and come back again to their native
town. We are especially--we are especially--we are especially. We are
especially pleased to see with us to-day this young hero” (that meant
me)--“this young hero who in imagination” (friends, remember he said
that; if he had not said “in imagination” I would not be egotistic
enough to refer to it at all)--“this young hero who in imagination we
have seen leading--we have seen leading--leading. We have seen leading
his troops on to the deadly breach. We have seen his shining--we have
seen his shining--his shining--his shining sword--flashing. Flashing in
the sunlight, as he shouted to his troops, ‘Come on’!”

Oh dear, dear, dear! how little that good man knew about war. If he had
known anything about war at all he ought to have known what any of my G.
A. R. comrades here to-night will tell you is true, that it is next to
a crime for an officer of infantry ever in time of danger to go ahead of
his men. “I, with my shining sword flashing in the sunlight, shouting
to my troops, ‘Come on’!” I never did it. Do you suppose I would get in
front of my men to be shot in front by the enemy and in the back by my
own men? That is no place for an officer. The place for the officer in
actual battle is behind the line. How often, as a staff officer, I rode
down the line, when our men were suddenly called to the line of battle,
and the Rebel yells were coming out of the woods, and shouted: “Officers
to the rear! Officers to the rear!” Then every officer gets behind the
line of private soldiers, and the higher the officer’s rank the farther
behind he goes. Not because he is any the less brave, but because
the laws of war require that. And yet he shouted, “I, with my shining
sword--” In that house there sat the company of my soldiers who had
carried that boy across the Carolina rivers that he might not wet his
feet. Some of them had gone far out to get a pig or a chicken. Some of
them had gone to death under the shell-swept pines in the mountains of
Tennessee, yet in the good man’s speech they were scarcely known. He did
refer to them, but only incidentally. The hero of the hour was this boy.
Did the nation owe him anything? No, nothing then and nothing now.
Why was he the hero? Simply because that man fell into that same human
error--that this boy was great because he was an officer and these were
only private soldiers.

Oh, I learned the lesson then that I will never forget so long as the
tongue of the bell of time continues to swing for me. Greatness consists
not in the holding of some future office, but really consists in doing
great deeds with little means and the accomplishment of vast purposes
from the private ranks of life. To be great at all one must be great
here, now, in Philadelphia. He who can give to this city better streets
and better sidewalks, better schools and more colleges, more happiness
and more civilization, more of God, he will be great anywhere. Let every
man or woman here, if you never hear me again, remember this, that if
you wish to be great at all, you must begin where you are and what you
are, in Philadelphia, now. He that can give to his city any blessing, he
who can be a good citizen while he lives here, he that can make better
homes, he that can be a blessing whether he works in the shop or sits
behind the counter or keeps house, whatever be his life, he who would be
great anywhere must first be great in his own Philadelphia.


By Robert Shackleton


I SHALL write of a remarkable man, an interesting man, a man of power,
of initiative, of will, of persistence; a man who plans vastly and who
realizes his plans; a man who not only does things himself, but who,
even more important than that, is the constant inspiration of others. I
shall write of Russell H. Conwell.

As a farmer’s boy he was the leader of the boys of the rocky region
that was his home; as a school-teacher he won devotion; as a newspaper
correspondent he gained fame; as a soldier in the Civil War he rose to
important rank; as a lawyer he developed a large practice; as an author
he wrote books that reached a mighty total of sales. He left the law
for the ministry and is the active head of a great church that he raised
from nothingness. He is the most popular lecturer in the world and
yearly speaks to many thousands. He is, so to speak, the discoverer
of “Acres of Diamonds,” through which thousands of men and women have
achieved success out of failure. He is the head of two hospitals, one
of them founded by himself, that have cared for a host of patients, both
the poor and the rich, irrespective of race or creed. He is the founder
and head of a university that has already had tens of thousands of
students. His home is in Philadelphia; but he is known in every corner
of every state in the Union, and everywhere he has hosts of friends. All
of his life he has helped and inspired others.

Quite by chance, and only yesterday, literally yesterday and by chance,
and with no thought at the moment of Conwell although he had been
much in my mind for some time past, I picked up a thin little book of
description by William Dean Howells, and, turning the pages of a chapter
on Lexington, old Lexington of the Revolution, written, so Howells had
set down, in 1882, I noticed, after he had written of the town itself,
and of the long-past fight there, and of the present-day aspect, that
he mentioned the church life of the place and remarked on the striking
advances made by the Baptists, who had lately, as he expressed it,
been reconstituted out of very perishing fragments and made strong
and flourishing, under the ministrations of a lay preacher, formerly a
colonel in the Union army. And it was only a few days before I chanced
upon this description that Dr. Conwell, the former colonel and former
lay preacher, had told me of his experiences in that little old
Revolutionary town.

Howells went on to say that, so he was told, the colonel’s success was
principally due to his making the church attractive to young people.
Howells says no more of him; apparently he did not go to hear him; and
one wonders if he has ever associated that lay preacher of Lexington
with the famous Russell H. Conwell of these recent years!

“Attractive to young people.” Yes, one can recognize that to-day, just
as it was recognized in Lexington. And it may be added that he at the
same time attracts older people, too! In this, indeed, lies his power.
He makes his church interesting, his sermons interesting, his
lectures interesting. He is himself interesting! Because of his being
interesting, he gains attention. The attention gained, he inspires.

Biography is more than dates. Dates, after all, are but mile-stones
along the road of life. And the most important fact of Conwell’s life is
that he lived to be eighty-two, working sixteen hours every day for the
good of his fellow-men. He was born on February 15, 1843--born of
poor parents, in a low-roofed cottage in the eastern Berkshires, in

“I was born in this room,” he said to me, simply, as we sat together
recently [3] in front of the old fireplace in the principal room of the
little cottage; for he has bought back the rocky farm of his father, and
has retained and restored the little old home. “I was born in this room.
It was bedroom and kitchen. It was poverty.” And his voice sank with a
kind of grimness into silence.

Then he spoke a little of the struggles of those long-past years; and we
went out on the porch, as the evening shadows fell, and looked out
over the valley and stream and hills of his youth, and he told of his
grandmother, and of a young Marylander who had come to the region on
a visit; it was a tale of the impetuous love of those two, of rash
marriage, of the interference of parents, of the fierce rivalry of
another suitor, of an attack on the Marylander’s life, of passionate
hastiness, of unforgivable words, of separation, of lifelong sorrow.
“Why does grandmother cry so often?” he remembers asking when he was a
little boy. And he was told that it was for the husband of her youth.

We went back into the little house, and he showed me the room in which
he first saw John Brown. “I came down early one morning, and saw a huge,
hairy man sprawled upon the bed there--and I was frightened,” he says.

But John Brown did not long frighten him! For he was much at their house
after that, and was so friendly with Russell and his brother that
there was no chance for awe; and it gives a curious side-light on the
character of the stern abolitionist that he actually, with infinite
patience, taught the old horse of the Conwells to go home alone with
the wagon after leaving the boys at school, a mile or more away, and at
school-closing time to trot gently off for them without a driver when
merely faced in that direction and told to go! Conwell remembers how
John Brown, in training it, used patiently to walk beside the horse, and
control its going and its turnings, until it was quite ready to go and
turn entirely by itself.

The Conwell house was a station on the Underground Railway, and Russell
Conwell remembers, when a lad, seeing the escaping slaves that his
father had driven across country and temporarily hidden. “Those were
heroic days,” he says, quietly. “And once in a while my father let me
go with him. They were wonderful night drives--the cowering slaves, the
darkness of the road, the caution and the silence and dread of it all.”
 This underground route, he remembers, was from Philadelphia to New
Haven, thence to Springfield, where Conwell’s father would take his
charge, and onward to Bellows Falls and Canada.

Conwell tells, too, of meeting Frederick Douglass, the colored orator,
in that little cottage in the hills. “‘I never saw my father,’ Douglass
said one day--his father was a white man--‘and I remember little of my
mother except that once she tried to keep an overseer from whipping me,
and the lash cut across her own face, and her blood fell over me.’

“When John Brown was captured,” Conwell went on, “my father tried to
sell this place to get a little money to send to help his defense. But
he couldn’t sell it, and on the day of the execution we knelt solemnly
here, from eleven to twelve, just praying, praying in silence for the
passing soul of John Brown. And as we prayed we knew that others were
also praying, for a church-bell tolled during that entire hour, and its
awesome boom went sadly sounding over these hills.”

Conwell believes that his real life dates from a happening of the time
of the Civil War--a happening that still looms vivid and intense before
him, and which undoubtedly did deepen and strengthen his strong and
deep nature. Yet the real Conwell was always essentially the same.
Neighborhood tradition still tells of his bravery as a boy and a youth,
of his reckless coasting, his skill as a swimmer and his saving of
lives, his strength and endurance, his plunging out into the darkness of
a wild winter night to save a neighbor’s cattle. His soldiers came home
with tales of his devotion to them, and of how he shared his rations
and his blankets and bravely risked his life; of how he crept off into a
swamp, at imminent peril, to rescue one of his men lost or mired there.
The present Conwell was always Conwell; in fact, he may be traced
through his ancestry, too, for in him are the sturdy virtues, the
bravery, the grim determination, the practicality, of his father; and
romanticism, that comes from his grandmother; and the dreamy qualities
of his mother, who, practical and hardworking New England woman that she
was, was at the same time influenced by an almost startling mysticism.

And Conwell himself is a dreamer: first of all he is a dreamer; it is
the most important fact in regard to him! It is because he is a dreamer
and visualizes his dreams that he can plan the great things that to
other men would seem impossibilities; and then his intensely practical
side his intense efficiency, his power, his skill, his patience, his
fine earnestness, his mastery over others, develop his dreams into
realities. He dreams dreams and sees visions--but his visions are never
visionary and his dreams become facts.

The rocky hills which meant a dogged struggle for very existence, the
fugitive slaves, John Brown--what a school for youth! And the literal
school was a tiny one-room school-house where young Conwell came under
the care of a teacher who realized the boy’s unusual capabilities
and was able to give him broad and unusual help. Then a wise country
preacher also recognized the unusual, and urged the parents to give
still more education, whereupon supreme effort was made and young
Russell was sent to Wilbraham Academy. He likes to tell of his life
there, and of the hardships, of which he makes light; and of the joy
with which week-end pies and cakes were received from home!

He tells of how he went out on the roads selling books from house to
house, and of how eagerly he devoured the contents of the sample books
that he carried. “They were a foundation of learning for me,” he says,
soberly. “And they gave me a broad idea of the world.”

He went to Yale in 1860, but the outbreak of the war interfered with
college, and he enlisted in 1861. But he was only eighteen, and his
father objected, and he went back to Yale. But next year he again
enlisted, and men of his Berkshire neighborhood, likewise enlisting,
insisted that he be their captain; and Governor Andrews, appealed to,
consented to commission the nineteen-year-old youth who was so evidently
a natural leader; and the men gave freely of their scant money to get
for him a sword, all gay and splendid with gilt, and upon the sword was
the declaration in stately Latin that, “True friendship is eternal.”

And with that sword is associated the most vivid, the most momentous
experience of Russell Conwell’s life.

That sword hangs at the head of Conwell’s bed in his home in
Philadelphia. Man of peace that he is, and minister of peace, that
symbol of war has for over half a century been of infinite importance to

He told me the story as we stood together before that sword. And as he
told the story, speaking with quiet repression, but seeing it all and
living it all just as vividly as if it had occurred but yesterday, “That
sword has meant so much to me,” he murmured; and then he began the tale:

“A boy up there in the Berkshires, a neighbor’s son, was John Ring; I
call him a boy, for we all called him a boy, and we looked upon him as
a boy, for he was under-sized and under-developed--so much so that he
could not enlist.

“But for some reason he was devoted to me, and he not only wanted to
enlist, but he also wanted to be in the artillery company of which I was
captain; and I could only take him along as my servant. I didn’t want a
servant, but it was the only way to take poor little Johnnie Ring.

“Johnnie was deeply religious, and would read the Bible every evening
before turning in. In those days I was an atheist, or at least thought
I was, and I used to laugh at Ring, and after a while he took to reading
the Bible outside the tent on account of my laughing at him! But he did
not stop reading it, and his faithfulness to me remained unchanged.

“The scabbard of the sword was too glittering for the regulations”--the
ghost of a smile hovered on Conwell’s lips--“and I could not wear it,
and could only wear a plain one for service and keep this hanging in my
tent on the tent-pole. John Ring used to handle it adoringly, and kept
it polished to brilliancy.--It’s dull enough these many years,” he
added, somberly. “To Ring it represented not only his captain, but the
very glory and pomp of war.

“One day the Confederates suddenly stormed our position near New Berne
and swept through the camp, driving our entire force before them; and
all, including my company, retreated hurriedly across the river,
setting fire to a long wooden bridge as we went over. It soon blazed up
furiously, making a barrier that the Confederates could not pass.

“But, unknown to everybody, and unnoticed, John Ring had dashed back to
my tent. I think he was able to make his way back because he just looked
like a mere boy; but however that was, he got past the Confederates into
my tent and took down, from where it was hanging on the tent-pole, my
bright, gold-scabbarded sword.

“John Ring seized the sword that had long been so precious to him. He
dodged here and there, and actually managed to gain the bridge just
as it was beginning to blaze. He started across. The flames were every
moment getting fiercer, the smoke denser, and now and then, as he
crawled and staggered on, he leaned for a few seconds far over the edge
of the bridge in an effort to get air. Both sides saw him; both sides
watched his terrible progress, even while firing was fiercely kept up
from each side of the river. And then a Confederate officer--he was one
of General Pickett’s officers--ran to the water’s edge and waved a white
handkerchief and the firing ceased.

“‘Tell that boy to come back here!’ he cried. ‘Tell him to come back
here and we will let him go free!’

“He called this out just as Ring was about to enter upon the worst part
of the bridge--the covered part, where there were top and bottom and
sides of blazing wood. The roar of the flames was so close to Ring that
he could not hear the calls from either side of the river, and he pushed
desperately on and disappeared in the covered part.

“There was dead silence except for the crackling of the fire. Not a man
cried out. All waited in hopeless expectancy. And then came a mighty
yell from Northerner and Southerner alike, for Johnnie came crawling
out of the end of the covered way--he had actually passed through that
frightful place--and his clothes were ablaze, and he toppled over
and fell into shallow water; and in a few moments he was dragged out,
unconscious, and hurried to a hospital.

“He lingered for a day or so, still unconscious, and then came to
himself and smiled a little as he found that the sword for which he
had given his life had been left beside him. He took it in his arms. He
hugged it to his breast. He gave a few words of final message for me.
And that was all.”

Conwell’s voice had gone thrillingly low as he neared the end, for it
was all so very, very vivid to him, and his eyes had grown tender and
his lips more strong and firm. And he fell silent, thinking of that
long-ago happening, and though he looked down upon the thronging traffic
of Broad Street, it was clear that he did not see it, and that if the
rumbling hubbub of sound meant anything to him it was the rumbling of
the guns of the distant past. When he spoke again it was with a still
tenser tone of feeling.

“When I stood beside the body of John Ring and realized that he had died
for love of me, I made a vow that has formed my life. I vowed that from
that moment I would live not only my own life, but that I would also
live the life of John Ring. And from that moment I have worked sixteen
hours every day--eight for John Ring’s work and eight hours for my own.”

A curious note had come into his voice, as of one who had run the race
and neared the goal, fought the good fight and neared the end.

“Every morning when I rise I look at this sword, or if I am away from
home I think of the sword, and vow anew that another day shall see
sixteen hours of work from me.” And when one comes to know Russell
Conwell one realizes that never did a man work more hard and constantly.

