S. Austin Allibone, comp. Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay. 1880.
Pecuniary aid, by those who have the means, is the most easy form in which benevolence can be gratified, and that which often requires the least, if any, sacrifice of personal comfort or self-love. The same affection may be exercised in a degree much higher in itself, and often much more useful to others, by personal exertion and personal kindness. The former, compared with the means of the individual, may present a mere mockery of mercy; while the latter, even in the lowest walks of life, often exhibits the brightest displays of active usefulness that can adorn the human character. This high and pure benevolence not only is dispensed with willingness when occasions present themselves, but seeks out opportunity for itself, and feels in want of its natural and healthy exercise when deprived of an object on which it may be bestowed.
The first is the exercise of virtue, in the most general acceptation of the word. The particular scheme which comprehends the social virtues may give employment to the most industrious temper, and find a man in business more than the most active station of life. To advise the ignorant, relieve the needy, comfort the afflicted, are duties that fall in our way almost every day of our lives. A man has frequent opportunities of mitigating the fierceness of a party; of doing justice to the character of a deserving man; of softening the envious, quieting the angry, and rectifying the prejudiced; which are all of them employments suited to a reasonable nature, and bring great satisfaction to the person who can busy himself in them with discretion.
Power to do good is the true and lawful end of aspiring; for good thoughts, though God accept them, yet towards men are little better than good dreams, except they be put in act; and that cannot be without power and place, as the vantage or commanding ground. Merit and good works is the end of mans motion; and conscience of the same is the accomplishment of Gods rest; for if a man can be partaker of Gods theatre, he shall likewise be partaker of Gods rest.
A good deed is never lost: he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love: pleasure bestowed upon a grateful mind was never sterile, but generally gratitude begets reward.
The whole world calls for new work and nobleness. Subdue mutiny, discord, wide-spread despair, by manfulness, justice, mercy, and wisdom. Chaos is dark, deep as hell: let light be, and there is indeed a green flowery world. Oh, it is great, and there is no other greatness! To make some nook of Gods creation a little fruitfuller, better, more worthy of God; to make some human hearts a little wiser, manfuller, happier, more blessed, less accursed! It is work for a God! Sooty hell of mutiny, and savagery, and despair, can, by mans energy, be made a kind of heaven; cleared of its soot, of its mutiny, of its need to mutiny; the everlasting arch of heavens azure overspanning it too, and its cunning mechanisms and tall chimney-steeples as a birth of heaven; God and all men looking on it well pleased.
Thousands of men breathe, move, and live, pass off the stage of life, and are heard of no more. Why? they do not partake of good in the world, and none were blessed by them; none could point to them as the means of their redemption; not a line they wrote, not a word they spake, could be recalled; and so they perished: their light went out in darkness, and they were not remembered more than insects of yesterday. Will you thus live and die, O man immortal? Live for something. Do good, and leave behind you a monument of virtue that the storm of time can never destroy. Write your name, in kindness, love, and mercy, on the hearts of thousands you come in contact with year by year: you will never be forgotten. No! your name, your deeds, will be as legible on the hearts you leave behind you as the stars on the brow of evening. Good deeds will shine as the stars of heaven.
The happiness of mankind is the end of virtue, and truth is the knowledge of the means; which he will never seriously attempt to discover who has not habitually interested himself in the welfare of others.
Remember, that he is indeed the wisest and the happiest man who, by constant attention of thought, discovers the greatest opportunity of doing good, and with ardent and animated resolution breaks through every opposition that he may improve these opportunities.
Let a man compare with each other, and also bring to the abstract scale, the sentiment which follows the performance of a kind action and that which follows a vindictive triumph; still more if the good was done in return for evil. How much pleasure then will that man ensureyes, what a vast share of it!whose deliberate system it is, that his every action and speech shall be beneficent!
Whatever mitigates the woes or increases the happiness of others is a just criterion of lewdness; and whatever injures society at large, or any individual in it, is a criterion of iniquity. One should not quarrel with a dog without a reason sufficient to vindicate one through all the courts of morality.
It must be remembered that we do not intermit, upon any pretence whatsoever, the custom of doing good, in regard, if there be the least cessation, nature will watch the opportunity to return, and in a short time to recover the ground it was so long in quitting: for there is this difference between mental habits and such as have their foundation in the body, that these last are in their nature more forcible and violent, and to gain upon us need only not to be opposed; whereas the former must be continually reinforced with fresh supplies, or they will languish and die away.
