Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed.
Glenora Single Malt Whisky

Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.
Scottish Review

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

On Self-Culture
Intellectual, Physical, and Moral by John Stuart Blackie, 6th Edition, 1875


I. We are now come to the most important of the three great chapters of self-culture. The moral nature of man supplies him both with the motive and the regulative power, being in fact the governor, and lord, and legitimate master of the whole machine. Moral excellence is therefore justly felt to be an indispensable element in all forms of human greatness. A man may be as brilliant, as clever, as strong, and as broad as you please: and with all this, if he is not good, he may be a paltry fellow; and even the sublime which he seems to reach, in his most splendid achievements, is only a brilliant sort of badness. The first Napoleon, in his thunderous career over our western world, was a notable example of superhuman force in a human shape, without any real human greatness. It does not appear that he was naturally what we should call a bad man; but, devoting himself altogether to military conquest and political ascendency, he had no occasion to exercise any degree of that highest excellence which grows out of unselfishness, and so, as a moral man, he lived and died very poor and very small. But it is not only conquerors and politicians that, from a defect of the moral element, fail to achieve real greatness. "Nothing," says Hartley, "can easily exceed the vain-glory, self-conceit, arrogance, emulation, and envy, that are to be found in the eminent professors of the sciences, mathematics, natural philosophy, and even divinity itself." Nor is there any reason to be astonished at this. The moral nature, like everything else, if it is to grow into any sort of excellence, demands a special culture; and, as our passions, by their very nature, like the winds, are not easy of control, and our actions are the outcome of our passions, it follows that moral excellence will in no case be an easy affair, and in its highest grades will be the most arduous, and, as such, the most noble achievement of a thoroughly accomplished humanity. It was an easy thing for Lord Byron to be a great poet; it was merely indulging his nature; he was an eagle, and must fly; but to have curbed his wilful humour, soothed his fretful discontent, and learned to behave like a reasonable being and a gentleman, that was a difficult matter, which he does not seem ever seriously to have attempted. His life, therefore, with all his genius, and fits of occasional sublimity, was, on the whole, a terrible failure, and a great warning to all who are willing to take a lesson. Another flaring beacon of the rock, on which great wits are often wrecked for want of a little kindly culture of unselfishness, is Walter Savage Landor, the most finished master of style, perhaps, that ever used the English tongue; but a person at the same time so imperiously wilful, and so majestically cross-grained, that, with all his polished style and pointed thought, he was constantly living on the verge of insanity. Let every one, therefore, who would not suffer shipwreck on the great voyage of life, stamp seriously into his soul, before all things, the great truth of the Scripture text,—"ONE THING IS NEEDFUL." Money is not needful; power is not needful; cleverness is not needful ; fame is not needful; liberty is not needful; even health is not the one thing needful: but character alone - a thoroughly cultivated will -is that which can truly save us; and, if we are not saved in this sense, we must certainly be damned. There is no point of indifference in this matter, where a man can safely rest, saying to himself, If I don't get better, I shall certainly not get worse. He will unquestionably get worse. The unselfish part of his nature, if left uncultivated, will, like every other neglected function, tend to shrink into a more meagre vitality and more stunted proportions. Let us gird up our loins, therefore, and quit us like men; and, having by the golden gift of God the glorious lot of living once for all, let us endeavour to live nobly.

II. It may be well, before entering into any detail, to indicate, in a single word, the connection between morality and piety, which is not always correctly understood. A certain school of British moralists, from Jeremy Bentham downwards, have set themselves to tabulate a scheme of morals without any reference to religion, which, to say the least of it, is a very unnatural sort of divorce, and a plain sign of a certain narrowness and incompleteness in the mental constitution of those who advocate such views. No doubt a professor of wisdom, like old Epicurus, may be a very good man, as the world goes, and lead a very clean life, believing that all the grand mathematical structure of this magnificent universe is the product of a mere fortuitous concourse of blind atoms; as, in these days, I presume, there are few more virtuous men than some who talk of laws of Nature, invariable sequence, natural selection, favourable conditions, happy combination of external circumstances, and other such reasonless phrases as may seem to explain the frame of the universe apart from mind. But to a healthy human feeling there must always be something very inadequate, say rather something abnormal and monstrous, in this phasis of morality. It is as if a good citizen in a monarchy were to pay all the taxes conscientiously, serve his time in the army, and fight the battles of his country bravely, but refuse to take off his hat to the Queen when she passed. If we did not note such a fellow altogether with a black mark, as a disloyal and disaffected subject, we should feel a good-natured contempt for him, as a crotchety person and unmannerly. So it is exactly with atheists, whether speculative or practical; they are mostly crotchet-mongers and puzzle-brains; fellows who spin silken ropes in which to strangle themselves; at most, mere reasoning machines, utterly devoid of every noble inspiration, whose leaden intellectual firmament has no heat and no colour, whose whole nature is exhausted in fostering a prim self-contained conceit about their petty knowledges, and who can, in fact, fasten their coarse feelers upon nothing but what they can finger, and classify, and tabulate, and dissect. But there is something that stands above all fingering, all microscopes, and all curious diagnosis, and that is, simply, LIFE; and life is simply energising Reason, and energising Reason is only another name for GOD. To ignore this supreme fact is to attempt to conceive the steam-engine without the intellect of James Watt; it is to make a map of the aqueducts that supply a great city with water, without indicating the fountainhead from which they are supplied; it is to stop short of the one fact which renders all the other facts possible ; it is to leave the body without the head. By no means, therefore, let a young man satisfy himself with any of those cold moral schemes of the present age of reaction, which piece together a beggarly account of duties from external induction. The fountain of all the nobler morality is moral inspiration from within ; and the feeder of this fountain is GOD.

