From: The True Citizen How To Become One
Gratitude is the music of the heart.--Robert South.
The best way of recognizing a benefit is never to forget it.
--J. J. Barthelmey
The affection and the reason are both necessary factors in morality.
True love burns hottest when the weather is coldest.--Swinnock
The mind has a thousand eyes,
And the heart but one;
Yet the light of a whole life dies
When love is done.--F. W. Bourdillon
One of the most powerful forces in the building of character is
affection; and one of the most common forms of its manifestation is
gratitude. The exercise of affection makes us tender and loving toward
all living persons and creatures about us; while the exercise of
gratitude usually results in making them tender and loving toward us.
Every boy and girl should endeavor to cultivate this spirit of
affectionate consideration for the feelings of others, and should be
careful not to speak any word, or do any act, or even give any look
which can cause unnecessary pain. And yet there are many young people,
who have never been taught better, who take exceeding pleasure in
causing annoyance and even suffering to all with whom they have to do.
This is done with the simple idea of having a little fun; but it is one
of the worst habits we can possibly form, and should be carefully
avoided by all who would command the respect and esteem which every
young person should desire to possess.
Perhaps you have heard the story of the youth who, while walking out
with his tutor, saw a pair of shoes that a poor laborer had left under a
hedge while he was busied with his work. "What fun it would be,"
exclaimed the young man, "to hide these shoes, and then to conceal
ourselves behind the hedge, and see the man's surprise and excitement
when he cannot find them." "I will tell you what would be better sport,"
said the tutor; "put a piece of money into one of the shoes, and then
hide and watch his surprise when he finds it." This the young man did;
and the joy and wonder of the poor laborer when he found the money in
his shoe was as good fun as he wanted.
We all know what the feeling of gratitude is. We have said "Thank you,"
a great many times; and have often felt really grateful in our hearts
for gifts and favors received. But we are too apt to forget that we have
any one to thank for the most important benefits of our lives. When we
stop to think, we see that all we have done or can do for ourselves is
very little indeed in comparison with what has been done for us.
How much we owe to our parents! What other creature in the world is so
helpless as the human infant? Leave a little baby to take care of
itself, and how long do you suppose it would live? How many of us would
be alive to-day, if in our earliest years we had not been provided for
and watched over with tender care? But the outward benefits for which
children have to thank their parents are of less value than the lessons
of truth and goodness which are never so well taught as by the lips of
a faithful and devoted father and mother. To these lessons the greatest
and best men generally look back with the deepest gratitude.
A child's affection for his parents ought to make him tender toward them
when age or disease has made them irritable or complaining. A love that
only accepts, and never gives, is not worthy of the name.
Sometimes we hear of old men and women who are left to die alone, whose
children have deserted them, and who have no friends in the world. These
cases seem pitiful enough, and it breaks our hearts to think of them.
But usually the men and women who are left desolate in their old age are
those who have been unloving in their youth. "A man that hath friends
must show himself friendly," and an aged man or woman who has made
friends through life, and been full of love and affection toward others,
is tolerably sure to be tenderly cared for in later years. But true
affection is never eager for returns. We love because we must love;
never because we expect to be loved in return. We do for others because
we wish to make them happy; and not because we wish them to do for us.
Kindness and generosity have their place in the playground. There may be
thoughtfulness for one who is weaker than the rest, or who is a
newcomer, or who, for any reason, is neglected by others. There is an
opportunity to stand up for those who are ill-used. There is a generous
sympathy for those who, in any way, are having a hard time.
In all these ways boys and girls, when they are at play, show pretty
well what they are going to be in later life. When Napoleon was at a
military school, the boys were one day playing at war. One set of them
held a fort which the others were trying to capture. The boy, Napoleon,
led the attacking party. In the midst of the fight there was a flourish
of trumpets, and a party of officers entered, who had come to inspect
the school. The boys that held the fort forgot their play, and stood
staring at the entering group. Napoleon did not lose his head for a
moment. He kept his party up to their work. He took advantage of the
interruption, and when the besieged recovered their wits, their fort
was captured. He was already the Napoleon who in the real battles of
later years knew how to turn so many seemingly adverse circumstances to
We always think of Sir Walter Scott as a very affectionate man; but once
when he was a boy he saw a dog coming toward him and carelessly threw a
stone at him. The stone broke the dog's leg. The poor creature had
strength to crawl up to him and lick his feet. This incident, he
afterward said, had given him the bitterest remorse. He never forgot it.
From that moment he resolved never to be unkind to any animal. We know
that he kept that resolution, for he wrote many of his novels with his
faithful dogs Maida, Nimrod, and Bran near him. When Maida died he had
a sculptured monument of her set up before his door.
We all know boys who throw stones at animals from pure thoughtlessness
and love of fun. But no boy with a really affectionate nature can bear
to make an animal or a human being suffer pain. A boy who begins by
being cruel to animals usually ends by being cruel to women and
children. A girl who habitually forgets to feed her kitten or her
canary birds, will be apt to forget her child later in life.
