A New Year's address, delivered to the Young Men's
Christian Association, in Birmingham, England, on January 4th, 1856, by John
My young friends,
It was said by the wisest of men, "Better is the end of a thing than the beginning." This of course has its limitation. In multitudes of cases however it is strikingly true. But it will be most true in the case of those who end in everlasting glory, that life which commenced amidst the weakness and helplessness of infancy, and was spent amidst the temptations, the sorrows, and the trials of this mortal state. What may be said of life in its total may also be said of everyone, of its well spent years. In whatever circumstances you are beginning this year, may you at its close have to acknowledge with joy and gratitude that its end is better than its beginning. Better may it be in every respect; better even as it regards your worldly condition; may all your reasonable and proper hopes be turned into fruition; all your fears be dissipated; your sorrows be exchanged for joys; and every day, even to the last, be a step towards a favorable end. Especially may this be the case as regards your conduct and your characters.
It may be hoped, that as the end of the year always calls for reflection, you have reflected, and that before the scenes of the last year have been lost in the haze of the past, you have asked yourselves the question, "What lessons for my guidance in the future, are to be derived from a review of past events?" To some perhaps a stern and accusing voice cries out, "Reform!" Be wise! listen to the admonition, and turn from your evil ways; then will the end of this year be far better than its beginning. Happy are others to whom the past year on its retiring said with notes of encouragement "Persevere!" Happier still will they be if they not only continue, but improve, in all that is excellent; and be among those who move upon wheels—not upon hinges. To them how much better will be the close than the commencement of the year. Let it ever be recollected that wisdom walks before time; opportunity with time; and repentance, or approbation, as the conduct may be, after time.
I have selected for the subject of my address this evening, the force and importance of habit. Could I have chosen a more interesting or momentous one? By habit is meant, "that facility in doing anything; and in cases where our emotions and appetites are concerned—that tendency to do it, which one acquires by custom." The frequent repetition of an act begets a habit. I shall not detain you by any philosophical enquiry into the origin of our habits, by which I mean an investigation into the reason why the repetition of an act produces this facility and tendency; suffice it to say that metaphysicians generally resolve it into that law of our nature which we call "suggestion," or "the association of ideas." Habit has been called "a second nature," and it has also been said, and how truly the sequel will disclose, that "man is a bundle of habits!"
I.I shall first make some remarks on habit in general. We apply the word "habit" most commonly and most properly to action, rather than to SUFFERING. And yet in ordinary discourse it is not unusual to speak of a habit of endurance. But even with this passiveness is mixed up something of activity. The mind of a person in suffering stirs and braces itself up to endure. Fortitude includes an act of the will; and one resolute purpose to endure prepares for and makes more easy a second, until the habit of endurance is acquired. And a most important habit it is. How many of the avocations of life, which to those who are not called to them appear absolutely intolerable, are rendered if not easy yet endurable by habit! Who, in other and less laborious situations can see a bricklayer's laborer, spending a whole day in the heat of summer in mounting a ladder with his great weight of bricks, to the top of a high building, without wondering by what power his physical strength held out? Habit has rendered it possible by giving strength and flexibility to his muscles and hardihood to his mind. So also as to suffering as well as to labor—custom produces a habit of endurance.
You have all perhaps read of the man who was confined thirty-six years in the Bastile, and had be come so habituated to his seclusion, that on his liberation he begged to be conducted back to his gloomy chamber. But the most remarkable instance of this I have ever met with, is the case mentioned by Sir George Staunton. He visited a man in India who had committed murder, and in order to save his life, and what to him was of still greater consequence his caste, had submitted to the penalty of sleeping for seven years, upon a bedstead studded with points of iron resembling nails, but not so sharp as to penetrate the flesh. Sir George saw him in the fifth year of his probation, when his skin had become like the hide of a rhinoceros, but still more callous. At that time he could sleep comfortably on his bed of thorns, and remarked that at the expiration of his term, he would most likely continue that system from choice, which he had been obliged to adopt from necessity. And instances of superstitious inflictions of bodily sufferings, by devotees of various religions, equally astonishing in illustration of the power of habit in the way of endurance, could be cited, were it at all necessary.
Even such cases are replete with instruction and encouragement, inasmuch as they indicate the goodness and wisdom of Providence, in endowing us with a power of bearing, with tolerable composure, the various complications of human suffering; while they also encourage us to expect that if called to bear such burdens, we shall find that custom will not fail in our case to lessen the weight of that pressure which we might be too ready to conclude to be insupportable. It may be, young men that difficulties, trials, and labors, yes, even great sufferings, await you in life. But fear not, nothing but what is common to man will befall you; nothing but what has been endured; and therefore nothing but what, by God's grace, and the power of habit, will be rendered endurable by you.