III. I will now specialise a few of those virtues the attainment of which should be an object of lofty ambition to young men desirous of making the most of the divine gift of life. Every season and every occasion makes its own imperious demand, and presents its peculiar opportunity of glorious victory or ignoble defeat in the great battle of existence. Primroses grow only in the spring; and certain virtues, if they do not put forth vigorous shoots in youth, are not likely to show any luxuriant leafage in after age.

IV. First, there is OBEDIENCE. There is a great talk in these days about liberty; and no doubt liberty is a very good thing, and highly estimated by all healthy creatures; but it is necessary that we should understand exactly what this thing means. It means only that in the exercise of all natural energies, each creature shall be free from every sort of conventional, artificial, and painful restriction. Such liberty is unquestionably an unqualified good, but it does not bring a man very far. It fixes only the starting-point in the race of life. It gives a man a stage to play on, but it says nothing of the part he has to play, or of the style in which he must play it. Beyond this necessary starting point, all further action in life, so far from being liberty, is only a series of limitations. All regulation is limitation; and regulation is only another name for reasoned existence. And, as the regulations to which men must submit are not always or generally those which they have willingly laid down for themselves, but rather for the most part those which have been laid down by others for the general good of society, it follows, that whosoever will be a good member of any social system must learn, in the first place, to OBEY. The law, the army, the church, the state service, every field of life and every sphere of action, are only the embodied illustrations of this principle. Freedom, of course, is left to the individual in his own individual sphere. To leave him no freedom were to make him a mere machine, and to annihilate his humanity; but, so far as he acts in a social capacity, he cannot be free from the limitations that bind the whole into a definite and consistent unity. He may be at the very top of the social ladder, but, like the Pope—SERVUS SERVORUM—only the more a slave for that. The brain can no more disown the general laws of the organism than the foot can. The loyal obedience of each member is at once its duty and its safety. St. Paul, with his usual force, fervour, and sagacity, has grandly illustrated this text; and if you ever feel inclined fretfully to kick against your special function in the great social organism, I advise you to make a serious reading of 1 Cor. xii. 14.31. Every random or wilful move is a chink opened in the door, which, if it be taught to gape wider, will in due season let in chaos. The Roman historian records it as a notable trait in the great Punic captain's character, that he knew equally well to obey and to command, - "Nunquam ingenium idern ad res diversissimas, parendurn atque imperandum habilius fuit." Opposite things, no doubt, obedience and command are; but the one, nevertheless, is the best training-school for the other; for lie who has been accustomed only to command will not know the limitations by which, for its own beneficial exercise, all authority is bound. Let the old Roman submission to authority be cultivated by all young men as a virtue at once most characteristically social, and most becoming in unripe years. Let the thing commanded by a superior authority be done simply because it is commanded, and let it be done with punctuality. Nothing commends a young man so much to his employers as accuracy and punctuality in the conduct of business. And no wonder. On each man's exactitude in doing his special best depends the comfortable and easy going of the whole machine. In the complicated tasks of social life no genius and no talent can compensate for the lack of obedience. If the clock goes fitfully, nobody knows the time of day; and, if your allotted task is a necessary link in the chain of another man's work, you are his clock, and he ought to be able to rely on you. The greatest praise that can be given to the member of any association is in these terms:—This is a man who always does what is required of him, and who always appears at the hour when he is expected to appear.

