Truth needs no color, beauty no pencil.--Shakespeare
An honest man's the noblest work of God.--Pope
The basis of high thinking is perfect honesty.--Strong
Nature has written a letter of credit on some men's faces which is
honored whenever presented.--Thackeray
If there were no honesty, it would be invented as a means of getting
There are certain virtues and vices which very largely determine the
happiness or the misery of every human life. Prominent among these
virtues are those of truth and honesty; and to these are opposed the
vices of lying and cheating.
Society is like a building, which stands firm when its foundations are
strong and all its timbers are sound. The man who cannot be trusted is
to society what a faulty foundation or a bit of rotten timber is to a
It is always mean for a man or boy "to go back," as we say, on a friend.
It is still worse, if possible, to "go back" on one's self. A brave man
or boy will manfully take the consequences of his acts, and if they are
bad, will resolve to do better another time. The worst sort of deceit is
that by which one lets another bear the blame, or in any way suffer, for
what one has one's self done. Such meanness happens sometimes, but it is
almost too bad to be spoken of.
There are certain kinds of cheating that the law cannot or does not
touch. The man who practices this kind of dishonesty is even worse than
if he were doing that which the law punishes. He uses the law, which
was meant to protect society, as a cover from which he can attack
Lying is a form of dishonesty, and a very bad form of it. What would
become of the world if we could not trust each other's word? A lie is
always told for one of two ends; either to get some advantage to which
one has no real claim, in which case it is merely a form of cheating; or
to defend one's self from the bad consequences of something that one has
done, in which case it is cowardly.
The Romans arranged the seats in their two temples to Virtue and Honor,
so that no one could enter the second without passing through the first.
Such is the order of advance,--Virtue, Toil, Honor.
The solid and useful virtue of honesty is highly practicable. "Nothing
is profitable that is dishonest," is a truthful maxim. "Virtue alone is
invincible." "I would give ten thousand dollars for your reputation for
uprightness," said a sharper to an upright tradesman, "for I could make
a hundred thousand dollars with it." Honesty succeeds, dishonesty fails.
The honesty and integrity of A. T. Stewart won for him a great
reputation, and the young schoolmaster who began life in New York on
less than a dollar a day, amassed nearly forty million dollars, and
there was not a smirched dollar in all those millions.
We do not count ourselves among those who believe that "every man has
his price," and that "an honest man has a lock of hair growing in the
palm of his right hand." No! There are in the world of business many
more honest men than rogues, and for one trust betrayed there are
thousands sacredly kept.
As a mere matter of selfishness, "honesty is the best policy." But he
who is honest for policy's sake is already a moral bankrupt. Men of
policy are honest when they think honesty will pay the better; but when
policy will pay better they give honesty the slip. Honesty and policy
have nothing in common. When policy is in, honesty is out. It is more
honorable for some men to fail than for others to succeed. Part with
anything rather than your integrity and conscious rectitude. Capital is
not what a man has, but what a man is. Character is capital.
For example: A man wishes to succeed in business. His studies and his
practical training have fitted him to do this. He seeks out all the
methods by which he may reach success. He shrinks from no labor of mind,
or, if need be, of body, for this end. In all this he is right. We
admire skill, industry, and pluck. There is, however, one kind of means
that he may not use. He may not stoop to fraud of any kind. He _may_
desire and seek wealth; he _must_ desire and seek honor and
honesty. These are among the ends that morality insists upon, and that
should not be sacrificed to anything else.
What contempt we have for a man who robs another, who picks his pocket,
or knocks him down in some lonely place and strips him of whatever
articles of value he may have. But the man who cheats is a thief, just
as truly as the pickpocket and the highwayman.
There is nothing that improves a boy's character so much as putting him
on his honor--trusting to his honor. We have little hope for the boy who
is dead to the feeling of honor. The boy who needs to be continually
looked after is on the road to ruin. If treating your boy as a gentleman
does not make him a gentleman, nothing else will.
There are many incidents in Abraham Lincoln's career which illustrate
this virtue; and from these we select the following: While tending
store, Lincoln once sold to a woman goods to the amount of two dollars,
six and a quarter cents. He discovered later that a mistake had been
made, and that the store owed the customer the six and a quarter cents.
After he had closed the store that night, he walked several miles in
the darkness to return the amount.
At another time a woman bought a pound of tea. Lincoln discovered the
next morning that a smaller weight was on the scales. He at once weighed
out the remainder, and walked some distance before breakfast to return
He was once a postmaster in New Salem; but the office was finally
discontinued. Several years after, the agent called at his law office,
and presented a claim of about seventeen dollars in the settlement of
the New Salem affairs. Mr. Lincoln took out a little trunk, and
produced the exact sum, wrapped in a linen rag. It had lain there
untouched through years of the greatest hardship and self-denial. He
said, "I never use any one's money but my own."
