Illogic Primer Quotes Clippings Books and Bibliography Paper Trails Links Film

True and False Manliness

James Freeman Clarke, "True and False Manliness" in Every-day Religion (1886), p. 129ff.

Manliness means perfect manhood, as womanliness implies perfect womanhood. Manliness is the character of a man as he ought to be, as he was meant to be. It expresses the qualities which go to make a perfect man, — truth, courage, conscience, freedom, energy, self-possession, self-control. But it does not exclude gentleness, tenderness, compassion, modesty. A man is not less manly, but more so, because he is gentle. In fact our word “gentleman” shows that a typical man must also be a gentle man.

By manly qualities the world is carried forward. The manly spirit shows itself in enterprise, the love of meeting difficulties and overcoming them, — the resolution which will not yield, which patiently perseveres, and does not admit the possibility of defeat. It enjoys hard toil, rejoices in stern labor, is ready to make sacrifices, to suffer and bear disaster patiently. It is generous, giving itself to a good cause not its own; it is public-spirited, devoting itself to the general good with no expectation of reward. It is ready to defend unpopular truth, to stand by those who are wronged, to uphold the weak. Having resolved, it does not go back, but holds on, through good report and evil, sure that the right must win at last. And so it causes truth to prevail, and keeps up the standard of a noble purpose in the world.

But as most good things have their counterfeits, so there is false manliness which imitates these great qualities, though at heart it is without them. Instead of strength of will, it is only willful; in place of courage, it has audacity. True manliness does what it believes right; false manliness what it chooses to do. Freedom, to one, means following his own convictions of truth; to the other it means thinking as he pleases and doing as he likes. The one is reverent, the other rude; one is courteous, the other overbearing; one is brave, the other foolhardy; one is modest, the other self-asserting. False manliness is cynical, contemptuous, and tyrannical to inferiors. The true has respect for all men, is tender to the sufferer, is modest and kind. The good type uses its strength to maintain good customs, to improve the social condition, to defend order. The other imagines it to be manly to defy law, to be independent of the opinions of the wise, to sneer at moral obligation, to consider itself superior to the established principles of mankind.

A false notion of manliness leads boys astray. All boys wish to be manly but they often try to become so by copying the vices of men rather than their virtues. They see men drinking, smoking, swearing; so these poor little fellows sedulously imitate such bad habits, thinking they are making themselves more like men. They mistake rudeness for strength, disrespect to parents for independence. They read wretched stories about boy brigands and boy detectives, and fancy themselves heroes when they break the laws, and become troublesome and mischievous. Out of such false influences the criminal classes are recruited. Many a little boy who only wishes to be manly, becomes corrupted and de based by the bad examples around him and the bad literature which he reads. The cure for this is to give him good books, show him truly noble examples from life and history, and make him understand how infinitely above this mock manliness is the true courage which ennobles human nature.

In a recent awful disaster, amid the blackness and darkness and tempest, the implacable sea and the pitiless storm, — when men’s hearts were failing them from terror, and women and children had no support but faith in a Divine Providence and a coming immortality, — the dreadful scene was illuminated by the courage and manly devotion of those who risked their own lives to save the lives of others. Such heroism is like a sunbeam breaking through the tempest. It shows us the real worth there is in man. No matter how selfish mankind may seem, whenever hours like these come, which try men’s souls, they show that the age of chivalry has not gone; that though

The knights are dust and their good swords rust

there are as high hearted heroes now as ever. Firemen rush into a flaming house to save women and children. Sailors take their lives in their hands to rescue their fellow men from a wreck. They save them at this great risk, not because they are friends or relatives, but because they are fellow men.

Courage is an element of manliness. It is more than readiness to encounter danger and death, for we are not often called to meet such perils. It is everyday courage which is most needed, — that which shrinks from no duty because it is difficult; which makes one ready to say what he believes, when his opinions are unpopular; which does not allow him to postpone a duty, but makes him ready to encounter it at once; a courage which is not afraid of ridicule when one believes himself right; which is not the slave of custom, the fool of fashion. Such courage as this, in man or woman or child, is true manliness. It is infinitely becoming in all persons. It does not seek display, it is often the courage of silence no less than speech; it is modest courage, unpretending though resolute. It holds fast to its convictions and principles, whether men hear or whether they forbear.

