Forbearance - Honesty
( Originally Published 1884 )
Forbearance in Conduct.—Faraday's Practical Philosophy.—Burns's Want of Self-control.—Beranger.—Tyranny of Appetite.—Honesty of Living. —Dishonesty of Improvidence.—Public Honesty.—Sir Walter Scott's Heroic Effort to pay his Debts.—Lockhart and Scott.
" It is in length of patience, and endurance, and forbearance, that so much of what is good in mankind and womankind is shown."—ARTHUR HELPS.
LIFE will always be, to a great extent, what we ourselves make it. The cheerful man makes a cheerful world, the gloomy man a gloomy one. We usually find but our own temperament reflected in the dispositions of those about us. If we are ourselves querulous,. we will find them so; if we are unforgiving and uncharitable to them, they will be the same to us. A person returning from an evening party not long ago, complained to a policeman on his beat that an ill looking fellow was following him: it turned out to be only his own shadow! And such usually is human life to each of us; it is, for the most part, but the reflection of ourselves.
If we would be at peace with others, and insure their respect, we must have regard for their personality.
Every man has his peculiarities of manner and character, as he has peculiarities of form and feature; and we must have forbearance in dealing with them, as we expect them to have forbearance in dealing with us. We may not be conscious of our own peculiarities, yet they exist nevertheless. There is a village in South America where gotos or goitres are so common that to be with-out one is regarded as a deformity. One day a party of Englishmen passed through the place, when quite a crowd collected to jeer them, shouting, " See, see these people they have got no gotos !"
Many persons give themselves a great deal of fidget concerning what other people think of them and their peculiarities. Some are too much disposed to take the ill-natured side, and, judging by themselves, infer the worst. But it is very often the case that the uncharitableness of others, where it really exists, is but the reflection of our own want of charity and want of temper. It still oftener happens, that the worry we subject our-selves to has its source in our own imagination. And even though those about us may think of us uncharitably, we shall not mend matters by exasperating ourselves against them. We may thereby only expose ourselves unnecessarily to their ill-nature or caprice. " The ill that comes out of our mouth," says George Herbert, " oft-times falls into our bosom.'
The great and good philosopher Faraday communicated the following piece of admirable advice, full of practical wisdom, the result of a rich experience of life, in a letter to his friend, Professor Tyndall : " Let me, as an old man, who ought by this time to have profited by experience, say that when I was younger, I found I often misrepresented the intentions of people, and that they did not mean what at the time I supposed they meant; and further, that as a general rule, it was better to be a little dull of apprehension where phrases seemed to imply pique, and quick in perception when, on the contrary, they seemed to imply kindly feeling. The real truth never fails ultimately to appear; and opposing parties, if wrong, are sooner convinced when replied to forbearingly, than when overwhelmed. All I mean to say is, that it is better to be blind to the results of partisanship, and quick to see good-will. One has more happiness in one's self in endeavoring to follow the things that make for peace. You can hardly imagine how often I have been heated in private when opposed, as I have thought unjustly and superciliously, and yet I have striven, and succeeded, I hope, in keeping down re-plies of the like kind; and I know I have never lost by it."
While the painter Barry was at Rome, he involved himself, as was his wont, in furious quarrels with the artists and dilettanti, about picture-painting and picture-dealing, upon which his friend and countryman, Edmund Burke always the generous friend of struggling merit —wrote to him kindly and sensibly: " Believe me, dear Barry, that the arms with which the ill dispositions of the world are to be combatted, and the qualities by which it is to be reconciled to us, and we reconciled to it, are moderation, gentleness, a little indulgence to others, and a great deal of distrust of ourselves; which are not qualities of a mean spirit, as some may possibly think them, but virtues of a great and noble kind, and such as dignify our nature as much as they contribute to our repose and fortune; for nothing can be so unworthy of a well-composed soul as to pass away life in bickerings and litigations in snarling and scuffling with every one about us. We must be at peace with our species, if not for their sakes, at least very much for our own."
