Sunday 19 January 2014


2014-03 Samuel Smiles: CHARACTER - Home Power

 Samuel Smiles [1812-1904] was a Scottish author, best known for his didactic work Self-Help which elevated him to celebrity status almost overnight. 

Self-Help [1859] was followed by Lives of the Engineers [1862]Character [1871]Thrift [1875] and Duty  [1880].

I studied his essay on "Home Power" [Chapter 2 of Character] in an Intermediate Prose Anthology and was greatly impressed.  I share with you here, excerpts from

                                 HOME POWER

HOME is the first and most important school of character.  
"Home makes the man." For the home-training includes not only manners and mind, but character. It is mainly in the home that the heart is opened, the habits are formed, the intellect is awakened, and character moulded for good or for evil.
The child learns by simple imitation, without effort, almost through the pores of the skin. "A fig tree looking on a fig tree becomes fruitful," says the Arabian proverb. And so it is with children; their first great instructor is example.
However apparently trivial the influences which contribute to form the character of the child, they endure through life. The child's character is the nucleus of the man's; all after-education is but superposition; the form of the crystal remains the same.
Says William Wordsworth, "The child is father of the man;" or, as Milton puts it, "The childhood shows the man, as morning shows the day." Those impulses to conduct which last the longest and are rooted the deepest, always have their origin near our birth. It is then that the germs of virtues or vices, of feelings or sentiments, are first implanted which determine the character for life.
It is in childhood that the mind is most open to impressions, and ready to be kindled by the first spark that falls into it. Ideas are then caught quickly and live lastingly. Thus Scott is said to have received, his first bent towards ballad literature from his mother's and grandmother's recitations in his hearing long before he himself had learned to read. Childhood is like a mirror, which reflects in after-life the images first presented to it.
Homes, which are the nurseries of children who grow up into men and women, will be good or bad according to the power that governs them. 
Where the spirit of love and duty pervades the home—where head and heart bear rule wisely there—where the daily life is honest and virtuous—where the government is sensible, kind, and loving, then may we expect from such a home an issue of healthy, useful, and happy beings, capable, as they gain the requisite strength, of following the footsteps of their parents, of walking uprightly, governing themselves wisely, and contributing to the welfare of those about them.
One good mother, said George Herbert, is worth a hundred schoolmasters. In the home she is "loadstone to all hearts, and loadstar to all eyes." Imitation of her is constant—imitation, which Bacon likens to "a globe of precepts." But example is far more than precept. It is instruction in action. It is teaching without words, often exemplifying more than tongue can teach.
It is because the mother, far more than the father, influences the action and conduct of the child, that her good example is of so much greater importance in the home.
The poorest dwelling, presided over by a virtuous, thrifty, cheerful, and cleanly woman, may thus be the abode of comfort, virtue, and happiness; it may be the scene of every ennobling relation in family life; it may be endeared to a man by many delightful associations; furnishing a sanctuary for the heart, a refuge from the storms of life, a sweet resting-place after labour, a consolation in misfortune, a pride in prosperity, and a joy at all times.
The good home is thus the best of schools, not only in youth but in age. There young and old best learn cheerfulness, patience, self-control, and the spirit of service and of duty.

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