Part 4 out of 7
the unrestrained appetite for drink was in his time, as it
continues to be now, the most prevalent, popular, degrading,
Were it possible to conceive the existence of a tyrant who should
compel his people to give up to him one-third or more of their
earnings, and require them at the same time to consume a commodity
that should brutalise and degrade them, destroy the peace and
comfort of their families, and sow in themselves the seeds of
disease and premature death--what indignation meetings, what
monster processions there would be! 'What eloquent speeches and
apostrophes to the spirit of liberty!--what appeals against a
despotism so monstrous and so unnatural! And yet such a tyrant
really exists amongst us--the tyrant of unrestrained appetite,
whom no force of arms, or voices, or votes can resist, while men
are willing to be his slaves.
The power of this tyrant can only be overcome by moral means--by
self-discipline, self-respect, and self-control. There is no
other way of withstanding the despotism of appetite in any of its
forms. No reform of institutions, no extended power of voting, no
improved form of government, no amount of scholastic instruction,
can possibly elevate the character of a people who voluntarily
abandon themselves to sensual indulgence. The pursuit of ignoble
pleasure is the degradation of true happiness; it saps the morals,
destroys the energies, and degrades the manliness and robustness
of individuals as of nations.
The courage of self-control exhibits itself in many ways, but in
none more clearly than in honest living. Men without the virtue
of self-denial are not only subject to their own selfish desires,
but they are usually in bondage to others who are likeminded with
themselves. What others do, they do. They must live according to
the artificial standard of their class, spending like their
neighbours, regardless of the consequences, at the same time that
all are, perhaps, aspiring after a style of living higher than
their means. Each carries the others along with him, and they
have not the moral courage to stop. They cannot resist the
temptation of living high, though it may be at the expense of
others; and they gradually become reckless of debt, until it
enthrals them. In all this there is great moral cowardice,
pusillanimity, and want of manly independence of character.
A rightminded man will shrink from seeming to be what he is not,
or pretending to be richer than he really is, or assuming a style
of living that his circumstances will not justify. He will have
the courage to live honestly within his own means, rather than
dishonestly upon the means of other people; for he who incurs
debts in striving to maintain a style of living beyond his income,
is in spirit as dishonest as the man who openly picks your pocket.
To many, this may seem an extreme view, but it will bear the
strictest test. Living at the cost of others is not only
dishonesty, but it is untruthfulness in deed, as lying is in word.
The proverb of George Herbert, that "debtors are liars," is
justified by experience. Shaftesbury somewhere says that a
restlessness to have something which we have not, and to be
something which we are not, is the root of all immorality. (14) No
reliance is to be placed on the saying--a very dangerous one--of
Mirabeau, that "LA PETITE MORALE ETAIT L'ENNEMIE DE LA GRANDE."
On the contrary, strict adherence to even the smallest details of
morality is the foundation of all manly and noble character.
The honourable man is frugal of his means, and pays his way
honestly. He does not seek to pass himself off as richer than he
is, or, by running into debt, open an account with ruin. As that
man is not poor whose means are small, but whose desires are
uncontrolled, so that man is rich whose means are more than
sufficient for his wants. When Socrates saw a great quantity of
riches, jewels, and furniture of great value, carried in pomp
through Athens, he said, "Now do I see how many things I do NOT
desire." "I can forgive everything but selfishness," said
Perthes. "Even the narrowest circumstances admit of greatness
with reference to 'mine and thine'; and none but the very poorest
need fill their daily life with thoughts of money, if they have
but prudence to arrange their housekeeping within the limits
of their income."
A man may be indifferent to money because of higher
considerations, as Faraday was, who sacrificed wealth to pursue
science; but if he would have the enjoyments that money can
purchase, he must honestly earn it, and not live upon the earnings
of others, as those do who habitually incur debts which they have
no means of paying. When Maginn, always drowned in debt, was
asked what he paid for his wine, he replied that he did not know,
but he believed they "put something down in a book." (15)
This "putting-down in a book" has proved the ruin of a great many
weakminded people, who cannot resist the temptation of taking
things upon credit which they have not the present means of paying
for; and it would probably prove of great social benefit if the
law which enables creditors to recover debts contracted under
certain circumstances were altogether abolished. But, in the
competition for trade, every encouragement is given to the
incurring of debt, the creditor relying upon the law to aid him in
the last extremity. When Sydney Smith once went into a new
neighbourhood, it was given out in the local papers that he was a
man of high connections, and he was besought on all sides for his
"custom." But he speedily undeceived his new neighbours. "We are
not great people at all," he said: "we are only common honest
people--people that pay our debts."
Hazlitt, who was a thoroughly honest though rather thriftless man,
speaks of two classes of persons, not unlike each other--those
who cannot keep their own money in their hands, and those who
cannot keep their hands from other people's. The former are
always in want of money, for they throw it away on any object that
first presents itself, as if to get rid of it; the latter make
away with what they have of their own, and are perpetual borrowers
from all who will lend to them; and their genius for borrowing, in
the long run, usually proves their ruin.
Sheridan was one of such eminent unfortunates. He was impulsive
and careless in his expenditure, borrowing money, and running into
debt with everybody who would trust him. When he stood for
Westminster, his unpopularity arose chiefly from his general
indebtedness. "Numbers of poor people," says Lord Palmerston in
one of his letters, "crowded round the hustings, demanding payment
for the bills he owed them." In the midst of all his
difficulties, Sheridan was as lighthearted as ever, and cracked
many a good joke at his creditors' expense. Lord Palmerston was
actually present at the dinner given by him, at which the
sheriff's in possession were dressed up and officiated as waiters
Yet however loose Sheridan's morality may have been as regarded
his private creditors, he was honest(so far as the public money
was concerned. Once, at dinner, at which Lord Byron happened to
be present, an observation happened to be made as to the
sturdiness of the Whigs in resisting office, and keeping to their
principles--on which Sheridan turned sharply and said: "Sir, it
is easy for my Lord this, or Earl that, or the Marquis of t'other,
with thousands upon thousands a year, some of it either presently
derived or inherited in sinecure or acquisitions from the public
money, to boast of their patriotism, and keep aloof from
temptation; but they do not know from what temptation those have
kept aloof who had equal pride, at least equal talents, and not
unequal passions, and nevertheless knew not, in the course of
their lives, what it was to have a shilling of their own." And
Lord Byron adds, that, in saying this, Sheridan wept. (16)
The tone of public morality in money-matters was very low in those
days. Political peculation was not thought discreditable; and
heads of parties did not hesitate to secure the adhesion of their
followers by a free use of the public money. They were generous,
but at the expense of others--like that great local magnate, who,
"Out of his great bounty,
Built a bridge at the expense of the county."
When Lord Cornwallis was appointed Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, he
pressed upon Colonel Napier, the father of THE Napiers, the
comptrollership of army accounts. "I want," said his Lordship,
"AN HONEST MAN, and this is the only thing I have been able to
wrest from the harpies around me."
It is said that Lord Chatham was the first to set the example of
disdaining to govern by petty larceny; and his great son was alike
honest in his administration. While millions of money were
passing through Pitt's hands, he himself was never otherwise than
poor; and he died poor. Of all his rancorous libellers, not one
ever ventured to call in question his honesty.
In former times, the profits of office were sometimes enormous.
When Audley, the famous annuity-monger of the sixteenth century,
was asked the value of an office which he had purchased in the
Court of Wards, he replied:- "Some thousands to any one who wishes
to get to heaven immediately; twice as much to him who does not
mind being in purgatory; and nobody knows what to him who is not
afraid of the devil."
Sir Walter Scott was a man who was honest to the core of his
nature and his strenuous and determined efforts to pay his debts,
or rather the debts of the firm with which he had become involved,
has always appeared to us one of the grandest things in biography.
When his publisher and printer broke down, ruin seemed to stare
him in the face. There was no want of sympathy for him in his
great misfortune, and friends came forward who offered to raise
money enough to enable him to arrange with his creditors. "No!
"said he, proudly; "this right hand shall work it all off!" "If
we lose everything else," he wrote to a friend, "we will at least
keep our honour unblemished." (17) While his health was already
becoming undermined by overwork, he went on "writing like a
tiger," as he himself expressed it, until no longer able to wield
a pen; and though he paid the penalty of his supreme efforts with
his life, he nevertheless saved his honour and his self-respect.
Everybody knows bow Scott threw off 'Woodstock,' the 'Life of
Napoleon' (which he thought would be his death (18)), articles for
the 'Quarterly,' 'Chronicles of the Canongate,' 'Prose
Miscellanies,' and 'Tales of a Grandfather'--all written in the
midst of pain, sorrow, and ruin. The proceeds of those various
works went to his creditors. "I could not have slept sound," he
wrote, "as I now can, under the comfortable impression of
receiving the thanks of my creditors, and the conscious feeling of
discharging my duty as a man of honour and honesty. I see before
me a long, tedious, and dark path, but it leads to stainless
reputation. If I die in the harrows, as is very likely, I shall
die with honour. If I achieve my task, I shall have the thanks of
all concerned, and the approbation of my own conscience." (19)
And then followed more articles, memoirs, and even sermons--'The
Fair Maid of Perth,' a completely revised edition of his novels,
'Anne of Geierstein,' and more 'Tales of a Grandfather'--until he
was suddenly struck down by paralysis. But he had no sooner
recovered sufficient strength to be able to hold a pen, than we
find him again at his desk writing the 'Letters on Demonology and
Witchcraft,' a volume of Scottish History for 'Lardner's
Cyclopaedia,' and a fourth series of 'Tales of a Grandfather' in
his French History. In vain his doctors told him to give up work;
he would not be dissuaded. "As for bidding me not work," he said
to Dr. Abercrombie, "Molly might just as well put the kettle on
the fire and say, 'Now, kettle, don't boil;'" to which he added,
"If I were to be idle I should go mad!"
By means of the profits realised by these tremendous efforts,
Scott saw his debts in course of rapid diminution, and he trusted
that, after a few more years' work, he would again be a free man.
But it was not to be. He went on turning out such works as his
'Count Robert of Paris' with greatly impaired skill, until he was
prostrated by another and severer attack of palsy. He now felt
that the plough was nearing the end of the furrow; his physical
strength was gone; he was "not quite himself in all things," and
yet his courage and perseverance never failed. "I have suffered
terribly," he wrote in his Diary, "though rather in body than in
mind, and I often wish I could lie down and sleep without waking.
But I WILL FIGHT IT OUT IF I CAN." He again recovered
sufficiently to be able to write 'Castle Dangerous,' though the
cunning of the workman's hand had departed. And then there was
his last tour to Italy in search of rest and health, during which,
while at Naples, in spite of all remonstrances, he gave several
hours every morning to the composition of a new novel, which,
however, has not seen the light.
Scott returned to Abbotsford to die. "I have seen much," he said
on his return, "but nothing like my own house--give me one turn
more." One of the last things he uttered, in one of his lucid
intervals, was worthy of him. "I have been," he said, "perhaps
the most voluminous author of my day, and it IS a comfort to me to
think that I have tried to unsettle no man's faith, to corrupt no
man's principles, and that I have written nothing which on my
deathbed I should wish blotted out." His last injunction to his
son-in-law was: "Lockhart, I may have but a minute to speak to
you. My dear, be virtuous--be religious--be a good man.
