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pey to his friends, who dissuaded him from hazarding his life on a tempestuous sea in order to be at Rome on an important occasion: “It is necessary for me to go; it is not necessary for me to live.”
Revenge has produced wonderful examples of this unremitting constancy to a purpose. Zanga is a well-supported illustration. And you may have read a real instance of a Spaniard, who, being injured by another inhabitant of the same town, resolved to destroy him; the other was apprised of this, and removed with the utmost secrecy, as he thought, to another town at a considerable distance, where, however, he had not been more than a day or two, before he found that his enemy was arrived there. He removed in the same manner to several parts of the kingdom, remote from each other; but in every place quickly perceived that his deadly pursuer was near him. At last he went to South America, where he had enjoyed his security but a very short time, before his unrelenting enemy came up with him, and accomplished his purpose.
You may recollect the mention, in one of our conversations, of a young man who wasted, in two or three years, a large patrimony in profligate revels with a number of worthless associates who called themselves his friends, and who, when his last means were exhausted, treated him, of course, with neglect or contempt. Reduced to absolute want, he one day went out of the house with an intention to put an end to his life; but wandering awhile almost unconsciously, he came to the brow of an eminence which overlooked what were lately his estates. Here he sat down, and remained fixed in thought a number of hours, at the end of which he sprang from the ground with a vehement, exulting emotion. He had formed his resolution, which was, that all these estates should be his again; he had formed his plan too, which he instantly began to execute. He walked hastily forward, determined to seize the very first opportunity, of however humble a kind, to gain any money, though it were ever so despicable a trifle, and resolved absolutely not to spend, if he could help it, a farthing of whatever he might obtain. The first thing that drew his attention was a heap of coals shot out of carts on the pavement before a house. He offered himself to shovel or wheel them into the place where they were to be laid, and was employed. He received a few pence for the labor; and then, in pursuance of the saving part of his plan, requested some small gratuity of meat and drink, which was given him. He then looked out for the next thing that might chance to offer; and went, with indefatigable industry, through a succession of servile employments in different places, of longer and shorter duration, still scrupulously avoiding, as far as possible, the expense of a penny. He promptly seized every opportunity which could advance his design without regarding the meanness of occupation or appearance. By this method he had gained, after a considerable time, money enough to purchase in order to sell again, a few cattle, of which he had taken pains to understand the value. He speedily but cautiously turned his first gains into second advantages; retained without a single deviation his extreme parsimony; and thus advanced by degrees into larger transactions and incipient wealth. I did not hear, or have forgotten, the continued course of his life; but the final result was, that he more than recovered his lost possessions, and died an inveterate miser, worth £60,000. I have always recollected this as a signal instance, though in an unfortunate and ignoble direction, of decisive character, and of the extraordinary effect which, according to general laws, belongs to the strongest form of such a character.
But not less decision has been displayed by men of virtue. In this distinction no man ever exceeded, for instance, or ever will exceed, the late illustrious Howard.
The energy of his determination was so great, that if, instead of being habitual, it had been shown only for a short time on particular occasions, it would have appeared a vehement impetuosity; but by being unintermitted, it had an equability of manner which scarcely appeared to exceed the tone of a calm constancy,- it was so totally the reverse of anything like turbulence or agitation. It was the calmness of an intensity kept uniform by the nature of the human mind forbidding it to be more, and by the character of the individual forbidding it to be less. The habitual passion of his mind was a measure of feeling almost equal to the temporary extremes and paroxysms of common minds: as a great river, in its customary state, is equal to a small or moderate one when swollen to a torrent.
The moment of finishing his plans in deliberation, and commencing them in action, was the same. I wonder what must have been the amount of that bribe, in emolument or pleasure, that would have detained him a week inactive after their final adjustment. The law which carries water down a declivity was not more unconquerable and invariable than the determination of his feelings toward the main object. The importance of this object held his faculties in a state of excitement which was too rigid to be affected by lighter interests, and on which therefore the beauties of nature and of art had no power. He had no leisure feeling which he could spare to be diverted among the innumerable varieties of the extensive scene which he traversed; all his subordinate feelings lost their separate existence and operation, by falling into the grand one. There have not been wanting trivial minds, to mark this as a fault in his character. But the mere men of taste ought to be silent respecting such a man as Howard; he is above their sphere of judgment. The invisible spirits who fulfill their commission of philanthrophy among mortals do not care about pictures, statues, and sumptuous buildings; and no more did he when the time in which he must have inspected and admired them would have been taken from the work to which he had consecrated his life. The curiosity which he might feel was reduced to wait till the hour should arrive, when its gratification should be presented by conscience, which kept a scrupulous charge of all his time, as the most sacred duty of that hour. If he was still at every hour, when it came, fated to feel the attractions of the fine arts but the second claim, they might be sure of their revenge; for no other man will ever visit Rome under such a despotic consciousness of duty as to refuse himself time for surveying the magnificence of its ruins. Such a sin against taste is very far beyond the reach of common saintship to commit. It implied an inconceivable severity of conviction, that he had one thing to do, and that he who would do some great thing in this short life must apply himself to the work with such a concentration of his forces as, to idle spectators who live only to amuse themselves, looks like insanity.