But I mean to make this lecture bear chiefly on the habit of ACTION. I repeat what I have already said that man is a bundle of habits. These are of various kinds, relating to—bodily motions, mental exercises, social demeanor, and moral and religious conduct. Look at every man in each of these departments of his active life, and you will find him the creature of habit. Few, very few, of his acts are entirely new, unaffected, and uninfluenced by other antecedent acts of the same kind. Nearly his whole course of action is made up of repetitions of previous acts. Every single thought, word, and deed, seems a link of a chain—a link which is drawn by others which went before—and draws others which follow it. You artisans, what was the skillful stroke of the hammer file or stamp today—but the effect of habit? You accountants, what was that disentanglement of a financial complexity, and that accurate drawing out a balance sheet—but the force of habit? You noble minded youth, what was that successful resistance today of a strong temptation—but the effect of habit? You liar, drunkard, swearer, sensualist, if such characters have found their way into our assembly this evening, what was that act of vice last night—but the effect of habit? Yes, wherever we go, whatever we do, we are followed, actuated, mastered by habit! How impressive is this! Of what a analyzable nature is our character and conduct! If we are this bundle of habits, how important, and how necessary is it that we should untie it, and carefully examine of what sticks and stuff it is made up. And by a previous act of caution how careful should we be what sticks and stuff we put into the bundle! Today you have been doing something, and tomorrow you will repeat it, that is increasing both your facility and your tendency to do good or evil.
2.It is of importance to remember, that though we are made up of habits, they grow out of single actions. And consequently, while we should be careful and solicitous about the habits we form, we must be no less so about the single acts out of which they grow. In making anything, attention must of course be paid to the individual elements of which it is made up. The baker who wishes to produce a good loaf of bread, must be careful about all ingredients—each must be attended to. The man who would be a good artisan, must take care of every single stroke, for his ultimate skill depends on each. The artist, who would attain to eminence, and bring out a good picture, must take care of every stroke of his brush, for his skill and success depend upon the aggregate of all his individual touches.
Just so regarding habits—we may be too apt to think little of individual acts. There are two insidious temptations to evil which have been more successful in leading to bad habits, than perhaps any others that have ever prevailed. One is, the suggestion, "Oh, it is but a little matter, even if it is wrong!" If it be wrong it cannot be little. There may I admit, be various degrees of evil by comparison, but abstractedly nothing is little that is wrong. What is relatively little leads to, and prepares the way for, what is very great. There is a germinating vitality in all evil, as surely as there is in all good—and as the latter tends to what is better, so does the former to what is worse.
A man who does evil, though it may seem little, loses his timidity and gains courage to go on to worse depths of evil. Habits that have brought ruin for both worlds in their train have begun in what at the time seemed a mere trifle, over which it was then thought that the tenderest conscience needed not to blush. The great Tempter is too skillful in the arts of seduction to alarm the mind by asking too much at once. A great sin would startle the conscience, and it must be prepared for it by the frequent repetition of little ones; the habit of these once formed, the transgressor is prepared for entering upon evils of a more flagrant nature.
The other temptation which leads to bad habits is the suggestion "Only this once!" Out of that 'only once' have come millions of instances of ruin for time and eternity. It is the devil's most artful and most deceitful bait. And that shows the importance, the infinite significance—of avoiding the first wrong step! That single act which is the first deviation from the path of rectitude contains enfolded in itself, all the folly, mischief, wickedness and ruin—of the consummation of an evil course. I read of a servant whose first act of dishonesty was snitching an unused article from the closet; and who having that once, and for the first time, tampered with conscience, went on from step to step until she acquired a habit of dishonesty, which led her to the gallows. Young man now halting and hesitating about some action, the folly and criminality of which are quite clear, urged on by the seductive voice "Only this once," yield, and you are undone! Resist, refuse, and you are a conqueror for life! Upon that single temptation, as upon its hinge, may turn your destiny. The habit of resistance may come out of that stern refusal. Your next victory will be easier, and the next to that easier still.
3.It scarcely need be said that habits are gradually, and very insidiously formed. Whether they are good or bad, they are not acquired all at once. They steal over us by imperceptible advances. My definition implies this. They are formed by the repetition of single acts. This is the most impressive view we can take of the subject. If any confirmed drunkard, swearer, gambler, or the slave of any other wicked habit, had when he commenced his downward course, been solicited to submit to wear the fetters which at last were riveted on him—he would have started with horror at the proposal, and exclaimed, like one of old, "Am I a dog—that I should do this!" And yet the man became the dog to do it. Deceit is one of the characteristics of sin, and its deceitfulness is manifested by the slow and almost imperceptible manner in which it leads the sinner on in his downward career.
We find this noticed by moral writers in every age and country. Many of the ancients used to represent it by the very expressive similitude, that the way of vice lies down hill. If you take but a few steps, the motion is soon accelerated, and becomes so violent and impetuous, that it is almost impossible to arrest it. Or, to change the metaphor, the growth of habit is like that of plants and animals, so slow that advance can only be ascertained by a comparison of distant periods or stages. Nutriment goes in particle by particle, ever increasing the bulk and strength, without either of them, at the time, being perceived by others, or without the subject being conscious of it himself.