Nothing else will give you any comfort when you come to lie here."
The devoted conduct of Lockhart himself was worthy of his great
relative. The 'Life of Scott,' which he afterwards wrote,
occupied him several years, and was a remarkably successful work.
Yet he himself derived no pecuniary advantage from it; handing
over the profits of the whole undertaking to Sir Walter's
creditors in payment of debts which he was in no way responsible,
but influenced entirely by a spirit of honour, of regard for the
memory of the illustrious dead.
(1) 'Social Statics,' p. 185.
(2) "In all cases," says Jeremy Bentham, "when the power of the will
can be exercised over the thoughts, let those thoughts be directed
towards happiness. Look out for the bright, for the brightest
side of things, and keep your face constantly turned to it.... A
large part of existence is necessarily passed in inaction. By day
(to take an instance from the thousand in constant recurrence),
when in attendance on others, and time is lost by being kept
waiting; by night when sleep is unwilling to close the eyelids,
the economy of happiness recommends the occupation of pleasurable
thought. In walking abroad, or in resting at home, the mind
cannot be vacant; its thoughts may be useful, useless, or
pernicious to happiness. Direct them aright; the habit of happy
thought will spring up like any other habit."
DEONTOLOGY, ii. 105-6.
(3) The following extract from a letter of M. Boyd, Esq., is given by
Earl Stanhope in his 'Miscellanies':- "There was a circumstance
told me by the late Mr. Christmas, who for many years held an
important official situation in the Bank of England. He was, I
believe, in early life a clerk in the Treasury, or one of the
government offices, and for some time acted for Mr. Pitt as his
confidential clerk, or temporary private secretary. Christmas was
one of the most obliging men I ever knew; and, from the, position
he occupied, was constantly exposed to interruptions, yet I never
saw his temper in the least ruffled. One day I found him more
than usually engaged, having a mass of accounts to prepare for one
of the law-courts--still the same equanimity, and I could not
resist the opportunity of asking the old gentleman the secret.
'Well, Mr. Boyd, you shall know it. Mr. Pitt gave it to me:--
NOT TO LOSE MY TEMPER, IF POSSIBLE, AT ANY TIME, AND NEVER
DURING THE HOURS OF BUSINESS. My labours here (Bank of England)
commence at nine and end at three; and, acting on the advice
of the illustrious statesman, I NEVER LOSE MY TEMPER DURING
(4) 'Strafford Papers,' i. 87.
(5) Jared Sparks' 'Life of Washington,' pp. 7, 534.
(6) Brialmont's 'Life of Wellington.'
(7) Professor Tyndall, on 'Faraday as a Discoverer,' p. 156.
(8) 'Life of Perthes,' ii. 216.
(9) Lady Elizabeth Carew.
(10) Francis Horner, in one of his letters, says: "It is among the very
sincere and zealous friends of liberty that you will find the most
perfect specimens of wrongheadedness; men of a dissenting,
provincial cast of virtue--who (according to one of Sharpe's
favourite phrases) WILL drive a wedge the broad end foremost
--utter strangers to all moderation in political business."
--Francis Horner's LIFE AND CORRESPONDENCE (1843), ii. 133.
(11) Professor Tyndall on 'Faraday as a Discoverer,' pp. 40-1.
(12) Yet Burke himself; though capable of giving Barry such excellent
advice, was by no means immaculate as regarded his own temper.
When he lay ill at Beaconsfield, Fox, from whom he had become
separated by political differences arising out of the French
Revolution, went down to see his old friend. But Burke would not
grant him an interview; he positively refused to see him. On his
return to town, Fox told his friend Coke the result of his
journey; and when Coke lamented Burke's obstinacy, Fox only
replied, goodnaturedly: "Ah! never mind, Tom; I always find every
Irishman has got a piece of potato in his head." Yet Fox, with
his usual generosity, when he heard of Burke's impending death,
wrote a most kind and cordial letter to Mrs. Burke, expressive of
his grief and sympathy; and when Burke was no more, Fox was the
first to propose that he should be interred with public honours in
Westminster Abbey--which only Burke's own express wish, that he
should be buried at Beaconsfield, prevented being carried out.
(13) When Curran, the Irish barrister, visited Burns's cabin in 1810,
he found it converted into a public house, and the landlord who
showed it was drunk. "There," said he, pointing to a corner on
one side of the fire, with a most MALAPROPOS laugh-"there is the
very spot where Robert Burns was born." "The genius and the fate
of the man," says Curran, "were already heavy on my heart; but the
drunken laugh of the landlord gave me such a view of the rock on
which he had foundered, that I could not stand it, but burst
(14) The chaplain of Horsemongerlane Gaol, in his annual report to
the Surrey justices, thus states the result of his careful study of
the causes of dishonesty: "From my experience of predatory crime,
founded upon careful study of the character of a great variety of
prisoners, I conclude that habitual dishonesty is to be referred
neither to ignorance, nor to drunkenness, nor to poverty, nor to
overcrowding in towns, nor to temptation from surrounding wealth--
nor, indeed, to any one of the many indirect causes to which it is
sometimes referred--but mainly TO A DISPOSITION TO ACQUIRE
PROPERTY WITH A LESS DEGREE OF LABOUR THAN ORDINARY INDUSTRY."
The italics are the author's.
(15) S. C. Hall's 'Memories.'
(16) Moore's 'Life of Byron,' 8vo. Ed., p. 182.
(17) Captain Basil Hall records the following conversation with Scott:-
"It occurs to me," I observed, "that people are apt to make too
much fuss about the loss of fortune, which is one of the smallest
of the great evils of life, and ought to be among the most
tolerable."--"Do you call it a small misfortune to be ruined in
money-matters?" he asked. "It is not so painful, at all events,
as the loss of friends."--"I grant that," he said. "As the loss
of character?"--"True again." "As the loss of health?"--"Ay,
there you have me," he muttered to himself, in a tone so
melancholy that I wished I had not spoken. "What is the loss of
fortune to the loss of peace of mind?" I continued. "In short,"
said he, playfully, "you will make it out that there is no harm in
a man's being plunged over-head-and-ears in a debt he cannot
remove." "Much depends, I think, on how it was incurred, and what
efforts are made to redeem it--at least, if the sufferer be a
rightminded man." "I hope it does," he said, cheerfully and
firmly.--FRAGMENTS OF VOYAGES AND TRAVELS, 3rd series, pp. 308-9.
(18) "These battles," he wrote in his Diary, "have been the death of
many a man, I think they will be mine."
(19) Scott's Diary, December 17th, 1827.
"I slept, and dreamt that life was Beauty;
I woke, and found that life was Duty."
"Duty! wondrous thought, that workest neither by fond insinuation,
flattery, nor by any threat, but merely by holding up thy naked
law in the soul, and so extorting for thyself always reverence, if
not always obedience; before whom all appetites are dumb, however
secretly they rebel"--KANT.
"How happy is he born and taught,
That serveth not another's will!
Whose armour is his honest thought,
And simple truth his utmost skill!
"Whose passions not his masters are,
Whose soul is still prepared for death;
Unti'd unto the world by care
Of public fame, or private breath.
"This man is freed from servile bands,
Of hope to rise, or fear to fall:
Lord of himself, though not of land;
And having nothing, yet hath all."--WOTTON.
"His nay was nay without recall;
His yea was yea, and powerful all;
He gave his yea with careful heed,
His thoughts and words were well agreed;
His word, his bond and seal."
INSCRIPTION ON BARON STEIN'S TOMB.
DUTY is a thing that is due, and must be paid by every man who
would avoid present discredit and eventual moral insolvency. It
is an obligation--a debt--which can only be discharged by
voluntary effort and resolute action in the affairs of life.
Duty embraces man's whole existence. It begins in the home, where
there is the duty which children owe to their parents on the one
hand, and the duty which parents owe to their children on the
other. There are, in like manner, the respective duties of
husbands and wives, of masters and servants; while outside the
home there are the duties which men and women owe to each other as
friends and neighbours, as employers and employed, as governors
"Render, therefore," says St. Paul, "to all their dues: tribute to
whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear;
honour to whom honour. Owe no man anything, but to love one
another; for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law,"
Thus duty rounds the whole of life, from our entrance into it
until our exit from it--duty to superiors, duty to inferiors, and
duty to equals--duty to man, and duty to God. Wherever there is
power to use or to direct, there is duty. For we are but as
stewards, appointed to employ the means entrusted to us for our
own and for others' good.
The abiding sense of duty is the very crown of character. It is
the upholding law of man in his highest attitudes. Without it,
the individual totters and falls before the first puff of
adversity or temptation; whereas, inspired by it, the weakest
becomes strong and full of courage. "Duty," says Mrs. Jameson,
"is the cement which binds the whole moral edifice together;
without which, all power, goodness, intellect, truth, happiness,
love itself, can have no permanence; but all the fabric of
existence crumbles away from under us, and leaves us at last
sitting in the midst of a ruin, astonished at our own desolation."
Duty is based upon a sense of justice--justice inspired by love,
which is the most perfect form of goodness. Duty is not a
sentiment, but a principle pervading the life: and it exhibits
itself in conduct and in acts, which are mainly determined by
man's conscience and freewill.
The voice of conscience speaks in duty done; and without its
regulating and controlling influence, the brightest and greatest
intellect may be merely as a light that leads astray. Conscience
sets a man upon his feet, while his will holds him upright.
Conscience is the moral governor of the heart--the governor of
right action, of right thought, of right faith, of right life--
and only through its dominating influence can the noble and
upright character be fully developed.
The conscience, however, may speak never so loudly, but without
energetic will it may speak in vain. The will is free to choose
between the right course and the wrong one, but the choice is
nothing unless followed by immediate and decisive action. If the
sense of duty be strong, and the course of action clear, the
courageous will, upheld by the conscience, enables a man to
proceed on his course bravely, and to accomplish his purposes in
the face of all opposition and difficulty. And should failure be
the issue, there will remain at least this satisfaction, that it
has been in the cause of duty.
"Be and continue poor, young man," said Heinzelmann," while others
around you grow rich by fraud and disloyalty; be without place or
power while others beg their way upwards; bear the pain of
disappointed hopes, while others gain the accomplishment of theirs
by flattery; forego the gracious pressure of the hand, for which
others cringe and crawl. Wrap yourself in your own virtue, and
seek a friend and your daily bread. If you have in your own cause
grown gray with unbleached honour, bless God and die!"
Men inspired by high principles are often required to sacrifice
all that they esteem and love rather than fail in their duty.
The old English idea of this sublime devotion to duty was expressed
by the loyalist poet to his sweetheart, on taking up arms for
"I could love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not honour more.' (1)
And Sertorius has said: "The man who has any dignity of character,
should conquer with honour, and not use any base means even to
save his life." So St. Paul, inspired by duty and faith, declared
himself as not only "ready to be bound, but to die at Jerusalem."
