Health as a Condition of Success

— Is there any truth in the oft - repeated assertion that success in life is conditioned upon physical health ? All our prepossessions are apt to side with the newspaper-writers here, but the facts of experience hardly seem to be in keeping with their statements. It would be easy to present a list of illustrious names, — the writer has one much too long for insertion here, — taken from every field of human achievement, and all pointing to a directly opposite conclusion. Instances of literary reputation combined with bodily limitation and suffering most readily occur, ranging from a Pope, in what he called the “ long disease of his life,” to a George Eliot, a Herbert Spencer, or a Robert Louis Stevenson. It may not appear so remarkable that great religious geniuses, from St. Paul to Channing, Bushnell and Robertson, should so often be witnesses in opposition; but we are at first hardly prepared to find so many of an active and executive order of talent who have been the victims of ill health. It is true that statesmen and military commanders have generally a larger type of body and brain, together with a more forceful and eupeptic temperament. They are shorter in the neck and less liable to nervous disorder. But Napoleon is disappointing in this respect, having been a poor sleeper, and subject to periodic fits of indisposition of a prostrating nature. We are told that Alfred the Great was “ vexed by sickness and constant pain.” Nelson, Montcalm, William of Orange, and Andrew Jackson were fully as much troubled by inward as by outward enemies. John Randolph and Alexander Stephens toiled long and strenuously in the face of constitutional weariness and pain. One never ceases to wonder at the scientific results accomplished by a James Watt and the younger Darwin, while contending with the most depressing maladies. From early manhood to the day of his death the latter was never free from a nausea similar to seasickness, counting two hours a fortunate day’s work, and often unable to attempt any work at all. Lord Bacon’s weak stomach has its counterpart in the general feebleness and lack of tone in a Rousseau, Cervantes, Immanuel Kant, and Carlyle. Goethe, watching Schiller in his desperate struggle with life, did not find his brother poet any behind himself in productiveness ; and he adds that it is incredible how much the spirit can do, in these cases, to keep up the body. Even so vast an undertaking as the writing of history has often illustrated the triumph of mere spiritual persistence over bodily infirmity, as in the case of Prescott and John Richard Green. “ No one knows,” says Harriet Martineau, with her own career in mind, as well as that of her distinguished brother, “ when the spirits of men begin to work, or when they leave off, or whether they work best when their bodies are weak or when they are strong.”

Nor is the reason for this far to seek. The ambitions of the average man have perhaps suffered no contraction equal to that which has come from his average good health and its attendant optimism. Physical perfection is fully as apt to narrow the horizon and deaden intellectual hunger as it is to impart width of vision and energy of will. Feeble people often husband the resources which the more rugged squander in aimless diversion, living in the work which they are often obliged to alternate with seasons of repression and self-denial. Health may be sufficient to itself ; and the very fact of feeling well is so far restful and definitive as practically to do away with the conscious need of effort looking toward the future. Any observer of human nature will confess that the notoriously lazy people of his acquaintance have been almost invariably persons in robust health: while every one has met at least a few of those semi-invalids who are constantly astonishing the world with their zeal and persistence. It would frequently seem as if some persons, in the current phrase, “enjoyed good health,” and others, not having any to enjoy, turned to ideal ends for satisfaction and amusement.