The Young Man Leaving Home

by John Angell James, 1844


Besides the formidable and appalling perils which have been already enumerated, as awaiting the young man on his leaving the house of his father, and entering on the business of life, there are others, which, if they do not expose him to the same moral jeopardy, are of sufficient consequence to his well-being to deserve attention. Character may be injured by many things which can scarcely be called immoralities. And misery, yes vice also, may grow out of indiscretions and imprudences.

I. Absence from home may beget forgetfulness of home, and indifference to it—and such a state of mind, where there is much at home worthy to be remembered and loved, is not only unamiable in itself—but injurious to its possessor. Home is not only the scene of enjoyment to the youthful mind—but it is the soil in which the seeds of the social charities and virtues are first sown and grow; so that the child who, with much reason for loving his father's house, is destitute of this affection while there, or loses it when he leaves the spot long trodden by his infant and boyish feet, is a most unpromising character.

The young man, who, upon leaving the house that has sheltered him from his birth, cuts the ties which ought to bind him to that dear spot, and casts no longing, lingering look behind; who allows all its lovely images to sink into oblivion amid new and ever-shifting scenes; who can forget father and mother, brothers and sisters, in his society with strangers; and whose heart is never under the influence of an attraction to the circle of all that is related to him on earth, is destitute, at any rate, of social virtue, and is in peril of losing all other principles of morality.

Cherish, then, young man—cherish a fond affection for your parents' house; it may be humble—but it is home to you. You may be rising higher and higher at every step above the lowly spot on which your cradle was rocked, and may be outstripping in prosperity those with whom you inhabited it—but still let it ever be sacred to you. Let not your parents have to say to each other with tears, when they have waited years for a visit, and months even for a letter, "Our son has forgotten us!" Let them not have to exclaim, in bitterness of spirit, "How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is—to have a thankless child!"

Keep up a constant correspondence with home by letters—an additional motive to which you now possess in cheap postage—and let every line be such as shall be music to a father's and a mother's heart. As often as your engagements will allow, gladden them with a visit. Convince them that neither time, distance, nor prosperity, can lead you to forget them. How will it delight them to see that neither new scenes, nor new occupations, nor new relations, can ever alienate your heart from them!

The preservation of a tender love for home and its occupants, has proved in some cases the last tie to virtue, and a last preservation from ruin. When all other kinds of excellence were lost, and every other motive had ceased to influence, this one lingering feeling was left—and filial affection prevented the complete abandonment of the character to the desolation of vice. "What will my poor father and my dear mother say and feel—and, my brothers and my sisters too, who yet love me? and how shall I ever be able to face them again?" By this one question the youth, about to swing off into the turbid stream of vice that was rolling by, held on, until time was given for other and more powerful influences to come, and the love of home saved its possessor from the perdition that seemed to await him.

II. In opposition to this danger, the love of home has been so strong, so fond, so delicate in some—that they have been really injured by it, through all their future life. It has promoted, and even produced, such a softness and feebleness of character, as totally unfitted them to struggle with the difficulties of the world, and rendered them good for nothing—but to be nursed in the lap of luxurious ease. Parents have sometimes lent a helping hand to this mischief, and have cherished in their children a whimpering fretfulness after home, and such a feeling of dependence on its comforts, as has rendered them, through their whole existence, pitiable spectacles of fretful delicacy and helpless imbecility. After what I have said, no one will suspect me of encouraging an indifference to home, when I call upon my youthful readers to be willing to leave it, for the sake of their future welfare. Act the part of a good child, in loving your father's home and its happy circle; and act also the part of a man, in being willing to leave it, for the sake of learning to perform your part well in the affairs of life. Do not cherish such a hankering after home as will make every situation uncomfortable, and inflict wretchedness upon you wherever you are. Let not your parents be made unhappy by letters full of complaint, and tales of lamentation and woe. Rove not from place to place in quest of that which you will never find—a situation abroad that will command all the indulgences of a father's abode. Acquire a manliness of character, a nobleness and firmness of mind, that can endure hardships and make sacrifices.

It is desirable, of course, that your parents should procure a situation for you, or that you should procure one for yourself, where as much comfort may be secured as is usually attainable—for we have no need to court annoyance, discomfort, and privation. But do not be over-fastidious about these matters, nor let your happiness depend upon having your palate, your convenience, and your ease—consulted and gratified even in the minutest particulars.

