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Self Help by Samuel Smiles

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be admitted to be by no means the practice of life. The golden
mean of Agur's perfect prayer is, perhaps, the best lot of all, did
we but know it: "Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with
food convenient for me." The late Joseph Brotherton, M.P., left a
fine motto to be recorded upon his monument in the Peel Park at
Manchester,--the declaration in his case being strictly true: "My
richness consisted not in the greatness of my possessions, but in
the smallness of my wants." He rose from the humblest station,
that of a factory boy, to an eminent position of usefulness, by the
simple exercise of homely honesty, industry, punctuality, and self-
denial. Down to the close of his life, when not attending
Parliament, he did duty as minister in a small chapel in Manchester
to which he was attached; and in all things he made it appear, to
those who knew him in private life, that the glory he sought was
NOT "to be seen of men," or to excite their praise, but to earn the
consciousness of discharging the every-day duties of life, down to
the smallest and humblest of them, in an honest, upright, truthful,
and loving spirit.

"Respectability," in its best sense, is good. The respectable man
is one worthy of regard, literally worth turning to look at. But
the respectability that consists in merely keeping up appearances
is not worth looking at in any sense. Far better and more
respectable is the good poor man than the bad rich one--better the
humble silent man than the agreeable well-appointed rogue who keeps
his gig. A well balanced and well-stored mind, a life full of
useful purpose, whatever the position occupied in it may be, is of
far greater importance than average worldly respectability. The
highest object of life we take to be, to form a manly character,
and to work out the best development possible, of body and spirit--
of mind, conscience, heart, and soul. This is the end: all else
ought to be regarded but as the means. Accordingly, that is not
the most successful life in which a man gets the most pleasure, the
most money, the most power or place, honour or fame; but that in
which a man gets the most manhood, and performs the greatest amount
of useful work and of human duty. Money is power after its sort,
it is true; but intelligence, public spirit, and moral virtue, are
powers too, and far nobler ones. "Let others plead for pensions,"
wrote Lord Collingwood to a friend; "I can be rich without money,
by endeavouring to be superior to everything poor. I would have my
services to my country unstained by any interested motive; and old
Scott {27} and I can go on in our cabbage-garden without much
greater expense than formerly." On another occasion he said, "I
have motives for my conduct which I would not give in exchange for
a hundred pensions."

The making of a fortune may no doubt enable some people to "enter
society," as it is called; but to be esteemed there, they must
possess qualities of mind, manners, or heart, else they are merely
rich people, nothing more. There are men "in society" now, as rich
as Croesus, who have no consideration extended towards them, and
elicit no respect. For why? They are but as money-bags: their
only power is in their till. The men of mark in society--the
guides and rulers of opinion--the really successful and useful men-
-are not necessarily rich men; but men of sterling character, of
disciplined experience, and of moral excellence. Even the poor
man, like Thomas Wright, though he possess but little of this
world's goods, may, in the enjoyment of a cultivated nature, of
opportunities used and not abused, of a life spent to the best of
his means and ability, look down, without the slightest feeling of
envy, upon the person of mere worldly success, the man of money-
bags and acres.


"Every person has two educations, one which he receives from
others, and one, more important, which he gives to himself."--

"Is there one whom difficulties dishearten--who bends to the storm?
He will do little. Is there one who will conquer? That kind of
man never fails."--John Hunter.

"The wise and active conquer difficulties,
By daring to attempt them: sloth and folly
Shiver and shrink at sight of toil and danger,
And MAKE the impossibility they fear."--Rowe.

"The best part of every man's education," said Sir Walter Scott,
"is that which he gives to himself." The late Sir Benjamin Brodie
delighted to remember this saying, and he used to congratulate
himself on the fact that professionally he was self-taught. But
this is necessarily the case with all men who have acquired
distinction in letters, science, or art. The education received at
school or college is but a beginning, and is valuable mainly
inasmuch as it trains the mind and habituates it to continuous
application and study. That which is put into us by others is
always far less ours than that which we acquire by our own diligent
and persevering effort. Knowledge conquered by labour becomes a
possession--a property entirely our own. A greater vividness and
permanency of impression is secured; and facts thus acquired become
registered in the mind in a way that mere imparted information can
never effect. This kind of self-culture also calls forth power and
cultivates strength. The solution of one problem helps the mastery
of another; and thus knowledge is carried into faculty. Our own
active effort is the essential thing; and no facilities, no books,
no teachers, no amount of lessons learnt by rote will enable us to
dispense with it.

The best teachers have been the readiest to recognize the
importance of self-culture, and of stimulating the student to
acquire knowledge by the active exercise of his own faculties.
They have relied more upon TRAINING than upon telling, and sought
to make their pupils themselves active parties to the work in which
they were engaged; thus making teaching something far higher than
the mere passive reception of the scraps and details of knowledge.
This was the spirit in which the great Dr. Arnold worked; he strove
to teach his pupils to rely upon themselves, and develop their
powers by their own active efforts, himself merely guiding,
directing, stimulating, and encouraging them. "I would far
rather," he said, "send a boy to Van Diemen's Land, where he must
work for his bread, than send him to Oxford to live in luxury,
without any desire in his mind to avail himself of his advantages."
"If there be one thing on earth," he observed on another occasion,
"which is truly admirable, it is to see God's wisdom blessing an
inferiority of natural powers, when they have been honestly, truly,
and zealously cultivated." Speaking of a pupil of this character,
he said, "I would stand to that man hat in hand." Once at Laleham,
when teaching a rather dull boy, Arnold spoke somewhat sharply to
him, on which the pupil looked up in his face and said, "Why do you
speak angrily, sir? INDEED, I am doing the best I can." Years
afterwards, Arnold used to tell the story to his children, and
added, "I never felt so much in my life--that look and that speech
I have never forgotten."

From the numerous instances already cited of men of humble station
who have risen to distinction in science and literature, it will be
obvious that labour is by no means incompatible with the highest
intellectual culture. Work in moderation is healthy, as well as
agreeable to the human constitution. Work educates the body, as
study educates the mind; and that is the best state of society in
which there is some work for every man's leisure, and some leisure
for every man's work. Even the leisure classes are in a measure
compelled to work, sometimes as a relief from ennui, but in most
cases to gratify an instinct which they cannot resist. Some go
foxhunting in the English counties, others grouse-shooting on the
Scotch hills, while many wander away every summer to climb
mountains in Switzerland. Hence the boating, running, cricketing,
and athletic sports of the public schools, in which our young men
at the same time so healthfully cultivate their strength both of
mind and body. It is said that the Duke of Wellington, when once
looking on at the boys engaged in their sports in the play-ground
at Eton, where he had spent many of his own younger days, made the
remark, "It was there that the battle of Waterloo was won!"

Daniel Malthus urged his son when at college to be most diligent in
the cultivation of knowledge, but he also enjoined him to pursue
manly sports as the best means of keeping up the full working power
of his mind, as well as of enjoying the pleasures of intellect.
"Every kind of knowledge," said he, "every acquaintance with nature
and art, will amuse and strengthen your mind, and I am perfectly
pleased that cricket should do the same by your arms and legs; I
love to see you excel in exercises of the body, and I think myself
that the better half, and much the most agreeable part, of the
pleasures of the mind is best enjoyed while one is upon one's
legs." But a still more important use of active employment is that
referred to by the great divine, Jeremy Taylor. "Avoid idleness,"
he says, "and fill up all the spaces of thy time with severe and
useful employment; for lust easily creeps in at those emptinesses
where the soul is unemployed and the body is at ease; for no easy,
healthful, idle person was ever chaste if he could be tempted; but
of all employments bodily labour is the most useful, and of the
greatest benefit for driving away the devil."

Practical success in life depends more upon physical health than is
generally imagined. Hodson, of Hodson's Horse, writing home to a
friend in England, said, "I believe, if I get on well in India, it
will be owing, physically speaking, to a sound digestion." The
capacity for continuous working in any calling must necessarily
depend in a great measure upon this; and hence the necessity for
attending to health, even as a means of intellectual labour. It is
perhaps to the neglect of physical exercise that we find amongst
students so frequent a tendency towards discontent, unhappiness,
inaction, and reverie,--displaying itself in contempt for real life
and disgust at the beaten tracks of men,--a tendency which in
England has been called Byronism, and in Germany Wertherism. Dr.
Channing noted the same growth in America, which led him to make
the remark, that "too many of our young men grow up in a school of
despair." The only remedy for this green-sickness in youth is
physical exercise--action, work, and bodily occupation.

The use of early labour in self-imposed mechanical employments may
be illustrated by the boyhood of Sir Isaac Newton. Though a
comparatively dull scholar, he was very assiduous in the use of his
saw, hammer, and hatchet--"knocking and hammering in his lodging
room"--making models of windmills, carriages, and machines of all
sorts; and as he grew older, he took delight in making little
tables and cupboards for his friends. Smeaton, Watt, and
Stephenson, were equally handy with tools when mere boys; and but
for such kind of self-culture in their youth, it is doubtful
whether they would have accomplished so much in their manhood.
Such was also the early training of the great inventors and
mechanics described in the preceding pages, whose contrivance and
intelligence were practically trained by the constant use of their
hands in early life. Even where men belonging to the manual labour
class have risen above it, and become more purely intellectual
labourers, they have found the advantages of their early training
in their later pursuits. Elihu Burritt says he found hard labour
NECESSARY to enable him to study with effect; and more than once he
gave up school-teaching and study, and, taking to his leather-apron
again, went back to his blacksmith's forge and anvil for his health
of body and mind's sake.

The training of young men in the use of tools would, at the same
time that it educated them in "common things," teach them the use
of their hands and arms, familiarize them with healthy work,
exercise their faculties upon things tangible and actual, give them
some practical acquaintance with mechanics, impart to them the
ability of being useful, and implant in them the habit of
persevering physical effort. This is an advantage which the
working classes, strictly so called, certainly possess over the
leisure classes,--that they are in early life under the necessity
of applying themselves laboriously to some mechanical pursuit or
other,--thus acquiring manual dexterity and the use of their
physical powers. The chief disadvantage attached to the calling of
the laborious classes is, not that they are employed in physical
work, but that they are too exclusively so employed, often to the
neglect of their moral and intellectual faculties. While the
youths of the leisure classes, having been taught to associate
labour with servility, have shunned it, and been allowed to grow up
practically ignorant, the poorer classes, confining themselves
within the circle of their laborious callings, have been allowed to
grow up in a large proportion of cases absolutely illiterate. It
seems possible, however, to avoid both these evils by combining
physical training or physical work with intellectual culture: and
there are various signs abroad which seem to mark the gradual
adoption of this healthier system of education.

