Reverence is a word by itself. It has no synonyms, nor does any other word in the language exactly fill its place. It is not respect; it is not regard; it is not fear; it is not honor. Perhaps awe comes nearest to it; and yet reverence is more than awe. It is awe softened and refined by gentleness and love…
An Excerpt from You Can Be a Great American! 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness (a Growing Up Great Guide for American Boys and for the Parents and Teachers Who Love Them), by W. F. Markwick and W. A. Smith
Entry #27 in the Raising Great Americans Project! Click Here to learn More!
Reverence is the crown of moral manhood.
— C. Kingsley
No man of sound nature ever makes a mock of reverence.
— T. T. Munger
True reverence is homage tempered by love.
–W. B. Pope
In the full glow of the light of our times, only the pure are really revered.
Reverence is alike indispensable to the happiness
of individuals, of families, and of nations.
Reverence is a word by itself. It has no synonyms, nor does any other word in the language exactly fill its place. It is not respect; it is not regard; it is not fear; it is not honor. Perhaps awe comes nearest to it; and yet reverence is more than awe. It is awe softened and refined by gentleness and love.
Reverence is a condition of thought and feeling which does not paralyze action, but kindles it; does not deaden sensibility, but quickens it. Even when used in a religious sense, reverence does not stand for religion itself, but as a means or aid to religious thought and life.
The presence or absence of a reverent spirit is of real importance; for it adds to, or takes away from, our enjoyment of the world in which we live. One person finds happiness everywhere and in every occasion; carrying his own holiday with him. Another always appears to be returning from a funeral. One sees beauty and harmony wherever he looks, while another is blind to beauty; the lenses of his eyes seem to be made of smoked glass, draping the whole world in mourning. While one man sees only gravel, fodder, and firewood, as he looks into a richly-wooded park; another is ravished with its beauty. One sees in a matchless rose nothing but an ordinary flower; another penetrates its purpose, and reads in the beauty of its blended colors and its wonderful fragrance the very thoughts of God.
Only the truly reverent soul can catch the higher music of sentient being, with its joys and hopes; its wealth of earnest, aspiring, struggling souls; tolerant, serious, yet sunny; and read those larger possibilities which lie hidden in the great deeps of the most ordinary human life.
While it is true that only the reverent can fully appreciate nature; it is even more true in regard to human nature. To the reverent mind an old man or woman is an object of tender regard; while by the irreverent, the aged are frequently treated with ingratitude, and sometimes even with contempt.
One of the lessons most frequently and most strongly impressed upon the Lacedaemonian youth, was to entertain great reverence and respect for old men, and to give them proof of it on all occasions, by saluting them; by making way for them, and giving them place in the streets; by rising up to show them honor in all companies and public assemblies; but, above all, by receiving their advice, and even their reproofs, with docility and submission.
On one occasion, when there was a great play at the principal theater in Athens, the seats set apart for strangers were filled with Spartan boys; and other seats, not far distant, were filled with Athenian youth. The theater was crowded, when an old man, infirm, and leaning on a staff, entered. There was no seat for him. The Athenian youth called to the old man to come to them, and with great difficulty he picked his way to their benches; but not a boy rose and offered him a seat. Seeing this, the Spartan boys beckoned to the old man to come to them, and, as he approached their benches, every Spartan boy rose, and, with uncovered head, stood until the old man was seated, and then all quietly resumed their seats. Seeing this, the Athenians broke out in loud applause. The old man rose, and, in a voice that filled the theater, said, “The Athenians know what is right: the Spartans do it.”
The great German thinker, Goethe, claimed that three kinds of reverence should be taught to youth,–for superiors, for equals, and for inferiors. This was an advance over the old ideas; but, in a republic like ours, reverence is not up and down; it is not measured by class distinctions,–it is a spirit, to be related in sympathetic ways with all human beings as such; and especially with all whose lives are such as to command our respect and esteem.
Reverence can be cultivated, and needs to be cultivated in our times. There is too much mere “smartness” abroad. In society and in the world we find a flippant, cynical tone; no doubt much of this is reaction from old-time gloom and severity. But without a reasonable reverence we cannot have good manners, or loyal citizens, or possessors of really beautiful characters.
