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The Investment of Influence - A Study of Social Sympathy and Service


Newell Dwight Hillis

First digital edition 2017 curated by Gianluca Ruffini

















The glory of our fathers was their emphasis of the principle of self-care and self-culture. Finding that he who first made the most of himself was best fitted to make something of others, the teachers of yesterday unceasingly plied men with motives of personal responsibility. Influenced by the former generation, our age has organized the principle of individualism into its home, its school, its market-place and forum. By reason of the increase in gold, books, travel and personal luxuries, some now feel that selfness is beginning to degenerate into selfishness. The time, therefore, seems to have fully come when the principle of self-care should receive its complement through the principle of care for others. These chapters assert the debt of wealth to poverty, the debt of wisdom to ignorance, the debt of strength to weakness. If “A Man’s Value to Society” affirms the duty of self-culture and character, these studies emphasize the law of social sympathy and social service.

Newell Dwight Hillis.


“I do not believe the world is dying for new ideas. A teacher has a high place amongst us, but someone is wanted here and abroad far more than a teacher. It is power we need, power that shall help us to solve our practical problems, power that shall help us to realize a high, individual, spiritual life, power that shall make us daring enough to act out all we have seen in vision, all we have learnt in principle from Jesus Christ.” Charles A. Berry.

“And Saul sent messengers to take David: and when they saw the company of prophets prophesying, and Samuel standing as appointed over them, the Spirit of God was upon the messengers of Saul, and they also prophesied. And when it was told Saul, he sent other messengers and they prophesied likewise. And Saul sent messengers again the third time, and they prophesied also. Then went Saul to Ramah, and he said, where are Samuel and David? And one said, behold they be at Naioth. And Saul went thither, and the Spirit of God came on him also and he prophesied. Wherefore man said: Is Saul also among the prophets?” I. Samuel, XIX, 20-21.

Nature’s forces carry their atmosphere. The sun gushes forth light unquenchable; coals throw off heat; violets are larger in influence than bulb; pomegranates and spices crowd the house with sweet odors. Man, also has his atmosphere. He is a force-bearer and a force-producer. He journeys forward, exhaling influences. Scientists speak of the magnetic circle. Artists express the same idea by the halo of light emanating from the divine head. Business men understand this principle, those skilled in promoting great enterprises bring the men to be impressed into a room and create an atmosphere around them. In measuring Kossuth’s influence over the multitudes that thronged and pressed upon him the historian said: “We must first reckon with the orator’s physical bulk and then carry the measuring-line about his atmosphere.”

Thinking of the evil emanating from a bad man, Bunyan made Apollyon’s nostrils emit flames. Edward Everett insists that Daniel Webster’s eyes during his greatest speech literally emitted sparks. Had we tests fine enough we would doubtless find each man’s personality the center of outreaching influences. He himself may be utterly unconscious of this exhalation of moral forces, as he is of the contagion of disease from his body. But if light is in him he shines; if darkness rules he shades, if his heart glows with love he warms; if frozen with selfishness he chills; if corrupt he poisons; if pure-hearted he cleanses. We watch with wonder the apparent flight of the sun through space, glowing upon dead planets, shortening winter and bringing summer, with birds, leaves and fruits. But that is not half so wonderful as the passage of a human heart, glowing and sparkling with ten thousand effects, as it moves through life. The soul, like the sun, has its atmosphere, and is over against its fellows, for light, warmth and transformation.

All great writers have had their incident of the atmosphere their hero carried. Centuries ago King Saul sent his officers to arrest a seer who had publicly indicted the tyrant for outbreaking sins. When the soldier entered the prophet’s presence he was so profoundly affected by the majesty of his character that he forgot the commission and his lord’s command, asking rather to become the good man’s protector. Likewise, with the second group of soldiers, coming to arrest, they remained to befriend. Then the King’s anger was exceedingly hot against him who had become a conscience for the throne. Rushing forth from his palace, like an angry lion from his lair, the King sought the place where this man of God was teaching the people. But, lo! when the King entered the brave man’s presence his courage, fidelity and integrity overcame Saul and conquered him unto confession of his wickedness. Just here we may remember that stout-hearted Pilate, with a legion of mailed soldiers to protect him, trembled and quaked before his silent prisoner. And King Agrippa on his throne was afraid, when Paul lifting his chains, fronted him with words of righteousness and judgment. Carlyle says that in 1848, during the riot in Paris, the mob swept down a street blazing with cannon, killed the soldiers, spiked the guns, only to be stopped a few blocks beyond by an old, white-haired man who uncovered and signaled for silence. Then the leader of the mob said: “Citizens, it is De la Eure. Sixty years of pure life is about to address you!” A true man’s presence transformed a mob that cannon could not conquer.

