Chapter XX Justice To Ourselves: Self-Ordering

My Duty to Myself.––We know that we owe justice to our neighbour, that is, to those about us and those beneath us, and those on our own level; to our own family, our servants, the people we employ, and at whose shops we deal; and to all those whom we know as relations and friends; to a gradually widening circle of persons which comes at last to include all the world.

There remains one person to whom we owe a debt of justice, and many lives are wasted because this person is unjustly treated. The friend whom we are apt to neglect when we are dealing out justice is ourself. "My duty toward my neighbour," says the Catechism, "is to keep my body in temperance, soberness, and chastity,"––and this, partly because, if we neglect this rule of life, we become injurious and offensive to our neighbours, and partly because we owe a first duty to that closest of all neighbours, our very self.

Some people do great things in the world––they save lives, write books, build hospitals; but the person who orders his own body properly also does a service to the world. In the first place, a good man or woman, whose body is kept under the threefold rule I have quoted, adorns the world, helps to make it beautiful, just by being there; and, in the next place, both evil and good are catching. One unchaste boy in a school will make many who think and speak of matters they should never allow their thoughts to touch; so a single chaste boy who puts all such talk away from him, will not listen to it or allow it, helps to make his whole school chaste. Few things are more sad than to see a beautiful body, made for health, strength, and happiness––made in the image of God–-injured and destroyed by bad habits.

Temperance avoids every Excess.––Of the three rules of life by which our bodies should be ordered, perhaps temperance is least understood by young people. We think of Burne-Jones's stately figure of Temperantia pouring pure water out of her pitcher to quench the flames, of temperance societies, and so on; and thus we come to associate temperance with abstinence from drink. That certainly is one kind of temperance; but the boy who is greedy, the girl who is slothful, are also intemperate, as you may tell by watching them walk down the street. They have not the springing step, the alert look, which belong to Temperance.

One may even be intemperate in the matter of restlessness. We may carry games, cramming for an examination, novel-reading, bridge, any interest which absorbs us, to excess; and all excess is intemperance. It means that the person who indulges in excesses has lost control over himself, so that there is some one thing he must have or must do, at whatever loss to himself or inconvenience to others. Once we are aware of this danger of intemperance, even in things innocent in themselves, why, we keep watch. We don't go on to a fifth jam tart (!); we get up early; we brace ourselves with a cold bath and a vigorous walk; we use muscular movements, dumb-bells, or Indian clubs in our rooms. We are ashamed if we find ourselves running to fat and not to muscle, and knit ourselves up by means of more exercise, less lounging; we are careful, too, not to have a second or a third helping when we like the dish. By the way, that is rather a good rule. If one helping of cold mutton is enough, there is proof positive that one helping of roast lamb, let us say, is also enough. We must beware of becoming gross, because gross in body means slow of wits, dull in thought. We can all be temperate without putting ourselves under any particular course of diet, (we need not live upon apples and nuts and the like); indeed, perhaps temperance is best shown in eating temperately of that which is set before us, however nice it may be.

Soberness does not seek Excitement.––Soberness appears to mean in the first place, according to the derivation of the word, being removed from drunkenness. Never was it easier for young persons to remain sober by never tasting alcohol than it is to-day, when so many good and thoughtful people, men of affairs, people in what is called 'society,' drink water and not wine.

We have heard of that nation of ancient Greece, the custom of whose great men it was to give drink to their slaves, in order that their children might see how absurd and how disgusting a drunken man becomes; they did this, in order that their young people might grow up loathing drunkenness as the vice of slaves. Christian people may not cause others to offend; but, alas! we do not want for examples. Even children who live in towns see something of the horror of drunkenness, and they wonder at it. How can Jervis, such a nice man when he is sober, go on drinking until at last he falls, a horrid object, by the roadside? This is a question worth asking, because the whole history of drunkenness, and indeed of every vice that becomes a man's master, hangs upon the answer.