4.There is this difference which ought to be pointed out between good and bad habits. While bad habits are formed without intention—good habits are often, and should be always, produced by design. No man in his senses sits down and deliberately says, "I will become an habitual drunkard, swearer, liar, or gamester." These customs come on, as I have shown, insidiously, and by degrees, and without design. Those who are addicted to them do not intentionally go beyond single acts. But the man who determines to attain to excellence of any kind, determines at the same time, or should do so, to go on with the repetition of single acts, until he has acquired the habit. Aware of the power of this, and often feeling the strength of temptation and the weakness of his own nature, he longs to acquire fixedness in the practice of what is right, by adding the power of habit, to the force of principle—and thus stand all prepared to resist the assaults that are made upon his piety and virtue.
5.It is an undoubted fact, and a very natural one, and it should be well considered, that one habit often leads to another both as regards good ones and bad ones. In the bodily frame, one disease sometimes generates another; while also the healthy action of one part of the frame aids to keep others sound. So it is in the mental economy—one bad propensity leads to others, and one virtue to another. Smoking leads in many cases to drinking, drinking to idleness, and idleness to many vices. Extravagance leads often to stealing and lying. Immodest clothing, and love of admiration have often led to promiscuity. Bad company leads to almost everything bad.
And as all vices are related and lead to other vices; so are all virtues. Piety towards God must of necessity lead to morality towards man. Industry leads to soberness; and soberness to thriftiness. There is, however, one operation of even good habits which needs to be pointed out to you, as it may lead you wrong; and that is, carrying them so far in what may be called the line of their own direction as to run into evil. Thus, frugality may degenerate into stinginess. Beneficence may degenerate into a mischievous, undiscriminating, and lavish diffusiveness. Toleration may become indifference to truth. Deference to the opinions of others, may degenerate into slavishness of mind. It is said that many who have been reclaimed by total abstinence from the misery and poverty of drunkenness to a course of sobriety and economy, have carried this so far as to become selfish and miserly.
6.I now arrive at the facts announced by all writers, and confirmed by all observation and all experience, that habits once formed, though not absolutely invincible—are broken with extreme difficulty. Who, that has ever made the trial, will not attest this fact? Why, if we have acquired the habit of an ungraceful position of the body, or an inelegant pronunciation, or any ridiculous mode of address, and wish to break ourselves of it—how hard do we find it to get rid of it, even when the bad habit was acquired without any overt design! How much more when all the power of internal desire comes in to confirm the practice, and to resist the attempt to unmanacle the poor slave! How many smokers have determined to do battle with the pipe, and after an ineffectual struggle against the habit have been vanquished at last!
An amusing instance of this kind came under my own knowledge. A young man who had acquired the habit of smoking entered as a student for the ministry at one of our colleges, where smoking was forbidden. From peculiar circumstances a toleration in his favor was granted him. He however encountered so much petty persecution in the way of gibes and ridicule from his fellow students, who were concerned to break his habit, that he made a solemn vow he would not take a pipe in his mouth for a week. His sense of the privation was so acute and distressing that he could not conceive the agonies of starvation to be more intolerable; and he determined, when the week was ended, to resume his favorite gratification. Having made up his mind to this, he set about seeking how he could keep his vow in the letter and still enjoy at least something of his taste for tobacco smoke. One of the students took pity on him, sat by his side with a lighted pipe, drew in a large whiff, and then blew it into the mouth of the smoker. There they would sit for half an hour together. When the week was ending, he sat up until midnight—and then flew to the tobacco-box and pipe with such an eagerness as if he would have eaten both, and sat up smoking nearly all night. Behold the slavery of habit! O why will men bring themselves into bondage to such tastes, such artificial habits? Is it befitting the dignity of our rational nature? What a potency has that 'tobacco leaf' acquired over mankind!
Perhaps there is no habit so universal, and so hard to conquer as that of drunkenness. This enemy, when he has gained the complete mastery, is all but invincible. The craving of this appetite is so urgent, the misery of the inebriate when not under the influence of liquor is so intense, the stings of his conscience are sometimes so venomous, and his remorse so tormenting, the wretchedness he occasions to his wife and children is so desolating—that in addition to the gratification of his lusts, he flies to the bottle as a refuge and a hiding place from his own sorrowful reflections! Said a man of fortune and family when remonstrated with on his drinking habits, "If a glass of liquor were placed before me, my propensity is so strong, that I would drink it though I knew I should be damned the next moment!"
