HotFreeBooks.com
Character
by Samuel Smiles
1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

CHARACTER

By Samuel Smiles



CHAPTER I.—INFLUENCE OF CHARACTER.



"Unless above himself he can Erect himself, how poor a thing is man"—DANIEL.

"Character is moral order seen through the medium, of an individual nature.... Men of character are the conscience of the society to which they belong."—EMERSON.

"The prosperity of a country depends, not on the abundance of its revenues, nor on the strength of its fortifications, nor on the beauty of its public buildings; but it consists in the number of its cultivated citizens, in its men of education, enlightenment, and character; here are to be found its true interest, its chief strength, its real power."—MARTIN LUTHER.

Character is one of the greatest motive powers in the world. In its noblest embodiments, it exemplifies human nature in its highest forms, for it exhibits man at his best.

Men of genuine excellence, in every station of life—men of industry, of integrity, of high principle, of sterling honesty of purpose—command the spontaneous homage of mankind. It is natural to believe in such men, to have confidence in them, and to imitate them. All that is good in the world is upheld by them, and without their presence in it the world would not be worth living in.

Although genius always commands admiration, character most secures respect. The former is more the product of brain-power, the latter of heart-power; and in the long run it is the heart that rules in life. Men of genius stand to society in the relation of its intellect, as men of character of its conscience; and while the former are admired, the latter are followed.

Great men are always exceptional men; and greatness itself is but comparative. Indeed, the range of most men in life is so limited, that very few have the opportunity of being great. But each man can act his part honestly and honourably, and to the best of his ability. He can use his gifts, and not abuse them. He can strive to make the best of life. He can be true, just, honest, and faithful, even in small things. In a word, he can do his Duty in that sphere in which Providence has placed him.

Commonplace though it may appear, this doing of one's Duty embodies the highest ideal of life and character. There may be nothing heroic about it; but the common lot of men is not heroic. And though the abiding sense of Duty upholds man in his highest attitudes, it also equally sustains him in the transaction of the ordinary affairs of everyday existence. Man's life is "centred in the sphere of common duties." The most influential of all the virtues are those which are the most in request for daily use. They wear the best, and last the longest. Superfine virtues, which are above the standard of common men, may only be sources of temptation and danger. Burke has truly said that "the human system which rests for its basis on the heroic virtues is sure to have a superstructure of weakness or of profligacy."

When Dr. Abbot, afterwards Archbishop of Canterbury, drew the character of his deceased friend Thomas Sackville, [101] he did not dwell upon his merits as a statesman, or his genius as a poet, but upon his virtues as a man in relation to the ordinary duties of life. "How many rare things were in him!" said he. "Who more loving unto his wife? Who more kind unto his children?—Who more fast unto his friend?—Who more moderate unto his enemy?—Who more true to his word?" Indeed, we can always better understand and appreciate a man's real character by the manner in which he conducts himself towards those who are the most nearly related to him, and by his transaction of the seemingly commonplace details of daily duty, than by his public exhibition of himself as an author, an orator, or a statesman.

At the same time, while Duty, for the most part, applies to the conduct of affairs in common life by the average of common men, it is also a sustaining power to men of the very highest standard of character. They may not have either money, or property, or learning, or power; and yet they may be strong in heart and rich in spirit—honest, truthful, dutiful. And whoever strives to do his duty faithfully is fulfilling the purpose for which he was created, and building up in himself the principles of a manly character. There are many persons of whom it may be said that they have no other possession in the world but their character, and yet they stand as firmly upon it as any crowned king.

Intellectual culture has no necessary relation to purity or excellence of character. In the New Testament, appeals are constantly made to the heart of man and to "the spirit we are of," whilst allusions to the intellect are of very rare occurrence. "A handful of good life," says George Herbert, "is worth a bushel of learning." Not that learning is to be despised, but that it must be allied to goodness. Intellectual capacity is sometimes found associated with the meanest moral character with abject servility to those in high places, and arrogance to those of low estate. A man may be accomplished in art, literature, and science, and yet, in honesty, virtue, truthfulness, and the spirit of duty, be entitled to take rank after many a poor and illiterate peasant.

"You insist," wrote Perthes to a friend, "on respect for learned men. I say, Amen! But, at the same time, don't forget that largeness of mind, depth of thought, appreciation of the lofty, experience of the world, delicacy of manner, tact and energy in action, love of truth, honesty, and amiability—that all these may be wanting in a man who may yet be very learned." [102]

When some one, in Sir Walter Scott's hearing, made a remark as to the value of literary talents and accomplishments, as if they were above all things to be esteemed and honoured, he observed, "God help us! what a poor world this would be if that were the true doctrine! I have read books enough, and observed and conversed with enough of eminent and splendidly-cultured minds, too, in my time; but I assure you, I have heard higher sentiments from the lips of poor UNEDUCATED men and women, when exerting the spirit of severe yet gentle heroism under difficulties and afflictions, or speaking their simple thoughts as to circumstances in the lot of friends and neighbours, than I ever yet met with out of the Bible. We shall never learn to feel and respect our real calling and destiny, unless we have taught ourselves to consider everything as moonshine, compared with the education of the heart." [103]

Still less has wealth any necessary connection with elevation of character. On the contrary, it is much more frequently the cause of its corruption and degradation. Wealth and corruption, luxury and vice, have very close affinities to each other. Wealth, in the hands of men of weak purpose, of deficient self-control, or of ill-regulated passions, is only a temptation and a snare—the source, it may be, of infinite mischief to themselves, and often to others.

On the contrary, a condition of comparative poverty is compatible with character in its highest form. A man may possess only his industry, his frugality, his integrity, and yet stand high in the rank of true manhood. The advice which Burns's father gave him was the best:

"He bade me act a manly part, though I had ne'er a farthing, For without an honest manly heart no man was worth regarding."

One of the purest and noblest characters the writer ever knew was a labouring man in a northern county, who brought up his family respectably on an income never amounting to more than ten shillings a week. Though possessed of only the rudiments of common education, obtained at an ordinary parish school, he was a man full of wisdom and thoughtfulness. His library consisted of the Bible, 'Flavel,' and 'Boston'—books which, excepting the first, probably few readers have ever heard of. This good man might have sat for the portrait of Wordsworth's well-known 'Wanderer.' When he had lived his modest life of work and worship, and finally went to his rest, he left behind him a reputation for practical wisdom, for genuine goodness, and for helpfulness in every good work, which greater and richer men might have envied.

When Luther died, he left behind him, as set forth in his will, "no ready money, no treasure of coin of any description." He was so poor at one part of his life, that he was under the necessity of earning his bread by turning, gardening, and clockmaking. Yet, at the very time when he was thus working with his hands, he was moulding the character of his country; and he was morally stronger, and vastly more honoured and followed, than all the princes of Germany.

Character is property. It is the noblest of possessions. It is an estate in the general goodwill and respect of men; and they who invest in it—though they may not become rich in this world's goods—will find their reward in esteem and reputation fairly and honourably won. And it is right that in life good qualities should tell—that industry, virtue, and goodness should rank the highest—and that the really best men should be foremost.

Simple honesty of purpose in a man goes a long way in life, if founded on a just estimate of himself and a steady obedience to the rule he knows and feels to be right. It holds a man straight, gives him strength and sustenance, and forms a mainspring of vigorous action. "No man," once said Sir Benjamin Rudyard, "is bound to be rich or great,—no, nor to be wise; but every man is bound to be honest." [104]

But the purpose, besides being honest, must be inspired by sound principles, and pursued with undeviating adherence to truth, integrity, and uprightness. Without principles, a man is like a ship without rudder or compass, left to drift hither and thither with every wind that blows. He is as one without law, or rule, or order, or government. "Moral principles," says Hume, "are social and universal. They form, in a manner, the PARTY of humankind against vice and disorder, its common enemy."

Epictetus once received a visit from a certain magnificent orator going to Rome on a lawsuit, who wished to learn from the stoic something of his philosophy. Epictetus received his visitor coolly, not believing in his sincerity. "You will only criticise my style," said he; "not really wishing to learn principles."—"Well, but," said the orator, "if I attend to that sort of thing; I shall be a mere pauper, like you, with no plate, nor equipage, nor land."—"I don't WANT such things," replied Epictetus; "and besides, you are poorer than I am, after all. Patron or no patron, what care I? You DO care. I am richer than you. I don't care what Caesar thinks of me. I flatter no one. This is what I have, instead of your gold and silver plate. You have silver vessels, but earthenware reasons, principles, appetites. My mind to me a kingdom is, and it furnishes me with abundant and happy occupation in lieu of your restless idleness. All your possessions seem small to you; mine seem great to me. Your desire is insatiate—mine is satisfied." [105]

Talent is by no means rare in the world; nor is even genius. But can the talent be trusted?—can the genius? Not unless based on truthfulness—on veracity. It is this quality more than any other that commands the esteem and respect, and secures the confidence of others. Truthfulness is at the foundation of all personal excellence. It exhibits itself in conduct. It is rectitude—truth in action, and shines through every word and deed. It means reliableness, and convinces other men that it can be trusted. And a man is already of consequence in the world when it is known that he can be relied on,—that when he says he knows a thing, he does know it,—that when he says he will do a thing, he can do, and does it. Thus reliableness becomes a passport to the general esteem and confidence of mankind.

