Chapter VII The Rulings Of Conscience In The House Of The Body: Fortitude

Fortitude.––Botticelli's picture of Fortitude1, and Ruskin's interpretation of it, are among the lessons which Conscience should get by heart. This 'Fortitude' is no colossal figure, standing stark, bristling with combative energy. Noble in stature, she yet sits, weary after long-sustained effort; wistful, too, as who should say, 'How long?' But, though resting, she is wary and alert, still grasping the unsheathed sword which lies across her knees. She is engaged in a warfare whose end is not within sight; but hers is not the joy of attack. She is weary indeed, yet neither sorry for herself nor pleased with herself; her regard is simple. She has the 'single eye' which looks upon the thing to be done, not upon herself as the doer––the thing to be borne, rather, for Fortitude suffers.

The Bible hardly commends Fortitude to us by name as a Christian grace, yet therein we shall find our best exemplars. Our Lord, who bore more than we are able to express, says of Himself, "I am meek and lowly of heart"; and this saying, perhaps, gives us a key to the meaning of Fortitude,––less  a valiant than a patient grace, memorable more for what she suffers gladly than for what she does.

As St Paul would image the fulness of Christ in the characters of Charity, so Isaiah gives us an image of Fortitude in setting forth the humiliation and sufferings of Christ. Fortitude grows up within us, a tender plant, is without form or comeliness, bears griefs and carries sorrows, endures chastisement, suffers and is dumb, does no violence, nor speaks deceit, is put to grief, yet––divides the spoil with the strong. There is only one true Fortitude among men, the fortitude of Christ; and every little bit of cheerful bearing that we are able for, without self-pity or self-complacency, comes of that divine fortitude.

Moses was the meekest man that ever lived, and his meekness was Fortitude. For forty years in the wilderness he bore with the waywardness of Israel; and, when the offences of the people had, so he thought, exceeded the patience of God, he prayed, "Yet now, if Thou wilt forgive their sin; and if not, blot me also, I pray Thee, out of the Book of Life."

St Paul, too, after much bearing,––"in journeyings often; in perils of waters; in perils of robbers; in perils by mine own countrymen; in perils by the heathen; in perils in the city; in perils in the wilderness; in perils in the sea; in perils among false brethren; in weariness and painfulness; in watchings often; in hunger and thirst; in fastings often; in cold and nakedness:"––could wish that he, too, were accurst for his brethren.

Perhaps Fortitude has always an element of tenderness, and always means bearing for love's sake; if it be only the fortitude of a child who bears toothache cheerfully that he may not distress his mother. The tradition of Fortitude was carried on in the Middle Ages rather in the school of chivalry––a school wherein the teachers were manifold distresses––than in the discipline and self-mortification of the monastery. Roland and Oliver, and each of the 'champions of Christendom,' has a record of distresses comparable with that of the Apostle. "Endure hardness," says St Paul to Timothy; and to endure without wincing, and without resentment was a law of knightly bearing.

Sir Kenneth, in The Talisman2, brings home the notion of knightly Fortitude in a way possible for ourselves.

Fortitude in Poverty.––"'May I see your sick squire, fair sir?' The Scottish knight hesitated and coloured, yet answered at last, 'Willingly, my Lord of Gilsland; but you must remember, when you see my poor quarters, that the nobles and knights of Scotland feed not so high, sleep not so soft, and care not for the magnificence of lodgment, which is proper to their southern neighbours. I am poorly lodged, my Lord of Gilsland,' he added, with a haughty emphasis on the word, while, with some unwillingness, he led the way to his temporary place of abode. Sir Kenneth cast a melancholy look around him, but suppressing his feelings, entered the hut, making a sign to the Baron of Gilsland to follow . . . The interior of the hut was chiefly occupied by two beds. One was empty, but composed of collected leaves, and spread with an antelope's hide. It seemed, from the articles of armour laid beside it, and from a crucifix of silver, carefully and reverentially disposed at the head, to be the couch of the knight himself. The other contained the invalid, of whom Sir Kenneth had spoken, a strong-built and harsh-featured man, past, as his looks betokened, the middle age of life. His couch was trimmed more softly than his master's, and it was plain, that the more courtly garments of the latter, the loose robe, in which the knights showed themselves on pacific occasions, and the other little spare articles of dress and adornment, had been applied by Sir Kenneth to the accommodation of his sick domestic."

Here we have an example of Fortitude under very difficult circumstances, where pity and tenderness for dependents, personal dignity and high courage, go along with extreme poverty. The man who shows this manner of fortitude is a hero. The knight it is, and not that strange hermit-monk of the Lebanon, his body scarred with penitential wounds, who braces us by an example of Christian fortitude.

Fortitude under Vexatious Provocations.––Indeed, we are grateful for high lessons fitted to homely occasions, and we can at least understand how it was nothing less than high fortitude that Mrs. Garth showed in the presence of an undeserved and vexatious calamity.

Mrs. Garth3 is at one and the same time making pies, superintending the baking and the washing, and teaching 'Lindley Murray' to her youngest boy and girl. Fred Vincy comes to see her husband, and, by and by, Caleb himself comes in.

"'Mr. Garth, I am come to tell something that I am afraid will give you a bad opinion of me. I am come to tell you and Mrs. Garth that I can't keep my word. I can't find the money to meet the bill after all. I have been unfortunate; I have only got these fifty pounds towards the hundred and sixty.'

