"The path of service is open to all, nay, we stumble on to the path daily without knowing it. Ivan Tourguenieff, in one of his beautiful poems in prose, says, 'I was walking in the street; a beggar stopped me—a frail old man. His inflamed, tearful eyes, blue lips, rough rags, disgusting sores—oh, how horribly poverty had disfigured the unhappy creature! He stretched out to me his red, swollen, filthy hands; he groaned and whimpered for alms. I felt in all my pockets; no purse, watch, or handkerchief did I find; I had left them all at home. The beggar waited, and his outstretched hand twitched and trembled. Embarrassed and confused, I seized his dirty hand and pressed it. 'Don't be vexed with me, brother; I have nothing with me, brother.' The beggar raised his bloodshot eyes to mine; his blue lips smiled, and he returned the pressure of my chilled fingers. 'Never mind, brother,' stammered he; 'thank you for this—this, too, was a gift, brother.' I felt that I, too, had received a gift from my brother. This is a line of service open to us all."
A gentleman writing to the Chicago Interior, relates this incident in his own career as a prosecuting attorney: a boy of fifteen was brought in for trial. He had no attorney, no witnesses and no friends. As the prosecuting attorney looked him over, he was pleased with his appearance. He had nothing of the hardened criminal about him. In fact, he was impressed that the prisoner was an unusually bright-looking little fellow. He found that the charge against him was burglary. There had been a fire in a dry goods store, where some of the merchandise had not been entirely consumed. The place had been boarded up to protect, for the time being, the damaged articles. Several boys, among them this defendant, had pulled off a board or two, and were helping themselves to the contents of the place, when the police arrived. The others got away, and this was the only one caught. The attorney asked the boy if he wanted a jury trial. He said "No;" that he was guilty, and preferred to plead guilty.
Upon the plea being entered, the prosecutor asked him where his home was. He replied that he had no home.
"Where are your parents?" was asked. He answered that they were both dead.
"Have you no relatives?" was the next question.
"Only a sister, who works out," was the answer.
"How long have you been in jail?"
"Has anyone been to see you during that time?"
The last answer was very like a sob. The utterly forlorn and friendless condition of the boy, coupled with his frankness and pleasing presence, caused a lump to come into the lawyer's throat, and into the throats of many others, who were listening to the dialogue. Finally the attorney suggested to the judge that it was a pity to send the boy to the reformatory, and that what he needed more than anything else was a home.
By this time the court officials, jurors and spectators had crowded around, the better to hear what was being said. At this juncture one of the jurors addressed the court, and said: "Your honor, a year ago I lost my only boy. If he were alive, he would be about this boy's age. Ever since he died I have been wanting a boy. If you will let me have this little fellow, I'll give him a home, put him to work in my printing establishment, and treat him as if he were my own son."
The judge turned to the boy, and said: "This gentleman is a successful business man. Do you think, if you are given this splendid opportunity, you can make a man of yourself?"
"I'll try," very joyfully answered the boy.
"Very well; sign a recognizance, and go with the gentleman," said the judge.
A few minutes later the boy and his new friend left together, while tears of genuine pleasure stood in many eyes in the crowded courtroom. The lawyer, who signs his name to the story, declares that the boy turned out well, and proved to be worthy of his benefactor's kindness.
Deeds like that are waiting for the doing on every hand, and no man gives himself up to this spirit of helpfulness for others without strengthening his own life.
This spirit of self-forgetfulness and cheerful helpfulness is and essential quality of the true heroic soul—the soul that is not disturbed by circumstances, but goes on its way, strong and imparting strength.
We have to be on our guard against small troubles, which, by encouraging, we are apt to magnify into great ones. Indeed, the chief source of worry in the world is not real but imaginary evil—small vexations and trivial afflictions. In the presence of a great sorrow, all petty troubles disappear; but we are too ready to take some cherished misery to our bosom, and to pet it here. Very often it is the child of our fancy; and, forgetful of the many means of happiness which lie within our reach, we indulge this spoiled child of ours until it masters us. We shut the door against cheerfulness, and surround ourselves with gloom. The habit gives a coloring to our life. We grow querulous, moody and unsympathetic. Our conversation becomes full of regrets. We are harsh in our judgment of others. We are unsociable, and think everybody else is so. We make our breast a store-house of pain, which we inflict upon ourselves as well as upon others.