In the affairs of life or of business, it is not intellect that tells so much as character,—not brains so much as heart,—not genius so much as self-control, patience, and discipline, regulated by judgment. Hence there is no better provision for the uses of either private or public life, than a fair share of ordinary good sense guided by rectitude. Good sense, disciplined by experience and inspired by goodness, issues in practical wisdom. Indeed, goodness in a measure implies wisdom—the highest wisdom—the union of the worldly with the spiritual. "The correspondences of wisdom and goodness," says Sir Henry Taylor, "are manifold; and that they will accompany each other is to be inferred, not only because men's wisdom makes them good, but because their goodness makes them wise." [106]

It is because of this controlling power of character in life that we often see men exercise an amount of influence apparently out of all proportion to their intellectual endowments. They appear to act by means of some latent power, some reserved force, which acts secretly, by mere presence. As Burke said of a powerful nobleman of the last century, "his virtues were his means." The secret is, that the aims of such men are felt to be pure and noble, and they act upon others with a constraining power.

Though the reputation of men of genuine character may be of slow growth, their true qualities cannot be wholly concealed. They may be misrepresented by some, and misunderstood by others; misfortune and adversity may, for a time, overtake them but, with patience and endurance, they will eventually inspire the respect and command the confidence which they really deserve.

It has been said of Sheridan that, had he possessed reliableness of character, he might have ruled the world; whereas, for want of it, his splendid gifts were comparatively useless. He dazzled and amused, but was without weight or influence in life or politics. Even the poor pantomimist of Drury Lane felt himself his superior. Thus, when Delpini one day pressed the manager for arrears of salary, Sheridan sharply reproved him, telling him he had forgotten his station. "No, indeed, Monsieur Sheridan, I have not," retorted Delpini; "I know the difference between us perfectly well. In birth, parentage, and education, you are superior to me; but in life, character, and behaviour, I am superior to you."

Unlike Sheridan, Burke, his countryman, was a great man of character. He was thirty-five before he gained a seat in Parliament, yet he found time to carve his name deep in the political history of England. He was a man of great gifts, and of transcendent force of character. Yet he had a weakness, which proved a serious defect—it was his want of temper; his genius was sacrificed to his irritability. And without this apparently minor gift of temper, the most splendid endowments may be comparatively valueless to their possessor.

Character is formed by a variety of minute circumstances, more or less under the regulation and control of the individual. Not a day passes without its discipline, whether for good or for evil. There is no act, however trivial, but has its train of consequences, as there is no hair so small but casts its shadow. It was a wise saying of Mrs. Schimmelpenninck's mother, never to give way to what is little; or by that little, however you may despise it, you will be practically governed.

Every action, every thought, every feeling, contributes to the education of the temper, the habits, and understanding; and exercises an inevitable influence upon all the acts of our future life. Thus character is undergoing constant change, for better or for worse—either being elevated on the one hand, or degraded on the other. "There is no fault nor folly of my life," says Mr. Ruskin, "that does not rise up against me, and take away my joy, and shorten my power of possession, of sight, of understanding. And every past effort of my life, every gleam of rightness or good in it, is with me now, to help me in my grasp of this art and its vision." [107]

The mechanical law, that action and reaction are equal, holds true also in morals. Good deeds act and react on the doers of them; and so do evil. Not only so: they produce like effects, by the influence of example, on those who are the subjects of them. But man is not the creature, so much as he is the creator, of circumstances: [108] and, by the exercise of his freewill, he can direct his actions so that they shall be productive of good rather than evil. "Nothing can work me damage but myself," said St. Bernard; "the harm that I sustain I carry about with me; and I am never a real sufferer but by my own fault."

The best sort of character, however, cannot be formed without effort. There needs the exercise of constant self-watchfulness, self-discipline, and self-control. There may be much faltering, stumbling, and temporary defeat; difficulties and temptations manifold to be battled with and overcome; but if the spirit be strong and the heart be upright, no one need despair of ultimate success. The very effort to advance—to arrive at a higher standard of character than we have reached—is inspiring and invigorating; and even though we may fall short of it, we cannot fail to be improved by every, honest effort made in an upward direction.

And with the light of great examples to guide us—representatives of humanity in its best forms—every one is not only justified, but bound in duty, to aim at reaching the highest standard of character: not to become the richest in means, but in spirit; not the greatest in worldly position, but in true honour; not the most intellectual, but the most virtuous; not the most powerful and influential, but the most truthful, upright, and honest.

It was very characteristic of the late Prince Consort—a man himself of the purest mind, who powerfully impressed and influenced others by the sheer force of his own benevolent nature—when drawing up the conditions of the annual prize to be given by Her Majesty at Wellington College, to determine that it should be awarded, not to the cleverest boy, nor to the most bookish boy, nor to the most precise, diligent, and prudent boy,—but to the noblest boy, to the boy who should show the most promise of becoming a large-hearted, high-motived man. [109]

Character exhibits itself in conduct, guided and inspired by principle, integrity, and practical wisdom. In its highest form, it is the individual will acting energetically under the influence of religion, morality, and reason. It chooses its way considerately, and pursues it steadfastly; esteeming duty above reputation, and the approval of conscience more than the world's praise. While respecting the personality of others, it preserves its own individuality and independence; and has the courage to be morally honest, though it may be unpopular, trusting tranquilly to time and experience for recognition.

Although the force of example will always exercise great influence upon the formation of character, the self-originating and sustaining force of one's own spirit must be the mainstay. This alone can hold up the life, and give individual independence and energy. "Unless man can erect himself above himself," said Daniel, a poet of the Elizabethan era, "how poor a thing is man!" Without a certain degree of practical efficient force—compounded of will, which is the root, and wisdom, which is the stem of character—life will be indefinite and purposeless—like a body of stagnant water, instead of a running stream doing useful work and keeping the machinery of a district in motion.

When the elements of character are brought into action by determinate will, and, influenced by high purpose, man enters upon and courageously perseveres in the path of duty, at whatever cost of worldly interest, he may be said to approach the summit of his being. He then exhibits character in its most intrepid form, and embodies the highest idea of manliness. The acts of such a man become repeated in the life and action of others. His very words live and become actions. Thus every word of Luther's rang through Germany like a trumpet. As Richter said of him, "His words were half-battles." And thus Luther's life became transfused into the life of his country, and still lives in the character of modern Germany.

On the other hand, energy, without integrity and a soul of goodness, may only represent the embodied principle of evil. It is observed by Novalis, in his 'Thoughts on Morals,' that the ideal of moral perfection has no more dangerous rival to contend with than the ideal of the highest strength and the most energetic life, the maximum of the barbarian—which needs only a due admixture of pride, ambition, and selfishness, to be a perfect ideal of the devil. Amongst men of such stamp are found the greatest scourges and devastators of the world—those elect scoundrels whom Providence, in its inscrutable designs, permits to fulfil their mission of destruction upon earth. [1010]

Very different is the man of energetic character inspired by a noble spirit, whose actions are governed by rectitude, and the law of whose life is duty. He is just and upright,—in his business dealings, in his public action, and in his family life—justice being as essential in the government of a home as of a nation. He will be honest in all things—in his words and in his work. He will be generous and merciful to his opponents, as well as to those who are weaker than himself. It was truly said of Sheridan—who, with all his improvidence, was generous, and never gave pain—that,

"His wit in the combat, as gentle as bright, Never carried a heart-stain away on its blade."

Such also was the character of Fox, who commanded the affection and service of others by his uniform heartiness and sympathy. He was a man who could always be most easily touched on the side of his honour. Thus, the story is told of a tradesman calling upon him one day for the payment of a promissory note which he presented. Fox was engaged at the time in counting out gold. The tradesman asked to be paid from the money before him. "No," said Fox, "I owe this money to Sheridan; it is a debt of honour; if any accident happened to me, he would have nothing to show." "Then," said the tradesman, "I change MY debt into one of honour;" and he tore up the note. Fox was conquered by the act: he thanked the man for his confidence, and paid him, saying, "Then Sheridan must wait; yours is the debt of older standing."

The man of character is conscientious. He puts his conscience into his work, into his words, into his every action. When Cromwell asked the Parliament for soldiers in lieu of the decayed serving-men and tapsters who filled the Commonwealth's army, he required that they should be men "who made some conscience of what they did;" and such were the men of which his celebrated regiment of "Ironsides" was composed.

The man of character is also reverential. The possession of this quality marks the noblest, and highest type of manhood and womanhood: reverence for things consecrated by the homage of generations—for high objects, pure thoughts, and noble aims—for the great men of former times, and the highminded workers amongst our contemporaries. Reverence is alike indispensable to the happiness of individuals, of families, and of nations. Without it there can be no trust, no faith, no confidence, either in man or God—neither social peace nor social progress. For reverence is but another word for religion, which binds men to each other, and all to God.

