( Originally Published 1884 )
Self-control the Root of the Virtues.—Value of Discipline.—Supremacyof Self-control.—Domestic Discipline.—Virtue of Patience.—Character of Hampden.
"Honor and profit do not always lie in the same sack."—GEORGE HERBERT.
SELF-CONTROL is only courage under another form. It may almost be regarded as the primary essence of character. It is in virtue of this quality that Shakspeare defines man as a being " looking before and after." It forms the chief distinction between man and the mere animal; and, indeed, there can be no true manhood without it.
Self-control is at the root of all the virtues. Let a man give the reins to his impulses and passions, and from that moment he yields up his moral freedom. He is carried along the current of life, and becomes the slave of his strongest desire for the time being.
To be morally free to be more than an animal man must be able to resist instinctive impulse, and this can only be done by the exercise of self-control. Thus it is this power which constitutes the real distinction between a physical and a moral life, and that forms the primary basis of individual character.
In the Bible praise is given, not to the strong man who " taketh a city," but to the stronger man who "ruleth his own spirit." This stronger man is he who, by discipline, exercises a constant control over his thoughts, his speech, and his acts. Nine-tenths of the vicious. desires that degrade society, and which, when indulged, swell into the crimes that disgrace it, would shrink into insignificance before the advance of valiant self-discipline, self-respect, and self-control. By the watchful exercise of these virtues, purity of heart and mind become habitual, and the character is built up in chastity, virtue, and temperance.
The best support of character will always be found in habit, which, according as the will is directed rightly or wrongly, as the case may be, will prove either a benignant ruler or a cruel despot. We may be its willing subject on the one hand, or its servile slave on the other. It may help us on the road to good, or it may hurry us on the road to ruin.
Habit is formed by careful training. And it is astonishing how much can be accomplished by systematic discipline and drill. See how, for instance, out of the most unpromising materials such as roughs picked up in the streets, or raw unkempt country lads taken from the plough steady discipline and drill will bring out the unsuspected qualities of courage, endurance, and self-sacrifice; and how, in the field of battle, or even.
on the more trying occasions of perils by sea such as the burning of the Sarah Sands or the wreck of the Birkenhead such men, carefully disciplined, will exhibit the unmistakable characteristics of true bravery and heroism !
Nor is moral discipline and drill less influential in the formation of character. Without it, there will be no proper system and order in the regulation of the life. Upon it depends the cultivation of the sense of self respect, the education of the habit of obedience, the development of the idea of duty. The most self reliant, self-governing man is always under discipline; and the more perfect the discipline, the higher will be his moral condition. He has to drill his desires, and keep them in subjection to the higher powers of his nature. They must obey the word of' command of the internal monitor, the conscience otherwise they will be but the mere slaves of their inclinations, the sport of feeling, and impulse.
" In the supremacy of self-control," says Herbert Spencer, " consist one of the perfections of the ideal man. Not to be impulsive not to be spurred hither and thither by each desire that in turn combs uppermost but to be self restrained, self balanced, governed by the joint decision of the feelings in council assembled, before whom every action shall have been fully debated and calmly determined that it is which education, moral education at least, strives to produce.
The first seminary of moral discipline, and the best, as we have already shown. is the home; next comes the school, and after that the world, the great school of practical life. Each is preparatory to the other, and what the man or woman becomes, depends for the most part upon what has gone before. If they have enjoyed the advantage of neither the home nor the school, but have been allowed to grow up untrained, untaught, and undisciplined, then woe to themselves woe to. the society of which they form a part!
The best-regulated home is always that in which the discipline is the most perfect, and yet where it is the least felt. Moral discipline acts with the force of a law of nature. Those subject to it yield themselves to it unconsciously; and though it shapes and forms the whole character, until the life becomes crystallized in habit, the influence thus exercised is for the most part unseen and almost unfelt.
The importance of strict domestic discipline is curiously illustrated by a fact mentioned in Mrs. Schimmelpenninck's Memoirs, to the following effect: that a lady, who, with her husband, had inspected most of the lunatic asylums of England and the Continent, found the most numerous class of patients was almost always composed of those who had been only children, and whose wills had, therefore, rarely been thwarted or disciplined in early life; while those who were members of large families, and who had been trained in self-discipline, were far less frequent victims to the malady.
Although the moral character depends in a great degree on temperament and on physical health, as well as on domestic and early training and the example of companions, it is also in the power of each individual to regulate, to restrain, and to discipline it by watchful and persevering self-control. A competent teacher has said of the propensities and habits, that they are as teachable as Latin and Greek, while they are much more essential to happiness.
Dr. Johnson, though himself constitutionally prone to melancholy, and afflicted by it as few have been from his earliest years, said that " a man's being in a good or bad humor very much depends upon his will." We may train ourselves in a habit of patience and content-ment on the one hand, or of grumbling and discontent on the other. We may accustom ourselves to exaggerate small evil, and to underestimate great blessings. We may even become the victim of petty miseries by giving way to them. Thus, we may educate ourselves in a happy disposition, as well as in a morbid one. Indeed, the habit of viewing things cheerfully, and of thinking about life hopefully, may be made to grow up in us like any other habit. It was not an exaggerated estimate of Dr. Johnson to say that the habit of looking at the best side of any event is worth far more than a thousand pounds a year.
The religious man's life is pervaded by rigid self-discipline and self-restraint. He is to be sober and vigilant, to eschew evil and do good, to walk in the Spirit, to be obedient unto death, to withstand in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand; to wrestle against spiritual wickedness, and against the rulers of the darkness of this world; to be rooted and built up in faith, and not to be weary of well doing; for in due season he shall reap, if he faint not.
The man of business, also, must needs be subject to strict rule and system. Business, like life, is managed by moral leverage; success in both depending in no small degree upon that regulation of temper and careful self discipline, which give a wise man not only a command over himself; but over others. Forbearance and self-control smooth the road of life, and open many ways which would otherwise remain closed. And so does self-respect ; for as men respect themselves, so will they usually respect the personality of others.
It is the same in politics as in business. Success in that sphere of life is achieved less by talent than by temper, less by genius than by character. If a man have not self-control, he will lack patience, be wanting in tact, and have neither the power of governing him-self nor of managing others. When the quality most needed in a prime minister was the subject of conversation in the presence of Mr. Pitt, one of the speakers said it was " eloquence;" another said it was " knowledge;" and a third said it was " toil." " No," said Pitt, " it is patience! " And patience means self-control, a quality in which he himself was superb. His friend George Rose has said of him that he never once saw Pitt out of temper. Yet, although patience is usually regarded as a slow virtue, Pitt combined with it the most extraordinary readiness, vigor, and rapidity of thought as well as action.
It is by patience and self-control that the truly heroic character is perfected. These were among the most prominent characteristics of the great Hampden, whose noble qualities were generously acknowledged even by his political enemies. Thus Clarendon described him as a man of rare temper and modesty, naturally cheerful and vivacious, and above all, of a flowing courtesy. He was kind and intrepid, yet gentle, of unblamable conversation, and his heart glowed with love to all men. He was not a man of many words, but, being of unimpeachable character, every word he uttered carried weight. " No man had ever a greater power over himself. . . . He was very temperate in diet, and a supreme governor over all his passions and affections; and he had thereby great power over other men's." Sir Philip Warwick, another of his political opponents, incidentally describes his great influence in a certain debate: " We had catched at each other's locks, and sheathed our swords in each other's bowels, had not the sagacity and great calmness of Mr. Hampden, by a short speech, prevented it, and led us to defer our angry debate until the next morning.