Influence (WBG)

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This essay appeared in The Massachusetts Teacher, Jan. 1857, (pg. 14) over the signature "W. B. G." Its authorship is uncertain, but, like "What Is the Minus Quantity?", which appeared in the same journal in Sept. 1860, it bears enough resemblance to the work of William B. Greene to warrant inclusion here.


  • W. B. G. "Influence." Massachusetts Teacher and Journal of Home and School Education. Jan. 1857, pg. 14.


IT is a law of physics, that two bodies cannot occupy the same place at the same time. If motion is produced in a body, it is communicated to the one adjacent. If a single particle of a body is disturbed, the influence is felt by the one next to it, and so on till the whole body is moved.

Were the waters of the mighty deep in a state of perfect rest, the motion produced in a single drop, by the coral insect secreting a minute particle of solid matter, would be felt throughout the whole mass. A pebble cast into the quiet bosom of the lake, producing those circling waves that go chasing each other, enlarging as they go, moves every atom of the vast body, from centre to circumference. One stamp of the foot shakes the earth to its very centre, A word uttered, sets in motion particles of air, the effects of which will continue to the very extremities of the atmosphere; and for aught we know, the sound will continuo through illimitable space, and words spoken, will ring in our ears forever.

This law, so universal in the material world, has its analogy in the realm of thought. A single idea induces another, and the mind is thrown upon a train of thought that will determine its destiny forever.

A single truth, happily conceived by the mind, often develops itself in the wonderful productions of the artist and sculptor, the works of the author; and the labors of the statesman.

Raphael and Angelo, Newton, Shakspeare, and Milton, Locke and Washington, exerted an influence that ceased not with their lives. But as long as there remains in man a taste for the beautiful, a capacity to comprehend the operations of the laws of nature, to appreciate the value of literature of the highest order, poetic imagery the most sublime, a realization of the benefits of a liberal and republican form of government,—so long will these great masters exert a powerful influence in the world.

There is going forth from every sentient being, an influence, insensible it may be, yet constant, and with almost unlimited effect. The mother, as she watches the expanding mind of her offspring, and gives direction to its wanderings, is exerting an influence that may affect the destinies of nations, perhaps of the world. Little did the mother of Napoleon think that she was training a mind that it would require the combined forces of all Europe to subdue, and which, even when chained upon a dreary rock in the ocean, would astonish the world by the meteor flashes of his genius How little did the mother of Washington think that she was instilling into his mind, principles that would make him the instrument of establishing a government that would rise to be one of the first on earth.

The early training of Luther and Melancthon prepared them to grapple with the errors of the church, to break its almost unlimited power, and deliver the earth from spiritual bondage.

The teacher, whether of science, morals, or religion, is exerting an untold influence. The mind comes under his care in that plastic state that makes it susceptible of being moulded into almost any form, and turned in almost any direction. "As the twig is bent, the tree is inclined." So the mind takes the direction given by its teachers in youth; and in its maturity, can no more be changed, than can the gnarled trunk of the full-grown oak be straightened. Says another, "You may build temples of marble, and they will perish. You may erect statues of brass, and they will crumble to dust. But he who works upon the human mind, implanting noble thoughts and generous impulses, is rearing structures that shall never perish. He is writing upon tablets whose material is indestructible; which age will not efface, but will brighten and brighten to all eternity."

How responsible, then, is the position of the parent and teacher,—and yet how glorious!

When called to give our final account at the bar of our Great Judge, it is there and then we shall know the effect of our influence. And upon the minds of those under our influence we shall trace the imprint, as it wore, of our hand, which shall not be effaced, but shall enlarge and deepen to all eternity.

W. B. G.