"The man of noble spirit," says Sir Thomas Overbury, "converts all occurrences into experience, between which experience and his reason there is marriage, and the issue are his actions. He moves by affection, not for affection; he loves glory, scorns shame, and governeth and obeyeth with one countenance, for it comes from one consideration. Knowing reason to be no idle gift of nature, he is the steersman of his own destiny. Truth is his goddess, and he takes pains to get her, not to look like her. Unto the society of men he is a sun, whose clearness directs their steps in a regular motion. He is the wise man's friend, the example of the indifferent, the medicine of the vicious. Thus time goeth not from him, but with him, and he feels age more by the strength of his soul than by the weakness of his body. Thus feels he no pain, but esteems all such things as friends, that desire to file off his fetters, and help him out of prison." [1011]

Energy of will—self-originating force—is the soul of every great character. Where it is, there is life; where it is not, there is faintness, helplessness, and despondency. "The strong man and the waterfall," says the proverb, "channel their own path." The energetic leader of noble spirit not only wins a way for himself, but carries others with him. His every act has a personal significance, indicating vigour, independence, and self-reliance, and unconsciously commands respect, admiration, and homage. Such intrepidity of character characterised Luther, Cromwell, Washington, Pitt, Wellington, and all great leaders of men.

"I am convinced," said Mr. Gladstone, in describing the qualities of the late Lord Palmerston in the House of Commons, shortly after his death—"I am convinced that it was the force of will, a sense of duty, and a determination not to give in, that enabled him to make himself a model for all of us who yet remain and follow him, with feeble and unequal steps, in the discharge of our duties; it was that force of will that in point of fact did not so much struggle against the infirmities of old age, but actually repelled them and kept them at a distance. And one other quality there is, at least, that may be noticed without the smallest risk of stirring in any breast a painful emotion. It is this, that Lord Palmerston had a nature incapable of enduring anger or any sentiment of wrath. This freedom from wrathful sentiment was not the result of painful effort, but the spontaneous fruit of the mind. It was a noble gift of his original nature—a gift which beyond all others it was delightful to observe, delightful also to remember in connection with him who has left us, and with whom we have no longer to do, except in endeavouring to profit by his example wherever it can lead us in the path of duty and of right, and of bestowing on him those tributes of admiration and affection which he deserves at our hands."

The great leader attracts to himself men of kindred character, drawing them towards him as the loadstone draws iron. Thus, Sir John Moore early distinguished the three brothers Napier from the crowd of officers by whom he was surrounded, and they, on their part, repaid him by their passionate admiration. They were captivated by his courtesy, his bravery, and his lofty disinterestedness; and he became the model whom they resolved to imitate, and, if possible, to emulate. "Moore's influence," says the biographer of Sir William Napier, "had a signal effect in forming and maturing their characters; and it is no small glory to have been the hero of those three men, while his early discovery of their mental and moral qualities is a proof of Moore's own penetration and judgment of character."

There is a contagiousness in every example of energetic conduct. The brave man is an inspiration to the weak, and compels them, as it were, to follow him. Thus Napier relates that at the combat of Vera, when the Spanish centre was broken and in flight, a young officer, named Havelock, sprang forward, and, waving his hat, called upon the Spaniards within sight to follow him. Putting spurs to his horse, he leapt the abbatis which protected the French front, and went headlong against them. The Spaniards were electrified; in a moment they dashed after him, cheering for "EL CHICO BLANCO!" [10the fair boy], and with one shock they broke through the French and sent them flying downhill. [1012]

And so it is in ordinary life. The good and the great draw others after them; they lighten and lift up all who are within reach of their influence. They are as so many living centres of beneficent activity. Let a man of energetic and upright character be appointed to a position of trust and authority, and all who serve under him become, as it were, conscious of an increase of power. When Chatham was appointed minister, his personal influence was at once felt through all the ramifications of office. Every sailor who served under Nelson, and knew he was in command, shared the inspiration of the hero.

When Washington consented to act as commander-in-chief, it was felt as if the strength of the American forces had been more than doubled. Many years late; in 1798, when Washington, grown old, had withdrawn from public life and was living in retirement at Mount Vernon, and when it seemed probable that France would declare war against the United States, President Adams wrote to him, saying, "We must have your name, if you will permit us to use it; there will be more efficacy in it than in many an army." Such was the esteem in which the great President's noble character and eminent abilities were held by his countrymen! [1013]

An incident is related by the historian of the Peninsular War, illustrative of the personal influence exercised by a great commander over his followers. The British army lay at Sauroren, before which Soult was advancing, prepared to attack, in force. Wellington was absent, and his arrival was anxiously looked for. Suddenly a single horseman was seen riding up the mountain alone. It was the Duke, about to join his troops. One of Campbell's Portuguese battalions first descried him, and raised a joyful cry; then the shrill clamour, caught up by the next regiment, soon swelled as it ran along the line into that appalling shout which the British soldier is wont to give upon the edge of battle, and which no enemy ever heard unmoved. Suddenly he stopped at a conspicuous point, for he desired both armies should know he was there, and a double spy who was present pointed out Soult, who was so near that his features could be distinguished. Attentively Wellington fixed his eyes on that formidable man, and, as if speaking to himself, he said: "Yonder is a great commander; but he is cautious, and will delay his attack to ascertain the cause of those cheers; that will give time for the Sixth Division to arrive, and I shall beat him"—which he did. [1014]

In some cases, personal character acts by a kind of talismanic influence, as if certain men were the organs of a sort of supernatural force. "If I but stamp on the ground in Italy," said Pompey, "an army will appear." At the voice of Peter the Hermit, as described by the historian, "Europe arose, and precipitated itself upon Asia." It was said of the Caliph Omar that his walking-stick struck more terror into those who saw it than another man's sword. The very names of some men are like the sound of a trumpet. When the Douglas lay mortally wounded on the field of Otterburn, he ordered his name to be shouted still louder than before, saying there was a tradition in his family that a dead Douglas should win a battle. His followers, inspired by the sound, gathered fresh courage, rallied, and conquered; and thus, in the words of the Scottish poet:—

"The Douglas dead, his name hath won the field." [1015]

There have been some men whose greatest conquests have been achieved after they themselves were dead. "Never," says Michelet, "was Caesar more alive, more powerful, more terrible, than when his old and worn-out body, his withered corpse, lay pierced with blows; he appeared then purified, redeemed,—that which he had been, despite his many stains—the man of humanity." [1016] Never did the great character of William of Orange, surnamed the Silent, exercise greater power over his countrymen than after his assassination at Delft by the emissary of the Jesuits. On the very day of his murder the Estates of Holland resolved "to maintain the good cause, with God's help, to the uttermost, without sparing gold or blood;" and they kept their word.

The same illustration applies to all history and morals. The career of a great man remains an enduring monument of human energy. The man dies and disappears; but his thoughts and acts survive, and leave an indelible stamp upon his race. And thus the spirit of his life is prolonged and perpetuated, moulding the thought and will, and thereby contributing to form the character of the future. It is the men that advance in the highest and best directions, who are the true beacons of human progress. They are as lights set upon a hill, illumining the moral atmosphere around them; and the light of their spirit continues to shine upon all succeeding generations.

It is natural to admire and revere really great men. They hallow the nation to which they belong, and lift up not only all who live in their time, but those who live after them. Their great example becomes the common heritage of their race; and their great deeds and great thoughts are the most glorious of legacies to mankind. They connect the present with the past, and help on the increasing purpose of the future; holding aloft the standard of principle, maintaining the dignity of human character, and filling the mind with traditions and instincts of all that is most worthy and noble in life.

Character, embodied in thought and deed, is of the nature of immortality. The solitary thought of a great thinker will dwell in the minds of men for centuries until at length it works itself into their daily life and practice. It lives on through the ages, speaking as a voice from the dead, and influencing minds living thousands of years apart. Thus, Moses and David and Solomon, Plato and Socrates and Xenophon, Seneca and Cicero and Epictetus, still speak to us as from their tombs. They still arrest the attention, and exercise an influence upon character, though their thoughts be conveyed in languages unspoken by them and in their time unknown. Theodore Parker has said that a single man like Socrates was worth more to a country than many such states as South Carolina; that if that state went out of the world to-day, she would not have done so much for the world as Socrates. [1017]

Great workers and great thinkers are the true makers of history, which is but continuous humanity influenced by men of character—by great leaders, kings, priests, philosophers, statesmen, and patriots—the true aristocracy of man. Indeed, Mr. Carlyle has broadly stated that Universal History is, at bottom, but the history of Great Men. They certainly mark and designate the epochs of national life. Their influence is active, as well as reactive. Though their mind is, in a measure; the product of their age, the public mind is also, to a great extent, their creation. Their individual action identifies the cause—the institution. They think great thoughts, cast them abroad, and the thoughts make events. Thus the early Reformers initiated the Reformation, and with it the liberation of modern thought. Emerson has said that every institution is to be regarded as but the lengthened shadow of some great man: as Islamism of Mahomet, Puritanism of Calvin, Jesuitism of Loyola, Quakerism of Fox, Methodism of Wesley, Abolitionism of Clarkson.

