Guard Your Weak Point

He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty: and he that

ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.


The first and best of victories is for a man to conquer

himself: to be conquered by himself is, of all things, the most

shameful and vile.


The worst education which teaches self-denial is better than

he best which teaches everything else and not that.


Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power.


The energy which issues in growth, or assimilates knowledge,

must originate in self and be self-directed.


The foes with which they waged their strife

Were passion, self and sin;

The victories that laureled life,

Were fought and won within.


"I'll sign it after awhile," a drunkard would reply, when repeatedly

urged by his wife to sign the pledge; "but I don't like to break off at

once, the best way is to get used to a thing." "Very well, old man,"

said his wife, "see if you don't fall into a hole one of these days,

with no one to help you out."

Not long after, when intoxicated, he did fall into a shallow well, but

his shouts for help were fortunately heard by his wife. "Didn't I tell

you so?" she asked. "It's lucky I was in hearing or you might have

drowned." He took hold of the bucket and she tugged at the windlass; but

when he was near the top her grasp slipped and down he went into the

water again. This was repeated until he screamed: "Look here, you're

doing that on purpose, I know you are." "Well, now, I am," admitted the

wife. "Don't you remember telling me it's best to get used to a thing by

degrees? I'm afraid if I bring you up sudden, you would not find it

wholesome." Finding that his case was becoming desperate, he promised to

sign the pledge at once. His wife raised him out immediately, but warned

him that if ever he became intoxicated and fell into the well again, she

would leave him there.

A man captured a young tiger and resolved to make a pet of it. It grew

up like a kitten, fond and gentle. There was no evidence of its savage,

bloodthirsty nature, and it seemed perfectly harmless. But one day while

the master was playing with his pet, the rough tongue upon his hand

started the blood from a scratch. The moment the beast tasted blood, his

ferocious tiger nature was roused, and he rushed upon his master to tear

him to pieces. Sometimes the appetite for drink, which was thought to

be buried years ago, is roused by the taste or the smell of "the devil

in solution," and the wretched victim finds himself a helpless slave to

the passion which he thought dead.

When a young man, Hugh Miller once drank the two glasses of whiskey

which fell to his share at the usual treat of drink of the masons with

whom he worked. On reaching home he tried to read Bacon's Essays, his

favorite book, but he could not distinguish the letters or comprehend

the meaning. "The condition into which I had brought myself was, I felt,

one of degradation," said he. "I had sunk, by my own act, for the time,

to a lower level of intelligence than that on which it was my privilege

to be placed; and though the state could have been no very favorable one

for forming a resolution, I in that hour determined that I should never

again sacrifice my capacity of intellectual enjoyment to a drinking

usage; and with God's help I was enabled to hold by the determination."

In a certain manufacturing town an employer one Saturday paid to his

workmen $700 in crisp new bills that had been secretly marked. On Monday

$450 of those identical bills were deposited in the bank by the

saloon-keepers. When the fact was made known, the workmen were so

startled by it that they helped to make the place a no-license town. The

times would not be so "hard" for the workmen if the saloons did not

take in so much of their wages. If they would organize a strike against

the saloons, they would find the result to be better than an increase of

wages, and to include an increase of savings.

How often we might read the following sign over the threshold of a

youthful life: "For sale, grand opportunities, for a song;" "golden

chances for beer;" "magnificent opportunities exchanged for a little

sensual enjoyment;" "for exchange, a beautiful home, devoted wife,

lovely children, for drink;" "for sale, cheap, all the magnificent

possibilities of a brilliant life, a competence, for one chance in a

thousand at the gambling table;" "for exchange, bright prospects, a

brilliant outlook, a cultivated intelligence, a college education, a

skilled hand, an observant eye, valuable experience, great tact, all

exchanged for rum, for a muddled brain, a bewildered intellect, a

shattered nervous system, poisoned blood, a diseased body, for fatty

degeneration of the heart, for Bright's disease, for a drunkard's


With almost palsied hand, at a temperance meeting, John B. Gough signed

the pledge. For six days and nights in a wretched garret, without a

mouthful of food, with scarcely a moment's sleep, he fought the fearful

battle with appetite. Weak, famished, almost dying, he crawled into the

sunlight; but he had conquered the demon which had almost killed him.

