’Father told me a story the other day—an allegory he called it—about impulse and principle.
’Principle went straight forward, and did whatever was right, and tried to make her feelings agree with it, but Impulse hurried along in a very crooked path, stopping here, and then bounding forth at the sight of some new object—one minute neglecting every duty, and the next, doing something so great that everybody was surprised, and praised her beyond all measure. Principle very seldom did wrong, and made so little show, that she was quite unobserved by the world in general, but Impulse was as likely to do wrong as right, and according as good or evil predominated, received her full share of praise or censure. Principle had an approving conscience, and however she might be looked upon by the world, she was contented and happy, while poor Impulse was half of the time tossed about by a light thing called Vanity, or gnawed by a monster named Remorse. I liked the story very much, and I couldn’t help remembering it to-day, when the little girl dropped the purse over the side of the sleigh. I thought she was governed by Impulse, and though this is a good act, unless she has a better heart than most people, it is no true sign that the next one will be good.’
’Very true, my son, but you have not explained to Effie what you mean by impulse and principle.’
’You can explain it better than I can, mother. I don’t remember half that father said about it.’
‘Well, tell me as much as you can remember then.’
’Why, principle means ground of action, and people who are governed by principle always have some good reason for what they do, and do not act without thinking. Father says old people are more apt to be governed by principle of some kind, either good or bad, than children, for he says children generally act first, and think afterwards.’
‘And impulse?’ inquired Effie.
’People that act from impulse are altogether at the mercy of circumstances, and are driven about by their own feelings. They never wait to inquire whether a thing is right before they do it, but if it seems right for the minute it is sufficient.’
Harry’s explanation seemed quite satisfactory to his mother, and what was just then of more importance, to Effie, who, it was but natural, should find some fault with a definition which seemed to throw anything like discredit on her new favourite. Any further allusion to the subject was, however, prevented by the entrance of Mr Maurice, who, as he had been out all day, making charitable and professional instead of fashionable calls, had some very interesting stories to relate. But there was one so strange, and to the children so new, that it threw the rest quite into the shade, and absorbed their whole stock of sympathy. It was late before Mr Maurice finished his story, and as it may be late before our readers get to a better stopping-place, we shall reserve it fer another chapter.