I have lately had the pleasure to read some of John Paul Jones’s correspondence during the American Revolution. It was a surprise to me how many notables he communicated with—not just with his political superiors, but with Benjamin Franklin, the King of France, Lafayette, and many others.Continue reading
In studying the writings of scholars of ages past, one often begins to suspect that they were aware of more things than we generally give them credit for. We begin to understand that the progress of knowledge is not always “upwards” in a steadily sloping straight line; there are periods of setbacks, stagnation, and decay. And very often we perceive that men of great ability can be trapped in environments that are hostile to the development of their talents.
One feature of great men is that they generally know how to handle themselves in a variety of situations. They tend to be flexible and agile; they will know when to scold, when to chastise, when to use the velvet glove, and when to use the hammer. Only the experience of life can impart this kind of wisdom. But we can at least prepare ourselves in some ways. One of these ways is to read the letters of such men. See how they interact with their peers. Study how they solve various problems or issues that fall on their desks. You will spend a good part of your life “putting out fires” at work and at home, so you might as well learn from the masters.