Conscientiousness is the underlying granite of life.--Sir Walter Raleigh

When love of praise takes the place of praiseworthiness, the defect is

fatal.--S. Baring-Gould

When a man is dead to the sense of right, he is lost forever.

--James McCrie

Insincerity alienates love and rots away authority.--Bulwer


The value of conscientiousness is principally seen in the benefits of

civilization.--Charles Kingsley

"Conscientiousness is a scrupulous regard to the decisions of

conscience." When we say a duty was performed "religiously," it is the

same as a duty done conscientiously. Conscience does not _teach_ us

what is right; we learn that from experience, and in many other ways. It

simply tells us to do the best we know, and reproaches us when we do


Some one has well said: "We can train ourselves to be conscientious, to

be responsive to conscience, to obey it; but conscience itself cannot be

educated. It is like the sun. We may so arrange our house as to receive

the largest amount of sunlight; but the sun itself cannot be changed

either for our advantage or disadvantage. As a house with ample windows

is illuminated within by the rays of the sun, so is a well-trained life

filled with the light of conscience." We may therefore define

conscientiousness as the inborn desire to do that which is right and


Conscientiousness, which is, as we have just seen, another name for

justice, is a trait to be cultivated among young people in their sports,

in family life, and in school. A boy is unjust who refuses to "play

fair"; a girl is unjust who deprives a friend of anything properly hers.

Young people may be unjust in their words, in their thoughts, or in

their actions; and the greatest watchfulness is needed to prevent us

from failing in this important matter.

One's sense of justice may be increased by thoughtfulness as to his duty

to himself, as well as to others; and by demanding very rigid observance

of every law of conduct which commends itself as needful to ideal

character. "There is only one real failure possible in life," said Canon

Farrar, "and that is, not to be true to the best one knows."

"I can remember when you blackened my father's shoes," said one member

of the British House of Commons to another in the heat of debate. "True

enough," was the prompt reply, "but did I not blacken them well?" The

sense of right-doing was sufficient to turn an intended insult into a

well-merited compliment, and to increase for him the esteem of his


"Whatever is right to do," said an eminent writer, "should be done with

our best care, strength, and faithfulness of purpose."

Leonardo da Vinci would walk across Milan to change a single tint or the

slightest detail in his famous picture of "The Last Supper."

Rufus Choate would plead before a shoemaker justice of the peace, in a

petty case, with all the fervor and careful attention to detail with

which he addressed the United States Supreme Court.

"No, I can't do it, it is impossible," said Webster, when pressed to

speak on a question soon to come up, toward the close of a Congressional

session. "I am so pressed with other duties that I haven't time to

prepare myself to speak upon that theme." "Ah, but Mr. Webster, you

always speak well upon any subject. You never fail." "But that's the

very reason," said the orator, "because I never allow myself to speak

upon any subject without first making that subject thoroughly my own. I

haven't time to do that in this instance. Hence I must refuse."

Among the list of our great reformers, William Lloyd Garrison must

always hold a very prominent place. The work he did was that of

unselfish devotion to an overmastering sense of justice. He labored for

those in bonds, as bound with them. Faithful, as but few others were

faithful, he worked in season and out of season for human freedom.

After great effort, Mr. Garrison succeeded in establishing an

antislavery society, and he was made its agent to lecture for the cause.

He was sent to England to solicit funds for starting a manual-labor

school for the colored youth. But the whole tone of society was against

him. He was at the mercy of that prejudice which, at so many points,

was ready to adopt mob violence. The discussion of slavery was taken up

in educational institutions where, as in general society, but very few

were found who believed in universal freedom. But still he never swerved

from what he believed to be right. Justice was his plea; justice was his

battle cry; and it came to be said of him that "He was conscience


A beautiful illustration of justice, and fairness of treatment, occurred

at the opening of the great battle of Manila Bay, on May 1, 1898.

When the order was given to strip for action, one of the powder boys

tore his coat off hurriedly, and it fell from his hands and went over

the rail, down into the bay. A few moments before, he had been gazing on

his mother's photograph, and just before he took his coat off he had

kissed the picture and put it in his inside pocket. When the coat fell

overboard he turned to the captain and asked permission to jump over and

get it. Naturally the request was refused. The boy then went to the

other side of the ship and climbed down the ladder. He swam around to

the place where the coat had dropped and succeeded in getting it. When

he came back he was put in irons for disobedience. After the battle he

was tried by a court-martial for disobedience, and found guilty.