Truthfulness is another element of true manliness. Lies usually come from cowardice, because men are afraid of standing by their flag, because they shrink from opposition, or because they are conscious of something wrong which they cannot defend, and so conceal. Secret faults, secret purposes, habits of conduct of which we are ashamed, lead to falsehood, and falsehood is cowardice. And thus the sinner is almost necessarily a coward. He shrinks from the light; he hides himself in darkness. Therefore if we wish to be manly, we must not do anything of which we are ashamed. He who lives by firm principles of truth and right, who deceives no one, injures no one, who therefore has nothing to hide, he alone is manly. The bad man may be audacious but he has no true courage. His manliness is only a pretence, an empty shell a bold demeanor with no real firmness behind it.

True manliness is humane. It says, “We who are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak.” Its work is to protect those who cannot defend themselves; to stand between the tyrant and the slave, the oppressor and his victim. It is identical in all times with the spirit of chivalry which led the good knights to wander in search of robbers, giants, and tyrannical lords, those who oppressed the poor and robbed helpless women and orphans of their rights. There are no tyrant barons now, but the spirit of tyranny and cruelty is still to be found. The good knight today is he who provides help for the blind, the deaf and dumb, the insane who defends animals from being treated rescues little children from bad usage seeks to give working men and women their rights He protects all these sufferers from that false which is brutal and tyrannical to the weak abusing its power over women and children and domestic animals. The true knights today are those who organize and carry on the societies to prevent cruelty, or to enforce the laws against those who for a little gain make men drunkards. The giants and dragons to day are those cruelties and brutalities which use their power to ill-treat those who are at their mercy.

True manliness is tender and loving; false manliness, cold and hard, cynical and contemptuous. The bravest and most heroic souls are usually the most loving. Garibaldi, Kossuth, Mazzini, the heroes of our times; Luther, who never feared the face of man; Gustavus Adolphus and William of Orange, are examples of this union of courage and tenderness. Bold as lions in the defence of the right, such men in their homes and their private life have a womanly gentleness. False manliness is unfeeling, with no kindly sympathies, rude and rough and overbearing. True manliness is temperate; it is moderate, it exercises self control, it is capable of self-denial and renunciation. False manliness is self-willed and self-indulgent.

The danger which besets those who have strong wills is to be self willed If they confound this self-will with manly force and persistency, with self-dependence and self-reliance, they are apt to become overbearing, self-indulgent, and intemperate. Then they lose the power of self-control, and this results not in strength, but weakness. He who cannot rule his own spirit, govern his desires, restrain his appetites, is no longer master, but slave. He is the slave of circumstances, of temptation. He cannot do the thing he would.

Shakspeare, with his inimitable knowledge of human nature, has given us the process by which this pure will, not subject to law, passes finally into mere appetite. He makes Ulysses tell how order, rule, and place make the harmony of the world; how the very heavens observe degree and priority, “proportion and office in the line of order”. He says that if this respect for order, degree, and law should cease in society, mere force would become supreme:

Strength should be lord of imbecility,
And the rude son should strike the father dead:
Force should be right or rather right and wrong,
Between whose endless jar justice resides,
Should lose their names and so should justice too,
Then everything includes itself in power,
Power into will will into appetite;
And appetite a universal wolf,
Must make perforce a universal prey,
And last eat up himself.

