Self Help VI.
Home Up James Brindley The Stephensons Boulton and Watt Smeaton and Rennie Metcalfe & Telford Invention & Industry Brief Biographies Miscellanea Site Search Main Index


[Previous Page]



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


CHARLES BABBAGE (1791-1871):
English mathematician, philosopher, inventor and mechanical engineer:
originator of the concept of a 'programmable' computer.
Picture: Illustrated London News (1871).

    Mr. Babbage has so powerfully expressed this idea in a noble passage in one of his writings that we here venture to quote his words: "Every atom," he says,

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

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

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

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

Scottish preacher and philanthropist;
 a founder of the ragged schools.
Picture (Hill & Adamson): Wikipedia.

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

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

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

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

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

LUIGI CHERUBINI (1760-1842):
Italian composer, mostly of opera and sacred
music. Much admired by Beethoven.
Picture: Wikipedia.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Francis Horner was accustomed to note in his diary and letters the books by which he was most improved and influenced.  Amongst these were Condorcet's 'Eloge of Haller,' Sir Joshua Reynolds' 'Discourses,' the writings of Bacon, and 'Burnet's Account of Sir Matthew Hale.'  The perusal of the last-mentioned book—the portrait of a prodigy of labour—Horner says, filled him with enthusiasm.  Of Condorcet's 'Eloge of Haller,' he said: "I never rise from the account of such men without a sort of thrilling palpitation about me, which I know not whether I should call admiration, ambition, or despair."  And speaking of the 'Discourses' of Sir Joshua Reynolds, he said: "Next to the writings of Bacon, there is no book which has more powerfully impelled me to self-culture.  He is one of the first men of genius who has condescended to inform the world of the steps by which greatness is attained.  The confidence with which he asserts the omnipotence of human labour has the effect of familiarising his reader with the idea that genius is an acquisition rather than a gift; whilst with all there is blended so naturally and eloquently the most elevated and passionate admiration of excellence, that upon the whole there is no book of a more inflammatory effect."  It is remarkable that Reynolds himself attributed his first passionate impulse towards the study of art, to reading Richardson's account of a great painter; and Haydon was in like manner afterwards inflamed to follow the same pursuit by reading of the career of Reynolds.  Thus the brave and aspiring life of one man lights a flame in the minds of others of like faculties and impulse; and where there is equally vigorous effort, like distinction and success will almost surely follow.  Thus the chain of example is carried down through time in an endless succession of links,—admiration exciting imitation, and perpetuating the true aristocracy of genius.

    One of the most valuable, and one of the most infectious examples which can be set before the young, is that of cheerful working.  Cheerfulness gives elasticity to the spirit.  Spectres fly before it; difficulties cause no despair, for they are encountered with hope, and the mind acquires that happy disposition to improve opportunities which rarely fails of success.  The fervent spirit is always a healthy and happy spirit; working cheerfully itself, and stimulating others to work.  It confers a dignity on even the most ordinary occupations.  The most effective work, also, is usually the full-hearted work—that which passes through the hands or the head of him whose heart is glad.  Hume was accustomed to say that he would rather possess a cheerful disposition—inclined always to look at the bright side of things—than with a gloomy mind to be the master of an estate of ten thousand a year.  Granville Sharp, amidst his indefatigable labours on behalf of the slave, solaced himself in the evenings by taking part in glees and instrumental concerts at his brother's house, singing, or playing on the flute, the clarinet, or the oboe; and, at the Sunday evening oratorios, when Handel was played, he beat the kettle-drums.  He also indulged, though sparingly, in caricature drawing.  Fowell Buxton also was an eminently cheerful man; taking special pleasure in field sports, in riding about the country with his children, and in mixing in all their domestic amusements.

    In another sphere of action, Dr. Arnold was a noble and a cheerful worker, throwing himself into the great business of his life, the training and teaching of young men, with his whole heart and soul.  It is stated in his admirable biography, that "the most remarkable thing in the Laleham circle was the wonderful healthiness of tone which prevailed there.  It was a place where a new comer at once felt that a great and earnest work was going forward.  Every pupil was made to feel that there was a work for him to do; that his happiness, as well as his duty, lay in doing that work well.  Hence an indescribable zest was communicated to a young man's feeling about life; a strange joy came over him on discerning that he had the means of being useful, and thus of being happy; and a deep respect and ardent attachment sprang up towards him who had taught him thus to value life and his own self, and his work and mission in the world.  All this was founded on the breadth and comprehensiveness of Arnold's character, as well as its striking truth and reality; on the unfeigned regard he had for work of all kinds, and the sense he had of its value, both for the complex aggregate of society and the growth and protection of the individual.  In all this there was no excitement; no predilection for one class of work above another; no enthusiasm for any one-sided object; but a humble, profound, and most religious consciousness that work is the appointed calling of man on earth; the end for which his various faculties were given; the element in which his nature is ordained to develop itself, and in which his progressive advance towards heaven is to lie."  Among the many valuable men trained for public life and usefulness by Arnold, was the gallant Hodson, of Hodson's Horse, who, writing home from India, many years after, thus spoke of his revered master: "The influence he produced has been most lasting and striking in its effects.  It is felt even in India; I cannot say more than that."

    The useful influence which a right-hearted man of energy and industry may exercise amongst his neighbours and dependants, and accomplish for his country, cannot, perhaps, be better illustrated than by the career of Sir John Sinclair; characterized by the Abbé Gregoire as "the most indefatigable man in Europe."  He was originally a country laird, born to a considerable estate situated near John o' Groat's House, almost beyond the beat of civilization, in a bare wild country fronting the stormy North Sea.  His father dying while he was a youth of sixteen, the management of the family property thus early devolved upon him; and at eighteen he began a course of vigorous improvement in the county of Caithness, which eventually spread all over Scotland.  Agriculture then was in a most backward state; the fields were unenclosed, the lands undrained; the small farmers of Caithness were so poor that they could scarcely afford to keep a horse or shelty; the hard work was chiefly done, and the burdens borne, by the women; and if a cottier lost a horse it was not unusual for him to marry a wife as the cheapest substitute.  The country was without roads or bridges; and drovers driving their cattle south had to swim the rivers along with their beasts.  The chief track leading into Caithness lay along a high shelf on a mountain side, the road being some hundred feet of clear perpendicular height above the sea which dashed below.  Sir John, though a mere youth, determined to make a new road over the hill of Ben Cheilt, the old let-alone proprietors, however, regarding his scheme with incredulity and derision.  But he himself laid out the road, assembled some twelve hundred workmen early one summer's morning, set them simultaneously to work, superintending their labours, and stimulating them by his presence and example; and before night, what had been a dangerous sheep track, six miles in length, hardly passable for led horses, was made practicable for wheel-carriages as if by the power of magic.  It was an admirable example of energy and well-directed labour, which could not fail to have a most salutary influence upon the surrounding population.  He then proceeded to make more roads, to erect mills, to build bridges, and to enclose and cultivate the waste lands.  He introduced improved methods of culture, and regular rotation of crops, distributing small premiums to encourage industry; and he thus soon quickened the whole frame of society within reach of his influence, and infused an entirely new spirit into the cultivators of the soil.  From being one of the most inaccessible districts of the north—the very ultima Thule of civilization—Caithness became a pattern county for its roads, its agriculture, and its fisheries.  In Sinclair's youth, the post was carried by a runner only once a week, and the young baronet then declared that he would never rest till a coach drove daily to Thurso.  The people of the neighbourhood could not believe in any such thing, and it became a proverb in the county to say of any utterly impossible scheme, "On, ay, that will come to pass when Sit John sees the daily mail at Thurso!"  But Sir John lived to see his dream realized, and the daily mail established to Thurso.

