Some Forms Of Cowardice
( Originally Published Late 1800's )
Society is permeated with false notions, born of indolence and cowardice. People everywhere are passing as martyrs, whereas they are only cowards. They suffer, but it is the suffering of fear and not of persecution. They long for the honors and emoluments of high position, but are not willing to pay the inevitable price for them. And so, in great unhappiness of heart, they try to make themselves and the world think that they are being " persecuted for righteousness' sake." Men are too cowardly to be industrious, to be honest, to be upright and sincere, to pass in society for what they really are, to meet the stern judgment of their fellows upon their character and capacity. Did you ever see a man who loved bestial pleasure, who loved indolence and the society of the vulgar, who was not over-sensitive in the matter of his character and reputation? He is too great a coward to have the world know how bad a man he is. So he takes on the face of injured innocence and defends his character with an energy worthy of a better cause How different the man of courage He does, right because it is so. He has courage to stem every, tide of evil, and can afford to wait for reputation. While one man shrinks from the necessary effort of well-being and well-doing, another meets the issue bravely and conquers where the other fails. One voyager trims his sails close to land, for fear of high waves: and ocean storm, and goes down on the hidden rock that he cannot see. Another steers bravely to the broad ocean, where only the storm can harm him, and he trusts to his own high faith and power to carry him, through wind and over wave. Countless thousands go down in sin because they lack the courage to do good and be good.
Cannon Farrar has pointed out in his "Seekers after God," how the Roman Seneca. imperiled. the character of young Nero by a: false theory of- education. Doubtless we should never make use of a choice of evils in the work of education. It is never: safe to permit what is bad for the sake of preventing what is worse. And no doubt the unspeakable atrocities of this "bull-necked emperor" are in no small degree due to the moral cowardice of his aged preceptor. True, Seneca had learned a sad lesson on the barren island- of his exile, yet that affords no excuse for this exhibition of weakness in the education of his princely pupil. Had Seneca been true to his great. trust his name could not have suffered such, obliquy in succeeding ages. His name is forever associated, with the unutterable tyranny of this atrocious prince, and no one can ever. explain away his "error in judgment" that had such dire consequences upon the life and character of Nero.
"But Seneca, from the very first, had been guilty of a- fatal error in the education of his pupil. He had governed him throughout on the ruinous principle of concession. Nero was not devoid of talent; he had a decided turn for Latin versification, and the few lines of his composition which have come down to us, bizarre and affected as they are, yet display a certain sense of melody and power of language. But his vivid imagination was accompanied by a want of purpose; and Seneca, instead of trying to train him in habits of serious attention and sustained thought, suffered him to waste his best efforts in pursuits and amusements which were considered partly frivolous and partly disreputable, such as singing, painting, dancing and driving. Seneca might have argued that there was, at any rate, no great harm in such employments and that they probably kept Nero out of worse mischief. But we respect Nero the less for his indifferent singing and harp-twanging, just as we respect Louis XVI. less for making, very poor locks; and if Seneca had adopted a loftier tone with his pupil from the first, Rome might have been spared the disgraceful folly of Nero's subsequent buffooneries in. the cities of Greece and the theatres of Rome."—Seekers after God, P. 116 !
It is clear that Nero was the worse, intellectually, for this laxity of training. His youth had been wasted in foolish, accomplishments that left him neither time nor inclination for more serious pursuits. In. the frivolities of a vain and indolent young manhood the preceptor failed to lead the mind of Nero to the sources of. strength and power. Instead he instructed. him rather along the line of impulse and inclination, so that when the restraints of youth were taken away, he plunged recklessly into those excesses' that have covered his name forever with ineffable infamy.
Thus Seneca failed in his miserable "education of concessions," and thus every man will fail who seeks to educate the mind of youth by a series of compromises. That system of mind-training is not good which goes according to the pupil's inclination "along the line of least resistance." The mind can no more be educated by allowing it to seek knowledge always along pleasant paths, than the moral nature can be strengthened without the practice of virtue. In mind-training there is need somewhere of a struggle with difficulty. The faculty of reason, judgment, memory and imagination can be brought out only by actual exercise in burdensome effort. As long as the student is left free to choose the pleasant, easy ways of truth, so long will he be unable to cope with a great difficulty successfully. The mind should sometimes be schooled in irksome duty, to prepare it for the actual drudgery of life.