When the Marquis of Pescara was entreated by the princes of Italy
to desert the Spanish cause, to which he was in honour bound, his
noble wife, Vittoria Colonna, reminded him of his duty. She wrote
to him: "Remember your honour, which raises you above fortune and
above kings; by that alone, and not by the splendour of titles, is
glory acquired--that glory which it will be your happiness and
pride to transmit unspotted to your posterity." Such was the
dignified view which she took of her husband's honour; and when he
fell at Pavia, though young and beautiful, and besought by many
admirers, she betook herself to solitude, that she might lament
over her husband's loss and celebrate his exploits. (2)
To live really, is to act energetically. Life is a battle to be
fought valiantly. Inspired by high and honourable resolve, a man
must stand to his post, and die there, if need be. Like the old
Danish hero, his determination should be, "to dare nobly, to will
strongly, and never to falter in the path of duty." The power of
will, be it great or small, which God has given us, is a Divine
gift; and we ought neither to let it perish for want of using on
the one hand, nor profane it by employing it for ignoble purposes
on the other. Robertson, of Brighton, has truly said, that man's
real greatness consists not in seeking his own pleasure, or fame,
or advancement--"not that every one shall save his own life, not
that every man shall seek his own glory--but that every man shall
do his own duty."
What most stands in the way of the performance of duty, is
irresolution, weakness of purpose, and indecision. On the one
side are conscience and the knowledge of good and evil; on the
other are indolence, selfishness, love of pleasure, or passion.
The weak and ill-disciplined will may remain suspended for a time
between these influences; but at length the balance inclines one
way or the other, according as the will is called into action or
otherwise. If it be allowed to remain passive, the lower
influence of selfishness or passion will prevail; and thus manhood
suffers abdication, individuality is renounced, character is
degraded, and the man permits himself to become the mere passive
slave of his senses.
Thus, the power of exercising the will promptly, in obedience to
the dictates of conscience, and thereby resisting the impulses of
the lower nature, is of essential importance in moral discipline,
and absolutely necessary for the development of character in its
best forms. To acquire the habit of well-doing, to resist evil
propensities, to fight against sensual desires, to overcome inborn
selfishness, may require a long and persevering discipline; but
when once the practice of duty is learnt, it becomes consolidated
in habit, and thence-forward is comparatively easy.
The valiant good man is he who, by the resolute exercise of his
freewill, has so disciplined himself as to have acquired the habit
of virtue; as the bad man is he who, by allowing his freewill to
remain inactive, and giving the bridle to his desires and
passions, has acquired the habit of vice, by which he becomes, at
last, bound as by chains of iron.
A man can only achieve strength of purpose by the action of his
own freewill. If he is to stand erect, it must be by his own
efforts; for he cannot be kept propped up by the help of others.
He is master of himself and of his actions. He can avoid
falsehood, and be truthful; he can shun sensualism, and be
continent; he can turn aside from doing a cruel thing, and be
benevolent and forgiving. All these lie within the sphere of
individual efforts, and come within the range of self-discipline.
And it depends upon men themselves whether in these respects they
will be free, pure, and good on the one hand; or enslaved, impure,
and miserable on the other.
Among the wise sayings of Epictetus we find the following: "We do
not choose our own parts in life, and have nothing to do with
those parts: our simple duty is confined to playing them well.
The slave may be as free as the consul; and freedom is the chief
of blessings; it dwarfs all others; beside it all others are
insignificant; with it all others are needless; without it no
others are possible.... You must teach men that happiness is not
where, in their blindness and misery, they seek it. It is not in
strength, for Myro and Ofellius were not happy; not in wealth, for
Croesus was not happy; not in power, for the Consuls were not
happy; not in all these together, for Nero and Sardanapulus and
Agamemnon sighed and wept and tore their hair, and were the slaves
of circumstances and the dupes of semblances. It lies in
yourselves; in true freedom, in the absence or conquest of every
ignoble fear; in perfect self-government; and in a power of
contentment and peace, and the even flow of life amid poverty,
exile, disease, and the very valley of the shadow of death." (3)
The sense of duty is a sustaining power even to a courageous man.
It holds him upright, and makes him strong. It was a noble saying
of Pompey, when his friends tried to dissuade him from embarking
for Rome in a storm, telling him that he did so at the great peril
of his life: "It is necessary for me to go," he said; "it is not
necessary for me to live." What it was right that he should do,
he would do, in the face of danger and in defiance of storms.
As might be expected of the great Washington, the chief motive
power in his life was the spirit of duty. It was the regal and
commanding element in his character which gave it unity,
compactness, and vigour. When he clearly saw his duty before him,
he did it at all hazards, and with inflexible integrity. He did
not do it for effect; nor did he think of glory, or of fame and
its rewards; but of the right thing to be done, and the best
way of doing it.
Yet Washington had a most modest opinion of himself; and when
offered the chief command of the American patriot army, he
hesitated to accept it until it was pressed upon him. When
acknowledging in Congress the honour which had been done him in
selecting him to so important a trust, on the execution of which
the future of his country in a great measure depended, Washington
said: "I beg it may be remembered, lest some unlucky event should
happen unfavourable to my reputation, that I this day declare,
with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the
command I am honoured with."
And in his letter to his wife, communicating to her his
appointment as Commander-in-Chief, he said: "I have used every
endeavour in my power to avoid it, not only from my unwillingness
to part with you and the family, but from a consciousness of its
being a trust too great for my capacity; and that I should enjoy
more real happiness in one month with you at home, than I have the
most distant prospect of finding abroad, if my stay were to be
seven times seven years. But, as it has been a kind of destiny
that has thrown me upon this service, I shall hope that my
undertaking it is designed for some good purpose. It was utterly
out of my power to refuse the appointment, without exposing my
character to such censures as would have reflected dishonour upon
myself, and given pain to my friends. This, I am sure, could not,
and ought not, to be pleasing to you, and must have lessened me
considerably in my own esteem." (4)
Washington pursued his upright course through life, first as
Commander-in-Chief, and afterwards as President, never faltering
in the path of duty. He had no regard for popularity, but held to
his purpose, through good and through evil report, often at the
risk of his power and influence. Thus, on one occasion, when the
ratification of a treaty, arranged by Mr. Jay with Great Britain,
was in question, Washington was urged to reject it. But his
honour, and the honour of his country, was committed, and he
refused to do so. A great outcry was raised against the treaty,
and for a time Washington was so unpopular that he is said to have
been actually stoned by the mob. But he, nevertheless, held it to
be his duty to ratify the treaty; and it was carried out, in
despite of petitions and remonstrances from all quarters. "While
I feel," he said, in answer to the remonstrants, "the most lively
gratitude for the many instances of approbation from my country,
I can no otherwise deserve it than by obeying the dictates
of my conscience."
Wellington's watchword, like Washington's, was duty; and no man
could be more loyal to it than he was. (5) "There is little or
nothing," he once said, "in this life worth living for; but we can
all of us go straight forward and do our duty." None recognised
more cheerfully than he did the duty of obedience and willing
service; for unless men can serve faithfully, they will not rule
others wisely. There is no motto that becomes the wise man
better than ICH DIEN, "I serve;" and "They also serve who only
stand and wait."
When the mortification of an officer, because of his being
appointed to a command inferior to what he considered to be his
merits, was communicated to the Duke, he said: "In the course of
my military career, I have gone from the command of a brigade to
that of my regiment, and from the command of an army to that of a
brigade or a division, as I was ordered, and without any feeling
Whilst commanding the allied army in Portugal, the conduct of the
native population did not seem to Wellington to be either becoming
or dutiful. "We have enthusiasm in plenty," he said, "and plenty
of cries of 'VIVA!' We have illuminations, patriotic songs, and
FETES everywhere. But what we want is, that each in his own
station should do his duty faithfully, and pay implicit obedience
to legal authority."
This abiding ideal of duty seemed to be the governing principle of
Wellington's character. It was always uppermost in his mind, and
directed all the public actions of his life. Nor did it fail to
communicate itself to those under him, who served him in the like
spirit. When he rode into one of his infantry squares at
Waterloo, as its diminished numbers closed up to receive a charge
of French cavalry, he said to the men, "Stand steady, lads; think
of what they will say of us in England;" to which the men replied,
"Never fear, sir--we know our duty."
Duty was also the dominant idea in Nelson's mind. The spirit in
which he served his country was expressed in the famous watchword,
"England expects every man to do his duty," signalled by him to
the fleet before going into action at Trafalgar, as well as in
the last words that passed his lips,--"I have done my duty;
I praise God for it!"
And Nelson's companion and friend--the brave, sensible, homely-
minded Collingwood--he who, as his ship bore down into the great
sea-fight, said to his flag-captain, "Just about this time our
wives are going to church in England,"--Collingwood too was, like
his commander, an ardent devotee of duty. "Do your duty to the
best of your ability," was the maxim which he urged upon many
young men starting on the voyage of life. To a midshipman he once
gave the following manly and sensible advice:- "You may depend
upon it, that it is more in your own power than in anybody else's
to promote both your comfort and advancement. A strict and
unwearied attention to your duty, and a complacent and respectful
behaviour, not only to your superiors but to everybody, will
ensure you their regard, and the reward will surely come; but if
it should not, I am convinced you have too much good sense to let
disappointment sour you. Guard carefully against letting
discontent appear in you. It will be sorrow to your friends, a
triumph to your competitors, and cannot be productive of any good.
Conduct yourself so as to deserve the best that can come to you,
and the consciousness of your own proper behaviour will keep you
in spirits if it should not come. Let it be your ambition to be
foremost in all duty. Do not be a nice observer of turns, but
ever present yourself ready for everything, and, unless your
officers are very inattentive men, they will not allow others to
impose more duty on you than they should."
This devotion to duty is said to be peculiar to the English
nation; and it has certainly more or less characterised our
greatest public men. Probably no commander of any other nation
ever went into action with such a signal flying as Nelson at
Trafalgar--not "Glory," or "Victory," or "Honour," or "Country"--
but simply "Duty!" How few are the nations willing to rally to
such a battle-cry!
Shortly after the wreck of the BIRKENHEAD off the coast of Africa,
in which the officers and men went down firing a FEU-DE-JOIE after
seeing the women and children safely embarked in the boats,--
Robertson of Brighton, referring to the circumstance in one of his
letters, said: "Yes! Goodness, Duty, Sacrifice,--these are the
qualities that England honours. She gapes and wonders every now
and then, like an awkward peasant, at some other things--railway
kings, electro-biology, and other trumperies; but nothing stirs
her grand old heart down to its central deeps universally and
long, except the Right. She puts on her shawl very badly, and she
is awkward enough in a concert-room, scarce knowing a Swedish
nightingale from a jackdaw; but--blessings large and long upon
her!--she knows how to teach her sons to sink like men amidst
sharks and billows, without parade, without display, as if Duty
were the most natural thing in the world; and she never mistakes
long an actor for a hero, or a hero for an actor." (6)
It is a grand thing, after all, this pervading spirit of Duty in a
nation; and so long as it survives, no one need despair of its
future. But when it has departed, or become deadened, and been
supplanted by thirst for pleasure, or selfish aggrandisement,
or "glory"--then woe to that nation, for its dissolution
is near at hand!
