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tions of truth or of fitness again excite the sense of moral obligation to act in accordance with them, which influences the will. We must, however, remind our readers, that reason has no regard to the moral nature of actions or ends. It judges indifferently of means and consequences, whether the end be noble or base. Hence a bad man is frequently seen to reason much better than a good one, and the children of this world to be wiser in their generation than the children of light, that is, acting more wisely in regard to the object they have in view.
Our natural dispositions often determine our guiding principles of action, but it is always in our power to choose what the latter shall be, and to submit the will to them. If it were not so, the voice of conscience would be only a feeble and impotent protest against the errors it condems. Having once determined on our principles of action, they must never be lost sight of ; we must fix attention upon them as upon the guiding thread which is to lead us safely through the labyrinth of life ; and strengthen them by dwelling habitually upon all those considerations likely to awaken the emotions from which the principles themselves spring. We refer the reader to the chapter on Habit for the means by which these passive emotions may be cultivated into active, or (as Dr. Butler calls them) inward practical principles. The force of habit is itself the best auxiliary of selfcontrol.
Paley truly says, that “the man who has to reason upon his duty, when the temptation to transgress it is upon him, is almost sure to reason himself into an error” ; but where obedience to duty has been cultivated into a habit, it influences the will almost unconsciously, and to break through such a habit is generally more difficult and painful than to resist the temptation. In the whirlwind of passion, when reflection is impossible and judgment is silenced, habit alone will retain its power, and, by bringing back the accustomed train of thought and rules of conduct, will keep action steady to its course, though reason and conscience seem for the moment paralyzed.
To acquire, then, this habitual submission of the will to fixed principle, which is, as we have said, the proper and highest ex
ercise of self-control, we must, in the first place, fix attention steadily on all those truths most likely to awaken the moral sense ; such as the considerations we have offered on the office and authority of conscience, its rightful supremacy over the mind, and the degradation that must follow where its influence is unfelt. When the moral emotions have been thus awakened, the attention must be kept alive to them, and they should in every instance, when it is possible, be followed immediately by action, that the passive emotion may be converted into an active principle. If there be any dispositions in the mind which give to certain temptations a peculiar strength, all objects or thoughts connected with them must be carefully avoided, and attention forcibly turned to others most calculated to awaken opposite affections. If, for instance, the natural disposition incline to selfishness, our first endeavor must be to dwell as little as possible on any thing connected with selfish desires or interests, and habitually to contemplate the objects most likely to excite in us regard and sympathy for others. The power of attention in giving strength and intensity to emotions has been already noticed in speaking of habit, and when we have acquired the power of turning attention from the feeling we wish to repress to that we wish to cultivate, we have already made great progress towards attaining self-control.
This power is the secret of self-command and coolness of judgment in the midst of danger.* The attention is turned from the contemplation of the danger to the means of escaping from it. All the bewildering emotions awakened by the sense of peril are weakened in proportion as the mind is fixed upon a different class of thoughts and feelings connected with the measures to be taken and the exertions to be made, and the judgment is enabled to act as calmly as if the more exciting cause were not present. In every case where self-control is necessary, the same process must be resorted to, and by frequent repetition it will give the mind a tendency to recur to the train of thought or feeling on which attention has been thus forcibly arrested; in other words, it will produce a habit.
* See Baily on the Formation of Opinions.
The dominion of self-control should be extended beyond conduct or moral dispositions over the whole mind, every faculty of which may be brought under the command of the will. This is too often forgotten by persons who exert steady self-control in questions of positive right and wrong. But how many things would be included in that class of questions, instead of being left to mere chance and fancy, if the sense of responsibility were stronger and more widely extended! How would the circle extend within which self-control is requisite to insure the performance of duty, if we felt answerable for the use and abuse of all that we possess, in whatever degree we possess it! Strangely enough, the mental faculties are too commonly considered beyond the province of conscience, and except where they are exercised for profit, in one way or another, their culti-, vation or neglect is looked upon as a mere question of taste or inclination, in which, therefore, self-control is unneeded. The evil which must result from this view is evident the moment we consider the inseparable connection of moral and mental discipline. Even without looking at the mental powers as so many gifts, for the use of each one of which, alone and independent of other considerations, we must be responsible, the intrinsic value of truth, and the office of reason in leading us to it, place the cultivation of the mind on grounds of duty too high to be questioned. Those grounds once admitted, we feel it as wrong to indulge idleness or frivolity, or to neglect the training of the reason, as we should feel it criminal to indulge habits of ill-temper, extravagance, or dissipation. Self-control comes in to insure what can no longer be left to natural inclination.
