LETTERS TO A FRESHMAN.
DEAR JACK, - Two or three hints which you have let drop in your letters have led me to think that, like most boys who enter a new world, you have been a little surprised at the moral tone of the society in which you find yourself; and presuming this to be the case, I shall inflict upon you to-day some remarks and some advice of a little more serious character than usual.
The natural impulse of every human being, when he is freed from certain restraints to which he has always been accustomed, is to do some thing that he never did before. I remember that when I made my first independent railway journey - at the mature ago of twelve, - I indulged in the delights of a five-cent cigar, and felt horribly and horribly guilty for the next three days. A mater is a sort of colossal Mrs. Jellyby. She was so busy with the affairs of the outer world that she cannot find time to attend to the manners and morals of her children; and the natural consequence is that some of these children fall into the very objectionable practice of eating with their knives, while others, of a more vicious if more elegant temperament, indulge in various excesses of behavior and language which cannot command the approval of sober-minded men. At the same time, there is a good side to all this. Every man must sooner or later learn to take care of himself; and nowadays most men come to college at an age when this lesson is by no means premature. At first the wickedness of the world seems overpowering but before long they find that it is possible to live in a very wicked world without being very wicked. After all, too, the college world is not so very wicked. It talks in an unprincipled way, and it is talked about in a still more unprincipled way; but you will find in it very few fellows who are worse than thoughtless.
At the same time, as I said before, you will find the moral tone of your surroundings very different from tone of your home. You will hear things said and see things done, which you have always been taught to regard-with holy horror. For example, I will speak of drunkenness. I am familiar enough with the views of your mother and of your great-aunt Lucretia upon this matter to know that you, who have passed a good portion of your life in the society of those ladies, went to college with an idea that a man who had ever succumbed to the influence of liquor deserved to be excluded from the society of civilized Christians. I am also familiar enough with the phenomena of the beginning of a Freshman-year, to understand that you have probably been invited already to about a dozen punches, from which many of your classmates had to be carried home to bed. Many of these men, too, are probably agreeable, well-bred fellows, who in their sober moments bear no more resemblance to a beast than you do. And very likely you find yourself in a predicament. You do not know whether to hold to your old prejudices and keep away from the degraded sinners, or to waive these prejudices altogether and take part in the bacchanalian festivities which they appear to enjoy.
The fact is, that neither of these views is right. Until this year you have been a boy. It was thought proper, and very rightly, too, that you should be launched into the world with a set of principles which would make you a valuable member of society; and these principles were instilled into you in a very strong and somewhat exaggerated from. But from this year you will become a man of the world. And one of the first lessons which you must learn is that a man of the world is never intolerant. To use an old definition of mine, he is never surprised and never shocked. At the same time, while he recognizes the existence of all sorts of evils, great and small, there is no reason why he should take part in them. He ought to retain as firmly as ever the principles which guide his-own conduct; but he ought so far to conquer his aversion to any particular vices that whenever he meets a new man he can gauge his character, he can set off his good points against his bad ones; and if he finds that the good points predominate, he can safely call him a fit man for a friend. The safest rule to govern your own conduct is this; Never do anything which you are ashamed to confess. If you stick to this you will not have to lie, and if you can avoid lying you will find that your course through life will be pretty plain sailing.
I can say but a few words more, and I shall ask your pardon if I hurry on in a very unconnected way. To come back to college drunkenness, you will find as you grow more familiar with college life that a great many men talk about getting drunk who seldom drink too much. You will find, too, that many of the fellows who in the beginning of the course have occasionally been overcome by punch, soon give it up. And you may generalize from this to other sorts of dissipation, which I have neither the space nor the inclination to specify.
Again, you may say with bitterness that my advice to you comes too late, - that you have already done several things of which you are ashamed. All right. Don't do any more; and if you can control yourself in the future you will have obtained experience that will be valuable to you as a man of the world. I have nothing left but to beg a thousand pardons for this long sermon from
Your affectionate brother