“It was through John Ring and his giving his life through devotion to
me that I became a Christian,” he went on. “This did not come about
immediately, but it came before the war was over, and it came through
faithful Johnnie Ring.”

There is a little lonely cemetery in the Berkshires, a tiny
burying-ground on a wind-swept hill, a few miles from Conwell’s old
home. In this isolated burying-ground bushes and vines and grass grow in
profusion, and a few trees cast a gentle shade; and tree-clad hills go
billowing off for miles and miles in wild and lonely beauty. And in
that lonely little graveyard I found the plain stone that marks the
resting-place of John Ring.


IT is not because he is a minister that Russell Conwell is such a force
in the world. He went into the ministry because he was sincerely and
profoundly a Christian, and because he felt that as a minister he
could do more good in the world than in any other capacity. But being
a minister is but an incident, so to speak. The important thing is not
that he is a minister, but that he is himself!

Recently I heard a New-Yorker, the head of a great corporation, say: “I
believe that Russell Conwell is doing more good in the world than any
man who has lived since Jesus Christ.” And he said this in serious and
unexaggerated earnest.

Yet Conwell did not get readily into his life-work. He might have seemed
almost a failure until he was well on toward forty, for although he
kept making successes they were not permanent successes, and he did not
settle himself into a definite line. He restlessly went westward to make
his home, and then restlessly returned to the East. After the war was
over he was a lawyer, he was a lecturer, he was an editor, he went
around the world as a correspondent, he wrote books. He kept making
money, and kept losing it; he lost it through fire, through investments,
through aiding his friends. It is probable that the unsettledness of
the years following the war was due to the unsettling effect of the war
itself, which thus, in its influence, broke into his mature life
after breaking into his years at Yale. But however that may be, those
seething, changing, stirring years were years of vital importance to
him, for in the myriad experiences of that time he was building the
foundation of the Conwell that was to come. Abroad he met the notables
of the earth. At home he made hosts of friends and loyal admirers.

It is worth while noting that as a lawyer he would never take a case,
either civil or criminal, that he considered wrong. It was basic with
him that he could not and would not fight on what he thought was the
wrong side. Only when his client was right would he go ahead!

Yet he laughs, his quiet, infectious, characteristic laugh, as he
tells of how once he was deceived, for he defended a man, charged with
stealing a watch, who was so obviously innocent that he took the case in
a blaze of indignation and had the young fellow proudly exonerated. The
next day the wrongly accused one came to his office and shamefacedly
took out the watch that he had been charged with stealing. “I want you
to send it to the man I took it from,” he said. And he told with a sort
of shamefaced pride of how he had got a good old deacon to give, in all
sincerity, the evidence that exculpated him. “And, say, Mr. Conwell--I
want to thank you for getting me off--and I hope you’ll excuse my
deceiving you--and--I won’t be any worse for not going to jail.” And
Conwell likes to remember that thereafter the young man lived up to the
pride of exoneration; and, though Conwell does not say it or think
it, one knows that it was the Conwell influence that inspired to
honesty--for always he is an inspirer.

Conwell even kept certain hours for consultation with those too poor
to pay any fee; and at one time, while still an active lawyer, he was
guardian for over sixty children! The man has always been a marvel, and
always one is coming upon such romantic facts as these.

That is a curious thing about him--how much there is of romance in his
life! Worshiped to the end by John Ring; left for dead all night at
Kenesaw Mountain; calmly singing “Nearer, my God, to Thee,” to quiet the
passengers on a supposedly sinking ship; saving lives even when a boy;
never disappointing a single audience of the thousands of audiences he
has arranged to address during all his years of lecturing! He himself
takes a little pride in this last point, and it is characteristic of him
that he has actually forgotten that just once he did fail to appear:
he has quite forgotten that one evening, on his way to a lecture,
he stopped a runaway horse to save two women’s lives, and went in
consequence to a hospital instead of to the platform! And it is typical
of him to forget that sort of thing.

The emotional temperament of Conwell has always made him responsive
to the great, the striking, the patriotic. He was deeply influenced
by knowing John Brown, and his brief memories of Lincoln are intense,
though he saw him but three times in all.

The first time he saw Lincoln was on the night when the future President
delivered the address, which afterward became so famous, in Cooper
Union, New York. The name of Lincoln was then scarcely known, and it
was by mere chance that young Conwell happened to be in New York on that
day. But being there, and learning that Abraham Lincoln from the West
was going to make an address, he went to hear him.

He tells how uncouthly Lincoln was dressed, even with one trousers-leg
higher than the other, and of how awkward he was, and of how poorly, at
first, he spoke and with what apparent embarrassment. The chairman of
the meeting got Lincoln a glass of water, and Conwell thought that it
was from a personal desire to help him and keep him from breaking down.
But he loves to tell how Lincoln became a changed man as he spoke;
how he seemed to feel ashamed of his brief embarrassment and, pulling
himself together and putting aside the written speech which he had
prepared, spoke freely and powerfully, with splendid conviction, as only
a born orator speaks. To Conwell it was a tremendous experience.

The second time he saw Lincoln was when he went to Washington to plead
for the life of one of his men who had been condemned to death for
sleeping on post. He was still but a captain (his promotion to a
colonelcy was still to come), a youth, and was awed by going into the
presence of the man he worshiped. And his voice trembles a little, even
now, as he tells of how pleasantly Lincoln looked up from his desk, and
how cheerfully he asked his business with him, and of how absorbedly
Lincoln then listened to his tale, although, so it appeared, he already
knew of the main outline.

“It will be all right,” said Lincoln, when Conwell finished. But Conwell
was still frightened. He feared that in the multiplicity of public
matters this mere matter of the life of a mountain boy, a private
soldier, might be forgotten till too late. “It is almost the time set--”
 he faltered. And Conwell’s voice almost breaks, man of emotion that
he is, as he tells of how Lincoln said, with stern gravity: “Go and
telegraph that soldier’s mother that Abraham Lincoln never signed a
warrant to shoot a boy under twenty, and never will.” That was the one
and only time that he spoke with Lincoln, and it remains an indelible

The third time he saw Lincoln was when, as officer of the day, he stood
for hours beside the dead body of the President as it lay in state
in Washington. In those hours, as he stood rigidly as the throng went
shuffling sorrowfully through, an immense impression came to Colonel
Conwell of the work and worth of the man who there lay dead, and that
impression has never departed.

John Brown, Abraham Lincoln, old Revolutionary Lexington--how Conwell’s
life is associated with famous men and places!--and it was actually
at Lexington that he made the crucial decision as to the course of his
life! And it seems to me that it was, although quite unconsciously,
because of the very fact that it was Lexington that Conwell was
influenced to decide and to act as he did. Had it been in some other
kind of place, some merely ordinary place, some quite usual place, he
might not have taken the important step. But it was Lexington, it was
brave old Lexington, inspiring Lexington; and he was inspired by it, for
the man who himself inspires nobly is always the one who is himself open
to noble inspiration. Lexington inspired him.

“When I was a lawyer in Boston and almost thirty-seven years old,” he
told me, thinking slowly back into the years, “I was consulted by a
woman who asked my advice in regard to disposing of a little church in
Lexington whose congregation had become unable to support it. I went out
and looked at the place, and I told her how the property could be sold.
But it seemed a pity to me that the little church should be given up.
However, I advised a meeting of the church members, and I attended
the meeting. I put the case to them--it was only a handful of men and
women--and there was silence for a little. Then an old man rose and, in
a quavering voice, said the matter was quite clear; that there evidently
was nothing to do but to sell, and that he would agree with the others
in the necessity; but as the church had been his church home from
boyhood, so he quavered and quivered on, he begged that they would
excuse him from actually taking part in disposing of it; and in a deep
silence he went haltingly from the room.

“The men and the women looked at one another, still silent, sadly
impressed, but not knowing what to do. And I said to them: ‘Why not
start over again, and go on with the church, after all!’”

Typical Conwellism, that! First, the impulse to help those who need
helping, then the inspiration and leadership.

“‘But the building is entirely too tumble-down to use,’ said one of the
men, sadly; and I knew he was right, for I had examined it; but I said:

“‘Let us meet there to-morrow morning and get to work on that building
ourselves and put it in shape for a service next Sunday.’

“It made them seem so pleased and encouraged, and so confident that a
new possibility was opening that I never doubted that each one of those
present, and many friends besides, would be at the building in the
morning. I was there early with a hammer and ax and crowbar that I had
secured, ready to go to work--but no one else showed up!”

He has a rueful appreciation of the humor of it, as he pictured the
scene; and one knows also that, in that little town of Lexington, where
Americans had so bravely faced the impossible, Russell Conwell also
braced himself to face the impossible. A pettier man would instantly
have given up the entire matter when those who were most interested
failed to respond, but one of the strongest features in Conwell’s
character is his ability to draw even doubters and weaklings into line,
his ability to stir even those who have given up.

“I looked over that building,” he goes on, whimsically, “and I saw that
repair really seemed out of the question. Nothing but a new church would
do! So I took the ax that I had brought with me and began chopping the
place down. In a little while a man, not one of the church members, came
along, and he watched me for a time and said, ‘What are you going to do

“And I instantly replied, ‘Tear down this old building and build a new
church here!’

“He looked at me. ‘But the people won’t do that,’ he said.

“‘Yes, they will,’ I said, cheerfully, keeping at my work. Whereupon he
watched me a few minutes longer and said:

“‘Well, you can put me down for one hundred dollars for the new
building. Come up to my livery-stable and get it this evening.’

“‘All right; I’ll surely be there,’ I replied.

“In a little while another man came along and stopped and looked, and
he rather gibed at the idea of a new church, and when I told him of the
livery-stable man contributing one hundred dollars, he said, ‘But you
haven’t got the money yet!’

“‘No,’ I said; ‘but I am going to get it to-night.’

“‘You’ll never get it,’ he said. ‘He’s not that sort of a man. He’s not
even a church man!’

“But I just went quietly on with the work, without answering, and after
quite a while he left; but he called back, as he went off, ‘Well, if he
does give you that hundred dollars, come to me and I’ll give you another

Conwell smiles in genial reminiscence and without any apparent sense
that he is telling of a great personal triumph, and goes on:

“Those two men both paid the money, and of course the church people
themselves, who at first had not quite understood that I could be in
earnest, joined in and helped, with work and money, and as, while the
new church was building, it was peculiarly important to get and keep
the congregation together, and as they had ceased to have a minister of
their own, I used to run out from Boston and preach for them, in a room
we hired.

“And it was there in Lexington, in 1879, that I determined to become a
minister. I had a good law practice, but I determined to give it up. For
many years I had felt more or less of a call to the ministry, and here
at length was the definite time to begin.

“Week by week I preached there”--how strange, now, to think of William
Dean Howells and the colonel-preacher!--“and after a while the church
was completed, and in that very church, there in Lexington, I was
ordained a minister.”

A marvelous thing, all this, even without considering the marvelous
heights that Conwell has since attained--a marvelous thing, an
achievement of positive romance! That little church stood for American
bravery and initiative and self-sacrifice and romanticism in a way that
well befitted good old Lexington.

To leave a large and overflowing law practice and take up the ministry
at a salary of six hundred dollars a year seemed to the relatives of
Conwell’s wife the extreme of foolishness, and they did not hesitate
so to express themselves. Naturally enough, they did not have Conwell’s
vision. Yet he himself was fair enough to realize and to admit that
there was a good deal of fairness in their objections; and so he said to
the congregation that, although he was quite ready to come for the six
hundred dollars a year, he expected them to double his salary as soon as
he doubled the church membership. This seemed to them a good deal like a
joke, but they answered in perfect earnestness that they would be quite
willing to do the doubling as soon as he did the doubling, and in less
than a year the salary was doubled accordingly.

I asked him if he had found it hard to give up the lucrative law for
a poor ministry, and his reply gave a delightful impression of his
capacity for humorous insight into human nature, for he said, with a
genial twinkle:

“Oh yes, it was a wrench; but there is a sort of romance of
self-sacrifice, you know. I rather suppose the old-time martyrs rather
enjoyed themselves in being martyrs!”

Conwell did not stay very long in Lexington. A struggling little church
in Philadelphia heard of what he was doing, and so an old deacon went up
to see and hear him, and an invitation was given; and as the Lexington
church seemed to be prosperously on its feet, and the needs of the
Philadelphia body keenly appealed to Conwell’s imagination, a change was
made, and at a salary of eight hundred dollars a year he went, in
1882, to the little struggling Philadelphia congregation, and of that
congregation he is still pastor--only, it ceased to be a struggling
congregation a great many years ago! And long ago it began paying him
more thousands every year than at first it gave him hundreds.

Dreamer as Conwell always is in connection with his immense
practicality, and moved as he is by the spiritual influences of life,
it is more than likely that not only did Philadelphia’s need appeal,
but also the fact that Philadelphia, as a city, meant much to him, for,
coming North, wounded from a battle-field of the Civil War, it was in
Philadelphia that he was cared for until his health and strength were
recovered. Thus it came that Philadelphia had early become dear to him.

And here is an excellent example of how dreaming great dreams may go
hand-in-hand with winning superb results. For that little struggling
congregation now owns and occupies a great new church building that
seats more people than any other Protestant church in America--and Dr.
Conwell fills it!


AT every point in Conwell’s life one sees that he wins through his
wonderful personal influence on old and young. Every step forward, every
triumph achieved, comes not alone from his own enthusiasm, but because
of his putting that enthusiasm into others. And when I learned how it
came about that the present church buildings were begun, it was another
of those marvelous tales of fact that are stranger than any imagination
could make them. And yet the tale was so simple and sweet and sad and

When Dr. Conwell first assumed charge of the little congregation that
led him to Philadelphia it was really a little church both in its
numbers and in the size of the building that it occupied, but it quickly
became so popular under his leadership that the church services and
Sunday-school services were alike so crowded that there was no room for
all who came, and always there were people turned from the doors.

One afternoon a little girl, who had eagerly wished to go, turned back
from the Sunday-school door, crying bitterly because they had told her
that there was no more room. But a tall, black-haired man met her and
noticed her tears and, stopping, asked why it was that she was crying,
and she sobbingly replied that it was because they could not let her
into the Sunday-school.

“I lifted her to my shoulder,” says Dr. Conwell, in telling of this; for
after hearing the story elsewhere I asked him to tell it to me himself,
for it seemed almost too strange to be true. “I lifted her to my
shoulder”--and one realizes the pretty scene it must have made for the
little girl to go through the crowd of people, drying her tears and
riding proudly on the shoulders of the kindly, tall, dark man! “I said
to her that I would take her in, and I did so, and I said to her that we
should some day have a room big enough for all who should come. And when
she went home she told her parents--I only learned this afterward--that
she was going to save money to help build the larger church and
Sunday-school that Dr. Conwell wanted! Her parents pleasantly humored
her in the idea and let her run errands and do little tasks to earn
pennies, and she began dropping the pennies into her bank.”

“She was a lovable little thing--but in only a few weeks after that she
was taken suddenly ill and died; and at the funeral her father told
me, quietly, of how his little girl had been saving money for a
building-fund. And there, at the funeral, he handed me what she had
saved--just fifty-seven cents in pennies.”

Dr. Conwell does not say how deeply he was moved; he is, after all, a
man of very few words as to his own emotions. But a deep tenderness had
crept into his voice.

“At a meeting of the church trustees I told of this gift of fifty-seven
cents--the first gift toward the proposed building-fund of the new
church that was some time to exist. For until then the matter had barely
been spoken of, as a new church building had been simply a possibility
for the future.