The success of even professional men depends in no slight degree on
their physical health; and a public writer has gone so far as to
say that "the greatness of our great men is quite as much a bodily
affair as a mental one." {28} A healthy breathing apparatus is as
indispensable to the successful lawyer or politician as a well-
cultured intellect. The thorough aeration of the blood by free
exposure to a large breathing surface in the lungs, is necessary to
maintain that full vital power on which the vigorous working of the
brain in so large a measure depends. The lawyer has to climb the
heights of his profession through close and heated courts, and the
political leader has to bear the fatigue and excitement of long and
anxious debates in a crowded House. Hence the lawyer in full
practice and the parliamentary leader in full work are called upon
to display powers of physical endurance and activity even more
extraordinary than those of the intellect,--such powers as have
been exhibited in so remarkable a degree by Brougham, Lyndhurst,
and Campbell; by Peel, Graham, and Palmerston--all full-chested

Though Sir Walter Scott, when at Edinburgh College, went by the
name of "The Greek Blockhead," he was, notwithstanding his
lameness, a remarkably healthy youth: he could spear a salmon with
the best fisher on the Tweed, and ride a wild horse with any hunter
in Yarrow. When devoting himself in after life to literary
pursuits, Sir Walter never lost his taste for field sports; but
while writing 'Waverley' in the morning, he would in the afternoon
course hares. Professor Wilson was a very athlete, as great at
throwing the hammer as in his flights of eloquence and poetry; and
Burns, when a youth, was remarkable chiefly for his leaping,
putting, and wrestling. Some of our greatest divines were
distinguished in their youth for their physical energies. Isaac
Barrow, when at the Charterhouse School, was notorious for his
pugilistic encounters, in which he got many a bloody nose; Andrew
Fuller, when working as a farmer's lad at Soham, was chiefly famous
for his skill in boxing; and Adam Clarke, when a boy, was only
remarkable for the strength displayed by him in "rolling large
stones about,"--the secret, possibly, of some of the power which he
subsequently displayed in rolling forth large thoughts in his

While it is necessary, then, in the first place to secure this
solid foundation of physical health, it must also be observed that
the cultivation of the habit of mental application is quite
indispensable for the education of the student. The maxim that
"Labour conquers all things" holds especially true in the case of
the conquest of knowledge. The road into learning is alike free to
all who will give the labour and the study requisite to gather it;
nor are there any difficulties so great that the student of
resolute purpose may not surmount and overcome them. It was one of
the characteristic expressions of Chatterton, that God had sent his
creatures into the world with arms long enough to reach anything if
they chose to be at the trouble. In study, as in business, energy
is the great thing. There must be the "fervet opus": we must not
only strike the iron while it is hot, but strike it till it is made
hot. It is astonishing how much may be accomplished in self-
culture by the energetic and the persevering, who are careful to
avail themselves of opportunities, and use up the fragments of
spare time which the idle permit to run to waste. Thus Ferguson
learnt astronomy from the heavens, while wrapt in a sheep-skin on
the highland hills. Thus Stone learnt mathematics while working as
a journeyman gardener; thus Drew studied the highest philosophy in
the intervals of cobbling shoes; and thus Miller taught himself
geology while working as a day labourer in a quarry.

Sir Joshua Reynolds, as we have already observed, was so earnest a
believer in the force of industry that he held that all men might
achieve excellence if they would but exercise the power of
assiduous and patient working. He held that drudgery lay on the
road to genius, and that there was no limit to the proficiency of
an artist except the limit of his own painstaking. He would not
believe in what is called inspiration, but only in study and
labour. "Excellence," he said, "is never granted to man but as the
reward of labour." "If you have great talents, industry will
improve them; if you have but moderate abilities, industry will
supply their deficiency. Nothing is denied to well-directed
labour; nothing is to be obtained without it." Sir Fowell Buxton
was an equal believer in the power of study; and he entertained the
modest idea that he could do as well as other men if he devoted to
the pursuit double the time and labour that they did. He placed
his great confidence in ordinary means and extraordinary

"I have known several men in my life," says Dr. Ross, "who may be
recognized in days to come as men of genius, and they were all
plodders, hard-working, INTENT men. Genius is known by its works;
genius without works is a blind faith, a dumb oracle. But
meritorious works are the result of time and labour, and cannot be
accomplished by intention or by a wish. . . . Every great work is
the result of vast preparatory training. Facility comes by labour.
Nothing seems easy, not even walking, that was not difficult at
first. The orator whose eye flashes instantaneous fire, and whose
lips pour out a flood of noble thoughts, startling by their
unexpectedness, and elevating by their wisdom and truth, has
learned his secret by patient repetition, and after many bitter
disappointments." {29}

Thoroughness and accuracy are two principal points to be aimed at
in study. Francis Horner, in laying down rules for the cultivation
of his mind, placed great stress upon the habit of continuous
application to one subject for the sake of mastering it thoroughly;
he confined himself, with this object, to only a few books, and
resisted with the greatest firmness "every approach to a habit of
desultory reading." The value of knowledge to any man consists not
in its quantity, but mainly in the good uses to which he can apply
it. Hence a little knowledge, of an exact and perfect character,
is always found more valuable for practical purposes than any
extent of superficial learning.

One of Ignatius Loyola's maxims was, "He who does well one work at
a time, does more than all." By spreading our efforts over too
large a surface we inevitably weaken our force, hinder our
progress, and acquire a habit of fitfulness and ineffective
working. Lord St. Leonards once communicated to Sir Fowell Buxton
the mode in which he had conducted his studies, and thus explained
the secret of his success. "I resolved," said he, "when beginning
to read law, to make everything I acquired perfectly my own, and
never to go to a second thing till I had entirely accomplished the
first. Many of my competitors read as much in a day as I read in a
week; but, at the end of twelve months, my knowledge was as fresh
as the day it was acquired, while theirs had glided away from

It is not the quantity of study that one gets through, or the
amount of reading, that makes a wise man; but the appositeness of
the study to the purpose for which it is pursued; the concentration
of the mind for the time being on the subject under consideration;
and the habitual discipline by which the whole system of mental
application is regulated. Abernethy was even of opinion that there
was a point of saturation in his own mind, and that if he took into
it something more than it could hold, it only had the effect of
pushing something else out. Speaking of the study of medicine, he
said, "If a man has a clear idea of what he desires to do, he will
seldom fail in selecting the proper means of accomplishing it."

The most profitable study is that which is conducted with a
definite aim and object. By thoroughly mastering any given branch
of knowledge we render it more available for use at any moment.
Hence it is not enough merely to have books, or to know where to
read for information as we want it. Practical wisdom, for the
purposes of life, must be carried about with us, and be ready for
use at call. It is not sufficient that we have a fund laid up at
home, but not a farthing in the pocket: we must carry about with
us a store of the current coin of knowledge ready for exchange on
all occasions, else we are comparatively helpless when the
opportunity for using it occurs.

Decision and promptitude are as requisite in self-culture as in
business. The growth of these qualities may be encouraged by
accustoming young people to rely upon their own resources, leaving
them to enjoy as much freedom of action in early life as is
practicable. Too much guidance and restraint hinder the formation
of habits of self-help. They are like bladders tied under the arms
of one who has not taught himself to swim. Want of confidence is
perhaps a greater obstacle to improvement than is generally
imagined. It has been said that half the failures in life arise
from pulling in one's horse while he is leaping. Dr. Johnson was
accustomed to attribute his success to confidence in his own
powers. True modesty is quite compatible with a due estimate of
one's own merits, and does not demand the abnegation of all merit.
Though there are those who deceive themselves by putting a false
figure before their ciphers, the want of confidence, the want of
faith in one's self, and consequently the want of promptitude in
action, is a defect of character which is found to stand very much
in the way of individual progress; and the reason why so little is
done, is generally because so little is attempted.

There is usually no want of desire on the part of most persons to
arrive at the results of self-culture, but there is a great
aversion to pay the inevitable price for it, of hard work. Dr.
Johnson held that "impatience of study was the mental disease of
the present generation;" and the remark is still applicable. We
may not believe that there is a royal road to learning, but we seem
to believe very firmly in a "popular" one. In education, we invent
labour-saving processes, seek short cuts to science, learn French
and Latin "in twelve lessons," or "without a master." We resemble
the lady of fashion, who engaged a master to teach her on condition
that he did not plague her with verbs and participles. We get our
smattering of science in the same way; we learn chemistry by
listening to a short course of lectures enlivened by experiments,
and when we have inhaled laughing gas, seen green water turned to
red, and phosphorus burnt in oxygen, we have got our smattering, of
which the most that can be said is, that though it may be better
than nothing, it is yet good for nothing. Thus we often imagine we
are being educated while we are only being amused.

The facility with which young people are thus induced to acquire
knowledge, without study and labour, is not education. It occupies
but does not enrich the mind. It imparts a stimulus for the time,
and produces a sort of intellectual keenness and cleverness; but,
without an implanted purpose and a higher object than mere
pleasure, it will bring with it no solid advantage. In such cases
knowledge produces but a passing impression; a sensation, but no
more; it is, in fact, the merest epicurism of intelligence--
sensuous, but certainly not intellectual. Thus the best qualities
of many minds, those which are evoked by vigorous effort and
independent action, sleep a deep sleep, and are often never called
to life, except by the rough awakening of sudden calamity or
suffering, which, in such cases, comes as a blessing, if it serves
to rouse up a courageous spirit that, but for it, would have slept

Accustomed to acquire information under the guise of amusement,
young people will soon reject that which is presented to them under
the aspect of study and labour. Learning their knowledge and
science in sport, they will be too apt to make sport of both; while
the habit of intellectual dissipation, thus engendered, cannot
fail, in course of time, to produce a thoroughly emasculating
effect both upon their mind and character. "Multifarious reading,"
said Robertson of Brighton, "weakens the mind like smoking, and is
an excuse for its lying dormant. It is the idlest of all
idlenesses, and leaves more of impotency than any other."

The evil is a growing one, and operates in various ways. Its least
mischief is shallowness; its greatest, the aversion to steady
labour which it induces, and the low and feeble tone of mind which
it encourages. If we would be really wise, we must diligently
apply ourselves, and confront the same continuous application which
our forefathers did; for labour is still, and ever will be, the
inevitable price set upon everything which is valuable. We must be
satisfied to work with a purpose, and wait the results with
patience. All progress, of the best kind, is slow; but to him who
works faithfully and zealously the reward will, doubtless, be
vouchsafed in good time. The spirit of industry, embodied in a
man's daily life, will gradually lead him to exercise his powers on
objects outside himself, of greater dignity and more extended
usefulness. And still we must labour on; for the work of self-
culture is never finished. "To be employed," said the poet Gray,
"is to be happy." "It is better to wear out than rust out," said
Bishop Cumberland. "Have we not all eternity to rest in?"
exclaimed Arnauld. "Repos ailleurs" was the motto of Marnix de St.
Aldegonde, the energetic and ever-working friend of William the

It is the use we make of the powers entrusted to us, which
constitutes our only just claim to respect. He who employs his one
talent aright is as much to be honoured as he to whom ten talents
have been given. There is really no more personal merit attaching
to the possession of superior intellectual powers than there is in
the succession to a large estate. How are those powers used--how
is that estate employed? The mind may accumulate large stores of
knowledge without any useful purpose; but the knowledge must be
allied to goodness and wisdom, and embodied in upright character,
else it is naught. Pestalozzi even held intellectual training by
itself to be pernicious; insisting that the roots of all knowledge
must strike and feed in the soil of the rightly-governed will. The
acquisition of knowledge may, it is true, protect a man against the
meaner felonies of life; but not in any degree against its selfish
vices, unless fortified by sound principles and habits. Hence do
we find in daily life so many instances of men who are well-
informed in intellect, but utterly deformed in character; filled
with the learning of the schools, yet possessing little practical
wisdom, and offering examples for warning rather than imitation.
An often quoted expression at this day is that "Knowledge is
power;" but so also are fanaticism, despotism, and ambition.
Knowledge of itself, unless wisely directed, might merely make bad
men more dangerous, and the society in which it was regarded as the
highest good, little better than a pandemonium.

It is possible that at this day we may even exaggerate the
importance of literary culture. We are apt to imagine that because
we possess many libraries, institutes, and museums, we are making
great progress. But such facilities may as often be a hindrance as
a help to individual self-culture of the highest kind. The
possession of a library, or the free use of it, no more constitutes
learning, than the possession of wealth constitutes generosity.
Though we undoubtedly possess great facilities it is nevertheless
true, as of old, that wisdom and understanding can only become the
possession of individual men by travelling the old road of
observation, attention, perseverance, and industry. The possession
of the mere materials of knowledge is something very different from
wisdom and understanding, which are reached through a higher kind
of discipline than that of reading,--which is often but a mere
passive reception of other men's thoughts; there being little or no
active effort of mind in the transaction. Then how much of our
reading is but the indulgence of a sort of intellectual dram-
drinking, imparting a grateful excitement for the moment, without
the slightest effect in improving and enriching the mind or
building up the character. Thus many indulge themselves in the
conceit that they are cultivating their minds, when they are only
employed in the humbler occupation of killing time, of which
perhaps the best that can be said is that it keeps them from doing
worse things.

