With almost palsied hand, at a temperance meeting, John B. Gough signed the pledge. For six days and nights in a wretched garret, without a mouthful of food, with scarcely a moment’s sleep, he fought the fearful battle with appetite. Weak, famished, almost dying, he crawled into the sunlight; but he had conquered the demon which had almost killed him. Gough used to describe the struggles of a man who tried to leave off using tobacco. He threw away what he had, and said that was the end of it; but no, it was only the beginning of it. He would chew camomile, gentian, tooth-picks, but it was of no use. He bought another plug of tobacco and put it in his pocket. He wanted a chew awfully, but he looked at it and said, “You are a _weed_, and I am a _man_. I’ll master you if I die for it;” and he did, while carrying it in his pocket daily.
There was an abbot that desired a piece of ground that lay conveniently for him. The owner refused to sell; yet with much persuasion he was contented to let it. The abbot hired it and covenanted only to farm it for one crop. He had his bargain, and sowed it with acorns–a crop that lasted three hundred years. So Satan asks to get possession of our souls by asking us to permit some small sin to enter, some one wrong that seems of no great account. But when once he has entered and planted the seeds and beginnings of evil, he holds his ground.
“Teach self-denial and make its practice pleasurable,” says Walter Scott, “and you create for the world a destiny more sublime than ever issued from the brain of the wildest dreamer.”
Thomas A. Edison was once asked why he was a total abstainer. He said, “I thought I had a better use for my head.”
Byron could write poetry easily, for it was merely indulging his natural propensity; but to curb his temper, soothe his discontent, and control his animal appetites was a very different thing. At all events, it seemed so great to him that he never seriously attempted self-conquest. Let every youth who would not be shipwrecked on life’s voyage cultivate this one great virtue, “self-control.” There is nothing so important to a youth starting out in life as a thoroughly trained and cultivated will; everything depends upon it. If he has it, he will succeed; if he does not have it, he will fail.
“The first and best of victories,” says Plato, “is for a man to conquer himself; to be conquered by himself is, of all things, the most shameful and vile.”
“Silence,” says Zimmerman, “is the safest response for all the contradiction that arises from impertinence, vulgarity, or envy.”
“He is a fool who cannot be angry,” says English, “but he is a wise man who will not.”
Seneca, one of the greatest of the ancient philosophers, said that “we should every night call ourselves to account. What infirmity have I mastered to-day? what passion opposed? what temptation resisted? what virtue acquired?” and then he follows with the profound truth that “our vices will abate of themselves if they be brought every day to the shrift.” If you cannot at first control your anger, learn to control your tongue, which, like fire, is a good servant, but a hard master.
It does no good to get angry. Some sins have a seeming compensation or apology, a present gratification of some sort, but anger has none. A man feels no better for it. It is really a torment, and when the storm of passion has cleared away, it leaves one to see that he has been a fool. And he has made himself a fool in the eyes of others too.
The wife of Socrates, Xanthippe, was a woman of a most fantastical and furious spirit. At one time, having vented all the reproaches upon Socrates her fury could suggest, he went out and sat before the door. His calm and unconcerned behavior but irritated her so much the more; and, in the excess of her rage, she ran upstairs and emptied a vessel upon his head, at which he only laughed and said that “so much thunder must needs produce a shower.” Alcibiades, his friend, talking with him about his wife, told him he wondered how he could bear such an everlasting scold in the same house with him. He replied, “I have so accustomed myself to expect it, that it now offends me no more than the noise of carriages in the street.”
It is said of Socrates, that whether he was teaching the rules of an exact morality, whether he was answering his corrupt judges, or was receiving sentence of death, or swallowing the poison, he was still the same man; that is to say, calm, quiet, undisturbed, intrepid–in a word, wise to the last.
“It is not enough to have great qualities,” says La Rochefoucauld; “we should also have the management of them.” No man can call himself educated until every voluntary muscle obeys his will.
“You ask whether it would not be manly to resent a great injury,” said Eardley Wilmot; “I answer that it would be manly to resent it, but it would be Godlike to forgive it.”
“He who, with strong passions, remains chaste; he who, keenly sensitive, with manly power of indignation in him, can be provoked, and yet restrain himself and forgive–these are strong men, the spiritual heroes.”