V. The next grand virtue which a young man should specially cultivate is TRUTHFULNESS. I believe, with Plato, that a lie is a thing naturally hateful both to gods and men; and young persons specially are naturally truthful; but fear and vanity, and various influences, and interests affecting self, may check and overgrow this instinct, so as to produce a very hollow and worthless manhood. John Stuart Mill, in one of his political pamphlets, told the working classes of England that they were mostly liars; and yet he paid them the compliment of saying that they were the only working class in Europe who were inwardly ashamed of the baseness which they practised. A young man in his first start of life should impress on his mind strongly that he lives in a world of stern realities, where no mere show can permanently assert itself as substance. In his presentment as a member of society he should take a sacred care to be more than he seems, not to seem more than he is. Whoever in any special act is studious to make an outward show, to which no inward substance corresponds, is acting a lie, which may help him out of a difficulty perhaps for the occasion, but, like silvered copper, will be found out in due season. Plated work will never stand the tear and wear of life like the genuine metal ; believe this. What principally induces men to act this sort of social lie is, with persons in trade, love of gain; but with young men, to whom I now speak, either laziness, vanity, or cowardice; and against these three besetting sins, therefore, a young man should set a special guard. Lazy people are never ready with the right article when it is wanted, and accordingly they present a false one, as when a schoolboy, when called upon to translate a passage from a Greek or Latin author, reads from a translation on the opposite page. What is this but a lie? The teacher wishes to know what you have in your brain, and you give him what you take from a piece of paper, not the produce of your brain at all. All flimsy, shallow, and superficial work, in fact, is a LIE, of which a man ought to he ashamed. Vanity is another provocative of lies. From a desire to appear well before others, young men, who are naturally ignorant and inexperienced, will sometimes be tempted to pretend that they know more than they actually do know, and may thus get into a habit of dressing up their little with the air and attitude of much, in such a manner as to convey a false impression of their own importance. Let a man learn as early as possible honestly to confess his ignorance, and he will be a gainer by it in the long run; otherwise the trick by which he veils his ignorance from others may become a habit by which he conceals it from himself, and learns to spend his whole life in an element of delusive show, to which no reality corresponds. But it is from deficiency of courage rather than from the presence of vanity that a young man may expect to he most sorely tried. Conceit, which is natural to youth, is sure to be pruned down; the whole of society is in a state of habitual conspiracy to lop the overweening self-estimate of any of its members ; but a little decent cowardice is always safe; and those who begin life by being afraid to speak what they think, are likely to end it by being afraid to think what they wish. Moral courage is unquestionably, if the most manly, certainly the rarest of the social virtues. The most venerated traditions and institutions of society, and even some of the kindliest and most finely-fibred affections, are in not a few cases arrayed against its exercise; and in such cases to speak the truth boldly requires a combination of determination and of tact, of which not every man is capable. Neither, indeed, is it desirable always to speak all the truth that a man may happen to know; there is no more offensive thing than truth, when it runs counter to certain great social interests, associations, and passions ; and offence, though it must sometimes be given, ought never to be courted. To these matters the text applies, "Be ye wise as serpents and harmless as doves." Nevertheless there are occasions when a man must speak boldly out, even at the risk of plucking the beard of fair authority somewhat rudely. If he does not do so he is a coward and a poltroon, and not the less so because he has nine hundred and ninety-nine lily-livered followers at his back.

VI. I don't know a better advice to a young man than NEVER TO BE IDLE. It is one of those negative sort of precepts that impart no motive force to the will; but though negations seem barren to keep out the devil by a strong bolt, they may prove in the end not the worst receipt for admitting the good spirit into confidence. A. man certainly should not circumscribe his activity by any inflexible fence of rigid rules; such a formal methodism of conduct springs from narrowness, and can only end in more narrowness; but it is of the utmost importance to commence early with an economical use of time, and this is only Possible by means of order and system. No young person can go far wrong who devotes a certain amount of time regularly to a definite course of work: how much that portion of time should be, of course depends on circumstances; but let it, at all events, be filled up with a prescribed continuity of something; one hour a day persistently devoted to one thing, like a small seed, will yield a large increase at the year's end. Random activity, jumping from one thing to another without a plan, is little better, in respect of any valuable intellectual result, than absolute idleness. An, idle man is like a housekeeper who keeps the doors open for any burglar. It is a grand safeguard when a man can say, I have no time for nonsense; no call for unreasonable dissipation; no need for that sort of stimulus which wastes itself in mere titillation variety of occupation is my greatest pleasure, and when my task is finished I know how to lie fallow, and with soothing rest prepare myself for another bout of action. The best preventive against idleness is to start with the deep-seated conviction of the earnestness of life. Whatever men say of the world, it is certainly no stage for trifling; in a scene where all are at work idleness can lead only to wreck and ruin. "LIFE IS SHORT, ART LONG, OPPORTUNITY FLEETING, EXPERIMENT SLIPPERY, JUDGMENT DIFFICULT." These are the first words of the medical aphorisms of the wise Hippocrates; they were set down as a significant sign at the porch of the benevolent science of healing more than 500 years before the Christian era; and they remain still, the wisest text which a man can take with him as a directory into any sphere of effective social activity.

