“If I Rest, I Rust” by Orison Swett Marden

Story type: Literature

“The heights by great men reached and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight;
But they, while their companions slept,
Were toiling upward in the night.”

The significant inscription found on an old key,–“If I rest, I rust,”–would be an excellent motto for those who are afflicted with the slightest taint of idleness. Even the industrious might adopt it with advantage to serve as a reminder that, if one allows his faculties to rest, like the iron in the unused key, they will soon show signs of rust, and, ultimately, cannot do the work required of them.

Those who would attain

“The heights by great men reached and kept”

must keep their faculties burnished by constant use, so that they will unlock the doors of knowledge, the gates that guard the entrances to the professions, to science, art, literature, agriculture,–every department of human endeavor.

Industry keeps bright the key that opens the treasury of achievement. If Hugh Miller, after toiling all day in a quarry, had devoted his evenings to rest and recreation, he would never have become a famous geologist. The celebrated mathematician, Edmund Stone, would never have published a mathematical dictionary, never have found the key to the science of mathematics, if he had given his spare moments, snatched from the duties of a gardener, to idleness. Had the little Scotch lad, Ferguson, allowed the busy brain to go to sleep while he tended sheep on the hillside, instead of calculating the position of the stars by the help of a string of beads, he would never have become a famous astronomer.

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“Labor vanquishes all,”–not in constant, spasmodic, or ill-directed labor, but faithful, unremitting, daily effort toward a well-directed purpose. Just as truly as eternal vigilance is the price of liberty, so is eternal industry the price of noble and enduring success.

“Seize, then, the minutes as they pass;
The woof of life is thought!
Warm up the colors; let them glow
With fire of fancy fraught.”

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