Letters from a Father to His Son
John Mackenzie, 1848-1849
London, August 24th, 1848.
My dear son,
You have now left your home for the first time, and as you will no longer have the benefit of your father and mother's daily advice, I am going to write down for you some instructions, which, if you carefully attend to, may, and I have no doubt will, tend to make you a good and respectable man.
The first thing which I desire to impress most deeply upon your mind (and you will guess what is coming before you read it) is that you always speak the truth. I have urged and repeated this to you, as you know, ever since you understood the meaning of words; and you have sense enough to believe that I would not have done so, but from a thorough conviction of its importance to your welfare.
To be true is to be honest.
The boy or the man who never breaks this golden rule, walks uprightly through the world is ever able to look his fellows and companions in the face. He knows no fear, and has nothing to conceal; and though he is ashamed of doing what is wrong, is not base enough to endeavor to screen his faults with a falsehood.
Human nature, in men as well as boys, is ever liable to error—hasty acts bring upon us all lasting regrets; but if we acknowledge our errors candidly and honestly, and endeavor to avoid them in future, we shall not have to add to them the pain and remorse of concealment, nor the shame of detection and exposure.
Besides speaking positive untruths, all boasting and exaggeration should be shunned. Boasting often leads to untruth. It is like a weak and vain boy, to boast of any little accomplishment you may possess. Leave others to find out your merits, if you have any, and depend upon it, you will be much more thought of than if you seemed puffed up with conceit of yourself.
Do not be too ready with excuses for your faults—that often leads to untruth. Do not say, it was only a very small apple I ate; it was only a very little way I was out of bounds; it was only a very little knock I gave Willy; and so on.
A boy who is always ready with an excuse, cannot be always making a true and real excuse. Every now and then, his wish to screen himself will lead him to soften his fault, and that too frequently ends in his denying what he has done altogether. Let everything you say be the whole truth, and the exact truth, neither added to nor diminished; but state things precisely, and truly, and really as they happened, and as they are.
I say again, therefore, be particularly mindful always to speak the truth; and not only to speak the truth, but to be perfectly candid and open, manly and straight forward in all your little ways with your schoolfellows. Never mislead, or deceive, or attempt to do so. If you are asked a question, give a full, that is, as full an answer as you are able. Do not keep back half of what is passing in your mind, and only allow the other half to escape from your lips. This is called mental reservation. I will give you an instance of a very silly and stupid reservation of this sort, as it used to be played off at my school when I was a schoolboy, by lads of an inferior description, as a piece of wit; but, in fact, it was simply a low and vulgar equivocation. One boy would hand an apple to another, and say, "I am going out—here is an apple; will you promise faithfully to give it to my brother William?" The other boy would say, "I will;" but low down to himself he said "not," so that what he really said was "I will not;" and when the boy who gave him the apple was gone, he ate the apple himself. Of course he was found out; and then he excused himself by saying he said "not" low down to himself. This was a base, paltry trick; he induced the boy who gave him the apple to believe that he would truly and honestly give it to his brother; and the word "not," which he said low down, was the same as not said, because no one heard it. These sort of boys, in the end, always become shunned by their companions—no one believes them or trusts them; and their promises and statements are never in the least relied upon.
I explain this to you, not that I suppose for a moment either you, or any of your companions or schoolfellows, would be guilty of so silly and unmeaning—so false and base a trick; but to impress on your mind, that all tricks which interfere with the truth are bad, and that you should never for a moment, in any shape or way, allow yourself to trifle with the truth, nor play tricks which involve a deviation from the great principle which I wish to press on your attention in this letter.
Recollect, also, what I have often told you, that truth and candor are the basis of all virtue and goodness in life, and a departure from them the foundation of every evil. Abilities of the most splendid character without truth, are of no avail to their possessor. No one respects an untruthful boy, or a deceitful and false man; his very abilities often prove his destruction, because falsehood leads to crime and wickedness. An able and wicked man carries his wickedness much further than a stupid man can do, and his ultimate punishment is of course more dreadful in proportion.
Remember, also, that truth, which is honesty, is the best policy. You know the proverb, that honesty is the best policy: well, that is the same as truth; truth is honesty, and honesty is truth.
If I was an artist, I would like to draw you two pictures of Truth and Falsehood. Truth would be like the industrious apprentice, with a fine candid open face, looking upright and manly, with a free step and a pleasant countenance, which everyone who gazed upon would see was the face of a true and honest boy. While falsehood would have a downcast ashamed look, with a bad expression and unsteady eye, not venturing to look straight before him, so that any one who saw him would say, "That is a wicked boy."
A wicked mind—a habit of falsehood—a continual deviation from truth and goodness and honesty, make a boy's features bad. Bad passions and evil propensities soon show themselves in the face; and no boy or man can long be untruthful or deceitful, without betraying in his face and manner, to all who see him, that he is not worthy to be trusted—that he is untrue, dishonest, and wicked.
Thus, therefore, you see, honesty is in every way the best policy, and so is truth.
You remember the newspaper I brought home for you some months ago, to read about the false and wicked man, whose untrue statements produced his ruin. The words I wished you particularly to attend to, were the words of a gentleman appointed to act as a Judge, and among other things, to inquire into the causes why people called bankrupts cannot pay what they owe. This gentleman had great opportunities of knowing the world, and of observing, that, in a great majority of cases, it is their own misconduct which leads men into difficulties. You may therefore look upon what he says, as the words of an able, and what is better, of a good man, and I cannot do better than repeat them to you here over again.
He says, "It has been truly said, when a man has once forfeited the reputation of his integrity, he is set fast, and nothing will serve his turn, neither truth nor falsehood. Indeed, if a man were to deal in the world only for a day, and should never have occasion to converse more with mankind—never more need of their good opinion or good word, it were then no great matter (speaking of the concernments of this world) if a man spent his reputation all at once, and ventured it at a throw. But if he is to continue in the world, and would have the advantage of conversation while he is in it, let him make use of truth and sincerity in all his words and actions, for nothing but this will last and hold out to the end, and all other arts will fail; but truth and integrity will carry a man through, and bear him out to the last."
I am sure, however that you have had too many opportunities and advantages, and have too much sense to require me to say much more on this matter. This letter you must read over and over again; and whenever you have said or done anything which your own mind tells you is not correct, and not according to the instructions in father's first letter to you about truth—then get the letter, and read it again carefully over; go to your teacher and tell him of your fault, and your doubts, and he will put you in the right way to atone for any passing error, and amend your conduct for the future.
In conclusion, let me remind you that I am writing for your express benefit and improvement—that I am occupying valuable time in doing it, or interfering with the few hours of leisure which health requires. You know that no one loves you as your father and mother do, and you never can have such friends again as they are. What they say to you is the result of long experience, and having no one but yourself to attend to, few children are blessed with the care and attention, both to your health and morals, bestowed upon you.