If there be one point on which intelligent observers are agreed
more than another as to the cause of the late deplorable collapse
of France as a nation, it was the utter absence of this feeling of
duty, as well as of truthfulness, from the mind, not only of the
men, but of the leaders of the French people. The unprejudiced
testimony of Baron Stoffel, French military attache at Berlin,
before the war, is conclusive on this point. In his private
report to the Emperor, found at the Tuileries, which was written
in August, 1869, about a year before the outbreak of the war,
Baron Stoffel pointed out that the highly-educated and disciplined
German people were pervaded by an ardent sense of duty, and did
not think it beneath them to reverence sincerely what was noble
and lofty; whereas, in all respects, France presented a melancholy
contrast. There the people, having sneered at everything, had
lost the faculty of respecting anything, and virtue, family
life, patriotism, honour, and religion, were represented to
a frivolous generation as only fitting subjects for ridicule. (7)
Alas! how terribly has France been punished for her sins
against truth and duty!
Yet the time was, when France possessed many great men inspired by
duty; but they were all men of a comparatively remote past. The
race of Bayard, Duguesclin, Coligny, Duquesne, Turenne, Colbert,
and Sully, seems to have died out and left no lineage. There has
been an occasional great Frenchman of modern times who has raised
the cry of Duty; but his voice has been as that of one crying in
the wilderness. De Tocqueville was one of such; but, like all men
of his stamp, he was proscribed, imprisoned, and driven from
public life. Writing on one occasion to his friend Kergorlay,
he said: "Like you, I become more and more alive to the
happiness which consists in the fulfilment of Duty. I believe
there is no other so deep and so real. There is only one great
object in the world which deserves our efforts, and that is
the good of mankind." (8)
Although France has been the unquiet spirit among the nations of
Europe since the reign of Louis XIV., there have from time to time
been honest and faithful men who have lifted up their voices
against the turbulent warlike tendencies of the people, and not
only preached, but endeavoured to carry into practice, a gospel of
peace. Of these, the Abbe de St.-Pierre was one of the most
courageous. He had even the boldness to denounce the wars of
Louis XIV., and to deny that monarch's right to the epithet of
'Great,' for which he was punished by expulsion from the Academy.
The Abbe was as enthusiastic an agitator for a system of
international peace as any member of the modern Society of
Friends. As Joseph Sturge went to St. Petersburg to convert the
Emperor of Russia to his views, so the Abbe went to Utrecht to
convert the Conference sitting there, to his project for a Diet;
to secure perpetual peace. Of course he was regarded as an
enthusiast, Cardinal Dubois characterising his scheme as "the
dream of an honest man." Yet the Abbe had found his dream in the
Gospel; and in what better way could he exemplify the spirit of
the Master he served than by endeavouring to abate the horrors and
abominations of war? The Conference was an assemblage of men
representing Christian States: and the Abbe merely called upon
them to put in practice the doctrines they professed to believe.
It was of no use: the potentates and their representatives turned
to him a deaf ear.
The Abbe de St.-Pierre lived several hundred years too soon. But
he determined that his idea should not be lost, and in 1713 he
published his 'Project of Perpetual Peace.' He there proposed the
formation of a European Diet, or Senate, to be composed of
representatives of all nations, before which princes should be
bound, before resorting to arms, to state their grievances and
require redress. Writing about eighty years after the publication
of this project, Volney asked: "What is a people?--an individual
of the society at large. What a war?--a duel between two
individual people. In what manner ought a society to act when two
of its members fight?--Interfere, and reconcile or repress them.
In the days of the Abbe de St.-Pierre, this was treated as a
dream; but, happily for the human race, it begins to be realised."
Alas for the prediction of Volney! The twenty-five years that
followed the date at which this passage was written, were
distinguished by more devastating and furious wars on the part of
France than had ever been known in the world before.
The Abbe was not, however, a mere dreamer. He was an active
practical philanthropist and anticipated many social improvements
which have since become generally adopted. He was the original
founder of industrial schools for poor children, where they not
only received a good education, but learned some useful trade, by
which they might earn an honest living when they grew up to
manhood. He advocated the revision and simplification of the
whole code of laws--an idea afterwards carried out by the First
Napoleon. He wrote against duelling, against luxury, against
gambling, against monasticism, quoting the remark of Segrais, that
"the mania for a monastic life is the smallpox of the mind." He
spent his whole income in acts of charity--not in almsgiving, but
in helping poor children, and poor men and women, to help
themselves. His object always was to benefit permanently those
whom he assisted. He continued his love of truth and his freedom
of speech to the last. At the age of eighty he said: "If life is a
lottery for happiness, my lot has been one of the best." When on
his deathbed, Voltaire asked him how he felt, to which he
answered, "As about to make a journey into the country." And in
this peaceful frame of mind he died. But so outspoken had St.-
Pierre been against corruption in high places, that Maupertius,
his Successor at the Academy, was not permitted to pronounce his
ELOGE; nor was it until thirty-two years after his death that this
honour was done to his memory by D'Alembert. The true and
emphatic epitaph of the good, truth-loving, truth-speaking Abbe
was this--"HE LOVED MUCH!"
Duty is closely allied to truthfulness of character; and the
dutiful man is, above all things, truthful in his words as in his
actions. He says and he does the right thing, in the right way,
and at the right time.
There is probably no saying of Lord Chesterfield that commends
itself more strongly to the approval of manly-minded men, than
that it is truth that makes the success of the gentleman.
Clarendon, speaking of one of the noblest and purest gentlemen of
his age, says of Falkland, that he "was so severe an adorer of
truth that he could as easily have given himself leave to steal
as to dissemble."
It was one of the finest things that Mrs. Hutchinson could say of
her husband, that he was a thoroughly truthful and reliable man:
"He never professed the thing he intended not, nor promised what
he believed out of his power, nor failed in the performance of
anything that was in his power to fulfil."
Wellington was a severe admirer of truth. An illustration may be
given. When afflicted by deafness he consulted a celebrated
aurist, who, after trying all remedies in vain, determined, as a
last resource, to inject into the ear a strong solution of
caustic. It caused the most intense pain, but the patient bore it
with his usual equanimity. The family physician accidentally
calling one day, found the Duke with flushed cheeks and bloodshot
eyes, and when he rose he staggered about like a drunken man. The
doctor asked to be permitted to look at his ear, and then he found
that a furious inflammation was going on, which, if not
immediately checked, must shortly reach the brain and kill him.
Vigorous remedies were at once applied, and the inflammation was
checked. But the hearing of that ear was completely destroyed.
When the aurist heard of the danger his patient had run, through
the violence of the remedy he had employed, he hastened to Apsley
House to express his grief and mortification; but the Duke merely
said: "Do not say a word more about it--you did all for the
best." The aurist said it would be his ruin when it became known
that he had been the cause of so much suffering and danger to his
Grace. "But nobody need know anything about it: keep your own
counsel, and, depend upon it, I won't say a word to any one."
"Then your Grace will allow me to attend you as usual, which will
show the public that you have not withdrawn your confidence from
me?" "No," replied the Duke, kindly but firmly; "I can't do that,
for that would be a lie." He would not act a falsehood any more
than he would speak one. (9)
Another illustration of duty and truthfulness, as exhibited in the
fulfilment of a promise, may be added from the life of Blucher.
When he was hastening with his army over bad roads to the help of
Wellington, on the 18th of June, 1815, he encouraged his troops by
words and gestures. "Forwards, children--forwards!" "It is
impossible; it can't be done," was the answer. Again and again he
urged them. "Children, we must get on; you may say it can't be
done, but it MUST be done! I have promised my brother Wellington
--PROMISED, do you hear? You wouldn't have me BREAK MY WORD!"
And it was done.
Truth is the very bond of society, without which it must cease to
exist, and dissolve into anarchy and chaos. A household cannot be
governed by lying; nor can a nation. Sir Thomas Browne once
asked, "Do the devils lie?" "No," was his answer; "for then even
hell could not subsist." No considerations can justify the
sacrifice of truth, which ought to be sovereign in all the
relations of life.
Of all mean vices, perhaps lying is the meanest. It is in some
cases the offspring of perversity and vice, and in many others of
sheer moral cowardice. Yet many persons think so lightly of it
that they will order their servants to lie for them; nor can they
feel surprised if, after such ignoble instruction, they find their
servants lying for themselves.
Sir Harry Wotton's description of an ambassador as "an honest man
sent to lie abroad for the benefit of his country," though meant
as a satire, brought him into disfavour with James I. when it
became published; for an adversary quoted it as a principle of the
king's religion. That it was not Wotton's real view of the duty
of an honest man, is obvious from the lines quoted at the head of
this chapter, on 'The Character of a Happy Life,' in which he
eulogises the man
"Whose armour is his honest thought,
And simple truth his utmost skill."
But lying assumes many forms--such as diplomacy, expediency, and
moral reservation; and, under one guise or another, it is found
more or less pervading all classes of society. Sometimes it
assumes the form of equivocation or moral dodging--twisting and
so stating the things said as to convey a false impression--a
kind of lying which a Frenchman once described as "walking round
about the truth."
There are even men of narrow minds and dishonest natures, who
pride themselves upon their jesuitical cleverness in equivocation,
in their serpent-wise shirking of the truth and getting out of
moral back-doors, in order to hide their real opinions and evade
the consequences of holding and openly professing them.
Institutions or systems based upon any such expedients must
necessarily prove false and hollow. "Though a lie be ever so well
dressed," says George Herbert, "it is ever overcome." Downright
lying, though bolder and more vicious, is even less contemptible
than such kind of shuffling and equivocation.
Untruthfulness exhibits itself in many other forms: in reticency
on the one hand, or exaggeration on the other; in disguise or
concealment; in pretended concurrence in others opinions; in
assuming an attitude of conformity which is deceptive; in making
promises, or allowing them to be implied, which are never intended
to be performed; or even in refraining from speaking the truth
when to do so is a duty. There are also those who are all things
to all men, who say one thing and do another, like Bunyan's Mr.
Facing-both-ways; only deceiving themselves when they think they
are deceiving others--and who, being essentially insincere, fail
to evoke confidence, and invariably in the end turn out failures,
if not impostors.
Others are untruthful in their pretentiousness, and in assuming
merits which they do not really possess. The truthful man is, on
the contrary, modest, and makes no parade of himself and his
deeds. When Pitt was in his last illness, the news reached
England of the great deeds of Wellington in India. "The more I
hear of his exploits," said Pitt, "the more I admire the modesty
with which he receives the praises he merits for them. He is the
only man I ever knew that was not vain of what he had done, and
yet had so much reason to be so."
So it is said of Faraday by Professor Tyndall, that "pretence of
all kinds, whether in life or in philosophy, was hateful to him."
Dr. Marshall Hall was a man of like spirit--courageously
truthful, dutiful, and manly. One of his most intimate friends
has said of him that, wherever he met with untruthfulness or
sinister motive, he would expose it, saying--"I neither will, nor
can, give my consent to a lie." The question, "right or wrong,"
once decided in his own mind, the right was followed, no matter
what the sacrifice or the difficulty--neither expediency nor
inclination weighing one jot in the balance.
