( Originally Published 1879 )
Thou art noble ; yet, I see,
AN author is known by his writings, a mother by her daughter, a fool by his words, and all men by their companions.
Intercourse with persons of decided virtue and excellence is of great importance in the formation of a good character. The force of example is powerful; we. are creatures of imitation. and, by a necessary influence, our tempers and habits are very much formed on the model of those with whom we familiarly associate. Better be alone than in bad company. Evil communications corrupt good manners. Ill qualities are catching as well as diseases; and the mind is at least as much, if not a great deal more, liable to infection, than the body. Go with mean people, and you think life is mean.
The human race requires to be educated, and it is doubtless true that the greater part of that education is obtained through example rather than precept. This is especially true respecting character and habits. How natural is it for a child to look up to those around him for an example of imitation, and how readily does he copy all that he sees done, good or bad. The importance of a good example on which the young may exercise this powerful and active element of their nature, is a matter of the utmost moment. To the Phrenologist every faculty assumes an importance almost infinite, and perhaps none more so than that of imitation. It is a trite, bût true maxim, that " a man is known by the company he keeps." He naturally assimilates, by the force of imitation, to the habits and manners of those by whom he is surrounded. We know persons, who walk much with the lame, who have learned to walk with a hitch or limp like their lame friends. Vice stalks in the streets unabashed, and children copy it. Witness the urchin seven years old trying to ape his seniors in folly, by smoking the cigar-stumps which they have cast aside. In time, when his funds improve, he will wield the long nine, and be a full-fledged "loafer." This faculty is usually more active in the young than in adult life, and serves to lead them to imitate that which their seniors do, before their reasoning powers are sufficiently developed and instructed to enable them to reason out a proper course of action.
Thus by copying others, they do that which is appropriate, right, or wrong, without knowing why, or the principles and consequences involved in their actions.
The awfully sad consequences of evil associations is exhibited in the history of almost all criminals. The case of a man named Brown, recently executed in Toronto, Canada, is an example. He was born in Cambridgeshire, England, of parents who were members of the Church of England; and in a sketch of his life, written at his dictation, he attributes his downfall to early disobedience and to bad companions, which led to dissipation and finally plunged him into associations with the most dissolute and lawless characters. They led him on in transgression and sin, which ended in his being brought to the scaffold. On the gallows he made the following speech: " This is a solemn day for me, boys! I hope this will be a warning to you against bad company —I hope it will be a lesson to all young people, and old as well as young, rich and poor. It was that that brought me here to-day to my last end, though I am innocent of the murder I am about to suffer for. Before my God I am innocent of the murder! I never committed this or any other murder. I know nothing of it. I am going to meet my Maker in a few minutes. May the Lord have mercy on my soul ! Amen, amen.''' What a terrible warning his melancholy example affords to young men never to deviate from the straight line of duty. Live with the culpable, and you will be very likely to die with the criminal. Bad company is like a nail driven into a post, which after the first or second blow, may be drawn out with little difficulty; but being once driven in up to the head, the pinchers cannot take hold to draw it out, which can only be done by the destruction of the wood. You may be ever so pure, you cannot associate with bad companions without falling into bad odor. Evil company is like tobacco smoke—you cannot be long in its presence without carrying away taint of it. "Let no man deceive him-self," says Petrarch, "by thinking that the contagions of the soul are less than those of the body. They are yet greater; they sink deeper, and come on more unsuspectedly." From impure air,' we take diseases; from bad company, vice and imperfection. Avoid, as much as you can, the company. of all vicious persons whatever; for no vice is alone, and all are infectious.
Men carry unconscious signs of their life about them, those that come from the forge and those from the lime and mortar, and those from dusty travel bear signs of being workmen and of their work. One needs not ask a merry face or a sad one whether it hath come from joy or from grief. Tears and laughter tell their own story. Should one come home with fruit, we say-"You have come from the orchard." If with hands full of wild flowers, "You have come from the field." If one's garments smell of mingled odors, we say, "You have walked in a garden." So with associations—those that walk with the just, the upright, have the sweetest incense that has ever anointed man Let no man deceive himself.
Do you love the society of the vulgar? Then you are already debased in your sentiments. Do you seek to be with the profane? in your heart you are like them.
Are jesters and buffoons your choice friends ? He who loves to laugh at folly is himself a fool. Do you love and seek the society of the wise and good? Is this your habit? Had you rather take the lowest seat among these than the highest seat among others? Then you have already learned to be good. You may not make very much progress, but even a good beginning is not to be despised. Hold on your way, and seek to be the companion of those that fear God. So you shall be wise for yourself, and wise for eternity.