The way to show your sense of their kindness is to attend to your parents' advice—to think continually of it, and to be virtuous, truthful and good, and then you will not only be happy yourself, but the source of great happiness and gratification to them throughout their lives. And when they die, you will have the consolation to know, that you have been their comfort and their joy to the last period of their existence, and thus repaid the debt of gratitude which you owe them. I shall soon write to you again on another subject; and in the meantime,
I am, my dear son,
Your affectionate father
London, October 25th, 1848.
My dear son,
I have written to you a letter about speaking the truth, and being guided by truth, candor, and honesty in all your words and actions, and I am now going to write to you about self-denial. I hope you attend to what I write, and think of it continually.
It would be in vain for me to give you the benefit of my experience and opinion, if you did not carefully read and reflect upon my words. They are not light words, to be forgotten like a fairy tale—but serious and important words, every one of them to be stored in your memory, and never lost sight or recollection of during your life.
What I tell you is what I know myself to be true. You will find, in the course of your education, and of your reading, as you grow older, that there are some things nay, I may say, many things—as to which wise and good men differ in opinion. In my letters to you, when I speak of such matters, I shall inform you that this difference of opinion exists. For the present I am confining my advice to you to plain and acknowledged truths, about which there can be, among wise and good men, no difference of opinion.
You know the meaning of self-denial. The words, indeed, explain their own meaning. The time to begin self-denial is when we are young. If young people are indulged in every wish—if they have only to ask and have—if, without reference to whether the object of their desires is good or bad for their minds or bodies; those who are entrusted with the care of them—that is, their parents or teachers, allow them to obtain every gratification—then young boys and girls so treated are almost sure to be ruined!
You will find, also, that there is often more real happiness in abstaining from the immediate object of our wishes, than in securing it. Happiness does not consist in a perpetual round of pleasures and enjoyments. When you have had a long and perhaps fatiguing walk, rest is pleasant; and after a long fast, you are hungry. But were you always eating or always resting, then you would swallow your food without an appetite, and would feel no pleasure in repose.
Thus it is that human nature is constituted. The industrious man enjoys his leisure—the man who is always at leisure enjoys nothing.
One of the first things that boys are apt to do wrong in is, the indulgence of their appetites by perpetually buying things to eat. The parents of some boys send cakes and sweets with them or after them to school. In the north of England, where I was educated, this was of rare occurrence, and the few boys who were so indulged obtained nick-names, and became objects of derision to their playfellows. One, I recollect, was called Dolly, from the name of the servant who brought him the good things.
Do not understand me to say that you are never to eat sweets; such things, if in a proper state, are now and then very well in moderation. What I am cautioning you against is the spending every penny you get in that way. I recollect we had a boy at our school who was never done eating pies, cakes, and fruit. When he got older he went to the pastry-cooks and confectioners' shops in the town, and purchased more expensive dainties. I remember very well one day seeing him with a large paper-bag before him, seated in a corner by himself, and devouring sweet cakes as fast as he could cram them down his throat!
You will be surprised when I tell you that this boy had an intellect of no common order. He was a very quick, capable, and clever lad; not only a good scholar, but also a capital hand at all school games which required alertness and dexterity, and the fastest runner in the school. Had this unfortunate and foolish boy restrained his appetites in his youth, and cultivated the excellent abilities he possessed, there was nothing to have prevented his attaining a very high station. He had all those qualities which ensure success in this bustling world, added to a fine constitution. He went on, however, from one indulgence to another. As he grew up and became a man, he gave way to every inclination, very shortly took to drinking, and finally, after being ruined both in health and prospects, died of a disease brought on by habits of intoxication.
Bear in mind that all this misery, misfortune, and death was brought about to this person entirely by the lack of a little timely self-denial, when he first began to indulge his appetite without control in his youth.
Besides its effect on the body, self-denial is of great use to the mind. It removes selfishness, and prevents us from entertaining a grasping and greedy spirit with respect to every apparently desirable object of which we see or hear. You should accustom yourself, when there is anything nice to be given away, whether at home or at school, to offer your companions the first choice, or divide it with them. You will feel yourself afterwards much more gratified in so doing than if you had appropriated the whole to yourself, and a pleasing sensation will come into your mind, rendering you satisfied with your own conduct.
Self-denial also is to be observed not only in such matters as I have referred to, but in all your doings. If you wish to walk or play when you are asked to remain quiet or the reverse, always immediately give up your own desire, and submit cheerfully and readily to the directions of your friends or teachers.
Sacrifice your self-will whenever you are called upon. At first you will find it difficult, but after a few efforts it will become easier. You will find that the quiet and kind manner (the result of your self-government) which this course of conduct will render habitual to you, will be of great service to you, and will create friends wherever you go.
Of course, you will clearly understand that your giving way on such occasions is not intended to extend to instances where you may be asked by improper people to do what is wrong. Firmness of character is quite consistent with the most perfect self-denial, and you know now, and will know better still when you grow older, that the giving way to the wishes of others in affairs of comparatively trifling consequence, and which do not involve a compromise of your principles or a deviation from rectitude, is quite a different thing from abandoning those straight paths of virtue and honor which are clear and well defined, and which are never to be forsaken or departed from under any pretense or upon any solicitation whatever.
Be moderate in all your wishes, and temperate in the gratification of them. When you are in school, attend to your lessons. When out of school, manage your amusements in such a manner as that, when they are over, you shall feel satisfied in your own mind with your own conduct, and you will seldom get far wrong. Attend to what I say; be a good boy and obey your teachers, and there will be nothing to interfere with your happiness beyond the usual casualties inseparable from human nature. Forever remember—engrave it on your heart, and fix it in your understanding—that virtue brings its own reward, and vice brings its own punishment.
"Let no vicious man," says an eloquent writer in one of the monthly publications of the metropolis, "let no vicious man encourage himself in the thought that he can sin with impunity, that there is this attainable result—successful and unsuspected crime. Scourges track his footsteps. Above him is the stern observer; around him are invisible witnesses; behind him hurries remorse—his inseparable attendant during life, and his tyrannical monitor in the bitter hour of death. The sting of sin's scorpion is real; it is realized in unrepented transgression. The only recipe for a clear conscience is that traced in the pages of a record that cannot lie. "Keep innocenct and hold unto the thing which is right."
I am, my dear son,
Your affectionate Father
London, November 10th, 1848.
My dear son,
There are a few first principles—that is, a few leading and important truths—which, if strictly kept in mind and adhered to from boyhood to man's estate and through life, will ensure to us at least a moderate success in all our undertakings, and make us as happy and as well off in the world as we can reasonably hope to be.
Life is chequered by joys and sorrows, and sometimes with the best zeal and care and the greatest propriety of conduct, our endeavors may seem for a time to fail in their object. We must, however, have patience. Let us steadily continue our work—and with truth, honesty, and industry for our guides and companions, we shall not fail. These companions will be to us what Great-heart you know was to Christiana in the "Pilgrim's Progress," that you were so fond of reading. They will cheer us along the way, overcome all the obstacles which beset our path, and finally crown us with a fair and reasonable proportion of happiness and prosperity.
I have already spoken to you of truth, and honesty, and self-denial. I am now going to write to you of another of these important companions and guides, and, next to truth and honesty, the most important, namely, INDUSTRY. This is the true Great-heart—this is the young man's sword to enable him to cut his way into a high place among his fellows. Industry, properly directed, is power, and strength, and wealth, and greatness. It ensures all these things; without it, all these things are as nothing.