VII. If we look around us in the world with a view to discover what is the cause of the sad deficiency of energy often put forth in the best of causes, we shall find that it arises generally from some sort of NARROWNESS. A man will not help you in this or that noble undertaking simply because he has no sympathy with it. Not a few persons are a sort of human lobsters; they live in a hard shell formed out of some professional, ecclesiastical, political, or classical crust, and cautiously creep their way within certain beaten bounds, beyond which they have no desires. The meagre and unexpansive life of such persons teaches us what we want in order to attain to a wider and a richer range of social vitality. The octogenarian poet- philosopher Goethe, when sinking into the darkness of death, called out with his last breath, MORE LIGHT! What every young man should call out daily, if he wishes to save himself from the narrowing crust of professional and other limitations, is, MORE LOVE! Men are often clever enough, but they don't know what to do with their cleverness; they are good swordsmen, but they have no cause to fight for, or prefer fighting in a bad cause. What these men want is Love. The precept of the great apostle, " Weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice," if it were grandly carried out would make every man's life as rich in universal sympathy as Shakspeare's imagination was in universal imagery. Every man cannot be a poet; but every man may give himself some trouble to cultivate that kindly and genial sensibility on which the writing and the appreciation of poetry depends. To live poetry, indeed, is always better than to write it; better for the individual, and better for society. Now a poetical life is just a life opposed to all sameness and all selfishness; eagerly seizing upon the good and beautiful from all quarters, as on its proper aliment. Let a young man, therefore, above all things, beware of shutting himself up within a certain narrow pale of sympathy, and fostering unreasonable hatreds and prejudices against others. An honest hater is often a better fellow than a cool friend ; but it is better not to hate at all. A good man will as much as possible strive to be shaken out of himself, and learn to study the excellences of persons and parties to whom he is naturally opposed. It was an admirable trait in the character of the late distinguished head of the utilitarian school of ethics, who was brought up according to the strictest sect of a narrow and unsympathetic school, that he could apply himself in the spirit of kindly recognition to comprehend two such antipodal characters as Coleridge and Thomas Carlyle. Never allow yourself to indulge in sneering condemnations of large classes and sections of your fellow beings; that sort of talk sounds big, but is in fact puerile. Never refuse to entertain a man in your heart because all the world is talking against him, or because he belongs to some sect or party that everybody despises; if he is universally talked against, as has happened to many of the best men in certain circumstances, there is only so much the more need that he should receive a friendly judgment from you. "Honour all men" is one of the many texts of combined sanctity and sapience with which the New Testament abounds; but this you cannot do unless you try to know all men; and you know no man till you have looked with the eye of a brother into the best that is in him. To do this is the true moral philosophy, the best human riches; a wealth which, when you have quarried, you can proceed, as a good social architect, to build up the truth in love, with regard to all men, and make your deeds in every point as genuine as your words.

VIII. There is a class of young men in the present age on whose face one imagines that he sees written NIL ADMIRARI. This is not at all a loveable class of "the youth-head" of our land; and, unless the tone of not wondering which characterises their manner be a sort of juvenile affectation destined soon to pass away, rather a hopeless class. Wonder, as Plato has it, is a truly philosophic passion; the more we have of it, accompanying the reverent heart, of course with a clear open eye, so much the better. That it should be specially abundant in the opening scenes of life is in the healthy course of nature; and to be deficient in it argues either insensibility, or that indifference, selfishness, and conceit, which are sometimes found combined with a shallow sort of cleverness that, with superficial observers readily passes for true talent. In opposition to this most unnatural, ungenial habitude of mind, we say to every young man, cultivate REVERENCE. You will not see much of this virtue, perhaps, in the democratic exhibitions in which the present age delights; but it is the true salt of the soul for all that.

"We live by admiration, hope, and love."

We are small creatures, the biggest of us, and our only chance of becoming great in a sort is by participation in the greatness of the universe. St. John, in a beautiful passage of his First Epistle, has finely indicated the philosophy of this matter. "Beloved, now are we the sons of God; and it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is ;"—that is to say, to look with admiring rapture on a type of perfect excellence is the way to become assimilated to that excellence; what the uncorrupted man sees in such cases he admires; and what he admires he imitates. The chief end of man, according to the Stoics, was,—"SPECTARE ET IMITARI MUNDUM"—a fine thought, and finely expressed. But how shall a man see when he has no admiring faculty which shall lead him to see, and how shall he imitate what he does not know? All true appreciation is the result of keen insight and noble passion; but the habit of despising things and persons, and holding them cheap, blinds the one factor which belongs to the complete result, and strangles the other.

IX. In morals there are principles of inspiration and principles of regulation: love and reverence, of which we have been speaking, belong to the former; MODERATION, of which we are now to speak, belongs to the latter. It is a virtue of which young men generally have no conception, and for deficiency in which they are lightly pardoned; but it is a virtue not the less necessary for that, and if they will not learn it in what medical men call the prophylactic way, —that is, timeously, before the touch of danger, —they will have to learn it at no very long date from perilous experience. To hot young blood it is an admonition which sounds as cheap as it is distasteful, to beware of excess; but hot young blood, which knows well enough how to dash full gallop into a forest of bristling spears, is no judge of that caution which is not less necessary than courage to the issue of a successful campaign. The coolest and most practical thinker of all antiquity, and at the same time the man of the widest range of accurate knowledge, Aristotle, whose name is almost a guarantee for right opinion in all things, laid it down as the most useful rule to guide men in the difficult art of living, that virtue or wise action lies in the mean between the two extremes of too little and too much. Those who are just starting in the career of life, however fond they may be of strong phrases, strong passions, unbridled energies, and exuberant demonstrations of all kinds, may rely on it, that as they grow in true manhood they will grow in all sorts of moderation, and learn to recognise the great truth that those are the strongest men, not who the most wantonly indulge, but who the most carefully curb their activities. What is called "seediness," after a debauch, is a plain proof that nature has been outraged, and will have her penalty. All debauch is incipient suicide; it is the unseen current beneath the house which sooner or later washes away the foundations. So it is with study. Long-continued intense mental exercise, especially in that ungrateful and ungenial form of the acquisition of knowledge called CRAM, weakens the brain, disorders the stomach, and makes the general action of the whole organism languid and unemphatic. Be warned, therefore, in time; violent methods will certainly produce violent results; and. a vessel that once gets a crack, though it may be cunningly mended, will never stand such rough usage as a whole one. Wisdom is a good thing; but it is not good even to be wise always. "Be not wise overmuch: Why shouldst thou die before thy time '1" Remember who said that.

