John Todd, 1842
The whole character of a man, may be said to be comprehended in the term habits — so that it is not so far from being true, that "man is a bundle of habits."
Suppose that you were compelled to wear an iron collar about your neck through life, or a chain upon your ankle — would it not be a burden every day and hour of your existence? You rise in the morning a prisoner to your chain; you lie down at night, weary with the burden; and you groan the more deeply, as you reflect that there is no shaking it off. But even this would be no more intolerable to bear, than many of the habits of men; nor would it be more difficult to be shaken off.
Habits are easily formed — especially such as are bad. What today seems to be a small affair — so soon becomes fixed, and holds you with the strength of a cable! That same cable, you will recollect, is formed by spinning and twisting one thread at a time; but, when once completed, the proudest ship acknowledges her subjection to its power.
Habits of some kind will be formed by every person. He will have a particular course in which his time, his employments, his thoughts and feelings, will run. Good or bad, these habits soon become a part of himself, and a kind of second nature. Who does not know, that the old man, who has occupied a particular corner of the old fire-place in the old house for sixty years — may be rendered wretched by a change? Who has not read of the release of the aged prisoner of the Bastile, who entreated that he might again return to his gloomy dungeon, because his habits there formed, were so strong, that his nature threatened to sink under the attempt to break them up.
You will probably find no man of forty — who has not habits which he laments, which mar his usefulness, but which are so interwoven with his very being, that he cannot break through them. At least he has not the courage to try.
I am expecting you will form habits. Indeed, I wish you to do so. He must be of a poor character, indeed — who lives so extemporaneously as not to have habits of his own. But what I wish is, that you form those habits which are correct, and such as will every day and hour add to your happiness and usefulness.
If a man were to be told that he must work with an ax all through life — would he not be careful in selecting one of the right proportions and temper? If told that he must wear the same clothing through life — would he not be anxious as to the quality and kind? But these, in the cases supposed, would be of no more importance than is the selection of habits in which the soul shall act.
You might as well place the body in a strait-jacket, and expect it to perform, with ease, and comfort, and promptness, the various duties of the body — as to throw the soul into bad habits — and then expect it will accomplish anything great or good.
Do not fear to undertake to form any habit which is desirable; for it can be formed, and that with more ease than you may at first suppose. Let the same thing, or the same duty, return at the same time every day — and it will soon become pleasant. No matter if it is irksome at first; but however irksome it may be, only let it return regularly every day, and that without any interruption for a time — and it will become a positive pleasure. In this way all our habits are formed.
The student who can with ease now sit down, and hold his mind down to his studies nine or ten hours a day — would find the manual laborer sinking under it, should he attempt to do the same thing. I have seen a man sit down at the table spread with luxury, and eat his sailor's biscuit with relish, and without a desire for any other food. His health had compelled him thus to live, until it had become a pleasant habit of diet. Previous to this, however, he had been rather noted for being an epicure.
"I once attended a prisoner," says an excellent man, of some distinction, "in one of the prisons of the metropolis, whose cell was gloomy in the extreme, and surrounded with horrors. Yet this prisoner assured me afterwards, that, upon his release, he left them with a degree of reluctance. Custom had reconciled him to the twilight admitted through the thick-barred grate, to the filthy spots and patches of his plastered walls, to the hardness of his bed, and even to confinement."
I shall specify habits which, in my view, are very desirable to the everyone — and, at the same time, endeavor to give specific directions how to form them.
1. Have a plan laid out beforehand for every day.
These plans ought to be maturely formed the evening previous, and, on rising in the morning, again looked at, and immediately entered upon. It is astonishing how much more we accomplish in a single day, (and what of else is life made up?) by having the plan previously marked out.
It is so in everything. This morning a man was digging a path through a deep snow-bank. It was almost insupportably cold, and he seemed to make but little headway. At length, getting out of breath, he paused, and marked out the width of the path with his shovel, then marked out the width of each shovel-full, and consequently the amount of snow at each throw of the shovel. In fifteen minutes, he had done more, and it was done neater and easier, than in thirty minutes previous, when working without a plan.
It is of little consequence by what we illustrate — if only we make a thing clear, and impress it upon the mind. I have found, in my own experience, great increase in the labor of a day, when working with a plan. Experience will tell any man, that he is most successful in his own pursuits — when he is most careful as to method.
A man of my acquaintance has a small slate, which hangs at his study-table. On that he generally finds, in the morning, his work for the day written down; and in the evening he reviews it, sees if he has omitted any thing, and, if so, chides himself that all is not done.