A pleasing writer, called Zimmerman, says, "If you ask me which is the real hereditary sin of human nature, do you imagine I shall answer pride, or luxury, or ambition, or egotism? No, I shall say indolence. Whoever conquers indolence, will conquer all the rest."
Dr. Isaac Barrow, who was an eminent scholar and divine in the reign of Charles II, observes, in one of his works, that "A gentleman has obligations to mankind, which demand industry. How can he fairly exist on the common industry of mankind, without bearing a share thereof? How can he well satisfy himself to dwell stately, to feed daintily, to be finely clad, to maintain a pompous retinue—merely on the sweat and toil of others, without himself rendering a compensation or making some competent returns of care and pain, redounding to the good of his neighbor."
The English are naturally and nationally an industrious people. It is that which has made England the greatest country in the world. You have heard of savages and Indians, and you are aware that they cannot read or write. They have no books, no printing presses, no clocks or watches, few and rude inventions, such as canoes and sledges for conveying themselves from place to place, and they cannot even make gunpowder to hunt their food.
If you reflect for a moment, you will easily conceive how wonderful must have been the industry of the civilized portion of the human race. Man, in his original state, knew no more than the savages. He ran wild and naked in the woods. In the times in which you and I live, only consider how immensely man has improved his position. We have now houses to live in—all sorts of inventions for producing warmth, light, and security by day and night—scientific and able men to attend us when we are ill; and for our daily use we have clocks to tell the time, and silver, china, and glass, earthenware and steel, elegant furniture and delightful musical instruments—all of which were brought to the greatest perfection by the care, pains and industry of man. We have, also, conveyances of every description by sea and land, and the benefit of the art of printing, which gives us excellent books on all subjects for our instruction and assistance with histories which tell us of all the past.
Think, therefore, that having derived all these comforts and enjoyments, and such extensive means of information and amusement from the industry of others—you have your own part to perform. You must aspire to do something more than to eat, drink, sleep and die. Having to thank those who have gone before you for the great benefits their labors have conferred upon you, it should be your wish to render yourself as useful as you can to those who may come after you.
To this end you must improve your mind, and labor at your studies with zeal and perseverance. Never give way to despondency or sloth, nor put aside a task because it is difficult. When you are on one subject, or at one pursuit—never leave it until you have understood and mastered it. Renew your application with spirit and cheerfulness, and you are sure to succeed. You will experience a lively pleasure and gratification in overcoming a difficulty in this way; and every difficulty overcome will not only be an incentive to new exertions, but will sharpen and prepare your mind for greater efforts, and a more brilliant success.
Industrious people are always cheerful and happy. The carpenter sings at his work. The ploughman whistles o'er the furrowed land. The idle, on the contrary, are always listless and unhappy. Ever in search of frivolous gratifications which pall on them immediately, they know no real or lasting satisfaction.
True enjoyment consists not wholly in play and amusement, but in seasonable relaxation from industrious and useful pursuits. You enjoy your holidays, now that you are at school, much more than you enjoyed the perpetual holiday you had before you went to school. At school, also, your hours of play come in doubly sweet, because they consist of short intervals between your school exercises. The one employs the body, the other the mind. This keeps both in a sound, healthy and cheerful state. You will find that, in going to your play from your work, you go with an alacrity and satisfaction, that you do not feel when all your time is spent in play, and you do not know what amusement to invent next.
A great philosopher and historian says, that "a life of pleasure cannot support itself so long as one of business; but is much more subject to satiety and disgust. The amusements that are the most durable have all a mixture of application and attention in them, and in general business and action fill up all the great vacancies of life."
Bear in mind, also, that in performing your duty in this respect you are your own best friend.
Some writer (I forget who) says, "serve mankind and you serve yourself," and that is particularly true of industry. The first efforts of industry will be in obedience to your teachers. When you are a little older, your labors will be apparently for the sole benefit of one who is your master or superior. Idle and stupid lads will sometimes say, "Why should I do it for him? That will do me no good; I will go and amuse myself." How short sighted they are. It may be true that apparently your labor is not productive of any immediate benefit to yourself. I say apparently, because the habit of industry alone is a benefit. But there is more than this. By the act of labor you are improving your stock of knowledge. Every day's mental labor makes the next day's labor lighter; so that an industrious youth, when he attains to man's state, finds all inquiries and exertions comparatively easy to him. He takes pleasure in the pursuit of his business, or profession, from the habit of industry previously acquired. He is respected and looked up to by all who know him. Accustomed to rely on himself, he needs but little help from others, while his own industry assists him to obtain and ensures his obtaining all that it is worth while to seek for upon earth. He is termed a clever person, a fortunate man, and such like—but the main secret of his good fortune and success in life being that, from youth to manhood, he has been honest, truthful and industrious.
I am, my dear son,
Your affectionate Father
London, December 1st, 1848.
My dear son,
Economy is a word of much more extensive meaning than that which it is used to signify in common speech. At present, however, I shall confine myself to its popular and ordinary acceptance, namely—frugality, as the reverse of extravagance.
It is necessary for every person to observe a proper economy. Supposing that we have money and all the gifts of fortune at command—still we should not waste our means in idle and worthless pursuits, nor foolishly spend our money upon trifles. There are plenty of poorer people in the world who will be thankful for anything we may give them, and on whom our spare cash will be much better bestowed, than in personal gratifications for ourselves.
I do not mean that you are not to have bats and balls, tops and bicycles, and such other things as boys of your age take delight in during their play-hours. What I wish you to understand is the value of money; that it is obtained by labor and perseverance, by industry and self-denial, and by the exercise of a suitable economy, and that it is not to be carelessly thrown away!
You know I required you lately to save your allowances until you could pay for a window you had broken. I did that not so much because I was angry with you for breaking the window, but to teach you to save your money, and deny yourself for a time the little indulgences it might have purchased you. In short, it was to give you a little practical lesson on economy.
Please observe that frugality and stinginess are very different things. By saving your money and not always running to a shop to spend it as soon as you get it, you will generally have some in your pocket to give to a poor person in distress, or to enable you to make a little present to a school-fellow you may respect, or who may have been useful or kind to you.
The habit of foolish and reckless expenditures is a very bad one. It grows upon those who indulge in it, and is frequently, in after life, the cause of a ruin which may be dated from the thoughtless and uncorrected errors and follies of childhood.
Economy also extends to a proper care of your clothes, books, and even playthings. Such things are the only property a little boy possesses of his own; and by not wasting, destroying, or neglecting them when he is young—he will learn to be careful of things of greater value with which he may be entrusted as he grows older. Your clothes should be put away with order and regularity, and you should know where to find everything you have—not leave your bats, guns, bow, etc. all around, you know not where, as I have known some boys do.