His attention was so strongly and tenaciously fixed on his object, that even at the greatest distance, as the Egyptian pyramids to travelers, it appeared to him with a luminous distinctness as if it had been nigh, and beguiled the toilsome length of labor and enterprise by which he was to reach it. It was so conspicuous before him, that not a step deviated from the direction, and every movement and every day was an approximation. As his method referred everything he did and thought to the end, and as his exertion did not relax for a moment, he made the trial, so seldom made, what is the utmost effect which may be granted to the last possible efforts of a human agent: and therefore what he did not accomplish, he might conclude to be placed beyond the sphere of mortal activity, and calmly leave to the immediate disposal of Providence.
Unless the eternal happiness of mankind be an insignificant concern, and the passion to promote it an inglorious distinction, I may cite George Whitefield as a noble instance of this attribute of the decisive character, this intense necessity of action. The great Cause which was so languid a thing in the hands of many of its advocates, assumed in his administrations an unmitigable urgency.
Many of the Christian missionaries among the heathen, such as Brainerd, Elliot, and Schwartz, have displayed memorable examples of this dedication of their whole being to their office, this abjuration of all the quiescent feelings.
This would be the proper place for introducing (if I did not hesitate to introduce in any connection with mere human instances) the example of him who said, “I must be about my Father's business. My meat and drink is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished ?"
From Letter III., «On Decision of Character.»
ON A MAN'S WRITING MEMOIRS OF HIMSELF
Though in memoirs intended for publication, a large share of 1 incident and action would generally be necessary, yet there
are some men whose mental history alone might be very interesting to reflective readers; as, for instance, that of a thinking man, remarkable for a number of complete changes of his speculative system. From observing the usual tenacity of views once deliberately adopted in mature life, we regard as a curious phenomenon the man whose mind has been a kind of caravanserai of opinions entertained awhile, and then sent on pilgrimage; a man who has admired and dismissed systems with the same facility with which John Buncle found, adored, married, and interred, his succession of wives, each one being, for the time, not only better than all that went before, but the best in the creation. You admire the versatile aptitude of a mind, sliding into successive forms of belief in this intellectual metem psychosis by which it animates so many new bodies of doctrines in their turn. And as none of those dying pangs which hurt you in a tale of India attend the desertion of each of these speculative forms which the soul has awhile inhabited, you are extremely amused by the number of transitions, and eagerly ask what is to be the next; for you never deem the present state of such a man's views to be for permanence, unless perhaps when he has terminated his course of believing everything, in ultimately believing nothing. Even then, unless he is very old, or feels more pride in being a skeptic, the conqueror of all systems, than he ever felt in being the champion of one, even then, it is very possible he may spring up again, like a vapor of fire from a bog, and glimmer through new mazes, or retrace his course through half of those which he trod before. You will observe that no respect attaches to this Proteus of opinion, after his changes have been multiplied; as no party expect him to remain with them, nor deem him much of an acquisition if he should. One, or perhaps two, considerable changes, will be regarded as signs of a liberal inquirer, and therefore the party to which his first or his second intellectual conversion may assign him, will receive him gladly. But he will be deemed to have abdicated the dignity of reason, when it is found that he can adopt no principles but to betray them; and it will be perhaps justly suspected that there is something extremely infirm in the structure of that mind, whatever vigor may mark some of its operations, to which a series of very different, and sometimes contrasted theories, can appear in succession demonstratively true, and which imitates sincerely the perverseness which Petruchio only affected, declaring that which was yesterday to a certainty, the sun, to be to-day, as certainly, the moon.
It would be curious to observe in a man who should make such an exhibition of the course of his mind, the sly deceit of self-love. While he despises the system which he has rejected, he does not deem it to imply so great a want of sense in him once to have embraced it, as in the rest, who were then or are now its disciples and advocates. No, in him it was no debility of reason, it was at the utmost but a merge of it; and probably he is prepared to explain to you that such peculiar circumstances, as might warp even a very strong and liberal mind, attended his consideration of the subject, and misled him to admit the belief of what others prove themselves fools by believing.