Advice to Young Men on Their
Duties and Conduct in Life
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1855
The Age of Maturity and Responsibility
Friends and Associates
Improvement of the Mind
Indolence and Lack of Order
Conduct among Men
Music and Dancing
Entering into Business
This book is the result of an application to the writer to prepare a volume addressed to young men. In reflecting upon the subject, after having agreed to write the book, it was assumed that there are two classes of young men — one made up of those who feel the force of good principles, and are in some willingness to act from them; and the other composed of such as are led mainly by their impulses, feelings, passions, and selfish interests. And it was also assumed that, as society looks to the former as her regenerators, and not to the latter, it would be most useful to present such views of life as would help the former to see and feel the importance of their position, and the necessity there was for them to act from the highest principles. This volume is therefore addressed to the thinking faculty, and seeks to lead young men to just conclusions, from reflections upon what they are, and what are their duties in society, as integral parts of the common body. It is therefore a serious book — or, it might be called a thoughtful book — and should be read in a thoughtful spirit. To those who will thus read it, it is believed that it will prove deeply interesting; and all whom it interests it must benefit.
Satisfied that those who read it as it should be read, cannot fail to have their good purposes strengthened, and their minds elevated into sounder views of life than usually prevail in common society — the writer, having completed his task, dismisses it from his hands, and turns to the consideration of other matters that require his attention.
We solicit, in the beginning, the earnest attention of those for whom we write. We have a purpose in view, which cannot be clearly seen and appreciated, unless all that is said is understood and carefully considered. False views of life prevail everywhere, and especially with those just attaining the age of moral accountability. The books that are written for the young, the oral precepts that fall from the lips of age, too often give erroneous ideas of man's true nature and the end of his being. There is too great a disposition to offer precepts that regard only temporal well-doing — to furnish the means by which wealth is acquired — to regard mere natural life as of primary importance. Since the days of the adage, "A penny saved, is a penny gained," people seem to have forgotten that there is something to be saved and gained more precious than even gold or silver. They seem to have forgotten that man has a destiny beyond the attainment of mere wealth. And, as the leading views held and practiced upon by the majority of a whole people must be transmitted to, and impressed upon, the minds of the young — and, in turn, influence their whole lives, the natural consequence is, that a large proportion of young men, as soon as they begin to think and act for themselves, seem to have all ideas and ends merged in the one great pursuit of wealth for its own sake.
The time seems to have arrived for a clear and strong presentation of the real truth on this important subject. Whether the writer of this volume has the ability to do so, or not, will appear in the sequel. In pursuing his task, his object will be to make his readers not only think with him, but to furnish them with leading truths that will cause them to think for themselves, and decide for themselves, in all the varied relations of life in which circumstances may place them. Mere precepts for the young are of little use; they are rarely, if ever, regarded; and it is because they do not appeal to the mind's reasoning faculty. They are but abstract enunciations, which come not into the mind as parts of its own conclusions. What is essential is, that a whole idea of life should be imparted, and the young man made to feel that the correctness of the great result — when the problem is, at last, worked out — will depend as much upon the wisdom of his actions at the outset of life, as at any other period — nay, more so; for the nearer to the beginning of a problem the error lies, the farther will the final result be from the truth.
Thus much briefly premised, we shall begin at the beginning, and, first of all, speak of man's origin, nature, and destiny. Without a correct knowledge of these, life-precepts are as likely to be wrong as right, and man is upon the surface of a vast ocean, without helm, chart, or compass. This portion of our work need not be dry and uninteresting — we are sure it will not be so to any who are in a state of mind to derive benefit from a book written for young men. We especially ask for it a thoughtful perusal.
Age of Maturity and Responsibility
Up to the age of twenty-one years, or to that period when a young man is free from the control of his parents, guardian, or master, his rational mind is not fully developed. He acts from others more than from himself, and others are responsible, to a very great extent, for his actions. But when he becomes a full-grown man, when both mind and body have attained sufficient maturity to enable him to think and act wisely and efficiently for himself, then he takes the reigns of government into his own hands, and becomes entirely responsible for his actions, both as regards human and divine laws. This is the most important period in his whole life; for the consequences of an error here are felt at every subsequent stage of existence.
A serious consideration this, and one that ought to press, with no ordinary weight, upon the mind of every young man; and the more especially so when the undeniable fact is announced to him, that scarcely one in ten fail at this period of their lives, to fall into some error that entails upon after life more or less of disability and unhappiness.
Calm and sober reflection, and not thoughtless self-indulgence, should distinguish every young man at this time. The destiny of an immortal being, created in the likeness and image of God, is in his hands. Through the intricate mazes of life, by his own wisdom and prudence — enlightened, it is true, from God, if he will but look up — he must guide this being either to a sun-bright haven at last, or to destruction upon the gloomy shores of despair and misery! Considerations like these are, surely, enough to make the most thoughtless pause, and regard with prudent caution, every footfall in the way of life.
But reflection and prudence need not bring gloom, but cheerful confidence. When a man opens his eyes, and sees that, in a path he was about to walk in with heedless steps, there are innumerable dangers, and wisely chooses a better and a safer way — he has cause for emotions of delight, rather than depression. And such is the result with every young man who, when just entering upon a life of freedom and responsibility, wisely reflects, and shuns all the allurements of false pleasures, and the excesses into which all, at this period, are tempted to run.
A common error into which very many fall at this period, is the belief that they may run into various excesses, and indulge themselves inordinately in sensual pleasures for a few years, or during the brighter days of their spring-time, and, after that, assume the more important and real business of life. This is a most dangerous error, and for the reason that it is an immutable law of order in the human mind — that all which precedes in a man's life, goes to make up his character in all its subsequent formations. This can only be seen by those who understand something about the real nature of man, as a spiritually organized being. To those who think superficially, and only from appearances, the idea of substance and form appertains only to material things, and, so far as man is concerned, to his body only. But the real truth is, man's substantial part is his spirit, while his body is only a form, organized and built up from inert material particles, as a piece of beautiful machinery, by which the soul can act in the material world. It is this spiritual soul which is the true man.
The material eye, for instance, does not see. It, as matter, has no power of vision; but it is a window through which the eye of the spirit can look out and see natural objects. The mere closing of this window does not destroy the spiritual eye; it only takes away its medium of sight into the natural world. So of the ear, and so of all the external senses — they are but the avenues through which the senses of the soul take cognizance of things in the outer and lower world of matter. The true sight of the spirit is its power to perceive truth, and its sense of hearing, its willingness to obey the truth so perceived. That this is so, all mankind have a common perception. For, when one attempts to present a truth to your understanding, he says, "Don't you see?" And when a father wishes to impress the necessity of obedience to a precept upon his child, he says, "Do you hear?" The ground of this lies in the fact, as just stated, that there is in the human mind a perception that the soul's vision is its power to see truth, and its hearing is its willingness to obey.
From this it may be seen that man's spiritual body — his soul — is a real something — that it can see and hear, and that the natural body has, really, no eye nor ear, but only organized forms by which the spiritual eye and ear can see into and hearken in the natural world. Now, if this is true of the eye and the ear, it is true of the whole body in every general and particular thing appertaining to it; and, as the natural body, which is an outbirth from the spiritual body, is a form beautifully organized in all its parts, and is called a substance as well as a form — is it not clear that the spiritual body, the soul, is also a substance and a form? nay, that the only true substantiality is in the spiritual body, which can never die, but which retains its existence and its powers forever?
Keeping this in view, it may readily be perceived that impressions can be made on this spiritual form and substance, which will be as lasting as any thing made upon the body. That this is so, mankind have seen, in all ages, and hence the adage — "Just as the twig is bent — the tree is inclined;" and the thousand wise precepts in the codes of morality to be found in all nations, referring to the power of habit.
The position here taken is, that the natural body is the material form with which the spiritual body, the soul, clothes itself, in order to act in the material world; if this be true — and we are sure no rational man can for a moment question it — then we may, by analogy, determine some of the laws which govern the soul, by observing those which govern the natural body.
Now, the laws of natural health are those which govern the natural body, and, when obeyed, all its machinery goes on right; and it is but a wise inference to say that the laws of spiritual health are those which govern in the spiritual body, and, when obeyed, spiritual health must be the result. If we disregard the laws of natural health — diseased impressions are made upon the body, more or less apparent, which ever after remain, and show themselves, no matter how careful we may be, in after life, under certain and particular circumstances, and deprive us of some measure of ability to perform fully our duties or wishes in life. If the laws of health have been grossly abused, more serious consequences follow; and, sometimes, men's whole lives are rendered burdensome, and they, perhaps, unfitted for nearly all active duties, in consequence. Precisely similar will be the result where the laws of spiritual health have been disregarded.
"What are the laws of spiritual health?" is asked. We answer, the Decalogue, or the Ten Commandments, contains the laws of spiritual health, as laid down by the Creator of man, who alone can know what is in man, and what laws to establish for his government, in order to secure his happiness. The violation of any one of these laws, even in intention, will bring spiritual disease, as certainly as the violation of any law of natural health will produce natural disease; and this disease will impress the substance and form of the soul, and produce a change from true order, that no subsequent obedience to right precepts will ever entirely restore.
It would be easy to show how the indulgence of every inordinate desire — to do which young men are so strongly tempted — is a violation of some precept of the Decalogue, and tends to destroy spiritual health; but to do so, would extend this preliminary part of our work too far. What we have already advanced is deemed essential to the formation of true ideas in regard to life and its responsibilities, and we cannot but think that its bearing will be clearly seen. In other parts of our work, we shall keep in view the laws here laid down, and show their bearing in actual life.
From what is advanced in this chapter, we think every reflecting young man will feel the necessity of examining his ends, as well as guarding his actions, and be exceedingly careful what impressions are made in the substance and form of his soul.
The most common error into which young men fall at this era in their lives — as was intimated in the last chapter — is to consider the age of freedom from the control of others, as a period of license for self-indulgence. Far too many run into extremes, and either injure their health, or form evil habits that ever after stand in the way of virtuous respectability, or success, as professional or business men. That this is a very serious error, need not here be said. These bad habits are of various kinds. We will notice one of them in this chapter, as the most prevalent.
The habit of spending money too freely in the gratification of a host of imaginary wants, is one into which young men of generous minds are too apt to fall. Limited to a small income previously, and compelled to deny themselves at nearly every point, they find it almost impossible to resist the impulse that prompts to self-gratification, and are thus led to spend, perhaps for years, the entire sum of their earnings, and, more than probable, to run into debt. The folly of this, everyone can see and acknowledge, and yet many have not the resolution to act up to their convictions.
This habit of spending money uselessly has marred the fortunes of more young men than any other cause. It is a weakness that should be firmly and constantly resisted by every one. Money should be considered as a means by which man has power to act usefully in the world — and he ought to endeavor to obtain it with that end in view. The greater a man's wealth, the broader may be, if he but wills it — the sphere of his usefulness. It is true that men do not seek for wealth under the impulse of such high considerations, and, in the present condition of the human mind, from causes just explained, it cannot be expected that they would do so.
But the first thing a man has to do in the work of self-elevation, is to shun what is evil because it is evil. And if a young man, who is constantly tempted to spend his money foolishly, should refrain from doing so from the consideration that it was wrong to waste that by which he might ultimately be useful to his fellows, he will be very apt, in after life, to feel, under all circumstances of expenditure, that he must not be entirely unmindful of the effect of his acts upon others.
One means for the correction of this fault, may be found in a regular account of receipts and expenditures. A young man, whose income was one hundred and fifty pounds a year, was asked by a friend how much money he had saved. He had been receiving this salary about four years, and had no expenses whatever except those that were personal.
"Saved!" returned the young man, in surprise. "I can't save anything out of one hundred and fifty pounds a year."
"I saved money on a salary of one hundred pounds," was the friend's quick reply.
"I would be most happy to know your secret," said the other. "I have tried fifty times to save up something, but its no use."
"What does your boarding cost you?"
"Fifteen shillings a week."
"Or not quite forty pounds a year. Add your washing, and it will make forty-four pounds. Next comes your tailor's bill. How much is that?"
"Generally about twenty-five pounds."
"Fifteen pounds more, I suppose, will pay for your boots, and the various little etceteras of clothing not included in your tailor's bill?"
"O, yes, fully, I should think."
"Very well. Where are the remaining sixty-six pounds?"
"Heaven knows, for I don't," was the young man's reply.
"What does your account book say?"
"Account book! I don't keep an account book. I never dreamed of such a thing."
"That is strange! Why, I keep my own cash account as carefully as I do my employer's."
"I don't know any particular good that does," said the young man. "Keeping an account of your money doesn't make it go any further."
"O, yes it does. Keep an account of every item spent for a month, and read it over carefully on the first of the following one, and my word for it, if you have any disposition to prudence in you, it will cause you to be more careful of your money; for you will see there the haunting ghosts of too many pounds spent in foolish self-indulgence, the pleasures of which endured but for a brief season, and left you a less contented mind than you had previously enjoyed. In a little while, such account keeping, if you adopt it, will show you where your sixty pounds a year have gone.