This disposition is encouraged by selfishness; indeed, it is, for the most part, selfishness unmingled, without any admixture of sympathy or consideration for the feelings of those about us. It is simply willfulness in the wrong direction. It is willful, because it might be avoided. Let the necessitarians argue as they may, freedom of will and action is the possession of every man and woman. It is sometimes our glory, and very often it is our shame; all depends upon the manner in which it is used. We can choose to look at the bright side of things or at the dark. We can follow good and eschew evil thoughts. We can be wrong-headed and wrong-hearted, or the reverse, as we ourselves determine. The world will be to each one of us very much what we make it. The cheerful are its real possessors, for the world belongs to those who enjoy it.
It must, however, be admitted that there are cases beyond the reach of the moralist. Once, when a miserable-looking dyspeptic called upon a leading physician, and laid his case before him, "Oh!" said the doctor, "you only want a good hearty laugh: go and see Grimaldi." "Alas!" said the miserable patient, "I am Grimaldi!" So, when Smollett, oppressed by disease, traveled over Europe in the hope of finding health, he saw everything through his own jaundiced eyes.
The restless, anxious, dissatisfied temper, that is ever ready to run and meet care half-way, is fatal to all happiness and peace of mind. How often do we see men and women set themselves about as if with stiff bristles, so that one dare scarcely approach them without fear of being pricked! For want of a little occasional command over one's temper, and amount of misery is occasioned in society which is positively frightful. Thus enjoyment is turned into bitterness, and life becomes like a journey barefooted among thorns and briers and prickles. "Though sometimes small evils," says Richard Sharp, "like invisible insects, inflict great pain, and a single hair may stop a vast machine, yet the chief secret of comfort lies in not suffering trifles to vex us; and in prudently cultivating and under-growth of small pleasures, since very few great ones, alas! are let on long leases."
Cheerfulness also accompanies patience, which is one of the main conditions of happiness and success in life. "He that will be served," says George Herbert, "must be patient." It was said of the cheerful and patient King Alfred that "good fortune accompanied him like a gift of God." Marlborough's expectant calmness was great, and a principal secret of his success as a general. "Patience will overcome all things," he wrote to Godolphin, in 1702. In the midst of a great emergency, while baffled and opposed by his allies, he said, "Having done all that is possible, we should submit with patience."
One of the chiefest of blessings is Hope, the most common of possessions; for, as Thales that philosopher said, "Even those who have nothing else have hope." Hope is the great helper of the poor. It has even been styled "the poor man's bread." It is also the sustainer and inspirer of great deeds. It is recorded of Alexander the Great that, when he succeeded to the throne of Macedon, he gave away among his friends the greater part of the estates which his father had left him; and when Perdiccas asked him what he reserved for himself, Alexander answered, "The greatest possession of all— Hope!"
The pleasures of memory, however great, are stale compared with those of hope; for hope is the parent of all effort and endeavor; and "every gift of noble origin is breathed upon by Hope's perpetual breath." It may be said to be the moral engine that moves the world and keeps it in action; and at the end of all there stands before us what Robertson of Ellon styled "The Great Hope."
The qualities of the strong self-reliant man are sometimes accompanied by a brusqueness of manner that leas others to misjudge them. As Knox was retiring from the queen's presence on one occasion he overheard one of the royal attendants say to another, "He is not afraid!" Turning round upon them, he said: "And why should the pleasing face of a gentleman frighten me? I have looked on the faces of angry men, and yet have not been afraid beyond measure." When the Reformer, worn out by excess of labor and anxiety, was at length laid to his rest, the regent, looking down into the open grave, exclaimed in words which made a strong impression from their aptness and truth— "There lies he who never feared the face of man!"
Luther also was thought by some to be a mere compound of violence and ruggedness. But, as in the case of Knox, the times in which he lived were rude and violent, and the work he had to do could scarcely have been accomplished with gentleness and suavity. To rouse Europe from its lethargy, he had to speak and write with force, and even vehemence. Yet Luther's vehemence was only in words. His apparently rude exterior covered a warm heart. In private life he was gentle, loving and affectionate. He was simple and homely, even to commonness. Fond of all common pleasures and enjoyments, he was any thing but an austere man or a bigot; for he was hearty, genial, and even "jolly." Luther was the common people's hero in his lifetime, and he remains so in Germany to this day.
Samuel Johnson was rude and often gruff in manner. But he had been brought up in a rough school. Poverty in early life had made him acquainted with strange companions. He had wandered in the streets with Savage for nights together, unable between them to raise money enough to pay for a bed. When his indomitable courage and industry at length secured for him a footing in society, he still bore upon him the scars of his early sorrow and struggles. He was by nature strong and robust, and his experience made him unaccommodating and self- asserting. When he was once asked why he was not invited to dine out as Garrick was, he answered, "Because great lords and ladies do not like to have their mouths stopped;" and Johnson was a notorious mouth-stopper, though what he said was always worth listening to.
