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The School of Difficulty : It is not educational institutions and methods that advance science or the arts, but people.
The School of Difficulty

From ‘Self-Help’ by Samuel Smiles (1812-1904).

Holding a degree or some other officially-recognised paper qualification is not really a guarantee of very much; as Samuel Smiles repeatedly observed, there is no substitute for hands-on experience, the quirks of an interesting personality, and sheer determination.

MEN who are resolved to find a way for themselves, will always find opportunities enough; and if they do not lie ready to their hand, they will make them. It is not those who have enjoyed the advantages of colleges, museums, and public galleries, that have accomplished the most for science and art; nor have the greatest mechanics and inventors been trained in mechanics’ institutes.

Necessity, oftener than facility, has been the mother of invention; and the most prolific school of all has been the school of difficulty. Some of the very best workmen have had the most indifferent tools to work with. But it is not tools that make the workman, but the trained skill and perseverance of the man himself. Indeed it is proverbial that the bad workman never yet had a good tool. Someone asked Opie by what wonderful process he mixed his colours. “I mix them with my brains, sir,” was his reply.*

* John Opie (1761-1807) was a Cornish historical and portrait painter, who painted several members of the court of King George III, and other noted figures of his day. His wife Amelia was a popular novelist and a vocal campaigner against slavery.

From ‘Self-Help’ by Samuel Smiles (1812-1904).

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Picture: From a self-protrait by John Opie, via Wikimedia Commons. Licence: Public domain. View original
A self-portrait by John Opie (1761-1807). Opie was born in Travellas, Cornwall, and apprenticed in a sawmill. A local doctor, the satirist John Wolcot (‘Peter Pindar’), brought him to London where he was championed by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Opie had to work hard to fit into London’s peculiarly metropolitan ways, and to keep up with fickle fashions and tastes in the commercial art world.
By Samuel Smiles

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