Great men stamp their mind upon their age and nation—as Luther did upon modern Germany, and Knox upon Scotland. [1018] And if there be one man more than another that stamped his mind on modern Italy, it was Dante. During the long centuries of Italian degradation his burning words were as a watchfire and a beacon to all true men. He was the herald of his nation's liberty—braving persecution, exile, and death, for the love of it. He was always the most national of the Italian poets, the most loved, the most read. From the time of his death all educated Italians had his best passages by heart; and the sentiments they enshrined inspired their lives, and eventually influenced the history of their nation. "The Italians," wrote Byron in 1821, "talk Dante, write Dante, and think and dream Dante, at this moment, to an excess which would be ridiculous, but that he deserves their admiration." [1019]

A succession of variously gifted men in different ages—extending from Alfred to Albert—has in like manner contributed, by their life and example, to shape the multiform character of England. Of these, probably the most influential were the men of the Elizabethan and Cromwellian, and the intermediate periods—amongst which we find the great names of Shakspeare, Raleigh, Burleigh, Sidney, Bacon, Milton, Herbert, Hampden, Pym, Eliot, Vane, Cromwell, and many more—some of them men of great force, and others of great dignity and purity of character. The lives of such men have become part of the public life of England, and their deeds and thoughts are regarded as among the most cherished bequeathments from the past.

So Washington left behind him, as one of the greatest treasures of his country, the example of a stainless life—of a great, honest, pure, and noble character—a model for his nation to form themselves by in all time to come. And in the case of Washington, as in so many other great leaders of men, his greatness did not so much consist in his intellect, his skill, and his genius, as in his honour, his integrity, his truthfulness, his high and controlling sense of duty—in a word, in his genuine nobility of character.

Men such as these are the true lifeblood of the country to which they belong. They elevate and uphold it, fortify and ennoble it, and shed a glory over it by the example of life and character which they have bequeathed. "The names and memories of great men," says an able writer, "are the dowry of a nation. Widowhood, overthrow, desertion, even slavery, cannot take away from her this sacred inheritance.... Whenever national life begins to quicken.... the dead heroes rise in the memories of men, and appear to the living to stand by in solemn spectatorship and approval. No country can be lost which feels herself overlooked by such glorious witnesses. They are the salt of the earth, in death as well as in life. What they did once, their descendants have still and always a right to do after them; and their example lives in their country, a continual stimulant and encouragement for him who has the soul to adopt it." [1020]

But it is not great men only that have to be taken into account in estimating the qualities of a nation, but the character that pervades the great body of the people. When Washington Irving visited Abbotsford, Sir Walter Scott introduced him to many of his friends and favourites, not only amongst the neighbouring farmers, but the labouring peasantry. "I wish to show you," said Scott, "some of our really excellent plain Scotch people. The character of a nation is not to be learnt from its fine folks, its fine gentlemen and ladies; such you meet everywhere, and they are everywhere the same." While statesmen, philosophers, and divines represent the thinking power of society, the men who found industries and carve out new careers, as well as the common body of working-people, from whom the national strength and spirit are from time to time recruited, must necessarily furnish the vital force and constitute the real backbone of every nation.

Nations have their character to maintain as well as individuals; and under constitutional governments—where all classes more or less participate in the exercise of political power—the national character will necessarily depend more upon the moral qualities of the many than of the few. And the same qualities which determine the character of individuals, also determine the character of nations. Unless they are highminded, truthful, honest, virtuous, and courageous, they will be held in light esteem by other nations, and be without weight in the world. To have character, they must needs also be reverential, disciplined, self-controlling, and devoted to duty. The nation that has no higher god than pleasure, or even dollars or calico, must needs be in a poor way. It were better to revert to Homer's gods than be devoted to these; for the heathen deities at least imaged human virtues, and were something to look up to.

As for institutions, however good in themselves, they will avail but little in maintaining the standard of national character. It is the individual men, and the spirit which actuates them, that determine the moral standing and stability of nations. Government, in the long run, is usually no better than the people governed. Where the mass is sound in conscience, morals, and habit, the nation will be ruled honestly and nobly. But where they are corrupt, self-seeking, and dishonest in heart, bound neither by truth nor by law, the rule of rogues and wirepullers becomes inevitable.

The only true barrier against the despotism of public opinion, whether it be of the many or of the few, is enlightened individual freedom and purity of personal character. Without these there can be no vigorous manhood, no true liberty in a nation. Political rights, however broadly framed, will not elevate a people individually depraved. Indeed, the more complete a system of popular suffrage, and the more perfect its protection, the more completely will the real character of a people be reflected, as by a mirror, in their laws and government. Political morality can never have any solid existence on a basis of individual immorality. Even freedom, exercised by a debased people, would come to be regarded as a nuisance, and liberty of the press but a vent for licentiousness and moral abomination.

Nations, like individuals, derive support and strength from the feeling that they belong to an illustrious race, that they are the heirs of their greatness, and ought to be the perpetuators of their glory. It is of momentous importance that a nation should have a great past [1021] to look back upon. It steadies the life of the present, elevates and upholds it, and lightens and lifts it up, by the memory of the great deeds, the noble sufferings, and the valorous achievements of the men of old. The life of nations, as of men, is a great treasury of experience, which, wisely used, issues in social progress and improvement; or, misused, issues in dreams, delusions, and failure. Like men, nations are purified and strengthened by trials. Some of the most glorious chapters in their history are those containing the record of the sufferings by means of which their character has been developed. Love of liberty and patriotic feeling may have done much, but trial and suffering nobly borne more than all.

A great deal of what passes by the name of patriotism in these days consists of the merest bigotry and narrow-mindedness; exhibiting itself in national prejudice, national conceit, amid national hatred. It does not show itself in deeds, but in boastings—in howlings, gesticulations, and shrieking helplessly for help—in flying flags and singing songs—and in perpetual grinding at the hurdy-gurdy of long-dead grievances and long-remedied wrongs. To be infested by SUCH a patriotism as this is, perhaps, amongst the greatest curses that can befall any country.

But as there is an ignoble, so is there a noble patriotism—the patriotism that invigorates and elevates a country by noble work—that does its duty truthfully and manfully—that lives an honest, sober, and upright life, and strives to make the best use of the opportunities for improvement that present themselves on every side; and at the same time a patriotism that cherishes the memory and example of the great men of old, who, by their sufferings in the cause of religion or of freedom, have won for themselves a deathless glory, and for their nation those privileges of free life and free institutions of which they are the inheritors and possessors.

Nations are not to be judged by their size any more than individuals:

"it is not growing like a tree In bulk, doth make Man better be."

For a nation to be great, it need not necessarily be big, though bigness is often confounded with greatness. A nation may be very big in point of territory and population and yet be devoid of true greatness. The people of Israel were a small people, yet what a great life they developed, and how powerful the influence they have exercised on the destinies of mankind! Greece was not big: the entire population of Attica was less than that of South Lancashire. Athens was less populous than New York; and yet how great it was in art, in literature, in philosophy, and in patriotism! [1022]

But it was the fatal weakness of Athens that its citizens had no true family or home life, while its freemen were greatly outnumbered by its slaves. Its public men were loose, if not corrupt, in morals. Its women, even the most accomplished, were unchaste. Hence its fall became inevitable, and was even more sudden than its rise.

In like manner the decline and fall of Rome was attributable to the general corruption of its people, and to their engrossing love of pleasure and idleness—work, in the later days of Rome, being regarded only as fit for slaves. Its citizens ceased to pride themselves on the virtues of character of their great forefathers; and the empire fell because it did not deserve to live. And so the nations that are idle and luxurious—that "will rather lose a pound of blood," as old Burton says, "in a single combat, than a drop of sweat in any honest labour"—must inevitably die out, and laborious energetic nations take their place.

When Louis XIV. asked Colbert how it was that, ruling so great and populous a country as France, he had been unable to conquer so small a country as Holland, the minister replied: "Because, Sire, the greatness of a country does not depend upon the extent of its territory, but on the character of its people. It is because of the industry, the frugality, and the energy of the Dutch that your Majesty has found them so difficult to overcome."

It is also related of Spinola and Richardet, the ambassadors sent by the King of Spain to negotiate a treaty at the Hague in 1608, that one day they saw some eight or ten persons land from a little boat, and, sitting down upon the grass, proceed to make a meal of bread-and-cheese and beer. "Who are those travellers?" asked the ambassadors of a peasant. "These are worshipful masters, the deputies from the States," was his reply. Spinola at once whispered to his companion, "We must make peace: these are not men to be conquered."

In fine, stability of institutions must depend upon stability of character. Any number of depraved units cannot form a great nation. The people may seem to be highly civilised, and yet be ready to fall to pieces at first touch of adversity. Without integrity of individual character, they can have no real strength, cohesion, soundness. They may be rich, polite, and artistic; and yet hovering on the brink of ruin. If living for themselves only, and with no end but pleasure—each little self his own little god—such a nation is doomed, and its decay is inevitable.