X. If Great Britain be unquestionably the richest country in the world,—so much so indeed that Sydney Smith, always witty and always wise, felt himself justified in saying, that it is "the only country in which poverty is a crime," then certainly it is of paramount importance that every young man, when starting in the race of life in this country, should stamp into his soul the fundamental principle of all moral philosophy, that the real dignity of a man lies not in what he has, but in what he is. "The kingdom of heaven is within you,"—not without. Beware, therefore, of being infected by the moral contagion which more or less taints the atmosphere of every rich trading and manufacturing community, - the contagion which breeds a habit of estimating the value of men by the external apparatus of life rather than by its internal nobility. A dwarf; perched upon a lofty platform, looks over the heads of the multitude, and has no doubt this advantage from his position. So it is with the rich man who is merely rich; he acquires a certain social position, and from this, perhaps, gets M.P. tagged to his name; but, take the creature down from his artificial elevation, and look him fairly in the face, and you will find that he is a figure too insignificant to measure swords with. Fix this, therefore, in your minds, before all things, that there are few things in social life more contemptible than a rich man who stands upon his riches. By the very act of placing so high a value on the external, he has lapsed from the true character of his kind, and inverted the poles of human value. Have money,—by all means,—as much as to enable you to pay your tailor's bill, and, if possible, have a comfortable glass of claret or port to help you to digest your dinner; but never set your heart on what they call making a fortune. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and St. Paul (1 Tim. vi. 9), all agree in stating with serious emphasis, that money-making is not an ennobling occupation, and that he who values money most values himself least. Stand strictly on your moral and intellectual excellence, and you will find in the long run, when the true value of things comes out, that there is not a Duke or a millionaire in the land who can boast himself your superior.

XI. I have no intention of running through the catalogue of the virtues,—you must go to Aristotle for that; but one grace of character, which is an essential element of moral greatness, and a sure pledge of all kinds of success, I cannot omit, and that is PERSEVERANCE. I never knew a man good for anything in the world, who, when he got a piece of work to do, did not know how to stick to it. The poet Wordsworth, in his "Excursion," when the sky began to look cloudy, gives, as a reason for going on with his mountain perambulation, that though a little rain might be disagreeable to the skin, the act of giving up a fixed purpose, in view of a slight possible inconvenience, is dangerous to the character. There is much wisdom here. We do not live in a world in which a man can afford to be discouraged by trifles. There are real difficulties enough, with which to fight is to live, and which to conquer is to live nobly. A friend of mine, making the ascent of Ben Cruachan, when he had reached what he imagined to be the top, found that the real peak was two miles farther on to the west, and that the road to it lay along a rough stony ridge not easy for weary feet to tread on. But this was a small matter. The peak was being enveloped in mist, and it was only an hour from sunset. He wisely determined to take the nearest way down; but what did he do next day I He ascended the Ben again, and took his dinner triumphantly on the topmost top, in order, as he said, that the name of this most beautiful of Highland Bens might not for ever be associated in his mind with bafflement and defeat. This sort of a man, depend upon it, will succeed in everything he undertakes. Never boggle at a difficulty, especially at the commencement of a new work. Aller Anfang ist schwer,—all beginnings are difficult, as the German proverb says; and the more excellent the task the greater the difficulty. Difficult things, in fact, are the only things worth doing, and they are done by a determined will and a strong hand. In the world of action will is power; persistent will, with circumstances not altogether unfavourable, is victory; nay, in the face of circumstances altogether unfavourable, persistency will carve out a way to unexpected success. Read the life of Frederick the Great of Prussia, and you will understand what this means. Fortune never will favour the man who flings away the dice-box because the first throw brings a low number.

I will now conclude with a few remarks on some of the best methods of acquiring moral excellence.

XII. The first thing to be attended to here is to have it distinctly and explicitly graved into the soul, that there is only one thing that can give significance and dignity to human life— viz. VIRTUOUS ENERGY; and that this energy is attainable only by energising. If you imagine you are to be much helped by books, and reasons, and speculations, and learned disputations, in this matter, you are altogether mistaken. Books and discourses may indeed awaken and arouse you, and perhaps hold up the sign of a wise finger-post to prevent you from going astray at the first start, but they cannot move you a single step on the road; it is your own legs only that can perform the journey; it is altogether a matter of doing. Finger-posts are very well where you find them; but the sooner you can learn to do without them the better; for you will not travel long, depend upon it, before you come into regions of moor, and mist, and bog, and far waste solitudes; and woe be to the wayfarer, in such case, who has taught himself to travel only by finger-posts and mile-stones! You must have a compass of sure direction in your own soul, or you may be forced to depend for your salvation on some random saviour, who is only a little less bewildered than yourself. Gird up your loins, therefore, and prove the all-important truth, that as you learn to walk only by walking, to leap by leaping, and to fence by fencing, so you can learn to live nobly only by acting nobly on every occasion that presents itself. If you shirk the first trial of your manhood, you will come so much the weaker to the second; and if the next occasion, and the next again, finds you unprepared, you will infallibly sink into baseness. A swimmer becomes strong to stem the tide only by frequently breasting the big waves. If you practise always in shallow waters, your heart will assuredly fail you in the hour of high flood. General notions about sin and salvation can do you no good in the way of the blessed life. As in a journey, you must see milestone after mile- stone fall into your rear, otherwise you remain stationary; so, in the grand march of a noble life, one paltriness after another must disappear, or you have lost your chance.