We think the training of the present day is drifting too much into an "education of concessions." In the home there is no longer that wholesome restraint which ought to prevail. Children are indulged freely and allowed to pursue their impulses and inclinations too far. The standard of daily conduct is, nowhere, so strict as formerly. Actions once condemned as wrong are now passed by as very slight offences or accepted as proper forms of behavior. Our young people go into life boisterous, rude and uncultivated. There is a gradual "letting up" along the line of moral requirements in the youth of the present day, In school, education is being conducted too much on the pleasure principle Labor-saving machines have been invented even here. All kinds of short-cut processes are used to give pupils their smattering of science, language and mathematics, preparatory to a life of sham and uselessness. French and German by a Meisterschaft system in six weeks ! Chemistry by evening lectures illustrated by cheap experiments in oxygen and laughing-gas ! Geology, botany, physiology and other delightful sciences in thirteen-week pellets, sugar-coated and warranted to "agree with" a lazy student's mental digestion ! Untaught farmer boys, thoroughly educated for practical life in three months "by fussing a little with book accounts." Other untaught farmer boys, completely skilled in the method of school-teaching in a six-weeks' summer term, for twenty-seven dollars, payable in advance ! This contemptible, superficial way of doing things shows how widely the notion has got abroad that practical education can be obtained without effort. It further shows that there are scores of men, willing to corrupt the youth for fees. Willing to advertise lies in the name of education and furnish diplomas to crack-brained fools, provided only the customary price is paid. Such unworthy processes may satisfy the popular cry for easy learning; but it is not education and deserves the censure of all right-thinking people. Begin your "education of concessions," and you stop with ignorance, conceit and incapacity.
The least mischief of this intellectual cowardice is its shallowness. A greater mischief is the loss of power to the vocation which these weaklings enter. The greatest mischief is the aversion to steady effort which it engenders. The man who is educated by a little mental excitement is not capable of vigorous and sustained labor. The best qualities of his mind sleep a long sleep, and are never called into life except by ,the rude awakening of calamity, or suffering. The "education of concessions," be it carried on in mind or morals, is a source of weakness and not of strength, a-means of decrepitude that is almost always sure-to end in failure or moral wreck. It is a sad discovery for a man to wake up to the fact that his education, or the lack of it has totally unfitted him for the tug of successful work. To make a wise preparation for life we need the courage to work, the courage to confront the same continuous application which our forefathers did; for labor is still the inevitable price set upon everything valuable in this world. We must have the courage to work with a purpose and-wait for-results--to-wait-through hoary years, if need be, to the time of our success and triumph.
But if the "education of concessions" is so reprehensible, what shall be said of the practice of moral concessions all along the journey of life. We know that Seneca in his old. age was brought to the humiliating task, not only of consenting to the murder of Aggripina, but even of writing a letter to the Senate, to explain away the horrors of a revolting matricide. " Even the lax morality of a degenerate age," says Farrar, "cndemned him for calmly sitting down to decorate with the graces of rhetoric and antithesis an atrocity too deep for the powers of indignation." And so will any man who begins making concessions to evil, at this point and that, end in a moral degradation of which he does not dream. The man who is not courageous enough to say no, or to say yes, where a question of moral conduct is involved, may be expected to drift into any excesses of evil. Life is full of men who are seeking the " best ,policy" to pursue. They are on all sides of a political controversy until it becomes evident which way the crowd is moving. Then they are out in favor of the " popular cause." Such men are religious, or not religious according as it is better policy. They "trim between two opinions, now doubting ; now going with the throng ; now one thing; now another ; always drifting with the tide, until they drift into peril, wreck and destruction. No man ever gained anything but contempt in such cowardice; for, say what you will, the world loves to honor a brave man, and this halting between opinions is one of the worst forms of moral cowardice.