Self-Indulgence leads to Vice.––A man begins to drink for pretty much the same reason that takes a boy to the tuck-shop. He wants to indulge himself with something agreeable, and thinks there is 'no harm' in a glass of beer or wine. Now, 'no harm' is a dangerous sign-post to follow. It points to a broad road upon which there are many gay travellers; and the going is easy, because it is downhill all the way. This is the road of self-indulgence; and whenever we have to justify anything we do to ourselves by saying, 'There's no harm in it,' we may be pretty sure we are on the downward grade. Our only chance then is to struggle back by the uphill track of duty. The person who persists on the easy downgrade, amused by the song and laugh of gay comrades, and choosing to go the way that gives him no trouble, comes by and by to a parting of the ways; to the four cross-roads where the companions divide.

The Parting of the Ways.––At this point, they lose their gaiety, and hurry away by one or other cross-road with the eagerness of men engaged on a matter of life or death; so they are, on a matter of death but not of life.

They are engaged upon the gradual injuring, the slow killing, of their beautiful and noble body, that great gift of God to each of us; upon the soddening and weakening of the wonderful brain we use when we think and know, when we love and pray. The greatest master in the world cannot produce any but cracked and feeble tones out of an instrument whose cords are worn and injured; so, however brilliant the man who lets himself go down either of the four crossroads of vice, he loses all the promise and power of his genius once he has injured his brain by vicious habits; for we can do no thinking or acting that is worthwhile without a sound brain.

The Fate of the Drunkard.––The first of these cross-roads leads to drunkenness, and the man turns into it when he passes the stage of self-indulgence; that is, when he no longer drinks because it pleases him, but drinks because he must. That is the dreadful penalty man or woman pays for self-indulgence. A craving habit is set up which very few indeed are able to resist; conscience, the help of friends, even faint and feeble prayers, appear to be of no avail. The poor wretch drinks because he is miserable; for the moment, drink makes him happy because it stimulates him. It causes a quick current of blood to flow through his brain; his thoughts are brisk and life is pleasant. But, alas! a time of depression follows immediately. The man cannot think and cannot feel, is very sorry for himself, sheds maudlin tears, cannot endure the burden of existence, and flies again to the enemy. He tells you he must drink, that it is beyond flesh and blood to endure the maddening craving that consumes him.

He drinks his health and his wealth, his friends and his profession; he is a wreck in body and mind, and men wonder how he lives at all––if such manner of crawling about in obscure ways can be called life.

Is this a just return to God for the wonderful endowments of body and mind this man has received? Is it just to his family and neighbours to make himself a burden and an offence? Is it just to himself––that wonderful, beautiful self, with all its powers of heart, mind and soul, of which it is everyone's first business to make the most?

What would one say of a young man who received as a birthday gift a costly repeater, and immediately opened the case and poured vitriol into the works? You would say he was a fool or a madman to destroy what cost much money to buy, much thought and delicate labour to construct. What, then, of him who destroys that far more wonderful mechanism of brain and body, by means of which he thinks, lives, and feels?

You think it would be a merciful thing to place such offenders in a madhouse with other lunatics: but God does not allow us to escape the responsibility of choosing between right and wrong, even though we always choose the wrong, and continually offend against Him, ourselves, and our neighbour.

'En parole.'––That thought makes our responsibility for ordering our bodies very great. Just because we can, if we like, do the wrong thing, we have to be all the more on honour to choose the right. The French have a pretty expression which we use in the case of prisoners of war. The prisoner is allowed a great deal of liberty en parole, that is, if he will give his word not to try to escape. So binding is the word of a gentleman, both in France, England, and elsewhere, that the prisoner of war, who may be clever enough to contrive ways to get out of the most strongly guarded cell, cannot escape from his own word. He may walk about the streets, go here and there, do what he likes; but there is an invisible wall, confining him which he cannot pass beyond, and this wall is no more than his word––he is en parole.

This is very much the way that God treats us in the matter of self-indulgence. The way is open to us down the Broad Road, but we are hindered by our parole. We may not have given our word out loud, but the word is only a sign, it means 'on my honour'; and we are all on our honour to safeguard ourselves from ruin, however easy and inviting may be the way thereto.

