Plans.––'I'm going to be a chimney sweep and wear a tall hat,' says the little Frankfort child (who rarely sees tall hats excepting on chimney sweeps), 'I'm going to be a cabby and drive a hansom,' 'I'm going to be a general and fight a great battle,' 'I'm going to be a nurse and mind a dear little baby,' 'I'm going to be "mother" and have little girls and boys of my own,' say the children; and they change their minds every week, because all sorts of trades and professions interest them, and they figure to themselves how nice it would be to belong to each.
The growing boy or girl leaves all that behind as one of the 'silly' ways of the little ones; but, by and by, wonder begins to stir in a boy's head as to what particular bit of the world's work he will be called to do. It is good and pleasant to think that the work, whatever it is, will be really his, and will also be world-work upon some task that is wanted. The girl's heart, too, reaches out wistfully: she wants a task, a bit of work for herself in the world that is wanted; that is the thing that both boy and girl desire. They understand the words of a great man, who said, "The thing worth living for is to be of use." The boy knows he must go out into the world and do something definite. For a girl, too, there are many careers, as they are called, opened in these days; and, if a girl is only called to the sweet place of a home daughter, all she need ask for herself is 'to be of use,' and, perhaps, no calling will offer her more chances of usefulness.
Preparation.––Some boys know, at an early age, that they are being brought up for the navy, for example. For others, both boys and girls, their calling does not come until, perhaps, they have left college.
All callings have one thing in common––they are of use; and, therefore, a person may prepare for his calling years before he knows what it is. What sort of person is of use in the world? You think of the most brilliant and handsome of your friends, and say to yourself, 'So-and-so, anyway, is a person the world could not do without'; but you may be quite wrong. The good looks, wit and cleverness, which give boy or girl the first place in school, often enough lead to a back seat in the world; because the person with these attractive qualities may be like a vessel without ballast, at the mercy of winds and waves. None need think small things of himself and of his chances of being serviceable because he is without the attractive qualities he admires in another. Everyone has immense 'chances,' as they are called; but the business of each is to be ready for his chance. The boy who got a medal from the Royal Humane Society for saving life, was ready for his chance; he had learned to swim; and, also, he had practised himself in the alert mind and generous temper which made him see the right thing to do and do it on the instant, without thought of the labour or danger of his action; without any thought, indeed, but of the struggling, sinking creature in the water.
This illustrates what I mean; boys and girls who would be ready for their chances in life must have well-trained, active bodies; alert, intelligent, and well-informed minds; and generous hearts, ready to dare and do all for any who may need their help. It is such persons as these the world wants, persons who have worked over every acre of that vast estate of theirs which we have called Mansoul; men and women ordered in nerve and trained in muscle, self-controlled and capable; with well-stored imagination, well-practised reason; loving, just, and true.
Possibilities.––There is nothing in the wide world so precious, so necessary for the world's uses, as a boy or girl prepared on these lines for the calling, that may come; and that is why I have tried to lay before you some of the great possibilities of the Kingdom of Mansoul. These possibilities belong to each of us; and the more we realise what we can be and what we can do, the more we shall labour to answer to our call when it comes. The boy who works only that he may pass, or be the head of his class, may get what he works for; but perhaps no one is of use unless he means to be of use. This is not a thing that comes to us casually, because it is the very best thing in life; and that fellow who means to have a good time, or to be first in any race, even the race for riches, may get the thing he aims at; but do not let him deceive himself; he does not also get the honour of being of use.
"Get leave to work
In this world!––'tis the best you get at all.
* * * * *
Get work! get work!
Be sure 'tis better than what you work to get."
E. B. BROWNING. [from Aurora Leigh, third book]
The Habit of being of Use.––'Hell is paved with good intentions' is a dreadful saying with which we are all familiar. I suppose it means that nothing is so easy to form as a good intention, and nothing so easy to break, and that lost and ruined souls have, no doubt, formed many good intentions. Therefore we must face the fact that the intention to be of use is not enough. We must get the habit, the trick, of usefulness.
In most families there is the brother who cuts whistles and makes paper boats for the little ones, who gallops like a war-horse with Billy on his back, whom his mother trusts with messages and his father with commissions of importance; or, there is the sister to whose skirts the babies cling, who has learnt Latin enough to help her young brothers in their tasks, who can cut a garment or trim a hat for one of the maids; who writes notes for her mother and helps to nurse the baby through measles.
The 'Neverheeds.'––The heedless members of the families––Jack, in whose pocket a note is found three days after it should have been delivered, Nellie, whose parcel comes to pieces in the post––say, 'Oh, that sort of thing's no trouble to Tom and Edith; they like it, you know.' It is quite true that they like it, because we all like to do what we do well; but––nobody can do well what he has not had a good deal of practice in doing; and you may depend upon it that the useful members of a family have had much practice in being of use, that is, they have looked out for their chances.
Servant or Master?––Each of us has in his possession an exceedingly good servant or a very bad master, known as Habit. The heedless, listless person is a servant of habit; the useful, alert person is the master of a valuable habit. The fact is, that the things we do a good many times over leave some sort of impression in the very substance of our brain; and this impression, the more often it is repeated, makes it the easier for us to do the thing the next time. We know this well enough as it applies to skating, hockey, and the like. We say we want practice, or, are out of practice, and must get some practice; but we do not realise that, in all the affairs of our life, the same thing holds good. What we have practice in doing we can do with ease, while we bungle over that in which we have little practice.
The Law of Habit.––This is the law of habit, which holds good as much in doing kindnesses as in playing the piano. Both habits come by practice; and that is why it is so important not to miss a chance of doing the thing we mean to do well. We must not amuse ourselves with the notion that we have done something when we have only formed a good resolution. Power comes by doing and not by resolving, and it is habit that serves us, whether it be the habit of Latin verse or of carving. Also, and this is a delightful thing to remember, every time we do a thing helps to form the habit of doing it; and to do a thing a hundred times without missing a chance, makes the rest easy.
Our Calling.––Of this thing I am quite sure, that his calling, or, if you like to name it so, his chance, comes to the person who is ready for it. That is why the all-round preparation of body, mind, soul, and heart is necessary for the young knight who is waiting to be called. He will want every bit of himself in the royal service that is appointed him; for it is a royal service. God, who fixes the bounds of our habitation, does not leave us blundering about in search of the right thing; if He find us waiting, ready and willing, He gives us a call. It may come in the advice of a friend, or in an opening that may present itself, or in the opinion of our parents, or in some other of the quiet guidings of life that come to those who watch for them, and who are not self-willed; or it may come in a strong wish on our own part for some particular work for which we show ourselves fit.
But this, I think, we may be sure of, that his call comes as truly to a ploughman as to a peer, to a dairymaid as to a duchess. And each person, in whatever station, requires preparation for his calling; first, the general preparation of being a person ready and fit; and next, a special preparation of training and teaching for the particular work in question.
But in the first stage of our apprenticeship, the time of general preparation, while we are yet at school or college, let us remember that it rests with us to fit ourselves for our vocation. The worth of any calling depends upon its being of use; and no day need go by without giving us practice in usefulness.
Each one is wanted for the special bit of work he is fit for; and, of each, it is true that ––
"Thou cam'st not to thy place by accident:
It is the very place God meant for thee."