That word, policy, is a dangerous one to get into a man's vocabulary. As though life -were a great game of diplomacy and the man of the most crafty disposition the one to win ! As though the principles of right and truth and virtue were so many lines of policy to be followed, or not, according to convenience! As- though the great elements of power were subterfuge, concealment, dishonesty and treachery, and not truth "square dealing," uprightness and honor ! Men seem to go- on the principle, that the great prizes of life are to be won by some sort of indirection, instead, of the exercise of industry, energy and patience. Society is, in a measure, giving up the sober virtues of our ancestors and drifting into extravagance with its hoard of attendant evils. We have already lapsed into that state, where the laboring class of mankind have to pay immense sums to support the idle. Asylums for the unfortunate, hospitals for the infirm, refuges for the indigent, and reformatories for the vicious, perhaps add to the moral cowardice of the age and aggravate the ills they are intended to cure. It does not speak well for the future happiness of our people, that so many thousand are eager to avail themselves of the benefits of these institutions and enter into a condition of hopeless indigence. What can be the condition of that man's mind, who can allow himself to be supported at public expense, without putting forth any manly effort to assist himself? To what a depth of shameless depravity he must have sunk ! What a victim of moral cowardice he is !
The need of this age is the need of courage ; courage to be true to one's self, and his indwelling sense of honor; courage to labor, struggle and conquer; courage to be a high-souled man and to look with scorn upon the compromises with evil, so prevalent in business and social life. The age needs men with heroic hearts, like the few noble souls that save the cause of God and truth in every epoch of history. We need that heroism of daily life, that will turn neither to the right hand nor to the left in any compromise with wrong-doing.
Another form of cowardice manifests itself in a senseless repining over one's environments. Some men are always longing for what they do not possess. If they have a farm, they straightway want a factory. If they are tradesmen, they think they could do better in professional life. If they are lawyers, they long to be merchants. They are never satisfied with the position in which they find themselves but think they could do better " under happier circumstances." This is nearly always the delusion of a fool. The truth is, there is no calling under the sun that does not require severe application, intense labor and untiring energy. What these people want is relief from labor. They are too indolent and cowardly to meet the issue of their lives frankly and labor for success in the place where Providence has placed them. There are plenty of men who are willing to strive for success in some easy way, that shall not greatly tax their effort and ability ; but to do the simple duty that lies next, and wait the natural course of events for high triumphs do not at all suit the wishes of these aspiring souls. What these men need is courage and not cash ; ambition and not a change in vocation ; contentment to make use of what they already possess, and not the possession of tools too unwieldy for their unskilled hands. Let such a man put labor in the place of his longing ; enduring patience in the place of his cankering discontent; and a persistent purpose to do good and get good by thoroughly honest and legitimate methods and he will soon 6e somebody to whom all the boons of his longing will naturally drift. This form of cowardice makes many unhappy lives. But let a young man once take courage and his unhappiness melts into nothingness. If he but once have faith in himself and get an earnest hold of life, he will no longer sigh for "crutches and life preservers."
" Let him believe, with Pestalozzi, that no man upon God's earth is either willing or able to help any other man. Let him strive to be a creator, rather than an inheritor—to bequeath, rather than to borrow. Instead, of wielding the rusted sword of valorous forefathers, let him forge his own weapons, and, conscious of the God within him and the Providence over him, let him fight his own battles with his own lance. Instead of sighing for an education, capital or friends, and declaring that if he only had these, he would be somebody,' let him remember that, as Horace Greeley said, he is looking through the wrong end of the telescope; that if he only were somebody, he would speedily have all the boons whose absence he is bewailing. Instead of being one of the foiled potentialities, of which the world is so full—one of the subjunctive heroes, who always might, could, would, or should do great things, but whose not doing them is what nobody can understand—let him be in the imperative mood and do that of which his talents are indicative. This lesson of self-reliance once learned and acted on, and every man will discover within himself; under God, the elements and capacities of usefulness and honor."—Getting On in the World, P. 94.
One other form of cowardice, more reprehensible than any of these, is our slavish regard for custom. We take our food and wear our clothing according to the latest style. The furniture of our houses is comfortable, or otherwise, ugly or beautiful, according to the custom. There are fashions in literature, fashions in lectures, sermons and scientific investigations. Custom tells us when we shall go to bed and when we shall get up; when we shall dine and what we shall have upon the table ; how we shall conduct ourselves in the house of mirth and how, in the house of mourning. In no land on the earth is there more regard paid to fashion than in America. The land of glorious freedom is enslaved by social tyranny. Men and women need courage to resist the wasteful extravagance which fashion seems to make imperative. Oh, that there were room for comfort, real taste and common sense in our customs of dress and behavior! Oh, that -men might have the courage to wear a coat a little out of fashion, rather than to bow in servitude before the shrine of Mrs. Grundy. As I have said elsewhere, this is one of the most crying evils of the times, and it requires courage of a high sort to extirpate this nuisance from among us.