“The trustees seemed much impressed, and it turned out that they were
far more impressed than I could possibly have hoped, for in a few days
one of them came to me and said that he thought it would be an excellent
idea to buy a lot on Broad Street--the very lot on which the building
now stands.” It was characteristic of Dr. Conwell that he did not point
out, what every one who knows him would understand, that it was his
own inspiration put into the trustees which resulted in this quick and
definite move on the part of one of them. “I talked the matter over with
the owner of the property, and told him of the beginning of the fund,
the story of the little girl. The man was not one of our church, nor in
fact, was he a church-goer at all, but he listened attentively to the
tale of the fifty-seven cents and simply said he was quite ready to
go ahead and sell us that piece of land for ten thousand dollars,
taking--and the unexpectedness of this deeply touched me taking a first
payment of just fifty-seven cents and letting the entire balance stand
on a five-per-cent. mortgage!

“And it seemed to me that it would be the right thing to accept this
unexpectedly liberal proposition, and I went over the entire matter on
that basis with the trustees and some of the other members, and all the
people were soon talking of having a new church. But it was not done in
that way, after all, for, fine though that way would have been, there
was to be one still finer.

“Not long after my talk with the man who owned the land, and his
surprisingly good-hearted proposition, an exchange was arranged for me
one evening with a Mount Holly church, and my wife went with me. We came
back late, and it was cold and wet and miserable, but as we approached
our home we saw that it was all lighted from top to bottom, and it was
clear that it was full of people. I said to my wife that they seemed to
be having a better time than we had had, and we went in, curious to
know what it was all about. And it turned out that our absence had been
intentionally arranged, and that the church people had gathered at
our home to meet us on our return. And I was utterly amazed, for the
spokesman told me that the entire ten thousand dollars had been raised
and that the land for the church that I wanted was free of debt. And
all had come so quickly and directly from that dear little girl’s
fifty-seven cents.”

Doesn’t it seem like a fairy tale! But then this man has all his life
been making fairy tales into realities. He inspired the child. He
inspired the trustees. He inspired the owner of the land. He inspired
the people.

The building of the great church--the Temple Baptist Church, as it is
termed--was a great undertaking for the congregation; even though it had
been swiftly growing from the day of Dr. Conwell’s taking charge of it,
it was something far ahead of what, except in the eyes of an enthusiast,
they could possibly complete and pay for and support. Nor was it an easy

Ground was broken for the building in 1889, in 1891 it was opened for
worship, and then came years of raising money to clear it. But it was
long ago placed completely out of debt, and with only a single large
subscription--one of ten thousand dollars--for the church is not in a
wealthy neighborhood, nor is the congregation made up of the great and

The church is built of stone, and its interior is a great amphitheater.
Special attention has been given to fresh air and light; there
is nothing of the dim, religious light that goes with medieval
churchliness. Behind the pulpit are tiers of seats for the great chorus
choir. There is a large organ. The building is peculiarly adapted for
hearing and seeing, and if it is not, strictly speaking, beautiful in
itself, it is beautiful when it is filled with encircling rows of men
and women.

Man of feeling that he is, and one who appreciates the importance of
symbols, Dr. Conwell had a heart of olive-wood built into the front
of the pulpit, for the wood was from an olive-tree in the Garden of
Gethsemane. And the amber-colored tiles in the inner walls of the church
bear, under the glaze, the names of thousands of his people; for every
one, young or old, who helped in the building, even to the giving of a
single dollar, has his name inscribed there. For Dr. Conwell wished to
show that it is not only the house of the Lord, but also, in a keenly
personal sense, the house of those who built it.

The church has a possible seating capacity of 4,200, although only 3,135
chairs have been put in it, for it has been the desire not to crowd the
space needlessly. There is also a great room for the Sunday-school,
and extensive rooms for the young men’s association, the young
women’s association, and for a kitchen, for executive offices, for
meeting-places for church officers and boards and committees. It is a
spacious and practical and complete church home, and the people feel at
home there.

“You see again,” said Dr. Conwell, musingly, “the advantage of aiming at
big things. That building represents $109,000 above ground. It is
free from debt. Had we built a small church, it would now be heavily


EVEN as a young man Conwell won local fame as an orator. At the
outbreak of the Civil War he began making patriotic speeches that gained
enlistments. After going to the front he was sent back home for a
time, on furlough, to make more speeches to draw more recruits, for
his speeches were so persuasive, so powerful, so full of homely and
patriotic feeling, that the men who heard them thronged into the
ranks. And as a preacher he uses persuasion, power, simple and homely
eloquence, to draw men to the ranks of Christianity.

He is an orator born, and has developed this inborn power by the hardest
of study and thought and practice. He is one of those rare men who
always seize and hold the attention. When he speaks, men listen. It is
quality, temperament, control--the word is immaterial, but the fact is
very material indeed.

Some quarter of a century ago Conwell published a little book for
students on the study and practice of oratory. That “clear-cut
articulation is the charm of eloquence” is one of his insisted-upon
statements, and it well illustrates the lifelong practice of the man
himself, for every word as he talks can be heard in every part of a
large building, yet always he speaks without apparent effort. He avoids
“elocution.” His voice is soft-pitched and never breaks, even now when
he is over seventy, because, so he explains it, he always speaks in his
natural voice. There is never a straining after effect.

“A speaker must possess a large-hearted regard for the welfare of
his audience,” he writes, and here again we see Conwell explaining
Conwellism. “Enthusiasm invites enthusiasm,” is another of his points
of importance; and one understands that it is by deliberate purpose,
and not by chance, that he tries with such tremendous effort to put
enthusiasm into his hearers with every sermon and every lecture that he

“It is easy to raise a laugh, but dangerous, for it is the greatest test
of an orator’s control of his audience to be able to land them again on
the solid earth of sober thinking.” I have known him at the very end
of a sermon have a ripple of laughter sweep freely over the entire
congregation, and then in a moment he has every individual under his
control, listening soberly to his words.

He never fears to use humor, and it is always very simple and obvious
and effective. With him even a very simple pun may be used, not only
with-out taking away from the strength of what he is saying, but with a
vivid increase of impressiveness. And when he says something funny it
is in such a delightful and confidential way, with such a genial, quiet,
infectious humorousness, that his audience is captivated. And they never
think that he is telling something funny of his own; it seems, such is
the skill of the man, that he is just letting them know of something
humorous that they are to enjoy with him.

“Be absolutely truthful and scrupulously clear,” he writes; and with
delightfully terse common sense, he says, “Use illustrations that
illustrate”--and never did an orator live up to this injunction more
than does Conwell himself. Nothing is more surprising, nothing is more
interesting, than the way in which he makes use as illustrations of the
impressions and incidents of his long and varied life, and, whatever it
is, it has direct and instant bearing on the progress of his discourse.
He will refer to something that he heard a child say in a train
yesterday; in a few minutes he will speak of something that he saw or
some one whom he met last month, or last year, or ten years ago--in
Ohio, in California, in London, in Paris, in New York, in Bombay; and
each memory, each illustration, is a hammer with which he drives home a

The vast number of places he has visited and people he has met, the
infinite variety of things his observant eyes have seen, give him his
ceaseless flow of illustrations, and his memory and his skill make
admirable use of them. It is seldom that he uses an illustration from
what he has read; everything is, characteristically, his own. Henry
M. Stanley, who knew him well, referred to him as “that double-sighted
Yankee,” who could “see at a glance all there is and all there ever

And never was there a man who so supplements with personal reminiscence
the place or the person that has figured in the illustration. When
he illustrates with the story of the discovery of California gold at
Sutter’s he almost parenthetically remarks, “I delivered this lecture on
that very spot a few years ago; that is, in the town that arose on that
very spot.” And when he illustrates by the story of the invention of the
sewing-machine, he adds: “I suppose that if any of you were asked who
was the inventor of the sewing-machine, you would say that it was Elias
Howe. But that would be a mistake. I was with Elias Howe in the Civil
War, and he often used to tell me how he had tried for fourteen years to
invent the sewing-machine and that then his wife, feeling that something
really had to be done, invented it in a couple of hours.” Listening to
him, you begin to feel in touch with everybody and everything, and in a
friendly and intimate way.

Always, whether in the pulpit or on the platform, as in private
conversation, there is an absolute simplicity about the man and his
words; a simplicity, an earnestness, a complete honesty. And when he
sets down, in his book on oratory, “A man has no right to use words
carelessly,” he stands for that respect for word-craftsmanship that
every successful speaker or writer must feel.

“Be intensely in earnest,” he writes; and in writing this he sets down a
prime principle not only of his oratory, but of his life.

A young minister told me that Dr. Conwell once said to him, with deep
feeling, “Always remember, as you preach, that you are striving to save
at least one soul with every sermon.” And to one of his close friends
Dr. Conwell said, in one of his self-revealing conversations:

“I feel, whenever I preach, that there is always one person in the
congregation to whom, in all probability, I shall never preach again,
and therefore I feel that I must exert my utmost power in that last
chance.” And in this, even if this were all, one sees why each of his
sermons is so impressive, and why his energy never lags. Always, with
him, is the feeling that he is in the world to do all the good he can
possibly do; not a moment, not an opportunity, must be lost.

The moment he rises and steps to the front of his pulpit he has the
attention of every one in the building, and this attention he closely
holds till he is through. Yet it is never by a striking effort that
attention is gained, except in so far that his utter simplicity is
striking. “I want to preach so simply that you will not think it
preaching, but just that you are listening to a friend,” I remember his
saying, one Sunday morning, as he began his sermon; and then he went on
just as simply as such homely, kindly, friendly words promised. And how

He believes that everything should be so put as to be understood by all,
and this belief he applies not only to his preaching, but to the reading
of the Bible, whose descriptions he not only visualizes to himself, but
makes vividly clear to his hearers; and this often makes for fascination
in result.

For example, he is reading the tenth chapter of I Samuel, and begins,
“‘Thou shalt meet a company of prophets.’”

“‘Singers,’ it should be translated,” he puts in, lifting his eyes from
the page and looking out over his people. Then he goes on, taking this
change as a matter of course, “‘Thou shalt meet a company of singers
coming down from the high place--’”

Whereupon he again interrupts himself, and in an irresistible
explanatory aside, which instantly raises the desired picture in the
mind of every one, he says: “That means, from the little old church
on the hill, you know.” And how plain and clear and real and
interesting--most of all, interesting--it is from this moment! Another
man would have left it that prophets were coming down from a high place,
which would not have seemed at all alive or natural, and here, suddenly,
Conwell has flashed his picture of the singers coming down from the
little old church on the hill! There is magic in doing that sort of

And he goes on, now reading: “‘Thou shalt meet a company of singers
coming down from the little old church on the hill, with a psaltery, and
a tabret, and a pipe, and a harp, and they shall sing.’”

Music is one of Conwell’s strongest aids. He sings himself; sings as if
he likes to sing, and often finds himself leading the singing--usually
so, indeed, at the prayer-meetings, and often, in effect, at the church

I remember at one church service that the choir-leader was standing
in front of the massed choir ostensibly leading the singing, but that
Conwell himself, standing at the rear of the pulpit platform, with his
eyes on his hymn-book, silently swaying a little with the music and
unconsciously beating time as he swayed, was just as unconsciously the
real leader, for it was he whom the congregation were watching and with
him that they were keeping time! He never suspected it; he was merely
thinking along with the music; and there was such a look of contagious
happiness on his face as made every one in the building similarly happy.
For he possesses a mysterious faculty of imbuing others with his own

Not only singers, but the modern equivalent of psaltery and tabret and
cymbals, all have their place in Dr. Conwell’s scheme of church service;
for there may be a piano, and there may even be a trombone, and there is
a great organ to help the voices, and at times there are chiming bells.
His musical taste seems to tend toward the thunderous--or perhaps it
is only that he knows there are times when people like to hear the
thunderous and are moved by it.

And how the choir themselves like it! They occupy a great curving
space behind the pulpit, and put their hearts into song. And as the
congregation disperse and the choir filter down, sometimes they are
still singing and some of them continue to sing as they go slowly out
toward the doors. They are happy--Conwell himself is happy--all the
congregation are happy. He makes everybody feel happy in coming to
church; he makes the church attractive just as Howells was so long ago
told that he did in Lexington.

And there is something more than happiness; there is a sense of ease, of
comfort, of general joy, that is quite unmistakable. There is nothing of
stiffness or constraint. And with it all there is full reverence. It
is no wonder that he is accustomed to fill every seat of the great

His gestures are usually very simple. Now and then, when he works up to
emphasis, he strikes one fist in the palm of the other hand. When he is
through you do not remember that he has made any gestures at all, but
the sound of his voice remains with you, and the look of his wonderful
eyes. And though he is past the threescore years and ten, he looks out
over his people with eyes that still have the veritable look of youth.

Like all great men, he not only does big things, but keeps in touch with
myriad details. When his assistant, announcing the funeral of an old
member, hesitates about the street and number and says that they can
be found in the telephone directory, Dr. Conwell’s deep voice breaks
quietly in with, “Such a number [giving it], Dauphin Street”--quietly,
and in a low tone, yet every one in the church hears distinctly every
syllable of that low voice.

His fund of personal anecdote, or personal reminiscence, is constant and
illustrative in his preaching, just as it is when he lectures, and
the reminiscences sweep through many years, and at times are really
startling in the vivid and homelike pictures they present of the famous
folk of the past that he knew.

One Sunday evening he made an almost casual reference to the time when
he first met Garfield, then a candidate for the Presidency. “I asked
Major McKinley, whom I had met in Washington, and whose home was
in northern Ohio, as was that of Mr. Garfield, to go with me to Mr.
Garfield’s home and introduce me. When we got there, a neighbor had to
find him. ‘Jim! Jim!’ he called. You see, Garfield was just plain Jim to
his old neighbors. It’s hard to recognize a hero over your back fence!”
 He paused a moment for the appreciative ripple to subside, and went on:

“We three talked there together”--what a rare talking that must have
been-McKinley, Garfield, and Conwell--“we talked together, and after a
while we got to the subject of hymns, and those two great men both told
me how deeply they loved the old hymn, ‘The Old-Time Religion.’ Garfield
especially loved it, so he told us, because the good old man who brought
him up as a boy and to whom he owed such gratitude, used to sing it at
the pasture bars outside of the boy’s window every morning, and young
Jim knew, whenever he heard that old tune, that it meant it was time
for him to get up. He said that he had heard the best concerts and the
finest operas in the world, but had never heard anything he loved as he
still loved ‘The Old-Time Religion.’ I forget what reason there was
for McKinley’s especially liking it, but he, as did Garfield, liked it

What followed was a striking example of Conwell’s intentness on losing
no chance to fix an impression on his hearers’ minds, and at the same
time it was a really astonishing proof of his power to move and sway.
For a new expression came over his face, and he said, as if the idea had
only at that moment occurred to him--as it most probably had--“I think
it’s in our hymnal!” And in a moment he announced the number, and the
great organ struck up, and every person in the great church every man,
woman, and child--joined in the swinging rhythm of verse after verse,
as if they could never tire, of “The Old-Time Religion.” It is a simple
melody--barely more than a single line of almost monotone music:

  _It was good enough for mother and it’s good enough for me!
  It was good on the fiery furnace and it’s good enough for me!_

Thus it went on, with never-wearying iteration, and each time with the
refrain, more and more rhythmic and swaying:

   _The old-time religion,
   The old-time religion,
   The old-time religion--
   It’s good enough for me!_

That it was good for the Hebrew children, that it was good for Paul and
Silas, that it will help you when you’re dying, that it will show the
way to heaven--all these and still other lines were sung, with a sort
of wailing softness, a curious monotone, a depth of earnestness. And the
man who had worked this miracle of control by evoking out of the past
his memory of a meeting with two of the vanished great ones of the
earth, stood before his people, leading them, singing with them, his
eyes aglow with an inward light. His magic had suddenly set them into
the spirit of the old camp-meeting days, the days of pioneering and
hardship, when religion meant so much to everybody, and even those who
knew nothing of such things felt them, even if but vaguely. Every heart
was moved and touched, and that old tune will sing in the memory of all
who thus heard it and sung it as long as they live.