My reason for asking you the question was this: one of the best opportunities for going into a safe and profitable business that I have yet seen, has just presented itself. To enter into it, will require a capital of four hundred pounds. I have laid aside two hundred, and fully believed you had accumulated as much, and that jointly we might improve so rare an opportunity. But this, I am sorry to find, is not the case. I must seek for someone else who has the sum that is needed."
This lesson the young man laid to heart, and profited by it. From that day, he kept a regular account of his expenses, and soon found that, with the data it afforded, and a little resolution and self-denial, he could save up money — a thing he had before deemed impossible.
A good resolution, perhaps the best a young man can form on this subject, is always to live below his income, let it be whatever it will. It may require, in some cases, a good deal of self-denial to do this; but such self-denial will be well repaid. We know a young man, who, at the age of twenty-two, married, while his income was but two pounds a week. Instead of renting a whole house and going in debt for furniture — he rented a single room in the house of a friend, with the privilege of the kitchen, for about ten pounds a year. His resolution had long before been taken that he would always manage to spend less than he received, and he chose this modest style of living as a means of attaining his end. None of his friends or acquaintances thought the less of him for his prudence, but rather commended him. By living thus economically, he was able to lay aside twenty pounds during the first year, and the same for two or three years longer. Then a good opportunity offered for going into business, which was embraced. Some ten years since that period have elapsed, and he has just retired with a snug little competence of eight hundred to a thousand pounds.
This bad habit of living up to the income, seems to be the bane of all success. The cause of it is not in a small income — but in unsatisfied desires. The young man who spends his salary of eighty or a hundred pounds, is almost sure to run through everything he receives, when that salary is doubled. The gratification of one desire only makes way for another still more exacting. It is, therefore, of the first importance for a young man to guard himself here; if he does not, he is in danger of forming a habit that will go with him through life, and mar his fairest prospects. The prospects of thousands of young men have been thus marred.
A still worse error than spending the entire income, and one the effects of which are far more blighting to a young man's worldly prospects — is that of living beyond the income — either under the doubtful hope that it will be increased next year equal to the deficit of the present, or from the neglect of keeping a careful eye upon the relation existing between receipts and expenditures.
The most common way in which this going beyond the income occurs, is in making purchases on credit, instead of buying everything for cash. If a want is felt, and the means of satisfying it are not in hand — the true way is to wait until such means are received, rather than anticipate their receipt by running in debt. At the beginning of a quarter, too many make purchases to be paid at its expiration — instead of waiting until its close, and then, with cash in hand, buying just what they need, and no more. Their salaries are received and all paid away, for clothes worn, and board due, and they are left to anticipate another quarter's income, long before it comes into their hands.
Going in debt for clothing is a very common, but a very foolish practice. No one does it, who is not compelled to pay at least from ten to twenty percent more than he would if he always paid the cash down; and he is, besides, tempted to buy more than he otherwise would, and to choose more expensive garments. Then, while his six or twelve months' account is running on toward maturity, he is spending, little by little, foolishly, the money that ought to be saved for its payment; and when the day for payment comes, he often finds it impossible to satisfy the large demand against him, unless by borrowing from a friend, or getting an advance on his salary.
Does all this make him feel any happier? Is the consciousness of being in debt so very pleasant to a sensitive and honest mind? One would think that a young man's natural pride of independence would cause him to shrink from such a position, and use every means in his power to avoid it, instead of going into debt with his eyes open, as so many do.
It is wiser and more honorable for a man to wear his coat three or six months longer, until he has the money with which to buy a new one — than it is to go in debt for the garment, and thus lay a tax upon his future income, or run the risk of not being able to pay for what he has worn, at the time agreed upon.
A common subject of remark among young men, is their tailors' bills, and the difficulty of paying them. For a young man, with a fixed salary, and only himself to support, to have any tailor's bill at all, is no good sign, and speaks badly of his habits and future prospects.
Debt — debt! A young man is mad, we had almost said, to go in debt under any pretext whatever. We remember a bookbinder who from intemperance, got into debt; on reforming, he lived on broken biscuits, at a cent or two a pound, with tea made in his little kettle — he sleeping at night in the shaving-tub. This economical mode of living was continued until he got out of debt! How much better would it have been to have lived thus frugally, in order to have kept out of debt, had the necessity for so doing existed!
Almost any sacrifice of pride, feeling, and comfort, should be made by a young man — rather than run in debt; for, once get behindhand, and it seems next to impossible ever to recover yourself. You may toil early and late, and yet it will seem all in vain; and if you do, at length, get your feet on firm ground — it will be by the severest struggles.
The facility with which young men can get credit, is a great temptation to many, who feel that it is a very pleasant thing to get all they want, even without a shilling in their pockets, and have four, five, or six months given them to pay the bill. How utterly unconscious do they seem of the shortness of the period of six months! They look at it ahead, and it seems afar off, and approaching with but a slow pace. Before they are aware, however, it is upon them, and, they too often find — upon them much too soon.
This taxing the efforts of the future to pay for the expenditures of the present — is a folly so apparent, that one would think even a child must see and avoid it as a great evil. No one knows what is in the future, nor what will be his future ability to meet even his current expenditures — much less to take up the burdens of former times. If in the present we find it hard to provide for all our present wants, surely there should arise a dictate in regard to the future, and a carefulness how we spend next year, not only its own burdens, but a portion of those which belong to this year.
How does a young man know, when he contracts a debt to be paid in six months, that long before that time sickness, or the reduction of his income — may not make it very hard for him to meet even his bare expenses then, much less pay a bill contracted for previous wants — or more probably self-indulgence in something that a wise forethought would have prompted him to do without?
Not the least annoying and mortifying of the inseparable accompaniments of debt — is the liability to have demands made for money owed, at times when it is utterly impossible to satisfy them. How often is the honest intention hurt, the reputation destroyed, or a hopeful confidence in life chilled — by such sudden and imperative demands for payment of debt!
Friends and Associates
A lack of prudence in the use of money, at the beginning, may be confirmed into habits that will mar a man's fortunes for life — but a lack of due caution in regard to our associates is fraught with consequences far more direful! The effects of the first error are felt mainly in the inconveniences and disabilities of natural life; but the effects of the latter reach far deeper, and impress themselves upon man's mind and soul.
The laws of friendship are governed by mental and moral affinities, and are based upon qualities of mind and heart. The good are attracted toward each other, and the same thing occurs with the evil, when reciprocal interchanges of thoughts and feelings take place.
Now, in every association of either the good or the evil, there is a sphere of the quality of that association pervading the whole; and all who come into it, and voluntarily remain there, are more or less strongly affected by this sphere, and think and feel with the rest. Let a man who has a respect for order and obedience to the laws, go into a mob, and voluntarily remain there for a time, and he will be surprised to find his liveliest sympathies on the side of mob law; and the reason of it is, he feels the sphere of the quality of that mob's mind set — he is in it, and breathes it, and feels an impulse to act from it. Who does not from his heart condemn the reprehensible practice of steamboat racing, for instance? yet who has ever stood upon the deck of a noble boat during a trial of speed with another boat of nearly equal or superior capacity, and among a crowd of eager spectators — who has not forgotten all danger and waived all disposition to censure the officers of the boat, in his sympathy with the general feeling?
From these two instances may clearly be seen the great importance of choosing, with care, our associates. If we mingle with those who make light of both human and divine laws — we shall be led into the same error, and sink, instead of rising, in the scale of moral excellence. But if we choose more wisely our companions, we shall not only be elevated ourselves, but help to elevate others.
Only just so far as each man elevates himself by refraining from all evil acts, does he, or can he, do anything for the general return to true social order. He may build churches, and send forth missionaries, and be devout in his observances of all religious ordinances; but still he has done nothing in this great work, unless he has actually shunned evils in his own life, as sins. If this is done, he has really and truly removed some evil in the world, and made way for the influx of good.
Every young man may see how much depends upon his choice of associates. If he mingles with those who are governed by right principles, his own good purposes will be strengthened, and he will strengthen others in return. But if he mingles with those who make light of virtue, and revel in selfish and sensual indulgences, he will find his own respect for virtue growing weaker, and he will gradually become more and more in love with the grosser enjoyments of sense, which drag a man downward, instead of lifting him upward, and throw a mist of obscurity over all his moral perceptions.
Let every young man, then, seek for associations in life; but let him be exceedingly careful how he makes his selection. Almost everything depends upon its being done with prudence.
Improving the Mind
No truth in science or morals, nor any skill or accomplishment which a man obtains, is ever lost to him. Some time in his life he will find it useful. Youth is the season of acquirement — and maturer years the time of action; and the action of maturer years will be perfect or imperfect, in an exact ratio with our earlier acquirements.
As but few young men venture upon the uncertain experiment of business immediately on becoming of age, most of them have several years of freedom from its absorbing cares, and an opportunity for study, in which many things may be learned, that will, some time in after-life, be found of great importance. The character of these studies should be governed very much by the particular calling in which a young man is engaged. As, for instance, if he has chosen commercial pursuits, he will find in an acquirement of a knowledge of the modern languages a very important means of future advancement. If honest and competent as a clerk, he may be selected as best fitted, from his acquaintance with German, French, or Spanish, to conduct a voyage as supercargo, which will not only materially increase his income, but give him an opportunity of seeing foreign nations and coming into actual business contact with them — that most important means of enlarging our ideas, correcting false impressions, and maturing our judgments in those matters of the world that are so essential to success. And so of every other pursuit or calling in which a young man may be engaged. Some particular branch of information will be found to aid materially his advancement therein, and secure his future well-doing. How to direct aright his efforts, every one must decide for himself, from the circumstances of his own position.
But even where no means of using the information proposed to be obtained is presented to the mind, every opportunity for improvement should be embraced, and those branches of knowledge cultivated, which accord best with the tastes and inclinations. One or two hours of well-directed study, each day, will furnish the mind, in a few years, with a vast amount of information on all subjects, not a single item of which will be valueless, but, sometime in life, be of use to the possessor.
Books of facts and books of principles should make by far the larger portion of a young man's reading, and works of imagination and fiction be resorted to only as mental recreations, or the means of improving the taste. The first are essential to the formation of his rational mind; they contain the food by which it is nourished, and from which it grows into maturity and vigor. If, instead of this kind of reading, mere fiction is resorted to — a puny intellectual growth will be the consequence, and, instead of there being the soundness of true mental force and discrimination, there will be only the weakness of a trifling sentimentality.
History, biography, and travels, furnish the mind with the main facts to be obtained by mere reading, while the abstruser facts of science, even more necessary than these to be known, must be acquired by something more than this superficial mode — by patient and laborious study; but this patience and labor receive a rich reward.
Another and equally important branch of reading is that of mental and moral philosophy. There is danger here of acquiring false views; for these abound in nearly every philosophical work extant. History records the naked facts that have transpired; biography tells the story of a man's life; and the book of travel opens up to us the manners, customs, and peculiarities of other nations. We read them all, and form our own conclusions from the facts stated.
But books of philosophy come to us as serious teachers, with precepts for our government in actual life. They assume to understand the constituents of the human mind, and to lay down laws for its government. Of these books, there are many, and all with systems more or less variant with each other. They cannot all be true, of course. "What, then, am I to do? Who is to lead me into a true system of philosophy?" we hear asked; and we answer, "Your own reason, guided by an earnest desire for the truth for its own sake." Prove all things, and hold fast that which is good.
This, at first sight, may seem very unsatisfactory kind of advice; but it is the only advice we can conscientiously give. No man can truly believe anything that he does not understand; and, therefore, nothing can be truth to him, which does not come within the scope of his own reason. Systems of philosophy, when presented to him, ought to be examined; but nothing that they advance should be received as truth, unless his own rationality approves. The test of all truth is its ability to lead to good. To take a thing for granted because it is gravely stated as truth by a man who has the reputation of being a great philosopher — is the worst of folly. Even if the proposition is true, it is a truth to no one unless it is rationally perceived. A man may assent to it, but it is not a living, but only a dead assent. He is none the wiser.
As the precept, "Man, know yourself," is to all one of vital importance, and as no man can properly know himself unless he understands something of his mental and moral nature — we will make a few plain statements on the subject, from which anyone may derive clear ideas, and be able to understand his own mental operations, and the laws that govern them. Such a knowledge will enable him to separate the wheat from the chaff in books, and store up the wheat in the garner of his innermost thoughts.
Man's study of himself, aided by certain data in the outset, is full of interest, and fraught with the most important results. He who carefully observes the operations of his own mind, is soon able to correct false views, and soon acquires a soundness of thinking on all subjects. He makes a stronger impression on society; his influence widens daily.
Very many considerations might be urged upon young men by which to make them feel the importance of improving their minds in every possible way; the highest consideration we can urge is that of man's duties to common society, and the impossibility of his discharging them efficiently, unless every power of his mind is cultivated to the extent of the opportunities afforded him. But too few are able to feel so unselfish a consideration as this, and they must be moved by the baser influences of respectability, eminence, or the possession of wealth, all or some of which are the rewards that follow the cultivation of man's intellectual ability.
