Self-mastery is the essence of heroism.--Emerson

He who reigns within himself is more than a king.--Milton

I have only one counsel for you--Be master!--Napoleon

Self-control is essential to happiness and usefulness.--E. A. Horton

He is a fool who cannot be angry; but he is a wise man who will

not.--Old Proverb


Some one has said "Self-control is only courage under another form"; but

we think it is far more than that. It is the master of all the virtues,

courage included. If it is not so, how can it so control them as to

develop a pure and noble character? The self-control which we commend

has its root in true self-respect. The wayward, drifting youth or man

cannot respect himself. He knows that there is no decision of character

in drifting with the current, no enterprise, spirit, or determination.

He must look the world squarely in the face, and say, "I am a man," or

he cannot respect himself; and he must stem the current and row up

stream to command his destiny.

Self-control is at the root of all the virtues. Let a man yield to his

impulses and passions, and from that moment he gives up his moral

freedom. "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."

This may seem to be a very strong statement, but it is fully sustained

by the experience of great men like Dr. Cuyler, who said, not long ago,

"I have been watching the careers of young men by the thousand in this

busy city of New York for over thirty years, and I find that the chief

difference between the successful and the unsuccessful lies in the

single element of 'staying-power.'"

Think of a man just starting out in life to conquer the world being at

the mercy of his own appetites and passions! He cannot stand up and look

the world in the face when he is the slave of what should be his own

servants. He cannot lead who is led. There is nothing which gives

certainty and direction to the life of a man who is not his own master.

If he has mastered all but one appetite, passion, or weakness, he

isstill a slave; it is the weakest point that measures the strength of


It was the self-discipline of a man who had never looked upon war until

he was forty, that enabled Oliver Cromwell to create an army which never

fought without victory, yet which retired into the ranks of industry as

soon as the government was established, each soldier being distinguished

from his neighbors only by his superior diligence, sobriety, and

regularity in the pursuits of peace.

Many of the greatest characters in history illustrate this trait. Take,

as a single instance, the case of the Duke of Wellington, whose career

was marked by a persistent watchfulness over his irritable and explosive

nature. How well he conquered himself, let the story of his deeds tell.

The field of his great victory, which was Napoleon's overthrow, could

not have been won but for this power of subduing himself.

In ordinary life the application is the same. He who would lead must

first command himself. The time of test is when everybody is excited or

angry or dismayed; then the well-balanced mind comes to the front. To

say, "No" in the face of glowing temptation is a part of this power.

A very striking illustration is recorded in the life of Horace Greeley.

Offended by a pungent article, a gentleman called at the _Tribune_

office and inquired for the editor. He was shown into a little

seven-by-nine sanctum, where Greeley sat, with his head close down to

his paper, scribbling away at a rapid rate. The angry man began by

asking if this was Mr. Greeley. "Yes, sir; what do you want?" said the

editor, quickly, without once looking up from his paper. The irate

visitor then began using his tongue, with no deference to the rules of

propriety, good breeding, or reason. Meantime Mr. Greeley continued to

write. Page after page was dashed off in the most impetuous style, with

no change of features, and without paying the slightest attention to

the visitor. Finally, after about twenty minutes of the most

impassioned scolding ever poured out in an editor's office, the angry

man became disgusted, and abruptly turned to walk out of the room.

Then, for the first time, Mr. Greeley looked up, rose from his chair,

and slapping the gentleman familiarly on his shoulder, in a pleasant

tone of voice said: "Don't go, friend; sit down, sit down, and free

your mind; it will do you good, you will feel better for it. Besides,

it helps me to think what I am to write about. Don't go."

There is a very special demand for the cultivation of this trait and the

kindred grace of patience at the present time. "Can't wait" is

characteristic of the century, and is written on everything; on

commerce, on schools, on societies, on churches. Can't wait for high

school seminary or college. The boy can't wait to become a youth, nor

the youth a man. Young men rush into business with no great reserve of

education or drill; of course they do poor, feverish work, and break

down in middle life, and may die of old age at forty, if not before.

Everybody is in a hurry; and to be able, amid this universal rush, to

hold one's self in check, and to stick to a single object until it is

fully accomplished, will carry us a long way toward success.

Endurance is a much better test of character than any one act of

heroism, however noble. It was many years of drudgery, and reading a

thousand volumes, that enabled George Eliot to get fifty thousand

dollars for "Daniel Deronda."

Edison in describing his repeated efforts to make the phonograph

reproduce a sibilant sound, says, "From eighteen to twenty hours a day

for the last seven months I have worked on this single word 'specia.' I

said into the phonograph 'specia, specia, specia;' but the instrument

responded 'pecia, pecia, pecia.' It was enough to drive one mad. But I

held firm, and I have succeeded."

