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VOLUNTARY AND AUTOMATIC MORALITY;
OR, HOW PROGRESS IS POSSIBLE.
“ Unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance ; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.”
THIS seems rather hard. It seems hard that a THIS
man who has only a little should have that little taken from him; and it does not seem fair that because another man has already a great deal, more should be bestowed on him.
If this were something arbitrary, it would be very unintelligible; but I think we can understand the meaning of it, and see why it is right and good, if we consider it to be a law of human nature and human society. The law is a very beneficial one, for human progress depends on it. The working of this law makes the individual better, and the world better. In fact, there could be no such thing as human civilization without it.
The law expressed in the saying is this: that when we use our powers and faculties we gain more power and more faculty; that when we neglect to use them, they decrease, and at last perish. We cannot possess anything except by using it. If we do not use our powers they are either taken away entirely, or else cease to be of any advantage to us.
Such is the case with bodily organs, but such is still more the case with mental organs. Practice makes perfect, it is said. But notice this; it is not undirected practice, or the random use of any power, but it is the carefully arranged practice which improves it. In other words, it is practice directed toward an end.
If, for instance, one wishes to improve his memory, he cannot do it by endeavoring to recollect at random a variety of facts or words. He must arrange a list of what he is most apt to forget, and study this carefully till he has mastered it and fixed it firmly in his mind. Then he can go on to something else. In order to improve our powers, we must work for a definite purpose, and with a carefully arranged method.
Robert Houdin, the celebrated French juggler, tells us how he acquired one element of his power,an extreme quickness and accuracy of observation. His father often took him through one of the boulevards of Paris, crowded with people, and led him slowly past a shop window in which were exhibited a multitude of different articles, and then made him tell how many he had been able to notice and recollect. This practice so strengthened and quickened the perceptive powers, that at last he became able to remember every article in a large shop window by only walking past it a single time. The more he exercised the faculty, the more developed it became. The more he had of this quickness of observation, the more was given to him.
A friend of mine, President Thomas Hill, told me that when he was on the School Committee at Waltham, he endeavored to learn how far the perceptive power of the primary school children might be improved. For this end he would take a handful of beans, throw a few of them on the table, and instantly cover them with his other hand, and then ask the children how many there were under his hand. He told me that they improved until they could count them accurately up to ten or twelve during the moment that they lay uncovered on the table.
In the same way acrobats and gymnasts, by careful and systematic training, develop herculean strength of limb and power of equipoise. I have seen a man stand on one foot on a slack wire, which was swinging to and fro, and balance four or five dinner-plates on as many sticks held in his left hand. As one improves any power by careful training, he acquires more. He has much, and so more is given him.
But if we neglect to use and improve our powers, they degenerate, and at last disappear. The fishes in the Mammoth Cave have lost their eyes by not
using them, in that Egyptian darkness. So if men do not employ a power, they at last become incapable of using it. Cessation of function, from whatever cause, is invariably followed by wasting of the organ in which the function has its seat. The gland which does not secrete, diminishes in bulk; the nerve that does not transmit impressions, wastes away; the muscle which does not contract, withers. The arm of a blacksmith and the legs of a mountaineer enlarge; but the arms of the Hindoo devotee, which are held in the same position for years, not allowed to move, shrink and shrivel in size and force.
The intellectual and moral organs, like the physical, are liable to atrophy when not exercised. If a person does not take pains to observe, and to remember what he observes, the power of observing and remembering gradually decays. He who does not think seriously on any subject will become frivolous, and not be able to apply his mind at all. Those unfortunate young people who are not obliged to work for a living, and who do not work from a sense of duty, are at last unable to take hold of any serious enterprise. They lose the power of work, and spend their days in idleness, and have none of that divine joy which comes from the sense of accomplishment. They can never say, “I have finished that piece of work !” The most unhappy people I have known were those who had nothing to do. It is a fortunate thing for most of us that
we are obliged to work, and so acquire the discipline, the education, and the content which result from doing with our might what our hand finds to do.
To him who hath knowledge, more shall be given, and he shall have abundance. Knowledge in the mind is such a vital and vitalizing power that it makes the intellect active to see, to learn, to remember. The first foreign language we learn is difficult ; the second is easier; the third is acquired with still greater facility. If we study the history of one nation, or one epoch, we find ourselves attracted to another and another. The person who has studied botany finds new plants wherever he goes.
He who travels with an empty, untaught mind, comes back nearly as ignorant as he went; but the geologist, the artist, the man who has read geography and history, or who knows well any industry or manufacture or art, is able to see something new wherever he goes.
Just as the merchant must send out some freight in his vessel in order to bring back a cargo, the traveller must take some knowledge with him abroad if he wishes to bring any home.
We have heard of persons who have stayed in the house and avoided society until it became impossible for them to leave their home or their
We owe something to society; we can be of use to others by our kindly, cheerful companionship; but these people had buried their talent in