No one knew the value of self-control better than the poet Burns, and no one could teach it more eloquently to others; but when it came to practice, Burns was as weak as the weakest. He could not deny himself the pleasure of uttering a harsh and clever sarcasm at another's expense. One of his biographers observes of him, that it was no extravagant arithmetic to say that for every ten jokes he made himself a hundred enemies. But this was not all. Poor Burns exercised no control over his appetites, but freely gave them the rein: " Thus thoughtless follies laid him low And stained his name."
Beranger who has been styled " the Burns of France," was of the same bright incisive genius; he had the same love of pleasure, the same love of popularity; and while he flattered French vanity to the top of its bent, he also painted the vices most loved by his countrymen with the pen of a master. Beranger's songs and Thiers's History probably did more than any thing else to re-establish the Napoleonic dynasty in France. But that was a small evil compared with the moral mischief which many of Beranger's songs are calculated to produce; for, circulating freely as they do in French households, they exhibit pictures of nastiness and vice which are enough to pollute and destroy a nation.
One of Burns's finest poems, written in his twenty-eighth year, is entitled " A Bard's Epitaph." It is a description, by anticipation, of his own life. Words-worth has said of it: "Here is a sincere and solemn avowal; a public' declaration from his own will; a confession at once devout, poetical, and human; a history in the shape of a prophecy." It concludes with these lines:
" Reader, attend whether thy soul
One of the vices before which Burns fell and it may be said to be a master-vice, because it is productive of so many other vices was drinking. Not that he was a drunkard, but because he yielded to the temptations of drink, with its degrading associations, and thereby lowered and depraved his whole nature. But poor Burns did not stand alone; for, alas! of all vices, the unrestrained appetite for drink. was in his time, as it continues to be now, the most prevalent, popular, degrading, and destructive..
Were it possible to conceive the existence of a tyrant who should compel his people to give up to him one-third or more of their earnings, and require them at the same time to consume a commodity that should brutalize and degrade them, destroy the peace and comfort of their families, and sow in themselves the seeds of disease and premature death what indignation meetings, what monster processions, there would be! What eloquent speeches and apostrophes to the spirit of liberty! —what appeals against despotism so monstrous and so unnatural! And yet such a tyrant really exists among us the tyrant of unrestrained appetite, whom no force of arms, or voices or votes can resist, while men are willing to be his slaves.
The power of this tyrant can only be overcome by moral means by self-discipline, self-respect, and self-control. The pursuit of ignoble pleasure is the degradation of true happiness, it saps the morals, destroys the energies, and degrades the manliness and robustness of individuals as of nations.
The courage of self control exhibits itself in many ways, but in none more clearly than in honest living. Men without the virtue of self-denial are not only subject to their own selfish desires, but they are usually in bondage to others who are like-minded with themselves. What others do, they do. They must live according to the artificial standard of their class, spending like their neighbors, regardless of the consequences, at the same time that all are, perhaps, aspiring after a style of living higher than their means. Each carries the others along with him, and they have not the moral courage to stop. They cannot resist the temptation of living high, though ' it may be at the expense of others; and they gradually become reckless of debt, until it enthralls them. In all this there is great moral cowardice, pusillanimity, and want of manly independence of character.
A right-minded man will shrink from seeming to be what he is not, or pretending to be richer than he really is, or assuming a style of living that his circumstances will not justify. He will have the courage to live honestly within his own means, rather than dishonestly upon the means of other people; for he who incurs debts in striving to maintain a style of living beyond his income, is in spirit as dishonest as the man who openly picks your pocket.
To many this may seem an extreme view, but it will bear the strictest test. Living at the cost of others is not only dishonesty, but it is untruthfulness in deed, as lying is in word. The proverb of George Herbert, that " debtors are liars," is justified by experience. Shaftesbury somewhere says that a restlessness to have some-thing which we have not, and to be something which we are not, is the root of all immorality. No reliance is to be placed on the saying a very dangerous one of Mirabeau, that "La petite morale etait l'ennemie de la grande." On the contrary, strict adherence to even the smallest details of morality is the foundation of all manly and noble character.