Honor lies in doing well whatever we find to do; and the world estimates
a man's abilities in accordance with his success in whatever business or
profession he may engage. The true gentleman is known by his strict
sense of honor; by his sympathy, his gentleness, his forbearance, and
his generosity. He is essentially a man of truth, speaking and doing
rightly, not merely in the sight of men, but in his secret and private
behavior. Truthfulness is moral transparency. Hence the gentleman
promises nothing that he has not the means of performing. The Duke of
Wellington proudly declared that truth was the characteristic of an
English officer, that when he was bound by a parole he would not break
his word; for the gentleman scorns to lie, in word or deed; and is ready
to brave all consequences rather than debase himself by falsehood.
When any one complains, as Diogenes did, that he has to hunt the streets
with candles at noonday to find an honest man, we are apt to think that
his nearest neighbor would have quite as much difficulty in making such
a discovery. If you think there is not a true man living, you had
better, for appearance's sake, not say so until you are dead yourself.
A few years since, a manly boy about nine years old stepped up to a
gentleman in the Grand Central Depot, New York, and asked, "Shine,
sir?" "Yes I want my shoes blacked," said the gentleman. "Then I would
be glad to shine them, sir," said the boy. "Have I time to catch the
Hudson River train?" "No time to lose, sir; but I can give you a good
job before it pulls out. Shall I?" "Yes, my boy; but don't let me be
In two seconds the bootblack was on his knees and hard at work. "The
train is going, sir," said the boy, as he gave the last touch. The
gentleman gave the boy a half dollar, and started for the train. The boy
counted out the change and ran after the gentleman, but was too late,
for the train was gone.
Two years later the same gentleman, coming to New York, met the
bootblack, but had forgotten him. The boy remembered the gentleman, and
asked him, "Didn't I shine your shoes once in the Grand Central Depot?"
"Some boy did," said the man. "I am the boy, and here is your change,
sir." The gentleman was so pleased with the lad's honesty, that he went
with him to see his mother, and offered to adopt him, as he needed such
a boy. The mother consented, and the honest bootblack had after that a
good home. He was given a good education, and, when a man, became a
partner in the gentleman's large business.
At eleven years of age George Peabody had to go out into the world to
earn his living. His promptness and honesty won for him the esteem of
his employer. At the age of fifteen he was left fatherless, without a
dollar in the world. An uncle in Georgetown, D. C., hearing that the boy
needed work, sent for him and gave him employment. His genial manner and
respectful bearing gained him many friends. He never wounded the
feelings of the buyer of goods, never seemed impatient, and was strictly
honest in all his dealings. His energy, perseverance, and honesty made
him a partner in the business when only nineteen years of age. At the
age of thirty-five he became the head of a large and wealthy business,
which his own industry had helped to build. He had bent his life to one
purpose, to make his business a success.
Having visited London several times in matters of trade, he determined
to make that city his place of residence. In 1837, there came a great
business panic in the United States. Many banks suspended specie
payments. Many mercantile houses went to the wall, and thousands more
were in great distress. Faith in the credit of the United States was
almost lost. Probably not one half dozen men in Europe would have been
listened to for a moment in the Bank of England upon the subject of
American securities, but George Peabody was one of them.
He became a wealthy man, honored at home and abroad. He loved his
fellow-men and set himself the task of relieving their wants. He gave
ten thousand dollars to help fit out the second expedition for the
relief of Sir John Franklin. The same year, his native town of Danvers,
Massachusetts, celebrated its centennial. The rich London banker was of
course invited. He was too busy to be present but sent a letter. The
seal was broken at dinner, and this was the toast it contained:
"Education--a debt due from present to future generations." In the same
envelope was a check for twenty thousand dollars for a town library and
institute. At another banquet given in his honor at Danvers, years
afterward, he gave two hundred and fifty thousand dollars to the same
institute. Edward Everett, and others, made eloquent addresses, and then
the kind-faced, great-hearted man responded.
"There is not a youth within the sound of my voice whose early
opportunities and advantages are not very much better than were mine. I
have achieved nothing that is impossible to the most humble boy among
you. Steadfast and undeviating _truth_, fearless and straight forward
integrity, and an honor ever unsullied by an unworthy word or action,
make their possessor greater than worldly success."
[Footnote: See the life of George Peabody, by Phebe A. Hanaford (Boston,
1882), and numerous articles in the cyclopedias and magazines.]