The English, a noble nation, have been gifted with an immense strength of will. By this the people of that little island have been able to grow into a first-class power, and conquer vast regions of the world. Fortunately this nation has also a sense of justice, and thus its sway of foreign lands and subject races has been commonly beneficent. But the danger of the English is to worship power in itself, and then they relapse into Paganism. We see this tendency to a Pagan worship of mere will in many ways. We find it cropping out in English history. Let a subject race rebel, and the English become, like the Romans, relentless, merciless. They do not inquire into the oppression which has caused the rebellion, but the nation goes into a sort of blind rage for putting down the people who have dared to resist the authority of England. So it was in our American Revolution, so in India, in Jamaica, in Abyssinia, in South Africa. The English have had wise and just statesmen, who, like Chatham, Gladstone, John Bright, have erected justice above power; and these men are the real salvation of England. We also see this tendency to admire mere will in English literature, — in the novels where the hero is a man of prodigious force, which he exerts in a reckless way; in books like Ruskin’s, in which his own private opinion stands in the place of reason and argument. Especially we see it in the downward course of Carlyle’s mind. Carlyle in his early writings set forth a religion of justice, and proclaimed the divinity of truth. He made goodness seem the only reality.

Then his influence was a blessed one. But he went on insensibly to substitute sincerity in the place of truth, as his ideal. He asserted that to be sincere was to be right. Next this worship of sincerity became a worship of self-reliance and that again became a worship of will and at last he gave us as his ideal Frederick the Great a man with no sense of justice who was a striking example of a self will which defied man and God. This downward course of Carlyle’s thought was marked by a like deterioration of his character. He became moody, overhearing, and tyrannical; wretched himself, he made those about him wretched.

The course of Emerson’s mind was in the opposite direction. He began by laying too much stress, perhaps on pure self-reliance. But he passed up steadily into the region where justice, law, love, purity, and truth are the Olympian powers. He passed from the “Initial” to the “Celestial” love; to that which has

heartily designed
The benefit of broad mankind.

True manliness differs also from the false in its attitude to woman. Its knightly feeling makes it wish to defend her rights, to maintain her claims, to be her protector and advocate. False manliness wishes to show its superiority by treating women as inferiors. It flatters them, but it does not respect them. It fears their competition on equal levels, and wishes to keep them confined, not within walls as in the Mohammedan regions, but behind the more subtle barriers of opinion, prejudice, and supposed feminine aptitudes. True manliness holds out the hand to woman and says, “Do whatever you are able to do; whatever God meant you to do. Neither you nor I can tell what that is till all artificial barriers are removed and you have full opportunity to try.” Manly strength respects womanly purity, sympathy, and grace of heart. And this is the real chivalry of the present hour.

Finally, true manliness draws its strength from religion It looks up to whatever things are good true and excellent It reverences the divine element in all earthly phenomena Seeing an infinite grandeur manifested in the lowest and most minute works of the creative power it reverences God as the all in all False manliness imagines that it shows its superiority by irreverence by turning sacred things into jest by looking with contempt on the great faiths of mankind But unless we have faith in something above ourselves our strength goes out of us Doubt and unbelief may be sometimes unavoidable may not be in any sense blamable but they always take away our strength Our power comes from a boundless faith and hope from a conviction that amid these changes of time there is something unchangeable and eternal Surrounded rounded by death and decay we need to rely on the incorruptible and immortal essences of being Reverence for a divine presence in the soul and in nature is the support of true manliness According to Paul Jesus is the example of a perfect man Paul knew what manliness was his own life was a long battle a knightly conflict full of courage endurance independence freedom devotion to all things good. No opposition could daunt him no power turn him from his chosen path But when he wrote from his prison to the Ephesians instead of boasting of his own achievements he puts himself by the side of his readers as one who is still endeavoring to grow up into the perfect manliness of Christ.

Jesus was the perfect man because always drawing power from on high, and devoting that power to the good of his fellow men. The harmony of his soul was so entire, that separate qualities are scarcely seen. We do not often speak of Jesus as a philanthropist, a reformer, a thinker, a prophet, a saint; but rather as the balanced fulness of all human powers; never hurrying, never resting, always about his Father’s business, friendly with the lowliest, one to whom all men were equally dear. We do not think of making any analysis of his character. It is the unity and harmony of all traits which impress us. It is this which constitutes his great influence, — that he was always one with God and one with man.

We therefore find Jesus to be both master and brother, teacher and friend, because when in communion with his spirit we also grow up in all things into a truer manliness. It is a great blessing to have such a friend, whom not having seen we yet can love; in whom, though now we see him not, yet believing we can rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.