Do not set out in life the slave of little things. No situation is without some inconveniences. Human life is a journey; all men are travelers; and travelers do not expect the comforts of their own home, when upon the road. Cultivate a hardihood of mind, that shall make you insensible to petty annoyances. Look at great things, aim at great things, and expect great things—then little ones will neither engage, nor amuse, nor distress you.

III. Among the minor perils to which you are exposed on leaving home, is the liability of acquiring an unsettled, roving, and visionary disposition. Now and then a boy of erratic mind and precocious instability is found, who is ever shaping new and strange courses for himself, and laying schemes for adventure and enterprise. These, however, are comparatively rare cases. But the spirit of roaming is not infrequently awakened when a youth leaves home; then "all the world is before him," as he imagines. But, without making Providence his guide, he begins to think of looking further for himself than his judicious friends have done for him. A useful and honorable employment is selected; good situations are procured for acquiring a knowledge of his business, perhaps at much cost and trouble. His friends rejoice in the idea of his comfortable and advantageous disposal. But before long, comes a letter of complaint, which banishes from his father's mind all these ideas of his son's happy position, and fills him with perplexity. Much against the hopes and wishes that his friends had formed, a change takes place, and the youth removes to another situation. Here he stays not—but removes somewhere else. At length he wishes to go abroad, and try his fortune at sea. This is done, and he embarks. One voyage is enough, and he returns home, weary of foreign travel and of the waves, and is now a dead weight upon his father's hands. He is not immoral. He commits no vice. He does not grieve his friends by profligacy. He is not indolent—but his versatile, unsettled, visionary disposition, makes them sick at heart, and convinces them that he will never be a comfort to them, or do anything good for himself. And he never does. Life is worn out by him in trying many things—and succeeding in nothing!

IV. It may not be unnecessary to caution you against a spirit of insubordination and disrespect towards your employers. It not infrequently happens, that a young man has his comfort destroyed, and his character injured—by constant collision with his employer. Sometimes the fault is all on one side; the youth has been so petted and spoiled at home, has had his own way so entirely, and been left so much to be his own employer—that the yoke of authority, however light and easy—is felt to be galling and intolerable, and, like an untamed bullock, he resents and resists it—to the annoyance of his employer, and his own injury. Young man, if this has been your case, instantly change, or you are undone. Such a disposition will not only be your misery—but your ruin. No one can be prepared to become a employer—but by first acting as a servant; and the way to govern is first to obey. Give up your spoiled habits and caprices—and the sooner the better. Call into exercise your judgment and good sense. Give over the contest with your employer—he must be obeyed, and it is as much for your interest as for his, that he should.

But suppose that he is an austere man, a hard master, an unreasonable employer—even in that case carry your patience and submission to the utmost limit of endurance. If there be absolute tyranny and cruelty, or an intolerable severity—make it known to your parents, after having mildly expostulated against it without effect. Do not by impertinence, by obstinacy, or by rebellion, make bad worse. The galled animal which is urged on by a furious driver, and which cannot escape from the reins and collar, avoids much pain by quiet and patient submission—resistance only brings more blows from his unrelenting employer, and causes deeper wounds by the fretting and friction of the harness.

Perhaps in most cases of disagreement, there is a little fault on both sides. I know an excellent young man who was apprenticed to a employer in a respectable trade, and of a tolerably good disposition, and who made a profession of true religion. But this employer was a very bad tradesman, and had a wife who was mirthful, worldly, and exceedingly imperious in ordering the young men who were in the house. The youth I speak of saw the fault of his employer, and felt the haughty demeanor of the wife. Instead of submitting with a good grace to many things that were certainly very annoying, he was constantly in strife about little things, that kept him in perpetual wretchedness. Sometimes his aim was really to correct the blunders into which the employer fell, and to avert the consequences of them; but he often did so pertly and disrespectfully, and therefore met with anger and rebuke in return. He complained to his friends, and made them wretched without relieving himself; and had he not been released from his situation, he might possibly have absconded, and been ruined. I have since heard him say that, much as his employer was to blame, and much cause as he had to complain, yet if he had himself possessed a little more patience and prudence, and less irritability and combativeness—he would have saved himself incalculable wretchedness, and averted much ill-will and opposition. Let this be a warning to you. In a former part of this volume, I have alluded to the discomfort of such a case, as one of the sources of moral danger. I have now dwelt upon it more at length to show that it is sometimes brought on by a spirit of insubordination, and that it may be in great measure avoided by an obedient, conciliatory, and submissive temper.