An ignorant man may get rich, but he cannot rise into intellectual society; he can never be anything in the world except a mere money-maker, nor be esteemed for anything but his wealth. He contributes nothing toward the world's true advancement; he is, after all, but a drone in the social hive; and when he dies, his memory soon perishes with him, unless he provides for having it inscribed upon some imposing edifice, built by the money he could no longer use for his own selfish purposes — to no truly great man an enviable fame.
Indolence and Lack of Order
More young men are hindered from arriving at positions of honor and eminent usefulness, by indolence and lack of order, than from any other causes. Nothing great is ever achieved, except by industry and earnest application, combined with an orderly arrangement of all the means necessary to the accomplishment of the object in view. From this may be clearly seen the importance of habits of industry and order. Without them, little can be done; with them, almost everything.
An active and energetic mind may achieve much, even where there is great lack of order; but indolence chains a man down, and keeps him fast in one position; it is, therefore, the most serious defect of the two, and should be striven against with unwearying perseverance.
The lack of an adequate purpose is what makes a man indolent. The Indian will spend days and weeks in slothfulness and inactivity, and to an observer seem the most inefficient and powerless of human beings; but let the war-whoop sound, or a deer go bounding past his wigwam, and he is instantly as full of fire, strength, and endurance as a war-horse. All his slumbering energies have aroused themselves. He feels the force of an adequate purpose. A man's love is his life; and here we see its illustration. The very life's love of the Indian is war and the chase. In the pursuit of them, every energy of body and mind is brought into activity. But when the tomahawk is buried, or he comes home from his hunting-grounds, he sinks into apparent imbecility.
Activity is the result of some end or affection of the mind. Where no purpose is in the mind, there is indolence; but when there is an end in view of sufficient importance, all the powers of the mind come into spontaneous activity. Now, will any young man say that there are not objects for him to attain of sufficient importance to awaken him from his habits of indolence, no matter how much he has confirmed himself in them? We know there is not one who does not, at times, feel the necessity of concentrating every energy he possesses upon the accomplishment of some end; but the evil is, the thoughts are not kept steadily fixed upon the end, but are allowed to wander off to sport with unimportant things, or to retire in mere idle musings — and then comes indolence; for if there is no purpose — there will be no activity.
The first thing to be done, in the correction of this bad habit, is deliberately to resolve upon doing something that will require effort, and that a prolonged one. Let the object in view be worth attaining, and let there be an end in the mind beyond its mere attainment — an end of use. If the end is not one of some importance, there will be danger of its not inspiring the mind to an energetic continuance of its efforts.
In determining the object of pursuit, a good question for anyone to ask of himself is, "In what am I deficient?" There will be answers enough to this question to awaken up all a man's energies, and keep them awake for some time. The next question ought to be, "What will it be most useful for me first to do?" When this question is determined, then let the individual determining it resolve that he will pursue the study — for it ought to be the study of something that will give the mind new abilities to act, either in or out of the life-calling in which he may be engaged with diligence, until he has acquired all that is necessary for the attainment of the end in view. And let him also resolve, that he will fight against all his natural habits of indolence and indisposition to effort, that have too long hindered his progress. And let him not only make these resolutions, but let him keep them faithfully, as he values his highest and best interests.
Most of us sleep too much. From six and a half to seven hours sleep in a day, are said by physicians to be all that a healthy man requires. Not more than ten or twelve hours are taken up in business, nor should be. Properly-directed effort will do as much in that time as it could possibly do if more hours were consumed in business; for the mind, over-wearied, day after day, in bending itself in one direction, will lose its ability for making right efforts. In every twenty-four hours, therefore, there are from five to six or seven hours, which every man is under obligation to both society and himself to turn to some good account. He is insane if he spends it in mere slothfulness and pleasure-taking.
In rightly improving this time, every young man, who is earnestly seeking to unfold the native energies of his mind by giving it the food which God designed that it should receive, will soon discover, that, after a night's repose, his mind is clearer and more vigorous than after a day spent in labor, and, perhaps, anxiety; and he will naturally seek to give as much time for study in the morning as possible. Early rising, will bring to him a twofold benefit; it will strengthen both mind and body.
To a young man who has acquired the habit of indulging himself in morning slothfulness, it will be something of a trial to rise at five o'clock, in both winter and summer; but the self-denial practiced in doing this will be so fully repaid, in a little while, that we are sure no one, who has wakened up the responsibility of his position, and the incalculable benefits which must result from efforts such as he is making, will sink down again into disgraceful indolence. It is no hardship to rise early; it only requires an effort at first; and when one is fairly awake, and begins to drink in the pure morning air, and to feel a refreshing sense of new life and vigor, he is glad that he is not lost in dullness or leaden insensibility. The heavy torpor that we find so hard to overcome in the morning, and which we rest in as a pleasant sensation, is misery compared to the sense of life which runs through every nerve of body and mind, after pure cold water has touched the face, and the lungs have expanded with the fresh and vigorous morning air.
But not only in the morning, but at all times, should we strive against this feeling of indolence. Every man has it; but only those whose purposes are strong enough to enable them to overcome it, rise to any eminence in the world. The demands of nature keep others at work at their daily tasks. Enough earned to satisfy these, and the mind and body sink again into inaction. In all, there is an almost unconquerable reluctance to effort of any kind. We are oppressed by an inertia that it requires some force to overcome. But we must exercise this force, and do it daily; and we shall find the task more and more easily accomplished, until diligence and effort become to us almost a second nature.
Next to indolence, with which all are more or less affected — comes lack of order, which in some is a constitutional defect, and in others the result of education — or, more correctly speaking, lack of education. Some children are never taught the importance of order; and, as very few have naturally a love of order, nearly all who are thus neglected are very deficient in this respect when they become men. But it is never too late to correct this bad habit; and the quicker a young man begins to do so, the better.
Let him commence by having in his own room, for instance, a place for everything, and by being careful to have everything in its place. If a clerk, the same order should be observed at his desk. First, there should be a system established, by which to arrange all his books and papers in the best way for access and reference, and then, when a book has been used, or a paper referred to, it should invariably be returned to its proper place, before anything else is done. The same rule, of a place for everything — and everything in its place, should be observed by all, in every calling.
The most fruitful source of disorder lies in the habit most people have of laying a thing down in the first place that presents itself, after using it, instead of restoring it to where it properly belongs. It seems to many, when in a hurry, a waste of time to carefully return a thing to the place from which they have taken it, instead of throwing it down anywhere; but this is a great mistake; the very reverse is the truth.
If in all the little matters of daily business or domestic arrangement, a system of order is observed, it will become so impressed upon the mind as to show itself in things of more importance. From adopting in things of lesser importance, an orderly arrangement, a man will naturally pursue an orderly arrangement in all his more important affairs, and thus insure success, which would otherwise have been extremely doubtful.
As nothing great can be accomplished without industry and an earnest purpose, so nothing great can be accomplished without order. The one is indispensable to the other, and they go hand in hand, as co-workers, in man's success.
There are two kinds of self-government, or the controlling of evil and disorderly propensities — the one springing from a regard to external considerations — such as the love of reputation, ease, or wealth; and the other from a regard to right principles. Self-government, from the first of these considerations, which is that which most prevails in common society, does not give a man any real power over himself. His inward disorders are only caged as wild beasts, not subdued and brought under the control of opposite good principles; and when these restraints cease — they show themselves again with renewed power and activity.
We see this in those who have attained an advanced age, without truly, and from an internal ground, reforming the leading impulses of their lives. How melancholy a sight it is to see an irritable, impatient, passionate old man! And to this everyone is sure to become — if life is prolonged to second childhood, who does not subdue his irritability, impatience, and passion, by struggling against them as evil tendencies of a corrupt nature — instead of merely concealing them from others in his ordinary interactions in life, when it answers his purpose to do so, that his reputation may be preserved, and his selfish ends answered.
But, alas! how few spend their lives well! how few are governed by a regard for good and true principles! how few strive for the attainment of ends not thoroughly selfish!
From what has now been advanced, the great importance of right self-government may be clearly seen. Every young man will discover in himself disorderly tendencies, and a disposition to infringe the rights and comforts of others, in seeking his own gratification. These are all evils, and must come under proper control, from right ends, or old age will find him, at last, with a host of ungovernable impulses struggling in his bosom, and overmastering him in every feeble effort he makes to subdue them.
Right ends are a regard to others' good as well as our own; and this regard may be felt and exercised as much in an effort to reform a habit of mind that acts as a hindrance to success in the world, as in the shunning of an evil that directly injures our fellow-man; for anything that interferes with our success circumscribes our means of usefulness.
We hardly deem it necessary to enter into any minute particulars as to the manner of self-government. Everyone understands enough of his own character to see its defects; and when he understands the great importance of correcting these, and controlling those propensities, habits, and inclinations, which stand in the way of his elevation, both as to things external and things that appertain to his mind, he will not be at a loss how to act. The willingness to act is the great desideratum.
Conduct Among Men
Thrown, of necessity, among men of all characters, habits, and professions, a young man will often find himself in circumstances that require him to act without his being able to see clearly, at first, how he should act. He will also find himself so situated at times, that, do as he may, offence will be given. All that is required, in cases like these, is to act from honorable principles; that is, to regard truth, right, and justice. Mere personal considerations, as how this one or that one may feel, think, or act, ought not to be regarded, when truth, right, or justice, is concerned. Nor should personal consequences be taken into account, where a principle of integrity is involved. Let every man do right, according to the honest dictates of his reason, and he has nothing to fear.
It should be settled as a principle in the mind of everyone, in his fellowship among men, never, by word, act, or smile, to countenance vice, or encourage that despicable spirit which finds delight in seeking out and magnifying the faults of others. If a young friend indulges in obscene remarks, do not laugh at him, but rather seek to change the subject of discourse. If he takes more freedom, and speaks of his immoralities, censure them as wrong without a moment's flinching from your duty, and do it with a degree of seriousness that will make him feel that you are in earnest. By an opposite course — you will encourage vice; but by this you may help a friend to shun evils, that, if indulged in, will debase his mind, and make his influence in society a curse instead of a blessing.
As for men of confirmed bad habits and principles, make it a point to have no more intimate fellowship with them than what comes in the way of business. If you do, you are not only in some danger yourself, but you endorse them as virtuous men, thus approving their characters to those who do not know them, and who may be led astray by their influence.
Let every young man, in stepping out upon the world's arena, consider well the principles upon which he ought to act in common society. Let him look to what is right — more than to what is expedient. Let him try to forget himself, when called upon to act, in a consideration of what is due to others on the abstract principles of justice. He need not fear that such conduct will be ever bringing him into unpleasant collision with others — although this may sometimes be the case — for the truth of his character will soon be seen, felt, and appreciated. The good will confide in his integrity — and the bad will respect him. He will be known in the community as an honest and honorable man, and this character will sustain him in any trial he may find it necessary to endure for the sake of right.
Deference to age, superior wisdom, and station in society, may be observed without a young man's violating his self-respect, or showing any undue regard for mere conventional forms. The failure to do so arises from a false notion of one's own importance. Real worth is modest, and always ready to defer to others; in fact, often too much so, in society, for the general good, while shallow conceit is ever thrusting itself rudely forward, and occupying the place of wiser and better men.
There should always be respect and deference to age and superior wisdom, for reasons that everyone perceives and understands; and this should also be shown to those who occupy elevated stations in society, as representatives of the common good. The deference ought not to be paid to the person, but to the office. The office is one established for the good of the many, and whoever fills it ought to seek the common good, and should have respect and deference because he does do so, or is supposed to do so. He may be a bad officer, but still the office is good; and while he fills it, he should have respect for the sake of the office, lest that come to be disregarded, or lightly thought of, in the community. Of course, a mere deference to rank or station, for the sake of being noticed by those who hold elevated positions, and thence being thought of as important, or for the purpose of attaining some selfish end, is wrong.
A young man, when he first enters society, should think much, observe accurately, and say little. By this means he will learn far more than if he were forward and talkative; and when he does express his opinions, they will have their due weight. It is a mistake which very many fall into, when they first take their place among men, that they know a great deal more than most people whom they meet, because there are not many who talk freely, or think it necessary to tell all they know; but in time they begin to learn that the most of their knowledge of men and things was only in the memory, while those they deemed dull or superficial had lived and felt in the world, until their lips had become well near sealed in silence.
A modest deportment is that which best befits a young man when in the company of those who are older than himself. They may not have as much of certain kinds of knowledge as he has; but they are far more learned in the book of human life, and can teach him many a lesson that it will be good for him to learn. How often does the forwardness, confidence, and dogmatism of a young man, cause a quiet smile to rest upon the lips of his seniors! It is, therefore, wiser for a young man to think, observe, and question, but to make up his opinions with caution, and not be too free about expressing them. For it is more than probable, that a few years will show him the fallacy of nearly all his first conclusions.