    The circle of his benevolent operations gradually widened.  Observing the serious deterioration which had taken place in the quality of British wool,—one of the staple commodities of the country,—he forthwith, though but a private and little-known country gentleman, devoted himself to its improvement.  By his personal exertions he established the British Wool Society for the purpose, and himself led the way to practical improvement by importing 800 sheep from all countries, at his own expense.  The result was, the introduction into Scotland of the celebrated Cheviot breed.  Sheep farmers scouted the idea of south country flocks being able to thrive in the far north.  But Sir John persevered; and in a few years there were not fewer than 300,000 Cheviots diffused over the four northern counties alone.  The value of all grazing land was thus enormously increased; and Scotch estates, which before were comparatively worthless, began to yield large rentals.


SIR JOHN SINCLAIR (1754-1835):
Scottish politician, writer on finance and agriculture.
Picture: Wikipedia.

    Returned by Caithness to Parliament, in which he remained for thirty years, rarely missing a division, his position gave him farther opportunities of usefulness, which he did not neglect to employ.  Mr. Pitt, observing his persevering energy in all useful public projects, sent for him to Downing Street, and voluntarily proposed his assistance in any object he might have in view.  Another man might have thought of himself and his own promotion; but Sir John characteristically replied, that he desired no favour for himself, but intimated that the reward most gratifying to his feelings would be Mr. Pitt's assistance in the establishment of a National Board of Agriculture.  Arthur Young laid a bet with the baronet that his scheme would never be established, adding; "Your Board of Agriculture will be in the moon!"  But vigorously setting to work, he roused public attention to the subject, enlisted a majority of Parliament on his side, and eventually established the Board, of which he was appointed President.  The result of its action need not be described, but the stimulus which it gave to agriculture and stock-raising was shortly felt throughout the whole United Kingdom, and tens of thousands of acres were redeemed from barrenness by its operation.  He was equally indefatigable in encouraging the establishment of fisheries; and the successful founding of these great branches of British industry at Thurso and Wick was mainly due to his exertions.  He urged for long years, and at length succeeded in obtaining the enclosure of a harbour for the latter place, which is perhaps the greatest and most prosperous fishing town in the world.

    Sir John threw his personal energy into every work in which he engaged, rousing the inert, stimulating the idle, encouraging the hopeful, and working with all.  When a French invasion was threatened, he offered to Mr. Pitt to raise a regiment on his own estate, and he was as good as his word.  He went down to the north, and raised a battalion of 600 men, afterwards increased to 1,000; and it was admitted to be one of the finest volunteer regiments ever raised, inspired throughout by his own noble and patriotic spirit.  While commanding officer of the camp at Aberdeen he held the offices of a Director of the Bank of Scotland, Chairman of the British Wool Society, Provost of Wick, Director of the British Fishery Society, Commissioner for issuing Exchequer Bills, Member of Parliament for Caithness, and President of the Board of Agriculture.  Amidst all this multifarious and self-imposed work, he even found time to write books, enough of themselves to establish a reputation.  When Mr. Rush, the American Ambassador, arrived in England, he relates that he inquired of Mr. Coke of Holkham, what was the best work on Agriculture, and was referred to Sir John Sinclair's; and when he further asked of Mr. Vansittart, Chancellor of the Exchequer, what was the best work on British Finance, he was again referred to a work by Sir John Sinclair, his 'History of the Public Revenue.'  But the great monument of his indefatigable industry, a work that would have appalled other men, but only served to rouse and sustain his energy, was his 'Statistical Account of Scotland,' in twenty-one volumes, one of the most valuable practical works ever published in any age or country.  Amid a host of other pursuits it occupied him nearly eight years of hard labour, during which he received, and attended to, upwards of 20,000 letters on the subject.  It was a thoroughly patriotic undertaking, from which he derived no personal advantage whatever, beyond the honour of having completed it.  The whole of the profits were assigned by him to the Society for the Sons of the Clergy in Scotland.  The publication of the book led to great public improvements; it was followed by the immediate abolition of several oppressive feudal rights, to which it called attention; the salaries of schoolmasters and clergyman in many parishes were increased; and an increased stimulus was given to agriculture throughout Scotland.  Sir John then publicly offered to undertake the much greater labour of collecting and publishing a similar Statistical Account of England; but unhappily the then Archbishop of Canterbury refused to sanction it, lest it should interfere with the tithes of the clergy, and the idea was abandoned.

    A remarkable illustration of his energetic promptitude was the manner in which he once provided, on a great emergency, for the relief of the manufacturing districts.  In 1793 the stagnation produced by the war led to an unusual number of bankruptcies, and many of the first houses in Manchester and Glasgow were tottering, not so much from want of property, but because the usual sources of trade and credit were for the time closed up.  A period of intense distress amongst the labouring classes seemed imminent, when Sir John urged, in Parliament, that Exchequer notes to the amount of five millions should be issued immediately as a loan to such merchants as could give security.  This suggestion was adopted, and his offer to carry out his plan, in conjunction with certain members named by him, was also accepted.  The vote was passed late at night, and early next morning Sir John, anticipating the delays of officialism and red tape, proceeded to bankers in the city, and borrowed of them, on his own personal security, the sum of £70,000, which he despatched the same evening to those merchants who were in the most urgent need of assistance.  Pitt meeting Sir John in the House, expressed his great regret that the pressing wants of Manchester and Glasgow could not be supplied so soon as was desirable, adding, "The money cannot be raised for some days."  "It is already gone! it left London by to-night's mail!" was Sir John's triumphant reply; and in afterwards relating the anecdote he added, with a smile of pleasure, "Pitt was as much startled as if I had stabbed him."  To the last this great, good man worked on usefully and cheerfully, setting a great example for his family and for his country.  In so laboriously seeking others' good, it might be said that he found his own—not wealth, for his generosity seriously impaired his private fortune, but happiness, and self-satisfaction, and the peace that passes knowledge.  A great patriot, with magnificent powers of work, he nobly did his duty to his country; yet he was not neglectful of his own household and home.  His sons and daughters grew up to honour and usefulness; and it was one of the proudest things Sir John could say, when verging on his eightieth year, that he had lived to see seven sons grown up, not one of whom had incurred a debt he could not pay, or caused him a sorrow that could have been avoided.




