We are told in one of Esop’s fables how the hare and the tortoise once agreed to run a race against each other. The swift- footed hare ridiculed as preposterous the idea that he could possibly be beaten by his opponent. At the beginning of the race he started off at a great speed and soon left the tortoise far behind.
Presently, looking round and finding that his adversary was out of sight, he thought he might as well lie down and have a sleep, and did so. Meanwhile the tortoise had been plodding steadily on. After a long time he came up to the place where the hare was sleeping, and went on past his adversary until he was near the goal.
At this point the hare, waking up, saw the tortoise within a few yards of the winning-post. He made a desperate effort to get there before him, but was unable to overtake him in time to save the race. The moral of the story is that steady Perseverance is more successful than short outbursts of fitful energy.
We often see this truth illustrated in the competitions of students at schools and colleges, and in the severer struggles of later life. A young student of remarkable talents commences the year at college with a firm resolution to work fifteen hours a day and so outstrip all his competitors.
For some time he keeps his resolution, until he begins to feel the exhaustion that is the natural result of his extravagant exertions. He then begins to reflect how much he is in advance of other students, and thinks he may indulge in a rest to recruit his exhausted powers.
The rest is so agreeable that he prolongs it until, when he compares notes with his friends, he is astounded to find that those who have been working steadily for a moderate amount of hours every day, are now well in front of him.
In later life, also, we find as a general rule, that steady persevering men produce greater results than those who work, however energetically, by fits and starts. It is doubtful, however, whether this rule can be applied to the majority of famous authors.
No doubt many instances, even from this class of men, may be quoted in its support. Mr. Beckford at the age of twenty worked continuously for three days and two nights, at the end of which time he had finished the brilliant novel called Vathek.
But he was punished for his neglect of the laws of health by a severe illness, and in the remainder of his long life produced no literary work of great value. Byron composed his finest poems with wonderful rapidity, while he felt under the sway of inspiration.
But his poetry suffered; and all critics are agreed that his poems would have been much finer than they are if he had the patience to perfect them by painstaking revision.
In the case of men of extraordinary and irregular genius, it is difficult to conceive that they could have produced greater works by binding themselves down to the observance of methodical rules in the distribution of their time.
On the other hand there are other men of great talents, nay, of the highest genius, who like Kant, the German metaphysician, have found that steady labour for a fixed number of hours every day by no means checked the flow of inspiration.