It is also to be borne in mind that the experience gathered from
books, though often valuable, is but of the nature of LEARNING;
whereas the experience gained from actual life is of the nature of
WISDOM; and a small store of the latter is worth vastly more than
any stock of the former. Lord Bolingbroke truly said that
"Whatever study tends neither directly nor indirectly to make us
better men and citizens, is at best but a specious and ingenious
sort of idleness, and the knowledge we acquire by it, only a
creditable kind of ignorance--nothing more."

Useful and instructive though good reading may be, it is yet only
one mode of cultivating the mind; and is much less influential than
practical experience and good example in the formation of
character. There were wise, valiant, and true-hearted men bred in
England, long before the existence of a reading public. Magna
Charta was secured by men who signed the deed with their marks.
Though altogether unskilled in the art of deciphering the literary
signs by which principles were denominated upon paper, they yet
understood and appreciated, and boldly contended for, the things
themselves. Thus the foundations of English liberty were laid by
men, who, though illiterate, were nevertheless of the very highest
stamp of character. And it must be admitted that the chief object
of culture is, not merely to fill the mind with other men's
thoughts, and to be the passive recipient of their impressions of
things, but to enlarge our individual intelligence, and render us
more useful and efficient workers in the sphere of life to which we
may be called. Many of our most energetic and useful workers have
been but sparing readers. Brindley and Stephenson did not learn to
read and write until they reached manhood, and yet they did great
works and lived manly lives; John Hunter could barely read or write
when he was twenty years old, though he could make tables and
chairs with any carpenter in the trade. "I never read," said the
great physiologist when lecturing before his class; "this"--
pointing to some part of the subject before him--"this is the work
that you must study if you wish to become eminent in your
profession." When told that one of his contemporaries had charged
him with being ignorant of the dead languages, he said, "I would
undertake to teach him that on the dead body which he never knew in
any language, dead or living."

It is not then how much a man may know, that is of importance, but
the end and purpose for which he knows it. The object of knowledge
should be to mature wisdom and improve character, to render us
better, happier, and more useful; more benevolent, more energetic,
and more efficient in the pursuit of every high purpose in life.
"When people once fall into the habit of admiring and encouraging
ability as such, without reference to moral character--and
religious and political opinions are the concrete form of moral
character--they are on the highway to all sorts of degradation."
{30} We must ourselves BE and DO, and not rest satisfied merely
with reading and meditating over what other men have been and done.
Our best light must be made life, and our best thought action. At
least we ought to be able to say, as Richter did, "I have made as
much out of myself as could be made of the stuff, and no man should
require more;" for it is every man's duty to discipline and guide
himself, with God's help, according to his responsibilities and the
faculties with which he has been endowed.

Self-discipline and self-control are the beginnings of practical
wisdom; and these must have their root in self-respect. Hope
springs from it--hope, which is the companion of power, and the
mother of success; for whoso hopes strongly has within him the gift
of miracles. The humblest may say, "To respect myself, to develop
myself--this is my true duty in life. An integral and responsible
part of the great system of society, I owe it to society and to its
Author not to degrade or destroy either my body, mind, or
instincts. On the contrary, I am bound to the best of my power to
give to those parts of my constitution the highest degree of
perfection possible. I am not only to suppress the evil, but to
evoke the good elements in my nature. And as I respect myself, so
am I equally bound to respect others, as they on their part are
bound to respect me." Hence mutual respect, justice, and order, of
which law becomes the written record and guarantee.

Self-respect is the noblest garment with which a man may clothe
himself--the most elevating feeling with which the mind can be
inspired. One of Pythagoras's wisest maxims, in his 'Golden
Verses,' is that with which he enjoins the pupil to "reverence
himself." Borne up by this high idea, he will not defile his body
by sensuality, nor his mind by servile thoughts. This sentiment,
carried into daily life, will be found at the root of all the
virtues--cleanliness, sobriety, chastity, morality, and religion.
"The pious and just honouring of ourselves," said Milton, may be
thought the radical moisture and fountain-head from whence every
laudable and worthy enterprise issues forth." To think meanly of
one's self, is to sink in one's own estimation as well as in the
estimation of others. And as the thoughts are, so will the acts
be. Man cannot aspire if he look down; if he will rise, he must
look up. The very humblest may be sustained by the proper
indulgence of this feeling. Poverty itself may be lifted and
lighted up by self-respect; and it is truly a noble sight to see a
poor man hold himself upright amidst his temptations, and refuse to
demean himself by low actions.

One way in which self-culture may be degraded is by regarding it
too exclusively as a means of "getting on." Viewed in this light,
it is unquestionable that education is one of the best investments
of time and labour. In any line of life, intelligence will enable
a man to adapt himself more readily to circumstances, suggest
improved methods of working, and render him more apt, skilled and
effective in all respects. He who works with his head as well as
his hands, will come to look at his business with a clearer eye;
and he will become conscious of increasing power--perhaps the most
cheering consciousness the human mind can cherish. The power of
self-help will gradually grow; and in proportion to a man's self-
respect, will he be armed against the temptation of low
indulgences. Society and its action will be regarded with quite a
new interest, his sympathies will widen and enlarge, and he will
thus be attracted to work for others as well as for himself.

Self-culture may not, however, end in eminence, as in the numerous
instances above cited. The great majority of men, in all times,
however enlightened, must necessarily be engaged in the ordinary
avocations of industry; and no degree of culture which can be
conferred upon the community at large will ever enable them--even
were it desirable, which it is not--to get rid of the daily work of
society, which must be done. But this, we think, may also be
accomplished. We can elevate the condition of labour by allying it
to noble thoughts, which confer a grace upon the lowliest as well
as the highest rank. For no matter how poor or humble a man may
be, the great thinker of this and other days may come in and sit
down with him, and be his companion for the time, though his
dwelling be the meanest hut. It is thus that the habit of well-
directed reading may become a source of the greatest pleasure and
self-improvement, and exercise a gentle coercion, with the most
beneficial results, over the whole tenour of a man's character and
conduct. And even though self-culture may not bring wealth, it
will at all events give one the companionship of elevated thoughts.
A nobleman once contemptuously asked of a sage, "What have you got
by all your philosophy?" "At least I have got society in myself,"
was the wise man's reply.

But many are apt to feel despondent, and become discouraged in the
work of self-culture, because they do not "get on" in the world so
fast as they think they deserve to do. Having planted their acorn,
they expect to see it grow into an oak at once. They have perhaps
looked upon knowledge in the light of a marketable commodity, and
are consequently mortified because it does not sell as they
expected it would do. Mr. Tremenheere, in one of his 'Education
Reports' (for 1840-1), states that a schoolmaster in Norfolk,
finding his school rapidly falling off, made inquiry into the
cause, and ascertained that the reason given by the majority of the
parents for withdrawing their children was, that they had expected
"education was to make them better off than they were before," but
that having found it had "done them no good," they had taken their
children from school, and would give themselves no further trouble
about education!

The same low idea of self-culture is but too prevalent in other
classes, and is encouraged by the false views of life which are
always more or less current in society. But to regard self-culture
either as a means of getting past others in the world, or of
intellectual dissipation and amusement, rather than as a power to
elevate the character and expand the spiritual nature, is to place
it on a very low level. To use the words of Bacon, "Knowledge is
not a shop for profit or sale, but a rich storehouse for the glory
of the Creator and the relief of man's estate." It is doubtless
most honourable for a man to labour to elevate himself, and to
better his condition in society, but this is not to be done at the
sacrifice of himself. To make the mind the mere drudge of the
body, is putting it to a very servile use; and to go about whining
and bemoaning our pitiful lot because we fail in achieving that
success in life which, after all, depends rather upon habits of
industry and attention to business details than upon knowledge, is
the mark of a small, and often of a sour mind. Such a temper
cannot better be reproved than in the words of Robert Southey, who
thus wrote to a friend who sought his counsel: "I would give you
advice if it could be of use; but there is no curing those who
choose to be diseased. A good man and a wise man may at times be
angry with the world, at times grieved for it; but be sure no man
was ever discontented with the world if he did his duty in it. If
a man of education, who has health, eyes, hands, and leisure, wants
an object, it is only because God Almighty has bestowed all those
blessings upon a man who does not deserve them."

Another way in which education may be prostituted is by employing
it as a mere means of intellectual dissipation and amusement. Many
are the ministers to this taste in our time. There is almost a
mania for frivolity and excitement, which exhibits itself in many
forms in our popular literature. To meet the public taste, our
books and periodicals must now be highly spiced, amusing, and
comic, not disdaining slang, and illustrative of breaches of all
laws, human and divine. Douglas Jerrold once observed of this
tendency, "I am convinced the world will get tired (at least I hope
so) of this eternal guffaw about all things. After all, life has
something serious in it. It cannot be all a comic history of
humanity. Some men would, I believe, write a Comic Sermon on the
Mount. Think of a Comic History of England, the drollery of
Alfred, the fun of Sir Thomas More, the farce of his daughter
begging the dead head and clasping it in her coffin on her bosom.
Surely the world will be sick of this blasphemy." John Sterling,
in a like spirit, said:- "Periodicals and novels are to all in this
generation, but more especially to those whose minds are still
unformed and in the process of formation, a new and more effectual
substitute for the plagues of Egypt, vermin that corrupt the
wholesome waters and infest our chambers."

As a rest from toil and a relaxation from graver pursuits, the
perusal of a well-written story, by a writer of genius, is a high
intellectual pleasure; and it is a description of literature to
which all classes of readers, old and young, are attracted as by a
powerful instinct; nor would we have any of them debarred from its
enjoyment in a reasonable degree. But to make it the exclusive
literary diet, as some do,--to devour the garbage with which the
shelves of circulating libraries are filled,--and to occupy the
greater portion of the leisure hours in studying the preposterous
pictures of human life which so many of them present, is worse than
waste of time: it is positively pernicious. The habitual novel-
reader indulges in fictitious feelings so much, that there is great
risk of sound and healthy feeling becoming perverted or benumbed.
"I never go to hear a tragedy," said a gay man once to the
Archbishop of York, "it wears my heart out." The literary pity
evoked by fiction leads to no corresponding action; the
susceptibilities which it excites involve neither inconvenience nor
self-sacrifice; so that the heart that is touched too often by the
fiction may at length become insensible to the reality. The steel
is gradually rubbed out of the character, and it insensibly loses
its vital spring. "Drawing fine pictures of virtue in one's mind,"
said Bishop Butler, "is so far from necessarily or certainly
conducive to form a HABIT of it in him who thus employs himself,
that it may even harden the mind in a contrary course, and render
it gradually more insensible."

