S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
In the discharge of thy place set before thee the best examples; for imitation is a globe of precepts; and after a time set before thee thine own example; and examine thyself strictly whether thou didst not best at first. Neglect not also the examples of those that have carried themselves ill in the same place; not to set off thyself by taxing their memory, but to direct thyself what to avoid.
Since the worst of times afford imitable examples of virtue; since no deluge of vice is like to be so general but more than eight will escape; eye well those heroes who have held their heads above water, who have touched pitch and not been defiled, and in the common contagion have remained uncorrupted.
The efficacy of good examples in the formation of public opinion is incalculable. Though men justify their conduct by reasons, and sometimes bring the very rules of virtue to the touchstone of abstraction, yet they principally act from example. Metaphysical reasons have, in reality, as little to do in the formation of the principles of morals as rules of grammar in the original structure of language, or those of criticism in the formation of orators and poets.
It is the duty of every man to take care lest he should hinder the efficacy of his own instructions. When he desires to gain the belief of others, he should show that he believes himself; and when he teaches the fitness of virtue by his reasonings, he should, by his example, prove its possibility: thus much at least may be required of him, that he shall not act worse than others because he writes better, nor imagine that, by the merit of his genius, he may claim indulgence beyond mortals of the lower classes, and be excused for want of prudence or neglect of virtue.
But though ten thousand of the greatest faults in others are to us of less consequence than one small fault in ourselves, yet self-approval is so much more agreeable to us than self-examination,which, as Bacon says, is a medicine sometimes too piercing and corrosive,that we are more ready to examine our neighbours than ourselves, and to rest satisfied with finding, or fancying, that we are better than they; forgetting that, even if it is really so, better does not always imply good; and that a course of duty is not like a race which is won by him who runs, however slowly, if the rest are still slower. It is this forgetfulness that causes bad examples to do much the greatest amount of evil among those who do not follow them. For among the four kinds of bad examples that do us harmnamely, those we imitatethose we proudly exult overthose which drive us into an opposite extremeand those which lower our standardthis last is the most hurtful. For one who is corrupted by becoming as bad as a bad example, there are ten that are debased by being content with being better.
Richard Whately: Annot. on Bacons Essay, Of Friendship.