A Philosophical Dictionary
Character comes from the Greek word for "impression" and "engraving." It is what nature has carved in us. Can we erase or change it? A wonderful question. If I have a bent nose and two cat-like eyes, I can hide them behind a mask. Do I have more power or even as much over the character nature has given me? 5 A man born violent and hot-headed comes before King Francis I of France to complain about an injury. The appearance of the king, the respectful behavior of those near the king, and the size of the palace make a very powerful impression on this man. He lowers his eyes, his course voice becomes soft. He presents his petition humbly. One would think him as gentle as those courtiers who always go with the king. He is even confused while he is in this strange and unfamiliar place. But if the king will read 10 the man's face, he will know everything he needs to know. The king will easily discover in the lowered eyes a deep fire. By seeing the tightened muscles of this man's face and his lips pressed against each other, the king will realize that the man is not as gentle as he is forced to appear. But the king doesn't notice these signs. This man follows the king to war and both are taken and thrown in jail. In prison, the king no longer makes the same kind of impression on the man. He begins to lose respect for the king. One day, while he is pulling off the king's boots and pulling them off badly, the king, made bitter by misfortune, becomes angry. The man's violent temper comes back. He attacks the king, murders him, and throws his boots out the window. As the Roman writer Horace said, "Drive out nature with a pitchfork, she'll always return." 20 Religion and ethics put a curb on nature's strength but they cannot destroy it. The drunkard in a hospital, reduced to cider with his meals, will not get drunk anymore. But he will always love wine. Age weakens character. Character is like a tree, which, when it grows...
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