Gentleness by Blair
I begin with distinguishing true gentleness from passive tameness
of spirit, and from unlimited compliance with the manners of others.
That passive tameness which submits, without opposition, to every
encroachment of the violent and assuming, forms no part of Christian
duty; but, on the contrary, is destructive of general happiness and
order. That unlimited complaisance, which on every occasion falls in
with the opinions and manners of others, is so far from being a
virtue, that it is itself a vice, and the parent of many vices. It
overthrows all steadiness of principle; and produces that sinful
conformity with the world which taints the whole character. In the
present corrupted state of human manners, always to assent and to
comply is the very worst maxim we can adopt. It is impossible to
support the purity and dignity of Christian morals without opposing
the world on various occasions, even though we should stand alone.
That gentleness, therefore, which belongs to virtue, is to be
carefully distinguished from the mean spirit of cowards, and the
fawning assent of sycophants. It renounces no just right from fear.
It gives up no important truth from flattery. It is indeed not only
consistent with a firm mind, but it necessarily requires a manly
spirit, and a fixed principle, in order to give it any real value.
Upon this solid ground only, the polish of gentleness can with
advantage be superinduced.
It stands opposed, not to the most determined regard for virtue
and truth, but to harshness and severity, to pride and arrogance, to
violence and oppression. It is properly that part of the great virtue
of charity, which makes us unwilling to give pain to any of our
brethren. Compassion prompts us to relieve their wants. Forbearance
prevents us from retaliating their injuries. Meekness restrains our
angry passions; candour, our severe judgments. Gentleness corrects
whatever is offensive in our manners, and, by a constant train of
humane attentions, studies to alleviate the burden of common misery.
Its office, therefore, is extensive. It is not, like some other
virtues, called forth only on peculiar emergencies; but it is
continually in action, when we are engaged in intercourse with men.
It ought to form our address, to regulate our speech, and to diffuse
itself over our whole behaviour.
We must not, however, confound this gentle "wisdom which is
from above" with that artificial courtesy, that studied
smoothness of manners, which is learned in the school of the world.
Such accomplishments the most frivolous and empty may possess. Too
often they are employed by the artful as a snare; too often affected
by the hard and unfeeling as a cover to the baseness of their minds.
We cannot, at the same time, avoid observing the homage, which, even
in such instances, the world is constrained to pay to virtue. In
order to render society agreeable, it is found necessary to assume
somewhat that may at least carry its appearance. Virtue is the
universal charm. Even its shadow is courted, when the substance is
wanting. The imitation of its form has been reduced into an art; and
in the commerce of life, the first study of all who would either gain
the esteem or win the hearts of others, is to learn the speech and to
adopt the manners of candour, gentleness, and humanity. But that
gentleness which is the characteristic of a good man has, like every
other virtue, its seat in the heart; and let me add, nothing except
what flows from the heart can render even external manners truly
pleasing. For no assumed behaviour can at all times hide the real
character. In that unaffected civility which springs from a gentle
mind there is a charm infinitely more powerful than in all the
studied manners of the most finished courtier.
True gentleness is founded on a sense of what we owe to HIM who
made us, and to the common nature of which we all share. It arises
from reflections on our own failings and wants, and from just views
of the condition and the duty of man. It is native feeling heightened
and improved by principle. It is the heart which easily relents;
which feels for every thing that is human, and is backward and slow
to inflict the least wound. It is affable in its address, and mild in
its demeanour; ever ready to oblige, and willing to be obliged by
others; breathing habitual kindness towards friends, courtesy to
strangers, long-suffering to enemies. It exercises authority with
moderation; administers reproof with tenderness; confers favours with
ease and modesty. It is unassuming in opinion, and temperate in zeal.
It contends not eagerly about trifles; slow to contradict, and still
slower to blame; but prompt to allay dissension and to restore peace.
It neither intermeddles unnecessarily with the affairs, nor pries
inquisitively into the secrets of others. It delights above all
things to alleviate distress; and if it cannot dry up the falling
tear, to sooth at least, the grieving heart. Where it has not the
power of being useful, it is never burdensome. It seeks to please
rather than to shine and dazzle, and conceals with care that
superiority, either of talent or of rank, which is oppressive to
those who are beneath it. In a word, it is that spirit and that
tenour of manners which the Gospel of Christ enjoins, when it
commands us "to bear one another's burdens; to rejoice with
those who rejoice, and to weep with those who weep; to please every
one his neighbour for his good; to be kind and tender-hearted; to be
pitiful and courteous; to support the weak, and to be patient towards