"To advance through research, education and symposia, an increased public awareness of the Cape Fear region's unique history."
"When a Man Comes to Himself"
A Virginian by birth, Woodrow Wilson as a boy lived in
Augusta, Georgia where his father accepted a call to the
pastorate of the First Presbyterian Church in 1858; one
of his earliest recollections of the time was hearing
“the shrill cry on the street: “Lincoln is elected and
there’ll be war.” He watched local men march away
to fight under Lee in the State of his birth, and in 1865
witnessed captured President Jefferson Davis pass
though the city to be imprisoned in Fortress Monroe.
In an address delivered at the University of
North Carolina on Lee’s birthday in 1909, “he told
his audience how as a boy he had stood by the side
of Robert E. Lee and looked admiringly into the
great man’s face.” He matriculated to Davidson College
in North Carolina in 1873, a Presbyterian institution
with a reputation for good scholarship and a high
religious tone. His teachers there were grounded
in the old curriculum and many had served in the
Confederate army; after Appomattox they had
become teachers of the sons of their comrades.
became pastor of First Presbyterian Church in
Wilmington, North Carolina where young Woodrow
came to recuperate from ill-health for a year.
While there he swam in the Cape Fear River with
other boys at the foot of Dock Street, developed
a friendship with future United States Congressman
John D. Bellamy, and was coached in Latin and
Greek by his mother, in preparation
for his entry to Princeton.
America from County Down, Ireland in 1807. James
found work at a Philadelphia newspaper which would
suffer under Adams’ Sedition Law for supporting
Jefferson’s growing Republican party. He had come
to America for real freedom, only to find his new
home applying old world suppression of a free press.
veins of Woodrow Wilson, and deeply affected his
thoughts, views and actions. His life illustrated
the maxim, “A man’s education should begin
with his grandfather.”
man undergoes when he “comes to himself.” It is not only
after periods of recklessness or infatuation, when he has
played the spendthrift or fool, that a man comes to himself.
He comes to himself after experiences of which he alone
may be aware: when he has left off being wholly preoccupied
with his own powers and interests and with every petty plan
that centers in himself; when he has cleared his eyes to see
the world as it is, and his own true place and function in it.
away. He sees himself soberly, and knows under what
conditions his powers must act, as well as what his powers
are. He has got rid of earlier prepossessions about the
world of men and affairs, both those which were too
favorable and those which were too unfavorable –
both those of the nursery, and those of
a young man’s reading.
way to learn them; has found his footing and the true
nature of the “going” he must look for in the world; over
what sort of roads he must expect to make his running,
and at what expenditure of effort; whither his goal lies,
and what cheer he may expect by the way. It is
a process of disillusionment, but it disheartens
no soundly made man.
him; a light which does not make the way look cold to any
man whose eyes are fit for use in the open, but which
shines wholesomely, rather upon the obvious path, like
the honest rays of the frank sun, and makes travelling
both safe and cheerful.
to himself, and some men never come to themselves at all.
It is a change reserved for the thoroughly sane and healthy,
and for those who can detach themselves from tasks and
drudgery long and often to get, at any rate once and again,
a view of the proportions of life and of the
stage and plot of its action.
and uneasiness, of men who “have no sense of humor,”
who take themselves too seriously, who are intense,
self-absorbed, over-confident in matters of opinion, or
else go plumed with conceit, proud of what we cannot
tell what, enjoying, appreciating, thinking of nothing so
much as themselves. These are men who have not suffered
that wholesome change. They have not come to themselves.
may conclude that they have been too much and too
long absorbed; that their tasks and responsibilities long
ago rose about them like a flood, and have kept them
swimming with sturdy stroke the years through, their
eyes level with the troubled surface – no horizon in
sight, no passing fleets, no comrades but those who
have struggled in the flood like themselves.
or achievement, we may conjecture, if we do not know,
that they were born so, or spoiled by fortune, or
befuddled by self-indulgence. It is no great matter
what we think of them.
govern a man’s awakening to know himself and the
right part to play. A man is the part he plays among his
fellows. He is not isolated; he cannot be. His life is made
up of the relations he bears to others – is made or
marred by those relations, guided by them, judged
by them, expressed in them.
nothing else that we can see. It is by these he gets his
spiritual growth; it is by these we see his character revealed,
his purpose, and his gifts. Some play with a natural passion,
and unstudied directness, without grace, without modulation,
with no study of the masters or consciousness of the
pervading spirit of the plot; others give all their thought to
their costume and think only of the audience; a few act as
those who have mastered the secrets of a serious art,
with deliberate subordination of themselves to the great
end and motive of the play, spending themselves like
good servants, indulging no wilfulness, obtruding no
eccentricity, lending heart and tone and gesture to the
ll the ease of perfect adjustment.
to himself. Some men gain it late, some early; some get
it all at once, as if by one distinct act of deliberate
accommodation; others get it by degrees and quite
imperceptibly. No doubt to most men it comes by
the slow process of experience – at each stage of life a little.
when the boy’s life has been lived out and the man’s
life suddenly begins. He has measured himself with boys;
he knows their code and feels the spur of their ideals of
achievement. But what the world expects of him he has
yet to find out, and it works, when he has discovered
it, a veritable revolution in his ways both of thought and action.
thoroughgoing, careful of details, full of drudgery and
obedience to orders. Everybody is ahead of him. Just now
he was a senior, at the top of a world he knew and
reigned in, a finished product and pattern of good form.