V. Entanglements in love, and the rash formation of attachments and engagements of this kind, are another snare into which young men away from home are too apt to fall. Besides the love of society, and the desire of companionship, there is a susceptibility—a strange and restless emotion, seated deep in the heart of youth—which pants for an alliance of the soul with some dear selected object—closer than is felt or found in the warmest general friendship. The attraction of the sexes towards each other is one of the instincts planted in our nature by the hand of Him who formed it, and was intended, like every other arrangement of Providence, for benevolent purposes. And when this passion is guided by prudence and sanctified by piety, it becomes a source of felicity, which if it does not remove, at least mitigates the woes of our fallen state. "It must, however, be a reasonable, and not a reckless passion. A check must be given to these emotions, while immature years are passed in the acquisition of knowledge, or in preparation for some useful station in society. The young affections should be restrained until the period arrives, when it will be honorable and safe to unfetter them. For lack of such restraint, many a youth has dashed his earthly hopes, and dragged out a miserable existence."

Marriages formed in youth have often led to dishonorable dissolution of them—or a wretched marriage. The heart grows faster than the judgment, and should not be allowed in this matter to be our first and only guide. A youth not out of his apprenticeship is a poor judge of the fitness of a person as young as himself to be his companion for life; and his mind should be occupied by other things. "It is not to be denied that, when circumstances justify it, a reciprocal affection between the sexes, founded on virtuous and honorable principles, is one of the purest sources of earthly happiness. It seems as if the Creator, in pronouncing upon the sinning pair the curses which their disobedience so justly merited, left them—in pity for their calamities—this soothing, mitigating blessing."

But early connections, especially if clandestine ones, formed and cherished without the consent or knowledge of parents—have rarely proved happy ones. In some cases the dissolution of them at the imperative command of parental authority, has been followed by an injurious influence over the young man's future destiny, inasmuch as it has made him either reckless or cynical. I have some painful instances of this before my mind's eye at this moment, some of which are of melancholy, almost tragic interest.

VI. Where a youth has been much indulged at home, and not trained to habits of persevering application and patient industry—he is in danger of sinking into INDOLENCE, and then into vice. This tendency is not always the result of parental neglect—but is occasionally found in youths, who have had the best precepts to guide them, and the most stimulating examples to quicken them. To whatever cause it may be attributed, indolence is an evil of immense magnitude. There may be no actual vice, nothing at present bordering on immorality—but only a disgraceful and shameless inactivity. Nothing rouses the inert and indolent youth. His employer frowns, scolds, threatens, or coaxes, stimulates, and promises—but it is all in vain. Nothing moves him. It is a difficulty to rouse him from his slumber, or draw him from his bed. And when he is up, he may almost as well be in his chamber, for of the little he does—and it is as little as he can make it—he does nothing willingly, and nothing well. It is more trouble to get him to do anything, than it is to do it oneself.

If one single abstract word may express his character, it is "laziness." What a pitiable and almost hopeless spectacle! A young man gifted by Providence, perhaps with a mind susceptible of improvement, and talents for business, which if cultivated would lead to eminence—dozing away the most precious period of existence, wasting his time, burying his talent and sleeping upon its grave, disappointing the hopes of his parents, tormenting by his incorrigible laziness the heart of his employer, and preparing himself, probably for vice—certainly for misery.

"Indolence throws open the avenues of the soul to temptations, and the great evil spirit, in his malignant march through the earth, seizes upon the occasion, and draws the unwary youth into his toils. 'For Satan finds some mischief still for idle hands to do.' By indolence the moral principle is weakened, and the impulse of passion is increased. Indolence is the gateway through which a troop of evil spirits gain admission to the citadel, and compel conscience to surrender to evil desire. Activity in honorable pursuits strengthens moral principle—makes the conscience vigilant—and furnishes a shield of defense impregnable to the assaults of the tempter. Impoverishment has, in some cases, counteracted the causes of indolence; and if there be a spark of youthful fire in the soul, the stimulant of 'necessity' will operate as a spur to vigorous action. Hence it is, that from the low walks of life have risen some of the greatest statesmen, most learned divines, and gifted geniuses in every department of human action. Their poverty has been the spring of their exertions. Though denied in youth the advantages which wealth commands, they have found more than an equivalent in their own unconquerable aspirations. What seemed to be an obstacle became an impulse; and the impediments in their paths to usefulness and reputation, which would have frightened back less noble spirits, only seemed like the interposing Alps in the march of Hannibal—to make their victory more glorious and more complete. Oh that I could reach the ear of every youth in the land, wake up in his soul those generous desires, and urge him to those active exertions, which should be at once his safe-guard from temptation and the pledge of his success." (Considerations for Young Men)

