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Mr. F. A very proper question; and my answer is, By the right use of your reason. If you have an umbrella when it rains, and do not put it up, no wonder that you should get wet; if you go out in the dirt without clogs or pattens, no wonder that your shoes should be dirty; and, in like manner, if, in case of any alarm, you have reason, and do not use it, no wonder that you should be in a state of confusion.
M. Please to tell me how I can use my reason so as to get self-possession.
Mr. F. I will, my love, as well as I can; and, as the qualities of self-possession and promptitude are so very important in many of our actions, I will make them the subject of my present remarks. You will then be better able, perhaps, to enter on your enterprise of "Learning to Act." Let me for a moment suppose that you are of so foolish and fearful a disposition, as to be sadly frightened at a frog, and earwig, or, indeed, at your own shadow. Well, in order to convince you of the folly of your fears, I go up to the shadow which has alarmed you, stand by it, lay my hand upon it, explain to you what it was that occasioned it, and, in short, convince you that you really have nothing to fear; would not this conduct on my part, with a little reasonable reflection on your own, do much towards giving you self-possession and courage?
M. I think it would with regard to a shadow.
Mr. F. And if I allowed the earwig to run over my hands, first one, and then the other, while I talked about it pleasantly, and admired the rapidity of its motions; or picked up the frog, and pointed out with animation and pleasure, the beauty of its yellow jerkin and bright eyes. If you were to see me do this often, and without my manifesting the slightest fear, do you not think that, by degrees, reflecting a little on the matter, you would be convinced of your safety, and get over your childish apprehensions?
E. Yes. But, papa, there is no real danger in the shadow, the earwig, and the frog. How are we to act with self-possession in cases of real danger?
Mr. F. A very proper distinction, Edward; but my answer is the same-By the right use of your reason. A little reflection will tell you, that real danger will only be increased by unnecessary fears. If, therefore, you get the better of your fears, when reason convinces you that a shadow cannot hurt you, so ought you to feel less fear when reason convinces you that self-possession will lessen your danger.
M. That appears very true; but the worst of it is, papa, that, when frightened, we forget reason, and everything else but the danger.
Mr. F. It is for this very reason that we
should make a good use of our reflective faculties when we are not frightened, that we may be the better prepared for cases of danger. Had you never learned to read until you wanted to know the contents of a book; or had you never been taught writing till you wished to write a letter, you would have been altogether unprepared either to read or write; whereas, by learning these things, you are now ready when they are required of you. In like manner, if you strengthen your minds in times of ease, you will have self-possession in seasons of trial. Some are very fearful, nor could all the reflection in the world altogether overcome their fears; but, if we cannot make timid people altogether courageous, we may do much to lessen their apprehensions. A doctor never undertakes to make a patient of a weak constitution so strong as one naturally powerful; nor would it be wise to hope that timid character would ever become as fearless as one who is naturally bold and daring: yet still, the self-possession of all may be increased by prudent means. I am far from being unreasonable in my expectations in such matters; for though I think that the example of others, and the right use of our reason, will do much, yet do I believe that some familiarity with trying scenes is necessary to impart self-pos
M. I have read about a foolish little girl, whose silly fears led her into many mistakes.
Once, when she was walking in a wood with her mother, she grew quite frightened when she saw a person quietly working behind a tree, because she took it into her head that he was a thief or a robber.
E. I once heard of a boy who was terribly afraid of black beetles and crickets; but, after he had been apprenticed to a baker for six months, he did not mind sleeping in the bakehouse, where there were hundreds and hundreds of them.
Mr. F. Very likely. Instances of the want of self-possession are continually occurring. It is a very common thing to see two persons, when they meet, trying to make way for each other; but, for want of self-possession, they both start aside-two, three, and perhaps half a dozen times in the same direction.
Now if, in such a case, each, knowing his proper side, would adhere to it, all this confusion would be avoided. Here you see again that it is not the time, when the confusion occurs, to obtain self-possession: the mind should be prepared for the difficulty, and thus be able to overcome it.
Thomas. I have seen two people meet, in that way, many a time.
Mr. F. In cities and towns, timorous people, when carriages are passing, often make many fruitless attempts to cross the street, running back again screaming with fear. By the time they recover from their fright, another carriage comes rattling on, and another attempt is made with the same want of success. Now, a moment's judicious reflection, before walking abroad, would point out the advantage of never attempting to cross a street until a good opportunity occurred, and then doing it without hesitation.
E. Self-possession is a capital quality. Mr. F. It is so, even in common cases; but in trying cases it is invaluable. Let us hit upon some method of strengthening it in ourselves, and turn to a good account what I have said on the subject. In our next meeting, you shall have a few examples of virtuous actions well worthy of imitation.