"For who can always act? but he,
     To whom a thousand memories call,
     Not being less but more than all
 The gentleness he seemed to be,

 But seemed the thing he was, and join'd
     Each office of the social hour
     To noble manners, as the flower
 And native growth of noble mind;

 And thus he bore without abuse
 The grand old name of Gentleman.'–Tennyson.


"Es billet ein Talent sich in der Stille,
 Sich ein Charakter in dem Strom der Welt."—Goethe.

    "That which raises a country, that which strengthens a country, and that which dignifies a country,—that which spreads her power, creates her moral influence, and makes her respected and submitted to, bends the heart of millions, and bows down the pride of nations to her—the instrument of obedience, the fountain of supremacy, the true throne, crown, and sceptre of a nation;—this aristocracy is not an aristocracy of blood, not an aristocracy of fashion, not an aristocracy of talent only; it is an aristocracy of Character.  That is the true heraldry of man."—The Times.

THE crown and glory of life is Character.  It is the noblest possession of a man, constituting a rank in itself, and an estate in the general goodwill; dignifying every station, and exalting every position in society.  It exercises a greater power than wealth, and secures all the honour without the jealousies of fame.  It carries with it an influence which always tells; for it is the result of proved honour, rectitude, and consistency—qualities which, perhaps more than any other, command the general confidence and respect of mankind.

    Character is human nature in its best form.  It is moral order embodied in the individual.  Men of character are not only the conscience of society, but in every well-governed State they are its best motive power; for it is moral qualities in the main which rule the world.  Even in war, Napoleon said the moral is to the physical as ten to one.  The strength, the industry, and the civilisation of nations—all depend upon individual character; and the very foundations of civil security rest upon it.  Laws and institutions are but its outgrowth.  In the just balance of nature, individuals, nations, and races, will obtain just so much as they deserve, and no more.  And as effect finds its cause, so surely does quality of character amongst a people produce its befitting results.

FRANCIS HORNER (1778-1817):
Scottish M.P.
Picture: Wikipedia.

    Though a man have comparatively little culture, slender abilities, and but small wealth, yet, if his character be of sterling worth, he will always command an influence, whether it be in the workshop, the counting-house, the mart, or the senate.  Canning wisely wrote in 1801, "My road must be through Character to power; I will try no other course; and I am sanguine enough to believe that this course, though not perhaps the quickest, is the surest."  You may admire men of intellect; but something more is necessary before you will trust them.  Hence Lord John Russell once observed in a sentence full of truth, "It is the nature of party in England to ask the assistance of men of genius, but to follow the guidance of men of character."  This was strikingly illustrated in the career of the late Francis Horner—a man of whom Sydney Smith said that the Ten Commandments were stamped upon his countenance.  "The valuable and peculiar light," says Lord Cockburn, "in which his history is calculated to inspire every right-minded youth, is this.  He died at the age of thirty-eight: possessed of greater public influence than any other private man; and admired, beloved, trusted, and deplored by all, except the heartless or the base.  No greater homage was ever paid in Parliament to any deceased member.  Now let every young man ask—how was this attained?  By rank?  He was the son of an Edinburgh merchant.  By wealth? Neither he, nor any of his relations, ever had a superfluous sixpence.  By office?  He held but one, and only for a few years, of no influence, and with very little pay.  By talents?  His were not splendid, and he had no genius.  Cautious and slow, his only ambition was to be right.  By eloquence?  He spoke in calm, good taste, without any of the oratory that either terrifies or seduces.  By any fascination of manner?  His was only correct and agreeable.  By what, then, was it?  Merely by sense, industry, good principles, and a good heart—qualities which no well-constituted mind need ever despair of attaining.  It was the force of his character that raised him; and this character not impressed upon him by nature, but formed, out of no peculiarly fine elements, by himself.  There were many in the House of Commons of far greater ability and eloquence.  But no one surpassed him in the combination of an adequate portion of these with moral worth.  Horner was born to show what moderate powers, unaided by anything whatever except culture and goodness, may achieve, even when these powers are displayed amidst the competition and jealousy of public life."

    Franklin, also, attributed his success as a public man, not to his talents or his powers of speaking—for these were but moderate—but to his known integrity of character.  Hence it was, he says, "that I had so much weight with my fellow citizens.  I was but a bad speaker, never eloquent, subject to much hesitation in my choice of words, hardly correct in language, and yet I generally carried my point."  Character creates confidence in men in high station as well as in humble life.  It was said of the first Emperor Alexander of Russia, that his personal character was equivalent to a constitution.  During the wars of the Fronde, Montaigne was the only man amongst the French gentry who kept his castle gates unbarred; and it was said of him, that his personal character was a better protection for him than a regiment of horse would have been.

    That character is power, is true in a much higher sense than that knowledge is power.  Mind without heart, intelligence without conduct, cleverness without goodness, are powers in their way, but they may be powers only for mischief.  We may be instructed or amused by them; but it is sometimes as difficult to admire them as it would be to admire the dexterity of a pickpocket or the horsemanship of a highwayman.

    Truthfulness, integrity, and goodness—qualities that hang not on any man's breath—form the essence of manly character, or, as one of our old writers has it, "that inbred loyalty unto Virtue which can serve her without a livery."  He who possesses these qualities, united with strength of purpose, carries with him a power which is irresistible.  He is strong to do good, strong to resist evil, and strong to bear up under difficulty and misfortune.  When Stephen of Colonna fell into the hands of his base assailants, and they asked him in derision, "Where is now your fortress?"  "Here," was his bold reply, placing his hand upon his heart.  It is in misfortune that the character of the upright man shines forth with the greatest lustre; and when all else fails, he takes stand upon his integrity and his courage.

    The rules of conduct followed by Lord Erskine—a man of sterling independence of principle and scrupulous adherence to truth—are worthy of being engraven on every young man's heart.  "It was a first command and counsel of my earliest youth," he said, always to do what my conscience told me to be a duty, and to leave the consequence to God.  I shall carry with me the memory, and I trust the practice, of this parental lesson to the grave.  I have hitherto followed it, and I have no reason to complain that my obedience to it has been a temporal sacrifice.  I have found it, on the contrary, the road to prosperity and wealth, and I shall point out the same path to my children for their pursuit,"

    Every man is bound to aim at the possession of a good character as one of the highest objects of life.  The very effort to secure it by worthy means will furnish him with a motive for exertion; and his idea of manhood, in proportion as it is elevated, will steady and animate his motive.  It is well to have a high standard of life, even though we may not be able altogether to realize it.  "The youth," says Mr. Disraeli, "who does not look up will look down; and the spirit that does not soar is destined perhaps to grovel."  George Herbert wisely writes,

"Pitch thy behaviour low, thy projects high,
     So shall thou humble and magnanimous be.
 Sink not in spirit; who aimeth at the sky
     Shoots higher much than he that means a tree."