Amusement in moderation is wholesome, and to be commended; but
amusement in excess vitiates the whole nature, and is a thing to be
carefully guarded against. The maxim is often quoted of "All work
and no play makes Jack a dull boy;" but all play and no work makes
him something greatly worse. Nothing can be more hurtful to a
youth than to have his soul sodden with pleasure. The best
qualities of his mind are impaired; common enjoyments become
tasteless; his appetite for the higher kind of pleasures is
vitiated; and when he comes to face the work and the duties of
life, the result is usually aversion and disgust. "Fast" men waste
and exhaust the powers of life, and dry up the sources of true
happiness. Having forestalled their spring, they can produce no
healthy growth of either character or intellect. A child without
simplicity, a maiden without innocence, a boy without truthfulness,
are not more piteous sights than the man who has wasted and thrown
away his youth in self-indulgence. Mirabeau said of himself, "My
early years have already in a great measure disinherited the
succeeding ones, and dissipated a great part of my vital powers."
As the wrong done to another to-day returns upon ourselves to-
morrow, so the sins of our youth rise up in our age to scourge us.
When Lord Bacon says that "strength of nature in youth passeth over
many excesses which are owing a man until he is old," he exposes a
physical as well as a moral fact which cannot be too well weighed
in the conduct of life. "I assure you," wrote Giusti the Italian
to a friend, "I pay a heavy price for existence. It is true that
our lives are not at our own disposal. Nature pretends to give
them gratis at the beginning, and then sends in her account." The
worst of youthful indiscretions is, not that they destroy health,
so much as that they sully manhood. The dissipated youth becomes a
tainted man; and often he cannot be pure, even if he would. If
cure there be, it is only to be found in inoculating the mind with
a fervent spirit of duty, and in energetic application to useful

One of the most gifted of Frenchmen, in point of great intellectual
endowments, was Benjamin Constant; but, blase at twenty, his life
was only a prolonged wail, instead of a harvest of the great deeds
which he was capable of accomplishing with ordinary diligence and
self-control. He resolved upon doing so many things, which he
never did, that people came to speak of him as Constant the
Inconstant. He was a fluent and brilliant writer, and cherished
the ambition of writing works, "which the world would not willingly
let die." But whilst Constant affected the highest thinking,
unhappily he practised the lowest living; nor did the
transcendentalism of his books atone for the meanness of his life.
He frequented the gaming-tables while engaged in preparing his work
upon religion, and carried on a disreputable intrigue while writing
his 'Adolphe.' With all his powers of intellect, he was powerless,
because he had no faith in virtue. "Bah!" said he, "what are
honour and dignity? The longer I live, the more clearly I see
there is nothing in them." It was the howl of a miserable man. He
described himself as but "ashes and dust." "I pass," said he,
"like a shadow over the earth, accompanied by misery and ennui."
He wished for Voltaire's energy, which he would rather have
possessed than his genius. But he had no strength of purpose--
nothing but wishes: his life, prematurely exhausted, had become
but a heap of broken links. He spoke of himself as a person with
one foot in the air. He admitted that he had no principles, and no
moral consistency. Hence, with his splendid talents, he contrived
to do nothing; and, after living many years miserable, he died worn
out and wretched.

The career of Augustin Thierry, the author of the 'History of the
Norman Conquest,' affords an admirable contrast to that of
Constant. His entire life presented a striking example of
perseverance, diligence, self culture, and untiring devotion to
knowledge. In the pursuit he lost his eyesight, lost his health,
but never lost his love of truth. When so feeble that he was
carried from room to room, like a helpless infant, in the arms of a
nurse, his brave spirit never failed him; and blind and helpless
though he was, he concluded his literary career in the following
noble words:- "If, as I think, the interest of science is counted
in the number of great national interests, I have given my country
all that the soldier, mutilated on the field of battle, gives her.
Whatever may be the fate of my labours, this example, I hope, will
not be lost. I would wish it to serve to combat the species of
moral weakness which is THE DISEASE of our present generation; to
bring back into the straight road of life some of those enervated
souls that complain of wanting faith, that know not what to do, and
seek everywhere, without finding it, an object of worship and
admiration. Why say, with so much bitterness, that in the world,
constituted as it is, there is no air for all lungs--no employment
for all minds? Is not calm and serious study there? and is not
that a refuge, a hope, a field within the reach of all of us? With
it, evil days are passed over without their weight being felt.
Every one can make his own destiny--every one employ his life
nobly. This is what I have done, and would do again if I had to
recommence my career; I would choose that which has brought me
where I am. Blind, and suffering without hope, and almost without
intermission, I may give this testimony, which from me will not
appear suspicious. There is something in the world better than
sensual enjoyments, better than fortune, better than health itself-
-it is devotion to knowledge."

Coleridge, in many respects, resembled Constant. He possessed
equally brilliant powers, but was similarly infirm of purpose.
With all his great intellectual gifts, he wanted the gift of
industry, and was averse to continuous labour. He wanted also the
sense of independence, and thought it no degradation to leave his
wife and children to be maintained by the brain-work of the noble
Southey, while he himself retired to Highgate Grove to discourse
transcendentalism to his disciples, looking down contemptuously
upon the honest work going forward beneath him amidst the din and
smoke of London. With remunerative employment at his command he
stooped to accept the charity of friends; and, notwithstanding his
lofty ideas of philosophy, he condescended to humiliations from
which many a day-labourer would have shrunk. How different in
spirit was Southey! labouring not merely at work of his own choice,
and at taskwork often tedious and distasteful, but also
unremittingly and with the utmost eagerness seeking and storing
knowledge purely for the love of it. Every day, every hour had its
allotted employment: engagements to publishers requiring punctual
fulfilment; the current expenses of a large household duty to
provide: for Southey had no crop growing while his pen was idle.
"My ways," he used to say, "are as broad as the king's high-road,
and my means lie in an inkstand."

Robert Nicoll wrote to a friend, after reading the 'Recollections
of Coleridge,' "What a mighty intellect was lost in that man for
want of a little energy--a little determination!" Nicoll himself
was a true and brave spirit, who died young, but not before he had
encountered and overcome great difficulties in life. At his
outset, while carrying on a small business as a bookseller, he
found himself weighed down with a debt of only twenty pounds, which
he said he felt "weighing like a millstone round his neck," and
that, "if he had it paid he never would borrow again from mortal
man." Writing to his mother at the time he said, "Fear not for me,
dear mother, for I feel myself daily growing firmer and more
hopeful in spirit. The more I think and reflect--and thinking, not
reading, is now my occupation--I feel that, whether I be growing
richer or not, I am growing a wiser man, which is far better.
Pain, poverty, and all the other wild beasts of life which so
affrighten others, I am so bold as to think I could look in the
face without shrinking, without losing respect for myself, faith in
man's high destinies, or trust in God. There is a point which it
costs much mental toil and struggling to gain, but which, when once
gained, a man can look down from, as a traveller from a lofty
mountain, on storms raging below, while he is walking in sunshine.
That I have yet gained this point in life I will not say, but I
feel myself daily nearer to it."

It is not ease, but effort--not facility, but difficulty, that
makes men. There is, perhaps, no station in life, in which
difficulties have not to be encountered and overcome before any
decided measure of success can be achieved. Those difficulties
are, however, our best instructors, as our mistakes often form our
best experience. Charles James Fox was accustomed to say that he
hoped more from a man who failed, and yet went on in spite of his
failure, than from the buoyant career of the successful. "It is
all very well," said he, "to tell me that a young man has
distinguished himself by a brilliant first speech. He may go on,
or he may be satisfied with his first triumph; but show me a young
man who has NOT succeeded at first, and nevertheless has gone on,
and I will back that young man to do better than most of those who
have succeeded at the first trial."

We learn wisdom from failure much more than from success. We often
discover what WILL do, by finding out what will not do; and
probably he who never made a mistake never made a discovery. It
was the failure in the attempt to make a sucking-pump act, when the
working bucket was more than thirty-three feet above the surface of
the water to be raised, that led observant men to study the law of
atmospheric pressure, and opened a new field of research to the
genius of Galileo, Torrecelli, and Boyle. John Hunter used to
remark that the art of surgery would not advance until professional
men had the courage to publish their failures as well as their
successes. Watt the engineer said, of all things most wanted in
mechanical engineering was a history of failures: "We want," he
said, "a book of blots." When Sir Humphry Davy was once shown a
dexterously manipulated experiment, he said--"I thank God I was not
made a dexterous manipulator, for the most important of my
discoveries have been suggested to me by failures." Another
distinguished investigator in physical science has left it on
record that, whenever in the course of his researches he
encountered an apparently insuperable obstacle, he generally found
himself on the brink of some discovery. The very greatest things--
great thoughts, discoveries, inventions--have usually been nurtured
in hardship, often pondered over in sorrow, and at length
established with difficulty.

Beethoven said of Rossini, that he had in him the stuff to have
made a good musician if he had only, when a boy, been well flogged;
but that he had been spoilt by the facility with which he produced.
Men who feel their strength within them need not fear to encounter
adverse opinions; they have far greater reason to fear undue praise
and too friendly criticism. When Mendelssohn was about to enter
the orchestra at Birmingham, on the first performance of his
'Elijah,' he said laughingly to one of his friends and critics,
"Stick your claws into me! Don't tell me what you like, but what
you don't like!"

It has been said, and truly, that it is the defeat that tries the
general more than the victory. Washington lost more battles than
he gained; but he succeeded in the end. The Romans, in their most
victorious campaigns, almost invariably began with defeats. Moreau
used to be compared by his companions to a drum, which nobody hears
of except it be beaten. Wellington's military genius was perfected
by encounter with difficulties of apparently the most overwhelming
character, but which only served to nerve his resolution, and bring
out more prominently his great qualities as a man and a general.
So the skilful mariner obtains his best experience amidst storms
and tempests, which train him to self-reliance, courage, and the
highest discipline; and we probably own to rough seas and wintry
nights the best training of our race of British seamen, who are,
certainly, not surpassed by any in the world.

Necessity may be a hard schoolmistress, but she is generally found
the best. Though the ordeal of adversity is one from which we
naturally shrink, yet, when it comes, we must bravely and manfully
encounter it. Burns says truly,

"Though losses and crosses
Be lessons right severe,
There's wit there, you'll get there,
You'll find no other where."

"Sweet indeed are the uses of adversity." They reveal to us our
powers, and call forth our energies. If there be real worth in the
character, like sweet herbs, it will give forth its finest
fragrance when pressed. "Crosses," says the old proverb, "are the
ladders that lead to heaven." "What is even poverty itself," asks
Richter, "that a man should murmur under it? It is but as the pain
of piercing a maiden's ear, and you hang precious jewels in the
wound." In the experience of life it is found that the wholesome
discipline of adversity in strong natures usually carries with it a
self-preserving influence. Many are found capable of bravely
bearing up under privations, and cheerfully encountering
obstructions, who are afterwards found unable to withstand the more
dangerous influences of prosperity. It is only a weak man whom the
wind deprives of his cloak: a man of average strength is more in
danger of losing it when assailed by the beams of a too genial sun.
Thus it often needs a higher discipline and a stronger character to
bear up under good fortune than under adverse. Some generous
natures kindle and warm with prosperity, but there are many on whom
wealth has no such influence. Base hearts it only hardens, making
those who were mean and servile, mean and proud. But while
prosperity is apt to harden the heart to pride, adversity in a man
of resolution will serve to ripen it into fortitude. To use the
words of Burke, "Difficulty is a severe instructor, set over us by
the supreme ordinance of a parental guardian and instructor, who
knows us better than we know ourselves, as He loves us better too.
He that wrestles with us strengthens our nerves, and sharpens our
skill: our antagonist is thus our helper." Without the necessity
of encountering difficulty, life might be easier, but men would be
worth less. For trials, wisely improved, train the character, and
teach self-help; thus hardship itself may often prove the
wholesomest discipline for us, though we recognise it not. When
the gallant young Hodson, unjustly removed from his Indian command,
felt himself sore pressed down by unmerited calumny and reproach,
he yet preserved the courage to say to a friend, "I strive to look
the worst boldly in the face, as I would an enemy in the field, and
to do my appointed work resolutely and to the best of my ability,
satisfied that there is a reason for all; and that even irksome
duties well done bring their own reward, and that, if not, still
they ARE duties."

The battle of life is, in most cases, fought up-hill; and to win it
without a struggle were perhaps to win it without honour. If there
were no difficulties there would be no success; if there were
nothing to struggle for, there would be nothing to be achieved.
Difficulties may intimidate the weak, but they act only as a
wholesome stimulus to men of resolution and valour. All experience
of life indeed serves to prove that the impediments thrown in the
way of human advancement may for the most part be overcome by
steady good conduct, honest zeal, activity, perseverance, and above
all by a determined resolution to surmount difficulties, and stand
up manfully against misfortune.

