by Frederick William Faber

of the Oratory

Chapter l


The weakness of man, and the way in which he is at the mercy of external accidents in the world, has always been a favourite topic with the moralists. They have expatiated on it with so much amplitude of rhetorical exaggeration, that it has at last produced in our minds a sense of unreality, against which we rebel. Man is no doubt very weak. He can only be passive in a thunderstorm, or run in an earthquake. The odds are against him when he is managing his ship in a hurricane, or when pestilence is raging in the house where he lives. Heat and cold, drought and rain, are his masters. He is weaker than an elephant, and subordinate to the east wind. This is all very true. Nevertheless, man has considerable powers, considerable enough to leave him, as proprietor of this planet, in possession of at least as much comfortable jurisdiction as most landed proprietors have in a free country.  He has one power in particular, which is not sufficiently dwelt on, and with which we will at present occupy ourselves.  It is the power of making the world happy, or, at least, of so greatly diminishing the amount of unhappiness in it as to make it quite a different world from what it is at present. This power is called kindness. The worst kinds of unhappiness, as well as the greatest amount of it, come from our conduct to each other. If our conduct, therefore, were under the control of kindness, it would be nearly the opposite of what it is, and so the state of the world would be almost reversed. We are for the most part unhappy because the world is an unkind world; but the world is only unkind for the lack of kindness in us units who compose it. Now, if all this is but so much as half true, it is plainly worth our while to take some trouble to gain clear and definite notions of kindness. We practise more easily what we already know clearly.

We must first ask ourselves what kindness is. Words which we are using constantly soon cease to have much distinct meaning in our minds. They become symbols and figures rather than words, and we become content with the general impression they make upon us. 

Now, let us be a little particular about kindness, and describe it as accurately as we can. Kindness is the overflowing of self. We put others in the place of self. We treat them as we would wish to be treated ourselves. We change places with them. For the time self is another, and others are self. Our self-love takes the shape of complacence in unselfishness. We cannot speak of the virtues without thinking of God. What would the overflow of self upon others be in Him, the Ever-blessed and Eternal?  It was the act of creation.  Creation was divine kindness. From it, as from a fountain, flow the possibilities, the powers, the blessings, of all created kindness. This is an honourable genealogy for kindness. Then, again, kindness is the coming to the rescue of others when they need it, and it is in our power to supply what they need, and this is the work of the attributes of God towards His creatures. His omnipotence is for ever making up our deficiency of power. His justice is continually correcting our erroneous judgements. His mercy is always consoling our fellow-creatures under our hard-heartedness. His truth is perpetually hindering the consequences of our falsehood. His omniscience makes our ignorance succeed as if it were knowledge. His perfections are incessantly coming to the rescue of our imperfections. This is the definition of Providence, and kindness is our imitation of this divine action.

Moreover, kindness is also like divine grace, for it gives men something which neither self nor Nature can give them. What it gives them is something of which they are in want, or something which only another person can give, such as consolation; and besides this, the manner in which this is given is a true gift in itself, better far than the thing given. And what is all this but an allegory of grace? Kindness adds sweetness to everything.  It is kindness which makes life's capabilities blossom, and paints them with their cheering hues, and endows them with their invigorating fragrance. Whether it waits on its superiors, or ministers to its inferiors, or disports itself with its equals, its work is marked by a prodigality which the strictest discretion cannot blame. It does unnecessary work, which when done looks the most necessary work that could be. If it goes to soothe a sorrow, it does more than soothe it. If it relieves a want, it cannot do so without doing more than relieve it. Its manner is something extra, and it is the choice thing in the bargain. Even when it is economical in what it gives, it is not economical of the gracefulness with which it gives it. But what is all this like, except the exuberance of the divine government? See how, turn which way we will, kindness is entangled with the thought of God!  Last of all, the secret impulse out of which kindness acts is an instinct which is the noblest part of ourselves, the most undoubted remnant of the image of God which was given us at the first. We must, therefore, never think of kindness as being a common growth of our nature, common in the sense of its being of little value. It is the nobility of man. In all its modifications it reflects a heavenly type. It runs up into eternal mysteries. It is a divine thing rather than a human one, and it is human because it springs from the soul of man just at the point where the divine image was graven deepest.

Such is kindness.  Now let us consider its office in the world, in order that we may get a clearer view of itself. It makes life more endurable. The burden of life presses heavily upon multitudes of the children of men. It is a yoke, often of such a peculiar nature that familiarity, instead of practically lightening it, makes it harder to bear. Perseverance is the hand of time pressing the yoke down on our galled shoulders with all its might. There are many men to whom life is always approaching the unbearable. It stops only just short of it. We expect it to transgress every moment. But without having recourse to these extreme cases, sin alone is sufficient to make life intolerable to a virtuous man. Actual sin is not essential to sinning, the facility of sinning, the temptation to sin, the example of so much sin around us, and, above all, the sinful unworthiness of men much better than ourselves - these are sufficient to make life drain us to the last dregs of our endurance. In all these cases it is the office to make life more bearable, and if its success in its office is often only partial, some amount of success is at least variable.

It is true that we make ourselves more unhappy than other people make us. No slight portion of this unhappiness arises from our sense of justice being so continually wounded by the events of life, while the incessant friction of the world never allows the wound to heal. There are some men whose practical talents are completely swamped by the keenness of their sense of injustice. They go through life as failures because the pressure of injustice upon themselves, or the sight of it pressing upon others, has unmanned them. If they begin a line of action, they cannot go through with it. They are perpetually shying, like a mettlesome horse, at the objects by the roadside. They had much in them, but they have died without anything coming of them. Kindness steps forward to remedy this evil also. Each solitary kind action that is done the whole world over is working briskly in its own sphere to restore the balance between right and wrong. The more kindness there is on the earth at any given moment, the greater is the tendency of the balance between right and wrong to correct itself and remain in equilibrium. Nay, this is short of the truth. Kindness allies itself with right to invade the wrong and beat it off the earth. Justice is necessarily an agresive virtue, and kindness is the amiability of justice. 

Mindful of its divine origin, and of its hereditary descent from the primal act of creation, this dear virtue is for ever entering into God's original dispositions as Creator.  He meant the world to be a happy world, and kindness means it also. He gave it the power to be happy, and kindness was a great part of that very power. By His benediction He commanded creation to be happy; kindness, with its usual genial spirit of accomodation, now tries to persuade a world which has dared to disobey a divine command. God looks over the fallen world, and repents that He made man. Kindness sees less clearly the ruin of God's original idea than it sees still that first beneficient idea, and it sets to work to cleanse what is defiled and to restore what is defaced. It sorrows over sin, but, like buoyant hearted men, it finds in its sorrow the best impulse of its activity. It is labouring always in ten thousand places, and the work at which it labours is always the same - to make God's world more like His original conception of it.

