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Character Building - Manliness

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

IT is related that once when Goethe was looking over some engravings he said: "We have before us the works of men of very fair talents who have acquired no little taste and wit, but there is something wanted in each picture-the manly."

As soon as the little boy can walk and talk he should be encouraged by his mother to play the man. But instruction as to the precise qualities of manliness should be reserved for the period of puberty and adolescence; and the duty of teaching rests with the father rather than with the mother, for he should be able best to explain what is implied by manly and chivalrous conduct in a boy.

It is generally admitted by scholars that the most masterly definition of the gentleman is that by John Henry Newman in his essay on "The Ethics of Culture." He says it is almost a definition of a gentleman to say that he is one who does not inflict pain. He is mainly occupied in removing the obstacles which hinder the free and unembarrassed action of those about him, and he concurs with their movements rather than take the initiative himself. He carefully avoids whatever may jar or jolt in the minds of those with whom he is brought in contact. He is tender toward the bashful, gentle toward the distant, and merciful toward the absurd. He is never mean or little in his disposition, never takes unfair advantage, never mistakes personalities and sharp sayings for arguments, or insinuates evil which he dare not say out. He has too much good sense to be affected by insults, is too much employed to remember injuries, too indolent to bear malice. He is patient, forbearing, and resigned.

Such is the true man and such is the true gentleman, and it should not be difficult to make a fairly educated lad of thirteen or fourteen understand all the niceties of this definition. But such a character is the result of gradual growth and development; and in the formation of such a character the mother and the father should have an equal share.

Manliness implies much more than politeness, for very often the most faultless politeness may be associated with effeminacy, and an effeminate boy cannot be manly. He may be very careful to raise his hat to a lady and to give up his seat in the street-car, but he may betray manners the very opposite to true manliness as he holds on to the strap.

In the public hall of the great school of Marlborough College, England, are inscribed the lines of Emerson:

So nigh is grandeur to our dust,
So near is God to man,
When Duty whispers low, Thou must,
The youth replies, I can."

The manly youth rises to every occasion with generosity, magnanimity, and with a superiority to everything that is mean, little, contemptible, and paltry. "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man I put away childish things."

The manly boy is not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He grows right on from the cradle to the development of youth. Taught to be a "little man" by his mother, respected as a "little man" by his sisters, treated as a "little man" by the servants and dependents, the boy of thirteen is quite ready for a father's instructions and explanations of all that implies manhood. He considers not only lying, but shuffling and dishonest excuses, contemptible and wicked. He is kind to his companions, being fully conscious of his own faults and failings. He is always true to his word and his promise. His moral courage and independence of character are always chastened with humility. He is a true knight errant with all the traditions of chivalry, whether he is the son of a millionaire or wheels a wheelbarrow. This is the stuff of which true citizens are made, for heroism begins at home.

We can highly recommend "Contented John" and that delightful "Hardy Tin Soldier" in Volume I. There are many manly heroes in Volume II - "Cadmus," "Perseus," "Theseus," "Hercules," and "Siegfried." Chapter III of "The Cid" in Volume III is a perfect lesson in manliness; in that same volume very little folks will appreciate "Defending the Fort." In Volume IV "Wee Willie Winkie" is one of the finest stories of its kind ever written. Turning to real life, read "Nathan Hale" and "Sir Philip Sidney" in Volume VII, and of course "George Washington" in Volume IX. The "Athletics and Health" division in Volume X will be of prime importance in helping to form the character of any boy. Among poems memorize "Casabianca" and Lowell's tribute to Abraham Lincoln in Volume XI. Poems in the section of "Wars and Battles" should also serve to good purpose.

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