REVIEW of REVIEWS

How to Achieve Real Success

Noted Novelist Flouts Ordinary Yard-stick and Stigmatizes Lloyd, George, Northcliffe and Napoleon as Comparative Failures.

H. G. WELLS January 1 1924
REVIEW of REVIEWS

How to Achieve Real Success

Noted Novelist Flouts Ordinary Yard-stick and Stigmatizes Lloyd, George, Northcliffe and Napoleon as Comparative Failures.

H. G. WELLS January 1 1924

How to Achieve Real Success

REVIEW of REVIEWS

Noted Novelist Flouts Ordinary Yard-stick and Stigmatizes Lloyd, George, Northcliffe and Napoleon as Comparative Failures.

H. G. WELLS

WEALTH, notoriety, place and power are no measure of success whatever,” declares H. G. Wells in an article in the American Magazine, in which Mr. Wells seems chiefly concerned in proving, to his own way of thinking, that such men as Lord Northcliffe, Napoleon and Lloyd George cannot be counted as having made successes of their lives. “The only true measure of success,” he insists, “is the ratio between what we might have been and what we might have done, on the one hand, and the thing we have made and the thing we have made of ourselves on the other.” He rather deferentially includes Lord Beaverbrook among the so-called successful men who do not measure up to the standards of success called for by the Welsian yardstick. The author of “The Outline of History” tells us that many are deceived by “the failure that looks like success,” but which is really quite as much a failure as the kind that comes with the labels on it:

There was a time, he writes, when great multitudes sought Salvation as their chief end in life, and it is still a riddle to many of us what positive thing they imagined they sought. The negative thing they would have escaped from was apparent enough. It was the fire of hell. Nowadays, we have not the same urgent sense of that pursuing and avenging fire, and one finds the world asking, not What must I do to be saved? but What must I do to succeed? Here again the fate that !s dreaded is plainer than the goal. It is unimportance, subordination, lowliness without freedom. It is being, to one’s own knowledge, a no-account person, having to lead a limited life in inferior circumstances, a weak, anxious bored life, doing unimportant and uninteresting things, and at last passing out of this world as if one might very well have never come into it.

But while the theologian gave us a choice of two roads only, and to miss condemnation was to set one’s feet surely, either directly or by some purgatorial route, toward heaven, it is by no means so certain to our modern minds that an escape from poverty, toil, restriction, or obscurity, necessarily means Success. To do nothing at all is not the only form of failure.

On either side of the narrow way to success, lie the broad paths to pseudosuccess. One may have, as people say, risen in the world, one may have acquired possessions and securities, rnay be well known enough to be food for the paragraphmaker and an attraction to that detestable midge, the autograph collector, and may still doubt whether any sort of success can really be claimed for one’s life.

Success, we feel, is something more than just getting on and stirring one’s fellow creatures to envy, respect, and tiresome attentions. Besides the failure that looks like failure, the sort of fadure we all know about, there is the failure that looks like success.

Mr. Wells relates the names of a few men in history who, he thinks, made a success of life and others who did not:

It has fallen to me to know one or two men of very great prominence pretty closely, men accounted enormous successes by most of the world ánd envied and admired by multitudes. I have followed the career of Lord Northcliffe, for example, with attentive curiosity and that of Lloyd George. And to me these two present themselves as tremendous failures. But then the reader must remember that my standards of success are unorthodox; I account Napoleon I also as a tremendous failure. And it is not because Lloyd George has fallen from office and power and that Lord Northcliffe died in a phase of mental eclipse that I count them unsuccessful.

Lincoln, the savior of American unity, died tragically, but I count him a supremely successful man. Jesus of Nazareth was no failure, though he died a felon’s death and had his life and teaching distorted beyond recognition by the theologians. Lord Bacon planned and prepared, a great foundation for scientific inquiry, his works live forever, and the peculation and .dismissal that darkened his last years cannot detract from his enduring success. I count Shakespeare a successful man, though he seems to have died half paralyzed and sunken to the level of a parochial somebody. Sir Christopher Wren, Shelley, drugged and diseased Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Darwin. Such names are stars in the heavens of successful living. But these others, Northcliffe, George, and Napoleon, have done nothing but sprawl across the attention of mankind.