If, at the close of the day, he finds his items all accomplished, and that in such a way as to satisfy conscience — he feels that the day has been profitable. Sometimes he finds he has misjudged, and has marked out more than he can do. Sometimes he is hindered by unexpected interruptions, and therefore cannot do all, or even half, of what he calculated to do. These must be all weighed every night at the review.
Be sure and review every night, and when you have balanced the account with conscience, lay out what you will do for the next day.
Such a system will make a quiet and calm character. The river which rolls a heavy burden of water to the ocean, is the stream which keeps the channel, and is noiseless in its course.
At first you will feel discouraged in not being able to do as much work as you mark out. But you will do more and more, from day to day, as you proceed; and you will soon be astonished at seeing how much can be accomplished. If you choose, you can have a book instead of a slate, which will be also a kind of journal of your life, full of interesting memoranda.
2. Acquire the habit of untiring industry.Make up your mind that industry must be the price of all you obtain, and at once begin. "Diligence in employments of less consequence — is the most successful introduction to greater enterprises." It is a matter of unaffected amazement to see what industry alone will accomplish. We are astonished at the volumes which the men of former ages used to write. But the term industry is the key to the whole secret.
"He who shall walk with vigor three hours a day — will in seven years walk a distance equal to the circumference of the globe." There is no state so bad as idleness — and no habit is so pernicious! And yet no habit is so easily acquired — or so difficult to be thrown off. The idle man soon grows torpid, and insensibly adopts the maxim,
"It is better to walk than to run;
and better to stand still than to walk;
and better to sit than to stand;
and better to lie than to sit."
Probably the man who deserves the most of pity, is be who is most idle. "There are certain miseries in idleness, which only the idle can conceive."
I am aware that many are exceedingly busy — who are not industrious. For it very frequently happens, that he who is most hurried and bustling — is very far from being industrious. A shrewd man can easily discover the difference. "He who neglects his known duty and employment — naturally endeavors to crowd his mind with something that may bar out the remembrance of his own folly, and does anything but what he ought to do with eager diligence — that he may keep himself in his own favor."
It is perfectly clear that he who is industrious, has really the most of leisure time — for his time is marked out into distinct portions, to each of which something is assigned; and when the thing is done, the man is at leisure. But a dead calm settles over him who lives an idle life. Better that the waters flow too fast, and burst over their banks — than that they be too sluggish to move at all. Who would not prefer to put to sea, even in a storm, and in a gale hurry over the waters — rather than lie for weeks becalmed.
It is said that when Scanderbeg, prince of Epirus, was dead, the Turks wished to get his bones, that each one might wear a piece near his heart, and thus obtain some part of that courage which he had while living, and which they had too often experienced in battle. What a blessing, if the idle might obtain some such charm — which would rouse them up to habits of industry!
Seneca assures his friend, in a letter, that there "was not a day in which he did not either write something, or read some good author." So universal has the opinion of men been on the point, that, in order to excel, you must be industrious — that idlers have received the just appellation of "fools at large."
You would be surprised to know how many hours slip away from the man who is not systematically industrious. "Such was Samuel Rutherford's unwearied assiduity and diligence, that he seemed to pray constantly, to preach constantly, to catechize constantly, and to visit the sick, exhorting from house to house, to teach as much in the schools, and spend as much time with the students and young men, in fitting them for the ministry — as if he had been secluded from all the world besides; and yet, withal, to write as much as if he had been constantly shut up in his study."
It was a matter of astonishment to Europe, that Luther, amid all his travels and active labors, could present a very perfect translation of the whole Bible. But a single word explains it all. He had a rigid system of doing something every day. "Idleness," says he, in answer to the question how he did it — "Idleness is certain death" and this soon brought him to the close of the whole Bible.
I have never known a man whose habits of everyday industry were so good as those of Jeremiah Evarts. During years of close observation in his family, I never saw a day pass without his accomplishing more than he expected. 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 tooth-brush, in his hand. He was so methodical and thorough, that though his papers filled many shelves, when closely tied up, there was not a paper among all his letters, correspondence, editorial matter, 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 have never yet met with the man whose industry was so great, or who would accomplish so much in a given time.
"Tell me — of what did your brother die?" said the Marquis Spinola to Sir Horace Vere. "He died, sir," replied he, "of having nothing to do." "Alas, sir," said Spinola, "that is enough to kill any general of us all."
Demosthenes, as is well known, copied Thucydides' History eight times with his own hand, merely to make himself familiar with the style of that great man.