Reverence is developed by looking for the good in others; by avoiding fault-finding; by associating with high-minded acquaintances; by reading worthy literature; by using language unstained by vulgarity; by striving to enter more and more into the spirit of the noblest lives that come under our notice.
Reverence, then, is not fear; but wonder, solemnity, and veneration. “It is to cherish a habit of looking upward, and seeing what is noble and good in all things.” Its blessings are many. By it we can win a masterly judgment to determine the fitness of behavior and habits; it will keep us from thoughtless words and deeds; it will make us respectful to old age and appreciative of the past; and, in many other ways, it will prove itself of real value to all who cultivate and cherish it.
HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW
We select, as our special example, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the best known of our American poets. The great poet, whoever he may be, is always reverential. His stanzas are crowned with a sacred seriousness. He gives to life a “grand, true, harmonic interpretation.”
Longfellow was born on the 27th of February, 1807, at Portland, Maine. In his earlier years he displayed the same gentle, amiable spirit which filled his after-life with sunshine and goodness.
He proved himself to be possessed of a very bright mind even as a boy, and entered Bowdoin College when only fourteen years of age. He afterwards served this same institution as professor of modern languages, and in 1835 was called to fill a similar position in Harvard University.
He visited Europe, twice at least, for purposes of study; and, on his return from his second trip, began that illustrious career of instruction and authorship which has been the source of so much honorable pride on the part of his countrymen. Longfellow selected a historic home in Cambridge; it was the house occupied by Washington when he took command of the United States Army in 1776,–a spacious structure, full of welcoming windows, and situated in the midst of old elms. Here he lived till his death; and now the stretch of land, from the estate to the river Charles, has been bought and adorned as a memorial.
The writings of Longfellow are household possessions, fully as much in England as in America, and we need not enumerate them. They are famous not so much for originality, as for their calm, spiritual, purifying messages. They are full of good-will, aspiration, trust, and real loftiness of tone. Indeed, Longfellow “loved to make clear his discipleship to him whose ministry was love, whose flock was all humanity, whose kingdom was peace and righteousness.”
So deep was the impression made by Mr. Longfellow’s beauty of character, that it equaled his literary fame. He always responded to callers, and they came by hundreds; he never refused his autograph; children loved him; his charities were manifold; young authors received his encouragement. Modest as to his own writings, he strove to praise the good in others. Every one who met him perceived the source of all this rare grace and fascinating nobility of soul to be a sense of the glory and divineness of all life. His soul stood in a reverential attitude toward existence, and a marvelous light shone through him and his poetry as the result.
Down to the last his pen was active. He died on the 24th of March, 1882. Degrees and honors had been freely bestowed on him; but the highest tributes came from his admirers on both sides of the Atlantic; and his reverential spirit still lives in hundreds of those who read his beautiful verses.
This Article is an Excerpt from You Can Be a Great American! 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness (a Growing Up Great Guide for American Boys and for the Parents and Teachers Who Love Them), by W. F. Markwick and W. A. Smith, which is available from Better Days Books in quality hardbound, sturdy trade paperback and convenient .PDF e-book editions starting at just $4.95.
Industry, Ambition, Self Control, Self-Respect, Courtesy, Faithfulness, Courage, Duty, Honesty, Enthusiasm, Humility, Patriotism… In every era of our Nation’s history, the true alchemy by which ordinary boys have been transformed into Great American Men has always and only occurred where these indispensible moral principles have been successfully applied. In an age like our own, where such manly ideals are openly mocked and derided by our popular culture, it’s time to turn to the past to recapture a clear vision of what it takes to be a Great American, and the true moral and ethical ladder that leads reliably to its attainment.
You Can Be a Great American: 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness was first published in 1900, under the title The True Citizen, How to Become One, and contains 39 essential lessons in manhood tailored to each age and transition in a boy’s life, from infancy to adulthood. It is the clearest roadmap to American Greatness ever compiled for the youth of our Nation, and remains as life-changing today as it was when first published, over 100 years ago.
Whether you are an adult raising boys in a Traditional family setting, the single parent of a son, or a boy abandoned to no or poor parenting, left to grab your own bootstraps and lift yourself up to a life of achievement, success and All-American Greatness (or an adult who knows a boy in such sad straits), You Can Be a Great American!: 39 Steps to True and Lasting Greatness is the only guidebook you’ll ever need.