But, while it thus ministers to Him as Creator, it is no less energetic and successful in preparing and enlarging His ways as Saviour. It is constantly winning strayed souls back to Him, opening hearts that seemed obstinately closed, enlightening minds that had been wilfully darkened, skilfully throwing the succours of hope into the strongholds that were on the point of capitulating to despair, lifting endeavour from low to high, from high to higher, from higher to highest. Everywhere kindness is the best pioneer of the Precious Blood.  We often begin our own repentance by acts of kindness, or through them. Probably the majority of repentances have begun in the reception of acts of kindness, which, if not unexpected, touched men by the sense of their being so undeserved. Doubtless the terrors of the Lord are often the beginning of that wisdom which we name conversion; but men must be frightened in a kind way, or the fright will only make them unbelievers.  Kindness has converted more sinners than either zeal, eloquence, or learning; and these three last have never converted anyone unless they were kind also. In short, kindness makes us a Gods to each other. Yet while it lifts us so high, it sweetly keeps us low. For the continual sense which a kind heart has of its own need of kindness keeps it humble. There are no hearts to which kindness is so indispensable as those that are exuberantly kind themselves.

But let us look at the matter from another point. What does kindness do for those to whom we show it?  We have looked at its office on a grand scale in the whole world; let us narrow our field of observation, and see what it does for those who are its immediate objects. What we note first as of great consequence, is the immense power of kindness in bringing out the good points of the characters of others. Almost all men have more goodness in them than the ordinary intercourse of the world enables us to discover. Indeed, most men, from the glimpses that we now and then obtain, carry with them to the grave much undeveloped nobility. Life is seldom so varied or so adventurous as to enable a man to unfold all that is in him. A creature who has got capabilities in him to live for ever can hardly have room in threescore years to do more than give specimens of what he might be and will be. But, beside this, who has not seen how disagreeable and faulty characters will expand under kindness? Generosity springs up fresh and vigorous from under a superincumbent load of meanness. Modesty suddenly discloses itself from some safe cavern where it has survived years of sin. Virtues come to life, and in their infantine robustness strangle habits which a score of years has been spent in forming. It is wonderful what capabilities grace can find in the most unpromising character. It is a thing to be much pondered. Duly reflected on, it might alter our view of the world altogether. But kindness does not reveal these things to us external spectators only. It reveals a man to himself. It rouses the long-dormant self-respect with which grace will speedily ally itself, and purify it by the alliance. Neither does it content itself with making a revelation. It develops as well as reveals; it gives these newly disclosed capabilities of virtue, vigour and animation. It presents them with occasions; it even trains and tutors them. It causes the first actions of the recovering soul to be actions on high principles, and from generous motives. It shields and defends moral convalescence from the dangers which beset it. A kind act has picked up many a fallen man who has afterwards slain his tens of thousands for his Lord, and has entered the Heavenly City at last as a conqueror amidst the acclamations of the saints, and with the welcome of its Sovereign. 

It is probable that no man ever had a kind action done to him who did not in consequence commit a sin less than he otherwise would have done. I can look out over the earth at any hour, and I see in spirit innumerable angels threading the crowds of men and hindering sin by all manner of artifices which shall not interfere with the freedom of man's will. I see also invisible grace, made visible for the moment, flowing straight from God in and upon and around the souls of men, and sin giving way and yielding a place to it. It is only in the deserts that I do not see it, and on the tracts of shipless seas, and the fields of polar ice. But together with grace and the angels there is a third band of diminutive figures, with veils upon their heads, which are flitting everywhere, making gloomy men cease to grown, lighting up hope in the eyes of the dying, sweetening the heart of the bitter, and adroitly turning men away from sin just when they are on the point of committing it. They seem to have a strange power. Men listen to them who have been deaf to the pleading of angels. They gain admittance into hearts before the doors of which grace has lost its patience and gone away. No sooner are the doors open than these veiled messengers, these cunning ministers of God, have gone and returned with lightning-like speed and brought back grace with them. They are most versatile in their operations. One while they are spies of grace, another while sappers and miners, another while its light cavalry, another while they bear the brunt of the battle, and for more than five thousand years they have hardly known the meaning of defeat. They are the acts of kindness which are daily enrolled in God's service from the rising to the setting of the sun; and this is the second work they do in souls to lessen the number of their sins. There are few gifts more precious to a soul than to make its sins fewer. It is in our power to do this almost daily, and sometimes often in a day.

Another work which our kindness does in the hearts of others is to encourage them in their efforts after good.  Habits of sin, even when put to death as habits, leave many evil legacies behind them. One of the most disastrous parts of their inheritance is discouragement. There are few things which resist grace as it does. Obstinacy, even, is more hopeful. We may see floods of grace descend on the disheartened soul, and it shows no symptom of reviving. Grace runs off it as the rain runs from the roofs. Whichever of its three forms - peevishness, lethargy, or delusion - it may assume, God's mercy must lay regular siege to it, or it will never be taken. But we all of us need encouragement to do good. The path of virtue, even when it is not uphill, is rough and stony, and each day's journey is a little longer than our strength admits of, only there are no means of shortening it. The twenty-four hours are the same to every one, except the idle, and to the idle they are thirty-six, for weariness and dullness. You may love God, and love Him truly, as you do, and high motives may be continually before you. Nevertheless, you must be quite conscious to yourself of being soon fatigued - nay, perhaps a normal lassitude growing with your years; and you must remember how especially the absence of sympathy tried you, and how all things began to look like delusion because no one encouraged you in your work. Alas! how many noble hearts have sunk under this not ignoble weariness! How many plans for God's glory have fallen to the ground, which a bright look or a kind eye would have propped up!  But either because we were busy with our own work, and never looked at that of others, or because we were jealous, and looked coldly and spoke critically, we have not come with this facile succour to the rescue, not so much of our brother, as of our dearest Lord Himself!  How many institutions for the comfort of the poor or saving of souls have languished more for want of approbation than of money; and though sympathy is so cheap, the lone Priest has struggled on till his solitude, his weariness, and his lack of sympathy, have almost given way beneath the burden, and the wolves have rushed in upon that little nook of his Master's sheepfold which he had so lovingly partitioned off as his own peculiar work! Oh, what a wretched thing it is to be unkind! I think, with the thought of the Precious Blood, I can better face my sins at the last judgement than my unkindness, with all its miserable fertility of evil consequences. But if we have no notion of the far-reaching mischief which unkindness does, so neither can we rightly estimate the good which kindness may do. Very often a heart is drooping. It is bending over itself lower and lower. The cloud of sadness thickens. Temptations lie all around, and are multiplying in strength and number every moment. Everything forebodes approaching sin. Not so much as a kind action, not so much as a kind word, but the mere tone of voice, the mere fixing of the eye, has conveyed sympathy to the poor suffering heart, and all is right again in one instant. The downcast soul has revived under that mere peep of human sunshine, and is encouraged to do bravely the very thing which in despondency it had almost resolved to leave undone. That coming sin might have been the soul's first step to an irretrievable ruin. That encouragement may be the first link of a new chain, which, when its length is finished, shall be called final perseverance.

