Nonfiction > E.C. Stedman & E.M. Hutchinson, eds. > A Library of American Literature > 1835–1860
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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps.  A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes.  1891.
Vols. VI–VIII: Literature of the Republic, Part III., 1835–1860
 
Honor
By Albert Mathews (1820–1903)
 
[Born in New York, N. Y., 1820. Died, 1903. A Bundle of Papers, by Paul Siegvolk. 1879.]

BORN of Christian precept and example, and nurtured by feudalistic chivalry and gallantry, it has something of the majesty of the former, with the perfume of the latter; and is personified in the gentleman.
  1
  It would be a grave mistake to confound honor with mere honesty. The latter falls within the category of the homely virtues of common men, while the former is the mainspring of the moral character of the gentleman. Indeed, common honesty scarcely deserves to be esteemed a great affirmative merit at all by rightly thinking men; except, perhaps, when it has heroically conquered a severe temptation offered to some unselfish weakness or pious affection. Only in a community where roguery is common, can mere simple honesty take high rank as a positive virtue. True, it does not deny any one his exact due, but this is little more than the result of a good animal instinct. Some beasts seem to possess it. Honor, however, is peculiarly an affirmative attribute of pure and lofty manhood. Honesty in general is simply the absence of all fraud in human dealings; honor is quite that and much more besides. Honesty will unflinchingly take to itself the benefit of a doubt in its favor; honor, however, will voluntarily give up that doubt, even to its enemy. Unquestionably the two words once had a somewhat similar meaning, but as manners and ideas refine, words are used to define and describe nicer discriminations. Honesty embraces the notion of a duty of perfect obligation rigidly imposed by moral, if not positive law. Honor obeys a self-imposed obligation. A man may be thoroughly honest, yet obtuse to many of the cardinal qualifications of a gentleman. Honesty, in its purpose, looks but little outside of self; honor generously aims to deserve the good opinion of the best; finding keener anguish in a moral stain or blemish than in grievous bodily wounds. Honesty guards its own goods, and loves self-interest; honor freely scatters its own goods and ignores self-interest, while it gallantly protects the weak, relieves the oppressed from the grasp of cruel force, redresses the injuries of others, or defends its own pure dignity.
 Such power there is in clear-eyed self-restraint,
And purpose clean as light from every selfish taint.”
  2
 
 
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