Johnson's companions spoke of him as "Ursa Major;" but, as Goldsmith generously said of him, "No man alive has a more tender heart; he has nothing of the bear about him but his skin." The kindliness of Johnson's nature was shown on one occasion by the manner in which he assisted a supposed lady in crossing Fleet street. He gave her his arm and led her across, not observing that she was in liquor at the time. But the spirit of the act was not the less kind on that account. On the other hand, the conduct of the book-seller on whom Johnson once called to solicit employment, and who, regarding his athletic but uncouth person, told him he had better "go buy a porter's knot and carry trunks," in howsoever bland tones the advice might have been communicated, was simply brutal.
While captiousness of manner, and the habit of disputing and contradicting everything said, is chilling and repulsive, the opposite habit of assenting to, and sympathizing with, every statement made, or emotion expressed, is almost equally disagreeable. It is unmanly, and is felt to be dishonest. "It may seem difficult," says Richard Sharp, "to steer always between bluntness and plain- dealing, between giving merited praise and lavishing indiscriminate flattery; but it is very easy—good humor, kind heartedness and perfect simplicity, being all that are requisite to do what is right in the right way."
At the same time many are unpolite, not because they mean to be so, but because they are awkward, and perhaps know no better. Thus, when Gibbon had published the second and third volumes of his "Decline and Fall," the Duke of Cumberland met him one day, and accosted him with, "How do you do, Mr. Gibbon? I see you are always at it in the old way—scribble, scribble, scribble!" The duke probably intended to pay the author a compliment, but did not know how better to do it than in this blunt and apparently rude way.
Again, many persons are thought to be stiff, reserved and proud, when they are only shy. Shyness is characteristic of most people of Teutonic race. It has been styled "the English mania," but it pervades, to a greater or less degree, all the Northern nations. The average Frenchman or Irishman excels the average Englishman, German or American in courtesy and ease of manner, simply because it is his nature. They are more social and less self-dependent than men of Teutonic origin, more demonstrative and less reticent; they are more communicative, conversational, and freer in their intercourse with each other in all respects; while men of German race are comparatively stiff, reserved, shy and awkward. At the same time, a people may exhibit ease, gayety, and sprightliness of character, and yet possess no deeper qualities calculated to inspire respect. They may have every grace of manner, and yet be heartless, frivolous, selfish. The character may be on the surface only, and without any solid qualities for a foundation.
There can be no doubt as to which of the two sorts of people—the easy and graceful, or the stiff and awkward—it is most agreeable to meet either in business, in society, or in the casual intercourse of life. Which make the fastest friends, the truest men of their word, the most conscientious performers of their duty, is an entirely different matter.
As an epitome of good sound advice as to getting on in the world there has probably been nothing written so forcible, quaint and full of common sense a the following preface to an old Pennsylvanian Almanac, entitled "Poor Richard Improved," by the great philosopher, Benjamin Franklin. It is homely, simple, sensible and practical—a condensation of the proverbial wit, wisdom and every-day philosophy, useful at all times, and essentially so in the present day:
"COURTEOUS READER—I have heard that nothing gives an author so great pleasure as to find his works respectfully quoted by others. Judge, then, how much I must have been gratified by an incident I am going to relate to you. I stopped my horse lately where a great number of people were collected at an auction of merchants' goods. The hour of the sale not being come, they were conversing on the badness of the times, and one of the company called to a plain, clean old man with white locks, 'Pray, Father Abraham, what think you of the times? Will not these heavy taxes quite ruin the country? How shall we ever be able to pay them? What would you advise us to do?' Father Abraham stood up, and replied: 'If you would have my advice I will give it you in short, for, A word to the wise is enough, as poor Richard says.' They joined in desiring him to speak his mind, and gathering round him, he proceeded as follows:
"'Friends, the taxes are indeed very heavy, and if those laid on by the government were the only ones we had to pay we might more easily discharge them; but we have many others, and much more grievous to some of us. We are taxed twice as much by our idleness, three times as much by our pride, and four times as much by our folly; and from these taxes the commissioners cannot ease or deliver us, by allowing an abatement. However, let us hearken to good advice, and something may be done for us. God helps them that help themselves, as poor Richard says.
