« PreviousContinue »
conduct. Advice is persuasive, but example is more persuasive. Let a man advise his friend to act contrary to his own example, and what will be the effect? His friend will follow his example, and reject his advice. The force of authority is great, but the force of example is greater. A parent's habitual conduct has more influence upon his children, than his most positive precepts. The law of the land is not equal to the law of example. Every written law must yield to common law. And common law is nothing but long and immemorial example. A man may safely travel any road, use any property, speak any word, or do any action, which common and uninterrupted custom allows. For, all written laws are obliged to bend to the supreme law of example.
II. We may consider the force of example upon the human mind, in the various stages of life. These are usually divided into childhood, youth, manhood, and old age.
In childhood, example is always the governing motive of action. Every one comes into the world a total stranger to men and things. In this situation, the child takes example for his first and surest guide. By example, he learns what is harmless and what is hurtful; what is decent and what is indecent; what is pleasing and what is displeasing; what secures approbation and what creates disgust. He observes every person's conduct, and endeavors to act as he sees others act; especially those with whom he lives, and on whom he depends. A sense of dependence, and a desire to please, are habitual dispositions in children, which continually impel them to follow the example of others. They soon perceive their want of asistance from those, who possess superior strength and superior wisdom. And
to secure this assistance is their first and supreme object. But to attain this desirable object, they find by experience, that they must speak as others speak, dress as others dress, walk as others walk, sit as others sit, and, in all their behavior, conform to the example of others. In this way, they make swift advances in the knowledge of the world. They learn something every day and every moment. They let no person pass by them without observation, nor without instruction. Hence to learn, and to learn by example, becomes a habit; and this habit, formed in this early and tender age, becomes a second nature, which time only serves to strengthen and increase.
In youth, which is the next period of life, they still retain their natural sense of inferiority and dependence, and are eager to secure the favor and patronage of those, who have reached the years of manhood. To act like men, is the height of their ambition. They mean therefore, to follow their example, and tread in their steps, as nearly as possible. Nor are they inattentive to those of their own age, among whom there is great inequality in other respects. Some have superior wealth, some superior learning, some superior genius, some superior reputation, and some superior art and address. These become leaders, while others who feel their inferiority, are obliged to follow their steps. Hence the rising generation grow up under the habit of imitation, and the power of example.
them turn which way they will, the example of both their equals and superiors in age, attacks them with a double influence, which they are totally unable to resist.
In manhood, they arrive to years of discretion, enter upon the busy scenes of life, and attain a certain measure of independence and self-direction.
though they now equally disregard the example of the young and of the aged, yet they cannot rise above the example of those of their own standing. In the meridian of life, men sustain very different characters and relations, and are placed in very different circumstances. Some are rich, and some are poor; some are high, and some are low; some move in a private, and some in a public station. Accordingly all continue to lead and to be led. Though ambition, in this season of life, takes a more serious turn, forsaking the vanities of childhood and youth, and pursuing the manly objects of riches, honor, and power, yet it loses nothing of its real strength and vigor In manhood, all the powers and passions of the mind are bent upon making and supporting distinctions. Every one is sanguine to distinguish himself, by setting example to some, and by following the example of others. There is no man but feels he has both superiors and inferiors. The rich feel they have superiors in learning. The learned feel they have superiors in genius. The men of genius feel they have superiors in influence and address. And on the other hand, the poor feel themselves to be superior to many in beauty of body, in strength of mind, and in many other qualities, which command esteem and respect. The consciousness of this mutual superiority and inferiority disposes every man both to set and to follow example. He means to follow the example of his superior, and to set example to his inferior. This disposition to lead, and to be led, displays itself in every art and science; in every business and diversion of life. Let the mechanic go into the museum of the philosopher, and the philosopher will feel and display his superiority. Let the philosopher go into the shop of the mechanic, and the mechanic will feel and display his superiority. Let the philosopher,
the mechanic, the merchant, the attorney, the physician, and the farmer, meet in the same company, and each will feel, by turns, his superiority and inferiority, as the conversation happens to fall upon different subjects. And let the man of the world mix in this company of learned and useful men, and he will lose that sense of superiority, which he felt in the circle of the gay and trifling, and sink into his own proper insignificance. Thus, in the meridian of life, while men are pursuing power, riches, honor and pleasure, example has the largest field to exert her sovereign influence over all their views and behavior.
In old age, which is the last and most serious stage of life, we might expect that example would lose all her influence; but observation and experience clearly teach us the contrary. The aged both set and follow example. In some places the aged gradually retire from the view, from the conversation, from the employments and diversions of those in younger life. But in other places, they keep up their connexions with the world, mix among the young and the gay, and join in their employments and amusements. This practice prevails among the rich and the great in all polished nations, and is much recommended by many modern writers. Here we see, that the influence of example never leaves men, till they leave the world. And indeed, it often displays its power in the article of death. When Cesar was stabbed in the senate house, and perceived that his wounds were incurable. he wrapped his cloak around him, and threw himself into the most decent posture of dying. And criminals are often seen to be very attentive to the rules of politeness, while they were standing on the brink of time, and preparing for the awful stroke of justice. Such is the early and lasting influence of example. It
takes mankind by the hand in their infancy, and leads them through all the remaining stages of life. It is the first law they know, and the only law they keep. Its authority is gentle, though always irresistible. And its precepts are pleasing, though often severe and tyrannical. I pass,
III. To consider the influence of example upon human societies. These are composed of individuals, and equally subject to the power of example. A family is a small, but important society. In this little circle, children acquire their strongest habits. It is not so much what the parents command, or what others advise, as what every one does, that forms the characters and manners of children. Jonadab's example formed the character of his children, and of his children's children, from generation to generation. Domestic example has the same influence among all nations, and in all places. Take a child from one nation, and carry him to another, and his character will more resemble the nation in which he is educated, than that in which he was born. Or take a child only from one family, and put him into another of the same place, and he will more resemble the family in which he is brought up, than that from which he was taken, and from which he derived his very existence. If you go into a little neighborhood, parish, or town, you will find a certain similarity in their customs and manners. This can be ascribed to nothing but the force of example. There is no law human nor divine which requires towns, parishes, or neighborhoods, to observe such a similarity of conduct. And perhaps no law but that of example would be strong enough to produce such an effect. If we consider the peculiarities which are observable in national characters, we must ascribe these to the powerful influence of examOcca.