( Originally Published 1879 )
ALTHOUGH the word gratitude, like the word trinity, is not to be found in the Bible, yet as the sacred Scriptures contain many sentiments on each of these subjects, and these words are the most comprehensive to convey the ideas, they are well adapted. To deliver our thoughts in few words on gratitude, we apprehend it includes 'five things: first, a deep and lively sense of benefits received ; secondly, an ardent love to and complacency in the benefactor; thirdly, an immediate beginning to make all possible returns to the donor, either in repaying or else expressing our thankfulness; fourthly, in a fixed purpose of heart to make better returns, if ever in our power; and fifthly, a determined resolution to retain gratitude for the benefit or favors to the end of life.
Gratitude is justly said to be the mother of most virtues, because that from this one fountain so many rivulets arise; as that of reverence unto parents and masters, friendship, love to our country, and obedience to God. The ungrateful are everywhere hated, being under a suspicion of every vice; but, on the contrary, grateful persons are in the estimation of all men, having by their gratitude put in a kind of security that they are not without a measure of every other virtue.
Gratitude is a painful pleasure, felt and expressed by none but noble souls. Such are pained, because miss fortune places them under the stern necessity of receiving favors from the benevolent, who are, as the world would say, under no obligations to bestow them—freewill offerings, made by generous hearts, to smooth the rough path, and wipe away the tears of a fellow being. They derive a pleasure from the enjoyment of the benefits bestowed, which is rendered more exquisite by the reflection that there are those in the world who can feel and appreciate the woes of others, and lend a willing hand to help them out of the ditch; those who are not wrapped up in the cocoon of selfish avarice, who live only for themselves, and die for the devil. This pleasure is farther refined by a knowledge of the happiness enjoyed by the person whose benevolence dictated the relief in the contemplation of a duty performed, imposed by angelic philanthropy, guided by motives pure as heaven. The worthy recipient feels deeply the obligations under which he is placed; no time can obliterate them from his memory, no statute of limitation bars the payment; the moment, means and opportunity are within his power, the debt is joy-fully liquidated, and this very act gives a fresh vigor to his long-cherished gratitude.
A very poor and aged- man, busied in planting and grafting an apple tree, was rudely interrupted by this interrogation : "Why do you plant trees, who cannot hope to eat the fruit of them ?" He raised himself up; and leaning upon his spade, replied: "Some one planted trees for me before I was born, and I have eaten the fruit; I now plant for others, that the memorial of my gratitude may exist when I am dead and gone." It is a species of agreeable servitude to be under an obligation to those we esteem. Ingratitude is a crime so shameful that the man has not yet been found who would acknowledge himself guilty of it.
Nothing tenders the heart, and opens the gushing fountain of love, more than the exercise of gratitude. Like the showers of spring, that cause flowers to rise from seeds that have long lain dormant, tears of gratitude awaken pleasurable sensations, unknown to those who have never been forced from the sunshine of prosperity into the cold shade of adversity, where no warmth is felt but that of benevolence ; no light enjoyed but that of charity ; unless it shall be the warmth and light communicated from Heaven to the sincerely pious, who alone are prepared to meet, with calm submission, the keen and chilling winds of misfortune, and who, above all others, exercise the virtue of gratitude, in the full perfection of its native beauty.