Gough used to describe the struggles of a man who tried to leave off

using tobacco. He threw away what he had, and said that was the end of

it; but no, it was only the beginning of it. He would chew camomile,

gentian, tooth-picks, but it was of no use. He bought another plug of

tobacco and put it in his pocket. He wanted a chew awfully, but he

looked at it and said, "You are a _weed_, and I am a _man_. I'll master

you if I die for it;" and he did, while carrying it in his pocket daily.

There was an abbot that desired a piece of ground that lay conveniently

for him. The owner refused to sell; yet with much persuasion he was

contented to let it. The abbot hired it and covenanted only to farm it

for one crop. He had his bargain, and sowed it with acorns--a crop that

lasted three hundred years. So Satan asks to get possession of our souls

by asking us to permit some small sin to enter, some one wrong that

seems of no great account. But when once he has entered and planted the

seeds and beginnings of evil, he holds his ground.

"Teach self-denial and make its practice pleasurable," says Walter

Scott, "and you create for the world a destiny more sublime than ever

issued from the brain of the wildest dreamer."

Thomas A. Edison was once asked why he was a total abstainer. He said,

"I thought I had a better use for my head."

Byron could write poetry easily, for it was merely indulging his natural

propensity; but to curb his temper, soothe his discontent, and control

his animal appetites was a very different thing. At all events, it

seemed so great to him that he never seriously attempted self-conquest.

Let every youth who would not be shipwrecked on life's voyage cultivate

this one great virtue, "self-control." There is nothing so important to

a youth starting out in life as a thoroughly trained and cultivated

will; everything depends upon it. If he has it, he will succeed; if he

does not have it, he will fail.

"The first and best of victories," says Plato, "is for a man to conquer

himself; to be conquered by himself is, of all things, the most shameful

and vile."

"Silence," says Zimmerman, "is the safest response for all the

contradiction that arises from impertinence, vulgarity, or envy."

"He is a fool who cannot be angry," says English, "but he is a wise man

who will not."

Seneca, one of the greatest of the ancient philosophers, said that "we

should every night call ourselves to account. What infirmity have I

mastered to-day? what passion opposed? what temptation resisted? what

virtue acquired?" and then he follows with the profound truth that "our

vices will abate of themselves if they be brought every day to the

shrift." If you cannot at first control your anger, learn to control

your tongue, which, like fire, is a good servant, but a hard master.

It does no good to get angry. Some sins have a seeming compensation or

apology, a present gratification of some sort, but anger has none. A man

feels no better for it. It is really a torment, and when the storm of

passion has cleared away, it leaves one to see that he has been a fool.

And he has made himself a fool in the eyes of others too.

The wife of Socrates, Xanthippe, was a woman of a most fantastical and

furious spirit. At one time, having vented all the reproaches upon

Socrates her fury could suggest, he went out and sat before the door.

His calm and unconcerned behavior but irritated her so much the more;

and, in the excess of her rage, she ran upstairs and emptied a vessel

upon his head, at which he only laughed and said that "so much thunder

must needs produce a shower." Alcibiades, his friend, talking with him

about his wife, told him he wondered how he could bear such an

everlasting scold in the same house with him. He replied, "I have so

accustomed myself to expect it, that it now offends me no more than the

noise of carriages in the street."

It is said of Socrates, that whether he was teaching the rules of an

exact morality, whether he was answering his corrupt judges, or was

receiving sentence of death, or swallowing the poison, he was still the

same man; that is to say, calm, quiet, undisturbed, intrepid--in a word,

wise to the last.

"It is not enough to have great qualities," says La Rochefoucauld; "we

should also have the management of them." No man can call himself

educated until every voluntary muscle obeys his will.

"You ask whether it would not be manly to resent a great injury," said

Eardley Wilmot; "I answer that it would be manly to resent it, but it

would be Godlike to forgive it."

"He who, with strong passions, remains chaste; he who, keenly sensitive,

with manly power of indignation in him, can be provoked, and yet

restrain himself and forgive--these are strong men, the spiritual


To feel provoked or exasperated at a trifle, when the nerves are

exhausted, is, perhaps, natural to us in our imperfect state. But why

put into the shape of speech the annoyance which, once uttered, is

remembered; which may burn like a blistering wound, or rankle like a

poisoned arrow? If a child be crying or a friend capricious, or a

servant unreasonable, be careful what you say. Do not speak while you

feel the impulse of anger, for you will be almost certain to say too

much, to say more than your cooler judgment will approve, and to speak

in a way that you will regret. Be silent until the "sweet by and by,"

when you will be calm, rested, and self-controlled.

