A froward retention of custom is as turbulent a thing as an innovation; and they that reverence too much old times are but a scorn to the new. It were good, therefore, that men in their innovations would follow the example of time itself, which indeed innovateth greatly, but quietly, and by degrees scarce to be perceived.
Mens thoughts are much according to their inclination; their discourses are speeches according to their learning and infused opinions; but their deeds are after as they have been accustomed: and therefore, as Machiavel well noteth (though in an evil-favoured instance), there is no trusting to the force of nature, nor to the bravery of words, except it be corroborate by custom . Many examples may be put of the force of custom, both upon mind and body: therefore, since custom is the principal magistrate of mans life, let men by all means endeavour to obtain good customs. Certainly, custom is most perfect when it beginneth in young years: this we call education, which is, in effect, but an early custom.
We are so wonderfully formed, that, whilst we are creatures vehemently desirous of novelty, we are as strongly attached to habit and custom. But it is the nature of things which hold us by custom, to affect us very little whilst we are in possession of them, but strongly when they are absent. I remember to have frequented a certain place every day for a long time together, and I may truly say that, so far from finding pleasure in it, I was affected with a sort of weariness and disgust; I came, I went. I returned, without pleasure: yet if by any means I passed by the usual time of my going thither, I was remarkably uneasy, and was not quiet till I had got into my old track.
Of all tyrants custom is that which to sustain itself stands most in need of the opinion which is entertained of its power; its only strength lies in that which is attributed to it. A single attempt to break the yoke soon shows us its fragility. But the chief property of custom is to contract our ideas, like our movements, within the circle it has traced for us; it governs us by the terror it inspires for any new and untried condition. It shows us the walls of the prison within which we are enclosed, as the boundary of the world; beyond that, all is undefined, confusion, chaos; it almost seems as though we should not have air to breathe. Women especially, liable to that fear which springs from ignorance, rather than from knowledge of what one has to fear, easily allow themselves to be governed by custom; but when once broken they also as easily forget it. A man has less trouble in making up his mind to a change of condition; a woman has less in supporting it; she accustoms herself to it for the same reason that she has hitherto done so, and will still continue to do so.
In the total overthrow which has produced so many changes of fortune among us, we have seen men extricate themselves by their courage and industry; and some by unremitting exertion have been able to return to nearly their former position; but nearly all the women, almost without exception, accommodated themselves to their new situation, and they have been quite astonished to learn so quickly and so easily that what one woman has done another is able to do also.
Custom is a violent and treacherous schoolmistress. She, by little and little, slyly and unperceived, slips in the foot of her authority, but having by this gentle and humble beginning, with the benefit of time fixed and established it, she then unmasks a furious and tyrannic countenance, against which we have no more the courage or the power so much as to lift up our eyes.
In all the serious and important affairs of life men are attached to what they have been used to; in matters of ornament they covet novelty; in all systems and institutionsin all the ordinary business of lifein all fundamentalsthey cling to what is the established course; in matters of detailin what lies as it were on the surfacethey seek variety. Man may, in reference to this point, be compared to a tree, whose stem and main branches stand year after year, but whose leaves and flowers are fresh every season.
Richard Whately: Annot. on Bacons Essay, Of Innovations.
It is to be observed that at the present day it is common to use the words custom and habit as synonymous, and often to employ the latter where Bacon would have used the former. But, strictly speaking, they denote respectively the cause and the effect. Repeated acts constitute the custom; and the habit is the condition of mind or body thence resulting. For instance, a man who has been accustomed to rise at a certain hour will have acquired the habit of waking and being ready to rise as soon as that hour arrives. And one who has made it his custom to drink drams will have fallen into the habit of craving for that stimulus, and of yielding to that craving; and so of the rest.
Richard Whately: Annot. on Bacons Essay, Of Custom and Education.