Montaigne’s illustration of atmosphere was Julius Caesar. When the great Roman was still a youth, he was captured by pirates and chained to the oars as a galley-slave; but Caesar told stories, sang songs, declaimed with endless good humor. Chains bound Caesar to the oars, and his words bound the pirates to himself. That night he supped with the captain. The second day his knowledge of currents, coasts and the route of treasure-ships made him first mate; then he won the sailors over, put the captain in irons, and ruled the ship like a king; soon after, he sailed the ship as a prize into a Roman port. If this incident is credible, a youth who in four days can talk the chains off his wrists, talk himself into the captaincy, talk a pirate ship into his own hands as booty, is not to be accounted for by his eloquent words. His speech was but a tithe of his power, and wrought its spell only when personality had first created a sympathetic atmosphere. Only a fraction of a great man’s character can manifest itself in speech; for the character is inexpressibly finer and larger than his words. The narrative of Washington’s exploits is the smallest part of his work. Sheer weight of personality alone can account for him. Happy the man of moral energy all compact, whose mere presence, like that of Samuel, the seer, restrains others, softens and transforms them. This is a thing to be written on a man’s tomb: “His presence made bad men good”.

This mysterious bundle of forces called man, moving through society, exhaling blessings or blightings, gets its meaning from the capacity of others to receive its influences. Man, is not so wonderful in his power to mold other lives, as in his readiness to be molded. Steel to hold, he is wax to take. The Daguerrean plate and the Aeolian harp do but meagerly interpret his receptivity. Therefore, some philosophers think character is but the sum total of those many-shaped influences called climate, food, friends, books, industries. As a lump of clay is lifted to the wheel by the potter’s hand, and under gentle pressure takes on the lines of a beautiful cup or vase, so man sets forth a mere mass of mind; soon, under the gentle touch of love, hope, ambition, he stands forth in the aspect of a Cromwell, a Milton or a Lincoln.

Standing at the center of the universe, a thousand forces come rushing in to report themselves to the sensitive soul-center. There is a nerve in man that runs out to every room and realm in the universe. Only a tithe of the world’s truth and beauty finds access to the lion or lark; they look out as one in castle tower whose only window is a slit in the rock. But man, dwells in a glass dome; to him the world lies open on every side. Every fact and force outside has a desk inside man where it makes up its reports. The ear reports all sounds and songs; the eye all sights and scenes; the reason all arguments, judgment each “ought” and “ought not,” the religious faculty reports messages coming from a foreign clime.

Man’s mechanism stands at the center of the universe with telegraph-lines extending in every direction. It is a marvelous pilgrimage he is making through life while myriad influences stream in upon him. It is no small thing to carry such a mind for three-score years under the glory of the heavens, through the glory of the earth, midst the majesty of the summer and the sanctity of the winter, while all things animate and inanimate rush in through open windows. For one thus sensitively constituted every moment trembles with possibilities; every hour is big with destiny. The neglected blow cannot afterward be struck on the cold iron; once the stamp is given to the soft metal it cannot be effaced. Well did Ruskin say; “Take your vase of Venice glass out of the furnace and strew chaff over it in its transparent heat, and recover that to its clearness and rubied glory when the north wind has blown upon it; but do not think to strew chaff over the child fresh from God’s presence and to bring the heavenly colors back to him, at least in this world.” We are accountable to God for our influence; this it is “that gives us pause.”