The difficulty is, that many young people go down the Broad Road without knowing they are on it; they do not stop to think and look about them: they say, 'It does not matter'––this little pleasure or the other––and they have lost their honour before they know it.

Excitement.––There are some other ways of becoming intoxicated besides that of strong drink. Whatever produces an unnatural flow of blood to the brain has some of the qualities of intoxication, and is sure to be followed by depression when that extra flow of blood has left the brain, impoverished. We call this sort of intoxication excitement, and it is no harm as an occasional thing; but persons may come to want excitement every day, every hour, and may mope and be dull without it; they want excitement for the same reason that the drunkard wants drink, and for the same reason, too, the more they have the more they want. They cannot enjoy the company of their friends without a great deal of wild laughing and talking. They want to be always with people who will 'make them laugh,' however unseemly the jest. They are uneasy if they cannot go to every party of pleasure within reach. They find no games sufficiently exciting unless they be games of chance; and, in the end, the gambling habit may settle upon them––a habit as ruinous, if not as disgusting, as the drink habit.

He who would keep his body in soberness must avoid all these excesses. I do not say he must never be excited, because whatever pleases or troubles us very much, excites us; but that is quite a different thing from going after excitement, being uneasy if something exciting is not happening all the time.

The Ways of the Glutton––Circe.––The other byways branching off the Broad Road lead to the quarters of Gluttony, Sloth, and Unchastity. Persons who break parole with regard to the ordering of their bodies find their way down one or other of the four. Some persons hover between the four cross-roads, now going down one, now another, and now another; but others––like the drunkard, the gourmand, the slothful person, and the unclean––choose their way and stick to it, letting themselves be lost, body and soul, in the pursuit of some lust of the body.

You remember how Circe turned the hardy seamen of Ulysses into swine. I cannot do better than quote the tale in the words of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Circe, you remember, met the wandering mariners who had been drawn into her palace by the sounds of pleasant singing. The beautiful lady of the island came forward, smiling and stretching out her hand, and bade the whole party welcome. "'You see,' she said, 'that I know all about your troubles; and you cannot doubt that I desire to make you happy for as long a time as you may remain with me. For this purpose, my honoured guests, I have ordered a banquet to be prepared. Fish, fowl and flesh, roasted and in luscious stews, and seasoned, I trust, to all your tastes, are ready to be served up. If your appetites tell you it is dinner-time, then come with me to the festal saloon.' At this kind invitation, the hungry mariners were quite overjoyed; and one of them . . . assured their hospitable hostess that any hour of the day was dinner-time with them . . .

"They entered a magnificent saloon . . . Each of the strangers was invited to sit down; and there they were . . . sitting on two-and-twenty cushioned and canopied thrones . . . Then you might have seen the guests nodding, winking with one eye, and leaning from one throne to another, to communicate their satisfaction in hoarse whispers. 'Our good hostess has made kings of us all,' said one. 'Ha, do you smell the feast?' . . . 'I hope,' said another, 'it will be mainly good substantial joints, sirloins, spare ribs, and hinder quarters, without too many kickshaws. If I thought the good lady would not take it amiss, I should call for a fat slice of fried bacon to begin with.' But the beautiful woman clapped her hands; and immediately there entered a train of two-and-twenty serving men, bringing dishes of the richest food, all hot from the kitchen fire, and sending up such a steam that it hung like a cloud below the crystal dome of the saloon. An equal number of attendants brought great flagons of wine of various kinds, some of which sparkled as it was poured out and went bubbling down the throat . . . Whatever little fault they might find with the dishes, they sat at dinner a prodigiously long while, and it would really have made you ashamed to see how they swilled down the liquor and gobbled up the food. They sat on golden thrones, to be sure, but they behaved like pigs in a sty . . . It brings a blush to my face to reckon up, in my own mind, what mountains of meat and pudding, what gallons of wine, these two-and-twenty gormandisers ate and drank. They forgot all about their homes . . . and everything else except this banquet at which they wanted to keep feasting forever. But at length they began to give over, from mere incapacity to hold any more. . .

