Duty - Truthfulness
( Originally Published 1884 )
Upholding Sense of Duty.—Conscience and Will.—Sense of Honor. Sacredness of Duty.—Freedom of the Individual.--Washington's Sense of Duty.—Wellington's Ideal.—Duty and Truthfulness.—Wellington and his Aurist.—Truth the Bond of Society.—Equivocation.—Pretentiousness.
"I slept, and dreamt that life was Beauty,
DUTY is a thing that is due, and must be paid by every man who would avoid present discredit and eventual moral insolvency. It is an obligation a debt which can only be discharged by voluntary effort and resolute action in the affairs of life.
Duty embraces man's whole existence. It begins in the home, where there is the duty which children owe to their parents on the one hand, and the duty which parents owe to their children on the other. There are, in like manner, the respective duties of husbands and wives, of masters and servants; while outside the home there are the duties which men and women owe to each other as friends and neighbors, as employers and employed, as governors and governed.
" Render, therefore," says St. Paul, "to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. Owe no man any thing, but to love one another; for he that loveth another bath fulfilled the law."
Thus duty rounds the whole of life, from our entrance into it until our exit from it duty to superiors, duty to inferiors, and duty to equals duty to man, and duty to God. Wherever there is power to use or to direct, there is duty. For we are but as stewards, appointed to employ the means entrusted to us for our own and for other's good.
The abiding sense of duty is the very crown of character. It is the upholding law of man in his highest attitudes. Without it, the individual totters and falls before the first puff of adversity or temptation; where-as, inspired by it, the weakest becomes strong and full of courage. "Duty," says Mrs. Jameson, " is the cement which binds the whole moral edifice together; without which, all power, goodness, intellect, truth, happiness, love itself, can have no permanence; but all the fabric of existence crumbles away from under us,. and leaves us at last sitting in the midst of a ruin,. astonished at our own desolation."
Duty is based upon a sense of justice justice inspired by love, which is the most perfect form of goodness. Duty is not a sentiment, but a principle pervading the life: and it exhibits itself in conduct and in acts, which. are mainly determined by man's conscience and free-will.
The voice of conscience speaks in duty done; and without its regulating and controlling influence, the brightest and greatest intellect may be merely as a light that leads astray. Conscience sets a man upon his feet, while his will holds him upright. Conscience is the moral governor of the heart the governor of right action, of right thought, of right faith, of right life and only through its dominating influence can the noble and upright character be fully developed.
The conscience, however, may speak never so loudly, but without energetic will it may speak in vain. The will is free to choose between the right course and the wrong one, but the choice is nothing unless followed by immediate and decisive action. If the sense of duty be strong, and the course of action clear, the courageous will, upheld by the conscience, enables a man to proceed on his course bravely, and to accomplish his purposes in the face of all opposition and difficulty. And should failure be the issue, there will remain at least this satisfaction, that it has been in the cause of duty.
" Be and continue poor, young man," said Heinzelmann, " while others around you grow rich by fraud and disloyalty; be without place or power, while others beg their way upward; bear the pain of disappointed hopes, while others gain the accomplishment of theirs by flattery; forego the gracious pressure of the hand, for which others cringe and crawl. Wrap yourself in your own virtue, and seek a friend and your daily bread. If you have in your own cause grown gray with unbleached honor, bless God and die! "
To live really is to act energetically. Life is a battle to be fought valiantly. Inspired by high and honorable resolve, a man must stand to his post, and die there, if need be. Like the old Danish hero, his determination should be, " to dare nobly, to will strongly, and never to falter in the path of duty." The power of will, be it great or small, which God has given us, is a Divine gift; and we ought neither to let it perish for want of using, on the one hand, nor profane it by employing it for ignoble purposes, on the other. Robertson, of Brighton, has truly said, that man's real greatness consists not in seeking his own pleasure, or fame or advancement not that every one shall save his own life, not that every man shall seek his own glory but that every man shall do his own duty."
What most stands in the way of the performance of duty, is irresolution, weakness of purpose, and indecision. On the one side are conscience and the knowledge of good and evil; on the other are indolence, selfishness, love of pleasure, or passion. The weak and ill-disciplined will may remain suspended for a time between these influences; but at length the balance inclines one way or the other, according as the will is called into action or otherwise. If it be allowed to remain passive, the lower influence of selfishness or passion will prevail; and thus manhood suffers abdication, individuality is renounced, character is degraded, and the man permits himself to become the mere passive slave of his sense.
Thus, the power of exercising the will promptly, in obedience to the dictates of conscience, and thereby resisting the impulses of the lower nature, is of essential importance in moral discipline, and absolutely necessary for the developement of character in its best forms. To acquire the habit of well-doing, to resist evil propensities, to fight against sensual desires, to overcome inborn selfishness, may require a long and perservering discipline; but when once the practice of duty is learned, it becomes consolidated in habit, and thenceforward is comparatively easy.
