Chapter 79

  1. A Good Name

“He that filches from me my good name

Robs me of that which ne’er enriches him,

And makes me poor indeed.”

— Shakespeare.

A good name is the richest possession we have while living, and the best legacy we leave behind us when dead. It survives when we are no more; it endures when our bodies and the marbles which cover them have crumbled into dust. How can we obtain it? What means will secure it to us with the free consent of mankind and the acknowledged suffrages of the world? It is won by virtue, by skill, by industry, by patience and perseverance, and by humble and consistent trust and confidence in a high and overruling power. It is lost by folly, by ignorance, by ignominy and crime, by excessive ambition and avarice.

That good name, which is to be chosen rather than great riches, does not depend on the variable and shifting wind of popular opinion. It is based on permanent excellence, and is as immutable as virtue and truth. It consists in a fair and unsullied reputation—a reputation formed under the influence of virtuous principles, and awarded to us, not by the ignorant and the vicious, but by the intelligent and the good.

In such a name we look first of all for integrity, or an unbending regard to rectitude; we look for independence, or a determination to be governed by an enlightened consideration of truth and duty; for benevolence or a spirit of kindness and good-will toward men; and, finally, for a reverent regard for all moral qualities. These are the essential proper ties of a good character, the living, breathing lineaments of that good name which commends itself to the careful consideration of the truly good every-where.

It is ever to be kept in mind that a good name is in all cases the fruit of personal exertions. It is not inherited from parents; it is not created by external advantages. It is no necessary appendage of birth or wealth or talents or station, but the result of one’s own endeavors, the fruit and reward of good principles manifested in a course of virtuous and honorable actions. Hence the attainment of a good name, however humble the station, is within the reach of all. No young man is excluded from this invaluable boon. He has only to fix his eye on the prize, and to press toward it in a course of virtuous and useful conduct, and it is his. It may be said that in the formation of a good name personal exertion is the first, the second, and the last virtue. Nothing great or excellent can be acquired without it. All the virtues of which it is composed are the result of untiring application and industry. Nothing can be more fatal to the attainment of a good character than a confidence in external advantages. These, if not seconded by your own endeavors, will drop you midway, or perhaps you will not have started when the diligent traveler will have won the race.

Life will inevitably take much of its shape and coloring from the plastic powers that operate in youth. Much will depend on taking a proper course at the outset of life. The principles then adopted and the habits then formed, whether good or bad, become a kind of second nature, fixed and permanent. The most critical period of life is that which elapses from fourteen to twenty-one years of age. More is done during this period to mold and settle the character of the future man than in all the other years of life. If a young man passes this period with pure morals and a fair reputation, a good name is almost sure to crown his years and to descend with him to the close of his days. On the other hand, if a young man in the Spring season of life neglects his mind and heart, if he indulges himself in vicious courses, and forms habits of inefficiency and slothfulness, he inflicts an injury on his good name which time will not efface, and brings a stain upon his character which no tears can wash away.

The two most precious things this side the grave are our reputation and our life. But it is to be lamented that the most, contemptible whisper may deprive us of the one and the weakest weapon of the other. A wise man, therefore, will be more anxious to deserve a fair reputation than to possess it; and this will teach him so to live as not to be afraid to die. A fair reputation, it should be remembered, is a plant delicate in its growth. It will not shoot up in a night, like the gourd that sheltered the prophet’s head; but, like that gourd, it may perish in a night. A name which it has cost many years to establish is often destroyed in a single hour. A good name, like good-will, is gained by many actions, but lost by one.

One of the most essential elements of a good name is the possession of good moral principles. Such principles fill the soul with the noblest views and the purest sentiments, and direct all the energies, desires, and purposes to their proper use and end. Such principles impart new light and vigor to the mind, and secure to its possessor a safe passage through all the temptations of the world to the abodes of eternal purity and blessedness. A character without fixed moral principles has impressed on it the deformity of a great and palpable defect. Whatever virtues it does not possess are like flowers planted in the snow or withered by the drought—wanting the life vigor and beauty which principles alone can impart. Lacking such principles one would in vain seek to acquire a good name. As well expect a vessel to traverse broad oceans to a destined harbor with no rudder whereby to control its course.

Though a good name is won only by a life of constant activity and exertion, by self-denial, and an outflow of charity, yet its rewards are great and enduring, and to fail of its possession is to be without the best thing on earth. Without it gold has no value, birth no distinction, station no dignity, beauty no charms, age no reverence. Without it every treasure impoverishes, every grace deforms, every dignity degrades, and all the arts, the decorations, and accomplishments of life stand like the beacon blaze upon a rock, warning that its approach is dangerous, that its contact is death. He who has it not is under eternal quarantine—no friend to greet him, no home to harbor him. And in the midst of all that ambition can achieve, or avarice amass, or rapacity plunder, he feels himself alone, destitute of the sympathy of others.

A good character is a sure protection against suspicion and evil reports. A man of bad or doubtful character is suspected of a thousand acts of which he may not be guilty. And if he does a good deed it is apt to be ascribed to a bad motive. He has lost the confidence of his fellow-men. They know him to be unprincipled and hollow-hearted, and are therefore ready to believe all the evil that is thought or said of him, but none of the good. On the other hand, a man of fair character, of tried and established reputation, stands out to the eyes of the public as one who is above suspicion, and above reproach. The envious may attempt to tarnish his fair name, but their efforts recoil upon their own heads. He is conscious of acting from correct principles, and being known to the public as a man of integrity and worth he need never give himself much concern as to any unfavorable reports that may be circulated respecting him. They acquit him without trial, and believe his innocence without the judgment of a court. Slander may, indeed, for a moment, fix its fangs on a spotless character, but such a character has within itself an antidote to the poison, and emerges from the temporary shadow with invigorated strength and heightened beauty.

While a good name will secure for you the esteem and confidence of your fellow-men, how will it increase your capacity and extend the sphere of your usefulness! Who are the men whose friendship is most highly valued, whose opinions have greatest weight, whose patronage is most eagerly sought, and whose influence is most extensively sought in the country? Are they not men of principle—men, of known worth and established reputation? A good name draws round its possessor warm friends, and opens for him a sure and easy way to wealth, to honor, and happiness. Reverse the picture, and think of the direful evils of a ruined character. It will expose you to a thousand painful suspicions and blasting reports; it will deprive you of all self-respect and peace of mind; it will exclude you from the confidence and esteem of your fellow-men, and bring upon you their neglect and contempt; it will cut you off from all means of usefulness, and degrade you to a mere cipher in society, rendering your ultimate success impossible.

A good name is thus a protection against suspicion and evil reports; it is the source of the purest and most lasting enjoyment; it secures for us the esteem and confidence of our fellow-men; it increases the power and enlarges the sphere of our usefulness; it has the most direct and happy bearing on our success in life; it stands connected with the happiness of our families and friends, with the welfare of society; with the temporal and eternal happiness of thousands.

, In, pager

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