The act of going about to solicit or obtain an office, or any other object of desire. An eager and sometimes an inordinate desire of preferment, honor, superiority, or power. Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition. By that sin fell the angels. (Shakespeare) — Webster, 1882
Ambition – Overpowering desire to do the thing other people want to do, and to do it first and hardest in this age usually possessed by men who treat life as the small boy treats the dime to spend for a purse to keep it in.” — From Rose Wilder Lane’s “A Decanted Dictionary” column in the Kansas City Post, January 26, 1915.
A piece titled “Ambition” is said to have been Laura Ingalls’ first composition, written for teacher V.S.L. Owen in De Smet. Laura kept the composition her whole life; it is now on display at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Historic Home & Museum in Mansfield, Missouri. Text is below, preserving Laura’s spelling and punctuation.
Ambition is, like other good things a good [thing] only when used in moderation. It has worked great good for the world, and great evil also. Alexander is an example of a man completely carried away by ambition so much so that when he had conquered the whole world (which one would suppose was enough to satisfy ambition); he wept because there was no more worlds to conquer.
Ambition is a good servant but a bad master, and if you think it is likely to become your master: I would say to you in the words of the immortal Shakespeare:- ‘Cromwell I charge thee fling away ambition. By that sin fell the angels.” Laura Ingalls
In These Happy Golden Years (Chapter 12, “East or West, Home is Best”), Wilder wrote that her composition “was mostly from the dictionary,” and, in the definition above, taken from the edition of Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary used in the De Smet schoolhouse, one can clearly see Laura’s inspiration.
Both the original composition – and the one found in the surviving manuscript for These Happy Golden Years – differ slightly from the one found in the published book. The manuscript composition reads:
Ambition is necessary to the accomplishment of anything. Without an ambition to gain an end nothing would be done. With no ambition to excel there would be no superior merit. To win anything we must have the ambition to do so.
Ambition is a good servant but a bad master. So long as we control our ambition it is good but if there is danger of our being ruled by it, then I would say in the words of Shakespeare, ‘Cromwell I charge thee fling away ambition. By that sin fell the angels.
What Laura quoted comes from William Shakespeare’s King Henry VIII, Act 3, Scene 2:
Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition: By that sin fell the angels; how can man, then, The image of his Maker, hope to win by it? Love thyself last: Cherish those hearts that hate thee; Corruption wins not more than honesty. Still in thy right hand carry gentle peace, To silence envious tongues. Be just, and fear not: Let all the ends thou aim’st at be thy country’s, Thy God’s, and truth’s; Then if thou fall’st, O Cromwell, Thou fall’st a blessed martyr! Serve the king; And,-prithee, lead me in: There take an inventory of all I have, To the last penny; ’tis the king’s: my robe, And my integrity to heaven, is all I dare now call mine own. O Cromwell, Cromwell! Had I but served my God with half the zeal I served my king, he would not in mine age Have left me naked to mine enemies.
ambition (THGY 12, PG), see also composition