Few men can do without praise, and there are few circumstances under which a man can be praised without injuring him. Here is a difficulty. It is wise to take a kindly view of all human infirmities, but it is not wise to humour them in act. Some men can do without the praise of others because their own is so unfailing. Their vanity enables them to find self-praise sufficient. Vanity is the most comfortable of vices. The misfortune is, that nevertheless it is a vice. Some try to do without praise, and grow moody and critical, which shows their grace was not adequate for their attempt. Some do without praise because they are all for God, but, alas! it would not occupy us long to take the census of that portion of the world's population. Most men must have praise. Their fountains dry up without it. Everyone in authority knows this well enough. He has to praise without seeming to praise. Now, kindness has all the virtues of praise without its vices. It is equally medicinal without having all the poisonous qualities. When we are praised, we are praised at some expense, and at our own expense. Kindness puts us to no expense, while it enriches those who are kind to us. Praise always implies some degree of condescension, and condescension is a thing intrinsically ungraceful, whereas kindness is the most graceful attitude one man can assume towards another. So here is another work it does. It supplies the place of praise. It is, in fact, the only sort of praise which does not injure, the only sort which is always and everywhere true, the only kind which those who are afraid of growing conceited may welcome safely.

 Moreover, kindness is infectious. No kind action ever stopped with itself. Fecundity belongs to it in its own right. One kind action leads to another. By one we commit ourselves to more than one. Our example is followed. The single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make fresh trees, and the rapidity of the growth is equal to its extent. But this fertility is not confined to ourselves, or to others who may be kind to the same person to whom we have been kind. It is chiefly to be found in the person himself whom we have benefited. This is the greatest work which kindness does to others - that it makes them kind themselves. The kindest men are generally those who have received the greatest number of kindnesses. It does indeed sometimes happen, according to the law which in noble natures produces good out of evil, that men who have had to feel the want of kindness are themselves lavishly kind when they have the power. But, in general, the rule is that kindness makes men kind. As we become kinder ourselves by practising kindness, so the objects of our kindness, if they were kind before, learn now to be kinder, and to be kind now if they were never so before. Thus does kindness propogate itself on all sides. Perhaps an act of kindness never dies, but extends the invisible undulations of its influence over the breadth of centuries. Thus, for all these reasons there is no better thing which we can do for others than to be kind to them, and our kindness is the greatest gift they can receive, except the grace of God.

 There is always a certain sort of selfishness in the spiritual life. The order of Charity rules it so. Our first consideration is the glory of God in our own souls. We must take hold of this glory by the handle first of all. Everything will be presumption and delusion if it is taken in any other order. Hence, even while speaking of kindness, it is not out of place to consider the work which it does for ourselves. We have seen what it does for the world. We have seen what it does for our neighbours. Now let us see how it blesses ourselves. To be kind to ourselves is a very peculiar feature of the spiritual life, but does not come within our range at present. Foremost among the common ways in which kind actions benefit ourselves may be mentioned the help they give us in getting clear of selfishness. The tendency of nature to love itself has more the character of a habit than a law. Opposite conduct always tends to weaken it, which would hardly be the case if it were a law. Kindness, moreover, partly from the pleasure which accompanies it, partly from the blessing it draws down upon itself, and partly from its similtude to God, tends very rapidly to set into a well-formed habit. Selfishness is in no slight degree a point of view from which we regard things. Kindness alters our view by altering our point of view. Now, does anything tease us more than our selfishness? Does anything more effectually retard our spiritual growth? Selfishness, indeed, furnishes us with a grand opportunity of getting to hate ourselves, because of the odiousness of this self-worship. But how few of us have got either the depth or the bravery to profit by this magnificent occasion!  On the whole, selfishness must be put down, or our progress will cease. A series of kind actions turned against it with playful courage, and selfishness is, I will not say killed, but stunned, and that is a great convenience, though it is not the whole work accomplished. Perhaps we may never come to be quite unselfish. However, there is but one road towards that, which is kindness; and every step taken on that road is a long stride heavenwards.

Kindness seems to know of some secret fountain of joy deep in the soul which it can touch without revealing its locality, and cause to send its water upwards and overflow the heart. Inward happiness almost always follows a kind action; and who has not long since experienced in himself that inward happiness is the atmosphere in which great things are done for God? Furthermore, kindness is a constant godlike occupation, and implies many supernatural operations in those who practise kindness upon motives of faith. Much grace goes along with kindness, collateral graces more than sufficient in themselves to make a saint. Observation would lead us to the conclusion that kindness is not a native of the land of youth. Men grow kinder as they grow older. There are, of course, natures which are kindly from the cradle. But not many men have seen a really kind boy or girl. In like manner, as kindness in the natural world implies age, in the spiritual world it implies grace. It does not belong to the fervour of beginnings, but to the solidity of progress. Indeed, Christian kindness implies so much grace that it almost assures the exercise of humility. A proud man is seldom a kind man. Humility makes us kind, and kindness makes us humble. It is one of the many instances in the matter of the virtues of good qualities being at once not only causes and effects together, but also their own causes and effects. It would be foolish to say that humility is an easy virtue. The very lowest degree of it is a difficult height to climb. But this much must be said for kindness, that it is the easiest road to humility, and infallible as well as easy; and is not humility just what we want, just what we are this moment coveting, just what will break down barriers, and give us free course on our way to God?