Of a sudden he is a novice again, as green in his first year,
studying a thing that seems to have no rules – at sea amid
crosswinds, a bit of seasick withal.
shape and fitness, he settles to his task and is comfortable.
He has come to himself: understands what capacity is, and
what it is meant for; sees that his training was not for
ornament or personal gratification, but to teach him how
to use himself and develop faculties worth using.
Henceforth there is a zest in action, and
he loves to see his strokes tell.
into the city, a big and novel field, where crowds rush
and jostle, and a rustic boy must stand puzzled for a little
how to use his placid and unjaded strength. It happens
too, though in a deeper and more subtle way, to the
man who marries for love, if the love be true
and fit for foul weather.
and wit and wisdom are married in the jest. A man who lives
only for himself has not begun to live – has yet to learn his use,
and his real pleasure, too, in the world. It is not necessary he
should marry to find himself out, but it is
necessary he should love.
with an unselfish devotion, or their sisters, or a cause for
which they forsook ease and left off thinking of themselves.
It is unselfish action, growing slowly into the high habit of
devotion, and at last, it may be, into a sort of consecration,
that teaches a man the wide meaning of his life, and makes
him a steady professional in living, if the motive be not
necessity, but love. Necessity may make a mere drudge
of a man, and no mere drudge ever made a professional
of himself; that demands a higher spirit and
a finer incentive than this.
the best that is in him, and has satisfied his heart with
the highest achievement he is fit for. It is only then that he
knows of what he is capable and what his heart demands.
And, assuredly, no thoughtful man ever came to the end
of his life, and had time and a little space of calm from
which to look back upon it, who did not know and
acknowledge that it was what he had done unselfishly
and for others, and nothing else, that satisfied him
in the retrospect, and made him feel that he had played
the man. That alone seems to him the real measure
of himself, the real standard of his manhood.
the burden of others people’s business. Their powers
are put out at interest, and they get usury in kind.
They are like men multiplied. Each counts manifold.
Men who live with an eye only upon what is their own
are dwarfed beside them – seem fractions while
they are integers. The trustworthiness of men trusted
seems often to grow with the trust.
and greatness: it affords them so pleasurable an expansion
of faculty, so large a run for their minds, and exercise of s
pirit so various and refreshing; they have the freedom of
so wide a tract of the world of affairs.
be no unselfish services in it, if its object be only their
personal aggrandizement, their love to see other men tools
in their hands, they go out of the world small, disquieted,
beggared, no enlargement of soul vouchsafed them, no
usury of satisfaction.
They have added nothing to themselves.
knows; but labor for oneself alone is like exercise in a
gymnasium. No healthy man can remain satisfied with it,
or regard it as anything but a preparation for tasks in the
open, amid the affairs of the world – not sport, but business –
where there is no orderly apparatus, and every man must
devise the means by which he is to make the most of himself.
To make the most of himself means the multiplication of
his activities, and he must turn away from himself for that.
catches some intimation of their larger objects, is guided by
the intimation, and presently finds himself part of the
motive force of communities or nations. It makes no
difference how small a part, how insignificant, how
unnoticed. When his powers are begin to play outward,
and he loves the task at hand, not because it gains
him a livelihood, but because it makes him a life,
he has come to himself.
a whip. Its method is compulsion, not love. It has no
thought to make itself attractive; it is content to drive.
Enthusiasm comes with the revelation of true and
satisfying objects of devotion; and it is enthusiasm that
sets the powers free. It is a source of enlightenment.
race and struggle are henceforth toward these. An instance
will point the meaning. One of the most distinguished
and most justly honored of our great philanthropists spent
the major part of his life absolutely absorbed in the making
of money – so it seemed to those who did not know him.
he looked upon his business as a means of support or of
material comfort. Business had become for him an
intellectual pursuit, a study in enterprise and increment.
The field of commerce lay before him like a chess-board;
the moves interested him like the maneuvers of a game.
More money was more power, a greater advantage in
the game, the means of shaping men and events and
markets to his own ends and uses.
It was his will that set fleets afloat and determined the
havens they were bound for; it was his foresight that brought
goods to market at the right time; it was his suggestion that
made the industry of unthinking men efficacious;
his sagacity saw itself justified at home no only, but
at the ends of the earth. And as the money poured in,
his government and mastery increased, and his
minds was the more satisfied. It is so that men make
little kingdoms of themselves, and an international
power undarkened by diplomacy,
undirected by parliaments.
the great organizers and directors of manufacture and
commerce and monetary exchange, are engrossed in a
vulgar pursuit of wealth. Too often they suffer the vulgarity
of wealth to display itself in the idleness and ostentation
of their wives and children, who “devote themselves,”
it may be, “to expense regardless of pleasure”, but we
ought not to misunderstand even that, or condemn it unjustly.