"Mrs. Garth was mutely astonished, and looked at her husband for an explanation. Caleb blushed, and after a little pause said––

"'Oh, I didn't tell you, Susan: I put my name to a bill for Fred; it was for a hundred and sixty pounds. He made sure he could meet it himself.'

"There was an evident change in Mrs. Garth's face, but it was like a change below the surface of water which remains smooth. She fixed her eyes on Fred, saying––

"'I suppose you have asked your father for the rest of the money, and he has refused you.'

"'No,' said Fred, biting his lips, and speaking with more difficulty; 'but I know it will be of no use to ask him; and unless it were of use, I should not like to mention Mr. Garth's name in the matter.'

"'It has come at an unfortunate time,' said Caleb, in his hesitating way, looking down at the notes and nervously fingering the paper. 'Christmas upon us––I'm rather hard up just now. You see, I have to cut out everything like a tailor with short measure. What can we do, Susan? I shall want every farthing we have in the bank, It's a hundred and ten pounds, the deuce take it!'

"'I must give you the ninety-two pounds that I have put by for Alfred's premium,' said Mrs. Garth gravely and decisively, though a nice ear might have discerned a slight tremor in some of the words.

"'And I have no doubt that Mary has twenty pounds saved from her salary by this time. She will advance it.'

"Mrs. Garth had not again looked at Fred, and was not in the least calculating what words she should use to cut him the most effectively. Like the eccentric woman she was, she was at present absorbed in considering what was to be done, and did not fancy that the end would be better achieved by bitter remarks or explosions. But she had made Fred feel for the first time something like the tooth of remorse.

"'I shall certainly pay it all, Mrs. Garth––ultimately,' he stammered out.

"'Yes, ultimately,' said Mrs. Garth, who, having a special dislike to fine words on ugly occasions, could not now repress an epigram. 'But boys cannot well be apprenticed ultimately: they should be apprenticed at fifteen.' She had never been so little inclined to make excuses for Fred . . . Fred turned and hurried out of the room.

"'I was a fool, Susan.'

"'That you were,' said the wife, nodding and smiling. 'But I should not have gone to publish it in the market-place. Why should you keep such things from me? It is just so with your buttons; you let them burst off without telling me, and go out with your wristband hanging.'"

Mrs. Amos Barton4, too––what a record of gentle and dignified fortitude is the story of her life and death in that poor parsonage house!

Cheerful, Serviceable Fortitude.––We think of Mark Tapley5 with relief; he found 'no credit in being jolly' when things went well; but for cheerful, serviceable Fortitude, can any bit of knight-errantry exceed the 'jolly' way in which he made the best of things in 'Eden'? The foes he fought  were nothing more romantic than fever, famine, querulousness, helplessness in every member of that poor colony; and what a plucky, unostentatious fight it was! Mark Tapley deserves a place among our bosom friends; but he might think there was no credit in being jolly in so snug a niche.

Nor need we go to 'Eden' to find place for Fortitude. A birthday dinner cooked (!) by her loving family gave occasion to the 'old girl' (otherwise Mrs. Bagnet, who is to be found in Bleak House6) for much cheerful serenity.

What a contrast she is, by the way, to Mrs. Wilfer (Our Mutual Friend), who lets the world know she is enduring by tying a black ribbon round her face. How many of us do the like with the metaphorical black ribbon of a sullen temper and a falling countenance! Instead of gradually ascending, we have come down from the high ideal of Fortitude to commonplace, even absurd, examples; but these fit our occasions; and it would not be a bad plan to keep a note-book recording the persons and incidents that give a fillip to conscience in this matter of Fortitude.

The Roll of our Heroes.––Time fails to tell of Nansen, Gordon, Howard, Livingstone, Collingwood, Raleigh, Galileo, Florence Nightingale, Calpurnia, Mackay of Uganda, Grace Darling; for the roll of persons notable for their Fortitude is, in fact, the roll of our heroes, and our little 'Book of Fortitude' will come to be a book of heroes, whether in small things or great. The reader will perhaps object that Fortitude belongs to the mind and the heart rather than to the body; but, when the body is not kept in its proper place, trained to endure without murmur, Fortitude has no chance. It is in the body we must endure hardness, and the training comes in the cheerful bearing of small matters not worth mentioning.

The Song of the Lotos-Eaters has music for us all:––

     All things have rest: why should we toil alone,
     We only toil, who are the first of things,
     And make perpetual moan,
     Still from one sorrow to another thrown:
     Nor ever fold our wings,
     And cease from wanderings,
     Nor steep our brows in slumber's holy balm;
     Nor hearken what the inner spirit sings,
     'There is no joy but calm!'
     Why should we only toil, the roof and crown of things?7

therefore we have need of Fortitude, without which no man or woman has ever yet brought life to any purpose: "So fight I, not as one that beateth the air: but I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection." 


1Fortitude, Sandro Botticelli.
2The Talisman,By Sir Walter Scott.
3Middlemarch, by George Eliot.
4Scenes of Clerical Life, by George Eliot.
5Martin Chuzzlewit, by Charles Dickens.
6Bleak House, By Charles Dickens.
7The Song of the Lotos-Eaters, By Alfred Lord Tennyson