He who diffuses the most happiness and mitigates the most distress within his own circle is undoubtedly the best friend to his country and the world, since nothing more is necessary than for all men to imitate his conduct, to make the greatest part of the misery of the world cease in a moment. While the passion, then, of some is to shine, of some to govern, and of others to accumulate, let one great passion alone influence our breasts, the passion which reason ratifies, which conscience approves, which Heaven inspires,that of being and doing good.
The labour of doing good, with the pleasure arising from the contrary, doth make men for the most part slower to the one and proner to the other than that duty, prescribed them by law, can prevail sufficiently with them.
He is good that does good to others. If he suffers for the good he does, he is better still; and if he suffers from them to whom he did good, he is arrived to that height of goodness, that nothing but an increase of his sufferings can add to it; if it proves his death, his virtue is at its summit,it is heroism complete.
If cruelty has its expiations and its remorses, generosity has its chances and its turns of good fortune; as if Providence reserved them for fitting occasions, that noble hearts may not be discouraged.
Alphonse Lamartine: History of the Restoration in France, vol. iii. book 34, xviii.
All absent good does not, according to the greatness it has, or is acknowledged to have, cause pain equal to that greatness, as all pain causes desire equal to itself; because the absence of good is not always a pain, as the presence of pain is.
The joy resulting from the diffusion of blessings to all around us is the purest and sublimest that can ever enter the human mind, and can be conceived of only by those who have experienced it. Next to the consolations of Divine grace, it is the most sovereign balm to the miseries of life, both in him who is the object of it and in him who exercises it; and it will not only soothe and tranquillize a troubled spirit, but inspire a constant flow of good humour, content, and gaiety of heart.
Never did any soul do good, but it came readier to do the same again, with more enjoyment. Never was love or gratitude or bounty practised, but with increasing joy, which made the practiser still more in love with the fair act.
But those men only are truly great who place their ambition rather in acquiring to themselves the conscience of worthy enterprises, than in the prospect of glory which awaits them. These exalted spirits would rather be secretly the authors of events which are serviceable to mankind, than, without being such, to have the public fame of it. Where therefore an eminent merit is robbed by artifice or detraction, it does but increase by such endeavours of its enemies. The impotent pains which are taken to sully it, or diffuse it among a crowd to the injury of a single person, will naturally produce the contrary effect; the fire will blaze out, and burn up all that attempt to smother what they cannot extinguish.
Certain it is, that as nothing can better do it, so there is nothing greater for which God made our tongues, next to reciting his praises, than to minister comfort to a weary soul. And what greater measure can we have than that we should bring joy to our brother, who with his dreary eyes looks to heaven and round about, and cannot find so much rest as to lay his eyelids close togetherthan that thy tongue should be tuned with heavenly accents, and make the weary soul to listen for light and ease; and when he perceives that there is such a thing in the world, and in the order of things, as comfort and joy, to begin to break out from his sorrows at the door of sighs and tears, and by little and little melt into showers and refreshment? This is glory to thy voice, and employment fit for the brightest angel . So is the heart of a sorrowful man under the discourses of a wise comforter: he breaks from the despairs of the grave, and the fetters and chains of sorrow; he blesses God, and he blesses thee, and he feels his life returning: for to be miserable is death, but nothing is life but to be comforted, and God is pleased with no music from below so much as in the thanksgiving songs of relieved widows, of supported orphans, of rejoicing, and comforted, and thankful persons.
In this world whatever is called good is comparatively with other things of its kind, or with the evil mingled in its composition: so he is a good man that is better than men comparatively are, or in whom the good qualities are more than the bad.
No man has a right to say he can do nothing for the benefit of mankind, who are less benefited by ambitious projects than by the sober fulfilment of each mans proper duties. By doing the proper duty in the proper place, a man may make the world his debtor. The results of patient continuance in well-doing are never to be measured by the weakness of the instrument, but by the omnipotence of Him who blesseth the sincere efforts of obedient faith alike in the prince and in the cottager.
Nor is the lowest herd incapable of that sincerest of pleasures, the consciousness of acting right; for rectitude does not consist in extensiveness of knowledge, but in doing the best according to the lights afforded.
As that which hath a fitness to promote the welfare of man, considered as a sensitive being, is styled natural good; so that which hath a fitness to promote the welfare of man as a rational, voluntary, and free agent, is styled moral good; and the contrary to it, moral evil.
The greater congruity or incongruity there is in anything to the reason of mankind, and the greater tendency it hath to promote or hinder the perfection of mans nature, so much greater degrees hath it of moral good or evil; to which we ought to proportion our inclination or aversion.