Gentle as is the atmosphere about us, it presses with a weight of fourteen pounds to the square inch. No infant’s hand feels its weight; no leaf of aspen or wing of bird detects this heavy pressure, for the fluid air presses equally in all directions. Just so gentle, yet powerful, is the moral atmosphere of a good man as it presses upon and shapes his kind. He who hath made man in his own image hath endowed him with this forceful presence. Ten-talent men, eminent in knowledge and refinement, eminent in art and wealth, do, indeed, illustrate this. Proof also comes from obscurity, as pearls from homely oyster shells. Working among the poor of London, an English author searched out the life-career of an apple woman. Her history makes the story of kings and queens contemptible. Events had appointed her to poverty, hunger, cold and two rooms in a tenement. But there were three orphan boys sleeping in an ash-box whose lot was harder. She dedicated her heart and life to the little waifs. During two and forty years, she mothered and reared some twenty orphans, gave them home and bed and food; taught them all she knew; helped some to obtain a scant knowledge of the trades; helped others off to Canada and America. The author says she had misshapen features, but that an exquisite smile was on the dead face. It must have been so. She “had a beautiful soul,” as Emerson said of Longfellow. Poverty disfigured the apple woman’s garret, and want made it wretched, nevertheless, God’s most beautiful angels hovered over it. Her life was a blossom event in London’s history. Social reform has felt her influence. Like a broken vase, the perfume of her being will sweeten literature and society a thousand years after we are gone.

The Greek poet says men knew when the goddess came to Thebes because of the blessings she left in her track. Her footprints were not in the sea, soon obliterated, nor in the snow, quickly melting, but in fields and forests. This unseen friend, passing by the tree blackened by a thunderbolt, stayed her step; lo! the woodbine sprang up and covered the tree’s nakedness. She lingered by the stagnant pool, the pool became a flowing spring. She rested upon a fallen log, from decay and death came moss, the snowdrop and the anemone. At the crossing of the brook were her footprints; not in mud downward, but in violets that sprang up in her pathway. O beautiful prophecy! literally fulfilled 2,000 years afterward in the life of the London apple woman, whose atmosphere sweetened bitter hearts and made evil into good.

Wealth and eminent position witness not less powerfully the transforming influence of exalted characters. “My lords,” said Salisbury, “the reforms of this century have been chiefly due to the presence here of one man, Lord Shaftesbury. The genius of his life was expressed when last, he addressed you. He said: ‘When I feel age creeping upon me I am deeply grieved, for I cannot bear to go away and leave the world with so much misery in it.’ “So long as Shaftesbury lived, England beheld a standing rebuke of all wrong and injustice. How many iniquities shriveled up in his presence! This man, representing the noblest ancestry, wealth and culture, wrought numberless reforms. He became a voice for the poor and weak. He gave his life to reform acts and corn laws; he emancipated the enslaved boys and girls toiling in mines and factories; he exposed and made impossible the horrors of that inferno in which chimney-sweeps live; he founded twoscore industrial, ragged and trade schools; he established shelters for the homeless poor; when Parliament closed its sessions at midnight Lord Shaftesbury went forth to search out poor prodigals sleeping under Waterloo or Blackfriars bridge, and often in a single night brought a score to his shelter. When the funeral cortege passed through Pall Mall and Trafalgar square on its way to Westminster Abbey, the streets for a mile and a half were packed with innumerable thousands. The costermongers lifted a large banner on which were inscribed these words: “I was sick and in prison and ye visited me.” The boys from the ragged schools lifted these words; “I was hungry and naked and ye fed me.” All England felt the force of that colossal character. Today at that central point in Piccadilly where the highways meet and thronging multitudes go surging by, the English people have erected the statue of Shaftesbury, the fitting motto therefor; “The reforms of this century have been chiefly due to the presence and influence of Shaftesbury.” If our generation is indeed held back from injustice and anarchy and bloodshed, it will be because Shaftesbury the peer, and Samuel, the seer, are duplicated in the lives of our great men, who stand forth to plead the cause of the poor and weak.