The school of Difficulty is the best school of moral discipline,
for nations as for individuals. Indeed, the history of difficulty
would be but a history of all the great and good things that have
yet been accomplished by men. It is hard to say how much northern
nations owe to their encounter with a comparatively rude and
changeable climate and an originally sterile soil, which is one of
the necessities of their condition,--involving a perennial struggle
with difficulties such as the natives of sunnier climes know
nothing of. And thus it may be, that though our finest products
are exotic, the skill and industry which have been necessary to
rear them, have issued in the production of a native growth of men
not surpassed on the globe.

Wherever there is difficulty, the individual man must come out for
better for worse. Encounter with it will train his strength, and
discipline his skill; heartening him for future effort, as the
racer, by being trained to run against the hill, at length courses
with facility. The road to success may be steep to climb, and it
puts to the proof the energies of him who would reach the summit.
But by experience a man soon learns that obstacles are to be
overcome by grappling with them,--that the nettle feels as soft as
silk when it is boldly grasped,--and that the most effective help
towards realizing the object proposed is the moral conviction that
we can and will accomplish it. Thus difficulties often fall away
of themselves before the determination to overcome them.

Much will be done if we do but try. Nobody knows what he can do
till he has tried; and few try their best till they have been
forced to do it. "IF I could do such and such a thing," sighs the
desponding youth. But nothing will be done if he only wishes. The
desire must ripen into purpose and effort; and one energetic
attempt is worth a thousand aspirations. It is these thorny "ifs"-
-the mutterings of impotence and despair--which so often hedge
round the field of possibility, and prevent anything being done or
even attempted. "A difficulty," said Lord Lyndhurst, "is a thing
to be overcome;" grapple with it at once; facility will come with
practice, and strength and fortitude with repeated effort. Thus
the mind and character may be trained to an almost perfect
discipline, and enabled to act with a grace, spirit, and liberty,
almost incomprehensible to those who have not passed through a
similar experience.

Everything that we learn is the mastery of a difficulty; and the
mastery of one helps to the mastery of others. Things which may at
first sight appear comparatively valueless in education--such as
the study of the dead languages, and the relations of lines and
surfaces which we call mathematics--are really of the greatest
practical value, not so much because of the information which they
yield, as because of the development which they compel. The
mastery of these studies evokes effort, and cultivates powers of
application, which otherwise might have lain dormant, Thus one
thing leads to another, and so the work goes on through life--
encounter with difficulty ending only when life and culture end.
But indulging in the feeling of discouragement never helped any one
over a difficulty, and never will. D'Alembert's advice to the
student who complained to him about his want of success in
mastering the first elements of mathematics was the right one--"Go
on, sir, and faith and strength will come to you."

The danseuse who turns a pirouette, the violinist who plays a
sonata, have acquired their dexterity by patient repetition and
after many failures. Carissimi, when praised for the ease and
grace of his melodies, exclaimed, "Ah! you little know with what
difficulty this ease has been acquired." Sir Joshua Reynolds, when
once asked how long it had taken him to paint a certain picture,
replied, "All my life." Henry Clay, the American orator, when
giving advice to young men, thus described to them the secret of
his success in the cultivation of his art: "I owe my success in
life," said he, "chiefly to one circumstance--that at the age of
twenty-seven I commenced, and continued for years, the process of
daily reading and speaking upon the contents of some historical or
scientific book. These off-hand efforts were made, sometimes in a
cornfield, at others in the forest, and not unfrequently in some
distant barn, with the horse and the ox for my auditors. It is to
this early practice of the art of all arts that I am indebted for
the primary and leading impulses that stimulated me onward and have
shaped and moulded my whole subsequent destiny."

Curran, the Irish orator, when a youth, had a strong defect in his
articulation, and at school he was known as "stuttering Jack
Curran." While he was engaged in the study of the law, and still
struggling to overcome his defect, he was stung into eloquence by
the sarcasms of a member of a debating club, who characterised him
as "Orator Mum;" for, like Cowper, when he stood up to speak on a
previous occasion, Curran had not been able to utter a word. The
taunt stung him and he replied in a triumphant speech. This
accidental discovery in himself of the gift of eloquence encouraged
him to proceed in his studies with renewed energy. He corrected
his enunciation by reading aloud, emphatically and distinctly, the
best passages in literature, for several hours every day, studying
his features before a mirror, and adopting a method of
gesticulation suited to his rather awkward and ungraceful figure.
He also proposed cases to himself, which he argued with as much
care as if he had been addressing a jury. Curran began business
with the qualification which Lord Eldon stated to be the first
requisite for distinction, that is, "to be not worth a shilling."
While working his way laboriously at the bar, still oppressed by
the diffidence which had overcome him in his debating club, he was
on one occasion provoked by the Judge (Robinson) into making a very
severe retort. In the case under discussion, Curran observed "that
he had never met the law as laid down by his lordship in any book
in his library." "That may be, sir," said the judge, in a
contemptuous tone, "but I suspect that YOUR library is very small."
His lordship was notoriously a furious political partisan, the
author of several anonymous pamphlets characterised by unusual
violence and dogmatism. Curran, roused by the allusion to his
straitened circumstances, replied thus; "It is very true, my lord,
that I am poor, and the circumstance has certainly curtailed my
library; my books are not numerous, but they are select, and I hope
they have been perused with proper dispositions. I have prepared
myself for this high profession by the study of a few good works,
rather than by the composition of a great many bad ones. I am not
ashamed of my poverty; but I should be ashamed of my wealth, could
I have stooped to acquire it by servility and corruption. If I
rise not to rank, I shall at least be honest; and should I ever
cease to be so, many an example shows me that an ill-gained
elevation, by making me the more conspicuous, would only make me
the more universally and the more notoriously contemptible."

The extremest poverty has been no obstacle in the way of men
devoted to the duty of self-culture. Professor Alexander Murray,
the linguist, learnt to write by scribbling his letters on an old
wool-card with the end of a burnt heather stem. The only book
which his father, who was a poor shepherd, possessed, was a penny
Shorter Catechism; but that, being thought too valuable for common
use, was carefully preserved in a cupboard for the Sunday
catechisings. Professor Moor, when a young man, being too poor to
purchase Newton's 'Principia,' borrowed the book, and copied the
whole of it with his own hand. Many poor students, while labouring
daily for their living, have only been able to snatch an atom of
knowledge here and there at intervals, as birds do their food in
winter time when the fields are covered with snow. They have
struggled on, and faith and hope have come to them. A well-known
author and publisher, William Chambers, of Edinburgh, speaking
before an assemblage of young men in that city, thus briefly
described to them his humble beginnings, for their encouragement:
"I stand before you," he said, "a self-educated man. My education
was that which is supplied at the humble parish schools of
Scotland; and it was only when I went to Edinburgh, a poor boy,
that I devoted my evenings, after the labours of the day, to the
cultivation of that intellect which the Almighty has given me.
From seven or eight in the morning till nine or ten at night was I
at my business as a bookseller's apprentice, and it was only during
hours after these, stolen from sleep, that I could devote myself to
study. I did not read novels: my attention was devoted to
physical science, and other useful matters. I also taught myself
French. I look back to those times with great pleasure, and am
almost sorry I have not to go through the same experience again;
for I reaped more pleasure when I had not a sixpence in my pocket,
studying in a garret in Edinburgh, then I now find when sitting
amidst all the elegancies and comforts of a parlour."

William Cobbett's account of how he learnt English Grammar is full
of interest and instruction for all students labouring under
difficulties. "I learned grammar," said he, "when I was a private
soldier on the pay of sixpence a day. The edge of my berth, or
that of my guard-bed, was my seat to study in; my knapsack was my
book-case; a bit of board lying on my lap was my writing-table; and
the task did not demand anything like a year of my life. I had no
money to purchase candle or oil; in winter time it was rarely that
I could get any evening light but that of the fire, and only my
turn even of that. And if I, under such circumstances, and without
parent or friend to advise or encourage me, accomplished this
undertaking, what excuse can there be for any youth, however poor,
however pressed with business, or however circumstanced as to room
or other conveniences? To buy a pen or a sheet of paper I was
compelled to forego some portion of food, though in a state of
half-starvation: I had no moment of time that I could call my own;
and I had to read and to write amidst the talking, laughing,
singing, whistling, and brawling of at least half a score of the
most thoughtless of men, and that, too, in the hours of their
freedom from all control. Think not lightly of the farthing that I
had to give, now and then, for ink, pen, or paper! That farthing
was, alas! a great sum to me! I was as tall as I am now; I had
great health and great exercise. The whole of the money, not
expended for us at market, was two-pence a week for each man. I
remember, and well I may! that on one occasion I, after all
necessary expenses, had, on a Friday, made shifts to have a
halfpenny in reserve, which I had destined for the purchase of a
redherring in the morning; but, when I pulled off my clothes at
night, so hungry then as to be hardly able to endure life, I found
that I had lost my halfpenny! I buried my head under the miserable
sheet and rug, and cried like a child! And again I say, if, I,
under circumstances like these, could encounter and overcome this
task, is there, can there be, in the whole world, a youth to find
an excuse for the non-performance?"

We have been informed of an equally striking instance of
perseverance and application in learning on the part of a French
political exile in London. His original occupation was that of a
stonemason, at which he found employment for some time; but work
becoming slack, he lost his place, and poverty stared him in the
face. In his dilemma he called upon a fellow exile profitably
engaged in teaching French, and consulted him what he ought to do
to earn a living. The answer was, "Become a professor!" "A
professor?" answered the mason--"I, who am only a workman, speaking
but a patois! Surely you are jesting?" "On the contrary, I am
quite serious," said the other, "and again I advise you--become a
professor; place yourself under me, and I will undertake to teach
you how to teach others." "No, no!" replied the mason, "it is
impossible; I am too old to learn; I am too little of a scholar; I
cannot be a professor." He went away, and again he tried to obtain
employment at his trade. From London he went into the provinces,
and travelled several hundred miles in vain; he could not find a
master. Returning to London, he went direct to his former adviser,
and said, "I have tried everywhere for work, and failed; I will now
try to be a professor!" He immediately placed himself under
instruction; and being a man of close application, of quick
apprehension, and vigorous intelligence, he speedily mastered the
elements of grammar, the rules of construction and composition, and
(what he had still in a great measure to learn) the correct
pronunciation of classical French. When his friend and instructor
thought him sufficiently competent to undertake the teaching of
others, an appointment, advertised as vacant, was applied for and
obtained; and behold our artisan at length become professor! It so
happened, that the seminary to which he was appointed was situated
in a suburb of London where he had formerly worked as a stonemason;
and every morning the first thing which met his eyes on looking out
of his dressing-room window was a stack of cottage chimneys which
he had himself built! He feared for a time lest he should be
recognised in the village as the quondam workman, and thus bring
discredit on his seminary, which was of high standing. But he need
have been under no such apprehension, as he proved a most efficient
teacher, and his pupils were on more than one occasion publicly
complimented for their knowledge of French. Meanwhile, he secured
the respect and friendship of all who knew him--fellow-professors
as well as pupils; and when the story of his struggles, his
difficulties, and his past history, became known to them, they
admired him more than ever.

Sir Samuel Romilly was not less indefatigable as a self-cultivator.
The son of a jeweller, descended from a French refugee, he received
little education in his early years, but overcame all his
disadvantages by unwearied application, and by efforts constantly
directed towards the same end. "I determined," he says, in his
autobiography, "when I was between fifteen and sixteen years of
age, to apply myself seriously to learning Latin, of which I, at
that time, knew little more than some of the most familiar rules of
grammar. In the course of three or four years, during which I thus
applied myself, I had read almost every prose writer of the age of
pure Latinity, except those who have treated merely of technical
subjects, such as Varro, Columella, and Celsus. I had gone three
times through the whole of Livy, Sallust, and Tacitus. I had
studied the most celebrated orations of Cicero, and translated a
great deal of Homer. Terence, Virgil, Horace, Ovid, and Juvenal, I
had read over and over again." He also studied geography, natural
history, and natural philosophy, and obtained a considerable
acquaintance with general knowledge. At sixteen he was articled to
a clerk in Chancery; worked hard; was admitted to the bar; and his
industry and perseverance ensured success. He became Solicitor-
General under the Fox administration in 1806, and steadily worked
his way to the highest celebrity in his profession. Yet he was
always haunted by a painful and almost oppressive sense of his own
disqualifications, and never ceased labouring to remedy them. His
autobiography is a lesson of instructive facts, worth volumes of
sentiment, and well deserves a careful perusal.