XIII. Richter gives it as one excellent antidote against moral depression, to call up in our darkest moments the memory of our brightest; so, in the dusty struggle and often tainted atmosphere of daily business, it is well to carry about with us the purifying influence of a high ideal of human conduct, fervidly and powerfully expressed. Superstitious persons carry amulets externally on their breasts: carry you a select store of holy texts within, and you will be much more effectively armed against the powers of evil than any most absolute monarch behind a 'bristling body-guard. Such texts you may find occurring in many places, from the Kalidasas and Sakyamunis of the East, to Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle, and Epictetus, in the West; but if you are wise, and above the seduction of showy and pretentious novelties, you will store your memory early in youth with the golden texts of the old and New Testaments; and, as the Bible is a big book—not so much a book, indeed, as a great literature in small bulk,-perhaps I could not do better in this place than indicate for you a few books or chapters which you will find it of inestimable value to graft into your soul deeply before you come much into contact with those persons of coarse moral fibre, low aspirations, and lukewarm temperament, commonly called men of the world. First, of course, there is the Sermon on the Mount, then the 13th chapter of the 1st Epistle to the Corinthians; then the Gospel of John; then the General Epistle of James; the two Epistles to Timothy; the 8th chapter of the Romans; the 5th and 6th chapters of the Ephesians; and the same chapters of the Galatians. In the Old Testament every day's experience will reveal to you more clearly the profound wisdom of the Book of Proverbs. As a guide through life it is not possible to find a better directory than this book; and I remember the late Principal Lee, who knew Scotland well, saying with emphasis, that our country owed no small part of the practical sagacity for which it is so famed, to an early familiarity with this body of practical wisdom, which, in old times, used to be printed separately, and found in every man's pocket. For seasons of devout meditation, of course, the Psalms of the great minstrel monarch are more to be commended; and among them I should recommend specially, as calculated to infuse a spirit of deep and catholic piety into the souls of the young,—Psalms i. viii. xix. xxiv. xxxii. xxxvii. xlix. Ii. liii. lxxiii. xc. ciii. civ. cvii. cxxi. cxxxi. cxxxiii. And these Psalms ought not only to be frequently read, till they make rich the blood of the soul with a genial and generous piety, but they ought to be sung to their proper music till they create round us a habitual atmosphere of pure and elevated sentiment, which we breathe as the breath of our higher life. This is the sort of emotional drill which that grand old heathen Plato enjoins with such eloquence in some of the wisest chapters of his lofty-minded polity, but a drill which we British Christians, with all our pretensions, in these latter times seem somewhat backward to understand.

XIV. Perhaps even more important towards the achievement of a noble life than a memory well stored with sacred texts, is an imagination well decorated with heroic pictures ; in other words, there is no surer method of becoming good, and it may be great also, than an early familiarity with the lives of great and good men. So far as my experience goes, there is no kind of sermon so effective as the example of a great man. Here we see the thing done before us,—actually done,—a thing of which we were not even dreaming; and the voice speaks forth to us with a potency like the voice of many waters, "Go thou and do likewise." Why not? No doubt, not every man is a hero; and heroic opportunities are not given every day; but if you cannot do the same thing, you may do something like it; if you are not planted on as high or as large a stage, you can show as much manhood, and manifest as much virtuous persistency, on a small scale. Every man may profit by the example of truly great men, if he is bent on making the most of himself and his circumstances. It is altogether a delusion to measure the greatness of men by the greatness of the stage on which they act, or the volume of the sound with which the world loves to reverberate their achievements. A Molcke in council, on the eve of a great battle which is to shift the centre of gravity of our western political system, is only acting on a maxim of practical wisdom that requires to he applied with as much discrimination, tact, and delicacy, by the provost of a provincial town planning a water-bill or a tax for the improvement of the city. Nay, that moral heroism is often greatest of which the world says least, and which is exercised in the humblest spheres, and in circles the most unnoticed. Let us therefore turn our youthful imaginations into great picture-galleries and Walhallas of the heroic souls of all times and all places; and we shall be incited to follow after good, and be ashamed to commit any sort of baseness in the direct view of such "a cloud of witnesses." Would you know what faith means, leave Calvinists and Arminians to split straws about points of doctrine; but do you read and digest that splendid eleventh chapter of the Hebrews, and you will escape for ever from the netted snares of theological logomachy. In this sublime chapter the great Apostle is merely giving a succinct summation of the method of teaching by concrete examples, with which the Scriptures are so richly studded, and of which our modern sermons are mostly so destitute. When I see our young men lolling on sofas, and grinning over those sorry caricatures of humanity with which the pages of Thackeray and other popular novelists are filled, I often wonder what sort of a human life can be expected to grow up from that early habit of learning to sneer, or at best, to be amused, at an age when seriousness and devout admiration are the only seeds out of which any future nobleness can be expected to grow. For myself, I honestly confess that I never could learn anything from Thackeray; there is a certain feeble amiability even about his best characters, which, if it is free from the depressing influence of his bad ones, is certainly any- thing but bracing. One of the best of Greek books, once in everybody's hands, now, I fear, fallen considerably into the shade, is Plutarch. ["I read with great delight Langhorne's translation of Plutarch.'—J. S. Mill, Autobiography.] Here you have, whether for youth or manhood, in the shape of living examples of the most rich and various type, the very stuff from which human efficiency must ever be made. Our accurate critical historians have a small educational value when set against that fine instinct for all true human greatness, and that genial sympathy with all human weakness, which shine out so conspicuously in the classical picture-gallery of that rare old Boeotian. Let therefore our young men study to make themselves familiar, not with the fribbles, oddities, and monstrosities of humanity, et forth in fictitious narratives, but with the real blood and bone of human heroism which the select pages of biography present. An Athenian Pericles, with noble magnanimity, telling his servant to take a lamp and show a scurrilous reviler politely the way home ; a German Luther, having his feet shod with the gospel of peace, and the sword of the Spirit in his hands, marching with cheerful confidence against an embattled array of kaisers and cardinals; a Pastor Oberlin in a remote mountain parish of Alsace, flinging behind him the bland allurements of metropolitan preferment, and turning his little rocky diocese into a moral and physical paradise,—these are great stereotyped FACTS, which should drive themselves like goads into the hearts of the young. No man can contradict a fact; but the best fictions, without a deep moral significance beneath, are only iridescent froth, beautiful now, but which a single puff of air blows into nothingness.

