The Nobility of Labor
March 1972

“The Nobility of Labor,” Ensign, Mar. 1972, 67

Classics in Mormon Thought

The Nobility of Labor

Heber J. Grant, seventh president of the Church, was born November 22, 1856, in Salt Lake City, a son of Jedediah Morgan and Rachel Ridgeway Ivins Grant. He was ordained an apostle on October 16, 1882, and on November 23, 1918, he was sustained as president of the Church.

The life of President Grant is filled with valuable lessons parents can use to help teach their children important virtues. In the following article, written for the Improvement Era in 1899, President Grant tells a few of them.

President Heber J. Grant

I have endeavored [always] to impress upon the minds of the youth the necessity of their working to the extent of their ability; and also while so laboring never to become disheartened.

The Marchioness de Lambert has said: “There is nothing so improper for a young man as that modesty which makes him fancy he is not capable of great things. That modesty is a faintness of soul which hinders it from exerting itself. There is a superior genius and merit in some persons that tells them nothing is impossible to them.”

“Arise therefore, and be doing, and the Lord be with thee.” (1 Chr. 22:16.)

“To do that which before us lies in daily life is the prime wisdom.”

“He that loseth wealth, loseth much; he that loseth friends loseth more; but he that loseth his spirit, loseth all.” (Cervantes.)

“Dream, oh youth! Dream nobly and manfully, and thy dreams shall be thy prophets.” (Lord Bulwer Lytton.)

If the readers of the Era will learn by heart the above quotations, and make these sentiments the rule of their lives, this action will be worth more to them, many times over, than the cost of a year’s subscription.

I have found nothing in the battle of life that has been of more value to me than to perform the duty of today to the best of my ability; and I know that where young men do this, they will be better prepared for the labors of tomorrow. …

When [I was] a youth, attending school, a man was pointed out to me who kept books in Wells, Fargo & Co’s. Bank, in Salt Lake City, and it was said that he received a salary of one hundred and fifty dollars a month. Well do I remember figuring that he was earning six dollars a day, Sundays omitted, which seemed to me an enormous amount. Although I had not yet read the inspiring words of Lord Bulwer Lytton, quoted above, yet I dreamed of being a bookkeeper, and of working for Wells, Fargo & Co., and immediately joined the bookkeeping class in the Deseret University in the hope some day of earning what I thought at that time to be an immense salary.

I quote with pleasure once more from Lord Bulwer Lytton: “What man wants is not talent, it is purpose; not power to achieve, but the will to labor.”

Samuel Smiles has said: “Purposes, like eggs, unless they are hatched into action, will run into decay.”

Lord Lytton took it for granted undoubtedly that where a youth dreamed nobly and manfully, it would inspire him to have a purpose in life, and to “hatch the same into action,” and not allow it to “run into decay.” Having purposed to become a bookkeeper, I immediately set to work to attain this object. Well do I remember the amusement I furnished my fellow students. One remarked when looking at my books, “What is it; hen tracks?” Another said, “Has lightning struck an ink bottle?”

These remarks and others, while not made to hurt my feelings but in good-natured fun, nevertheless cut deep, and aroused within me a spirit of determination. I resolved to live to set copies for all who attended the university, and to be the teacher of penmanship and bookkeeping in that institution. Having a purpose and also “the will to labor,” and agreeing with Lord Lytton that, “In the bright lexicon of youth there’s no such word as fail,” I commenced to employ my spare time in practicing penmanship, continuing year after year until I was referred to as “the greatest scribbler on earth.”

The result was that some years later, I secured a position as bookkeeper and policy clerk in an insurance office. Although at fifteen, I wrote a very nice hand, and it was all that was needed to satisfactorily fill the position which I then held, yet I was not fully satisfied but continued to dream and “scribble,” when not otherwise occupied. I worked in the front part of A. W. White & Co’s. bank, and, when not busy, volunteered to assist with the bank work, and to do anything and everything I could to employ my time, never thinking whether I was to be paid for it or not, but having only a desire to work and learn.

