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The New Stuff


As has been stated, habit is the basis of character. Habit is the persistent repetition of acts physical, mental, and moral. No matter how much thought and ability a young man may have, failure is sure to follow bad habits. While correct habits depend largely on self- discipline, and often on self-denial, bad habits, like pernicious weeds, spring up unaided and untrained to choke out the plants of virtue. It is easy to destroy the seed at the beginning, but its growth is so rapid, that its evil effects may not be perceptible till the roots have sapped every desirable plant about it.
No sane youth ever started out with the resolve to be a thief, a tramp, or a drunkard. Yet it is the slightest deviation from honesty that makes the first. It is the first neglect of a duty that makes the second. And it is the first intoxicating glass that makes the third. It is so easy not to begin, but the habit once formed and the man is a slave, bound with galling, cankering chains, and the strength of will having been destroyed, only God's mercy can cast them off.
Next to the moral habits that are the cornerstone of every worthy character, the habit of industry should be ranked. In "this day and generation," there is a wild desire on the part of young men to leap into fortune at a bound, to reach the top of the ladder of success without carefully climbing the rounds, but no permanent prosperity was ever gained in this way.
There have been men, who through chance, or that form of speculation, that is legalized gambling, have made sudden fortunes; but as a rule these fortunes have been lost in the effort to double them by the quick and speculative process.
Betters and gamblers usually die poor. But even where young men have made a lucky stroke, the result is too often a misfortune. They neglect the necessary, persistent effort. The habit of industry is ignored. Work becomes distasteful, and the life is wrecked, looking for chances that never come.
There have been exceptional cases, where men of immoral habits, but with mental force and unusual opportunities have won fortunes. Some of these will come to the reader's mind at once, but he will be forced to confess that he would not give up his manhood and comparative poverty, in exchange for such material success.
The best equipment a young man can have for the battle of life is a conscience void of offense, sound common sense, and good health. Too much importance cannot be attached to health. It is a blessing we do not prize till it is gone. Some are naturally delicate and some are naturally strong, but by habit the health of the vigorous may be ruined, and by opposite habits the delicate may be made healthful and strong.
No matter the prospects and promises of overwork, it is a species of suicide to continue it at the expense of health. Good men in every department and calling, stimulated by zeal and an ambition commendable in itself, have worked till the vital forces were exhausted, and so were compelled to stop all effort in the prime of life and on the threshold of success.
The best preservers of health are regularity in correct hygienic habits, and strict temperance. Alexander Stephens, of Georgia, it is said contracted consumption when a child, and his friends did not believe he would live to manhood, yet by correct habits, he not only lived the allotted time of the Psalmist, but he did an amount of work that would have been impossible to a much stronger man, without his method of life.
It should not be forgotten that good health is quite as much dependent on mental as on physical habits. Worry, sensitiveness, and temper have hastened to the grave many an otherwise splendid character.
The man of business must needs be subject to strict rule and system. Business, like life, is managed by moral leverage; success in both depending in no small degree upon that regulation of temper and careful self-discipline, which give a wise man not only a command over himself, but over others. Forbearance and self-control smooth the road of life, and open many ways which would otherwise remain closed. And so does self-respect; for as men respect themselves, so will they usually, respect the personality of others.
It is the same in politics as in business. Success in that sphere of life is achieved less by talent than by temper, less by genius than by character. If a man have not self-control, he will lack patience, be wanting in tact, and have neither the power of governing himself nor managing others. When the quality most needed in a prime minister was the subject of conversation in the presence of Mr. Pitt, one of the speakers said it was "eloquence;" another said it was "knowledge;" and a third said it was "toil." "No," said Pitt, "it is patience!" And patience means self-control, a quality in which he himself was superb. His friend George Rose has said of him that he never once saw Pitt out of temper.
A strong temper is not necessarily a bad temper. But the stronger the temper, the greater is the need of self-discipline and self-control. Dr. Johnson says men grow better as they grow older, and improve with experience; but this depends upon the width and depth and generousness of their nature. It is not men's faults that ruin them so much as the manner in which they conduct themselves after the faults have been committed. The wise will profit by the suffering they cause, and eschew them for the future; but there are those on whom experience exerts no ripening influence, and who only grow narrower and bitterer, and more vicious with time.
