Biography of Orison Swett Marden

Dr. Orison Swett Marden (1848–1924) was an American inspirational author who wrote about achieving success in life and founded SUCCESS magazine in 1897. His writings discuss common-sense principles and virtues that make for a well-rounded, successful life. Many of his ideas are based on New Thought philosophy.

His first book, Pushing to the Front (1894), became an instant best-seller. Marden later published fifty or more books and booklets, averaging two titles per year.


The "Bound Out" Orphan

Marden was born 11 June 1848 in Thornton Gore, New Hampshire, to Lewis and Martha Marden. When he was three years old, his mother died at the age of 22, leaving Orison and his two sisters in the care of their father, who was a farmer, hunter, and trapper. When Orison was seven years old, his father died from injuries incurred while in the woods. Consequently, the children were shuttled from one guardian to another, with Orison working for five successive families as a "hired boy" to earn his keep.During his early to mid-teens, Marden discovered a book entitled Self-Help by Scottish author Samuel Smiles in an attic. The book marked a turning point in his life, inspiring him to improve himself and his circumstances. Marden valued the book as if it were "worth its weight in diamonds" and virtually committed its contents to memory. He developed a deep respect and admiration for the author, whose work instilled in him a desire to inspire others as Samuel Smiles had done for him.Marden's young manhood was marked by remarkable energy and unbroken achievement. By his early thirties, he had earned his academic degrees in science, arts, medicine and law. During his college years he supported himself by working in a hotel and afterward by becoming the owner of several hotels and a resort. He remained a successful hotel owner till his early forties (see "Timeline" for dates and other details).

Pushing to the Front (1894)

At age 44, Marden switched careers to professional authorship. It was a bold decision to which he had given careful thought, having suffered repeated business reversals and a hotel fire. His fervent sense of idealism along with an urgent sense of "now or never" in middle life spurred him onward in his new goal.

Margaret Connolly, a contemporary who worked for Marden's publishing firm in the early 1900s, describes the incident of the hotel fire, his narrow escape from death, and the loss of his original manuscript, which he later re-wrote and entitled Pushing to the Front. Marden's unwavering determination to start from scratch after this devastating loss was characteristic of the man and his writings. Connolly writes:

Over five thousand pages of manuscripts – the fruit of all the spare time he had been able to snatch from nearly fifteen crowded years of business life – had gone up in smoke...Having nothing but his nightshirt on when he escaped from the fire, he went down the street to provide himself with necessary clothing. As soon as this had been attended to, he bought a twenty-five-cent notebook, and, while the ruins of the hotel were still smoking, began to rewrite from memory the manuscript of his dream book.Overwhelmed and heartbroken, Marden picked himself up and started all over again. With little money, but with much time on his hands, he decided to rewrite the manuscript. He took a train for Boston, boarded an inexpensive little room, and threw himself energetically into his work. In a short time, he finished writing not only his dream book - Pushing to the Front - but also a second book, Architects of Fate. He then made three manuscripts of Pushing to the Front and submitted them to three Boston publishing firms for approval. All three firms wanted to publish the book upon a first reading of the manuscript. Ultimately, it was published by Houghton, Mifflin & Company (Boston) and presented to the public on December 1, 1894.Pushing to the Front (1894) became the single greatest runaway classic in the history of personal development books at that time. American presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt, as well as England's Prime Minister William Gladstone, praised the book. People like Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Harvey Firestone and J. P. Morgan cited it as inspiration. In summing up the scope and impact of Marden's first literary effort, Connolly states that "[t]wo hundred and fifty editions of Pushing to the Front have so far [in 1925] been published in this country alone. It is known and read in practically every country in the world." Marden went on to write 50 or more books and booklets during his career. Each of his books has produced dozens of famous quotes, and he is considered the base and inspiration of dozens of modern authors of self-help and motivation.