But man’s atmosphere is equally potent to blight and to shrivel. Not time, but man, is the great destroyer. History is full of the ruins of cities and empires. “Innumerable Paradises have come and gone; Adams and Eves many,” happy one day, have been “miserable exiles” the next; and always because some satanic ambition or passion or person entering has cast baneful shadow o’er the scene. Men talk of the scythe of time and the tooth of time. But, said the art historian: “Time is scytheless and toothless; it is we who gnaw like the worm; we who smite like the scythe. Fancy what treasures would be ours today if the delicate statues and temples of the Greeks, if the broad roads and massy walls of the Romans, if the noble architecture, castles and towns of the Middle Ages had not been ground to dust by blind rage of man. It is man that is the consumer; he is moth and mildew and flame.” All the galleries and temples and libraries and cities have been destroyed by his baneful presence. Thrice armies have made an arsenal of the Acropolis; ground the precious marbles to powder, and mixed their dust with his ashes. It was man’s ax and hammer that dashed down the carved work of cathedrals and turned the treasure cities into battle-fields, and opened galleries to the mold of sea winds. Disobedience to law has made cities a heap and walled cities ruins. Man, is the pestilence that walketh in darkness. Man, is the destruction that wasteth at noonday.

When Mephistopheles appears in human form his presence falls upon homes like the black pall of the consuming plague, that robes cities for death. The classic writer tells of an Indian princess sent as a present to Alexander the Great. She was lovely as the dawn; yet what especially distinguished her was a certain rich perfume in her breath; richer than a garden of Persian roses. A sage physician discovered her terrible secret. This lovely woman had been reared upon poisons from infancy until she herself was the deadliest poison known. When a handful of sweet flowers was given to her, her bosom scorched and shriveled the petals; when the rich perfume of her breath went among a swarm of insects, a score fell dead about her. A pet humming-bird entering her atmosphere, shuddered, hung for a moment in the air, then dropped in its final agony. Her love was poison; her embrace death. This tale has held a place in literature because it stands for men of evil all compact, whose presence has consumed integrities and exhaled iniquities. Happily, the forces that bless are always more numerous and more potent than those that blight. Cast a bushel of chaff and one grain of wheat into the soil and nature will destroy all the chaff but cause the one grain of wheat to usher in rich harvests.

As a force-producer, man’s primary influence is voluntary in nature. This is the capacity of purposely bringing all the soul’s powers to bear upon society. It is the foundation of all instruction. The parent influences the child this way or that. The artist-master plies his pupil. The brave general or discoverer inspires and stimulates his men by multiform motives. The charioteer holds the reins, guides his steeds, restrains or lifts the scourge. Similarly, man holds the reins of influence over man, and is himself in turn guided. So, friend shapes and molds friend. This is what gives its meaning to conversation, oratory, journalism, reforms. Each man stands at the center of a great network of voluntary influence for good. Through words, bearing and gesture, he sends out his energies. Oftentimes a single speech has effected great reforms. Oft one man’s act has deflected the stream of the centuries. Full oft a single word has been like a switch that turns a train from the route running toward the frozen North, to a track leading into the tropic South.

Not seldom has a youth been turned from the way of integrity by the influence of a single friend. Endowed as man is, the weight of his being effects the most astonishing results. Witness Stratton’s conversation with the drunken bookbinder whom we know as John B. Gough, the apostle of temperance. Witness Moffat’s words that changed David Livingstone, the weaver, into David Livingstone, the savior of Africa. Witness Garibaldi’s words fashioning the Italian mob into the conquering army. Witness Garrison and Beecher and Phillips and John Bright. Rivers, winds, forces of fire and steam are impotent compared to those energies of mind and heart, that make men equal to transforming whole communities and even nations. Who can estimate the soul’s conscious power? Who can measure the light and heat of last summer? Who can gather up the rays of the stars? Who can bring together the odors of last year’s orchards? There are no mathematics for computing the influence of man’s voluntary thought, affection and aspiration upon his fellows.

Man, has also an unpurposed influence. Power goes forth without his distinct volition. Like all centers of energy, the soul does its best work automatically. The sun does not think of lifting the mist from the ocean, yet the vapor moves skyward. Often man is ignorant of what he accomplishes upon his fellows, but the results are the same. He is surcharged with energy. Accomplishing much by plan, he does more through unconscious weight of personality. In wonder-words we are told the apostle purposely wrought deeds of mercy upon the poor. Yet through his shadow falling on the weak and sick as he passed by, he unconsciously wrought health and hope in men. In like manner, it is said that while Jesus Christ was seeking to comfort the comfortless, involuntarily virtue went out of him to strengthen one who did but touch the hem of his garment. Character works with or without consent. The selfish man fills his office with a malign atmosphere; his very presence chills like a cold, clammy day. Suspicious people fill all the circle in which they live with envy and jealousy. Moody men distribute gloom and depression; hopelessness drains off high spirits as cold iron draws the heat from the hand. Domineering men provoke rebellion and breed endless irritations.

