« IndietroContinua »
lamentations over faults we never attempt to correct, are only the clumsy artifices of vanity to conceal our real indolence and apathy in the pursuit of excellence.
Those who are in earnest in their wish to improve will find in the principles laid down by Dr. Butler rules for correcting bad habits no less than for forming good ones.
One instance of this has been given above. There is, indeed, no effectual way of correcting a bad habit but cultivating the good one most opposed to it. To refrain from external acts will not change the habit of the mind, unless the inward principle be changed also. A remarkable instance of this is given by Dr. Abercrombie,* in the case of a man who had bound himself by oath to abstain for a time from intoxicating liquors, and who, in consequence, observed the most rigid sobriety for five years, but was found in a state of intoxication the very day after the period of abstinence had expired.
In the same manner, a passionate person may be restrained from acts of violence by the usages of society, regard for his character, or fear of the law; but this external restraint will leave the temper unaltered. That can only be improved by an active effort to resist the impulse of passion, and to fix attention on the motives to patience, forbearance, and self-command, which, if carried into action, will form corresponding habits.
The importance of individual acts as tending to form habits, is another point to be attended to in the regulation of daily life. Actions, which taken singly are insignificant, lead, if often repeated, to habits which materially influence health and happi
It matters, probably, little, whether we rise to-day or tomorrow at seven or at nine, spend our leisure hours in reading a novel or a history, gratify or repress a whim; but it is far from indifferent whether we acquire habits of indolence or activity, whether we habitually feed our minds on fiction or on truth, and whether we learn to control instead of indulging each idle caprice. It is to be observed, also, that the habits thus unconsciously formed by the frequent repetition of actions in themselves apparently harmless and trifling, are generally, if not always, bad, and tending to the deterioration of character. Our proneness to bad habits, and our difficulty in forming good ones, has been too universally acknowledged and lamented by the good and wise of all ages, to need our insisting upon it here. But we believe that it may be in a great measure, at least, accounted for by the nature of habit and its mode of operation, without resorting to the fearful supposition of an inherent love of evil in the human heart. If we trace the greater number of bad habits to their origin, we find them to arise from the indulgence of desires and passions in themselves blameless, and even necessary to the preservation of individual and social existence, but becoming evil in their excess, and when yielded to against the voice of reason and conscience. We may instance the desire of property, which is the basis of every social edifice, and the wish to better our condition, to which we owe all the blessings of civilization, but which have both in their excess been the source of cupidity, inordinate ambition, and consequent crime. By the very conditions of our existence on earth, the objects which excite these passions are constantly and prominently forced upon our attention ; a great part of our time is necessarily spent among them, and we are in constant danger of allowing them to engross the whole. The advantages of wealth are ever present to tempt us to cupidity; the trumpet voice of fame stirs us to ambition ; luxury assails every sense and woos us to self-indulgence; the world spreads its gaudy toils around to lure us into the madding crowd's ignoble strife.” Need we seek for any other cause to explain why the passions, so continually excited, move the will more readily and frequently than those higher desires, the objects of which are unseen and spiritual, — and why bad habits are so easily formed, and too often lead to vice, and from vice to crime, ere we are aware that we have done more than indulge a natural and innocent inclination ?
* On the Moral Feelings.
Not so is it with virtuous habits. The motives and rewards of virtue lie remote from the realms of sense, in the regions of the unseen and the eternal, and ere it can discern them, the
mind must forcibly abstract itself from the obtrusive claims of visible and tangible objects. We may, indeed, passively admire virtue when brought before us, but to follow her requires an active exertion, a steady and continued effort, and thus true philosophy agrees with true religion, in declaring that the just must “live by faith and not by sight.”
The difference between passive impressions and active exertion has also, apart from the consideration of influence upon character, an important bearing upon our happiness. Since repetition weakens passive impressions, those pleasures which consist entirely in their excitement must necessarily be the shortest lived. A perpetually stronger stimulus will be required to produce the same amount of enjoyment, till the power of enjoyment is itself worn out, and leaves nothing but the craving for excitement which can no longer be satisfied. It is scarcely possible to imagine a more deplorable state, unless it be that of the person forced to endure its evil effects in another, - doomed, as Madame de Maintenon expressed it, to the intolerable weariness of striving to amuse one who is no longer capable of being amused.
The pleasures arising from active pursuits, on the contrary, last as long as the power of exertion. This holds good even of bodily activity. Many a man of seventy enjoys the pleasures of the chase with the eagerness of a boy, whilst the mere sensualist of the same age is dead to every excitement. Still truer is it of those pursuits which call into activity the higher powers of the mind, and which, from their very nature, are inexhaustible, holding forth new and ever new treasures to excite and reward our labors. Even when our energies fail us for the pursuit, and the lamp of life burns low and dim, the spirit yet retains its freshness, and only folds its wings as it sinks towards its earthly grave, that it may spread them for a bolder and higher flight in the regions beyond.
Finally, it must never be forgotten that, whether consciously for good, or unconsciously for evil, the influence of habit is incessantly at work. Every day in which we neglect to make it minister to our improvement, ministers to our deterioration. We cannot lessen its power, though we may bend it to our will,
like the torrent which rushes past our dwelling, whose eternal flow of waters we cannot arrest, although we can so direct it as to make it the most efficient and indefatigable of ser. vants.
One of the first and most important objects for which we require the power of habit, is the attainment of method. By method, we do not mean simply methodical habits in this or that particular, but the spirit of system pervading the mind, and regulating the whole of life, on a deliberate and well-ordered plan. This is the very foundation of self-education. When we begin to reflect on our own nature and faculties, on the purposes for which they are given in this world, and the indications they afford of the nature of a future existence, we are led to feel the necessity of systematic training to fit us for the fulfilment of our appointed task. The unity of purpose which connects the different phases of life, when life is viewed at once as a course of present duty and a school for a future and higher sphere of existence, presses upon us the necessity of method, to carry the same unity into our own aims and endeavors, and to make all the various circumstances and actions of life combine towards the attainment of its one great end, the fulfilment of God's purposes in our existence.
As system is the assemblage of many particulars in subordination to one common object or leading idea, so method is the order by which system is carried out, and various and often complicated means made to serve common purpose. Method, in its more limited sense, may be said to consist in the regular observance of certain means to attain certain ends, and implies steady action upon a predetermined principle. In a more general view, it rises from mere regularity to harmony, from the pursuance of particular ends to the combination of