One of the first things which a young man will notice in those into whose society he is thrown, will be a habit of detraction. When allusion is made to an absent person — some censorious remark will follow; or there may possibly be allegations made, touching, remotely, his integrity; though these will, in general, be exceedingly guarded, yet sufficiently plain to create a prejudice in any honest mind.
We would give a double caution on this subject — first, not to believe much of what may be alleged against the absent; and second, to be exceedingly careful not to repeat anything that has been said, and for two reasons — lest injustice be done to an innocent person, and lest your remark should reach the ear of the party traduced, and you be called upon to prove the allegations, which you might find it very difficult to do. If possible, never be a party in the petty misunderstandings that are of too frequent occurrence, growing out of serious or unimportant charges made against one individual by another, from malice, or a foolish habit of repeating everything that is said. Some people are always involved in troubles of this kind. The best way to avoid them is, to make it a rule of conduct never to say anything against another, except for the purpose of guarding those who are likely to be injured by a corrupt or dishonest person. Whenever an utterance of what you know to be the truth, will do this, your duty is a plain one; you must tell the truth, and be willing to take the consequences.
If a misunderstanding occurs between you and another, seek an explanation immediately. Do not stop to listen to the plausible suggestions of your pride, but go at once to the party, and have a clear understanding of the point of difference. In nine cases in ten, you will find that no real cause for the difficulty exists. Either he or you has misconceived the other's words or actions; or something either you or he has said has been repeated with offensive additions. This is always a trouble worth taking. Even if it does not result in settling the difficulty, it enables you to understand exactly the cause of the unhappy estrangement; and this is some little satisfaction.
More serious consequences than a simple closing of friendly fellowship need not occur, except in very extreme cases. But, sometimes, it will happen that you are obliged to do more than merely give up the acquaintance of an individual; justice to others may require the exposure of something said or done by an unprincipled individual, by which he becomes your enemy. Such a person will, as a general thing, seek to injure you in all possible ways by false representations. The best antidote to all he may say, is a blameless life. This will be your best justification in the community. The character of every man makes a certain impression, and if anything not in accordance with this impression be said against him, it is never fully believed. Still, anyone will suffer more or less in the good opinion of society, if an evil-minded person industriously circulates false accusations against him; and proper means should be used to silence him, if his charges amount to dishonesty or immoral conduct. This may sometimes be done by demanding an interview in the presence of mutual friends, and then requiring proof of his allegations, or a denial of them.
A common traducer is generally exceedingly tender of his own reputation; while he calls into activity a very whirlwind of evil accusations against others, the first breath of censure that falls upon his own fair fame disturbs him to the very center. Once convict such a person, before witnesses, of having made false accusations against you, and you not only strip him of power to do you much injury in the future, but make him exceedingly cautious about what he says of one who has the nerve and decision to call him to an account for what his malignant spirit may cause him to say.
Pride and a hasty temper occasion disagreements of the most serious character, and often bring into open hostility those who have once been the warmest friends. No immorality of conduct, no departure from integrity, no wrong lies at the foundation of the unhappy disagreement. An insult has been given; but whether intentional or unintentional, it is often hard to make out; and the party really insulted, or only imagining himself to be so, has flung back the outrage into the other's face with maddening violence.
This occurs on the instant, between perfect strangers as well as between intimate friends; and too often the final result is angry antagonisms. Instead of the parties themselves meeting for the purpose of ascertaining precisely the feelings and intentions of each other, and learning whether an insult were really intended — the insult is taken for granted, and mutual friends are called in to obtain formal and specific retractions of things said and done. These friends hold, as they imagine, the honor of their respective principals in pledge, and each requires of the antagonist party greater concessions and acknowledgments than he can feel it possible for him to make under such circumstances; and thus the breach is made wider instead of being healed, as it would be, in nine cases in ten, it one or the other of the parties themselves had sought for and obtained a personal interview.
We remember seeing two people, perfect strangers to each other, come into collision from a supposed insult, where it was clear none was intended. It occurred, strangely enough, at a lecture given to young men on their right conduct in life. The room was so much crowded that all could not find seats, and near the door a number were standing. They were arranged against and near the wall, leaving a space of some yards between them and the first row of seats. A young man, who had been sitting for about one-half of the time occupied by the lecture, generously arose, and, stepping across the vacant space to where another young man was standing, offered him his seat. In doing this, the eyes of a number were necessarily fixed upon him. Instead of promptly accepting the offer when so much trouble had been taken, the individual standing declined doing so, and did it in a manner that was felt to be particularly offensive, although no offence could have been meant. Be that as it may, the young man retired to his seat in anger and mortification, and instead of resting satisfied in reflecting that what he had done was a generous offer of self-denial for the sake of another, and that no gentleman could wantonly insult one who thus acted towards him, he brooded over what had occurred during the whole time the lecture continued, and finally brought himself to the conclusion that he had been grossly insulted in public, and that nothing remained for him to do, but to demand satisfaction. Accordingly, the moment the lecture closed, he stepped hastily up to the young man, and, with intemperate warmth, in the midst of a crowd of both ladies and gentlemen, abruptly and insultingly demanded an explanation of his conduct. Surprised, yet indignant, at being thus rudely, and, as he felt, causelessly assailed, the other replied in about the same spirit as that in which he had been addressed. Blows were about to be exchanged, when others interfered — and the belligerents parted in mutual anger. As the parties were strangers to us, we saw no more of them, and presume that no exchange of shots took place in consequence, as the newspapers at the time did not chronicle any such event.
In this we see a fair specimen of the origin, or what might be appropriately called the causeless cause, of duels. It is no more than probable that the mind of the young man, who was standing during the lecture, had become so much interested in the discourse as not to be clearly conscious of what he did when his attention was disturbed by the kind offer of the other to give him up his seat; and it is not at all improbable that he saw a moment after it was too late, that he had acted with little less than rudeness to a stranger, and meditated an apology as soon as the lecture closed. But all these better impulses were destroyed by a sudden and rude assault, for which there was no kind of justification.
It usually happens that the person who imagines himself insulted, makes a reconciliation difficult, if not almost impossible, by offering in return a real insult, and then insisting upon acknowledgments and retractions from the other, while he never dreams of making an apology for his own conduct.
It almost always happens, in matters of this kind, that both parties are to some extent to blame, and all difficulty may at once be arrested, if either party will reflect carefully upon his own conduct, and determine to make an acknowledgment of the thing in which he has wronged the other. This should be done as a matter of simple justice, spite of all inflammatory suggestions of false pride. Because another has wronged you, or insulted you, does that justify your wrongs or insults? You imperiously demand of another an apology for what he has done or said, and yet are not willing to offer an apology for your own conduct. First do what you require of him, and depend upon it, you will not find him backward in confession of error, or a readiness to throw over the unhappy past the mantle of oblivion. To do this is not disgraceful, but honorable and magnanimous. It is a triumph of reason over passion, of right over false pride and a morbid self-esteem.
If it should happen that a misunderstanding takes place with a young friend and another, and he calls upon you to confer with the friend of the offending or offended party for the settlement of the difficulty, do not hesitate about accepting the office of mediator, but, in doing so, let it be with the determination to heal, not widen the breach. Your first duty will be to hear from your friend a full statement of all the facts in the case, and then get from the friend of the other party all that he has to allege against the person you represent. Honestly, conscientiously, and impartially weigh all the circumstances, without any personal bias whatever; and if you are satisfied that your friend has done wrong, tell him so, and insist upon his acknowledging that wrong as a most imperative duty. This he may do without dishonor: to refuse to do so would be dishonorable in the highest degree, for it would be a refusal to repair a wrong, which, if not done, may lead on to the most direful consequences. The other party may have done wrong, and be just as conscious of it; but pride may keep back its confession. The acknowledgment of your friend will be almost sure, if made in the right spirit, to bring back a fuller and more hearty acknowledgment of wrong from the opposite party, and then the work of reconciliation will be easy.
Truly magnanimous conduct is that which involves self-sacrifice of some kind for the good of others. Nothing is so hard to sacrifice as false pride; yet the conquest is always a noble one, for it is made for the good of others. As a third party to any unhappy difference, be most careful to avoid anything calculated to inflame the pride of your friend; lead him rather to reflect more upon what he has himself said and done, than upon the wrongs that he has suffered from the other. This will give reason a chance to act, and help him to see what it is his duty to do, as well as his pleasure to require of another. The great barrier that interposes itself in serious difficulties of this kind, is the disposition manifested by the belligerent parties to exact concessions, but to make none; and in this they are too often encouraged by the friends who have been chosen to represent them.
A resort to deadly weapons, for the purpose of settling a difficulty, is in no case justifiable, the custom being founded upon false pride and a false idea of honor. As the principal in a difficulty, your duty is to seek by all right means to satisfy the individual to whom you have given offence, that it was not your intention to insult him, or that you had been led away by passion to say or do something that in your cooler moments you would not have said or done; the supposition is, that you, under no provocation, would seek redress by a resort to dueling. If this will not satisfy, and there is a clear determination evinced to force you into a deadly conflict, make a firm resolution to refuse to accept a challenge, and abide by that resolution. You have no more right to take the life of another, than to give up your own.
Most men who fight duels are urged on to do so as much by the fear of being branded with cowardice as from inflamed passions. But the truth is, it is cowardice, and not courage, that makes them fight. They are afraid of the unjust censure of the world; they are afraid to do right, lest it be called wrong. The truly brave man, is ever ready to suffer martyrdom for the sake of truth, whether he is burned at the stake, or immolated at the shrine of a hasty and false-judging public.
As to dueling itself, or a resort to deadly weapons for the purpose of settling a difficulty, a moment's cool reflection must satisfy anyone that it is a most absurd practice, to say nothing of the fatal wrong that it too often inflicts upon society. There is nothing in it that tends to ennoble the human mind, but rather to debase it. In nothing that appertains to the duel is there anything of generous regard to another's good — of noble self-sacrifice — of manly effort to raise the common standard of virtue; but, instead, there is a narrow and blinding regard for self, and a trampling under foot of the noble and manly spirit of forgiveness. Self, and only self, rules. And what is gained by the combat? One of the parties may be killed; but does that make the other a better man? It may gratify his malignant spirit of revenge, it is true; but that makes him more the child of Hell than of Heaven; and man's true destiny is Heaven, and his right employment here a preparation for this high estate.
Society has claims upon every man, which he is bound to meet. His life is not, therefore, his own to fling away at pleasure. To do so, is to act unjustly; and will this make a man any more honorable?
From such considerations, it is clear that a man may not only refuse a challenge to mortal combat without disgrace, but it is also clear that to accept such a challenge is both dishonorable and disgraceful; for it involves a wrong to society, and encourages a practice that is cruel, and therefore of Hellish origin.
We have dwelt upon the reprehensible practice of dueling, because it is an evil that still exists in society, and because every high-spirited, quick tempered young man is liable to get himself into difficulties with other young men of like temperament. Reason is given to all as a guide in life, and this teaches that there is only one thing to do in such a case; and that is, to repair the wrong done, no matter at how great a sacrifice of feeling and pride. This is every man's plain duty. If another offers you an insult, and refuses to withdraw it — shooting him is certainly an evil mode of redress. The feeling that could prompt you to do so, could be nothing less than revenge.
Someone has very forcibly said, in referring to matters of this kind, "A gentleman will not insult me; none other can." This is sensible doctrine; and if men had sufficient firmness to act upon it in all cases, there would be no duels.
Every young man should enter upon life with an earnest purpose. He will have need of patience, fortitude, energy, and intense thought, in overcoming the difficulties that must be encountered before his day of trial is over. Life has been called a warfare — and is truly so called. It is a warfare with enemies both within and without — enemies of the flesh and enemies of the spirit. He has to contend, in the world, against the selfishness that would crush every man's interest in the attainment of its own ends; and to contend with the same spirit of selfishness in his own heart, that is ever prompting him to seek an advantage at the sacrifice of others' good. Happy for him if, when he falls into temptation, he stand fast by his integrity.
"If life, then, be so grave a matter — what has man to do with amusements?" we hear asked. "In these conflicts with foes within and without, one would think the heart could never heave up with a glad emotion, the eye never brighten, nor the lip smile."
And such could never be the case, if the strife were incessant — if, after a fierce conflict, there did not come a season of repose, in which both mind and body could rest, and be refreshed and invigorated for new combats. It has been assumed — and it is evidently a true position — that inaction is not the rest that re-invigorates the exhausted energies of either the mind or body — but a new direction of effort, by which new muscles of the body, or new faculties of the mind, are brought into activity. The true repose, then, which should follow every life-conflict — and they are of almost daily occurrence — is an entire diversion of the thoughts and feelings into some new channel. If this is not done, there can be no rest; for the current of thought will flow on unchecked, until the mind becomes diseased, and loses half its power.
And herein we see the use of amusements, or those innocent employments that divert the mind, and fill it with pleasing emotions. After the business of the day is over, these come in their natural order, to refresh and strengthen for new efforts; and it is more in accordance with the dictates of right reason to seek for re-invigoration in these than is dull inaction. To play a game of cards or chess will do a man more good, after a day of labor and care, than to spend his evening is lounging on the sofa. And he will find the mirthful doings of a social party of far more benefit to him, if he enters into the spirit of that party — than he will to sit out his evening, brooding over the disappointments and crosses of today, or sadly contemplating the trials of tomorrow.
