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forming the habit, and yet, if we knew all, we might comprehend parents, relations, and teachers in a joint responsibility.
A parent or teacher acting conscientiously and prayerfully has a right to expect the divine blessing, only he must not expect too much. He must not expect that it will give a dull child genius; for that would be contrary to Nature's laws. A humming-bird with all its efforts will never become an eagle. Still all of us would get more than we expect if we earnestly sought for sanctifying influences from on high. You put a child therefore under the very best influences, when you teach him to use the ordinary means of grace daily and regularly; for they are the alterative medicines which, without producing any immediate or perceptible effect, gradually bring the system from disease to health.
Noble teachers raise the tone of society, and will yet improve it to such a degree, that men will dread a malformation of character as much as a personal deformity, they will dread ungraciousness as much as baldness, they will dread duplicity more than squinting, and they will dread misconduct more than club-foot.
Labouring in an earnest, wise, and religious spirit, the humblest teacher may meet with the highest success, and have the felicity of forming a greater than himself; just as many a noble cannon has been cast in a mould of clay.
HABIT is that law of human nature by which acquire a facility and an inclination for doing a thing by doing it frequently. It is a force of nature as real as the principle of gravitation; and every wise man will recognise its power and avail himself of its help.
Every time we make an endeavour to cultivate a habit, we put forth an energy, we energise. Energy makes habit, and habit makes character. Character is a Greek word, and means that which is cut in or marked as the impression on a coin. Now habit is the die which stamps character on our nature.
There is in our physical organization, and especially where the temperament is nervous, a tendency to repeat an action, and that action when repeated becomes familiar and easy, and is termed a habit. To form a habit, therefore, we have only to repeat an act regularly, and the energy which we put forth from time to time will become periodical and permanent. Marvellous is the power of habit, as may be seen in the awkward beginnings contrasted with the accomplished movements
of a dancer, a swimmer, or a skater. * In that contrast there is a visible demonstration of the perfecting power of habit.
Those who build become builders, and those who practise music become musicians ; so men by doing just things become just, by doing temperate things become temperate, and by doing manly things become manly.t
The virtues therefore are habits, and if they were not -if they were merely occasional—they would be little worth. Hence it is that the excitement, which is encouraged in some religious societies, is often so disappointing and perplexing ; for habit does not grow out of excitement, but it is developed by a patient continuance in well-doing. This explains why resolutions made in the heat of the moment often come to nothing, and why some superficial teachers, disappointed because habits do not spring up like mushrooms, disparage resolutions altogether, and send their hearers away resolving to resolve no more.
Such teachers break down "the column of true majesty in man.”
Habit is the great auxiliary power to the weakness of man, lessening pains, removing difficulties, and strengthening faculties. It can increase talent a hundred-fold. It ought not, then, to escape our notice, with what a powerful capacity God has endowed our nature ; and we should avail ourselves of this source of strength, and not let it run off by a waste pipe.
* “Exercitatio artem paravit, ars decorem.”—Tacit. Ger. 24. + Arist. Eth., ii. 1, 4.
It also lessens pain. If the boatman's hand were always tender and sensitive,* the art of rowing would be a pain instead of a pleasure, and so in other things; but habit is the great anodyne of human nature, and, under its influence, tasks which were at first painful become either pleasant, or at least free from pain.
Habits are often formed whether we intend it or not; they are often the result of unconscious imitation, and come with such silence and potency that a man is possessed by them before he is aware, This is well seen in that peculiarity of spoken language called accent. How different is the accent of the courtier and of the rustic, -both unconsciously imitated and acquired, and both stamped on the tongue for ever. This fact ought to arouse the circumspection of the prudent, guarding them against the silent and invisible approach of habit, and even inducing them to go farther, and investigate the genealogy of their habits, and to discriminate between the spurious and the genuine.
Customs being thus formed whether we will or no, the deceit of non-intention is very transparent. “I do not mean to become intemperate,” says the incipient drunkard, while he holds the wine-glass in his hand, and while he is performing those very acts which constitute intemperance.
How many morbid growths may thus be developing in the character of the heedless and unobservant none can tell; and it may be that they are permitted in order to be
* An analogy is furnished by the process of tanning, in which skin is converted into leather.
indices to others, cautioning them against dangerous associations. Thus few prisoners are free froin the prisonwalk; and it may be assumed that few wicked men are free from physiological peculiarities, which, to the observant, mark them out as effectually as if they had been branded like Cain.
The habits which are imitated unconsciously are not so valuable, in a moral point of view, as those which are elaborated by a strong will and a determined perseverance. A few tunes picked up by ear are not to be compared to the scientific music of an educated player.
Youth is, above all others, the season to acquire good habits and to cast off evil customs, because it is the age the most plastic and the most easily moulded. Still, if habits have not been formed in due season, they may, by vigour and resolution, be formed out of season. There are few, however, who, like Blake, could enter the navy in old age and become a famous admiral ; few who, like Cromwell, could embrace the military profession in his forty-fourth year, and become a renowned commander. Still, where the mind is kept plastic, it is never too late to improve, and that in the best things. The old, defaced, and worn-out coins are taken to the mint, melted down, stamped afresh, and sent out new and brilliant.
The increments of habit are small and gradual ; but they ought not on that account to be overlooked. Little things acquire strength just because they are little ; for they thus escape observation, and do not excite jealou or alarm.
If any one is disposed to flatter himself, because his habit is involuntary, that he will escape with impunity,