There was no virtue that Dr. Arnold laboured more sedulously to
instil into young men than the virtue of truthfulness, as being
the manliest of virtues, as indeed the very basis of all true
manliness. He designated truthfulness as "moral transparency,"
and he valued it more highly than any other quality. When lying
was detected, he treated it as a great moral offence; but when a
pupil made an assertion, he accepted it with confidence. "If you
say so, that is quite enough; OF COURSE I believe your word." By
thus trusting and believing them, he educated the young in
truthfulness; the boys at length coming to say to one another:
"It's a shame to tell Arnold a lie--he always believes one." (10)
One of the most striking instances that could be given of the
character of the dutiful, truthful, laborious man, is presented in
the life of the late George Wilson, Professor of Technology in the
University of Edinburgh. (11) Though we bring this illustration
under the head of Duty, it might equally have stood under that of
Courage, Cheerfulness, or Industry, for it is alike illustrative
of these several qualities.
Wilson's life was, indeed, a marvel of cheerful laboriousness;
exhibiting the power of the soul to triumph over the body, and
almost to set it at defiance. It might be taken as an
illustration of the saying of the whaling-captain to Dr. Kane, as
to the power of moral force over physical: "Bless you, sir, the
soul will any day lift the body out of its boots!"
A fragile but bright and lively boy, he had scarcely entered
manhood ere his constitution began to exhibit signs of disease.
As early, indeed, as his seventeenth year, he began to complain of
melancholy and sleeplessness, supposed to be the effects of bile.
"I don't think I shall live long," he then said to a friend; "my
mind will--must work itself out, and the body will soon follow
it." A strange confession for a boy to make! But he gave his
physical health no fair chance. His life was all brain-work,
study, and competition. When he took exercise it was in sudden
bursts, which did him more harm than good. Long walks in the
Highlands jaded and exhausted him; and he returned to his brain-
work unrested and unrefreshed.
It was during one of his forced walks of some twenty-four miles in
the neighbourhood of Stirling, that he injured one of his feet,
and he returned home seriously ill. The result was an abscess,
disease of the ankle-joint, and long agony, which ended in the
amputation of the right foot. But he never relaxed in his
labours. He was now writing, lecturing, and teaching chemistry.
Rheumatism and acute inflammation of the eye next attacked him;
and were treated by cupping, blisetring, and colchicum. Unable
himself to write, he went on preparing his lectures, which he
dictated to his sister. Pain haunted him day and night, and sleep
was only forced by morphia. While in this state of general
prostration, symptoms of pulmonary disease began to show
themselves. Yet he continued to give the weekly lectures to which
he stood committed to the Edinburgh School of Arts. Not one was
shirked, though their delivery, before a large audience, was a
most exhausting duty. "Well, there's another nail put into my
coffin," was the remark made on throwing off his top-coat on
returning home; and a sleepless night almost invariably followed.
At twenty-seven, Wilson was lecturing ten, eleven, or more hours
weekly, usually with setons or open blister-wounds upon him--his
"bosom friends," he used to call them. He felt the shadow of
death upon him; and he worked as if his days were numbered.
"Don't be surprised," he wrote to a friend, "if any morning at
breakfast you hear that I am gone." But while he said so, he did
not in the least degree indulge in the feeling of sickly
sentimentality. He worked on as cheerfully and hopefully as if in
the very fulness of his strength. "To none," said he, "is life so
sweet as to those who have lost all fear to die."
Sometimes he was compelled to desist from his labours by sheer
debility, occasioned by loss of blood from the lungs; but after a
few weeks' rest and change of air, he would return to his work,
saying, "The water is rising in the well again!" Though disease
had fastened on his lungs, and was spreading there, and though
suffering from a distressing cough, he went on lecturing as usual.
To add to his troubles, when one day endeavouring to recover
himself from a stumble occasioned by his lameness, he overstrained
his arm, and broke the bone near the shoulder. But he recovered
from his successive accidents and illnesses in the most
extraordinary way. The reed bent, but did not break: the storm
passed, and it stood erect as before.
There was no worry, nor fever, nor fret about him; but instead,
cheerfulness, patience, and unfailing perseverance. His mind,
amidst all his sufferings, remained perfectly calm and serene. He
went about his daily work with an apparently charmed life, as if
he had the strength of many men in him. Yet all the while he knew
he was dying, his chief anxiety being to conceal his state from
those about him at home, to whom the knowledge of his actual
condition would have been inexpressibly distressing. "I am
cheerful among strangers," he said, "and try to live day by day
as a dying man." (12)
He went on teaching as before--lecturing to the Architectural
Institute and to the School of Arts. One day, after a lecture
before the latter institute, he lay down to rest, and was shortly
awakened by the rupture of a bloodvessel, which occasioned him the
loss of a considerable quantity of blood. He did not experience
the despair and agony that Keats did on a like occasion; (13)
though he equally knew that the messenger of death had come, and
was waiting for him. He appeared at the family meals as usual,
and next day he lectured twice, punctually fulfilling his
engagements; but the exertion of speaking was followed by a second
attack of haemorrhage. He now became seriously ill, and it was
doubted whether he would survive the night. But he did survive;
and during his convalescence he was appointed to an important
public office--that of Director of the Scottish Industrial
Museum, which involved a great amount of labour, as well as
lecturing, in his capacity of Professor of Technology, which he
held in connection with the office.
From this time forward, his "dear museum," as he called it,
absorbed all his surplus energies. While busily occupied in
collecting models and specimens for the museum, he filled up his
odds-and-ends of time in lecturing to Ragged Schools, Ragged
Kirks, and Medical Missionary Societies. He gave himself no rest,
either of mind or body; and "to die working" was the fate he
envied. His mind would not give in, but his poor body was forced
to yield, and a severe attack of haemorrhage--bleeding from both
lungs and stomach (14)--compelled him to relax in his labours.
"For a month, or some forty days," he wrote--"a dreadful Lent
--the mind has blown geographically from 'Araby the blest,' but
thermometrically from Iceland the accursed. I have been made a
prisoner of war, hit by an icicle in the lungs, and have shivered
and burned alternately for a large portion of the last month, and
spat blood till I grew pale with coughing. Now I am better, and
to-morrow I give my concluding lecture (on Technology), thankful
that I have contrived, notwithstanding all my troubles, to carry
on without missing a lecture to the last day of the Faculty of
Arts, to which I belong." (15)
How long was it to last? He himself began to wonder, for he had
long felt his life as if ebbing away. At length he became
languid, weary, and unfit for work; even the writing of a letter
cost him a painful effort, and. he felt "as if to lie down and
sleep were the only things worth doing." Yet shortly after, to
help a Sunday-school, he wrote his 'Five Gateways of Knowledge,'
as a lecture, and afterwards expanded it into a book. He also
recovered strength sufficient to enable him to proceed with his
lectures to the institutions to which he belonged, besides on
various occasions undertaking to do other people's work. "I am
looked upon as good as mad," he wrote to his brother, "because, on
a hasty notice, I took a defaulting lecturer's place at the
Philosophical Institution, and discoursed on the Polarization of
Light.... But I like work: it is a family weakness."
Then followed chronic malaise--sleepless nights, days of pain,
and more spitting of blood. "My only painless moments," he says,
"were when lecturing." In this state of prostration and disease,
the indefatigable man undertook to write the 'Life of Edward
Forbes'; and he did it, like everything he undertook, with
admirable ability. He proceeded with his lectures as usual. To
an association of teachers he delivered a discourse on the
educational value of industrial science. After he had spoken to
his audience for an hour, he left them to say whether he should go
on or not, and they cheered him on to another half-hour's address.
"It is curious," he wrote, "the feeling of having an audience,
like clay in your hands, to mould for a season as you please. It
is a terribly responsible power.... I do not mean for a moment to
imply that I am indifferent to the good opinion of others--far
otherwise; but to gain this is much less a concern with me than to
deserve it. It was not so once. I had no wish for unmerited
praise, but I was too ready to settle that I did merit it. Now,
the word DUTY seems to me the biggest word in the world, and is
uppermost in all my serious doings."
This was written only about four months before his death. A
little later he wrote, "I spin my thread of life from week to
week, rather than from year to year." Constant attacks of
bleeding from the lungs sapped his little remaining strength,
but did not altogether disable him from lecturing. He was
amused by one of his friends proposing to put him under
trustees for the purpose of looking after his health.
But he would not be restrained from working, so long
as a vestige of strength remained.
One day, in the autumn of 1859, he returned from his customary
lecture in the University of Edinburgh with a severe pain in his
side. He was scarcely able to crawl upstairs. Medical aid was
sent for, and he was pronounced to be suffering from pleurisy and
inflammation of the lungs. His enfeebled frame was ill able to
resist so severe a disease, and he sank peacefully to the rest he
so longed for, after a few days' illness:
"Wrong not the dead with tears!
A glorious bright to-morrow
Endeth a weary life of pain and sorrow."
The life of George Wilson--so admirably and affectionately
related by his sister--is probably one of the most marvellous
records of pain and longsuffering, and yet of persistent, noble,
and useful work, that is to be found in the whole history of
literature. His entire career was indeed but a prolonged
illustration of the lines which he himself addressed to his
deceased friend, Dr. John Reid, a likeminded man, whose memoir he
"Thou wert a daily lesson
Of courage, hope, and faith;
We wondered at thee living,
We envy thee thy death.
Thou wert so meek and reverent,
So resolute of will,
So bold to bear the uttermost,
And yet so calm and still."
(1) From Lovelace's lines to Lucusta (Lucy Sacheverell), 'Going
to the Wars.'
(2) Amongst other great men of genius, Ariosto and Michael Angelo
devoted to her their service and their muse.
(3) See the Rev. F. W. Farrar's admirable book, entitled 'Seekers
after God' (Sunday Library). The author there says: "Epictetus
was not a Christian. He has only once alluded to the Christians
in his works, and then it is under the opprobrious title of
'Galileans,' who practised a kind of insensibility in painful
circumstances, and an indifference to worldly interests, which
Epictetus unjustly sets down to 'mere habit.' Unhappily, it was
not granted to these heathen philosophers in any true sense to
know what Christianity was. They thought that it was an attempt
to imitate the results of philosophy, without having passed
through the necessary discipline. They viewed it with suspicion,
they treated it with injustice. And yet in Christianity, and in
Christianity alone, they would have found an ideal which would
have surpassed their loftiest anticipations."
(4) Sparks' 'Life of Washington,' pp. 141-2.
(5) Wellington, like Washington, had to pay the penalty of his
adherence to the cause he thought right, in his loss of
"popularity." He was mobbed in the streets of London, and had his
windows smashed by the mob, while his wife lay dead in the house.
Sir Walter Scott also was hooted and pelted at Hawick by "the
people," amidst cries of "Burke Sir Walter!"
(6) Robertson's 'Life and Letters,' ii. 157.
