To Young Men
( Originally Published 1879 )
YOUNG men! you are wanted. From the street corners, from the saloons and playhouses, from the loafers' rendezvous, from the idlers' promenade, turn your steps into the highway of noble aim and earnest work. There are prizes enough for every successful worker, crowns enough for every honorable head that goes through the smoke of conflict to victory.
There is within the young man an upspringing of lofty sentiment which contributes to his elevation, and though there are obstacles to be surmounted and difficulties to be vanquished, yet with truth for his watch-word, and leaning on his own noble purposes and indefatigable exertions, he may crown his brow with imperishable honors. He may never wear the warrior's crimson wreath, the poet's chaplet of bays, or the statesman's laurels; though no grand universal truth may at his bidding stand confessed to the world,—though it may never be his to bring to a successful issue a great political revolution—to be the founder of a republic whose name shall be a " distinguished star in the constellation of nations,"—yea, more, though his name may never be heard beyond the narrow limits of his own neighborhood, yet is his mission none the less a high and holy one.
In the moral and physical world, not only the field of battle, but also the consecrated cause of truth and virtue calls for champions, and the field for doing good is "white unto the harvest; ". and if he enlists in the ranks, and his spirit faints not, he may write his name among the stars of heaven. Beautiful lives have blossomed in the darkest places, as pare white lilies full of fragrance on the slimy, stagnant waters. No possession is so productive of real influence as a highly cultivated intellect. Wealth, birth, and official station may and do secure to their possessors an external, superficial courtesy; but they never did, and they never can, command the reverence of the heart. It is only to the man of large and noble soul, to him who blends a cultivated mind with an upright heart, that men yield the tribute of deep and genuine respect.
But why do so few young men of early promise, whose hopes, purposes, and resolves were as radiant as the colors of the rainbow, fail to distinguish them selves? The answer is obvious; they are not willing to devote themselves to that toilsome culture which is the price of great success. Whatever aptitude for particular pursuits nature may donate to her favorite children, she conducts none but the laborious and the studious 'to distinction.
God put the oak in the forest, and the pine on its sand and rocks, and says to men, " There are your houses; go hew, saw, frame, build, make. God makes the trees; men must build the house. God supplies the timber; men must construct the ship. God buries iron in the heart of the earth; men must dig it, and smelt it, and fashion it. What is useful for the body, and, still more, what is useful for the mind, is to be had only by exertion—exertion that will work men more than iron is wrought—that will shape men more than timber is shaped.
Great men have ever been men of thought as well as men of action. As the magnificent river, rolling in the pride of its mighty waters, owes its greatness to the hidden springs of the mountain nook, so does the wide-sweeping influence of distinguished men date its origin from hours of privacy, resolutely employed in efforts after self-development. The invisible spring of self-culture is the source of every great achievement.
Away, then, young man, with all dreams of superiority, unless you are determined to dig after knowledge, as men search for concealed gold! Remember, that every man has in himself the seminal principle of great excellence, and he may develop it by cultivation if he will TRY. Perhaps you are what the world calls poor. What of that? Most of the men whose names are as household words were also the children of poverty. Captain Cook, the circumnavigator of the globe was born in a mud hut, and started in life as a cabin boy. Lord Eldon, who sat on the woolsack in the British parliament for nearly half a century, was the son of a coal merchant. Franklin, the philosopher, diplomatist, and statesman, was but a poor printer's boy, whose highest luxury at one time, was only a penny roll, eaten in the streets of Philadelphia. Ferguson, the profound philosopher, was the son of a half-starved weaver. Johnson,. Goldsmith, Coleridge, and multitudes of others of high distinction, knew the pressure of limited circumstances, and have demonstrated that poverty even is no insuperable obstacle to success.
Up, then, young man, and gird yourself for the work of self-cultivation! Set a high price on your leisure moments. They are sands of precious gold. Properly expended, they will procure for you a stock of great thoughts-thoughts that will fill, stir and invigorate, and expand the soul. Seize also on the unparalleled aids furnished by steam and type in this unequaled age.
The great thoughts of great men are now to be procured at prices almost nominal. You can, therefore, easily collect a library of choice standard works. But above all, learn to reflect even more than you read. Without thought, books are the sepulchre of the soul,-they only immure it. Let thought and reading go hand in hand, and the intellect will rapidly increase in strength and gifts. Its possessor will rise in character, in power, and in positive influence. A great deal of talent is lost in the world for the want of a little courage. Every day sends to the grave a number of obscure men, who have only remained in obscurity because their timidity has prevented them from making a first effort; and who, if they could have been induced to begin, would, in all probability, have gone great lengths in the career of fame. The fact is, that to do anything in this world worth doing, we must not stand back, shivering, and thinking of the cold and the danger, but jump in and, scramble through as well as we can. It will not do to be perpetually calculating tasks, and adjusting nice chances; it did very well before the flood, where a man could consult his friends upon an intended publication for a hundred and fifty years, and then live to see its success afterward; but at present a man waits and doubts, and hesitates, and consults his brother, and his uncle, and particular friends, till, one fine day, he finds that he is sixty years of age; that he has lost so much time in consulting his first cousin and particular friends, that he has no more time to follow their advice."