I cannot too often impress on your mind that good fortune, success in life, and happiness belong less to a man's position, than to himself and to the good early habits which he acquires. Your parents may be able to leave you, when they die, as much money as will keep you comfortably all your days—but they may not. An accident may happen to them, and they may lose all their property, so that they may have nothing to leave you but a good name and education. Prudent people seldom happen to have such accidents, but they are possible.
In this latter case, if you have attended to the advice and instructions of your parents and teachers, imbibed virtuous principles, and become truthful, self-denying, industrious, and economic—then your fortune rests in your own hands, and you will be able to earn a living for yourself.
On the other hand, supposing your parents to leave you a competence, or even wealth—all of that would be of no use to you should you be without truth, without industry, and without a proper economy. No property can long remain in such hands, and you would soon find that your wealth would slip through your fingers and be consumed in follies and extravagances, until you would be reduced to poverty! While, on the other hand, you would possess no qualities either of mind or body which would enable you to re-instate yourself in the place from whence you had fallen, or even probably to obtain your daily bread.
Possessing, however, as I have no doubt you will, a competence, and combining also, as I trust it will be your anxious study to do—good and virtuous principles with energy of character and a determination rather to improve than deteriorate your position—there are few of the usual objects of ambition in life to which you may not aspire with a reasonable probability of success.
I am, my dear son,
Your affectionate Father
London, December 15th, 1848.
My dear son,
I mentioned to you, in one of my former letters, that industry was the young man's sword to carve out for him success in life. With equal truth, I may tell you that perseverance is the magic boot which, like that in the fairy tale, will enable him who possesses it, with rapid strides, to surpass all his competitors.
In our native country of England, every office, every honor, every reward, short of the crown itself—is open to the humblest subject in the realm. It is true that there are a few only of the very highest stations to be filled, and many who aspire to them; still that is no reason why any individual should not so aspire. In attempting the highest, we perhaps may achieve the next in importance; whereas, he who sits down without energy, perseverance, or ambition, is likely to descend below the scale of society in which he was born, and to be overlooked or forgotten in the circle to which he belongs.
Many, if not most, of our eminent men have not owed their elevation to family connections, but solely to their own indefatigable perseverance. In some instances it has occurred that the successful individual has been almost ready to give up his long cherished hopes and prospects in despair. Having spent many anxious years in study and research, and waited and watched with patience for an opportunity to distinguish himself, he has been about to retire from the field—when the absence of some well known person from illness or accident has made way for the humble aspirant to fame and fortune, who has stepped forward from his obscurity to fill the vacant place, to convince the world of his abilities and acquirements, and to lay the first stone of his future prosperity. No earthly blessing is so grateful as success thus obtained.
Most high places were reached by perseverance and earnest and continued application. The knowledge of these facts should prove an incitement to the young to fix their eyes aloft, to maintain a high character for honor and truth, to improve every hour of their existence, and to omit nothing which may tend to render them capable of fulfilling the highest destinies.
With these, or similar views in your mind, do not let passing pleasures allure you to loiter along the way, nor divert you from the course of mental improvement and exertion, which alone can render you fit to compete with those you will find in the same track as yourself. Brace your nerves and spirits to the task—keep your mind on the alert, and your body free from indolence and unworthy gratifications—spur onward with alacrity, and if you have but health you are certain to win a high prize. "The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong"—but it is to the swift in virtue, temperance, and truth; to the strong in persevering industry and patient labor.
Then comes the reward of toil—the thankful satisfaction of having won your own garlands by your own exertions—the ultimate prize of the diligent and persevering scholar, the congratulations of our fellow laborers, the approval of our relatives and friends, the means of assisting those beneath us, and the conviction that when we leave this earthly scene, we shall leave behind us a name unsullied by dishonor, and a character without blemish or reproach!
Look to this—think deeply of it. It is your father who tells you that this may one day all be yours. Forget not also that it will be your own fault if much, very much of it is not.
I am, my dear son,
Your affectionate Father,
December 20th, 1848.
My dear son,
There is nothing which contributes so essentially to our own happiness throughout all the varied accidents and relations of life, as a peaceful and contented spirit. "A contented mind" (says an old proverb), "is a continual feast!" A celebrated writer truly observes, "The fountain of contentment springs up in the mind, and he who shows so little knowledge of human nature as to seek for happiness in changing anything but his own disposition, spends his life in fruitless efforts, and multiplies the griefs he purposes to remove."
There are various sentences of a similar import, scattered throughout the works of poets and philosophers, and however few may be able from habit or temperament to achieve the blessing—it is on all hands admitted, that true happiness rests in the mind and disposition of the man—and not in his outward circumstances. It is by no means intended by this to discourage proper exertions, or a vigorous pursuit of suitable and praiseworthy objects of ambition. While we daily strive to improve our minds, and render ourselves worthier members of society—we may still be happy and contented with our present lot, and not vainly repine at the apparent wealth and prosperity of those who may seem to enjoy superior advantages to ourselves.
Nothing is more unpleasant than to hear young people perpetually wishing for some enjoyment, not reasonably within their reach—and undervaluing the comforts and blessings they possess.
You will hear (at least I have often heard), a youth say, "Oh! I do not like this place, it is so dull! I wish I was in London, or at home, or in Hampshire! Or, "How I dislike this walk, and how I wish we had gone another way. How sorry I am we are traveling by rail—the steam vessel on the open sea would have been so delightful" and so forth. There is no harm in you expressing your reasonable wishes beforehand, but when once they are overruled by your parents, think no more of your past longings, but cheerfully make the best of what you have. This disposition will give your friends a great desire to oblige you whenever they can properly do so, and will besides render you happy under all circumstances, and throughout any and every change of fortune.
By imagining we dislike this thing and the other thing—we come to do so in reality. We are unhappy, not because of anything unpleasant which has occurred to us, but because of our own wayward whims and caprices. The power of the mind over external circumstances, is underestimated.
An even temper and frame of mind also teaches us to bear with the disappointments and misfortunes, of which we are sure to have our share, and not to place too great reliance on the delight to be experienced in grasping the objects of our ambition.
An eminent philosopher (in speaking of the way in which a wise man views the struggles and turmoils which attend the life of the too restless and ambitious) observes, "The temple of wisdom is seated upon a rock, above the rage of the fighting elements, and inaccessible to all the malice of man. The rolling thunder breaks below, and those more terrible instruments of human fury reach not to so sublime a height." "The contented mind, while he breathes that serene air, looks down with compassion on the errors of mistaken mortals, who blindly seek for the true path of life, and pursue riches, nobility, honor, and power for genuine felicity. The greater part he beholds disappointed of their fond wishes. Some lament, that having once possessed the object of their desire, it is snatched from them by envious fortune. All complain that even their own views, though granted, cannot give them happiness, or relieve the anxiety of their distracted minds."
This is, perhaps, in one respect, and to a certain extent, too true a portrait of humanity, and it is therefore I have quoted it for you, not because I agree entirely in the somewhat exaggerated picture which is drawn, nor concur in all the sentiments expressed. It is quite possible, and indeed it is quite according to the instinct of our nature, for men to pursue riches, nobility, honor and power—all of which are laudable objects—and at the same time, not to place all hopes of happiness in their attainment.
