A beautiful pier was built at great expense by Government many years ago on the stormy west coast of Scotland, to defend the harbour of a fishing village. The great stones of which it was composed were bound together by clamps of iron, and it looked as if it could defy the utmost fury of the waves. Nevertheless, in one of the violent storms that visit that iron- bound coast, a little damage was done to the most exposed part of the structure. When the people saw the first time after the storm there was to be seen in it only a hole of moderate extent, that could have been repaired without much labour. But somehow the breach was left unmended, and naturally grew bigger year by year until, on the occasion of my last visit to the town, half of the pier had sunk in ruin under the waves, and it was evident that to repair it would cost as much as the building of a new pier. The expediency of the stitch in time is exemplified not only by the destructions of material fabrics, the rents in which are neglected, but also in medicine, politics, and in intellectual and moral education. How often has a doctor to tell his patient that, if he had been consulted earlier he might have effected an easy cure, but that now more drastic remedies must be employed! A literary man, for instance, suffers from indigestion due to overwork and want of exercise.
A short holiday in the country might restore him to good health if only he took it in time. But he has important work to do and is averse to taking any rest before he has finished it. So he goes on working until the symptoms become so threatening that he finds himself compelled to consult a doctor. To his surprise he finds that entire change of diet and absolute idleness for a long period of time are now needed to cure a disease, the progress of which might have been arrested with very little trouble at an earlier stage. It is the same with the body politic. The best politicians see in good time evils which, if allowed to go on unchecked, will swell to alarming dimensions. Thus the just discontent felt by the people of France on account of the privileges enjoyed by the clergy and nobles might have been appeased by remedial legislation; but, as the cure was delayed, the feeling of disaffection went on shouldering and gathering force, until at last it could no longer be extinguished and produced the horrors of the French Revolution.
That no revolution has taken place in England for the last two hundred years is due to the fact that English politicians have been willing to anticipate rebellion by timely reforms. In mental and moral education, there is the same need of extirpating evil tendencies before they have had time to be confirmed by habit. If a child shows an inclination to untruthfulness, cruelty, idleness, or any other bad quality, efforts should immediately be made to eradicate the fault; for the first steps in the formation of bad habits, which might easily have been checked by judicious advice or punishment while the mind was still docile, may lead in manhood to confirmed vice.