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The Golden Key


Bind together your spare hours by the cord of some definite purpose and you know not how much you may accomplish. A man is commonly either made or marred for life by the use he makes of his leisure time.

The Other Man, though I did not know him, began to talk about the scenery from the car window. It is surprising, he said, what changes have taken place here. Yesterday I was across the river in Kentucky, and picked up this in a cutting that is being made for a new trolley line.

It was a bit of stone.

These rough spots, like spirals, were once shell fish. Such specimens are to be found here abouts in great quantities. And this, turning to the other side, is, as you see, a perfect shell as large as an oyster, though it is not an oyster. Curiously interesting, is it not? Does your professional work lead you to study these things? I asked him.

No, he said, I'm not a professional man. I am in the soap business, but I travel a great deal, and everything I see interests me. Take, for instance, the wild flowers along the railway. It has taken me years to learn their names, hab its and places of growth, for I have not much time to think about them. But I know a hun dred or more, and they are like a lot of good friends to me.

Well, I said, you must have a special talent for this sort of thing. It probably comes easy to you, and you like to think about it.

You are about ten per cent right, and ninety wrong. I do like to learn, that is all there is to it. As for its coming easy to me, nothing I have ever learned came easy. It is hard for me to get hold of new words and new facts. I can sell soap, and I can sell it easily ; that is my business, though in the beginning it was as great a mystery to me as this shell. But I did not let it remain a mystery. There is a lot to be learned about everything in this world ; even the soap business.

I recalled Sydney Smith's remark that he never met a man in his life who failed to in terest him, and I concluded that this soap man must have built up an interesting philosophy of life. I guessed it to be a simple philosophy, for he appeared a simple and entirely natural man. So I ventured another question :

Then, if learning about plants and fossils is difficult to you, why burden yourself with the doing of it? Is the soap business not good ? Yes, he said, the soap business is fine. You must remember that every time a piece of soap is used, it becomes smaller; which means that the person using it is just that much nearer having to buy another piece. That helps a great deal in our business. But there is a lot more to it than waiting for the piece to be worn thin.

However, I am not going to try to sell you soap. I prefer to tell you why I burden myself, as you put it, with fossils and plants, and I will add, trees and shrubs, insects and birds, and anything else that has life, or ever had it.

I believe the universe to be a great mystery. It is a mystery to me, at all events. I long ago made up my mind that in a lifetime a man can not penetrate very far into this mystery. But I also made up my mind that the mystery is here to be penetrated. The mass of things about us, called environment, and the knowledge one can get from everything, appear to me to be like a series of rooms, each one locked, but easily opened if you find the key.

I used to be discouraged with my progress in business, until I learned that appearing to be busy did no good. The great secret of all learning and of all success, as far as I can see, is never to be lazy in mind. That helped me a lot when I first thought of it, and I deter mined to get out of the "leisure moments" business. It is a bad proposition.

I travel a good deal, and I call my travel hours my college education. If I have business to think over, or write up, I do it first. If any time is left, I study the country out of doors, or the book in my bag. If anything comes before me that I want to know, I make a note of it, and some day I find out about it : for I believe that the unknown thing comes to my attention because it is good for me. It comes to me. Hence it is mine, and I do not run away from it.

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business, soap, man, mystery and time