( Originally Published 1879 )
YOUNG men look about them and see a great measure of worldly success awarded to men without principle. They see the trickster crowned with public honors, they see the swindler rolling in wealth, they see the sharp man, the over-reaching man, the unprincipled man, the liar, the demagogue, the time-server, the trimmer, the scoundrel who cunningly manages, though constantly disobeying moral law and trampling upon social courtesy, to keep himself out of the clutches of the legal police, carrying off the prizes of wealth and place. All this is a demoralizing puzzle and a fearful temptation; and multitudes of young men are not strong enough to stand before it. They ought to understand that in this wicked world there is a great deal of room where there is integrity. Great trusts may be sought by scoundrels, but great trusts never seek them; and perfect integrity is at a premium even among scoundrels. There are some trusts that they will never confer on each other. There are occasions where they need the services of true men, and they do not find them in shoals and in the mud, but alone and in pure water.
Integrity is the foundation of all that is high in character among mankind; other qualities may add to its splendor, but if this essential requisite be wanting all their luster fades. Our integrity is never worth so much to us as when we have lost everything to keep it. Integrity without knowledge is weak; knowledge with-out integrity is dangerous and dreadful. Integrity, however rough, is better than smooth dissimulation. Let a man have the reputation of being fair and upright in his dealings, and he will possess the confidence of all who know him. Without these qualities every other merit will prove unavailing. Ask concerning a man, "Is he active and capable?" Yes. "Industrious, temperate, and regular in his habits?" O, yes. "s he honest? is he trustworthy?" Why, as to that, I am sorry to say that he is not to be trusted; he wants watching; he is a little tricky, and will take an undue advantage, if he can. " Then I will have nothing to do with him," will be the invariable reply. Why, then, is honesty the best ,policy? Because, without it you will get a bad name, and everybody will shun you.
The world is always asking for men who are not for sale; men who are honest, sound from centre to circumference, true to the heart's core; men who will condemn wrong in friend or foe, in themselves as well as others; men whose consciences are as steady as the needle to the pole ; men who will stand for the right if the heavens totter and the earth reels; men who can tell the truth, and look the world and the devil right in the eye; men that neither brag nor run; men that neither flag nor flinch; men who can have courage without shouting to it; men in whom the courage of everlasting life runs still, deep, and strong; men who do not cry, nor cause their voices to be heard on the streets, but who will not fail nor be discouraged till judgment be set in the earth; men who know their message and tell it; men who know their places and fill them; men who know their own business; men who will not lie; men who are not too lazy to work, not too proud to be poor; men who are willing to eat what they have earned, and wear what they have paid for. It is always safe to trust those who can trust themselves, but when a man suspects his own integrity, it is time he was suspected by others. Moral degradation always begins at home. Honesty is never gained or lost suddenly, or by accident. Moral strength or moral weakness takes possession of us by slow and imperceptible degrees.
Avoid—and young men especially—avoid all base, servile, underhand, sneaking ways. Part with anything rather than your integrity and conscious rectitude; flee from injustice as you would from a viper's fangs; avoid a lie as you would the gates of hell. Some there are who are callous as to this. Some there are who, in stooping to mercantile dishonor and baseness—in driving the immoral bargain—think they have done a clever action. Things are often called by their wrong names; duplicity is called shrewdness, and wrong-heartedness is called long-headedness; evil is called good, and good evil, and darkness is put for light, and light for darkness. Well! be it so. You may be prosperous in your own eyes; you may have realized an envied fortune; you may have your carriage, and plate, and servants, and pageantry; but rather the shielding and the crust of bread with a good conscience, than the stately dwelling or palace without it. Rather than the marble mausoleum, which gilds and smothers tales of heartless villainy and fraud—rather, far rather, that lowly heap of grass we were wont often to gaze upon in an old village churchyard, with the simple record of a cotter's virtues : "Here lies an honest man !" There is nothing more sad than to be carried like a vessel away from the straight course of principle; to be left a stranded outcast thing on the sands of dishonor: a man bolstering himself up in a position he is not entitled to. "That is a man of capital," says the world, pointing to an unscrupulous and successful swindler. Capital ! What is capital? Is it what a man has? Is it counted by pounds and pence, stocks and shares, by houses and lands? No! capital is not what a man has, but what a man is. Character is capital; honor is capital. That is the most fearful of ruin when character is gone, when integrity is sold, when honor is bartered for a miserable mess of earthly pottage. God save us from ruin like this ! Perish what may ; perish gold, silver, houses, lands; let the winds of misfortune dash our vessel on the sunken rock, but let integrity be like the valued keepsake which the sailor boy lashed with the rope round his body, the only thing we care to save. Let me die; but let angels read, if friends cannot afford to erect the grave stone: "Here lies an honest man."