Character As An Outgrowth Of Principle
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
Passing along the paths of a cemetery and reading the inscriptions upon the tombstones, one is impressed with the fact that men are soon forgotten when they die. They are laid to rest and their names chronicled upon slabs and statues to mark the place where they lie. But the statues do not preserve their names any more than they do the lifeless limbs slowly crumbling to dust beneath. Only one, or perhaps two, in a thousand dead will live in the memory of those who come after. Only these are deemed worthy to have their names written upon the page of history. The other countless dead are all forgotten almost as soon as the grass grows green upon their graves. The few live on in worthy deeds, the many die because there is nothing to live for. This persistence of worthy living in the memory of men is a good illustration of the eternal persistence of character. In life, people never fully understand the workings of this law. Of two boys, one is dull and stupid, the other quick and brilliant. Soon the dull boy begins to exhibit very startling signs of life. He begins to act, always on the right side, and he goes on and up, leaving his brilliant companion far behind. The one is only brilliant. The other has what we call character.
But character is only the final result of life. It is the end attained after life's activities are over. It is the culmination of principle carried into deeds. It has been forming since we drew our first breath, and shall be forming until the dews of death have fallen upon the eyelids. And at last the character is the measure of the man. All that a man is and does; his habits and appetites; his imaginings, reasonings and memories ; his faith, his hope, his love, are blended together in character, as wires are sometimes united under a trip-hammer into a bar of steel.
"Character is the combined work of God and man in the minting. It is smelted and beaten, smelted and beaten again ; heated and drawn, heated and drawn again ; heated and cooled suddenly, heated and cooled slowly ; heated, beaten and cooled in every conceivable way—till, in the shape of the hair-spring of my watch, or of the needle with which you sew, or of the index in the mariner's compass, it has properties and values wholly inconceivable to the man who only knew the crude lump of pig iron. Who has been the actor there? The intelligent engineer, you say, who built the furnace and brought it to the charcoal and the flames; who tamed the waterfall and set in motion the gigantic wheels and taught these trip-hammers to move—now with a crashing blow, now with so slight a movement that I can gently crack an egg-shell with it, and yet it shall not loose its form. Yes, the engineer is one of the actors. He is, if you please, the principal actor. But he is not the only actor. He needs, and therefore he has trained and placed here, that quiet, brave, modest, swarthy workman whom you see waiting by the furnace for the hot bloom of iron to be white, who, at the fit moment, will seize it and slide it to its place under the trip-hammer; who then will fix it there, that it shall profit by the blow; who will turn it from side to side, that it-shall be squarely shaped; and who, when the fit moment comes, shall cool it in the water which has been prepared. You say he is only a day-laborer. That is true. You say he is ignorant, unskilled in the great powers of the universe, and never could have set in order this giant system of which he is a part. That is true. But he is a part of it all the same and an essential part. The engineer placed him here to do his duty, and relied on his courage and conduct and fortitude, and on his original thought and discretion, that it might be done well. Nay, the engineer trained him, called out his hidden powers, and made him partner in his undertaking. Yes, and the work-man has implicit faith in the mill, and in him that runs it—risks his life on that faith; and because he trusts to the water-fall, to the furnace, and to the directing skill that sets the whole in order, he is what he is, and aids in the triumph of the whole. But for that man, ignorant and weak though he be, the bloom of iron would never become tough bar, elastic sword-blade, or prophetic needle. Place it under the trip-hammer and let this man leave it for twenty seconds, and then see how little ' character' it gains, though the iron will go steadily forward on its pre-ordained career.
" The interaction of the humble work-man with the directing engineer is a fit enough representation of the inter-action with God of man or woman, who are his little children—fellow-laborers with him in his tempering and purifying and stamping which makes up 'character.' God does not fore-ordain it. He is too kind for that. We cannot create it, we are too short-sighted for that. But God working in us, and we working with him , in the summer days of loveliness, and in the night struggles of winter horror; in the long brooding of wakeful nights, when he is the only companion ; or in that exquisite intimacy with her the dearest or with him the strongest, which is the choicest gift of a God of love—God with his children and his children with him, year in, year out, in boyhood, girlhood, manhood, womanhood, they form together the character which seems such a mystery."—E. E. HALE, What Career, P. 165.
Character is, then, a blending of many elements, a composite growth of principle, action and sentiment, and when complete it represents that which is permanent in the life of a man. Then character comes to have a reflex action upon life ; its effect is cumulative and tends to become settled in certain fixed lines of principle and duty. It is this that makes character the final test of manhood, and gives it a value in successful life ; for when these lines of duty are once definitely marked out the man does not easily depart from them, and men come to have confidence in his integrity and ability. When a man has shown that he acts right under a given emergency, such is our confidence in this permanence of character, that we instinctively believe that he will continue to act rightly to the end of life. Good character then is a priceless possession and the best possible exponent of a good and honorable career. It is, indeed, according to the stability and might of this character that one succeeds or fails. If the character be worthless, failure ; if the character be transcendent, success ; for as the character is good or bad, so are the principles of action right or wrong, so is the life praiseworthy or contemptible. No matter how ingenuous the toil of labor, or how transcendent the accomplishment to one of trivial character, if there be no force behind them, both are thrown away and wasted. Character is the force behind the keen edged tools that accomplishes the work. If it be founded upon principles of eternal truth, it is well.