Kindness does so much for us that it would be almost more easy to enumerate what it does not do than to sum up what it does. It operates more energetically in some characters than in others; but it works wondrous changes in all. It is kindness which enables most men to put off the inseparable unpleasantness of youth. It watches the thoughts, controls the words, and helps us to unlearn early manhood's inveterate habit of criticism. It is astonishing how masterful it is in its influence over our dispositions, and yet how gentle, quiet, consistent, and successful. It makes us thoughtful and considerate. Detached acts of kindness may be the offspring of impulse. Yet he is mostly a good man whose impulses are good. But in the long-run habitual kindness is not a mere series of generous impulses, but the steadfast growth of generous deliberation. Much thought must go to consistent kindness, and much self-denying legislation. With most of us the very outward shape of our lives is, without fault of ours, out of harmony with persevering kindness. We have to humour circumstances. Our opportunities require management, and to be patient in waiting to do good to others is a fine work of grace. It is on account of all this that kindness makes us so attractive to others. It imparts a tinge of pathos to our characters, in which our asperities disappear, or at least only give a breath of shadow to our hearts, which increases their beauty by making it more serious. We also become manly by being kind. Querulousness, which is the unattractive side of youthful piety, is no longer noticeable. It is alive, because an ailing or an isolated old age may bring it to the surface again.  But kindness at any rate keeps it under water; for it is the high-tide of the soul's nobility, and hides many an unseemly shallow which exposed its uninteresting sand in early days, and will disclose itself once more by ripples and stained water when age comes upon us, unless we are of those fortunate few whose hearts get younger as their heads grow older.  

A kind man is a man who is never self-occupied. He is genial, he is sympathetic, he is brave. How shall we express in one word these many things which kindness does for us who practice it?  It prepares us with a special preparation for the paths of the disinterested love of God.  

Now, surely we cannot say that this subject of kindness is an unimportant one. It is in reality, as subsequent Conferences will show, a great part of the spiritual life. It is found in all regions, and in all of them with different functions, and in none of them playing an inferior part. It is also a peculiar participation of the spirit of Jesus which is itself the life of all holiness. It reconciles worldly men to religious people: and, really, however contemptible worldly men are in themselves, they have souls to save, and it were much to be wished that devout persons would make their devotion a little less angular and aggressive to worldly people, provided they can do so without lowering practice or conceding principle. Devout people are, as a class, the least kind of all classes. This is a scandalous thing to say: but the scandal of the fact is so much greater than the scandal of acknowledging it, that I will brave this last for the sake of a greater good. Religious people are an unkindly lot. Poor human nature cannot do everything: and kindness is too often left uncultivated because men do not sufficiently understand its value. Men may be charitable, yet not kind; merciful, yet not kind; self-denying, yet not kind. If they would add a little common kindness to their uncommon graces, they would convert ten where they now only abate the prejudices of one. There is a sort of spiritual selfishness in devotion which is rather to be regretted than condemned. I should not like to think it is unavoidable. Certainly its interfering with kindness is not unavoidable. It is only a little difficult, and calls for watchfulness. Kindness, as a grace, is certainly not sufficiently cultivated, while the self-gravitating, self-contemplating, self-inspecting parts of the spiritual life are cultivated too exclusively.  

Rightly considered, kindness is the grand cause of God in the world. Where it is natural, it must forthwith be supernaturalized. Where it is not natural, it must be supernaturally planted. What is our life? It is a mission to go into every corner it can reach, and reconquer for God's beatitude His unhappy world back to Him. It is a devotion of ourselves to the bliss of the divine Life by the beautiful apostolate of kindness.

Chapter ll


Everywhere in creation there is a charm, the fountain of which is invisible. In the natural, the moral, and the spiritual world it is the same. We are constantly referring it to causes which are only effects. Faith alone reveals to us its true origin. God is behind everything. His sweetness transpires through the thick shades which hide Him. It comes to the surface, and with gentle mastery overwhelms the whole world. The sweetness of the hidden God is the delight of life. It is the pleasantness of nature, and the consolation which is omnipresent is all-suffering. We touch Him, we lean on Him, we feel Him, we see Him, always and everywhere. Yet He makes Himself so natural to us that we almost overlook Him. Indeed, if it were not for faith we should overlook Him altogether. His presence is like light when we do not see the face of the sun. It is like light on the stony folds of the mountain-top coming through rents in the waving clouds; or in the close forest, where the wind weaves and unweaves the canopy of foliage; or like the silver arrows of under-water light in the deep blue sea, with coloured stones and bright weeds glancing there. Still, God does not shine equally through all things. Some things are more transparent, other things more opaque. Some have a greater capacity for disclosing God than others.

In the moral world, with which alone we are concerned at present, kind thoughts have a special power to let in upon us the light of the hidden God.  

The thoughts of men are a world by themselves, vast and populous. Each man's thought are a world to himself. There is an astonishing breadth in the thoughts of even the most narrow-minded man. Thus, we all of us have an interior world to govern, and he is the only real king who governs it effectually. There is no doubt that we are very much influenced by external things, and that our natural dispositions are in no slight degree dependent upon education. Nevertheless, our character is formed within. It is manufactured in the world of our thoughts, and there we must go to influence it. He who is master there is master everywhere. He whose energy covers his thoughts, covers the whole extent of self. He has himself under his own control if he has learned to control his thoughts. The fountains of word and action have their untrodden springs in the cavern of the world of thought. He who can command the fountains is master of the city. The power of suffering is the grandest merchandise of life, and it also is manufactured in the world of thought. The union of grace and nature is the significance of our whole life. It is there, precisely in that union, that the secret of our vocation resides. The shape of our work and the character of our holiness are regulated from the point, different in different men, at which nature and grace are united. The knowledge of this point brings with it, not only the understanding of our past, but a sufficiently clear vision of our future, to say nothing of its being the broad sunshine of the present. But the union of nature and grace is, for the most part, effected in the world of thought.

But I will go even further than this, and will venture to contradict a common opinion. It seems to me that our thoughts are a more true measure of ourselves than our actions are. They are not under the control of human respect. It is not easy for them to be ashamed of themselves. They have no witnesses but God. They are not bound to keep within certain limits or observe certain proprieties. Religious motives alone can claim jurisdiction over them. The struggle which so often ensues within us before we can bring ourselves to do our duty goes on entirely within our thoughts. It is our own secret, and men cannot put us to the blush because of it. The contradiction which too often exists between our outward actions and our inward intentions is only to be detected in the realm of our thoughts, whither none but God can penetrate, except by guesses, which are not the less offences against charity because they happen to be correct. In like manner, as an impulse will sometimes show more of our real character than what we do after deliberation, our first thoughts will often reveal to us faults of disposition which outward restraints will hinder from issuing in action. Actions have their external hindrances, while our thoughts better disclose to us our possibilities of good and evil. Of course, there is a most true sense in which the conscientious effort to cure a fault is a better indication of our character than the fault we have not yet succeeded in curing. Nevertheless, we may die at any moment, and when we die we die as we are. Thus, our thoughts tell us better than our actions can do what we shall be like the moment after death. Lastly, it is in the world of thought that we most often meet with God, walking as in the shades of ancient Eden. It is there we hear His whispers. It is there we perceive the fragrance of His recent presence. It is thence that the first vibrations of grace proceed. 

