The Path – February 1891

PLUCK AND PATIENCE — Katharine Hillard

The famous English artist, Leslie, once painted upon his easel as a motto, "Pluck and Patience". Pluck is but a familiar name for courage, yet it seems, like most familiar names, to bring the quality down from its heroic heights to the level of every-day life, and that is where we need it. For courage is not only to be thought of as comprising physical and moral courage, but also as being divided into active and passive courage, and the latter borders so closely upon patience that the English artist's motto seems upon reflection, almost tautological. Active courage takes the initiative, rushes into the fight, leaps into the gulf, executes some brilliant feat, some deed of heroism, is like a leaping flame, one splendid flash and then — darkness. Passive courage is the quality of endurance, that stands quiet and suffers unmoved, like the rock buffeted by many waves, but unshaken by all the tempests. In the words of Dante, it

"Stands like a tower firm, that never bows
Its head, for all the blowing of the winds."

Active courage, to be true courage, must be distinguished from hardihood or recklessness. Real courage will ever go hand in hand with reason, not in defiance of it. That action which is of no advantage to any man, being done, but a simple flinging of the gauntlet in the face of death, is no act of courage, but of foolish hardihood. Sir Philip Sidney, who was one of the bravest of the brave, once said that "courage ought to be guided by skill, and skill armed by courage. Neither should hardiness darken wit, nor wit cool hardiness. Be valiant as men despising death, but confident as unwonted to be overcome." It is this confidence that is the secret of success; we are never afraid to do what we know we can do well. But let a man once admit the traitor Doubt within the citadel, and the gates are soon flung open to the foe and the city surrendered. True courage is ever sure of itself, not from overweening vanity, but from a reasonable confidence that a brave heart, strong in the right, must win the field. The first step to victory is the conviction that it belongs to us, because we are on the side of right and truth. The head must second the heart, judgment must confirm impulse, and then we are full-armed for any battle. When Paul wrote to the Thessalonians and called them "the children of day and of the light", he exhorted them to put on the breastplate of faith and love, and to take for a helmet the hope of salvation. Was it an intentional distinction that when he wrote to the Ephesians they were told to put on the whole armor of God, that, having overcome all, they should stand? "Stand, therefore," which surely indicates passive courage, or endurance, "having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness" (which is equivalent to right-thought, right-speech, and right-action), "and having your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace" (which surely means love to man), "and, above all, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit," or faith, hope, and the Divine word, to complete the heavenly panoply. Possibly Paul intended to imply that to resist, the soul needed more preparation than to attack. It is far easier to nerve the energies to one swift onslaught in some moment of trial, than to stand firm beneath the pin-pricks of successive tiny arrows. The crudest torture known is the Chinese punishment that lets water fall drop by drop upon the culprit's head. It is passive courage, the faculty of endurance, for which women are especially noted, as it is the form that they are especially required to exert. The faculty of resisting persistent pain without a murmur, of continuing the same wearisome tasks from day to day cheerfully and uncomplainingly, of ministering from hour to hour to the needs of others without a thought of self, this is what many of our sisters are doing all the time, and we call it patience, but it seems to me that we should call it courage, and of the noblest kind. To take up, day after day, the same task, one that never can be accomplished and ever remains to be done, is an heroic achievement, not merely an effort of patience. In the Voice of the Silence patience is the key to the third of the seven portals, but it is explained to be the gate of fortitude that that key unlocks; then comes: "indifference to pain and pleasure", and then "the dauntless energy that fights its way to the supernal truth".

"Beware of trembling," says the Voice. " 'Neath the breath of fear the key of patience rusty grows: the rusty key refuseth to unlock. — The more one dares, the more he shall obtain. — Fear, O disciple, kills the will and stays all action. — If thou hast tried and failed, O dauntless fighter, yet lose not courage; fight on and to the charge return again, and yet again. — Remember, thou that fightest for man's liberation, each failure is success, and each sincere attempt wins its reward in time."

Perhaps, then, we may define pluck or courage as that which inspires us to act, and patience as that which helps us to repeat the action, even if apparently a failure. And it is here that reason comes to the help of courage, for the wise man will study the causes of that failure that he may avoid them in his next attempt. Then there is ever one obstacle the less in the way of his progress.

There is another phase of patience, that sweet unruffled serenity which nothing can disturb. One of the most beautiful passages of the old English drama is Dekker's description of it:

"Patience! why, 'tis the soul of peace:
Of all the virtues, 'tis nearest kin to heaven;
It makes men look like gods. — The best of men
That e'er wore earth about him was a sufferer,
A soft, meek, patient, humble, tranquil spirit;
The first true gentleman that ever breathed."

However one may dilate upon the subject, when we have said "Pluck and Patience," we have summed up in two words the manner of our duty in life, and the lesson is for every day as well as for those heroic moments that come but occasionally. We have but to remember that every mountain-road, however steep and arduous, is climbed step by step, that every year, however long and tedious, is made up of successive minutes, and that they come to us one by one, however we may loiter or hasten. So thinking, we shall find that courage and patience are two strong-winged angels to bear up the fainting spirit in its progress through life: courage to strengthen it to light and to endure, patience to keep its serenity as undisturbed as "a lamp well guarded in a spot free from all wind".


The Path

THEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE