Above all things reverence yourself.--Pythagoras
No one can disgrace us but ourselves.--J. G. Holland
Self-distrust is the cause of most of our failures.--Bovee
Self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control, these three alone lead
life to sovereign power.--Tennyson
To thine own self be true; and it will follow, as night the day, thou<
canst not then be false to any man.--Shakespeare
There is around every man or woman, every boy or girl, a certain
atmosphere that keeps him or her separate and distinct from all other
persons. We realize the truth of this statement very early in life; and
unless we can learn to respect and rely upon our own distinctive
self-hood, our lives will never reach their largest possibilities.
There is, however, a real difference between self-reliance and
self-respect, though each partakes of the nature of the other.
Self-respect is the root of which self-reliance is the growth in
various acts or plans. It is the general tone and spirit running through
our view of life, of our nature, of our friends, of our privileges, of
our personal gifts. It is the basis on which we build self-reliant
conduct and self-reliant convictions.
It is generally the man who thinks well of himself who comes to be
thought well of. But it is also true that when a man becomes perfectly
satisfied with himself and his worldly surroundings, he has reached the
first stage of decline. Self-confidence, backed by good common sense, is
one of the most important of human attributes. But we must be careful
not to exaggerate ourselves, or rate ourselves too highly. There are
dangers attending every virtue. Pushed to excess, even conscience,
justice, and earnestness, may become injurious. Self-respect must be
guarded by common sense, love of humanity, and the spirit of reverence.
But nothing can make good an absence of this quality.
Even the Chinese say, "It never pays to respect a man who does not
respect himself." If the world sees that you do not honor yourself, it
has a right to reject you as an impostor; because you claim to be worthy
of the good opinion of others when you have not your own. Self-respect
is based upon the same principles as respect for others. The scales of
justice hang in every heart, and even the murderer respects the judge
who condemns him; for the still small voice within says, "That is
Self-respect is a great aid to pure living. So long as a youth has true
self-respect, vice has little attraction for him. It is when this
sterling virtue is sacrificed, and the thoughtless or reckless one
ceases to care what is thought of him, that vice claims its victim. He
who cares not whether men think well or ill of him, does not possess
self-respect; and so he is easily lured into evil, becoming more and
more indifferent to the good-will of others, and more thoughtless and
abandoned in his daily life. With the loss of self-respect, he is
likely to lose all that makes manhood true and noble.
The key to John Bunyan's career is found in the self-respect which began
to govern his thoughts and acts in maturing youth, and which afterward
enabled him to meet persecution victoriously and to develop his peculiar
talent. If lie had been turned back by the scorn and contempt heaped
upon him on account of his low condition, or if he had listened to
critics who laughed at his simple, direct style in "Pilgrim's Progress";
or if he had lost courage because he belonged to a despised religious
sect; we should never have had his inspiring example.
The main business of life is not to do something great, but to become
great in ourselves. Any action has its finest and most enduring fruit in
character. Men of character are the conscience of the society to which
they belong. They, rather than the police, guarantee the execution of
the laws. Their influence is the bulwark of good government.
Character gravitates upward, while mere genius, without character,
gravitates downward. How often we see, in school or college, young men,
who are apparently dull and even stupid, rise gradually and surely above
others who are without character, merely because the former have an
upward tendency in their lives, a reaching-up principle, which gradually
but surely unfolds and elevates them to positions of honor and trust.
There is something which everybody admires in an aspiring soul, one
whose tendency is upward and onward, in spite of hindrances and in
defiance of obstacles.
As illustrating the mighty results of character based upon a
self-respecting love of honor, we may relate that when General Lee was
in conversation with one of his officers in regard to a movement of his
army, a plain farmer's boy overheard the general's remark that he had
decided to march upon Gettysburg instead of Harrisburg. The boy
telegraphed this fact to Governor Curtin. A special engine was sent for
the boy. "I would give my right hand," said the governor, "to know if
this boy tells the truth." A corporal replied, "Governor, I know that
boy; it is impossible for him to lie; there is not a drop of false blood
in his veins." In fifteen minutes the Union troops were marching to
Gettysburg, where they gained a glorious victory.