Now, if our thoughts be of this importance, and also if kindness be of the importance which was assigned to it in the last Conference, it follows that kind thoughts must be of immense consequence. If a man habitually has kind thoughts of others, and that on supernatural motives, he is not far from being a saint.   Such a man's thoughts are not kind intermittingly, or on impulse, or at haphazard. His first thoughts are kind, and he does not repent of them, although they often bring suffering and disgust in their train. All his thoughts are kind, and he does not chequer them with unkindly ones. Even when sudden passions or vehement excitements have thrown them into commotion, they settle down into a kindly humour, and cannot settle otherwise. These men are rare. Kind thoughts are rarer than either kind words or kind deeds. They imply a great deal of thinking about others. This in itself is rare. But they imply also a great deal of thinking about others without the thoughts being criticisms. This is rarer still. Active-minded men are naturally the most given to criticize, and they are also the men whose thoughts are the most exuberant. Such men, therefore, must make kind thoughts a defence against self. By sweetening the fountain of their thoughts they will destroy the bitterness of their judgements.

But kind thoughts imply also a contact with God, and a divine ideal in our minds. Their origin cannot be anything short of divine. Like the love of beauty, they can spring from no baser source. They are not dictated by self-interest nor stimulated by passion. They have nothing in them which is insidious, and they are almost always the preludes to some sacrifice of self. It must be from God's touch that such waters spring. They only live in the clammy mists of earth because they breathe the fresh air of heaven. They are the scent with which the creature is penetrated through the indwelling of the Creator. They imply also the reverse of a superficial view of things. Nothing deepens the mind so much as a habit of charity. A man's surfaces are always worse than his real depths. There may be exceptions to this rule, but I believe them to be very rare. Self is the only person who does not improve on acquaintance. Our deepest views of life are doubtless very shallow ones, for how little do we know of what God intends to do with His own world!  We know something about His glory and our own salvation, but how the last becomes the first in the face of so much evil neither theologian nor philosopher has ever been able adequately to explain. But so much we are warranted in saying, that charity is the deepest view of life, and nearest to God's view, and therefore also not merely the truest view, but the only view that is true at all.  Kind thoughts, then, are in the creature what His science is to the Creator. They embody the deepest, purest, grandest truth to which we untruthful creatures can attain about others or ourselves.  

Why are some men so forward to praise others? Is it not that it is their fashion of investing themselves with importance? But why are most men so reluctant to praise others? It is because they have such an inordinate opinion of themselves. Now, kind thoughts imply for the most part imply a low opinion of self. They are an inward praise of others, and because inward therefore genuine. No one who has a high opinion of himself finds his merits acknowledged according to his own estimate of them. His reputation therefore cannot take care of itself. He must push it; and a man who is pushing anything in the world is always unamiable, because he is obliged to stand so much on the defensive.  A pugnacious man is far less disagreeable than a defensive man. Everyman who is habitually holding out for his rights makes himself the equal of his inferiors, even if he be a king, and he must take the consequences, which are from pleasant. But the kind-thoughted man has no rights to defend, no self-importance to push. He thinks meanly of himself, and with so much honesty that he thinks thus of himself with tranquillity. He finds others pleasanter to deal with than self; and others find him so pleasant to deal with that love follows him wherever he goes - a love which is the more faithful to him because he makes so few pretences to be loved. Last of all, kind thoughts imply also supernatural principles, for inward kindness can be consistent on no others. Kindness is the occupation of our whole nature by the atmosphere and spirit of heaven. This is no inconsiderable affair. Nature cannot do the work itself, nor can it do it with ordinary succours. Were there ever any consistently kind heathens? If so, they are in heaven now, for they must have been under the dominion of grace on earth. We must not confound kindness and mere good-humour. Good-humour is - no! on such an unkindly earth as this, it will be better not to say a disparaging word even of mere good-humour. Would that there were more even of that in the world! I suspect angels cluster round a good-humoured man, as the gnats cluster round the trees they like. 

But there is one class of kind thoughts which must be dwelt upon apart. I allude to kind interpretations. The habit of not judging others is one which it is very difficult to acquire, and which is generally not acquired till late on in the spiritual life. If men have ever indulged in judging others, the mere sight of an action almost involuntarily suggests an internal commentary upon it. It has become so natural to judge, however little their own duties or responsibilities are connected with what they are judging, that the actions of others present themselves to the mind as in the attitude of asking a verdict from it. All our fellow-men who come within the reach of our knowledge - and for the most retired of us the circle is a wide one - are prisoners at the bar; and if we are unjust, ignorant, capricious judges, it must be granted to us that we are indefatigable ones. Now, all this is simple ruin to our souls. At any risk, at the cost of life, there must be an end of this, or it will end in everlasting banishment from God. The standard of the last judgement is absolute. It is this - the measure which we have meted to others. Our present humour in judging others reveals to us what our sentence would be if we died now. Are we content to abide that issue?   But, as it is impossible all at once to stop judging, and as it is also impossible to go on judging uncharitably, we must pass through the intermediate stage of kind interpretations. Few men have passed beyond this to a habit of perfect, which has blessedly stripped them of their judicial ermine and their deeply-rooted judicial habits of mind. We ought, therefore, to cultivate most sedulously the habit of kind interpretations. 