Sir Walter Scott was accustomed to cite the case of his young
friend John Leyden as one of the most remarkable illustrations of
the power of perseverance which he had ever known. The son of a
shepherd in one of the wildest valleys of Roxburghshire, he was
almost entirely self educated. Like many Scotch shepherds' sons--
like Hogg, who taught himself to write by copying the letters of a
printed book as he lay watching his flock on the hill-side--like
Cairns, who from tending sheep on the Lammermoors, raised himself
by dint of application and industry to the professor's chair which
he now so worthily holds--like Murray, Ferguson, and many more,
Leyden was early inspired by a thirst for knowledge. When a poor
barefooted boy, he walked six or eight miles across the moors daily
to learn reading at the little village schoolhouse of Kirkton; and
this was all the education he received; the rest he acquired for
himself. He found his way to Edinburgh to attend the college
there, setting the extremest penury at defiance. He was first
discovered as a frequenter of a small bookseller's shop kept by
Archibald Constable, afterwards so well known as a publisher. He
would pass hour after hour perched on a ladder in mid-air, with
some great folio in his hand, forgetful of the scanty meal of bread
and water which awaited him at his miserable lodging. Access to
books and lectures comprised all within the bounds of his wishes.
Thus he toiled and battled at the gates of science until his
unconquerable perseverance carried everything before it. Before he
had attained his nineteenth year he had astonished all the
professors in Edinburgh by his profound knowledge of Greek and
Latin, and the general mass of information he had acquired. Having
turned his views to India, he sought employment in the civil
service, but failed. He was however informed that a surgeon's
assistant's commission was open to him. But he was no surgeon, and
knew no more of the profession than a child. He could however
learn. Then he was told that he must be ready to pass in six
months! Nothing daunted, he set to work, to acquire in six months
what usually required three years. At the end of six months he
took his degree with honour. Scott and a few friends helped to fit
him out; and he sailed for India, after publishing his beautiful
poem 'The Scenes of Infancy.' In India he promised to become one
of the greatest of oriental scholars, but was unhappily cut off by
fever caught by exposure, and died at an early age.

The life of the late Dr. Lee, Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge,
furnishes one of the most remarkable instances in modern times of
the power of patient perseverance and resolute purpose in working
out an honourable career in literature. He received his education
at a charity school at Lognor, near Shrewsbury, but so little
distinguished himself there, that his master pronounced him one of
the dullest boys that ever passed through his hands. He was put
apprentice to a carpenter, and worked at that trade until he
arrived at manhood. To occupy his leisure hours he took to
reading; and, some of the books containing Latin quotations, he
became desirous of ascertaining what they meant. He bought a Latin
grammar, and proceeded to learn Latin. As Stone, the Duke of
Argyle's gardener, said, long before, "Does one need to know
anything more than the twenty-four letters in order to learn
everything else that one wishes?" Lee rose early and sat up late,
and he succeeded in mastering the Latin before his apprenticeship
was out. Whilst working one day in some place of worship, a copy
of a Greek Testament fell in his way, and he was immediately filled
with the desire to learn that language. He accordingly sold some
of his Latin books, and purchased a Greek Grammar and Lexicon.
Taking pleasure in learning, he soon mastered the language. Then
he sold his Greek books, and bought Hebrew ones, and learnt that
language, unassisted by any instructor, without any hope of fame or
reward, but simply following the bent of his genius. He next
proceeded to learn the Chaldee, Syriac, and Samaritan dialects.
But his studies began to tell upon his health, and brought on
disease in his eyes through his long night watchings with his
books. Having laid them aside for a time and recovered his health,
he went on with his daily work. His character as a tradesman being
excellent, his business improved, and his means enabled him to
marry, which he did when twenty-eight years old. He determined now
to devote himself to the maintenance of his family, and to renounce
the luxury of literature; accordingly he sold all his books. He
might have continued a working carpenter all his life, had not the
chest of tools upon which he depended for subsistence been
destroyed by fire, and destitution stared him in the face. He was
too poor to buy new tools, so he bethought him of teaching children
their letters,--a profession requiring the least possible capital.
But though he had mastered many languages, he was so defective in
the common branches of knowledge, that at first he could not teach
them. Resolute of purpose, however, he assiduously set to work,
and taught himself arithmetic and writing to such a degree as to be
able to impart the knowledge of these branches to little children.
His unaffected, simple, and beautiful character gradually attracted
friends, and the acquirements of the "learned carpenter" became
bruited abroad. Dr. Scott, a neighbouring clergyman, obtained for
him the appointment of master of a charity school in Shrewsbury,
and introduced him to a distinguished Oriental scholar. These
friends supplied him with books, and Lee successively mastered
Arabic, Persic, and Hindostanee. He continued to pursue his
studies while on duty as a private in the local militia of the
county; gradually acquiring greater proficiency in languages. At
length his kind patron, Dr. Scott, enabled Lee to enter Queen's
College, Cambridge; and after a course of study, in which he
distinguished himself by his mathematical acquirements, a vacancy
occurring in the professorship of Arabic and Hebrew, he was
worthily elected to fill the honourable office. Besides ably
performing his duties as a professor, he voluntarily gave much of
his time to the instruction of missionaries going forth to preach
the Gospel to eastern tribes in their own tongue. He also made
translations of the Bible into several Asiatic dialects; and having
mastered the New Zealand language, he arranged a grammar and
vocabulary for two New Zealand chiefs who were then in England,
which books are now in daily use in the New Zealand schools. Such,
in brief, is the remarkable history of Dr. Samuel Lee; and it is
but the counterpart of numerous similarly instructive examples of
the power of perseverance in self-culture, as displayed in the
lives of many of the most distinguished of our literary and
scientific men.

There are many other illustrious names which might be cited to
prove the truth of the common saying that "it is never too late to
learn." Even at advanced years men can do much, if they will
determine on making a beginning. Sir Henry Spelman did not begin
the study of science until he was between fifty and sixty years of
age. Franklin was fifty before he fully entered upon the study of
Natural Philosophy. Dryden and Scott were not known as authors
until each was in his fortieth year. Boccaccio was thirty-five
when he commenced his literary career, and Alfieri was forty-six
when he began the study of Greek. Dr. Arnold learnt German at an
advanced age, for the purpose of reading Niebuhr in the original;
and in like manner James Watt, when about forty, while working at
his trade of an instrument maker in Glasgow, learnt French, German,
and Italian, to enable himself to peruse the valuable works on
mechanical philosophy which existed in those languages. Thomas
Scott was fifty-six before he began to learn Hebrew. Robert Hall
was once found lying upon the floor, racked by pain, learning
Italian in his old age, to enable him to judge of the parallel
drawn by Macaulay between Milton and Dante. Handel was forty-eight
before he published any of his great works. Indeed hundreds of
instances might be given of men who struck out an entirely new
path, and successfully entered on new studies, at a comparatively
advanced time of life. None but the frivolous or the indolent will
say, "I am too old to learn." {31}

And here we would repeat what we have said before, that it is not
men of genius who move the world and take the lead in it, so much
as men of steadfastness, purpose, and indefatigable industry.
Notwithstanding the many undeniable instances of the precocity of
men of genius, it is nevertheless true that early cleverness gives
no indication of the height to which the grown man will reach.
Precocity is sometimes a symptom of disease rather than of
intellectual vigour. What becomes of all the "remarkably clever
children?" Where are the duxes and prize boys? Trace them through
life, and it will frequently be found that the dull boys, who were
beaten at school, have shot ahead of them. The clever boys are
rewarded, but the prizes which they gain by their greater quickness
and facility do not always prove of use to them. What ought rather
to be rewarded is the endeavour, the struggle, and the obedience;
for it is the youth who does his best, though endowed with an
inferiority of natural powers, that ought above all others to be

An interesting chapter might be written on the subject of
illustrious dunces--dull boys, but brilliant men. We have room,
however, for only a few instances. Pietro di Cortona, the painter,
was thought so stupid that he was nicknamed "Ass's Head" when a
boy; and Tomaso Guidi was generally known as "Heavy Tom" (Massaccio
Tomasaccio), though by diligence he afterwards raised himself to
the highest eminence. Newton, when at school, stood at the bottom
of the lowest form but one. The boy above Newton having kicked
him, the dunce showed his pluck by challenging him to a fight, and
beat him. Then he set to work with a will, and determined also to
vanquish his antagonist as a scholar, which he did, rising to the
top of his class. Many of our greatest divines have been anything
but precocious. Isaac Barrow, when a boy at the Charterhouse
School, was notorious chiefly for his strong temper, pugnacious
habits, and proverbial idleness as a scholar; and he caused such
grief to his parents that his father used to say that, if it
pleased God to take from him any of his children, he hoped it might
be Isaac, the least promising of them all. Adam Clarke, when a
boy, was proclaimed by his father to be "a grievous dunce;" though
he could roll large stones about. Dean Swift was "plucked" at
Dublin University, and only obtained his recommendation to Oxford
"speciali gratia." The well-known Dr. Chalmers and Dr. Cook {32}
were boys together at the parish school of St. Andrew's; and they
were found so stupid and mischievous, that the master, irritated
beyond measure, dismissed them both as incorrigible dunces.

The brilliant Sheridan showed so little capacity as a boy, that he
was presented to a tutor by his mother with the complimentary
accompaniment that he was an incorrigible dunce. Walter Scott was
all but a dunce when a boy, always much readier for a "bicker,"
than apt at his lessons. At the Edinburgh University, Professor
Dalzell pronounced upon him the sentence that "Dunce he was, and
dunce he would remain." Chatterton was returned on his mother's
hands as "a fool, of whom nothing could be made." Burns was a dull
boy, good only at athletic exercises. Goldsmith spoke of himself,
as a plant that flowered late. Alfieri left college no wiser than
he entered it, and did not begin the studies by which he
distinguished himself, until he had run half over Europe. Robert
Clive was a dunce, if not a reprobate, when a youth; but always
full of energy, even in badness. His family, glad to get rid of
him, shipped him off to Madras; and he lived to lay the foundations
of the British power in India. Napoleon and Wellington were both
dull boys, not distinguishing themselves in any way at school. {33}
Of the former the Duchess d'Abrantes says, "he had good health, but
was in other respects like other boys."