But self-respect must be accompanied by self-conquest, or our strong

feelings may prove but runaway horses. He who would command others must

first learn to obey, and he who would command his own powers must learn

to be submissive to the still small voice within. Discipline the

passions, curb pride and impatience, restrain all hasty impulses. Deny

yourself the gratification of any desire not sanctioned by reason. Shame

and its consequent degradation follow the loss of our own good opinion

rather than the esteem of others. Too many yield in the perpetual

conflict between temptation to gratify the coarser appetites and

aspiration for the good, the true, and the beautiful. Voices unheard by

those around us whisper "Don't," but too often self-respect is lost, the

will lies prostrate, and the debauch goes on. Such battles must be

fought by all; be ours the victory born of self-control, aided by that

Heaven which always helps him who prays while putting his own shoulder

to the wheel.

No man had a better heart or more thoroughly hated oppression than

Edmund Burke. He possessed neither experience in affairs, nor a tranquil

judgment, nor the rule over his own spirit, so that his genius, under

the impulse of his bewildering passions, wrought much evil to his

country and to Europe, even while he rendered noble service to the cause

of commercial freedom, to Ireland, and to America.

Burns could not resist the temptation to utter his clever sarcasms at

another's expense, and one of his biographers has said that he made a

hundred enemies for every ten jokes he made. But Burns could no more

control his appetite than his tongue.

"Thus thoughtless follies laid him low

And stained his name."

Xanthus, the philosopher, told his servant that on the morrow he was

going to have some friends to dine, and asked him to get the best thing

he could find in the market. The philosopher and his guests sat down

the next day at the table. They had nothing but tongue--four or five

courses of tongue--tongue cooked in this way, and tongue cooked in that

way, and the philosopher lost his patience, and said to his servant,

"Didn't I tell you to get the best thing in the market?" He said, "I did

get the best thing in the market. Isn't the tongue the organ of

sociality, the organ of eloquence, the organ of kindness, the organ of

worship?" Then Xanthus said, "To-morrow I want you to get the worst

thing in the market." And on the morrow the philosopher sat at the

table, and there was nothing there but tongue--four or five courses of

tongue--tongue in this shape, and tongue in that shape--and the

philosopher again lost his patience, and said, "Didn't I tell you to get

the worst thing in the market?" The servant replied, "I did; for isn't

the tongue the organ of blasphemy, the organ of defamation, the organ of


"I can reform my people," said Peter the Great, "but I cannot reform

myself." He forbade all Russians to wear beards, and to quell the

insurrection which resulted, he had 8000 revolters beheaded. With a

hatchet he began the ghastly work. He had his own son beheaded.

He who cannot resist temptation is not a man. He is wanting in the

highest attributes of humanity. The honor and nobleness of the old

"knight-errantry" consisted in defending the innocence of men and

protecting the chastity of women against the assaults of others. But the

truer and nobler knighthood protects the property and the character, the

innocence and the chastity of others against one's self. We should all

be posted upon our weak points, for after all there are many emergencies

in life when these weak points, not our strong ones, will measure our

manhood and our strength. Many a woman whom a mouse would frighten out

of her wits would not shrink from assisting in terrible surgical

operations in our city or war hospitals, and many an officer and

soldier who would walk up to the cannon's mouth without a tremor in

battle, would not dare to say his soul was his own in a society parlor.

Many a great statesman has quailed before the ringer of scorn of a

fellow-Congressman, and has been completely cowed by a hiss from the

gallery or a ridiculing paragraph in a newspaper. We all have tender

spots, weak spots, and a man can never know his strength who does not

study his weaknesses.

"Violent passions and ardent feelings are seldom found united with

complete self-command; but when they are they form the strongest

possible character, for there is all the power of clear thought and cool

judgment impelled by the resistless energy of feeling. This combination

Washington possessed; for in his impetuosity there was no foolish

rashness, and in his passion no injustice. Besides, whatever violence

there might be within, the explosion seldom came to the surface, and

when it did it was arrested at once by the stern mandate of his will. He

never lost the mastery of himself in any emergency, and in 'ruling his

spirit' showed himself greater than in 'taking a city.'

"It is one of the astonishing things in his life that, amid the perfect

chaos of feeling into which he was thrown,--amid the distracted counsels

and still more distracted affairs that surrounded him,--he never once

lost the perfect equilibrium of his own mind. The contagion of fear and

doubt and despair could not touch him. He did not seem susceptible to

the common influences which affect men. His soul poised on its own

centre, reposed calmly there through all the storms that beat for seven

years on his noble breast. The ingratitude and folly of those who should

have been his allies, the insults of his foes, and the frowns of fortune

never provoked him into a rash act, or deluded him into a single error."