We must and ought to have views and prospects in the distance, urging us forward, and yielding us motives for exertion, and by preserving a serene mind and a contented spirit amid all our aspirations—we shall not feel too elated should we reach the summit of our ambition, nor too depressed should we fail or fall short of our wishes and expectations.
In his own hands—within himself—under the control and dominion of his own reason, the contented man holds to a great extent the scales of his own happiness or misery. Leading a calm and virtuous life, happy with his relatives, and esteemed by his friends and connections—the storms of fortune and the ills of fate and humanity will blow past him without shattering his hopes, or seriously or eventually disturbing the even tenor of his mind.
That this may be your lot, my dear son, is the sincere wish of your affectionate Father.
London, January 10th, 1849
My dear son,
There is a Latin adage or saying that you will meet with when you are a little further advanced in the study of that language, which means that a man is known by the company he keeps. There is a similar phrase in almost all languages and countries, and the fact is, therefore, confirmed by the experience of ages, that in general one who associates with idle and worthless people, is himself of the same stamp. On the contrary, he who is always found in the society and fellowship of those who are industrious, virtuous, and honorable, in all probability partakes of the character of his companions.
Let it be, therefore, your own care to select your associates, and still more especially your friends, from among those only who merit and obtain the good opinion and approbation of the holiest of men. This will not only procure for you a like good opinion and approval, but it will be one step towards your deserving it. The perpetual example of holy people before our eyes, their conversation and advice, is of the greatest use to us when we are young; while the language and conduct of the evil-minded and dissolute are apt to corrupt even the best disposition, and to undermine the yet unfixed principles of childhood, especially if accompanied, as is sometimes the case, by superior, though perverted natural abilities.
In making choice of companions it is generally best for us to select those having similar tastes and dispositions, and occupying similar stations in society to ourselves. Certainly it is not advisable for us to stoop to a circle below our own—and neither is it desirable for us anxiously to seek for associates among those whom birth or fortune has placed much above us.
On the other hand, if such people as those I have last referred to seek us in a proper manner, and treat us with kindness and respect, evincing no wish to show us that they consider themselves condescending to our level, and honoring us by their notice—it is not at all necessary or proper for us to shun such a connection so long as it can be continued upon equal terms and with a due regard to our own self-respect. In this, however, you must be regulated by circumstances, and, while young, by the advice of your parents and friends, who are older, and, of necessity, more acquainted with human character than yourself.
The virtue and goodness of your companions are of the first importance—their rank and station in the world are but a secondary consideration. It is not well for young men to form hasty friendships, and to be first the ardent friend of one youth, and then of another, as caprice may suggest. I would advise you to be backward in encouraging these sort of temporary friendships. As it is improper to take up hot and hasty prejudices against others from slight causes, it is equally so to allow an acquaintance of a short duration to spring up on the sudden into too close an intimacy and friendship. Such ties seldom endure long, and when broken they leave an unpleasant feeling behind them, rendering us dissatisfied with our own conduct, and with that of our temporary friend.
When, however, you have established a friendship with another, do not let a little matter divide you. As you have been slow and deliberate in forming your opinion of your friend, and have become gradually convinced of his good qualities and kind feelings, from your own observation of his character, as well as from the approbation of others—so be slow to believe he would knowingly wrong you or act an unworthy part by you.
If you think you have cause to complain of him, frankly and immediately tell him of it, but never listen either to the suspicious suggestions of your own mind or the unworthy insinuations of others, nor let ill-feelings or supposed injuries, which a word of explanation might dispel—rankle in your mind until you magnify that which was originally either a mere trifle or an unintentional slight—into an insupportable grievance and offence.
Place, on all occasions, the best construction on the acts of your friend; believe that he feels towards you as you feel towards him; make allowances for the errors of humanity, and be ever ready to overlook and forgive.
On your own part, be careful to avoid giving cause of offence; study your friend's character and turn of mind, and forbear to alarm his prejudices, wound his feelings, or hurt his honor. Incur as few obligations as you can, especially financial ones, and be very punctual in the repayment of the latter, should you unavoidably or accidentally be compelled to have recourse to your friend's purse.
Be willing to yield your plans and wishes to his, in your little pursuits—and, in the end, you will meet with a like delicacy and forbearance from him in return. You will thus mutually consult each other's wishes, and be what friends ought to be to one another—kind, considerate, and obliging.
It is not often, however, that such friendships continue; circumstances break them off, and different engagements and undertakings sever us from our early associates. In some few instances they last as long as we live, and that is generally a proof that the friendship has been advisedly formed and sustained throughout the vicissitudes of life by the good conduct and high principles of the parties. Should you have the happiness to secure and retain more than one such friend, you will be more fortunate or more prudent than the majority of mankind.
I am, my dear son,
Your affectionate Father
London, January 20th, 1849.
My dear son,
Manners, it has been said, make the man. This, however, is not altogether so, because there are people who, from birth, habit, and a constant interaction with good society, possess the most unexceptionable manners—but nothing else. Such people, you must understand, would, in all probability, have been unbearable but for this advantage; and, if good manners make men, without natural good sense and ability pass current in the world—then how persuasive and engaging must be their effect when added to a well-regulated mind and superior attainments and talents!
Some people of vigorous intellects are apt to adopt a roughness of demeanor, showing their contempt for what they term a mincing gentility. Affectation of all sorts, whether of plainness or the reverse, is to be shunned. There is, nevertheless, a happy medium—that of being neither too plausible and silky on the one hand, nor too blunt and direct on the other hand—which it should be the study of every man of sense to attain. Indeed, it needs not much study to acquire such a manner, because the first step towards it is the entire absence of all pretense and affectation from the mind, and the rejection of everything like foolery and foppery on the one hand—or rudeness and slovenliness on the other—in dress, language, and appearance.
Young men should never obtrude their opinions on their seniors, nor be forward in speech among those older than themselves. I saw a youth once, not above fifteen or sixteen years old, tap his snuff-box and offer it to his father, saying, "Will you take a pinch of snuff, old boy?" I was young myself at the time, and knew the parties very well, but the words grated on my ear. There is bad taste in this; it is out of place and out of order—out of natural order and propriety. A son may, and ought to be, on perfectly easy and confidential terms with his father, but those terms should never degenerate into a vulgar familiarity and disrespect.
There is another impropriety I would draw your attention to. Do not use what are called slang terms. If you wish to joke, do so like a young gentleman, not like a chimney-sweeper or a sailor, the staple of whose witticisms consists of such crude sayings.
It is not well for a youth to be always talking; he should listen, and seek to acquire information from the conversation of others, and not volunteer his own opinions unless upon proper occasions and when called upon by his friends. In due time, if he is really wise, he will be more thought of from his unobtrusive manners and deportment than if he were ever so fluent and forward of speech, and his abilities will shine with a double luster because he has not been ever ready to display them.
Be always prepared to give up any favorite seat to another, and especially to a lady, and endeavor to take more pleasure in presenting the means of a little passing enjoyment to a friend or companion than in hastening to gratify yourself.