Years of patient apprenticeship make a man a good mechanic. It takes

longer to form the artisan. The trained intellect requires a longer

period still. Henry Ward Beecher sent a half-dozen articles to the

publishers of a religious paper to pay for his subscription, but they

were "respectfully declined." One of the leading magazines ridiculed

Tennyson's first poems, and consigned the young poet to oblivion. Only

one of Ralph Waldo Emerson's books had a remunerative sale. Washington

Irving was nearly seventy years old before the income from his books

paid the expenses of his household. Who does not see that if these men

had lost their grip upon themselves, the world would have been deprived

of many of its rarest literary treasures?

A great many rules have been given for securing and increasing this

trait. A large number rest on mere policy, and are good only for the

surface; they do not go to the center. Others are too radical, and tear

up the roots, leaving one without energy or ambition. The aim should be

to keep the native force unabated, but to give it wiser guidance.

A fair amount of self-examination is good. Self-knowledge is a preface

to self-control. The wise commander knows the weak and strong points of

his fort. Too much self-inspection leads to morbidness; too little,

conducts to careless, hasty action. The average American does not know

himself well enough; he proceeds with a boastful confidence, and is

always in the right, so he thinks. If we are conscious of a failing we

naturally strive against it.

There are two chief aims which, if held in view, will surely strengthen

our self-control; one is attention to conscience, the other is a spirit

of good-will. The lawless nature, not intending to live according to

right, is always breaking over proper restraints,--is suspicious and

quarrelsome. And he who has not the disposition to love his fellow-men,

grows more and more petulant, disagreeable, and unfair.

You must also learn to guard your weak point. For example: Have you a

hot, passionate temper? If so, a moment's outbreak, like a rat-hole in a

dam, may flood all the work of years. One angry word sometimes raises a

storm that time itself cannot allay. A single angry word has lost many a

friend. The man who would succeed in any great undertaking must hold all

his faculties under perfect control; they must be disciplined and

drilled, until they quickly and cheerfully obey the will.


For the special illustration of this lesson we select a couple of

incidents from the life of George Washington.

Washington had great power of wrath, inheriting the high, hasty temper

of his mother. Tobias Lear, his intimate friend and private secretary,

says that in the winter of 1791, an officer brought a letter telling of

General St. Clair's disastrous defeat by the Indians. It must be

delivered to the President himself. He left his family and guests at

table, glanced over the contents, and, when he rejoined them, seemed as

calm as usual. But afterward, when he and Lear were alone, walked the

room, silent a while, and then he broke out in great agitation, "It is

all over. St. Clair is defeated, routed; the officers nearly all

killed, the men by wholesale; the disaster complete; too shocking to

think of, and a surprise into the bargain!" He walked about, much

agitated, and his wrath became terrible. "Yes!" he burst forth, "here

on this very spot, I took leave of him. I wished him success and honor.

'You have your instructions,' I said, 'from the Secretary of War. I

had myself a strict eye to them, and will add but one word, BEWARE OF A

SURPRISE! You know how the Indians fight!'

"He went off with this, as my last solemn warning, thrown into his ears;

and yet, to suffer that army to be cut to pieces, hacked, butchered,

tomahawked, by a surprise,--the very thing I guarded him against! O God!

O God! he is worse than a murderer! How can he answer for it to his

country? The blood of the slain is upon him; the curse of widows and

orphans; the curse of Heaven!"

His emotions were awful. After a while he cooled a little, and sat down,

and said: "This must not go beyond this room. General St. Clair shall

have justice. I looked through the despatches, saw the whole disaster,

but not all the particulars. I will receive him without displeasure; I

will hear him without prejudice. He shall have full justice!"

The second incident is told as follows: In 1775, at Cambridge, the army

was destitute of powder. Washington sent Colonel Glover to Marblehead

for a supply of that article, which was said to be there. At night the

colonel returned, found Washington in front of his headquarters, pacing

up and down. Glover saluted. The general, without returning his salute,

asked, roughly: "Have you got the powder?" "No, sir." Washington broke

out at first with terrible severity of speech, and then said: "Why did

you come back, sir, without it?" "Sir, there is not a kernel of powder

in Marblehead." Washington walked up and down a minute or two, in great

agitation, and then said: "Colonel Glover, here is my hand, if you will

take it and forgive me. The greatness of our danger made me forget what

is due to you and to myself."

Such victories as these show self-control at its very best; and they

ought to make us all see its value and importance.

[Footnote: See Seeley's "Story of Washington" (1893), and the excellent

article in Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, Vol. VI., pp.