XV. Better, much better, than even the mirror of greatness in the biographies of truly great men, is the living influence of such men when you have the happiness of coming in contact with them. The best books are only a clever machinery for stirring the nobler nature, but they act indirectly and feebly; they may be remote also, dry and dusty upon the library shelves, not even on your table, and very far from your heart. But a living great man, coming across your path, carries with him an electric influence which you cannot escape— that is, of course if you are capable of being affected in a noble way, for the blind do not see, and the dead do not feel; and there is a class of people—very reputable people perhaps in their way—in whose breasts the epiphany of a Christ will only excite the remark, "He hat/b a devil I" Supposing, however, that you are not one of the Scribes and Pharisees, but a young man starting on the journey of life with a reverential receptiveness and a delicate sensibility, such as belong to well- conditioned youth, in this case the greatest blessing that can happen to you is to come directly into contact with some truly great man, and the closer the better ; for it is only the morally noble, and not the intellectually clever, in whom greater intimacy always reveals greater excellences. To have felt the thrill of a fervid humanity shoot through your veins at the touch of a Chalmers, a Macleod, or a Bunsen, is to a young man of a fine susceptibility worth more than all the wisdom of the Greeks, all the learning of the Germans, and all the sagacity of the Scotch. After such a vivific influence, the light witlings may sneer as they please, and the grave Gamaliels may frown; but you know in whom you have believed, and you believe because you have seen, and you grow with a happy growth, and your veins are full of sap, because you have been engrafted into the stem of a true vine. And if it be not your good fortune to come under the direct genial expansive virtue of some great moral sun, you are not altogether left to chance in the moral influences with which you are surrounded. If you cannot always avoid the contagion of low company, you may at all events ban yourself from voluntarily marching into it. There are few situations in life where you may not have some power of choosing your companions; and remember that moral contagion, like the infectious power of physical diseases, borrows half its strength from the weakness of the subject with which it comes in contact. If you were only half as pure as Christ, you might go about with harlots and be nothing the worse for it. As it is, however, and considering the weakness of the flesh, and the peculiar temptations of puberty, the best thing you can do is to make a sacred vow, on no occasion and on no account to keep company with persons who will lead you into haunts of dissipation and debauchery. No amount of hilarious excitement or momentary sensuous lustihood can compensate for the degradation which your moral nature must suffer by associating, on familiar and tolerant terms with the most degraded and abandoned of the human species. There can be no toleration for vice. We may, yea and we ought, to weep for the sinner, but we must not sport with the sin. Remember in this regard what happened to Robert Burns. He knew very well how to preach, but his practice was a most miserable performance, reminding us at every step of the terrible sarcastic sentence of Pliny, "There is nothing more proud or more paltry than MAN." Have you care that you do not follow the example of that mischanceful bard, without having his hot blood and high-pressure vitality to excuse or to palliate your follies. Let your company be always, where possible, better than yourself; and when you have the misfortune to move amongst your inferiors, bear in mind this seriously, that if you do not seize the apt occasion to draw them up to your level—which requires wisdom as well as love—they will certainly not be slow to drag you down to theirs.

XVI. "Men may try many things," said the wise old bard of Weimar; "only not live at random;" and if you would not live at random, it will be necessary for you to fix set times for calling yourself to account. In commercial transactions it is found a great safeguard against debt, to pay for everything, as much as possible, in cash, and, where that is not possible, not to run long accounts, but to strike clear balances at certain set seasons. Exactly so in our accounts with God and with our souls. The best charts and the most accurate compasses will bring no profit to the man who does not get into the habit of regularly using them. In this view the illustrious practice of the old Pythagoreans (who were a church as much as a school) presents a good model for us.