Ulysses Grant, the Commander-in-Chief of the United States, was
called "Useless Grant" by his mother--he was so dull and unhandy
when a boy; and Stonewall Jackson, Lee's greatest lieutenant, was,
in his youth, chiefly noted for his slowness. While a pupil at
West Point Military Academy he was, however, equally remarkable for
his indefatigable application and perseverance. When a task was
set him, he never left it until he had mastered it; nor did he ever
feign to possess knowledge which he had not entirely acquired.
"Again and again," wrote one who knew him, "when called upon to
answer questions in the recitation of the day, he would reply, 'I
have not yet looked at it; I have been engaged in mastering the
recitation of yesterday or the day before.' The result was that he
graduated seventeenth in a class of seventy. There was probably in
the whole class not a boy to whom Jackson at the outset was not
inferior in knowledge and attainments; but at the end of the race
he had only sixteen before him, and had outstripped no fewer than
fifty-three. It used to be said of him by his contemporaries, that
if the course had been for ten years instead of four, Jackson would
have graduated at the head of his class." {34}

John Howard, the philanthropist, was another illustrious dunce,
learning next to nothing during the seven years that he was at
school. Stephenson, as a youth, was distinguished chiefly for his
skill at putting and wrestling, and attention to his work. The
brilliant Sir Humphry Davy was no cleverer than other boys: his
teacher, Dr. Cardew, once said of him, "While he was with me I
could not discern the faculties by which he was so much
distinguished." Indeed, Davy himself in after life considered it
fortunate that he had been left to "enjoy so much idleness" at
school. Watt was a dull scholar, notwithstanding the stories told
about his precocity; but he was, what was better, patient and
perseverant, and it was by such qualities, and by his carefully
cultivated inventiveness, that he was enabled to perfect his steam-

What Dr. Arnold said of boys is equally true of men--that the
difference between one boy and another consists not so much in
talent as in energy. Given perseverance and energy soon becomes
habitual. Provided the dunce has persistency and application he
will inevitably head the cleverer fellow without those qualities.
Slow but sure wins the race. It is perseverance that explains how
the position of boys at school is so often reversed in real life;
and it is curious to note how some who were then so clever have
since become so commonplace; whilst others, dull boys, of whom
nothing was expected, slow in their faculties but sure in their
pace, have assumed the position of leaders of men. The author of
this book, when a boy, stood in the same class with one of the
greatest of dunces. One teacher after another had tried his skill
upon him and failed. Corporal punishment, the fool's cap, coaxing,
and earnest entreaty, proved alike fruitless. Sometimes the
experiment was tried of putting him at the top of his class, and it
was curious to note the rapidity with which he gravitated to the
inevitable bottom. The youth was given up by his teachers as an
incorrigible dunce--one of them pronouncing him to be a "stupendous
booby." Yet, slow though he was, this dunce had a sort of dull
energy of purpose in him, which grew with his muscles and his
manhood; and, strange to say, when he at length came to take part
in the practical business of life, he was found heading most of his
school companions, and eventually left the greater number of them
far behind. The last time the author heard of him, he was chief
magistrate of his native town.

The tortoise in the right road will beat a racer in the wrong. It
matters not though a youth be slow, if he be but diligent.
Quickness of parts may even prove a defect, inasmuch as the boy who
learns readily will often forget as readily; and also because he
finds no need of cultivating that quality of application and
perseverance which the slower youth is compelled to exercise, and
which proves so valuable an element in the formation of every
character. Davy said "What I am I have made myself;" and the same
holds true universally.

To conclude: the best culture is not obtained from teachers when
at school or college, so much as by our own diligent self-education
when we have become men. Hence parents need not be in too great
haste to see their children's talents forced into bloom. Let them
watch and wait patiently, letting good example and quiet training
do their work, and leave the rest to Providence. Let them see to
it that the youth is provided, by free exercise of his bodily
powers, with a full stock of physical health; set him fairly on the
road of self-culture; carefully train his habits of application and
perseverance; and as he grows older, if the right stuff be in him,
he will be enabled vigorously and effectively to cultivate himself.


"Ever their phantoms rise before us,
Our loftier brothers, but one in blood;
By bed and table they lord it o'er us,
With looks of beauty and words of good."--John Sterling.

"Children may be strangled, but Deeds never; they have an
indestructible life, both in and out of our consciousness."--George

"There is no action of man in this life, which is not the beginning
of so long a chain of consequences, as that no human providence is
high enough to give us a prospect to the end."--Thomas of

Example is one of the most potent of instructors, though it teaches
without a tongue. It is the practical school of mankind, working
by action, which is always more forcible than words. Precept may
point to us the way, but it is silent continuous example, conveyed
to us by habits, and living with us in fact, that carries us along.
Good advice has its weight: but without the accompaniment of a
good example it is of comparatively small influence; and it will be
found that the common saying of "Do as I say, not as I do," is
usually reversed in the actual experience of life.

All persons are more or less apt to learn through the eye rather
than the ear; and, whatever is seen in fact, makes a far deeper
impression than anything that is merely read or heard. This is
especially the case in early youth, when the eye is the chief inlet
of knowledge. Whatever children see they unconsciously imitate.
They insensibly come to resemble those who are about them--as
insects take the colour of the leaves they feed on. Hence the vast
importance of domestic training. For whatever may be the
efficiency of schools, the examples set in our Homes must always be
of vastly greater influence in forming the characters of our future
men and women. The Home is the crystal of society--the nucleus of
national character; and from that source, be it pure or tainted,
issue the habits, principles and maxims, which govern public as
well as private life. The nation comes from the nursery. Public
opinion itself is for the most part the outgrowth of the home; and
the best philanthropy comes from the fireside. "To love the little
platoon we belong to in society," says Burke, "is the germ of all
public affections." From this little central spot, the human
sympathies may extend in an ever widening circle, until the world
is embraced; for, though true philanthropy, like charity, begins at
home, assuredly it does not end there.

Example in conduct, therefore, even in apparently trivial matters,
is of no light moment, inasmuch as it is constantly becoming
inwoven with the lives of others, and contributing to form their
natures for better or for worse. The characters of parents are
thus constantly repeated in their children; and the acts of
affection, discipline, industry, and self-control, which they daily
exemplify, live and act when all else which may have been learned
through the ear has long been forgotten. Hence a wise man was
accustomed to speak of his children as his "future state." Even
the mute action and unconscious look of a parent may give a stamp
to the character which is never effaced; and who can tell how much
evil act has been stayed by the thought of some good parent, whose
memory their children may not sully by the commission of an
unworthy deed, or the indulgence of an impure thought? The veriest
trifles thus become of importance in influencing the characters of
men. "A kiss from my mother," said West, "made me a painter." It
is on the direction of such seeming trifles when children that the
future happiness and success of men mainly depend. Fowell Buxton,
when occupying an eminent and influential station in life, wrote to
his mother, "I constantly feel, especially in action and exertion
for others, the effects of principles early implanted by you in my
mind." Buxton was also accustomed to remember with gratitude the
obligations which he owed to an illiterate man, a gamekeeper, named
Abraham Plastow, with whom he played, and rode, and sported--a man
who could neither read nor write, but was full of natural good
sense and mother-wit. "What made him particularly valuable," says
Buxton, "were his principles of integrity and honour. He never
said or did a thing in the absence of my mother of which she would
have disapproved. He always held up the highest standard of
integrity, and filled our youthful minds with sentiments as pure
and as generous as could be found in the writings of Seneca or
Cicero. Such was my first instructor, and, I must add, my best."

Lord Langdale, looking back upon the admirable example set him by
his mother, declared, "If the whole world were put into one scale,
and my mother into the other, the world would kick the beam." Mrs.
Schimmel Penninck, in her old age, was accustomed to call to mind
the personal influence exercised by her mother upon the society
amidst which she moved. When she entered a room it had the effect
of immediately raising the tone of the conversation, and as if
purifying the moral atmosphere--all seeming to breathe more freely,
and stand more erectly. "In her presence," says the daughter, "I
became for the time transformed into another person." So much does
she moral health depend upon the moral atmosphere that is breathed,
and so great is the influence daily exercised by parents over their
children by living a life before their eyes, that perhaps the best
system of parental instruction might be summed up in these two
words: "Improve thyself."

There is something solemn and awful in the thought that there is
not an act done or a word uttered by a human being but carries with
it a train of consequences, the end of which we may never trace.
Not one but, to a certain extent, gives a colour to our life, and
insensibly influences the lives of those about us. The good deed
or word will live, even though we may not see it fructify, but so
will the bad; and no person is so insignificant as to be sure that
his example will not do good on the one hand, or evil on the other.
The spirits of men do not die: they still live and walk abroad
among us. It was a fine and a true thought uttered by Mr. Disraeli
in the House of Commons on the death of Richard Cobden, that "he
was one of those men who, though not present, were still members of
that House, who were independent of dissolutions, of the caprices
of constituencies, and even of the course of time."

There is, indeed, an essence of immortality in the life of man,
even in this world. No individual in the universe stands alone; he
is a component part of a system of mutual dependencies; and by his
several acts he either increases or diminishes the sum of human
good now and for ever. As the present is rooted in the past, and
the lives and examples of our forefathers still to a great extent
influence us, so are we by our daily acts contributing to form the
condition and character of the future. Man is a fruit formed and
ripened by the culture of all the foregoing centuries; and the
living generation continues the magnetic current of action and
example destined to bind the remotest past with the most distant
future. No man's acts die utterly; and though his body may resolve
into dust and air, his good or his bad deeds will still be bringing
forth fruit after their kind, and influencing future generations
for all time to come. It is in this momentous and solemn fact that
the great peril and responsibility of human existence lies.

Mr. Babbage has so powerfully expressed this idea in a noble
passage in one of his writings that we here venture to quote his
words: "Every atom," he says, "impressed with good or ill, retains
at once the motions which philosophers and sages have imparted to
it, mixed and combined in ten thousand ways with all that is
worthless and base; the air itself is one vast library, on whose
pages are written FOR EVER all that man has ever said or whispered.
There, in their immutable but unerring characters, mixed with the
earliest as well as the latest sighs of mortality, stand for ever
recorded vows unredeemed, promises unfulfilled; perpetuating, in
the united movements of each particle, the testimony of man's
changeful will. But, if the air we breathe is the never-failing
historian of the sentiments we have uttered, earth, air, and ocean,
are, in like manner, the eternal witnesses of the acts we have
done; the same principle of the equality of action and reaction
applies to them. No motion impressed by natural causes, or by
human agency, is ever obliterated. . . . If the Almighty stamped on
the brow of the first murderer the indelible and visible mark of
his guilt, He has also established laws by which every succeeding
criminal is not less irrevocably chained to the testimony of his
crime; for every atom of his mortal frame, through whatever changes
its severed particles may migrate, will still retain adhering to
it, through every combination, some movement derived from that very
muscular effort by which the crime itself was perpetrated."

Thus, every act we do or word we utter, as well as every act we
witness or word we hear, carries with it an influence which extends
over, and gives a colour, not only to the whole of our future life,
but makes itself felt upon the whole frame of society. We may not,
and indeed cannot, possibly, trace the influence working itself
into action in its various ramifications amongst our children, our
friends, or associates; yet there it is assuredly, working on for
ever. And herein lies the great significance of setting forth a
good example,--a silent teaching which even the poorest and least
significant person can practise in his daily life. There is no one
so humble, but that he owes to others this simple but priceless
instruction. Even the meanest condition may thus be made useful;
for the light set in a low place shines as faithfully as that set
upon a hill. Everywhere, and under almost all circumstances,
however externally adverse--in moorland shielings, in cottage
hamlets, in the close alleys of great towns--the true man may grow.
He who tills a space of earth scarce bigger than is needed for his
grave, may work as faithfully, and to as good purpose, as the heir
to thousands. The commonest workshop may thus be a school of
industry, science, and good morals, on the one hand; or of
idleness, folly, and depravity, on the other. It all depends on
the individual men, and the use they make of the opportunities for
good which offer themselves.

A life well spent, a character uprightly sustained, is no slight
legacy to leave to one's children, and to the world; for it is the
most eloquent lesson of virtue and the severest reproof of vice,
while it continues an enduring source of the best kind of riches.
Well for those who can say, as Pope did, in rejoinder to the
sarcasm of Lord Hervey, "I think it enough that my parents, such as
they were, never cost me a blush, and that their son, such as he
is, never cost them a tear."

It is not enough to tell others what they are to do, but to exhibit
the actual example of doing. What Mrs. Chisholm described to Mrs.
Stowe as the secret of her success, applies to all life. "I
found," she said, "that if we want anything DONE, we must go to
work and DO: it is of no use merely to talk--none whatever." It
is poor eloquence that only shows how a person can talk. Had Mrs.
Chisholm rested satisfied with lecturing, her project, she was
persuaded, would never have got beyond the region of talk; but when
people saw what she was doing and had actually accomplished, they
fell in with her views and came forward to help her. Hence the
most beneficent worker is not he who says the most eloquent things,
or even who thinks the most loftily, but he who does the most
eloquent acts.

