Monday, 4 July 2016

18 September 1880 - 'On Being Stuck-Up' by James Mason

"I thought," says a character in an old story, "that humility lodged in the heart of every maiden - but I was mistaken." Yes, girls, he was very much mistaken,  for the world is full of pride, and, though you are all very nice, one cannot help seeing that most of you are far from as humble and meek as you might be. 

Turn over a new leaf, say I. When a girl is "stuck-up" she is in the most unbecoming state of mind possible, and the most uncomfortable, too. There is nothing like humility for beauty and happiness.

And what are you all proud about? Different things. Maggie is proud because she has a doll's house completely furnished from a piano to a blacking-brush; Kate because her father has five thousand pounds a year; Alice because her mother is second cousin to a baronet; Minnie because her golden hair reaches past her waist; Ellen because of that handsome dress she got last spring; Annie because she has a Grecian nose; and Blanche because her mind is made up to marry a prince - and so she will, no doubt when a prince drops down at her feet like a ripe gooseberry.

What trumpery reasons all of these are! A great conqueror, or a famous poet, or a wonderful musician, or a leading statesman, or a popular author - all these people might be excused if they carried their heads a little high. Your tendency, however, it must be confessed, is to be stuck-up about trifles, and so,  for next to nothing, you put yourself in a fair way for growing up to be haughty and, it naturally follows, disagreeable women. But, my friends, you will take counsel in time, and we shall all adorn ourselves with that meek and quiet spirit which, more than pride and strength, wins and rules the world.

The worst of pride is that it stands in the way of improvement. It would not be correct to say that this is always the case, but certainly those who give themselves airs on account of what they are will not put forth great exertions to become something better. Stuck-up people are not the folks we see straining every nerve to become wiser or more estimable.

Pride almost invariably is fatal to the performance of any good work whatever, and for this reason; it is always thinking of itself. Now, the secret of doing successful work, and it is a secret easily carried about, is to think only of the work. The moment pride or anything else throws its shadow between us and our work, we are not likely to do it as it should be done. It is strange that on this account pride and many other objectionable passion have not long ago been hounded out of this busy world.

You will see, if you keep your eyes open, that proud people have very few friends. They sit alone, for they think none in the world good enough to associate with them. Who envies them their isolation? If they were happy it would be different, but they are pretty miserable. No one ever yet saw a proud face without observing in it lines of discontent and unhappiness that would be dearly bought even though we were in every other respect the favourites of fortune.

It is a common notion that pride is a proper sign of one's occupying a superior position in the world. This is quite a mistake. It is chiefly upstarts who give themselves air, and those who have been longest up have most humility. See that gentle lady whom you may watch for twenty years without noticing a trace of pride; she is descended in a direct line from Julius Caesar! Susan says she can supply a contrast. The most stuck-up woman she knows has "risen," as they say, "from nothing." When a little girl she used to run, without shoes or stockings, to the works in which her father made bricks, carrying him his dinner in a tin can. Now she has parted with both poverty and humility, and has as much pride in her head as she has little grammar on her tongue. Truly, as the world goes nowadays, the proudest people are those who ride in carriages and drop their "h's" all over the road.

Perhaps you think that to be humble is to be weak. Quite the reverse is the case: it is pride that is weak. Always going with its nose in the air, it forgets to look at its feet as all prudent people are in the habit of doing. No wonder pride comes before a fall, as Solomon says. A girl may well tumble in the gutter when she goes holding up her head as if she were keeping an eye on the man in the moon.

One great cause of pride, I am sure, is our taking a narrow view of things. We think of our town as if it were the world, of our family as if it composed the nation, and of the people in the next street as if in them we had the only models worth copying and the only critics worth respecting.

We may do better than that.  Look out on the great world, on all the wonders of creation, on all the noble and good who have sacrificed themselves for their fellows, on the long course of history, on the millions who people the earth, and on the heaven that stretches above it. Then turn your thoughts upon yourselves and see whether there is any room in your minds for pride. I don't think there will be.

Be humble, then; yes, be very humble. Humility lies at the root of that religion of which, I hope, we are all true disciples. Christianity has no promises, no hopes, no encouragements to offer to the proud. In this world and in the next - though we too often act as if we thought the contrary - the humble have by a long way the best of it.

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