I once read of the case of a young man who began life with fair prospects of prosperity and happiness. He married a lovely young woman, had a family, succeeded in business, and all went well until he acquired a habit of drinking, when of course he neglected his business and came to ruin. Stung with remorse at seeing the misery he had brought upon his wife and family, he determined to reform, and struggled hard against his dreadful foe, and at length succeeded. Reformation was effected, and again the sun of his prosperity shone out from behind the clouds. All went on well for a time, until he fell again under the power of temptation, and relapsed into his former habit, and ruin again was the sequence. To break his habit, he went a voyage for two years in a temperance ship, which allowed no liquors to be carried except for medicinal purposes. He was restored to his family a reformed drunkard; and by industry and total abstinence, rose again to comfort and some measure of prosperity. Temptation of a peculiarly strong nature once more assailed him and he fell; still he determined to carry on the struggle, and as a next resource, got himself admitted into a lunatic asylum, and after some time came out to make another trial. He then went on well for a considerable time, and gave all the appearances and hopes of an emancipated slave, when a fiend, for I can call him nothing else, tempted him to take again to the fatal glass. For a while he stoutly resisted the temptation, until his seducer, knowing his weak point, as a man of somewhat proud spirit, jeered, taunted, and goaded him as being under "petticoat government," and afraid of his wife. In a fit of passion he yielded, touched the 'fascinating potion,' awoke the appetite for drinking, plunged again into the depth of intoxication, and then in a fit of despair, took poison and died the death of the suicide! His wife sent for the tempter, conducted him into the dead man's chamber, threw back the sheet which covered his face, and simply said, "Behold your victim!"
Young men, learn then how closely riveted, are the chains of habit! Still the rivets may be broken, the chains cast off, and the slave go free. Reason, reflection, resolute determination, and the help of God—will enable you to burst the strongest bonds of the strongest habit.
I have an intimate friend still living, once the miserable captive of infidelity and inebriety, and in his sins so wretched, so weary of his habits and his life, that despairing of ever conquering his deadly foe, he grasped a razor, and was about to apply it to his throat, and reeking with self-murder, rush into the presence of an angry God! Happily he was restrained, applied himself again to the struggle, and was victorious, and lived not only to become a model of sobriety and sanctity, but to be eminently useful by the productions of his pen. But though so holy a man, and so well fortified by reason, piety, and his own consciousness of the happiness of temperance—he is so afraid of his former foe and everything that could awaken it into renewed activity and assault, that he has, I believe, never from the hour of his reform, allowed one drop of intoxicating liquors to touch his palate.
Permit me now to refer to some particular habits, both bad and good.
1. And should I not place in front of thesedrinking of ALCOHOL? That fatal habit which is the feeder of crime, pauperism, profanity, and lunacy; whose dark and foul tide is ever rolling through our land; which destroys more bodies and souls than war, pestilence, or famine, or perhaps more than all these together. This 'monster vice', which ought never to be viewed but with hatred and disgust, in addition to its own dreadful power over its miserable subject—is aided in its destructive influence by all the fascination of music, song, and social gratification. Drinking is represented as the companion of merry hearts, the enlivener of festive scenes, the symbol of friendship, the sign of liberty, the assuager of grief, and the source of every pleasure! And thus that which should be depicted as a demon—is set forth in the garb of an angel! I do not say that beastly drunkenness is ever thus presented. They only show the 'cheerful glass'. Young men beware! all the confirmed drunks in existence, were sober men once, not excepting that poor miserable wretch, whose vices made him, before he died, a living mass of corruption, a prey to worms on this side the grave, and whom earth, sickened and tired of her load, heaved from her lap—and hell from beneath moved to meet at his coming. Even that loathsome object was once a sober youth, his mother's pride, his father's boast—until in an evil hour he was lured by bad companions to drink the 'social glass'. Having imbibed it first for company's sake—he soon grew to love it for its own. Custom produced the habit, and the habit at last that spectacle of poverty, disease, horrible wretchedness—and death more horrible!
2. Next, I would guard you against a habit ofIDLENESS. Idleness is not only a vice in itself—but is an inlet to all other vices. Someone in casting up his accounts put down a very large sum per year—for his idleness. But there is another account more important than that of our expenses—in which many will find that their idleness has contributed mainly to the balance against them. From its very inaction, idleness becomes, ultimately, the most active cause of evil; as a palsy is more to be dreaded than a fever. The Turks have a proverb, which says, that "The devil tempts all other men—but the idle man tempts the devil." The Italians have another, "Idleness is the mother of all vice." The Spaniards have another, "Idleness in youth makes way for a painful and miserable old age." All nations have seen the evil and condemned it. No habit is more readily learned. No habit is broken with more difficulty. The first time a youth refuses to try a thing because it costs him trouble, he has spun the first thread of the cord that is to bind up his faculties, both of body and soul, for destruction.
