Mission Statement:

"To advance through research, education and symposia, an increased public awareness of the Cape Fear region's unique history."

Woodrow Wilson

"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.

Wilson’s father, Rev. Joseph Ruggles Wilson, later

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.

Woodrow’s grandfather, James Wilson, arrived in

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.

It was the blood of such forebears that ran in the

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.”

When a Man Comes to Himself:

Chapter I:
“It is a very wholesome and regenerating change which a

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.

It is a process of disillusionment. The scales have fallen

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.

He has learned his own paces, or, at any rate, is in a fair

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.

It brings him into a light which guides instead of deceiving

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.

Chapter II:
There is no fixed time in a man’s life at which he comes

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.

We speak often of amusement, sometimes with distaste

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.

If they be serious men, and real forces in the world, we

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.

If they be frivolous, light-headed, men without purpose

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.

It is enough to know that there are some laws which

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.

There is nothing else upon which he can spend his spirit –

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.

Adjustment is exactly what a man gains when he comes

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.

A college man feels the first shock of it at graduation,

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.

He finds a new sort of fitness demanded of him, executive,

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.

Presently, if he be made of stuff that will shake into

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.

The same thing happens to the lad come from the farm

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.

Mr. Bagehot used to say that a bachelor was “an amateur in life,”

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.

Men have come to themselves serving their mothers

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.

Chapter III:
Surely a man has come to himself only when he has found

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.

And so men grow by having responsibility laid upon them,

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.

It is for this reason that men are in love with power

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.

But if they use power only for their own ends, if there

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.

Mental and physical powers alike grow by use, as everyone

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.

He looks about him, studies the face of business or of affairs,

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.

Necessity is no mother to enthusiasm. Necessity carries

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.

It shines straight upon ideals, and for those who see it the

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.

In fact, he had very early passed the stage at which

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.

Chapter IV:
It is a mistake to suppose that the great captains of industry,

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.

These men are not fascinated by the glitter of gold: the

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

disengaging it.

The world has reason to be grateful for the fact.

It was fascination that had got hold upon the faculties of

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.

Business, and business alone, interested him, or seemed

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?

It was not until men who understood benevolence

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.

He had come to himself – to the full realization of his powers,

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.

This is the positive side of a man’s discovery of the

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 spectacle is not rare; the method is not hidden.

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.

No statesman dreams of doing whatever he pleases;

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.

Social reform is a matter of cooperation, and, if it be of a novel kind, requires an infinite deal of converting to bring the efficient majority to believe in it and support it. Without their agreement and support it is impossible.

Chapter V: Not included.

Chapter VI: (excerpted)
In the midst of men organized, infinitely cross-related, bounds

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.

What every man seeks is satisfaction. He deceives

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.

Christianity has liberated the world, not as a system of ethics,

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.

Christianity gave us, in the fullness of time, the perfect image

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.

Henceforth he knows what his powers mean, what

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.”

The End

(When a Man Comes to Himself, Woodrow Wilson,

Harper & Brothers, 1901, pp. 1-38)