He who has a high standard of living and thinking will certainly do better than he who has none at all.  "Pluck at a gown of gold," says the Scotch proverb, "and you may get a sleeve o't."  Whoever tries for the highest results cannot fail to reach a point far in advance of that from which he started; and though the end attained may fall short of that proposed, still, the very effort to rise, of itself cannot fail to prove permanently beneficial.

    There are many counterfeits of character, but the genuine article is difficult to be mistaken.  Some, knowing its money value, would assume its disguise for the purpose of imposing upon the unwary.  Colonel Charteris said to a man distinguished for his honesty, "I would give a thousand pounds for your good name."  "Why?"  "Because I could make ten thousand by it," was the knave's reply.


SIR ROBERT PEEL (1788-1850):
twice Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
Picture: Wikipedia.

    Integrity in word and deed is the backbone of character; and loyal adherence to veracity its most prominent characteristic.  One of the finest testimonies to the character of the late Sir Robert Peel was that borne by the Duke of Wellington in the House of Lords, a few days after the great statesman's death.  "Your lordships," he said, "must all feel the high and honourable character of the late Sir Robert Peel.  I was long connected with him in public life.  We were both in the councils of our Sovereign together, and I had long the honour to enjoy his private friendship.  In all the course of my acquaintance with him I never knew a man in whose truth and justice I had greater confidence, or in whom I saw a more invariable desire to promote the public service.  In the whole course of my communication with him, I never knew an instance in which he did not show the strongest attachment to truth; and I never saw in the whole course of my life the smallest reason for suspecting that he stated anything which he did not firmly believe to be the fact."  And this high-minded truthfulness of the statesman was no doubt the secret of no small part of his influence and power.

    There is a truthfulness in action as well as in words, which is essential to uprightness of character.  A man must really be what he seems or purposes to be.  When an American gentleman wrote to Granville Sharp, that from respect for his great virtues he had named one of his sons after him, Sharp replied: "I must request you to teach him a favourite maxim of the family whose name you have given him—Always endeavour to be really what you would wish to appear.  This maxim, as my father informed me, was carefully and humbly practised by his father, whose sincerity, as a plain and honest man, thereby became the principal feature of his character, both in public and private life."  Every man who respects himself, and values the respect of others, will carry out the maxim in act—doing honestly what he proposes to do—putting the highest character into his work, stamping nothing, but priding himself upon his integrity and conscientiousness.  Once Cromwell said to Bernard,—a clever but somewhat unscrupulous lawyer, "I understand that you have lately been vastly wary in your conduct; do not be too confident of this; subtlety may deceive you, integrity never will."  Men whose acts are at direct variance with their words, command no respect, and what they say has but little weight; even truths, when uttered by them, seem to come blasted from their lips.

    The true character acts rightly, whether in secret or in the sight of men.  That boy was well trained who, when asked why he did not pocket some pears, for nobody was there to see, replied, "Yes, there was: I was there to see myself; and I don't intend ever to see myself do a dishonest thing."  This is a simple but not inappropriate illustration of principle, or conscience, dominating in the character, and exercising a noble protectorate over it; not merely a passive influence, but an active power regulating the life.  Such a principle goes on moulding the character hourly and daily, growing with a force that operates every moment.  Without this dominating influence, character has no protection, but is constantly liable to fall away before temptation; and every such temptation succumbed to, every act of meanness or dishonesty, however slight, causes self-degradation.  It matters not whether the act be successful or not, discovered or concealed; the culprit is no longer the same, but another person; and he is pursued by a secret uneasiness, by self-reproach, or the workings of what we call conscience, which is the inevitable doom of the guilty.

    And here it may be observed how greatly the character may be strengthened and supported by the cultivation of good habits.  Man, it has been said, is a bundle of habits, and habit is second nature.  Metastasio entertained so strong an opinion as to the power of repetition in act and thought, that he said, "All is habit in mankind, even virtue itself."  Butler, in his 'Analogy,' impresses the importance of careful self-discipline and firm resistance to temptation, as tending to make virtue habitual, so that at length it may become more easy to be good than to give way to sin.  "As habits belonging to the body," he says, "are produced by external acts, so habits of the mind are produced by the execution of inward practical purposes, i.e., carrying them into act, or acting upon them—the principles of obedience, veracity, justice, and charity."  And again, Lord Brougham says, when enforcing the immense importance of training and example in youth, "I trust everything under God to habit, on which, in all ages, the lawgiver, as well as the schoolmaster, has mainly placed his reliance; habit, which makes everything easy, and casts the difficulties upon the deviation from a wonted course."  Thus, make sobriety a habit, and intemperance will be hateful; make prudence a habit, and reckless profligacy will become revolting to every principle of conduct which regulates the life of the individual.  Hence the necessity for the greatest care and watchfulness against the inroad of any evil habit; for the character is always weakest at that point at which it has once given way; and it is long before a principle restored can become so firm as one that has never been moved.  It is a fine remark of a Russian writer, that "Habits are a necklace of pearls: untie the knot, and the whole unthreads."

    Wherever formed, habit acts involuntarily, and without effort; and, it is only when you oppose it, that you find how powerful it has become.  What is done once and again, soon gives facility and proneness.  The habit at first may seem to have no more strength than a spider's web; but, once formed, it binds as with a chain of iron.  The small events of life, taken singly, may seem exceedingly unimportant, like snow that falls silently, flake by flake; yet accumulated, these snow-flakes form the avalanche.

    Self-respect, self-help, application, industry, integrity—all are of the nature of habits, not beliefs.  Principles, in fact, are but the names which we assign to habits; for the principles are words, but the habits are the things themselves: benefactors or tyrants, according as they are good or evil.  It thus happens that as we grow older, a portion of our free activity and individuality becomes suspended in habit; our actions become of the nature of fate; and we are bound by the chains which we have woven around ourselves.

    It is indeed scarcely possible to over-estimate the importance of training the young to virtuous habits.  In them they are the easiest formed, and when formed they last for life; like letters cut on the bark of a tree they grow and widen with age.  "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it."  The beginning holds within it the end; the first start on the road of life determines the direction and the destination of the journey; ce n'est quie le premier pas qui coûte.  "Remember," said Lord Collingwood to a young man whom he loved, "before you are five-and-twenty you must establish a character that will serve you all your life."  As habit strengthens with age, and character becomes formed, any turning into a new path becomes more and more difficult.  Hence, it is often harder to unlearn than to learn; and for this reason the Grecian flute-player was justified who charged double fees to those pupils who had been taught by an inferior master.  To uproot an old habit is sometimes a more painful thing, and vastly more difficult, than to wrench out a tooth.  Try and reform a habitually indolent, or improvident, or drunken person, and in a large majority of cases you will fail.  For the habit in each case has wound itself in and through the life until it has become an integral part of it, and cannot be uprooted.  Hence, as Mr. Lynch observes, "the wisest habit of all is the habit of care in the formation of good habits."

