( Originally Published 1879 )
GOOD temper is like a sunny day, it sheds its brightness on everything. ' No trait of character is more valuable than the possession of good temper. Home can never be made happy without it. It is like flowers springing up in our pathway, reviving and cheering us. Kind words and looks are the outward demonstration; patience and forbearance are the sentinels within.
If a man has a quarrelsome temper, let him alone. The world will soon find him employment. He will soon meet with some one stronger than himself, who will repay him better than you can. A man may fight duels all his life if he is disposed to quarrel. How sweet the serenity of habitual self command ! How many stinging self reproaches it spares us ! When does a man feel more at ease with himself than when he has passed through a sudden and strong provocation with-out speaking a word, or in undisturbed good humor! When, on the contrary, does he feel a deeper humiliation than when he is conscious that anger has made him betray himself by word, look or action? Nervous irritability is the greatest weakness of character. It is the sharp grit which aggravates, friction and cuts out the bearings of the entire human machine. Nine out of every ten men we meet are in a chronic state of annoyance. The least untoward thing sets them in a ferment.
There are people, yes many people, always looking out for slights. They cannot carry on the daily intercourse of the family without finding that some offense is designed. They are as touchy as hair triggers. If they meet an acquaintance who happens to be preoccupied with business, they attribute his abstraction in some mode personal to themselves and take umbrage accordingly. They lay on others the fruit of their irritability. Indigestion makes them see impertinence in every one they come in contact with. Innocent persons, who never dreamed of giving offense, are astonished to find some unfortunate word, or momentary taciturnity, mistaken for an insult. To say the least, the habit is unfortunate. It is far wiser to take the more charitable view of our fellow beings, and not suppose that a slight is intended unless the neglect is open and direct. After all, too, life takes its hues in a great degree from the color of our own mind. If we are frank and generous, the world will treat us kindly; if, on the contrary, we are suspicious, men learn to be cold and cautious to us. Let a person get the reputation of being " touchy," and everybody is under restraint, and in this way the chances of an imaginary offense are vastly increased.
Do you not find in households—refined, many of them—many women who are jealous, exacting, and have a temper that will be swayed by nothing? And do we not see in another family circle, a man as coarse and bloody-mouthed as a despot? The purpose of the existence of a score of people is to make him happy, fan him, feed him, amuse him, and he stands as a great absorbent of the life and heat that belongs to the rest. Many sermons tell you to be meek and humble, but you don't hear many which tell you you live in your families to growl, to bite, and to worry one another. You ought to make in your households the outward and visible life-work for this spiritual and transcendent life. There can be nothing too graceful and truthful, generous, disinterested and gracious for the household. .All that a man expects to be in heaven, he ought to try to be from day to day with his wife and children, and with those that are members of his family.
It is said of Socrates, that whether he was teaching the rules of an exact morality, whether he was answering his corrupt judges, or was receiving sentence of death, or swallowing the poison, he was still the same man; that is to say, calm, quiet, undisturbed, intrepid, in a word, wise to the last.
A man once called at the house of Pericles and abused him violently. His anger so transcended him that he did not observe how late it was growing, and when he had exhausted his passion it was quite dark. When he turned to depart, Pericles calmly summoned a servant and said to him, "Bring a lamp and attend this man home."
Like flakes of snow that fall unperceived upon the earth, the seemingly unimportant events of life succeed one another. As the snow gathers together, so are our habits formed. No single' flake that is added to the pile produces a sensible change. No single action creates, however it may exhibit a man's character; but as the tempest hurls the avalanche down the mountain, and overwhelms the inhabitant and his habitation, so passion, acting upon the elements of mischief which pernicious habits have brought, together by imperceptible accumulation, may overthrow the edifice of truth and virtue.
Truly, a man ought to be, above all things, kind and gentle, but however meek he is required to be, he also ought to remember that he is a man. There are many persons to whom we do not need to tell this truth, for as soon as they only think of having been offended or that somebody has done them any harm, they fly up like gunpowder. Long before they know for a certainty that there is a thief in the garden they have the window open and the old gun has been popped. It is a very dangerous thing to have such neighbors, for we could sit more safely on the horns of a bull than to live in quietness with such characters. We, therefore, should form no friendship with persons of a wrathful temper, and go no farther than is needful with a man of a fiery and unrestrained spirit. Solomon said, " He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding, but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly."
Our advice is, to keep cool under all circumstances, if possible. Much may be effected by cultivation. We should learn to command our feelings and act prudently in all the ordinary concerns of life. This will better prepare us to meet sudden emergencies with calmness and fortitude. If we permit our feelings to be ruffled and disconcerted in small matters; they will be thrown into a whirlwind when big events overtake us. Our best antidote is, implicit confidence in God.