What is called strong temper in a young man, often indicates a large amount of unripe energy, which will expend itself in useful work if the road be fairly opened to it. It is said of Girard that when he heard of a clerk with a strong temper, he would readily take him into his employment, and set him to work in a room by himself; Girard being of opinion that such persons were the best workers, and that their energy would expend itself in work if removed from the temptation of quarrel.
There is a great difference between a strong temper, "a righteous indignation," and that irritability that curses its possessor and all who come near him.
Mr. Motley compares William the Silent to Washington, whom he in many respects resembled. The American, like the Dutch patriot, stands out in history as the very impersonation of dignity, bravery, purity, and personal excellence. His command over his feelings, even in moments of great difficulty and danger, was such as to convey the impression, to those who did not know him intimately, that he was a man of inborn calmness and almost impassiveness of disposition. Yet Washington was by nature ardent and impetuous; his mildness, gentleness politeness, and consideration for others, were the result of rigid self-control and unwearied self-discipline, which he diligently practiced even from his boyhood. His biographer says of him, that "his temperament was ardent, his passions strong, and, amidst the multiplied scenes of temptation and excitement through which he passed, it was his constant effort, and ultimate triumph, to check the one and subdue the other." And again: "His passions were strong, and sometimes they broke out with vehemence, but he had the power of checking them in an instant. Perhaps self-control was the most remarkable trait of his character. It was in part the effect of discipline; yet he seems by nature to have possessed this power in a degree which has been denied to other men."
The Duke of Wellington's natural temper, like that of Napoleon, was strong in the extreme and it was only by watchful self-control that he was enabled to restrain it. He studied calmness and coolness in the midst of danger, like any Indian chief. At Waterloo, and elsewhere, he gave his orders in the most critical moments without the slightest excitement, and in a tone of voice almost more than usually subdued.
Abraham Lincoln in his early manhood was quick tempered and combative, but he soon learned self-control and, as all know, became as patient as he was forceful and sympathetic. "I got into the habit of controlling my temper in the Black Hawk war," he said to Colonel Forney, "and the good habit stuck to me as bad habits do to so many."
Patience is a habit that pays for its own cultivation and the biographies of earth's greatest men, prove that it was one of their most conspicuous characteristics.
One who loves right can not be indifferent to wrong, or wrong-doing. If he feels warmly, he will speak warmly, out of the fullness of his heart. We have, however, to be on our guard against impatient scorn. The best people are apt to have their impatient side, and often the very temper which makes men earnest, makes them also intolerant. "Of all mental gifts, the rarest is intellectual patience; and the last lesson of culture is to believe in difficulties which are invisible to ourselves."
One of Burns' finest poems, written in his twenty-eighth year, is entitled "A Bard's Epitaph." It is a description, by anticipation, of his own life. Wordsworth has said of it:
"Here is a sincere and solemn avowal; a public declaration from his own will; a confession at once devout, poetical, and human; a history in the shape of a prophecy." It concludes with these lines:
"Reader, attend—whether thy soul
 Soars fancy's flights beyond the pole,
 Or darkling grubs this earthly hole
   In low pursuit;
 Know—prudent, cautious self-control,
   Is Wisdom's root."
Truthfulness is quite as much a habit and quite as amendable to cultivation as falsehood. Deceit may meet with temporary success, but he who avails himself of it can be sure that in the end his "sin will find him out." The credit of the truthful, reliable man stands when the cash of a trickster might be doubted. "His word is as good as his bond," is one of the highest compliments that can be paid to the business man.
Be truthful not only in great things, but in all things. The slightest deviation from this habit may be the beginning of a career of duplicity, ending in disgrace.
But truthfulness, like the other virtues, should not be regarded as a trade mark, a means to success. It brings its own reward in the nobility it gives the character. An exception might be made here as to that form of military deceit known as "stratagem," but it is the duty of the enemy to expect it, and so guard against it. The word of a soldier involves his honor, and if he pledges that word, to even a foeman, he will keep it with his life.
Like our own Washington, 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 accidentally calling one day, found the duke with flushed cheeks and blood-shot eyes, and when he rose he staggered about like a drunken 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.
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 backdoors, 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 so well dressed," says George Herbert, "it is ever overcome." Downright lying, though bolder and more vicious, is even less contemptible than such kind of shuffling and equivocation.