There are two proverbs, one among the Turks, and the other among the Spaniards, both of which contain much that is true. "A busy man is troubled with but one devil, but the idle man with a thousand." "Men are usually tempted by the devil — but the idle man tempts the devil to tempt him."
How much corrupting company, how many temptations to do wrong, how many seasons of danger to your character, and danger to the peace of your friends — would you escape, by forming the habit of being decidedly industrious every day!
3. Cultivate perseverance.By perseverance, I mean a steadfastness in carrying out the same plans from week to week. Some will read or hear of a plan which somebody has pursued with great success, and at once conclude, that they will do so. The plan will be adopted without consideration, then talked about as a fine affair — but in a few days it is thrown aside for something else.
"Such a great man did this, or did that, and I will do so," is the feeling. But as soon as it becomes irksome, as any new habit will in a short time, it is laid aside.
"The man who is perpetually hesitating which of two things he will do first — will do neither." The man who resolves, but allows his resolution to be changed by the first counter suggestion of a friend — who fluctuates from opinion to opinion, from plan to plan, and swerves like a weathervane to every point of the compass, with every breath of caprice which blows — can never accomplish anything great or useful. Instead of being productive in anything — he will be at best stationary, and more probably retrograde in all.
It is only the man who carries into his pursuits that great quality of persistence — who first consults wisely, then resolves firmly, and then executes his purpose with inflexible perseverance, undismayed by those petty difficulties which daunt a weaker spirit — who can advance to eminence in anything in life.
Let us take, by way of illustration, the case of a student. He commences the study of the dead languages. Presently comes a friend, who tells him that he is wasting his time, and that, instead of obsolete words, he had much better employ himself in acquiring new ideas. He changes his plan, and sets to work at mathematics. Then comes another friend, who asks him, with a grave and sagacious face, whether he intends to become a professor in a college; because, if he does not, he is misemploying his time; and that, for the business of life, common mathematics is quite enough. He then throws away his Euclid, and addresses himself to some other study — which, in its turn, is again relinquished on some equally wise suggestion. And thus life is spent in changing his plans.
You must perceive the folly of this course; and the worst effect of it is, the fixing on your mind a habit of indecision, sufficient of itself to blast the fairest prospects.
No, take your course wisely, but firmly. And, having taken it, hold upon it with heroic resolution, and difficulties will sink before you. The whole empire of learning will be at your feet — while those who set out with you, but stopped to change their plans, are yet employed in the very unprofitable business of changing their plans. Let your motto be, "Perseverance is invincible!" Practice upon it, and you will be convinced of its value by the distinguished eminence to which it will conduct you.
We are in danger of ruining our promising plans, in themselves very good — by the bad habit of putting off until tomorrow, what may be done today. That letter may be answered tomorrow. That request of my friend may be attended to tomorrow, and he will be no loser. True — but you are the loser; for the yielding to one such temptation, is the signal to the yielding up the whole citadel to the enemy!
That valuable fact may be recorded in my book tomorrow. True — but every such indulgence is a heavy loss to you.
Every hour should be perseveringly filled up. But this is not all. It is not sufficient to take for your motto, with the immortal Grotius, "Do it now" but let it be filled up according to some plan. One day filled up according to a previous plan — is worth more than a week, filled up, but without any plan.
It is astonishing to see with what perseverance and inflexibility of purpose those men have pursued th object — the pursuit and attainment of which constituted their greatness.
4. Cultivate the habit of punctuality.There is no man living who might not be a punctual man; and yet there are few that are so, to anything like the degree to which they ought to attain. It is vastly easier to be a little late in arriving — and a little late in doing everything. It is not so easy to be of a prompt, punctual character — but it is a trait of inestimable value to yourself and to the world. The punctual man can do twice as much, at least, as another man — with twice the ease and satisfaction to himself, and with equal satisfaction to others.
The late lord chancellor of England, Henry Brougham, while a kingdom seemed to be resting on his shoulders; who presided in the house of lords and the court of chancery; who gave audience daily to barristers — found time to write reviews, to be at the head of at least ten associations which were publishing works of useful knowledge — was so punctual, that, whenever these associations met, he was uniformly there when the hour of meeting had arrived, and was in his place in the chair.
We are all so indolent, by nature and by habit — that we feel it a luxury to find a man of real, undeviating punctuality. We love to lean upon such a man, and we are willing to purchase such a staff at almost any price. Punctuality shows, at least, that he has conquered himself.