    Even happiness itself may become habitual.  There is a habit of looking at the bright side of things, and also of looking at the dark side.  Dr. Johnson has said that the habit of looking at the best side of a thing is worth more to a man than a thousand pounds a year.  And we possess the power, to a great extent, of so exercising the will as to direct the thoughts upon objects calculated to yield happiness and improvement rather than their opposites.  In this way the habit of happy thought may be made to spring up like any other habit.  And to bring up men or women with a genial nature of this sort, a good temper, and a happy frame of mind, is perhaps of even more importance, in many cases, than to perfect them in much knowledge and many accomplishments.

    As daylight can be seen through very small holes, so little things will illustrate a person's character.  Indeed character consists in little acts, well and honourably performed; daily life being the quarry from which we build it up, and rough-hew the habits which form it.  One of the most marked tests of character is the manner in which we conduct ourselves towards others.  A graceful behaviour towards superiors, inferiors, and equals, is a constant source of pleasure.  It pleases others because it indicates respect for their personality; but it gives tenfold more pleasure to ourselves.  Every man may to a large extent be a self-educator in good behaviour, as in everything else; he can be civil and kind, if he will, though he have not a penny in his purse.  Gentleness in society is like the silent influence of light, which gives colour to all nature; it is far more powerful than loudness or force, and far more fruitful.  It pushes its way quietly and persistently, like the tiniest daffodil in spring, which raises the clod and thrusts it aside by the simple persistency of growing.

    Even a kind look will give pleasure and confer happiness.  In one of Robertson of Brighton's letters, he tells of a lady who related to him "the delight, the tears of gratitude, which she had witnessed in a poor girl to whom, in passing, I gave a kind look on going out of church on Sunday.  What a lesson!  How cheaply happiness can be given!  What opportunities we miss of doing an angel's work!  I remember doing it, full of sad feelings, passing on, and thinking no more about it; and it gave an hour's sunshine to a human life, and lightened the load of life to a human heart for a time!" [p.392]

    Morals and manners, which give colour to life, are of much greater importance than laws, which are but their manifestations.  The law touches us here and there, but manners are about us everywhere, pervading society like the air we breathe.  Good manners, as we call them, are neither more nor less than good behaviour; consisting of courtesy and kindness; benevolence being the preponderating element in all kinds of mutually beneficial and pleasant intercourse amongst human beings.  "Civility," said Lady Montague, "costs nothing and buys everything."  The cheapest of all things is kindness, its exercise requiring the least possible trouble and self-sacrifice.  "Win hearts," said Burleigh to Queen Elizabeth, "and you have all men's hearts and purses."  If we would only let nature act kindly, free from affectation and artifice, the results on social good humour and happiness would be incalculable.  The little courtesies which form the small change of life, may separately appear of little intrinsic value, but they acquire their importance from repetition and accumulation.  They are like the spare minutes, or the groat a day, which proverbially produce such momentous results in the course of a twelvemonth, or in a lifetime.

JOHN ABERNETHY F.R.S. (1764-1831):
English surgeon; founder of Barts Medical School.
Picture: Wikipedia.

    Manners are the ornament of action; and there is a way of speaking a kind word, or of doing a kind thing, which greatly enhances their value.  What seems to be done with a grudge, or as an act of condescension, is scarcely accepted as a favour.  Yet there are men who pride themselves upon their gruffness; and though they may possess virtue and capacity, their manner is often such as to render them almost insupportable.  It is difficult to like a man who, though he may not pull your nose, habitually wounds your self-respect, and takes a pride in saying disagreeable things to you.  There are others who are dreadfully condescending, and cannot avoid seizing upon every small opportunity of making their greatness felt.  When Abernethy was canvassing for the office of surgeon to St. Bartholomew Hospital, he called upon such a person—a rich grocer, one of the governors.  The great man behind the counter seeing the great surgeon enter, immediately assumed the grand air towards the supposed suppliant for his vote.  "I presume, Sir, you want my vote and interest at this momentous epoch of your life."  Abernethy, who hated humbugs, and felt nettled at the tone, replied: "No, I don't: I want a pennyworth of figs; come, look sharp and wrap them up; I want to be off!"

    The cultivation of manner—though in excess it is foppish and foolish—is highly necessary in a person who has occasion to negotiate with others in matters of business.  Affability and good breeding may even be regarded as essential to the success of a man in any eminent station and enlarged sphere of life; for the want of it has not unfrequently been found in a great measure to neutralise the results of much industry, integrity, and honesty of character.  There are, no doubt, a few strong tolerant minds which can bear with defects and angularities of manner, and look only to the more genuine qualities; but the world at large is not so forbearant, and cannot help forming its judgments and likings mainly according to outward conduct.

    Another mode of displaying true politeness is consideration for the opinions of others.  It has been said of dogmatism, that it is only puppyism come to its full growth; and certainly the worst form this quality can assume, is that of opinionativeness and arrogance.  Let men agree to differ, and, when they do differ, bear and forbear.  Principles and opinions may be maintained with perfect suavity, without coming to blows or uttering hard words; and there are circumstances in which words are blows, and inflict wounds far less easy to heal.  As bearing upon this point, we quote an instructive little parable spoken some time since by an itinerant preacher of the Evangelical Alliance on the borders of Wales:—"As I was going to the hills," said he, "early one misty morning, I saw something moving on a mountain side, so strange looking that I took it for a monster.  When I came nearer to it I found it was a man.  When I came up to him I found he was my brother."

    The inbred politeness which springs from right-heartedness and kindly feelings, is of no exclusive rank or station.  The mechanic who works at the bench may possess it, as well as the clergyman or the peer.  It is by no means a necessary condition of labour that it should, in any respect, be either rough or coarse.  The politeness and refinement which distinguish all classes of the people in many continental countries show that those qualities might become ours too—as doubtless they will become with increased culture and more general social intercourse—without sacrificing any of our more genuine qualities as men.  From the highest to the lowest, the richest to the poorest, to no rank or condition in life has nature denied her highest boon—the great heart.  There never yet existed a gentleman but was lord of a great heart.  And this may exhibit itself under the hodden grey of the peasant as well as under the laced coat of the noble.  Robert Burns was once taken to task by a young Edinburgh blood, with whom he was walking for recognising an honest farmer in the open street.  "Why you fantastic gomeral," exclaimed Burns, "it was not the great coat, the scone bonnet, and the saunders-boot hose that I spoke to, but the man that was in them; and the man, sir, for true worth, would weigh down you and me, and ten more such, any day."  There may be a homeliness in externals, which may seem vulgar to those who cannot discern the heart beneath; but, to the right-minded, character will always have its clear insignia.