3. Ought I not to mention, as a most pernicious habit, a proneness to get inDEBT? How sunk, not only in the opinion of others, but of his own, is he who is in debt. "The borrower is servant," says Solomon, "to the leader." No man in such a situation is his own master, he is never at ease, the creditor is his tormentor, and when the claimant ceases to torment him, his own memory furnishes a rack on which he is stretched, often in horrible agony. This, like every other vice, has its infancy, growth, and maturity. How hurried and trembling is the man in his first application for a loan of money! Hear the confession of that strange and melancholy compound of industry and idleness, ardent hopes and deep despondency, domestic virtue and social recklessness—poor Haydon, the artist, whose fine genius was ruined by the self-conceit with which it was united, and the obstinacy which would take no hint for its guidance and improvement. After he had borrowed from all his friends, and worn them out to pay his debts, he had recourse to one of those vampires, the money-lenders, who suck the blood of the needy, by loans on exorbitant interest.
"In an evil hour," said he, "I had recourse to money-lenders, the bane, the curse, the pestilence, to indigent genius. Never shall I forget the agitation of my frame as I first crossed the threshold of a money-lender; my knees shook under me. I had resisted a father and a mother's tenderest affections, and I was now standing at the door of a money-lender like a culprit—poor, sinking fast into ruin, and in debt, though at the height of reputation. The seeds of all my ruin were sown the day of entering the den of that reptile." Alas, poor Haydon, your own melancholy course and its tragic end, furnish among other lessons, a solemn warning against the practice of accumulating debts.
Young men, guard against this vice and everything that leads to it—an excessive love of pleasure, vices that entail expense, and extravagance in lifestyle, dress and home furnishings. There are other vices, besides that of drunkenness, which lead to poverty. I heard of a young man, in this town, who plunged himself into debt, difficulty, and disgrace, by the habitual and immoderate use of that introduction to many evil habits, the cigar. And he was only one of the myriads of victims to the use of tobacco.
4.GAMBLING has with multitudes become a habit that has maddened their passions, destroyed their peace, squandered their fortunes, beggared their families—and ruined their souls! More self-murders have been perpetrated by this habit, than by almost any other! And the gamester, if he dies a martyr to his profession, is doubly ruined. He adds the loss of his soul to every other loss; and by the act of suicide—renounces earth, forfeits heaven, and ensures hell. Nor is self-destruction the only kind of murder to which gambling often leads. Have we forgotten the horrid tragedy of the murder of Weare? And have we not also been horrified again within the last few weeks with the recitals of another atrocious deed of murder which in part was prompted by gambling liabilities? At one period of their lives, the perpetrators of those dreadful acts of crime would have shuddered at the idea of murder. But they acquired, little by little, the habit of iniquity, and the habit at length mastered all their feelings of virtue, until they could deliberately, for money, take away the life of a fellow creature with as little repugnance as they could, that of a rodent. Behold the hardening nature of sin! Gambling calls into activity many of the worst passions of human nature. Avarice, deceit, envy, malice, selfishness—all are the 'imps of iniquity' birthed by this parent demon. It is truly said by the proverb, "Gaming has the devil under the table—to go shares with the winner! And therefore the best throw of the dice is to throw them away!"
There is one species of this vice which I am sorry to
know prevails in this town, I mean betting houses—to which lists of the
running horses at all the principal races of the country are regularly sent,
and a system of destructive gambling perpetually kept up. A law was passed
some two or three years since for the suppression of these haunts of
iniquity in the metropolis—but why should it not be extended to the
provinces? I was ignorant of this matter until I was lately informed of it
by a broken hearted father, who wrote me a most affecting letter, imploring
me to use my influence in putting a stop to this mischief, in order that
other parents might not, like him, have to mourn over a son moral and
virtuous until lured to one of these dark receptacles, when he acquired a
habit of gambling, robbed his master to pay his debts, and fled the country
to escape from justice. Young men, take warning from this example. There is
no custom which produces such mental intoxication, keeps up such intense
excitement as this—and which more surely becomes a confirmed and destructive
habit. I now pass to the other division of habits, I mean good ones.
GOOD habitsof course are as numerous as the bad ones, since every vice has its opposite virtue. Goodness itself, in the generic sense of the word, as containing whatever things are just, and pure, and honest, and true, and lovely, and of good report—is the habitual practice of the attractive, the true, the useful.
Do not fear to determine and undertake to form any habit which is desirable and allowable, for it can be formed, and that with more ease than you may at first suppose. Contemplate the desirableness of the habit, and earnestly covet it. Begin at once its formation, looking up to God by prayer for divine assistance, and set about it with fixedness of purpose. Let some effort be made every day. Go on, notwithstanding occasional defeats. By repetition the custom will soon settle into a habit that will be both easy and pleasant. He who is good only by fits and starts; by impulses, which are only occasional, and by purposes, which are only formed at long and rare intervals—will never be distinguished for goodness at all.
