Katherine Cutter Tenney: “Character”


Valedictory Essay, 1899

Riches may take to themselves wings, power may be snatched away from those who use it only for the good of others, reputation even may become tarnished, and yet there be left that which misfortune cannot touch – our Character.

So many people confound Reputation with Character. Reputation is the opinion the world has of us while Character is what we really are, so that we are entirely responsible for our Character but we are only partially responsible for our Reputation. If we do not succeed in gaining true wealth and power of Character the responsibility is all our own and the consequences are not bounded by the shores of time but stretch onward through all eternity.  Emerson said, “Character is moral order seen through the medium of an individual nature.”

There are many people of whom it may be said that they have no possession in the world but their Character and yet they rest as firmly upon it as any crowned monarch upon his throne. Character is one of the strongest motive powers in the world; it is the center and heart of every human being from which come living ideas and living deeds.

Intellectual culture is not necessarily related to purity and excellence of Character. “A handful of good life,” George Herbert said, “is worth of bushel of learning.” This however does not imply that intellectual culture is to be prized less, but that true heart culture is to be prized more.  The learned should be respected, but at the same time it should not be forgotten that largeness of mind, depth of thought, experience of the world, love of truth, honesty and amiability, may be lacking in a man who yet may be very learned.  “Unless a man can erect himself above himself, how poor a thing is man,” said the poet Daniel.

Without a certain degree of practical force compounded with will and wisdom in the same proportion, life would be indefinite and purposeless.  When the elements of Character are brought into action by fixed will and man perseveres in the path of duty, he may be said to approach the summit of his being.  The acts of such a man are repeated in the life and action of others.  His words live and become actions.  Such characters are an inspiration to the weak and they lighten and up life all who are within their influence.

Even the gentlest natures are enabled, by the power of affection and intelligence, to mold characters of men destined to influence and elevate their race through all time.

Manner is one of the principal external graces of Character.  It is the ornament of action, and often makes the most common offices [a position of authority or service]beautiful by the way in which it performs them.  Manner is more important than some may think it to be, for it tends greatly to make easy the business of life and to sweeten social intercourse. The poet truly wrote,

“Not to be unhappy is unhappiness,

And misery not to have known miserie,

For the best way unto discretion is

The way that leads us by adversitie,

And men are better shew’d what is amisse,

By the expert finger of calamitie,

That they can be with all that fortune brings,

Who never shows them the true face of things.”

The hard facts of existence have to be faced to give that touch of truth and force to Character which can never be gained by reading.  And contact with broad minded, noble hearted men and women perfect and sweetened Character.

To be worth anything Character must be capable of standing firm in the world of daily toil, temptation and trial.  All these virtues and many others must be firmly and harmoniously blended into a perfect Character.  They cannot stand alone.

Like the stones of an arch, no one of them can be wanting without making all the rest insecure. We cannot attain a truly beautiful Character, until we worship its perfection in our Lord and Savior, and with our hearts fixed on him, strive, trusting in His aid, to be perfect even as He is perfect.



Katherine “Kate” Cutter Tenney

Hollis, New Hampshire

Kate Hardy is the publisher’s grandmother.












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