Where national character ceases to be upheld, a nation may be regarded as next to lost. Where it ceases to esteem and to practise the virtues of truthfulness, honesty, integrity, and justice, it does not deserve to live. And when the time arrives in any country when wealth has so corrupted, or pleasure so depraved, or faction so infatuated the people, that honour, order, obedience, virtue, and loyalty have seemingly become things of the past; then, amidst the darkness, when honest men—if, haply, there be such left—are groping about and feeling for each other's hands, their only remaining hope will be in the restoration and elevation of Individual Character; for by that alone can a nation be saved; and if character be irrecoverably lost, then indeed there will be nothing left worth saving.



CHAPTER II.—HOME POWER.



"So build we up the being that we are, Thus deeply drinking in the soul of things, We shall be wise perforce." WORDSWORTH.

"The millstreams that turn the clappers of the world arise in solitary places."—HELPS.

"In the course of a conversation with Madame Campan, Napoleon Buonaparte remarked: 'The old systems of instruction seem to be worth nothing; what is yet wanting in order that the people should be properly educated?' 'MOTHERS,' replied Madame Campan. The reply struck the Emperor. 'Yes!' said he 'here is a system of education in one word. Be it your care, then, to train up mothers who shall know how to educate their children.'"—AIME MARTIN.

"Lord! with what care hast Thou begirt us round! Parents first season us. Then schoolmasters Deliver us to laws. They send us bound To rules of reason."—GEORGE HERBERT.

HOME is the first and most important school of character. It is there that every human being receives his best moral training, or his worst; for it is there that he imbibes those principles of conduct which endure through manhood, and cease only with life.

It is a common saying that "Manners make the man;" and there is a second, that "Mind makes the man;" but truer than either is a third, that "Home makes the man." For the home-training includes not only manners and mind, but character. It is mainly in the home that the heart is opened, the habits are formed, the intellect is awakened, and character moulded for good or for evil.

From that source, be it pure or impure, issue the principles and maxims that govern society. Law itself is but the reflex of homes. The tiniest bits of opinion sown in the minds of children in private life afterwards issue forth to the world, and become its public opinion; for nations are gathered out of nurseries, and they who hold the leading-strings of children may even exercise a greater power than those who wield the reins of government. [111]

It is in the order of nature that domestic life should be preparatory to social, and that the mind and character should first be formed in the home. There the individuals who afterwards form society are dealt with in detail, and fashioned one by one. From the family they enter life, and advance from boyhood to citizenship. Thus the home may be regarded as the most influential school of civilisation. For, after all, civilisation mainly resolves itself into a question of individual training; and according as the respective members of society are well or ill-trained in youth, so will the community which they constitute be more or less humanised and civilised.

The training of any man, even the wisest, cannot fail to be powerfully influenced by the moral surroundings of his early years. He comes into the world helpless, and absolutely dependent upon those about him for nurture and culture. From the very first breath that he draws, his education begins. When a mother once asked a clergyman when she should begin the education of her child, then four years old, he replied: "Madam, if you have not begun already, you have lost those four years. From the first smile that gleams upon an infant's cheek, your opportunity begins."

But even in this case the education had already begun; for the child learns by simple imitation, without effort, almost through the pores of the skin. "A figtree looking on a figtree becometh fruitful," says the Arabian proverb. And so it is with children; their first great instructor is example.

However apparently trivial the influences which contribute to form the character of the child, they endure through life. The child's character is the nucleus of the man's; all after-education is but superposition; the form of the crystal remains the same. Thus the saying of the poet holds true in a large degree, "The child is father of the man;" or, as Milton puts it, "The childhood shows the man, as morning shows the day." Those impulses to conduct which last the longest and are rooted the deepest, always have their origin near our birth. It is then that the germs of virtues or vices, of feelings or sentiments, are first implanted which determine the character for life.

The child is, as it were, laid at the gate of a new world, and opens his eyes upon things all of which are full of novelty and wonderment. At first it is enough for him to gaze; but by-and-by he begins to see, to observe, to compare, to learn, to store up impressions and ideas; and under wise guidance the progress which he makes is really wonderful. Lord Brougham has observed that between the ages of eighteen and thirty months, a child learns more of the material world, of his own powers, of the nature of other bodies, and even of his own mind and other minds, than he acquires in all the rest of his life. The knowledge which a child accumulates, and the ideas generated in his mind, during this period, are so important, that if we could imagine them to be afterwards obliterated, all the learning of a senior wrangler at Cambridge, or a first-classman at Oxford, would be as nothing to it, and would literally not enable its object to prolong his existence for a week.

It is in childhood that the mind is most open to impressions, and ready to be kindled by the first spark that falls into it. Ideas are then caught quickly and live lastingly. Thus Scott is said to have received, his first bent towards ballad literature from his mother's and grandmother's recitations in his hearing long before he himself had learned to read. Childhood is like a mirror, which reflects in after-life the images first presented to it. The first thing continues for ever with the child. The first joy, the first sorrow, the first success, the first failure, the first achievement, the first misadventure, paint the foreground of his life.

All this while, too, the training of the character is in progress—of the temper, the will, and the habits—on which so much of the happiness of human beings in after-life depends. Although man is endowed with a certain self-acting, self-helping power of contributing to his own development, independent of surrounding circumstances, and of reacting upon the life around him, the bias given to his moral character in early life is of immense importance. Place even the highest-minded philosopher in the midst of daily discomfort, immorality, and vileness, and he will insensibly gravitate towards brutality. How much more susceptible is the impressionable and helpless child amidst such surroundings! It is not possible to rear a kindly nature, sensitive to evil, pure in mind and heart, amidst coarseness, discomfort, and impurity.

Thus homes, which are the nurseries of children who grow up into men and women, will be good or bad according to the power that governs them. Where the spirit of love and duty pervades the home—where head and heart bear rule wisely there—where the daily life is honest and virtuous—where the government is sensible, kind, and loving, then may we expect from such a home an issue of healthy, useful, and happy beings, capable, as they gain the requisite strength, of following the footsteps of their parents, of walking uprightly, governing themselves wisely, and contributing to the welfare of those about them.

On the other hand, if surrounded by ignorance, coarseness, and selfishness, they will unconsciously assume the same character, and grow up to adult years rude, uncultivated, and all the more dangerous to society if placed amidst the manifold temptations of what is called civilised life. "Give your child to be educated by a slave," said an ancient Greek, "and instead of one slave, you will then have two."

The child cannot help imitating what he sees. Everything is to him a model—of manner, of gesture, of speech, of habit, of character. "For the child," says Richter, "the most important era of life is that of childhood, when he begins to colour and mould himself by companionship with others. Every new educator effects less than his predecessor; until at last, if we regard all life as an educational institution, a circumnavigator of the world is less influenced by all the nations he has seen than by his nurse." [112] Models are therefore of every importance in moulding the nature of the child; and if we would have fine characters, we must necessarily present before them fine models. Now, the model most constantly before every child's eye is the Mother.

One good mother, said George Herbert, is worth a hundred schoolmasters. In the home she is "loadstone to all hearts, and loadstar to all eyes." Imitation of her is constant—imitation, which Bacon likens to "a globe of precepts." But example is far more than precept. It is instruction in action. It is teaching without words, often exemplifying more than tongue can teach. In the face of bad example, the best of precepts are of but little avail. The example is followed, not the precepts. Indeed, precept at variance with practice is worse than useless, inasmuch as it only serves to teach the most cowardly of vices—hypocrisy. Even children are judges of consistency, and the lessons of the parent who says one thing and does the opposite, are quickly seen through. The teaching of the friar was not worth much, who preached the virtue of honesty with a stolen goose in his sleeve.

By imitation of acts, the character becomes slowly and imperceptibly, but at length decidedly formed. The several acts may seem in themselves trivial; but so are the continuous acts of daily life. Like snowflakes, they fall unperceived; each flake added to the pile produces no sensible change, and yet the accumulation of snowflakes makes the avalanche. So do repeated acts, one following another, at length become consolidated in habit, determine the action of the human being for good or for evil, and, in a word, form the character.

It is because the mother, far more than the father, influences the action and conduct of the child, that her good example is of so much greater importance in the home. It is easy to understand how this should be so. The home is the woman's domain—her kingdom, where she exercises entire control. Her power over the little subjects she rules there is absolute. They look up to her for everything. She is the example and model constantly before their eyes, whom they unconsciously observe and imitate.

Cowley, speaking of the influence of early example, and ideas early implanted in the mind, compares them to letters cut in the bark of a young tree, which grow and widen with age. The impressions then made, howsoever slight they may seem, are never effaced. The ideas then implanted in the mind are like seeds dropped into the ground, which lie there and germinate for a time, afterwards springing up in acts and thoughts and habits. Thus the mother lives again in her children. They unconsciously mould themselves after her manner, her speech, her conduct, and her method of life. Her habits become theirs; and her character is visibly repeated in them.

