I HAVE a friend who annoys me because he is so evidently bound to become great. Not that he says so — that would spoil the surprise; but I can see it in the glitter of his eye, in the set of his jaw, and in the way he scratches his head. When his consummation will take place I cannot predict, but, like rain in dry weather, it is sure to come. It cannot help coming. It has made up its mind to come, and nothing can hinder it. Greatness has this murderous quality — it will out.
Ordinarily I like completed great people, — chiefly because they never appear ostentatious near to. They have a universal quality in them which embraces even atomic me in friendly fashion. In the case of people about to become great, however, there is no hospitality unless you happen to be a means to an end. If you are that, you may escort incipient greatness to the path which leads to the front door of the Hall, but there, unless you too are to become great, you must part. Truly has it been remarked that greatness is solitary.
This particular friend who annoys me cannot now avoid the consequences of his actions even if he should try to — it is too late. The train is laid, and the match lit. He may think that he has forgotten that the explosion is due, and will pretend to be as surprised as the rest of the world (except me), when he wakes up to the roar of his own private salute. Then the reporters will interview him and ask him how he did it. He will consider thoughtfully, and suddenly, recalling that when but ten years old he had decided to become great, he will repeat this news to the astonished scribes, who will disseminate it to the principal cities of Christendom. All will then say (except me), “ How easy it is to become great! He did it thus, why not we ? ”
Hence another infinitude of restless blind strivings, and more trouble for the biographers.
At this point a very small voice — usually still, but with a familiar ring when it does speak up—remarks, “Ha! ha! You are jealous; you know that you will never be as he is to be. You are very jealous.”
To this accusation I make response, “ No, I am not that which I was — namely, jealous. There is no good being jealous unless it impels you to do something. Jealousy is the electric button of ambition. Having no ambition, that is, being happy, the green eye is not upon me. Go to.”
No. I am but amused and a bit distressed at my friend’s hobby. I think he is making a mistake, and he will not listen to me. He is trying too hard to become great. He ought to let it grow naturally, like a beard or a first mustache, instead of pinching it. If it won’t sprout of itself, he should try a rotation of crops, to change the figure. Perhaps — dare I say it ? — perhaps he is not meant to be great. What, after all, is the use of being great ? Why not be little, and be sure of holding your job ? As I understand it, thrones and pedestals perpetually totter in an extremely terrifying fashion. Won’t you sit with us on the Park benches, sir ? ’T is more comfortable, we consider.
Perhaps the worst attribute of one about to become great is the rigor and stress of his Life — the capital seems called for. He never “has time ” to be interested in what you are interested in, for he has been so deeply immersed lately in a task that he had to get out of the way (“Something great?” you almost ask). Also, he has to weigh accurately the measure of use he can get from a thing before he will attempt it. When, on a hot summer evening, such considerations are rampant, deliver me from the society of the would-be great!
He, my poor friend, and his tribe somehow compel attention. Thus it is that greatness fosters greatness. B, let us say, desires to become great. He tells C his wish. C then says privately to A, who is already great, “ A, I know a man who would be even as you are! ” A, thus flattered, meets B at a party and shines upon him. Others in the alphabet, namely D, E, F, and G, observe the illumination of B’s face, and say among themselves, ' Behold B, he has something in him. Perhaps he too will be great! Let us be good to him! ”
So B, like my friend, is now about to grow great. With care and pruning he should be ready by Christmas time.
The born great are admirable. I like to be shaken by their hand. Those thrust into the state usually rise nobly to the occasion, like the tramp in the play who, on receipt of an unexpected fortune, enters philanthropy at once. But those who achieve it, — let them be kept elsewhere than we are till their goal is reached! They know no speed laws, and they drive as Jehu did; for it was he who said, “ What hast thou to do with peace ? Turn thee behind me.” Greatness is ever so.