THE constant earnestness of Conwell, his desire to let no chance slip by
of helping a fellowman, puts often into his voice, when he preaches, a
note of eagerness, of anxiety. But when he prays, when he turns to God,
his manner undergoes a subtle and unconscious change. A load has slipped
off his shoulders and has been assumed by a higher power. Into his
bearing, dignified though it was, there comes an unconscious increase of
the dignity. Into his voice, firm as it was before, there comes a deeper
note of firmness. He is apt to fling his arms widespread as he prays,
in a fine gesture that he never uses at other times, and he looks upward
with the dignity of a man who, talking to a higher being, is proud of
being a friend and confidant. One does not need to be a Christian to
appreciate the beauty and fineness of Conwell’s prayers.

He is likely at any time to do the unexpected, and he is so great a
man and has such control that whatever he does seems to everybody a
perfectly natural thing. His sincerity is so evident, and whatever
he does is done so simply and naturally, that it is just a matter of

I remember, during one church service, while the singing was going on,
that he suddenly rose from his chair and, kneeling beside it, on the
open pulpit, with his back to the congregation, remained in that posture
for several minutes. No one thought it strange. I was likely enough the
only one who noticed it. His people are used to his sincerities. And
this time it was merely that he had a few words to say quietly to God
and turned aside for a few moments to say them.

His earnestness of belief in prayer makes him a firm believer in answers
to prayer, and, in fact, to what may be termed the direct interposition
of Providence. Doubtless the mystic strain inherited from his mother has
also much to do with this. He has a typically homely way of expressing
it by one of his favorite maxims, one that he loves to repeat
encouragingly to friends who are in difficulties themselves or who know
of the difficulties that are his; and this heartening maxim is, “Trust
in God and do the next thing.”

At one time in the early days of his church work in Philadelphia
a payment of a thousand dollars was absolutely needed to prevent a
law-suit in regard to a debt for the church organ. In fact, it was worse
than a debt; it was a note signed by himself personally, that had become
due--he was always ready to assume personal liability for debts of his
church--and failure to meet the note would mean a measure of disgrace as
well as marked church discouragement.

He had tried all the sources that seemed open to him, but in vain. He
could not openly appeal to the church members, in this case, for it
was in the early days of his pastorate, and his zeal for the organ,
his desire and determination to have it, as a necessary part of
church equipment, had outrun the judgment of some of his best friends,
including that of the deacon who had gone to Massachusetts for him. They
had urged a delay till other expenses were met, and he had acted against
their advice.

He had tried such friends as he could, and he had tried prayer. But
there was no sign of aid, whether supernatural or natural.

And then, literally on the very day on which the holder of the note was
to begin proceedings against him, a check for precisely the needed one
thousand dollars came to him, by mail, from a man in the West--a man who
was a total stranger to him. It turned out that the man’s sister, who
was one of the Temple membership, had written to her brother of Dr.
Conwell’s work. She knew nothing of any special need for money, knew
nothing whatever of any note or of the demand for a thousand dollars;
she merely outlined to her brother what Dr. Conwell was accomplishing,
and with such enthusiasm that the brother at once sent the opportune

At a later time the sum of ten thousand dollars was importunately
needed. It was due, payment had been promised. It was for some of the
construction work of the Temple University buildings. The last day had
come, and Conwell and the very few who knew of the emergency were in the
depths of gloom. It was too large a sum to ask the church people to make
up, for they were not rich and they had already been giving splendidly,
of their slender means, for the church and then for the university.
There was no rich man to turn to; the men famous for enormous charitable
gifts have never let themselves be interested in any of the work of
Russell Conwell. It would be unkind and gratuitous to suggest that
it has been because their names could not be personally attached, or
because the work is of an unpretentious kind among unpretentious people;
it need merely be said that neither they nor their agents have cared
to aid, except that one of the very richest, whose name is the most
distinguished in the entire world as a giver, did once, in response to
a strong personal application, give thirty-five hundred dollars, this
being the extent of the association of the wealthy with any of the
varied Conwell work.

So when it was absolutely necessary to have ten thousand dollars the
possibilities of money had been exhausted, whether from congregation or

Russell Conwell, in spite of his superb optimism, is also a man of deep
depressions, and this is because of the very fire and fervor of his
nature, for always in such a nature there is a balancing. He believes in
success; success must come!--success is in itself almost a religion with
him--success for himself and for all the world who will try for it!
But there are times when he is sad and doubtful over some particular
possibility. And he intensely believes in prayer--faith can move
mountains; but always he believes that it is better not to wait for
the mountains thus to be moved, but to go right out and get to work at
moving them. And once in a while there comes a time when the mountain
looms too threatening, even after the bravest efforts and the deepest
trust. Such a time had come--the ten-thousand-dollar debt was a looming
mountain that he had tried in vain to move. He could still pray, and he
did, but it was one of the times when he could only think that something
had gone wrong.

The dean of the university, who has been closely in touch with all his
work for many years, told me of how, in a discouragement which was the
more notable through contrast with his usual unfailing courage, he left
the executive offices for his home, a couple of blocks away.

“He went away with everything looking dark before him. It was
Christmas-time, but the very fact of its being Christmas only added to
his depression--Christmas was such an unnatural time for unhappiness!
But in a few minutes he came flying back, radiant, overjoyed, sparkling
with happiness, waving a slip of paper in his hand which was a check
for precisely ten thousand dollars! For he had just drawn it out of an
envelope handed to him, as he reached home, by the mail-carrier.

“And it had come so strangely and so naturally! For the check was from
a woman who was profoundly interested in his work, and who had sent the
check knowing that in a general way it was needed, but without the least
idea that there was any immediate need. That was eight or nine years
ago, but although the donor was told at the time that Dr. Conwell
and all of us were most grateful for the gift, it was not until very
recently that she was told how opportune it was. And the change it made
in Dr. Conwell! He is a great man for maxims, and all of us who are
associated with him know that one of his favorites is that ‘It will all
come out right some time!’ And of course we had a rare opportunity to
tell him that he ought never to be discouraged. And it is so seldom that
he is!”

When the big new church was building the members of the church were
vaguely disturbed by noticing, when the structure reached the second
story, that at that height, on the side toward the vacant and unbought
land adjoining, there were several doors built that opened literally
into nothing but space!

When asked about these doors and their purpose, Dr. Conwell would make
some casual reply, generally to the effect that they might be excellent
as fire-escapes. To no one, for quite a while, did he broach even a
hint of the great plan that was seething in his mind, which was that
the buildings of a university were some day to stand on that land
immediately adjoining the church!

At that time the university, the Temple University as it is now called,
was not even a college, although it was probably called a college.
Conwell had organized it, and it consisted of a number of classes and
teachers, meeting in highly inadequate quarters in two little houses.
But the imagination of Conwell early pictured great new buildings
with accommodations for thousands! In time the dream was realized, the
imagination became a fact, and now those second-floor doors actually
open from the Temple Church into the Temple University!

You see, he always thinks big! He dreams big dreams and wins big
success. All his life he has talked and preached success, and it is a
real and very practical belief with him that it is just as easy to do
a large thing as a small one, and, in fact, a little easier! And so he
naturally does not see why one should be satisfied with the small things
of life. “If your rooms are big the people will come and fill them,” he
likes to say. The same effort that wins a small success would, rightly
directed, have won a great success. “Think big things and then do them!”

Most favorite of all maxims with this man of maxims, is “Let Patience
have her perfect work.” Over and over he loves to say it, and his
friends laugh about his love for it, and he knows that they do and
laughs about it himself. “I tire them all,” he says, “for they hear me
say it every day.”

But he says it every day because it means so much to him. It stands,
in his mind, as a constant warning against anger or impatience or
over-haste--faults to which his impetuous temperament is prone, though
few have ever seen him either angry or impatient or hasty, so well does
he exercise self-control. Those who have long known him well have
said to me that they have never heard him censure any one; that his
forbearance and kindness are wonderful.

He is a sensitive man beneath his composure; he has suffered, and
keenly, when he has been unjustly attacked; he feels pain of that sort
for a long time, too, for even the passing of years does not entirely
deaden it.

“When I have been hurt, or when I have talked with annoying cranks, I
have tried to let Patience have her perfect work, for those very people,
if you have patience with them, may afterward be of help.”

And he went on to talk a little of his early years in Philadelphia, and
he said, with sadness, that it had pained him to meet with opposition,
and that it had even come from ministers of his own denomination, for he
had been so misunderstood and misjudged; but, he added, the momentary
somberness lifting, even his bitter enemies had been won over with

I could understand a good deal of what he meant, for one of the Baptist
ministers of Philadelphia had said to me, with some shame, that at first
it used actually to be the case that when Dr. Conwell would enter one of
the regular ministers’ meetings, all would hold aloof, not a single one
stepping forward to meet or greet him.

“And it was all through our jealousy of his success,” said the minister,
vehemently. “He came to this city a stranger, and he won instant
popularity, and we couldn’t stand it, and so we pounced upon things that
he did that were altogether unimportant. The rest of us were so jealous
of his winning throngs that we couldn’t see the good in him. And it
hurt Dr. Conwell so much that for ten years he did not come to our
conferences. But all this was changed long ago. Now no minister is so
welcomed as he is, and I don’t believe that there ever has been a single
time since he started coming again that he hasn’t been asked to say
something to us. We got over our jealousy long ago and we all love him.”

Nor is it only that the clergymen of his own denomination admire him,
for not long ago, such having been Dr. Conwell’s triumph in the city of
his adoption, the rector of the most powerful and aristocratic church in
Philadelphia voluntarily paid lofty tribute to his aims and ability, his
work and his personal worth. “He is an inspiration to his brothers in
the ministry of Jesus Christ,” so this Episcopalian rector wrote. “He is
a friend to all that is good, a foe to all that is evil, a strength to
the weak, a comforter to the sorrowing, a man of God. These words come
from the heart of one who loves, honors, and reverences him for his
character and his deeds.”

Dr. Conwell did some beautiful and unusual things in his church,
instituted some beautiful and unusual customs, and one can see
how narrow and hasty criticisms charged him, long ago, with
sensationalism--charges long since forgotten except through the hurt
still felt by Dr. Conwell himself. “They used to charge me with making a
circus of the church--as if it were possible for me to make a circus of
the church!” And his tone was one of grieved amazement after all these

But he was original and he was popular, and therefore there were
misunderstanding and jealousy. His Easter services, for example, years
ago, became widely talked of and eagerly anticipated because each sermon
would be wrought around some fine symbol; and he would hold in his hand,
in the pulpit, the blue robin’s egg, or the white dove, or the stem
of lilies, or whatever he had chosen as the particular symbol for the
particular sermon, and that symbol would give him the central thought
for his discourse, accented as it would be by the actual symbol itself
in view of the congregation. The cross lighted by electricity, to
shine down over the baptismal pool, the little stream of water cascading
gently down the steps of the pool during the baptismal rite, the roses
floating in the pool and his gift of one of them to each of the baptized
as he or she left the water--all such things did seem, long ago, so
unconventional. Yet his own people recognized the beauty and poetry of
them, and thousands of Bibles in Philadelphia have a baptismal rose from
Dr. Conwell pressed within the pages.

His constant individuality of mind, his constant freshness, alertness,
brilliancy, warmth, sympathy, endear him to his congregation, and when
he returns from an absence they bubble and effervesce over him as if he
were some brilliant new preacher just come to them. He is always new to
them. Were it not that he possesses some remarkable quality of charm he
would long ago have become, so to speak, an old story, but instead
of that he is to them an always new story, an always entertaining and
delightful story, after all these years.

It is not only that they still throng to hear him either preach
or lecture, though that itself would be noticeable, but it is the
delightful and delighted spirit with which they do it. Just the other
evening I heard him lecture in his own church, just after his return
from an absence, and every face beamed happily up at him to welcome him
back, and every one listened as intently to his every word as if he
had never been heard there before; and when the lecture was over a huge
bouquet of flowers was handed up to him, and some one embarrassedly said
a few words about its being because he was home again. It was all as
if he had just returned from an absence of months--and he had been away
just five and a half days!


THAT Conwell is not primarily a minister--that he is a minister because
he is a sincere Christian, but that he is first of all an Abou Ben
Adhem, a man who loves his fellow-men, becomes more and more apparent as
the scope of his life-work is recognized. One almost comes to think
that his pastorate of a great church is even a minor matter beside
the combined importance of his educational work, his lecture work, his
hospital work, his work in general as a helper to those who need help.

For my own part, I should say that he is like some of the old-time
prophets, the strong ones who found a great deal to attend to in
addition to matters of religion. The power, the ruggedness, the physical
and mental strength, the positive grandeur of the man--all these are
like the general conceptions of the big Old Testament prophets. The
suggestion is given only because it has often recurred, and therefore
with the feeling that there is something more than fanciful in the
com-parison; and yet, after all, the comparison fails in one important
particular, for none of the prophets seems to have had a sense of humor!

It is perhaps better and more accurate to describe him as the last
of the old school of American philosophers, the last of those
sturdy-bodied, high-thinking, achieving men who, in the old days, did
their best to set American humanity in the right path--such men as
Emerson, Alcott, Gough, Wendell Phillips, Garrison, Bayard Taylor,
Beecher; men whom Conwell knew and admired in the long ago, and all of
whom have long since passed away.

And Conwell, in his going up and down the country, inspiring his
thousands and thousands, is the survivor of that old-time group who used
to travel about, dispensing wit and wisdom and philosophy and courage to
the crowded benches of country lyceums, and the chairs of school-houses
and town halls, or the larger and more pretentious gathering-places of
the cities.

Conwell himself is amused to remember that he wanted to talk in public
from his boyhood, and that very early he began to yield to the inborn
impulse. He laughs as he remembers the variety of country fairs and
school commencements and anniversaries and even sewing-circles where he
tried his youthful powers, and all for experience alone, in the first
few years, except possibly for such a thing as a ham or a jack-knife!
The first money that he ever received for speaking was, so he remembers
with glee, seventy-five cents; and even that was not for his talk, but
for horse hire! But at the same time there is more than amusement in
recalling these experiences, for he knows that they were invaluable
to him as training. And for over half a century he has affectionately
remembered John B. Gough, who, in the height of his own power and
success, saw resolution and possibilities in the ardent young hill-man,
and actually did him the kindness and the honor of introducing him to
an audience in one of the Massachusetts towns; and it was really a great
kindness and a great honor, from a man who had won his fame to a young
man just beginning an oratorical career.

Conwell’s lecturing has been, considering everything, the most important
work of his life, for by it he has come into close touch with so many
millions--literally millions!--of people.

I asked him once if he had any idea how many he had talked to in the
course of his career, and he tried to estimate how many thousands of
times he had lectured, and the average attendance for each, but desisted
when he saw that it ran into millions of hearers. What a marvel is such
a fact as that! Millions of hearers!