Here again I will refer to Haydon. In his diary is the following entry, "My fits continue; I am all fits; fits of work and idleness, fits of reading, fits of writing, fits of Italian, fits of Greek, fits of Latin, fits of French, fits of Napoleon, fits of the army, fits of the navy, fits of religion." This was painfully true. And what was the sequel? A life of debt, failure, misery, and disappointment, until he killed himself in a fit of despair. Young men, do not let your life be a bundle of fits—but of habits, and these all of the right kind. Shall I name them? I can do little more than this.
1. I begin withINDUSTRY, but let it not be fitful but habitual, not spasmodic but regular. It is truly amazing what persevering industry has accomplished; what prodigies of art, science, learning, and wealth it has produced. It has in a thousand instances supplied the lack of genius, and in others carried it on to the performance of wonders. Make up your mind that industry must be the price of all you obtain, and begin at once to lay down the cost. Industry is only to be acquired by custom. Indolence is natural—and can be overcome only by a hard struggle. But every victory you gain over sluggishness makes the next triumph more easy—until it is easier for you to be busy than to be lazy.
2. And as a part of industry,be an early-riser. Franklin says, "He that rises late, may trot all day and not have finished his business at night." Buffon, the celebrated French naturalist, gives us the history of his authorship in a few words, "In my youth," says he, "I was very fond of sleep, which robbed me of a great deal of my time, but my poor Joseph (his servant) was of great service in enabling me to overcome it. I promised to pay him every time he made me get up at six in the morning. Next morning, he did not fail to wake and torment me—though he could not arouse me from my bed. The next day he did the same with no better success. I told him he did not know how to manage his business; he ought to think of my promise and not mind my threats. The next morning he employed force, and literally dragged me out of bed. I begged for indulgence and bid him begone. I stormed—but Joseph persevered, I was therefore obliged to comply, and he was rewarded every day for the abuse he suffered the moment I awoke. My thanks, accompanied by my pay, he received an hour after. Yes, I am indebted to poor Joseph for ten or a dozen of the volumes of my works!"
But after all would it not have been more to Buffon's honor, though less to Joseph's advantage, had he acquired by the resolution of his own will, the habit of early rising, which he at length secured by his servant's perseverance. A man who rises at six instead of seven, adds thirty days to each year—of twelve hours each. And supposing he lives to fifty years after he commences doing so, he adds four years to his life.
3.ECONOMY is another habit of vast consequence to you. If this habit is formed in youth it will follow you through life, and upon this it will depend whether your continuance in this world be one of financial stability and comfort—or of disappointment, vexation, anxiety, and disgrace. An extravagant and thoughtless youth, reckless about money—has the seeds of ruin in his disposition! And without the gift of prophecy, we may predict his downward career through life. Let your income be what it may, however small—ever live within it. Always save something and thus acquire the habit of saving. Despise the folly which ridicules prudence as a cold and heartless virtue that has no enthusiasm; and which admires a dashing kind of extravagance and thriftlessness as the mark of genius. Frugality is no base thing; it is better to live on a little and infinitely more honorable, than to outlive a great deal.
Economy requires you should be careful about your personal expenses. Extravagance and economy cannot go together. Extravagance must have resources, and if integrity cannot supply them dishonesty will. Beware of expensive follies, such as personal decorations, fashionable luxuries and fine furnishings. Abjure tobacco in every form. The cigar has in many cases led to the 'glass', and the glass to habits of drunkenness.
Don't spend upon useless articles, that which you will soon need for necessary ones. Everything you buy which you don't need, is too costly—however cheaply you may buy it. Look well to little spendings—a whole reservoir may be drained by a few drops oozing out first, as they are continually wearing away a greater outlet. Never go in debt for a 'necessary' article, much less for a 'luxury'.
At the same time, let not your economy degenerate into a love of money. Stinginess is at the other extreme of extravagance, and in avoiding the latter, some have rushed over to the other. Save to give to those who are in need. Be economical—that you may be a philanthropist and not a miser. And as stinginess is an excrescence that often grows upon frugality, prevent its growth by the exercise of beneficence. Always save a part of your earnings, and always give a part of your savings. Thus, two good habits will be always advancing together, economy and benevolence, and they will be helpful to each other. Economy will provide the means of benevolence, and benevolence for its own sake the savings of economy.
4.PUNCTUALITY is also an excellent habit, and contributes to successful industry. Every man, barring occasional uncontrollable circumstances, may be punctual if he will. Yet few are so. This is a virtue which is of essential importance to the well being of society. What a misfortune it would be if punctuality were a rare occurrence in our clocks and watches, so that they could never be depended upon for keeping right time. The business world would then be all out of joint. Why, it would be little less mischievous if all men were unpunctual. The unpunctual man not only wastes his own time, but the time of other people, because the prosecution of business may depend upon his being present, and which must be stopped until he arrives. "I have myself" say Dr. Todd, "ridden scores of miles, and been put to inconvenient expense, and a hard week's work, by the lack of punctuality in one, who was late only five minutes, and that unnecessarily." He relates a striking instance of punctuality in a student who was so invariably present when the lectures commenced, that on looking around and observing his absence, the Professor, on the young man's entering the room, said "Sir, the clock had struck, and we are ready to begin; but as you were absent, we supposed it was too fast, and therefore waited." The clock was actually too fast by some minutes.