Men's actions are very difficult to judge. Their real character depends in a great measure on the motives which prompt them, and those motives are invisible to us. Appearances are often against what we afterwards discover to have been deeds of virtue. Moreover, a line of conduct is, in its look at least, very little like a logical process. It is complicated with all manner of inconsistencies, and often deformed by what is in reality a hidden consistency. Nobody can judge men but God, and we can hardly obtain a higher or more reverent view of God than that which represents Him to us as judging men with perfect knowledge, unperplexed certainty, and undisturbed compassion. Now, kind interpretations are imitations of the merciful ingenuity of the Creator finding excuses for His creatures. It is almost a day of revelation to us when theology enables us to perceive that God is so merciful precisely because He is so wise; and from this truth it is an easy inference that kindness is our best wisdom, because it is an image of the wisdom of God. This is the idea of kind interpretations, and this is the use we must make of them. The habit of judging is so nearly incurable, and its cure is such an almost interminable process, that we must concentrate ourselves for a long while on keeping it in check, and this check is to be found in kind interpretations. We must come to esteem very lightly our sharp eye for evil, on which, perhaps, we once prided ourselves as cleverness. It has been to us a fountain of sarcasm; and how seldom since Adam was created has sarcasm fallen short of being a sin!  We must look at our talent for analysis of character as a dreadful possibility of huge uncharitableness. We should have been much better without it from the first. It is the hardest talent of all to manage, because it is so difficult to make any glory for God out of it. We are sure to continue to say clever things so long as we continue to indulge in this analysis; and clever things are equally sure to be sharp and acid. Sight is a great blessing, but there are times and places where it is far more blessed not to see. It would be comparatively easy for us to be holy if only we could always see the character of our neighbours either in soft shade or with the kindly deceits of moonlight upon them. Of course, we are not to grow blind to evil, for thus we should speedily become unreal; but we must grow to something higher, and something truer, than a quickness in detecting evil.

We must rise to something truer. Yes! Have we not always found in our past experience that on the whole our kind interpretations were truer than our harsh ones?  What mistakes have we not made in judging others! But have they not almost always been on the side of harshness?  Every day some phenomenon of this kind occurs. We have seen a thing as clear as day. It could have but one meaning. We have already taken measures. We have roused our righteous indignation. All at once the whole matter is differently explained, and that in some most simple way, so simple that we are lost in astonishment that we should never have thought of it ourselves. Always distrust very plain cases, says a legal writer. Things that were dark begin to give light. What seemed opaque is perceived to be transparent. Things that everybody differed about, as people in planting a tree can never agree what it wants to make it straight, now everyone sees in the same light, so natural and obvious has the explanation been. Nay, things that it appeared impossible to explain are just those the explanation of which are the most simple. 

How many times in life have we been wrong when we put a kind construction on the conduct of others? We shall not need our fingers to count those mistakes upon. Moreover, grace is really much more common than our querulousness is generally willing to allow. We may suspect its operations in the worst men we meet with. Thus, without any forced impossibility, we may call in supernatural considerations in order to make our criticisms more ingenious in their charity. When we grow a little holier, we shall summon also to our aid those supernatural motives in ourselves which, by depressing our own ideas of ourselves, elevate our generous belief in others.

But while common-sense convinces us of the truth of kind interpretations, common selfishness ought to open our eyes to their wisdom and their policy. We must have passed through life unobservantly if we have never perceived that a man is very much himself what he thinks of others. Of course his own faults may be the cause of his unfavourable judgements of others; but they are also, and in a very marked way, effects of those same judgements. A man who was on a higher eminence before will soon by harsh judgements of others sink to the level of his own judgements. When you hear a man attribute meanness to another, you may be sure, not only that the critic is an ill-natured man, but that he has got a similar element of meanness in himself, or is fast sinking to it. A man is always capable himself of a sin which he thinks another is capable of, or which he himself is capable of imputing to another. Even a well-founded suspicion more or less degrades a man. His suspicion may be verified, and he may escape some material harm by having cherished. But he is unavoidably the worse man in consequence of having entertained it. This is a very serious consideration, and rather a frightening argument in favour of charitable interpretations. Furthermore, our hidden judgements of others are, almost with a show of special and miraculous interference, visited upon ourselves. Virtue grows in us under the influence of kindly judgements, as if they were its nutriment.  But in the case of harsh judgements we find we often fall into the sin of which we have judged another guilty, although it is not perhaps a sin at all common to ourselves. Or, if matters do not go so far as this, we find ourselves suddenly overwhelmed with a tempest of unusual temptations, and on reflection conscience is ready to remind us that the sin to which we are thus violently and unexpectedly tempted is one which we have of late been uncharitably attributed to others. Sometimes also we are ourselves falsely accused and widely believed to be guilty of some fault of which we are quite innocent; but it is a fault of which we have recently, in our mind at least, accused another. Moreover, the truth or falsehood of our judgements seem to have very little to do with the matter. The truth of them does not protect us from their unpleasant consequences; just as a truth of a libel is no sufficient defence of it. It is the uncharitableness of the judgement, or the judging at all, to which this self-avenging power is fastened. It works itself out like a law, quietly but infallibly. Is not this matter for very serious reflection?     

But, in conclusion, what does all this doctrine of kind interpretations amount to? To nothing less, in the case of most of us, than living a new life in a new world. We may imagine life in another planet, with whose physical laws we may happen to have a sufficient acquaintance. But it would hardly differ more in a physical way from our earthly life, than our moral life would differ from what it is at present, if we were habitually to put a kind interpretation on all we saw and heard, and habitually had kind thoughts of everyone of whom we thought at all.. It would not merely put a new face on life: it would put a new depth to it. We should come as near as possible to becoming another kind of creatures. Look what an amount of bitterness we have about us! What is to become of it? It plainly cannot be taken into Heaven. Where must it be left behind? We clearly cannot put it off by the mere fact of dying, as we can put off thereby a rheumatic limb, or wasted lungs, or diseased blood. It will surely be a long and painful process in the heats of purgatory; but we may be happy if mercy so abound upon us that the weight of our bitterness shall not sink us deeper into the fire, into that depth from which no one ever rises to the surface more. But when we reach Heaven, in what state shall we be? Certainly one very important feature of it will be the absence of all bitterness and criticism, and the way in which our expanded minds will be possessed with thoughts of the most tender and overflowing kindness. Thus by cultivating kind thoughts we are in a very special way rehearsing for Heaven. But more than this: we are effectually earning Heaven. For by God's grace we are imitating in our own minds that which in the Divine Mind we rest all our hopes on - merciful allowances, ingeniously favourable interpretations, thoughts of unmingled kindness, and all the inventions and tolerations of a supreme compassion.  