This maternal love is the visible providence of our race. Its influence is constant and universal. It begins with the education of the human being at the out-start of life, and is prolonged by virtue of the powerful influence which every good mother exercises over her children through life. When launched into the world, each to take part in its labours, anxieties, and trials, they still turn to their mother for consolation, if not for counsel, in their time of trouble and difficulty. The pure and good thoughts she has implanted in their minds when children, continue to grow up into good acts, long after she is dead; and when there is nothing but a memory of her left, her children rise up and call her blessed.

It is not saying too much to aver that the happiness or misery, the enlightenment or ignorance, the civilisation or barbarism of the world, depends in a very high degree upon the exercise of woman's power within her special kingdom of home. Indeed, Emerson says, broadly and truly, that "a sufficient measure of civilisation is the influence of good women." Posterity may be said to lie before us in the person of the child in the mother's lap. What that child will eventually become, mainly depends upon the training and example which he has received from his first and most influential educator.

Woman, above all other educators, educates humanly. Man is the brain, but woman is the heart of humanity; he its judgment, she its feeling; he its strength, she its grace, ornament, and solace. Even the understanding of the best woman seems to work mainly through her affections. And thus, though man may direct the intellect, woman cultivates the feelings, which mainly determine the character. While he fills the memory, she occupies the heart. She makes us love what he can only make us believe, and it is chiefly through her that we are enabled to arrive at virtue.

The respective influences of the father and the mother on the training and development of character, are remarkably illustrated in the life of St. Augustine. While Augustine's father, a poor freeman of Thagaste, proud of his son's abilities, endeavoured to furnish his mind with the highest learning of the schools, and was extolled by his neighbours for the sacrifices he made with that object "beyond the ability of his means"—his mother Monica, on the other hand, sought to lead her son's mind in the direction of the highest good, and with pious care counselled him, entreated him, advised him to chastity, and, amidst much anguish and tribulation, because of his wicked life, never ceased to pray for him until her prayers were heard and answered. Thus her love at last triumphed, and the patience and goodness of the mother were rewarded, not only by the conversion of her gifted son, but also of her husband. Later in life, and after her husband's death, Monica, drawn by her affection, followed her son to Milan, to watch over him; and there she died, when he was in his thirty-third year. But it was in the earlier period of his life that her example and instruction made the deepest impression upon his mind, and determined his future character.

There are many similar instances of early impressions made upon a child's mind, springing up into good acts late in life, after an intervening period of selfishness and vice. Parents may do all that they can to develope an upright and virtuous character in their children, and apparently in vain. It seems like bread cast upon the waters and lost. And yet sometimes it happens that long after the parents have gone to their Rest—it may be twenty years or more—the good precept, the good example set before their sons and daughters in childhood, at length springs up and bears fruit.

One of the most remarkable of such instances was that of the Reverend John Newton of Olney, the friend of Cowper the poet. It was long subsequent to the death of both his parents, and after leading a vicious life as a youth and as a seaman, that he became suddenly awakened to a sense of his depravity; and then it was that the lessons which his mother had given him when a child sprang up vividly in his memory. Her voice came to him as it were from the dead, and led him gently back to virtue and goodness.

Another instance is that of John Randolph, the American statesman, who once said: "I should have been an atheist if it had not been for one recollection—and that was the memory of the time when my departed mother used to take my little hand in hers, and cause me on my knees to say, 'Our Father who art in heaven!'"

But such instance must, on the whole, be regarded as exceptional. As the character is biassed in early life, so it generally remains, gradually assuming its permanent form as manhood is reached. "Live as long as you may," said Southey, "the first twenty years are the longest half of your life," and they are by far the most pregnant in consequences. When the worn-out slanderer and voluptuary, Dr. Wolcot, lay on his deathbed, one of his friends asked if he could do anything to gratify him. "Yes," said the dying man, eagerly, "give me back my youth." Give him but that, and he would repent—he would reform. But it was all too late! His life had become bound and enthralled by the chains of habit.' [113]

Gretry, the musical composer, thought so highly of the importance of woman as an educator of character, that he described a good mother as "Nature's CHEF-D'OEUVRE." And he was right: for good mothers, far more than fathers, tend to the perpetual renovation of mankind, creating, as they do, the moral atmosphere of the home, which is the nutriment of man's moral being, as the physical atmosphere is of his corporeal frame. By good temper, suavity, and kindness, directed by intelligence, woman surrounds the indwellers with a pervading atmosphere of cheerfulness, contentment, and peace, suitable for the growth of the purest as of the manliest natures.

The poorest dwelling, presided over by a virtuous, thrifty, cheerful, and cleanly woman, may thus be the abode of comfort, virtue, and happiness; it may be the scene of every ennobling relation in family life; it may be endeared to a man by many delightful associations; furnishing a sanctuary for the heart, a refuge from the storms of life, a sweet resting-place after labour, a consolation in misfortune, a pride in prosperity, and a joy at all times.

The good home is thus the best of schools, not only in youth but in age. There young and old best learn cheerfulness, patience, self-control, and the spirit of service and of duty. Izaak Walton, speaking of George Herbert's mother, says she governed her family with judicious care, not rigidly nor sourly, "but with such a sweetness and compliance with the recreations and pleasures of youth, as did incline them to spend much of their time in her company, which was to her great content."

The home is the true school of courtesy, of which woman is always the best practical instructor. "Without woman," says the Provencal proverb, "men were but ill-licked cubs." Philanthropy radiates from the home as from a centre. "To love the little platoon we belong to in society," said Burke, "is the germ of all public affections." The wisest and the best have not been ashamed to own it to be their greatest joy and happiness to sit "behind the heads of children" in the inviolable circle of home. A life of purity and duty there is not the least effectual preparative for a life of public work and duty; and the man who loves his home will not the less fondly love and serve his country. But while homes, which are the nurseries of character, may be the best of schools, they may also be the worst. Between childhood and manhood how incalculable is the mischief which ignorance in the home has the power to cause! Between the drawing of the first breath and the last, how vast is the moral suffering and disease occasioned by incompetent mothers and nurses! Commit a child to the care of a worthless ignorant woman, and no culture in after-life will remedy the evil you have done. Let the mother be idle, vicious, and a slattern; let her home be pervaded by cavilling, petulance, and discontent, and it will become a dwelling of misery—a place to fly from, rather than to fly to; and the children whose misfortune it is to be brought up there, will be morally dwarfed and deformed—the cause of misery to themselves as well as to others.

Napoleon Buonaparte was accustomed to say that "the future good or bad conduct of a child depended entirely on the mother." He himself attributed his rise in life in a great measure to the training of his will, his energy, and his self-control, by his mother at home. "Nobody had any command over him," says one of his biographers, "except his mother, who found means, by a mixture of tenderness, severity, and justice, to make him love, respect, and obey her: from her he learnt the virtue of obedience."

A curious illustration of the dependence of the character of children on that of the mother incidentally occurs in one of Mr. Tufnell's school reports. The truth, he observes, is so well established that it has even been made subservient to mercantile calculation. "I was informed," he says, "in a large factory, where many children were employed, that the managers before they engaged a boy always inquired into the mother's character, and if that was satisfactory they were tolerably certain that her children would conduct themselves creditably. NO ATTENTION WAS PAID TO THE CHARACTER OF THE FATHER." [114]

It has also been observed that in cases where the father has turned out badly—become a drunkard, and "gone to the dogs"—provided the mother is prudent and sensible, the family will be kept together, and the children probably make their way honourably in life; whereas in cases of the opposite sort, where the mother turns out badly, no matter how well-conducted the father may be, the instances of after-success in life on the part of the children are comparatively rare.

The greater part of the influence exercised by women on the formation of character necessarily remains unknown. They accomplish their best work in the quiet seclusion of the home and the family, by sustained effort and patient perseverance in the path of duty. Their greatest triumphs, because private and domestic, are rarely recorded; and it is not often, even in the biographies of distinguished men, that we hear of the share which their mothers have had in the formation of their character, and in giving them a bias towards goodness. Yet are they not on that account without their reward. The influence they have exercised, though unrecorded, lives after them, and goes on propagating itself in consequences for ever.

We do not often hear of great women, as we do of great men. It is of good women that we mostly hear; and it is probable that by determining the character of men and women for good, they are doing even greater work than if they were to paint great pictures, write great books, or compose great operas. "It is quite true," said Joseph de Maistre, "that women have produced no CHEFS-DOEUVRE. They have written no 'Iliad,' nor 'Jerusalem Delivered,' nor 'Hamlet,' nor 'Phaedre,' nor 'Paradise Lost,' nor 'Tartuffe;' they have designed no Church of St. Peter's, composed no 'Messiah,' carved no 'Apollo Belvidere,' painted no 'Last Judgment;' they have invented neither algebra, nor telescopes, nor steam-engines; but they have done something far greater and better than all this, for it is at their knees that upright and virtuous men and women have been trained—the most excellent productions in the world."

De Maistre, in his letters and writings, speaks of his own mother with immense love and reverence. Her noble character made all other women venerable in his eyes. He described her as his "sublime mother"—"an angel to whom God had lent a body for a brief season." To her he attributed the bent of his character, and all his bias towards good; and when he had grown to mature years, while acting as ambassador at the Court of St. Petersburg, he referred to her noble example and precepts as the ruling influence in his life.