Mr. Morf, the bookkeeper in the bank, wrote well, and took pains to assist me in my efforts to become proficient as a penman. I learned to write so well that I often earned more before and after office hours by writing cards, invitations, etc., and making maps, than the amount of my regular salary. Some years later, a diploma at the Territorial Fair was awarded me for the finest penmanship in Utah.

When I engaged in business for myself, there was a vacancy at the university in the position of teacher of penmanship and bookkeeping, and to make good the promise to myself, made when a youth of twelve or thirteen, that I would some day teach these branches, I applied for the situation. My application was accepted, and my obligation to myself was thus discharged.

Young men who are laboring in the improvement cause should be true to themselves, and when they resolve to accomplish something, they should labor cheerfully and with a determination until the promise to themselves has become a reality. I cannot possibly impress this lesson too strongly upon the minds of my readers.

If we fall into the habit of making resolves in relation to ourselves, and of constantly breaking them, such a course will tend to make us careless in the fulfillment of promises to others. Young men should always remember the advice which Shakespeare puts into the mouth of the father of Laertes, when the latter was leaving home: “To thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.”

I quote in full one of the lessons from the National Fifth Reader, which made a profound impression on my mind during my school days, and which has never been forgotten:

“Never Despair.”

“There is no trait of human character so potential for weal or woe as firmness. To the business man it is all important. Before its irresistible energy, the most formidable obstacles become as cobweb barriers in its path. Difficulties, the terror of which causes the pampered sons of luxury to shrink back with dismay, provoke from the man of lofty determination only a smile. The whole story of our race—all nature, indeed—teems with examples to show what wonders may be accomplished by resolute perseverance and patient toil.

“It is related of Tamerlane, the celebrated warrior, the terror of whose arms spread through all the eastern nations, and whom victory attended at almost every step, that he once learned from an insect a lesson of perseverance, which had a striking effect upon his future character and success.

“When closely pursued by his enemies—as a contemporary tells the anecdote—he took refuge in some old ruins, where, left to his solitary musings, he espied an ant tugging and striving to carry a single grain of corn. His unavailing efforts were repeated sixty-nine times, and at each time [as] soon as he reached a certain point of projection, he fell back with his burden, unable to surmount it; but the seventieth time he bore away his spoil in triumph, and left the wondering hero reanimated and exulting in the hope of future victory.

“How pregnant the lesson this incident conveys! How many thousand instances there are in which inglorious defeat ends the career of the timid and desponding, when the same tenacity of purpose would crown it with triumphant success! Resolution is almost omnipotent. Sheridan was at first timid and obliged to sit down in the midst of a speech. Convinced of, and mortified at, the cause of his failure, he said one day to a friend, ‘It is in me, and it shall come out.’

“From that moment he arose, and shone, and triumphed in a consummate eloquence. Here was true moral courage. And it was well observed by a heathen moralist, that it is not because things are difficult that we dare not undertake them.

“Be, then, bold in spirit. Indulge no doubts—they are traitors. In the practical pursuit of our high aim, let us never lose sight of it in the slightest instance: for it is more by a disregard of small things than by open and flagrant offenses, that men come short of excellence. There is always a right and a wrong; and if you ever doubt, be sure you take not the wrong. Observe this rule, and every experience will be to you a means of advancement.”

“Never Despair” has been one of the guiding stars of my life, as I have often felt that I could not afford to be outdone by an insect.

At nineteen, I was keeping books and acting as policy clerk for Mr. Henry Wadsworth, the agent of Wells, Fargo & Co. My time was not fully employed. I was not working for the company but for the agent personally. I did the same as I had done in Mr. White’s bank,—volunteered to file a lot of bank letters, etc., and to keep a set of books of the Sandy Smelting Co., which Mr. Wadsworth was doing personally.

To emphasize the truth of the above quotation from 1 Chronicles, I will remark that my action so pleased Mr. Wadsworth that he employed me to do the collecting for Wells, Fargo & Co., and paid me twenty dollars a month for this work in addition to my regular compensation of seventy-five dollars from the insurance business. Thus I was in the employ of Wells, Fargo & Co., and one of my day dreams had become a reality.

