Wellington said that Napoleon’s presence in the French army was equivalent to forty thousand additional soldiers, and Richter said of the invincible Luther, “His words were half battles.”
“I know no great men,” says Voltaire, “except those who have rendered great services to the human race.” Men are measured by what they do; not by what they seem or possess.
Francis Horner, of England, was a man of whom Sydney Smith said, that “the ten commandments were stamped upon his forehead.” The valuable and peculiar light in which Horner’s history is calculated to inspire every right-minded youth is this: he died at the age of thirty-eight, possessed of greater influence than any other private man, and admired, beloved, trusted, and deplored by all except the heartless and the base. No greater homage was ever paid in Parliament to any deceased member. How was this attained? By rank? He was the son of an Edinburgh merchant. By wealth? Neither he nor any of his relatives ever had a superfluous sixpence. By office? He held but one; and that for only a few years, of no influence, and with very little pay. By talents? His were not splendid, and he had no genius. Cautious and slow, his only ambition was to be right. By eloquence? He spoke in calm, good taste, without any of the oratory that either terrifies or seduces. By any fascination of manner? His was only correct and agreeable. By what was it, then? Merely by sense, industry, good principles and a good heart, qualities which no well constituted mind need ever despair of attaining. It was the force of his character that raised him; and this character was not impressed on him by nature, but formed, out of no peculiarly fine elements, by himself. There were many in the House of Commons of far greater ability and eloquence. But no one surpassed him in the combination of an adequate portion of these with moral worth. Horner was born to show what moderate powers, unaided by anything whatever except culture and goodness, may achieve, even when these powers are displayed amidst the competition and jealousies of public life.
A hundred years hence what difference will it make whether you were rich or poor, a peer or a peasant? But what difference may it not make whether you did what was right or what was wrong?
At a large dinner-party given by Lord Stratford after the Crimean War, it was proposed that every one should write on a slip of paper the name which appeared most likely to descend to posterity with renown. When the papers were opened everyone of them contained the name of Florence Nightingale.
Professor Blackie, of the University of Edinburgh, said to a class of young men: “Money is not needful; power is not needful; liberty is not needful; even health is not the one thing needful; but character alone is that which can truly save us, and if we are not saved in this sense, we certainly must be damned.” It has been said that “when poverty is your inheritance, virtue must be your capital.”
“Hence it was,” said Franklin, speaking of the influence of his known integrity of character, “that I had so much weight with my fellow-citizens. I was but a bad speaker, never eloquent, subject to much hesitation in my choice of words, hardly correct in language, and yet I generally carried my point.”
When a man’s character is gone, all is gone. All peace of mind, all complacency in himself is fled forever. He despises himself. He is despised by his fellow-men. Within is shame and remorse; without neglect and reproach. He is of necessity a miserable and useless man; he is so even though he be clothed in purple and fine linen, and fare sumptuously every day. It is better to be poor; it is better to be reduced to beggary; it is better to be cast into prison, or condemned to perpetual slavery, than to be destitute of a good name or endure the pains and the evils of a conscious worthlessness of character.
The time is soon coming when, by the common consent of mankind, it will be esteemed more honorable to have been John Pounds, putting new and beautiful souls into the ragged children of the neighborhood while he mended his father’s shoes, than to have sat upon the British throne. The time now is when, if Queen Victoria, in one of her magnificent progresses through her realms, were to meet that more than American queen, Miss Dix, in her “circumnavigation of charity” among the insane, the former should kneel and kiss the hand of the latter; and the ruler over more than a hundred millions of people should pay homage to the angel whom God has sent to the maniac.
“At your age,” said to a youth an old man who had honorably held many positions of trust and responsibility, “both position and wealth appear enduring things; but at mine a man sees that nothing lasts but character.”
Several eminent clergymen were discussing the qualities of self-made men. They each admitted that they belonged to that class, except a certain bishop, who remained silent, and was intensely absorbed in the repast. The host was determined to draw him out, and so, addressing him, said: “All at this table are self-made men, unless the bishop is an exception.” The bishop promptly replied, “I am not made yet,” and the reply contained a profound truth. So long as life lasts, with its discipline of joy or sorrow, its opportunities for good or evil, so long our characters are being shaped and fixed.
Milton said: “He who would write heroic poems, must make his whole life an heroic poem.” We are responsible for our thoughts, and unless we could command them, mental and moral excellence would be impossible.
Charles Kingsley has well said: “Let any one set his heart to do what is right and nothing else, and it will not be long ere his brow is stamped with all that goes to make up the heroic expression, with noble indignation, noble self-restraint, great hopes, great sorrows, perhaps even with the print of the martyr’s crown of thorns.”