The Young Man's Guide to the Harmonious
Development of Christian Character

by Harvey Newcomb, 1847


Perhaps some of my readers, when they see the title of this chapter, will think only of confinement in school, of books, and of hard study, and so be inclined to pass over it, as a dry subject, which they have so much to do with, every day, that they have no wish to think of it in a moment of relaxation. But I beg them to stop a minute, and not throw me away, among the old school-books, until they have heard me through. I assure them that I use the term education in a far different sense. I think it means much more than going to school and studying books. This is only a small part of education. Mr. Walker defines education, "The formation of manners in youth." But this is a very imperfect definition; and I am afraid there may be found some who would even doubt whether education has anything to do with manners. Mr. Webster gives a better definition:—"Education comprehends all that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to enlighten the understanding, correct the temper, and form the manners and habits of youth, and fit them for usefulness in their future stations;"—all, in fact, that is necessary to make a man or a woman—a gentleman or a lady.

The original root, from which the word education is derived, means to lead out, to conduct, to form, to fashion, to beat out, to forge. It was used with reference to the forging of an instrument out of a piece of metal, or the chiseling of a statue out of a block of marble. This furnishes a good illustration of my ideas of education. It is a process by which a character is formed out of crude or unwrought materials. It is not confined to mere school learning. A person may be very learned, and yet not half educated. There are many steps in the process. The ore must first be dug up by the miner; then smelted at the furnace, and the metal separated from the dross; then wrought into bars at the foundry; afterwards forged by the smith; and then, finally, polished by the finisher. The marble must first be quarried, or blasted out of the ledge; then cut into blocks; then transported; then wrought with the hammer and chisel; and finally, polished. This gives a good idea of education. It is not merely what is done to form the character in school; but it comprises all the influences which are exerted upon the young, in training them up and forming their characters. Education begins in the family. It is carried forward in the school. It is affected, for good or for evil, by the influence of public worship, lectures, books, amusements, scenery, companions, &c. In all places and circumstances, something is doing towards the formation of character.

Yet there is one important respect in which education, or the formation of character, differs essentially from the process described in this illustration. The block of marble, or the piece of metal, is passive; the whole process is performed upon it by another. But no person can be educated in this way; everyone that is educated must be active. You may be drilled through all the schools, and have every advantage at home and in society; and yet, without your own active cooperation, you can never be educated. But, if you are determined to be educated, you will turn everything to some account. Everything will be a school to you; for you will make contributions to your stock of knowledge from every object you see; and by seeking to act discreetly, wisely, and correctly, in every place, you will be constantly forming good habits. Like the little busy bee, you will suck honey from every flower. You will commune with your own heart upon your bed, and exercise your powers of thought in useful meditation. You will converse with God in your secret place, and seek wisdom of Him who has promised to give liberally to those that ask. In company, you will be more ready to hear than to speak; and you will never meet with any so ignorant but you may learn from them some useful lessons. You will exercise your mind upon every person and object you meet. You will study philosophy in the fields, by the brooks, on the hills, in the valleys, and upon the broad canopy of heaven. It has been well observed, that the difference between a wise man and a fool is, that one goes through the world with his eyes wide open, while the other keeps them shut.

You will perceive, then, that your education is continually going on, whether you think of it or not. Your character is constantly forming. It is your business to keep out of the way of bad influences, and submit yourself to the molding of the good. Keep in mind the great truth that you are forming a character for eternity. Some years ago, there were found on the banks of the Mississippi River the tracks of a human being, deeply imprinted in the solid rock. These tracks were made in the soft clay, which in time became hardened, and formed into stone;—now, the impression is immovable. You now resemble this soft clay. Everything with which you come in contact makes an impression. But, as you grow older, your character acquires solidity, and is less and less affected by these influences, until at length it will be like the hard stone, and the impressions made upon you at this season will become confirmed habits.

All the impressions made upon your character ought to be such as will not need to be removed. Washington Allston, the great painter, had been a long time at work on a most magnificent painting. He had nearly completed it, when his keen eye discovered some defects in a portion of the piece. He hastily drew his rough brush over that portion of the picture, intending to paint it anew. But in the midst of his plans, death seized him, and his painting remains, just as he left it. No other person can carry out the conception that was in his mind. If you allow wrong impressions to be made upon your forming character, death may meet you with his stern mandate, and fix them forever, as immovable as it left the rough print of the coarse brush upon Allston's canvass.