The practice of kind thoughts also tells most decisively on our spiritual life. It leads to great self-denial about our talents and influence. Criticism is an element in our reputation, and an item in our influence. We partly attract persons to us by it. We partly push principles by means of it. The practice of kind thoughts commits us to the surrendering of all this. It makes us, again and again in life, sacrifice successes at the moment they are within our reach. Our conduct becomes a perpetual voluntary forfeiture of little triumphs, the necessary result of which is a hidden life. He who has ever struggled with a proud heart and a bitter temper will perceive at once what innumerable and vast processes of spiritual combat all this implies. But it brings its reward also. It endows us with a marvellous facility in spiritual things. It opens and smooths the paths of prayer. It sheds a clear, still light over our self knowledge. It adds a peculiar delight to the exercise of faith. It enables us to find God easily. It is a fountain of joy in our souls which rarely intermits its flowing, and then only for a little while and for a greater good. Above all things, the practice of kind thoughts is our main help to that complete government of the tongue which we all so much covet, and without which the Apostle says that our religion is vain. The interior beauty of a soul through habitual kindliness of thought is greater than our words can tell. To such a man life is a perpetual bright evening, with all things calm and fragrant and restful. The dust of life is laid, and its fever cool. All sounds are softer, as in the way of evening, and all sights are fairer, and the golden light makes our enjoyment of earth a happily pensive preparation for heaven.

Chapter lll    


From thoughts we naturally pass to words. Kind words are the music of the world. They have a power which seems to be beyond natural causes, as if they were some angel's song which had lost its way and come on earth and sang on undyingly, smiting the hearts of men with sweetest wounds, and putting for the while an angel's nature into us. 

Let us then think, first of all, of the power of kind words. In truth, there is hardly a power on earth equal to them. It seems as if  they could almost do what in reality God alone can do - namely, soften the hard and angry hearts of men. Many a friendship, long, loyal and self sacrificing, rested at first on no thicker a foundation than a kind word.  The two men were not likely to be friends. Perhaps each of them regarded the other's antecedents with somewhat of distrust. They had possibly been set against each other by the circulation of gossip. Or they had been looked upon as rivals, and the success of one was regarded as incompatible with the success of the other.  But a kind word, perhaps a mere report of a kind word, has been enough to set all things straight, and to be the commencement of an enduring friendship.  The power of kind words is shown also in the destruction of prejudices, however inveterate they may have been.  Surely we must all of us have experienced this ourselves.  For a long time we have had prejudices against a person. They seem to be extremely well founded. We have a complete view of the whole case in our mind.  Some particular circumstances bring us into connection with this man. We see nothing to disabuse us of our prejudices. There is not an approach to any kind of proof, however indirect, that we were either mistaken in forming such a judgement, or that we have exaggerated the matter. But kind words pass, and the prejudices thaw away. Right or wrong, there was some reason or show of reason for forming them, while there is neither reason nor show of reason for their departure. There is no logic in the matter, but a power which is above logic, the simple, unassisted power of a few kind words. What has been said of prejudices applies equally to quarrels. Kind words will set right things which have got most intricately wrong. In reality an unforgiving heart is a rare monster. Most men get tired of the justest quarrels. Even those quarrels where the quarrel has all been on one side, and which are always the hardest to set right, give way in time to kind words.  At first they will be unfairly taken as admissions that we have been in the wrong; then they will be put down to deceit and flattery; then they will irritate by the discomfort of conscience which they will produce in the other; but finally they will succeed in healing the wound that has been so often and so obstinately torn open. All quarrels probably rest on misunderstanding, and only live by silence, which as it were, stereotypes the misunderstanding. A misunderstanding which is more than a month old may generally be regarded as incapable of explanation. Renewed explanations become renewed misunderstandings. Kind words patiently uttered for long together, and without visible fruit, are our only hope. They will succeed; they will not explain what has been misunderstood, but they will do what is much better - make explanation unnecessary, and so avoid the risk, which always accompanies explanations, of reopening old sores.   

In all the foregoing instances the power of kind words is remedial. But it can be productive also; kind words produce happiness. How often have we ourselves been made happy by kind words, in a manner and to an extent which we are quite unable to explain? No analysis enables us to detect the secret of the power of kind words; even self-love is found inadequate as a cause. Now, as I have said before, happiness is a great power of holiness. Thus, kind words, by their power of producing happiness, have also a power of producing holiness, and so winning men to God. I have already touched on this when I spoke of kindness in general, but it must now be added that words have a power of their own, both for good and evil, which I believe to be more influential and energetic over our fellow-men than even actions. If I may use such a word when I am speaking of religious subjects, it is by voice and words that men mesmerize each other. Hence it is that the world is converted by the foolishness of preaching. Hence it is that an angry word rankles longer in the heart than an angry gesture - nay, very often even longer than a blow. Thus, all that has been said of the power of kindness in general applies with an additional and peculiar force to kind words. They prepare men for conversion, they convert them, they sanctify them, they procure entrance for wholesome counsels into their souls; they blunt temptations, they dissolve the dangerous clouds of gloom and sadness, they are beforehand with evil, they exorcise the devil.  Sometimes the conversions they work are gradual and take time; but more often they are sudden, more often they are like instantaneous revelations from heaven, not only unravelling complicated misunderstandings, and softening the hardened conviction of years, but giving a divine vocation to the soul. Truly it would be worth going through fire and water to acquire the right and find the opportunity of saying kind words!   

Surely, then, it gives life a peculiar character that it should be gifted with a power so great, even if the exercise of it were difficult and rare.  But the facility of this power is a fresh wonder about it, in addition to its greatness. It involves very little self-sacrifice, and for the most part none at all.  It can be exercised generally without much effort, with no more effort than the water makes in flowing from the spring.  Moreover, the occasions for it do not lie scattered over life at great distances from each other. They  occur continually; they come daily; they are frequent in the day. All these are commonplaces; but really it would seem as if very few of us give this power of kind words the consideration which is due to it. So great a power, such a facility in the exercise of it, such a frequency of opportunities for the application of it, and yet the world still what it is, and we still what we are! It seems incredible. I can only compare it to the innumerable sacraments which inundate our souls with grace, and the inexplicable modicum of holiness which is the total result of them all, or, again, to the immense amount of knowledge of God which there is in the world, and yet the little worship He receives. Kind words cost us nothing, yet how often do we grudge them? On the few occasions when they do imply some degree of self-sacrifice, they almost instantly repay us a hundredfold. The opportunities are frequent, but we show no eagerness either in looking out for them, or in embracing them. What inference are we to draw from all this? Surely this: That it is next to impossible to be habitually kind, except by the help of divine grace and upon supernatural motives. Take life all through, its adversity as well as its prosperity, its sickness as well as its health, its loss of its rights as well as its enjoyment of them, and we shall find that no natural sweetness of temper, much less any acquired philosophical equanimity, is equal to the support of a uniform habit of kindness. Nevertheless, with the help of grace, the habit of saying kind words is very quickly formed, and when once formed, it is not speedily lost. I have often thought that unkindness is very much a mental habit, almost as much mental as moral; observation has confirmed me in this idea, because I have met so many men with unkind heads, and have been fortunate enough never to my knowledge to have come across an unkind heart. I believe cruelty to be less uncommon than real inward unkindness.