    William and Charles Grant were the sons of a farmer in Inverness-shire, whom a sudden flood stripped of everything, even to the very soil which he tilled.  The farmer and his sons, with the world before them where to choose, made their way southward in search of employment until they arrived in the neighbourhood of Bury in Lancashire.  From the crown of the hill near Walmesley they surveyed the wide extent of country which lay before them, the river Irwell making its circuitous course through the valley.  They were utter strangers in the neighbourhood, and knew not which way to turn.  To decide their course they put up a stick, and agreed to pursue the direction in which it fell. Thus their decision was made, and they journeyed on accordingly until they reached the village of Ramsbotham, not far distant.  They found employment in a print-work, in which William served his apprenticeship; and they commended themselves to their employers by their diligence, sobriety, and strict integrity.  They plodded on, rising from one station to another, until at length the two men themselves became employers, and after many long years of industry, enterprise, and benevolence, they became rich, honoured, and respected by all who knew them.  Their cotton-mills and print-works gave employment to a large population.  Their well-directed diligence made the valley teem with activity, joy, health, and opulence.  Out of their abundant wealth they gave liberally to all worthy objects, erecting churches, founding schools and in all ways promoting the well-being of the class of working-men from which they had sprung.  They afterwards erected, on the top of the hill above Walmesley, a lofty tower in commemoration of the early event in their history which had determined the place of their settlement.  The brothers Grant became widely celebrated for their benevolence and their various goodness, and it is said that Mr. Dickens had them in his mind's eye when delineating the character of the brothers Cheeryble.  One amongst many anecdotes of a similar kind may be cited to show that the character was by no means exaggerated.  A Manchester warehouseman published an exceedingly scurrilous pamphlet against the firm of Grant Brothers, holding up the elder partner to ridicule as "Billy Button."  William was informed by some one of the nature of the pamphlet, and his observation was that the man would live to repent of it.  "Oh!" said the libeller, when informed of the remark, "he thinks that some time or other I shall be in his debt; but I will take good care of that."  It happens, however, that men in business do not always foresee who shall be their creditor, and it so turned out that the Grants' libeller became a bankrupt, and could not complete his certificate and begin business again without obtaining their signature.  It seemed to him a hopeless case to call upon that firm for any favour, but the pressing claims of his family forced him to make the application.  He appeared before the man whom he had ridiculed as "Billy Button" accordingly.  He told his tale and produced his certificate.  "You wrote a pamphlet against us once?" said Mr. Grant.  The supplicant expected to see his document thrown into the fire; instead of which Grant signed the name of the firm, and thus completed the necessary certificate.  "We make it a rule," said he, handing it back, "never to refuse signing the certificate of an honest tradesman, and we have never heard that you were anything else."  The tears started into the man's eyes.  "Ah," continued Mr. Grant, "you see my saying was true, that you would live to repent writing that pamphlet.  I did not mean it as a threat—I only meant that some day you would know us better, and repent having tried to injure us."  "I do, I do, indeed, repent it."  "Well, well, you know us now.  But how do you get on—what are you going to do?"  The poor man stated that he had friends who would assist him when his certificate was obtained.  "But how are you off in the mean time?"  The answer was, that, having given up every farthing to his creditors, he had been compelled to stint his family in even the common necessaries of life, that he might be enabled to pay for his certificate.  "My good fellow, this will never do; your wife and family must not suffer in this way; be kind enough to take this ten-pound note to your wife from me: there, there, now—don't cry, it will be all well with you yet; keep up your spirits, set to work like a man, and you will raise your head among the best of us yet."  The overpowered man endeavoured with choking utterance to express his gratitude, but in vain; and putting his hand to his face, he went out of the room sobbing like a child.

    The True Gentleman is one whose nature has been fashioned after the highest models.  It is a grand old name, that of Gentleman, and has been recognized as a rank and power in all stages of society.  "The Gentleman is always the Gentleman," said the old French General to his regiment of Scottish gentry at Rousillon, "and invariably proves himself such in need and in danger."  To possess this character is a dignity of itself, commanding the instinctive homage of every generous mind, and those who will not bow to titular rank, will yet do homage to the gentleman.  His qualities depend not upon fashion or manners; but upon moral worth—not on personal possessions, but on personal qualities.  The psalmist briefly describes him as one "that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart."

    The gentleman is eminently distinguished for his self-respect.  He values his character,—not so much of it only as can be seen of others, but as he sees it himself; having regard for the approval of his inward monitor.  And, as he respects himself, so, by the same law, does he respect others.  Humanity is sacred in his eyes: and thence proceed politeness and forbearance, kindness and charity.  It is related of Lord Edward Fitzgerald that, while travelling in Canada, in company with the Indians, he was shocked by the sight of a poor squaw trudging along laden with her husband's trappings, while the chief himself walked on unencumbered.  Lord Edward at once relieved the squaw of her pack by placing it upon his own shoulders,—a beautiful instance of what the French call politesse de cœur—the inbred politeness of the true gentleman.

    The true gentleman has a keen sense of honour,—scrupulously avoiding mean actions.  His standard of probity in word and action is high.  He does not shuffle or prevaricate, dodge or skulk; but is honest, upright, and straightforward.  His law is rectitude—action in right lines.  When he says yes, it is a law: and he dares to say the valiant no at the fitting season.  The gentleman will not be bribed; only the low-minded and unprincipled will sell themselves to those who are interested in buying them.  When the upright Jonas Hanway officiated as commissioner in the victualling department, he declined to receive a present of any kind from a contractor; refusing thus to be biased in the performance of his public duty.  A fine trait of the same kind is to be noted in the life of the Duke of Wellington.  Shortly after the battle of Assaye, one morning the Prime Minister of the Court of Hyderabad waited upon him for the purpose of privately ascertaining what territory and what advantages had been reserved for his master in the treaty of peace between the Mahratta princes and the Nizam.  To obtain this information the minister offered the general a very large sum—considerably above £100,000.  Looking at him quietly for a few seconds, Sir Arthur said, "It appears, then, that you are capable of keeping a secret?"  "Yes, certainly," replied the minister.  "Then so am I," said the English general, smiling, and bowed the minister out.  It was to Wellington's great honour, that though uniformly successful in India, and with the power of earning in such modes as this enormous wealth, he did not add a farthing to his fortune, and returned to England a comparatively poor man.

    A similar sensitiveness and high-mindedness characterised his noble relative, the Marquis of Wellesley, who, on one occasion, positively refused a present of £100,000 proposed to be given him by the Directors of the East India Company on the conquest of Mysore.  "It is not necessary," said he, "for me to allude to the independence of my character, and the proper dignity attaching to my office; other reasons besides these important considerations lead me to decline this testimony, which is not suitable to me.  I think of nothing but our army.  I should be much distressed to curtail the share of those brave soldiers."  And the Marquis's resolution to refuse the present remained unalterable.

    Sir Charles Napier exhibited the same noble self-denial in the course of his Indian career.  He rejected all the costly gifts which barbaric princes were ready to lay at his feet, and said with truth, 'Certainly I could have got £30,000 since my coming to Scinde, but my hands do not want washing yet.  Our dear father's sword which I wore in both battles (Meanee and Hyderabad) is unstained."

