Page images
PDF
EPUB

with the boys. One is fond of killing flies. Another delights in robbing birds' nests. Another still, likes a fishing-rod, or sporting gun. A fourth is idle and shiftless; while others, in their turn, are obedient sons and daughters, industrious, humane, gentle, and mannerly. All of these things are trifling, in comparison with the deeds of the whole life. Yet, can we not discover much of the future man in these acts ? When Nero was a boy, he delighted to torture animals, and all know what a cruel man he became. So in every one of the above qualities there is a test by which we judge of future character.

The greatest events, also, have been brought about by little causes. A gnat choked Pope Adrian, and his death was the occasion of important changes in the history of the world. A celebrated counsellor of Rome was strangled by a hair in the milk which he drank. One of the sweetest lyric poets who ever lived, Anacreon, lost his life by swallowing the skin of a rasin. Were a similar small cause to terminate the life of Queen Victoria, or the present Pope of Rome, it might change the entire aspect of the world. A destructive war between France and England was once occasioned by a quarrel between two boy-princes,

About the time of the settlement of New England by the Pilgrims, there was a conflict between two Indian tribes, called “The Grasshopper War.” An Indian woman, with her little son, went to visit a friend belonging to a neighbouring tribe. The boy caught a grasshopper on the way, and carried it with him to the friend's cabin, His friend had a child who wanted the grasshopper, but the boy wanted it himself. So they quarrelled, and the mothers took sides, when their husbands came to the rescue of their wives, respectively, and fought desperately. The warriors in each of the tribes espoused the cause, and a long, bloody war ensued, in which one tribe was nearly destroyed.

Several centuries ago, some soldiers of Modena carried away a bucket from a public well in Bologna, and it occasioned a protracted war, in which the King of Sardinia was taken prisoner, and confined for twentytwo years in prison, where he died. A war between France and England, which cost one hundred thousand lives, grew out of quarrel between an English and French vessel to see which should supply itself with water first, from a spring near Bayonne.

We find the same thing to be true in discoveries and inventions. The first hint which Newton received, leading him to his most important optical discoveries, was derived from observing a child's soap-bubbles. The idea of a balloon was first suggested to Stephen Montgolfier, by the waving of a shirt hanging before the fire. Prince Rupert was led to invent the method of engraving called mezzotinto, by observing a soldier rubbing the rust from his musket one morning, after exposure to the night dews. Galileo discovered the most correct method of measuring time from noticing the pendulations of a lamp in the metropolitan temple of Pisa. A boy amusing himself in his father's shop, where spectacles were made, with two glasses held between his finger and thumb, while he varied their distance, first suggested the telescope. A man was amusing himself by cutting letters on the bark of a tree, and impressing them on paper, when the art of printing was suggested ; and from this little circumstance all Christendom has been enlightened through the press. It has been thus with all great inventions and discoveries. The smallest things have led to them.

It is equally true that the pursuits of nearly all dis tinguished men have been deternined by events in themselves small. The president of an American college had his attention turned to learning by an overflowing stream. He was a farmer's son, and was going to his work on a part of his father's farm which was cut off from the rest by a stream of water. On reaching the stream, it was running so high that he could not ford it. He turned back, and during the days that he was waiting for the water to subside, decided that he should devote himself to study. The celebrated French botanist, Villars, was a farmer; but he suddenly changed his avocation in consequence of looking into an old medical work which he found at the house where he was staying. When Lord Mansfield was a boy at school, his pronunciation was very defective, and his companions laughed at him for it. Their ridicule aroused his slumbering energies, and stimulated him to the most strenuous efforts to excel. He became a gifted orator, and swayed the House of Parliament by his stirring eloquence. Wilberforce said that a present of money from his aunt, accompanied with an injunction to give part of it to the poor, first directed his thoughts to philanthropic efforts. Scott, the celebrated commentator, was a dull scholar at twelve years of age; and a change was wrought in his habits of application by a kick from a classmate. It aroused within him a desire to stand at the head of his class, and from that time he went onward and upward. A multitude of similar examples might be cited; but the above will suffice.

In social and moral concerns we find abundant illustrations of this subject. How often has a whole community been disturbed by a single word dropped by some one in an unguarded moment! A neighbour has uttered a word against his neighbour, perhaps without meaning much by it, and another has taken it up, and carried it to a friend, and he in turn to another, until the whole community is in an uproar, and a lawsuit follows.

The following is an example of the importance of littles : “There was once a caravan crossing to the north of India, and numbering in its company a godly and devout missionary. As it passed along, a poor old man was overcome by the heat and labours of the journey, and sinking down was left to perish on the road.

The missionary saw him, and kneeling down at his side, when the rest had passed along, whispered into his ear: * Brother, what is your hope ?' The dying man raised himself a little to reply, and with great effort succeeded in answering : The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sins !' and immediately expired with the effort.

“ The missionary was greatly astonished at the answer; and, in the calm and peaceful appearance of the man, he felt assured he had died in Christ. 'How, or where,' he thought, could this man, seemingly a heathen, have got this hope?' And, as he thought of it, he observed a piece of paper grasped tightly in the hand of the corpse, which he succeeded in getting out. What do you suppose was his surprise and delight, when he found it was a single leaf of the Bible, containing the first chapter of the first epistle of John, in which these words occur! On that leaf the man had found the Gospel."

It is a remarkable fact that our Saviour's precepts were nearly all uttered when some common events or objects appeared to suggest them. Thus He made the seed scattered by the sower, the blade of grass, the flower, the loss of a piece of money, the net, the wind, the rain, the dew, the storm, the vineyard, borrowing, lending, buying, selling, and similar ordinary transactions, phenomena, and objects, the occasion of His best lessons to man. In this way, He attached importance to the commonest things of life, as if to say, “ Nothing is small that affects human character or destiny."

We have now seen that great things are only the aggregate of littles, so that he who would possess the former must strive after the latter.

If we had space, it would be pleasant to introduce the examples of many mothers who have lived and died; but we will close this chapter with the following

Mr Irving, in his life of Washington, says that this great and good man was careful of small things,” bestowing attention upon the minute affairs of his household as closely as upon the most important concerns of the republic. The editor of the “Merchants' Magazine,” in speaking of this fact, says :-“No man ever made a fortune, or rose to greatness in any department, without being careful of small things.' As the beach is composed of grains of sand, as the ocean is made up of drops of water, so the millionaire's fortune is the aggregation of the profits of single ventures, often inconsiderable in amount. Every eminent merchant,

« EelmineJätka »