(7) We select the following passages from this remarkable report of
Baron Stoffel, as being of more than merely temporary interest:-
Who that has lived here (Berlin) will deny that the Prussians are
energetic, patriotic, and teeming with youthful vigour; that they
are not corrupted by sensual pleasures, but are manly, have
earnest convictions, do not think it beneath them to reverence
sincerely what is noble and lofty? What a melancholy contrast
does France offer in all this? Having sneered at everything, she
has lost the faculty of respecting anything. Virtue, family life,
patriotism, honour, religion, are represented to a frivolous
generation as fitting subjects of ridicule. The theatres have
become schools of shamelessness and obscenity. Drop by drop,
poison is instilled into the very core of an ignorant and
enervated society, which has neither the insight nor the energy
left to amend its institutions, nor--which would be the most
necessary step to take--become better informed or more moral.
One after the other the fine qualities of the nation are dying
out. Where is the generosity, the loyalty, the charm of our
ESPRIT, and our former elevation of soul? If this goes on, the
time will come when this noble race of France will be known only
by its faults. And France has no idea that while she is sinking,
more earnest nations are stealing the march upon her, are
distancing her on the road to progress, and are preparing for her
a secondary position in the world.
"I am afraid that these opinions will not be relished in France.
However correct, they differ too much from what is usually said
and asserted at home. I should wish some enlightened and
unprejudiced Frenchmen to come to Prussia and make this country
their study. They would soon discover that they were living in
the midst of a strong, earnest, and intelligent nation, entirely
destitute, it is true, of noble and delicate feelings, of all
fascinating charms, but endowed with every solid virtue, and alike
distinguished for untiring industry, order, and economy, as well
as for patriotism, a strong sense of duty, and that consciousness
of personal dignity which in their case is so happily blended with
respect for authority and obedience to the law. They would see a
country with firm, sound, and moral institutions, whose upper
classes are worthy of their rank, and, by possessing the highest
degree of culture, devoting themselves to the service of the
State, setting an example of patriotism, and knowing how to
preserve the influence legitimately their own. They would find a
State with an excellent administration where everything is in its
right place, and where the most admirable order prevails in every
branch of the social and political system. Prussia may be well
compared to a massive structure of lofty proportions and
astounding solidity, which, though it has nothing to delight the
eye or speak to the heart, cannot but impress us with its grand
symmetry, equally observable in its broad foundations as in its
strong and sheltering roof.
"And what is France? What is French society in these latter days?
A hurly-burly of disorderly elements, all mixed and jumbled
together; a country in which everybody claims the right to occupy
the highest posts, yet few remember that a man to be employed in a
responsible position ought to have a well-balanced mind, ought to
be strictly moral, to know something of the world, and possess
certain intellectual powers; a country in which the highest
offices are frequently held by ignorant and uneducated persons,
who either boast some special talent, or whose only claim is
social position and some versatility and address. What a baneful
and degrading state of things! And how natural that, while it
lasts, France should be full of a people without a position,
without a calling, who do not know what to do with themselves, but
are none the less eager to envy and malign every one who does....
"The French do not possess in any very marked degree the qualities
required to render general conscription acceptable, or to turn it
to account. Conceited and egotistic as they are, the people would
object to an innovation whose invigorating force they are unable
to comprehend, and which cannot be carried out without virtues
which they do not possess--self-abnegation, conscientious
recognition of duty, and a willingness to sacrifice personal
interests to the loftier demands of the country. As the character
of individuals is only improved by experience, most nations
require a chastisement before they set about reorganising their
political institutions. So Prussia wanted a Jena to make her the
strong and healthy country she is."
(8) Yet even in De Tocqueville's benevolent nature, there was a
pervading element of impatience. In the very letter in which the
above passage occurs, he says: "Some persons try to be of use to
men while they despise them, and others because they love them.
In the services rendered by the first, there is always something
incomplete, rough, and contemptuous, that inspires neither
confidence nor gratitude. I should like to belong to the second
class, but often I cannot. I love mankind in general, but I
constantly meet with individuals whose baseness revolts me. I
struggle daily against a universal contempt for my fellow,
creatures."--MEMOIRS AND REMAINS OF DE TOCQUEVILLE, vol. i. p.
813. (Letter to Kergorlay, Nov. 13th, 1833).
(9) Gleig's 'Life of Wellington,' pp. 314, 315.
(10) 'Life of Arnold,' i. 94.
(11) See the 'Memoir of George Wilson, M.D., F.R.S.E.' By his sister
(12) Such cases are not unusual. We personally knew a young lady, a
countrywoman of Professor Wilson, afflicted by cancer in the
breast, who concealed the disease from her parents lest it should
occasion them distress. An operation became necessary; and when
the surgeons called for the purpose of performing it, she herself
answered the door, received them with a cheerful countenance, led
them upstairs to her room, and submitted to the knife; and her
parents knew nothing of the operation until it was all over.
But the disease had become too deeply seated for recovery,
and the noble self-denying girl died, cheerful and uncomplaining
to the end.
(13) "One night, about eleven o'clock, Keats returned home in a state
of strange physical excitement--it might have appeared, to those
who did not know him, one of fierce intoxication. He told his
friend he had been outside the stage-coach, had received a severe
chill, was a little fevered, but added, 'I don't feel it now.' He
was easily persuaded to go to bed, and as he leapt into the cold
sheets, before his head was on the pillow, he slightly coughed and
said, 'That is blood from my mouth; bring me the candle; let me
see this blood' He gazed steadfastly for some moments at the ruddy
stain, and then, looking in his friend's face with an expression
of sudden calmness never to be forgotten, said, 'I know the colour
of that blood--it is arterial blood. I cannot be deceived in
that colour; that drop is my death-warrant. I must die!'"
--Houghton's LIFE OF KEATS, Ed. 1867, p. 289.
In the case of George Wilson, the bleeding was in the first
instance from the stomach, though he afterwards suffered from lung
haemorrhage like Keats. Wilson afterwards, speaking of the Lives
of Lamb and Keats, which had just appeared, said he had been
reading them with great sadness. "There is," said he, "something
in the noble brotherly love of Charles to brighten, and hallow,
and relieve that sadness; but Keats's deathbed is the blackness of
midnight, unmitigated by one ray of light!"
(14) On the doctors, who attended him in his first attack, mistaking
the haemorrhage from the stomach for haemorrhage from the lungs,
he wrote: "It would have been but poor consolation to have had
as an epitaph:-
"Here lies George Wilson,
Overtaken by Nemesis;
He died not of Haemoptysis,
But of Haematemesis."
(15) 'Memoir,' p. 427.
"Temper is nine-tenths of Christianity."--BISHOP WILSON.
"Heaven is a temper, not a place."--DR. CHALMERS.
"And should my youth, as youth is apt I know,
Some harshness show;
All vain asperities I day by day
Would wear away,
Till the smooth temper of my age should be
Like the high leaves upon the Holly Tree"--SOUTHEY.
Even Power itself hath not one-half the might of Gentleness"
It has been said that men succeed in life quite as much by their
temper as by their talents. However this may be, it is certain
that their happiness in life depends mainly upon their equanimity
of disposition, their patience and forbearance, and their kindness
and thoughtfulness for those about them. It is really true what
Plato says, that in seeking the good of others we find our own.
There are some natures so happily constituted that they can find
good in everything. There is no calamity so great but they can
educe comfort or consolation from it--no sky so black but they
can discover a gleam of sunshine issuing through it from some
quarter or another; and if the sun be not visible to their eyes,
they at least comfort themselves with the thought that it IS
there, though veiled from them for some good and wise purpose.
Such happy natures are to be envied. They have a beam in the eye
--a beam of pleasure, gladness, religious cheerfulness,
philosophy, call it what you will. Sunshine is about their
hearts, and their mind gilds with its own hues all that it looks
upon. When they have burdens to bear, they bear them cheerfully--
not repining, nor fretting, nor wasting their energies in useless
lamentation, but struggling onward manfully, gathering up such
flowers as lie along their path.
Let it not for a moment be supposed that men such as those we
speak of are weak and unreflective. The largest and most
comprehensive natures are generally also the most cheerful, the
most loving, the most hopeful, the most trustful. It is the wise
man, of large vision, who is the quickest to discern the moral
sunshine gleaming through the darkest cloud. In present evil he
sees prospective good; in pain, he recognises the effort of nature
to restore health; in trials, he finds correction and discipline;
and in sorrow and suffering, he gathers courage, knowledge, and
the best practical wisdom.
When Jeremy Taylor had lost all--when his house had been
plundered, and his family driven out-of-doors, and all his worldly
estate had been sequestrated--he could still write thus: "I am
fallen into the hands of publicans and sequestrators, and they
have taken all from me; what now? Let me look about me. They
have left me the sun and moon, a loving wife, and many friends to
pity me, and some to relieve me; and I can still discourse, and,
unless I list, they have not taken away my merry countenance and
my cheerful spirit, and a good conscience; they have still left me
the providence of God, and all the promises of the Gospel, and my
religion, and my hopes of heaven, and my charity to them, too; and
still I sleep and digest, I eat and drink, I read and meditate....
And he that hath so many causes of joy, and so great, is very much
in love with sorrow and peevishness, who loves all these
pleasures, and chooses to sit down upon his little handful
of thorns." (1)
Although cheerfulness of disposition is very much a matter of
inborn temperament, it is also capable of being trained and
cultivated like any other habit. We may make the best of life, or
we may make the worst of it; and it depends very much upon
ourselves whether we extract joy or misery from it. There are
always two sides of life on which we can look, according as we
choose--the bright side or the gloomy. We can bring the power of
the will to bear in making the choice, and thus cultivate the
habit of being happy or the reverse. We can encourage the
disposition of looking at the brightest side of things, instead of
the darkest. And while we see the cloud, let us not shut our eyes
to the silver lining.
The beam in the eye sheds brightness, beauty, and joy upon life in
all its phases. It shines upon coldness, and warms it; upon
suffering, and comforts it; upon ignorance, and enlightens it;
upon sorrow, and cheers it. The beam in the eye gives lustre to
intellect, and brightens beauty itself. Without it the sunshine
of life is not felt, flowers bloom in vain, the marvels of heaven
and earth are not seen or acknowledged, and creation is but a
dreary, lifeless, soulless blank.
While cheerfulness of disposition is a great source of enjoyment
in life, it is also a great safeguard of character. A devotional
writer of the present day, in answer to the question, How are we
to overcome temptations? says: "Cheerfulness is the first thing,
cheerfulness is the second, and cheerfulness is the third." It
furnishes the best soil for the growth of goodness and virtue. It
gives brightness of heart and elasticity of spirit. It is the
companion of charity, the nurse of patience the mother of wisdom.
It is also the best of moral and mental tonics. "The best cordial
of all," said Dr. Marshall Hall to one of his patients, "is
cheerfulness." And Solomon has said that "a merry heart doeth
good like a medicine." When Luther was once applied to for a
remedy against melancholy, his advice was: "Gaiety and courage--
innocent gaiety, and rational honourable courage--are the best
medicine for young men, and for old men, too; for all men against
sad thoughts." (2) Next to music, if not before it, Luther loved
children and flowers. The great gnarled man had a heart as
tender as a woman's.
Cheerfulness is also an excellent wearing quality. It has been
called the bright weather of the heart. It gives harmony of soul,
and is a perpetual song without words. It is tantamount to
repose. It enables nature to recruit its strength; whereas worry
and discontent debilitate it, involving constant wear-and-tear.