Man is born to dominion, but he must enter it by conquest, and continue to do battle' for every inch of ground added to his sway. His first exertions are put forth for the acquisition of the control and the establishment of the authority of his own will. With his first efforts to reduce his own physical powers to subjection, he must simultaneously begin to subject his mental faculties to control. Through the combined exertion of his mental and physical powers, he labors to spread his dominion over the widest possible extent of the world without.
Thus self-control and control over outward circumstances are alike the duty and the birthright of man. But self-control is the highest and noblest form of dominion. "He that ruleth his own spirit is greater than he that taketh a city."
If you intend to marry, if you think your happiness will be increased and your interests advanced by matrimony, be sure and "look where you're going." Join yourself in union with no woman who is selfish, for she will sacrifice you; with no one who is fickle, for she will become estranged; have naught to do with a proud one, for she will ruin you. Leave a coquette to the fools who flutter around her; let her own fireside accommodate a scold; and flee from a woman who loves scandal, as you would flee from the evil one. "Look where you're going" will sum it all up.
Gaze not on beauty too much, lest it blast thee; nor too long, lest it blind thee; nor too near, lest it burn thee: if thou like it, it deceives thee; if thou love it, it disturbs thee; if thou lust after it, it destroys thee; if virtue accompany it, it is the heart's paradise; if vice associate it, it is the soul's purgatory; it is the wise man's bonfire, and the fool's furnace. The Godless youth is infatuated by a fair face, and is lured to his fate by a syren's smile. He takes no counsel of the Lord and is left to follow his own shallow fancies or the instigations of his passions. The-time will surely come in his life when he will not so much want a pet as a heroine: In dark and trying days, when the waves of misfortune are breaking over him, and one home corn-fort, and another, and another is swept away, the piano —the grand instrument—gone to the creditors, the family turned out on the sidewalk by the heartless land-lord, then what is the wife good for if her lips that accompanied the piano in song, cannot lift alone the notes, "Jesus, lover of my soul," etc. The strongest arm in this world is not the arm of a blacksmith, nor the arm of a giant;' it is the arm of a woman, when God has put into it, through faith and submission to His will, his own moral omnipotence. If there is one beautiful spot on earth, it is the home of the young family consecrated by piety, the abode of the Holy Spirit, above which the hovering angels touch their wings, forming a canopy of protection and sanctity.
There is no moral object so beautiful to me as a conscientious young man. I watch him as I do a star in the heavens; clouds may be before him, but we know that his light is behind them and will beam again; the blaze of others' popularity may outshine him, but we know that, though unseen, he illuminates his own true sphere. He resists temptation, not without a struggle, for that is not virtue, but he does resist and conquer; he bears the sarcasm of the profligate, and it stings him, for that is a trait of virtue, but heals the wound with his own pure touch. He heeds not the watch-word of fashion if it leads to sin; the Atheist, who says not only in his heart, but with his lips, " There is no God!" controls him not; he sees the hand of a creating God, and rejoices in it. Woman is sheltered by fond arms and loving counsel; old age is protected by its experience, and manhood by its strength; but the young man stands amid the temptations of the world like a self balanced tower. Happy he who seeks and gains the prop and shelter of morality. Onward, then, conscientious youth—raise thy standard and nerve thy-self for goodness. If God has given thee intellectual power, awaken in that cause; never let it be said of thee, he helped to swell the tide of sin by pouring his influence into its channels. If thou art feeble in mental strength, throw not that drop into a polluted current. Awake, arise, young man ! assume that beautiful garb of virtue ! It is difficult to be pure and holy. Put on thy strength, then. Let truth be the lady of thy love — defend her.
A young man came to an aged professor of a distinguished continental university, with a smiling face, and informed him that the long and fondly cherished desire of his heart was at length fulfilled—his parents had given their consent to his studying the profession of the law. For some time he continued explaining how he would spare no labor nor expense in perfecting his education. When he paused, the old man, who had been listening to him with great patience and kindness, gently said, "Well! and when you have finished your studies, what do you mean to do then?" "Then I shall take my degree," answered the young man. "And then?" asked the venerable friend. "And then," continued the youth, "I shall have a number of difficult cases, and shall attract notice, and win a great reputation." "And then?" repeated the holy man. "Why, then," replied the youth, "I shall doubtless be promoted to some high office in the State." "And then?" "And then," pursued the young lawyer, "I shall live in honor and wealth, and look forward to a happy old age." "And then?" repeated the old man. "And then," said the youth, "and then—and then—and then I shall die." Here the venerable listener lifted up his voice, and again asked, with solemnity and emphasis, "And then?" Whereupon the aspiring student made no answer, but cast down his head, and in silence and thoughtfulness retired. The last "And then?" had pierced his heart like a sword, had made an impression which he could not dislodge.