    Riches and rank have no necessary connexion with genuine gentlemanly qualities.  The poor man may be a true gentleman,—in spirit and in daily life.  He may be honest, truthful, upright, polite, temperate, courageous, self-respecting, and self-helping,—that is, be a true gentleman.  The poor man with a rich spirit is in all ways superior to the rich man with a poor spirit.  To borrow St. Paul's words, the former is as "having nothing, yet possessing all things," while the other, though possessing all things, has nothing.  The first hopes everything, and fears nothing; the last hopes nothing, and fears everything.  Only the poor in spirit are really poor.  He who has lost all, but retains his courage, cheerfulness, hope, virtue, and self-respect, is still rich.  For such a man, the world is, as it were, held in trust; his spirit dominating over its grosser cares, he can still walk erect, a true gentleman.

    Occasionally, the brave and gentle character may be found under the humblest garb.  Here is an old illustration, but a fine one.  Once on a time, when the Adige suddenly overflowed its banks, the bridge of Verona was carried away, with the exception of the centre arch, on which stood a house, whose inhabitants supplicated help from the windows, while the foundations were visibly giving way.  "I will give a hundred French Louis," said the Count Spolverini, who stood by, "to any person who will venture to deliver these unfortunate people."  A young peasant came forth from the crowd, seized a boat, and pushed into the stream.  He gained the pier, received the whole family into the boat, and made for the shore, where he landed them in safety.  "Here is your money, my brave young fellow," said the count.  "No," was the answer of the young man, "I do not sell my life; give the money to this poor family, who have need of it."  Here spoke the true spirit of the gentleman, though he was but in the garb of a peasant.

    Not less touching was the heroic conduct of a party of Deal boatmen in rescuing the crew of a collier-brig in the Downs but a short time ago. [p.400]  A sudden storm which set in from the north-east drove several ships from their anchors, and it being low water, one of them struck the ground at a considerable distance from the shore, when the sea made a clean breach over her.  There was not a vestige of hope for the vessel, such was the fury of the wind and the violence of the waves.  There was nothing to tempt the boatmen on shore to risk their lives in saving either ship or crew, for not a farthing of salvage was to be looked for.  But the daring intrepidity of the Deal boatmen was not wanting at this critical moment.  No sooner had the brig grounded than Simon Pritchard, one of the many persons assembled along the beach, threw off his coat and called out, "Who will come with me and try to save that crew."  Instantly twenty men sprang forward, with "I will," "and I."  But seven only were wanted; and running down a galley punt into the surf, they leaped in and dashed through the breakers, amidst the cheers of those on shore.  How the boat lived in such a sea seemed a miracle; but in a few minutes, impelled by the strong arms of these gallant men, she flew on and reached the stranded ship, "catching her on the top of a wave"; and in less than a quarter of an hour from the time the boat left the shore, the six men who composed the crew of the collier were landed safe on Walmer Beach.  A nobler instance of indomitable courage and disinterested heroism on the part of the Deal boatmen—brave though they are always known to be—perhaps cannot be cited; and we have pleasure in here placing it on record.

    Mr. Turnbull, in his work on 'Austria,' relates an anecdote of the late Emperor Francis, in illustration of the manner in which the Government of that country has been indebted, for its hold upon the people, to the personal qualities of its princes.  "At the time when the cholera was raging at Vienna, the emperor, with an aide-de-camp, was strolling about the streets of the city and suburbs, when a corpse was dragged past on a litter unaccompanied by a single mourner.  The unusual circumstance attracted his attention, and he learnt, on inquiry, that the deceased was a poor person who had died of cholera, and that the relatives had not ventured on what was then considered the very dangerous office of attending the body to the grave.  'Then,' said Francis, 'we will supply their place, for none of my poor people should go to the grave without that last mark of respect; and he followed the body to the distant place of interment, and bare-headed, stood to see every rite and observance respectfully performed."

    Fine though this illustration may be of the qualities of the gentleman, we can match it by another equally good, of two English navvies in Paris, as related in a morning paper a few years ago.  "One day a hearse was observed ascending the steep Rue de Clichy on its way to Montmartre, bearing a coffin of poplar wood with its cold corpse.  Not a soul followed—not even the living dog of the dead man, if he had one.  The day was rainy and dismal; passers by lifted the hat as is usual when a funeral passes, and that was all.  At length it passed two English navvies, who found themselves in Paris on their way from Spain.  A right feeling spoke from beneath their serge jackets.  'Poor wretch!' said the one to the other, 'no one follows him; let us two follow!'  And the two took off their hats, and walked bare-headed after the corpse of a stranger to the cemetery of Montmartre."

    Above all, the gentleman is truthful.  He feels that truth is the "summit of being," and the soul of rectitude in human affairs.  Lord Chesterfield declared that Truth made the success of a gentleman.  The Duke of Wellington, writing to Kellerman, on the subject of prisoners on parole, when opposed to that general in the peninsula, told him that if there was one thing on which an English officer prided himself more than another, excepting his courage, it was his truthfulness.  "When English officers," said he, "have given their parole of honour not to escape, be sure they will not break it.  Believe me—trust to their word; the word of an English officer is a surer guarantee than the vigilance of sentinels."

    True courage and gentleness go hand in hand.  The brave man is generous and forbearant, never unforgiving and cruel.  It was finely said of Sir John Franklin by his friend Parry, that "he was a man who never turned his back upon a danger, yet of that tenderness that he would not brush away a mosquito."  A fine trait of character—truly gentle, and worthy of the spirit of Bayard—was displayed by a French officer in the cavalry combat of El Bodon in Spain.  He had raised his sword to strike Sir Felton Harvey, but perceiving his antagonist had only one arm, he instantly stopped, brought down his sword before Sir Felton in the usual salute, and rode past.  To this may be added a noble and gentle deed of Ney during the same Peninsular War.  Charles Napier was taken prisoner at Corunna, desperately wounded; and his friends at home did not know whether he was alive or dead.  A special messenger was sent out from England with a frigate to ascertain his fate.  Baron Clouet received the flag, and informed Ney of the arrival.  "Let the prisoner see his friends," said Ney, "and tell them he is well, and well treated."  Clouet lingered, and Ney asked, smiling, "what more he wanted"?  "He has an old mother, a widow, and blind."  "Has he? then let him go himself and tell her he is alive."  As the exchange of prisoners between the countries was not then allowed, Ney knew that he risked the displeasure of the Emperor by setting the young officer at liberty; but Napoleon approved the generous act.

SIR HENRY HAVELOCK, K.C.B. (1795-1857):
British general associated mainly with India
(see Havelock's March).  Picture: Wikipedia.