Amusements, therefore, we hold to be essential to the health of both body and mind. But, like every other good, they are liable to be abused and perverted; and the young are more in danger of perverting them than those who have passed the prime of life. Nearly all the various amusements, public and private, that are entered into at this day, are innocent and useful in themselves, although some of them are sadly perverted to evil ends. Dancing, games, concerts, the opera, scenic representations, etc., are all good in themselves, and may be enjoyed innocently and beneficially by all. In cards, for instance, there is no evil abstractly, nor in a game of cards; but gambling is a great evil — one from which every honest mind shrinks with horror.
When made a school of morals, the theater is a powerful teacher, because it shows us vice or virtue in living personifications; but as it now is, we are compelled to acknowledge that it is a poor place of resort for the strengthening of virtuous principles.
At all suitable times, young men will find it useful to seek for recreations and innocent amusements. It will give their minds a healthier tone, and bring them into associations different from business associations, by which they will be able to see new phases of character, and judge more kindly of their fellows. In business, each one seeks his own interest; there is no generous deference to the interests of others, and men grow daily more and more selfish; but in social fellowship, one defers to another; there is the form of self-sacrifice for the good of others, at least.
From this brief presentation of the subject, every one must see that the views taken by those who rail against amusements, as either sinful or entirely useless, are erroneous, and founded upon false notions of man's moral nature. Our life here is for the development and perfection of our characters as immortal beings, created originally in true order, and now afforded all possible means for a return to true order. In true order, every affection of the mind, when it comes into activity, produces delight; and as a love of good is the vital principle of true order, when man is restored to what he has lost, his highest and purest delight will be in doing good. Delight or pleasure, then, is not evil, but good, provided it does not flow from the consummation of an evil purpose. It is the healthy reaction of the mind upon orderly effort, and strengthens and prepares it for new and higher efforts. Take away all delight as the reward of effort — and see how quickly the cheek fades and the eye grows dim.
If, then, delight or pleasure is not wrong in abstract, the seeking of amusements, as recreation, after the mind is over wearied by long and oft-repeated efforts, cannot be wrong; and this every mind not sadly warped by false views, must see. But to seek amusements as a means of "killing time," as some do, or as the occupations instead of the occasional recreations of life, is to pervert them from their true object, and to make them highly injurious, instead of beneficial. To engage, night after night, in a trial of skill in games — to spend two or three evenings every week at balls and parties, or attending theatric or operatic performances — must enervate instead of strengthening the mind, and will inevitably hinder any young man from rising into distinguished positions of usefulness in society. After the business of the day, the mind will ordinarily find a means of healthy reaction in intellectual pursuits, which form a part of some leading purpose by which a man's life is governed; amusements come in as occasional means of restoring the wasted energies, and should be entered into at intervals, as absolutely essential to the continued healthy activity of our minds.
Music and Dancing
Music, dancing, and a truly polished and graceful manner in social fellowship, with a knowledge of those modes and forms that are founded upon a just regard of man for man, which prevail in society, are known as polished accomplishments. With regard to the first of these, there is but little difference of opinion; the second has many warm advocates, and many bitter and unrelenting opponents, who see in it evil, and only evil; and there are some who appear to think any serious regard to the latter, especially the making of rules for observance, a sign of weakness and folly.
As respects MUSIC, it is clear to us that, if a young man has any taste at all in that way, he ought by all means to cultivate it. It will not only extend greatly his own means of enjoyment, but give him the power of contributing much to the enjoyment of others. We do not think it would be wise for him to devote all his leisure time to music, to the neglect of other and graver pursuits; but there are times when the mind wearies of thought, and will be refreshed and strengthened to attempt new efforts, if its slumbering affections are awakened into life and activity by music. While words give utterance to the thoughts of the mind, music expresses its affections; and thoughts when uttered, and feelings when expressed, are in greater fullness and power. So well satisfied are we that there is great use in the cultivation of music, that we believe all men who are ignorant of the science have defects which no cultivation of the intellect alone can possibly overcome.
Against DANCING much has been urged, but nothing that we have seen having any basis in rational truth. It has been called sinful; but nothing is sinful except what is done from evil intent. Some have said that it awakens impure thoughts; but they who allege this either have impure minds or have never danced. Such is well known not to be the case. It is a frivolous waste of time, say others, and unworthy the dignity of men and women. If it is made to interfere with any duty, it is certainly a waste of time; as to the "dignity," the objection will be worth considering, when it is understood in what a man's true dignity consists.
It is a fact worthy of observation, that the most strenuous opposers of dancing are those who have least charity, so called, for their neighbors; and that one of these people will spend an evening in slandering upon the faults and foibles of others, and indulging in a spirit of ill-will and censoriousness — while those engaged in dancing during the time have been blessing each other with a spontaneous and generous reciprocation of the kindest feelings.
It is a bitter spirit, indeed, that does hot feel kindly emotions while threading the graceful mazes of a cotilion, every step and every motion of the body harmonizing with sweet music. The whole truth, in regard to the objections against dancing which prevail, lies in the fact that it is erroneously imagined that all pleasures are incompatible with religion, than which there cannot possibly be a greater mistake! The pleasures of sense are not evil in themselves, but good; the evil lies in their perversion and abuse. The partaking of food is a highly-gratifying sensual pleasure; but it is not evil, except where eating is abused to the injury of the health. It cannot be evil for the ear, so finely attuned, to take in the harmonies of music; although for anyone to neglect all the duties of life in giving himself up to the enjoyment of music — would certainly be a great evil.
It cannot be evil to enjoy the fragrance of sweet flowers, nor to delight in viewing an exquisite picture, or piece of statuary, or a beautiful landscape; and yet these are all pleasures of the senses, so called, though in reality the pleasures of the soul, as it looks out upon and hearkens unto the world of nature, and there sees and hears those things that correspond to affections and principles in itself. The law of our spiritual constitution is, that all things of the mind come into their fullest power and delight in the lowest or sensual plane; and all who hinder in any way this descent of the soul into the orderly plane of its activity — destroy much of its vital force, and take away its power of clear intellectual discrimination.
Dancing is nothing more nor less than graceful movements of the body in time with music, and is joined in by two, three, or a much greater number, all acting in concert. The brightening eye, the glowing cheek, and the smiling lip, attest the pleasure that is felt by each. A pleasure in what? In consummating an evil purpose? None will say that. There is delight, and it must be either in good or evil. Is it in evil? and if so, in what does it consist? The dancers are virtuous maidens and young men of good principles, who, to the sound of music, have arranged themselves upon the floor, and are moving their bodies in harmony with it. It is not evil, we unhesitatingly say, but good; for it is always good for the mind to flow down into external acts that are in themselves innocent, and encourage kindness and good-will from one toward another; and this is precisely what occurs in dancing. The objections against its abuse are as good as objections against the abuse of anything else, but no better.
Another use of dancing is, that it gives a young man an easier and more graceful carriage, with more freedom in his social fellowship. It also aids him in acquiring a self-possession in company, which is so necessary for the pleasure of all, yet so hard to attain in mere conversational circles.
By all means, take lessons in dancing, if you have not yet done so, we would say to every young man. Don't let an awkward bashfulness prevent your doing so; for it is one of the very best means you can adopt for its correction. You are a social being, and are bound to mingle in society, both for your own good and the good of others. You are under obligation to give your quota to the general enjoyment, and under a like obligation to take your own in return, for the sake of that healthy flow of spirits so essential to the right performance of all our duties in life. And, unless you have those accomplishments that are common in polite society, you can neither give nor receive all the benefits that spring from right social fellowship.
The laws of etiquette, or those conventional forms of good breeding, which prevail in society, when they are founded upon a just regard of man for man, should always be observed. Among these laws, as found in books of etiquette, are many which have in them no vital principle — which are the mere offspring of a sickly pride. They may be known from the fact that they are not based upon a generous consideration of others. These may be observed or not, as anyone thinks best; and, when among those who make it a point to observe them, we should think it wise not to interrupt the general good feeling by their violation, unless a principle were involved. It is not wrong in itself to drink tea from your saucer instead of your cup, nor to eat with your knife instead of your fork; still, as these are usages of polite society, a man of good common sense will observe them when in company, no matter how partial he may be to his knife and saucer.
We would recommend to every young man to read carefully one or more books on etiquette and good-breeding, and thereby acquaint himself with the laws that are observed in polite society. We would not, however, advise him to adopt all the forms and observances there laid down, but to take each one, and analyze it carefully, and see upon what it is based — pride, or the kind consideration of others; and where he finds that a violation of the law will subject anyone to unnecessary pain or annoyance, he should carefully obey it under all circumstances.
A true gentleman — that is, one who really regards with feelings of unselfish kindness his fellow-man — will rarely commit any glaring violation of good manners. To such a one, the study of those rules established as usages in polite society, will afford much matter for reflection, and he will readily distinguish between the good and the bad. He will find much that is the mere offspring of pride, vanity, and a imagined idea of importance; but he will find much more that is based upon a just regard of man for man.
We were particularly struck with the closing paragraph of a book of this kind, which contains much more than a fair proportion of bad reasons for observing some very good rules. It is as follows: "Gentility is neither in birth, manner, nor fashion, but in the Mind. A high sense of honor — those who determination never to take a mean advantage of another — an adherence to truth, delicacy, and politeness toward those with whom you have any dealings, are the essential and distinguishing characteristics of a Gentleman."
This is every word true. A man may have the most accurate knowledge of all the rules of etiquette, and most carefully observe them; but if he has not the above qualities, he is not a gentleman.
There are two kinds of courage, the one mere physical or brute courage, as it is sometimes called, and the other moral courage. Again, bravery in some is the result of an almost entire unconsciousness of danger, no matter how impending it may be; while in others it is the result of a strong moral purpose overcoming a natural timidity and fear of consequences. We find men who say that they have never known fear — and men whose coward hearts shrink at the very thought of danger, acting with equal bravery under certain circumstances. The one meets the encounter with scarcely a thought of consequences — while it requires all the efforts of the other to overcome his natural dread of suffering and death. The latter is, without doubt, entitled to most credit for bravery; for he meets the danger with a far more real knowledge of its character than the other.
The most exalted courage is, therefore, the result of a high moral purpose, and this is the courage that every man should have: its foundation lies in a determination to do right, at any sacrifice, even of life itself, if that is required. It will often require as much courage to act right under certain circumstances — as to march up to a cannon; and the man who will compel himself to face the world's opinions and prejudices in doing what he believes to be right, has great moral courage.
Every young man should feel that cowardice to be a disgrace, and bravery a virtue that he is bound to practice. True bravery has no occasion to vaunt itself, for it does not seek, like the knights of old, for adventures. It is a sleeping power in the mind, that only rouses itself on occasions of more than ordinary importance; and then it acts calmly, but with firmness and decision.
A man who properly reflects, is rarely a coward. Some are more inclined to shrink from bodily pain than others, and some are nervously sensitive in regard to the opinions of the world; but reflection from right grounds will correct both of these defects, and enable a man to act with bravery under all circumstances.
It is a thing of rare occurrence that a man loses his life at a time when he has put it in jeopardy in order to save the life of another; and yet we hear, almost every day, of people being saved from almost certain death by the generous self-devotion of others. Of course, acts of this kind should not be done with a mere recklessness that has in it no hope of success. It would be madness, not true bravery, for a man who could not swim to throw himself into the sea in order to save a person who was drowning, or to jump into a well filled with noxious gas in the hope of lifting therefrom one who was on the point of perishing from its poisonous influence.
A truly brave man looks at the means as well as the end, and will not risk his life unless there be a fair chance that in doing so he will be able to save the life of another. A brave man is one who looks away from himself, and seeks the good of others.
Every man should, from principle, resist oppression, and oppose an unyielding front to all attempts at invading his rights. He should do this as well for his own protection, and that of those who are dependent upon him, as in order to weaken the confidence of evil-minded men, who seek to oppress everyone, thus making them more cautious how they put into practice their evil purposes. One unflinching adherent to right principles in the community, saves numbers from becoming the victims of wrong.
Without courage a man is a curse to himself, and often a curse to others who may happen to depend upon him. He is a victim to causeless fears; is ever dreading some evil that he has not the bravery to meet with a bold front, and strive vigorously to conquer, he sees some evil thing stealthily approaching his unconscious neighbor, but, fearful lest he may suffer consequences himself, fails to give the alarm, and thus, with a base cowardice, permits an injury to take place that he might have turned aside. It is no wonder that a coward receives the brand of infamy.
In the present state of the world, the courage to act right in common society is the virtue most needed, and this every young man should have. He should never flinch from speaking the truth where its utterance will counteract evil designs, or advance the knowledge and practice of good principles. He is bound to do this by every consideration that regards the well-being of society. As to what this one or the other may say, he has nothing to do with that. He should have the courage to disregard all such appeals to his self-love, or to the feeling of deference to the good opinions of weak-minded or bad men. The cardinal virtue in society is a determination to do right because it is right, regardless of consequences. This is true courage.
