Page images
PDF
EPUB

This is the doctrine of one whom Bacon did not certainly regard with any undue veneration—Aristotle; who, in his Ethics, dwells earnestly on the importance of being early accustomed to right practice, with a view to the formation of virtuous habits. And he derives the word 'ethics' from a Greek word signifying custom; even as the word 'morality' is derived from the corresponding Latin word ' mos.'

It is to be observed that, at the present day, it is common to use the words 'custom' and * habit' as synonymous, and often to employ the latter where Bacon would have used the former. But, strictly speaking, they denote respectively, the cause and the effect. Eepcated acts constitute the 'custom;' and the 'habit' is the condition of mind or body thence resulting. For instance, a man who has been accustomed to rise at a certain hour, will have acquired the habit of waking and being ready to rise as soon as that hour arrives. And one who has made it his custom to drink drams will have fallen into the habit of craving for that stimulus, and of yielding to that craving; and so of the rest.

Those are, then, in error who disparage (as Mrs. Hannah More does) all practice that does not spring from a formed habit. For instance, they censure those who employ children as alnioners, handing them money or other things to relieve the poor with. For, say they, no one can give what is not his own: there is no charity unless you part with something that you might have kept, and which it is a self-denial to part with. The answer is, that if the child does this readily and gladly, he has already learnt the virtue of charity; but if it is a painful selfdenial which you urge him to, as a duty, you are creating an association of charit)r with pain. On the contrary, if you accustom him to the pleasure of seeing distress relieved, and of being the instrument of giving pleasure, and doing good, the desire of this gratification will lead him, afterwards, to part with something of his own rather than forego it. Thus it is—to use Horace's comparison—that the young hound is trained for the chase in the woods, from the time that he barks at the deer-skin in the hall.1

1 * Venaticus, ex qno

Tempore eervinam pellem latravit in aula,

Militat in eilvis eatulus.'—Horace, Book i. ep. ii L 65,

The precept is very good, to begin with swimming with corks.

There is an error somewhat akin to the one I have been combating, which may be worth noticing here. Declamations are current in the present day against the iniquity of giving a bias to the minds of young persons, by teaching them our own interpretation of the Sacred Volume, instead of leaving them to investigate for themselves; that is, against endeavouring to place them in the same situation with those to whom those very Scriptures were written; instead of leaving them to struggle with difliculties which the Scriptures nowhere contemplate or provide against . The maintainers of such a principle would do well to consider, whether it would not, if consistently pursued, prove too much. Do you not, it might be asked, bias the minds of children by putting into their hands the Scriptures themselves, as the infallible word of God? If you arc convinced that they are so, you must be sure that they will stand the test of unprejudiced inquiry. Are you not, at least, bound in fairness to teach them, at the same time, the systems of ancient Mythology, the doctrines of the Koran, and those of modern philosophers, that they may freely choose amongst all? Let any one who is disposed to deride the absurdity of such a proposal, consider whether there is any objection to it, which would not equally lie against the exclusion of systematic religious instruction, or indeed systematic training in any science or art.

It is urged, however, that since a man must wish to find the system true in which he has been trained, his judgment must be unduly biassed by that wish. It would follow from this principle, that no physician should be trusted who is not utterly indifferent whether his patient recovers or dies, and who is not wholly free from any favourable hope from the mode of treatment pursued; since else his mind must be unfairly influenced by his wishes!

'The predominancy of custom is everywhere visible; insomuch as a man would wonder to hear men profess, protest, engage, give great words, and then do just as they have done before; as if they were dead images and engines, moved only by the wheels of custom. '

This 'predominancy of custom' is remarkably exemplified in the case of soldiers who have long been habituated to obey, as if by a mechanical impulse, the word of command.

It happened, in the case of a contemplated insurrection, in a certain part of the British Empire, that the plotters of it sought to tamper with the soldiers who were likely to be called ont against them; and, for this purpose, frequented the publichouses to which the soldiers resorted, and drew them into conversation, lleports of these attempts reached the officers; who, however, found that so little impression was made, that they did not think it needful to take any notice of thein. On one occasion it appeared that a sergeant of a Scotch regiment was so far talked over as to feel and express great sympathy with the agitators, on account of their alleged grievances, as laid before him by the seducer. 'Weel, now, I did na ken that; indeed that seems unco hard; I can lia wonder that ye should complain o' that,' &c., &c.

Tho other, seeking to follow up his blow, then said—' I suppose now such honest fellows as you, if you were to be called out against us, when we were driven to rise in a good cause, would never have the heart to fire on poor fellows who were only seeking liberty and justice.' The sergeant replied (just as he was reaching down his cap and belt, to return to barracks),' I'd just na advise ye to try!'