VII. On leaving home and entering on the business of life, or preparing to enter upon it, young men are apt to form too high an estimate of the importance of wealth, and to make the acquisition of it the supreme, if not the exclusive object of existence. Ours is emphatically a money-making country. By far the greater part, if not the whole, of those who read these pages, will be found among the middle classes—young men who leave a father's house, not to seek fame or rank—but wealth. Their feeling is, "I am going out to learn and try to get a fortune—to take my chance in the world's lottery, with the hope of drawing a prize." To this they are directed, perhaps, and stimulated by their parents, who send them forth, virtually, with this admonition—"Go, my son, and get rich."

Perhaps the son has seen no other object of desire or pursuit before the eyes of his parents—has heard no other commended—and has been placed in a situation where the attraction of no other object could be felt. Money, money, money has been held up to him as the highest good of human life—and he goes out eager to obtain its possession. But even without being thus sworn in and consecrated in childhood on the altar of Mammon; and when all that they have seen and heard in the house of their father is opposed to the notion, youth, in general, can with difficulty be persuaded that to learn to get money is not the only object, or the highest end, of their leaving home.

Riches are the bright vision, which, seen in the distant prospect, call forth their aspirations, and make them willing to sacrifice the endearments of their father's house. They have no ideas of greatness, of happiness, of respectability—apart from wealth—which is the standard of everything valuable with them. The hope of being a rich man is the nerve of their industry, the spur to their energies, the reconciling thought that makes them wipe from their brow with joy, the memorial of the curse of earth. And should we cut this nerve of effort, and paralyze these energies? Should we take from the heart this desire and expectation of success? Should we quench the ardor of youth, and make life a dreary wilderness—pathless, objectless, hopeless? No! Money has proper attractions. It is the gift of God. When sought in subordination to a higher end of life, by honest industry, and as a means of modest gratification and of benevolent effort, it is a blessing to its owners and to others. But when it is wealth for its own sake that is set up as the object of existence; when it is loved for itself; when that love is an absolute passion; when it takes such hold of the inner man as to thrust out and cast down every moral principle, every noble sentiment, every honorable emotion, and every subject which relates to our immortal destiny; then it is a low and sordid passion, a groveling ambition, a contraction of mind, of itself unworthy a rational, much more an immortal being—and in its influence will benumb the conscience, harden the heart, and ruin the soul.

In a case where you cannot have experience of your own to guide you, be willing, young man—to profit by the experience of others. Is there a subject about which the testimony of mankind is more concurrent, or on which they have delivered their testimony more spontaneously and emphatically, than the insufficiency of wealth to satisfy the soul? Has not this been proclaimed by the contentment of millions who have had little—and the restlessness and dissatisfaction of thousands who have had much? Does not Solomon, as the foreman of that countless jury which has sat in judgment upon the world's claim, deliver the verdict in those impressive words, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."

Not that I mean to say wealth contributes nothing to our felicity, either by lessening the evils, or multiplying the comforts, of life. It does contribute something, and it may be lawfully sought after, for as much as it can yield. My remarks go only to prove that it is not the chief good, and to dissuade the young from considering and treating it as such in the outset of life. It may be useful as one of the golden vessels with which to serve yourselves, your neighbors, or your Lord. But it must not become a golden idol—to be set up and worshiped instead of Jehovah. I do not wish you to become careless or inactive in business, or even indifferent to the increase of your possessions. But what I aim at, is to convince you that wealth is not the supreme end of life, and that it is infinitely less desirable than an inheritance laid up in heaven. If you make wealth the end of life, you may miss it after all, and even in reference to your own selected object, live in vain. While if you succeed and actually become wealthy, you will still miss the end for which God created you—and lavish existence upon an idol, which cannot save you when you most need its help. You may cry to it in your affliction—but it will have no ears to hear. You may call upon it in your dying hour—but it will have no power to commiserate, and to turn the ebbing tide of life. You may invoke it at the day of judgment—but it shall be only to be a swift witness against you. You may think of it in eternity—but it will only be to feel it to be "the gold which cankers," and the "rust which shall eat your flesh."

Such, then, are some of the minor dangers—if indeed I can with propriety call them so, when they entail such consequences as I have stated. But what I mean is, that they are not so directly and flagrantly immoral in their tendency and effects as those previously enumerated. Look at them, young men! Weigh them with deliberation. And may God, in answer to your earnest prayers, grant you his grace for your protection and preservation!