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let him reflect that he has been brought into this involuntary practice by a thousand voluntary acts.
If habits are to be permanent and mightily to influence the life of men, it is requisite that they should be formed on conviction ; for, if they are formed on the mere recommendation of a great name, they are not likely to be lasting. As soon as they become irksome you will be tempted to demand, “By what warrant or authority do you govern me?”
Vast is the power of habit for good or evil; and a wise man will avail himself of the power for good, and eschew its power for evil ; since habit is stronger than nature, or reason, or taste, and will break through resolutions and laws like Leviathan, which esteemeth “iron as straw and brass, as rotten wood.”
Habit is stronger than reason. A man may draw rational boundary lines for his conduct, and fence himself with sound arguments in his hours of calmness, and in the hours of intermittence; but when the ague fit returns he overleaps boundary lines, and fences, and the embankments of Providence itself.
Habit is stronger than taste. In the case of tobacco and spirits many have a positive dislike to them at first. By the power
of habit the taste is changed ; and unsophisticated likings, both bodily and mental, are exchanged for those which are racy, high-flavoured, and piquant.
Custom is also stronger than laws. An act of Parliament could not alter a well-established custom ; nor could a new and strange custom be formed by the enactment of the legislature. The strength of the law lies in national sentiments and habits. The law of Queen Elizabeth imposing a fine for absence from church seems to have been abrogated by habitual disregard. In the same way many canons and rubrics have passed into desuetude. General disregard of a law is a general vote against it. In the Digests it is asked, “What is the difference whether the people declares its will by vote or by its conduct ?" * One of the most striking instances in which the unwritten law silently abrogates the written enactment is derived from the attitude of eating the Passover. According to the Mosaic rubric it was to be eaten standing, as if in haste. Our Lord ate it reclining, in a posture of leisure. If people could have appreciated the force of this example, it would have saved the Church much puerile and barren controversy; but dogmatism is a weed that grows in sterile minds—it is the thistle that always indicates a poor soil.
Some objector may say: Habit is a slavish thing. Well, let us see. How is it so ? Because when a man gives himself up to its power, he seems to lose his freedom of action. True to some extent; but then he is free to choose the habit for himself; he can make wise intermissions whenever he pleases; and he can even emancipate himself from it altogether, if he is so disposed. Who would say that the sailor was of a servile spirit because he put his vessel before the wind? Habit is as much an element and force of nature as the wind; and a man will find it alike his profit and wisdom to put himself
* Digest., lib. i. t. 3, fr. 32. This is the principle of the motto: “Mos pro lege.”
under the power of both of them, when they blow in the right direction.
Habit, so to speak, invests our acquisitions, and thus is adding continually to our permanent stock; in other words, it secures our improvement. Otherwise we should be always learning and never coming to any perfection. And it may be added that it secures not merely strength but beauty, not merely virtues but graces, not merely the solid, and the strong, and the substantial, but the elegant, the polished, and the refined. Characters may be jewelled as well as watches. Neither virtue nor grace has the exclusive privilege of habit. It is likewise auxiliary to evil-yea, more so than to good, owing to the greater sympathy there is between nature and evil than between nature and good. The growth of evil is more conspicuous than the growth of good. In Commodus we see how cruelty, in Cæsar how ambition, in Byron how pleasure, grew with their growth and strengthened with their strength; but the growth of roses, as of graces, is neither audible nor visible. There is a great difficulty in destroying a bad habit, because it has become part of our nature. No doubt it was not intended by our Creator that it should be easy. Still it may be destroyed. “ What destroys habit ?”
“ The opposite habit." As it was formed, so it must be destroyed by a constant succession and frequency of acts. Thus the habit of indolence will be destroyed by forming a habit of industry. The habit must not be merely suspended, it
* Τί φθείρει το έθος και το εναντίον εθος.
must be removed, otherwise it will come on again and again like an epileptic fit. Good habits seem to be more easily destroyed than bad ones; just as health is more easily injured than restored. Health may be lost in a moment, while a fever may take months to cure, and sometimes leaves its effects for life.
Too frequent or too long interruptions destroy habits. A musician out of practice loses facility and accuracy. A habit may be destroyed by a decreasing series of practice, just as a convict confessed before his execution, that he had shortened his prayers till they came to be no
prayers at all.
There is a danger in being wedded indissolubly to a habit, and in clinging to it merely for the sake of clinging. We ought to be open to observation, to example, to counsel, and to improvement. Nothing ingrains prejudice more deeply than custom, even when great inconvenience is the cost. The barbarians of Germany kept up a hereditary prejudice against dwelling-houses, to which they applied the odious names of prisons and sepulchres. There is also a danger of fancy growing into the necessity of custom, and of mere likings and dislikings becoming stereotyped by this force.
Custom so familiarises a man to evil that he no longer sees the sinfulness of sin. It first abates and then takes away the sense of its ugliness and deformity; and men come to embrace what at first they abhorred. *
Now, if this be true, there arises a consideration of the greatest importance, for it shows that habit can alter our opinion and our judgment.
* Barrow (on Infidelity, v. ii. 82) had anticipated Pope's famous
“We first endure, then pity, then embrace.”
There is a nobler kind of prejudice or rather partiality, when a man out of gratitude to an idea gives it an undue prominence in his life. Such fondness, when cherished by habit, sometimes develops into monomania. When indulged in a lesser degree it may give an undue colouring to character. Yet the cherishing of one principle carries along with it great force, thought and feeling being concentrated, and distraction of energy being prevented. There is an analogy to this process in our bodies, for he who chiefly exercises his arms may render them athletic, while the other parts of his system may be ill-developed ; whereas he who has exercised his body equally may not have pre-eminent force in any one member, yet health and strength in all.
The Creator has given to every man a general and a peculiar character, just as He gives to every one a human form and special features. He does not wish to destroy the peculiarity and reduce all to one monotonous cast, for he delights in variety. How tame would be a gallery of statues all alike; hundreds of busts and yet only one, all copies of each other, all sameness and all monotony. We must not expect men, because they are religious, to crystallize into uniformity. What have monks, Quakers, and Moravians gained by such experiments ? On the other hand, if one cultivates the peculiar characteristics in excess, he must be classified among the eccentric. These form a very small minority among men, and their judgment is ever questioned; so that eccentricity is so