The History of a Resolution.––A gentleman was walking on the shore of a southern watering-place with his invalid wife. His attention was attracted by a greater black-backed gull which had fallen dead on the sands; other sea things attracted him, and by and by a little promiscuous collection began to form itself. This swelled and swelled, and, as the collection grew, his knowledge of the objects increased. At last he had so many objects, and so well arranged, that the idea of forming a big county museum presented itself. He embraced the idea, and formed a steady purpose, and the difficulties in the way only strengthened his resolution to face all the labours of collection and classification.
Here we have a sketch of the mental processes which all persons who do things go through. First, something strikes them: the man on the shore would not have called the gull an idea; but that which struck him was an idea all the same, the idea of interest and admiration roused, perhaps, by the dainty beauty of the gull's plumage seen close.
Then followed that arrest of the mind upon the natural objects offered by the sea which led to the intention of getting more knowledge about them. The intention was probably a little vague and general, but strong enough to move him to action; he found the things and got the knowledge. Then the intention became definite. He had an end in view which he meant to carry through, a purpose; and then, in the face of difficulties, came the strong resolution.
The Progress of an Idea.––Another man, perhaps, read, in his boyhood, a history of Drake. He got out of his reading a certain sense of spaciousness, and of the chivalry that adventures all for love of queen and country. His hero is not always to be admired for his goodness, but his manly devotion to a cause takes hold of the neophyte. He has found it good to be at home in "the spacious days of great Elizabeth," and his reading takes that direction for many years. He knows the Elizabethan dramatists, statesmen, 'sea-dogs,' poets. His thoughts become coloured. There is a certain largeness in his opinions and in his conduct of life. He has an uplifting effect upon his neighbours. He helps them to see matters from other than the personal or parochial standpoint. He himself may have followed no more adventurous career than that of a doctor or a squire, but he brings the breeze of the uplands about him, and all his neighbours are the healthier. Of his sons, too, one is in the navy, one in India, and a third has settled in South Africa; all carrying with them the spacious thoughts, the impersonal aims, they got from their father. We seem to leave this man at the inception of what we may call the 'Elizabethan idea, ' when he read his first story. The arrest of the mind and the intention came with the steady pursuit of Elizabethan literature. We cannot so well follow out the stages of purpose and resolution, but, no doubt, they were there, because the fruit of that first seed-thought perfected itself in his life, and it continued to bear in the lives of his sons.
Had the arresting idea come to him from the circumscribed, self-involved days of Queen Anne he might have become a dilettante on the look-out for Chelsea teapots and Chippendale tables. He, too, would have an influence on his neighbours, for we cannot spare anything that has been; but his influence would make rather for the small graces than for the larger issues of life.
Personal Influence must be Unconscious.––This question of influence is, by the way, very interesting. The old painters pictured the saints with a nimbus, a glory, coming out of them. The saint with a nimbus suggests what seems to be a universal truth, that each of us moves, surrounded by an emanation from his own personality; and this emanation is the influence which affects everyone who comes near him. Generosity emanates, so to speak, from the generous person; from the mean person, meanness. Those who come in contact with the generous become generous themselves; with the mean, mean.
This sort of influence we cannot help using; it is unconscious, and belongs to our nature. We have no business with the influence that comes out of ourselves, and have no right to try to influence other people.
We are, of course, called upon to give and receive reproof, counsel, instruction, as occasions arise; but these differ from what is known as 'influence,' in that they are above-board: the other person is aware of what is being done. Our business is to be good, and then our influence will take care of itself. What we must take heed of, however, is that we do not put ourselves in the way of the lowering influence of unworthy persons.
None of us can be proof against the influences that proceed from the persons he associates with. Wherefore, in books and men, let us look out for the best society, that which yields a bracing and wholesome influence. We all know the person for whose company we are the better, though the talk is only about fishing or embroidery. Probably no one is much the better for virtuous and pious conversation, what school-boys call 'pi-jaw'; but everyone is better for coming in contact with a sweet, wholesome, manly soul, whose nature is not only within him, but surrounds him, and is taken in as the air they breathe by all about him.
Sources of Ideas.––It is well to get the idea which leads to a resolution from such a source. It is possible that this idea may come as a seed-thought to some reader––may arrest his mind, form his intention, concentrate into purpose, strengthen into resolution––that, if he can do no more for the world, his shall, anyway, be a Mansoul from whom wholesome, and not unwholesome, influence will emanate. We may have other things to do; great philanthropic labours may come our way––indeed, all labours for the world are philanthropic if they are sincere; whether the writing of a book, the sitting on a parochial committee, the helping to make laws in the House of Commons. But no one need feel left out in the cold because his work seems to be for no greater a purpose than that of earning his living. That, too, is a great end, if he wills to do it with a single aim. He need not mourn that he has no influence; everyone has influence, not in the ratio of his opportunities, nor even of his exertions, but in that of his own personality. Mansoul is in truth a kingdom whose riches and opportunities are for whosoever will.
Will, the Instrument by which we appropriate Ideas.––But there are persons who never entertain the idea that presents itself, and who, therefore, form neither intention, purpose, nor resolution upon it––the persons who do not use their Will. And there are persons who deliberately will and choose to entertain harmful and injurious ideas; the thoughts of whose hearts are only evil continually, whose purposes, resolutions, are ever towards evil ends.
These several acts of the Will, intention, purpose, resolution, are not only possible to us, but are required of us. The Will is, in fact, the instrument by which we appropriate the good, uplifting thought that comes our way; and it is as we seize upon such thought with intention, act upon it with purpose, struggle, with resolution, against obstacles, that we attain to character and usefulness in the world.