These things require a control over the mind, and a little self-denial at first; but they soon not only become easy but delightful, and a much truer and more abiding sense of enjoyment than any direct personal gratification we could obtain.
In cases where you come into contact with people many years your seniors, or of a superior station to yourself, beware how you allow any familiarity on their part to tempt you to a like familiarity in return. Observe the same rule in writing letters. Such people may call you by your first name, and may adopt a friendly and familiar style of address towards both in speaking and writing.
Do not, however, attempt the like with them. On the contrary, maintain a proper and respectful address and tone, both in your language, writing, and manners. This will show those who may notice you your good sense and good breeding, as well as the solidity of your character. They will see that they have nothing to fear from any forwardness or presumption on your part, and they will place a reliance on your disposition and conduct; while a flippant and pert behavior, and attempts at facetious jocularity, or ill-timed and vulgar pleasantry with your superiors—will only cause you to be set down as a shallow fellow, unworthy of further notice or respect.
When you are conversing with others of your own age and station, do not be continually speaking of yourself and of your own sayings and doings. This is called egotism, and is vulgar and ungentlemanly, besides being a bore to your companions. Let your talk be of matters of general interest, and be a patient and attentive listener to others. Most people are fond of hearing themselves talk, especially the young, and every one likes a good listener.
In short, a gentleman's manners should be a type and mirror of his mind. The mind should be industrious, virtuous, and reflective. The manners should be quiet, unobtrusive, and gentle; then there would be a goodly picture, set in a bright frame, each worthy of the other. With such qualities you could make no enemies, and would be beloved and appreciated by your parents and friends, not only for your sterling good qualities, but for the mildness and forbearance of your disposition, and the entire absence from all pretension, conceit, and display in your manners.
Bear these things in mind—they are worth your reflection; all this you may be, if you please. You have the materials, the result remains with yourself.
I am, my dear son,
Your affectionate Father
London, February 2nd, 1849.
My dear son,
There is no quality which is more immediately important to ourselves, nor more essential to our own interests and to the safe conduct of our affairs, whether of business or pleasure, than prudence. It is that effort or suggestion of the mind which teaches us . . .
to avoid all extremes,
to shun unnecessary risks,
to suppress sinful expressions and emotions,
to think before we speak,
to forbear hasty assertions which it may not be easy for us to support—and rash promises which we may find it difficult to perform;
and, above all, not to place reliance on exaggerated statements of the supposed advantages to be derived from enterprises which the ill-founded enthusiasm of others may urge on our attention; but rather, with judgment and caution, to confine our transactions and regulate our views by the experience of the past, than by wild and groundless expectations as to the future.
It is, therefore, that a prudent person is neither convinced nor attracted by accounts of wonderful cures, of strange sights, of surprising bargains, of splendid investments, of capital inventions, of shortcuts to fortune and opulence; nor by any of the other high flown announcements which, as you know, fill up the newspapers of the present day.
In our business affairs and in the outlay and investment of our money and property, there can be no great or unusual measure of gain without a proportionate risk of loss, and the prudent man is, therefore, content with such moderate profits and advantages as he can enjoy with safety. Hence it is that all games of chance where money is risked, often to a considerable amount, which is called gambling; all betting, lotteries, and raffles; all extensive and dangerous speculations and such like follies; and uncertain and hazardous adventures—are always avoided by prudent and discreet people.
There are three leading directions or guides to be observed by a man who desires to do well in the world.
First, by industry, perseverance, and frugality—to enable himself to spend less money than he earns.
Next, to be able firmly and resolutely to say NO to those who, discovering his habits, desire to partake of the fruits of his industry without any labor of their own.
And, third, safely and securely to invest in solid and available security, the surplus money which he has so earned and saved.
In other words,
1. live within your means;
2. do not listen to borrowers;
3. be very careful what you do with your savings. Shakespeare says:
"Neither a borrower nor a lender be,
For loans often lose both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of industry."
You will hear people say how riches are to be despised, that good men ought to set their hearts on things of more importance, and a great deal of apparently very good morality of a like nature. There is a vast deal of truth in all this. Yet I never yet happened to meet with the man who really despised riches. Property, honestly and honorably acquired, is a credit; and the proper use of wealth entitles its owner to consideration and respect, and he receives it.
You are not to make the acquisition of riches your sole or greatest object in life. No one praises a miser or a greedy and stingy person. That is the extreme on the one hand, as profligacy and idle extravagance is on the other. Good sense points to a happy medium.
Prudence also regulates our labors with reference to our health—invites us to take proper air and exercise, prevents the unrestrained indulgence of our appetites, and recommends to us early rising and the avoidance of late hours, and unnatural and harmful excitement.
In forming new friendships, and especially such as are likely to be of a permanent character, it is requisite for us to be very prudent. We should satisfy ourselves fully of the character of an associate, that it is suitable to our own, and that there are no circumstances attending the disposition, connections, or prospects of the party which render it likely that at some future day we may have cause to regret our engagement. This is particularly applicable as well to those early friendships of which I have spoken to you in a former letter, as to nearer ties, respecting which I shall have something to say to you at a future day.
Prudence, likewise, should regulate our expenses. Before we incur debts or purchase articles either for use or amusement, we should reckon up our means of paying for them. You cannot begin too early to appreciate the value of money and to be careful and discreet in its use and application. This moral virtue of prudence, indeed, is the helm or rudder by which we ought to steer the vessel of our fortunes throughout our lives.
It may be that our sails may be torn, that seas of troubled waters may surround us, or in other words we may be overtaken by temporary misfortunes and the loss of our friends and relatives; but if we hold fast by this rudder of prudence, we shall not sink nor be overcome by the tempest—but finally be enabled to guide ourselves to the end of the voyage of life with credit and respectability.
I am, my dear son,
Your affectionate Father,
London, February 20th, 1849.
My dear son,
I am desirous of saying a few words to you on that which you ought not to neglect—that is, your health. Young men are apt to think that the elasticity of nerve, and the high spirits and vivid impressions they enjoy and receive when young, will never fail them. The advice of their seniors they discredit or pay no attention to, and too often think, in their own minds, that it will be time enough to use care and precaution when ill health arrives in earnest, which they consider will be a far distant day with them.
Much of the reasoning, however, which applies to the moral character, also applies to the health. If we waste our strength, and induce bad habits of body when young—they comes upon us when we grow older. The way to enjoy good health is to conserve our resources, to be careful of our strength and attend to all our little ailments in due time, and not to over-tax nature by too violent exertions either of mind or body.
It is said a man must be either a fool or a physician before forty years old. That is, he must, if wise at all, have been forced to acquire some knowledge of health. Unfortunately, the fact is that many men the reverse of fools never become aware that they have a physical system, liable to be diseased, until they are struck down hopelessly by the consequences of their own imprudence!
As I have mentioned to you in a former letter, early rising is of great importance. The natural hour for men to rise is no doubt with the sun. All nature is awake as soon as the east is illumined by its approach. The birds begin to sing and feed, the fish to seek the surface of the rivulet, the flowers to unfold their blossoms to its rays, and the lowing herd to crop the fresh pasture on which the drops of the morning dew sparkle with the light from Heaven.