How is it that we see such men as Lord Palmerston growing old in
harness, working on vigorously to the end? Mainly through
equanimity of temper and habitual cheerfulness. They have
educated themselves in the habit of endurance, of not being easily
provoked, of bearing and forbearing, of hearing harsh and even
unjust things said of them without indulging in undue resentment,
and avoiding worreting, petty, and self-tormenting cares. An
intimate friend of Lord Palmerston, who observed him closely for
twenty years, has said that he never saw him angry, with perhaps
one exception; and that was when the ministry responsible for the
calamity in Affghanistan, of which he was one, were unjustly
accused by their opponents of falsehood, perjury, and wilful
mutilation of public documents.
So far as can be learnt from biography, men of the greatest genius
have been for the most part cheerful, contented men--not eager
for reputation, money, or power--but relishing life, and keenly
susceptible of enjoyment, as we find reflected in their works.
Such seem to have been Homer, Horace, Virgil, Montaigne,
Shakspeare, Cervantes. Healthy serene cheerfulness is apparent in
their great creations. Among the same class of cheerful-minded
men may also be mentioned Luther, More, Bacon, Leonardo da Vinci,
Raphael, and Michael Angelo. Perhaps they were happy because
constantly occupied, and in the pleasantest of all work--that of
creating out of the fulness and richness of their great minds.
Milton, too, though a man of many trials and sufferings, must
have been a man of great cheerfulness and elasticity of nature.
Though overtaken by blindness, deserted by friends, and fallen
upon evil days--"darkness before and danger's voice behind"
--yet did he not bate heart or hope, but "still bore up and
steered right onward."
Henry Fielding was a man borne down through life by debt, and
difficulty, and bodily suffering; and yet Lady Mary Wortley
Montague has said of him that, by virtue of his cheerful
disposition, she was persuaded he "had known more happy moments
than any person on earth."
Dr. Johnson, through all his trials and sufferings and hard fights
with fortune, was a courageous and cheerful-natured man. He
manfully made the best of life, and tried to be glad in it. Once,
when a clergyman was complaining of the dulness of society in the
country, saying "they only talk of runts" (young cows), Johnson
felt flattered by the observation of Mrs. Thrale's mother, who
said, "Sir, Dr. Johnson would learn to talk of runts"--meaning
that he was a man who would make the most of his situation,
whatever it was.
Johnson was of opinion that a man grew better as he grew older,
and that his nature mellowed with age. This is certainly a much
more cheerful view of human nature than that of Lord Chesterfield,
who saw life through the eyes of a cynic, and held that "the heart
never grows better by age: it only grows harder." But both
sayings may be true according to the point from which life is
viewed, and the temper by which a man is governed; for while the
good, profiting by experience, and disciplining themselves by
self-control, will grow better, the ill-conditioned, uninfluenced
by experience, will only grow worse.
Sir Walter Scott was a man full of the milk of human kindness.
Everybody loved him. He was never five minutes in a room ere the
little pets of the family, whether dumb or lisping, had found out
his kindness for all their generation. Scott related to Captain
Basil Hall an incident of his boyhood which showed the tenderness
of his nature. One day, a dog coming towards him, he took up a
big stone, threw it, and hit the dog. The poor creature had
strength enough left to crawl up to him and lick his feet,
although he saw its leg was broken. The incident, he said, had
given him the bitterest remorse in his after-life; but he added,
"An early circumstance of that kind, properly reflected on,
is calculated to have the best effect on one's character
"Give me an honest laugher," Scott would say; and he himself
laughed the heart's laugh. He had a kind word for everybody, and
his kindness acted all round him like a contagion, dispelling the
reserve and awe which his great name was calculated to inspire.
"He'll come here," said the keeper of the ruins of Melrose Abbey
to Washington Irving--"he'll come here some-times, wi' great
folks in his company, and the first I'll know of it is hearing his
voice calling out, 'Johnny! Johnny Bower!' And when I go out I'm
sure to be greeted wi' a joke or a pleasant word. He'll stand and
crack and laugh wi' me, just like an auld wife; and to think that
of a man that has SUCH AN AWFU' KNOWLEDGE O' HISTORY!"
Dr. Arnold was a man of the same hearty cordiality of manner--
full of human sympathy. There was not a particle of affectation
or pretence of condescension about him. "I never knew such a
humble man as the doctor," said the parish clerk at Laleham; "he
comes and shakes us by the hand as if he was one of us." "He used
to come into my house," said an old woman near Fox How, "and talk
to me as if I were a lady."
Sydney Smith was another illustration of the power of
cheerfulness. He was ever ready to look on the bright side of
things; the darkest cloud had to him its silver lining. Whether
working as country curate, or as parish rector, he was always
kind, laborious, patient, and exemplary; exhibiting in every
sphere of life the spirit of a Christian, the kindness of a
pastor, and the honour of a gentleman. In his leisure he employed
his pen on the side of justice, freedom, education, toleration,
emancipation; and his writings, though full of common-sense and
bright humour, are never vulgar; nor did he ever pander to
popularity or prejudice. His good spirits, thanks to his natural
vivacity and stamina of constitution, never forsook him; and in
his old age, when borne down by disease, he wrote to a friend: "I
have gout, asthma, and seven other maladies, but am otherwise very
well." In one of the last letters he wrote to Lady Carlisle, he
said: "If you hear of sixteen or eighteen pounds of flesh wanting
an owner, they belong to me. I look as if a curate had been
taken out of me."
Great men of science have for the most part been patient,
laborious, cheerful-minded men. Such were Galileo, Descartes,
Newton, and Laplace. Euler the mathematician, one of the greatest
of natural philosophers, was a distinguished instance. Towards
the close of his life he became completely blind; but he went on
writing as cheerfully as before, supplying the want of sight by
various ingenious mechanical devices, and by the increased
cultivation of his memory, which became exceedingly tenacious.
His chief pleasure was in the society of his grandchildren, to
whom he taught their little lessons in the intervals of his
In like manner, Professor Robison of Edinburgh, the first editor
of the 'Encyclopaedia Britannica,' when disabled from work by a
lingering and painful disorder, found his chief pleasure in the
society of his grandchild. "I am infinitely delighted," he wrote
to James Watt, "with observing the growth of its little soul, and
particularly with its numberless instincts, which formerly passed
unheeded. I thank the French theorists for more forcibly
directing my attention to the finger of God, which I discern in
every awkward movement and every wayward whim. They are all
guardians of his life and growth and power. I regret indeed
that I have not time to make infancy and the development of
its powers my sole study."
One of the sorest trials of a man's temper and patience was that
which befell Abauzit, the natural philosopher, while residing at
Geneva; resembling in many respects a similar calamity which
occurred to Newton, and which he bore with equal resignation.
Amongst other things, Abauzit devoted much study to the barometer
and its variations, with the object of deducing the general laws
which regulated atmospheric pressure. During twenty-seven years
he made numerous observations daily, recording them on sheets
prepared for the purpose. One day, when a new servant was
installed in the house, she immediately proceeded to display her
zeal by "putting things to-rights." Abauzit's study, amongst
other rooms, was made tidy and set in order. When he entered it,
he asked of the servant, "What have you done with the paper that
was round the barometer?" "Oh, sir," was the reply, "it was so
dirty that I burnt it, and put in its place this paper, which you
will see is quite new." Abauzit crossed his arms, and after some
moments of internal struggle, he said, in a tone of calmness and
resignation: "You have destroyed the results of twenty-seven years
labour; in future touch nothing whatever in this room."
The study of natural history more than that of any other branch of
science, seems to be accompanied by unusual cheerfulness and
equanimity of temper on the part of its votaries; the result of
which is, that the life of naturalists is on the whole more
prolonged than that of any other class of men of science. A
member of the Linnaean Society has informed us that of fourteen
members who died in 1870, two were over ninety, five were over
eighty, and two were over seventy. The average age of all the
members who died in that year was seventy-five.
Adanson, the French botanist, was about seventy years old when the
Revolution broke out, and amidst the shock he lost everything--
his fortune, his places, and his gardens. But his patience,
courage, and resignation never forsook him. He became reduced to
the greatest straits, and even wanted food and clothing; yet his
ardour of investigation remained the same. Once, when the
Institute invited him, as being one of its oldest members, to
assist at a SEANCE, his answer was that he regretted he could not
attend for want of shoes. "It was a touching sight," says Cuvier,
"to see the poor old man, bent over the embers of a decaying fire,
trying to trace characters with a feeble hand on the little bit of
paper which he held, forgetting all the pains of life in some new
idea in natural history, which came to him like some beneficent
fairy to cheer him in his loneliness." The Directory eventually
gave him a small pension, which Napoleon doubled; and at length,
easeful death came to his relief in his seventy-ninth year. A
clause in his will, as to the manner of his funeral, illustrates
the character of the man. He directed that a garland of flowers,
provided by fifty-eight families whom he had established in life,
should be the only decoration of his coffin--a slight but
touching image of the more durable monument which he had erected
for himself in his works.
Such are only a few instances, of the cheerful-working-ness of
great men, which might, indeed, be multiplied to any extent. All
large healthy natures are cheerful as well as hopeful. Their
example is also contagious and diffusive, brightening and cheering
all who come within reach of their influence. It was said of Sir
John Malcolm, when he appeared in a saddened camp in India, that
"it was like a gleam of sunlight,.... no man left him without a
smile on his face. He was 'boy Malcolm' still. It was impossible
to resist the fascination of his genial presence." (3)
There was the same joyousness of nature about Edmund Burke. Once
at a dinner at Sir Joshua Reynolds's, when the conversation turned
upon the suitability of liquors for particular temperaments,
Johnson said, "Claret is for boys, port for men, and brandy for
heroes." "Then," said Burke, "let me have claret: I love to be a
boy, and to have the careless gaiety of boyish days." And so it
is, that there are old young men, and young old men--some who are
as joyous and cheerful as boys in their old age, and others who
are as morose and cheerless as saddened old men while still in
In the presence of some priggish youths, we have heard a cheerful
old man declare that, apparently, there would soon be nothing but
"old boys" left. Cheerfulness, being generous and genial, joyous
and hearty, is never the characteristic of prigs. Goethe used to
exclaim of goody-goody persons, "Oh! if they had but the heart to
commit an absurdity!" This was when he thought they wanted
heartiness and nature. "Pretty dolls!" was his expression when
speaking of them, and turning away.
The true basis of cheerfulness is love, hope, and patience. Love
evokes love, and begets loving kindness. Love cherishes hopeful
and generous thoughts of others. It is charitable, gentle, and
truthful. It is a discerner of good. It turns to the brightest
side of things, and its face is ever directed towards happiness.
It sees "the glory in the grass, the sunshine on the flower." It
encourages happy thoughts, and lives in an atmosphere of
cheerfulness. It costs nothing, and yet is invaluable; for it
blesses its possessor, and grows up in abundant happiness in the
bosoms of others. Even its sorrows are linked with pleasures, and
its very tears are sweet.