I asked the same question of his private secretary, and found that no
one had ever kept any sort of record; but as careful an estimate as
could be made gave a conservative result of fully eight million hearers
for his lectures; and adding the number to whom he has preached, who
have been over five million, there is a total of well over thirteen
million who have listened to Russell Conwell’s voice! And this
staggering total is, if anything, an underestimate. The figuring was
done cautiously and was based upon such facts as that he now addresses
an average of over forty-five hundred at his Sunday services (an average
that would be higher were it not that his sermons in vacation time are
usually delivered in little churches; when at home, at the Temple, he
addresses three meetings every Sunday), and that he lectures throughout
the entire course of each year, including six nights a week of lecturing
during vacation-time. What a power is wielded by a man who has held over
thirteen million people under the spell of his voice! Probably no
other man who ever lived had such a total of hearers. And the total is
steadily mounting, for he is a man who has never known the meaning of

I think it almost certain that Dr. Conwell has never spoken to any one
of what, to me, is the finest point of his lecture-work, and that is
that he still goes gladly and for small fees to the small towns that are
never visited by other men of great reputation. He knows that it is the
little places, the out-of-the-way places, the submerged places, that
most need a pleasure and a stimulus, and he still goes out, man of well
over seventy that he is, to tiny towns in distant states, heedless of
the discomforts of traveling, of the poor little hotels that seldom have
visitors, of the oftentimes hopeless cooking and the uncleanliness, of
the hardships and the discomforts, of the unventilated and overheated or
underheated halls. He does not think of claiming the relaxation earned
by a lifetime of labor, or, if he ever does, the thought of the sword of
John Ring restores instantly his fervid earnestness.

How he does it, how he can possibly keep it up, is the greatest marvel
of all. I have before me a list of his engagements for the summer weeks
of this year, 1915, and I shall set it down because it will specifically
show, far more clearly than general statements, the kind of work he
does. The list is the itinerary of his vacation. Vacation! Lecturing
every evening but Sunday, and on Sundays preaching in the town where he
happens to be!

   June 24 Ackley, Ia.      July 11  *Brookings, S. D.
   “ 25  Waterloo, Ia.         “ 12   Pipestone, Minn.
   “ 26  Decorah, Ia.          “ 13   Hawarden, Ia.
   “ 27  *Waukon, Ia.          “ 14   Canton, S. D
   “ 28  Red Wing, Minn.       “ 15   Cherokee, Ia
   “ 29  River Falls, Wis.     “ 16   Pocahontas, Ia
   “ 30  Northfield, Minn.     “ 17   Glidden, Ia.
   July 1  Faribault, Minn.    “ 18   *Boone, Ia.
   “ 2   Spring Valley, Minn.  “ 19   Dexter, Ia.
   “ 3   Blue Earth, Minn.     “ 20   Indianola, Ia
   “ 4   *Fairmount, Minn.     “ 21   Corydon, Ia
   “ 5   Lake Crystal, Minn.   “ 22   Essex, Ia.
   “ 6   Redwood Falls,        “ 23   Sidney, Ia.
        Minn.                  “ 24   Falls City, Nebr.
   “ 7   Willmer, Minn.        “ 25   *Hiawatha, Kan.
   “ 8   Dawson, Minn.         “ 26   Frankfort, Kan.
   “ 9   Redfield, S. D.       “ 27   Greenleaf, Kan.
   “ 10  Huron, S. D.          “ 28   Osborne, Kan.
   July 29 Stockton, Kan.       Aug. 14 Honesdale, Pa.
   “ 30  Phillipsburg, Kan.    “ 15   *Honesdale, Pa.
   “ 31  Mankato, Kan.         “ 16   Carbondale, Pa.
    _En route to next date on_ “ 17   Montrose, Pa.
     _circuit_.                “ 18   Tunkhannock, Pa.
   Aug. 3  Westfield, Pa.      “ 19   Nanticoke, Pa.
   “ 4   Galston, Pa.          “ 20   Stroudsburg, Pa.
   “ 5   Port Alleghany, Pa.   “ 21   Newton, N. J.
   “ 6   Wellsville, N. Y.     “ 22   *Newton, N. J.
   “ 7   Bath, N. Y.           “ 23   Hackettstown, N. J.
   “ 8   *Bath, N. Y.          “ 24   New Hope, Pa.
   “ 9   Penn Yan, N. Y.       “ 25   Doylestown, Pa.
   “ 10  Athens, N. Y.         “ 26   Phnixville, Pa.
   “ 11  Owego, N. Y.          “ 27   Kennett, Pa.
   “ 12  Patchogue, LI.,N.Y.   “ 28   Oxford, Pa.
   “ 13  Port Jervis, N. Y.    “ 29   *Oxford, Pa.

             * Preach on Sunday.

And all these hardships, all this traveling and lecturing, which would
test the endurance of the youngest and strongest, this man of over
seventy assumes without receiving a particle of personal gain, for
every dollar that he makes by it is given away in helping those who need

That Dr. Conwell is intensely modest is one of the curious features of
his character. He sincerely believes that to write his life would be,
in the main, just to tell what people have done for him. He knows and
admits that he works unweariedly, but in profound sincerity he ascribes
the success of his plans to those who have seconded and assisted him. It
is in just this way that he looks upon every phase of his life. When he
is reminded of the devotion of his old soldiers, he remembers it only
with a sort of pleased wonder that they gave the devotion to him, and
he quite forgets that they loved him because he was always ready to
sacrifice ease or risk his own life for them.

He deprecates praise; if any one likes him, the liking need not be
shown in words, but in helping along a good work. That his church has
succeeded has been because of the devotion of the people; that the
university has succeeded is because of the splendid work of the teachers
and pupils; that the hospitals have done so much has been because of the
noble services of physicians and nurses. To him, as he himself expresses
it, realizing that success has come to his plans, it seems as if the
realities are but dreams. He is astonished by his own success. He thinks
mainly of his own shortcomings. “God and man have ever been very patient
with me.” His depression is at times profound when he compares the
actual results with what he would like them to be, for always his hopes
have gone soaring far in advance of achievement. It is the “Hitch your
chariot to a star” idea.

His modesty goes hand-in-hand with kindliness, and I have seen him let
himself be introduced in his own church to his congregation, when he
is going to deliver a lecture there, just because a former pupil of the
university was present who, Conwell knew, was ambitious to say something
inside of the Temple walls, and this seemed to be the only opportunity.

I have noticed, when he travels, that the face of the newsboy brightens
as he buys a paper from him, that the porter is all happiness, that
conductor and brakeman are devotedly anxious to be of aid. Everywhere
the man wins love. He loves humanity and humanity responds to the love.

He has always won the affection of those who knew him, and Bayard Taylor
was one of the many; he and Bayard Taylor loved each other for long
acquaintance and fellow experiences as world-wide travelers, back in the
years when comparatively few Americans visited the Nile and the Orient,
or even Europe.

When Taylor died there was a memorial service in Boston at which
Conwell was asked to preside, and, as he wished for something more than
addresses, he went to Longfellow and asked him to write and read a poem
for the occasion. Longfellow had not thought of writing anything, and
he was too ill to be present at the services, but, there always being
something contagiously inspiring about Russell Conwell when he wishes
something to be done, the poet promised to do what he could. And he
wrote and sent the beautiful lines beginning:

   _Dead he lay among his books,
   The peace of God was in his looks_.

Many men of letters, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, were present at
the services, and Dr. Conwell induced Oliver Wendell Holmes to read the
lines, and they were listened to amid profound silence, to their fine

Conwell, in spite of his widespread hold on millions of people, has
never won fame, recognition, general renown, compared with many men of
minor achievements. This seems like an impossibility. Yet it is not an
impossibility, but a fact. Great numbers of men of education and culture
are entirely ignorant of him and his work in the world--men, these, who
deem themselves in touch with world-affairs and with the ones who make
and move the world. It is inexplicable, this, except that never
was there a man more devoid of the faculty of self-exploitation,
self-advertising, than Russell Conwell. Nor, in the mere reading of
them, do his words appeal with anything like the force of the same
words uttered by himself, for always, with his spoken words, is his
personality. Those who have heard Russell Conwell, or have known him
personally, recognize the charm of the man and his immense forcefulness;
but there are many, and among them those who control publicity through
books and newspapers, who, though they ought to be the warmest in their
enthusiasm, have never felt drawn to hear him, and, if they know of him
at all, think of him as one who pleases in a simple way the commoner
folk, forgetting in their pride that every really great man pleases the
common ones, and that simplicity and directness are attributes of real

But Russell Conwell has always won the admiration of the really great,
as well as of the humbler millions. It is only a supposedly cultured
class in between that is not thoroughly acquainted with what he has

Perhaps, too, this is owing to his having cast in his lot with the city,
of all cities, which, consciously or unconsciously, looks most closely
to family and place of residence as criterions of merit--a city with
which it is almost impossible for a stranger to become affiliated--or
aphiladelphiated, as it might be expressed--and Philadelphia, in spite
of all that Dr. Conwell has done, has been under the thrall of the fact
that he went north of Market Street--that fatal fact understood by all
who know Philadelphia--and that he made no effort to make friends in
Rittenhouse Square. Such considerations seem absurd in this twentieth
century, but in Philadelphia they are still potent. Tens of thousands
of Philadelphians love him, and he is honored by its greatest men,
but there is a class of the pseudo-cultured who do not know him or
appreciate him. And it needs also to be understood that, outside of his
own beloved Temple, he would prefer to go to a little church or a little
hall and to speak to the forgotten people, in the hope of encouraging
and inspiring them and filling them with hopeful glow, rather than to
speak to the rich and comfortable.

His dearest hope, so one of the few who are close to him told me, is
that no one shall come into his life without being benefited. He does
not say this publicly, nor does he for a moment believe that such a hope
could be fully realized, but it is very dear to his heart; and no man
spurred by such a hope, and thus bending all his thoughts toward the
poor, the hard-working, the unsuccessful, is in a way to win honor from
the Scribes; for we have Scribes now quite as much as when they were
classed with Pharisees. It is not the first time in the world’s history
that Scribes have failed to give their recognition to one whose work was
not among the great and wealthy.

That Conwell himself has seldom taken any part whatever in politics
except as a good citizen standing for good government; that, as he
expresses it, he never held any political office except that he was once
on a school committee, and also that he does not identify himself with
the so-called “movements” that from time to time catch public attention,
but aims only and constantly at the quiet betterment of mankind, may
be mentioned as additional reasons why his name and fame have not been
steadily blazoned.

He knows and will admit that he works hard and has all his life worked
hard. “Things keep turning my way because I’m on the job,” as he
whimsically expressed it one day; but that is about all, so it seems to

And he sincerely believes that his life has in itself been without
interest; that it has been an essentially commonplace life with nothing
of the interesting or the eventful to tell. He is frankly surprised that
there has ever been the desire to write about him. He really has no idea
of how fascinating are the things he has done. His entire life has been
of positive interest from the variety of things accomplished and the
unexpectedness with which he has accomplished them.

Never, for example, was there such an organizer. In fact, organization
and leadership have always been as the breath of life to him. As a youth
he organized debating societies and, before the war, a local military
company. While on garrison duty in the Civil War he organized what is
believed to have been the first free school for colored children in
the South. One day Minneapolis happened to be spoken of, and Conwell
happened to remember that he organized, when he was a lawyer in that
city, what became the first Y.M.C.A. branch there. Once he even started
a newspaper. And it was natural that the organizing instinct, as years
advanced, should lead him to greater and greater things, such as his
church, with the numerous associations formed within itself through his
influence, and the university--the organizing of the university being in
itself an achievement of positive romance.

“A life without interest!” Why, when I happened to ask, one day, how
many Presidents he had known since Lincoln, he replied, quite casually,
that he had “written the lives of most of them in their own homes”; and
by this he meant either personally or in collaboration with the American
biographer Abbott.

The many-sidedness of Conwell is one of the things that is always
fascinating. After you have quite got the feeling that he is peculiarly
a man of to-day, lecturing on to-day’s possibilities to the people
of to-day, you happen upon some such fact as that he attracted the
attention of the London _Times_ through a lecture on Italian history at
Cambridge in England; or that on the evening of the day on which he was
admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of the United States he gave
a lecture in Washington on “The Curriculum of the Prophets in Ancient
Israel.” The man’s life is a succession of delightful surprises.

An odd trait of his character is his love for fire. He could easily have
been a veritable fire-worshiper instead of an orthodox Christian! He has
always loved a blaze, and he says reminiscently that for no single thing
was he punished so much when he was a child as for building bonfires.
And after securing possession, as he did in middle age, of the house
where he was born and of a great acreage around about, he had one of
the most enjoyable times of his life in tearing down old buildings that
needed to be destroyed and in heaping up fallen trees and rubbish and in
piling great heaps of wood and setting the great piles ablaze. You
see, there is one of the secrets of his strength--he has never lost the
capacity for fiery enthusiasm!

Always, too, in these later years he is showing his strength and
enthusiasm in a positively noble way. He has for years been a keen
sufferer from rheumatism and neuritis, but he has never permitted this
to interfere with his work or plans. He makes little of his sufferings,
and when he slowly makes his way, bent and twisted, downstairs, he does
not want to be noticed. “I’m all right,” he will say if any one offers
to help, and at such a time comes his nearest approach to impatience. He
wants his suffering ignored. Strength has always been to him so precious
a belonging that he will not relinquish it while he lives. “I’m all
right!” And he makes himself believe that he is all right even though
the pain becomes so severe as to demand massage. And he will still, even
when suffering, talk calmly, or write his letters, or attend to whatever
matters come before him. It is the Spartan boy hiding the pain of the
gnawing fox. And he never has let pain interfere with his presence on
the pulpit or the platform. He has once in a while gone to a meeting on
crutches and then, by the force of will, and inspired by what he is
to do, has stood before his audience or congregation, a man full of
strength and fire and life.


THE story of the foundation and rise of Temple University is an
extraordinary story; it is not only extraordinary, but inspiring; it is
not only inspiring, but full of romance.

For the university came out of nothing!--nothing but the need of a young
man and the fact that he told the need to one who, throughout his life,
has felt the impulse to help any one in need and has always obeyed the

I asked Dr. Conwell, up at his home in the Berkshires, to tell me
himself just how the university began, and he said that it began because
it was needed and succeeded because of the loyal work of the teachers.
And when I asked for details he was silent for a while, looking off into
the brooding twilight as it lay over the waters and the trees and the
hills, and then he said:

“It was all so simple; it all came about so naturally. One evening,
after a service, a young man of the congregation came to me and I saw
that he was disturbed about something. I had him sit down by me, and I
knew that in a few moments he would tell me what was troubling him.

“‘Dr. Conwell,’ he said, abruptly, ‘I earn but little money, and I see
no immediate chance of earning more. I have to support not only myself,
but my mother. It leaves nothing at all. Yet my longing is to be a
minister. It is the one ambition of my life. Is there anything that I
can do?’

“‘Any man,’ I said to him, ‘with the proper determination and ambition
can study sufficiently at night to win his desire.’

“‘I have tried to think so,’ said he, ‘but I have not been able to see
anything clearly. I want to study, and am ready to give every spare
minute to it, but I don’t know how to get at it.’

“I thought a few minutes, as I looked at him. He was strong in his
desire and in his ambition to fulfil it--strong enough, physically and
mentally, for work of the body and of the mind--and he needed something
more than generalizations of sympathy.

“‘Come to me one evening a week and I will begin teaching you myself,’ I
said, ‘and at least you will in that way make a beginning’; and I named
the evening.

“His face brightened and he eagerly said that he would come, and left
me; but in a little while he came hurrying back again. ‘May I bring a
friend with me?’ he said.

“I told him to bring as many as he wanted to, for more than one would be
an advantage, and when the evening came there were six friends with him.
And that first evening I began to teach them the foundations of Latin.”

He stopped as if the story was over. He was looking out thoughtfully
into the waning light, and I knew that his mind was busy with those days
of the beginning of the institution he so loves, and whose continued
success means so much to him. In a little while he went on:

“That was the beginning of it, and there is little more to tell. By the
third evening the number of pupils had increased to forty; others joined
in helping me, and a room was hired; then a little house, then a second
house. From a few students and teachers we became a college. After a
while our buildings went up on Broad Street alongside the Temple Church,
and after another while we became a university. From the first our
aim”--(I noticed how quickly it had become “our” instead of “my”)--“our
aim was to give education to those who were unable to get it through the
usual channels. And so that was really all there was to it.”

