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spirit first sees its own true lineaments;" and this holds good so long as we guard against those causes of self-delusion with respect to motives which we have already spoken of. It is evident that, however much we may have studied our own minds and characters, we cannot really know the measure of their capabilities till they have been fairly tried in action. Another essential point in judging ourselves, is not to set up any individual standard of comparison. Principles alone furnish an unchangeable standard applicable to all cases; and so long as we keep them steadily in mind, and apply ourselves to measure the distance which yet separates us from the goal of perfection, rather than the ground we have already gained, our self-knowledge will be productive only of deeper humility, and a more earnest desire of attaining true excellence.



THE improvement to which all self-knowledge should tend, is carried out by means of self-control; the power which regulates our actions according to determinate principles. Every desire has a tendency to move the will, or, in other words, whenever a desire is excited, the impulse to gratify it immediately follows. We have, however, the power to resist this impulse, and to act only in accordance with principles deliberately chosen, and this power is self-control. That it is universally exercised to a great extent, is proved by the very existence of civilised society, which would be impossible, were not certain principles acknowledged by the great mass of its members as rules of action to which individual desires and interests must give way. But within these limits there is still a wide field for self-indulgence, which must be narrowed again by the sense of duty in each individual. The laws of society can only prevent those overt acts which endanger social existence or prosperity, and the restraints they impose are so habitual, that except in moments when the passions are strongly roused, we are unconscious of them. He who yields to every desire, the gratification of which is not forbidden by law, must yet remain far below the rank of a rational or moral being; and the habit of yielding to impulse leads, according to natural dispositions, to miserable weakness of purpose and action, or to degrading selfishness. Such a character-if that deserves the name which is the toy of every passing emotion-may, under the momentary influence of good and generous feeling, produce single acts of virtue, but is utterly incapable of a course of virtuous conduct. We may pity, and even love the weak creature of impulse, but our respect and admiration are involuntarily given to those whose



strong will, guided by unchangeable principles, moves steadily on towards its purpose, as unmindful of all disturbing forces around or within, as the stately vessel bearing on her course, of the waves that break around her prow.

There is a moral grandeur in this power of the will to subdue impulse and bend every faculty to the predetermined purpose, which exercises almost despotic influence over the minds of others, and which excites our admiration even when the purpose is one that we cannot approve. The iron will of a Ximenes, a Richelieu, or a Napoleon, will always obtain a larger share of human reverence than more amiable but feebler characters. Energy of will is the distinguishing mark of greatness, the instrument by which greatness is achieved; but its moral character must depend on the principles which guide it. It has been possessed by all who have raised themselves by personal exertion above their fellows, whether for good or for evil. It has been used for the most unworthy and the most atrocious purposes, but is not the less an essential element of virtue; and wherever we see it we may be sure that, were the guiding principle virtuous there would be true nobility of character.

The right province of self-control is in maintaining the due subordination of all those appetites and inclinations which, unrestrained, would prevent conscience performing its proper office of regulating the will. Conscience, enlightened by reason and governing the whole moral being, is truly the law of God written in our hearts; the will, habitually submitted to its rule, is placed in accordance with the will of God, as far as we know it, and the character thus produced is the highest form of moral excellence attainable on earth. So to mould character should be the first aim of all education, and the question how the will may thus be subdued and regulated, is evidently one of the highest importance. We will try to give an answer to it by briefly examining the process of volition; first premising that volition is simply that state of mind which immediately precedes action.*

Our affections and desires, as already explained, are the impulses which move the will. When any external object or train of reflection produces a passive emotion in the mind, and that 'emotion excites desire, the latter becomes an impulse to action. For instance, the sight of an object of distress excites compassion, and compassion again the desire and consequent impulse to relieve the suffering. Or the contemplation of an act of virtue excites moral approbation, whence arises the desire, and then the impulse to imitate the virtuous action. But in every deliberate

* See the definition of an act in chapter on "Habit,” p. 54.


act, that is, in every act not the immediate result of impulse, there is a pause between the desire and the act; and it is in this pause that other principles of the mind come into play, and prevail in influencing the will in proportion to their habitual predominance, and to the strength of the immediate desire.


It is clear that the principles habitually predominant must influence the will more readily, and with more force than others. In a mind habitually selfish, the occasionally generous impulse will be stifled by the selfish considerations which will instantly recur in the moment of deliberation; while in the habitually virtuous mind, the low and unworthy desires, which arise but too often in every human heart, will, in like manner, be repressed and silenced by the prevailing principle during the pause which allows it to come into play, and action will remain under the guidance of conscience. The office of reason in this process of deliberation, is to judge of the consequences of the actions we meditate, and of their relations, as means to ends. The perceptions 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 condemns. 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 self-control.

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

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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 paralysed.

To acquire, then, this habitual submission of the will to fixed principle, which is, as we have said, the proper and highest exercise 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 endeavour must be to dwell as little as possible on anything 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. Essay.



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 ensure 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 cultivation 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 ensure 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 mainsprings 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 vigour of moral character depends on the strength of the will, so true mental vigour 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 favourably 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 endeavour to turn attention inward, and habitually to control thought and impulse in the common course of life, will do more than many would be

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