"'I. It would be thought a hard government that should tax its people one-tenth part of their time, to be employed in its service; but idleness taxes many of use more; sloth, by bringing on diseases, absolutely shortens life. Sloth, like rust, consumes faster than labor wears; while, The used key is always bright, as poor Richard says. But, Dost thou love life, then do not squander time, for that is the stuff life is made of, as poor Richard says. How much more than is necessary do we spend in sleep! forgetting that, The sleeping fox catches no poultry; and that, There will be sleeping in the grave, as poor Richard says.
"'If time be of all things the most precious, wasting time must be, as poor Richard says, the greatest prodigality; since, as he elsewhere tells us, Lost time is never found again; and, What we call time enough always proves little enough. Let us, then, be up and be doing, and doing to the purpose; so by diligence shall we do more, and with less perplexity. Sloth makes all things difficult, but industry all easy; and, He that riseth late must trot all day, and shall scarce overtake his business at night; while, Laziness travels so slowly that poverty soon overtakes him. Drive thy business, let not that drive thee; and Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise, as poor Richard says.
"'So what signifies wishing and hoping for better times? We may make these times better if we bestir ourselves. Industry need not risk, and, He that lives upon hopes will die fasting. There are no gains without pains; then, Help, hands, for I have no lands; or, if I have, they are smartly taxed. He that hath a trade, hath an estate; and, He that hath a calling, hath an office of profit and honor, as poor Richard says; but then the trade must be worked at, and the calling followed, or neither the estate nor the office will enable us to pay our taxes. If we are industrious we shall never starve; for, At the working man's house, hunger looks in, but dares not enter. Nor will the bailiff or the constable enter; for, Industry pays debts, while despair increaseth them. What though you have found no treasure, nor has any rich relation left you a legacy? Diligence is the mother of good luck, and God gives all things to industry. Then, plough deep, while sluggards sleep, and you shall have corn to sell and keep. Work while it is called to-day, for you know not how much you may be hindered to-morrow. One to-day is worth two to-morrows, as poor Richard says; and, farther, never leave that till to-morrow that you can do to-day. If you were a servant, would you not be shamed that a good master would catch you idle? Are you then your own master, be ashamed to catch yourself idle, when there is to be so much done for yourself, your family, your country, and your king. Handle your tools without mittens; remember that the cat in gloves catches no mice, as poor Richard says. It is true there is much to be done, and perhaps your are weak-handed; but stick to it steadily, and you will see great effects; for, Constant dropping wears away stones; and, By diligence and patience the mouse at in two the cable; and, Little strokes fell great oaks.
"'Methinks I hear some of you say, "Must a man afford himself no leisure?" I will tell thee, my friend, what poor Richard says—Employ thy time well if thou meanest to gain leisure; and since thou are not sure of a minute, throw not away an hour. Leisure is time for doing something useful. This leisure the diligent man will obtain, but the lazy man never; for a life of leisure and a life of laziness are two things. Many, without labor, would live by their wits only, but they break for want of stock; whereas industry gives comfort, and plenty, and respect. Fly pleasures, and they will follow you. The diligent spinner has a large shift; and, Now I have a sheep and a cow, everybody bids me goodmorrow.
"'II. But with our industry we must likewise be steady, settled and careful, and oversee our own affairs with our own eyes, and not trust to others; for, as poor Richard says—
"'I never saw an oft-removed tree, Nor yet an oft-removed family, That throve so well as those that settled be.
And again—Three removes as bad as a fire. And again—Keep thy shop, and thy shop will keep thee. And again—If you would have your business done, go; if not, send. And again—
"'He that by the plough would thrive Himself must either hold or drive.
And again—The eye of a master will do more work than both his hands. And again—Want of care does us more damage than want of knowledge. And again—Not to oversee workmen is to leave them your purse open. Trusting too much to others' care is the ruin of many; for, in the affairs of this world, men are saved, not by faith, but by the want of it. But a man's own care is profitable; for if you would have a faithful servant, and one that you like, serve yourself. A little neglect may cause great mischief; For want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost; for want of a horse the rider was lost, being overtaken and slain by the enemy—all for want of a little care about a horse-shoe nail.
"'III. So much for industry, my friends, and attention to one's own business; but to these we must add frugality, if we would make our industry more certainly successful. A man may, if he knows not how to save as he gets, keep his nose to the grindstone all his life, and die not worth a groat at last. A fat kitchen makes a lean will; and
"'Many estates are spent in the getting, Since women for tea forsook spinning and knitting, And men for punch forsook hewing and splitting.