He selects the late Lord Northcliffe as the most “successful failure” of them all, and devotes the major part of what is rather a lively and interesting article to proving that Northcliffe, somewhat like Napoleon, was a colossal egoist, who bent his splendid energies and vigor to

gaining for himself a place of power. Nevertheless, Mr. Wells seems to infer that a mistake was made when Lord Northcliffe was not allowed to have a voice in the Versailles conference, Jor he says:

His last years were darkened by a bitter feud with Lloyd George, due, it is said, to his disappointment at not being sent to the Versailles conference as a British representative. He had put Lloyd George into power, he despised him a good deal, and he was infuriated by this exclusion. If his health had held out he might have done considerable things at Versailles; he had more experience of business and finance than Lloyd George, Wilson, and Clemenceau put together, he was much more intelligent than any of them, and he would probably have handled the French better.

But, on the other hand, he had these terrible lapses into sick nervelessness and vanity, and they grew more and more frequent. His vanity was very great, and nature had played him a sardonic trick by giving him a resemblance to Napoleon I as he is represented on medals and busts. This had a little turned his head. He was surrounded by flatterers, and at times for days together he gave up wholesome stimulants and lived on flattery as a drunkard lives on brandy. He would imagine things about himself and pose to an audience, and that audience, whose supposed requirements dictated the pose, might be almost anyone—a new member of the staff, a political associate, a woman journalist— anyone who could be impressed. He had impressive qualities, he was a big creature in many ways, and it was easy for him to get this reaction.

Mr. Wells recapitulates as follows:

I have made this brief sketch of Northcliffe’s life and motives as I saw them because, save foi an intermittent streak of imaginative greatness, he was quite typical of the sort of man we accept as a success to-day. It would be easy to show that Lloyd George, who has also greatly impressed the world, was quite equally the resultant of eagerly accepted opportunity. A large part of the so-called success in either case, as in most such cases, was due to the fact that they desired nothing permanent in life, had no creative drive in them, and no

refractory standards. They took the world as it came; they took it with entirely prehensile, inartistic hands. I submit that they were not successes at all, but the mere spendthrifts of aptitude and good fortune. Their lives have been lives not of achievement but inflation. They have known no true satisfaction; they have had only incongruous series of gratifications, and I submit that not only have they never reached Lord Beaverbrook’s “inner shrine of happiness” but that they have never even discovered that the vast, gaudy, ill-proportioned temple into which they have struggled is not even the temple of success at all.

Now compare with such successes of appearance the life of a man of science, or of a real artist of any sort. Compare the life of a teacher of real imaginative power, such as Sanderson of Oundle, for example, or indeed of any man of will power rather than of eager ambition. Surely the thing that matters in a man is the thing that is peculiar to him, his distinctive gift and aptitude, however small it may be. To realize that, to develop it fully, and bring it to the completest fruition is at once the full .triumph of one’s individual self and the supreme service one can render to mankind.

I have already named several men that I esteemed successful and enviable. If I were asked to add some other names, contemporary names, to that list, I should cite, since they are not only highly successful men but conspicuously successful men, J. M. Keynes and Professor Albert Einstein. Here you have two men whose intellectual aptitudes have been realized to the utmost, each in his measure giving a fine critical faculty its utmost scope and playing the part of a light in a tangle of darkness and confusion.

This is real and living success. If they had never encountered the accident of an immense advertisement, if their work had been done in a field altogether outside the limelight of public attention, they would still have to be accounted successful men.

You may object that I am comparing men of different gifts; and that it is unfair to set the intuitions of an investigator or the creative imagination of a musician against the organizing ability of a man like Lord Northcliffe or the political energy of a Lloyd George. But I am not comparing gifts but criticizing the use of gifts. Lord Northcliffe and his like have no pride in their gifts, but only in themselves. He came into life when a new and great public in Great Britain was in need of a new press to give it information, light, and leading. He gave it—to be plain about it—the commonest stuff it would stand. He might have created a new great public organ of expression and a new power in the state. He created a group of papers which is a propaganda on cheap and stale ideas and stiil—though its influence is manifestly dwindling—a danger to the world. And Lloyd George with his gifts and opportunities might have done as greatly as Abraham Lincoln. At the end of his war, Lincoln talked of reconciliation; Lloyd George talked of searching the pockets of his prostrate enemy. It is time we began to recognize more plainly than we do at present the entire difference between conspicuous flounderings and success.