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True Greatness

( Originally Published 1879 )

THE forbearing use of power is a sure attribute of true greatness. Indeed, we may say that power, physical, moral, purely social or political, is one of the touchstones of genuine greatness.

The power which the husband has over his wife, in which we must include the impunity with which he may be unkind to her; the father over his children; the old over the young, and the young over the aged; the strong over the weak; the officer over his men; the master over his hands; the magistrate over the citizens; the employer over the employed ; the rich over the poor; the educated over the unlettered; the experienced over the confiding. The forbearing and inoffensive use of all this power or authority, or a total abstinence from it, where the case admits it, will show the true greatness in a plain light.

" You are a plebian," said a patrician to Cicero. "I am a plebian," said the eloquent Roman; " the nobility of my family begins with me; that of yours will end with you. I hold no man deserves to be crowned with honor whose life is a failure; and he who lives only to eat and drink and accumulate money, is a failure. The world is no better for his living in it. He never wiped a tear from a sad face—never kindled a fire upon a frozen hearth. I repeat with emphasis, he is a failure. There is no flesh in his heart; he worships no God but gold." These were the words of a heathen.

Man is to be rated, not by his hoards of gold, not by the simple or temporary influence he may for a time exert; but by his unexceptionable principles relative both to character and religion. Strike out these, and what is he? A brute without a virtue—a savage with-out a sympathy! Take them away and his manship is gone; he no longer lives in the image of his Maker! A cloud of sin hangs darkly on his brow; there is ever a tempest on his countenance, the lightning in his glance, the thunder in words, and the rain and whirl-wind in the breathing of his angry soul. No smile gladdens his lip to tell that love is playing there; no sympathizing glow illuminates his cheek. Every word burns with malice, and that voice—the mystic gift of heaven—grates as harshly on the timid ear as rushing thunders beating amid falling cliffs and tumbling cataracts.

That which especially distinguishes a high order of man from a low order of man—that which constitutes human goodness, human greatness, human nobleness-is surely not the degree of enlightenment with which men pursue their own advantage; but it is self-forgetfulness; it is self-sacrifice; it is the disregard of personal pleasure, personal indulgence, personal advantage, remote or present, because some other line of conduct is more right.

The truest greatness is that which is unseen, unknown. Public martyrdom of every shade has a certain eclat and popularity connected with it that will often bear men up to endure with courage its trials; but those who suffer alone, without sympathy, for truth or principle, those who, unnoticed by men, maintain their post, and in obscurity, and amid discouragement, patiently fulfill their trust, these are the real heroes of the age, and the suffering they bear is true greatness.

Let man go abroad with just principles, and what is he? An exhaustless fountain in a vast desert; a glorious sun shining ever, dispelling every vestige of darkness. There is love animating his heart, sympathy breathing in every tone. Tears of pity—dew drops of the soul — gather in his eye and gush impetuously down his cheek. A good man is abroad and the world knows and feels it. Beneath his smiles lurks no degrading passions. Within his heart there slumbers no guile. He is not exalted in moral pride, not elevated in his own views; but honest, moral and virtuous before the world. He stands throned on truth; his fortress is wisdom and his dominion is the vast and limitless world. Always upright, kind and sympathizing; always attached to just principles and actuated by the same, governed by the highest motives in doing good.

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