That was typical of Russell Conwell--to tell with brevity of what he
has done, to point out the beginnings of something, and quite omit to
elaborate as to the results. And that, when you come to know him, is
precisely what he means you to understand--that it is the beginning of
anything that is important, and that if a thing is but earnestly begun
and set going in the right way it may just as easily develop big results
as little results.

But his story was very far indeed from being “all there was to it,” for
he had quite omitted to state the extraordinary fact that, beginning
with those seven pupils, coming to his library on an evening in 1884,
the Temple University has numbered, up to Commencement-time in 1915,
88,821 students! Nearly one hundred thousand students, and in the
lifetime of the founder! Really, the magnitude of such a work cannot be
exaggerated, nor the vast importance of it when it is considered that
most of these eighty-eight thousand students would not have received
their education had it not been for Temple University. And it all came
from the instant response of Russell Conwell to the immediate need
presented by a young man without money!

“And there is something else I want to say,” said Dr. Conwell,
unexpectedly. “I want to say, more fully than a mere casual word, how
nobly the work was taken up by volunteer helpers; professors from the
University of Pennsylvania and teachers from the public schools and
other local institutions gave freely of what time they could until the
new venture was firmly on its way. I honor those who came so devotedly
to help. And it should be remembered that in those early days the need
was even greater than it would now appear, for there were then no night
schools or manual-training schools. Since then the city of Philadelphia
has gone into such work, and as fast as it has taken up certain branches
the Temple University has put its energy into the branches just higher.
And there seems no lessening of the need of it,” he added, ponderingly.

No; there is certainly no lessening of the need of it! The figures of
the annual catalogue would alone show that.

As early as 1887, just three years after the beginning, the Temple
College, as it was by that time called, issued its first catalogue,
which set forth with stirring words that the intent of its founding was

“Provide such instruction as shall be best adapted to the higher
education of those who are compelled to labor at their trade while
engaged in study.

“Cultivate a taste for the higher and most useful branches of learning.

“Awaken in the character of young laboring men and women a determined
ambition to be useful to their fellow-men.”

The college--the university as it in time came to be--early broadened
its scope, but it has from the first continued to aim at the needs
of those unable to secure education without such help as, through its
methods, it affords.

It was chartered in 1888, at which time its numbers had reached almost
six hundred, and it has ever since had a constant flood of applicants.
“It has demonstrated,” as Dr. Conwell puts it, “that those who work for
a living have time for study.” And he, though he does not himself add
this, has given the opportunity.

He feels especial pride in the features by which lectures and
recitations are held at practically any hour which best suits the
convenience of the students. If any ten students join in a request for
any hour from nine in the morning to ten at night a class is arranged
for them, to meet that request! This involves the necessity for a
much larger number of professors and teachers than would otherwise be
necessary, but that is deemed a slight consideration in comparison with
the immense good done by meeting the needs of workers.

Also President Conwell--for of course he is the president of the
university--is proud of the fact that the privilege of graduation
depends entirely upon knowledge gained; that graduation does not depend
upon having listened to any set number of lectures or upon having
attended for so many terms or years. If a student can do four years’
work in two years or in three he is encouraged to do it, and if he
cannot even do it in four he can have no diploma.

Obviously, there is no place at Temple University for students who care
only for a few years of leisured ease. It is a place for workers, and
not at all for those who merely wish to be able to boast that they
attended a university. The students have come largely from among
railroad clerks, bank clerks, bookkeepers, teachers, preachers,
mechanics, salesmen, drug clerks, city and United States government
employees, widows, nurses, housekeepers, brakemen, firemen, engineers,
motormen, conductors, and shop hands.

It was when the college became strong enough, and sufficiently advanced
in scholarship and standing, and broad enough in scope, to win the name
of university that this title was officially granted to it by the State
of Pennsylvania, in 1907, and now its educational plan includes three
distinct school systems.

First: it offers a high-school education to the student who has to quit
school after leaving the grammar-school.

Second: it offers a full college education, with the branches taught in
long-established high-grade colleges, to the student who has to quit on
leaving the high-school.

Third: it offers further scientific or professional education to the
college graduate who must go to work immediately on quitting college,
but who wishes to take up some such course as law or medicine or

Out of last year’s enrolment of 3,654 it is interesting to notice that
the law claimed 141; theology, 182; medicine and pharmacy and dentistry
combined, 357; civil engineering, 37; also that the teachers’ college,
with normal courses on such subjects as household arts and science,
kindergarten work, and physical education, took 174; and still more
interesting, in a way, to see that 269 students were enrolled for the
technical and vocational courses, such as cooking and dress-making,
millinery, manual crafts, school-gardening, and story-telling. There
were 511 in high-school work, and 243 in elementary education. There
were 79 studying music, and 68 studying to be trained nurses. There were
606 in the college of liberal arts and sciences, and in the department
of commercial education there were 987--for it is a university that
offers both scholarship and practicality.

Temple University is not in the least a charitable institution. Its
fees are low, and its hours are for the convenience of the students
themselves, but it is a place of absolute independence. It is, indeed, a
place of far greater independence, so one of the professors pointed out,
than are the great universities which receive millions and millions of
money in private gifts and endowments.

Temple University in its early years was sorely in need of money, and
often there were thrills of expectancy when some man of mighty wealth
seemed on the point of giving. But not a single one ever did, and now
the Temple likes to feel that it is glad of it. The Temple, to quote
its own words, is “An institution for strong men and women who can labor
with both mind and body.”

And the management is proud to be able to say that, although great
numbers have come from distant places, “not one of the many thousands
ever failed to find an opportunity to support himself.”

Even in the early days, when money was needed for the necessary
buildings (the buildings of which Conwell dreamed when he left
second-story doors in his church!), the university--college it was then
called--had won devotion from those who knew that it was a place where
neither time nor money was wasted, and where idleness was a crime,
and in the donations for the work were many such items as four hundred
dollars from factory-workers who gave fifty cents each, and two thousand
dollars from policemen who gave a dollar each. Within two or three years
past the State of Pennsylvania has begun giving it a large sum annually,
and this state aid is public recognition of Temple University as an
institution of high public value. The state money is invested in the
brains and hearts of the ambitious.

So eager is Dr. Conwell to place the opportunity of education before
every one, that even his servants must go to school! He is not one of
those who can see needs that are far away but not those that are
right at home. His belief in education, and in the highest attainable
education, is profound, and it is not only on account of the abstract
pleasure and value of education, but its power of increasing actual
earning power and thus making a worker of more value to both himself and
the community.

Many a man and many a woman, while continuing to work for some firm or
factory, has taken Temple technical courses and thus fitted himself
or herself for an advanced position with the same employer. The Temple
knows of many such, who have thus won prominent advancement. And it
knows of teachers who, while continuing to teach, have fitted themselves
through the Temple courses for professorships. And it knows of many a
case of the rise of a Temple student that reads like an Arabian Nights’
fancy!--of advance from bookkeeper to editor, from office-boy to bank
president, from kitchen maid to school principal, from street-cleaner to
mayor! The Temple University helps them that help themselves.

President Conwell told me personally of one case that especially
interested him because it seemed to exhibit, in especial degree, the
Temple possibilities; and it particularly interested me because it
also showed, in high degree, the methods and personality of Dr. Conwell

One day a young woman came to him and said she earned only three dollars
a week and that she desired very much to make more. “Can you tell me how
to do it?” she said.

He liked her ambition and her directness, but there was something that
he felt doubtful about, and that was that her hat looked too expensive
for three dollars a week!

Now Dr. Conwell is a man whom you would never suspect of giving a
thought to the hat of man or woman! But as a matter of fact there is
very little that he does not see.

But though the hat seemed too expensive for three dollars a week, Dr.
Conwell is not a man who makes snap-judgments harshly, and in particular
he would be the last man to turn away hastily one who had sought him
out for help. He never felt, nor could possibly urge upon any one,
contentment with a humble lot; he stands for advancement; he has no
sympathy with that dictum of the smug, that has come to us from a nation
tight bound for centuries by its gentry and aristocracy, about being
contented with the position in which God has placed you, for he points
out that the Bible itself holds up advancement and success as things

And, as to the young woman before him, it developed, through discreet
inquiry veiled by frank discussion of her case, that she had made the
expensive-looking hat herself! Whereupon not only did all doubtfulness
and hesitation vanish, but he saw at once how she could better herself.
He knew that a woman who could make a hat like that for herself could
make hats for other people, and so, “Go into millinery as a business,”
 he advised.

“Oh--if I only could!” she exclaimed. “But I know that I don’t know

“Take the millinery course in Temple University,” he responded.

She had not even heard of such a course, and when he went on to explain
how she could take it and at the same time continue at her present work
until the course was concluded, she was positively ecstatic--it was all
so unexpected, this opening of the view of a new and broader life.

“She was an unusual woman,” concluded Dr. Conwell, “and she worked with
enthusiasm and tirelessness. She graduated, went to an up-state city
that seemed to offer a good field, opened a millinery establishment
there, with her own name above the door, and became prosperous. That was
only a few years ago. And recently I had a letter from her, telling me
that last year she netted a clear profit of three thousand six hundred

I remember a man, himself of distinguished position, saying of Dr.
Conwell, “It is difficult to speak in tempered language of what he has
achieved.” And that just expresses it; the temptation is constantly to
use superlatives--for superlatives fit! Of course he has succeeded for
himself, and succeeded marvelously, in his rise from the rocky hill
farm, but he has done so vastly more than that in inspiring such hosts
of others to succeed!

A dreamer of dreams and a seer of visions--and what realizations have
come! And it interested me profoundly not long ago, when Dr. Conwell,
talking of the university, unexpectedly remarked that he would like to
see such institutions scattered throughout every state in the Union.
“All carried on at slight expense to the students and at hours to suit
all sorts of working men and women,” he added, after a pause; and then,
abruptly, “I should like to see the possibility of higher education
offered to every one in the United States who works for a living.”

There was something superb in the very imagining of such a nation-wide
system. But I did not ask whether or not he had planned any details
for such an effort. I knew that thus far it might only be one of his
dreams--but I also knew that his dreams had a way of becoming realities.
I had a fleeting glimpse of his soaring vision. It was amazing to find
a man of more than three-score and ten thus dreaming of more worlds
to conquer. And I thought, what could the world have accomplished if
Methuselah had been a Conwell!--or, far better, what wonders could be
accomplished if Conwell could but be a Methuselah!

He has all his life been a great traveler. He is a man who sees vividly
and who can describe vividly. Yet often his letters, even from places of
the most profound interest, are mostly concerned with affairs back home.
It is not that he does not feel, and feel intensely, the interest of
what he is visiting, but that his tremendous earnestness keeps him
always concerned about his work at home. There could be no stronger
example than what I noticed in a letter he wrote from Jerusalem. “I am
in Jerusalem! And here at Gethsemane and at the Tomb of Christ”--reading
thus far, one expects that any man, and especially a minister, is sure
to say something regarding the associations of the place and the effect
of these associations on his mind; but Conwell is always the man who
is different--“And here at Gethsemane and at the Tomb of Christ, I pray
especially for the Temple University.” That is Conwellism!

That he founded a hospital--a work in itself great enough for even a
great life is but one among the striking incidents of his career. And it
came about through perfect naturalness. For he came to know, through his
pastoral work and through his growing acquaintance with the needs of
the city, that there was a vast amount of suffering and wretchedness and
anguish, because of the inability of the existing hospitals to care
for all who needed care. There was so much sickness and suffering to be
alleviated, there were so many deaths that could be prevented--and so he
decided to start another hospital.

And, like everything with him, the beginning was small. That cannot
too strongly be set down as the way of this phenomenally successful
organizer. Most men would have to wait until a big beginning could
be made, and so would most likely never make a beginning at all. But
Conwell’s way is to dream of future bigness, but be ready to begin at
once, no matter how small or insignificant the beginning may appear to

Two rented rooms, one nurse, one patient--this was the humble beginning,
in 1891, of what has developed into the great Samaritan Hospital. In a
year there was an entire house, fitted up with wards and operating-room.
Now it occupies several buildings, including and adjoining that first
one, and a great new structure is planned. But even as it is, it has a
hundred and seventy beds, is fitted with all modern hospital appliances,
and has a large staff of physicians; and the number of surgical
operations performed there is very large.

It is open to sufferers of any race or creed, and the poor are never
refused admission, the rule being that treatment is free for those who
cannot pay, but that such as can afford it shall pay according to their

And the hospital has a kindly feature that endears it to patients and
their relatives alike, and that is that, by Dr. Conwell’s personal
order, there are not only the usual week-day hours for visiting, but
also one evening a week and every Sunday afternoon. “For otherwise,” as
he says, “many would be unable to come because they could not get away
from their work.”

A little over eight years ago another hospital was taken in charge, the
Garretson--not founded by Conwell, this one, but acquired, and promptly
expanded in its usefulness.

Both the Samaritan and the Garretson are part of Temple University. The
Samaritan Hospital has treated, since its foundation, up to the middle
of 1915, 29,301 patients; the Garretson, in its shorter life, 5,923.
Including dispensary cases as well as house patients, the two hospitals
together, under the headship of President Conwell, have handled over
400,000 cases.

How Conwell can possibly meet the multifarious demands upon his time is
in itself a miracle. He is the head of the great church; he is the head
of the university; he is the head of the hospitals; he is the head of
everything with which he is associated! And he is not only nominally,
but very actively, the head!


CONWELL has a few strong and efficient executive helpers who have long
been associated with him; men and women who know his ideas and ideals,
who are devoted to him, and who do their utmost to relieve him; and of
course there is very much that is thus done for him; but even as it is,
he is so overshadowing a man (there is really no other word) that all
who work with him look to him for advice and guidance the professors
and the students, the doctors and the nurses, the church officers, the
Sunday-school teachers, the members of his congregation. And he is never
too busy to see any one who really wishes to see him.

He can attend to a vast intricacy of detail, and answer myriad personal
questions and doubts, and keep the great institutions splendidly going,
by thorough systematization of time, and by watching every minute.
He has several secretaries, for special work, besides his private
secretary. His correspondence is very great. Often he dictates to a
secretary as he travels on the train. Even in the few days for which he
can run back to the Berkshires, work is awaiting him. Work follows him.
And after knowing of this, one is positively amazed that he is able to
give to his country-wide lectures the time and the traveling that they
inexorably demand. Only a man of immense strength, of the greatest
stamina, a veritable superman, could possibly do it. And at times one
quite forgets, noticing the multiplicity of his occupations, that he
prepares two sermons and two talks on Sunday!

Here is his usual Sunday schedule, when at home. He rises at seven and
studies until breakfast, which is at eight-thirty. Then he studies until
nine-forty-five, when he leads a men’s meeting at which he is likely
also to play the organ and lead the singing. At ten-thirty is the
principal church service, at which he preaches, and at the close of
which he shakes hands with hundreds. He dines at one, after which he
takes fifteen minutes’ rest and then reads; and at three o’clock he
addresses, in a talk that is like another sermon, a large class of
men--not the same men as in the morning. He is also sure to look in at
the regular session of the Sunday-school. Home again, where he studies
and reads until supper-time. At seven-thirty is the evening service,
at which he again preaches and after which he shakes hands with several
hundred more and talks personally, in his study, with any who have need
of talk with him. He is usually home by ten-thirty. I spoke of it,
one evening, as having been a strenuous day, and he responded, with a
cheerfully whimsical smile: “Three sermons and shook hands with nine

That evening, as the service closed, he had said to the congregation: “I
shall be here for an hour. We always have a pleasant time together after
service. If you are acquainted with me, come up and shake hands. If you
are strangers”--just the slightest of pauses--“come up and let us make
an acquaintance that will last for eternity.” I remember how simply and
easily this was said, in his clear, deep voice, and how impressive and
important it seemed, and with what unexpectedness it came. “Come and
make an acquaintance that will last for eternity!” And there was
a serenity about his way of saying this which would make strangers
think--just as he meant them to think--that he had nothing whatever to
do but to talk with them. Even his own congregation have, most of them,
little conception of how busy a man he is and how precious is his time.

