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(See page 32.)
MOTIVE gives character to every action performed by reasoning beings. The same thing done or said the same to all outward appearance is good or bad, beautiful or unlovely, according to the motive which gave it birth. Does this require illustration to enforce its truth?
I am busy at my writing-desk. Near me is my little sister or niece, looking over a book of pictures I have placed in her hand. Her little bare arms are often crossing the paper on which I am writing, to show the objects that interest and excite curiosity, and obtain some satisfying answer. Suddenly that fair arm receives from my hand a blow so startling that the book falls, the flesh reddens, and tears start into the innocent eyes. Perhaps I gave that blow because I was impatient at the interruption of my pursuits. How unkind and cruel the act! Perhaps I gave it because a noisome insect had settled upon the sweet flesh, and would feed himself at the expense of the little girl's future comfort.-How kind and friendly the act!
Both these actions are the result of impulse, but the impulse springs from a motive; in the one case, the selfish desire of personal convenience; in the other, the unselfish wish to spare another inconvenience. Multitudes of similar instances might be adduced, were they needed. I shall cite but one other, this belonging to the class of deliberate actions.
I have on my premises a magnificent tree, the growth of many years, in the possession of which I have much pleasure,
pride, and enjoyment. This tree stands so near the limit of my grounds that its spreading branches throw as much shade upon the soil of my next neighbor as my own. I determine the tree shall be felled: it is done. Why this sacrifice of kingly beauty and grateful shade? asks the looker-on. Perhaps it overshadowed my neighbor's fruit-trees or grain so entirely as to prevent their growth. How generous and beautiful the act! Perhaps I owe him a grudge, and cannot endure that he should have an equal advantage with myself in my possessions, although I am in no sense the loser. How mean and unworthy the act!
Now to Mr. A. or Mrs. B., the other side of the way, or the other side of the hill, it makes no difference which of these motives controlled me; but to myself it is of infinite moment, whether I am cherishing and strengthening a vindictive, narrow, unchristian spirit, or whether I am fostering justice and magnanimity within me.
This being the case-it being, as we clearly see, true that the motive of action and utterance makes the character of it, and that the motives we habitually cherish make our characters, whatever reputation we may possess, this being the case, it becomes a question of vital importance to the well-being of the young, what motives we are making the habitual springs of all they do and say. What motives, then, shall "be urged in the business of education?"
Were there no circumstances to be taken into account, were everything at hand precisely as we would have it, the answer could be given at once and heartily responded to by every educator; no motive to obedience but the love of right, no motive to study but the love of progress. But since there are innumerable circumstances to be considered, circumstances which it were madness to attempt ignoring, the answer admits of discussion, and divides itself into three classes. First, those motives which should not only not be "urged" but not permitted to exist. Second, those which may be allowed an existence, and activity to a limited extent, but should never be urged." Third, those which should constantly be enforced as the healthy and legitimate sources of human action and endeavor.
First. Any intelligent thinking individual who has been brought somewhat intimately into relation with miscellaneous" children, cannot have failed to observe that truth and purity and great-heartedness are not in all cases the natural upspringings of their action and utterance, and that the opposite of these are often rankly fostered by home and street influences. From these will proceed, oftentimes, an outward seeming of good, that needs to be carefully scrutinized and the motive eradicated at once and forever.
For instance I had once in my class in a certain school a girl whose cousin was a member of a slightly advanced division of the same class. Between the mothers of these girls, whose husbands were brothers, a jealous rivalry existed with regard to their children; each determined her own should excel the other. This influence actuated the two pupils in all they did. Each studied hard, but it was always with one eye turned toward her cousin to see if she studied harder. Their conduct was circumspect to the observer, but it was so in order that they might not lose rank, the one thereby falling behind the other. What wellsprings of action were here deepening and acquiring power for their future lives! What a preparation of the heart was this, for the relations of social and domestic life! I often felt how much better for these girls it would have been to be entirely ignorant of all that is acquired from books, so that their natures could be kindly and simple; and I was rejoiced when circumstances gave them places in schools remote from each other.
Here was a motive that should never for a moment be permitted to exist, the motive not of generous emulation but of jealous rivalry.
I have in the course of my experience, at different times, had under my care pupils who were accustomed to being managed entirely by appeals to their vanity. Had I pursued the same course, it would have been smooth and easy for me, in place of the often discouraging, always up-hill labor of seeking, led by a sense of duty, to repress this incentive. In every instance except one, the individuals came ultimately to see, gratefully, affairs from my point of view. This one subject, while she has frequently since we separated given evidence of her respect and deference for my opinions, still holds me personally in disfavor. But that is a trifle, if by my discipline she has gained, as I think she has, despite a weak and erroneous home influence, a clearer insight into character and duty.
Vanity is a motive to be entirely deprecated.
Plausibility is the last of this class my limits will permit me to mention. "Do what you please with your ears but give me your eyes," I once heard the master of a school (not one in which I was teaching) say to his assembled pupils; assembled for a general exercise in which all had equal concern. The necessary translation of this injunction to my mind was, let there be an outward show of right, whatever the reality may
Follow this influence out into mature life, individual and social, my earnest, clear-thinking co-workers, and see to what it tends. See the hollowness of heart, that bears not the pressure a band-box would sustain; the emptiness of purpose,