I hold that every man should, like Cuvier, the French naturalist, thoroughly know his business. So proficient was he in the study of natural history, that you might bring to him the bone, or even a section of a bone of an animal which he had never seen described, and, reasoning from analogy, he would be able to draw a picture of the object from which the bone had been taken. On one occasion his students attempted to deceive him. They rolled one of their number in a cow skin and put him under the professor’s table as a new specimen. When the philosopher came into the room, some of the students asked him what animal it was. Suddenly the animal said “I am the devil and I am going to eat you.” It was but natural that Cuvier should desire to classify this creature, and examining it intently, he said:
“Divided hoof; graminivorous! It cannot be done.”
He knew that an animal with a split hoof must live upon grass and grain, or other kind of vegetation, and would not be inclined to eat flesh, dead or alive, so he considered himself perfectly safe. The possession of a perfect knowledge of your business is an absolute necessity in order to insure success.
Among the maxims of the elder Rothschild was one, all apparent paradox: “Be cautious and bold.” This seems to be a contradiction in terms, but it is not, and there is great wisdom in the maxim. It is, in fact, a condensed statement of what I have already said. It is to say; “you must exercise your caution in laying your plans, but be bold in carrying them out.” A man who is all caution, will never dare to take hold and be successful; and a man who is all boldness, is merely reckless, and must eventually fail. A man may go on “‘change” and make fifty, or one hundred thousand dollars in speculating in stocks, at a single operation. But if he has simple boldness without caution, it is mere chance, and what he gains to-day he will lose to-morrow. You must have both the caution and the boldness, to insure success.
The Rothschilds have another maxim: “Never have anything to do with an unlucky man or place.” That is to say, never have anything to do with a man or place which never succeeds, because, although a man may appear to be honest and intelligent, yet if he tries this or that thing and always fails, it is on account of some fault or infirmity that you may not be able to discover but nevertheless which must exist.
There is no such thing in the world as luck. There never was a man who could go out in the morning and find a purse full of gold in the street to-day, and another to-morrow, and so on, day after day: He may do so once in his life; but so far as mere luck is concerned, he is as liable to lose it as to find it. “Like causes produce like effects.” If a man adopts the proper methods to be successful, “luck” will not prevent him. If he does not succeed, there are reasons for it, although, perhaps, he may not be able to see them.
From PT Barnum’s The Art of Money Getting or, Golden Rules for Making Money (1880)