Be punctual in everything. If you determine to rise at such an hour, be out of bed at the moment. If you determine to do so much before breakfast, be sure to do it. If you determine to meet a society, or a circle of friends, be there at the moment. We are apt to be tardy in attending meetings of societies — especially if we have anything to do. "There is great dignity in being waited for," said one who was in this habit, and who had not much of which he need be proud — unless it was this lack of promptness.
When there are two things for you to do, one of which must be done, and the other is what you very much desire to do — be sure and begin the former first. For example, you may very much wish to complete the letter which you are now writing, and for many reasons you may wish it; but you must recite this evening. Now, the way for you to do, is, now to stop writing, and prepare for recitation, else you will write so long, that not only your preparation in study will be slighted, but you will also be in danger of not being punctual. The lack of the observance of this rule, very frequently prevents our being punctual in our duties.
5. Be an early riser.Few ever lived to a great age, and fewer still ever became distinguished — who were not in the habit of early rising. You rise late, and of course get about your business at a late hour — and everything goes wrong all day!
Franklin says, "that he who rises late, may trot all day — and not have overtaken his business at night." Dean Swift avers, "that he never knew any man come to greatness and eminence — who lay in bed in the morning." I believe that, with other degeneracies of our days, history will prove that late rising is a prominent one.
Buffon gives us the secret of his writing ability in a few words, "In my youth, I was very fond of sleep — and it robbed me of a great deal of my time. But my servant Joseph was of great service in enabling me to overcome it. I promised to give Joseph a crown every time that he would make me get up at six. Next morning, he did not fail to wake me and to torment me; but he only received abuse. The next day after, he did the same, with no better success — and I was obliged to confess, at noon, that I had lost my time. I told him that he did not know how to manage his business; he ought to think of my promise — and not mind my early morning threats. The day following, he employed force — I begged for indulgence — I bid him begone — I stormed — but Joseph persisted. I was therefore obliged to comply; and he was rewarded every day for the abuse which he suffered at the moment when I awoke — with a crown, which he received about an hour after. Yes, I am indebted to poor Joseph for ten or a dozen of the volumes of my works!"
Frederick II of Prussia, even after old age and infirmities had increased upon him, gave strict orders never to be allowed to sleep later than four in the morning.
Peter the Great, whether at work in the docks at London as a ship-carpenter, or at the anvil as a blacksmith, or on the throne of Russia — always rose before daylight. "I am," says he, "for making my life as long as I can, and therefore sleep as little as possible."
Doddridge makes the following striking and sensible remarks on this subject, "I will here record the observation, which I have found of great use to myself, and to which, I may say, that the production of this work (Commentary on the New Testament), and most of my other writings, is owing, namely, that the difference between rising at five and at seven o'clock in the morning, for the space of forty years — supposing a man to go to bed at the same hour at night, is nearly equivalent to the addition of ten years to a man's life."
In order to rise early — I would earnestly recommend an early hour for retiring. There are many other reasons for this. Neither your eyes nor your health are so likely to be destroyed. Nature seems to have so fitted things, that we ought to rest in the early part of the night. Dr. Dwight used to tell his students "that one hour of sleep before midnight is worth more than two hours after that time."
Let it be a rule with you, and scrupulously adhered to, that your light shall be extinguished by ten o'clock in the evening. You may then rise at five, and have seven hours to rest, which is about what nature requires.
But how shall you form the habit of getting up so early? Suppose you go to bed, tonight, at ten; you have been accustomed to sit up later: for an hour you cannot sleep; and when the clock strikes five, you will be in a fine sleep. I reply, that, if you ever hope to do anything in this world — the habit of early rising must be formed, and the sooner it is done the better. If any money could purchase the habit — no price would be too great.
After you are once awaked, be sure to use the first consciousness in getting upon the floor. If you allow yourself to parley a single moment — sleep, like an armed man, will probably seize upon you, and your resolution is gone, your hopes are dashed, and your habits destroyed!
Need you be reminded here, that the young man who is in the habit of early rising — will and must be in the habit of retiring early, and, of course, will put himself out of the way of many temptations and dangers which come under the veil of midnight.
Not a few feel that the rules of academies, or colleges, which call them up early, are rather a hardship. They transgress them when they dare. Finding the stolen waters sweet, they do all in their power during vacations, and at other times, to prevent themselves from forming the habit of early rising. They ought not to feel or do so. The business of life requires early rising; and you are your own enemy if you nourish the feeling that this is a burden.
