My dear young friend,
From what I can gather from your last letter, I should render you my
heartiest congratulations. I am not sure what manner of elevation this is, but
it is evident that you have longed for it. It is also evident that you consider
it the result of your own hard work, and that is always to be commended.
May an old man put in a word here? You have worked through failure; now you
must learn to deal with success. It brings its own difficulties, often the worse
because we are not prepared for them.
First, you must know that success, like failure, is fleeting. Today’s grand
news is tomorrow’s empty wind. Success, by its very nature, demands more of
you. You will soon be working hard again, thinking of the next elevation.
Success and failure are imposters – both. They are things of this world;
temporary. What does it matter if you are a beggar, when you understand divine
mysteries? What profit is it to be a king, if you are a pagan? So these things
must be taken in hand. Success, like money, is a good servant but a cruel
Indeed, success is more dangerous to the soul than is failure. For it breeds
the confidence that says, “I know how to deal with this.” Indeed, perhaps
your method worked this once. But your right method now may be the wrong method
later. If your success blinds you to new ways of accomplishment, have you really
There is also the danger of the closed mind. Having triumphed, you may
conclude you have no more to learn. No scholar would make that mistake, but a
man of the affairs of this world might. To cease to learn is to wither from the
neck up. (When you get older, this is cured by having grandchildren.)
Worst of all is the danger of pride. Your success may cause you to look down
upon those about you. You may conclude, like the gladiator, that the vanquished
do not deserve to live. Thus does pride corrupt the heart; I have seen this with
my own eyes.
This is why the church teaches the virtue of humility. Humility teaches that
only God knows the way which is perfect. Humility teaches that one always has
something of profit to learn. Humility is the great defense against pride.
If you would master yourself, young friend, master this success. Such mastery
will be a greater success, for in your elevation you have mastered the world. In
humility you master yourself.
Having achieved my altitude, I remain,
Isaac the alchemist