31 January 2014

Character and Circumstances

Henry Scott Holland, "Character and Circumstance," Creed and Character (London: Rivingtons, 1887), pp. 333-335:
If a man is the creature of circumstances we call him a man without character; changing with all the changing hours, he has no self-identity; and character is that with which we identify a man. Character is vital and vigorous so far only as it insists on making itself free room for action amid the thronging events, and it dies down as soon as it fails to hold itself aloof and separate from circumstances. Character is the reaction from circumstances. It is the inner movement which encounters and withstands the shock of change and outward things. And it must, therefore, issue from a life that directs itself. Character, that is, must be personal. If men were machines moved from without, they could have no character. If the soul were a function of the body, it could have no character. Whenever we impute character to material things we do it by a metaphor. Individuality, self-identity, these are the secrets which constitute and create character; and character, therefore, supposes always a central core of individual life which is cut off from all its surroundings, a stranger that this outward world cannot own nor any web of circumstances explain; a mysterious, unearthly presence, which is intended to creep forward, out of its dim wrapping of flesh and feelings, and slowly to emerge like a plant, disclosing itself petal after petal like a flower, detaching itself from all that encircles it, from country, home, father, mother, and sister and brother, asserting itself day by day with evergrowing distinctness as a separate and unique fact upon the earth; different from every other being that ever was born; something utterly and profoundly alone, a person with a character.

Character and circumstances — these, then, are at deadly war with one another. And, now, how does this character show itself? By what methods does it grow? It grows by one way only — by acts, by choice, by judgments. Its decisions show what it is; each decision that it makes strengthens a bent, deepens a groove, determines a current, builds up a sentiment. Each decision that it forms creates the character. And what is it, then, that demands of it its decisions, its acts, its judgments? Its old foe — circumstance. Circumstances press upon it, they hustle and throng all round it, amid the throng it must judge and choose and decide. Circumstances are, therefore, essential to its growth, to its history. Without the necessity to act it could never come to a decision, and without coming to a decision character would be utterly unshapen, asleep. Circumstances must be there to evoke it, to force upon it alternatives, to wait upon its direction, to elicit its judgments.
A related post: Character