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21 Chapter IX

IF I WERE TWENTY-ONE I WOULD DETERMINE, EVEN IF I COULD NEVER BE ANYTHING ELSE IN THE WORLD, THAT I WOULD BE A THOROUGHBRED

Thoroughbred, as it is currently used, is a word rather difficult to define, perhaps entirely non-definable. Yet we all know what it means—it is like Love.

But it implies being several things: One, being a good sport, by which I mean the kind of a man that does not whine when he fails, but gets up smiling and tackles it again, the kind of man whose fund of cheer and courage does not depend upon success, but keeps brave and sweet even in failure.

Let me quote what I have written elsewhere on this point:

In one of the plays of this season, “The Very Minute,” one of the characters says something to this effect: You go on till you can go no further, you reach the limit of human endurance, and then—you hold on another minute, and that’s the minute that counts.

The idea is a good one. That last minute, the other side of the breaking point, is worth thinking about.

It is that which marks the thoroughbred.

There is a something in the hundredth man that bespeaks a finer quality. It is unconquerableness, heroism, stick-to-it-iveness, or whatever you have a mind to call it.

We have a way of attributing this to breeding, after the analogy of horses and dogs; but while there’s something in blood I doubt if it is a very trustworthy guaranty of excellence. So many vigorous parents have children that are morally spindling, and so many surprising samples of superiority come from common stock, that heredity is far from dependable.

But the quality exists, no matter how you account for it—a certain toughness of moral fibre, an indestructibility of purpose.

Any mind is over matter, but there are some wills so imperial, so dominant over the body, that they keep it from collapse even after its strength is spent.

We see it physically in the prize fighter who “doesn’t know when he is beaten,” in the race horse that throws an unexpected dash into the last stretch even after his last ounce of force is gone, in the Spartan soldier who exclaimed “If I fall I fight on my knees.”

Of all human qualities that have lit up the sombreness of this tragic earth, I count this, of being a thoroughbred, the happiest.

It has saved more souls than penance and punishment, it has rescued more business enterprises than shrewdness, it has won more battles and more games, and altogether felicitously loosed more hard knots in the tangled skein of destiny than any other virtue.

Most people are quitters. They reach the limit. They are familiar with the last straw.

But the hundredth man is a thoroughbred. You cannot corner him. He will not give up. He cannot find the word “fail” in his lexicon. He has never learned to whine.

What shall we do with him? There’s nothing to do but to hand him success. It’s just as well to deliver him the prize, for he will get it eventually. There’s no use trying to drown him, for he won’t sink.

There’s only one creature in the world better than the man who is a thoroughbred. It is the woman who is a thoroughbred.


If I were Twenty-One I would study the art of pleasing21If I were Twenty-One I would make some permanent, amicable arrangement with my conscience


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