Great hearts there are also among men; they carry a volume of manhood; their presence is sunshine, their coming changes our climate; they oil the bearings of life; their shadow always falls behind them; they make right living easy. Blessed are the happiness-makers! they represent the best forces in civilization. They are to the heart and home what the honeysuckle is to the door over which it clings. These embodied gospels interpret Christianity. Jenny Lind explains a sheet of printed music--and a royal Christian heart explains, and is more than a creed. Little wonder, when Christianity is incarnated in a mother, that the youth worships her as though she were an angel. Someone has likened a church full of people to a box of unlighted candles; latent light is there; if they were only kindled and set burning they would be lights indeed. What God asks for is luminous Christians and living gospels.

Another form of influence continues after death, and may be called unconscious immortality or conserved social energy. Personality is organized into instruments, tools, books, institutions. Over these forms of activity death and years have no power for destroying. The swift steamboat and the flying train tell us that Watt and Stephenson are still toiling for men. Every foreign cablegram reminds us that Cyrus Field has just returned home. The merchant who organizes a great business sends down to the generations his personality, prudence, wisdom and executive skill. The names of inventors may now be on moldering tombstones, but their busy fingers are still weaving warm textures for the world’s poor. The gardener of Hampton court, who, in old age, wished to do yet one more helpful deed, and planted with elms and oaks the roadway leading to the historic house, still lives in those columnar trees, and all the long summer through distributes comfort and refreshment. Every man who opens up a roadway into the wilderness; every engineer throwing a bridge over icy rivers for weary travelers; every builder rearing abodes of peace, happiness and refinement for his generation; every smith forging honest plates that hold great ships in time of storm, every patriot that redeems his land with blood; every martyr forgotten and dying in his dungeon that freedom might never perish; every teacher and discoverer who has gone into lands of fever and miasma to carry liberty, intelligence and religion to the ignorant, still walks among men, working for society and is unconsciously immortal.

This is fame. Life hath no holier ambition. Some there are who, denied opportunity, have sought out those ambitious to learn, and, educating them, have sent their own personality out through artists, jurists or authors they have trained. Herein is the test of the greatness of editor or statesman or merchant. He has so incarnated his ideas or methods in his helpers that, while his body is one, his spirit has many-shaped forms; so, that his journal, or institution, or party feels no jar nor shock in his death, but moves quietly forward because he is still here living and working in those into whom his spirit is incarnated. Death ends the single life, but our multiplied life in others survives.

The supreme example of atmosphere and influence is Jesus Christ. His was a force mightier than intellect. Wherever he moved a light ne’er seen on land nor sea shone on man. It was more than eminent beauty or supreme genius. His scepter was not through cunning of brain or craft of hand; reality was his throne. “Therefore,” said Charles Lamb, “if Shakespeare should enter the room we should rise and greet him uncovered, but kneeling meet the Nazarene.” His gift cannot be bought nor commanded; but his secret and charm may be ours. Acceptance, obedience, companionship with him, these are the keys of power. The legend is, that so long as the Grecian hero touched the ground, he was strong; and measureless the influence of him who ever dwells in Christ’s atmosphere. Man, grows like those he loves. If great men come in groups, there is always a greater man in the midst of the company from whom they borrowed eminence, Socrates and his disciples; Cromwell and his friends; Coleridge and his company; Emerson and the Boston group; high over all the twelve disciples and the Name above every name. Perchance, in vision-hour, over against the man you are he will show you the man he would fain have you become; thereby comes greatness. For value is not in iron, but in the pattern, that molds it; beauty is not in the pigments, but in the ideal that blends them; strength is not in the stone or marble, but in the plan of architect; greatness is not in wisdom, nor wealth, nor skill, but in the divine Christ who works up these raw materials of character. Forevermore the secret of eminence is the secret of the Messiah.


“Heaven doth with us as we with torches do, not light them for themselves, for if our virtues Did not go forth of us, ‘twere all alike as if we had them not. Spirits are not finely touched but to fine issues, nor Nature never lends the smallest scruple of her excellence, But, like a thrifty goddess, she determines Herself the glory of a creditor, Both thanks and use.” Measure for Measure.

