When we meet a man who cannot make up his mind, or argue his case, or assert his personality, we say, "He is a man of no character." This phrase is perhaps the most comprehensive denunciation of a man.
A man of character is he who commands the respect and admiration of all. It is true, that in many cases heredity and upbringing play their part in strengthening and perfecting a man's character. Then there is the influence of the age in which one lives. Valtair says, "Every man, as to character, is the creature of the age in which he lives." Yet we believe that the best type of character, is not formed thus. What, then are the essentials of character as we imagine it.
Character is the sum of those qualities, actions and tendencies which distinguish one man from another. In this scene many men do not have definite character. As Oscar Wilde puts it, "Most people are other people". Their thoughts are some one else's opinions. their passions a quotations". So the first essential of character is individuality and independence. It does not mean that the man of character should all the time do what others have not done to keep up his independence. That would be foolishness. What is meant is that the man of character should be able to go against the accepted view or opinion or convention when his judgment guides him to do so.
Another essential of character is that the evil passions should be effectively checked or conquered. A man of character is not to be swayed of his path of duty and rectitude by a temptation. All of us cannot be saints. But if we have any pretensions to character we should see that we do not give way to evil passions. These cannot be destroyed altogether, but they should be held in check. As Coleridge says, "As there is much best and some devil in man, so is there some angel and some God in man. The beast and the devil may be conquered but in this life never destroyed." The angel and God in man should be strengthened by good action as the 'beast and devil' are held in check. "The best characters are made by vigorous and persistent resistance to evil tendencies", says Dexter.
This means that the man of character should have a regulated and finely tempered will. On the negative side it would help him to restrain and control undesirable feelings; on the positive side it would enable him to make up his mind about something quickly and finally. Novalis says, "Character is perfectly educated will." More than this, one's mind should be balanced. Prejudices should not be encouraged. A man of prejudices and superstitions cannot be a man of character.
Along with this a good heart should go. Character is not made up of sterner qualities only. John Todd says "A good heart, benevolent feelings, and a balanced mind, lie at the foundation of character". The man of character should be humane charitable to those who have no character. He should not, however, be full of cheap sentiments. Sentiments never form character, they destroy the foundations of character.
Lastly, a man of character should have moral courage in the right sense of the term. Without this character will not stand the wear and tear of life. It is the courage that makes a man give up all selfish motives of gain, and go to any length defending the right cause. It is this which makes others realize what stuffs a man is made of. It makes one feared by the evil doers and admired by the good.
We have indicated all these essential of character. How are they to be acquired? Says Frank Cody, "There is no single royal road to character, a variety of routine will always need to be used." But one thing is certain. It is on our action that much depends. Foude says "You cannot dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge one for yourself." Goethe remarks. "Talents are best nurtured in solitude; character is best formed in the story billows of the world."