No. EXCEPT ON THOSE DISTINCT TERMS--that it shall FIRST secure HIS OWN spiritual comfort. Otherwise he will not do it.

Y.M. It will be easy to expose the falsity of that proposition.

O.M. For instance?

Y.M. Take that noble passion, love of country, patriotism. A man who loves peace and dreads pain, leaves his pleasant home and his weeping family and marches out to manfully expose himself to hunger, cold, wounds, and death. Is that seeking spiritual comfort?

O.M. He loves peace and dreads pain?

Y.M. Yes.

O.M. Then perhaps there is something that he loves MORE than he loves peace--THE APPROVAL OF HIS NEIGHBORS AND THE PUBLIC. And perhaps there is something which he dreads more than he dreads pain--the DISAPPROVAL of his neighbors and the public. If he is sensitive to shame he will go to the field--not because his spirit will be ENTIRELY comfortable there, but because it will be more comfortable there than it would be if he remained at home. He will always do the thing which will bring him the MOST mental comfort--for that is THE SOLE LAW OF HIS LIFE. He leaves the weeping family behind; he is sorry to make them uncomfortable, but not sorry enough to sacrifice his OWN comfort to secure theirs.

Y.M. Do you really believe that mere public opinion could force a timid and peaceful man to--

O.M. Go to war? Yes--public opinion can force some men to do ANYTHING.


O.M. Yes--anything.

Y.M. I don't believe that. Can it force a right-principled man to do a wrong thing?

O.M. Yes.

Y.M. Can it force a kind man to do a cruel thing?

O.M. Yes.

Y.M. Give an instance.

O.M. Alexander Hamilton was a conspicuously high-principled man. He regarded dueling as wrong, and as opposed to the teachings of religion--but in deference to PUBLIC OPINION he fought a duel. He deeply loved his family, but to buy public approval he treacherously deserted them and threw his life away, ungenerously leaving them to lifelong sorrow in order that he might stand well with a foolish world. In the then condition of the public standards of honor he could not have been comfortable with the stigma upon him of having refused to fight. The teachings of religion, his devotion to his family, his kindness of heart, his high principles, all went for nothing when they stood in the way of his spiritual comfort. A man will do ANYTHING, no matter what it is, TO SECURE HIS SPIRITUAL COMFORT; and he can neither be forced nor persuaded to any act which has not that goal for its object. Hamilton's act was compelled by the inborn necessity of contenting his own spirit; in this it was like all the other acts of his life, and like all the acts of all men's lives. Do you see where the kernel of the matter lies? A man cannot be comfortable without HIS OWN approval. He will secure the largest share possible of that, at all costs, all sacrifices.

Y.M. A minute ago you said Hamilton fought that duel to get PUBLIC approval.

O.M. I did. By refusing to fight the duel he would have secured his family's approval and a large share of his own; but the public approval was more valuable in his eyes than all other approvals put together--in the earth or above it; to secure that would furnish him the MOST comfort of mind, the most SELF- approval; so he sacrificed all other values to get it.

Y.M. Some noble souls have refused to fight duels, and have manfully braved the public contempt.

O.M. They acted ACCORDING TO THEIR MAKE. They valued their principles and the approval of their families ABOVE the public approval. They took the thing they valued MOST and let the rest go. They took what would give them the LARGEST share of PERSONAL CONTENTMENT AND APPROVAL--a man ALWAYS does. Public opinion cannot force that kind of men to go to the wars. When they go it is for other reasons. Other spirit-contenting reasons.

Y.M. Always spirit-contenting reasons?

O.M. There are no others.

Y.M. When a man sacrifices his life to save a little child from a burning building, what do you call that?


Mark Twain
Classic Literature Library

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