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Do not go into debt? Lying makes us vile in our own eyes, and debt makes us slaves.
What innumerable blessings we miss through lack of sensibility, of openness to light, of fair-mindedness, of insight, of teachableness,—yirtues which it is possible for all to cultivate! The best is not ours, not because it is far away and unattainable, but because we ourselves are indifferent, narrow, short-sighted, and unsympathetic. To make our world larger and fairer it is not necessary to discover or acquire new objects, but to grow into conscious and loving harmony with the good which is everpresent and inviting. How much of life's joy we lose from want of a fearless and cheerful spirit, The brave and glad-hearted, like the beautiful, are welcome in all companies.
It is our own fault if beauty is not ours. A fair and luminous mind creates a body after its own image. With health and a soul, nor man nor woman can be other than beautiful, whatever the features. The most potent charm is that of expression. As the moonlight clothes the rugged and jagged mountain with loveliness so a noble mind transfigures its vesture,
There is little truth in Voltaire's assertion that opportunity for doing mischief is found a hundred times a day; of doing good, once a year. Doubtless it is easy to fall, easy to descend the downward and open way that leads to ruin, and hard to retrace one's steps; and they who seek occasions for gross indulgence or aught else that is unworthy, find them. Life is full of beauty, it is full of hideousness. To each one is left the choice whether he shall take the good or the evil. They who prefer darkness to light, lies to truth, hatred to love, strife to peace, pleasures to joy, do not lack occasions. Indeed, virtue is difficult, vice easy. Disease, not health, is contagious, Folly comes unsought, wisdom only when entreated.
Evil association more surely corrupts than good improves. Occasion makes the thief, not the honest man. To be idle is pleasant, and the idle are easily tempted and quickly yield. In fact, opportunity is servile and compliant. What use is to be made of it depends on him to whom it is offered. He may adore or he may mock, he may love or he may scorn, he may get understanding or
steep himself in denser ignorance, he may play the hero or prove a coward, become saint or devil. On him it depends whether or not he shall know the right moment, receive the heavenly messenger, and be made glad and strong by the fair countenance of truth.
“ This could but have happened once,
And we missed it, lost it forever."
A noble character produces no impression on a vulgar mind. The pure and innocent awaken coarse thoughts in sensual natures. No place is so sacred, no being so holy as not to be perverted to base uses by base men.
The man himself is the best part of the opportunity. The starlit heaven is not sublime when there is no soul capable of awe; the spring is not fair where there is no glad heart to see and feel. Opportunity is living correspondence with one's environment. Where there is no correspondence there is no opportunity. For ages the exhaustless resources of America lay unknown and unutilized, because the right kind of man was not here. The Kimberly diamonds were but worthless pebbles, the playthings of the children of savages, until it chanced that they fell under the eye of one who knew how to look.
All nature is crammed with precious, nay, divine things, for those who can see. Innumerable men and women had seen the kettle boil, but it occurred to only one that the force which lifted the lid might be confined and made to do human service. The man finds or makes his opportunities, and in turn they help to make him. The multitude will not lay hold on opportunity unless it be thrust upon them; and even then they are listless and unresolved ; and therefore are they condemned to remain inferior. The few who rise above the crowd are ever alert to discover how they may improve themselves, and become helpers and leaders.
We are born to grow—this is the word which religion, philosophy, literature and art ceaselessly utter; and we can grow only by keeping ourselves in vital communion with the world within and without us. Use or lose is Nature's law; also, use and improve. If a little money is taken from us we make ourselves miserable, and all the while we
are permitting the wealth which enriches the mind to slip from us as though it were the dirt from which the gold has been sifted.
There are few whom routine work keeps busy more than ten hours in the twenty-four. Allow eight hours for sleep and two for meals, and there remain four for selfimprovement. How is it possible, you ask, to live without recreation and amusement? Find them in the effort to upbuild your being, and joy and fulness of life shall be yours beyond the reach of kings. Learn to think, and you shall never lack pleasant occupation. Bring your mind into unison with the currents of thought which are found in the books of power, and you need be neither lonely nor depressed. The transfusion of thought is more quickening than the transfusion of blood. As in the midst of battle the soldier is often unconscious of his wounds, so they who have a purpose and seriously pursue it, easily become indifferent to the troubles which make weaker men wretched.
