Guard Your Weak Point
He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty: and he that
ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.
The first and best of victories is for a man to conquer
himself: to be conquered by himself is, of all things, the most
shameful and vile.
The worst education which teaches self-denial is better than
the best which teaches everything else and not that.
Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power.
The energy which issues in growth, or assimilates knowledge,
must originate in self and be self-directed.
--THOMAS J. MORGAN.
The foes with which they waged their strife
Were passion, self and sin;
The victories that laureled life,
Were fought and won within.
--EDWARD H. DEWART.
"I'll sign it after awhile," a drunkard would reply, when repeatedly
urged by his wife to sign the pledge; "but I don't like to break off at
once, the best way is to get used to a thing." "Very well, old man,"
said his wife, "see if you don't fall into a hole one of these days,
with no one to help you out."
Not long after, when intoxicated, he did fall into a shallow well, but
his shouts for help were fortunately heard by his wife. "Didn't I tell
you so?" she asked. "It's lucky I was in hearing or you might have
drowned." He took hold of the bucket and she tugged at the windlass; but
when he was near the top her grasp slipped and down he went into the
water again. This was repeated until he screamed: "Look here, you're
doing that on purpose, I know you are." "Well, now, I am," admitted the
wife. "Don't you remember telling me it's best to get used to a thing by
degrees? I'm afraid if I bring you up sudden, you would not find it
wholesome." Finding that his case was becoming desperate, he promised to
sign the pledge at once. His wife raised him out immediately, but warned
him that if ever he became intoxicated and fell into the well again, she
would leave him there.
A man captured a young tiger and resolved to make a pet of it. It grew
up like a kitten, fond and gentle. There was no evidence of its savage,
bloodthirsty nature, and it seemed perfectly harmless. But one day while
the master was playing with his pet, the rough tongue upon his hand
started the blood from a scratch. The moment the beast tasted blood, his
ferocious tiger nature was roused, and he rushed upon his master to tear
him to pieces. Sometimes the appetite for drink, which was thought to
be buried years ago, is roused by the taste or the smell of "the devil
in solution," and the wretched victim finds himself a helpless slave to
the passion which he thought dead.
When a young man, Hugh Miller once drank the two glasses of whiskey
which fell to his share at the usual treat of drink of the masons with
whom he worked. On reaching home he tried to read Bacon's Essays, his
favorite book, but he could not distinguish the letters or comprehend
the meaning. "The condition into which I had brought myself was, I felt,
one of degradation," said he. "I had sunk, by my own act, for the time,
to a lower level of intelligence than that on which it was my privilege
to be placed; and though the state could have been no very favorable one
for forming a resolution, I in that hour determined that I should never
again sacrifice my capacity of intellectual enjoyment to a drinking
usage; and with God's help I was enabled to hold by the determination."
In a certain manufacturing town an employer one Saturday paid to his
workmen $700 in crisp new bills that had been secretly marked. On Monday
$450 of those identical bills were deposited in the bank by the
saloon-keepers. When the fact was made known, the workmen were so
startled by it that they helped to make the place a no-license town. The
times would not be so "hard" for the workmen if the saloons did not
take in so much of their wages. If they would organize a strike against
the saloons, they would find the result to be better than an increase of
wages, and to include an increase of savings.
How often we might read the following sign over the threshold of a
youthful life: "For sale, grand opportunities, for a song;" "golden
chances for beer;" "magnificent opportunities exchanged for a little
sensual enjoyment;" "for exchange, a beautiful home, devoted wife,
lovely children, for drink;" "for sale, cheap, all the magnificent
possibilities of a brilliant life, a competence, for one chance in a
thousand at the gambling table;" "for exchange, bright prospects, a
brilliant outlook, a cultivated intelligence, a college education, a
skilled hand, an observant eye, valuable experience, great tact, all
exchanged for rum, for a muddled brain, a bewildered intellect, a
shattered nervous system, poisoned blood, a diseased body, for fatty
degeneration of the heart, for Bright's disease, for a drunkard's
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
"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
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
"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.'
"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
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."