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The actions of men are oftener determined by their characters than by their interest; their conduct takes its colour more from their acquired tastes, inclinations, and habits, than from a deliberate regard to their greatest good..... The actions of each day are, for the most part, links which follow each other in the chain of custom. Hence the great effort of practical wisdom is to imbue the mind with right tastes, affections, and habits; the elements of character, and masters of action.
“Once on a time”-this is the way stories used to begin, and I am partial to it, because it is among the remotest recollections of my life, though I scarcely expect the memory of my readers will extend to a period of so much rudeness in nursery lore. My story is truth: if it seems incredible in the reading, let judgment wait the issue for the proof. There was a man, a day-labourer he had been; but having saved a little money from his earnings, he had now a small cottage of his own. Ambition, like many other things, enlarges in the feeding; and for ten years past, his enjoyment of the cottage had been disturbed by desire for a field that lay beside it. The time came—the savings amounted to exactly the right sum, and the goodman bought the field. It was at this time I became acquainted with him, because, in some of my listening excursions, my path lay through this ground; and aware of the importance of the business on which I was intent, he never objected to let me pass.
If I heard anything by
the way, it was but consistent with my profession; and if I tell what I heard, it is for others' benefit, not his wrong. It was a small, stony field: it had produced nothing yet, and did not look as if it intended it. One day, as I passed, I asked the goodman what he meant to plant. He said, “ it was to grow wheat by and by; but being fallow ground, it would want a good deal of cultivating ; it would be some time first :” and so indeed I thought; more particularly as he had expended all his substance in purchase of the field, and had not money left to buy a load of manure, or scarcely a spade to dig it. He did dig it, however, for I saw him often at the work : whether he sowed it, I cannot say: most likely not, for nothing came up. Possession, still, is great enjoyment, as many a one knows, who has property that makes no returns; and for the first year, he was quite happy in the consciousness of having a field.
At the beginning of the second year, seeing him stand thoughtful on the path, “ Friend,” I said, “ do you sow your field this year?”—“Why, likely I might,” he answered, “ otherwise, than that I have nothing to sow it with; and it would be lost grain, besides, the ground is not rich enough. In a few years I shall be able to buy manure for it, then you shall see a crop !" and the goodman's eye lightened at the thought of garners full in years to come. It was during the same summer, that passing through the ground, a scene of unusual activity presented itself: man, wife, and child, all were in the field, and all were busy.
“What now, good friend?” I said; “ this is no month for sowing wheat; and I cannot say your lapfull looks like it.” Hodge answered, “It is ill sowing wheat upon a fallow field; but I am tired of looking at it as it is. Till the time
that I can make it useful, I have a mind to make
thistles grew. The common never bore a finer crop ; and with all my prejudice, I was obliged to own the flowers looked very pretty.
Meantime the goodman's store increased ; the funds were forthcoming ; the field was ploughed and sown; the wheat came up and so did the thistles. A chancery suit could not have ejected them after so long possession. They had all the advantage ; for while the wheat was to be sown afresh for each succeeding year, the thistles came up of themselves. Then they were goodly and tall: they lifted their heads to the sunbeams, and scattered their seeds in the breezes, while the sickly wheat lay withering in their shade. I did not question him of his crops. Every spring I saw him rooting up thistles, and every summer I saw the thistles blow : and for every one he left, there next year came up twenty. Whether, as years advanced, they became less numerous, or whether he lived to see them exterminated, I cannot say: I have left that part of the country.
Do my readers not believe my story? Is my goodman's folly too impossible? Let them consider a little : for I have seen other labourers than he, who sow a harvest they would be loath to reap, and trust to future years to mend it. Of those who doubt the sanity of my goodman Hodge, many may thoughtlessly be doing the same thing; whether they be parents whose fondest charge is the education of their children, and their fondest hopes its produce; or whether their one small field be the yet unsettled character of their own youthful mind. In my extensive listenings, I have seen many things that have surprised me only less than the reasonings by which they were defended; but I would rather speak upon the general principle, than particularize in the application of it; except it be some few instances by way
of illustration. I believe the application can scarcely, in any case, be equivocal. Every careful mother knows; every reflecting woman knows, what is the moral produce she desires of the mind she has to cultivate-or rather, let me say, every Christian knows what are the fruits the absent Lord of the domain expects should be rendered him, by those whom he has left in charge. If these fruits be purity and holiness of heart, simplicity and sobriety of mind, pious consistency of purpose, and a life of determined separation from all that is sinful in the practices of the world, what are we to say of the honesty, or of the competency, of that steward, who, to produce them, sows the seeds of folly, and plants the root of pride, and encourages the growth of earthliness, and cultivates a taste for things forbidden? I have talked or listened to many parents on this subject, during the education of their families. I have seen a father encourage his boys to fight out an amateur battle, for the right of possession, to the merest toy, and yield it to the victor—and when I asked him if he intended his boys should in after life take possession by force, of what they could not prove a right to, he said, “ No—but boys must learn courage; they would know better than to fight for what does not belong to them, when they were men.” I have seen a mother take her daughters to a dancing-school, to be taught every fashionable manæuvre of the ball-room; and when I asked her if she meant her daughters should be introduced to amusements she did not herself approve, she said, “She hoped not; the principles she laboured to instil, would, she trusted, prevent it; but till they were of an age to feel their influence, she must let them do as others do; there was no harm in childrens' dancing."