The honorable man is frugal of his means, and pays his way honestly. He does not seek to pass himself off .as richer than he is, or, by running into debt, open an account with ruin. As that man is not poor whose means are small but whose desires are under control, so that man is rich whose means are more than sufficient for his wants. When Socrates saw a great quantity of riches, jewels, and furniture of great value, carried in pomp through Athens, he said, "Now do I see how many things l do not desire." " I can forgive every thing but selfishness," said Perthes. " Even the narrow-est circumstances admit of greatness with reference to mine and thine;' and none but the very poorest need fill their daily life with thoughts of money, if they have but prudence to arrange their housekeeping within the limits of their income."
A man may be indifferent to money because of higher considerations, as Faraday was, who sacrificed wealth to pursue science; but if he would have the enjoyments that money can purchase, he must honestly earn it, and not live upon the earnings of others, as those do who habitually incur debts which they have no means of paying. When Maginn, always drowned in debt, was asked what he paid for his wine, he replied that he did not know, but he believed they " put something down in a book."
This " putting-down in a book" has proved the ruin of a great many weak-minded people who can not resist the temptation of taking things upon credit which they have not the present means of paying for; and it would probably prove a great social benefit if the law which enables creditors to recover debts contracted under certain circumstances were altogether abolished. But, in the competition for trade, every encouragement is given to the incurring of debt, the creditor relying upon the law to aid him in the last extremity. When Sydney Smith once went into a new neighborhood, it was given out in the local papers that he was a man of high connections, and he was besought on all sides for his "custom." But he speedily undeceived his new neighbors. " We are not great people at all," he said: " we are only common honest people people that pay our debts."
Hazlitt, who was a thoroughly honest though rather thriftless man, speaks of two classes of persons, not unlike each other those who can not keep their own money in their hands, and those who can not keep their hands from other people's. The former are always in want of money, for they throw it away on any object that first presents itself, as if to get rid of it; the latter make away with what they have of their own, and are perpetual borrowers from all. who will lend to them; and their genius for borrowing, in the long run, usually proves their ruin.
Sheridan was one of such eminent unfortunates. He was impulsive and careless in his expenditure, borrowing money, and running into debt with every body who would trust him. When he stood for Westminster, his unpopularity arose chiefly from his general indebtedness. " Numbers of poor people," says Lord Palmerston in one of his letters, " crowded round the hustings, demanding payment for the bills he owed them." In the midst of all his difficulties, Sheridan was as light-hearted as ever, and cracked many a good joke at his creditor's expense. Lord Palmerston was actually present at the dinner given by him, at which the sheriff's officers in possession were dressed up and officiated as waiters.
Yet, however loose Sheridan's morality may have been as regarded his private creditors, he was honest so far as the public money was concerned. Once, at a dinner, at which Lord Byron happened to be present, an observation happened to be made as to the sturdiness of the Whigs in resisting office and keeping to their principles on which Sheridan turned sharply round, and said: " Sir, it is easy for my Lord this, or Earl that, or the Marquis of t'other, with thousands upon thousands a year, some of it either presently derived or inherited in sinecure or acquisitions from the public money, to boast of their patriotism and keep aloof from temptation; but they do not know from what temptaticn those have kept aloof who had equal pride, at least equal talents, and not unequal passions, and nevertheless knew not, in the course of their lives, what it was to have a shilling of their own." And Lord Byron adds, that, in saying this Sheridan wept.
The tone of public morality in money matters was very low in those days. Political peculation was not thought discreditable; and heads of parties did not hesitate to secure the adhesion of their followers by a free use of the public money. They were generous, but at the-expense of' others like that great local magnate, who,
Built a bridge at the expense of the county."
When Lord Cornwallis was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, he pressed upon Colonel Napier, the father of the Napiers, the comptrollership of army ac-counts. "I want," said his lordship, " an honest man, and this is the only thing I have been able to wrest from the harpies around me."
It is said that Lord Chatham was the first to set the example of disdaining to govern by petty larceny; and his great son was alike honest in his administration. While millions of money were passing through Pitt's hands, he himself was never otherwise than poor; and he died poor. Of all his rancorous libellers, not one ever ventured to call in question his honesty.
In former times, the profits of office were sometimes. enormous. When Audley, the famous annuity-monger of the sixteenth century, was asked the value of an office which he had purchased in the Court of Wards, he replied: " Some thousands to any one who wishes to get to heaven immediately ; twice as much to him who does not mind being in purgatory; and nobody knows what to him who is not afraid of the devil."