Games and other amusements doubtless have their uses, especially for the young, and for all who are feeble in body or in mind, but when we consider that they are generally occasions for wasting time, and so, a chief obstacle to human advancement, it is difficult not to condemn the apathy, the indifference to the meaning and worth of life which makes possible their universal prevalence. They are least harmful in the home, and even there what irreparable loss they involve! Economy of time is more indispensable than economy of money; for it is a means not only of getting money, but of getting what is vastly higher and more precious—wisdom and virtue. All else may be made good, but time misspent is lost forever. It is the element in which life exists, and to squander it is to dissipate vital force. What increases health and strength of body is good unless it diminish vigor of mind or weaken the will to devote one's self to right human ends. The passion and persistence with which athletic sports are followed in our colleges and universities undermine moral and intellectual ambition just at the time when the formation of character and the acquisition of knowledge are of the highest importance. Those whose ideal is athletic are in danger of not looking higher than the prize-ring.
True human power is not physical; its seat is in the mind, in the will, in the conscience. Let our schoolboys be happy and joyous, let them divert themselves, in a free spirit, like gentlemen, but let them not lay the stress of their attention and admiration on rowing or leaping or kicking a ball or hitting it with a bat, nor imagine that great skill of this kind is helpful or desirable. It is generally an accomplishment of those whose spiritual being is callous or superficial. These sports are not the best means even for promoting health and physical culture, which are the result of moderate, not violent exercise, of temperance, cleanliness, sleep, cheerful thoughts and worthy aims followed in a brave and generous spirit. Mere strength of body is not a test either of endurance or of vitality. We die from sensual excess, or from despondency, or from both. Indulgence and disappointment kill more than work, which if it be full of joy and hope, brings length of days. Worry, whatever its source, weakens, takes away courage, and shortens life. Our sons murder us, said a rich man, speaking of a friend who had just died.
The sweet idleness praised by poets and lovers is not idleness, but leisure to give one's self to high thoughts and loftier moods. The really idle are oppressed by a sense of fatigue, and therefore tiresome to themselves and others. Let those who complain of having to work undertake to do nothing. If this do not convert them, nothing will. Those who live in inaction on the fruits of the labors of others lose the power to enjoy, come to feel existence to be a burden, and fall a prey to life-weariness. He sits uneasy at the feast who thinks of the starving; he is not comfortable at his own fireside who remembers those who have none. To know that life is good one must be conscious that he is helping to make it good at least for a few.
Work, not play, is the divine opportunity. The outcome of civilization, if we continue to make progress, must be that to each and every one work shall be given to do, which while it provides the necessaries and comforts of life, will cheer, strengthen, console, purify, and enlighten; and when this day comes the Nineteenth century shall appear to have been but little better than the Ninth;
for a society in which millions are condemned to do dehumanizing work or starve is barbarous.
The century which is now drawing to end has been so filled with wonders, with progress in science and wealth, with discoveries and inventions, that it seems to illumine the pages of history with a blaze of glory. But it is not all light. The failure is as serious as the success is great. The individual has not risen as his knowledge has widened and his environment improved. What he is, is still held to be less important than what he possesses and uses. In the mad race for wealth multitudes are sacrificed as pitilessly as in warfare; they are dragged by competition to the verge of starvation; they are driven to work under conditions which dehumanize. Greed has led to a worldwide struggle as cruel as that of nature, in which only the strongest or the inost cunning and conscienceless survive. Our society makes criminals, and our penal institutions harden them in wrong-doing. The people are taxed to support vast armies and to supply them with more and more expensive and effective instruments of murder; and wars are waged not to liberate and uplift weaker races, but to rob and oppress them; and these crimes are committed in the name of religion and civilization. The great powers of Europe look on in stolid indifference while helpless populations are massacred; and America, which has always meant good-will to men and opportunity for all, seems to be drifting away from what Americans have loved and lived for into the evil company of these OldWorld nations, drunken with lust for conquest and lust for gold. While knowledge grows, while man's control over the forces of nature increases, the individual seems to be losing his hold on the principles which underlie right life. The power of sustained thought, of persevering labor for high and unselfish ends, the spirit of sacrifice and devotion, faith and hope, the love of liberty and independence are, it is to be feared, diminishing.
There is still evil enough in the world to save us from self-complacency, from the foolish and vulgar habit of self-laudation, but the triumphs of the Nineteenth century have been sufficiently real and great to inspire confidence and courage in the young who are preparing to take their place in the Twentieth as strong and faithful workers in