Architects of Fate Part 33
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In rhetoric, as Emerson truly says, this art of omission is the chief secret of power. "Everything tells in favor of the man who talks but little. The presumption is that he is a superior man; and if, in point of fact, he is not a sheer blockhead, the presumption then is that he is very superior indeed." Grant was master of the science of silence.
The self-controlled are self-possessed. "Sir, the house is on fire!"
shrieked a frightened servant, running into Dr. Lawson's study. "Go and tell your mistress," said the preoccupied professor, without looking up from the book he was reading; "you know I have no charge of household matters." A woman whose house was on fire threw a looking-glass out of the window, and carried a pair of andirons several rods to a safe place beside a stone wall. "Presence of mind and courage in distress are more than armies to procure success."
Xenophon tells us that at one time the Persian princes had for their teachers the four best men in the kingdom. (1) The wisest man to teach wisdom. (2) The bravest to teach courage. (3) The most just to train the moral nature. (4) The most temperate to teach self-control. We have them all in the Bible, and in Christ our teacher, an example. "If it is a small sacrifice to discontinue the use of wine," said Samuel J.
May, "do it for the sake of others; if it is a great sacrifice, do it for your own sake." How many of nature's noblemen, who might be kings if they could control themselves, drink away their honor, reputation, and money in glasses of "wet damnation," more costly than the vinegar in which Cleopatra dissolved her pearls.
Experience shows that, quicker than almost any other physical agency, alcohol breaks down a man's power of self-control. But the physical evils of intemperance, great as they are, are slight, compared with the moral injury it produces. It is not simply that vices and crimes almost inevitably follow the loss of rational self-direction, which is the invariable accompaniment of intoxication; manhood is lowered and finally lost by the sensual tyranny of appetite. The drunken man has given up the reins of his nature to a fool or a fiend, and he is driven fast to base or unutterably foolish ends.
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, toothpicks, 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.
Natural appetites, if given rein, will not only grow monstrous and despotic, but artificial appetites will be created which, like a ghastly Frankenstein, develop a kind of independent life and force, and then turn on their creator to torment him without pity, and will mock his efforts to free himself from this slavery. The victim of strong drink is one of the most pitiable creatures on earth, he becomes half beast, or half demon. Oh, the silent, suffering tongues that whisper "Don't," but the will lies prostrate, and the debauch goes on. What a mute confession of degradation there is in the very appearance of a confirmed sot. Behold a man no longer in possession of himself; the flesh is master; the spiritual nature is sunk in the mire of sensuality, and the mental faculties are a mere mob of enfeebled powers under bondage to a bestial or mad tyrant. As Challis says:--
"Once the demon enters, Stands within the door; Peace and hope and gladness Dwell there nevermore."
Many persons are intemperate in their feelings; they are emotionally prodigal. Passion is intemperance; so is caprice. There is an intemperance even in melancholy and mirth. The temperate man is not mastered by his moods; he will not be driven or enticed into excess; his steadfast will conquers despondency, and is not unbalanced by transient exhilarations, for ecstasy is as fatal as despair. Temper is subjected to reason and conscience. How many people excuse themselves for doing wrong or foolish acts by the plea that they have a quick temper. But he who is king of himself rules his temper, turning its very heat and passion into energy that works good instead of evil.
Stephen Girard, when he heard of a clerk with a strong temper, was glad to employ him. He believed that such persons, taught self-control, were the best workers. Controlled temper is an element of strength; wisely regulated, it expends itself as energy in work, just as heat in an engine is transmuted into force that drives the wheels of industry.
Cromwell, William the Silent, Wordsworth, Faraday, Washington, and Wellington were men of prodigious tempers, but they were also men whose self-control was nearly perfect.
George Washington's faculties were so well balanced and combined that his constitution was tempered evenly with all the elements of activity, and his mind resembled a well organized commonwealth. His passions, which had the intensest vigor, owed allegiance to reason; and with all the fiery quickness of his spirit, his impetuous and massive will was held in check by consummate judgment. He had in his composition a calm which was a balance-wheel, and which gave him in moments of highest excitement the power of self-control, and enabled him to excel in patience, even when he had most cause for disgust.
It was said by an enemy of William the Silent that an arrogant or indiscreet word never fell from his lips.
How brilliantly could Carlyle write of heroism, courage, self-control, and yet fly into a rage at a rooster crowing in a neighbor's yard.
A self-controlled mind is a free mind, and freedom is power.
"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."
Be free--not chiefly from the iron chain But from the one which passion forges--be The master of thyself. If lost, regain The rule o'er chance, sense, circumstance. Be free.
"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.
Every human being is conscious of two natures. One is ever reaching up after the good, the true, and the noble,--is aspiring after all that uplifts, elevates, and purifies. It is the God-side of man, the image of the Creator, the immortal side, the spiritual side. It is the gravitation of the soul faculties toward their Maker. The other is the bestial side which gravitates downward. It does not aspire, it grovels; it wallows in the mire of sensualism. Like the beast, it knows but one law, and is led by only one motive, self-indulgence, self-gratification. When neither hungry nor thirsty, or when gorged and sated by over-indulgence, it lies quiet and peaceful as a lamb, and we sometimes think it subdued. But when its imperious passion accumulates, it clamors for satisfaction. You cannot reason with it, for it has no reason, only an imperious instinct for gratification.
You cannot appeal to its self-respect, for it has none. It cares nothing for character, for manliness, for the spiritual.
These two natures are ever at war, one pulling heavenward, the other, earthward. Nor do they ever become reconciled. Either may conquer, but the vanquished never submits. The higher nature may be compelled to grovel, to wallow in the mire of sensual indulgence, but it always rebels and enters its protest. It can never forget that it bears the image of its Maker, even when dragged through the slough of sensualism.
The still small voice which bids man look up is never quite hushed. If the victim of the lower nature could only forget that he was born to look upward, if he could only erase the image of his Maker, if he could only hush the voice which haunts him and condemns him when he is bound in slavery, if he could only enjoy his indulgences without the mockery of remorse, he thinks he would be content to remain a brute. But the ghost of his better self rises as he is about to partake of his delight, and robs him of the expected pleasure. He has sold his better self for pleasure which is poison, and he cannot lose the consciousness of the fearful sacrifice he has made. The banquet may be ready, but the hand on the wall is writing his doom.
Give me that soul, superior power, That conquest over fate, Which sways the weakness of the hour, Rules little things as great: That lulls the human waves of strife With words and feelings kind, And makes the trials of our life The triumphs of our mind.
Reader, attend--whether thy soul Soars fancy's flights above the pole, Or darkly grubs this earthly hole, In low pursuits: Know prudent, cautious self-control Is wisdom's root.
The king is the man who can.--CARLYLE.
I have only one counsel for you--Be master.--NAPOLEON.
Ah, silly man, who dream'st thy honor stands In ruling others, not thyself. Thy slaves Serve thee, and thou thy slave: in iron bands Thy servile spirit, pressed with wild passions, raves.
Wouldst thou live honored?--clip ambition's wing: To reason's yoke thy furious passions bring: Thrice noble is the man who of himself is king.
"Not in the clamor of the crowded street, Not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, But in ourselves are triumph and defeat."
Architects of Fate Part 33
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Architects of Fate Part 33 summary
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