    Notwithstanding the wail which we occasionally hear for the chivalry that is gone, our own age has witnessed deeds of bravery and gentleness—of heroic self denial and manly tenderness—which are unsurpassed in history.  The events of the last few years have shown that our countrymen are as yet an undegenerate race.  On the bleak plateau of Sebastopol, in the dripping perilous trenches of that twelvemonth's leaguer, men of all classes proved themselves worthy of the noble inheritance of character which their forefathers have bequeathed to them.  But it was in the hour of the great trial in India that the qualities of our countrymen shone forth the brightest.  The march of Neill on Cawnpore, of Havelock on Lucknow—officers and men alike urged on by the hope of rescuing the women and the children—are events which the whole history of chivalry cannot equal.  Outram's conduct to Havelock, in resigning to him, though his inferior officer, the honour of leading the attack on Lucknow, was a trait worthy of Sydney, and alone justifies the title which has been awarded to him of, "the Bayard of India."  The death of Henry Lawrence—that brave and gentle spirit—his last words before dying, "Let there be no fuss about me; let me be buried with the men,"—the anxious solicitude of Sir Colin Campbell to rescue the beleaguered of Lucknow, and to conduct his long train of women and children by night from thence to Cawnpore, which he reached amidst the all but overpowering assault of the enemy,—the care with which he led them across the perilous bridge, never ceasing his charge over them until he had seen the precious convoy safe on the road to Allahabad, and then upon the Gwalior contingent like a thunderclap;—such things make us feel proud of our countrymen and inspire the conviction that the best and purest glow of chivalry is not dead, but vigorously lives among us yet.

    Even the common soldiers proved themselves gentlemen under their trials.  At Agra, where so many poor fellows had been scorched and wounded in their encounter with the enemy, they were brought into the fort, and tenderly nursed by the ladies; and the rough, gallant fellows proved gentle as any children.  During the weeks that the ladies watched over their charge, never a word was said by any soldier that could shock the ear of the gentlest.  And when all was over—when the mortally-wounded had died, and the sick and maimed who survived were able to demonstrate their gratitude—they invited their nurses and the chief people of Agra to an entertainment in the beautiful gardens of the Taj, where, amidst flowers and music, the rough veterans, all scarred and mutilated as they were, stood up to thank their gentle countrywomen who had clothed and fed them, and ministered to their wants during their time of sore distress.  In the hospitals at Scutari, too, many wounded and sick blessed the kind English ladies who nursed them; and nothing can be finer than the thought of the poor sufferers, unable to rest through pain, blessing the shadow of Florence Nightingale as it fell upon their pillow in the night watches.

The sinking of H.M.S. Birkenhead:
February, 1852. [p.406]
Picture: Wikipedia.

    The wreck of the Birkenhead off the coast of Africa on the 27th of February, 1852, affords another memorable illustration of the chivalrous spirit of common men acting in this nineteenth century, of which any age might be proud.  The vessel was steaming along the African coast with 472 men and 166 women and children on board.  The men belonged to several regiments then serving at the Cape, and consisted principally of recruits who had been only a short time in the service.  At two o'clock in the morning, while all were asleep below, the ship struck with violence upon a hidden rock which penetrated her bottom; and it was at once felt that she must go down.  The roll of the drums called the soldiers to arms on the upper deck, and the men mustered as if on parade.  The word was passed to save the women and children; and the helpless creatures were brought from below, mostly undressed, and handed silently into the boats.  When they had all left the ship's side, the commander of the vessel thoughtlessly called out, "All those that can swim, jump overboard and make for the boats."  But Captain Wright, of the 91st Highlanders, said, "No! if you do that, the boats with the women must be swamped;" and the brave men stood motionless.  There was no boat remaining, and no hope of safety; but not a heart quailed; no one flinched from his duty in that trying moment.  "There was not a murmur nor a cry amongst them," said Captain Wright, a survivor, "until the vessel made her final plunge."  Down went the ship, and down went the heroic band, firing a feu de joie as they sank beneath the waves.  Glory and honour to the gentle and the brave!  The examples of such men never die, but, like their memories, are immortal. [p.406]

    There are many tests by which a gentleman may be known; but there is one that never fails—How does he exercise power over those subordinate to him?  How does he conduct himself towards women and children?  How does the officer treat his men, the employer his servants, the master his pupils, and man in every station those who are weaker than himself?  The discretion, forbearance, and kindliness, with which power in such cases is used, may indeed be regarded as the crucial test of gentlemanly character.  When La Motte was one day passing through a crowd, he accidentally trod upon the foot of a young fellow, who forthwith struck him on the face: "Ah, sire, said La Motte, you will surely be sorry for what you have done, when you know that I am blind."  He who bullies those who are not in a position to resist may be a snob, but cannot be a gentleman.  He who tyrannizes over the weak and helpless may be a coward, but no true man.  The tyrant, it has been said, is but a slave turned inside out Strength, and the consciousness of strength, in a right-hearted man, imparts a nobleness to his character; but he will be most careful how he uses it; for

                                              "It is excellent
To have a giant's strength; but it is tyrannous
To use it like a giant."

    Gentleness is indeed the best test of gentlemanliness.  A consideration for the feelings of others, for his inferiors and dependants as well as his equals, and respect for their self-respect, will pervade the true gentleman's whole conduct.  He will rather himself suffer a small injury, than by an uncharitable construction of another's behaviour, incur the risk of committing a great wrong.  He will be forbearant of the weaknesses, the failings, and the errors, of those whose advantages in life have not been equal to his own.  He will be merciful even to his beast.  He will not boast of his wealth, or his strength, or his gifts.  He will not be puffed up by success, or unduly depressed by failure.  He will not obtrude his views on others, but speak his mind freely when occasion calls for it.  He will not confer favours with a patronizing air.  Sir Walter Scott once said of Lord Lothian, "He is a man from whom one may receive a favour, and that's saying a great deal in these days."

    Lord Chatham has said that the gentleman is characterised by his sacrifice of self and preference of others to himself in the little daily occurrences of life.  In illustration of this ruling spirit of considerateness in a noble character, we may cite the anecdote of the gallant Sir Ralph Abercromby, of whom it is related, that when mortally wounded in the battle of Aboukir, he was carried in a litter on board the 'Foudroyant;' and, to ease his pain, a soldier's blanket was placed under his head, from which he experienced considerable relief.  He asked what it was.  "It's only a soldier's blanket," was the reply.  "Whose blanket is it?" said he, half lifting himself up.  "Only one of the men's."  "I wish to know the name of the man whose blanket this is."  "It is Duncan Roy's, of the 42nd, Sir Ralph."  "Then see that Duncan Roy gets his blanket this very night." [p.408]  Even to ease his dying agony the general would not deprive the private soldier of his blanket for one night.  The incident is as good in its way as that of the dying Sydney handing his cup of water to the private soldier on the field of Zutphen.

    The quaint old Fuller sums up in a few words the character of the true gentleman and man of action in describing that of the great admiral, Sir Francis Drake: "Chaste in his life, just in his dealings, true of his word; merciful to those that were under him, and hating nothing so much as idleness; in matters especially of moment, he was never wont to rely on other men's care, how trusty or skilful soever they might seem to be, but, always contemning danger, and refusing no toyl, he was wont himself to be one (whoever was a second) at every turn, where courage, skill, or industry was to be employed."




[Home] [Up] [James Brindley] [The Stephensons] [Boulton and Watt] [Smeaton and Rennie] [Metcalfe & Telford] [Invention & Industry] [Brief Biographies] [Miscellanea] [Site Search] [Main Index]