One evening last June to take an evening of which I happened to know--he
got home from a journey of two hundred miles at six o’clock, and after
dinner and a slight rest went to the church prayer-meeting, which he
led in his usual vigorous way at such meetings, playing the organ
and leading the singing, as well as praying and talk-ing. After the
prayer-meeting he went to two dinners in succession, both of them
important dinners in connection with the close of the university year,
and at both dinners he spoke. At the second dinner he was notified
of the sudden illness of a member of his congregation, and instantly
hurried to the man’s home and thence to the hospital to which he
had been removed, and there he remained at the man’s bedside, or in
consultation with the physicians, until one in the morning. Next morning
he was up at seven and again at work.

“This one thing I do,” is his private maxim of efficiency, and a
literalist might point out that he does not one thing only, but a
thousand things, not getting Conwell’s meaning, which is that whatever
the thing may be which he is doing he lets himself think of nothing else
until it is done.

Dr. Conwell has a profound love for the country and particularly for the
country of his own youth. He loves the wind that comes sweeping over
the hills, he loves the wide-stretching views from the heights and the
forest intimacies of the nestled nooks. He loves the rippling streams,
he loves the wild flowers that nestle in seclusion or that unexpectedly
paint some mountain meadow with delight. He loves the very touch of the
earth, and he loves the great bare rocks.

He writes verses at times; at least he has written lines for a few old
tunes; and it interested me greatly to chance upon some lines of his
that picture heaven in terms of the Berkshires:

   _The wide-stretching valleys in colors so fadeless,
   Where trees are all deathless and flowers e’er bloom_.

That is heaven in the eyes of a New England hill-man! Not golden
pavement and ivory palaces, but valleys and trees and flowers and the
wide sweep of the open.

Few things please him more than to go, for example, blackberrying, and
he has a knack of never scratching his face or his fingers when doing
so. And he finds blackberrying, whether he goes alone or with friends,
an extraordinarily good time for planning something he wishes to do or
working out the thought of a sermon. And fishing is even better, for in
fishing he finds immense recreation and restfulness and at the same time
a further opportunity to think and plan.

As a small boy he wished that he could throw a dam across the
trout-brook that runs near the little Conwell home, and--as he never
gives up--he finally realized the ambition, although it was after half
a century! And now he has a big pond, three-quarters of a mile long by
half a mile wide, lying in front of the house, down a slope from it--a
pond stocked with splendid pickerel. He likes to float about restfully
on this pond, thinking or fishing, or both. And on that pond he showed
me how to catch pickerel even under a blaze of sunlight!

He is a trout-fisher, too, for it is a trout stream that feeds this
pond and goes dashing away from it through the wilderness; and for miles
adjoining his place a fishing club of wealthy men bought up the rights
in this trout stream, and they approached him with a liberal offer. But
he declined it. “I remembered what good times I had when I was a boy,
fishing up and down that stream, and I couldn’t think of keeping the
boys of the present day from such a pleasure. So they may still come and
fish for trout here.”

As we walked one day beside this brook, he suddenly said: “Did you ever
notice that every brook has its own song? I should know the song of this
brook anywhere.”

It would seem as if he loved his rugged native country because it is
rugged even more than because it is native! Himself so rugged, so hardy,
so enduring--the strength of the hills is his also.

Always, in his very appearance, you see something of this ruggedness of
the hills; a ruggedness, a sincerity, a plainness, that mark alike his
character and his looks. And always one realizes the strength of the
man, even when his voice, as it usually is, is low. And one increasingly
realizes the strength when, on the lecture platform or in the pulpit or
in conversation, he flashes vividly into fire.

A big-boned man he is, sturdy-framed, a tall man, with broad shoulders
and strong hands. His hair is a deep chestnut-brown that at first
sight seems black. In his early manhood he was superb in looks, as his
pictures show, but anxiety and work and the constant flight of years,
with physical pain, have settled his face into lines of sadness and
almost of severity, which instantly vanish when he speaks. And his face
is illumined by marvelous eyes.

He is a lonely man. The wife of his early years died long, long ago,
before success had come, and she was deeply mourned, for she had loyally
helped him through a time that held much of struggle and hardship. He
married again; and this wife was his loyal helpmate for many years. In
a time of special stress, when a defalcation of sixty-five thousand
dollars threatened to crush Temple College just when it was getting on
its feet, for both Temple Church and Temple College had in those early
days buoyantly assumed heavy indebtedness, he raised every dollar he
could by selling or mortgaging his own possessions, and in this his
wife, as he lovingly remembers, most cordially stood beside him,
although she knew that if anything should happen to him the financial
sacrifice would leave her penniless. She died after years of
companionship; his children married and made homes of their own; he is
a lonely man. Yet he is not unhappy, for the tremendous demands of his
tremendous work leave him little time for sadness or retrospect. At
times the realization comes that he is getting old, that friends and
comrades have been passing away, leaving him an old man with younger
friends and helpers. But such realization only makes him work with an
earnestness still more intense, knowing that the night cometh when no
man shall work.

Deeply religious though he is, he does not force religion into
conversation on ordinary subjects or upon people who may not be
interested in it. With him, it is action and good works, with faith and
belief, that count, except when talk is the natural, the fitting, the
necessary thing; when addressing either one individual or thousands, he
talks with superb effectiveness.

His sermons are, it may almost literally be said, parable after parable;
although he himself would be the last man to say this, for it would
sound as if he claimed to model after the greatest of all examples. His
own way of putting it is that he uses stories frequently because people
are more impressed by illustrations than by argument.

Always, whether in the pulpit or out of it, he is simple and homelike,
human and unaffected. If he happens to see some one in the congregation
to whom he wishes to speak, he may just leave his pulpit and walk down
the aisle, while the choir is singing, and quietly say a few words and

In the early days of his ministry, if he heard of a poor family in
immediate need of food he would be quite likely to gather a basket of
provisions and go personally, and offer this assistance and such other
as he might find necessary when he reached the place. As he became known
he ceased from this direct and open method of charity, for he knew that
impulsiveness would be taken for intentional display. But he has never
ceased to be ready to help on the instant that he knows help is needed.
Delay and lengthy investigation are avoided by him when he can be
certain that something immediate is required. And the extent of his
quiet charity is amazing. With no family for which to save money, and
with no care to put away money for himself, he thinks only of money
as an instrument for helpfulness. I never heard a friend criticize him
except for too great open-handedness.

I was strongly impressed, after coming to know him, that he possessed
many of the qualities that made for the success of the old-time district
leaders of New York City, and I mentioned this to him, and he at once
responded that he had himself met “Big Tim,” the long-time leader of
the Sullivans, and had had him at his house, Big Tim having gone to
Philadelphia to aid some henchman in trouble, and having promptly sought
the aid of Dr. Conwell. And it was characteristic of Conwell that he
saw, what so many never saw, the most striking characteristic of that
Tammany leader. For, “Big Tim Sullivan was so kind-hearted!” Conwell
appreciated the man’s political unscrupulousness as well as did
his enemies, but he saw also what made his underlying power--his
kind-heartedness. Except that Sullivan could be supremely unscrupulous,
and that Conwell is supremely scrupulous, there were marked similarities
in these masters over men; and Conwell possesses, as Sullivan possessed,
a wonderful memory for faces and names.

Naturally, Russell Conwell stands steadily and strongly for good
citizenship. But he never talks boastful Americanism. He seldom speaks
in so many words of either Americanism or good citizenship, but he
constantly and silently keeps the American flag, as the symbol of good
citizenship, before his people. An American flag is prominent in his
church; an American flag is seen in his home; a beautiful American flag
is up at his Berkshire place and surmounts a lofty tower where, when he
was a boy, there stood a mighty tree at the top of which was an eagle’s
nest, which has given him a name for his home, for he terms it “The
Eagle’s Nest.”

Remembering a long story that I had read of his climbing to the top of
that tree, though it was a well-nigh impossible feat, and securing the
nest by great perseverance and daring, I asked him if the story were
a true one. “Oh, I’ve heard something about it; somebody said that
somebody watched me, or something of the kind. But I don’t remember
anything about it myself.”

Any friend of his is sure to say something, after a while, about his
determination, his insistence on going ahead with anything on which he
has really set his heart. One of the very important things on which
he insisted, in spite of very great opposition, and especially an
opposition from the other churches of his denomination (for this was a
good many years ago, when there was much more narrowness in churches
and sects than there is at present), was with regard to doing away with
close communion. He determined on an open communion; and his way of
putting it, once decided upon, was: “My friends, it is not for me to
invite you to the table of the Lord. The table of the Lord is open. If
you feel that you can come to the table, it is open to you.” And this is
the form which he still uses.

He not only never gives up, but, so his friends say, he never forgets
a thing upon which he has once decided, and at times, long after they
supposed the matter has been entirely forgotten, they suddenly find Dr.
Conwell bringing his original purpose to pass. When I was told of this I
remembered that pickerel-pond in the Berkshires!

If he is really set upon doing anything, little or big, adverse
criticism does not disturb his serenity. Some years ago he began wearing
a huge diamond, whose size attracted much criticism and caustic comment.
He never said a word in defense; he just kept on wearing the diamond.
One day, however, after some years, he took it off, and people said, “He
has listened to the criticism at last!” He smiled reminiscently as he
told me about this, and said: “A dear old deacon of my congregation gave
me that diamond and I did not like to hurt his feelings by refusing it.
It really bothered me to wear such a glaring big thing, but because I
didn’t want to hurt the old deacon’s feelings I kept on wearing it until
he was dead. Then I stopped wearing it.”

The ambition of Russell Conwell is to continue working and working until
the very last moment of his life. In work he forgets his sadness, his
loneliness, his age. And he said to me one day, “I will die in harness.”


CONSIDERING everything, the most remarkable thing in Russell Conwell’s
remarkable life is his lecture, “Acres of Diamonds.” That is, the
lecture itself, the number of times he has delivered it, what a source
of inspiration it has been to myriads, the money that he has made and is
making, and, still more, the purpose to which he directs the money. In
the circumstances surrounding “Acres of Diamonds,” in its tremendous
success, in the attitude of mind revealed by the lecture itself and by
what Dr. Conwell does with it, it is illuminative of his character, his
aims, his ability.

The lecture is vibrant with his energy. It flashes with his hopefulness.
It is full of his enthusiasm. It is packed full of his intensity. It
stands for the possibilities of success in every one. He has delivered
it over five thousand times. The demand for it never diminishes. The
success grows never less.

There is a time in Russell Conwell’s youth of which it is pain for him
to think. He told me of it one evening, and his voice sank lower and
lower as he went far back into the past. It was of his days at Yale
that he spoke, for they were days of suffering. For he had not money for
Yale, and in working for more he endured bitter humiliation. It was not
that the work was hard, for Russell Conwell has always been ready for
hard work. It was not that there were privations and difficulties, for
he has always found difficulties only things to overcome, and endured
privations with cheerful fortitude. But it was the humiliations that he
met--the personal humiliations that after more than half a century make
him suffer in remembering them--yet out of those humiliations came a
marvelous result.

“I determined,” he says, “that whatever I could do to make the way
easier at college for other young men working their way I would do.”

And so, many years ago, he began to devote every dollar that he made
from “Acres of Diamonds” to this definite purpose. He has what may be
termed a waiting-list. On that list are very few cases he has looked
into personally. Infinitely busy man that he is, he cannot do extensive
personal investigation. A large proportion of his names come to him from
college presidents who know of students in their own colleges in need of
such a helping hand.

“Every night,” he said, when I asked him to tell me about it, “when my
lecture is over and the check is in my hand, I sit down in my room in
the hotel”--what a lonely picture, tool--“I sit down in my room in the
hotel and subtract from the total sum received my actual expenses for
that place, and make out a check for the difference and send it to
some young man on my list. And I always send with the check a letter
of advice and helpfulness, expressing my hope that it will be of some
service to him and telling him that he is to feel under no obligation
except to his Lord. I feel strongly, and I try to make every young man
feel, that there must be no sense of obligation to me personally. And I
tell them that I am hoping to leave behind me men who will do more work
than I have done. Don’t think that I put in too much advice,” he added,
with a smile, “for I only try to let them know that a friend is trying
to help them.”

His face lighted as he spoke. “There is such a fascination in it!” he
exclaimed. “It is just like a gamble! And as soon as I have sent the
letter and crossed a name off my list, I am aiming for the next one!”

And after a pause he added: “I do not attempt to send any young man
enough for all his expenses. But I want to save him from bitterness,
and each check will help. And, too,” he concluded, naïvely, in the
vernacular, “I don’t want them to lay down on me!”

He told me that he made it clear that he did not wish to get returns
or reports from this branch of his life-work, for it would take a great
deal of time in watching and thinking and in the reading and writing
of letters. “But it is mainly,” he went on, “that I do not wish to hold
over their heads the sense of obligation.”

When I suggested that this was surely an example of bread cast upon the
waters that could not return, he was silent for a little and then said,
thoughtfully: “As one gets on in years there is satisfaction in doing a
thing for the sake of doing it. The bread returns in the sense of effort

On a recent trip through Minnesota he was positively upset, so his
secretary told me, through being recognized on a train by a young man
who had been helped through “Acres of Diamonds,” and who, finding that
this was really Dr. Conwell, eagerly brought his wife to join him in
most fervent thanks for his assistance. Both the husband and his wife
were so emotionally overcome that it quite overcame Dr. Conwell himself.

The lecture, to quote the noble words of Dr. Conwell himself, is
designed to help “every person, of either sex, who cherishes the high
resolve of sustaining a career of usefulness and honor.” It is a lecture
of helpfulness. And it is a lecture, when given with Conwell’s voice
and face and manner, that is full of fascination. And yet it is all so

It is packed full of inspiration, of suggestion, of aid. He alters it
to meet the local circumstances of the thousands of different places in
which he delivers it. But the base remains the same. And even those to
whom it is an old story will go to hear him time after time. It amuses
him to say that he knows individuals who have listened to it twenty

It begins with a story told to Conwell by an old Arab as the two
journeyed together toward Nineveh, and, as you listen, you hear the
actual voices and you see the sands of the desert and the waving palms.
The lecturer’s voice is so easy, so effortless, it seems so ordinary
and matter-of-fact--yet the entire scene is instantly vital and alive!
Instantly the man has his audience under a sort of spell, eager to
listen, ready to be merry or grave. He has the faculty of control, the
vital quality that makes the orator.

The same people will go to hear this lecture over and over, and that is
the kind of tribute that Conwell likes. I recently heard him deliver
it in his own church, where it would naturally be thought to be an old
story, and where, presumably, only a few of the faithful would go; but
it was quite clear that all of his church are the faithful, for it was
a large audience that came to listen to him; hardly a seat in the great
auditorium was vacant. And it should be added that, although it was
in his own church, it was not a free lecture, where a throng might
be expected, but that each one paid a liberal sum for a seat--and the
paying of admission is always a practical test of the sincerity of
desire to hear. And the people were swept along by the current as if
lecturer and lecture were of novel interest. The lecture in itself is
good to read, but it is only when it is illumined by Conwell’s vivid
personality that one understands how it influences in the actual

On that particular evening he had decided to give the lecture in the
same form as when he first delivered it many years ago, without any of
the alterations that have come with time and changing localities, and
as he went on, with the audience rippling and bubbling with laughter as
usual, he never doubted that he was giving it as he had given it years
before; and yet--so up-to-date and alive must he necessarily be, in
spite of a definitive effort to set himself back--every once in a while
he was coming out with illustrations from such distinctly recent things
as the automobile!