"Let not soft sleep usurp oblivious sway
Till thrice you've told the deeds that mark'd the day:
Whither thy steps? what thing for thee most fitted
Was aptly done? and what good deed omitted?
And when you've summed the tale, wipe out the bad
With gracious grief, and in the good be glad!"

No man, in my opinion, will ever attain to high excellence in what an excellent old divine calls "the life of God in the soul of man," without cultivating stated periods of solitude, and using that solitude for the important purpose of self- knowledge and self-amelioration. " Commune with your own heart on your bed, and be still," said the Psalmist.

"Who never ate with tears his bread,
And through the long-drawn midnight hours
Sat weeping on his lonely bed,
He knows you not, ye heavenly Powers!"

are the well-known words of a poet who certainly cannot be accused of being either Methodistical in his habits or mawkish in his tone. "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath," said St. Paul;—all which utterances plainly imply the utility of such stated seasons of moral review as the Pythagorean verses prescribe, and as we see now in most European countries in the institution of the Christian Sabbath waiting to be utilised. No doubt the Jewish Sabbath was originally instituted simply for the rest of the body; and it was most wise and politic that this Christian's "Lord's-day," set apart for a purely religious purpose, should have adopted this hygienic element also into its composition; but with such a fair arena of enlargement opened periodically, bringing perfect freedom from the trammels of engrossing professions, he is not a wise man who does not devote at least one part of the Christian Sabbath to the serious work of moral self-review. Not a few severe criticisms have been made by foreigners on what has been called the "bitter observance "of the Sunday by the Scotch; but these hasty critics ought to have reflected how much of the solidity, sobriety, and general reliability of the Scottish character is owing to their serious and thoughtful observance of these recurrent periods of sacred rest. The eternal whirl and fiddle of life, so characteristic of our gay Celtic neighbours across the Channel, is apt to beget an excitability and a frivolity in the conduct of even the most serious affairs, which is incompatible with true moral greatness. If we Scotch impart somewhat of an awful character to our piety by not singing on Sunday, the French certainly would march much more steadily, and more creditably, on the second day of the week, if they cultivated a more sober tone on the first.

XVII. In connection with the delicate function of moral self-review, it occurs naturally to mention PRAYER. In this scientific age, when everything is analysed, and anatomised, and tabulated, there is a tendency to talk of know- ledge as a power to which all things are subject. But the maxim that knowledge is power is true only where knowledge is the main thing wanted. There are higher things than knowledge in the world; there are living energies; and in the moral world, certainly, it is not knowledge but aspiration that is the moving power, and the wing of aspiration is prayer. Where aspiration is wanting, the soul creeps; it cannot fly; it is at best a caged bird, curiously busy, in counting and classifying the bars of its own confinement. Of course, we do not mean that any person should be so full of his own little self, and so ignorant of the grandeur of the universe, as tG besiege the ear of Heaven with petitions that the laws of the universe shall be changed any moment that may suit his convenience. We do not pray that we may alter the Divine decrees, but that our human will may learn to move in harmony with the Divine will. How far with regard to any special matter, not irrevocably fixed in the Divine concatenation of possibilities, our petition may prevail, we never can tell; but this we do know, that the most natural and the most effectual means of keeping our own noblest nature in harmony with the source of all vital nobleness, is to hold high emotional communion with that source, and to plant ourselves humbly in that attitude of devout receptiveness which is the one becoming attitude in the created towards the Creator. Practically, there is no surer test of a man's moral diathesis than the capacity of prayer. He, at least in a Christian country, must be an extremely ignorant man, who could invoke the Divine blessing day after day on acts of manifest turpitude, falsehood, or folly. In the old heathen times, a man in certain circumstances might perhaps, with a clear conscience, have prayed to a Dionysus or an Aphrodite to consecrate his acts of drunkenness or debauchery; but, thanks to the preaching of the Galilean fishermen, we have got beyond that now; and universal experience declares the fact that genuine private prayer (for I do not speak of course of repeating routine formularies), which is the vital element of a noble moral nature, is to the coarse, sensual, and selfish man, an atmosphere which he cannot breathe. Take, therefore, young man, the apostolic maxim with you -PRAY WITHOUT CEASING. Keep yourself always in an attitude of reverential dependence on the Supreme Source of all good. It is the most natural and speediest and surest antidote against that spirit of shallow self-confidence and brisk impertinence so apt to spring up with the knowledge without charity which puffeth up and edifieth not. What a pious tradition has taught us to do daily before our principal meal, as a comely ceremony, let us learn to do before every serious act of our life, not as a cold form, but as a fervid reality. Go forth to battle, brave young man, like David, with your stone ready, and your sling well poised; but be sure that you are fighting the battle of the God of Israel, not of the devil. Whether you have a sword or a pen in your hand, wield neither the one nor the other in a spirit of insolent self-reliance or of vain self-exhibition; and, not less in the hour of exuberant enjoyment than in the day of dark despondency and despair, be always ready to say,-"BLESS ME, EVEN ME ALSO, O MY FATHER!"


Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus