( Originally Published 1879 )
NOTHING that is of real worth can be achieved without courageous working. Man owes his growth chiefly to that active striving of the will, that encounter with. difficulty, which we call effort; and it is astonishing to find how often results apparently impracticable are thus made possible. An intense anticipation itself trans-forms possibility into reality; our desires being often but the precursors of the things which we are capable of performing. On the contrary, the timid and hesitating find everything impossible, chiefly because it seems so. It is related of a young French officer that he used to walk about his apartment exclaiming, "I will be marshal of France and a great general." This ardent desire was the presentiment of his success; for he did become a distinguished commander, and he died a marshal of France.
Courage, by keeping the senses quiet and the under-standing clear, puts us in a condition to receive true intelligence, to make just computations upon danger, and pronounce rightly upon that which threatens us.
Innocence of life, consciousness of worth, and great expectations are the best foundations of courage.
True courage is the result of reasoning. A brave mind is always impregnable. Resolution lies more in the head than in the veins; and a just sense of honor and of infamy, of duty and of religion, will carry us further than all the force of mechanism.
To believe a business impossible is the way to make it so. How many feasible projects have miscarried through despondency, and been strangled in the birth by a cowardly imagination. It is better to meet danger than to wait for it. A ship on ŗ lee shore stands out to sea in a storm to escape, shipwreck. Impossibilities, like vicious dogs, fly before him who is not afraid of them. Should misfortune overtake, retrenchówork harderóbut never fly the trackóconfront difficulties with unflinching perseverance. Should you then fail, you will be honored; but shrink, and you will be despised. When you put your hands to a work, let the fact of your doing so constitute the evidence that you mean to prosecute it to the end. Stand like a beaten anvil. It is the part of a great champion to be stricken and conquer.
"Trouble's darkest hour
" Then up, my soul, and brace thee,
"Storms may howl around thee,
Courage, like cowardice, is undoubtedly contagious, but some persons are not at all liable to catch it. The attention. of restless and fickle men turns to no account; poverty overtakes them whilst they are flying so many different ways to escape it. What is called courage is oftentimes nothing more than the fear of being thought a coward. The reverence that restrains us from violating the laws of God or man is not unfrequently branded with the name of cowardice. The Spartans had a saying, that he who stood most in fear of the law generally showed the least fear of an enemy. And we may infer the truth of this from the reverse of the proposition, for daily experience shows us that they who are the most daring in a bad cause are often the most pusillanimous in a good one.
Plutarch says courage consists not in hazarding with-out fear, but by being resolute in a just cause. An officer, after a very severe battle, on being complimented on standing his ground firmly, under a terrible fire, replied, "Ah, if you knew how I was frightened, you would compliment me more still." It is not the stolid man, or the reckless man, who exhibits the noblest bravery in the great battle of life. It is the man whose nerves and conscience are all alive; who looks before and behind ; who weighs well all the probabilities of success or defeat, and is determined to stand his ground. There is another fine anecdote apropos to this subject: A phrenologist examining the head of the Duke of Wellington, said, "Your grace has not the organ of animal courage largely developed." "You are right," replied the great man, "and but for my sense of duty I should have retreated in my first fight." This first fight, in India, was one of the most terrible on record. O, that word "duty!" What is animal courage compared with it? Duty can create that courage, or its equivalent, but that courage never can create duty. The Duke of Wellington saw a man turn pale as he marched up to a battery. "That is a brave man," said he, " he knows his danger and faces it."
To lead the forlorn hope in the field of courage requires less nerve than to fight nobly and unshrinkingly the bloodless battle of life. To bear evil speaking and illiterate judgment with equanimity, is the highest bravery. It is, in fact, the repose of mental courage.
Physical courage, which despises all danger, will make a man brave in one way; and moral courage, which despises all opinion, will make a man brave in another. The former would seem most necessary for the camp, the latter for council; but to constitute a great man, both are necessary.
No one can tell who the heroes are, and who the cowards, until some crisis comes to put us to the test. And no crisis puts us to the test that does not bring us up alone and single-handed to face danger. It is nothing to make a rush with the multitude even into the jaws of destruction. Sheep will do that. Armies might be picked from the gutter, and' marched up to make food for powder. But when some crisis singles one out from the multitude, pointing at him the particular finger of fate, and telling him, " Stand or run," and he faces about with steady nerve, with nobody else to stand behind, we may be sure the hero stuff is in .him. When such a crisis comes, the true courage is just as likely to be found in people of shrinking nerves, or in weak and timid women, as in great burly people. It is a moral, not a physical trait. Its seat is not in the temperament, but the will. How courageous Peter was, and all those square-built fishermen of the sea of Galilee, at the Last Supper, and in the garden of Gethsemane, where Peter drew his sword and smote the officer ! But when Christ looked down from his cross, whom did he see standing in that focus of Jewish rage? None of those stout fishermen, but a young man and a tender-hearted womanóJohn and Mary.
A good cause makes a courageous heart. They that fear an overthrow are half conquered. To be valorous is not always to be venturous. A warm heart requires a cool head.
Though the occasions of high heroic daring seldom occur but in the history of the great, the less obtrusive, opportunities for the exertion of private energy are continually offering themselves. With these, domestic scenes as much abound as does the tented field. Pain may be as firmly endured in the lonely chamber as amid the din of arms. Difficulties can be manfully combatted ; misfortunes bravely sustained ; poverty nobly supported ; disappointments courageously en-countered. Thus courage diffuses a wide and succoring influence, and bestows energy apportioned to the trial. It takes from calamity its dejecting' quality, and enables the soul to possess itself under every vicissitude. It rescues the unhappy from degradation, and the feeble from contempt.
Courage, like every other emotion, however laudable in its pure form, may be allowed to degenerate into a faulty extreme. Thus rashness, too often assuming the name of courage, has no pretensions to its merit. For rashness urges to useless and impossible efforts, and thus produces a waste of vigor and spirit, that, properly restrained and well directed, would have achieved deeds worthy to be achieved. Rashness is the exuberance of courage, and ought to be checked, as we prune off the useless though vigorous shoots of shrubs and trees.