The last time I heard him was the 5,124th time for the lecture. Doesn’t
it seem incredible! 5,124 times’ I noticed that he was to deliver it at
a little out-of-the-way place, difficult for any considerable number to
get to, and I wondered just how much of an audience would gather and how
they would be impressed. So I went over from there I was, a few miles
away. The road was dark and I pictured a small audience, but when I got
there I found the church building in which he was to deliver the lecture
had a seating capacity of 830 and that precisely 830 people were already
seated there and that a fringe of others were standing behind. Many
had come from miles away. Yet the lecture had scarcely, if at all, been
advertised. But people had said to one another: “Aren’t you going to
hear Dr. Conwell?” And the word had thus been passed along.

I remember how fascinating it was to watch that audience, for they
responded so keenly and with such heartfelt pleasure throughout the
entire lecture. And not only were they immensely pleased and amused and
interested--and to achieve that at a crossroads church was in itself
a triumph to be proud of--but I knew that every listener was given an
impulse toward doing something for himself and for others, and that with
at least some of them the impulse would materialize in acts. Over and
over one realizes what a power such a man wields.

And what an unselfishness! For, far on in years as he is, and suffering
pain, he does not chop down his lecture to a definite length; he does
not talk for just an hour or go on grudgingly for an hour and a half. He
sees that the people are fascinated and inspired, and he forgets pain,
ignores time, forgets that the night is late and that he has a long
journey to go to get home, and keeps on generously for two hours! And
every one wishes it were four.

Always he talks with ease and sympathy. There are geniality, composure,
humor, simple and homely jests--yet never does the audience forget that
he is every moment in tremendous earnest. They bubble with responsive
laughter or are silent in riveted attention. A stir can be seen to sweep
over an audience, of earnestness or surprise or amusement or resolve.
When he is grave and sober or fervid the people feel that he is himself
a fervidly earnest man, and when he is telling something humorous there
is on his part almost a repressed chuckle, a genial appreciation of the
fun of it, not in the least as if he were laughing at his own humor, but
as if he and his hearers were laughing together at something of which
they were all humorously cognizant.

Myriad successes in life have come through the direct inspiration of
this single lecture. One hears of so many that there must be vastly
more that are never told. A few of the most recent were told me by Dr.
Conwell himself, one being of a farmer boy who walked a long distance
to hear him. On his way home, so the boy, now a man, has written him, he
thought over and over of what he could do to advance himself, and
before he reached home he learned that a teacher was wanted at a certain
country school. He knew he did not know enough to teach, but was sure
he could learn, so he bravely asked for the place. And something in his
earnestness made him win a temporary appointment. Thereupon he worked
and studied so hard and so devotedly, while he daily taught, that within
a few months he was regularly employed there. “And now,” says Conwell,
abruptly, with his characteristic skim-ming over of the intermediate
details between the important beginning of a thing and the satisfactory
end, “and now that young man is one of our college presidents.”

And very recently a lady came to Dr. Conwell, the wife of an
exceptionally prominent man who was earning a large salary, and she told
him that her husband was so unselfishly generous with money that often
they were almost in straits. And she said they had bought a little farm
as a country place, paying only a few hundred dollars for it, and that
she had said to herself, laughingly, after hearing the lecture, “There
are no acres of diamonds on this place!” But she also went on to tell
that she had found a spring of exceptionally fine water there, although
in buying they had scarcely known of the spring at all; and she had been
so inspired by Conwell that she had had the water analyzed and, finding
that it was remarkably pure, had begun to have it bottled and sold under
a trade name as special spring water. And she is making money. And she
also sells pure ice from the pool, cut in winter-time and all because of
“Acres of Diamonds”!

Several millions of dollars, in all, have been received by Russell
Conwell as the proceeds from this single lecture. Such a fact is almost
staggering--and it is more staggering to realize what good is done in
the world by this man, who does not earn for himself, but uses his
money in immediate helpfulness. And one can neither think nor write with
moderation when it is further realized that far more good than can be
done directly with money he does by uplifting and inspiring with this
lecture. Always his heart is with the weary and the heavy-laden. Always
he stands for self-betterment.

Last year, 1914, he and his work were given unique recognition. For it
was known by his friends that this particular lecture was approaching
its five-thousandth delivery, and they planned a celebration of such
an event in the history of the most popular lecture in the world. Dr.
Conwell agreed to deliver it in the Academy of Music, in Philadelphia,
and the building was packed and the streets outside were thronged. The
proceeds from all sources for that five-thousandth lecture were over
nine thousand dollars.

The hold which Russell Conwell has gained on the affections and respect
of his home city was seen not only in the thousands who strove to hear
him, but in the prominent men who served on the local committee in
charge of the celebration. There was a national committee, too, and the
nation-wide love that he has won, the nation-wide appreciation of what
he has done and is still doing, was shown by the fact that among the
names of the notables on this committee were those of nine governors of
states. The Governor of Pennsylvania was himself present to do Russell
Conwell honor, and he gave to him a key emblematic of the Freedom of the

The “Freedom of the State”--yes; this man, well over seventy, has won
it. The Freedom of the State, the Freedom of the Nation--for this man
of helpfulness, this marvelous exponent of the gospel of success, has
worked marvelously for the freedom, the betterment, the liberation, the
advancement, of the individual.


By Russell H. Conwell

AN Autobiography! What an absurd request! If all the conditions were
favorable, the story of my public Life could not be made interesting.
It does not seem possible that any will care to read so plain and
uneventful a tale. I see nothing in it for boasting, nor much that could
be helpful. Then I never saved a scrap of paper intentionally concerning
my work to which I could refer, not a book, not a sermon, not a lecture,
not a newspaper notice or account, not a magazine article, not one of
the kind biographies written from time to time by noble friends have
I ever kept even as a souvenir, although some of them may be in my
library. I have ever felt that the writers concerning my life were too
generous and that my own work was too hastily done. Hence I have nothing
upon which to base an autobiographical account, except the recollections
which come to an overburdened mind.

My general view of half a century on the lecture platform brings to me
precious and beautiful memories, and fills my soul with devout gratitude
for the blessings and kindnesses which have been given to me so far
beyond my deserts. So much more success has come to my hands than I ever
expected; so much more of good have I found than even youth’s wildest
dream included; so much more effective have been my weakest endeavors
than I ever planned or hoped--that a biography written truthfully would
be mostly an account of what men and women have done for me.

I have lived to see accomplished far more than my highest ambition
included, and have seen the enterprises I have undertaken rush by me,
pushed on by a thousand strong hands until they have left me far behind
them. The realities are like dreams to me. Blessings on the loving
hearts and noble minds who have been so willing to sacrifice for others’
good and to think only of what they could do, and never of what they
should get! Many of them have ascended into the Shining Land, and here I
am in mine age gazing up alone,

   _Only waiting till the shadows
   Are a little longer grown_.

Fifty years! I was a young man, not yet of age, when I delivered my
first platform lecture. The Civil War of 1861-65 drew on with all its
passions, patriotism, horrors, and fears, and I was studying law at
Yale University. I had from childhood felt that I was “called to the
ministry.” The earliest event of memory is the prayer of my father at
family prayers in the little old cottage in the Hampshire highlands of
the Berkshire Hills, calling on God with a sobbing voice to lead me into
some special service for the Saviour. It filled me with awe, dread,
and fear, and I recoiled from the thought, until I determined to fight
against it with all my power. So I sought for other professions and for
decent excuses for being anything but a preacher.

Yet while I was nervous and timid before the class in declamation and
dreaded to face any kind of an audience, I felt in my soul a strange
impulsion toward public speaking which for years made me miserable. The
war and the public meetings for recruiting soldiers furnished an
outlet for my suppressed sense of duty, and my first lecture was on
the “Lessons of History” as applied to the campaigns against the

That matchless temperance orator and loving friend, John B. Gough,
introduced me to the little audience in Westfield, Massachusetts, in
1862. What a foolish little school-boy speech it must have been! But
Mr. Gough’s kind words of praise, the bouquets and the applause, made
me feel that somehow the way to public oratory would not be so hard as I
had feared.

From that time I acted on Mr. Gough’s advice and “sought practice” by
accepting almost every invitation I received to speak on any kind of a
subject. There were many sad failures and tears, but it was a restful
compromise with my conscience concerning the ministry, and it pleased
my friends. I addressed picnics, Sunday-schools, patriotic meetings,
funerals, anniversaries, commencements, debates, cattle-shows, and
sewing-circles without partiality and without price. For the first five
years the income was all experience. Then voluntary gifts began to come
occasionally in the shape of a jack-knife, a ham, a book, and the first
cash remuneration was from a farmers’ club, of seventy-five cents toward
the “horse hire.” It was a curious fact that one member of that club
afterward moved to Salt Lake City and was a member of the committee at
the Mormon Tabernacle in 1872 which, when I was a correspondent, on
a journey around the world, employed me to lecture on “Men of the
Mountains” in the Mormon Tabernacle, at a fee of five hundred dollars.

While I was gaining practice in the first years of platform work, I had
the good fortune to have profitable employment as a soldier, or as a
correspondent or lawyer, or as an editor or as a preacher, which enabled
me to pay my own expenses, and it has been seldom in the fifty years
that I have ever taken a fee for my personal use. In the last thirty-six
years I have dedicated solemnly all the lecture income to benevolent
enterprises. If I am antiquated enough for an autobiography, perhaps I
may be aged enough to avoid the criticism of being an egotist, when I
state that some years I delivered one lecture, “Acres of Diamonds,” over
two hundred times each year, at an average income of about one hundred
and fifty dollars for each lecture.

It was a remarkable good fortune which came to me as a lecturer when Mr.
James Redpath organized the first lecture bureau ever established. Mr.
Redpath was the biographer of John Brown of Harper’s Ferry renown, and
as Mr. Brown had been long a friend of my father’s I found employment,
while a student on vacation, in selling that life of John Brown. That
acquaintance with Mr. Redpath was maintained until Mr. Redpath’s death.
To General Charles H. Taylor, with whom I was employed for a time as
reporter for the Boston _Daily Traveler_, I was indebted for many acts
of self-sacrificing friendship which soften my soul as I recall them. He
did me the greatest kindness when he suggested my name to Mr. Redpath
as one who could “fill in the vacancies in the smaller towns” where the
“great lights could not always be secured.”

What a glorious galaxy of great names that original list of Redpath
lecturers contained! Henry Ward Beecher, John B. Gough, Senator Charles
Sumner, Theodore Tilton, Wendell Phillips, Mrs. Mary A. Livermore,
Bayard Taylor, Ralph Waldo Emerson, with many of the great preachers,
musicians, and writers of that remarkable era. Even Dr. Holmes, John
Whittier, Henry W. Longfellow, John Lothrop Motley, George William
Curtis, and General Burnside were persuaded to appear one or more times,
although they refused to receive pay. I cannot forget how ashamed I felt
when my name ap-peared in the shadow of such names, and how sure I was
that every acquaintance was ridiculing me behind my back. Mr. Bayard
Taylor, however, wrote me from the _Tribune_ office a kind note saying
that he was glad to see me “on the road to great usefulness.” Governor
Clafflin, of Massachusetts, took the time to send me a note of
congratulation. General Benjamin F. Butler, however, advised me to
“stick to the last” and be a good lawyer.

The work of lecturing was always a task and a duty. I do not feel now
that I ever sought to be an entertainer. I am sure I would have been an
utter failure but for the feeling that I must preach some gospel truth
in my lectures and do at least that much toward that ever-persistent
“call of God.” When I entered the ministry (1879) I had become so
associated with the lecture platform in America and England that I could
not feel justified in abandoning so great a field of usefulness.

The experiences of all our successful lecturers are probably nearly
alike. The way is not always smooth. But the hard roads, the poor
hotels, the late trains, the cold halls, the hot church auditoriums, the
overkindness of hospitable committees, and the broken hours of sleep
are annoyances one soon forgets; and the hosts of intelligent faces,
the messages of thanks, and the effects of the earnings on the lives of
young college men can never cease to be a daily joy. God bless them all.

Often have I been asked if I did not, in fifty years of travel in all
sorts of conveyances, meet with accidents. It is a marvel to me that
no such event ever brought me harm. In a continuous period of over
twenty-seven years I delivered about two lectures in every three days,
yet I did not miss a single engagement. Sometimes I had to hire
a special train, but I reached the town on time, with only a rare
exception, and then I was but a few minutes late. Accidents have
preceded and followed me on trains and boats, and were sometimes in
sight, but I was preserved without injury through all the years. In the
Johnstown flood region I saw a bridge go out behind our train. I was
once on a derelict steamer on the Atlantic for twenty-six days. At
another time a man was killed in the berth of a sleeper I had left half
an hour before. Often have I felt the train leave the track, but no one
was killed. Robbers have several times threatened my life, but all came
out without loss to me. God and man have ever been patient with me.

Yet this period of lecturing has been, after all, a side issue. The
Temple, and its church, in Philadelphia, which, when its membership was
less than three thousand members, for so many years contributed through
its membership over sixty thousand dollars a year for the uplift of
humanity, has made life a continual surprise; while the Samaritan
Hospital’s amazing growth, and the Garretson Hospital’s dispensaries,
have been so continually ministering to the sick and poor, and have done
such skilful work for the tens of thousands who ask for their help each
year, that I have been made happy while away lecturing by the feeling
that each hour and minute they were faithfully doing good. Temple
University, which was founded only twenty-seven years ago, has already
sent out into a higher income and nobler life nearly a hundred thousand
young men and women who could not probably have obtained an education
in any other institution. The faithful, self-sacrificing faculty, now
numbering two hundred and fifty-three professors, have done the
real work. For that I can claim but little credit; and I mention
the University here only to show that my “fifty years on the lecture
platform” has necessarily been a side line of work.

My best-known lecture, “Acres of Diamonds,” was a mere accidental
address, at first given before a reunion of my old comrades of the
Forty-sixth Massachusetts Regiment, which served in the Civil War and in
which I was captain. I had no thought of giving the address again, and
even after it began to be called for by lecture committees I did not
dream that I should live to deliver it, as I now have done, almost five
thousand times. “What is the secret of its popularity?” I could never
explain to myself or others. I simply know that I always attempt to
enthuse myself on each occasion with the idea that it is a special
opportunity to do good, and I interest myself in each community and
apply the general principles with local illustrations.

The hand which now holds this pen must in the natural course of events
soon cease to gesture on the platform, and it is a sincere, prayerful
hope that this book will go on into the years doing increasing good for
the aid of my brothers and sisters in the human family.


South Worthington, Mass.,

September 1, 1913.

[Footnote 1: This is the most recent and complete form of the lecture.
It happened to be delivered in Philadelphia, Dr. Conwell’s home city.
When he says “right here in Philadelphia,” he means the home city, town,
or village of every reader of this book, just as he would use the name
of it if delivering the lecture there, instead of doing it through the
pages which follow.]

[Footnote 2: _Dr. Conwell was living, and actively at work, when
these pages were written. It is, therefore, a much truer picture of his
personality than anything written in the past tense_.]

[Footnote 3: _This interview took place at the old Conwell farm in the
summer of 1915_.]

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