by John Angell James, 1825
ON THE PERIOD WHICH ELAPSES BETWEEN THE TIME OF LEAVING SCHOOL AND THE AGE
Young people, while at school, generally look forward
with much desire, and longing anticipation, to the happy time when they
shall terminate their scholastic pursuits, throw off the restraints of the
academy, and enter upon the engagements which are to prepare them for their
future station in life. They are seldom aware of the immense importance of
this period of their existence; and but rarely consider, that it is at
this time the character usually assumes its permanent form.
I will suppose, my dear children, that you have now left
the schoolroom, for the warehouse, the office, or the shop; exchanged
grammars and dictionaries for journals and ledgers; and the researches of
learning for the pursuits of business. All is new and all is interesting.
Youthful feelings are subsiding into something like a consciousness of
approaching manhood; and the comparative insignificance of the schoolboy is
giving way to the incipient importance of the man of business. At this very
point and period of your history, it behooves you to stop and reflect.
Instead of being led on in joyous thoughtlessness, by the new scenes that
are opening before and around you, and leaving your habits and your
character to be formed by accident or by chance, I beseech you to ponder on
the very critical circumstances in which you are now placed.
The period which elapses from fourteen to eighteen years
of age, is indeed the crisis of your history and character. It is
inconceivably the most eventful and influential term of your whole mortal
existence. Comparing the mind to substances which, under the influence of
heat, are capable of being molded to any form—it is at this period of its
history that it is in the most suitable temperature and consistency to yield
to the plastic influence of external causes, and to receive its permanent
form and character—before this, it is too fluid and yielding, and afterwards
too stiff and unbending. This, this is the very time, when the ever variable
emotions, passions, and pursuits of boyhood, begin to exhibit something like
the durable and settled forms of manhood.
In reference to the affairs of this life; if a young
person ever become a good mechanic, or a good tradesman, he gains the
elements of his future excellence about this period. So it is in poetry,
painting, learning. Before this, the first decisive and unequivocal traits
of genius sometimes appear, and even after this they are sometimes
developed—but generally speaking, it is from the age of fourteen to
eighteen, that the marks of future eminence are put forth. It is the 'spring
season' of mind, and habits, and genius.
The same remarks will apply to the formation of
character. Then the passions acquire new vigor, and exert a mighty
influence; then the understanding begins to assert its independence, and to
think for itself; then there is a declaration of its liberty on the part of
the mind, and a casting away of the restraints of education; then there is a
self-confidence and a self-reliance, which have received as yet few checks
from experience; then the social impulse is felt, and the youth looks round
for companions and friends; then the eye of parental vigilance and the voice
of parental caution are generally at a distance. Then, in fact, the future
character is formed. At this time, generally speaking, true religion is
chosen or abandoned; and the heart is given to God or the world. Can
anything be more awfully important, than such reflections to those who are
yet about this age? You are now deciding for both worlds at once. You are
now choosing to become a Christian on earth, and a seraph in heaven—or a
worldling here, and a fiend hereafter! You are now setting out on a journey,
which is to conduct you to glory, honor, immortality, and eternal life—or to
the blackness of darkness forever! Yes, the starting point for the realms of
eternal day—or the regions of eternal night—has generally been found to be
within the period which I have named.
These remarks apply more strictly to young men than to
young women; inasmuch, as females generally remain at home, under the eye,
and voice, and example of parental piety, and are far less exposed than boys
to the temptations and sins of youth. All young men, therefore, of this age,
should pause and reflect thus—"I am now arrived at that period which must be
considered as the most eventful era of my whole existence; when my
character, both for time and eternity, will, in all probability, be formed;
when I may be said to be commencing the career which is to terminate in
heaven or hell; as well as that path which is to lead me to respectability
and comfort—or to depression and poverty—in the present world. How critical
my age! How important that I should consider wisely my situation, and decide
Permit me to give you a little
ADVICE, in some measure
suited to your circumstances.
1. Most sacredly observe the Sabbath, and constantly
attend the means of grace.
Let nothing induce you to prostitute the hallowed day to
worldly pleasure. Never listen to the enticements of a companion, who would
tempt you, even once, to forsake the house of God. Abandon such an
acquaintance. He is unfit for you, and will ruin you. Sabbath-breaking is a
sin of most hardening tendency. When tempted to commit it, imagine you hear
the dreadful voice of divine prohibition, followed with the loud deep groan
of a holy father, and the exclamation of a pious mother, "Oh, my son! my
son! do not pierce my heart with anguish." Attach yourselves to a sound,
evangelical ministry, and listen not to those who subvert the very
foundations of the gospel. Avoid those preachers who oppose all that is
peculiar to Christianity.
2. Keep up attention to the private duties of true
Never let a day pass without reading the scriptures and
private prayer. While these practices are continued, I have hope for
you—they show that piety has still some hold upon your heart. Secure some
portion of every day, if it be but a quarter of an hour in the morning, and
in the evening, for this most important duty. Should you not have a chamber
to yourselves, let not the company of others prevent you from keeping up
this practice. It would be better, however, in this case, to retire to your
room, so you can be alone.
3. Be very careful in the selection of companions.
All that I have before said on the subject of company,
applies with great force to this period of your life. It is now that the
mischief of evil associations will be felt in all its devastating influence.
One bad companion at this time, when the character is assuming its permanent
form, will give a most fatal direction. Your company will probably be
courted—but resist every overture which is not made by individuals of
well-known, unbending virtue.
4. Strive to excel in the business or profession to which
your life is to be devoted.
It is quite a laudable ambition for a man to aspire to
eminence in his secular vocation. Be not satisfied with mediocrity in
anything that is lawful. Even as a tradesman, you should endeavor to be
distinguished. It will give you weight in society, and thus, by increasing
your influence, augment the means of your usefulness. A dolt, however pious
he may be, possesses but little weight of character. Give your mind,
therefore, to business. Penetrate into all its secrets, comprehend all its
principles, study all its bearings. Care nothing about pleasure—but find
your recreation in your employment. It is astonishing how few rise to
eminence in their calling, either in trade or in the professions. The
summits are gained by a very small number; the multitude grovel below. Why?
Because they did not seek nor begin to ascend, during their apprenticeship.
They did not give themselves wholly to these things during this important
season. Excellence in any department of human affairs can be looked for only
from diligent and early culture. Industry and close application will keep
you out of the way of temptation. Let your mind be occupied with business,
and there will be neither leisure nor inclination for polluting amusements.
5. If your attention to business leaves any free time, I
advise you to carry on a course of reading.
Make companions of useful books, and you will need no
other. And as it is every man's chief praise to excel in his own profession,
let your reading bear a relation to that in which you are engaged. (The
author hopes he shall be pardoned for the frequency with which he urges a
taste for reading. He knows the importance of the subject.)
6. If you can find a pious and intelligent associate,
embrace the opportunity of innocent and pleasurable companionship.
"As iron sharpens iron, a friend sharpens a friend." With such a friend
carry on some course of intellectual improvement, and both give and receive
the stimulus which fellowship affords.
Again and again, remember the tremendous importance which
attaches to the period to which this chapter more particularly refers; and
believing, as you must, that it is from fourteen to eighteen, the character,
in relation to both worlds, is generally formed, judge what manner of people
you ought to be at that time, if you wish to be a good tradesman, and real
Christian upon earth, or a glorified and happy spirit in heaven.