THE IDEAL MAN.
From the lowest depth there is a path to the highest height.--Carlyle.
A man seldom loses the respect of others until he has lost his own.
--F. W. Robertson
There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must
hunger after them.--George Eliot
The man who thinks himself inferior t
his fellows, deserves to be, and
generally is.--William Black
It is characteristic of small men to avoid emergencies; of great men to
meet them.--Charles Kingsley
Every man has characteristics which make him a distinct personality; a
different individual from every other individual. It is an interesting
fact that a man cannot change his nature, though he may conceal it;
while no art or application will teach him to know himself, as he really
is, or as others see him.
If the idea of humanity carry with it the corresponding idea of a
physical, intellectual, and moral nature--if it be this trinity of being
which constitutes the man,--then let us think of the first or the second
elements as we may, it is the third which completes our conception. Let
us praise the mechanism of the body to the utmost; let it be granted
that the height and force of our intellect bespeaks a glorious
intelligence; still our distinctive excellence and preeminence lies in
moral and spiritual perfection.
There are those who think and speak as if manhood consisted in birth or
titles, or in extent of power and authority. They are satisfied if they
can only reckon among their ancestors some of the great and illustrious,
or if noble blood but flow in their veins. But if they have no other
glory than that of their ancestors; if all their greatness lies in a
name; if their titles are their only virtues; if it be necessary to call
up past ages to find something worthy of our homage,--then their birth
rather disparages and dishonors them.
That these creatures lay claim to the name and the attributes of man, is
a desecration. Man is a _noble_ being. There may be rank, and
title, and ancestry, and deeds of renown, where there is no intellectual
power. Nor would we unduly exalt reason. There may be mental greatness
in no common degree, and yet be a total absence of those higher moral
elements which bring our manhood more clearly into view. It is the
combination of intellectual power and moral excellence which goes to
make the perfect man.
The world wants a man who is educated all over; whose nerves are brought
to their acutest sensibility; whose brain is cultured, keen, and
penetrating; whose hands are deft; whose eyes are alert, sensitive,
microscopic; whose heart is tender, broad, magnanimous, true. Indeed,
the only man who can satisfy the demands of an age like this, is the man
who has been rounded into perfectness by being cultured along all the
lines we have indicated in the foregoing pages.
This education must commence with the very first opening of the infant
mind. Our lessons will multiply and be of a still higher character with
the progress of our years. Truth may succeed truth, according to the
mental power and capacity; nor must our instruction cease till the
probationary state shall close. Our education can finish only with the
termination of life.
Every one is conscious of a most peculiar feeling when he looks at
anything whose formation or development is imperfect. Let him take up an
imperfectly-formed crystal, or an imperfectly-developed flower, and he
can scarcely describe his feelings. The same holds true as to the
organization and structure of the human body. Who ever contemplates
stunted growth, or any kind of visible deformity, with complacency and
satisfaction? And why should we not look for full mental development,
and for the most perfect moral maturity? If what is imperfect
constitutes the exception in the physical world, why should it be
otherwise in the world of mind and of morals? Is it a thing to be
preferred, to be stunted, and little, and dwarfish, in our intellectual
and moral stature? Or do we prefer a state of childhood to that of a
perfect man? If the mind is the measure of the man, and if uprightness
constitutes the noblest aspect of life, then our advancement in
knowledge and in righteousness should appear unto all men.
There is a god in the meanest man; there is a philanthropist in the
stingiest miser; there is a hero in the biggest coward,--which an
emergency great enough will call out. The blighting greed of gain, the
chilling usages and cold laws of trade, encase many a noble heart in
crusts of selfishness; but great emergencies break open the prison
doors, and the whole heart pours itself forth in deeds of charity and
The poor and unfortunate are our opportunity, our character-builders,
the great schoolmasters of our moral and Christian growth. Every kind
and noble deed performed for others, is transmuted into food which
nourishes the motive promoting its performance, and strengthens the
muscles of habit. Gladstone, in the midst of pressing duties, found time
to visit a poor sick boy whom he had seen sweeping the street crossings.
He endeared himself to the heart of the English people by this action
more than by almost any other single event of his life; and this
incident is more talked about to-day than almost any of his so-called
Not what men do, but what their lives promise and prophesy, gives hope
to the race. To keep us from discouragement, Nature now and then sends
us a Washington, a Lincoln, a Kossuth, a Gladstone, towering above his
fellows, to show us she has not lost her ideal.
We call a man like Shakespeare a genius, not because he makes new
discoveries, but because he shows us to ourselves,--shows us the great
reserve in us, which, like the oil-fields, awaited a discoverer,--and
because he says that which we had thought or felt, but could not
express. Genius merely holds the glass up to nature. We can never see in
the world what we do not first have in ourselves.
"Every man," says Theodore Parker, "has at times in his mind the ideal
of what he should be, but is not. In all men that seek to improve, it is
better than the actual character. No one is so satisfied with himself
that he never wishes to be wiser, better, and more perfect."
The ideal is the continual image that is cast upon the brain; and these
images are as various as the stars; and, like them, differ one from
another in magnitude. It is the quality of the aspiration that
determines the true success or failure of a life. A man may aspire to be
the best billiard-player, the best coachman, the best wardroom
politician, the best gambler, or the most cunning cheat. He may rise to
be eminent in his calling; but, compared with other men, his greatest
height will be below the level of the failure of him who chooses an
honest profession. No jugglery of thought, no gorgeousness of
trappings, can make the low high, the dishonest honest, the vile pure.
As is a man's ideal or aspiration, so shall his life be.
But when all this has been said, it still remains true that much of the
difference between man and man arises from the variety of occupations
and practices,--a certain special training which develops thought and
intelligence in special directions. All men meet, however, on the
common level of common sense. A man's thought is indicated by his talk,
by verbal expression. Mental action and expression is affected by the
senses, passions, and appetites.
Whatever great thing in life a man does, he never would have done in
that precise way except for the peculiar training and experience which
developed him; and no single incident in his life, however trifling, may
be excepted in the work of rounding him out to the exact character he
The poet is really calling for what we regard as the ideal man, when he
"God give us men. A time like this demands
Strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands:
Men whom the lust of office does not kill;
Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy;
Men who possess opinions and a will;
Men who have honor--men who will not lie;
Men who can stand before a demagogue
And scorn his treacherous flatteries without winking;
Tall men, sun-crowned, who live above the fog
In public duty, and in private thinking."