5. The habit ofORDER is also of great importance, to successful industry. Be men of method. I knew a man who often said, it seemed to him, as if some 'imp of mischief' that delighted to torment him, always contrived to run away with the letter, paper, or book which he then needed, and which occasioned him a fearful loss of time, and a still greater loss of temper. It was only necessary to follow him to his library and see the confused heap of papers and books which lay upon the table, and which, fretting and fuming he was tumbling over to find what he wanted, and which he could not find after all, to see who the imp was, that occasioned all this trouble and vexation!
Dr. Todd, speaking of Jeremiah Ewarts, a distinguished man in America, says of him, "During years of close observation in the bosom of his family, I never saw a day pass without his accomplishing more than he expected; and so regular was he in all his habits, that I knew to a moment when I would find him with his pen, and when with his brush in his hand; and so methodical throughout, that though his papers filled many shelves, when closely tied up, there was not a paper among all his letters, correspondence, and editorial matters, and the like, which was not labeled and in its place, and upon which he could not lay his hand in a moment. I never knew him search for a paper—it was always in its place. I never yet knew a man whose habits of industry were so great, or who could accomplish so much in a given time."
6. And who can reasonably hope to succeed in anything whether in business or science, in art, or any other object of pursuit—withoutPERSEVERANCE? By perseverance I mean, sticking to one selected and necessary thing, and continuing our efforts until it is accomplished, saying, 'This one thing I do,' and working at it until by repeated effort, and in the face of all difficulties, with rapture we can say, "I have done it! I have done it!"
Choose your object cautiously and wisely, and then hold it firmly, look often at it, and if it commends itself to your judgment, seize it with the grasp of a giant, and hold it with the constancy of a martyr, and you will be surprised to find how difficulties will clear away before you!
"I am happy," said a man who met with innumerable difficulties, discouragements, and defeats, and still persevered, "I never lose the mysterious whisper—go on." Blot the word 'impossibility' from your vocabulary as regards all objects that may be hopefully sought by you, and yield yourself up to the inspiration of that magic monosyllable "try." You remember the story of Robert Bruce; after defeat, and in the lowest ebb of his fortunes, when reclining in some old building, disheartened and half despairing, he saw a spider spinning her web, and endeavoring to fix her delicate thread upon an opposite point. Six times the little creature failed; nothing daunted, she went on with her hitherto unavailing efforts, and at the seventh was successful. Bruce moralized on the subject, learned a lesson of perseverance from the spider, threw off his despondency, and rose up to renewed efforts, to battle and to victory. Persevere and you will conquer, and how sweet will be the fruit that is plucked by patient perseverance to reach it!
I pass over many moral habits, such as temperance, trustfulness, honesty, honor, and benevolence, and all the domestic and social virtues. Not of course because they are unimportant, for they are paramount to all I have specified, but because they are the theme of perpetual iteration in the pulpit, and because they are so obviously incumbent, so well understood, I hope, and so generally practiced by you. But it is of vast consequence to you ever to remember, that those things, amidst the difficulties that sometimes and in some circumstances attend them, will all be rendered easy by repetition, until at length they become habitual.
7. But, young men, it would ill become me as a firm believer in the gospel which has brought life and immortality to light, and has announced so clearly and so solemnly that we are placed in this world, as in a state of discipline and probation for the next, to omitTRUE RELIGION, that most momentous of all concerns. Nothing in this world, either in its design, or in its results, is ultimate; all is preliminary and preparatory. We are only walking on the shore of the boundless ocean of existence! There is a far closer connection between our present and our future life than most people imagine, or than most reflect upon. Moral habits formed in time receive, all of them, whether good or bad, the stamp of eternity. So says the book of God, and every one of us passes at the hour of death under the confirming power of that solemn and irrevocable sentence, "He that is holy let him be holy still, and he that is filthy let him be filthy still."
Death effects no moral change. Death obliterates no vice. Death imparts no virtue. But upon every unbroken habit of evil, as well as upon every firm habit of good, affixes the signature of this solemn word, "forever!" Is it not impressive, and ought it not to impress? Is it not dreadful, that the unholy man is forging fetters, and already fastening them upon his soul, which the stroke of mortality will rivet beyond the power of eternity to break or to loosen! Bad habits may be begun any day, which through millions of ages shall hold the miserable slave in the captivity of despair!
