Hypertext Meanings and Commentaries from the Encyclopedia of the Self
by Mark Zimmerman
So much does she moral health depend upon the moral atmosphere that is breathed, and so great is the influence daily exercised by parents over their children by living a life before their eyes, that perhaps the best system of parental instruction might be summed up in these two words: "Improve thyself."
Not one but, to a certain extent, gives a colour to our life, and insensibly influences the lives of those about us. The good deed or word will live, even though we may not see it fructify, but so will the bad; and no person is so insignificant as to be sure that his example will not do good on the one hand, or evil on the other.
The spirits of men do not die: they still live and walk abroad among us. It was a fine and a true thought uttered by Mr. Disraeli in the House of Commons on the death of Richard Cobden, that "he was one of those men who, though not present, were still members of that House, who were independent of dissolutions, of the caprices of constituencies, and even of the course of time."
Well for those who can say, as Pope did, in rejoinder to the sarcasm of Lord Hervey, "I think it enough that my parents, such as they were, never cost me a blush, and that their son, such as he is, never cost them a tear."
He would be seen chasing a ragged boy along the quays, and compelling him to come to school, not by the power of a policeman, but by the power of a hot potato. He knew the love an Irishman had for a potato; and John Pounds might be seen running holding under the boy's nose a potato, like an Irishman, very hot, and with a coat as ragged as himself. When the day comes when honour will be done to whom honour is due, I can fancy the crowd of those whose fame poets have sung, and to whose memory monuments have been raised, dividing like the wave, and, passing the great, and the noble, and the mighty of the land, this poor, obscure old man stepping forward and receiving the especial notice of Him who said 'Inasmuch as ye did it to one of the least of these, ye did it also to Me.'"
Hence the vast importance of exercising great care in the selection of companions, especially in youth. There is a magnetic affinity in young persons which insensibly tends to assimilate them to each other's likeness. Mr. Edgeworth was so strongly convinced that from sympathy they involuntarily imitated or caught the tone of the company they frequented, that he held it to be of the most essential importance that they should be taught to select the very best models. "No company, or good company," was his motto. Lord Collingwood, writing to a young friend, said, "Hold it as a maxim that you had better be alone than in mean company. Let your companions be such as yourself, or superior; for the worth of a man will always be ruled by that of his company." It was a remark of the famous Dr. Sydenham that everybody some time or other would be the better or the worse for having but spoken to a good or a bad man. As Sir Peter Lely made it a rule never to look at a bad picture if he could help it, believing that whenever he did so his pencil caught a taint from it, so, whoever chooses to gaze often upon a debased specimen of humanity and to frequent his society, cannot help gradually assimilating himself to that sort of model.
Francis Horner, speaking of the advantages to himself of direct personal intercourse with high-minded, intelligent men, said, "I cannot hesitate to decide that I have derived more intellectual improvement from them than from all the books I have turned over."
Lord Shelburne (afterwards Marquis of Lansdowne), when a young man, paid a visit to the venerable Malesherbes, and was so much impressed by it, that he said, - "I have travelled much, but I have never been so influenced by personal contact with any man; and if I ever accomplish any good in the course of my life, I am certain that the recollection of M. de Malesherbes will animate my soul."
So Fowell Buxton was always ready to acknowledge the powerful influence exercised upon the formation of his character in early life by the example of the Gurney family: "It has given a colour to my life," he used to say. Speaking of his success at the
Those who knew the late John Sterling intimately, have spoken of the beneficial influence which he exercised on all with whom he came into personal contact. Many owed to him their first awakening to a higher being; from him they learnt what they were, and what they ought to be. Mr. Trench says of him:- "It was impossible to come in contact with his noble nature without feeling one's self in some measure ENNOBLED and LIFTED UP, as I ever felt when I left him, into a higher region of objects and aims than that in which one is tempted habitually to dwell." It is thus that the noble character always acts; we become insensibly elevated by him, and cannot help feeling as he does and acquiring the habit of looking at things in the same light. Such is the magical action and reaction of minds upon each other.
for the first time."
Cheerfulness gives elasticity to the spirit. Spectres fly before it; difficulties cause no despair, for they are encountered with hope, and the mind acquires that happy disposition to improve opportunities which rarely fails of success. The fervent spirit is always a healthy and happy spirit; working cheerfully itself, and stimulating others to work. It confers a dignity on even the most ordinary occupations. The most effective work, also, is usually the full-hearted work - that which passes through the hands or the head of him whose heart is glad. Hume was accustomed to say that he would rather possess a cheerful disposition - inclined always to look at the bright side of things - than with a gloomy mind to be the master of an estate of ten thousand a year. Granville Sharp, amidst his indefatigable labours on behalf of the slave, solaced himself in the evenings by taking part in glees and instrumental concerts at his brother's house, singing, or playing on the flute, the clarionet or the oboe; and, at the Sunday evening oratorios, when Handel was played, he beat the kettle-drums. He also indulged, though sparingly, in caricature drawing. Fowell Buxton also was an eminently cheerful man; taking special pleasure in field sports, in riding about the country with his children, and in mixing in all their domestic amusements.
It is stated in his admirable biography, that "the most remarkable thing in the Laleham circle was the wonderful healthiness of tone which prevailed there. It was a place where a new comer at once felt that a great and earnest work was going forward. Every pupil was made to feel that there was a work for him to do; that his happiness, as well as his duty, lay in doing that work well. Hence an indescribable zest was communicated to a young man's feeling about life; a strange joy came over him on discerning that he had the means of being useful, and thus of being happy; and a deep respect and ardent attachment sprang up towards him who had taught him thus to value life and his own self, and his work and mission in the world. All this was founded on the breadth and comprehensiveness of Arnold's character, as well as its striking truth and reality; on the unfeigned regard he had for work of all kinds, and the sense he had of its value, both for the complex aggregate of society and the growth and protection of the individual. In all this there was no excitement; no predilection for one class of work above another; no enthusiasm for any one- sided object: but a humble, profound, and most religious consciousness that work is the appointed calling of man on earth; the end for which his various faculties were given; the element in which his nature is ordained to develop itself, and in which his progressive advance towards heaven is to lie." Among the many valuable men trained for public life and usefulness by Arnold, was the gallant Hodson, of Hodson's Horse, who, writing home from India, many years after, thus spoke of his revered master: "The influence he produced has been most lasting and striking in its effects. It is felt even in
It was an admirable example of energy and well-directed labour, which could not fail to have a most salutary influence upon the surrounding population. He then proceeded to make more roads, to erect mills, to build bridges, and to enclose and cultivate the waste lands. He introduced improved methods of culture, and regular rotation of crops, distributing small premiums to encourage industry; and he thus soon quickened the whole frame of society within reach of his influence, and infused an entirely new spirit into the cultivators of the soil. From being one of the most inaccessible districts of the north - the very ULTIMA THULE of civilization -
Observing the serious deterioration which had taken place in the quality of British wool, - one of the staple commodities of the country, - he forthwith, though but a private and little-known country gentleman, devoted himself to its improvement. By his personal exertions he established the British Wool Society for the purpose, and himself led the way to practical improvement by importing 800 sheep from all countries, at his own expense.
"It is already gone! it left