Man alone in crowded cities remains pent up in his heated chamber, wasting the brightest hour of his existence in useless and unhealthy slumber. As society is constituted, however, we cannot well imitate the lower animals; still we may as nearly obey the obvious dictates of nature as possible.
With this view we should retire early to rest. Avoid, as I have said before, over-heated rooms, late hours, and exciting society. The head is always clearest in the morning, and one hour at that time of the day is worth two at a more advanced period, especially at night.
You should attend also to your diet, and the regularity of your habits. These, while you are at school, will be for the most part regulated by your teachers, but afterwards, as you become a young man, you will be left to your own guidance. You cannot successfully study with ill health. A fresh and vigorous mind is not compatible with a disordered frame. There may be exceptions, but that is the rule; and it is of the greatest importance to a godly man to shun all excess, to be temperate in his habits, and to keep his mind free from that species of feverish and nervous excitement which is created by what young men are apt to consider as more than a reasonable share of the pleasures that surround them.
All of life is before you, and, therefore, be not in haste to anticipate its enjoyments. Some young men I have known, at twenty years of age, who could find no pleasure in anything. They had seen so much amusement, and had courted unwholesome excitement to such an extent, that the society of their friends and relatives filled them with ennui (boredom). They were old in the ways of the world, and wearied with all it had to offer to them, before they had arrived at the years of discretion.
Take, therefore, your amusements with great moderation, and of these you will find the simple and natural amusements will last you the longest. Riding on horseback occasionally, a little fishing, and a moderate indulgence in such field sports as come within your reach, without sacrificing more important objects; these, and such like, are the best and most healthful exercises for a godly man. They lead to the enjoyment of natural scenes, the inhaling of fresh air, and the expansion of the bodily powers, which are too often allowed to lie dormant, until the mind becomes injured by an undue and disproportionate exercise of its faculties.
Be particularly careful to avoid all harmful habits, such as smoking, snuffing, etc. In a young man they are especially disgusting. As to wine, when you are with your friends who wish you to join with them—a little is very well. The less wine a young man drinks the better, and he ought to have attained his maturity, and had his constitution confirmed before he thinks of taking even a glass of wine as a regular and daily habit.
As to an improper indulgence, however, I need scarcely caution you. Fortunately, among gentlemen, drinking to excess has long been considered as placing a man below the level of the brute. In our home, as you know, you never saw a gentleman tipsy, and I do not know that you ever heard of such a thing among your friends as one of them taking wine to excess at table. It is altogether so debasing a habit, so unlike a gentleman, and so unworthy of one who claims to possess a refined mind and a cultivated intellect, that it is, I am sure, quite unnecessary for me to say a word more to you on that head.
One great conducive to health is cleanliness; use plenty of water, especially in the morning. In this respect you have had many early lessons, and have been daily told of the importance and absolute necessity of keeping the surface of your skin perfectly clean, and the pores of your body open and free. Attend to your feet so as to keep them always dry. Wear strong and well-made shoes which fit you well, and never sacrifice your health and comfort to fashions and finery. Change whenever you get wet, and when you find that your feet feel cold and damp, you may be certain that your general health needs attention.
In a few words, by attending to the old and homely saying, namely, keep your head cool, your feet warm, and your digestion open, you will take the best and safest means to retain your health and preserve your constitution from disease.
I am, my dear son,
Your affectionate father
London, March 12th, 1849.
My dear son,
Your observation to me a short time ago, about Sir Robert Peel, shows me that you have some notion of the matter about which I am now going to say a few words to you. The subject is, perhaps, a little premature; that is, your mind is scarcely yet prepared for it. Though you will, I know, perfectly understand me, yet you may treat and consider this letter as one which will be both more intelligible and more useful to you a few years hence than at this time. It is about politics that I intend now addressing you.
The word politics is derived from a Greek noun, politikos, which means a statesman. What we now commonly understand by politics is the science of public government, that is to say, the rules and principles by which a kingdom or community is conducted and governed, and which regulate not only the management of the people within its own immediate realm or jurisdiction, but also its conduct towards neighboring kingdoms or communities.
On so intricate and comprehensive a subject as the good government of large multitudes of people there will be, of course, differences of opinion among able men. It is impossible for human institutions to declare general rules that shall fit every case that may arise, or that may not sometimes press hardly in individual instances. No form of government or code of laws can be so absolutely perfect, but that some cases will occur where it would be well if the strictness of the general rule could be relaxed. All that can be done, is to adjust and adapt general principles, as nearly as practical, to the exigencies of the people and their affairs, and to proceed according to the dictates of experience and the result of patient inquiry and observation.
In England there were, when I was a young man, two great political parties, the one called the Tories, and the other the Whigs.
The Tories were supposed to be upholders of the Crown—that is, of the King or Queen—enemies to innovation, and tenacious of giving way to the voice of populace; hence they were looked upon formerly as partisans of the house of Stewart (about which you have read in the history of England), being opposed to any interference with the direct and hereditary line of succession to the throne.
The Whigs, on the contrary, it was considered, took the part of the people, were opposed to the extension of the power and prerogatives of the Crown beyond certain limits, and were friends to the Protestant line of princes who succeeded the Stewarts.
I give it you, however, as my humble opinion, that these were too frequently distinctions in name merely. In most instances the contest between Tory and Whig was for power—that is, which party was to govern the country. As an able writer observes, "the animosity between the factions had no better foundation than narrow prejudice or party passion."
At the present day the pretensions of the family of Stewart have long ceased, and all question as to a Protestant or Catholic line of princes been put an end to, and the present royal family firmly seated on the throne.
In modern times, moreover, political questions are conducted with more moderation, and, it is to be hoped, with less factious views and more unselfish patriotism. The superior men on each side, for the most part, deserve well of their country. Look upon a man who vehemently decries either party, as unworthy of your confidence. These kind of men say particularly bitter and spiteful things about men whose politics they disliked.
What I wish you to understand, is that people of both parties are often wise and good men, having the interests of their country at heart, and that they only differ in the mode of accomplishing their object.
If you live and associate much with the world, you will hear people in private life, who have not only had no adequate means of becoming acquainted with political affairs, but who have never been able even to manage their own affairs so as to place themselves and their families in a tolerably comfortable position, declaim most loudly against the one or the other of these parties. Such people will tell you how they would have had matters managed. These very declaimers, however—you will often find to be people in bad credit, speculating beyond their means in unprofitable merchandise, keeping confused and irregular accounts, and carrying on their business with small gain, and in some cases at a loss.
Nevertheless, according to their own views, they can point out with great clearness, how this great populous and commercial country . . .
should be governed,
can regulate its currency,
revise its taxes,
and amend its laws.
You will readily see and understand how extremely absurd all such pretensions are.
Politics, like everything else of any moment to be understood, must be pursued and studied for many years. A man, to form any very useful opinion on political subjects, ought to be, in the first place, a calm thinking and considerate man, of a quiet and reflective turn of mind; and, in general, he must have arrived at years of maturity before he can or ought to offer any decided opinion.
