( Originally Published 1879 )
AWAY up among the Alleghanies there is a spring so small that a single ox on a summer's day could drain it dry. It steals its unobtrusive way among the hills, till it spreads out into the beautiful Ohio. Thence it stretches away a thousand miles, leaving on its banks more than a hundred villages and cities 'and many a cultivated farm; then joining the Mississippi, it stretches away some twelve hundred miles more, till it falls into the emblem of eternity. It is one of the greatest tributaries to the ocean, which obedient only to God, shall roar till the angel with one foot on the sea and the other on the land, shall swear that time shall be no longer. So with moral influence. It is a rill —a rivulet—an ocean, and as boundless and fathomless as eternity.
" The stone, flung from my careless hand into the lake, splashed down into the depths of the flowing water, and that was all. No, it was not all. Look at those concentric rings, rolling their tiny ripples among the sedgy reeds, dippling the overhanging boughs of yonder willow, and producing an influence, slight but conscious, to the very shores of the lake itself. That stray word, that word of pride or scorn, flung from my lips in casual company, produces a momentary depression, and that is all. No, it is not all. It deepened that man's disgust at godliness, and it sharpened the edge of that man's sarcasm, and it shamed that half-converted one out of his penitent misgivings, and it produced an influence, slight, but eternal, on the destiny of a human life. O, it is a terrible power that I have—this power of influence—and it clings to me. I cannot shake it off. It is born with me, it has grown with my growth, and is strengthened with my strength. It speaks, it walks, it moves; it is powerful in every look of my eye, in every word of my lips, in every act of my life. I cannot live to myself. I must either be a light to illumine, or a tempest to destroy. I must either be an Abel, who, by his immortal righteousness, being dead yet speaketh, or an Achan, the sad continuance of whose otherwise forgotten name is the proof that man perishes not alone in his iniquity. Dear reader, this necessary element of power belongs to you The sphere may be contracted, thine influence may be small, but a sphere and influence you surely have."
Every human being is a center of influence for good or for ill. No man can live unto himself. The meshes of a net are not more surely knit together than man to man. We may forget this secret, silent influence. But we are exerting it by our deeds, we are exerting it by our words, we are exerting it by our very thoughts—and he is wise with a wisdom more than that of earth who seeks to put forth the highest power for good, be his home a hut or a hall, a cabin or a palace.