“A man was born, not for prosperity, but to suffer for the benefit of others, like the noble rock maple, which, all round our villages, bleeds for the service of man.” Emerson.

“Everything cries out to us that we must renounce. Thou must go without, go without! That is the everlasting song which every hour, all our life through, hoarsely sings to us: Die, and come to life; for so long as this is not accomplished thou art but a troubled guest upon an earth of gloom.” Goethe.

The oases in the Arabian desert lie under the lee of long ridges of rock. The high cliffs extending from north to south are barriers against the drifting sand. Standing on the rocky summit the seer Isaiah beheld a sea whose yellow waves stretched to the very horizon. By day the winds were still, for the pitiless Asiatic sun made the desert a furnace whose air rose upward. But when night falls the wind rises. Then the sand begins to drift. Soon every object lies buried under yellow flakes. Anon, sandstorms arise. Then the sole hope for man is to fall upon his face; the sky rains bullets. Then appears the ministry of the rocks. They stay the drifting sand. To the yellow sea, they say: “Thus far, but no farther.” Desolation is held back. Soon the land under the lee of the rocks becomes rich. It is fed by springs that seep out of the cliffs. It becomes a veritable oasis with figs and olives and vineyards and aromatic shrubs. Here dwell the sheik and his flocks. Hither come the caravans seeking refreshment. In all the Orient no spot so beautiful as the oasis under the shadow of the rocks. Long centuries ago, while Isaiah rejoiced under the beneficent ministry of these cliffs, his thoughts went out from dead rocks to living men. In his vision, he saw good men as Great Hearts, to whom crowded close the weak and ignorant, seeking protection. Sheltered thereby barren lives were nourished into bounty and beauty. With leaping heart and streaming eyes, he cried out; “O, what a desert is life but for the ministry of the higher manhood! To what shall I liken a good man? A man shall be as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land; a shelter in the time of storm!”

Optimists always, we believe God’s world is a good world. Joy is more than sorrow; happiness outweighs misery; the reasons for living are more numerous than the reasons against it. But let the candid mind confess that life hath aspects very desert-like. Today prosperity grows like a fruitful tree; to-morrow adversity’s hot winds wither every leaf. God plants companion, child, or friend in the life-garden; but death blasts the tree under which the soul finds shelter; then begins the desert pilgrimage. Soon comes loss of health; then the wealth of Croesus availeth not for refreshing sleep, and the wisdom of Solomon is vanity and vexation of spirit. The common people, too, know blight and blast; their life is full of mortal toil and strife, its fruitage grief and pain. Temptations and evil purposes are the chief blights. When the fiery passion hath passed, the soul is like a city swept by a conflagration. Each night we go before the judgment seat. Reason hears the case; memory gives evidence; conscience convicts, each faculty goes to the left; self-respect pushes us out of paradise into the desert; and the angels of our better nature guard the gates with flaming swords.

A journey among men is like a journey through some land after the cyclone has made the village a heap and the harvest fields a waste. An outlook upon the generations reminds us of a highway along which the retreating army has passed, leaving abandoned guns and silent cannon with men dead and dying. Travelers from tropical Mexico describe ruined cities and lovely villages away from which civilized men journey, leaving temples and terraced gardens to moss and ivy. The deserted valleys are rich in tropic fruits and the climate soft and gentle. Yet Aztecs left the garden to journey northward into the deserts of Arizona and New Mexico. Often for the soul paradise is not before, but behind.

Shakespeare condenses all this in “King Lear.” Avarice closes the palace doors against the white-haired King. Greed pushes him into the night to wander o’er the wasted moor, an exiled king, uncrowned and uncared for. In such hours, garden becomes desert. This is the drama of man’s life. The soul thirsts for sympathy. It hungers for love. Baffled and broken it seeks a great heart. For the pilgrim multitudes Moses was the shadow on a great rock in a weary land. For poor, hunted David, Jonathan was a covert in time of storm. Savonarola, Luther, Cromwell sheltered perishing multitudes. Solitary in the midst of the vale in which death will soon dig a grave for each of us stands the immortal Christ, “the shadow of a great rock in a weary land.”