And under the influence of this principle, he was a gentleman by nature, and one of nature’s noblemen, without ever thinking whether he was or not, as he who is truly such never needs to and never does.
And then recall the large-hearted Ben Franklin, when sent to the French court. In his plain gray clothes, unassuming and entirely forgetful of himself, how he captured the hearts of all, of even the giddy society ladies, and how he became and remained while there the centre of attraction in that gay capital! His politeness, his manners, all the result of that great, kind, loving, and helpful nature which made others feel that it was they he was devoting himself to and not himself.
This little extract from a letter written by Franklin to George Whitefield will show how he regarded the great principle we are considering: “As to the kindness you mention, I wish it could have been of more service to you. But, if it had, the only thanks I should desire is that you would always be equally ready to serve any other person that may need your assistance; and so let good offices go around, for mankind are all of a family. For my own part, when I am employed in serving others, I do not look upon myself as conferring favors, but as paying debts. In my travels, and since my settlement, I have received much kindness from men to whom I shall never have any opportunity of making any direct return, and numberless mercies from God, who is infinitely above being benefited by our services. These kindnesses from men I can, therefore, only return on their fellow-men; and I can only show my gratitude for these mercies from God by a readiness to help his other children and my brethren.”
No, true gentlemanliness and politeness always comes from within, and is born of a life of love, kindliness, and service. This is the universal language, known and understood everywhere, even when our words are not. There is, you know, a beautiful old proverb which says, “He who is kind and courteous to strangers thereby shows himself a citizen of the world.” And there is nothing so remembered, and that so endears one to all mankind, as this universal language. Even dumb animals understand it and are affected by it. How quickly the dog, for example, knows and makes it known when he is spoken to and treated kindly or the reverse! And here shall not a word be spoken in connection with that great body of our fellow-creatures whom, because we do not understand their language, we are accustomed to call dumb? The attitude we have assumed toward these fellow-creatures, and the treatment they have been subjected to in the past, is something almost appalling.
There are a number of reasons why this has been true. Has not one been on account of a belief in a future life for man, but not for the animal? A few years ago a gentleman left by will some fifty thousand dollars for the work of Henry Bergh’s New York Society. His relatives contested the will on the ground of insanity,–on the ground of insanity because he believed in a future life for animals. The judge, in giving his decision sustaining the will, stated that after a very careful investigation, he found that fully half the world shared the same belief. Agassiz thoroughly believed it. An English writer has recently compiled a list of over one hundred and seventy English authors who have so thoroughly believed it as to write upon the subject. The same belief has been shared by many of the greatest thinkers in all parts of the world, and it is a belief that is constantly gaining ground.
Another and perhaps the chief cause has been on account of a supposed inferior degree of intelligence on the part of animals, which in another form would mean, that they are less able to care for and protect themselves. Should this, however, be a reason why they should be neglected and cruelly treated? Nay, on the other hand, should this not be the greatest reason why we should all the more zealously care for, protect, and kindly treat them?
You or I may have a brother or a sister who is not normally endowed as to brain power, who, perchance, may be idiotic or insane, or who, through sickness or mishap, is weakminded; but do we make this an excuse for neglecting, cruelly treating, or failing to love such a one? On the contrary, the very fact that he or she is not so able to plan for, care for, and protect him or her self, is all the greater reason for all the more careful exercise of these functions on our part. But, certainly, there are many animals around us with far more intelligence, at least manifested intelligence, than this brother or sister. The parallel holds, but the absurd falsity of the position we assume is most apparent. No truer nobility of character can anywhere manifest itself than is shown in one’s attitude toward and treatment of those weaker or the so-called inferior, and so with less power to care for and protect themselves. Moreover, I think we shall find that we are many times mistaken in regard to our beliefs in connection with the inferior intelligence of at least many animals. If, instead of using them simply to serve our own selfish ends without a just recompense, without a thought further than as to what we can get out of them, and then many times casting them off when broken or of no further service, and many times looking down upon, neglecting, or even abusing them,–if, instead of this, we would deal equitably with them, love them, train and educate them the same as we do our children, we would be somewhat surprised at the remarkable degree of intelligence the “dumb brutes” possess, and also the remarkable degree of training they are capable of. What, however, can be expected of them when we take the attitude we at present hold toward them?