Commodore Dewey became interested in the case, for he could not

understand why the boy had risked his life and disobeyed orders for a

coat. The lad had never told his motives. But when the commodore talked

to him in a kindly way, and asked him why he had done such a strange

thing for an old coat, he burst into tears and told the commodore that

his mother's picture was in the coat. Dewey's eyes filled with tears as

he listened to the story. Then he picked up the boy and embraced him. He

ordered the little fellow to be instantly released and pardoned. "A boy

who loves his mother enough to risk his life for her picture, cannot be

kept in irons on this fleet," he said.

Examples by the score crowd in upon our minds as we think more deeply

into this subject, but space permits of only one more before passing to

our special illustration:

When troubled with deafness, the Duke of Wellington consulted a

celebrated physician, who put strong caustic into his ear, causing an

inflammation which threatened his life. The doctor apologized, expressed

great regrets, and said that the blunder would ruin him. "No," said

Wellington, "I will never mention it." "But will you allow me to attend

you, so that the people will not withdraw their confidence?" "No," said

the Iron Duke, "that would be lying."

Enough has perhaps been said to show that conscientiousness and justice

are not simply beautiful traits of character; but that they are

absolutely necessary to the fullest advancement of the individual and of

the race. We proceed to enforce this truth still more strongly, however,

by a closing reference to the career of one of our greatest statesmen.


In using Mr. Sumner as our special illustration of conscientiousness, it

is not because we lack other examples. On the contrary, they are all

about us; and doubtless we could all mention excellent cases in our own

homes, and among our own acquaintances, where conscientiousness has been

vividly illustrated. He was the eldest of nine children, and was born in

Boston, on the sixth day of January, 1811. His father was a lawyer, and

sheriff of Suffolk County, and was descended from the early colonists of

New England. Even in childhood and youth Charles Sumner evinced the

quiet, thoughtful, and serious temperament which was characteristic of

the Puritans. As a boy he took little interest in games and frolics. He

read much, and was reserved and awkward. Society to him, in early life,

possessed no attractions; and while he was always studious and patient

he never displayed any marked talent.

His progress in life was almost entirely due to his conscientious,

persistent, untiring application to the acquisition of knowledge and the

development of all his powers. He was in the highest sense a cultivated

man. His mind became, through conscientious and laborious study, a

great storehouse, filled with the richest materials and the power to use


But he did not seek these treasures of learning and power for the simple

end of glorifying himself. His one great object in life was to benefit

mankind. He said in an address, delivered just after he had begun the

practice of law, speaking of conscience and charity: "They must become a

part of us and of our existence, as present, in season and out of

season, in all the amenities of life, in those daily offices of conduct

and manner which add so much to its charm, as also in those grander

duties whose performance evinces an ennobling self-sacrifice." It was

his own determined and unfaltering devotion to this lofty ideal, that

led directly to the success of his great public career.

Charles Sumner was first elected to the Senate in 1851. Throughout his

brilliant life his lofty character never forsook him; and if we will

carefully examine the measures which he advocated, voted for, or

opposed, from time to time, the discovery will be made that his

conscience was his inevitable guide.

While he dearly loved peace, he was always in the midst of warfare. He

constantly incurred the censure which arises from advocating unpopular

measures. Childlike in his personal friendships, he often spoke about

himself as he would speak of others,--revealing what others would have

concealed. Frank, sincere, and pledged from youth to principles, rather

than to persons, he was obliged to struggle against great obstacles. To

him the slave was a human being with a soul, entitled to every right

and privilege accorded to any American citizen. He devoted his energies

to the cause of freedom down to the very last, and died in Washington,

on March 11, 1874, exclaiming, "Don't let my Civil Rights Bill fail!"

[Footnote: See "Memoir and Letters of Charles Sumner," by Edward L.

Pierce, (Boston, 1877), and many articles in the magazines, especially

noting the sketch in Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, Vol.

V., page 744.]