There are three classes of men in the world — the civil man, the moral man, and the spiritual man. The civil man lives in mere external obedience to civil laws, because his own well-being is secured thereby. The moral man not only regards the civil law, but lives also in obedience to moral laws. While the spiritual man obeys divine laws. The first obeys only the civil law; the second obeys the civil law as well as the moral law, for both are involved in the latter; but the spiritual man obeys both civil and moral as well as divine laws, because the divine law includes all the rest. From this it is clearly seen that the spiritual, or truly religious man, must be a moral as well as a civil man; that, in fact, he is the only true man in society, or he who regards the good of the whole from an internal and spiritual ground, and not from any external and selfish considerations.
Although the very life and true vital energy of society is religion, yet it is a subject of difficult introduction in a work like this. Christendom is divided into so many sects with variant and opposing doctrines — and doctrine is absolutely necessary to religious belief — that there is great danger of giving offence where none is intended, and injuring the usefulness of the book by creating a prejudice against it. Still it is felt to be of such vast importance, that we would consider our work as greatly deficient if we were to pass it by.
Whoever has read carefully the first three chapters of this book, will clearly see the necessity of religion, or a means whereby man may return to a state of heavenly order and consequent happiness. Truth must be the basis of religion, for that leads to good; the false and the evil are inseparable companions. The Bible is the word of God, or divine truth, and therefore that must be the basis of true religion. And yet we have doctrines of the most opposite characters; and those who hold them all appeal to the Bible, and profess to find proofs therein to substantiate them. Of course, all cannot be true, for there is only one true system of religious doctrines, and all that is variant to that must be error.
Let every young man who has arrived at mature age, when the whole responsibility of life and its consequences begin to rest upon his own shoulders, look at the subject of his religious views with an earnest desire to know the truth for its own sake, and in this spirit canvass them thoroughly. The means which God has given him for the determination of truth when presented to his mind, is his reason; and this he must exercise vigorously, holding, at the same time, his mind in freedom to adopt whatever he clearly sees to be rational as well as Scriptural. Because my father has believed a set of religious doctrines, that cannot make them true to me, unless I can understand them clearly. While I was a child, and he was responsible for my religious belief, he was bound to teach me the doctrines he conscientiously believed to be true. But when I became a man, and the responsibility was transferred to me, my first duty was to canvass the whole matter fairly, and adopt or reject according to the best light I could obtain. And this course should be pursued by everyone, on the ground that nothing is truth to the mind, that it does not clearly understand. To adopt a thing as true because others believe it to be so, never advances a man a step, never gives him the smallest ability to fight against evil in his own heart. It is by truth alone, that a man combats with what is false and evil; and this must be truth to him.
From this every young man, who thinks seriously on the subject of religion, will see the obligation under which he lies to examine into the very foundation of his religious belief. If it is a true belief, it will bear any amount of scrutiny, and show its own brightness and excellence the more thoroughly it is canvassed. If it is not true — then the quicker that discovery is made, the better. Is there anyone who loves the truth for its own sake, who can object to this? No, there cannot be.
Some writers, who have given advice to young men, when they came to treat of religion, have recommended them to attend church regularly, and to assume devout appearances when there, because, by so doing, they would be thought moral and religious, and thus stand a much better chance of being taken by the hand, and pushed forward in the world. We have not only seen such advice in books, but have heard it repeatedly urged upon young men, by people calling themselves religious.
For a young man to do this, we would say, would be for him to act hypocritically. Anyone who attends church, and assumes a religious exterior from mere selfish and worldly ends, does himself a greater injury than he supposes. Far better would it be for him to remain at home.
Too many young men both think lightly and speak lightly of religion, as if it were something not intended for sensible people. But, as religion is the means by which a man is able to overcome the corrupt and evil tendencies of his nature, and rise into a life of heavenly order — we think it a matter of sufficiently grave importance to command the earnest attention of every one. Mere canting and blind enthusiasm, of course, are not true religion, and those who ridicule and censure these, should be very careful not, at the same time, to make assertions or create impressions injurious to true religion.
All true religion is founded upon a just idea of God. A false notion of God results inevitably from a false religion. The most important thing in the outset is, therefore, the formation of a just idea of the divine Being. The Bible tells us that "God is love." Now, infinite and divine love must seek to bless others outside of itself; and from this we conclude that God is ever seeking the good of his creatures, and that religion is nothing more than such a love to God and man, as leads us to obey the precepts of the one and seek the good of the other. The assumption, therefore, of exterior forms of sanctity are nothing, if love to God and man are not in the heart.
Religion is a something that is eminently practical; it goes with a man into all his daily avocations, and regulates every transaction of his life. If, in his business, he pursues his own interest so eagerly as to hurt his neighbor's interests — he, of course, does violence to a true religious principle. No matter what he professes to believe or be; in that act he has offended against the doctrine that "religion is love to God and man," and therefore done evil before his Maker, whose very essence is Love.
The religion of far too many is a Sunday religion. It does very well for the Sabbath, when there are no worldly interests to be looked after, and when an exterior of sanctity is not in the least in the way of a sharp bargain. But when Monday comes, other matters are to be looked after, which it would not do to associate with religion, lest a thing so holy should suffer violence and be brought into disrepute. The religion of these people consists in a faith in certain doctrines, by which they are to be saved, and the bringing of religion down into the world, by which it is in danger of suffering violence, as they understand it, is to talk about these doctrines among men of the world, with whom they are daily engaged in driving hard bargains. No doubt the least said, the better, under these circumstances; and in keeping silence, therefore, they are right.
But what is really meant by bringing religion into the world, is for men to take with them, in their business and social fellowship, that regard for the neighbor's good which will prevent the taking of any advantage of him whatever. Whoever attempts to do this will not find it, however, a very easy task. His self-love will be ever prompting him to do as others do; that is, to sacrifice others' good in striving to secure his own; but if he is truly endeavoring to act from a religious principle, he will shun the evil of overreaching his neighbor, because it is a sin against God; and in so doing he will receive divine power to overcome it.
Here we have given a simple instance of how religion is to be brought down into every-day life. From this all may see how in every act a man may make a principle of religion the governing law. If all men pursued their business upon a basis such as this, we would see none of those fluctuations and disturbances, throughout the whole commercial world, which now make the success of an honest man so very doubtful. There would be health in the entire body, from the skin to the vital regions of the heart and lungs.
If a true regard to religion will produce health in so diseased a community as that engaged in trade, where nearly all, in the eager pursuit of wealth, care not who loses if they gain — it is every man's duty to endeavor, as far as he is concerned, to bring it down from the church — into real life.
Under this head we wish to say a word or two on smoking, drinking, and swearing — three very bad habits.
In regard to the first — that is, SMOKING, we would earnestly recommend every young man not already addicted to it, to avoid contracting a habit that must injure the health, and which is exceedingly disagreeable to almost everyone. Tobacco is a vile and offensive weed, and the extensive use of it that now prevails, is one of the most singular circumstances, connected with the history of the past and present centuries, that has occurred. We see men of intelligence and refinement snuffing it up their noses, chewing it, and smoking it, with an earnestness that would be really amusing, were it not that a feeling of disgust quiets the mind down into sobriety. What the use of it is, no one can tell, while nearly all agree that it seriously injures the health.
Smoking, or the use of tobacco in any form, is not a gentlemanly practice, for the simple reason that it is a selfish habit, which is always disagreeable to others, while true gentility is a deference to the comfort, convenience, and frequently to the prejudices, of others. To have the room in which you are sitting filled with the fumes of tobacco, or to have the smoke of a cigar puffed in your face, is certainly very disagreeable; but it does not stop there: your clothes are filled with the vile odor, your handkerchief is rendered offensive and useless, and your lips are covered with a bitter and irritating deposit.
The offence committed by the smoker is not limited to these disagreeables. When he talks to you, his breath nauseates you, and his clothes fling around you a strong but stale odor of tobacco. If you visit him at his room, the atmosphere is rank and oppressive. If you lend him a book, when you get it back you are almost tempted to throw it into the fire, instead of returning it to its place on the shelf.
How a young man can go into the company of ladies after smoking, is more than we can comprehend. We hardly think he would if he knew how offensive an odor he carried with him, and how disagreeable to the nostrils of his fair friends is his breath constantly blown into their faces. We have heard bitter complaints from ladies in regard to this thing.
Smoking is vulgar enough, but smoking in the street is rarely practiced, except by people of base habits.
As to the habit of DRINKING, little more is necessary than to condemn it as a very bad habit. There has been so much said and written on the subject within the last few years, that everyone must understand its evils by this time. The fact that it is very unhealthy, and is an exceedingly dangerous habit, would be sufficient in themselves to condemn it, were not the sad evidences of its direful consequences scattered so thickly around us.
The practice of SWEARING is another habit among young men, and certainly a very weak and foolish one, to say nothing of its profanity. The worst part of it is the frequent taking of the Lord's name in vain, which is expressly forbidden by God himself. Does it not seem strange that a man should speak lightly, irreverently, and often blasphemously of the Being who created him, and who sustains him every moment of his life, from whom he has every blessing he enjoys, and who is ever seeking his good? Such a one will speak indignantly of the ingratitude of another — but what ingratitude is greater than his! A young man who has a proper respect for himself, will never swear. The habit is so entirely useless, and the language so offensive to religion, morality, and good taste, that he will avoid it naturally. Whenever a young man is heard to use these vulgar and profane expletives, it is a sure sign that he has been keeping base company; for in none other do they commonly prevail.
Besides the three bad habits named, some young men fall into the practice of using the slang or vulgar phrases common to the lowest classes of society. For this there is no excuse in the world. The practice might be gravely argued against, and its evil shown; but that would be treating it with too much seriousness. The best corrective of it is a simple declaration of the fact, that the habit is exceedingly offensive to good taste, and that a young man, who is so silly as to make use of "slang" in good society, is at once set down as base-minded and vulgar.
Late hours, irregular habits, and lack of attention to diet, are common errors with most young men, and these gradually, but at first imperceptibly, undermine the health, and lay the foundation for various forms of disease in after life. It is a very difficult thing to make young people comprehend this. They sit up as late as twelve, one, and two o'clock, frequently without experiencing any ill effects; they go without a meal today, and tomorrow eat to excess, with only temporary inconvenience. One night they will sleep three or four hours, and the next nine or ten; or one night, in their eagerness to get away into some agreeable company, they will take no food at all, and the next, perhaps, will eat a hearty supper, and go to bed upon it.
These, with various other irregularities, are common to the majority of young men, and are, as just stated, the cause of much bad health in mature life. Indeed, nearly all the shattered constitutions, with which too many are cursed, are the result of a disregard to the plainest precepts of health in early life.
As health is the indispensable prerequisite to a proper discharge of the duties of life, every man is under obligation to society not to do anything, which, by producing a diseased condition of the body, renders him unfit to attend efficiently to his work or office. This is the view that we are anxious to impress upon the minds of those for whom we write. Although a man, feeling and thinking altogether from self, may imagine that he "is his own man," as some express it and therefore at liberty to do with himself as he pleases — a little reflection must lead him to see that this is a great error.
No man stands alone in society, or can be independent of others. Each forms a part of the great social body, and must faithfully and diligently do what he can for the common good. There exists in society a community of interests, and each works for the whole, whether he designs to do so or not. The farmer tills the soil, and draws therefrom his abundant harvests of grain and other products meet for the sustenance of man and beast. But it is not for himself, and those immediately dependent upon him, that his fields are rich with grain; they could not consume the product of one year in ten or twenty years. No, his work is for the whole, and he receives his proportion from the labor of the whole. The manufacturer cannot wear the hundreds and thousands of yards of cloth that are produced by his looms in any year; they go to clothe the whole community. The builder can occupy but one house; and yet he builds many. The handiwork of the artisan is nearly all for the comfort, convenience, and luxury of others.
While thus we see that every man labors for the good of the whole, we find that every man receives back from the labor of the whole, all that he requires for health and comfort. It is the labor of others which produces the clothes that warm and protect him, the food that he eats, the house that he lives in, and the furniture which makes that house convenient and comfortable for himself and family. It is rarely, indeed, that his own hands produce any of the things absolutely essential to life, health, and comfort.
Bearing this in mind, it can easily be seen that no man has a right to abuse his health — and thus lessen his ability to do his part in society for the common good. What one man has a natural and absolute right to do — that is the inalienable right of all; and if one man has a right to abuse his health, regardless of its effect upon others — then every one has a right to do so. But, were all to sacrifice their health to pleasure, all agricultural labors, all manufacturing and mechanic arts, would be imperfectly done, and the whole community would suffer. Or, if all who tilled the ground were to destroy their ability to labor steadily by irregularities of life, while the manufacturer and the artisan pursued their work with vigorous health — a great wrong would be done to the latter. They would give to the farmer clothes, and the various utensils needed by him in the house or field — while he would return them but scanty food, and that, perhaps, poor in quality.