One of the most celebrated writers of England was lately asked how it was that he wrote so much, and yet from ten in the morning was at leisure through the day. "Because I begin to write at three o'clock in the morning," was the reply.
Most confidently do I believe, that he who from his youth is in the habit of rising early — will be much more likely to live to old age, more likely to be a distinguished and useful man, and more likely to pass a life that is peaceful and pleasant.
I dwell upon this point, because a love for the bed is too frequently a besetting sin of many — and a sin which soon acquires the strength of a cable.
6. Be in the habit of learning something from every person with whom you meet.The observance of this rule, will make a wonderful difference in your character long before the time that you are forty years old. All act upon it, more or less — but few do it as a matter of habit and calculation. Most act upon it as a matter of interest, or of curiosity at the moment. The great difficulty is, we begin too late in life to make everything contribute to increase our stock of practical information.
Sir Walter Scott tells us that he never met with any man, let his calling be what it might, even the most stupid fellow that ever rubbed down a horse — from whom he could not, by a few moments conversation, learn something which he did not before know, and which was valuable to him. This will account for the fact that he seemed to have an intuitive knowledge of everything.
It is quite as important to go through the world with the ears open — as with the eyes open.
"When I was young," says Cecil, "my mother had a servant, whose conduct I thought truly wise. A man was hired to brew, and this servant was to watch his method, in order to learn his art. In the course of the process, something was done which she did not understand. She asked him, and he abused her with the vilest epithets for her ignorance and stupidity. My mother asked her how she bore such abuse. "I would be called," said she, "worse names, a thousand times — for the sake of the information I got out of him."
It is a false notion, that we ought to know nothing out of our particular fine of study or profession. You will be none the less distinguished in your calling, for having obtained an item of practical knowledge from every man with whom you meet. And every man, in his particular calling, knows things which you do not, and which are decidedly worth knowing.
Multitudes of gifted and learned men sat under the ministry of the eloquent and youthful Spencer. They were his superiors in everything excepting his own profession, and perhaps in that, excepting the point on which he had just been studying, and on which he was speaking. Yet they all felt that they were deriving information, profit, and pleasure, from his ministry.
"Old-fashioned economists will tell you never to pass an old nail, or an old horseshoe, or buckle, or even a pin — without picking it up; because, although you may not need it now, you will find a use for it some time or other." I say the same thing to you with regard to knowledge. However useless it may appear to you at the moment, seize upon all that is fairly within your reach. For there is not a fact, within the whole circle of human observation, nor even a fugitive anecdote that you read in a newspaper, or hear in conversation — that will not come into play some time or other; and occasions will rise when they involuntarily present their dim shadows in the train of your thinking and reasoning, as belonging to that train, and you will regret that you cannot recall them more distinctly.
I do not recommend you to try to learn everything. Far from it. But while you have one great object in view, you can attend to other things which have a bearing on your object.
If you were now sent to Mexico, while the great object before you would be, to do your errand well, and expeditiously — ought you not, as you pass along, to use your eyes, and gaze upon the landscapes, the rivers, the deep glens, the waterfalls, the wild solitudes of nature, which lie in your path? Ought you not to have your ears open, to pick up what information, story, anecdote, fact, everything of the kind, which you can, and thus return wiser? Would all this hinder you in the least? And would you not be fitting yourself, by every such acquisition, to be a more agreeable, intelligent and useful man?
7. Form fixed principles on which you think and act.It should be so with everything. It is the possession of established and unwavering principles of right and wrong, which makes a man of noble character. These principles relate to everything about which the judgment has to balance probabilities. Do not be hasty in coming to conclusions.
If people will only give themselves time to weigh the matter, their conclusions will usually be correct.
I have long adopted an expedient, which I have found of singular service. I have a shelf in my study for tried authors — and a shelf in my mind for tried principles. When an author has stood a thorough examination, and will bear to be taken as a guide, I put him on the shelf! When I have more fully made up my mind on a principle, I put it on the shelf! A hundred subtle objections may be brought against this principle; I may meet with some of them, perhaps; but my principle is on the shelf. Generally I may be able to recall the reasons which weighed with me to put it there. Time was when I saw through and detected all the subtleties that could be brought against it. I have past evidence of having been fully convinced; and there on the shelf it shall ever be.
Those who understand the above remarks by experience, well know what a luxury it is, on particular occasions, when the mind is fatigued, or the memory is weak, and doubts are started concerning some point of great importance, to have this "shelf" of established principles to which you can go.