Horace Mann says that there must be a time when the vista of the future,

with all its possibilities of glory and of shame, first opens to the

vision of youth. Then is he summoned to make his choice between truth

and treachery; between honor and dishonor; between purity and

profligacy; between moral life and moral death. And as he doubts or

balances between the heavenward or hellward course; as he struggles to

rise or consents to fall; is there in all the universe of God a

spectacle of higher exultation or of deeper pathos? Within him are the

appetites of a brute and the attributes of an angel; and when these meet

in council to make up the roll of his destiny and seal his fate, shall

the beast hound out the seraph? Shall the young man, now conscious of

the largeness of his sphere and of the sovereignty of his choice, wed

the low ambitions of the world, and seek, with their emptiness, to fill

his immortal desires? Because he has a few animal wants that must be

supplied, shall he become all animal,--an epicure and an inebriate,--and

blasphemously make it the first doctrine of his catechism,--"the Chief

End of Man?"--to glorify his stomach and enjoy it? Because it is the law

of self-preservation that he shall provide for himself, and the law of

religion that he shall provide for his family, when he has one, must he,

therefore, cut away all the bonds of humanity that bind him to his race,

forswear charity, crush down every prompting of benevolence, and if he

can have the palace and equipage of the prince, and the table of a

sybarite, become a blind man, and a deaf man, and a dumb man, when he

walks the streets where hunger moans and nakedness shivers?

The strong man is the one who ever keeps himself under strict

discipline, who never once allows the lower to usurp the place of the

higher in him; who makes his passions his servants and never allows them

to be his master; who is ever led by his mind and not by his

inclinations. He drills and disciplines his desires and keeps the roots

of his life under ground, and never allows them to interfere with his

character. He is never the slave of his inclinations, nor the sport of

impulse. He is the commander of himself and heads his ship due north

even in the wildest tempests of passion. He is never the slave of his

strongest desire.

A noted teacher has said that the propensities and habits are as

teachable as Latin and Greek, while they are infinitely more essential

to happiness. We are very largely the creatures of our wills. By

constantly looking on the bright side of things, by viewing everything

hopefully, by setting the face as a flint every hour of every day toward

all that is harmonious and beautiful in life, and refusing to listen to

the discord or to look at the ugly side of life, by constantly directing

the thought toward what is noble, grand and true, we can soon form

habits which will develop into a beautiful character, a harmonious and

well-rounded life. We are creatures of habit, and by knowing the laws of

its formation we can, in a little while, build up a network of habit

about us, which will protect us from most of the ugly, selfish and

degrading things of life. In fact, the only real happiness and unalloyed

satisfaction we get out of life, is the product of self-control. It is

the great guardian of all the virtues, without which none of them is

safe. It is the sentinel, which stands on guard at the door of life, to

admit friends and exclude enemies.

"I call that mind free," says Channing, "which jealously guards its

intellectual rights and powers, which calls no man master, which does

not content itself with a passive or hereditary faith, which opens

itself to light whencesoever it may come, which receives new truth as an

angel from heaven, which, whilst consulting others, inquires still more

of the oracle within; itself, and uses instructions from abroad, not to

supersede, but to quicken and exalt its own energies. I call that mind

free which is not passively framed by outward circumstances, which is

not swept away by the torrent of events, which is not the creature of

accidental impulse, but which bends events to its own improvement, and

acts from an inward spring, from immutable principles which it has

deliberately espoused. I call that mind free which protects itself

against the usurpations of society, which does not cower to human

opinion, which feels itself accountable to a higher tribunal than man's,

which respects a higher law than fashion, which respects itself too much

to be the slave or tool of the many or the few. I call that mind free

which through confidence in God and in the power of virtue has cast off

all fear but that of wrong-doing, which no menace or peril can enthrall,

which is calm in the midst of tumults, and possesses itself though all

else be lost. I call that mind free which resists the bondage of habit,

which does not mechanically repeat itself and copy the past, which does

not live on its old virtues, which does not enslave itself to precise

rules, but which forgets what is behind, listens for new and higher

monitions of conscience, and rejoices to pour itself forth in fresh and

higher exertions. I call that mind free which is jealous of its own

freedom, which guards itself from being merged in others, which guards

its empire over itself as nobler than the empire of the world."