What is true of the whole is true of the part; and therefore, if it is wrong for the whole community to lead irregular lives to the destruction of health and the ability to perform those uses necessary to the well-being of the whole human race — then it is wrong for any individual to do so; for every failure on his part to work to the extent of his ability as a healthy man — is an injury to some other member of the common body. This is an immutable law.
Regarding the subject in this point of view, every young man who reflects at all, and who is not so thoroughly wedded to self as to be utterly indifferent to the well-being of others — will see that he is under a solemn obligation to seek the preservation of his health, in order that he may be able to do his part for the common good. To act from this end, is to act wisely and nobly.
But, as there are few, if any, in this thoroughly selfish age, who can or will thus act — then considerations of another, though less exalted kind, must be urged upon young men, in order to make them see the necessity of preserving their health. But before doing so, it may be necessary to repeat the declaration with which we set out — that late hours, irregular habits, and inattention to diet — will certainly undermine the health, and lay the foundation for diseased conditions in after life. The effect will be various in different constitutions. One may destroy the healthy tone of his stomach, and become, for the best half of his life, a miserable dyspeptic. Thus, for a few years of inordinate indulgence in the pleasures of the table — be obliged to pay the penalty of abstinence from nearly all generous and palatable food, and suffer from the entire derangement of every healthy organ in his system. The inability to perform perfectly the work
of his office, will not only injure the community, but himself; for it is a law in the social economy, that he who contributes most to the common stock — shall receive most in return. To bodily sufferings of a most distressing kind, will therefore be added the deficiencies of worldly goods, arising from unequal and unsustained exertions.
Another, inheriting a predisposition to diseases of the lungs, may so weaken and disturb the vital forces by irregularities and excesses, as to render the lungs highly susceptible to all disturbing causes, and find all his hopes and energies blasted just in the prime of life, by the development of an incurable pulmonary disease. While another may so shatter his nervous system as to be unable to bear any business excitement, any prolonged effort, or any exposure or fatigue whatever — at a time when all these are absolutely necessary to the sustenance of a family.
As everyone inherits from his parents predispositions to diseases of body, as well as to diseases of the mind — the health of the one, as well as the other, depends upon an obedience to just laws, both physical and moral. Whoever violates these, inevitably entails upon himself disabilities and sufferings; and the earlier in life this is done, the deeper will be the impression made, and the more lasting its injurious consequences.
Let every young man, therefore, pay strict regard to his health. Let him be temperate in eating and drinking, and regular in all his habits. And let him also see that he does not allow himself to indulge in any evil passions of the mind, as anger, malice, jealousy, envy, revenge, or any inordinate desires; for these are as fatal to health as abuses of the body, and do, in reality, lead to these latter abuses, almost inevitably. In fact, the cause of all the irregularities of youth, are in the mind. Let a young man, then, keep his desires, his appetites, and his passions, under proper subjection — and he will be in no danger of running into those excesses which sow, in his physical system, the seeds of all diseases.
Entering into Business
Entering into business is, except marriage, the most important act of a young man's life. And, as the proportion of those who are unsuccessful in their first efforts is as much as two out of three — it behooves everyone to look well to what he is doing before taking a step that may involve him in serious losses or difficulties.
The result of our own observation is, that a young man who enters into business under the age of twenty-five, unless he is taken into partnership in an established firm, is almost sure to fail. If he has money — he will lose it; and if credit is his only capital — he will get involved in debt. There are, of course, some exceptions to this, but they are very few.
One necessary pre-requisite to success in business, is a thorough knowledge of that branch into which a man enters. It is, therefore, always a hazardous step for anyone, to commence a business, of the details of which he is ignorant, no matter how flattering may be the inducements held out. This is a prominent cause of failure.
Another cause of failure, is the young man's impatience to get ahead fast, and realize great profits in a very short period. But this is not the history of successful businesses, nor of men who have acquired great wealth. Safe and sure beginnings are always small, and the growth gradual. Sudden inflations, meet with just as sudden collapses.
A young man who has been a clerk in a respectable house, that has been growing gradually for years, determines upon going into business for himself. But he is not content with a small beginning. He must have as handsome an establishment and as fine a stock of goods as his old, substantial employers, and strains his credit to the utmost to gratify his pride and false notions in regard to the true means necessary to success in trade. Without sufficient capital to bear the heavy losses that too often attend a heavy business, and the large accumulation of unsaleable goods, a few years tell the story of his rise and fall. This is the history of hundreds in our large cities. Every year sees the passing away of some scores of businesses established in this way, and yet the lesson seems to do no good; for every year scores of others are ready to take the places of their unfortunate predecessors, without any more of the elements of success about them.
Many young men are tempted into business, and induced to make a bold start, upon the always uncertain basis of credit, from hearing so much said about this one and another who has commenced life without a shilling, and in a few years retired with an independent fortune. There is a great deal of this kind of gossip among clerks and those who have just entered into business. They can name hundreds of instances where young men have launched boldly out, and made from four thousand to twenty thousand pounds in a few years; and will actually point out this, that, and the other one, as the veritable personages. Now, it is one thing for a man in business to say that he has made ten thousand pounds, for instance, and another thing really to have made it. We have seen the end of a good many who had made fortunes in a wonderfully short space of time, and the winding up generally showed them to be worse than nothing.
The reason why the notion is so generally prevalent that a fortune may be made in this country in a very few years, if a man has sufficient boldness, activity, and enterprise, is because, in periods of inflation which have occurred, everything obtains a fictitious value. The time has been when a piece of property, purchased today for one thousand pounds, has sold for ten thousand before the lapse of twelve months; or stocks which cost two thousand pounds last week have netted four thousand this week. In times like those, when the volume of paper money was immense, goods could be sold freely and at large profits. This would make the gains of business very great in a few years. Far more than all the profits, however, were usually trusted out to people who bought freely because they could buy on credit. From engaging in speculations when there was an upward tendency in everything, and from making a few fortunate speculations, combined with an active trade, when everything was brisk — young men, who have had only a few thousands to begin with, have, in a very short period, become quite wealthy. But it was generally the case that this wealth consisted in property said to be worth so much, and which might, at the time, sell for its valuation to somebody, who would give his note for it at six, nine, twelve, or twenty-four months. There are a few instances where people thus successful have had the prudence to convert their property into something more substantial than notes of hand drawn by Tom, Dick, and Harry, or town lots of land from which the first spadeful of earth had not yet been lifted. But in most cases, when the storms came which always follow such periods of sunshine, these men were among the first to be driven under. The story of their rapidly-acquired fortunes is still told, but the real cause of their speedy elevation is not understood, nor is the sequel known or alluded to.
A prudent young man will hardly suffer himself to be deceived by stories of this kind, and tempted into business in the hope of making a fortune by a bold dash: if he should be thus drawn, he will be almost certain to lose what money he may happen to have, and get involved in debt beside; for with the views of business he will hold, such a thing as a small beginning and cautious operations will be out of the question.
As before said, the elements of success in business are to be found in a thorough knowledge of the particular branch in which a young man is about to engage, and in a maturity of judgment acquired by a few years of experience and observation in the world as a man. Along with this, there must exist a willingness to be content for a time with small things — to be willing to wait for the seed sown to germinate, the tender blade to shoot forth, and the stock gradually to increase, and grow, and gain strength to mature and support the grain. It is far better to advance slowly, and wait even as long as ten years before the gains of labor begin to be of much importance, than to rush ahead for a time, and, long before ten years have rolled around, be thrown to the earth, and embarrassed by debts, to pay which the ability may never come.
As the true way to begin is to begin with moderate expectations and a small business, the first rule to adopt is, the determination to make the personal expenses as light as possible. The error which most young men commit is, to increase their personal expenses as soon as they enter into business. The spending of three hundred pounds a year, instead of one hundred and fifty, takes just one hundred and fifty out of the business, and sinks it absolutely. The saving of one hundred and fifty pounds each year for three or four years, and keeping the amount in the business, will, of itself, be an important matter, and may actually save the business in an extremity, or unexpected loss, when, if it had been spent, destruction would be inevitable.
Care in regard to the expenses attendant upon the prosecution of business is also an important matter. In rents, personal expenses, clerk hire, and petty expenditures of various kinds — more than the entire profits of a new business may be consumed. If there is any borrowed capital, and interest to pay thereon, necessity for the strictest economy will be even more imperative.
But entering into business is one thing, and conducting it on right principles another. Enough has already been said in this work to make anyone see and feel the force of the position, that the common good ought to be regarded by every man, and that whoever seeks to secure the common good — most effectually secures his own. This does not mean that a man should throw all his earnings into the treasury of the commonwealth, or do any act of a similar kind; or that he should neglect his own interest in seeking to forward the interests of others. The arrangement of society, under the direction of an all-wise Providence, provides for every man's well-being in the pursuit of some employment which benefits the whole; and the conducting of these employments on right principles is nothing more than each man attending diligently to his own business in life, but without in any way interfering with his neighbor's business, or taking the slightest advantage of him in any mutual transactions. If such were the acknowledged laws of trade, the well-being of all would be secured. He who most served the public good in the greater extent of his useful products — would receive the greatest return; and he who was less active and diligent — a smaller return.
Such, however, are not the laws that govern trade in these evil and degenerate days. Most men seek so eagerly to increase their worldly gains, as to disregard entirely the interests of others; nay, not only to disregard them, but actually to invade them with deliberate purpose. Thus, we have cheating of all grades, from the speculator's overreaching operations down to the selling of goods by spurious weights and measures, or obtaining them under false pretenses.
But let every young man who is about entering into business, no matter what it may be, or who commences the practice of a profession for which he has duly qualified himself, resolve, before he takes the first step, that he, for one, will be an honest man in the community; that he will diligently seek to advance himself in his business or profession by all right means; but that he will in no case take even the smallest advantage of his neighbor. He need not be anxious about the final result; all he has to do is to use diligence, wisdom, and prudence — and these will carry him through, even amid the wrongs and disorders of society as it now exists. He may not grow rich as rapidly as his neighbor who can manage by cheating to make a larger profit on his goods, and by false pretenses to gain a greater amount of custom; but his advancement will be rapid enough to give him all that is needful for health, comfort, and a good conscience.
It is seriously argued, by many who are engaged in business, that deception and false representation are absolutely necessary to success; that it is impossible for a strictly honest man to succeed in business. But this is not true. We believe, however, that in a business community where nearly all take unfair advantages in trade — an honest man will find it difficult to sustain himself, unless he is wary, active, and energetic; for he will lose by the dishonesty of others, without being able to repair the loss by dishonest practices in turn. But what right-thinking man would not rather suffer the loss of worldly goods — than the loss of honor? Who would not be content with a smaller portion of wealth, accompanied by a consciousness of having done what was just and right between man and man — than to be the possessor of millions obtained by dishonesty and a system of successful fraud not recognizable by the laws? Any undue advantage in business is stealing; for it is taking another's goods without his consent or cognizance.
There are various modes of overreaching in business, against which every honest young man will set his face. Nearly all speculations are dishonest means, by which one man gains a certain amount of money in a transaction, which another loses. A merchant gains news of a rise in the price of some article in a neighboring market. He goes to his neighbor, who is yet ignorant of this rise, and buys from him all of that article which he has at the prevailing prices of the day, and thus secures both his own and his neighbor's profits. This is a very common transaction, but, judged by the rule we have laid down, a very dishonest one. Again, a merchant buys up all of an article there is in the market, at a time when he knows there will be a scarcity, and doubles the price. This is not honest; for he is enriching himself by extorting from others an exorbitant rate for a necessary article. All stock speculations are conducted on the broadest principles of loss and gain — like gambling. We doubt very much if any man who engages actively in them can be governed by an honest regard for the interests of his fellow-man. It seems to be nothing but an eager scramble for money, no matter to whom it properly belongs. These are bold and palpable modes of overreaching in business, and men enter into them unblushingly.
The concealed and underhand methods are far more numerous. They appertain to every trade and calling, and are practiced under the most perfectly assumed exteriors of fairness and honesty. These are short weights and measures, false representations as to quality, exorbitant prices where the buyer is ignorant, and various other frauds upon purchasers. The craftsman slights his work in places where it cannot be readily seen, and thus is enabled to sell cheaper than his neighbor who makes a good article. And throughout all trades and professions, there prevails a system of fraud upon the public which is becoming apparent in the gradual deterioration of almost every article of general consumption — while the makers stun the public ear with declarations of the superior quality of everything they produce. Thus the effort of each calling to secure its own interests, at the expense of the whole, has been the effort of all; and the consequence is, that all are worse off for it. But this result is no matter of surprise. It is the legitimate effect of an adequate cause.
The only remedy for this is for each man, acting from a principle of integrity, to strive honestly to perform all that appertains to his calling. If he is a craftsman, let him not look altogether to the money he is to receive for his work, but consider as well him for whom the work is intended, and be careful that it be of a good quality, and worth the price he receives for it. If he is a merchant, let him buy with judgment, and sell with a just regard to the rights of others. And let all men, no matter what may be their calling, faithfully regard the good of others as well as their own. To do this, is simply to refrain from injuring others in any transactions had with them.