"They all left off eating, and leaned back on their thrones, with such a stupid and helpless aspect as made them ridiculous to behold. When their hostess saw this, she laughed aloud; so did her four damsels; so did the two-and-twenty serving men that bore the dishes, and their two-and-twenty followers that poured out the wine. 'Wretches!' cried she, 'you have abused a lady's hospitality; and in this princely saloon your behaviour has been suited to a hog-pen. You are already swine in everything but the human form . . . Assume your proper shapes, gormandisers, and begone to the sty!' Uttering these last words, she waved her wand, stamping her foot imperiously; each of the guests was struck aghast at beholding, instead of his comrades in human shape, one-and-twenty hogs sitting on the same number of golden thrones . . . It looked so intolerably absurd to see hogs on cushioned thrones, that they made haste to wallow down upon all fours, like other swine. They tried to groan and beg for mercy, but forthwith emitted the most awful grunting and squealing that ever came out of swinish throats . . . Dear me! what pendulous ears they had! what little red eyes, half buried in fat! and what long snouts instead of Grecian noses!"

Interests in Life.––If we wish to do justice to 'ourselves,' by keeping our bodies in temperance, soberness, and chastity, we must begin with our thoughts, remembering that in this matter we can be heroes, though nobody knows. Of each of us it is true, that

     "A charge to keep I have,
     A God to glorify."

And what a splendid reason we have in this for taking care of our thoughts! People say, 'Take care of the pennies, and the pounds will take care of themselves'; but far more true it is, 'Take care of the thoughts, and the acts will take care of themselves.'

If we would keep in soberness, we must work, read, and think; more––we must be thankful. There is no person's life which would not be exceedingly interesting if he lived it fully; and he whose life is full of interests does not seek excitement, from drink or other sources.

The person who has interests gives them to everybody about him. The boy who sets up a picture post-card album sets a fashion which his school follows; and so with every interest in life––poetry, history, or any class of natural objects.

Have interests and give them to others, and you are fairly safe from the desire for excitement which leads to drunkenness. Interests, too, will shield us all from the degradation of gluttony. The child who watches his brother's plate, and longs for what he thinks is the better helping, is a child who has nothing better to think of.

Slothfulness.––The boy or girl who has interests is not a sluggard. Hockey, tennis, cricket, long walks, football, rowing, skating,––all these help to give him the vigorous body to which it would be a bore to lie abed or lounge about. By the way, one must not let oneself be the 'fat boy' in Pickwick, or anywhere else! When persons grow fat it is not always that they eat too much, though that may have something to do with it; but it is certainly because they do not take enough exercise, and therefore run to fat and not to muscle. Young men at college, boys at public schools, do not let themselves get fat; to do so would be 'bad form.' So, if we find this unpleasant symptom developing in ourselves, we had better consider whether slothfulness is not the cause––a horrid vice for which nobody would be content to wreck his life.

Uncleanness.––One Road to Ruin remains to be considered, the last and the worst of the four crossroads, that which leads to the deadly sin of uncleanness. Here, too, is a sin that is committed in thought: we have done the offence when we have thought it. We know the danger of allowing ourselves to be talked to by persons of unclean mind, and the dreadful danger of imaging ourselves things we may read. We cannot help coming across what may lead to evil imaginings; perhaps if we could there would be no battle to fight, and then we could not obey the command, "Glorify God with your bodies." Every one of us must get the power to draw down the blinds, as it were, not to let imagination picture the unclean thing. For once imagination behaves like Peeping Tom, it becomes a fight to keep out impure thoughts. "Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation," says our Lord and Master; watch, that is, look at the thoughts you let in, and shut the door upon intruders. Pray every day and every night with the confidence of a child speaking to his father,––"Our Father which art in Heaven, lead us not into temptation"; and then, think no more of the matter, but live all you can the beautiful, full life of body and mind, heart and soul, for which our Father has made provision.