A man of honor! What a glorious title is that! Who would not rather have it than any that kings can bestow? It is worth all the gold and silver in the world. He who merits it wears a jewel within his soul and needs none upon his bosom. “His word is as good as his bond,” and if there were no law in the land one might deal just as safely with him. To take unfair advantage is not in him. To quibble and guard his speech so that he leads others to suppose that he means something that he does not mean, even while they can never prove that it is so, would be impossible to his frank nature. His speeches are never riddles. He looks you in the eye and says straight out the things he has to say, and he does unto others the things he would that they should do to him.
He is a good son and a good brother. Who ever heard him betray the faults and follies of his near kindred? And with his friends he proves himself true, and will not betray the trust friendship imposes on him. And with strangers you do not find him too curious about the affairs of others, or too eager to impart information accidentally gleaned by him. Real honor and esteem are not difficult to be obtained in the world. They are best won by actual worth and merit rather than by art and intrigue, which runs a long and ruinous race, and seldom seizes upon the prize at last. Clear and round dealing is the honor of man’s nature, and mixture of falsehood is like alloy in coin of gold and silver, which may make the metal work the better, but it embaseth it.
Honor, like reputation and character, displays itself in little acts. It is of slow growth. Anciently the Romans worshiped virtue and honor as gods; they built two temples, which were so seated that none could enter the temple of honor without passing through the temple of virtue, thus symbolizing the truth that all honor is founded on virtue. He whose soul is set to do right finds himself more firmly bound by the principle of honor than by legal restraints—much more at ease when bound by the law than when bound by his conscience. He who is actuated by false principles of honor does not feel thus. True honor is internal, false honor external. The one is founded on principles, the other on interests. The one does not ostentatiously proclaim its lofty aims; it prefers that its conduct and actions demonstrate its purposes. He who is moved by false honor is constantly worried lest some one should doubt that he was a man of honor. He is so busily engaged in sustaining his reputation against fancied attacks on his honor that he finds but little time to devote to the exercise of those acts which a fine sense of honor would impel him to do. Such a one may be a libertine, penurious, proud—may insult his inferiors and defraud his creditors—but it is impossible for one possessed of true honor to be any of these.
Honor and virtue are not the same, though true honor is always founded on virtue. Honor may take her tones and texture from the prevailing manners and customs of those around us; this renders her vacillating unless allied to virtue, which is the same in both hemispheres, yesterday as to-day. When honor is not founded on virtue she becomes essentially selfish in design, and is unworthy of her name. She is then unstable and seldom the same, for she feeds upon opinion, and will be as fickle as her food. She builds a lofty structure on the sandy foundation of the esteem of those who are, of all beings, the most subject to change. Combined with virtue she is uniform and fixed, because she looks for approbation only from Him who is the same at all times. Honor by herself is capricious in her rewards. She feeds us upon air, and often pulls down our house to build our monument. She is contracted in her views, inasmuch as her hopes are rooted on to earth, bounded by time, and terminated by death. But, when directed by virtue, her hopes become enlarged and magnified, inasmuch as they extend beyond present things—even to things, eternal. In the storms and tempests of life mere honor is not to be depended on, because she herself partakes of the tumult; she also is buffeted by the waves and borne along by the whirlwind. But virtue is above the storm, and gives to honor a sure and steadfast anchor, since it is cast into heaven.
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