I have never been able to read the history of the martyrdom of the venerable Latimer, without being touched, almost to tears, to see him clinging to his long-established principles. They urged him to dispute and prove his religion true — and the popish religion, false. He knew that he was old, and had lost somewhat of the strength of his mind. He would not dispute. He left that for young and vigorous minds, while he died simply repeating his belief! He knew very well that he had once examined the subject with all the vigor of his intellect, and he was not to go and take these principles down from the "shelf" — and again prove them to be correct. Conduct which stands on such a basis, and character which strikes its roots thus deep, will be such as will bear scrutiny, and such as no storm can shake.
8. Be simple and neat in your personal habits.
It is frequently said, that "some pride is necessary among men — or else they would not be decent in their appearance." If the remark means anything, I suppose it means, that pride adds much and frequently to our personal appearance. But an angel, or any sinless spirit, I doubt not, would be a gentleman in appearance and dress, and that not from pride, but from a desire to be more useful and more happy. Nothing will so uniformly and certainly make you unpopular, as to have any habits that are slovenly.
If you have ever learned to chew or smoke that Indian weed, called tobacco — I beg that you will at once drop it, cleanse your mouth, and never again defile yourself with it. No one can smoke, without decided and permanent injury to his health.
The custom certainly seems most at home in a filthy ale-house or bar-room. When the fashion was so strong in England, that James I could get no one to preach against it, his own royal hand took the pen and wrote a treatise which he denominates "A Counterblast to Tobacco." The strength of his princely antidote may be gathered from the following closing paragraph of this royal Counterblast. "It is a custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs. The black fume thereof resembles the horrible Stygian smoke of the bottomless pit!"
All experienced people will tell you that the habit of using tobacco will soon render your lungs ill, your nerves shattered, your throat dry, your person filthy, and your habits those of a swine!
Let your dress be neat and simple. Do not feel that the body, which is merely a case for the soul, is of too great importance. At the same time, a noble man will be likely to keep the outside of his house in good order.
In a certain village there is a house which seems designed on purpose to be foppish. Its front is white, its left green, its back yellow, and its right red. Nothing could be more ridiculous — and yet it is not more ridiculous, in reality, than the dress of many a house that the soul must inhabit. I would recommend that your clothes be of good quality — so good, that you constantly feel that they are worth preserving, and that you feel anxious to show your economy, by the length of time they last.
The question in relation to dress should be, not "How often can I have a new hat or coat?" but "How long can I wear it, and keep it handsome?"
No slave is so abject, as he who tries to keep near the head in the race of fashions. Alexander is said to have had a neck that was tilted to one sine; and this created a fashion, so that his courtiers all held their heads on one side. He was most fashionable, who lopped his head the most. Was this more ridiculous than what the votaries of fashion must do continually?
But cannot a person be fashionable about his dress without having his heart all in it? I reply, "that whenever you see the tail of a fox sticking out of the hole — you may be pretty sure that the fox is in the hole." Keep your clothes meat and clean — but do not feel that this is by any means the great business of life.
Do not affect singularity in any of your habits. We never feel at home with a man of odd habits; and any such will assuredly increase upon him. He makes a heavy draft upon the kindness of mankind, who is every day demanding that they bear with his eccentricities.
In all your fellowship with others, always maintain the appearance and character of a gentleman — never that of a buffoon, or a sloven. And as your character now is, in these respects — so it is to be through life.
Neatness is the word by which to designate all that is meant in regard to your personal appearance. Cleanliness is the first mark of politeness; it is agreeable to others, and is a very pleasant sensation to ourselves. A clean, neat appearance is always a good letter of introduction.
We are naturally impatient of restraint, and have so little patience at our command — that it is a rare thing to find a man doing anything as well as he can. He wishes to do it quickly. You seldom hear one tell how well he did this or that, but how quickly. This is a pernicious habit. Anything that is worth doing at all — is worth doing well. A mind well disciplined in other respects, is defective, if it has not this habit. Everything should be done well — and practice will soon enable you to do it quickly.
How many are miserable readers, and miserable writers, as to manner and matter — because they do not possess this habit! Euripides used to compose but three lines, while a contemporary poet composed three hundred; but one wrote for immortality, and the other for the day. Your reading had better be but little, your conversations but few, your compositions short and well done. The man who is always in a great hurry — is commonly the one who hurries over the small stages of the journey, without making the great business of life to consist in accomplishing as much as possible. This is a good principle to carry out in regard to everything.
"How is it that you do so much?" said one in astonishment at the efforts and success of a great man. "Why, I do but one thing at a time, and try to finish it once for all."