Self-interest makes it comparatively easy for us to do that which we are well paid for doing. The great price which everyone puts on a little kind word makes the practice of saying them still easier. They become more easy, the more on the one hand that we know ourselves, and on the other that we are united to God. Yet what are these but the two contemporaneous operations of grace, in which the life of holiness consists? Kindness to be perfect, to be lasting, must be a conscious imitation of God: sharpness, bitterness, sarcasm, acute observation, divination of motives - all these things disappear when a man is earnestly conforming himself to the image of Christ Jesus. The very attempt to be like our dearest Lord is already a well-spring of sweetness within us, flowing with an easy grace over all who come within our reach. It is true that a special sort of unkindness is one of the uglinesses of pious beginnings. But this arises from our inability to manage our fresh grace properly. Our old bitterness gets the impulse meant for our sweetness, and the machine cannot be got right in a moment. He who is not patient with converts to God will forfeit many of his own graces before he is aware. Not only is kindness due to everyone, but a special kindness is due to everyone. Kindness is not kindness unless it be special; it is in its fitness, seasonableness, and individual application, that its charm consists.  

It is natural to pass from the facility of kind words to its reward. I find myself always talking about happiness when I am treating of kindness.  The fact is the two things go together; the double reward of kind words is in the happiness they cause in others and the happiness they cause in ourselves.  The very process of uttering them is a happiness in itself. Even the imagining of them fills our minds with sweetness, and makes our hearts glow pleasurably. Is there any happiness in the world like the happiness of a disposition made happy by the happiness of others?  There is no joy to be compared with it. The luxuries which wealth can buy, the rewards which ambition can attain, the pleasures of art and scenery, the abounding sense of health, and the exquisite enjoyment of mental creations, are nothing to this pure and heavenly happiness, where self is drowned in the blessedness of others. Yet this happiness follows close upon kind words, and is their legitimate result. But, independently of this, kind words make us happy in ourselves. They soothe our own irritation, they charm our cares away, they draw us nearer to God, they raise the temperature of our love. They produce in us a sense of quiet restfulness like that which accompanies the consciousness of forgiven sin. They shed abroad the peace of God within our hearts. Then, moreover, we become kinder by saying kind words, and this is in itself a third reward. They help us also to attain the grace of purity, which is another excellent reward. They win us many other graces from God; but one especially: they appear to have a peculiar congeniality with the grace of contrition, which is softheartedness towards God. Everything which makes us gentle has at the same time a tendency to make us contrite. A natural melting of the heart has often been the beginning of an acceptable repentance. Hence it is that seasons of sorrow are apt to be seasons of grace. This, too, is a huge reward. Then, last of all, kind words make us truthful. Oh, this is what we want - to be true! It is our insincerity, our manifold inseperable falseness, which is the load under which we groan. There is no slavery but untruthfulness. How have years passed in fighting, and still we are so untrue!  It clings to us; for it is the proper stain of creatures.  We fight on wearily; kind words come and ally themselves to us, and we make way. They make us true,  because kindness is, so far as we know, the most probable truth in the world. They make us true, because what is untruthful is not kind. they make us true, because kindness is God's view, and His view is already the true view.

Why, then, are we ever anything else but kind in our words? There are some difficulties. This must be honestly admitted. In some respects a clever man is more likely to be kind than a man who is not clever, because his mind is wider, and takes in a broader range, and is more capable of looking at things from different points of view. But there are other respects in which it is harder for a clever man to be kind, especially in his words. He has a temptation, and it is one of those temptations which appear sometimes to border on the irresistible, to say clever things;  and, somehow, clever things are hardly ever kind things. There is a drop either of acid or of bitter in them, and it seems as if that drop was exactly what genius had insinuated. I believe, if we were to make an honest resolution never to say a clever thing, we should advance much more rapidly on the road to heaven. Our Lord's Words in the Gospels should be our models.

If we may reverently say it, when we consider of what a sententious and proverbial character His Words were, it is remarkable how little of epigram or sharpness there is in them. Of course the words of the Eternal Word are all of them heavenly mysteries, each one with the light and seal of  His divinity upon it. At the same time they are also examples to us. On the whole, to say clever things of others is hardly ever without sin. There is something in genius which is analogous to a sting. Its sharpness, its speed, its delicacy, its wantonness, its pain and its poison, genius has all these things as well as the sting. There are some men who make it a kind of social profession to be amusing talkers. One is sometimes overwhelmed with melancholy by their professional efforts to be entertaining. They are the bugbears of real conversation. But the thing to notice about them here is, that they can hardly ever be religious men. A man who lays himself out to amuse is never a safe man to have for a friend, or even for an acquaintance. He is not a man who anyone really loves or respects. He is never innocent. He is forever jostling charity by the pungency of his criticisms, and wounding justice by the revelation of secrets. "Il n'est pas ordinaire," says La Bruyere,"que celui qui fait rire, se fasse estimer."

There is also a grace of kind listening, as well as a grace of kind speaking. Some men listen with an abstracted air, which shows that their thoughts are elsewhere. Or they seem to listen, but by wide answers and irrelevant questions show that they have been occupied with their own thoughts, as being more interesting, at least in their own estimation, than what you were saying. Some listen with a kind of importunate ferocity, which makes you feel that you have been put on your trial, and that your auditor expects beforehand that you are going to tell him a lie, or to be inaccurate, or to say something which he will disapprove, and that you must mind your expressions. Some interrupt, and will not hear you to the end. Some hear you to the end, and then forthwith begin to speak to you of a similar experience which has befallen themselves, making your case only an illustration of their own. Some, meaning to be kind, listen with such a determined, lively, violent attention that you are at once made uncomfortable, and the charm of conversation is at an end. Many persons whose manners will stand the test of speaking, break down under the trial of listening. But all these things ought to be brought under the sweet influences of religion. Kind listening is often an act of the most delicate interior mortification, and is a great assistance to kind speaking. Those who govern others must take care to be kind listeners, or else they will soon offend God and fall into secret sins.  

We may, then, put down clever speeches as the first and greatest difficulty in the way of kind words. A second difficulty is that of repressing vexation at certain times and in certain places. Each man meets with peculiar characters who have a speciality, often quite inexplicable, of irritating him. They always come at the wrong time, say the most opportune things, and make the most unfortunate choice of topics of conversation.


to be continued