True-hearted persons, even in the humblest station in life, who are
energetic doers, may thus give an impulse to good works out of all
proportion, apparently, to their actual station in society. Thomas
Wright might have talked about the reclamation of criminals, and
John Pounds about the necessity for Ragged Schools, and yet done
nothing; instead of which they simply set to work without any other
idea in their minds than that of doing, not talking. And how the
example of even the poorest man may tell upon society, hear what
Dr. Guthrie, the apostle of the Ragged School movement, says of the
influence which the example of John Pounds, the humble Portsmouth
cobbler, exercised upon his own working career:-

"The interest I have been led to take in this cause is an example
of how, in Providence, a man's destiny--his course of life, like
that of a river--may be determined and affected by very trivial
circumstances. It is rather curious--at least it is interesting to
me to remember--that it was by a picture I was first led to take an
interest in ragged schools--by a picture in an old, obscure,
decaying burgh that stands on the shores of the Frith of Forth, the
birthplace of Thomas Chalmers. I went to see this place many years
ago; and, going into an inn for refreshment, I found the room
covered with pictures of shepherdesses with their crooks, and
sailors in holiday attire, not particularly interesting. But above
the chimney-piece there was a large print, more respectable than
its neighbours, which represented a cobbler's room. The cobbler
was there himself, spectacles on nose, an old shoe between his
knees--the massive forehead and firm mouth indicating great
determination of character, and, beneath his bushy eyebrows,
benevolence gleamed out on a number of poor ragged boys and girls
who stood at their lessons round the busy cobbler. My curiosity
was awakened; and in the inscription I read how this man, John
Pounds, a cobbler in Portsmouth, taking pity on the multitude of
poor ragged children left by ministers and magistrates, and ladies
and gentlemen, to go to ruin on the streets--how, like a good
shepherd, he gathered in these wretched outcasts--how he had
trained them to God and to the world--and how, while earning his
daily bread by the sweat of his brow, he had rescued from misery
and saved to society not less than five hundred of these children.
I felt ashamed of myself. I felt reproved for the little I had
done. My feelings were touched. I was astonished at this man's
achievements; and I well remember, in the enthusiasm of the moment,
saying to my companion (and I have seen in my cooler and calmer
moments no reason for unsaying the saying)--'That man is an honour
to humanity, and deserves the tallest monument ever raised within
the shores of Britain.' I took up that man's history, and I found
it animated by the spirit of Him who 'had compassion on the
multitude.' John Pounds was a clever man besides; and, like Paul,
if he could not win a poor boy any other way, he won him by art.
He would be seen chasing a ragged boy along the quays, and
compelling him to come to school, not by the power of a policeman,
but by the power of a hot potato. He knew the love an Irishman had
for a potato; and John Pounds might be seen running holding under
the boy's nose a potato, like an Irishman, very hot, and with a
coat as ragged as himself. When the day comes when honour will be
done to whom honour is due, I can fancy the crowd of those whose
fame poets have sung, and to whose memory monuments have been
raised, dividing like the wave, and, passing the great, and the
noble, and the mighty of the land, this poor, obscure old man
stepping forward and receiving the especial notice of Him who said
'Inasmuch as ye did it to one of the least of these, ye did it also
to Me.'"

The education of character is very much a question of models; we
mould ourselves so unconsciously after the characters, manners,
habits, and opinions of those who are about us. Good rules may do
much, but good models far more; for in the latter we have
instruction in action--wisdom at work. Good admonition and bad
example only build with one hand to pull down with the other.
Hence the vast importance of exercising great care in the selection
of companions, especially in youth. There is a magnetic affinity
in young persons which insensibly tends to assimilate them to each
other's likeness. Mr. Edgeworth was so strongly convinced that
from sympathy they involuntarily imitated or caught the tone of the
company they frequented, that he held it to be of the most
essential importance that they should be taught to select the very
best models. "No company, or good company," was his motto. Lord
Collingwood, writing to a young friend, said, "Hold it as a maxim
that you had better be alone than in mean company. Let your
companions be such as yourself, or superior; for the worth of a man
will always be ruled by that of his company." It was a remark of
the famous Dr. Sydenham that everybody some time or other would be
the better or the worse for having but spoken to a good or a bad
man. As Sir Peter Lely made it a rule never to look at a bad
picture if he could help it, believing that whenever he did so his
pencil caught a taint from it, so, whoever chooses to gaze often
upon a debased specimen of humanity and to frequent his society,
cannot help gradually assimilating himself to that sort of model.

It is therefore advisable for young men to seek the fellowship of
the good, and always to aim at a higher standard than themselves.
Francis Horner, speaking of the advantages to himself of direct
personal intercourse with high-minded, intelligent men, said, "I
cannot hesitate to decide that I have derived more intellectual
improvement from them than from all the books I have turned over."
Lord Shelburne (afterwards Marquis of Lansdowne), when a young man,
paid a visit to the venerable Malesherbes, and was so much
impressed by it, that he said,--"I have travelled much, but I have
never been so influenced by personal contact with any man; and if I
ever accomplish any good in the course of my life, I am certain
that the recollection of M. de Malesherbes will animate my soul."
So Fowell Buxton was always ready to acknowledge the powerful
influence exercised upon the formation of his character in early
life by the example of the Gurney family: "It has given a colour
to my life," he used to say. Speaking of his success at the Dublin
University, he confessed, "I can ascribe it to nothing but my
Earlham visits." It was from the Gurneys he "caught the infection"
of self-improvement.

Contact with the good never fails to impart good, and we carry away
with us some of the blessing, as travellers' garments retain the
odour of the flowers and shrubs through which they have passed.
Those who knew the late John Sterling intimately, have spoken of
the beneficial influence which he exercised on all with whom he
came into personal contact. Many owed to him their first awakening
to a higher being; from him they learnt what they were, and what
they ought to be. Mr. Trench says of him:- "It was impossible to
come in contact with his noble nature without feeling one's self in
some measure ENNOBLED and LIFTED UP, as I ever felt when I left
him, into a higher region of objects and aims than that in which
one is tempted habitually to dwell." It is thus that the noble
character always acts; we become insensibly elevated by him, and
cannot help feeling as he does and acquiring the habit of looking
at things in the same light. Such is the magical action and
reaction of minds upon each other.

Artists, also, feel themselves elevated by contact with artists
greater than themselves. Thus Haydn's genius was first fired by
Handel. Hearing him play, Haydn's ardour for musical composition
was at once excited, and but for this circumstance, he himself
believed that he would never have written the 'Creation.' Speaking
of Handel, he said, "When he chooses, he strikes like the
thunderbolt;" and at another time, "There is not a note of him but
draws blood." Scarlatti was another of Handel's ardent admirers,
following him all over Italy; afterwards, when speaking of the
great master, he would cross himself in token of admiration. True
artists never fail generously to recognise each other's greatness.
Thus Beethoven's admiration for Cherubini was regal: and he
ardently hailed the genius of Schubert: "Truly," said he, "in
Schubert dwells a divine fire." When Northcote was a mere youth he
had such an admiration for Reynolds that, when the great painter
was once attending a public meeting down in Devonshire, the boy
pushed through the crowd, and got so near Reynolds as to touch the
skirt of his coat, "which I did," says Northcote, "with great
satisfaction to my mind,"--a true touch of youthful enthusiasm in
its admiration of genius.

The example of the brave is an inspiration to the timid, their
presence thrilling through every fibre. Hence the miracles of
valour so often performed by ordinary men under the leadership of
the heroic. The very recollection of the deeds of the valiant
stirs men's blood like the sound of a trumpet. Ziska bequeathed
his skin to be used as a drum to inspire the valour of the
Bohemians. When Scanderbeg, prince of Epirus, was dead, the Turks
wished to possess his bones, that each might wear a piece next his
heart, hoping thus to secure some portion of the courage he had
displayed while living, and which they had so often experienced in
battle. When the gallant Douglas, bearing the heart of Bruce to
the Holy Land, saw one of his knights surrounded and sorely pressed
by the Saracens, he took from his neck the silver case containing
the hero's bequest, and throwing it amidst the thickest press of
his foes, cried, "Pass first in fight, as thou wert wont to do, and
Douglas will follow thee, or die;" and so saying, he rushed forward
to the place where it fell, and was there slain.

The chief use of biography consists in the noble models of
character in which it abounds. Our great forefathers still live
among us in the records of their lives, as well as in the acts they
have done, which live also; still sit by us at table, and hold us
by the hand; furnishing examples for our benefit, which we may
still study, admire and imitate. Indeed, whoever has left behind
him the record of a noble life, has bequeathed to posterity an
enduring source of good, for it serves as a model for others to
form themselves by in all time to come; still breathing fresh life
into men, helping them to reproduce his life anew, and to
illustrate his character in other forms. Hence a book containing
the life of a true man is full of precious seed. It is a still
living voice; it is an intellect. To use Milton's words, "it is
the precious life-blood of a master spirit, embalmed and treasured
up on purpose to a life beyond life." Such a book never ceases to
exercise an elevating and ennobling influence. But, above all,
there is the Book containing the very highest Example set before us
to shape our lives by in this world--the most suitable for all the
necessities of our mind and heart--an example which we can only
follow afar off and feel after,

"Like plants or vines which never saw the sun,
But dream of him and guess where he may be,
And do their best to climb and get to him."

Again, no young man can rise from the perusal of such lives as
those of Buxton and Arnold, without feeling his mind and heart made
better, and his best resolves invigorated. Such biographies
increase a man's self-reliance by demonstrating what men can be,
and what they can do; fortifying his hopes and elevating his aims
in life. Sometimes a young man discovers himself in a biography,
as Correggio felt within him the risings of genius on contemplating
the works of Michael Angelo: "And I too, am a painter," he
exclaimed. Sir Samuel Romilly, in his autobiography, confessed
himself to have been powerfully influenced by the life of the great
and noble-minded French Chancellor Daguesseau:- "The works of
Thomas," says he, "had fallen into my hands, and I had read with
admiration his 'Eloge of Daguesseau;' and the career of honour
which he represented that illustrious magistrate to have run,
excited to a great degree my ardour and ambition, and opened to my
imagination new paths of glory."

Franklin was accustomed to attribute his usefulness and eminence to
his having early read Cotton Mather's 'Essays to do Good'--a book
which grew out of Mather's own life. And see how good example
draws other men after it, and propagates itself through future
generations in all lands. For Samuel Drew avers that he framed his
own life, and especially his business habits, after the model left
on record by Benjamin Franklin. Thus it is impossible to say where
a good example may not reach, or where it will end, if indeed it
have an end. Hence the advantage, in literature as in life, of
keeping the best society, reading the best books, and wisely
admiring and imitating the best things we find in them. "In
literature," said Lord Dudley, "I am fond of confining myself to
the best company, which consists chiefly of my old acquaintance,
with whom I am desirous of becoming more intimate; and I suspect
that nine times out of ten it is more profitable, if not more
agreeable, to read an old book over again, than to read a new one
for the first time."

Sometimes a book containing a noble exemplar of life, taken up at
random, merely with the object of reading it as a pastime, has been
known to call forth energies whose existence had not before been
suspected. Alfieri was first drawn with passion to literature by
reading 'Plutarch's Lives.' Loyola, when a soldier serving at the
siege of Pampeluna, and laid up by a dangerous wound in his leg,
asked for a book to divert his thoughts: the 'Lives of the Saints'
was brought to him, and its perusal so inflamed his mind, that he
determined thenceforth to devote himself to the founding of a
religious order. Luther, in like manner, was inspired to undertake
the great labours of his life by a perusal of the 'Life and
Writings of John Huss.' Dr. Wolff was stimulated to enter upon his
missionary career by reading the 'Life of Francis Xavier;' and the
book fired his youthful bosom with a passion the most sincere and
ardent to devote himself to the enterprise of his life. William
Carey, also, got the first idea of entering upon his sublime
labours as a missionary from a perusal of the Voyages of Captain

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