The masters of industry are often too busy with their
own sober and momentous calling to have time or spare
thought enough to govern their own households. A king
may be too faithful a statesman to be a watchful father.
appetite for power has got hold upon them. They are
in love with the exercise of their faculties upon a great
scale; they are organizing and overseeing a great part
of the life of the world. No wonder they are captivated.
Business is more interesting than pleasure, as Mr. Bagehot
said, and once the mind has caught its zest, there’s no
The world has reason to be grateful for the fact.
the man whom the world was afterward to know, not as
a prince among merchants – for the world forgets
merchant princes – but as a prince among benefactors;
for beneficence breeds gratitude, gratitude admiration,
admiration fame, and the world remembers its benefactors.
to him worth while. The first time he was asked to
subscribe money for a benevolent object he declined.
Why should he subscribe? What affair would be set
forward, what increase in efficiency would the money
buy, what return would it bring in? Was good money
to be simply given away, like water poured on a
barren soil, to be sucked up and yield nothing?
on its sensible, systematic, practical and really helpful side,
explained it to him as an investment that his mind took
hold of it and turned to it for satisfaction. He began to
see that education was a thing of infinite usury; that
money devoted to it would yield a singular increase to
which there was no calculable end, an increase in
perpetuity – increase in knowledge, and therefore
of intelligence and efficiency, touching generation after
generation with new impulses, adding to the sum total
of the world’s fitness for affairs – an invisible but intensely
real spiritual usury beyond reckoning, because
compounded in an unknown ratio from age to age.
Henceforward beneficence was as interesting to him
as business – was, indeed, a sort of sublimated business
in which money moved new forces in a commerce which
no man could bind or limit.
the true and clear perception of what it was his mind
demanded for its satisfaction. His faculties were constantly
stretched to their right measure, were at last exercised
at their best. He felt the keen zest, not of success merely,
but also of honor, and was raised to a sort of majesty
among his fellow-men, who attended him in death
like a dead sovereign. He had died dwarfed had he not
broken the bonds of mere money-getting; would never
have known himself had he not learned how to spend it;
and ambition itself could not have shown him
a straighter road to fame.
way in which his faculties are to be made to fit into the
world’s affairs, and released for effort in a way that
will bring real satisfaction. There is a negative side also.
Men come to themselves by discovering their limitations
no less than by discovering their deeper endowments and
the mastery that will make them happy. It is the discovery
of what they can not do, and ought not to attempt,
that transforms reformers into statesmen; and great should
be the joy of the world over every reformer
who comes to himself.
The practicality of every reform is determined absolutely
and always by “the circumstances of the case,” and only
those who put themselves into the midst of affairs, either
by action or by observation, can know what the
circumstances are or perceive what they signify.
he knows that it does not follow that because a point of morals
or of policy is obvious to him it will be obvious to the nation,
or even to his friends; and it is the strength of a democratic
polity that there are so many minds to be consulted and
brought to agreement , and that nothing can be wisely done
for which the thought, of the country, its sentiment and its
purpose, have not been prepared.
by ties of interest, hope, affection, subject to authorities,
to opinion, to passion, to visions and desires which no man
can reckon, he casts eagerly about to find where he may
enter in with the rest and be a man among his fellows.
In making his place he finds, if he seeks intelligently and
with eyes that see, more than ease of spirit and scope for
his mind. He finds himself – as if mists had cleared away
about him and he knew at last his neighborhood among
men and tasks.
himself so long as he imagines it to lie in self-indulgence,
so long as he deems himself the center and object of
effort. His mind is spent in vain upon itself. Not in
action itself, not in “pleasure,” shall it find its desires
satisfied, but in consciousness of right, of powers greatly
and nobly spent. It comes to know itself in the motives
which satisfy it, in the zest and power of rectitude.
not as a philosophy of altruism, but by its revelation of the
power or pure and unselfish love. Its vital principle is not
its code, but its motive. Love, clear-sighted, loyal,
personal, is its breath and immortality.
Christ came, not to save Himself, assuredly, but to
save the world. His motive, His example, are every
man’s key to his own gifts and happiness. The ethical
code he taught may no doubt be matched, here a piece
and there a piece, out of other religious, other teachings
and philosophies. Every thoughtful man born with a
conscience must know a code of right and of pity to
which he ought to conform; but without the motive of
Christianity, without love, he may be the purest altruist
and yet be as sad and as unsatisfied as Marcus Aurelius.
of right living, the secret of social and of individual well-being;
for the two are not separable, and the man who receives
and verifies that secret in his own living has discovered
not only the best and only was to serve the world, but
also the one happy way to satisfy himself.
Then, indeed, he has come to himself.
spiritual air they breathe, what ardors of service clear
them of lethargy, relieve them of all sense of effort, put
them at their best. After this fretfulness passes away,
experience mellows and strengthens and makes more
fit, and old age brings, not senility, not satiety, not regret,
but higher hope and serene maturity.”
Harper & Brothers, 1901, pp. 1-38)
©2006 Cape Fear Historical Institute