If you would be wealthy, think of saving as well as of getting. The Indies have not made Spain rich, because her outgoes are greater than her incomes.
"'Away, then, with your expensive follies, and you will not then have so much cause to complain of hard times, heavy taxes, and chargeable families; for
"'Women and wine, game and deceit, Make the wealth small and the want great.
"'And further—What maintains one vice would bring up two children. You may think, perhaps, that a little tea, or a little punch, now and then, diet a little more costly, clothes a little finer, and a little entertainment now and then, can be no great matter; but remember— Many a little makes a nickel. Beware of little expenses—A small leak will sink a great ship, as poor Richard says. And moreover—Fools make feasts, and wise men eat them.
"' Here you are all got together at this sale of fineries and nick- nacks. You call them goods; but if you do not take care they will prove evils to some of you. You expect they will be sold cheap, and perhaps they may for less than they cost; but if you have no occasion for them they must be dear to you. Remember what poor Richard says— Buy what thou hast no need of, and ere long thou shalt sell thy necessaries. And again—At a great pennyworth pause awhile. He means that the cheapness is apparent only, and not real; or the bargain, by straitening thee in thy business, may do thee more harm than good; for in another place he says—Many have been ruined by buying good pennyworths. Again—It is foolish to lay out money in a purchase of repentance; and yet this folly is practiced every day at auctions, for want of minding the almanac. Many a one, for the sake of finery on the back, has gone with a hungry belly and half-starved his family. Silks and satins, scarlet and velvets, put out the kitchen fire, as poor Richard says. These are not the necessaries of life; they can scarcely be called the conveniences; and yet, only because they look pretty, how many want to have them! By these, and other extravagances, the genteel are reduced to poverty, and forced to borrow of those whom they formerly despised, but who, through industry and frugality, have maintained their standing; in which case it appears plainly that, A ploughman on his legs is higher than a gentleman on his knees, as poor Richard says. Perhaps they have had a small estate left them, which they knew not the getting of; they think it is day and will never be night; that a little to be spent out of so much is not worth minding; but, Always taking out of the meal-tub, and never putting in, soon comes to be the bottom, as poor Richard says; and then, When the well is dry, they know the worth of water. But this they might have know before if they had taken his advice—If they would know the value of money, go and try to borrow some; for, He that goes a-borrowing goes a-sorrowing, as poor Richard says; and, indeed, so does he that lends to such people when he goes to get his own in again. Poor dick further advises, and says:
"'Fond pride or dress is sure a very curse, Ere fancy you consult, consult your purse.
And again—Pride is as loud a beggar as want, and a great deal more saucy. When you have bought one fine thing, you must buy ten more, that your appearance may be all of a piece; but poor Dick says, It is easier to suppress the first desire, than to satisfy all that follow it. And it is as truly folly for the poor to ape the rich, as for the frog to swell in order to equal the ox.
"'Vessels large may venture more, But little boats should keep near shore.
It is, however, a folly soon punished; for, as poor Richard says, Pride that dines on vanity, sups on contempt. Pride breakfasted with plenty, dined with poverty, and supped with infamy. And, after all, of what use is this pride of appearance, for which so much is risked, so much is suffered? It cannot promote health, nor ease pain; it makes no increase of merit in the person; it creates envy; it hastens misfortune.
"'But what madness must it be to run in debt for these superfluities! We are offered, by the terms of this sale, six months credit; and that, perhaps, has induced some of us to attend it, because we cannot spare the ready money, and hope now to be fine without it. But, ah! think what you do when you run in debt; you give to another power over your liberty. If you cannot pay at the time, you will be ashamed to see your creditor; you will be in fear when you speak to him; you will make poor, pitiful, sneaking excuses, and, by degrees, come to lose your veracity, and sink into base, downright lying; for, The second vice is lying, the first is running in debt, as poor Richard says; and again, to the same purpose, Lying rides upon debt's back . . .
"'And now, to conclude—Experience keeps a dear school, but fools will learn in no other, as poor Richard says, and scarce in that; for, it is true, We may give advice, but we cannot give conduct. However, remember this—They that will not be counseled, cannot be helped; and further, that, If you will not hear Reason, she will surely rap your knuckles, as poor Richard says.'
"Thus the old gentleman ended his harangue. The people heard it and approved the doctrine; and immediately practiced the contrary, just as if it had been a common sermon, for the auctioneer opened, and they began to buy extravagantly. I found the good man had thoroughly studied my almanacs, and digested all I had dropt on these topics during the course of twenty-five years."