True self-respect challenges the admiration of others. No man has reason
to claim the regard of his fellows unless he first respects himself, for
this latter act is the outcome of the only elements of character that
can command the sincere esteem of men. A mean man, a dishonest man, a
niggardly man, a lazy man, or a conceited man, does not respect himself.
Unless he is living under the power of some strong delusion, he knows
that he is not worthy of regard.
A young man was invited by a friend to attend an entertainment which he
thought was objectionable. "I am not entirely clear that it is wrong,"
he said, "and when I am in doubt, I think the safer course is to
"Perhaps you are right," answered the friend; "but I think that people
will respect you as much as ever if you go."
"Possibly; but I want to respect myself," replied the young man. "I
should lose my self-respect by performing a doubtful act. My aim should
be higher than that."
Samuel Smiles expresses the truth well in this extract from "Character":
"It is the great lesson of biography to teach what man can be and can do
at his best. It may thus give each man renewed strength and confidence.
The humblest, in sight of even the greatest, may admire and hope and
take courage. These great brothers of ours in blood and lineage, who
live a universal life, still speak to us from their graves, and beckon
us on in the paths which they have trod."
One of the last things said by Sir Walter Scott, as he lay dying, was
this: "I have been, perhaps, the most voluminous author of my day, and
it is a comfort to me to think that I have tried to unsettle no man's
faith, to corrupt no man's principles, and that I have written nothing
which, on my deathbed, I would wish blotted out." To have lived such a
life as he lived is more than to have reigned over a kingdom.
SIR WALTER SCOTT.
We are glad to call special attention to Scott, because of his heroic
struggle to maintain his good name. He was born in Edinburgh, August 15,
1771. He was the son of Walter Scott, an attorney at law; and Anne
Rutherford, daughter of Dr. John Rutherford, professor of medicine in
the University of Edinburgh, and a lineal descendant from the ancient
chieftain Walter Scott, traditionally known as "Auld Walt of Harden."
As a schoolboy Walter was very popular. He made himself respected for
his courage and general ability to take care of himself. He was not
considered a very bright scholar, although, even then, he gave evidence
of his special delight in history, poetry, fairy tales, and fables. In
1783 he entered the university. He made little progress in the ancient
languages, but was more successful in other studies. His time, however,
was industriously employed in storing his mind with that great wealth
of knowledge which afterward made him famous as a writer.
Scott was educated for a lawyer, but all his natural tastes were in the
direction of literature. The greater part of his early life was an
unconscious preparation for writing. He had been writing prose romances
for several years with considerable success, when in January, 1805, he
published "The Lay of the Last Minstrel." It at once became extremely
popular. It sold more widely than any poem had ever sold before. This
led him to decide that literature was to be the main business of his
life. "Marmion," which appeared in 1808, and "The Lady of the Lake," in
1810, placed Scott among the greatest living poets. He touched then the
highest point of happiness and prosperity.
Soon after this he entered into a business partnership with a publishing
house, which resulted in his financial ruin. The failure left him
partner to a debt of over one hundred thousand pounds. At the age of
fifty-five, when all the freshness of youth was gone, he set himself the
task of paying this enormous claim and winning back his ancestral
estates. He went to work with a dogged determination to pay off his debt
of honor. The heaviest blow was to his pride; yet pride alone never
enabled any man to struggle so vigorously to meet the obligations he had
incurred. It was rather that high feeling of self-respect which nerved
his power to meet and try to overcome his great misfortune. His estates
were conveyed to trustees for the benefit of his creditors, until such
time as he could free them. Between January, 1826, and January, 1828, he
earned forty thousand pounds by unremitting toil. Then his health broke
down; yet he still struggled on with enfeebled constitution, but with an
unbroken will, to discharge, if possible, his obligations, and leave to
the world a respected name.
[Footnote: See Lockhart's "Life of Sir Walter Scott" (Houghton, Mifflin
& Co.); Hutton's "Sir Walter Scott;" and articles in encyclopedias.]