Sir Walter Scott was a man who was honest to the core of his nature; and his strenuous and determined efforts to pay his debts, or rather the debts of the firm with which he had become involved, has always appeared to us one of the grandest things in biography. When his publisher and printer broke down, ruin seemed to stare him in the face. There was no want of sympathy for him in his great misfortune, and friends came forward who offered to raise money enough to enable him to arrange with his creditors. " No! " said he, proudly; this right hand shall work it all off ! " " If we lose every thing else," he wrote to a friend, " we will at least keep our honor unblemished." While his health was already becoming undermined by overwork, he went on " writing like a tiger," as he himself expressed it, until no longer able to wield a pen; and though he paid the penalty of his supreme efforts with his life, he nevertheless saved his honor and his self-respect.
Everybody knows how Scott threw off "Woodstock," the " Life of Napoleon " (which he thought would be his death), articles for the "Quarterly," " Chronicles of the Canongate," " Prose Miscellanies." and " Tales of a Grandfather "—all written in the midst of pain, sorrow, and ruin. The proceeds of those various works went to his creditors. " I could not have slept sound," he wrote, " as I now can, under the comfortable impression of receiving the thanks of my creditors, and the conscious feeling of discharging my duty as a man of honor and honesty. I see before me a long, tedious, and dark path, but it leads to stainless reputation. If I die in the harrows, as is very likely, I shall die with honor. If I achieve my task, I shall have the thanks of all concerned, and the approbation of my own conscience."
And then followed more articles, memoirs, and even sermons—" The Fair Maid of Perth," a completely revised edition of his novels, " Anne of Geierstein," and more " Tales of a Grandfather"-until he was suddenly struck down by paralysis. But he had no sooner re-covered sufficient strength to be able to hold a pen, than we find him again at his desk writing the " Letters on Demonology and Witchcraft," a volume of Scottish History for " Lardner's Cyclopaedia," and a fourth series of " Tales of a Grandfather " in his French History. In vain his doctors told him to give up work; he would not be dissuaded. " As for bidding me not work," he said to Dr. Abercrombie, " Molly might just as well put the kettle on the fire and say, Now, kettle, don't boil;' " to which he added, " If I were to be idle, I should go mad!"
By means of the profits realized by these tremendous efforts, Scott saw his debts in course of rapid diminution, and he trusted that, after a few more years' work, he would again be a free man. But it was not to be. He went on turning out such works as his "Count Robert of Paris" with greatly-impaired skill, until he was prostrated by another and severer attack of palsy. He now felt that the plow was nearing the end of the furrow; his physical strength was gone; he was "not quite himself in all things," and yet his courage and perseverance never failed. . " I have suffered terribly," he wrote in his Diary, " though rather in body than in mind, and I often wish I, could lie down and sleep without waking. But I will fight it out if I can."
He again recovered sufficiently to be able to write, " Castle Dangerous," though the cunning of the workman's hand had departed. And then there was his last tour to Italy in search of rest and health; during which, while at Naples, in spite of all remonstrances, he gave several hours every morning to the composition of a new novel, which, however, has not seen the light.
Scott returned to Abbotsford to die. " I have seen much," he said on his return, "hut nothing like my own house give me one turn more." One of the last things he uttered, in one of his lucid intervals, was worthy of him. " I have been," he said, " perhaps the most voluminous author of my day, and it is a comfort to me to think that I have tried to unsettle no man's faith, to corrupt no man's principles, and that I have written nothing which on my death-bed I should wish blotted out." His last injunction to his son-in-law was : "Lockhart, I may have but a minute to speak to you. My dear, be virtuous be religious be a good man. Nothing else will give you any comfort when you come to lie here."
The devoted conduct of Lockhart himself was worthy of his great relative. The " Life of Scott, " which he afterwards wrote, occupied him several years and was a remarkably successful work. Yet he him-self derived no pecuniary advantage from it; handing over the profits of the whole undertaking to Sir Walter's creditors, in payment of debts for which he was in no way responsible, but influenced entirely by a spirit of honor, and of regard for the memory of the illustrious dead.