An Hour with Myself!
By Timothy Shay Arthur
"I don't think you know yourself, Mr. Self-complacency."
I had been speaking, a little boastfully, of my good qualities; particularly of my unselfishness and integrity, when the individual with whom I was conversing, threw that wet blanket over me.
"Not know myself?" so I said to myself, after parting, a little coldly, with my plain-spoken friend, "that's a good joke! If I, Mr. Self-complacency, don't know myself--then who does know me? Certainly, not you, Mr. Freeman!"
I was piqued at Mr. Freeman, and could not get over his remark, which involved a great deal that was not very complementing to my self-esteem. It annoyed me like a mote in the eye!
"Not know myself?" I kept repeating the words, every now and then, all day; and when I sat down alone in my room at night, they came in to disturb the hours which usually passed with me in calm self-satisfaction.
"Not know myself?" What did he mean by that? I saw by his eye and voice, that he was in earnest. Somebody has been talking about me, and putting wrong constructions on my acts, and Mr. Freeman has been more ready to believe evil than good. He'd better examine into his own quality; and I'll say so to him the next time we meet!
But I couldn't ease my mind by thoughts of my character. My self-esteem was wounded.
"Not know myself?" I repeated for the hundredth time. "What did I say to Mr. Freeman, which led him to make so uncharitable a remark? Why, that in voting for Mr. Cleveland, I only looked to the public good, as I hoped I would always look in everything, and did look. I considered, and still consider him the best man for the place. He wanted to elect Mr. Grant; but I don't like Grant. He is capable enough, no doubt; but our views differ widely in many particulars."
And here came in the questions, as if I were talking with another, who asked--
"Why don't you like Mr. Grant? Why do you prefer Mr. Cleveland?"
I went down into myself to get an answer to these queries, and after groping about for some time, came up, feeling a little more uncomfortable than when I went down. Why? What had I discovered? Just this: the impression that, as President of the Bank, Mr. Cleveland would be far more likely to favor my interests than Mr. Grant; and here was the reason why I preferred him above the other, and had voted for him at the meeting of stockholders.
"Very unselfish, indeed, Mr. Self-complacency!" said I, two warm spots glowing on my cheeks. I felt them, as if lighted candles were held near my face. "I wonder if Mr. Freeman really suspected this?" The two warm spots burned.
It seemed very probable, so clearly did the truth stand out before me. I tried to cover it up, to hide the base fact; but it stood there, looking at me with a sinister leer. So this was my unselfishness; this my regard for the public good? There had been some very favorable testimony on the side of Mr. Grant; and Mr. Freeman had strongly urged his fitness for the place, on the ground of his known inflexible character. "Make him President," he said, "and there will be no partial administration of affairs; no individual preference on discount days; no leaning towards personal friends." Now, I, Mr. Self-complacency, standing in occasional need of bank facilities, and having experienced many uncomfortable disappointments on discount days, had, way back in my thought or purpose, the desire to secure an interested friend near the source of bank favors. So I had voted for Mr. Cleveland.
"I must own up in this case," said I, feeling something like a culprit. "The real motive is plain enough now, but it was removed so far away out of sight, that I didn't suspect its existence. And I don't believe Mr. Freeman saw it. How could he? It was nothing but spleen, on his part, growing out of disappointment. And his language and manner had so sweeping a signification, as if I were the most selfish man in the world; as if I never acted from purely unselfish motives! He forgets how I refused to take advantage of his ignorance in regard to the price of an article, by which I might have gained an advantage over him of several hundred dollars."
This thought restored, in a measure, my good opinion of myself; but only for a little while. I took another plunge down amid the more hidden things of my mind, and saw that I had not been influenced in this act, by any regard for my neighbor's good whatever--that his interest had not been in all my thoughts; but only the desire to gain for myself a good reputation, which I considered of more value than the few hundred dollars I would make in a transaction, that a day or two would expose as a bit of sharp practice in trade. I could even recall the processes of thought by which I was influenced at the time. How I had pictured to myself the way he would talk about me among certain people, with whom, above all things, I wished to stand well; the contempt they would feel for me, and even the financial injury I might sustain--if I had taken advantage of him. While on the other hand, the refusal, on my part, to accept an advantage over my neighbor's ignorance--and I was careful to let Mr. Freeman understand all about the matter--would be told to my honor and benefit.
I actually covered my face with my hands, when close self-examination gave me this picture, and said, "For shame, Mr. Self-complacency!"
Again I went down amid the secret places of my heart, and looked steadily at the thoughts and purposes which were hidden away there from casual observation. I was liberal, taking my means into consideration, in regard to public and private charities; and made, yearly, a handsome contribution for the support of the church to which I belonged. The thought of this liberality had always been a pleasant thing to me; and it was one of my habits to contrast my generous devotion of the means which God had placed in my hand--with the selfish withholdings apparent in others.
And in all this, I now saw the stain of a base and almost hypocritical self-seeking. Had I looked to the good of my neighbor, or only to a good reputation for myself? Had I desired the peace of a good conscience, or only the approval of man? With a singular clearness of vision, I saw myself, as to interior motives, and I could not find a single one of these motives that was not all clouded and disfigured by selfishness, pride, and a spirit of vain self-glory. I gave to the church. But why? In order that the gospel might be preached for the salvation of souls! This, I had often made bold to say, was the reason why I gave. But I could not find, in my heart, any genuine love of either saints or sinners; certainly, not enough to induce me to give two hundred dollars a year for their safety or salvation. I'm at the confessional, reader, and shall make a clean confession of it. No--I could find love of self, taking on multiform shapes; but not a genuine love of anything or anybody out of myself!
"Rather humiliating this, Mr. Self-complacency," said I.
"Yes, it is humiliating," I answered to myself. "Very humiliating."
I gave, always, to public charities when called upon, and made a merit of this in my own thoughts. I considered myself a truly benevolent man. Now, as I groped amid the springs of action, I could find scarcely the feeblest sentiment of pity for suffering humanity; but the desire to be esteemed as a kind-hearted and generous man, in the eyes of other people, was strong and' active.
"Is there no good in me?" I exclaimed, with a low, creeping shudder, starting to my feet, and beginning to walk the floor of my room. "There is none good but one. That is God."
I remembered the words of our Savior; and they came to me, now, with a fullness of meaning never comprehended before. I had read them, and heard them read in the great congregation of worshipers, hundreds of times. And yet, for all this, I, Mr. Self-complacency, thought myself a very good kind of man, and far better than the common run of people. Indeed, I was in the habit of contrasting myself with other men--and taking the conclusion in my own favor; when it was not at all improbable that the chief difference between us, was that I gave more heed to appearances, from a certain love of reputation, than they did!
"Mr. Freeman was right. I didn't know myself! Am I, indeed, so lacking in honor, humanity and integrity? My cheeks burn as if in the glow of a furnace!"
Take an hour with yourself, reader, and get down among the concealed motives by which your actions are governed--and, perhaps you will not like the new aspect in which you appear, any more than I like the one in which I have appeared.