Those who are not careful to form and nourish the habit of doing everything well — may expect to be nothing else than superficial.
10. Make constant efforts to be master of your temper.It is frequently the case, that he who can appear kind and pleasant with his pen, and when abroad — is nevertheless growing sour and crabbed in his home. Hence it has sometimes been said of the same person, "He is at times the most agreeable — and at times the most disagreeable of men." It will require no small exertion, on your part, to become master of yourself. He who is master of his own spirit, is a hero indeed.
Nothing grows faster by indulgence, than the habit of speaking to others hastily — it soon becomes so fixed that it lasts through life. In order to avoid it, cultivate manliness of character. Be frank and open-hearted. Not merely appear so — but really be so. There is an openness, a nobleness of soul, about some men, which is quickly discovered, and as highly valued.
We know that there is originally a difference in men. Some seem to be born unkind and misanthropic. But there is no reason why they should yield to this constitutional trait, and become more and more so. You may have been neglected in your childhood in this respect; but this is no reason why you should neglect yourself.
You will often see others, whose means are small, much respected for their nobleness and manliness of character. I mention this, that you may not forget that it is not the circumstance of being rich or poor, which creates this trait in your character.
Be contented in your situation. Nothing will sooner render anyone disagreeable, or sooner destroy his own peace — than a discontented spirit.
Who can expect to master himself, and to master a thousand difficulties — without meeting with discouragements? Who ever undertook to explore a great region, without meeting with hot suns, and cold rains, with clouds of dust, and swarms of flies.
11. Cultivate soundness of judgment.Some can decide, almost intuitively, upon the character of the last person they have met. So of a book. They can turn it over, read part of a page here, and a sentence or two in another place — and decide, unhesitatingly, upon its merits.
When a prejudice has once entered your mind against a man or an author — it is hard to eradicate it. It warps the judgment and makes you partial. If this habit be indulged, the mind soon becomes habituated to act from prejudice, rather than judgment.
A perfectly just and sound mind is a rare and invaluable gift. But it is still much more unusual to see such a mind unbiased in all its actings. God has given this soundness of mind but to few; and a very small number of those few escape the bias of some predilection, perhaps habitually operating — and none, at all times, are perfectly free from bias.
I once saw this subject forcibly illustrated. A watch-maker told me that a gentleman had put an exquisite watch into his hands, that went irregularly. It was as perfect a piece of work as was ever made. He took it to pieces, and put it together again, twenty times. No kind of defect was to be discovered; and yet the watch went intolerably. At last it struck him, that possibly the balance-wheel might have been near a magnet; on applying a needle to it, he found his suspicions true — here was all the mischief. The steel works in the other parts of the watch had a perpetual influence on its motions; and the watch went as well as possible with a new wheel. In the same way, if the soundest mind is magnetized by any bias — then it must act irregularly.
As to judging of your own character, do not forget, that every man is almost sure to over-rate his own importance. Our friends flatter us — and our own hearts flatter us still more. Our faults are not seen, or, if seen, passed over, or softened down — by both of these parties.
The judgment of our enemies, though more severe upon us, is more likely to be correct. They at least open our eyes to defects, which we were in danger of never seeing.
Another thing is to be noticed. The world praises you for this or that thing which you do. If, on examination, you find your motives of that action wrong and sinful, are you, then, judging correctly, if you estimate your character by their judgment? Many of our virtues are of a doubtful nature, and we are in danger of placing all such on the credit side of the ledger.
This is what I mean by cultivating soundness of judgment. The process may be slower than to jump to conclusions — but it is much more satisfactory, and will give you the habit of weighing and judging correctly.
12. Treatment of parents, friends, and companions.
I hope it will appear that I am not out of place in trying to lead you to make the proper treatment of friends a habit. Whether you intend it or not — it will become so.
Remember that, when you are away from home, you are more likely to forget and neglect your parents, than they are to forget you. You are in new scenes, forming new acquaintances. They stay at home; they see your room, your clothes — walk over the rooms where your voice has been so often and so long heard. They miss you at the table, and speak of you — they let no day pass without speaking of you, and at night they send their thoughts away after you, and have a thousand concerns about you, which nothing but your attentions can remove or alleviate.
You cannot act the part of a dutiful child, without daily sending your thoughts home. Write to friends often, and at stated times. Any correspondence between friends is, in all respects, more valuable, interesting, useful and pleasant to all parties — for being regular and at stated times. You then know when to write, and when to expect a letter, and there is no wondering why a letter does not come, and no chiding for negligence.
