Of Breeding

    IF pride is the essence of respect for one’s self, breeding is, we may almost say, the habit of respect for others. It is pride made generous, pride thoroughly purged of selfishness. The constant habit of regard for our neighbour and our friend is surely one of the prime requisites of a comfortable life among mortals. The exaltation of the ego is an essence of progress and the aim of perfection; but the recognitions of many an alter ego about us is equally imperative. The failure to perceive their existence, appreciate their differences, and make allowance for their varying needs, must result in disaster to ourselves.
    First of all things I know my own likes and dislikes, desires, wants, failings, aspirations [Page 223], pleasures, joys, sorrows, and fears; and I instinctively proceed to live my life about these fundamental facts. If I have a measure of wisdom I try so to balance these natural forces as to produce in my character some faint similitude of that ideal of personality which his imagination reveals to every man, — striving in the course of years to approach ever nearer and nearer the true self which I feel I am capable of becoming. Always to keep this beautiful image in sight, always to be hoping for its realization in ourselves, never to despair of one day accomplishing even in this life our longed-for wish, — this is the gist of culture. And it is pride, — honest, wise, unselfish, tolerant pride, — that must be our mainstay in that splendid impossible struggle, that strife for perfection which we must for ever wage, and which brings its rich results hour by hour, though we seem to fail at last.
    There is no more imperative or more becoming duty than self-culture, — bodily, mental, spiritual. For surely, in so delightful and [Page 224] wonderful a world, we cannot be too eager or too persistent to make ourselves in every degree worthy of life. Our instinct every day cries out for larger endeavour and more glorious achievement than we have yet known. Each morning we look upon creation and are dumbly aware of the call of opportunity, and the spirit within us resolves to do. Not a mortal in the universe but has said to himself, “I will.” And in the evening we are aware of determinations unfulfilled. Perhaps these failures in accomplishment are all there is of imperfection upon earth. Perhaps all we need to do, in order to touch immortal happiness and partake of immortal life, is to attain our own ideal once, and once for all. A possibility almost beyond the likelihood of human grasp! And yet it is not in man’s nature to despair, save at times; for the most part we are buoyant with the elation of expectancy, and taste the relish of confidence. In all the drift of existence, the trend which energy follows [Page 225] from nothingness to beauty, pride is the indwelling active spirit, the regulating power.
    But pride is not enough, culture of self is not enough, joy in self-growth is not enough. Indeed, in itself alone, and of itself alone, self-culture cannot subsist. We cannot for an instant maintain our being without dependence on circumstance and surrounding. From within we know the impulse of self-assertion — in the largest, best sense; but from perception we see that the world is an agglomeration of other beings like ourselves, no one of which is more important than another. And the conclusion comes in on us that we too are each of us no more than an atom, and that as our relations with others are inevitable, so they should be considerate. While natural egotism makes us insistent, our first intelligent glance at the world should make us plastic. Yet so stubborn is spirit, so tenacious of life at all hazards, that it does not easily concede to others those rights it demands for itself. The habit of doing this is the aim of breeding [Page 226]. The disinterested mind perceives that for the perfection of selfhood unselfishness is necessary. That which I forego in consideration for others shall return to me again in conscious rectitude and self-respect.
    As pride is a part of love, the instinctive foresight of the loving spirit, and exhibits itself in nobleness and worthiness, so breeding is the habit of these moral qualities. For in the moral world breeding is not merely tradition and inherited custom; it is the training and individual culture needful for perfection of character. Breeding makes habitual those traits and actions which otherwise we would only display at rare moments of inspiration.
    Kindness, gentleness, civility, manners, contentment, sweetness, constancy, devotion, — these are some of the results and evidences of breeding. In breeding the character acquires temper, as a piece of steel does in the process of manufacture, and is no longer malleable as iron, but firmer, more trustworthy and susceptible of polish, and far more elastic and sensitive [Page 227]. Breeding prescribes this and that, limits the whim of the individual, curtails choice and enforces submission, and yet not excessively, but only for the sake of the greater ultimate perfection of all. In our battle for individualism we must remember that Nature has probably endowed all of her children with a superabundance of egotism. Just as she creates myriads of seeds on thousands of trees, with the chance of only a very few coming to maturity; so she endows us with enormous egotism, that her ends may be served, and that we may be in no danger of extinction through indifference. It by no means follows, however, than we can make use of all our egotism, or even a large part of it. We ought cheerfully to recognize the fact that very often the individual will is destined to disappointment. It is right for you and me to insist on our own way, as pride and impulse bid; yet, if we could have our utmost will, we should be flourishing to an unheard-of extent, to the cost and detriment of all nature [Page 228].
    Breeding teaches the necessary resignation of small and selfish aims, and inculcates an unfailing endeavour on behalf of society. Good breeding is scrupulous in requiring the sacrifice of our own comfort for that of others. It makes us for ever tireless in obeying our own good impulses. The vulgar may be kind and generous and loving. But only the well-bred are tireless in observing the smallest and nicest amenities. For wisdom knows how lazy we are and how readily we fall into habits of slovenly conduct even toward those whom we love most dearly; it therefore creates the code, and supplies the culture, to aid us in our difficult task. Life without breeding is food without savour; it is art without form. Only the shallow mind will imagine that perfection may be gained without the generous helps which breeding alone can supply [Page 229].