If every young man, now entering upon life, were to act from the principles here laid down, how different, in a few years, would be the aspect of affairs in the business world! Trade would be in a far more healthy condition, and every man in business would feel himself more firmly established. And the reason is obvious. There would be no overreaching; no disturbance of the regular course of trade by eager, selfish speculators; no interference with one man's business by another, as is now often the case, by which it not infrequently happens that his prospects for life are ruined. Instead of sudden and great accumulations of money in a few hands, for the purpose of affecting the market for selfish ends, to the injury, perhaps, of hundreds — there would be, in time, a greater equalization of capital, and the simple and true law of demand and supply, as a regularly-existing state, subject to but few, and they not sudden and broad fluctuations, would be the balance wheel to trade. This would be a blessing to all.
Most earnestly do we urge upon young men, just entering or about to enter into business, to look this matter fully in the face, and endeavor to feel it as a subject vital to the true well-being of society. Whenever a reform begins, it must begin with them. To them society looks as its regenerators. Let every young man endeavor to feel the responsibility that rests upon him as an individual, and act well and wisely his part, when he finds himself standing in the world's arena.
On this subject, very few think seriously, and those who make it a matter of much reflection, too generally think erroneously. We allude, of course, to young people. Those of more mature age have clearer views; but too often these are consequent upon either seeing or feeling the evils that result from marriages entered into from blind passions or improper motives. The great difficulty, with regard to those who most need proper instruction on this subject, is, that they will not hearken to what is said to them — but either follow the leadings of impulse and passion, or look with cool deliberation to the attainment of some selfish end. In either case, mutual unhappiness is the almost inevitable result.
Marriage is the most important event in a man's life, because it brings him into the very closest relationship with another — and therefore subjects him to the disturbance of every incongruous or opposite thing in the character of his new companion. This is one reason, but there are others which are more vital and important, and which can only be understood when there is some knowledge of the true laws which ought to govern in marriage.
These laws have their origin in the distinctive difference which exists, and has existed from creation, between man and woman. This difference does not lie in the mere form of body peculiar to each. It is far more deeply grounded. The difference is in the mental and emotional form; it is, therefore, of a most radical kind. To make the whole subject of this difference clearly comprehended would require a treatise of greater extent than our entire work; and we shall not, therefore, risk misapprehension by the mere enunciation of the conclusions to which such a treatise would bring every reflecting mind.
The main thing to be understood, however, is, that man and woman are so created as to be imperfect, except in marriage union, and therefore that marriage is an orderly state. In man we find a peculiar development of brain — the organ by which the mind acts — that marks his difference from the woman; and in woman there is a peculiar development that marks her difference from the man. In man, the intellectual region shows a larger development, and in woman, that region of the brain by which the affections of the mind come into activity — yet both have intelligence and affection. But the one is a thinking man, and the other a loving man; and, in union, they make one perfect man.
The affections of a man are, as a general thing, guided by his reason; and the reason of a woman, as a general thing, is guided by her affections. Of course, there are exceptions, as in masculine women, so called, and effeminate men; but these are looked upon as social monsters; and it is very well known that they do little to advance society towards a state of true order, although the first class sometimes make a great noise in the world, and do their full share of harm. But only when they unite their mental forces in a just marriage — that is, when, in the marital union, the intelligence of the man and the affection of the woman are also married, and look to one end — is there a perfect man in the world. If this does not take place — and, alas! its occurrence is a rare thing in these times — there will be more or less discord and unhappiness between married partners.
To illustrate this so as to bring it home with some kind of force to even minds not given to close and abstract reflection, we will suppose that a woman, who possesses a fortune, is addressed by a man whom she believes to be high-minded, intelligent, and truly moral. These are what she, as a right-minded woman, can love in a man. After marriage, however, she makes the discovery that it was not for her virtues that she was loved and wooed by this man, but for her wealth; and that, so far from being high-minded and honorable — he is base-minded and dishonorable. Could there possibly be any union of souls between these two people? Could his intelligence and her affections ever blend and become as one mind? No! So long as life lasted, they must be in discord.
And the same will be the case if beauty alone, or the desire to form a respectable or distinguished connection, or any other worldly or selfish motive, be the leading end in a man's mind when he seeks to gain the affections of a woman. No woman believes herself loved for any external grace, accomplishment, or possession, by the man whom she loves in return — but for herself alone. If, after marriage, she discovers that she has been mistaken — from that moment her confidence in her husband is destroyed; and the date of her unhappiness, as well as his own, has commenced. He will find that, notwithstanding she may be faithful to all her duties as a wife, no union of mind takes place, nor can take place; that she will not, and cannot, love his intelligence, nor give him any counsel or strength in the performance of his duties in life. In most things, she will be inclined to differ with rather than agree with him, if matters are referred to her; but, usually, she will be altogether passive in things of general concern, contenting herself with her domestic duties alone. As a consequence, he will grow more and more self-willed; for he must trust to his own reason for everything, unwarmed by the glow of her affections; and her mind will contract itself more and more within its own little sphere, because not drawn out and attended by sympathy with his more widely reaching intelligence — and both will be unhappy.
If a young man would escape these sad consequences, let him shun the rocks upon which so many have made shipwreck. Let him disregard, totally, all considerations of wealth, beauty, external accomplishments, fashion, connections in society, and every other mere selfish and worldly end — and look into the mind and heart of the woman he thinks of marrying. If he cannot love her for herself alone — that is, for all that goes to make up her character as a woman — let him disregard every external inducement, and shun a marriage with her as the greatest evil to which he could be subjected. And if he has in him a spark of virtuous feeling — if he has one unselfish and generous emotion — he will shun such a marriage for the woman's sake also; for it would be sacrificing her happiness as well as his own.
From what is here set forth, every young man can see how vitally important it is for him to make his choice in marriage from a right end. Wealth cannot bring happiness, and is ever in danger of taking to itself wings. Beauty cannot last long where there is grief at the heart. And distinguished connections are a very poor substitute for the pure love of a true woman's heart.
All that has been said refers to the ends which should govern in the choice of a wife. Directions as to the choice itself can only be of a general character; for the circumstances surrounding each one, and the particular circles into which he is thrown, will have specific influences, which will bias the judgment either one way or another. One good rule, it will, however, be well to observe; and that is, to be on your guard against those young ladies who seek evidently to attract your attention. It is unfeminine, and proves that there is something lacking to make up the perfect woman. In retiring modesty you will be far more apt to find the virtues after which you are seeking. A brilliant belle may make a loving, faithful wife and mother; but the chances are somewhat against her, and a prudent young man will satisfy himself well by a close observation of her in private and domestic life, before he makes up his mind to offer her his hand.
But the most we can do, and what we mainly wish to do, in giving precepts for the choice of a wife, has already been done; and that is, to impress upon young men the necessity of acting from right ends. If these are pure, there will be little danger of a mistake. If they be not pure, all particular directions how to choose a wife will be in vain.
To some extent there prevails a disposition to regard marriage as an evil, by those who do not understand its true nature, and who look at the unhappy results which too often flow from it as effects of the institution itself, instead of the abuses. Others, again, speak lightly of the matter, and compare marriage to a lottery, with few prizes and many blanks — and say that the gaining of a prize is always a matter of chance. But the evils and chances all lie in the perverse and selfish ends which govern men in their choice of wives. Let these be corrected, and the whole matter will present a different and brighter aspect.
To the question often asked of young men as to why they do not marry, we sometimes hear the reply, "I am not able to support a wife." In one case out of three, perhaps, this may be so; but as a general thing, the true reply would be, "I am not able to support the style in which I think my wife ought to live." In this, again, we see a false view of marriage; a looking to an appearance in the world — instead of a union with a loving woman for her own sake. There are very few men, of industrious habits, who cannot maintain a wife, if they are willing to live economically, and without reference to the false opinions of the world. The great evil is, that young couples are not content to begin life humbly, to retire together into an obscure position, and together work their way in the world — he by industry in his calling, and she by dispensing, with prudence, the money which he earns. But they must stand out and attract the attention of others by their fine house, fine furniture, and fine clothes, even if debt is incurred, in order to maintain this silly show! As a general thing, we find these men, who do not think themselves able to support a wife, always affected with the same disability.
Although an advocate for early marriages — yet we are no advocate for the dashing out which so often attends them. Even a married couple may save money on a small income, and yet live comfortably enough, if their pride is not too active. And the economical habits thus cultivated, will lay the foundation for future success which would have been sought for in vain, had the young man spent all, or nearly all, he earned for four or five years, waiting until he got able to marry.
In regard to an increase of family, our observation satisfies us, if we looked no further, that increased means will always be the consequences. He who sends children — will help you to take care of them, if you put yourself in the way of being helped.
A married man, if he has right views, will always proceed with more caution than a single man, because more depends upon him; and this is a good reason why he is more certain to advance in the world steadily, if it be slowly.
In regard to early marriages, this may be safely said. If an engagement has been formed, and both parties are willing to live strictly within the limits of the young man's income; and if he, or they between them, have sufficient money to meet all the expenses consequent upon marriage; and, moreover, if there is a prospect of the continuance of his income — let them marry, say we. It will be better for them.
As the natural result of marriage is offspring, and as children inherit from their parents propensities to either good or evil, the same as they inherit physically a tendency to disease or health — the subject assumes a still more serious aspect than any we have yet given it, and exhibits the responsibilities and duties of married partners in a still stronger light. Parents love their children, and seek their good in various ways. They deny themselves many comforts; they toil early and late, and will sometimes risk even life itself for their children.
The evil tendencies which show themselves almost as soon as the mind moves in its first activities — cause them deep grief, for they know that such tendencies, if indulged, will produce unhappiness, and they strive anxiously to repress them, but find the task a difficult and almost impossible one. The error of the parents lies in the fact, that they have commenced the work of reform too late. "Too late," we hear asked, "when it is commenced as soon as the infant mind moves in its first activities." Yes, it is too late; and all that can now be done, will be to repress the evils as they show themselves, and strive, at the same time, to implant opposite good principles, by means of which when these children become men and women they may contend with, and, if they will overcome the evils which they had derived from their parents.
This subject, of the hereditary transmission of good or evil qualities of mind, is one to which but little attention has been paid; and yet it is a matter of great importance. Whatever a man does from principle and a confirmed habit, be it good or evil, orderly or disorderly — that he transmits to his children in a tendency to do the same thing. A man who does not think it wrong to overreach his neighbor in bargaining, must not be surprised if he discovers in his son a tendency to steal, which he tries in vain to correct; nor he who has no regard for truth, wonder why his son should prove a liar. If the father and mother are disorderly in their habits, or passionate, or envious of their neighbors — how is it possible for their children to be otherwise, when the natural and invariable law that "like produces like" is considered?
Why we said the work of reform was commenced too late by parents, may now be clearly seen. We must fight the evils and disorders by which the human race is cursed, in our own hearts — if we would truly overcome them in our children. If this is not done, the task of correcting their evils will be a painful and difficult, if not an almost impossible one. If we shun the evil of overreaching our neighbor, because it is evil; it falsehood is avoided, and held in abhorrence; if we resist evil tendencies of every kind — we shall do more for our children than if we were to amass for them wealth equal to that of Croesus!
True love of offspring will prompt to the sacrifice of evil principles of all kinds, and the strengthening of good principles as rules of action in the mind of every parent.
To a young man who thinks seriously of marriage, this subject ought to be one of grave consideration. If he would not entail a curse upon his children, let him examine himself well, and begin at once the correction of every evil habit and propensity. If he does not do so, the time may come, when, like David of old, he will exclaim, "O Absalom! my son! my son! O that I had died in your stead!"
The reading of a book like this will do a young man but little good, if he throws it down without seriously reflecting upon its contents. He must consider the truths it teaches as truths for his guidance, as well as for the guidance of others. The views here taken of life are too important to be lightly passed by. They are of vital interest both to the individual and the community. The elevation of society depends mainly upon the reception of right principles by the young. Those who have attained to some age, from feeling the consequences of their own ignorance and errors in the outset of life, can give wiser precepts to the young than they themselves received when they stepped boldly forth, proud in their new-felt freedom and power. There will always be some ready to listen to and act upon these precepts, and they will elevate the standard of right feeling and acting in their generation. The greater the number of those who act from these wiser precepts — the more decided will be their influence, and the higher, in consequence, will rise the generation to which they belong. Thus will society advance towards perfection with a slow but certain progress.
From this view, every young man can see how great is the responsibility resting upon him as an individual. If he commences with right principles as his guide — that is, if in every action he has regard to the good of the whole, as well as to his own good — he will not only secure his own well-being, but aid in the general advancement towards a state of order. But if he disregards all the precepts of experience and reason, and follows only the impulses of his evil appetites and passions, he will retard the general return to true order, and secure for himself that unhappiness in the future which is the invariable consequence of all violations of natural or divine laws.