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From: The True Citizen How To Become One
(Category: Content)


Love makes obedience easy.--T. Watson

The education of the will is the object of our existence.--Emerson

To learn obeying is the fundamental art of governing.--Carlyle

True obedience neither procrastinates nor questions.--Francis Quarles

If thou wouldst be obeyed as a father, be obedient as a son.
--William Penn

By obedience is meant submission to authority, and to proper restraint
and control. It is the doing of that which we are told to do; and the
refraining from that which is forbidden. At its very best it may be
defined as the habit of yielding willingly to command or restraint.

As observation forms the first step in the culture of the mind, so
obedience forms the first step in the building of the character. It is
as important to the life as is the foundation to the house. Thomas
Carlyle has well said that "Obedience is our universal duty and destiny,
wherein whosoever will not bend must break." It is impossible to escape
from it altogether, and it is therefore wise to learn to obey as early
in life as possible.

It does not take very long for a child to learn that it cannot do
everything that it would like to do. The wishes of others must be
regarded. These wishes spring from a knowledge of what is best.
Children, with their limited experiences, cannot always foresee the
consequences of their doings. For their own good they must not be
allowed to do anything that would result in harm to themselves or to
others. Some one must oversee and direct them until they can act
intelligently. Obedience is one of the principal laws of the family. The
harmony and peace of the entire household depend upon it.

True obedience does not argue nor dispute; neither does it delay nor
murmur. It goes directly to work to fulfil the commands laid upon us, or
to refrain from doing that which is forbidden. "Sir," said the Duke of
Wellington to an officer of engineers, who urged the impossibility of
executing his orders, "I did not ask your opinion. I gave you my orders,
and I expect them to be obeyed."

A story is told of a great captain, who, after a battle, was talking
over the events of the day with his officers. He asked them who had done
the best that day. Some spoke of one man who had fought very bravely,
and some of another. "No," said he, "you are all mistaken. The best man
in the field to-day was a soldier, who was just lifting his arm to
strike an enemy, but when he heard the trumpet sound a retreat, checked
himself, and dropped his arm without striking a blow. That perfect and
ready obedience to the will of his general, is the noblest thing that
has been done to-day."

The instant obedience of the child is as beautiful and as important as
that of the soldier. The unhesitating obedience which springs from a
loving confidence is beautifully illustrated in the following incident:
A switchman in Prussia was stationed at the junction of two lines of
railroad. His hand was on the lever for a train that was approaching.
The engine was within a few seconds of reaching his signal box when, on
turning his head, the switchman saw his little boy playing on the line
of rails over which the train was to pass. "Lie down!" he shouted to the
child; but, he himself, remained at his post. The train passed safely on
its way. The father rushed forward, expecting to take up a corpse; but
what was his joy on finding that the boy had obeyed his order so
promptly that the whole train had passed over him without injury. The
next day the king sent for the man and attached to his breast the medal
for civil courage.

A cheerful obedience is one of the strongest proofs of love. "Love is to
obedience like wings to the bird, or sails to the ship. It is the agency
that carries it forward to success. When love cools, obedience slackens;
and nothing is worthy of the name of love that leads to disobedience."

We remember the anecdote of a Roman commander, who forbade an engagement
with the enemy, and the first transgressor was his own son. He accepted
the challenge of the leader of the other host, slew and disrobed him,
and then in triumph carried the spoils to his father's tent. But the
Roman father refused to recognize the instinct which prompted this, as
deserving the name of love.

Many of the restraints laid upon us result from the love of those in
authority. If we were permitted to pursue our own inclinations, our
health might be destroyed, our minds run to waste, and we should be apt
to grow up slothful and selfish; a trouble to others and burdensome to
ourselves. It is far easier to obey our parents and friends when we
recall that we have experienced their goodness long enough to know that
they wish to make us happy, even when their commands seem most severe.
Let us, therefore, show our appreciation of their goodness by doing
cheerfully what they require.

The will is supported, strengthened, and perfected by obedience. There
are many who suppose that real strength of will is secured by giving it
free play. But we really weaken it in that way. Obedience to a
reasonable law is a source of moral strength and power. Obedience is not
weakness bowing to strength, but is rather submission to an authority
whose claims are already admitted. If a man is royal when he rules over
nature, and yet more royal when he rules his brother man, is he not most
royal when he so rules himself as to do the right even when it is

A man who had declared his aversion for what he called the dry facts of
political economy, was found one day knitting his brows over a book on
that subject. When a friend expressed surprise, the man replied: "I am
playing the schoolmaster with myself. I am reading this because I
dislike it."

Difficulties are often really helpful. They enlarge our experience and
incite us to do our best. "The head of Hercules," says Ruskin, "was
always represented as covered with a lion's skin, with the claws joining
under the chin, to show that when we had conquered our misfortunes they
became a help to us."

One of the greatest hindrances to obedience is a false pride. The
thought of living under the will and direction of another is exceedingly
unpleasant, and where such a pride bears rule in the heart, a cheerful
obedience is almost an impossibility. We often fail to obey simply
because we are unwilling to acknowledge ourselves in the wrong.

Obedience is also hindered by ignorance. One of our commonest errors is
that which teaches that authority is always pleasant, and submission
always painful. The actual experiences of life prove that the place of
command is usually a position of great anxiety, while the place of
obedience is generally one of ease and freedom from care.

Indolence also opposes obedience. In our selfish love of ease we allow
duties to go undone until the habit of disobedience becomes almost
unnoticeable; but when we find ourselves compelled to resist it, we then
discover that to break away from its power is one of the hardest tasks
we can be called upon to perform.


A very striking example of prompt and unquestioning obedience is
furnished us in that famous "Charge of the Light Brigade" at Balaclava,
during the Crimean War, of which you have all doubtless heard. A series
of engagements between the Russians on the one side, and the English and
their allies on the other side, took place near this little town, on
October 25, 1854. The Russians were for a time victorious, and at last
threatened the English port of Balaclava itself. The attack was diverted
by a brilliant charge of the Heavy Brigade, led by General Scarlett.
Then, through a misunderstanding of the orders of Lord Raglan, the
commander-in-chief, Lord Cardigan was directed to charge the Russian
artillery at the northern extremity of the Balaclava valley with the
Light Brigade, then under his command.

Lord Cardigan was an exceedingly unpopular officer, and greatly disliked
by all his men, But no sooner was the order given than, with a battery
in front of them, and one on either side, the Light Brigade hewed its
way past these deadly engines of war and routed the enemy's cavalry. Of
the six hundred and seventy horsemen who made the charge, only one
hundred and ninety-eight returned. As an act of war it was madness. In
the opinion of the most competent judges there was no good end to be
gained by it. But as an act of soldierly obedience it was sublime. The
deed has been immortalized by the poet Tennyson in the following verses:

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
Some one had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Flash'd all their sabers bare,
Flash'd as they turn'd in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the battery-smoke,
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel'd from the saber-stroke
Shattered and sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder'd.
Honor the charge they made!
Honor the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

[Footnote: For the story of the Crimean War, consult "Encyclopedia
Britannica", Vol. VIII., p. 366; also Vol. XVII., pp. 228 and 486.]



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