To your parents, it should be at least once every month. In these letters, talk out your feelings in that easy, cheerful manner, that you would were you at home. Every son can show such attentions, and at the same time keep his own heart warm with the remembrances of home and kindred. It will add to your ease in letter-writing, and it will cultivate some of the noblest and sweetest virtues of which the heart is susceptible.
I would say a few words on the choice and treatment of friends. You must have some, and will have some, with whom you are more intimate than with the rest of your companions. There are two special difficulties attending friendships: first, it is hard to acquire a real friend; and, secondly, it is still harder to keep him.
The acquaintance, which is afterwards ripened into friendship — is, of course, in the first place, casual. And those who are first to extend the hand to embrace you — are seldom those whose friendship continues long. Be cautious in selecting your friends, and look long and well before you allow anyone to say that he is your bosom-companion, and that you share each other's thoughts and secrets.
In selecting your friends, you must know that you will borrow habits, traits of character, modes of thought and expression, from each other. Therefore, be careful to select those who have not excellencies merely, but whose faults are as few as may be.
Some rely too much upon friends, and think they will never pass away, and never change. Others, who have known, by experience, that friends may do both — will tell you that friendship is "but a name," and means nothing. Extremes are never in the right. There is much, both of wisdom and beauty, in the following remarks.
"Sweet language will multiply friends, and a fair speaking tongue will multiply kind greetings. Be in peace with many — nevertheless, have but one counselor in a thousand. If you would get a friend, prove him first, and be not hasty to credit him. For some man is a friend for his own benefit — and will not abide in the day of your trouble. Separate yourself from your enemies — and take heed to your friends. A faithful friend is a strong defense — and he who has found such a one, has found a treasure. A faithful friend is the medicine of life. Forsake not an old friend — for the new is not comparable to him. A new friend is as new wine — when it is old, you shall drink it with pleasure. Whoever casts a stone at the birds chases them away — and he who upbraids his friend breaks friendships. For upbraiding, or pride, or disclosing of secrets, or a treacherous wound — every friend will depart."
No one can long be your friend for whom you have not a decided esteem — an esteem that will not permit you to trifle with his feelings, and which, of course, will prevent his trifling with yours.
You will soon be ashamed to love one for whom you have not a high esteem. Love will only follow esteem. In order to have or keep a friend — you must not have a particle of envy towards him, however exalted his character or merits. Says a beautiful writer, "He who can once doubt whether he should rejoice in his friend's being happier than himself — may depend upon it, that he is an utter stranger to this virtue."
You will always observe that those friendships which are the purest, and the most abiding — are chosen for the good qualities of the heart, rather than for those of the head. I would be sorry to give the impression, that the finest qualities of the heart may not accompany the highest intellectual character; and I am satisfied that there is no good reason why they do not.
Prudence is a prime quality in a friend. Zeal and noise are not always indicative of the greatest ability or desire to do you good. But in order to have a true friend, you must determine to be to him — just what you wish him to be to you.
A similarity of inclinations is by no means essential to a perfect and abiding friendship. We admire those traits of character which we do not ourselves possess. They are new to us, and we feel that from them we can supply our own defects.
Although it is considered one great duty of friendship to discover faults, and give reproofs — yet it is a dangerous duty. It must be done very delicately and kindly, and surely not too frequently.
I do not, on the whole, believe it is the appropriate business of a friend to discover faults and reprove you. Your friend's duty is to support you in high and noble pursuits, raising your spirits, and adding to your courage, until you out-do yourself.
Are those families the happiest, where every member is to be tried by a constant and frequent fault-finding? Far from it. If you wish your friend to do well, encourage him, sustain him when in trials or troubles — and thus you become the "medicine of life."
Cultivate your old friendships — but you must form new ones also. For our changes by relocation and death are so frequent, that he who now makes no new friends, will soon find himself without any.
Need it be said, that a strict and unwavering regard for truth is absolutely essential to having friends? We do not wish to be associated with those whose veracity can, in the least, be suspected.
I have dwelt somewhat on this point, longer, perhaps, than was to be expected, under the title of this chapter. But it is my wish that all my readers may have friends — select, unselfish friends; and I know that they cannot, unless they make it a part of their daily habits and business to cultivate their own hearts, and render themselves worthy of being beloved.
The tree cannot live and thrive without great care; but if it receives that care — then it will bear fruit abundantly for many years. Friendship can lessen no joy, by having a sharer. It brightens everyone. At the same time, it diminishes sorrow, in every shape, by dividing the burden.