He felt conscious—misled as he had been respecting the justice of the cause,—that, whatever might be his private opinions and inward feelings, if the word of command were given to 'make ready, present, fire,' he should instinctively obey it.

And this is very much the case with any one who has been long drilled in the ranks of a party. Whatever may be his natural disposition—whatever may be the judgment his unbiassed understanding dictates on any point—whatever he may inwardly feel, and may (with perfect sincerity) have said,1 it is most likely that, when you come to action, the habit of going along with his party will prevail. And the more general and indefinite the purpose for which the party, or society (or by whatever name it may be called) is framed, and the less distinctly specified are its objects, the more will its members be, usually, under the control and direction of its leaders.2

He who joins some Association formed for a distinctly defined object, and under fixed rule3, is like one who engages in a commercial speculation on the system of what is called 'limited liability;' where a man stakes nothing beyond what was expressly stipulated. But he who joins a Party, resembles one who enters into an ordinary Trade-partnership, and who becomes responsible for all the proceedings, and all the debts, of the Firm.

1 Thoughts on the Evangel teal Alliance. - See tbc 'Annotations' ou the Essay on ' Unity in Religion,' and on ' Factions.'

I was once conversing with an intelligent and liberal-minded man, who was expressing his strong disapprobation of some late decisions and proceedings of the leading persons of the Body he belonged to, and assuring me that the greater part of the subordinates regarded them as wrong and unjustifiable. 'But,' said I, 'they will nevertheless, I suppose, comply, and act as they are required?' 'Oh, yes, they must do that!'

Of course there are many various degrees of partisanship, as there are also different degrees of custom iu all other things: and it is not meant that all who are in any degree connected with any party, must be equally devoted adherents of it. But I am speaking of the tendency of party-spirit, and describing a party-man so far forth as he is such. And persons of much experience in human affairs lay it down accordingly as a maxim, that you should be very cautious how you fully trust a partyman, however sound his own judgment, and however pure the principles on which he acts, when left to himself. A sensible and upright man, who keeps himself quite unconnected with party, may be calculated on as likely to act on the views which you have found him to take on each point. In some things, perhaps, you find him to differ from you; in others, to agree; but when you have learnt what his sentiments are, you know in each case what to expect. But it is not so with one who is connected with, and consequently controlled by, a party. In proportion as he is so, he is not fully his own master; and in some instances you will probably find him take you quite by surprise, by assenting to some course quite at variance with the sentiments which you have heard him express—probably with perfect sincerity—as his own. When it comes to action, a formed habit of following the party will be likely to prevail over everything. At least, 'I'd just na advise ye to try!'

It is important to keep in mind that—as is evident from what has been said just above—habits are formed, not at one stroke, but gradually and insensibly.; so that unless vigilant because, then, one scion put on just above the root, will become the main stem of the tree, and all the branches it puts forth will be of the right sort. When, on the other hand, a tree is to be grafted at a considerable age (which may be very successfully done), you have to put on twenty or thirty grafts on the several branches; and afterwards you will have to be watching from time to time for the wilding-shoots which the stock will be putting forth, and pruning them off. And even so, one whose character is to be reformed at mature age, will find it necessary not merely to implant a right principle once for all but also to bestow a distinct attention on the correction of this, that, and the other, bad habit.

It is wonderful that so many persons should confound together being accustomed to certain objects, and accustomed to a certain mode of acting. Aristotle, on the contrary, justly remarks that opposite habits are formed by means of the same things (eK T&w avruv, «-«/. Sta rav avrav) treated in opposite ways; as, for instance, humanity and inhumanity—by being accustomed to the view of suffering, with and without the effort to relieve it. Of two persons who have been accustomed to the sight of much human misery, one, who has been used to pass it by without any effort to relieve it, will become careless and hardened to such spectacles; while another, who has been in the practice of relieving sufferers, will acquire a strong habit of endeavouring to afford relief. These two persons will both have been accustomed to the same objects, but will have acquired opposite habits, from being accustomed to act in opposite ways.

'Suppose that there is in your neighbourhood a loud bell that is rung very early every morning to call the labourers in some great manufactory. At first, and for some time, your rest will be broken by it; but if you accustom yourself to lie still, and try to compose yourself, you will become in a few days so used to it, that it will not even wake you. But any one who makes a point of rising immediately at the call, will become so soed to it in the opposite way, that the sound will never fail to rouse him from the deepest sleep. Both will have been accustomed to the same bell, but will have formed opposite habits from their contrary modes of action.

« PreviousContinue »