The valiant good man is he who, by the resolute exercise of his free-will, has so disciplined himself as to have acquired the habit of virtue, as the bad man is he who by allowing his free-will to remain inactive, and giving the bridle to his desires and passions, has acquired the habit of vice, by which he becomes, at last, bound as by chains of iron.
A man can only achieve strength of purpose by the action of his own free will. If he is to stand erect, it must be by his own efforts; for he can not be kept propped up by the help of others. He is master of himself and of his actions. He can avoid falsehood, and be truthful; he can shun sensualism and be continent; he can turn aside from doing a cruel thing, and be benevolent and forgiving. All these lie within the sphere of individual efforts, and come within the range of self-discipline. And it depends. upon men themselves whether in these respects they will be free, pure, and good, on the one hand; or enslaved, impure, and miser-able, on the other.
The sense of duty is a sustaining power even to a courageous man. It holds him upright, and makes him strong. It was a noble saying of Pompey, when his friends tried to dissuade him from embarking for Rome in a storm, telling him that he did so at the great peril of his life: " It is necessary for me to go," he said; " it is not necessary for me to live." What it was right that he should do, he would do, in the face of danger and in defiance of storms.
As might be expected of the great Washington, the chief motive power in his life was the spirit of duty. It was the regal and commanding element in his character which gave it unity, compactness, and vigor. When he clearly saw his duty before him, he did it at all hazards, and with inflexible integrity. He did not do it for effect; nor did he think of glory, or of fame and its rewards; but of the right thing to be done, and the best way of doing it.
Yet Washington had a most modest opinion of him-self; and when offered the chief command of the American patriot army, he hesitated to accept it until it was pressed upon him. When acknowledging in Congress the honor which had been done him in selecting him to so important a trust, on the execution of which the future of his country in a great measure depended, Washington said: "I beg it may be remembered, lest some unlucky event should happen unfavorable to my reputation, that I this day declare, with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with."
And in his letter to his wife, communicating to her his appointment as commander-in-chief, he said: " I have used every endeavor in my power to avoid it, not only from my unwillingness to part with you and the family, but from a consciousness of its being a trust too great for my capacity; and that I should enjoy more real happiness in one month with you at home than I have the most distant prospect of finding abroad, if my stay were to be seven times seven years. But, as it has been a kind of destiny that has thrown me upon this service, I shall hope that my undertaking it is designed for some good purpose. It was utterly out of my power to refuse the appointment, without exposing my character to such censures as would have reflected dishonor upon myself, and given pain to my friends. This, I am sure, could not, and ought not, to he pleasing to you, and must have lessened me considerably in my own esteem."
Washington pursued his upright course through life, first as commander-in-chief, and afterwards as president, never faltering in the path of duty. He had no regard for popularity, but held to his purpose through good and through evil report, often at the risk of his power and influence. Thus, on one occasion, when the ratification of a treaty, arranged by Mr. Jay, with Great Britain, was in question, Washington was urged to reject it. But his honor, and the honor of his country, was committed, and he refused to do so. A great out-cry was raised against the treaty, and for a time Washington was so unpopular that he is said to have been actually stoned by the mob. But he, nevertheless, held it to be his duty to ratify the treaty ; and it was carried out in despite of petitions and remonstrances from all quarters. " While I feel," he said, in answer to the remonstrants, " the most lively gratitude for the many instances of approbation from my country, I can no otherwise deserve it than by obeying the dictates of my conscience."
Wellington's watch-word, like Washington's, was duty; and no man could be more loyal to it than he was. " There is little or nothing," he once said, " in this life worth living for; but we can all of us go straight forward and do our duty."' None recognized more cheerfully than he did the duty of obedience and willing service; for unless men can serve faithfully, they will not rule others wisely. There is no motto that becomes the wise man better than Ich dien, I serve;" and " They also serve. who only stand and wait."
When the mortification of an officer, because of his being appointed to a command inferior to what he considered to be his merits, was communicated to the duke, he said: " In the course of my military career, I have gone from the command of a brigade to that of a regiment, and from the command of an army to that of a brigade or a division, as I was ordered, and without any feeling of mortification."
Duty is closely allied to truthfulness of character; and the dutiful man is, above all things, truthful in his words as in his actions. He says and he does the right thing in the right way, and at the right time.
There is probably no saying of Lord Chesterfield that commends itself more strongly to the approval of manly-minded men, than that it is truth that makes the success of the gentleman. Clarendon, speaking of one of the noblest and purest gentlemen of his age, says of Falkland, that he "was so severe an adorer of truth, that he could as easily have given himself leave to steal as to dissemble."
It was one of the finest things that Mrs. Hutchinson could say of her husband, that he was a thoroughly truthful and reliable man: " He never professed the thing he intended not, nor promised what he believed out of his power, nor failed in the performance of any thing that was in his power to fulfill."
