To feel provoked or exasperated at a trifle, when the nerves are exhausted, is, perhaps, natural to us in our imperfect state. But why put into the shape of speech the annoyance which, once uttered, is remembered; which may burn like a blistering wound, or rankle like a poisoned arrow? If a child be crying or a friend capricious, or a servant unreasonable, be careful what you say. Do not speak while you feel the impulse of anger, for you will be almost certain to say too much, to say more than your cooler judgment will approve, and to speak in a way that you will regret. Be silent until the “sweet by and by,” when you will be calm, rested, and self-controlled.
But self-respect must be accompanied by self-conquest, or our strong feelings may prove but runaway horses. He who would command others must first learn to obey, and he who would command his own powers must learn to be submissive to the still small voice within. Discipline the passions, curb pride and impatience, restrain all hasty impulses. Deny yourself the gratification of any desire not sanctioned by reason. Shame and its consequent degradation follow the loss of our own good opinion rather than the esteem of others. Too many yield in the perpetual conflict between temptation to gratify the coarser appetites and aspiration for the good, the true, and the beautiful. Voices unheard by those around us whisper “Don’t,” but too often self-respect is lost, the will lies prostrate, and the debauch goes on. Such battles must be fought by all; be ours the victory born of self-control, aided by that Heaven which always helps him who prays while putting his own shoulder to the wheel.
No man had a better heart or more thoroughly hated oppression than Edmund Burke. He possessed neither experience in affairs, nor a tranquil judgment, nor the rule over his own spirit, so that his genius, under the impulse of his bewildering passions, wrought much evil to his country and to Europe, even while he rendered noble service to the cause of commercial freedom, to Ireland, and to America.
Burns could not resist the temptation to utter his clever sarcasms at another’s expense, and one of his biographers has said that he made a hundred enemies for every ten jokes he made. But Burns could no more control his appetite than his tongue.
“Thus thoughtless follies laid him low
And stained his name.”
Xanthus, the philosopher, told his servant that on the morrow he was going to have some friends to dine, and asked him to get the best thing he could find in the market. The philosopher and his guests sat down the next day at the table. They had nothing but tongue–four or five courses of tongue–tongue cooked in this way, and tongue cooked in that way, and the philosopher lost his patience, and said to his servant, “Didn’t I tell you to get the best thing in the market?” He said, “I did get the best thing in the market. Isn’t the tongue the organ of sociality, the organ of eloquence, the organ of kindness, the organ of worship?” Then Xanthus said, “To-morrow I want you to get the worst thing in the market.” And on the morrow the philosopher sat at the table, and there was nothing there but tongue–four or five courses of tongue–tongue in this shape, and tongue in that shape–and the philosopher again lost his patience, and said, “Didn’t I tell you to get the worst thing in the market?” The servant replied, “I did; for isn’t the tongue the organ of blasphemy, the organ of defamation, the organ of lying?”
“I can reform my people,” said Peter the Great, “but I cannot reform myself.” He forbade all Russians to wear beards, and to quell the insurrection which resulted, he had 8000 revolters beheaded. With a hatchet he began the ghastly work. He had his own son beheaded.
He who cannot resist temptation is not a man. He is wanting in the highest attributes of humanity. The honor and nobleness of the old “knight-errantry” consisted in defending the innocence of men and protecting the chastity of women against the assaults of others. But the truer and nobler knighthood protects the property and the character, the innocence and the chastity of others against one’s self. We should all be posted upon our weak points, for after all there are many emergencies in life when these weak points, not our strong ones, will measure our manhood and our strength. Many a woman whom a mouse would frighten out of her wits would not shrink from assisting in terrible surgical operations in our city or war hospitals, and many an officer and soldier who would walk up to the cannon’s mouth without a tremor in battle, would not dare to say his soul was his own in a society parlor. Many a great statesman has quailed before the ringer of scorn of a fellow-Congressman, and has been completely cowed by a hiss from the gallery or a ridiculing paragraph in a newspaper. We all have tender spots, weak spots, and a man can never know his strength who does not study his weaknesses.
“Violent passions and ardent feelings are seldom found united with complete self-command; but when they are they form the strongest possible character, for there is all the power of clear thought and cool judgment impelled by the resistless energy of feeling. This combination Washington possessed; for in his impetuosity there was no foolish rashness, and in his passion no injustice. Besides, whatever violence there might be within, the explosion seldom came to the surface, and when it did it was arrested at once by the stern mandate of his will. He never lost the mastery of himself in any emergency, and in ‘ruling his spirit’ showed himself greater than in ‘taking a city.’