When New Year’s eve arrived, I was at the office quite late, writing calling cards. Mr. Wadsworth came in and pleasantly remarked that business was good, that it never rains but it pours, or something to this effect. He referred to my having kept the books of the Sandy Smelting Co. without compensation, and said a number of complimentary things which made me very happy. He then handed me a check for one hundred dollars which doubly compensated me for all my extra labor. The satisfaction enjoyed by me in feeling that I had won the good will and confidence of my employer was worth more to me than twice one hundred dollars.

Every young man who will endeavor to employ all his time, never stopping to count the amount of compensation he is to receive for his services, but rather be inspired with a desire to labor and learn, I promise, will achieve success in the battle of life. …

In 1890–91, earnest efforts were being made to establish the beet-sugar industry in our territory. Because of the financial panic of 1891, many who had subscribed for stock were unable to pay their subscriptions, and I was sent east to secure the funds needed to establish the industry. Having failed in New York and Hartford to obtain all of the money required, I was subsequently sent to San Francisco, where one hundred thousand dollars was secured from Mr. Henry Wadsworth, cashier of Wells, Fargo & Co’s bank in that city. I am confident that my having been faithful when a boy in his employ, at the time he was agent of Wells, Fargo & Co., in Salt Lake City, had some influence in causing him to loan to my associates such a large sum, at a time when there was a great demand for money.

One of the parties who signed bonds with me when I engaged in the insurance business, was Brother Horace S. Eldredge, and as each bond required two signatures, he suggested that I ask Captain William H. Hooper to sign with him. I explained that I knew the Captain only slightly, and feared he would not care to become one of my sureties. Brother Eldredge thought otherwise, so I solicited the Captain’s signature, but he promptly declined. I walked direct to my office and had been there but one or two minutes when a messenger from the Deseret National Bank, where I had just left the Captain, called and said that Mr. Hooper desired to see me. My answer was that I had just seen the Captain and our conversation had been of such a character that I had no particular desire for another interview. The messenger insisted that he had seen the Captain since I had, and I finally concluded, therefore, to call again.

On [my] reaching the bank, the Captain said: “Young man, give me those bonds.” He signed them, and then said, “When you were here a few moments ago, I did not know you. I have met you on the street now and then for a number of years, and have spoken to you, but really did not know you. After you went out, I asked who you were, and learning that you were a son of Jedediah M. Grant, at once sent for you. It gives me pleasure to sign your bonds. I would almost be willing to sign a bond for a son of Brother Jedediah if I knew I would have to pay it. In this case, however, I have no fears of having that to do.”

He related a number of incidents about my father, which showed the Captain’s love for, and confidence in, him. What the Captain told me, filled my heart with gratitude to God for having given to me such a father, and Captain Hooper’s remarks have never been forgotten. They impressed me with a strong desire to so live and labor that my children would be benefited, even after I have passed away from this life, by the record which I shall have made.

The action of Captain Hooper profoundly impressed me with the benefits derived from having a good father. Although my father died when I was a babe nine days old, twenty years after his death I was reaping the benefits of his honesty and faithful labors. The incident referred to above happened twenty-three years ago. Many, many blessings have since come to me because of the honesty and integrity of my father.

While working in the same building with A. W. White & Co. and also Wells, Fargo & Co. (although I was not employed with bank work, except the collecting in the latter bank,) I learned quite well, by assisting the bookkeepers and tellers, the banking business, which knowledge qualified me to accept a situation as acting cashier of Zion’s Savings Bank and Trust Company, during the absence of my predecessor on a mission to Europe. Had I not been willing to sacrifice a portion of my unoccupied time while in White’s and Wells, Fargo’s banks, I would not have been qualified to accept the position in Zion’s Savings Bank.

I maintain that it is the absolute duty of each and every member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to so order his life that his example will be worthy of the imitation of all men, thus bringing credit and blessings to himself and his posterity and also making friends for the work of the Lord, which should be the loftiest ambition of every Latter-day Saint.

Wells, Fargo and Co.’s Bank, Salt Lake City

Rachel Ridgeway Ivins Grant and her son, Heber J.

Heber J. Grant, seventh president of the Church

Jedediah M. Grant, father of Heber J. Grant