Success Magazine (1897)

Founded in 1897, Marden's Success magazine eventually grew to a circulation of about half a million subscribers. The publication had its own building and printing plant in New York and was backed by a workforce of two hundred or more employees. For his magazine, Marden wrote articles that focused on self-culture, personal development and principles of success. Other articles featured personal interviews of successful men and women. Notable public figures included the late president Teddy Roosevelt, the poet Julia Ward Howe, inventors Thomas Alva Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, and leading industrialists such as John D. Rockefeller and Andrew Carnegie. Over fifty of these interviews were later compiled into book form. The magazine is still published today by Dallas-based SUCCESS Partners.Marden served as editor-in-chief in supervising the publication of the Consolidated Encyclopedic Library (1903, 1906, 1907), a collaborative work of nineteen volumes written for the benefit of the general public and young people in particular. He was also a regular contributor to Elizabeth Towne's New Thought magazine, Nautilus, during the first two decades of the twentieth century. During this time he served as the first president of the early New York City-based New Thought organization League for the Larger Life.


Note: Information condensed from Margaret Connolly's The Life Story of Orison Swett Marden (1925) and Wende Marden Sinnaeve's Out of the Ashes - The Life Story of Orison Swett Marden (2004). Those marked with an asterisk are plausible approximates where no exact year was found. Events where no approximate year can be ascertained are marked (--).

Philosophy and style


In addition to Samuel Smiles, Marden cited as influences on his thinking the works of Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. and Ralph Waldo Emerson, both of whom were influential forerunners of what, by the 1890s, was called the New Thought Movement.

Like many proponents of the New Thought philosophy, Marden believed that our thoughts influence our lives and our life circumstances. He said, "We make the world we live in and shape our own environment." Yet although he is best known for his books on financial success, he always emphasized that this would come as a result of cultivating one's personal development: "The golden opportunity you are seeking is in yourself. It is not in your environment; it is not in luck or chance, or the help of others; it is in yourself alone."

Literary style

Marden wrote in an energetic and readable style that used simple, yet lucid vocabulary. He favored the "bold headline" approach and presented his ideas with brevity, directness and clarity. It was perhaps owing to his business background that he could pack so much "punch" into a mere few words. He also carried a distinctive American tone and syntax that modern readers may easily relate to.

Among the many subjects to be found in his writings, perhaps his strongest were in business, salesmanship and the art of balanced living. Other interests include literature, history, philosophy, biography, fine art, education, psychology, and physical health. Like Samuel Smiles, he expounded upon many of the virtues that make up success, such as self-reliance, perseverance, and hard work. His writings breathe a spirit of "lofty austerity" and focus on themes of adversity and triumph, defeat and victory, failure and success.”Marden often kept his writings simple, concrete, and grounded in reality. Indeed, he advises young writers to "Live, Then Write" and to "Keep Close to Life." Yet along with this simplicity, his writings also displayed a remarkable talent for rhetorical flight. Marden made frequent use of metaphors and similes in conveying ethical principles and moral lessons. Objects or scenes observable in nature such as rocks, marbles, streams, trees, snows, and tempests imparted a sublime, poetic depth to his writing:

The frost, the snows, the tempests, the lightnings, are the rough teachers that bring the tiny acorn to the sturdy oak...Obstacles, hardships are the chisel and mallet which shape the strong life into beauty.

Lincoln's resolution

Some of Marden's most popular books are charged with the adrenaline rush of excitement in its opening chapters. In these passages, the reader could feel the author's intensity of inspiration, if only vicariously.

Marden's book He Can Who Thinks He Can, for example, opens with a simple quote from Abraham Lincoln's diary. The quote gives us some insight into the mind of a great man and the invisible power that sustained him during a time of great crisis. One could not read Marden's profound analysis and remain unimpressed by Lincoln's faith and resolution:

“I promised my God I would do it."In September, 1862, when Lincoln issued his preliminary emancipation proclamation, the sublimest act of the nineteenth century, he made this entry in his diary: "I promised my God I would do it."Does anyone doubt that such a mighty resolution added power to this marvelous man; or that it nerved him to accomplish what he had undertaken? Neither ridicule nor caricature, neither dread of enemies nor desertion of friends, could shake his indomitable faith in his ability to lead the nation through the greatest struggle in its history.



External links

Vida, Obra y Libros usados de Orison Swett Marden

Books by Orison Swett Marden

Works by Orison Swett Marden at Project Gutenberg

Works by or about Orison Swett Marden at Internet Archive

Works by Orison Swett Marden at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)

Works by Orison Swett Marden at Sun Books

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