While on the other hand the habits of piety and morality formed on earth, shall follow the blessed spirit that has cultivated them to his mansion in the skies. All the struggles you carry on here, among so much opposition and so many occasional defeats, to gain habits of virtue and piety; will be all as so many efforts to put on the robes of light and glory which are to be worn in the realms of immortal life! There will be no struggle in that state of eternal bliss. The habit now so imperfect will be consummated; and all the exercises of virtue and piety will be the spontaneous acts of a soul, which will find goodness to be as easy as it is delightful. That mysterious tie which now binds act to act, and raises habit upon repetition, now needing such vigilance and such caution that it be not severed or weakened—will be infallibly strengthened in heaven.
Ponder this solemn idea, write it upon your hearts, live under its influence, let it never long be absent from your minds—that you are all, always, and everywhere, forming habits that shall last through eternity, and the force of which shall be proclaimed by the felicities of the redeemed—or the agonies of the lost. Live, then, young men, in the fear of God, and the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ; and by patient continuance seek for glory, honor, and immortality. Acquire by earnest prayer, and by a devout study of the scriptures—a habit of uniform and consistent piety. This will render your piety as firm in principle as it is delightful in exercise. And while it is a good habit in itself, it will be a bond of perfectness to the bundle of other good habits.
"Such habits of piety are, in this world, a wall of defense around the soul in times of temptation and of danger. They take us under their protection, guard our interests, and conduct us into the path of safety, when reason and conscience are obscured by passion. They perform to our natures the office of a 'pilot' in tempestuous weather. They are a power which is ever awake and ever active. When the storm is up and the billows roll, and all around is convulsion and disorder, virtuous habit retains its seat, seizes the helm, and guides us on in safety. Though every other power should sleep, though the hurricane of temptation and of passion, should rage for a while, and the darkness of midnight surround us, with habits of piety for a helmsman, our tempest-tossed bark may ride in security until the gale has subsided and the sunshine of reason reappear. Our conduct, by habit, will be in conformity with the rules of prudence and virtue, even though the operation of the reflecting and moral faculties should be momentarily suspended, an event which must often happen to every member of the human family, on the thousand occasions of temptation to which he is exposed. It is a difference of established habits, or acquired tendencies, formed on a constitutional bias—in which consists the most important distinction between a wise and a morally correct man, in times of great mental agitation—and an irrational, reckless, and wicked man, under the same circumstances. In the calm which follows the storm, the one is able to look back on his conduct with pleasure and approbation, the other with regret and remorse."
Young men, learn from the page of history and your own observation, this most momentous lesson, and treasure it up in your memory—that it is the good habits of a people, and not their civilization and advancement in knowledge, which constitute the real strength and conserves the greatness of a nation. How eloquently did Lord John Russell dwell on this fact, when in his lecture at Exeter Hall, to the Young Men's Christian Association, he brought his proofs from the page of history, and how ably was he supported in these views by the Times Newspaper. They both showed how impotent mere civilization is to maintain the moral power of a nation, by a reference to the Augustan era of Rome, and particular epochs of France and England. All these were stained by habits of vice; and they might have carried back their experience to Greece, "that land of lost gods and god-like men," as it has been boastfully called. The liberty of Rome perished and her empire lay prostrate, despite of her poets, her orators, and her artists. In France an infidel civilization produced such moral scandals as could be wiped out only partially even to this day, by a bloody revolution.
And who can refer to the reign of our second Charles and Anne, without knowing how little wit, and learning, and poetry, and eloquence, can do, unaided by moral and pious habits, to stop the torrent of corruption and hinder the growth of scepticism? Let heaven send good harvests; let our cities resound with the hum of factories and the traffic of streets; let the earth be covered with our railways, and the ocean with our ships; yes, let science make its discoveries, literature its triumphs, art its inventions, and taste its decorations—yet let the salt of life which consists of good habits be lacking; let voluptuousness corrupt the rich, and intemperance degrade the poor; let the moral sense of our young men be blunted by bad habits—and then all that should have become our strength will become our weakness! Cities, factories, railways, electric telegraphs, commerce, science, and art, everything of which an Englishman is accustomed to boast, will pass over to the camp of destruction, and obstruct that moral and political progress of which it seems to be the chief means.
Immorality, whether public or private, if it spread through society, and especially through the rising generation, will be a canker to all that is great, glorious, and free, in this noble nation, and England's flag, floating so loftily and proudly, will be dragged down into the mud, and trampled underfoot by a swinish generation!
Lord John Russell has read a good lesson to this, a self-flattering and self-indulgent age, when he points out that nothing is to be done and no progress is to be made, without good moral habits. "Whether," says the Times, "all the young men who heard him that night thought this more than so much sermonizing we know not; but if they live long enough they will find it all true to their pleasure or their cost."
If therefore young men your own personal well-being is not enough both for time and eternity, to lead you to a determination to cultivate habits of industry and prudence, morality and piety; let patriotism add its weight, and as you would not see England's star go down forever, and her greatness and her glory depart to return no more—form and nourish those habits which are the strongest basis of her liberties, and the surest guardians of her laws, her institutions, and her peace.