No man of position can allow himself to associate, without prejudice, with the profane, the Sabbath-breakers, the drunken and the licentious, for he lowers him-self; without elevating them... The sweep is net made the less black by rubbing against the well-dressed and the clean, while they are inevitably defiled. Nothing elevates us so much as the presence of a spirit similar, yet superior, to our own. What is companionship, where nothing that improves the intellect is communicated, and where the larger heart contracts itself to the model and dimension of the smaller?
Washington was wont to say, "Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence." It should be the aim of young men to go into good society. We do not mean the rich, the proud and fashionable, but the society of the wise, the intelligent and good. Where you find men that know more than you do, and from whose conversation one can gain information, it is always safe to be found. It has broken down many a. man by associating with the low and vulgar, where the ribald song and the indecent story were introduced to excite laughter. If you wish to be respected—if you desire happiness and not misery, we advise you to associate with the intelligent and good. Strive for mental excellence and strict integrity, and you never will be found in the sinks of pollution, and on the benches of retailers and gamblers. Once habituate yourself to a virtuous course—once secure a love of good society, and no punishment would be greater than by accident to be obliged for a half a day to associate with the low and vulgar. Try to frequent the company of your betters. In book and life it is the most wholesome society; learn to admire rightly; that is the great pleasure of life. Note what the great men admire—they admire great things; narrow spirits admire basely and worship meanly. Some persons choose their associates as they do other useful animals, preferring those from whom they expect the most service. Procure no friends in haste, nor, if once secured, in haste abandon them. Be slow in choosing an associate and slower to change him; slight no man for poverty, nor esteem any one for his wealth. Good friends should not be easily forgotten, nor used as suits of apparel, which, when we have worn them threadbare, we cast off and call for new. When once you profess yourself a friend, endeavor to be always such. He can never have any true friends that will be often changing them. Whoever moves you to part with a true and tried friend, has certainly a design to make way for a treacherous enemy. To part with a tried friend without very great provocation, is unreason-able levity. Nothing but plain malevolence can justify disunion. The loss of- a friend is like that of a limb; time may heal the anguish of the wound, but the loss cannot be repaired.
When you have once found your proper associate, then stick to him—make him your friend-a close` friend; do all you can to improve him and learn all you can of him; let his good qualities become yours; one is not bound to bear a part in the follies of a friend, but rather to dissuade him from them; even though he cannot consent to tell him plainly, as Phocian did Anti-pater, who said to him, "I cannot be both your friend and flatterer." It is a good rule always to back your friends and face your enemies. Whoever would reclaim his friend, and bring him to a true and perfect under-standing of himself, may privately admonish, but never publicly reprehend him. An open admonition is an open disgrace.
Have the courage to cut the most agreeable acquaintance you have, when you are convinced he lacks' principle; a friend should bear with a friend's infirmities, but not with his vices. He that does a base thing in zeal for his friend, burns the golden _thread that ties their hearts together.
If you have once. chosen the proper person as an associate and a friend, then you have a friend for life-time, and you will always cherish and honor him; but the neglected child, ,the reckless youth, the wrecked and wretched man will haunt you with memories of melancholy, with grief and despair. How we will curse those associates that dragged us down to ruin and destruction, arid how love to repeat the names of old, friends.
" Old friends!" What a multitude of deep and varied emotions are called forth from the soul by the utterance of these two words. What thronging memories of other days crowd the brain when they are spoken. Ah, there is a magic in the sound and the spell which it creates is both sad and pleasing. As we sit by our fireside, while the winds are making wild melody with-out the walls of our cottage, and review the scenes of by-gone years which flit before us in swift succession, dim and shadowy as the recollections of a dream how those "old familiar faces" will rise up and haunt our vision with their well remembered features. But ah, where are they? those friends of our youth—those kindred spirits who shared our joy and sorrows when first we started in the pilgrimage of life. Companions of our early days, they are endeared to us by many a tie, and we now look back through the vista of years upon the hours of our communion, as upon green oases in a sandy waste. Years have passed over us with their buds and flowers, their fruits and snows; and where now are those " old familiar faces?" They are scattered, and over many of their last narrow homes the thistle waves its lonely head ; "after life's fitful fever they sleep well." Some are buffeting the billows of time's stormy sea in distant lands; though they are absent our thoughts are often with them.