Wellington was a severe admirer of truth. An illustration may be given. When afflicted by deafness, he consulted a celebrated aurist, who, after trying all remedies in vain, determined, as a last resource, to inject into the ear a strong solution of caustic. It caused the most intense pain, but the patient bore it with his usual equanimity. The family physician accidently calling one day, found the duke with flushed cheeks and blood-shot eyes, and when he rose he staggered about like a drunk-en man. The doctor asked to be permitted to look at his ear, and then he found that a furious inflammation was going on, which, if not immediately checked, must shortly reach the brain and kill him. Vigorous remedies were at once applied, and the inflammation was checked. But the hearing of that ear was completely destroyed. When the aurist heard of the danger his patient had run, through the violence of the remedy he had employed, he hastened to Apsley House to express his grief and mortification; but the duke merely said: " Do not say a word more about it you did all for the best." The aurist said it would be his ruin when it became known that he had been the cause of so much suffering and danger to his grace. " But nobody need know any thing about it: keep your own counsel, and, depend upon it, I won't say a word to any one." " Then your grace will allow me to attend you as usual, which will. show the public that you have not withdrawn your confidence from me?" " No," replied the duke, kindly but firmly; " I can't do that, for that would be a lie." He would not act a falsehood any more than he would speak one.
Truth is the very bond of society, without which it must cease to exist, and dissolve into anarchy and chaos. A household can not be governed by lying; nor can a nation. Sir Thomas Browne once asked, " Do the devils lie ?" " No," was his answer; " for, then even hell could not subsist." No considerations can justify the sacrifice of truth, which ought to be sovereign in all the relations of life.
Of all mean vices, perhaps lying is the meanest. It is in some cases the offspring of perversity and vice, and in many others of sheer moral cowardice. Yet many persons think so lightly of it that they will order their servants to lie for them; nor can they feel surprised if, after such ignoble instruction, they find their servants lying for themselves.
Sir Harry Wotton's description of an ambassador as " an honest man sent to lie abroad for the benefit of his country," though meant as a satire, brought him into disfavor with James I.-when it became published; for an adversary quoted it as a principle of the king's religion. That it was not Wotton's real view of the duty of an honest man, is obvious from the lines quoted at the head of this chapter, on " The Character of a Happy Life," in which he eulogizes the man
" Whose armor is his honest thought,
But lying assumes many forms such as diplomacy, expediency, and moral reservation; and, under one guise or another, it is found more or less pervading all classes of society. Sometimes it assumes the form of equivocation or moral dodging twisting and so stating the things said as to convey a false impression a kind of lying which a Frenchman once described as " walking round' about the truth."
There are even men of narrow minds and dishonest natures, who pride themselves upon their Jesuitical cleverness in equivocation, in their serpent-wise shirking of the truth and getting out of moral back-doors, in order to hide their real opinions and evade the consequences of holding and openly professing them. Institutions or systems based upon any such expedients must necessarily prove false and hollow. "Though a lie be ever sa well dressed," says George Herbert, " it is ever over-come." Downright lying, though bolder and more vicious, is even less contemptible than such kind of shuffling and equivocation.
Untruthfulness exhibits itself in many other forms: in reticency on the one hand, or exaggeration on the other; in disguise or concealment; in pretended concurrence in others' opinions; in assuming an attitude of conformity which is deceptive; in making promises, or allowing them to be implied, which are never intended to be performed; or even in refraining from speaking the truth when to do so is a duty. There are also those who are all things to all men, who say one thing and da another, like Bunyan's Mr. Facing-both-ways; only deceiving themselves when they think they are deceiving others and who, being essentially insincere, fail to evoke confidence, and invariably in the end turn out failures, if not impostors.
Others are untruthful in their pretentiousness, and in assuming merits which they do not really possess. The truthful man is, on the contrary, modest, and makes na parade of himself and his deeds. When Pitt was in his last illness, the news reached England of the great deeds of Wellington in India. " The more I hear of his exploits," said Pitt, " the more I admire the modesty with which he receives the praises he merits for them. He is the only man I ever knew that was not vain of what he had done, and yet had so much reason to be so."
So it is said of Faraday by Professor Tyndall, that "pretense of all kinds, whether in life or in philosophy, was hateful to him." Dr. Marshall Hall was a man of like spirit courageously truthful, dutiful, and manly. One of his most intimate friends has said of him that, wherever he met with untruthfulness or sinister motive, he would expose it, saying, " I neither will, nor can, give my consent to a lie." The question, " right or wrong," once decided in his own mind, the right was followed, no matter what the sacrifice or the difficulty neither expediency nor inclination weighing one jot in the balance.
There was no virtue that Dr. Arnold labored more sedulously to instill into young men than the virtue of truthfulness, as being the manliest of virtues, as indeed the very basis of all true manliness. He designated truthfulness as " moral transparency," and he valued it more highly than any other quality. When lying was detected, he treated it as a great moral offense; but when a pupil made an assertion, he accepted it with confidence. " If you say so, that is quite enough; of course I believe your word." By thus trusting and believing them, he educated the young in truthfulness; the boys at length coming to say to one another: "It's a shame to tell Arnold a lie he always believes one."