It is admitted on all hands, that to know the law, we must study it; that to make a watch, we must learn the trade from a craftsman. I have told you that you cannot hope to perform such comparatively trifling feats as to capture a trout with an artificial fly; or shoot down a woodcock on the wing—without several years' practice and experience.
Whenever, then, you hear anyone offering confident and high sounding opinions about public Government, always in your own mind doubt the solidity and value of his conclusions.
At the same time, however, that I ask you to view party discussions and differences, and extreme and violent opinions on such subjects in their true light. I recommend that you not be carried away by a foolish enthusiasm.
I do not wish to advise you not to belong to a party. If you follow the profession of law, it will be necessary and proper that you should do so. In determining what party you will adhere to, act upon principle and not on any imagined expediency.
Some young men on arriving at that period of life when it becomes proper for professional men to belong to one or other of the parties in their country, are governed by chance, or by what they imagine will be for their interest, rather than by a clear and educated choice of their own. If they, for instance, find the Whigs in power, they elect to belong to that party because that is the then prevalent one, and likely as they think to be beneficial to them in the way of promotion and emolument. This is the decision of little minds, and of short-sighted and unreflecting people.
In the first place, the tenure of power by one party or another is often short-lived; and if it were of ever so long duration, no man should sacrifice his principles to, nor allow his mind to be influenced solely by, sordid views and prospects. The result of such conduct frequently is that, in more advanced years when the mind becomes riper and the information of the individual more extensive, he finds himself placed among people with whom he has no common sympathies, regrets his early and too hasty decisions, and would gladly change sides when it is no longer consistently in his power to do so; and he may then even have the mortification of finding the very party in power of whose principles and proceedings his maturer judgment approves, but of whose influence and protection it is then too late for him to avail himself.
Whatever decision you may come to, however, do it carefully and upon reflection; and having once made up your mind, never change—stick by your party, not by its errors—but stick by it as a party, and look up to some great and wise man as your chief example and guide.
As society is now constituted, a lawyer must belong to a party. I am sorry for it. It is much to be regretted that high offices in the law are given away more with reference to the use a lawyer is of to his party, than his fitness for the position to which he aspires. So it is, however, and you and I cannot alter that state of things, nor is it likely to be altered in our time.
Whatever party you may espouse, always treat your opponents with kindness and candor. Believe that their views may be sincere, though widely different from your own; recollect that humanity is fallible and prone to error and mistake, and that you may be the one in the wrong. Be not, therefore, a violent propounder of your own views, nor vehement denouncer of the views of others. Moderate in your opinions, temperate in your language, and courteous in your demeanor—you will win golden opinions from all sides. You may, like an amiable and estimable judge and excellent lawyer now on the bench, to be promoted to the highest honors of your profession by people entertaining political opinions somewhat at variance with your own.
I am, my dear son,
Your affectionate father
London, May 2nd, 1849.
My dear son,
It seems to me that there is no subject with which I can more properly conclude the present series of letters which I have been writing to you than that of morality. I might, perhaps, have coupled religion with it as being intimately connected; but I prefer postponing that to some future occasion, recommending you, in the meantime, to attend to your prayers and hymns, to your mother's lessons, and to the discourses of those godly men whom you have the privilege of hearing at church, both at home and at school.
All the good qualities, which in my former letters I have been urging on your attention, are moral qualities. Besides these, which I may repeat—are truth, self-denial, industry, economy, friendship, contentment, perseverance, good manners, and prudence; there are, also benevolence, justice, allegiance to the government under which you dwell, filial love and duty, affection for your relatives, respect for your superiors, fidelity, chastity, gratitude, patience, fortitude, and judgment.
I believe these to be the principal virtues. There are many other moral qualities of great importance, but I think you will find that most of them may be classed under one or other of the foregoing heads. Temperance and moderation for instance, would come under the heads of prudence or self-denial. Humanity, generosity, and even tenderness might be included in benevolence; and so on with the rest of the catalogue of human virtues.
All these moral qualities have been defined in general terms, as those qualities in man which are either useful or agreeable to the person himself, or to others. It seems to me, however, so clear that all qualities in us, which are useful or agreeable to others, are also useful and agreeable to ourselves; that this definition might very well be confined, for anything I can see to the contrary, to qualities useful or agreeable to the person himself.
Indeed, if a man reflects for a moment on what has happened to him within his own experience—if he uses the reasoning faculties which God has given him, he must feel astonished at the folly and absurdity of those who, by the practice of falsehood and idleness, by ingratitude, selfish indulgences and rudeness of demeanor, become at once unhappy in their own minds and the object of contempt and dislike to others.
Considering morality, then, in a merely selfish point of view—reflecting on what it is certain must be best for ourselves—most for own advantage, comfort, and happiness, our course is clear. It appears astonishing that any individual of common capacity and observation and with ordinary means of instruction, should ever mistake it.
The pursuit of virtue and the possession of these moral qualities, increase our capacity and enlarge the field of our enjoyments. Whereas, immorality deprives its possessor of every blessing of which humanity is susceptible. The results of immorality and vice are pain, melancholy, disgrace, loneliness, discontent, disease, and even death! The practice of morality improves the temperament, eminently qualifies a man for the society of his fellow creatures, advances his fortunes in the world, and, in case of unforeseen adversity, enables him to bear with the ills incidental to humanity. By the cheerfulness of his temper and the greatness of his mind, he will rise superior to every difficulty. This is part of the framework and construction of man. It is a self-adjusting principle fixed in his nature—-it is one of the guides given him for his conduct, and a very intelligible and plain and unmistakable guide it is.
The conscience of a man tell him what is right and what is wrong; if he neglects these monitors, and, notwithstanding their warning, persists in error—the consequences of his conduct are not slow in appearing. Every wrong committed, sooner or later, often in this world, brings its own punishment and its train of ill consequence to the wrong-doer. We have thus both from our own inward dictates and the result of our actions, a plain and direct intimation of what we have to expect from a continuance in evil ways. How then can anyone but a fool remain wicked, or, indeed, ever depart from the pleasant paths of truth, virtue, and morality—to seek the dark, crooked and unhappy ways of immorality, dishonesty, and vice.
There are many interesting works on moral virtues, which, when you are older, it will be both instructive and entertaining for you to have recourse to. You will find in them discussions as to whether the principles of morality are the result of sentiment, or are to be deduced from our reason and judgment, and various other arguments and disputations, which the elegance of the language employed and the ingenuity of the suggestions and theories by which they are supported—render well worthy the attention of the scholar.
In this, and in the preceding letters which I have addressed to you, however, I have confined myself to practical lessons, and while I have endeavored to put those lessons into language which you cannot fail to understand at present, it has also been my wish to afford you instruction and advice which may be of use to you at a more advanced period, and, indeed, as long as you live.
Do not, therefore, throw my letters on one side as if they were only intended for you to read as a boy; but keep them beside you, and refer to them as you grow older. If they have the effect upon your mind which they ought to have as coming from your father, and written entirely for your own benefit and improvement—then they will render you attentive to my words and grateful for my precepts, and myself happy in my son!
Believe me, my dear son,
Your affectionate father