“It is one of the astonishing things in his life that, amid the perfect chaos of feeling into which he was thrown,–amid the distracted counsels and still more distracted affairs that surrounded him,–he never once lost the perfect equilibrium of his own mind. The contagion of fear and doubt and despair could not touch him. He did not seem susceptible to the common influences which affect men. His soul poised on its own centre, reposed calmly there through all the storms that beat for seven years on his noble breast. The ingratitude and folly of those who should have been his allies, the insults of his foes, and the frowns of fortune never provoked him into a rash act, or deluded him into a single error.”
Horace Mann says that there must be a time when the vista of the future, with all its possibilities of glory and of shame, first opens to the vision of youth. Then is he summoned to make his choice between truth and treachery; between honor and dishonor; between purity and profligacy; between moral life and moral death. And as he doubts or balances between the heavenward or hellward course; as he struggles to rise or consents to fall; is there in all the universe of God a spectacle of higher exultation or of deeper pathos? Within him are the appetites of a brute and the attributes of an angel; and when these meet in council to make up the roll of his destiny and seal his fate, shall the beast hound out the seraph? Shall the young man, now conscious of the largeness of his sphere and of the sovereignty of his choice, wed the low ambitions of the world, and seek, with their emptiness, to fill his immortal desires? Because he has a few animal wants that must be supplied, shall he become all animal,–an epicure and an inebriate,–and blasphemously make it the first doctrine of his catechism,–“the Chief End of Man?”–to glorify his stomach and enjoy it? Because it is the law of self-preservation that he shall provide for himself, and the law of religion that he shall provide for his family, when he has one, must he, therefore, cut away all the bonds of humanity that bind him to his race, forswear charity, crush down every prompting of benevolence, and if he can have the palace and equipage of the prince, and the table of a sybarite, become a blind man, and a deaf man, and a dumb man, when he walks the streets where hunger moans and nakedness shivers?
The strong man is the one who ever keeps himself under strict discipline, who never once allows the lower to usurp the place of the higher in him; who makes his passions his servants and never allows them to be his master; who is ever led by his mind and not by his inclinations. He drills and disciplines his desires and keeps the roots of his life under ground, and never allows them to interfere with his character. He is never the slave of his inclinations, nor the sport of impulse. He is the commander of himself and heads his ship due north even in the wildest tempests of passion. He is never the slave of his strongest desire.
A noted teacher has said that the propensities and habits are as teachable as Latin and Greek, while they are infinitely more essential to happiness. We are very largely the creatures of our wills. By constantly looking on the bright side of things, by viewing everything hopefully, by setting the face as a flint every hour of every day toward all that is harmonious and beautiful in life, and refusing to listen to the discord or to look at the ugly side of life, by constantly directing the thought toward what is noble, grand and true, we can soon form habits which will develop into a beautiful character, a harmonious and well-rounded life. We are creatures of habit, and by knowing the laws of its formation we can, in a little while, build up a network of habit about us, which will protect us from most of the ugly, selfish and degrading things of life. In fact, the only real happiness and unalloyed satisfaction we get out of life, is the product of self-control. It is the great guardian of all the virtues, without which none of them is safe. It is the sentinel, which stands on guard at the door of life, to admit friends and exclude enemies.
“I call that mind free,” says Channing, “which jealously guards its intellectual rights and powers, which calls no man master, which does not content itself with a passive or hereditary faith, which opens itself to light whencesoever it may come, which receives new truth as an angel from heaven, which, whilst consulting others, inquires still more of the oracle within; itself, and uses instructions from abroad, not to supersede, but to quicken and exalt its own energies. I call that mind free which is not passively framed by outward circumstances, which is not swept away by the torrent of events, which is not the creature of accidental impulse, but which bends events to its own improvement, and acts from an inward spring, from immutable principles which it has deliberately espoused. I call that mind free which protects itself against the usurpations of society, which does not cower to human opinion, which feels itself accountable to a higher tribunal than man’s, which respects a higher law than fashion, which respects itself too much to be the slave or tool of the many or the few. I call that mind free which through confidence in God and in the power of virtue has cast off all fear but that of wrong-doing, which no menace or peril can enthrall, which is calm in the midst of tumults, and possesses itself though all else be lost. I call that mind free which resists the bondage of habit, which does not mechanically repeat itself and copy the past, which does not live on its old virtues, which does not enslave itself to precise rules, but which forgets what is behind, listens for new and higher monitions of conscience, and rejoices to pour itself forth in fresh and higher exertions. I call that mind free which is jealous of its own freedom, which guards itself from being merged in others, which guards its empire over itself as nobler than the empire of the world.”