One of the most charming features in the character of Samuel Johnson, notwithstanding his rough and shaggy exterior, was the tenderness with which he invariably spoke of his mother [115]—a woman of strong understanding, who firmly implanted in his mind, as he himself acknowledges, his first impressions of religion. He was accustomed, even in the time of his greatest difficulties, to contribute largely, out of his slender means, to her comfort; and one of his last acts of filial duty was to write 'Rasselas' for the purpose of paying her little debts and defraying her funeral charges.

George Washington was only eleven years of age—the eldest of five children—when his father died, leaving his mother a widow. She was a woman of rare excellence—full of resources, a good woman of business, an excellent manager, and possessed of much strength of character. She had her children to educate and bring up, a large household to govern, and extensive estates to manage, all of which she accomplished with complete success. Her good sense, assiduity, tenderness, industry, and vigilance, enabled her to overcome every obstacle; and as the richest reward of her solicitude and toil, she had the happiness to see all her children come forward with a fair promise into life, filling the spheres allotted to them in a manner equally honourable to themselves, and to the parent who had been the only guide of their, principles, conduct, and habits. [116]

The biographer of Cromwell says little about the Protector's father, but dwells upon the character of his mother, whom he describes as a woman of rare vigour and decision of purpose: "A woman," he says, "possessed of the glorious faculty of self-help when other assistance failed her; ready for the demands of fortune in its extremest adverse turn; of spirit and energy equal to her mildness and patience; who, with the labour of her own hands, gave dowries to five daughters sufficient to marry them into families as honourable but more wealthy than their own; whose single pride was honesty, and whose passion was love; who preserved in the gorgeous palace at Whitehall the simple tastes that distinguished her in the old brewery at Huntingdon; and whose only care, amidst all her splendour, was for the safety of her son in his dangerous eminence." [117]

We have spoken of the mother of Napoleon Buonaparte as a woman of great force of character. Not less so was the mother of the Duke of Wellington, whom her son strikingly resembled in features, person, and character; while his father was principally distinguished as a musical composer and performer. [118] But, strange to say, Wellington's mother mistook him for a dunce; and, for some reason or other, he was not such a favourite as her other children, until his great deeds in after-life constrained her to be proud of him.

The Napiers were blessed in both parents, but especially in their mother, Lady Sarah Lennox, who early sought to inspire her sons' minds with elevating thoughts, admiration of noble deeds, and a chivalrous spirit, which became embodied in their lives, and continued to sustain them, until death, in the path of duty and of honour.

Among statesmen, lawyers, and divines, we find marked mention made of the mothers of Lord Chancellors Bacon, Erskine, and Brougham—all women of great ability, and, in the case of the first, of great learning; as well as of the mothers of Canning, Curran, and President Adams—of Herbert, Paley, and Wesley. Lord Brougham speaks in terms almost approaching reverence of his grandmother, the sister of Professor Robertson, as having been mainly instrumental in instilling into his mind a strong desire for information, and the first principles of that persevering energy in the pursuit of every kind of knowledge which formed his prominent characteristic throughout life.

Canning's mother was an Irishwoman of great natural ability, for whom her gifted son entertained the greatest love and respect to the close of his career. She was a woman of no ordinary intellectual power. "Indeed," says Canning's biographer, "were we not otherwise assured of the fact from direct sources, it would be impossible to contemplate his profound and touching devotion to her, without being led to conclude that the object of such unchanging attachment must have been possessed of rare and commanding qualities. She was esteemed by the circle in which she lived, as a woman of great mental energy. Her conversation was animated and vigorous, and marked by a distinct originality of manner and a choice of topics fresh and striking, and out of the commonplace routine. To persons who were but slightly acquainted with her, the energy of her manner had even something of the air of eccentricity." [119]

Curran speaks with great affection of his mother, as a woman of strong original understanding, to whose wise counsel, consistent piety, and lessons of honourable ambition, which she diligently enforced on the minds of her children, he himself principally attributed his success in life. "The only inheritance," he used to say, "that I could boast of from my poor father, was the very scanty one of an unattractive face and person; like his own; and if the world has ever attributed to me something more valuable than face or person, or than earthly wealth, it was that another and a dearer parent gave her child a portion from the treasure of her mind." [1110]

When ex-President Adams was present at the examination of a girls' school at Boston, he was presented by the pupils with an address which deeply affected him; and in acknowledging it, he took the opportunity of referring to the lasting influence which womanly training and association had exercised upon his own life and character. "As a child," he said, "I enjoyed perhaps the greatest of blessings that can be bestowed on man—that of a mother, who was anxious and capable to form the characters of her children rightly. From her I derived whatever instruction [11religious especially, and moral] has pervaded a long life—I will not say perfectly, or as it ought to be; but I will say, because it is only justice to the memory of her I revere, that, in the course of that life, whatever imperfection there has been, or deviation from what she taught me, the fault is mine, and not hers."

The Wesleys were peculiarly linked to their parents by natural piety, though the mother, rather than the father, influenced their minds and developed their characters. The father was a man of strong will, but occasionally harsh and tyrannical in his dealings with his family; [1111] while the mother, with much strength of understanding and ardent love of truth, was gentle, persuasive, affectionate, and simple. She was the teacher and cheerful companion of her children, who gradually became moulded by her example. It was through the bias given by her to her sons' minds in religious matters that they acquired the tendency which, even in early years, drew to them the name of Methodists. In a letter to her son, Samuel Wesley, when a scholar at Westminster in 1709, she said: "I would advise you as much as possible to throw your business into a certain METHOD, by which means you will learn to improve every precious moment, and find an unspeakable facility in the performance of your respective duties." This "method" she went on to describe, exhorting her son "in all things to act upon principle;" and the society which the brothers John and Charles afterwards founded at Oxford is supposed to have been in a great measure the result of her exhortations.

In the case of poets, literary men, and artists, the influence of the mother's feeling and taste has doubtless had great effect in directing the genius of their sons; and we find this especially illustrated in the lives of Gray, Thomson, Scott, Southey, Bulwer, Schiller, and Goethe. Gray inherited, almost complete, his kind and loving nature from his mother, while his father was harsh and unamiable. Gray was, in fact, a feminine man—shy, reserved, and wanting in energy,—but thoroughly irreproachable in life and character. The poet's mother maintained the family, after her unworthy husband had deserted her; and, at her death, Gray placed on her grave, in Stoke Pogis, an epitaph describing her as "the careful tender mother of many children, one of whom alone had the misfortune to survive her." The poet himself was, at his own desire, interred beside her worshipped grave.

Goethe, like Schiller, owed the bias of his mind and character to his mother, who was a woman of extraordinary gifts. She was full of joyous flowing mother-wit, and possessed in a high degree the art of stimulating young and active minds, instructing them in the science of life out of the treasures of her abundant experience. [1112] After a lengthened interview with her, an enthusiastic traveller said, "Now do I understand how Goethe has become the man he is." Goethe himself affectionately cherished her memory. "She was worthy of life!" he once said of her; and when he visited Frankfort, he sought out every individual who had been kind to his mother, and thanked them all.

It was Ary Scheffer's mother—whose beautiful features the painter so loved to reproduce in his pictures of Beatrice, St. Monica, and others of his works—that encouraged his study of art, and by great self-denial provided him with the means of pursuing it. While living at Dordrecht, in Holland, she first sent him to Lille to study, and afterwards to Paris; and her letters to him, while absent, were always full of sound motherly advice, and affectionate womanly sympathy. "If you could but see me," she wrote on one occasion, "kissing your picture, then, after a while, taking it up again, and, with a tear in my eye, calling you 'my beloved son,' you would comprehend what it costs me to use sometimes the stern language of authority, and to occasion to you moments of pain. * * * Work diligently—be, above all, modest and humble; and when you find yourself excelling others, then compare what you have done with Nature itself, or with the 'ideal' of your own mind, and you will be secured, by the contrast which will be apparent, against the effects of pride and presumption."

Long years after, when Ary Scheffer was himself a grandfather, he remembered with affection the advice of his mother, and repeated it to his children. And thus the vital power of good example lives on from generation to generation, keeping the world ever fresh and young. Writing to his daughter, Madame Marjolin, in 1846, his departed mother's advice recurred to him, and he said: "The word MUST—fix it well in your memory, dear child; your grandmother seldom had it out of hers. The truth is, that through our lives nothing brings any good fruit except what is earned by either the work of the hands, or by the exertion of one's self-denial. Sacrifices must, in short, be ever going on if we would obtain any comfort or happiness. Now that I am no longer young, I declare that few passages in my life afford me so much satisfaction as those in which I made sacrifices, or denied myself enjoyments. 'Das Entsagen' [11the forbidden] is the motto of the wise man. Self-denial is the quality of which Jesus Christ set us the example." [1113]

The French historian Michelet makes the following touching reference to his mother in the Preface to one of his most popular books, the subject of much embittered controversy at the time at which it appeared:—

"Whilst writing all this, I have had in my mind a woman, whose strong and serious mind would not have failed to support me in these contentions. I lost her thirty years ago [11I was a child then]—nevertheless, ever living in my memory, she follows me from age to age.