There is indeed a vast deal of cowardice in our American life. The frightful prevalence of suicide is a proof of it. Men and women are killing themselves every day to escape the burdens and difficulties which they have not the courage to endure. The toils of life press heavily upon them, and relief is sought in some poison potion. Difficulty stares men in the face and financial ruin seems to threaten home and fortune ; in abject - cowardice they rush to the foaming waters of the river or the placid depths of the bay. Anywhere, any way, out of the grief of disappointment, labor and difftculty! Men rush out of life and leave insolvent estates and hopeless trouble to those dependent upon them. A woman places herself in a false position before society and is not brave enough to bear the burdens of her folly. From lives of insufferable ennui, from hearth-stones that should be bright with angelic ministrations, because a little difficulty crosses the path and the burdens of life rest heavily upon heart and brain, wives and mothers, sisters and sweethearts try to find relief and rest in a disgraceful grave. For every trivial excuse, for every conceivable trouble, for griefs that might be nobly borne, men and women drive the knife to the heart or end their days with the revolver. The stiletto and the pistol are getting to be a surer way out of financial trouble than thrift and honest investment. Death-dealing poison is coming to be about the only solace for unhappiness of life in a thousand forms. The spirit of melancholy seems to rule in many a heart, and thousands find an untimely end from lives they are too indolent or too cowardly to endure.
Among the significant things to be noted is the fact that suicides are not confined to any class of society. It is no longer those who are driven to despair by. business reverses or great sorrow that resort to this remedy for their ills. But all classes and conditions of men are to be reckoned among self-murderers. Young men recovering from a debauch; young girls who have had a trivial quarrel with a lover; a young woman who has been refused a new dress and a costly bracelet; men in the prime of life, with good powers and good prospects, for whose rash act no adequate reason can be assigned, are all to be counted among the victims of this cowardly mania for suicide. No reason is too ridiculous or too trivial to furnish an excuse for self-murder; religious training and even a religious profession furnish no safeguard against it. The plea of insanity, so often urged, is not an adequate explanation for this alarming practice. A recent suicide in Oberlin Ieft a letter behind, in which he scouted the idea of insanity and showed that he was deliberating the awful crime calmly and reasoning about it coolly. Of a melancholy temperament, he had brooded over the struggle with life until he chose to die, rather than to live in the humble position in which God had placed him. He confessed his cowardice and proclaimed a deliberate purpose to end his life, deluding himself with the idea that a bullet would usher him into the happiness of Heaven. Hundreds of such examples might be drawn from the sad records of suicide. It is a great moral disgrace to take one's own life. We believe it is one of the rankest crimes, against which the judgments of God will be particularly severe. We look upon suicide with unutterable horror as the refuge of a coward and the last hope of a sneak. A brave man and a good one can never possibly be led to take his own life. Courage, integrity and sound common sense will always save a man from the untimely death of a self-destroyer.
So too, we believe, a large proportion of the divorces that crowd our courts are the result of cowardice in domestic life. Men and women are too lazy, too craven to meet the responsibilities which an ill-advised courtship has brought upon them. They have not the courage to control themselves, and bear bravely the duties which the marital relation places upon them. Hence divorce, broken vows, hopeless sorrow, cowardly retreat from the face of difficulty and labor.
Thus we see that a vast deal of the unhappiness, and not a little of the vice of the world, is due to a lack of courage. In most cases men know well enough what is right, but are too craven to perform it. They do not seem to be able to summon the requisite resolution to meet the duties of their work. They fail to be honest; to resist temptation ; to be what. they really are, and not strut in borrowed plumes; to live honestly within their own means ; to be cheerful and happy and content,. even in obscurity: all through a lack of simple courage.
"If thou canst plan a noble deed