Half a century ago there lived in the state of Massachusetts a very
remarkable man named Thoreau. This man became so deeply interested in
the animal world that he built a little hut for himself near Walden
pond, and he there lived in the closest sympathy with the birds and
animals for more than two years. It is said that even the snakes loved
him, and would wind round his legs; and on taking a squirrel from a tree
the little creature would hide its head in his waistcoat. The fish in
the river knew him and would let him lift them out of the water, and the
little wood-mice came and nibbled at the cheese he held in his hand. It
was Thoreau's love for the little wild creatures which drew them to him,
for animals are as responsive to love as are human beings.
John Howard gave his life to the work of improving the condition of
prisons all over the world, and finally he died alone in Russia of jail
fever. He was followed in his labors by Elizabeth Fry in England, and by
Dorothea Dix in America. These noble philanthropists were filled with
unselfish love toward suffering humanity. They devoted their lives to
the neglected and forsaken, including the whole world in their generous
hearts; and their names and deeds will never be forgotten.
There are two principal ways in which our kindly feelings may be made
known: First, _in our words_. It is pleasant to those who do us
favors to know that we appreciate their kindness, and we should never
fail to tell them so. This is often all the return that they expect or
ask; besides, it is good for us. We strengthen our feelings by giving
them suitable expression. Loveless at last is the home in which no word
of love is ever heard. The grateful feeling to which one gives utterance
kindles the same feeling in the hearts of those who hear.
Second, _in our deeds_. If we are really grateful we are not satisfied
with simply saying, "Thank you," to those who have been kind to us, even
when we know this is all they expect. We wish to render them some
service in return. In the case of our parents, as long as they are with
us, we can best do this by doing cheerfully what they ask us to do, by
thoughtfully anticipating their wishes, and by trying to be as pure and
good as we know they want us to be.
Abraham Lincoln was a poor boy. His early life was full of hardships;
but many a kind friend helped him in his struggle against poverty. Among
these friends of his early youth was one, Jack Armstrong, of New Salem,
Illinois, whose kind, good-hearted wife performed for Lincoln many a
motherly act of kindness. She made his clothes and "got him something to
eat while he rocked the baby." Years passed by. Lincoln became a
successful lawyer. Soon after he had entered upon the practice of his
profession at Springfield, his old friend, Jack Armstrong died. The baby
whom Lincoln had rocked grew into a stout but dissolute young man. He
was arrested, charged with the crime of murder. "Aunt Hannah," as
Lincoln used to call her, was heartbroken with sorrow for her poor,
misguided boy. In her grief she appealed to the "noble, good Abe," who
had rocked her son when he was a baby. The appeal brought tears to the
eyes of Lincoln. His generous heart was touched. He resolved to
discharge the debt of gratitude which neither his great success in life
nor the intervening years had erased from his memory. He pledged his
services without charge.
"Aunt Hannah" believed that her boy was innocent and that others wished
to fasten the crime upon him because of his bad reputation. The
circumstances of the case were as follows: While Armstrong was in the
company of several fast young men, they became intoxicated. A "free
fight" ensued in which a young fellow named Metzgar was killed. After
hearing the facts, Lincoln was convinced that the young man was not
guilty, and resolved to do his best to save him from the gallows.
Lincoln secured a postponement of the trial and spent much time in
tracing the evidence. He labored as hard to pay his old debt of
gratitude as he would have done if he had been offered a five thousand
The day for the trial came. Lincoln threw his whole soul into the effort
to defend the life of his client. He succeeded in proving his innocence
beyond the shadow of a doubt. The closing of his plea was a marvel of
eloquence. He depicted the loneliness and sorrow of the widowed mother,
whose husband had once welcomed to his humble home a strange and
penniless boy. "That boy now stands before you pleading for the life of
his benefactor's son."
When the jury brought in the verdict, "not guilty," a shout of joy went
up from the crowded court room. The aged mother pressed forward through
the throng and, with tears streaming from her eyes, attempted to express
to Lincoln her gratitude for his noble effort.
Some months afterward Lincoln called to see her at her home. She urged
him to take pay for his services. "Why, Aunt Hannah," he exclaimed, "I
shan't take a cent of yours; never! Anything I can do for you, I will do
willingly, and without any charge."
True gratitude never forgets. No one can possess too much gratitude any
more than he can have too much honesty or truthfulness. It was a "pearl
of great price" in Lincoln's heart. He was truer and nobler for it; and
it did much to endear him to the American people, by whom he is still
remembered as one of the most large-hearted and liberal-minded men our
country has produced.
[Footnote: See also biographies of Lincoln, by Holland (1865); Arnold
(1868); Lamon (1872); Nicolay and Hay (1890); Schurz (1892); and Herndon
(1892, revised edition).]