Control over our own thoughts and habits of association is one of the highest forms of moral power, and regulates the very main-springs of character. It is the most important result of that long and careful discipline which establishes our command over the various faculties of the mind. Just as vigor of moral character depends on the strength of the will, so true mental vigor depends on the powers of the intellect being the instruments of the will, not the puppets of impulse and whim.
Self-possession in the most extended sense of the word is the secret of strength, as well as of dignity. Persons who are by nature placid and slow are in some respects the most favorably placed for the attainment of this valuable quality, and indeed often get the credit of possessing it when they do not. On the other hand, to some excitable temperaments such a sober frame of mind is, perhaps, not attainable in any great degree; yet the persevering endeavor to turn attention inward, and habitually to control thought and impulse in the common course of life, will do more than
many would be willing to admit towards overcoming the obstacles of natural constitution. The object in such cases is well worth the labor; for temperaments of this nature are generally accompanied by so much warmth of heart and energy of character, that it is the more to be regretted when these fine qualities are marred by the absence of that controlling power which would double their value. As in art, the representation of the highest ideal of human nature is ever marked by repose, the calmness of conscious strength, so in every lesser degree we see in actual life that thoughtful composure of mind is essential to all true dignity of character, that it gives weight to opinion and influence, and insures supremacy at those very moments when it is most necessary that the strong mind should govern the weak.
From the language commonly held, and the contented apathy exhibited, we might infer that the generality of persons do not believe in the possibility of exercising control over their own minds. They have so long surrendered the power to chance, that they have forgotten their own claim to it. If the mind is sad, it yields to its sadness; if hopeful, every fond dream finds admittance and encouragement; if anxious, the subject of anxi. ety is allowed to recur unchecked; if indolent, the course of hazy, shapeless thought continues, without one attempt to rescue the mind from the utter inanity into which it is sinking. In short, they have neither energy to cast out the intruding inmate circumstances may have forced upon them, nor to rouse themselves to follow a definite train of thought, if no external object be present to excite their attention. This abandonment of self-control is the first step to feebleness of mind and char. acter.*
Yet the very persons who act thus are perhaps sincere Christians; they maintain the dogmas and revere the precepts of Christianity ; but they forget how opposed is the teaching of Christ to all thoughtlessness; how constantly it appeals to a high power of control over thought and feeling and desire, no less than over action. It is vain to suppose that, if this power be not exerted babitually, the capability to exert it will remain unimpaired, and ready at our call whenever any urgent occasion shall require it; that, for instance, if vain and frivolous thoughts have run unchecked through the brain whenever accident gave rise to them, we yet shall suddenly find strength to resist the inroad of evil thought, at a moment perhaps of strong excitement; or that, having admitted the evil thought once, we shall have power to forbid its return. By renouncing the control we can and ought to exercise habitually in this respect, we open the door for its suggestions of evil, which in the time of trial will too surely lead to a wavering purpose. The mind, therefore, which has lost that power, has thrown away its best armor against temptation.
It is a lamentable fact, that women, whose capability of selfdenial and self-devotion is proverbial, are often wanting in the commonest power of self-control when their fears or their affections are excited. That this does not arise from natural incapacity is proved by the exhibition of the noble qualities above mentioned, and also by the fact, that, whenever the indulgence of the weakness is attended with a sense of shame, or involves the sacrifice of any other strong affection, their power of repressing or concealing it is almost unequalled. How many a girl, not otherwise remarkable for strength of character, has stifled a betrayed or unrequited affection at the expense of
* We are aware that this is in some degree a repetition of what has been said in speaking of Method, and that we shall have to recur to it again in the section on Attention; but the subject is so important, that it seemed to us to justify this repeated mention.