Bentham lays it down as a principle, that a man becomes rich in
his own stock of pleasures in proportion to the amount he
distributes to others. His kindness will evoke kindness, and his
happiness be increased by his own benevolence. "Kind words," he
says, "cost no more than unkind ones. Kind words produce kind
actions, not only on the part of him to whom they are addressed,
but on the part of him by whom they are employed; and this not
incidentally only, but habitually, in virtue of the principle of
association.".... "It may indeed happen, that the effort of
beneficence may not benefit those for whom it was intended; but
when wisely directed, it MUST benefit the person from whom it
emanates. Good and friendly conduct may meet with an unworthy and
ungrateful return; but the absence of gratitude on the part of the
receiver cannot destroy the self-approbation which recompenses the
giver, and we may scatter the seeds of courtesy and kindliness
around us at so little expense. Some of them will inevitably fall
on good ground, and grow up into benevolence in the minds of
others; and all of them will bear fruit of happiness in the bosom
whence they spring. Once blest are all the virtues always; twice
blest sometimes." (4)
The poet Rogers used to tell a story of a little girl, a great
favourite with every one who knew her. Some one said to her, "Why
does everybody love you so much?" She answered, "I think it is
because I love everybody so much." This little story is capable
of a very wide application; for our happiness as human beings,
generally speaking, will be found to be very much in proportion to
the number of things we love, and the number of things that love
us. And the greatest worldly success, however honestly achieved,
will contribute comparatively little to happiness, unless it be
accompanied by a lively benevolence towards every human being.
Kindness is indeed a great power in the world. Leigh Hunt has
truly said that "Power itself hath not one half the might of
gentleness." Men are always best governed through their
affections. There is a French proverb which says that, "LES
HOMMES SE PRENNENT PAR LA DOUCEUR," and a coarser English one, to
the effect that "More wasps are caught by honey than by vinegar."
"Every act of kindness," says Bentham, "is in fact an exercise of
power, and a stock of friendship laid up; and why should not power
exercise itself in the production of pleasure as of pain?"
Kindness does not consist in gifts, but in gentleness and
generosity of spirit. Men may give their money which comes from
the purse, and withhold their kindness which comes from the heart.
The kindness that displays itself in giving money, does not amount
to much, and often does quite as much harm as good; but the
kindness of true sympathy, of thoughtful help, is never without
The good temper that displays itself in kindness must not be
confounded with softness or silliness. In its best form, it is
not a merely passive but an active condition of being. It is not
by any means indifferent, but largely sympathetic. It does not
characterise the lowest and most gelatinous forms of human life,
but those that are the most highly organized. True kindness
cherishes and actively promotes all reasonable instrumentalities
for doing practical good in its own time; and, looking into
futurity, sees the same spirit working on for the eventual
elevation and happiness of the race.
It is the kindly-dispositioned men who are the active men of the
world, while the selfish and the sceptical, who have no love but
for themselves, are its idlers. Buffon used to say, that he would
give nothing for a young man who did not begin life with an
enthusiasm of some sort. It showed that at least he had faith in
something good, lofty, and generous, even if unattainable.
Egotism, scepticism, and selfishness are always miserable
companions in life, and they are especially unnatural in youth.
The egotist is next-door to a fanatic. Constantly occupied with
self, he has no thought to spare for others. He refers to himself
in all things, thinks of himself, and studies himself, until his
own little self becomes his own little god.
Worst of all are the grumblers and growlers at fortune--who find
that "whatever is is wrong," and will do nothing to set matters
right--who declare all to be barren "from Dan even to Beersheba."
These grumblers are invariably found the least efficient helpers
in the school of life. As the worst workmen are usually the
readiest to "strike," so the least industrious members of society
are the readiest to complain. The worst wheel of all is the
one that creaks.
There is such a thing as the cherishing of discontent until the
feeling becomes morbid. The jaundiced see everything about them
yellow. The ill-conditioned think all things awry, and the whole
world out-of-joint. All is vanity and vexation of spirit. The
little girl in PUNCH, who found her doll stuffed with bran, and
forthwith declared everything to be hollow and wanted to "go into
a nunnery," had her counterpart in real life. Many full-grown
people are quite as morbidly unreasonable. There are those who
may be said to "enjoy bad health;" they regard it as a sort of
property. They can speak of "MY headache"--"MY backache," and so
forth, until in course of time it becomes their most cherished
possession. But perhaps it is the source to them of much coveted
sympathy, without which they might find themselves of
comparatively little importance in the world.
We have to be on our guard against small troubles, which, by
encouraging, we are apt to magnify into great ones. Indeed, the
chief source of worry in the world is not real but imaginary evil
--small vexations and trivial afflictions. In the presence of a
great sorrow, all petty troubles disappear; but we are too ready
to take some cherished misery to our bosom, and to pet it there.
Very often it is the child of our fancy; and, forgetful of the
many means of happiness which lie within our reach, we indulge
this spoilt child of ours until it masters us. We shut the door
against cheerfulness, and surround ourselves with gloom. The
habit gives a colouring to our life. We grow querulous, moody,
and unsympathetic. Our conversation becomes full of regrets. We
are harsh in our judgment of others. We are unsociable, and think
everybody else is so. We make our breast a storehouse of pain,
which we inflict upon ourselves as well as upon others.
This disposition is encouraged by selfishness: indeed, it is for
the most part selfishness unmingled, without any admixture of
sympathy or consideration for the feelings of those about us. It
is simply wilfulness in the wrong direction. It is wilful,
because it might be avoided. Let the necessitarians argue as they
may, freedom of will and action is the possession of every man and
woman. It is sometimes our glory, and very often it is our shame:
all depends upon the manner in which it is used. We can choose to
look at the bright side of things, or at the dark. We can follow
good and eschew evil thoughts. We can be wrongheaded and
wronghearted, or the reverse, as we ourselves determine. The
world will be to each one of us very much what we make it.
The cheerful are its real possessors, for the world belongs
to those who enjoy it.
It must, however, be admitted that there are cases beyond the
reach of the moralist. Once, when a miserable-looking dyspeptic
called upon a leading physician and laid his case before him,
"Oh!" said the doctor, "you only want a good hearty laugh:
go and see Grimaldi." "Alas!" said the miserable patient,
"I am Grimaldi!" So, when Smollett, oppressed by disease,
travelled over Europe in the hope of finding health, he saw
everything through his own jaundiced eyes. "I'll tell it,"
said Smellfungus, "to the world." "You had better tell it,"
said Sterne, "to your physician."
The restless, anxious, dissatisfied temper, that is ever ready to
run and meet care half-way, is fatal to all happiness and peace of
mind. How often do we see men and women set themselves about as
if with stiff bristles, so that one dare scarcely approach them
without fear of being pricked! For want of a little occasional
command over one's temper, an amount of misery is occasioned in
society which is positively frightful. Thus enjoyment is turned
into bitterness, and life becomes like a journey barefooted
amongst thorns and briers and prickles. "Though sometimes small
evils," says Richard Sharp, "like invisible insects, inflict great
pain, and a single hair may stop a vast machine, yet the chief
secret of comfort lies in not suffering trifles to vex us; and in
prudently cultivating an undergrowth of small pleasures, since
very few great ones, alas! are let on long leases." (5)
St. Francis de Sales treats the same topic from the Christian's
point of view. "How carefully," he says, "we should cherish the
little virtues which spring up at the foot of the Cross!" When
the saint was asked, "What virtues do you mean?" he replied:
"Humility, patience, meekness, benignity, bearing one another's
burden, condescension, softness of heart, cheerfulness,
cordiality, compassion, forgiving injuries, simplicity, candour--
all, in short of that sort of little virtues. They, like
unobtrusive violets, love the shade; like them are sustained by
dew; and though, like them, they make little show, they shed a
sweet odour on all around." (6)
And again he said: "If you would fall into any extreme, let it be
on the side of gentleness. The human mind is so constructed that
it resists rigour, and yields to softness. A mild word quenches
anger, as water quenches the rage of fire; and by benignity any
soil may be rendered fruitful. Truth, uttered with courtesy,
is heaping coals of fire on the head--or rather, throwing
roses in the face. How can we resist a foe whose weapons
are pearls and diamonds?" (7)
Meeting evils by anticipation is not the way to overcome them. If
we perpetually carry our burdens about with us, they will soon
bear us down under their load. When evil comes, we must deal with
it bravely and hopefully. What Perthes wrote to a young man, who
seemed to him inclined to take trifles as well as sorrows too much
to heart, was doubtless good advice: "Go forward with hope and
confidence. This is the advice given thee by an old man, who has
had a full share of the burden and heat of life's day. We must
ever stand upright, happen what may, and for this end we must
cheerfully resign ourselves to the varied influences of this many-
coloured life. You may call this levity, and you are partly
right; for flowers and colours are but trifles light as air, but
such levity is a constituent portion of our human nature, without
which it would sink under the weight of time. While on earth we
must still play with earth, and with that which blooms and fades
upon its breast. The consciousness of this mortal life being but
the way to a higher goal, by no means precludes our playing with
it cheerfully; and, indeed, we must do so, otherwise our energy in
action will entirely fail." (8)
Cheerfulness also accompanies patience, which is one of the main
conditions of happiness and success in life. "He that will be
served," says George Herbert, "must be patient." It was said of
the cheerful and patient King Alfred, that "good fortune
accompanied him like a gift of God." Marlborough's expectant
calmness was great, and a principal secret of his success as a
general. "Patience will overcome all things," he wrote to
Godolphin, in 1702. In the midst of a great emergency, while
baffled and opposed by his allies, he said, "Having done all that
is possible, we should submit with patience."
Last and chiefest of blessings is Hope, the most common of
possessions; for, as Thales the philosopher said, "Even those who
have nothing else have hope." Hope is the great helper of the
poor. It has even been styled "the poor man's bread." It is also
the sustainer and inspirer of great deeds. It is recorded of
Alexander the Great, that when he succeeded to the throne of
Macedon, he gave away amongst his friends the greater part of the
estates which his father had left him; and when Perdiccas asked
him what he reserved for himself, Alexander answered, "The
greatest possession of all,--Hope!"
The pleasures of memory, however great, are stale compared with
those of hope; for hope is the parent of all effort and endeavour;
and "every gift of noble origin is breathed upon by Hope's
perpetual breath." It may be said to be the moral engine that
moves the world, and keeps it in action; and at the end of all
there stands before us what Robertson of Ellon styled "The Great
Hope." "If it were not for Hope," said Byron, "where would the
Future be?--in hell! It is useless to say where the Present is,
for most of us know; and as for the Past, WHAT predominates in
memory?--Hope baffled. ERGO, in all human affairs it is Hope,
Hope, Hope!" (9)
(1) Jeremy Taylor's 'Holy Living.'
(2) 'Michelet's 'Life of Luther,' pp. 411-12.
(3) Sir John Kaye's 'Lives of Indian Officers.'
(4) 'Deontology,' pp. 130-1, 144.
(5) 'Letters and Essays,' p. 67.
(6) 'Beauties of St. Francis de Sales.'
(8) 'Life of Perthes,' ii. 449.
(9) Moore's 'Life of Byron,' 8vo. Ed., p. 483.
"We must be gentle, now we are gentlemen."--SHAKSPEARE.