"She suffered with me in my poverty, and was not allowed to share my better fortune. When young, I made her sad, and now I cannot console her. I know not even where her bones are: I was too poor then to buy earth to bury her!"

"And yet I owe her much. I feel deeply that I am the son of woman. Every instant, in my ideas and words [11not to mention my features and gestures], I find again my mother in myself. It is my mother's blood which gives me the sympathy I feel for bygone ages, and the tender remembrance of all those who are now no more."

"What return then could I, who am myself advancing towards old age, make her for the many things I owe her? One, for which she would have thanked me—this protest in favour of women and mothers." [1114]

But while a mother may greatly influence the poetic or artistic mind of her son for good, she may also influence it for evil. Thus the characteristics of Lord Byron—the waywardness of his impulses, his defiance of restraint, the bitterness of his hate, and the precipitancy of his resentments—were traceable in no small degree to the adverse influences exercised upon his mind from his birth by his capricious, violent, and headstrong mother. She even taunted her son with his personal deformity; and it was no unfrequent occurrence, in the violent quarrels which occurred between them, for her to take up the poker or tongs, and hurl them after him as he fled from her presence. [1115] It was this unnatural treatment that gave a morbid turn to Byron's after-life; and, careworn, unhappy, great, and yet weak as he was, he carried about with him the mother's poison which he had sucked in his infancy. Hence he exclaims, in his 'Childe Harold':—

"Yet must I think less wildly:—I have thought Too long and darkly, till my brain became, In its own eddy boiling and o'erwrought, A whirling gulf of phantasy and flame: And thus, UNTAUGHT IN YOUTH MY HEART TO TAME, MY SPRINGS OF LIFE WERE POISONED."

In like manner, though in a different way, the character of Mrs. Foote, the actor's mother, was curiously repeated in the life of her joyous, jovial-hearted son. Though she had been heiress to a large fortune, she soon spent it all, and was at length imprisoned for debt. In this condition she wrote to Sam, who had been allowing her a hundred a year out of the proceeds of his acting:-"Dear Sam, I am in prison for debt; come and assist your loving mother, E. Foote." To which her son characteristically replied—"Dear mother, so am I; which prevents his duty being paid to his loving mother by her affectionate son, Sam Foote."

A foolish mother may also spoil a gifted son, by imbuing his mind with unsound sentiments. Thus Lamartine's mother is said to have trained him in altogether erroneous ideas of life, in the school of Rousseau and Bernardin de St.-Pierre, by which his sentimentalism, sufficiently strong by nature, was exaggerated instead of repressed: [1116] and he became the victim of tears, affectation, and improvidence, all his life long. It almost savours of the ridiculous to find Lamartine, in his 'Confidences,' representing himself as a "statue of Adolescence raised as a model for young men." [1117] As he was his mother's spoilt child, so he was the spoilt child of his country to the end, which was bitter and sad. Sainte-Beuve says of him: "He was the continual object of the richest gifts, which he had not the power of managing, scattering and wasting them—all, excepting, the gift of words, which seemed inexhaustible, and on which he continued to play to the end as on an enchanted flute." [1118]

We have spoken of the mother of Washington as an excellent woman of business; and to possess such a quality as capacity for business is not only compatible with true womanliness, but is in a measure essential to the comfort and wellbeing of every properly-governed family. Habits of business do not relate to trade merely, but apply to all the practical affairs of life—to everything that has to be arranged, to be organised, to be provided for, to be done. And in all these respects the management of a family, and of a household, is as much a matter of business as the management of a shop or of a counting-house. It requires method, accuracy, organization, industry, economy, discipline, tact, knowledge, and capacity for adapting means to ends. All this is of the essence of business; and hence business habits are as necessary to be cultivated by women who would succeed in the affairs of home—in other words, who would make home happy—as by men in the affairs of trade, of commerce, or of manufacture.

The idea has, however, heretofore prevailed, that women have no concern with such matters, and that business habits and qualifications relate to men only. Take, for instance, the knowledge of figures. Mr. Bright has said of boys, "Teach a boy arithmetic thoroughly, and he is a made man." And why?—Because it teaches him method, accuracy, value, proportions, relations. But how many girls are taught arithmetic well?—Very few indeed. And what is the consequence?—When the girl becomes a wife, if she knows nothing of figures, and is innocent of addition and multiplication, she can keep no record of income and expenditure, and there will probably be a succession of mistakes committed which may be prolific in domestic contention. The woman, not being up to her business—that is, the management of her domestic affairs in conformity with the simple principles of arithmetic—will, through sheer ignorance, be apt to commit extravagances, though unintentional, which may be most injurious to her family peace and comfort.

Method, which is the soul of business, is also of essential importance in the home. Work can only be got through by method. Muddle flies before it, and hugger-mugger becomes a thing unknown. Method demands punctuality, another eminently business quality. The unpunctual woman, like the unpunctual man, occasions dislike, because she consumes and wastes time, and provokes the reflection that we are not of sufficient importance to make her more prompt. To the business man, time is money; but to the business woman, method is more—it is peace, comfort, and domestic prosperity.

Prudence is another important business quality in women, as in men. Prudence is practical wisdom, and comes of the cultivated judgment. It has reference in all things to fitness, to propriety; judging wisely of the right thing to be done, and the right way of doing it. It calculates the means, order, time, and method of doing. Prudence learns from experience, quickened by knowledge.

For these, amongst other reasons, habits of business are necessary to be cultivated by all women, in order to their being efficient helpers in the world's daily life and work. Furthermore, to direct the power of the home aright, women, as the nurses, trainers, and educators of children, need all the help and strength that mental culture can give them.

Mere instinctive love is not sufficient. Instinct, which preserves the lower creatures, needs no training; but human intelligence, which is in constant request in a family, needs to be educated. The physical health of the rising generation is entrusted to woman by Providence; and it is in the physical nature that the moral and mental nature lies enshrined. It is only by acting in accordance with the natural laws, which before she can follow woman must needs understand, that the blessings of health of body, and health of mind and morals, can be secured at home. Without a knowledge of such laws, the mother's love too often finds its recompence only in a child's coffin. [1119]

It is a mere truism to say that the intellect with which woman as well as man is endowed, has been given for use and exercise, and not "to fust in her unused." Such endowments are never conferred without a purpose. The Creator may be lavish in His gifts, but he is never wasteful.

Woman was not meant to be either an unthinking drudge, or the merely pretty ornament of man's leisure. She exists for herself, as well as for others; and the serious and responsible duties she is called upon to perform in life, require the cultivated head as well as the sympathising heart. Her highest mission is not to be fulfilled by the mastery of fleeting accomplishments, on which so much useful time is now wasted; for, though accomplishments may enhance the charms of youth and beauty, of themselves sufficiently charming, they will be found of very little use in the affairs of real life.

The highest praise which the ancient Romans could express of a noble matron was that she sat at home and span—"DOMUM MANSIT, LANAM FECIT." In our own time, it has been said that chemistry enough to keep the pot boiling, and geography enough to know the different rooms in her house, was science enough for any woman; whilst Byron, whose sympathies for woman were of a very imperfect kind, professed that he would limit her library to a Bible and a cookery-book. But this view of woman's character and culture is as absurdly narrow and unintelligent, on the one hand, as the opposite view, now so much in vogue, is extravagant and unnatural on the other—that woman ought to be educated so as to be as much as possible the equal of man; undistinguishable from him, except in sex; equal to him in rights and votes; and his competitor in all that makes life a fierce and selfish struggle for place and power and money.

Speaking generally, the training and discipline that are most suitable for the one sex in early life, are also the most suitable for the other; and the education and culture that fill the mind of the man will prove equally wholesome for the woman. Indeed, all the arguments which have yet been advanced in favour of the higher education of men, plead equally strongly in favour of the higher education of women. In all the departments of home, intelligence will add to woman's usefulness and efficiency. It will give her thought and forethought, enable her to anticipate and provide for the contingencies of life, suggest improved methods of management, and give her strength in every way. In disciplined mental power she will find a stronger and safer protection against deception and imposture than in mere innocent and unsuspecting ignorance; in moral and religious culture she will secure sources of influence more powerful and enduring than in physical attractions; and in due self-reliance and self-dependence she will discover the truest sources of domestic comfort and happiness.

But while the mind and character of women ought to be cultivated with a view to their own wellbeing, they ought not the less to be educated liberally with a view to the happiness of others. Men themselves cannot be sound in mind or morals if women be the reverse; and if, as we hold to be the case, the moral condition of a people mainly depends upon the education of the home, then the education of women is to be regarded as a matter of national importance. Not only does the moral character but the mental strength of man find their best safeguard and support in the moral purity and mental cultivation of woman; but the more completely the powers of both are developed, the more harmonious and well-ordered will society be—the more safe and certain its elevation and advancement.

1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8     Next Part
Home - Random Browse